13 Mayıs 2009
When I wrote last week "The rough guide to Turkey: A land of history, sunshine and lunacy" (Daily News, May 1), I did not know I was underestimating the Crescent and Star. Only a few days after that article appeared in this column, what became "international breaking news" informed us about the massacre in a Kurdish village. Did I say lunacy? I did, not realizing the limits it could reach in these lands. Lunacy, in our holy country, may come in the form of bullets shot in the air and ending up in infant bodies after football victories or other merry celebrations.
It may come in the form of traffic brawls ending with five coffins and three life sentences. It once came in the news headline that read, "Motorbike crashes into train, five dead." No, that was not a typo, I checked later; there really were, mysteriously, five people on top of a scooter that had run into the train. Most recently it came in the form of a scuffle between a shop owner, his son and a street vendor over a few liras, ending up with the stabbing death of one, the injury of another and, naturally, with the third man now in jail. The sum of all that is called "culture."
After the killing of 44 people in Mardin’s now infamous Bilge village hit the headlines, everyone had his own explanation. With a little bit of more creative effort, we could have read more amusing hypotheses. I still expect the Ergenekon
prosecutors should find a link between the massacre and the shadowy Kemalist organization they have been investigating. The "liberal Islamists" too have disappointed me with their lack of creativity. As soon as the bad news broke, I instantly prepared myself to read intellectual theories linking the killings to the archaic teachings of Kemalist secularism.
Better late than never. So I am quite prepared to give some ideas. How about proposing a theory arguing that the massacre would never have taken place should the campus ban on the Islamic turban had been removed? Yes, the theory should continue that without the ban the girl Ğ whose marriage to a local man was reportedly among the motives behind the killings Ğ would have studied at a university and, therefore, not have had to marry at this most unfortunate wedding. Hence, no killings.
More conventional Islamists can always find a link between the carnage and insufficient Quranic teaching of those involved in it. We can thus safely conclude that less secular and more Islamic education could have prevented the bloodbath. There may also be theories finding a link between the killings and Turkish nationalism. If someone has not yet found any, I humbly suggest a few:
1. If the Turkish state had given the poor, peaceful Kurds a chance to enjoy their cultural rights, these poor, always peaceful Kurds would not have shot each other. 2. If the Turkish state had not conspired to have Kurds killing Kurds by arming some Kurds, this tragedy would not have happened. 3. The Kurdish suspects are only a pawn in a game in which Turkish nationalists committed the atrocities and put the blame on innocent Kurds. Would sane men kill their relatives and friends?
Unfortunately, the sad truth is hidden in the politically incorrect word "ethno-culture." We are programmed to think that generations progress, evolve and change into something "better" when we see people using the latest models of mobile phones, drive better cars and shop at fancy malls. What we often ignore is the fact that subscribing to objects of modern life can hardly modernize cultures. Too bad, (ethno) cultures are probably the stickiest thing as they always resist change, overtly or covertly.
Another theory: The village guards armed by the state could not kill en mass if their automatic rifles had not been made available to them? Oh, really? The Kurds before the village guard system never massacred each other, never subscribed to honor killings of all sorts, never resorted to violence to sort out financial or family disputes. They never priced their brides by the number of sheep, never raped women or never settled rape with taking a bride from the rapist’s family Ğ a tradition called "berdel," a bride in return for rapeÉ
Poverty as the main reason for the bloodbath? Let’s talk about facts. Bilge is probably not the poorest village on earth. There are probably hundreds of thousands of poorer settlements in the world where such killings would never take place. And both the killers and the victims were probably much wealthier than millions of other Turks and Kurds who cannot even fantasize such brutality.
Then we learned that Mardin’s governor, Hasan Duruer, argued that sending children to same-sex schools could be a remedy. With that proposal Duruer may have secured a promotion by appealing to the ears of his Islamist bosses in Ankara. But he is probably not a deep thinker on sociological problems. A better idea to prevent killings related to women could be burying girl babies six feet under as soon as they are born, or forcefully aborting the baby girl once the gender is known. Having buried our dead we can now avoid the politically incorrect diagnosis and pretend that "such terrible things do happen in the EU zone, too."
8 Mayıs 2009
President George W. Bush tried to sell it by a strategy of aggression. Unsurprisingly, he failed. Now there is a new man at the helm who wants to sell the same commodity to far away markets of Arabia, not by force, but by what pundits call the "mellow doctrine." Will it work? It may, but the "return on investment" would certainly not accrue during President Barack Obama’s tenure, not even if he is re-elected for a second term. This is going to be a very long-term investment, worth trying because there is no alternative but may not eventually yield the desired returns.
Sadly, there is an incompatibility between the commodity America wants to ’export’ and the consumption patterns of the target market. No, this is not a mission impossible; it’s not trying to sell pork in Saudi Arabia. It just looks like mission almost impossible. Or such was the impression I got during the two-day conference this week in Doha, Qatar, where this particular American export commodity and its exportability to Middle Eastern markets were discussed.
Unfortunately, President Obama took over from "point well below zero," not even zero. In Doha, the Americans were a little naively Ğ and as almost always, without a powerful sense of empathy Ğ trying, if not to market the commodity themselves, to have some intellectual impact on the market so as to increase its fitness for export. They were confronted with resentful intellectual "buyers" from the Middle East, who apparently had bad nerves about the idea of democracy being imposed on their nations. Blame it on Bush’s bad legacy, but realistic questions floated in the air, like, "If the U.S. supports democracy and democratic values, why does it intervene in the affairs of democratically elected leaders like Hugo Chavez [of Venezuela] or Evo Morales [of Bolivia]?"
Or like, "Which part of the U.N. charter can democracy be compatible with interference in sovereign nation’s internal affairs?" Or like, "Can there be democracy where there is no economic and social justice?" Or even like, "Was the Israeli military offensive against Gaza fully compatible with the democratic values the Americans hope to export to this part of the world?" Tough questions. But the Americans had a luggage full of nice, polite, theoretically convincing answers, like, "We don’t advocate exporting American values, we advocate exporting universal values." Or like, "What’s wrong with advocating ideas against torture and for fair trial, free speech and gender equality?" These explanations are problematic on many fronts, not only because they seemingly fail to convince even the "liberal/intellectual Arabia," let alone the "ordinary and radical Arabia."
America has a major problem in this grandiose export project. Its talk of defending democracy is too weak to convince even the most pro-American buyers. There is either laughter, or shy smiles; the former when the object is neutral, and the latter when the object is pro-American. For everyone knows America does not care about defending democracy in non-democratic parts of the world: It does so when it fits its interests and just turns around and whistles when it does not.
That double-standard argument comes in addition to America’s own failings terribly highlighted during two terms of Republican rule, like Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, axis-of-evil moral certitude and the schoolyard politics of punishment, to name a few.
What, otherwise, could explain why the Americans are so keen on democracy in Russia, Belarus, Iran, China, but not so keen when it comes to Saudi Arabia, Georgia, Egypt, Jordan and even the host country for the Doha forum? Do the Americans have a problem about the undemocratic practice in this selected list of ’friendly regimes/countries"? Certainly not. If, an Arab participant told me with resentment, the Americans can play the happy-go-lucky with the Arabian kingdoms and emirates, why should they not do so with the Russians and the Chinese? I smiled at his remarks the next day when I was reading "the nation briefs" column in the Qatar Tribune, supposedly the Qatari version of this newspaper. This was the list of headlines in the nation briefs as they appeared on the page:
Emir to visit Saudi Arabia today
Emir receives Darfur panel members
Emir meets Israeli Knesset members
Emir receives letter from Congolese president
Emir receives Oman minister...
The next article went out of line and was headlined "Cypriot president to visit Qatar today." But of course, the news said the Cypriot president would hold talks with Emir...
Do the Americans complain? Oh, no!
6 Mayıs 2009
A century and a half after the Ottoman state earned the name the "Sick Man of Europe," its successor state shows symptoms of sickness again, but this time it does not even belong to Europe. I read Yasar Büyükanıt’s remarks at a Ğ physical Ğ distance. Listening to speakers at the Middle East conference in Doha, Qatar, my mind was busy thinking what the former chief of the military general staff told an academic gathering back in Ankara: "If state agencies don’t trust each other, that state is problematic. If, I, as a soldier, don’t trust the police intelligence É because the police intelligence is collecting intelligence against me [the military]; É the Justice Ministry doesn’t trust the Interior Ministry; the National Intelligence Organization [or MİT] to police intelligence; and police intelligence to the MİT É then this state is ailing."
Ironically, Büyükanıt’s remarks fell into the public domain at the same moment the panelists and participants at this conference were debating the idea of enhancing democracy in the Middle East, dancing around themes like "the spread of democracy and freedoms is the global trend," "information and democracy are globalizing," and "democracy is a slow and gradual process."
In fact, Büyükanıt did not say anything new or unknown to any Turk. He did not reveal the contents of his historic handshake with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan two years earlier, either. He merely told an ordinary audience the ordinary open secret every ordinary Turk knows is an open secret. That, however, does not mean his diagnosis is too ordinary to take seriously. More than a century after it earned the malady as a tag, the Turkish state is sick again.
But do we not assume we have a flourishing democracy? Two parliamentary and two local elections in less than seven years? The will of the nation? An Islamist government that has managed to cohabit with the ’guardians of secularism’ for more than six years? Flaws, there are many. But is Turkey not an official candidate for full membership in the EU? Have we not reformed our laws? All the answers are positive. Yet we have a sick man around pretending to be an athlete. But what’s wrong in all that favorable set-up, faking as democracy?
Back in Doha, I revisited some of the answers. According to Sir Jeremy Greenstock, director of the Ditchley Foundation in the United Kingdom, "Democracy isn’t just elections, but rather it has to be based on an accumulation of institutional behavior." Too bad that in the last three decades only Turkey has either been ruled by democratically elected autocrats or by autocrats. According to Pascal Boniface, director for the France-based Institute for International and Strategic Relations, "Democracy may be the best system, but unfortunately it does not guarantee peace."
Speaking at the same conference, Jack Rosen, president of the New York-based World Jewish Council, pointed to what Erdoğan, et al., often love to ignore: America’s founding fathers didn’t quite believe in the miraculous virtues of the popular vote. Therefore the American example is about a quest for a balance between democracy and checks on democracy. Democracy does not mean pure popular rule only. Amusingly, when a participant claimed Rosen mentioned Egypt and Jordan as democracies, he instantly corrected: "I didn’t say Egypt and Jordan are democracies. I said there are parliamentary elections in Egypt and Jordan."
The truth is Ğ how many years did we think Turkey was away from the EU when Erdoğan’s pragma-Islamists (part-time pragmatist, part-time Islamists) came to power in 2002? 10-15 years? Yes. How many years is Turkey probably away from the EU after six-and-a-half years of pragma-Islamist rule? 10-15 years, at best. How many years will Turkey possibly be away from the EU after another two terms of pragma-Islamist rule? Most likely, 10-15 years. With a little bit of luck, the next century may even see the Sick Man of the Orient.
1 Mayıs 2009
Anyone who has lived long enough in the Crescent and Star country can instantly think of a thousand entries that could be listed under the "only in Turkey" heading. Narrowing the scope to politics would surely shorten the list, but would never make it boring. The Turks may not be too good at chess, but they are certainly too well qualified in puzzling others. I, for my part, cannot easily think of another country where the president gives a red-carpet reception to the official leader of the last coup d’etat while the prosecutors arrest dozens on suspicion that they might have been involved in attempts that could have led to a coup that never took place.
I cannot think of another country, either, where the ruling party has been convicted by the country’s top court for having undermined the Constitution. Political verdict? Do the high and mighty in Ankara not keep on telling us that our judiciary is independent? Ah, yes, that was within a totally different context.
Yes, we have "independent" judges hunting down every possible government opponent, but 10 out of 11 members of our Constitutional Court are not independent Ğ yes, the only member of the supreme court who does not have a degree in law is an independent judge because he had ruled against the verdict that declared the ruling party unconstitutional. Yes, that will be all very fair in a land of lunacy. My mind travelled a couple of days back when I sat down to listen to İlker Başbuğ, chief of the military, on Wednesday. On Monday, at the opening of the grandiose Turkish weapons exhibition, IDEF, a Turkish manufacturer had proudly launched the country’s first mine-protected military vehicle. Big speeches were made, hands were shaken, and probably lucrative contracts will follow. Company executives were smiling. So were the generals and civilian defense procurement authorities. Festivities of all kinds to celebrate an armored vehicle, which was niceÉ
Two days later, only hours before Gen. Başbuğ’s speech, news broke that a land mine that was operated by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, had blown up an armored military vehicle, killing nine soldiers. I have already lost count of the soldiers killed in PKK attacks by means of improvised explosive devices. Gen. Başbuğ told Wednesday’s well-attended press meeting that the blown-up vehicle had armor protection as thick as 4.5 centimeters, but, too bad, the bomb was just too powerful. We are all sorry. After having read plenty of "intellectual" comments on Gen. Başbuğ’s lengthy speech, the second this month, I decided to have a look at what "ordinary" Turks had commented on it. I must have read a few hundred readers’ comments on various Web pages flagging mainstream and not-so-mainstream newspapers. I found one particularly frustrated reader addressing the chief of general staff: "Pasha! Can’t you just get 15 centimeters-thick armor if 4.5 centimeters won’t save our soldiers? Enough with condolences and mourning!"
Most readers hailed and praised our heroic army and proposed "only in Turkey" solutions to terror, ranging from curfew and martial law in Diyarbakır to total invasion of northern Iraq and capture of Mosoul and Kirkuk. Threats of "a 1,000 eyes for an eye" and "until the last dribbling of PKK blood" were floating in the virtual air.
One reader recalled Gen. Başbuğ’s repeated advice against pessimism and commented: "There is only one thing worse than pessimism: To become inured to something. We have been hearing this ’don’t-be-pessimistic’ tale for 25 years." One of the most commonly-pronounced words in those hundreds of readers’ comments was the name of a country. No, not the United States. Yes, there was a lot of U.S.-bashing too. But another country’s name appeared more often in a way sadly telling us of what this column once named "the great Turkish hypocrisy." That country’s name is Israel.
The "ordinary Turks" in their columns of comments were urging the Turkish government and the military "to do exactly as Israel does when it is confronted with terrorists." The "commentators" were probably the same people who, in the same columns, must have written in earlier days how "we should get organized to teach the murderer Jews a lesson for their atrocities against innocent Palestinians." Now, there is some collective malady here.
When Israel fights its own war against what it views as terrorists the Turks jump up and shout and protest. They hail their prime minister because he taught "that Jew" a lesson at Davos. They rush to the airport to greet the "hero of Davos." Then a few weeks later they wake up to bad news from their own "war zone" and learn 10 soldiers had been killed by the terrorists. Then their immediate reflex is to make a big chorus of people shouting out to their leaders: "Why can’t you do as the Israelis do?" What does all that tell? That É Turkey is a state of law where the top court has declared the ruling party unconstitutional; where we celebrate super armored vehicles but our soldiers die en masse in mine attacks; where committing a coup can make you a dignitary but opposing the government can put you in jail under charges of coup; where we want to invade northern Iraq but unanimously oppose if some other country invades another; where we hate Israel because it counters terror brutally but expect our country to do the same when we lose our soldiers in terror.
Welcome to the land of lunacy!
29 Nisan 2009
It was a calm, blue evening when I took a taxi on Rue Duquesnoy in Brussels last week. During the peaceful drive to the airport, the cab driver told me about the 23 years he had spent in the Belgian capital and about his disillusionment with world politics and the never-ending wars in every corner of the map. "Where is your homeland?" I asked him. "I am a Lebanese Armenian," he answered. Remembering it was April 21 that day, I mentioned to the taxi driver (who I will call A.Y.) that Meds Yeghern was only three days away, and asked him, "Do you blame the Turks for the tragedy?" "No," A.Y. shrugged. "So, you think the Ottomans are to blame?" I asked. "No," he shrugged again.
I was getting impatient with this chap. "You are not going to tell me this damn thing never happened, are you?" I asked in what was, I guess, a slightly raised voice. A.Y. looked at me in the mirror.
"Are you Greek?" he asked. "You seem so keen on blaming the Turks." "Look," I said after a moment of speechlessness, "I am not Greek and I am not keen on blaming the Turks. I am Turkish!" He nearly crashed into a parked pick-up.
A.Y.’s theory put the blame on the "Big Powers" Ğ the Russians, the British and the French. "Before they got into the picture, we lived so peacefully with the Turks for centuries," he sighed. A.Y. admitted he was not a popular figure in Brussels’ tiny Armenian community. "But who cares," he shrugged again, before I got out.
Now U.S. President Barack Obama’s April 24 message has taught the world a new word: Meds Yeghern. It was very smart of Obama’s speechwriters to rediscover a term that, etymologically, precedes the word "genocide." In a way, saying "Meds Yeghern" is like saying "Shoah" instead of "Holocaust."
This new formulation may help the Americans, Turks and Armenians avoid future crises too. With our now-enriched vocabulary for the genocide dispute we can escape a joint Turkish-American entente should the U.S. Congress decide to recognize the Armenian genocide. Here is this columnist’s proposal: Congress should pass a resolution that recognizes the Armenian Meds Yeghern. That way, the Turks cannot complain that their American friends recognized genocide. No, they would merely have recognized Meds Yeghern, not genocide!
Whatever wording President Obama chose, he could not have pleased everyone. It was simply against the natural course of things that any language could have pleased the Turks, the Armenians and the Armenian diaspora. It is, therefore, more rational for everyone at this stage of events to try and see the fuller half of their half-empty glass.
There is, all the same, a conceptual nuance between "genocide" and what in Armenian language essentially refers to genocide. Unlike "genocide," Meds Yeghern has no legal implications, especially when pronounced by the president of the United States. The choice of the term therefore contains a not-so-veiled message to the Armenian diaspora: Do not seek evidence for potential legal claims and spoil the planned Caucasus dtente.
It cannot be a coincidence that the Turkish-Armenian roadmap was officially announced only a day before the April 24 Commemoration Day. Yes, this is a serious roadmap with powerful support behind it. But who has been most discontented with Ankara and Yerevan now walking on eggshells and the Americans doing their best to make sure no one breaks any?
On our side, it’s the nationalists. Having already read the coverage of the dtente in the "nationalist" press, I was not surprised to hear from a nationalist friend, a cafe owner, on Sunday, how frustrated he felt about "us befriending the bloody Armenians."
I was not surprised either to read that a self-declared "nationalist" union of education workers, Egitim-Sen, had collected 250,000 signatures against the dtente under the disgusting slogan "I don’t want to see my brother’s murderer in my town!" I felt that I did not want to see people full of such hatred in my town.
The Islamic press treated the news from a much more mature perspective and was generally supportive of the rapprochement. So were the speeches by President Abdullah Gül and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
Across the Atlantic, dtente is apparently bad news for the Armenians. In an article about the historic diplomatic thaw between Turkey and Armenia, the Wall Street Journal quoted Andrew Kzirian, executive director of the Armenian National Committee's Western region, powerfully expressing his feelings as those of "great disappointment."
Just across the Alican border dividing Turkey and Armenia, the nationalist Dashnaktsutsiun party, a junior member of Armenia’s governing coalition, withdrew from this otherwise functioning political alliance, citing neglect of Yerevan’s "national interests."
In such an array of sentiments, we can always rely on the assumption that anything that angers radicals must be good. But sentiments are not the only barrier. Naturally, apart from "feelings," the thaw on Turkey’s eastern border will spark "rational" ire too. And there, Russia enters the picture. Sadly, the Russians have all the good reasons to spoil the dtente.
It was bad for them that the American president smartly went for "Shoah" instead of "Holocaust." But the game is not over. We will probably see a lot of overt or covert Russian "interest" in what is seemingly a Turkish-Armenian, but in reality, a Turkish-Armenian-American-Russian affair.
While trying to calculate the possible moves in this Caucasian gambit, a player of an equally difficult chess game reminded me of what the 19th-century philosopher and theologian Soren Kierkegaard once said: Life can be understood backwards, but it can only be lived forwards.
It is up to the Turks and Armenians to understand life backwards and live it forwards. The opposite would be painful for everyone.
24 Nisan 2009
False: If the French did not object to Turkey’s European Union membership everything would come up roses and Ankara would win a well-deserved nod for accession. True: In 2009, EU candidate Turkey is still oceans away from having truly absorbed the values cherished in the club it hopes to join one day Ğ or so it pretends. If Turkey’s all too visible short-comings have not been fairly put under a magnifier over the past few years, it is because of its "nuisance value," or, in more polite words, its "strategic importance."
False: Some Europeans don’t want Turkey in because it’s Muslim.
True: The same Europeans will sooner rather than later (but most likely before Turkey) admit Muslim Bosnia as a full member. Islam per se is not an obstacle for EU membership. Its archaic, dogmatic, political interpretations can be.
False: The biggest single obstacle to Turkish membership is France.
True: The biggest single obstacle to Turkish membership is Turkey.
False: Europe is negatively discriminating Turkey.
True: Europe is positively discriminating in favor of Turkey.
If a Turk and a Frenchman met at a bar, the Turk would probably think the Frenchman owed him a lot of money because he would reflexively think that the Frenchman was the barrier to the fat salary he would be earning in Berlin, Paris or London. The Turk would also think that this Frenchman was not only blocking his nice salary but was also torturing him in long visa queues. Ah, Antoine, what have I done to you to deserve this torment?
Does Ankara want to win French hearts and minds? Yes. Can it? Not with the current state of "Turkish affairs." Most recent public opinion polls put the French support for Turkish membership at 35 percent, with the ’mais non!’ group hovering at around 55 percent. Various other researches also reveal that a majority of the ’s’il vous plait’ camp consists of the French left. Yes, the French left could have been Turkey’s only hope of winning France. Too bad, there are signs that the French left no longer buys into the illusion that Turkey is run by liberal Muslims.
It was not in vain that Bernard Kouchner, France’s socialist foreign minister and until recently a keen supporter of Turkish membership, has remarked that Turkey, which would be the EU’s first Muslim member, was actually heading towards "a reinforcement of religion and a lessened affirmation of secularity?" Why did Mr Kouchner "betray" his Turkish friends? Optimists would cite French domestic politics, European Parliament elections and Mr Kouchner’s desire to look pretty to President Nicolas Sarkozy and therefore to escape losing his cabinet seat. All of which would make for make another "false." The truth is Mr Kouchner said so only because that’s what he thinks. Turkey is on the way of losing the tiny support it got from the country with which it established its first ever diplomatic relations Ğ back in the 16th century Ğ because even the most na?ve French intellectual increasingly tends to believe that Turkey’s Islamists with the masks tagged "hey-we-are-the-real-democrats-not-the-others" have been embarrassingly unmasked.
"We genuinely believed thatÉ the Turkish government deserved a chanceÉ We feared we would otherwise have behaved unethically. Today we only regret being too na?ve. Turkey has just sailed towards Islamic autocracy, pretending it was sailing westwards," a senior French diplomat told me in Paris. "At times when we were the strongest advocates of a democratic, European Turkey we were teased. We shouted back, loud and clearÉ The same teasing goes on today. And we just bow our heads and keep silent." Where we stand on the Ankara-Paris axis today is the accumulation of unpleasant Turkish affairs in the last few years. You can expect the Frenchman who is sympathetic to the idea of Turkish membership to ignore Turkey when the Turkish prime minister, commenting on a ruling from the European Court of Human Rights, publicly declares that the Court should have taken advice from the Ulema (Islamic scholars). You can expect him to delete from his memory the fact that the Turkish prime minister holds the title of having sued a record number of writers, journalists and cartoonistsÉ Or that he once asked for a prison sentence for a female protestor because she had held out a placard that read "Whose prime minister are you?"
But the Frenchman could not just turn around and whistle when his knowledge of Turkish affairs becomes overwhelmingly dominated by bits and pieces of Islamic autocracy. He does not. This is exactly where the Americans are miscalculating. France is not Georgia where one could orchestrate any color of popular movement. When the French should go to the polls for Turkey, they won’t vote to open Europe’s doors to a country run by political Islam disguised as a democracy.
Putting all that into real-life language? Easy. The Sept. 10, 2008 issue of the French humor magazine drew the Pope and Mr Sarkozy together under the headline "Rencontre au sommet entre Pape et Sarkozy (Summit meeting between the Pope and Sarkozy). A second line read: "Le suppositoire et le trou du cul." That line is probably not fit for printing in EU candidate Turkey, so I shall leave it to the curious reader to find out what it quite vulgarly means.
The heart of the matter isÉ France is an overwhelmingly Catholic country; and Turkey is overwhelmingly Muslim. France is an EU member state; and Turkey is an EU member candidate. Could anyone even in the distant future reasonably expect the Turkish government to make legal and mental amendments in the country so that one day the Islamic/Turkish version of the same caricature could appear in a Turkish magazine without prosecution Ğ and possibly torching and fists and bullets too? Turkey will certainly deserve membershipÉ just when it governmentally and nationally is prepared to democratically absorb a cartoon that shows, say, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Fethullah Gülen with the same title and the same line underneath, or even a much lighter version of the same caricature. Ah, that’s just hundreds of years ahead? Peut-etreÉ
22 Nisan 2009
In 1957 when the inter-communal conflict in Cyprus began, Lawrence Durrell thought the island looked like a "bitter lemon." It probably still does, for related but different reasons. And Sunday’s vote in the "trouble island’s" Turkish section has a message: Don’t expect the lemons to get any sweeter any time soon. The Turkish Cypriots chose to wave goodbye to their clear choice of a party back in 2005, the pro-reunification Republican Turkish Party, or CTP. An easier conclusion could be to blame the CTP’s removal from power on economic mismanagement. Partly yes, but economy hardly explains the whole picture.
Before the CTP came to power the average financial assistance packages with a tag reading "with love from Ankara" stood at $220 million annually. During the CTP’s rule the goodies from the older brother averaged $360 million a year, and in 2008 reached $420 million. In the meantime, the Turkish Cypriot per capita income rose from $9,600 in 2002 to $14,500 in 2007. The hope for reunification in the early times of the CTP rule, both in presidential and government terms, created a property boom which the Turkish Cypriots enjoyed to the full. As the hopes for a solution faded the property boom turned into a punishing shrink, further adding to the disillusionment from the lack of a historic hand shake. All that happened when there was an urgent need to reform the government finances, but Prime Minister Ferdi Sabit Soyer remained too reluctant to get the Turkish Cypriots eat any ’bitter lemons’ tagged as reforms. When he started, it was already too late. The CTP began to be perceived as ’any other political party’ in this tiny statelet, and there were good reasons for that. Generous pay hikes for government employees, loans to friendly businessmen, corruption allegations and all kinds of inefficient public investment enough to cause delirium for any sensible economist. Now the public finances are worse than messy.
Could the elder brother not have helped to make things a little bit easier? Ankara is increasingly wary of sponsoring one of the world’s worst-managed economies. If its size had not been small, the Turkish treasury too could have gone bankrupt along with that of the ’baby homeland.’ But there is another reason for meanness in Ankara: Deputy Prime Minister, Cemil Çiçek, who handles financial assistance for the ’baby homeland,’ is a nationalist-conservative and does not like ’infidels’ like President Mehmet Ali Talat and Prime Minister Soyer. Mssrs Talat and Soyer just happen to be ’too leftist to really care about any holiness.’ Where do we stand now? The votes "lent" to the CTP have now been taken back. Sunday’s vote tells us that reunification is no longer a top priority for a majority of the Turkish Cypriots. There is of course the possibility that some Turkish Cypriots could have voted in the expectation that a "right wing" party can have easier access to more cash from the Mainland, but their percentage is probably negligibly small. Another question is whether an all too hostile Derviş Eroğlu, the winner of the election, can cohabit with President Talat? Yes, he can. Mr Eroğlu is a pragmatist above all and he will be immediately "briefed" by Ankara and (Turkish) Nicosia that he has to do so. A lot on the international sphere will depend on who will be named the foreign minister. Let’s hope the new minister will be someone who can peacefully work with Mr Talat.
One danger is whether Mr Eroğlu will pursue "clientelist" policies and further damage the reunification process and his government’s public finances; or be sensible, turn into someone other than his former self and unexpectedly feature a political and economical reformist his mini state badly needs. The latter possibility is, sadly, more remote than the first. Meanwhile, the Greek Cypriots can draw any conclusion they wish to. But with Mr Eroğlu in power, the tactic of slowing down the reunification negotiations and waiting for the EU deadline for (and pressure on) Turkey is now even a worse option. That can no longer pay off, and has the risk of further radicalizing the Turkish Cypriots whom they claim they hope one day to live together in peace and share a common state.
It is not a secret that the EU’s presumed "autumn leverage" on Turkey is no longer there, up or working. Add to that a tiny nation who has been pushed further away from the idea of neighboring their neighbors again under a common roof, it would not be wrong to suggest that we are being further and further pushed away from reunification. As for Mr Eroğlu’s two-state solutionÉ He may not be too vocal about that. Neither can he change his mindset in a fortnight. But now there are greater chances for the erection of the Mosque of Nicosia which the Mainland government has been too keen on, but less chances for a solution. Lemons from Cyprus will have to remain bitter until a better harvest..
17 Nisan 2009
In November 2002 when the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, came to power the grandiose political bet opened: Could Turkey’s Islamist elite metamorphose into liberals/democrats and push Turkey into the European Union? Most of Turkey’s western friends bet on a "yes." I bet on a "no," sincerely wishing I would lose. Sadly, I see an increasing number of from the "yes" bet admitting defeat. Back in 2003, in an article in the Greek daily Kathimerini, I used the analogy of a cat for the AKP: Soldiers of political Islam are like cats. You can never teach a cat not to scratch simply because scratching is in the genes, just like "Islamizing" wherever possible is in the genes of political Islamists. Where does Turkey stand six and a half years after the bet opened?
Funnily, a headline on Voice of America just the other day read: "Turkish police detain secularists in coup investigation." These days Turkey is the most dangerous place for seculars, secularists and anti-Islamists: in the latest wave of Ergenekon detentions, prominent academics, all known to be defenders of a secular Turkey, were put behind bars, probably to remain in their cells for several months before they could officially learn the charges against them. Turkey never ceases to be weird in the extreme. On the one hand the government is considering a pardon for Kurdish terrorists who have killed, and on the other prosecutors keep on detaining anti-government figures aging 70-90, on charges of terror, including a raid on the home of a prominent female academic undergoing chemotherapy. Terrorists disguised as old, sick peopleÉ How very wonderful! But we have our smart prosecutors who catch them.
Talking about sicknessesÉ It is amazing how our Islamists can champion deception, lies and every other evil the Holy Koran tells them never to resort to. Former Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan, the grand master of political Islam in Turkey, who once was the honourable leader of most AKP bigwigs, was found guilty of embezzling his party’s money and sentenced to prison. Do good Muslims steal public money? They don’t. But "image" Muslims do.
Mr Erbakan’s prison sentence was initially turned into house arrest. Then another "good Muslim," President Abdullah Gul, pardoned Mr Erbakan due to his "chronic illness." A few days ago the man with the chronic illness made a ceremonial return to active politics and announced that his first foreign visit would be to Tehran, not a random choice for a first trip abroad. Surprising? No. Political Islamists firmly believe it does not amount to sinning if they cheat in the name of Islam. Cheating is OK, a wife without the turban, a drop of alcohol are not. Talking about cheatingÉ On the one hand our prosecutors are on a witch hunt to put secular dissidents in jail on the charge of attempting to topple the government by means of subversion that would lead to a coup but has not, since the government is still in place and there has not been a coup. On the other hand, Mr Gul just last week had a red carpet welcome at the presidential palace for Kenan Evren, the leader of the 1980 coup. Weird? No, just Turkish. Mr Evren is no longer a threat to the Islamists. But seculars who organize anti-government rallies can be. So, red-carpet treatment for the official coup leader, and gaol for would be coup plotters.
Where do we stand as far as the grandiose bet of 2002 is concerned? In terms of civil liberties and better democracy? The World Economic Forum’s most recent press freedoms index ranked Turkey 106th among 134 countries worldwide. What else? Ariel Cohen and Owen Graham wrote in the Heritage Foundation: "Prominent supporters of democracy are concerned that the right of dissent and the principle of governmental accountability are being eroded: The AKP is viewed as increasingly intolerant of opposing views (Obama in Ankara: Turkey’s dangerous drift, Apr. 6, 2009)."
What else? Can it be a coincidence that a supporter of Turkey’s EU bid, Bernard Kouchner, the French foreign minister, recently remarked that Turkey, which would be the EU’s first Muslim member, was actually heading towards "a reinforcement of religion and a lessened affirmation of secularity?"
Bad news is that I was right about the cat. Good news is that more and more western friends of Turkey can now see that painting stripes on an elephant does not make it a zebra.