‘Turkish Awakening’ – A kind of book review

How do you feel when you wake up in a strange bed in a strange house? A little disoriented, yeah? You’re probably confused at first, then you start to look for ways to make sense of your new surroundings – based on your own previous experience of what’s normal, and the new reality in which you find yourself. Whether your new construct tends more to the former or the latter probably depends a lot on how often you’ve had to go through this process before. Certainly you’ll appreciate any guidance you may be offered by friendly locals.

Note the sinister black mosque and red Islamic flag

Note the sinister black mosque and red Islamic flag

I’m trying to keep an open mind here. A friend loaned me ‘Turkish Awakening’ and I felt a twinge of kindred spirit with an author whose name so resembled my own. On the positive side, I can tell you that Ms Scott writes very lucidly and well, and offers some interesting insights into a country sadly misunderstood by outsiders.

On the other hand, if you really want to understand the modern Republic of Turkey, you possibly need to give some thought to where Ms Scott is coming from. Her author blurb in the book sounds ingenuous enough. She was born in London in 1987 to a Turkish mother and British father and studied classics at Oxford University. After graduating in 2009 ‘she worked in London as an assistant director in theatre and opera before moving to Istanbul in January 2011, where she now works as a freelance journalist for the British press’. Her stated aim was ‘to discover what it means to be Turkish in a country going through rapid change.’

In her introduction, she informs us ‘It is not an intentionally political book’ – which may or may not be true. It is a rare writer, however, whose political beliefs do not colour his or her writings, and Ms Scott has not hesitated to nail her political colours to the mast. The first sentence of the book tells us that the young lady ‘had nearly finished writing this book when the Gezi Park protests broke out in Istanbul at the end of May 2013.’ If that is indeed the case, she must have engaged in a fairly major and somewhat hurried rewrite, because not a chapter goes by without frequent reference to those protests and her interpretation of what they mean for the country.

If you do the calculations, Ms Scott was 24 years old when she moved to Turkey, having graduated from university two years previously. Her degree major and work experience do not seem especially to qualify her for a career in journalism, yet not only are her articles published in the Guardian and the New Statesman, but also in an interesting online news site Politico, and seem to have crossed the Atlantic to the American Newsweek. Maşallah! as they say in Turkey.

I'm not saying there's a conspiracy, but . . .

I’m not saying there’s a conspiracy, but . . .

Well, it’s possible that her freelance writing was sufficiently lucrative to finance extensive travels over the length and breadth of Turkey, staying long enough in each place to get a feel for the local culture and conduct interviews with the people. It is also possible that Ms Scott’s youthful enthusiasm and writing talents have been harnessed by more sinister forces. Politico Europe went online this year with the stated aim of becoming ‘the dominant politics and policy publication in Europe’. It was established ‘as a joint venture between US-based political published Politico and Berlin-based Axel Springer AG. Politico is a political journalism organization based in Arlington County, Virginia, that covers the issues, ideas and personalities behind politics and policy in the United States and in the global arena. The Axel Springer company is the largest publishing house in Europe and controls the largest share of the German market for daily newspapers; 23.6%.’ (Source: The Guardian)

‘Turkish Awakening’ is touchingly dedicated ‘Anneciğime’ – ‘To My Dear Mother’ in Turkish. That’s very sweet, but I’m curious about Ms Scott’s boyfriend, who features often in the text and obviously accompanied her on her fact-finding travels – yet isn’t identified by a specific mention in her dedication or acknowledgements. Is he Turkish? Does that explain why Ms Scott was able to travel so easily around the country interviewing locals? From her own admission, she couldn’t even pronounce her own Turkish name correctly when she arrived in the country at the beginning of 2011 (despite having been brought up by that Turkish Cypriot mother, and non-English-speaking grandmother) – yet two years later she had travelled to all corners of the country conducting interviews in colloquial Turkish with natives and taxi drivers from Istanbul to the Arab border and north to the Black Sea, and written this book.

Well, she is a classics grad from Oxford, so clearly is a clever young lady – but still, that’s an impressively rapid progression from zero to advanced competence in a language not generally considered easy for English-speakers. At the same time, judging from the articles she has had published in Newsweek, she also managed to research big-game hunting in Zimbabwe, and spend time in a refugee camp on the outskirts of Vienna.

You can see why the Western Alliance would have loved Indonesia's Sukarno

You can see why the Western Alliance would have loved Indonesia’s Sukarno

Apart from the mother who gave her daughter a Turkish name but failed to teach her how to pronounce it, it’s easy to miss the other people who assisted in the compilation of this book, tucked away, as they are, in a brief afterthought of ‘Acknowledgements’ between the final page of the text and the very scholarly index. None of the names are identified in any way (boyfriend, proof-reader, British Ambassador etc) that might give us some clue as to how these people contributed to the project – so that obliges a curious reader, me for instance – to do their own research.

Two of the nine personally acknowledged have the surname Reddaway, one of whom, Alex, seems to get two mentions in the brief 80-word paragraph – so it’s possible he is the mysterious boyfriend. The other, Sir David, has quite an ‘Internet presence’, which makes interesting reading. He is a British diplomat like his father before him, having served in Iran, India, Spain, Argentina, Afghanistan, Canada and Ireland. Strangely, his previous experience in Iran, his fluency in Farsi and his Iranian wife didn’t impress the Iranian government, who rejected him as British ambassador to Teheran in 2002. The Wikipedia entry says “some Iranian newspapers (incorrectly) accused him of being ‘a Jew and a member of MI6’”. The sentence seems to say that Reddaway is neither a Jew nor a member of MI6, thereby implying that the rejection was just a capricious act of provocation by the Teheran government. Other sources suggest that the Iranians considered Reddaway to be a Zionist supporter (not actually a Jew); and there seems good evidence to suggest that he was, or had been a member of MI6. He was implicated in Wikileaks revelations that Turkey’s and some other delegations had been spied on by the British government at the 2009 G8 gathering in London.

While following leads on this gentleman, I chanced on an article entitled The Reddaways: Britain’s Answer to Cambridge’s “Ring of Five” Spies’. The writer provides some fascinating background on Sir David Reddaway’s father Norman whose first big assignment at the Foreign Office was to help Christopher Mayhew institute the Information Research Department (IRD), an agency designed to spread black propaganda throughout the world.’ Two of the IRD’s important achievements during the 1960s were, allegedly, orchestrating the overthrow of Iraq’s leader, General Qasim, and President Sukarno of Indonesia.

Qasim had led a military coup in 1958 that eliminated the Iraqi ‘royal family’, a puppet regime installed by Britain after the First World War. Qasim’s government had expelled foreign military (viz. British and US) from the country, made overtures to the Soviet Union, and threatened to nationalize Iraq’s oil industry. Britain and the USA denied involvement in his ousting, but . . .

Sukarno was a nationalist hero whose left wing, anti-imperialist policies made him unpopular with the Western Alliance. He was also overthrown by military intervention in 1967.

What has all this got to do with Alev Scott and her book about Turkey, you may ask. Well, the Turkish Republic has a chequered history of military coups ousting democratically elected governments – three times between 1960 and 1980, plus the post-modern bloodless coup of 1997. The country has experienced its longest period of political and economic stability since the AK Party of Tayyip Erdoğan won its first election in 2002. There is no doubt in my mind, however, that, had they not pre-empted it by rounding up a large number of high-ranking military officers, various academics and journalists in the so-called Ergenekon and Balyoz trials, they themselves would have been forcibly removed from office – and Mr Erdoğan would very likely have found himself back in prison.

Kidnapping and murder of Aldo More - was it a false flag operation?

Kidnapping and murder of Italy’s Aldo Moro – was it a false flag operation?

There are many who believe that the CIA and NATO’s undercover Gladio operation were involved behind the scenes in those earlier takeovers. It is also probably true that the governing powers in the USA do not love Mr Erdoğan. His government, while having no local oil industry to nationalize, has been just a little too independent in its foreign policy, I suspect, refusing to get involved in George Dubya’s Iraq invasion, publicly criticizing Israel for its state terrorism in Palestine, and dragging its feet in the new US-led alliance against ISIS.

Ms Scott denies that her book is ‘intentionally’ political, which perhaps leaves her a legal ‘out’ – but the single cohesive thread running through it seems to be an unreasonably strong dislike for Mr Erdoğan and the AK Party government of Turkey. I say ‘unreasonable’ because the young lady is really a foreigner, with no serious attachment to the country, and focusing on the AK Party government rather locks her book into the present moment, and invites the fate of irrelevance when they are replaced by a new team.

Two other names featuring in the book’s acknowledgements are Andrew Boord and Roger Scruton. Again, no clue as to who they are and how they helped. However, I can tell you that Mr Boord is reputed to be a key man in Istanbul’s Anglican community, and owner of a company called Enver Borlu Business Consultancy services. According to his online bio, In 1986 he began his career in Turkey as a lecturer at the Banking and Insurance Institute at Marmara University, Istanbul, while pursuing parallel freelance projects in journalism and business consultancy. In 1992, he was appointed special advisor to the Chairman of a leading Turkish multinational corporation . . . expanded his activities in political and risk analysis, and political lobbying for Turkey at the highest levels, and was granted citizenship of Turkey in 1997 while working for a prominent Member of Parliament with high level responsibilities on such bodies as the Parliamentary Foreign Affairs Commission. He was instrumental in the establishment of a successful political and corporate advisory company in Brussels in the year 2000.’

Wow! Another whiz kid, for sure. Straight out of Oxford University (1985, BA) into a lecturing position in Istanbul’s Marmara University. Interests in banking, big business, government, and Brussels. Became a citizen of Turkey in 1997 (retaining his UK citizenship I assume) at a very insecure time in the country’s recent history. Before or after the post-modern military coup, I wonder?

Paris 1968 - student injured in demonstrations

Paris 1968 – student injured in demonstrations

Roger Scruton – an elderly academic philosopher who has written a number of books, particularly as a champion of global conservatism. According to WikipediaScruton first embraced conservatism during the student protests of May 1968 in France. Nicholas Wroe wrote in The Guardian that Scruton was in the Latin Quarter in Paris at the time, watching students overturning cars to erect barricades, and tearing up cobblestones to throw at the police. “I suddenly realized I was on the other side. What I saw was an unruly mob of self-indulgent middle-class hooligans. When I asked my friends what they wanted, what were they trying to achieve, all I got back was this ludicrous Marxist gobbledegook. I was disgusted by it, and thought there must be a way back to the defence of western civilization against these things. That’s when I became a conservative. I knew I wanted to conserve things rather than pull them down.”’

Fair enough – but given Alev Scott’s enthusiastic support for the anti-government demonstrations in Turkey during 2013, which many at the time compared to events in Paris in 1968, it’s surprising to see her acknowledge Scruton’s contribution to her book. She constantly refers to Turkey as a Middle East country, and an emerging economy, yet in her analysis insists on judging it by the standards of her own privileged life in post-modern, post-industrial England.

Through a longish life I have developed a deep-seated mistrust of politicians – but I am not one of those commentators, amateur and professional, who ascribe all of Turkey’s problems to one man, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and refuse to give him credit for any of the positive transformations that the country has undergone in the first decades of the 21st century.

When I first came to Istanbul in the mid-1990s, there were regular and lengthy power and water outages. Now there aren’t. The Golden Horn was like an open sewer. Now it isn’t, and people are once again swimming in beaches around the city. Inflation was, and had been for many years, running at 50-100%. Weak coalition governments seemed to come and go every few months. Turkey’s secular first woman prime minister was accused of large-scale corruption and formed a coalition with the overtly Islamic party of the day – subsequently ejected by that post-modern military intervention in 1997. In 2001 the Turkish Lira halved in value overnight, reaching an incredible 1,700,000 to the $US. Within two years, the AK Party government was able to knock six zeroes off the currency and keep it that way. Ms Scott writes of unregulated construction in the last two decades. In fact Istanbul’s huge growth spurt began in the 1960s when the population was less than two million. Now population growth has slowed and there are some signs of urban planning, and building and zoning regulations in a city of more than 15 million.

Taksim Sq, Istanbul, morning of 1 June 2013 (my photograph)

Taksim Sq, Istanbul, morning of 1 June 2013 (my photograph)

I agree that taxes on petrol and alcohol are too high. On the other hand, the alcoholic beverages market has blossomed in recent years. The wine sector has grown and diversified, there are now many varieties of the local spirit, rakı, and beer is comfortably sipped in outdoor cafes in many parts of Istanbul. Certainly some controls have been applied to advertising, and drinking in public places – but no more so than in the alcohol-loving nations of Australia and New Zealand.

Whatever threats Orhan Pamuk may have received in response to his support for accusations of Armenian genocide, the literary gentleman was never imprisoned, or even punished, and now, not only spends time openly in this county, but has established a ‘museum’ in trendy Cihangir to publicise his works of fiction.

Well, I did start out with the intention writing a review of ‘Turkish Awakening’ – but like Ms Scott, perhaps, my intention morphed as I began to write. The misgivings I felt while reading the book turned to more serious concerns. Possibly my suspicions are unfounded, but I do urge you to keep your critical faculties on the alert if you do decide to outlay the rather hefty cover price on a copy of your own.

___________________________________________

Turkish Awakening, A Personal Discovery of Modern Turkey, Alev Scott (Faber & Faber, 2014)

Başınız Sağolsun – Sympathy and condolences for your loss

_84381769_84379585Turkey continues to pay a huge price for ongoing chaos in the Middle East. 30 dead and 104 injured by suicide bomb attack in the south east town of Suruç.

“An explosion has killed at least 32 in a municipal culture center in the southeastern province of Şanlıurfa’s Suruç district, as scores of people have been hospitalized.

“Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu confirmed ISIL was the prime suspect, adding that 43 people, 9 of them with serious injuries, were hospitalized after the attack.

kobani-nerede (2)(1)“The Health Ministry has dispatched 33 land ambulances, each with three paramedic staff on board and a helicopter ambulance. 

“Kadir Ergün, an eyewitness, told CNNTürk that he was 100 meters away from the explosion. “It is hard to describe it with words. Blood donations are urgently needed. The people of Suruç are now called to donate blood,” he added.

Read more.

Refugee Crisis in the European Union – I want to cry

Abandoned boats and clothing on the coast of Lesvos

Abandoned boats and clothing on the coast of Lesvos

The main headling on the front page of my local newspaper this morning was ‘300 Flee Every day from Ayvalık to Midilli.’ Well, that may not mean much to you – so let me tell you that Ayvalık is a holiday resort town on the northern Aegean coast of Turkey, about 450 km from Istanbul. Midilli is an island, possibly better known to you as Lesbos or Lesvos, belonging to Greece despite being situated about 15-20 km off the Turkish coast, depending on where you start from.

According to the article, crossing the narrow strip of water to a deserted beach on the 1,632 km2 island takes 20-30 minutes in a rubber boat, which is then discarded on the shore as asylum seekers trudge to the main town of Mytilene.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees reports that, in the month of May alone, 7,200 Syrians, Afghans and Iranians made the crossing, with that number expected to increase over the summer months – and greater numbers still gaining entry to EU member Greece through the island of Kos, a short trip from Turkey’s south Aegean resort of Bodrum.

Needless to say, Greek authorities are unhappy with the influx of homeless, hungry people at least half of whom are children. Reuters reports that 77,000 have arrived in Greece so far this year – and in its present parlous financial state, the target nation is in no position to provide the necessities of life, never mind accommodation, health, education and jobs. The UN Commissioner called on the EU to step in ‘before the humanitarian situation deteriorates further.’

Frau Merkel 'consoling' a Palestinian refugee

Frau Merkel ‘consoling’ a Palestinian refugee

One Syrian spoken to said he and most of his companions were hoping to reach Germany. Well, I wish them luck. According to the United Nations, four million people have fled Syria alone since the outbreak of civil war, of which most are in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan. Turkey alone is estimated to have two million, and that UN Commissioner (with his offsider Angelina Jolie) has been appealing for assistance to the international community for four years, with little to show for his efforts.

It may be a short boat trip from Turkey to a Greek Island, but it’s a long walk from Athens to Germany, and small chance of a welcome for those who do make it. Angela Merkel attracted some unwelcome publicity last week while speaking to a group of teenage students on the subject of ‘Good Life in Germany.’ A 14-year-old Palestinian girl, fluent in German, who has been in the country with her family for four years, begged the Chancellor to help her. The reply brought her to tears: ‘in the Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon are thousands and thousands and if we were to say you can all come … we just can’t manage it.’ In short – NO!

The European Union currently has 19 member states, and has been almost indecent in its haste to push its borders further into territory formerly the preserve of the Soviet Union. The expanding market and increased prestige comes with a cost, of course. Not only do richer members find themselves saddled with the expense of bringing struggling economies into the Euro fold, but the eastward extending border provides indefensible entry points for ‘illegal’ immigrants from the big bad outside world.

Hungarian military working on razor wire anti-refugee fence

Hungarian military working on razor wire anti-refugee fence

A law aimed at enforcing local responsibility on frontier states is referred to as the Dublin Regulations. Apparently these require immigrants to be ‘processed’ by the country through which they first gain entry to the EU. As recently as June this year the Hungarian government unilaterally withdrew from the EU agreement, objecting to having foreigners returned there from other EU states for their asylum requests to be handled by Budapest.’ Up to that time, they said, 60,000 refugees had crossed into Hungary from non-EU Serbia – and they were planning to construct a 175 km razor wire fence to deal with the problem.

Going a step beyond fence-building, the same article reported that EU foreign ministers were discussing a naval operation to target so-called ‘people-traffickers’ ferrying asylum-seekers across the Mediterranean to Italy. Apparently they backed off a little after the National Salvation government of Libya threatened airstrikes against any intrusion into their territorial waters.

Far from the conflict zone, once-great Britain is also feeling the pressure of unwanted migrants. Apparently illicit hitchhikers are jumping on board trucks queuing to pass through the Channel Tunnel. Prime Minister David Cameron is reportedly concerned at the problem, and plans are afoot to: install fences around the port of Calais, the Eurostar and Eurotunnel entrance; ‘put more personnel and sniffer dog teams on that side of the Channel’; and establish a 90-strong taskforce to ‘gather intelligence on the trafficking gangs and their routes’. The British government has already invested twelve million pounds on ‘bolstering the border, and is happy to do more if needed.’

Malala Yousafzai speaking with Syrian refugees in Jordan

Malala Yousafzai speaking with Syrian refugees in Jordan

In the mean time, 18-year-old Nobel Peace Prize winner, Malala Yousafzai, marked her birthday with an appeal to world leaders to stop failing the Syrian people. ‘On this day,’ she said, ‘I have a message for the leaders of this country, this region and the world – you are failing the Syrian people, especially Syria’s children. This is a heartbreaking tragedy – the world’s worst refugee crisis in decades.’

Well, awarding a Nobel Peace Prize is one thing. Doing something serious about the problem quite another. It constantly surprises me how ready Western media are to criticise Turkey, listening avidly to reports about human rights abuses and questionable statistics about imprisoned journalists – yet turning a deaf ear to United Nations pleas, and leaving that country to deal virtually alone with the human cost of a problem not of its own making.

Incidentally, I read another article in our Turkish daily the other day comparing economic statistics of Turkey and Greece. It had nothing to do with refugees, but was commenting on the relative per capita wealth of the two countries. I checked the figures on the CIA website, and present them here without comment for your information:

Per capita GDP 2014:

Germany – $44,700

EU average – $38,300

UK – $37,700

Greece – $25,800

Turkey – $19,600

The Final Answer to the World’s Problems

Well, I never really believed it was ‘42’, though I always enjoy telling the story when anyone asks me about my favourite number. That thing about the ultimate computer, ‘Deep Thought’, its answer to the ultimate question, and the subsequent search for the actual question itself, was just a figment of Douglas Adams’ fecund imagination. Nevertheless, like many other episodes in his Hitchhikers’ Guide Trilogy (of five books), its very absurdity can be surprisingly helpful when a primitive carbon-based life-form such as myself, is trying to make sense of a manifestly nonsensical universe.

After 7.5 million years, the answer is . . .

After 7.5 million years, the answer is . . .

The nearest any serious school of philosophers has come to sorting out the problem, as far as I’m aware, was when the existentialists arrived at the conclusion that if you follow any line of reasoning to its logical conclusion you are eventually obliged to confront the total and absolute absurdity of human existence – whereupon, if I understand them correctly, you may as well leap into whatever belief system happens to take your fancy, since it is unlikely to be any more absurd than where you’ve just come from.

Consequently, I’d pretty much decided to run with Jean-Paul Sartre and Slartibartfast – and I’d long since stopped looking for epistemological answers outside my own limited conscious awareness.

Well, I’m not sure a recent revelation from the scientific community confirms me in my complacency, or turns my whole world-view on its head, requiring me to start all over again. Did you see it? Apparently some of the world’s foremost physicists have produced a working hypothesis that the entire universe, the WSOGMM (the whole sort of general mish-mash) as Douglas Adams succinctly put it, is in fact a two-dimensional hologram.

As I learned from the article I read, the theory sprang out of the need for physicists to explain two perplexing problems in the conceptual model they had been constructing of the universe, namely, the ‘Black Hole Information Loss’ problem and the ‘Entropy’ problem.

Well, if you want to read it for yourself, you can find I the article here. There’s a lot of arcane stuff about 2D imprints encoded in event horizons, and how to calculate the amount of disorder and randomness among the particles in a Black Hole – which, if you’re not confined to a wheel chair with a brain the size of a planet and a lot of time on your hands for thinking, can tend to get shoved on the back-burner in the hurly-burly of daily life.

Anyway, it seems the universe-as-hologram theory has quite a following amongst the international community of physicists. A Prof. from Stanford University, Leonard Susskind, is said to have come up with the idea some years ago, and another from Argentina, Juan Maldacena, put it a nutshell, saying what looked like a 3D object — a black hole — might be best understood using only two dimensions.’ He postulated a hypothetical universe existing in something he calls ‘anti-de Sitter space’ which reconciles a lot of seemingly mutually contradictory or otherwise inexplicable theories and physical phenomena such as string theory and gravity.

What looks like a 3D object may best be understood using only two dimensions

What looks like a 3D object may best be understood using only two dimensions

Then a team of guys from India and Austria got together and found that by viewing one particular model of a flat universe as a hologram, they could get the results of both theories to match up. Well, I’m only some guy, you know, and I confess physics was never a strong suit for me – but don’t you get the feeling sometimes that those guys are floundering in realms of incomprehensibility? They spend a lot of time coming up with a theory about, say, the origin of the universe, hypothesise that if there’d been a Big Bang to start it all off you’d expect to find some form of remnant energy emanating through the universe, then they claim to have found exactly that, in the form of something they call cosmic microwave background.

As I said, physics was never my strong suit, but that ‘Big Bang’ idea would seem to make the universe finite in time and space, which raises awkward questions like, What existed before, will exist after, and actually exists outside it right now in the mean time? Maybe an infinite number of parallel universes stretching out like pick-a-plot novels from every either/or choice ever made by every human being since the year DOT. And why restrict it to human beings and planet Earth? Probably somewhere out there a troop of monkeys actually is producing the complete works of Shakespeare.

But theories and hypotheses aside, if this hologram business turns out to be true, what is that going to mean for the mundane problems of daily life on planet Earth: What’ll we have for lunch? Is it better to be a dead hero or a live coward? Why are the Germans so intent on bankrupting poor little Greece?

Frankly, I’ve pretty much given up on physicists, and I’m looking to pin my hopes for the future of the world on Kim Kardashian. According to another article I chanced on the other day, baby North’s mother is ‘definitely preparing to take over the world.’ It seems hubby Kanye put the idea into her head, tactfully suggesting that his good lady might benefit from a little more education – and she’s taken it to heart. A source close to the West-Kardashians revealed that ‘She realises, deep down, that her IQ isn’t where she wants it to be, and the only way to work on it is to study.’

Hey, wait a minute! Maybe I'm the answer!

Hey, wait a minute! Maybe I’m the answer!

Well, the country that gave Arnold Schwartzenegger to the world and made him Governor of its most populous state, is going into ecstasies of nationalistic pride about having spent a zillion dollars on a ten-year robo-expedition to photograph a lump of rock and ice on the outer edge of our solar system, and is considering a billionaire real estate tycoon and TV reality show host as a serious candidate for President, is clearly way ahead of you and me when it comes to understanding the purpose of human existence – and I reckon Kim K may be just the lady to put us all on the right track.

One the other hand, ‘There is a theory which states that if ever anyone discovers exactly what the Universe is for and why it is here, it will instantly disappear and be replaced by something even more bizarre and inexplicable.’

Towel-heads, MOP Heads and a 30% Peace-loving President

Yeh, I know I’m on shaky ground here. I haven’t voted in a New Zealand parliamentary election since 1993 – and I only did then because the government had finally bowed to public pressure and agreed to hold a binding referendum on electoral reform at the same time. For the record, supporters of PR – where seats in the legislature are allocated more or less according to the proportion of votes a party wins – achieved a notable victory. Sad to say, nothing much has changed in the country since then. As some wise guy (or maybe girl) once said, ‘If voting actually changed anything, they wouldn’t let you do it.’

Barack Obama accepts the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize. The road to Hell is paved with good intentions

Barack Obama accepts the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize. The road to Hell is paved with good intentions

So I have to tell Obama-voters in the United States of America that I was I was just a tad cynical about all the euphoria surrounding the election of that nation’s first African-American President. To be fair, I don’t think it would have made a great deal of difference if Hillary R-C had got the Democratic nod instead. First African-American President, first woman, first Mormon, first bona fide card-carrying member of the Cherokee nation . . . In the end, they do what they’re allowed (or instructed) to do. I’m not a conspiracy theorist. If you want my opinion, there’s no ‘theory’ involved. It’s a stone-cold certainty.

But I know some people are reluctant to accept it, and I can understand that. When your last illusion is shattered, what are you going to do? Pretend it’s all a dream? Act locally and f**k the ‘globe’? Jump off the Tallahatchee Bridge? Not an attractive range of options really. May as well give this guy (or girl) a chance and see if he/she can’t do a little better.

And what happened? Bailed out Wall Street after about a month in office! I’m telling you now, it’s not a matter of ‘Too big to fail’. What it’s all about is the transnational banker/financier fraternity have got those politicians by the short and curlies. They knew they were lending to people who could never pay back their debts. They knew they were packaging up worthless loans and selling them as sound investments to retirement fund managers etc. And when the loans went bad, as of course they would, the government stepped in and covered their losses – with what money? Anyway, the government was already trillions in the red. According to the latest figures I can find, the USA has an external debt[1] of $18.5 trillion (that’s TRILLION!); and The Economist tells me that the US government alone owes $15.2 trillion. Who to, you might ask. Well, China apparently owes $3 trillion itself, so it can’t be them.

Pretty clearly, that money is not actually being put up by the beleaguered tax-payer, whatever Angela Merkel is telling her German constituents. Those tax dollars have already been spent, and then some. So, in a nutshell, the government is borrowing from the private bankers to cover the bad debts of those same bankers, and the rest of us will be paying interest unto the third and the fourth generation, and probably well beyond that, if the world survives that long. And where do those bankers get their money from? Don’t tell me it’s all petro-dollars.

But back to Barack Hussein Obama II. You’d think, with a name like that, he’d at least have some sympathy for Muslims. Time Magazine informed us, on 8 July, that the ‘US air force [is] primed and ready to attack Iran’s nuclear sites.’ Dear God! Are we back to this again? Is this what Obama-voters thought they were getting after George Dubya departed the scene?

‘The U.S. has made it clear,’ according to the Time people, ‘that it will not allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapon to threaten Israel or its other neighbors in and around the Persian Gulf. If the atomic talks break down—and U.S. intelligence decides Iran is on the verge of becoming a nuclear-armed state—look for the Air Force’s Massive Ordnance Penetrator to get the assignment to try to destroy that capability.’

USAF B2 stealth bomber loading up a MOP

USAF B2 stealth bomber loading up a MOP

So, if I’ve got this right, the USA is ‘talking’ with Iran about its nuclear programme, while making an open threat to smash them if the ‘talks’ don’t go the way the USA wants. The main aim of the US policy is to ensure that Israel remains the only country in the region with nuclear weapon capability. The only country in the region that is allowed to threaten its neighbours is Israel. And who will decide if Iran is cooperating or not? US ‘intelligence’. Now I don’t want to be unkind here. As I remember, when it came to Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq, the US finally went with George Dubya’s intelligence – not a characteristic he had hitherto been especially renowned for. Mr Obama is reputed to be a few points higher up the IQ scale, but . . .

Anyway, wading through the Pentagon-speak in that Time article, I learnt a new acronym: MOP. As you see, it stands for Massive Ordnance Penetrator, and, apparently, it’s the next best thing to a nuclear bomb if you’d prefer not, at least in the short-term, to actually drop an honest-to-God nuclear bomb. One problem is, we just don’t trust those guys. United Nations inspectors repeatedly checked and found no sign of WMDs or development installations in Iraq, but George the Son and Tony ‘Poodle’ Blah went and shocked and awed them anyway. I’d like to hope we can rely on Barack Obama’s superior intelligence this time, but I’m not sure.

Another problem is the United States economy is pretty heavily dependent on arms manufacturing – and these MOPs are serious hardware, designed to drive though 80 metres of rock-solid mountain to reach the Iranian government’s nuclear facility at a place with the unlikely name of Fordow. From a purely technical point-of-view, it sounds pretty sweet, with ‘GPS-guided lattice-type fins, its alloy steel hull – some 80% of its weight – is designed to remain intact as it drills through rock or reinforced concrete before setting off its 5,300-pound warhead.’ That’s a 12-ton bomb, if you need help with the calculation, costing $15 million per bang.

Army General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was quoted as saying ‘It’s a hammer that might have to be used repeatedly if Iran refuses to back down and continues to work on its nuclear program’ – so the Pentagon reportedly went ahead and ordered 20 of those mothers, at a cost of $314 million. But the politicians are still talking, you understand.

Well, America’s first black president has about a year left in office. Who are you going to try next, guys? Maybe Hillary ‘Dove’ Clinton will be the one to save the planet. Wimin assure me the world will be a better place when more of them hold key positions. Sad to say, I find myself feeling some empathy with the 46% of eligible American voters who didn’t even bother making their way to a polling place for the last presidential election.

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[1] Total public and private debt owed to nonresidents repayable in internationally accepted currencies, goods, or services

‘A Supreme Pragmatist’ – Remembering the good old days in Turkey

The end of a legend - Time for the truth?

The end of a legend – Time for the truth?

Suleyman Demirel shuffled off this mortal coil last week. I saw him once in the flesh, so to speak, so I felt some small personal interest in his passing. It was back in 1997 at the opening ceremony of FMV Işık University, one of the early starters in the race for the private university dollar in Turkey. He was short of stature and built like a barrel, reminding me a little of New Zealand’s own Robert D Muldoon, elder statesman of the 1970s and 80s – though I think our Rob was marginally more handsome. At least his dimple was cuter.

Those of you who read this blog regularly will know I am no big fan of the New York Times, so you may question why I would voluntarily use it as a source. I guess the main reason is that they published a lengthy obituary in English, and I was looking for a more objective piece to balance the seemingly ubiquitous hagiography I was reading in the Turkish press.

Mr Demirel died at the age of 90, having been at or near the centre of Turkey’s political stage for nearly 40 years, from the early 1960s when he was elected leader of the centre-right Justice party, till the year 2000 when his seven-year term as 9th President of the Republic came to an end. The NYT obituary was interesting, not least because it was published at all; and it wasn’t exactly clear, from information it imparted, why the late lamented actually warranted a thousand words in one of the United States’ premier newspapers. Here are a few snippets:

  • He ‘was the nation’s most remarkable political survivor. Depending on the mood of the moment, he could be a European-oriented progressive or a harsh opponent of diversity. At various times he made common cause with social democrats, Islamists and crypto-fascists of the extreme right.’
  • “He was a supreme pragmatist. He wanted to stay in power,” according to Morton Abramowitz, former US ambassador to Turkey.
  • After a military coup in 1960, Mr. Demirel’s political ambitions were encouraged by armed forces commanders who wanted to turn the government over to civilians, whom they believed they could control.
  • After civilian rule was re-established in the late 1970s, Mr. Demirel served as head of three governments. It was during this period that Turkey fell into an economic crisis.
  • After the military staged its third coup, in 1980, it banned Mr. Demirel and other party leaders from politics.
  • When his [presidential] term expired in 2000, he tried and failed to have the Constitution amended to allow his re-election.
  • “He was always secretive, non-transparent and utterly defensive,” said Yavuz Baydar, a Turkish news commentator.
  • The last years of Mr. Demirel’s career were marked by the emergence of Kurdish nationalism, which developed into civil war. He endorsed the military’s scorched-earth tactics, which included torture of detainees, the assassination of suspected militants and an absolute rejection of Kurdish demands.
  • “Demirel understood the art of Turkish politics better than anyone of his generation,” said Andrew Finkel, an American journalist who interviewed Mr. Demirel many times. “His flaw was that he was unable to put that understanding to good use.”
  • Interviewers often asked Mr. Demirel how he justified jumping with such alacrity from one political position to another. He would reply, “Dün dündür, bugün bugündür,” which means “Yesterday was yesterday, today is today.” It became his best-known slogan.
Was he an 'actor'? And what is the meaning of 'baba' here?

Was he an ‘actor’? And what is the meaning of ‘baba’ here?

When the government of Turkey passed a law in 1934 requiring all citizens to have a surname, it bestowed that of ‘Atatürk’ upon its founder, Mustafa Kemal, born Ali Rızaoğlu Mustafa back in 1881. There were no children to inherit that name, and the constitution prevents anyone else using it, for obvious reasons. It is usually translated into English as ‘Father of the Turks’, though the word ‘ata’ is more commonly rendered ‘ancestor’. We may come closest if we think of it as signifying ‘progenitor of the Turkish nation’ – since Turkish nationalism did not wield much political clout prior to that gentleman’s appearance on the stage of international affairs.

Süleyman Demirel, on the other hand, has been referred to in local articles and obituaries as ‘babamız’. ‘Baba’, in fact, is the normal Turkish word for ‘father’, in the family, biological and legal senses of the word. It also has connotations of spiritual leadership. The tomb of 15th century holy man, Telli Baba, near the Black Sea end of the Bosphorus, is visited by young women looking for assistance in their search for a suitable husband. Then there is ‘mafya babası’. The Muslim religion does not have the Christian concept of ‘godfather’ assisting in the moral upbringing of a child, so the word generally used in Turkish for the Mafia boss is ‘baba’. I can’t say which of these meanings people have in mind when referring to Süleyman Demirel as ‘our baba’ – but I am pretty confident that no one ever seriously considered applying it to Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.

An important lesson on life and politics

An important lesson on life and politics

I’m not a big fan of that chap Andrew Finkel either, but in his own estimation he knows pretty much everything anyone needs to know about Turkey, so his assessment of Süleyman Baba is particularly interesting. According to the biography on Wikipedia Mr Demirel was Prime Minister of Turkey for a total of ten years and five months, the third longest tenure in the country’s history after İsmet İnönü and Tayyip Erdoğan. With all due respect to İsmet Pasha, all but four of his 17 years in office were served in the days before parliamentary elections were held; and Demirel needed 28 years to reach his mark, and seven separate governments, most of which were fragile coalitions. Erdoğan, on the other hand, achieved his 12 years in the PM’s seat over three consecutive general elections where his party won an absolute majority.

According to Turkey’s Foreign Affairs website, the country had 63 governments in its 80 years until Tayyip Erdoğan took the reins in 2003 – an average of a little over 14 months each, so perhaps in that context Demirel’s record is as good as most. After 2003, Erdoğan led three governments, clearly providing the longest period of stability in the short history of the republic. Now that the electorate, in its collective wisdom, has decided to return to coalition government, time alone will tell if that is a positive or a negative.

But returning to Süleyman Baba – two of his governments were actually cut short by military intervention, in 1971 and 1980. That is also somewhat surprising, since, according to the NYTimes article, it was the 1960 military regime that had picked Demirel out for preferment. The reason given, however, may be a clue: the coup leaders ‘wanted to turn the government over to civilians whom they believed they could control.’

Those well-meaning officers must have felt sadly let down, then, by January 1971 when, according to the Wikipedia article, ‘Turkey appeared to be in a state of chaos. The universities had ceased to function. Students emulating Latin American urban guerrillas robbed banks and kidnapped US servicemen, also attacking American targets. The homes of university professors critical of the government were bombed by neo-fascist militants. Factories were on strike and more workdays were lost between 1 January and 12 March 1971 than during any prior year. The Islamist movement had become more aggressive and its party, the National Order Party, openly rejected Atatürk and Kemalism, infuriating the armed forces. Demirel’s government, weakened by defections, seemed paralyzed, powerless to try to curb the campus and street violence and unable to pass any serious legislation on social and financial reform.’

'Women with headscarves should go to Arabia where they belong'

‘Women with headscarves should go to Arabia where they belong’

Nevertheless, in spite of being ousted by the military, Demirel demonstrated his qualities as a ‘remarkable political survivor’ by returning to lead three more short-lived coalition governments from 1975 until the country again descended into chaos and the soldiers stepped in once more, this time slapping on the Turkish phoenix a ban from all political involvement. My local newspaper, ‘Hürriyet’ ran a historical article the other day calling the period after 1980 the country’s blackest days. Perhaps it is too harsh to load all the blame for those black days on to Mr Demirel – but surely he can’t be cleared of all responsibility?

Again, however, rising from the ashes of apparent political humiliation and that military ban, the Baba somehow managed to return to the political stage in 1987, and, in 1991, was able to form one final coalition government with the left-of-centre Social Democrats. Perhaps sensing that he had ridden his luck almost as far as that risky mount would take him, Demirel moved into the largely ceremonial role of President on the sudden death of Turgut Özal in 1993. In those days the President was chosen by the nation’s parliament rather than popular election. His protégé, Tansu Çiller, completed a meteoric rise to (brief) political prominence, taking over as Turkey’s first woman Prime Minister after joining the DYP Party in 1990 and entering parliament in 1991.

Well, pretty much everyone knows there were three military coups in Turkey between 1960 and 1980. A further indirect military intervention, often referred to as the ‘post-modern coup’, is generally acknowledged to have occurred in 1997. More controversial is the assertion in some circles that the year 1993 saw a series of events that were ‘tantamount to a coup’:

  • Assassination of journalist Uğur Mumcu (24 January, car bomb)
  • Assassination of politician and Turgut Özal confidante Adnan Kahveci (5 February, suspicious car accident)
  • Assassination of General Commander of the Turkish Gendarmerie Eşref Bitlis (17 February, allegedly sabotaged plane)
  • Assassination of President Turgut Özal (allegedly by poison, 17 April)
  • May 24, 1993 PKK ambush (24 May)
  • Arson attack on hotel in Van (30 June)
  • Sivas massacre (2 July)
  • Başbağlar massacre (5 July)
  • Van massacre (18 July)
  • Assassination of Kurdish deputy Mehmet Sincar (4 September)
  • Assassination of General Bahtiyar Aydın (22 October)
  • Assassination of former Major Cem Ersever (4 November)

These things are difficult to prove, of course, and one could put them all down to unhappy coincidence. Allegations have frequently surfaced, however, that the American CIA had a hand in the earlier military takeovers in Turkey through its undercover Gladio organisation. Popular leftist Prime Minister Bülent Ecevit was convinced that Operation Gladio was behind terrorist activities in Turkey during the 1970s, including the Taksim Square Massacre on 1 May 1977. Ecevit also claimed that Suleyman Demirel warned him against speaking out on these matters if he didn’t want to find himself on the list of targets. Just a piece of friendly advice? Who can know?

Car crash in Susurluk raises disturbing questions about politics in Turkey

Car crash in Susurluk raises disturbing questions about politics in Turkey

One disturbing event of the 1990s is undoubtedly true. On 3 November 1996 there was a car crash near the town of Susurluk about half way between Istanbul and Izmir. According to a report in Hürriyet Daily News on the Ergnekon court case, ‘On Nov. 3, 1996, a car rear-ended a truck in Susurluk town, which later became the namesake of the infamous case. Mehmet Özbay, Police Chief Huseyin Kocadag and model Gonca Us died in the accident, while Sedat Edip Bucak, a deputy from the center-right True Path Party (DYP), was injured.’

‘It was later noted that Özbay was an alias used by fugitive nationalist militant Abdullah Çatlı, the subject of an outstanding arrest warrant for the deaths of seven left-wing students in the 1970s; a time when intense clashes were ongoing between leftists and rightists that brought the country to the brink of a civil war.

‘Media had interpreted the accident as proof of illicit links between the country’s politicians, police and mafia.

‘The so-called “Susurluk gang” is blamed for many unsolved murders of mafia leaders, businessmen with close ties to the terror organization PKK, as well as other prominent figures during the 1990s.

‘In 2008, Ayhan Çarkin, a police officer who was tried in the Susurluk case and who had worked with Sahin, told in a television program that the gang had killed 4,000 people to protect the interests of the state.’

To what extent was the late Mr Demirel involved in these shenanigans? Who can know? But the words of US Ambassador Abramovitz and the Turkish news commentator Yavuz Baydar quoted by the New York Times suggest that they have their opinions.

Tourism and Refugees in Turkey – Mega-yachties to the rescue!

Income from the tourism industry, as we all know, is a two-edged sword. In the post-modern era, First World nations have ‘outsourced’ most of their manufacturing industry and obtain most of their natural resources from abroad. If their people want work, the tourism sector is a big provider – a kind of serfdom to the wealthy globetrotter. It’s the same deal in poorer countries where little of the income from resource exports trickles down from the governing elite.

Poor natives need the tourist dollar to feed themselves and their families; and rich natives despoil the country’s natural beauty building opulent pleasure palaces to insulate visitors from the realities of local poverty.

I saw a ship go sailing by . . .

I saw a ship go sailing by . . .

So I read with mixed feelings a report in today’s newspaper that tourist numbers in Turkey are down 10% or more this year. In Antalya, hotspot of the Mediterranean coast, revenue losses amount to an estimated $2 billion so far. In our very own Bodrum, visitor count is 12% less than at the same time last year. In fact I would think that is an optimistic measure. Of necessity we visited the marina township of Turgutreis on Saturday – normally a day to avoid since the weekly market draws large crowds and crazy traffic. Well, I can’t say it was like a ghost town, but for sure the expected feeding frenzy failed to materialise. We conducted our business, enjoyed a leisurely breakfast at a seaside café and escaped with a minimum of stress.

So what’s changed? The sun is still shining and the sparkling Aegean is still reflecting the endless blue of  summer skies; crimson bougainvillea still frame the pristine white walls of village houses, holiday villas and B&Bs; the local beer Efes Pilsen is still being served in nicely chilled glasses and cholesterol-laden deep fried English breakfasts are still served well into the afternoon. Possibly the flood of propaganda in foreign news media that Turkey is ruled by a megalomaniac dictator (totally untrue) is starting to influence travellers. Perhaps news of the chaotic situation across the border in Syria is persuading European sun-seekers that the beach at Bognor Regis could be a safer option.

For sure that’s a bad business. The United Nations Commissioner for Refugees informs us that 1.7 million Syrians are registered as having entered Turkey since civil war broke out four years ago, and another 300,000 have slipped past border controls. Camps set up by the government are providing basic needs for around 200,000 at an estimated cost of $3 million a month. Where are the other 1.8 million, half of whom are said to be children? Struggling to survive as best they can on the streets, in the parks and derelict buildings of Turkey’s cities from Gaziantep to Istanbul, working when they can, begging and maybe stealing when they can’t . . . What would you do?

To put it in perspective, two million is a little less than the population of Houston, Texas, and a little more than Philadelphia, PA, the USA’s 5th largest city. In the United Kingdom it would be Number Two, behind London and ahead of Birmingham. And those people aren’t tourists coming to check out the delights of Turkey’s beaches and nightspots. Many of them were middle class people in their homeland with jobs and houses of their own. They left because life became impossible in a country on which the US military has reportedly been dropping $7 million worth of high explosives every day.

Still, I don’t blame Americans. For the most part, they have to believe what their government and news media tell them. And most of them I’m sure, are well-meaning people. A friend of ours over there had an interesting idea the other day for a documentary film. The concept was to research the lives of the nine people killed in the church shooting in Charleston, South Carolina last week, in a worthy attempt to personalise the tragedy and perhaps reduce the level of race hatred by showing that African Americans are people too, just like us.

Well you could, I guess, squeeze the lives of nine people and their families into an hour-long documentary. Impossible to do the same for the tens of thousands who have died in Iraq, Syria and Palestine in recent years. Impossible, so best not to even try. In the mean time, the people of Turkey are struggling to look after those two million refugee Syrians. Angelina Jolie, I understand, has come for another look at the situation. Let’s see what comes of that.

Samar's master bedroom

Samar’s master bedroom

But getting back to Turkey’s other problem – the fall-off in tourist numbers. It does seem that the ultra-rich citizens of the world are stepping in to take up the slack, so let it not be said those guys (and girls) don’t have an altruistic bone in their bodies.

Just the other day I watched a large, streamlined blue and white vessel motor serenely past between the Turkish coast and the nearby Greek islands. Even with the disadvantage of perspective, it seemed to dwarf the houses on the shore, and I couldn’t resist the urge to take a picture. The next day I read in our local rag that a certain Omar K Alghanim was currently cruising around the Bodrum coast in his mega-yacht Samar. Mr Alghanim is, apparently, scion of a Kuwaiti family that holds the Gulf agencies for Acer, Yamaha, Sony Ericsson, Samsonite, Samsung, Siemens, Nokia, Motorola, Kenwood, Fujitsu, IBM,Dell, Casio, Cannon, Daewoo, Electrolux, Compaq, Minolta, Philips, Toshiba, Whirlpool and Xerox (among others), as well as owning Gulf Bank, chosen by The Banker magazine as ‘Bank of the Year’ in 2012. Wouldn’t you love to know what a bank has to do to win that award!

Anyway, Alghanim’s boat Samar is a 77-metre (252 ft) luxury motor yacht designed inside and out by two guys I hadn’t heard of but you can check them out here. It has a helipad, a large spa pool, swimming pool, an open air bar, large deck areas, a side garage, as well as a movie theatre. The vessel is capable of extended global cruising, with a range of 6,000 nautical miles and cold storage provisions for 44 people (32 of whom are crew). When Omar’s not using it himself, I gather he hires it out for a modest 650-675,000 euros per week, so if you’re looking to impress a girl or a business contact, you could do worse than take him or her out for cruise on Samar. According to a site I found discussing Who is buying up the USA, apart from the boat, and I guess a nice little pad in Kuwait, the guy owns a 1,600 m2 (16,000 sq ft) mansion on 15 81st Street, NY, and a 20 ha (48 acre) estate named Sassafras in Lloyd Harbor, Long Island.

Where do you go after you've been to Nirvana?

Where do you go after you’ve been to Nirvana?

After checking out the pictures Google turned up, I realised Samar is all white, so it couldn’t have been the boat I saw. However, today’s paper turned up another possibility. It seems a second mega-yacht has been spotted in the area, and this one is white with a blue hull. Going by the spiritually optimistic name of Nirvana, it is allegedly owned by Alisher Burkhanovitch Usmanov. Without the Russian suffixes, Alişer Burhan wouldn’t raise an eyebrow in Turkey – and his online bio tells me he was born a Muslim in Uzbekistan, though he subsequently married a Jewish lady. Forbes and Bloomberg disagree as to whether he is the 58th or the 37th richest guy in the world – but all agree he is Number One in Russia, owns two modest properties in the UK, ‘Sutton Place, Surrey, the former home of J. Paul Getty, in addition to a £48 million London mansion’, and a 30% share of the Arsenal Football Club. As one might expect, there are some questions about how Mr Usmanov made his pile, and Wikipedia reports that he served six years of an eight-year jail sentence back in the 80s. It’s not easy to get details, however, as the Uzbek gentleman’s lawyers have managed to get just about all references to it removed from newspaper websites, archives, blogs and Google search.

Well, from my understanding of Buddhist philosophy, that mega-yacht may be Alisher Bey’s best chance of attaining Nirvana. Nevertheless, some might argue it’s worth taking the risk. The boat is 88 metres (271 ft) long and sold for 199 million euros. Wonder what he did with the one million change he got from his two hundred million-euro note? Left it as a tip maybe?

This time the colours were right, but again, a close comparison with the photo I took seemed to suggest that the vessel I saw wasn’t Nirvana either. And, big as my one was, I suspect it wasn’t quite in the 77-88 metre class. Looks like, with the competition around Bodrum at the moment, whoever owns that one didn’t warrant a mention in the local press. Anyway, Dilek and I are pleased to know we won’t have to rescue Turkey’s ailing tourist industry on our own.