Is Kurdish referendum a ticking bomb?

U.S Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, seems to have failed to persuade Massoud Barzani, the leader of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in Iraq, as many unknıwns remain about the outcome of the referendum on independence of Kurdistan.

Barzani asked Tillerson what the guarantees and options would be to determine the future of the region’s people if the referendum was postponed. KRG declared on June 7 a plan to hold the referendum  on September 25. The announcement had come following a meeting between the region’s political parties, except the Change Movement (Gorran) and the Kurdistan Islamic Group (KIG).

An official from the U.S. State Department told NRT English on August 7 that the U.S. does not support the Kurdish referendum at this time and expressed the continuous support of the U.S. for a federal, prosperous, unified and democratic Iraq.

“A referendum now, even this non-binding one, could have catastrophic consequences for Baghdad-Erbil cooperation that is essential to defeat ISIS [Islamic State]. A referendum now also has the potential to lead to violence and instability, especially as the Kurdistan Regional Government plans to include disputed areas in the poll,” the official said.

The prospect raised deep concerns in Teheran as well as Ankara, and led to a top level military visit by the Iranian army chief, Gen. Mohammad Hossein Bagheri, to the Turkish capital.

And the main question is, how Turkey and KRG will manage the rising tension, from their vantage points.

1027394381

Erdogan has said the referen­dum “would imperil the territo­rial integrity of Iraq” and the Turkish Foreign Ministry has described the prospect as “dam­aging the regional stability.”

Repeated statements from the United States, the United King­dom and Germany have said that, if the referendum ends with a resounding yes, which is foreseen as almost certain, independence of the Kurdish state would not be recognised.

Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) President Masoud Barzani has not blinked. In an interview with Al-Hayat newspaper, he said the decision to call the vote for September 25 was definite “with no return.”

“I am asking,” he added, “when will the proper time arrive for the referendum? If we wait for others, such a time will never come. It is only the people of Kurdistan who can decide the date.”

In an interview with Foreign Policy, Barzani was evasive when asked about how he sees Turkey’s reaction.

”We would prefer to die of starvation than to live under the oppression and occupation of others,” he said. “If this decision is made by referendum and the reaction is to isolate us, let our people die. That will be a ‘glory’ for the world that they have killed our people by starvation just because those people wanted to express their destiny through democratic means.”

It is apparent that Barzani is keen on gambling, possibly calculating the administrations of US President Donald Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron would seek a balance in that part of the region where Russia and Iran are expanding their influence.

Over the last few years, the relationship between Ankara and Erbil has been intensely focused on economic and commercial interests. The KRG has had no option other than collaborating with Turkey to export Kurdish oil through Kirkuk-Iskenderun pipelines and is dependent, to a large scale, on Turkish invest­ments.

For Erdogan and his family, especially his son-in-law Energy Minister Berat Albayrak, the business has been very personal. For many Turkish investors, who have seen heavy losses in markets such as Egypt, Iraqi Kurdistan is a backyard Ankara cannot afford to lose.

There begin the complications that Erdogan knows will test his pragmatism against the decades-long Turkish foreign policy position to block Kurdish self-rule that would lead to international recognition.

Erdogan’s domestic political ally, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), has based its existence largely on the demands of the Turkmen minority, and a big part of the Turkish media has positioned itself against Barzani’s declaration, claiming that it is yet another Western conspiracy to weaken Turkey.

How, then, will Erdogan juggle the Kurdish independence vote? His low-key approach points to a calculation that a Kurdish “yes” will cause sharp friction with Baghdad and that Barzani may ask for Turkish help.

Further on, knowing that the result will be non-binding could give Erdogan leverage to engage KRG to alienate the Syrian Democratic Union Party (PYD) in return for more powerful eco­nomic and even military coopera­tion between Ankara and Erbil.

This could mean that Erdogan, who has weakened the pro-Kurd­ish party in Turkey, the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), through oppressive measures, may calculate to operate easily to increase the gap between Bar­zani’s KRG and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), pushing for a battle between them. “Divide and rule” is an Ottoman legacy and this is where the Turkish president hopes to appease the hardliner nationalist vote at home.

There are many more balls to juggle, however. For both Russia and the United States, the Kurdish presence has dimensions that are aimed at limiting Turkey’s manoeuvring space. As long as Erdogan plays hardball with Turkey’s Kurds, it may not cause a friction with any of them but, if he hardens his stance on the Iraqi Kurds, he will face tougher choices and higher risks.

So, from their vantage points, both Barzani and Erdogan would possibly play for time. After all, the heart of the matter is that they both desperately seek ways to consolidate their one-man rule and they won’t let a vote rock their boats.

Posted in Turkey | Leave a comment

Abused, hated, and hunted: ‘Eternal solitude’ of the Turkish intellectual

Against the solid, collective adoration of President Erdoğan, what strikes any observer is the solitude of the intellectual, which is an enforced isolation whether or not inside prison. Taken together, these two phenomenon – victorious masses in denial of democracy and the individual in defeat – not only marks the tragedy of Turkey, but also points out to the continuity of the regime, which Erdoğan envisages as a one-man rule.

In the best sense of Catonism – taking its name from the famous Roman conservative, Marcus Porcius Cato (234 BC – 149 BC), Erdoğan’s vision has become much clearer after the referendum in mid-April. With the once-secular military smothered by his will, Jihadism introduced into the schoolbooks and religious marriages now on the agenda, Turkey has entered the stage of what Barrington Moore described as ”advocacy of the sterner virtues, militarism, contempt for ‘decadent’ foreigners and anti-intellectualism.”

Last week, Turkish public was delivered the ‘news’ that it was just about that: constructing a new regime. In a TV channel, Ayhan Oğan, one of the top figures of Erdoğan’s party, AKP, declared, in a well-known arrogant manner, that ‘we are now busy building a new state. Whether you like it or not, founder of the new state is Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.’

The main-opposition attempted to trigger a debate on these words, but to no avail. There is not much steam left in the party, CHP, which was formed by the founder of the republic, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, as it watches the accelerated erosion of fundamental values which kept Turkey intact for decades, albeit on a fragile democratic order.

The dilemma of the CHP lies, among other points, in its inability to form a strong, diverse intellectual ‘belt’ around it. That may have to do with the essence of Kemalism – which Karl Popper may easily have placed among other ‘closed’ ideologies he had scrutinized – and, as a result, the CHP always kept the finest of the Turkish and Kurdish intellectuals at a distance. It was seen as more precious to protect the state, than allow the independent thinkers to debate ways to reform it.

As a matter of fact, I have met no one in Turkey, among the secular, elite supporters of the CHP, who would appreciate the the famous line in Tomaso di Lampedusa’s famous line in his masterpiece, ‘The Leopard’:

“If we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change.”

kalemm

The pathos of the Turkish intellectual was the one that condemned her/him to loneliness – the unending desire for change. In what some would call despair, many of them had welcomed the new spirit, that the early AKP had represented, and in the lack of a better alternative at the left of center, they chose to gamble.

The game was over already, weeks before Gezi Park protests. What the chairman of the AKP’s Istanbul branch, Aziz Babuşçu, had said was a prequel to Oğan’s blunt declaration. ”Those who are our stakeholders, this or that way, will not be able to continue” he had said then.

”Let’s take the liberals. They have been stakeholders, but the future is the one of reconstruction, which will never be as they imagine or desire it. So they will not (be allowed) to be with us. Those who walked along with us yesterday, will be walking wth those forces that are against us. They will never accept a recontructed Turkey and a future we aim to improve.”

These words were from a closed door party meeting then, and echoed as a wake-up call for many intellectuals – from left or right flanks – who had lended a hand in the EU-led reform process. From then on, it was all a series of political steps reminding that the game was over.

Yet, a lot of time was wasted in vain to build a bridge between the CHP and the disillusioned intellectuals. What made it impossible was the gap in between that the CHP refused to acknowledge how grave and urgent the Kurdish Issue is for Turkey’s future. Erdoğan has read into this very sharply, and did his best – very easily – to keep them apart.

After Gezi Protests and during the demolishing of the legal order which began in early 2014, it was obvious that the most vulnerable segment to authoritarian push was the intellectuals; squeezed into their isolation; with no political interlocutor to rise to the occasion. They were not many, they were marked one by one, the black lists were ready for round-ups, and Erdoğan knew one thing: When they were picked by the police, as singles or in groups, not even the CHP would dare react properly, let alone the masses which support it. The game was long over, and this was the ‘coup de grace’. He can do anything with them, any time now, they are now his hostages on free foot, if not in prison.

In a recent essay, Soner Cağaptay, a senior Turkish analyst based in Washington described the systematique of Erdoğan-style Catonism as such:

”Erdoganism blends post-colonialist theory with anti-Westernism. According to Erdoganists, after World War I, Ataturk’s cohort of secular republican founders struck a deal with the Allies to subjugate Turkey under Western interests. The tradition of subjugating the people’s will to the West continued under various secular parties that governed Turkey until the AKP took over almost a century later. The coup attempt of July 15 threatened the people’s will once more, according to this story, but this time, the people fought back… July 15 was proof that the people’s will needed a resurrection, or Dirilis.”

”The revolutionary language of Dirilis gave Erdogan the opportunity to renew his fight for an executive presidency with fresh fervor. In the months following the coup attempt, pro-Erdogan civil society organizations held numerous panels and conferences about the failed putsch across the country with titles like “July 15: From Resistance to Resurrection.” When the AKP organized a constitutional referendum on April 16 to elevate Erdogan’s powers, its ad campaign capitalized on this language, declaring, “July 15 Resurrection, April 16 ”Risorgimento” [Resurgence].”

All this exposes the precious solitude of the Turkish intellectual, now, more than ever before, exposed by profound disillusion and despair. The ‘March for Justice’ had lit up a flame of hope, but seems to have faded quickly. Intellectuals are divided also between illusion and realism, many of them trapped by wishful thinking.

Perhaps it is as described by a Kurdish veteran politician and thinker, Tarık Ziya Ekinci (91) most recently. Arguing that Kemalism will never ever have a strong enough social base to claim power, and the AKP now replaced the CHP as the ‘party that seized the control of the Turkish state” he wrote:

”A political party’s success is measured by its ideological-cultural hegemony in the society and today the only party that has the ability is the AKP. Its core ideology is Sunni Islam. In all the Muslim states throughout history, its leaders were seen as the representatives of divine power. This is the reason AKP insists on the one-man rule points out to the committment to thşs tradition. The choice of our Muslim people is in this direction.”

If true, this is the worst possible situation for any intellectual, with a sense of dignity and conscience.

”Erdoganism has set Turkish democracy on a path to self-destruction, and there seems to be no exit wrote Cağaptay.

The damage done is so vast that he may be right.

 

Posted in Turkey | Leave a comment

Why the adoration for Erdoğan among the Turks abroad remain so rock solid?

”Let’s be brutal: democracy is dying. And the most startling thing is how few ordinary people are worried about it” wrote Paul Mason, an expert on social justice, in the Guardian.

”Instead we compartmentalise the problem. Americans worried about the present situation typically worry about Trump – not the pliability of the most fetishised constitution in the world to kleptocratic rule. EU politicians express polite diplomatic displeasure, as Erdoğan’s AK party machine attempts to degrade their own democracies. As in the early 1930s, the death of democracy always seems to be happening somewhere else.”

Well, it is definitely not a spectator sport, as someone said.

But as Mason does a striking ‘tour d’horizon’ over Trump, Erdoğan and Putin surfing on the silence of their own masses, we know how deep the apathy of the peoples on certain parts of Europe. Hungary, Czechia, Slovakia and Poland’s brutal refusal of refugees display the failure of their peoples to internalise the universal notion of compassion and human dignity. Oblivion of their plight under the totalitarian rule during Cold War is a remarkably strong part in what Mason is describing as death of democracy.

rtess

Somewhere else in the periphery of Europe is another aspect of the new phenomenon: it is really puzzling why still so many Turks are still in such high admiration of their ‘Reis’ – as they call President Erdoğan – no matter how irrational and self-destructive his management gets.

How is it possible, a Dutch friend asked me repeatedly, that Turks living in safe, predictable, prosper conditions in Western Europe do not care a bit about their countrymen at home, when they are treated so ‘inhumanly’? What makes these people so aggressive against the countries they live in, against the people who express disagreement with the way Turkey is harrassed?

It is not that Erdoğan was solely responsible in whipping up people to bring out their dark side – the evil within. There is much more to it. Erdoğan knows that his rule was a golden opportunity to exercise revenge on what many of his followers see as decades long cultural apartheid, during which the elitist humiliation of the pious segments and religious congregations was profound. Soon after the foundation of the republic, after the abolishment of the califate, most of the religious groups had to go underground.

Saulterdogan

The AKP under Erdoğan symbolizes, for their grandchildren, a collective act of revenge; a victory of the riff-raff. The length and scale of the AKP’s rise and stay in power means also that a change of power by democratic means may no longer be an issue: its possible repercussions are perceived with horror by those masses, as a path to new period of oppression. This fear is the main element that defies any prospect for a return to democracy. Thus, it has also eroded whatever remained of morality and compassion within the society. It leaves room only for ‘dog eat dog’.

There is more to see, in all its simplicity, to understand why support for Erdoğan remain so unchanged. Recently I have found a load of food for tought in an ordinary chat that a scholar, Ayşe Çavdar – from University of Duisburg-Essen – had with a Turkish taxi driver, which she wrote about in news site Artı Gerçek.

She and the driver find themselves in a conversation where they agree about the unacceptabily of the coup but when it comes to the AKP, they sharply disagree, but in a remarkable way:

He doesn’t object to her comments on how corrupt and immoral the AKP is, just responds in phrases like ‘yes, but who hasn’t been before them?’ or ‘yes, the agriculture in Anatolia is dying, but when was it ever healthy?’ or ‘yes, Turkey is drifting apart from the world, but the world is also drifting apart from Turkey’.

Çavdar was struck by his fatalism. He was saying ‘that’s just the way things are (in the world), why should we expect muslims to change things?’.

His account revealed that he was swindled three times by ‘Islamic companies’ in the past 20 years and had lost all his savings. That was why he was working as a taxi driver.

Then she asked the question: ‘But this is reason for not supporting the party which such money has flown into, but for being opposed to it. Don’t you remember Deniz Feneri (Lighthouse) case? And the same AKP did not do anything to compensate your losses?”

To her surprise he agreed but said:

”Muslims finally could breathe easy, feel comfortable in Turkey.”

After talking at length (he had parked the car because he wanted to talk) with him, Çavdar summarized the way of his reasoning.

”This is what I understood” she wrote:

”If he had accepted the notion that what made the AKP build his power on was his and friends’ and neighbours’ savings; that it was the capital for corruption and lawlessness, all his life story would because of the decisions he made on religious concerns go down in drain. The meaning he gave his life would be shattered on so many levels. Despite the fact he knew the injustices of the state, he supported the AKP because he believed that something good would come out of such evil.”

When pressed by her as ‘come on, do you really believe that?’ his response was blunt: ”Do I have any other choice?”

”We had had to endure so much, so should you!”

Çavdar’s account is, of course, only a part of the reality. This man represents an AKP supporter, an incurable Erdoğan admirer from a distance, who chose to live in a lie.

turki

Then there are others. Another segment is comparable to those in Russia. Like the grocery owner in Berlin that some time ago had talked to. Not complaining about his well-being, and saying that he had voted for Erdoğan only once, he wouldn’t let me discuss his isolation in international scene. ‘Enough is enough and he is saying it to everyone. He thinks and talks exactly like us’ he said, meaning many like him abroad. This attitude is the exportation of the ‘revenge’ pattern against the elite many feel at home, in Turkey.

The domestic masses of the pious middle class in general, still at his ‘social adolescence’, it was about a sense of equality in the early phases of the AKP rule. No longer. Because of the divisive crisis politics Erdoğan pushed so mightily, it has now turned into a sense of collective superiority, but with no intellectual arsenal that would help consolidate it. The support is all dependent on the employment, and social privileges like housing and health care. Once the economy’s faltering gains pace, this middle class, so visible in its lumpen patterns and lack of devout morality, will stand ready to abandon the very power which has fed it.

Democracy has nothing to do, no meaning, in this context.

It stands with presence of a benevolent leadership; what we see currently is a contagious free fall, everywhere.

 

Posted in AKP, Erdogan, EU, Politics, Russia, trump, Turkey | Leave a comment

Turkish opposition in grand delusion

It is question time now. Everyone who is one way or another is interested, or has interests in, Turkey, keeps pouring out questions, as the crisis under Erdoğan deepens.

”Will there be an end to this?” was a question sent to me by an unemployed colleague from Turkey. I know he with his family has been living in scarce savings and he knows that he is unemployable because he is ‘toxic’, because he belongs to those who never gave up on the honour of journalism. Fired, jobless, he is one of those qualified pariahs.

”Is this crisis sustainable for Turkey?” was another question which kept us busy for days last week. ‘How long can this ordeal go on?” we asked each other, colleagues in exile and some others from Greece.

Very hard to predict, maybe harder than ever before.

To many of us, discussing the issue, it was clear, we recalled, when Erdoğan harshly singled himself out as the sole decision maker, when he demolished personally the rapprochement between Turkey and Armenia nearly a decade ago; when he challenged Israel with a flotilla to break the Gaza embargo; when he defied his party’s senior figures that Gezi protests were only to be crushed; when he responded to graft probes in late 2013, by tearing the structures of the judiciary to pieces.

His de-facto suspension of the constitution by rejecting independence as soon as he was elected president in 2014 and his personal decision to turn down the peace table with the Kurdish Political Movement in 2015 and his murky role in not preventing the coup attempt last summer, came as solid proof that, by singling himself out obstinately, he had as a person become the very problem with Turkey; more than anything or anybody else.

Now that Germany has been forced by the same obstinacy to change language and, even, perhaps, attitude with concrete steps, the question of ‘how long’ becomes even more complicated.

Add to this three very angry players – Egypt, Saudi Arabia and UAE – the question mark becomes bolder. It should have downed upon Berlin that the ‘Turkey question’ is both simpler and more complex than thought. Everything that defines Turkey’s relations have been reduced to one individual, who by spreading fear and cunning intrigue, has seized control over anything.

Far worse, whoever these days from the government behind closed doors try to backpedal or modify the destructive hard-line and threatful language production, finds himself/herself sidelined. ‘Because all is personal with Erdoğan’ told me a colleague, ‘his success depended from the very beginning whether or not he would be able to establish lasting personal relationships with leaders all around him.

Just because he is so slippery and wobbly, he has now nobody who trusts him. Nobody. They all see him, including the leaders of Qatar and Azerbaijan, as a liability; a person with no future, because he is seen as one with a mindset that does not offer stabile relations. He has marked himself as a foul player.’

Whether or not his current impasse in the international stage will play out in the length of the Turkish crisis is, where the question becomes more complex. Because, the paradox is, Erdoğan is as successful in choreographing tension politics at home as he fails so miserably abroad. And the large portion of the problem is the lack of convergence of ‘understanding’ between the benevolent allies of Turkey and the opposition in Turkey. The latter is still so deeply in disarray that it defies optimism.

brawl2

 

The core problem with the opposition and whatever remains in the critical media is the persistent pattern of explaining the sources of crisis as the sole result of a showdown between Erdoğan and his foe, Gülen.

This dominant linear reasoning is based on that; by trying to expose how strongly allied Erdoğan’s AKP and Gülenists (or, as defined by Erdoğan, ‘FETÖ’) once were, the secular opposition and some of my colleagues are stuck in the belief in pushing back the AKP. The shallowness of this type of analysis leads large parts of the opposition to a defensive attitude – ‘we are not FETÖ’ is a common phrase – as it legitimizes a collective punishment of social groups in defiance of all legal norms.

More importantly, for many hard-core pundits in Turkey a sheer focus in Gülenists seems to be an easy way out; the analysis of how the system is being changed from a shaky semi-democratic one into an autocratic order, in which the secular opposition also has borne a responsibility.

Also, it paves further way for Erdoğan to enhance its domain of attacks, all the other groups of critics, by using the word FETÖ. It gives legitimacy that whoever is accused of a linkage with Gülenists deserves ill treatment and prison. These pundits may not have been aware of such consequences their reasoning causes. It is questionable whether this strategy will make the opposition rescue democracy from the hands or Erdoğan and his team.

Deeper analysis is lacking at home. But elsewhere, Erdoğan’s cunning game has been exposed more and more.

”President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his allies have created a historical and political narrative surrounding last summer’s coup that is effective for being both unifying and divisive” wrote one of the sa-harp observers of Turkey, Nick Danforth, a Senior Policy Analyst at the Bipartisan Policy Center, Washington DC.

”Erdogan has used the commemorations to declare a long-awaited victory over Turkey’s secular elite and the Kemalist military establishment that kept them in power. But at the same time, he has also taken the opportunity to co-opt and Islamicize the symbols of Kemalist Turkey in order to consolidate his support among committed nationalists in the military and the population at large.”

”Hitting an appropriately patriotic tone while commemorating a popular victory over the nation’s own army required some finesse. Thus, while emphasizing that July 15 represented the decisive end of a decades-long tradition of military interference in politics, the government has also insisted that, because this “civilian” coup was carried out by followers of Fethullah Gulen, it was fundamentally different from Turkey’s previous “military” coups.

Going a step further, government rhetoric has emphasized that July 15 was not even a coup attempt in the traditional sense but in fact a “foreign invasion” orchestrated by Gulen’s puppet masters in Washington. Since Turkey’s Kurdish separatist movement is also widely seen as an instrument of foreign intrigue, this makes both the Army and the citizens who resisted it part of a unified struggle against Turkey’s enemies.”

”In solidifying his power since last summer, Erdogan has proved particularly skilled at recalibrating the official account of what happened according to his political needs. Initially, Erdogan embraced the country’s secular opposition, inviting opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu to participate in a giant post-coup unity rally and praising his followers for standing up against the Gulenist coup attempt. Now, however, Kilicdaroglu and his party are increasingly falling afoul of the government’s coup narrative, and joining the ranks of the nation’s enemies. When Kilicdaroglu led a large anti-government protest march, Erdogan first accused him of “marching for terrorists,” then more directly of being a Gulenist agent.”

For a skilled politician as Erdoğan, keeping the opposition vulnerable by way of ‘association with the devil’ has become a very useful cat and mouse game. He is keeping his critics in defence of who they are not rather than, these critics attacking him on how he destroyed Turkey’s fragile democratic system, by using and abusing one ally after the other. To many of his critics it is very hard tıo admit that there is little difference between how Erdoğan duped the entire Kurdish Political Movement and Gülen Movement, although the latter bore also heavy responsibility for abuses of power, serve, at the end of the day, his own purposes.

For the time being, what faces the opposition, though, is a cliche:

United it will stand, or divided it will fall.’

”At least for the time being, the opposition, on both the left and the right, seems to understand that it is only through cooperation that it can hope to challenge Erdogan’s hold on power” wrote another sharo pbserver, Howard Eissenstat, Professor with the St Lawrence Universit, and a Senior Fellow at the Project on Middle East Democracy.

”A scenario in which the opposition succeeds in this is conceivable, but it would be the longest of long shots.”

There is a theoretical possibility, that it can happen. It presumes that the CHP and the Kurdish Political Movement close the ranks, and embrace all the underdogs who have suffered under Erdoğan, including the grassroots of Gülenists. Yet it is a very hard call.

This impasse is what Erdoğan invests his future on.

”At least five years, I am doomed to stay outside Turkey,” explained a colleague of mine to Greek journalists in our meeting.

‘We are a nation that are composed of clever individuals, but as we get more and more collective, dumbness and incomprehension takes over. This is the destiny of our opposition.’

 

Posted in Turkey | Leave a comment

Who can challenge Erdoğan, and how?

Now that Turkey from various vantage points display a ‘free fall’ pattern – particularly because of the fall-out with Germany and Saudi Arabia – the key question is what are the capabilities of the opposition at home.

Is it, after the March for Justice, gaining ground to challenge Erdoğan, or still tramping on the same ground?

Who can challenge the AKP and the current hard-liner ‘coalition’ it worked so hard to establish in Ankara?

”The silver lining, if there is one, is that Turkey’s opposition has shown new signs of strength in recent months and has fanned hopes that it could challenge the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) in the 2019 presidential and parliamentary elections” wrote Howard Eissenstat, Associate Professor with St Lawrence University and a Senior Fellow at the Project on Middle East Democracy.

”The hard truth, however, is that this new vigor has likely come too little, too late” he continues.

Let us see now how he argues, in excerpts, for this line in his recent analysis, that I mostly agree with:

”In the lead-up to the April constitutional referendum, the “no” campaign, which opposed the new presidential system, was surprisingly effective, given how remarkably uneven the playing field was: the “yes” campaign benefited from open government support and blanket coverage by a press essentially beholden to the government. Some opposition figures, such as the leaders of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), are behind bars, and many of their followers were among those displaced by the fighting between the government and the PKK; as a result, many of these would-be “no” voters were denied the opportunity to cast their ballots in the referendum.

Moreover, officials in AKP-controlled municipalities routinely had “no” campaign posters torn down and repeatedly broke up or banned “no” rallies. In the end, and despite significant evidence of voting irregularities, the “yes” campaign managed to squeak by with only 51.4 percent of the vote. Erdogan may have consolidated his power, but not without betraying new electoral weaknesses.”

Perhaps even more striking, starting in June of this year, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the leader of the main opposition group, the Republican People’s Party (CHP), led a remarkable 280-mile “Justice March” from Ankara to Istanbul.

The march ended in Istanbul with a massive rally that drew hundreds of thousands of citizens. It was a remarkable political moment, as much a festival of defiance as it was a political meeting. For the first time in memory, government critics seemed hopeful.”

That hope may be misplaced, but it is not an empty one. Kilicdaroglu’s march demonstrated his realization that to be effective, the opposition needed to be more creative and dynamic than it had been in the past.”

‘At least for the time being, the opposition, on both the left and the right, seems to understand that it is only through cooperation that it can hope to challenge Erdogan’s hold on power.”

A scenario in which the opposition succeeds in this is conceivable, but it would be the longest of long shots.

”This month, Meral Aksener, the most prominent of the MHP rebels, announced that the group would form a new party in November. This is important not only because it would threaten Bahceli’s place in the parliament, where he has positioned the MHP as less an opposition party and more a junior partner to the AKP, but also because a new right-of-center party might conceivably siphon off votes from the AKP. Turkey is, at its core, a center-right country; a key element of the AKP’s success has been that it has had few rivals to compete with among this segment of voters.”

In the 2019 elections, a real challenge from the center-right would force the AKP to compete for that slice of the electorate in the parliament, potentially opening space for a “grand coalition” among the opposition parties. A dynamic candidate who can appeal to the center-right is the opposition’s only real hope of challenging Erdogan for the presidency. Leftists and progressives may not be excited about such a candidate, but fear of Erdogan could well push them to support a right-leaning candidate. Despite 15 years in power and effective control over most of the Turkish media, the AKP has never been able to extend its electoral base beyond 50 percent. Even if 40 percent of the country is utterly loyal to Erdogan, nearly half of the country remains utterly opposed to him. This reality is unlikely to change.

The problem… is… the assumption of free and fair elections. That no longer seems likely in Turkey. If one lesson of the April referendum is that Erdogan’s base has softened, another is that the opposition cannot rely on a level playing field or even a valid vote count. The press is no longer free. Basic state institutions, including the judiciary, are now largely extensions of the AKP. Of the three opposition parties in the parliament, one has been co-opted by the government and the leaders of another languish in jail.

Turkey is not in any meaningful sense a democracy.”

Saulterdogan

Astute observations, which justify pessimism.

Despite the relative economic stability, Turkey’s political system has remained corrosive and its complex society has never been liberated from turmoil.

Now, under an extremely visible authoritarianism promoted by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the very existential essence of the republic is in trouble, a harbinger of an even more profound crisis ahead.

Given Erdogan’s unshakable determination to reconstruct Turkey as a country run single­handedly, under a model that has the blend of ingredients imported from Ba’athism and deeply dictatorial Central Asian repub­lics, this seems inevitable. On the political, legal and social levels, screws are tightening at an accelerated pace.

Fiercely defying the March for Justice by the secular main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), which had assembled hundreds of thousands in Istan­bul, Erdogan’s Justice and Devel­opment Party (AKP) and its de facto ally, the extreme-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), voted for changing the 44-year-old regulations of parliament.

The right to voice dissenting views as well as steps for account­ability will be severely restricted when the changes are in force.

This move leaves parliament devoid of political weight. One CHP deputy described it as the “last nail in the coffin of democ­racy.”

There is more. Erdogan has subordinated the judiciary to his palace. The most recent arbitrary arrests of human rights defenders — without proof — are by far the strongest sign of another ingredi­ent in his political architecture under way: Putinism.

Socially, society is more polar­ised than ever, with Erdogan responding to the CHP-led March for Justice with a mass rally to celebrate the rescue of democracy a year ago, when a small group of officers attempted a takeover by a limited uprising.

In many ways bitterly reminis­cent of similar ones in 1930’s Europe, the assemblies in Istanbul and Ankara were pumped up by speeches filled with threats to domestic opposition and severe accusations to Turkey’s allies. CHP leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu refused to attend events on the anniver­sary of the failed coup events because his speech was cancelled on orders from Erdogan.

To underline Erdogan’s resolve to take full control of Turkey, the ruling AKP, backed by the MHP, extended emergency rule another three months. Optimists were shocked to hear the president say, once more, that it would be extended “as long as we want it to be,” that Turkey without such limitations was inviting anarchy and chaos.

Allies and friends of Turkey in the West seem to have let go of the benevolent anchor and are preparing for a country that to their eyes is no different than Egypt, Pakistan or Malaysia.

The essence of the debate thickens: Does Erdogan’s hiking tenacity point to strength or weakness? Critics at home see his raised acrimony as a sign he was frightened by the March for Justice and that his party is losing at the polls. This view, however, may be an illusion.

As far as his seizure of control of key state institutions and the way he has surrounded himself with hard-line cadres of bureaucracy are concerned, this is just the opposite. The fact is, as the Guardian pointed out: “His opponents are scattered. In politics, they remain divided between Kurdish, nationalist and leftist groups.”

Erdogan may have been seeing pockets of dissent within the army’s leadership — his emphasis on “purging out all subversive elements” was very loud lately — and decided to go full blast towards a meeting of the Supreme Military Council in August that will put final touches on reshaping the army to serve his political vision.

Once he passes that threshold, his attention will turn to tighten­ing “loose screws” in his party and, his real challenge, the economy.

The latter means, clearly, that if Erdogan eventually has to leave power, it will be because of himself; not due to the opposition. The signs are telling of a “Turkish bubble.”

“Fears for the Turkish economy in international decision-making centres are running very high and it’s only considered a matter of time now before the bubble bursts,” wrote Alexis Papahelas, executive editor of Kathimerini. “The fact that the Erdogan system issues its own loans outside the institutional banking framework speaks volumes.”

Unemployment is rising — as is the budget deficit — and is three times higher than a year ago. Turkey has expanded state guarantees to pump in $14 billion loans to almost 300,000 firms. Nobody knows how these loans are spent. Approximately $200 billion of assets have been injected into a wealth fund.

Another Venezuela?

Likely.

No matter what, one will have to follow the money to answer the question “Quo vadis, Turkey?”

 

Posted in Turkey | Leave a comment

Defining human rights as his enemy, Erdoğan is now at a point of no return

Perhaps it is my fault.

I can no longer understand the naivete – some would call it wishful thinking – of the people I know, that no matter how badly the current ruling factions of Turkey under the banner of Erdoğanism hit at those who disagree, we should have a reasonable discussion with the oppressor.

ozlem

I have known Özlem Dalkıran for ages. One of the most conscientuous – and humorous – folks I met in Turkey, she had always been on the forefront to stand for the underdogs. She lined up behind those who were keen on breaking the age-old taboos of Turkey.

A friend of the late Hrant Dink, the Armenian-Turkish colleague slain ten years ago, she made his family’s pursuit of justice her own. Wherever there was trouble with the oppression, one could spot her smiling face around.

‘How can they do this to her?’ was the question I heard, when talking to her friends. Then, as soon as her time for arrest was extended along with 9 other human rights activists, the tune had changed. I was told by some optimists that it was an act that amounted to a mistake and their release was imminent and inevitable.

I was stunned to hear that. ‘Are you living in a parallel universe?’ was all I could mutter to one of them, whom I felt close enough to express my bewilderment openly. ‘Are you not aware of what sort of barbarism Turkey is exposed to?’

I tried my best to explain to her how Stalin had orchestrated those show trials by inventing enemy out of every one he disliked, and how endless and how irrational everything about these roundings-up have been and would be. Such conversations ended up me shaking my head in surprise about the naivete of theirs.

Nothing to do, really; these were the well-educated, highly intelligent acquaintances, who had been lost in the aquarium of brutality.

They believed in what they in despair wanted to believe in.

buyukada

Days after came the ruling, in early hours of the day. I had a very bad sleep, somewhere outside Turkey; got up at sunrise, only to find out that Özlem and her five activist friends were placed in pre-trial detention. Adding to the groups of hostages, with the addition of the Sweedish citizen Ali Gharavi (IT consultant) and Peter Steudtner (well being trainer). Not a surprise. New hostages. No holds barred. A German father of two children is now behind bars, along with other dreamers of a dignified life for the oppressed, for swaps in dirty international politics.

Not a surprise either, that their arrest had taken place when Kemal Kılıçdaroğu, leader of the main opposition party, CHP, was on the verge of completing his 430 km long ‘March for Justice’ in Istanbul. The raid aimed at ‘catching the criminals on the act’ in Büyükada (Prinkipo) island outside Istanbul was apparently to mock the goal of the march; a slap in the face of the opposition, as well as the leaders of G-20, who were meeting Erdoğan in Hamburg.

A few understood the latent meaning of the arrests.

Saulterdogan

Ruthlessly keen on displaying how in alliance he was with the mindset and patterns of Putin and Sisi, Erdoğan dared the world that he would not blink even a bit for opening a new phase in cracking down on whosever stands on his way. Kurds, Gülenists, leftists and liberals, academicians and journalists and judges did not suffice.

Now, he and his dark supporters in the state apparatus felt the time was mature to go to the next phase: the very people who had been dedicated to struggle for human rights of those who were targeted.

The message could not have been clearer. Criminalisation of the very commitment to the rights and freedoms meant a direct assault on whatever was left on the conscience of the nation. This is well known pattern of the rise of fascism everywhere – from Italy to Iran and beyond – that paralysation of the compassion for the ‘other’ opens the gates to an Orwellian society.

My surprise is that such large segments of the intellectuals and all those who care for an open society could imagine that Özlem and her friends would be released. How could they believe that, when thousands of others were kept as political prisoners, I wondered. What was their ‘privilege’? No, the despair was now so deep that all hopes clinged to a hope.

Days before the judge’s decision to send Özlem, Peter, Ali, İdil, Veli and Günal to prison, some of those friends were shocked to hear Erdoğan’s voice in their mobile phones, in the night of the coup anniversary. The main GSM service provider, Turkcell (whose board is appointees by the AKP – hello Orwell!) had organized a favour for Erdoğan that he could in person speak to each and every citizen, to express his thanks that the nation had ‘indeed’ saved democracy from the putschists last year.

How could it be? they asked. How was it possible? I tried to explain the best I could, that Turkey was more or less hijacked by a coalition of dark forces under the leadership of a person, whose intentions and vision was very serious. The tragedy of those shocked was that they had underestimated the determination and Macchiavellian intelligence of the leader, miscalculated totally how far he would go. He will.

When I hear these days the commentary that Erdoğan had become ‘frightened’ by the March for Justice of the opposition, I can not help but bitterly smile. He is not. Not a bit.

If these comments were not a product of yet another wishful thinking, they express only misjudgments that he is blinking for his goals set for an Sultanic rule. Never.

His design for absolute power is that this is a journey for political life or death. Erdoğan will never shy away from the political, legal and social ammunition he accumulated; he will spend it in full, if necessary. He is beyond fear. If any sensation to speak of, it is frustration or anger. Once you know this, I told my acquaintances who remained in shock, your picture will be clearer. Then, you’ll know your action or non-action plan better.

Then you will know whether or not the political opposition grasps the ugly reality of the rise of Turkish fascism.

turks

Speaking at the rally for the anniversary of the coup, Erdoğan went as far as reprimanding his justice minister, Bekir Bozdağ, on why he had ‘released’ Ahmet Türk, the ‘grand old man’ of Kurdish struggle for human dignity over decades, from the prison. 75 year old Türk was not only stripped off brutally his elected position as the mayor of Mardin, but also put behind bars for ‘terrorist activity’.

He was let go because he was very frail, due to heart issues, and later had joined the March for Justice, albeit briefly as a symbolic act.

‘What kind of a sick man is this?’ Erdoğan roared, looking at the minister in the crowd. ‘How come he was released? Then he attends the march. Minister, did this man get a health report from a proper hospital? Were you shown the report at all? How come did he get this thing with a release? He should have been under surveillance!’

turk

Ahmet Türk (in the middle with the blue shirt) joined briefly the ‘March for Justice’, led by the main opposition party, CHP.

Erdoğan was speaking about a man, who enjoys all the Kurds highest respect.

He was one of those who had been subjected to the severest torture during the military rule after the coup in 1980. Yet, he has remained a most moderate voice for peaceful co-existence between Turks and Kurds.

My concern more tan anything else is, how the valuable human dimension in Turkey becomes a waste.

Ümit Kıvanç, a colleague, is also a friend of Özlem and many others.

‘They are stealing years from human lives’ he wrote. ‘They are committing this big crime with a ruthlessness that goes far beyond any reason and conscience; with a dirty and poisonous joy of destroying the peoples’ lives. Without a shred of regret.’

 

Posted in AKP, CHP, Erdogan, EU, Kurds, Turkey | Leave a comment

Turkey’s ‘fake-coup’? – the truth which demands to be digged and investigated

The botched coup in Turkey last July is wrapped in such mystery that it begs for a constant return for updates and further analysis.

I wrote numerous articles about it, given on avaliable data. The more we have been exposed to, the more suspicious we have become about the motive, the composition, choreography, and the involvement of the actors in the act of mutiny.

The government, its mouthpiece media and even some so-called secular-oppositional pundits in Turkey were heavily engaged in presenting the world the official version that the coup was the sole product of the Gülenists. The harder it was tried, the lack of concrete evidence has become more exposed, and nowadays the frustration is apparent that the ‘world does not believe in our story so we have to do something about it.’

But the efforts does not change the fact that this story has a high number of key questions that remain unanswered. The secular and Kurdish opposition parties keep insisting about a controlled coup, and the current situation even brought forward a term ‘fake coup’.

coup

 

”Some even call it a “false-coup,” which President Recep Tayyip Erdogan organized in order to justify a crackdown against oppositionists” argues David L Phillips, in an article which justifies outmost attention. (Phillips is Director of the Program on Peace-building and Rights at Columbia University’s Institute for the Study of Human Rights. He worked on Turkish issues as a senior adviser and foreign affairs expert to the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of European Affairs under President Clinton and Bush. His recent book is titled An Uncertain Ally: Turkey Under Erdogan’s Dictatorship.)

Here are the key points in his article:

”Case studies suggest a pattern, which can be used to evaluate the events in Turkey one year ago.

When conducting a coup, the first action involves capturing or killing the head of government, in this instance Erdogan. In parallel to killing or capturing the head of government, loyal military and security units must be immobilized to prevent them from obstructing the coup.

Public information is critical. The putschists typically seize control of media so they can manage the flow of information to the public. Traditional media outlets involve radio and television, both public and private. New media include social media such as Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.

A head of the putsch presents himself so the public can attach a face to the events and find reassurance. If the public protests the coup, mutinous soldiers use all necessary measures to preserve order.

The following occurred in Turkey.

Erdogan was vacationing in Marmaris on July 15. When mutinous soldiers arrived at his hotel to arrest him, Erdogan had checked out and was on his way to Dalaman aiport.

The first inkling of the coup occurred in the early evening when mechanized units used tanks to block the Bosphorus Bridge and the Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge, crossing from the Asian side to the European side of Istanbul. Land forces on the bridge were joined by the gendarmerie.

TRT, Turkey’s public television, was taken off the air. Soldiers also seized control of CNN Turk, interrupting a live broadcast. No private television channels were affected.

Erdogan disappeared during the coup.

In the early hours of the morning, he surfaced to address the nation using FaceTime. He called on followers to take to the streets in defense of Turkey’s democracy.

Imams echoed Erdogan’s appeal. The chant “Allahu akbar” – God is great – reverberated from the muezzins of mosques. Many thousands of supporters went to Ataturk Airport and Taksim Square in Istanbul. They also gathered outside the presidential palace in Ankara.

F-16s controlled by the putschists allegedly bombed the army headquarters and the Turkish Grand National Assembly (TGNA).

Though Turkey’s military has a reputation for efficiency, its actions were poorly considered and badly executed. The coup fell far short of best practices for military takeovers.

How could mutinous soldiers have been unaware of Erdogan’s plans to leave the hotel? Failing to find him was a major gaff that undermined the coup from the outset.

Why wasn’t Erdogan apprehended on his way to the airport before his presidential plane took off? The coup plotters possessed F-16 fighter jets. Why didn’t they intercept or shoot down Erdogan’s plane?

Members of the Turkish General Staff representing major branches of the Turkish armed forces were detained. Was their arrest part of the coup design or was it intended to prevent them from joining the ranks of mutineers?

MIT’s Hakan Fidan, was not apprehended. Of all the members of Turkey’s national security establishment, Fidan is closest to Erdogan and best positioned to protect the president. Erdogan once called him his “sır küpü,” which means ‘jar of secrets’.

The putschists never presented themselves to the public, explaining events and offering reassurance.

Why did the coup plotters fail to take over major private networks that most Turks actually watch? Both TRT and CNN Turk have relatively small viewing audiences.

And why did the coup plotters allow social media to function? They could have jammed coverage, but didn’t. It is ironic that Erdogan addressed the nation using FaceTime, a form of social media he vowed to eliminate.

While imams called Erdogan’s supporters to the streets, the putschists issued instructions for people to stay indoors. Allowing Erdogan supporters free reign allowed a groundswell of popular support for the president.

Damage to the TGNA (Turkish Parliament) was minimal. Crater analysis suggested that explosives inside the building were used, rather than high impact ordinance of fighter jets.

According to US Secretary of State John Kerry, “It does not appear to be a very brilliantly planned or executed event.” Kerry has a knack for understatement. It was a botched coup that showed all the hallmarks of incompetence.

Would Erdogan be so reckless to stage an event that endangered Turkish citizens, killing 265 people? Another theory exists about Erdogan’s complicity.

Rather than organize the coup, Erdogan was either tipped off by members of the putsch or by the intelligence agency of a foreign government. Instead of preventing the coup, Erdogan allowed events to progress just far enough so claims of a coup were credible but not so far as to present any real risk.

In his first public remarks during the early morning of July 16, Erdogan issued a chilling threat: “This latest action is an act of treason. This attempt, this move, is a great gift from God for us. Why? Because the move will allow us to clean up the armed forces, which needs to be completely cleaned.” In a rush to judgement, he vowed to purge all state institutions of “the virus” spread by supporters of Fethullah Gulen.

The Turkish government had already prepared lists of oppositionists. The authorities moved immediately to arrest them. To date, about 50,000 security officers and civil servants have been arrested and another 150,000 dismissed from their jobs.

Approximately 150 journalists are in jail. Members of parliament, judges, and educators have also been dismissed or arrested. Instead of reconciliation, Erdogan arrested another 7,000 people on the one-year anniversary. Erdogan vows to approve a bill reinstating the death penalty if parliament proposed it.

Some say Erdogan is paranoid.

But even paranoid people have enemies.

Erdogan was profoundly aware of potential challenges from the TSK. Turkey has a history of military coups in 1960, 1971, 1980, and 1997. Erdogan was directly affected by the coup of 1997, which outlawed the Refah Party to which he belonged.

To pre-empt challenges, Erdogan pushed through constitutional reforms affecting the Kemalist judiciary. Pro-government prosecutors conjured fantastical plots, Ergenekon and Operation Sledgehammer, which were used to crack-down on retired and current military officers. Arrests sent shock waves through Turkey’s security establishment.

Events in Egypt further exacerbated Erdogan’s concerns. Erdogan identified closely with Egypt’s President Mohamed Morsi as a kindred spirit and fraternal political ally. Morsi was a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood and a known Islamist. When Morsi was overthrown by General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi in 2013, Erdogan feared something similar. He accused the West of masterminding Morsi’s removal.

Erdogan was pro-active to prevent a similar fate. Erdogan’s purge is called a “civilian coup” or a “controlled coup,” because it pervasively eliminated opposition and generated widespread fear in society and professional ranks. An open-ended state of emergency has been used by Erdogan to eliminate the rule of law and systematize repression.

Secrets are hard to keep. Repression is difficult to maintain. Close to two million people rallied in the Maltepe district of Istanbul on July 8. They demand “adalet” ― justice and the rule of law. They want answers.

When Erdogan eventually leaves power, Turks and the world will learn what really happened.

The truth will come out.

It may, or not. But the facts are clear: 167 generals of the Turkish army are in detention. This is 46 % of the top brass of the second largest army of NATO. We know that only 1.5 % of the army took part of the coup. If these generals were all involved in the coup, how come more soldiers and troops were not on the streets on that night?

Just another question.

Out of hundreds more.

Now, President Erdoğan is approaching another breaking moment of history. In early August next month, he will chair the traditional and critical Supreme Military Council meeting, during which all the key appointments and dismissals are decided. Reports suggests another massive purge which will finalize the restructuring of the Turkish army whose command will be designed as to serve the ruling AKP’s pure political interests; and no longer of Turkey’s.

Questions remain. As long as we can’t find answers, we will not be able to write history as it happens.

 

 

 

 

Posted in Turkey | Leave a comment

Turkey a year after the failed coup: Hell on paradise, with no prospects of peace

From the outset it was clear that for Turkey it would be a nightmare of a year. My last shred of doubt was dispersed when I was driving that day, all alone, in the sweltering July heat, towards a western Greek port.

It was July 21. The night before, Turkish cabinet had convened, as the turbulence of the patchy military uprising still went on, to decide on the state of emergency. Official Gazette was reprinted as of 2 a.m. of July 21, to make it ‘official’.

This was the patent for the peaking nightmare.

sirnak

Yet, its news was at that time treated as just one of the ordinary developments. When I found out about it at a gas station, my thoughts were crystal clear: Turkey would roll down into the abyss. Anyone who had a memory, knew what sort of service on a plate ‘decree regime’ provides for a passage to autocratic rule.

I tweeted a few lines, giving a heads up to my nearly hundred thousand followers. Another surprise: Even those academics who were supposed to know the history of world politics tried to downplay it; some responding like ‘oh, it will be short lived’, ‘it is needed, but will pass’, ‘no worries’ or something in that vein.

I remember how disappointed I was by this tone, and felt so helpless, that I did not bother to discuss any further. In frustration, I jumped back into the car, and pressed the gas pedal. I had a ferry to catch, after all. I was glad that I had chosen freedom; ever so the highest priority in my life.

That feeling was alive, for days. The patchy military uprising, later known as the ‘failed coup’, in the night of July 15, had left many of us journalists sleepless. My biological engine was on for more than 36 hours, trying to catch and absorb the most vital parts of this amazing story.

The decision on how to deal with it on personal and professional level had to be part of that. My strong intuition told me that, no matter who would come out victorious through this chaos, journalists and dissidents would suffer. I had no doubts, and in a matter of hours, legally, I was out of Turkey. Sitting somewhere not far away from Turkish-Greek border, barely keeping my eyes open in that hazy afternoon of July 17, with two refugee kids playing about in the vicinity, it took me various incoming phone calls to realize how right I was.

The first call was the BBC, for a brief chat. The second was from the Swedish TV, a reporter apparently in a lot of uncertainty about ‘what is going on over there’. And the third one was the Süddeutsche Zeitung, which had – I am sure by the memory of history – clearly understood that the gates of hell had opened for our unfortunate, somewhat cursed country. It marked the beginning of the series of Turkish Chronicle, which you have been following for a year. I am proud to be documenting all I could see as a raw material for history writing.

Weeks, even some months before the eruption of chaos, some of us journalists had a powerful gut feeling some calamity was building up. For many of us in the profession life was not made unberable due to the coup, but long before that. We had witnessed with bitterness, that the outlets we worked for were seized one after another, the so-called ‘mainstream’ media which was strictly ruled by its flunkey proprietors had day after another fired all the colleagues who insisted on doing their jobs properly.

Many of found ourselves jobless; working pro-bono. Days before the coup attempt, I had only a tiny source of income for columns in the daily Özgur Dusunce (which was shut down as part of the first mesures by the emergency rule). We suffocated.

I remember meeting my colleague, Kadri Gürsel, at a cafe – named ‘Gezi’ – in Taksim Square, some weeks before the chaos. We had some differences of opinion on the state of things in Turkey, discussed fiercely at times, but trusted each other fully. We agreed that we had no longer any future in the country, unless we changed jobs. ‘We are in a cage’ said Kadri.

I said that there were so few of us with courage displayed publicly, that we would be such easy preys. I remember telling him something like ‘It would be moronic to think that a struggle against an irrational, barbaric structure of power, which employs all the tools so easily’. We agreed on that too, as well as the necessity to leave the country. I did, I know he wanted to, but couldn’t.

He is behind the bars, for almost nine months, accused of ‘acts of terror’.

Like 170 others.

Thoughts on what might happen to Turkey, to all the good people I had known, to those whom I have seen suffering for decades, to all my friends passed through my mind like a mountain stream till I reached the Greek port. When I stepped on the ferry, I realized that all I have been left with was not a sense of worry, but bitterness and anger. An experiment for a decent democratic order had not only failed, but the country was hijacked by forces which would unleash all the evil they can think of over old, and newly invented ‘domestic enemies’ – a well-known tool in Turkish history to maintain brutal, inhuman order in place.

It was the worst defeat for all those who had hoped for a better future, and the lion’s share fell upon us journalists, academics, human rights defenders, civil society strugglers, those few politicians who truly cared for the underdogs… It was a major collective failure, which has would keep me angry for months ahead. I know now for certain that the lost momentum will hardly come back.

It will take generations, at best, to bring back things to normal. I can hardly disperse the thought that, if mistakes haven’t been grasped, we would end up with another Iran at our hands. Parts of its fine human resources chased out; large swaths of its population declared undesired, the remaining ones constantly dismayed, helpless; hostage to a thought that the world is against them.

‘What went wrong, then?’ I can almost hear you ask.

Turkey is so complex that there is not a single response.

But I can tell you that its each and every citizen is a prisoner of her/his fixed notions.

Decades of militarist tutelage empowered by an obsolete educational system, backed by a judiciary obsessed to protect the Turkish state against its citizens; a pumped up denialism of diversity of opinion and identities shaped a stiff national psyche which remains closed to empathy, civilised public discourse and democratic progress. Social groups act still like tribes, suspicious of each other. They are prisoners of their rigid identities, unable to line up together against the oppressors.

They remain hostile to each other; stuck in an eternal blame game. Whenever a social group to which they are hostile is ‘beaten’ they remain silent; or worse, they applaud the injustices. Justice, they all seem to think is a notion limited to their identity; their privilege. Each time a new identity gets to power, the basic instinct becomes to chase out those it sees as the domestic enemy.

This fundamental fact makes Turkey a ground where ‘forced coexistence’ is an established way of life; its vicious circle, which to a great deal explains the defeat.

Some weeks after my chat with Kadri, my sense of suffocation was so deep that I had taken a break to clear my thoughts. I found myself on a placid Greek island in northern Aegean.

It was the first days of July.

One night, at a remote seaside restaurant I met a young couple.

They were from Istanbul and had briefly gotten away from the ‘madness’ as they put it. She was pregnant, quiet but you could see the tension. Soon we began to talk about the way things are happening in Turkey. ‘It is such a restive society’ she said. ‘I am sick of it, they can never find peace; at the throats of each other, seeking pretexts to beat the hell of each other. For centuries they have gone west from Asia to our beautiful Anatolia, but they are so keen on keeping it like hell. Not a moment of peace…’

‘It is ours, this paradise and this hell’ had our great poet Nazım Hikmet. I told her that the paradise is the Anatolian soil, but it is the people who are hell.

She nodded, and smiled bitterly.

Then, perhaps there is also something called the power of the curse. I was reminded the other day of an elderly Ottoman Armenian man from the town of Muş – a survivor of the genocide. Someone asked him somewhere outside Turkey, where he was chased away: ‘What will you say when you meet your oppressors?’

‘I will tell them: You have annihilated us in these lands, but there will come a time for me or my grandchildren, to see you all helplessly wallow in your own dirt that you yourselves have created’ he responded.

Curse or not.

Here we are.

A ruler class living in lies, silencing all those who speak the truth.

Justice buried and gone.

These days, as Turkey’s nightmare doesn’t seem to let go, all I do is to think of my friends in prison; best and brighest of their generations who sacrificed the best portion of their lives for a decent human order in the country they love:

Kadri Gürsel, Ahmet Altan, Şahin Alpay, Murat Sabuncu, Deniz Yücel, Tunca Öğreten, Cihan Acar, Mehmet Altan, Ahmet Turan Alkan, Güray Öz, Murat Aksoy, Enis Berberoğlu, Büşra Erdal, İnan Kızılkaya and all 170 of them.

And the academicians, and human rights defenders.

And thousands of Kurdish politicians and the grassroots of Gulen Movement, so apparently paying the price for some murky coup they had no idea about, the only ‘crime’ of theirs is affiliation with a sect, which is surely legal in any democracy.

365 days that have passed was a breathless horror.

You can only imagine how corrosive it is.

And the worst part is yet to begin.

 

Posted in Turkey | Leave a comment

Once more: Forget Cyprus!

So, now, post-collapse of the talks about Cyprus, the usual wheel is turning.

Blame-game.

Who did what machinery.

At the expense of people’s expectations on living in peaceful coexistence, undivided by the walls.

Cyprus Mail reports:

The Akel leader, Andros Kyprianou, who travelled to Athens to meet Greek government officials to discuss the outcome of the talks in Switzerland and the possible next steps, told CyBC that he feels the Greek Cypriot side went to the talks unprepared; not to reach a settlement solution but to set the ground for a blame game.

“We went totally unprepared. We went with the perception that the root of some issues was not going to be discussed, and we had not prepared our positions on those matters,” Kyprianou said. He added that once at the Swiss resort of Crans-Montana, the Greek Cypriot negotiating team were working all night to prepare documents.

“This job should have already been done. We should have been prepared to address any scenario,” Kyprianou said. 

“Our priority was to play the blame game,” Kyprianou said.

It is easy to blame Turkey, he said, adding that he does believe that “the main responsibility for the deadlock falls on the Turkish side”, but he disagreed with the tactic followed by the Greek Cypriot side at the talks, which led to losing time.

Akel, he said, had been telling the president for six months to prepare a package with all the issues concerning internal matters, “to discuss informally to find out Turkey’s intentions, and at the same time, to discuss security and guarantees”.

“Not only we reached no solution, but we have distanced ourselves from a solution, and Turkey threatening it would seek a solution outside the framework of the UN,” Kyprianou said. “If some celebrate this situation, I am sorry to say that they don’t know what national interest means,” he said.

In a statement, deputy government spokesman Victoras Papadopoulos said that the government was sad to hear the criticism voiced by Kyprianou, “which has nothing to do with what actually happened during the Conference on Cyprus in Crans-Montana”.

The president, Papadopoulos said, went to the Swiss resort fully prepared and very determined to achieve convergences within the parameters set by the UN Secretary-General, to achieve a comprehensive solution to the Cyprus problem”.

Papadopoulos also said the president feels that in such critical hours, “we should put expediencies aside and work together to tackle Turkish intransigence, but also for the recommencement of the talks, as soon as possible”.

But Akel did not keep silent. Party spokesman Stefanos Stefanou said Akel “will not censor itself”. Anastasiades and those in power, he said, when they were themselves opposition, “gave a thousand times weapons to third parties to blame the Greek Cypriot side”.

He said that Akel will continue to voice its opinion. The presidential elections, he said, are a great temptation and Disy has a long history in relation to serving pre-election expediencies at the expense of the Cyprus problem.

Anastasiades said on Monday in his address to the people on the outcome of talks, that reports that Turkey had been ready to give up its guarantee was not true and he also made reference to “malicious messages” that blamed the Greek Cypriot side for the failure.

Take it for granted that the blame-game will intensify, postponing any talks, if any at all, to another decade.

As I promised in the former blog, I leave you, my dear readers, with an article of mine, that is dated March 2, this year. You will understand what I mean. It is all about infantilism, and total insincerity.

Here it is, titled ‘Forget Cyprus’:

When the latest round of talks began between the parts in Cyprus, there were many colleagues and friends who were swept along with enthusiasm. ‘This time, this is it!’ was the phrase I had heard more than a year ago. My response was simple: ‘Do not ever get carried away. The issue is about Cyprus, and remember: what we have seen so far, will shed light on what will, or rather, what will not happen. Wait and see till it collapses again.’

These bittersweet conversations took place in late 2015 and early 2016 and here we are.

Because this is Cyprus. Land of ‘negotiation for negotiations’ sake’ land. Island of ethnocentrism; a laboratory of incurable nationalisms. A paradise for cynics.

My optimistic friends were victims of their naivete. They had not taken into account that momentum had changed. Even though Cyprus had two years ago caught a momentum by the choices of Anastasiades and Akıncı – two seemingly rational leaders – they had miscalculated two elements: An increasingly militarist and populist Erdoğan – who forged an alliance with ultra-nationalist MHP for an autocratic rule – and the fierce nationalist forces in Greek Cyprus that stood ready to find a pretext to undermine a rapprochement.

Time worked in their favor.

As Turkey entered its most unstable period ever in its modern history after the failed coup and emergency rule, with referendum in horizon; Anastasiades had to take elections into account as valuable time was wasted in a typical Cypriotic slow-motion mood. And, enter the counter-forces, we are now at a dead-lock.

Following rumours of annexation of North Cyprus into Turkey – an idea surely looks attractive to Erdoğan, who saw Putin succeed with Crimea affair – the Greek Cypriot ‘unionists’ with mainland Greece saw a momentum to rise up and have Enosis (unification) decision decades ago commemorated in schools, and there you had the deja vu of the impasse that we are so familiar in Cyprus conflict.

akinciThe meeting between Nicos Anastasiades (left) and Mustafa Akinci (right) was brokered by the UN.

As Turk Cypriot leader Akıncı seemed ‘surrounded’ by the AKP figures and rhetoric lately, with Turkish troops’ withdrawal not even something to think of, President of Cyprus, Nicos Anastasiades, sent a strong message to both Turkey and Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci that the majority cannot be equated with the minority.

In an interview with Phileleftheros and The Cyprus Weekly, Anastasiades said: “Their positions to insist that essentially the minority will make the decisions and the majority will simply obey cannot be justified”. He added adding that they need to understand that theirs is an unprecedented phenomenon. The rotating presidency, in Anastasiades’ eyes, has also been shelved stressing that for the present it is not under discussion.

“The issue of a rotating presidency is out of the question right now,” adding that “to be able to accept a discussion one should know concessions that the other side will make so as not to create conditions that increase the concerns of the Greek Cypriots, especially in terms of functionality and sustainability.”

“It’s unimaginable to discuss the four chapters, as well as territorial adjustments, to address their concerns and when the time comes for them to demonstrate political will in seeking a peaceful coexistence they ask for more,” said Anastasiades

Anastasiades believes the break in negotiations has nothing to do with parliament’s passing of the ‘enosis day’ amendment to school curricula but Turkey’s unwillingness to discuss the issues of security and guarantees.

At the same time, he is hopeful that negotiations will commence after April’s constitutional referendum in Turkey where Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has gained the support of the extremist nationalist group, Grey Wolves who may pull support if they feel that Turkey is giving concessions on Cyprus.

To this end, Anastasiades believes that even if negotiations restart before the referendum no significant progress will be made because as he says “Turkey controls Akinci, whether he wants to admit it or not.”

Of course, he would not admit that he is controlled by his concerns that he also is sieged by his nationalists on the southern side of the island. But he is.

‘Maybe it’s a good thing that we have a crisis in the Cyprus talks now and not later’ wrote my colleague Nikos Konstandaras in Kathimerini lately.

‘If the negotiations between President Nicos Anastasiades and Turkish-Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci can withstand today’s difficulties, then perhaps the Cyprus issue will be on its way toward resolution. If the negotiations cannot overcome the recent decision by the Parliament to have schools commemorate the 1950 plebiscite calling for union with Greece, it’s best we know from now that the process was leading nowhere. The past is history, but it is up to today’s leaders to overcome obstacles and to lead Cyprus toward a better future – or to confirm that the consequences of the Turkish invasion in 1974 are permanent and inviolable.’

‘We often see’ he went on, ‘extremists determining developments in societies with their demands and hyperbole. In most cases, though, the responsible, centrist parties try to resist. So how can we interpret the ease with which so many parties in the Cypriot Parliament sided with the extremist ELAM with its two MPs? Did they not see that in other countries whenever mainstream parties adopt the language and methods of extremists it is the latter who gain, as they gain credibility among more citizens? Or do they think that tension between the island’s two communities serves their interests? In any case, the breakdown in trust between Anastasiades and Akinci is a great loss and it is difficult to imagine how either of their communities will benefit from this.’

Respectfully, I think that we should forget Cyprus as sincerely engaged in finding a solution. This was, if ever, the moment. It was a point both sides could get as close to each other as more than ever. But it was demolished.

There are obvious reasons for this:

  • Both sides’ leaders do not have any idea of rational conflict resolution. Even if they do, they do not properly engage in it. It is a cultural phenomenon that makes Cypriots the strongest enemy of themselves.
  • As a result of disengagement, sides did not overcome mistrust.
  • Even if Akıncı brought in a new spirit and popular will pro-solution, it was damaged along the way by Turkish government which, due to Erdoğan’s slippery manner of chainging domestic alliances, returned to extremely old-fashioned, problem-oriented approach that froze all the issues that should be left open to negotiations.
  • Two elements countered the positive dynamics: Nationalism is not strong in Turkish part, but corruption and mafia structures are. The current status quo serves many dirty interests. In the Greek south, political resistance against unification and ethno-centrism has remained dominant. Together, they once more won.
  • Success in Cyprus talks always assumed that there would be a minimal bilateral confidence between two guarantor powers – Greece and Turkey. It did not happen, on the contrary, tensions grow, because of Turkish nationalism once more hiking.

So, where are we? Nowhere. If Cyprus made cynics out us, it was justified. I had told my friends that the issue was a matter of global consensus, it was far too sensitive to be left to islanders themselves. But the current conjunture leaves no ground for hope.

The only hope, if ever, would be to keep the conflict frozen, no matter for how long.

There is no way current constellation of leaderships will pay enough attention to the island. There are far more serious issues at stake.

Forget Cyprus.

Posted in Turkey | Leave a comment

Collapse of Cyprus talks triggers a fresh blame game: Who was responsible, why?

So, we are where we have been. Things have not moved an inch.

As the Guardian reported, ”What had been billed as the best chance to reunify Cyprus has collapsed spectacularly, fuelling fears that the Mediterranean island is heading towards permanent partition.”

More from the Guardian:

”The Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akıncı, who had staked his political career on a solution, predicted that future efforts to reunite Cyprus under a federal umbrella would be exceptionally difficult.

Addressing reporters hours after the visibly despondent UN secretary general, Antonio Guterres, announced the failure, he said: “I wish the next generation good luck on this and that one day maybe Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots will decide together that there is no longer a need for troops on the island.”

The issue of maintaining military intervention rights – insisted upon by Turkey – under a tripartite “guarantor power” security system conceived when Cyprus won independence from Britain, lay at the crux of the collapse.

While the UN special adviser Espen Barth Eide, who had chaired the talks, described the positions of both sides as “close but not close enough”, diplomats said it was sparring over troop presence and guarantor status that ultimately scuppered progress.”

”The collapse of talks was met with unbridled disappointment. Veteran diplomats voiced fears of possible annexation of the north by Turkey. Others expressed concerns that under the ever-unpredictable leadership of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Ankara could also pursue the path of further partition by pushing for international recognition of the rump state currently recognised solely by Turkey.”

Older Cypriots, who still harbour memories of common coexistence, expressed anguish that the island was now heading irrevocably towards partition. “This is the end of the road for Cyprus as we knew it,” said Lakis Zavallas, a National Guard platoon commander during the invasion.

“Thousands of years of history will be forgotten and rewritten and the north of our island turned into a Turkish province. And we shall continue squabbling among ourselves squashed in the part we are left with until we make the next mistake and lose it too.”

What had happened? For many of who have known the political and social DNA of the island, the response to the question would in no way be surprising. Not, either, the blame game that is now rolling.

Independent observers told Cyprus Mail that the collapse of the Crans-Montana talks lies squarely with the Turkish side for refusing to budge on security and guarantees ”is far from accurate”.

”They insist President Nicos Anastasiades missed an historic opportunity” Cyprus Mail reported.

UN sources had told the Cyprus Mail that Turkey would be prepared to accept an end to guarantees and rights of intervention, and had consented to a clause in Guterres’ framework for negotiations for the Crans-Montana talks, which stipulated a fall-back to the 1960 Treaty of Alliance figures for Greek and Turkish troops on the island – 950 and 650 respectively – with final decisions on whether these were to withdraw altogether, and when, to be made “at a higher level”, meaning the three guarantors’ prime ministers. But when Anastasiades was informed of this, the sources said, he started insisting on zero troops.

Here are the details:

”The Cypriot government’s version of the events that transpired during the dinner suggests that, while repeatedly professing flexibility, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu instead insisted on publicly stated positions for maintaining guarantees, intervention rights and troops, accepting only a review of the security arrangement in 15 years’ time.

“The positions they submitted on security and guarantees, as well as the rest of the chapters, not only deviated from the UN secretary-general’s framework, but were such that under no circumstances could they have been accepted by our side,” Anastasiades said in a speech on Saturday, read out by Defence Minister Christoforos Fokaides.

“Due to the intransigence and insistence of the Turkish side on maintaining the Treaty of Guarantee and Turkey’s rights of intervention, as well as the demand to keep Turkish troops, there was no result.”

That may not be the full story. According to a UN source that spoke to the Mail on condition of anonymity, Cavusoglu had “conceded in private to us” that Turkey would be prepared to accept an end to guarantees and rights of intervention.

Reportedly, Turkey had also consented to a clause in Guterres’ framework for negotiations for the Crans-Montana talks, which stipulated a fall-back to the 1960 Treaty of Alliance figures for Greek and Turkish troops on the island – 950 and 650 respectively – with final decisions on whether these were to withdraw altogether, and when, to be made “at a higher level”, meaning the three guarantors’ prime ministers.

“When we signalled this to Anastasiades, he started insisting on zero troops,” the source said.

“He simply didn’t want it.”

Another diplomatic source shared a similar account in which Cavusoglu went out on a limb but soon reverted to Turkey’s publicly stated positions after Anastasiades demanded that he commit to the offered concessions formally.

“It was so close – it could have happened if Anastasiades had been willing to engage,” the well-informed source said.

“Turkey was willing to give hugely on intervention rights, and there was a possibility on the guarantees, maybe [after] a couple of years, with even the possibility of getting rid of it from Day One. There would also have been less troops. [But] Anastasiades wanted it in writing.”

Christodoulides could not be reached for comment, but media reports citing Cypriot government sources corroborate Anastasiades’ demand for the Turkish overtures to be submitted in writing, which may have been the dinner’s coup-de-grace as Cavusoglu refused to commit to any concessions before a comprehensive deal was struck.

“There were errors by everyone,” the same source said.

“There was a lot of pressure put on Turkey by the UN and by Britain over the fact that this was the 21st century, and the Turks ‘got it’.”

If they did ‘get it’, why would Anastasiades have balked at such an opening, instead of pursuing it furiously?

“There were probably all sorts of reasons for why he didn’t accept,” the source said.

“There were a lot of hardliners around him. He was tired. There was a lot of pressure and he couldn’t think clearly. He was on the verge of an historic deal.”

Pressure and cold feet might be perfectly valid explanations, but they ignore the 800-pound gorilla of the island’s domestic politics – next year’s presidential elections some six months away, in which Anastasiades is hoping to clinch a second term.

“I think he somehow thinks that the talks will just reconvene, but it doesn’t work that way,” the Mail’s source said.”

”Regardless of how close a solution appeared during the dinner, and whose fault it really was, the fact remains that it didn’t happen. On paper nothing has changed, and yet this breakdown could usher in a new phase of tension, not least because drilling for gas in Cyprus’ exclusive economic zone, much to Ankara’s dismay, is scheduled to resume next week.

“The way things stand now without a deal, Turkey still has intervention rights in Cyprus,” our source said. “The troop numbers would have been small and tucked away, and Morphou residents would be going home. Anastasiades blew it, the hardliners are backslapping, and now we’ve got a gas issue. He could have solved it, it was such a good deal.”

So, as we have seen so many times before, the only ‘day after’ effect is who will be the ones to precede the others in a blame game. It has already started. Political parties in the south have all seemed to agree, that it is Turkey to blame. And the disappointment of grand scale has taken a grip on all the Turk Cypriots who – fearing a gobble up by an Islamo-Nationalist rule in Turkey – had laid their last hopes on a settlement. This trauma will not let them go, and they have very strong points if they blame back the Greek side for lacking a strategy for the benefit of the whole island.

Some observers rightfully demand that, in order to stop the infantile blame game, the UN should come out and tell what really happened to cause the collapse.

”The UN and its secretary-general, who was actively involved personally this time, need to speak openly and if necessary apportion the responsibility for the pathetic failure of this effort. And if their conclusion is that the Cyprus problem cannot be solved they should say so directly and stop dealing with us. After 50 years of failures it seems ridiculous for them to talk about new, future initiatives” wrote Lucas Charalambous.

”…because people need to know who is lying and who is telling the truth, the UN need to speak clearly about what happened. Failing to do so would leave the briefing of people on both sides of the dividing line to the demagogue politicians and naïve journalists that feed us only myths.”

SG-leaders-NY-4-June-2017

”In democratic terms, ‘the outcome was predictable because the hearts of the people are not yet ripe enough for an agreement to come naturally” wrote Alper Ali Rıza – Queen’s Councel in the UK.

‘This is not sour grapes, but the truth is that any agreement would have been rejected anyway in one of the simultaneous referendums. So why all the fuss? The talks were misconceived in that guarantees should have been discussed and resolved two years ago when the talks began if resolution of the issue of guarantees were a condition precedent to a solution. The two communities have diametrically opposite views on guarantees and security, and this should have been identified as a problem much earlier.

The position on the Greek Cypriot side is very clear. Thirteen years ago 75 per cent of Greek Cypriots voted no to a solution that included guarantees. Even though Mr Anastasiades himself led the ‘yes’ campaign in 2004, now he had to make a judgement as president and it had to be in tune with the majority of Greek Cypriot thinking on guarantees.

In his political judgement he would not have been able to get the Greek Cypriots to vote yes to a solution containing guarantees by Turkey. That is a judgement that I respect since the Greek Cypriots would have been seriously undermined in the EU if he agreed a solution that was voted down in a referendum a second time.”

”The position on the Turkish Cypriot side is the symmetrical opposite. The majority of Turkish Cypriots would not have voted for a solution without Turkish guarantees. Security is a real concern for many Turkish Cypriots. In some circles it is the only concern. The majority would have voted no to a solution that had no Turkish guarantees. In their view Turkish guarantees are necessary to protect them in case the agreements do not work out and to act as a deterrent. It is borne of realism and bitter experience both in Cyprus and more recently in Bosnia.”

Ali Rıza concludes:

”I have a feeling that a kind of stalemate was played out at Crans-Montana, and when the acrimony clears, those of us who wish Cyprus well hope against hope that not all was lost now that each side has some idea of the concessions the other is prepared to make.”

Unite-Cyprus-Now-activists_20May17_FB

Well, ‘hope against hope’ is as pale as a wish can get, although it is a right way to put it.

Yet this has become the refrain devoid of any meaning now. Perhaps it is time to call it a day; because the divides between the two populations have over four decades turned into fixed positions. And obstinacy and maximalism is a well-known element of the DNA of Cyprus. That unless Greece and Turkey can come to terms with each other to a new pact that binds these two countries in a treaty based on a resolve over all the disputes, no solution will visit the island.

Perhaps it is time to forget Cyprus altogether, as my next blog will remind you.

Posted in AKP, Cyprus, EU, Turkey | Leave a comment