TURKEY`S IMAGE PROBLEM

Netpano.com, Turkey
March 14 2006

When Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice appeared on Capitol Hill
last week to rally support for the 2007 budget, Rep. Dave Weldon
asked her about the controversial Turkish film "The Valley of the
Wolves." "[I]t depicts American GIs murdering people at a wedding.

And it`s very anti-Semitic also; it has some gruesome visuals of Jews
mistreating Muslims," he said. "It would seem to me that we may be
winning on the fronts of Afghanistan and in all these other places
where we`re fighting, in Iraq. But for the hearts and minds of the
people we are not doing very well at all. We may actually be heading
in the wrong direction."

In response, Miss Rice talked about Karen Hughes, the undersecretary
of public diplomacy, who is working to counter anti-U.S. propaganda in
the Muslim world. She included Turkey in her first foreign travel and
heard plenty from critics of the war in Iraq. "Valley of the Wolves"
screenwriter Bahadir Ozdener insists that he is also trying to make
an antiwar statement, not an anti-American or anti-Semitic one, with
his movie. "We are speaking out against the war, the occupation and
the human rights violations," he said.

I haven`t seen the film, but it`s difficult to believe that Mr.

Ozdener is conveying solely an "antiwar" message. However, it does
advise viewers that it is a work of "fiction." When asked about
it, Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said,
"[T]here`s no reason to comment on fiction." He`s right; it is just
a movie. But in reality, is a movie ever "just" a movie?

A Seattle Post?Intelligencer article asked in 2004, "In the history
of cinema, has any film done more to blacken a nation`s reputation
among travelers than `Midnight Express`? A quarter of a century after
its release, people still cite it as a reason for steering clear of
Turkey." "Midnight Express" declares in its opening credits that
it is based on a true story of a young American, Billy Hayes, who
was caught trying to smuggle drugs out of Turkey in 1970. The film
details his experiences until he escaped from prison. Two decades
after the film was released, Mr. Hayes said in a newspaper interview,
"There`s no doubt it changed the whole face of Turkish tourism...

It`s not fair. The burden fell on people who weren`t to blame."

Indeed. When I was in Cleveland recently, a taxi driver heard me
talking to my mother in a foreign language, and asked where we were
from. When I answered, "Turkey," he said, "Oh, I have seen Istanbul."

I asked when he was there, and he answered, "No. I did not go. I saw
it in `Midnight Express.` " I listened to his review without comment,
changed the subject and resumed my conversation with my mother.

Mr. Hayes has said, "The message of `Midnight Express` isn`t
`Don`t go to Turkey.` It`s `Don`t be an idiot like I was, and try
to smuggle drugs.` " But the fact is, "Midnight Express" seriously
damaged Turkey`s image in the United States. There is truth in the
movie, but even Mr. Hayes admitted there is a lot of exaggeration
as well. The similarities of the "Valley of the Wolves" and the
"Midnight Express" begin and end with both being movies. In terms of
effectiveness, Holywood wins. And "Valley of the Wolves" -- regardless
of its subject -- is the first Turkish movie to challenge Holywood.

Since Turkey denied the United States a northern front to invade
Iraq in March 2003, TV screenwriters also have gotten inspired. The
Assembly of Turkish American Associations cites two episodes -- one
from Fox`s "24" and the other from NBC`s "The West Wing" -- in which
they say Turkey and Turkish people are unfairly maligned. In the "24"
episode, Turks are depicted as terrorists and given Arab names. In the
"West Wing" episode, the Turkish government adopts Islamic laws under
the leadership of the AKP, and convicts and orders the execution by
beheading of a woman for having sex with her fiancee.

Both shows offended many Turks. Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah
Gul mentioned them to Miss Rice when she visited Ankara, and her
response was that America is a free country, and the government does
not control the movies.

Finally, PBS is airing a documentary next month called "Armenian
Genocide." Turks disagree that what happened to the Armenians was not
"genocide," and note that the Armenians also killed many Anatolian
Muslims. PBS refuses, however, to show the documentary "Armenian
Revolt," which depicts the massacre of the Anatolian Muslims. PBS has
also refused to hold a suggested panel discussion among historians
after airing "Armenian Genocide." I am not looking to open a debate
on the nature of what happened, but if we support freedom of speech,
we have to allow all opinions to be heard.

It`s important that any film, documentary or feature, be put in
context. Since when do governments make decisions or take action
against other countries because of a movie? These are movies, and
they should be treated as such in the larger debate.

State Department spokes-man Sean McCormack was asked recently about
"Valley of the Wolves" and he summed it up exactly right: "I don`t
do movie reviews."