Hybrid Warfare and Propaganda on the Greek-Turkish Border
Thousands of migrants are still gathered on the Turkish side of the Greek-Turkish land border near Evros River. It has been almost ten days since the first groups of people started arriving from Istanbul, hoping to make it to the other side of the border and enter Europe. Among the desperation and strong desire of these people to enter Europe seeking a better future, another rather depressing trend can also be traced: the growing ferocity of the Turkish propaganda machine.
A Mis(information) War
This massive flow of migrants started shortly after the Turkish government reached a dead-end in the Syrian front, with tens of Turkish fatalities being reported in Idlib. The coordinated transfers towards the Greek borders have been triggered further by the news that the Greek-Turkish borders would eventually open and all the people that have been jammed in Turkey for ages could now make it to Europe. Apparently, this has been an inaccurate rumor that the Turkish Government and mainstream media have deliberately spread or even encouraged. Ankara has managed to mobilize a huge amount of people and get them moving towards Greece.
Turkey Creates the Storm then Complains About the Weather
When the facts disproved those claims and the masses of migrants have discovered a quite different reality in the Greek borders, Turkey continued deploying hybrid warfare tactics against Greece. Turkish officials kept repeating that the Greek authorities have been maltreating the migrants. Turkish President Recep Erdogan even claimed that five migrants have been killed by Greek forces, a totally unfounded assumption which will be further examined below.
Turkish social media accounts have been working around the clock providing statements from alleged witnesses, condemning the brutality of the Greek officers. Ankara has been utilizing traditional propaganda tools — fit into a contemporary context through the use of technology — conducting a full-scale hybrid war against Greece. It seems, so far, that Ankara has been achieving some of its objectives to a degree. A considerable part of Western audiences seem to believe the Turkish claims without any criticism or skepticism about the validity of the news.
The Alleged Killing of Five Migrants
As noted above, Erdogan claims that five migrants have been killed so far, without providing any evidence whatsoever. Nevertheless, there has been one incident that has drawn extended media attention and monopolized the public interest over the last few days: the alleged killing of a Syrian refugee trying to enter Greece. The news was initially reported by Mughira Al Sharif, a video journalist who is allegedly working for the BBC. With no significant presence and audience in social media, Al Sharif has posted footage of what seems to be a critically injured young man supposedly in a location close to the Greek border. The video received further attention when it was reproduced and “validated” by reporter Jenan Mousa, who apparently has a much more significant online presence. The validity of the video though was still broadly questioned until the Forensic Architecture group stepped in, advising that the footage was real and concluding that Greek authorities have made excessive use of force against the migrants.
Forensic Architecture is a multi-disciplinary research agency based at Goldsmiths, University of London, specializing in “advanced spatial and media investigations into cases of human rights violations”. The prestige of the university and the group itself automatically strengthened the case and led to the wider approval among most mainstream Western media. However, looking into the report itself it seems that it relies primarily upon metadata to confirm the time and date of the footage. This could come into question, however, as there are no indications that the research group has been on the field. When it comes to the validation of the location, again, the video compares the physical surroundings shown in the footage with geo-spatial data derived from Google Maps. In this context, the conclusions of the video should be assessed as possibly accurate but not definite.
According to the aforementioned sources, the name of the victim is Muhammad al-Arab — while initially he was referred to as Ahmed Abu Emad from Aleppo — which complicates things further. Soon after this difference emerged, some reporters stated that the latter was his nickname. Al Sharif reported on Twitter after the alleged death that the body would be transferred to Istanbul where the funeral would take place, while Mousa reported that the ceremony would occur in Syria. Considering the public attention that the incident has attracted — alongside the wide controversy around its very validity — a reasonable question would be how the funeral was not reported at all, even on social media, and why the family of the reported victim has not been reached at all for statement. According to the aforementioned sources the family was either based in Istanbul or Idlib, another vague issue between the two reports.
The Situation Remains Highly Tense and Unstable
The current situation in the Greek-Turkish borders remains tense and highly unstable; the present status quo in the area has all the characteristics of a hybrid battle. Turkish official authorities and security forces are prompting the migrants to enter the neighboring country, often even assisting them through illegitimate means. In the meantime, the press and social media are fully utilized in order to shape public opinion in favor of the parties involved. The war of information and psy-ops tactics play a vital role in this unique conflict. The public should stay alert towards the news being reported and skeptical about what political ends each story or report could be serving.