Atatürk's Republic

Following Turkish News, Politics, Arts and Culture

Posts Tagged ‘Politics

Insulting Turkishness

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Television in Turkey has become a hot topic over the last few weeks.  First, PM Erdoğan decided to inform the world of his dislike for the immensely popular soap opera Muhteşem Yüzyıl.  He based his disdain in the program’s depiction of the Sultan Süleyman I convorting in his harem and drinking wine instead of fighting and conquering.  Erdoğan went on to make a barely veiled call to ban the show.  Now a member of parliament has taken up the cause and is introducing a bill that would restrict the depiction of historical characters in a “humiliating” manner.

In a separate incident last week, the Turkish television and radio regulatory agency fined a Turkish television channel for airing an episode of the Simpsons which they found offensive.  The episode is describe as insulting God and religion by the agency.  They claimed to be acting in the interest of “protecting children, not God” from subversive material.

It would be easy to dismiss the public uproar over this incidents as overblown.  After all the programs in question are merely a soap opera  and a foreign cartoon.  However, the the censorship of these shows is part of a larger trend of the Turkish government quashing of freedom of speech.  The Turkish press is unhealthily restricted.  Notoriously, Turkey currently has more journalists in jail than any other country in the world.  Websites such as blogger and youtube have been periodically blocked and Turkey has the dubious honor of lodging the most requests for content bans with Google.  In the beginning of 2012, Twitter agreed to censor insulting remarks aimed at Ataturk and any discussion of the Armenian Genocide.

Some media outlets, especially those which subscribe to theories of “creeping Islamization”, have interpreted the recent acts of television censorship as proof that Erdoğan and the AKP are out to create an Islamic state.  Out of context, it may appear as if Muhteşem Yüzyıl and the Simpsons were targeted because of their glorification of practices and beliefs that go against some of the teachings of Islam.  However, the actions taken by this current government fit into the long history of state censorship in the Republic of Turkey. As Dov Friedman puts it “the AK Party acts increasingly authoritarian in ways unrelated to its Islamist roots.”   The first three leaders of the Republic, Atatürk, Inönü and Menderes, all restricted the freedom of the press in the interest of advancing their own agenda.  Previous to the 1998 soft coup, Turkey also led the world in number of imprisoned journalists.  The new law created in response to Muhteşem Yüzyıl would in effect be an extension of the already existing bans on insulting both “Turkishness” and Ataturk.  Law 5816 About Crimes Against Atatürk has been in effect since 1951 and article 301 of the Turkish penal code regarding insults to “Turkishness” was passed under the current government in 2005.   Despite being passed under an “Islamist” government, Article 301 has all the features of classic Turkish secular nationalism.  There is no mention of Islam, only the “sacred” institutions of the Turkish Republic: the branches of government, the military and the Turkish “nation”

Having been born, raised and educated in a society which accepted and even welcomed  a certain level of state media control, the leadership of the AKP has now begun to echo their secular predecessors, almost in spite of themselves.  After all, Erdogan himself spent nearly a year four months in jail for a speech crime.  The censoring and/or banning of Muhteşem Yüzyıl and the Simpsons is disturbing not because it is a sign that the AKP government is becoming more “Islamist” but that they are returning to the bad old days of Turkish secular authoritarianism.

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Written by ataturksrepublic

December 11, 2012 at 5:15 pm

Syrian Intermission

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Turkey’s profile in international affairs has been growing over the past two years, largely due to the events of the Arab spring.  Articles referencing Turkey usually belong in one of two categories: the “Turkish Model” as a template for new Arab democracies and the ongoing crisis in Syria.  Last week, Turkey helped to negotiate temporary truce for the duration of the Eid al-Adha holiday.  Unfortunately, this truce lasted only about a day and fell through Saturday with both sides renewing hostilities.

The now-broken truce is just the latest point of involvement for Turkey in the Syrian conflict.  Near the beginning of the insurrection  Prime Minister Erdoğan called the crisis in Syria “the equivalent of internal politics for Turkey.”  Erdoğan and Turkish foreign minister Ahmet Davutoğlu have spent significant time and effort to improve relations with Syria since the AK Party came to power.  A free trade agreement, joint military maneuvers and what appeared to be a genuinely friendly relationship between the two heads of state made Turkey’s relations with Syria the show piece of its “zero problems with neighbors” foreign policy.  However, years of diplomacy unraveled in a matter of weeks after the onset of protests in Syria.  The Turkish government and ordinary Turks alike were repulsed by the Syrian army’s brutal attacks on its own citizens.  Davutoğlu and Erdoğan were clearly offended that President Assad refused to listen to their council.  The Turkish government severed relations with the Assad government in November of 2011.

The Syrian refugee crisis in Turkey began with a trickle soon after the crisis started.  In early summer 2011 the number of Syrian refugees was estimated in the hundreds.  Now it has topped 100,000 and has become a contentious domestic issue in Turkish provinces along the Syrian boarder.  Efforts to isolate the refugees in camps and away from the local population have begun to break down.  More and more resources in Turkey are being utilized or commandeered by the refugees and the Turkish locals have increasingly come to resent their presence.

Most critically, military incidents and tensions between Turkey and Syria have nearly come to a breaking point.  Almost immediately after refugees began arriving in Turkey, rebel army activities were organized with the tacit approval of Turkey.  More openly, Turkey hosted meetings of the political leaders of the opposition.  Turkey’s passive support of the Syrian opposition has been instrumental in sparking a number of violent cross-boarder incidents involving members of the Syrian opposition and the Syrian military.  The downing of a Turkish fighter jet in international airspace after it had allegedly crossed into Syrian territory marked time Turks became directly involved in the violence.  Turkey held back on any direct retaliation after this incident, but did not show the same restraint after a mortar fired from Syria killed 5 Turkish civilians at the beginning of this month.  Turkey retaliated with multiple days of shelling after the incident and moved weapons, planes and men to the border.  Shortly after, in a largely symbolic show of power, Turkey forced a Syria-bound Russian jet to land in Ankara and searched it for weapons.  This measure was justified by the arms embargo it had placed on Syria a year ago.

Turkey clearly has a huge stake in the outcome of the civil war in Syria.  Despite this, the government has been hesitant to become directly involved without international support.  Unilaterally intervening would give further ammunition to those who have accused the AK Party government of aspiring toward Neo-Ottomanism.  More importantly, the vast majority of the Turkish public is against further military engagement in Syria.  Turkey has reached out to, and criticized, the UN multiple times in an effort to persuade the international community of the need to take action on Syria.  Erdoğan has also put great effort into building an alliance with the newly democratic Egypt.  He visited Egypt over a year ago to promote “Turkish style” democracy and rode high on a wave of personal popularity.  Soon after he predicted that Turkey and Egypt would become the two power centers of the region, an “axis of democracy.”  Now, with the new Egyptian government in place, Erdoğan is trying to make this alliance a reality.

There are a few predictions that can be made about the Syria and Turkey in the months ahead.  Violence in Syria will continue much as if the truce had never happened.  Turkey will follow the path it has been on for the past year and a half, becoming more and more actively involved on the side of the rebels.  Whether this involvement will eventually amount to Turkish forces being deployed in Syria depends on two factors: outside support and cross-border violence.  If the UN (read: the US), NATO (again, the US) or Egypt can be persuaded to support Turkish military action, the Turkish government may very well go against public opinion and send troops to Syria.  However, the government may not have to defy it’s own population if Syria continues to make violent breaches into Turkish territory.  A number of small incidents or a single egregious one may persuade the Turkish public that intervention is necessary.  Even if neither of these two scenarios comes to pass, Turkey may not come away from the Syrian conflict unscathed.  If Syria perpetrates an egregious act of violence against Turkey, and Turkey fails to intervene militarily, they in effect acquiesce to breaches of its territorial sovereignty and the killing of its citizens.   Such a passive responses to violations of sovereignty will inevitably damage Turkey’s reputation as a regional leader.  In this scenario  rather than becoming the “model” in a new era of Muslim democracy, Turkey instead may end up playing a secondary role to the Arab states.

Written by ataturksrepublic

October 29, 2012 at 1:51 am