American media conglomerate Disney has come under heavy diplomatic fire from Turkey after the company decided against airing a TV series dramatising the life of Turkey’s founding father Mustafa Kemal Atatürk following lobbying from Armenian activist groups.
Disney had intended to show a recently released six-part series simply named “Atatürk” on October 29th in honour of the centenary of the foundation of the Turkish Republic.
A monumental figure in Turkey’s national mythology, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk served as his nation’s first President from 1923 to 1939 and is revered for establishing a secular Turkish Republic out of the ashes of the Ottoman Empire.
While commended in the West for his commitment to secular values in the majority Muslim nation, Atatürk is a despised figure in Greek and Armenian history in particular for his role in the Armenian genocide, a historic fact disputed by the Turkish government to this day.
Disney’s decision has been publicly slammed by Ankara’s ruling Justice and Development Party which blasted the cancellation of the series as perpetuating the “politics of lies” at the behest of the Armenian lobby.
Disney executives had been pressured into cancelling the series after public lobbying from the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) which campaigns for greater recognition of the Armenian genocide. A spokesperson for Disney said the show will be syndicated on its sister company FOX and denied caving to political pressure.
The Armenian diaspora forms a powerful ethnic bloc in American politics with the recognition of the Armenian genocide, estimated to have killed over a million people between 1915 and 1923, a major foreign policy sticking point in Turkey’s international relations.
Officially, Turkey downplays the mass killing of Armenians which it says has been heavily exaggerated and driven by natural causes rather than specific Turkish policy. Both the United States and the EU recognise the Armenian genocide despite diplomatic protestations from Ankara.
The refusal of Disney to broadcast the series comes as Turkey and its ally Azerbaijan are accused of human rights abuses in the disputed Lachin region which it has blockaded in an effort to drive out ethnic Armenians following a border war with Armenia.
While ostensibly a Western ally and NATO member, Turkey is judged by many pundits to be moving away from Europe and embracing a form of Islamic populism under President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and has earned much criticism for its support of Sunni radicalism in the Middle East and ongoing attempts to fan the flames over Quran burning incidents in Scandinavia.