Born and raised in Russia, I live in Germany—and my boyfriend is Turkish. I spend at least four months a year in Turkey but I still have my family and friends back home in Russia. So I found myself in a rather interesting position in the recent Russian-Turkish crisis.
Usually, propaganda is based on the population's ignorance of the other side's opinion. This state of ignorance is automatically achieved if opponent countries speak different languages.
In my case, every day I read news and watch television both in Russian and Turkish. I love both countries and I hate seeing those becoming enemies. But what I hate to see even more, is how two nations—not just states and political elites—start hating each other on a personal level.
Official news—both in Russia and Turkey—do not reflect the reality. It's just a part of the official propaganda which aims to control citizens' minds. If that statement weren't true, I would've received approximately the same information through both Russian and Turkish channels. But what happens in reality?
I want to give you a couple of examples why I think that carefully chosen anti-propaganda and not events and facts influence common people's minds.
Let's start with Turkey. A couple of weeks ago I saw on my boyfriend's Facebook page an article in Turkish with a familiar figure. It was Vladimir Zhirinovsky—the leader of the Liberal Democratic Party in Russia—proposing to drop a nuclear bomb on the Strait of Bosphorus!
This extremist statement has provoked a lot of aggression towards Russia. Without any previous knowledge about that politician (who is familiar to any Russian), Zhirinovsky's words sounded as a direct appeal to start a war. Unfortunately, Turkish people are not aware of the fact that Zhirinovsky is famous for his radical statements.
I would like to cite just a couple of them.
- He is against women's rights: ‘a woman should sit at home, cry, repair clothing and cook.'
- He's against learning English at schools: ‘let’s not make our children learn English. It will be better if they learn how to use Kalashnikov. Then the whole world will have to speak Russian.'
- He has strange views about terrorists: ‘we should hate everything about terrorists. A normal man won't wear a long black dangling beard'.
Years of friendship and partnership are forgotten, as if Erdogan never came last September to Moscow to open a new mosque or as if Putin has never shaken hands with Erdogan
So none of his statements are taken seriously in Russia. Really. It may sound absurd but he is seen more as a clown or comedian in the Kremlin. His function is to distract people's attention from serious issues.
But those facts are not known in Turkey, so his statement was successfully used to heat up anti-Russian hatred.
Another case was a true 'elephant' made out of a 'fly'. Right after the incident with the Russian plane being shot down there was a photo all over Turkish media with a man wearing a black mask on his face onboard the Russian warship Caesar Kunikov, while the ship was passing through the Bosphorus Strait. The man was holding a ground-to-air missile on his shoulder.
That incident was immediately interpreted by the Turkish as a Russian provocation. The photo circulated through the media for days and received a lot of attention. As if a single man could blow up a half of Istanbul! Needless to say that the photo has never appeared in mainstream Russian news.
Now about Russian media.
Anti-Turkish propaganda had a wide range: from sarcastic jokes and cartoons to Putin's rather dirty statement that Turkey tried to 'lick America's private parts'—a phrase which is not, to my mind, supposed to come out of the president's mouth.
Russian media has also proved to be perfect at exploiting the sentiment of pity. Russian TV has focused a lot of attention on the death of Lieutenant Colonel Oleg Peshkov— the pilot from the downed plane. Posthumously he has been awarded the title of the Hero of the Russian Federation. One of new streets in Lipetsk—the pilot's hometown—will receive his name.
Television seemed to have captured everything: arrival of the plane with the coffin, young cadets—future officers—bringing flowers to the Lipetsk’s monument dedicated to fallen pilots, crying old women with red carnations, paper planes with signs 'We remember' made by school children.
With all respect and my condolences to the Lieutenant Colonel's family, I can't stop worrying if that tragedy has received too much attention. At that time it was very hard not to start hating the Turkish army, Erdogan, Turkey, and everything what is connected with that country after just a couple of evenings spend by watching the news.
My Mom told me in November that she would like to visit me again in Istanbul. When I started talking about it in December, she simply said: “I am a patriot”. So fast Russians—at least the generation born and raised in the Soviet times—have become a Turkish enemy. Not a single person on the TV screen was shown asking this simple question: why had a Russian pilot died in Syria?!
Despite a lot of information about that case I couldn't find any videos with Peshkov’s widow. What did she have to say about it? Is it fair that her husband had to protect the homeland even if there is about 464 miles between Russian and Syrian borders?
There are no statistics about how many Russian soldiers have already died in Syria. This data is, of course, classified. And how many somebody else's fathers, husbands, and sons still run the danger?! These questions cannot be asked and answered in Russia.
How easy it is to start a mass paranoia! Anybody who was interested in this conflict has already heard about a 'stab in the back'. The Russian government looks back now and with pity exclaims: 'Turkey has always been our enemy, so many wars have been between Russia and the Ottoman Empire! We shouldn't have trusted them in the first place'.
Years of friendship and partnership are forgotten, as if Erdogan never came last September to Moscow to open a new mosque or as if Putin has never shaken hands with Erdogan in Samsun, eastern Turkey, on the opening ceremony of the 'Blue Stream'. In the past, Russia had so many wars with so many countries, so that according to this logic of post-war-distrust Russia shouldn't deal with any of those states: Germany, USA, France, Poland, Japan, Sweden, Finland, Austria, Hungary, Iran, etc.
So what is the result of the crisis? Putin has hypocritically declared that Russia is not against Turkish people but against its government. Turkey tries to convince its population that Turkish economy—not the most stable one—won't suffer from the crisis with Russia.
But even carefully chosen propaganda is not able to conceal the truth. Last December, vegetable and fruit had record low prices in Istanbul. Television showed excited housewives buying three kilograms of tomatoes instead of usual two. The reason for that fantastic luck was a long line of trucks with greens stuck on the Russian border after the Putin's partial ban on Turkish import. So while somebody had saved 20 cent on the market, thousands of people got bankrupt. Other industries that have suffered in Turkey are textile, leather, and fur.
The fur market has suffered at the most because it was so heavily oriented toward Russian importers. Needless to say that furs are not that popular among locals because of the warm climate, so those goods couldn't be sold inside of Turkey like tomatoes and cucumbers. Buyers from other countries in the region such as Moldavia, Tadjikistan, or Kyrgyzstan who also buy furs are usually interested in lower quality and cheaper products, so companies selling high-quality furs suffered the most.
I walked through Laleli two weeks ago—a wholesalers’ district in Istanbul; some shops were closed and it was unusually quiet on the streets. I talked to the street peddler of chestnuts, who told me that the business has been very slow for a long time. The young man complained about the worsening of the economic situation unlike Erdogan who keeps promising Turkish citizens that cooperation with Europe instead of Russia will bring wealth and prosperity to the country.
Russians have suffered as well from the crisis. Not Putin—he still eats tangerines from a gold plate—but Russian pensioners who won't be able to pay twice as much for fruit and vegetables in the wintertime. Turkey was also one of the favorite vacation destination for many Russians—popular because of its warm sea, relatively lower prices compared to Spain or Thailand, and the good service and hospitality of Turkish people, who already learnt Russian, so it was not even necessary to practice broken English.
Instead of going to Turkey, Russian officials recommend visiting the newly-acquired Crimea resorts, Baikal Lake, or even Iran. The first two destinations are really beautiful naturally but their infrastructure and hotels are run down. Sure, Baikal Lake is a magnificent place to visit with many ancient legends and unique shaman rites but it takes days to get there, and its not an easy place for small children or elderly tourists.
Iran, which is planning to cancel visas for Russian tourists, is one of the most unsuitable tourist locations. Alcohol is officially forbidden, signs in English are scarce, and women have to wear scarves on the streets. I had an Iranian female friend who argued that it's not a very strict ban, as 'you just have to put a scarf on your head but your hair may be showing'. Well, a poor consolation for Russian girls who are used to wearing bikinis and miniskirts in the Turkish resorts of Antalya and Alanya.
For me, the most disturbing fact is that they use Arabic or Persian numerals in Iran. So you won't be even able to figure out prices in a restaurant if locals don't speak English.
To sum up, the crisis between Russia and Turkey has brought only harm to both countries. Both governments try their best to conceal the simple truth—that the conflict will affect common people’s lives—and use all possible means to heat up hatred towards each other.