Burak Bekdil

Where would your GPS locate Turkey on the political map?

15 Nisan 2009
An Indian friend once objected to the term "Middle East." "Why, for us it’s the western East," he remarked, half-jokingly. The terms "West" and "East" have always made speeches simpler but sometimes problematic, too. But we at least should agree that these terms denote more than geographical connotations. Can it be that Turkey belongs to the West and Australia and New Zealand to the East? Is Albania more western than Turkey, or Libya than Israel?

News coverage of the "Obama party" in Turkey showed that the U.S. president confirmed his administration’s perceptions that Turkey belongs to the West. Yes, he said that Turkey belonged in Europe. But what else did he tell an all too admiring Turkish audience?

I’ll come to that. But allow me to ask another question. How did the officials, pundits, analysts and columnists invariably describe President Obama’s visit to Turkey? This was the standard line in every piece of news, commentary or analysis: "É Obama chose Turkey as the first Muslim country to visit since becoming president. É" Is there not something odd here? Why did anyone not say/write/think instead, "Obama chose Turkey as the fourth European country to visit since becoming president?"

How would we all describe the president’s visit if he went to Switzerland instead of Turkey? Obama chose Switzerland as the fourth Christian country to visit? How would we all describe the visit if he went instead to Egypt? There you go! Yes, in the case of Egypt we would describe it as "Obama chose Egypt as the first Muslim country to visitÉ" What about Thailand? Can we think of a line like "Obama chose Thailand as the first Buddhist country to visit"? Now let’s recall the president’s speech in Turkey. Obama talked about where "there’s the most promise of building stronger U.S.-Turkish relations is in the recognition of Turkey and the United States can build a model partnership in which a predominantly Christian nation and a predominantly Muslim nation Ğ a Western nation and a nation that straddles two continents. É" There it is!

It is true that the United States is predominantly Christian and Turkey is predominantly Muslim. So far, so good. But what about "a Western nation and a nation that straddles two continents?" If Turkey belongs to the West, why did Obama not talk about two Western nations and instead went for the polite term "straddling two continents" instead of just saying a Western nation and an Eastern (Muslim) nation? Or did he mean "a nation that we can locate neither in the West nor in the East but wish it were Western?" Probably the last one.

We all know that having a negligible part of its soil sitting on continental Europe does not make a country or a nation European or Western. Last week, I recalled in this column that Obama was visiting a country where 73 percent of the people think foreigners should not buy property on their soil, 46 percent say they would nod to a military coup if necessary, 69 percent think women should get their husbands’ permission in order to work, 57 percent say the female members of their household never went out with a sleeveless blouse; 70 percent declare they did not read any books in the last three months, and 39 percent support the ruling party Ğ and where in 2009 still a dozen people die and hundreds get injured in election day violence.

Of course, Obama did not want to be rude or anything. Nor does he wish for Turkey to slide further eastward. On the contrary, he is probably determined to reverse Turkey’s drift. In his speech, there was a not-so-veiled message to our ruling Islamists: "One of the great strengths of the United States is that it does not consider itself a Christian nation, or a Jewish nation, or a Muslim nation. We consider ourselves a nation of citizens who are bound by ideals and a set of values. I think modern Turkey was founded with a similar set of principles." Now let’s try to decipher: Religion is nowhere in the making of the American state, and the Americans are bound by a set of values similar to the principles on which Atatürk founded modern Turkey. We all know what those principles were. I am certain Obama had been briefed about them all too well. It as not a slip of tongue or ignorance that he felt urged to remind his Turkish hosts that the principles they hate are similar to the ones that keep the Americans bound together. That’s bad news for Turkey’s Islamists. There is this man they cannot easily fool. They need to find new skin for the old ceremony Ğ taqiyya may no longer be the applicable tactic. Before it’s too late, it might be better if they learned that America is not only about religious freedoms. It is also about freedom from political religiosity.
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Diamonds and rust

10 Nisan 2009
In foreign affairs, perhaps like in love affairs, time may turn dirty charcoal into beautiful diamonds and shiny metal into ugly rust. This time, the Turks and Americans are trying the diamonds after the bitter taste of dust. After more than half-a-century-long love (and hate) affair it is too difficult to know whether it was the Turks or the Americans who gave the other a pair of cuff links and which one gave the troubles to the other. Or whether President Barack Obama’s visit was a "call from a booth in the Midwest," or if Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s "yes to all" was offering diamonds to the American.

Of course politics in the 21st century is so much different to the love affairs of the mid 70s, when the song that gave its name to this headline was written. But since we are talking about "love revived" in the personality of President Obama, let’s talk about love Ğ between allies, not lovers. The Turks were too happy because the foreign head of state they love the most held their prime minister’s hand uninterrupted "for several minutes" which was a sign of "love."

But what did President Obama tell the curious Turkish audience in parliament? That he has not changed his mind about the Armenian genocide... Which means that he firmly believes the ancestors of the people who made his audience were genocide committers. Let’s refresh our minds. This is the mind President Obama told the Turks he did not change: "...the Armenian genocide is not an allegation, a personal opinion or a point of view, but rather a widely documented fact." Now, is that diamonds, or rust? It depends. You may call it a rusty diamond.

But since in "love affairs" shiny metal may turn to rust, let’s talk about shiny metal. Shiny metal, for example, in the shape of unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs... Turkey, the lover, has a rather sad story about the UAVs which it tremendously needs to better fight the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK. The Isreaeli solution(s) has never been a real cure, partly due to Israel and partly to due to Turkish fault. This is a complicated and rather shadowy story. But America, the other lover, can help. And whether it will is the question the lovers should see to if they will give each other diamonds or rust.

Here is the story: In February Turkey officially sent a letter of request for the purchase of U.S.-made Predator B, otherwise known as the MQ-9 Reaper, or the ’hunter-killer,’ a solid UAV which, unlike most others in its family of military air platforms, can bomb designated targets Ğ which in this case would be PKK targets.

The sale of the Predator B to Turkey the ally is subject to congressional approval. Congress earlier approved its sale to the United Kingdom, but the key U.S. ally uses the weapons systems in NATO-led operations in Afghanistan Ğ in joint operations with the U.S from a base in Nevada. But Congress also gave its nod to the sale of its unarmed version to Italy and Germany none of which intends to use it against terror targets.

We have no means to know whether Congress will endorse this critical weapons transfer to Turkey. We have no means to know whether President Obama thinks it would be just normal if the Predator Bs have been shipped to "model partner" Turkey and used against PKK targets; or if giving the Turks a pair of cuff links would upset America’s other affairs.

There is a lot of contamination from an overdose of public diplomacy. It would be best if we wait and saw whether the call from a booth in the Midwest will turn into diamonds or rust.
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Undoing March 1

8 Nisan 2009
For the very important inhabitants of Washington D.C., "Turkey season" opened some time ago, when George J. Mitchell, President Barack Obama’s Middle East envoy, arrived in the Turkish capital, matured when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited the same site, and eventually crowned with the presence of President Obama himself. I am not going to repeat what we have all been reading prior to President Obama’s visit and cite the all too known reasons why Turkey season opened.

Naturally, there has been an unusual load of Turkey news in the international media, and Obama news in the Turkish Ğ along with a record number of open letters to Obama by appealing Turkish columnists. Disappointingly, Hürriyet’s front page headline looked like that of a state-sponsored newspaper in a lackey banana republic: Welcome Mr President!

Most Turkey news was accurate/informative reading. But there were a couple of amusing exceptions. For example, www.cnn.com/europe portrayed Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in a way an ordinary Turk could have thought the CNN’s newsroom must have confused Erdoğan the Almighty with one of his namesakes: "Éa childhood lived in a working class neighborhood where Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, son of a sailor, sold bread and water to pay for school booksÉ"

Having wiped away the tears in my eyes for that dramatically struggling past of our prime minister and making sure CNN was really talking about Erdoğan the Almighty, I first made an observation and then a decision about a career move.

Judging from the wealth boasted by the Erdoğan household, I calculated that during his childhood he must have sold loaves of bread sufficient for a whole continent. And naturally, I have decided to quit journalism and begin selling bread on the street.

In another article, Jack Miles in the LA Times was arguing that Turkey’s political system has been anti-religious in the Soviet manner: "Éwomen, for example, may not wear headscarves in government-run schools and public offices, and men may not wear the traditional fez." Yes, the fez! The traditional fez! I was not aware the fez was the traditional Turkish headwear, nor was I aware wearing the fez had anything to do with Koranic teachings or religious freedoms. All the same, I took the lighter side of Mr. Miles’s line and tried to visualize Erdoğan with a fez. Sounds nice.

But Miles’s April 4 article titled, "Talking to Turkey, but Islam is listening," contained more serious mistakes. Readers of the Times learned from Miles that the Constitutional Court ruled the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, constitutional.

Sorry Miles, you can always claim the fez is the traditional headwear but the supreme court declared the AKP unconstitutional with 10 votes out of its 11 members.

Finally, I remember having read a nice little line from an AKP bigwig, Suat Kınıklıoğlu, on his own Web site. Kınıklıoğlu, a member of Parliament and the AKP’s vice president for foreign relations, claimed that the March 29 election results would mean a referendum on the government’s foreign policy since 2007.

I must give credit to Kınıklıoğlu here, not only because he is the spokesman of the Turkish Parliament’s foreign relations committee, but also because he formerly headed the Ankara office of the prestigious German Marshall Fund. He is not a man who would speak crap. Too bad, the AKP won only 39 percent, and in that case the referendum ended in a national disapproval of AKP’s foreign policy since 2007.

But all of these are things of no importance. What matters is that Turkey season has reopened and damage when it had ended March 1, 2003 luckily will have been undone. Many people think the reason for the Turkish smiles is the Obama effect. Partly, yes. But more than that it’s the Bush (bad) effect. Turks are almost ready to embrace anyone after their disappointment with two terms of Republican rule.

As much as there are chances that March 1, 2003 will be undone there are also chances that there may be new March 1s. The key to avoiding new diplomatic disasters will be the Americans’ ability to understand a difficult-to-understand country. As a starter, I should remind that the U.S. president visited a country where:

Seventy-three percent of the people think foreigners should not buy property on their soil; 46 percent say they would nod to a military coup if necessary; 69 percent think women should get their husbands’ permission in order to work; 57 percent say the female members of their household never went out with a sleeveless blouse; 70 percent declare they did not read any books in the last three months; and 39 percent support the ruling party.

Ah, by the way in this country in the year 2009 still a dozen people died and hundreds got injured in election day violence. A belated welcome to Turkey, President Obama!
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The will of the nation

1 Nisan 2009
Étells us that 61 percent of Turks are discontented with Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s governance. Is that good news for the main opposition? Well, not exactly. The will of the nation also tells us that 77 percent of the Turks do not think the Republican People’s Party, or CHP, could be a reasonable alternative. We can read out Election 2009 from different perspectives. It looks like every party has good reasons to be happy about it. Mr. Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party, or AKP, is still the biggest party. The CHP has increased its vote and made its presence felt in Istanbul and Ankara where it almost did not exist before. The Nationalist Action Party, or MHP, has also increased its vote slightly. The pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party, or DTP, has enhanced its grip on the southeast vote and added a few more cities to its portfolio of municipalities. The Saadet (Felicity) Party has given signals that it might come back to the political scene under new leadership.

Alternatively, all major players can find reasons to be sorry too. The AKP’s political capital is visibly on decline. The CHP and MHP’s gains are only minimal, and the DTP still fails to appeal to a reasonable majority of voters, therefore containing itself to the unfortunate position of a political party that does politics along ethnic lines. We can always read out the election results in a light, fluffy and goofy way too. As an American friend commented on the AKP’s bitter victory on Sunday, "Perhaps they should have arrested more men for conspiring for the Ergenekon gang!"

Otherwise, we can reach the following conclusions:

1. It would be too premature to claim that Election 2009 could be the beginning of the end for the AKP, but the ruling party is no doubt bleeding. The AKP has failed to win any of the cities it strategically targeted to win, and instead lost some critical ones to the opposition.

2. The AKP’s "Kurdish overtures" apparently failed to earn it votes in the southeast. The southeast voting proves that the Kurds are not seeking broader cultural rights but more than that. Mr. Erdoğan was right to bitterly admit that politics along ethnic lines in the southeast is now an established reality. The DTP controls more cities but its vote is a stable five percent nationwide. It is interesting that the myth about Istanbul as the "world’s biggest Kurdish city" is in shambles as evinced by DTP’s very marginal popularity of less than 4 percent in Turkey’s biggest city. The votes for the "Kurdish cause" in Istanbul appeared to be even less than the same votes nationwide.

3. Mr. Erdoğan, as usual, was resorting to cheap politics when before the elections he denied the global financial crisis and the magnitude of its effects on Turkey, and on the election night he partially blamed the results on the crisis he denied.

4. The Turks have forced the AKP into political consensus. It would now be a near impossibility for Mr. Erdoğan to go solo in his plans to amend the Constitution and give it a more Islamic flavor. He must now seek consensus from the opposition.

5. The numbersÉ

a) The secular block (CHP + Democratic Left Party, or DSP) rose from 21 percent in 2007 to 26 percent in 2009. The difference between the AKP and the secular block fell to 13 percentage points, the lowest since 2002. That discrepancy was 26 percent in 2007. In other words, it was halved in less than two years.

b) The CHP and MHP’s combined vote has for the first time surpassed the AKP’s.

c) The AKP won 8 percentage points higher in municipal polls in 2004 than its national vote in the general elections in 2002. If the same trend continued it would have won 55 percent in 2009, or 16 percentage points higher than what it actually won on March 29.

d) The opposition parties currently represented in Parliament now total 47 percent of the national vote against AKP’s 39 percent Ğ compared to 40 percent versus 47 percent in 2007, representing a 15-point shift against the AKP.

e) Put it differently, the CHP, MHP, DTP and Saadet Party increased their votes by 4.7 million while the AKP lost over 1 million votes, a nearly 6 million swing against the government.

6. The difference between the AKP and the CHP has been significantly narrowed in Istanbul and Ankara and widened in Izmir, all in favor of the CHP.

7. The AKP’s vote would have been lower if there was not foul play and Mr. Erdoğan’s powerful Davos doping. The systematic distribution of goodies and open threats by AKP bigwigs that the cities voting for opposition candidates would be deprived of services and funding should have boosted the AKP’s votes by an incalculable percentage. The voting result in the curious case of one province was particularly amusing: The people of Tunceli, where the AKP’s vote-hunting by handing out household goods, accepted these pre-election gifts but voted for the DTP.

8. It proved to be another myth that the AKP could even have got a "jacket" elected if it nominated it. The people of Şanlıurfa did not vote for the "jacket."

9. In his speech on early results of election results Mr. Erdoğan complained that his party had to fight media groups. Well, apparently the prime minister never learnsÉ His aggressive strategy against his opponents, including critical newspapers, does him no good. So, we have learned from the prime minister that the media is responsible not only for the global financial crisis and corruption in Turkey, but also for the AKP’s poor election performance.

10. Every new election night proves that the Turks are an increasingly right-wing bunch. It is particularly funny to see we have extremely "enlightened" cities in Turkey like Yozgat and Erzurum where the combined Islamist/nationalist vote ranges in the 90 to 95 percent band.

11. It is probably about time that Turkey’s western friends should start to devise contingency plans regarding alternative governments, including coalition options. Such possibilities are not as remote today as they used to be in 2007.
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Here we go again

27 Mart 2009
In all probability, the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, will win in three days’ time its third consecutive national confidence vote since it became to power in 2002. This time, the critical thresholds are 40 and 50 percent of the national vote, i.e., less than 40 percent would not be alarming yet indicative of a saturation point, and more than 50 percent will illustrate a seal on the AKP’s grip on power. I would bet for the latter rather than the former possibility. Today, Turkey’s socio-political demography is an even more fertile ground for the AKP than it was in the 2002, 2004 (municipal) and 2007 elections. It was not for no reason that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has prescribed every Turkish family to make at least three, and "even four or five" children each Ğ when there are already officially 3.4 million jobless people around. Mr. Erdoğan is aware that every new jobless young man will either end up at a tarikat (religious order) or turn up at the ballot box as a pious but poor Muslim voting for the AKP, or both. With never-ending corruption stories surrounding the AKP and its friends, an emerging elite group of pious rich men, coupled with punishing economic conditions for the masses will probably not keep the average Turkish voter from putting the rubber stamp on the bulb on a yellow background. There are two main reasons for that.

First, as this column has often emphasized, the AKP is Ğ increasingly Ğ the mirror image of the average voter: devoutly Muslim, but "display Muslim" only; anti-Western for religious/political reasons but pro-EU in anticipation of economic benefits; pro-military for chauvinistic reasons but increasingly distant to the established political ideology of the barracks; collectivist in theory but individualist in practice; and moralist when "the other" goes corrupt but tolerant when "we" do.

As I wrote a year and a half earlier, Turkey is a strange country. A majority of its inhabitants are in a love-and-hate relationship with the rest of the world. For example, they most hate the country where they probably would love to live in. They hate the Western bloc they wish to become a part of. They see their major Western ally as their top security threat. They love the idea of Islamic solidarity, yet they see their Muslim neighbors as security threats. They look and think "westward" but buy tickets for an "eastward" destination, and, even more bizarre, vice-versa. Turkey can be an unbearingly tiring fieldwork for sociologists/political scientists. Here, two plus two almost never equals four.

Second, there is the element of "unfair competition." Has anyone in any other country ever seen voters’ psychology that blames the poverty of the masses not on the ruling party but on another that has never been in power since God knows when? That’s because of unfair competition. Sadly, it is. There is nothing stronger than a religious bond between religiously conservative people, which the Turks have visibly become one Ğ and even becoming more conservative. The pious man will be prepared to blame the non-pious for the failings of another pious man. Of course, the opposite may also be true. But the "pool" is made up of 75-80 percent conservative people, not the others.

The pious man will see the government-opposition battles from a religious perspective. A kind of "our holy fight against infidels" psychology. With no baby food to bring home and another day lost by looking for a job in vain, he would not be thinking of his miserable life when he goes to the ballot box. There, a stronger motive will capture his mind: religion.

That is one reason why the most unfortunate Turks tend to vote for the governing party, according to several studies. They would not question why they have been made so worse off while the ruling elite keep on enjoying the finer things of life. They will make voting preferences like soldiers ready to die for God. I can see Mr. Erdoğan rubbing his hands if every Turkish family made a dozen children and 10 of them ended up miserable but faithful.

This local election will not be an exception. More Turks are jobless today than in 2007. More Turks are poorer. More Turks have been born, grown into adolescence, passed 18. More Turks have since then been educated by pious families, more Turkish children have enrolled at Koranic schools, and more see their prime minister as a modern day Sultan when he tells them Turkey is a global power, and as the Caliph when he teaches the "cursed" Jews a good lesson.

Mr. Erdoğan et al. have God on their side.
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The Sultan and the Lord Mayor of Ankara

25 Mart 2009
It was one of the most recent days when Hürriyet detailed how the City of Istanbul had channeled funds to the tune of 3.7 million euros to a party loyalist under the cover of "consultancy services for asphalting" that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan admitted at a loyalist TV interview that the tax inspectors who landed our media group with a $500 million fine had first brought the dossier to him - apparently for a final nod.

I am not sure if the traffic wardens also take my parking fines to the prime minister for final endorsement, but the dossier on the tax fine on the prime minister’s desk does not look like standard procedure. In the first place, this is not only unethical but also illegal. But why did the finance ministry take the dossier to the prime minister? (a) To go ahead with it after his approval, (b) To shelve it if the prime minister thought it would be wrongly-timed, and (c) To look pretty to the Sultan for a future promotion, with the happy and pat-deprived looks of a pet cat who has just caught a bird and brought it to its master. All of the plausible explanations lead to some sort of unlawful practice. But it just happens in sultanates... It’s only that Mr. Erdogan did not see any harm in confessing what in a decent democracy could have cost him his seat. Not in Turkey... If the prime minister behaves like a sultan why should his mayor for the capital not behave like an Ottoman governor? My first journalist-to-politician contact with Melih Gokcek, the mayor of Ankara, was through a fax message he had sent to this newspaper in mid 1990s. It was either an invitation or an unexciting press release written in poor English. I was preparing to put it into the waste basket, but suddenly started to laugh at the signature line. It read: Melih Gökçek, Lord Mayor of Ankara. Until then I did not know we had in our city a Lord Mayor like the Londoners had.Since then Mr. Gökçek has always been the man in the news, often with his arrogance and personal wars with his opponents, if not with his scientific experiments of secretly supplying the people of Ankara water as hygienic as in Bangladesh. Recalling how Mr. Gökçek loved to title himself in a dispatch to an English-language newspaper and the Lord Mayor of London with whom I had the pleasure to meet last week, I began to be curious about what the Turkish Lord Mayor had to tell an all-too loyal crowd of party loyalists at a rally this weekend, a gathering also honored by Mr. Erdoğan. I was not aware that the Lord Mayor of Ankara had picked up new enemies among our colleagues. So I learned. At the public rally Mr. Gökçek promised "to make life unbearable" for Mehmet Ali Birand, a prominent journalist and a columnist for this newspaper, and Uğur Dündar, the doyen of investigative journalism in Turkey. Mr. Dündar had to publicly declare that if in the future there is any harm on him or his family the Lord Mayor of Ankara should be held responsible. Of course, in a free country where the judiciary is independent of the government some prosecutor should either ask for Mr. Gökçek’s testimony on what he probably meant by "making life unbearable" for other people. Unfortunately, European Union candidate Turkey does not fall into that category of countries.I did not bother myself to research whether the Lord Mayor of London has ever threatened to make life unbearable for prominent British journalists, or, if he had, would he have had any chance to keep his seat even for two more minutes. I trust my senses that such an incident could not have happened in Britain. I shall not question either whether a big crowd of British fans would cheer him up and support his publicly-declared vendetta against two journalists at a public rally, knowing the Lord Mayor of London is an apolitical figure and does not make personal hate speeches to masses at Trafalgar Square.Britain and Turkey are former empires. Britain is a parliamentary monarchy, and Turkey is a parliamentary democracy. Britain is an EU member, and Turkey is a member candidate. All of that’s elementary school knowledge. What else? Geographically speaking, they lie on opposite ends of the EU zone. They do trade well, and there are prospects for even more commercial cooperation. What else? One day they will be members of the same club? Definitely. For sure, that day too will come ... when the British tax authorities take a dossier about a huge fine against an opponent media group to the prime minister’s desk for a final nod and the Lord Mayor of London publicly threatens to make life unbearable for a couple of journalists. Yes, I bet when that day comes Turkey will become a full member of the EU!

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Trust the people!

20 Mart 2009
When, after a Wednesday lunch, the Lord Mayor of London, Alderman Ian Luder, reminded me of the "sanctity of the ballot box" and Churchill’s famous line "Trust the people!" my thoughts roamed around three terrains, past and present, all non-British. First, I thought of my own lands where the ruling elite, confident of their unchallenged popularity, more than often emphasize the "will of the nation." I wished I lived in the times of Churchill and could ask him a couple of questions. Can we "trust the people" when the people’s democratic choices create autocracies? Can we trust the people when they vote for corrupt men, admitting they vote for corrupt men? 

Then I tried hard to match Churchill’s idealism with the democratic choice of the German people almost seven decades earlier. Then with the democratic choice of my own people in 1982 when they overwhelmingly voted in favour of the military coup two years earlier and the "made by coup" constitution.

Finally, my thoughts went to Azerbaijan where the people would decide whether to remove the two-term presidential limit. I was not wrong to "trust the (Azerbaijani) people." In late hours I learned that President Ilham Aliyev was given the chance to rule for life. I knew we could trust the people!

Knowing in advance it would be an awfully hypothetical question, I asked Lord Mayor how would he comment if the British prime minister, ahead of municipal elections for the City of London, warned the Londoners that they should vote for the government candidate or be deprived of funding for the City. "We never try to influence choices," was the answer. Here in our lands we do. But we do trust our people too Ğ only 71.5 million of them for the time being.

If Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s 16.5 million or so fans listen to his oft-repeated advice and decide to have "at least three children for each family" while other Turks think three is too many, in about 20 years the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, with or without Mr Erdogan, will probably skyrocket to 75 percent of the national vote.

Yes, we’ll keep on trusting our people.

Even in our lands where there are officially 3.3 million jobless people, the young making the majority. Lord Mayor spoke wisely: "I have two children.

But I should say family size is a personal choice." A very polite way of saying politicians should not tell people how many children they should have.

He continued: "Population growth is an advantage. But a (sizeable) population denied of education can be problematic." Yes, that’s the problem! He recalls his father’s house built in the 1930s:

"Every room was built with a ring to call the servants. We are living in different times when labor is not cheap and demand for semi-skilled labor has gone down sharply. Population growth is healthy only when the state is ready to cater for the young population."

Demographics, along with geo-politics and strategy, will definitely shape Europe’s perception of a Turkish membership.

According to the Lord Mayor, Turkey has a huge asset: a big and young population vs. Britain’s (or the EU’s) big but aging population. He is perfectly right to forewarn that young populations can be a big plus but they require skill development in our times of "war for talent."

Are we going to have enough skilled people? Put it this way: Is Turkey going to have enough skilled people when the time is ripe for both the Turks and the Europeans to eventually decide on whether the Crescent and Star has a place in the Old Continent?

There is much wisdom in that thinking. How much Churchill’s famous line could be applicable to the Turkish case in 20 years time will depend very much on how the new generation Turks "take shape." How much are we going to be able to trust our people? How many more murderers of priests and Hrant Dinks are these lands going to produce?

How many skilled young men who can perfectly integrate into Europe and become successful workers, businessmen, artists? How many more corrupt men disguised as conservatives? And how many decent men in chase of corrupt men? How many voters who would punish corrupt autocrats and how many who will prize them because of their "display Muslimness?"

What will the new generations generate? Bureaucrats, politicians and diplomats who would push Turkey westwards, or inwards? If we should trust our people why do we not ask our people in a referendum whether Turkey should freeze diplomatic ties with Israel and expel the "Zionist ambassador?" Why do we not ask our people whether we should hang Abdullah Öcalan, or whether we should half all taxes and double all wages?

Certainly, we have no alternative than trusting our people. And respect the consequences of that trust.
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18 Mart 2009
An insurer friend was joking the other day that his company was now considering to add one more entry line to the customer questionnaire before giving a health/life policy quote. Do you oppose the government? If the answer is yes, the insurance premium must naturally be higher. Riskier groups must pay more! Was that a joke, I asked. Yes, he answered. I told him his company should better think about it seriously. A few days before that I had learned that my registry as a voter had disappeared from the records. No one has an explanation why I officially do not reside in the apartment I have been residing in for 10 years. So I decided it must be another simple twist of fate. Any chance of a correction? Too late. I should have appealed before Jan. 30. I immediately gave up digging more in fear of having to make physical contact with a government official.

These days, the wisest thing a pedestrian coming across a government bigwig can do is to turn around his head, start whistling a cheerful song, wear a big smile and walk away as fast as possible. Recently a 13-year-old student, who, according to police account, shouted out a curse at Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s convoy, was arrested and now faces prosecution for "insulting the elders of the state." The boy claims the prime minister injured him physically, and a hospital report verifies bruises on his neck and shoulders.

Last week, eight young men who protested Mr. Erdoğan were brutally arrested by the police. But a group of unemployed women who were complaining of joblessness to Environment Minister Veysel Eroğlu were luckier. No arrests or injuries. The minister politely replied to them: "Don’t you have enough work at home?" He was right. Why should women seek jobs? That would not suit the worldview of the "elders of our state." Really, has anyone researched how many of the wives of our Cabinet ministers are working ladies, and how many are housewives?

In another town, a young man was unfortunate enough to address Agriculture Minister Mehdi Eker with unfinished words: "Esteemed minister É I am going to ask a question É" The minister stopped the man with a nice Turkish argot before he was taken away by bodyguards.

But it is not only the politicians who are nervous about the slightest hint of opposition to the ruling elite. The bureaucrats are as intolerant as much. A theater wanted to amuse the people of Kesan, a small town in Thrace. They failed with that, but instead they reluctantly amused the whole country. The name of the satirical musical was "A fairy tale for adults: Thievestan."

The play was supposed to be performed at the Keşan Cultural Center, but in a last-minute decision, the governor, Abdülkadir Karataş, decided that it should not. According to one account, the governor, having noticed the satire about governmental corruption in the script, banned the play and told one of the actors: "I am not going to let you do propaganda." Sadly, Turkey’s rulers have become so autocratic that they and their bureaucrats can turn so prickly about even satirical plays featuring corruption.

Ironically, the ban on the play coincided with the news of state officials forcing a science journal to scrap an article celebrating the work of Charles Darwin. No, the ban on the 16-page Darwin section in Bilim ve Teknik, the journal of the state scientific research institute, or TÜBİTAK, was not the work of the ruling party. It was the work of "Islamist scientists" disguised as "scientists" at higher echelons of TÜBİTAK.

Naturally, the ban and the firing of one academic who wanted to have Darwin on the journal’s cover, has prompted accusations that the ruling Islamists were trying to impose religious ideas on academic institutions. According to the Guardian, "It has also led to renewed warnings from European officials that continued restrictions on freedom of speech could harm Turkey's drive for EU membership."

Can we now accuse Jacques Julliard, columnist for the French weekly Le Nouvel Observateur, for finding a resemblance between Mr. Erdoğan’s governance and the times of Louis Napoleon?
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