Trump’s War on America: #MuslimBan and TPP

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I knew Trump era would be full of bigotry, discrimination, violation of rights. But I didn’t expect the deterioration to be at this speed and scope.  It is mind blowing how fast the world’s most powerful democracy can start turning into a protectionist, discriminative country where people from seven designated Muslim-majority countries are handcuffed at the airports, subjected to religion tests, denied entry to the U.S. where they have been working and living for years.

The Muslim ban significantly diminished the U.S.’s moral authority. Be assured that from now on, all the human rights reports, condemnations of rights violations from the U.S. will be mocked like never before.

There is resistance within the country. There are major protests against him and his actions which reveals that the American society, or at least a big segment of it, refuses to sit and watch while their president violates basic principles of democracy and the rights of their fellow citizens.

America’s economic interests are also at stake.

It has only been a week and his actions already weakened the American position in various parts of the world. Take the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). It was an agreement that would set very high standards on environment, trade in services, employment. It would set a framework protecting American investors in the TPP countries whose combined GDP accounts for around %40 of the global economy. The deal was repeatedly denounced by Beijing as an attempt to contain China. None of these facts were able to prevent Trump from pulling his country out of the arrangement. Now that USA withdrew from TPP, China is expected to fill the vacuum. Yes, the man who constantly talked about taking on China, gave the Chinese the candidacy of commercial leadership in the Pacific Rim on a silver platter. In search for an economic engine for the TPP, Australia and New Zealand now encourage China to join TPP. China is also the dominant power in Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) which is not yet finalized. It is a smaller deal compared to the TPP and TTIP (Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership). RCEP countries’ combined GDP makes up around 30.5% of the world’s economy. But with the TPP’s future in question, it has now a better chance at setting its own (China’s) standards covering a big portion of the global commerce.

Trump’s trade policy is strictly neo-mercantilist and belongs to another age. Economic protectionism always ends up hurting all. The U.S. has experienced it with Smoot-Hawley Act of 1930 through which the U.S. joined the protectionist bandwagon of the time. It was trigged multiple retaliations and created much resentment against the U.S. Moreover, it contributed to the rising economic nationalism of the era that eventually led to the World War II.

It is not China or Muslims abroad who could fix all this. The task is up to the independent institutions of the U.S. as well as American civil society.

 

 

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Turkey – U.S. Relations to Collapse over Fethullah Gülen?

FILE PHOTO -  Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan listens as U.S. President Obama addresses a joint news conference at the White House in Washington

FILE PHOTO – Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan (L) listens as U.S. President Barack Obama (R) addresses a joint news conference in the White House Rose Garden in Washington, May 16, 2013. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/File Photo – RTSEXJC

The U.S. Vice President Joe Biden who is set to visit Turkey very soon will find an intense anti-Gülen and a little anti-American environment in Turkey, hopefully he will understand why.

The country is still staggered by the horror unleashed by the coup plotters that poised to suspend rule of law and democracy, ran over people with tanks, opened fire on civilians from gunships, bombarded the parliament with F-16s and tried to assassinate the country’s president… It is an unprecedented national trauma whose effects will shape Turkey’s future internal and, to some extent, external politics. The country has been politically fractured in the recent years. Yet the coup attempt created an unusual sense of unity among all political parties, civil society and beyond. Their eyes turned to Fethullah Gülen and his movement, the prime suspects of the bloody attempt. If the U.S. fails to read the post-coup attempt mood in Turkey, it will not risk losing only the Turkish government but also the Turkish public.

Conspiracy Theories

For some, USA is also involved in the coup attempt. The pro-government media in Turkey offers a wide range of conspiracy theories. An official joined: The country’s Labor Minister Süleyman Soylu on HaberTurk TV openly accused USA of being responsible for not only the recent coup attempt but also “all the calamities” like 1960 coup, Gezi Park protests and 2013 corruption scandal… Of course, this is as crazy as claiming, like some in the West do, that the coup attempt was just a ploy by Erdoğan to grab more power.

Soylu is hardly the first Turkish minister to lose his temper and make such crazy statements. The Turkish people’s thought is somewhat different: A poll suggests that 64.4% of the respondents blame Fethullah Gülen for the coup attempt, only 3.8% think it was USA. But undoubtedly, anti-American sentiments are likely to rise, should the U.S. refuse to extradite Gülen. After articles like that of Graham Fuller describing Gülen as a cuddly Islamic monk with nothing but endless love for humanity and the humble face of “moderate Islam” in the world, it is actually surprising that only 3.8% of the usually conspiracy-minded Turks see an American hand in this.

They may not believe the U.S. was directly behind the putsch attempt but many do believe that it is behind Fethullah Gülen who has been living in the U.S. since 1999. It is true that conspiracy theories are hardly uncommon in Turkey and blaming Americans for just about anything is deemed normal. Those who blame the U.S. do it partly because they regard it as almost an omnipotent force. “A country with the most advanced information gathering technologies and the history’s most effective intelligence apparatus must have known about the coup attempt much before it happened”, they think. And since the U.S. did not warn Turkish authorities, they conclude that there is an American hand in this – and also in pretty much everything else. But the suspicions about Gülen do have grounds. Dani Rodrik, who exposed many illegal practices of Gülenists within the state like cooking evidence, illegal wiretapping etc., listed some of these reasons. For him, “it is not farfetched to think that there are some groups in the [U.S.] administration – perhaps in the intelligence branches – who have been protecting Gulen because they think he is useful to U.S. foreign policy interests”.

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Fethullah Gülen (Source: Ensonhaber).

The Case against Gülen

There are more than just opinions against Gülen. During the uprising, a police officer suspended for being a Gülen loyalist in 2014, was found in a rebel tank wearing military uniform. The coup attempt occurred just before upcoming anti-Gülenist purges through Supreme Military Council and an ongoing investigation in İzmir. Having discovered the coming sweep, the putschists rushed the coup attempt which, luckily, reduced the chance of success. Levent Türkkan, the Chief of General Staff Hulusi Akar’s aide-de-camp, confessed to be an obedient Gülenist and that he was tasked with neutralizing Akar during the uprising. He says in his testimony he was given questions of military high school entrance exam by his Gülenist superiors in 1989. The Gülenist influence in education is well-known but Türkkan’s testimony defies the common belief that Gülenist infiltration in the military is a relatively late phenomenon. (By the way Gülen, through more than 130 charter schools, is educating American kids, as well.)  It should be noted that the detainees’ statements should be treated with caution since in their recent pictures they are looking pretty roughed up, which raises questions about the circumstances of their detainment. Hulusi Akar says in his testimony that Hakan Evrim, commander of the Akıncı Air Base where the putschists held anti-coup generals as captives and coordinated their aerial operations, told him “something like ‘If you wish, we could get you in touch with our opinion leader Fethullah Gülen’.” Akar says he angrily rejected the offer. Evrim, however, denies that he has any ties to Gülen or his movement, claiming that he, too, was a captive of the putschists.

Americans, on the other hand, avoid speaking in certain terms but it seems that also for them, the Gülenist involvement in the coup attempt is beyond doubt. Wikileaks cables reveal that U.S. diplomats stationed in Turkey repeatedly warned their government about the Gülen Movement. In an interview to CNNTurk after the attempted putsch, John Bass, the U.S. Ambassador in Ankara, told “Now, clearly as a resident here in Turkey, Friday night’s actions, and the apparent involvement of a large number of his [Gülen] supporters, is a compelling and grave threat to the security of this country…”  Bass’ predecessor James Jeffrey said “most indications… point to the Gülenist movement”.

Gulen Compound

Fethullah Gülen’s Compound in Pennsylvania (Source: Business Insider).

It is not very likely that solid written evidence directly incriminating Fethullah Gülen will ever be found. For any kind of action, his verbal blessing to his followers would be more than enough. Even in his private sermons he uses a very ambiguous language full of metaphors and similes. Gülen Movement has control over many schools, NGOs, businesses etc. but the movement itself does not have an institutional identity and, therefore, a legal personality. Its members do not have something like Gülen Club IDs proving that they are Gülenists. Membership does not require registry but only obedience and commitment to leader. Hence, it will not be easy to expose them for what they are. Dealing with them may prove especially hard in the U.S., considering the presence of a well-oiled Gülenist PR machine there.

The unprecedented attempt that took lives of more than 260 people created an unprecedented anti-coup and anti-Gülen environment in Turkey. The Turkish side sees Gülen’s deportation primarily as a political issue rather than a legal one. Thus, any legal bumps in the way of his expulsion will be regarded by Turks as political obstacles set by Americans to protect him. Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said “Our relations will be affected if the U.S. rejects to give us him (Gülen). We do not want to come to that point.” PM Binali Yıldırım was considerably less diplomatic: “They (Americans) told us ‘present evidence’… We will lay before them more evidence than they want … While you did not seek evidence for Bin Laden, why are you insistently demanding it for FETÖ despite the incident is very clear and all the evidence is already there? I am asking you. Do not protect this murderer, this traitor, this arch-terrorist any longer! There is no advantage in it for you.” Though, strangely, despite these seemingly passionate remarks, the Turkish government has not yet made an official request for Gülen’s extradition.

Hopefully, Americans are reading Turkey correctly. The way the U.S. media underemphasizes horrific the coup attempt and how its initiators that took the country’s high command captive and killed their own people on the streets of the capital, and prefers to focus almost solely on Erdoğan is utterly discouraging.

According to PEW polls, Turks are generally suspicious of foreigners and do not see USA, or any other country, favorably. But given the current circumstances, it is safe to suggest that the coming days have the potential to create a special dislike for the U.S. which could be poisonous for future cooperation. With ISIS continuing to be threat, Middle East being even more unstable than before, and Russian expansionism making a push, Turkish-American relations still hold their high value. Nobody should think to sacrifice them for someone like Fethullah Gülen.

 

Seven Pieces to Read to Understand the Coup Attempt in Turkey

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The Turkish Parliament After the Coup Attempt (Source: Sheknows.com)

Now that a major thing happened in Turkey, all TV channels in the West are flooded with Turkey “experts”. Also, social media is swarming with the op-eds of the expats living in their cozy bubbles in Turkey and the overrated analysts that are oceans away from the reality.

Assuming that you would like to avoid the righteous wrath of Ziya Meral, I selected some of the best pieces that are written by the people who really know and follow the country. For good quality analyses and stories, you would do well to follow them.

 

  • The view from Taksim Square” by William Armstrong – The times Literary supplement (TLS). William is an İstanbul-based writer and a journalist. He regularly writes a column for Hurriyet Daily News in which he reviews books on Turkey and has a blog that he uses to publish his podcasts/interviews with the authors of the books he reviews.
  • Turkey’s Baffling Coup” by Dani Rodrik – Project Syndicate. Dani Rodrik is a Turkish economist at Harvard University. In 2011 his father in law was jailed in Balyoz inquiry. His and Pınar Doğan’s relentless efforts exposed many unlawful practices -especially those in Ergenekon and Balyoz cases- of the Gülenists nested within the state institutions.

Why Turkey Can’t Afford a Military Adventure in Kobani

Kobani

Kobani

After days of siege, ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) entered the Syrian town of Kobani on the border with Turkey, is now trying to take full control of the town. Recent reports indicate that fall of Kobani, also known as Ayn Al-Arab, seems imminent, though YPG fighters (The People’s Protection Units) under the command of PYD (Democratic Union Party) still continue to resist. PYD is an offshoot of PKK (The Kurdistan Workers’ Party) that is a Marksist-Leninist terror organization that has been fighting Turkey since 1984 to create an independent Kurdistan. The PKK is designated as a terrorist organization also by USA, UN, NATO and EU. Although the Turkish government has been in peace talks with PKK’s captured leader Abdullah Öcalan and there is a so-called ceasefire in effect, PKK continued its attacks, launching rockets into Turkish military outposts and setting dozens of schools on fire. PYD itself also attacked Turkish Armed Forces in June killing three Turkish soldiers.

 PYD-PKK and Turkish Help

Turkey is naturally concerned by the prospect of a new neighbor ruled by an organization affiliated to PKK that has cost lives of thousands of its civilians and security forces. But still, it has been doing much for Kobani. Almost all Kobani civilians fled to Turkey and are now being sheltered and fed there. Even wounded YPG fighters who should normally be regarded as terrorists by the authorities because their affiliation to PKK, are allowed to receive medical attention in Turkish hospitals.

On certain conditions, Turkey said it is willing to make more efforts to help with the situation in Syria. Turkey desires a multilateral ground action in Syria, buffer zones to protect its borders and commitment to a post-Assad future. If these happen, ‘if others do their part,’ Turkey will even put boots on the ground in Syria, Ahmet Davutoğlu said to CNN’s Christiane Amanpour.

Drums of war played by ‘liberal’ columnists

For some, none of this is enough. Many foreign and Turkish commentators, often with unfairly accusatory remarks against Turkey, push for Turkish military involvement in Kobani, although PYD leader himself told they would regard a unilateral Turkish intervention in Rojava -the area that includes also Kobani- as an act of invasion. Now that is the primary reason for Turkey not to interfere: the locals there simply don’t want it. Nor do the Turkish people want their military to go into Syria. So it is indeed a mystery why so many columnists suddenly started to insist on a Turkish intervention and think there are grounds for it. Foreign columnists may want the ISIS problem handled by Turkish Armed Forces instead of theirs and the Turkish ones may be trying to ease their ‘Turkish guilt’ towards the Kurds or fearing that the peace process would end. Or they have other concerns. In any case, it is worrying that so many want something so wrong.

The Border, KRG, Future

Kobani won’t be the first Syrian town bordering Turkey to fall into claws of ISIL. ISIL already holds a significant number of settlements neighboring Turkey, meaning that a military involvement in Kobani could mean war almost all along the border. And there is the risk of attacks in city centers and touristic areas. Even the rumor of this is harmful for a country that relies on tourism incomes to cover its huge current account deficit.

A Turkish action in Kobani is likely complicate things with also KRG (Kurdistan Regional Government) in Iraq. The KRG is an important economic partner of Turkey and have long been at odds with PYD. Considering that even ISIL threat didn’t unite them, one may have an idea how bad their relations are. Needless to say Assad regime, that has quite a good past with PKK, won’t be happy, either. Already furious at Erdoğan, Syrian president will want to get back at Turkey. And so will Iran that provides a good deal of Turkey’s energy needs.

And say that Turkish military entered Kobani and defeated ISIL. Then what? Will it fight also the PKK militants there which would automatically end the peace process? Will it fight also PYD that said it would regard the Turkish intervention as an act of invasion? How many Turkish soldiers will die? How long will the military stay there? How deep into Syria will they have to go? Will there be an anti-war social explosion in Turkey? Military strategists and analysts with fancy Ph.Ds can give some answers to these questions. And they would all be wrong, as they were in their predictions about Iraq and Afghanistan. Thus, the wisest thing is having not to make these calculations and avoid the military option as much as possible.

Turkish tanks roll to take positions along the Turkey-Syria border near Suruc, Turkey, Monday, Sept. 29, 2014. U.S.-led coalition air raids targeted towns and villages in northern and eastern Syria controlled by the Islamic State group, including one strike that hit a grain silo and reportedly killed civilians, activists said Monday. (AP Photo/Burhan Ozbilici)

Turkish tanks roll to take positions along the Turkey-Syria border near Suruc, Turkey, Monday, Sept. 29, 2014. (AP Photo/Burhan Ozbilici)

HDP fighting for Kobani in Turkish cities?

The attitude of pro-Kurdish HDP (Peoples’ Democratic Party) is important and lately very unhelpful. The party called for demonstrations in support for Kobani but things got violent, as they usually do in their rallies. Atatürk statues, private and public vehicles were burnt, some businesses were looted. HDP also threatened Turkey that ‘If Kobani falls, the peace process (with PKK) will end.’ Of course, the pictures of city centers turned into hell during these demonstrations don’t help with the acceptance of Kobani cause in Turkish eyes. Turkish society is so polarized lately that it is child’s play to provoke a major internal conflict. And sadly it may be happening already. The reports that Turkish nationalists try to stop HDP demonstrators are really worrying. We are facing a Kurdish social explosion. And a Turkish one may be on the way, as the Turks still hate PKK almost as much as they hate ISIL, if not more. The Turkish police’s always problematic way of handling protests isn’t likely to help with the situation, either. The more violent these protests get, a bigger and harder matter the involvement in Syria will become.

In conclusion, Turkish military is unlikely to enter Syria under these circumstances and nor should it. Turkey has a moral responsibility to help the people of Kobani fleeing from ISIL but not to go there and get in a military adventure whose costs are hard to calculate. It is fair to say that Turkey’s Syria policy has been a monumental failure and that it is partly to blame for the tragedies in Syria. But we should not forget that there is a long list of countries, including Western ones, that failed in Syria and deserve to be blamed at least as much as Turkey.

İstanbul’s Third Bridge: Why So Grim?

The 2nd Bosphorus Bridge, named after Mehmet the Conqueror.

The 2nd Bosphorus Bridge, named after Mehmet the Conqueror.

In 1995, then the Mayor of İstanbul Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said:

A third bridge is a murder for İstanbul. It is nothing but massacring the remaining green areas in the city’s north by zoning the area for construction. I hope the government will change without this murder being committed.

The government of the time changed and so did Erdoğan’s position, dramatically. Now he is taking the credit for building that third bridge that he once fiercely opposed. As can be seen from Erdoğan’s past remark, topic of a new bridge on Boshphorus has always sparked controversies. But distinctively, the current debate focuses more on the bridge’s name than on concerns about urban development. Without any open criteria, surveys or consultations with NGOs, the government announced it had named the bridge after 9th emperor of the Ottoman Empire Yavuz Sultan Selim (Yavuz being his nickname, usually translated as “the Grim” or more correctly “the Stern”) who is, to put it mildly, a highly unpopular figure among Turkey’s large Alevi community that practices a uniquely heterodox way of Islam.

Alevis openly expressed their opposition, due to the fact that many Anatolian Alevis were persecuted and killed during Selim’s campaigns against Safavid Iran at the beginning of the 16th century. Ali Balkız, head of Alevi-Bektaşi Federation, said “We, Alevis, will not pass through that bridge.” Columnist Yavuz Semerci stated he would continue calling it “The Third Bridge” instead of “Yavuz Sultan Selim Bridge”. Prof. İzzettin Doğan, honorary president of an umbrella association of many Alevi NGOs, said “A mistake was made at a time when sectarian wars are being provoked in the region. Selim is believed to be responsible of massacre of countless Alevis…” Renowned historian Prof. İlber Ortaylı suggested that the name Mimar Sinan who was the chief architect of three Ottoman sultans, would be more appropriate. Even Fethullah Gülen, a cleric who is controversially close the ruling party AKP, spoke up: After talking of cultural and emotional “bridges” between Sunnis and Alevis in Turkey, he said “Because of one bridge, let’s not destroy many others”. Other intellectuals also voiced similar concerns and suggestions.

Of all the thirty-six sultans the Ottoman Empire had, choosing Selim the Stern sends a message, people believe. This issue is clearly a part of a wider “war of symbols” that is now occurring within an extremely polarized Turkish society. But to understand this domestic squabble that has historical roots, we should separate it from the bigger picture and take a look at Selim’s legacy and what it means for both conservatives represented by the ruling AKP and also Alevis.

As can be understood from his nickname, Selim was ferocious: he killed his brothers Prince Korkut and Prince Ahmet along with their sons and dethroned his peaceful father Bayezit II in a coup. (This kind of makes Erdoğan’s praise of Selim ironic, considering how he dramatically portrayed himself and Mohamed Mursi as victims because of “coup attempts” in Turkey and Egypt’s actual coup.) He was always very war-like. Even when he was Sancakbeyi (a title close to governor) of Trabzon and a prince, he attacked Georgians, took Kuban and made bold moves against the Safavids — actions greatly exceeding his authority. He had a very angry character. He never tolerated the officers who failed and lied to him, was famous for having his Grand Viziers executed. There’s no doubt that he was a military genius: He won every battle he fought decisively, used the latest technology of his time to bring his enemies to their knees. İlber Ortaylı points out that he passed through Sinai desert with fewer casualties than Cemal Paşa did during World War I.

Selim’s reign was not long -only 8 years- but in his short era the Empire’s lands more than doubled. He visited İstanbul only once, in his childhood and during his rule, he spent almost all his time on military campaigns. So, he barely lived in İstanbul, which according to some, makes his name less relevant for the bridge which will become one of the symbols of the city.

At the beginning of 16th century, Shah İsmail I of Safavid Empire made Shia the official sect of Iran, had it embraced as also a kind of ideology and was trying to export it to Anatolia. The Shah sent his militants to Anatolia to spread the Safavid doctrine of Shi’ism. Even as a young prince Selim was aware of the threat and angry at his father for not taking action against the Safavids. So after taking his father’s throne by force and eliminating the possible candidates for emperorship, he started his Iranian campaign in 1514. After following Shah’s army for months, Ottoman army met Safavid forces on a plain called Chaldiran. There, the Safavids suffered a disastrous defeat that forced the wounded Shah flee from the battlefield. The Ottomans advanced even further and took Tabriz which was then the capital of Iran. During the war, many Alevis were killed and the incidents left a mark in the memory of their community. It’s said that 40.000 Alevis were killed, although some experts question this figure as 16th century’s census documents (a.k.a. tahrir defterleri, special documents that include many statistics for taxation) do not indicate such a loss of population.

There was also a cultural side to the war. The Safavid dynasty and its army were Turkish, as well, which made it easy for some Turkmen Beys in Anatolia to pledge their allegiance to the Shah. The Ottoman Empire was more cosmopolitan, urban, and orthodoxly Islamic. The Safavids, however, were representing a more rural and Anatolian culture, more tolerant of Turkmen Alevis’ nomadic roots and heterodox ways, therefore, I daresay they were “more Turkish” in some respect. For instance, today an average Turk in Turkey would understand poems of İsmail I much better than he would understand Selim’s poems, for Selim used a Turkish that is mixed with Persian and Arabic (in some poems he used only Persian), whereas İsmail’s Turkish was pure, clear and closer to modern Turkish.

The conflict was ultimately more strategic than sectarian. Selim was relentless towards Anatolian Alevis not because he believed their faith was twisted but because he saw them as collaborators of the Shah. He didn’t give Alevis the kind of autonomy that he granted the Kurdish tribes who were located to today’s South-East Turkey to encounter Iranian influence.

His Mamluk campaign is another factor that enhances Selim image in minds of today’s conservatives. Between 1516 and 1517, with three battles, Selim annihilated Mamluk Sultanate, ruled by a Turkish-Circassian dynasty, conquering much of the Middle East including the sacred cities of Islam. For that he took the title “Servant of the Holy Cities of Mecca and Medina”. Most of the sacred objects exhibited today at Topkapı Palace in İstanbul were brought in his time. More importantly, he was the first Ottoman emperor to officially take the title “Caliph of Islam”.

Tomb of Selim the Stern (Photo taken by Sinan Doğan)

Tomb of Selim the Stern (Photo taken by Sinan Doğan)

Hence, for most of those represented by AKP, Selim is a hero, whereas, for Alevis, he is an oppressive and atrocious figure. A well-known law professor Hüseyin Hatemi, went as far as saying “For Alevis, Selim is what Hitler means for Jews.” Undoubtedly, the bridge bearing his name will be a reminder of past sufferings and bloodshed for the country’s large Alevi community. And instead of pride, they will take offense from that grandeur structure. Among all Ottoman emperors, Selim is perhaps the most divisive figure. That’s why many other names that are more relevant and less controversial were recommended to the PM. But his “my way or the high way” attitude still continues.

For long, Alevis have been at odds with the AKP government over a number of matters. They have been expecting reforms regarding the status of their temples, structure of Directorate of Religious Affairs, contents of compulsory religion lessons at schools and so forth. Yet the PM’s recently unveiled democratization package addressed none of these issues, causing disappointment and anger. For that, they now feel even more excluded.

Plus, choosing Selim the Stern seems to be a promotion of an identity that is more Muslim and “Ottoman” less Turkish, more “imperial” less national. That’s why he has a special place in conservative minds. That’s why 122 schools in Turkey bear his name. That’s why the bridge’s foundation ceremony was conducted with prayers and lots of references to Ottoman glory. Yet, a part of the society, the part that is socio-economically more developed, the part that joined massive Gezi Park protests, does not intend to wear this identity whatsoever. This is not because they hate “Ottoman” and “Selim” images particularly, but because they hate the fact that the government tries to make them to be like its own voters who are more pious and obedient.

A bridge is supposed to connect, but considering the motives of the government, it seems that this one is doomed to divide.

Head of the Turkish Constitutional Court: If This is Islam, I am not Muslim

Haşim Kılıç

Haşim Kılıç

By many, Head of Turkey’s Constitutional Court Haşim Kılıç is considered to be controversially close to the ruling party AKP. The fact that he’s been occupying the highest position in the judiciary which was once seen as the second strongest guarantor of secular order in the country, is a source of discomfort to secularists. And this makes his statements on Islamic countries even more interesting.

Today he visited a university in Eastern Turkey where he made those quite sharp remarks on current situation of Islamic countries.

I translated some of what he said for you:

…If we are to analyze Islamic countries, (we see) Iraq, Iran, Syria, Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria are places literally on fire. We can’t talk about human dignity in (those places). We see it on TV everday. Someone becomes a suicide bomber and explosions occur. What kind of culture, what kind of belief is this? How do we explain this savagery in these countries that have a faith saying ‘If anyone kills a man, it’s as if he killed entire mankind; if anyone saves a man, it’s as if he saves entire mankind”? *… If this is Islam, I am not Muslim. Getting in a church and blasting the place, causing deaths of 80-100 people… where in the religion there is a permission for this? Cutting off heads, holding people’s organs in the hands: How can we explain these savageries, such inhuman actions by Islam? There is something wrong here.

I don’t what you will make of this but it’s hardly shocking to me. I think Kılıç’s remarks should make those who put Turkey in the same basket with Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas and the countries where such organizations are very active and running things; think and study more on the Turkish exceptionalism. I am also naively hoping for a similar effect on those who try to explain anything about Turkey with the overused pattern of “Islam vs Secularism”.

* – “…if anyone kills a person– unless in retribution for murder or spreading corruption in the land– it is as if he kills all mankind, while if any saves a life it is as if he saves the lives of all mankind.” Al-Ma’ida, (The Feast), 5:32, The Quran, Translation by M. A. S. Abdel Haleem, Oxford World Classics.

How Turkey’s LGBT Community Gains Sympathy

The advanced world’s LGBT communities are making quite a lot of gains lately: US Supreme Court made two rulings in favor of gay rights, France passed its gay marriage law and Britain’s same-sex marriage bill will be presented to the Queen after its third reading in July… LGBT Turks gained something, too: It may not extend to same-sex marriage or to even sort of a recognition of their relationships, but it’s not unimportant. Their achievement was conquering a great deal of hearts in the middle and upper-middle class of the society. Turkish LGBT community was very active at Gezi Park and Taksim, it was possible to see rainbow flags at every corner during the protests. They resisted beside the other groups for individual rights and freedoms, stood up against police brutality with them and got horribly tear gassed with them. Apparently what they did was not forgotten. We clearly saw that four days ago when the 11th of Turkey’s annual gay parade kicked off in İstanbul. Tens of thousands participated and the event was recorded as the biggest pride parade Turkey has ever seen. Many protestors joined the parade in support and social media was and still is full of statements of support. I saw even some of my friends whose homophobic remarks I have heard in past, sharing pictures of the parade, expressing their sympathy along with anti-government slogans. Turkey’s middle class, or at least a good proportion of them, embraced LGBT community and their struggle for a more humane Turkey for gays.

One of the brightest sides of Turkey’s anti-government protests is that they have taught many people to stand up not only for their own individual freedoms and rights but also for each other’s. Surely, the LGBT community wasn’t the only group that benefited from the sense of solidarity that the protests created. After getting excessively gassed, subjected to state violence in middle of the country’s major cities and getting presented as villains by some media, now more people empathize with the Kurdish movement. And Sivas massacre of mostly Alevi intellectuals was condemned much more strongly this year, in its anniversary that is July 2…

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While all the winds of empathy, sympathy and activism were blowing, The Mayor Ankara Melih Gökçek reminded everyone with a tweet that Turkey was no paradise, especially no gay paradise. He asked one of the three opposition MPs who joined the pride parade: “Hüseyin Aygün, are you gay? Don’t get us wrong, just wondering…” Then he tweeted again: “Citizens wonder and ask Hüseyin Aygün…”, “Let them parade. Everyone makes their own choices, I don’t have anything to say to that…” By “choice” he probably was referring sexual orientation. His tweets angered gay fashion-designer Cemil İpekçi who tweeted “…the Mayor should give up bothering gays.” Not surprisingly, this wasn’t the Mayor’s first gaffe and display of ignorance about homosexuality. Once on a show at a news channel, TV personality Okan Bayülgen, after speaking of a couple of successful gay mayors in Europe, naively asked Gökçek when Turkey will have such gay mayors. Gökçek’s answer was the summary of most of Turkey’s conservatives’ thought on the matter, he said “Every society has moral values of its own. It is not possible for us, as the Turkish society, to be with gay culture of Europe and approve of it. The way we were brought up, our style of morality and our mentality are a little different. I hope there won’t be gays in Turkey, there should not be.”

If you think their display of homophobic resentment can’t get any stronger than this, you’re dead wrong. In 2010, Selma Aliye Kavaf, the Minister of State of Turkey responsible for Women and Family Affairs of the time, said in an interview to Daily Hürriyet “I believe homosexuality is a biological disorder, a disease. I think it needs to be treated.” Later, on TV, she was asked by a journalist whether she regretted making that statement. She smiled and said nothing in response. Her remarks sparked controversy and were protested but reaction of her party (that supposed to have a “liberal wing”) was weak, verging on none. She kept her seat until the general election in 2011. In 2011, she wasn’t re-nominated not because of her anti-gay remarks but because she had a quarrel with party organization of her constituency Denizli and wanted to be nominated from Ankara, which the PM didn’t accept.

Selma Aliye Kavaf, former Minister of State of Turkey responsible for Women and Family Affairs.

Selma Aliye Kavaf, former Minister of State of Turkey responsible for Women and Family Affairs.

Three months ago, AKP’s homophobia was carried beyond the country’s borders to the Netherlands and there, it was displayed by the PM himself. The fact that some European Turks’ kids were given to “Christian guardian families” (that’s the way how the PM’s deputy Bekir Bozdağ wanted to put it) by social services of various countries in Europe was bothering the government for some time. And pro-government media, in its sensationalist way, had made the case of a 9 years old Turkish boy of named Yunus from the Netherlands who was given to a lesbian couple, popular. The boy was actually taken from his biological family two years ago, but strangely his case caught attention of the government and their media just before the PM’s Dutch trip. As he always likes to do, the PM made a lecture-like speech in the press conference with his counterpart. He said “In adoptive family system, the fittest thing to do is to give the kids to the families that have similar culture and moral values to the kids’, like a Muslim kid to a Muslim family…” Then he must have thought that his statements might be misunderstood and misinterpreted as homophobic and he clarified: “This might cause misunderstandings in my country, as well. I mean, the matter of sexual preference is important. Because, I am saying in an approach of a Muslim-majority or an Islamic cultured country, giving a kid to a homosexual family is against moral values and beliefs of (or our) society.” Weirdly, what he said caused a big reaction neither in Europe nor in Turkey. And the Dutch PM was very kind yet sufficiently backboned to decline Erdoğan’s offer to make a further discussion involving the ministries and he said that this was Holland’s matter.

In the Parliament, too, a clash about gays occurred. In February, the main opposition party CHP requested to a parliamentary commission of inquiry to be set up to on LGBT rights. And for that the opposition’s signatories were called “immoral” by AKP’s MPs. After Prof. Binnaz Toprak, an MP of İstanbul from CHP, introduced the proposal along with basic explanations about homosexuality and the rights they should have, Prof. Türkan Dağoğlu, an MP from AKP, spoke against the proposal. Dağoğlu said: “As a medical doctor, I think you would want to know what this (homosexuality) is: Is it a biological disorder, a sociological phenomenon or a psychological condition? In USA, in 1974 and in Europe in 1992, psychiatric associations made researches on the matter and (their) outcome was that the condition defined as LGBT was an abnormal behavior…” Then Prof. Toprak said in response: “I got my BA and MSc in the US. In 1974, I was there. 1974’s USA had scientists that argued blacks were more stupid than whites. Thus, such studies made in 1974 can’t be presented to us as science in 2013. So sorry, Miss Türkan but I think you are wrong.” Expectedly, the proposal was denied by the ruling party’s votes.

Binnaz Toprak (left) and Türkan Dağoğlu.

Binnaz Toprak (left) and Türkan Dağoğlu.

Military service that is mandatory in Turkey, is another source of discomfort for gays. Openly gay males cannot serve in the military. Also, they have to prove their sexual orientation to the Army’s medical services, by the humiliating and degrading methods they are forced to use, like providing a picture showing the person having gay sex or kissing another man, or having their rectal zones examined… After “proving” their sexual identity, they’re given a document called “The Pink Certificate”. The document exempts them from military service for having a “psychosexual disorder” – a classification for homosexuality that is said to be taken from publications of American Psychiatric Association dating back to 1968.

Many more discriminatory practices exist. Many more hate speeches were made and many more are yet to be made… But there is also a bright side.

To be fair, among Muslim-majority countries, Turkey is the most liberal and tolerant country to live, for LGBT individuals. Turkey has been a safe haven for homosexuals from Arab countries and Iran where gay men are hanged and stoned to death for who they are. Apart from the benefits of “Gezi spirit” I mentioned, there are other good developments that are impossible to see in other Muslim-majority countries. Firstly, Turkey is the first and still the only Muslim-majority country allowing and holding pride parades. Of course, having some gays marching on the streets isn’t a big thing itself but it’s is accepted by gay organizations as important as a sign and symbol of tolerance. This year, apart from İstanbul and Ankara, for the first time, two other major cities İzmir and Antalya held their own pride parades. And actors and actresses of Turkey’s most popular sit-com Yalan Dünya (False World) expressed their support in a video calling for more participation to the parade, this was another first this year. Secondly, NGOs focused on homophobia and LGBT rights are more visible and active today. Kaos GL and Lambdaİstanbul were old NGOs focused on LGBT individuals, founded in 90s, were joined by more groups: Pembe Hayat (Meaning “Pink Life”, an LGBT solidarity NGO specially focuses on Transexuals’ rights), Listag (a support and solidarity group for families, named “LGBT families İstanbul Group”) and SPoD (an NGO advocates “full equality for LGBT individuals in Turkey with a special emphasis on social and economic rights…”), founded in 2006, 2008 and 2011, respectively. Thirdly, the main opposition party CHP and pro-Kurdish party BDP demand full rights (including same-sex marriage) for gays in the new constitution to be written. Considering these two parties got nearly 39% of the votes combined, in 2011 general election; it’s hard to ignore the importance of their demand.

First gay parade of İzmir.

The first gay parade of İzmir.

Good and bad, encouraging and enraging developments have been happening all together in Turkey. Even though, the government’s attitude towards gays did not develop for the better, the LGBT community did. Now their voice is heard more and their cause is supported more. Thus, they should have more hope.