Speaking in London

I’ll be giving a talk in London at the House of Commons on February 4, 7:30 pm, in case you’re in town. Here’s the link.

Back in Stockholm


Photo by Mats Lindberg

Turkey’s Face of Courage

One of Turkey’s most courageous and remarkable people, Member of Parliament Safak Pavey speaks in this video about her accident and her life, as well as her observations about life for the disabled in Turkey and elsewhere. She is addressing surgeons at Johns Hopkins University as the 2014 MacFarland Lecturer. A moving and inspiring talk, masterful in its presentation. You can’t turn away. You shouldn’t turn away. Listen to her here. (http://vimeo.com/83889418)

Rats in the Corn Silo

Events are coming down the pike, fast and furious, hot and heavy. (I’ll start the new year with overblown prose.) Erdogan has made accusations that a cabal within the state (a new ‘deep state’) is trying to bring down his government in a coup attempt. Foreign powers are behind this. (Any of this sound familiar?) Gezi was one such coup attempt, the corruption arrests of family members of AKP elites is another.

The blowback is interesting: AKP’s criticism of prosecutors and police in the corruption case and PM Erdogan’s accusations that a foreign-led coup-cabal has nested itself inside state institutions has given the Turkish military an opening and on December 27, it filed a complaint, asking the state prosecutor to investigate the trials of hundreds of officers who had been convicted under the Ergenekon and related ‘coup’ trials. The military argues that the convictions were based on fabricated evidence and accused security officials, judges and prosecutors of ignoring and manipulating material that might have cleared the defendants.

The a la Turka twist is that this path appears to have been paved by the AKP which now finds itself in need of a powerful protector. So it is doing deep discourse voodoo to raise the military back to life (under it’s control, it hopes). On December 24, an advisor to PM Erdogan, Yalcin Akdogan, wrote in the pro-AKP newspaper Star that the country’s military, like the government, may have fallen to a plot. Yes, the plotters have been plotted against. Like many political statements, this is half truth, half mythical creature. I have no doubt that the army was plotting against the AKP. I also have no doubt, having seen and read about the evidence submitted, that some or much of it was fabricated and manipulated. But is the Gulen movement (and its American backers) the ‘new’ ‘deep state’ plotting against BOTH the military and the government? If I twist my neck that far to follow the logic, it might snap. The gist of the AKP message is that “It wasn’t me, Mr. Military, who put you in prison. It was those rats in the corn silo. We’re your friends. The rats are after us too. Help us!”

If I tried to write a novel with such hair-raising plot twists, it would either be a total flop because it’s so beyond belief or a movie hit along the lines of “The Mummy Returns”.

Dog Fight

The present political situation in Turkey reminds me of a vicious, no-holds-barred dog fight, teeth and claws aiming for the opponent’s most vulnerable spots (ministers’ sons arrested for corruption, shoeboxes full of millions of dollars found stashed under a bed; the arresters are themselves arrested or removed from office; AKP ministers forced to resign, one claiming on TV that since PM Erdogan approved all this, he should resign too; theories thrown out by AKP and its media that the Gulen Movement is behind this, followed by Erdogan and Gulen taking their gloves off and cursing each other; other theories that evil ‘foreigners’ are behind it; Erdogan calling criticism of him “treason”….) I won’t repeat the details of current events as the news has been full of them.  I do, however, recommend an OpEd by Andrew Finkel here.

Oh and let me not forget to list the offensive billboards put up by the Islamist right (in this case, Erbakan’s otherwise unsuccessful crew) that show a leering Santa with a Semitic nose and the caption that “Christmas is a coup to overthrow our Muslimhood” and another showing a bearded Islamist punching Santa in the nose. They also held a demonstration where they “circumcised” a Santa.

Many familiar tropes, phrases, and accusations that I’m sure many people had hoped that Turkey had left in the past. It’s a haunting — nasty ghosts of regimes and eras past rising to scare the willies out of the present.




The Moral Physics of Gezi Eggs And AKP Fruit

In a piece for BBC Turkce, journalist Sinan Onus went to Ankara’s Akdere neighborhood, a stronghold of AKP votes, and asked its Anatolian migrant residents what they thought of the corruption charges against AKP ministers and whether their attitude towards the party had changed. The answers were mixed, but one grocer’s metaphor struck me. He said, well, it’s a big party, so it’s not surprising that there will be some “waste”. “When you shop at the market often you’ll find in a couple of kilos of fruit a few rotten ones.”

Hmmm. Compare that to the small tradesman in Istanbul who said this about the harsh treatment of the Gezi protesters: “If you have fifty eggs and you find that several are rotten, what are you supposed to do with the rest? You smash them too.” His view was that the protesters were hooligans who caused damage. This was his response when I suggested that the people causing damage were only a small number compared to the other peaceful protesters on the street. 

A different set of standards for AKP and Gezi behavior?

Ruled Not By Law, But Judicial Whim

AKP touts Turkey as a law and order state. Lately, it’s been more concerned with imposing a certain kind of autocratic order. It has cracked down on critics and anyone stepping out of line of a narrowly defined set of conservative norms, arresting people left and right not on the basis of evidence, but rumor and denouncement, and sending police to harass people (eg students living off campus) about behavior that is not illegal, but disliked by the prudish, thin-skinned government. This free manipulation and massage of the law to fit personal and community whims gives license to judges and prosecutors to do the same. So no matter that laws regarding crimes against women and children have in recent years been improved, their implementation remains in the hands of officials who do not care what is in their law books, but only what is in their “hearts”.

Here is only the latest example (the category “women” on this blog is a repository for many more examples). A panel of judges in an Ankara court has released seven of 10 rapists pending trial because the two girls, aged 12 and 14,  they allegedly raped multiple times, in the judges’ words, looked older. One of the girls “looked like she had reached puberty”. And the expert psychologist at the trial decided that the girl exhibited “manipulative behavior.” And anyway, the defendants said the girls were “willing” and had lied about their ages.

Um, what is in the law books? A 12- or 14-year old girl cannot by law be “willing” to engage in sex. Her appearance and personality are irrelevant. When will the old “she asked for it” excuse be kicked out of court as mitigation for what is a violent crime against the body of a child? A law and order state bases order on law. It doesn’t base its law on the whims of communal prejudice.


Where Are The Women?

A quick post before my laptop runs out of juice. My power cord just died and it will be a couple of days before I can replace it since I’m in transit.

I wanted to draw your attention to an article by David Lepeska in AlMonitor that gives some numbers for the participation of women in the Turkish political system at all levels. They are taken from a recent report by the Directorate General of Local Administrations, based on 2012 Interior Ministry statistics. It is scandalously low, sometimes approaching zero:

Out of the 2,950 incumbent mayors in Turkey, 2,923 are men and only 27 are women. This corresponds to rates of 99.08% and 0.92%, respectively.

Out of the 31,790 municipal assembly members, 1,340 are women, which means that 95.78% of the seats are held by men and 4.22% by women.

3,379 people are involved in local politics as members of provincial general assemblies. Men hold 3,269 of the seats, corresponding to 96.74% of the total, while women hold 110 seats, accounting for only 3.26%.

There are 34, 275 village muhtars  in Turkey. 34,210 of them are men. That is 99.81%, meaning that the proportion of women is close to zero. There are only 65 female village muhtars (0.19%).

On the village aldermen councils, 137,848 men and only 329 women are members (99.76% and 0.24%, respectively).

Neighborhood mukhtars comprise 18,178 men and 429 women (97.69% and 2.31%, respectively).

In the neighborhood aldermen councils attached to the mukhtar offices, men hold 71,174 seats, women 1,409 (98.06% and 1.94%, respectively).

298,052 men are involved in local politics as opposed to only 3,709 women (98.77% and 1.23%).

Where are the women, Lepeska asks.


Defining Hate Crimes and Other Goodies in the Democracy Gift Box

This post was updated.

The democracy package put forward in December was finally submitted to parliament yesterday. I wrote about the expected contents here. Here is some of the language in its final form, taken from Hurriyet‘s translation (I wasn’t able to locate the original text):

Hate crime:

“A person who bars the selling, handing over or renting movable goods or real property to a person; who prevents a person from using of certain service offered to the public; who bars employment; and who prevents a person from running a regular economic activity, because of hatred stemming from the difference of language, race, nationality, color, gender, disability, political views, philosophical belief, religion or sect, will be sentenced to prison for a period of one to three years.”

The Turkish terms are: dil, ırk, milliyet, renk, cinsiyet, engellilik, siyasi düşünce, felsefi inanç, din veya mezhep

Hurriyet points out that this definition does not include crimes against people because of their ethnic identity or sexual orientation. Sexual orientation was missing in the original draft, but ‘ethnicity’ seems to have been replaced by “language, race, nationality”, which could include some ethnic others, but has no place for people who are culturally different, like the Roma, but who speak Turkish and are citizens. Would the charge of killing a Roma in a hate crime involve proving to the court that the Roma are a different “race”?

The definition of ethnicity in the democracy package is based on a very Kemalist notion of identity in which Turkishness involves language, blood/soy, and nationality. “Ethnicity” for a long time was a dirty word used for those trying to “undermine national unity” through separatist activities. This view is slowly changing and setting it in concrete now in new legal forms is short-sighted and opens potentially damaging problems down the road.

Other aspects of the package are as predicted:

- Political parties and candidates will be able to campaign in any language or dialect.

-Bans are lifted on Kurdish names for places of settlement, allowing those that had been forcibly Turkified to be changed back.

- Parties will be able to have two co-leaders.

- Political parties that receive more than 3 percent of the vote in a general parliamentary election will receive treasury funds of no less than 1 million Turkish Liras. Eg, the Kurdish BDP will be funded.

- From one to three years imprisonment for 1) preventing by force or by another illegal act the freedom to express religious beliefs, opinions and convictions, and 2)  intervening in a person’s choices about lifestyle based on his belief, opinion or convictions and forcing that person to change their choices. 

The devil is in the details, of course. In the slippery definitions of any of these terms and in implementation.

Update: In an essay on T24, Yasemin Inceoglu analyzes (in Turkish) the hate crime component of the democracy package and concludes that the law will not address “hate crimes”, but rather separatism (as I suggested above). She points to the emphasis in the law on economic effects (not selling to or employing someone, for instance) and the absence of mention of violent attacks on people as “hate crimes”. The original proposal months ago, supported by civil society groups, contained mention of ethnicity, sexual orientation, and gender identity, whereas in the version submitted to parliament, these are now gone. In other words, not all groups in society are equal under this law. Inceoglu concludes that the law’s use of “hate crime” is an excuse to actually curtail freedoms.

Turkey at a Tipping Point

If you happen to be in Sweden, I’m giving a talk at Stockholm University on Monday at 1pm, “Turkey at a Tipping Point”. Click here for details.