By Mark Lowen BBC Turkey correspondent, Istanbul
Image caption The BBC's Mark Lowen has himself been the subject of absurd allegations in Turkish media
A headscarved woman whose baby was kicked while she was urinated on by anti-government demonstrators.
Veteran political activist Noam Chomsky championing President Erdogan in a newspaper interview.
Photos of bloated corpses of Muslims in a river in Myanmar. A video showing Turkish jets blowing up Kurdish fighters in Syria.
All were compelling and widely-shared stories in Turkey. All were completely false.
Turkey is a country where fact and fiction are increasingly hard to distinguish, and where information is weaponised to further divide a profoundly polarised society.
It is little wonder that Turkey ranks first in a list of countries where people complain about completely made-up stories, according to this year's Reuters Digital News Report.
Almost half its people – 49% – say they faced “fake news” in the week before the survey was taken. In Germany, it is just 9%.
Every day brings new outlandish and unverified claims in the media.
This is fodder for a nation addicted to conspiracy theories – where a senior adviser to Mr Erdogan claimed the president's enemies were trying to kill him with telekinesis and that foreign TV chefs were spies.
Image caption This Turkish story called the BBC's correspondent a “provocateur” sent to cover a march involving Turkish opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu
Inflammatory rhetoric pervades the media, 90% of which is estimated to be pro-government. That is because opposition outlets have been steadily shut down, branded “terrorist propaganda”, or financially crippled.
Newspapers that survive serve not as models of journalism but as government mouthpieces, which were recently handed the leaks from the killing of Jamal Khashoggi. That led the world to swallow what they printed, rather than treating them with the usual caution.
Turkey is the world's largest jailer of journalists, ranking 157 of 180 countries in the press freedom index of the watchdog Reporters Without Borders.
Just 38% here trust the news, the Reuters study shows.
How a website debunked 500 fake stories
Fertile ground, then, for Turkey's first independent website devoted to fact-checking online material. Teyit.org takes its name from the Turkish word for confirmation.
Founded in 2016 by a young journalist, Mehmet Atakan Foca, its team probes the authenticity of photographs and stories that circulate online.
Foca, who did an internship at the BBC Turkish service, says they now get more than 30 tip-offs a day about suspicious-looking material, and use a variety of core journalistic skills and digital technology to check them.
Image caption The Teyit team have debunked hundreds of stories in their first two years
“To tackle the problem of fake news, it's not enough to publish articles about misinformation,” he says. “We want to educate people and give them the tools to strengthen their capacity for verification.”
Over the past two years, Teyit has debunked 526 false stories. Many are political, using doctored photographs or false social media claims about politicians.
Others have even more serious consequences.
This story is part of a series by the BBC on disinformation and fake news – a global problem challenging the way we share information and perceive the world around us.
For more visit www.bbc.co.uk/beyondfakenews
When photos of three men were published online and labelled as those who killed 39 people in an attack on Istanbul's Reina nightclub, Teyit traced the men and disproved the allegations.
One of the wrongly accused, Metehan Alim, told us a defamation case against six media outlets is ongoing.
Image caption Many of Teyit's debunked stories are political, or deal with social issues
“Turks are fundamentalists with our beliefs,” he told the BBC. “We want to read what we already believe. We resist science or facts. We believe in myths instead.”
Some of the stories debunked by Teyit are international.
At the height of the violence in Myanmar against Rohingya Muslims, the Turkish finance minister tweeted photos that allegedly showed victims. Teyit discovered they were from elsewhere.
The Myanmar government formally complained and the minister was forced to delete the tweet.
Even former Ankara mayor Melih Gokcek, notorious for conspiracy theories, retracted a tweet showing a photograph purportedly of flood damage to a road. It had been debunked by Teyit, and he even credited the fact-checking website.
But I am still waiting for Mr Gokcek to retract his unfounded claim that the BBC rented a hotel room overlooking Besiktas football stadium just before it was attacked by suicide bombers in 2016.
Supposedly, that allowed me to broadcast live within minutes – and suggested that we were complicit or knew of it in advance.
Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionMark Lowen reported on the Besiktas bombing some 90 minutes after the attack
The absurd allegation was disproved by Teyit, showing my first live broadcast from our BBC office 90 minutes after the attack and debunking a video that falsely translated my words.
Image caption Teyit debunked the Besiktas allegations, showing that the live report came from the BBC office
- After four years in Turkey, I'm getting used to such baseless claims.
- Pro-government dailies frequently allege I've been sent from London as a provocateur to stir up social unrest.
- One needs a thick skin in this country.
Rise of the 'fake fact-checkers'
“News literacy is very low in Turkey,” says Mehmet Atakan Foca. “It's more about propaganda. People live in an echo chamber, accusing others of being terrorists or pro-government, creating false stories to strengthen their opinions.”
Even fact-checking itself is used as a tool in a country riven by mistrust and division.
One website claims to be an independent verifier of news, but is actually run by a prominent columnist for Sabah, the main pro-government daily, and her husband. Instead of authenticating sources or photographs, it pushes the government line, discrediting perceived criticism of President Erdogan.
- “There is no freedom of information in Turkey”, Mr Foca says, “so fake fact-checking websites are used as propaganda.”
- “They're another weapon of government”, he adds.
- Controlling information, peddling false stories, fuelling the “us and them” narrative: these are all tactics of authoritarian governments.
- They are all major challenges for the fact-checkers aiming to go beyond fake news.
Once a year the Thanksgiving holiday is time spent with family and eating a large meal. After stuffing yourself much like a turkey at the center of this holiday, you notice yourself feeling extra sleepy. Most people have heard at some point in their lives this fatigue is due to the turkey containing tryptophan, a chemical that can make you tired. So is your mealtime bird to blame for your sleepiness? After a little research we found some answers to this popular holiday question.
So, what exactly is tryptophan? L-tryptophan is an “essential amino acid” that the human body cannot make on its own . Therefore your diet must supply it. Amino acids are the “building blocks” of proteins. Tryptophan is found in turkey, other types of poultry, cheese, yogurt, meat, eggs and fish.
Tryptophan is then used by the body to make the B-vitamin niacin which is vital for digestion, healthy nerves and skin, and production of the brain chemical serotonin. Serotonin is the chemical responsible for our moods and also can create feelings of happiness and relaxation.
Serotonin is also used to make melatonin, the hormone that regulates your sleep cycles. So is your Thanksgiving turkey packed full of this sleep-inducing amino acid? Nope! Holding the turkey responsible for your holiday nap is just a Thanksgiving myth.
So is the fact that eating foods high in tryptophan boost brain levels of tryptophan, therefore boosting brain levels of serotonin. In fact, turkey contains slightly less L-tryptophan than chicken.
Elizabeth Somer, MA, RD, states that, “Proteins high in tryptophan require assistance from foods high in carbohydrates to affect serotonin levels”. She goes on to explain when you eat a protein-rich food, “Tryptophan has to compete with all these other amino acids.
It waits in line to get through the blood-brain barrier and very little of it makes it across. The small, all-carbohydrate snack is tryptophan’s ticket across the blood-brain barrier, where it can boost serotonin levels”. “So have your turkey,” Somer says, “because it will increase your store of tryptophan in the body, but count on the carbohydrates to help give you the mood boost or the restful sleep”.
So if eating turkey isn’t the culprit of our holiday sleepiness, then what causes that sudden onset of grogginess when mealtime is over? According to Dawn Jackson Blatner, RD, LDN “It boils down to Thanksgiving being a time when people overeat.
When people overeat food, the digestion process takes a lot of energy. Don’t incriminate the turkey that you ate,” she says of post-Thanksgiving meal fatigue, “incriminate the three plates of food that you piled high.
” Also keep in mind that the holidays usually mean time off from work and time spent with family so most people feel more relaxed to begin with, family wars not withstanding. Then if alcohol gets added to the mix, you can count on a sleepy afternoon to follow.
So enjoy your entire Thanksgiving meal without blaming the turkey for your sleepiness and enjoy an afternoon of relaxation as well!
Contesting the ‘Truth’ of Turkey’s Human Rights Situation: State-As..
Without public pressure it is impossible to achieve change. The state is aware of this and thus marginalizes human rights organizations. It turns them into targets.
If a soldier dies, the high ranked military officers say ‘Where are the human rights defenders now?’ They try to tell the public that the human rights associations are merely interested in the lives of the ‘terrorists’ and not in the lives of their children (Ayhan Bilgen, former president of Mazlum-Der, personal interview, 14 January 2009, Ankara).
1Among the changes that took place in Turkey in the first decade of the 21st century was the way some branches of the state engaged the question of human rights.
1 In good part due to pressure from the European Union – specifically, in order to gain formal acceptance of Turkey’s candidacy and move towards meeting the political conditions of the Copenhagen criteria for accession – governments in Ankara enacted a series of legal reforms aimed at providing ‘stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for and protection of minorities.’2
2Long critical of Turkey’s human rights record, particularly in the southeastern part of the country, European institutions have actively supported the Turkish government in its reform drive, stressing the need to develop working relations with civil society.
And indeed, the government did consult with human rights associations during the legislative process in the first half of the decade. These included international associations such as Human Rights Watch and national ones such as the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey [Türkiye İnsan Hakları Vakfı, or TİHV], and the Human Rights Association [İnsan Hakları Derneği, or İHD].
3 There thus appeared to be a window of opportunity for cooperation between at least some branches of the state and the country’s human rights associations, and a chance for the deepening and enhancement of the role of civil society in national affairs.
Ideally, this would both assist the development and protection of basic liberties, including those newly won, and enable violations to be addressed, in particular those related to Turkey’s Kurdish question, and the armed conflict that resulted from it.4
3However, this process has not resulted in a more cooperative relationship between the country’s human rights associations and relevant state institutions.
On the contrary, the process seems to be producing a dual system comprised of mutually antagonistic actors: the new state-centric institutional bodies, on the one hand, and the established domestic human rights associations, on the other.
Instead of working in cooperation with established human rights associations, the newly developing state institutional structures appear to be challenging them for authority over the ‘truth’ concerning human rights in Turkey, especially regarding the Kurdish question.
The majority of severe human rights violations inside Turkey have been and are still related to the unresolved Kurdish issue and the ongoing armed conflict with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).
5 However, the new state-centric institutional bodies that are being created are thus far unwillingto seriously address these violations, instead prioritizing the presentation of a positive image of Turkey’s human rights reforms. These government institutions are thus developing parallel to and in competition with existing human rights associations.
4This paper examines these dynamics. First, I examine the roots of the current human rights-institutionalization process.
I link this process primarily to pressure from the European Union: when EU policies created new political capital for human rights, the Turkish government and state officials began to tackle the question of human rights violations more vigorously and, from 2001 on, enact serious legal reforms (Eralp 2006; Arat 2007). The Turkish state consequently had to start to engage civil society actors in the development of its new public policy. In the area of human rights, this meant that state institutions now had to work closely with exactly those associations that constituted some of their fiercest critics, some of which had been considered as actually undermining the state’s policies, if not thought of as straight-forwardly advocating separatism.
5Second, I examine the nature and workings of a new government human rights body: the Human Rights Council of Turkey, which operates mainly as a co-operative arrangement between state officials (the Human Rights President at the national level, and the provincial governorships in the provincial and sub-provincial boards) and state-friendly NGOs. An examination of this council and the way it works suggests that the government attempted to extricate itself from the predicament of having to work with civil society actors it viewed as a threat by incorporating only those actors that did not challenge the state’s reproduction of itself or the meaning people are expected attach to it (Migdal 2001: 150). In particular, those NGOs perceived as contributing to the Kurdish nationalist movement and considered part of the DTP-led (and PKK inspired) alternative state-building project in the southeastern municipalities are largely excluded from the state-centric institutionalization process.
6Third, I look at the balance of power between the government-sponsored human rights institutions and what we may think of as ‘traditional’ human rights associations.
On the one hand, the former authority of the established human rights associations is to some degree eroding due to shifts in patterns of relations between these associations and EU institutions, which now rely less on traditional human rights associations due to the increasing capacity of the European institutions inside Turkey. In addition, the politicization6 of the established human rights associations has become a matter of concern for the European Commission.
7On the other hand, a significant part of the social-political space created over the years by domestic human rights associations remains intact, and the government’s efforts at a human rights ‘take-over’ is actively contested.
And, in fact, the established human rights associations still possess a number of advantages over the new state institutions in their ability to set the human rights agenda and determine the discourse for civil liberties and justice in the southeast.
8Although this particular paper looks at national-level political dynamics, it offers a useful window onto studying some of the ways state-society relations in the southeast have shaped political dynamics throughout the country.
EU pressure to have Turkey conform to European human rights standards was instigated in good part by the pre-1999 realities of the southeast, where the state’s counter-guerilla warfare had been accompanied by many human rights violations.
This EU attention – and the government’s efforts to ‘officialize’ human rights processes in Turkey – was one response to the activities and pressure of domestic and international human rights organizations and Kurdish diaspora activists who had largely focused on these violations that were taking place in Kurdish-majority provinces of the southeast.
All these actors sought to link the Kurdish issue and human rights frames, and to achieve international political and judicial recognition for their grievances and claims. This same linkage, however, came with great complications for the broader human rights reforms and institutionalization process.
9Understanding the current institutional challenge and its effects on human rights associations in Turkey requires a brief summary of Turkey’s human rights position and policy.
Historically, Turkey was among the 48 countries that voted for and signed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in Paris, 1948; it is recognized as among the 12 founder-members of the Council of Europe in 1949, and thus one of the 14 signatory countries to the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms in 1950, which it ratified four years later. However, ‘human rights’ as such did not enter the country’s political agenda before the 1980s, when systemic repression and human rights violations including torture and extrajudicial killings began to attract domestic and international attention.
Truth and justice have become strangers in Turkey
In a scene that could have been lifted from a Hollywood thriller, dozens of police raid a hotel on a picturesque island near Istanbul, seize computers and phones and bundle 10 people into a van.
They – and another man arrested earlier – are arrested and are charged with ‘terrorism’ offences.
But these 11 have committed no crime. They are prominent human rights activists and include my colleagues İdil Eser and Taner Kılıç who, at that time, were the director and chair of Amnesty International Turkey.
That was back in the summer of 2017.
On Wednesday, after many months in jail and two-and-a-half years before the courts, a judge will pronounce a verdict. If convicted, they face jail terms of up to 15 years.
In a scene that could have been lifted from a Hollywood thriller, dozens of police raid a hotel seize computers and phones and bundle 10 people into a van
Stefan Simanowitz, Amnesty International
The prosecution alleges that the gathering in the hotel where they were arrested had been a “secret meeting to organize a Gezi-type uprising” in order to foment “chaos” in the country.
In reality, it was a human rights workshop and it was anything but secret. Indeed, one of the participants had even posted a photo of the hotel on her Instagram account. “Where are you staying?” a friend posted beneath the photo.
“At the Ascot Hotel” she replied below.
And yet, it is no coincidence that when human rights are undermined in a country, the people who defend them come under attack. At times of greater repression, the job of human rights activists becomes more vital: and also more dangerous.
The activists in the dock this week, were aware of the risks. They had seen how standing up for human rights was being increasingly criminalized. And they knew that defending other people’s freedoms in Turkey could ultimately cost them their own.
From the moment they were charged back in 2017, it was clear that this was a prosecution aimed at silencing them and sending a powerful message to the rest of civil society: we can silence you too.
And so their ordeal began.
When human rights are undermined in a country, the people who defend them come under attack. At times of greater repression, the job of human rights activists becomes more vital: and also more dangerous
Stefan Simanowitz, Amnesty International
Over the course of 10 trial hearings, every aspect of the prosecutor’s case against them was been comprehensively disproven.
The ‘terrorism’ allegations have been repeatedly and categorically refuted, including by the state’s own evidence. The prosecution’s attempt to present legitimate human rights activities as unlawful acts has failed absymally.
And yet, despite the absence of credible evidence to substantiate the absurd charges, the judicial farce has continued.
The eleven are not alone. Indeed, the situation is emblematic of the wave of repression that has gripped Turkey for more than three years. On Tuesday, another landmark verdict is expected in the case of prominent civil society figure Osman Kavala and 15 others accused of conspiring to overthrow the government. Kavala has already spent almost 28 months in prison on pre-trial detention.
Despite failing to produce a shred of evidence to support their claim, the prosecution has nevertheless sought life imprisonment for three of the 16, including Osman Kavala. Even the European Court of Human Rights ruling that he must be released immediately in December has not been enough to secure his freedom.
It has been almost four years since the failed coup attempt, and the crackdown that followed it shows no sign of abating. Turkey’s prisons are full, the courthouses flooded with cases and fear has become the new norm.
The government has launched a sustained assault on civil society, closing down more than 1,300 non-governmental organizations and 180 media outlets. Independent journalism has been all but obliterated.
An astonishing 130,000 public service workers have been arbitrarily dismissed.
It is easy to be overwhelmed by these numbers, but the experiences of these 11 human rights defenders offers a glimpse into the magnitude of the suffering wrought by this crackdown.
Taner Kılıç spent more than 14 months in prison before his release on bail, and eight of the other defendants were jailed for almost four months each.
For the last two-and-a-half years the threat of lengthy prison sentences has hung over all of them.
When it was a hard thing to do, Amnesty stood up for me. Now it’s time for us to stand up for them
Edward Snowden, activist, author and whistleblower
One thing that has given them strength is the support that they have received from around the world. More than two million people have joined the call for justice for the 11, including politicians and renowned actors (Ben Stiller, Whoopi Goldberg, Catherine Deneuve, etc.
), musicians (Sting, Peter Gabriel, Angélique Kidjo, Annie Lennox, etc.) and artists (Ai Weiwei, Anish Kapoor, etc.). “When it was a hard thing to do, Amnesty stood up for me.
Now it’s time for us to stand up for them,” said US whistleblower Edward Snowden in a message for Taner, İdil and their co-defendants recorded in 2017.
Next week the eyes of the world will be on the Istanbul central court for what is an acid test for the Turkish justice system. It is hoped that this prolonged saga of injustice will be ended with the acquittal of the 11 human rights defenders. But in Turkey, where truth and justice have become strangers, we will have to wait and see.
Truth is a lost game in Turkey. Don’t let the same thing happen to you | Ece Temelkuran
In Turkey we observe how even tragedy plays a role in manipulative government and post-truth repression. The terrorist outrage last week in central Istanbul, which left 38 dead and 166 wounded, was the 31st terror attack in the last year and a half.
And it was the 31st time the country had followed exactly the same routine: shock, followed by a ban on news that was augmented by calls for national unity from official spokesmen, and then a statement from the president paving the way for social media trolls to target anyone who questions the government.
Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s administration is not inclined to be deflected by crisis. Immediately after the attack, Burhan Kuzu, a law professor and senior adviser to the president, went on social media to celebrate constitutional proposals that would expand the president’s powers, and maybe see Erdoğan in power until 2029 – “so no system change can happen without blood”.
After the 28 June attack on Atatürk airport, the diversionary tactic was to mask the national shock with celebrations of a newly built bridge. The scene of the latest terrorist attack has been quickly woven into the narrative. Henceforth it will be known as the Hill of Martyrs.
It pays to acquiesce; indeed it has become essential. This week a young boy grieving at the funeral of his father, killed in the latest attack, was seen to look at President Erdoğan in a not-so-admiring way. Government supporters are now calling for an investigation into the entire family.
We gave up asking the astonished question ‘How can they say or do that?' some time ago
This refashioning of a post-truth, post-fact Turkey has not happened overnight. The process has involved the skilful and wilful manipulation of narratives.
We gave up asking the astonished questions “How can they say or do that?” some time ago. Truth is a lost game in my country.
In Europe and America, you still have time to rescue it – but you must learn from Turkey how easily it can be lost.
The Truth about Turkey | Alvaro Vargas Llosa
Turkey has everybody worried. An economic or financial crisis in a major emerging country can quickly destabilize other emerging regions and send shockwaves throughout the rest of the world.
The Turkish lira has collapsed since the beginning of the year (falling 45 percent so far) and its stock exchange, measured by its main index, has lost more than 10 percent of its value, dragging down many other stocks, particularly in Europe, with it.
The perception is that the main culprit is the Trump administration’s decision to punish Turkey with a doubling of the tariffs on steel and aluminum.
The reality is that this silly and counterproductive trade war, though it has the potential to make things worse, is not the main problem.
One reason behind the misperception is that Turkey’s GDP was growing very healthily until recently. Last year, Turkey’s economy outperformed India and China.
But what was fueling this growth was an irresponsible amount of debt denominated in foreign currency.
Much of the debt was borrowed from non-Turkish European banks, whose excessive exposure to Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s authoritarian country has the potential to rattle the financial system across the European Union.
Turkey has racked up hundreds of billions of dollars in debt. It has also been printing a lot of money.
Inflation hit 16 percent in July, and the government made things worse by preventing the central bank from raising interest rates because Erdogan wants to maintain his popularity now that he has redesigned the constitution to fit his own purposes, encountering a lot of resistance. The value of the lira and investor confidence in the economy was bound to collapse sooner rather than later.
Spain’s banks are the most exposed to Turkey’s debt, followed by those of France and Italy. According to the International Bank of Settlements, European banks’ total exposure to Turkish debt amounts to 130 billion US dollars, of which 83 billion involve Spanish banks.
BBVA, a major international institution, invested more than 7 billion euros in one of Turkey’s largest entities in recent years and is holding Turkish bonds worth nearly 9 billion euros. About 15 percent of BBVA’s assets are in Turkey.
Major banks in other countries, such as BNP Paribas or Unicredit, are also on the hook.
Trump has not helped things by imposing higher tariffs on Turkish exports in retaliation for the persecution of an American pastor by Erdogan’s dictatorial administration.
But the effect of the tariffs has not yet been felt.
The crisis has more to do with the expectation that, in the weak financial and economic environment that Turkey has become by its own making, the trade war will have devastating consequences.
Europe has been here before. Part of its financial and economic crisis in the last decade stemmed from overborrowing by countries that consumed much more than they produced and closed their wide current account deficits with debt incurred at rates that they thought would stay low and at exchange rates that they thought would always make things easy for them. Spain was one such country.
Will Erdogan take the necessary measures to steer away from the disaster he himself has created? It’s unclear. His response to Trump’s foolish commercial hostility has been to wrap himself in the nationalist flag and make his own popularity a far greater priority than opting for the sacrifices needed.