During last week's blog, I shared with my readers the ongoing saga of Turkish president Erdogan's palace and the bad rap it was receiving in the world press. And, with its costs possibly soaring to over a billion dollars, rightly so. If this was not enough, this past week Turkey once again made world headlines with a protest (attack) on US sailors, and with Erdogan providing the world with a revisionist history of the Americas.
Last Wednesday, three American sailors (in civilian clothing) were attacked by a group of protesters, belonging to an extreme nationalist group. Although the perpetrators were eventually arrested, they were released shortly after. The sheer ugliness of the event is hard to describe in words. Even if I am not at all sympathetic to the US military, they were guests of Turkey and the humiliation the sailors endured was unjust. We can only praise the sailors for the restraint they showed since this could have ended much worse.
Clearly, even if this was a fringe group, the anti-imperialist Turkish Youth Union (TGB), imagine if this had happened to Turkish military personnel in the United States or Europe. This would have captured the headlines in Turkey, caused protests, most certainly including burning the flag of the country where it occurred, and most likely have ended with Erdogan scorning the country on live television, and his pro-government media smearing it the next day.
It needs to be stressed that the fact that Erdogan did not stand up in a strong voice and condemn the attack was a missed opportunity, especially in light of tense relations between the US and Turkey concerning the Kobani crisis. Furthermore, his honorary first in charge, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, also remained silent, with condemnation of the incident being issued by the Foreign Department.
No doubt that Turkey was caught off guard by the incident, while Americans sat at home watching it play out on their television screens. True, some US media outlets, seem to have got the story totally wrong, speculating the worst-that the group attacking the Americans were connected ISIS-something that could not be farther from the truth. Regardless, the damage had been done, and no Turkish spokesman was in sight.
Just days later, Turkey was back in the news following Erdogan's claiming at a conference of Latin American Muslims that in fact it was Muslims who had discovered the Americas in 1178, and not Christopher Columbus in 1492. In in no time at all the international media was all over Erdogan's preposterous claim that Cuba had served as a home to Muslims even before Columbus, making his proposal to rebuild the mosque that never was, even stranger (on that note, a Turkish proposal to build a mosque in Cuba was also recently rejected by its government).
Once again, similar to last week's Palace incident, the "Muslims discovering Americas," quickly became the laughingstock of the world press. This coupled with the widespread negative coverage of the attack on American soldiers, not only surely strengthened the already negative perception of policy makers towards Turkey, but also gushed over to the general European and American public.
As Turkey deals daily with its scorned relations it has with its Middle Eastern neighbors, these past weeks have shown that if it does not work hard to restore its international standing that it is in danger of hitting even newer lows in how its perceived in Europe and the United States, not to mention causing much damage in its relations with them.
Yes, for the international press much of the recent news from Turkey has turned into a laughing matter, or in the case of the attack on the sailors, sheer disbelief; however, for the country's citizens and those who wish to see Turkey retain its international prestige, this is far from a laughing matter, but rather a tragicomedy playing out before our eyes.