Playing dangerous games with ‘dormant conflicts’ – Leave Aegean Sea to civilians

‘Tension politics’, that has been on the rapid rise, is defining the agenda where conflicts have been kept dormant for ages. The most recent example is the Turkish-Greek confrontation in the Aegean, about and around an uninhabited tiny islet, Imia / Kardak, where a series of boat fights led to the sense how sensitive, ‘razor’s edge’ the international relations, even between the allies are.

The move, that had been initiated by Ankara two weeks ago, was cited by some as just what was needed. Its follow-up made even some of Turkey’s most experi­enced centrist diplo­mats, known for extreme pru­dence in matters of national security, react with warnings.

The issue was the sudden revisit of a tiny, rocky islet just off Turkey’s south-western shores, 7km from the coast of Bodrum peninsula. At the end of January, there were reports that Greek and Turkish warships off the Kardak/ Imia rocks had come close to ramming each other. A violent incident was averted but a battle of words between Ankara and Ath­ens ensued.

In a way, it was expected because it was bound to be seen as an attempt to melt a frozen conflict about the status of the uninhabited and rugged islet. A series of military moves 20 years ago, due to a stranded Turkish freighter in its vicinity, had brought the two countries — both NATO allies — close to war. Thanks, however, to emergency efforts by the Clinton administra­tion and diplomats on both sides, this was averted. This issue has been frozen since then.


Among the nearly 3,000 islands in the Aegean, almost all of them part of Greece, there are disputes about very few. Kardak/Imia stands out because of its closeness to the Turkish coastline. The conflict concerns grey areas in the Aegean where treaties left some issues open to interpretation.

Soon after the naval incident, Greek Defence Minister Panos Kammenos visited the air space around the islet, dropping a wreath to the seas. In a response, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu issued a warning to Athens “to pull itself together” and not to escalate the conflict. Military activity, on the seas and in the air, rapidly increased.

This transpired after a Greek appeals court refused to extradite eight Turkish soldiers who had defected to Greece after the failed coup attempt last summer.

In Turkey, the opposition read the incident as an attempt by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to retaliate for the court’s decision and hunt for more nationalist votes to cement his power before a referendum that could grant him more powers.

Faruk Logoglu, a former Foreign Ministry under-secretary and deputy of the opposition Republi­can People’s Party (CHP), said this was a harbinger for similar foreign policy moves linked with the referendum to introduce a presidential system to Turkey. Unal Cevikoz, a former ambassa­dor to Azerbaijan and Iraq, said “these were moves that lack substance, moves that mean a reflection of domestic issues into foreign policy”.

The diplomats are right. This was an attempt to create an artificial crisis at a time when the world seems to lack proper, pro-stability leadership.

“That’s why Turkey’s main opposition party argued that the Imia show was intended to bolster Erdogan in his campaign. The threats against Greece may serve to get citizens’ minds off Syria, where, despite air support from Russia and the United States, Turkey has not made great gains,” Nikos Konstandaras wrote in Greece’s Kathimerini newspaper.

“The threats against Greece, however, serve more than domes­tic needs nor are they simply aimed at forcing Greece to bend to Ankara’s will,” he said. “They show that Erdogan intends to act as he pleases, even against a country whose border is the European Union’s border. The time favours leaders who are driven by emotions, as seems to be Erdog­an’s permanent condition.”

Indeed, these are the times when many powers seem to be flexing their muscles. The Aegean Sea, offering high risk of death for refugees fleeing war and destruc­tion, is seen as useful for provok­ing nationalism. The concern is, as history teaches, once you set a pattern of mutual threats, you find yourself in lethal escalation. Seen in the same geopolitical context with a divided Cyprus, it keeps the tensions high in the entire Eastern Mediterranean.

Environmentalists have pointed out that the more than a dozen disputed tiny rocks and islets in the hard-to-navigate Aegean Sea provide opportunities for Greece and Turkey to cooperate on building lighthouses and, even more wisely, on wind power, which the two neighbours would jointly benefit from. Sadly, the times do not seem to favour such constructive thinking.

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Turkish academia as a slaughterhouse

When I heard the news on late Tuesday night, I did not know who to pity more than the other. I knew a few of the victims, but the first one I thought was a soft-spoken, elderly gentleman; Prof İbrahim Kaboğlu, from Marmara University, a top Turkish expert on constitution and law.

His civil courage has remained a contrast with his mild manners: he is one of the flag bearers of those who against all odds defend the value of the rule of law. Tuesday night, this senior scholar from Istanbul was ‘awarded’ by being fired, in a most arbitrary way.

With every new decree, tragedy of the dissident elite of Turkey widens, deepens, as it also exposes the underlying intention of those hold power: to maximize efforts for a ‘negative selection’ – as it happened once upon a time in Germany. Decree after decree, what we observe is the victory of intolerant mediocrity over hard-earned merit, and civil courage.

‘Now we can say that the academia in Turkey is done for’ tweeted Kerem Altıparmak, an academic with Ankara University – who as a law expert pursues a fierce battle on injustices at the European Court of Human Rights – on Tuesday night. ‘This applies to us who – for now – are allowed to stay.’


The new decree by the AKP government is by far the most ‘revealing’ of the Great Purge that has taken place. It declared that 330 academicians from 23 universities were sacked from their jobs from the public sector with immediate effect.

The reports were quick to underline that 115 of them were those who had signed a petition early last year, titled ‘We shall not be a party of a crime’, protesting against the atrocities in the mainly Kurdish provinces of Turkey. Simply called ‘Academicians For Peace’, they were then immediately subjected to a severe demonization campaign in pro-government media. They were encouraged by President Erdoğan who had condemned them by a loud statement.

‘You, the so-called intellectuals!’ he had roared then. ‘You are the very darkness yourselves, not intellectuals. You are so dark and ignorant to a degree that you have no idea of the address of those areas!’

Some of the petitioners were already ‘cleansed’ from universities and with this decree, more fear and resentment has spread to all others who feel it will be their turn next. That is the message Altıparmak had, by saying ‘we who stay for now.’

The decree targets the backbone of some of the best established universities in the country. One of them is the Faculty of Political Sciences (SBF) that is part of Ankara University – a school compared to France’s Sciences Po or ENS – where top diplomats and intellectuals graduate from. Here is the verdict of Altıparmak about his school, hit like an earthquake by the decree: ‘SBF is the very foundation of our republic. With the purge, it was finished off. Condolences!’

The decree, in practice, emptied the entire departments of journalism in Ankara University and the University of Marmara in Istanbul. One of the purged, Prof Yüksel Taşkın, who ‘was’ a teacher, and apparently a bloved one by his students, tweeted, in bitterness: ‘This is a pure political ‘cleansing’. But my conscience is clear. Let my students know that I shall never, ever bow down.’

Emre Tansu Keten, from the same school, wrote: ‘I am simply proud to be in the same list along with my senior colleagues who are thrown out because of the opinion they expressed.’

Another blow was delivered to the Department of Theater in the Faculty of Language, History and Geography of Ankara University, where five professors were ‘cleansed’. One the teachers, Prof Süreyya Karacabey, said that there were only four low degree teachers were left.

‘There were six of who signed the peace petition’ he continued. ‘Five of us had remained and now we are sacked. This means that the department is disfunctional; education has been stopped. Four remaining colleagues will not be able to run the operation. There is more to come, I am afraid. It is horrible when one waits for one’s turn to be fired.’

Ercan Şen, a teacher from the school, tweeted:

‘I was sacked just because I had said that I opposed war in this country, that I desired peace. Let it be! I still want peace…’

The decree itself is self-explanatory about the intention to slaughter not only the diversity of opinion, but also striking in its breadth of liquidation. One of the victims, a senior academician, is a legend in her field. Prof Öget Öktem Tanörthe first neuro-psychologist in Turkey. She is also known as the founder of the first laboratory in neuro-psychology. This elderly lady was the wife of late Prof Bülent Tanör, another legendary figure in constitutional law, who as part of the liberal-left in Turkey had devoted his entire life for replacing Turkey’s military-dictated constitution with a democratic one – to no avail.

Prof Kaboğlu, who I first thought of, belongs to the same school of thought and rank. He engaged selflessly for years for a democratic order. A decade ago he was asked by the then-Prime Minister Erdoğan to prepare a detailed report on minority rights and how to proceed with reconciliation over the past atrocities of the state, and ways of devolution of power. He worked intensely with another senior scholar, Prof Baskın Oran and issued the report. Only to find out months after that both of them would be charged by the prosecutors on ‘insulting Turkishness’. Charges were dropped later, but so was the valuable report, buried to oblivion.

Here we are, I thought, reading the list of the purged. This is the most vicious of the circles of all. This is the traditional way of a state, now seized by a primitevly power-hungry, and equally mediocre political stable, to show gratitude to its hard-won, independent intellectuals: alienation and punishment. Widening more by each and every decree, this is now a country resembling Germany of 1930, which ended up chasing out its elite beyond its borders. What I know for certain, that there will no longer be any possibilites for our academicians ‘cleansed’ to find work and, live in decency and honor. This bitter fact legitimizes a repeat of history: an exodus inevitable. Turkey is losing its blood, and we all know who is responsible.


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Undeniably, many leaders within the EU rejoice for the ‘state’ Turkey has come to

‘When universal values and international law are cast aside, global affairs are governed by force.’

This powerful remark printed at the end of a long, detailed report by Freedom House (FH) – titled ‘Populists and Autocrats: The Dual Threat to Democracy’ – mapping the state of global liberties in 2017, brings up a most fundamental question: as the Post-WW2 Order is being turned viciously upside down, what language should leaderships of democracies apply to those who work to undermine them?

FH report makes an alarming reading, gloomier than those ever before. It marks a decline of freedoms and democratic structures in 11th consecutive year.

But this time the anti-democratic virus has made remarkable advances, it notes:

‘While in past years the declines in freedom were generally concentrated among autocracies and dictatorships that simply went from bad to worse, in 2016 it was established democracies—countries rated Free in the report’s ranking system—that dominated the list of countries suffering setbacks. In fact, Free countries accounted for a larger share of the countries with declines than at any time in the past decade, and nearly one-quarter of the countries registering declines in 2016 were in Europe.’

‘In the wake of last year’s developments, it is no longer possible to speak with confidence about the long-term durability of the EU; the incorporation of democracy and human rights priorities into American foreign policy; the resilience of democratic institutions in Central Europe, Brazil, or South Africa; or even the expectation that actions like the assault on Myanmar’s Rohingya minority or indiscriminate bombing in Yemen will draw international criticism from democratic governments and UN human rights bodies. No such assumption, it seems, is entirely safe.’

Of course, the performance of Turkey stands out, under the most extraordinary proportions; noteworthy, in particular, because of its status – at least on paper – as an EU partner in accession negotiations.

Already marked as ‘Not Free’ in FH’s ‘Freedom of the Media’ and ‘Freedom of the Net’ reports, Turkey is marked as second in the list of countries which has been in constant decline:

In the past decade, FH says, it lost 28 points – 15 points of it only last year – declared once more ‘Partly Free’ but closing in on the position ‘Not Free’ even in this survey. Needless to say, it is a free fall into seemingly bottomless pit of oppression, and everybody knows why.

FH report sheds indirect light also on how the major international bodies – UN, NATO as well as the EU – are now crackling. To understand the magnitude of the spontaneous global change, one should focus on the harsh formats of dialogues and the growing gaps between the languages applied by democracies and autocratic leaderships.

In no other case is it more apparent than Turkey. The past years have marked a clash between a democratic language and a not-so-polite one between the EU and Turkey, and the former had to note bitterly a defeat in creating a common understanding. The contrary happened.

The reason? Turkish President Erdoğan had been inspired strongly by Russian leader Putin’s approach to the EU, and realized how efficiently it has worked.

But, it was another story when these two tough leaders clashed with each other.

Even the minimal courtesy placed aside, Putin set out to implement a series of sanctions against Turkey, accompanied by a relentless rhetoric, and his counterpart at the end had to blink.

The way Russia handled the aftermath the downing of its jet, bringing closer an adversary – a member of NATO – to its sphere is a case study that will enlighten all those who want to understand the modes and codes of the new world emerging.

But there you have the dilemma of stable democracies. How to deal with the patterns of bitter confrontatitonalism, diplomatic thuggery? What are the limits of concessions, and how much bowing to autocratic pressure will serve similar anti-democratic tendencies at home?

While FH report takes a global snapshot, the EU is now waiting for Venice Commission of the Council of Europe to deliver its verdict on how compatible ith the European criteria the referendum package that will change the identity of Turkey.


What marks the growing gap between Ankara and the EU is that the AKP, while drafting these extremely radical changes, did not bother to seek any advice or dialogue with the European institutions. This is a sharp deviation from 2010, where it had on constitutional amendments that overhauled the judicial system sought and received approval of Venice Commission before going to referendum.

This time one can guess, more or less, what the Venice Commission’s output will be. As put by Marc Pierini, a former EU diplomat with Carnegie Europe.

In a new analysis, titled Turkey’s Gift From God,  he described the model of ‘party-affiliated executive presidency’ as such:

‘If passed, this new power architecture would allow Erdoğan not only to possess all the levers of power but also to impose a religious-conservative society that reflects the views of about half of Turkish citizens. This would mean the triumph of the AKP’s narrative of “it’s our turn.” Turkey’s religious conservatives, who have felt suppressed and oppressed by Kemalism since 1923, would shape Turkish society their way. If Erdoğan attains his goal, he will largely dismantle the foundations of the Turkish secular republic proclaimed in 1923 by Kemal Atatürk, who pivoted the country toward Western legal, dress, and cultural standards and even changed peoples’ names and the alphabet used by the Turkish language. The political, social, and economic consequences of shifting away from the system established ninety-four years ago would be profound and unpredictable.’

 ‘Internationally, the EU and the United States are on notice that postreferendum Turkey may no longer be an ally that values its ethnic, social, and religious diversity. An authoritarian regime would put Turkey at odds with its memberships of NATO and the Council of Europe and would send Ankara’s EU application into an irreversible coma. These are momentous consequences that would be felt most strongly in the economic arena.’

But cynics – and they are all having a field day in these darkening times – see it differently: Erdoğan is the ideal counterpart for the EU, he has developed into one. Not only lashing out his anger and rejectionism over the EU, he went even further with domestic measures that only confirm those in Europe who have long argued that Turkey with its own peculiar values never belongs to Europe.

He has shaped an aura of admiration for all Turkophobes who rejoice discreetly before every oppressive move. Behind closed doors in Europe’s decision-making circles Erdoğan emerges also as a guaranteur of blocked influx of refugees: his recent declaration to naturalize hundreds of thousands of Syrians as well as restrictions of travel imposed for Turkish citizens, take it for granted, may caused cheers in main corridors of the EU.

Cynics are right also when they say that as soon as Erdoğan receives a ‘yes’ in the referendum, all perpectives on a Turkish accession will be over. No more is needed.

‘Conversely, the Turkish president would supposedly be gladly relieved of EU rule-of-law norms, which, if implemented in Turkey, would impede his power’ concluded Pierini. ‘If this is the calculus, both sides will quickly come to measure the magnitude of the negative fallout of such a divorce.’

‘Are we losing Turkey?’ was a popular question in the past years. We are this close to find the answer, which seems to be a yes.

Merkel knows this, and another question remains:

What is the new Turkey strategy? Is there any?

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Turkey is the home of “alternative facts”, and we will fight on for truth

A journalist with hope is a common contradiction in these strange days. When I set forth to share my thoughts on what the new year may offer us, I was overwhelmed by the thickening siege on our profession worldwide.

Asked by Index on Censorship on how I feel about 2017, here are my thoughts:

Having recently witnessed President Tayyip Erdoğan praising Donald Trump for putting a CNN reporter in his place, what keeps swirling in my mind is the age-old Turkish saying that goes, in a rough translation: “Snow falls over the mountains that you trust.”

It means disappointment is piling up and there is nowhere you can turn to.

That’s the taste Trump, elected as the leader of the “free world”, leaves when he redefines the professional standards we have grown up with, taken for granted and sought to establish in less free environments.

That leaves journalists, particularly those in Turkey, deeply stunned and more helpless than ever. Wishing for better times is a fragile exercise, a distant daydream, a hopeless task. What makes one think in those terms is the sheer horror of what we have been subjected to may only be a harbinger of what comes next, in a higher level of oppression.

The year we left behind marks an ordeal most of us would prefer to forget. Yet it is impossible. In every possible aspect, 2016 was annus horribilis for what we in the bold and independent flanks of Turkish journalism stand for. The year will go down in history as a midwife of a series of lethal blows to people’s right to have access to truth and diverse opinion.

It became a period of severe punishment with the constitution suspended and the rights of the Fourth Estate eviscerated. The introduction of the state of emergency, which was enthusiastically championed by Erdoğan, only accelerated the strangulation of the free word.

We entered the new year with a yet another announcement that the authorities had launched a massive legal inquiry and arrested over 62,000 people for “clandestine activity” on social media — such as critical tweeting — of which 17,000 were already indicted. This news came as Bekir Bozdağ, minister of justice, proudly declared that 25 new prisons are now being built, a 22% increase in capacity.

Journalism is a profession in agony. Frankly, none of us in this now dreaded exercise of informing the public can see any way out. The odds are that Erdoğan is only inches away from securing a fully empowered executive presidential rule, equipped with impunity and it is fair to assess that the state of emergency will continue as long as his party deems necessary. One can only pray — as a colleague told me over the phone recently — that the AKP shows mercy to release jailed journalists, who were all jailed for doing their job. Under such circumstances, it is an arduous task to report about daily events; forget about plunging into daring investigations of official corruption in the public interest.

Which leaves me with one hope for 2017: we won’t be able to give up. Turkey’s independent journalists will continue to do what they know best. But it will have to be mainly online from editorial bases outside the country. This will be a very tough battle for our integrity and a long-term one. We will have to keep our spirits intact. But we need the consistent, courageous backing of our colleagues in the West.

“The West is largely silent. And Erdoğan is triumphalist. ‘Now that the demagogue Trump is about to become the world’s most powerful man, the authoritarians believe history is on their side’,” wrote Owen Jones in The Guardian, adding:

“Turkey is a warning: democracy is precious but fragile. It underlines how rights and freedoms are often won at great cost and sacrifice but can be stripped away by regimes exploiting national crises. The danger is that Turkey won’t be an exception, but a template of how to rid countries of democracy. That is reason enough to stand by Turkey. Who knows which country could be next?”


‘Turkey now silences dissent by arresting opponents and has been accused of using torture and violence, including rape’ wrote Liz Cookman in the Guardian:

‘Widespread purges have seen thousands dismissed from their jobs due to loosely evidenced accusations of supporting the group the government holds responsible for last year’s failed coup attempt. They have been left without employment or financial support – suicides have followed. Turkey’s newest accolade is that it’s the world’s largest imprisoner of journalists

Erdoğan and Trump have publicly supported each other’s stance on the media in the past. Anyone who has spent time in Turkey will recognise Trump’s denouncement of negative coverage in outlets such as the New York Times as “fake news”. They will be familiar with headlines such as the one that appeared in far-right outlet Brietbart (whose founding member Steve Bannon is Trump’s chief strategist), used in relation to the protests in the US on Saturday – “Terror-tied group Cair causes chaos, promoting protests and lawsuits as Trump protects nation”. This is pure Erdoğan territory – denouncing opposition by associating it with terror while glorifying the strong leader.

Turkey is the home of “alternative facts”.

A country that makes the media the enemy is a country where people are too easily manipulated by those in power. Journalists in Turkey, unless they work for organisations that toe the official government line on events, constantly wobble on a tightrope between reporting what’s going on and not reporting enough to get arrested. Even foreign journalists self-censor, double-check for unintended “insults” that could land them in trouble. They flinch when the doorbell rings unexpectedly, and wonder every time they go abroad whether they will be allowed back in the country.

We need to stand up against the vilification of the free press in the US now before it goes too far. Erdoğan is no longer good for Turkey, just like Trump is no good for America. They are changing the identities of their countries. The irony that a possible Turkish accession to the EU was used as one of the key motivations for Brexit is likely to be a common theme throughout our moves towards leaving the EU. While turning away from these sorts of leaders can lead to isolation and further extremes, do we really have to be quite literally holding hands with them?’


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How Trump makes brothers Nesuhi and Ahmet Ertegün turn in their grave

Receiving that letter, written in an impeccable English on yellow paper, will always remain in my memory as one of the sweetest moments I had.

It was 1985. A year before, I had been given the mission as the correspondent of the prestigious daily Cumhuriyet to cover Sweden, Finland – and later – Baltic countries. It had come as an honour to a young journalist who had just finished his studies in the School of Journalism in Stockholm. There was so much to write, particularly in the area of culture.

I had broader plans. The culture page of Cumhuriyet was highly respected, incomparable to others; yet its coverage of music was utterly conservative, limited only to classical music (the publisher, Nadir Nadi, was a amateur violin player, ‘incurably obsessed’ by Mozart and Beethoven). I knew, on the other hand, that I knew more than enough about popular forms, about rock, pop, and in particular, jazz, about which I was incurably in love. So, soon enough, I had come to an agreement with my editor, who felt that ‘the walls had to broken’ and had after a long battle managed to persuade the top editors that jazz, rock and tango demanded a place in the menu of the pages. It was, believe me, a revolution.

I did not waste time to write a letter asking for assistance to one of my heroes, Nesuhi Ertegun – an act on which I did not hope to get a response at all. Nesuhi Bey (Herr Nesuhi) as he was called, was the elder brother of another legend, Ahmet Ertegun, with whom they had built a music giant called Atlantic Records. At the timef of my letter, Nesuhi Bey was an executive who led WEA International, a figure that seemed unreachable.

You can imagine the bewilderment and joy when that yellow letter landed in my post box. In a very polite but warm manner he wished me good luck, adding that he had given directives to Atlantic/WEA branches in Europe to feed me with material and I could get a high chance to interview whoever I wished to from their incredibly rich palate.

Heaven! For the work that followed in Cumhuriyet, I will always remain to Nesuhi Bey, who every serious jazz musician in the USA remembers with the wish , ‘May God bless his soul.’


These days when almost every country reflects on what happens to ‘America we know’, its great culture that in post WW1 rewarded humanity with joy and hope, the extremely powerful story of these two brothers – and their father, Munir Ertegun – marks the beginning of the eight decades long love and hate relationship between the USA and Turkey. Born into a prominent Sufi family, father Ertegun – coeval to founding father of then repoublic, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk – had after Ottoman defeat in WW1 joined Atatürk in Ankara, and remained his most trusted diplomat, helping a finalization Lausanne Treaty in 1923.

Not unsurprisingly, following France and the UK, his final destination as ambassador was Washington DC, where he and the two young sons, 18 respectively 12 years old, was to serve between 1934 through 1944. So profoundly constructive and respected father Ertegun’s work to bring the USA and modern Turkey at that time was that his body was in a grand ceremony brought back to Istanbul by USS Missouri, a visit that marks the beginning of Turkish-American alliance, with Ankara ending its one-party rule, introducing pluralistic elections, entering the European political structures etc.

In a documentary, called ‘The House that Ahmet Built’, Ahmet Ertegün describes the joy when their father breaks the news of moving to America. ‘For us America was three things’ he tells. ‘Cowboys, Indians and Jazz’. They were in extacy, with an endless curiosity.

Already in 1935, Ahmet was the first one ever to ask for an autograph of a very young Ella Fitzgerald The influence of the two boys’ rapture over their father in DC was decisive. In an excellent biography on Ahmet Ertegün, titled ‘Last Sultan’, Robert Greenfield tells episodes on how the majestic Turkish Embassy in DC was from mid-1930’s on would turn into a Mekka of then segregated jazz musicians, who would spend long nights in jam sessions leaving the strict father Ertegun sleepless, cranky but tolerant. For nights on end, who jammed there is part of jazz history: Lester Young, Benny Carter, Johnny Hodges and most members of Duke Ellington Orchestra.

“Nesuhi and I made the most out of the extra-territorial situation offered by the embassy by inviting musicians who’d played in town the night before over for Sunday lunch,” Ahmet recalled in his 2001 book, “What’d I Say: The Atlantic Story.” “They all loved the idea of having lunch at an embassy, particularly one as well-appointed and in such grand surroundings as the Turkish embassy in Washington. After lunch, jam sessions would inevitably develop.”

“You can’t imagine how segregated Washington was at that time,” Nesuhi would tell the Washington Post in 1979.

“So we put on concerts…. Jazz was our weapon for social action.”

To Nesuhi Ertegun, watching Ellington’s band jamming at the mansion “was one of the biggest thrills of my life,” he told The Washington Post in 1979.

The music, he said, seemed to go over well with others, too.

“I remember once there was an embassy party, and I was having some musicians over at the same time. We were really getting kind of loud, and I was worried that maybe the people outside could hear us. At about that time, my father peered in and said, ‘Can you leave the door open? That music sounds awfully good!’


Nesuhi Ertegun, Herb Abramson, Ahmet Ertegun, Mezz Mezzrow, Henry Allen, Lester Young, Said Coylin, Arth Hodes at the Turkish Embassy in Washington DC.

The invitations and ‘night traffic’ into the embassy inevitably caused tension. A congressman from Texas who wrote Ambassador Ertegun a letter expressing his shock to see ‘negroes’ walking in and out of the front doors of the embassy. The response he received from him is legendary. In equally blunt terms, Ertegün wrote to Congressman:

“We always host our friends through our front door. These are our friends. If you come to our house, you are our guest but we’ll make sure to get you in through the back door.”

The rest in history. Both politically and culturally. Ertegün brothers set sail to hand back the greatest treasure the USA has, namely black music in all forms, back to Americans, and jazz musicians were soon the most powerful ambassadors of of post WW2 culture, with a focal point on freedom. In 1956, at a legendary visit to Turkey, Dizzy Gillespie and Quincy Jones meet a talented composer, with the name of Arif Mardin, who would make history as producer of who is who in soul and pop from sixties on. Dizzy also helped other Turkish jazz musicians, such as great trumpeter Maffy Falay – whose real name ‘Muaffak’ he did not find ‘appropriate’, as it associated with some heavy slang (!) – to advance into the European scene.


Like many Germans, many of us urban kids in Turkey in the 1950’s and 60’s grew up with those notes. It felt like oxygene for our dull existence, a source for daydreams; our soul food for change and rebellion. I am ever grateful for its role to keep me and many others to be enslaved by various types of dogma.

Yet, the image of America was soon to develop into a love and hate relationship for many. The contradiction lied inside the conditions of the Cold War, which led to a torment for the left in Turkey and Greece and Italy end elsewhere. The USA as ‘selling out’ human rights and blocking fair political competition by any means necessary in those geographies penetrated deep into the memory of the Left, an antipathy remaining incurable.

No matter what, the empire had until very recently managed to offer something that none of us could refuse. But, obviously, those times are over – a new era is on the rise, promising only ugliness, intolerance, bigotry, bullying, folly and icy isolation.

It is far more than what caused agony for the political Left worldwide: Trump-era emerging means tramping down on values that made America a great nation, it means that all the tones that inspired Ertegün brothers to the utopic ideas of a world united in hope and trust will only be a memory of an age that has gone. The white supremacist Congressman lectured decades ago by Münir Ertegün has crept back to power, calling shots, representing the worst in his country.

What I see in Turkey as elsewhere is rather clear: The storm of an immense anti-Americanism is building up on what already exists, and it is only the Americans themselves that can rescue the future by evoking their inherent fighting spirit. Our hearts will beat along with them.

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Is ‘Gülenist coup’ a hoax?.. ‘Turkey has become a country that’s devouring itself’

‘Six months after the failed coup of July 15, 2016, many questions still remain unanswered. Disturbingly, most can no longer be asked. Amid the purges, imprisonments and oppression, Turkey has become a country that is devouring itself…’

These words come from Gareth Jenkins,  a Western analyst known for his meticulous work on the indictments of Ergenekon and Sledgehammer trials – both about alleged military coup plots against the elected AKP government between 2003 and 2007.

In a new analysis, Jenkins this this time scrutinizes the evidence about the failed coup in July 15, 2016, and issues an extremely worrisome conclusion.

His findings overlap to  a great deal with ones that are posted by me in this blog previously, and the ones by Turkish journalists, Ahmet Şık – suspected of being jailed most recently, due to his publications – and Ümit Kıvanç – as well as two military analysts Prof Ümit Cizre and Aaron Stein.

German weekly Der Spiegel and ARD TV reported today that about 40 high rank Turkish officers had defected to Germany. One officer interviewed told that he was at home during the coup but had been fired days after without being given a reason.

Officers accused the AKP Gov’t of cleansing the pro-western and secular officers systematically from the army.


Most recently, Greece’s Supreme Court rejected an extradition request for eight Turkish military officers who fled to Greece after a failed coup.

The court ruled that the servicemen wouldn’t get a fair trial in Turkey and that their extradition could put their lives at risk while exposing them to torture or degrading treatment. The decision is final and cannot be appealed, reported Wall Street Journal.

As the developments are sure to sour Turkey’s relations with Greece and Germany, new data emerging show that within NATO and EU, there is growing disbelief over the Turkish official narrative that the last year’s coup attempt was initiated and staged by officers linked to Gülen Movement.

‘The dominant assessment in NATO is clear: Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan staged the coup against himself’ wrote Kjetil Stormark, a blogger, who had spoken to Norwegian military sources:

Senior NATO sources tell that they believe Erdoğan staged the coup himself. However, they stress that there is no written NATO documentation for that claim, because it is simply too sensitive. That’s because all member nation’s have the right to access to all intelligence information gathered by the alliance.

But the dominant NATO assessment is quite clear.

The senior officers, three- and four-star generals, and those who worked with Turkey for 30-40 years and who mentored Turkish officers for four or five years, say they do not believe that there was a coup. If the Turkish Armed Forces wanted to carry out a coup, they would have succeeded. That’s a tradition in Turkey, said a NATO source, without a hint of irony.

They had a list of 1,600 names the very next day of people they wanted gone, he added.

Some 80-90 per cent of Turkish officers who served in NATO were relieved of their posts, has learned from reliable sources.

Many of those who dared to return home were jailed and a significant number were killed, according to NATO sources.

‘Turkish officers who still have contact with NATO said that Erdogan had been planning the so-called coup for a year and had a list of people he wanted out’ said a NATO source. ‘I have so far not met anyone who believes there was a real coup attempt,’ said the source.

A think tank that NATO regularly uses has issued a classified assessment of Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan as a  narcissist.

The commercial intelligence report is available to NATO officers and NATO member states through NATO Intelligence Fusion Center (NIFCA).

One of the first things Erdogan did after the alleged coup was to split the military and the paramilitary gendarmerie. Those two units were previously organized under the same umbrella and wore the same uniform, although they were different organizations with different objectives.

The gendarmerie, in particular, was loyal to Erdogan and actively participated in the purges after the events in Turkey in mid-July. However,  many Turkish Armed Forces officers also enjoyed promotions after displaying loyalty to the president.

NATO noted that a Turkish officer at NATO’s military headquarters SHAPE in Mons, Belgium, was abruptly promoted from major to colonel.

Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg declined to comment to

The NATO press office responded with a written statement it asked to be attributed to a ‘NATO official’. In the statement the press office stated that «the NATO Secretary General has commented publicly on the failed coup and its aftermath, and has discussed these issues with the Turkish political leadership’.

The NATO press office, however, did not respond to aldrimer.nos specific questions about NATO assessments of who was really behind the attempted coup in Turkey in July 2016. has contacted the office of the president of Turkey and offered the president a chance to comment. The office has not responded.

In his analysis, Jenkins brings us first up to date on the rapdily escalating rift between Ankara and the EU over the claims that a ‘Gülenist coup’ is an official Turkish lie:

On January 21, 2017, the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) issued a statement describing as “erroneous, unfounded, biased and ignorant” a leaked report by INTCEN, the EU’s intelligence-sharing unit, questioning the Turkish government’s claims that the failed coup attempt of July 15, 2016, was masterminded by the exiled Islamic preacher Fethullah Gülen. In fact, the INTCEN report said that some of Gülen’s followers probably participated in the coup, adding that it was unlikely that Gülen himself had masterminded it.

The MFA would have been justified in asking how INTCEN could be so certain, particularly as the report does not cite any concrete evidence. But the same question could also be directed at the Turkish authorities. As soon as the news of the attempted putsch broke – long before the identities of the participating officers had become clear – President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the members of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) immediately blamed the Gülen Movement.

It was an assumption, not a deduction.

Jenkins then goes on to line up important points why believes it is so:

  • There is no doubt that members of the Gülen Movement have been responsible for a catalogue of crimes in Turkey, particularly in the period 2007-2013, when the movement was allied with the AKP. Gülenists in the police and judiciary launched a barrage of prosecutions, most notoriously the Ergenekon and Sledgehammer investigations, in which hundreds of people were imprisoned on patently fabricated charges. Others were subjected to blackmail and intimidation. Lives were also lost, whether as the result of being denied proper medical treatment in prison or being driven to suicide in despair at Gülenist defamation campaigns.
  • The Gülen Movement’s past record is not, in itself, proof that it was responsible for the attempted coup. Yet, over the last six months, Turkish officials have locked themselves into an unquestionable narrative. The putsch and the reaction to it have been airbrushed into a myth – a fusion of people and leader, in which Erdoğan is portrayed as the embodiment of the national will, heroically defending the country against an Orwellian ‘forever enemy’ in the form of the Gülen Movement and the scheming West that is allegedly controlling it.
  • However, not only are there problems with the claim that the coup was a purely Gülenist affair, but the Turkish authorities have yet to produce convincing evidence to support their narrative. Much still remains unclear. Perhaps even more disturbing than the absence of answers is that questions are not even being asked.
  • The government’s claim that the coup was masterminded by Gülen rests almost entirely on a statement made by Chief of Staff General Hulusi Akar. On the evening of July 15, 2016, Akar was taken hostage in military headquarters by a group of putschists allegedly led by Air Force Brigadier General Hakan Evrim. In a statement he later gave to the public prosecutor, Akar claimed that, in an attempt to persuade him to support the putsch, Evrim had said: “I can put you in contact with our opinion leader Fethullah Gülen.”
  • This was later denied by Evrim himself. In a statement to prosecutors, Evrim quoted Akar as acknowledging that there was considerable discontent in the country, but insisting that a coup was not the answer. Evrim said that Akar had suggested talking with the leaders of the different segments in Turkish society in the hope of reaching a consensus that would defuse the tensions. Evrim denied ever offering to put Akar in contact with Gülen, maintaining that he had said: “If there are any political parties, opposition figures, NGOs or opinion leaders that you would like to talk to, I can call them.”
  • This is not to say Akar was lying. He may have simply misheard or misunderstood. It is also possible that Evrim is being untruthful, although his explanation appears more logical than Akar’s.
  • The only context in which it would have made any sense would have been if Akar himself had been a Gülen sympathizer and needed convincing that the putsch had Gülen’s approval. But there is no evidence that Akar is a Gülenist.
  • Without Akar’s claim, there is no evidence to suggest that Gülen himself was even aware of the coup. In the weeks following the putsch, officers accused of participating were routinely denied access to lawyers and frequently physically abused. During this time, a handful of statements were leaked to the Turkish media in which alleged participants apparently confessed to being Gülenists. Several of these statements have since been disowned by those who were reported to have made them. Even if the remainders are taken at face value, no one has yet confessed to participating in the organization of the putsch, merely to joining it when it was already underway. Not only is the number of these alleged confessed Gülenists very small but, in terms of the alleged statements leaked to the media, they are considerably outnumbered by those who have denied – often vehemently – ever having any connection with the Gülen Movement.
  • Remarkably, despite months of vigorous interrogation, no convincing evidence has yet been made public about how the coup was planned or coordinated. There can be no doubt that, if such evidence had emerged, the Turkish authorities would have ensured it was in the public domain.
  • The only “evidence” that has emerged so far about the planning of the putsch comes from an anonymous “secret witness”, codenamed “Şapka” or “Hat”. “Şapka” is reportedly a former officer who was detained in Izmir on August 8, 2016, a week after he had been dismissed from the military for suspected Gülenist sympathies. His statement to the public prosecutor appears to date from October or November 2016, although the full text was not leaked to the media until December 2016. “Şapka” claims that he received a text message on July 5, 2016, summoning him from Izmir to a villa in Ankara. “Şapka” says that he then spent three days in the villa, where he participated in the preparation of plans for a coup by around ten high-ranking officers under the leadership of Adil Öksüz, a civilian who was briefly detained after being found in the company of alleged putschist officers on July 16, 2016 and has since disappeared.
  • Şapka’s testimony is suspiciously sparse in content. For example, the military officers he cites as being present in the villa had all already been named as alleged putschists by the pro-government media. He quotes Öksüz as saying that the coup would prioritize freeing imprisoned Gülenists and that he would shortly be flying to the United States. Information had already been published in the media showing that Öksüz flew to the U.S on July 11, 2016.
  • But “Şapka” does not quote Öksüz as saying anything else. For example, there is nothing in “Şapka”’s testimony about what the putschists expected to happen if the coup had been successful. They must have had some plan or expectation – and it is inconceivable that it would not have been mentioned during the three days he claims he was in the villa. But he says nothing about it in his statement.
  • Regardless of Şapka’s reliability, the question of what the putschists thought would happen if the coup was successful is important. Did they plan to govern by themselves? If not, who did they think would take power after Erdoğan had been overthrown? If they were Gülenists, did they plan to bring Gülen himself back from the United States? If so, what impact would admitting responsibility for a coup have on the worldwide operations of a movement that has ostensibly espoused non-violence? All that is known is that, on the night of the coup, the putschists presented themselves as hard-line Kemalists. This may have been a false flag by Gülenists. But it still needs to be explained.
  • None of this means that, as some of his detractors have alleged, Erdoğan either plotted the putsch or learned of about it and allowed it to proceed in the hope that he could exploit to tighten his grip on power. In fact, Erdoğan and the AKP leadership seem to have been as much taken by surprise as the rest of the country. When Erdoğan first appeared on national television to call his supporters onto the streets to confront the putschists, he looked genuinely anxious.
  • Rather than pre-planned, the government’s response was as shambolic as the coup itself. Indeed, one of the most alarming consequences of the putsch was how quickly the center of the state collapsed. 

And here is the conclusion of Jenkins:

Six months after Turkey’s failed coup, questions about what actually happened have been submerged by a bludgeoning myth. The government’s central thesis – that the putsch was instigated by Gülenists – may be true. But it has yet to be proved.

No one in Turkey is asking whether Erdoğan needed to call his supporters onto the streets instead of waiting for the loyal majority of the security forces to restore order – a process that may have been slower but would have resulted in considerably less civilian casualties.

Nor is anyone asking why, if his supporters were defending democracy, they chanted only religious slogans, also attacked Alevis and Syrian refugees and, over the last six months, have remained silent while his opponents been persecuted and denied even the most basic of human rights.

Nor is anyone calling for justice for the young conscripts and cadets, who were tricked by putschist officers into thinking they were participating in an exercise, and were then lynched by Erdoğan’s supporters.

Most worryingly, nor is anyone asking what the resultant sense of empowerment amongst his hardcore supporters means for the rule of law.

Perhaps the most pernicious aspect of the official narrative – and one that is believed even by a large proportion of Erdoğan’s opponents – is that the coup was masterminded by the West.

Not only is it untrue but it has ensured that Turkish society has become permeated with fear: whether of Erdoğan, ever-elusive foreign conspiracies or both.

One thing that be said with certainty about the failed putsch is that it was instigated by Turks.

And now – amid the purges, imprisonments and oppression – the country is devouring itself.

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How the AKP has turned into a perfect counterpart for the EU leaders

Forget the old guide­books on how to conduct foreign policy.

These are times that require that the modes and codes change.

The official introduction of Donald Trump as the leader of the free world further colours a globe that has already fallen under the domination of leaders who as political figures represent an unusual mixture of personal and national interests.

The language of this new type of a leader, elected and self-confi­dent, obstinate and relentless, defiant to checks and balances, has already been on display, thanks to the largely successful efforts of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Admired by some in Europe, such as Marine Le Pen of France or Geert Wilders of Netherlands, Putin has also been a source of inspiration for Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who copy-pasted Putin’s populistic strategies, with a constantly renewed crisis policy and ceaselessly tough rhetoric towards the West.

Inside the European Union, a similar approach has been enthusiastically adopted by Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orban, whose xenophobic policies have been spreading like a virus across Slovakia, the Czech Republic and beyond.

Much attention has been also focused on how Erdogan diverted the course of his country towards autocratic rule. This backward shift leaves all the unfulfilled expectations of an extremely diverse society. Unresolved issues and the collapse of the rule of law have shattered Turkey’s accession process with the European Union. It is now on life support, regarded as in a vegetative state.

International human rights organisations and independent observers, many of them experts in law, have compared Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) immense purge of governmental institutions, mass arrests, witch-hunt of dissidents and termination of media free­doms to the playbook of totalitar­ian leaderships in 1930s Europe. Their genuine concerns seemed, for a time, to have found a common ground among the European leaders.

Nothing can be further from the truth. What we see and hear from the influential European capitals is simply an illusion.

“The show goes on,” said a European diplomat, who asked to remain anonymous.

“In fact, Erdogan is the ideal Turkish leader for the EU,” he said.

“He is somebody suited down to the ground for them. With the entire discourse and attitude he has demonstrated in the past four years, he has become the proof of the arguments of all those in power positions in the EU who had kept saying that Turkey does not belong to Europe and never will.

“He has turned himself into a central figure of the clash of civilisations, perceived as imposing a political culture that goes right against the founda­tional spirit of the EU,” the diplomat added. “He is admired discreetly for providing the ultimate argument for Turko­phobes arguing Turkey was never fit to enter the EU.”

“But that EU is no longer,” I insisted, adding that it tolerated a similar type of anti-European leadership within itself, such as in Hungary, Poland or Slovakia. He agreed.

Which brings us to the new modes and codes.


In Erdogan’s case, much boiled down from a European vantage point to keeping the refugee flow to a minimum.

The Turkish president does not disagree. With the help of a refugee deal that went against the European spirit of human values, he played along and helped lower the numbers of people trying to reach the European Union.

Erdogan now goes even further by declaring that most Syrian refugees would be naturalised. There are an estimated 2.7 million of them on Turkish soil. Granting them citizenship means curbing the outflow into the European Union and it sounds like music to the ears of European leaders who feel strained to maximum.

The AKP does its utmost to strip its own citizens, large numbers of those who stand in opposition, such as millions of Kurds, of the right to travel abroad, citing emergency rule. In other words, while he accuses the European Union of closing its gates to Turkey, he is encircling Turkey with barbed wire.

So, we should be left with no illusions. Erdogan has become the helping hand for the European Union to blow out the Turkish candle, a de facto guarantee for where its borders end, drawing the limits for the European conscience. There may even be those who pray in secret that Erdogan stays in power as long as possible.

What matters in the new age is a foreign policy reduced to just trade. As long as there are those to do business — nothing but business — with, forget the rest.

Welcome to the age of new modes and codes.

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Turkey pushed into despotic nightmare: A nation loses its mind in a whirlwind

Turkish President Erdoğan’s playbook never runs out of surprises, it seems. Three most recent decrees meant that 649 academics were arbitrarily fired, and 83 associations were shut down, including the well-established Kurdish Insitute, whose impeccable work on Kurdish language and literature was widely appreciated. Further more, 8200 people were sacked from the state sector, adding to a total of 135.000 since the botched coup.

We the critical journalists who continue to do our work had the ‘lion’s share’ givn by one decree: it said that those who left Turkey in fear of persecution, choosing exile, would be given three months to return, or else they would be expelled from citizenship, with all their assets seized, rights abolished. A copy of the old ‘measures’ borrowed from Soviet Union, a bitter reminder for all who abroad choose to disagree publicly with oppressive policies and us journalists whose duty is to shed light on truth, of the word ‘heimatlos’. This implementation is pending, soon in effect.

There was more.

On Wednesday, a prosecutor in Istanbul demanded that Can Dündar and Erdem Gül be sentenced each up to 10 years of prison for ‘aiding a terror organisation’, related again to the famous ‘lorries which on behalf of the Turkish secret service transport weapenry to Syria’s jihadists’ case.

But even more dramatically, he asked for lifetime imprisonment for Enis Berberoğlu, a former journalist who is currently a deputy of the CHP. Berberoğlu had more than a year ago had publicly told that it was him who delivered certain documents about the lorries to daily Cumhuriyet. So, once his parliamentary immunity is lifted, he faces also an almost certain arrest, simply because of the ‘gravity’ of the charges against him.

In many ways, we see a rapid sealing of an oppressive regime, nearing day by day its completion. Not much seems to stand between Erdoğan and his vision of ruling the country as he pleases.

Maybe one.

As he pushes Turkey into its now most critical tumble-down, through constitutional amendments that will legitimize – he hopes – a one-man rule by way of a referendum, the only element that casts a dark shadow over this relentless drive is the rapidly worsening economy.


As Parliament in Ankara have been thrown into a fierce marathon debate in a series of fiercely divisive votes, Turkish currency shows a constant all-time lows, and credit ratings place the country as junk.

‘Turkey cannot afford economic or political mis-steps. At present it is on course for both’ wrote Paul McNamara in Financial Times:

‘For now, foreign banks have been content to roll over their huge syndicated loan exposure to Turkey’s banks but economic slowdown or a sharp drop in the lira put these rollovers in doubt. …A weaker currency prompts local-currency debtors to chase foreign currency, pushing the lira weaker, which in turn prompts further demand for foreign currency. Investors see no reward to justify the risk.’

What we see now is a completion of the existential political crisis by, arguably, stagflation.

Let’s leave it that, as nothing seems to slow down Erdoğan in his pursuit of pure, absolutist power. Sources close to his party, the AKP, say that once the parliamentary marathon is over, towards the end of January, the ‘grand finale’ which they hope will seal a fully empower him until 2029 will take place as a referendum in April.

Whether or not this vote will happen under the Emergency Rule is a question is left unanswered. So blurred, tense and frightening are the circumstances that nobody has any clear foresight into what will happen when and how. Will Turkey definitely drop down to the league of Central Asian autocracies?

The worst part is, that nobody is properly, if at all, informed about the draft that will grant immense executive powers, a sultanate of sorts, to the current president.

”Surveys have shown that 36 percent of citizens who will vote in a possible referendum have no information about the constitutional change” wrote Mehmet Yılmaz, a columnist with Doğan Media:

”The rate of those who say they have ‘very little’ knowledge is 28 percent and those who say they have ‘a little’ knowledge total 14 percent.  In other words, 78 percent of our population do not know what the amendments proposed will mean for this country.’

So vast is the media black-out about the package that TV channels have avoided to broadcast even the debate at the legislative. All happen with zero public discourse, except only with those who propagate the Erdoğan line.

1-8point bill, whose 14 points so far have been approved in the first round, is in various ways a political dynamite.

It abolishes the notion of an impartial presidency, under which Turkey was ruled – however problematically – since 1923 – a date marking its foundation. Erdoğan will be given, more or less, a free ride to rule the country from his grandieuse palace, where he will assemble the cabinet, hiring and firing ministers and top bureaucrats to his liking.

The post of the prime minister will be scrapped; executive power will be transferred exclusively to his very person. He will be empowered to declare state of emergency, up to six months first, to be extended by a Parliament that he aims to keep under control throughout. The package is also to hand him extended powers to issue decrees at will and abolish Parliament.

Other parts of the package are constructed to make sure to weaken checks and balances to the minimum: the number of top judges and key members of the judiciary he is entitled to pick are increased to such a critical level, that a ‘remote control of the Palace’ is established over any prospect of accountability.

A part that the opposition finds most worrisome is that the presidential and parliamentary elections will be held in the same day. A most critical point, that of keeping the 10 % threshold for parties to enter Parliament has not even been brought up, due to the AKP setting smokescreen over the debate.

This, of course, will be useful for Erdoğan to maintain a majoritarian composition in the legislative. In addition he will be able to keep his party affiliation during his ‘one-man rule’ tenure.

Sezgin Tanrıkulu, a prominent figure of CHP, described it astutely, using a football club as analogy.

‘Imagine a chairman of that club’ he wrote. ‘He becomes elected at the same time as the chairman of the football federation. He also appoints the members of the national referees’ committee and professional football disciplinary commission. He shapes football arbitrary commitee as well. If a player in his team misses a goal, he can fire that player. If the rival team happens to win against his team, he is entitled to punish the rival team. And, despite all this, if his team doesn’t become champion, he has the power to cancel the entire league!’

The changes, if approved, will be in effect from 2019 and will allow the president to serve in two consecutive five-year terms. This is, Erdoğan’s critics claim, aimed at consolidating his power in a sense that Turkey will turn into an autocratic party state, leading to comparisons to Baathist models of Saddam’s Iraq, and Assad’s Syria.

Theirs is a legitimate concern. The pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democracy Party (HDP), the third largest group in Parliament, has seen a dozen of its deputies – including its co-chairs – thrown into jail on terror charges, in the past two months, say their ‘right to legislate’ has been violated, calling for a halt in the debate for vote, which they otherwise threaten to boycott. Equally, the Centrist-Secular Republican People’s Party (CHP), is up in arms to, as it states, ‘block any further advancement’ of the package.

Both parties have in common pointing out to what they see as the ‘absence of the rule of law’ in the country, following the abortive coup in July 15 last year.

‘Mind you, dear friends, we debate this draft under the emergency rule’ said Deniz Baykal, a veteran deputy of CHP in a passionate plea. ‘163 generals, 150 top judges, 6296 officers, 147 journalists are in pre-trial detention. Trustees have taken over 230 companies… TV channels are brought to knees. People have not been informed at all about this draft. For God’s sake, under such circumstances, how come you think of a constitutional amendment? Have we lost our minds?’

Baykal’s question converges with perceptions abroad as well. Yet, there is no sign of a diversion from the path Erdoğan has chosen. As he accelerates towards autocracy, his single challenger remaining is the rapidly weakening economy, showing signs of stagflation. He may end up winning at the end, but may see himself ruling over a country in unprecedented instability.


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As Erdoğan’s grip loosens, an embattled Turkey enters a most delicate phase

If people hold their breath about Turkey these days, they are right. As the world shows strong signs of disarray, certainly the country has placed itself at its epicenter.

It has become such a fast ‘moving target’ that – ask any journalist – it is very tough to analyse its current state and next moves.

At first sight it looks as if it is now speeding up towards a full-scale authoritarianist rule. It is true. President Erdoğan has so far not blinked about the goal he has fixed his eyes upon, and consequently engaged all his political arsenal to force through an enmpowered presidential system by extreme series of moves to drag along his ally in Parliament – ultra-nationalist party, MHP.

And he has, as the waves of mass arrests indisriminately sweeps through the flanks of opposition and the vast institutional purge within the state apparatus has shown, the most efficient tool in his hand.

Declared days after the coup attempt in July, the emergency rule is once more extended, and will be at his service until late April.

There seems to be no weakening of the oppressive measures, accompanied by a fiercely nationalistic rhetoric, generously peppered by religious references.


But, once you look at the broader picture, things look different. With the economy in steep downslope, active warfare in northern Syrian territory that causes many causalties, the terror now displaying signs of routine in urban areas, Turkey seems rudderless, and a strong power image Erdoğan tries to impose is no more than an illusion.

Polarisation is fed on daily basis by the harsh political discourse, punitive measures suffocating freedoms and the acts of terror itself, and there is no hiding the fact that people have reached a stress level they have never experienced before.

Anger, depression and despair spread like epidemic.

‘After nearly two years of deadly incidents and alarming political instability, Turks were once again left counting the dead – and wondering how much more their country can take’ wrote Prof Alparslan Özerdem and Dr Bahar Başer, both from Coventry University, in a recent analysis.

They are seeking a response to currently most interesting question:

Has Erdoğan lost his grip on Turkey?

It could also be posed as ‘ Has Erdoğan lost his grip on power? – an equally legitimate, if not more to the point, question.

Here is how the authors see it, in some excerpts:

…the latest attack comes only six months after a bizarre failed coup, undoubtedly one of the most significant events in Turkey’s modern history. The coup’s planners had little public support, and opposition leaders have also constantly underlined that it would have been a tragedy if it had succeeded.

So, the aftermath was a huge opportunity for Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the Turkish president, and his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) to correct the country’s disturbing course: to restore trust between various ethnic and religious communities, to start a new peace process with the Kurds after the last one failed in 2015, and to bring greater democracy to the country.

But instead of trying to put Turkey back on the right track, the AKP government has done quite the opposite.

The post-putsch period has brought chaos and enmity as well as a total crackdown on groups and individuals, including academics, journalists, teachers, lawyers and judges. Some of them were supposedly linked to the followers of exiled religious leader Fethullah Gülen, while others support different opposition groups.

This sort of authoritarianism has been brewing in Turkey for some time, especially since the elections of June 2015 failed to hand the AKP a ruling parliamentary majority.

There followed an increased level of political violence and terrorism for a period of four months, enough to convince Turkish voters that without an AKP majority, there would be no end to the bloodshed the country was witnessing. After campaigning on that basis for a re-run of the June elections, Erdoğan won the majority he so badly wanted – but the result did nothing for peace and security.

The coup attempt was the next critical turning point. Erdoğan himself called it “a gift from God” that enabled the rulers of “New Turkey” to shore up their power with ever harsher policies. Only five days after the attempted coup, the AKP government declared a state of emergency; it was originally scheduled to last three months, but was then extended until mid-April 2017. It has become a useful tool for the government, which is still using the failed putsch as an pretext to crack down on opposition.

 Rather than downplaying the divisions among different ethnic and religious groups in Turkey in the post-putsch period, the ruling party and the president are deepening the country’s many divisions, all the while assisted by the mainstream media.

They are creating a fractured political environment which will enable them to promote constitutional amendments, in the long run presenting Erdoğan’s long-held dream of an executive presidential system as the only thing that can bring Turkey back from the brink.

 But, according to the authors, this strategy may backfire, ‘despite the strictures of the state of emergency’, and line up some fronts increasing its pressure on Erdoğan:

  • IS recently released a video in December purporting to show two Turkish soldiers being burned alive in Syria; the authorities could not give a satisfactory answer on whether the claim was actually true.
  • Then the Russian ambassador was assassinated by a Turkish policeman in the capital city, sending a message that no-one in Turkey is really safe.
  • The continuing insecurity is already devouring the tourism sector, tanking the Lira, and undercutting the economy in general (with exports in particular on the wane).

Here is their conclusion:

All this will make it increasingly hard for the AKP to consolidate its voter base. The government seems incapable of safeguarding the basic conditions of security and stability, and if IS and other groups mount further attacks like the one on New Year’s Eve, indecisive voters might actually start to move towards other political parties.

The very insecurity that helped Erdoğan strengthen his power base could yet be his downfall.

In its editorial, the Guardian adds another element which casts a darkening shadow over Erdoğan’s ambitions, while praising the resiliency of Turkish people.

Turkey’s paranoid, autocratic president and his administration hardly warrant sympathy. More than 140 writers, journalists and intellectuals are imprisoned. Social media users are increasingly being investigated. Legal proceedings have begun against 80,000 people nationwide, in what amounts to massive purges… Turkey’s relations with western allies have been strained as a result of the president’s human rights record as well as policy divergences in the Middle East.

It is easy, when looking at a country in the grip of authoritarianism, to see just the despot and not the millions of citizens who populate the land in all their diversity and with all their aspirations. One man captures all the attention because he is deemed to control so much – and, indeed, his power is unrelenting. But as a nation mourns its dead, one way to manifest solidarity is to remember that despite the pressures there remains a vivid civil society in Turkey, aspiring to democracy, openness and tolerance, not hatred and divisiveness, and it is showing much courage…’

Two slightly differing views, although there is an overall agreement that the newer heights the oppression reaches, targeting defenseless citizenry, whose expectations largely on safety of life and better governance, the more delicate the phase Turkey under Erdoğan enters.

Not much more to add to these fine points, than one that is missed here, and it is looming behind the scenery as a factor which can define the course of drama into tragedy:

Pressing the gas pedal full after feeling emboldened by the coup attempt, Erdoğan went headlong into launching a purge within the military, police and the judiciary; while annihilating the independent media.


To be able to do this efficiently under the emergency rule, he cemented the alliance with the old elements of the State – the hard-liner circles, ‘dirty warriors’, off-shoots of extreme-right Grey Wolves and Salafist local organisations, as well as anti-western ultra nationalists, such as Worker’s Party (IP) – and initiated a cooperation.

This has been working on various levels: these core groups nested now as replacements within the state target indiscriminately all opposition flanks, whose only common denominator has been to demand democratisation, freedom and rights. The second level works as to distance Turkey from the key western institutions, such as NATO, EU and even European Court of Human Rights.

The question still is whether or not it is truly Erdoğan and his AKP is ruling the country, or franchising certain parts of power means that Erdoğan’s grip is rapidly loosening.

Guardian’s editorial ended:

‘A shaken nation lives in the fear that more violence may befall it in 2017, as it grapples with internal strife and the fallout from war and chaos in the Middle East. The trauma of terrorism exists alongside that of large-scale political repression in the aftermath of July’s coup attempt, as well as tensions created by coping (often remarkably, at a human level) with the arrival of an estimated 3 million refugees in recent years.

These forces are of course of different natures and dimensions; they should not be conflated with one another, nor automatically connected. But to grasp the immense pressure Turkish citizens are under, it is important to keep them all in mind.

In any country, any one of these would be a massive challenge; taken together, they amount to a rare test, putting a highly polarised nation at an important, possibly decisive, crossroads.’

Turkey has turned into battlefield for ruthless power grab, and it has now entered a most delicate phase of its existence.

Decisive crossroads indeed.


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The person of the year: Arturo Ui

Now that we are hours away from the ending of this annus horribilis, ‘year of the grim reaper’, ‘year of immeasurable cruelty’, do we have any sense of hope as we exit?

I simply don’t know. I will have one memory of 2016, as a year Stefan Zweig’s ‘Die Welt von Gestern’ (The World of Yesterday) promises to be the world of present, as a script to be dress-rehearsed into reality.

Most of the horror in 2016 took place, as known, in Turkey as the collective stage. 365 days ending in a dense nightmare; yet unfinished. For many Germans I met in the past months, I noticed how their memory awoke to the horrors of the dark past when they watched the Turkish version of ‘The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui’.


Folly is the midwife of collective frenzy which opens all the paths to absolute intolerance that marks totalitarianism. It comes in many forms – as it did in history, documented masterfully, for instance, by Barbara Tuchman in her ‘The March of Folly’ – and in our troubled time, it has been spreading through the virus of pure ignorance of populism, or, ‘elected despotism’.

It was painful for many of us to witness the most extreme elements of it taking place in Turkey, the entire year.

Every day of the annus horribilis left us observing it in convulsions, of helplessness, as the country tumbled down into a space of lies, deceit, hatred and oppression. Struggle for democracy fell short, misdirected and opened the stage for the ugliest form of quest for power; a ‘winner crushes all’ process which resembles the full-scale fights erupting in saloons of the old western movies.

These things only happen when each and every one flouts the law, abandons all respect for justice. In this sense, no matter the details, Turkey has during 2016 turned into a laboratory by which outsiders would find all the clues for a disaster when everything emerges in its worst form; when a malevolent leadership, intoxicated by absolute power, deliberately brings out the despicable elements of infamy and evil hidden in human minds.

When this happens, the frenzied society takes over, leading the leader one folly after another, as the people get poisoned and blinded by misjudgments. The chilling bursts of crowds calling for the death penalty in Turkey in the past months are whipped by its president and soon, we will find out, how difficult it will be exit from such a mess.

This mass desire about capital punishment – a collective ‘kill wish’ – is just an example. We know that 2016 will go down in history where the rule of law in Turkey has been buried to the ground, seen moreor less as redundant by the leadership. That is the worst thing that can happen to any society, but most harm is inflicted in emerging democracies where the spirit of freedom and rights is in total clash with other social segments who favor blind intolerance.

The victims in such cases are the intellectuals who seek the truth to express and share it in public, and the underdogs of the society; both vulnerable to the extreme. This has happened on daily basis, in all layers of Turkish society, in what I call the laboratory of cruelty. It is now the source of immense uneasiness, unhappiness.

As a friend working in a culture foundation in Istanbul summarized to me, when I asked her how they are feeling: ‘We are all short-circuited here, you can’t imagine’ she said.


Şahin Alpay, a prominent liberal voice, remains jailed since July 2016.

Let me give you the most recent snapshots to illustrate. Some days ago, Fatma and Elvan Alpay, mother and daughter, were busy in a bank to resolve an issue. They had been notified that the electricity in their flat was about to be cut-off in the coming days.

The reason? Fatma Alpay’s husband, Dr Şahin Alpay, has been kept in prison for more than five months. One of the most outspoken truly liberal voices of Turkey, well-known also for his cooperation with Ebert and Naumann foundations on matters related with democracy and media freedom, 73-year old, and rather frail academic and columnist is accused of links with terrorist activities, branded by the government as ‘FETÖ’ (Fethullahist Terror Organisation). Last week his assets and bank accounts were seized – although an indictment is not even in sight – and his spare funds were blocked. His wife was not allowed to draw money despite the fact that she was part of the joint account.

The ruling for the seizure included 53 other journalists, including the internationally renowned poet and philosopher, Hilmi Yavuz. Salt added to the wound that even his pension payments were blocked.


One can only imagine the sheer night are the relatives are subjected to the cruelty, that seems endless. When I asked a lawyer, who has a long experience of human rights issues, he sounded gloomy. ‘The seizure ruling means one thing’ he said to me over the phone. ‘The prosecutor will demand, I hope I am wrong, that he will demand very heavy prison sentences for these journalists.’


Kadri Gürsel, Columnist, Cumhuriyet / IPI, Turkey.

Elsewhere, reports say that jailed journalists from daily Cumhuriyet were taken to a ward with no heating, for days. One of them, Kadri Gürsel, Turkey representative of International Press Institute (IPI), asked his visiting wife for a coat, but she was not allowed to bring it in, because ‘it did not fit into the standards’.

Meanwhile, as colleagues prepared for a New Year card to be sent to those in prison, they learned that it was forbidden to send them to Ahmet Altan, a former editor in chief of daily Taraf, and his brother Prof Mehmet Altan, a columnist.

With the most recent arrests of five journalists – alleged to be part of hacking of the mail accounts of Berat Albayrak, Energy Minister and Erdoğan’s son-in-law – the number of those in jail now are 154.

This figure corresponds to about 60 % (sixty, in letters) of all the journalists in prisons worldwide, a despicable conclusion by the Turkish authorities, as we exit 2016.

The most recent development is the arrest of Ahmet Şık, a fiercely bold journalist, who after spending more than a year in jail between 2011-2012 because of a book scrutinizing the infiltration of Gulenists into the state apparatus, lately digging into the dark background of the coup attempt, and the murder of the Russian ambassador.

He was targeted also due to his critical tweets. As he was taken into custody, the release of Aslı Erdoğan and Necmiye Alpay, two literary figures linked with the pro-Kurdish newspaper Ozgur Gündem, came as a limited relief. Limited, because they are both banned from travel abroad.


The Kafkaesque absurdities know no boundaries. A man, running the cafeteria of daily Cumhuriyet, was late to his work some days ago. When asked by a security officer why, he said that he had to drive around to find a parking spot because the roads were blocked due to an event which President Erdoğan would participate. Security officer tried to joke, saying, ‘if he passes by here, you can serve him some tea then.’ The cafeteria runner responded, ‘no way I am doing this.’

He was arrested hours after. T

he judge sending him to prison in the courtroom is reported to have lectured him: ‘He (Erdoğan) keeps pardoning people, yet you people refuse to stand still…’

Then, there is the story of the man who proposes to a woman, in a town near İzmir. When she refuses, he informs the police that ‘she is a member of FETÖ’.

This incredible anecdote is one of many which reveal how mentally polluted the people have become.

Recently, a couple, both academicians, from Turgut Özal University, were caught near the Greek border, in Edirne, suspected of fleeing the country. I learned that it was their nearest relatives who had informed the police about them.

Sounds familiar enough to remember the horror in Hitler’s Germany, or Stalin’s Russia, some 80 years ago.

2016 also marked how insensitive, apathic large parts of Turkish elite indeed was, as the authoritarianism crept in with full force.

Most recent victim of the arrest wave was Prof İştar Gözaydın, a secular sociologist specialized on the role of religion and a top expert on ‘Diyanet’ (Directorate of Religous Affairs, also known ell in Germany). Not a sound of protest came from the academic community. Intimidation and fear in Turkey undoubtedly has reached a peak.

So, as we exit 2016, watching the events in Turkey – and elsewhere – with concern, I wonder how careful we all should be for what we wish for.

We are all on a minefield, with Kulturkampf of all senses everywhere, and my only hope for 2017 is that we maintain our strength in our professions, to continue to battle for human dignity and freedom.

That will require much deeper sanity and resilience than ever before, everywhere.

Let us, at this crucial moment, wish each other luck.

We need it.


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