Sunday, August 24, 2014

A Follow Up: More on Turkey's State-Sanctioned Antisemitism

In a recent article in Haaretz, I outlined a growing trend of state-sanctioned antisemitism in Turkey. Not only is hate against Jews (and other groups) spread in pro-government media, but also members of the AKP government are on record of making blatant antisemitic remarks.

Following writing the article, in addition to the positive comments, I also received some hate messages directed at me on twitter. One of these came from a university professor in Turkey, Ali Ihsan Goker, who serves as the chair of the Physics department at Bilecik Seyh Edibali University, and has a PhD from Rice University. Mr. Goker attacked me with antisemitic hate speech, stating: "Treblinka will be ready soon-Constructing the railway tracks at the moment." Even worse, it was reported on the online Turkish newspaper, Diken, that he also tweeted that if he was in Erdogan's place he would gather up all the local Jews and send them to concentration camps.

First, I would like to thank all the people who supported me in the face of attacks I received for writing the article. Also, my special thanks goes out to a Turkish internet newspaper, Diken, who has followed up on the case, and are still awaiting word from Goker's university rector concerning any possible sanctions that might be taken against the Turkish state employ for his blatant hate speech and threats.Well-I guess we should not hold our breath since last week Goker was awarded a prestigious Tubitak government research grant. Yes. Rather than being punished, he has been rewarded by the government.   

Is Turkey exporting Antisemitism and Holocaust Denial?

Reading antisemitic Akit on a recent flight from Rome to Istanbul
While the Turkish government does not seem worried about rampant antisemitism in some of the the pro-government press, this might not hold true with other governments in Europe, where they have laws against Holocaust denial and racist incitement. As an avid flyer of Turkish Air, I am always shocked at the fact that antisemitic papers, such as Yeni Akit (and others) are distributed on board Turkish Air. Not only are they offered from a wide-selection of papers passengers can chose from before boarding in Turkey (some papers that are highly critical of government are not offered, such as Zaman), but they are also distributed at airports worldwide just before boarding (in other words, on foreign soil). 

For example, material appearing in Yeni Akit, such as the Hitler crossword puzzle (see below), or the recent article claiming Jews as collaborating with the Nazis  in the genocide of Europe's Jews (the whole article is blatantly antisemitic), could violate German law. Legally speaking, it does not seem that a passenger, who disembarks the plane with the illegal material is in violation of the law. However, the case becomes much more complicated when Turkish Air distributes the antisemitic (and other forms of hate speech) material in the German airports just before passengers board the plane. Here, it seems that this could be in direct violation of German law, and other countries such as France, who have laws against genocide denial or incitement of hate.

Was this crossword puzzle praising Hitler
passed out in German airports, perhaps violating
German Law?

Rather than testing the waters of European law, perhaps it might be wise for the Turkish government to ensure that its national airlines offer a hate-free zone for both their Turkish and international passengers. On a personal note, it would certainly make my experience on Turkish Air even better than it already is.


Thursday, August 21, 2014

Erdogan’s victory in Turkey comes at a heavy price (From Haaretz, August 11, 2014)

After more than 11 years as prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan is now the first directly elected president in the history of the almost 100-year-old republic, something he sees as a victory of the people over the former elites that once controlled their destiny. For Erdogan and his followers, today ushers in the new Turkey, one that he aims to transform during the next nine years – until the 100th anniversary of the Republic in 2023.
While this narrative convinced 52 percent of Turkish voters to cast their votes for Erdogan, it does not change the fact that until constitutional changes are in place, the office of presidency will remain mostly ceremonial. However, even if Erdogan’s AKP party does not have enough seats in the parliament to make the necessary changes, few doubt that he will continue to have the final say over every major policy decision, implemented through an obedient prime minister which he is set to appoint. An upcoming 2015 parliamentary election victory by his party will be crucial to keep his plans on track.

To continue reading, please follow the link

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

My Two Cents*: Is the AKP an Authoritarian System?-the World according to Mahcupyan

A few weeks back one of Erdogan's staunches supporters, Etyen Mahcupyan, wrote an article for Daily Sabah (a paper owned by a holding whose CEO, Berat Albayrak, Erdogan's son-n-law). The article was titled, "Why the AK Party became 'Authoritarian,'" and pondered on why Erdogan has had to adopt authoritarian ways to save Turkish democracy. What did I read right? Did one of Erdogan's most loyalist liberal supporters actually question if the Turkish government has taken a turn towards authoritarianism?

Mahcupyan, a Turkish Armenian who once served as the editor of the Armenian newspaper Agos, has remained one of Erdogan's staunchest supporters. In fact, following Erdogan's split with the Gulen movement, Mahcupyan finally had to leave the newspaper Zaman, where he served as one of its star columnists for years. Of course, with the Gulen movement now the new enemy of the state, Mahcupyan had to abandon his former allies. 

I myself was on a panel in NYC with Mahcupyan in 2010 and questioned his unwavering support for Erdogan, who already then seemed to be losing his liberal support base, asking him how long would the marriage between liberals and the AKP last. I might add that he did not seem very happy with my question. Well, following the 2013 Gezi protest and last winter's uncovering of widespread corruption among AKP ministers, incriminating also the PM himself, it became clear that for some liberals nothing would end their support for Erdogan.

Despite the government's neglect in bringing a just verdict concerning the assassination of journalist Hrant Dink, the recent release of Ergenekon suspects and convicts--a case that legitimatized Mahcupyan's support for the government--and the continued blurring of the separation of powers between the government and the judicial, Mahcupyan continues to support the AKP and Erdogan. In fact, Mahcupyan places faith in the AKP party members claiming, "the AK Party is not a party that follows its leader blindly; indeed, AK Party voters are not blinded with the light of their leader;" a claim that seems hard to substantiate.  

He also states that due to the Kurdish peace process the government should not be seen as anti-democratic stating, "If the AK Party had given up the reconciliation process about the Kurdish "problem," and the democratic process had stopped, it may have invited reasonable questioning of the intentions of the government."

However, Mahcupyan's words cannot be that comforting to Turkey's opposition parties and independent supporters of a liberal democracy within in Turkey. According to Mahcupyan, Turkey has taken a turn towards authoritarianism:

"Today, there is a government that advocates for the continuation of the democratic process, as well as pushes for authoritarian and polarized politics - an attitude that is both of peacemaker and warrior in public sphere. The answer to the question lies in the perception of threat, and the justifications of it. The aftermath of 2010 meant war for the AK Party. Therefore, the government and the AK Party voter base saw what happened as an attempted coup. They still think that they are right, and becoming authoritarian was one of the government's tools for this fight."

Certainly, if in Mahcupyan's world Turkey has adopted authoritarian ways, who can blame Erdogan's opponents for making these very claims; especially since Erdogan has made it clear that if he wins the presidency next week he will work to give the office extra-powers, usurping powers currently entitled to the state's parliament. 

Of course, if one of the opposition candidates were to win the presidency, the parliament would remain as the power broker in Turkish politics; i.e., in Erdogan's hands. This fact more than any other I suppose sums up the debate pretty well! 

Here is a link to Mahcupyan's article:

*My Two Cents will introduce commentary to my blogspot on different issues I choose to briefly comment on.