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.

 

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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.

Kurdish Civilians Need Empathy, Not Pity

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Cizre, Şırnak Province.

Peace talks with the PKK were doomed to fail.

For a long time it had been clear that the conflict with the PKK would turn into an ugly urban warfare, hence cause civilian casualties, mainly because during the “peace process” the PKK was hardly peaceful. It stockpiled weapons in cities as Turkey’s security forces and intelligence stood and watched. And the government was never consistent and honest about the talks. First they denied they ever took place. When it was undeniable, they attempted to bully people into supporting the talks. Also, lack of legal framework and transparency has always been an issue.

Turkish military is extremely experienced in dealing with the PKK’s guerilla warfare in the mountains. But having to deal with terrorists in such a large scale in urban areas is a relatively new and harder task. As Minister of Internal Affairs stated, operations in Cizre ended. Yet it is inevitable that similar clashes will occur in the future.

Supressed Kurds, Depressed Turks

Life is becoming impossible for ordinary Kurds in the area. During Cizre operations, people died in crossfire, they were not able to bury their dead, access to food and medical services because of the strictly imposed curfew… According to a police report, as many as 100.000 people were displaced. What is more disturbing is that these facts do not seem to agitate the Western part of the country. There is an alarming lack of empathy which, I think, is horribly damaging the country’s unity more than the PKK’s military efforts. People in metropolises go on with their busy lives and are non-reacting to the news of dying innocent civilians, including a 3-month-old baby, in the country’s South-East.

The reasons for this numbness are various. Turks may have simply stopped believing in politics and speaking up. Because nothing they do really seems to sufficiently affect the country’s direction. After massive Gezi Park protests, strongly substantiated corruption charges, Gülen Movement’s rebellion and so on, the ruling AKP grew even more powerful and its authoritarian tendencies intensified. The AKP lost the majority in the parliament in June 2015, yet the opposition parties were simply not competent enough to compromise on their differences and form a government. So, the anti-AKP people are just tired and depressed and gave up on not just the Kurds but the whole political process. Whereas Erdoğan managed to consolidate his electorate solidly and people back him even when he changes his policies 180 degrees which he definitely did in the Kurdish case. Indeed, the AKP and Erdoğan were selling “peace” during ceasefire and declaring every skeptical voice as “traitors”, “enemies of peace”. They are now selling patriotism in war time and declaring opposing voices, again, traitors, terrorists, enemies of state…

Hearts and Minds

Of course, Turkey will not lose the region in military terms. But right now it is losing a lot of hearts and minds, which is pretty much the PKK’s strategy.The living conditions brought about by the clashes in the area create hatred that will eventually feed the PKK.

Kurdish civilians need empathy, not pity. And the Turks need to show that empathy in order to keep their emotional bonds with the Kurds strong and their country intact. It is past time for them to show that they care and shed at least a few tears for also the civilians caught in the middle. It will definitely contribute to the country’s unity much more than killing hundreds of terrorists.

 

 

What is behind Erdoğan’s Palace Fetish?

Definitely, Erdoğan has an obsession with palaces. Journalist Murat Bardakçı recently reported that Yıldız Palace, a 19th century Ottoman palace most famously used by Sultan Abdülhamit II, was now allocated for use of the Turkish presidency. In her last state visit to Turkey, Erdoğan hosted Chancellor Merkel there. Only in İstanbul, presently there appears to be three presidential residences: Huber Villa (Tarabya campus), Çengelköy Villa that is lately renewed and Yıldız Palace. Now I say “villa” and “residence” but you should know that they are actually compounds comprising of many buildings.

Mabeyn Pavillion at Yıldız Palace Compound.

The Great Mabeyn Pavillion at Yıldız Palace.

Çengelköy Villa is also known as Vahdettin Villa, named after the last Ottoman sultan who is regarded as a disgraced figure by many. Mostly because he ordered Atatürk’s death as he opposed İstanbul’s rule in his bid to start war of independence. The sultan eventually left İstanbul by a British vessel. Yet, unsurprisingly, in the “alternative” history writing of the Islamists, he is a revered ruler who actually sent Atatürk off to Anatolia to start the war of independence. But then the sneaky Atatürk betrayed him and abolished the sultanate, Islamists believe. Erdoğan’s choice to utilize Vahdettin Villa says a lot. The same thing goes also for the Yıldız Palace that is associated with Sultan Abdülhamit II who is another a poster boy for conservatives. A very smart leader, Abdülhamit II sought to unite whatever remains of the Ottoman Empire through Islamic identity as the Empire had lost most of its provinces in Europe and held generally Muslim-populated lands. Some Islamists go as far as seeing him as a saint and his rule as an anti-thesis for secular system. In addition to being a figure of greatness, he is also a victim as he was deposed by the progressive Young Turks that restored the Ottoman Constitution of 1876. Of course, Islamists do not know and/or go great lengths to overlook the fact that Abdülhamit was pretty much a European monarch: he loved opera, theater, Sherlock Holmes novels and, according to one of his grandsons Ertuğrul Osmanoğlu, drinking rom.

Changes in Ankara are pretty much in line with those in İstanbul. In an unprecedented move, Çankaya which was built in Atatürk’s time and had been the residence of the Turkish presidents since, was given to the Prime Ministry. In historic Çankaya’s stead, a new palace with 1150 rooms that could be rivalled by only Ceausescu’s palace in size and tastelessness, was built in 2014. The official cost was $615 million but Turkey’s Housing Development Administration (TOKİ) rejected to state the real cost of the presidential complex because it could “hurt the economy”. With a bigger palace came also a much bigger budget: from 55 million Turkish lira in 2008, the Presidency’s budget increased to 397 million ($137.7 million) in 2015. The money wasted was not the only cost, however. The complex was built on Atatürk Forest Farm. The construction destroyed much of the one of Atatürk’s most important legacies, hundreds of trees were cut down. Though from the Gezi Park protests, you may already know that Erdoğan is no big fan of green spaces. Nor is he a fan of the law. So the construction went on despite the court decision to halt it.

Much as I dislike the reasons behind choosing these specific historic structures for use of presidency, I support restoring and renewing them as well as occasionally using them for various state events. That would be a perfectly reasonable way to keep them alive. But does the office of presidency need this many palaces? Or is it one man’s ego that needs them so much? Erdoğan’s supporters seem to believe that the recent presidential extravagance displays “greatness” of Turkey. For them, it is a display of power both in international stage and in the domestic arena, a restoration of the former glory of the Ottoman Empire. Though I think the Ottomans fancied by them so much would have strongly disagreed with them. In the peak of its power, the vast Ottoman Empire was being ruled from Topkapı Palace that was indeed very modest compared to palaces in Europe and Russia. The greatest Turkish architect Sinan, the head architect of Suleiman the Magnificent, never really built a single mighty palace but many mosques, bridges and baths… Until the protocol of 19th century made it necessary, Ottoman emperors did not think to build and live in lavish palaces. Of course, the Empire was weak in the 19th century and perhaps, through the palaces matching those of Europe, it needed to show that it was still in the game. In the 15th and 16th centuries, might of the Empire could be observed in its mosques, military structures, fountains not in its original, practical but extremely modest palaces… So, a look at the history shows that there exists a negative correlation between power of the Turkish state and the level of fancy for palaces.

Topkapı Palace

Topkapı Palace

Restoring residences of Sultan Vahdettin and Sultan Abdülhamit II as presidential offices, destroying much of Atatürk Forest Farm, abandoning Çankaya as presidential residence and holding state events in İstanbul so frequently as if it were the capital of the country are intensely ideological choices. In the process, laws are ignored, as is economic rationality. The whole thing that is costing too much and gaining nothing for the people, is being presented as a necessary step to increase the country’s international recognition. The people who are still obsessively envisioning an Ottoman comeback are more than willing to swallow this.

Hence, behind every shining object in these palaces, there is a something very rotten.

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.

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.

Turkey: A Disaster and A Leader Beyond Redemption

Funeral of a mining accident victim, Çankırı. (Source: NTV)

Funeral of a victim, Çankırı. (Source: NTV)

First I saw the headline ’20 miners dead’, I was saddened and worried but not too shaken. When Mayor of Manisa told that there were at least 157 dead, I just didn’t want to believe it. ‘We are not exactly a developed country but such things don’t happen here, not on this scale’, I thought. I wished it to be a foolish manipulative move by the opposition-party mayor to hurt the ruling AKP. Clearly, I was in denial. On the Tuesday morning, it was all over the news that more than 200 miners deceased – it was actually on that scale. My sadness turned into rage.

The Prime Ministry declared national mourning for three days. National mourning, a national sense of solidarity, coping with the disaster collectively, feeling the pains of your countrymen… surely sounds very noble and dignified. Alas, that is not totally the case in Turkey. The disaster was followed by more indignities. And the greatest indignities of all goes by the name of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Imagine a prime minister coming into a disaster-hit town and slaps a citizen, his bodyguards horribly beating him afterwards. A prime minister with an army of guards surrounding him threatens the people booing him ‘come on and do it next to me, if you can!’, and whose aide brutally kicks a citizen on the floor who was held by two policemen. A prime minister that cites a mining disaster from Victorian Britain, to make the point that ‘such things happen even in developed countries’.

Is he stupid, is he thinking that people are stupid? Or is it an effect of the cancer some think that he has? I don’t know. Optimist fools still wait for him to be reasonable as he was in the first years of his rule. But no, he just keeps getting worse and worse. More paranoid, more despotic, more unbalanced every day.

Much as I wanted this short piece to display only a solemn grief, it is hard to separate this all from politics. When a man causes a scandal at a funeral, that has to be spoken.