Archive for the ‘Turkey’ Category

Istanbul cats

Continuing from my previous post, this one on cats that are mostly cute. Everyone knows or has heard about the famous street cats, or community cats, of Istanbul, who are part of that pulsating city’s ecosystem. See, e.g., the WSJ video, In Istanbul the cats are king, and, of course, the wonderful documentary Kedi (US trailer here), which my mother devoted a lengthy post to (and on Istanbul more generally) on her blog. And Claire Berlinski, the Parisian/former Istanbulite journalist-writer and friend, who is well-known to AWAV readers, co-authored a graphic book Catstantinople: The Mostly-True Tale of the Seven Kittens of Istanbul (when Claire moved to Paris, she brought her seven Istanbul cats with her).

On my last visit to Istanbul, in June 2018, I took photos of the community cats, mainly in Beyoğlu-Cihangir. Here are some of them.

This one is a little less cute
Cihangir during Ramadan: wining and dining an hour before the breaking of the fast
The community takes care of its cats
S/he knocked over the bottle
On my lap
Another lap cat
No cats or cuteness here. Sorry.

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Istanbul, June 7th (photo by AWAV)

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The elections, for both president and parliament, are happening tomorrow, as one may be aware. And if one is aware of that, one will have likely heard or read that Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, though the natural favorite, is not guaranteed of victory in the presidential—at least not on the first ballot—nor is the AKP for the TBBM. As I have no specialized knowledge of Turkish politics myself—just an ongoing interest—I will refer readers interested in what’s happening there to this very good piece (h/t Claire & Esin), dated June 21st, in the excellent War on the Rocks website, “The good, the bad, and the ugly: three scenarios to expect from Turkey’s upcoming elections.” The author, Burak Kadercan, is Associate Professor of Strategy and Policy at the United States Naval War College and Inaugural Resident Fellow at the Center for Strategic Studies of The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. He’s smart.

One may also profitably read the post, dated June 16th, on ‘The Black Sea: Diving Deep into Stories’ blog, previously unknown to me, by Zeynep Sentek and Craig Shaw (in collaboration with Der Spiegel), “Erdoğan: faith and fury.” The lede: “Inside the world of Turkey’s hardline president and his final grab for power.” Among other things, one notes the numerous similarities between RTE and the dotard in the White House, in governing style, of course, but also personality. If the latter had half of the former’s intelligence and organizational skills, America would be in far deeper trouble than it already is.

If one has the time, do see the lengthy (12,290 words) article by Ella George in the May 24th London Review of Books, “Purges and paranoia: Erdoğan’s ‘new’ Turkey,” which provides a good overview of Turkish politics since the rise of RTE.

Here’s a commentary in Foreign Policy, dated June 22nd, by my friend Steven Cook of the Council on Foreign Relations, “Don’t trust anybody about Turkey’s elections: The one thing that’s clear about Erdogan’s re-election bid is that everything is unclear.”

And for those who need to get up to speed on “Turkey’s ‘Iron Lady'” Meral Akşener, who has an outside chance of surprising RTE, see this profile of her in Time magazine last July.

Updates will follow.

UPDATE: A commenter on social media has pointed out (on Sunday morning) that Meral Akşener has been overtaken as the great anti-Erdoğan hope by the CHP candidate Muharrem İnce, who has been surging in the past month. If any candidate creates a surprise today, it will likely be him. On İnce, see the NYT op-ed (June 19th) by Şafak Pavey, “The man who could topple Erdoğan.”

And en français, see Ariane Bonzon’s interview with Turkey specialist Élise Massicard in Slate.fr (June 23rd), “Loi électorale et manipulation, Erdoğan aura tout fait pour gagner.”

2nd UPDATE: For a good day after analysis, see old Turkey hand David Barchard in Middle East Eye, “Turkey election: Erdogan wins, the opposition crashes – but don’t write off the HDP.”

See also Ariane Bonzon in Slate.fr, “Présidentielle turque: Erdogan parachève sa conquête absolue du pouvoir.”

And don’t miss Steven Cook on his CFR ‘From the Potomac to the Euphrates’ blog, “Turkey’s elections: partially free, fair, and fake.”

3rd UPDATE: Hamit Bozarslan of the EHESS in Paris, who is quite brilliant, analyzes the election outcome in Le Monde (June 26th), saying that “La Turquie d’Erdoğan est un exemple radical des antidémocraties du XXIe siècle.”

4th UPDATE: Le Monde (June 29th) has a full-page interview with political scientist Soli Özel, who teaches at Kadir Has University in Istanbul and is a regular contributor to numerous publications, in which he says that “‘Les Turcs aiment en Erdoğan ce que les étrangers détestent en lui’.”


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The Turkish tragedy

Photo: Ozan Kose/AFP via Getty Images

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It’s been two weeks since the Turkish referendum, on which I have not had a single post. I normally would have but (a) have been majorly distracted by the French presidential campaign, (b) find what’s happening in Turkey so tragic—and so personally painful, as Turkey is a country I know and love—that I can hardly bear to even read about it, and (c) have nothing particularly original to say. Whatever commentary I would have to offer has already been offered by numerous others who spend more of their waking hours focusing on Turkey than do I. In commenting on an event or happening like this, I simply refer the reader to analyses by specialists and other observers sur le terrain that I find particularly interesting. I’ve read a few good pieces on the referendum over the past two weeks but will link to just one, by my friend Claire Berlinski, published in The American Interest on April 24th, on Turkey and how democracies die. Claire is a great writer, knows the subject comme sa poche, and what she has to say is 100% on target. C’est tout ce que j’ai à dire.

UPDATE: Claire has a post (May 1st) on the Ricochet blog, “From Turkey: We’re not dead yet,” that is well worth the read.

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I was reading the other day a lengthy enquête on Turkey in Le Monde dated Feb. 27th, on the resistance by Turkish civil society to Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s implacable determination to consolidate his dictatorship and crush all opposition to his rule. The piece, by journalist Marc Semo, begins with an account of the ethnologist Ahmet Kerim Gültekin, who was abruptly dismissed from his professorship at Manzur University in Tunceli after last July’s attempted coup d’état—which he had nothing whatever to do with—and thereby from the civil service, and with his passport revoked, thus preventing him from seeking employment abroad. But it’s not as if there are other options available to him in Turkey, even as a waiter in a restaurant, as any employer will see, upon registering his social security number, that he had been fired from his job in the post-coup purge, and will thus not want to touch him with a ten foot pole. So he is unemployable, a “dead man walking.” But he resists, vaille que vaille. There are tens of thousands like him in Turkey.

As it happens, I saw a film on this precise theme last week—the day before reading the above article—the final one by Poland’s great director Andrzej Wajda, who died last October: Afterimage (in France: Les Fleurs bleues), which recounts the story of the persecution by Poland’s Communist regime of the country’s renowned avant-garde painter Władysław Strzemiński, from 1948—when he was fired from his position at the State Higher School of the Visual Arts in Łódź, of which he was one of the founders—to his death in destitution in 1952 (at age 59). Strzemiński—who had an arm and a leg blown off during WWI—was fired from his institute for his uncompromising rejection of the official doctrine of socialist realism as imposed by the Soviet Union. Not only was the blacklisted painter—who was Poland’s greatest of his era—unable to obtain steady employment but was deprived of ration cards to buy food or even oil paints and brushes, the sale of which was controlled by the state. But Strzemiński refused to capitulate to the commissars. And he died broken and destitute.

As for the film, it’s typical Andrzej Wajda: well-done, with a not so subtle political message (see my post on his previous one, Wałęsa: Man of Hope), and, in this case, tragic (as was his 2007 Katyń). It is as powerful an indictment of the Communist regime in Poland—indeed of every ‘really existing socialist’ regime of the sort—as one will find. For a discussion of Strzemiński’s life and œuvre—though which mentions his political persecution only in passing—go here. And to see some of his art, go here. The trailer of the film is here.

Back to Turkey, I read a sad essay this weekend—which makes one almost want to cry—dated last October 5th, on the Big Roundtable blog (h/t Claire B.) by writer Selin Thomas, “My shattered Istanbul: Turkey is slipping away from my family, collapsing into the arms of a tyrant. We thought she was ours. Maybe we were wrong.” 😥

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Happy F—king New Year

Reina, Ortaköy, Istanbul

Reina, Ortaköy, Istanbul

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2016 was a shitty year, we can all agree. The shittiest year in years. And with the terrorist attack in Istanbul ringing in the new year, 2017 promises to be even shittier yet. I learned of the atrocity around 1:30am, while at a new year’s eve party, in a news flash on my phone. The party—which was pretty good, actually—became less fun from that point on, for me at least. Terrorist atrocities are horrific no matter where they happen but are just that much more so when they hit close to home. And this one felt close to home. Istanbul is a city I know and love—as I do the Ortaköy neighborhood, where the attack happened—and where I have friends. My daughter spent the 2014-15 academic year at Galatasaray University, which is in Ortaköy, and tells us today that, on that new year’s eve, she was at a party just next to the Reina nightclub. The attack hit particularly close to home for my friend Claire Berlinski as well, who just posted her reaction on the Ricochet blog, “2017: #We Are Already Reina.” Claire, as usual, says it better than I.

C’est tout ce que j’ai à dire.

UPDATE: My friend Monica Marks, who is an academic specialist of Tunisia presently residing in Istanbul, posted this on Facebook:

All my condolences to friend Khedija Arfaoui, a well-known Tunisian advocate for women’s rights and outspoken opponent of terrorism who lost her son and daughter-in-law in last night’s terrorist attack on the Istanbul nightclub. Her son, Mohamed Ali Azzabi, and his wife Senda, are pictured here. They were on holiday in Istanbul and left behind a baby and many loving family and friends.

What a goddamned f—king tragedy.

2nd UPDATE: Istanbul writer Kaya Cenç has an op-ed (Jan. 1st) in the NY Times, “Istanbul: First darkness, then terror.”

3rd UPDATE: Ezgi Başaran, who is a journalist and academic visitor at St Antony’s College, Oxford University, has an op-ed (Jan. 3rd) in The Washington Post, “Secular citizens of Turkey have never felt so alone,” that is one of the saddest I’ve read on that country.

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Turkey: the coup attempt

Taksim Square, Istanbul, July 16th (Photo: AP/Emrah Gurel)

Taksim Square, Istanbul, July 16th (Photo: AP/Emrah Gurel)

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Two old friends in the US have written to me asking what I think of the now failed coup attempt. So voilà. When I heard the news late last night, my immediate, visceral reaction was to hope that the coup would succeed, thereby ridding Turkey and the world of the unspeakable Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. But I quickly got intellectual control of myself, objectively understanding that it was a very bad thing and with terrible potential consequences regardless of the outcome. If the coup succeeded, it would plunge Turkey into open-ended instability, indeed chaos, as a military regime would be angrily rejected—and indeed actively resisted—by the large portion of the population that supports the current president and his party—and particularly if it were to arrest RTE, proscribe the AKP, and throw thousands in prison. This would be a disaster. There is no way the opposition parties (CHP, MHP, HDP) could possibly support this, lest they be complicit in the suspension of democracy—as RTE and the AKP were indeed democratically elected, which no one contests—and plunging Turkey into possible civil war—which, given the already deteriorating security situation (IS, PKK) and the conflicts on its borders, is the last thing the country needs. And there is no way the US or the EU could possibly acquiesce in the action of the military or formally recognize its regime.

What were the Turkish military putschists thinking? Plus their sympathizers outside Turkey? This is 2016. One doesn’t go around overthrowing elected governments in modern, sophisticated countries and that have one of the top 20 largest economies in the world. The putschists embarked on a fuite en avant: a rash course of action the consequences of which were not at all thought out. Not smart at all.

But now that the coup attempt has failed, the consequences will no doubt also be terrible. RTE will certainly come out of this reinforced and vengeful. He will redouble his efforts to modify the constitution—to, in effect, make him sultan-for-life—and likely succeed. Turkey will descend further into authoritarianism, if not outright dictatorship, and with all the instability that will entail. As Walter Russell Mead wrote last night in his Turkey coup live blog, the near 100-year Kemalist era in Turkey has, with the coup attempt, come to an end. Despite the problems and shortcomings of Kemalism, this is not to be celebrated.

I’ve mainly been getting information and analysis via social media (Facebook and Twitter). Georgetown University political science MENA specialist and personal friend Dan Brumberg—whose analyses are always smart and well-considered—posted the following on Facebook yesterday:

Coup supporters in the US [such as, e.g., this one] are now trotting out the usual suspect excuses for backing the coup in Turkey:

1) The Military has always been the guarantor of Turkish democracy and secularism.

Not true. The military saw its role as the ultimate guarantor of Ataturk’s legacy and his ideology. That ideology was not only authoritarian, it was not “secular.” Under the state that Ataturk created the clerics and their institutions became employees and extensions of the state. Friday khutbas (sermons) were an important device in the efforts of successive governments to rally support. Moreover, at key points—in the eighties for example—the military invoked Islamic themes, a dynamic that had wider echoes in the region.

2) Military coups were designed to “restore democracy” and achieved this aim.

Also not true. Military coups were often undertaken against elected governments (as was the case today). Opponents of such actions were repressed. This is not democracy.

3) Under Erdogan, the Turkish state imposed an Islamist ideology and system, or was well on its way to achieving this aim.

Not true again. Under Erdogan, the government did push for Islamist policies of various kinds, and secular Turks had good reason to be worried. But as anyone who has visited Turkey in the last year or two will tell you, Erdogan and his ruling party did not succeed in uprooting the still vibrant sectors of urban secular Turkish society.

Erdogan’s primary goal is to enhance his personal power. There is little doubt that he seeks to build an electoral autocracy. That is the essential problem, and the essential challenge.

4) The only and perhaps even most effective way to prevent the creation of an electoral autocracy is via a military coup.

A familiar position but also very dubious. If the coup succeeds what will follow will be an onslaught of repression (see Egypt). If the coup fails, you can be sure that this act of folly was provide Erdogan and his allies precisely the justification they need for advancing their project.

Following up, Dan—who needs a blog—had this

Whatever its many faults, this Turkish Government was elected and has every right to remain in place and resist this coup.

See the interview in Slate with Jenny White, who teaches at Stockholm University’s Institute for Turkish Studies: “How Turkey came to this: The attempted military coup isn’t the country’s first. But this time is different.”

Turkey specialist Claire Sadar, who co-edits the Muftah website, made this important observation earlier today

Since the last full coup in 1980, Turkish society has changed dramatically. In the wake of the coup, the Turkish economy was opened up to the outside world, and so was Turkish society. Turks are more wealthy, educated and cosmopolitan than they have ever been. They are also more fiercely committed to preserving democracy, even if that means supporting a leader that they genuinely despise. Over the course of the coup attempt, I heard the same line repeated over and over again by liberal, secular Turks who regularly criticize the government: We don’t like Erdogan, but we can’t support has removal by undemocratic means like a coup. The lack of support from even the large proportion of Turks who are unhappy with the direction the country is headed in, combined with what appears to be the lack of a comprehensive government takeover plan, meant that this coup attempt was doomed from the start.

More to follow.

UPDATE: The excellent Vox website has a number of articles and interviews with Turkey specialists, all grouped in a category on “Turkey’s coup.” Among them:

[Harvard University] expert [Dani Rodrik] tries to explain what the hell is going on.”

[Brookings Institution] Turkish politics expert [Ömer Taşpınar] on why it looks like a failed attempt.”

Turkey has had several military coups in its modern history…[Columbia University] historian [Richard Bulliet] explains why.”

Why Turkey’s coup failed, according to…[political science] expert Naunihal Singh [of the University of Notre Dame].”

The Gülen Movement, explained.”

I’ve had several posts on Fethullah Gülen in past years and with links to numerous articles. To see them all, go here (and follow the links in the first paragraph).

2nd UPDATE: Graham E. Fuller, formerly of the CIA and who knows Turkey well, agrees that the attempted coup was a “lose-lose” proposition.

3rd UPDATE: MENA specialist and friend Steven A. Cook, who’s at the Council on Foreign Relations, has a piece in WaPo, “Turkey has had lots of coups. Here’s why this one failed.”

See also the post on WaPo’s Monkey Cage blog by Syracuse University political scientist Yüksel Sezgin, “How Erdogan’s anti-democratic government made Turkey ripe for unrest.”

4th UPDATE: BuzzFeed News Middle East correspondent Borzou Daragahi has a dispatch from Diyarbakir on “Why the failed coup will hurt Turkey in coming months.” Quoting specialist Henri Barkey: “This is a coup where everyone loses.” Hélas.

5th UPDATE: Sabancı University political science professor Ayşe Kadıoğlu, writing in OpenDemocracy, asks if the coup d’état attempt is “Turkey’s Reichstag fire.” The lede: “We are witnessing the consolidation of a new form of authoritarianism with a populist streak.”

6th UPDATE: Dani Rodrik—who is worth reading on any subject he writes about—has a commentary in Project Syndicate, “Turkey’s baffling coup.”

7th UPDATE: The well-known journalist and commentator Cengiz Çandar, writing in Al-Monitor’s Turkey Pulse, asks the question that’s on many minds: “Was Turkey’s coup attempt just an elaborate hoax by Erdogan?” One should naturally be wary of conspiracy theories—and which are a dime a dozen in Turkey and elsewhere in that part of the world—but sometimes there are conspiracies. If such was the case with the attempted coup—and which does indeed smell a little fishy—the truth will come out, and probably sooner rather than later.

8th UPDATE: Philip Giraldi—executive director of the Council for the National Interest, former CIA officer, and Turkey-watcher—has an interesting piece in The American Conservative (July 18th), “A very predictable coup? Opponents of Turkey’s strongman have only solidified his position,” in which he suggests that Erdoğan may have had wind of the plot.

9th UPDATE: The well-known intellectual Cengiz Aktar, presently a senior scholar at the Istanbul Policy Center, has a tribune (July 18th) in Le Monde, “Les putschistes ont offert à Erdogan le régime présidentiel dont il rêve.”

10th UPDATE: Cihan Tuğal, who teaches sociology at the University of California at Berkeley, weighs in with an essay (July 18th) in OpenDemocracy, “Turkey coup aftermath: between neo-fascism and Bonapartism.” The lede: “Predictions about the consequences of Turkey’s failed coup focus on how it fulfils Erdoğan’s desire for an omnipotent presidency. But the danger that awaits is much greater than that.”

11th UPDATE: Voilà three “snapshot” analyses in Foreign Affairs:

Erdogan’s prophecy: The coup attempt will leave him stronger,” by Michael J. Koplow (July 18th).

Where the Turkish military fails, Egypt’s succeeds: Here’s why,” by Steven A. Cook (July 19th).

Turkey’s troubling turn: Terrorism and security after the attempted coup,” by Soner Cagaptay (July 19th).

12th UPDATE: Claire Berlinski, writing in City Journal (July 20th), asks “Who planned Turkey’s coup?” The answer: “It probably wasn’t President Erdoğan.”

Also see Claire’s piece in The American Interest (July 20th), co-authored with Izmir-based blogger Ali Kincal, “Dark days ahead: The plot against Erdoğan has laid bare dangerous undercurrents in Turkey.”

On the Ricochet blog, Claire has reproduced an English-language version of an interview her friend and colleague Okan Altiparmak—an Istanbul-based filmmaker and Turkey director of the website Muslim World Today—gave to an Iranian publication on the attempted coup.

13th UPDATE: Aaron Stein—Resident Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East—has a post (July 20th) in the War on the Rocks blog entitled “Inside a failed coup and Turkey’s fragmented military.” Monica Marks—a sharp doctoral candidate at Oxford University and with specialized knowledge of Turkey—writes on social media that this is “by far the most detailed account [she’s] seen in Turkish or English of how Friday’s coup attempt transpired and its implications for the Turkish military. Well worth reading and spot on…”

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Turkey being in the news lately, this is a good moment to do an overdue post on this fine Turkish film that opened in France in June to top reviews and audience acclaim—it did exceptionally well at the box office for a movie entirely in Turkish—and is France’s official entry for the Academy Award for best foreign language film. That’s right, France’s entry, the selection committee here considering it French, as it is a French co-production and director Deniz Gamze Ergüven has lived in France for most of her adult life (a good, engaging film though it is, this is ridiculous IMO, as the pic is 100% Turkish—there’s not a thing French about it—and there is one French film this year that should by all rights be France’s Oscar entry).

The story is simple. Five orphaned sisters in their teens and tweens live with an uncle, aunt, and grandmother in a big house in a village on the Black Sea somewhere near Trabzon. They’re sassy and full of life—and all pretty—but when their patriarchal uncle—who no doubt votes for the AKP—learns via village gossip that they’ve been flirting with boys after school and are, generally speaking, too free-spirited, he decides—with the willing assent of wife and mother—to pull them out of school and lock them in the house—allowed out only when closely chaperoned—so as to preserve the family honor, i.e. the girls’ virginity, until they can be married off (the uncle, who so fears his nieces’ putative sexuality, is naturally a pervert and rapist himself). The sisters, who are as close to one another as siblings can be, develop all sorts of schemes and strategies to break out of their prison. Some good and amusing scenes here, but also tragic ones. The sisters, all played by non-professional actresses, are great.

The film is a paean to feminism and the struggle against patriarchy and idiotic codes of honor regarding female sexuality in societies that have not entirely completed the transition to modernity (if one wants an explanation of the French Oscar choice, there you have it). But while the conservative family guardians and other villagers are frozen in archaic ways of thinking about gender, not everyone is. The sisters have sympathizers, indeed allies, on the outside. It’s a Turkish story. Two of the sisters, led by the youngest one—and the most audacious and rebellious—12-year-old Lale (actress Güneş Nezihe Şensoy; A Star Is Born…), dream of escaping to Istanbul, 1000 km away—Lale’s last schoolteacher, a feminist (who certainly votes CHP, maybe even HDP) is there—and (spoiler alert!) ultimately do. Istanbul symbolizes freedom—freedom being another of the pic’s leitmotifs (and thus the title, mustangs roaming free on the plain…). One feels the girls’ exhilaration as they cross the Bosphorus bridge at dawn on their long bus trip from the world they’re fleeing. US critics who saw the pic at Cannes last May, though noting minor issues, all gave it the thumbs up (more than one made reference to Sofia Coppola’s ‘The Virgin Suicides’—which I have not seen—and Pride and Prejudice). US and UK release should happen early next year. Trailer is here.

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Turkey’s election


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I am just so goddamned, f—ing disappointed! F—ing bummer! My disappointment and disgust at tonight’s outcome are equal to the exhilaration and joy I felt with the result of last June’s vote. In thinking about the election this morning I had visions of the AKP losing even more ground than it did last time, the HDP and CHP gaining, RT Erdoğan stunned and confused and descending into a deep depression, a faction of AKP heavyweights (Gül, Arınç, whoever) bolting to form a new party, and with the AKP’s hegemony over Turkish politics finally broken. Talk about a douche froide

No one foresaw this, not even pro-AKP polling institutes. As top Turkey specialist Michael Koplow tweeted

Wow. Had someone predicted these Turkish election results to me last week, I would have scoffed to their face. Never saw this coming.

In an instant explanation of the AKP’s near eight-point spike, WINEP’s Soner Cagaptay submitted that Erdoğan’s stoking up the conflict with the PKK drove liberal Turks from the HDP, nationalists from the MHP, and with conservative Kurds returning to the AKP.

Trying to look at the bright side of things—if bright there is—at least the HDP is over the 10% threshold, the AKP fell short of the 330 seats needed to change the constitution—insuring inshallah that RTE will not get the hyper-presidency/sultanate he so desperately wants—and that Turkey will at least have a stable government—if not political stability.

Michael Koplow has the first instant analysis of the outcome (in English), posted on his Ottomans and Zionists blog, “A Quick Reaction to the AKP Victory.” Money quote

People who pay attention to Turkish politics spend a lot of time reading the Turkish press online and conversing with each other on social media, but the vast majority of Turkish voters get their information from Turkish television, and last week’s seizure of Koza Ipek television stations reinforces that if you get your news from Turkish television, you are getting a relentless pro-government message. So in hindsight, it is easy to see how the AKP’s message that instability was the result of not giving the AKP a majority in June and that the only way to restore things was to correct course today, and drowning out every alternative argument to the contrary, could have produced the desired result.

Getting one’s news exclusively from state-controlled television… Like Slobodan Milošević’s Serbia in the 1990s. Or Vladimir Putin today.

On RTE and Putin, see the comment by Claire Sadar, who blogs at Atatürk’s Republic, in Foreign Affairs last February 12th, “Dreaming of Russia in Ankara.”

On possible irregularities in today’s vote, Michael Koplow says this

I’m not in a position to make accusations of fraud, but there is definitely some unusual stuff going on. The bottom line, however, is that even if there turns out to be nothing irregular at all about the actual vote tally, the facts are that the AKP spent five months harassing opposition politicians, arresting opposition journalists, shutting down television stations and newspapers, accusing the HDP of supporting terrorism, and warning the entire country that the instability that has wracked the country would look like child’s play if the AKP were not handed a majority this time. Whatever you want to call the sum total of those tactics, they do not make for a free and fair election. Welcome to the era of competitive authoritarianism, Turkey.

À suivre.

UPDATE: Istanbul-based writer Kaya Genç has a good analysis in TNR (November 2nd) of “Why Turkey stuck with Erdogan,” which is built around the “White Turks/Black Turks” cleavage (though he doesn’t actually use these terms).

The well-known columnist Mustafa Akyol, writing in Al Monitor’s Turkey Pulse, examines “How the AKP dominated yesterday’s election in Turkey.”

Istanbul-based journalist Alexander Christie-Miller, in a post in Foreign Policy, offers his thoughts on “Erdogan’s big night.” The lede: “The Turkish president’s party defied the polls, guaranteeing its political dominance for years to come.”

Cengiz Aktar of the Istanbul Policy Center has a tribune in Libération, “La Turquie d’Erdogan ne bénéficiera que d’une pseudo-stabilité.”

2nd UPDATE: Aykan Erdemir, a former CHP deputy and current Bilkent University prof, has “6 takeaways from the Turkish elections” in Politico.eu (November 2nd). Smart take IMO.

Vox’s Zack Beauchamp has a post on “Why Turkey’s election results shocked all the experts,” in which he quotes some of those experts (Michael Koplow, Steven Cook, Sinan Ülgen).

As for expert Sinan Ülgen, who is chairman of the Istanbul-based Center for Economics and Foreign Policy Studies, he weighs in on “Erdoğan’s second chance” in a commentary in Project Syndicate.

3rd UPDATE: Istanbul-based reporter David Lepeska has an analysis up on the Foreign Affairs website (November 2nd) on “The AKP’s Golden Opportunity: Erdogan’s victory and Turkey’s open-door policy.”

Also see Lepeska’s October 31st opinion piece on the Al Jazeera website, “A mountain to climb for Turkey’s liberals and leftists.” The lede: “Amid rising violence and a crackdown on free speech, critics raise their voices – but remain pessimistic about the vote.”

4th UPDATE: Erik Meyersson of the Stockholm School of Economics has a post (November 4th) on his blog, “Digit Tests and the Peculiar Election Dynamics of Turkey’s November Elections,” in which he tries to measure possible irregularities in the vote. I’m skeptical, as there appear not to have been allegations of fraud from the adversely affected parties (MHP, HDP).

Steven A. Cook has a commentary in Fortune (November 2nd) on “What Turkey’s election surprise says about the troubled country.”

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For anyone with any interest in Turkey, please take ten minutes of your time to watch Selahattin Demirtaş respond to Ahmet Davutoğlu in the aftermath of yesterday’s massacre (here, with English subtitles). As one journalist uttered after Demirtaş finished: “wow!”

If I were a Turkish citizen there is not the slightest doubt as to which party would get my vote in the upcoming election.


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Syria’s lost generation

Syrian refugee collecting leftover food, Istanbul (photo credit: AFP)

Syrian refugee collecting leftover food, Istanbul (photo credit: AFP)

Istanbul-based journalist Sebnem Arsu has a feature article in Politico.eu on the dire situation of Syrian refugee children in the city—which, one may safely presume, is likewise elsewhere in Turkey as well, plus Lebanon and Jordan, not to mention in Syria itself—who have been descholarized in massive numbers, some since the outbreak of the war four years ago. The consequences of this, ça va de soi, will be calamitous—for the children’s futures, the countries in which they live, and Europe and the world—if the international community, such as it is, does not act quickly. Quoting Abdulrahman Kowara, director of the Syrian Education Commission—the de facto educational authority of the Syrian opposition in Syria and Turkey—at the end of the piece

“These children, if left uneducated, will harm Syria, Turkey and the entire world in the future…I see these children as time bombs, ready to explode any time. I see the expression of detachment on their faces. It is up to the world to help the future generations of Syria as much as their own.”

On the subject of Syrian refugees, the German website In a Nutshell – Kurzgesagt, which makes videos “explaining things,” posted a six-minute You Tube last Thursday—which has already been viewed almost 4.5 million times—explaining the European refugee crisis and Syria. It’s good and merits wide circulation, though, for the record, I will quibble with the line about how “[a]ll sides committed horrible war crimes, using chemical weapons, mass executions, torture on a large-scale, and repeated deadly attacks on civilians.” All sides have indeed committed exactions and done very bad things but the lion’s share of this has been the doing of the regime of Bashar al-Assad—and when it comes to the use of chemical and torture on a large-scale, that share is total. The Islamic State would commit worse crimes if it could but, so far at least, the aggregate quantity of its crimes and of persons killed, maimed and/or displaced from their homes as a consequence cannot hold a candle to those committed by the regime in Damascus.

In arguing for generosity toward the Syrian refugees landing on the continent, the video’s authors make this impeccable assertion

Even if the EU alone were to accept all four million refugees and 100% of them were Muslims, the percentage of Muslims in the European Union would only rise from about 4% to about 5%…The European Union is the wealthiest bunch of economies on Earth, well-organized states with functioning social systems, infrastructure, democracy, and huge industries. It can handle the challenge of the refugee crisis if it wants to. The same can be said for the whole Western world.

In a post two years ago on Syria’s Palestinians, I opined that it would behoove the European Union, US, Canada, Latin American states, Australia, and Russia to absorb all 300,000 of them. Comme ça. Can these states—to which one must add those in the OIC who have the means but have so far done little to nothing, but who can and must share in the responsibility—absorb four million Syrians? That’s a lot but what choice is there, as the Syrian war is not going to end anytime soon and what will become of those four million displaced persons in the meantime? But if some kind of international agreement can possibly be worked out on this at some point down the road—when the Syrian refugee crisis has really become untenable—the refugees should be offered choices as to where they want to go—where they have family or support networks, speak the language, and/or will encounter the least difficulties in finding employment, i.e. in integrating into the host society. If refugees are sent to countries—however generous the latter’s intentions may be—where they know no one, don’t speak the language, and are sure to have great difficulties in the labor market, there will be problems, as one learns in this report in Le Monde last week.

À propos of all this, see these two reportages—here and here—on the France 2 news this evening. Je n’ai rien à dire de plus.

Syrian refugees, Istanbul (photo credit: DHA Photo/Hakan Kaya)

Syrian refugees, Istanbul (photo credit: DHA Photo/Hakan Kaya)

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I am Suruç


[update below]

Heartbreaking the images of the youthful victims of Monday’s IS terror bombing of the Amara Cultural Center in Suruç, Turkey (the death toll is 32 as of today). See the photo gallery with profiles here. Also here and here. The victims were militants in the Federation of Socialist Youth Associations (SGDF), which is linked to the extreme-left Socialist Party of the Oppressed (ESP, whose founder and leader until last year, Figen Yüksekdağ, is now co-chair, along with Selahattin Demirtaş, of the HDP). The SGDF was an active participant in the 2013 Gezi Park protests in Istanbul, with its contingent in Suruç preparing to cross the Syrian border to help in the reconstruction of neighboring Kobanî.

The AKP government, not surprisingly, has had no better response to the massacre than to have a court ban media images of the victims (and to block access to Twitter) and with the police attacking demonstrators in Istanbul expressing rage over the terror bombing with tear gas and water cannon. Pathetic.

UPDATE: See this photo gallery in the MailOnline, “Minutes later she was dead: Tragic story of Turkish student who posted haunting selfie moments before ISIS bomb that killed her and 30 others.”

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

Continuing with links to post-election analyses and commentaries

Paris-based journalist Claire Berlinski, who lived in and reported from Turkey for some ten years, has a sharp, hardheaded, typically well-written analysis in Politico.eu (June 15th) of the election’s aftermath, in which she says “Don’t rejoice yet: Erdoğan could still win.” The lede: “Forming a coalition in Turkey will be a nightmare, and the strongman has the trump cards.”

The coalition/minority AKP government hypotheses have been enumerated and speculated upon by most analysts, though Claire goes further than others in taking seriously the prospect—however unlikely it may seem—of an AKP-HDP deal. First off, she notes that the HDP may not be the liberal-progressive force that it’s been cracked up to be, particularly in the West

There is something about the language now being used to describe the HDP that is reminiscent of the early days of the AKP. It takes a special kind of stupid to fail to appreciate the eagerness of the West to befriend anyone or anything in Turkey that sounds even remotely like a Western liberal. This eagerness generally precludes asking too many questions. The HDP has become the instant darling of a foreign media eager to find in Turkey a genuine liberal party. And true, Selahattin Demirtaş, the HDP leader, may represent some Turkish liberals. But mostly he represents conservative and nationalist Kurds. Many have been voting for the AKP for years. In the southeast, there has long been cooperation between the AKP and the Kurdish tarikats (or religious orders) and clans.

The political economist Erik Meyersson carefully studies Turkish electoral statistics. After considering the recent results, he concluded: “The HDP cake may have a leftist-liberal-secular crust, but most of its filling is socially conservative Kurds.” The rise of the HDP, he plausibly argues, does not represent the revival of the Turkish left. It represents the unification of its Kurds under one political banner.

Further down, Claire has this

The scenario most likely to prevent [a possible implosion of the AKP] is an AKP-HDP alliance. Depending what he offers them, the HDP might allow Erdoğan, in exchange, to push through his one-man-leadership plan, and this despite everyone else’s objection to it.

Don’t rule it out. Demirtaş has sworn he won’t do it, but his party has objectives that only the AKP can deliver. Demirtaş in turn must deliver the goods to his supporters, and fast. His promises to work for all of Turkey, not just the Kurds, are promises; his interest is in working for his supporters. Only the AKP, for example, might entertain the notion of offering regional autonomy for the Kurds in exchange for Erdoğan’s elevation to an enhanced presidency. Erdoğan could even be so cynical as to dangle the prospect of freeing Abdullah Öcalan, the imprisoned founder of the separatist Kurdistan Workers’ Party or PKK, in exchange for the HDP’s cooperation. An AKP-HDP alliance, in other words, could result in outcomes that would thrill many Kurds; horrify the majority of the electorate; set the country alight; and result, despite everything, in Erdoğan, President for Life.

I’m dubious mais on ne sait jamais…

BTW, the study Claire cites by Erik Meyersson, who teaches at the Stockholm School of Economics, is a post on his blog dated June 8th, “How Turkey’s social conservatives won the day for HDP.”

Selim Can Sazak, who studies at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, has a post (June 9th) on The Century Foundation blog entitled “The aftermath of Turkey’s elections: The curse of d’Hondt,” in which he has, entre autres, some interesting observations on the HDP

HDP’s success also owes much to two names—Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the main opposition party leader of CHP, and Selahattin Demirtaş, HDP’s own leader. Kılıçdaroğlu risked his own political fortune by desisting from attacking HDP despite the outflow of around 5 percent of the overall vote from his own party to the HDP. Demirtaş, a human rights lawyer, won a devout following among urban left-leaning voters consisting of mostly youth and women. With his charisma and generational appeal, Demirtaş has been compared to Europe’s rising left-populists, like Greece’s Alexis Tsipras and Spain’s Pablo Iglesias. He stands in stark contrast to the other older opposition leaders: MHP’s Devlet Bahçeli is a gaffe-prone septuagenarian who has been leading his party for almost two decades, while CHP’s Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu is as exciting as any other retired actuary.

While Demirtas’s popstar charms may have won him an election, they won’t solve his many problems. The Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK), which is on the U.S. State Department’s Foreign Terrorist Organizations list for its bloody campaign against the Turkish government, maintains a strong influence on Kurdish politics. Like the Kurds themselves, the PKK’s politics are fairly conservative. In an interview last year, PKK leader Cemil Bayık bemoaned that HDP is pandering to “Cihangir marginalism,” using Istanbul’s upscale Cihangir neighborhood as a metonym in a thinly veiled jab against HDP’s cosmopolitan-left elements and its influence on issues like LGBT rights. PKK’s founder, Abdullah Öcalan, has been in solitary confinement at an island prison since his capture in 2003, but he remains influential over the Kurds.

For the broader public, however, his name is still toxic—when Demirtaş thanked Öcalan in his victory speech, it unleashed a torrent of angry comments on social media. The Öcalan factor—essentially, hesitancy about supporting a Kurdish party in general—is already giving momentum to MHP, which still considers HDP an extension of the PKK and has therefore been reluctant to negotiate with the Kurds. MHP increased its vote share by about 25 percent this time around. Unless Demirtaş can convince his non-Kurd voters that he will keep a healthy distance from Öcalan, HDP’s victory could be a one-time feat, and could even enable MHP’s rise or pull AKP and MHP closer together, in their opposition to the HDP. But it’s not so simple for Demirtaş, for whom distance from Öcalan risks alienating the Kurdish base and angering the party’s Kurdish activists, most of whom continue to regard Öcalan as their natural leader.

In a political science-y piece on WaPo’s Monkey Cage blog (June 12th), professors Emre Erdoğan (Bilgi University) and David L. Wiltse (South Dakota State U.) ask “Will Turkey’s recent election send the country back to the politically turbulent 1990s?” The scenario they appear to give the most credit to is an AKP minority government tacitly supported from the outside by the MHP. I’ll go along with them.

À suivre.

UPDATE: Mustafa Akyol has a commentary in Al-Monitor (June 15th), in which, like Claire, he says that “Erdoğan lost a battle, but perhaps not the war.” The scenario he deems most likely is Erdoğan calling for new elections after 45 days—during which time the AKP and CHP would have failed to form a government—which, Erdoğan calculates, would result in gains for the AKP—voters being frightened by instability—thereby giving it a majority in the Grand National Assembly. Akyol also speculates on a possible return of Abdullah Gül, who would replace Ahmet Davutoğlu as PM.

2nd UPDATE: Aaron Stein, a Ph.D. candidate at King’s College London and fellow at several institutions, has a Turkey election recap (June 16) on his Turkey Wonk blog, in which one will find a podcast discussion (worth listening to for Turkey aficionados) with him and Amberin Zaman, the Turkey correspondent for The Economist and a columnist for the liberal Istanbul daily Taraf, and a link to Stein’s latest analysis for the Atlantic Council, “Turkish coalition politics: Prospects for the Kurdish peace process.”

3rd UPDATE: Sinan Ulgen, chairman of the Istanbul-based EDAM think tank and a visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe—who is very smart (I’ve seen him speak at a conference)—has an op-ed in the NYT (June 17th), “Turkey at a democratic crossroad,” in which he privileges the scenario of an AKP-CHP coalition—as do Aaron Stein and Amberin Zaman in their discussion linked to above—that would have a super-majority to amend the constitution and effect major institutional reforms.

Selahattin Demirtaş

Selahattin Demirtaş

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HDP seçim kutlamaları bugün 8 Haziran 2015

I was absolutely thrilled out of my mind when the result of the Turkish election was announced on Sunday night, as was everyone else I know who has the slightest interest in that country. This is the most gratifying election result anywhere in 2½ years. After the série noire of the past several months—US midterms, Israel, French departmental, UK—ça fait du bien. I was confident that the HDP would cross the 10% threshold and the AKP denied the super-majority in the Grand National Assembly to amend the constitution according to RT Erdoğan’s megalomaniacal wishes, but didn’t imagine that the AKP would lose its majority altogether and with its popular vote dropping by almost 10%. I don’t know if anyone did.

As I am not in Turkey, do not know the Turkish language, and am thus not a bona fide specialist of the country—I’m merely very knowledgeable about it—I will link to a few commentaries seen over the past 48 hours. The first off the bat was an instant analysis by Nigar Göksel—Turkey senior analyst for the ICG—and longtime Turkey hand Hugh Pope, who, writing in Politico.eu, offered “Five takeaways from the Turkish election.” The lede: “Erdoğan gets a reality check from a nation sick of autocracy.” As for what their five takeaways are, read the piece.

Writing in Prospect magazine, historian David Barchard, who has been living and working in Turkey for decades, asks “Who are the winners and losers in Turkey’s election?” The lede: “Last night’s vote was the biggest success for the left in 35 years.”

The left here is not the CHP but, of course, the HDP of Selahattin Demirtaş, which Istanbul-based novelist and writer Kaya Genç, writing in Prospect two days before the election, opined “could stop Erdoğan [from] seizing even more power” and possibly change Turkey’s political landscape. That would be good.

Michael J. Koplow, of the excellent blog Ottomans and Zionists, has an analysis on the Foreign Affairs website of what he surprisingly calls “Erdoğan’s victory,” in which—raining on the liberal-left’s parade—he explains “Why the election wasn’t a loss for the president and the AKP.” In short, Erdoğan is by no means down and out; his party is still the largest by far and he will continue to concentrate more power in the presidency, whether he can have the constitution changed or not. However knowledgeable about Turkey Koplow may be, I hope he’s wrong.

On the Charlie Rose show, CFR’s Steven Cook, WINEP’s Soner Cagaptay, and New America Foundation visiting fellow Elmira Bayrasli also threw some cold water on those who think the election signals the end the Erdoğan era, affirming that the latter must not be counted out, that he has boundless ambition and will try by hook or by crook to get what he wants in the political system, no matter how hard it may be. Très certainement.

If anyone needs reminding of Erdoğan’s political style, go back and look at this AWAV post from a year ago (and watch the YouTube).

Soner Çağaptay also had an instant analysis on WINEP’s website on “What Turkey’s election results mean.” The lede: “The outcome has dealt a blow to the AKP’s longstanding dominance and Erdogan’s goal of implementing a presidential system, with potential implications for the economy, Syria policy, and the Kurdish movement.”

On Al Jazeera’s Inside Story, Turkish politics specialists Bilal Sambur , Fadi Hakura, and Galip Dalay weighed in on “What’s behind Turkey’s ruling AK party setback?” The 25-minute debate is worth the watch.

The trendy gauchiste webzine Jadaliyya—which has a smart Turkey page—has a worthwhile roundtable of “First thoughts on the elections in Turkey,” with seven mostly Turkish doctoral candidates in sociology and anthropology.

Ahmet Insel, who teaches economics and politics at Galatasaray University, has an op-ed in Le Monde, “Après le revers électoral d’Erdogan, «la Turquie respire!».”

Insel, who published a book last month entitled La Nouvelle Turquie d’Erdoğan: Du rêve démocratique à la dérive autoritaire, gave a lengthy pre-election interview to LePetitJournal.com.

Claire Sadar has a post in her Atatürk’s Republic blog, in which she argues that “Turkish democracy [is] still alive, but still flawed.” In the post, she links to an instant analysis by KIng’s College London Ph.D. candidate Aaron Stein, which she calls “masterful.”

UNC-Chapel Hill prof Zeynep Tufekci has a nice op-ed in today’s NYT on “How hope returned to Turkey,” in which, entre autres, she mentions the importance of the legions of activists who monitored the polling stations on Sunday and oversaw the vote count. À propos, at a conference last year I asked Ahmet Insel about stories of election irregularities in Turkey and the possibility of Erdoğan’s minions trying to rig or fiddle around with future votes. He assured me that such was nigh impossible and then held up his mobile phone; to wit, poll watchers—himself included—would be monitoring vote counts like hawks and then take photos of the procès-verbal in each polling station. Having supervised vote counts in some two dozen elections in France—and these likely unfold in the same manner in Turkey—I knew what he was talking about. It would be impossible to rig an election in France and, in view of Turkey’s history of clean votes—despite the occasional suspicious electrical outage—I am pretty sure it would be most difficult there. And voilà, we have the demonstration in Sunday’s result.

Not that it merits mentioning, but right-wing commentator Daniel Pipes—a main go-to person for Americans of his ideological persuasion seeking to know what to think on the Middle East—had an op-ed in last Friday’s Washington Times on “Turkey’s unimportant election,” which, he asserted, would be “among the least important of Turkey’s elections,” partly because the AKP had “used ballot-box shenanigans and other dirty tricks in the past [and] many indications point[ed] to its preparing to do so again, especially in Kurdish-majority districts.” Since his op-ed, radio silence from Monsieur Pipes (BTW, this is the same Daniel Pipes who went on for some eight years about jihadist “no-go zones” in French cities before understanding that such was a figment of his ideologically-addled imagination).

In her op-ed, Zeynep Tufekci also noted the very high 85% turnout rate in Sunday’s vote. Without that turnout, the HDP would have certainly not crossed the 10% threshold. Note to US Democrats, the UK Labour Party et al: If you want to win elections, you have to turn out your voters (which means, among other things, giving them a reason to vote for you). If voter participation is high, the result will very likely be good for progressives.

À suivre.

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The Armenian genocide


[update below] [2nd update below] [3rd update below] [4th update below] [5th update below]

To mark the centenary of the beginning of the Armenian genocide, I’m linking to two articles—and two only—that I’ve read on the subject of late. One is the remarkable essay in the January 5th issue of The New Yorker by staff writer Raffi Khatchadourian, “A Century of Silence,” in which he writes about the historical memory of the genocide in southeastern Turkey—and how it is being recovered—through the prism of his family’s own history. At 14,000 words the essay requires a certain time commitment but is well worth it.

The other piece, in the April 20th issue of TWS, is by Boston College political science prof Dominic Green, “A great calamity: One century since the Turkish genocide of the Armenians,” in which he reviews “They Can Live in the Desert but Nowhere Else”: A History of the Armenian Genocide, by Ronald Grigor Suny, the Charles Tilly Collegiate Professor of History at the University of Michigan. Green writes

This year is the centenary of the Armenian Genocide; the commemoration falls on April 24. On that day in 1915, the Ottoman government arrested hundreds of prominent Armenians in Istanbul. This April 24, when memorial ceremonies are held in Armenia and in the cities of the Armenian diaspora, the Turkish government will be congratulating itself with diversionary celebrations of the Gallipoli campaign. The centenary has raised the diplomatic temperature and precipitated many books. Ronald Suny’s is the best of them: Balanced, scholarly, and harrowing, it should be read by all serious students of modern history.

I’ll certainly read it à l’occasion.

I should also mention Turkish-German director Fatih Akin’s new feature-length film, ‘The Cut’, which has the Armenian genocide as its focus. Akin is a fine filmmaker, having directed the excellent Head-On and the very good The Edge of Heaven, though his Soul Kitchen wasn’t too memorable IMO. This one is his biggest budget and most ambitious film. It begins in 1915 in Mardin, in southeastern Anatolia—near the present-day Syrian border—where a blacksmith named Nazaret Manoogian, played by the French actor Tahir Rahim, lives a happy life with his wife and daughters, ages 10-12 or thereabouts, when Ottoman soldiers storm Armenian homes in the middle of the night and send their inhabitants packing. Nazaret is separated from his wife and daughters, the latter sent on the death march to the south while he’s impressed into a work gang, all of whose members have their throats summarily slashed when the soldiers are done with them. But Nazaret’s press-ganged Kurdish executioner can’t bring himself to commit the deed, going through the motions and sparing Nazaret’s life, but cutting his vocal cords nonetheless, definitively depriving him of speech. This part of the film, which depicts the genocide as it must have unfolded—with the round-ups, robbing and rape of those on the death march, massacres and mass starvation—is well-done and quite powerful, though one is provided with little information as to why it’s all happening. Turks and Kurds will wince at the way they’re portrayed, even if a small handful are shown to have acted honorably and/or with humanity. Nazaret ends up in Aleppo and, with the war over, learns that his wife had died but the daughters hadn’t, that they’d been married to rich Armenian businessmen living in Cuba. So he sets off on his journey to find them—and this is the rest of the film—taking a boat to Havana, where, communicating via writing and hand gestures, he learned that they had moved on to Minneapolis, Minnesota. So smuggling himself to Florida, he makes his way to the Twin Cities, where he is informed that the daughters are now somewhere in North Dakota. Fucking North Dakota. So that’s where he goes and where his journey ends, some seven years after he was separated from his family. As for whether or not the ending is happy, sorry but no spoilers.

This part of the film doesn’t work. What started out as an epic saga on the Armenian genocide—a subject on which there are precious few cinematic treatments—ended up as a story about a father looking for his lost family—and, with the film’s 2¼-hour running time, a long story indeed. And having the protag lose his voice was an unnecessary contrivance. Technically the film is impressive—it was shot in five countries (Jordan, Malta, Germany, Cuba, and Canada) on three continents—but otherwise it’s a disappointment. A blown opportunity. In the version shown in France the Armenian characters speak Armenian (Rahim and others being dubbed) but I read afterward that they speak English in the main version for the international market. If the one I saw had been this, I’d have given the pic the thumbs down from the get go. Hollywood press critics who saw the film at the Venice festival had the same reaction to it as did I (e.g. here, here, and here). French critics were also on the same wavelength (though Allociné spectateurs were far more positive; for once I go against the vox populi). Armenian trailer w/French s/t is here, English one is here.

UPDATE: Ronald Grigor Suny has an op-ed in the NYT (April 23rd) on “The cost of Turkey’s genocide denial.”

2nd UPDATE: Ronald Grigor Suny has another piece, this an excerpt in TDB (April 24th) from his new book (see above), “Yes, the slaughter of Armenians was genocide.” The lede: “The Turkish government may not want to admit it, but the murder and removal of millions of Armenians was genocide.”

3rd UPDATE: Sabancı University political science professor Ayşe Kadıoğlu has a most interesting essay in OpenDemocracy (April 24th), “Skeletons in the Turkish closet: remembering the Armenian Genocide.” The lede: “Just like the skeletons that were discovered in Diyarbakır in 2012 nearly 100 years after they were buried, Turkey’s past is haunting its future and demanding that we remember the tragic events of the Armenian Genocide.”

4th UPDATE: Le Monde dated April 23rd has an eight-page supplement on the “Génocide des Arméniens,” in which there’s a full-page interview with Boğaziçi University historian Edhem Eldem, who was one of the organizers of the groundbreaking 2005 Istanbul conference on the Armenian genocide, the first ever held in Turkey on the subject. In view of the century-long brainwashing of Turks as to what to happened to the Armenians in the final years of the Ottoman Empire and the hyper-nationalism in Turkey—which is constitutive of the Turkish national identity—he is not optimistic that the Turkish state will recognize the fact of the genocide in the foreseeable future.

5th UPDATE: The website Public Books has a review essay (May 1st) on Ronald Grigor Suny’s book by Christine Philliou, Associate Professor of Ottoman and Modern Turkish History at Columbia University, “The Armenian genocide and the politics of knowledge.”


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Turkey’s new PM


There is much to say about Turkey these days—a country to which I am personally attached (and will be visiting soon for non-touristic reasons)—, particularly its recently elected president—the first-ever by universal suffrage—, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and his plan to modify the constitution so as to transform his office into an elected sultanate. More on that some other time. I just want to link here to a couple of op-eds read over the past two days on RTE’s hand-picked replacement as prime minister, Ahmet Davutoğlu, the erstwhile grand penseur foreign minister of “zero problems with neighbors” fame—and whose doctrine, at the end of his five-year stint as FM, should have probably been renamed “problems with all neighbors”…

The first piece, which appeared in the NYT (August 28th), is by Marmara Üniversitesi international relations prof Behlül Özkan, “Turkey’s imperial fantasy.” Özkan, who was a student of Davutoğlu’s and “has read hundreds of his articles and books,” knows of what he speaks. Money quote

[Davutoğlu] was a distinguished scholar of Islamic and Western political philosophy, and a genial figure who enjoyed spending hours conversing with his students. In his lectures, this professor argued that Turkey would soon emerge as the leader of the Islamic world by taking advantage of its proud heritage and geographical potential… Mr. Davutoglu’s classroom pronouncements often sounded more like fairy tales than political analysis…

The other piece—cross-published on the MEF website (August 28th)—is “Basting Turkey’s new prime minister,” by Daniel Pipes, a MENA specialist whom I normally link to with reticence, as his political world-view is 180° opposed to mine (and he is intolerant of views that differ significantly from his; e.g. several years ago he refused to authorize publication of a comment of mine on one of his blog posts, but which did not contain incendiary language and was in no way insulting; he manifestly did not like the fact that he was being critiqued from the left, c’est tout). But, like the proverbial stopped clock that gives the right time twice a day, he is occasionally worth reading and not off base (e.g. see here and last paragraph here). And Pipes is indeed worth reading here, as he recounts a conversation he had with Davutoğlu in 2005. Pipes concludes

As Turkey’s 26th prime minister, Davutoğlu faces a bubble economy perilously near collapse, a breakdown in the rule of law, a country inflamed by Erdoğan’s divisive rule, a hostile Gülen movement, and a divided AKP, all converging within an increasingly Islamist (and therefore uncivil) country. Moreover, the foreign policy problems that Davutoğlu himself created still continue, especially the ISIS hostage emergency in Mosul.

The unfortunate Davutoğlu brings to mind a cleanup crew arriving at the party at 4 a.m., facing a mess created by now-departed revelers. Happily, the contentious and autocratic Erdoğan no longer holds Turkey’s key governmental position; but his placing the country in the unsteady hands of a loyalist of proven incompetence brings many new concerns for the Turks, their neighbors, and all who wish the country well.

On this specific question at least, Pipes and I are pretty much on the same page.

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Winter Sleep

Kış Uykusu

Saw this masterpiece of a film yesterday, directed by the great Nuri Bilge Ceylan and the well-deserved winner of the Palme d’or at Cannes this year. A 3¼ hour Turkish film d’auteur with not a dull moment. At no point did it drag or tax my patience. Variety critic Justin Chang got it exactly right

Don’t be daunted by the running time: This character study from Turkish master Nuri Bilge Ceylan is a richly engrossing experience.

Nuri Bilge Ceylan is at the peak of his powers with “Winter Sleep,” a richly engrossing and ravishingly beautiful magnum opus that surely qualifies as the least boring 196-minute movie ever made. Following Ceylan’s sublime 2011 drama “Once Upon a Time in Anatolia,” this equally assured but considerably more accessible character study tunnels into the everyday existence of a middle-aged former actor turned comfortably situated hotel owner — and emerges with a multifaceted study of human frailty whose moral implications resonate far beyond its remote Turkish setting. Simultaneously vast and intimate, sprawling and incisive, and talky in the best possible sense, the film will be confined to the ultra-discerning end of the arthouse market thanks to its daunting running time and deceptively snoozy title, but abundant rewards lie in wait for those who seek it out at festivals and beyond.

For the rest of Chang’s review, go here (also see the reviews in Screen Daily and Indiewire; French reviews are naturally tops). As one learns in the closing credits, the film is inspired by “several short stories” by Chekhov (and there’s also some Shakespeare in there). The acting is excellent all around—particularly the protags Haluk Bilginer (Aydın) and the beautiful Melisa Sözen (Nihal)—, the dialogue is intense, and the cinematography spectacular (the film is entirely set in Cappadocia, which is one of the most breathtaking corners of the world I’ve seen). No release date yet for the US but it will make it there. Those who live in France and have the slightest interest in cinema (or Turkey) should see it ASAP. Trailer is here.

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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

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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.

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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?

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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…)

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