Why Is the Turkish Press Ignoring Lebanon?

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Article Summary
Semih Idiz asks why protests outside the Turkish Embassy in Beirut calling for the release of nine Lebanese hostages held in Syria are not being reported in the Turkish press.

The Turkish media’s selective journalism is becoming increasingly apparent, particularly when it comes to Middle East issues of concern to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu.

A group of Lebanese have been demonstrating against Turkey and Erdogan for many days. They have been erecting protest tents in front of the Turkish Embassy [in Beirut]. There have been incidents between police and demonstrators, who also have been trying to seal off the Turkish Airlines office.

Meanwhile, there are calls to boycott Turkish products and attempts to block Turkish trucks carrying goods to Lebanon. The issue is about to become the topic of the day in Lebanon.

Now, you may be asking what this writer is talking about.

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But you do not know what I am talking about because apart from small bits of news here and there, our mainstream media has not seen this affair worthy of covering. I am told that the [official] Anatolian News agency, which has an office in Beirut, is not really covering the story. What is this issue about?

On May 22, 2012, a group of Lebanese Shiite pilgrims returning to their country from Iran were abducted at a location not far from Turkey, near Aleppo, by an armed group fighting against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Two of the abductees were later released but nine are still being held.

Kidnappers of Shiites

It is reported that the kidnappers were from an armed group led by a man called Abu Ibrahim. Free Syrian Army (FSA) officials said this group was not one of theirs. In a statement issued in February, Lebanese Interior Minister Marwan Charbel said that according to information received from the Turkish government, Ibrahim was killed in a clash.

Lebanese newspapers, basing themselves on local sources, said Ibrahim was not killed but wounded. Meanwhile, some Kurdish sources claim that Turkey, along with the radical religious group Jabhat al-Nusra — said to be linked to al-Qaeda — is manipulating the kidnappers against Syrian Kurds.

Given the chaos in Syria, it is not easy to discern how much of what is said is factual or disinformation. But if what the Lebanese interior minister said is correct, that means Turkey is in direct or indirect contact with the group that kidnapped the pilgrims.

Lebanese Foreign Minister Adnan Mansour said a few days ago that despite the lack of a positive outcome, contacts with the Turkish government on the issue are continuing. According to what I have heard from diplomatic circles, the affair has become one of the main items on the agenda in official contacts between Turkey and Lebanon.

The families of the kidnapped pilgrims, alluding to the strong political and logistical support Turkey is giving the Syrian opposition, want Erdogan to use his influence to secure the release of the pilgrims. These people do not believe the “we are doing our best” messages from Turkey to Lebanon are sincere.

In short, they do not believe Turkey is doing what it can. There are people among them who believe that this is a reflection of Ankara’s anti-Shiite stance. One relative speaking to Lebanon’s Naharnet website said they are demanding that Lebanese President Michel Suleiman summon Turkish Ambassador Inan Ozyildiz and ask for an immediate resolution of the affair.

“We will close down the airport”

The same person, whose name was not given, said, ”If this is not done, we will soon stop not only Turkish Airlines flights but close Rafiq Hariri International Airport to all flights.” All these developments, if not handled properly, could cause headaches for Turkey. That is why we hope Ankara is trying to solve this issue. If it succeeds, it will help recover some of the credibility Turkey has lost with Shiites.

Going back to the beginning, what is significant and telling in this affair is how our newspapers have almost totally ignored it.

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Found in: turkish foreign policy, turkey’s middle east policy, turkey, syrian crisis, lebanon, jabhat al-nusra, erdogan
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