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Gila Benmayor - English

Too many questions in Nabucco project

16 Mayıs 2009
Since Energy Minister Hilmi Güler said farewell to the office after a Cabinet change, energy experts I got in touch with said the Nabucco project was about to be shelved. However, that did not happen and the conclusion document of the energy summit held in the Czech capital of Prague has proved that the project came back to life. The European Union, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Egypt signed the agreement in Prague.

The parties are expected to sign an "intergovernmental agreement" in late June. Botaş Deputy General Manager Şakir Arıkan said the talks continue and that the sides may sign the Nabucco papers any minute. Turkey and Azerbaijan are part of these complex, chess-like negotiations. Botaş General Manager Saltuk Düzyol and the newly appointed Energy Minister Taner Yıldız accompanied Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan during a trip to the Azerbaijani capital of Baku. And that is the evidence.

Erdoğan’s Baku trip is as critical for the Nabucco project as it is for relations with Armenia. The reason is that about a month ahead of the summit declaration in Prague, it was claimed that Moscow had convinced Baku to sell the natural gas (about 9 billion cube meters) allocated for Nabucco to the Russian energy giant Gazprom. It was even speculated that Russia promised to buy the Azerbaijani gas at a price that Europeans were to pay.

Erdoğan’s remarks, "We will increase the price of Azeri gas," during his Baku speech proves bargaining continues about the Azerbaijani natural gas. Without doubt Russia will continue with attempts to block the Nabucco project, which is designed to decrease Europeans’ dependency to Russian gas. Russia will play its own "energy game." One of the questions in my mind is Russia’s next move because Russian energy dominance in the Caucasus is contingent upon a Russian-Azerbaijani partnership in full. In this sense, Erdoğan’s visit to Russia is quite critical.

Turkey’s demand

Another question about Nabucco’s conclusion document is Turkey’s request for a 15 percent discount in gas price.

We know that the European Union Energy Commissioner Andris Pielbags announced immediately after the conclusion document was released that Turkey withdrew its request.

But Yıldız says the opposite. Which is true here? One other question is about the attitudes of France, Germany and Italy, which have already given tremendous support to Nabucco and then to the South Stream project.

Will the steadiest partner, the EU, manage to create a balanced equation among the countries in this partnership and the energy corporations involved in the project?

But most importantly, will the EU’s calculations to buy gas from Iraq and Iran work because the union doesn’t know how much gas would be transferred to the Nabucco pipeline from which country?
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The Sakıp Sabancı Lecture in Washington

9 Mayıs 2009
In the memory of Sakıp Sabancı, the late uncle of Sabancı Holding CEO Güler Sabancı, an international lecture is being organized annually at the Brookings Institute in Washington.

Chancellor of Oxford and Newcastle Universities Lord Chris Patten was this year’s speaker.

I had a chance to listen to the former U.S. State Secretary Madeleine Albright, Assistant Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, the Obama administration’s Special Envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan Richard Holbrooke, and former U.S. diplomat Nicholas Burns at Sakıp Sabancı lectures held previously with Sabancı University’s cooperation.

An important thing about these lectures is that Sabancı University students are able to follow them through teleconferencing and even to pose questions to the lecturers.

International conferences, as Güler Sabancı emphasizes, help students to better understand complex world issues.

Who can deny the roller-coaster world politics has experienced lately?

Politicians at Obama’s door

The best example of this turmoil is, without doubt, the high number of politicians knocking on Obama’s door in Washington.

Let’s see who were lined-up at the White House door during the days I was in Washington for the lecture:

Israeli President Shimon Peres; Afghani President Hamid Kharzai; Pakistani President Ali Asif Zardari; Armenian and Azerbaijani foreign ministers; and Swedish Foreign Minister Carld Bildt.

I recall only as many. At the Brookings Institute I ran into Kharzai in the hallway. Needless to remind you that he is preparing for re-election, therefore desperately needs Washington’s support.

As Pakistan goes through difficult days, Zadari, known as "Mr. 10 percent" in his country, is almost in the same situation with Kharzai. Anyway, let’s go back to Patten’s speech titled "Transatlantic Partners: The Challenges of Multilateralism for Europe, Turkey and the United States".

Lord Patten served as the European commissioner for external relations and the final British governor of Hong Kong. He is one of the key intellectuals of the day.

Parts of Patten’s remarks about Turkey, which I underlined during his speech, were some kind of a warning for us:

"Turkey can make the [EU negotiation] process easier or more difficultÉ

Turkey clearly has to choose what kind of country it wants to be Ğ to move forward or go back.

I hope it will choose to continue along the road to becoming a more successful, more daring country building on the successes of recent yearsÉ"

Distinguished political scientist Professor Francis Fukuyama also says Turkey is at a crossroad, during a luncheon as the guest of Güler Sabancı following Patten’s lecture.

I wish our politicians were able to attend these stimulating Sakıp Sabancı lectures.

Forget about the past lecturers, listening to Patten only would’ve helped them to break infertile policies.
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Not-so-’normal’ May Day in Taksim Square

2 Mayıs 2009
The nearby Talimhane district where I spent a decade of my life was a training area for Ottoman-era artillerymen. Now it has been transformed into a decent district, with fancy hotels, restaurants and cafes filling the streets leading to Taksim. As I watched the televised activities organized by trade unions to celebrate May Day, I thought, "The neighborhoods of my childhood are being transformed, but not normalized." The May 1, 1977, massacre took its place in the pages of history as the city’s "bloodiest day" when the left was on the rise in Turkey. Since then, Taksim Square has not been able to experience normality. With the Sept. 12 military coup, a true meeting place for workers in Istanbul was closed and May Day celebrations were banned for years.

Police are laborers, too
We all remember the outrageous incidents of May Day last year involving groups of demonstrators who wanted to go to Taksim Square. We saw how people were beaten by policemen, how they were subjected to teargas and how they were arrested while trying to protest. So everyone was expecting that this year, demonstrations might be allowed in Taksim and May Day would be celebrated in a relatively calm, or perhaps, even "normal" manner. But what happened Friday?

Tension surfaced between police forces and trade unions, such as the Confederation of Revolutionary Trade Unions, or DİSK, the Confederation of Public Sector Trade Unions, or KESK, and the Turkish Doctors Association, in addition to members of about 70 non-governmental organizations. By using teargas bombs and pressurized water, police forces kept demonstrators from reaching Taksim from the districts of Feriköy, Kurtuluş and Dolapdere. Injured people were once again seen on TV. But we also saw on television that DİSK leader Süleyman Çelebi made quite a meaningful statement in the early morning hours. "Police and trade union members shouldn’t stand against each other because the police are laborers too," Çelebi said. "In Western countries, policemen are members of strong trade unions."

Though Çelebi was right to stress this, Istanbul Security Director Celalettin Cerrah seemed disturbed by the idea of having crowded groups of trade-union members and demonstrators in Taksim Square. In a police station set up at the square, Cerrah was following demonstrators second-by-second on MOBESE cameras, and was directing police operations like a conductor. In the end, while I was writing this piece, around 4,000 demonstrators reached Taksim Square, 32 years after the "bloody May Day."

Red and black flags representing DİSK and KESK, as well as the purple flags of feminists, were being waved. As far as I saw on television, people were singing and dancing in Taksim Square. Although they were cheerful, the situation was still quite far from what is normal.

Who can say that a celebration day escorted by 25,000 policemen is something "normal"? "We’ll act like a dead man. We’ll be in Taksim again," Çelebi said in his speech at the square. We understand that the important thing for our labor unions was to have celebrations in Taksim.

But trade unions in France were worried about the global economic crisis, not a banned square. We are at the beginning of a long and narrow road towards things being "normal" at Taksim Square.
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150,000 children had never seen a sea

25 Nisan 2009
Turmepa this time took about 3,000 children for a boat trip Ğ the children that live in Istanbul yet have never seen the sea. I wish I could be with them when they see the blue of the sea for the first time and witness their excitement all over their faces.

Turmepa launched the project "Unlimited Blue" in 2007 with school-age children. Since then, they have gathered 150,000 children who have never seen a sea. This is the result obtained from various printed tests the association sent to some schools. The project will be completed by 2012. Since high schools are not covered, the figure is possibly greater.

Gastronomic losses
Turmepa President Levent Ballar says that if the families of 150,000 children are included there are approximately 2-3 million people living in Istanbul yet have never seen the sea. Millions of people in Istanbul see the sea through televisions only. But Istanbul first of all means "sea"; the only city in the world divided into two by a sea. Is it possible to name people who have never seen the sea as "Istanbulite"?

The "Old and New Istanbulites" symposium by the Ottoman Bank Museum I attended recently was quite useful in terms of shedding light on this dilemma Istanbul faces today. Migration to Istanbul has geared up since the 1950s, and the population of the city has grown 12-fold since then. The style of living, the social and cultural structure, and the faces of neighborhoods have quickly changed in Istanbul, which itself has transformed into one of the biggest metropolitan cities in Europe.

Now, the number of the old Istanbulites is gradually dropping. They are losing blood and voice against the new Istanbulites. As the elderly yearn for the good old days, the new generation is preoccupied with the thought "How we can conserve what is left from Istanbul?" According to one of the speakers at the symposium, Istanbul is also facing the danger of some gastronomic losses. For instance, according to the same speaker, some deli owners do not know what "lakerda" is, though it has been a traditional food since the Byzantine era.

The speaker was appalled by the question when one of them asked whether "lakerda" is cooked. Actually, it is pickled raw fish, usually tuna or swordfish, that is salted generously and kept salted at least two weeks. I come across young cab drivers who don’t know the most popular districts in Istanbul such as Perşembe Pazarı, Tarlabaşı or Tepebaşı.

Once, my friend famous author Buket Uzuner and I gave a hard test to a taxi driver. When he didn’t know any of the places we asked, Uzuner, as the author of a new release "Istanbulites," lashed out at him.

Deli owners, cab drivers Ğ what about reporters or journalists?

In the Skylife magazine of the Turkish Airlines I was horrified when I read an article. A journalist wrote something about the Prince Islands, known as the jewels of Marmara. But the article reflected so many mistakes and a lack of knowledge. For instance, this fellow journalist wrote something about "ornamented" houses and coaches in Kınalıada, which in reality there is never seen a coach in this island, saying that it looked the richest of the Prince Islands. On the contrary, Kınalıada is the most modest one among all.

"Ornamented houses," which all have timber adornments, are rather seen in Büyükada. Such sloppiness and lack of knowledge is unbearable. So I couldn’t read the article any further. People who have no interest in Istanbul and people who live in this city yet unwilling to catch the spirit here are not Istanbulites, in my opinion.
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Saylan should be nominated for Nobel Peace Prize

18 Nisan 2009
About 200 students at YİBO in Ulaş therefore had brand new bathrooms. Poverty in remote villages is indescribable. Students at the school that we toured saw a toothbrush, a toilet and hot water for the first time. Professor Saylan, who was detained as part of the ongoing Ergenekon crime gang case’s 12th wave of arrests, is the guardian angel of not only girl students but also of YİBOs. There are about 300 YİBOs providing education to approximately 115,000 poor students in 60 provinces. This is known rarely but Saylan visited most of them. So she knows the difficulties of such schools.

A loving heart embracing all
For instance she had decided that restrooms in 30 YİBOs need repair. I once again had admired her positive energy, big heart embracing all and her creativity in solving problems during our trip to Ulaş. She was taking chemotherapy then. I had thought that this woman deserves the Nobel Peace Prize because in the past she had also fought against leprosy and had gotten rid of the disease.

If you look at the Nobel Peace Prize winners, you realize that none did more than what Professor Saylan does. I easily make such a claim. The reason is that most of the Nobel winners have not revealed something as solid as changing lives of children the way Saylan did. However, we are reading recent news about her and watching stories about her on television.

She was detained in the morning hours a few days ago in possible relation to the Ergenekon terror organization. Her house was raided by the police and subjected to interrogations although she was sick. What was she saying last night on a TV channel?

"I was not upset for myself. I only was upset for children whose scholarships were interrupted upon the ÇYDD administrators’ arrest. What will happen to these children?"

Claims with no grounds
This is another story why records of children who are provided scholarships and of people donating money are confiscated: We all know that since Day One, donations to the ÇYDD are being monitored. Officials audit the association quite often.

Still, I heard on a TV channel, close to a certain religious community, as though collecting donations was a crime. But how should we interpret the nontransparent donation channels of the same community? With police raids at the association headquarters, we see that accusations Ğ such as Saylan is a "missioner" who is educating children of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK Ğ are being spread around.

Saylan applied to the court in the past and files against such accusation and win the cases. But still the old claims are now being repeated again by the pro-religion newspapers. Considering the confiscation of all ÇYDD records, a serious blow on the association, and the detention of the former vice President of Van University Professor Ayşe Yüksel whom Saylan wishes to take the flag after she passes away, some circles were awfully disturbed by her backing-up YİBOs, her efforts to bring girls back to school with no help from the state.
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Alliance of Civilizations debated

11 Nisan 2009
Clos seems to be right because first of all the Second Forum of the Alliance of Civilizations in Istanbul did not create the desired impact. The first one was held in January 2008 in Madrid.

Turkish public opinion followed the trend in the world and caught "Obamania" rather than the Alliance of Civilizations. So everyone focused on this visit. The forum held in Çırağan Palace, however, started a discussion: "Is an Alliance of Civilizations in Turkey necessary?"

US should stay away from project
Of course, the disappointment about Obama’s lack of participation in the forum and not delivering a speech played a role in this. Different views were voiced on why Obama did not participate in the Alliance of Civilizations forum.

Some say that because the project was launched during the George W. Bush period, Obama is cold toward it. Some others say the U.S., just like the European Union and Russia, kept its distance from the beginning, even though it was endorsed by the United Nations. For instance, Brett Shaefer, an expert at the Heritage Foundation, one of the leading think tanks in the United States, says in his article that the Alliance of Civilizations project is a failure as he suggests that Washington keep away.

I wouldn’t know if Obama took this and similar suggestions into consideration but interestingly enough, the U.S. president didn’t refer to the notion of Turkey as "a bridge between Islam and the West" during his speech at the Turkish Parliament.

If you recall, Obama said, "Turkey is in the middle of everything, at the point where the East meets the West," rather than referring to Turkey as a "bridge." He stressed that Turkey has both Eastern and Western values and its importance comes from this.

What is being said about the Alliance of Civilizations, which was being discussed in detail for the first time in Turkey since it was launched by the Spanish and Turkish governments and endorsed by the United Nations? Debates on televisions reflect that the project’s purpose - bringing Western civilization face-to-face with Islam - is a reason for criticism. I mean, the concepts on both sides of the scale are incompatible.

Different concepts
Let alone the most difficult thing in the world is to reach a consensus over the civilization concept. As Radikal daily’s Türker Alkan wrote, even if the Alliance of Civilizations is recognized by states level, its implementation is impossible because a civilization doesn’t form according to predetermined plans. Another criticism about the initiative is Turkey’s tendency to see itself as the representative of the whole Islamic world in this frame.

And this is in accord with American strategist George Friedman’s suggestion that "Turkey should turn its back to Europe and claim the Ottoman heritage. Then it is possible for Turkey to become the leader of the Islamic world." What could be the cost of such a role for a country in the process of gaining EU membership? This is another question.
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Brown is G20’s real winner

4 Nisan 2009
Because renowned American economist Joseph Stiglitz and speculator George Soros said before the summit that the G20 wouldn’t produce much but later expressed satisfaction about the summit’s conclusions, the mission seems accomplished. About 10 days ago, I was in London to make contacts about the G20 at the British Foreign Ministry.

Thought it was not on my schedule, I joined British Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s news conference for foreign media. The goals for the summit that he revealed at the news conference almost overlap with the official conclusions. It is not difficult to see that 80 percent of the conclusion statement was already completed before the summit. Brown’s share in that is undeniable; he began preparations months ago and started shuttle diplomacy among world capitals.

Brown’s shuttle diplomacy

Brown’s phrase, "Global solutions to global issues," was repeated during the World Economic Forum, which convened in the Swiss town of Davos, continued to make the rounds of persuasion until the day of the summit.

For instance, after the news conference, Brown spoke at the European Parliament in the union’s capital, Brussels, and then headed to South America and New York. What is behind his efforts to make the G20 summit a success?

British political experts say there are a few reasons. First of all, charismatic former Prime Minister Tony Blair still casts a shadow over Brown, who wanted to make a move in international politics by sharing the stage with the newly elected U.S. President Barack Obama. Secondly, Brown wanted to show his experience in economics as a former treasury secretary since he has failed to take bold actions in the British political arena. Thirdly, he calculated that the G20 summit will be a plus for him in the next elections. After the conclusion statement was released, Obama answered questions. He said the summit was a historic turning point and that they, as G20 countries, reached joint decisions about the global economy and the result was Brown’s success. Brown seemed to get what he wanted from the summit.

What were the impressions of Obama, who was participating for the first time since his election in an international meeting in Europe?

The French press that I scanned through the other day underlined the European satisfaction over Obama’s remarks that he wanted to participate in the summit to hear different views, understand them and reach agreement with them, not to impose the American view.

As Obama tries to "understand the world," a marked departure from former President George W. Bush, he answered questions from foreign press members rather than Americans. And that was also highlighted in the French newspapers. Likewise, American first lady Michelle Obama seems to have conquered the hearts of Europe. Unfortunately, she will not accompany her husband during a trip to Turkey in the upcoming days.

During a pep talk for school girls in London, she said: "For nothing in my life ever would have predicted that I would be standing here as the first African-American first lady. I was not raised with wealth or resources or any social standing to speak of. If you want to know the reason why I am standing here, it’s because of education," Her remarks are quite meaningful for us. I hope Mrs. Obama will someday convey the same message in Turkey.
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Is this the local polls or general elections?

28 Mart 2009
I saw the party flags hanging in the streets of Beşiktaş, Istanbul the other night. But I’ve never seen such a huge poster of a mayoral candidate.

I think candidate mayoress Sibel Çarmıklı of the governing Justice and Development Party, or AKP, started this race.  

In recent weeks, Çarmıklı hosted a big party at the Conrad Hotel with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan as the guest of honor. She is one of the three laic and modern AKP candidates to weaken the Republican People’s Party, or CHP, fronts in Beşiktaş, Bakırköy and Sarıyer districts. The business world closely knows the AKP candidate in Bakırköy. He is the former chairman of the Exporters Assembly of Turkey, Oğuz Satıcı. Candidate Mayor Sinan Gerim in the Kadıköy district, a historic CHP front, is an architect putting his mark on successful restoration projects. Each of these candidates backed by Erdoğan also has the AKP’s financial support. The reason why I said the "local polls have recently created an atmosphere of general elections" is enormously high election campaign expenditures.

A helicopter even for a small party
Giant meetings are being organized in big cities, as television channels and the Internet are bombarded with party advertisements as party centers in election districts are ornamented with billboards. It is also known that some candidate mayors pay astronomic figures to have a time slot on televisions.

As I write this piece, the helicopter carrying the Great Union Party, or BBP, leader Muhsin Yazıcıoğlu is lost in mountains. Given the limited budget of this small party and Yazıcıoğlu’s renting a helicopter to catch up with meetings, you can have a pretty good idea about the amount of spending. Did anyone hear from a party leader or a mayoral candidate with a decent solid project or program? Although I met some nominees in Istanbul, I haven’t heard anything satisfactory from them.Speaking about projects, Taha Akyol of CNN hosted Psychiatry Professor Tarık Yılmaz.

Yılmaz scanned through a total of 30,000 words Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Deniz Baykal of the Republican People’s Party, or CHP, uttered in eight meetings. Yılmaz wanted to determine which word the two used often. According to his notes, Erdoğan uttered "project" 51 times ad Baykal remained at seven. A party leader seeing himself on the left, lacks projects and I think this is remarkably important in this election period. Another thing worth mentioning is that the CHP dwells on the corruption claims rather than traditional issues including laicism and religion.

Notes of Yılmaz reflect that Baykal used the word "corruption" 190 times, but Erdoğan uttered it five times only. It is a matter of curiosity how the CHP will reflect the discourse of corruption to ballot box.
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