Atatürk was a military officer during World War I. Following the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in World War I, he led the Turkish national movement in the Turkish War of Independence. Having established a provisional government in Ankara, he defeated the forces sent by the Allies. His military campaigns led to victory in the Turkish War of Independence. Atatürk then embarked upon a program of political, economic, and cultural reforms, seeking to transform the former Ottoman Empire into a modern, secular, and democratic nation-state. Under his leadership, thousands of new schools were built, primary education was made free and compulsory, and women were given equal civil and political rights, while the burden of taxation on peasants was reduced. The principles of Atatürk’s reforms, upon which modern Turkey was established, are referred to as Kemalism. – Wikipedia
Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Despotic Zeal
By Sevgi Akarcesme
Istanbul — THE virtual control he already has of a majority of Turkey’s newspapers and TV stations apparently isn’t enough for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. On Friday, with the zeal of its despotic leader, his government seized my paper, Today’s Zaman, and its parent, the Turkish-language Zaman, which is the highest-circulating daily in the country. Together, these titles were two of the few remaining independent voices inside Turkey — and Today’s Zaman, in particular, was a reliable English-language news source for diplomats, academics and expatriates.
On Friday, a government-controlled court appointed trustees to take over the newspapers in what amounts to a politically motivated assault. At midnight, protesters faced tear gas and water cannons as riot police stormed our Istanbul headquarters.
The authorities used power tools to force open the iron gate to the building. The following day, our Internet connection was cut off to stop staff members from working on a special edition about the takeover. Since then, the authorities have been unplugging the newspapers’ servers, destroying our digital archive.
Some hours after the raid, I told the police officer smoking a cigarette outside the main gate, “This is a nonsmoking area.” He replied: “Not anymore.” That response underscores a broader shift in Turkey: a dangerous trajectory toward an end of the rule of law.
It’s bad enough that more than 20 Turkish journalists are behind bars. But Friday will be remembered as the day when media freedoms were even more severely curtailed, in flagrant violation of the Constitution.
In November, two prominent Turkish journalists, Can Dundar and Erdem Gul, senior editors of the daily newspaper Cumhuriyet, were arrested on charges of aiding an armed terrorist organization and publishing material that threatened state security. They were released last month, after the constitutional court ruled that their rights had been violated, but still face trial and, if convicted, possible life sentences. Mr. Erdogan said he had “no respect” for the court decision that led to their release.
Vigilante justice lands Turkish rape victim in jail
Nevin Yildirim made the headlines in 2012, both domestically and abroad. The young Turkish woman had murdered her rapist, beheaded him and tossed the head in the village square. Pregnant with the rapist’s child, she was barred from having an abortion. She would later place the child in state care. Yildirim is now in jail, serving a life sentence. The case has stoked fundamental questions on the Turkish judiciary’s approach to women, the media’s sexist language, the weight of a woman’s account in cases of abuse and the say the state and fathers have on the fate of an unborn child.
Yildirim, 29, was a married mother of two in a village in the southwestern province of Isparta. A farm laborer with no social security, she led an ordinary life until she crossed paths with Nurettin Gider, who supervised workers in the fields.
According to Yildirim, Gider began making advances toward her at work. She turned him down, but he persisted. One night, when Yildirim’s husband was away, Gider arrived in her house and raped her at gunpoint.
In Turkey, the first question posed to women claiming rape is: Why didn’t you resist? Yildirim responded: “My father-in-law was living on the ground floor. The kids were asleep. [Gider] threatened to kill the kids. I couldn’t cry out [for help]. It was the first time he raped me.”
The rapes continued.
“Sometimes he would come drunk, take out his gun and have his way. Sometimes I would manage to talk him out and send him away, but resisting was not always possible. Sometimes he would beat me,” Yildirim said. She discovered that Gider had been bragging about his deeds in the village, even claiming to be taking aphrodisiac pills before his visits. “The rumors were spreading like wildfire in the village. I was ashamed to even go out, spending my days at home alone,” she said.
While Gider was busy boasting, Yildirim found out she was pregnant, and attempted to have an abortion. In Turkish hospitals, however, a woman’s solo request for an abortion does not suffice. The consent of the husband is also required. Yildirim couldn’t dare tell her husband. She returned home without an abortion.
On Aug. 28, 2012, Yildirim decided to break the vicious cycle of rape at gunpoint and the swirling rumors that had made her a prisoner in her home. Gider was once again at her door with a gun. She refused to take him in. The man tried to enter the house through the balcony. Yildirim grabbed the hunting rifle hanging on the wall and pulled the trigger several times. She said she has no recollection of what happened afterward. The next thing she knew, she was sitting at the gate of her house with bloody hands, with her 6-year-old daughter asking, “Mom, what happened to your hands?” She had decapitated Gider and tossed the head on the village square, shouting, “Here is the head of the one who dishonored me.”
Yildirim was arrested and requested an abortion from the prison authorities, but the hospital would not perform one since it was beyond the 10-week period allowed by Turkish law. Yildirim had no other option but to give birth, and on Nov. 17, 2012, she did. She refused to touch the baby girl, though, saying she would not be able to give up the baby if she breastfed her even once. She gave the child away to the state. The wife of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan gave the baby a name, Elif Sila. In the meantime, Gider’s wife volunteered to take the baby. Newspapers published surveys, asking readers whether the Gider family should be allowed to adopt the child. The baby eventually was placed with a foster family.
Turkish Parliament Expands Police Powers and Cracks Down on Demonstrations
ISTANBUL — Turkey’s Parliament passed one of its most contested pieces of legislation on Friday, a bill that broadens police powers and increases penalties for people participating in unauthorized demonstrations.
Approval came after a month long debate in which cups and glasses were flung across the assembly floor and lawmakers on opposing sides brawled with their fists over the bill. Supported by the ruling Justice and Development Party, which holds the majority of seats, the bill is expected to be signed into law by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Under the bill, the police will be permitted to use firearms against demonstrators who are armed with firebombs or other “injurious or similar weapons.” They will also be able to detain people for up to 48 hours to uphold public order. Protesters wearing masks or partly covering their faces will face up to five years in prison if they are deemed to be spreading “propaganda for a terrorist organization.”
The bill will also allow the police to pursue some investigations without authorization from prosecutors and judges, raising fears of the arbitrary use of power without judicial oversight.
Opponents say that the bill breaches the separation of powers between the legislative, executive and judicial branches and that it could create the basis for turning Turkey into a police state. The government has described the bill as a reform that increases the security of its citizens while keeping within the European Union’s standards for freedoms and security regulations.
The bill was proposed by the ruling party after thousands of Kurds took to the streets last October to protest Turkey’s lack of support for Kurdish fighters battling militants of the Islamic State, the extremist group, in the besieged Syrian town of Kobani. At least 40 people died in the demonstrations.
International human rights organizations have criticized the bill for its vague terminology that could lead to preventive detentions to crack down on dissent.
Turkish court issues arrest warrant for Gülen
An İstanbul court has accepted a request by the İstanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office to issue an arrest warrant for Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen, who resides in the United States.
The 1st İstanbul Penal Court of Peace decided there was “sufficient tangible evidence” against Gülen and agreed to issue the warrant. The move would be a prelude to a formal request for Gülen’s extradition from the United States, where he is living in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania.
İstanbul Public Prosecutor Hasan Yılmaz, who is supervising an investigation that put Zaman daily Editor-in-Chief Ekrem Dumanlı and dozens of others into jail, issued an arrest warrant for Gülen as part of the operation that started on Sunday targeting journalists, scriptwriters, producers and police officials.
In his request for a warrant, the prosecutor accused Gülen of heading a criminal gang. The charges include operating an armed terror group, which carries a penalty of up to 15 years in prison.
“Anyone critical of this government risks facing the same fate,” said Abdulhamit Bilici, a columnist for Zaman, a newspaper close to Gülen’s movement. “These days it is very easy to be called a traitor.”
The government of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has accused Gülen’s movement of orchestrating a plot to try to bring it down. It says Gülen’s followers within the police and judiciary were behind corruption allegations that forced four ministers to resign and targeted members of Erdoğan’s family. Gülen denied all the charges.
The US and Turkey do have an extradition treaty and Erdoğan has said previously that he wants Gülen extradited.
Alp Aslandoğan, a New York-based Turkish academic and close associate of Gülen, described the accusations against him as ludicrous.
“It’s not a surprise except in the sense of how low the Erdogan regime will go for the sake of absolute power and intimidation,” Aslandoğan, who leads Alliance of Shared Values, said.
Inside the Turkish Government’s Propaganda Machine
By Kate O’Sullivan and Laura Benitez
“Journalists wanted for international news agency,” read the Guardian job ad. As an editor in an industry where legitimate opportunities are few and far between, you apply for pretty much any full-time job you see, so apply we did. A couple of months later, we arrived in Ankara, Turkey, ready to “write history” as the first international journalists to be welcomed into the Anadolu Agency (AA) family.
We joined the agency in January, supposedly to edit English-language news, but quickly found ourselves becoming English-language spin doctors. The AA’s editorial line on domestic politics—and Syria—was so intently pro-government that we might as well have been writing press releases. Two months into the job, we listened to Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç talking some shit about press freedom from an event at London’s Chatham House, downplaying the number of imprisoned journalists in Turkey. Soon after that, we got the chance to visit London on business. We grabbed it and resigned as soon as we hit UK soil.
Established in 1920, the AA was once a point of national pride. Today, it’s at the end of one of the many sets of strings in the ruling AK Party’s puppet parade. Most of Turkey’s TV stations are heavily influenced by the state, and the few opposition channels can expect to have their licenses revoked at any time or be banned from broadcasting key events, such as live election footage or anything that might detract from how fantastic the government is doing.
For example, Turkey’s media regulator, RTUK, fined the networks that aired footage of last year’s Gezi Park protests. Funnily enough, the watchdog is made up of nine “elected” members nominated by political parties—and the more seats in parliament a faction has, the more influence it possesses.
Media outlets that aren’t being hounded by RTUK can always look forward to direct intervention from Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan himself. In 2009, independent mogul Aydin Dogan’s media group—made up of various newspapers and TV channels, CNN Türk, and a news agency—was fined $2.5 billion for evading taxes. Incidentally, the audit came just after one of the group’s platforms published news on the Lighthouse charity scandal, which saw a German court convict three Turkish businessmen for funnelling $28.3 million into their personal accounts.
In one recent leaked recording, Erdogan is heard asking his former justice minister to ensure that Dogan be punished. Since then, the Dogan empire has been bound and gagged accordingly.
The international media relies increasingly on local sources when reporting domestic affairs overseas. The Gezi protests aside—which had nearly as many “live blogs” as protesters—much of Turkey’s English-language news came via Today’s Zaman, the largest English-language newspaper in Turkey. The leadership of the Zaman newsgroup is closely linked with the Islamic teacher and international education mogul Fethullah Gulen, a former ally of the AK Party who now lives in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania.
The AK party wins convincingly. What next?
HE SEEMS unbeatable. Turkey’s prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, secured his eighth big win in 14 years when his Justice and Development party (AK) swept to over 45% of the vote in local elections on March 30th. After facing down corruption charges, mass protests and accusations of authoritarianism, Mr Erdogan may feel emboldened to run for president in August. In an overtly polarising victory speech, he hinted as much. “We are ready to devote ourselves to whatever mission we are entrusted with,” he said. He also promised to go after his enemies: “we will enter their lair. They will pay for this.”
Mr Erdogan was referring to Fethullah Gulen, a Sunni cleric and former ally, who runs an empire of schools, media outlets and charities and was expected to hurt the AK party in the polls. The Pennsylvania-based preacher is accused of being behind leaked tapes that support corruption claims against Mr Erdogan, his children and various cabinet members. Mr Erdogan, who denies any wrongdoing, has resorted to a reshuffle of thousands of policemen and judges said to be Gulenists and, most recently, to a ban on Twitter and YouTube for airing the recordings.
Turkey Vote Results Draw Scrutiny
ISTANBUL — The recent elections in Turkey are under increased scrutiny, with results being challenged across the country not only by political parties, but also, for the first time, by non-partisan groups and individuals.
Riot police using water cannon and tear gas dispersed protesters calling for an investigation into the local election results in the capital Ankara.
Along with opposition parties, non-partisan pressure groups and individuals are contesting the fairness of some of the races.
Soli Ozel, a political columnist for the Turkish newspaper Haberturk, says the country is witnessing a new development – citizen empowerment.
Observers say there have been widespread complaints of ballots not being counted, exceptionally high turnouts – surpassing a 100 percent in certain areas – favoring the ruling party, and allegations of ballot-box stuffing.
Turkey versus YouTube: Erdogan’s draconian reaction to silence a scandal
“Did I upset you, boss?” That’s how the owner of one of Turkey’s biggest media groups apparently began a telephone conversation with the country’s premier after his Milliyet newspaper published a story that displeased the leader, according to a wiretapping leaked earlier this month. In between verbal attacks by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the 75-year-old tycoon who owns 15 per cent of the country’s liquefied gas distribution market asks: “What would you like me to do?” Erdogan Demiroren breaks down in tears as the talk between the two men ends.
Leaked recording like this are increasingly compromising the Prime Minister’s leadership. An audio recording posted anonymously on YouTube exposed the intelligence chief, the foreign minister and other senior officials discussing a possible intervention in Syria.
The authenticity of the leaked conversations have yet to be verified, but the government’s successive decisions to try to ban social media sites indicate the extent to which Mr Erdogan is prepared to go to silence information escaping his control.
The Turkish government moved to ban YouTube, a week after a similar move against Twitter.
“I don’t understand how people of good sense could defend this Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. There are all kinds of lies there,” Mr Erdogan had told supporters recently. Also lies, according to Mr Erdogan, are apparent recordings embroiling him and his entourage in a series of alleged corruption.
The administration has been sinking deeper into scandals that first emerged when the police arrested the sons of ministers, high-profile businessmen and politicians on corruption charges and illicit gold transactions with Iran. Mr Erdogan responded by reassigning thousands of policemen and prosecutors. The recordings purport to expose a conversation between Mr Erdogan and his son. In the first, the Prime Minister is heard telling his son not to accept a bribe from a businessman as the amount is too small, and the second orders him to hide millions of euros during a corruption investigation.
These blows come as Turkey gears up for municipal elections on Sunday, which are widely viewed as a referendum on Mr Erdogan’s 11 years in power. He is increasingly under pressure after the widening graft probe, a heavy-handed response to the protests in Istanbul’s Gezi Park last summer and an economy that has begun to slow.
121 detained in Eskişehir protest ahead of Erdoğan rally
A hundred and twenty-one people who were protesting the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government were detained ahead of a rally for Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Eskişehir on Friday.
The group of protesters, who gathered in front of the Anatolian University of Eskişehir Yunus Emre campus, walked towards a shopping mall, where they were joined by another group. The protesters then started heading towards Eskişehir city center but were stopped by riot police. Police forces warned the group, who were seen holding banners bearing the name of Gezi Park victim Ali İsmail Korkmaz, not to walk further. However, the group did not heed the warning and the police intervened to stop the protest.
Turkish Court Orders Release of Jailed General
A Turkish high court has ordered the release of a former army chief serving a life prison sentence for plotting to topple Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Ilker Basbug was freed Friday – a day after it was ruled a lower court violated his rights by failing to publish a detailed explanation of the verdict last August.
Erdogan: Turkey Could Ban Facebook and YouTube
ISTANBUL— Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey could ban Facebook and YouTube, which he claims have been abused by his political enemies, after local elections on March 30.
Erdogan is locked in a power struggle with the U.S.-based Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen, a former ally who Erdogan claims is behind a stream of “fabricated” audio recordings posted on the Internet allegedly revealing corruption in his inner circle.
“We are determined on this subject. We will not leave this nation at the mercy of YouTube and Facebook,” Erdogan said in a late night interview with the Turkish broadcaster ATV.
Turkish Discontent: Gezi Protests Spawn New Party
The protests that erupted in Turkey in May 2013 saw a local environmental protest bloom into a nationwide pro-democracy movement. A new political party has formed to channel this dissatisfaction into political power, but the hurdles to success are high.
Gezi stands for democracy. For freedom. For having a political say and personal responsibility. For parks and trees. And for daring to say “no” to those in power. And for being able to believe in, hope for and love whatever you wish, exactly as you please. That’s what makes it a bit of a miracle that suddenly all sorts of different people were uniting behind a common goal.
But Gezi has run out of steam. The protests that were sparked when Turkey’s government announced plans to raze Gezi Park, one of the last green spaces in the center of the European part of Istanbul, and replace it with a shopping center, have now subsided. In June, thousands took to the streets, first in Istanbul, and then throughout the entire country. Now, the demonstrations are few and far between.
“That’s exactly why we’ve decided that we have to take it a step further and found a party,” says Cem Köksal. The 37-year-old with shoulder-length brown hair is greeted by young people on the streets here in the Kadiköy district of Istanbul. Köksal is a rock musician and guitarist who also writes and produces music. He and his comrades-in-arms want to challenge Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Their plan is to grow a political force from the seeds of a pro-democracy movement.
“Erdogan said to us demonstrators that we shouldn’t protest on the street, but instead stand for election if we want to change something,” says Teoman Kumbaracibasi, 42. “That’s us!” Known as “Teo,” he is also widely known as an actor on a TV series.
‘Our Goal Is Not the Opposition, but the Government’
In October, Kumbaracibasi and Köksal founded the Gezi Party (GZP) with 26 others. The party is a colorful mix of young and old, left-wing and conservative, blue-collar worker and university student. What unites them is a shared dissatisfaction with Erdogan and his authoritarian government. On Saturday, the GZP will open itself to new members. “There are hundreds who want to join us even though they have no idea exactly what we want,” says Kumbaracibasi. “Thousands,” Köksal corrects him. Just a month after launching, he adds, the party has already attracted 31,000 fans on its Facebook page.
Indeed, Facebook is where all these people found each other. “A few months back, we didn’t know each other at all. Now we are constantly working with each other, like each other, love each other,” says Nursun Gürbüz, who works for an export company. Together, they want to achieve something big. This ambition is broadcast by their party logo: a man whose legs are taking root in the ground like tree trunks and whose arms are holding a green ball. The message here is: We embrace Gezi, we embrace the entire world. The group wants to field candidates for the 2015 parliamentary elections. “And our goal is not the opposition, but the government,” Köksal says.
Turkey women MPs wear headscarves in parliament
Ankara: Four female lawmakers from Turkey’s Islamic-rooted ruling party attended a parliament session on Thursday wearing headscarves, for the first time in 14 years.
In 1999, Turkish American lawmaker Merve Kavakci arrived in parliament wearing a headscarf for her swearing-in ceremony. She was booed out of the house and then had her Turkish citizenship revoked.
Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) lifted on September 30 a decades-old ban on headscarves in the civil service as part of a package of reforms meant to improve democracy and freedoms.
HERNDON, Va., Oct. 29 (UPI) — It is time to “talk turkey” about Turkey’s role in NATO.
Despite U.S. President Barack Obama’s “good friendship” with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the country’s leadership continues down a worrisome path that should give NATO members pause to question Ankara’s allegiance. A most disturbing disclosure by Turkey, only recently revealed, has undermined the United States’ ability to accurately evaluate Iran’s nuclear arms program.
“The whole dream of democracy is to raise the proletarian to the level of bourgeois stupidity” Gustave Flaubert complained in his letter to George Sand in 1871. In the 1800s, democracy could be described in such simple terms. But as time progressed, so did the demands and perceptions. Today, talking about democracy demands more than providing every citizen the power to vote.
This week Turkey welcomed the news to be invited to join the Development Assistance Committee (DAC ), known as the “club of rich countries.” Erik Solheim, the newly elected chair of the OECD, stated that the Turkish aid provided to Africa and to Somalia in particular drew their attention and demonstrates the significant progress Turkey has made. According to OECD DAC figures, the total amount of Turkey’s official development aid in 2012 was $2.5 billion, a 99 percent increase in 10 years. In 2002, Turkey’s aid totaled $86 million and $1.3 billion in 2011—the assistance provided by other OECD member countries decreased 4 percent in 2012.
No democratic tradition
Positive story so far. But (and there is a but) I have to say Turkey still doesn’t have its own identity in democracy, nor does it have a democratic tradition. As we progress in general terms, in terms of finesse in democratic culture we are being more aware of our gaps every day. Of course steps are being taken to fully amend the constitution and make a more pluralistic, more peaceful society. Turkey’s constitutional problem possess a major challenge to democratic consolidation, however, in the latest democratization package, there were regulations for many ethnic and religious groups, especially for Kurdish people such as the right to education in different languages at special schools, lifting of the legal barriers for the use of Kurdish town names and permission to advertise in different languages and dialects.
One thing our politicians fail to consider is: perception is the only reality in politics – as our former Foreign Minister Yaşar Yakış so eloquently stated. If you look like an Islamist and talk like an Islamist, you will be known as one no matter how many freedoms you provide to your society. Passing an alcohol restriction fully in line with EU countries does not make AK Party an Islamist party but letting bigoted scholars talk about the indecency of pregnant women walking on the streets, does. Letting hijab wearing women go to universities and enter governmental institutions does not make AK Party an Islamist party, but criticizing a host on tv for her revealing clothes, certainly does. In terms of legislation, there is no gender segregation in Turkey, only positive one towards women. But if a society can still comment on women’s clothing and not men’s, how much equality of genders can we talk about in a society? If the dissents can find one leak in civil liberties, doesn’t it justify all other criticism? Still to this day neither the party nor the person who publicly criticized the ladies outfit apologized.
Turkish Army Chief Jailed for Terrorism in Coup-Plot Trial
A Turkish court labeled the country’s former army chief a terrorist who plotted to oust Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government, and sentenced him to life in prison alongside dozens of generals, journalists and academics.
Ilker Basbug, who led the army’s fight against Kurdish militants in coordination with Erdogan until his retirement in 2010, walked out of the courtroom near Istanbul in reaction to today’s verdict, the state-run Anatolia news agency said. About 275 people were charged in the case and most were convicted, though full details of the verdict haven’t been disclosed.
The conviction of Basbug and several other top generals, who also received life in prison, marked the biggest crackdown on Turkey’s secular military since it established the republic in 1923, and the ascendance of Erdogan’s Islamist-rooted government, which has eroded the army’s powers during its decade in office. The verdict came at the end of a six-year probe and less than a year after 330 officers were jailed on charges related to a separate coup plot.
The defendants in the Ergenekon case, named after the alleged terrorist group that they were linked to, included journalists, lawyers, trade unionists, politicians and mobsters. Three lawmakers from the main opposition secular Republican People’s Party, including journalist-turned-politician Mustafa Balbay and surgeon Mehmet Haberal, were sentenced to between 12 and 35 years in prison.