Leading the fight for freedom – in Turkey and elsewhere

15 July

You’d have to love your president!

Saturday, 15 July, was the first anniversary of a failed attempt by some officers in the Turkish armed forces to overthrow the country’s democratically elected AK Party government. The government has planned a week of meetings and other activities to commemorate the courage of Turkish folk who stood up against tanks and automatic weapons to ensure that the attempted coup was unsuccessful. Before the perpetrators backed down, 250 citizens had lost their lives and an unknown number had been injured.

US and EU governments have been generous in their affirmations of support for Turkey’s struggle against forces working to bring down its government. – somewhat quicker than they were this time last year, when they seemed to delay their reaction until it was clear to all that the coup had failed. That’s not surprising, I guess. When Egypt’s first and only democratically elected government led by Muhammed Morsi was overthrown by army intervention in 2013, Western governments hardly paused for breath before announcing business as usual with the new regime. It seems we can work with military dictators – it’s leaders who have to answer to the will of their own people we’re uncomfortable with.

Chas I

Last successful military coup in Britain – 1649

So those Western leaders are expressing support for Turkey – but read on and you’ll find thinly veiled threats following close behind. Turkey’s government should be careful not to use the failed coup as an excuse to trample on the freedom of innocent citizens exercising their democratic right to dissent. Sounds fair enough – but the reality of highly trained and well-armed troops rising up to overthrow their lawful government is not something the United Kingdom or the United States have had to deal with since the 1640s and the 1860s respectively. Memory fades.

Let’s think about how these things happen. Above all, you need a significant chunk of the country’s people to be unhappy. No general, no matter how ambitious he may be for political power, is going to risk his all unless he feels he has a good chance of pulling it off – which means he has to believe there is substantial sympathy and support for his action. What does that mean in a country of 78 million people? Even 1% means 780,000 people! Last week the leader of an opposition party addressed a crowd estimated at two million to protest about the state of justice in Turkey. My guess is a good number of them wouldn’t have been sad to see President Erdoğan ousted by a military coup. Well, they were allowed to assemble, and Mr Kılıçdaroğlu was allowed to vehemently criticise the government. Nevertheless, there is still a state of emergency in force in Turkey, and many thousands of suspects have been rounded up to answer accusations of involvement in the attempted coup. What would you expect? The vast majority of citizens are going about their normal lawful daily business, and a good number of them are bitching and complaining about the government. That’s their democratic right. What do you have to do to get arrested, that’s my question.

mederes-3

Turkish PM Menderes – hanged by military junta, 1961

Then let’s imagine that the coup had been successful. Lawfully constituted governments in Turkey were overthrown by military intervention on four occasions in the second half of the 20th century. In 1960 the Prime Minister of ten years, Adnan Menderes, was hanged, along with two of his ministers, by the insurgent officers. Menderes was subsequently forgiven, exonerated and had his reputation restored – small consolation for his family, I imagine. After the first three coups there was a period of terror where political dissenters were rounded up, tortured, executed, “disappeared” or driven into exile. Military intervention in the democratic process is no light matter – and almost invariably leads to bloodshed and violent suppression of opposition. At the very least, Mr Erdoğan and his government would have found themselves imprisoned, and a lengthy period of sustained oppression would have been necessary to silence his millions of loyal supporters.

The simple fact is this: if you rise up against your lawful government in any country, and try to overthrow them by force of arms, you had better succeed. If you don’t, you’ll be lucky to escape with your life. Even if you weren’t among the actual rebels, if you are suspected of lending behind-the-scenes support or encouragement, you are likely to be called to account.

Sisi

Egypt’s Sisi – military dictator? No?

Why then are Western political spokespersons and media sources so critical now of the “lack of freedom and democracy” in Turkey? They seem to have been happy enough to accept Egyptian General Sisi’s violent suppression of opposition since the coup he led in 2013. A less publicised feature of most military coups in developing countries is the support, moral and actual, provided by forces beyond their borders who see economic benefits in a regime change. Turkey’s President Erdoğan is consistent in his denunciation of US-based Turkish religious leader Fethullah Gülen, whose tentacles extend into every corner of Turkey’s establishment. At the same time, Mr Erdoğan also maintains that behind Gülen more sinister forces are at work. US spokespersons deny their government had any part in the attempted coup – but they steadfastly refuse Turkey’s requests to extradite Gülen so that he can answer the charges against him. Perhaps they do have a genuine concern for the poor man’s democratic rights – but they also have a long-standing record of backing regime changes where elected leaders don’t seem to be supporting American “interests”.

Military allianceTwo recent articles caught my eye giving credence to the theory that Washington could have played a part in last July’s insurrection. The first appeared on the Foreign Policy website, bearing the headline Turkey’s Post-Coup Purge and Erdogan’s Private Army”. The article is an absurd mishmash of lies, distortions and internal contradictions that might seem convincing to a foreign reader – but to anyone who knows Turkey, is clearly working to a hidden agenda.

The writer, Leela Jacinto, nails her colours to the mast in her opening paragraph, expressing regret that Turkey’s military — the once mighty pillar of a secular, Muslim-majority state with the second-largest standing force in NATO — has lost its Kemalist oomph.” Surely any true democrat would applaud the relegation of generals to their proper role as defenders of the state from outside threats. The “secular Kemalist” label is used to lend a veneer of legitimacy to their previous overthrowing of elected governments, ensuring that a small US-friendly elite continued to hold the reins of power. It is widely accepted that the CIA had a hand in all four successful coups in Turkey in 1960, 1971, 1980 and 1997.

Last year’s coup having failed, of course its supporters, overt and covert, are keen to imply that it wasn’t a “real” coup – that either it was staged from start to finish, or at least allowed to proceed and fail by President Erdoğan to cement his hold on power. Well, maybe George W Bush did orchestrate events of 9/11/2001 in the USA, and Maggie Thatcher certainly led her nation to war with Argentina for that reason – but I do not believe President Erdoğan is so evil. The evidence doesn’t stack up.

Jacinto contends that the Gülen organisation initially supported Erdoğan’s AK Party but the alliance fell apart when Gülenists exposed AK Party “corruption”. If it’s true, why would they do that to their ally? More likely is the scenario that Erdoğan used them to break the power of the army, but was subsequently unwilling to share power with an unelected shadowy cartel. The Gülenists got angry and decided to get rid of him – possibly/probably aligning themselves with the CIA, enemy of their new enemy.

Common enemyThen there is Turkey’s “lovefest” with Russia. What’s that about, “lovefest”? Implying some kind of drug-crazed, bacchanalian, neo-hippy debauchery. Better to focus on America’s “HATEfest” with Russia, Communists, Muslims, Cuba, Venezuela, Iran, or any other group or country that doesn’t kowtow to their programme of world domination.

Jumping from one illusory accusation to another, Jacinto raises a bogey by the name of Doğu Perinçek to justify her suggestion of unholy alliances against the West taking place at “deep state” level involving the AK Party government, communists and ultra-nationalists. Somehow she manages to work in Armenian holocaust denialism and the heroine of the world’s oppressed and downtrodden masses, Amal Clooney. Well, Perinçek is an interesting character, having been incarcerated on several occasions by military regimes in the past for leftist activities. He does seem recently to have reincarnated as a kind of nationalist/socialist – but he continues to operate, as he always has, on the fringe of Turkish political circles, and his miniscule polling in the last general election suggests that he poses no threat to the United States empire, or anyone else.

Jacinto’s final shot is the assertion that President Erdoğan has a private army, a paramilitary “Praetorian Guard” that not only faced down the soldiers last July, but is working behind the scenes to foster some kind of global Islamic order aimed at bringing down the West.

Who is this woman? Who is pulling her strings?

The other article that caught my eye appeared in Time Magazine: Turkey’s ‘Iron Lady’ Meral Aksener Is Getting Ready to Challenge Erdogan. Like Doğu Perinçek, Ms Akşener is known in Turkey, but tends to lurk these days at the fringes of the political sphere. Like Nobel prize-winner Orhan Pamuk, she likes to present herself as one who has courageously stood against the corrupt power of a dictatorial state. In fact, her brief spell as Minister for Internal Affairs occurred during the unlikely and short-lived coalition of discredited “secular Kemalist” Tansu Çiller and Islamic firebrand Necmettin Erbakan. Journalist Jared Malsin portrays Akşener as a scary synthesis of Margaret Thatcher, Hillary Clinton and Marie le Pen. Try selling that to the Turkish electorate, Jared!

puppet govtIt does, however, strike me that something sinister could be going on here. Malsin acknowledges that one of the main problems with the current political scene in Turkey is the lack of a credible leader to oppose the charismatic Erdoğan. HDP leader, Selahattin Demirtaş provided a brief spark of hope before committing political suicide by throwing in his lot with the Kurdish separatists. Nationalist MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli seems to have decided that his best chance of achieving office is by working with the government; and Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, still hankering for the one-party state where Atatürk’s own party held sway, has lost so many elections the Guinness people are thinking of opening a category for him in their 2018 edition.

Clearly, then, if the movers and shakers of world capitalism are going to have another try at overthrowing Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, they’re going to need a figurehead to put in his place. Far-fetched theory? I don’t think so.

Hate USAVenezuela’s long-term president Hugo Chavez was one of Washington’s most hated world leaders. A vocal socialist, Chavez utilised his country’s enormous oil resources to initiate domestic programmes aimed at a more equitable distribution of wealth. He lent support to Cuba and other Central and South American nations struggling to escape US hegemony, and committed probably the ultimate unpardonable sin: befriending Iran. In 2002 a CIA-sponsored military coup actually ousted Chavez, but the result was overturned by a huge outpouring of popular support for the President. When Chavez died in 2013, his protégé Nicholas Maduro took over his role. Now, in spite of having the world’s second-largest proven oil reserves, Venezuela’s economy is shattered – as a result of plummeting oil prices. Why did oil prices plummet? Because the United States, the world’s largest consumer, moved from being a buyer to a seller. How did they do that? They began to exploit previously uneconomic reserves using the expensive and environmentally disastrous fracking technique. Why would they do that? Surely not to destroy Venezuela’s economy, get rid of President Maduro and install a US-friendly right wing dictator . . . would they? Can they really be that evil?

http://www.trtworld.com/magazine/how-the-us-right-demonised-a-venezuelan-leader-384234

http://www.news.com.au/finance/economy/world-economy/venezuela-crisis-2017-protesters-demand-political-economic-reform/news-story/b52e0a2985930d072cde86527bf2b50c

Thieves Falling Out? What’s going on with Qatar?

media liesWhy do I follow the mainstream news media? It’s simple. I know they are trying to con me. I know they are telling half-truths, and hiding important information from me. Reading between the lines, however, gives me important clues as to what questions I should be asking to find the answers I really need to know.

So . . . This week I learn that Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain are cutting ties with oil rich neighbour and former friend Qatar over “alleged support for terrorism”. Well, good for them, you might think. Great to see high profile Muslim countries taking initiative to stamp out this curse currently plaguing the world.

But wait up. Who exactly are the “terrorists” those dastardly Qataris are “allegedly” supporting? The terrible Taliban? ISIS/Daesh? Al Qaeda? Boko Haram? Apparently not. In fact it’s far more likely those groups are funded by Saudis. The object of Qatari affections seems to be the Muslim Brotherhood. Well, ok. They’re just as bad, aren’t they? With a name like that, they’d have to be terrorists. Certainly movers and shakers in the USA and Israel think so: the Clarion Project, the Gatestone Institute, and Israeli Stand With Us express strong opinions on the subject. Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates summed up their case with a simple, if inelegant sound byte: “It seems to me, by and large, if it looks like a duck and it walks like a duck, maybe it’s a duck.”

no-ducks-sign

. . . or Muslims!

On the other hand, the people at Brookings say no, and there seems to be debate on the matter within Trump’s administration. Back in March, the Big DT was on the verge of issuing an executive order adding the Brotherhood to Washington’s official list of terrorist organisations – but decided to postpone the decision. Apparently cooler heads in his team were arguing that affixing the “terrorist” label would unnecessarily upset some of America’s allies in the region. Clearly, however, other “allies” are strongly in favour, especially the Saud family, the UAE (Dubai etc) and Egypt. So who’s right?

According to a BBC backgrounder, the movement (al-Ikhwan al-Muslimun in Arabic) was founded in 1928, and “initially aimed simply to spread Islamic morals and good works, but soon became involved in politics, particularly the fight to rid Egypt of British colonial control and cleanse it of all Western influence.” It’s founder, Hassan al-Banna, did create “a paramilitary wing, the Special Apparatus, whose operatives joined the fight against British rule and engaged in a campaign of bombings and assassinations.” Sounds nasty, but you have to remember that, in those days, Britain was fighting a losing global war to hold on to its rapidly shrinking empire. Their plan to wipe Turkey of the map had been foiled by Kemal Atatürk; and MK Ghandi led India and Pakistan to independence in 1947. In 1956, after President Abdul Nasser nationalised the Suez Canal, the Brits, French and Israelis actually invaded Egypt – but were ordered out by US President Eisenhower.

1956-mirror-news-usa-front-page-reporting-israel-invades-egypt-during-E5GNF9

That was in 1956

You might think the Muslim Brothers had some cause for indulging in a little active resistance. Not everyone is as patient and peaceful as Mahatma Ghandi. When Hosni Mubarak stood down as President of Egypt in 2011 as a result of “Arab Spring” protests and the (probably reluctant) urging of US President Obama, he had held the position for 29 years, winning “elections” where 70-80% of his citizens didn’t bother to cast a vote. The Muslim Brotherhood had been banned from putting up candidates, but in the first genuinely democratic election in June 2012 they won a comfortable majority. Mohammed Morsi became Egypt’s first democratically elected (and non-military) president. He lasted just over a year. In July 2013 he was ousted by Egypt’s armed forces and his place taken by military commander-in-chief, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. Subsequently, the United States and its Western allies have been twisting their tongues into breathtaking contortions to avoid calling the military coup a military coup.

Did the US government’s henchmen have a hand in Morsi’s ousting? Of course they cover their tracks, but we do know that the US had supported Mubarak’s dictatorship, despite his abysmal human rights record. US funding made Egypt’s military the world’s 10th largest, and Egypt reversed its earlier implacable hostility to Israel. It was unlikely that Morsi would have been quite so accommodating to US Middle East policy. US aid was cut off but resumed as soon as Egypt returned to military dictatorship. Go figure, as my North American friends are fond of saying.

Obamas Arab mates

Barack Obama with his Arab mates

Well, Qatar’s tiny population (2.2 million) has the world’s highest per capita GDP, its capital, Doha, is the location for TV broadcaster Al-Jazeera, and the country was selected by FIFA to host the 2022 football World Cup tournament. It’s not exactly a paragon of democratic freedom, but that doesn’t seem to be a major stumbling block to finding favour with US administrations. It does seem that their crime, in the eyes of their neighbours, is lending support to those Muslim Brothers.

Now don’t you think it’s interesting that just after President Donald Trump returns home from a successful visit to his country’s friends in the Middle East, a gang of those friends suddenly decide to pick on a neighbour that has been causing difficulties for the Trump administration? DT wants to declare the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organisation but some of his advisors are blocking him. Is it possible he suggested to King Salman and the rest of his Arab buddies that now might be a good time to put the screws on Qatar to fall into line?

Whatever the failings of their foreign and domestic programmes, putting the screws on other sovereign states to fall into line is something United States governments are especially good at. We’ve seen what happened in Egypt. We are witnessing (again) what happens to South American nations (Brazil, Venezuela) that think serving their own people takes priority over the interests of US corporations. For all the talk about bringing American-style democracy to the world, we have seen that US administrations are far more comfortable dealing with military dictators than with elected leaders who may have to listen to what their own people are saying.

bombing-yemen

Enlisting recruits for Al Qaeda in Yemen

And whatever may have been said in private, President Trump was only too happy to trumpet his success in clinching a deal to sell $110 billion worth of military hardware to the Saudi rulers. In case you were wondering what the Saudis are doing with all those tanks, artillery and helicopter gunships, Time Magazine tells us that it is mostly being used to slaughter people in neighbouring Yemen, one of the world’s poorest countries, currently racked by poverty, starvation and a cholera epidemic. As if the Saudis can’t do enough damage by themselves, the US military has been making its own contribution to peace in the Middle East with commando raids and drone strikes. Tell, me please, who are those poor Yemenis threatening?

Meanwhile Turkey is struggling to persuade its own so-called Western allies to support its struggle against terrorism. Military personnel known to have been involved in the unsuccessful July 15 military coup attempt have taken refuge in EU countries, notably Greece and Germany – and those NATO friends are refusing to hand them over. Fethullah Gülen, believed by Turkey’s government to have been a key figure in efforts to overthrow them, is safely ensconced in his Pennsylvania retreat, while the US government spurns all requests to extradite him. The Pentagon, in open defiance of Ankara’s wishes, is unabashedly supplying military hardware to Kurdish separatist groups in Syria closely allied with the internationally recognised terrorist PKK.

us-iran

Supporting autocrats in the Middle East

I read an interesting book review the other day. ‘Sectarianization: Mapping the New Politics of the Middle East’ is a collection of academic articles apparently arguing against Barack Obama’s simplistic assessment of Middle East strife that it is “rooted in conflicts that date back millennia”. So far, so good. The Ottoman dynasty ruled a multicultural, polyglot empire embracing Muslims, Jews and mutually antagonistic Christian sects for six centuries without major sectarian conflict.

Unfortunately, it seems the writers have lurched from one flawed interpretation to another. The reviewer summarises the book’s theme thus: “Behind the current turmoil lies a toxic brew of authoritarianism, kleptocracy, developmental stagnation, state repression, geopolitical rivalry and class dynamics. . . Many of the contributors,” we are told, “make the key point that lethal sectarianism and politicized identities are often manipulated by authoritarian regimes in pursuit of political gain.”

Well, it is undoubtedly true that Hosni Mubarak, for example, made good use of his 29 years as dictator of Egypt to enrich himself and his family. The academics in “Secularization” might have noted, however, that courts in Switzerland and the United States have resisted all attempts by Egyptian authorities to repatriate the tens of millions of dollars stashed by Mubarak in their banks.

The articles seem to attribute the rise of the phenomenon purely and simply to power-hungry “autocrats” in the region stoking internecine hatred for their own purposes. One writer even blames the current lawless chaos in Iraq on neighbours Iran, Syria and Hezbollah, who allegedly sabotaged Washington’s genuine attempts to create “a stable and democratic Iraq”.

static.politico.com

The Big DT with his Israeli mates

Well, I guess we saw in Afghanistan just how genuine was the American desire to bring stability and democracy. After using the Taliban to evict the Russian military from Afghanistan, the United States walked away and left the locals to sort out the mess by themselves – and we’ve seen the result of that. When it suited the White House, they supported Saddam Hussein in his war against Iran. Iran itself had experienced its Islamic revolution as a result of 27 years of US-supported dictatorship by the puppet Shah, installed after a CIA-sponsored coup in 1952. The Saudi royal family gained and retain their power by working with, first the British, and subsequently the United States. Much of the current conflict in the Middle East stems from the establishment of the modern state of Israel in 1948 by the United Nations aka the United States, which has subsequently supported that government’s expansionist aggression against all objections by the international community.

Is this current business with Qatar just another example of local thieves falling out? I don’t think so.

Wheels within wheels – Some thoughts on espionage, money-laundering and Christian missionaries

Turkey’s President Erdoğan has just returned from a visit to Washington where he and President Trump apparently “agreed to disagree” over the issue of American support for Kurdish YPG fighters in Syria.

n_113280_4

Brett McGurk, U.S. special envoy to the coalition against ISIL speaking with PKK militants currently being sought by Turkey through Interpol

Spokespersons for the US State department have openly admitted supporting and supplying weapons to the YPG, which Ankara claims has close links with the separatist Kurdish terrorist organisation, PKK. Jonathan Cohen, deputy assistant secretary for European and Asian Affairs (high level stuff!) is quoted as saying The relationship between the United States and the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) is a temporary, transactional and tactical one. We are in this common [fight] to defeat a terrorist organization in Iraq and Syria. We have the YPG because they were the only force on the ground ready to act in the short term. We have not promised the YPG anything.”

  • Main US tactic: Delegate an underling (in this case, a “deputy assistant secretary”) to tell the big lies. Then later you can deny responsibility.
  • Second tactic: A “temporary, transactional and tactical” relationship. Remember how the US had a similar relationship with the Taliban in Afghanistan to get rid of Russia? If the Kurdish separatists trust the US government, they’ll be in for a sad shock in future. In the mean time, the US is seriously upsetting a loyal ally (Turkey).
  • First big lie: “The YPG were the only force on the ground etc”. Turkey’s government has offered full cooperation to the US in combatting ISIS/ISIL/Daesh.
  • Second big lie: “We have not promised the YPG anything.” If you believe that, you’ll believe anything! The US government has been cooperating with and assisting Kurdish groups for years – for example enlisting them to help get rid of Saddam Hussein in Iraq. Of course they are offering support for an independent Kurdistan.

So, Mr Erdoğan came back from Washington pretty disappointed. He did, however, more than hold his own in the handshaking competition:

What about Mr Trump? Apparently he asked Turkey’s government to “immediately release” the jailed American pastor Andrew Brunson. Brunson was arrested in December last year on a charge of “being part of a terrorist organisation.” He allegedly has connections to the Fethullahist Terror Organization (FETÖ), and used his missionary activities to incite Kurdish separatist activities.

Assange

Human rights – for who?

The US government would also dearly like to get their hands on Julian Assange and Edward Snowden – key players in the Wikileaks revelations that caused serious embarrassment over American actions in Iraq and elsewhere. The governments of Ecuador and Russia are kindly looking after those two gentlemen who fear that their democratic rights may count for little if the US government gets hold of them. In fact, that is pretty much confirmed by the latest news on Assange. It seems Swedish authorities have dropped their rape case against him – but the Brits say they will still arrest him as soon as he steps out of the Ecuadorean Embassy. Acting in their established role as America’s lapdog, they will probably then hand him over to the Yanks, who still want him. So now we understand the real situation, if we didn’t before.

Turkey’s government, for its part, wants the US to extradite ex-pat Muslim imam, Fethullah Gülen, who they say was a key figure in the 15 July coup attempt last year. They have also been asking the Greek government to hand over eight Turkish soldiers who took refuge in Greece after the failure of the coup. Now it seems Angela Merkel’s government is getting involved, granting political asylum to two Turkish generals known to have been active in the coup attempt, as well as several hundred Turkish military personnel.

Adding to the confusion, two Turkish citizens are currently on trial in the United States on charges of money laundering and conspiring to violate US trade sanctions against Iran. Wealthy businessman, Reza Zarrab, who is also a citizen of Iran, and Mehmet Hakan Atilla, assistant general manager of Turkey’s Halkbank are in custody in New York. Interestingly, they are being defended by American lawyers, one of whom is former mayor of New York City, Rudolph Giuliani, whose firm also represents the US banks implicated in the case. In another twist, the judge has implied that the Turkish government is paying legal expenses for the two – though why that should concern him, I don’t understand – and anyway, the lawyers have stated that the two guys are paying their own costs.

Needless to say, President Erdoğan has added his voice to the discussion, asking that his two citizens be returned to Turkey. Amidst all the uproar, no one seems to be asking why the US imposed sanctions on Iran in the first place, and why Turkey should continue to suffer economically after loyally supporting America’s wishes in the matter for nearly forty years!

Getting back to the business of Andrew Brunson. Apparently he was/is involved with an organisation calling itself the Izmir Resurrection Church. According to their website: İzmir is the third largest city in Turkey and also the Biblical Smyrna. It has more churches than any city except İstanbul and unity between them has the potential to reap a great harvest. Now, for the towns and villages of Izmir!

There’s no greater testimony than a radiant Turkish believer, passionate to reach out.”

Related to the IRC is an outfit entitled The Bible Correspondence Course running an operation they call The 1881 Project. “Turkey,” they say, “is home to 75 million people who are both strongly nationalistic as well as loyal to their Islamic identity. But the truth of Jesus Christ and His sacrifice remains virtually unknown in what Operation World calls ‘the most unevangelised country in the world’.”

bible

Do Muslims really need to hear that?

“Since 1 July 2011, the Bible Correspondence Course is running an exciting 18 month initiative to challenge all of Turkey’s 81 provinces to consider the claims of Christ. Working together with local believers and churches from all over the world, we believe it is time to declare to every province in Turkey that a Savior has been born to them – a Son has been given to them. In more than a third of Turkey’s 81 provinces there is no meeting of believers and many have no known believer whatsoever.”

A Canadian mate of Brunson’s, David Byle, has also been involved in an ongoing legal battle with Turkish authorities who suspect him of being a threat to national security. This gentleman has been sounding off to another interesting organisation working under the name of World Watch Monitor. These people apparently have taken upon themselves the responsibility of reporting “the story of Christians around the world under pressure for their faith.” They love to cite the UN Declaration of Human Rights which guarantees among other things, “freedom of religion.”

Well, Turkish law does indeed permit freedom of religious belief, and does not forbid missionary activity. It is, however, a predominantly Muslim country. Although, unlike other Muslim states, it allows its Muslim citizens freedom to change their religion, its authorities are obliged to recognise that some devout citizens may not take a favourable view of public proselytising by tub-thumping Christians.

DSCN8006

Believe what you like, but keep it to yourself!

Furthermore, Christian missionaries in the past have given Muslim Turks some cause to be suspicious of their activities. Generally speaking, it is rare for a Muslim to convert to Christianity. Islam recognises that Jesus Christ was a prophet of God, and accepts Christians as “People of the Book” – but insists that Muhammed was the last prophet, bringing God’s final message. So why should they switch to what is, in their view, a more backward religion?

Consequently, Christian missionaries, mostly American, operating in Anatolia during the 19th century, tended to work among the Armenian community – who were already Christians. Ottoman authorities believed that they had an ulterior purpose: that they were trying to stir up discontent and incite rebellion against the Ottoman government. When such rebellions were forcefully put down, the same missionaries were conveniently on hand to report Ottoman atrocities against their Christian subjects, providing a pretext for Western governments to intervene on behalf of their “co-religionists”.

Which brings us to important questions about freedom and democracy:

  • Does the United States government have the right to force other countries to suffer social and economic hardships to support their foreign policies?
  • Does the United States Government have the right to demand the handing over to its own judicial system the citizens of other sovereign nations?
  • Are the authorities in Turkey required to forget what happened on July 15, 2016, forgive its citizens who tried to overthrow the democratically elected government by force of arms, and act as though nothing out of the ordinary happened?
  • Do foreign governments have the right to question the legal process in Turkey and give asylum to Turkish citizens who may have committed criminal acts of treason?
  • Does the right to freedom of religion imply the right to make a protracted public nuisance of yourself, requiring local authorities to protect you from the righteous anger of their own offended citizens?

I have my answers to these important questions. What about you?

_________________________________________________

And one more question: Why does Youtube keep taking down videos of Trump and Erdoğan shaking hands? Fortunately people (probably Turkish fans of their President) keep re-posting them, but I have to keep updating my links!

The U.S. and NATO Need Turkey

The following opinion piece appeared in Time online today:

‘To cast Turkey loose now would forfeit our influence in the region and end a decades-long alliance’

Halil I. Danismaz

The bloody coup attempt that left more than 200 people dead and nearly upended Turkey’s democratic institutions has shaken the country to its core.

7635430-3x2-340x227

Standing tall for democracy in Turkey

I saw that dark moment—arguably the darkest in the country’s sad history of military dictatorships—unfold first-hand. I was on a plane to Istanbul when the coup plotters shut down the airport, then landed in the middle of the attack and stayed there for several weeks to witness the chaotic aftermath. There was a feeling of a nation under siege, being attacked from all sides.

Turkey has been battered by terrorism. Its most urgent need now is to defend itself and its democracy.

But the West’s response threatens to complicate how the U.S. and its NATO allies work with a country on the front lines of the global fight against ISIS. To cast Turkey loose now would forfeit our influence in the region and end a decades-long alliance. It could also drive Turkey into the arms of Russia—the wolf scratching at its door, which would like nothing more than to distance Turkey from the West.

This week’s visit by Vice President Joe Biden, the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit since the violent coup attempt last month, is a chance to repair the fractured relationship.

The U.S. has much at stake: Our allies and interests in Europe are under assault as never before. Syria and Iraq have ceased to exist as functioning states. ISIS is on the march from Libya to Afghanistan. And Iranian and Russian influence is steadily expanding.

Turkey stands as a bulwark against these rising threats. Located just 60 miles from the Syrian border, the Incirlirlik air base in southern Turkey—the crucial staging ground for American-led strikes against ISIS—allows our best A-10s, F-15s and drones to take the fight to ISIS in Syria and Iraq that were previously out of our reach.

It is also the anchor of NATO’s southeastern flank and home to its second-largest army. Western officials should heed NATO’s own words: “Turkey takes full part in the Alliance’s consensus-based decisions as we confront the biggest security challenges in a generation. Turkey’s NATO membership is not in question…NATO counts on the continued contributions of Turkey and Turkey can count on the solidarity and support of NATO.”

U.S. President Obama shakes hands with Turkey's PM Erdogan in Seoul

Love them or hate them, you have to accept the people’s choice – and that cuts both ways.

The change must begin by taming the rhetoric on both sides. The chaos I saw in Ankara has fomented a rising tide of anti-Americanism egged on by some Turkish officials and party-controlled press. Asserting that the U.S. played a role in the coup must stop immediately.

At the same time, U.S. officials and commentators should acknowledge that Turkey’s most urgent need now is to defend the very fabric of its civil society. Like him or not, President Erdogan is the legitimately and democratically-elected choice of the Turkish people, a claim bolstered by the recent support he has seen from the main secular opposition parties. He has earned the right to speak on their behalf and that right should be respected.

A formal mechanism will help us reach a mutually acceptable solution to the Fetullah Terrorist Organization (FETO) problem. FETO is a danger to the stability in the region that the U.S. and NATO seek. A similar threat to democracy that created the kind of carnage would produce an outcry of outrage if it happened any other NATO member state. There have been united calls for the extradition of FETO’s leader, Fethullah Gulen, who is currently residing in the U.S. This is a reasonable request based on the widespread belief in Turkey—both the people and the main opposition parties—that FETO played a central role in the execution of the failed coup.

America’s most powerful and consequential regional ally is threatened as never before, with potentially dire consequences for our shared interests. U.S. policymakers must recommit to the bilateral relationship, not cut and run. Read the whole article

International Hypocrisy – What about Egypt or your own backyard, Mr Gauck?

To be fair, international media didn’t seem to pay much attention to it. Even the German press seemed to have more important things on its collective mind – which may be understandable given that the role of President is largely ceremonial there, as it is in Turkey.
German President speaking at METU –
a diplomatic faux-pas?
Nevertheless, the visit of German Federal President Joachim Gauck generated some heat in our local media. Normally you would expect such a visit to focus largely on PR activities and photo ops. You’d dine with your Turkish counterpart, open a bi-national university (which, to be fair, he did), utter warm fuzzy words in public about long-standing friendship and hopes for positive cooperation in the future – and save any criticism for meetings behind closed doors.
But no. Apparently Mr Gauck had his agenda mapped out (as you would expect) before touching down in Ankara. English language news outlets in Germany say that, ‘according to the German president’s office the rule of law and fundamental rights will be at the heart of the four-day trip . . . Gauck intends to talk about freedom of the press and freedom of expression.’
Well, given that Germany and France are the two main opponents of Turkey’s admission to the European Union, it’s probably to be expected that the German President would raise those issues. And so he did. In a joint press conference with Turkey’s President Abdullah Gül on April 28, Gauck posed questions about the Turkish government’s intervention in the judicial process and the blocking of access to Twitter and YouTube. Not surprisingly, he didn’t receive anything resembling an explanatory answer. Gül’s response was to mention attacks by ultra-nationalist groups on Turkish residents in Germany, to imply that all countries have issues with democracy, and to suggest that the important thing was for governments to address these issues in a positive way.
That might have been the end of the matter, except that the German President subsequently made a speech at Ankara’s Middle East Technical University, scene of ongoing anti-government protests over the past year. In what some might see as an unnecessarily inflammatory address, Glauck spoke of ‘voices of disappointment, bitterness and outrage at a style of leadership which many see as a risk to democracy.’ He went on to say that ‘he was shocked by the government’s attempts to stamp out street protests and clamp down on the media.’ I don’t know what word Mr Gauck used in German (I assume he was speaking German), but one English language Turkish daily reported that he had said ‘these developments terrify me.’
Turkey’s Prime Minister was characteristically less tactful than his presidential colleague. He was quoted as saying that Mr Gauck should probably keep his opinions on such matters to himself, and that he took a dim view of outsiders interfering in his country’s domestic affairs. In typically abrasive fashion, Mr Erdoğan implied that the former Lutheran pastor was perhaps more accustomed to preaching, and could be having trouble adjusting to his new role as a statesman. You might indeed wonder how US politicians would have viewed the matter if a visiting dignitary from Turkey had made a speech expressing solidarity with ‘Occupy Wall St’ protesters in Zuccotti Park, or how UK parliamentarians would have reacted had Mr Gül sided with rioters in London in late 2011. It’s just not the done thing, as my Grandma Jessie used to say.
Mr Erdoğan went on to question the commitment of Western leaders to democracy when they seemed to be maintaining a determined silence over actions of the military government in Egypt, and I have to say, I’m curious about that too.
News media and politicians in the West were ecstatic when, towards the end of 2010, apparently spontaneous popular movements broke out across the Arab world leading to the overthrow of several manifestly dictatorial regimes. Eighteen days of mass protests in Egypt led to the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak after a 29-year rule under state of emergency regulations. In what was generally accepted as a democratic election, Mohammed Morsi’s Freedom and Justice Party emerged victorious and he became the new president. Morsi, however, only managed one year in office before being deposed by military intervention in June 2013.
Since then, repression of Morsi’s supporters has become increasingly harsh. The so-called Muslim Brotherhood has been declared a terrorist organization, and, in two separate trials, more than 1,200 alleged members have been sentenced to death.
Families of condemned protesters weep in Egypt
In recent weeks, residents of Istanbul have seen US warships steaming through the Bosporus Straits on their way to rattle sabres in the Black Sea in response to the Russian government’s activities in Ukraine. In contrast, the US government and its European allies have been twisting their vocal chords in gymnastic contortions trying to call the military coup in Egypt anything but what it actually was – and maintained a commendably non-interventionist position as the regime killed 1,400 protesting citizens and now condemns a similar number to death with barely a nod in the direction of judicial process.
The CIA website informs me that Egypt has an estimated population of 86,895,099, of whom 90% are Muslims. The country’s ‘constitution’, however, forbids religious involvement in politics – and this seems to be the main justification for the military crackdown. At the same time, Germany lays claim to the democratic high ground while having a President who is a former Lutheran minister, despite nearly 40% of their people not being Christian. I’m not even going to mention the ‘United’ Kingdom of Great Britain, whose Head of State is also head of the state religion – because they’re Christian and so it’s ok. As for born-again George Dubya and his Roman Catholic convert poodle Tony Blah . . .
What the CIA website does not say (but Wikipedia does) is that Egypt has one of the largest armed forces in the world. It has a major arms industry manufacturing equipment under licence from the USA, France and Britain. It has its own spy satellite and the largest navy in Africa, the Middle East and the Arab World. Most of this has been financed by aid from the United States of America, which has reputedly contributed on average $2 billion per year since 1979.
Egypt was one of the early opponents of the new state of Israel when it was founded in 1948. Egypt’s government and people were bitterly opposed to the establishment of Israel, and fought several unsuccessful wars against it. Since 1979, however, successive Egyptian governments, probably against the wishes of most of their people, have adopted a more peaceful stance, established diplomatic relations and even performed a mediating role in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. Any connection with the provision of that American aid, I wonder?
Most of that period passed under the rule of President Mubarak who came to power in 1981 after the assassination of Anwar Sadat. Mubarak was apparently wounded in the hand during the assassination, though none of my sources made it clear that the wound was sustained in self-sacrificing defence of his president. Sadat’s nephew Talaat spent a year in prison for suggesting that his uncle’s killing had been the result of an international conspiracy involving the United States, Israel and the Egyptian military. Mubarak was ‘elected’ and ‘re-elected’ four times by ‘referendum’, in three of which there was no alternative candidate.
In spite of widespread poverty and serious wealth disparities, and major concerns expressed by Amnesty International and other human rights groups about political censorship, police brutality, arbitrary detention, torture and restrictions on freedom of speech and assembly, Egypt’s GDP increased significantly during the Mubarak years. Apart from the military aid, it seems that the US and its European allies made other financial contributions as well. Gratitude for Egypt’s participation in Bush the Father’s 1991 Gulf War apparently took the form of major assistance, reputed to have been around $500,000 per soldier provided. In addition, it is said that America, the Arab States of the Persian Gulf, and Europe, forgave Egypt around $14 billion of debt.
What happened after Mubarak resigned, and Mohammed Morsi was elected in the first democratic elections since . . .  ever? The economy suffered a major reverse, ‘popular’ unrest manifested itself in political demonstrations, and the army stepped in to ‘restore order’. The subsequent unrest has been portrayed as Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism, and viciously suppressed. I would like to be persuaded that I am being overly cynical here, but I have a bad feeling our Western leaders are less interested in the spread of democracy than they would have us believe.
German police dealing with Blockupy demonstrators
in Stuttgart
I freely confess I am annoyed about the continued inaccessibility of You Tube in Turkey – and I feel government taxes on petrol and alcohol could be a little less swingeing. At the same time, I have to say I am not unhappy to see a political leader of a major European state taken to task for hypocrisy. If you’re going to dish it out, you’d better be prepared to take it. Joachim Gauck’s freedom-fighting credentials apparently trace back to younger days in East Germany before reunification. Two points need to be made here. The first is that no reasonable comparison can be made between the Soviet era German Democratic Republic and the modern Republic of Turkey. Does Mr Gauck imagine he would have been allowed to deliver such an address on a radicalised university campus in such a state? The second is that police in Germany have shown themselves in recent years just as capable as their Turkish counterparts of suppressing the right to assembly with water cannons, gas and physical violence.
Signs of Germany’s unsavoury history of racist violence still lurk not far beneath the surface. Anti-Turk and anti-Islamic violence, right-wing demonstrations against immigrant communities, and aspiring politicians using nationalist rhetoric to advance their careers seem a recurring feature of the political landscape. One such politician is Thilo Sarrazin, a former banker with well-publicised negative views on Muslim communities in Germany. Our Joachim Gauck is apparently on record as having expressed admiration for Herr Sarrazin’s outspoken opinions. Both gentlemen espouse free-market views on finance and economics, and had little sympathy for German supporters of the ‘Occupy’ movement two years ago.
 
On another related issue, I was somewhat amused to see that PM Erdoğan is asking the United States to extradite ex-patriate Turkish Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen to answer charges of conspiring to bring down the government. I have no idea whether those charges have any foundation or not, but I’m as close to stone-cold certain as I can be that we will not be seeing Mr Gülen in Turkey any time soon. The US is very keen to get hold of Julian Assange and Edward Snowden for very similar reasons, and they are not at all happy that the governments of Ecuador and Russia are obstructing them – but I can’t see them sending the Pennsylvania Hodja back to Turkey. The New Zealand government would have been only to happy to hand over Kim Dotcom to US legal processes, but the guy is rich enough and smart enough to have kept himself out of harm’s way so far. Interestingly, two of those three are not even US citizens – which doesn’t seem to worry the Americans much in their pursuit of ‘justice’.

Corruption in High Places

Turkey’s political, business and banking establishments are currently being shaken by accusations and investigations of high-level bribery and corruption. Senior police officers are being removed from their jobs; cabinet ministers whose sons were allegedly involved in the scandal are resigning; well-known construction magnates are being arrested and held in custody; stars of the music industry are tearfully protesting the innocence of their accused husbands; the coalition of Islamic interests that brought the ruling AK Party to power in 2002 seems to be falling apart . . . Where will it all end?
Such is the public indignation that an unlikely new hero seems to have emerged. For ten years, the bogeyman of secular Kemalist Turks has been a reclusive Islamic scholar, Fethullah Gülen. The shadowy Hizmet movement of which he is the putative leader was said to have extended its tentacles into every sector of Turkish society, state and private. Mere mention of his name was sufficient to evoke visions of the collapse of the secular Republic founded by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, and a return to the bad old days of shariah religious law and government by the mullahs. This was believed by many to be all along the ‘hidden agenda’ of Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan and his Justice and Development Party government.
Now it seems that Fethullah Hodja has become a major source of hope for the salvation of the republic. Those same tentacles that extended their reach into positions of influence in the police force and law courts are now, it is said, seeking to strangle the politicians who empowered them. The name that was formerly anathema to Kemalist republicans is suddenly being uttered as the potential nemesis of Mr Erdoğan’s government.
How corrupt is your lot?
These are difficult days for Turkey, coming not long after the ‘pro-democracy’ disturbances of last summer – and with the influx of more than a million refugees in flight from the mayhem of Syria’s civil war. After ten years of AK Party government, conditions are ripe, one might think, for an opposition political party to step into the breach and offer a credible alternative to an electorate desperate for new directions.
Sad to say, the two major opposition parties represented in Turkey’s parliament seem totally incapable of offering such an alternative. With the reins of power being virtually handed to them on a plate, the leaders of the CHP and MHP parties are not seen, even by many of their own supporters, as having what it takes to lead the country. In the absence of effective organised opposition, and in spite of the voices raised against it, the AK Party may yet find itself ruling the country for another term.
Well I’m not here to defend politicians, financial wheelers-and-dealers and unscrupulous property magnates. I echo the words of the President of the Republic, Abdullah Gül, who expressed his wish for justice to take its course and wrong-doers to be punished. Only recently the nephewof a former President was convicted of serious white-collar crimes – and that is as it should be. High social standing, far from conferring immunity from prosecution, should rather require higher standards of moral rectitude.
Sad to say, this is not always the case, and not only in Turkey. I’ve written elsewhere of Edward Snowden, Bradley Manning, Wikileaks and the questionable transparency of business and government in the United States. I’ve mentioned, in passing, the dubious career of Britain’s Tony Blah and his be-knighted big brother. Even my own country New Zealand, far from the main arteries of international affairs, is by no means squeaky-clean.
High profile politician John Banks was recently obliged to resign his ministerial responsibilities in the face of a court case charging him with accepting large campaign donations and making fraudulent statements regarding his knowledge of who they were from. Apparently the anonymous donors were a certain Kim Dotcom, resident in New Zealand but wanted by the US government on charges relating to his Internet business Megaupload; and Skycity, the outfit that runs the county’s largest casino.
Interestingly, there seems to be a Skycity connection to the current Mayor of Auckland, Len Brown, who is also embroiled in a controversy over his fitness to manage New Zealand’s most populous city. Most of the debate seems to be centring on a two-year extra-marital affair the mayor engaged in with an fascinating lady by the name of Bevan Chuang. Admittedly the details have some titillation value in a country short on big local news – but they do seem to be attracting attention away from the question of Mr Brown’s perks, which apparently included the free or cheap use of VIP suites in some of the city’s top hotels, among them Skycity.
Legislation has been recently passed by New Zealand’s right wing National government allowing the Skycity casino to expand its gambling activities under the guise of a law innocuously labelled the International Convention Centre Act. Passage of the legislation was accompanied by considerable public debate over the desirability of large-scale state-sanctioned gambling amid accusations of money-laundering and negative social impact, including documented cases of extreme child neglect.
As I noted above, New Zealand is a small nation far from the fast lanes of world affairs, and these activities would be scarcely worth a mention if it weren’t for another news item I came across the other day. Apparently the OECD people have released a reportassessing how its 30 member nations have been working to help curb to nearly $1 trillion of illicit cash that’s being smuggled out of developing countries each year.’ The article expressed some surprise that, according to the report, New Zealand rated highest of the thirty OECD countries for non-compliance with forty-nine different recommendations for fighting illegal flows of money. This, the writer pointed out, is somewhat in conflict with the country’s 1st equal ranking (with Denmark) on Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index. Turkey, incidentally, ranked 53rd.
 
Well, it’s a dodgy world we live in, that’s for sure. The Turkish phrase Yalan Dünya suggests that you can’t rely on much in life apart from the certainty of death. Even taxes seem to strike with a measure of inequity. The bright spot in this web of lies, deceit and self-seeking corruption is that these people do sometimes get caught. One measure of a healthy democracy must surely be the existence of systems and processes for calling wrong-doers to account, regardless of who their father is, or how much money they donated to the President’s re-election campaign fund. It is not many years ago in Turkey that these kinds of people were conducting their dirty activities with impunity. Ordinary citizens tended to shrug and say, ‘This is Turkey’. I have hopes that the new Turkey is moving towards a higher placing on that TI index.

Understanding Politics in Turkey (2)

Three years or so ago I wrote a post I called ‘Understanding Turkish Politics’. In the interim, I have become a little more politically aware – hence today’s title. On the other hand, I’m not sure I’m much the wiser about what’s really going on. Rather, I am confirmed in the opinion I expressed at the time: there’s a lot going on behind the scenes, and secret agenda are not the sole prerogative of the government.
Last week anti-government street demonstrations got under way again in various cities around Turkey. It was kind of expected. There had been talk of a resumption of protest activity in the autumn. Whether that was because many of the demonstrators were away on summer vacation I can’t say for sure. Whatever the case, the two-month layoff seemed to have thinned the numbers to a hard-core of barricade-builders, stone and Molotov cocktail-hurlers. The football season has resumed too, meaning that fans who swelled the ranks of June protests now have more pressing matters on their minds.
In Istanbul, Thursday was a particularly eventful night with police and protesters in Kadıköy carrying on the now familiar running battles. There seem to have been two reasons for that timing. One was the death of a young man in the southeastern city of Hatay. Some anti-government groups were claiming that 22 year-old Ahmet Atakan died from injuries received at the hands of police during a political demonstration. An autopsy, however, determined that his death was the result of a fall from a great height, and this seemed to be confirmed by a video captured by a reporter on the spot showing the young man falling several stories from a building to the street below.
Well, of course, we can’t be sure that police didn’t push him off that building – though given the current climate in Turkey, it’s hard to understand why they would – and investigations are apparently continuing. What has emerged, however, is that Ahmet and two others who died in the so-called Gezi Park protests were members of the Arab Alawite community in Hatay. Now I’m not denying anyone’s right to protest, having done a bit of it myself in my younger days. It is becoming increasingly clear, though, that green spaces and other issues of urban planning played only a small part in those explosive events back in June.
September 1980. From where to where?
Arabic is one of several native languages spoken in that southeastern corner of Turkey. I don’t know the history of the Alawite community (material for a future post?) but it would seem they are co-religionists of embattled Syrian President Assad. Evidently local tensions have been building up over the past two years as a result of the flow of refugees into Turkey fleeing the violence of the ongoing civil war. The count now exceeds 450,000, four times the number that brought UN Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie on a fact-finding mission two years ago. Not sure what she did with the facts she found, but that’s another issue, I guess. Certainly I’m not going to attempt to analyse all that, but clearly there is more to the business than tree-hugging in an Istanbul park.
Returning to the more recent action in Kadıköy, the other thing that brought protesters together, I gather, was that Thursday 12 September was the anniversary of the military coup that ousted the coalition government of Süleyman Demirel back in 1980. Well, it was a traumatic event in Turkish history, for sure. According to Wikipedia:
  • 650,000 people were placed under arrest.
  • 1,683,000 people were blacklisted.
  • 230,000 people were judged in 210,000 lawsuits.
  • 7,000 people faced the death penalty.
  • 517 persons were sentenced to death.
  • 50 of those given the death penalty were executed (26 political prisoners, 23 criminal offenders and 1 ASALA militant).
  • The files of 259 people, charged with capital offences, were sent to the National Assembly.
  • 71,000 people were judged on account of the articles 141, 142 and 163 in Turkish Penal Code.
  • 98,404 people were judged on charges of being members of a leftist, a rightist, a nationalist, a conservative, etc. organization.
  • 388,000 people were refused a passport.
  • 30,000 people were dismissed from their firms because they were suspects and therefore deemed unemployable.
  • 14,000 people had their citizenship cancelled.
  • 30,000 people went abroad as political refugees.
  • 300 people died in a suspicious manner.
  • 171 people are documented as having died by reason of torture.
  • 937 films were banned because they were found objectionable.
  • 23,677 associations had their activities stopped.
  • 3,854 teachers, 120 lecturers and 47 judges were dismissed.
  • 400 journalists were charged with crimes carrying 4000 years’ imprisonment.
  • Journalists were sentenced to a total of 3315 years and 6 months’ imprisonment.
  • 31 journalists went to jail.
  • 300 journalists were attacked.
  • 3 journalists were shot dead.
  • Newspapers were not published for 300 days.
  • 303 cases were brought against 13 major newspapers.
  • 39 tonnes of newspapers and magazines were destroyed.
  • 299 people lost their lives in prison.
  • 144 people died in a suspicious manner.
  • 14 people died in a hunger strike.
  • While fleeing, 16 people were shot.
  • 95 people were killed in combat.
  • A report of “Natural death” was given for 73 persons.
  • The cause of death of 43 people was announced as “suicide”.

 

The military junta ruled Turkey for three years, writing a new constitution (which is still mostly in effect) and eventually organizing an election contested by ‘approved’ parties. The army kept its grip on the nation’s throat, however, appointing General Kenan Evren as President for a seven-year term. It wasn’t until 1992 that the Republican People’s Party (the current CHP opposition) was permitted to resume political activity.
What I’m not sure about is whether the Thursday night demonstrators were holding Turkey’s current government responsible for those dreadful events of the early 80s, or whether they shared the frustration of some who, unable to achieve their aims through the ballot-box, would have liked to see Prime Minister Erdoğan’s government overthrown by another ‘Night of the Generals’.
The reason for my uncertainty here is that the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government, against formidable (non-parliamentary) opposition, has been little by little rewriting that 1982 constitution, pulling the teeth of Turkey’s paternalistic military, and making it possible for perpetrators of the above-listed crimes to be brought before the courts to answer for their actions. In my humble opinion as a foreigner, people in this country should be grateful for what the current government has achieved – truth be told, the majority probably are. Certainly, blaming Tayyip Erdoğan and his team for the actions of over-zealous generals back in the 80s seems a tad unfair.
A less political achievement, but nonetheless significant, was the opening, last weekend, of a system of underpasses aimed at turning Taksim Square into a pedestrian-friendly hub for the city. Once the buses and other traffic are redirected, the pedestrian area will cover close to ten hectares. One motorist interviewed said that he hadn’t expected the project to be completed so soon, considering that the Gezi Park protests had slowed down construction. I’m not an architect or a town-planner, but from a purely lay point-of-view, I have to say that Taksim Square has, up till now, been singularly unattractive and pedestrian-unfriendly, so I, for one, will not lament any improvements.
Still, despite the complaints you will hear from Istanbullites, traffic jams are not the sole cause of unhappiness among citizens of Turkey. Here’s a list of grievances I compiled from news media over the weekend:
  • Armenian writer Hrant Dink was shot and killed in January 2007 and some folks are complaining that justice has not been done. The European Court of Human Rights apparently agreed with them, adding fuel to that particular fire.
  • An organisation known as the Kurdish Communities Union (KCK) has called on families to boycott schools as the new year begins to insist on the right to education in their native tongue.
  • Two of the top Istanbul football teams, Beşiktaş and Fenerbahçe, have been banned from participation in UEFA competitions in the current season because of match-fixing. The Turkish Football Association has lost its appeals against the decision but is so far refraining from punitive action of its own.
  • Students at Middle East Technical University have been protesting about the construction of a road through the campus, and have now turned their attention to female students wearing headscarves and claimed to be associated with the Hizmetmovement of Fethullah Gülen.

 

Well, as I remarked above, citizens should have the right to protest when they feel their rights are under threat. On the other hand, as the Governor of Istanbul pointed out, that right may not extend to all-night protests involving Molotov cocktails, ripping up roads to use the paving stones as ammunition, and other wilful destruction of property. It is also perhaps a trifle unfair to expect the accumulated ills of 90 years of republican history (not to mention 500 years of Ottoman rule) to be cured overnight.
The young kid who actually shot Hrant Dink and the guy who put him up to it have both been sentenced to lengthy terms of imprisonment. It may be true that so-called ‘deep state’ Gladio-type operators were behind the killing, but the courts were unable to make a definite connection. It is also true, however, that the courts have been doing their best to bring members of that organisation to justice – and European Union authorities have been expressing their doubts about that case too.
The government of Turkey has opened discussions and proposed ‘democratisation’ packages aimed at addressing the grievances of minority groups, especially Kurds. The Prime Minister has apologised, on behalf of the state, for a massacre of Alevi Kurds that took place after an uprising in 1937, and is proposing to reinstate the name (Dersim) of their province, changed to Tunceli as a corrective measure after those events. None of these measures could have been imagined in the Turkey I came to in the 1990s. As for the ‘right’ to education in one’s mother tongue, it is unlikely that the overstretched education system in Turkey could cope with such a demand, and not at all clear that the majority of Kurds in Turkey want it. There seems to be some question anyway as to whether the KCK has authority to speak on their behalf, especially since its members have suggested the use of force to persuade families to support the boycott.
Of course, no one likes to see trees cut, and university students the world over are known for their political awareness and activism. However, the ODTÜ campus is very extensive, and a good deal of it is covered with forest. I’m a bicycle man myself, but Turkey is a developing country, and cycling as a post-modern lifestyle choice hasn’t really caught on yet. Most people see owning a car, the bigger the better, as a sign that they have made it. So the country needs roads. On the headscarf issue, I have difficulty understanding why some Turkish citizens have such a problem accepting the right of others to dress, within reasonable limits, as they see fit. Besides, it’s a well-known fact that most religious beliefs thrive on persecution. ‘Leave them alone and they’ll get tired of it’ seems to have worked well with Christianity. As for Fethullah Gülen, as far as I am aware, the jury is still out. Despite criticism bordering on hysteria, nobody seems able to explain exactly what the guy has done wrong. Schools opened in his name seem to focus on academic achievement, have no overt religious instruction, and long queues of hopeful customers wait outside the front gate. Most private schools in Turkey would kill for that level of popularity. Maybe that’s part of the problem.
And then there’s football. I read a quote from one club official along the lines of, ‘Well, there was match-fixing in that game, but it didn’t affect the outcome.’ It’s a bit like the argument that says the coup-plotters shouldn’t be punished because they didn’t actually carry out a coup. FIFA has banned those two clubs from Europe for a year, but I think they are also looking to the local association to take some kind of exemplary punitive action. Some hope. A well-known Turkish saying sums up the attitude: ‘Hem suçlu, hem güçlü’, which means, essentially, ‘Even if you’re caught red-handed, brazen it out’.
I know I have been harping on the theme of democracy lately, and I know Turkey is not perfect – but it’s a relative thing. Most of us, Americans, Brits, New Zealanders, Australians, will admit that our own systems do not always produce the greatest good for the greatest number. Despite the presence of droves of artists among the Gezi Park protesters, I can say the art scene in Turkey has improved out of sight since I first came to the country. One measure of this is the cinema industry, where mainstream films are now free to deal with previously forbidden topics such as the 1980 military coup, and Turkish military action against Kurdish insurgents in the east.
Well, this time I’m going to leave the last word to someone else. The following is an article that appeared the other day in the English language newspaper ‘Today’s Zaman’ under the headline ‘A Memory about September 12’:
“The belief that it is a crime to overthrow a democratically elected government by force has been accepted by large segments of society. Turkey’s secular-Kemalist elites have lost their power. They have no faith in elections, as they lose consistently. These days they are trying to discredit the government and render it dysfunctional by creating an atmosphere of widespread violence through street skirmishes. Will they be successful? It is unlikely, but that has been their aim since the Gezi Park protests.
“The constitution drafted in the wake of the Sept. 12 coup is still in force. Parliament has failed to come to an agreement about drafting a new Constitution.
“I was jailed in Diyarbakır at the time and released in 1988. Now, I am a person in middle age. It saddens me to see that Turkey is still being governed by the constitution of the Sept. 12 coup. On every anniversary of the Sept. 12 coup, that sadness returns to haunt me.
“Before the coup, I was a literature teacher at a high school in Diyarbakır. From the books we read, we knew or thought we knew what would happen if fascism arose in this country.
“But the reality depicted in books and the events of real life are never the same. At the time of the military takeover, I had the chance to flee abroad. I was living in a city that was close to the border, and it was a piece of cake for me to cross the border and make for Europe. But I believed that I was innocent. My actions, apart from some participation in civil and democratic work, weren’t reprehensible.
“One day, the school where I was working was raided, and they removed me from class right in front of my students. I was tortured for three months in the interrogation center. Then, I was arrested and jailed in Diyarbakır prison, where I learned that fascism couldn’t be learned from books.” Read more: