Like many longstanding friends of Turkey I have been dismayed by some of the developments in recent months, several of which seem retrogressive rather than progressive. The way the Gezi Park protests were handled by the police and security forces — water cannon to the fore — was cack-handed and the fact that most of the mainstream media in Turkey –not least the TV — ignored them at first was a worrying indication of the way that self-censorship in the country is now rife. Moreover, scores of journalists have found themselves sacked, imprisoned or with the threat of prosecution hanging over them, which has resulted in Turkey now figuring way down the list of states in the world when it comes to freedom of the Press. So it was timely that this evening the Zaman newspaper group organised a meeting on Press Freedom in Turkey in the House of Commons, which I chaired. The parliamentary sponsor was Simon Hughes MP, recently appointed as Justice Minister in the UK’s Coalition Government and therefore in a position to make important representations on an international level, though as I pointed out one of the most disconcerting things about the current situation is the way that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has raised the spectre of foreign plots and conspiracies, which is a narrative that resonates with his supporters when they reject criticisms from abroad. The main speakers at tonight’s meeting were the Turkish journalist and blogger Yavuz Baydar — who was sacked from his position Ombudsman on the newspaper Sabah for political reasons — and William Horsley, formerly Europe Correspondent of the BBC, currently Chairman of the Association of European Journalists (AEJ) UK Section and a key player in freedom of press issues at the Council of Europe and elsewhere. All of us were distinctly downbeat in our analysis of the current situation, which is made more complex by the fact that Mr Erdogan is under heavy scrutiny because of allegations of corruption based largely on recordings which he declares are fakes. There is a common argument that maybe he has suffered from the Ten Year Test (a la Thatcher and Blair), but as I pointed out there will be a real power vacuum in Ankara if he falls or the AKP does really badly in upcoming elections, as no opposition party seems ready and able to seize the moment. I still love Turkey, but I worry increasingly for its short-term future, as the Prime Minister and his administration become more authoritarian and ever more removed from common European values.
Posts Tagged ‘Recep Tayyip Erdogan’
Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 27th February, 2014
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 by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 12th June, 2013
The past fortnight in Turkey has been transformative for many Turks, especially the young, as a protest against plans to redevelop Gezi Park near Istanbul’s Taksim Square turned into a national uprising, with demonstrations in all but four of the nation’s cities. The Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, appears to have taken the protests as a personal affront and he has been caustic in his comments, describing the protesters as looters (“capulcu“) and worse, but those he has abused have embraced the term capulcu in the spirit of sarcasm and festival that has characterised so much of the outdoor activities, especially in Taksim Square — or at least until the police waded in with great brutality and a liberal use of teargas. The young demonstrators (75% of whom are estimated to be under 30) were tonight portrayed by the popular Turkish writer Ece Temelkuran, at a meeting in London’s House of Commons organised by the Centre for Turkey Studies, as frightened, bruised and humiliated, but the contempt with which they have been treated by Mr Erdogan and some of his supporters has only served to impel more people, of diverse backgrounds, into the streets. Ece Temelkuran said most of these people are not overtly political; in fact they are largely of a generation that was deliberately brought up de-politicised by the military governments of the past. Moreover, she asserted, those Western journalists who have tried to simplify what has been going on as a straight confrontation between secularists trying to keep alive the legacy of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk and Islamists backing Erdogan’s AKP have misread the situation. She also rejected the label “Turkish Spring” which some lazy commentators have tried to affix to the disturbances, as if it were all part of a pattern started off in Tunisia in December 2010. As the moderator of this evening’s event said in many ways it is more like May 1968, anarchic in its diversity and absence of leadership or indeed precise goals. For his part, Mr Erdogan this evening has called for a referendum on the fate of Gezi Park, but that is not the central issue, even if it sparked initial protests. And Ece Temelkuran was pessimistic about what may happen over the next 24 hours and beyond. “Before it gets better it’s going to get worse, 100 per cent,” she said.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Centre for Turkey Studies, Ece Temelkuran, Gezi Park, Istanbul, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Taksim Square, Tunisia, Turkish Spring | 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 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 by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 11th January, 2012
When the Centre for Turkey Studies and Development (CTSD) invited two leading journalists/writers from Turkey over to London to speak at a meeting in the House of Commons this evening on the state of the democratisation process in their country, they could little have realised how febrile the atmosphere would be. But the 28 December attack on the Kurdish village of Reboske in south eastern Turkey (little covered by Western media) by an unmanned Turkish airforce drone, which reportedly killed 35 people, has been a devastating blow for peace efforts aimed at ending decades of fighting and human rights abuses relating to Turkey’s so-called Kurdish problem. The writer and poet Bejan Matur this evening at the meeting went so far as to describe this as Turkey’s 9/11 moment, which can only help to radicalise Kurds. She herself said she had orginally thought of the Kurdish struggle in terms of language and other cultural rights, but now realised that it has to be about equality — and that despite certain positive steps taken by the government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan since 2009, Kurds in Turkey are still not viewed or treated as equal by most Turks and usually they can only ‘succeed’ if everyday life and jobs if they agree to accept their ‘Turkishness’. Some of Bejan Matur’s views were echosed by the liberal Turkish journalist Hasan Cemal, best known for his columns in Milliyet, but he stressed that in his view Kurdish rights can now only be furthered if violent action (notably by the mountain-based PKK, which is viewed by the government in Ankara and some Western governments as a terrorist organisation) is terminated definitively. He said that talking to ordinary people in Kurdish-dominated cities like Diyarbakir, he had found they were tired of conflict and sacrifice. But he wasn’t given an entirely easy ride by the largely Kurdish audience at the House of Commons meeting this evening. I suspect Bejan Matur would similarly have had a less comfortable experience in front of a more nationalistic Turkish audience. As so often in conflict situations, many people have become deeply polarised. Bejan famously went up into the mountains to meet the PKK )incoluding a friend) and wrote a book about that experience, which has been selling well. Hasan Cemal also argued that the PKK have to be part of the solution, but he cautioned people with the example of the peace process in Northern Ireland, where it took nearly a decade after the Good Friday Agreement for a deal to be clinched, and even longer to get a full decommissioning of weapons. So although he had been largely optimistic about apeaceful settlement of the issue since 2009, in recrnt weeks he had become pessimistic about any positive outome in the shhort term.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Bejan Matur, Centre for Turkey Studies and Development, Diyarbakir, Good Friday Agreement, Hasan Cemal, Kurds, Milliyet, Northern Ireland, PKK, Reboske, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 13th October, 2011
Below is a summary of speech I gave at the House of Commons, alongside LibDem peer Lord Alderdice and Turkish freelance journalist Firdevs Robinson, at a seminar on Democratisation and Turkey, organised by the Foreign Policy Centre and the Centre for Turkey Studies and Development:
Turkey: A Country of Contradictions
In foreign policy terms, Turkey is the new kid on the block: assertive in its support of the Arab Awakening and determined to be acknowledged as a major regional player. The previous policy of maintaining friendly relations with all its neighbours has been replaced by a more principle-based diplomacy, in which both Israel and Syria have started to feel Ankara’s disapproval.
Domestically, Turkey has been registering economic growth rates of which most European governments can only dream. Infrastructure is being upgraded, new universities are popping up all over the country and the energetic young workforce is gaining new skills, as Turkey wins new markets abroad. So the government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan has much of which it can be proud.
However, there are many contradictions in its policies which are a dampener to enthusiasm among foreign observers. Though recent steps towards recognising the rights and injustices relating to minority communities are welcome, Turkey still has not gone far enough in admitting that it is a multicultural society whose long-term success can only be guaranteed by the recognition, even celebration, of that diversity. Whereas the concept of ‘one country, one people, one language’ served its purpose in the construction of the Turkish Republic, it is now out-dated, even harmful.
Mr Erdogan has made some concessions to Turkey’s Kurdish minority, including granting some linguistic and cultural rights, though much more needs to be done. Moreover, the return to armed conflict is a huge mistake – by both sides in the dispute – as there can never be a military solution to the Kurdish question. That can only come about through dialogue and compromise, in which Abdullah Ocalan must be a participant.
Until the Kurdish issue is settled it is unlikely Turkey could be admitted into full membership of the European Union, to which some European countries (notably Austria, Cyprus, France and Germany) are currently opposed. But that should not stop countries such as Britain that are firmly in favour of Turkey’s eventual membership, arguing the case, so that Turkey one day is embraced into the European family to which it belongs.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 12th June, 2011
Across Turkey voters are going to the polls today — and at the polling stations İ have been visiting in Diyarbakır in the predominantly Kurdish south-east, voting has been brisk. Lots of extra police and security forces have been drafted in, and outside some polling stations there is a heavy police presence. Just the other day the distance at which police must remain from ballot boxes was reduced from 100 metres to 15 metres. The police say this is to protect voters from intimidation, but many Kurds see it as a form of intimidation itself. More irregular practices have been reported from several rural areas in Diyarbakır province, however, as well as pressure being put on Kurdish voters as far away as Bursa. Despite this, the 2011 general electıon in Turkey is being seen as a landmark. Few people doubt that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and hıs AKP wıll be returned with a third successive mandate, which is remarkable enough in itself. But the crunch is what happens afterwards, when there will be an attempt to write a new constitution, which could in principle open the possibility for greater autonomy for Turkish Kurdistan (though many Turks in the rest of the country are hostile to the idea). The main Kurdish party, the BDP, is not officially contesting the election, as under current rules there is a 10% threshold that parties must cross before any of their candidates can be decalred elected. The high level of that threshold is another thing Kurdish MPs are likely to press for in post-election constitution negotiations. Meanwhile, a number of prominent Kurdish political figures are standing as independents and are likely to be returned, including here ın Diyarbakır.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 12th September, 2010
Turkish voters have given decisive backing to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s package of constitutional reforms in today’s referendum, which saw a 78 per cent turnout. By a margin of 58 to 42, voters approved plans to make the military more accountable to civilian courts, to strengthen the powers of parliament, to lift the immunity from prosecution of perpetrators of the 1980 coup d’état and a range of other changes. These are likely to be viewed favourably in Brussels, where Turkey’s application for membership of the European Union is languishing thanks to opposition from a number of countries, including France and Germany. Certainly Prime Minister Erdogan’s status is enhanced by today’s result, increasing the chances that he will try for a third term of office in elections next year. However, his constitutional reforms came under strong criticism from various opposition parties, some of which said they will politicise the judiciary. Kurdish parties largely boycotted the referendum, on the grounds that the changes do not go far enough to address the grievances of the country’s Kurdish minority, many of whom would like to see a wholesale revision of the constitution and re-definition of what it means to be a Turk.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 27th August, 2010
Government officials in Ankara have confirmed that talks have been held with the imprisoned leader of the banned Kurdish PKK military group, Abdullah Ocalan. In fact, according to reports in the Turkish press, such exchanges with the prisoner have been going on secretly for some time. The new openness has come about partly because Mr Ocalan — not for the first time — has called for a ceasefire in the fighting, which has cost thousands of lives directly or indirectly over the past few decades. And he has refused to endorse a boycott of the referendum that will be held next month on a new constitution for the country. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is gambling a great deal by promoting this Constitution, which he hopes will bring Turkey a further step nearer to a European norm, thereby perhaps enhancing Turkey’s chances of EU membership. Predictably, some opposition parties have lambasted him for this and have accused him of trying to woo Kurdiah voters by his more conciliatory approach. Kurds make up about 20 per cent of Turkey’s population, but have long suffered political and cultural oppression. Under the government, significant improvements have been made in Kurdish rights, though there is still a long way to go, as indeed is the case with freedom of expression issues generally in Turkey.