LOS ANGELES–The US Consulate General in Istanbul was forced to mediate when in 2005 Turkish authorities accused MasterCard of “Insulting Turkishness” after the credit giant published a visitor’s guide to Istanbul, in which it made references to Kurdish aspirations for independence and the Armenian Genocide, newly-published State Department cables leaked by WikiLeaks revealed.
MasterCard, which was a corporate sponsor of the UEFA Champions League Cup Final between Istanbul and Liverpool, published a 290-page “Lonely Planet” guide on the host city and distributed it to visiting athletes and fans. In the guide, the author, an Istanbul-based British journalist depicted Istanbul as a city with an “Eastern” mentality and made references to the Kurds and Armenians. It’s offices received death threats and protests and, as a result, forced to close to protect its employees.
“The breezy narrative noted that ‘Ataturk banned any expression of Kurdishness in an attempt at assimilation,’ adding that major battles and atrocities followed in the 1920s and 1930s, with the deaths of more than 30,000 coming since 1984,” reported the cable written by David Arnett, the then US Consul General in Istanbul.
“On the equally sensitive Armenian issue, the guide noted that while most Armenians had remained loyal to the Ottoman Empire, some had rebelled,” explained Arnett in his cable, adding that the so-called rebellion “set off a powerful anti-Armenian backlash and the ‘widespread massacre of innocent Armenians in Istanbul and elsewhere.’
On June 5, 2005, the Hurriyet Daily News reported that “MasterCard Europe’s CEO Alexander Labak sent a letter of apology to the Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism over the guide, which the company claims was mostly written by the Lonely Planet UK.”
“Given the sensitivities that exist here, inclusion of any material on topics such as Turkey’s minority policy or the Armenian tragedy in a sporting guide was in retrospect a serious mistake. The harsh, instinctive reaction, however, shows the heightened sensitivities and hair-trigger nature of public discourse here since the December 17th EU decision [Asbaerz: The 2004 decision by the European Council decision to begin talks of Turkey’s membership in EU]. Post RSO has reached out to Mastercard, which is an active member of the OSAC Advisory Council, to ensure that they are satisfied with the police response they have received and to provide assistance if needed.
Ironically, MasterCard announced on Monday that it would no longer process payments to WikiLeaks and on Wednesday its Web site was attacked by “Operation Payback,” a group that supports and protests the arrest of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.