Silivri prison is a deliberately colourless place; the grey concrete, beige walls and lack of plants and even soil are all part of the system’s attempt to grind inmates down, to remove hope and joy from their lives and to drive them to obedience and conformity. In Silivri are thousands of Turkey’s political prisoners — people who dared to “insult” President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, or wrote critical pieces in newspapers or books, or who simply belonged to the Gulen movement, once Erdogan’s ally but now public enemy number 1. For three months, Can Dundar, Editor-in-chief of the prominent newspaper Cumhuriyet, was jailed in Silivri, after he published a piece exposing the covert shipment of arms to radical groups fighting against the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria. Like many others, he was held in solitary confinement, his every movement monitored, his contact with the outside world restricted, his future uncertain, as there was a real possibility that he would be given a life’s sentence when his case came to court. However, he was able to write, on the back of regulation order forms for prison meals and acccessories, and his writings were transmitted to his newspaper and foreign media including the Guardian, as well as forming the basis of a prison diary, We Are Arrested (Biteback £14.99). Moreover, because of his status, supporters mobilised, demonstrations and vigils were held outside the prison gates and freedom of expression NGOs such as PEN and Amnesty lobbied on his behalf. Meanwhile, Dunbar had the chance to meditate on many things, from the nature of freedom to the importance of family relationships and the petty tyranny of power. This means that his book is at times lyrical, at other times polemical, but always moving. He was lucky, because a court ruled that his imprisonment was illegal and he was released. But others have not been so fortunate and many thousands of people are in jail in Turkey, for believing or writing the “wrong” things. Indeed, in the wake of this summer’s abortive coup, people are still being picked up and incarcerated every day.
Posts Tagged ‘Recep Tayyip Erdogan’
Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 10th October, 2016
Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 16th July, 2016
Like many people, I first became aware of the attempted coup in Turkey last night through twitter. I turned on the BBC News channel, but it was still examining the aftermath of the Nice terrorist attack; however, true to form, Al Jazeera was already screening rolling news footage from Istanbul, Ankara and Gaziantep. For an hour of so it looked as if the coup might be taking hold, as rebel soldiers took over Istanbul’s Ataturk airport and false rumours circulation on US news channels that President Erdogan had fled to Europe. Then he appeared on CNN Turk via a video call on his mobile phone and one after another the leaders of the country’s other main political parties issued statements condemning the insurrection. Mr Erdogan called on Turks to go out into the streets to demonstrate their resistance to this assault on democracy and hundreds of thousands of them bravely did so, despite the dangers. As it is, according to official figures released today, 161 civilians were among the 265 fatalities overnight. However, shortly after midnight London time it was clear to me that the coup had failed and I was able to go to bed with a clear conscience.
Today, I was glad to have the opportunity to join some of London’s Turks and friends at a SoldarityForDemocracy rally opposite Downing Street in Westminster. In my short speech to the crowd I said that people in Britain stand side-by-side with Turks as they protect their democracy. Military coups used to be a regular feature of political life in Turkey but they cannot be allowed to become so again. But the challenges facing Turkey now are enormous. Thousands of mutineering soldiers have been arrested and there is bound to be a witch-hunt against alleged coup plotters; many within the ruling AKParty blame supporters of Fetullah Gulen, even accusing him personally of orchestrating it from America. I was glad to see that the affiliated Hizmet Movement in the UK was quick to put out a statement condemning the assault on democracy, but I fear that in Turkey — where already media associated with the Movement has been closed down or harassed — the Movement will come under greater pressure. Hundreds of sympathetic judges are said to have been dismissed today. Moreover, Turkey’s tourist industry, already severely hit by a number of terrorist incidents in Istanbul, Ankara and elsewhere, is now likely to go into free-fall, which will seriously hit the livelihoods of many thousands of Turks.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 20th March, 2016
Today 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.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 31st August, 2015
Fresh from the Edinburgh Festival, the Turkish novelist and erstwhile columnist for the liberal newspaper Taraf, Ahmet Altan, was in London last night, being interviewed by the international lawyer and academic Philippe Sands. The event was hosted by English PEN, on whose Writers in Prison Committee I sat for many years, at the Arcola Theatre in Hackney, right in the centre of Dalston’s recent regeneration. Like most Turkish writers, journalists and publishers who have produced anything complimentary about the Kurds, for example, Ahmet Altan has fallen foul of the law on occasion; freedom of expression is repeatedly under attack in Turkey and the country often has more writers and journalists in prison than any other. But as the novelist said last night, every writer in Turkey is expected to be an expert on everything, including politics, and their opinion is constantly sought. His own political journey has been interesting, as he initially supported Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the AK Party as they successfully ensured that the military stayed in their barracks — having previously intervened with coups d’état — but as Mr Erdogan’s self-aggrandisement has increased, with the clear aim of wanting to be an all-powerful president, so he has lost the support of Ahmet Altan and many others. The novelist is, however, confident that Mr Erdogan will be denied his desired absolute majority in the rerun of this year’s general election scheduled for 1 November.
The reason Ahmet Altan has until now been so little known in the UK is that none of his ten novels had been translated into English, but that has now been rectified with the publication this week of Endgame by Canongate (£12.99). Described as a detective story that has been stood on its head (as one knows the killer at the beginning but not the victim) it was lauded by Philippe Sands. Moreover, there were clearly many fans of Ahmet Altan in the audience last night; the Arcola was founded by a Turk and is in the heart of Turkish-Kurdish London. One young woman was persistently curious as to how the novelist writes about women so well. Ahmet Altan pointed out that a novelist has to get into the skin of every character, has to become them. And he quoted the example of Gustave Flaubert who, when asked about his début novel Madame Bovary “Who is Mme Bovary?”, replied “I am!”
Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 19th August, 2015
Yesterday the Turkish Prime Minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, resigned his mandate to form a new government having failed to come to any coalition agreement with opposition parties. This morning, President Erdoğan declared that the country is heading rapidly towards new elections; his AKP failed to get an overall majority in elections earlier this year, for the first time in a decade. Calling for a new vote is understandable, maybe even necessary, under the circumstances, but the worrying thing is the context in which any new election will be fought. The country’s armed forces are now engaged more directly in the fight against ISIS, but more importantly the uneasy ceasefire between the Turkish government and the banned Kurdish guerrilla movement the PKK is well and truly over. Turkish planes have bombed PKK forces within Iraqi Kurdistan (causing some civilian collateral damage) and the number of Turkish soldiers and policemen who have been killed by PKK sympathisers inside Turkey has risen sharply.
The reconciliation process between Ankara and Turkey’s sizeable Kurdish minority is firmly on hold. This means that President Erdoğan will be tempted to call an election which the AKP will fight on a war footing, declaring that national security and the very unity of the country are at stake. His aim in doing so will be to get an overwhelming parliamentary majority, which will then enable him to push through his thwarted plans to move Turkey towards an executive presidential system, consolidating his own power. In the meantime, in any such “war” election, the predominantly Kurdish HDP — which broke through the grotesquely high 10% threshold barrier earlier this year, giving it a body of MPs for the first time — is bound to be unfairly stigmatised by the AKP and its compliant media as being allied to terrorism. That would be a serious step backwards for Turkey’s troubled democracy. But whereas a few months ago there was reason to be optimistic about the direction in which Turkey was heading the opposite is true now.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 7th June, 2015
Turks are going to the polls today in what are probably the most important parliamentary elections the country has seen in a generation. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, while not a candidate himself, is hoping his AKParty will obtain a two- thirds majority, which would enable a constitutional change bringing in a powerful executive presidency, in which he would have sweeping new powers. Given the way Mr Erdoğan has already exceeded normal authority, first during his decade as Prime Minister and lately as President, this possibility is viewed by most foreign onservers, including friends of Turkey such as myself, with alarm. Curbs on political dissent, reduced media freedom and the flagrant misuse of courts to harass or punish the president’s critics have grown exponentially. Mr Erdoğan still enjoys a lot of support, notably from the rural poor, as he has presided over a period of unprecedented economic growth, though some of the new infrastructure projects (including his enormous new presidential palace) are grotesquely grandiose. The problem is that the main opposition party has been unable to offer a leader or a package of policies that offer a persuasive alternative. Instead, oddly, the best hope for a brake on Mr Erdoğan’s ambitions comes from the predominantly Kurdish HDP and its attractive leader, Selahattin Demirtas. It is touch and go whether the HDP will manage to cross the 10% threshold now needed to win representation in the Turkish parliament, but many Turkish liberals will be voting HDP in the hope that they do. Otherwise I fear Mr Erdoğan will get his mandate as Turkey’s Sultan, ever more remote from reality and European political norms.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 14th February, 2015
Thousands of Kurds from across Europe gathered in Strasbourg this afternoon for a rally by the city’s stadium. As one of their foreign guests I gave the following short speech in English, simultaneously translated into Kurdish:
We are gathered here under the Strasbourg sun at what I believe may be an historic moment in the long struggle for Kurdish cultural and political rights in Turkey. Yesterday, a petition with more than 10 million signatures, calling for the release from prison of PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan, was delivered to the Council of Europe in this city. It was a remarkable tribute to the determination of the Kurds and to the growing solidarity from people across Europe.
Tomorrow, 15 February, in Ankara, the HDP and AKP are due to publish the framework of an agreement for a settlement of the Kurdish question and to declare their intention to move towards making Turkey a genuinely democratic republic, with a new constitution. If this does indeed happen it will mark a giant stride forward.
Of course, we cannot take success for granted. There have been so many disappointments as well as hopes regarding Kurdish rights. At times it has seemed that the government in Ankara was taking one step forward and then one step back. But an agreement is possible, with sufficient good faith on all sides.
I know that from the experience of my own country, Britain, where decades of
political strife and violence in Northern Ireland were largely laid to rest by the courageous Good Friday Agreement, which integrated the IRA and its political arm Sinn Fein into the mainstream, with an agreed ceasefire, power-sharing and the release from prison of militants. So it can be done.
Finally, I would like to send two messages to Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Firstly, Mr President, please carry forward measures to ensure that Turkey’s Kurds enjoy full cultural and political rights in the future. And secondly, Mr President, please release Abdullah Ocalan so that he can sit at the negotiating table with all the dignity of a free man.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 12th December, 2014
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.
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 »