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July 15, 2012, Sunday

Our downed jet and communication mishaps

For days we have been debating “our jet downed by Syria.” Of course, the matter has various aspects, including political, military, diplomatic, security and international law dimensions.

So, everyone is looking at the matter from one (and sometimes from multiple) aspects in furthering their ideas. Some criticism may prove to be very harsh and hurtful. This is not needed. What we need is to learn a lesson from such critical events. The diplomatic aspect of the matter will become clearer over time. It is bitter to say this, but there have been several communication mishaps during the process so far. Were these mishaps ill-intentioned? No. Yet a communication mishap is worse than a traffic accident; with a communication mishap, you can see where it started, but you cannot estimate when it will stop.

The first station: When the news first came, there was great indignation and strong negative reactions to Syria's bold behavior. We then learned that our two pilots had been martyred, which added to our sorrows. The general public's sensitivity toward the issue entailed a transparent disclosure of all exact knowledge about it. No one cared what arrogant Syria, which has been defying the world with its massacres, was saying. Therefore, the public expected a statement that would bring relief to the masses and provide an effective sanction. There were delays, and the original national sensitivity started to melt away.

Following the first shocking news about the downing of our jet, people were expecting to get a full picture of the event. And this was what happened initially. According to statements by the foreign minister and the prime minister, the matter was crystal clear. They said that our jet had been attacked in international airspace without any warning. They advised everyone to be calm in the face of this provocative attack, and the general public started to think that this attack would be reciprocated at the correct time. This was a reasonable approach. However, the statements made later created doubts about the assumed clarity of the incident.

Truthfully speaking, the downing of our jet by another country is in a sense a national matter. In such cases, one needs to be meticulous to the greatest degree. With this in mind, we saw media outlets adopt a more responsible editorial policy toward this matter. Surprisingly, the media were the targets of heavy criticism, despite the fact that the overwhelming majority of media networks were cool-headed and favored diplomatic moves. In this context, pro-Baath attitudes by some marginal groups and their blind hatred for the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) could just be ignored.

Both the media and the general public support the government bringing Turkey's view to the international arena. However, successive statements from the government came as a surprise to everyone. When our foreign minister announced that they had sufficient evidence and information, everyone breathed a sigh of relief. Our foreign minister further challenged neighboring countries, telling them to give us whatever evidence they had. And in response, Russia announced that they had such evidence and that they wanted to share this with Turkey. Our officials, on the other hand, asserted that they didn't need this evidence. In doing so, our Foreign Ministry might be being fastidious or diplomatic, but the general public does not know this. And they cannot know it. Nevertheless, everyone assumed a well-meaning approach to this matter, saying, "Our officials might be trying to prevent disinformation." This continued until disconcerting statements started to pour from the Turkish side.

If I am not wrong, the first such statement came from the Ministry of Defense. The ministry said that it could not find any evidence of our jet being hit. As we were trying to digest this and trying to make sense of it, a similar statement came from the General Staff.

Referring to our jet "which is claimed to be downed by Syria," the General Staff indicated that it could not find "any trace of explosive" on the downed jet. On the day this statement was made, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was speaking to the head of local organizations of the Justice and Development Party (AK Party), providing extra details about our downed jet and how it was downed. The General Staff felt the need to make another statement to ease the doubts it had created with the previous statement. This time, it accused Syria of shooting down our jet, but failed to eliminate doubts.

Of course, in the meantime, something strange happened: A statement reportedly made by anonymous high-level military officers was published in American papers. The prime minister said, “If they do not prove it, they are dishonored.” But these officers (no one knows their names) also spoke to several Turkish papers, giving messages via implicit remarks. While we were discussing what these Americans wanted to say, a new statement by the General Staff exacerbated the situation, raising further doubts.

It is not easy to have control over the process in crucial incidents; it may even be said that it is impossible to do it. Almost the same thing happened in the Uludere incident. This is why some questions remained. However, in such incidents, transparency is required from the beginning so that doubts can be properly addressed.

The process of communication should at least be managed properly. However, we are unable to carry out transparent communication; furthermore, mostly due to a lack of coordination between different units, statements from various circles contradict each other. Considering that there are also those who wait for such an opportunity to exacerbate the situation, you may see the grave repercussions of communication accidents.

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