Atatürk's Republic

Following Turkish News, Politics, Arts and Culture

Posts Tagged ‘protests

Clueless in Turkiye

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As I sat and watched a stream of the violent raid on Taksim square Tuesday night, I like many others wondered what the Turkish government could possibly be thinking.  What did they have to gain by repeatedly gassing demonstrators on the eve of promised talks with protest representatives?  Why would the governor lie to the people he governs?  Why would the Prime Minster set the stage for a showdown between two groups of his own citizens?  It was irrational.  It was insanity.

To an outside observer the Turkish government’s and PM Erdogan’s don’t appear to be acting upon any rational strategy aimed at resolving these protests.  What is their end game?  Perhaps the essential problem is that there is none.  According to an intriguing new approach to game theory, some actors are simply “clueless.”  Michael Chwe, who introduced this theory, was inspired by the interaction between two characters of unequal social status in the novel Pride and Prejudice.  The higher ranking character believes that she can control the actions of a lower ranking character simply by throwing around the weight of her social standing.  However, the lower ranking character refuses to be controlled and is actually able to manipulate the situation to her advantage because of the anger she elicits from her superior.  Despite her social advantage, the higher ranking character looses in the end.  She is “clueless” about other factors impacting the situation because her anger precludes her from approaching the situation in a rational manner.  In other words “calling your enemy an animal might improve your bargaining position or deaden your moral qualms, but at the expense of not being able to think about your enemy strategically.”  PM Erdogan is currently “clueless” and is allowing his anger to cloud his judgement, raising the tension in Turkey to a dangerous level.  Both Erdogan and his government stand to loose big if they continue to allow their real but tenuous popularity to convince themselves they have the upper hand.

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Happy is he who calls himself a Turk

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With the hangover of the election upon, it is easy to feel like America has become a hopelessly divided society.  Left and Right have become identity markers that at times can seem to trump all other factors pulling people together or driving them apart.  The divisions currently plaguing  America were recently put in perspective by the sharper, more violent divides plaguing Turkey.  Turkey’s independence  day, known as Republic Day, celebrations last Monday marked by stark displays of Turkish disunity.  At center stage was the long-standing rivalry between the Islamist ruling party, the Justice and Development Party (AKP in Turkish) and Turkish secularists, historically organized under Ataturk’s People’s Republican Party (CHP in Turkish).  Previous to the holiday, PM Erdoğan had announced that public celebrations in the capital would not be permitted due to vague threats of violence.  This ban unsurprisingly angered secular citizens, who hold state holidays in a quasi-sacred regard.  Erdoğan’s banning of independence day celebrations could be compared, over-dramatically but not inaccurately, to informing devote Christians that they would not be allowed to publicly celebrate Christmas.  The ensuing clashes between the police and protestors last Monday overshadowed the official ceremonies conducted by the Prime Minister, President and members of the military.  Simultaneous to the controversies surrounding the Independence Day celebrations, another protest with life or death consequences has been playing out in Turkey’s southeast.  For almost two months now, imprisoned ethnic Kurds have been engaging in a hunger strike.  Their demands for Kurdish language and cultural rights, namely Kurdish-language primary education and the right to use Kurdish when mounting their defense, seem ridiculously basic to an outsider, especially an American.

These two protests may seem to be completely unrelated, but they both highlight Turkey’s painful internal divisions.  The division between religious and secular as well as Turk and Kurd dates to the founding philosophy of the Republic.  Atatürk was a true believer in the ethnically homogeneous nation-state model.  After having lived through the violent shattering of the Ottoman Empire along ethno-religious lines, it is not surprising that Atatürk believed that a strong Turkey could only be built upon a base of national ethnic unity and modern sensibilities.  In theory, anyone could/can be Turk so long as they accepted boundaries defined by Atatürk, namely that a true Turkish citizen is someone who speaks the Turkish language, practices Turkish cultural norms and is nominally Muslim but secular in practice.  For decades pious Muslims, though undeniably “Turkish” in every other way, were considered an “outsider” group.  They were (are) members of the “unconverted” masses that were expected to eventually see the light of Kemalist secularism and join the ranks of their “modern” Turkish brethren.  Kurds were similarly expected to be converted into Turks.  In the early Republic, Kurds were denied to exist.   They were deemed to be “mountain Turks,” semi-savage Turks who had forgotten their heritage.  To help them “regain” their Turkishness, Kurdish cultural practices and the public use of the Kurdish language were outlawed.

Now that the AKP is in power, the oppressed are becoming the oppressors.  Though they rose from the ranks of the marginalized pious classes, the AKP is a product of Turkish emphasis on uniformity.  They have shown that they have only marginally more sympathy for other oppressed groups in Turkey than previous governments.  Less surprisingly, the AKP, like the secular governments of the early Republic, is attempting to make it’s version of Turkish history the dominate narrative.  The Republic Day incident is simply the latest in a long line of historic and cultural spin in Turkey, which has included the building of museums, mosques and a general emphasis on Ottoman (read: Turkish Muslim) history over other aspects of Turkey’s rich heritage.

Despite the recent exchange of choice words between Erdoğan and the leader of the CHP, I have hope that pious and secular Turks can work out their political difference because they are just that, political.  However, it seems almost too obvious to state that Turkey’s Kurdish minority will continue to undermine the stability of the Republic until Kurds are given the full rights they deserve.  The AKP and its leaders need to draw empathy from its own experience as political outsiders and give in to the demands of the Kurdish hungerstrikers.  The acceptance of Kurds as both a distinct minority and full Turkish citizens is the only way to defeat the PKK and ensure the future strength and stability of the Turkish state.  If Erdoğan could achieve this, and I believe that he has the power to do so, he could become the founder of era of e pluribus unum in Turkey.

Written by ataturksrepublic

November 8, 2012 at 9:44 pm

Sokak Hayvanları

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Two children pet a street dog in Bursa

This is old news by now, but I love Turkish street animals (sokak hayvanları) too much to not comment on the controversies surrounding the proposed new animal control bill.  Currently, there are very few regulations regarding stray animals in Turkey.  The primary option available to local municipalities in dealing with their stray animal populations is to catch, spay/neuter and release.  The law forbids the killing or torture of animals, but the vast majority of animal abuse cases go unpunished.  Even if an animal abuser does face prosecution, punishment for such an offense only amounts to a misdemeanor fine, akin to property damage.  Anecdotal evidence suggests that lacking fear of prosecution,  some municipalities have resorted to poisoning street dogs in an effort to reduce their numbers.

Both the government and Turkish animal lovers agree new animal abuse laws and control regulations are desperately needed.  The proposed new regulations would increase punishments for animal abusers, a measure which all parties involved support.  However, the bill also contains a controversial measure for controlling existing populations of street animals.  The bill would create “natural habitat parks” for stray animals, akin to permanent, outdoor animal shelters.  Stray animals would be rounded up and given a home in one of these parks.  Many Turks, especially residents of Istanbul, believe this measure is simply a redux of a 1910 Ottoman urban renewal campaign.  The streets of late Ottoman Istanbul were ruled by packs of street dogs.  In an effort to rid Istanbul of these menacing dogs and modernize (read: Europeanize) the city, Ottoman official rounded up the dogs and stranded them on a desert island in the Marmara Sea.  Mark Twain reported that the pathetic howls of the starving animals kept residents of Istanbul awake at night for numerous days afterward.  Opponents of the bill argue that the parks would amount to animal “concentration camps” and have dubbed the bill “the law of death.”

Protests against the bill were concentrated in Istanbul but broke out in other Turkish cities and towns as well.  Protesting Turks and ex-pats living in Turkey alike voiced the opinion that Turkish street animals are well cared for and cherished by the residents of the neighborhoods which they haunt.  From my observations of the life of Turkish street dogs and cats, I must politely disagree with the rosy picture painted by Finkel and others.  It is true that is very common to see residents feeding street animals, especially cats.  However, accounts of their overall health and well-being are greatly exaggerated.  The vast majority are noticeably underweight and most have some sort of obvious health problem.  Skin conditions dominate but it is not uncommon to see an an animal with an untreated injury or other medical condition.  The quotidian nature of these sights did not make it any easier for me to pass a suffering animal and know there was very little I could do for it.  Nor are Turkish street animals universally beloved.  The majority of non-secular Turks I have met are afraid of dogs.  This fear does not just extend to semi-feral street dogs, but to the tamest of leashed Golden Retrievers.  I once witness a grown man jump a foot straight in the air after he was startled by a puppy.  My experiences lead me to suspect that there is a silent majority of Turks who would be more than happy to see their city rid of street dogs.  Bursa, the fourth largest city in Turkey, successfully implemented a system of animal sanctuaries analogous to the proposed parks.  There are still street animals in Bursa but far fewer per capita than in other cities.  If- and that’s a big if- a system like the one currently in place in Bursa could be implemented, Turkey’s street animals would be much better off.  That said, the proposed legislation is still far from perfect.  It fails to deal with the underlying problems that create populations of strays such as unregulated breading.  Without addressing the root sources of Turkey’s street animal populations there will be no humane solution this centuries-old problem.

Written by ataturksrepublic

October 31, 2012 at 6:05 pm

Posted in animals

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