— The Erimtan Angle —

Archive for the ‘Turkey’ Category

When I met Tony: No Reservations in Istanbul

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Back in 2010, when I was still living in İstanbul, or rather in the rundown area known only as Tarlabaşı, situated right next to yet worlds removed from the hip and fashionable area that was Beyoğlu, I used to frequent a small kebap place. A small establishment carrying the improbable name Dürümzade and quite well-known amongst those in the know, well-known as the premier spot to buy and eat a tasty dürüm or ‘Turkish wrap’ as called by the small yet immensely useful culinary guide Istanbul Eats. The spot is located at the very edge of Beyoğlu, right before you hit Tarlabaşı Bulvarı and is thus frequented by all sorts of clientele, ranging from hungry trannies over tough local strongmen to hipsters wearing small hats and the like. As such, I had been a regular ever since I moved to Tarlabaşı two years previously, and the guys knew me by name and invariably tried to get my advice for breaking into the international and preferably, American, market. One day, they asked me to come over as an American chef accompanied by a film crew was scheduled to visit them for a shoot. Quite naturally, I agreed to hop over and offer any kind of assistance I’d be able to provide . . . On the day, I went there at the appointed hour, thinking to myself, just imagine if Anthony Bourdain were to be the expected guest. I arrived, met and greeted the Dürümzade crew when I also bumped into the film crew, a cameraman accompanied by a whole host of other technical guys that make up a film crew. I overheard them saying that Tony should be joining them any minute now. And suddenly, there was Anthony Bourdain standing in front of me – a tall and skinny fellow with a typical New York attitude I imagine . . . I introduced myself, with him retorting that he already had a ‘guide’ to tell him all he needs to know, when I saw this bald geezer popping in addressing “Tony” in a friendly and familiar manner. The Dürümzade guys informed me that he was a cook (or aşcı) working at Swissotel and . . . he had arranged the whole thing for the No Reservations team in order to introduce Bourdain to the Turkish delicacy of offal (which is incidentally, the topic tackled by Istanbul Eats introducing the Dürümzade guys whom the booklet refers to as ‘Wrap Artists’). I was flabbergasted, Anthony Bourdain was visiting Dürümzade and not planning to have a ‘Turkish wrap’. I immediately went to Tony and told him that the one delicacy served by the establishment is dürüm, but the progamme was already made – the bald geezer was to sit down with Bourdain, introducing the various bits of offal on offer with Tony munching away, as per usual. Once the shoot was in the can, Anthony Bourdain proceeded to order dürüm for the whole crew, himself included. He then thanked me, as the ‘wraps’ were “excellent” and we chatted for a bit. A friend of mine who had also arrived on the scene after I’d informed her that Bourdain was in the house via my mobile next attempted to take a picture of me and the visiting Bourdain, standing shoulder to shoulder (yes, turns out, I was a bit taller) . . . Afterwards, it transpired, her attempts at photographic portraiture had been just that, namely attemtps that had come to naught. Hence, my fleeting meeting with the legendary Anthony Bourdain would become nothing but a memory locked in my mind with no visual memento available. We had not talked about anything amounting to much of anything, but it was abundantly clear to me that Tony was a cool guy, a real person with real convinctions and opinions . . . And now, he has apparenly taken his own life in France and the world will move along as it does. After all, every day hundreds if not thousands of people die across the globe – some in horrible ways and others under peaceful circumstances . . . yet, the unique person that was Anthony Bourdain will no longer be part of the human fabric populating the earth and contributring to its malfunctioning . . . Sic transit gloria mundi!!!

Ist Eats

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Easter Island as a metaphor: resource depletion, climate change and the word of God

Easter Island

Sunday’s Zaman, Sunday, 12 December 2010.

On the other side of the world lies Easter Island, located in the southeastern Pacific Ocean, at a distance of 3,747 kilometers west of Concepción, Chile. Its original inhabitants, the Rapa Nui, are now Chilean citizens (officially since 1966), and number about 3,000, confined to the island’s sheltered west coast, while some have migrated to mainland Chile over time.

In the past few months the island has been in the news occasionally. Since last summer, Rapa Nui activists have been occupying more than two dozen buildings in a “land dispute that dates back to 1888.” The Chilean Santiago Times reported in early August 2010 that “Rapa Nui clans have occupied close to 30 properties on the island, including museums, government-owned buildings, municipal buildings, the local tourism office and a hotel. The Rapa Nui Parliament is also working to increase the importance of Rapa Nui representatives in the Chilean government. Two weeks after Rapa Nui demonstrators began occupying properties on Easter Island, Chile’s government has sent more police [45 officers] to ‘monitor’ the situation.”

But rather than talk about indigenous rights, the vicissitudes of colonization and human rights’ abuses, I would now like to turn to the island’s pre-colonial history as a means to shed some light on our current global predicament. Giant monolithic statues called mo‘ai that can weigh up to 90 tons are Easter Island’s most striking feature (a total of 887 have been inventoried). They were made relatively recently, in the period between 1250 and 1500 CE.

When Europeans arrived on the island it was utterly treeless. Pollen analysis has revealed however that the island was “almost totally” forested until about the year 1200. But now the island is barren. A volcanic crater on the island’s eastern plain, Rano Raraku, provided the source of the sideromelane (basaltic) tuff from which 95% of the statues were carved. Some 250 mo‘ai are found in an almost unbroken line around the perimeter of the island, while 600 others in various stages of completion are scattered around the island. It is hard to imagine that this now barren island was once covered with trees and forests, but as wood and other tree materials were needed to transport the mo‘ai, trees had to be cut down and forests subsequently disappeared. In view of this rapacious resource depletion executed in the space of two and a half centuries, the locals devised narratives that managed to minimize the role of humans destroying the island’s abundant forests.

The environmentally concerned physicist Adam Frank, on the other hand, relates in a matter-of-fact voice that the “need for trees, rope, and food to maintain a population of laborers eventually led to the destruction of the very forests the islanders depended on. After the forests were gone erosion took the soil too. What followed was Easter Island collapsing into starvation, warfare and cannibalism. The chance of escape disappeared too as seafaring canoes require large trees for their hulls.”

A metaphor for the state of planet earth

The Easter Island story is truly a metaphor for the state of planet earth in the 21st century. It presents a bleak picture of the future awaiting our planet as a result of climate change: Resource depletion, soil erosion, desertification, ocean acidification, sea-level rise, habitat destruction, species’ extinction, in addition to overpopulation are some of the most salient problems humanity has ever faced. The Director of Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) and Germany’s Chief Government Advisor on Climate and Related Issues Hans Joachim Schellnhuber declared publicly that “We are on our way to a destabilization of the world climate that has advanced much further than most people or their governments realize . . . In nearly all areas, the developments are occurring more quickly than it has been assumed up until now.” Action is urgently needed, and currently the Mexican city of Cancún is hosting the latest round of UN climate talks and negotiations (Nov. 29 – Dec. 10). But the event has so far not produced any positive results. Far from ushering in change we can believe in, President Obama is simply continuing his predecessor’s stance on the Kyoto Protocol and allowing the US Congress not to ratify this internationally binding treaty committing most of the world’s richest countries to making emission cuts. And now Japan has categorically stated its opposition to extending the Protocol.

Christiana Figueres, secretary-general of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, announced that “It is very clear that given the diversity of positions on the Kyoto Protocol it is not going to be possible for Cancun to take a radical decision one way or the other on the Kyoto Protocol.” In a surprising turn of events, Huang Huikang, a special representative for climate change negotiations at China’s Foreign Ministry, said that some nations “want to kill the Kyoto Protocol, to end the Kyoto Protocol . . . This is a very worrying movement.” Worldwide, the three largest emitters of greenhouse gases are China (17 percent), the US (16 percent) and the EU (12 percent). China is trying very hard to convince the world that it is going green, but its power plants remain largely if not primarily coal-powered. Surprisingly, the US also uses coal for about 50% of its energy. After all, the US has the largest coal reserves in the world, which makes for a cheap, though dirty, resource.

Debates deemed ‘unnecessary’

Last week the US House of Representatives’ Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, created by Speaker Nancy Pelosi in 2007, held its final meeting. Pelosi set up the Committee to debate the latest developments on climate change issues and research, but following the recent success of Republicans during the mid-term elections, House Republicans deemed such debate “unnecessary.” Next there is the House Energy and Commerce Committee, headed since November 2008 by veteran Democrat Harry Waxman who is to be replaced shortly. One of the contenders to take over is Illinois Republican John Shimkus, a Lutheran by religion practicing climate change denial by vocation. Shimkus will now likely take over the US Energy Commission and has produced such memorable quotes as: “As long as the earth endures, seed time and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, will never cease”, adding, “‘I believe that is the infallible word of God, and that’s the way it is going to be for his creation. The earth will end only when God declares its time to be over. Man will not destroy this earth. This earth will not be destroyed by a flood. Today we have about 388 [carbon doixide] parts per million in the atmosphere. I think in the age of dinosaurs, when we had the most flora and fauna, we were probably at 4,000 parts per million.

There is a theological debate that this is a carbon-starved planet — not too much carbon. And the cost of a cap-and-trade on the poor is now being discovered”. This so-called ‘cap-and-trade’ bill refers to President Obama’s American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 that attempts to limit carbon emissions, and which Shimkus opposes vehemently. In view of such developments, what hope can there be for smaller countries to influence climate negotiations or to promulgate policies that could effect any influence upon the ever-accelerating pace of climate change?

Turkey’s Environment and Forestry Minister Veysel Eroğlu is also in Cancún, but in spite of Turkey’s recent pseudo-Ottoman stance in the world, its record on action regarding climate change is not very impressive. Still, last March, the country’s business leaders held a meeting to “brainstorm about how Turkey’s transition to a low-carbon economy” could be achieved. Emel Türker, spokesperson for Greenpeace Mediterranean, declared recently that the “meetings are continuing in Cancún. The Turkish government is taking part in the meetings without promising to reduce emissions. While climate change knocks at our door with all its disasters, the decision-makers continue to sleep. Taking 19th place in the world in greenhouse gas emissions, Turkey continues its long sleep, claiming that it is a developing country and has contributed little to climate change” — a rather bleak statement with a message that seems to be in line with developments worldwide. The failure of the Cancún talks does not bode well for planet earth’s chances of avoiding a fate similar to, or rather worse than, Easter Island’s and its vanity statues.

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Banksy’s Mural Support for Zehra Doğan

Zehra Dogan

On Thursday, 15 March 2018, the anonymous graffiti artist Banksy, in cooperation with another “graffiti artist [named] Borf“ unveiled a mural depicting Zehra Doğan behind bars on the Bowery in New York City. The anonymous artist even spoke to the New York Times in an attempt to draw public attention to the plight of the imprisoned Turkish artist. Banksy said the following: “I really feel for her. I’ve painted things much more worthy of a custodial sentence”, adding that Dogan had been “[s]entenced to nearly three years in jail for painting a single picture“.1

Zehra Dogan 2 (Banksy, March 18)

Last year, the London-based wrtie and photograpger Perwana Nazif explained that the Turkish-Kurdish painter and journalist Zehra Doğan has been sentenced to two years, nine months, and 22 days in prison for creating a painting which depicted the destruction caused by Turkish security forces in the Nusaybin district of Mardin province, a Kurdish region in Turkey . . . According to Turkish daily Cumhuriyet, the Mardin Second High Criminal Court in Turkey handed down the sentence because she drew Turkish flags on buildings destroyed by Turkish forces. However, according to Artforum, the court expressed that Doğan’s sharing of the image of her work, featuring current military operations, was the cause for her prison sentence“.2

Zehra Dogan (Banksy, March 18)

Doğan herself tweeted “I was given two years and 10 months [of jail time] only because I painted Turkish flags on destroyed buildings. However, [the AKP-led Turkish government] caused this. I only painted it”.3 The tweet has since apparently been deleted. There had been a two-year cease-fire in place between Turkish security forces and the PKK, when the negative election outcome in July 2015 led the Prez Tayyip Erdoğan and his AKP henchmen to renew hostilities in order for popular sentiment to become more amenable to a renewed AKP mandate . . . which was successfully delivered in a election re-run in November — Turkey’s so-called November Surprise. Since then, all-out war between the two parties has erupted anew, a war which has now also swept into Syria, where the AKP-led government is currently fighting the PKK-affiliated PYD with the help of its Jihadi terrorist warriors carrying the misleading moniker FSA or Free Syrian Army.

Zehra D

1Tom Powell, “Banksy unveils New York art mural as a protest against jailing of Turkish artist Zehra Dogan” Evening Standard (16 March 2018). https://www.standard.co.uk/news/world/banksy-unveils-new-york-mural-in-protest-against-jailing-of-turkish-artist-zehra-dogan-a3791411.html.

2Perwana Nazif, “Turkish Artist Zehra Doğan Sentenced to Prison for Painting of Kurdish Town Attack” Artnet News (24 March 2017). https://news.artnet.com/art-world/painter-zehra-dogan-sentenced-to-jail-for-artwork-902015.

3Perwana Nazif, “Turkish Artist Zehra Doğan Sentenced to Prison for Painting of Kurdish Town Attack”.

Islam in the New Turkey: What is Maududi-ism?!??

YT Marşı

On International Women’s Day, the Prez gave another speech in Ankara . . . Tayyip Erdoğan used his words to reprimand the exploits of a certain Islamic preacher who has garnered a lot of public attention lately. Though he did not mention his name, he verbally attacked Nureddin Yıldız, whose many pronouncements on women and sex have become quite infamous in the New Turkey. As a true exponent of what some have termed ‘Maududi-ism,’1 Yıldız employs the latest techmnologica innovations to spread the word – videos and various social media posting. His mos recent outrage dates back to 3 March, saying that [w]omen should be grateful to Allah because Allah allowed men to beat women and be relaxed”. And, in response, the Prez bluntly called the preacher an “illiterate”.2

Nureddin 1

Not content with just reprimding the wayward figure, Erdoğan next continued to make quite far-reaching and programmatic pronouncements: “We do not seek reform in religion, which is beyond our capability . . . Our holy Quran has and will always have words to say. Its commandments will never change. But the independent reasoning derived from them, the developed rules and their implementation will surely change according to the time, the conditions and the possibilities . . . You cannot implement provisions dating back 14 or 15 centuries . . . Carrying out the regulations and traditions of a specific society at a specific date can only spoil them“. Taking a few steps back in the next instance, specifically realising his own limitations as a mere believe (mümin) who is not an Islamic scholar (alim, plural ulamah or ulema, in Turkish), Tayyip Erdoğan added: “I do not have the authority to speak on such matters. But as a president, as a Muslim, and as a person who has responsibility, I cannot tolerate such discord brought to my religion . . . We cannot ignore the stain and the shadow that such people’s random words about women and youths have brought to Islam. Nobody has the right to cause such confusion and caricature our religion as such . . . The understanding that tries to depict Islam as a religion closed off to change and the understanding that attributes deviancies that have nothing to do with Islam to our religion only serve the same aim“.3

Maududi-ism

In this way, the New Turkey’s President seems to have made a public endorsement of what I have referred to as ‘Maududi-ism’, to use the phrase coined by the left-liberal Pakistani journalist, Nadeem Paracha. As a result, I would now like present some pertinent information: ‘the Pakistani writer Mawlana Abul Ala Mawdudi (1903-79) [wa]s a Muslim who witnessed the fall of the Ottoman Empire and the abject failure of the Indian Khilafat Movement, in his writings, Mawdudi “provided Islamic responses, ideological and organizational, to modern society,” as worded by American professor of International Affairs and Islamic Studies, John Esposito. In his analysis of the Pakistani thinker, Esposito explains further that Mawdudi saw “the West . . . [as] a political and economic but also a cultural threat to Muslim societies,” that Abul Ala Mawdudi was a thinker who “self-consciously reapplied Islamic sources and beliefs, reinterpreting them to address modern realities.” He put his thoughts into practice in 1941, founding the Jamaat-e-Islami in Lahore, in then-British India. Following independence and partition, Mawdudi and his Jamaat moved to West Pakistan. As an organization, the Jamaat maintains close ties with international Muslim activist groups, such as the Muslim Brotherhood. Mawdudi’s organization aims at the establishment of an Islamic state, governed by the Shariah, but maintains that democracy is understood as an integral part of Islamic political ideals’.4

Bacilar

1 C. Erimtan, “Will Turkey become the new Pakistan?” RT Op-Edge (21 Feb 2014). https://www.rt.com/op-ed/turkey-to-become-new-pakistan-099/.

“Don’t stain women in the name of Islam: Erdoğan” Hürriyet Daily News (09 March 2018). http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/dont-stain-women-in-the-name-of-islam-erdogan-128529.

3 “Don’t stain women in the name of Islam: Erdoğan”.

C. Erimtan, “Will Turkey become the new Pakistan?”

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

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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.

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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.

erdogan-poem

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

SECULARISM, BEER AND BIKINIS (2011-03-09)

HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

 

SECULARISM, BEER AND BIKINIS

CAN ERİMTAN

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).

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Jihad goes to School in Turkey

Hamdi

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.

MEB-cihad

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)

Quran_29_69

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)

fall-of-jersualem

(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.