Reaching out to the Muslims

Well, it seems like al-Qaeda have resurfaced after a period out of our headlines. Maybe people were getting bored with ISIS – or were just plain confused about who they actually were, given all the acronyms that seemed to refer to the same shadowy outfit: ISID, ISIL, DAESH etc. Then there are YPG and SDF . . . And that’s just in Syria! It’s all a bit much, really. Let’s just get back to basics and bomb the sh** out of al-Qaeda. At least we knew who those guys were . . . Didn’t we?

Syria-2

Got those mothers!

So it seems that’s what we’re doing. By “we”, of course, I mean the Western alliance; the Christian, democratic, freedom-loving Western alliance. That’s us, right? Me and you?

And it’s with some satisfaction we note that the United States military is back to doing what it does best – taking out al-Qaeda operatives threatening Homeland, USA, just a short 9,220 km hop, step and a jump away from Washington DC, in Syria (that’s 5,763 miles for those of you who still insist on using those medieval measurements).

Colonel John Thomas (no connection with the male appendage of the gardener in “Lady Chatterley’s Lover”), spokesman for US Central Command, apparently told Reuters: “’US forces conducted an airstrike on an Al-Qaeda in Syria meeting location March 16 in Idlib, Syria, killing several terrorists.’ He later clarified that the precise location of the strike was unclear — but that it was the same one widely reported to have targeted the village mosque in Al-Jineh, in Aleppo province.

Washington DC to Aleppo

There’s DC – there’s Aleppo. You can see why we’re nervous, right?

‘We are going to look into any allegations of civilian casualties in relation to this strike,’ he added, when asked about reports from the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights that 42 people had died, most of them civilians.”

Several news sources, however, including the BBC, reported that the al-Jineh mosque “had been packed with worshippers for evening prayers. Forty-two people, mostly civilians, died in an air strike. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the raid by unidentified planes was in al-Jineh, Aleppo province.”

Back to Colonel Thomas: “We did not target a mosque, but the building that we did target – which was where the meeting [of militants] took place – is about 50ft (15metres) from a mosque that is still standing.”

Now, I have to tell you, I’m a little confused about how the Colonel can be so sure the mosque is “still standing” when he admits that “the precise location of the strike was unclear.” Nevertheless, I’m sure the families of the dead worshippers will be comforted to hear that the US military is going to “look into the allegations”.

Election Turkey – 1999

1999 electionGoing through some old papers the other day I came across a graphic I’d cut out of a newspaper back in 1999. It was a map of Turkey with the results of that year’s parliamentary election showing regional distribution of seats for all political parties. I’m attaching a more recent version in the interests of readability.

Five parties won seats in that election, and three independents. The largest share went to the 74 year-old Bülent Ecevit, whose Democratic Left Party (DSP) won 22% of the vote, and formed a coalition government with Devlet Bahçeli’s Nationalist Movement Party (MHP – 18%) and Mesut Yılmaz’s Motherland Party (ANAP – 13%).

1999_genel_seçimleri_iller

Some changes after all the votes were counted, I guess

It was a measure of the people’s desperation in the face of 100% annual inflation and ongoing war in the southeast, that they brought back Ecevit – who had last served as Prime Minister 20 years before – and relegated the three parties most recently governing the country to the role of minor players.

Also noteworthy:

  • The Republican People’s Party, these days the most vociferous critics of the present government, failed to pass the 10% threshold and won no representation.
  • The Kurdish Party (HADEP) also failed to pass the threshold – which is possibly an argument for lowering the bar to 5%.
  • The western parts of the country, currently committed CHP supporters, in 1999 were firmly behind Ecevit’s DSP.
  • The Islamic Virtue Party (FP – 15%) had re-emerged under yet another new name after being repeatedly closed down and banned by the secular establishment.
  • Conspicuous by its absence is the Justice and Development Party (AKP) – which came into existence in 2002 as a result of voter disillusionment with the ongoing parliamentary shenanigans – and has now provided by far the country’s longest continuous period of stability since the death of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.

Turkey and The Netherlands – What’s going on?

Srebenica coffins

Muslim women mourning over victims of the Srebenica massacre

It seems to be blowing up into a major diplomatic issue, doesn’t it! Turkey’s President Erdoğan was reported yesterday as having raised a matter that the people of the Netherlands would no doubt prefer to forget. During the Bosnian War, in July 1995, more than 8,000 Muslim Bosniaks, mainly men and boys, were massacred. Between 25,000 to 30,000 Bosniak women, children and elderly were forcibly transferred and abused. The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia ruled in 2004 that the massacre constituted a genocide, and the ruling was upheld by the International Court of Justice in 2007.

Possibly Mr Erdoğan is embellishing the truth a little when he accuses the Netherlands of direct responsibility. There’s no evidence to suggest that Dutch soldiers actually killed or raped anyone. Nevertheless, the United Nations had declared the Muslim enclave of Srebenica a “safe area” under their protection, and a battalion of Dutch troops (UNPROFOR’s 370 Dutchbat soldiers) was responsible for ensuring the safety of the inhabitants. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, they weren’t able to do so, and courts in the Netherlands have subsequently held the Dutch government responsible for the killings of of 300 Muslim Bosniaks. At this stage it seems unclear who was responsible for the other 7,700 deaths. (Source Wikipedia)

Geert Wilders

Whose fault is that? 68% of Dutch people say they have no religion, and 25%  claim to be atheists

You may say that’s a low blow from Mr Erdoğan. It’s old history after all. What we’re talking about here is politicians from Turkey wanting to go to the Netherlands to talk about a political issue when that country is days away from a particularly sensitive parliamentary election. That may be so, however:

  • On 16 April there will be an important national referendum in Turkey to approve or reject proposed changes to the country’s constitution.
  • There are nearly 400,000 Turks in the Netherlands – the largest minority ethnic group. Many of them hold dual citizenship and are entitled to vote in Turkey’s elections.
  • Politicians from Turkey had no interest in influencing the local Dutch election. Their aim was to speak to local Turks about a domestic issue in Turkey.
  • European governments, news media and the European Union itself have been, and still are, active in speaking out publicly against the Turkish government’s proposed changes to the constitution. Most recently, the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe published a report asserting that the proposed changes will weaken democracy.

The report criticized the proposals for “letting the new president exercise executive power alone, with unsupervised authority to appoint and dismiss ministers, and to appoint and dismiss all high officials on the basis of criteria determined by him or her alone, allowing the president to be a member and even the leader of his or her political party, that would give him or her undue influence over the legislature and giving the president the power to dissolve parliament on any grounds whatsoever, which is fundamentally alien to democratic presidential systems.”

obamapowerJust out of interest, I googled “US presidential powers” . . . and what do you think? They can do all that and a whole heap more besides, including bomb other countries without having to get Congressional approval, and without even declaring war on them. So why pick on Turkey?

This time last year I expressed some surprise that the UK Consul-general in Istanbul, Leigh Turner, and a gang of his peers from Europe, Canada and the USA had fronted up to a court room where two Turkish journalists were being tried on “charges of procuring information vital to state security, political and military espionage, publishing state secrets and disseminating propaganda for a terrorist organization.” This was a mere four months before another gang, of rebel army officers, attempted to overthrow by force of arms Turkey’s democratically elected government. Those foreign diplomats were not only, by their presence en masse, attempting to pervert the course of justice in their host country, they also (some of them at least) snuggled up to the defendants and took “selfies”  which they then posted on their twitter accounts. When Turkey’s government closed the court hearing to the public, European media began screaming about democratic rights – after the situation had been brought about by the outrageous behaviour of their own “diplomats”.

Leigh Turner

Can’t even SPELL freedom, let alone know what it means!

And now, their cronies in Brussels are rallying round the Netherlands government, who did what? Turned back a plane carrying Turkey’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, refusing him entry to their country – then actually stopped the car of Family Minister Fatma Betül Sayan Kaya, took her into custody and deported her. Why? Because they wanted to speak to Turkish voters and put an alternative case to the one being promulgated by European press and politicians about Turkey’s upcoming referendum.

Put the two scenarios together and tell me honestly which is worse? Tell me who are the democrats and who the hypocrites?

Sad to say, there can be no winners in a situation like this. The Dutch Prime Minister is refusing to apologise, and his Turkish counterparts are in no mood to forgive these insults. That same Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, is now suggesting that if the European Union does not honour its side of the deal, the migration agreement struck last year between Turkey and the EU could be nullified.

‘We see that the European Union has been stalling us. But our patience is not unlimited. Our citizens also have expectations. If visa liberalisation does not come, we will take steps regarding the migration deal,’ Çavuşoğlu told reporters on March 14.

Turkey agreed last year to work to keep migrants from crossing into the EU in return for funds to help it deal with some three million refugees.

The deal included a 6 billion aid package to help Turkey care for millions of refugees hosted in the country. However, Turkey has so far received only 677 million, with Brussels citing demands that Ankara loosen its tough anti-terror legislation. The agreement also allowed for the acceleration of Turkey’s EU membership bid and visa-free travel for Turkish nationals within the Schengen area.” None of which have eventuated – nor, if you want my opinion, are they ever likely to.

EU fence

The borders of Europe

It’s very nice for those politicians and media moguls in Western Europe sitting comfortably and complacently thousands of kilometres from the horrors taking place in the Middle East. Turkey, on the other hand, has to confront them on a daily basis, since they are happening just beyond their back fence.

“The U.N. Human Rights Council warned on Tuesday that a “tidal wave of bloodshed” over more than six years of war in Syria had effectively turned the country into a “torture chamber.”

‘As the conflict enters its seventh year, this is the worst man-made disaster the world has seen since World War II,’ Agence France-Presse quoted Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, as saying about the conflict that has killed 320,000.”

As I was traveling to work yesterday I noticed the minibus driver had a quotation displayed on the inside of his windscreen:

“Belki de haklısın . . . Sıfır’ın gücü yoktur; ama unutma ki, sıfır’ın kaybedecek bir şey de yoktur!”

“Maybe you’re right – Those who have nothing, have no power. But don’t forget, they also have nothing to lose!”

Smug self-righteousness is a sad and dangerous game to play.

The Non-people – Let’s say that they are dead

I wrote this back in 2003. I wasn’t writing a blog in those days, so it didn’t get much circulation. I’m posting it now in response to three items that crossed my screen this morning:

  • A reply to my post about Turkey’s human rights record – expressing deep sadness and frustration at the writer’s powerlessness in the face of US aggression and lies;
  • A clip my sister sent me with a Scottish woman singing/reciting a beautiful song/poem about Donald Trump;
  • Another reply from a woman who lost a child to the injustices of the US health system.

“It doesn’t snow that often in Istanbul, so it’s a novelty, especially for an ex-pat Aucklander. I love looking out of the window at the flying flakes, the trees with their branches laden and bent, the lawn white, and the Bosphorus beyond looking infinite, the Asian shore lost in mist.

When I got up this morning, the world was white, and the house was cold. My heating hadn’t come on. I had to go downstairs and bleed some air out of the heat pump. Now I’m comfortable behind double-glazed windows, radiators warming every room, enjoying the framed pictures on every wall, unreal, like old greeting cards of northern winters celebrating a southern Christmas.

I had to go out. My weekend morning routine is a leisurely breakfast with plenty of freshly brewed coffee, and it’s not complete without a warm-from-the-oven baguette from the bakery in Sarıyer, and a local paper. It’s ok though – once you don overcoat, scarf, gloves, woollen beanie, boots . . . snow adds a new dimension to the short walk to the village. Wish I’d got up earlier, though. It’s less picturesque after a few hours of traffic have churned the virginal white to brown slush.

No sign of my local charities today. There’s an old chap with a set of scales who bases himself all day on the esplanade near the supermarket. Too proud to simply beg, he accepts offerings from passers-by in return for reading their weight with doubtful accuracy. I always make a show of putting down my shopping bags, and getting him to read the kilos, in return for which I slip him one Turkish Lira. He shakes my hand and thanks me effusively. But I haven’t seen him for a few weeks. Wonder where he goes in winter?

Outside the bakery sits a woman in late middle-age. She makes little nest for herself with flattened cardboard cartons. On a good day, she may score a wooden fruit box from the grocer across the road. “Allah razi olsun,” she says, in return for my greeting and my lira; “God bless you.” But she wasn’t there today either. Too cold, I suppose.

So I got home, with my loaf and my ‘Milliyet’. The house felt marvellously warm as the radiators began to do their job. I fiddled around in the kitchen preparing a plate of olives, cheese, tomatoes, cucumber, scrambled egg . . . a glass of fresh orange juice (with coffee to follow), then settled down with newspaper spread out on the table.

Arab childI’d noticed, as soon as I took it from the newsagent that this morning’s paper looked different. Half of the front page was filled with the photograph of a doe-eyed Arab girl, about five years old, hair covered with a black embroidered headscarf, but her face open and innocent. “Ölü çocukların sessiz çığlıkları” read the restrained headline – little more than a caption, in fact: “The silent cries of the dead children.” It’s the title of a brief poem printed beside the photo:

‘Shall it be said of them that they are dead

Their hearts have long since stopped

Shall it be said of them that they are dead

The pupils of their eyes show no sign of life

Then let’s say they are dead

Like mighty ships at anchor

In great harbours

No sign of life in the pupils of their eyes

Shall it be said of them that they are dead?’

‘When the photograph of this little girl arrived at the reporters’ department of ‘Milliyet’ yesterday afternoon we were in a meeting.

It was taken in Baghdad yesterday during Friday prayers by Reuters correspondent Shuayib Salem . . .

The little girl’s name was not attached. Maybe it’s Ayshe, Fatma perhaps, or Emine . . . No one knows her name; in my opinion, no one wants to know.

Because, for the movers and shakers sitting in warm rooms in the great capitals of the world, whose names we read in newspapers, whose faces we see on television, it’s necessary that she should have no name, no identity. It’s necessary that she should remain a statistic . . .

In that way, it’s easier to accept the suffering . . .’

That was the front page. I don’t usually read every word – my Turkish is still a bit slow. I brewed my coffee and savoured the taste and the aroma as I flipped through the rest of the paper: movie reviews, apartments to rent, cartoons, football . . . On page 16, news that eighty thousand Turkish troops will be going to Iraq[1], along with fifty thousand from the US; three hundred US aircraft will be based on Turkish soil.

And it occurred to me that I don’t know the name of the old chap with the scales; nor the woman outside the bakery in her cardboard nest – the man and woman who weren’t there. For sure it’s easier that way.”

_____________________________________________

[1] In the end, those Turkish troops weren’t sent.

Turkey slams US over critical human rights report

afghan-civilians-killed-wounded

Afghan civilians sit near the bodies of children reported to have been killed during a NATO airstrike in the Kunar province on April 7, 2013 (Photo: Reuters)

The US Department of State has released its report on the state of human rights practices around the world. The report is critical of Turkey’s recent record, and the Government of Turkey has responded strongly.

They have tactfully avoided asking how many civilians have died in Iraq and other Middle East countries (and elsewhere) as a result of US government aggression. They have also not pointed out the hypocrisy of criticising Turkey’s human rights record when they are currently trying to cope with more than three million refugees from the US-sponsored civil war in Syria – and wealthy Western countries are refusing to help.

This report in today’s English language Hürriyet Daily News:

“Turkey has lashed out at the United States for criticizing measures taken in the aftermath of the July 2016 coup attempt in its annual human rights report, describing these criticisms as “unacceptable allegations, misrepresentations and interpretations that do not reflect reality.”

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Source: BBC

“The parts of the latest report regarding Turkey, released on March 3, 2017, comprise unacceptable allegations, misrepresentations and interpretations that do not reflect reality. In this period, when we are faced with unprecedented threats of terrorism against the survival of our nation and state, misrepresentation of our legitimate struggle against terrorist organizations, in particular FETÖ [the Fethullahist Terror Organization], the PKK [Kurdistan Workers’ Party], the DHKP-C [Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front] and DAESH [an Arabic acronym for the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant], in a way that does not reflect realities, has caused deep disappointment,” read the statement issued by the Foreign Ministry in response to a 75-page U.S. Department of State report.

“Inconsistent access to due process,” “government interference with freedom of expression,” and “inadequate protection of civilians,” especially in the aftermath of the July 2016 coup attempt, were among the significant human rights problems observed in 2016.

“It is denotative that the report makes no reference to the role of FETÖ elements in the July 15 coup attempt, or the fact that the FETÖ leadership lives in the U.S. Also, the description of our fight against the PKK terrorist organization as an ‘internal conflict’ is totally unacceptable,” the ministry stated.

“It is clear that this report, which ignores information and opinions provided by our authorities within the understanding of constructive cooperation, fails to claim any basis in terms of objectivity,” it added.”

Read the full article

“Love will save this world”

In my current employment I work weekends, so Thursday and Friday are my days off. In fact I like it this way. Population and vehicle density are so bad in Istanbul these days, you may as well stay home on Saturday and Sunday, unless you want to spend hours snarled up in traffic jams.

dscf0510So I’m happy having my weekend when almost everyone else is working or at school. Today it was really starting to feel like spring. I turned off the heating, opened a couple of windows, then went out for a longish walk.

There’s a pretty park not far from our place, laid out in 1973 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Republic of Turkey. Council workers have been busy planting pansies and tulip bulbs. The tulips won’t bloom for a couple of weeks or so, but, with the sun shining, the rows of yellow,  purple and whie pansies looked great. There were also leaf and blossom buds appearing on some trees, so probably the worst of winter is behind us.

I made a circuit down towards the railway line where progress is continuing on track and stations for the new High Speed Train. Much of the city is under reconstruction these days, it seems – adding to the traffic chaos as truck and trailer units carry away demolition rubble, and concrete mixers and hydraulic pumps shuttle around the building sites.

As I approached the pedestrian overpass crossing the horrendous racetrack linking the coast road with the two main motorways, my eye was caught by a sentence of graffiti crudely painted on one of the steel pillars:

dscf0513“Bu dünyayı sevgi kurtaracak,” it read. And once again I felt happy to be in Turkey. Western graffiti of the artistic or obscene variety has been increasingly in evidence around Istanbul in recent years. Especially during the few months when the so-called “Gezi Park” protests were going on, there was some pretty unpleasant stuff being daubed on walls around town.

This one, however, gave me hope that all is not lost. The anonymous scribe was assuring us that: “Love will save this world.”

Nice to think there are people around who still believe that.