Siamese observations

The parliament speaker Bülent Arınç and army chief Yaşar Büyükanıt could not be more different
Bülent Arınç and Yaşar Büyükanıt

Two press conferences, two different leaders, two very different styles. The country’s best reporters were already poised for a press conference from Turkey’s army chief, Yaşar Büyükanıt, which was to address issues that “the public needs to know about”. What everyone wanted to know what whether General Büyükanıt would clear up his position on the presidential election – Radikal, for instance, went this morning with the headline “What will he say to the Çankaya question?”

Barely a half hour before General Büyükanıt began, parliament speaker (and rumoured presidential candidate) Bülent Arınç was just finishing a press conference of his own, and it was interesting to see how the two leaders compared.

Bülent Arınç’s command of Turkish is what I would call near-perfect. He is articulate, has an excellent tone and speaks practically without hesitation. His press conference was similarly well-handled: he made his statement on Saturday’s rally in Ankara, with his pauses as if timed to complete a soundbite, and then took questions from reporters. He gave absolutely nothing away about his potential candidacy.

Yaşar Büyükanıt’s press conference, on the other hand, lasted well over an hour and was spectacularly successful in recreating the “bored in the classroom” effect. That was until around three o’clock, when he announced that he was fully in favour of sending Turkish troops into northern Iraq. It wasn’t a particularly surprising revelation, but producers at the umpteen television channels showing the conference took the opportunity to splash “breaking news” captions on the screen. Perhaps they were trying to make things a little more exciting.

What interested me was the stark difference in style: where Mr Arınç was succinct and to the point, General Büyükanıt resorted to those outstretched Turkish sentences that seem to knock down all hope of a full stop any time soon. While Mr Arınç had me hanging on to his every word, General Büyükanıt frequently made me pick up this morning’s Radikal, trying to remember why I was watching him.

Bülent Arınç is, of course, not the first smooth talker of Turkish politics. But it can’t have only been me who has noticed that more and more politicians seem to have that gift of talking directly to the public, while those traditional stalwarts of the state bring us all back to school in an instant.

No doubt the Büyükanıt conference was the leading story of the day, and it deserved the near-blanket coverage it received in the evening news bulletins. But I just wonder – if the speaker’s conference had somehow been shown first, how many viewers would have switched over when the general came on?

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