For years and years Turkish stereotypes have been portrayed as villains in American or Western TV shows and Hollywood films without any uproar.
“The West Wing” opened on that fateful episode with a morning newsflash that a Turkish woman, “Karly Farquar,” was to be executed for having sex with her fiancee. This execution was to be carried out according the Islamic law! Apart from the blatant lie that a woman named Karly Farquar would be Turkish, there were more important factors that were misguiding; 1. Turkey did not/does not have capital punishment, and 2. Turkey did not/does not have Islamic law – both very important distinctions.
Then on “24” Jack Bower was tasked to unearth an Islamic group related to Al Qaide based in Ankara! And the terrorist’s name was Tomas! What? Yes, we all know that there are Islamists living and operating in Turkey, but the program made it seem as if they are openly waltzing around like free men.
And of course, who could ever forget the “Midnight Express”? The genius Oliver Stone’s masterpiece..Good white American does something naughty, gets caught by barbaric Turks, witnesses the most horrific prison experiences (I suppose “Oz” wasn’t on TV back in those days), sees no “good” Turks in his life, calls Turkish food “disgusting”. The film has made such an impact, even a Seinfeld episode made a reference to it. In “The Secret Code”, Jerry Seinfeld is explaining a scenario in which he envisions George would have to reveal his ATM code. Jerry’s scenario has George in a Turkish prison. Jerry begins the hypothetical with, “Alright, you’re locked up in a prison in Turkey...” He continues to explain that George must tell Jerry his ATM code to bribe the guard, to which George responds, “We’re in Turkey?” to which Jerry says, “Midnight Express, my friend.”
Turkophobes love this flick ! Of course, no-one, including Oliver Stone, cared what Billy Hayes thought about the movie.
Billy Hayes? He was the real hero of the “midnight express” story. He was arrested in Turkey for smuggling Mariujana across the border. He was put in prison. He learned how to speak Turkish. A video interview with Billy Hayes by Alinur Velidedeoglu can be found below and no surprise, the video was watched mostly by Turks!
Midnight Express, Bram Stokers Dracula, Buffalo Soldiers, Ararat and many more have shown Turkish characters as stupid, cruel, money-loving drug or weapon smugglers, womanizers, murderers and sodomizers.
Western publich knowledge about Turks and Turkish culture has never been generated from facts, but through imagined constructs that see all Turks and Muslim societies as fundamentally similar, all sharing crucial characteristics unlike those of “Western” societies, thus, this prejudice established the Turks and Muslims as antithetical to the West.
It is imperative to take a journey to the foundations of Hollywood and the Western Media.
The birth of modern Western civilization goes back to Renaissance where Western European nations were busy fighting against each other and were thus too powerless to resist their disciplined Turkish neighbors Ottoman Empire. Hundreds and thousands of European/Christian princedoms, kingdoms, and dukedoms spent centuries fighting against each other if not organizing crusades to loot Muslim middle-east, exchanging thrones and power. The people were poor, hungry and restless. The ruling class always chose to blame it on the Turks, even in countries Turks or Ottomans haven’t set foot in the ruling class built sculptures of Turkish monsters and erected these huge statues in town centres to control people by fear.
In the 16th century about 2,500 publications about the Turks were spread around Europe (over a thousand of which were in German), in these publications the image of the ‘bloodthirsty Turk’ was imprinted on reader. In fact in the period of 1480 to 1610, twice as many books were published about the Turkish threat to Europe than about the discovery of the continents of America. 
Then came America, the new-born Western Country of United States consisted a large number of Germanic, evangelical Christian immigrants. In order to set foot in European politics, United States had to get involved in World War I. To gain public support during WWI years, posters were spread in American town’s depicting Turk as “fez wearing gorilla holding an innocent white girl”. Reminds you of King Kong doesn’t it?
During Cold-War era Turks were shown as passive, silent and backwards sidekick of white, western heroes. In the James Bond movie “From Russia with Love”, the Turkish character bond-sidekick “Darko Kemal” was one of the good guys because his mother was English but he still had his “bad” Turkish side; he had hundreds of sons from dozens of women. In “Not without my daughter”, The heroine white-American woman Betty and her daughter escape from Iran and arrive in Turkey where you can see Turkish and American(!) flags at the checkpoint.
Collapse of Berlin Wall and the end of Cold-War changed a lot of things in the world and in people’s mind but yet these were not enough for prejudiced and ignorant minds of Western media and Hollywood. Post-Cold War American and other Western movies showed Turks as anti-modernist, racist, women, drug or weapon smuggling hordes.
In Buffalo Soldiers, the corrupt American soldiers were in co-operation with Turkish mafia in Germany.
The main discussion topics of the West at the beginning of 21st century were Islamic Terrorism, Palestine, Turkey’s entry into EU. Of course the media had to keep highlighting the bad Turk image again.
In 2005 French movie “The Empire of the Wolves”, Grey wolves, a Turkish political group were depicted as cannibalistic underground organizations that recruited half-robot half-human Turks who had moustaches and tortured beautiful Kurdish women and financed their operations by smuggling drugs into civilized Europe.
Same year a popular woman’s magazine in France, Marie Claire, made a special publication about the PKK and PKK’s female terrorists. The magazine showcased these female terrorists as “Kurdish amazons”; book-reading, computer-using, poem-writing angels while the women were posing to civilized French journalist’s cameras with their Kalashnikovs with picture caption reading “brave freedom fighters on mountains”
Ironically the French Police and Interpol are now busy trying to cleanse their cities from PKK and PKKs drug-smuggling Network.
While hardly mentioning the tragedies Turks have suffered from such as the Armenian terrorist organization ASALA’s assasination of some 80 Turkish diplomats ( including Turkish councillor in Sydney) during the 1970s and 1980s, pre-1974 massacre of Turks in Cyprus in the hands of Greek Cypriots, replacement of 3 million Turks in Balkans, massacre of Eastern-Anatolian Turks in the hands of Armenian “Tashnak” terrorist groups, Hollywood and Western media have chosen only to portray the “bad Turks”. But who does this help?
The Turkish communities in the West always have been target of racial discrimination and physical attacks and have always felt vulnerable because of the Anti-Turkish and anti-Muslim media movements.
The harm caused by the media is not only psychological (insult to a culture or a religion) but helps feed into actions that are physically harmful.
EU countries have funded hundreds of documentaries and movies about Evil Turks and innocent Kurds/Armenians whereas none was made about the Turkish immigrant family who was burnt to their in their homes by a group of German Nazi youngsters in Solingen, Germany in 1995 (or recently in Ludwigshafen where a family of 9 Turkish immigrants (mother, children included) were burnt to death by Nationalist Germans)
In the 1930s, we saw a similar media campaign in Europe against Jewish people.
Jewish people were constantly insulted and depicted in the media as parasites or as outsiders.
As a result of media sponsored anti-Semitism, the West witnessed and participated in the massacre of 6 million European Jews in the hands of the Nazi regime.
We hope the Western media realizes branding and stereotyping doesn’t help anyone at all.
- Leslie Bates-Büyüktürkoglu
- “Turkey, Sweden and the EU Experiences and Expectations“, Report by the Swedish Institute for European Policy Studies, April 2006, p. 6 ,
- PKK terrorists detained by French police – Today’s Zaman
- PKK Terrorists Named `Drug Kingpins’; Nations Move Against Narcoterrorism – Executive Intelligence Review
Article by Ali Serkan Soner.