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Cablegate: Turkish Media Crucify Patriarch, Then Recant

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DEPARTMENT FOR INR/R/MR, EUR/SE, EUR/PD, DRL

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: OPRC KMDR TU PREL KPAO
SUBJECT: TURKISH MEDIA CRUCIFY PATRIARCH, THEN RECANT

REF: ISTANBUL 464

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1. (U) SUMMARY: Turkish media and political figures initially
criticized Greek Patriarch Bartholomew for his perceived anti-GOT
comments on the December 20 "60 Minutes" program. But the harshness
of the commentary ebbed as columnists re-examined the Patriarch's
comments through the prism of minority rights in Turkey. Following
Turkish government officials' criticism, however, several articles
openly discussed the Patriarch's assertion of second class
citizenship in Turkey. END SUMMARY

---------------------------------------
Sensationalist Fodder for a Tired Press
---------------------------------------

2. (U) The Patriarch's "60 Minutes" observations on his struggle
for the reopening of Halki Seminary and the continuation of the
Greek Orthodox Patriarchate in Istanbul provided sensationalist
fodder for a Turkish press seemingly exhausted by reports of
terrorist attacks, parliamentary upheaval and national unrest.
Initial extensive and predominantly negative reports appeared
December 20 ahead of the program and zeroed in on the Patriarch's "I
feel crucified" and "like a second class citizen" comments. As
reported REFTEL, comments by Turkish FM Davutoglu and other
officials were widely disseminated.

3. (U) The invective continued with mainstream, pro-government
HaberTurk's Yigit Bulut's complaint that "Bartholomew is giving the
wrong information. The closure of Halki seminary was a result of
the Patriarch's insistence on disobeying Turkish laws and its claims
to treat the seminary with ecumenical status." Even liberal Radikal
expressed disappointment. Radikal's conservative columnist Akif
Beki - the former press advisor to PM Erdogan - labeled the CBS
interview as "threatening" and concluded: "by making such
statements, the Patriarch cannot gain anything positive for his
cause."

---------------------------------------------
Day Two: Low Status for Minorities Rings True
---------------------------------------------

4. (U) After the initial media blitz, however, by December 21
Turkish pundits began assessing the Patriarch's words from the
perspective of minority rights in Turkey. Mainstream Hurriyet's
Mehmet Yilmaz told those criticizing the Patriarch: "don't get
upset, just look in the mirror," noting that there is a solid basis
for minorities to feel like second-class citizens and that "Turkey
should deal with the problem rather than just reacting." Meanwhile,
Milliyet noted that "you crucified me" or "me stavronis" is a
typical expression in Greek society and quoted an official from the
Patriarchate that it was not aimed at the government.

-------------------------------------
Day Three: "Let's Not Fool Ourselves"
-------------------------------------

5. (U) By day three, the debate turned inward with leading
columnists lambasting the GoT for its slow pace on minority rights
and empty promises regarding Halki Seminary. Writing in the tabloid
Posta, leading TV commentator Mehmet Ali Birand called for the
government to keep its promises and act with courage. In "Yes We
are Crucifying Him," Birand notes "Bartholomew has every right to
get upset. Along with a disinformation campaign against the
Patriarchate for many years, as well as never-ending conspiracies
about its intention, the AKP government failed to keep its
promises." Birand adds that "nobody should be surprised if
Bartholomew goes to the European Commission on Human Rights." In
"Who Is Right?" mainstream Hurriyet senior columnist Oktay Eksi
observed: "Whenever the Patriarch had meetings with PM Erdogan, he
repeatedly brought up the same two issues -- reopening of Halki
Seminary and the return of properties." In return, Eksi says the
Patriarch only got "evasive answers or false promises."

6. (U) Others looked to history for commentary. In "Crucifixion
and Other Forms," Hurriyet's Sedat Ergin reviewed a decades-long
list of violations against individual and minority rights, and
countered FM Davutoglu's "we do not crucify" argument by saying "you
are right Mr. Minister, we don't crucify but we certainly violate
human rights in many other forms." In "Mentality Change is Needed,"

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Mehmet Barlas in Sabah opines: "The issue is treating every
individual and every group as equal citizens. . .this requires a
major mentality change." Dogan Satmis in mainstream HaberTurk
underlines a double standard: "How one can explain the closure of
Greek Orthodox schools if Turkey genuinely considers this community
as 100 percent Turkish citizens?" Referring the latest State
Department Religious Freedom Report, the pundit adds: "Turkey is
listed among countries with democracy but characterized as limiting
religious freedoms significantly; so let's not fool ourselves
anymore."

7. (U) While a front page story in Islamist and pro-Saadet Party
daily Milli Gazete used the headline "Bartholmew Went Over His
Limits," other conservative media had adopted a more reasoned
approach by December 22. Writing in Today's Zaman (English), Yavuz
Baydar chastened Davutoglu for his hurried retort to the Patriarch,
when Turkish leaders "are fully aware of the problems of non-Muslim
minorities in Turkey. The only thing that seems rational is to go
ahead with whatever reforms are necessary." Meanwhile, Taha Kivanc
from Islamist Yeni Safak opined that Halki Seminary is the key to
the problem and predicts that Education Minister Cubukcu will likely
announce new measures in early 2010. Circulation giant Zaman did
not editorialize on December 22, but carried an exclusive interview
with Patriarchate Spokesman Dositeos Anagnostopulos, who emphasized
"the crisis over crucifixion demonstrates the need for dialogue."
The paper played up the spokesman's comment that "when the
Patriarch talked about feeling like a second class citizen, he did
not mean Turks are intolerant to Christians, but the leaders of
Turkey should be able to address problems we have as well. We want
not only tolerance but also we want solution to our problems."


8. (SBU) COMMENT: While Patriarch Bartholomew's assent to a
leading CBS metaphor clearly raised the GoT's hackles and offended
Turkish national sensitivities, the fast shift in direction of the
media commentary is notable, and may owe much to the Patriarch's
reputation as a respected and sincere spokesman on these issues. In
addition, it seems to be widely acknowledged that the GoT's record
on Halki remains a series of largely unfilled promises.

SILLIMAN

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
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