Lebanese freedoms not immune to Ankara’s encroachment

On Thursday, the Beirut public prosecutor referred Der Haroutiounian to trial on charges of “insulting” Turkey. The trial is set to begin on October 8.
Friday 10/07/2020
A Kurdish protester holds a placard bearing the portrait of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan during a demonstration against the latest Turkish military offensive in northeastern Syria, in central Beirut’s Martyrs Square on October 13, 2019. (AFP)
A Kurdish protester holds a placard bearing the portrait of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan during a demonstration against the latest Turkish military offensive in northeastern Syria, in central Beirut’s Martyrs Square on October 13, 2019. (AFP)

BEIRUT – Recent developments have shown that even Lebanon, where Turkey has no military presence or shared borders, is not immune to Ankara’s interference.

Lebanese political sources said that Turkish prosecutors’ claims against Armenian-born journalist Neshan Der Haroutiounian for “insulting” the Turkish president are part of ongoing confrontations between Lebanese Armenians and Turkey, which is accused of carrying out a genocide against Armenians between 1914 and 1923.

Some Lebanese Armenians’ harsh criticism of Turkey seems to embarrass Lebanese authorities, who have tried to intimidate them into observing certain “red lines.”

There are numerous external forces pressuring Lebanon, starting with Iranian proxy Hezbollah. Turkey is now attempting to curb Lebanon’s hard-fought freedoms, of which its citizens are rightly proud, by also exerting pressure on Lebanese authorities.

On Thursday, Beirut referred Der Haroutiounian to trial on charges of “insulting” Turkey. The trial is set to begin on October 8.

Lebanese news agency NNA said that “according to information provided to the Public Prosecution Office, Der Haroutiounian will be referred to trial before the Court of Publications Chamber in Beirut.”

A Lebanese journalist, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that there were no grounds for the judicial charges against Der Haroutiounian.

“This is a matter of a historical dispute that has no prospect, knowing that it is about a great crime against the Armenian people — a crime that Turkey refuses to recognise. This in itself continues to provoke Armenians wherever they are,” the journalist told The Arab Weekly.

Der Haroutiounian hosted former Environment Minister Wiam Wahhab during the “Anna Heek” (This is how I am) programme that aired on the Al Jadeed satellite channel.

Wahhab, who is the head of the Arab Tawhid Party, said in the interview that the Turkish president was “sly” before the campaign against Der Haroutiounian began.

In response to Wahhab’s statements, a Lebanese national intervened in the programme and attacked Der Haroutiounian, saying “Neshan, the refugee, showed his racism,” referring to Der Haroutiounian’s Armenian origins.

Neshan Der Haroutiounian  (Al Jadeed TV)
Neshan Der Haroutiounian  (Al Jadeed TV)

Der Haroutiounian responded fiercely to the provocation, doubling down on Wahhab’s position.

“A son of a million malicious people … Erdogan, the regime, the Ottomans, and the Turks,” Der Haroutiounian said.

“If you consider me a refugee, then I am more Lebanese than you, and I am proud of my country, Lebanon, more than you are,” he added.

The Turkish Embassy intervened in the dispute and mobilised dozens of protesters to demonstrate in front of the Al Jadeed TV station against “insulting the Ottoman state and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.”

The protesters raised Turkish flags, chanted slogans in support of the Ottoman Empire and Erdogan and called on Al Jadeed TV and those in charge of the programme to “apologise for what happened.”

Under the hashtag “The New Ottomans,” Facebook users posted videos showing protesters holding Turkish flags and demonstrating in front of the Al Jadeed TV building.

In early June, a similar online campaign targeting Der Haroutiounian was launched, with supporters of the Turkish president hurling racist insults and using a defamatory hashtag on Twitter in response to his criticism of Erdogan.

Observers said that Turkey has succeeded in exploiting Lebanon’s political vacuum that has been caused by mounting social and economic crises.

Ankara, according to observers, managed to infiltrate the country and create a lobby to silence critics of Ottoman history and Erdogan’s expansionist policies in the region, by which Lebanon, like Syria and the rest of the Mediterranean countries, is affected.

Observers warned of the risks Der Haroutiounian’s trial could pose, not only to Lebanon but to the entire region. They pointed out that Turkey is seeking to create media, political and legal lobbies to prevent any criticism of its old and new colonial policies.

Ankara is also trying to advance a self-serving agenda, a reality that functions in the same radical and intransigent way as anti-Semitism and exposes the critics of the Ottoman Empire to legal charges, the observers said.

The Turks benefit from Muslim Brotherhood support in the region, as they glorify Ottoman history at the expense of Arab countries – a trend that is especially harmful in the Libyan conflict.

This trend is also seen in Ankara’s expanding influence in Tunisia, Yemen and Somalia. Islamists in these countries consider Turkish expansionist manoeuvres to be a “victory” for them and their vision of the Arab and Islamic world.