In the wake of significant losses suffered by Turkey in its cross-border operations against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in Iraqi Kurdistan, unexpected anti-war statements have been emerging from unlikely quarters amid the government’s increasingly aggressive rhetoric.
Pro-government channel TV presenter Müge Anlı, known for her nationalist views, who has for years hosted the country’s most-watched daytime TV programme, surprised viewers with her anti-war comments during Monday’s live broadcast.
“They are still sacrificing lives for a handful of earth,” Anlı said after a weekend filled with news of casualties in the escalating clashes. “Everyone fought against each other in World War II, and for what? What was the gain, what was the outcome? Only a tragedy for the dead,” she said.
While some see Anlı’s comments on Turkey’s highest-rated TV show as a significant shift in public discourse, others say that her close ties to government officials and her previous nationalist position on the Kurdish issue suggest that they are unlikely to be a genuine outburst against the government’s aggressive policies.
Anlı’s comments sparked debate, astonishment and outrage from nationalist circles. Social media was flooded with criticism from right-wing users. Despite the widespread controversy, Anlı doubled down on her stance on Tuesday’s show, saying, “They called me a traitor on X. I challenge those who call me a traitor. Everybody is aware of my love for my country. I tell fools: children and women die for a handful of earth. Nothing is more precious than life itself. They’re calling me a traitor because I don’t want war in the world… I am called a traitor by those who haven’t planted ten trees in their lives.”
Anlı’s TV show, in which she investigates unsolved murders, has a history of political controversy. She has been accused of selecting murder cases that suit the government’s interests. The show goes out on the ATV channel, whose CEO is Serhat Albayrak, a relative by marriage of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Anlı is alleged to avoid cases with the potential to create scandal for individuals in the government.
A recent example is the case of the son of Somalia’s president, Hassan Sheikh Mahmud, who allegedly caused the death of a motorcyclist by running him over in Istanbul. The victim’s family is reported to have approached Anlı’s programme for help, to no avail. Despite incriminating camera footage, Mahmud was released by the Turkish authorities and only officially declared to be wanted for the offence after he had left the country.
Observers who believe the government has influence over Anlı’s programme suggest that her recent statements may indicate internal conflicts within the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) over Turkey’s aggressive policies in the region. It has also been suggested that Anlı’s anti-war comments could be part of a wider strategic move by the government, which is facing military challenges.
However, Anlı is not alone in changing her position, as many citizens are also doing so. A woman from Amasya province in the AKP stronghold the Black Sea region, echoed Anlı’s sentiments.
The woman, identified only by the first name of Neslihan, and reported by Kurdish journalist Fehim Işık to be a holder of nationalist views, expressed her frustration and grief at the discrepancies in casualty reports and the continuing loss of life. “Why don’t you tell the truth? You’re deceiving the public,” she said. Neslihan went on to highlight the emotional toll on families, challenging the narrative of national pride often associated with military casualties. “We’ve had enough, our hearts, our very souls are on fire,” she added.