Armenians, Syrian refugees and Greeks top list of groups targeted by Turkish media in 2019: hate speech report

Armenians, Syrian refugees in Turkey and Greeks are at the top of the list of groups targeted with hate speech by the Turkish media in 2019, according to the “Hate Speech and Discriminatory Discourse in Media 2019 Report,” published by the Hrant Dink Foundation.

A total of 5,515 hate speech items targeted 80 different groups according to the report, which was prepared as part of the Media Watch on Hate Speech project, and indicated that 4,364 articles and news stories targeted national, ethnic and religious groups in Turkey in 2019. The report analyzed the number of hateful, homophobic, xenophobic and sexist items in Turkish media in the context of rising nationalism and intolerance. According to the report, the media is instrumental in spreading hate and intolerance as much as tolerance and social solidarity. By monitoring the media, it has aimed to detect intolerant discourse and strengthen social solidarity.

The foundation was established to honor the memory of Armenian journalist Hrant Dink, who was slain by a Turkish ultranationalist in 2007. The foundation defines “the development of a culture of dialogue, empathy and peace” as the basis of all its activities.

According to the report, Armenians were the most targeted group in 2019 with 803 hate speech items. They were portrayed as enemies and associated with violence, terrorism and massacres (in the context of the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict). Armenians were also mentioned together with the separatist and outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) as divisive forces who target Turkey’s social cohesion and political unity. The PKK is recognized as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the European Union and the United States.

Syrian refugees in Turkey were the second most targeted group, with 760 hate speech items. According to the report they were systematically coded as criminals, murderers and thieves who posed imminent security problems including terrorism. Syrians were also represented in the media as the reason for the current adverse economic situation in Turkey and rising unemployment numbers.

Greeks were the third most negatively represented group. The report cites the escalating tensions between Greece and Turkey regarding drilling and gas exploration activities in the eastern Mediterranean as the context for hate speech towards Greeks. The plight of refugees on the Turkish-Greek border was also framed as the fault of Greece as a nation, the report says.

Jews (676 items), Christians (604 items), Greeks who hold Turkish citizenship (603 items), English (223 items), French (140 items), Arabs (123 items) and non-Muslims (98 items) were the other most frequently targeted groups.

The report has been criticized, however, for not mentioning the widespread hate speech against members of the Gülen movement, a faith-based group inspired by Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen, who have suffered serious human rights violations and hostile rhetoric especially after a coup attempt in July 2016.

In a sarcastic tweet, exiled journalist Bülent Keneş said: “Thank God the Hrant Dink Foundation excluded the hate speech against ‘FETÖ’ [a derogatory term used by the Turkish government that means the ‘Fethullahist Terrorist Organization’]. Otherwise the figures would find millions. No, no, those writing the report absolutely did not play the three monkeys.”

The Turkish government accuses the Gülen movement of masterminding the coup attempt and labels it a terrorist organization. The movement strongly denies involvement in the coup attempt or any terrorist activity. Following the allegations, Gülen called on the Turkish government to allow for an international investigation.

Hate speech targeting members of the movement has been widely used by the Turkish government and the pro-government Turkish media. According to a 2017 report by the Stockholm Center for Freedom, President Erdoğan himself developed a unique vocabulary of 240 hateful slurs and insults that singled out the Gülen movement, including a malignant tumor that poses a great threat to humanity, blood sucking leeches, viruses, hashashins and lunatics.

Last May, Sevda Noyan, a writer and a staunch supporter of President Erdoğan, said on pro-government Ülke TV that she and her family were caught by surprise in the July 15 coup attempt but that they were equipped for any similar future incident and could take out 50 people. Noyan also confessed that they had already made lists of the neighbors that they would target in such a case.

COVID-19 became an opportunity to dehumanize members of the movement once again. According to journalist Nedim Şener, a government propagandist, the Gülen movement is worse than the coronavirus: “The coronavirus is a disease that can someday be cured. But FETÖ is incurable. [Once it is inside your body] It cannot be gotten rid of unless someone dies. FETÖ is an illness and immorality that is worse than the coronavirus. There is no cure for it at all.”

Following the coup attempt, the Turkish government declared a state of emergency and launched a massive crackdown on followers of the Gülen movement under the pretext of an anti-coup fight. Over 540,000 people were detained on terrorism-related charges, more than 80,000 were arrested or imprisoned and over 150,000 public servants, including 4,145 judges and prosecutors, were summarily removed from their jobs for alleged membership in or relationships with “terrorist organizations.”

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