Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Istanbul’

Murder in Istanbul

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 28th September, 2019

Murder in IstanbulExactly a year ago, on the last Saturday of September in 2018, at a Palestine conference organised by Middle East Monitor, I met the Saudi journalist and former Saudi royal family intimate, Jamal Khashoggi. He seemed a little distracted, which I put down partly to the cold he was trying to fight off and anticipation for his upcoming marriage to a younger Turkish woman. He was due to fly to Istanbul on the Monday, but the day after that he was dead, apparently interrogated, tortured and then murdered inside the Saudi Arabian consulate building, while his fiancée waited outside. Through a series of leaks and a lot of speculation the story of what had happened gradually emerged, though anyone who did not follow things closely over the coming months — including a not inconsiderable number of red herrings — could be forgiven for not knowing all the details. That makes Owen Wilson’s book Murder in Istanbul (Gibson Square, £9.99) all the more useful, as well as timely. It painstakingly analyses the evidence, as revealed by the Turkish authorities and various media outlets, on both sides of the Atlantic, including the United Nations, as well as background information that makes the affair more understandable, if not forgivable. The author’s career as a journalist with the Financial Ties and as a writer of books on crime gives him just the right sort of experience and voice for the task. The British sigint agency, GCHQ, had, it appears, picked up traffic suggesting that Jamal Khashoggi (who was by this stage mainly resident in the United States and contributing to the Washington Post, critical of the regime in his home country and calling for media freedom across the Arab world) was at risk of being kidnapped and rendered to Riyadh from Britain; the logical assumption is that the British (perhaps also informing the Americans) made it clear through appropriate channels that that would be totally unacceptable.

Jamal Khashoggi Sadly, he was less safe in Istanbul, where he had just purchased an apartment for himself and his future wife, though one of the most intriguing aspects of this book is the discussion of what the Turkish intelligence service MIT (and indeed, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan) really knew and when. There were all sorts of fantastic stories, worthy of a latter-day James Bond novel, regarding alleged recordings of Jamal being dismembered while still alive, supposedly transmitted via his Apple watch to the iPhone he had left with his fiancée. Wilson rightly dismisses the more preposterous reports and theories, but inevitably the conclusion was drawn that the assault on Khashoggi had been sanctioned at the highest level in Riyadh. Indeed, just this week the Saudi Crown Prince, Mohammad bin Salman, accepted ultimate responsibility “because it happened on my watch”. So there will need to be a postscript to the book at some stage to analyse “So, what now?” — though if US President Donald Trump is anything to go by then the desert kingdom with its immense oil-derived wealth is just too rich to fall out with.

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Can Istanbul Be Saved?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 30th September, 2016

img_1450When I first came to Istanbul nearly 50 years ago (as described in my childhood memoir, Eccles Cakes), it was an enchanting and exotic city of wooden houses, water-sellers and boats across the Bosphorus. Today, it is six times larger and the more they build and widen roads, the more the cars and lorries rush in to fill them. The romantic skyline looking northwards across the Golden Horn is now pierced by glass and steel towers in the distance. But it is not only in previous suburbs or vacant areas that high-rise development of an often undistinguished kind is racing ahead. Even in Pera, which used to be the elegant “European” quarter running down from Taksim Square, whole blocks are being demolished, and where new buildings are going up, they are totally out of character and bland. Even worse has been the loss of green space and trees. This morning I went to look at the gardens that used to be at the side of the (now refurbished) Pera Palas hotel. But they have gone, replaced by a huge, flat concrete slab — foundations for what, I wonder? The proposed removal of Gezi Park at Taksim brought thousands of protestors into the street and a temporary dispensation. But other areas around have been flattened and paved over. As the government prepares to prolong the state of emergency imposed after this summer’s abortive coup, will even Gezi Park be up for grabs for a megastore once again? Istanbul still has great appeal, but it it is no longer the unforgettably beautiful city that it was, and unless rigorous planning and preservation orders are brought in, I fear it will be totally ruined within a generation.img_1448

 

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Turkey: No End to the Killing?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 20th March, 2016

Istanbul bombingToday there was another terrorist bomb attack in Istabul, not for the first time in the busy central shopping street of Istiklal Caddesi, which is one of the places I always go when I visit the city, just like I always go to the Grand’Place in Brussels when I am there. The fatalities among today’s victims include at least two Israeli Arabs and a citizen of Iran. Absolutely people who were in the wrong place at the wrong time. However, that in no way excuses the atrocity; I condem the bombing outright, as I did following the incident in Turkey’s capital, Ankara the other day. My tweet of sympathy for the family and rriends of the victims of the Ankara outrage prompted one anonymous Twitter troll to accuse me of not caring what is happening to the Kurds in some parts of south-eastern Turkey. On the contrary, I have expressed my outrage at Turkish government assaults in Kurds, just as I have condemned the excesses of Kurdish militant groups. A peaceful, negotiated settlement between the AKP government and Kurds is vital for the whole region. Name-calling won’t help. Some of what the Turkish security forces in certain towns in south-east Turkey have been doing is unforgivable and may even amount to war crimes. But so, too, are the excesses of various fringe group more or less linked to the separatist PKK guerrillas. It’s maybe not for me, as a foreigner, to pontificate about where I think Turkey should go, but what is abundantly clear at present is that it is going to hell on a handcart. Violence begets violence, whether this is on the part of the Turkish security forces or AKP policians or of the PKK and its sister organisation. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, before he became the Putin of the Bodphorus, deserved credit for moving forward negotiations with the nation’s Kurds. Despite the bloody challenges, he needs to re-embrace negotiation and to make sure that the still-imprisoned Abdullah Ocalan is a free man to be able to take part in those talks, in all integrity.

 

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Human Rights in Iraq

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 19th April, 2015

Iraq human rightsThis week I have been in Istanbul attending the inaugural conference of the International Human Rights Coalition for Iraq (IHRCI), which aims to not only publicise human rights abuses on all sides in Iraq but even more importantly to document them assiduously so that prosecutions can be brought against the perpetrators. The late Saddam Hussein was a gross human rights violator, but the situation since he was overthrown by the illegal US-led invasion of 2003 has been far from perfect. Violations by both the US and British occupying forces have been widely reported, as have the savage practices of the self-styled Islamic State (ISIS) that has emerged in both Iraq and Syria. But far less well-known are the killings, kidnappings, torture and other outrages carried out not only by Iraqi government security forces (especially while Nouri Al-Maliki was Prime Minister) but also by Shia militia groups and others. There was some distressing testimony, including chilling videos, from Iraqis at the Istanbul conference, including details of the vicious treatment of some of the inhabitants of Tikrit since it’s liberation from ISIS. IHRCI intends to use legal channels to bring well-documented cases against human rights violators, initially inside Iraq where possible but also internationally where not.

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Human Rights and the Arab World

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 11th December, 2014

imageOver the last three decades, much of the world, from Brazil to Indonesia, has moved from dictatorship to democracy, but despite the so-called Arab Spring that began with Mohamed Bouazizi’s self-immolation in Tunisia in December 2010, most of the Arab world has remained immune. Several states, such as Syria and Bahrain, are even worse than they were when it comes to the situation of civil society and human rights. Especially tragic is the most populous Arab state of all, Egypt, which was so full of hope during the 2011 Revolution, but where things have returned to their previous brutal state following the coupl against Mohammed Morsi in July last year. As the United States and several other western countries view Egypt as a crucial ally they have been restrained in their criticism of some of the gross outrages that have taken place in Egypt over the past 18 months, so it has been left to NGOs and some of the international media — notably Al Jazeera — to make their concerns known. Prominent among the former has been the International Coalition for Freedoms and Rights (ICFR), which has sent everal missions comprised largely of lawyers to Cairo during 2014. Egypt has similarly been the Central focus of ICFR’s first conference this week in Istanbul, which I have been attending and which will lead to the creation of a lawyers’ task force to monitor situations and to disseminate information, as well as a media group. While so much of the West is concentrating on the War on Terror it probably needs reminding about the values it is meant to stand for, including democracy and the respect for human rights, which are alas so lacking in so many Arab States.

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Turkey: Erdogan’s False Move

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 15th June, 2013

Recep Tayyip ErdoganGezi Park demoWatching 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.

 

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Ece Temelkuran’s View of “Turkey’s May 1968”

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 12th June, 2013

Ece TemelkuranTaksim Square 2The 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.

Links: http://www.ecetemelkuran.com/en and http://www.ceftus,org

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Will İstanbul Become a Global City?

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.

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Istanbul: The Arabs Have Come!

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 26th July, 2009

Istiklal CaddesiGulf Arabs who can afford it tend to flee their region during summer. Given their climate, who can blame them? Since the 1960s, London has been a favourite summer destination — many Gulf families own houses or appartments along or off the Edgware Road and in Mayfair — but Beirut and Cairo date back even further. There are Lebanese villages like the ‘cherry capital’ Hammana up in the mountains behind Beirut that become Little Kuwait in July and August. However, this year’s vacation location of choice for Gulf Arabs appears to be Turkey. There were loads of them on the ferry that took me across the Sea of Marmara on my way from Izmir to Istanbul last night and Istanbul’s top hotels are awash with Gulf families: the fathers and the (often depressingly fat) children kitted out in standard US leisure gear, the mothers swathed head to foot in black abbayas. What on earth these ladies make of the scenes around them, God only knows. One couldn’t possibly ask. Last night was more boisterous than ever along Istiklal Caddesi, Istanbul’s main pedestrianised drag, with its side streets housing innumerable bars, restaurants, nightclubs and saunas catering to every possible taste. Or even on the more sedate avenue, Halaskargazi Caddesi, north of Taksim Square, where I have been staying on this visit to Turkey’s main city. Outside a car hire firm, whose widow posters of special offers are all in Arabic, a spectacular blonde transvestite prostitute was standing late last night in a gold lamé dress cut low to show off her sumptuous breast implants. The male punters walking past, both Arab and Turk, had no doubt at what they were looking at — and in several cases, clearly panting after; but what about the Arab ladies in their black shrouds?

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The Good Tourist

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 10th October, 2008

  The Good Tourist sounds like it ought to be a novel by John Le Carré, but in fact it is a fascinating and highly personal exploration of ethical tourism by the former Director of English PEN’s Writers in Prison Committee, Lucy Popescu. Most books on the subject concentrate on the environmental and social impact of tourism in developing countries, but The Good Tourist (Arcadia Books, £11.99) takes a different tack, devoting individual sections to some of the world’s favourite exotic tourist destinations — such as Cuba, Egypt, the Maldives, Mexico and Morocco — in which the attractions are first set out in fairly broad-brush terms (enlivened by anecdotes from Lucy’s own travels, or those of her friends), followed by often harrowing descriptions of human rights abuses there.

Syria and Uzbekistan are examples of a particularly acute contradiction between beautiful countries and fascinating history on the one hand and hideous repression and torture on the other. Lucy does not spare us some of the gruesome detail, but it is all well-sourced, relying mainly on the testimony of local writers, journalists and human rights activists whose causes have been taken up by PEN, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the like. When it comes to Burma (Myanmar) in particular, the question has often been asked: should tourists go there at all, as much of the income generated goes straight into the hands of the ruling junta? Lucy sets out the arguments both for and against and invites the readers to make up their own minds.

At times the book is delightfully quirky (though I fear some Ukrainians will bristle at seeing the Crimea discussed under ‘Russia’). I laughed out loud at the image of Lucy cornered in a quiet Istanbul back street by jeering, leering policemen who had confiscated her passport and refused to give it back, until she shouted repeatedly ‘Margaret Thatcher!’ But otherwise there is much to make one rage and even cry. Frustratingly, there is no index, which rather reduces the book’s worth as a reference volume, but amongst its strengths is a list of useful things a good tourist can do (as well as organisations that will help) and a very well-selected booklist of recommended books to read before, during and after one’s trip.

Link: www.arcadiabooks.co.uk

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