Since the establishment of the Republic of Turkey in 1923, the country has tended to look westwards to Europe. That was certainly the intention of Kemal Ataturk, who believed that Ottoman traditions and Islamic religiosity were impediments to progress. So it was no surprising that Turkey applied to join the European Union; in principle there should not have been any problem, when one considers how far into South Eastern Abd Eastern Europe the Ottomans stretched. Besides, Turkey was an early and valued member of NATO. But the passage to EU membership has not been as smooth. Some current EU member states were worried about Turkey’s relative poverty and large population. The former has been changing fast; the latter continues to increase. But then it became clear that some EU states were reluctant in principle, Germany largely for reasons of labour migration, Austria, more controversially, because Vienna sees the EU as an essentially Christian club. But Turkey continued to adjust its nature to meet EU demands, not just on economic and trade matters but also relating to multi-party democracy, abolition of the death penalty, respect for human rights, etc. So far, so good. But over the past decade, Turks have understandably got fed up of being on the EU’s waiting room and wonder whether it’s all worthwhile. Technically, the government in Ankara still thinks so. But at the same time, under Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s increasingly paternalistic rule, Turkey has started to drift away from a European destiny, apparently feeling more comfortable in a Middle Eastern context. Worryingly, the government has been cracking down on expressions of political dissent and press freedom — both essential elements of the European matrix. As a regular visitor to Turkey, I am aware how the atmosphere is changing, and not necessarily for the better. President Erdoğan is increasingly establishing himself as the moral arbiter of the country, and when I was in Istanbul earlier this week I met several people who are nervous about expressing their views. I cannot escape the impression that Turkey is drifting away not just from the EU, but also from European, liberal and secular values. I find that very sad, but only Turks can realistically do anything about it.
Posts Tagged ‘Turkey’
Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 12th December, 2014
Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 25th November, 2014
I was pleased last night to return from the ALDE Congress in Lisbon in time to attend the launch of Gerald MacLean’s new book, Abdullah Gul and the Making of the New Turkey*, at the Turkish Embassy. A particular draw was the subject himself, who was in London on what he said was his first foreign trip since ending his term as Turkey’s President. Gerald said in his own remarks that the volume is not hagiography, though there was a degree of cooperation with Mr Gul, his wife, friends and family. I shall reserve judgement until I am able to read it. Also present last night was Jack Straw, who said that he and his wife had forged a close friendship with the Guls while he was Foreign Secretary. Mr Straw lamented the fact that Turkey had effectively been kept out of EU membership by the strong opposition from states such as Austria, though many of us who follow Turkish affairs closely feel that in fact Ankara has recently been drifting further away from rather than nearer that objective. Mr Gul himself was in nostalgic mood, recalling his own university studies in Britain (at Exeter University). As he has been Foreign Minister, Prime Minister and President of Turkey I guess the next stage would be some international role. He could of course write his memoirs, but he might feel Gerald MacLean has stolen his thunder on that.
* OneWorld, £35
Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 28th March, 2014
Yesterday I attended a seminar organised by Middle East Monitor on satellite jamming — the how and the why and some thoughts about how to overcome it. The day was particularly focused on Egypt and how both Hosni Mubarak and the current interim regime in Cairo have used jamming (directly or by proxy) to stifle TV channels of which they don’t approve, thereby adding another layer of censorship and the stifling of free expression on top of station closures, the arrest of journalists (such as those from Al Jazeera), and so on. I chaired the afternoon session that looked at issues of International Law, in which the Iraqi President of the Arab Lawyers Association UK, Sabah al-Mukhtar, gave an excellent presentation outlining the challenges involved. In my own remarks I said that maybe Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights needs finessing, as new technologies of which people in 1948 could not even have dreamt have totally changed the nature of media, not least twitter, YouTube,etc (hence the Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s efforts to shut them down). Perhaps what is needed is an elaboration of the concept of free expression to take into account access to information as a fundamental human right. That would give a solid basis on which an area of International Law could evolve; at present, only such precise things as genocide and war crimes can be the basis of international tribunals. Of course International Law develops slowly and different parts of the world have different domestic legal systems, but it should be possible to develop a plausible ad effective framework in which governments or leaders who censor media through deliberate jamming or in other ways could be held accountable.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Egypt, Hosni Mubarak, International Law, Middle East Monitor, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Sabah al-Mukhtar, Turkey, Universal Declaration of Human Rights | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 23rd March, 2014
This afternoon I stood in bright sunshine on a stage in London’s Finsbury Park, speaking to a crowd of several thousand Kurds, to mark the festival of Newroz. In traditional Kurdish villages, people would jump over a fire at Newroz, but as I said in my speech, although there was no fire in front of me I could feel the fire in the people before me. They are right to be proud of their long history, culture and language, and to struggle for greater rights in the Middle East. In recent years I have been to Amed (Diyarbakir) and surrounding districts in predominantly Kurdiah areas of south-eastern Turkey, monitoring elections, though I won’t be able to go to cover the local elections in Turkey next month as I’m staying in London to campaign for the European elections. I said to the crowd it is important that they — if they have British or other European Union passports — vote on 22 May for a party that supports the rights of minority peoples and is committed to Britain remaining in the EU, or otherwise urge their neighbours and friends to do so. Apart from Sarah Ludford MEP (who also has a longstanding interest in Kurdish issues) and myself, on the LibDem list for London we also have a Turkish Kurd, Turhan Ozen. The situation in Turkey is frustrating in that Recep Tayyip Erdogan made some significant moves towards recognising Kurdish rights but like so much of his policy, this has often been a situation of one step forward, one step back. In Syrian Rojava the situation is critical for many Kurds and in Iran several Kurdish leaders have recently been executed or harassed. Only in the Kurdish region of Iraq (KRG) — which I visited this time last year — is the situation markedly better. So Kurds have a lot to struggle for. But as I concluded in my short speech, today is a day for celebration. Newroz Piroj Be!
Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 20th March, 2014
This evening the Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan closed down twitter in his country, having previously warned he might do so. As a longstanding friend of Turkey I tear my hair out. There’s a saying in Britain that politicians go off the boil after 10 years (think Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair) and Erdogan has gone off big time. When he was first elected he and his moderately Islamist AKP seemed destined to lead Turkey through to a bright new future, unworried by the sort of military coups that have peppered the country’s political history. And indeed the government pushed through many remarkable achievements in infrastructure and economic development (sometimes without taking the environment into due consideration). Huge swaths of the economy were privatised and per capita GDP levels rose at a rate that suggested Turkey might indeed be capable of meeting the criteria to join the European Union in the foreseeable future. Sure, there were some warning signs, such as the on/off nature of the PM’s reaching out to the Kurds — one step forward, one step back. And while some people in the media might have been involved at some stage in some shady business did not justify a situation in which there are more journalists in prison in Turkey than in any country in the world. Then with the Gezi Park protests last year the wheels really started to come off the AKP bandwagon. What started as a grassroots campaign to preserve one of the few remaining green spaces in central Istanbul quickly turned into something much broader — not least when the police and security forces cracked down brutally. The protests have not completely gone away, but Erdogan meanwhile has been inflating conspiracy theories: declaring that outside forces (including the foreign media) have been fomenting dissent and that certain groups, including his erstwhile ally, the Gulen Movement, are out to bring him down. Thus the banning of twitter — which had become for him an agent of the great conspiracy — had to be silenced, despite the fact that it has been one of the most faithful, consistent and up-to-the-minute channels for ordinary Turks to voice their opinion. Like an ancient Roman Emperor, Erdogan has chosen to kill the messenger, rather than listen to the message. Will the voters forgive him when the local elections come round shortly? He certainly still has a formidable body ofsupport, especially in conservative rural areas, though nowhere near the approximately 50% he garnered for his third general election win. No, this silencing of twitter smacks of the acts of a desperate man who has lost touch with reality. His days must surely be numbered, but don’t ask me to guess how many.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 27th February, 2014
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.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 14th February, 2014
Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 30th August, 2013
The Government’s defeat last night over its motion on intervention in Syria was always on the cards given the deep divisions of opinion within all three main parties. It was interesting that some of the strongest speeches against going down a road that could lead to UK military strikes came from Tory rebels. Clearly memories of the way that the House was lied to over Iraq 10 years ago played its part, but there was also a realisation that a sizable majority of the British electorate is against going to war. At one level I am pleased about that; as a Quaker, that is hardly surprising. But I am anxious that we should not throw the Syria baby out with the bathwater. Last night’s Commons vote should not be an end to the affair. Assad supporters in Homs were out in their cars honking their horns in victory once they heard about the UK vote, but now it is important that Britain and other Security Council members work hard to get a negotiated end to the bloodshed in Syria. That means getting both Russia and Iran on board. I have no illusions about how difficult that may be, but that is not a reason not to try. The killing and destruction and dispossession have got to stop and in the meantime the UK and other countries that were braced to go to war should spend some of the resources they would have devoted to that on humanitarian assistance instead. Syria’s neighbours Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Turkey are all struggling under the weight of the refugee influx and deserve support. The Arab League, which has never really lived up to its potential, should also now step up to the plate and take a leading role in promoting a diplomatic solution. The blatant truth is that on progress so far, the armed rebels in Syria are never going to win militarily and frankly the country would probably descend into anarchy if they did. The military benefits of any external strike were always doubtful too. But to reiterate, just because the House of Commons has given the thumbs down to a course of action which could have led to war must not mean that we just turn our backs on Syria’s agony and walk away.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 27th August, 2013
Britain’s armed forces are preparing themselves for an armed strike against Syria, following the recent use of chemical weapons inside the country, probably by the Assad regime’s forces. As I said in a live interview on the al-Etejah (Iraqi Arab) TV channel last night, the justification for the UK, US, France and maybe Germany taking such a step, along with sympathetic Middle Eastern countries including Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, without UN approval, would be the relatively new concept within International Law, the Responsibility to Protect (R2P), about which I have written extensively. This asserts that if a government is unable or unwilling to protect its own people, then the international community has a responsibility to intervene on humanitarian grounds, providing there are reasonable prospects of success. Of course it would be preferable if the UN Security Council backed such a move, but that is currently impossible given the fact that Russia and to a lesser extent China are standing behind Bashar al-Assad — though in China’s case this is mainly because of its strong belief in the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of a sovereign state. The humanitarian need in Syria is self-evident. More than 110,000 Syrians have been killed, a high proportion of them civilians. There are now between four and five million Syrian refugees and whole swaths of cities such as Aleppo and Homs are a wasteland. Yet still Assad and his thugs continue to try to pound the people into submission. The situation is complicated by the fact that this is not a fight between good and evil, however. Evil the Assad regime certainly is — and has been for over 40 years — but the disparate rebel forces contain some pretty unpleasant characters and radical groups that seek to impose an alien, fundamentalist creed that is alien to the modern Syrian secular society. But things have now reached a stage at which the world cannot just sit by and watch a people and a country be annihilated. The problem is what exactly should be done, now that what President Obama described as the “red line” of chemical weapon use has been crossed? The imposition of a no fly zone is one obvious option, or carefully targeted use of cruise missiles against the regime’s military installations. But there is no guarantee of effectiveness. What certainly needs to be avoided is sending foreign — and especially Western — troops on the ground, which would not only lead to heavy casualties but also risks turning some of the anti-Assad population against the intervention. Russia meanwhile has warned the West against intervention. But I think the momentum now is unstoppable. Unless the Assad clique stands aside — which it has shown no willingness to do — Syria is going to be the latest in a string of Middle Eastern/North African Wars. And the poor United Nations will look even more impotent and marginalised than ever.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Bashar Al-Assad, France, Germany, President Obama, Qatar, R2P, Responsibility to Protect, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkey, UK, United Nations, United Nations Security Council, US | 6 Comments »
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.