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 ‘Turkey’
Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 27th February, 2014
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.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 10th June, 2013
The European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and its associated Court in Strasbourg is a favourite Aunt Sally of right-wing Conservative MPs and Britain’s tabloid Press (which these days, alas, includes the broadsheet Daily Telegraph), but unjustly so. The Convention on the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, as it is more formally known, has since its drafting in 1950 and later adoption by the Council or Europe done a huge amount of useful work in promoting the Rule of Law throughout Europe (including Eastern Europe, Russia and Turkey; only the dictatorship of Belarus is outside the fold), as well as providing individuals who feel their rights have been violated by their own State to seek redress. Despite the fact that the Court is a separate institution from the European Union it still gets tarred with the Brussels brush by virulent Europhobes, who seem to believe that the United Kingdom has completely abandoned its national sovereignty to foreigners — not that many of these anti-Europeans seem particularly worried about the fact that US influence is far more marked in various aspects of British public and foreign policy, not to mention our culture. Two things have been like juicy bones to these frothing xenophobic hounds. First, the Court’s ruling that it was wrong for the UK to deprive all prisoners of their rights to vote, no matter how short their sentence or trivial their offence. Theresa May could easily have got round that issue by accepting that prisoners with a sentence of less than six months should still retain their vote, but others not — a compromise that would have satisfied Strasbourg. The other even more famous ECHR “outrage”, of course, relates to the prolonged delay in the expulsion of the vile Islamist extremist Abu Qatada because there has not been up till now a credible assurance from his home country, Jordan, that evidence that might be used against him in any trial in Amman would not have been obtained by torture. Now I, like almost everyone in this country, long to see the back of Abu Qatada, who has milked the system here, including claiming benefits. But we should not throw the baby out with the bathwater by saying, oh well, as he is so wicked it does not matter if witnesses against him have been tortured. When we accept that, then we surrender our commitment to human rights (as the last Labour government alas did, with respect to extraordinary rendition). Moreover, it is utter nonsense for Theresa May to float the idea — seized on by relish by some of her backbench MPs and the right-wing Press — that Britain could temporarily withdraw from ECHR so it can expel Abu Qatada, then reapply once he is out of the way. Anyone who knows anything about International Law and diplomacy knows that is shamelessly playing to the gallery while undermining the very foundations of our credibility as a nation. What is really lacking, I believe, is a concerted campaign in Britain to champion what the ECHR actually achieves, in which politicians, NGOs and the enlightened media should participate. It is not just the future of our involvement with the Strasbourg Court that is at stake but our values as well.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 10th March, 2013
International Women’s Day fell during the Liberal Democrats Brighton Conference and among several events pegged to the occasion was a fringe meeting with the Turkish writer Elif Safak, which was put on by Liberal Democrat Friends of Turkey. Elif won many friends among London Liberal Democrats when she spoke at our autumn conference in Croydon in October, when she read from her latest novel. This time, she spoke of the two women who had made a big impression on her in her childhood: her mother, a Westernised, free-thinking woman who went on to do university studies; and the grandmother who subsequently raised Elif — a much more conservative, irrational, superstitious woman. In a sense the two personified different aspects of Turkey, an immensely complex and changing society. In principle the theme of the Brighton Conference fringe meeting was women and post-feminism in the Muslim world, which is a subject that fell within Elif’s own postgraduate studies, as well as the sort of thing I teach at SOAS in the summer term. But as usual with her much of what she talked abut was autobiographical, weaving into the story both considerations of the multilayered aspects of self as well as elements of Turkey’s Ottoman past, in which there was far greater diversity than is acknowledged today and there was an indigenous women’s movement. We should also not forget that Turkey gave women the right to vote before France did, for example. And women fill high positions in all sorts of sectors in the labour force. And yet much of Turkish society, whether ethnic Turk, Kurdish or Armenian, remains patriarchal and there are still occasional so-called honour killings, often involving brothers killing sisters who have formed a romantic relationship with someone deemed unsuitable or, worse still,who have lost their virginity. Such contradictions in a country that has an enviable growth rate and is making its mark in the modern world are part of Turkey’s fascination, of course, and will provide Elif with many more themes for her novels. Liberal Democrat Friends of Turkey, meanwhile, is playing a crucial role in reaching out to the extensive Turkish, Kurdish and Turkish Cypriot community in Britain, much of that based in London.
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 Friday, 11th January, 2013
While far too many people in Britain are pondering the question “Should the UK leave the EU?”, our continental neighbours are more concerned with debating the issue of how the European Union should now evolve. Evolve it must, as the prolonged crisis in the eurozone has highlighted that the current methods of governance are no longer fit for purpose. Probably they never were. Instead, there will have to be a form of fiscal and banking union, though that is something Britain is likely to remain detached from for the forseeable future. Last night, at a Federal Trust seminar at Europe House in Westminster, arch-federalist and LibDem MEP for the East of England, Andrew Duff, set out his vision for the future, arguing that the EU’s treaties need to be revised as soon as possible, as the Lisbon Treaty is being stretched to breaking point by the current crisis. He predicted that there will be a Convention kicking off the new treaty process in the Spring of 2015 (once the European elections are out of the way and a new Commission is in place). It falls to the federalist movement to draft a new constitutional treaty for a federalist EU, Andrew said — and of course he would normally be part of that, having been intimately involved in preparations for the last draft Constitution, which had to be dropped because of public opposition in several member states.
Andrew also once more floated the idea that in future there will need to be a group of MEPs in the European Parliament who are elected from transnational lists. And more controversially, he developed his concept of associate membership of the EU, describing four possible categories: (1) Norway and Switzerland, (2) Serbia and other aspirant member states which still have a lot of changes to make domestically, (3) Turkey, and (4) the UK and any other member state which feels it does not wish to be part of a federal union. This all led to a lively debate; as ever Andrew was thought-provoking and the discussion was far more intelligent than what one hears in the House of Commons or reads in most of the British Press.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 8th January, 2013
The Evening Standard’s freelance art critic, Brian Sewell, has established himself as something of a national treasure, even if some of his colleagues in the art world have a tendency to kick him in the shins. He is often acerbic, indeed can be curmudgeonly, and is widely believed to be fonder of dogs than of humans. That not withstanding, he has had an eclectic cricle of professional acquaintances and friends; though I have never met him, I used to hear about him from his close pal the Kensington Liberal, Colin Darracott, before the latter moved down to Bath. I have entered Sewell’s world backwards, so to speak, by reading the second volume of his memoirs, Outsider II*, before acquiring the first, so have savoured the flavours of an octogenarian looking back on the second part of his life, when his work as an art dealer and expert consultant was largely replaced by his activities as a critic — an ucompomising one, which is why his long essays in the Standard are often such fun, as well as informative. I don’t always agree with his critical judgments, but then why should I necessarily? What he has to say about painters is always worthwhile reading, and in this book one has the added delights of artistic gossip, from his appropriately surreal encounters with Salvador Dali in Spain to his loyal friendship with Anthony Blunt in London and his love-hate relationship with his live-in mother in her final decrepitude. As those who have read extracts of either volume of his memoirs will already know there is plenty of graphic descripion of casual homosexual encounters, from the old guards barracks at Hyde Park to the village boys of Turkey. But if Sewell, like Oscar Wilde, had his feet firmly in gutter he also has his eyes on the stars.