The Founder of a Turkish State-Backed Art Fair Is Asking the Art World Not to Believe ‘Black Propaganda’ About Turkey’s Invasion of Syria

Ali Güreli says the operation has been miscast by the media.

Ali Güreli, founder and chairman of Contemporary Istanbul, has written a vigorous defense of the Turkish invasion of Syria on behalf of the fair. Photo: Sitki Kosemen.

The founder and chairman of the Contemporary Istanbul art fair, Ali Güreli, has written a strongly worded defense of Turkey’s invasion of Syria.

Last week, the Turkish military began undertaking air strikes against Kurdish-led militias in northeast Syria to create what it calls a “safe zone” for Syrian refugees. The operation, which has since led to the escape of nearly 750 ISIS militants, has been condemned by the European Union, which has demanded that Turkey act with restraint.

Reports from the ground indicate that Turkish forces have been targeting Kurdish settlements—a claim Güreli, whose fair is backed by the state, is vigorously denying.

In a letter to fairgoers, Güreli chides the international media for “totally inaccurate reporting” and says the primary target of the military operation is the People’s Protection Units (YPG), a primarily Kurdish component of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). Since October 2015, the YPG and SDF have been fighting against the Islamic State and the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the country’s protracted civil war.

“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 writes.

Syrian National Army members patrol as they continue to conduct search operation around the streets of Tal Abyad which was cleared from PKK terrorists and Syrian Kurdish YPG militia, which Turkey regards as a terror group, within Turkey's Operation Peace Spring in northern Syria, in Tal Abyad, Syria on October 15, 2019. Photo by Omer Alven/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images.

Syrian National Army members patrol as they continue the streets of Tal Abyad. Photo by Omer Alven/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images.

“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 writes of the YPG, adding: “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.”

Contemporary Istanbul is sponsored primarily by the Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism and the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality. It is also backed by Turkish Airlines, which is owned in part by the state.

artnet News shared Güreli’s letter with Naren Briar, a photographer and human rights activist who is the daughter of two Kurdish refugees.

“I can confidently say that what you have received is malicious propaganda,” Briar says. “These are unarmed religious and ethnic minorities that Erdoğan, the dictator of Turkey, hopes to kill in order to enact violent demographic changes.”

Author and cultural critic David Levi Strauss, who has co-edited a book about Syria’s Kurdish revolution, says the letter sounds like a press release from the Erdoğan regime. “It is not surprising that a functionary like Güreli, who depends on funding from this corrupt authoritarian regime, would be called upon to spread their propaganda, but this time, the world is watching,” he says.

“I would invite anyone thinking of attending the Contemporary Istanbul art fair to take the time to look at the reporting coming out of virtually all legitimate news outlets around the world concerning Erdoğan’s actions in Northern Syria,” Levi Strauss says. “If that is ‘black propaganda,’ it has truly taken over the world.”

Earlier this month, President Trump acceded to the Turkish military operation when he ordered the withdrawal of US forces from the region.

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