Gila Benmayor - English

Is Hasankeyf in our hearts?

11 Temmuz 2009
Regarding Hasankeyf, one of the most magical places in the world, two joyous items of news reached us in the space of a few days. The first piece of news, this historic district located in Batman actually dates back 15,000 years. Until now we had thought 12,000, but we were wrong. President of the Batman University and Archeology Professor Uluçam and his team recently uncovered relics dating back 15,000 years. According to Uluçam, as a result of the archaeological findings uncovered in a dig conducted on the banks of the river Dicle it is possible to drastically change the history of Hasankeyf. The long awaited second piece of news, for which Hasankeyf lovers have waited months for with bated breaths, relates to the withdrawal of credit assurances that were to be provided by Western investors for the Ilısu Hydroelectric Dam project. Construction for the dam project began in 1959.

Due to pressure from both European and Turkish public financial institutions from Germany, the Turkish government was given a deadline of July 6 to comply with conditions put forth by Austria and Switzerland interests.

The conditions comprised of approximately 153 paragraphs. This was an important test as to whether the Turkish government would be able to preserve the balance between construction of the dam, cultural heritage, those displaced by the project and the region’s ecology.

The Environment Ministry and thus the AKP government failed to pass this test. As a result Germany, Austria and Switzerland announced they would be recalling their credit agreement. It is no longer possible for Western investors to issue credit easily. Countries applying for credit must conform to certain criteria. Examples like the Ebu Simbel Sanctuary in Egypt, which was relocated to make way for a dam, are a thing of the past.

Why did I mention the Ebu Simbel Sanctuary? At one time I spoke with a representative of the Australian firm, Va Tech, a partner in the consortium established to build the Ilısu Dam in Hasankeyf. They had told me that "Hasankeyf, just like the Ebu Simbel Sanctuary, might be relocated." I can’t tell you how surprised I was.

Thank God the public’s voice is strong and that "playing" with the historical fabric of a region no longer seem like a clever solution anymore. After the credit cancellation announcement, I spoke with friends in the region who for years have fought on behalf of Hasankeyf. They were overjoyed that their voices were finally being heard. To mobilize into action both the Turkish and European public, as well as environmentalists, and to obtain the support from giants like Orhan Pamuk and Yaşar Kemal, and popular artists like Sezen Aksu, Tarkan and Orhan Gencebay, of course, was not easy.

My friends were happy but said, "Let’s not become lax." My friends were right. Do you remember what our minister for environment and forestry, Veysel Eroğlu, said after the cancellation announcement? He said, "Turkey will construct the Ilısu Dam by its own means." But his most striking words were, "for some Hasankeyf is just a word, but we carry it in our hearts."

How could you dare risk losing something that you love so much and that you carry in your heart? What’s the meaning of his saying, "we carry it in our hearts," when a 15,000 years of history faces destruction. My friends in Hasankeyf are right; we should not rest. The AKP government seems determined to construct the Ilısu Dam. The first step in the struggle for Hasankeyf should be to include it in UNESCO’s "cultural heritage" list. People say that Hasankeyf fulfills 9 out of 10 criteria for this list. If Hasankeyf manages to make it on this list, it may actually be saved.
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A hot ’Turkey Season’ in France

3 Temmuz 2009
The "Turkey Season" launched following a joint press conference by French and Turkish culture ministers in Paris last Tuesday has made a literally hot start. Both the weather and the atmosphere were extremely hot, and so was the attention French people paid to the event. You may say, "What’s the weather above 30 degrees Celsius in Paris got to do with ’Turkey Season?'" Let me elaborate on it:

The interest in the press conference of ministers, which I attended together with a group of journalists from Turkey and which was held in the historic building of the French Culture Ministry, was so high that when more than 500 people were in the 150-person room, it was difficult to breathe. Right after the Turkish Culture Minister Ertuğrul Günay and the newly appointed French Culture Minister Frederic Mitterrand’s speeches, people getting hot inside threw themselves out. So a small opening concert planned went up in smoke.

But the well-known Turkish clarinet virtuoso Hüsnü Şenlendirici came over from the United States just for the concert.

And he had brought famous saxophone player İlhan Erşahin and drum guru İzzet Kızıl as well. I ran across Şenlendirici while practicing. But the audience left the meeting due to the hot weather and the poor artists were forgotten. As for warm bilateral relations, the new culture minister of France, who was appointed by President Nicolas Sarkozy in replacement of Christine Albanel, is a media member and author. As a man of culture he is well known in Turkey. He had prepared a program titled "Istanbul 24 hours" for French channel TV5. So, Mitterrand in his speech was not hesitant to send warm messages to Turkey. The Turkey Season will continue in 77 cities for nine months. About 400 activities will be held in order to show Turkey’s modern and dynamic face, said Mitterrand.

For the Turkish side it is a good opportunity during the Turkey Season to have a French culture minister who is familiar with cinema producers such as Fatih Akın and Nuri Bilge Ceylan, renowned authors like Orhan Pamuk, Yaşar Kemal and Elif Şafak.

After the press conference, Turkish Ambassador to Paris Osman Korutürk hosted a party at the embassy residence in which a former French minister Jack Lang attended. That is another proof of the interest shown in Turkey Season. The Socialist Party representative Lang was one of the legendary culture ministers of France, just like author Andre Malraux.

Lang served as the minister for two terms and long years. He is a real intellectual having endless number of books, and among friends of Turkey in the European Union.

The Turkey Season that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan considered postponing in the last minute will reach large masses. Everyone believes that the activities will make tremendous contributions to attract the French public in favor of Turkey.

France allocated 12 million euros and Turkey earmarked 11 million euros for about 400 activities. For instance, two performances by Mercan Dede and the Anadolu Ateşi (Anatolian Fire) open to the public will take place in famous Trocadero Square in Paris.

Towards the midst of July, a Turkish Cafe will be opened at the Tuileries Garden of the Louvre Museum. Various dance performances in addition to traditional Turkish shadow theatre "Karagöz" and puppet shows will take place to introduce Turkish culture of cafes in the premise. In October a Turkish flag will fly at the Eiffel Tower for the first time.

Of course it is impossible to count all 400 activities here. But I can say that film festivals, gastronomy, documentary films as well as numerous activities and conferences for student exchange programs are among them.

No one should ever doubt if this activity had been canceled at the very last minute, Turkey would’ve become the party lost.
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We’d be EU members if it were Spain’s turn

27 Haziran 2009
"Turkey Season" in France was almost in jeopardy. Supported by the culture and foreign ministries of Turkey and France, organized by Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts, or IKSV, and by Cultures-France, Turkey Season will continue as planned. The reason why it was imperiled was due to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s remarks, when he recently said that art and culture activities might be cancelled in France for nine months. Erdoğan, without doubt, was reacting against French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who insists on a tough stance against Turkey’s membership to the European Union.

The day after Erdoğan’s statement, President Abdullah Gül canceled a luncheon for businessmen sponsoring Turkey Season. So things turned more serious. However, calm loomed ahead, and as I said, Turkey Season will continue as planned. If it were to be canceled, not President Sarkozy, but Turkey, would have been the losing party because this is an excellent opportunity to have French public opinion on our side. We are heading to the French capital Paris on Monday for the official opening ceremony of Turkey Season.

I hope there is no return.

Turkey’s Sarkozy obsession

I attended an event recently hosted by Spain’s Ambassador to Ankara Juan Clos. Since Sweden will take the helm of the EU for the next six months, the speaker was Swedish Ambassador to Ankara Christer Asp. Asp said, "Turks are obsessed with Sarkozy," and I asked him whether or not Sweden will try to convince France. "No one can convince France. They were against Sweden’s EU membership as much as they were against Britain’s and Spain’s. They had offered us ’privileged partnership’ too."

That is to say "privileged partnership" is not something invented just for Turkey.

Besides, Europe is not only Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel as Clos and Asp point out. There are friends of Turkey in Europe in countries such as Britain, Sweden, Spain and Portugal. Just by looking at the initiatives of Ambassador Clos, we can say Spain’s support is exemplary. Three months ago, Clos laid down similarities between Spain and Turkey during a luncheon at his residence in Istanbul. Several members of the Turkish media were invited too.

Again in Istanbul, he hosted an event for the honor of Swedish Ambassador Asp. Sweden and Spain, as the next term president in line, emphasized that they will continue to make efforts for a progress in Turkey’s EU bid. I came across Spanish Ambassador Clos the other day in a meeting hosted by the Economic Development Foundation.

This time he led the way for a speech in Istanbul by British journalist-writer William Chislett, author of an endless number of books on Spain, who closely followed the transition period to democracy in Spain in 1975-1978.

Chislett, in his detailed study, presented similarities and differences between Turkey and Spain in its pre-accession period.

Two key differences are that Spain had a better grade report on human rights before membership to the union and a twice better welfare level. But if you put similarities and differences on a scale, similarities undoubtedly outweigh differences.

Let’s go back to the title of this article. If it were at Spain’s discretion, Turkey would have become a member of the EU long ago.

Frankly, we should congratulate Spanish Ambassador Clos for his efforts to keep Turkey’s accession on the agenda as much as for his support.
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Reunion in Cappadocia

20 Haziran 2009
If you look at the map today, you can see quite a big distance between the Macedonian region in Greece and Cappadocia in Turkey. But picture this: Years ago, people in Thessaloniki were moved to Sinasos, today known as Mustafapaşa, in Cappadocia, or they were moved from Nevşehir in Turkey to Kavala in Greece during the "population exchange" period. Since so many Greeks moved from the city of Kavala to Cappadocia, they even established a "Cappadocian Association." To date, Greeks have preserved their customs and traditions in Anatolia, including music, food and folklore.

The Turkish and Greek nations, which were on the verge of war a few times, are now getting to know each other better and burying the hatchet. The Turkish-Greek Friendship Association, or Daphne, has been organized "Friendship Festivals" in the region for seven years. This year’s theme was "Reunion" and people who were separated during the exchange program came together for this occasion.

The Friendship Festivals have two components, one in Turkey and the other in Greece. This year, the festival began in Kavala and ended in Cappadocia.

I missed the Kavala part of the festival, which began with a bus trip from Istanbul. But I attended the second part that continued by train from Istanbul to Cappadocia.

In a workshop held during the approximately 16- to 17-hour train trip, we laid Turkish-Greek relations on the table. We mutually questioned our prejudices against each other as Turks and Greeks.

The workshop, with Turkish, English and Greek words flying in the air, did not end all prejudices but at least it helped us question them. In Göreme, one of the most beautiful corners of Cappadocia, we discussed the "population exchange" in an open-air panel.

Ripping millions from the lands they lived in and forcing them out is a modern drama too.

From both Turkey and Greece, millions have hit the road since 1923. Keep in mind that some didn’t know the language of the place where they had to live. I remember how surprised I was when I heard a few years ago that my friend’s neighbor, an old lady who moved from Crete to Cunda Island in Ayvalık, where my friend lives, didn’t know even a single word of Turkish and she communicated with her children only in Greek. Like this old woman, there are undoubtedly thousands in Turkey who moved from the Greek islands and didn’t know Turkish when they arrived.

Europe’s unifying role
The remarks of an "exchange" panel at the Friendship Festival were quite intriguing: "There was Europe behind the population exchange in 1923. Europe played a separating role back then and today it should play a unifying role. That can be achieved by allowing Turkey’s accession to the European Union."

We heard various statements that made the two nations understand each other and the next day we had a chance to see the common culture of Greeks in Sinasos and Turks in Cappadocia. The most distinctive element of this common culture is a culinary one, and I personally witnessed how this is unifying.

Greek visitors, including the governor of Kavala, whose family is from the Turkish city of Niğde, showed a great deal of interest in the dinner table prepared by the renowned gastronome Osman Serim and hosted by Daphne at the garden of a historic mansion in Sinasos. The stuffed green peppers and meat casserole served were just like what they cook at home.

The most important event of the Göreme panel, like the cream on the cake in a Sinasos feast, was without a doubt the unveiling of two sculptures titled "Reunion" at the Nevşehir Culture Park. Two Turkish and Greek sculptors created the work and music by Teodorakis played in the background while the veil was removed before the Nevşehir audience.
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Is the European court’s decision discreditable?

13 Haziran 2009
According to 2009 data, the number of women in Turkey subjected to violence by their husbands stands at approximately 40 percent. What Turkey’s leaders do not understand is that the state is not taking adequate measures to protect women, and laws are not implemented properly, so there are many loopholes in them. The European Court of Human Rights has found Turkey guilty of failing to protect its citizens against domestic violence.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and former State Minister for Women Güldal Akşit, the chairwoman of the Gender Equality Commission in Parliament, have fiercely reacted against the decision.

During an interview, Erdoğan said the European court’s decision was discreditable, adding, "Similar things happen in their countries too." As for Akşit, she said, in part: "Many studies were conducted after 2002 and education sessions were held.

To look at one particular incident and then sentence Turkey is unfair to Turkey. The ruling should be corrected."When Erdoğan said, "similar things happen in their countries," he was right, but that is not the point.

Likewise, it is accurate that many studies were conducted and laws to strengthen women’s rights were passed after 2002, as Akşit said. But, again, that is not the point eitherÉ All right, then, what is it that Erdoğan and Akşit are having a hard time understanding?Turkey signed the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women in 1986 after a long fight by women’s organizations in the country.

In 1988, Turkey passed a law on the "Protection of the Family." Still, the country has made very little progress in preventing violence against women.

Numbers speak for themselves
Daily newspapers are filled with stories of women beaten by their husbands or other family members. Women in Turkey are still exposed to torture and then killed.

The most horrific recent story was the one about a 19-year-old girl who was kidnapped by three family members and beaten to death after she resisted rape.

News reports provide evidence and so do the numbers.

According to 2009 data from the Prime Ministry’s Women’s Institute General Directorate, the number of women subjected to violence by their husbands stands at approximately 40 percent.

Since many abused women do not speak up, we do not know how accurate this figure is. When looking at uneducated women, the number jumps to 56 percent.

So, what Erdoğan and Akşit do not understand is this: The state is not taking adequate measures to protect women, and laws are not implemented properly, so there are many loopholes in them.

Women’s organizations have already announced that they find the European court’s ruling positive.

Organizations from the Turkish Penal Code’s Women’s Platform released a statement two days ago to stress the scarcity of women’s shelters and the lack of preventive measures to protect women against violence.

Not enough women’s shelters
The number of women’s shelters in Turkey is less than in the West and the state even wants to close down existing shelters. In recent months, the Beyoğlu District Governorship attempted to close a facility run by the Purple Roof Shelter for Women Foundation. I have personally witnessed how crucially important women’s shelters are for female victims of violence:

While I was in a meeting with Kadıköy Mayor Selami Öztürk, who allowed the construction of two women’s shelters years ago, a young woman from the city of Van called.

She had left her home because of violence in the family and because of her husband’s second wife. But her husband tracked her down in Istanbul. Her couldn’t find her home address, but he learned where she worked and showed up there one day. As soon as the horrified woman called the deputy mayor, she was taken under protection.

I witnessed this. It is unavoidable for local administrations not to be involved in this matter. The report titled "Women’s Rights in Turkey," prepared by Dutch Member of the European Parliament Emine Bozkurt, focuses on the shelter issue more precisely.

Both Erdoğan and Akşit must get on board with the European court’s decision instead of reacting against it.
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A love-hate story: Turks and the EU

6 Haziran 2009
Bahçeşehir University Professor Yılmaz Esmer and his team conducted a study titled "Radicalism and Extremism." And we have been discussing the results for days. "Intolerance" and "women" are the two items we have mostly focused on in this report. But the findings about the European Union are quite interesting, too. First of all, one-fourth of Turks do not even know if we are a member of the European Union.

But I can say that such "ignorance" is not unique to Turks. I know that so many Europeans are in the same position. An Italian businesswomen from northern Italy whom I met in an important art fair recently did not know whether Turkey was an EU member.

The most surprising finding for Esmer in this study is the "contradictions" Turks go through in terms of the EU. Esmer terms this "contradiction" or "confusion," but I perhaps can say a "love and hate" story. About 80 percent of the participants believe the EU wants to spread "Christianity" in the world.

There is something strange

Again, 76 percent believe the EU "wants to divide Turkey." Eighty percent believe the EU wants to divide the Muslim world. Now, we expect such a community that is approaching the EU with doubts to have negative thought on membership to the EU, do we not?

But, it is not so. As Esmer points out, there is something strange going on here: The majority of people, 57 percent, want to see Turkey in the EU.

But reservations continue that no matter how hard we try, the EU will not accept us. Eighty percent say, "The EU will not take us in."

And 93 percent of the participants believe the EU does not treat members equally. The study conducted by Esmer is the latest opinion poll measuring feelings of the Turkish public toward the EU. Do you think EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn is interested in Esmer’s study? Rehn, in a statement that I read yesterday, was talking about the idea that Europe should be sincere in eliminating "anti-EU reservations" in Turkey as he called for Turkey to speed up reforms. Esmer’s study coincides with the voices rising in Europe for Turkey. And another interesting thing is that they mostly rise from France, a member of the anti-Turkey camp. I’ll give you two examples. Former French Foreign Minister Hubert Verdine clearly told Le Monde daily that from now on it was neither possible nor right to change the rules of game for Turkey.

Verdine added, "We could’ve told them from the beginning that we want a different type of partnership with Turkey. But since we didn’t do that, we have to fulfill our promises." Let me say in a parenthesis here, that as far as I know Verdine has never been a staunch defender of Turkey’s accession.

The next day Socialist Party representative and former State Minister for European Affairs Pierro Moscovici said Europe needs Turkey.

For a pluralist, young and dynamic Europe vision, Turkey should be a member of the EU, Moscovici said, adding that it would be a big mistake to shut the door to Turkey.

But when President Nicolas Sarkozy insists against Turkish accession, he ignores the calls from Verdine and Moscovici.
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Why does Turkey need futurists?

30 Mayıs 2009
The Futurists Association of Turkey was established just a couple of years ago, founded by Brightwell Holding CEO Alphan Manas, a colorful figure who is a textile engineer by trade but describes himself as a futurist, an inventor, a technology expert and an investor. He is the creator of the OGS system used on Istanbul bridges, the İDDAA betting system and the Ferry Taxi. Manas, who is also a member of the Sustainable Development Association, recently gave students at Bahçeşehir University a lecture on the professions of the future. As you can imagine, his comments on which professions young people in developing countries such as Turkey should consider grabbed the students’ attention.

The "professions of the future" include jobs in nanotechnology, genetic engineering, robotics and plastic surgery, with the field of organic farming topping the list, said Manas.

Organic farming’s rosy future

Manas closely follows world trends and frequently visits other countries, especially the United States. In the future, he says, organic farming will see a boost, so organic food engineers, field experts and product marketers will all be needed.

The question I asked in my title has something to do with what Manas explained. He generates future scenarios and organic farming leads the list of scenarios that he came up with for Turkey. I wonder if I can clearly explain why administrators of this country should lend an ear to futurists like Manas. For many days, we have been talking about organic farming after landmines in the Southeast are removed.

Landmine bill was withdrawn, butÉ

Facing fierce criticism, the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, had to withdraw the landmine bill that envisioned leasing the area to foreign companies for 44 years after the mines are cleared.

This criticism reached its peak after it was announced that the company to clear the landmines would be awarded with the use of these fields for organic farming.

Gökhan Günaydın, the head of the Agriculture Engineers Association, says the land is quite suitable for organic farming, so the bottom line is that the said piece of land is ideal for the future of agriculture, with two key ingredients coming together.

If administrators in Ankara had been familiar with the futurists’ scenarios, I wonder if they could have let the idea to lease this land to foreigners.

In the meantime, the Democratic Party, or DP, has made an interesting offer after electing its new leader, suggesting that a public investment company be set up to remove landmines and then allowed to use the area for 49 years.

This company would at the same time have a share in the revenues of both domestic and international investments here.

Stocks of this prospective company would be distributed free among locals to support education. Families with boys would be given one share, and families with girls would be given two.

According to the DP’s calculations, after the landmines are removed, production on this very same land will be worth 100 million Turkish Liras. (The party does not note, however, whether or not this production would be organic farming.)

That would mean that a family sending two girls to school would be provided with 2,000 liras between 2015 and 2020 Ğ an important suggestion for the development of the Southeast.
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Lula reiterates ’fight against poverty’ in Istanbul

23 Mayıs 2009
Some leaders are remembered for certain words they use. The late Professor Türkan Saylan, to whom we said farewell earlier this week, is remembered for "leper" and "girls’ education", one thinks of Brazilian President Lula da Silva upon hearing the words of "poverty" and "hunger". This is true for me at least because when I listened to Lula at the 2003 World Economic Forum in the Swiss town of Davos, he emphasized these two words during his striking speech.

I do remember that he had just taken over the office in January of 2003 and come from Porto Alegre, the city hosted World Social Forum.

The Brazilian Labor Party under da Silva led this forum in Porto Alegre.

He was in Davos as a politician who was able to reach out to both the poor and the rich. If I am not mistaking, he said: "I came here with the message of hundreds of thousands. Those in Porto Alegre and those in Davos should sit together and talk."

And he had added that millions in Brazil went hungry and that he would work for them to have three meals a day. Six years has passed since then.

Poverty and average administrators

This time, three days ago da Silva was in Istanbul. I attended the Turkey-Brazil Business Forum at Çırağan Palace. As he is the first Brazilian president to visit Turkey, I remembered his remarks above. Back then, I thought he was quite a "utopist".

How wrong I was! In Istanbul, Lula uttered the word "poverty" again.

"We shouldn’t hesitate from commercial relations.

We should act quickly. Otherwise, we will be poor again at the end of the 21st century. Our poverty is because of the average administrators we have had for decades," he said.

As Lula took office he made the "fight against poverty" the number one item on his agenda. Due to his background in trade unions, he truly believes that governments should serve the poor not to the rich.

For the past six years he’s been in office, da Silva has reached out to 11 million poor families. The Brazilian President has managed to increase minimum wage, provided special low interest credits for the poor and achieved land reforms.

As he put it, "magical things" were happening in Brazil. As I watched him on television, da Silva was drawing parallels between Brazil and Turkey. He meant Brazil had already achieved this so Turkey could through similar policies.

Why not? Before Lula, who could’ve expected that Brazil would make such a big leap forward? And now Brazil is the member of the rising stars known in short as the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China).

These four countries will leave their mark on the upcoming years.

They are expected to account for 40 percent of world growth by 2050. Lula’s arrival to Turkey from the BRIC member China is another aspect of the issue.

The Brazilian President visited the Chinese capital, Beijing, seeking a strategic partnership and more Chinese investments in his country. On his way back to Brazil, da Silva stopped off in Turkey.

And that should certainly be for a purpose. It will benefit Turkey if it closely follows developments in Brazil from now on.
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