Turkey’s venomous entrenchment

”We are not meeting anymore over dinners” said a friend of mine lately, over telephone line:

‘There is no more any will to do so. Many of us realized that after a glass of Raki or so, we start dragging each other down on the state of things in Turkey. The air of depression, bad mood takes over. So, more and more live in a coccoon format.”

The meyhane (taverna) life in Istanbul, İzmir, Ankara and along the coastline cities of Turkey has always been informal, colourful political forums of sorts, as many foreign visitors also have noticed.

Friends and concerned folks, intellectuals or not, regularly (used to) assemble over long dinners to find an answer to the eternal question, ”whatever will happen to this country of ours?” which reflected the dynamic of a country in pursuit of better conditions.

But what he told me, as many others also do, is clear: Exchange of ideas, animated discussions are no longer fun. The fear has become far too dominant, alienation so apparent, sense of finding oneself in the midst of a fierce Kulturkampf so striking, the mode of injustice so intense that, as he mentioned, more and more have been hit by depression.

We understand that the gloom has become a collective phenomenon. A parliamentary deputy of the main opposition party, CHP, had discovered that there was something wrong with the psychological state of the nation in post-coup that she had directed a question to the Ministry of Health about what its data base says on the number of people visiting clinics with complaints of mental health disorders.

The official response was worrisome. Usage of anti-depressants had gone up by more than 25 percentage points in the past four years. Nearly nine million Turks had as of the end of 2016 gone through mental disorder examinations. Only between January this year and now, the number of those who visited clinics are more than 3 million 240 thousand, the ministry confirmed.

”According to this data one of eight adults in this country visited hospitals on mental disorder issues” commented the deputy, Aylin Nazlıaka:

”This number is surely much higher because there are many other who because of social pressures and prejudices have not done so. The solution lies in the restoration of justice; that democractic order will have to be put back in action, that suppression of people who oppose the power must stop, that the land must quickly normalize. Otherwise we will all together sing a song called ‘I am going bananas’.”

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I was in a flash reminded of a movie I had seen long time ago. The great Serbian director Goran Paskaljevic’s picture, ‘Bure Baruta’ (Powder Keg, 1998). He paints masterfully in it the rage, frustration and intolerance which takes Serbia into its grip, due to extraordinary cirumstances.

This unforgettable satire applies to large urban parts of Turkey: The State of Emergency in political order which evolves into a collective state of mind, merging with it.

The ‘March for Justice’ – initiated by CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu – which has entered into its most delicate phase is at the core just about that. If it is ‘allowed’ to reach its final destination before Maltepe Prison, where a CHP deputy Enis Berberoğlu with a background as journalist sits behind bars, will it be able to have any impact at all on the lifting of the State of Emergency? Although many people agree that the genie of now also out of the ‘CHP’s bottle’, nobody has any idea whether or not the ray of hope on the horizon will brighten up.

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Yet the march has given a boost to the realization of secular, politically cautious Turks that once they lose their part as stakeholders for the future of their country; they will be condemned to a slow-motion implosion of their identity. They have started to see that there is no stopping of a resolve, by the AKP, to bring its ‘cultural revolution’ to a resolution, which will end up creating a Nationalist-Sunni supremacy over the other identities.

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Thus the shock or depression, that the educational system not only abolished the teachings of evolution, but also makes it de-facto obligatory to teach pupils, Islamic Law – which is Sharia – and force them to pray in the mosques. They grasp more cleary what some CHP or pro-Kurdish HDP figures say when they talk aout Turkey as ‘open-air prison’.

Some went even further, having inserted the term, ‘gigantic concentration camp’.

These descriptions will be persistent and more widely used, to decribe Turkey as long as the State of Emergency lasts.

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It has finally dawned on the ‘tame middle classes’, who feel with a great deal of justification that their ‘no’ vote in the referendum has been hijacked, that the the streets, the ‘domain outside parliament’ has to be a ground to take the struggle. Every day that passes, more and more feel emboldened to join; they are perhaps learning what the director Michael Moore had said:

”Democracy is not a spectator sport, it’s a participatory event. If we don’t participate in it, it ceases to be a democracy.”

On many fronts, they are facing a monster a ruling machinery which sees a political survival only by gobbling up more and more of freedom, as it becomes less than minimally rational. Despite growing calls, there is absolutely no sign of the AKP to abolish the State of Emergency.

On the contrary, the statements are, that there will have to be another three-month extension.

And another.

And another.

In this mood Turkey is approaching the first anniversary of the coup attempt – a collective act of suicide, which gave Erdoğan and his circle all the power tools to switch off dreams of democracy. In many ways, a cycle of twelve months is nearing a closure: dissenters of all sorts loudly refusing to be criminalized, main opposition decided about a long march and a self-confident, oppressive AKP preparing a week-long ‘vigil for democracy’ across the country. No anti-depressant will be strong enough to make one ignore this massive entrenchment.

 

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The ‘Grand Regress’: Turkey’s unbending resistance starts worrying its president

His name is Alparslan Ege.

For some days, he has joined the March for Justice, mixed in a crowd, whose number is growing day after day.

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”What do we want?” asks a cheerleader.

”Justice!”

”They won’t give us!’

”We will take it!”

Alparslan is 12 years old. A reporter saw him walking with his uncle, wearing a t-shirt with ”I Missed Mom and Dad” written on it. He is also carrying a placate, on which, a demand: ”I only want justice for my my mom and dad”.

His parents, reporter lets us know, has been kept in prison for 10 months, accused of belonging to FETÖ – an acronym found so useful by Erdoğan’s government that it applies to anyone who disagrees with his rule – and with no indictment in sight. We learn that his father, Ali Erdoğan, served as the mayor of the western Anatolian city of Uşak for two election periods. He had been a candidate for the main opposition party, CHP, in the parliamentary elections, in late 2015. His mom was an urban planner, having her own private office. Now, his both parents are in the prison of Bandırma, near Istanbul. ”I just want an indictment, and justice, that’s all” he told the reporter.

As the boy is walking by the Ankara – Istanbul Highway, people of Turkey wake up to an uglier reality every day. The justice system of Turkey – backbone of ny democratic order – is torn to shreds.

The vortex of torment has become a threat for whatever is left of the inner social stability of the country.

”Corridors of the courthouses are like a nightmare” wrote my senior colleague, 74-year old Hasan Cemal, recently. He had spent four days in the giant ‘palace of justice’ in Istanbul, covering a spectacular trial of prominent journalists. He was appalled by what he saw.

”Nightmare, because the justice fell off the map” he continued.

”Whoever you lend your ear, your conscience – if you have one – aches. To whoever you turn your head, be them with or without headscarf, be them Kurdish, Alevi or Sunni, it becomes more than apparent, stark naked indeed, how this great land is passing through a period without any rights or any law at all. The stories that you hear from the relatives or defence lawyers of the accused show in all nakedness what a gut-wrenching time we all live in. The pulse of those corridors is such that this country can’t go on like this; the day will come when it explodes. As you breathe this air of nightmare, it becomes so clear how far away from freedom and rule of law Turkey has been thrown. Let me tell you: Where Turkey with zero law and zero freedom will end up is the pit of hell. This is the summary of my four days spent in the corridors of Çağlayan (palace of justice).”

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After months – not say years – of systemic regress, this is where many of Turkey’s concerned, disgruntled citizens resorted to: Notion of justice, to be demanded, as the highest priority. The more shackles the judiciary produced, the more obvious it has become that democracy rises and falls with that word. Given the nearly complete governmental control over the judiciary, Turkey’s case is of a free fall, where bottom does not seem to be (yet) in sight.

Yet, Turkey’s approach to the territory of lawlessness has shown, as many of us observers had guessed, how resilient its social segments have remained. Erdoğan may go on, and he will go on, to construct a Central Asian type of a rule; but those who disagree with his project will never let it slip away quietly.

The resistance to Turkey’s deplorable ‘grand regress’ takes, though, different forms; all sending its own alarm signals about old and new problems which have kept the country in its tentacles, and pushed it to the abyss.

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The march column, led by the main opposition, CHP, keeps on, by increasing number of people, of all political colors, joining, in peace and quiet.

So far, no incidents, although the risk of a violent confrontation under the severely oppressive circumstances, seem almost inevitable. We will see how Erdoğan and his party will react if – or when – the crowd is counted by tens of thousands at the gates of Istanbul, the final destination. Pro-Kurdish HDP so far stayed away from joining, out of concerns for provocations, but now we know that there will be an encounter of two opposition parties, at the junction of Kandıra, where one of the leaders of HDP, Figen Yüksekdağ, is jailed, for months. From then on, it will be easier to see if the March of Justice has any potential to turn into a ‘democracy front’ to challenge Erdoğan’s rapidly brewing autocracy. How may he react at that moment? Will he use the state of emergency as a pretext to block the march, even attempt to crash it? Nobody knows.

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Then, you have others who demand justice by a hunger strike. Nuriye Gülmen and Serdar Özakça, two teachers purged by the government, and sacked for good, have passed the critical 110 days, having lost some bodily functions. Their case shows, no matter how morally justified such form of resistance is, how sturdy its tradition within the ‘left of the left’ remains in the country; and how strong its memory. There is no sign – and there will not be – of mercy of the authorities for giving their jobs back, and concerns for their lives are now so high that in the 111th day of the strike 111 intellectuals issued a petition, calling them to end it. One of those who later sent a message was Selahattin Demirtaş, co-leader of HDP in jail, who ‘begged’ them to do so.

March for Justice was triggered by the sentencing of 25 years of Enis Berberoğlu. He was the first deputy from the CHP to be jailed, and it worked as a wake up call for the party. Berberoğlu, who is also one of the two journalists with an earlier chief editor position (of daily Hürriyet) sitting behind bars, sent his support and thanks to the marchers.

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There are other forms of resistance. Ahmet Altan, the second former chief editor – of daily Taraf – declared in a spectacular trial last weekend that he doesn’t demand justice. Because, he argued, you don’t demand one in a place where there is absolutely none. Altan is accused, along with his brother, Prof Mehmet Altan and Nazlı Ilıcak, a 73-year old ‘grand lady’ of the Turkish Right, of inciting a coup by sending ‘sublminal messages’ in a TV show the night before the coup attempt.

”Your prison matters not a whit to me. I will keep telling the truth” he told at the end of a 70-pages long defence statement, which was labelled as a cracking manifesto by the foreign observers of the trial. He concluded:

”I am not the kind of man you can frighten. I am not the kind of man who will act in cowardice and squander the many decades behind me for the sake of the few years ahead…. Over 160 journalists of all stripes – leftists, Kurds, liberals, Kemalists, nationalists, conservatives – are in prison today. What is the common feature of all these people with such different viewpoints? That they all oppose the AKP. This simple fact by itself demonstrates what kind of state freedom of expression and the rule of law are in this country today. The whole world sees this fact.”

”I don’t trust the present day justice system – a system that arrests people without reason and tries them with untruthful indictments. Therefore I don’t have any requests either. Your ruling will not have anything to do with me… In one of his novels, John Fowles says that all the judges in the world are judged by their own decisions. So true. All judges are judged by their own decisions. You, too, will be judged by your own decisions…”

His detention will continue, indefinitely.

Meanwhile?

Well, meanwhile, Erdoğan continues to wage a political and cultural revolution. Not only evolution was dropped from the education, but also the pupils are now forced to study the basics of sharia, as each and every school will have a praying annex (Mescid). The entire property of the Assyrian community in Mardin is handed over to the Sunni tutelary structure of the AKP; Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet), which also refused in a new directive to summer schools the Alevi identity. Torture is back to become a systematic practice. After Sur, the historic Kurdish settlements in Silopi is also to be demolished. A new decree will make it possible to send all the purged who didn’t do the military service will be forced to be conscripts.

Meanwhile, if any, Turkish civilian resistance will gather around the demand for justice, in pursuit of rights and freedoms.

A very tough battle await all.

 

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Two former chief editors in prison, while Turkish justice is mocked by a manifesto

What the leader of the Turkey’s main opposition said on Monday would be enough to lead to an investigation in any ‘minimally democratic’ country. It would lead to the resignation of any minister of justice; even the entire government.

Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the leader currently on March for Justice – on its 13th day, at the time of writing this blog – was saying, in a nutshell, that Turkey now is country ruled by total lawlessness.

In a brief interview, he said he was given information from some reliable sources that three prison cells were prepared in İstanbul’s Maltepe Prison for the CHP deputy Enis Berberoğlu days before a court convicted and sentenced to 25 years on June 14, the tr724 news website has reported.

According to Kılıçdaroğlu this shows how deeply the government wields control over the Turkish judiciary.

“Just imagine,’ he said an went on:

”A person is being tried in court and no ruling has been issued, but three special prison cells are prepared for him in Maltepe Prison. Final preparations are made because it is known beforehand that the person will be convicted. It is known how long a prison sentence he will be given, and a place is readied for him.”

Berberoğlu, a friend and a colleague of mine, was first sentenced to lifetime impsronment by an İstanbul court on June 14 for ”leaking information on National Intelligence Organization (MİT) trucks transporting weapons to jihadists in Syria.” The sentence, based on Berberoğlu’s public statement that he was the source who handed over the files to daily Cumhuriyet, was reduced to 25 years in prison by the judge. He was rapidly placed in a prison in Istanbul.

It also meant that the AKP government has imprisoned for the first time a deputy from the main opposition, CHP. There are 13 deputies from the pro-Kurdish HDP party jailed earlier. Berberoğlu case caused a fury and an otherwise utterly cautious CHP launched the March for Justice immediately after the ruling. Kılıçdaroğlu’s claims added yet another shock that Turkish justice system had collapsed.

“This situation is one of the most concrete examples showing the link between the government and the judiciary. This is one of the basic things that legitimizes our march. A decision which was expected to be made by a court was made by the executive body. The court just read it” added Kılıçdaroğlu.

On another perspective, it should be noted that these were the days two former chief editors were on the frontline, accused of all sorts of high crime acts – such as spying and incitement to coup etc – which once more showed that Turkey’s downward spiral to lawlessness gives priority to journalism as the prime victims.

Berberoğlu had served between 2009-2014 as the chief editor of nationalist-center newspaper, Hürriyet and the other journalist was Ahmet Altan, who was a founder in 2007 of liberal daily, Taraf, was its editor-in-chief until the end of 2012.

Days after Berberoğlu was placed in jail, Altan appeared for the first time in court since he was arrested in September 10, 2016, accused of ‘incitement of coup d’etat’ by way of ‘subliminal messages’ that, the prosecutor claimed, ‘he delivered during a TV show a night before the coup’ last July.

In his defence, Altan, known for his boldness and sharp language, delivered a devastating statement of the indictment – which also accused his brother, Prof Mehmet Altan, a senior female journalist, Nazlı Ilıcak, of the same ‘crime’ (!), asking for lifetime imprisonment.

Let us now return to the lawlessness and have a look at the ‘reasoning’ of the court ruling about Berberoğlu.

The issue at the core of his trial was Cumhuriyet’s publication of Turkish ‘intel lorries’ carrying weapons to jihadist groups in Syria.

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But, it was not Cumhuriyet, contrary to widespread belief, which broke the story.

It was daily Aydınlık, a mouthpiece of ultra-nationalist Vatan Party, which had published the scoop two days after that the lorries were stopped for a search by Turkish gendarmerie – in January 21, 2015.

This story was followed up by a report, which included new details and pictures of what was found in the lorries, by Radikal daily (the reporter was soon after the publication, fired).

The irony is, of course, that, no matter how visibly the journalism is tried in the case of Cumhuriyet daily editors and Berberoğlu, the newspaper Aydinlik was not charged at all. (The newspaper has since the coup been a staunch supporter of Erdoğan and the massive purge and arrests, applauding the oppressive measures against the Kurds and Gülenists.)

I had questioned why Aydinlik, in the logic of what the charges were, was exempted from prosecution. My tweets found a great following, people joining to ask the same questions en masse.

The ‘reasoning’ of the court is so ridicolous that it is doomed to land on law school curriculums to teach how Turkish judiciary takes the lead, to stretch all the boundaries, to ‘reason ad absurdum’. It says, in a nutshell, that what Aydınlık had published was based on ‘guessing’ and ‘presumptions’, while Cumhuriyet had reported the story in a way ‘to shatter the world agenda’. It concluded that the core of the story was a ‘state secret’ that had to with national security, thus constituted a high crime.

Lawlessness has reached such levels and the judiciary has been hijacked by such a fierce Stalinst mindset that most of the indictments in Turkey these days are full of teachings in how ‘Turkish journalists should work and what is news and what is not’.

And the rulings are, without a shred of doubt, aimed at finishing all independent journalism that one can think of.

Let me finish this blog with some excerpts on Ahmet Altan’s defence statement on June 23, which amounts to a historic manifesto in the name of freedom against the tyranny:

”We are being judged and can be sentenced to life in a trial based on “sentiment”. What provoked the prosecutor’s “sentiment” are the things I said on Can-Erzincan TV during a talk show hosted by Nazlı Ilıcak and Mehmet Altan. As you know, the prosecutor, twisting and turning to throw us in jail, first sent the police to arrest us because we had given “subliminal messages” on that show.

When the claim of “subliminal messaging” was ridiculed not only in Turkey but also around the world this word “subliminal” disappeared as suddenly as an illusionist’s ball. In its place there emerges a new claim: “You knew about the coup.” This claim becomes the latest actor in the absurdist play written by the prosecutor.

Can a prosecutor write an indictment based on his opinion and sentiment? Can people languish in jail because a prosecutor sensed something? Can “aggravated life sentence” be sought for people because of a prosecutor’s sentiment?

According to the law, the answer to all these questions is “No.” According to the law, there cannot be a court case that is without any criminal evidence and solely based on a prosecutor’s “sentiment.”

But this happens here. And we end up having to respond to this nonsense.”

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”I am in jail not because I am a criminal. I am in jail because the criminals’ rule of law is in power. Such things happen. You get thrown in jail because you defend the law and because you are right. And the culprit can disguise himself as a prosecutor.

But no one should be afraid or alarmed. This will not last very long. The law will wake up one day.

Only those holding political power in their hands and their prosecutors don’t want the truth to be told. That is why they throw people like us in jail.

Let them, then, throw us in jail. They cannot alter the truth or change the future.”

Your prison matters not a whit to me. I will keep telling the truth. You should refrain from doing the sort of things that you are afraid that people will tell others about. Don’t kill innocent people, don’t be corrupt, don’t steal, and stop your injustice.

I have told the truth all my life. I am not going to give up on it now. If there is anyone out there who expects me to be afraid of imprisonment or that the idea of spending the few remaining years of my life in jail would terrify me, here is my answer to them:

Not in a million years. I am not the kind of man you can frighten.

I am not the kind of man who will act in cowardice and squander the many decades behind me for the sake of the few years ahead.”

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Over 160 journalists of all stripes – leftists, Kurds, liberals, Kemalists, nationalists, conservatives – are in prison today.

What is the common feature of all these people with such different viewpoints?

That they all oppose the AKP.

This simple fact by itself demonstrates what kind of state freedom of expression and the rule of law are in this country today. The whole world sees this fact.

The prosecutor who claims that there is freedom of thought in Turkey has also included three of my columns in the indictment in order to accuse me with putschism. There is freedom of thought, but newspaper columns are deemed tantamount to putschism.

Don’t you just love this version of freedom of thought!

It is the shame of this country and its judiciary that we have been thrown in jail and put on trial merely for our thoughts and criticism.

I don’t trust the present day justice system – a system that arrests people without reason and tries them with untruthful indictments.

Therefore I don’t have any requests either. Your ruling will not have anything to do with me.

In one of his novels, John Fowles says that all the judges in the world are judged by their own decisions. So true.

All judges are judged by their own decisions.

You, too, will be judged by your own decisions.

However you want to be judged, whatever kind of verdict you would like for yourself, however you would like to be remembered, judge accordingly. Because you are the one who (at the end) will be judged.”

 

 

 

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Posted in AKP, Erdogan, Media, Politics, Turkey | 1 Comment

‘Erdoğan knew of the coup beforehand, he even knew the date, and took a risk’

”A coup whose plotting was known beforehand, a coup not prevented, a coup whose consequences are abused for power is called a ‘controlled coup’. We demanded that all the measures against the putschists would be discussed in Parliament, but they did not… I do know, that there are many dark dimensions behind this coup attempt…”

These were the latest remarks by Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the leader of the main opposition, CHP, in a TV interview. Now busy marching ‘for justice’, his inquisitive tone raises as the first anniversary of the coup attempt that turned Turkey upside down, approaches.

”Just until recently, I had thought that they didn’t know about the date set for the putsch. But there is a fresh finding I have, which I have had confirmed…”

This sensational statement came from Prof Ümit Özdağ, a prominent figure of the ultra-nationalist opposition, known to have ‘deep contacts’ within the Turkish state. In a most recent interview with the nationalist daily Sözcü – whose top editors were arrested lately –  he went on to explain that in hie new book he comes out with revelations about the puzzling coup attempt in Turkley last summer and clarified what he meant:

”I wrote that Erdoğan knew beforehand about the coup preparations and knew who were involved in it. Until most recently I had though that they didn’t know about the date. But there a data that I reached and had confirmed. This tells that they akso knew the date and took measures. To me it looks like he took a great risk…”

So, after nearly a year, we have a coup whose plot is as thick as ever.

Özdağ, who is a maverick in the ultra-nationalist MHP party, injects new allegations and if his finding are true, we have new data that brings us closer to the presumption that this was a coup that could be prevented without a bloodshed.

People react near a military vehicle during an attempted coup in Ankara

People react near a military vehicle during an attempted coup in Ankara, Turkey, July 16, 2016. REUTERS/Tumay Berkin TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

But we are still facing all those major questions.

Who were behind the coup attempt in Turkey? Who ‘pushed the button’? Was the uprising possible to stop before it spilled onto the streets?

These three key questions remain as puzzling as ever, for the Turks as well as across the world. Meanwhile Turkey, a powerful NATO ally, is left with its vast repercussions, with a state apparatus in turmoil due to the purges; and an army with almost half of its top brass in jail, crippled in its combat capabilities.

A parliamentary commission set up by four parties was abruptly disbanded early this year shortly after President Erdoğan publicly called its members to ‘end the activity’, although he had no official authority to intervene. The writing of its report was, according to the opposition, done in secrecy; without any consultations. And when the draft report was made public some weeks ago, it was regarded widely as stillborn. Questions, asked since the day after the uprising, remain the same.

Some would even say, they are more then before. It became clear when recently the opposition parties, which had objected to the report, each published their bulky dissenting opinion. Theirs makes an chilling read, raising strong suspicion of a massive cover up.

The MHP, smallest opposition party, for example, stated that it had asked two key figures – prime witnesses – of the coup attempt, namely the Chief of Staff Hulusi Akar and Director the Secret Service, Hakan Fidan, to be called to testify. ‘The chairman (of the commission) assured that our demand be met. But we have learned via his TV statetement after the publication of the report hat he had not even bothered to write to them. Thus, the night of the coup is left entirely in the dark’ it said.

The minority report of the secular main-opposition party, CHP, was far more dramatic. 307 page-long, it argues point after point that Turkey was subjected to what it calls a ‘controlled coup’; that there were some among top Turkish authorities who knew about the coup plans. ”“The treacherous and bloody coup attempt was an unexpected, shocking and appalling development for the innocent citizens of the country. However, there were some who knew that (it) would take place and those who waited for it,” said the report.

Akar and Fidan had that day had met alone for 6.5 hours in the afternoon of July 14, when it became known in 2.20 p.m. that ‘there was a serous threat’, the report underlined, and asked: ”Chief of Staff had sent orders to all the wings in 6.29 p.m. which reacjhed them 7.26 p.m. Yet many commanders attended weddings, to be arrested then. This remains inexplicable.”

The third largest party, pro-Kurdish HDP, calling the coup attempt ‘a pretext for a counter-coup’, questions further why these two top figures failed to inform the president, prime minister and the relevant ministers in due time.W

While the three minority reports unite in claims that what happened in July 15 las year amounted to a ‘hijack’ of the system, by way of a hastily declared state of emergency, there was more to add to the questions.

Speaking to Vocal Europe, a Brussels website operating as a public newsletter service to EU circles, five senior Turkish officers who all defected to NATO countries, gave new details on what may have taken place. that night.

”Frankly, the coup was shocking for all of us, as we never expected it” said one officer:

”…most of those arrested we know would have never thought of organizing a coup against the country’s political authority. It should be said as well that there was a massive resentment among the public and the armed forces against President Erdogan due to the failing of the Kurdish peace process and particularly due to the developments that happened afterwards. Those purged generals and offices had liberal visions to solve long-awaited Kurdish issue, they believed in democratic ways for solving this issue rather than using military might.”

”Two weeks before the coup, some social media accounts that are now gone were referring to a coup in making. It is very clear that the coup was not known to us but it was certainly known to President Erdogan’s close circles” said the other.

Officers asked if the coup trials were so important, why they were not broadcast to the nation. ”President Erdogan does not want the realities of the 15 July to come up to the surface, and to be acknowledged by the public opinion’ said the third officer.

Overall, they were concerned of what they see as dismantling of a key institution, to be infiltrated by Islamists, and warned that ”…if the current setting will continue, we think that NATO will have, in two or four years, a member Army full of extremists and Salafists.”

Such additional data, published by the opposition and fugitive officers are certainly useful in the broader context. Yet, what we know at the time being is scarce; all the input strengthens the views that it was an uprising which involved Gülenists as well as pro-NATO flanks: That the forces who pushed the button remain yet in the dark and, evidence is deeper that the coup attempt was foreseen, with counter-measures ready at hand.

Özdağ was the last man in line to add to the debate.

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Turkey’s opposition marches for justice, as its media shakes hands with Erdoğan

”Knife’s hit the bone…”

With these words, Turkish opposition leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu started more than a week ago from Ankara his long ‘March for Justice’. 432 km and 20 days later, he hopes to conclude it in front of a jailhouse in Istanbul. His deepest wish is, naturally, as many discontented voters as possible to follow him all the way.

It is a major event if Turkey’s Secular-Kemalist main opposition had come to the point of ‘enough is enough’. During the rule of the AKP it has remained tame, timid, reluctant, no matter how much out of of power cake Erdoğan has gobbled up.

Till the very last, CHP insisted on a ‘legalism’ which was lef devoid of its meaning in a country where the rule of law entirely had collapsed.

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But there is apparently a ‘last drop’ in Turkish reality which pushes even the CHP to the street. Kılıçdaroğlu had refused the calls from the grassroots and the younger flanks of his party earlier, to withdraw from Parliament or, – as it was established by international monitors that the referendum result was highly questionable due to irregularities, – CHP would take to streets.

Now that he had finally decided, there is little surprise that people hesitate whether or not they will be let down – once more.

The ‘last drop’ was the 25-year long prison sentence delivered to my friend and former colleague, Enis Berberoğlu, who is a deputy with the very CHP. More than a year ago, Enis made it public that it was him who had handed some files on secret delivery of arms, allegedly to jihadist groups in Syria, to the editors of daily Cumhuriyet, which led to a spectacular trial of more than 13 top figures of the newspaper.

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Enis Berberoğlu

Enis was found ‘guilty’ of ‘obtaining state secrets with the aim of spying’, and, ‘aiding and abetting the so-called ‘Gülenist Terror Organisation – FETO’ without being a member’.

The judge had first ruled a lifetime imprisonment, which he lowered afterwards. The absurdity of the cases related to Cumhuriyet is that it was not the newspaper which broke the story; it was the ultra-nationalist daily Aydinlik – mouthpiece of the tiny Vatan Party (VP) – that had done it – as early as January 21, 2014. No charges were filed to the publication. Aydinlik daily and VP had become staunch supporters of Erdoğan’s ‘scorched earth’ policies against Kurds and massive purges; propogating a break-down of relations with NATO and the West. So, you may say that none of these charges makes sense and you are probably right.

Enis’s case sent huge shockwaves, nevertheless. He was put in jail because he had no longer parliamentary immunity: It was lifted May last year, and the blame CHP leadership was to blame. Because when Erdoğan angrily called for taking down the shield of immunity, citing the pro-Kurdish deputies to be sent to prison, Kılıçdaroğlu had supported his proposal.

‘You are digging your own grave’ shouted CHP’s left flank and outside critics, only in vain.

Well, what’s past is past, and now he marches on Ankara-Istanbul Highway with a placate that says, ‘Justice’, followed by thousands of people. No matter what, it’s a new phase in ‘Turkish nightmare’ reaching new depths every day as we approach the anniversary of a murky coup attempt. It shows that oppositional dynamic of Turkey will not fade quietly; the resistance will go on somehow, somewhere.

Yet the march is a fragile one, because it has shaken, stirred and angered Erdoğan, who first mocked the CHP by saying that ‘justice is not sought on the street’, and then delivered a threat: ‘Do not be surprised if the judiciary invites you somewhere one of these days.’

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So, no wonder if there is a growing fear of provocations to block the walk.

Each and every tragic or absurd case in Turkish nightmare turns into a litmus test to expose people in key positions and intellectuals where they stand; their existential choices.

Enis’s case has proven to be no exception: As his party leader on his behalf took to the streets, his former boss in media was busy attenting the ‘iftar’ hosted by Erdoğan at his ‘Istanbul Palace’.

Enis and I had been working for daily Cumhuriyet in the dark years following the military coup in 1980. Then we parted to our own ways. Enis was appointed by Aydın Doğan, head of Doğan Media Group, as the Chief Editor of daily Hürriyet in late 2009 and served as such until August 2014, and resigned, citing political pressures.

It was his time of ‘knife’s hit the bone’.

So, it was a chilling moment to see his boss sitting right next to Erdoğan at the huge iftar table, where all the ‘tame and obedient’ media proprietors, editors and columnists – more than a hundred of them – were present. The ‘iftar’, only days after Enis’s jailing, was obviously meant to deliver a new lecture to media on how to ‘behave themselves’.

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As Doğan and several other media moguls kowtowed, Erdoğan took the floor.

Everybody was all ears.

‘Some western institutions come to us with these chants about journalists in jail” he said. ”They are telling us (me) that there are so and so many journalists in prisons. Look my friends, I am giving you the numbers handed to me by our ministry: Of those 177 who say they are in jail because of journalism, that’s what they say, only two of them are press card holders. One of them is accused of murder; all the rest are in jail because of their relations with terrorist organisations. We say: Are you going to believe the documents and data of our ministries or the lies?”

 ”To run after news stories and being a tool for treason are two different things. There is no difference between those who make their newspaper pages to the command of terrorist organisations and those who take weapons and climb up to mountains. There will be a price to be paid for taking part in actions against the national security… Do not forget: justice is sought in houses of justice, not on the streets…’

He then went on describing the justice march as a form of terror.

And when he ended his address, nobody dared ask questions.

Instead, they applauded, intensely.

Some media bosses were keen on handing over congratulations, expressing loyalty, as Erdoğan discreetly called for censorship of the March for Justice.

CHP’s leader kept marching.

Enis and 177 colleagues were in jail; and their employers and many in the iftar hall who knew the prisoners well did not raise the issue at all.

To the attendees, no issue of Turkey was interesting enough for them to ask Erdoğan.

Then, at the end of iftar dinner, there was the routine they had all been waiting for:

Handshakes and photo ops with the President.

All smiles and soft looks in snapshots posted, and immortalised in the website of the Office of Presidency of Turkey.

One of the strongest smiling moments were when Doğan holds Erdoğan’s hand with his both hands, apparently very content.

Enis the journalist was a distant memory at that moment, maybe forgotten.

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But there was more we learned.

One columnist wrote his impressions from the iftar dinner, unable to hide his surprise, that the number of journalists who prayed had dramatically risen.

‘I was very emotional when I saw that so many from our media world were praying. It gives me joy that some colleagues whom I had never had imagined had also begun to pray’ wrote Kemal Öztürk, a former editor of Anatolian Agency. The crowd that night had lined up to pray behind the chief advisor of the president, Ibrahim Kalın,’ he added.

Another columnist revealed that there was also a dramatic rise among them who grew moustache and beard. He was told that

”His excellency is criticising all those who are without them, that is the reason why we do it..”

But the marching CHP was far more serious than the attending journalists. Party’s deputy chairman, Aykut Erdoğdu, had read the presidential speech and interpreted it as Erdoğan had called Doğan and other media proprietors to ‘give orders’ not to cover the ‘March for Justice’ at all. His tweets made a big splash.

And when a columnist of Doğan the day after called him a ‘slanderer’ because ‘he had talked to his boss and he had said that this was a slander to me and our president.’

Erdoğdu was quick to snap back.

‘When I was on the march for justice, I was told by many journalists that the iftar and speech means just that’ he wrote. ‘To Aydın Doğan: If the president calls you and editors and you all go running, then this is a problem. And if he equates the march to terror this means: do not write anything about it!’

A senior journalist, Nazım Alpman, was watching CNNTürk TV – a Doğan group outlet – the day after the iftar.

And he noted:

”I watched the 7 pm main news from beginning to end. According to this channel, leader of the main opposition party does not march for justice on the roads. And (jailed journalists) Nazlı Ilıcak, Ahmet Altan and Mehmet Altan did not appear at court at all!’

 

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Posted in AKP, Erdogan, Gülen, Media, Politics, Turkey | 1 Comment

‘Qatar effect’ on Turkey seems inevitable: ‘Twin brothers in arms’ are in trouble

Soon after the Qatar crisis erupted, worries started mounting in Ankara. Given the message sent by Gulf Arab countries leading efforts to isolate Qatar, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) were concerned that Turkey would be the next target.

What was behind such a percep­tion? Fundamentally, it is ideologi­cal closeness. ”In recent years, the two countries have developed an ideological affinity that has, in turn, spurred military and commercial ties between Ankara and Doha,” Middle East analyst Steven Cook at the Council on Foreign Relations wrote for Salon.

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At first sight, pundits were busy examining three areas: Turkey’s na­tional political interests, economic relations and ideological dimen­sions.

There is not much to consider about the first. There is a widely shared consensus among interna­tional experts as well as well-in­formed domestic opposition circles that Turkey’s foreign policy contin­ues to follow its course on a down­ward spiral because of Ankara’s per­sistent erratic decisions. Turkey’s once-famous “zero problems with neighbourhoods” foreign policy doctrine has long been buried. On the contrary, Turkey under the AKP faces even deeper conflict with its entire neighbourhood.

Qatar is likely to be the exception. Turkey and Qa­tar’s good relations rest on two foundations: Military cooperation and financial investment.

On the first dimension, two accords were fast-tracked through parlia­ment. As pointed out by Turkish reporter Fehim Tastekin, the first accord, which will be valid for ten years and can be extended for 5-year periods, out­lines a Qatar-Turkey Tacti­cal Division Headquarters to be commanded by a Qatari major-general, assisted by a Turkish brigadier-general. Some 500-600 soldiers will be based at the headquarters. There are now 95 Turkish troops in Qatar. An explosives demolition team with 25-30 members will also be going. The second accord will enable Turkey to train about 4,000 Qatari gendarmerie personnel.

The military cooperation ap­pears not to be crucial to Qatar’s present foes, the United States or Iran. Observers shrug, hinting that it will add to Turkey’s troubles rath­er than have a role of deterrence.

Many argued that Turkey’s na­tional interests have been redefined and replaced by personal (Erdogan and his close circle) and institu­tional (the AKP and its emerging oligarchic structures) interests.

It is clear Erdogan has tied much of his hope for political survival to Qatari capital. Qatar is Turkey’s seventh biggest direct investor, Deutsche Welle said.

The amount of trade — $710 mil­lion — is not impressive but Qatar is the second largest investor after Russia in Turkey’s newly estab­lished sovereign wealth fund, which has assets worth $40 billion.

Erdogan is doing his best to gain as big a stake in Qatar’s investment portfolios, which amount to more than $335 billion worldwide, as possible. Qatar owns 49% of BMC, a Turkish military vehicle producer. It has two Turkish banks, one of which ranks as eighth biggest in Turkey. More than one-third of the foreign currency inflow to Tur­key over the past year ($11 billion) originated in Qatar. For Turkish construction firms, Qatar is an oasis: They have so far taken over projects valued at nearly $14 billion.

So, the economic dimension is not insignificant but it is certainly not what is driving the AKP’s paranoia.

Erdogan and his team read the crisis as an attempt to redefine alliances and what they see as murky scenar­ios. The looming threat to Ankara, therefore, is that its dual alliance forged by an ideology, based on relations with the Muslim Brother­hood and staunch logistical support for jihadist groups in Libya and in Syria, will be targeted. Such is Erdogan’s reading of the two items in the Riyadh declaration, which talks about a) solidarity, b) a military alliance against terrorism — a Sunni Islam Front against the so-called Shia Belt.

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It is a kerfuffle, no doubt. Among the known knowns though, is the fact that, after the eruption of the Arab uprising, Erdogan and the AKP saw an opportunity to emerge as a leading force in uniting and steer­ing the Islamic world. It did this by endorsing Muslim Brotherhood movements across the region and beyond — all the way to Myanmar.

Merged with a neo-Ottoman dream, driven by Turkey’s urge for regime change in Syria, this discreet pro-jihadist stance continued, many pundits argue, until it faded after Russia’s intervention in the Syr­ian conflict. By that time, Ankara’s active interventionism had become visible to the whole world.

Therefore, argues Bereket Kar, an expert on Turkey-Middle East relations in Turkey, a breakdown of the dual alliance would cause huge losses for Ankara.

“Because,” he said in an interview with the news site Duvar, the “two countries have acted like twins while the AKP is in power. Qatar was acting like a bank for the forces that made the backbone of jihadists. This meant not only support for those but also those placed in Turkey.

“It seems unlikely that Turkey will let Qatar down but, if it stands against Saudi Arabia, it will then face the entire Gulf as a foe. It will mean a collapse of their invest­ments. So Turkey cannot afford to choose a side. We have a hugely pro­found problem here and Turkey has neither a perspective nor a regime character to act as an intermediary,” he said.

In the broader context, beyond the combat against jihadism, the Qatari crisis will inevitably target whatever is left politically of the Muslim Brotherhood across the region, with far-reaching conse­quences. Erdogan knows that if the AKP is perceived as part of the Mus­lim Brotherhood, it is the only one holding power, thus the paranoia and panic.

Posted in Turkey | Leave a comment

Stories of agony ad absurdum: The Judge, the Painter and the News Ombudsman

‘My friend Güray Öz – You lived in Germany for many years. You have lived to learn democracy and freedom. In Turkey, one learns about those only by reading the books! In Turkey, a new breed of people emerged; those who don’t even understand what they read. Democracy and freedom have remained trampled on. A free individual wants also the entire society to be free. You know that during medieval ages a lot of people were subjected to inhuman treatment, torture, persecution because of their philosophical, political views and creed. Today your freedom is taken away, but never your honour…”

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‘My dear fellow Güray – So many sins must have been committed on this soil that there are always people in prisons here. Tyrants who have forcefully seized the ‘land title’ of this country, have never been done with us at home or abroad; it doesn’t seem to end. No matter how many years we are in this struggle, there have always been greetings sent to those ‘inside’. Today I send you those…”

These two published letters – first by Cezmi Doğaner, the second by Rahmi Yıldırım – have been sent to a peculiar ‘political’ prisoner.

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Our colleague Güray Öz, is one of the 13 top figures of Cumhuriyet daily held behind bears for 230 days – nearly 8 months – and he is the newspaper’s ‘ombudsman’.

He was serving for years in this noble role as ‘readers’ editor’ – taking in complaints about the content of the daiy and conducting independent inquries, writing a free column every week. ‘News ombudsman’ post has been a rarity in Turkish context – a tough job.

I remember it more than well, since I was the first ever readers’ editor in Turkey, serving as such for 15 years from 1999 until I was fired during Gezi protests. I met Güray, many years later, during a conference organized by Ebert Stiftung in Istanbul. It was early 2015; and we somehow knew that the calamity that would turn Turkey upside down was on the march. Although we disagreed in certain issues, I knew that I was talking to a gentle soul, open to listen to all sorts of ideas.

I am writing this because it should be noted that what makes Öz’s peculiar case is that he will go down in history as the first news ombudsman in the world to be jailed as part of a witch hunt.

This means that Turkish authorities have indicted a colleague with charges between 9 – 29 years of prison, alleging absurdly, ‘aiding a terror organisation without being its member’ – now along with the top editors of Cumhuriyet, also its conscience is behind bars; uncertain when he will be free. Irony upon irony: Öz and his friends’ first trial is set for July 24, which is celebrated by Turkish journalists as the anniversary ‘lifting of censorship’ – dating back to 1908.

No wonder that the deeper oppressive measures in Turkey become, the more absurd the tyrannic mindset exposes itself. It’s a well known pattern of history; but in current Turkish case, it simply boggles the minds.

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Have you heard about the recent case of (Ms) Zehra Doğan?

Let me tell you. Zehra is both a painter and a journalist who served as reporter and editor with the now-closed Kurdish Jin Haber Agency until she was arrested on June 12 and put on jail. She was sentenced to two years, nine months, and 22 days in prison.

The reason?

”For her paintings, for reporting about a Kurdish kid during the curfew, and for some social media notes” according to her lawyer.

Zehra had stayed in Kurdish town of Nusaybin during the security operations between 2015 and 2016 and was very intense in painting about the ‘siege’ of town. A week after the coup attempt she was arrested, and during her time in prison she continued to paint more, which she later displayed in an exhibition.

According to artnet.com website, the court handed down the sentence because she drew Turkish flags on buildings destroyed by Turkish force and it was Doğan’s sharing of the image of her work was the cause for her prison sentence.

“I was given two years and 10 months [jail time] because I painted Turkish flags on destroyed buildings. However, [the Turkish government] caused this. I only painted it,” Doğan posted in a now-deleted tweet.

“Art and paintings can never be used in such a way,” said Doğan’s lawyer, Asli Pasinli, according to an international organization committed to freedom of expression and creative activism.

“This is an attack on art and artistic expression.”

It is arguments like this coming from the defence of the accused that make the least impression or impact in today’s Turkey.

Or outside.

How could it, even when the most representative body in today’s world, the UN, begs to no avail to release a Turkish judge serving at the Hague-based UN Mechanism for the International Criminal Tribunals (MICT)?

Have you heard about the case of the case of Aydın Sefa Akay?

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Aydin Sefa Akay, Judge at UN Special Human Rights Court

His story is among thousands in the twilight zone called Turkey.

Let me tell you more.

Akay is a 66-year-old judge who is member of a five-member UN panel assigned in July to review the judgment of former Rwandan planning minister Augustin Ngirabatware. He was appointed to the position due to his impeccable credentials, until the nightmare began in late September last year when he was arrested for having a messaging application on his phone that was allegedly used by many of the plotters in the coup.

”Manslaughter”, ”membership of the Gülenist Terror Organisation (FETO)” and ‘attempt to overthrow the constitutional order” are the charges he was jailed for.

 As a member of the MICT, Akay was granted full diplomatic immunity. In January, MICT gave Turkey a deadline till mid February to release Akay and halt legal proceedings; because he had the immunity.

To no avail.

Ankara claims the arrest has nothing to do with his official position, thus no immunity. He is still in prison, probably indefinitely.

Meanwhile, MICT is paralysed, unable to proceed in Rwandan case. All Theodor Meron, MICT’s President, can do is to complain that Ankara ignores his requests. The United Nations even referred Turkey to the Security Council for its continued incarceration, but as with many other instances in the world about Turkey, it equals to talking to a thick wall.

The grand irony is – there is an irony in almost every case in the pile of tragic purges in Turkey – that Akay is a man of the so-called ‘white elite’ in his homeland. Staunchly republican, his family is resident in one of Istanbul’s hardcore secular districts.

Outspoken as he is, he had made clear two points when he was arrested. He had downloaded the messaging app (‘bylock’) out of the blue, from Google Play Store, he said; he had no idea that many Gülenists were accused of being part of the coup plot because of it. ‘Not every one who uses it can be a FETO member. I am definitely not one. I did not even put a password on it’ he said.

His second point was, to say the least, profound.

Akay made it clear that, if any organisation, he was a member of the ‘Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of Turkey’. (This was repeated by his wife, in a lengthy interview done later with a western publication.)

Had there been any hint of an insight, memory or intelligence left among his interrogators, they should have known.

A ‘Gülenist’ being at the same time a ‘Mason’ is exactly like a Likud member being part of Hamas.

When I was finishing this blog, news ticker told me that Akay was found ‘guilty’ of FETO membership, because he had the app. He was sentenced to 7 and half years of prison. On waiting for appeals decision Akay was released, but he will remain banned from travelling abroad. So Meron and IMCT unfortunately will have to wait more to oversee Rwandan genocide case.

Öz, Doğan, Akay…

Reminiscent of the Rod Stewart album title, ‘every portrait in Turkish twilight zone tells a story’ these days.

I could tell you more. I will. It is only through those human stories this despicable Turkish nightmare will vividly be remembered years later.

 

Posted in AKP, EU, Media, Turkey | 2 Comments

Turkish academia suffers of collapse as purged academics call for global boycott

The crackdown on the freedom of expression and dissent since the failed coup in July 15 last year has reached epic proportions in Turkey. The effects of the continous severe blows to journalism is by now well known. Another area where the oppressive measures intensely focus is the academia, where the very existence of independent research is endangered to maximum.

What are the effects of the state of emergency, which was launched in July 20 last year, on the universities so far?

”The Justice and Development Party (AKP) government under the strict rule of Turkey’s autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has sacked more than 8,000 critical academics and led to 28 percent decrease in academic output since the failed coup attempt on July 15, 2016, showed a report released by a London-based research group focusing on the sufferings of the academicians in Turkey under the successive state of emergencies” reported the Stockholm Center for Freedom (SCF), a monitoring website based in Sweden.

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The survey is done by Freedom for Academia, a group of British and Turkish academics/researchers willing to lend a helping hand to their colleagues and bring the injustices to the attention of the global public and academic circles. They also aim to liaise and cooperate with other groups believing in similar principles and help them help other persecuted academics.

Here are the details, as reported by SCF:

”The study, conducted by Freedom for Academia, has shown the short-term effects of the large-scale purges carried out by the autocratic Erdoğan regime targeting Turkey-based academics. According to the study, purge of more than 8,000 academicians in Turkey has resulted in many universities and academic departments to close – leaving many students without lecturers, many hospitals to be left with a lack of key personnel, and many scientific projects funded by the state to come to an abrupt end.

The survey has also shown that the large-scale dismissal of academics has had effects on the research outputs of Turkey-based academics with a significant reduction (~28% on average) in the research output of Turkey-based academics in 2017 regardless of academic field. The study has also stated that the long-term effects of the draconian measures taken by the government on Turkey-based research and academia remains to be seen.

Stressing that the AKP government wasted no time in using the coup attempt as an excuse to suppress all dissent, the survey figures out how the government has purged tens of thousands of public employees including academics.

“All those purged lost their right to work in any public institution and had their passports cancelled – thus could not travel abroad to find work. Most of those purged were either imprisoned and/or detained for at least a certain amount of time. Some have even had their assets seized and/or bank accounts frozen. Gross human rights violations were reported, with concrete evidence for physical, psychological, and emotional torture in prisons,” said the survey.

With the numerous executive decrees over 8,000 academicians have been purged, Freedom for Academia stated that “Apart from the universities that have been shut down entirely, these large-scale purges have led to many academic departments to close and leaving many students without lecturers, many hospitals left with a lack of key personnel as many medical academics were also serving part-time, and many projects funded by the state to come to an abrupt end. Consequently, these changes have had negative psychological, emotional, and social effects on the population, but also had an impact on the research output of Turkey-based academics.”

The survey identified there was a significant decrease of 28 percent on average in the number of research outputs of Turkey-based academics in 2017, regardless of the academic field.

According to the survey results the most affected fields were the Social Sciences, and Medicine, with a total reduction of 44 percent and 36 percent in the number of published articles by Turkey-based academics, respectively.

Freedom for Academia has stated that this sharp decline in the research output in 2017 compared to 2016 becomes more striking when 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015 figures are brought into the equation, as a stable upward trend in the research output of Turkey-based academics was observed in this time period (excluding 2017) – with, on average of 5 percent more articles being published compared to the previous year, every year, across all fields.

Before the purges Turkey had about 150,000 academics, including by 22,000 Professors, about 14,500 Associate Professors and about 34,000 Assistant Professors. With a series of decrees, the AKP government purged as of May 15, 2017 over 8,300 academics, which is 6 percent of all academicians in Turkey.

Emphasizing over the fact that the AKP government has mainly targeted influential critics including prominent academics such as 82-year-old Prof. Öget Öktem-Tanör (Neuropsychology), Prof. Sedat Laçiner (Political Sciences), Prof. Mehmet Altan (Economics), Prof. İbrahim Kaboğlu (Constitutional Law), Prof. A. Özdemir Aktan (General Surgery), Prof. Melek Göregenli (Social Psychology), Prof. Ayşe Gül Yılgör (Economics and Administration), Prof. Haluk A. Savaş (Psychotherapy) and Prof. Ayşegül Jale Saraç (Physiotherapy), Freedom for Academa said that this figure is likely to be an underestimate within the more senior positions.

Freedom for Academia has also warned that, “it is conceivable that the long-term effects may be more catastrophic for Turkey-based research and science because many academics who have not been sacked still fear for their jobs (and imprisonment, as mentioned above, many who have been sacked are in prison) as many of them are being monitored by overzealous university rectors and deans. Carrying out research has therefore become secondary to numerous academics, and many who have the capacity are looking for jobs abroad; and this is bound to lead to a ‘brain drain’, detrimental to the country’s higher education and science systems.”

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According to a report by the state-run Anadolu news agency on May 28, quoting Bekir Bozdağ, Turkish Minister of Justice, 154,694 individuals have been arrested and 50,136 have been sent to pretrial detention due to alleged Gülenist and/or PKK links since the failed coup attempt.

In a separate blog (dedicated to a purged Turkish scholar who committed suicide), Umut Özkırımlı- an academic based in University of Lund, Sweden puts the picture in a broader context:

”Turkish government’s ‘war on academe’ is neither unique nor new. Anti-intellectualism has been the hallmark of authoritarian or totalitarian regimes, past and present, left and right, and a defining feature of populism—the dreary buzzword of the times we live in. Not a day passes by without a politician or a pundit targeting reputable institutions of higher education or chastizing ‘sneering liberal elites’, ‘Leftist academics’, ‘SocJus Activists’, whether it is Viktor Orbán pushing for a bill that would force Central European University in Budapest to close its doors, Donald J. Trump accusing Global Warming scientists ‘to be stuck in ice’, Michael Gove (a leading figure of the Brexit campaign) declaring ‘People in this country have had enough of experts’, to name but a few… the case of Turkey (must be seen) as part of a global attack on academic freedom, an attack that could only be countered by developing transnational networks of solidarity firmly grounded precisely in those values that the likes of Erdoğan, Orbán, May, Trump, and their ideological kith and kin across the world are determined to eradicate.”

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What to do? Many academicians – especially those who are part of a remarkable exodus, reminiscent of the days in 1930’s Germany – seem not willing to let go quietly. They are determined to combat forgetting, by way of enhancing the campaign against what they see as tyrannical methods.

A group of widely persecuted ‘Academics for Peace’ have mot recently launched a worldwide call for ‘academic boycott of Turkey’, with the slogan ‘Do not be a part of the crimes in Turkish higher education’.

Here are some of the reasons:

  • University Rectors encourage staff and students to spy on and incriminate academics suspected of a critical stance towards the government, particularly the signatories of theAcademic for Peace declaration;
  • A young academic, Dr Mehmet Fatih Traş, committed suicide after his contract at Çukurova University was terminated and his job applications to several universities were turned down on the grounds that he is a security risk;
  • Graffiti on academic staff office doors, hate speech and criminal threats against critical academics have become wide-spread practices used and tolerated on- and off-campus;
  • Students supporting dismissed lecturers are persecuted and dismissed;
  • The Higher Education Council (YÖK) and the University Rectors work with, and upon instructions from, the National Intelligence Agency and the police to draw lists of academics to be dismissed;
  • Lists of dismissals are approved by the government and the President; and implemented via state of emergency decrees without the right for appeal;
  • The government-controlled publisher of academic journals (the National Academic Network and Information Centre – ULAKBIM) has instructed journal editors to removeAcademics for Peace signatories from editorial and reviewer boards;
  • Conference organisers are excluding dismissed Academics for Peace from conferences, seminars and workshops under threats from and/or in collaboration with the government and higher education bodies;
  • The government-controlled Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey (TÜBİTAK) has: (a) terminated existing grants to and rejected funding applications by Academics for Peace; (b) terminated the scholarships to PhD students who signed theAcademics for Peacedeclaration while researching in universities outside Turkey; (c) forced funded PhD students to submit statements on their research with a view to ensure that their research does not harm national interests; (d) forced Academics for Peace signatories to withdraw their names from published or under-review work that it had funded in the past; and (e) stopped printing books on the theory of evolution and has increased support for shady ‘research’ projects that champion creationism.”

”Therefore,” the petitioners concluded, ‘We call on all institutions of higher education, funding councils, academic and professional associations, and individual faculty members to boycott the Turkish higher education system. The aim of the academic boycott is ensuring that all dismissals are revoked and the persecution of academics, exacerbated under the state of emergency regime, is ended. The boycott is targeted against complicit universities and higher education institutions as follows:

  • Declare a moratorium on ALL future collaborations with the Higher Education Council (YÖK) and the Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey (TÜBİTAK), who violated the right for academic freedom and betrayed the international norms on higher education;
  • Declare a moratorium on ALL future collaborations with rectors of the complicit universities, who not only violated the right for academic freedom and betrayed the international norms on higher education, but also acted like an extended arm of the intelligence agencies in their universities;
  • Suspend the membership of all YÖK and TÜBİTAK officials and of all complicit university rectors  in professional, business and educational associations;
  • Declare a moratorium on ALL future research collaborations with ANY complicit university (list at: link);
  • Declare a moratorium on ATTENDING ANY future academic or professional conference/workshop/seminar sponsored and/or co-organised by or held at YÖK, TÜBİTAK or any of the complicit universities in Turkey and elsewhere;
  • Declare a moratorium on HOLDING or ORGANISING ANY future academic or professional conference/workshop/seminar at any of the complicit universities in Turkey.

 

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With the main opposition party gaping, Erdoğan launches ‘cultural revolution’

”The constitutional referendum and the authorities’ handling of the campaign that preceded it have reinforced concerns that Turkey is descending ever deeper not only into authoritarianism but into lawlessness.

Indeed, the refusal to provide the referendum result with a patina of legality – such as by promising to investigate the alleged irregularities and then declaring that no evidence of wrongdoing had been uncovered – suggests that the regime no longer feels the need to maintain even the semblance of the rule of law.

For Erdoğan’s diehard followers, his victory on April 16 was proof of his strength and resilience in the face of what they imagine are the foreign conspiracies that are constantly seeking to undermine him.

In reality, it was another sign of his growing weakness, proof that – amid his continuing attempts to suppress any expression of dissent – he can no longer remain in power by democratic means.”

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This is how Gareth Jenkins – a Nonresident Senior Fellow with the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies – in his latest blog, summarizes the post-referendum mood in Turkey.

Recently, at a meeting with the AKP board members, Erdoğan had revealed in a nearly perfect summary how he has seen the past four years of Turkey:

”We are talking about a process which began in May 2013 with Gez events, continued with the ‘coup attempt’ in December 17-25 (the same year) against the police and judiciary, which was followed up by local and presidential elections in 2014, and with the parliamentary elections in 2015, gaining later a bloody dimension by the PKK’s ‘street trenches’ and attacks by DAESH, reaching a peak, as it were, by FETO’s coup attempt in July 15; and having a ‘finale’, for the time being, in the referendum in April 16.”

Perhaps not surprisingly, protests of the opposition after the allegedly rigged referendum died down quickly. Only a few pockets of people took to the streets, and they had not much sympathy from the main opposition party, CHP, for their spontaneous actions. When also Europe failed to make enough noise about the result, despite the report of the international observers, their joy faded quickly.

The overall mood in Turkey is a deep sense of despair; helplessness.

‘No’ camp was never united within, and each segment delivering its own ‘no’ – be them secular Kemalists, Kurds, some disconented Turkish nationalists or leftists – it dispersed as quickly as it had assembled. What’s left is only a weak debate – limited to some circles in Istanbul and Ankara – about how to make the ‘no’ camp stronger in the nest elections – in 2019.

At the moment, it lacks subtance; nobody, it seems, have any idea how the CHP and its seculars can get together at the same table with the Kurdish Politiical Movement, and with anti-Erdoğan Turkish nationalist groups, for example.

Erdoğan, the grandmaster of Machiavellian politics, knows this: It’s an unchanged picture of the opposition, which he sees as very encouraging for the next steps – leaps, indeed – he intends to take as the finalization of the autocratic architecture by the end of 2019.

He has most recently made it clear that the road map will have two parallel paths:

  • Further consolidation of AKP-MHP ‘Islamo-Nationalist Coalition’ in Government, Parliament and Judiciary
  • AKP-branded ‘culture revolution’: Massive campaign to Turkify and Islamify the society and its lifestyle

In an apperance at the conservative foundation Ensar – which was earlier accused of child abuse – Erdoğan said the following:

”It is one thing to have the political power, and another thing to have social and cultural power. We are in political power for 14 years, but still have some issues with social and cultural power. I very well know that in many areas ranging from technology to law, from media to cinema, there are individuals and groups and teams and flanks in influential positions whose mentality are alien to their country and people. I am deeply saddened by this.”

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This is a declaration of a ‘cultural revolution’, by a leader who no longer sees large obstacles for a social engineering he for so long yearned for.

Interestingly, Erdoğan conceptulaizes his vision, putting it into a context.

‘Vision of 2053’ he calls it.

It is symbolized by a ancient Turkish myth: ‘Crimson Apple’.

In a meeting with some youth representatives in his palace he said a week ago:

”We are building Turkey of 2013 for you and with you. And Turkey of 2053, which is our next ‘Crimson Apple’ is entrusted to you in full.”

Crimson Apple is a term associated with the ancient Turkish tribe, Oguz, believed to be the founding group of the Ottoman Empire, which symbolizes a dream of a state, or endless series of conquests. It is an age old ideal of global expansion, glorified by the ultra-nationalist republican Turks as well as those who look at Ottoman era with nostalgia.

In many interpretations, Crimson Apple, came after the conquest of Istanbul to symbolize all the European cities within reach, to be sieged and conquested. In this context, ‘Vision of 2053’ corresponds to the 600th anniversary of the fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman troops.

The picture taken at the construction site of the new airport of Istanbul, with 1453 trucks last week must therefore be taken as a clear message as where Erdoğan, not only politically but also culturally – with the help of education and usage of religion – wants to take Turkey.

This, it seems, he will be able to do without much resistance.

With such a weak, divided and confused opposition, his ride remains an easy one.

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Posted in AKP, culture, Erdogan, Politics, Turkey | Leave a comment

Turkey 2017: Professional annihilation, high merits persecuted, careers ending

Wherever he touches ground, Erdoğan makes sure he leaves traces that speak clearly of his unstoppable march towards absolute power. In between his referendum victory and regaining full control over his party, he kept busy touring the world, meeting the leaders of Russia, China, India and the USA, with the sole purpose of guaranteeing legitimacy, after a vote whose validity was questioned.

The tour was, in that context, full success, with its cycle to be closed by the photo ops with full of smiles in the NATO and EU meetings. There was one slight glitch, though, the one with his security detail beating the hell out of some Kurdish and Yezidi demonstrators, shouting only anti-Erdoğan slogans, outside the the Turkish Embassy residence in Washington.

It was for the first time in the modern US history a foreign delegation was involved in teaching a ‘physical lesson’ to those publicly disagreeing with the policies of its leader. Blood was spilled, faces were smashed, Congress was up on arms and an investigation underway. But, given the global conjuncture, the incident promises to be a mere parenthesis in history; just like those incidents in Germany and Netherlands, again with Erdogan at its epicenter, not long ago.

”Where were we?”

With this question Erdoğan had begun, last Sunday, yet another speech of victory, to the wild cheer of crowds, with their eyes and ears fixed to him. It was shortly after he had easily sealed a return to his party, AKP, as a leader, once more. He had seen to it that Turkey from April 16 on would be run by a president with party affiliation. For the outside world it was just a formality: he had never let it out of control, made it only ‘de jure’.

The tragic part, of course, is the developing story with the growing torment in Turkish soil, which gives the observers, like me, a bitter sense of total despair. This has to do with the ‘carte blanche’ the ‘leader’ and his ruling party takes for granted, since no democratic counter-dynamic at home or among allies exist anymore.

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Take the examples of  Nuriye Gülmen and Serdar Özakça, whose 75 days long hunger strike had caused some impact – a campaign for solidarity and a debate on the ‘morale’ of such action.

Some days ago, ‘carte blanche’ was implemented as I feared: they were brutally arrested in the middle of the night, taken from their homes; soon after they were sent to pre-trial detention with the motive ‘if not detained these two by the hunger strike would continue to obstruct justice..’

Yes. And don’t ask me, you figure out the logic behind it, to decide if this is not an exercise of pure fascism, then what is. Most likely that these two will be subjected to forced feed, and that will be all.

But the hunger is already forced to hundreds of thousands who have lost their jobs. Using ‘divisive terror’ (PKK) and ‘FETÖ’ (Gülen Movement) as some sort of ‘master keys’, the figure of those ‘cleansed’ from public sector has reached – according to the latest figures by Justice Minister, Bekir Bozdağ – 150.000. Of those 48.636 people are in detention, including 166 generals and more than 6.000 officers. Countless others, civil servants are left to struggle in daily life.

What’s brewing is a tragedy.

“They don’t allow us to leave the country, they don’t allow us to work…what do they want me to do?” One of those interviewed, in a most recent, striking report prepared by Amnesty International (AI), summarizes the dilemma, the agony, of the new ‘pariahs’ in Turkey.

Titled, No end in sight: Purged public sector workers denied a future in Turkey finds that tens of thousands of people including doctors, police officers, teachers, academics and soldiers, branded as ‘terrorists’ and banned from public service, are now struggling to make ends meet.

“The shockwaves of Turkey’s post-coup attempt crackdown continue to devastate the lives of a vast number of people who have not only lost their jobs but have had their professional and families lives shattered. Tainted as ‘terrorists’ and stripped of their livelihoods, a large swathe of people in Turkey are no longer able to continue in their careers and have had alternative employment opportunities blocked” Andrew Gardner, AI’s researcher on Turkey said in the report. He called it ‘professional annihilation.”

Interviewees all described how in the absence of other means of support including social security benefits, they were forced to live off their savings, rely on support from friends or family, take jobs in the irregular economy, or scrape by on small handouts from their trade unions. Many dismissed workers are forbidden to work privately in professions regulated by the state, such as law and teaching.

Dismissed public sector workers have had their passports cancelled removing the possibility of working overseas and thereby severely restricting their job opportunities still further. One former local government employee told Amnesty International: “If anyone wants to erase you from the institution, they just give your name as a Gülenist…”

The figure of ‘cleansed’ from the academia has approached 8.500. This one is a resistant segment, surely. And through their exposure, we learn how the suffering of one part leads to a pattern of opportunism and apathy of the other. Florian Bieber, renowned Professor of Southeastern Studies at University of Graz, most recently issyued an open letter to a Turkish colleague, Prof Gülnur Aybet, who had been appointed as Chief Advisor to Erdoğan and as ‘thanks’ for the favour, had written an op-ed article in the NYT, defendng fiercely the Turkish referendum as aiming ‘good governance’.

Aybet is known for her academic career in University of Kent in the UK and Yildiz Teknik in Istanbul, in international relations.

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This was the end of their long friendship, we learn.

Let me share with you some of the bitter remarks Bieber delivers in his blog to her colleague.

”I happened to be in Washington last week—the same time as you were there as part of Erdoğan’s entourage. I was discussing with US State Department officials how to prevent a slide towards authoritarianism in the Balkans, while you stood next to president Erdoğan as his bodyguards and supporters beat up protesters. This is no longer a matter of different perspectives on an issue: you have become an apologist for an authoritarian regime.

You have called the referendum on the hyper-presidential system a “good governance referendum” when it is far from it—all key observers, including the highly respected Venice Commission, consider it a “dangerous step backwards” for democracy. I cannot remain silent as you advise, promote and defend an autocrat. … over a hundred who lost their jobs and/or have been arrested at your university, Yildiz Technical University, your department lost 14 academics (3 of them Assistant or full Professors).

I have met some of those who have lost their jobs or are living in fear. Many are excellent scholars: curious, courageous and independent thinkers. They have lost their jobs; many others have lost their freedom.

I cannot expect anybody working in an environment such as Turkey today to stand up against the regime and risk their career or freedom. But you don’t have to embrace it.  Advancing your career on the back of massive human rights violations is unforgivable. A

dvising and thriving under the current regime cannot be justified… Your support for Erdoğan—standing by, quite literally, as his goons beat up demonstrators (you will probably call them terrorist supporters)—is unacceptable to me, and I want you to know this. There are choices we make and they have consequences.

I am deeply saddened by the choices you made.”

Yes, after all, it’s about choices; individually or in groups. Turkey, dragged into the direst of straits, will continue to suffer more.

What is needed is to stretch a hand from wherever, to its civilian society, exposed to shock and awe.

 

Posted in AKP, Kurds, Politics, Turkey | Leave a comment