Radical claims published by a Turkish newspaper allege that Germany was involved in the most recent bombings in Istanbul. Experts say the reports highlight the declining state of media in Turkey.
The Turkish daily newspaper "Günes" alleged earlier this week that the June 3 bombing in Istanbul, which saw 11 people killed, was an act of German retaliation following Turkey's indignation about the recent vote on the Armenian genocide in the German Bundestag, the lower house of parliament. The tabloid published a front-page image with the headline "German handiwork," stating that Germany was in "panic mode" after Turkey's reaction and therefore resorting to financing attacks in Turkey, presumably to divert attention.
The newspaper report appeared to build on earlier remarks by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan charging German MPs, in particular those with a Turkish background, with supporting terrorists in Turkey following the parliamentary resolution on the Armenian massacres of 1915. Germany is the 26th country to recognize the acts as genocide, whereas Turkey remains adamant that the massacres were never part of any sort of Ottoman-era plans to deliberately kill Armenians.
Erdogan appears to brand all individuals that can be seen as subversive to the idea of a homogenous and united Turkish identity as insurgents who are deliberately threatening the integrity of the country today.
The chief executive of the Turkish Community in Germany (TGD), Gökay Sofuoglu, says that such over-the-top reporting is, however, largely driven by sensationalism and Erdogan's brand of nationalism - and should therefore be ignored.
"This only goes to prove that the media in Turkey are not really independent anymore. Günes has repeatedly published similarly spectacular claims in the past, as have other papers." he told Deutsche Welle.
Zero tolerance for differences in opinion
Hilal Köylü, DW correspondent in Ankara, echoes similar sentiments: "No one believes such allegations. There's so much speculation in the papers today that people no longer know what to believe. These kinds of reports only serve the purpose of providing the perfect ingredients for a recipe of populist politics. Erdogan wants to be a bully, and he knows it too."
Sofuoglu thinks that this is part Erdogan's policy of accusing those who don't agree with him of deliberate aggression; but to what end, he doesn't know: "Erdogan isn't that bothered with the resolution (on the Armenian genocide) as such but is rather using it to expand his sphere of influence when it comes to domestic issues. I don't know, though, what it is that he hopes to accomplish in the end. He can achieve his goal of introducing a presidential system in Turkey without engaging in so much aggression. It hurts the media as much as the public."
Sofuoglu also stressed that a culture of such baseless reporting was increasingly gaining a foothold in Turkey's media landscape against the backdrop of the government's clampdown on press freedom, while resulting in attacks on all kinds of dissident voices.
"It is in bad form to even comment on such unrefined reports at all. It's become their typical shtick, unfortunately, and I don't support it. To be associated with terrorist organizations for political reasons is abominable and out of place. There can always be differences in opinion, but to be called a terrorist because of that is more than inappropriate."
In bed with the PKK?
Other newspapers joined in on the attacks on Germany in the wake of the genocide resolution, with the "Star" newspaper, which features the unequivocal slogan "the voice of the national leadership," publishing a front-page image of German Chancellor Angela Merkel being likened to Adolf Hitler. The headline reads, "Everything for the PKK," implying that the recognition of the Armenian genocide served the sole purpose of strengthening the insurgency of the PKK, the Kurdistan Workers' Party, which has been involved in a bloody conflict with the Turkish government for more than 30 years.
Understanding the apparent reasoning of the Turkish leadership (and by extension that of the government-affiliated news outlets) requires somewhat of a stretch of imagination for many outsiders:
Since the war in neighboring Syria has fostered a network of Islamic State (IS) supporters in Turkey, suicide bombings have dramatically increased in the country. The PKK, meanwhile, has also ramped up its strikes, not only targeting the beleaguered southeast of the country but also carrying out attacks in Istanbul and Ankara. In this context, any vote against Turkey's integrity is quickly interpreted as a vote in favor of any and all insurgent groups. Germany's parliamentary resolution on Armenia seems to merely be a case in point.
The fact that a Kurdish militant group known as the Kurdistan Freedom Hawks (TAK), an offshoot of the PKK, which was also behind two deadly bombings in the Turkish capital, Ankara, earlier in the year, has claimed full responsibility for the car bomb attack in Istanbul does not appear to factor in. To what extent this may "exonerate" Germany's supposed culpability remains unclear amid conspiracies about parallel state structures, or "deep states," operating in both countries once again gaining momentum in the Turkish press as well.
According to Hilal Köylü, the Turkish government is following a deliberate strategy of disinformation by instigating such conspiracy theories: "People don't understand what it's all about. Politicians use this to their advantage, appealing to the public's feelings of fear about an enemy wanting to attack Turkey in its currently weakened state. Whether that's an enemy outside of Turkey or within is largely irrelevant to achieving their desired effect of spreading fear."
In denial about denial?
Sofuoglu, however, argues that the diplomatic spat that ensued between Germany and Turkey since the resolution is also based on ignorance on both sides:
"Turkey-bashing and Germany-bashing appear to be in competition with each other. There seems to be more speculation in the media in both countries today than truth. For German media to call those opposing the resolution on Armenia 'deniers' is also quite rich," he told DW.
"I'm against the notion of calling those events 'genocide,' but I'm not denying anything. I think it's bad that you can't discuss this matter objectively as long as it remains in the long shadow of the term 'genocide.' The Holocaust wasn't passed as genocide by a parliamentary resolution either, but was defined as such in the Nuremberg Trials. When it comes to the issue of Armenians, things should also be defined via legal channels as well."
With the resolution on the Armenian genocide finalized, it may take some time until relations between Germany and Turkey are normalized again. Hilal Köylü believes that the storm will eventually blow over:
"There won't be any consequences for Germany. It's not as if Turks will suddenly start boycotting German goods or announce sanctions. They love their BMWs and Mercedes too much to do that."