‘Young Turks’, again in ‘opposition-in- exile’ after a century, in Köln, Germany

‘Do you have anybody nominated as Ahmed Riza Bey?’ I asked some in the crowd.

It was meant to be a joke, and many have responded with a laughter. Some pointed out impishly to an elderly figure standing here or there. More laughter.

It was a large group of people, who had gathered last Friday at a hotel hall in Köln. Most of those who came – was able to attend – were from Turkey, meeting old friends, or new ones living in Germany or in the European neighborhood – Turks, Kurds, Alevis, others.

What brought them together was an event that was anticipated with high hopes: as their country was dragged into an ever darker vortex of persecution and polarisation, and its media and academia being annihilated with a geometric pace, a new TV channel, ARTI TV which was being born with the promises of independence, critical content and vastly diverse opinion. It was also coupled with a online news site, ARTIGERCEK.

Founders say they are keen on full transparency on ownership: It is backed by the Netherlands-based Arti Media Foundation. Hopes are, its independent backers will help it get institutionalized.

As it went on air that night, invitees formed a perfect gathering of (Turkish and German) journalists, but it was the dissidents, which in a flash reminded me of the famous ‘Young Turks’ or ‘Young Ottomans’ – more than a hundred years ago.

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Ahmed Rıza (below left) was a lead figure of Young Turks, oppositional constutionalists in exile in France, against Ottoman Sultan Abdulhamid II, early last century.

Ahmed Rıza was one of the founding figures of the opponents of the oppressive Ottoman Sultan at that time, Abdulhamid II. Ahmed Rıza’s dissenting predecessors had begun to be driven underground, because they were fiercely against the decision by the Sultan, after a two year thaw, had abolished the firts modern constitution of the (declining) empire. So, from 1878 on, they organized, clandestinely, a movement which would work to reinstate a constitutional monarchy. They spread in the west, from Thessaloniki to rest of the Balkans, and some found a ground in Paris. Its second congress was held, under discreet French premises, in Paris 2007.

Ahmed Rıza was, along with another reformist figure, Prince Sabahaddin, an ancestor of Turkish liberalist line. These Young Turks were in alliance at that time with other subjects of the empire, whose backbone was the politically enlightened Ottoman Armenians, led by Khatchatur Maloumian (who would later severely deceived). The state of exile, until after the Sultan was overthrown, was part of the tradition of Turkish opposition. (Ahmed Rıza remained a lead-figure until he was sidelined by hard-liner triumvirat, Talat, Enver and Cemal, and after fiercely resisting in Parliament their decision to exterminate the Armenians, he retreated, heart-broken, into reclusion, and died as a man of high integrity in 1930 in Istanbul.)

In some ways similar to those distant yet close turbulent times, once more against the background of a constitutional overhaul of historic dimensions, many freedom-seekers who feel the threat of prison and bans, start to reassemble abroad – this time with Germany the epicenter, a political magnet of democratic opposition and independent media.

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Celal Başlangıç (back) and Fehim Işık, editors of ARTI TV

Since Erdoğan’s ruling AKP brutally seized and/or chased out almost the entire bulk of critical channels from the government-controlled TURKSAT satellite and digital platforms, ARTI TV will be try to reach the audiences via Hotbird satellite.

For its founders who quickly launched the channel, it seemed a strategically correct decision. The referendum in mid-April, is in many aspects a ‘to be or not to be’ for Turkey as we know it, and it wants to fill a role which is totally abandoned in Turkish media today: a broad, diverse and fair public debate platform, open to all the democratic competitors to give their voices.

Given how venomously one-sided, aggressive, and threatening the AKP’s campaign became, not an easy to ask to persuade who disagree with Erdoğan to appear on screen and say it like one thinks.

Yet, it was, professionally speaking, a right choice to invest on a channel, than a newspaper: we all know that nearly 90 % of Turkish public as a whole receive news and comment – for free – only from TV channels. That is the main reason why TV as a medium from Gezi protests on was the prime target for Erdoğan’s team to take control of.

My colleagues with ARTI TV knew about the ‘hunger’ for alternative media in Turkey. People seek to be informed about abuses of power, about the declining economy, corruption and failures in foreign policy of Turkey. Such themes are non- existent, as the so-called ‘mainstream’ private channels, go to a joint broadcast mode whenever and wherever President Erdoğan appears to make a speech, attends a ceremony. There is also a general fatigue among viewers when they notice how the same pro-Erdoğan pundits jump from channel to channel every evening, pumping in the same propaganda.

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Towards the end of the launching reception from central Köln, I found Celal Başlangıç, an age-old friend and the Editor of ARTI TV.

‘How is it going?’ I asked. He told me that the channel’s broadcast had gathered so much interest that its website, which was also airing the show, had been close to a point of collapse altogether.

I looked at those who had made this launch happen: they were busy keeping a technically fragile show (they had turned a hotel hall into a noisy studio, where everyone was at loose, keen on comments and views), I chatted with Turkish academics who had found a safe home in Germany in the past months, and felt what I felt for a long time:

If Erdoğan’s real intention is to raze the entire democratic resistance to the ground in Turkey; if he really believes that the journalist my colleagues will give in to the pressure at the end, if he hopes that the entire Turkish academia will be under his command, if he expects that the Kurds of Turkey – and its powerful diaspora – will fall under amnesia about their democratic demands on collective rights, he will continue to face challenges that will be frustrating for his party.

It is a battle with vast historic perspectives, that keep Turkey’s story open-ended. Unlike Turkic folks bent and broken by brutal dictators in Central Asia’ and Azerbaijan, perhaps a new ‘Young Turks’ movement is in the making – who knows? – refusing all the attempts to be ‘tamed’.

‘Do you see any Ahmed Rıza around here?’ I asked an elderly leftist intellectual before I left.

He laughed.

‘Sultans tend to cause such people to emerge’ he said. ‘I hope it doesn’t come to that…’

 

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‘The AKP regards Turkish immigrants in Europe as hostages or as instruments…’

‘Ankara sees those from Turkey living in Europe as ‘hostages’, as ‘tools’, thus puts their existences, their lives at risk. Those with origins from Turkey who are regarded already as temporary and unsettled in the countries they live in have now become more at risk – regardless whether they support AKP or not, they resorted to their Turkishness, distanced themseles from their pluralistic affiliations. The crisis in bilateral relations will pass quicky, but its negative marks over those originating from Turkey will not be erased so easily.’

 These comments belong to Prof Samim Akgönül, a Turkish political scientist and historian, with University of Strasbourg, France.

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If, as some of his opponents say, there was a master plan by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to invent a crisis with the European Union, it worked perfectly. With verbal insults, Turkey escalated a diplomatic rift with Germany and the Netherlands.

Both their governments and their people were accused of being Nazis. They found the comments outra­geous but remained unsure of how to respond to Erdogan.

The dispute goes back to Dutch and German decisions to prohibit Turkish ministers from speaking at political rallies in their respec­tive countries. In Germany, several members of Erdogan’s cabinet challenged the restriction, with Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu insisting on addressing German Turks at a Turkish consulate, in breach of Turkish election law. In the Netherlands, there were tense encounters between two Turkish ministers and Dutch authorities. Cavusoglu was prevented from landing in the Netherlands and was treated as persona non grata.

Turkish Family Minister Fatma Betul Sayan Kaya, who entered the Netherlands by road, was dealt with even more harshly. She was pre­vented from entering the Turkish consulate in Rotterdam, deported from the country, officially declared persona non grata and, BBC Turkish reported, banned from entering the Schengen area for ten years.

It was an ugly row but, to use the term coined by Erdogan after the coup attempt last July, it came as a gift from God. Turkey’s mercurial president was swift in seizing the events and creating a perfect storm. The ensuing rhetoric and drama lifted his campaign for a “yes” vote in next month’s referendum to new heights.

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The German and Dutch gov­ernments were not as crafty as Erdogan. They failed to speedily work out the meaning of his war of words, which came in response to Berlin’s and Amsterdam’s bans on campaigning imposed on Turkey’s ministers.

Over the past three Turkish elec­tions, about 70% of Turks in many EU countries voted for Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP). By escalating the diplo­matic crisis, Erdogan evidently had a broader agenda: He would whip up anti-Western sentiment among conservative pro-AKP voters at home to consolidate support for a “yes” vote in the ref­erendum. The strategy could even help with undecided voters, which recent surveys put at 10%.

It worked. Pro-Erdogan crowds were mobilised in Rotterdam and the clashes that erupted gave Er­dogan material to abuse the Dutch even more furiously. He went on to accuse them of involvement in the genocide in Srebrenica and imposed diplomatic sanctions.

Until Erdogan started the fight with Germany and the Netherlands, domestic surveys showed the ref­erendum vote about 50-50. Now, if opinion polls are reliable, the “yes” camp feels more confident.

The Turkish opposition said Germany and the Netherlands fell into Erdogan’s trap by cur­tailing freedom of expression. A row broke out between opposition parties in Turkey and Turkish, Kurdish, secular groups in Germany that largely supported the ban.

The crisis is definitely a game changer.

  • First, Erdogan’s gamble has already paid off. No matter who wins this year’s Dutch, French and German elections, Erdogan has improved his chances of getting a “yes” vote, which would enable his presidency to accrue even more power. He will have positioned Turkey as a country that espouses nationalist and Islamist ideas.
  • Second, Erdogan has done just what Russian President Vladimir Putin would have wanted: He sowed further division within the Euro­pean Union. In a broader context, he played up the clash of civilisations idea.
  • Third, Erdogan signalled that he is ready to break loose from the Euro­pean Union, leaving it with only one choice — at best, a privileged partner­ship that is focused on trade and the agreement on stemming the refugee flow to Europe.
  • Fourth, the European Union, which has kept quiet about human rights violations in Turkey to preserve its own self-interest, may be facing its moment of reckoning.

It is clear that the 60-year Turkish- EU relations will hardly recover from this crisis. More importantly, the real victims of Erdogan’s ruthless policy of crisis after crisis will be European Turks, who will face the risk of being targeted and branded as undesirable elements on European soil.

Compari­sons are being already made between them and the Jews and Roma in 1930s Germany.

Does Erdogan care about that?

If so, his concern might involve using them as bargaining chips.

In the latest phase of the spat he went as far as issuing new threats to Europe.

As reported by the Independent:

Europeans across the world will not be able to walk the streets safely if they keep up their current attitude towards Turkey, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said.

“If Europe continues this way, no European in any part of the world can walk safely on the streets. We, as Turkey, call on Europe to respect human rights and democracy,” Mr Erdogan told journalists in Ankara.

 

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With the Emergency Rule extending, Turkish prisons turn into powder kegs

The movie theatre was jam-packed. As we walked onto the stage last Friday at the International Human Rights Film Festival (FIFDH) in Geneva, I had the words of a Kurdish colleague, held for months in jail, swirling in my head.

We had assembled in Geneva to talk about the shattering results of the Emergency Rule in Turkey: Apart from myself there was a key expert on Constitutional Law, Kerem Altiparmak (who as a critical-minded academic was banned from travelling abroad, thus taking part via skype). Then there was Nils Medzel, UN’s Special Human Rights Rapporteur on Turkey and academician Pınar Selek.

I was thinking of İnan Kızılkaya, who had sent out a letter from prison. He is the managing editor of Özgür Gündem, a Kurdish daily shut down by the authorities. ‘We will do you in like Musa Anter. ‘We will throw you all into the wells filled with acid’ Kızılkaya was told in police custody when he with other Kurdish journalists was brutally interrogated.

Musa Anter was a well-known, iconic, noble Kurdish intellectual, who in the 1990’s was assassinated by unknown gunmen, suspected to be Turkish paramilitary units. ‘Acid wells’ is also a well-known phenomenon from the same period, during which many Kurds seen as linked with the PKK were ‘melted’ and ‘lost’.

HUNGER-STRIKE

Medzel gave a carefully worded account of what he saw in Turkish prisons he visited after the coup attempt (he is privileged in that sense, one of the very few allowed) and it became clear in between his lines that those thrown into police custody and prisons had gone through sheer hell, at least between July 15 and October.

He spared us the details, underlining that the conditions in police custody were the worst. In many ways, it was a powerful deja-vu: Kept in darkness for decades under an ugly record of harrassment of its citizens, Turkey seemed to have a glimpse of light on the horizon some years ago, but rewinded to square one.

Now it’s as bad as before, if not worse, for anybody who disagrees with the holders of power, President Erdoğan and his allies within the state.

I knew nobody knew it better about what ‘vindictive oppression’ means, than Pınar Selek, sitting beside me. The Turkish case that has been going on for 19 years against this pacifist, feminist, social scientist and author of several books is of such a nature that it makes what happened to Dreyfus once upon a time bleak by comparison.

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When Selek took the floor, what she told the audience about this labyrinthian process, which also included heavy torture and absence of justice, the audience obviously got an idea of how it might be for dissidents in jail in today’s Turkey. The more she went into detail, the deeper was public’s shock, as they were squeezed between two worlds: Kafkaesque and Orwellian – which best describe Turkey yesterday, and today.

Accused of acts of terrorism, Selek’s drama began in 1998. Today, after almost two decades, she is still facing lifetime imprisonment, despite the fact that she was acquitted four times already. How?

Some time before going to Geneva, her lawyer had sent me a note, explaining:

Istanbul High Criminal Court acquitted Selek of all charges on 19th of December, 2014 for the fourth time. Just a few days after the acquittal, the public prosecutor appealed against this fourth acquittal and the case file has been once again sent to Supreme Court for further examination. Now, after the demand of the Chief Prosecutor of the Supreme Court for the reversal of the acquittal, the appeal will be decided by the Supreme Court Criminal Chamber No: 16” she wrote and concluded:

The progress of the case shows the determination of the dark structures inside the state apparatus to go on targeting Selek. This political case has meanwhile turned to a revenge mechanism against all oppositional people daring to criticize the status quo based on violence and war politics.’

After four acquittals, still seen as guilty; searched by the authorities; and in exile, unable to return to her homeland. How come? Well, for anyone with a rational mind, this case is a intense challenge to understand. But in a sense, Selek is a symbol of how desperate the ordeal of Turkish intellectuals and civilian activists was, and continues to be.

To give a brief summary: her drama had begun on July 9, 1998, when an explosion rocked the famous Egyptian Bazaar in the Old City of Istanbul. Seven people had died and nearly 130 were injured. Those were the times, the Kurdish insurgency had been at a peak, and the army, then very powerful, had the state institutions and main bulks of the judiciary under control.

The rest is as told by my colleague, Cengiz Çandar, who had followed the complicated case:

”The investigation of the incident eventually reached Pınar Selek, a young sociologist who had begun to acquire fans from the marginal sections of society with her contrarian actions. Pınar Selek was charged as one of the perpetrators behind the explosion, based on a statement given by a Kurdish suspect who was accused of having connections with the PKK. It was eventually revealed that his deposition was taken under torture. But oddly, that same person who was detained as the main perpetrator of the incident later said that he didn’t know Selek and that he was forced by torture to give her name. He was not convicted. By contrast, Pınar Selek spent two and a half years in prison until she was acquitted. The Higher Court then reversed the acquittal, and the case continued while the young sociologist was released pending her trial.

In fact, all the evidence pointed to an explosion caused by bottled gas. A number of expert-opinion reports submitted to the court said this was the case. Selek was acquitted once again, and once again, but the Higher Court reversed the lower court’s decision.

There was a new trial. Evidence was collected again, new expert reports were examined and Pınar Selek was again acquitted…”

19 years and four acquittals later, Selek is still seen ‘guilty as charged’, with an aggravated life imprisonment hanging above her head. As part of a farce, European Court despite a torturously long period, refused to handle her complaint, saying ‘you should exhaust all the legal paths in Turkey, before applying with us.’

Selek was, of course, not surprised at all with the ongoing ordeal in Turkey where tens of thousands of people on political grpunds are imprisoned, and common criminals were released to provide space for even more. In her eyes, nothing has changed in the backbone of ‘oriental despotism’ so recurrent in Turkey.

As I left Geneva, I was flooded by fresh data from Council of Europe (CoE). Its report said that the number of prisoners in Turkey had almots doubled between 2006 and 2015, while many other CoE member states had noted a fall.

Its relations may be utterly tense, but overloaded prisons in Turkey are, according to other reports I received two days ago, a powder keg. Lawyers linked with a mainly Kurdish solidarity organisation (ZDICK) announced on Wednesday that a series of hunger strikes are now under way, beginning from March 15 on, threatening to spread to the entire bulk of political prisoners.

In Turkey, demands for human decency has now turned into a perpetual battle. On Wednesday police arrested Raci Bilici, the vice chairman of Human Rights Association. State of Emergency evolving into an unsustainable way of keeping its vibrant society under a lid, Turkey is heading towards an even more intense confrontation, both within and outside its borders.

 

 

 

 

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How Erdoğan thrives on ‘crisis strategy’; a game on constantly inventing enemies

‘A spectre is haunting Europe–the spectre of authoritarianism.”

Is it fair to rewrite the first sentence of Marx-Engels manifesto in this manner?

Possibly.

As we observe the worrisome process of ‘Erdoğan vs Germany’, developing into ‘Erdoğan vs Netherlands’, it is inevitable how enthusiastically his relentless drift to test the intolerance vis a vis democratic tolerance is received by the far-right in Europe in general.

Authoritarian leaders have been known to to thrive over the conditions that the democratic tolerance provides. Their journey towards their ‘final destination’ defies checkpoints; their very ‘free ride’ aims to gobble up all legitimacy – by way of subversion of the rules and regulations otherwise widely agreed.

What we have been witnessing – with the rise of Putin, Erdoğan and Trump -, mind you, is only a harbinger of what we will see in the future; only more and more of it. Unless, of course, Western Europe has a strong enough memory, and practical means, to fend the spectre off.

But it does.

Every day that passes with what takes place in trauma-stricken Turkey comes as a confirmation of how Hitler enhanced his power to the point of no return – almost as a playbook. Accumulation of anger over historic treaties; reproduction of the illusions of grandeur, the constant invention of domestic and foreign enemies – all accompanied by lies. In many ways Erdoğan represents a reincarnation of the ‘supreme leader’ that is only possible with the permissions that make it possible.

But there is a big difference of then and now.

Some 80 years ago, Europe was caught unprepared mostly because of its lack of legal consensus – through international legal institutions – that would make life very difficult for ‘dictator wanna-be’s. Today, the main difference is just that: legal ground is stronger and its is high time democracies should exhaust all their possibilities to marginalise evil that threatens their existence.

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Erdoğan is in constant need for enemies – to keep his power base intact. He needs polarisation as a springboard for making it absolute, eternal. But, unlike Hitler, his invented enemies do not last long.

They are temporary, and slippery; they are either as cunning as his rule, or more powerful; and this very fact threatens his ambitions. His ‘enmity experiment’ with Syria has come to a bitter end with the latest developments; his arm-wrestling with Putin proved costly, showing that when thuggery meets thuggery all turn into a high-risk gamble.

The attempts to declare Lausanne Treaty as outdated backlashed, as the efforts to create a crisis in the Aegean with Greece – according to latest confirmed reports from Greek press – appears to have led to a clear ‘stop that!’ from Trump Administration. And, as we see, testing Germany’s patience by stretching the slander beyond all moral limits – comparisons to Nazism – doesn’t really seem to be promising for his purposes for maintaining popularity at home, in the long run.

History has taught us another lesson: If a power-grabber runs out of his political arsenal of confrontations, turn to the weak and vulnerable, more and more. So, if Erdoğan ends up empty-handed with how intends to instrumentalize Germany for his dreams as a single ruler of Turkey, that’s what he will do . Germany was seen as a useful punch-bag for a victory in the referendum, and indeed, if he wins, Turkey will be entirely redefined in the eyes of the West and its institutions.

If Turkey rejects the constitutional amendments in April 16 or, if by an unexpected act of panic the vote is cancelled before that, take it for granted that Erdoğan will do his best not to lift the state of emergency. It will have overlapped with the continued marginalisation in Syria and, if so, he will have to geometrically increase the oppression over the Kurds in Turkey in particular – perhaps, as some fierce critics say, hoping for an uprising which may give him a nationalist lead role.

Against that horrifying perspective, the current picture in Turkey leaves us about what to do to push back this geostrategically disastrous trend. Neither apathy, nor aggressive political escalation prove useful.

The EU has for far too long ignored Turkey. It has never been honest; it temporized with the hopes of Turks and Kurds. Jerking around with that society was like playing with fire, simply because it was at unease in the midst of problems whose solutions were long overdue; and it was known that a clear perspective of membership, however far ahead, was the medicine. Sadly, that momentum is lost, gone forever. Turkey has taken a sharp right turn, doomed to produce (and export) hostility and qualm.

Erdoğan plays just on this. He will not give up on either having his own anti-democratic values be acknowledged in the EU, or expecting that a decision to terminate the negotiations will come from there. Keeping this prospect on razor’s edge also serves his purposes.

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Have we run out of resources to deal with the spectre? As I believe, we have the legal base; and we need a full engagement from the good forces of the EU to exhaust all the possibilities. It is the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) which is nowadays feeling the heat, after a period of hesitation.

Yes, its relations with Turkey due to the breaches have always been troubled; but the way things have reached the breaking point since the failed coup in July last year requires that ECtHR is facing a historic test of make or break with Turkey’s commitment to the western norms. The Court’s hesitation to take over the cases until recently was because it had believed that Turkish Constitutional Court (AYM) would be responsive to the complaints from the dissidents and journalists imprisoned for months without even being able to meet their lawyers properly.

But AYM, apparently eclipsed by Erdoğan’s rage, remained silent.

So, most recently ECtHR accepted to deal with two spectacular cases without any further delay and this came as good news. The first one was an application by the novelist and former editor in chief (of Taraf newspaper) Ahmet Altan and his academician brother Mehmet Altan; and the second was the case of Şahin Alpay, a columnist and one of the frontline figures of liberalism in Turkey. Both cases are of the same essence: these ‘suspects’, held in jail for months, say the accusations are based on what they expressed as pure opinion, thus groundless; and they are being held unlawfully as prisoners. These are the two pilot cases of post-coup Turkey – which among many others also will be about the case of Deniz Yücel – and the way they are handled will shed a lot of light on how Erdoğan’s government will respond. This time with a difference: the legal judgment over the massive oppression in a partner country ‘negotiating’ with the EU will have to define its true path, also affecting its relations with the western institutions altogether.

Erdoğan hopes that, given the apathy in the Council of Europe about Azerbaijan and Russia, it may be ‘business as usual’, but he will have to be remembered that Turkey is far more special than any other country.

This crucial legal battle requires a full-scale engagement from the bar associations from all corners of the EU. Erdoğan’s government will have to be told that this is not the Europe of 1930’s.

One can only hope that much.

 

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Clash of Civilisations: With its two ministers as Persona Non Grata, Turkey exports its deep crisis into the heart of the EU

Once upon a time, yet not so long ago, Turkish President Erdoğan seemed keen on the leadership of ‘Alliance of Civilisations’; a project launched with the (former) Spanish Prime Minister Zapatero as co-chairman. One of the core ideas was to show the world how close the actual values of different faiths; that democracy would flourish regardless.

It is a distant memory now.

These days Erdoğan is busy trying to prove the opposite, willingly at the forefront of the Clash of Civilisations, as he triggers one crisis after the other with his – supposedly – negotiating partners in the EU, and allies within NATO.

Turkey’s iron-fisted leader is determined to establish a rule which, he hopes, will bring him into the league of Putin, Aliev, Lukashenko, Mugabe, Nazarbayev etc.

He is headlong into a race for hunting ‘yes’ votes for a referendum – due in five weeks – which, if he gets through his resolve, will redefine Turkey as an autocracy – where power as a whole will be under his personal command.

His battle knows no boundaries. It was therefore he exported the referendum campaign into European soil, where many Turkish citizens live.

Every vote counts. Since Emergency Rule means he has most of the propaganda machinery and spin under his control at home, he wants to make sure that the same applies to those voters living in Germany, Netherlands, Austria, France, Belgium etc.

But he hit a wall. Most of the countries mentioned are facing cruical, delicate elections; and their centrist politicians do not want the boats rocked in favour of the far-right, xenopohobic populists. Erdoğan and his men’s appearance, most of them argue, will just do that. So, no permissions were given for his party to conduct campaigns in those territories.

This is the background, where in his well-known rage Erdoğan called Germany a land of Nazis, and the crisis that erupted. This morning, the branding spread to Netherlands, whose elections are due in March 15. The Dutch had banned the Turkish FM Mevlut Çavuşoğlu a day before to come and conduct rallies.

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The rest of the story is, as told by the wires:

”Erdogan on Saturday likened a Dutch ban on his foreign minister’s visit to Nazism, in a dramatic escalation of a row over campaign events abroad for Turkey’s high stakes referendum The leader’s strongly-worded comments came after The Hague said it would refuse Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu’s plane permission to land ahead of a rally to gather support for boosting Erdogan’s powers.

Unlike in Germany, however, where a string of planned rallies were barred by local authorities, in the Netherlands it was the government that stepped in to block Cavusoglu’s visit.

“They are the vestiges of the Nazis, they are fascists,” Erdogan told an Istanbul rally Saturday, days after he angrily compared moves to block rallies in Germany to “Nazi practices”.

“Ban our foreign minister from flying however much you like, but from now on let’s see how your flights will land in Turkey,” Erdogan said.

The Turkish foreign ministry swiftly announced it had summoned the Dutch deputy ambassador in protest over the ban. The Dutch government said in a statement that its decision to bar Cavusoglu from visiting followed a Turkish threat of sanctions. “For that reason the Netherlands has let it be known it will withdraw permission to land” for the minister’s plane, it said.

The Netherlands is home to some 400,000 people of Turkish origin, and Ankara is keen to harness votes of the diaspora in Europe ahead of the April 16 referendum.

(Netherlands Government said it had proposed Çavuşoğlu to come visit after the Dutch elections, but that he had insisted on coming this weekend and had threatened to come no matter the response.)

Erdogan accused the Netherlands of working against the “Yes” campaign and said: “Pressure however much you like. Abet terrorists in your country however much you like. It will backlash, and there’s no doubt that we’ll start retaliating after April 16… We are patient. Whoever is patient will reach victory.”

The latest row came after NATO allies Turkey and Germany sparred over the cancellation of a series of referendum campaign events there.

Germany is home to 1.4 million people eligible to vote in Turkey — the fourth-largest electoral base after Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir.

Berlin has emerged as a strident critic of Ankara’s vast crackdown in the wake of the attempted putsch of last July, which has seen more than 100,000 people arrested, suspended from their jobs or sacked for alleged links to the plotters or to Kurdish militants.

Elsewhere in Europe, Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern has called for an EU ban on Turkish politicians campaigning for the referendum. And Swiss police on Friday blocked a rally supporting a “yes” vote in the referendum, amid uncertainty over whether the Turkish foreign minister would be allowed to host a similar event planned for Zurich this weekend.”

The escalation reached a peak on Saturday when the Dutch authorities prevented a Turkish government minister, Fatma Betül Sayan, to enter the Turkish Consulate General in Rotterdam for a political rally and, after tumultuous scenes, arrested her staff, and deported her as ‘Persona Non Grata’ back to Germany, where she had come from.

The crisis has led to severe threats for retaliation from Erdoğan and his cabinet on Sunday, as reported by the Guardian.

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Since the Turkish referendum, based on a proposal that Turkey shift to a fully empowered presidential system (without checks and balances; and separation of powers), is dated in April 16, more escalation is expected between Erdoğan and the EU (plus Switzerland).

And the crisis has already turned ugly, with several key points to be made:

  • In their unabated, limitless obedience to the iron rule of Erdoğan, Turkish cabinet ministers are following him like a flock, losing all the credibility they have abroad.
  • Applying a rhetoric towards Netherlands bordering a thuggish language, Turkish FM Çavuşoğlu is seen as responsible for nearly unprecedented act of getting himself declared as Persona Non Grata by an EU partner and NATO ally.
  • Erdoğan and the AKP government has lost further credibility, given the fact that it was they who signed under the amendments of the election law and a follow-up directive which bans Turkish politicians to conduct political rallies and election propaganda abroad and at Turkish foreign representative offices (embassies etc). By insisting they want to campaign abroad, they are the ones who break the very law they passed.
  • The main opposition shows also deep flaws in not attacking this breach. Instead, the secular CHP, echoes Erdoğan’s anger and supports his view that the European countries that impose bans should be boycotted.
  • The escalating crisis confirms a Clash of Civilisations in this context: it is a clash of cultures – that of the autocrats and of democrats. The power and resolve of the former are increasing as the other flank show growing vulnerability and erratic behaviour. This shows how deeply challenged the democratic orders across the globe are.
  • Once more Erdoğan shows the world how far this challenge can go.

 

 

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Erdoğan’s War

”Turkey has always been a worrisome country with less freedom that you could demand, but now, things have come to an explosive point. Since Turkey is still regarded as a, let’s say, European civilized country, it’s all the more worrying. But now… it’s no longer a European civilized country. There is of course a section of intellectuals, academics, people who read and think, people who are really the bridge towards Europe which we think much about and worry about.”

These were the words by Per Wästberg, President Emeritus of PEN International, and Chairman of the Swedish Academy’s Nobel Committee for Literature. Some weeks ago, during a visit to Turkey, along with the members of what was known as the largest PEN International delegation to ever visit a country in its history, he pointed – in an an exclusive interview for Turkey’s much admired book review website, K24 – to a person he apparently sees as solely responsible:

”Freedom has always been so precarious in this country. But of course I think the maneuvours of President Erdoğan now means a breaking point. Because he concentrates power in his own hands, and the judiciary and the parliament do not have much to say. That is a breaking point.”

Hard to disagree with Wästberg. If he sees the powerful president of Turkey as the culprit for the journey into the ‘pitch dark’, any dissident in Turkey would nod. The depiction falls upon a leader at war with most of the world.

If, as the new slogan of Washington Post says, ‘Democracy Dies in Darkness’, he is the one whose war targets it these days.

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In many ways, what was once coined by the famous Time magazine cover as ‘Erdoğan’s Way’, has evolved into ‘Erdoğan’s War’ – a political warfare especially targeting the weak, the defenceless, the underdogs who choose to disagree with his way.

As I keep underlining in this chronicle, Erdoğan’s War set its prime objective as darkening journalism. Although Erdoğan’s War spread to a much wider front over the past three years – since Gezi Park protests, as a milestone – the focus target remains unchanged. Why? Because journalists – particularly those in Turkey, are tough nuts, they won’t go without a fight.

If the recent detention of my brave colleague, Deniz Yücel, came as the sharpest wake-up call in Germany and beyond, better see it in the context: Erdoğan’s War chooses the most unguarded, yet ythe most efficient and democratically conscientious professional group – journalists as priority. It’s a one-sided warfare, self-evident in its cowardice.

Further more, it is a war against all perceived enemies, driven by profound paranoia; a warfare based on the assumption that the success and political survival is only possible by blackmail, hostagetaking and archaic form of negotiations. Others would see this from a different angle: Erdoğan’s War as ‘Permanent Populist Revolution’.

War, resulting as a victory againts the norms of civility, as Wastberg says.

Rule # 1 is: Criminalize journalism.

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Figures tell exactly how ‘succesful’ Erdoğan’s War has been so far:

According to the figures of Platform for Independent Journalism (P24) – an Istanbul based NGO – Yücel is 155th journalist put in Turkish prison.

This figure corresponds to more than 60 % of the total of jailed journalists worldwide, compared to the latest cumulative data issued by Reporters Without Borders (189) and Committee to Protect Journalists (259). (There are also claims that this is the highest ever number noted in a single country since the global monitoring of press freedom began.)

But this only part of Erdoğan’s War; the rest spreads all around. The case of Yücel came, perhaps inevitably, like a big drop which spilled over to the already sensitive relations between Turkey and Germany.

While pressure over Chancellor Merkel rises to tell ‘enough is enough’ to Erdoğan, most recent remarks by high-rank government officials in Berlin mean that a diplomatic rift is brewing, and Turkish ambassador in Berlin was summoned to the Foreign Ministry to be handed over a protest.

The question is whether or not Erdoğan will change his mind about how he regards media and dissent at home. Bets are, that he will not blink in the least: He is at war and will remain so.

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Earlier this week, he lashed out at large-circulation daily Hürriyet for a headline story which reported the ‘unease’ within the Turkish military on a new regulation allowing the female officers to wear headscarf. The background was of stuff worthy of a political earthquake, yet had passed by silently, due to an agenda overload. Ministry of Defence had bypassing customary behaviour, without consulting at least ‘in courtesy’ with the General Chief of Staff, issued a directive allowing female officers and other military staff to wear headscarf.

This was a historic break away from the genetics of an army, formed in 1923. It meant potential divisions in the military, because many Alevi officers are known to serve in it. In a nutshell, it was huge step towards ‘Pakistanisation’, a move to enhance Sunni patterns in a supposedly secular structure. It was obvious Hürriyet’s story, albeit bleakly, tried to shed light on the discontent.

Erdoğan’s rage was focused on the newspaper. ‘They will pay a heavy price for this impertinence’ he said. Hours later, Doğan Media Group that owns Hürriyet announced that its editor-in-chief was fired. No wonder many observers see this as the end of the remnant, semi- independent portion of Turkish media, a sector after the fall of Doğan now almost entirely under the control of the President.

It is now with Europe, Erdoğan is at war with. Emboldened by the State of Emergency as part of his Permanent Revolution, it is his norms against those of democracies – Germany and others.

Tension therefore is bound to rise further. Nothing will not change the already established fact that Erdoğan sees politics at home and abroad as a battlefield where no holds are barred.

He prefers to keep Turkey’s relations with allies and partners on razor’s edge, in the hope of hard-bargaining. Turkish journalists rightfully insist that their imprisoned colleagues and opposition figures are held as hostages for blackmailing the EU. That the number of jailed dissidents rise – as raising hands – constantly point at the brutal diplomatic gamble Erdoğan is engaged in.

Rifts are spreading into a large geography in the EU now: Erdoğan is not in very friendly terms with İtaly, following the ‘forced leave’ of his son, Bilal, then accused of money laundering. Relations with Greece went sour over an artificial crisis with the tiny Aegean islet, Kardak/Imia. Cyprus talks came to a halt due to his indirect interferences. High number of Turkish officers seeking asylum in Greece, Belgium and Germany placed Turkey now as a partner not fully reliable in NATO, as Ankara was unable to produce hard evidence to those allies about the coup attempt.

An equally biting headache emerged between Turkey and Germany, Austria and Netherlands about Turkish imams on Ankara’s payroll being accused as part of an informant and spying network over oppositional Turkish citizens in those countries. Same suspicion began to spread into Belgium, and Scandinavian countries as well.

If the world is his battlefield, European soil is definitely at its center. To reach his overarching goal to autocratic rule, Erdoğan feels he must also organize rallies in Germany and Austria, where more than 1.5 million Turks with voting rights in the referendum live. But, as it seems, the liberal stand of the EU has come to its limits: policians as well as media in those countries say that a politician with immense oppressive credentials should not be allowed to export the acrimony and polarisation into their territory.

The challenge for Germany is:

How should one approach a leader, who relentlessly continues to grab power, by demolishing the rule of law into a ruin; a leader whose party and well-controlled judiciary jailed the co-chairman of the third largest party, HDP, as well as 12 of its elected deputies, and imprisoned thousands of opposition figures from across the board, when he and his government seeks to expand the propaganda machinery into foreign soil, using its liberal laws?

Thus, rises an enormous dilemma, which will define our times to come:

What should be the mechanisms that democracies will deal with the leaderships swamped by authoritarianist methods?

How would democracies respond to autocrats waging war against their norms?

Who will win, who will lose?

Who will pay the price?

 

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Be realistic: 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 Cyprot ‘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.

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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.

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Turkish-Iranian feud part of Ankara’s balancing act, as power game intensifies

Amid growing uncer­tainties in the geopolitical game over the future of war-torn Syria, the sudden eruption of tension between Turkey and Iran is just another phase of sectarian arm wrestling in the region.

During a recent visit to Bahrain, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan raised the curtain. Talking about the forces that “damaged the Middle East”, he pointed at Teheran, saying: “There is Persian nationalism. We have to prevent this. We cannot just watch this oppression.”

These remarks were followed by Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, who accused Iran of “wanting to make Syria and Iraq Shia”. Teheran countered when Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi stressed that Tehran’s patience “had its limits”.

“We hope that such statements are not made again. If our Turkish friends continue with this attitude, we will not remain silent,” he said. The Turkish ambassador in Teheran was summoned to the ministry.

The exchange coincides with the rapid visits to Ankara of high-level US officials, including CIA Director Mike Pompeo and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff US Marine General Joseph Dunford. That Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim met with US Vice-President Mike Pence in Munich, where Cavusoglu’s Iran bashing was heard, is also note­worthy.

Turkey’s efforts in establishing a balance between the two powers is at the very core of the develop­ment. Having failed in its support of regime change in Syria, Ankara is in a fierce search mode to prevent what it fears most — an area of Kurdish self-rule along its border. In exchange, it offers its armed forces as some form of political bait to Russia and the United States, hoping to get a place as the third tip of the complex triangle.

Unhappy with the signals of warming of ties between US President Donald Trump and Erdogan, Russia has raised its hand by paying more attention to Kurdish demands. The most recent meeting in Moscow in which Kurdish representatives from Syria, Iraq, Iran and Turkey took part was seen as a counter move by Ankara and a new element for mistrust between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Erdogan. The Turkish leader then moved to act much more generously towards the Trump administration.

Not much has been leaked from the meetings between the top US officials and their Turkish counterparts but the focus of Turkish rhetoric has been about an increased role in the Raqqa offensive against the Islamic State. The efforts with Russia to establish a ceasefire west of the Euphrates become complemen­tary to Ankara’s strategy to bring the two big powers onto the same page in blocking Kurds from building autonomy in the entire northern Syrian zone.

Realising how solid Trump is in his view of Iran as the biggest state sponsor of terrorism in the world, Erdogan has been very swift to shift his well-known policy of confrontation towards Tehran. His move, he obviously hopes, will tip the balances off of Russia’s game making.

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Erdogan may be reasoning that if a closer military and diplomatic cooperation to antagonise Iran, which Israel would support in significant ways, would also involve Kurdistan Regional Government President Masoud Barzani and energy prospects, it would end in a win-win for the United States and NATO and grant Turkey stronger leverage to block the Syrian Kurds’ moves that it sees as an existential threat.

Then, he has also the sectarian — Sunni — element in his bag.

Analysts told the website Middle East Eye that the positions of the US and Russia on Iran clearly affect the stance of regional states like Turkey, but that both Ankara and Tehran need to be very clear about how much trust they wanted to place in Trump and Putin before facing off.

That Erdogan made his remarks on Iran in Bahrain is no coinci­dence. As Turkish journalist Serkan Demirtas pointed out in the Hurriyet Daily News: “Erdog­an’s tour to the Gulf countries, where he had extensive talks with the leaders of Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Bahrain, should also be regarded complementary to Ankara’s efforts to influence Trump’s future Middle East policies…

“This is a clear attempt to widen a potential Ankara-Washington cooperation with the inclusion of the rich Gulf countries… It’s still early to see this as an intention to create a joint block with Gulf countries against Iran but is sufficient to draw Tehran’s criticism.”

“Iran is extremely disturbed by Turkey’s Euphrates Shield operation in Syria and its military presence in Iraq’s Bashiqa,” Erdem Aydin, an expert on Iran at Istanbul’s Bogazici University, told Al Jazeera.

“Iran views Turkey’s military presence in these countries as a significant obstacle in front of its desire to extend its influence in the region.”

Iran also wants to cut Turkey’s efforts to create a Sunni controlled safe-zone in northern Syria at its roots, Aydin explained.

“The escalation of diplomatic tensions between Iran and Turkey came after President Erdogan completed a week-long tour of the Arabian peninsula,” Aydin, who is also a foreign news analyst and editor for CNN Turk, said. “We have reason to believe that Erdogan asked his Saudi and Gulf allies to finance the creation of a safe zone in northern Syria during these visits and Iran was of course disturbed by this development. “

Will Erdogan’s efforts to bring Turkey back into the big game work?

Much, almost all, depends on whether he and Trump strike a bargain.

Even then, they may fall short.

“The perplexing question is how long Turkey will be able to manage the divergent interests of the US and Russia,” wrote Metin Gurcan, a Turkish military analyst.

“Whether Turkey will opt for close cooperation with Russia or the United States in northern Syria is not a routine foreign policy decision but a major one that will certainly determine the route Turkey will be following in years to come.”

One consequence would be a fallout with Tehran. Given how masterfully Iran has played its cards since second Gulf War, the only great certainty is the tight­rope walk of Ankara. The cancella­tion of the Turkish-Iran Business Forum in Tehran, with a potential of $30 billion in trade, is only an early sign.

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A pianist in Turkey handcuffed: you’ll know it’s the end when the music dies

As I sat down to write these lines, the ever-developing story of Turkey continued to pass before me like a fast-forward movie – perhaps, like a docu-drama whose inspirational roots go back to Germany preparing for a referendum in August 1934.

I could not keep my thoughts away from the picture of a young piano player, in handcuffs.

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But there was so much more.

So, that, a little later.

The weekend had begun with the arrest of my colleague Deniz Yücel, correspondent of Die Welt.

It went on with the deeply censored events taking place in some Kurdish villages in Nusaybin, a town bordering Syria, where according to the opposition parties torture and execution of villagers took place after a siege that lasted for more than a week.

Photo of a badly beaten Kurdish peasant made public by Sezgin Tanrıkulu – a deputy of Kurdish origin with the main opposition party, CHP – raised the concerns. Yet the ‘mainstream’ media did apparently not see any news value in it.

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Then came the arsoning of the arts center, owned by Müjdat Gezen, a popular, secular comedian, known for his staunch opposition to Erdoğan. Suspicions were proven correct when he later confirmed that the footage showed an activity outside the building early Monday morning.

The arrests and releases and re-arrests of the parliamentary deputies of pro-Kurdish HDP has from last week on turned onto the ‘automatic pilot’ as a yo-yo game. The most recent example was İdris Baluken, HDP’s Diyarbakır deputy, who after being released, was sent to prison. Meanwhile, co-chairpersons of the HDP, were delivered some punitive measures: Selahattin Demirtaş -kept in prison since November last year – was sentenced to 5 months of prison for ‘insulting Turkishness’, while Figen Yüksekdağ, co-chairwoman, was stripped of her position as deputy by a vote in Parliament. HDP, shattered by the series of what it sees as harrassment, described the developments as ‘de-facto closure of the party from activity’, as Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım said that the ‘cancellation of deputyships of the HDP will continue’.

As the referendum approaches, all signs point out to a full-scale escalation, and demonisation targeting the opposition in general. An apartment flat belonging to a fiercely pro-Erdoğan columnist was shot at during Tuesday night. Nobody was injured, nobody was caught. And, during the same night, Selin Sayek Böke, an expert economist who is also spokeswoman of the secular main opposition, CHP, was busy explaining why she and her party was going to vote ‘no’ in the referendum, when the TV channel, CNNTurk, received a phone call, with someone saying ‘she will not be able to reach home, we’ll put an end to her life’. She was told to stay, and could fly back from Istanbul to Ankara under heavy police and special-ops escort.

Intensifying drama: Turkey enters a most delicate phase, with a battle between yes and no, to an absolutist merger of presidency and prime ministry. Stuck, legally, under the suffocating State of Emergency, which makes it possible for all the President’s men to set the scene for an autocratic rule: as I write this chronicle, not so coincidentally, a series of trials of putschists began, with a wide coverage of pro-government media, determined for ‘extrajudicial execution of all traitors’, and calls of the masses for reintroduction of death sentence. Wild West, in other words; but with a difference that the sheriff seems to be on the lead of frenzy.

I was actually going to write about the single tragic story – amongst many others – of Dengin Ceyhan. The decision to detain this young piano player came in the midst of the fast-forward footage from Turkey; its symbolique larger than its nature as a single incident.

This young man is well-known in his generation: he was on the frontline during Gezi Park protests with his piano, which he played in Taksim Square together with Davide Martello, a German-Italian musician. Later, both of them helped a campaign to launch scholarships – ‘Piano fo Soma’ – for the children of the victims of Soma mine disaser, where 301 workers had died.

Ceylan was arrested in February 14, for tweets in which he protested harshly against Erdoğan; and the court ruled that he deserved to be sent to pre-trial detention. Under the circumstances, it seems he will have to spend some time behind bars, like journalists, and many dissidents.

In a sense this arrest underlines the ‘left-overs’ of the spirit of Gezi generation, whose cultural resistance during the hot weeks in June 2013 was fed by their love for music – as a fuel for smart rebellion. Three years later, as Turkey is invaded by an aggressive form of provincialism and bigotry, not much is left of the power of music; as the urban culture and its sub-cultures that made Istanbul a magnet until a couple of years ago, is waning rapidly.

Erdoğan and his consumer-oriented provincialism has won; succesful in breaking the backbone of a generation, whose resistance based on imagination is torn apart, replaced by a sense of defeat, fatigue, retreat.

Ceyhan and his coevals had chosen the Pera District and Taksim as a laboratory for connecting their dreams with like-minded friends in Berlin, London, Barcelona, Prag, New York and elsewhere. But, the in-your-face policies of the AKP turned the entire neighborhoods in Pera to shopping centers; clubs of counter-culture being imposed alcohol bans and licence restrictions; a boom of vulgar tourist venues meant that the youth started to lose their appetite for meeting in those sizzling alleys.

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A recent, detailed account by a colleague, Zulal Kalkandelen, a keen observer of the sub-cultures in Istanbul, is alarming in its depiction. Hit by creeping Islamisation (AKP has 10 days ago begun a project to erect a big mosque at Taksim Square) and the series of fierce terror attacks, the music has been leaving a key part of its fertile ground, burying joie de vivre into ground, as she sums up.

‘Taksim and surroundings are the public places where opposition is the most visible,’ tells Güneş Duru to Kalkandelen.

‘Taksim is the place the power wants to tame. This is where the loudest disagreement, Gezi resistance, took place. For 30 years, maybe longer, the biggest dream of those from Milli Görüş (National View) was to build a mosque here. Now the final decision is made apparently.’

Another musician, Mabel Matiz, says that a lot of bars, concert venues, exhibition halls and historic places shut down. ‘Now Pera is much less diverse than before’ she adds.

Murat Kılıkçıer, member of the indie rock group, In Hoodies, says:

‘Darkness that spreads from the power holders has crept into all the social relations and now covers the streets.’

Hakan Dedeoğlu, publisher of the sub-culture magazine, Bant Mag, paints an equallygloomy picture:

‘Pera is now a place destroyed by the state’s violence and its anti-urban, visionless culture. Our memories of Gezi is buried under the abandoned ground of Pera, Taksim. People do not want to feel it anymore, so they don’t go there…’

This is exactly what Ceyhan’s detention means in depth.

When a nightmare in form of provincialism, bigotry, self-declared supremacy, cultural barbarity and ruthlessness invades a society, it can merge into fascism – as it received its legitimacy in the German referendum in 1934 – and kills, in delight, all the dreams of its youth.

This is how a society, dragged by violent illusions, commits suicide.

The current one, in Turkey, is a horror movie; and no force seems to be able to stop it.

 

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A Turkish scholar joins the elite exodus: ‘Fear, hypocrisy, deceit rules academia’

When Mine Gencel Bek and I had met – out of coincidence – in Boston in the autumn of 2014, we had no idea we would find ourselves as outcasts, although then we were concerned enough about what sorts of rocky shore the ship called Turkey was about to crash into.

I was a fellow at Harvard’s Kennedy School, she was a Visiting Professor at Massachusetts Insitute of Technology. We were both in the same area: I, a journalist; she, a respected teacher of journalism at University of Ankara, to which she returned in 2015.

We had not been in touch since those days, until I spoke to her over the phone the other day. I had known that she in a fury had resigned from her post, after an ‘enough is enough’ moment.

As much as I knew her, no surprise. Prof Mine Gencel Bek is not a meek intellectual, she could no longer bear the barbaric political oppression sweping through Turkish academia; the hypocricy and submission that has taken many of her colleagues into its grip.

She had handed her resignation January 30. A week later, the latest government decree ‘butchered’ 330 academicians, half of whom had been signatories of the petition for a return to peace table with the Kurds – called ‘Academicians For Peace’.

The most severely hit were her university and the top institution which was the main source of diplomats and administrators, the Faculty of Political Sciences (SBF). The purge was a pure political liquidation, harbinger of worse to come in larger sweeps ahead.

When Mine saw her name amongst the ‘fired’ by the decree, she had to laugh. Fired, after resigning! In a holy fury, she swiftly packed her stuff, got her family together, and moved to Siegen University last weekend.

Act of bravery?

Perhaps something that had to be done; in the name of a life in dignity; like many scholars, who left Germany in 1930’s, among other lands, to Turkey…

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When we talked on the phone, she was laughing at herself, to how impulsive the move has been. Her relief is the sense of being welcome in Germany, with many other colleagues nearby, that share the same fate these days.

More than the primitive political oppression, it was the hypocricy of her colleagues and intellectuals that she at the end repulsive, she told me. I knew what she meant: I had read an extensive, brave interview she had given to a tiny, independent-leftist daily, Evrensel, where she told in detail of the climate of venom and deceit in her school.

‘The anger, it’s exactly me’ she told Evrensel.

‘I had spent my 31 years in that university, and a faculty which has a claim to be critical, they never stood behind us who gave voices for peace.’

More than thousand petitioners had been since January last year been subjected to legal inquiry. After the coup attempt, she asked to meet the president of the university. The reason for meeting him was to demand a response on where the university stands on the legal harassment. She was told there was a way out: to sign a paper that says how much she regrets to call the state ‘oppressor’, and beg for forgiveness. She refused, many others did. But she started to have serious health issues when one after another her colleagues began to be fired, since September.

‘The rooms in our corridor were evacuated one by one. The name plates of my friends were unstiched the same day. Their names and publications disappeared from the website, as if they never worked there. I felt a suffocation, more and more. It was sheer treachery. So I went away.’

‘But it was not only the president or the dean who left us alone, but also many ‘friends’ who claimed same political leaning and those who should defend the principles. There were even those who did not even say they were sorry, to their fired colleagues. By the time I resigned, I got used to all this. The day after I left, I didn’t feel sad to those who claimed they were leftists, passing by me turnibg their heads away, running into their rooms, closing their doors when they saw me carrying away my boxes through the corridor. Some of them had not agreed with the wording of our petition. We had said ‘it’s fine to disagree, but please issue a text defending our right to express our opinion. Because you claim thşs school to be ‘Frankfurt School’, do it for your reputation.’ First they seemed to agree, then stood back.’

Mine resisted a while more, she says, for her doctorate students. And she received huge support from all of them when she resigned. While many of her leftist and seculalist colleagues kept silent, something else happened. Praise for their resistance, however limited, came from the other oppressed segment of academia: those accused of belonging to Gülenist networks – called ‘FETÖ’.

‘This was a wake-up call for me’ Mine added:

‘In our camp, many of my colleagues use the argument ‘oh no, they don’t belong to FETÖ, we know they don’t. There is something fundamentally wrong with this. ‘Ours’ can not be putchists, but the others served the coup? What is it to ‘belong FETÖ’? We don’t know anything really, do we?’

She is bitter now.

Many names were deleted from her phone list, and as she adds, ‘from my life’.

Then comes a reflection which I believe is a snapshot of a Turkey in early 2017 by a disillusioned Turkish intellectual, to stay with us for along time:

‘If we had gotten together when he (Erdoğan) first started to shout, we would not get to this point’ she told Evrensel daily. ‘But it not happen because of inherent nationalism, fear or whatever else… Media situation is, well, obvious. At the moment the best journalist is the one who doesn’t ask questions. The same with the academia…’

What she describes, in essence, is the rot – a key element that makes the social ground fertile for fascism.

To understand how deeply rotten Turkey’s elite is, let’s look at an account by another Turkish scholar, Prof Umut Özkırımlı, who in a fierce article recently came out with ‘J’accuse’ against Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, leader of the secular-Kemalist main opposition party, CHP.

It was about an academician, Prof İştar Gözaydın, kept jailed since late December. One of those who Mine had mentioned, accused as ‘belonging’ to FETÖ. What caused the rage of Ozkırımlı was the fact that Gözaydın was so respected internationally as a sociologist, with top credentials and expertise on religion, that she was about to be nominated by CHP in the last elections.

Besides, he revealed, Kılıçdaroğlu had asked for help and she had gotten her together with many scholar at her home over sa series of dinners. On his insistence, Gözaydın also refused an invitation by Oxford University and had even resigned from the Turkish university as the law required. And as an act of pure shame, Özkırımlı wrote, Kılıçdaroğlu ‘believed’ some in his party that she is a Gülenist, and watched by in silence when she was jailed in Kafkaesque circumstances. He does not even respond the calls by her husband, who was in despair before what he sees as an Orwellian act.

On and on, and down, it goes, in Turkey.

Land of tragedy, hypocrisy, and rot.

pamuk

What else can be said when a full-page interview with Orhan Pamuk was fully censored last Monday by the newspaper, Hürriyet, a ‘flagship’ of Doğan Group, whose editor not long ago was awarded by Press Freedom Prize of Deutsche Welle?

Censoring a Nobel Litterature Laureate, who in the interview explains why he will vote ‘no’ in the upcoming referendum?

As the Turkish saying goes, ‘Fish rots from the head down.’

 

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