Who is Andrew Brunson?

The guy claims he’s innocent – Trump is demanding his unconditional release . . . But check this out:

U.S. missionary thrust to the center of Turkey-U.S. crisis

By Ezgi Erkoyun and Humeyra Pamuk

IZMIR, Turkey (Reuters) – When Andrew Brunson saw a police summons on his door in late summer 2016, the U.S. evangelical pastor thought it was a routine appointment to sort out his residency papers in Turkey*, his home for nearly a quarter of a century.


Let him go or we’ll destroy your economy!

He went to the police station on Oct. 7, 2016, was detained and later charged with involvement in a coup attempt. He is still in detention and is now at the center of a diplomatic row that has fueled Turkey’s most serious currency crisis for almost two decades.

In July, after nearly two years in prison, Brunson was moved to house arrest. A court on Friday rejected an appeal to release him, saying evidence was still being collected and he posed a flight risk, according to a copy of the ruling seen by Reuters.

U.S. President Donald Trump has demanded Brunson’s unconditional release, describing him as a “great patriot hostage”, and has slapped sanctions and tariffs on Turkey which have helped push the lira currency to record lows.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has linked Brunson’s release to the fate of Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish Muslim cleric living in the United States whom he blames for the July 2016 coup attempt. Erdogan has raised tariffs on U.S. cars, alcohol and tobacco in a tit-for-tat response.

“You have one pastor as well. Give him (Gulen) to us… Then we will try him (Brunson) and give him to you,” Erdogan said in a speech last September to police officers Halavurt, Brunson’s lawyer, said the North Carolina pastor was not unduly alarmed when he first went to the police station. He expected at worst to be given a two-week deadline to leave the country – standard practice with residency violations – and to return to Turkey when his papers were sorted out*.

Instead, he was held in a detention center for two months before being formally arrested on Dec. 9, 2016.

He was charged with crimes committed on behalf of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), a Kurdish militant group which has waged a three-decade insurgency against the Turkish state, and on behalf of Gulen’s network, according to the indictment seen by Reuters. Both are designated terrorist groups by Ankara.

He was also charged with disclosing state information “for political or military espionage”.

Brunson has denied all the charges against him.

Prosecutors questioned why he traveled hundreds of miles from his church on Turkey’s western coast to the mainly Kurdish southeast interior, where the PKK is active.**

Messages on his phones, travel details, testimony from his congregation and what the indictment refers to as three secret witnesses, codenamed “Prayer”, “Fire” and “Meteor”, were cited in evidence against him.

The indictment cites GPS data showing trips to Suruc, near the Syrian border, and the mainly Kurdish city of Diyarbakir, as well as a meeting in 2010 with a man described by one of the secret witnesses as a U.S. special forces soldier.

Brunson said his trips to Kurdish areas were to help refugees who had escaped war in neighboring Syria.**

“I do not accept that I acted in accordance with PKK targets … We wanted to convert Syrian refugees coming to Izmir. I do not differentiate between their ethnic identities,” he said.**

“Prayer”, the secret witness, was quoted in the indictment as saying Brunson was linked to prominent suspected members of Gulen’s network.

Halavurt said the witness had failed to offer concrete evidence of any such connections.

The prosecution said in its indictment that Brunson’s phone records and witness testimony did establish the connections.

Brunson was not in the country at the time of the coup attempt but returned soon afterwards, according to his lawyer. In a text message cited in the indictment, he said the coup attempt “was a shock”.

“We were waiting for some events that would shake the Turks – preparing the conditions for Jesus’ return … I think the situation is going to get worse. We’ll win in the end,” said the message, which was dated July 21, 2016 and addressed to a fellow pastor, according to the indictment.***

Brunson did not deny sending the message but said it had been misunderstood, the indictment said.***



* It is very easy for foreign residents to extend their residence permit in Turkey for two years. What was Brunson’s problem? Clearly he knew he was in violation of Turkey’s laws before the police came knocking on his door.

**Convert Syrian refugees coming into Turkey? Yeah sure! I suspect they’ve got more pressing worries on their mind.

***How can you “misunderstand” a message like that? Christian “missionaries” have a long history of stirring up trouble in Turkey, and before that, in the Ottoman Empire. These biblical fundamentalist, evangelist, Zionist, anti-Muslim extremists are either ignorant unwitting tools of imperialist governments, or else they are knowingly working for them. Either way, they are going to upset locals. The only reason they can operate in Turkey is that it is the only majority Muslim country that will tolerate their incendiary activities.



US delivered Öcalan to Turkey to gain control of PKK: Ex-military chief Başbuğ

Interesting! And ex-military chief Başbuğ has no particular reason to love the present government of Turkey.

“The U.S. delivered Abdullah Öcalan, the imprisoned leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), to Turkey in 1999 in order to gain control of the group, former Chief of Staff Gen. İlker Başbuğ has claimed, stressing that this is his “personal opinion.”


Not the best of friends, I guess

Once Öcalan was driven out of Syria in 1999 and eventually delivered to Turkey, the PKK “moved out of Syria’s control and came under U.S. control,” Başbuğ told daily Hürriyet in an interview in Washington. He was in the U.S. to take part in a number of closed-door meetings with a range of think tanks in the U.S. capital.

Öcalan’s capture in 1999 came after then President Süleyman Demirel threatened the Syrian government with sending troops to Hatay, on the border with Syria, in the autumn of 1998, following an increase in PKK attacks in Turkey.

Within a week, after diplomatic efforts from the U.S., Egypt and Iran, the Syrian President Hafez al-Assad sent Öcalan away. The PKK leader was ultimately arrested by a Turkish National Intelligence Organization (MİT) team with the cooperation of the CIA in February 1999 at Nairobi Airport.

Sentenced to life in jail, Öcalan is still being held in the İmralı island-prison, south of Istanbul.

“Öcalan went to Syria in 1979. He was there for 20 years. During this period he formed a Kurdish structure that was dependent on him in Syria. While he was living in Damascus, whose control and protection was Öcalan under? The al-Assad regime … the Syrian intelligence organization,” Başbuğ said.

“He was then removed from Syria and delivered to Turkey. The organization [PKK] subsequently moved out of Syria’s control and came under U.S. control,” he added.

Source: Hürriyet Daily News

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

Is the USA working with terrorists?

TCA Statement on the PKK-YPG Connection

The Turkish Coalition of America is concerned about the recent disagreement between the United States and Turkey regarding apparent U.S. plans to help a PKK-linked Syrian Kurdish militia set up a 30,000 person “Syrian Border Security Force.” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called the move nothing short of establishing a terror army along Turkey’s border and warned of the “unintended consequences” as Turkey vows to “suffocate” the terrorists.[i] The Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs also issued a statement condemning the US for not consulting with Turkey as a member of the anti-ISIL coalition and for its continued cooperation with the PKK-linked People’s Protection Units (YPG).[ii] 


Screenshot depicting YPG guerillas after they dedicated the fall of Raqqa to PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan and unfurled an imposing flag with his image. Ocalan is serving a life sentence in prison in Turkey.

Turkey has vociferously opposed the U.S.-led coalition’s close cooperation with the YPG since the Obama administration. In May 2017, the Trump Administration began to directly arm the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF.) The primary component of the SDF receiving U.S. military assistance has been the YPG Kurdish militia, which is the armed wing of the Syrian People’s Democratic Party (PYD), which is a subdivision of the Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK.) The PKK is an armed terrorist organization, listed as such by the United States under section 219 of the Immigration and Nationality Act.

Turkey perceives the creation of a PKK-affiliated Border Security Force as a national security threat along its southern border. While the Trump administration still views the YPG as the most effective fighting force against ISIL, it apparently fails to acknowledge Turkey’s decades-long fight against PKK terrorism. The US also has provided no guarantees that the equipment being provided to the YPG will not work its way into the hands of PKK terrorists inside Turkey. Further, the US has provided no timetable for the eventual disbanding and disarming of this force

Read more

Turkey securing its border – USA supporting terrorists

jacinda's baby

Wanna see my baby bump?

I returned to Istanbul on Sunday after a 17-day trip to the idyllic South Sea Islands, where media attention was focused on the pregnancy of the recently elected Prime Minister, and whether she would have a boy, a girl, or some more politically correct, post-modern variation of one or the other. And what did I find back here? Turkey on the brink of war with the United States of America!

Of course, you will be aware that the Turkish military has begun conducting air and land strikes across its border into Syria, targeting Kurdish irregular forces holed up in the Afrin region. I don’t know what picture of this your local media have been presenting. What little coverage I saw downunder was portraying Turkey as the aggressor, ruthlessly bombing innocent Kurdish civilians in its ongoing suppression of those people’s righteous struggle for a national homeland.

Afrin map

Make sense of that, if you can – and put yourself in Turkey’s shoes for a moment

Well, I’m not going into a lengthy analysis of the Kurdish situation in the Middle East. Millions of Kurdish people live in Turkey, and I suspect the vast majority of them are mostly interested in working to make a better life for themselves and their children. Given the option, few of them would relocate to a mountainous landlocked state in the Middle East, however oil-rich it might be. Despite the nay-sayers, the lives of most Kurdish people have improved enormously under the present government of Turkey, in terms of recognising their ethnic identity, supporting Kurdish language TV channels and encouraging economic development in eastern Turkey.

Undoubtedly, not all Kurds are happy campers. Just as in New Zealand, where elements among the native Maori population will not be satisfied until white NZers have gone back to Scotland, or wherever our ancestors came from, there are militant nationalist Kurdish elements ready and willing to employ violent tactics to achieve – whatever it is they want to achieve.

Rose Gottermoeller, Deputy General Secretary of NATO, speaking in Ankara the other day, acknowledged that:

Turkey is among the NATO members “most affected by terror attacks” and NATO fully recognizes the threat posed to it . . .

“Turkey has really suffered from terrorism in recent years and has a very serious problem. It is among the NATO allies that suffer the most attacks in recent years and we do recognize that fully,” [she said].


Syrian children attending school in Turkey

She could have gone on to add that, since civil war broke out in Syria in March 2011, the people of Turkey have been obliged to host and care for nearly four million refugees fleeing the violence – with precious little aid from their wealthy NATO allies.

Those refugees have been flooding across an 822 km land border between the two countries – a border than runs through some pretty mountainous and inhospitable geography, near impossible to police. Needless to say, among the hopeless, helpless and harmless multitudes, there are a few malcontents taking advantage of the situation to enter Turkey with a view to causing mayhem. There are also young men passing the other way, fired up by ideology or boredom, seeking to join one side or the other in the Syrian conflict – a relatively minor aspect that Western media have chosen to focus on.

Security forces in Turkey are quite proficient at maintaining order – given the geo-political turbulence in the region, they need to be. Their task is made more difficult, however, by support provided to local terrorists by interested groups across the border in Iraq and Syria.

Turkey has long complained about American support for Syrian Kurdish militias, which it says have emboldened the Kurdish separatist movement that Ankara considers a threat to its territorial sovereignty and is prepared to go to great lengths to counteract. Turkish officials say that this has allowed weapons and support to reach the outlawed the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or P.K.K., which is considered a terrorist organization by the United States and Europe and has waged a decades-long insurgency in Turkey.”

Those militias have been strengthened for many years by the United States government supplying arms, training and financial support. As far back as 1991, George Bush the Father was conducting Operation Provide Comfort, supporting Kurds in Northern Iraq. A few years later, George the Son was enlisting the aid of Iraqi Kurds in his crusading mission to rid the world of Saddam Hussein and his non-existent weapons of mass destruction. What did George Dubya and his cronies promise Masoud Barzani in return? An independent Kurdistan? And why would they do that? Anything to do with having a grateful, oil rich puppet state in the middle of the Middle East, I wonder? Draw your own conclusions.

They-lied-about-Iraq-Afghan-Libya-Syria-IranAnd more recently, Big Donald, the Holy Ghost, has been succouring Kurdish militants in north-west Syria. A senior American commander, according to the New York Times, “praised the partnership with the Kurds, whose help was critical in a major American airstrike on the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, over the weekend.”

“Senior Pentagon officials and American commanders,” the article continued, “say that the Syrian Kurds will most likely serve as the backbone of the allied forces on the ground in Syria for months to come.”

“Echoing earlier comments by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, the commander of the United States Central Command, General Joseph L. Votel, said in an interview last month that American forces would remain in eastern Syria, alongside their Syrian Kurdish and Arab allies, as long as needed to defeat the Islamic State.”

On the other hand, the same article referred to a White House message “aimed at mollifying Turkey’s president on Tuesday, suggesting that the United States was easing off its support for the Syrian Kurds.”

“. . . the White House disavowed a plan by the American military to create a Kurdish-led force in northeastern Syria, which Turkey has vehemently opposed. Turkey, which considers the Kurdish militia a terrorist organization, fears the plan would cement a Kurdish enclave along its southern frontier.

“That plan, a senior administration official said Tuesday, originated with midlevel military planners in the field, and was never seriously debated, or even formally introduced, at senior levels in the White House or the National Security Council.

“The official, who spoke to reporters on condition that he not be identified, also said that the United States had no connection to the Kurds in the northwestern Syrian city of Afrin, where the Turkish military has launched an invasion in recent days.

“And he drew a distinction between allies — a term he said had legal connotations — and partners in a combat mission, like the Kurds. America’s actions on the ground in Syria, he said, would be driven by a calculation of its interests.”

Meaning the United States’ interests, of course. And if US interests conflict with those of its loyal NATO allies, the allies can go hang. Nevertheless, countries like Turkey do have their own national interests, especially since they are somewhat closer to ground zero in Syria than most Americans. Our English language Turkish daily, Hurriyet Daily News has this to say about the US’s “combat partners”:

The YPG is the armed wing of the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and is the Syrian branch of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). The PKK has been fighting Turkey for decades and is designated a terrorist by numerous countries, including the U.S. Former Defense Secretary Ashton Carter even admitted during a congressional hearing in April 2016 that the YPG and the PKK were “organically linked.”

This is why U.S. Special Forces Commander General Raymond Thomas asked YPG personnel to rename themselves, in order to circumvent NATO ally Turkey in the anti-ISIL alliance. “With about a day’s notice they declared they were the Syrian Democratic Forces [SDF],” Thomas said at the July 2017 Aspen Security Forum in Colorado.

He continued mockingly, amid laughter from the audience. “I thought it was a stroke of brilliance to put ‘democracy’ in there somewhere,” he said. “But it gave them a little bit of credibility. I was lucky to have a great partner like Brett McGurk with me, because they were asking for things that I couldn’t give them. They wanted a seat at the table, whether it’s Geneva, or Astana, or wherever the talks are happening about the future of Syria. But because they have been branded as the PKK they could never get to the table. So we paired them militarily and McGurk was able to keep them in the conversation.”

What’s in a name? Rename a Kurdish terrorist as a loyal US partner fighting for democracy in Syria against an evil dictator, and all will be well.

Turkey’s President, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, however, as he often does, is calling out the United States government for its hypocrisy.

“The U.S. is urging that [Turkey’s Operation Olive Branch] should not last too long and should be conducted within a certain time frame. I ask the U.S.: Does your operation in Afghanistan, which you launched more than 10 years ago, have a certain time frame? When will it be completed? You are also still in Iraq, aren’t you? Do these kinds of operations have a certain time frame?” Erdoğan added.

So where does that leave us, we helpless observers of the great global imperialist game?

“Terrorists in Manbij are constantly firing provocation shots,” Turkey’s foreign minister, Mevlut Cavuşoğlu, said the other day. “If the United States doesn’t stop this, we will stop it.

A Turkish assault on Manbij could bring its forces into direct conflict with the Americans, with unpredictable results.

The NY Times correspondents wrote, “Robert S. Ford, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute and a former Ambassador to Syria, wrote in an analytical column that Turkey’s military operations in Syria demonstrated the difficulties of the American position. Turkey’s brushoff of American concerns made the United States look weak, Mr. Ford wrote, adding that some Kurdish observers were accusing America of being an unreliable ally.

“Over the longer term, it is hard to see how the U.S. will secure its stated political goal of stabilization in eastern Syria and genuine governance reforms in Syria,” he wrote.

syria war

Babies in Syria

Murat Yetkin, writing in Hurriyet Daily News, observed, “It is not hard to see that such a relationship [between the US and Kurdish militant groups] must end at some point, because it is not right. The partnership even evokes memories of the U.S.’s arming of Islamist tribes in Afghanistan to fight the Soviet invasion.”

Well, of course I wish the people of New Zealand, their Prime Minister and her principal care-giving partner joy and happiness in their new First Baby. I’m pleased, however, to be back in a part of the world where issues of genuine global importance receive more attention.

Turkey’s Kurdish issue: From peace to low intensity-war


The clashes between the PKK and the Turkish military have spread to urban centres, making thousands flee their homes.

This article was published on Al Jazeera online yesterday. It seems to present a fairly balanced picture of the situation – something which is not readily available elsewhere, at least in English language media:

5b7e99681e944afc9c43898cb6689232_18It wasn’t long ago when optimism was the gist of the day on Turkey’s Kurdish issue. Many believed that there was about to be a substantial settlement of this century-old problem.

In the early days of 2013, the armed conflict ceased. Peace as a new normality was setting in. Reaping the spoils of the peaceful political climate, the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) scored the highest electoral achievement in the history of the Kurdish political movement. Although support for the Kurdish parties in Turkey has traditionally hovered at 5-6 percent, the HDP’s young leader Selahattin Demirtas received 9.8 percent of the votes in the presidential election of August 2014, and the HDP acquired 13 percent in the June 2015 elections. That figure later dropped to 10.7 percent in November’s snap elections.

At present, this picture seems to belong to a bygone era as the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and Turkey have once again resumed armed violence.

3707d8f2be163bd14c78cf07586f13bb_L-1The PKK – inspired by the success of its sister organisation the Democratic Union Party (PYD) in Syria, is trying to replicate PYD tactics in the Kurdish southeast of Turkey. It is attempting to establish what it proclaims as “democratic autonomy” in some of the Kurdish towns – by digging trenches, building barricades and resorting to brute force.

The fallacy in this approach is that Turkey is not Syria. Despite all its shortcomings, Turkey is a functioning democracy, where the HDP very recently could mount a powerful opposition to the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK party) government. In such a context, the PKK’s strategy to turn Kurdish cities, towns and neighbourhoods into a battleground expectedly invites a forceful response from the government.

Since conditions of security and order are completely different in Turkey, a strategy inspired by the imbroglio in Syria is unlikely to work. The fact that the PKK has thus far failed to generate significant societal support and participation in its endeavour shows how ill-conceived this new approach has been. The HDP’s failure to distance itself from the PKK’s strategy cost the party more than one million votes. And the resumption of fighting after the June elections was another reason for the decreased support for the HDP at the snap elections. Read the whole article

Tales of Smugglers and Indirect Taxation – The Şırnak Incident

No doubt you’ve seen recent news coverage of the deaths of 35 villagers in south-eastern Turkey. According to reports, a convoy of young Kurdish smugglers was making its way by night towards the Turkish border leading donkeys laden with contraband petrol and cigarettes from neighbouring Iraq. Their presence was detected by military drones and thermal cameras, and they were taken for Kurdish insurgents belonging to the outlawed PKK, who apparently often use that border crossing to launch strikes against Turkish police and military targets from their bases in the mountains of Iraq. In a tragic case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, the smugglers were strafed and bombed by Turkish warplanes. Reports say most of the dead were young men around 17 to 20 years old.

Uludere Village, Şırnak Province

The incident is a major embarrassment for the Turkish government, who have been pursuing a dual policy of hitting ‘terrorists’ hard, while trying to defuse the separatist issue by allowing discussion on the use of the Kurdish language and the practising of the Alevi religion. Political opponents, needless to say, have seen a golden opportunity to attack the government, making comparisons to the killing of dissidents by beleaguered President Bashar al-Assad in neighbouring Syria.

I made a journey into that south-eastern part of Turkey back in the summer of 1999. In retrospect, I was fortunate because, at that time, there was a brief window of relative peace following the arrest and imprisonment of PKK leader, Abdullah Öcalan, and before George ‘Dubya’ Bush’s invasion of Iraq stirred up Kurdish activists again. I didn’t get right down to that distant corner of Anatolia, to Hakkari and Şırnak, where the latest incident took place, but I did make my way deep into parts of the country with Kurdish majority populations: Malatya, Diyarbakır, Mardin and Van. Despite the relative calm, we faced regular stoppages at checkpoints, with tanks and other serious-looking military hardware very much in evidence.

There were very few tourists – I met a group of young back-packers from Poland in Doğubeyazit, way out on the border with Iran, but saw no others. I was able to make a small contribution to international goodwill in that remote town, purchasing a New Zealand twenty-dollar note from a taxi driver who would have waited a long time for another such opportunity. Since hostilities resumed after 2003, I imagine the tourist trade has, if anything, declined. Certainly the New Zealand Embassy in Ankara sends out emails to ex-pat citizens and tourists warning us to avoid those parts of the country.
These hostilities are another instance of what we have come to know as asymmetrical warfare – where a professional national military machine combats groups of irregular guerrillas. We have read much about the post-traumatic stress disorder afflicting US servicemen returning from tours of duty in Iraq. One major cause of this stress, no doubt, is that, in such asymmetrical conflicts, the professional soldiers suffer from the disadvantage of having to wear a uniform, making them clearly identifiable targets. On the other hand, local guerrillas are not easily distinguished from harmless civilians, especially when you don’t speak the local language. As a result, the professionals are in a state of constant fear and uncertainty, and not infrequently kill or wound non-combatant citizens going about their lawful business.
Well, I’m not excusing the Turkish military for what they did down there in Uludere, in Şırnak province. However, the situation is, you’d have to say, somewhat complex. For a start, the victims of the air-strike were Turkish citizens intending to re-cross an international border, having, we must assume, previously left the country without notifying the proper authorities, for a purpose which could hardly be called lawful business, and this in the dead of night. Moreover, the path they were on is apparently used by PKK insurgents making guerrilla raids into Turkey from bases across the border in Iraq. Certainly those guys were too young to die, and the price they paid was disproportionate to their crime – but they were surely old enough to know the risk they were taking.
However, that’s not much consolation for those families in Uludere who have lost the flower of their local manhood – and it is certainly creating extra unpleasantness for the Turkish government in relations with their Kurdish citizens, even if they do fulfil their promise to pay substantial reparations. Still, ascribing blame is always a difficult task, and knee-jerk responses rarely address the underlying causes of a conflict, so let’s take a step back . . .
The Turkish Republic has one of the world’s booming economies these days. The middle class is expanding rapidly, the retail sector is on a roll, private sector commercial and residential construction is changing the urban skyline, and the government is proceeding with numerous large-scale public projects. They do, however, have some difficulties in collecting taxation. No one likes paying tax, of course, but not paying it is a way of life in Turkey. Collecting income tax from wage and salary earners is relatively straightforward – but what if the company doesn’t declare its employees? And getting tax out of the wealthy is notoriously problematic, even in countries with more reliable bureaucratic infrastructure.
One widely employed solution is indirect taxation. Everybody does it these days: GST, VAT, KDV . . . a nettle by any other name would sting as sharp. And then there are the special purpose taxes. Who can argue with extra duties on cigarettes and alcohol? If people want to drink and smoke themselves to death, why should I pay for their health care with my taxes? And petrol . . . well, drivers should contribute to the cost of roads and motorways and whatnot, it’s only fair and reasonable.
Turkey, however, is a special case. I read that Americans got upset when the price of gasoline reached $4 a gallon. Imagine the screams of outrage if they had to pay $8.50, as Turkish motorists do! They’d never get the protesters out of the parks! And if the US Federal Government tried to take 70% of the price in tax, the Tea Party would likely be organising airstrikes on the White House.
Then there’s the cigarette tax. There was a time when ‘to smoke like a Turk’ was axiomatic. Now I’m starting to feel sorry for Turkish smokers, who currently pay nine Turkish liras or more for a packet of smokes, of which 7.50 TL goes to the government. Unlike smoking, however, drinking is not such a big thing in Turkey. In tea consumption, Turks are right up there with the English – but Islam has traditionally frowned on alcohol. The land that probably invented wine production, allowed the art to die out until the last decade or so saw some kind of revival.
The exception to this abstemiousness has been rakı, the grape-based, aniseed flavoured spirit resembling Greek ouzo, which is a popular accompaniment to a Turkish night on the town. Perhaps I should have said ‘was’, since a litre bottle of the cheapest Yeni Rakı now retails for 61 TL, of which 62% disappears into government coffers.
So what’s the connection, you’re saying. The Turkish military kills 35 poor young villagers out east, and I’m blethering on about the price of grog and cigarettes. But don’t be hasty. It’s pretty clear that those kids were smuggling cigarettes and petrol. Of course it’s illegal, but when people take such risks to do it, you can safely bet that they are addressing a need, and that there is money to be made. Economic niches will be filled, by fair means or foul – Americans learned that lesson back in the 1920s when the Federal Government attempted to ban the consumption of alcohol. During the thirteen years the Volstead Act was in force, an unlooked for side-effect was the emergence of ‘rampant underground, organised and widespread criminal activity’.
People will drink, people will smoke tobacco, and people will drive around in vehicles powered by internal combustion engines, until satisfactory substitutes are found. That is the principle on which indirect taxation is founded, whatever alternative rationalisations are put forward. A 17thcentury English poet, Henry Aldrich, wrote:
If on my theme I rightly think,
There are five reasons why men drink,—
Good wine, a friend, because I ’m dry,
Or lest I should be by and by,
Or any other reason why.
Substitute ‘smoke’ or ‘drive cars’ for the underlined word, make one or two other necessary amendments, and the resulting epigram will be equally true. Governments know this, and see a bottomless source of revenue. Unfortunately, as with other forms of taxation, the burden tends to fall disproportionately on those at the middle and lower ends of the income spectrum. The wealthy find ways to circumvent the annoyance: company expense accounts, legal forms of tax avoidance, duty-free purchases while traveling abroad – or if the worst comes to the worst, most have plenty of slack in their disposable incomes.
In countries like Turkey, the problems are exacerbated by poverty. Turks, as has been noted, pay more than double the price for petrol that US drivers do, yet their per capita GDP is less than one quarter of that in the USA (IMF 2010 figures). And, of course, such figures represent a national average, and disguise the fact that 50% of the population have incomes substantially below the national average.
The bottom line, to use a phrase much beloved of businessmen and economists, is that indirect taxes hit hardest the poorest sections of the population. So what are they to do? For the most part, they won’t stop drinking and smoking (even paupers need some small pleasures in life), though they may be obliged to do without private cars. Human nature being what it is, then, we can expect the following results:
– Some enterprising souls will find ways to manufacture alcoholic beverages. In Turkey, there have recently been reports of deaths related to the consumption of illegally distilled spirits. In fact last summer there was a minor scandal caused by the deaths of some Russian tourists.
– Smuggling. ‘Kaçak’ is an important word in Turkish, with a multitude of meanings, but, in the case of cigarettes, for example, it has the connotation of ‘unofficially duty-free’.
– The involvement of organized crime syndicates. Some reports on the deaths in Şırnak province suggest that, at the very least, PKK insurgents are taking a commission from smugglers to allow safe passage.
So, coming back to where we began, and the question of blame for the deaths of the young men from Uludere, I would suggest that inequality of income and opportunity lie at the root of the tragedy. The New Year edition of Time magazine has chosen ‘The Protester’ as Person of the Year for 2011 – the protester to be found in Zucotti Park, New York and Tahrir Square, Cairo; in Syntagma Square, Athens, and the streets of London. Common factors in all these protests are lack of central leadership, frustration with the inability of governments to deal with manifest injustice, and a willingness to endure pain, suffering, even death, to make their message heard. One further factor is the participation of a more educated, middle class species of protester. The less educated, lower classes are likely to turn to more direct action, such as mugging and smuggling. In the end, if the privileged classes fail to address the valid grievances of their fellow citizens, they will find increasing need for draconian security measures, and not only in China and Syria.