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.

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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

It’s a Needy World – Let’s try to get along

Turks have a saying that when you learn a second language, you become a new person – and I can confirm that living in Turkey and learning the language has given me an alternative way of viewing the world.

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Is that really a word?

I am constantly having to explain to my students at the university that many of the things they want to say in English are unfortunately untranslatable from their native language. Take for example, the phrases that roll comfortably off a Turk’s tongue to grease the wheels of everyday social intercourse: the phrases you utter when sitting down for a meal, or rising from the table; or when someone else is picking up the tab, or when someone else has done the cooking; the words you address to someone emerging from the shower, or the hairdresser’s salon; the sympathetic phrase directed to people who are working when you arrive on the scene, and a host of other everyday situations that require creative inspiration from a native English-speaker, or an a-social silence.

And that’s really just the tip of the iceberg. I am reminded of words I wrote in my first post when I began this blog six years ago:

Historical events, dates and personages are one aspect of the construct of the world that we all carry with us. But there is another, less overt, perhaps more powerful force shaping our judgments of other peoples and races: the proverbial wisdom, folk knowledge and cultural assumptions that we inhale with the air of the society in which we grow up and receive our education. So Genghis Khan and Attila the Hun have such a basic existence in the consciousness of Western minds that no knowledge of history is necessary to conjure up images of marauding barbaric hordes sweeping out of the Asian steppe, laying waste all in their path like an invasion of killer bees.

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Stereotyping Turks – It’s got a long history in the west

“When I learned that the principal of my school, a tall, distinguished-looking gentleman of scholarly bearing was called Genghis, it required in me a shift of mental gears. Hearing also that Attila was the name of that polite, hand-raising, homework-doing young lad in my year 9 class was a further surprise for which my Euro-centric upbringing had not prepared me.”

Whose interests does it really serve to keep these racial and ethnic stereotypes alive? The government of Turkey has taken a good deal of stick in the media at home and abroad recently because one of their pilots shot down a Russian military aircraft. Of course it’s not a nice thing to do to a neighbour, and some are calling it a gratuitous act of aggression – which is absolute nonsense, even if it were possible for any act to be truly gratuitous. I am as sure as I can be that the government of Turkey has no desire to start a war with Russia – or anyone else for that matter. I am equally certain they wouldn’t have taken out that Russian plane without getting the go-ahead from Uncle Sam.

Kemal Atatürk, founder of the Republic of Turkey, had this to say on the subject of war:

“[It] can only be just or justified if it is fought out of sheer necessity or for reasons of national defence, or pursued by a people awaiting their sovereignty, their very lives depending on it.” And the nation he founded has done a pretty good job of following that creed in the 92 years of its existence.

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Who’s really responsible for the mess we’re in?

The United States government makes use of a military base, Incirlik, in the south east of Turkey. George Dubya Bush was desperate to use it in his 2003 invasion of Iraq, and to have the active participation of Turkish troops. After his initial talk of a ‘crusade’, he quickly realized the whole nasty business would look a lot better if a Muslim country was involved in the ‘Coalition of the Willing’. Unfortunately for him, the Turks didn’t cooperate – and I’m prepared to bet there are a few others who now wish they hadn’t been so willing.

In fact, when the current AK Party government came to power in 2002, they pursued a foreign policy they were describing as ‘Zero Problems with Neighbours’ – for which they were roundly mocked and criticized in certain circles. Unfortunately Turkey has now been dragged into the chaos embroiling several countries on their south-eastern border, particularly Iraq and Syria. While attempting to do their NATO duty and assist their Western allies in the struggle against ISIS/Daesh, Turkey’s leaders are also obliged to look after their own country’s interests. In this case that means conducting operations against Kurdish separatists taking advantage of the chaos to further their own cause. Again, certain sections of the international media are slagging off Turkey for this.

Well, I’m not going to delve into the question of what American forces are actually doing in this part of the world; nor to inquire what right Vladimir Putin’s Russia has to be carrying out bombing raids in Syria right next to Turkey’s border; nor to speculate on why the supposedly radical Islamic ISIS/Daesh people have so far avoided acts of violence against Israel.

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Turkey is a democracy. Those guys were elected to govern the country. What business is it of yours?

What I do want to focus on here is my curiosity about why, given that very little of the chaos in the Middle East region is of their making, Turkey seems to have become the target of just about everyone’s criticism. Many of the critics claim they actually love Turkey and Turkish people – it’s just their president, Tayyip Erdoğan they don’t like. The talk is starting to centre on the need to get rid of him. ‘He’s got to go’, I keep reading.

I came across an article online the other day headlined Turkey needs Israel, says Erdogan’. It sounded as though the president may have been regretting his haste in condemning Israel for its aggression against Palestinians, and was crawling back on his knees. Read a little way into the article however, and you find what Erdoğan actually said was that the two countries need each other. Turkey, and before them, the Ottoman Empire have a long history of friendship towards the Jewish people. Turkey was one of the first countries to officially recognize the new state of Israel, an act which assuredly put them offside with their Middle Eastern Muslim neighbours. Whatever rabble-rousers are saying about Turkey, it remains the only genuinely democratic, secular state in the region, despite its 99 per cent Muslim demographic.

Turkey needs Israel and Israel needs Turkey. The USA needs Turkey – which is why US administrations are careful not to upset their only reliable Muslim ally. Europe needs Turkey also – and it goes without saying that Turkey wants to be recognised by the USA and the EU as a modern, secular, democratic, progressive nation.

Another news item I chanced upon the other day bore the headline Russians Find Favored Holiday Destinations Suddenly Off Limits’. I’m sure Russia must be a lovely country, and no doubt its people are proud to live there – but the climate must get them down sometimes. In recent years Russians have been flocking to holiday resorts on Turkey’s Mediterranean coast, and others on the Red Sea in Egypt, and who can blame them?

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Another side of Turkishness we shouldn’t lose sight of

Now, all that’s off limits. The ISIS/Daesh people brought down a Russian airliner full of holidaymakers returning from Egypt; and Turkey’s air force shot down a Russian bomber invading its airspace – so the poor Russians have to stay home, or find somewhere else to go for the summer. Well, for sure it’s a dangerous part of the world to be flying over these days, and I can see why you might think a flight to the Red Sea too much of a risk.

I have to say, though, there’s a big difference between a passenger plane carrying tourists and a military aircraft on a bombing mission, especially when it’s a long way from home. The simple facts are that life will be a lot more pleasant for many Russians if they can spend a few summer weeks in Antalya or Alanya on Turkey’s southern coast, and make shopping expeditions to the retail and wholesale commercial paradise of Istanbul. Turkey, for its part, paradise though it be, is energy-poor, unlike its neighbours to the east. 75 million Turks are happy to heat their homes with Russian natural gas, and the income is undoubtedly a welcome boost for the Russian economy.

What’s my point, you’re asking? Simply this: planet Earth is an increasingly shrinking ecosystem. There’s nowhere else to go. We all need each other if we’re going to survive into the 22nd century, and the sooner we figure out how to get along, the better it’s going to be for all of us.

Ahmet Kaya, Adele and Turkey’s Kurdish Difficulties

Ahmet Adele

A case of theft – or just a coincidence?

I don’t tweet myself, so I can’t speak from first-hand knowledge – but I’m told the twittersphere and other social media in Turkey were buzzing with outrage last week over the sacrilegious desecration of a song by the late Ahmet Kaya, an icon of Turkey’s left wing revolutionaries. It is alleged that a new release by pop diva Adele, ‘Million Years Ago’ is a direct steal from Kaya’s 1985 track, ‘Acılara Tutunmak’.

I’ve listened to both songs a few times, and for sure there are similarities. You can probably sing Kaya’s lyrics to Adele’s music. A careful listener might detect echoes of Kaya’s sadness and disillusionment in Adele’s feelings of loss for a past life. Kaya ‘lived several thousand years, holding on to his pain’; the English songstress misses the days ‘when life was a party to be thrown . . a million years ago’. However, the grounds are probably too flimsy to bring a case of copyright infringement. Could the young lady have heard Kaya’s 30 year-old ballad, sung only in Turkish? It’s a long shot. I heard someone suggest she had a Turk somewhere back in her family tree – but I could find no trace of one in the several biographical sites I checked.

ahmetdkNevertheless, I’m grateful that the controversy has shone a spotlight on the music of Ahmet Kaya, at this time of escalating violence between Kurdish separatists and Turkish security forces. It’s fifteen years since he passed away, at the far-too-young age of 43 – and this seems like a good opportunity to take a look at his life and art.

Kaya was born in the eastern Turkish city of Malatya to a Kurdish father and Turkish mother. I don’t know whether his father would have liked to give his son a Kurdish name – but anyway, in those days it was illegal. That’s probably also why the family’s surname is Turkish.

Despite his Kurdish roots, Kaya sang mostly in Turkish. He released his first album in 1985, and subsequent albums recorded until his death in 2000 sold well. According to his Wikipedia entry, During his career he recorded approximately 20 albums and was known for his protest music and positions on social justice. Recurring themes in his songs are love towards one’s mother, sacrifice, and hope.’

In 1999 Kaya was about to be named Musician of the Year at an awards ceremony televised on Turkey’s Show TV. Apparently he made a speech in which he spoke of his Kurdish background and announced that he was including a song in the Kurdish language on his next album. The Turkish Wikipedia page reports that some members of the audience began to swear at the artist and throw things at him, whereupon he was escorted from the auditorium by officials. The English version claims that subsequently, ‘massive opposition from Turkish people and celebrities’ was led by prominent Turkish singer, Serdar Ortaç, who later apologized for his behaviour. The Turkish site makes no mention of Ortaç’s involvement.

Kaya's grave in Paris

Ahmet Kaya’s grave in a Paris cemetery

Whatever the truth of the matter, the opposition culminated in a criminal prosecution, and Kaya escaped to France. Shortly afterwards he was sentenced, in absentia, to three years and nine months in prison for spreading separatist propaganda. It later emerged that some of the evidence central to his conviction had been forged. Sad to say, however, Kaya died of a heart attack in Paris, in self-imposed exile, and is buried in the cemetery of Pere Lachaise. Perhaps his family is deriving some small satisfaction from the fact that Turkish people are now leaping to his defence against foreign superstars pirating his music – if indeed that’s what they are doing.

It does seem, then, that Ahmet Kaya’s reputation has been resuscitated in his homeland in the fifteen years since his death. Going a step further, it also seems to me that this resurrection, or forgiveness, or whatever you like to call it, is indicative of a shift in the majority perception of the twenty per cent of Turkey’s population said to be ethnic Kurds. Under a provision in the constitution written by Turkey’s military government after the 1980 coup, the threshold for representation in parliament was set at ten per cent. Kurdish parties had been unable to pass this barrier, until this year, when, partly as a result of support from non-Kurdish liberal opponents of the AK Party government, the HDP Party finally broke through.

Unfortunately, the shine has gone off the reconciliation process somewhat, with renewed violence in the southeast near the Syrian border, and the refusal of the HDP leadership to condemn PKK aggression.

Pro-Kurdish lawmaker Leyla Zana takes her seat as she arrives at the Turkish Parliament in Ankara

Kurdish representative Leyla Zana taking her seat in the parliament of Turkey

Further underlining the fact that there is still some way to go, an unfortunate incident took place during the swearing-in ceremony for new representatives in Turkey’s parliament (meclis) in November. Kurdish rights activist Leyla Zana became the centre of attention when, in taking the oath of allegiance, she altered the wording slightly from ‘The Turkish Republic’ to ‘The Republic of Turkey’. It may seem like a small quibble, but in the Kurdish consciousness, the latter is acceptable while the former is seen as exclusive and oppressive. Given the sensitive state of Turkish-Kurdish relations at present, it might have been wise for those administering the oath to suffer a hearing lapse – but unfortunately the provisional speaker of the house was Deniz Baykal, former leader of the opposition CHP party, outspoken critics of the government’s attempts to find a solution to the Kurdish issue. Baykal insisted on the correct wording, Zana refused to budge, and what could have been seen as a minor semantic quibble turned into another basis for conflict.

In fact, Ms Zana is an intriguing character. She was one of five siblings, born in 1961 into a very traditional Kurdish family in the east of Turkey. Her father allowed her only a year-and-a-half of schooling, and married her off, at the age of 15, to a cousin twenty years her senior. The couple had two children together, and Mehdi Zana was elected Mayor of Diyarbakır, a majority Kurdish city, in 1976. In the political repression following the 1980 military coup, the mayor was sentenced to 30 years imprisonment, leaving his young wife to support herself and the two young children.

Apparently, with her husband’s encouragement, she learned Turkish, studied on her own to gain a high school diploma, and in 1991 became the first Kurdish woman to be elected to the Turkish parliament. During the swearing-in ceremony, she said a few words in Kurdish, causing a great public uproar. Subsequently she was stripped of parliamentary immunity, charged with treason and sentenced to fifteen years in prison. She was released in 2004 after the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the Turkish courts had violated her right to free expression.

In 2008 and 2009 Leyla Zana received three further prison sentences for allegedly supporting terrorist activities, though all three convictions were overturned on appeal in higher courts. She was re-elected to parliament in 2011, and is clearly a lady with the courage of her convictions. Exactly how the government of Turkey deals with her will give some indication of how the future of Turkish-Kurdish relations will go in the foreseeable future.

Unfortunately, the violence in Turkey’s southeast region is leading to a hardening of attitudes on both sides. At the same time, it is a well-documented characteristic of human nature that unjust oppression tends to increase the numbers of activists prepared to die in the cause – and there’s nothing like martyrdom to bring new recruits lining up to join. The United States government still hasn’t figured this out. I sincerely hope the government of Turkey is smarter.

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

Black Propaganda Against Turkey

I have some sympathy for Vladimir Putin. He inherited a Russia on the bones of its bum. They’d lost the Cold War, were suffering from runaway inflation, and the USA was crowing about being the last remaining superpower. Putin, with his manly pecs and his uncompromising attitude to the West was the iron tonic his people needed to give them back a modicum of self-respect. I could totally see his point in Ukraine. Not that I support the Russian position, but access to the warm waters of the Black Sea and the Aegean has been the driving force of Russian foreign policy for 300 years, and there’s no way they are going to let the gnomes of Brussels create a Euro-zone barrier in that region.

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Reputation built on machismo

I couldn’t suppress a chuckle when the Russian president thumbed his nose at the Obama administration by giving sanctuary to Wikileaks hero Edward Snowden. I can understand his chagrin at the shooting down of a Russian military aircraft on active service by a Turkish F16. Turkey? The last time they beat us was 1710, and the last time we fought a war with them in 1878, we were outside the gates of Istanbul when the British intervened to save them. Putin’s charisma is heavily based on machismo – which has been somewhat tarnished by having that plane shot down, and Putin isn’t happy.

I have been blizzarded recently with links to blogs purporting to prove conclusively that Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdoğan and his family are making ‘gadzillions’ of dollars out of an illicit oil trade with ISIS/Daesh, thereby funding that organization and allowing it to continue its dastardly fight against the free world. Well, I don’t have the time or inclination to read all those chatterers. If I had a dollar for every lie disseminated about Turkey’s AK Party since they became the government in 2003 I might not be as rich as Carlos Slim, or even Mr Erdoğan, but I’d have a good wallet-full for a night on the town.

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Enlightened twitterers bringing tolerance and democracy to a troubled world

One article I did read recently purported to ‘trace how some more authoritarian countries and groups have used the freedom of social media to control their populations’. The four ‘baddies’ were China, Russia, ISIS, and, top of the list, Turkey. The bright spot, according to Time correspondent Ian Bremner, is India, whose ‘Modi government loves social media—and the Indian public loves them for it.’ Proof of this, allegedly, is that India has 143 million social media users. Well, I’m sorry to tell Mr Bremner that that represents a mere one in every nine Indians, compared to the impoverished 23% of the population who subsist on less than $1.25 a day.

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There are far worse, but I couldn’t bring myself to show you

So I question the wisdom that suggests the number of Facebook and Twitter users accurately reflect the level of democracy in a country. Social media and ‘flash mobs’ were credited with bringing democracy to despot-ruled countries in the Middle East and North Africa during the so-called Arab Spring. Five years on, what’s changed? Egypt’s brief flirtation with democracy was quickly stamped out by the military. Libya since the demise of Muammar Gaddafi has descended into chaos, if I can believe the Libyan students I have in my university classes.

I see very little on Facebook indicating that middle-aged White Turk matrons have much awareness of realities in their own country, let alone the world outside. In spite of that, they are delighted to repeat accusations that the Turkish government is financially and militarily supporting ISIS/Daesh – led by its president Tayyip Erdoğan and his sons and daughters raking in their ‘gadzillions’ from immoral black market activities.

The blogosphere is buzzing with accusations that Turkey is funding ISIS/Daesh by buying oil from . . . whoever is selling it. One item I was advised to read spoke of ‘ISIS oil: the alleged Erdoğan family and UK business connections’. A key sentence said To help understand the report below, first click here to see maps of the oil routes from ISIS to outside world.’ Well, I clicked on the link, but surprisingly (or not surprisingly) none of the maps showed any oil routes passing through any part of Turkey. So if that was a key basis for the Turkey connection, it seems to be based on a falsehood. The two ‘experts’ cited as sources, Dr Nafeez Ahmed and William Engdahl, journalists both, have, it seems, aroused some controversy in the past over the accuracy and credibility of their ‘research’ and claims.

ISIS oil

Journeys of a barrel of Daesh oil – did NOT pass through Turkey

Another of those blogs I checked out informed me, ‘This how ISIS smuggles oil into Turkey’. Barrels of black gold are apparently pumped into underground pipes running under the Turkey-Syrian border, which are then emptied by Turks on the other side. Realistically, I can’t see vast quantities of oil being moved by that method.

Undoubtedly there is smuggling across Turkey’s eastern frontier. There is a 1,700 km border adjoining Iraq, Iran and Syria, much of it passing through extremely inhospitable and mountainous country where the rule of law has a tenuous hold at best. Critics insist on calling it a ‘porous’ border, with the implication that the Turkish government is somehow at fault. A major incentive for smuggling into Turkey is the high tax imposed on cigarettes, alcohol and petrol*. The Turkish government has long believed that income from this illicit trade goes towards funding its own local terrorist organization, the Kurdish separatist PKK. As recently as 2011, Turkey’s military attracted some unwelcome publicity after their air force strafed a donkey-mounted convoy of ‘cigarette smugglers’ near Uludere in South East Turkey, killing 35 villagers. It’s all very well to talk about ‘porous’ borders, but when you try to discourage the leaks, you get slagged off for that too. Let’s ask the US government how easy it is to control their 3,000 km border with Mexico.

Sinking boat

Greek coastguards allegedly sinking refugee boat

Who can know if fighters are crossing from Turkey to help on the other side? And if so, who are they helping? Kurds, ISIS, or the Anti-Assad opposition? And how many have crossed? Who’s counting? What we do know is that more than two million refugees have fled to Turkey from the chaos and violence in Syria, seriously challenging Turkey’s resources of money and goodwill – and Western countries have been studiously ignoring pleas for help for more than four years. Now they seem to be blaming Turkey for its ‘porous’ 8,300 km sea coast, which should somehow be closed to stop asylum-seekers reaching Europe.

A Reuters article written by a lady with a distinctly Russian name (Maria Tsvetkova) trumpets: ‘Russia says it has proof Turkey involved in Islamic State oil trade.’ 350 words of the 400-word article are devoted to what various Russian spokespersons have to say, and, right at the end, if you get that far, you can read:

“‘The United States said it rejected the premise that the Turkish government was in league with the militants to smuggle oil. “We frankly see no evidence, none, to support such an accusation,” State Department spokesman Mark Toner said.”

A Time article published yesterday also says Turkey is not buying ISIS/Daesh oil:

‘Analysts speaking to TIME say it’s very unlikely Ankara has anything to do with ISIS oil — and Putin’s allegation about the incident carries no weight. “To go as far to say that Turkey would shoot down a plane to protect its oil supply is unfounded,” says Valerie Marcel, an associate fellow in energy, environment and resources at London-based think tank Chatham House.

Fawaz Gerges, Professor of International Relations in the London School of Economics and Political Science, agrees that the claims amount to a conspiracy theory. “I think it would be very misleading to say there is an unholy alliance with Turkey and the Islamic State,” he says.’

President Erdoğan says that, in fact, it is Russians who are involved in assisting the ISIS/Daesh oil trade, and names two Russian passport holders who have been targeted with sanctions by the US Treasury. Despite all the anti-Turkey hysteria circulating on the Internet, leaders of the Western allies seem to have a more positive attitude. Well, one might dispute whether that is actually a good thing, but as far as Turkey is concerned, it’s a welcome change. US administrations have long wanted their Muslim NATO ally to join with them in their Middle East activities, and they are delighted that Turkey is not only participating with military support, but is allowing them to launch raids from Turkey’s Incirlik base. It even seems that the EU is softening its position on membership for Turkey. That may also be a mixed blessing these days, especially since Montenegro has apparently received a firm invitation – but it does represent a change of heart after more than 50 years of European cold-shouldering.

Erdoğan Peres

Turkey’s Erdoğan upsets Israel’s Peres, Davos, 2009

Nevertheless, the black propaganda against Turkey continues to pour out from the digital sewers of the World Wide Web. One of the more outlandish accusations I came across this week was a suggestion that Turkey could be about to invade Bulgaria. No evidence offered, of course. Pure unfounded speculation – but that’s what’s out there, so be careful what you believe, or reblog.

Russia, I suppose, is merely the most recent entrant into the game of demonizing Turkey. Ever since President Erdoğan called out President Shimon Peres for his country’s inhuman aggression against Palestinians at the 2009 Davos Conference, the Zionist propaganda machine has been churning out lies and misinformation aimed at discrediting Turkey’s government.

The Huffington Post published a piece the other day by a Dr Joseph Olmert, a barely coherent rave attacking the ‘failed policy’ of zero problems with neighbours and the ‘neo-Ottomanism’ foreign policy; Turkey’s complicity with ISIS actions; the ‘intolerable’ support to the terrorist Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt; dredging up Turkey’s relations with Cyprus, alleged invasions of Greece’s ‘airspace’, and ‘provocative’ attempts to bring aid to Israel-blockaded Gaza.

Well, there are two sides to every story, and there can’t be much doubt about which side Dr Olmert is on – ‘A native of Israel, he was formerly a professor of Middle Eastern Studies at Tel Aviv, Hebrew, and Bar-Ilan Universities in his home country [and] served in senior positions in the Israeli government, such as the Director of Communications under Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir and Policy Advisor to Defense Minister Moshe Arens.’ 

sephardic-migration

Sephardic Jews expelled from Spain found refuge in the Ottoman Empire

Isn’t it interesting how a crisis can bring together strange bedfellows? Armchair liberals who were only recently condemning Putin’s Russia for its aggression in the Ukraine are now seemingly eager to believe the Russian president’s outrageous accusations against the government of Turkey. Jewish people, whose ancestors were persecuted for a hundred years in Russian pogroms, are now apparently ready to side with Vladimir Putin against a people with a proud 500-year history of welcoming them and defending them against European oppression.

Back in June 2012, A Turkish F4 reconnaissance aircraft was shot down near the Turkish Syrian border. The Syrian military alleged that the Turkish plane had violated Syrian airspace, but there is no record of a warning being given. There were suggestions at the time that the F4 had been shot down by a laser-guided or heat-seeking missile from a Russian warship. The Turkish government swallowed their pride and took no retributive action. In July 2014 a Malaysia Airlines passenger plane was shot down over Ukraine by a Russian-made missile.

In the case of the Russian Su24, it was a military aircraft engaged on a bombing mission. The US State Department has confirmed Turkey’s claim that they gave multiple warnings to the pilot, but received no response. The area is a war zone; there are Turkish towns close to the border that have been hit by shells and missiles from the conflict. In this case, Turkey’s military was exercising its right to protect its own airspace, and President Putin has no grounds for anger.

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  • The people of Denmark get around a similar problem by shopping across the border in Germany. Turks have no such luxury.