Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Apres moi, le deluge

The crackdown is bad, but the coup would have been worse.

Let me start by trotting out a few numbers - and this is from a week ago, so I'm guessing these figures have increased:
source: Twitter
Upwards of 9,000 people have been taken into custody, while 50,000 have lost their jobs or are being investigated.  The Turkish Bar Association have said that legal processes are being ignored in relation to the detainees, while Amnesty International today reported that prisoners are being 'hogtied, starved, abused and raped' and urged the Turkish government to respect due process.

President Erdogan has also declared a 'State of Emergency' (OHAL) for the next three months. All in all, it appears to be a terrible crisis - yet last night, the main opposition party, the CHP, held a pro-democracy rally, to which came thousands of people from across the political spectrum.

From an external perspective, it seems somewhat bizarre - after all, Erdogan and the AKP have done a good job of dividing the nation, yet now, here was everyone, coming out united against the coup.

They had good reason to: A successful coup would have been a much worse outcome. Now, I'm still suspicious of who was actually behind the attempted takeover, but I'm also no fan of military interventions in politics, be they domestic or foreign. The figures above are bad - particularly in education - but, to glean a little bit of light from a black cloud, at least these people are alive. The number of dead (currently just past 260) would have been far, far greater within days.

All in all, Turkey is in a strange place right now - well, stranger than what usually constitutes 'normal' over there, and I haven't a clue what will happen nexr. One thing I should point out, however, is that Erdogan himself is not the Prime Mover of all these events - rather, he is the symptom of a political mechanism that has rarely been either effective or representative.

The AKP are the outcome of years of abuse by politicians who plundered the economy for their own gain, promised big and did vanishingly little. Erdogan and the AKP appealed to the often-ignored electorate of Anatolia, and rode into power through energising them and claiming to more closely represent the people than the distant, overbearing Ankara politicians.

That's right, Erdogan was the outsider candidate, slugging it out with the Big Boys who didn't want to play fair - remind you of anyone?

In fact, the president makes a big deal of being the Little Boy From Anatolia Who Done Good - it's a narrative that is as appealing as it is untrue, yet it also explains his remarkably thin skin when it comes to even a hint of criticism. It also explains his ever-increasing authoritarian ways: It's a case of the bullied becoming the bully, of the abused becoming the abuser.

The AK bit of AKP stands for 'Justice and Development'. It's also a play on words, as 'ak' also means white, with all the connotations of purity, innocence and honesty that implies. That is what people voted for: justice and development, and for a few years, it seemed that would indeed be the case. Now, however, the party is being devoured by the president's desire for absolute control, by using and subverting democratic conventions towards this end. It's both fascinating and appalling to watch - yet, terrible as it is, it's still not as terrible as the same aim being achieved by war. One is a python squeezing its prey to death, the other is a tiger ripping its victim apart.

It is a dark time, yes, yet there are glimmers of light, here and there, that suggest the game is far from over.

Saturday, 16 July 2016

If it looks like a Thing, it must be the Thing...right?

Last night's attempted coup was swiftly dismissed - but was it all a piece of political theatre?

Military coups are never nice things - you just know hat someone is going to come out of one horribly, whichever way the dice roll.

For President Erdogan, the dice seem to have landed remarkably fortuitously.

Turks are wearily familiar with military takeovers - they've endured four previous coups since the end of the Second World War, the latest being in 1997. The takeover of 1980, which was particularly brutal, lingers long in the collective memory.

This attempt, however, was - well, different.

It looked a bit too much like a coup, for starters. Yet it didn't actually do what coups do. The plotters took over one news agency, and one TV station. They posted tanks outside two airports and across two bridges. They positioned tanks around a relatively small number of public buildings, including the TCBM (Parliament) building. They issued a statement from a group calling themselves 'The Council for Peace at Home'. They had command of a handful of helicopters and, it appears, at least one jet.

In short, they did everything to ensure it looked all coup-shaped.

However, no one told the conscript soldiers that. No one told the police that. No one told the Jandarma (civil militia) that. So what happened? People started dying and getting wounded - as I write, some 90 dead and over a thousand injured.

If this was a coup, why only action in Istanbul and Ankara? Why so few soldiers? And how did they get their hands on just enough equipment to give the impression that it was something bigger? Why were they so inadequate in supressing information and in disseminating their own message? I didn't see a single 'official' coup Twitter handle or any other sign of even basic social media skills.

If this was a coup, why were ministers on the air almost from the beginning? Why had there be no attempt to seize them or the President, who was on holiday, and was able to get on a suspiciously convenient jet? How was he able to land at Istanbul's Ataturk Airport for a suspiciously well-timed press conference?

If this was a coup, why was it that the streets ended up being flooded with AKP supporters so quickly? How did they get their hands on both AKP and Turkish flags of such regular size and shape so quickly?

I am no great fan of conspiracy theories: I believe far more in the infinite human capability to bugger things up without the need for an elaborate plan to do so. in this case, however, it seems the likeliest possibility.

The whole of Turkey has, as the saying has it, been sold a pup.

Everyone has been gamed: The coup leaders who thought they were planning a real coup, their conscripts who were ordered to do their duty, the police and the Jandarma who thought they were doing theirs, and the populace took to their role without even knowing it, and went onto the streets.

And Erdogan now gets this:
No more questions about his fake university diploma.
No more questions about his backhanded dealings, his corruption, his graft.
No more questions about selling weapons to ISIS.
No more questions about his megalomania.
No more questions about changing the constitution in order to change the style of government.
At a stroke, he comes across as both the man of steel and the saviour of Turkish democracy, and he closes in on his long-term goal: Absolute rule.

The great theatrical practitioner of Turkish politics has probably pulled off his greatest show, and his adoring public are happily lapping it up.

Forget the dead, forget the injured, forget the poor conscript on the Bosphorus bridge who allegedly had his head hacked off by a baying crowd of Islamists, forget the arrested, forget the tortures and arbitrary executions to come - they're just the grease that slicks the way to the president's throne.

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

We Are Not Well.

'It's Either Me or Chaos'. Those were President Erdogan's words about a year ago as he sought to expand his mandate.

So far, it would appear that chaos is winning:
source: AFP

These are the number of deadly mass attacks within the last year alone. The latest, last night's triple bombing at Istanbul's Ataturk Airport, may prove to be the one with the most impact.

A friend of mine, a former student, had passed through there only a matter of hours previously. Another friend of mine was due to fly out there today. ATK is Europe's third busiest airport, and a hugely important transit hub. I've been through it myself God knows how many times, from right back when it was a rather shabby building that had seen better days through to the shining titan of a building that replaced it not that long ago.

I'm not entirely surprised it was attacked - it's easily approachable, and the attackers chose to come by taxi. Fortunately, they were stopped before they could penetrate the terminal properly, thanks to a combination of the large airport x-ray machines at the entrance to the departures floor and the presence of armed police.

Tourism to Turkey is already down due to the Syrian civil war and President Erdogan's very public spat with Russia's President Putin (although they now seem to have kissed and made up), but this latest atrocity could conceivably have a massive effect.

'Don't ask us how we are: we are not well'. I've lost count of the number of times I've seen this line from Turkish writers on social media. It isn't just the bombings or the level of violence in the country: It's the gradual wearing down of people by a clumsy, heavy-handed government. I saw my ex-student just before she left for the airport on Friday. 'I'm not surprised by anything there anymore', she said. 'Just when I thought I'd seen or heard the worst, someone from the government says or does something even more astonishing.'
She held her 11-month-old daughter. 'I'm glad I've got citizenship here. It means my daughter has too, and that means she's got more opportunities, more chances. I've been thinking to myself, my god, what kind of world is she going to grow up in?'
I thought about that morning's news about the Brexit vote, but said nothing.
'You can't believe what we're living through - we can't believe it.'
I can though. In conversation after conversation with Turkish friends and colleagues, the same refrains - We aren't well. We thought we'd seen everything, but...

It's not enough for an administration to rule. It also has to rule according to some kind of rules, too, one of which must be accountability. Unfortunately, political life under President Erdogan seems to have no sense of responsibility. instead, it shouts about external forces and does not really reflect or analyse about what it might be doing wrong. Not a single minister, leader, security chief or manager has resigned in the wake of  any of the bombings shown above.

Above all, Erdogan is obsessed with showing himself to be the strong unassailable leader, hence his veiled threat to the populace I quoted earlier. Yet by choosing himself and his own narrow interests, he has bequeathed to his nation nothing but the threat of ever greater chaos.

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

We Take Refuge From Bombs In Poems

'We take refuge from bombs in poems.'
                                                          -Gokcenur Celebioglu
As it's World Poetry Day, I thought it moot to turn away from the litanies of violence convulsing Turkey and look at something else instead - its poetry.

Poems pervade the very air in Turkey. You can't get very far without encountering some expression in verse, whether it's written on a wall or a sudden uttered phrase. It's a living, breathing thing, unencumbered by the baggage tag of 'Literature' that so often weighs down the reputation of verse in the UK. All too often, over here, people are vaguely embarrassed when they talk of poetry - it's all seen as something a bit affected. Over there, it is embraced, seen as life-affirming and life-enhancing. And also a way for feelings to be vented against the political classes - it is no coincidence that the number of graffiti poems increased substantially after the Gezi Park debacle.
The #SiirSokakta ('Poems on the Street')  are literally everywhere:

Often an outpouring of love, of frustration, of anger, of joy, these verses are very much of the people, by the people. 

Yet Turkish poetry is woefully unknown in the English speaking world. Why is this? After all, it is a huge rich seam, running through the centuries, intermingled with the cultures around it. Turkish, Arabic, Farsi. Pashto, Urdu - they all commune with and inform each other, much as the poetic tradition in the west did, between French, Italian, Spanish, German and English, to name a few. But it is as if there is a block, a wall, between these groups, in particular when it comes to English poetry. There's little or no sense of communion, of borrowing ideas and forms between neighbours. 

Largely, it's because Turkish poetry just doesn't get translated into English in the first place. The partial reason for this, I think, is the lack of connection, either through proximity, as in European works, or through relationship, as in poetry written in countries that were formerly parts of the British Empire. It's a very great shame, and our loss - poetry is the very rhythm of other lives, and to not know it is to not know the secret heart of other cultures. Right now, we could do with more translating, more understanding.

I've known my good friend Neil Docherty since we used to wander the bars of Istanbul over twenty years ago. He still lives in the city, teaching at Bilgi University and making translations from an array of Turkish poets, from Asik Veysel and Nazim Hikmet. to Orhan Veli and Oktay Rifat, right up to contemporary writers. Once written, he puts them up on his Facebook page, The Open Boat, with beautifully evocative images. What I would hope to see is all his hard work put into an anthology one day, so that more people can appreciate this largely overlooked (in English-speaking countries, at least) literary tradition.

I'll leave you with three poems, translated by Neil.

Ece Ayhan

for Erol Gülercan
What’s playing on his master's voice gramophone
is it seems the delicate melancholy of her loneliness
my sister boarded a phaeton of suicidal black
as it passed through the streets of pera’s deathly love
rapturously perhaps she who had garden fulls of flowers
stops in front of a flowerless florist’s
with a montenegrin revolver enshrouded in tulle
in the window algerian violets and photographs of oleanders
I who have not tried suicide these past three nights do not know
if the ascension to heaven of a suicidal black phaeton and its horses
was down to my sister chosing to buy the Algerian violets.
Erol Gülercan'a
O sahibinin sesi gramofonlarda çalınan şey
incecik melankolisiymiş yalnızlığının
intihar karası bir faytona binmiş geçerken ablam
caddelerinden ölümler aşkı pera'nın
Esrikmiş herhal bahçe bahçe çiçekleri olan ablam
çiçeksiz bir çiçekçi dükkanının önünde durmuş
tüllere sarılmış mor bir karadağ tabancasıyla
zakkum fotoğrafları varmış cezayir menekşeleri camekânda
Ben ki son üç gecedir intihar etmedim hiç, bilemem
intihar karası bir faytonun ağışı göğe atlarıyla birlikte
cezayir menekşelerini seçip satın alışından olabilir mi ablamın.

Ahmet Ada

I have been listening to music twenty four hours of the day. The
teapot bubbling away in the kitchen. The moon falls like strings
into my night. A poem waits to be written on the table.
A poem in tatters waiting to be gathered up.
Day breaks over the fisherman’s cafe. The sun
casts its fishing line into the sea.
Gün yirmi dört saat müzik dinliyorum. Çaydanlık
mutfakta fokurduyor. Ay düşüyor incesaz
geceme. Şiir, yazılmayı bekliyor masada.
Şiir paramparça toplanmayı bekliyor.
Gün ağarıyor balıkçı kahvesinden. Güneş
oltasını uzatıyor denize.

Ülkü Tamer

Its name was Death
When I first saw it its name was death
And afterwards it did not change a bit;
From the fortress of a city they displayed it
I saw it and the forest far away,
No matter what I did its name would not change.
They gave me a sword for some wars
And behind it they built me a house;
They gave me a spade for some wars
And behind it I built them a house;
In the evenings I toiled over the flowers a bit,
Some of my neighbours grew old and became flowers,
In the evenings with the others I would have dinner,
As we gathered together death grew, its name was death
As the city grew it became restless and headed out into the markets.
Its name was death because when we created it
The bird on its lips bled every evening
Its name was death when I moved to it every night
From the gallows tree I had grown used to
Laughing at the the dark emptiness of the throat
It was death, that would wander the streets of the city
That brought the clock tower right into my sleep.
Death was so much death and so diligent too
That no one could save me save death itself.
Ölümdü Adı
Ölümdü adı onu ilk gördüğümde
Sonraları da hiç değişmedi;
Kalesinden gösterdiler bir şehrin onu,
Onu gördüm ve ormanı gördüm uzakta,
Ne yapsam değişmiyecekti adı.
Bir kılıç verdiler bazı savaşlar için,
Arkasından bir ev kurdular bana;
Bir kazma verdiler bazı savaşlar için,
Arkasından bir ev kurdum onlara;
Akşamları çiçeklerle uğraştım biraz,
Yaşlanır, çiçek olurdu bazı komşularım,
Akşamları yemek yerdim bazılarıyla;
Biz toplandıkça büyürdü ölüm, adı ölümdü,
Şehir büyüdükçe azar, çıkardı çarşılara.
Adı ölümdü çünkü onu yarattığımız zaman,
Her akşam kanardı dudaklarındaki kuş
Ölümdü adı, ona her gece taşındığımda
Alışkın olduğum bir darağacından,
Gülerken boğazının karanlık boşluğuna
Ölümdü, sokaklarında dolaşırdı şehrin,
Saat kulesini getirmişti uykularıma.
O kadar ölümdü ki, o kadar da çalışkan,
Kimseler kurtaramazdı beni ölümden başka.

Monday, 14 March 2016

A word.

I simply do not know how to talk of this. 

How is it possible that yet another bomb has gone off in Ankara? How is it possible that the ruling party cares more for its image than it does for the lives of those lost and affected? How is it possible that some consider it more important to issue a blanket ban on coverage of the event than to actually do anything concrete and viable?
Kizilay in Ankara

source: Getty Images via the BBC

I said in my previous post on the last bombing that people who have no connection with Turkey probably find it hard to empathise, simply because of the objective and subjective distance from the event. We shouldn't blame or curse for that - it's what people do, otherwise they wouldn't be able to get up in the mornings for the sheer terror, pain and misery that happens around the world all the time. So, in order to contextualise, let's try a bit of what-if to create an analogy.

What if the British Government had refused to recognise Welsh as a language at all, and regarded the Welsh as a kind of inferior English?

What if, in the mid-twentieth century, the British government had cracked down a bit harder on Welsh nationalists and banned Welsh outright?

What if they had locked up, without trial or representation, anyone using Welsh?

What if they had pursued a policy of razing Welsh villages to the ground, and enforced a school curriculum that severely punished any child using Welsh?

What if the Meibion Glyndwr (The Sons of Glendower, a militant Welsh Group) had begun carrying out more than just firebombing attacks?

What if Plaid Cymru were represented as being the political wing of the MG, and demonised as such?

What if the MG, in 1966, had been successful in carrying out a terror attack at Prince Charles' investiture in Caernarfon?

What if the British government had moved an occupying force into Wales, and so didn't deploy to the extent it did in Northern Ireland?

What if a cash-strapped IRA had sold all its weaponry to the MG in 1968?

What if the MG went on to sustain a decades-long conflict with the British Government in which more than 30,000 died?

Let's put these what-ifs away just for a moment. I'm presenting a version of history that came within a gnat's whisker of what actually happened here in the UK - The IRA really were on the verge of selling their arms cache to the MG when the Troubles began.

The point of this is to try and create an analogy of the situation in Turkey vis a vis the Kurds: They want language and education rights and autonomy, just as people in Wales do. The difference is that the Turkish state has never been that keen on accommodating this. During the 90s, it seemed that the conflict would never end - yet the news and the way the situation was represented was muted, repressed and entirely biased.

Rather like, in fact, the way the British media at the same time robustly denied that there was anything remotely like peace talks with the IRA going on.

Turkey has its reasons as to why it will never want to cede sovereign territory, albeit ones that you may think aren't that good. It essentially comes down to the Anglo-French Sykes-Picot Agreement, which effectively carved up the corpse of the Ottoman Empire at the end of the first world war. Turkey was effectively a vassal state, until Mustafa Kemal rallied his forces and pushed out the occupying countries during the War of Liberation in 22/23. Part of the new constitution mentions that the Turkish State is a single, united and inviolable entity.

Quite simply, the Turkish state regards itself as a monolithic, unchanging thing, rather than the pluralistic, cosmopolitan, multilingual vast entrepot that it really is.

Going back to my what-if analogy now: Imagine that you are in the town centre, near the bus terminal or the train station - it's a sunny afternoon, people are going to and fro, some kids have left school and are hanging around. There are queues of people waiting for buses, and they're doing what people do - chatting, looking at Facebook, texting family, friends. A few people are having something to eat and drink, sat at tables outside a cafe. There is music wafting across the street and the aromas from various restaurants and shops. A bus slowly drives past.

And suddenly the image flares, first bright white, then red, then black. The noise is so tremendous that it is silent, a heavy hard huge fist pushing at your chest, slapping you to the ground. Moments later, there is only blackness and silence and a hole where the bus used to be. There are holes everywhere, absences in space and time where there should be people. Lives brushed away, ended brutally, or lives twisted and changed.

And imagine this in your town, your life.

Later it turns out that it was yet another attack by the MG. The Queen, who has worn black since the murder of her son in 1966, expresses her sorrow and horror. The Prime Minster vows to 'bring terrorism to its knees'.

Of course, this is an analogy, but it's the very closest I can create to describe the scenario in Turkey to a UK audience.

Now let's zoom back to the real - and what I describe above is what happened in Ankara yesterday - Ankara, a very real, very lively city that is no different from where you or I live, with the same kind of people walking the same kind of streets.

And it all goes back to a want of conversation, an unwillingness to talk. And yet all wars, in the end, must needs be rounded with dialogue.

We do not need to live in a world of what-ifs, of missed opportunities: We can make a brighter, better, happier place - but we should start with talk, and continue with talk, and end with talk.

Thursday, 3 March 2016

Neither Respect Nor Obey

Turkey's president is married to power, but his relationship to the rule of law is on the rocks.

I would prefer to write nice things about Turkey. Stuff about the unbelievably delicious food. Articles on the amazing places. Long delighted paeans to its history and its cultures. Instead, I have to write once again about Mr Erdogan.

The title of this piece refers to his latest little tantrum. The president has never liked journalists much. OK, so that's probably true of most politicians. However, he really doesn't like them. Really. Turkey has an unenviable record for arresting and imprisoning journos, and incidents of firebombing media outlets and murder are not exactly rare. It seems that Mr Erdogan has an animus towards anyone who even mildly criticizes him, his family, his party or his business interests. As for actually revealing the truth, heaven forbid.

That's what two journalists, Can Dundar and Erdem Gul, did. They exposed the fact that the Turkish Secret Service, MIT, has been smuggling weapons to Syrian rebel groups (primarily, it is suspected, ISIS) via trucks. People in power, it has to be said, were not best pleased. The duo were imprisoned on a charge of espionage, and face a life sentence.

However, in a rare example of judicial independence, they were released from pre-trial custody by the High Court, who ruled that their rights had been violated. This prompted Mr Erdogan's screaming hissy fit, when he said 'I don't obey or respect the decision'.

When the president of a country holds its own laws in contempt, what hope is there? Erdogan, for such a high-profile figure, has a remarkably thin skin - since August 2014, some 1845 court cases have been opened against individuals for insulting the president. Those accused have included journalists, doctors, lawyers, academics - and 13-year-old schoolboys. In one case, a man presented as evidence a video of his wife, in which she repeatedly insults the president despite his increasingly heated injunctions to desist.

Somewhat unsurprisingly, she is now apparently seeking a divorce.

Like that soon to be ex-wife, it seems that Mr Erdogan wants to get rid of his relationship to law and justice - or at least that which applies to him.

Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Hand in hand

In Turkey, the way to do business is to create an almost familial relationship - but too often, government and big business are too close for comfort.

When I first arrived in Turkey, I found it fascinating, sometimes exhilarating, often confusing, occasionally infuriating amd, where relationships between people were concerned, somewhat....weird.

Take touching, for instance. We Brits are not famed for physical contact: If someone brushes pasr us accidentally, we become a flurry of 'excuse mes' and 'sorrys'. It;'s weird that we say 'sorry' to the person who has intruded on our personal space. As for having accidental leg contact as you sit down on a bus or train, that's basically Social Armageddon.

Turkey, by contrast, is much more touchy-feely - but outside the immediate family, only so between people of the same gender. Men walk down the street with their arms round each others shoulders, or walk arm-in-arm. They kiss each other on the cheeks (OK, an air kiss, but it still kissing between men). A colleague, one evening, went to link his arm in mine, and I more or less jumped across the road.

Obviously, I got used to it as time went on: We all learn to understand (if not necessarily appreciate) the ways and means of other cultures as we live within them.
I found it difficult to understand, however, when it came to work and business. The Turkish way of getting things done is far more circumlocutory that what we consider to be good practice here in the UK. It's all about building close relationships, creating familiar bonds. It sometimes feels, to outside eyes, that the relationship is actualy far more important than the work itself. And there's a very distinct atmosphere of 'You scratxh my back, I'll scratch yours' about it. Nowhere is this seen more than the way in which the government awards contracts to its favourites.

OK, business and government cosying up to each other is nothing new - it's just that we do have strict laws in place regarding competition and the awarding of contracts. This doesn't really happen in Turkey, and it has become far worse since the AKP took control.

Let me take you somewhere pretty by way of illustration. This is Artvin, in the North East of Turkey:

Pretty, isn't it? It's famed for its beauty, its green pastures, its mountains and its people - some call it the home of poetry.
And this is where a company called Cengiz Holdings is trying to whack open a bloody huge copper mine and chop down (allegedly) over 50,000 trees. For the past fortnight, there have been violent clashes between protestors and police and gendarmerie (Jandarma) units. The police have been acting with impunity and have been taking orders directly, according to reports, from the mine owners. As of a few hours ago, the Prime Minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, has ordered a halt to mining operations prior to a judicial decision, expected within  the next few days.
Right, so you're probably wondering 'so what?' right now.  It's probably best to look at this company and its owner, Mehmet Cengiz, a little more closely.
Anyone who cast an eye over the company account books couldn't help but approve - the balance is looking very favourable, thank you very much. A little too favourable, however. And it seems to have a remarkable ability to win very large capital infrastructure projects. This illustration shows some of the work they have done or are engaged in, including the third Bosphorus Bridge and third Istanbul Airport:

In fact, since the AKP came to power, it has won pretty much every big project that's been put up for competitive tender. It seems that the ruling party like them very, very much, because not only have they handed over all these projects, but they also wrote off the 424 million lira (currently about £100m) debt Cengiz Holdings had to the taxman.
And guess who happen to be best buddies? Why, Mr Mehmet Cengiz and Mr Recep Tayyip Erdogan, President and former Prime Minister of Turkey, of course.
This is only one example. It is remarkable how many of the ruling party are very, very rich men who seem to have become much, much richer over the last decade. Not that it quite goes all their way: Erdogan was at the centre of a wiretapping scandal where he was caught discussing with his son Bilal about ways of getting rid of a siazeable chunk of cash. Indeed, Erdogan Junior is currently facing money laundering charges in, of all places, Italy. Now, if the Italians are throwing the book at someone for dodgy financial dealings, you know it's got to be serious.
 However, I will point out that this kind of chicanery is nothing new in the country - indeed, the political elite have always been the richest in the country and have always walked arm in arm with whoever would make them richer. The AKP, in fact, came into power on the premise that they were not like this, that they would bring, well, Justice and Development - hence their party name. Instead, they have turned out to be even worse than the venal, corrupt old political guard, because they use the veil of faith to hide their dirty tricks. I suspect there's a bit more than a bit of touchy-feely when it comes to the relationship between Erdogan and Big Business.

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

The Ankara Bombing

Once again, there has been a bombing in Turkey. Once again, it has been relegated in the ten o'clock news bulletins.

As I write this, the death toll stands at 28, with some 61 injured, but those figures are expected to rise. If this had happened in Paris, or London, or Berlin, there seems little doubt that it would be leading the news, but it isn't at all. Does this mean that these awful deaths are somehow a lesser thing?

If so, then why is the Turkish media also muting it? Reportage is (where people can get the word out) t a relative minimum: The mainstream TV channels are putting very little out, apart from the PM and President denouncing the 'latest act of terrorism', and vowing that they will protect the nation more than ever, i.e. continue with the campaign in the South East and cross-border.

Turks have always been canny at using the world wide web, never more so than in the past few years, when the AKP has frequently resorted to censoring internet traffic. All that happens is everyone swithes to using a VPN to get the news or disseminate it. From what is emerging on Twitter, the mood is a mix of despair at another bombing, disgust at the government's latest media blackout kneejerk reaction, sadness for those affected, and a very firm idea of who is really to blame for the attack.

Addressing who is responsible, that probably won't become clear, especially if the answer doesn't suit Ankara's political narrative. The technique  - a bus packed with explosives that was detonated as a convoy of military vehocles passed - has been used by many groups in many places. I am sure the government would prefer it to have been committed by the PKK. However, the bombing of a peace rally, also in Ankara, and the bomb attack in Suruc all suggest that ISIS are more likely.

Returning to my first question, it's not that some lives matter than others. I know that there will be many angry that media in the UK, the US, France and so on isn't focusing on this event, that there are no hashtags saying #prayforankara or #ankarakliyim, or that people aren't changing their facebook profiles to show the Turkish flag. It is the simple, but brutal, fact that distance confers a lack of interest. It doesn't mean we don't care per se: it's just very human to be more concerned with that which affects us most directly. That's not to condone or condemn - I'm merely stating what is. If that weren't the case, we wouldn't be able to move for the misery of knowing how many people die each day all around the world from war, want and disease.

However, I for one am affected. I couldn't hardly be so - I wouldn't have this blog otherwise. I care very much for Turkey and, right now, not for the first time, I can only say Basiniz Sagolsun.

Tuesday, 16 February 2016

Nero's Fiddle

Since I wrote that last article, my predictions have unfortunately come more or less true. The Turkish state is currently in a de facto civil war in the South East, literally razing whole sections of cities to the ground, and appears to be creeping ever closer to a full-scale ground invasion of Northern Syria. I cannot emphasise too strongly how dangerous this situation is on a global scale, as the potential for all-out conflict between Turkey and Russia also risks drawing in NATO.

Russo-Turkic wars have never ended well.

But WHY is it happening? What is the Turkish government playing at? After all, it could sit to one side, halt all border movement towards Syria, wait for the outcome and play the Peace Broker card: It could genuinely make a difference, and help create stability, across the entire region. Just four years ago, it was in a position where it could have done this, yet the opportunity, and others like it, have slipped by one by one.

And why? For such a complicated issue, there is a single easy answer. His name is Recep Tayyip Erdogan, president of the Turkish republic.

Now, I'm not usually one for pointing the finger of blame at a single person and saying that any given situation is all their fault, but in this case, I think I comfortably can. Erdogan will do anything whatsoever to hold on to power, and the fact that he wasn't able to get more control over the country last year has had a profound effect on the state's actions ever since.

In a nutshell, the ruling AKP did not achieve enough seats in last May's General Election to push through a constitutional reform that would have effectively made Erdogan President for Life. The pro-Kurdish HDP, in the meantime, received more than 10% of the votes, meaning it could be represented in parliament. Very briefly, there was hope that Turkey was on the verge of a new kind of democratic participation.

And then Erdogan, in effect, restarted the civil war with the PKK. I should point out that the AKP were instrumental, several years ago, in bringing about a ceasefire and had actually increased the rights of Kurds, including crucial concessions on the official use of Kurdish. The decades-long conflict had abated, and there was a very clear consensus on trying to find a peaceful solution. Unfortunately, this idea was sacrificed to Erdogan's personal aims: keep power at any cost. By starting the war again, he was able to represent himself as a defender of Turkish rights and, in a snap election later in the year, the AKP gained a majority in parliament once more.

It gets nastier. Since then, the HDP have had offices firebombed, their representatives attacked, arrested and imprisoned, and labelled 'terrorists'. And that label has now been applied to journalists (who have always been the target of arrest in Erdogan's Turkey), lawyers, academics and even medical staff, in fact, anyone who says anything remotely critical of him. The entire state is being pulled down in the name of one man.

Rather similar, in fact, to the situation with Vladimir Putin in Russia.

The situation in some parts of Turkey is distressing. Photos from Cizre and Diyarbakir look as if there were shot in Homs or Aleppo, and last week in the former, an estimated 100 people were reported to have been burnt alive by the military. On its borders, it's no better: The army is shelling positions held by the Kurds as they fight ISIS and the Syrian Army. The reason for this is to prevent a de facto Kurdish state developing between northern Iraq and the Mediterranean. The AKP would prefer to deal with (and I know this takes some believing) ISIS: It's been clearly established that the government has been supplying arms to the group.

And all this misery comes down to a single man and his single quest for singular control. By playing with fire, Erdogan could end up burning the whole country. The thing is, he gives the impression of not caring if this happens - he'd rather be sultan of a kingdom of ashes than no sultan at all.

What's the beef with Turkey?

This article was originally posted on 10/10/14 on The Joy of Raki.

You'd think that a country that has a war literally on its doorstep might be doing something about it, but Turkey's seeming inaction over ISIS, Syria and Iraq is ominous.

As I write, IS are continuing their assaults on Kobane (or Ayn Al-Arab), refugees continue to pour over the border, Turkish Kurds are being prevented from crossing into Syria to help protect the city, and tens of people have been killed in protests in cities right across the country. Meanwhile, Turkey's Foreign Minister, in talks with the new head of NATO, has said that it is 'unrealistic' that Turkey should lead a ground assault, while demanding that his country be allowed to set up a buffer zone and no-fly zone inside the Syrian border.

So what's happening? Why has one of the world's largest standing armies not done anything so far except move its tanks to the border?

There are several explanations, some less charitable than others.

Let's start with the most benign interpretation. Turkey has been a vociferous opponent of Bashar Al-Assad's murderous regime over the past three years, and any attempt at involvement against ISIS will only bolster his rule. Also, as a NATO country, if it engages in Syria, it runs the risk of getting involved with a larger enemy: Russia, which is Syria's ally. Just to point out, in case it's been forgotten, that Vladimr Putin now has a highly effective Black Sea presence in Crimea, thanks to his annexation of the peninsula earlier this year. Turko-Russian wars, in the past, have not gone very well for the Turks. Not for the first time, Turkey is caught in a bit of a bind.

Extraopolating from this, what would happen if Turkey attacks ISIS? This may provoke a direct, large assault on Turkish soil. Now, this would admittedly be unlikely, as well as suicidal: As I said above, Turkey's military is enormous, well-funded, and far more of a threat than the Iraqi Army. However, an assault on any NATO member constitutes an attack on all members, leading to full engagement - and once again, we come back round to the risk of full-on war with Russia as a by product.

Moving on to a less generous interpretation, astonishing as it may seem, ISIS and Turkey, or rather the ruling AKP, and bonded by their religious outlook. The majority of Turks are Sunni Muslims, as opposed to the Syrian regime being Alawite muslim, and the Iraqi government's Shia majority. That's not to say the AKP (necessarily) share the off-the-loonbar-spectrum views of their ISIS co-religionists, but they have certainly demonstrated sympathy for them in the past. There are accounts of ISIS fighters being treated in hospitals, covert Jihadi training camps near the border and the tendency for authorities to turn a blind eye as people come and go from one country to the other. They also seem to be consistently supplying more and better weaponry to ISIS than any other resistance group. In April, I witnessed what was, as I later realised in retrospect, a large demonstration in support of ISIS, in the very heart of Istanbul.

The harshest interpretation is that Turkey is playing a murderous game of Silly Buggers with everyone concerned, in particular with the Kurds. Ankara has made no secret about its antipathy towards a de facto Kurdistan on its borders, while at the same time doling out the odd concession on language rights within the country. Quite simply, they are working along the lines of 'my enemy's enemy is my friend', and they will be perfectly happy to see the destruction of the Peshmerga throughout Syria and Iraq. The government's propaganda machine is currently in full flow, claiming that Turkish Kurds are sacking government buildings and damaging infrastructure throughout the southeast, hence the reason why the police and Jandarma are being so heavy handed. Looking at social media, one can see that feelings are running very high. Many Turks associate the Kurds solely with the PKK (the Kurdish Workers' Party), and blame them for the brutal civil war of the 80s and 90s. In addition, the PKK are seen as a terrorist organisation by both Turkey and the US, meaning that they would be seen as a 'legitimate' target in the event of Ankara ordering the tanks to roll over the border.

I cannot help but feel that this is an incredibly dangerous game to  be playing. The Kurds are, in effect, guarding the Turkish state, and are paying for it in blood from both sides. And history shows, time and again, that every state that has existed in the Anatolian Plateau ignores the people on its southeastern flank at its peril.

At the same time, I have a little sympathy with Ankara's plight. It faces a genuine threat to its territorial integrity, albeit one that is to some degree of its own making. At the same time, other NATO members are really not making life easy for them. The best bet, at present, would be to ensure an effective flow of weapons, training and tactical support to the Kurds. However, to do so would fly in the face of years of political antagonism, and the AKP would be wary of doing anything to reduce their share of the popular vote. Yes, Recep Tayyip Erdogan is quite happy to let blood flow rather than risk the anger of the electorate.

Unfortunately, whatever they try to do, the Turks are being pulled into the black hole of war by the sheer gravity of events, and that should concern us all greatly.

And who, ultimately, is to blame? Probably those behind an agreement made just after the first world war, one that has caused unforeseen and untold damage in the region since. But that's something to be described another time.

Saturday, 13 February 2016

A surreal name....

Welcome to my new blog for all things Turkish.
Why 'Chien Anadolu'? Well, it's obviously a play on Bunuel's Surrealist film 'Un Chien Andalou' and translates into English as 'Anatolian Dog'. Since English, French and Turkish are the three languages I know, it kind of works.
It's also appropriate because Turkey is, quite often, a surreal place, no more so than in these days.
I'll be reposting things from 'The Joy of Raki' here. As to what I'll be writing, the aim will be fairly comprehensive - there's so much about Turkey, especially its current situation, that needs to be more widely broadcast.