A Turkish media group gets in between strange bedfellows: Erdoğan and Trump

When Mehmet Ali Yalçındağ had been removed from his post as the President of Doğan Media Group by his boss – and father-in-law – Aydın Doğan last month, there was general agreement among observers that he would be placed in a remote corner of the company; discredited as he was. He seemed ‘finished’ as a business executive.

The reason was that a group called Redhack had decoded his mail passwords and revealed his communications with Berat Albayrak, Energy Minister of Turkey, and son-in-law of President Erdoğan.

The mail exchanges had exposed a media executive not only ensured that news and comment in Doğan media outlets stayed within bounds drawn by Erdoğan himself, but also sharing company secrets and gossip with them.

Ridiculed and pressurized, Aydın Doğan, the 78-year old media boss, whose relations with Erdoğan has for many years been bumpy, seemed to have no choice but to depose him, although Yalçındağ claimed that the leaked communications were ‘manipulated’.

But those days are over, and Yalçındağ is now a figure not to be ignored in major power politics.

What reversed his luck was a vote across the Atlantic Ocean.

Entered Trump, who regards Yalçındağ not only a fine business partner, but also a buddy. Their families have stayed in touch for a long time, and trust each other.

What sparked the close relationship was the majestic (double) Trump Towers in the heart of Istanbul. Doğan Holding owns the building, and pays a licence fee on the Trump brand.

Despite the tensions with Aydın Doğan, it was Erdoğan – then as prime minister – had opened Trump Towers in April 2012.

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Tayyip Erdoğan cuts the ribbon of Trump Towers Istanbul, with media mogul Aydın Doğan and Doğan’s daughters on his right side. Mehmet Ali Yalçındağ on the far right.

Tensions flourished again when Trump in his election rallies had lashed out at Muslims, calling for an entry ban to the US. Erdoğan, angered by the remarks, called for a change of the name, picked up enthusiastically by pro-AKP media, causing deep anxiety in Doğan family.

But it was downplayed when Trump praised Erdoğan after the coup attempt.

Yalçındağ, I was told, was reluctant to accept Trump’s invitation to attend the vote count at election night in New York. But in the end he decided to join.

For him, it marked a turning point.

When it became clear that Trump had won, Erdoğan was keen on being amongst the first the congratulate him. But, I was informed, Turkish official channels failed to reach Trump, at which point Yalçındağ proved a useful link.

That Turkey’s most powerful media company, also a grand player in real estate and construction, enters this puzzling equation in global politics does not make things simpler. To the contrary.

Nobody at the moment can predict in certainty whether or not the deeply troubled relations between the USA and Turkey will be repaired. Yet Trump Towers in Istanbul will surely bear a symbolique over Doğan Media’s role in it.

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Erdoğan, always a pragmatist in tense situations, may turn to ask Doğan Media boss, Aydın Doğan and his son-in-law for more engagement in establishing a ‘personal dialogue’ with the new American President.

Doğan may – or not – accept such a role, having in mind the risks that involves: if things turn sour between the two utterly temperamental and impositional leaders, Erdoğan may, as he always does, declare the media group as the responsible, with consequences.

There are all reasons for things to turn that way.

It is anybody’s guess how Trump will deal with Russian leader Putin, what his approach will be about Bashar Assad, president of Syria and how the Kurds in the region will be treated in the war against ISIS terror.

His team has sent mixed messages regarding the AKP government, which adds to the puzzle.

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In open discord with the EU, isolated at the international stage, and in a delicate ‘dance’ with Putin, Erdoğan hopes that Trump will see ‘nothing but business’ and taking shortcuts in foreign policy, strike a cord with him as to reassure that his global credibility is restored.

Erdoğan’s premise will be two-fold: political survival and legitimacy.

He knows that the emerging federal court case in New York about an Iranian/Turkish goldtrader, Reza Zarrab, who is accused of involvement in huge amount of money-laundering that allegedly involves Erdoğan’s close circle of ministers and relatives, is a standing threat.

Another headache is what he sees as the American reluctance to extradite Fethullah Gülen, a cleric based in Pennsylvania whom he regards as the mastermind of the coup attempt in July.

What Trump will expect – if anything – is an end to the existence of Jihadism and aspirations of a violent Sunni supremacy in Syria and Iraq, which he sees as the source of evil that threatens the USA.

How these two utterly populist-nationalist leaders will deal with each other is an open question. But given the tough personal characteristics and mutual respect for the ruthless strength they see in each other, a dialogue process may defy all rational expectations over a conventional bargaining that marked diplomacy pre-Trump. It may turn out be purely transactional business which disregards democratic values, and human dimensions.

Both men will give highest priority to a ‘win-win’ over their personal interests.

All prospects signal an ugly realpolitik, which will raise the risks for further regional unrest that may come to affect also Europe. What with the role of the Turkish media empire in all this remains to be seen.

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Reklamlar

About yavuzbaydar

Yavuz Baydar has been an award-winning Turkish journalist, whose professional activity spans nearly four decades. In December 2013, Baydar co-founded the independent media platform, P24, Punto24, to monitor the media sector of Turkey, as well as organizing surveys, and training workshops. Baydar wrote opinion columns, in Turkish, liberal daily Ozgur Dusunce and news site Haberdar, and in English, daily Today's Zaman, on domestic and foreign policy issues related to Turkey, and media matters, until all had to cease publications due to growing political oppression. Currently, he writes regular chronicles for Die Süddeutsche Zeitung, and opinion columns for the Arab Weekly, as well as analysis for Index on Censorship. Baydar blogs with the Huffington Post, sharing his his analysis and views on Turkish politics, the Middle East, Balkans, Europe, U.S-Turkish relations, human rights, free speech, press freedom, history, etc. His opinion articles appeared at the New York Times, the Guardian, El Pais, Svenska Dagbladet, and Al Jazeera English online. Turkey’s first news ombudsman, beginning at Milliyet daily in 1999, Baydar worked in the same role as reader representative until 2014. His work included reader complaints with content, and commentary on media ethics. Working in a tough professional climate had its costs: he was twice forced to leave his job, after his self-critical columns on journalistic flaws and fabricated news stories. Baydar worked as producer and news presenter in Swedish Radio &TV Corp. (SR) Stockholm, Sweden between 1979-1991; as correspondent for Scandinavia and Baltics for Turkish daily Cumhuriyet between 1980-1992, and the BBC World Service, in early 1990's. Returning to Turkey in 1994, he worked as reporter and ediytor for various outlets in print, as well as hosting debate porogrammes in public and private TV channels. Baydar studied informatics, cybernetics and, later, had his journalism ediucatiob in the University of Stockholm. Baydar served as president of the U.S. based International Organizaton of News Ombudsmen (ONO) in 2003. He was a Knight-Wallace Fellow at University of Michigan in 2004. Baydar was given the Special Award of the European Press Prize (EPP), for 'excellence in journalism', along with the Guardian and Der Spiegel in 2014. He won the Umbria Journalism Award in March 2014 and Caravella/Mare Nostrum Prize in 2015; both in Italy. Baydar completed an extensive research on self-censorship, corruption in media, and growing threats over journalism in Turkey as a Shorenstein Fellow at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.
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