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Turkey's Curious Silence On Boris Johnson's Insulting Erdogan Poem

New U.K. Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson arrives at No. 10 Downing Street after being summoned by new British Prime Minister Theresa May in London on July 13.
New U.K. Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson arrives at No. 10 Downing Street after being summoned by new British Prime Minister Theresa May in London on July 13.

You might expect a strong reaction from the thin-skinned Turkish president to the appointment of Brexit campaigner and former London Mayor Boris Johnson as Britain's new foreign secretary. Or at least from his ministers or all those loyal TV channels, newspapers, and websites.

But Turkish media, even the opposition press, have kept strangely silent about a certain thing -- Johnson's rude and offensive limerick about Recep Tayyip Erdogan having sex with a goat.

Well, not quite. Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim, asked about it during a recent appearance on BBC's Hardtalk program, said only: "What should I say? God may help him find the right path...."

No comments, though, from Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu or other government officials.

Newspapers and TV channels did report about new British Prime Minister Theresa May's pick for foreign secretary, his gaffes and embarrassing comments, covered as "jokes," about some world leaders.

They also referred to Johnson's "anti-Turkey" positions, such as comments favoring the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), an insurgent group recognized in Turkey, the United States, and Europe as a terrorist organization that has been waging war against Turkey's government for the last 32 years.

Back in May, Johnson won a contest to write the "rudest poem" about Erdogan organized by Britain's Spectator magazine. It was meant as a rebuff to Erdogan's efforts to sue a German TV comedian who read a poem about the Turkish leader that was described even by German Chancellor Angela Merkel as "deliberately offensive."

Before the poetry contest, when the Leave and Remain campaigns were running at full speed in Britain and making international headlines, the Turkish media were mostly excited about Johnson's Ottoman origins.

Johnson is the great grandson of Ali Kemal, a journalist and briefly interior minister in Ottoman Turkey.

There was, however, a surprising silence about the poetry contest and Johnson's insulting poem, which was widely published in the British press. Having a good readership also in Turkey, it was surprising that nobody there took any notice or did not want to mention the poem story.

The continuing silence now after Johnson was appointed British foreign secretary is even more surprising.

Did Turks really fail to notice that news? Is there some ban, even an unofficial one, on reporting about that offensive Erdogan limerick written by somebody who is now British foreign minister? Or is it self-censorship in the current climate of fear in Turkish media?

"Maybe also the fear of being taken to court for insulting and attacking the dignity of the Turkish president," says a well-known Turkish journalist who spoke on condition of anonymity. "I am not aware of any ban. It is indeed strange that nobody talks about that. I admit I don't, either. It is simply embarrassing and unethical, more for Johnson rather than for Erdogan."

About This Blog

Turkey Notebook is a blog written by Abbas Djavadi, regional director of programming at RFE/RL and a longtime Turkey specialist. The blog presents Djavadi’s personal take on events and is designed for Turkey-watchers and all who want to get the most relevant news, views, issues, and insights on the country that you might not find in the daily news stream. Also check out Turkey Notebook on Facebook or Twitter.