Turkey’s governing party has criticised a reported decision by Walt Disney Co’s Disney+ not to broadcast a documentary series about modern Turkey’s founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk on its streaming service.
Ebubekir Sahin, chairman of Turkey’s television watchdog RTUK, announced the probe on Tuesday night in a statement, describing Ataturk as “our most important social value”.
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The Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) called on Disney+ in June to cancel the show, saying that it “glorifies a Turkish dictator and genocide killer”. Last month, Disney+ Turkey announced the Ataturk series would be on air “very soon”.
Several Turkish and Armenian news reports said Disney had decided to cancel the series, including the Armenian independent media outlet 301, saying the decision was influenced by the lobbying activities of ANCA.
In May 1915, Ottoman commanders began the mass deportation of Armenians from eastern Turkey. Armenia has claimed some 1.5 million ethnic Armenians died in massacres or of starvation and exhaustion in the desert.
Turkey has disputed the number, but acknowledges that killings did take place. However, Turkey has said that deaths occurred on all sides in the context of the conflict going on at the time, and refuses to recognise the deaths as a “genocide”.
Mustafa Kemal – later known as Ataturk – was a commander at the Gallipoli campaign of World War I in 1915, and later went on to establish the Republic of Turkey in 1923, after he ended the Ottoman Empire.
Armenians constituted a large minority in what is now modern-day Turkey for centuries, but only a small number remain, with the descendants of those who fled in 1915 living in other countries in the Middle East, and in the West.
Omer Celik, spokesman for Turkey’s governing Justice and Development Party, or AKP, called it a “shame” that Disney+ had “succumbed to the pressure of the Armenian lobby” in reportedly cancelling the series.
“This attitude of the platform in question is disrespectful to the values of the Republic of Turkey and our nation,” Celik said in a social media post.
“As we have stated on various occasions before, this so-called genocide network in the USA is using historical events as a tool for the politics of lies. The sole purpose of this lobby is to prevent the normalisation of Turkey-Armenia relations, as has been repeatedly seen.”
Walt Disney Turkey said on Wednesday that it had “revised content distribution strategy to reach wider audience” and decided to air a special version of the documentary on the FOX television channel in Turkey, and then it would be shown as two separate films in theatres.
The statement did not make it clear whether the Ataturk films will be broadcast on the Disney+ streaming service.
“As part of the centenary celebrations, we’re proud to announce that we will be bringing Ataturk to even more people from October through free-to-air FOX. Followed then by a theatrical window where people can experience both Film 1 and Film 2 on the big screen,” Saner Ayar, the producer, was quoted as saying in the Walt Disney Turkey statement.