Istanbul in Civil Strife on May Day

Water cannon and tear gas at Taksim Square in Istanbul, May Day, 2014

Water cannon and tear gas at Taksim Square in Istanbul, May Day, 2014

“Riot police in Turkey have used tear gas and water cannon to prevent demonstrators defying a ban on protests on Istanbul’s central Taksim Square.

The Anatolia news agency said several demonstrators were injured and at least five detained.

Intensive security measures were in place, and roads and streets near Taksim Square closed to traffic from the early morning.

Turkish media said some 40,000 police would be deployed in the city on 1 May.”


More at BBC

Young Turks All A Twitter

The new self-appointed strongman of Turkey, Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is finding out how hard it is to swat the pesky tweets of his citizens.

It is a sign of the difficulty of banning Twitter in the age of Twitter that within hours of the Turkish government’s attempt to block the social media site, President Abdullah Gul was one of thousands of Turks who protested the ban — using Twitter.

“Shutting down social media platforms cannot be approved,” Mr. Gul posted on Twitter on Friday, adding that “it is not technically possible to fully block access to globally active platforms like Twitter, anyway.”

… At the Buster Internet cafe in Istanbul, a student, Engin Alturk, said the prohibition had only encouraged people to post more messages. “We lived without YouTube for a year; we know all the tricks to get around this,” he added. “Erdogan must think us stupid.”

NY Times: Arsu & Bilefsky

Turkey: The Corruption Hounds of the Internet

“In Turkey as elsewhere in the Middle East, the explosion of Internet-based media outlets has surpassed the ability of the government to control information completely. When Nazli Ilicak, a longtime journalist here, lost her job recently at the pro-government newspaper Sabah after emerging as a strong voice against the government’s handling of the corruption inquiry, she said she would simply keep up her criticism on Twitter and on independent websites.
“I have 500,000 followers,” she said in a recent television appearance. “That’s more than Sabah’s circulation.”

Corruption Rumble In Turkey

The saga of indictments and arrests for high level corruption in and around the Turkish ruling coterie took several new turns yesterday.

Police chiefs in 15 cities and the deputy head of the country’s police force were removed by Prime Minister Erdogan on Wednesday, after some 350 Turkish police officers in Ankara were reassigned to different positions on Tuesday.

Police chiefs in Turkey’s leading cities, including Ankara, the capital; Adana, a southern town by the Syrian border; and Diyarbakir, the hub of the Kurdish heartland, were summoned to the headquarters of the police to be reassigned.

In Turkey’s largest Aegean city, Izmir, police officers were reshuffled on Tuesday, almost immediately after they had detained 25 suspects, including pro-government businessmen, on corruption allegations over the construction and management of the city harbor, the private Dogan news agency reported.

NY Times

In Ankara, draft legislation is being drawn up to increase executive appointment powers, and thus control, of the High Council of Judges and Prosecutors — from which the corruption investigations have emanated.

Analysts said the proposed legislation would undercut the judicial independence set out in a constitutional change supported by Mr. Erdogan’s government in a referendum in 2010.

“With this legislation, the government is launching an operation of revenge against the High Council of Judges and Prosecutors,” Hikmet Sami Turk, a former minister of justice, said in an interview. “The prime minister has regarded the graft probe as a judicial coup against his government, so now, with this legislation, his government launches a countercoup against the judiciary.”

In addition a law is being drafted to tighten up oversight and monitoring of Internet traffic — clearly aimed at protesters’ ability to exchange ideas and to mobilize.

“If the draft Bill No 5651 is implemented, the life will harder for internet users in Turkey. Censures on citizen journalism, scientific research and social media will be a routine,” he said.

He also added that new institutions will allows authorities to implement censures in skyrocket speed.

“Due to censure, service providers will enhance their auto-censure mechanisms and alternative methods like DNS change will no longer work,” he added.

Several area experts weigh in on whether the current Erdogan moves are dangerous for the region.

Turkey: The Religious RIght Fracturing

Until recently, the great cliché about Turkey was that its primary political fault line lay between secularists and the religious right. But the tremors that have shaken Mr. Erdogan’s government are emanating from a fault line within the religious right itself.

The government is treating the crisis as nothing short of a coup by those jealous of its success. This is nonsense.

The opposition it faces has emerged because of the A.K.P’s own lack of respect for the rule of law and a cynical disregard for public accountability. It can no longer hide behind conspiracy theories and bluster.

Read all by Andrew Finkel, author of “Turkey: What Everyone Needs to Know.”

Turkish Government Self Deranging

three top ministers whose sons have been implicated in a wide ranging corruption scandal abruptly resigned, only hours after greeting Prime Minister Erdogan at the airport.  One of them, on his way out the door, said Mr. Erdogan should step down as well…

It’s still hard to make out the parties involved in this, or the long – game any of them is trying to play.  The allegations of corruption, and arrests, are coming from ministries not under the Prime Minister’s control, some say at the initiative of functionaries who are acolytes of a US based Turkish religious leader, Fethullah Gulen, who once supported Erdo9an.

Erdogan is calling his old pal a “foreign influence,” and leader of a “criminal gang.”  Germany, as a long time ally of Turkey, will be very interested in the outcome, not to mention NATO of which Turkey has been a member for decades.

Read more at NY Times, and at Bianet, Turkey (English)

Turmoil Re-Escalates in Turkey

On Sunday a 22 year old man in the ancient city of Antioch, now called Antakya, in southern Turkey where it dips below the east-west border with Syria, was killed by a tear gas canister to the head.  Ahmet Atakan had joined a demonstration against highway construction and calling for remembrance and justice for a 14 year old boy, still in  coma from a tear gas hit to the head in the June, Gezi Park demonstrations when he died.  Protesters have now added his name to the growing grievances against the government, particularly its heavy-handed police response to outpouring of feeling against the growing authoritarianism and the turn to religion of the regime.

Turkey sept 2013

Although the June demonstrations, triggered by an government urban redevelopment plan for the popular public park in Istanbul, had simmered down after a pull back of police and a promise not to develop there, the underlying seismic forces were still in play.  In Antakya the mixture is even more explosive as a substantial number of Alevis, a sect of Shiism, itself the largest minority in Sunni dominated Turkey, live there.  Atakan’s family is Alevi, which not only is a minority within a minority in a country recently encouraging the majority religion, it also has affinities with the Alawites of Syria — at the center of the Assad war against non-Alawites.  Turkey, in the form of Prime Minster Erdogan, has been a prime mover in taking on Assad.  The demonstrations, at least in the Antakya area, have merged the anti-Erdogan , anti-authoritarian feelings of young Turkish liberals with anti-Erdogan, anti-intervention, fellow-feeling with Assad’s base.

The result of increased frustration, increased police violence, a serious dose of sectarian religious fervor have turned the demonstrations more violent, with hurled stones, burning barricades, more tear gas and strip searches of young protesters.  At least 8 journalists have been reported injured.

Turkey sept 2013 b

To add to the turmoil, several Turkish F-16 fighter planes scrambled from a base near Antakya after a massive explosion across the border in Syria set the region on edge.

More at The Washington Post


The Turkish Culture Wars

Nice piece by Andrew Finkel in the NY Times, from Istanbul

“By dint of their imagination, humor and self-possession, [the young] are proving themselves to be just the kind of people who should make up the “new” Turkey that Erdogan’s party promised to create when it came to power in 2002. When Erdogan says he hasn’t got an inkling what the children of Taksim want, that may be all too true, but it’s his confusion not theirs.

One poster on the square, since cleared away by the police, subverted Erdogan’s exhortation that Turkish women have at least three children: “Do you really want two more like me?” Yes, please.”


And don’t forget the demonstrations have not just been in the capital city:

According to the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey around 640,000 people had participated in the demonstrations as of 5 June.[149] Protests took place in 78 of Turkey’s 81 provinces.[150]

Human Rights Foundation Daily Report

(06/032) Actions against the interventions of the government to the fundamental rights and freedoms and the right to the city…

The protests that had spread all over Turkey went on 7-8-9 June 2013 especially in İstanbul and Ankara Provinces.

Police teams severely attack on the protest in Gazi Quarter of Sultangazi Distrrict of İstanbul Province. It is claimed that 300 people were wounded in Gazi Quarter since the beginning of the protests. On 8 June 2013 Murat Çetinkaya (19) was seriously wounded with the hit of the gas bomb canister.

Police teams severely attack on the protest in Ankara Province on 8-9 June 2013 and arrested 12 people.

On 9 June 2013 14 people were arrested in synchronised home raids on the grounds that they had shared information on the protests using on charges of “helping and harbouring an illegal organisation” under Article 220/7.

(06/033) Extra-judicial killing allegation in Şanlıurfa Province…

Hasan Kaya (14) was killed and Ömer Dağ (16) was wounded in the accident that took place after the stop warning of the police team to the two juveniles riding a bike in Şanlıurfa Province on 6 June 2013. The authorities has been coercing the families not to talk to media. Ömer Dağ claimed that the police officer had kicked the bike and caused the accident.

Turkey:The Woman in Red

Turkey Woman in Red ” In her red cotton summer dress, necklace and white bag slung over her shoulder she might have been floating across the lawn at a garden party; but before her crouches a masked policeman firing teargas spray that sends her long hair billowing upwards.

Endlessly shared on social media and replicated as a cartoon on posters and stickers, the image of the woman in red has become the leitmotif for female protesters during days of violent anti-government demonstrations in Istanbul.

“That photo encapsulates the essence of this protest,” says maths student Esra at Besiktas, near the Bosphorus strait and one of the centres of this week’s protests. “The violence of the police against peaceful protesters, people just trying to protect themselves and what they value.” Times of India


In the NY Times, Seyla Benhabib, who was a child in Istanbul and is now a professor of philosophy at Yale, neatly summarizes the issues and their intersections.

The real problem … is Mr. Erdogan’s “culture war” against the country’s secular classes and the illiberal form of democracy that he is advancing. I’ve heard many Turks, both devout and non-observant, say: “If consuming alcohol is a sin, let me reckon with my own maker. The government cannot force us not to sin.”

Mr. Erdogan’s attempt to forge a Muslim moral majority is evident also in his government’s stance on abortion, which, until recently, had prompted no theological or political controversies. Islam, like Judaism, gives priority to the mother’s life and health over that of the fetus, but Mr. Erdogan, borrowing a page from America’s Christian right, has introduced legislation to curb the availability of abortion through Turkey’s national health insurance system. And he has compounded such measures, which would hurt poor women more than the wealthy, with nationalistic calls to increase the population of the great Turkish nation by recommending that all women have at least three children.

This moral micromanagement of people’s private lives comes amid an increasingly strident government assault on political and civil liberties. Turkey’s record on journalistic and artistic freedoms is abysmal; rights of assembly and protest are also increasingly restricted.

The more you spray the bigger we get.

The more you spray the bigger we get.

Anti Authoritarians Rise in Turkey

The news of civil unrest is not diminishing.

Violent protests against the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan engulfed Istanbul, Turkey’s largest city, on Saturday and spread to other cities, including the capital, Ankara, as tens of thousands of demonstrators took to the streets in a second day of civil unrest and faced the tear gas and water cannons of a harsh police crackdown.

 …the protesters presented a long list of grievances against Mr. Erdogan, including opposition to his policy of supporting Syria’s rebels against the government of President Bashar al-Assad, his crackdown on dissent and intimidation of the news media, and unchecked development in Istanbul.

As we all know, nothing is certain once a well ordered train leaves the rails.  As the article points out, the demonstrations have been spontaneous, with nothing like an organizing force emerging.  Energies will certainly drain from the exuberation of the first manifestations; repression may rise or, if the government is as smart as it has been up to now, co-option will begin.  Promises to stop the development at Taksim Square would be an obvious first step.

The stakes are high, of course, with Syria imploding next door, and sectarian religious violence beginning to heat all over the area.

On Turkey

On Sectarian Violence