Archive for February 2013
The tragic story of Sarai Sierra has been all over the Turkish and American media. Until the discovery of her body on Saturday, her fate was a matter of speculation. Some of that speculation ran toward the absurd. One notable example attempts to prove that she was in fact a CIA operative. Though this theory is patently ridiculous, similar conspiracy theories are all too common in Turkey. I myself have been asked half seriously if I worked for the CIA. Recently, members of the CHP even publicly questioned whether Angelina Jolie’s humanitarian visit to the Syrian refugee camps in Turkey was evidence of a CIA connection.
On the surface, this obsession with American covert infiltration and manipulation of Turkey’s government seems puzzling. Turkey and America are close allies and have been so since the Cold War. President Obama, in his address to the Turkish Grand National Assembly in 2009, praised the fact that, after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, Turkey had “…freed [itself] from foreign control, and [had] founded a republic that commands the respect of the United States and the wider world.” Turkey and America’s relationship is not without its problems, but there is certainly no reason to believe that the CIA would feel it necessary to intervene in Turkey’s elections in order to ensure PM Erdogan is reelected (another common rumor in Turkey).
The frequency and quotidian nature of these conspiracy theories in Turkey inevitably leads one to wonder what is fueling this paranoia. Though there are certainly more recent events that come into play, such as the United States’ invasion of Iraq, I posit that the primary cause of Turkey’s collective fear of foreign interference derives from the division of the Ottoman Empire at the end of World War I in the Treaty of Sevres. Despite the fact that the Turkish War of Independence effectively annulled the Treaty of Sevres and replaced it with the Treaty of Lausanne, the fear of territorial division and loss of sovereignty remains deeply imbedded in Turkish politics and culture. Now it is the US that has the power to interfere with and overthrow foreign governments and Turkey’s Sevres Syndrome now manifests itself as CIA centered conspiracy theories.
Given the heartbreaking outcome of this story, the above analysis may seem beside the point. Indeed, I don’t believe ingrained cultural paranoia justifies the lack of basic human empathy exhibited by the article in question. However, part of the aim of this blog is to acquaint English-speakers (read: Americans) with the history and culture of Turkey in order to dispel some of wide-spread myths created by America’s own historical and cultural baggage. At the very least, if Turk accuses you of being a CIA agent, you’ll have a better understanding of why.