It is noteworthy that well-known Arab media outlets that run news websites in Turkish use discriminatory language, which is officially preferred by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, particularly in describing his critics, despite the fact that the Erdoğan government hosts a significant number of critical Arab journalists who had to flee Egypt and some Gulf countries to escape persecution.
Şarkul Avsat, the Turkish edition of Asharq Al-Awsat, and Independent Türkçe, the Turkish version of the UK-based Independent, are two news websites that provide content to readers in Turkey. Both are owned by the Saudi Research and Marketing Group, a major publishing organization with close ties to the Saudi royal family and an organ for the Saudi regime, particularly in the West. It wouldn’t be wrong to claim both websites are the result of tensions and uneasy relations between Turkey and Saudi Arabia following the Arab Spring and the Gulf crisis of 2014. The Saudis launched media projects that would reflect the kingdom’s perspective in Turkish, aimed primarily at Turkish media, academics and politicians.
Şarkul Avsat and Independent Türkçe suggest translated news and columns from their parent companies and other affiliates, social media discussions and news stories provided by Turkish news agencies that are under the strict control of the government, including Anadolu, a state-owned propaganda machine. Despite the strain between Turkey and Saudi Arabia, Şarkul Avsat and Independent Türkçe are very careful not to provoke the Turkish government.
For instance, both Şarkul Avsat and Independent Türkçe don’t hesitate to publish official stories and false claims against followers of the Gülen movement, who face a relentless witch-hunt following a 2016 coup attempt. Both prefer to use FETÖ, a derogatory term coined by the Erdoğan government to refer to members of the faith-based movement, claiming the movement is a terrorist organization and its members terrorists. Both news websites keep away from human stories like those about pregnant women under arrest or mothers jailed with their young children that have dramatically increased in Turkey in the aftermath of the coup attempt.
Ironically, Asharq Al-Awsat in English and The Independent (UK) are more loyal to journalistic standards and refrain from labeling millions of people as terrorists, something their Turkish affiliates cannot do in Turkey. In 2014 Asharq Al-Awsat published a two-day exclusive interview with Fethullah Gülen, a scholar and vocal critic of President Erdoğan, who expressed his views on the Arab Spring, Syria and the Sunni-Shia conflict, which still serves as a reference about the movement for many Arab researchers.
Independent Türkçe became the victim of a political war between Turkey and Saudi Arabia in 2020 when the two countries blocked access to each other’s media outlets. Turkish authorities prevented online access to Independent Türkçe as well as Sky News Arabia in a reciprocal move to the Saudis, who had blocked access to the websites of the state-run Anadolu news agency and the Arabic channel of Turkish public broadcaster TRT. Independent Türkçe continued to evade the block by changing the website’s address.
Nordic Monitor previously reported that Independent Türkçe is run by a hard-core Islamist who adores the Iranian mullah regime, is an ardent supporter of an indicted jihadist imam and harbors ambitions of establishing a Shariah state in Turkey, according to secret wiretaps.
A transcript of one wiretap, recorded on November 8, 2013 at 00:31 hours, shows Nevzat Çiçek, the 44-year-old editor-in-chief of Independent Türkçe, talking about impediments to the establishment of an Islamic state based on Shariah law in Turkey and how the Iranian experiment could offer guidance in resolving problems encountered in Turkey.
Çiçek was also a leading figure in defending the al-Qaeda-aligned Turkish jihadist group Tahşiyeciler, which was led by radical imam Mehmet Doğan (aka Mullah Muhammed), who openly declared his admiration for Osama bin Laden and called for armed jihad in Turkey. Doğan and his associates were rounded up in a police operation in January 2010. The police discovered three hand grenades, one smoke bomb, seven handguns, 18 hunting rifles, electronic parts for explosives, knives and a large cache of ammunition in the homes of the suspects.
Prominent Turkish journalist and Samanyolu Broadcasting Group General Manager Hidayet Karaca and top police officers were sentenced to lengthy prison terms on trumped-up charges of membership in a terrorist organization and for allegedly slandering Tahşiyeciler.
Şarkul Avsat columnist Ömer Özkaya previously claimed that Fethullah Gülen did not exist in real life, saying the CIA had digitalized him long ago and that the person who people see speaking is not Gülen but a computer using artificial intelligence. After promoting this conspiracy theory, Özkaya was no longer invited as a guest on any TV shows.