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What’s Happening in Turkey?

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The Galatasaray-Fenerbahçe derby, postponed from 20 March 2016 amid security concerns following deadly blasts in Istanbul, was rescheduled for 13 April, 2016 on 28 March, 2016. As a football fan, I hope they get a chance to play it. Amidst an interesting string of events in the past few days, however, it seems the future of Turkey is more unclear than it has been since, arguably, the 12 September 1980 military coup. In order to better understand the procession of events I present a timeline below in the fashion of “connect-the-dots”:

  • The first domino to fall, if you will, was Reza Zarrab—an Iranian-Turkish businessman arrested on 19 March, 2016 in Miami, Florida of all places. Mr. Zarrab was implicated in the December 2013 corruption scandal that hit Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP); he has also now been indicted by the United States for much more: “For Zarrab and his two alleged accomplices, the charges carry maximum sentences of five years in prison term for defrauding the United States, 20 years for violating the International Emergency Powers Act — which regulated the sanctions against Iran — 30 years for bank fraud and 20 years for money laundering. The district attorney is also calling for all of Zarrab’s assets to be confiscated.” Given that Mr. Zarrab had been cleared of wrongdoing in Turkey and released following the corruption scandal means his recent visit to—and arrest in—the United States may well be more than meets the eye. As Al-Monitor states: “Many believe that Zarrab had to have known he would be arrested the minute he landed in the United States, and that he wouldn’t have made the trip without a deal worked out in advance. His potential disclosures to the US federal prosecutor will surely implicate Turkish officials and, as such, may well be an instrument of pressure on President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.”
  • Indeed as if answering Al-Monitor, just days later on 24 March, 2016, Newsweek published an interesting opinion piece posing the simple question “Will there be a coup against Erdoğan in Turkey?”. While the question posed is simple, the implications are more complex. That Michael Rubin—a member of a Washington D.C. think tank—should voice such a rhetorical question itself begs another question: Is such a rumor floating around Washington and, if so, where did it come from? Such rumors do not just materialize out of thin air and this too could be construed as an instrument of pressure on President Erdoğan…
  • On 28 March, 2016, there was another flurry of events concerning the United States and Turkey. A meeting between Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Cavuşoğlu and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was reportedly concerning “Peace talks in Cyprus”. A seemingly downbeat quote from Mr. Cavuşoğlu sums it up—in fact, the sarcasm is all but bleeding off the page: “’We have also some good news from the eastern part of the Mediterranean, I mean Cyprus’ Cavuşoğlu said ahead of their [His and Mr. Kerry’s] meeting.” On the same day—in an interesting “coincidence”—the Turkish military announced that they would soon be receiving six CH-47F (Chinook) helicopters from the United States. With “peace” on the horizons, one would be forgiven for asking why the military build-up? And why on earth are the headlines about Cyprus when—it seems—both Turkey and the United States have more pressing concerns when it comes to Middle Eastern Geopolitics…
  • Just one day later on 29 March 2016, after talk of “good news in the eastern Mediterranean”, the United States took the unprecedented step of forcibly evacuating all families of defense personnel and diplomats out of Turkey. The evacuations included not just parts of southeast Turkey near the Syrian border but western cities such as Izmir and Muğla as well. The move seems to be setting the table for something…
  • On 30 March 2016 Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan arrived to a cool reception in Washington D.C, and even some U.S. news media openly criticized the Turkish leader. Bloomberg View asked “how the U.S. got Turkey’s dictator so wrong” in reference to U.S. President Obama’s 2013 comment that Mr. Erdoğan was one of his closest friends. Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal noted that Turkish journalists were on trial for allegedly undermining the state as Mr. Erdoğan visited the United States. As someone who watched CNN’s live coverage of the 2013 Gezi Park protests and heard CNN call the protesters “anti-American” I couldn’t decide whether to laugh or cry at one of my countries’ complete and utter failure to understand the other. But the ability of any S. media outlet to utter the word “dictator” is an interesting turn.
  • On the same day, the head of the U.S. House Homeland Security Committee said that “a ‘covert counterterrorism operation’ is underway to halt an extremist plot in Turkey”; Michael McCaul’s warning is cited as the rationale behind evacuating military and diplomatic families but—at least to me—it doesn’t hold up. In fact, the United States also decided to issue a travel warning for Turkey as well, putting it in the same league of dangerous destinations as the tourist hot spots of Iran, Algeria, and Yemen. Indeed Conde Nast traveller picked it up immediately, something that will undoubtedly hit Turkey’s tourist industry hard.

Ok…so what does it all mean? To be honest, when dealing with a country as complex as Turkey—that is situated in a region as complicated as the Middle East—and has such a convoluted relationship with its main ally the United States, nothing is easy to interpret or predict. Despite this, observers of the region should have reason to feel uneasy. The fact that a Washington-based pundit should even breathe the word “coup” in relation to Turkey is thought provoking. The fact that major U.S. media outlets should describe the Turkish leader Mr. Erdoğan—previously a darling of the Obama administration—as a “dictator” is startling. The fact that the U.S. should forcibly evacuate military and diplomatic families from Western Turkey a day after the Turkish military announces the imminent receipt of new military hardware and a day before the Turkish leader arrives in Washington is telling. It seems that something is in the air.

Those who care about Turkey and the United States should keep an eye on developments; given a global security situation where Pentagon-funded militias are fighting CIA-funded militias just across the Turkish border in Syria, the fortunes of both countries are, undeniably, intertwined. Only stability in Turkey can stem the rising tide of violence that threatens to engulf a region stretching from the Tigris to the Seine.

 

Innocent Football Fans Killed in Iraq While Far-Right Football Fans Protest in Brussels: Implications for the 2016 European Championships

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Over the weekend we have seen a few interesting developments in an ongoing possible budding “clash of civilizations”, both of which have involved football fans. The first was a ISIS/ISIL suicide bombing of a soccer match in Iskandariya, 40 Kilometers (25 miles) south of Baghdad on 25 March, 2016, that killed 29. Keeping with recent trends, few people heard of this latest ISIS/ISIL atrocity as all eyes are still on Brussels.

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Image Courtesy Of: http://www.ultras-tifo.net/news/4176-suicide-bomber-kills-29-at-football-match-in-iraq.html

In Brussels on Sunday 28 March, 2016 a large group of demonstrators descended on a central square as people paid respects to the victims of last week’s bombings. According to the BBC, “Riot police intervened to try to restore order after the group confronted Muslim women in the crowds, made Nazi salutes and chanted. Apparently one protester described his group as “football hooligans”: “‘We are football hooligans, we don’t have anything to do with politics,’ Andres told AFP. ‘We are here for the victims and to pay our respects.’” While I personally have never heard of a so-called “football hooligan” voluntarily defining himself as one, police commissioner Christian De Coninck confirmed their presence: “We had 340 hooligans from different football clubs who came to Brussels and we knew for sure that they would create some trouble…It was a very difficult police operation because lots of families with kids were here.”

Images Courtesy Of: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3511398/Riot-police-water-cannons-called-far-right-protesters-hijack-Brussels-peace-march-make-Nazi-salutes-terror-victims-memorial.html

The presence of these far-right “Casuals Against Terrorism” is not something unexpected—indeed some football fan-related sites picked up on this group’s planned protest long before it became international news. Since the migrant crisis began many fans—particularly in Eastern Europe—have made their anti-immigrant sentiments known. What is important to note is that these grassroots protests—led by football fans—do not happen in a vacuum, nor are they unprecedented. In Egypt football fans became a major actor in the “revolution”, just as football fans played a major role in Turkey’s protests back in 2013. Football fans in both Egypt and Turkey—although on a different side of the ideological spectrum than those who appeared in Brussels—joined social protests for the same reason: They believed that their governments were not doing what they promised. In the case of Egypt and Turkey the unfulfilled promise was democracy; in the case of Belgium it seems the unfulfilled promise was, on some level, providing security. Of course the fascistic rhetoric attributed to these football fans (by the media) adds another dimension to the puzzle.

ISIS/ISIL has targeted football matches in both France and Iraq, while unconfirmed threats were made against the Galatasaray-Fenerbahce derby in Istanbul on 20 March 2016 following a deadly ISIS/ISIL bombing in Istanbul. Given this background, one would think that—ostensibly—football fans would be united in their stance against terrorism. Perhaps they are. But, the acts of these individuals in Brussels show that there is still a left/right divide present among football fans. This divide could carry over into the Euro 2016 tournament. While organizers need to be cognizant of external security threats to the tournament in light of recent events, they should also be aware of Turkish and Albanian participation. Given the prevalence of anti-Muslim sentiment in Europe lately, games involving these two majority Muslim countries may become targets for protest from within Europe as well.

Good Guys and Bad Guys: The Intersection of Globalization, Localization, and Terrorism

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On the morning of Tuesday, 22 March 2016 Belgium woke up to two coordinated terrorist attacks on the Brussels airport and a metropolitan subway station that left at least 30 people dead and more than 200 others wounded. The heinous attack is symptomatic of the rising tide of violence that has hit Paris, San Bernardino, California, Ankara, and Istanbul in the last months. These attacks, all perpetrated by ISIS/ISIL, are also symptomatic of the terrorist group’s disillusionment with—and at the same time exploitation of—globalization: globalization (and the corresponding spread of global capital and increased migration) has raised people’s expectations—especially in the Arab world—without an equal increase in people’s returns. As expectations increase returns do not. And that has provided fertile recruiting ground, especially in an era of increased transnational migration.

Five years ago, in 2011, sociologist Felice Dassetto’s book L’iris et le Croissant claimed that, by 2030, Brussels would become Europe’s first majority Muslim city. Due to increased migrant flows in the era of globalization many Muslims settled in Belgium and, as a result of the country’s liberal policies, some radical Imams were able to preach things that their home countries—notoriously harsh on any semblance of political Islam—would have never allowed them to say. Now, Belgium apparently has the highest number of ISIS/ISIL members of any European country. For more details on European policies towards Muslim integration (or, in many ways, non-integration) please see Middle East Quarterly’s summer 2014 issue here.

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Image Courtesy Of: http://indy100.independent.co.uk/article/belgium-provided-the-most-isis-fighters-per-capita-of-all-eu-countries-last-year–b1yD_bwvtx?utm_source=indy&utm_medium=top5&utm_campaign=i100

I am not a proponent of globalization in the sense of supporting unchecked flows of global capital; not every world city needs a McDonald’s by any means. Mark Allen Peterson’s Connected in Cairo (2011) puts it well, noting a trend where “First World cheap becomes Third World chic” (Peterson, 2011: 8). No, I don’t think the portions of the First World that are rejected should be exported to the rest of the world. I’ve been to Cairo, and I prefer koshari over McDonald’s just as I preferred borsht over McDonald’s in Ukraine and will always prefer döner over McDonald’s in Turkey. This is not to say I won’t dig into a double cheeseburger every now and then when in the United States—I would be a liar if I said I didn’t—but, then again, the United States doesn’t have good koshari, borsht, or döner…

And, importantly, that’s not to say that the United States doesn’t have koshari, borsht, or döner. Of course it does—and that is the positive side of globalization. I enjoy the fact that, simply by writing, I can meet people from all over the world that hail from diverse backgrounds. I can jump on a plane and be wherever I want whenever I want; I can watch a football match in any number of countries in person or on my computer if I so choose. After all, as soccer sociologists Giulianotti and Robertson (2012) note, football is a “potent and increasingly significant catalyst of globalization”. Again, this is alright with me. Interacting with people from other cultures helps us all—as human beings—together make sense of the world we live in. It can help us make sense of our lives that, sometimes, can seem so hopelessly meaningless that it leaves us wondering why we are even going to get up the next morning. But we do, because—we know—there is so much left to explore, so much more left to see that lies beyond our own doorsteps, our own cities’ limits, our own countries’ borders….

Unfortunately, at a time when the transnational global system is characterized by the diminishing importance of national borders, we are seeing an alarming retreat into—and re-affirmation of—national borders. It is ironic that international terrorists are exploiting the global system they claim to fight against to inflict violent acts on innocent people—and that we, the victims of their aggression, are willing to fall into their trap by retreating into an “Us Vs. Them” mentality reminiscent of the “Clash of Civilizations” thesis so contested in the optimistic years following the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Most people in the United States focus their ire on Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, vilifying him for his insensitive remarks towards Muslims. I will not get into that; it is well covered across the American—and global—media (the Economist ranked a potential Trump presidency a bigger global threat than Islamic terrorism (!)) and, quite honestly, the issue is bigger than just American politics. After all, the current leader of the United States, President Barack Obama, was busy attending a “historic” baseball game in Cuba (Sports and politics anyone?) in the wake of the attacks, looking more Johnny Depp in Rum Diary than Commander-in-chief while sporting his “500 dollar shades” (a fact the Daily Mail didn’t miss pointing out).

Johnny Depp on the left, the leader of the free world on the right. Images courtesy of http://www.selectspecs.com/blog/johnny-depp-and-his-sunglasses-from-rum-diary/ and http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3504209/Obama-pressure-return-home-giving-40-minute-speech-Cuba-addressed-Brussels-terror-attack-just-one-minute.html, respectively.

I will also point out that, on the morning of 22 March, 2016, American news outlets were busy reporting on the bombings at the Brussels airport with politicians from across the political spectrum offering their condolences alongside their plans to stop the global terror threat. Then I recalled that when I turned on my television the morning of 19 March, 2016, there was no news on the bombing that had torn central Istanbul apart. That’s when I got to thinking…

In the wake of the 13 November, 2015 Paris attacks many American friends changed their Facebook profiles to the colors of the French flag. These people were not French, and many of them had never even visited the country. But they did it out of solidarity. Similarly, on the morning of 22 March, social media again became a venue for expressions of solidarity with the Belgian people. Perhaps the most telling image was published by Le Monde’s Twitter feed, a piece of art made by Jean Plantureux (Plantu). CNN describes the image as “A crying person draped in a French flag hug[ging] a crying person with a Belgian flag, suggesting solidarity between the two countries. The dates beneath each figure signify the November 13 Paris attacks and the March 22 Brussels attacks.”

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Image Courtesy Of: https://mobile.twitter.com/lemondefr/status/712207503929507840/photo/1?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw

For me, the most significant portion of the art was the (unconscious) emphasis of the light colors of white and yellow to depict the “people”. It is no doubt coincidence—and practicality for the artist, given that white and yellow are the central colors of the French and Belgian tricolors—that made these colors so central. But it also is emblematic of a deeper ambivalence of “Western” society towards violence in the Middle East that has manifested itself in a willful ignorance of recent events in Turkey and the wider Muslim world. Yasmin Ahmed noted that “our indifference is fuelling terrorist organizations like ISIS”, reminding us that “the weight of a terror attack shouldn’t be measured in terms of the numbers hurt and killed. Each life taken to prove a political point is an outrage. But the figures stand. There were so many more lives lost in Turkey, while Europe remained mute.”

I am not here to compare numbers; that is futile and—frankly—disrespectful to the victims. I am also not here to say that people should not be disgusted by savage acts of violence or that people should not show solidarity with those suffering. It is important to share these human emotions that bind us together. But I am here to say that the commercialism inherent in some of these emotional displays sets a dangerous precedent. When corporations such as Facebook create settings for the French flag—but not for the Turkish (or Lebanese or Syrian or Iraqi or any other country’s, for that matter) flag, it is a slippery slope. When artists such as Plantureux create artwork that focuses on just two countries affected by terrorist acts—while ignoring others that are also affected—it is, again, a slippery slope. Such commercially motivated responses to tragedy risk allowing an interpretation that says “when those living in a Western European nation die it’s a tragedy; when those living in a Muslim country die it’s normal”.

It is not normal. No death by terrorism is “normal”. Perpetuating this divide—based on national and cultural borders—risks a true “clash of civilizations” and furthers the goals of extremists like ISIS/ISIL. I have traveled enough to know that there are good and bad people all over the world. Make no mistake, evil knows no religion, no race, no ethnicity, no nationality, and no geography. That is why good must also show that it is not based on religion, on race, on ethnicity, on nationality, or on geography. It is up to us—as a part of global humanity—to not give in to paranoia and stand up for and defend our ideals while recognizing that being divided will get us, the good people, nowhere.

 

My heart goes out to all of those affected by the events of the last week.

 

 

 

 

ENOUGH! A Discussion of the Bombing of Istanbul’s Istiklal Caddesi

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I hope that 19 March, 2016 goes down as the day Turkey says “enough”. As if it wasn’t clear enough already, enough is enough. When the street you have walked down for days (and nights) on end is targeted by a suicide bomber, it is time to say “enough”. When the central street of the city many of your friends live in is strewn with human body parts it is time to say “enough”. In a country where the central areas of the two biggest cities have been turned into bloodbaths three times in the last month despite heavy police presences, it is time to say “enough”. When representatives of that country’s government still spew hatred—ignoring the loss of innocent lives—it is time to say “enough”. When foreigners are deciding to leave that country out of fear for their lives it is time to say “enough”. When the government of that country tries to cynically sell its own dark plans for the future as a human-rights success it is time to say “enough”. When more and more rhetoric begins to appear comparing the state of affairs in reference to failed states like “Yugoslavia”, it is time to say “enough”. Unfortunately, my faith that people will be able to say “enough” is wavering more and more. With each passing day, with each unjustified arrest of journalists and academics, with each exploding bomb and rifle shot, with each drop of spilled innocent blood, I can’t help but feel my hopes and dreams slipping away as well…

On the morning of 19 March, 2016 a suicide bomber targeted Istanbul’s main shopping district, Beyoğlu’s Istiklal Caddesi, killing five and injuring thirty-nine.

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Image Courtesy Of: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3500017/Two-dead-seven-wounded-suicide-bomber-targets-tourist-shopping-area-Istanbul.html

This comes just five days after a car bombing killed thirty-seven and injured 125 in the Turkish capital of Ankara. That the tactics of Baghdad and Kabul have come to the very streets I have spent so much time on is upsetting, frustrating, and worrisome. To watch as a country slips through our hands like grains of sand on a beach is…unspeakably upsetting. And frustrating. And worrisome. In the wake of the Ankara bombings Turkish commentator Mehveş Evin said “I see where this is going, I’m scared, and I’m refusing to take sides”. She says “this is not going in the direction of 1990s Turkey, this is going in the direction of 1990s Yugoslavia”. Therefore, for her, it is wrong to take sides since that will only divide the country further—she cries for those killed in Ankara just as she cries for those killed in Turkey’s Kurdish cities which have recently suffered the full wrath of the Turkish Armed Forces.

The complicated part is that there are so many sides fighting this battle. Kurdish militants, the Kurdistan Freedom Falcons (TAK), claimed responsibility for the Ankara bombings, while so far no group has come forward regarding today’s Istanbul bombings. Many of the victims in Istanbul were foreign—Israelis, Irish, German, and Iranian— and TAK have threatened to target tourists, but that does not mean this was a TAK bombing. It could also be ISIS/ISIL given the tactics used and place targeted. A bombing of a transportation hub in the capital targets the state, a bombing in the main tourist hub—the equivalent of Times Square or Piccadilly Circus for instance—targets individuals and seems to be something more in line with international terrorism, such as ISIS/ISIL’s strike in Paris. One representative of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) had no sympathy for the international victims; Irem Aktaş, the President of the Publicity and Media Unit of the AKP’s Women’s branch in Istanbul’s Eyüp district, Tweeted in response to a Haberturk story on the Israeli nationals wounded in the bombing: “May it be worse for Israeli citizens, If only they hadn’t been wounded but had all died”. One would think that a person working for the publicity and media branch of anything would have more tact! But no, Ms. Irem Aktaş did not. And she is representative of the kind of cold, calculated, classless, cruel, and brutally insensitive people that are dragging an entire country down a dark path. The fact that she has since been removed from the party cannot erase her rude insult not just to Israelis, but to humanity itself.

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Image Courtesy Of: http://www.diken.com.tr/israilliler-icin-keske-hepsi-olseydi-diyen-akpli-partiden-ihrac-ediliyor/

The context of the Istanbul bombing is important to keep in mind as well: This bombing comes on the eve of Turkey’s equivalent of the Super Bowl—the Fenerbahçe Galatasaray football derby in Istanbul—and comes a day after Turkey reached an agreement with the EU on Syrian migrants. No event happens in a vacuum and this one is no different. Hans Eskilsson, a former Swedish international footballer, witnessed the bombing when he was on Istiklal Caddesi on the way to buy tickets to the derby ). Like myself, Eskilsson travels the world attending derbys and there is no telling how many other foreigners are in the city for the same purpose. Safety concerns are another element to keep in mind ahead of tomorrow’s derby; Salah Abdeslam, who was caught on Friday in connection to the Paris attacks in November 2015, admitted that he had planned to detonate himself at the Stade de France. Stadiums, it seems, are becoming a new target of violence across the Middle East and Europe just as soccer fans have been targeted in Africa in the past.

This has affected Turkish football as well. After the Ankara bombings, where Galatasaray striker Umut Bulut’s father lost his life, Galatasaray’s star German striker Lukas Podolski has stated that he wants to leave the Turkish side at the end of his contract due to the violence and it will be important to keep an eye on how other foreign footballers react; the teams themselves have been quick to condemn the violence. Podolski’s country is similarly worried about the deteriorating security situation as the German Embassy in Ankara, Consulate in Istanbul, and schools were closed Friday due to threats; Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeir said “Yesterday [Thursday, 16 March] evening, some very concrete indications – to be taken very seriously – reached our security services, saying that terror attacks against German institutions within Turkey were being prepared”. Since the perpetrator of the Istanbul bombing was allegedly heading towards a different target when the device was detonated it is possible that the intended target was, indeed, a German interest; this leads me to believe that ISIS/ISIL had a hand in the bombing given that they killed 12 German tourists in Istanbul’s Sultanahmet Square on 12 January, 2016. This, of course, also begs the question: If the Germans knew, then why didn’t the Turks know? How could a bomber infiltrate an area so full of police as the heart of Istanbul has been since the Gezi Protests of 2013?

For an answer to why Germany (and Turkey) are being targeted it is worth looking at the second event that contextualizes the Istanbul bombings: The deal concerning Syrian migrants that Turkey made with the European Union on Friday, 18 March. Since Germany has been one of the main migrant destinations—as well as one of the leaders of the European union—they may have become an additional target for ISIS/ISIL.

The BBC lists the key points of the agreement below (Courtesy of: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-35840272):

  • Returns: All “irregular migrants” crossing from Turkey into Greece from 20 March will be sent back. Each arrival will be individually assessed by the Greek authorities.
  • One-for-one: For each migrant returned to Turkey, a Syrian migrant will be resettled in the EU. Priority will be given to those who have not tried to illegally enter the EU and the number is capped at 72,000.
  • Visa restrictions: Turkish nationals should have access to the Schengen passport-free zone by June. This will not apply to non-Schengen countries like Britain.
  • Financial aid: The EU is to speed up the allocation of €3 bn ($3.3 bn; £2.3 bn) in aid to Turkey to help migrants.
  • Turkey EU membership: Both sides agreed to “re-energise” Turkey’s bid to join the European bloc, with talks due by July.

Of these “key points” there are two that are worth looking at in depth: the fact that “irregular migrants” will be returned to Turkey and that Turkish nationals will have visa-free access to the Schengen zone by June 2016. These two parts of the agreement criticized by many and brokered by the AKP government will allow for the AKP to do their own demographic re-arrangement of the Turkish polity.

Opponents of the AKP tend to be secular, generally come from the wealthier upper and middle classes, or are Kurdish; indeed according to Turkey’s 2013 ranking of provinces by socio-economic development no province won by the opposing CHP in the November 2015 elections was ranked lower than 30 out of the 81 provinces (3) Izmir; 7) Muğla; 15) Tekirdağ; 26) Edirne; 30) Kirklareli; Provinces with traditionally high CHP support–some that the party won in the June 2015 elections–also rank highly such as 4) Antalya, 9) Adana, and 21) Manisa). While the government may use military force to silence their Kurdish opponents in the east, a similar tactic is not viable in the urban areas of the west. The solution here, it seems, is to secure the visa-free travel agreement—which will mainly benefit wealthy, liberal, “Western” Turks—and simply get them out of the country. Perhaps the AKP believe that their opponents will take the opportunity to either migrate or just forget about the issues in their own country with the distraction of newfound freedom of movement.

The second component of this new policy—the return to Turkey of some migrants—is even more troubling. Where will Turkey settle all of these Syrian refugees? We have already seen a trend of Turkish men taking on Syrian wives—sometimes as their second and third wives—in the east of the country, which has had a devastating effect on marital and familial stability. Constanze Letsch noted in 2014 that:

Resentment is growing. Women in border towns and cities accuse Syrian women of luring away their husbands, saying their spouses routinely threaten them with taking a Syrian wife.

At the hairdressers in Reyhanli [a town on the Syrian/Turkish border], several local women express their anger. ‘Syrian women have broken up many families here,’ says Kadriye, 36, who owns a bridal wear business nearby. ‘Our husbands have become real beasts since the Syrians came. The men now make all kinds of excuses to bring in a second wife. They threaten us because of the smallest things: the food, the housekeeping, anything. Some take wives the age of their daughters.’

Along with this effect on Turkish families, however, there could be another—much darker—motive that will have a bigger effect on Turkish politics. An Istanbul MP from the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), Erdoğan Toprak, noted in a report that 500,000 Syrians who entered the country in 2011 will, now after five years of living in Turkey, become eligible for Turkish citizenship. By 2019, Toprak’s report argues there will be around three million Syrian refugees in Turkey. Toprak sees these newly minted citizens as an army of AKP votes since, after all, it was Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan who so enthusiastically fought for the downfall of the Assad regime in Syria and opened his borders to migrants. Toprak further seizes on Erdoüan’s comment “Bir yılda güneydoğuyu yeniden inşa edeceğiz”—“We will re-build the southeast [of Turkey] in one year”. Toprak interprets this “re-building” as a demographic re-arrangement:

AKP hükümeti, mülteci yerleşim planıyla mültecileri bölge illerine dağıtarak, Kürt nüfusun yoğun olduğu yerlerde, demografik değişime gitmeyi düşünüyor olabilir ki bunun ipuçlarını da görmek mümkün.

The AKP government, by spreading refugees throughout provinces in the area through the refugee re-location plan, is thinking of moving towards a demographic change in places with high Kurdish populations. This is a possibility, and it is also possible to see hints of this.

If this is indeed the plan it is certainly a scary thought. By spreading Syrians with a right to vote in Kurdish areas it will 1) make the Kurds an even smaller minority and 2) drown out their voice at the ballot box. As we saw in the November 2015 elections the Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) was able to sweep Kurdish provinces and get into parliament; by manufacturing more AKP votes in the region through resettlement—gerrymandering through demographics—the Kurdish effect at the ballot will be tempered.

It is too early to tell what the government’s motive is regarding the refugee agreement; it may also be another show of force, one of those things Mr. Erdoğan has come to enjoy often to the detriment of his country. As Abukar Arman reminds us:

The situation in Turkey, Middle East and many other parts of the world beg for transformational leaders with vision, wisdom, and right temperament. It takes more than winning elections to cultivate harmonious society, optimally functioning state, and a nation that puts its national interests above personal, party, or movement. A divided nation is a weak nation, and leadership by wrath is a suicidal option.

In other words, in order to save Turkey, President Erdogan might have to clean up the political derbies and extend an olive branch to oppositions. Otherwise, ‘Lord, have mercy on Turkey’.

I am losing hope in President Erdoğan ever being able to extend such an “olive branch”, just as I am losing hope in people’s ability to finally say “enough”. And one comic that has been floating around Facebook sums up some of the pessimism. The female says “This time a bomb exploded in Taksim… [Referring to the main square of Istanbul, at the top of Istiklal Caddesi]. The male replies “But they made roads. What more do you want?”, referring to one of the AKP’s selling points, one which their supporters always bring up: that they improved Turkey’s highways. Perhaps they did make roads—in this case, its looking like a highway to hell.

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Courtesy: Facebook

Still, giving up hope is not an option in this case. In his ironic stab at the AKP government—who told people to “not worry about rumors” after the German government revealed the possibility of threats two days before the “rumors” were confirmed—Turkish columnist Yilmaz Özdil sends a good message: “Don’t believe the Rumors, Don’t Be Afraid be Brave!” He is mocking the government’s message but at the same time (in my most humble of opinions), he is sending the public a message: Don’t believe the rumors that the country is disintegrating, that it is on a downfall, that it is doomed—be brave and stand up for it. It’s a message I can live with despite the despair expressed by, for instance, novelist Elif Şafak. Perhaps Turkish literature is the place to turn to at this difficult time, when Istiklal Caddesi has been turned into an empty space compared to the bustling energetic hub it usually is.

Now (on the left); Previously (on the right). Images Courtesy of: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3500017/Two-dead-seven-wounded-suicide-bomber-targets-tourist-shopping-area-Istanbul.html

The poet Nazım Hikmet could not have said it better writing more than half a century ago:

24 Eylul 1945

En güzel deniz :

henüz gidilmemiş olanıdır…

En güzel çocuk :

henüz büyümedi.

En güzel günlerimiz :

henüz yaşamadıklarımız.

Ve sana söylemek istediğim en güzel söz :

henüz söylememiş olduğum sözdür…

——————————————–

The most beautiful sea:

hasn’t been crossed yet.

The most beautiful child:

hasn’t grown up yet.

Our most beautiful days:

we haven’t seen yet.

And the most beautiful words I wanted to tell you

I haven’t said yet…

-Nazim Hikmet

 

As the Beşiktaş fans (and perhaps the other fans of Istanbul United as well) themselves will tell you—again borrowing from Nazım Hikmet—“We will see good days my children, we will see sunny days….”

Güzel günler göreceğiz çocuklar, 


güneşli günler 
               

           göre- 
                     

                       -ceğiz…

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Recent Violence in Turkey Affects Everyone Equally, Including the Football World

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On Sunday, 13 March 2016, a car bomb exploded in the Turkish capital of Ankara killing 37 and injuring more than 100 in the city’s Kizilay district. As the author has spent time in the Kizilay district—and has many friends who live in the area—this bombing hit close to home. The fact that it is the third such bombing to hit the city in less than six months makes it even more of a cause for concern.

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Image Courtesy Of: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-35798517

The bombing, attributed by the Turkish government to the Kurdish PKK, comes on the heels of several noteworthy developments on the Turkish political scene. The first was on Friday, 4 March 2016, when the government shut down the offices of an opposition newspaper, Today’s Zaman, run by erstwhile Erdogan ally cleric Fethullah Gulen . Later, on 8 March 2016, a conference at Ankara’s Ataturk Sports and Presentation center marked the 92nd anniversary of the Islamic Caliphate’s abolishment; the conference, organized by Hizb-ut Tahrir, called ISIS/ISIL a “military organization”. Finally, on 10 March, 2016, Turkish first-lady Emine Erdogan made controversial remarks that described the Ottoman Empire’s harem as an “educational establishment that prepared women for life”. These three events were worrisome in and of themselves, markers of an increasingly authoritarian state that harbors visions of recreating the Ottoman past in the modern republic.

Unfortunately, the consequences of such polarizing rhetoric hit the country hard in the form of Sunday’s bombing. Don’t expect much news out of Turkey, however; the organizers of a group of academics who criticized the Turkish offensive on Kurdish cities in January were arrested on Monday while a ban on media coverage of the bombings has been ordered as well as a ban on social media.

The saddest part of it all is that violence has become so commonplace in Turkey that it is affecting all strata of society—including the “rich and famous”. Galatasaray striker Umut Bulut’s father, Kemal Bulut, was tragically killed in the Ankara blasts on Sunday night. The wide-reaching consequences of this violence cannot be understated. The 12 Numara fan group of the Fenerbahce football team tweeted “The team you support is not important. If you want to give a solid message against terror write #DerbideOmuzOmuza [#ShoulderToShoulderInTheDerby] to give support” ahead of the weekend’s Istanbul derby against Galatasaray.

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The situation in Turkey is becoming more and more unstable, as many media outlets have noted. The recent events show that no one is immune, and that is certainly a something we all need to keep in mind—people living in the West included. Ankara may not be Paris or New York to many, but to me all cities, regardless of their geographic location, are the same.

My thoughts go out to Umut Bulut and all those who were affected by this tragic event.

Başımız Sağolsun.