IN DEPTH – Volume 17 Issue 5 – September 2020

Myrsini Dogani
PhD Candidate in the Department of International and European Studies, University of Piraeus



This article explores the rhetorical argumentation of fear in Erdogan’s narrations around Hagia Sophia and oil and gas exploration in the eastern Mediterranean, as were presented in the Greek Press. Is there use of fear argumentation by Erdogan? What kind of fear arguments does he prefer to use? What kind of narrations do these arguments facilitate?

 Fear is the imaginary of the threat that approaches. Young children associate fear with monsters, ghosts, and other imaginary creatures more than with real threats to safety, such as robbers or bullies – at least in Western societies (Kayal, 2015). The concept of evil and unknown, enemy and otherness is strongly connected with the fear appeal and fear argumentation. The concepts of enemy and otherness are strongly connected to the fear narrations between international state actors, especially between longtime rivals. But what is fear appeal and fear argumentation?

The rhetorical fear appeal as a persuasion tactic is an attempt to influence the attitude and behavior through the projection of all those destructive consequences that incompliance with the proposed solutions will bring (Rogers & Mewborn, 1976:56; Rogers, 1983:158; Witte, 1992 and 1994). Fear arguments are defined as the use of threat in an argument, as the use of force in argumentation and some define it simply as appeal to fear. In most of the cases, the definition of fear argumentation involves threat and risk (Walton, 1996). Threat is a speech act that international actors love to use, as the most crucial dynamics of the international status quo are based on threat, risk, and fear (Buzan, 1996; Bulzaq, 2005). The rhetorical construction of fear can be reflected in the political statements, in the content of media and also, in the political statements as presented in the media.

The current affairs concerning the change of Hagia Sophia status into mosque and of the energy extraction projects of Turkey in Eastern Mediterranean have stimulated communicative reflex actions of the Turkish government, while they try to legitimize their intrastate and their international options. What is the role of fear argumentation in the narrations of the Turkish President?

Following the official statements of Tayyip Erdogan as presented in the Greek Press (Efimerda Syntakton & Kathimerini) during the crucial period of June-August 2020 and analyzing them with the theoretical tools of fear argumentations, it is concluded that the Turkish President uses two general forms of fear argumentation.

The capstone of his intimidating narrations is the “threat of the threatened”. In that kind of argumentation, his threats come as justified responses to external threats. “we are not going to give in, in threats and penalty measures. If Greece continues these moves, we will have to do whatever is necessary. We will not hesitate.” (Efimerida Syntakton, 15/08/2020). He constructs a narration of defense based on the argument that Turkey’s threats come to save his country by the Greek imperialism, and in the concept of country he encompasses land, sea, culture and religion. “ We are not going to permit the trespassing of our continental shelf, we are going to act as needed in order to protect the “blue motherland”, as we did during the Treaty of Sèvres, that had the same goal: to divide our country” (Efimerida Syntacton, 15/08/2020).

The next fear argument that emerges is the “risk of our powerful will”. Within that kind of argument, the Turkish President constructs a narration of a great power that whoever dares to challenge, faces the risk of its wrath. “We made it clear that if you keep harassing Oruc Reis, you are going to regret it. Today you had a preview of our will.” (Efimerida Syntakton, 13/08/2020). He constructs a narration of foggy risky possibilities of attack in case he feels harassed, without presenting clearly the limits. It is a narration of liquid risks that Greece and any international actor faces. “Who does Greece think she/it is? Greece thinks that she/it can speak to Turkey like this? Who do you think you are Greece? Understand your limits otherwise Turkey is going to respond and its not going to be nice!” (Kathimerini, 09/06/2020). These liquid risks are not addressed exclusively to Greece, but also to E.U. . This way the Turkish President empowers that foggy narration of fear that is directed to a great range of international actors, regardless of their institutional power “Until we get a respond from E.U. we keep our borders open and we act accordingly” (Kathimerini, 11/06/2020).

In an overall look to President Erdogan’s narrations, his intimidating rhetoric can be summed up as a narration of a great power that responses to threats with threats that encompass the risk of a wild extend. He calls to action historically grounded fears of the longtime rival situation with Greece, but he also does not hesitate to address threatening arguments to international actors, as E.U., to demonstrate its limitless will. Following the fear narrations on international and intrastate rhetoric of Erdogan, in a more systematic way and in a long-time period, could give a clear imprint of the self-image and of the image Turkey holds for the international system. Studying the threats, the risks and the fears someone holds, addresses and claims can be a very efficient X-ray of his political perceptions and, this way, can also be a very efficient mode of remedy.


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