The ambassador says his speech was intentionally mistranscribed as the meaning of his 'well-intended' words were changed to be misinterpreted.
A Ramadan event organised in the last week of May put Turkish ambassador to Austria Ozan Ceyhun at the center of a controversy provoked by a local newspaper named Volksblatt.
The newspaper published a story accusing Ozan of calling Christians "selfish" during the cultural meet up organised by Turkish NGOs on May 24 in Vienna. Ozan rejected the allegations, calling the Volksblatt story 'false news'.
The Austrian Minister for Women and Integration Susanne Raab (ÖVP) has reportedly started an investigation into the matter.
According to Volksblatt, Ozan said "Christians walk selfishly, confine themselves to four walls and do not distribute gifts, as we do”.
Since the event was organized during Ramadan, a period of deep spiritual reflection as Muslims fast to practice self-discipline and sacrifice which leads to more charitable activities among their communities, the organizers "Worldwide Action for the Poor" (Wefa) and the "Union of Turkish Democrats" (UID) distributed groceries and 200 euro vouchers among the student attendees considering the financial bottlenecks in light of the coronavirus crisis.
The newspaper quotes Susanne Raab, the Austrian Minister for Women and Integration saying that she does not want Turkey to have influence over Austrian associations: "We will investigate the event to determine whether it was a religious or political gathering and to decide whether there was breach of peace, disturbing fundamental positive attitudes towards Austrian state.”
'Social values are pillar of our society'
In response to the controversy, Ceyhun sent out a tweet, saying that the speech he had made during the Ramadan event was intentionally twisted and incorrectly translated.
"I want to make it very clear that during my speech I never made a statement about Christians or Muslims!If I criticized anything in my speech, it was that valuable traditions were forgotten or alienated from their original meaning. In this context, I deliberately didn't use the word 'selfish', but the 'self-centeredness'... I wanted to convey this feeling of social interaction to young students during my speech.It is important that certain social values are upheld and preserved as pillars of our society...I am outraged and disappointed because the good intentions in my words and messages in my speech are misinterpreted and misrepresented to the (Austrian) public. I strive for cooperation and my path is always that of dialogue.”
Volksblatt is criticised for creating an unnecessary crisis between two countries and nations by misquoting the ambassador, without providing any insight on the social event or its organisers. Instead, Volksblatt claimed that it consulted two different translators who are native Turkish for Ambassador Ceyhun’s full speech.
The official host of the event also tweeted saying “@krone_at claims that the Ambassador @OzanCeyhun in a program that I host said "Christians are egoists on charity." (Ambassador) CEYHUN knows German very well. The word EGOIST is not mentioned anywhere in his speech. You're wasting your money on your translators!”
Similar statements were made by the organiser and participants as this 'false news' spread rapidly and across different media outlets in Austria. Hasan Yetis, the chairman of the Wefa Association, firmly condemned the distorted reporting by the Austrian media.
Speaking to TRT Deutsch, Yetis said “None of the students attending our event were from the religious vocational schools (Imam Hatip schools) as mentioned in the newspaper. We have the full list of participants and we can provide a more detailed list if authorities were to inspect further. The participants were comprised of Turkish students who came to Austria to study.”
Volksblatt also claimed that the aid was only distributed to students that were AK Party sympathizers. Denying the allegations, Yetis said that no student participant was asked about his or her political orientation: “Needy students came forward and registered with our Turkish consulate in Vienna. Total number was around two hundred and fifty students and we got in touch with them, and started a fundraiser. Majority of the donations came from private donors and part of the funding came from YTB, the Office for Turks Abroad and Related Communities.”
An anonymous Austrian political scientist, who also works as a businesswoman in Turkey, criticized the distortion of news in Austrian media: “A large part of the Turkish society living in Austria always wanted the relations between these two countries to be friendly and strong… Ambassador Ceyhun has been trying to improve relations between Europe and Turkey for many years."