Staunchly pro-government media outlets in Turkey are racing with each other to prove that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was right in his recent claim that the Americas were discovered by Muslim sailors long before Christopher Columbus.
“Studies of American historians show that Islam reached the Americas in the 650s,” daily Akşam reported on Nov. 17. One of the “historians” that the article referred to, however, raised some eyebrows on Turkish social media.
“According to the study conducted between 1940-50 by Prof. Barry Fell from Harvard University, Islam arrived in the Americas in the 650s,” the newspaper said, claiming that the ruins of Islamic religious schools, or madrasahs, were found in places like Colorado, New Mexico and Indiana.
However, Barry Fell, who lived between 1917-1994, was a controversial figure regarding the subject. As a professor at Harvard for invertebrate zoology, most of his claims about the arrival of Islam in the Americas were dismissed by mainstream scholars and experts on the field.
Akşam also claimed, this time without quoting a source, that ancient Arabic writings were found near mountains in Nevada in the 1950s. According to the article, one of the pieces of writing read “The devil is the source of all lies,” while “Hamid,” an Arabic name, was written on another stone more than 1,360 years old.
While pro-government TV stations hosted pundits who insistently argued that Erdoğan’s claim was scientific, more skeptical voices mocked it. “Our president is right, but his words are missing something. Those who discovered the Americas were not only Muslims, but also Turks,” Hürriyet columnist Melis Alphan sarcastically wrote.
“I don’t think our president, who is not in good terms with books, read Columbus’ diaries in his free time. Apparently, one of his advisers supplied him with wrong information after a quick surf on the Internet, putting him in an awkward position,” wrote Cem Mumcu, a Cumhuriyet columnist.
"Hurriyet Daily News," November 17, 2014