Viewing cable 06ANKARA468, PROPHET MOHAMMED CARTOONS PROMPT CONSTRUCTIVE
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C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 ANKARA 000468
E.O. 12958: DECL: 02/07/2015
TAGS: PGOV PREL ASEC KISL TU
SUBJECT: PROPHET MOHAMMED CARTOONS PROMPT CONSTRUCTIVE
TURKISH GOVERNMENT REACTION, MOSTLY PEACEFUL PROTESTS
Classified by Ambassador Ross Wilson, E.O. 12958,
reasons 1.4 (b) and (d).
¶1. (C) Summary: Turkish public reaction to European
publication of cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed has so far
consisted of generally peaceful protests and media
condemnation, mostly in the pro-Islamist media. Government
reaction has been moderate and constructive, with officials
condemning the cartoons, while calling for restraint and
nonviolence. Both FM Gul and PM Erdogan are reaching out to
international colleagues in an effort to help calm the
situation. Turkish police have done a good job of protecting
Danish diplomatic facilities. Interfaith leaders have
condemned the cartoons as well and called for calm. Though
the visual images of the Istanbul protests may not play well
in Europe, the AKP government's message should. End Summary.
Small, Peaceful Demonstrations
¶2. (U) Protest demonstrations at Danish diplomatic facilities
in Turkey have been small and peaceful, with a larger and
more raucous Istanbul demonstration February 5, but
substantial police presence in each case. The demonstrations
-- On February 1 and 4, groups of 10-25 protestors gathered
in front of the Danish Embassy in Ankara; one group
consisting of workers from the GOT's Religious Affairs
Directorate (Diyanet) placed black wreaths in front of the
Danish and Norwegian Embassies.
-- A February 3 demonstration at Istanbul's Danish Consulate
drew about 150 from the Islamist Saadet Party.
-- There were also February 3 demonstrations at Danish
honorary consulates in Izmir (250 people) and Mersin (50,
mostly from the Islamist Saadet Party).
-- On February 5, a crowd of several hundred, mainly
nationalists, demonstrated at the Danish Consulate in
Istanbul, throwing eggs and other objects. In a separate
demonstration at the Danish Consulate, approximately 2,000
protestors burned a Danish flag and an effigy of Danish PM
Rasmussen, but caused no damage to the consulate building.
¶3. (C) The Danish DCM told us February 4 that reaction in
Turkey has been much calmer than in Arab countries. He
described police cooperation as good -- Turkish police have
generally outnumbered demonstrators two-to-one. The Danish
Embassy has received faxes, e-mails and phone calls
protesting the cartoons, but nothing threatening. However,
the Danes decided to close the Istanbul Consulate February 6.
A Danish soccer team is continuing practicing in Antalya
despite the protests.
¶4. (U) According to media reports, similarly peaceful
demonstrations have occurred throughout Turkey, including in
the cities of Konya (where protestors burned the Danish flag)
Diyarbakir, Van, Kocaeli, Erzurum, and Elazig.
GOT Criticizes Cartoons, Urges Calm
¶5. (U) GOT leaders have criticized the cartoons, while also
warning Muslims not to respond with violence. PM Erdogan
told reporters on February 5 that he had warned the Danish PM
months ago that the cartoons would stir conflict, but at the
same time, urged calm. "You must not let certain groups act
under the justification of freedom of expression," Erdogan
said. "We love and respect the prophets of other major
religions. We will not tolerate any disrespect or attack on
Jesus Christ or Moses. No one should be free to attack
Mohammed." Erdogan stated that the problem should be
addressed through diplomacy. "There cannot be a solution
with weapons or guns. This is what the opponents of the
Alliance of Civilizations want."
¶6. (U) As a further response, Erdogan and Spanish PM Zapatero
published a joint "Call for Respect and Calm" in the February
5 edition of the International Herald Tribune. Noting that
their countries are collaborating in the Alliance of
Civilizations Project, the two leaders stated their support
for both freedom of speech and respect for religious beliefs.
"Freedom of Expression is one of the cornerstones of our
democratic systems and we shall never relinquish it," the PMs
stated. "But there are no rights without responsibility and
respect for different sensibilities. The publication of
these caricatures may be perfectly legal, but it is not
indifferent and thus ought to be rejected from a moral and
¶7. (U) FM Gul, for his part, reportedly met with MFA
officials at his residence February 5 to discuss what could
be done to prevent a further escalation of the crisis. One
possibility is to create a forum at which Islamic and
European countries can discuss the issue. Gul, according to
the press, phoned OIC President Ihsanoglu and conveyed this
proposal to him as well.
Religious Affairs Officials Take Same Line
¶8. (C) After the February 1 and 4 protests by Diyanet
workers, the Danish ambassador contacted the MFA and
expressed hope the Diyanet would not sponsor any anti-Denmark
actions. FM Gul called State Minister Aydin, who oversees
the Diyanet, to make certain the Friday February 3 sermon
would not mention the cartoon controversy (the Diyanet writes
all Friday sermons); it did not. In addition:
-- The Diyanet issued a February 3 statement expressing
"sorrow" over publication of the cartoons, calling for
respect for all religions as a vital part of freedom of
worship, and asking that Muslims all over the world refrain
from violence and keep reactions "within reasonable and
-- In a television interview the same day, Diyanet President
Bardakoglu called for respect for religion, termed the
cartoons "regrettable," condemned their publication, but
added that the Islamic world should react "within a
reasonable framework, without resorting to violence or
¶9. (U) Condemnation of the cartoons coupled with calls for
calm have also come from an interfaith group in Istanbul.
The press reported February 3 that an interfaith group
consisting of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, the
Armenian Patriarch, Istanbul's Syriac Metropolitan, Catholic
Conference representative Georges Marovich and the head of
the Commission for Dialogue Among Religious, Yusuf Sag, had
signed a statement condemning the publication of the
cartoons. Bartholomew told the Turkish press at the Istanbul
airport that he hoped these "ugly things" would stop. He
underscored the importance of living together in brotherhood
and respect for other religious without incitement. All
groups have a right to expect this, he stated.
¶10. (C) Comment: Danish flags have been burned in Turkey and
the controversy has dominated the media. The crowds,
however, have been relatively small, and law enforcement has
been both very present and effective, allowing people to
express their views without damage to property or persons -
the mark of a culture accustomed to both controversy and a
substantial measure of democracy. The pro-Islam AKP
government has reacted with statesmanship, condemning the
caricatures and, at the same time, reaching out to European
and Islamic colleagues in an effort to forestall an
escalation of the crisis. The fact that the PM and the FM
are both personally pious may not resonate outside of Turkey,
but likely will have an impact here. The images of the
Istanbul protests will not play well in Europe, but the
reality is that the GOT is trying to exert leadership,
exercise diplomacy and prevent further conflagration, at home
and abroad. End Comment.