Sunday, September 30, 2012

Turkish Animal Lovers Send Strong Message to Government

Tens of thousands of people poured into the streets of Istanbul today to demonstrate against the Turkish government's proposed changes in law 5199, which deals with animal protection. Animal rights activists are suspicious of government plans to round up stray dogs and cats, spayed and neuter them, and then place them into "natural parks." They fear that these parks will turn into death camps where the animals will be neglected and worse perhaps undergo euthanasia.  

Until now, the norm in Turkey is for municipalities to spayed and neuter animals and return them to the streets. Often the dogs and cats become part of the neighborhood and are taken care of by local residents who feed and take care of them. In fact, during the evenings one can often see elderly people roaming around checking on how the animals are doing. 

If life was only for humans what were
animals doing on Noah's Ark
In addition to the forced gathering of the animals, activists are worried about plans by the government to limit how many pets one can own, and the forced killing of certain breeds of dogs considered a danger to the public, such as pit bulls. In addition, sick stray animals currently in shelters, such as Istanbul Greater Municipality's Hasdal shelter, are rumored as experiencing serious neglect and sentenced to slow death due to the poor conditions; in other words, the activists' mistrust is based on the track record of local governments to care for the animals.  For more on the law, you can read two articles: one from Hurriyet Daily News, and the other appearing after today\s demonstration in Todays Zaman (both in English).  
No to the Law of Death!

Lastly, the activists retain in their collective memory the case in late Ottoman history when in 1910 dogs were rounded up and placed to die on islands close to the city. While this cruel project quickly came to an end,some local residents believed that the government's cruel treatment led to numerous catastrophes such as the Balkan wars as a divine payback (see important related article on this and the changes in the law). 

The massive turnout today will place the government on the defensive and will challenge any future changes. It will also ensure that dogs, cats, and other animals, will have some sort of representation.  What is for sure the change in the law will not go unnoticed and the demonstration today has sent a strong message that animal lovers also should have a voice in government policy.  

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Possible New YouTube Ban in Turkey: Blocking the Innocence of Muslims*

For years numerous internet sites, such as the social media site YouTube (see BBC article), were closed down in Turkey for containing videos that insulted the memory of the founder of the modern Turkish state, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk (among other reasons). Of course, for the desperate ones who could not live without it, they simply found a user friendly “back door” entrance to enter the site. In a 2011 blog of mine, which covered the massive demonstration against goverment censorship of the internet, I even commented how at times the Turkish President and Prime Minister ridiculed the law claiming they themselves used the banned site.

Two years later, upon an initiative of a government minister, You Tube is once again in danger of being banned from Turkish internet space. A court has ruled that Turkish authorities have the right to ban internet sites which show any part of the controversial movie the Innocence of Muslims.  I will not expand here concerning my thoughts of the movie itself (see my previous blog); however, I will say that just like the previous bans, in no way will this block the movie from being seen. It is almost as if the government believes the banning of the video will protect someone or some group from the unknown, especially when the unknown is nothing more than a shoddy production which does not deserve the time of day. The move on behalf of the Turkish government is sensationalist since I am sure before the movie there were plenty of clips on YouTube, which degraded Islam; just as there is plenty of anti-Semitic material on the site (some originating in Turkey).  So, go ahead and ban the terrible blasphemous video, and see that countering Islamophobia, and hate, cannot be solved by closing eyes of your own citizens.   

*For more on the possible see the Hurriyet Daily News article


Sunday, September 16, 2012

Revolutions, a Film, and Obama: A Look at the recent anti-US Protest in the Middle East

Recently, news from the Middle East does not look good.  Last week, anti-American riots broke out in Egypt as the result of an obscure cheaply produced amateur film degrading Muhammad, the Muslim prophet.  Parallel to this, and seemingly not related to the film, an anti-American group of fighters (perhaps motivated by al-Qaeda) carried out a well planned attack on the American consulate in Libya, killing the US ambassador, Chris Stevens. Following the riots and the killing of the ambassador, a wave of commentary has emerged questioning whether or not the Arab uprisings, coined the Arab Spring, was “good” for the US, Europe, or even the Arabs themselves.

The fickleness demonstrated by so many concerning the Arab Spring is not new.  After the victory of the Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate, Muhammad Mursi, in the Egyptian Presidential elections, some western news outlets covering the elections made it sound like it was doomed to become another Islamic Republic of Iran.  Now that Syria has fallen into a civil war, some in the world long for the days when Syrians never dared make a peep about their unhappiness with Bashar Assad’s totalitarian regime.     

If one supports, or does not support, the Arab uprisings, we all need to recognize the fact that there was no alternative to the revolutions, and we cannot turn the clock back. Revolutions happen not because one party supports one way or the other. They emerge due to deep desperation and the will of the people to make change. Yes, the Middle East has been thrown into a tumultuous and chaotic period; however, this should be expected due to the fact that for decades a tight lid was kept on their societies with their leaders ruling through coercion and corruption, losing all legitimacy in the eyes of their people. 

The short film, Innocence of Muslims, which sparked off the anti-American riots is not the source of hate for the US, only the catalyst.  While the killing of the ambassador is sad and frustrating it should not come as a surprise. The Americans are not a neutral partner in the unfolding of events and they cannot expect to remain unscathed.  The US is an integral part of the old order, which the masses rebelled against.  It was the US that propped up for years the late Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. It is the US that has not been able to pressure Israel to move towards a peace agreement and end its 45 years of the occupation of Palestinian lands.  It is the US, which invaded Iraq on false pretensions and left the country in shambles, which under their command introduced new levels of violence to the region.

For those who keep criticizing the Arab uprisings and asking if they were good for the West, don’t forget this revolution belongs to the Arab people, not to Washington, or NATO. For the US to regain the trust of the people, taking measures at damage control will not suffice, but rather a serious reassessment of the US role in the Middle East which treats the regimes as equals and not as their cronies.  In the mean time, the US will also have to bear the backlash of violence and anger that they themselves sowed. 

On the flip side of the coin, the new Arab governments have shown that they are interested in stability and retaining relations with the US.  Moreover, we can breathe a sigh of relief because until now violent protests against the US have been directed at government offices and not at its citizens who reside in these countries. 

If Obama is reelected, the US will have a golden opportunity to show the region that they are serious about change, something way beyond the reach of Mitt Romney and the Republicans.  Moreover, President Obama will have the perfect opportunity to show the world that he did not win in 2009 the Nobel Peace prize in vain. A second term will allow him to make his stamp on the future of the Middle East, hopefully, one with an independent Palestine. What is for sure, time is not on his side.      

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Turkey's Latest Challenges

During the last month, the Turkish press has been focused on the Syrian refugee crisis, and the resurgence of clashes between the Turkish military and the PKK.  The growing turmoil surrounding these two issues stands as a major challenge to the Turkish government since it has found itself void of any real answers on how to handle them.   

Almost two weeks ago, Turkey’s Foreign Minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, campaigned the UN Security Council to set up a buffer zone in Syria in order to stem the flow of refugees to Turkey. Currently, there are approximately 80,000 refugees located in 11 camps situated along Turkey's southern borders, coming in close second after Jordan as the country which has the most Syrians (see UN report dated 07/00/2012). Davutoglu's proposal however fell on deaf ears with only five Foreign Ministers of the 15 council members taking part and all parties involved declaring the plan as unrealistic. For Turkey, whose influence in the Middle East has been growing since the downfall of dictatorships in the Arab world, this was a major disappointment and a diplomatic fiasco.

A few days following the meeting in New York, Turkey started turning refugees away with many stranded at the border. It is reported that approximately 10,000 people are waiting to enter Turkey, with Turkish authorities announcing that they will only be able to cross the border after the needed facilities are available (see above UN report). In one case, a woman was allowed to give birth in a Turkish hospital but after two days was forced to return to trepid conditions on the Syrian side with her newly born twins.  In addition to these refugees, thousands of Syrians have entered Turkey as tourists, possessing the necessary resources to live in hotels. In Istanbul alone, there are many Syrians who are waiting for the day they are able to return home.  For some, Turkey is only a base to move on to Europe, with some opting to be smuggled out. However this also can end in tragedy.  Last week, a boat smuggling refugees sank off the Turkish coast, killing over 60, including many women and children.  

Lastly, Turkish opposition members have accused the Turkish government of allowing the Free Syrian Army (FSA) to train in the Apaydin camp, which is housing Syrian soldiers and officers who have defected.  While the government denies that this camp is used as a base to launch attacks on Syrian army strongholds, members of the FSA have suggested otherwise. Many reports in the Turkish press have focused on the fighters’ radical Islamic elements, claiming that this camp is also home to al-Qaeda and jihadist factions. They are right to be concerned if it is true that the camp might also be home to radicals from such places as Chechnya andAfghanistan. In fact, even if these groups are making leeway on the ground, we must not forget the fact that Syrians from all sects and religions support the uprising and the continued use of radical groups as fighters will only come back and hit the region like a boomerang. 

It is in the above context that many Turkish pundits are worried about how the continued struggle in Syria will influence events in Turkey. Less than a month ago, a bomb went off in the southern city of Gaziantep, killing eight people, including children.  While the PKK first denied their involvement all evidence points towards to it as the culprit and no evidence of Syrian involvement was uncovered. In any case, it sent a clear message that violence like a brush fire could easily jump over the border.  Further, this summer the PKK has also shown Turkey that they are stronger than many might have previously assessed, carrying out significant raids on Turkish military and police outposts. Lately, the Turkish evening news and newspapers have been filled with pictures of young soldiers who have fallen victim to this decades-old conflict. 

Since coming to power in 2003, Prime Minister Erdogan has taken serious measures at solving the Kurdish issue. However, since last year’s elections, he has found himself at odds with the mostly Kurdish parliamentarians representing the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) and both sides seem farther than ever at reaching a compromise. This was exactly the message the BDP parliament members were sending Erdogan, when they were photographed embracing PKK fighters in the hills of the southeast. Outraging the PM, he is now making calls to renounce their political immunity in hopes they will be tried in a court for supporting a terrorist organization. However, such a move will only alienate a larger part of the Kurdish population. With Syria on the brink of political fallout, which could lead to even more violence and chaos than we have seen until now, Turkey needs more than ever to diffuse the situation in its southeastern regions.