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Gila Benmayor - English

Istanbul Water Forum and dams

21 Mart 2009
According to sources, Istanbul’s Sütlüce Congress and Culture Center, which is situated at the foot to the Golden Horn, hosted approximately 20,000 people including presidents, ministers, CEOs of international companies and representatives of NGOs. Some important developments related to water issues have been announced to the world from Istanbul. For example, IBM revealed its "smart water management" project to filter arsenic from water during the Water Forum for the first time.

Many exhibitions, conferences and movie screenings were also held within the framework of the forum. The "Water for Everyone" exhibition of the Museum of Science and Industry in the French capital city of Paris is on display abroad for the first time.

French Environment Minister Chantal Jouanno opened the exhibition which is being held at Santralistanbul thanks to the contributions of Turkish Industrialists’ and Businessmen’s Association, or TÜSİAD, and Natural Life Protection Association.

When considering NGO protests against the commercialization of water, nonsense arrests and the "Alternative Water Forum", which started yesterday, the 5th World Water Forum is an event of which there are many things to say.

As I stressed before, the Turkish media’s inadequate interest in the forum can be associated with its focus on upcoming local elections. Well, which aspects of the 5th World Water Forum drew foreign press’ attention? The answer to this question is very interesting. Because, my foreign colleagues, who attended the forum, are mostly interested in the "dams" issue.

Where is the center of attention?

"Dams" with their advantages and disadvantages are one of the world’s much debated issues. According to the "Water Report" which was revealed in Istanbul by the U.N. World Water Assessment Programme, dams have detrimental effects on the environment and social structure though they are required to prevent drought.

Another development related to dams was experienced in "Istanbul Water Courts" which launched through civilian initiative during the water forum. In the court organized by the German Heinrich Böll Foundation and Latin American Water Court, authorities, who designed the Ilısu dam project which will submerge the historical town of Hasankeyf, the Karakaya dam project for Munzur Valley and Yusufeli dam project over Çoruh River, were in the dock.

Turkey representative of Heinrich Böll Foundation Ulrike Dufner uttered these words which I liked so much: "Turkish governments have dam fetishism." It seems that "dam fetishism" also attracted my foreign collegues’ attention because New York Times published a long article over Ilısu Dam which is planned to be constructed in Hasankeyf. New York Times, which wrote that Turkish pop star Tarkan also opposes the Ilısu Dam, quoted the words of an Australian NGO representative. "I think this dam will never be constructed," the representative said.

France’s Le Monde daily touched upon dams in the Southeast and wrote a headline "Dams of Turkey, Syria and Iraq Disagreement" I think Turkish authorities, who readied for the water forum in Istanbul for months, are not content with the fact that the forum took place with mostly foreign press mostly with these issues.

Prime Minister Erdoğan laid the foundation of the Ilısu Dam in 2006. The project’s looming large in foreign media must be a bad surprise for the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, government which is determined to construct the dam despite the objections of NGOs and disruptions in terms of foreign credits.
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Ambition for prestige put TÜBİTAK into a pathetic state

14 Mart 2009
TÜBİTAK President Nüket Yetiş and State Minister for Science Professor Mehmet Aydın participated in the event. I couldn’t make it though I was invited. As far I as see through the news stories, Aydın delivered a meaningful speech at the EP. He said Turkey aims to be in the first 15 countries making the highest investments into science, technology and innovation in the upcoming periods. Aydın added that Turkey wants to make contributions to the European objective to catch the United States in science by 2020. The Turkish R&D Day at the EP is the day that Turkey says "I am in for science and technology" through TÜBİTAK.

Visit by European Research Council

Exactly one-and-a-half months after this significant day, the Darwin scandal emerged. TÜBİTAK’s 42-year-old monthly magazine Bilim ve Teknik (Science and Technology) is being censored for the first time. TÜBİTAK Deputy President Ömer Cebeci interferes and changes the cover of the issue having the picture of this British scientist. Since Cebeci is not fond of Darwin’s evolutionary theory, he applied the censorship, so it’s been claimed. The incident has caused a stir both in Turkey and in the world.

On the same days, TÜBİTAK was hosting the European Research Council, or ERC, for a scheduled meeting this week. The ERC was founded in 2005 with a budget of $7.5 million and the objective of providing support to individual academic research studies. It’s being administered by the Scientific Council and consists of 22 renowned scientists.

The ERC held its extraordinary meetings previously in Paris and Berlin. The third one is in Istanbul and this is important for Turkey. TÜBİTAK organized the "ERC 2009 Turkey Conference" at Harbiye Military Museum in Istanbul the other day. The guest of honor was ERC. Conference convened to bring European top-level science and research directors and Turkish universities together and let them know each other closely.

In fact the ERC President famous biologist Professor Fotis Kafatos and his delegation were hosted by the presidents of Koç, Sabancı and Boğaziçi universities in three consecutive nights. Distinguished Turkish scientists, who have the ERC’s support, were among 600 participants at the conference. It is said in the press bulletin TÜBİTAK sent that the ERC meeting in Istanbul will add prestige to Turkey and to the Turkish institution. Unfortunately, TÜBİTAK seeking prestige put itself into a pathetic situation.
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Being a regional power, but how

7 Mart 2009
Following a meeting with a group of journalists and economists, Friedman signed his New York Times bestseller "The Next 100 Years" for us.

He mentioned Turkey in four pages of this book, starting on page 144.

If you read these pages, you see a striking difference between what Friedman said in the meeting, how he answered our questions, and what he wrote in the book.

He explains Turkey’s Muslim identity and its role in the Islamic world in the book, I mean how Turkey will unite with the Arab world and become the leader of the Islamic world, but he did not focus much on the "Islam" motif in the conversation we had.

The American strategist commented on the global economic crisis, NATO’s future, al-Qaeda and the collapse of the European Union. Only after being asked a question he made a comment about Islam’s role in Turkey.

Similarly, Friedman in an interview with one of my colleagues said Turkey will never lose its "laic characteristic." But such crucial determination is unfortunately not found in his book.

If we go back to our meeting with Friedman, to a question about if Turkey will become a country of moderate Islam, he replied as follows: "Turkey’s weakness originates from its internal issues. The Kurdish issue, the struggle between laics and the pious, for instance. I even can say that the latter is more important than the Kurdish issue."

Thinks differently than the Obama Administration

Friedman is of the opinion that even if Turkey manages to keep its laic identity, and gains Islamic identity, it will become more important as a "regional power."

For this reason, he suggests us to forget about membership to the European Union.

As Turkey has already turned face to the EU and promised to adopt the EU’s values, of course we are perplexed by Friedman’s suggestion. Let alone the Obama administration remarked on that they will continue to support Turkey’s EU bid as the way it was before in the Clinton administration period.

Or is the Stratfor private intelligence agency, known as the "shadow CIA" and founded by Friedman, thinking differently than the Obama administration? Or does Turkey’s being an EU member no longer suit American interests?

Naturally one ponders these questions.

As for becoming the "regional power" in the footprints of the Ottomans, which Friedman tackles in his book and in our conversation, first of all I want to underline the fact that Friedman’s view overlaps with that of Ahmet Davutoğlu, chief adviser to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. In the Russia-Georgia row and its effort to mediate between Syria and Israel, Turkey signaled to become a "regional power." That’s correct.

But I have reservations about the stability of this "role." For instance, Erdoğan, due to local election campaigns, did not participate in the "Gaza Aid" conference held in the Egyptian resort of Sharm al Sheikh last week.

After a spurt in Davos about Gaza, Erdoğan did not participate in the meeting attended by the French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. Isn’t this a huge opportunity we’ve missed to become a "regional power"?

Another example showing that the local polls have come to the forefront is the G-20 summit to be held in London in April 2.

In the aftermath of the global economic crisis, a new world order will be established under the auspice of G-20, so it is being said. But have you ever heard any statement from Ankara about how Turkey will contribute to this meeting or have you ever heard of this meeting being discussed in Turkey?

I have not. And I am not sure if being a "regional power" is understood completely.
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Kılıçdaroğlu’s dossiers on Istanbul

28 Şubat 2009
 "Kılıçdaroğlu should come and govern Istanbul on a Sunday. We’ll see if he can do it?" he said. Kılıçdaroğlu was quick to respond. "If he offers his seat on a Sunday, I’ll show how I’ll govern Istanbul. Besides, I wouldn’t call anyone ’an empty tin box’. With his remarks, Topbaş cannot serve as a mayor to this city of elegance."

Kılıçdaroğlu’s emphasis on fineness overlaps with his personality because in a meeting I attended this week I listened to him. And I can easily say that he is an extremely "polite" gentleman. The institution inviting Kılıçdaroğlu to present his Istanbul dossier, I mean what he will do for Istanbul, is the "Young Businessmen Association", or TUGIAD in short. With its approximately 700 members, the TUGIAD is a non-governmental organization successfully lobbying for Turkey especially in the European Union. It is the name behind the initiative asking the EU to provide visa weavers to Turkish businessmen. Let’s see what’s in Kılıçdaroğlu’s dossier? He is a politician whom we mostly know through corruption files he rather keeps about the governing Justice and Development Party, or AKP, and its mayors.

Istanbul, the city of culture

Kılıçdaroğlu’s first evaluation is that Istanbul doesn’t have the self-confidence of the 21st century metropolitans. Although it has an unparalleled position in the world, Istanbul cannot claim its culture and history, that is to say its strongest values. One of his dreams is to see Istanbul as a "city of culture". I totally agree with him that such a title will perfectly fit Istanbul.

As I see the clouds recently over the project called "Istanbul European Capital of Culture 2010", however, I am being pessimistic. Anyway this is a separate issue. Let’s go back to Kılıçdaroğlu’s dossier again. He believes that Istanbul lacks squares for people to relax. However, I wouldn’t know in which part of Istanbul we can have large squares as the city loses green fields due to unplanned urbanization.

Against the migration wave threatening Istanbul Kılıçdaroğlu suggests "moving labor-intensive industrial branches outside Istanbul and keeping industries that require qualified labor force such as science sector". Both make sense. According to Kılıçdaroğlu, in big metropolitan cities including Tokyo, Paris and London this approach is being pushed to the fore.

For Istanbul, a similar strategy may be adopted in the future. But what are the suggestions for solving the issue of over-populated slum areas in Istanbul due to heavy migration today? That was what I wanted to hear from Kılıçdaroğlu. As he stressed, what will we do with people who have never seen the sea or been to movies?

How will we help them to have peace with such a mega city like Istanbul? How will we bring closer the people who prefer not to have any connections? What are the CHP mayoral candidate’s "social projects" on them?For instance, I expected to hear at least a "pool" for people who never seen the sea in the slums of Istanbul and "day care" for working mothers. Unfortunately, none was in Kılıçdaroğlu’s dossierÉ
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The economic crisis didn’t hit pizza and art

23 Şubat 2009
This year, Garanti Bank from Turkey has won the "Best Local Bank" award. When the bank wanted to share this joy with me, I found myself in London.

The "Euromoney" award ceremony was held in the Christ Church located in the Spitalfields district. An interesting experience it was to see bankers from various countries together.

In the sector hit by the crisis very seriously, employees forgot about the disappointment and pessimism for a couple hours.

Or else it may not be possible to hear the cheers of joy and applauds for the winners in the hall of the Christ Church.

All right then. How is London hosting the Euromoney awards being affected by the global economic crisis?

The economy news is on top of the agenda.

As soon as I woke up the other day at the hotel, I began to watch the BBC and saw a striking sentence, "Every British citizen, men, women and children indebted 3,300 Pounds."

I wouldn’t know if such a sentence in the morning will affect the day of the Brits but I saw figures of the economic crisis everywhere.

Unemployment jumped up to 6.3 percent from 6.1 in a month. Economy experts say the number of the unemployed in Britain will rise to three million this year. It is said the "white collars" will be affect the most by the crisis this time, to the contrary of the 1980 and 1990 economic crises.

In many sectors work hours were lowered with the adoption of less salary pay.

Even the Financial Times is said to have adopted the method.

A British friend of mine said six bars and restaurants are closed down a day.

I read in the Guardian daily that 72,000 outlet stores will be shut down by the end of 2009.

Therefore, the number of the stores closed due to the crisis will amount to 135,000 in Britain. Now the Brits are planning to have art activities in the areas that will be evacuated by the outlet stores, so I heard.

This is good news at least.

Speaking of art, I saw one of the most beautiful paintings by Marc Chagall at the "Opera Gallery" on New Bond Street and went in. With the curiosity of a journalist I asked the manager how the business is. "We are of course affected but not much," I was told.

Pizza sales boom

The Chagall painting was priced at $4.2 million. On the same street, another gallery owner selling the pieces of the world famous actor Anthony Quinn’s sculptor son Leonardo Quinn didn’t seem so pessimistic.

By the way, the prices of Leonardo Quinn’s pieces start at 50,000 pounds.

Another example of optimistic news is from the "fast-food" world.

Domino’s Pizza in Britain increased its sales 15 percent in the last six weeks and is said to be preparing to hire 1,500 workers.

As restaurants and bars are being shut down, the Brits remaining home due to the crisis are ordering pizza anytime of the day. So the sales in Domino’s Pizza are booming.

Orders on the Internet jumped up 25 percent, it was told. Another fast-food brand Kentucky Fried Chicken is on growth trend and will create new jobs. The summary of the three-day London visit could roughly be: The economic crisis didn’t hit pizza and art.
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Aid and dossiers before the local elections

14 Şubat 2009
There were lucky people among those whom the Tunceli Governorship distributed white goods in exchange of money provided by Social Assistance and Solidarity Foundation. We see on TV the trucks carrying them to families living in Tunceli, though there is no space or water service to these houses. Finally the High Election Board submitted a petition for investigation to the Tunceli Office of Prosecutor and the distributions came to a halt the other day. But of course this doesn’t mean they will stop for good.

Social expenditures explode

The CHP province head Cemal Özarslan terms this as an "election bribe." And, we’ll see how this 5 million liras-worth of white goods distributed by the governing AKP turns into votes for the AKP.

We come across important data in newspapers about similar social aid inspired by the assistance in Tunceli. The AKP government spent a total of 55,581,000 liras in 2007 for "social" purposes and just 51,700,000 liras in the first month of 2009, for the same reason. In 2008, after July in particular, social spending gradually increased and reached 427,600,000 liras for the year. It has jumped up over 50 million liras in January alone, just before the March 29 elections. And that rightfully brings a few questions in mind. Uğur Gürses of the daily Radikal wrote one of the most solid articles about the claims that the AKP government postponed the standby package with the IMF due to the approaching local elections. According to Gürses, the IMF asked reforms in local administrations and the AKP found this "unacceptable."

He says it is impossible to "transparently" follow expenditures of municipalities. Another question mark is that the AKP government adopted a bill to allow increased budgets for local administrations in July 2008 as the global economic crisis onset. In short, the global crisis doesn’t seem to be a threat to the AKP as it calculations over the local polls.

"Corruption" cases against politicians also grab attention as much as social assistance. For instance, the MHP has already proven that a villa owned by Ankara Mayor Melih Gökçek was built illegally; the villa that Gökçek first denied but then had to accept the ownership. Istanbul Mayor Kadir Topbaş who is facing the accusations that the Saray Muhallebicisi he owns on the Bosphorus was also illegal now should answer another claim that he handed out money to several names close to the government for zoning. The dossier of course came out of the briefcase of the CHP Istanbul Mayor nominee Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu. Another dossier he revealed was about the partnership of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s son and his wife with Cihan Kamer, owner of the Atasay jewelry company.

As social aid money is being thrown in the air the March 29 local polls will seem to be talked a lot more in the years to come.
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Is Turkey shifting away from the West?

7 Şubat 2009
Though almost 10 days passed over, repercussions of the tension between Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Israeli President Shimon Peres at Davos still continue.

Televisions in particular are almost every night hosting guest commentators to have their views on the Gaza panel held at Davos.

Apparently the eventful panel will be echoed both in Turkey and the Middle East for a while.

Erdoğan, in the meantime, talks about the Davos incident whenever he can.

A few days ago Mr. Prime Minister in his party’s parliamentary group meeting said: "A moderator directing an international panel cannot put his arm on a prime minister’s shoulder. This is rudeness. If I hadn’t been diplomatic at the panel, I would’ve done something else but I didn’t."

Debates over the Davos incident in Turkey is just one dimension of the issue. 

On other dimension, there are questions like "Is Turkey growing away from the West?" asked by international community.

Turkey should make up its mind
We, as press members, for some time keep receiving questions such as "Turkey should make up its mind. Do you want the European Union? Or do you have other alternatives? You better decide this."

I heard the last similar one from the Italian Senate Member Emma Bonino who is also the member of the Independent Commission on Turkey, during a visit to Istanbul as a guest of the Open Society Institute among others.

However, it is a fact that the question "Is Turkey shifting away from the West?" after the Davos panel had a great deal of repercussions.

For instance, the Newsweek magazine in its last issue published an analysis titled "Turkey’s new tilt."

"But after Israel's Gaza campaign, Turkey is taking a strong anti-Israel and anti-Western stance," reads the article.

The magazine asking, "Is Turkey shifting away from the United States and Israel, and toward Arab radicals?" brings the remark, "We have more than one dimension in our foreign policy," by Erdogan's chief foreign policy adviser, Ahmet Davutoglu , who is the one considerably shaping up Turkish foreign policy, to the attention.

An integrated strategy
At this point, I just want to talk about Mr. Davutoğlu because accompanied Erdoğan to the World Economic Forum in the Swiss town of Davos Davutoğlu clarified this "multidimensional foreign policy," in an interview to the New Perspectives Quarterly-Turkey magazine.

Although his answers to the magazine a few months before the Gaza offensive and the eventful Davos panel, but still they are extremely critical.

Davutoğlu outlines Turkey’s foreign policy as "We have a strategy and this is an integrated strategy. Turkey’s relation with global actors is not a zero sum."

Then he explains, "I mean Turkey’s relation with NATO and United States is not an alternative to the EU. The relation we have with Russia is not an alternative to the EU. And the EU is not alternative to Russia. Our relation with China is not an alternative to the relation we have with Russia. We see all of these into a single strategic picture."

Davutoğlu terms Turkey’s relations with the Middle East as "a proactive diplomacy in the region."

"If you seem to be active in the Middle East, in the Balkans, in the Caucasus, that connects you to Europe on one side and to Asia on the other," he adds.

I wouldn’t know if Bonino could be satisfied by his remarks.
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Three angry leaders at Davos

31 Ocak 2009
The reason could be that in this platform bringing thousands of businessmen, chief executive officers, or CEOs, and prominent economists and experts amid future uncertainties together, leaders rushed into Davos for a bit enlightenment.

They came over to see a "ray of hope." First, let me tell you this. I think the leaders came for nothing because the remark you hear very often from people who are supposed to analyze the situation best is "Nobody knows what will happen." The nation that has been taken a serious blow by the crisis is apparently Americans.

An American female journalist friend of mine whom I get together in Davos for years told me that her husband is unemployed now and about 35 percent of their retirement savings have already evaporated.

This year, the difference is that WEF hosts so many political leaders as well. There is a quite long list of leaders but we first listened to the Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jinbao and Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin among big shots. I think the message of Jinbao, as the leader of China, which is seen as the super power of the future, explaining that his country is ready for cooperation against the economic crisis, is right to the point.

When he said that China expects an 8 percent growth in 2009, everyone relieved I think.

’Help’ angers Putin
As a measure against the crisis, he said, China has prepared a long-term program to increase public expenditures, to modernize industry, to facilitate access to the small- and medium-size enterprises, or SMEs, and to make social security and health reforms.

A sound economy in China that is able to overcome the crisis easily is good for everyone without doubt. Putin as well talked about the reforms they are getting prepared against the global financial crunch. He surprised everyone by saying that he is against "state intervention," a controversial issue discussed in Davos this year. One of the prominent figures who were surprised by Putin’s remark was Dell’s CEO Michael Dell.

At the same panel he participated in, Dell said that he was surprised by Putin and asked him how they, as a leading information technology in the world, could help Russia. I think, the word "help" is the one that Dell should never ever said Putin, because as soon as he heard the word the Russian prime minister showed an unexpectedly fierce reaction and asked in return, "What are you talking about? We are not disabled so we don’t need any help. Help is provided to the disabled, retired and developing countries."

It’s perfectly understandable why Putin got so furious about this word. As the prime minister of a country that once upon a time was named as the super-power of the world together with the United States, Putin may have felt that he was being insulted.

But despite this, the Russian politician managed to remain calm.

Peres raises his voice
Many renowned figures witnessed the anger of two leaders at the Congress Hall the other day. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was sitting next to the Israeli President Shimon Peres at a panel on Gaza.

Erdoğan talked first at the panel to which Secretary-General of the Arab League, Amr Mousa, attended as well. Turkish prime minister gave the details of his efforts for a peace initiative in Gaza and explained how this terrible attack witnessed by the entire world could be prevented. Mousa voiced the injustice the Palestinians have been subjected to for years.

At the panel, first Peres raised his voice.

The Israeli politician spending years to bring peace to the Middle East raised his voice and this must have been due to the pressure he felt for having the responsibility as a "man of peace." I found it a bit odd when Peres whom I know as a wise man, raised his voice in the hall.

But I think anger is something contagious because Erdoğan taking the floor after Peres told that the moderator did not give him enough time to speak. Upon being interrupted by the Israeli leader, Erdoğan got mad too and left the panel, saying that he will never attend Davos meetings again. This is the first time that I witnessed a politician leaving a Davos panel which I have attended so many of them over the years, so did all participants at Davos.
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