Vienna, no need to be a historian to reach that conclusion, is an imperial capital. Coming from Istanbul, I can’t help but think about the parallelism of these two cities being amputated of their respective empires almost simultaneously at the end of World War I.
December 23 2019
Merriam-Webster gives the definition of the Latin term “genius loci” as “the pervading spirit of a place” or alternately, as “a tutelary deity of a place” -this for a change from your usual “zeitgeist.” Recently walking around in central Vienna, I catch myself musing about the image of an imposing head added on a quite modest body that seemed out of sync with it. Why so?
Vienna, no need to be a historian to reach that conclusion, is an imperial capital. Its current population is just shy from 1.9 million inhabitants. Still, one learns from information offered online by the city government that one can count up to 7.5 million arrivals and 16.5 million bed-nights for 2018 only. Hence, it is today safely a successful enterprise but doesn’t have an empire attached.
Yet, coming from Istanbul, I can’t help but think about the parallelism of these two cities being amputated of their respective empires almost simultaneously at the end of World War I. In Turkey, history is not about a long gone common past but is always of political currency. In Vienna, the “loci”, or the setting so to speak, consists of all those sumptuous palaces, statues of pan-handle-moustached men on horseback, oversize parliament and other governmental buildings, museums that tell us a different story.
This sure is no Euro-Disney too. Then again I am not sure either whether there is a strong political vein among the 8.8 million Austrian citizens on feeling unduly deprived of an empire. Here, even the most extreme right wing political leader would not adopt a rhetoric of recovering certain parts of a long lost empire under the guise of “correcting” Austria’s borders or having a God-given or “Habsburgian” (?) right to intervene in “Mittel Europa” or the Balkans, I presume.
Vienna today, during that mere weekend spent in town, does not come across as being particularly threatening to my dark haired, heavy eyebrowed eastern self but quite cosmopolitan on the contrary. In his wonderful Goncourt winning novel “Compass” Mathias Enard too muses through his main character who is a musicologist living in Vienna, about the making of the Orient. Enard reminds the inadvertent reader that “Österreich”, as the name suggests, used to be where the “eastern realm” began.
Enard’s book focuses on cultural cross-breedings. In his “mémoires d’orient” Ambassador Bajolet, whom I have had the privilege to know in person while in Baghdad in 2003-06, too underlines the cultural richness that comes from East-West mutual fertilization and laments about the present situation: “What kind of light can come out if this mono-colour and intimidating Orient?”
While the Habsburg rule started in Vienna in 1282, the Ottomans established themselves right next door to ailing Byzance in 1299. Once the Ottomans’ last effort to conquer Vienna failed spectacularly in 1683, the empire’s glide toward oblivion began in earnest. Today’s Istanbul population is about twice the population of Austria. Turkey’s is almost ten times Austria’s and even the number of Syrian refugees in Turkey is about twice the population of Vienna.
Arrive by boat to Beşiktaş neighbourhood on the European shores from Anatolian side’s Kadıköy and walking up the Barbaros Boulevard towards Yıldız Palace you can entertain a similar strain of thoughts about the spirit of our times, the stories that locations whisper us. Just before what today is Conrad Hotel you will see the modestly monumental “art nouveau” style tomb of Sheikh Muhammad Zafir Efendi of the Shadiliyah sufi order built by the Italian architect Raimondo d’Aronco upon orders by Sultan Abdulhamid the 2nd in 1903-04: So many layers of politics and culture in a single sentence.
Here is an excerpt on d’Aronco from Istanbul Research Institute’s related entry: “his contribution is even more important as it lays within a theme that constitutes the characteristic property of the architectural study focused in Vienna: this theme, is the re-discovery of the folk-art with its ‘genius loci’ character and its purpose is to re-invigorate the forms of expression that define the national identity within the framework of interaction of languages and cultures.” Again back to Vienna.
Whenever my opinion is sought by a visiting scholar or a journalist from the West, I kindly urge these friends to get their essentials straight first and try not to hurry in their claim to understand all in a flash. True, often times foreigners understand and know “us” better than we ourselves do in our legendary lethargy. But it also true that there is a “CENTCOM Mideast Map Cut-Out” sort of a pedestrian image for these lands.
Therefore, to see, one must look first, dare I say, and find one’s own rhythm to learn while at it. Not all about learning but some part of it still seems to me a mystic inward journey. Vienna is two-hour flight time away from Istanbul. Whereas, for the initial conquest effort in 1529, it took Sultan Suleiman “The Magnificent” 141 days to reach Vienna. Today “Sultan’s Trail” that runs for 2100km more or less parallel to the ancient “Via Comitis” (the Roman road to Jerusalem) is a trekking route. A good way to start knowing, is to be curious and to start walking perhaps?
Who is Aydın Selcen?
Born in Istanbul in 1969, Aydın Selcen graduated from Saint Joseph High School and the International Relations Department of Marmara University. Selcen has taken up several positions at the Foreign Ministry between 1992 and 2013, his latest post being the Erbil Consul General of Turkey between 2010 and 2013. Upon his return to Ankara, he resigned from the civil service and served as a political advisor at the General Energy oil company for one and a half years. Since 2015, he has been writing independently, with a focus on Iraqi and Syrian issues. Selcen is a member of the Galatasaray Football Club congress.
A good start is not often times sign of a good finish. “Start as a Turk, finish as a German” the saying goes around here. One outcome may well be a de facto or Sudanese style de jure partitioning of Libya –what with Turkey finding itself left with the dry end.
Today in Turkey, thanks to Erdoğan’s shrewd politics and survival instinct, nationalism and Islamism are blended together. No nationalistic opposition will find the tiniest bit of space anymore against the rampart of the new Islamism 2.0 on steroids unless it gathers the guts to adopt pluralistic and geared towards de-centralization policies.
True, Turkey’s neither Syria nor Libya military adventures can in real terms be compared to the invasion of Iraq by the U.S. neither in scope nor in content. Nevertheless, reasoning-wise it makes sense –to me at least. Why, because I would simply like to know how much is being spent out of taxpayer’s pocket?
Perhaps, it is time for the opposition to start re-thinking the republic and switch priority from rights and freedoms to administration and social contract. In this month of June it will not be way off-the-mark to claim that Junes as in 2013 or in 2015 were not one-off singular events.
Our official and public/individual reactions to Mr. George Floyd’s killing is a perfect looking glass mirror. We are exempt of all sins. There were no enslaved Circassian women’s blood running in our veins. No property “confiscated” from our Armenian neighbours who decided to take an unexpected walk.
Turks and Kurds are not exotic fruits that grow in faraway lands. As citizens of this country, namely the Republic of Turkey, they yearn for equality, justice for all, state of law, plurality, agency, effective administration through decentralization, secularism, better education and economy for their children, security.
Perhaps at glacier speed yet things appear to have started to move between Turkey and the U.S. Stars are almost getting aligned what with Turkey in dire need of fresh monies to fill its fast emptying forex coffers and the U.S. shifting its military focus for the umpteenth time from the MidEast to global rivalry with first China and then Russia.
If the truth is circumvented or sterilized, finding a solution to a problem that is being carried along since almost a century will be harder if not impossible to reach. Politics is one thing, law is something else, political science is another and history is yet another.
Lefter Küçükandonyadis (1925-2012) was Fenerbahçe football club’s and Turkish national team’s star player during the many long years when he played football. Last week, my good friend and distinguished sportswriter Bağış Erten named his new born son “Lefter” and announced the happy news through social media.
The capacity and the capability of the Turkish Armed Forces is overwhelming compared to its regional peers. The resolve of the leader and the public support are formidable. The pandemic keeps the global powers at bay. The worm in the apple is the economic engine.
An appointed official, in this case the interior minister, defies and elbows the elected mayor of a city, for example Istanbul with its 16 million inhabitants because he represents the state also known as the office of the presidency and also because he has a hunch that if these pernicious activities are allowed, then God forbid, HDP municipalities may follow suit and raise money for PKK!
The imam too is apologetically in a hurry. I try to appear comforting in reiterating over and over again that everything is in order according to Islam. I even attempt to reassure him by patting his shoulder but my hand remains hanging in the air as the wide-eyed imam is aghast of this potential physical contact.
At the end of the day, Ankara’s undisclosed three-way bet appears to the naked eye as resting first on a hybrid mitigation approach as opposed to the full throttle suppression. Second, that the storm will pass quicker than others expect. Third, that Turkey will find itself on the winning end once the skies clear.
The Moscow Protocol puts the task on Ankara’s shoulders of stopping the armed militia like the HTS and the Turkey backed SNA from endangering traffic on that road to be jointly controlled. By the same token, while effectively offering the use of the road on a plate to Damascus, it allocates the burden of preventing the SAA to take it over and make a northbound push to Russia.
Not quite. One can safely assume that Moscow dictates the, call it “new order” or the “new status quo” in Idlib. And at that, effectively getting in between the Turkish Armed Forces and the Syrian Arab Army. No more, no less and temporarily. Compared to a potential full-blown Turco-Syrian war, encouraged first and foremost by the U.S., it is no small feat either.
The assumption of those who predicted a sudden death to Erdoğan-Putin bromance is proven to be only wishful thinking. The two leaders, as shared with the public by Kremlin’s spokesperson Peskov are slated to meet in Moscow either on the 5th or the 6th of March. How many more Syrian Air Force Soviet made attack jets will be downed by then is anybody’s guess. The tally stands at three at present time.
Title is from a song by Sheffield band Pulp’s well known 1995 debut album: “Mis-shapes, mistakes, misfits / Raised on a diet of broken biscuits, oh…” With a sleight of hand replace “biscuits” with “promises” and there you have it, a concise executive summary of Erdoğan’s Syria and Libya policies.
The art of diplomacy, among other things, is to create time and space for a rationale within the possible outcomes. That would be in this case, for the recently heavily fortified TAF observation posts establish a new frontier line leaving the control of the M4 and the M5 highways together with all the towns along them to Damascus and keep a much narrower pocket including the Idleb town to host the almost a million Syrian IDPs and hence allowing them conditions not push for the Turkish border.
Bana, on her term, travelled numerous times from Istanbul to Misrata than to Genoa and so forth. Recently though, the French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle sailed through the disputed eight parcel declared by Greek Cyprus and, “to add insult to injury”, also topped its flag displaying mission by monitoring the same Bana being escorted by Turkish navy fregates to Libya. Before AFP had time to break the news, President Macron had already denounced Turkey as breaching the UN imposed arms embargo to Libya.
I have no single bit of sympathy at all for this ridiculous Trumpian unilateral MEPP that makes a mockery of diplomacy and the Palestinian land. But I do worry about the fact that Turkey carries no weight to dictate its will upon all the rest of the world. For that matter, no other power, be it regional or global, not even the U.S. enjoys that sort of latitude. There is no need for Ankara to constantly pick unnecessary fights while in the meantime there is no shortage of conflicts that Turkey’s national security all around it.
Today, a shaky hodge-podge opposition coalition of sorts seems to have emerged following the metropolitan municipality victories in 2019, first and foremost winning the prized duchy of Istanbul among them. Now, the secularist nationalists and muslim democrats with the Kurds and leftists suspiciously eyeing but soldiering on with them have a quite clear shot at the presidency in 2023 the latest -in ceteris paribus conditions.
The outcome of the Berlin Conference on Libya is anybody’s guess and whether it will make any difference is anybody’s guess as well. The safest bet is to claim that we are just starting a long de-escalation period with its inevitable ups and downs unless General Hafter manages to upend it militarily.
President Erdoğan’s combative foreign policy appears to let off steam and slow down on both Syrian and Libyan fronts. It is too early to tell whether finally reason had found a foothold in Ankara. For Mr. Erdoğan the hardest bit to tackle in 2020 will be the U.S. President’s repeated invitation for the NATO’s mission to be expanded to the Mid East and namely to Iraq.
Turkey, if it stops short of going all in in Libya and taps into its long forgotten diplomatic arsenal, has a unique opportunity to step forward with its home brew de-escalation efforts. President Erdoğan already had both Mr. Rouhani and Mr. Saleh on the phone. Briskly, Ankara can step forward and play on both its hundreds year long relations with Teheran and its half a century old NATO membership.
Mr.Erdoğan went to Tunisia but came back empty handed following his meeting with his counterpart Mr.Saied. The joint diplomatic, military, intelligence team that was dispatched to Moscow got no deal after three days long talks. Italy, Britain, France and Germany are seriously considering imposing a No Fly Zone which will definitely put a hold to armed drones provided by Turkey to GNA.
Ankara went ahead and put the pedal to the metal in all files. No restraint, no consultation, no foresight: Just jump in head-on wherever, whenever you see trouble. Why? Simply because it almost always paid off at the ballot box. Second, there was no payback, no price tag attached to any of all these reckless foreign policy moves, manoeuvers and adventures.
So here I was back at heart of the blob. Or alternately, here I was knee-deep back in the swamp. Ten years ago this city was sort of abuzz. This time though, if President Macron kindly allows me to borrow the description he recently used for NATO, DC appeared to me sort of “brain-dead”. A good friend who had navigated these treachourous waters for decades had warned me that I would come to witness “the demise of an empire.”
Never in the history of mankind, less than ten richest persons in the world possessed more than half of the global wealth. But also, never in the history of mankind, humans lived so long and a billion people to global population was added in such a short span of time. Statesmen are in short supply in our time and at the same time all the public upheaval from Santiago to Najaf can be understood as a global rejection of being lead by anyone anyway.
It seems like Erdoğan’s Turkey not only wants to go it alone almost in all foreign policy issues but also actually expects almost all other countries, friend or foe, to, at best, applaud its acts and decisions or to understand them and to remain silent, at worst. That’s not a realistic goal.
What is the secret of the “Kılıçdaroğlu Doctrine”? That’s “winning with a disappearing act”, in a nut-shell. That is, now you see Mr.Kılıçdaroğlu and he dexterly shuffles the deck of cards lurking in the shadows, and now you don’t, the cards are open on the table with brand new names facing the voter. Ergo, CHP rises as the legendary phoenix from its ashes.
Where will Iraq go from here, I do not know. The historical process triggered by the U.S. military that toppled the most brutal dictator of its era in 2003 does not yet appear to have arrived at its final destination. It is perhaps a good enough thing to be alive for some of us, but then again, for some of us to merely survive is not enough. The brave young generation of Iraq, unlike the frequent traveler that your humble servant was, plays this game for their lives: They want to live, to be free and pursue their happiness as they see fit.
The relations between Turkey and the U.S. are beyond repair. The bilateral relations are either going to look like “operational” as in U.S.-Egypt relations for example, in which case people who consider themselves democrats will definitely go under the bus. Or, another option may appear to be, as it derives from the dominant narrative of Erdoğan, a character similar to the U.S.-Russia relations: Turkey playing the part of an equal and indispensable but difficult partner.
Turkey is anchored in the West since the Paris Peace Conference in 1856 that ensued the Crimean War. Today, over the control of a godforsaken piece of land of 120 to 32km, Putin is invited to kill too many birds with one stone.
As the U.S. pulled out, Bashar al-Assad’s Syrian Arab Army (SAA), supported by Russia, moved into Manbij and Kobane to the west and to the Qamishli axis to the east of the said rectangular field of ongoing operations. Hence, there is no reason why the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) should heed the U.S.-Turkish Joint Statement, and there is no reason why the congressional sanctions effort should stop—it didn’t.
Last week marked the fourth anniversary of the Ankara Train Station massacre. The pain caused by the hundreds of dead and injured subsists. The victims simply demanded peace. But they paid a high price for it.
Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu said, rather ungrammatically, that they would 'raggedy' Istanbul Mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu if he doesn't mind his own business. He openly and directly threatened him with these words
Musa Özuğurlu writes: Russia, by any means, wishes to see al-Assad in power at least for another term. It is trying quite unattainable formulas to make it possible for Muslim Brotherhood to return to Damascus after so many years. Let us see whether or not these attempts will bring the political transition and thus relief to Syria?
In this edition of Turkey: The Long View, Duvar English columnist Luke Frostick is joined by the president of P.E.N. Turkey, an international organization dedicated to protecting the rights of writers around the world.
Germany will keep reviewing travel advice for Turkey, Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told his Turkish counterpart Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu on July 2, saying any decisions were coordinated with the EU and based on reliable data on infections and the health situation. Earlier, Turkey said that it is disappointed by the European Union's decision to exclude it from the list of countries recommended for non-essential travel.
Turkey's flagship carrier is planning to cut pilots' wages in half, lowering other paychecks and possibly restructure their payment scheme, a union representative told Bloomberg. Turkish Airlines paused commercial flights for about three months during the pandemic.
Turkey is remembering victims of the Sivas Massacre, which took place when a large group of radical Islamists set the Madımak Hotel in the Central Anatolian province of Sivas on fire on July 2, 1993, killing 33 intellectuals and two hotel personnel, on 27th anniversary. Also on July 2, a parliamentary inquiry to reveal the perpetrators of the Sivas Massacre was rejected by lawmakers of the AKP, MHP and the İYİ Party.
A Turkish court on July 2 heard a case about converting Istanbul's sixth century Hagia Sophia back into a mosque and will announce its verdict within 15 days, a lawyer said, on an issue which has drawn international expressions of concern. Greece said Turkey risked opening up "a huge emotional chasm" with Christian countries if it pressed ahead with the proposal to convert Hagia Sophia into a mosque.
Turkey has carried out the largest anti-narcotics operation in its history, Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu said on June 30, adding that it was conducted in cooperation with nine countries. "Traffic worth 500 million liras was prevented. It was the biggest operation in Turkey's history in terms of preventing income from drugs and crime," Soylu said.
Austria pledged on June 29 to find out who was behind clashes between Kurdish and Turkish protesters in the Austrian capital last week. "Austria's ambassador to Ankara will be invited to our ministry and informed of our concern," the Turkish Foreign Ministry said, accusing Austrian security forces of meting out "harsh" treatment to the Turkish protesters.
Turkey shut down a total of 119 media outlets following the July 15, 2016 failed coup attempt, Vice President Fuat Oktay said in response to a parliamentary question submitted by Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) deputy Muazzez Orhan. A total of 53 newspapers, 20 magazines, 16 TV channels, 24 radio stations and six news agencies were shut down with state of emergency decrees.
A lawyer from Van Bar Association Migration and Asylum Commission said that the death toll in the migrant boat accident in Lake Van is unknown. "Unfortunately we don't have enough information about the boat that sank in Van Lake over the weekend. The Van Bar Association hasn't received a public defender request for the boat yet."
Turkish authorities arrested one person and detained 11 others for insulting Treasury and Finance Minister Berat Albayrak's family through their social media posts, state-run Anadolu Agency said on July 1. The suspects face charges of "insulting a public official," the agency said.
The Dutch Minister of Infrastructure Cora van Nieuwenhuizen has called on citizens of Turkish descent not to visit Turkey unless it is "mandatory," saying holidays or family visits are not essential. "Going to a country on the orange list is irresponsible and is an anti-social behavior," Nieuwenhuizen said. Netherlands’ coronavirus travel advice for Turkey currently stands at ‘orange’: travel only if absolutely essential.
The Turkish Competition Authority has launched a probe into German automotive giants Audi, Porsche, Volkswagen, Mercedes-Benz and BMW. The authority's announcement on July 1 came as Volkswagen AG canceled plans to build a car factory in Turkey after the coronavirus pandemic jolted auto markets.
Russian President Vladimir Putin told his counterparts from Turkey and Iran on July 1 that there was a need for peaceful dialogue between the opposing forces in Syrian war. "An inclusive inter-Syrian dialogue should be actively promoted within the framework of the constitutional committee in Geneva. I propose to support this process, to help the participants to meet and start a direct dialogue," Putin said.
Turkey's media watchdog issued a five-day blackout to two news broadcasters that are critical of the government. Both broadcasters will lose their licenses if they receive another broadcast interruption fine.
Turkish Deputy Parliament Speaker and main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) deputy Levent Gök broke a world record on running the longest uninterrupted session in a national parliament with eight hours and 13 minutes.
Turkey's ambassador to France İsmail Hakkı Musa said on July 1 that Paris had informed NATO it was suspending its involvement in a naval operation in the Mediterranean after a probe into an incident between French and Turkish warships did not back Paris' claims. "I had the information yesterday, it seems that the Courbet is withdrawing from this NATO exercise," he said.
The wife of an inmate diagnosed with cancer and coronavirus has urged the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) to release her husband. "This means he has been abandoned to die. I am calling upon the public, the Presidency, and the Ministry of Health: Release my husband right away. There are thousands of [coronavirus] patients in jail, their voices must be heard. People are coming face to face with death at the moment,” she said.
Professor Haluk Savaş who was known for his resistance against Ankara's state of emergency decrees died on June 30. Savaş had been removed from his post at a university with a state of emergency decree and was refused a passport to travel abroad for cancer treatment.
Germany's Federal Constitutional Court has ruled that it was unconstitutional for police to remove posters of the Syrian Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) that Left Party deputy Michel Brandt hung in his office prior to a visit to the Bundestag by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in 2018.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan signed off on a new university because of a mistake in an executive order, which then got published in the official gazette. The gazette published a correction the next day, saying the correct word was "faculty" and not "university."
The United States will continue working with Turkish companies producing some parts of F-35 fighter jets until 2022, Turkey's state-owned Anadolu agency quoted a Pentagon spokeswoman as saying on July 1. "Our industry partners will carry out the continuing contracts," she said, adding the Pentagon was still looking for alternatives to Turkey.
Positive developments in COVID-19 vaccine studies have stopped the steady increase in gold prices. Pharmaceutical giant Pfizer said on July 1 that their vaccines were effective in increasing recipients' antibodies.
New regulation concerning online and digital banking services will ban bank representatives from asking about users' ID information to confirm their identities. Representatives will instead be asking about digital ID informations and PIN numbers.
Broadly defined unemployment in Turkey has reached 39 percent according to the Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions of Turkey (DİSK). The union disputed recently revealed official unemployment rate of 13.2 percent. DİSK claimed that only those looking for a job for a period of four weeks as unemployed were reflected in the official numbers.
Turkish Treasury and Finance Minister Berat Albayrak has announced that the Central Bank will provide a credit of up to 400 million Turkish liras ($59 million) with a maximum maturity of 10 years to companies which support exports and reduce imports.
The United States' National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) likened railroads and highways in Turkey's capital Ankara to arteries in an eagle-eye shot of the city at night, dubbed "photo of the day" on June 28.
Istanbul Mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu on June 25 announced that the municipality purchased a portrait of Ottoman Sultan Mehmet II at a London auction. According to the London-based world-famous Christie's auction house, the municipality's winning bid amounted to £770,000 ($955,000) for the oil painting, which is believed to be the work of Italian painter Gentile Bellini in 1480.
Turkey's Culture and Tourism Ministry will be turning the iconic Galata Tower into a museum. The ministry will also launch a "culture route" that spans from the tower, along Istiklal Avenue and to Taksim Square. Minister Ersoy also said that the construction of the AKM would be completed within a month, ongoing since February 2019.
Turkey's first mass event after the COVID-19 pandemic brought together 50 ambassadors and their families, press and businessmen together in Mediterranean Antalya's Aspendos Theater. The concert was performed by Turkey's seven tenors, accompanied by the Antalya Opera and Ballet's orchestra.
Istanbul's 28th LGBTI+ Pride week started on June 22 with a week-long schedule, entirely planned online. After having been banned for the past five years, the Pride march will also be carried out digitally this year. The theme of the Pride week is "Where am I?" focusing on safe spaces for queers during the COVID-19 pandemic and immigration.