Archive for the ‘Turkey’ Category


The website of the French journal Esprit has a lengthy interview (en français), “La fin de l’illusion turque,” with Ahmet Insel, who teaches economics and politics at Galatasaray University in Istanbul (and is a founder of the İletişim publishing house). It’s one of the most interesting analyses I’ve read of late on the current political situation in Turkey, and notably on the conflict between RT Erdoğan and the Gülen movement, and the role of the military in this. Insel says that an AKP national vote of 45% or above in tomorrow’s municipal elections—which he deems probable—will represent a big victory for Erdoğan, providing him with the legitimacy to launch an all-out offensive against the Gülenists (not to mention anyone else he feels like going after). But in the (improbable) event that the AKP wins less than 40%, many AKP militants will start looking to a post-Erdoğan era and which may provoke a split within the party, such that the AKP could lose its current majority in the Grand National Assembly.

But whatever happens in tomorrow’s elections

le Premier ministre restera condamné à une posture défensive. Il va passer le reste de sa vie politique à craindre l’ouverture de nouveaux dossiers, la publication de nouvelles preuves accablantes. Qu’elle soit lente, en passant par une phase «poutinienne», ou rapide en cas de défaite aux élections locales, la chute de M. Erdogan est inéluctable.

Sooner rather than later, inshallah.

What Insel has to say to about the Kurdish question is also most interesting. Erdoğan wants to cut a deal with the PKK but his hands are being tied by various domestic actors, not the least of whom is the nationalist Turkish public, i.e. the AKP base, and its ethnic conception of the Turkish nation.

Insel, who is quite smart, also has an interview in today’s Libération, “Turquie: «Erdogan est mortellement blessé, mais il ne tombera pas tout de suite».”

2009 municipal elections

2009 municipal elections

Read Full Post »


That’s what this Time magazine article on Turkish PM Erdoğan’s Twitter ban and nationalist demagoguery calls him. As for what a honey badger (en français: ratel) is and does, take a look at this YouTube linked to in the article. Beurk!

I’ve been trying to decide who’s worse, Erdoğan or Putin. They’re both equally unspeakable, in fact, with Erdoğan maybe only slightly less awful due to Turkey’s more or less democratic institutions—though which are seeming less these days—, institutionalized party politics, and more or less free and fair elections. But if Erdoğan and Putin were to switch countries, I would definitely fear Erdoğan more than I do Putin now.

Christopher de Bellaigue has a review essay in the April 3rd NYRB, “Turkey goes out of control.” The books under review are Soner Cagaptay’s The Rise of Turkey: The Twenty-First Century’s First Muslim Power and two on the Fethullah Gülen movement, one by Joshua D. Hendrick, the other (in Turkish) by Ahmet Şık. Cagaptay is a curious case. He was a fierce critic of Erdoğan and the AKP through the last election—repeatedly warning in numerous articles and op-eds of the threat the AKP posed to secularism and Turkish democracy—but then did an almost 180° turnaround. Though he doesn’t come out and praise Erdoğan personally—at least not so far as I’ve seen—he’s now bullish on Turkey’s future—economically, geopolitically, etc—under the current regime and expresses not a peep of criticism of Erdoğan and his government, not even during the Taksim/Gezi Park movement last June. So he’s become a sell-out changed his mind. Ça arrive.

UPDATE: Zeynep Tufekci, UNC-Chapel Hill prof—and to whom I linked several times last June—, has a very good post on her Technology and Society blog on “The day the Turkish government banned itself from Twitter.” The lede: People in Turkey have banned the ban.

Read Full Post »

Istanbul Olympics


Thank God Istanbul didn’t get them. As one gleans from the above image—by a local anti-Olympics group—hosting the games would have had all sorts of deleterious consequences: white elephant facilities, ecological carnage, bulldozers working overtime 24/7 and razing at will—as if Istanbul needs more of that (and with the AKP’s construction clientele enriched ever further and with the attendant corruption)—, and damage to the city’s historic and cultural patrimony. And this being Turkey, there is the matter of demonstrations and the way the police there deal with them (I wonder if the IOC wasn’t thinking of Mexico City 1968 in its deliberations). And then there was the question of cost (image below). Turkey may have boomed economically over the past decade but that boom is slowing down and with the economy hitting some walls. The Olympics are colossally expensive and almost always huge money losers. Economically speaking, the games would have been a bad investment for Turkey. (À propos, Parisians—myself included—were so disappointed that Paris lost out to London in hosting the 2012 games; but in the years after 2005, when that decision was made, there were no regrets; what a relief Paris didn’t get them).

Last but not least, there’s prime minister Erdoğan. Winning the 2020 games would have been a huge political and personal victory for him. Losing them was a big slap in the face. And if there’s anyone who needs to have his face slapped—figuratively and perhaps literally too (what an interesting idea)—, it’s RT Erdoğan. It was reported that big crowds gathered in Taksim Square on Saturday night to celebrate the city not getting the games. How gratifying.

On the Turkish activists who campaigned against Istanbul hosting the games—and lobbied the IOC—, ex-Istanbul based journalist Jay Cassano has an informative article in Jadaliyya.

Changing the subject from the Olympics, Christopher de Bellaigue had a very good piece in Slate two weeks ago, on “Turkey’s hidden revolution.” The lede: How Prime Minister Erdoğan accidentally fostered a generation of Turkish liberals. The emergence of a significant liberal current among the forces vives in Turkey was one of the revelations—for those outside Turkey, at least—of the Taksim Gezi Park movement in June. A very positive development, c’est le moins que l’on puisse dire. The existence of this current is a big difference between Turkey and the Arab world. The latter lacks it. Tahrir Square is not Taksim. And that’s not going to change anytime soon.

UPDATE: Journalist Cengiz Çandar has an article in Al Monitor on Istanbul losing the Olympics.

How much will the Olympics cost?

How much will the Olympics cost?

Read Full Post »

Istanbul, 5 juin 2013 (photo: AFP/Aris Messinis)

Istanbul, 5 juin 2013 (photo: AFP/Aris Messinis)

Edhem Eldem, professeur d’Histoire à l’Université du Bosphore (Boğaziçi) à Istanbul, a une tribune dans Le Monde, daté le 30 juillet 2013, sur le premier ministre turc et sa politique. C’est l’une des analyses les plus pertinentes que j’ai lu dernièrement sur le sujet. On pense plus que jamais de la fameuse phrase prononcée par M.Erdoğan dans les années 90, quand il était maire d’Istanbul : “La démocratie est comme un tramway, il va jusqu’où vous voulez aller, et là vous descendez”…

Voici la tribune du professeur Eldem

La question de la laïcité – et par conséquent de l’islam – en Turquie n’est pas nouvelle, puisqu’elle remonte aux origines de la République. Toutefois, avec l’arrivée au pouvoir de l’AKP (le Parti de la justice et du développement) de Recep Tayyip Erdogan en 2002, elle a pris une nouvelle dimension ; depuis les récents événements de la place Taksim, on ne parle presque plus que de cela.

Ce discours comporte le risque de tout réduire à une fausse dichotomie entre islam et laïcité, d’autant plus que la laïcité turque se réduisait souvent à un contrôle étatique sur un islam sunnite tacitement reconnu comme religion nationale. Ce qui comptait surtout, c’était de paralyser le pouvoir politique de l’islam – notamment des confréries – et de maintenir les apparences d’une modernité occidentale jugée incompatible avec la plupart des signes extérieurs d’appartenance à l’islam, tel le voile.

Le coup d’Etat de 1980 changea sensiblement la donne ; la junte, inspirée par la politique américaine, s’imagina pouvoir mieux combattre les “rouges” en se servant (more…)

Read Full Post »

“Tribune of Anatolia”


[update below]

i.e. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, as he apparently sees himself, according to this disquieting—indeed alarming—article in Spiegel Online International, on “America’s dark view of Turkish premier Erdogan.” The lede:

The US is concerned about its NATO ally Turkey. Embassy dispatches portray Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan as a power-hungry Islamist surrounded by corrupt and incompetent ministers. Washington no longer believes that the country will ever join the European Union.

If the article is reasonably accurate—and I have no a priori reason to believe that it’s not, particularly given what we know about RTE—then the near future for Turkey is somber indeed. Where is the Turkish army and its post-modern coups when we need them?…

UPDATE: Spiegel Online has a follow up article in this vein, “‘Retaliation Campaign': Erdogan Punishes Protesters in Turkey.” (July 23)

Read Full Post »

Reading Albert Camus in Taksim Square (photo: George Henton/Al Jazeera)

Reading Albert Camus in Taksim Square (photo: George Henton/Al Jazeera)

[update below] [2nd update below] [3rd update below]

The above photo is borrowed from this great slide show on the Al Jazeera website, “The Taksim Square Book Club,” of standing men and women protesters reading books. Check it out. I’ve been very impressed lately by Turkish civil society and the forms of contestation that are being developed there.

Check out as well Jenna Pope’s pics in her blog post “The Turkish uprising: First-hand experiences from an American photographer.”

Claire Berlinski has an excellent article in City Journal, “Notes on the Turkish Troubles: America’s muted response is both confusing and disheartening.” Her critique of the US response to what’s been happening in Turkey is nuanced and on the mark.

See also Claire’s fine running commentary, on a site called The Tower, that carries the unfortunate title (not of her doing) “The Gezi Diaries: Can we still call Turkey civilized?,” in which, entre autres, she skewers

every single lazy journalist and policy wonk, professional sycophant, diplomat and idiot pundit who’s never so much as visited this place, the duly-funded social scientists and craven Western politicians and everyone else who for years swallowed Erdoğan’s nonsense and helped to manufacture the fantasy that Turkey was getting more and more democratic by the day.

I’m curious to know who some of these “duly-funded social scientists” are (perhaps I know one or two).

The policy wonks who have aroused Claire’s ire cannot include Michael Werz of the Center for American Progress, who, in a first-rate analysis, assures us that “Erdoğan is gone, way gone.” Inshallah.

On the FP website, Istanbul-based journalist Piotr Zalewski discusses “The Protocols of the Interest Rate Lobby.” The lede: “Whether it’s shadowy bankers, America, Israel, or Iran, there’s no end to the conspiracy theories spun by the Turkish prime minister’s supporters — and their opponents.” Make sure to watch the bit from the episode of the ‘Ekip 1′ TV soap opera he links to. One does not need to understand Turkish (which I don’t) to get the gist. It’s a doozy.

In this vein, see the piece in Al-Monitor by Istanbul-based writer Amberin Zaman, “Foreign journalists called conspirators in Turkish protests.”

ScienceInsider has an interview with Sabancı University astrophysicist Mehmet Ali Alpar, the head of Turkey’s new science academy, Bilim Akademisi—formed by scientists who resigned from the Turkish Academy of Sciences after the government took control of it in 2011—, who speaks out on the protest movement.

UCLA doctoral candidate Timur Hammond has an update from Turkey, “The past present: Turkey, Erdoğan, and the Gezi protests,” on the website of the journal Society and Space: Environment and Planning D.

On The Guardian’s ‘Comment is free’ site, Istanbul publisher Can Oz (pronounced ‘John’, for those not acquainted with the Turkish alphabet) says “I can never trust the Turkish police and government again. For years I did not speak up enough, but no more. I could lose everything, but I cannot live a dishonorable life any longer.”

And finally, in a post aimed at non-Turkish readers, blogger Ali Kıncal explains “Turkey’s protests: What really triggered them and why they will continue.”

My ongoing posts on Turkey will continue, you may be sure of that.

UPDATE: McGill doctoral candidate Michael Ferguson has a most interesting article in Jadaliyya on “White Turks, Black Turks, and Negroes: The politics of polarization,” in which he discusses Erdoğan’s politics of class resentment and its racialized metaphors, and how Erdoğan has denigrated the country’s Afro-Turk community while stoking up that resentment.

2nd UPDATE: Turkey-based journalist Alexander Christie-Miller has a very good article on The White Review website, “Occupy Gezi: from the fringes to the centre and back again.”

3rd UPDATE: Another interesting post by Zeynep Tufekci on the Technosociology blog: “‘Come, come, whoever you are’. As a pluralist movement emerges from Gezi Park in Turkey.”

Read Full Post »

Standing men and women, Kadıköy, June 18 2013 (photo: Stephen Freer)

Standing men and women, Kadıköy, June 18 2013 (photo: Stephen Freer)

[update below]

Latest links.

Journalist Nicholas Birch has an article (h/t Claire B.) in The Majalla explaining that “The alternatives to Erdoğan offer more of the same,” in which he disabuses those—myself included—who may be trying to see in Gül or Arınç an AKP alternative to Erdoğan. They’re like the sympathetic mother (Gül, Arınç) and the stern father (Erdoğan), so Birch suggests. When dad is away—as Erdoğan was for four days in the Maghreb a couple of weeks ago—mom is there to comfort, but when dad gets home he retakes charge and mom stifles herself. As for Fethullah Gülen, BTW, he is much more on the same page with RTE than he is not, despite some differences between the two.

On the Al Jazeera website, Umut Özkırımlı, professor of contemporary Turkish studies at Lund U. in Sweden, has an interesting analysis of “The odour of Gezi: On the dangers of crass populism,” in which he asserts that “The Gezi protests have shown us that ‘White Turk elitism’ has created its own Frankenstein – ‘Black Turk populism’.”

Translated into American, “black Turks” are akin to “real Americans,” mainly from the Red State heartland—hard working, pious, conservative, etc—and with Erdoğan their Sarah Palin (on steroids); “white Turks” are the elitist liberals, who live on the Upper West Side, Hyde Park, San Francisco, Boulder, Madison, etc. C’est ça.

À propos, Jonathon Burch of Reuters reports that “In Turkey’s pious heartland, protests seem world away.” The dispatch is datelined Konya, which is—no offense to Konya—Turkey’s Tulsa Oklahoma. The Konyans generally don’t approve of what’s happening in Gezi Park.

FWIW, Canadian analyst Mahdi Darius Nazemroaya—who has some liaisons dangereuses and may be a bit louche—has a report on a website called Global Research on “The tale of a Turkish summer: is there a link between ‘Occupy Gezi’ and the IMF?

And Richard Weitz, in a pretty good take in The Turkey Analyst on the Obama administration’s reaction to what’s been happening, says that “Turkey protests rattle Washington.”

À suivre.

UPDATE: Yegane Güley of Öztürk & Partners in Istanbul has a must read article (h/t Claire B.) in The Lawyer, “Protests in Turkey: a lawyer’s experience.” Money quote

The blind eye to Gezi Park legal proceedings is only one example of Erdogan’s “rule of law”. Constitutional amendments on 12 September 2010 provided him with the tools to redesign the judiciary and the legal system and having achieved this, he is now simply uncontrollable. If a court’s decision is not what Erdogan or his clan wants then the judges sitting to hear that particular case are replaced by those who will have the decisions the prime minister wants.

And in Slate, Istanbul-based writer Jenna Krajeski has an article on pious women in the Taksim Square movement, “‘Our Sisters in Headscarves’: In Turkey, both sides want to claim religious women as their own.”

Read Full Post »

Emine, Tayyip & Angela, Istanbul, March 29 2010  (photo: Bulent Kilic/AFP/Getty Images)

Emine, Tayyip & Angela, Istanbul, March 29 2010
(photo: Bulent Kilic/AFP/Getty Images)

[update below]

Europe edition.

Reuters had a dispatch on Thursday on “Turkey warn[ing] Germany not to play politics over EU entry talks,” which quotes Turkish EU affairs minister Egemen Bağış trash talking Angela Merkel, who has criticized the Turkish govt’s response to the protest movement

If Mrs Merkel is looking for domestic political material for her elections, that material should not be Turkey…If Mrs Merkel looks into it she will see that those who mess about with Turkey do not have an auspicious end…

Yeah, don’t mess with Turkey. Or else…

The prospect of Turkey joining the EU in the coming decade has been looking increasingly improbable these past two or three years but with this kind of talk—not to mention the fallout of the protests—, I would say the probability has lessened that much further.

And then there’s this report of PM Erdoğan “declar[ing] that foreign-led conspirators he alleges are behind the anti-government movement in his country also are fomenting the recent unrest in Brazil,” with him saying (and I trust the translation of the quote is accurate)

“The same game is now being played over Brazil…The symbols are the same, the posters are the same, Twitter, Facebook are the same, the international media is the same. They (the protests) are being led from the same center…They are doing their best to achieve in Brazil what they could not achieve in Turkey. It’s the same game, the same trap, the same aim.”

One wonders who this “center” is and who “they” are. And if the good Turkish PM doesn’t, by chance, have them in mind…

I think it would be nice for a modern, forward-looking Turkey to join the EU in the next decade—say, on the centennial of the founding of the Turkish republic—, but if this is the prevailing mentality at the summit of the Turkish state, no way. Not a chance.

À propos, Yigal Schleifer has a post on the informative EurasiaNet website asserting that “‘Kneejerk Anti-Westernism’ could complicate Ankara’s foreign policy.” And not only with Europe. Looks like Turkey has gone from having zero problems with its neighbors to having all sorts of problem with them. And with countries that are not its neighbors.

Also à propos, Turkish Policy Quarterly has an article (written before the current protests) by U. of Toronto doctoral candidate Tuba Eldem, “The End of Turkey’s Europeanization?

And if all this weren’t enough, the WSJ’s Moneybeat blog had a downbeat post on Friday on the Turkish economy, saying that “Turkey can’t catch a break.”

À suivre.

UPDATE: Twenty prominent Turkish academicians, artists, and intellectuals have signed a letter (en français) to the foreign affairs ministers of the EU member states—”Un appel des démocrates turcs à l’UE“—calling on the European Council not to freeze Turkey’s accession negotiations to the EU. Turkish liberals—who are with the protest movement to a man and woman—are strongly supportive of Turkey’s EU candidacy and would clearly feel undercut if the prospect of membership were to fade.

Read Full Post »

Taksim Square, June 18 2013 (Photo: AP)

Taksim Square, June 18 2013 (Photo: AP)

[update below] [2nd update below]

Duran adam. That’s Turkish for ‘standing man’, which is the new and original form the protest movement has taken since Erdoğan’s crackdown last weekend—way to go, Turkish civil society!—, and that UNC prof Zeynep Tufekci analyzes in a very interesting post, “Be quiet and don’t move so you can be heard.” Among other things, she writes that the Gezi Park movement was in fact coming to a peaceful conclusion after the PM’s meeting with the Taksim Solidarity Platform but that Erdoğan dramatically worsened the situation with his demagogic rallies over the weekend, incendiary and mendacious rhetoric, and in sending in the police to brutally clear the park.

Turkey’s PM may be an authoritarian bully but “Turkey’s problems go beyond Erdogan,” as Istanbul-based Atlantic Council fellow Sabine Freizer argues in a cogent analysis of the country’s political system and its numerous problems (e.g. the functioning of political parties, the electoral system’s 10% threshold).

On the FP website, Steven A. Cook had a good piece three days ago on “The strong man at his weakest,” in which he argued that “Turkey’s prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has never had more support — or a bigger challenge to his rule.”

In a dispatch from Turkey in the Boston Review, misleadingly entitled “Turkey’s non-crisis,” Pakistani-Americans Wajahat Ali and Haroon Moghul offer their impressions of events there. Turks had a soft spot for Pakistan back in the ’60s and ’70s, as Pakistan was one of the very few countries which showed sympathy for the Turkish position on Cyprus (though Pakistan did not recognize the “independent” state the Turks set up there after 1974, an issue on which Turkey has been 100% isolated internationally).

On the subject of Pakistanis, the ageing international caviar gauchiste Tariq Ali has a post on the LRB blog on his visit to Ankara this past week and what he observed there. I normally avoid Tariq Ali except when he writes about his native country—the only subject on which he is of interest, in my book at least—but had to read this one. And it’s not uninteresting, as he describes the nightly demos that have been taking place in my old quartier in Kavaklıdere, where I spent four of my teen years and still feel an attachment to four decades later.

On Turkey’s capital—which has become a nice, livable city since my time there—, METU sociology doctoral candidate Önder Güneş has a piece in Jadaliyya, “‘All of a sudden!': Gezi Park resistance in Ankara.”

And continuing its fine coverage of the events in Turkey, Jadaliyya has an article just up by Zeynep Kurtulus Korkman (sociologist) and Salih Can Aciksoz (anthropologist) on “Erdogan’s masculinity and the language of the Gezi resistance.”

On the subject, more or less, of the tough guy Turkish PM’s manhood, the well-known Boğaziçi U. sociologist Çağlar Keyder has a post on the LRB blog on the Gezi Park protesters and “The law of the father.”

And for those who read français, journalist Defne Gürsoy has a new blog on the Mediapart website on the events in Turkey.

À suivre.

UPDATE: Istanbul-based journalist Yigal Schleifer had an interesting blog post last week, “Turkey: One nation, one flag, one state, one man,” which he concluded with this observation

Put all together, the elements of Erdogan’s speech [in Istanbul on June 16th] made it clear that the turmoil that is gripping Turkey right now is not really a battle between Islamists and secularists, but one between “old” Turkey and “new” Turkey. The PM and the AKP might have been a fresh force in Turkish politics when they were first elected in 2002, but Sunday’s Erdogan did not sound much different than the hard-line Kemalists he took on and defeated over the course of the last decade (albeit with a religious veneer). “Now the AK Party discourse appears xenophobic, anti-Western, inward-looking, anti-globalization and pro-status quo. I used to describe the Kemalists-secularists-nationalists in these terms just a few years ago,” Ihsan Dagi, a professor at Ankara’s Middle East Technical University and former supporter of the AKP, wrote yesterday in a Today’s Zaman column.

At one point during his speech, Erdogan touted his party’s achievements by listing the endless kilometers of new roads it has built and the multitudes of expensive infrastructure megaprojects it has in the works. It was another indication that Erdogan was firmly stuck in the past. These are all impressive achievements, but a truly new Turkey needs to built through more than constructing new roads, bridges, airports, dams and malls. It also needs to built by raising a new generation that’s no longer captive to the paranoia, fear mongering, nationalism and jingoism of the past. With yesterday’s speech, Erdogan decisively made clear he was leading a march back to Turkey’s intellectual bondage of the past.

And the folk group Kardeş Türküler (Songs of Fraternity) has this song, “Tencere Tava Havası” (Sound of Pots and Pans), which looks to be a theme song of the Gezi Park movement.

2nd UPDATE: Author Jason Goodwin has a blog post, “Erdogan and the Janissaries: Istanbul residents have always treasured their green spaces.”

Erdem Gündüz, the first 'duran adam'

Erdem Gündüz, the first ‘duran adam’

Erdem Gündüz, June 17 2013

Erdem Gündüz, June 17 2013

Read Full Post »

The Istanbul protests – XII

Image credit: Femen France

Image credit: Femen France

It’s not looking good in Turkey. Not at all. PM Erdoğan, acting ever more the dictator, manifestly believes his intransigence can bring the protest movement to heel and he may not be wrong. EHESS postdoc and Turkish politics specialist Benjamin Gourisse had a pessimistic op-ed in Libération last week, “L’AKP ou l’impossible alternance,” in which he argued that the AKP has effectively taken over the Turkish state apparatus over the past decade and that this has major implications for the country’s political future. The AKP has placed its men in all key positions in the state administration, brought to heel the judiciary—not to mention the military—, and thereby controls the totality of public institutions in the country. In the process, it has created a large electoral clientele—including the business community—, thereby insuring that it will not suffer what in French is called the usure du pouvoir. The AKP is as entrenched in power as was the Daley machine in Chicago in the 1960s (my analogy) and with almost no realistic possibility of an alternation of power anytime soon. So no matter how badly Erdoğan behaves, he’ll likely be able to ride out the storm.

As for taking Abdullah Gül’s place in the Çankaya Köşkü next year, on n’en est pas là…

In another Libé op-ed, “Taksim: la Turquie polarisée,” Nora Seni of the Université Paris-VIII discusses the heavy symbolism of Taksim Square as a lieu de mémoire of the Kemalist legacy, an historic rallying point of political and social contestation, and in the heart of the part of Istanbul that most incarnates lifestyles antithetical to those of the AKP electorate. Thus Erdoğan’s fixation on transforming the square and the area around it.

One factor that may be contributing to Erdoğan’s confidence—though he could probably live without it—is the knowledge that Turkey is currently an “indispensable partner” for the West—and particularly on Syria—, as Deutsche Welle, quoting the Carnegie Endowment’s Sinan Ülgen, reports on its website.

Even if this weren’t the case, Erdoğan would have little to worry about from that corner, in view of the Obama administration’s realpolitik and EU’s spinelessness.

Claire Sadar has a good analysis on her Atatürk’s Republic blog of “The Prime Minister’s speech” last Sunday, in which she cites an equally good op-ed in Today’s Zaman by Brooklyn College historian Louis Fishman, “The Gezi Park protests, the Middle East and the secular-religious divide.”

Michael Koplow of the Ottomans and Zionists blog, in a post examining the “Master Linguist” Erdoğan’s rhetoric and the apparent strategy behind it, wonders if the Turkish PM “has completely lost his mind or if this is a deliberate strategy, but no matter what the answer is, the Turkish government is looking more foolish and unhinged by the hour.”

The Istanbul-based Turkey specialist Gareth Jenkins had a worthwhile essay last week in The Turkey Analyst, “The Turkish protests and Erdoğan’s disappearing dreams.”

In an NYT op-ed that probably everyone has seen by now, “Turkey’s false nostalgia,” Boğaziçi University historian Edhem Eldem critiqued those in the opposition who hark back to a supposed Kemalist golden age that was not so golden.

In a piece in Al-Monitor’s Turkey Pulse, Ankara-based journalist Tulin Daloglu says that “Women will decide the extent of Turkey’s religiosity.”

Finally, take a look at academic Jim Meyer’s “Three questions re Turkey” on his interesting Borderlands blog.

À suivre.

Read Full Post »

Taksim Square, Istanbul, June 15 2013 (photo: imggaleri.hurriyet.com.tr)

Taksim Square, Istanbul, June 15 2013 (photo: imggaleri.hurriyet.com.tr)

So it turns out that PM Erdoğan wasn’t being conciliatory the other day after all. I even read (confirmation needed) that during his Thursday meeting with the Taksim Solidarity Platform he shouted at one of the (female) representatives and stormed out of the room. He’s been a bully all his life, so why would he change now? My FB news feed has been inundated all day with videos of yesterday’s police operation in and around Gezi Park. Hallucinant. E.g. see this reportage from Germany’s ZDF TV (w/English subtitles). The behavior of the Turkish police exceeded anything their French counterparts ever did during May ’68, that’s for sure (and the French police have never drenched demonstrators with water cannon spiked with chemicals). The police even pursued protesters into the lobbies of the five-star hotels near the park, as one sees in the ZDF reportage and also in this YouTube. The Saudis and Gulf Arabs who frequent those hotels are likely making other plans for their summer holidays.

To keep up with the fast-moving events in Istanbul and elsewhere in Turkey, here is a news ticker, updated every couple of minutes.

This is really bad, et on craint le pire. Erdoğan looks to have painted himself into a corner. If he were to climb down and be conciliatory—which would seem to be out of character for him—he probably thinks he’ll look weak and will lose both his authority and the respect of a part of his base. But if he hangs tough and brings down further repression—which would definitely be in his character—all hell could break loose, his image abroad would be definitively shattered—and with the attendant economic consequences for Turkey—, and he’ll probably still lose part of his base.

So what could Erdoğan’s strategy possibly be? What’s his end game? Claire Sadar of the Atatürk’s Republic blog had an interesting post on this last Tuesday, “Clueless in Türkiye,” in which she speculated that he may have none. In her analysis, she refers to a new approach to game theory developed by UCLA political scientist Michael Chwe, which argues that powerful players in a conflict who would normally have the upper hand may, in fact, have no strategy at all in dealing with weaker parties. They’re “clueless.” RTE does indeed look to be this right now.

In looking around the Atatürk’s Republic blog I came across a post from last November, “Prospects for a liberal Turkish society,” by the Ankara-based M.James, whose full identity is undetermined but is clearly a political scientist (and a sharp one). This is one of the best academic-type analyses I’ve read lately on the Turkish political system.

The gauchiste academic webzine Jadaliyya is continuing its extensive coverage of the Turkish protests, most recently with an essay by Ankara University political scientist Pınar Melis Yelsalı Parmaksız, “#resistankara: Notes of a Woman Resisting.”

Istanbul-based journalist Piotr Zalewski has a piece in Foreign Affairs on “The Turkish media’s darkest hour: how Erdogan got the protest coverage he wanted.”

And earlier last week The Guardian had a six minute video, “Ekumenopolis: the roots of Istanbul’s protests,” which is

A short version of a prescient 2011 documentary Ekumenopolis, by Turkish film-maker Imre Azem, which details the uncontrolled, money-driven expansion of Istanbul as the city heads towards a population of 15 million people – twice the size of London. It sheds light on current events as prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s police clash violently with protesters outraged by plans to build in a city centre park.

À suivre.

In the meantime, here are a few more photos from imggaleri.hurriyet.com.tr of yesterday’s dramatic events in Istanbul.











Read Full Post »

PM Erdoğan meeting with representatives of the Taksim Solidarity Platform Ankara, June 13 2013 (photo: aksam.com.tr)

PM Erdoğan meeting with representatives of the Taksim Solidarity Platform
Ankara, June 13 2013 (photo: aksam.com.tr)

[update below] [2nd update below]

It looks like PM Erdoğan, after trash talking the Gezi Park protesters and issuing threats as is his wont, has decided to lower the temperature and initiate dialogue. C’est bien. He does have some political skills, after all, and must have become aware of the damage the heavy international news coverage of the protests has inflicted on his image and that of Turkey under his rule. “Turkey’s house of cards tumbles down,” as Michael Koplow aptly described it on his Ottomans and Zionists blog. Money quote

Perception matters a great deal in world politics, but in Turkey’s case perception has been even more important, as it fueled Turkey as a figurative growth stock all the while masking some very serious problems. As should now be clear to everyone, Turkish democracy is not nearly as robust as the government wanted the world to believe. Turkey under Erdoğan has had a real problem with creeping authoritarianism that is looking a lot less creeping every day. And yes, the problem is authoritarianism and not Islamism. This has been a recurring theme for me, as lots of people have a hair trigger when it comes to any action on the part of the AKP that has a whiff of Islamist rationale behind it while glossing over the much larger issue, which is garden variety autocratic and illiberal behavior. (…)

Turkish economic growth has been driven by foreign borrowing and increasing reliance on energy imports from Russian and Iran, which have led to an over-leveraged economy and a structural current account deficit, neither of which have any prospect of abating in the near future. There is a civil war taking place right across Turkey’s southern border, and not only is it not going to end any time soon, the Turkish military is in such a sorry state as to be unable to respond to the downing of its aircraft or to stop the Syrian military from shooting across to the Turkish side. These are all problems that have existed in one form or another for some time, but now that Erdoğan has decided to go postal on his own citizens, it is going to be a lot more difficult for Turkey to paper them over.

Turkey is about to see its foreign financing disappear as the perception of Turkey as an island of stability goes up in a cloud of tear gas smoke. The enormous building projects designed to attract the 2020 Olympics are now going to be used solely by Istanbul residents, since not only will Turkey not get the Olympics but regular tourists are going to stay away in droves. Erdoğan and Davutoğlu can also forget about hosting various foreign conferences, as Western countries are going to elect to forego the optics of meeting in a country where protestors are being dubbed as marginal terrorists. The next time that Davutoğlu insists that Turkey isn’t a model for anyone while actually implying that Turkey is indeed a regional exemplar for Arab states to emulate, who is going to take him seriously? The next time Erdoğan crows about how the European economy needs Turkey more than Turkey needs Europe, who isn’t going to dismiss him out of hand? What Turkish diplomats are going to have the gall to seriously talk about Turkish democracy as a genuine success story? All of those issues that Turkey was able to largely keep under wraps by painting a portrait of a country on the rise, a country with a vibrant economy and a vibrant democracy and a vibrant diplomacy, are now about to be exposed to the world.

Yep. Claire Berlinski, in a first-rate reportage in The Spectator, discussed “Turkey’s agony – how Erdogan turned a peaceful protest into a violent nightmare,” in which, entre autres, she noted

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s strenuous effort to aggravate the situation by making speeches so unrepentant and inflammatory that the benchmark Istanbul Bourse tumbled with every word that came out of his mouth. One speech, in particular, caused the stock exchange to tank by 7.5 per cent. (I leave it to the mathematicians to calculate the per-word cost of that speech to the nation’s GNP.)

Claire is a great writer. And perceptive too. E.g. she offers this

Nonetheless, somehow the command seemed to have come down from above — from where, no one knows — to call off the dogs for the day. Several days earlier, Erdogan, thank God, had scuttled out of the country to attend some exceedingly urgent North African pourparler, leaving his beleaguered underlings to handle the chaos. Within hours of his departure, the police withdrew from Taksim, leaving only their burnt-out vans as mementos. And for a few days, Taksim and Gezi Park became the City of Evet.

Let me explain. In 1978, Jan Morris — to my mind one of the century’s greatest travel writers — visited Istanbul. She wrote a superbly observed essay titled ‘City of Yok’, which would be loosely translated as ‘City of No’, but ‘No’ doesn’t quite capture the entirety of it. ‘I don’t speak Turkish yet,’ she wrote, ‘but yok appears to be a sort of general purpose discouragement, to imply that (for instance) it can’t be done, she isn’t home, the shop’s shut, the train’s left, take it or leave it, you can’t come this way, or there’s no good making a fuss over it.’ The opposite of yok is evet— meaning yes, and it has no analogous counter-associations, which tells you something right there.

But on Friday night, I strolled through Taksim and Gezi Park, and for the first time in the decade I’ve lived in Istanbul, I found myself in the City of Evet. It felt like a free country. I have never seen anything like this before in Turkey. (…) And it was glorious — a huge innocent carnival, filled with improbable (I would have hitherto thought impossible) scenes of nationalist Turks mingling amiably with nationalist Kurds, the latter dancing to some strange ghastly species of techno-Halay, the former pumping their fists in the air and chanting their eternal allegiance to something very nationalist, I’m sure. Balloons lit with candles sailed over the sky; hawkers sold every species of Gezi souvenir, and the only smell of pepper in the air came from the grilled meatballs served in hunks of fresh bread and sprinkled with chilli powder.

Among the protesters’ grievances was the prime minister’s imperious effort to pass restrictive new laws on alcohol sales, so in a gesture of special defiance, entrepreneurial protesters — or maybe just entrepreneurial Turks — sold ice-cold beer from coolers. (I’ve never before seen anyone sell beer from coolers in the streets of Istanbul.)

There were commies and pinkos of every species sharing that beer with right-wing whackjobs of every stripe — groups that in the 1970s fought gun battles here, drenching the streets in blood and leading to the 1980 coup. The communists didn’t seem the sort to worry about — when people complained that the price of beer had risen in response to demand, they shrugged: ‘What can we do? If people want to sell it, we can’t stop them.’

There were trade unionists and doctors and ordinary yuppies and, mostly, college kids; there were gays, Alevis, Sufis and yogis; there were impromptu skits — all making fun of the government, and some of them very funny but untranslatable both linguistically and culturally; there was impromptu dancing (innocent and sexless by western standards), barkers enjoining the crowd to jump up and down for the liberation of the park (and everyone did), a stall that advertised itself as the park’s new free lending library, and vast crowds of people smiling in a silly, carefree way that grave Istanbullus, serious people, people who dress in dark colours and worry terribly about what the neighbours will think, rarely do.

Claire sadly concluded that after the police intervention earlier this week, Istanbul had reverted to being “the City of Yok.” With RTE now trying to calm things down—possibly as the AKP’s ‘Anatolian Tiger’ base may have sent him friendly suggestions that he do so—we’ll see if Istanbul can once again become the City of Evet.

On Istanbul’s days last weekend as the City of Evet, UNC-Chapel Hill prof Zeynep Tufekci offered this essay (w/pics)—and which Claire says “is really worth reading”—on “What do #occupygezi Protesters Want? My Observations from Gezi Park.”

In a post in The Utopian on “The Gezi agenda,” NYU doctoral candidate Onur Alper makes observations similar to those of Zeynep T. and Claire above, such as this

There’s a reason why it has been so difficult to keep the power of the Turkish state in check. To do so would have required groups that have little in common to stand up for each other’s rights—a feat of coalition-building that no political group has truly accomplished until today. Intriguingly, it is in this respect that the Gezi Park protests are perhaps unprecedented. For the few days last week when police was nowhere to be seen, Gezi Park looked like a remarkably inclusive fairground of discontent. Groups with different—at times even clashing—ideologies and causes had set up tents where they freely made their voices heard. There were Kurds, Alawites, secular nationalists, communists, anti-capitalist Muslims, LGBT activists, feminists, environmentalists, members of the state theater company frustrated by increasing pressure from the government, labor unions, and even fans of football teams with a record of fierce rivalry. (The forms of expression were similarly varied: there were conventional speeches, formal manifestos, placards with witty slogans, graffiti, chants, yoga, group dances, and live music performances.) Even though challenges abound on the road ahead, the atmosphere of solidarity that has emerged amidst horrific police brutality may help the movement build a lasting, united front for freedom and democratization in the years to come.

Following in this vein, Hürriyet news editor Emre Kızılkaya has a post on the Huff Post blog, in which he informs the reader that “Behind Turkey’s viral revolution, there are mad men (actually women).” Many women taking leading roles in the Occupy Gezi movement, and which is being fueled by social media. Kızılkaya says he’s sure about one thing

Like the right-wing in the United States, Islamo-conservative Turkish government fails to read the changes in demographics and how “minorities” are being empowered by and with the New Media.

This is how hundreds of thousands of seculars, Kurds, ultra-nationalists, far-leftists, environmentalists, feminists, white-collars, blue-collars, 70-year-old women and 17-year-old students from all corners of Turkey come together to make an urban, pluralist and decentralized pact to say “No!” to an increasingly divisive and authoritarian central government.

The renowned cognitive neuroscientist Ian Robertson—whose existence I admittedly learned of just today—has a most interesting post on his blog, in which he rhetorically asks: “Could the 10 year illness be afflicting Turkish Prime Minister Erdoğan?” The illness in question is what happens, neurologically-speaking, to people who exercise executive power for a decade or longer. Money quote

Power’s effects on the brain have many similarities to those of drugs like cocaine: both significantly change brain function by increasing the chemical messenger dopamine’s activity in the brain’s reward network. These changes also affect the cortex and alter thinking, making people more confident, bolder – and even smarter.

But these same changes also make people egocentric, less self-critical, less anxious and less able to detect errors and dangers. All of these conspire to make leaders impatient with the “messiness” of opposition and contradictory opinions, which we can see clearly in Prime Minister Erdoğan’s intransigent and aggressive response to the demonstrators, including his infamous claim that “there is an evil called twitter” and that “social media is the evil called upon societies”.

The neurological effects of unconstrained power on the brain also inhibit the very parts of the brain which are crucial for self-awareness and what Erdoğan has to realize for the sake of Turkey’s future is actually the hardest thing for any human being to appreciate – that his own judgment is being distorted by 10 long years in power.

This is the strongest argument one will find for the 22nd Amendment of the US Constitution. Also for the revised Article 6 of the French Constitution (merci Monsieur Sarkozy).

On the question of RTE’s now ten-year rule, the NYT’s Tim Arango has a good dispatch today, explaining, entre autres, how the Turkish PM’s reactions to the protests have been driven in part by his sense of personal victimhood and class resentment.

Also in today’s NYT is an op-ed by former CIA analyst Graham E. Fuller—and author of books and reports on Turkey—on “Turkey’s growing pains.”

FWIW, the BBC News website has a piece—that the eccentric academic Norman Finkelstein saw fit to post on his blog—on “Turkish voices [that] back Erdogan against protests.” As if we didn’t know that lots of Turks side with their PM, including on this issue…

And for those who have the time, WINEP has a 1 hour 20 minute Policy Forum discussion with James F. Jeffrey and Soner Cagaptay, “Turkey: will protests at home affect its foreign policy?

UPDATE: The Russian website PenzaNews has an article on how “Turkish protests indicate growing independence of civil society,” in which several Turkey specialists are quoted. One, the Istanbul-based analyst Iason Athanasiadis, had this to say

The events unfolding in Turkey are typical of the instability that develops in countries where a government supported by a largely popular rural base improves their material conditions (even while exploiting this base by impoverishing them long-term by extending easy credit and sponsoring neoliberal policies, but that is another story) but crashes up against a privileged urban elite for whom material goods are not a primary concern…

[The protesters] are also angry at the changing of Istanbul’s appearance from that of a minimally-maintained global capital with nearly two thousand years of history whose cosmopolitanism, minorities and religious and secular architecture were sacrificed during the Kemalist period to the necessities of creating a mono-lingual, mono-religious nation state united around Turkic nationalism. As Istanbul’s mayor, Erdogan spruced up and modernized the city, whereas as prime minister, he ushered in a neoliberal crony capitalism whereby political allies suffering from an Anatolian nouveau riche aesthetic were brought in to build the kind of Westernizing infrastructure that, in the opinion of the protesters, detracts from Istanbul’s essential atmosphere.

An Anatolian nouveau riche aesthetic… And pace Erdoğan, a lower class Beyoğlu one too.

2nd UPDATE: Washington-based communications scholar Ali E. Erol has a post on his new blog, The Daily Direnis, entitled “A sociolinguistic look at chapulcu & chapulcu identity: Utopic Robin Hoods of Turkey.” The blog’s tagline: Analysis, Commentary, and Interpretation of #OccupyTurkey and Turkish Democracy.

Read Full Post »


[update below] [2nd update below] [3rd update below] [4th update below]

The police are tear gassing Taksim and beating up people as I write. Not looking good…

In the meantime, a few links from the past few days.

If one didn’t see it, The Economist had a good overview three days ago, “The new Young Turks,” in which it examined Erdoğan’s “ham-fisted response” to the protests. Talk about an understatement.

Istanbul-based journalist Joseph Logan has a good piece in MERIP, “In search of the building blocks of opposition in Turkey.”

The lefty webzine Jadaliyya has had a number of good articles and commentaries on the events, including an interview with Haluk Şahin, Istanbul-based communications professor and media person, who discusses the “Turkish media’s moral bankruptcy.” See as well the piece by UCLA and Columbia doctoral candidates Timur Hammond and Elizabeth Angell, “Is everywhere Taksim?: Public space and possible publics.”

For her part, Harvard doctoral candidate Zeynep Pamuk, in “a letter from Istanbul” in The Utopian, weighs in on “The 50 Percent,” which is what the Gezi Park protesters know they are (i.e. they would never claim to represent 99% of the Turkish population).

The Philadelphia Inquirer’s foreign affairs columnist Trudy Rubin discusses some “Clues on Turkey in jailing of educator” Kemal Gürüz. Her column begins

If you want to understand why tens of thousands of young urban Turks have been demonstrating against their government, you need look no further than the tragic plight of Kemal Guruz. Guruz, one of Turkey’s most distinguished academic reformers and the onetime head of Turkey’s Higher Education Council (known as YOK), has been held without charges in a maximum-security prison for nearly a year.

A reminder of the on-going Ergenekon/Balyoz affair. On the matter of conspiracy theories, they’re naturally all over the Internet in regard to the current protests. If one looks for them, one will find them. One I’ve come across is by a flaky Indian retired career diplomat—and ambassador to Turkey in the immediate pre-AKP years (all going to show that one can rise to a senior position in a major diplomatic service and be a flake)—named M.K. Bhadrakumar, who has a column on the website Asia Times (which will publish absolutely anything), “Et tu, Gül? Then fall, Erdoğan,” in which he suggests that the Turkey protests may all be a US-Gülenist plot… No joke.

As the US’s strings are, of course, pulled by the Jews Zionists, well, we know who’s really behind it all… (the good former diplomat doesn’t bluntly state it in these terms, though does hint at it toward the end; just connect the dots, as they say; ou suivez mon regard…).

The Gezi Park protesters would no doubt disagree that they’re mere dupes in a larger conspiracy. As one explains in this Amnesty International YouTube, they just “want the Prime Minister to listen.” Too bad he’s not the listening type.

And here are “25 examples of the best street humour from Istanbul, Gezi Park (#occupygezi) protests.” I doubt any conspiracy could come up with these.

UPDATE: VICE has a must watch video of “The lawyers of Istanbul [clashing] with police today.”

2nd UPDATE: On the WaPo opinion page, Steven A. Cook has an op-ed (dated June 7th) on “How Europe can save Turkey.”

3rd UPDATE: On the matter of conspiracy theories, the Turkish Press Review Blog has a post (June 13th) on how some in Turkey are alleging that the “‘Gezi Park protests [are] fuelled by foreign media’.”

4th UPDATE: Fehim Taştekin, columnist and chief editor of foreign news at the Istanbul daily Radikal, has a piece (dated June 10) in Al-Monitor Turkey Pulse on “The religious voice of the chapuls.”

Read Full Post »

Yoga, Gezi Park, Istanbul, June 6 2013 (Photo: AP/Thanassis Stavrakis)

Yoga, Gezi Park, Istanbul, June 6 2013 (Photo: AP/Thanassis Stavrakis)

Edition française.

Voici quelques tribunes publiées dans Le Monde ces derniers jours par des grands spécialistes et connaisseurs de la Turquie.

Le jardin Gezi occupé voit refleurir la liberté” par Nilüfer Göle.

Le parti au pouvoir divisé” par Riva Kastoryano.

Je veux siroter mon raki sur le Bosphore, monsieur Erdogan !” par Nedim Gürsel.

Un mouvement à la Mai 68 s’est emparé de la société civile” par Pinar Selek.

‘Ras le bol’ des caprices du premier ministre !” par Ahmet Insel.

Gezi Parki, un lieu symbolique de la liberté” par Vincent Duclert.

Read Full Post »

Taksim Square, Istanbul, June 3 2013 (Photo: Uriel Sinai/Getty Images)

Taksim Square, Istanbul, June 3 2013 (Photo: Uriel Sinai/Getty Images)

[update below]

Video edition.

Vice News has an absolutely must watch 18 minute reportage on the first days of the protests, “Istanbul Rising.” Claire Berlinski, who posted it on FB, added this comment

Great job, Vice, I live here and this very much captured it. Just two criticisms: Not biggest uprising in history of Turkish Republic (try Googling “Dersim”) and that Agent Orange rumor was based on an inane comment posted to CNN’s “Comments from Idiots” space; you should have known a defoliant was hardly a weapon likely to be used in a city without trees–the ostensible point of the protest to begin with.

Claire also posted this YouTube, “Why are the Turkish people fighting?

Ankara student’s video explains why Turks are protesting; excellent intro for foreign audiences. “I’m afraid. … Everywhere, people are afraid to speak up.”

And then there’s this YouTube, “Everyday I’m Çapuling!

UPDATE: Some music videos:

Chapulation Song- We’ll be Watching You.

#OccupyGezi Revolution Song.

Occupy Taksim.

Read Full Post »

The Istanbul protests – VI

Gezi Park, Istanbul, June 3 2013 (Photo: Stoyan Nenov/Reuters)

Gezi Park, Istanbul, June 3 2013 (Photo: Stoyan Nenov/Reuters)

Halil Karaveli, an analyst at the Washington and Stockholm-based Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program, has a must read piece in Foreign Affairs, in which he says that “Erdoğan is in trouble” and that his big challenge comes from Abdullah Gül—and the Gülen movement—, not from liberals. As Foreign Affairs tends to restrict access to their online articles after a few days, here’s the whole thing

In some circles, it is almost a matter of faith that the ongoing protests in Turkey will not have any serious political consequences for Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. As CFR Fellow Steven Cook wrote on ForeignAffairs.com this week, “Even today, as the tear gas continues to fly, there is no question that Erdogan would win an election.” The assumption is that the prime minster can still rely on at least the passive support of the 50 percent of the population that cast their votes for his Justice and Development Party (AKP) in the last election, held in 2011. Even if they are not entirely happy with his behavior, the thinking goes, they are not ready to withdraw their backing — good news for Erdogan, who would like to crown himself president next year. Yet it would be a mistake to assume that Erdogan’s supporters are with him for the long haul. In the end, the Taksim Square protests — and the prime minister’s response to them — have likely marked the end of an era.

As many have pointed out, the protesters in Istanbul and other Turkish cities mainly hail from the secular and liberal urban middle class. Yet they are far from alone in their weariness of Erdogan’s growing authoritarianism. Religious conservatives, the AKP’s main voter base, are uneasy with it, too. Notably, the most powerful religious community in Turkey, the fraternity of the Muslim preacher Fethullah Gulen, is now openly opposed to the prime minister. On April 17, 2013, the group even released a statement expressing deep concern about new restrictions on the freedom of expression in Turkey. It is hard to overstate how dramatic this break is: Gulen’s group was Erdogan’s main ally in his power struggle against the now defunct Kemalist state establishment.

Gulen’s decision to speak out did not necessarily reflect an ideological commitment to a free press — more likely, he wants to grab power from a weakened Erdogan while he can — but the criticisms nevertheless color the way the prime minister’s core constituency sees him. And even if that constituency is not about to abandon the AKP, which still represents its interests, it might abandon Erdogan. As the protests die down, religious conservatives will probably throw their weight behind Turkish President Abdullah Gul — who was one of the co-founders of the AKP but who has also become Erdogan’s rival in recent years — if he decides to stand for reelection in 2014. And that is an outcome that Erdogan has been trying to forestall.

As if the loss of some of the religious conservatives were not bad enough, Erdogan also stands to lose ground among more secular conservatives. Since his reelection in 2011, he has been pursuing an explicitly ideological Islamic agenda. He has promised to “raise a pious youth,” made an attempt to ban abortion, and overseen a drift in the education system toward religious conservatism. Recently, his government imposed new restrictions on the consumption of alcohol. Faced with an outpouring of criticism, Erdogan demonstrated his contempt for the secularists by telling them to “go and drink at home,” suggesting that there is no place in the public space for those who have preferences other than those prescribed by the government. With every such statement, Erdogan is seen as less a leader of the center.

The prime minister’s increasingly pronounced ideological bent is not something that appeals to the more casually conservative masses in Anatolia, who have traditionally rallied behind the center right for its moderate social conservatism and its emphasis on economic development. They have supported Erdogan primarily because of his apparent affiliation with that tradition, not because they crave more religion in politics. Accordingly, leading conservative commentators in pro-AKP media outlets have not hesitated to criticize Erdogan for his apparent inability to show empathy. Like their more religious counterparts, they would rather not abandon the AKP but do apparently prefer Gul, who has a reputation for moderation.

Erdogan’s own party members sense the changing tide. Indeed, even before the protests, there was widespread uneasiness within the AKP ranks. Most AKP parliamentarians had little enthusiasm for Erdogan’s plan to change the constitution and introduce an executive presidency. His scheme would have concentrated all power into the hands of a supreme leader, a position that Erdogan covets, basically neutering all other government officials. The prime minister’s handling of the protests has now made party members even more nervous. As Erdogan lashed out — calling those who took to the streets “marauders,” extremists, and foreign agents, and threatening retaliation — Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc issued an apology to the demonstrators and said that the authorities should have tried to meet their demands. Another AKP representative, Kadir Topbas, the mayor of Istanbul, admitted that the municipality had committed a grave mistake. And Gul made a principled defense of the right to protest from the outset, a reminder that voting is not the only democratic right.

It is true that Erdogan has traditionally thrived on polarization; earlier attacks on secularists have served to keep the religious conservatives mobilized behind the AKP. But this last week might be a bridge too far. As the reactions of other leading representatives of the AKP demonstrate, though, all of Erdogan’s various constituencies no longer want confrontation. They see it as a threat to the stability of Turkey, and ultimately to their hold on power. So although it is unlikely that the protests will force Erdogan to resign, it is also unlikely that he will survive the uproar with enough political capital to realize his presidential ambitions next year.

Those who assert that the protests will not bring the liberals to power are right — they are far too disorganized for that. But that does not mean that the demonstrations have not seriously hurt Erdogan. His handling of the crisis has significantly strengthened the position of his rival. Several polls have already put Gul ahead of Erdogan in a hypothetical contest for the presidency. If anything, then, it is Gul and possibly a refreshed AKP that will emerge from the scuffle in Taksim Square as the ultimate winners.

On OpenDemocracy, Kalypso Nicolaïdis, Kerem Öktem, and Karabekir Akkoyunlu—from St. Anthony’s College and LSE—have an analysis of “Turkey’s protests: the limits of hubris.”

Kerem Öktem likewise has an analysis in Jadaliyya, “Contours of a new republic and signals from the past: how to understand Taksim Square.”

FWIW, leftist author and activist Ozan Tekin has an interview in Ahram Online, in which he explains that “Turkish protesters reject neo-liberalism not Islamism.” Perhaps.

Gawker, which is otherwise not known as a source for information on Turkey, says that people must “Stop calling Gezi Park a ‘small green space’.”

Following from the piece on “chapulling” in yesterday’s post, see the image below. Funny.

gezi park chapullers

Read Full Post »

everyday im capuling

Today’s links.

Michael Koplow has an analysis on his indispensable Ottomans and Zionists blog on “What comes after the Turkish protests.”

Two op-eds in today’s NYT. In one, MIT economist Daron Acemoglu informs us that “Development won’t ensure democracy in Turkey.” In the other, Soner Cagaptay says that “The middle class strikes back.” Money quote:

The new middle class that the A.K.P. has built is telling its government that democracy is not just about winning elections; it is also about building consensus. And they are telling Mr. Erdogan that while they may vote for him, they do not necessarily support all his policies.

This is good news for Turkey’s future. The country has crossed a threshold — it is too middle class and too diverse to fall under a one-size-fits-all democracy. And the A.K.P. will have to listen to opposing views, even though it remains the most popular party in the country.

Turkey has become the first majority middle-class and majority Muslim society in history. Now it can become the first consolidated democracy among all Muslim countries, if Mr. Erdogan begins to respect the will of his people.

The middle class and, more generally, civil society, which is finally waking up and taking matters into its own hands, as Guardian correspondent Luke Harding reports

“In the past, the army would step in if the government abandoned secular values,” another protester, Onur Özgen, said, referencing the Turkish military’s earlier practice of staging undemocratic coups. “They can’t do it any more. Most of the generals are in jail. So people have realised they have to voice their own concerns. There is no other way to change [things] than ourselves.”

In view of the pathetic political opposition (CHP et al), Turkish civil society will need to muster all the force it has to counter the impulses of its tough guy PM. In a commentary on “The Bulldozer” (i.e. Erdoğan), journalist Michael Weiss, who has read WikiLeaks, has this titbit

America’s former ambassador to Turkey, Eric Edelman, writing what he thought was a classified memo in 2004, was at least good enough to furnish the U.S. State Department with a few prescient caveats about this natural politician, all related to deficiencies in Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s character. The then-newly elected Turkish prime minister was “seriously vulnerable to miscalculating the political dynamic, especially in foreign affairs, and vulnerable to attacks by those who would disrupt his equilibrium.” His pride was “overbearing.” His ambition was messianic: Erdogan believed himself “anointed” by God to lead Turkey – never a good sign in a freshman head of state. And his “authoritarian loner streak” rendered around him little more than sunken-chested yes-men incapable of controlling an outsized ego and “thin-skinned” disposition. Also, Erdogan had an incurable “distrust of women,” which is why there were none in positions of authority in the Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP) that he co-founded. This is also probably why heterosexual smooching on subway platforms, seven years on, is a major cause of national concern to him.

On the AKP, he has this

David Gardner of the Financial Times was clearly right when he observed: “Another way of looking at the AKP is as a party of building contractors, who have never seen anything they did not want to build, and have grown accustomed to bulldozing anything in their path.”

Some planned future bulldozing may end up not happening, as Claire Sadar speculates on the Atatürk’s Republic blog

This should be (and is) is the least of Turkey’s concerns right now, but I cannot see how the IOP will ever agree to give the 2020 Olympics to Istanbul after this weekend.


In The New Yorker, Orhan Pamuk offers his “Memories of a public square” (i.e. Taksim).

And finally, FP has a post on how “Turkish protesters have invented a new verb: ‘chapul’

Erdogan’s reference to protesters as “capulcu” (looters) has taken Twitter by storm. Turkish social media users have anglicized the word to “chapul” — and they’re bearing it proudly.

According to one Urban Dictionary definition, chapul is a verb that signifies “resistance to force” — to “demand justice” and “seek one’s right.”

Looks like it’s already gone international (though the correct French spelling would be ‘tchapuler’)


Read Full Post »

Taksim Square, Istanbul,  May 28 2013 (Photo:  Osman Orsal/Reuters)

Taksim Square, Istanbul, May 28 2013 (Photo: Osman Orsal/Reuters)

Yet more links to worthy articles read over the past twelve or so hours.

Journalist Ece Temelkuran has a fine article in the New Statesman on how “People have killed their fear of authority – and the protests are growing.” The lede: What began in an Istanbul park has tapped in to years of grievances.

Political scientist Soner Cagaptay has an equally fine article in The Atlantic, on how “Turks have learned the power of grassroots politics.” His conclusion

Two factors account for the rebirth of grassroots politics in Turkey. The first is social media, which alone helped turn a pro-tree sit-in into a massive anti-government rally and has sustained it for days.

The second factor is Turkey’s new middle class. In the past decade, Turkey has become a majority middle-class society, ironically thanks to Erdogan’s successful economic policies. Now, though, this demographic majority is demanding respect for individual liberties (such as the right to assembly), and everything that comes with it, such as respect for the environment and urban heritage.

The rallies have included a number of AKP voters, suggesting that these are not the same as the old anti-AKP secular rallies. This is the Turks’ way of saying to the AKP: “We may vote for you, but it does not mean we will support all your policies.”

Now the middle-class has tasted the power of organized grassroots action, forcing Erdogan — who has nurtured a strong man image in politics — to change his mind about the park-to-shopping mall project. Even if this week’s demonstrations eventually fizzle away, grassroots activism and middle-class demands for liberties appear to have become a force of Turkish politics, thanks to a campaign to save some trees.

For his part, Turkish-American political scientist Henri J. Barkey, writing in The National Interest, weighs in on “All the Prime Minister’s yes-men.” The Prime Minister is, of course, Erdoğan.

Also in TNI is a piece by political scientist Kemal Kirişci explaining “How Erdoğan fell from grace.”

On the ICG’s Solving the EU-Turkey-Cyprus Triangle blog, analysts Didem Collinsworth and Hugh Pope have a useful run-down on “Turkey’s protests: the politics of an unexpected movement.”

In Al-Monitor, Emre Caliskan and Simon A. Waldman pose the question: was “Black Friday [May 31st] a turning point in Turkish history?” Response: yes, it does look that way.

On the NYT’s Latitude blog, longtime Istanbul-based journalist Andrew Finkel has a post on “Seeing the trees and the forest,” in which he observes that the protests erupted over the planned destruction of a park but they’re really about government greed and authoritarianism.

Istanbul-based journalist Piotr Zalewski has this article in Time: “Erdo-gone? After Taksim, Turkish leader’s political future may hang in the balance.” In the conclusion he discusses the growing rift between Erdoğan and Abdullah Gül, noting that the latter has not yet said whether or not he intends to run for a second presidential term next year. As one knows, Erdoğan wishes take Gül’s place in ’14 and under a revised constitution that would substantially increase the powers of the presidency. How interesting it would be if Gül decided to run for a second term. If there is to be any chance of upending RTE’s political career, this would seem to be it.

Erdoğan, if one needs reminding, still remains very popular. In this vein, anthropologist Constanze Letsch, who is undertaking a study of Istanbul’s central Beyoğlu district’s Tarlabaşı neighborhood, has a piece in The Guardian explaining that “Erdoğan [is] still a hero to some, in spite of violent protests.” The lede: A stone’s throw from Taksim Square in the poor district of Kasımpaşa [whence Erdoğan hails], people still sing the prime minister’s praises.

In Slate, Istanbul journalist Cinar Kiper says much the same in a piece on “Emperor Erdoğan: Turkey’s prime minister is a popular, democratically elected leader—who rules with the back of his hand.”

En français, Le Monde Diplomatique’s Alain Gresh has an analysis of the “Vent de fronde en Turquie.”

On The Atlantic Cities site, Sarah Goodyear informs the reader of filmmaker Imre Azem’s “Scathing critique of Istanbul’s urban planning policies.”

Finally, James Dorsey has a post on his blog, The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer, on “Tahrir’s lesson for Taksim: Police brutality unites battle-hardened fans.” The sight of Galatasaray, Fenerbahçe, and Beşiktaş fans marching together in common cause is something indeed.


Read Full Post »

The Istanbul protests – III

Ankara, June 1 2013 (Photo: Adem Altan/AFP/Getty Images)

Ankara, June 1 2013 (Photo: Adem Altan/AFP/Getty Images)

[update below] [2nd update below]

Voilà a few more links to good stuff.

The excellent analyst Sinan Ülgen has an excellent analysis on the FP website, “Erdoğan’s dilemma.” Ülgen, a former Turkish diplomat and presently at the Istanbul think tank EDAM, is one of the smartest analysts of Turkish politics (and foreign policy) around.

Also on the FP website is a commentary by the well-known columnist Mustafa Akyol, “How not to win friends and influence the Turkish people.” The lede: Turkey’s bombastic prime minister has convinced himself that just because he wins elections, he can govern the country all by himself.

Spiegel Online International has a piece by Özlem Gezer et al, “Revolt in Turkey: Erdoğan’s grip on power is rapidly weakening.” Inshallah.

UPDATE: Claire Berlinski has a must read article in City Journal, “Erdoğan over the edge.” And Seyla Benhabib of Yale University has an op-ed in the NYT on “Turkey’s authoritarian turn.”

2nd UPDATE: Dani Rodrik has a comment on his blog—the unedited version of his FT op-ed—on how “Turkey’s protests send a strong message, but will not bring democracy.” And Çağlar Keyder of Boğaziçi University has a post on the LRB blog on Erdoğan, who always speaks in the “First person singular.”

Read Full Post »


Here are links to some good analyses and commentary I’ve read today on the protest movement in Istanbul and other Turkish cities.

Steven A. Cook and Michael Koplow have a first-rate analysis on the FP website asking “How democratic is Turkey?” Answer: Not as democratic as Washington thinks it is.

On the Muftah website, Zihni Özdil of Erasmus University Rotterdam explains “Why the Gezi Park protests do not herald a Turkish Spring (yet).”

Cengiz Çandar, contributing writer for Al-Monitor’s Turkey Pulse—and who witnessed the 1989 Velvet Revolution in Prague—, says that we may be witnessing “Turkey’s Velvet Revolution.”

On the new Bülent website/blog, Turkey-based journalist Alexander Christie-Miller asks: will the “Gezi Park [protests lead] towards a new political consensus?

In an analysis (en français) dated Saturday—on the useful website Observatoire de la vie politique turque—, Turkey specialist Elise Massicard poses the question: are we witnessing “Un printemps turc?” See also the posts by Jean Marcou on the OVPT site.

The sharp Hürriyet Daily News columnist Yusuf Kanlı asks (en anglais) the same question: “Is it a Turkish Spring?

And here are some “Heartwarming images from the Turkish Resistance.” Also this great photographic “record of Taksim Gezi Park protest meetings.”

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 170 other followers

%d bloggers like this: