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.
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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.

Military Takeover Fails in Turkey

Turkey experienced four occasions in the 20th century when military officers overthrew the legally constituted government – five if you count the time Mustafa Kemal Atatürk (as he later became known) founded the modern Republic of Turkey, in the process consigning the Ottoman Empire to the pages of history.

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PM Menderes – ousted and hanged in 1960

The Republic came into existence in 1923, and from then until 1950, was a one-party state governed without troubling ordinary citizens to cast a vote. As soon as those citizens got the chance they opted for a new party, the Democrats, led by Adnan Menderes. In 1960 that party was overthrown by a faction within the military. Menderes and two of his ministers were hanged after a hasty ‘trial’. Dilek’s father, a career staff officer with the rank of colonel, was forced into early retirement, along, we can assume, with others who had been reluctant to support the revolt.

Two more military coups followed in 1971 and 1980, the latter resulting in several years of military rule characterised by severe oppression, arrests, torture, disappearances and forced exile of ‘dissidents’. Turkey’s current constitution was written by the leaders of the 1980 coup, and one of its key features was measures aimed at ensuring that parties representing the political Left and the Kurdish people would not be able to gain representation in parliament.

When I first came to Turkey in 1995 there was clearly an atmosphere of restraint, if not fear. The word ‘Kurdish’ could not be uttered in polite conversation, and use of the language was proscribed. Platoons of soldiers with automatic weapons jogged along public streets, and people I knew would say they were ‘protecting’ the country’s democratic and secular constitution. The country was suffering from horrendous hyperinflation and governed by weak coalition governments formed by an ever-changing square-dance of corrupt, self-seeking political parties, none of which was capable of achieving more than 20% of the popular vote. In 1997 there was a ‘post-modern’ coup when the military commanders politely advised the Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan to step aside or face the consequences – which he wisely did. Erbakan was leader of Turkey’s equivalent of the Muslim Brotherhood, and had gained the top job as the result of a questionable deal with centre-right, Kemalist, economics professor and the country’s first woman prime minister, Tansu Çiller.

It was a strange, surrealistic time, and Turkey was something of a pariah on the international stage. I have written elsewhere about what has happened in the intervening nineteen years – but critics of the present government should certainly familiarise themselves with the country’s recent history before racing to exercise their tongues or typing fingers. There is no doubt in my mind that, had the AK Party government of Mr Erdoğan not succeeded in pre-emptively subordinating Turkey’s armed forces to the rule of law, they would long since have been ousted and imprisoned, or worse.

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What happens when a tank runs over a car

Friday night’s attempted takeover by a section of the military failed for a number of reasons. First, as one commentator has observed, it was an old-school coup in the social media age. Television came late to Turkey, and for years, radio and TV broadcasting was a state-monopoly. In days gone by generals took over the TRT building and announced a fait accompli to people who had no other source of information. This time state TV channels were reading a prepared statement from the coup-leaders while viewers were watching a different story unfold on outlets run by the private sector. The government was using social media to call people out on to the streets and oppose the attempted takeover. There was no news blackout as in the past. Holidaying in Bodrum far from events in Istanbul and Ankara, with our TV sitting rarely used in a corner, the first we heard of the uprising was when Dilek’s daughter called from America to learn if we were ok.

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Not pepper spray this time – live ammunition!

Another reason for the failure is that Turkey, whatever you may hear to the contrary, is well on the road to becoming a mature democracy. There are still some who believe that ‘democracy’ needs to be imposed by military force when the ignorant masses prove incapable of making the ‘right’ choice, but they are an ever-shrinking minority. The AK Party government has given a voice to large sections of Turkey’s population who were formerly repressed, oppressed or suppressed. There is now a large middle class, and increasing numbers of people who feel a debt of loyalty and allegiance to the government for their improved standard of living. Hundreds of thousands of these people were prepared to brave the tanks and automatic rifles of soldiers on Friday night to oppose the coup. You may have seen horrific pictures of a soldier beheaded by a ‘lynch mob’. It is not altogether surprising that civilians who went out to face trained, well-armed troops with only iron bars and knives, seeing friends and neighbours shot by their fellow-countrymen, might seek vengeance when the tide turned in their favour. Civil wars are notorious for vicious cruelty. However, it is undoubtedly true that police and security forces, after accepting the surrender of rebel soldiers and forcing them to lay down their arms, worked hard to control the righteous anger of citizens, and prevent hotheads from laying hands on the discarded weapons. More heads could have rolled otherwise – and certainly would have if the coup had succeeded.

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Turkish policeman protects surrendering soldier from angry mob

Several theories have emerged about the background to the uprising. A small group of cynics, or anti-government loudmouths, are insisting or implying that the action was orchestrated and stage-managed by Mr Erdoğan and the government to cement their hold on power. There are several reasons why I do not accept this. First, the AK Party government has been gaining increased support anyway as a result of its ongoing struggle against terrorist activities. Second, I don’t believe that Mr Erdoğan and his people would be so cynical and power-crazy as to precipitate a possible bloodbath on their streets. Third, those coup-leaders have been humiliated, and vilified by their own people, and now face the wrath of the law. Some voices are calling for reinstatement of the death penalty. Is it likely that educated, intelligent, high-ranking officers would put their lives at risk to advance the ambition of politicians?

A more persuasive theory is that the government knew there were still elements within the military who opposed them to the extent that they were considering seditious action. It is difficult to deal with such a threat, however, before potential rebels have actually committed themselves to open rebellion. Therefore, the argument goes, officers loyal to the government encouraged their rebellious colleagues in the belief that a coup would have wide support, in order to flush them out. Again, however, it is obvious that even a small-scale coup attempt by true believers carries the likelihood of much bloodshed, and the possibility that it will be successful – too much of a risk, in my estimation.

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Some righteous anger of course. In this case, only a belt.

So why would they do it? Well, there is no doubt that some people in Turkey, and beyond its shores, hate Recep Tayyip Erdoğan with a passion beyond reason. These people are deaf to any argument suggesting that the AK Party government has actually made Turkey a better place to live for the majority of its citizens, and improved its credibility and standing on the world stage. Most of these people talk only to like-minded others, accept wholeheartedly the most absurd and patently false propaganda, and have persuaded themselves, in the absence of effective political opposition, that the only way forward is for the military to step in and restore . . . whatever it is they want restored, as it has so often in the past. One can only think that there was a coterie of high-ranking officers who believed the rhetoric and saw themselves as saviours of the secular republic, in the tradition of Atatürk himself.

Sadly for them, and the soldiers who followed their orders, there will now be a stiff price to pay. No government can accept armed rebellion by its own people, and such treason carries a mandatory death penalty in the USA. New Zealand abolished hanging for high treason in 1989 – but as far as I know my country has never had a military coup, unless you count the overthrow of indigenous Maori sovereignty by white settlers in the 19th century. Turkey, following EU demands, did away with capital punishment completely, so it is probable that lengthy jail sentences await those convicted of participation in Friday’s revolt. If they do, it will not be a ‘purge’ as one international headline asserted. It will be due process of law punishing citizens who knowingly and deliberately committed the most serious crime in any country’s statute books.

Interestingly, international news sites that were headlining reports of a military coup in Turkey have now relegated its failure to their back pages – replaced by news of Pokemon-induced chaos in New York City and events of similar global significance. Not in disappointment, I hope, though I suspect there are some out there who would be happy to see Turkey revert to military rule so they could go back to belittling the country as a primitive backwater whose citizens are incapable of governing themselves. What is it about English toffs with the surname ‘Blair’ I wonder? Someone of that name writing for the Daily Telegraph has penned an article entitled: You thought Erdoğan was bad before? The worst is yet to come’. Well, that probably sums it up, in fact. If you were one of those blinkered souls determined to condemn Turkey and its government despite all evidence to the contrary, of course you will continue to do so. The more open-minded will use the eyes and the brains that God gave them.

What’s Going on in Turkey? (Update)

Dilek and I are safe and sound in Bodrum a long way from the action in Ankara and Istanbul. In fact we first heard about it when her daughter contacted us from America to ask if we were ok.

It’s hard to know exactly what happened/is happening. It seems a faction in the military did try to stage a takeover of the government. They took over the state TV channels and got them to read a statement saying they were intervening because of the present government’s undemocratic, anti-secular activities, there was a state  of emergency and a curfew. I’ve had mails from NZ MFA saying the same thing and advising me to stay indoors 😉

We went to bed last night after watching proceedings on private TV channels and reading sketchy reports on foreign websites. Woke up this morning and it seems the coup failed, soldiers involved have mostly surrendered and are being taken into custody.

People have died, including some civilians, but not very many it seems. At this stage I would say it was a really stupid thing to do – I mean for a few officers to take matters into their own hands, though it has happened before in Turkey of course. If it was an attempted coup and it has failed it will surely cement Mr Erdogan’s position in Turkey – and also anger those who hate him and would have been happy to see him overthrown and put in prison again.

Who was actually behind this? That’s an interesting question. Mr Erdogan is making non-specific accusations, but Fethullah Gulen has denied any involvement. It brings to mind the failed coup against Hugo Chavez in Venezuela in 2002. To what extent are the US and the CIA involved in these kind of activities?

Anyway, we’ve got the TV on and are following events. Will post again when things become clearer.

Give Turkey a break!

Came across this piece on ‘The Hill’ today. It was so unusually, surprisingly sympathetic to Turkey, I just had to pass it on . . .

“Turkey has become somewhat of a practicing target for criticism as of late.  For some politicians and political writers in the U.S and Europe, criticizing Turkey has become a hobby, while for others it has become more of a passion. The critics have blamed Turkey for not doing enough to fight ISIS and stop jihadi fighters from moving between the Middle East and Europe; for straying away from the path of democracy; and for putting freedom of the press under siege. Does all this criticism have merit?  Or, are the American and Europeans looking for a scapegoat for their failed policies in the areas of immigration and combatting terrorism? The reality may be more of the latter than the former.”

Read the whole article