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.

This Time The Most Embarrassing Thing To Say Will Be “No One Saw This Coming”

1beware-bankers-what-nowI’m passing this on because it’s so good and soo important. While the US government is spending $7 million a day (that they haven’t got!) dropping bombs on Iraq and Syria, the world’s bankers are screwing all of us! Thanks to Ron Mamita for a great post!

This Time The Most Embarrassing Thing To Say Will Be “No One Saw This Coming”.

Stephen Kinzer – Honorary citizen of Turkey?

Oh don't it hurt!

Oh don’t it hurt!

How do you feel when someone really lets you down? It’s a bummer, huh! It doesn’t happen to me too often these days because I’ve learned to be careful who I’ll trust and how much I’ll trust them. But occasionally someone slips through my filters. Luckily this time it wasn’t someone I know personally, and I’ve suffered no financial or serious emotional damage. Just a feeling of disappointment that someone who had previously earned my respect for fearless thinking turned out to be more of a conservative than I had thought.

Two years ago I reviewed a book by Stephen Kinzer. Its title was ‘Reset – Iran, Turkey and America’s Future’. Back in February 2013 I wrote, The essence of Kinzer’s thesis is that, for various historical reasons, the United States is locked into two relationships in the Middle East whose continued relevance is at best questionable, and which are poisoning the diplomatic climate in the region, rendering futile all attempts to achieve long term peace and stability. He argues that America’s continued support for the dysfunctional Saudi royalty, and its commitment to backing the Israelis, right or wrong, have in fact helped to create the world-wide axis of evil and terror it so wants to destroy, and actively worked against all moves to pacify and democratize the region. Kinzer goes on to propose that the best and most logical allies for the United States in those troubled lands are Turkey and, in defiance of current logic, Iran.’

Four years is a long time in politics

Four years is a long time in politics

What happened to Kinzer in the four years since he published that book, I wonder. Maybe the spooks in Homeland Security or the CIA got to him and helped him to see the error of his ways. I don’t know what his current views are on Israel and Saudi Arabia, but for sure he seems to have gone right off Turkey.

My apologies to the good people of Boston, Massachusetts, but I have to tell you I am not a regular reader of that city’s daily Globe. I only chanced upon this article because of a small storm that seems to have blown up around my ex-hero Mr Kinzer. Apparently back in 2000 he wrote an article for the New York Times drawing attention to the ancient city of Zeugma in southeast Turkey, threatened with submersion under the waters rising behind a major dam project.

‘The city that stood here 2,000 years ago,’ Kinzer reported, ‘was at the eastern edge of the Roman Empire. It had an estimated 70,000 residents and was the base for a Roman legion. Its position on the banks of the Euphrates River, and its role as a thriving center of Silk Road trade, made it immensely wealthy.

‘Rich traders competed with each other to decorate the floors of their villas with the most exquisite mosaics. In the third century, Zeugma is believed to have suffered an invasion, a devastating fire and an earthquake in quick succession. It has lain undisturbed since then, covered by thick layers of dirt and rubble.’

To be fair, archeologists had been working on the site since the 1980s, so Kinzer wasn’t really divulging anything new and previously unknown. His article did, however, lead to a slowing down of the dam project and the provision from various sources of much-needed funds for the unearthing and preservation of priceless mosaics and other antiquities. In recognition of this, the mayor of Gaziantep, the city in Turkey nearest to the Zeugma site, had, somewhat belatedly, decided to bestow upon him honorary citizenship.

Mosaic from ancient Zeugma

Mosaic from ancient Zeugma

Unfortunately, a month or so earlier, Kinzer had had another article on Turkey published, this time in the Boston Globe. It wasn’t specifically about Turkey. The subject, ostensibly, was a eulogy of three world leaders who were celebrating important milestones in 2015 – or would have been if they weren’t long since dead.

Just why Kinzer decided to write about Winston Churchill, Count Otto von Bismarck and Franklin Delano Roosevelt in one brief piece only he can explain. Probably something to do with a looming deadline and a shortage of material. Anyway, that’s what he did, asserting in his opening line that ‘This year the world will salute three of modern history’s greatest national leaders.’

Now I have to tell you that I find it both breath-takingly presumptuous and mildly offensive when Americans assert an opinion they hold and claim that the entire world agrees with them. Their presidents are inclined to do this as well as their journalists.

Winston Churchill may have ‘rallied Britain to resist global tyranny in World War II’ but he is not unreasonably regarded as a war-mongering imperialist by the people of Turkey. He was a vociferous opponent of Mahatma Gandhi and Indian independence, and an advocate of military violence against striking miners at home in 1926. He was appointed Prime Minister by King George VI and tossed out by the British people when they had had a chance to vote for him in 1945.

Bismarck may have founded modern Germany, but again, the people of neighbouring France, Denmark and Austria may remember him with less fondness than Germans themselves.

“I am strongly in favour of using poisoned gas against uncivilised tribes,” Guardian quote

The only one of the three who might really be considered worthy of Kinzer’s phrase ‘radical visionary’ is Roosevelt. According to Wikipedia, ‘Roosevelt spearheaded major legislation and issued a profusion of executive orders that instituted the New Deal—a variety of programs designed to produce relief (government jobs for the unemployed), recovery (economic growth), and reform (through regulation of Wall Street, banks and transportation). He created numerous programs to support the unemployed and farmers, and to encourage labor union growth while more closely regulating business and high finance. The repeal of Prohibition added to his popularity, helping him win re-election by a landslide in 1936.’

Apart from the alcohol business, you’d have to think that subsequent administrations in the United States have been hard at work undoing most of FDR’s New Deal reforms – so whatever the world may think of him, it’s pretty clear that Wall Street and the US political elite don’t have much time for Roosevelt’s vision.

But who cares? Kinzer’s entitled to his opinion, right? And we’re all sympathetic to a guy working to a deadline. Some stuff may slip through in the heat of the moment that you don’t really 100% believe, yeah?

But then he shifts to the present day and for some reason feels moved to award a ‘booby prize for worst geopolitical leadership of the year to President Vladimir Putin of Russia.’ At least he doesn’t claim he is awarding it in the name of the entire world this time – so we can understand it in the same sense that the San Francisco Giants are the reigning baseball world champions. No one outside North America actually participates in the competition. 150 million Russians may have different ideas on Vladimir Putin – and at least one US citizen, Edward Snowden.

Kinzer doesn’t say in so many words that runner-up for his ‘booby prize’ was Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdoğan, but the implication is pretty clear:

Restoring democracy to Egypt, American-style

Restoring democracy to Egypt, American-style

‘Another ambitious strongman, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey,’ he says, ‘also sacrificed much of his country’s strategic power in 2014. Until recently Turkey was widely seen as a godsend to the world, a vibrant example of Islam coexisting with democracy and capitalism. With amazing suddenness it has become the ally from hell. By wrecking Turkey’s carefully constructed relations with Egypt, Israel, and Syria, Erdogan has weakened his country and helped destabilize the Middle East. Once seen as a skilled modernizer, he now sits in a 1,000-room palace denouncing the European Union, decreeing the arrest of journalists, and ranting against short skirts and birth control. Strong leaders can descend into this kind of political madness. It’s no wonder we’ve soured on them.’

Wow! Strong words, huh? The ‘ally from hell’ for refusing to join the US and its lapdog allies in more bombing raids into the Middle East until some clear plan emerges about what will happen after the smoke clears. The ‘ally from hell’ for speaking the truth about Egypt’s military coup, Israel’s ethnic cleansing aggression in Palestine and Assad’s on-going bloodbath in Syria. Far from sitting in a palace in Ankara, Mr Erdoğan is being strongly criticised here and abroad for traveling around the country, meeting the people and talking up support for the AK Party government in Turkey’s upcoming parliamentary election. ‘Political madness’ says Stephen Kinzer. ‘No wonder we’ve soured on them.’

Cheaper and more effective than poison injection or electricity, ho ho ho!

Cheaper and more effective than poison injection or electricity, ho ho ho!

And there it is. The reason I feel so badly let down. When I read Kinzer’s ‘Reset’ I really thought I had found a writer who was unafraid to speak out about the situation in the Middle East and America’s misguided policies. Now I hear him using the ‘We’ pronoun, to mean, I can only assume, himself, the United States government and its financial rulers. Oh sad! Oh weep, my broken heart.

Mr Erdoğan, however, is made of sterner stuff. That mayor of Gaziantep, Fatma Şahin, had invited Stephen Kinzer to a special ceremony last month where he would have honorary citizenship conferred upon him. Turkey’s President stepped in and overruled the good lady mayor on the grounds that Kinzer had shown himself to be an enemy of Turkey’s government and country. Can’t say I blame him. It would be a bit like Muriel Bowser inviting Rafael Correa to be an honorary citizen of Washington DC. Don’t hold your breath.

Greek Island Holidays – What goes around comes around

Disgusting refugees molesting British tourists

Disgusting refugees molesting British tourists

As everyone knows, what you see depends a lot on where you’re standing. Point-of-view is everything – but it has to be admitted that some standpoints provide a better picture. On a recent visit to New York City, we viewed the metropolis from a boat cruise around Manhattan Island, the top of the Empire State Building, a row-boat on the lake in Central Park, several stations on the subway system and a backstreet or two in Harlem. We didn’t see rats and elderly homeless African Americans everywhere . . . but you get my point.

England’s Daily Mail newspaper ran an article the other day reporting that British holiday-makers on the Greek island of Kos are complaining about ‘disgusting’ conditions caused by large numbers of refugees. ‘Penniless’ Syrians and Afghanis are apparently creating ‘nightmare’ conditions for sun-seeking tourists who ‘won’t be coming back if it’s a refugee camp next year.’

The more reputable Telegraph avoided mentioning the discomfort of holiday-makers, preferring to focus on the complicity of Turkish authorities who are ‘making no attempt to stop’ asylum-seekers from leaving Turkish shores. Their article does at least accept that ‘with austerity biting hard in Greece, many local boat owners and officials are said to be topping up their incomes by either joining the racket or turning a blind eye.’

Syrian tourists arriving at Kos Island

Syrian tourists arriving at Kos Island

Well, that’s the UK press. Across the Atlantic, media in the United States were taking a slightly different view. While quoting the Telegraph’s assertion that ‘there has been a surge in migrants arriving on the island recently due to . . . compliant Turkish authorities’ the Washington Post pointed out that ‘the world is in the middle of a full-blown migration crisis’, and was mildly critical of Brits who couldn’t see further than its effect on their summer holiday plans.

In the mean time, Turkey and other more secure and hospitable countries in the region are quietly getting on with the task of dealing with vast inflows of refugees from their war-torn neighbours. The United Nations Refugee Agency has this to say about the situation in Turkey:

Since the Syrian crisis began in 2011, Turkey – estimated to host over one million Syrians – has maintained an emergency response of a consistently high standard and declared a temporary protection regime, ensuring non-refoulement[1] and assistance in 22 camps, where an estimated 217,000 people are staying. Turkey is currently constructing two additional camps.

In 2014, Turkey also witnessed an unprecedented increase in asylum applications from Afghans, Iraqis and Iranians. Deteriorating security in Iraq saw a sudden increase in Iraqi refugees: an estimated 81,000 were in Turkey by September 2014, with numbers expected to grow to 100,000 by year-end.

British tourists enjoy relaxing holiday on Greek Island

British tourists enjoy relaxing holiday on Greek Island

The number of refugees and asylum-seekers in Turkey in 2015 is expected to rise to nearly 1.9 million, including 1.7 million Syrian refugees. UNHCR[2] will continue to work closely with the Government of Turkey to support protection measures and facilitate access to public services and assistance available to both Syrian urban refugees and non-Syrian people of concern.

The same source informs us that there are 737,00 asylum-seekers currently in Jordan and more than a million in Lebanon.

The impact of the Syrian crisis – including on the economy, demographics, political instability, and security – continues to deepen across Lebanon. With more than 1.3 million refugees expected by the beginning of 2015, Lebanon’s exceptional hospitality will be extremely stretched.

As the UN Commissioner points out, the civil war in Syria broke out in 2011. Since then, he, and his offsider Angelina Jolie have been appealing to Western countries to share the refugee burden. If the United States government, for example, had channelled half the money it has spent on bombing the people of Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria, into rebuilding their shattered economies, that ‘full-blown migration crisis’ might not even be happening. Those British tourists might be able to enjoy their Greek Island holidays without being subjected to the hungry stares of impoverished refugees.

There's Kos, there's Turkey - where's Greece?

There’s Kos, there’s Turkey – where’s Greece?

And what about those Turkish authorities who are failing in their duty to deal with the problem on their own turf? The government of Turkey has received much criticism from abroad for its alleged failure to police its border and stop Europeans heading over to join the forces of ISIS/Daesh. You may be interested to know that the country has a 1,673 km border adjoining Iran, Iraq and Syria, much of it unpopulated mountainous territory. Those thousands of refugees mentioned in the UN report just have to walk across. How could you stop them, even if you wanted to? And what has been the response of Western countries to UN appeals for assistance? Most of them want fewer immigrants, not more; and their governments seem to prefer bombing Muslims to seeking more humanitarian solutions.

So Turkey, already struggling to modernise and raise the living standards of its own population, is doing its best to house and feed the new arrivals, and to educate their children. And here are two more geographical facts for you. Turkey has something like 7,500 km of coastline, and some of those Greek islands are no more than two or three km across the water. You could probably swim across, or row a dinghy if you really had a mind to make the crossing.

Those British holiday-makers might want to read a little history. Those ‘Greek’ islands had belonged to the Ottoman Empire since 1522 when they took them from an odd-ball collection of Latin Christians, Venetians, Genoese and crusading knights. In 1912 they were seized by Italy whose neo-Roman imperialist ambitions were cut short by the defeat of Mussolini’s regime in 1943. Germany occupied the islands for the last two years of World War II during which they removed and exterminated the Sephardic Jewish population. After the Allied victory, Britain assumed a ‘protectorate’ over the islands, before handing them over to Greece, ignoring Turkey’s quite reasonable objections. Thus, according to Wikipedia, ‘they were formally united with Greece . . . ending 740 years of foreign rule.’

Once again, there is that glib sentence implying that the modern Kingdom of Greece was entitled to claim unto itself all other lands where the ‘Greek’ language was spoken. Possibly the British were still smarting from their failure to erase Turkey from the world map, and saw this act of generosity as a suitable punishment for those upstart Muslims. Whatever the case, Europe is now suffering the consequences. A ten-minute zip across two km of Aegean Sea is bringing thousands of Middle Eastern refugees into EU territory. If Turkish authorities are in fact turning a blind eye, I can’t say I blame them.


[1] Not sending them back where they came from

[2] United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees

Noah’s New Age Lions

Can you spot this unexpected thing on Noah's Ark?

Can you spot this unexpected thing on Noah’s Ark?

I learned two items of trivia today that gave me a smile. The first one turned up as I was browsing Yahoo UK’s news of the day. It referred to a picture someone had found in a children’s book of Bible stories. Can You Spot Something Unexpected In This Noah’s Ark Children’s Bible Picture?’ challenged the headline. My first thought was, there’s only one rhinoceros. But then I spotted it. As the writer pointed out, ‘There were two elephants, two giraffes, two gazelles, etc. But according to this picture – there were also two gay lions.’ See them there?

So then I thought, aha! That may account for that line in the Bible about the lion lying down with the lamb. But then I checked it out just to be sure, and Isaiah (Isaiah 11:6) doesn’t actually say it will be a lion. In fact he pairs up a wolf with the lamb, and the lion gets a calf and another species-unspecified ‘fatling’. But not for eating, you understand. As one commentator claimed, carnivorous animals will become herbivorous during the Millennium just as they were before the fall of creation.’

So, not only are the lions gay, they will also be vegetarian. Very New Age!

But I want you to know, I’m smiling here, not mocking. I fully appreciate what the prophet Isaiah wanted to say. If religion has any real value for humanity, it must be to bring understanding and peace to a world blighted with conflict. So I guess that’s how you can spot the truly religious in any faith. The war-mongers don’t make the cut, whatever they try to tell you. And maybe learning to smile about it will remind us not to take the outward trappings of institutionalised religion too seriously.

Dark Clouds over America – Democritic hypocracy

Dark clouds over America - But still they're in denial about climate change

Dark clouds over America – But still they’re in denial about climate change

I keep reading in US and other foreign news media that Turkey has more journalists in prison than any other country in the world. Most recently, I read an editorial in the New York Times asserting that the president of Turkey, Tayyip Erdoğan ‘has a long history of intimidating and co-opting the Turkish media.’ I confess I don’t know what the NYT editor means by ‘co-opting’ here – but I assume ‘intimidating’ implies that there is a threat of being sent to prison with the hundreds of other Turkish journalists who dared to criticize Mr Erdoğan and Turkey’s AK Party government.

Now I have to tell you, as one who has lived in this country for most of the last 20 years, who exercises no vote and has no political party affiliation, that the level of democracy in Turkey seems to me to have risen exponentially since I first arrived in 1995. I don’t know why those ‘journalists’ are in prison – if they actually are journalists, and if they are actually in prison – but I can confidently say it was not for simply criticizing Mr Erdoğan or his party’s government. Since the day the AK Party was elected to govern Turkey at the end of 2002 its representatives (and their spouses) have been subjected to torrents of criticism and personal abuse, much of it outrageously distorted if not outright lies.

Bradley/Chelsea Manning - shut away for life for telling the truth

Bradley/Chelsea Manning – shut away for life for telling the truth

The United States government, on the other hand, has shut away Wikileaks whistle-blower Chelsea (Bradley) Manning for 35 years for telling the truth about what the US military was doing in Iraq. If they can get Edward Snowden out of Russia, his fate will be pretty similar. As for Australian citizen Julian Assange, the brains behind the whole business, you can be pretty sure that Swedish rape stuff is a ruse for the Yanks to get hold of him too. So far the Ecuador government is keeping him safe, but it can’t be much of a life, holed up in their London embassy for three years and no end in sight. So, public-spirited truth-tellers, or treacherous enemies of the state? Depends on your point-of-view, I guess.

Four times from 1960 to 1997, elected governments in Turkey were ousted by military intervention – and there is little doubt in my mind that, had Mr Erdoğan’s government not succeeded in pre-emptively pulling the teeth of the generals, he and his team would have gone the same way. That NYT editor further states that ‘some critics of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan fear a new crackdown is starting to ensure that his Justice and Development Party wins’ the upcoming general election. Again, the meaning is not crystal clear, but the implication, I guess, is that the ‘crackdown’ will involve some electoral jiggery-pokery, if not outright violence. Well, I can inform the Times editor and his readership that many of Mr Erdoğan’s supporters have good reasons for believing that the United States had a hand in activating those military coups d’état. Does he know anything about that?

Turkish democracy in the good old days

Turkish democracy in the good old days

The first military takeover, in 1960, resulted in the overthrow of one of the country’s most popular and long-serving prime ministers, Adnan Menderes. The poor man was peremptorily hanged along with two of his ministers – though later posthumously pardoned and his reputation restored. The third, in 1980, precipitated a bloody reign of terror and produced a rewritten constitution aimed at ensuring that Kurdish people and other undesirable left wing elements would not be represented in the country’s legislature. The leader of that 1980 coup, praised by Time Magazine at the time as the man who was ‘holding Turkey together’, General Kenan Evren, died last week of natural causes at the age of 97 – and there are many in Turkey who would have preferred a different end for him. In fact he died as Private Evren, having been demoted and sentenced to life imprisonment for his political activities. As far as I know, no United States representatives attended his funeral, which is sad, perhaps, given that most local politicians stayed away too.

Sad end of a democratically elected Prime Minister, Adnan Menderes  1960

Sad end of a democratically elected Prime Minister, Adnan Menderes 1960

But getting back to the New York Times and its prestigious fellow ‘newspapers of record’, can anyone tell me why they are so concerned that Turkey’s AK Party government should not be returned on 7 June? Wikipedia informs me that the United Nations has 193 member states. A record 206 countries participated in the 2012 London Olympic Games; and the CIA World Factbook recognizes 267 world ‘entities’. I can’t tell you, off the top of my head, how many of those states, countries or ‘entities’ hold regular elections whose results in any way reflect the wishes of their people – but I am reasonably confident that Turkey does. I am equally optimistic that the June 7 election will be a fair reflection of public opinion. Can the same be said of presidential elections in the USA?

I do know that an Arab Spring revolt in 2011 led to the removal of Egypt’s US puppet-president Hosni Mubarak; and the subsequent election, whose fairness no one (as far as I know) disputes, brought Muhammed Morsi to power. Within a year Mr Morsi had been ousted in turn and replaced by a military regime that has now condemned him to death – with not a peep of protest, to my knowledge, from the US government or the New York Times. The ‘entity’ of Palestine, whose people had been living in that location for millennia before the creation of the state of Israel in 1948, has no official representation at the United Nations – yet the United States government and the editor of the NY Times seem quite comfortable with that.

On the other hand, that anonymous editor is also quite comfortable ending his piece with a call to action: ‘The United States and Turkey’s other NATO allies should be urging [Mr Erdoğan] to turn away from [his] destructive path.’ Destructive of who, or what? The country’s economy and the living standards of most of its people have improved enormously in the last 12 years. Small wonder that Turkey’s president is accusing the New York Times of making provocative attacks on his country’s government, and unacceptable meddling in its internal affairs two weeks prior to an important parliamentary election. And in my opinion, President Erdoğan is absolutely right on this one. At the very least, if US business and political leaders won’t adopt consistent standards in their judgment of the political situation in other countries, they might work on getting their own house in order before presuming to interfere in the affairs of other sovereign states.

Trusting in God - since 1956

Trusting in God – since 1956

The NY Times did publish in March a piece written by the author of a book “Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America.” Kevin M Kruse argues that, from the 1930s to the 1950s, big business leaders countered the anger caused by their complicity in two world wars and a Great Depression by enlisting corporate evangelists like Billy Graham. ‘During these years, Americans were told, time and time again, not just that the country should be a Christian nation, but that it always had been one. They soon came to think of the United States as “one nation under God”. They’ve believed it ever since.’

Another NYT piece, A Pacific Isle, Radioactive and Forgotten, dated 4 December last year reports a visit to a Pacific Island where the US military tested 67 nuclear weapons between 1946 and 1958. The island, Enewetak in the Marshall group is still dangerously radioactive, although the former inhabitants were allowed to return and the United States has no interest in cleaning up the mess it left behind.

'I did not have sex with that woman' pales into trivial insignificance!

‘I did not have sex with that woman’ pales into trivial insignificance!

Late last year the US senate released a report which found that ‘the CIA misled the White House and used practices that could be classified as torture on detainees.’ Former vice-president Dick Cheney defended his government’s actions, arguing that ‘We did exactly what needed to be done in order to catch those who were guilty on 9/11 and prevent a further attack. We were successful on both parts.’

In spite of Mr Cheney’s assertion, however, a widely circulated AP article earlier this month reported ‘Iraq war judged a mistake by today’s White House hopefuls.’ And not just the Democrat hopefuls. ‘All these Republicans said last week that, in hindsight, they would not have invaded Iraq with what’s known now about the faulty intelligence that wrongly indicated Saddam Hussein had stockpiled weapons of mass destruction.’

Some might feel ‘hindsight’ to be a weasel word implying ‘If we knew then what we know now . . .’ when, in fact, United Nations observers and the US’s own intelligence had provided adequate information about the true situation. In spite of that, GW Bush’s administration, for whatever reasons of their own, had decided they would invade Iraq. And they were self-righteously angry with France and Turkey for not supporting their war on truth and innocent Iraqis. Now there are many who believe that ill-advised invasion created an environment in the Middle East which led directly to the current chaos in the region, including the rise of ISIS – these days coming to be known as Daesh.

Adding to the tension, according to a recent Time Magazine article, relations between the United States and the Arab GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) nations are at a low ebb. Their oil dependent economies are being hurt by US determination to produce expensive and environmentally disastrous shale oil in the interests of self-sufficiency. The Arabs are responding by driving down the price of oil to thwart the American plans. The extremely undemocratic Saudis and UAE states are also nervous about which way the USA will jump if popular uprisings occur. Their anxiety is further increased by America’s sudden interest in cosying up to Iran.

Nevertheless, rather than admitting the dreadful error made by his predecessor, President Obama last November authorised sending a further 1,500 US troops to Iraq, and requested an extra $5.6 billion in funding to fight ISIS/Daesh. Where will the money go? you may ask. Well, according to another article I read recently, The Fraud of War, a good chunk of it will disappear into ‘theft, bribery and contract-rigging crimes’ run by US military personnel. As far as I am aware, this report did not appear in the pages of the New York Times.

At present, the GCC Muslim brotherhood have been doing America’s dirty work in Yemen, supposedly dealing to al-Qaeda’s breeding ground in that failed state. Iran, on the other hand, is opposed to outside interference in Yemen; and if US-Saudi relations deteriorate, who knows what will happen? According to Robert D Kaplan, writing for Foreign Policy, ‘It’s Time to Bring Imperialism back to the Middle East.’ His thesis is that the collapse or decline of the Ottoman, British and American empires, which hitherto ‘bestowed order, however retrograde it may have been’ is the reason for the current chaotic situation. No fan of democracy, Kaplan’s family is Jewish, and he actually served in the Israeli army before resettling in the United States and becoming a senior adviser to the US Department of Defense. And those guys are criticizing the state of democracy in Turkey!!

'We don't like you - but thanks for letting us use your bay'

‘We don’t like you – but thanks for letting us use your bay’

Closer to home, another former bête noir that the White House has been attempting to build bridges with is the nearby island of Cuba. A stumbling block in the ‘normalisation’ process, however, is the United States’ refusal to consider handing back control of Guantanamo Bay to its rightful owners. The Bay was commandeered by the US in 1902 after their victory in the Spanish-American War. It became the site of a US naval base and, in 2002, of the infamous Guantanamo Prison – which presidential candidate Barack Obama promised to close down, but has so far been unable to do.

As if the Middle East were not providing enough problems for America, the US government has recently decided to apply sanctions to Venezuela which it claims poses an “unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States”. Possibly Robert D Kaplan will be encouraged at these signs of rejuvenated US imperialism – but I suspect he would prefer to see them concentrate on looking after Israel’s interests.

I could go on to mention the disastrous drought in California, exacerbated by the thirst for water of the oil-fracking industry. Our friends at the New York Times published an opinion piece earlier this month entitled ‘The End of California?’ Also in the Sunshine State, a ‘war zone’ has apparently erupted in the Mission District of San Francisco where gentrification is resulting in the displacement of the poor Mexican and Central American migrant families who have traditionally lived there. So Ferguson, Missouri, where police used rubber bullets and stun grenades to disperse crowds protesting the killing of 18 year-old Michael Brown, is not the only war zone in the Land of the Free.

Well, an 18 year-old these days is pretty much considered an adult, I guess – but a Human Rights Watch report last year revealed that, on farms in North Carolina, ‘Children as young as 7 years old are suffering serious health problems from toiling long hours in tobacco fields to harvest pesticide-laced leaves for major cigarette brands.’ On a more microcosmic scale, I read the other day about a driver in Fredericksburg, Virginia who was driving erratically as a result of suffering a stroke – and was sympathetically tasered and pepper-sprayed by an over-enthusiastic police officer. And then there’s the woman in West Palm Beach, Florida, who was arrested for contempt of court after fleeing with her four-year-old son because the child’s father was determined to have the little fellow’s foreskin sliced off.

Ah well, at least cases like that may win America some support among the more extreme Muslim groups. I’m not sure it’s something to be particularly proud of, though.

Downton Abbey, Military Coups and the New Turkey

Have you noticed that the ages people tend to consider milestones in a human life-span don’t actually change much at all? You turn 30 – oh no! you think. That’s the end of my youthful irresponsibility. As of today I have to become a mature adult. But in fact you don’t feel any different from the day before when you were 29 years and 364 days. You hit the big 4-oh – and it’s not as bad as you’d feared. What changed? Very little.

The fear really kicks in when you get to 34 or 45. Then you are obliged to face the reality that the next milestone is . . . and that is scary.

‘Downton Abbey’ has become quite a big thing in our household for the last year or so – that teddibly teddibly English drama series dealing with life in the rigid socio-economic strata of a Yorkshire stately home a century or so ago. Lord Grantham is a blue-blooded aristocrat whose main purpose in life is preserving his inherited title, property and lifestyle for succeeding generations. If he has a philosophy it can probably be summarised as ‘God’s in His heaven, the laird’s in his castle, Mrs Patmore’s in the kitchen – all’s right with the world.’

My daughter's marrying an Irish chauffeur?

My daughter’s marrying an Irish chauffeur?

The 20th century had dawned some years previously. 1 January 1900 had come and gone with little to disturb the great chain of being. The venerable Victoria had sat 63 glorious years on the imperial throne before handing over to her sagaciously bearded, solid-looking son Edward (born in 1841). Motorcars had appeared on the scene, but in as yet manageable numbers, retaining the height, cabinetwork and brass trappings of horse-powered carriages; and had yet to impact on equestrian culture.

The real shock was yet to come – and it came with the Great War; the conflagration later to be known as World War I. It wasn’t so much the appalling toll of death and injury. What really ushered in the new century was the social upheaval brought about by the flood of new technology, and the demolition of social barriers between men and women, and social classes.

By Downton’s fifth season, Lord Grantham is starting to lose his way in a labyrinth of previously unthinkable societal changes. His eldest daughter is a youthful widow; his middle daughter has a child out of wedlock . The youngest married the chauffeur before dying and leaving the family with their child as an unbreakable link. Downton Abbey itself is taken over for the war years as a hospital for wounded servicemen. Once idle rich women experience the personal fulfilment of meaningful work and service to others. Young men of all classes fight side-by-side, seeing friends and enemies of all classes burst open to reveal blood, bones and organs equally horrific and disgusting. Many of them come to question whether the war had truly been fought for freedom, or for less noble economic motives. By the time a radio is accepted into the big house and Lady Cora flirts with a male guest, it has become clear that the old world has passed. Whatever was may have been right – but it no longer is.

The Dowager Lady Grantham sums up the whole business in one of her inimitable observations: ‘All this endless thinking – it’s very overrated. I blame the war. Before 1914 nobody thought about anything at all.’

Well, I know I haven’t really said anything new here. It’s no discovery of mine that the First World War marked, for better or worse, the true beginning of the 20th century. As I write this, however, seated at my desk in Istanbul on Tuesday 19 May 2015 I am enjoying a day off work thanks to Atatürk, founder of the Republic of Turkey. On this day, 96 years ago, Mustafa Kemal Pasha, as he was then, disembarked from a ship in the Black Sea city of Samsun. Sultan Mehmet VI was still sitting, albeit precariously, on the throne of the Ottoman Empire. He had charged the young general with overseeing the disbanding of the imperial army, as required by the Treaty of Sevres.

Out with the old - in with the new

Out with the old – in with the new

The pasha didn’t do it. Instead he set about organising a nationalist movement which, four years later, had driven the invading Greek Army out of Anatolia, persuaded the occupying British forces to quit Istanbul, abolished the 600-year Ottoman Empire and supervised the foundation of the modern republic. But what was the nature of that new entity? Its population was less than 14 million. Ten years of virtually uninterrupted war had decimated the young male demographic. 76% of the people lived in rural areas. There was virtually no manufacturing or heavy industry, or mechanised agriculture. Another result of the wars was that Christian citizens, who had filled important sectors in the Ottoman economy, had left, replaced by dispossessed, impoverished refugee Muslims from Greek lands.

It would be a mistake to equate the terms ‘republic’ and ‘democracy’. Turkey held its first truly democratic election in 1950. Three-and-a-half coups d’état [1] between 1960 and 1997 replaced elected governments with military regimes. After the coup of 1980, 650,000 citizens were detained under martial law, 50 were executed and 171 died under torture, not counting the 299 who died in prison from undetermined causes. Newspapers were closed for 300 days, 30,000 civil servants were removed from their jobs; some 30,000 people fled the country and 14,000 had their citizenship revoked.

The architect of that bloody period in Turkey’s history was Chief of General Staff, Kenan Evren, who died two weeks ago at the age of 97. There was much debate over the question of a state funeral for a man who had held the position of President and Head of State for nine years – given that he had recently been convicted for his crimes, demoted to private and sentenced to life imprisonment[2]. He did get an official funeral in the end, but none of the main political parties sent representatives; and Deputy Prime Minister, Bülent Arınç was quoted as saying, ‘May God bless everyone who deserves blessing’ – possibly implying that Private Evren’s status with the Almighty was open to doubt.

In America's view, at least. The good old days in Turkey!

In America’s view, at least. The good old days in Turkey!

When I first came to Turkey, the 1980 coup was still relatively fresh in some people’s minds. My teacher colleagues assured me that it had been a necessary intervention to end a period of internecine political violence; that the army had a sacred duty to uphold the Turkish Republic – and there are some in the country who still, overtly or covertly, hold to that position.

More recently, however, some of the assumptions that seemed to be accepted as akin to gospel truths in the 1990s have been overturned, or have just quietly disappeared. As a result of two lengthy and wide-ranging court cases, the role of the military in Turkey seems to have drawn back from active participation in the political process, to a more conventional one of protector against threats from outside. Women choosing, for whatever reason, to cover their hair with a scarf, are permitted to study at universities or work in public and private sector jobs. The existence of two large ethnic or religious minorities, Kurds and Alevis, has been acknowledged and steps taken to allow them to participate fully in the life of the nation. Related to this process, the very name of the republic has become a matter of debate: the ‘Turkish Republic’ implying a homogeneous ethnicity – the ‘Republic of Turkey’ having more inclusive connotations.

Nevertheless, there are those who, for reasons of their own, refuse to accept that these changes are necessary, and persist in accusing the government of working against democracy. The leader of the CHP political opposition recently suggested that there was little to distinguish the present government from the military regime of the 80s. Well, political rhetoric often tends to exaggeration, but even Mr Kılıçdaroğlu must be aware that, had he made such criticism of Kenan Evren and his henchmen back then, at the very least he would have found himself missing a few fingernails, or nursing seriously battered feet.

Go ahead - google it!

Go ahead – google it!

That was a different world, before the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Turkey was on the frontline of NATO’s Cold War and left wing political activists were considered an unacceptable threat to its security. The existence of the stay-behind Gladio organisation and its covert operations in countries throughout Europe is now so well-documented as to be irrefutable. It was employed by successive United States governments to ensure the continuation of ‘friendly’ regimes in countries as diverse as Iran, Chile, Turkey and Nicaragua.

Covertly orchestrated regime-changes are known to have taken place from the 50s through to the 80s – and who’s to say they are not still happening. If Gladio agents could foment street violence in the 1970s to justify military intervention, who’s to say they, or their post-modern equivalents wouldn’t do it again? The enemy may have changed from communists to Muslims – but if the methods work . . . The US government and the European Union are tying themselves in contortions of sophistry to avoid applying the label of military coup to the ousting (and now threatened execution) of democratically elected Muhammed Morsi in Egypt. The US’s Arab friends in Saudi Arabia and the United Emirates are performing surrogate roles in Syria and Yemen. You might think we are in the early stages of World War III – except as far as I am aware, no one has actually declared war on anyone.

Maybe that’s another sign that the world has changed.


[1] That of 1997 is often referred to as the ‘post-modern’ coup, avoiding the use of tanks, torture and other bloodshed

[2] The sentence is currently under appeal