MESA Panel Speaks to Nationalism and Censorship in the Turkish Media

BOSTON, Mass. (A.W)—From Nov. 21-24, the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) held its 43rd Annual Meeting at the Boston Marriott Copley Place. As part of the program, MESA addressed the sociopolitical issues central to Armenian affairs with a panel, organized by Josh Carney and Yesim Kaptan (doctoral students in communications and culture at Indian University-Bloomington) on the “Turkish Media and the Question of Identity.”

Kaptan spoke first, presenting her paper on the forms of Turkish nationalism through consumer products, entitled “Turkifies Even Americans: Nationalism in the Cola Turca Advertisements.” She began by expositing that “between 1999 and 2007, ‘Turkishism’ became prominent in Turkish advertising campaigns. The motivation behind these campaigns was to offer Turkish people the chance to reclaim their national identity through their consumer choices.”

“In July 2003, a new marketing campaign was introduced featuring American actor Chevy Chase for ‘Cola Turca,’” she continued. The agency competes with Coca-Cola in the local Turkish market, so Cola-Turca decided to tap into sentiments of Turkish nationalism to stay competitive, coining the slogan for Cola-Turca: “Turca is Ours.”

“The first commercial, produced by a transnational corporation, raised the question, ‘Who is the audience for these advertisements?’” The campaign’s producers responded: “The theme was defined not as nationalism but as ‘positive nationalism.’” They posited that “positive nationalism” no longer requires an “other” to define its advertisements.

According to the perspectives of those who adhere to “positive nationalism,” Kaptan said, “If modernity can be achieved through the consumption of specific products, then so can national identity.” However, from her own view as a researcher she added that “’global Turkishness’ only becomes universally accepted if it is accepted in the global western world.”

Capri Karaca, a doctoral student in anthropology and Turkish studies at the University of Washington, presented her paper—entitled “Turkey in All Its Colors: Representing Istanbul as a European Capital of Culture 2010”—on the subtext and images of a promotional video recently released by the Turkish Ministry of Tourism. “Ottoman-era ‘peace and tolerance’ are being used as marketing tools for these projects as expressions of what has been deemed the ‘neo-Ottomanism’ of the AKP Party and a departure from the orientation of the Kemalist state,” she began.

The video itself is shot from the perspective of a seagull in flight, swooping down on an Istanbul shrouded in fog and mysticism. “Interestingly, the first building seen is the Ecumenical Patriarchate,” Karaca said. “Noticeably, there is not a single shot of a mosque in this promotional video, though scenes of Byzantine monuments and Roman Aqueducts are prominent.” Noticeably absent are Armenian monuments. What reigns is the avoidance of all images that could associate Turkey—in the mind of the tourist—with either the Armenian Genocide or radical Islam.

Finally, Josh Carney presented his paper on “Martyrs and Traitors: A Study of the Narrative Web Spun for Operation Sun (Gunes Harekati) in Hurriyet.” He prefaced, “This is a study of rhetoric rather than a study of effects on readers. I excluded the use of opinion columns but used Hurriyet because, for better or worse, it is the flagship of the Turkish press.”

Importantly, Carney emphasized, “There is a careful push to show mourners expressing grief in Kurdish or saying Kurdish prayers to show Turkey as one pluralistic body—unified against terror.”

However, he added, “When stories about the PKK come up, the majority of the story is about the people killed with perhaps one line by the military that ‘we’re on their trail’ about the PKK, and in fact the story is always about the Turkish soldiers.”

In Hurriyet’s coverage of Operation Sun, though he noted that “the Iraqi Kurds aren’t labeled as ‘traitors’ at all,” unlike the epithets used to denote the PKK fighters. Instead, “they’re ‘external others.’”

“I used Hurriyet because that was what was available at Indian University and I wanted to use the paper copies to see how prominent and where on the page layouts the PKK articles were located. But a comparative analysis to other Turkish papers would be fascinating,” said.

The conclusions that may be drawn from the panel, however, are those that are already too familiar to Armenians worldwide and especially those in Turkey, who deal with the stigma of their downplayed minority status every day. While the Turkish business community may seek to convince the world that Turkish citizenry can be nationalistic without an “other” like Armenians or Kurds to centralize its fervor; that Islamic terrorism is a mere phantasm to those strolling in Sultanhamet; and that the PKK is but an isolated band of radicals in Turkey’s mountains, enquiring minds will continue to explore instances of repression and human rights abuses in Turkey, whose truths elude the headlines and marketing departments of the world stage.

Andy Turpin

Andy Turpin

Andy Turpin has been the assistant editor of the Armenian Weekly since 2006. He was raised in Palma City, Fla. His family is of Italian, Welsh and Armenized-Romani stock. He graduated from Earlham College in Richmond, Ind., with degrees in history and journalism. Following graduation, he went to Armenia as an English as a Second Language (ESL) U.S. Peace Corp volunteer. He received his CELTA-ESL degree from Cambridge University in 2006.

1 Comment

  1. How inventive – a paper at MESA on nationalism and nationalism in Turkey.
    If “Coca Turka”, as explained above, why not Coca Talaat Pasha?  Or instead of Uncle Ben’s Rice, why not Uncle Enver Pasha’s Rice?
    You know, Camel cigarettes still advertise that they are made from Turkish tobacco.  The brand’s old advertising slogan was, if you’re old enough to remember, “I’d walk a mile for a Camel.”  That may still be the slogan. I don’t know.
    In any case, how about a pack of Camel cigarettes having a picture of a member of the Special Organization (Teshkilata Makhuseh (sorry I may have spelled that incorrectly)) saying something like, “I’d walk a hundred miles to accompany a death march into Der Zor.”  ? I think Turkish consumers would really go for that sort of nationalism.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.