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.
May 25 2020
Let’s assume that you are a –for some obscure reason an utterly uninformed- foreign diplomat arriving in Ankara. You have some vague knowledge about Turkey’s history, a rudimentary mastery of the language and with a political baggage acquired from your first hand witnessing of ethno-sectarian conflict that you hauled from your previous posting which you hurriedly left to have your kind self parachuted to Ankara skies.
First, the joke is already on you because not Istanbul but Ankara is the capital of Turkey and you will have to deal with that during your tour of duty, so most welcome. Then, I would humbly suggest to you as a well-wishing friend that your first task should not be to get yourself totally immersed as part of your hands-on training but to take a deep breath and lean back in your chair to get your essentials straight first. Throw the newspapers straight to the bin under your desk and reach for your embassy’s library.
Or else, in no time you will find yourself angrily cabling memos to your capital about the “pro-Kurdish HDP”, the “Marxist guerilla organization PKK fighting the Turks to establish an independent Kurdish state”, “Kurds living in Southeastern Turkey”, “Kurds being the largest nation in the world without a state”, “Kurds being massacred by the Ottoman Empire and the Republic of Turkey alongside other minorities like the Armenians” etc. Well you know the drill already.
History, identity, geography, politics, the characteristics of the HDP, concepts of “democracy and republic” will all constitute the various angles of the kaleidoscope that you will turning around in your hands. But hey, don’t you worry my imaginary diplomat friend: By all the means you are not alone, not the least bit. You want to know why? Well, simply because as the renowned historian Led Zeppelin once succinctly explained, we too all have “been dazed and confused for so long it’s not true.” The process of figuring Turkey out takes a life time for the interested and the initiated generally passes away before being able her/his thoughts in proper order. Yet this shouldn’t stop one from asking questions.
Here are some titbit suggestions as for starters: “Bey of all Turk(men)s” was not among the numerous titles held by the Ottoman sultan but “Roman Emperor” was -after the conquest of Istanbul in 1453. There are more Albanians, Bosnians, Abhkaz/Circassians living in Turkey then these countries of origin respectively. As Mehmet The Conqueror destroyed the Turkmen Akkoyunlu dynasty and had the Turkmens in the Taurus Mountains massacred so did his grandson Selim The Grim by destroying the Turkmen Safavid dynasty and having the mostly Alawite Turkmens massacred in Anatolia. Anatolian peoples’ DNA would have remained mostly intact for some 3000 years according to some scientific studies but it also a fact that the population of the republic of Turkey was less than 10 million at the inception in early 1920’s, whereas now almost a 100 years later it is over 80 million.
Atatürk was himself an Ottoman general who spent most of his lifetime actively taking part in war at the Tripolitania, Palestine and Dardanelles fronts. He was the culmination of an almost two hundred years reform effort within the ruling elites of the Ottoman Empire and reigned during a particularly revolutionary period of the early twentieth history. The first republican constitution of 1921 was based on two founding entities: Turks and Kurds. Some even claim that this was the convenient union of those who were the instigators of “the original sin.” The largest Kurdish city in the world is neither Diyarbakır/Amed nor Erbil but it is Istanbul which is home to almost 3 million Kurds. Even during the harshest scorched earth tactics of the 1990’s Kurds did not opt to exile themselves to Southern Kurdistan but chose to move towrds the west either in Turkey or in Europe.
Down here we couldn’t even managed yet to write a scholarly biography of the founder of our republic Kemal Atatürk whose reprimanding ice blue gaze is on us from all the walls and the town squares. We don’t have an authoritative study of the PKK whose first armed attack dates way back to 1984. We couldn’t face the truth of the Armenian Genocide. We pretend we are number one and that there is not a single reason to worry about. Ergo, I wish you all the best in your endeavours in our beloved country and hope you will thoroughly enjoy the legendary Turkish/Kurdish hospitality during your stay.
Falih Rıfkı Atay in his seminal memoir titled “Mount Olive” about his experience on the Palestine front during the World War 1 writes that “the Ottoman Empire was a dairy cow with his enormous body laid down from Thrace towards Erzurum while its udders are in the mouth of the colonies and the nationalities, with its milk mixed with blood being sucked away.” If one dares to draw a comparison with that yesteryear’s “dairy cow” metaphor and create an analogy for our time, to my mind Kurds’ main stance towards the Republic of Turkey can be best imagined as Mr. Atasoy’s (see pic.) here mentioned.
One thing is sure though. 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. Their faces are turned towards the West whether that “West” likes it or not. We are stuck in this together and we fill find a way forward together. We need to ask new questions to ourselves and come up with new answers to old questions. Please do not pass judgment on us but try to understand us. Thank you and good luck.
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.
The recent explosion of interest in Turkey for the likes of Sebastian Haffner’s and Ernst Fraenkel books is telling on its own. These German exiles of pre-WW2 period relate the story of lockstep marching of their societies to outright fascism. And we relate to them. And we look at Russia and China and we relate to them as well.
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.
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.
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.
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
Only four percent of Turkey's health workers are immune to COVID-19, a recent series of tests conducted by the Turkish Statistical Institute (TÜİK) revealed. Meanwhile, immunity among Istanbulites measured around three percent.
Turkey's daily new COVID-19 cases dropped below 1,000 for the first time in 33 days, Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said on July 14. Koca made the remarks as Turkey registered 992 new cases and 20 new fatalities from the virus.
Turkey’s Chamber of Architects has said that the Council of State's last week ruling on Hagia Sophia should set a precedent for their argument that the constructions on Atatürk Forest Farm are in violation of the conditional donation of the estate by Atatürk. The Council of State last week said that Ottoman Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror registered iconic Hagia Sophia as an endowment which could be used only a mosque and for no other purposes.
Turkey has further backslided from democracy and the rule of law during the COVID-19 period, with the government increasing its levels of repression against the pro-Kurdish HDP and Kurdish people, according to a new report released by the party. The HDP said that the coronavirus has given the AKP government a cover to expand its authority, likening the current implementations to those of 1990s, during which the state staged a heavily discriminatory policy towards the Kurds as a whole.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on July 15 that companies involved in construction of the TurkStream pipeline will be subject to the U.S. penalties unless they stop their works. “It’s a clear warning to companies. Aiding and abetting Russia’s malign influence projects will not be tolerated. Get out now or risk the consequences,” he said.
A specialized sergeant has been arrested in the southeastern province of Şırnak for attempting to sexually abuse a 13-year-old girl. Eyewitnesses told the police that the specialized sergeant had pulled a gun after they wanted to question him regarding the sexual abuse incident.
Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias said that Athens urged European Union (EU) states to have "crippling sanctions" against Ankara ready in case the latter continues drilling in waters claimed by Greece.
A Turkish court has upheld a nine-year prison sentence given to jailed former Diyarbakır mayor Selçuk Mızraklı. Lawyers will now appeal to the Court of Cassation, which is the last instance for reviewing verdicts given by courts of criminal justice.
Since the failed July 2016 coup attempt, around 150,000 people in Turkey have been suspended or booted from their positions in the state apparatus. A recent report based on several thousand people, who have been dismissed from their jobs via government degree, highlights the mass economic misery and social isolation they have experienced.
Turkish Presidential Spokesperson İbrahim Kalın has said that the United States' decision to not extradite Fethullah Gülen undermines the spirit of alliance between the two countries. "Allowing FETÖ members to live without serving sentences following the July 15 coup attempt, mainly in the U.S. and Europe, harms our bilateral relations," he also said.
Istanbul Mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu submitted an official complaint against President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's Kanal Istanbul project. The artificial canal project would split Turkey's European land in half, and has been criticized for severe environmental risks.
A regional Greek governor has said that Greece cannot stay indifferent to Turkey's Hagia Sophia move and demanded that ongoing restoration works at the historical Valide Mosque on Lesbos island be stopped. The 17th-century Valide Mosque is being restored under a 1.2 million euro grant from the EU regional development fund for the Aegean islands.
A former district governor who got removed from his post for insulting a local was promoted to deputy governor of Bilecik. The local that the former district governor insulted was protesting the expropriation of their land.
The head of the Security and Defense Committee in Iraq’s parliament, Muhammad Reza Al-Haider, has accused Turkey of breaching a 2007 security accord by deploying troops 15 kilometers inside the Iraqi territory. “Iraq refuses to have an armed faction within its territories attacking a neighboring country, as it refuses attacks on its sovereignty from any other country," he said.
Main opposition CHP leader Kılıçdaroğlu has claimed that President Erdoğan has been accumulating significant financial assets in the United States since he and his family are thinking about moving there should Turkey enter a new era. Kılıçdaroğlu said that Erdoğan could not stand up against the U.S. as otherwise his financial assets in the country could be exposed.
An Ankara court on July 14 ruled that former Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) co-chair Figen Yüksekdağ will remain in prison pending trial. However, one of the judges in the court board expressed a dissenting opinion saying that as there is no “flight risk” or a risk of “tampering with evidence,” the continued imprisonment of Yüksekdağ has no legal benefit.
Turkey's state-run TRT2 has censored the word 'sex' in a dialogue of an episode of the Swedish/Danish TV show Bron/Broen. “It is a mystery why they would buy and bring to the screen a show where they have chopped up all of the 'explicit scenes' with a butcher's knife,” film critic Tunca Arslan said.
Finance Minister Berat Albayrak's lot on the route of Kanal Istanbul, the president's artificial canal project, was opened up to commerce. Albayrak will be allowed to build commercial structures on up to 40 percent of his land.
A roadside bomb planted by Syrian militants detonated near a joint Russian-Turkish patrol in northern Syria early on July 14, injuring three Russian soldiers, the Russian Defense Ministry said. The Russian statement said an unspecified number of Turkish troops were also hurt. Two sources said there were no Turkish casualties in the attack.
Police have detained over 20 women, including a journalist, politicians and activists, in the southeastern province of Diyarbakır. A statement was released from the TJA on the issue, saying that the "attacks on women increased five fold under the current government."
A 190-year-old Armenian church in the northern province of Çorum is being used as a storage space as owner cannot obtain permission to make alterations. The church is believed to be constructed by a large Armenian family who lived in the area until the early 20th century.
The Turkish Petroleum Refineries Corporation (TÜPRAŞ) ranked as Turkey's largest industrial business with 87.9 billion liras in annual production revenue. The oil company was followed mostly by automotive producers.
On the second anniversary of Turkey's transformation into a presidential system, the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) has prepared a report detailing how the country stands in the ensuing years, finding that the Turkish lira has lost four times its value since 2007.
Finance Minister Berat Albayrak said that Turkey was an exception to the global financial crisis emerging in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic. The minister said that Turkey has been outperforming other countries in "all measures of economic success."
Foreign investment in Istanbul's stock exchange fell below 50 percent for the first time since 2004, daily Sözcü reported. Almost four billion dollars have reportedly been sold out of the exchange in the first six months of 2020.
Fossils discovered by a nature enthusiast in mountainous eastern province of Iğdır revealed that the area, now completely landlocked, used to be a shore and underwater. The fossils contained palm leaves, which grow in hot areas by the water.
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.
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.