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 ‘Turkey’
Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 10th October, 2016
Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 30th September, 2016
When 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.
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 Saturday, 16th April, 2016
Eight anti-armaments campaigners, who were charged with blocking the entrance to last September’s giant arms fair in London, DSEI 2016, were this week found not guilty, on the grounds that they had acted in good faith to prevent an even greater crime. After listening to four days of often passionate testimony, the judge said the court had heard compelling evidence of the role of weapons on sale at DSEI in repression and human rights abuses. During the trial, the defendants had particularly highlighted the use of weapons in Saudi Arabia’s attacks in Yemen, the suppression of dissent in Bahrain and Turkey’s military activities in predominantly Kurdish areas of the country. They also argued that some illegal types of weapon had been openly displayed at the Fair. An estimated 30,000 visitors went to the Fair despite the disruption by protesters. DSEI is one of the largest such events in the world and a,though another one is planned for next year, anti-war campaigners are determined to be out in force on that occasion too.
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 Friday, 12th February, 2016
This is the time of the year when Liberal Democrat local parties organise sessions to discuss the agenda for the Party’s forthcoming Spring conference, but Hackney LibDems decided instead at their Poppadoms and Politics last night to focus more directly on the burning issue of refugees, and in particular those who have been fleeing the last five years of carnage in Syria. Shas outlined the evolution of the Syrian conflict, which I have also been following on a day-by-day basis, and highlighted the fact that a quarter of Lebanon’s population is now made up of Syrian refugees, most of them housed in local peoples’ homes or out-buildings, or in makeshift accommodation. There are another million Syrian refugees in camps in Jordan and more than two million in Turkey, and tens of thousands continue to attempt a perilous crossing to Europe. The photos of the lifeless body of 3-year-old Syrian Kurd Alan Kurdi certainly brought home that reality to the British public, but David Cameron has only promised to take in 20,000 Syrian refugees, over a period of five years, and all from camps in the Middle East. As Shas said, the situation will only get worse, as Assad’s forces and the Russians further their advances into rebel-held districts of Aleppo. Moreover, this is a problem that is going to be with us for years not months, as happened with the refugee flows after the Second World War. That makes all the more necessary a coordinated and compassionate, long-term strategy on the part of the European Union.
Inspired by her own trip to Dunkirk, Shas encouraged others to be part of relief efforts for people stuck there or in the Calais “Jungle”. But she was rightly insistent that only the right sort of aid should be delivered. Médecins sans Frontieres is working the the camps and absolutely does not want people self-miedicating on drugs brought over by well-meaning Brits. Similarly, most types of clothes and shoes are similarly not appropriate, nor tinned soup. What is needed, and could indeed be organised by local political parties or even at next month’s York LibDem conference, are items such as batteries, wind-up torches, sleeping bags, good quality tens and a limited range of foodstuffs and beverages, including tinned tuna, chickpeas, tomatoes, lentils, beans and fruit (preferably in ring-pull tins), cooking oil, spices, tea, sugar and salt.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Alan Kurdi, Calais, David Cameron, Dunkirk, EU, Hackney Liberal Democrats, Jordan, Lebanon, Liberal Democrats, refugees, Shas Sheehan, Syria, Turkey | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 15th December, 2015
The European Union is an ever-evolving organism and is likely to remain so for the foreseeable future as it adapts to a changing world. Some challenges, such as increasing competition from emerging economies, can be planned for; others, such as the current refugee and migrant crisis, are less predictable and require some pretty nifty footwork by member states, both individually and collectively. Meanwhile, the geographical boundaries of the EU remain potentially fluid following two significant recent developments: the re-opening of talks with Turkey that have given new life to the possibility of Turkey’s accession to EU membership, on the one hand, and the troubled progress of UK Prime Minister David Cameron’s campaign for EU reform in the run-up to an IN/OUT referendum that could see Britain leave the Union, on the other. Both these developments have huge implications for the future of the EU.
Ever since Mustafa Kemal Ataturk effectively forged the Republic of Turkey out of the ruins of the Ottoman Empire the country has largely looked westwards rather than eastwards for its political and economic models, including the adoption of pluralist democracy and the free market economy, despite intermittent periods of military government and aspects of democratic deficit. Ankara’s aspiration to join the EU was acknowledged decades ago but the process stalled largely because of resistance from countries including Germany, France and Austria. But in Germany’s case, notably, that resistance has weakened and there seems to be a growing sense that it is better to have a dynamic Turkey inside the EU working with other member states rather than having a resentful Turkey outside, making its mark as a Middle Eastern rather than a European power. Even though negotiations with Turkey are unlikely to come to a conclusion any time soon, nonetheless there is now the possibility that the EU will take in a country that is not only more populous than any current member state, including Germany, but also overwhelmingly Muslim. Both these facts would undoubtedly change the nature of the EU.
But so too would a British withdrawal. Although the UK stayed aloof from the nascent European Economic Community, largely out of fears that this would damage relations with the Commonwealth, it has been a member since 1973 and several continental leaders have stated that an EU without Britain is unthinkable. Alas, the unthinkable is now a real possibility. Succumbing to pressure from his own rebellious backbenchers, Prime Minister David Cameron made what now seems a rash promise to hold a referendum on whether Britain should remain within the EU or leave, to be held before the end of 2017. Although one would not necessarily know it from statements Mr Cameron makes, he is generally understood to be in favour of staying in the EU. But he sent a letter to other EU heads of government outlining four demands for reform, one of which was self-evidently unacbievable, as presumably his civil servants would have told him. Inevitably he is now having to retreat on that fourth demand, that EU migrants in the UK should have to wait four years before qualifying for benefits. The problem is that whereas a few months ago opinion polls suggested that voters would choose to stay in the EU, recent surveys indicate the opposite, albeit by a small margin. The government will be unable to give a firm steer in the campaign as several Cabinet Ministers have indicated that they will campaign to leave and Mr Cameron has promised them the freedom to do so. So it is going to be up to all the opposition parties to put the other case, along with business leaders and civil society organisations. There is a powerful message to put across, that Britain should lead not leave when it comes to the EU. But there is no guarantee that it will win over a majority of the British public, which would mean the UK will be isolated from the future evolution of the EU for better or for worse (the latter, in my view).
Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 24th November, 2015
The downing of a Russian fighter jet by Turkey earlier today is potentially a dangerous escalation of the febrile situation in the Middle East, though it need not be, if handled correctly. I agreed with the former Swedish foreign minister, Carl Bildt, when he tweeted that normally one might fire a warning shot at a plane allegedly violating one’s airspace, not shoot it down. The situation has been made worse by the fact that the Russian pilot and co-pilot have, according to some reports, been either killed or captured by anti-government rebels in Syria, who are vehemently opposed to Russia’s support for Bashar al-Assad’s regime. Anyway, one cannot undo the shooting down, now that it has happened, and NATO will be having an emergency meeting in Brussels tonight — at the request of Turkey — to discuss the situation.
The Turkish government meanwhile is being rather macho about it all, saying that it reserves the right to take any measures necessary to preserve its national sovereignty, but this rather obscures the fact that the last thing the Middle East needs is a head-on conflict between NATO and Russia, which could conceivably happen if Turkey were to press ahead with its invocation of Articles 4 & 5 of the North Atlantic treaty, according to which all NATO members are obliged to come to the assistance of a member state that has come under attack. Instead, what is needed is some rapid but determined international diplomacy, to take some of the tension out of the situation. It was Churchill who famously said that jaw-jaw is better than war-war, and that is certainly the case in this instance. It is to be hoped that Britain and other senior members of NATO will work with the Turks to find some face-saving measures that could take off some of the heat. Otherwise what some observers are already seeing as a proxy war in Syria by outside powers could all too easily disintegrate into the real thing.
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.