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 | 3 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.

 

Posted in Turkey | Leave a comment

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

Has Turkey’s notorious ‘deep state’ come back with a vengeance?

The return of Ergenekon as ultranationalists replace FETÖ”

This was the headline of one of the most concise and interesting analysis I encountered lately.

The column was penned by my esteemed colleague Barçın Yinanç, with Hurriyet Daily News (an outlet affiliated with Doğan Medya Group, under fierce political pressure by the AKP, thus heavily self-censored) which stands out as a fresh and daring look into what takes place in Turkey’s ever-turbulent power struggle at the top.

Calling the spade a spade, and penetrating beyond the suffocating official narrative, it argued that the ‘inner state’ – what some call ‘deep state’ – had returned with full force, rising from a position of defeat – and back with a vengeance.

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Here is how Yinanç described it, as she recapped the past 15 years, bringing us to her conclusions:

”When the Justice and Development Party (AKP) came to power, the result took even its leadership by surprise. AKP leaders did not have the cadres to rule the country, as they were rather anti-establishment; they joined hands with the Gülenists.

 In order to consolidate their stay in power, they realized they had to be accepted as a legitimate and workable partner by the West, especially the European Union.

While maintaining good relations with the EU, they realized that the bloc was critical of the state establishment in Turkey. In the eyes of the Europeans the military-judicial bloc was obstructing democratic reforms in the country. This bloc was against a democratic opening to solve the Kurdish issue, improvements in the rights of the country’s non-Muslim minorities and the full endorsement of fundamental freedoms like freedom of expression, while it was also blocking judicial reform.

 In short, it was this blockage that was obstructing Turkey’s capacity to fulfill the democratic criteria that would open membership talks.

It was the same military-judicial bloc that had made life difficult for political Islam in Turkey. The Gülenists had suffered a lot from the wrath of this bloc, especially that of the military, which had blocked their penetration of the armed forces.

Turkey’s new ruling elites soon realized that EU reforms also meant the eradication of military influence from civilian life. So along with other reforms, steps to diminish the military’s role in civilian life began being put in force.

By 2007, the military’s arch enemies, the Gülenists, had succeeded in penetrating and fully exerting control over the judicial system and the police apparatus, but, in their eyes, the demilitarization of Turkish politics would not be wholly successful with some democratic reforms alone. As such, they pushed the button in 2007 for their huge vengeance operation, which came to be known as the Ergenekon trials.

The military-judicial bloc was a coalition of die-hard secularists/Kemalists and ultranationalists. The liberals and the democrats in the country had also suffered from that bloc and had long been suspicious of the bloc’s possible illegal activity. That’s why some endorsed these trials as a revolutionary step to finally demilitarize politics and consolidate real democracy.

But the Gülenists aimed solely at the secularist/Kemalist leg of the coalition, and it soon became clear that the legal case called Ergenekon, (the name given to the allegedly shadowy organization within the state) followed by the “Balyoz” (Sledgehammer) case, was a farce. They aimed at getting back at the soldiers and totally penetrating the army after the judiciary.

Liberal hopes that those with dirty hands within the state would be held accountable for past crimes were dashed.

After the breakup of the alliance between the AKP and the Gülenists, followed by the purges within the state, the ruling party needed to cultivate new cadres, especially among the security apparatus.

Guess who they opted for: the ultranationalists who are usually close to the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP). For this group, the arch enemy is the liberals, democrats and left-wing intellectuals. Unable to cast aside its Cold War ideology, they are targeting the intellectuals, profiting from the dust created during the cleansing of the Gülenists.

A group that is loyal to a former interior minister who even served jail time is said to be very influential within the Interior Ministry and is believed to be behind the purge against the left-wing liberal intellectuals, who are losing their jobs even though they have no linkages to FETÖ.

The forces who blocked Turkey’s democratization process in the 1980s and 1990s are back again with their archaic mentality and are unfortunately proceeding full steam ahead in an effort to crush Turkey’s democrats.”

While disagreeing with some of her remarks, I find Yinanç’s final remarks as extraordinary: they are powerful in a sense that offers all the current and prospective analysis about the neverending power battle at Ankara’s top echelons fresh perspectives.

Let me explain on two points I disagree with Yinanç.

  • It was not (what Yinanç calls) ‘new ruling elite’ who in the first place opened the gates of the security and judicial apparatus to Gülenists in the first place. It began, as a pattern, with the three-party coalition (DSP-ANAP-MHP) which preceded the AKP. Former PM Bülent Ecevit played a key role in the process; because it was his drive to launch reforms which later would pave way for membership talks with the EU. Ecevit was discontent with the human rights violations, which the continued military domination over politics had enhanced. He had contempt with torture, which during the 1990’s was systematic in Turkish police houses and prisons. He took the lead for an institutional reform within the interior an justice departments, and received large-scale assistance from some European countries in terms of education – seminars, courses and conferences. Appointments and recruitments in those structures played a big role, with mainly Gülenist elements in the front. This move, which later led to the abolishment of death penalty, caused a lot of dismay among the hardliners the military, police and judiciary; the ‘inner/deep state’ of Turkey felt the upcoming threat as an existential one. It must be a given that thanks to these new cadres – be them dominated by Gülenists – torture was devolved from the state of ‘systematic’ to ‘exceptional’.
  • I am not at all sure that ‘Ergenekon’ and ‘Balyoz’ (Sledgehammer) cases were ‘farce’ – if ‘farce’ means a ‘sham trial’. There was more than enough in the core of both indictments that gave legitimacy to the implications against a limited number of officers at the very top in both cases, but it was soon politicized, made instrumental, and the team of prosecutors, be them some Gülenists and some not, blew the chances of a fair trial by being ‘used’ by the top executive political authority, Erdoğan, who had already declared himself as ‘chif prosecutor of the cases’. When the ground of the both cases were undermined, they paved way for another injustice, another collapse of the judicial structures, and paved way for all those who had to be tried robustly for being responsible for the past crimes such as coup plotting, and summary executions of the Kurdish oppositional figures, to came back with a vengeance. So, it was neither independent liberal media nor the Gülenist grassroots who had to be blamed for the collapse, but some selected Gülenist and ‘arrivist’ judges and prosecutors and Erdoğan himself who pushed the wrong buttons which derailed Turkey’s democratisation entirely.

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The final findings of Yinanç are, in my opinion, fully correct, and timely.

When Erdoğan and Gülen fell apart, beginning with Mavi Marmara incident, and with the closure of private tutorial schools (dershane), and an FBI-led graft probes landed like a bombshell, Erdoğan had to step back, rethink, and in sheer survival instinct, cut a new alliance with his foes of the past: the military and its ‘dark lackeys’ in the bureaucracy.

He knew that they had a common enemy in Gülen and his followers, a group that did not rank high at all in popularity amongst militarists, seculars, Kurds, Alevis, ultra-nationalists and leftists, and forged an alliance to declare them the only culprit. The military, who had long complained that Gülen was the enemy number #1 – shring the same position with Öcalan – agreed; redesigning a strategy that ‘new enemy of my enemy’ will do the dirty job, until it rose to regain the positions that it had lost.

The collapse of the Kurdish Peace Process, as well as the choreography and the aftermath of the ‘coup attempt’ fit perfectly into this picture, providing answers that the new alliance is keen on cleansing all that stand as potential alternatives to a power share, and in terms of a new social contract, democratisation.

Thus, ‘FETO’ was added as a new ‘master key’, to ‘divisive terror’ (attributed to the Kurdish Political Movement) to launch a project of a ‘monolithic Turkey’ where diversity, pluralism, dissent and civil society will be exterminated.

The AKP’s story stands as a spectacular case study in politics how a grassroots movement, elected massively to the power, starts well, and due to incompetence, ignorance, overambition and paranoia, refuses to share it; ending up with a personalisation of it. A project that started with the hopes of building a democracy, turns in a slow motion to an autocracy.

 

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An award that goes to all those who resist darkness of despotism in Turkey

In May 15, I stood at the stage in Hotel President Wilson in Geneva, to receive an award that left me with a great sense of humility and pride. It was the human rights NGO, UN Watch which had decided to hand over its highest distinction, the Morris B. Abram Human Rights Award. The award declaration said that I was chosen for bravery, in being “a leading voice against the authoritarianism of the Erdogan regime, and a fearless voice of truth on the world stage.”

The award commemorates the legacy of UN Watch’s founder, the late Ambassador Morris Abram, a pioneering civil rights advocate, diplomat and UN delegate, who in 1963, helped win the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case that granted equality to the votes of African-Americans.

Previous winners of the prestigious prize include Chinese dissident Yang Jianli; Russian dissident and world chess champion Garry Kasparov; Dr. Massouda Jalal, Afghanistan’s first Minister for Women’s Affairs;  and Esther Mujawayo, an activist for victims of the genocide in Rwanda.

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Mixed feelings. Humility, bitterness and pride…

Here is how I shared those sentiments with the audience – around 300 people – that night:

”As I stand here, tonight, my emotions are a peculiar blend. While humbled, I must add I am also eclipsed by bitterness, disappointment, and concern.

I wish that I would have felt more optimistic as someone who over four decades has observed the speactacular adventures of his homeland.

My limited sense of hope was that, a month ago, the people of Turkey would have rejected, with an overwhelming majority, the accelerated slide to tyranny.

Exposing us observers as driven by illusion, they did not issue a loud and clear ‘no’.

It is not the 49 percent who said no to such a willful push which interests me, but rather, the 51 percent who said yes. I would have accepted if it were, say, up to some 20 percent.

After 15 years of struggle for human dignity in a country, where Pandora’a Box was kept open, such level of suicidal willingness is dragging with it the entire Asia Minor, a cradle of civilisations; a ground for coexistence, however tense, to the abyss of cruelty.

Yet, throughout history we have all known that, once the power is handed over to a single man, it only bodes for ill times.

Every word coming out of his lips, which is instantly perceived as a verdict, only deepens the nightmare for all those who cherish freedom, individuality, civilian courage, integrity and compassion, ending more often than not, in disaster.

I remember Germany, of 1934, and shiver.

I’ve wanted to hope that our memories after two world wars and a destructive cold one, would be so fresh that history would repeat itself much less.

Thus, my disappointment.

Many of us intellectuals in Turkey, those of us with different colours but with honesty in common, had known all along that as the millennium began, our country had also come to a critical, existential threshold.

With a new breed of politicians, which was represented by a new political party, then, our hope was that Turkey at last would be able to shake off dark parts of its shaky past, and would deliver equality, dignity and justice to its citizens, who were deceived by its elite.

The rotten state of management had come to a watershed, and the question was whether or not the country would be able to take that leap.

Pandora’s Box, which kept the ghosts of the past, such as atrocities against the folks in Asia Minor, and human suffering caused by a rurthless social and political engineering, was opened just so that this experiment, which we called normalisation, would be successful.

But, it required that:

  • A culture of consensus be encouraged,
  • Well educated secular elite would wise up and learn from its past mistakes and develop new political alternatives
  • The party which took over, the AKP, would be a coordinator of democratisation in which they would be seen as the ones that raised the quality of the rebublican order, in a sense that it redistributed, not accumulated, power.

In all three, we failed.

Thus, my bitterness; that not only is directed at those in power who deliberately blocked it from happening but also to its opponents, who now to a large part either submissive to authoritarianism being cemented or, busy, building a new coalition to be part of the rotten system simply, paradoxically, refreshed.

I am only one of those who saw his duty to stop this repeat of history from happening.

In my lifetime I have witnessed more suffering in Turkey than my share.

And also, my memory is strong enough to remind others on how vast the torment of a few German intellectuals who saw the storm clouds gathering when Reichstag fire started spreading to the streets and homes of entire Germany.

Uthopian, humanist Russian intellectuals whose efforts to stop Stalin ended when the murder of Kirov was the final blow to open the gates of hell…

Or many Iranian intellectuals, whose warnings were lost in the void as teocratic fascism rose before their eyes, wiping everything diverse on its way.

The battle for the human rights was the backbone of my journalism and I am, after 15 years of a vicious cycle, left only with gloom, once more.

Pessimistic about the deepening crisis in Turkey as I am, nevertheless do I feel the same obligation to do my best as a witness of my time, to keep a focus on the freedoms and rights, but this time as a victim myself, forced to exile.

I turn often, these days, to the great Austrian author, Stefan Zweig, whose memories, Die Welt von Gestern, which I believe everyone concerned about the world these days should read, and who said:

”Only the misfortune of exile can provide the in-depth understanding and the overview into the realities of the world.”

He also said:

‘Only the person who has experienced light and darkness, war and peace, rise and fall, only that person has truly experienced life.’

So true, for all of us.

Despite being torn apart from my homeland, I still feel lucky, in comparison with many intellectuals, who due to their strong sense of ethics and honesty, were killed, jailed; fired; living under constant threat.

I dedicate this award to the memory of Hrant Dink, Tahir Elçi and all the others, many of them so young, who lost their lives; and all the colleagues of mine thrown into jail, simply because of their staunch defence of our noble profession.

It goes to all those in Turkey, who resent and fight against despotism.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Erdoğan’s ‘Global Legitimacy Tour’ to reach its successful finale in Brussels

President Erdoğan’s march on the road map, very clearly defined by him for long, proceeds with no hurdles.

On Sunday, he was re-elected as party chairman after nearly 1000 days of absence, and, after gaining control in most of the state institutions, including the army, he is now a Commander-in-Chief with a party affiliation – unprecedented in modern Turkish history.

The march will now reach its climax, when he meets NATO and EU leaders in Brussels.

The world has been watching a rise, which can only  be compared in 1930’s Europe. Yet, although the similarities are striking, the march has been met with much apathy, and a bewildering indifference. So much so that even when his body guards were involved in beating peaceful Kurdish demonstrators in Washington, there was not much of a reaction.

Let’s now have a look at the ‘grand global tour’ Erdoğan launched, some weeks ago, which so far included China, Russia, India and – finally – the USA.

The much-anticipated meeting between US President Donald Trump and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan last week ended as it began, a mere blip.

Or so it seemed.

It was the Turkish president who raised expectations when he described the agenda by saying “our talks will no longer be about commas but with full stops.” The allusion was to the idea that, what he could not achieve with former US Presi­dent Barack Obama, he would seek to conclude with his successor.

The meeting took no longer than 22 minutes but, even with a working lunch with the delega­tions added, there were question marks about full stops. Nothing of that sort emerged from the talks. Ankara is only left with an anticlimax.

In many ways, Erdogan went to Washington with a mission impossible: There was no way to make Trump revoke his decision, prompted resolutely by the Pentagon, to arm the Syrian Kurds. All he could do was grumble in a news conference about it, in subtly threatening terms.

At times Trump grinned nervously and many took it for granted that his mind was much more on the controversy of leaking sensitive intelligence to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov than feeling sympathy for his Turkish counterpart. It appeared that the talks were rather devoid of meaning.

Erdogan was certainly aware how tightly squeezed he was. For months he had protested about the role of the Syrian Defence Forces (SDF) and the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) in the fight against the Islamic State (ISIS) and Trump’s decision had pre-empted much of Erdogan’s expectations.

On his way to Washington, Erdogan met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi and in Beijing. The Russian president inflicted even more wounds. As Erdogan stepped onto the plane heading for the United States, Putin said the Syrian Kurds had his country’s full support, no matter what.

It was clear that this double blow paralysed Erdogan’s arguments and offers. This also showed how Turkey’s erratic policies in Syria helped some­what align the regional policies of Moscow and Washington, specifically on the extermina­tion of ISIS and other jihadist forces as the highest priority.

Erdogan knew perfectly well that the extradition of Fethullah Gulen, whom he blames for inciting the attempted coup in Turkey last July, from the United States was a half-hearted demand. He likely believes the cleric, his formidable foe, better remain in the United States for political reasons. The contro­versy will help Erdogan conduct as fierce a campaign in 2019 to cement his autocracy. Erdogan bets on the prospect that the process of extradition will take years.

The US federal court case of the Iranian-Turkish gold trader Reza Zarrab, which implicates Erdogan’s family and close circles in organised crime allegations in bypassing an Iranian embargo is really Erdog­an’s main headache but even there he knows that he has enough time to try to have the case watered down.

There was debate among Turkey analysts, after Trump’s decision to prefer Kurdish militia to Turkish armed forces, about why Erdogan did not postpone his visit to the White House. Some argued that by doing so Ankara would have sent the message to the Americans that these Turks must have a reason to keep tensions high.

Erdogan, though, did not turn a hair. This explains why, after all, his visit was a success from his vantage point. This may also explain what he meant by “full stop.” Soon after his highly debated referendum victory, marked as “shady” in the official reports by the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), Erdogan deliber­ately launched a global tour simply aimed at the legitimacy of the result. He went to Russia, India and China, meeting with top leaders.

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Erdogan was emboldened by a congratulatory phone call from Trump the day after the vote and the visit to Washington was simply payback and a crowning moment that he, after all, was to be seen as a recognised leader to do business with. So, the photo-op in the White House was added to those from Russia, India and China.

If there is any dimension of success, this is it. All those analysts who claimed much ado about nothing may be missing a point: It was much ado about one thing — a continuity of a leader­ship, despite high criticism.

The tour for legitimacy will come — to use again the term of Erdogan’s — to its full stop when he reaches his final destination: To meet with leaders at the NATO summit as well as the top figures of the European Union. It will be all about mutually polite smiles, however false, and weak hand­shakes, frozen in snapshots.

For the moment, Erdogan seems satisfied. When it comes to Turkey and its interests, well, that’s an entirely different story.

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

Live and let die: Are hunger strikes a cynical tool for ‘martyrdom politics’?

”If the power targets the very life, then the life itself becomes, per se, a resistance to power.” This motto often at display in strikes and social resistence in public spaces, has carved itself into memory.

In the past week or so, it was revived again, in turbulent Turkey, where decree after decree darkens the lives of the citizens of various professions, especially school teachers, academics and journalists, by making them jobless, eternally blacklisted for careers, punished for hunger, simply because they are in open disagreement with the power, solely represented by President Erdoğan. As the purge has intensified, a powerful debate has erupted among the intellectuals about the right to live, individual manipulation, flock mentality, and whether or not will to die for a cause is an act of high morality. At times it has turned so acrimonious that curses and cussword have flung about; but also so powerful that in involved Spinoza, Derrida, Marx, Kant, Sartre, Edward Said and many others. Overall it is so interesting that German reader should be made aware of its context and content.

At the epicenter of the debate are two activists, Ms Nuriye Gülmen and Mr Serdar Özakça, two teachers sacked arbitrarily from their jobs last autumn. It was first Gülmen who last November started to demonstrate individually, evey day, with a plakate, ‘I want my job back!’, only to be taken to custody routinely by the police, then to return to the same square with the same demand the following day.

She was later joined by Özakça, another fired teacher. Early last March their civil resistance evolved into hunger strike. Their demands were also enhanced: Lifting of the emergency rule, end to arbitrary sackings, job security for the public employees and – this one showed a broad partisan bias – reemployment of all ‘revolutionary democrats’ sacked (as if to say, ‘we don’t care about the others’).

Nearly two and the half months after, their action has great attention. While the pro-government columnists accuse them of being members of underground leftist networks, AKP supporters’ mockery in social media goes virile by questions why they don’t lose weight. Some sent meals to the square in Ankara where they sit.

Police visits the spot to disperse those who want to show solidarity.

Gülmen_Özakça

But this is not what caused the debate. The action had enough contagious effect for the left to mobilize a campaign not only in signature campaigns praising those two, but also further hunger strikes nationwide. Some columns by leftist pundits were dedicated to mythbuilding that the couple were ‘multiplying a silent cry by defying death in waves, which meet other voices; with those who fear death at one side and these who love life but face death willingly…’

This campaign led to powerful objections by some intellectuals, led by the internationally renowned philosophy scholar, Zeynep Direk, with Koç University, who questioned the moral legitimacy of what they call ‘a mirror martyrdom culture’ – comparing to that of jihadists’.

When I was tipped by a scholar friend of its rapid follow-up, I found that the social media was a wrestling ground. At the firing line was Ms Direk, who apparently had started it all, and she had to endure a lot of slander from the activist left flanks. ‘Shut up!’ was the most polite expression directed at her, I found out.

She was extremely sturdy and defiant. ‘I will voice my conscience’ she kept writing, supported also by a group of concerned intellectuals.

Initially, she had asked a question. ”Yes, we know that the state decrees sentenced you to hunger” she wrote in facebook. ”But you have your friends, your solidarity circles. One can live together until one returns. Does the hunger strike to death not damage the confidence we must have in these relations?”

She took the issue further.

According to Direk, Gülmen’s initial action was a noble civilian stand.

She wrote:

”Yet we now witness an academician, who every day with a smile stood by herself in a street and was served tea and food by the shopkeepers and passers-by, to be turned into a suicide activist. Let’s not say her own will; because the will itself is under everything and everybody. Probably, we see a surrender to those forces who exert influence. Everybody who supports a process which in the name of defending life leads to a Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome is responsible. Life is not defended this way. I take a distance from all those groups and structures who by being behind this action serve utilitarian mentalities. This is my moral stand.”

Finding herself under verbal lynching, she went on to say:

”I don’t address the state, because it is no longer. I address the individuals and groups. There is nothing defendible if one responds morally in a wrong way to maltreatment. The thing to do is to convince Nuriye and Semih that theitr action is wrong. This must be the stand of the academicians. We have to use our minds and tongues, and not inflict harm on ourselves. Let me quote Spinoza: We have to support joyful resistance; not sorrow and obstinacy to death…”

At this point some of those who joined hunger strikes in 1990’s in the prisons joined and many of them agreed with Direk; that there was a huge difference between a prisoner who was left with no choice in total isolation and those who demand a job back. One of them, a former far-leftist, wrote:

”Necrophilian politics obviously sees something shameful in ‘logos’ and ethical politics. It suggests that we should be ready for celebrating the next funeral. Necrophilian politics are aimed at silencing and h-ypnotising people, that’s why they are so hostile to intellectuals.”

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”Resilience” wrote Direk to some who quoted Marx to her, ”is a will to build a new life. If the state looks like everything except a state, then all we should do is to fight so that it is ‘reset’ to its basics and to acknowledge human integrity. Resilience, survival, rational debate, solidarity, friendship and patience offered by time; these are the ways.Now you tell me, Kant again? Bourgois liberalism again? What about a little Marx? It can be hard but this is the time Kant may be ahead of Marx, don’t you think?”

”If we put aside intellectuals like Edward Said who stod by people resisting conditions alike a colony, should an intellectual defend the sacrifice of the lives of the children of her/his country? At the end, when the state crushes those children, how can you look into the faces of their mothers? Wouldn’t those peoples be cross with you? Look, the souls of the intellectuals who back violence rot sooner or later. They end up thoughtless under the weight of those deaths they have helped cause. We have so many minds suffering depression and enmity to the thinking itself. So, no matter what our conditions are, please try not to be one of those intellectuals who sublimate death and act like grave diggers.”

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As much as Direk represents a minority in the current turbulence of crisis-ridden Turkey, the despair of the Marxian left is also a naked fact. It has no political correspondence with the rather submissive masses – be them pious or Kemalist-secular – which exposes the copy of a ‘death wish’ of those in other far end – of jihadists.

The danger, now looming, is a repetition of modern Turkish history.

The two hunger strikers approach death by every day, somewhat ‘captives’ of the support campaign, and if a tragedy happens, the state certainly will not care a bit. Families and friends will suffer, and all those who favor (self) violence will only feel a victory that the hatred will enrich a mythology which is fed by a willful loss of human lives.

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Taboo-breaking Belge Publishing House raided: ‘Black history of Turkey is back’

When I heard the news, I called him first thing in the morning.

At the other end of the line, there was this elderly gentleman – 70 years old – known as one of the boldest taboo-breakers in Turkey.

‘Good morning’ I said to Ragıp Zarakolu.

His publishing house, Belge, was raided in Istanbul, the night before.

‘No good news I am afraid, although nothing comes as a surprise anymore’ he told me.

The police had called his assistant in the late hours and told him to come quickly to the door of the Belge office, or else they would have to break in.

The raid was, Ragıp told me, probably due to some ‘ridicolous’ suspicion that Belge was linked to an underground violent leftist organisation, known as DHKP-C. That’s what the police briefly had told his aide Mehmet Ali Varış.

The search went for a long while. Copies of two books – one titled ‘Kurds Without a State’ and the other, ‘Choices Harder than Death’ – were first on the raiders’ list. ‘There is a court ruling on confiscation of those’ they told Varış, who had not heard of it before.

Then, the search was enhanced. When the raid was ending, the police had seized 2.170 copies of various publications of Belge. The reason? ‘They all lack banderols on the back side’ the officers said. ‘It’s against the law.’ What they referred to was a tax label, which is obligatory for the books. Varış told them that many of those books were published before the ‘banderole law’ was issued, and they were kept in the office for archive purposes.

‘Should we have burnt those copies?’ he asked them.

No answer. Officers even picked up two rare books dating back to late 1960’s by the now defunct leftist publisher, ANT – a predecessor to Belge – citing the same law.

‘One doesn’t know if one should laugh or cry’ Ragıp said over the phone.

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As a fiercely independent left-liberal intellectual, a ‘lone wolf’, his memory is loaded. The painful part for him is that the harrassment patterns have now returned with full force, after a brief period of ‘thaw’ in Turkey some ten years ago, thanks to the EU reform process then.

Sunday’s raid took place as Belge was celebrating its 40th anniversary, with over 850 books in its portfolio. It was also subjected to various court cases on ‘subversive content’ for over 45 times during this period.

Zarakolu and his late wife, Ayşe Nur – who he says was the real ‘engine’ behind the activity – had started by publishing books on Marxism and, later, European modern Left, often drawing rage from the dogmatists. Belge survived a lot of hardship throughout the 1980’s, and in early 1990’s Zarakolus thought time was ripe to break Turkey’s tightest-knit taboo of all: the Armenian Genocide. And it was with those books on the issue Belge came to be known as a pioneer.

It plunged into the academic literature – such as the large-volume books by the genocide scholar Vahagn Dadrian, narratives of the survivors of the extermination, by Vergine Svaslian, Franz Werfel’s ’40 Days in Musa Dagh’, Wolfgang Gust’s massive collection of German archive documents on the events in 1915. It published a long series of memoirs of Anatolian Armenians.

‘Turkish-German relations during WW1 was kept under the cover of the official narrative so much in Turkey that we published ‘Berlin-Baghdad’ by Lothar Rathman, ‘Ottomans’ by Ernst Werner” Ragıp told me.

Arnim Wegner, who is known as the ”photographer of the Armenian Genocide” was the one who had turned Zarakolus’ attention to the subject, so he was published, as well as Eva Gropler’s ”History of Anti-Semitism”.

”It was very important for us to inform readers on the situation of the universities during the Nazi period, because ‘cleansing of the academia’ in Turkey is a tradition” he said. ”Look at the purge now, it is the largest ever…”

Belge’s activity was a huge challenge in Turkey, which has been swamped in denial from top down. The more it published books on ethnic cleansings of Ottoman folk groups during the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, the more it was branded as an ‘enemy’.

The breaking of the Armenian Taboo had begun with Belge in 1993, with the publication of ‘History of Armenian Genocide’ by the French historian, Yves Ternon. They were followed by the books about massacres of Alevis in Dersim province, and works by Georgios Andreadis on the mass annihilation of Greek natives of Pontos, at the Black Sea coast of Anatolia.

”As a result, Andreadis was declared persona non grata. His entry ban to Turkey went on for 20 years, until his death.”

Yves Ternon’s book caused outrage of the authorities and the far-right, and Belge publishers felt how isolated one can be.

The entire left had left them alone while they were under threat; it was painful, Ragıp said, to sense the lack of solidarity, as opposed to the one that existed regarding the Kurdish struggle.

Ragıp added that ‘one did not have to come from a leftist background’ to raise awareness of the genocides and crimes of humanity.

”If you are a human rights activist and had read the UN Convention thereof, being disengaged is your shame. For us Armenian Genocide was not a taboo; because it involved summary executions, ‘missings’, massacres… But in those times, in 1970’s and 80’s, it was only seen as an event in history; some intellectuals even saw it as an ‘obsession’ if you opened the subject. ‘Stop whining, it’s past’ was a common reaction. For the leftists, even among Armenians of that flank, it was the future that was important.”

”Belge broke the taboo of the military, by publishing a Human Rights Watch report on attrocities in Kurdish villages in early 1990’s. We paid a price for that, but won at the European Court. It was also thanks to Ayşe, who pushed a publication of book titled ‘Kurdistan as an Interstate Colony’, Belge helped break Kurdish Taboo at that time.”

So, clearly, Belge with its vast portfolio on the ‘lost history’ of Asia Minor comes immediatey to mind when one seeks literature. An amazing achievement, an act of intellectual bravery, against all odds: a valid reason to be targeted whenever the winds of tyranny blow.

”Freedom to publish in Turkey is severely endangered, and raises concern’ Ragıp concluded. ”Citing coup attempt of last year as a pretext 29 publishing houses were shut down, and their assets were seized. It began with Gülen Movement, followed by Kurdish publishers.

The regime has three bags now: Left, Liberals and Kurds. All the oppositions voices are linked with terror and crammed into these bags. There is no longer any respect for law. Civilian courts are forced the issue ruling that are out of their jurisdiction. Turkish law actually says that if a book is not charged within a certain time, it gains immunity and can not be subject to indictment. Now, any court anywhere in Turkey can issue a ruling for confiscation. It had happened during the military regime in 1980’s. Now it is a so-called civilian one that does the same thing.”

He sighs deeply over the line.

Brief silence.

Then he speaks in a low voice:

”There is a very profound reality behind all this… I am afraid this country will never, ever be able to change for the better. It couldn’t win for losing… This black history will simply keep repeating itself….”

”Until it gets the history’s big slap on its face…”

 

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Is Erdoğan on a collision course with Trump on PYD/YPG against Jihadists?

Clash or accord?

When Turkish President Erdoğan meets the President of the USA, Donald Trump, on May 18, the fog which blurs the future of the relations between the tow allies will disperse.

The key issue on the agenda, from Erdoğan’s standpoint, is what will happen with the spectacular ‘Zarrab case’, a Turkish-Iranian goldtrader, who stands charged in New York Federal Court. Zarrab was a key figure in Erdoğan’s close circle, and the case indicates allegations of involvemenet of the close members of his family.

Forget about the rest for the moment.

What’s at stake in Syria and with ISIS is secondary for Erdoğan, they are simply bargaining chips in his talks with Trump, which he places on the table as elements of swap, with the condition that, if Zarrab case is ‘watered down’ or, better, ‘evaporated’, Erdoğan will be ready to accept the alliance that is built between the PYD/YPG and the USA (also Russia).

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But it seems that the swap Erdoğan hopes for is endangered. Trump has made up his mind – most probably by the men he chose from Pentagon into his administration – and he will be set to tell Erdoğan that, no matter what, the march to the ISIS stronghold Raqqa is going to happen with the Kurdish YPG combat units as the main force on ground.

Yet, it was a long process which kept the ground tense, and helped encourage Turkish Armed Forces to flex some muscles at the Syrian-Turkish border, with airstrikes against the YPG. That led to the American protests, and there are now US armored vehicles and soldiers patrolling the border. Two allies are at odds with each other, when an enemy is well-defined.

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Here is the background of how the discord developed between Ankara and Washington DC, as described by Foreign Policy:

”In the closing days of the Obama administration, the Pentagon made a similar request to arm the Kurds for a Raqqa operation but President Barack Obama decided it was too big a step to take so close to Trump entering office, especially given Turkey’s stance.

Senior officials in the Obama administration and military officers briefed Trump’s aides on the plan days before he was sworn in and urged them to move quickly with the operation.

“We viewed this as a high priority and one of the top national security issues in our transition discussions,” said one former White House official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. But the Trump White House chose to hold off and has been conducting a review of war strategy since January, despite the president’s vows to defeat Islamic State “quickly.”

Ankara, in the meantime, has lobbied Washington to pursue a different approach that would rely on Turkish troops deployed in Syria and a largely untested Arab force, the Syrian Free Army.

But U.S. officials “have explored what Turkey had to offer and found that it did not have that much to contribute militarily,” said Linda Robinson, an analyst at the Rand Corporation who has advised American forces and recently returned from a visit to Syria with U.S. commanders.

During the Obama administration, senior officials also came away unimpressed with Turkey’s proposals.

Despite Turkey’s misgivings, the Trump administration has concluded that including Syrian Kurdish forces in the lead represents the only realistic way to push the Islamic State out of Raqqa, which the group has referred to as the capital of its “caliphate.” But to avoid aggravating relations with Ankara, the White House and the Pentagon chose to postpone any decision on Raqqa until after Turkey held its referendum last month.

Turkish warplanes also struck Kurdish forces in northern Syria late last month, killing 18 of the U.S.-backed fighters in a raid that occurred less than six miles from where American forces were based. The attack prompted the Pentagon to send another detachment of U.S. Army Rangers to the border as a buffer between the Kurds and Turkish forces.

 Last week, the commander of U.S. European Command, Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, told his Turkish counterpart Gen. Hulusi Akar that the strikes were dangerous, because Ankara gave U.S. forces less than an hour’s notice before the bombing began.

 On Wednesday, one of Erdogan’s advisors suggested that the Americans could be struck by Turkish missiles, comments he quickly walked back the next day. Pentagon spokesman Eric Pahon told FP the comment was “irresponsible and unacceptable.”

The angry words and the Turkish air strikes on Washington’s Kurdish allies in Syria underscore the risks of going ahead with the plan to take Raqqa, and the fragile state of U.S.-Turkish relations. The tensions will require delicate diplomacy to reassure Ankara, which fears the Kurds have been promised a possible independent state on Turkey’s southern border.

 After months of training efforts, U.S. commanders are pinning their hopes on the mixed Kurdish-Arab contingent — known as the Syrian Democratic Forces — to take Raqqa. Ankara considers the Syrian Kurdish fighters to be aligned with the Kurdish PKK, which it regards as a terrorist group, and paints them both with the same brush. Washington, however, makes a distinction between the two groups.

At this late stage, U.S. officials are reluctant to scrap their plan and entertain a major role for forces trained by Turkey. One Pentagon official said that although the U.S.-trained forces are mixed, the Kurds occupy almost all of the leadership positions. Any move to introduce the Turkish-backed militias would complicate the operation, as the Turkish-backed force has previously attacked the Kurdish fighters in northern Syria.

U.S. military officers say that Washington will ensure that Kurdish forces will not operate unilaterally or be allowed to rule over Raqqa once the Islamic State is forced out. They also say they are looking at options including rationing ammunition to Kurdish troops to allay Turkish concerns about a Kurdish militia stockpiling U.S.-supplied weapons to create an independent state.”

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Erdoğan had sent three men of his closest circle – Chief of Staff, Gen Hulusi Akar; Chief Aide, Ibrahim Kalın and Intelligence Chief, Hakan Fidan – to Washington, but the President’s men seem not to have noted much progress in persuading their counterparts.

Now, once more, it is to be noted that Turkey is now squeezed tightly between the USA and Russia, both favouring Kurdish fighters in their battle against the common enemy: Jihadists.

As journalist Mahmut Bozarslan wrote in Al-Monitor:

”What is happening now resembles the days when the Kurdish autonomous region was being set up after the first Gulf War. The region emerged with US support despite Turkey’s fervent opposition. Today, we also have Russia on the stage. Both the United States and Russia clearly are not going to give up on the Kurds. The most likely scenario will be for Turkey to modify its policies accordingly.”

This is an open question. Erdoğan’s priorities differ from the remnants of the Turkish ‘inner state’ he has chosen to surround himself with. The forged US and Russian cooperation with the Syrian Kurds will shake his ground, leave him with a narrower room to operate in Ankara, if the advances towards Raqqa happen without Turkey.

Consequently, more to expect.

If Ankara is determined to pursue the same anti-Kurdish hard line, the tension is held, and the meeting in DC will define its dosage with uncertain consequences.

 

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