Branding at the time of Crisis Vol.2: Turkey and “Ergenekon”

*For those who don’t know about the Ergenekon case, here is the Wikipedia article, a really well-written report on the issue, and  a Q&A from Financial Times.

As of today, a local court came up with the verdict at the Ergenekon case. Several individuals, including a former Chief of Staff, various high ranking military officers, prominent intellectuals, and politicians were sentenced, some were sentenced to life in prison. Practically just like any other given aspect of Turkish life in the last decade or so, Ergenekon was a highly politicized issue and divided the population into “pro” and “against” camps.

The case has received quite a high level of international media attention, and therefore is likely to influence Turkey’s perception by the foreign audiences. I argue it would be naïve to expect a positive influence without any communicative intervention from Turkey. Besides, such an intervention is definitely not going to be easy.

This is what an open court looks like in Turkey – as portrayed by the international media (Image from Spiegel)

Let me present an ideal-type scenario about how Ergenekon case and the verdict could be understood by the foreign publics. In order to actively shape how the brand is perceived, Turkey needs to actively provide a narrative of what has happened.

The best case scenario

Ergenekon will be seen as the “victory” of Turkish civilian democracy over military elite with a propensity to overthrow governments. There is enough evidence in Turkish history (and unfortunately enough coups) to back up such arguments. Contemporary Turkish legal and political systems, on the other hand, are strong enough to put former force commanders in trial. Moreover, Turkey finally imprisoned a very dangerous terrorist organization.

Why the best case scenario might not ‘stick’?

– Erdogan publicly called himself the “prosecutor of the Ergenekon case“. Such an involvement in a legal case from a prominent political figure can be seen as an attempt to influence the court’s decision by certain audiences.

– The court case lost some of its credibility after various indictments and cases were merged into one.

– The indictment for the court case has been widely criticized, and to an extent ridiculed, by various parties.

– There have been various attempts to decrease the number of people in the audience during Ergenekon hearings. (i.e. building a new courthouse in the middle of nowhere, not allowing cars and buses into the courthouse compound etc)

– Pro-government media’s almost fanatic involvement in the issue further damaged the case’s credibility.

In a more likely scenario, the case will be perceived as a “fight” between secular elite and the government. It is of uttermost important to clearly show how Ergenekon was a non-political legal case.  Ut is time for Turkey to provide a coherent, non-belligerent, detailed narrative about how this case was not politically infused. Turkey has used the “we have been misunderstood”  or the “we are not being treated equally”  arguments too often. Arguments like “Turkey does not have the highest number of journalists in prison, they are in prison for other crimes” or “International media ignores Egypt but broadcasts Gezi Park” are no longer valid.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, “Turkey needs to be careful in symbolic actions that might be related to issues which are already being questioned due to the conservative nature of its government”. Turkey can no longer have the benefit of the doubt in terms of individual rights and freedoms.

Let me repeat my conclusion from the first “Branding at the time of Crisis” post – it is still not “too late” to save the image of a democratic Turkey. Yet, we need to differentiate between “Turkey with(after) AKP rule” and “Turkey under AKP rule”. It is high time we look at Turkish brand as a long-term investment and start thinking about the image and reputation of Turkish state beyond AKP’s presence.


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