Eurasianists, who advocate Turkey’s alliance with the Russia-China-Iran axis, are doing the Kremlin’s bidding to influence Turkish public opinion in favor of Russian war efforts, with the support of the government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, accusing the US and NATO of triggering the war in Ukraine, according to a report released on Monday by the Brussels-based Institute for Diplomacy and Economy (INSTITUDE).
While mentioning the entry of Eurasianism into the Turkish political lexicon in the 1990s, the report states that Turkish Eurasianism, in general, is an elitist ideology promoted by a group of politicians and high-ranking bureaucrats who publicly state that Turkey should forge closer ties with countries in the domain of what they call Eurasia. These elites argue that if an authoritarian state can be built as was done in Iran, China and Russia, the founding ideology of the Turkish state can survive, referring to Kemalism.
The report also claims that Eurasianists in Turkey are not a monolithic group and that several factions compete. However, in exchange for the acquittal of Eurasian officers and bureaucrats who were accused of attempting to overthrow the Erdoğan government, Eurasianists reached an agreement in purging Erdoğan’s opponents within the state at the end of 2013, when a graft probe into Erdoğan family members and cabinet ministers was revealed. Erdoğan described the corruption investigation as a coup to overthrow the government.
“Eurasianists have been primarily recruiting their members from coercive institutions within the government, namely the Turkish Armed Forces, the security forces (police and gendarmerie), the National Intelligence Service (MIT), and the judiciary,” the report says.
According to the report, Eurasianists have had a disproportionate influence on the Turkish media in recent years, which the government has heavily controlled and censored. Leading Eurasianist figures are frequently invited to mainstream media programs with the approval of Erdoğan’s government. There, they act as the so-called experts in security and foreign policy and disseminate their ideology.
While they are not the only factor, the results of a survey offer clues as to whether they are successful in influencing public opinion. More than 48 percent of Turks hold the United States and NATO, of which Turkey has been a member since 1952, responsible for the Russian invasion of Ukraine, while only 34 percent think Russia is responsible, according to the results of a recent survey.
When the participants in the survey, conducted by the Ankara-based Metropoll company, were asked, “Who do you hold responsible for the invasion of Ukraine?” 48.3 percent said they hold the US and NATO responsible, while 33.7 percent said it was Russia and 7.5 percent said it was Ukraine that was responsible for the Russian invasion of itself, which began on Feb. 24, 2022, sparking international condemnation and sanctions against Russia.
According to INSTITUDE, Aydınlık, the neo-nationalist Homeland Party’s media outlet, the ultranationalist OdaTV (online news website), Veryansin TV (news website), ABC Gazetesi (news website), and Sözcü (daily newspaper) are significant media outlets that serve as instruments for disseminating the Eurasianist ideology to the larger Turkish public. They usually address the center-left or those on the left extremes of the political spectrum, Sözcü has, however, become a mainstream center-left outlet after the relentless media takeover by the AKP government in the last seven years.
Leaked emails released in a recent investigation conducted by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) revealed that a Duma insider built a network of analysts, journalists and others who helped him push the Kremlin’s interests abroad, claiming that Aydınlık is among the publications to which the Russians provided financial support.
The report also includes examples of how Eurasian media outlets cover the Ukraine-Russia war. Not surprisingly, like the Russian media, the Eurasian media in Turkey published stories that Ukraine provoked the war with the support of the West, denying Russia and its leader Vladimir Putin’s responsibility and targeting Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy as well.
For instance, a story that appeared on OdaTV in November 2022 aims to create an anti-Ukrainian perception of a Turkish military operation against the People’s Protection Units (YPG), the military wing of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) in northern Syria, which is considered a terrorist organization by Ankara. The headline reads “Support to the YPG from Ukraine.” The wording demonstrates a clear distortion that aims to manipulate Turkish public opinion. The article describes two Ukrainian soldiers who allegedly took a photograph with a pro-YPG support message and shared it on social media. The article also indicates that “Ukrainian soldiers fighting with Turkish equipment support the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK)/YPG.” Aside from the dubious source of the news, the headline portrays the Ukrainian state and the Ukrainian army as direct perpetrators.
According to the report Erdoğan and the Eurasianists have mutually benefited from cooperation during the war in Ukraine, as they did in the past. Ultimately, the former has obtained leverage against Western governments, while the latter has advanced its agenda of undermining Turkey’s relations with the West.