No Green Spaces left in Istanbul??

Future shock

It’s hard for all of us, guys!

In 1970 a guy called Alvin Toffler published a best-selling book “Future Shock”. According to his obituary in the NY Times, “Mr. Toffler was a self-trained social science scholar and successful freelance magazine writer in the mid-1960s when he decided to spend five years studying the underlying causes of a cultural upheaval that he saw overtaking the United States and other developed countries.”

Way back then Toffler identified a phenomenon causing serious global anguish:

“The accelerative thrust triggered by man has become the key to the entire evolutionary process on the planet.” Amazon review

“Today the force of change is almost tangible” Toffler “discusses change and what happens to people; how they do and don’t adapt.” Bookrags review

Toffler was American, and he was writing primarily about the United States of America – and it was their movers and shakers who were responsible for most of the “Future Shock” we were/are experiencing. So, while you can feel some sympathy for US citizens struggling to cope with modernity, at least they get most of the benefits. What about the rest of us, in less privileged parts of the world? Afghanistan? Somalia? New Zealand? Or even Turkey?

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Give him a homespun cotton loincloth, and . . .  Yeah, maybe.

Contemporary Turkey is a divided society, if you listen to the doom-sayers. The leader of the opposition CHP Party is currently trekking through the summer heat on a Gandhi-esque march from Ankara to Istanbul seeking “justice”. And, I hope he finds it – although it’s a rather less easily identifiable commodity than common table salt*. He is accompanied by numbers of supporters who, like may others, have been struggling to adjust to rapid changes taking place in their country whose population has doubled to nearly 80 million since 1970, and whose largest city, Istanbul, has grown from less than three million, to 15 million or more in the same time period.

But, I don’t want to talk about justice, or the difficulties involved in adapting to a changing world. In the current heatwave I’m more interested in finding a shady tree to sit under – and again, if you hearken to those prophets of doom, I’ll be lucky to find such a thing in Istanbul outside a tree museum. Joni Mitchell sang that Big Yellow Taxi song about the concretification (yep, I just made that word up!) of America, also back in 1970. I’m not sure if the New York city fathers ripped up any concrete to plant trees as a result, but we were all proud of Joni for singing that song.

Well, I was concerned about the disintegrating ecosystem of Planet Earth in my youth – and I’m probably more concerned about it now. I recycle our household rubbish, walk, ride a bicycle and use public transport where possible, and carry my supermarket purchases home in reusable natural fibre bags. On the other hand, I do find very tiresome the constant harping by certain people on Turkey’s AKP government and its wanton destruction of the country’s natural and historical heritage.

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Aftermath of Gezi Park demo, 1 June, 2013

What I also find surprising is some of those people are foreign visitors who have been in the country a month or two, maybe a year or two, and talk authoritatively about how things used to be in Turkey, in some mythical golden age they have been told about. Just over four years ago, at the end of May 2013, a series of anti-government protests broke out, ostensibly sparked by the city council’s plans to develop the iconic Taksim Square and its environs. Part of the project aimed to rebuild an Ottoman-era military barracks building demolished in 1940 and replaced with a small green space we learned was officially called Gezi Park.

I have no intention of delving into the politics of the matter. What I can say, however, is that the square was badly in need of a revamp. On one side stood a 20-storey 70’s glass tower housing the five-star Marmara Hotel; opposite the hotel, a busy terminal station for buses heading to other parts of the city. On the other two sides, a soulless 60’s era Soviet-style structure known as the Atatürk Culture Centre facing the blank brick wall of a large water reservoir partly masked by a huge garish TV screen. In the middle of the treeless concrete square itself, a Metro underground station could be reached only by crossing the two or three lanes of speeding buses, yellow taxis and joy-riders that maintained a kind of lethal spinning asteroid belt around it. Behind the bus terminal lurked Gezi Park itself – four hectares of trees, grass and asphalt mostly invisible from surrounding streets, and consequently popular with the neighbourhood’s homeless, youthful glue-sniffers and aging alcoholics. Not a place you would probably have chosen for a family picnic.

Gezi Park quickly, however, became a focal point for those who, for one reason and another, hated the Prime Minister, now President, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and his AK Party government. Foreign news media took up the cry that Turkey’s political leaders were destroying “one of Istanbul’s last green spaces” as they buried the beautiful, historic city beneath a pall of tar and cement.

Now I don’t know how many of the protesting tree-huggers have actually been back to Gezi Park since the protests of 2013 ended. I am fairly sure that the widely televised violence of those protests has been a factor in the decreasing numbers of foreign tourists and local revellers visiting the Beyoğlu/İstiklal area which, by all accounts, has lost most of its former vibrant energy. And I am amazed to hear still repeated such claims as “Throughout the vast metropolis there are only a handful of actual parks, a few stretches of grass along the Bosporus and lone trees peeking through the concrete in other places.”

 

Molla Zeyrek

Foreground: 1,000-year old Byzantine Pantokrator monastery, currently undergoing extensive restoration

“Constant renovation and reconstruction,” I read recently, “has demolished historic buildings and in some areas completely changed the city’s landscape. . . The current government isn’t known for prioritizing the environment and even relative to other major world cities, Istanbul actually has a pretty poor percentage of green space.”

Istanbul is, as the writer noted, a vast metropolis, its historic heart the capital of three world empires stretching back at least 1700 years. I can’t tell you what vast sums the local and national governments have been spending to restore ancient churches, palaces, city walls, mosques and other monuments that had been left to moulder in picturesque decay by former administrations. I can’t say exactly how much time and money was lost while the building of underground Metro lines was paused so archaeologists could rummage with delight among long-buried Roman harbours and necropolises; nor how many times engineers had to redraw the design for a rail bridge across the Golden Horn to meet the objections of UNESCO World Heritage inspectors.

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Halil Pasha Topçu Barracks building – demolished in 1940 to make way for Gezi park

What I can tell you, with absolute certainty is that Gezi Park is not only NOT one of Istanbul’s last green spaces, it is surely one of its least attractive and significant. I can also assure you that, from personal firsthand observation, the current government has done far more than any of its predecessors to clean up and beautify the urban landscape, in spite of the exponential population growth of recent years. They were even planning to RE-build a formerly demolished historically important building next to Gezi Park – for which they were also vociferously criticised.

When I first came to Istanbul in 1995, residents suffered from frequent outages of electricity and an unreliable water supply. The Golden Horn, streams and rivers stank like open sewers, and no one swam in the turgid waters that lapped the shores. What parks remained in the inner city from former times were neglected and generally strewn with rubbish. Since the AK Party government came to power in 2003, people have begun to swim again at beaches along the Sea of Marmara coast, and fish for their dinner in the Golden Horn off Galata Bridge.

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Bosporus view from Gülhane Park – Yıldız Park in the middle distance

Not far from that bridge, if you walk up the hill towards the ancient cathedral museum of Hagia Sophia, you will pass the gates of Gülhane Park on your left. It’s worth a visit. Its 16 hectares of beautifully laid out gardens and majestic trees provide a sanctuary for migrating birds like storks and cranes; cliff top tea gardens offer a glorious view of the Bosporus across to Asia (if you still believe that stuff about Asia Minor); and the former imperial stables house a fascinating museum celebrating the scientific and technological achievements of Islamic civilisation.

A short bus or taxi ride will bring you to Beşiktaş, a trendy district of bars, restaurants and open-air fish markets where you can visit the Naval Museum, with displays relating to the glory days of Ottoman sea power. Tucked away down a side street you may stumble across Ihlamur Park, which features a small Ottoman hunting lodge surrounded by pretty gardens – an unexpected oasis in a busy neighbourhood. If you’re looking for more extensive greenery you can walk or take a taxi to Yıldız Park, 37 hectares of landscaped woodland, artificial streams, waterfalls and small lakes, with several restaurants and cafes for formal dining or an open-air snack. At the upper end of the park is Yıldiz Palace museum, the last residence of Ottoman sultans before they faded into history.

If you look across to the Asian shore you will see a similar “green space” across the water. Fethi Pasha Park, 13 hectares in extent, has a maze of sheltered walkways, restaurants and cafes and beautiful tree-framed views of the Bosporus across to the European shore. More adventurous souls may catch a taxi or local transport to Çamlıca Hill – in fact two hills whose summits are the highest points in Istanbul, with spectacular panoramic views. Those doom-sayers will probably tell you that this idyllic spot has been desecrated by the construction of a large new mosque – if “desecration” is the right word for a building dedicated to spiritual searching. Anyway, don’t believe them. The mosque, visible from all over town, has had little real impact on Çamlıca’s park and woodland. In fact the hilltops have long been blighted by dozens of lofty radio and television masts – and part of the development plan is to erect a 365-metre tower that will amalgamate all the masts into one, as well as housing two restaurants and a viewing platform that are absolutely on my list of must-visits when they are completed.

Validebağ köprüsü

Getting away from the concrete in Validebağ Park

I must say that residents on the Asian (or more correctly, Anatolian) side of the city are more fortunate than their European neighbours in terms of green spaces – which may account for the skewed outlook of foreigners who tend to prefer districts nearer to Western Europe. I will briefly mention two more beautiful parks well worth a visit. Not far from Çamlıca Hills is another former Ottoman imperial woodland, Validebağ Park, 10 hectares of semi-wilderness including a former royal palace that served as the location for a much-loved Turkish classic comedy movie based on the escapades of a gang of over-grown schoolboys.

If you’re looking for something new, and are open-minded enough to accept evidence that the government’s reputation for environmental barbarism is not deserved, check out Orhan Gazi City Park on the Marmara coast in the district of Maltepe. This massive project reclaimed 130 hectares from the sea and created a huge recreation area planted with thousands of trees and laid out with carefully tended gardens of roses and seasonal flowers, tulips, begonias, pansies, marigolds . . . There are 63 ha of picnic area, 7.5 km of bicycle track not counting a 400-metre velodrome; basketball, volleyball and tennis courts; artificial turf football fields, a large gymnasium, running tracks, a skateboard park, children’s playgrounds, several outdoor stations with exercise equipment, as well as the ubiquitous cafes and tea gardens. Also, for devout Muslims, two mosques, in case they are caught short when the call to prayer is heard.

Sadabad

Historic mosque in Sadabad Park, Kağıthane

Well, I could go on to talk about Sadabad Park in the district of Kagıthane, for many years a polluted industrial wasteland now gradually being restored to something resembling the small slice of heaven once known as the Sweet Waters of Europe. I could rhapsodise about the Nezahat Gökyiğit Botanical Garden located in an unlikely apex of converging motorways in the district of Ataşehir – but I won’t. If you live in Istanbul, or have time to spend while you’re here, get out and visit these or others of the many spectacular “green spaces” in this beautiful “city of the world’s desire”.

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  • Mahatma Gandhi led a march in 1930 to protest against the British monopoly of salt production and sales. It was a symbolic act of defiance against the British Raj. At the time of his selection as party leader, some remarked on Mr Kılıçdaroğlu’s resemblance to India’s national hero – though the Turkish chap is more often seen in a suit than a homespun cotton loin-cloth.
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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’.”

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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.

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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?

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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 President of Turkey – another side of the story

Last week I asked the students in one of my English classes to write a short essay about a person they admired. The most frequent response from students in Turkey is a rather dull piece about the founder of the Republic, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. So I was very pleased to find this one among the papers I had to mark:

“Many people don’t appreciate what they have until losing something or someone.

recep-tayyip-erdogan-in-nurlu-yuzu_624428“I really like and admire Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the President of Turkey. He loves his country. He always tries to do good things and improve the country. He is not afraid to say what he feels – about a person, a topic or anything else. He is clever. He knows how to manage his assistants and the public. When he talks on television or face to face, people feel strong because of his strong personality.

“Everyone can make mistakes in their life. We are not perfect – we never have been and never will be. Some people love to criticise everything and everybody. When someone makes a mistake, it doesn’t mean he/she is bad, or an unsuccessful person. The President can make mistakes too. He has many things on his mind: the public, other countries, war, peace, the economy . . . He may not always make the best decision. The important thing is his character. Does he love his country and his people? Does he care about people’s lives? Does he take an interest in every problem? Does he meet and listen to people from every part of the country? Can he answer the questions of other countries? We can ask or compare many things.

“To sum up, I like our President so much because I believe he always wants the best for our country.”

Election Turkey – 1999

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

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

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Some changes after all the votes were counted, I guess

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

Also noteworthy:

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

Will there be a coup against Erdoğan in Turkey?

I still hear people in Turkey – local citizens and foreign friends – insisting that the failed 15 July attempted military coup in Turkey was actually staged by President Erdoğan in order to cement his hold on power. Well, I know there are also US citizens who believe that George W Bush was behind the 9/11 destruction of the World Trade Centre in New York City. Maybe he was, and I am certainly no fan of that man Dubya – but still I find it hard to believe he was so evil that he would authorise the murder of thousands of his own citizens in order to maintain his hold on the reins of power.

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and who’s backing Newsweek?

In that context, I am printing in full an article that appeared in Newsweek in March this year, predicting that Turkey’s President would be overthrown by a military coup, and that the US government would be happy to see it happen.

This guy Rubin is an interesting character. I’ve left in the links he made to other sources: “mad sultan”, “aspiring caliph” etc. Definitely weird! But also disturbing, in the light of what actually happened on July 15.

Turks—and the Turkish military—increasingly recognize that Erdoğan is taking Turkey to the precipice.

BY MICHAEL RUBIN ON 3/24/16 AT 11:21 AM

This article first appeared on the American Enterprise Institute site.

The situation in Turkey is bad and getting worse. It’s not just the deterioration in security amidst a wave of terrorism. Public debt might be stable, but private debt is out of control, the tourism sector is in free-fall and the decline in the currency has impacted every citizen’s buying power.

There is a broad sense, election results notwithstanding, that President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is out of control. He is imprisoning opponents, seizing newspapers left and right and building palaces at the rate of a mad sultan or aspiring caliph. In recent weeks, he has once again threatened to dissolve the constitutional court.

Corruption is rife. His son Bilal reportedly fled Italy on a forged Saudi diplomatic passport as the Italian police closed in on him in an alleged money laundering scandal.

His outbursts are raising eyebrows both in Turkey and abroad. Even members of his ruling party whisper about his increasing paranoia which, according to some Turkish officials, has gotten so bad that he seeks to install anti-aircraft missiles at his palace to prevent airborne men-in-black from targeting him in a snatch-and-grab operation.

Turks—and the Turkish military—increasingly recognize that Erdoğan is taking Turkey to the precipice. By first bestowing legitimacy upon imprisoned Kurdish leader Abdullah Öcalan with renewed negotiations and then precipitating renewed conflict, he has taken Turkey down a path in which there is no chance of victory and a high chance of de facto partition.

After all, if civil war renews as in the 1980s and early 1990s, Turkey’s Kurds will be hard-pressed to settle for anything less, all the more so given the precedent now established by their brethren in Iraq and Syria.

Erdoğan long ago sought to kneecap the Turkish military. For the first decade of his rule, both the U.S. government and European Union cheered him on. But that was before even Erdoğan’s most ardent foreign apologists recognized the depth of his descent into madness and autocracy.

So if the Turkish military moves to oust Erdoğan and place his inner circle behind bars, could they get away with it?

In the realm of analysis rather than advocacy, the answer is yes. At this point in election season, it is doubtful that the Obama administration would do more than castigate any coup leaders, especially if they immediately laid out a clear path to the restoration of democracy.

Nor would Erdoğan engender the type of sympathy that Egyptian President Muhammad Morsi did. When Morsi was ousted, his commitment to democracy was still subject to debate.

That debate is now moot when it comes to the Turkish strongman. Neither the Republican nor Democratic front-runners would put U.S. prestige on the line to seek a return to the status quo ante. They might offer lip service against a coup, but they would work with the new regime.

Coup leaders might moot European and American human rights and civil society criticism and that of journalists by immediately freeing all detained journalists and academics and by returning seized newspapers and television stations to their rightful owners.

Turkey’s NATO membership is no deterrent to action: Neither Turkey nor Greece lost their NATO membership after previous coups. Should a new leadership engage sincerely with Turkey’s Kurds, Kurds might come onboard.

Neither European nor American public opinion would likely be sympathetic to the execution of Erdoğan, his son and son-in-law, or key aides like Egemen Bağış and Cüneyd Zapsu, although they would accept a trial for corruption and long incarceration.

Erdoğan might hope friends would rally to his side, but most of his friends—both internationally and inside Turkey—are attracted to his power. Once out of his palace, he may find himself very much alone, a shriveled and confused figure like Saddam Hussein at his own trial.

I make no predictions, but given rising discord in Turkey as well as the likelihood that the Turkish military would suffer no significant consequence should it imitate Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s game plan in Egypt, no one should be surprised if Turkey’s rocky politics soon get rockier.

Michael Rubin is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. A former Pentagon official, his major research areas are the Middle East, Turkey, Iran and diplomacy.

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

Give Turkey a Break

I never aimed to write a political blog. For seven years I have been posting my thoughts here, and my motivation remains, as it always was, to present the Turkey that I see, to others whose vision may be clouded by negative publicity.

Americans oppose US intervention in Syria: Poll

Increasingly, however, I seem to have been forced into a situation where my writings have become more coloured by politics. Whose politics? My own.

On Friday 16 July Turkey experienced a night of severe trauma. Some sections of the country’s military attempted to take over the government by force of arms. Since then, foreign media and anti-government voices within the country have continued their vituperative campaign:

  • First, the attempted coup wasn’t real – it was a pantomime staged by President Erdoğan to cement his hold on power.
  • Second, if it was a real attempt to overthrow the government, it was a pathetically disorganised one clearly mounted by a minority of stupid generals.
  • Third, whoever organised it doesn’t matter. Mr Erdoğan is now using it as an excuse to unleash his fundamentalist Islamic supporters in a mayhem of retribution.
  • Fourth, Turkey’s President is now using the attempted coup as a pretext for rounding up all his opponents in a ‘witch hunt’ that will probably result in burnings at the stake.

All of these are still circulating in a myriad of combinations and permutations, but the latest one seems to be that now Mr Erdoğan is cosying up to Russia and Syria, in a clear demonstration that he is against the United States. To make matters worse he is denying America the use of the Incirlik base that they use to launch their peace-keeping, democracy-bringing attacks on nations in the region. Turkey is breaking the terms of the NATO treaty and either wants out, or should be kicked out, depending on how strongly you feel on the issue.

The problem with this latest argument is that Turkey’s ‘normalisation’ of relations with neighbours also seems to include Israel, US bosom-buddy, who can, in the eyes of the American government, do no wrong.

So what’s really going on? First up, many of the apparent contradictions in Turkey’s international relations cease to look like contradictions if you assume that the aim of the government is to modernise the country while remaining non-aligned; to have good working relations with its neighbours while looking after the interests of its own people first.

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Is this really how they see themselves?

Second, commentators and the liberal chattering classes in the West have difficulty grasping the concept that ‘Islamic-rooted’ parties in the Middle East and elsewhere are often populist, trying to pursue policies that they generally associate with non-religious, left wing, socialist political movements.

If you’re confused, let me try to straighten it out for you. The long-standing American position has been, and remains, that if you’re not with us, you’re against us. Non-alignment is not comprehensible and not acceptable. Populist governments in developing countries often espouse policies that serve their own national interest, bringing them into conflict with United States’ commercial interests. It follows that America will do its best to bring about regime change whereby a more sympathetic local will lead his/her country on the road to righteousness.

However, things are not as simple as they once were. Direct military intervention attracts unwelcome publicity, and carries no guarantee of success. The Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba, and the Vietnam War are examples that spring to mind. The preferred technique in recent years has become economic carrot-and-stick coupled with undercover infiltration and encouragement of revolt from within.

Iran is a good example. In 1952, a democratically elected prime minister sidelined the Western puppet Shah and attempted to nationalise the country’s oil industry. Encouraged by Britain, the United States government used its CIA to overthrow the Mossadegh government and reinstall the Shah. Economic carrots supported the Shah’s government and a small socio-military elite for twenty-seven years – until they were overthrown by a populist uprising. Led by who? America’s beloved Ayatollah Khomeini. But who had empowered him? The downtrodden people of Iran who saw radical Islam as the only force capable of uniting them and ridding the country of foreign intervention and Western puppet rulers – ie the anti-American Khomeini monster was created by America itself!

What about Egypt? The Arab Spring of 2011 saw a populist uprising overthrow the US puppet Hosni Mubarak, who had ruled in Egypt for 29 years, maintaining friendly relations with Israel while building the world’s tenth largest military with US support, and kept the majority of his people in poverty while surrounding himself with a supportive socio-economic elite minority. Same game. Egypt’s first democratic election quite naturally, in a 99% Muslim country, tossed up an ‘Islamic-rooted’ president. Suddenly the Egyptian economy turned to pea soup (surprise, surprise!) and Mohammed Morsi was overthrown by a ‘populist’ uprising that everyone but America recognises was a military-sponsored coup.

On to Turkey. Since the beginning of the republic in 1923, Turkish governments have looked Westward for inspiration. Through the Cold War the country was on the front line between NATO and Soviet USSR. The United States had military bases with nuclear weapons sited within Turkey’s borders. In spite of that, the Western alliance has played the country for its fool. The carrot of EU membership is constantly held out, as incentive and threat – and always withdrawn. Turkey has been condemned internationally for its quite justifiable action in Cyprus, and held accountable for the sins of the Ottoman Empire, while being given little or no credit for its exemplary achievement in creating a fusion of secular Islam, modernisation and democratic republicanism.

Not so long ago Turkey’s government was mocked for pursuing a foreign policy aimed at ‘zero problems with neighbours’. It went bad for a while, but they haven’t given up, and I admire them for that. What’s the alternative? Historically the Ottoman Empire fought many wars with Russia and Persia (Iran). The mutual benefits of sound diplomatic relations and commercial trade seem like better options. The Muslim people of this country have had good relations with their Jewish neighbours for centuries. Why should they allow a small spat to poison that permanently? Turkey’s AKP government had a working relationship with Assad in Syria before the civil war broke out – since when millions of refugees have streamed across the border, creating an economic and social tragedy. Probably many of those people would prefer to go home, if that were possible. Certainly Europe doesn’t want them. If a local solution can be found, maybe that’s the best thing, who knows? Turkey allows the United States a military presence at Incirlik, but they reserve the right to say how and when the base will be used – or not used, as they did in 2003 when George Dubya invaded Iraq. I understand there were a few Americans who didn’t fully support Bush’s action there.

So is the Turkish government against America? I don’t think so. They would like to be friends, in my opinion, but they do not want to be mindless puppets of a foreign power whose only interest seems to be maintaining the non-negotiable way of life of a small minority of its own people. Who was behind Friday night’s attempted coup in Turkey? I don’t know, but I have my suspicions.