WikiLeaks: ‘Reflexive Turkish Nationalism Ensnares MasterCard’

On Dec. 8, WikiLeaks released a confidential cable originating from the U.S. Consulate in Istanbul—titled “Reflexive Turkish Nationalism Ensnares Mastercard”—documenting the “public relations nightmare” that ensued after MasterCard, the corporate sponsor of the UEFA Champion’s League Final in Istanbul between Milan and Liverpool, distributed a city guide that included passages on Turkish-Kurdish relations and “the Armenian tragedy of 1915.” MasterCard received much criticism from both public and private officials, with some in the form of death threats. The company officially apologized soon after, claiming its staff had not revised the text produced by the popular travel guide “Lonely Planet.”

Below is the full text of the cable.

***

C O N F I D E N T I A L ISTANBUL 000890

SIPDIS

DEPT FOR EUR/SE, DS/DSS/OSAC AND DS/IP/EUR

ANKARA FOR RSO

E.O. 12958: DECL: 05/31/2015

TAGS: PGOV SOCI KISL ASEC TU

SUBJECT: REFLEXIVE TURKISH NATIONALISM ENSNARES MASTERCARD

This cable was coordinated with Embassy Ankara.

(SBU) Summary: After briefly basking in the reflected glow of last week’s exciting UEFA Champion’s League Final in Istanbul between Milan and Liverpool, corporate sponsor

Mastercard has found itself dealing with a public relations nightmare in recent days following public criticism of inclusion in its match city guide of critical commentary about both Turkey and its revered founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. The offending passages, first publicized in the liberal Islamist daily “Zaman,” addressed the issue of Turkish-Kurdish relations and the Armenian tragedy of 1915. Mastercard briefly closed its office following death threats against its General Manager, and has since officially apologized, noting that the offending material had not been reviewed by any company officials, but instead emanated from the “Lonely Planet,” which produced the bulk of the publication. The public reaction, which has also included calls for a boycott of the company by Turkish NGO’s and the threat of public prosecution from the Istanbul Governor, highlights once again how close to the surface core nationalist reflexes and taboos are in the post-December 17th environment. End Summary.

(SBU) Shortlived Honeymoon: Mastercard officials, whose biggest problem last week was the deluge of calls they were receiving seeking tickets to the May 25th Milan-Liverpool match, faced a more serious crisis on May 30 when “Zaman” newspaper published extracts from the city guide the company distributed to its VIP guests and journalists. In the “Lonely Planet” produced publication, which was written by an Istanbul-based British journalist, brief reference was made to the issue of minorities in Turkey, with sections covering both the Kurds and the Armenians. The breezy narrative noted that “Ataturk banned any expression of Kurdishness in an attempt at assimilation,” adding that major battles and atrocities followed in the 1920s and 1930s, with the deaths of more than 30,000 coming since 1984. On the equally sensitive Armenian issue, the guide noted that while most Armenians had remained loyal to the Ottoman Empire, some had rebelled, engaging in terrorism that set off a powerful anti-Armenian backlash and the “widespread massacre of innocent Armenians in Istanbul and elsewhere.”

(SBU) Harsh Reaction: The publication sparked harsh reaction from most quarters, with Istanbul Governor Guler denouncing the “insult” to Turkey and warning that “such a sponsorship firm needs to be more cautious.” He added that officials would investigate the publication and determine if it constituted a criminal offense. NGO’s were also quick to leap on the bandwagon, with the Consumers’ Union calling for a boycott of the company if it did not officially apologize.

Turkish sports officials also expressed disappointment with the publication. More worryingly, anonymous callers phoned in death threats, and nationalist groups indicated that they would organize protests, resulting in closure of Mastercard’s office early this week and the provision of extra security for General Manager Ozlem Imece.

(C) Damage Control: Since the story broke on May 30, Mastercard has been engaged in damage control. In an initial announcement on May 30, the company admitted its mistake and noted it had contacted the “Lonely Planet” to demand the removal of “erroneous information” from the guide. When this did not quell the furor, the company went further a day later and officially apologized. In a public statement, General Manager Imece observed that she had not known of some of the material that was to be included in the publication, and was “deeply shocked” by it. Privately she has told us that the company was blind-sided by the furor, having been focused on security for their VIP guests last week. This, she said, was something that “no one expected.”

(C) Comment: Given the sensitivities that exist here, inclusion of any material on topics such as Turkey’s minority policy or the Armenian tragedy in a sporting guide was in retrospect a serious mistake. The harsh, instinctive reaction, however, shows the heightened sensitivities and hair-trigger nature of public discourse here since the December 17th EU decision. Post RSO has reached out to Mastercard, which is an active member of the OSAC Advisory Council, to ensure that they are satisfied with the police response they have received and to provide assistance if needed. End Comment.

ARNETT

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Nanore Barsoumian

Nanore Barsoumian was the editor of the Armenian Weekly from 2014 to 2016. She served as assistant editor of the Armenian Weekly from 2010 to 2014. Her writings focus on human rights, politics, poverty, and environmental and gender issues. She has reported from Armenia, Nagorno-Karabagh, Javakhk, and Turkey. She earned her B.A. degree in political science and English from the University of Massachusetts (Boston), where she is currently continuing her graduate studies. Email Nanore Barsoumian at writenanore@gmail.com, or follow her on Twitter (@NanoreB).

27 Comments

  1. I’m glad this happened so others can see how sneaky, pr-calculated and evil Turks have been, they are in some sort of psychological denial till this day…. how convenient praying 5 x day and killing innocent people, what hypocrites… Let the world see and experience the true face of Turkey….

  2. To be honest with you Mary, nobody will care about this cable except Armenian weekly.
    This web site is obsessed with everything negative about Turkey that will provoke Armenians. This site is just trying to fuel hatred to Turkey and I can say the same for most of the Armenian news sites.
    It’s not surprising that Mary calls Turks evil, of course she’s filled with hate propaganda from sites like Armenian Weekly.

  3. Derya, you are wrong.  We do not want to promote negative propaganda about Turkey.  We want the truth to be recognized so that justice is done.  Sorry that it is so negative, but that was not our choice.  It was your ancestors.

  4. Boyajian, this website is mostly read by Armenians. Only Armenians are reading these articles. Do they need more news about how Turks are evil? You are not still convinced?
    If you want justice to be recognized this way, open a Turkish language website, publish these articles in Turkish. That would be more meaningful. You are just doing the propaganda to Armenians who don’t need it.

  5.   Derya, I think in order to understand the comments you read, it is important to put them in perspective. Many Armenians who contribute to sites such as this are utterly frustrated with the refusal of the Republic of Turkey, as the successor government to the Ottoman Empire, to accept and makes ammends for the murder of its Armenian citizens and confiscation of their personal perty and historic homeland. Sometimes the comments can spill over into stereotypes of the Turks. It is unfortunate, but in order to fully compreheresulted in your ancestors murder, the forced exodus of the survivors to scattered corners oyou may want to consider your reaction if a government ordered eventf the earth and the loss of all personal property. In addition to this horrific and evil deed, the perpetrators and their successors would focus decades on denying the crime and teaching their young a revised version of history.
            Consider the psychological impact to a people robbed of their nation and having to convince others 95 years later that a crime existed. Our peoples should know more about each other . After all, we did live together for several hundred years, but true reconciliation will only happen when your government is honest with the Turkish people and the world. Then real healing can begin. Until then, you must understand the nature of the comments.
              As far as this site is concerned, i am sure that you understand that the Weekly is not a travel or tourism journal; it is an instrument with a political mission on behalf of the Armenian people. As such, I am sure you can appreciate the interests of the commentators. i do read several Turkish on line dailies, primarliy to learn about Turkey and to keep informed of the development of modern Turkish society. I encourage all Armenians interested in our cause to do the same. There are of course blogs and comment sites with these vehicles with individuals who expose views that range from knowledgable to consistent with denial.
            Perhaps, someday your idea will happen and our dialogue could evolve into real discourse… but you know when the Turkish government finally comes to terms with its past, it will be liberating for the Turks. They will wonder why it took them so long. Until then, you may not like the comments you read at times.  

  6.  Please excuse the corrections. Derya, I think in order to understand the comments you read, it is important to put them in perspective. Many Armenians who contribute to sites such as this are utterly frustrated with the refusal of the Republic of Turkey, as the successor government to the Ottoman Empire, to accept and makes ammends for the murder of its Armenian citizens and confiscation of their personal property and historic homeland. Sometimes the comments can spill over into stereotypes of the Turks. It is unfortunate, but in order to fully comprehend this observation, you may want to consider your reaction if a government ordered event resulted in your ancestors’ murder, the forced exodus of the survivors and to be scattered around the globe constantly facing assimilation. In addition to this horrific and evil deed, the perpetrators and their successors would focus decades on denying the crime and teaching their young a revised version of history.
            Consider the psychological impact to a people robbed of their nation and having to convince others 95 years later that a crime happened. Our peoples should know more about each other . After all, we did live together for several hundred years, but true reconciliation will only happen when your government is honest with the Turkish people and the world. Then real healing can begin. Until then, you must understand the nature of the comments.
              As far as this site is concerned, I am sure that you understand that the Weekly is not a travel or tourism journal; it is an instrument with a political mission on behalf of the Armenian people. As such, I am sure you can appreciate the interests of the commentators. I do read several Turkish on line dailies, primarliy to learn about Turkey and to keep informed of the development of modern Turkish society. I encourage all Armenians interested in our cause to do the same. There are of course blogs and comment sites with these vehicles with individuals who expose views that range from knowledgable to consistent with denial.
            Perhaps, someday your idea will happen and our dialogue could evolve into real discourse… but you know when the Turkish government finally comes to terms with its past, it will be liberating for the Turks. They will wonder why it took them so long. Until then, you may not like the comments you read at times.  

  7. Stepan:   “After all, we did live together for several hundred years.” Not that I deny this, but such a statement somehow implies an element of positivism in generally tumultuous relationship of an ancient nation, several-millennia inhabitant of the Armenian Plateau, and an occupier—first Seljuk, then Mongol, and then Ottoman amalgamation—who enslaved this nation, appropriated its lands, and declared the indigenous nation a rightless, disenfranchised millet. I know you didn’t mean the opposite, but the phrase has reminded me an excerpt from the recent speech by Davutoglu at Brookings. Turks try to present centuries-long Armenian-Turkish relations as equal, good-neighborly, non-discriminatory, but Armenians and international scholars know that for the most part those relations were discriminatory and often times openly antagonistic that went from bad to worse in the 1890s under Amdul Hamid, then in early 1900s in Adana, and ultimately from worse to genocidal all across the Armenian vilalyets under the Ittihadists. We need to always invite the Turks’ attention that living under the Turkish yoke was not a honeymoon vacation for Armenians…

  8. Stepan, I understand you. I’m anti-nationalist. I’m much more harsh against Turkish nationalists. But your attitude doesn’t help anything. You can see more positive sides like recent apology campaigns, genocide commemorations in Turkey. Current Armenian attitude gives the message that whatever Turks do, they will be hated by Armenians and doesn’t give courage Turkish people to question official history.

  9. Derya, I’m glad that Stepan helped you understand the context of the comments you read here. While you are correct that few Turks actually visit this site, the usual comment of Turks here tends to be derogatory and denial of history.  Such comments naturally prompt strong retorts that sometimes reflect the frustration and anger of those who have waited an inhumanely long time for justice for themselves and their ancestors.  But this is not propaganda.  It is the strong voice of Armenians determined to see that Turkey faces her responsibility.  Your idea that Armenians sponsor a Turkish language site to reach Turks more directly is a good suggestion.
    I just wonder what you and other Turks are looking for in coming to this site?

  10. mjm, good point. There is no doubt that Armenians lived, especially in the 19th and early 20th century in a society of institutionalized discrimination. Despite this our peoples did intereact and have cross cultural experiences. The political and civil experiences of the our people may supercede the importance in our memory, but many Western Armenians and their descendants do feel a cultural affinity what they find in Turkey. This is not because we have been Turkified, but because it is clear evidence of the long standing influence Armenians have had on Ottoman society and its successor institutions. The Turks never realized the value of their non-Turkish subjects, but it doesn’t change the fact that we were contributing citizens of the Ottoman world.
           That being said, it is all subordinated to the unresolved crime of the destruction of their Armenian population.   

  11. Derya, could you please be more specific about the attitude that you find unhelpful, which you mention in your comment to Stepan above.  I and others have stated on numerous occasions that we do not hate Turks.  We hate the policies of successive Turkish governments and institutions regarding the Armenians and their efforts to seek justice.

  12.    Derya, I have strong views on Armenian national interests and our quest for justice, but I have little interest in prolonged anger and hatred. We are a Christian people and this is counter to the commands of our Lord. I do understand the foundation of such emotions and I think we Armenians(myself included) do have a moments of weakness where our frustration causes us to express emotions. If we look at how to end this cycle of mutual stereotyping, it resides with the truth. A true relationship must be based on the integrity that comes with accepting our past as well as our present and future. It is true that elements of Turkish society are embracing the truth and we are encouraged by the increasing examples. Although there are similar segments of the Armenian community, i do not believe this behavior will have a significant impact until it is perceived that the “power”elements of Turkish society have embraced it. Usually this starts with the intellectual classes of journalists and academic(as it is in Turkey), but they are not fully empowered groups themselves. The government continues to articulate a clear denial policy. What steps can be taken prior to the formal recognition of the genocide in Turkey(and it will happen)?…. rescind code 301, renovate and return Armenian cultural and religious institution to the proper Armenian authorities, open the border with Armenia, etc, etc, etc. In the the absence of any of these acts, it is difficult to find integrity in the relationship and that is at the core of what bothers you.

  13. Stepan:
     
    Re: “…and I think we Armenians(myself included) do have a moments of weakness …”
     
    Please do not speak on behalf of all Armenians, as in “ we Armenians “.
    Thank God many Armenians, myself included, do not see it as a weakness – rather it’s a source of tremendous strength and helps us survive and thrive.
    Thank God and thank immortal Artsakhtsi fighters had enough anger in their hearts and their collective memory not to allow themselves to be subjected to a 2nd Genocide, all 200,000 of them.
    Thank God heroic Archbishop Barkev Martirosyan  of Artsakh did not exhort his flock to pray for salvation on their knees, rather exhorted them to take up arms and defend themselves, even joining them on the frontlines.  Result: 200,000 of our brothers and sisters are alive today and living in a free, secure Artsakh, instead of having joined our other victims of massacres and Genocide.
     
    We have nothing to apologize for to Turks or anybody else: where was the Lord when 2,000,000 of His children were savagely slaughtered by barbarians ?
    We tried being “Christian people” from the time of Hamidian massacres to early 1920s: we lost 2 Million of our brothers and sisters.
    If they were not slaughtered and forcibly converted, there would be an estimated 30,000,000  Armenians in Western Armenia and Armenia proper, devoted Christians.
    So please explain how is it that the Lord saw it fit to allow that to happen.

  14. Stepan, present AKP government in Turkey wants to solve problems with Armenians but they are blocked by nationalists. In the past, Turkey was not a democracy, it is still not a democracy actually. Military ruled the country and the military was actually ideological successor of Young Turks.
    It’s unfortunate that Western powers and Soviets signed peace agreement with Turkish nationalists in 1923. They also supported them over the 20th century. You Armenians should also blame them for their mistake. Turkish nationalists ruled the country, the most important, education system.
    I’m not against bashing Turkish state, but I think Turkish people were not the evil here. Now most Turks are brainwashed nationalists but if they knew what really happened, they would not hesitate to accept and apologize.

  15. Derya:   Several commentators here assured you that our righteous indignation is against unrepentant Turkish state, not against Turkish people. Yet, you went on putting the blame on Western powers and the Soviets. Of course, these power centers had their share of blame. Germany was the behind-the-scene instigator of the mass slaughter of Armenians in 1915 onwards, and the Soviets signed the 1923 Lausanne Treaty with Kemalist Turkey effectively giving to Turks ancient Western Armenian lands. But to say “but I think Turkish people were not the evil here” is not historically correct. Modern-day Turkish people are not, but who were most of the Ittihadist leaders? Not Turks? Who were provincial administrators, the valis, hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of army commanders, soldiers, gendarmes, the Chettes, and scores of ordinary looters, rapists, and murderers of the Armenians? Were they not ethnic Turks and to a lesser degree, Kurds, back in those horrible years?

  16.  Avery, my comments were in reference to emotional stereotyping of Turks by Armenians. I do not pretend to speak for our people, but i think it is generally accepted that hatred and stereotyping is fairly prevalent in our community. My point is simple: the hatred is a short term emotional release that creates the veneer that we are contributing to the cause or easing our frustration. I have serious reservations about secular nationalism. We are who we are by the grace of God. Look at our history, the formualtive moments in our people’s development…. the alphabet was invented by divine inspiration to translate the Bible and bring the Word of our Lord to the Armenian people. Despite the loss of political freedom until the Bragraduni period, our nation flourished with our faith. Avarayr was a test of faith and we passed.
             I have the same fire in my heart for the heroic exploits at Sardarabat and Karabagh. My suggestion to you is instead of blaming our faith(if that is what you are suggesting), I would think about why the Armenians are here today as a proud and sustantive nation?… why are we not like the Babylonians.. the Sumerians. the Aztecs, and others… once great civilizations that are gone? Why did Talaat fail? i believe the answer is that God has blessed our people with the will to survive.
             Our cause is just and our resolve must be strong, but hating is a distraction and counter to our faith. When our focus spills over from the government and support infrastructure of Turkey to the Turkish people and anything Turkish, I think we are doing our cause a disservice. Nationalism untempered is shallow. Our people have a formula for blending their faith and nation. It is why we are here. Pray for Bishop Barkev. He models this behavior I admire.

  17.  Derya, I believe that your differentiation between government policy(whether military or civilian) and the citizens is valid. I also agree it is difficult to blame individuals who have been subject to a distorted view of history, but is this our problem? To Armenians, it is simply a component of the master cover up of the last 90+ years by the Turkish authorities. I hope you will understand that it is improbable for any Armenian to accept the argument that the Turkish government is sincere with Armenians but is limited by the disunity of the Turkish political sytem. I am sure the nationalists limit the effectiveness of the government, but when they(the government) denys the Genocide thet ignore the core issue of “to solve problems with Armenians” Also from our view point the overtures by the government has an almost superior view towards Armenians…a patronizing view of subjects… almost Ottoman. They must respect the Armenians in order to reconcile. Insulting the Armenians with continuous denial shows they are not yet serious. Attempting to put a wedge between the diaspora and the Republic of Armenia will only heighten the tension.

  18. Derya:    You think the present AKP government wants to resolve problems with Armenians but they are blocked by Turkish nationalists. Well, Armenians don’t buy this. Every consecutive Turkish government has been Armenophobic, unrepentant, and distortive. A couple of most recent dog & pony shows (restoration of Akhtamar, etc.) are widely viewed (not only by Armenians but also by the international media) as an attempt to mollify the EU and create a false impression of Turkey as “religiously tolerant” state. I don’t believe these recent acts were done as a result of Turkish remorse for wiping out one of the most ancient human civilizations inhabiting the Earth. Besides, if you think Turkish presidents are blocked by nationalists, could you explain how the late president Turgut Ozal could go so far as to threaten to drop “a few bombs on the other side of the border,” because “the Armenians have not learned the lesson” [read: the lesson of genocidal extermination]. Do you think your nationalists are that powerful to put such explicitly bellicose words into the mouth of one of your presidents? I strongly doubt so.

  19. Derya, AKP may be hampered by nationalists, but has nonetheless shown little that can be seen as a sincere effort to recognize Armenians as equal human beings deserving of the same rights and privileges as Turks.  This is the respect that is missing, that Stepan alludes to above.  It is a major hurdle, which Turkish governments have been unable to jump for 95 years.  Consequently, Turkish people have been affected by these attitudes, which were transmitted through discriminatory policies and distorted history taught in your media and educational institutions. As an example of this institutional lack of respect, Turks often misread Armenian demands for recognition of the crime committed by Turkey as the cries of whining, self-pitying children or hate-filled anti-Turkish rants.
     
    Neither is true.  We simply want justice for our ancestors and the right to reclaim what was stolen from us.  It is universally accepted that victims of theft have the right to look for compensation and that the families of murder victims have the right to expect the murderer to pay for his crime.  This may be a hard truth to accept but anything short of this is not justice.  Armenians do not look for Turks to suffer as we were made to suffer, but we ask Turks to fulfill their responsibility as members of the human race.  And remember, Turkey has accepted the Genocide convention which stipulates that there is no statute of limitations on the prosecution of the crime of Genocide.  This is why we persevere and why we can’t be the ‘loyal millet’ any longer.
     
    Both you and mjm are correct in pointing out the Soviet role in the dismantling of the Armenian highlands.  And since those days many other countries have played at promoting their own geopolitical positions at the cost of justice for Armenians.  But as mjm correctly points out, it was thousands of ordinary Turkish citizens who participated in the murder of my ancestors.  This responsibility falls squarely on the shoulders of the Turkish people.  Perhaps some of your people were involved.  Perhaps some of my ancestors were forced to become brides or slaves, or forcibly converted to Islam by members of your family.  We will never know.  Knowing specifically who did what is not important to me.  I am not looking for an eye for an eye.  But the guilt is clearly on the Turkish nation.  Every day that Turkey continues to benefit from what it took from my people only adds to the crime.

  20. What I’m actually trying to say is Armenians should start with small victories rather than a big, final victory. I understand that you want justice but this is not a just world. This is a sick world, there is no morality in politics, there has never been. I believe Armenians should think more pragmatically, then they can achieve their objectives faster.

  21. Derya:   Your suggestion to start with small victories may be valid, but 95 years has been an excruciatingly long period for the Armenians and there is a fear that starting with small victories now will delay justice for us for another 95 years. My counter suggestion is to continue struggle for the final victory while keeping in sight possibilities for small victories in the process. There will, inevitably, aslo be small failures in the process…

  22. Derya, thank you for trying, but do you really think that Armenians don’t know that this is an unjust world!
     
    Do you really understand what you are suggesting?  Maybe we should be more patient?  Maybe 95 years is not long enough time?  Maybe we should wait until every last genocide survivor and eyewitness has died.  Maybe we should wait until assimilation has destroyed the last threads of Armenianism in my children.  Maybe we should wait for Turkey to convince the world that Armenians are cry-babies who are making a big deal out of a ‘civil war’ that they lost.  Maybe not enough of our churches have been destroyed.  Maybe more of our history should be claimed by Turkey as the remnants of Seljuk Turks.  Maybe we should be grateful that Akhtamar became a museum, a desecrated but ‘restored’ shell of what it was meant to be.  Maybe we need to wait as the world powers decide that oil rights and military bases override morality and justice.  Oh, wait that has already happened.
     
    I understand what you mean about small victories and I agree with you and mjm that it is good to recognize small victories on the road to the ‘big one.’  Mjm is right.  We can’t compromise our struggle for the big victory.  The ‘big one’ is long overdue and you and other fair-minded Turks need to begin to realize this.  You are asking for too much and giving too little.

  23. You are right Boyajian. I think I just fell into wishful thinking. Turkey didn’t do anything considerable and you are right about giving too little and asking for too much. I think I should argue with Turks rather than Armenians.

  24. Derya:
    Are you being sarcastic, or you genuinely mean what you say ?
    In any case, I don’t think we are arguing here – most of the time, anyway.
    We are exchanging viewpoints, and hopefully learning from each other.
    Myself, and I am sure many others here, appreciate and value the input and viewpoint of Turks like yourself: you have been a ‘good sport’.
    I even value the input of Denialist Turks that comment @ Armenianweekly.com  and Asbarez.com regularly: it’s distasteful to read, but very educational and illuminating.

  25. Dear Derya,
    Today is Armenian Christmas Eve and you have given me a wonderful Christmas gift in your last comment.  I wish you success and courage if you decide to argue with Turks.  I also wish you and your family much love, health and happiness in the new year.

  26. Derya,

    I will join Avery and others to thank you for your time and input. You made some very good points, and yes we would like to have further discussions with Turks.

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