GeriCengiz Aktar The military: ’The grand speechless’
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The military: ’The grand speechless’

Global military spending in 2008 reached a historical record high of $1464 billion. This is twice that of Turkey’s GDP. Expenditure increased by 4 percent compared to 2007 and 45 percent compared to a decade ago.

This incredibly high figure is approximately 2.5 percent of the world’s total GDP. With the exception of Western and Eastern European countries, there is no country not increasing its military spending, observes the annual Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, or SIPRI, report released in June.

U.S. military expenditures during former U.S. President George W. Bush’s eight-year nightmare tenure reached the highest since World War II on account of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The withdrawal from Iraq will take time and the war that will be intensified in Afghanistan will continue to place a sizable burden on U.S. military expenditures and of course economy. Russia is one of the countries increasing its military expenditure. Despite serious economic problems, our neighbor keeps transferring money to its military. The lion’s share in military spendings in Asia belongs to China, India, South Korea and Taiwan.

In Africa, the oil-rich Algeria increased military spending 18 percent to total of 5.2 billion in 2008.In Turkey, military expenditure jumped about a half billion dollars, from $11.155 billion in 2007 to 11.663 billion in 2008. To examine the SIPRI report on Turkey’s military spending for the period 1989-2008 please follow the link below:

Unconditionally loyal and apolitical

The Modern French Army, resembling very much the Turkish army in structure, was built on two basic principles since the French Revolution and up until the 5th Republic founded by Charles de Gaule in 1958. The first is unconditional loyalty of the armed forces to legitimate governments. The military is a passive tool in government's hands because the administration can fulfill responsibilities only if the armed forces are 'unconscious'. What I mean here by unconsciousness is that in such armed forces' commanders blindly follow the directives of government without expressing any ideas because questioning orders makes the state and politics dysfunctional.

The principle of unconditional and unquestionable loyalty forms the basis of the principle of apoliticality. The judgments, tendencies and sympathies of commanders of the armed forces cannot be revealed; they are even treated as non-existent. Political passivity is the essence. Even though the loyalty of the armed forces needs to shift through government changes, their loyalty is in essence, to the people of the country. The French Army is always the 'grand speechless'. This is the opposite of today’s 'accountability' principle. The reason is that the armed forces should have no say or they should have a say only on their military performance.

The armed forces mechanism in Turkey, of course, is not functioning in this manner. The Turkish Armed Forces, or the TSK, continually comment on political issues and determine the political agenda by expressing opinion or sympathy. And where they should really speak to give an account on military activities, including the internal security and military expenditure, they are speechless. The Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation, or TESEV, sponsored "Almanac Turkey 2006-2008 Security Sector and Democratic Oversight" edited by Ali Bayramoğlu and Ahmet İnsel was published this week. A timely venture. Civilian control and oversight is almost impossible in a country where security is understood solely in military terms. Like in the maxim attributed to Mustafa Kemal Atatürk: "If the motherland is at stake the rest is just a detail" approach.

Here are some chapters: Unbearable autonomy of military justice; the military’s dominance over the century-old struggle with the so-called 'religious backwardness and banditry'; the absolute decision making power of the military over military procurement and its non-accountability; the transformation of the security concept in light of relations with NATO and the European Union. The almanac also focuses on both media and public opinion in regard to the security sector, education and national security, civilian control over special security services, including the village guardianship, the place of the National Intelligence Organization, or MIT, among security institutions, the weight of the gendarmeries’ military nature over internal security, and restructuring of the police department based on security during the 1980-ies post-military coup era. It is worth reading!

Sweden’s EU term presidency

On Wednesday Sweden took over the helmet for the European Union term presidency. Sweden will face a quite difficult term. Even preparations for the decision about Turkey to be taken at the end of the year are enough to be handled in a six-month term presidency. Sweden is a country that has already grasped the importance of Turkey’s integration with the EU and uttering it by any chance. No matter who is in the government, this policy has never changed in Sweden. Just like the U.S. administration.

At the cost of exasperating French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, neither Sweden nor the United States hesitate to express their opinions on the subject. Sarkozy canceled a trip to Sweden when the Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt made pro-Turkey remarks to the French daily Le Figaro in May. Turkey is again the reason why Sarkozy frequently answers back to U.S. President Barack Obama.

Bildt and his team didn’t wait for the last minute. They have been back and forth between Europe, Turkey and Cyprus and have now set up the "Cyprus Working Group" in Stockholm. Sweden long ago realized the crucial effect of Cyprus reunification talks over Turkey’s accession negotiations with the EU particularly and its relations with the EU generally.

Similarly, an informal group, "Like-minded countries on Turkey’s EU membership," formed in Ankara, is gathering pace. The group initiated by Britain, Italy, Spain and Sweden expanded with the participation of Belgium, Estonia, Finland, Lithuania, Hungary and Poland. Denmark and the Netherlands are said to be providing occasional support to the group, that may be reinforced in the months to come. On the other side, elections in Germany scheduled for Sept. 27 will show if the new German government will be at odds with Swedish and Spanish efforts regarding our negotiations. I personally do not expect an anti-Turkey coalition in Germany this fall.

Friendly EU presidencies

A new negotiation chapter was opened during the Intergovernmental Conference. The 11th chapter is about taxation. And Turkey promised to review taxes on all tobacco products by the end of the year. However, there couldn’t be any more chapters opened during Sweden’s EU term presidency despite all. I kept saying for years: Turkey which cannot see the end of the road regarding its accession and is being insulted by Sarkozy-likes, can neither make any more concessions in trade nor make any pre-spending required for the opening of new chapters. It seems that the government is hiding behind this impossibility and failing to conduct the EU works. But nothing is over yet. When Sarkozy decided to suspend five negotiation chapters in June 2007 and his administration tried like a child to get involved in every single sentence about "accession" uttered in Brussels, we should have called France to diplomatic account. This still can be done.

Despite all odds, the situation is quite conducive until the end of 2011. Now Sweden, then Spain, Belgium, Hungary and Poland will become term presidents during a two-and-a-half year period. All are pro-Turkey. In the meantime, we should exert efforts to clear the way for the opening of new negotiation chapters. In this context, we have to deal with Sarkozy's opposition. The "Turkey Season" in France activities that will continue for nine months will be a way to have direct communication. So is Istanbul, European Capital of Culture in 2010.

In parallel, the government should strongly support a solution in Cyprus and most importantly ask EU countries to utter an accession date. Once a membership date is uttered or discussed, the rest will come.

It is a must to break-up Sarkozy-likes’ monopoly over statements and messages against Turkey’s EU bid. The counter-messages should at least be as serious and thought provoking as his. When Sarkozy says, "No matter what you do, you will never be an EU member", pro-Turkey countries usually say, "Don’t worry. They treated us badly too. Be patient and work hard." But this is enough no more!

Pro-Turkey countries should be able to say as loudly as possible, "We want to see Turkey among us until such and such date." And they should say it in Europe not here. This is the communication we need.
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Post-electoral Iran and the AKP government

Iran has not found peace since the presidential elections. Over time, the opposition movement will calm down and the Iranian Revolution will continue its path. However, nothing will ever be the same. What is happening in Iran reflects discontent within the regime rather than a counter-revolution. Turkey’s government was quick to congratulate incumbent Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad following the elections. Foreign Minister Ahmet Davudoğlu said that the Iranian elections were held at the end of an environment of open discussion. 

He said that in this multi-candidate election the post-electoral developments, he hopes, won't cast a shadow over political participation. Davudoğlu underlined that high voter turnout in the elections was a positive development.

Regarding the riots, "We see this as a domestic issue of Iran and hope that the Iranian people and authorities will reach the most accurate decision," he said.

A political vocabulary excluding pluralism

There cannot be any better expression of the idea that democracy means only elections and politics consists of only the winner’s performances.

We already knew that the AKP government’s political vocabulary doesn’t include pluralism and participatory democracy, but we are confirmed once again. Besides, it is extremely doubtful that the election was fair, even by Davudoğlu’s standards.

In fact, among over 300 candidates, the Revolutionary Guards only approved four. This is just like the permission that today’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was not given in the 2002 general elections in Turkey! According to journalist Ayşe Önal, who closely follows Iran, Ahmadinejad tried to prevent a "map" from emerging in Iran by rigging the elections. That was just like the three-colored map drawn following the March 29 local polls in Turkey to depict a Turkey divided into: coastal cities-Central Anatolia-the Kurdish region.

Not a single observer expected the Iranian opposition leader Mir Hussein Mousavi to win.

But the regime was trying to block elections results that would reveal the 30-year-old Iranian Revolution is not in a rose garden and that the discontent is felt mostly in cities. Despite every effort the revelation is there.

Turkish foreign policy: independent yet realpolitik

As for the international dimensions of the elections, the government's position, as well as Foreign Minister’s statements supporting Ahmadinejad, are in harmony with the previous foreign policy line. Starting with the cartoon crisis, continuing with Hamas leader Khaled Mashal’s and Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir’s Ankara visits, the unconditional pro-Hamas attitude, the Davos incident and the Rasmussen row Ñ these are challenges to Turkey's otherwise western allies positions'. This time again,

Turkey was at odds with its allies in the Iranian post-election developments.

What is going on in Iran is not something that can be overlooked by a dull "realpolitik" approach, or in other words, by "good neighborhood relations and no interference in domestic issues."

Discontent in our neighbor will, sooner or later, influence the region and have side effects. We should expect a tougher regime in Iran and a helix of disasters due to Israel’s involvement as a result of atomic bomb production in Iran.

The only course of action that may prevent the inferno is to develop new partnerships with the West, a course advocated by Mousavi. It is self-evident that the Turkish government, making pretentious claims and trying to bring Turkey to central stage, cannot generate any proactive policies when it comes to democratic evolution in neighboring countries. This goes for Azerbaijan and Armenia too.

Don’t democratic weaknesses lay behind the problems of all these countries, the problems that affect us at times? Does the Turkish government pronounce the word "democracy" in dialogues with these countries? Unfortunately not.
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World Refugee Day

Saturday, June 20, is World Refugee Day, the day for people probably in the worst condition. It is the day for those who have no place to go, the poorest of the poor, whom we hear of only when they drown in the seas or die of no air in truck containers. Two stories about them. Recently, the return home of approximately 12,000 Kurds from Turkey who were living in the village of Mahmur near the northern Iraqi city of Arbil was on the agenda again.

Residents of Mahmur are from the southeastern Turkish provinces of Siirt, Şırnak and Hakkari. When they were caught in the middle of fire between 1992 and 1994, they took refuge in Iraq. First they were placed in the Atrush camp and in Mahmur after 1999.

The people’s assembly of 45 residents in Mahmur and the town council consisting of three women and 12 men govern Mahmur. The municipal council is elected on a yearly basis. Services and infrastructure works are achieved with funds provided by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, or UNHCR, and Kurdistan Regional Government. In schools built by the UNHCR, 100 volunteer teachers serve 3,500 students. Courses are in Kurdish. Turkish, like English, is taught as a second language. Some high school graduates continue higher education at Salahaddin University in Arbil.

One of the specialties people in Mahmur have is their ability to fatten up sheep by natural methods. Thanks to their ancient know-how, they are popular in the region. With these, one can say that they are doing better in Mahmur than in Turkey. But the lack of security in Iraq and longing at some point make this comfort meaningless.

The return of residents in Mahmur was brought to the agenda first time in 2004 in a reformist atmosphere. As a result of talks among Turkey, the interim Iraqi government and the UNHCR with the supervision of United States, the parties reached an agreement. But the document was never signed and put into force. In these meetings, Turkish-Kurds living in Mahmur were given guarantees of not to be punished upon return. However, they were not promised neither for education in Kurdish nor financial aid for living. Closing Mahmur camp and return of refugees were discussed in bilateral talks between Başer and Ralston in 2007.

For the purpose, an arm search was conducted under U.S. and UNHCR’s observation by security forces of Baghdad and Kurdistan region. It appeared in the end that there is neither outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party presence, or PKK, nor weapons in the camp. Afterwards, a census was carried out and refugee identity cards were distributed. Only thing left was to fill out the forms for "voluntary repatriation" in accordance with international law. Behind the wheeling and dealing of recent days, something totally different is going on.

Apparently, the military and civilian bureaucracy is considering closing down Mahmur as part of eradicating the PKK. In other words, the radical approach in solving the Kurdish problem actually has never changed.

A solution to the Mahmur camp agreeable by all parties is a solid and meaningful test for Turkey’s Kurdish policy. The solution is of importance in terms of taking care of Turkish citizens of Kurdish origin but also in humanitarian and political terms.

’They Had Faith in Turkey’ exhibition

Since the beginning of April, an exhibition has been on display in various venues in Istanbul about European and Asian kings, princes and groups of people who were granted asylum in the Ottoman Empire and in Turkey. "They Had Faith in Turkey" is the name of this amateur activity held under the auspices of the Turkish Foreign Ministry. The exhibition was on display in various countries before.

I think the aim is to let the entire world know that this land embraces refugees and has welcomed kings and administrators since ancient times, when they were in trouble. I should, however, add "as every land and every state does." Since human history is the history of wars, it is also of mass displacements. There always were countless people migrating from their own land. States have always protected the enemies of their enemies, looked for ways to use them as trump cards, by granting them asylum. Those who were welcomed by the Ottomans equal to those who fled from the Ottomans.

Likewise, those who were forced to leave were attractive for states pursuing population engineering. Population, especially if skillful, is valuable. After the Spanish reconquista, 180,000 Jews kicked out by Catholic Spaniards were brought to Thessaloniki and Istanbul by Ottoman Sultan Beyazıd.

The reason was competition with the Catholic world but also the aim to repopulate large areas with skilled, urban Jews. And this, of course, even if it’s a petty calculation, saved Jews from extinction.

We see a continuation of the Ottoman policy, which went down in the history as a "historic Jewish friendship," in the Republican period. Although the same pragmatic approach is seen in the establishment of the university by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, thanks to European Jewish professors fleeing Nazism, the latter survived thanks to this policy.

During the Holocaust, some Turkish diplomats in Europe rescued European Jews by obeying solely their own consciences, not as the application of an official policy.

We notice this in the ill treatment of some other Jews who directly took refuge in Turkey during the war.

Frankly, the attitude stuck between political calculations and tolerance in the Ottoman and early Republic periods is of no importance anymore considering the outrageous treatment refugees are subjected to today in Turkey.

It is difficult to say that Turkey is consistent about international law and its own obligations. Indeed refugee law and its implementation can hardly go beyond the "They Had Faith in Turkey" exhibition.
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The EP elections

The results of the European Parliament, or EP, elections that were held last weekend did not send a good signal. The European Union is somehow failing to pull itself up as its self-confidence diminishes steadily. Now we have an introverted, timid Europe afraid of almost everything while the U.S. administration searches for a new dialogue with the world. The number-one reason is the politicians in the EU. Average and narrow-minded politicians leading small worlds are the biggest obstruction to integration and economic recovery in Europe. The way they present national solutions to European and global problems is just appalling.

Citizens and societies in the bloc have long been governed by EU decisions. Two-thirds of laws and regulations affecting the lives of individuals and societies are decided in Brussels. Despite this, EU citizens have no idea how the EU functions. Politicians in the EU countries have never explained why neither the Union nor its institutions were established, what their functions are, how they operate or how they affect the lives of their citizens. Another reason for citizens’ lack of knowledge is the education system. No EU country designs curricula by considering its EU membership.

Except for a few initiatives, an EU citizen continues to live and work in the Union, but thinks strictly nationally. So they are not interested in the EP elections, or in EU affairs in general. In fact, in many EU countries, politicians who are not popular anymore in the national political system get nominated for the EP!

A parliament getting more bizarre after every election
Direct elections to the EP have been held since 1979. Previously, as with the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, the EP consisted of representatives from national parliaments. With the direct elections, the EU’s executive body, the European Commission, is renewed as well. But the EP has limited decision-making authority over binding decisions.

This time around, a total of 736 representatives were elected to represent 492 million EU citizens. No single party in power increased its votes, or even maintained them, for that matter. In all EU countries, hostility against government parties Ğ most likely triggered by the economic crisis Ğ was translated into votes. In France and Germany, the main opposition parties did not take advantage of the consequences of the economic turmoil. But in Austria, Britain, Finland, Hungary, the Netherlands, Romania and Sweden, populist and vulgar anti-EU parties made substantial gains thanks to the general nihilism.

The Greens’ performance in France, Greece and Hungary is also worth mentioning. Voters aware of this fragile situation in the world have pushed green politics to the forefront. Finally, the very low turnout in some new member states can be seen as an expression of disenchantment with Europe, and especially with Chancellor Merkel’s refusal to support their economies.

In the last parliament, there were six members of Turkish origin. They are only four in the new EP. Members Emine Bozkurt from the Netherlands and Metin Kazak and Filiz Hüsmenova from Bulgaria were re-elected, while in Germany, Social Democrat Party candidate İsmail Ertuğ made it to the EP. Of course, this does not mean that they will follow a pro-Turkey policy in parliament.

During the last legislature, members of the EP finally realized that EU membership is not only about harmonization on political matters and started to pay attention to matters in Turkey. A study titled "Report on Women’s Rights in Turkey," prepared by Member of the EP Bozkurt is a good example.

With this, we have seen that the EP, contrary to previous parliaments, has gradually stopped blaming Turkey in every single incident. I hope this learning trend continues and that more issues, such as organic farming and regional policy, are examined in special reports.

There is no reason to say that the new EP is definitely against Turkey. Besides, no voting on any vital decision of great interest to Turkey will take place in the new legislature.

Also good news for Turkey is the election results in Greek Cyprus. Pro-solution parties like the liberal DISI and communist AKEL won 70 percent of the votes. That is a good development that bodes well for the reunification of the island, as it will strengthen the hands of both negotiators, Christofias and Talat.
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Young-dynamic but unqualified-unemployed

A group of young, dynamic and qualified economists working under the name the Economists’ Platform released the results of a study on May 19, Youth and Sports Day. According to their report, youth are the group affected worst by the economic crisis, with unemployment among people ages 15 to 24 approaching 30 percent. You must have heard Turkish image-makers use the country’s "young and dynamic population" as evidence of its present and future influence.

Yes, Turkey has a young and dynamic population. I have not seen any young people who are not dynamic. No wonder youngsters are called "delikanlı," or hot-blooded, in Turkish.

However, the important thing is whether this dynamic population is qualified. And on this point, we see a different story.

The United Nations Development Program, or UNDP’s, "Population and Demography Report - 2002" indicated that Turkey has taken a turn in which the number of 15- to 65-year-olds who are eligible to work has reached its highest level ever.

Before Turkey, South Korea quite successfully benefited from this "demographic window of opportunity" that is vital for economic development. The necessary condition, however, is good education and long-term economic planning. In fact, if the population is unqualified, it may actually block development.

Look at the results of research conducted in May 2008 by Bahçeşehir University’s Economic Research Center, or BETAM: In Turkey, the number of young people between the ages of 15 and 19 is 6.3 million. They have pathetic education levels and work potential.

About 1.6 million boys and 1.9 million girls are not attending school. Sixteen percent of boys and 72 percent of girls who are uneducated have only a primary-school diploma. Yes, some are working. But they face miserable working conditions. Most have no social security and work more than 40 hours a week.

Ratio of unemployed youth increases

In the current economic crisis, the ratio of unemployed youth jumped from 17 percent to 28 percent. Two million young people between the ages of 15 and 19 - 600,000 of whom are boys and 1.4 million of whom are girls - are not attending school, not working and not looking for a job.

Another survey conducted by BETAM, this one focusing on children ages 6 to 14 and released in April 2009, reveals that there are 320,000 children at work in Turkey - 207,000 boys and 113,000 girls. Of these children, 70,000 of the boys and 55,000 of the girls are not attending school, and 30,000 have never received an education. Some 204,000 of these children are unpaid, as they are working with their families, and 109,000 children receive pay for their work. Fifty percent of boys and 72 percent of girls who have jobs are working in rural areas, while companies employ most of the rest.

A group of young, dynamic and qualified economists working under the name the Economists’ Platform ( released the results of a study on May 19, Youth and Sports Day. According to their report, youth are the group affected worst by the economic crisis, with unemployment among people ages 15 to 24 approaching 30 percent.

One of the most striking results of this study was that when young people were asked when they would be employed following their graduation, 57.8 percent said they believe they cannot get a job in less than a year.

These children and young people are Turkey’s most important asset. Considering that they will form the 25 to 45 age group in the 2030s shows how serious the situation is. It is impossible for the youth who will form the backbone of the country’s manpower in the 2030s to meet the level of qualification and education needed for development objectives.

Forget even about all that: Just imagine the social cost of this army of unemployed of today and tomorrow and their propensity for all sorts of quick fixes.
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Declare May 29 Ottoman Day

My last article on the May 29, the Day of Conquest celebrations, was in 2006. During the 556th year of Istanbul’s conquest, two permanent blows were made on the cosmopolitan mentality symbolized by Sultan Mehmed II the Conqueror. So, it was a duty this year again to write something on this bizarre commemoration day. First, the Sulukule district has been erased although the neighborhood was legacy of Sultan Mehmed II, and Sulukule residents were forced to move out of Istanbul. People living in Sulukule are probably the only human constituent of the city who have existed since the days of conquest. The other drive is the Topkapı Culture Park Panorama 1453 History Museum, for which the has to thank the municipality.

In the opening speeches on Jan. 31 for the park, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Istanbul Mayor Kadir Topbaş pointed out that the area was a dump while they talked about the rediscovery of our deep-rooted historic values. The association was no coincidence. The Istanbul municipality, run by a Justice and Development Party, or AKP, mayor, is determined to re-conquest the city and to re-create it. That contradicts entirely the cosmopolitan mentality of the Ottomans, whom the AKP tries to mimic.

Let us recall a few things first, as this is always useful: Ottomans were not celebrating the Conquest. The celebration of 1453 was invented during the Republic. It was uttered for the first time ever in 1938 in a way to lay the ground for the 500th anniversary of Constantinople’s Conquest. Discussions continued until the first celebration in 1953. It seems that some circles having a quest for a Turk-Islam synthesis perceived this as a first step to have the revenge of the Kemalist era between 1923-1938. Activities launched during Erdoğan’s mayorship of the city proved that such a mentality was becoming more solid. Indeed, the History Museum is a project that was considered while he was the mayor of Istanbul.

Turkey needs an Istanbul mythology to lean on. The AKP does it better than everyone else; this is the only difference. All activities including conquest ceremonies serve that purpose. The activities do not necessarily correspond to historical facts. On the contrary, a new history is in the making. Is there any other nation but us that sanctifies a city conquered six centuries ago? No, there is not because all others have become nations a long time ago and have no need for similar myths. They have a pretty good self-confidence and have no identity problems.

In this context, as the Ottomans themselves did not celebrate such a intense matter like Istanbul’s Conquest though it is a milestone in history, the obsession about the conquest of the pious or laic conservative circles in the Republic of Turkey is worrisome.

Saving the Conquest, Mehmed II and

Istanbul from nationalist rhetoric

Writing a national history via Istanbul and thus re-writing history is not only the AKP’s business. The Congress Valley, or the Prost Valley near Taksim, of the Republican period was planning a national cultural program of the time to the fore through an opera, a stadium, a theater and a park right at the poke of the Pera’s nose. With Topkapı Culture Park, national culture shifted from Prost Valley toward Topkapı, symbolizing the Muslim neighborhood of the Ottomans and the Conquest. After the Prost Valley parenthesis, we have seemed to come back to our cultural origins!

In fact, at Topkapı Park there is everything, as the mayor puts it: mosques, Ottoman houses, the history museum, a traditional arts bazaar, pools, a trekking area and an observation deck, in addition to the "Ottoman" parking lots. É But the mentality behind the Topkapı Park is no different than that of the Prost Valley. Both are re-writing history and the city’s history. The first is doing this through unfamiliar practices and the latter through domestic and familiar tales. However, none are real. The first is trying to form a national culture and history by rejecting the Ottoman past. Today’s local version is trying the same by assuming that the Ottomans consisted of only Muslims.

With the AKP municipality, May 29 becomes a key symbol in re-writing history. May 29 is nothing but a mythological representation based on tales and nationalist-Islamic rhetoric.

Why is May 29 not a day of activities to help us to better understand the Ottoman Empire, how it kept many religions and ethnicities under control? Why is May 29 not an "Ottoman Day"? Can’t we start its celebration on May 29, 2010, within the framework of activities to be held for Istanbul, the Europe Capital of Culture?
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State diplomacy and civilian diplomacy

Since the end of world wars, there are new ways of generating policies, both in internal and foreign politics. The trend was enhanced through the construction of the European Union and accelerated with the end of the Cold War and the onset of globalization. 19th century-style politics restraining the making of policy to national politicians has long since been transferred to experts and technicians. And now non-official actors need to be counted as new policy makers.

The EU’s founding father Jean Monnet in his Washington address on April 30, 1952, about the formation of a new union in Europe opens an extraordinary perspective when he utters "we are not setting up an alliance of states, we are bringing people together." Through the aphorism he signals that the new union will be people-oriented not state-oriented. Monnet reveals the beginning of a new era where societies will have a say next to selfish, belligerent states who disregard people.

Today, we have a variety of layers for carrying out domestic politics, through local and regional structures, and abroad by going beyond nation-states.

In this context, in addition to traditional diplomacy there is plenty of civilian multilateral, brisk and courageous diplomatic activity that is most of the time ahead of state diplomacy. Culture diplomacy, city diplomacy, environment diplomacy, transnational networks of non-governmental expert institutions, transnational expert institutions involved in conflict resolution are first come to mind.

International and intergovernmental organizations are trying to catch up with the pace of this new process of doing foreign diplomacy. The effects of these policies over state policies are directly related to the degree of institutionalization of democratic traditions in the countries.

Turkey is at the very beginning of this mutual interaction process. Participating in politics is still the exclusive sphere of the elected as well as the appointed (military) both in domestic and foreign matters. Outside the classical sphere of politics no initiative has any bearing or value. But designing policies and implementing them is no longer controlled exclusively by state as a result of the EU accession bid and widespread globalization.

EU not only about foreign politics

Thus, policymaking is somewhat fragmented. To say that the state and politicians are tuned into these novelties is difficult. On the contrary, state bureaucracy and politicians seem catching up to civilian initiatives. We are surprised every day by laws and regulations that were not shaped here, yet being implemented here as a result of EU harmonization works. (For this very reason, the EU is not only about foreign politics).

The making of these laws and regulations doesn’t depend on imperialist states as it is thought to do. The decisions are made as a result of multi-actor, multi-layer, continuous dialogue and negotiation processes. The very same external dynamics invite Turkey to pay attention to the policies produced by institutions and initiatives outside the governments and states. Turkey’s candidacy to the EU sped up the involvement of non-state and non-governmental actors. Civil society in Turkey has prepared remarkable initiatives on policies of memory, culture and environment, well beyond that of the state and government. Studies and awareness campaigns for the plight of non-Muslim as well as Muslim minorities, world-class cultural, art and literature actions to promote Turkey and protests that were held for the conservation of natureÉ

Those who expect every single step to come from the state or rely totally on the state for every single public policy in order to solve problems with neighboring countries and among citizens, will have been disappointed, at least for now, in the issue of re-opening the border with Armenia, among several other failed conflict resolution attempts by the state.

Among these state-loving circles there are groups who even term themselves "civil society organizations." Civilian initiatives continue despite all odds. Perhaps they are not enough to re-open borders but they do better: they open borders drawn in our minds.
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Is the atmosphere in France changing?

An opinion poll conducted in France in the midst of March revealed that 50 percent of French people are against Turkey’s membership to the European Union and 35 percent are in favor. According to the poll, 49 percent of left lean support Turkey’s EU bid where 41 percent opposes it. Among right-wingers, 67 percent stand against Turkish accession to the EU as 19 percent give support to Turkey. The same research company, CSA, in a previous survey held in 2005 revealed that 66 percent of French people were against Turkey’s EU membership. So, the anti-Turkey camp has lost 16 points in four years!

In spite of the geographical distance between the two countries, France and Turkey have many similarities: the nation-building process, concept of minorities, weight of the agriculture, centrality of state in public administration, place of religion in the public domain, place of military in political life, education and curriculum. Starting from these similarities, one can understand the French reservation or opposition to Turkey to some extent. Most of the aforementioned notions are imported from France. Despite all the bickering, in Turkey discussions in particular on religion’s place in the public sphere are way beyond those in France. Ongoing discussions in Turkey are being perceived as a revision of the laicism principle, which in turn makes the fear deepen.

As for Islam per se, forget about integration of millions of Muslims whose size reaches around 10 percent of total French population; France has deep difficulties to co-habit with them. Thus Turkey’s Muslim population is a potential nightmare for many in France and elsewhere in Europe, in the case of membership to the EU.

The Sarkozy factor
Since 2004 the French right has simply added fuel to the flames regarding public opinions’ negative feelings toward Turkey and enlargement in general. As the European Parliament elections will be held on June 6-9, Turkey comes out of the French President Sarkozy’s wonder hat again. But this time, German Chancellor Merkel accompanies him. Over the last weekend, Sarkozy and Merkel openly, acting together, addressed young Christian Democrats in Germany. Instead of full membership for Turkey they renewed their "privileged partnership," which without exception no one knows what it is. Besides the EP elections, Merkel is preparing for the Bundestag elections scheduled for Sept. 27. However, conducting election campaigns by Turkey-bashing could backfire one day.

As for Sarkozy, let’s not forget that he is not the old upbeat Sarkozy anymore, his remarks are not agreed on easily, and even he tells the truth that his position is rejected outright by the majority of citizens. French people are sick and tired of his arrogance and his constant way of tearing down without being able to build instead. You should’ve seen the French press last week about Sarkozy’s second year as French president. The media was asking, "How will we stand this man for another three years?"

Indeed there is no guarantee for Sarkozy being re-elected in 2012. Of course, his rival’s ability will be vital, but it is possible to talk about "Sarkozy abhorrence" today. So his anti-Turkey stance may not infinitely go as planned.

Moreover as the opinion poll reveals, the French are not necessarily against Turkey. As everyone in sober mind, the French too have begun to see Turkey’s EU membership through different windows. There are many different news stories, books, movies, meetings, political and economic partnerships, and artistic and cultural activities available to the French beside the anti-Turkey mind-set. In addition to members of the French socialists, some right-wing politicians are increasing in number against Sarkozy’s Turkey policy. Today there is a multi-voiced Turkey debate in France.

The city of Lille has been talking about Turkey via the "Istanbul TraversŽe" exhibition since mid-March. The number of visitors in seven weeks reached a record 65,000! Activities related to the "Season of Turkey" will be start in July and last until March 2010. In the meantime, Istanbul will be the European Capital of Culture. Remember, just because of the EP elections of early June, Sarkozy didn’t want the start of "Season of Turkey" at an earlier time. I wonder how he would inaugurate the season with his Turkish counterpart Abdullah Gül after his constant undue remarks against Turkey. But it is not impossible that he might suddenly become a friend of Turkey!
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Davutoğlu officially becomes FM

The "new government" gives an impression that it is designed to fight the next elections, emphasizing therefore the politics rather than the economy. Against an extremely fragile economic course, the prime minister, instead of coming with a strong team of technicians, prefers politicians close to the conservative electorate. These are preparations to compete in political arena, not in economy, with the opposition, which will certainly come up with populist solutions for people who suffer from the economic crisis. Since the Prime Minister is off the world, he has difficulties to duly perceive the economic crisis originated outside.

The new Foreign Minister Davutoğlu is not publicly known but since Abdullah Gül has become the president, Davutoğlu is actually in charge of the foreign ministry. We have seen especially during this period that Turkish foreign policy has consciously turned face to other regions in addition to its historic western inclination and tried to have equally significant relations with these regions as with the West; that mediation efforts although obsessive have yielded absolutely no results; that Turkey has quickly lost impartiality while giving the impression more of an aggressive Muslim country in Europe. This period will be remembered through famous crises in which Turkey had its share: Cartoons of Prophet Mohammed in a Danish daily, visit of Hamas leader Khaled al Mashal, of Sudanese President Omar al Bashir, the Davos and Rasmussen episodes.

Davutoğlu has a big share in Turkey’s new foreign policy trends. About another important issue, Turkey’s main national objective, the EU membership, his views are as follows: "Turkey’s ever increasing influence in the Middle East brings Turkey closer to the European Union. Be it in the Middle East or in the Caucasus, our influence makes us more important in Brussels and Washington as well." Unfortunately, consequences of this approach have been exactly to the opposite. Turkey has alienated itself from Europe while at home the EU accession works have systematically been loosen up.

The EU bid is not equal to other relations
I am tired of repeating since 2000: Once Turkey becomes an EU member, it will, as the minister put, ’pay its debt’ to countries where we have brotherly ties in blood, religion and race. No matter how hard we sniff at, Turkey has a lot to learn from the EU’s techniques. On the other hand, we have not much to learn from other regions, but we have so many practices to carry from the EU to these regions.

Today, limping EU works are also slowing down Turkey’s normalization process both inside and outside because in order to manage and steer issues that we are discussing openly thanks to the EU dynamic and to come up with a new social consensus out of this, is embedded in the EU techniques. Solutions to our chronic problems such as asymmetrical state-society relation, place of religion in public sphere, women’s place in society, education and curriculum, the military’s practice to interfere in politics, the Armenian-Greek-Kurdish issues and so many others will be found through the synergy of local dynamics with that of the EU. Only this synergy can bring Turkey up to the strong position in the 21st century that Davutoğlu wishes for the country.

We should better understand this process and look for solutions not in outdated theoretical frames but in extremely practical and solid EU process. For this reason, Turkish foreign policy should focus on the EU as much as possible without spending unnecessary time with historic and geographic kinships now as we may create new dynamics with them one we become an EU member. In this sense, if Davutoğlu clears the ways for the solution of deep-rooted Armenian- Greek- Kurdish issues that all have local bonds; if he turns the new term of Turkish-American relations into an utmost partnership, if he provides full support for the State Minister for EU Affairs Egemen Bağış and if he informs public opinion about all these developments, it would be more than enough for Turkey. But if Davutoğlu adopts the policy of becoming more of a Middle Eastern Muslim country, which he managed to achieve in the last four years as the chief adviser, and having pipe dreams about "Grand Turkey" Turkey will continue to lose time. For Davutoğlu, the period of being an adviser with decision power without having any accountability has come to an end. Now it is the high time for not problematic but responsible operations.
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Social Policy chapter & May Day

The European Union has been waiting since Jan. 19, 2007, for Turkey to meet opening benchmarks of the Social Policy and Employment chapter, the 19th chapter of the Union’s acquis communautaire. Among these benchmarks, the most critical are the removal of thresholds before collective bargaining agreements, or CBAs, and the right to establish trade unions in the public sector. Benchmarks are nothing new. The International Labor Organization, or ILO, keeps asking Turkey to have working life legislation in accord with world standards. But since the demands are unbinding, Turkey ignores them. There are not many chapters left to be opened in Turkey-EU accession talks.

A bill to lift restrictions on CBAs, as part of the opening benchmarks for Chapter 19, has being pended in Parliament for a year. It is back on the agenda again.

The current Trade Unions Law and CBA, Strike and Lockout Law impose many restrictions and follow the mentality of the post-coup d’Žtat Constitutional Law of 1982. The Trade Union for Public Servants Law that was passed in 2001 is a document based on a patriarchal understanding of "No strike against our paternal state." Due to limited CBA authority given to trade unions in Turkey, the number of workers covered by CBAs in total employees is quite low compared with that of EU countries.

According to data and survey results of Bahçeşehir University’s Economic and Social Research Center, BETAM, the figure stands at a mere 13.3 percent. In order for a trade union to conclude a CBA, according to law, at least 10 percent of workers in a given sector should be members of that particular trade union or over 50 percent of workers at a given workplace should be members of the same labor union. As for civil servants, a "collective meeting" is foreseen instead of a CBA. Therefore, Turkey is at the bottom of the list among EU countries when comes to total number of workers covered by CBAs. Survey results also reveal that workers benefiting from CBAs earn more.

Difficult harmonization
The European Commission in its 2008 report repeats that Turkey is not ready in the area of labor legislation; and in social dialogue, that Turkey has made limited progress. In the period of reporting, more three-party social dialogue meetings were held but the Economic and Social Council fails to meet regularly as required by law. In certain sectors, there is progress in dual social dialogues, but establishment of dual and autonomous social dialogue structure is failed at any level. The number of workers covered by CBA is still quite low.

Union rights are not completely established. The draft legislation in order to harmonize Trade Union, CBA, Strike and Lockout legislation with ILO and EU standards is not approved yet. Turkey is not ready enough in the area of social dialogue.

We all know the poor track record of the government in labor legislation and labor relations. No one has forgotten yet the recent negligence at the Tuzla shipyards and brute force applied last year on May Day. Still, the changes that the government seeks are better than nothing.

The number of work branches is being reduced from 28 to 19; the 10 percent threshold is being abolished as well as requirement of notary presence during membership to trade union as well as resignation; being a Turkish citizen in order to set up a labor union is not required, either. Besides, strike bans are being reduced. However, the above-mentioned changes are fully in line with neither the EU nor the ILO standards nor entirely satisfactory for trade unions. No progress is achieved in the 50 percent threshold, which is one of the main opening benchmarks in the Social Policy chapter.

As for labor rights of civil servants, it seems that the government will make some commitment to the EU. During the Czech Republic term-presidency, the Social Policy chapter may be opened on June 26 at the latest. Hang in there!

Finally yesterday, last year’s shame was not repeated on May Day. We hope full normalization will happen next year, and the government will duly appreciate the importance of labor rights.
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Cyprus after the elections

I read the 48-page manifesto of the political party that won the general elections in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, or TRNC. Like a sign on the window of a barber shop that reads "Free haircut tomorrow" but remains there always, the manifesto basically says, "The system of 1974 will come back, just vote for the National Union Party!" On page 47, we read, "Our people are not destined to unite with Greeks." It is crystal clear: Either the TRNC will be recognized internationally, which is out of the question because even if we convince our Muslim brothers and other kin, the TRNC in the end is part of the European Union territory. The second option is being annexed by Turkey. Although there is "progress" in this direction, it doesn’t require an astrologer to predict the cost of annexation to Turkey. Therefore there is only one perspective left: Going back to the 30-year-long period that ended when Mehmet Ali Talat became president and the Republican Turks’ Party, or CTP, became the governing party. This is the bottom line, despite the rich verbosity in the UBP manifesto, a bottom line that testifies the words of Turkish Cypriot journalist and political scientist Sadi Egemen: "The biggest defaulted company of Turkey is the TRNC."

Almost all the steps taken so far by President Talat and the CTP to open the TRNC to the world, for its normalization, and being freed of financial, political and military tutelage of Turkey, seem ready to being overturned by the UBP. Three examples: property compensation committees, settlement talks and the tax system. The UBP says the compensation committees that have just barely gained international legitimacy will be abolished. While today, Greek Cypriots give up all their rights after being paid compensations, they will resort to the European Court of Human Rights when the compensation committees are repealed. Thus, as in the Loizidou case, Greek Cypriots will be entitled to receive compensation and to keep their property rights. The UBP thinks the mainland will pay the compensations anyway!

Three dossiers were discussed in settlement talks. There was not much progress in the ownership dossier, but parameters were defined. It was quite a progress in other two dossiers, the European Union and power sharing. Three more dossiers Ğ land, security and economy Ğ are left to be dealt with. None is easy, but apparently the first round of talks will be finished in June. Then the give-and-take process will begin in September. To find a solution by the end of the year remains possible. The UBP’s insistence to see the TRNC as a founding state of the future new state has the potential to ruin the entire structure because the UBP still asks for a confederation and disregards the federal state, single citizenship and unique international representation. They think the mainland will not "sell out" the TRNC anyway!

As for the tax system, the UBP has no intention on reducing financial dependence on Turkey because they yearn for huge tax cuts. The mainland will keep sending money anyway! We understand that President Abdullah Gül, as a result of his high sensitivity in the EU bid, refuses to consider allowing the 70 million Turkish people in the mainland to be left hostage to wrong steps of the TRNC. Let’s hope that similar sensitivity will be shown in the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP. A solution in Cyprus, in the most concise way of expression, is a political equation in which Turkish Cypriots will obtain political equity and EU membership in exchange for land. To have a better deal is impossible. Those who seek a better deal by sheer rhetoric would condemn both Turkish Cypriots and Turkey to nationalist dead-ends.

Turkey in between ’we are the greatest,’ ’no one likes us’
Let’s drop a foreign policy note here. Regardless of the political view, the overwhelming majority likes Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s feverish attitude and lashing out people abroad. They feel proud and feel like that he is the remedy for the almost genetic frustration felt since the collapse of the Ottomans. Let’s not look for excuses for our complexes: This is not foreign politics; this is a way of socio-psychological treatment that functions to keep society up. It runs just like football. But there is a side effect of this foreign policy: being wrong and ridiculous as a result of the wrong communication style, despite being essentially right in the Davos and Rasmussen incidents.
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Openings closed one after another?

Turkey has foreign policy positions that recall trenches in battlefields. These positions, established after the creation of the republic, are considered solutions to problems inherited from the Ottoman state. These are the positions with regard the Armenian and Kurdish questions and the Greek dossier, always on the agenda due to the unresolved Cyprus conflict. There have been no significant changes in any of these three policies since 1923. On the Armenian position, expectations rose high after the visit President Abdullah Gül to the Armenian capital, Yerevan, and secret bilateral talks held in Geneva since August 2007. The expectation has peaked due to the visit of U.S. President Obama and the upcoming April 24 commemoration day. But, at least for now, Turkey’s border with Armenia remains closed. This time we heard from Prime Minister Erdoğan himself that he doesn’t lean on the package designed by diplomats of the two countries. His remarks Ğ "We cannot seal any deal that would hurt Azerbaijan" Ğ helped close this case. And now we even have a Web site on this approach: (let’s not open the doors with Armenia).

Things way over our heads
It is extremely difficult for Turkey to resolve the Armenian issue through the resolution of the Karabakh conflict. Moreover, it is Turkey who, by closing unilaterally its border with Armenia in 1993 to show solidarity with Azerbaijan, has tied its hands for any bilateral deal with Armenia. This time, Azerbaijan, despite being constantly informed about the course of Turkish-Armenian talks, is enraged and this is probably nurtured by Russia. I didn’t say "Russia can remove Turkey from the Caucasus equation easily" for nothing. So can Iran. Iran having excellent relations with Armenia has no problem with Azerbaijan either.

Apparently, the Karabakh issue is more than Turkey can handle. Russia keeps Azerbaijan and Armenia in its hands and laps because of the Karabakh conflict and doesn’t want any durable solution. Armenia clearly depends on Russia: military and strategic relations, patrolling of the Turkish border, handsome Russian military bases, and a strong support in energy supply and in the Karabakh feud. Alright!

But in this case, where does this Russian love of Azerbaijan come from, as Azerbaijanis are supposed to seek alliances against the Armenian-Russia axis? What makes Azerbaijanis dependent on Russia? None of the reasons that are valid in the Armenia-Russia partnership can explain Azerbaijan’s dependency on Russia. The main factor leaving Azerbaijan in the Russian sphere of influence is the authoritarian and antidemocratic regime inherited from the Soviets.

Just like the case in Armenia, by the way. But in fact Azerbaijan’s democratic evolution could bring alone a solution to the Karabakh conflict. In a referendum to be held in Karabakh, democratic guarantees for Karabakh Armenians, provided by Azerbaijan, would bring a solution. But for now, it is impossible for the Azerbaijani authoritarian regime to go through such an evolution. Therefore, its Armenian policy is limited with a tactless approach of "Armenians are poor, but I have oil. I will wait until they are exhausted and take Karabakh back in the end." Turkey has made itself hostage of this policy closing the Turkish side of the Armenian border in 1993.

The Cyprus stalemate, as one of our antique foreign policy positions, will be on the agenda over the weekend. Parties defending "no solution is the solution" may win the April 19 elections in Turkish Cyprus. As a result, settlement talks with Greek Cypriots may once again go to the wall although they were going well despite all odds. With no solution at sight, Turkey may continue to lose time and money in Cyprus as a result of nationalist ambitions in a way to confirm the remarks of British Foreign Secretary James Callahan, who said in the aftermath of the 1974 military intervention that "your army captured the island but in time the island would capture your soldiers." And the fate of Kurdish overture and talks going on with the Kurdistan Regional Administration in northern Iraq may look like that of Turkey’s Armenian and Greek overtures.

It is not painless to clear the past mistakes. Adding clumsiness and nationalist rhetoric on top creates new deadlocks at all fronts. And Turkey continues to pay an arm and leg for its nationalist obsessions.
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Western front following NATO, Obama

Let’s have a balance sheet for booties-lost-damages in the aftermath of Turkey’s so-called "NATO victory." Turkey raised objections to Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen’s candidacy for the post of secretary-general of NATO on religious grounds rather than strategic liability.

Instead of lobbying with the assumption that Rasmussen’s track record would harm the fight against al-Qaeda, it emphasized the insult against Islam deriving from the cartoons crisis. By giving a religious character to its opposition it produced the impression that Turkey is the spokesperson of the Islamic world in the western organizations. And by challenging the principle of freedom of speech it gave the impression of exporting to Europe its concept of restricted freedoms. Moreover, the controversy was left to the last minute, contrary to NATO customs. These are severe mistakes.

Turkish posture in NATO satisfied nationalist circles. But the NATO crisis was interpreted as a victory only in Turkey. Foreign press reflected the issue as a back step on Turkey’s account. Although we feel proud, Turkey couldn’t get what it targeted: to prevent Rasmussen’s being NATO’s secretary-general. The so-called concessions made to convince Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to stop opposing Rasmussen are not relevant to what Turkey wanted. But if you raise the stakes so high this is an unavoidable outcome! 

Rasmussen’s sending a special message to the Islamic world (as soon as he arrived in Istanbul, he stressed "censorship is the enemy of dialogue" in order to emphasize the freedom of speech), having a Turkish deputy secretary among five in NATO and a Turkish official among NATO bureaucrats for disarmament (aren’t we specialists of armament rather!), and a NATO representative in Afghanistan being a Turkish official, do not change Rasmussen’s character, which was objected to by Turkey. (The promise to shut down pro-Kurdish Roj TV broadcasting in Copenhagen is not even worth a single remark.)

Diplomats may be satisfied by such formulas but not politicians nor radical Islamic militants. Will Muslim countries expressing sensitivity about Rasmussen (according to Erdoğan) now have to approve him just because Turkey, as their "representative" got guarantees for itself? Actually the opposition in Afghanistan and Pakistan is not about Rasmussen or anybody else but about NATO itself. Reminding the world of the unfortunate cartoons episode has already triggered the demand for those cartoons in Denmark. Certainly the radical Islamists would have reactions too. So, while sponsoring the Alliance of Civilizations Turkey has actually ended up by fueling the feud. Another question is if Turkey, which is eager to have a say in NATO, is fully aware of balances and enmities in the region. Let’s also not forget that someday NATO’s Turkish forces may stand against their Muslim brothers in the region. And finally, if Turkey needs so much argument to reach decision-making positions in an organization where it’s been a member since 1952 and which it served dutifully, then there must be deep problems elsewhere.

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Invitation to Earth

Used and abused by the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, during the latest elections, "You are grand," was actually a perfect slogan to tell us about its excessive self-confidence. However, what the party needs was and still is to think smaller and come down to earth to remain in touch with reality. Since the AKP has divorced itself from reality, voters themselves have finally given the message. Let’s look at four opposition parties who won more votes. In fact, with the exception of the pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party, or DTP, the other three parties lacked programs. And actually they didn’t really win, the AKP that forgot about all reforms lost! The message that Kurds voting for the DTP sent to the government is clear: "Don’t treat us like a bunch of pitiful but like Kurds."

As for the votes that the Republican People’s Party, or CHP, and the Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP, nationalist duo won, they received the votes of those who reject the AKP government. The Islamist Saadet (Felicity) Party on the other side, gained votes from electors who were tired of AKP’s arrogance vis-?-vis its roots and of the fondness of its newly-rich members for worldly consumption.

On the other hand, the AKP’s unrealistic approach to the disastrous effects of the economic crisis has also had its share in the bad result. The failure of the AKP, a party coming from a local administration tradition, claiming its spot in the center and winning 47 percent in the July 2007 general elections, is serious.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan bears the utmost responsibility in this failure. AKP leadership suffers from the disappearance of its founding members such as Abdullah Gül, Bülent Arınç and Abdüllatif Şener, as counterbalancing powers.

Yet there is no surprise in the deplorable election result with sycophants around the prime minister. But of course, we shouldn’t forget that he himself wanted to see this group of toadies around him. Erdoğan and his party, from now on, should come down to earth, scale down and be humble. Both inside and outside the country!

Right after the landslide of the July 22, 2007 general election, the ego-boost has caused the AKP to miss all targets. Moreover in its entire history the Republic of Turkey has never had so much money as it had in the period between 2004 and 2008. Such bounty played a role in why the AKP and most of us lost our senses.

Large highways, all sorts of ugly concrete apartment buildings with English names, desire to turn every city into soulless Kayseri, magnifying mirrors everywhere, dreams of grandness and obsession with consumption É The banquet has come to an end. Turkey has no luxury to make more mistakes in this critical economic downturn.

Let’s have a look at the outside now: Turkish opposition to Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen’s candidacy as NATO secretary general or harsh statements about France’s return to NATO’s military wing were nothing but baloney. No swaggering is needed anymore in similar subjects. Iran said "no thanks" to Turkey for its mediation efforts in eventual talks with the United States. Syrian President Bashar Assad referring to Israel wished, "U.S. should mediate between us." Turkey is not considered a major player in the new Afghanistan architecture of the United States. In other words, the AKP’s Turkey is coming down to earth from the clouds where it has been for the last four years. That is to say we will finally be dealing with our own issues domestically and in our neighborhood.

What is the to-do list?

w Push the transformation of the country forward.

w Democratize at full speed.

w Launch a new constitution debate.

w Pursue the Ergenekon crime gang case to the last resort.

w Revamp the EU accession bid.

w Take care of press freedom.

w Solve the Kurdish issue by applying new parameters, including the cross-border dimension.

w Strengthen Turkish-Armenian relations.

w Support reunification talks in Cyprus.

w Finalize a new agreement with the International Monetary Fund, in order to protect Turkey against risks when the country desperately needs foreign capital.

w Take place in international coordination efforts for the solution of the global economic crisis.

w Pay due attention to environmental issues.

But to put these into practice, the prime minister would need to adopt a quite different manner than that of the last four years and should have the motivation for consultation, patience, cooperation, modesty and desire to work with experts instead of "yes sayers."

We’ll see whether or not his personality would sustain so many modern values and principles. In fact, there is this other way laying before him: To adopt a populist/nationalist line of politics in every subject matter as a result of envy for votes that the CHP, MHP and Saadet won. Already experimented and exhausted by many before him, this policy line leads to a dead-end.

A blow is sometimes better than a hundred warnings. So through their votes electors warned the AKP and its "one man." And he said he read the message. We’ll see soon what message he read.
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In Cyprus no solution means annexation

As we are preoccupied with the March 29 elections and the economic crisis, in the north of the island quite-critical early elections will be held on April 19. But this time, both the island and Turkey will seem to have a headache. Cyprus is an unfortunate island that has been treated like a guinea pig by both nations who are the world leaders in nationalist bigotry. For decades, these two amateur chess-players, so to speak, keep making wrong moves and causing harm to the island and themselves. Now they play in overtime.

Mutual massacres committed in 1963, the 1974 coup d’Žtat by Nicos Samson, the second Atilla operation by the Turkish army, establishment of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, or TRNC, by the Turkish junta government in 1983 in a hurry despite a civilian, Turgut Özal was elected to the prime ministry seat then, EU candidacy and membership of the divided island, periods of nosayers Rauf Denktaş and of Tassos Papadopoulos, Denktaş paving the way for membership of the south of the island when he said "No" with the encouragement of Ankara in 2003 in the Hague, and the EU’s not lifting the economic isolation of the north though they promised to do so following the 2004 referendumÉ And finally the talks that have been launched after Cypriot Greeks elected their new President Dimitris Christophias early last year; the talks in which Greek and Turkish leaders of the island speak the same language for a solution.

However, relatively good results in talks in the island apparently disturbed the hawkish in Ankara and incited them to wipe off the ruling Republican Turkish Party, or CTP. As a result and helped by CTP’s clumsiness, former TRNC President Denktaş’s former party, the National Union Party, or UBP, seems most likely to win the early elections.

Reunification talks in Cyprus directly affect Turkey’s membership negotiations with the European Union. Coming from the tradition of "no solution is the solution" UBP, is certainly not the party who would fight for island’s reunification. Expecting the future UBP government, controlled by Ankara in all ways, to support President Mehmet Ali Talat in bilateral talks, is a waste of time. Therefore, settlement talks would fail on account of the Turkish side and Turkey’s membership negotiations with the EU would be negatively affected by this. If Turkey still wants to continue EU accession talks, the only way is to unilaterally open its air and sea ports to the vessels of the Republic of Cyprus to unblock the chapters that are frozen because of non ratification of the Additional Protocol to the customs union.

By taking side with those who say "no-solution is the solution," or those who at least do not say the opposite, the governing Justice and Development Party, or AKP, corners itself in the EU talks. But that’s apparently not enough. The AKP is preparing to work with the TRNC extension of the political mindset that it has been struggling in Turkey since coming to power.

I wonder if Ahmet Davudoğlu, chief foreign policy adviser to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who was explaining on television programs how to scale-up Turkish foreign policy by using the Cyprus issue as an example, is aware of the fact that we are squeezed back into the Cyprus scale today. Could it be that Turkey is strolling around big scales yet cornering itself in the small Cyprus scale? Normalization of Greece and its EU path were cleared after the Cyprus coup and the Turkish intervention. Normalization of Turkey and its EU path though may come to an end for good because of the Cyprus issue. But in the end, these are after all planned on purpose?

Cyprus becoming an appendice of Turkey
Since 1974, Cyprus is like a water mill that cannot run without hand-carried water. The AKP for some time has been trying to fix the system which was totally irrational in economic terms since 1974. But the efforts are slowly turning into taming the CTP government in TRNC through money. TRNC is obviously a burden on Turkey in the current economic crisis. In the end, however, what is being done means adoption of Turkish standards in TRNC; or in other words, not having labor unions and obeying the religion and military. Natives of TRNC are neither sufficiently nationalist nor adequately Muslim. Mostly free thinkers and Europeanized, Cypriot Turks won’t change though. So this has been taken care of by importing habits and settlers from the mainland.

In the last four years, the superiority complex we developed is also valid when it comes to the Cyprus issue. Today, most of us sincerely believe the world may recognize TRNC, so do the civilian and military bureaucracy. But in the north of the island, the course of event signals not international recognition but annexation at best.
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Appreciating Istanbul in Lille

French President Nicholas Sarkozy moved the ’Season of Turkey in France’ to July after European Parliament elections. However, thanks to Europe XXL the ’Season’ is given a de facto early start "Europe Extra Large," or Europe XXL, a four month-long cultural and artistic activity started last weekend in Lille, the capital of northern France. The event is the making of "Lille 3000," a body created following the success of Lille in 2004 as European Capital of Culture.

A praiseworthy organization brought to life thanks to efficient cooperation of local administration, private sector and cultural organizations; the kind of structure "Istanbul 2010" needs.

The European Union did not celebrate the enlargement of May 1, 2004 which closed the parenthesis opened in Yalta in 1945 and reunited the divided continent. Europe XXL is somewhat a small, yet meaningful, response to this disloyalty.

To the more, its slogan and content are surely provocative. A set of cultural and artistic activities to cock a snook at politicians who keep uttering European borders and to focus on the invisibility and fluidity of borders.

Artists from the three Baltic states and the Balkans, in addition to East German, Czech, Russian, Hungarian, Lech, Turkish, Romanian, Slovene and even Kazakh artists participated in the shindig.

It was quite meaningful to allow artists of post-communist-neo-European societies express the feelings and expectations of their environment, at just half an hour away from Brussels

Mayor of Lille Martine Aubry rebuffs the criticism of "having art during crisis." Mass celebrations are salutary practices of developed societies that have become the slaves of economy and money, to question themselves, in addition to collective joy, excitement and hope these celebrations generate. Sharing and dilapidating against accumulating!

Mayor said, "We set out the road by asking the question ’if Europe has still a message to the world’ and here is the result." She deserves to be proud. Europe XXL is a strong expression of a sharing and solidaristic Europe of these crisis times.

’Season of Turkey in France’ is actually given a start in Lille

Aubry is at the same time the first secretary of the French Socialist Party, namely she is the leader of the party. In her opening speech, she pointed at the ignorance and arrogance of the French right regarding Turkey. In France, you rarely hear a sentence like "Istanbul has also something to teach us," as she said.

In fact, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, trying to avoid Turks and Turkey fooling around right before the European Parliament elections of June had moved the "Season of Turkey in France" to July.

However, thanks to Europe XXL, which is an independent organization, the "Season" is given a de facto early start. At least you can be sure that Turks and Turkey will be talked a lot through Europe XXL in the north of France.

In the context of "Istanbul TraversŽe" or "Istanbul All Through", Ali Kazma, İnci Eviner, Sarkis, TsŽ-TsŽ, Osman Bozkurt, Hale Tenger, Atom Egoyan, Hussein Chalayan, Kutluğ Ataman, Burak Delier, Hüseyin Alptekin, Ceren Oykut, Ara Güler, Eric Gongrich, Corey Mc Corkle, Katja Eydel, Deniz Gül, Şener Özmen, Erkan Özgen, Erinç Seymen, Serkan Özkaya unite their creativeness in the second largest Fine Arts Museum of Europe in Lille.

You can check out Europe XXL at where you can find the calendar of events, as well as the pics of the stunning opening parade. In any case don’t miss it if you travel to Brussels or Paris; it is just next door.

Otherwise for those in Istanbul, the curator of "Istanbul TraversŽe," Caroline NaphŽgyi, will be at Meyra CafŽ in Cihangir today between 11 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. to give an idea about the event.
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The water issue

The 5th World Water Forum begins in Istanbul on Monday. We will talk about water for a week and have plenty of information about the fate of water and our fate. The theme of the event is "Bridging divides for water," it is not the lyric like "Converging differences in water" as appears in official Turkish translation. The theme is neither "The Water Forum brings civilizations together" as referred to in the billboards of Istanbul Municipality, Let’s look at some dreadful data on the water issue that were collected by the World Wild Life Fund, or WWF, Turkey branch: 

* Each year 250 million people are infected by diseases from polluted water, about five million of them die of such illnesses.

*  Turkey has a 110 billion cubic meters of usable water potential, 16 percent of which is for drinking and using water for other purposes, 72 percent of which is for irrigation in agriculture and 12 percent for industrial use.

*  In order for a country to become rich in water resources, the average per capita water amount should be at least 10,000 cubic meters.

*  With consumption of an average 1,430 cubic meters per person, Turkey is a water-poor country.

*  Canada is the country with the richest water resources with an average of 92,000 cubic meters of water yearly.

*  Jordan, with a yearly average of 138 cubic meters of water resources per person and Israel, with 124 cubic meters, are at the bottom of the list.

*  In the last 40 years, Turkey has lost a total of 1.3 million hectares wetland, equal to the total size of three Van Lakes.

*  The world population has tripled in the last century and water consumption increased six times in the same period.

*  Amount of water consumed by a child in developed countries is 30 or 50 times more than that of a child born in developing countries.

*  Ethiopia, hosting 84 percent of the Nile, needs water.

*  Daily water consumption in Canada is 150 to 200 liters. But it is no more than 10 liters in Chad, Niger and Mali. This is the amount that we consume in modern toilet flush tanks at once.

Not one but four events

The press will duly cover the Water Forum, so let’s have a look to three other meetings, the most important of which is the Alternative Water Forum,, to be held on March 22 at Santralistanbul.

Organizers begin with a punch-line from the environment minister in charge of economy and industry, Veysel Eroğlu, "Come and invest in water!" The market he points out is worth 60 billion euros, 90 percent of which is about dam construction. Private sector has approximately 1,400 dam projects and the State Water Works Authority, or DSİ, has about 600. These energy and water plants, which will be randomly built on rivers without making any serious impact analysis and cost-benefit analysis beforehand, are the apple of the governing Justice and Development Party, or AKP’s, eye. Mr. Minister’s judgment about the projects is clear: "All I am saying is that these plants will be built. No one can stop this. Could there be such a thing? This is the decision of the state, the government." In fact, water has no place in the reckless and environment-unfriendly development model of the government.

Turkey is far away from the environment-related discussions in the world. Reaching water resources is, as a matter of fact, a "Human Right." It is considered to be community property, and life-blood for ecosystems. Water accessibility is not an issue that could be left to the market alone. Not enough numbers of nongovernmental organizations will attend the water forum to address these issues. Most of them have failed to have accreditation. The Santralistanbul meeting will be a response to this drawback.

Endorsed by the Heinrich Böll ( and Latin America Water Tribunal ( the third activity in advance of the water forum was Istanbul Water Tribunal. The tribunal convened earlier this week at the old Tobacco Depot in the Tophane district, Istanbul, with the objective of making contributions to water-related disputes. The tribunal reinterpreted the law and produced alternative and fair solutions to water disputes. In this year’s session, three cases in Turkey and two cases from Latin America were discussed. Verdicts will be announced today.

The fourth event is "No to Water Commercialization Platform,", which voices, "Water belongs to people and cannot be sold."
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Pathetic local election campaign

On the eve of local elections, everything but the problems of local areas are being discussed. As always. Even the most serious TVs prefer to broadcast brawls between political leaders instead of local issues, due to rating concerns. And this is nothing new. In countries where local and regional structures have failed to gain autonomy and proper life, as in Turkey, every election is held in an atmosphere of general elections. Problems of local areas are solved by the center only and of course only to a certain extent. Regional structures which function between the center and the local administrations, do not exist in Turkey. Region is feared like a bogeyman in a country obsessed with old French style unitary administration.

A hypercentralized structure cannot devise durable and sustainable solutions for local and regional issues in a sizeable country like Turkey. Today government’s outrageous charity economics is an outcome of this defective structure. And it’s turning into a mechanism of gaining supporters to the governing party is as well an outcome of the malfunctioning. When Justice Minister warns voters that if they vote for parties other than the ruling party their votes will be a waste he avows the absence of a modern local and regional systems.

Although the March 29 local elections are a test for Turkey and for the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, they have elicited a lack of decentralization, a notion from which Turkey is far away, once again.

Women have no place in municipalities

We have jumped from being 84th to 76th in the development index of the United Nations Development Programme’s Human Development Report. However, we are still not in the "high development level" group. The most striking data the last update has revealed about Turkey is the Gender Empowerment Measure, or GEM, an indicator obtained by the number of female parliamentarians, high level officials, top-level company administrators. Turkey ranks as the 90th ahead of Egypt (91st), Saudi Arabia (92nd) and Yemen (93rd). In the GEM, Turkey has jumped up from being the third to the fourth at the bottom!

We are experiencing the very reason of this ranking actually. All and all, we have 18 mayoresses, only one of which is mayoress of a big city. A decade ago, the number of mayoresses was again 18. Among a total of 3,225 candidate mayors, the percentage of females stands at 0.668 percent. In female local administrators ratio, Turkey is ranked 6 from the bottom but at the end of the forthcoming elections it would reach the first rank, at the bottom evidently.

How women are exploited in an election campaign is self-evident. From headscarf to alms-giving, females are always kept passive. But when it comes to candidacy, female nominees stand no chance of being elected since no quota is applied.

For these elections the Association for Supporting and Training Female Candidates, or KADER, conducted a different campaign, after the one titled: "Is it necessary to have a moustache to be elected" during the July 22, 2007 general elections. The organization made Devlet Bahçeli of the Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP, Deniz Baykal of the Republican People’s Party, or CHP, and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan wear purple ties and say: "We all three agree: 50 percent female candidates in local elections!"

However, as the parties announced candidates, we saw that none applied the 50 percent female quota. The AKP nominated 18 females; MHP 34; CHP 45; Saadet Party 9; BBP 5; the pro-Kurdish Democratic People’s Party 33; Turkish Communist Party 37; Labor Party 3, Freedom and Solidarity Part 3; The Joint Platform 5; Democrat Party 37; and the Democratic Left Party 52.

Interestingly enough, although Erdoğan issued a directive to all AKP local offices that one of every four candidates should be a female, provinces acted on their own. In rural areas only males have influence and holding municipalities is compulsory for the continuation of their influence. This well-rooted leaning can never be changed by Erdoğan’s directive. No one should forget that the party’s local structures in Anatolia are composed of pragmatic fellows who make use of the AKP, not the other way around.

In conclusion, as the prime minister recommended to ladies, "give birth to three children" but please make sure that they are all boys!
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Environment is a way out of the crisis, a remedy for afterwards

On Monday In Washington D.C. the biggest ever protest will be held against coal which, of all the fossil fuels, is the single biggest contributor to global warming ( Through a symbolic action, the protest will target the Capitol Power Plant owned by the U.S. Congress. It’s a cold fact that the use of fossil fuels will accelerate the end of the world. The solution is to rapidly stop using coal. Whereas many countries are showing sensitivity towards the use of coal, Turkey is the record holder in greenhouse gas emissions, the main source of global warming, with a 74.4 percent increase in the period 1990-2004. In Turkey, power plants fueled by coal produce 20 percent of total gas emissions.

Currently a total of 15 thermal power plants use brown coal processed in Turkey. And these plants are a nightmare for the environment because it is a low-quality type of coal. Sulphur, nitrogen and CO2 are produced during the combustion of fuels. These cause acid rain when they react with water particles in the air, in addition to soil and water pollution. Filters placed on chimneys to keep ash are insufficient most of the time.

According to information provided by Greenpeace-Turkey, there are 47 power plant projects pending. If they are implemented, the country's greenhouse gas emissions will increase 50 percent. We’ll surely become the champion of all times. Our neighbor Greece, who decided to prioritize solar energy over coal and nuclear is certain to be overtaken by the champion!

Energy transmission infrastructures in developed countries was a priority in the implementation of New Deal type programs with a focus on employment and mass consumption, generated in the wake of the 1929 crisis. To increase the production of home appliances with access to affordable electricity, huge infrastructural projects such as 'Tennessee Valley Authority’ were put in place. And today in order to come out of the current crisis, we need environmental infrastructures in a way to encourage renewable energy over fossil fuels and "to care about air, water and soil." That was the core of President Obama's historic speech Monday.

A new paradigm

We should also make investments in green collars. "Green collar" is a term for engineers, farmers, architects and educators working in the renewable energy (wind, solar and geothermal), organic farming and energy saving sectors. Data provided by the American Solar Energy Society, renewable energy and energy efficiency represented 8.5 million jobs in 2006. And as many as 40 million jobs can be generated by 2030. As for Turkey, no proper data exist but it is estimated to amount to 45,000 green collars.

And the third policy we need is energy efficiency and a change in consumption habits. An Open Society Foundation sponsored report made simple suggestions: commuting should be spread around as part of transportation, aged electricity production facilities should be rehabilitated, energy efficiency should be increased, power plants in the Aegean region should develop CO2 capture and storage systems, clean coal technology in coal-based power plants should be prioritized and renewable energy use should be increased. Environment friendly light bulbs and showerheads can also help. Turning off televisions before going to bed in the night and using washing machines and dishwashers at full capacity are some other simple measures to be applied.

Countries that can do these will save their future. However, considering that individual remedies are not the solution, joint decisions and implementations are necessary. Unprofessional approaches by the officials in charge of the environment in Turkey to the gravity of the situation is a sign that this country won't be a part of such joint efforts.

The government’s approach is self-evident. Whoever raises his/her voice against energy sources causing pollution, he/she is being accused of day-dreaming and then of having a hidden agenda. The "Environment Minister in charge of Industry" keeps arguing that such people are against employment and industry and that environmentalists, as a matter of fact, do not want the country to develop, but that we cannot go back to the Stone Age. However, the wind power potential of Turkey, for instance, is about 48,000 megawatts. In this sector, 1 megawatt is being generated by 12 people that means 576,000 jobs!

The current global economic crisis is putting heavy pressure on our production and consumption habits. We have two options: either we do everything in our power to go back to the reckless development model behind the present crisis and therefore to speed up our end, or to find new ways and return from the threshold of the disaster.
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