The Turkish Government strongly condemned the move by the Macedonian Government to award funding to the daily Zaman newspaper, which is published in Macedonia and has ties to the FETO organization led by Fethullah Gulen, the man behind the 2016 bloody coup attempt in Turkey.

Zaman received nearly a million denars (17.000 EUR) as part of a Government program to support print newspapers. This enraged Ankara, and a protest was held on Wednesday in front of the Turkish Embassy in Skopje, attended by Ambassador Tulin Erkal Kara, Government Minister Elvin Hasan, representatives from Turkish, Roma and Bosniak parties in Macedonia, Macedonian officials who are ethnic Turks and many citizens. Protesters carried signs saying “We don’t support terrorism” and “FETO, keep your hands off Macedonia”.

Ambassador Kara said that the 2016 coup was a bloody attempt to overthrow President Redzep Tayyip Erdogan.

We can’t accept and we will not accept that the Government of the Republic of Macedonia gives financial support to an organization, to a so-called newspaper, tied to the FETO terrorist organization which killed 251 of our citizens and wounded 2.000 of them, the Ambassador said, after listing all the FETO related terror attacks, on top of the coup attempt and reminding the Macedonian Government of the steadfast support from Turkey so far. “Don’t you dare say ‘we had no information about this’. We talk about this issue day and night and we can’t accept and answer that ‘we didn’t know, but we will do something about it next year’. Withdraw your financial support for this media organ of this treasonous terrorist organization right now, Ambassador Kara demanded.

Anadolu Agency informed that the Turkish Government will prepare sanctions against Macedonia and will soon announce what the will be.

Zaman today informed that it will return the money it received from the Government, and denied it has terror ties. Turkey has long demanded that Macedonia take action against Gulen, including his schools in the country, but the Government has been reluctant. The Association of Journalists of Macedonia (ZNM), which coordinated the distribution of the funding, said it supports Zaman in its work and that it will inform international organizations that the newspaper is facing pressure from Turkey.

The move to award funding to print media was controversial even without the Zaman funding. The ruling SDSM party spent years publicly condemning moves by the previous Government when it would place a simple ad buy to promote policies and public awareness campaigns. According to SDSM, this act constitutes interference in the editorial policy of the media outlets and buying their support. After SDSM took over the Government in 2017, the best read broadsheet Dnevnik, which was critical of SDSM, quickly stopped publication and its owner faced criminal charges. Other newspapers and media outlets altered their editorial policy and began supporting the Government to avoid similar treatment.

The biggest recipient of these funds is Sloboden Pecat, a strongly pro-Government daily newspaper which is owned by the Serbian newspaper Kurir, itself often strongly critical of the Serbian Government, and these ties also raised eyebrows in Serbia.