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Deniz Baykal: The Man who Made the Prez?!??


The erstwhile leader of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (or CHP), Deniz Baykal, was taken to hospital over a blood clot in a major artery going to his brain early on 16 October 2017. Somewhat surprisingly, “President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan [aka the Prez] reportedly visited the hospital” on the same day. Even “meeting Baykal’s son Ataç Baykal and his daughter Aslı Baykal Ataman,” as reported in the Turkish press. Baykal has been in critical condition since, and following three operations is being kept in a medically induced coma. But why did the Prez himself visit the veteran politician, even instructing prominent brain surgeon Uğur Türe to personally look after the patient?!?? In fact, following his 51-day treatment in Turkey, Baykal was flown to Germany where he entered an Emergency Hospital in the vicinity of the Bavarian city of Munich (Unfallklinik Murnau). And, even more amazing, on 2 January 2018, the Prez made a telephone call to talk to the opposition leader and convey his well-wishes. This telephonic interference was even reported on Turkish television. Is there a special link between these two men, between Tayyip Erdoğan and Baykal?!?? A link the general does not seem to know about?!??

Turkey’s political life has been dominated by Recep Tayyip Erdoğan throughout most of the 21st century . . . Before stepping on the national stage in 2003, his political career had been stopped short due to his imprisonment between 26 March and 24 June 1999. By law, this criminal record would have been the end of his public life . . . but as we know, from being Mayor Istanbul (27 March 1994–6 November 1998), Erdoğan went on to found the Justice and Development Party (or AKP, on 14 August 2001) to subsequently lead the country first as Prime Minister (14 March 2003-28 August 2014) and then, as President (28 August 2014-) . . . and over the years, he has been able to radically alter the country and its people in such a way that today’s Turkey hardly resembles the nation state founded by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk in 1923. The link between being a mayor and becoming prime minister and president was formed by one man, Deniz Baykal.

Necmettin Erbakan’s Protégé

Tayyip Erdoğan entered Turkey’s national consciousness with a bang on 27 March 1994, when Necmettin Erbakan’s Refah Partisi (or RP, erroneously translated as Welfare Party) somewhat unexpectedly made major gains in nationwide regional elections – even sweeping the mayoral seats of Ankara and Istanbul along. Erdoğan, as the Istanbul-born son of parents hailing from Turkey’s Black Sea town of Rize, became the incumbent of the latter as Erbakan’s chosen candidate. The RP was founded in 1983, and Tayyip Erdoğan had been a member of the party’s Istanbul establishment since 1984, when he became the chairman of the Beyoğlu district party organisation and in the following year, even rising to the chairmanship of the RP’s Istanbul provincial department. In order to strengthen his personal ties with the legendary figure of Erbakan, Erdoğan organised a meeting with the Afghani Mujahid and ‘politician’ Gulbuddin Hekmatyar on 30 November 1985. As such, Erbakan had been actively trying to revive the power of Islam in Turkey since 1969 when he penned a manifesto entitled Millî Görüş (or ‘National Vision’). And he subsequently also set up a number of political parties, beginning with the MNP (National Order Party, founded on 26 January 1970) – numerous political vehicles of which the RP (1983-97) was to be the most successful incarnation (even allowing him to become PM in the period 28 June 1996-30 June 1997). Erbakan was known internationally as an ally of the Muslim Brotherhood. Hekmatyar, then, had been an important warlord fighting against the Soviets in the 1980s, receiving liberal support from Pakistan, the UK and the United States. In the 1990s he even received the gruesome sobriquet “Butcher of Kabul,” on account of the widespread destruction and the many deaths he caused in Afghanistan’s capital. Ideologically, he is also known ot have been influenced by the Muslim Brotherhood and Sayyed Qutub in particular. The meeting between these two Islamic champions (in Turkey, Erbakan’s followers used to refer to their leader as Mücahit or Mujahid) organised by Erdoğan was a great success and no doubt raised his standing in the party’s circles as well as the eyes of the RP leader himself. In 1989, Erdoğan unsuccessfully participated in the mayoral contest for the Beyoğlu district of Istanbul. But, five years later, upon receiving Erbakan’s approval he ran for the position of metropolitan mayor of Istanbul. Erdoğan ran a savvy campaign, managed by Nabi Avcı, who was to serve as Education Minister (2013-6) and Culture Minister (2016-7) in two separate AKP governments, which ensured his victory with a handsome 25.1% share of the vote. In 2003, Deborah Sontag gave this assessment of his stint at the mayoral offices in Istanbul’s Saraçhane district: “[a]s mayor, Erdogan adopted modern management practices and proved singularly adept at delivering services, installing new water lines, cleaning up the streets, planting trees and improving transportation. He opened up City Hall to the people, gave out his e-mail address, established municipal hot lines. He was considered ethical and evenhanded,” as a devout Muslim who made no bones about publicly proclaiming his faith.


The Imam of Istanbul

Though his record might very well appear largely positive in hindsight, Sontag adds that an anonymous “building-trade professional, however, told [her] that the corruption endemic to Istanbul City Hall persisted under Erdogan and that donations of equipment and vehicles were still solicited in exchange for building permits.” After all, politics is a dirty business, but rather than deal with Erdoğan’s failings to keep his personal avarice in check, which is a most deserving topic in is own right, for present purposes it seems more at hand to deal with the then-mayor’s faith. Even though the period we are dealing with is not even 25 years removed, at that stage in Turkey’s history, Tayyip Erdoğan was a “pious man in a country where secularism [wa]s worshiped,” as worded by Sontag. As a result, at the time, many inhabitants of Istanbul were highly upset and visibly worried by the fact that a man hailing from the district of Kasımpaşa and visibly attached to his religion and at the same time, clearly opposed to the modernzing reforms introduced by Atatürk (known as İnkılap, in Turkish) headed the biggest city in the country that was and continues to be the cultural and economic heart of the nation. In fact, about eight months after his electoral victory, Erdoğan made this pronouncement: “I am the Imam of Istanbul” (reported in the daily Hürriyet, on 8 January 1995). Islam has no priesthood, as there is not supposed to be an intermediary between the Creator (or Allah) and his creature (or man). As a result, in Sunni Islam, the honorific Imam is given to prayer leaders of a mosque, a person that is morally outstanding and therefore able to lead the believers in prayer. And by proclaiming himself to be the city’s prayer leader, Erdoğan at that stage attempted to transform his elected post into a quasi-religious office. At that stage, the notion of ‘Turkish Secularism’ was still very much alive, and “proponents of secularism in Turkey” attached a “lot of importance to certain symbolic issues [, such as] the availability of alcoholic beverages . . . as well as the thorny headscarf issue,” to quote an earlier piece of mine that has since been censored on the internet (but now still available here). And on both counts, Tayyip Erdoğan did not disappoint his detractors, for he “banned alcohol from municipal establishments,” but proved unable to expand that ban to either restaurants or bars. Two years into his term, he even made the pronouncement that “[a]lcoholic drinks must be banned” (reported in the daily Hürriyet, 1 May 1996). As for the then-still thorny and volatile headscarf issue (nowadays probably better known by the Arabic term hijab), following his inauguration as mayor, Erdoğan proclaimed that he would make the (Islamic) headscarf fashionable in years to come.

Reading a Poem, Going to Jail & Returning to Politics

In December 1997, the RP leadership dispatched the Mayor of Istanbul to a political rally in the southeastern city of Siirt, the hometown of his wife’s family (known as her memleket, in ordinary Turkish parlance). On that day, Tayyip Erdoğan, as he had done several times previously, recited a quatrain written by Ziya Gokalp (1876-1924), the primary ideologue of Turkish nationalism: “The minarets are our bayonets. The faithful are our soldiers. God is great. God is great.” In 2002, TIME magazine evaluated this so-called “flight of fancy” as tantamount to political suicide. The Atlantic‘s Uri Friedman states that the timing had been off, as Gokalp’s lines spoken by Erdoğan “provoked Turkey’s secular military leaders and civilian elite, who had just forced the country’s first Islamist prime minister from power and who viewed Istanbul’s popular, Islamist-leaning mayor as a threat.” Earlier that year, Turkey’s secular elite had namely belatedly undertaken a serious counter-measure against what they saw as the growing threat of Islamic fundamentalism, at that stage still known in Turkey as İrtica or ‘reactionary atavism’ or simply ‘religious reaction.’ The politcal scientist Şaban Tanıyıcı explains: “[i]n a regular monthly National Security Council (NSC) meeting on 28 February 1997, the military leadership demanded from the leader of the [RP] and prime minister at the time, [Necemetin] Erbakan, that his government implement a number of measures that would prevent [the] Islamization of Turkey. After that meeting, the military elite closely followed the implementation of these decisions and started a campaign that included some societal organizations, the media and the opposition parties, and led to the removal of the government. This process of de-Islamization continued after Erbakan was ousted from power. It became known as the ‘28 February Process’, which included . . [a total] ban on the party [RP] and a total campaign against religious social forces.” And in this climate, reciting Gokalp’s lines during an election rally had been a most imprudent thing to do, it had been nothing but a provocation really.

At that stage in Republican history, the Turkish Penal Code’s Article 312 was notorious and its original wording meant to stifle even the smallest hint of İrtica (or ‘religious reaction’): “Anyone who openly incites the public to hatred and enmity with regard to class, race, religion, religious sect or regional differences shall be punished” by means of a jail term between 1 and 3 years. With regard to the reciting of one of Gokalp’s poems by Istanbul’s Mayor, Human Rights Watch had this to say: “Turkish courts show an eccentric understanding of what constitutes “incitement”. The former mayor of Istanbul Recep Tayyip Erdogan was stripped of political rights and sentenced to a year’s imprisonment for reading lines from a poem that not only contained no advocacy of violence or hatred, but was written by a celebrated republican poet and had actually been approved by the Ministry of Education for use in schools. In fact, in common with some other prosecutions under Article 312, the conviction of Recep Tayyip Erdogan appeared to be no more than straightforward political manipulation.” On 6 February 2002 a so-called “mini-democracy package” altered the wording of the infamous article. At the time, the country was led by the veteran politician Bülent Ecevit, whose coalition government was supported from the outside by Deniz Baykal’s CHP.


Friedman relates in 2016 that in “1999, thousands of supporters escorted him to jail, where his popularity only grew. Erdogan seemingly emerged from prison a changed man, committed more to Western-style democracy than Islamism.” But his prison sentence meant that he was barred from political office. “Erdoğan’s political career is over,” the Turkish press wrote at the time. Unperturbed, in the summer of 2001, though he set up the AKP as his chosen political vehicle. In those very summer months, as related by the British Dr Haitham Al-Haddad, variously described as ‘Sunni Muslim scholar and television presenter of Palestinian origin,’ in true hadith stye, a “brother that I know, Dr Saleh al-Ayid, wrote the following just a few minutes after Turkey’s electoral authorities announced that Recep Tayyip Erdogan won the general Presidential Turkish Election . . . [namely that he on a visit to Istanbul] “in the summer of the year 1421 AH, 2001 CE“ paid a visit to the “great scholar Mohammed Ameen Siraaj at his home in Istanbul“ – otherwise known as Mehmet Emin Saraç, a graduate of Cairo’s Al-Azhar and known in Turkey as the last Ottoman âlim who has been teaching Islamic sciences since 1958, and who at that time in 2001 was entertaining none other than the ambitious former mayor of Istanbul. In the course of the social call, it is reported that Saraç stated that “[i]t is neither our Ambition nor Recep Tayyip Erdogan‘s to succeed in leading a province even if it is the size of Istanbul, instead we are training him to be a successful President, and you will see him soon become the President of Turkey by the will of Allāh.”

Baykal or Turkey’s Von Papen

By the time the next election cycle came along in 2002, the newly-founded AKP literally swept to power, gaining “34.2 percent of the vote, winning 363 of the 550 seats in the Turkish parliament [or TBMM].” All together eighteen parties had participated in the electoral contest on 3 November, but only the AKP and the Republical People’s Party (or CHP) were able to breach the 10% threshold – the latter receiving 19.4%. As a result, the AKP was able to form a government on its own, but given that the party’s founder and leader was banned from political life, the post of Prime Minister went to Abdullah Gül, a close personal friend and ally of Erdoğan’s. Gül had also been active in the RP during the 1990s, even uttering quite shocking words at the time. In the run-up to the December 1995 elections, when he was acting as the RP’s deputy leader, he told the Guardian‘s Jonathan Rugman that “[t]his is the end of the Republican period.“

At this stage, the now-gravely ill Baykal made his intervention. In fact, even before the elections, the CHP leader had been vocal in his support for Tayyip Erdoğan. Both party leaders participated in a televised debate chaired by the well-known journalist Uğur Dündar. And right from the start, Baykal expressed his concern with the situation, saying that the ban imposed on his rival was proof that Turkish democracy had still not matured properly. As a long-time-and-particularly-ineffective chairman of the CHP (2000-10), Baykal’s erstwhile defense of democratic values appears virtuous and brave, albeit utterly counter-productive, in hindsight. According to politician Zülfü Livaneli, Baykal was the one to secure Erdoğan’s return to the poitical fold. About a month and a half following the election, a number of CHP MP’s (Livaneli included) held a meeting at fellow MP Mehmet Sevigen’s Ankara house (19 December 2002). At the meeting Baykal vehemently insisted that “Tayyip Erdoğan will become prime minister!“ In spite of serious objections, Livaneli adds, Baykal persisted, even saying “you will see, [Erdoğan] won’t even last two months.“ In response, Livaneli claims to have stated that “Erdoğan is not just anybody, he is the politician chosen to replace Erbakan by all [religious] brotherhoods [or tarikat, in Turkish] combined; he has America’s. Europe’s support behind him, his programme is to turn Turkey into a moderate Muslim republic. He won’t go in just two months, like you’ve said, quite to the contrary, he will end the political lives of everybody [gahtered] in this room.“ In due time, then-President Ahmet Necdet Sezer eventually confirmed the lifting of the ban and approved Erdoğan’s election as MP, an election which enabled him to become PM on 14 March 2003. A few days later, on 17 March, then-CHP Chairman Deniz Baykal, while addressing a crowd in the central Anatolian town of Tokat, apparently proudly declared that “we made Erdoğan PM!“

And now, approximately fourteen and a half years later, Livaneli’s words appear to have come all but true, and, rather than improving Turkish democracy Baykal appears to have been the one who drove the decisive nail into its coffin: Deniz Baykal was “the key figure in steering the course of events toward the disastrous outcome, the person who more than anyone else caused what happened,” as written by the historian Henry Ashby Turner (1932-2008) in 1996. Turner’s words actually deal with the figure of Franz von Papen and his role in securing Adolf Hilter’s rise to power, but seem extraordinarily apt in characterising the part played by Baykal in Tayyip Erdoğan’s ascent to his current lofty spot in his palatial residence in Ankara. And now, this tragic figure appears to hover on death’s threshold, yet his actions have paved the way for the current post-Kemalist reality which will persist into the future . . . And, as reported by the Turkish press, Baykal is expected to make a full recovery in Germany and return to Turkey following a 56-day treatment of physical rehabilitation.

Thirty Days







Some time ago, the Turkish government made public that it planned to alter the way in which alcohol is being sold in the country. According to some, the current Justice and Development Party, or AKP, government has been waging a war against the consumption of alcohol in the country in a bold-faced attempt to bring Turkey more in line with Islamic rules and regulations.

Two vocal critics of the AKP and its government, Soner Çağaptay and Cansın Ersöz, researchers affiliated with the Turkish Research Program at the pro-Israeli Washington Institute for Near East Policy, categorically write that since “the AKP rose to power in Turkey in 2002, special taxes on alcohol have increased dramatically, making a glass of wine or beer one of the most expensive in Europe, and for that purpose anywhere in the world.” In June 2002, the AKP adopted the Special Consumption Tax, or ÖTV, which raised the tax on alcoholic beverages from 18 percent (the standard VAT rate) to 48 percent, and as time went by, the ÖTV rate increased more and more until it reached 63 percent in 2009. Subsequently, the government came under fire for its policy and in 2010, some ÖTV taxes were eliminated.

But now the Tobacco and Alcohol Market Regulatory Authority, or TAPDK, has issued new regulations restricting advertisements for alcoholic beverages as well as its sale tactics. The decree requires catering companies that organize events that serve alcoholic beverages to get a license before each event. While it also prohibits supermarkets and grocery stores from placing alcoholic products for sale near goods aimed at children and youngsters. In addition, the sale of alcohol will be banned at municipally owned establishments and along roads designated as highways and state routes in the traffic code. However, no such provision in the regulation will apply to the sale of alcoholic beverages at venues in coastal zones. Draconic measures which restrict access to a product which is already restricted as a result of its high price?

Çağaptay and Ersöz opine that in “2003, Turkey’s per capita alcohol consumption rate was 1.4 liters per year. For that same year, this amount was 10.9 liters in Belgium; and 11.5 liters and 9.0 liters in neighboring Cyprus and Greece respectively. Even, Qatar, which implements a rigid version of the Shariah under the Wahhabi school, had higher per capita alcohol consumption rates than Turkey, at 4.4 liras per capita.” In other words, Turkish citizens do not appear to partake of alcoholic beverages all that much to begin with.

Arguments claiming to protect the young are very popular when it comes to restricting access to “forbidden” products such as pornography and/or drugs the world over. Mehmet Küçük, the head of the TAPDK, has publicly said that the aim of the new decree was not to restrict individuals’ freedoms but to lessen alcohol’s incentive. In other words, Küçük merely wants to limit the availability of attractive seducers, arguably in a way somewhat similar to the effect of laws that eventually prohibited the Marlboro Man from riding into the sunset while willingly exposing his body to carcinogenic substances in Europe and elsewhere. Küçük is thus suggesting that Turkish citizens require a nanny-state that knows best what is right or wrong. Turkey, a country that straddles the Balkans and the Middle East with a population that is officially 99.9 percent Muslim, is arguably the only country with an Islamic population and culture that allows its citizens unrestricted access to alcoholic beverages. Are the new regulations regarding the sale of alcoholic beverages in Turkey a somewhat cynical ploy to increase the state’s tax revenues or is there more than meets the eye?

In my opinion, the whole debate surrounding the consumption of alcohol in Turkey is primarily about perception. Opponents of the AKP government accuse Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his ministers of secretly planning to introduce Islamic codes and attitudes via the backdoor. They thus regard this new TAPDK decree as a direct attack on the country’s “secular constitution.”

Is this really the case, and if so, why? In my book, “Ottomans looking West?” I posited that the “proclamation of the Republic . . . liberated Turkish citizens from the restrictions of Islam and the Şeriat [Shariah].” As a result, Republican Turks were meant to enjoy this world and its delights to the fullest and the decision to let Turkish citizens “partake of the delights of the mortal world was arguably crystallized in the consumption of alcoholic beverages. A strict interpretation of Islam explicitly prohibits the drinking of intoxicants in this world.” Hence, the issue of unrestricted access to beer and other alcoholic intoxicants has now assumed political, if not ideological, importance.

Turkey’s Muslim citizens have had legal access to alcohol since 1926. Turkey’s Islamic neighbor states do not grant their citizens equally easy access to the forbidden delights of alcohol. As a result, some Turks regard the issue as critical to the definition of secularism in the country. In fact, the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) also defines secularism as “Concerned with the affairs of this world, wordly; not sacred.”

But nowadays, the term, particularly in its French form of laicité (at the root of Turkey’s laiklik), denotes a strict separation of church (or religion) and state. And, the theory is that Turkey, as a result of the reform movement, known as the İnkılap, is a secular state. In reality, however, ever since the Turkish state abolished the Caliphate and the Ministry of Pious Endowments in 1924, the Turkish Republic has regulated its citizens’ religious life through the Religious Affairs Directorate, a branch of government attached to the office of the prime minister.

Consequently, proponents of secularism in Turkey quite naturally feel the need to attach a lot of importance to certain symbolic issues: the availability of alcoholic beverages springs to mind, as well as the thorny headscarf issue, or rather the notion that women possess the freedom to don more or less revealing outfits (arguably, to please the male gaze). Let us call these charged matters “beer and bikinis” as a shorthand for the contentious topic of Turkish secularism in the 21st century.

Ali Bardakoğlu, the president of the Diyanet until recently, publicly called for the establishment of an independent religious authority in Turkey in an interview he gave to the self-avowed atheist Ahmet İnsel of daily Radikal (Oct. 23-24, 2010). After he made these statements, Bardakoğlu was replaced by Mehmet Görmez as the head of the Diyanet (Nov. 11).


Jihad goes to School in Turkey


AKP member Ahmet Hamdi Çamlı, who used to be a driver of Turkey’s President but at present seems to be a member of the Youth, Sports and Culture Commission of the Ministry for National Education,(1) has now also made the news in Turkey.


And this driver-turned-official has namely made a number of remarks relating to the Ministry for National Education’s decision to include the teaching of the concept of Jihad in Turkey’s schools. On Friday, 21 July 2017, Çamlı told the press the following: “[w]hen you look at the Ottoman sultans, almost none of them performed the pilgrimage in order not to take a break from jihad . . . There is no use in teaching math to a kid who does not know the concept of jihad”.(2) While it is true that no Ottoman Sultan has ever undertaken the holy pilgrimage to Meccah, the reasons were more likely practical that concerned with upholding jihad. The Ottomans did not see themselves as mujahids (practitioner of jihad or striving in the way of God), and did not employ the concept of jihad in their war efforts till the late 18th century. Quite some years ago now, I talked about the concept of jihad (Originally published on 18 September 2010): “[n]owadays the term jihad is much bandied about and used and/or abused at will by Muslims as well as non-Muslims the world over. The historian and Islam specialist Mark Sedgwick maintains that the concept of jihad was developed in the 8th century, when it basically functioned as a ‘mixture of the Army Regulations and the Geneva Conventions, appropriate for the circumstances of the time’. At the time of the Islamic conquests (7-8th centuries), the world was divided between a House of Islam (Darülislam) and the House of War (Darülharb) and international relations between both spheres were primarily military in nature. But as the centuries progressed and relations between Muslims and the outside world achieved a quasi-peaceful status quo, punctuated by commercial exchanges and trade links, the idea of jihad changed as well. There is the well-known distinction between the greater jihad (al-jihād al-akbar) and the lesser jihad (al-jihād al-asghar), between a personal struggle in the way of Allah (crf. Surah 29:69) and an armed struggle to protect believers against oppression and violence perpetrated by unbelievers. In other words, jihad evolved from a code of war into a defensive mechanism, tantamount to a religious duty leading to religious rewards”.(3)


Ghaza not Jihad

Back in the 1930s, the Orientalist Paul Wittek ‘proposed his Ghazî thesis to explain the sudden and apparently inexplicable emergence of the Ottoman state at the end of the 13th century. The Austrian historian and Orientalist argued that the Ottomans, [had been] imbued with a Ghazî spirit, meaning a zealous warlike attitude brimming with a glowing fervour for Holy War [or Ghaza, in Wittek’s wording], necessarily carried the day at the time. Wittek thought that Ottoman Ghazîs possessed a clear advantage over their contemporaries as members of a polity that had always been inspired by a fanatic enthusiasm for conquest, booty, and expansion’. Ghaza and not Jihad had been the Ottomans’ raison d’être acccording to this Orientalist. And this opinion was adopted by historians and Ottomanists alike. In due time though, authors like Rudi Lindner and Cemal Kafadar offered a somewhat different perspective, basically debunking the whole Ghazî ethos and spirit, but popular opinion still seems largely beholden to this interpretation. With regards to the application of the concept of jihad in an Ottoman context, we have to wait till the year 1774. At that stage, Sultan Mustafa III (1757-74) was waging war against Catherine the Great (1762-96) and the Ottomans were on the losing side. As a result, Mustafa III had his Sheik-ul-Islam issue a call for jihad to defend the Ottoman Empire against a victorious infidel, the Russian Empire. After all, according to Islamic theory jihad is a defensive mechanism . . . following the Prophet’s death in 632, the first time Muslims declared a jihad was in the year 1099. The Crusaders besieged the city of Jerusalem in the period 7 June – 15 July 1099 before conquering the third holy site in Islam. In response to this calamity, Muslims rulers called for a universal jihad to liberate Muslim lands from the hands of Christian infidels . . . but the reconquest of Jerusalem did not take place until 2 October 1187.(4)


(1) ‘Mil.Eğit. Genç. Spor ve Kültür Kom. Üyesi’ “Ahmet Hamdi ÇAMLI” Twitter. https://twitter.com/ahmethamdicamli.

(2) “Ruling AKP’s Deputy: Useless To Teach Math To A Kid Who Does Not Know Concept Of Jihad” SCF (22 July 2017). https://stockholmcf.org/ruling-akps-deputy-useless-to-teach-math-to-a-kid-who-does-not-know-concept-of-jihad/

(3) “The War in Afghanistan: Jihad, Foreign Fighters and al Qaeda” The Erimtan Angle (04 Feb 2017). https://sitanbul.wordpress.com/2017/02/04/the-war-in-afghanistan-jihad-foreign-fighters-and-al-qaeda/.

(4) Cfr. Wikipedia.



‘As European leaders prepare to meet Turkey’s President Erdoğan at the NATO summit this week, [the Cartoonists Rights Network International] is just one among many human rights orgs urging the Presidents of the European Commission and Council of Europe to ensure that protection of human rights and detention of journalists in Turkey remain a central point of discussion’.

The CRNI published a public letter addressed to the Turkish Prez and his European interlocutors:

Your excellencies,

Turkey has been a member of the Council of Europe for almost sixty years and is party to the European Convention on Human Rights.

In a meeting with the European Committee on Foreign Affairs held in Strasbourg on May 15th Thorbjørn Jagland, Secretary General of the Council made the following statement with reference to journalists arrested in Turkey on charges pertaining to support for terrorist organisations:

“… there is case law [in the European Court of Human Rights]… that one cannot have a journalist in pre-trial detention for more than four months.”

Staff from the Cumhuriyet newspaper including our colleague the acclaimed and internationally respected cartoonist Musa Kart were formally arrested on November 5th 2016. They were finally indicted on April 4th 2017 – a gap of five months.

Last week they spent their two hundredth consecutive day in custody. When the first hearing of their trial takes place, scheduled for July 24th, they will be approaching the end of their ninth month. And their circumstances are far from unique; Amnesty International’s figures indicate that a third of the world’s imprisoned journalists are in Turley.

By any measure of jurisprudence the protracted detention of these journalists constitute a violation of rights accorded to those awaiting trial.

Furthermore we reject the charges levelled against Kart and his colleagues, who have done nothing more than pursue careers in journalism.

We urge President Tusk and his delegation to press President Erdoğan on conditions for journalists and media workers in Turkey and remind him that, in the word of Sec.Gen. Jagland:

“… [the ECHR] has communicated to the journalists that their[s] are cases of priority.”

Finally we call upon President Erdoğan to consider his own words last year following the attempted coup against his government:

“I feel that if we do not make use of this opportunity correctly, then it will give the people the right to hold us by the throat.”

Time for Turkey to behave “correctly” i.e. like the robust, mature, lawful democracy and valued world player her friends in Europe know her to be.

Joel Pett, President, CRNI”.(1)




Turkey: Post-Referendum Blues


Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (aka the Prez) and his AKP henchmen rapidly declared victory in last Sunday’s referendum vote (16 April 2017), with only the slimmest of margins (51.3%). Subsequently, te CHP MP Selin Sayek Böke went on live television to make some remarkable statements: “Have no doubts that we are going to use all of our democratic rights in this regard. And, when we say ‘all rights’, this includes both continuing to work in the parliament or to withdraw from it! . . . What is stolen is the will of the people. There is a perception operation carried out with hurried up balcony speeches. We do not recognize this declared result of the referendum and we are not going to recognize it . . . This referendum must be renewed . . We are not going surrender to this fait accompli”.i


CNN’s Laura Smith-Spark, for her part, adds that “Turkey’s top electoral board [or YSK] is considering objections Wednesday [, 19 April 2017] to the way the country’s referendum was run, according to Turkey’s semi-official Anadolu news agency . . . A narrow majority of voters in Sunday’s referendum backed the 18-article constitutional reform package, which will transform the country’s parliamentary system into a powerful executive presidency”.ii But, it remains to be seen whether the Prez and his AKP henchmen will pay much heed to the opposition and Sadi Güven‘s YSK . . . After all, the most powerful man in the world has already congratuled him over the phone as well as his best buddies from Hamas and Ahrar al-Sham.


Turkey’s AKP has long been allied to the Palestinian reistance movement Hamas. And lest you’d be wondering about the latter and their intentions: ‘the group itself posits that “The Islamic Movement of Free Men of the Levant [or Ahrar al-Sham] is an Islamist, reformist, innovative and comprehensive movement. It is integrated with the Islamic Front and is a comprehensive and Islamic military, political and social formation. It aims to completely overthrow the Assad regime in Syria and build an Islamic state whose only sovereign, reference, ruler, direction, and individual, societal and nationwide unifier is Allah Almighty’s Sharia (law)”’.iii

Ahrar 3

And there are those who would argue that the AKP’s long-term strategy goals for Turkey and its environs are remarkably similar to those entertained by Ahrar al-Sham for Syria . . .

Ahrar 1

And then there is the other Islamic ally of the Prez and his AKP: “Talaat Fahmi, spokesman of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, told Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency that Turkey gave a lesson in democracy to the world”.iv

Ahrar 2

i “Turkey’s main opposition party CHP signals consideration of withdrawal from parliament”BirGün (19 April 2017). http://www.birgun.net/haber-detay/turkey-s-main-opposition-party-chp-signals-consideration-of-withdrawal-from-parliament-156139.html.

ii Laura Smith-Spark, “Turkey referendum: Electoral body hears objections” CNN (19 April 2017). http://www.cnn.com/2017/04/19/europe/turkey-referendum/.

iii “AKP Turkey’s Favourite Terrorists in Syria: Ahrar al-Sham” The Erimtan Angle (12 Feb 2017). https://sitanbul.wordpress.com/2017/02/12/akp-turkeys-favourite-terrorrists-in-syria-ahrar-al-sham/.

iv “Islamic world congratulates Turkey – from Hamas to Ahrar al-Sham” KomNews (19 April 2017). https://komnews.org/islamic-world-congratulates-turkey-hamas-ahrar-al-sham/.

Forging an Absolute Presidency: Moving towards a Referendum


The whole world at present is experiencing a shift towards authoritarianism, with Donald Trump’s formal inauguration as the 45th U.S. President arguably acting as an ominous portent of things to come. Trump, or the Drumpf, as I like to call him in reference to his “grandfather Friedrich Drumpf [who] came to the United States in 1885”,has a clear counterpart in the figure of Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Turkey’s first popularly elected President, whom I like to refer to as the Prez.Since about the year 2010, Erdoğan has been arguing that Turkey’s parliamentary system should be replaced by a presidential one and the day following the Drumpf’s inauguration, on Saturday, 21 January 2017, he seems to have overcome yet another hurdle blocking the way: Turkey’s “parliament voted 339-142 to make the president the head of the executive and abolish the job of prime minister, triggering a referendum on the proposal and putting Erdogan one step away from building a power center unrivaled since the days of parliamentary founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. In Turkey’s system, amendments to the constitution need to be approved by 367 of 550 members to become law. Proposals that receive between 330 and 367 votes can be referred to a plebescite”.3


In the wake of this momentous parliamentary vote, Tayyip Erdoğan gave another televised speech: “It’s still early to call a referendum date, we will share it when we pick up some momentum . . . We see that our people favour a constitutional referendum and a president with party ties. We wouldn’t attempt this otherwise”.Ever since he emerged on Turkey’s political scene in the early 1990s, it has been Erdoğan‘s fervent desire to stifle and eventually obliterate the seeming secularization of society and the personality cult surrounding the figure of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. And his favoured line of reasoning in this respect has always been referencing the fact that the Turkish population-at-large had been largely left untouched by Atatürk‘s reforms that had transformed the religion of Islam into the state’s obedient handmaiden via the Directorate of Religious Affairs (or Diyanet, in Turkish) and propagated a lenient and permissive attititude towards the Prophet’s many rules, regulations and restrictions. As I wrote in 2014, “Tayyip Erdogan is . . . determined to re-introduce an overt Islamic discourse into the country’s public and political life . . . Turkey’s original 1924 Constitution also contained the phrase that that Islam constitutes the religion of the state’ (Article 2), which was subsequently removed four years later and might very well be set to return now that the AKP is ruling the land” and Tayyip Erdogan is set to become the nation’s first Absolute President. After all, “Erdogan also appears determined to fashion his own personality cult”.His ultimate goal thus appears to be replacing the figure of Atatürk in the hearts and minds of the Turkish citizenry.


Bloomberg’s Hacaoglu and Kozok explain that “even before Saturday’s vote, Erdogan had already arrogated to himself powers unusual for his ceremonial post [of President of the Republic]. He’s led sessions of the policy-making cabinet, and forced out the previous prime minister, [his erstwhile advisor and mentor] Ahmet Davutoglu, after he tried to assert his authority as head of the executive branch. While the AK Party [or AKP] lacks enough seats to carry parliament alone, the package was approved with backing from the nationalist opposition MHP. Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said Jan. 17 that his party was making the changes together with the nationalist MHP . . . If the legislative package is approved in a referendum, Erdogan’s ties to the ruling AK Party will be immediately restored while most of the measures, including powers granted to Erdogan to call elections or declare a state of emergency, will go into effect when the presidential and parliamentary elections are held Nov. 3, 2019. The legislative package, meanwhile, limits the parliament’s oversight over the executive branch and allows the president’s office to issue decrees with the force of law . . . Bulent Turan, a [parliamentary] whip from the Islamist-rooted [AKP], which Erdogan co-founded, rejected opposition claims that the amendments would create an elected dictatorship, saying they sought to allow for greater government oversight and to speed up decision making”.Turan also told the Anadolu Ajansı that parliament has fulfilled its task. Now it’s the people’s turn. Whatever decision our people take, we will all accept that decision“.7


In contrast, the scholar of constitutional law Prof. Dr. İbrahim Özden Kaboğlu opines matter-of-factly that the proposed amendment effectively “phases out the parliament and takes power away from the hands of the government. The president moves to the center of executive power, reshaping the country’s regime around one man”.8


1 “Make Donald Drumpf Again, #2” The Erimtan Angle (08 March 2016). https://sitanbul.wordpress.com/2016/03/08/make-donald-drumpf-again-2/.

2 C. Erimtan, “The Gezi anniversary and Turkey’s future under ‘President’ Erdogan” RT Op-Edge (04 June 2014). https://www.rt.com/op-edge/163620-turkey-future-gezi-anniversary/.

3 Selcan Hacaoglu and Firat Kozok, “Turkey Parliament Triggers Referendum on Presidential System” Bloomberg (21 Jan 2017). https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-01-21/turkey-parliament-triggers-referendum-on-presidential-system-iy6kd8n6.

4 Selcan Hacaoglu and Firat Kozok, “Turkey Parliament Triggers Referendum on Presidential System”.

5 C. Erimtan, “The Gezi anniversary and Turkey’s future under ‘President’ Erdogan” .

6 Selcan Hacaoglu and Firat Kozok, “Turkey Parliament Triggers Referendum on Presidential System”.

7 Hatice Özdemir, “AK Parti Grup Başkanvekili Turan: Milletimiz ne karar verirse hepimiz o karara razı olacağız”AA (21 Jan 2017). http://aa.com.tr/tr/politika/ak-parti-grup-baskanvekili-turan-milletimiz-ne-karar-verirse-hepimiz-o-karara-razi-olacagiz/732157.

8  Selcan Hacaoglu and Firat Kozok, “Turkey Parliament Triggers Referendum on Presidential System”.

Forging an Absolute Presidency: Standing Protests across Turkey


Turkey has now been ruled by Tayyip Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (or AKP) for many many years. The AKP has effectively ushered in the nation’s post-Kemalist era, with the AKP-led governments doing their urmost to undermine the legacy of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk and an end to the so-called Kemalist experiment commonly referred to as “Turkish Secularism“.1 And since 2014, Erdoğan has been acting as the first popularly elected President of the Republic (hence, I like to refer to him now as the Prez).Traditionally, the post of the president was primarily symbolic in nature, with the incumbent acting as the figurehead of the state while the nation was governed by the Prime Minister and his cabinet in Parliament (or TBMM). But Tayyip Erdoğan’s has always set his sights higher and wider, and as I wrote in 2014, Erdoğan’s main goal was always “to re-introduce an overt Islamic discourse into the country’s public and political life, a situation which is all but normal in a country like Egypt, even if ruled by somebody like [General-now-President] Sisi. Turkey’s original 1924 Constitution also contained the phrase that that ‘Islam’ constitutes the ‘religion of the state’ (Article 2), which was subsequently removed four years later and might very well be set to return now that the AKP is ruling the land” for the foreseeable future.2 On a more personal level though, since 2010, rumours have been going round the nation that the ruling party then still headed by Erdoğan himself intended to alter Turkey’s political order from a parliamentary system to a presidential one, similar to the situation in neighbouring Russia or in the faraway United States. And now, at the outset of the calendar year 2017, the TBMM is in the process of accepting a series of constitiutional amendments paving the way for a popular referedum that would rubber-stamp a presidential system and turn the erstwhile denizen of the impoverished neighbourhood of Kasımpaşa into the nation’s all-powerful strongman, holding all the reins of power and wielding absolute authority. Or, as I wrote in the summer of 2014: “In the end, it is my contention that Erdogan wants to become another Atatürk for the Turkish nation. Whereas the first President (1923-38) ushered his fellow-Turks into the modern world, arguably shedding any excessive traits of their Islamic persuasion in the process, Erdogan wants to be the President of the Republic starting 2014 to complete this task by means of reviving the Turks’ ties to their Muslim creed and uniting all the ethnic groups and sub-groups living on Anatolian soil under the banner of Islam”.3


As I posted some time ago: “On 10 January 2017 the Turkish press reported that Turkey’s parliament [or TBMM] . . . formally launch[ed] debates on a constitutional amendment package that will usher in a powerful presidential system after lawmakers from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) passed a motion through parliament. The initial vote in parliament was to decide whether to proceed with a debate on 18 articles of the constitutional amendment package, which was drafted by the AKP and MHP‘“.And now the first round of negotiations about the [constitutional] changes including the presidential system passed at Turkish Parliament and protests against these changes immediately started. People who say “We stand up against dictatorship were taking the action to stand up at 4:00 pm in their homes, offices, schools, cafes, streets across Turkey . . . [The] We stand up against dictatorship action was performed with the participation of hundreds of people from offices to cafes, houses to streets. The action, spread from social media to Street, will continue for 3 days”.5


These protest actions are an obvious reference to the Gezi protests of the summer months of 2013: “Erdem Gunduz is a legend. And all he had to do to earn this status was to stand completely still. Gunduz, a performance artist and left-Kemalist, began to stand still in Taksim Square on Monday [, 17 June 2013] at 6pm local time. He stood, facing the Ataturk cultural centre, until 2am. It was a silent, stubborn and dignified protest against the brutality of the police response to demonstrators, which had culminated in a sinister weekend assault whose targets included medics and staff who treated the wounded. Indeed, the ministry of health went so far as to threaten to withdraw the licences of medical personnel who treated protesters injured by police”.6


The protests taking place now have been announced as follows: On January 17 at 5:00 pm, on January 18 at 6:00 pm, thousands of people will take theaction to stand up against the presidential system . . . In Ankara, hundreds of people including CHP deputies took the stance to stand up at 4:00 pm. Deputies sitting in cafes on Kızılay Konur Street invited everyone to stand up. After the stand up action carried out by the applause, they walked through Konur Sokak. Deputies invited everyone to participate in the action to take for 3 days. Action to stand up took place in several points of Ankara, the road was closed to traffic“.7


1. C. Erimtan, “Secularism, beer and bikinis” Hürriyet Daily News (03 Oct 2011). http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/default.aspx?pageid=438&n=secularism-beer-and-bikinis-2011-03-09.

2 C. Erimtan, “The Gezi anniversary and Turkey’s future under President Erdogan” RT Op-Edge (04 June 2014). https://www.rt.com/op-edge/163620-turkey-future-gezi-anniversary/.

C. Erimtan, “The Gezi anniversary and Turkey’s future under President Erdogan”

4 “Turkey’s New Constitution: Forging an Absolute Presidency”The Erimtan Angle (13 Jan 2017). https://sitanbul.wordpress.com/2017/01/13/turkeys-new-constitution-forging-an-absolute-presidency/.

5 “New Protests Launched in Turkey, called: ‘No to dictatorship’ standing at home, at work, on streets” Washington Hatti (16 Jan 2017). http://washingtonhatti.com/2017/01/16/new-protests-launched-in-turkey-called-no-to-dictatorship-standing-at-home-at-work-on-streets/.

Richard Seymour, “Turkey’s ‘standing man’ shows how passive resistance can shake a state”The Guardian (18 June 2013). https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/jun/18/turkey-standing-man.

7 “New Protests Launched in Turkey, called: ‘No to dictatorship’ standing at home, at work, on streets”.