Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 15th June, 2013
Watching events in and around Istanbul’s Taksim Square over the past few days, as well as in Ankara and some other Turkish cities, has been like seeing a slow-motion car-crash without being able to do anything about it other than shout a warning. And, alas, the driver — Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan — has not been listening. What started out as a predominantly good-natured environmental protest against plans to redevelop Gezi Park turned into a much wider challenge to Mr Erdogan’s increasingly autocratic style in the wake of high-handed police activity. Police and army brutality is nothing new in Turkey but one of the undoubted achievements of the AK Party’s 10 years in power had been a rejection of the State’s right to trample on people’s freedoms at will — or so the outside world was given to believe. Actually, those of us who covered trials of writers and journalists, or who watched the way Kurdish activists — including some members of parliament — were treated realised that the situation was not that clear-cut. It is true that Mr Erdogan has overseen an extraordinary period of growth in the Turkish economy, the stabilisation of the currency and the recognition of Turkey’s significance as an inspiration, if not quite a model, in the MENA region. That makes it all the more tragic that he has thrown away so much of the genuine international goodwill by ordering a crackdown by the security forces on demonstrators. These he has portrayed as “looters” and worse, despite the fact that the crowds in Taksim Square, in particular, were extremely heterodox, as not just leftists and trade unionists but ordinary citizens with no fixed political affiliation felt motivated to get out on the streets and to stand up for their freedoms. The Prime Minster obviously feels he has to show himself to be a man of steel, but that does not go down so well in 2013 as it often did in the past. I suspect the current move against the people in and around Taksim Square was deliberately planned for a weekend, when most of the world’s parliaments are not sitting and the leaders of the top Western industrialised nations are deep in discussion about the global economy at the G8 Summit in Northern Ireland. But I would wager that Mr Erdogan has miscalculated in this, just as he has made a seriously wrong move on the ground. The world will notice and decry what is happening — as will a significant proportion of the Turkish population.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: AKP, Ankara, G8, Gezi Park, Istanbul, MENA, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Taksim Square, Turkey | 2 Comments »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 11th January, 2013
Ever since the revolutionary train swept across North Africa and the Middle East (MENA) pundits have been asking whether Turkey could offer a model for post-Revolution Arab states to follow, so maybe it was not so surprising that the Turkish Review (for which I occasionally write) should highlight the issue at its UK launch at the House of Lords earlier today. Three very diverse speakers were on the panel (chaired by the LibDem peer and former President of Liberal International, John Alderdice): the journalist Kerim Balci, the young Oxford academic and political writer Miriam Francois-Cerrah and Gulnur Aybet, who teaches at the University of Kent, as well as in Turkey and the United States. Each put a totally different slant on the subject, Kerim Balci claiming (with some justification) that the so-called Arab Spring actually started earlier than in Tunisia in December 2010, in Kyrgyzstan, and that it is mirrored in various parts of Central Asia, China and India. What we are dealing with has a universal dimension, he argued. Miriam Francois-Cerrah declared that the majority of Arabs do see Turkey as a role-model, largely because it is a secular state that has nonetheless accommodated a variety of parties, including the AKP, with its Islamic origins. Gulnur Aybet emphasized that Turkey is seen by the West as a strategic partner in dealing with the MENA region, which maybe leads to a certain degreee of wishful thinking as to how much of a model it can be. More a source of inspiration, stated Miriam Francois-Cerrah, echoing a line I have often taken. But in the meantime Turkey has itself all sorts of internal contradictions to overcome; Gulnur Aybet deplored the growing polarisation she has noticed. Certainly Turkey has an enviable economic growth rate and has many things going for it, but it is by no means a perfect state that others might necessarily try to emulate.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: AKP, Arab Awakening, Arab Spring, China, Gulnur Aybet, India, John Alderdice, Kerim Balci, Kyrgyzstan, MENA, Miriam Francois-Cerrah, Tunisia, Turkey, Turkish Review | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 2nd December, 2012
One of the most striking developments of the past decade has been the rise of Turkey, not only as a regional power but increasingly as a global player. The AKP government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has stated that it wants to see the Republic amongst the top 10 world economies by 2023 — the centenary of its foundation. This is no idle boast, as Turkey enjoys growth rates that European states can only envy. On the diplomatic front, Ankara has seized the opportunities offered by the Arab Awakenng to recalibrate and extend its relations in the eastern and southern Mediterranean. Of course the goal of EU membership remains elusive, though officially Turkey still wishes to accede, even if many Turkish voters have become disenchanted with the idea. All these issues were discussed earlier this week at a seminar organised by the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), moderated by Jonathan Eyal, at which Omer Celik, the AKP’s Vice-Chairman with responsibility for Foreign Relations, and Ibrahim Kalin, Senior Advisor to Prime Minister Erdogan, spoke. Omer Celik pointed out that before the AKP won its first landslide election victory in 2002 the economy in Turkey had collapsed and inflation was rampant. There was no effective foreign policy. Some in Turkey have described what then happened as a Silent Revolution as the country was turned around. Ibrahim Kalin stressed how the rise of a comopolitan world has offered new challenges, not least to th eurocentrism of recent centuries. He thought the evolving relationship between Turkey, the new government in Egypt and the rest of the Middle East coul be a crucial turning point. Mr Celik said that Mr Erodgan has lobbied Bashar al-Assad to help Kurds in Syria gain equal rights, though this rather begs the enormous question of why no workable settlement with Turjkey’s own Kurds has yet been achieved.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: AKP, Bashar Al-Assad, Ibrahim Kalin, Jonathan Eyal, Kurds, Omer Celik, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, RUSI, Syria, Turkey | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 6th May, 2012
İt was odd to go straight from the London elections to an academic conference on multiculturalism in İstanbul, organised by the İslington-based Dialogue Society, but at least London was the subject of the paper İ presented at it at Fatih University. The precise topic was ‘How successful a multicultural model is London?’ I showed how London had developed its multicultural nature empirically through immigratıon over the centuries from the Empire, as well as through refugees from central and eastern Europe and more recently migrants from the New Commonwealth and other EU member states. But London’s multiculturalism is normative as well, in the sense that successive governments — at national, regional and local level — since the 1980s have stressed the need to celebrate diversity as well as extending service provision to take into account the diverse population. That remains true despite comments by Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron in Germany last year, subsequently contradicted by his Liberal Democrat Deputy Nick Clegg. İn my paper, İ judged that London has become a successful example of multiculturalism, though whether it can be a model for others is maybe a different matter. To an extent London is sui generis, not least because it is now an indisputably global city, whose inhabitants can see themselves as not only living in the UK but also as being global citizens. Therein lies much of the city’s economic and financial success. But which other cities in the world might emulate that? New York, possibly, and, interestingly, İstanbul. During Ottoman times, İstanbul was the captital of a multicultural empire embracing many peoples, religions and languages. Everything changed after the dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire and the establishment of a new Turkish Republic with its capital ın Ankara and a state-driven policy (in the interest of nation-buıldıng) of One Country, One People, One Language. But despite the departure of signifıcant numbers of Turkey’s minority inhabitants — not least the Greeks — Turkey is still de facto multicultural. The question now is whether the AKP government headed by Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has the courage and the confıdence to not just acknowledge this but follow through the consequences. İstanbul meanwhile has become empirically more multicultural, with many foreigners, including Arabs – as well as a huge number of Kurds from Anatolia – setting up homes here. So maybe indeed it can aspire to being a multicultural global city, as well as Turkey’s largest urban centre. The benefits would be considerable.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: AKP, Dialogue Society, Fatih University, Istanbul, Kurds, London. multiculturalism, Ottoman Empire, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey | 2 Comments »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 4th October, 2009
Yesterday, here in Ankara, at the Congress of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) Prıme Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan waxed quite poetic about his road map to solve the country’s troublesome Kurdish question, without actually revealing what is in it. He said he was taking a risk and to an extent indeed he is; there are plenty of Kemalist nationalists who still argue that Turkey is one people with one language, blithely ignoring the fact that up to a quarter of the population are ethnic Kurds, not to mention the Armenians, Assyrians, Arabs and various others. Multiculturalism may now be the accepted wisdom in most of Europe, but for most Turks it is seen as an alien ideology. Any change is going to need quite an educational element. Many friends of Turkey now hope the country is indeed on the road to not only a recognition of pluralism but also genuine equality of citizenship for all the country’s inhabitants.
Today, also in Ankara, the Democratic Society Party (DTP) held an extraordinary Congress, largely to elect new people to its governing Council as 55 of the 80 present Council members are in prison, along with several hundred other party activists. Quite how the government reconciles its ‘democratic opening’ to the Kurds with ongoıng harassment of the DTP ıs beyond me. Steps are afoot in the courts to try to ban the DTP completely (as happened to several predecessor Kurdish parties). Despite this, speakers at the DTP Congress today, including co-President Ahmet Türk, spoke of their desire to engage with the new political process in Turkey, arguing the case for genuine multiculturalism, of which the Kurds would not be the only beneficiaries.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Ahmet Türk, AKP, Democratic Society Party, DTP, Justice and Development Party, Kurds, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 30th March, 2009
I spent the weekend in Diyarbakir, in south-eastern Anatolia, monitoring the local elections. Turkey’s ruling AKP had hoped to make inroads into the Kurdish homelands, but in this they were largely disappointed. In Diyarbakir, a historic walled city that has seen more than its fair share of civil unrest and repression over the years, everyone assumed that the DTP — one of the few legal Kurdish political parties still operating – would win. The question was by what margin. There was quite a festive atmosphere at many of the polling stations (all of which were in schools) on polling day on Sunday, as people queued to vote, chatted to neighbours and then hung around outside for a good gossip. There was minimal police presence at the polling stations in the city, but in outlying areas there were reports of their intimidating presence and, more commonly, angry disputes between rival candidates for village chiefs and their families.
Polling was from 7am to 4pm (by noon at one village I went to, 95% of people on the electoral roll had already voted!), so results started to trickle in after 6pm. As the evenig went on, the city went crazy; thousands of supporters sang and danced outside the DTP headquarters and motor vehicles cruised the streets blaring their horns in celebration of the party’s 70% share of the vote. The atmosphere was like a world cup victory parade! The Kurdish question has by no means disppeared from Turkey’s political scene, despite some beneficial reforms and easing of some restrictions on the Kurds’ cultural rights by the government in Ankara. And for many of the people who turned out in their droves to vote in Diyarbakir and other predominantly Kurdish towns and cities, the election was all about their identity.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: AKP, Diyarbakir, DTP, Kurds, Turkey | 2 Comments »