Turkish prosecutor seeks life in jail for US pastor Andrew Brunson over 2016 coup attempt

Well, Christian “missionaries” have long been working to sow trouble in Turkey, and previously, the Ottoman Empire. In an interesting new development, President Trump has fired Mr Tillerson, and replaced him with former Director of the CIA. Will  ex-Secretary Rex join former US Ambassador to Turkey, John Bass, in exile in Afghanistan? Is the USA in serious crisis?

“A Turkish prosecutor demanded on March 13 life imprisonment for detained American pastor Andrew Brunson over alleged links to the July 2016 coup attempt, Doğan News Agency has reported. 

Pastor Brunson

Pastor Brunson. What was he doing in Turkey, exactly?

The prosecutor in the Aegean province of İzmir has charged Brunson with being a “member and executive of the terrorist group” accused of being behind the coup attempt.

Turkey blames the network of U.S.-based Islamic preacher Fethullah Gülen for the attempted coup.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson last month called for Brunson’s release during a visit to Turkey.

“We continue to have serious concerns … about cases against U.S. citizens who have been arrested under the state of emergency,” Tillerson said, referring to the emergency rule that has been in place since July 2016.

“We call upon Turkey to release Pastor Andrew Brunson and other U.S. citizens whom we believe are being unjustly detained.”

Washington and Ankara have been at odds over a number of issues, including U.S. support for the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), which Ankara views as a terrorist group linked to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), and Turkey’s demand for the extradition of Gülen.

Following Tillerson’s visit to Ankara last month, the two countries formed joint working groups to fix their relations.

Source: Hürriyet Daily News

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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.

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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

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.

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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!

CIA’s clandestine meeting in Istanbul on coup night

And the US ambassador in Ankara was “deeply hurt” at suggestions of US involvement. 

CIA’s clandestine meeting in Istanbul on coup night As more evidence surfaces daily, it will be evident that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) was playing a huge role behind the July 15 c…

Source: CIA’s clandestine meeting in Istanbul on coup night

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.

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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

Anti-Turkey Bullswool

My New Zealand diplomatic people in Ankara send me regular updates on how they view the security situation in Turkey. Recently I got this one:

‘We now advise against all tourist and other non-essential travel to Ankara and Istanbul due to the heightened threat of terrorism and the potential for civil unrest (High risk). This is an increase to the risk level for Ankara and Istanbul.’

On 9 April 2016, the US Embassy in Ankara advised US citizens of credible threats to tourist areas, in particular to public squares and docks in Istanbul and Antalya.

Belgium bomb

While in Brussels don’t forget to ride the Metro

So if you had been thinking of a trip to Turkey in the near future, you may now be reconsidering. On the other hand, Auckland’s number one (and only) newspaper, The NZ Herald, published a travel advisory on 23 March entitled ‘Why you need to visit Belgium’. The piece begins:

‘We love Belgium. This week’s terror attacks in Brussels have cast a pall over a beautiful country.

The best thing Kiwi travellers can do? Put Belgium on the list for your next European visit. Here are five reasons to visit the home of Tintin and great chocolate.’

Well, I’m ok with The Herald’s position here. In fact, the best response to terror is to get on with your life and not bow to the fear. I do, however, find the contrasting advice somewhat paradoxical. Especially given the rather limited list of attractions the writer offers to recommend Belgium:

Apparently the food is great, though specifics boil down to chocolate, waffles and hot chips! There’s a comic culture, and it’s not just about Tintin! Beer is plentiful and available in 1,000 varieties. There are lots of markets, and Christmas time is especially lovely. AND THE CLINCHER . . . There are 67 kilometres of coastline! That’s about the same length as Auckland’s Muriwai beach, in the entire country!

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Picturesque Belgian beach

The whole glowing article took 435 words – approximately the number of people you can expect to rub shoulders with per square metre of beach, I’d say, during Belgium’s month-long summer. My guess is, if you don’t have local friends to entertain you, you’ll be lucky to last a week. I’m not going to begin to list the attractions of Turkey. I reckon you could spend 435 days here, and do something memorably different every day.

Sadly, Western news media everyday publish ‘news’ and opinion pieces denigrating Turkey and its government. I have in front of me a page from CNN’s website penned by a Turkish academic and follower of the shadowy ex-pat. Fethullah Gülen. It’s not so long ago that Gülen was arousing much suspicion in his adopted homeland, America, and was the evil bogeyman of Turkey’s secular elite. In the last couple of years, however, there has been an about-face, and the mysterious Muslim cleric seems to have become the darling of anti-government propagandists within the country and abroad. We hear the same criticisms repeated again and again:

President Erdoğan is polarizing Turkish society.

In fact, a noisy minority of Erdoğan-haters has been doing its best to polarize Turkish society since the AK Party was elected to govern in 2002.

The state cracked down brutally on Gezi Park protesters in 2013, and holding public protests has become a life-risking activity.

Political protests in Turkey have always been known for violence. The so-called Gezi Park protests attracted a motley collection of anti-Erdoğanists with nothing in common other than their hatred of him. Some of the protesters may have been well-meaning tree-huggers, but there was the usual hard core of anarchic vandals.

The government is waging a war of terror on peace-loving Kurdish villagers.

The AK Party government made genuine efforts to work out a peace process with its Kurdish minority, including the establishment of Kurdish-language TV channels and the opening of a previously impossible dialogue. The US government, on the other hand, has been supporting and supplying Kurdish militants in Iraq and Syria for years for its own ends, making it more difficult to find a solution in Turkey. The PKK is internationally recognized as a terrorist organization.

Opposition media and members of parliament are harassed by the government and its supporters.

Political opposition to government policies is one thing – libelous personal attacks and deliberate incitement to violence quite another. Freedom has its limits.

Erdoğan has been seeking to change the constitution to create an all- powerful, executive-style presidency.

This is what the United States already has. But anyway, Mr Erdoğan can’t change the constitution by himself. There is a democratic process that must be followed. The USA might benefit from public debate on its own incomprehensible electoral system.

Reporters Without Borders call Turkey “the biggest prison for journalists in the world.”

This is nonsense. Who are these journalists that are in prison? Can we see a list of names?

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Memories of Turkey’s 1980 military coup linger on

The writer of this article, Alp Aslandoğan, says: ‘I was a middle school student in the 1970s during another period of instability, when armed groups thrived and thousands of young people were killed. I’m even more worried for Turkey now.’

I would wonder what a 12-year-old child of a privileged Turkish family really understood of the political chaos that reigned in his country in the 1970s; chaos that began with a military coup in 1960 when the Prime Minister was summarily hanged by the coup-leaders, and continued through the 1990s until the most recent military intervention in 1997. Anyone who says that Turkey is less democratic now is either ignorant of his (or her) own history, or deliberately distorting the facts for some ulterior purpose. ‘Thousands of young people were killed’ then – and it’s worse now?

Then there are the accusations of government corruption. Even if these accusations had been proven, which they haven’t, they would pale into insignificance beside previous governments that twiddled their thumbs while presiding over decades of banana-republic inflation, as they allowed 90% of the country to languish in medieval backwardness.

Anti-cameron

Not everyone loves him either

Like me, you may have been following with interest the current scandal unfolding as a result of the ‘Panama papers’ leaks. One of my foreign colleagues, outspoken critic of Turkey’s AKP government, expressed surprise that Mr Erdoğan and his people had not been mentioned as involved in this ocean of money-laundering and tax evasion. British Prime Minister Cameron, however, has been named, and is facing calls to resign from his own citizens and local media.

NZ protest

New Zealand police dealing with protester

New Zealand, it seems, is one of the countries recommended by lawyers Mossack Fonseca to their mega-rich clients as a reliable place to hide cash. Prime Minister John Key has made no secret of his grand scheme to turn our tiny nation into the Switzerland of the South Pacific. And what exactly does that entail? Mr Key has made a name for himself over the past year for his sponsorship of a project to change NZ’s flag, pushing ahead with referenda despite apparent lack of public support. Just yesterday it emerged that much of the financial backing for Mr Key’s questionable project came from ‘wealthy Chinese donors’ wooed at secret private fund-raising luncheons – which must surely raise speculation as to how much the NZ PM’s political success depends on those same wealthy Chinese donors. Despite his government’s repeated denials, it seems certain that the property boom making Auckland houses amongst the world’s most unaffordable, has been driven by rich Chinese ‘investors’.

Another frequent criticism leveled at Turkey’s government is that they are ‘Islamic-rooted’, whatever that means. So it was with interest that I read on Friday that Democratic presidential hopeful, Bernie Sanders, beloved of the American intellectual Left, has accepted an invitation from Pope Francis to attend a conference in the Vatican just four days before the New York Primary. According to NBC, ‘Since 1972, the winner of the popular vote in every presidential race won the Catholic vote, going by the exit polls. From Nixon in 1972 to Obama in 2012.’ And what has the Catholic Church got to say about a woman’s right to choose? Anyone? Anyone?

Sanders and pope

Bernie Sanders – friends in high places

So don’t expect too much from President Sanders, is my advice, even if he does manage to edge out Mrs Clinton for the Democratic nomination – and whichever capitalist ignoramus the Republicans select. Previous darling of the liberal Left, Barack Obama, has had eight years to close Guantanamo Prison as he promised – and those unconvicted inmates are still waiting. On Tuesday, President Obama acknowledged that “civilians were killed that shouldn’t have been” in past U.S. drone strikes, but said the administration is now “very cautious” about striking where women or children are present. Good to hear – especially for those families of civilians killed in previous US drone strikes. Mr Obama went on to say, “In situations of war, you know, we have to take responsibility when we’re not acting appropriately.” As far as I’m aware, however, the United States has not actually declared war on any of those countries whose citizens they are killing with drone strikes. But maybe that’s just a semantic quibble.

Oludeniz_Beach_areal

Not the only beach in Turkey – and five months of summer

Anyway, what I really want to say here is, if you were thinking of a trip to Turkey, don’t be put off by the bad publicity. If you’re American, you or your children are probably more likely to be shot by a disaffected nutcase in a random massacre; or if you’re an Asian in New Zealand, to get mugged on the street by young hooligans. It’s a dangerous world – but Turkey is a beautiful country. There may not be a thousand varieties of beer, but there are a thousand-and-one other things to do.

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: