By banning YouTube, has Turkey revealed just how damning today’s leaked recording is?


People walk past a poster for Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan's election campaign in Istanbul on March 27.(Osman Orsal/Reuters)

Just under a week after a controversial ban on Twitter went into force, the Turkish government has reportedly begun blocking YouTube.

Turkish visitors to the video-sharing Web site are now greeted with a page that says, "After technical analysis and legal consideration based on the law, administrative measure has been taken for this website," according to those within the country:

It seems a drastic move. Like the block on Twitter, the Turkish government's decision to block YouTube seems politically motivated: Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the ruling AK Party, facing upcoming municipal elections in just a few days, have been the focus of a number of large street protests over the past year.

Perhaps more importantly, dozens of people linked to AKP have been engulfed in a corruption scandal since December, with a number of damaging audio files that purport to be leaked wiretaps of Erdoğan's inner circle being shared via social networks such as YouTube and Twitter. The swift move to ban YouTube today comes after Google reportedly refused a number of previous requests from the Turkish government to take down videos featuring corruption allegations, according to the Wall Street Journal.

While it's difficult to say whether its really a covert recording or an elaborate fake, the latest alleged leak, released on YouTube only earlier today, could be the most damaging yet.

According to Today's Zaman, the leaked audio appeared to feature Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, National Intelligence Organization (MİT) Undersecretary Hakan Fidan, Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Feridun Sinirlioğlu and Deputy Chief of General Staff Gen. Yaşar Güler discussing possible intervention in Syria. Transcripts of the call being shared online appear to show the men discussing ways to create an excuse to militarily intervene in Syria to protect the Suleiman Shah Tomb, a sovereign enclave of Turkey located within its southern neighbor's borders. "Justification can be created," one voice says in the recording, appearing to reference a "false flag" attack. "The matter is to create the will."

While the content of the recording is damaging on its own, its context might be worse. While quite a few leaked recordings alleged to show official corruption over the past few months, this one is something new. If the recording is to be believed, it would show that even the top levels of the Turkish government are not immune to secret recordings and leaks. It's a serious security breach that would cause a panic in any country. Without accepting its authenticity, Turkey's Foreign Ministry has released a damning statement concerning the recording, warning that the "perpetrators of this attack targeting the security of our state and people" will be given the "heaviest penalty" when caught. According to Hurriyet Daily News, Erdoğan himself has suggested that the leak was the work of Fethullah Gülen, an influential Islamic preacher now based in Pennsylvania and often accused of holding sway over a "deep state" network of individuals in Turkish society.

Erdoğan has repeatedly made references to the Gülen movement as the corruption scandal has unfolded, and that reference may be part of a broader plan to present himself as the victim of a covert, undemocratic coup. Like the Twitter ban, the block on YouTube may be easy for tech-savvy citizens to circumvent, but as Zeynep Tufekci, an assistant professor at University of North Carolina, has argued persuasively, Erdoğan's attacks on Twitter and YouTube may not be designed to actually block these social networks but to demonize the allegations being spread on them. Given the number of supporters at a recent AKP rally, Erdoğan still has a large core base who agree with him – at least for now.

Adam Taylor writes about foreign affairs for The Washington Post. Originally from London, he studied at the University of Manchester and Columbia University.
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Adam Taylor · March 27