10 Temmuz 2009
To the seaside from Ankara, every intercity road is going through building works. These public investment activities are vitally important to reactivate the economy but they also have become nightmares for holiday goers.
It is usually very difficult to go to the Mediterranean or Aegean coasts during holiday seasons due to traffic jams. To top it all, now we have road construction. A friend of mine told me that he took the bus from Ayvalık to İzmir at eight o’clock in the evening and finally reached his house at two o'clock in the morning. But if it is a Monday morning you can make the same distance in three hours.
I want to ask the authorities why they start this road work in the middle of the summer when they could do the same work in April or May? The same is in Istanbul. People living in Istanbul wait for the summer to have an easier time in traffic, but the city officials decided to start maintenance work on one of the Bosphorus bridges and traffic became impossible again. İzmir is a jewel of a city. Its natural beauty is unique. It is also a very touristic place. On one side you have olive orchards, on the other fig trees. As a Greek king said, it is a unique city. It is not difficult to find the reason why all the big civilizations had settled in the area. But, the city has become a forest of cement blocks in the name of urbanization. The paradoxical situation is that the ones who created this sin now have become environmentalists. Per capita income in İzmir and its surroundings is higher than the rest of Turkey. Also the rate of literacy is very high. Another interesting feature in the region is the very high rate of women in active business life. But it is obvious that the economic crisis has had deep negative impacts on the region.
If Turkey's rate of exports drops by one-third, the same happens in İzmir. Lay offs in businesses have reached their peak. Even the poultry sector is on the verge of declaring bankruptcy. If the food sector is getting deeply affected by the crisis then it means people are taking their last breaths. A region used to having everything in abundance now is trying to survive with limited means. In a summer resort of 147 houses only 60 were inhabited this year. It means everybody has started to cut down on their holidays and entertainment. But now it is time to forget these gloomy thoughts and disengage oneself from real life for a while. Even the decisions the G-8 will take has lost their importance. Now the important thing is to go to the Symra dance school near the seaside in İzmir and watch those young, spirited people do the tango. This is the civilized life itself.
When you talk to the tango dancers you realize that they all have different professions. Among them are physiotherapists, bankers, engineers, teachers, security agents, shop owners, businessmen and farmers. This dance school has its own strong principles. First of all, there are training sessions. Then a question is posed to all the dancers: "Who is Vargas?" After the correct answer is given everybody rises in attention to commemorate Vargas.
Arts and sports are such strong winds that everybody who is taken by them gets lost under their influence. But to get lost in this way turns into a blissful hobby and even love. If you say to them, "Among all our problems, is your only thought about dancing?" you will be wrong. You have to see the blissful way they look after two or three hours of dancing. We leave them with their own bliss and go to a cafe to have some coffee. Turkey is really a wonderful country with its flora, with its people and nature. The important thing is not to fight with each other and try to solve our problems in a sensible and mature way.
3 Temmuz 2009
In Turkish tradition, a horse, a woman and a weapon are the three most important elements in life.
But, as we gave priority to the last two during recent decades, we have forgotten the first, which is the horse. On the issue of women, our Parliamentary Commission for Gender Equality is functioning. But strangely, as the first deed of the commission, a placard has been put at the entrance of the first floor of the Parliament building’s car park that says: "This floor has been allocated for the cars of our lady MPs."
Today, our subject is not women. It is Atatürk's decision to build a hippodrome as soon as he proclaimed the formation of the Republic, and his encouragement of horseshows and races. It is well known that Atatürk was very interested in horseshows and had bred his own horse. Later, he encouraged Celal Bayar and İsmet İnönü to breed their own horses as well.
The Ankara neighborhood where I lived during my childhood and youth was called Mebusevler, meaning "houses of members of Parliament." Our house was on Ayten Street, neighboring one owned by brothers named Kemal and Hüsamettin Tamer. Their sons Korhun and Umur were my good friends. The Tamer family used to breed horses, which is how I became so interested in horses and horse racing. I even went to horse-training sessions at the Ankara Hippodrome.
But, at home, speaking of horseback races and horses was practically banned, as my older sister had fallen off a horse and remained in a coma for almost 40 days before regaining her health.
So my father and mother were very concerned about my interest in horses. Maybe that is why I only tried once or twice to trot on horseback. But my interest has stayed with me to this day. I have never missed watching one single Gazi Koşusu.
Even when I was 11 years old, I remember going to one of the races in a dark suit, white shirt and a tie. Until 1973, I met all of Turkey’s presidents and prime ministers, and many ministers and other politicians, at the Ankara Hippodrome.
Like me, İsmet İnönü, Celal Bayar, Cemal Gürsel, Cevdet Sunay and Fahri Korutürk never missed one single race.
But, with no reason at all, the Ankara Hippodrome then became the target of attacks by politicians, who charged that some people were illegally gambling on the premises. Others charged that the building of the Hippodrome was a shady, capitalist game and said the premises should be opened to the public. In the early 1980s, by means of a hastily passed bill in Parliament, the premises were given over to the control of the presidency. For the sake of safeguarding Atatürk’s legacy, a cultural center was built in its center.
Thanks to the army, which turned out to be very insistent on sustaining the tradition, today every Aug. 30, celebrations of the Turkish Republic are held at the hippodrome. I am sure nobody, not one of those smartly dressed women and men who came to watch the Gazi Koşusu in Istanbul, forgot for one minute that they are indebted to Atatürk and his friends for this wonderful horseshow. I would also like to add that Atatürk was very keen on breeding a Turkish horse pedigree.
Today, all of us should come together and revive the spirit of the Ankara Hippodrome. It would be irrelevant to say that a new hippodrome has been built. We have to hold the Gazi Koşusu at the Ankara Hippodrome, and even go so far as to open it to international races.
To reach Europe's level, we have to drop the taxation from these horse races to around 33 percent, an amount that would enable the Turkish Jockey Club to invest more and improve the breed of horses.
This way, Turkey can have a say in international horseracing competitions. To achieve is our duty. There is no need to get sad. Let’s get to work.
27 Haziran 2009
Looking at these traffic jams you may think that we have overcome the economic crisis and things are not so bad after all. But is that the reality? All script writers who write optimistic scenarios always see the full half of the glass. But looking at the Turkish economy in general we realize that rather than the full or empty half of the glass it is important to see whether the glass is cracked or fully broken.
In our routine daily schedule we tend to miss certain points. From my point of view the point we miss is the lack of demand in the Turkish economy. In economies, demand never drops to the zero point. But the truth is that today demand is at its lowest level in Turkey. The decrease in demand gives big headaches to investors. Who would want to invest and risk his money in a country where there is no stability? At this point you start asking yourself the following question: Is Turkey such an unstable country?
Of course Turkey is not an unstable country but her economic and political stability depends on international conditions. And of course you also have to consider the global crisis which has affected Turkey deeply.
During the last eight months we continuously have analyzed the world and the global crisis, scrutinized the effects of the crisis in Turkey. Turkey was caught in the crisis whirlpool without completing its economic infrastructure.
Neither the world nor Turkey can continue to survive without reforming their economic infrastructure and correctly calculate the balance between supply and demand during this crisis.
In other words, as there are theoretical difficulties in the world economic system, unsolved economic infrastructures create more difficulties. Transformation is up to the human being.
World resources are not enough for the human being. As we are unable to increase these resources we only struggle to share them and create more difficulties.
During the last 20 years we artificially tried to increase these resources but with the lack of production they have become insufficient for us. In the first 10 years of the 21st century mankind has been witness to bloody wars. The next 10 years are not very promising as well. To continue pursuing war economies and try to stop the crisis is not an easy job.
According to the latest World Bank report, the Turkish economy will decrease by 5.5 percent in 2009 and increase by 1.5 percent in 2010 and by 3 percent in 2011. Europe and the United States will follow a trend of economic decrease this year but improve their economic conditions in 2010 and will enjoy a comfortable time in 2011, according to the report. A country like Turkey, whose 50 percent economic relations is with Western countries, will have more difficulties in the coming two years compared to the past two years. Starting from 2011 if Turkey doesn't take the necessary economic measures it will be very difficult for her to stay on her feet.
You may ask me if no measures have been taken. My answer will be, no certain measures have been taken. But these are not enough.
Then it becomes obvious that Turkey has to change the production and economic increase model. But as we receive signs of a preparation for early elections nobody seems to be willing to do this change and work on new models. That's why nobody should expect positive economic developments in the coming two years.
19 Haziran 2009
Efforts to find jobs for millions of unemployed are being ignored. The same thing is happening in Turkey.
Millions of qualified unemployed people have become a threat to the country's economy and security. In your near periphery you can find more than one unemployed who has graduated from at least one university.
The government is trying to find solutions to unqualified unemployment with its latest employment bill. We try to tentatively solve the problem of relatively unimportant work like painting public buildings by giving the job to certain companies.
Also, people are going to be educated and undergo vocational training. But it is not clear when this training period will bring new jobs. Let's say a person has received dress making training. Will it be easy to find him or her a job in the near future? Or once given accounting training, how many jobs would be available?
Not only in Turkey but also in the rest of the world the problem is demand. The core of the problem is the decrease in demand. Will a businessman who is aware of the lack of demand be willing to invest in the production of goods and services? If encouragement is necessary to sell goods and services it is important to create an atmosphere of economic and political stability.
If there is no stability it is not enough to say, "Don't keep your money under the pillow, invest." No agreement has been reached with the IMF related to keeping the money under the pillow, but to punish this is no way to find a solution.
If you ask the government, they will say they are taking the necessary legal measures. But these measures are nothing but package bills. Meaning, they charge 35 bills replacing them with one bill, creating so much confusion that nobody understands what's happening. Another issue is the decision to bring down the rate of the Special Consumption Tax (ÖTV). Is it possible to have a decrease of the tax rate for three-months? This will create another confusion in the markets. "Let's get over this period and then we will think about what can be done next year" is the usual attitude.
The car park of a new shopping mall in Istanbul was free of charge. When I went there last week I saw that they decided to charge five liras for an hour.
But if you do shopping for over 25 liras they don't charge you any money. We did some shopping for over 25 liras and got the receipt. When we asked the shopkeeper if they could confirm the amount on the receipt the reply we got was, "You have to ask the information desk."
The person at the information desk told us to apply to the person at the parking lot. The person at the car park sent us to the parking till. The person at the till sent us to the bonus desk where our receipt was scrutinized carefully Then the friend who was with me exploded in exasperation. With your permission, I don't want to mention what was said.
My only regret is that for years I have pressured my students to carefully learn the importance of productivity during the lectures I have given about educating human resources. If I have given some of my students failing marks I want to apologize to them. It seems I have given them bad grades to no avail because it is apparent that even in the private sector paper work is becoming more important than it is in the public sector.
Is it relevant to employ so many people for such an unimportant job? If it will be impossible to pay their wages two or three months later what is going to happen to these young people?
Turkey's number one problem is employment. The only solution is to create sustainability to qualified businesses and be competitively efficient.
12 Haziran 2009
My ankle was giving me so much pain that my fellow passengers were insisting that I go to a hospital as soon as the plane touched down. I don’t know the reason why, but after take off, the pain eased.
In İzmir, despite my Tariş friends’ insistence to take me to a hospital, I refused, went to the hotel and tumbled down on the bed. The next morning, we found ourselves at the symposium, co-organized by the Spanish Olive Oil Producers Cooperatives and the Tariş Olive Oil Producers Federation. I was in so much pain that I had great difficulty walking, but despite my misfortune, I tried to concentrate on what was being said.
All olive and olive oil producers share the same problems: Producer cooperatives are threatened. They have difficulty buying products. The cooperation among them is diminishing. The lack of finance is creating big problems and they have no new models to follow. Agricultural producer cooperatives, especially those in Turkey, lack strategy. The need to buy the product within a short period of time wears out the energy of the cooperatives, a situation that benefits the interests of the big agricultural producers. Legislation in Turkey is not meeting the cooperatives’ needs. In Spain, although cooperatives have a market share of 70 percent, big buyers control both the Spanish and the European markets.
It is necessary to develop a new product-buying system for our region, including the European Union. To achieve this, it is necessary to educate the agricultural producers. We often see in the Aegean that olive orchards are wiped out and replaced with high cement blocks. The global threat and the joint forces of the industrialists have created difficulties for the global cooperative system.
To overcome these problems, a new management understanding and joint action for the producer cooperatives is needed. From this point of view, it is very clear there is a necessity to create a joint Mediterranean platform that would enable the sharing of information, and create solidarity and cooperation in production and marketing. Even olive and olive oil producers in the EU have preferred a NGO model to achieve their targets.
"Among all edible oils in the market, you can also find olive oil. It is the success of olive oil compared to what was happening 50 years ago, when very few people considered olive oil [to be] edible," said Cahit Çetin, the president of the Tariş Olive and Olive Oil Producers Cooperative.
Following the symposium, physiotherapist Görkem Dizdar came to the hotel where I am staying. Upon examining my ankle, his diagnosis was that the situation is serious and we have to go to the Thermal Rehabilitation Center in Balçova. At the door of the center, specialist physiotherapist Ms. Ebru Kaya Mutlu meets us and then finally eases my pains with the miraculous band technique. I feel so good that afterward, we go to eat fish at the Körfes Restaurant in Balçova. It is needless to say what we had to drink with our fish.
Not only in the Aegean region, but also around the world, the importance of olive oil is being realized. Everybody uses olive oil in every kind of food. Even in the United States, the best-selling oil on the market is olive oil. But here in Turkey, although the olive oil culture is a very old one, we still are unable to become the number-one producer in the world. The leaders of the sector in Europe are Spain and Italy and these two countries are keeping their leadership with the olive oil they buy from Turkey.
All of us have to reflect on the situation and find ways to solve it. For the sake of the market economy, we are slowly killing the sector through over-pressuring it or through political concerns about subsidizing it. Are we crippling it against competition?
As the ancient Greek king said, the Aegean is a place where from its plains runs oil and from its mountains honey. Nature here is very generous. But despite this generosity, even İzmir could not escape from poor urban development.
5 Haziran 2009
"A girl should be like Istanbul. Hard to conquer but conquered by only one conqueror in the end." We know that it was very hard for centuries to conquer Istanbul. Also we know everything about Mehmet the Conqueror. But looking at the 556th year of the conquering of Istanbul celebrations on May 29, it becomes clear that certain people are lacking this information. If you ask me why, I have my answer ready. Everybody for years tried to reconquer Istanbul, but even though they each pretended to be a Mehmet the Conqueror they didn't even stick a single nail to the city.
It is very difficult to enter Istanbul. But once you enter it, it is even harder to get out. To go from one place to the other is almost a catastrophe. During weekdays you can always produce all kinds of extenuating circumstances. But during the weekends, when everybody wants to go out and have some fun, the traffic is jammed. On top of that if there are universities entering exams or a championship football match, you can have catastrophes.
The question is who is to be blamed for this horrible traffic jam? The ones who go out to have fun, the ones who didn't build the necessary traffic infrastructure, gallery owners who sell cars to people who don't even get a monthly pay of 700 liras or banks who give loans to car buyers? Most important than all are the ones to be blamed people who turn a blind eye on unlicensed construction so that it will come back to them as votes?
In Turkey even when new neighborhoods are built, the construction of their infrastructure is done eventually. When the southwest wind blows, an awful smell fills the city's air. Even in neighborhoods where apartment flats are sold for $1 million, the streets stink of sewage.
We have passed through a municipal election period when politicians gave all kinds of promises they didn't keep afterward. If we compare these past five years, has anything really changed? Did everybody continue to think they each are a Mehmet the Conqueror, or did they produce anything?
We are aware that you cannot solve the problems of Istanbul or big metropolises in a period of five years. We know that but for the last 50 years, when you compare Istanbul with other big and modern cities in the world you will see that Istanbul lags behind them. If building 33 shopping malls is an achievement, then you also had to build their sewage and water infrastructure as well.
Some criticize us for belittling what has been achieved in the city. We are not downgrading the importance of the place Turkey stands in today.
But the Turk who has opened up to the outside world today expects more and is seeking a better life. He wants to live comfortably and in peace in the city he inhabits. When in certain developing cities in the world, between 7 to 10 kilometers of metro tracks are being built yearly; in Istanbul we could only build a metro track of less than 15 kilometers in 50 years. There is a trial and error management mentality in Istanbul. They first took out the tramways and introduced trolleybuses, which they abandoned some years later. Then they took out the special bus road to be replaced by metrobuses. Now I wonder which buses they are going to choose next.
I don't deny that municipalities don't have problems. But the main problems are related to the laws. Istanbul is a very large city. It is very difficult to manage it with its surrounding sub-municipalities. Such a large city should be managed with new financial resources and a new management structure. One has to ask the inhabitants the following question:
"Are you willing to live in a city where most of the buildings are unlicensed, or do you want change?"
On a Friday if you have a funeral ceremony to go at the Teşvikiye Mosque and see the state of the mosque's grounds, you will realize the imperativeness of change. If you contradict change and say, "This is what the people want," then either you or the people don't know what they want.
Coming to the girl in the lorry driver's jargon. Without asking the choice of the girl, as another Mehmet the Conqueror you conquer her. As there is more than one Mehmet the Conqueror, it is not difficult to conquer anymore. But as always, nobody asks the girl what she wants. Don't say here are the election results.
At the back of the last lorry, cruising the Ankara-Istanbul highway, was the following: "You cannot comment on memories."
29 Mayıs 2009
Nobody has anything to say in the matter. I for myself can tell you about what the state of affairs is in the Turkish Parliament. Starting with Parliament, if you scrutinize all other institutions, you will realize that there is no respect for efficiency, for capability, for intelligence. The consequences of always turning a blind eye to all misdemeanors are these fatalities. In an atmosphere of nepotism where politicians prefer to send their most inefficient minions on important trips abroad with the pretext that they have to see and get informed about the outside world, then there will be no room left for efficiency.
All of us in Turkey know that in almost all institutions corruption, crony capitalism, nepotism and inefficiency are rampant. We turn a blind eye to these practices saying, "What can we do? This is politics." If someone wants to fight these misdemeanors, we call them "cranky" and reprimand them.
The horrible incident that happened in Bursa is not the cause but the effect. Because the health sector in Turkey cannot be isolated from the other sectors. If you use the pretext of an electric shortcut as the cause of the fire, then you try to minimize the importance of this horrible incident. For years we have complained that all Turkish hospitals, including university hospitals are problematic.
The salaries are never reasonable. Due to this money problem, qualified and efficient personnel are reluctant to work in these hospitals. Another problem is that the hospitals are unable to get back their money from public institutions. Maintenance is almost nil, and they are unable to enjoy new technologies.
Doctors have their own problems and are unhappy. The government prepares a legislation to restructure the doctors’ welfare level but as always fails to do so. Is it possible that a nurse, who gets 1,000 liras a month, and a doctor, 1,500 liras a month, can work properly or successfully work 24-hour shifts?
Everywhere in Turkey private hospitals are flourishing like daisies and function well. Then why doesn’t the management of public hospitals realize what efficiency means? It is very clear that the state wants to stay away from the health sector, which is a very productive one.
But in doing so, the state offers the sector to others who are close to the government. Without solving the problems of the Social Securities and the Pensioners' Fund, it will be impossible to have a productive health sector.
For almost 50 years, I have listened to rhetoric about the intentions to reform the health sector. I am a member of the happy minority, but even I have big difficulties in getting a proper health care. Even concerning the health care system, the Turkish Parliament is deeply negligent toward its personnel.
We learned that previously fires erupted in the hospital in Bursa. According to newspaper reports, the hospital had certain difficulties and problems in the past. I have to ask what has been done to correct all these problems. The worst part of the incident is dying in a fire while you lie in a bed in the emergency care unit.
We have to save our hospitals from archaic minds and archaic structures. At least we have to keep away from the thought of dying in a hospital fire.
22 Mayıs 2009
But we are getting deeply worried. We do not think the existing economic measures are sufficient, and we clearly see that the political agenda has been filled with other issues.
It is good to hear some say that the economy is improving, but I am really surprised. I sincerely want to believe that positive developments are happening in the Turkish economy. Does an airline full of passengers or a holiday resort full of tourists indicate an improved economy? If it does, then how do we explain the 30 percent rate of unemployment and the state the Turkish agriculture sector is in today?
I am in Antalya, speaking with tour operators and hotel managers. They do not sound optimistic. Compared to last year, the number of foreign tourists coming to Antalya has dropped by 30 percent. However, local tourists have almost filled some of the hotels, thanks to the May 19 holiday, Youth and Sports Day. Other hotels are empty. Some have reduced their staff, cut down on quality or lowered prices.
Our problem is how to save the day. As they closely follow the economic developments in Turkey, foreign markets immediately react to the situation and drop our grades. There are thousands of Web sites on the Internet that follow Turkey’s tourism sector closely. You can find all the information and criticisms, in detail, on these sites.
We have to be thankful that there have been no mass layoffs in the tourism sector in Antalya yet. People working in the sector are mostly getting their salaries, though some are able to find jobs, but complain of being underemployed. It is very difficult to lay off qualified workers in the tourism sector, where employer and employee tend to have a carefully interactive relationship.
Tourism is the goose that lays the golden egg. Years later, everyone in the region has realized the importance of the goose and is safeguarding it very carefully. But there are many sectoral problems, including price and quality. The expenditures hoteliers have to make to renovate their buildings also create financial problems in this period of economic crisis. Years ago, a hotel could cover its expenditures in six or seven years. Due to competition and the rise in expenses, it today takes 15 years to close the gap. I used to insistently write that the "all-inclusive system" was a pain in the neck for Turkish tourism. But the system we used to criticize has helped the tourism sector remain as it is. Especially in western Antalya, there is a demand for the all-inclusive system as the majority of foreign tourists coming to the region are Russians and Germans. In the hotel where we stayed, only our group and the staff were speaking Turkish.
In eastern Antalya, the variety of foreign tourists is higher than in the western part, as people are drawn to Turkey by high prices in Spain and Greece. Golf tourism is also developing in eastern Antalya, and in the winter months, there is football tourism too. Last year, hotels in the region hosted almost 1,500 football teams. Hotels near the airport are also successfully drawing conventions and other business groups during the winter months.
The weather is getting warmer and the holiday season is drawing near. Schools will be closed in late June. University exams will be over. Everyone has the right to take a holiday, but you have to have the money for it. If the Turkish economy is steered in the right direction and saved from derailing, people will be able to go on holiday with a more restful state of mind this summer. Otherwise, the tourism sector will have serious problems and will find it difficult to survive. The local tourist sustains the sector, while foreign tourists bring money to it.
Our elders always told us that we should never go swimming before the rind of a watermelon starts drifting in the sea. But I noticed that neither the locals nor the foreigners are worried about seeing the rind of a watermelon, which in recent years have been appearing out of season, before they ease themselves into the Mediterranean’s warm waters.