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Gila Benmayor - English

Women love Obama

24 Ocak 2009
Onanç managed to organize the last KAGİDER monthly meeting in the following morning of Barrack Obama’s inauguration ceremony. We were welcomed by a legendary Aretha Franklin song as we enter the hall for the meeting.

At that moment, we were not thinking neither Israel’s Gaza offensive, nor Ergenekon, nor the global crisis. Onanç’s excitement for Obama spread among us in the room. Everyone was extremely optimistic.

"I have opened my eyes to a new world this morning. Obama is an opportunity to make the dream come true for a better world," said Onanç which I believe all women wish the same.

And she rephrased a few key points from Obama’s historic speech. "We want a period where the polarization will come to an end and differences will diminish. We will never give up on the rules of law and on advocating human rights. If the market works for the rich only, justice will never be accomplished."

The other side of Obama’s brain
A world of equal; most importantly a world where resources are shared equally.As Onanç said these are the expectations of the KAGİDER members from Obama. Perhaps all women in the world have the same expectation because while I was watching the inauguration ceremony I realized that mostly women were happy and in tears among the crowd.

Obama without doubt loves women too and trusts their support. The number of females in his staff at the White House is relatively higher than that of the previous presidents. Before I start talking about the female staff of the new U.S. president, I want to mention his wife Michelle Obama, who is known as a lover, a wife and a confidant. In their political approach, the couple is inseparable, just like the Clintons who remain together despite all odds. As for the female staff, the person called "the other side of Obama’s brain" is Valeri Jarrett, a friend of the Obama family from Chicago.

Susan Rice who was his foreign policy adviser during the election campaign and is the newly appointed U.S. permanent representative to the United Nations, in addition to Hilda Solis the new Secretary of Labor, are two names Obama trusts the most.

During the Obama administration, the Unite States will make a U-turn from the George W. Bush policies and focus on the global warming issues. And a woman leads this project: Carol Browner. Political experts say of her that "she will be the global warming czar of Obama." I was watching Hillary Clinton’s speech the other night. Regardless of speculations, the Obama Administration’s Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is a politician I do respect.

Diplomacy returns with Clinton once again
I listened to her in 1995 for the first time in a crowded hall. It was a women’s summit held in the Chinese capital Beijing. And I believe the Hillary Clinton then was not much different from the Hillary Clinton now.

She adopted a political stance in favor of democracy, human rights and women’s right in particular. And she maintains it today.

In her first speech as the secretary of the state, Clinton said that she would bring "diplomacy" back to U.S. foreign policy.

Do you think "diplomacy" will carry the ray of hope to the Middle East suffering from dissolution for years?

How will Clinton’s new position affect Turkey?

In a negative frame of thought, we know that she supports the Armenian genocide bill hanging over our heads like the "sword of Damocles". We know as well that she criticized Obama for being mellow to Iran.

By hoping that she may develop more realistic policies in these issues let’s remind her that Clinton knows Turkey very well and always supports Turkey’s EU membership bid.

In summary, I believe Hillary Clinton, as one of the most powerful names in Obama’s "female staff" and as the new U.S. state secretary will be good for Turkey.
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The TÜSİAD and the 1970s in Turkey

17 Ocak 2009
In the second meeting, I listened to the members of the Independent Turkey Commission including the Nobel Peace Prize winner, Martti Ahtisari, in addition to Emma Bonino, Hans van den Broek, Albert Rohan and Marcelino Aguirre whom were brought together by the efforts of the Open Society Institute. It was so good to hear these renowned politicians who truly believe in Turkey’s accession to the European Union. But it was painful to remember those dark, chaotic years in Turkey which were full of assassinations, clashes and coup d’etats and those were the TÜSIAD’s first 10 year.

A thought factory
At the TÜSİAD meeting, we were welcomed at the door by Berker who chaired TÜSİAD for nine years. The TÜSİAD was established only a month after the March 1, 1971 military intervention: in the most painful days where bosses of the time faced reactions for ideological reasons. In short, the "riches’ club" was formed in a period of chaos.

Back in those years, after having the last meeting with the founders at the famous Abdullah Restaurant, the late Vehbi Koç took Berker’s arm and said, "Say so then we have decided to form a factory of thought today," Berker continued. As Koç says the TÜSİAD works as a "thought factory" and tries to make some contributions to democracy. For instance, serious reports that they published only three years after being established shed a light on both politics and bureaucracy in Turkey. Prepared with the contributions of numerous faculty members, the TÜSİAD reports back then filled the gap for "think-tank" organizations in a way. At the Feriye gathering we returned back to the years of turmoil and listened how Berker’s house was bombed. Berker told that he was at home together with his wife and two daughters when a hand grenade was thrown in through the window. They were safe but the house was damaged badly. Berker’s house is not the only one exposed to bomb attacks in the late 1970s. The houses of Vehbi Koç and Nejat Eczacıbaşı were bombed as well.

Attacks were committed right after the TÜSİAD published advertisements against the government in newspapers and magazines one after the other. The late Prime Minister Bülent Ecevit of the time saw the ads but didn’t pay attention. Later on he said the advertisements played a role in toppling the government. The TÜSİAD working with the brightest of the period offered the office of secretary-general to the late President Turgut Özal who put his mark on the Turkish politics just like Ecevit did. Back then, Özal was working for the World Bank so he didn’t entertain the idea. "I want to have an active duty as the president of a company making investments in the East," Özal said. Upon his return from the World Bank, Özal indeed took charge of an investment by the Sabancı Family in Eastern Turkey.
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Catching up for lost time in innovation

10 Ocak 2009
Toprak of Bahçeşehir University, Professor Çiğdem Kağıtçıbaşı of Koç University and conservative pious writer Ali Bulaç were in a debate over the study in a televised program the other night.

The study has revealed laics and Alevis living in Istanbul and in the cities of Anatolia are being pressured in various ways.

As you know however conservatives, Bulaç being at the top, show reactions against the findings of the research.

Though Professor Toprak said: "We have focused on the issues of conservatives and girls wearing headscarf for years, and we have tried to lend an ear to the problems of laics for the first time. Objections are baseless," she failed to convince intellectuals within conservative circles, including Bulaç.

"Turkey will modernize through religion," defended Bulaç in the program that I watched attentively. Professor Kağıtçıbaşı stepped in at this point.

South Korean model
She is a renowned professor in international psychology circles and one of the founders of "social psychology". Kağıtçıbaşı as one of the founders of the Turkish Academy of Sciences and has devoted herself to the education of girls in particular.

On the contrary to Bulaç, Kağıtçıbaşı believes modernization of Turkey is possible only through education, science and technology not "religion". In the program, she once again told this to Bulaç and gave the South Korean model as an example:

Turkey and South Korea were about at the same economic and development level the 1960s. But now South Korea has left Turkey way behind. The biggest reason is the education mobilization that South Koreans are conducting successfully.

Rightfully though, Kağıtçıbaşı gave Bulaç some solid data and started with the World Economic Forum’s, or WEF, Gender Report.

Situation of Turkish women reflected in the WEF report is heart-rending.

Turkish women are behind the women of many African and Arab countries. Is modernization possible without gender equality?

Another datum is about mathematics education. Are the Turkish students not at the bottom of the list in math among the students from the OECD countries?

We’re just getting accustomed to innovation
Turkey is also behind in global competition for the reason that we are doing poorly in research and development and patenting.

Actually, the point I want to arrive at is that if "innovation" is the driving force of competition, we have met it in recent years.

Let’s put the discussion over "modernization through religion" aside and focus on a very critical step that Turkey has taken for innovation lately.

And let me underline the fact that this is a step by the Turkish private sector.

An initiative by Turkish Industrialists' and Businessmen's Association, or TUSIAD, Turkish Enterprise and Business Confederation, or TURKONFED, TUSIAD-Sabancı University Competition Forum and National Innovation Initiative suggests formation of "innovation centers" in seven geographical regions in Turkey. These "regional innovation" centers aim putting innovation potentials of small enterprises into action with the cooperation of private sectors, universities, NGOs and the public.

Mediterranean Turkish province of Mersin has applied the model two years ago and now is trying to set up a development agency.

An "innovation center" is established in the city under Mersin Chamber of Commerce today. But unfortunately the Development Agent, which the province is trying to build up with the support of the European experts, is transformed into a totally different entity by the involvement of Ankara.

I hope the "regional innovation centers" led by TUSIAD and TURKONFED will not go through the same experience.
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As our energy dependency to Russia increases

3 Ocak 2009
"Turkey is getting more energy dependent to Russia and this is annoying."

Birol, as one of the prominent energy experts in the world, recently visited Sabancı Holding in Istanbul. We lent him an ear.

Birol accepted an invitation from the Enerjisa Group of Sabancı Holding and came to Istanbul for a presentation of the 2008 "World Energy Outlook" prepared by Birol and his team. Birol presented the report in 30 countries before he came over to Turkey.

According to the IEA’s chief economist, attention to this report increased due to uncertainties in energy. Let’s begin with the energy demand in the world.

According to the report, the energy demand will increase 45 percent by 2030, an average of 1.6 percent increase a year. One-third of this demand will be on coal.

In the same meeting we listened to Energy Ministry Undersecretary Selahattin Çimen, who gave information about the energy demand in Turkey, ahead of Birol.

"Turkey was ranked second after China in energy demand increase between 2002 and 2007," said Çimen.

In other words, energy demand in Turkey is escalating, just like it is in China and India. This, all and all, creates a pessimistic outlook.

Let’s cut it short and inform you more.

Almost three-fourths of natural gas demand in Turkey is met by Russia. We are awfully depended on Russia in natural gas.

A recent decision reached by natural gas exporting countries to form a "Natural Gas OPEC" is like the sword of Damocles hanging over our head because as Birol stresses natural gas exporting countries will agree on a certain price and one-on-one bargaining will not be an issue from now on.

Birol keeps bringing this issue to the attention at the World Economic Forums in the Swiss town of Davos for years. And the "Natural Gas OPEC" initiative may cause serious results for Turkey, according to Birol.

"Supply security should be first," says Birol who thinks a second troublesome development is that a Russia-Turkey consortium won the tender for the first nuclear power plant in Turkey.

Being dependent on a country in natural gas and the same country’s meeting our nuclear energy need give rise to serious questions in Birol’s mind.

Nuclear concerns
But I knew for a long time that Birol is the one who believes in nuclear energy for the elimination of global warming.

At the Sabancı Holding meeting even Birol did not hesitate to express the comfort to live in a country using nuclear energy like France.

But if the issue is transforming into nuclear energy in Turkey, Birol says, "It is crucial to know which country we will work and which technology we will apply in nuclear energy."

Energy Ministry officials give importance to Birol’s views. I wonder if they will pay attention to his warnings and concerns about Russia. I wouldn’t know this.

Dependency on the "Tsar Putin" is an issue we should ponder on.

In the meantime, I want to share a news report by the French Le Monde daily on Russia and nuclear energy.

After the Chernobyl disaster, Russia is following international norms in its nuclear program. By 2025 the country will put a total of 26 nuclear energy plants into use and is ready to export nuclear technology, according to the story. At least, this is good news.
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When modernity is not reflected in life

27 Aralık 2008
And the other is "A Roadmap for the Solution of the Kurdish Question: Policy Suggestions to the Government from the Region" by The Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation, or TESEV.

I had a chance to attend the meetings for the public release of the documents.

As I listened to Professor Binnaz Toprak for the former and Dilek Kuban for the latter, I automatically thought: "But I have known most of them already."

It is impossible to miss the points made in both reports if you leave Istanbul and other big cities, look at life through the eyes of a journalist and lend an ear to what people are saying.

For instance, Professor Toprak says, "In the key Anatolian cities like Konya and Kayseri, you see big, neatly trimmed boulevards and five-star hotels. But the ’modernity’ in view is not reflected in life. This is surprising."

I think this is the heart of the matter.

Stories repeated
Buildings are being modernized but social pressure is still there. To the opposite, it is escalating inversely proportional as it is the case in the drink ban or women getting more household-oriented (women employment at the lowest with 24 percent).

"We did not expect to see this. We were shocked in Erzurum first. We thought it may be different in other places but it was the same everywhere," says Toprak explaining the pressure especially on different social groups such as Alevis. Toprak and journalists Nedim Şener, İrfan Bozan and Tan Morgül, who provided their support to the project, talked to people in pharmacies, hospitals, restaurants, cafes and stores in the cities where the study was conducted. That is, they talked with people in a very broad spectrum.

Stories about pressure on Alevis, Roma people, male students wearing earrings, restaurants serving alcoholic drinks or about not offering seats in public commuter system to women not wearing headscarf were repeated all along during this study.

These "stories repeated" are the most solid evidence of how spread the social pressure is.

As I listened to Kuban of TESEV I felt the "dŽj?-vu" again; for instance, the trouble that people speaking only Kurdish face.

During my visits to the Southeastern Anatolian city of Diyarbakır especially and other provinces and counties in the region, I met plenty of young women only able to communicate with me through their children.

"A considerable section of the population can only speak Kurdish and they cannot communicate with civil servants. These people are facing difficulty especially in justice, health and education-related issues," says Kuban.

The suggestion introduced by TESEV should be taken into consideration: "Appointment of civil servants and personnel fluent in Kurdish in the region."

But of course, one of the basic conditions is for the appointee to be unprejudiced, willing and well informed. Going to the region as though one is going to exile will not help anyone. Another point introduced by Kuban is the "tutelage of governorships over municipalities" which we, as journalists, have witnessed many times. Even in a meeting over the economy, everyone can feel the "tension" between governors in the region and local administrators.

Another notable point in TESEV’s report is that the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, government believes the Southeastern Anatolian Project, or GAP, Action Plan, which will make a great contribution to the economic development of the region. The action plan, not including the word "Kurd," is not persuasive anymore, according to Kuban.

"There is even resistance against the GAP Action Plan including unrealistic targets such as creating jobs for 4 million people," she says.

This is a warning that the AKP government should keep in mind.

As a result, both reports by Professor Toprak and TESEV have many points that we should pay a great deal of attention to.
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The Arıtman Test for CHP

20 Aralık 2008
Reality exposed.

Forget about the remarks of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan who said, "I neither accept nor support this campaign. We did not commit a crime, therefore we do not need to apologize. I do not understand those writers," or of the Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP, leader Devlet Bahçeli who said, "I want to say that I am ashamed of the persons who initiated the campaign." But what about the "racist" approach of the sharp-tongued Republican People’s Party, or CHP, İzmir deputy Canan Arıtman? Did she make anything after being targeted for she claimed that mother of President Abdullah Gül, who says, "we should be able to discuss all views," is an Armenian?

Did Arıtman return from her unforgivable mistake? Never...

On the contrary, Arıtman continued to say that she could have been tried for "racism" if she had lived in one of the European Union countries. Look what she said in short in her press statement I found in my mailbox the other day. "Our nation is being insulted by a bunch of heedless. One should ask to those who find the Armenian genocide allegations and their supporters, ’Are you Armenian?’ even if one of them is the president of the country."

Through her perspective, it is possible to reach the following conclusion: it is a big crime to be Armenian in this country.

Akşener years ago
This shameful remark of CHP Deputy Arıtman took me to years ago and I remembered equally shameful remarks of someone else; the remarks of Meral Akşener, interior minister in the Tansu Çiller government then. Akşener, now, is the deputy Parliament speaker, did not hesitate in those days to name the leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, Abdullah Öcalan as "Armenian offspring." Without doubt, the expression "Armenian offspring" was a cussword used by Akşener for an insult and to vilify the image of Öcalan. I am revisiting my memory to find out if there is a male politician who is clearly pushing the limits of racism, is speaking insults against for the Armenian citizens of this country, as the way Arıtman and Akşener do. I do not recall anyone and I truly feel sorry for women. What we call the "women sensitivity" which we praise to the skies at times is not valid for my fellow female friends.

Discussing taboos
Arıtman’s unbounded reaction to the online apology campaign shows how necessary it is.

The "Armenian issue" is one of the taboos in Turkey. The campaign is an opportunity to break down this taboo finally, to speak and to discuss about it, and to face the reality.

Isn’t facing the reality the requirement of democracy anyway? The Arıtman case has another dimension though.

How the CHP, recently signaling a "Kurdish opening" and claiming the agenda with the "black chador" initiative, will react to Arıtman? Will the CHP leader Deniz Baykal, who is trying to embrace all parts of the society, make a statement on account of Arıtman’s remarks? If he does not, the CHP will be seriously harmed as the party’s being social democrat is questioned both inside and in the European Union.
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Is human life more valuable in Greece?

13 Aralık 2008
I was in the Spanish city of Barcelona when the shooting took place. Spanish television covered the details of the riots for a couple of days. The holiday is over so I returned home. But as far as I can see, the incidents in Athens are spreading around; even the Greek Embassy in Beyoğlu was involved. The walls of the Şişmanoğlu Manor hosting the Greek Embassy were painted red by some youngsters protesting the shooting in Athens. Windows of the Consul General’s vehicle were broken.

Our book of shame
Riots by young people, who are called "anarchists" in Athens yet I preferred to name them protesters, who are demonstrating against the police shooting to kill, spread into Thessaloniki, Barcelona, Madrid, Rome, Bologna and Sophia. The Grigolopoulos case in Athens is important for us from a few angles.

The number of people who died in Turkey as a result of police shooting since the beginning of the year exceeds 20, most of whom were young people such as Baran Tursun in İzmir and Çağdaş Gemik in Antalya, who were shot by the police for not stopping when they were asked to do so.

When you look at the pages of the "book of shame" in Turkey you run a cross the 12-year-old Uğur Kaymaz who was killed together with his father in Mardin’s Kızıltepe district by police shooting. I even do not count the tortures at police stations that were revealed lately.

Can you tell me in which of these incidents people took to the streets, regardless of if they are anarchists? Could this refractory period be named "social apathy?" The state insensitivity is also at issue in Turkey. Two police officers who shot at Grigolopoulos in Greece were arrested. The Greek Interior Minister Prokopis Pavlopoulos submitted his resignation to Prime Minister Konstantin Karamanlis who made a public apology regarding the incidents.

Where were you?
If I am not mistaken, none of the policemen who caused the deaths of youngsters in Turkey were arrested. The state institutions excessively defend the police, let alone their detention.

We didn’t hear a public apology from Mr. Prime Minister over the deaths of these young people; neither have we witnessed the resignation of a minister due to such incidents. No one is taking to the streets, no one apologizes and no one resigns over similar cases.

So riots setting human life at naught continue to occur. Let’s go back to the beginning. "Social apathy" and "state insensitivity" nurture each other. When we learn to take to the streets to say "No" to injustice and unfairness, state institutions will perhaps learn to appreciate human life. By the way, let me tell you that I found it odd to see young people protesting in front of the Greek Embassy in Beyoğlu. Where were you all while Tursun and Gemik were shot to death by the police?
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The Istanbul Schizophrenia

6 Aralık 2008
The center has hosted exhibitions, meetings and seminars mostly on Istanbul since its opening. Earlier this week, art lovers in Brussels visited double exhibitions at the same place, one of which was "1950s to 2000: A Selection from the Santralistanbul Collection," and the other was "Istanbul Diptychs Contemporary Visual and Verbal Positions," by curator Beral Madra.

I will harp on the latter rather than the first, which brought together masters of Turkey, for the reason that the second exhibition allows one to make an in-depth social analysis of Istanbul. An exhibition quite open to interpretation and full of messages, it is. And of course Madra is the name shedding a light on analyses.

Turkish society relies on verbal customs, says Madra. However, the "visual" is getting awfully dominant in the globalizing world, so our society is facing a dilemma. We see the dualism through "Istanbul Diptychs."

Byzantine icons and diptychs
I know, "diptych" is not a common word. Madra says it comes from the "dipticon" of the Byzantine period. Back then, Byzantine women who were not allowed to go to churches practised their religion in front of two flat wooden plates attached to a hinge with the figures of Prophet Jesus and Virgin Mary on them. As for "Istanbul Diptychs," they are bringing the works of 12 photographers, who successfully caught numerous scenes from Istanbul and who feel the city, together with verbal material.

The verbal works are either poems or a book excerpt. But the diptych technique is sometimes used in the same photograph. For instance, one of the photos belongs to Sıtkı Kösemen who had an exhibition titled "Istanbul Center Brussels" previously.

I think Kösemen took the photograph of a boat sailing between the sides of the Bosphorous a zillion times a day using a technique called the "fish eye." The background of this photo reflects the silhouettes of two young girls. According to Madra, this boat trip from Asian part of Istanbul to European part is the manifestation of "Istanbul Schizophrenia."

"We are traveling from one culture to the other. We are back and forth between the east and the west. When you turn your back on one you are heading to the other. Then we repeat it for the other." Istanbul is a difficulty city to live in with its schizophrenic "tides," all day long.

The "Istanbul schizophrenia," which is what Madra names it, reminds me of another schizophrenic thing about this city. That is: Nowadays we see a TV commercial about Istanbul being the 2010 European Culture Capital. It ends with the expression "The stage is yours." The film, in my opinion, is another reflection of "Istanbul Schizophrenia."

For we only see a Western Istanbul in the film, with modern young girls and men. There aren't any women wearing headscarves or women in black chador, a subject which currently rules the agenda following a move from the Republican People’s Party, or CHP, leader Deniz Baykal.

As though Istanbul is taken out from where it is belongs and is placed into the middle of Europe. The one we are living in is different from the Istanbul in this TV commercial. And I think we should take Madra’s "Istanbul Schizophrenia" thesis very seriously.
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