Broadcaster’s ban on cowboy films puts further strain on US-Turkey relations

Shown in this image is combination of screen grabs from the Cowboy movie The Man from Bitter Ridge, starring John Wayne. Turkey's state-run broadcaster TRT has stopped broadcasting cowboy movies in nprotest against US economic sanctions against its former ally. 
Updated 29 August 2018

Broadcaster’s ban on cowboy films puts further strain on US-Turkey relations

  • State-run TRT TV used to run US cowboy movies on Sundays since the 1980s
  • TRT has dropped cowboy movies to help protest the US economic embargo against Turkey

ANKARA, Turkey: Following Ankara's recent embargo on US-origin electronic goods in response to US sanctions on steel and manufacture imports, US-Turkey relations are further deteriorating with the latest decision of Turkish state-run broadcaster TRT to cease broadcasting Sunday morning cowboy movies and replace them with Turkish films.

Almost as a tradition, TRT has shown cowboy movies on Sundays since the 1980s and it is the first time that the bilateral diplomatic crisis between the NATO allies has hit the movie sector, amid Turkish conspiracy theories that see American imperialism behind every problem in the country.

The decision follows the warning of Turkish media watchdog Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTUK) about the expansion of American imperialism and culture through movies. RTUK’s chief Ilhan Yerlikaya recently called on media outlets to show more sensitivity about preventing the extension of American imperialism in commercial ads of American products.

However, in terms of cultural export, Turkey itself globally ranks second in television series exports behind the US as its well-known soap operas reach wide audiences in the Middle East and Latin America as well as the Balkans.
According to a survey conducted by Pew Research Center in spring 2017, 45 percent of Turkish respondents like American movies, music and television

In the meantime, Ankara does not seem eager for a complete break away from Washington. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Tuesday that Turkey’s relations with Russia are not an alternative to ties with the EU or the US. 

But he quickly responded to the US reluctance to transfer F-35 fighter jets to Turkey: “If they say they can do anything they want, like in cowboy movies, then they will get a response.”
Burak Ozcetin, an expert from Istanbul Kadir Has University’s faculty of communication, thinks the recent comments by RTUK’s chief can be considered an ad hoc response to the ongoing crisis with the US, and for his part, expressions of his enthusiasm to prove his worth to President Erdogan, which is nowadays a common reflex among Turkish bureaucrats. 

“Anti-Americanism is a powerful ideological motive in Turkey, and recent polls have shown that anti-American sentiments are on the rise among the population,” he told Arab News. 

The results of the Research on Social and Political Trends in Turkey, conducted by Kadir Has University in 2017, revealed that 64.3 percent of the Turkish population evaluate the US as the No. 1 threat against Turkey, while the figures were 39 percent in 2015 and 2016.

“But this anti-American sentiment is also marked by a love-hate relationship. Things so far have shown us the possible normalization of the relations will appease the anti-imperialist outburst of the cultural elites and bureaucrats,” Ozcetin said.

However, for Turkish citizens this decision may spark yet another cultural war between the two countries.

“I spent all my childhood watching US cowboy movies and it seems bizarre to withdraw them from the screen at a time when people can watch whatever they want on the Internet. But I wonder whether the next step might be to block Netflix in Turkey,” Kerem Caglar, a youngster living in Ankara, told Arab News.

Netflix is an American-origin Internet-streaming provider of movies that recently entered the Turkish market with a high rate of subscribers. 

“There was a time, the 1980s to be more specific, when cowboy movies broadcast by TRT played a role on public perceptions of the US, but this is no longer the case,” Ozgur Unluhisarcikli, Ankara director of the German Marshall Fund of the United States, told Arab News. 

“With numerous private channels way more popular than TRT, the rating of those movies is very low anyway. Besides, American movies are all over the private channels, movies, digital platforms and the Internet,” he added. 

According to Unluhisarcikli, if TRT doesn’t show John Wayne movies, private channels will show Brad Pitt movies, and if private channels boycott American productions, digital platforms won’t. 

“If digital platforms are banned people will turn to the Internet. If websites streaming American movies and series are blocked, they will use VPN services. I believe that TRT’s recent decision is either commercial or symbolic and won’t have any real impact,” he said.

Iraqi PM tightens government grip on country’s armed factions

Updated 17 September 2019

Iraqi PM tightens government grip on country’s armed factions

  • The increasingly strained relations between the US and Iran in the region is casting a large shadow over Iraq

BAGHDAD: Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi is putting increased pressure on the nation’s armed factions, including Shiite-dominated paramilitary troops and Kurdish guerrillas, in an attempt to tighten his control over them, Iraqi military commanders and analysts said on Monday.

Military commanders have been stripped of some of their most important powers as part of the efforts to prevent them from being drawn into local or regional conflicts.

The increasingly strained relations between the US and Iran in the region is casting a large shadow over Iraq. 

Each side has dozens of allied armed groups in the country, which has been one of the biggest battlegrounds for the two countries since 2003. 

Attempting to control these armed factions and military leaders is one of the biggest challenges facing the Iraqi government as it works to keep the country out of the conflict.

On Sunday, Abdul Mahdi dissolved the leadership of the joint military operations. 

They will be replaced by a new one, under his chairmanship, that includes representatives of the ministries of defense and interior, the military and security services, the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) and the Ministry of Peshmerga, which controls the military forces of the autonomous Kurdistan region.

According to the prime minister’s decree, the main tasks of the new command structure are to “lead and manage joint operations at the strategic and operational level,” “repel all internal and external threats and dangers as directed by the commander-in-chief of the armed forces,” “manage and coordinate the intelligence work of all intelligence and security agencies,” and “coordinate with international bodies that support Iraq in the areas of training and logistical and air support.”

“This decree will significantly and effectively contribute to controlling the activities of all combat troops, not just the PMU,” said a senior military commander, who declined to be named. 

“This will block any troops associated with any local political party, regional or international” in an attempt to ensure troops serve only the government’s goals and the good of the country. 

“This is explicit and unequivocal,” he added.

Since 2003, the political process in Iraq has been based on political power-sharing system. This means that each parliamentary bloc gets a share of top government positions, including the military, proportionate to its number of seats in Parliament. Iran, the US and a number of regional countries secure their interests and ensure influence by supporting Iraqi political factions financially and morally.

This influence has been reflected in the loyalties and performance of the majority of Iraqi officials appointed by local, regional and international parties, including the commanders of combat troops.

To ensure more government control, the decree also stripped the ministers of defense and interior, and leaders of the counterterrorism, intelligence and national security authorities, and the PMU, from appointing, promoting or transferring commanders. This power is now held exclusively by Abdul Mahdi.

“The decree is theoretically positive as it will prevent local, regional and international parties from controlling the commanders,” said another military commander. 

“This means that Abdul Mahdi will be responsible to everyone inside and outside Iraq for the movement of these forces and their activities.

“The question now is whether Abdul Mahdi will actually be able to implement these instructions or will it be, like others, just ink on paper?”

The PMU is a government umbrella organization established by former Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki in June 2014 to encompass the armed factions and volunteers who fought Daesh alongside the Iraqi government. Iranian-backed factions such as Badr Organization, Asaib Ahl Al-Haq and Kataib Hezbollah represent the backbone of the forces.

The US, one of Iraq’s most important allies in the region and the world, believes Iran is using its influence within the PMU to destabilize and threaten Iraq and the region. Abdul Mahdi is under huge external and internal pressure to abolish the PMU and demobilize its fighters, who do not report or answer to the Iraqi government.

The prime minister aims to ease tensions between the playmakers in Iraq, especially the US and Iran, by preventing their allies from clashing on the ground or striking against each other’s interests.

“Abdul Mahdi seeks to satisfy Washington and reassure them that the (armed) factions of the PMU will not move against the will of the Iraqi government,” said Abdullwahid Tuama, an Iraqi analyst.

The prime minister is attempting a tricky balancing act by aiming to protect the PMU, satisfy the Iranians and prove to the Americans that no one is outside the authority of the state, he added.