Posts Tagged ‘media’
Yesterday, President Erdogan treated us to a live broadcast of the grand finale of his win-back-a-parliamentary-majority-and-crush-his-opponents spectacular. Over the course of a 10-hour standoff, during which the television networks in question kept broadcasting from company headquarters until the last moment, Turkey witnessed the forcible take over of the 15th and 16th most popular news networks in the country, KanalTurk and Bugun. The shutdown of these networks came after the government declared last month that they were seizing the holdings of the Koza-Ipek business group, which has ties to the Gulen Movement, for improper financial dealings. In other words, the group was under suspicion of channeling funds to Gulen, who has been declared one of the most wanted terrorists in Turkey (though the government has no evidence to back up either claim- that Koza-Ipek was sending money to Gulen or that Gulen tried to overthrow the government). Bugun and KanalTurk are (were) part of the Koza-Ipek group.
Yesterday’s spectacle outside Koza-Ipek was jaw dropping and surreal even by Turkish standards- a celebrity chef showed up to cook and distribute food only to get into a scuffle with police and as soon as the Bugun feed was cut a part of a series on World War II was put on air- yet, predictably, none of the other major news networks covered the events.
There can be no doubt that yesterday’s seizure of one of the few critical media stations still remaining in Turkey (what ever you may think of their Gulenist origins) was the latest in a series of brazen attempts to swing the upcoming election toward an AKP majority. Since June 7th, among other un-democratic measures, the government has moved and consolidated ballot boxes in the predominantly Kurdish South-East, arrested opposition politicians and journalists and daily spread blatant lies about the nefarious deeds of Gulen, the connection of HDP politicians to terrorism and the supposed PKK-ISIS partnership.
However, if, despite what is clearly been a concerted effort, democracy somehow wins in Turkey and the election turns out as predicted (that is to say, not very different from the June results), then Erdogan may have succeeded at only further alienating all but the most hard-core of his supporters and driving together previously hostile components of the opposition. For example, the leader of the Kurdish HDP, Selahattin Demirtas, showed up at Koza-Ipek yesterday to show his support for the defiant organization. This is quite unusual as the Gulen movement is not known to be particularly friendly toward Kurds. Similarly, the CHP, the party most closely connected to Kemalism, which historically denied the existence of the Kurds as a unique ethnicity or culture, has shown remarkable solidarity with the Kurdish HDP in the face of the AKP’s campaign to associate the Kurdish party and its leaders with the PKK. Even the far right, nationalist MHP has denounced the AKP’s equivocation of the HDP and the PKK.
None of this may matter in the end if the AKP, and Erdogan by extension, regain their majority, and if there is one rule for Turkey analysts it is never to rule out Erdogan. Nonetheless it does demonstrate that while Erdogan has become an increasingly divisive figure in his own party, he has become a uniting figure for opposition members of all ideologies. It is also important to note, as Steven Cook pointed out, that all the anti-democratic maneuvers described above a sign of weakness, and desperation, not strength. And the longer this farce goes on, the smaller and smaller the chances are of Erdogan getting his executive presidency- an issue which we barely hear about anymore.
What Turkey needs right now is a coalition government, one that is willing to work with all parties, even those in the official opposition, to rebuild Turkey’s institutional independence, rule of law, and the trust of citizens in government. And polls show that, if democracy works, this is what Turkey should get. However, it won’t be clear until after the election if Erdogan’s anti-democratic campaign has worked, and even then, given Erdogan’s clear hostility to the idea, it is far from certain that a coalition can be formed. For Turks of all stripes, the next few days are going to be ones of anxiety and anticipation.
From contributor M. James:
The following, written on 6/8/13, is a follow-up on a prior post, which sought to explain how Turkey’s multi-party system not only fragments the opposition of the ruling party, but also perpetuates Turkey’s illiberal—albeit democratic—society. As part of this chronically fragmented society, the demonstrators of this last week will have a difficult time unifying to effect meaningful political change. Worse, they don’t even know what they are fighting against.
One week ago, at 2:30am, I dropped my duffel on a poorly lit street corner and hailed a cab for Esenboğa International Airport. My shirt was damp and my sinuses were still tingling, but I was oddly at ease. In three hours, I’d be on my way home.
I offered the remaining bills in my pocket—80 lira—and the driver’s face lit up. He asked what time my flight was, urged me to buckle up, and handed me his sweater-vest as a pillow. I sneezed; he laughed. For the next hour on the road, I pretended to sleep. The city was calm, but there was electricity in the air. The deliberate cacophony of pots and pans emanated from one apartment—what would become, over the next few days, a 9:00pm ritual—but the rest of Ankara seemed asleep. I couldn’t help wondering, though, if they—like me—were only hushed, with one eye open.
The evening had been, in some ways, a bust. Intruding on my last, nostalgic night of draft beer and good company was the unwelcome irritation of expired Brazilian tear gas. I consulted Reuters—these were already, allegedly, the biggest protests to rock Turkey in years. And so, through the pungent smell of propellant, the tinny sound of the canisters, and the sight of sprinting protestors through the windows, I wondered aloud at what the next step would be.
The Turk seated across from me shrugged. He wanted garlic bread, but the bar had been too busy cutting lemons for its gas-afflicted patrons to complete the order. We called a few friends and urged them not to join us after all. Once the garlic bread arrived, we could talk. “It’s about time,” seemed to be his outlook on both the bread and the protests. “Won’t get good media coverage, though.” Being that he would start working at a Turkish newspaper in three days, I trusted his judgment. Would anything really change, though? We disagreed on that point.
We did agree, though, that our allergy symptoms were improved by the CS gas. The asthmatic bartender wasn’t as pleased. I blew my nose into a napkin and squeezed lemon into my eyes.
News and social media were already exploding. It was the “summer of discontent” in Turkey—obvious echoes of the Arab Spring. I laughed. It wouldn’t catch on—this was not anything like the Arab Spring. Soon, it would be re-branded as part of #occupy. Closer, but not quite. A few days later, I would begin to see the locally originated #diren, the imperative of “to resist,” or—even better—“to put your foot down.” Much closer.
The question, of course, was whether or not those sprinting figures outside the window agreed on what they were resisting. Some came into the bar and, like many of the staff, sported tree-shaped stickers to demonstrate their solidarity with the Istanbul Gezi Park protesters. But everyone knew that this was not about a park, or greenspace, or even environmentalism. When I asked, the first word I heard was “fascism.” Adequately vague, but adequately powerful. The point was that these people had preexisting grievances with their government, and this was a timely outlet.
We walked outside just as the displeased throngs—marching from park to park since the afternoon—returned to John F. Kennedy Ave., carrying banners and chanting slogans. There were only three hundred, at the most, but within ten minutes, they drew a reckless police TOMA truck and plenty more tear gas. I was pulled into the next bar after being “warned” by the TOMA truck—a quick water cannon across the chest. I ordered another beer. Someone threw a chair at the truck.
Half an hour later, still bemused and sniffling, I decided to head back to the apartment and grab my luggage. Part of me was happy to be leaving these streets, but another part was irritated enough to want to stay. And the more I sneezed—such an unbecoming complement to indignation—the more irritated I got. Did what I was doing tonight really warrant that police response?
I suspect that many who witnessed that night on JFK Ave., or earlier that day in Gezi Park, walked home with similar thoughts. Fascists. What has made matters even worse is PM Erdoğan’s typically inflammatory reaction: A recitation of his perverse idea of what “democracy” means, i.e., nothing beyond election day. Many marginally displeased Turks have certainly been drawn into the ranks of the irritated by these authoritarian responses to what would have otherwise been truly marginal protests. And they have clearly been irritated enough to withstand the systematic irritation of their collective sinuses.
I have posted already, on Atatürk’s Republic, about how Turkish politics is only “democratic” in the strictest sense of the term, lacking anything that could be called liberal. The “liberal” use of tear gas in the last week only underlines this absence.
The problem is systemic, and can be blamed squarely on Turkey’s ill-conceived multi-party system, which all-too-naturally begets tyranny. Ironically, the men and women who have taken to the streets in the last week will try to work within their constitutionally illiberal democratic system, believing wrongly that the person of Erdoğan or the AK Parti is exclusively to blame for the “fascism” that they perceive. Even more ironically, the young secularists who make up a large portion of the disaffected—themselves quite liberal-minded—would be the last to advocate the two-party system that Turkey needs if it is to become a tolerant, rights-based, secular nation. Not only does the multi-party system prima facie seem more liberal, but the constitution that prescribes it came from Atatürk’s hand.
Until they realize what it really is that they should be resisting, the demonstrators will only be confused and irritated. And even if they do realize, and continue to seek change, they will soon understand that full-scale revolution is the only answer—a step that very few would be willing to take. Unfortunately, I do not see any other way out. The only solution is to challenge the very nature of Atatürk’s republic.
As we pulled up to the international departures terminal, I thanked the driver for his sweater-vest, dragged my duffel from the trunk, and handed over the 80 lira, and 75 kuruş—all my bills and change. He thanked me. I smiled and nodded.
Kolay gelsin seemed the best parting words. Literally, “may it come easily.”
I previously blogged about the plight of minorities in Turkey. However that post fails to mention Turkey’s largest religious minority, the mostly invisible Alevis. Similar to the United States, the Turkish government does not collect data regarding the religious affiliation of its citizens. Estimates of the number of Alevis in Turkey vary greatly, ranging between 10% and 30% of the total population. A secret Turkish military survey revealed by wikileaks places the number at 7 million out of a total of about 75 million citizens. However, even the smaller estimates place the number of Alevis in Turkey far above the number of all other religious minorities combined. Despite their large numbers, Alevis are still widely misunderstood both in and outside of Turkey. Although their names are similar, Alevis are not analogous to Alawites, the religion to which Bashar al-Assad and his family belong. Alevism is not a “tribal” or ethnically exclusive religion; it is practiced by Turks as well as Kurds.
Alevism is a syncretic religion, meaning their traditions and beliefs draw from a number of different faiths. Many Alevis will quite proudly attest to the fact that throughout its history it has incorporated elements from a diverse array of religions including but not limited to Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, Zoroastrianism and Altaic Shamanism. Alevis do not believe that praying five times a day, fasting during Ramadan or performing the pilgrimage to Mecca is required by God. They do not condemn Muslims who do worship in the traditional ways but consider the Alevi worship as being on a higher level and therefore closer to the divine. Alevis also have a more relaxed attitude in regards to proper interaction between the sexes in both sacred and secular spaces. Alevi women worship side by side with men, are less likely to veil and more likely to freely interact with unrelated men.
Alevi worship does not take place in a mosque. In traditional Alevi communities, families with large enough homes would volunteer to host the central Alevi worship ceremony, called a Cem. During the ceremony, worshipers sit in a circle and participate in cycles of sacred readings, music and dance. The Dede directs the ceremony and recites from the works of Hacı Bektaş and other sacred Alevi figures. Most of the time the Qur’an is not cited, nor do the worshipers ever engage in Sunni-style prayer cycles. For majority of Alevi history the Cem was closed to outsiders. Even outsider Alevis were barred from attending local ceremonies. One of the mandatory preconditions for a Cem was a state of peaceful relations between all people in the worship space. The presence of a stranger added enough reasonable doubt to prevent a verdict of community harmony. The secretive nature of Cem ceremonies led to rampant speculation and suspicion on the part of outsiders. Accusations of immoral acts, particularly orgies, were common. Even today it is not unusual for Turkish Sunni Muslims to infer that a Cem concludes with an orgy.
The state provides official funding and support of all recognized religions in Turkey, including those of the dwindling Jewish and Christian communities. However, Alevism has never been recognized as a separate religious tradition. Alevis have always been lumped into the catchall of “Muslim” in 99% Muslim Turkey. Alevis rarely if ever utilize Sunni Muslim mosques and institutions but their Cemevis (Cem houses) and organizations receive no government funding.
In the past few years certain Alevi organizations have worked with the government of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) in an attempt to resolve the prejudices against and unequal treatment of Turkish Alevis. In 2009 and 2010 a series of “workshops” addressing the grievances of Alevis took place. However, the vast majority of Alevis feel that these workshops had little effect on the discrimination they encounter.
The workshops, despite their ultimate ineffectiveness, were at least a step in toward addressing discrimination against Alevis. As in the case of Turkey’s Kurdish minority, the AKP has recently been back sliding toward a more repressive position on Alevi rights. An Alevi member of the Turkish National Assembly recently requested that worship space be provided for him in the Assembly building. His request was denied by both a ranking member of the Assembly and the local court because “it is not possible to consider cemevis and other [such] premises as places of worship, because Alevism, which is a sub-group of Islam, cannot have a place of worship other than mosques or mescits, which are common places of worship within Islam…”
Because of their more “liberal” beliefs and practices, they are often portrayed by the Western media as the “good” Muslims. Time described as Alevis as practicing “… a faith-based humanism big enough to incorporate both piety and modernity” and a version of Islam that is “unflinchingly progressive.” This simplistic depiction of Alevis does nothing to help their position. Alevis themselves are struggling with how to define and take ownership of their religious traditions. The last thing they need is for the Western media to hold them up as a shining example of what we think Muslims should be. Defining Alevis as “good” Muslims is on par with the Turkish government’s insistence that Alevis are Sunnis. Both of these assertions stem from an urge to shape Alevis to preconceived ideologies. When the West seeks out “progressive” Muslims such as the Alevis they are reinforcing the notion that “fundamentalists” Muslims are in the majority. When the AKP insists that Alevis are Sunnis, they are protecting the appearance of a unified and uniform ethno-religious nation-state. The AKP and the West alike must acknowledge and accept that Alevis fit within the broad spectrum that encompasses Muslim belief and practice in Turkey (and the Muslim world at large) and allow them to freely define and practice their religion without ideological interference.