The Birth and Rebirth of Gezi Protests

A protestor looks on during clashes with Turkish police near Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan office, between Taksim and Besiktas, early morning on June 4, 2013 in Istanbul, Turkey. (Photo by Uriel Sinai/Getty Images)

June 4, 2013 in Istanbul, Turkey. (Photo by Uriel Sinai/Getty Images) Source.

A year ago, the Turks poured into the streets to voice their demands of freedom, justice, and their right to live in a non-concrete environment. Young and educated people had been fed up being constantly alienated, insulted and discriminated by the ‘pious’ rulers of the country. And they defied. In a great sense of solidarity, people of very different ethnicities, political thoughts and socio-economic backgrounds got together and stood against police brutality, oppression of basic rights. Gezi Park protests inspired songs, various artworks, documentaries, other protests in even faraway countries… It was elegant, it was colorful, creative and magnificently humorous. I daresay, even too post-modern for a country like Turkey. Gezi changed lives of many.

It was Gezi protests that prompted me to start to write this blog. I had always been a political person but the last summer was the first time that I felt compelled to write. Not in Turkish, as the Turks already knew what was happening. But in English, as I thought the world had to know about our perspective of the events, too.

I am not talking about a memory. Even as you read this, protesters are trying to get over the roads that are blocked by the police and access to Taksim Square. We are marking only the beginning of Gezi. It did not end and nor will it, any time soon. Because firstly, when you create something that beautiful and powerful, it will not die out easily.

And secondly, the problems that sparked the protests off remain unresolved. Actually, they got even worse. The PM who was accused of lacking sense of empathy in 2013, now goes to a disaster-hit town where 301 people died and physically attacks a mourner, turning what was supposed to be a solemn national mourning into a farce. He can interrupt a ceremonial speech, shout at the speaker and storm out. He can ignore court decisions and refuse to answer for strongly-substantiated corruption allegations. Now in this a country social media can easily be banned. There’s now a bigger deficit of empathy, understanding and tolerance. Compared to the Turkey 2013, we now face more authoritarianism, less justice, rule of law and individual freedoms…

We shouldn’t think Gezi didn’t achieve a great deal, though. It did. Things may get much worse before getting better. But we don’t have the luxury to fall into despair. To eventually prevail, right should at least be as persistent as wrong.

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Will Corruption Scandals Turn Turkey into Ukraine?

Turkey has been in an exhausting cycle for quite some time: just when you think the country has hit the rock bottom, something extraordinary comes up and proves that there is always capacity for things to get much worse. Last week, it was proven again by a scandal tape. Now this kind of tapes have become a very usual part of Turkish politics, but it’s the first time that we encounter with something this big and this nasty.

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Viktor Yanukovych

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Viktor Yanukovych

The eleven minutes long tape purportedly revealing five phone calls between Tayyip Erdoğan and his son Bilal went viral last week. (By the way, weirdly, the video was blocked for a time due to a copyright claim by a Montreal based company called Canipre Inc.) In the tape, PM Erdoğan tells his son to ‘zero’ the money stock in his home in wake of the December 17 graft probe. He also wants his son to have a meeting with other family members -the conversation suggests that they, too, are involved in the whole thing and have some amounts of cash at their homes- to figure out how to ‘melt the money’. In the fourth call, Bilal says “We (handled it) mostly” and adds “But there’s still 30 million euros that we could not yet dissolve”. And in the last call, the PM tells him that he is being listened and warns him not to talk openly.

On January 17, in relation to the graft probe the PM said “I will say this very clearly: If any of my children is involved in such corruption, I will disown him”. But from the conversation one understands it to be true that Bilal is not the mastermind and is just doing the tasks the PM gives, thus serving as a tool to his father. And not a very smart one, considering that in one call he didn’t know whether it’s him who called his father or it’s his father who called him.

Are the recordings real?
Erdoğan furiously dismissed the tape as fake calling it “a vile attack”. He said “They published a play that they have montaged and dubbed themselves”. Reportedly, AKP produced “proofs” that the tape was fake. Pro-government Haber7 reported that AKP sent the tape to USA to “one of the most advanced studios in the world” and the studio confirmed that the whole thing was doctored “word by word”. Haber7 reported also that “a worldwide famous criminal lab in New York” confirmed the same conclusion. But apparently neither the advanced studio, nor the worldwide famous criminal lab has a name. Though later, they published a report that was written by Robin Lai, owner of Jou Production and an employee of John Marshall Media. He signed the document with only his own firm’s name but Haber7 put a business card of JMM on top of the document, misleading the readers into thinking that it was from JMM. JMM’s CEO John Marshall Cheary strongly denied that they ever gave an opinion on the recordings in question, adding ‘To those news agencies that reprinted this obvious forgery: Shame on you” on his Facebook note. After Cheary’s condemnation, pro-AKP Haber7 changed its article, removed JMM’s card and gave credit only to Jou Production and its owner. But Lai said that the interview and statement were obtained from him via deceptive and underhanded methods. ‘Statements and document reported in the Turkish media attributed to me are not to be trusted in the context in which they are being reported’ he told in his Facebook post.

The opposite argument seems to have way more solid expert opinions: An American cyber analytics firm that analyzed the audio at the request of McClatchyDC and has a name –Guarded Risk– found the recordings to be authentic. ‘If it’s fake, it’s of a sophistication that I haven’t seen,’ said Joshua Marpet, a cyber-analyst and the managing principal of Guarded Risk. Also, two Turkish audio engineers, Atilla Özdemiroğlu and Erdem Helvacıoğlu, who analyzed the recording confirmed it to be genuine.

On the other hand, the PM doesn’t really seem to bother trying to get exculpated or even offer a satisfying explanation. Although opposition deputies urged him to have a test by TÜBİTAK (The Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey) to reveal whether it’s really his voice or not, he has done nothing so far to present any kind of proof that the tape is fake.

The ‘f-type organization’ or the ‘parallel state’
During Ergenekon and Balyoz cases Turkey saw many irregularities and illegalities: cooking evidence, illegal wiretappings, leaking tapes to the media, way too long detention times and so on. (To know more, check out Pınar Doğan and Dani Rodrik’s blog.) Of course, while all the soldiers, journalists, officers who are critical of AKP were becoming victims of these, Erdoğan and his party watched it in joy. The victims and their supporters believed that it was the Gülenists in the police force and judiciary -then allies of the government- who were responsible of these brutal practices of injustice. It was first Adil Serdar Saçan, a former security directorate and later a convict of Ergenekon case, who coined the term “f-type organization” referring to Fethullah Gülen’s loyalists within the police organization. Then Hanefi Avcı who was also a security directorate, wrote a book revealing the existence of a Gülenist structure in the police organization with documents. Avcı that was once close to the Gülen Movement, is a known right wing person. Yet after writing the book, he got convicted for being a member of a far left terrorist organization and was given 15 years in jail.

Despite compelling evidence from various sources, existence of “f-type organization” was mostly treated as a crazy Kemalist conspiracy theory by AKP and its supporters. Moreover, pro-government and pro-Gülen media didn’t see any problems with broadcasting illegally-obtained tapes for hours including some private conversations. The military, Kemalists, some others in opposition were cruelly humiliated by fierce smear campaigns, some of which even led to suicides. Now it looks like that some of those injustices came back to haunt Erdoğan. As the Frankenstein that Erdoğan created and allowed to nest within the state, turned on him; he had to embrace the theory he wasn’t so eager to accept. But instead of “f-type organization”, he called Gülenists in the police organization and judiciary “parallel state”.

The PM believes that December 17 graft probe was not a corruption probe but a coup attempt by the “parallel state” seeking to unseat him. Now he is so angry with the Gülen Movement that he even used the words “viruses” and “assassins” -a medieval terrorist cult in Seljuk Empire- in relation to them.

He blames them also for a recent mass wiretapping scandal. On February 25, he said “They are listening to the government’s encrypted phones; that’s how low they have sunk.” This statement, of course, raises an important question: was the PM’s son using an encrypted cell-phone? If so, that would definitely explain why the PM and his son are speaking so freely in the recording without feeling to need to use a more subtle language. Apparently, these devices are so fancy things that only six NATO countries can produce them. Turkey’s one of them and these phones, as website of TÜBİTAK that produces the devices states here, are for use of Turkish Armed Forces, President, Prime Minister and some other top state officials. If Bilal Erdoğan uses one, that’s another scandal in the scandal. An opposition deputy also asked whether Bilal Erdoğan has an encrypted cell-phone. Yet the question, like many others that were asked before, remains unanswered. Meanwhile, the Ministry of Science, Industry and Technology launched an investigation on five employees of TÜBİTAK who are, apparently, suspected of being Gülenist moles. Minister Fikri Işık said “TÜBİTAK, unfortunately, is one of the institutions that the ‘parallel structure’ wants to infiltrate.”

Open war: Erdoğan vs Gülen
The PM thinks it is open war and thus, extraordinary measures are warranted. After the graft probe was launched, he saw no problems in sacrificing four cabinet ministers. But when it was edging near him, the purges began. Hundreds of high ranking police officers were relocated at midnight. Prosecutors, including those who launched the corruption probe, were also removed from their posts.

Erdoğan is using also legislative power in full to deal with Gülenists in state organs. Now two newly passed laws and a proposed legislation are regarded to be huge blows to separation of powers, rule of law and individual freedoms in the country. The first law greatly increases Justice Minister’s power over High Council of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK). The main opposition CHP filed an appeal to the Constitutional Court, stating “it (the new law) makes judicial control over administrative moves nearly impossible.” The second is the internet bill that was recently passed into law by President Abdullah Gül. The law authorizes the president of TİB (Telecommunications Directorate) to block websites for a privacy violation without a court permission and forces internet providers to keep records of users’ activities for two years and make them available to authorities. However, some changes were made at the request of the President. Now the TİB was made to have to take its blocking decisions to court within twenty four hours. The court would either approve or cancel such decisions within forty eight hours. Meanwhile, the blocking decisions of the TİB would be in effect. And thirdly, a proposed legislation that would give immense additional powers to the National Intelligence Organization (MİT) was approved by Internal Affairs Commission and is planned to be voted on after local elections. The bill will enable the MİT to get unrestricted access to records of state institutions and also private companies without a court order. It means that if demanded by the MİT, private firms will have to reveal their trade secrets to the MİT personnel.

The Turkish Constitutional Court

The Turkish Constitutional Court

The secret service seems to be a particularly important player in the government’s battle against the Gülen Movement. Much before the corruption investigation, in 2012, a probe was launched into Hakan Fidan, the chief of the MİT, is thought by the government to be an operation of the “parallel state”. In response, the government had passed a law making any probes into the MİT personnel impossible without the PM’s permission. Critics argue that soon the MİT will be pretty much above the law. So, in short, ironically, Erdoğan is empowering the MİT against the police organization that he once used to empower to encounter the military’s influence.

The people’s mood
In a normal functioning democracy, even ten percent of this tape’s content is reason enough for resignation. Whereas in Turkey now, nobody truly expects the PM to resign. AKP’s base thinks that all this is a coup attempt by the ‘parallel state’ and ‘the strong will’ Erdoğan should not and will not give in to it. And most of the rest just think that a PM who is shameless enough to turn into a blatant dictatorial thief cannot feel ashamed enough to resign.

Social media is full of brilliant jokes and gags mocking Erdoğan and his son. There’s even a website called “zero the money” that features a game in which users try to melt $1 billion in a minute. But in all this, there is also a defeatist attitude, a hopelessness to get rid of the filth that each day Turks discover to be worse than they thought it was. Such jokes are very much like the Soviet Russia jokes that Ronald Reagan used to tell. And just like them, perhaps they are a way to cope with the indignities that people are hopeless to change.

A gag mocking the PM. Source: Bobiler.org.

A gag mocking the PM. Source: Bobiler.org.

Erdoğan seems to be ready to risk anything -freedoms, rule of law, separation of powers and stability- to keep his seat and not to answer for strongly-substantiated corruption charges. The consequences are not only political, it is a fact that the corruption probe, Erdoğan’s attitude towards it and his civil war with Gülenists within the state affected the Turkish economy negatively. Turkish Central Bank’s interest rate hike is also expected to diminish growth rate this year and the move was not very successful in stopping the decrease in Lira’s value. So justice has long been forgotten by Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party, not before long development may share the same fate.

Naturally, like many Turkish citizens, I am full of rage. But out of respect for presumption of innocence, I tried and am trying to choose my words carefully. For that’s what the law requires – the law that is often bent or ignored for wicked political purposes here. So what should we do, if the law that is supposed to protect citizens has become the shield and toy of the corrupted? What do you do when the law isn’t used to punish the corrupted but is used to censor and suppress those who are after corruption? In short, what happens when the word “law” doesn’t have any shred of meaning left? I guess what happens then is a more intense level of instability and uncertainty, violent social explosions, economic collapse; guns, smokes and corpses… In sum, what happens then is Ukraine! I am not saying we are there and I wholeheartedly hope and believe we never will get there but that seems to be the direction we are headed. Speedily.

Erdoğan’s War on Koç Empire: How It Really Started and How It Will End

Claire Berlinski, a prominent journalist and a political analyst, has suggested me to write about the squabble between Koç Group (KG) and the government. I have accepted the challenge. So, late I may be but here I am, keeping my promise. On October 11th, Claire sent me Svante E. Cornell’s article “Erdogan VS. Koç Holding: Turkey’s New Witch Hunt” on Twitter which drew the attention of Turkey’s Finance Minister Mehmet Şimsek who dismissed what the title suggests.

I only partly agree with S. E. Cornell. But I strongly disagree with the Minister. Here’s my take.

Genes of the Turkish Bourgeois
When the Turkish Republic was founded 90 years ago, it was in need of a national upper class to realize Atatürk’s plan to have a private sector based economy. Moderately rich trading families enjoyed state support, flourished and over years some of them turned into the conglomerates that are now the biggest players in the Turkish economy. So, Turkey’s billionaires are not 1789 type bourgeois class whose interests historically clashed with those of the ruling class/state. And as a result, they didn’t really develop a tradition of standing up to the governments. Koç Group (KG), the biggest conglomerate of the country, more or less fits to this profile, too. Seeing it challenging the government for people would indeed be a very unusual thing. Though, as I will try to explain, that is not the case at all.

Ali Koç, member of Koç Group's Board of Directors.

Ali Koç, member of Koç Group’s Board of Directors.

People’s Desperation, the King’s Paranoia and Threats
During massive Gezi Park protests, KG’s Divan Hotel opened its doors to the protesters who had been terribly gassed by the police. This immediately sparked indirect and direct threats by the PM Erdoğan to the KG. “We know who sent food supplies to Taksim Square, who sheltered whom at their hotel. We know who collaborates with terror, welcomes it in their hotel. They’ll be brought to account for this.” he said in a speech to his voters. He also pointed out that “it’s against the law to harbor criminals.” In fact, Divan Hotel only did what common courtesy required and helped people, offering them space to breathe and get medical attention. We say ‘people’ or the ‘protesters’ yet the PM has a slightly different terminology (!) For him Gezi protesters aren’t just normal citizens using their rights to assembly and protest but criminals, rodents, looters and modern bandits, therefore helping them was defying his legitimate rule…

Although what Divan Hotel did was just a little more than a common good deed, protesters tended to turn it into a kind of legend. Stories of how Ali Koç heroically said “I’ll fire you all, if you don’t help people” to the hotel’s staff –which he denied–, rumors of him getting into politics –which also turned out to be false–, circulated in social media for quite some time. As politicization in favor of AKP and Gülen Movement got even deeper in judiciary and the police force, and the media ridiculously failed the public; in desperation, people romanticized Divan Hotel story and perhaps, I daresay, they saw the KG as a house of power that could speak for them. This is surely another reason that stirred up the paranoia of the PM whose deputy chairman and top advisor openly expressed that Gezi protests were a coup attempt.

İzmit Facility of Tüpraş.

İzmit Facility of Tüpraş.

Rain of Lawsuits
Then came the lawsuits and inspections… First, a tax probe on Koç-owned gas firm Aygaz and oil refinery Tüpraş, the largest company of Turkey, was launched by the Ministry of Finance. The probe drove the shares of the Koç-owned firms down, causing a 900 million-lira (around 450$ million) fall only in Tüpraş’s value. The reports of the probes being unprecedented and carried out by an army of inspectors, were denied by Finance Minister Mehmet Şimsek and Energy Minister Taner Yıldız, who claimed the inspections on Koç firms were “routine” and not related to Gezi protests. Understandably, because of the timing, what the probes cost to KG and Erdoğan’s open threats, the wave of inspections was perceived by the public as a punishment.

Pro-government daily Star reported that Ministry of Forestry and Water Affairs demanded 30 million lira for the land on which Koç University is located and would act against the university. But KG denied the report saying that the land was not rented. Also, the $2.5 billion MİLGEM national warship contract that KG’s RMK Marine won, was cancelled. The decision was made by the Defense Industry Implementation Committee presided by the Prime Minister himself. But I also should point out that even before Gezi Park protests there were signs that RMK Marine would lose the contract, like complaints by suppliers and cheaper offers from other competitors. Another lawsuit accusing Koç and Doğan Group of backing 1997 military intervention was filed. It was initiative of an individual. As I know, the government didn’t make a statement about the case. But we know Erdoğan thinks that KG had an undemocratic influence in Turkish politics. While slamming KG but without specifically giving its name, he said “They were used to the governments that could be controlled. They used to bring down or lift up whomever they want.”

I think it would be wrong to present every lawsuit or a negative report as evidence of a witch hunt, as the details, in some cases, don’t support that argument. So, although there’s enough evidence to suggest there’s great pressure by PM Erdoğan on the KG, the examples above are partly open to interpretation.

F-511 TCG Heybeliada corvette, manifactured by Koç Group's RMK Marine.

Turkish Navy’s TCG Heybeliada (F-511) corvette, manufactured by Koç Group’s RMK Marine.

What is to happen next?
So, how is this going to end? Will Koç Family be finished off like really shady Uzan Family? It’s highly unlikely. Because KG is simply too big to fail, as statement of Ali Koç reveals: “As Koç Holding, we make 9% of the Turkey’s GDP, 10% of (the country’s) exportation and 9.4% of total tax revenues of the government.” Erdoğan would surely not want to kill the goose that lays golden eggs. That’s why the “strategic investment” incentives, mentioned in Minister Şimsek’s tweet, were given to Tüpraş. Not because Erdoğan and his party like KG, but it was not wise to exclude the largest enterprise of the country that has a new expensive project to produce higher performing fuel, from incentives for strategic investments. Especially unwise if that enterprise controls all of Turkey’s refining capacity and the taxes on fuel constitute a big source of revenue for the government. So big that because of this over-taxation Turkish people use the most expensive fuel in the world.

Traditionally, business dynasties get on well with governments and that’s what Koç Family intends to do. Just after Erdoğan accused the KG of making moves against him, Ali Koç explicitly told “We have no goal or desire other than developing Turkish economy, making Turkey the leader of its region and an important player of the global economy.”

In short, Erdoğan’s paranoia made him punish Koç Holding over a humanitarian action of Divan Hotel’s management. It’s not likely that he’ll go further than punishment. But going this far is more than enough to suggest that freedom of enterprise –along with freedom in many other areas– is not sufficiently appreciated by him. He gave good deal of foreign investors second thoughts about Turkey. He revealed that, like the model of presidency in his mind, the way he wants to run the economy is also very Russian-style.

After the Protests, 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.

The Protests and the Snotty Side of Turkish Politics

Left to Right: Deputy PM Arınç, Former Interior Minister Abdülkadir Aksu, an MP from the ruling party and the PM Erdoğan.

Left to Right: Deputy PM Arınç, Former Interior Minister Abdülkadir Aksu, an MP from the ruling party and PM Erdoğan.

The Mayor of Turkey’s capital Ankara, Melih Gökçek, has always been the crazy man of the town. His tweets full gaffes and misspellings amused many and inspired lots of internet contents mocking him. A few days ago, during an interview at state television TRT, his reaction to Gezi Park protests throughout Turkey went extreme. He got very emotional and cried, after he talked about foreign conspiracies, which he claimed, were behind Turkey’s massive protests against the government. While his tears were dropping, he said god was the greatest game changer, god was protecting them, they feared no one except god… Out of curiosity, I counted. In less than two minutes, he said “god” exactly ten times. This kind of Islamic sensationalism with tears is neither the first nor will it be the last. Much more important names than Gökçek in Turkish politics, did similar things.

The Mayor while at an interview on TRT and a digital art mocking him.

The Mayor on TRT and a digital art mocking him.

Just before the constitutional referendum in 2010, PM Erdoğan, too, made a speech in which he supported his arguments with tears. At that time, especially because of alleged coup attempts, he was presenting himself as a victim (of a coup that never happened). He cried and immediately got resounding applause while reading a letter of a young man who was executed by the military administration that came to power in September 12, 1980. Coincidentally (?), September 12 was decided as the date of constitutional referendum in 2010. The speech was not found sincere by many, but surely it helped the PM win the referendum. There were many other occasions where he cried: Once after seeing a video of the deceased Kurdish singer Ahmet Kaya, a few times while reading poems, and more… His Deputy Bülent Arınç, some of the cabinet ministers, MPs and the PM’s wife Emine Erdoğan, as well, all cried on different occasions while listening to Tayyip Erdoğan.

Perhaps, crying while the leader speaks is a show of loyalty and faith in Middle East. I remember well that Murat Bardakçı who is a journalist stayed a long time in Iran, said on his TV program, that Hashemi Rafsanjani used to cry to even Khomeini’s speeches about oil prices and that it was sort of a tradition there to do so while the Imam speaks. Maybe, it’s not even a necessity to understand the speech to cry for it, in such societies where religion is the determining component of one’s identity. The great Turkish author Falih Rıfkı Atay, tells a story in Zeytindağı (Meaning “Mount of Olives”, it’s his excellent book on Middle Eastern theatre of World War One): An Ottoman Albanian man in a mosque gets very moved and cries as the Imam (preacher) speaks. Someone asks him why he cries like this and he responds: “Look, how deeply he speaks!” The trouble is the Imam speaks in Arabic that the Albanian man doesn’t really understand and he actually explains how to slaughter sheep for sacrifice. The story gives some hints on the mood of today’s “emotional” Turkish politicians and their audience.

When you look at the “crying patterns” of the Turkish politicians, especially of this current administration, you see that they’re all somehow tied to religion. Indeed, it makes sense that emotionalism in politics is more common in societies where people are (totally or as in Turkey’s case partially) bonded through religion. Because religion is something one accepts and retains emotionally, not rationally.

The FM Ahmet Davutoğlu is worth mentioning particularly. In November 2012, he visited a hospital in Gaza, and there cried heavily along with the wounded whose stories he heard. The pro-government media presented his trip with such Islamic romanticism. Some months later, Reyhanlı which is a town of Hatay province on the border with Syria, was attacked by twin car bombs that killed more than 50. The incident was recorded as the bloodiest terrorist attack ever happened within borders of Republic of Turkey. The day the town was hit, Davutoğlu made a press conference, talked a lot but said really nothing, and he showed no such sadness as he did with the wounded Gazans. Just two days after the horrible attack, the Minister didn’t see any necessity to cancel his visit to Germany where pictures of him smiling with the kids were taken and released on the Ministry’s Facebook account. His asymmetric reactions to the wounded Gazans and dead Turks, enraged many. In disgust, people kept circulating his smiling pictures taken just after Reyhanlı attacks and the pictures where he cries in Gaza, in social media for days.

Fist picture: FM Davutoğlu visiting a hospital in Gaza.  Second one: Visiting Germany two days after Reyhanlı attacks.

Fist picture: FM Davutoğlu visiting a hospital in Gaza.
Second one: Visiting Germany two days after Reyhanlı attacks.

And what turns so many stomachs is that the tears that politicians of Turkey shed, as I tried to show by the examples I mentioned above, usually seem to be full of political motives. To find dead people, injustice, brutality and violence to cry for, they don’t have to look beyond our decade, to 33 years ago when there was military rule in Turkey. They don’t have to look beyond Turkey’s borders, to Gaza or to Arakan in Myanmar or elsewhere, either… During Gezi Park protests, 4 people died, many lost their eyes and got beaten by their own police, here in Turkey, right in middle of İstanbul and Ankara! In Hatay, more than 50 citizens lost their lives, because of the monumental failure of the government’s security and Syria policies. It’s time to cry for them. It’s time to take responsibility and feel remorse for what happened to them. It’s time, for the PM and his government, to atone. Tears aren’t necessary, but sincerity is.

Turkey’s Protests: What Really Triggered Them and Why They Will Continue

Now the protests seem to have run out of steam. Although still clashes erupt occasionally, the country is much more calmed compared to first days of the protests. Yet the reasons that sparked this social explosion off, are still there. And they need to be understood and studied intensively as they could be pregnant to even more than what already happened.

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What triggered massive protests first was the police brutality that targeted peaceful protestors at Gezi Park (Which was a place hardly of national importance, let alone being worthy of global attention. Now everyone has heard of it.) To be fair, Erdoğan’s government made a lot of progress in ending torture and ill-treatment by the police, especially through passing EU reform packages. Police brutality during riots, however, remained a problem. It generally targeted protest-addicted leftist groups, sometimes labor unions and BDP (Pro-Kurdish Party), and the public, media mostly didn’t care what was happening to them. But when it happened to peaceful Gezi Park protestors who were perceived by urbanized Turkish middle class and upper middle class as their own, all hell broke loose. Angry urban youth, white-collar workers were all out in the streets. One can clearly see all this is the result of a lot of resentment accumulated over years and the attack of the police was just the straw that broke the camel’s back.

I’d say the PM’s political language is perhaps the biggest cause of the protests, unfortunately this reason wasn’t sufficiently touched down in English-written analyses so far. The language of politics in Turkey has always been harsh and fierce. Before 2003, Erdoğan had actually promised he would change that. Indeed, in his first years, he used a more uniting language, seemed to embrace all the nation. But in his second term in office, he started to get in fights and wars of words. With who? Almost every segment of the society that didn’t support him: Diplomats, soldiers, students, academics, businessmen, doctors, journalists, labor unions, some non-governmental organizations and so on…

He makes long speeches frequently: Only in June 9, he made six speeches full of advertisement of himself, misinformation, alienation, threats and conspiracy theories. For a long time, they have been extremely unbearable for the half of Turkish voters who didn’t choose him. While presenting and talking about public investments and projects, he uses a language makes it harder to understand whether these are public investments paid by taxpayers’ money (largely by the upper middle and middle class he alienated) or his personal grants to the nation. He never avoids to call names, talk down, judge and divide people for their religious beliefs and lifestyles. Just after the big protests erupted, the country literally became a victim of this language. President Abdullah Gül, Deputy PM Bülent Arınç, İstanbul Mayor Kadir Topbaş and Governor of İstanbul Avni Mutlu had all made very reasonable and empathetic statements. Everyone was expecting the PM to use a soft language, show a sense of empathy and soothe the people after returning from his North Africa trip. Instead, at the airport, he made one of those big stupid speeches liked by only his own base and his a few reconciliatory remarks in the speech naturally failed to calm the crowds. The protests were inflamed even more. All he had to do was to plainly apologize, or at least express regret for police brutality and say that protestors’ opinions would be taken into account. Now we face a price hard to calculate. Turkey’s one of the top ten most visited countries that uses its tourism incomes to cover its huge deficit, but the tourism sector now struggles with cancellations. Foreign direct investment and hot money flowing into Turkey are starting to have second thoughts. As the Turkish saying goes: Dilin cismi küçük, cürmü büyük. (The tongue is small but its villainy can be great.)

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Another matter frustrated the crowds is that he tries to micromanage people’s lives. He tells them what to drink, when to drink, how many kids to have, what docudramas to watch, what newspapers to read, what ways are appropriate to give birth… Upper middle and middle class Turks, according to my observation, chose to ignore him for a long time. But on May 31, they decided that ignoring was not enough to cope with this mentality that blatantly tries to get into even people’s bedrooms.

Though, in all fairness, Tayyip Erdoğan is not a dictator: He won three general elections fair and square. This fact, however, doesn’t stop him from having fears of a dictator. Even though, the main goal of the protests was never overthrowing his government or questioning his legitimacy as leader, he thought he was being challenged by forces seeking to unseat him. That’s why he has been holding a series of meetings called “Respect for the National Will”, and by “the national will” he means the will of the 49% that chose him; not the others who are more crowded, probably pay more taxes than his voters do and only want their opinions to be taken into account. He responded a post-modern movement that has post-modern demands with brutally classical ways. He still perceives every bit of opposition to himself as a setback to the country’s development and democracy. He still feels no remorse, takes no responsibility for the social explosion that rocked the country. Moreover, he refuses to understand the reasons caused all this mess. And that’s why, as Americans say, it ain’t over yet. So, continue to watch Turkey.

Surely there are many more reasons and some very important ones are not directly about the government but about low standards and unskillfulness of Turkish media, incompetence of the opposition, limited options of Turkish voters and so forth. Turkey is a complex country with its unique economic and cultural dualism. Thus, every little problem is surprisingly multi-layered. I just tried to explain a few things here. I hope that I have been useful.