Contemporary Istanbul art fair’s chairman Ali Güreli has come under fire following an email he sent to dozens of fair-goers defending Turkey’s military offensive in northern Syria.
In the letter, Güreli slammed international media for its “totally inaccurate reporting” on the incursion, while also accusing it of engaging in “black propaganda.”
“As is the case in any asymmetric conflict, black propaganda is on the scene again with disinformation and fabricated news and comments,” Güreli wrote in the email, artnet News reported.
Turkey launched its operation to clear its border of the People’s Protection Units (YPG), which is the Syrian affiliate of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), and to create a “safe zone” for the return of over one million Syrian refugees.
Ankara, Washington and the European Union designate the PKK as a terrorist organization.
The operation was criticized by Washington and the EU, who urged Turkish troops to be sensitive towards civilian areas.
Güreli, in his email, defended the Turkish army.
“Turkey’s current operation does not target any ethnic group, nation, or country; rather, it purely and simply aims to neutralize the elements that pose a terrorist threat on a regional and global scale as well as to our country,” he wrote.
“This very ruthless organization that in the years has acquired the fame of ‘baby-killer,’ is abducting children and young people, using armed threat to recruit them as their militant[s],” Güreli added.
The chairman’s email also included a request.
“As is the case in any asymmetric conflict, the black propaganda is on the scene again with disinformation and fabricated news and comments. We kindly ask you, our esteemed friend, that you do not take such manipulative news, comments, and posts seriously, and not allow to spread the information pollution,” he said.
Following backlash, Güreli sent a follow-up email, saying that his letter was “entirely inappropriate.”
“I sincerely apologize for the shock [my email] may have caused to all our friends in the art world, to our partners, to my colleagues at Contemporary Istanbul, and to my family,” Güreli wrote in his second email.
He said that it was written in his name only, and not in his capacity as the fair’s chairman, though it was sent out on Contemporary Istanbul letterhead and signed “Ali Güreli, Chairman.”
“I was in no position to comment on Turkey’s political context, which is very complex, and it was wrong for me to do so, especially given the circumstances,” Güreli said, adding that “emotions” drove his actions.
Although the chairman backed down from his earlier remarks, several employees of Contemporary Istanbul have stepped down, according to artnet News.