Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Twenty-Four Hours that changed Turkey…

…on the twenty-fifth of December. While perhaps it is still early to make such a bombastic statement, however there is no doubt that what we saw on this day is an historic turning point. For the first time, Turkish citizens and analysts alike are starting to imagine a Turkey without the Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.  
Turkey's opposition paper: Earthquake

The arrests on December 17 (see former blog) have thrown Turkey into a state of chaos, culminating in the resignation of three government Ministers on December 25. The first two resigning ministers have sons under arrest, linked to the probe; the powerful Interior Minister, M. Guler, and the Minister of Economic Affairs, Z. Caglayan, who is also accused of receiving a $350,000 watch as bribe. However, it was the resignation of Environment Minister, E. Bayraktar, that set off a massive political earthquake. Bayraktar, angry at the allegations and for being pressured to resign, called upon Erdogan to resign, stating that “because a big part of the zoning plans that are in the investigation file and were confirmed were made with approval from Mr. Prime Minister.”

Pro-goverment paper blames US, Israel, and Gulen group
Just hours after the resignations came the second political earthquake: news came in that a “Second Wave” arrests was about to take place. However, no time at all passed before rumors spread throughout the media and twitter waves that the police were refusing to carry out the prosecutor’s orders, which included the detainment of Erdogan’s son, Bilal, along with a whole list of key business figures.

The next day, late in the afternoon, news broke that the prosecutor of the “Second Wave,” had been removed from the case. According to the prosecutor, M. Akkas, “I learned that I was removed from my duty without any justification, while the search warrants, seizure [of materials] and arrest orders [were also taken from me]. The responsibility from now on falls with the Istanbul public prosecutor and his deputy. All of the public and my colleagues should know that my task as a prosecutor has been obstructed…”

Liberal Taraf paper claims "Second Wave" probe deals with
100 billion dollars
In the meantime, Erdogan, who just appointed a new cabinet in a "reshuffle" (a move planned ahead of probe in preparation of the March local elections and post-budget approval) has opted to stand strong against all accusations of corruption, blaming it on international conspiracy. Further, he even went so far to praise the main suspect of the “First Wave” of the corruption probe, Reza Zarrab, and is standing by the CEO of Halkank, who was allegedly found with shoe boxes of dollars stashed away in his home. In Erdogan’s words,“Zarrab exports gold and I know that he is involved in charity activities as well.” In others, if some thought he would throw Zarrab and his accused accomplices “under the bus,” at least for now that is far from the case.

In my last blog, I asked how long will AKP MPs be willing to put up with this circus; one major MP already resigned on December 25 (following the resignation of the ministers), Idris Naim Sahin; another MP, hinted to widespread corruption while handing over his post to the newly appointed minister after Erdogan relieved him from his position as minister in the “reshuffle.” Lastly, one AKP MP criticized the PM for appointing an Interior Minister who is not a MP. However, the fact that there is a stirring within the party, does not mean that we are anywhere near a group of AKP MPs abandoning Erdogan, in order to set up a new party within the parliament.

Nevertheless, if the state of affairs continue to deteriorate at the speed it has been during the last few days, it seems hard to imagine that his party members will remain silent. In the event they do not take matters into their hands, then Erdogan will need to face a growing chorus of opposition calling for his resignation, or at least, early elections, among the Turkish population at large.   For now, however, the ball is still in Erdogan's court, and he very well could come out on top if he plays his cards right.   

Monday, December 23, 2013

Erdoğan’s Greatest Challenge Yet: the Unfolding Corruption Probe (Turkey Local Election coverage 2014, 2)

A Turkish telenovela could not have had a better script: last Tuesday morning, police forces completed an early morning raid detaining some of the country’s top political, social, and business elite: An Iranian-Azeri businessmen, married to a famous pop-star; three government ministers’ sons; the CEO of a government bank; a multi-millionaire construction tycoon; and a local mayor of Istanbul’s Fatih district, a member of the ruling government. Within hours of the arrest, it was clear that this would be one of the greatest scandals in Turkish history, a graft probe that connected the lives of the rich and famous with the country’s top politicians.  
Reza Zarrab (left) with Turkish Minister Suat Kılıç (right)

Since news broke almost a week ago, we have learned that the raid was related to three different probes, and two of the big names, each belonging to a different probe, have been released awaiting trial: the construction mogul, Ali Agaoglu, and the mayor of Fatih municipality, Mustafa Demir. While these two probes are quite telling on their own accord, the graft probe that has shaken the Turkish political world to the core is related to the arrest of Reza Zarrab, the Iranian-Azeri businessman (married to the famous singer Ebru Gündes), who is accused of paying off millions of dollars to high-ranking personalities, such as, two government ministers’ sons, and the CEO of the state ran bank, Halkbank. Further, it is alleged that Egemen Bağış, the Turkish Minister of EU Affairs, was central in acquiring Turkish citizenship for Zarrab, and rumored that the Economic Minister, Zafer Cağlayan, whose son was arrested, received a $350,000 watch as a present from Zarrab.  

During the last week, Turkey's once believed-invincible Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has been working hard to close the pandora’s box that has been opened: following the arrests, he sacked tens of high-ranking police officers involved in the trial, and is placing great pressures on the judicial system. Similar to his reaction during the Gezi Park protests, the Prime Minister, is trying to convince all that this is the work of secret forces; some pro-government newspaper outlets have placed blame on the US, while others on the likely candidate, Israel (surely it must be the Jews behind this). However, the gravity of this embarrassment is not the fact that his government is condoning rampant corruption, rather, more and more, it seems like it is an integral part of it.
Reza Zarrab in background steps away from Turkish Minister
Egemen Bağış (right)

Just days ago, numerous photos have hit the press showing Reza Zarrab at official state events and ceremonies, leading some to cynically suggest that Zarrab should be declared as an honorary member of the government. While there is no photo of him with the Prime Minister, he appears twice with the PM’s wife, Emine Erdoğan, together with Suat Kılıç, the up-and-coming favorite Minister of Erdoğan, in a photo with the previously mentioned Minister, Egemen Bagis, and with the wife of the Interior Minister, Muammer Güler, whose son was one of the ones arrested. In other words, from the photos it is apparent that Reza Zarrab had very close relations with many in the high-echelons of the governing AK party; further, his presence at official openings begs the question whether or not he or his wife, Gündeş, contributed illegal monies to public institutions.

Zarrab’s close relations is damning to the AK Party’s image that was elected as an anti-corruption party. During their eleven years in power, rumors of corruption have come-and-gone, and with over four-hundred billion dollars of foreign investment energizing Turkey’s economy, and the subsequent over-the-top construction boom, corruption seems almost unavoidable (something that is central to the two previous probes that were mentioned at the beginning of the article). However, most damaging to the party, is the fact that Erdoğan has decided to challenge the allegations head-on, risking a head-on collision with the Turkish electorate, which despite all his rallying, must simply be tired of the endless controversy; yes, some Turkish citizens might have not been the most sympathetic to the Gezi Park protests, but this too took a toll on them. Now, if Erdogan does not quickly take control (with no signs of this in the future), he is at risk of being left alone, with a much less (even if consolidated) numbered of die-hard supporters.

If this was not enough, with the Gülen Movement accused as being the perpetrators, uncovering of this scandal, it is hard to imagine that the party will be able to make up the votes lost due to the parting of this once staunch ally. Furthermore, even if it is too early to predict how this scandal will play out, it perhaps is time to ask how much longer members of Erdoğan’s party will put up with this circus; at what point will respectable members of his cabinet jump ship. Such as, Foreign Minister, Ahmet Davutoğlu, who, despite criticism of his foreign policy, remains a serious politician that could lead a conservative agenda in Turkey. Lastly, it seems more likely than ever that Turkey’s president, Abdullah Gül, also will remain unscathed from these scandals, and this could be an opportunity to strengthen his hold over Turkish politics.

In the first article of my series on the upcoming Turkish local elections, I ended by saying that this season will be interesting to say the least, no one could have predicted such a major fallout. What is clear is that if there was any chance for opposition parties to make gains against the AK Party, the time is now. Also, if Erdoğan weathers this storm, he certainly he will hold up his reputation as being the political genius, as we all know him as; but the question remains, at what price. 

Whatever comes out of this political scandal, it is clear that the biggest loser from this graft probe will not be one politician or another, truly, it is the Turkish state's standing among its citizens, and in the world. They say in Turkish, yazık (it's a pity); simply put, this probe cannot be described in any other way. 

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Did someone say elections in Turkey? (Turkey Local Election coverage 2014, 1)*

At the end of March 2014, Turkey will once again head to the polls to vote in mayors for the country’s municipalities, marking five years since the previous ones, and almost three years since the 2011 national elections. While local elections do not always serve as an indicator for the general public’s confidence in a ruling party, there is no doubt that the upcoming elections in Turkey is quickly turning into a referendum for the ruling AK Party, which received almost fifty percent of the vote in the last national elections.  
Actually, it is not the opposition parties that are treating this as a referendum, who obviously know the stakes are high; rather, it is Turkey’s strong Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is pushing this stance. We have to remember that Erdogan is at his best during elections, and during the past few weeks he has been campaigning “full-steam ahead.” 
Ever since the Gezi Park protests, in fact, Erdogan has been on a non-stop campaign challenging his opponents, or anyone who has the potential to challenge his hegemony, one-by-one. Most recently, in an attempt to consolidate power within his own party, the Turkish prime minister opened a front against the Gülen movement, or what is known in Turkish as the Hizmet (Service) movement, or the Cemaat (the Society). However, it is still premature to see how the unfolding row will play out in the upcoming local elections. Clearly, the twitter wars between the two camps has showed us just how messy Turkish politics can become.  
What is clear is that Erdogan’s constant divisive “powerhouse” politics will most likely lead to a decline in his support, something I already claimed just two weeks before the Gezi protests. However, let us not lose sight, local elections can be misleading; it is important to remember that Erdoğan also treated the 2009 elections as a referendum and despite the opposition parties gaining some ground, just two years later, in the national elections, he swept the ballots, getting almost 50% of the general vote (see my former blogs on 2009 local election, and 2011 national elections). 
The key to any true success on behalf of the main opposition party, the Republican People’s Party (CHP), will depend greatly on how dynamic their candidates are, and the party’s ability to open the door to communities they have shunned in this past. In Istanbul, and the other major cities, utilizing the space the Gezi Park protests created without exploiting it will be central; in other words, the party will need to capture the overall population’s imagination, heightening spirits that change is possible. 
During the next 3.5 months, I will be covering different aspects of the elections and focusing on how other parties, such as the newly formed Peoples Democratic Party (HDP) and how its candidate for Istanbul, the Gezi protester and MP, Sırrı Süreyya Önder, will influence the race. On the same token, I will be watching if CHP’s choice of Mustafa Sarıgul to run for mayor in Istanbul was a good or bad one (he will officially open his campaign this Thursday). Further, I will give a rundown of the other cities and regions, looking at which parties are most likely to make gains, or hold ground, such as the Peace and Democratic Party (BDP) in the southeastern Kurdish regions, and the National Action Party (MHP), in the western regions and some cities in the interior.  Indeed, this election should be an exciting one! 
*The coverage will be indexed as seen above in title

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Saturday, December 7, 2013

Keeping the Rage alive: The Prawer Plan and Attempts at Transfer

Protesters being dispersed by water cannons, see link to photos below
It has been a week since the “Day of Rage,” when thousands of protesters took to the streets to protest plans by the Israeli government to implement the Prawer-Begin plan, which aims at transferring tens-of-thousands of Bedouin Arabs living in “unrecognized” villages into established settlements, and making way for new Jewish towns in their place. The protesters, who were mostly Palestinian-Israelis (or known by the state as “Israeli-Arabs,”; those who live within the 1948 borders of the Israeli state and hold Israeli citizenship), together with leftist Jewish groups, sent a strong message to the Israeli government, and the Israeli population at large, that they will not remain oblivious to the oppressive plans of the Netanyahu government.  During the day of rage, protest took place in Hura, Haifa and Jaffa in Israel, and also in Palestinian parts of Jerusalem, and in the Palestinian city of Ramallah, in addition to places throughout the world.   

Despite the large protests, the Israeli government remains adamant to move forward with plans to transfer the population, and while it is still being discussed in the Knesset Internal Affairs committee, it should go to the floor for parliamentary approval in the winter session. Therefore, it is essential to spread the words in order to halt this racist plan and keep it on the agenda. I for one, if in Israel, or abroad, will continue to protest this plan. 

As an Israeli citizen, for me, this plan just reconfirms that Israel, in place of reconciling with its history and recognizing the Nakba, and other injustices done to almost 20% of the population, it continues a policy of transferring Palestinians to make way for Jewish settlements (in addition to expropriating lands). 

Protesters being dispersed in Hura, see link to photos below
To read on about the Prawer Plan, here are links to two organizations that are at the forefront of the struggle for justice on behalf of the Bedouins in the Negev: First, there is Adalah and its page with links about the Prawer Plan, and a position paper it sponsored; and then there is the Negev Coexistence Forum for Civil Equality, with plenty of information. Also, if tweeting, look for the #hashtags: #برافر_لن_يمر #פראוורלאיעבור and #StopPrawerPlan  (choose the language!)

Lastly, the internet news site, 972Mag, has compiled a nice collection of images of the protests and the clashes that ensued, showing excessive police force, which used stun grenades, water-cannons, and teargas to disperse crowds.

Friday, November 8, 2013

A Debate on Co-ed housing places new limits on Turkey's Prime Minister

A protest poster by the newly formed HDP party
protesting attempts by government to interfere in
private lives  
During the last few days, a new controversy has been brewing in Turkey. Following a closed meeting of the government, reports were leaked to the press that the Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, had ordered an investigation into co-ed housing in the country’s university dormitories. This was despite the fact that university dormitories as it is are not co-ed and that such an incident had been reported at only one university, which was as the result of a shortage in space. While the Deputy Prime Minister, Bulent Arinc, denied that such a discussion had taken place, it took less than 24 hours for news to break that the story indeed was true (and exposing a divide on how the incident should play out in the public).

Anyone that has a small sense of how Erdogan reacts to any criticism could have forecasted how the controversy would play out. Rather than trying to calm fears that the Turkish government was intervening in the private lives of its citizens, and trying to impose its religious conservative values on the overall population, Erdogan did the opposite. Fiercely defending his crusade to save the young from such evils, the Prime Minister stated that: “Nobody knows what takes places in those houses [where male and female students live together. All kinds of dubious things may happen [in those houses]. ... Anything can happen. Then, parents cry out, saying, ‘Where is the state?' These steps are being taken in order to show that the state is there. As a conservative, democratic government, we need to intervene.”

If this was not enough, he further stated that he would make sure legal measures would be implemented to enforce this not only in the public dormitories but also in private residences, which is a blatant violation of Turkish law and invasion of one’s private life. To make matters worse, he called on private citizens to report the immoral behavior, which led to reports of harassment of female students in private homes in Istanbul, and even one police raid on a house. The tenant in this case, received support from the owner of the apartment and her neighbors, despite their conservative lifestyle; however, concerning other raids, the tenant stated: “another student who said his house was raided was told by his neighbors that associations in Tophane had made complaints about student houses to the prime minister’s office. This is more worrying than the raids themselves…”

This sent the Turkish news media and social media into a frenzy, and was upped a notch when the Interior Minister, Muammer Güler,  issued a chilling (ridiculous) statement referring specifically to mixed housing that “we are considering the issue from the viewpoint of a fight against terrorism. Particularly apartments, student residences and lodging houses where university students are living are places that terror groups and other illegal groups are seeing as a resource for gaining support and finding new members.” You heard right. Mixed housing leads to terrorism (the same claims made against the Gezi protesters, earlier this year).

If the Prime Minister had expected party members and supporters to fall one by one in line supporting his offensive statements concerning the lifestyle of a certain sector he was wrong. Some of his previously greatest supporters came out quickly to condemn his statement. Such criticism was voiced by long time public intellectual and former politician, Nazlı Ilıcak, who served as a MP in the Islamist Fazilet party (Erdogan’s former party). Ilıcak was shocked over the Prime Minister’s behavior and stated on CNN Turk that she was ashamed of this act despite her being a staunch supporter of the AK Party in the past. However, only today did we learn what a rift it has caused, when Bulent Arinc, the above mentioned Deputy Prime Minister, came out and stated his dismay over this week’s controversy. 

In a press conference this morning, Arinc issued a statement, hinting that he is close to resigning over the scandal.  It is important to point out the rift between Arinc and Erdogan was first made public on a wide scale following the Gezi Park protesters when he took a much softer stand than Erdogan. Frustrated at being undermined by Erdogan, Arinc stated, “I am not responsible for the prime minister's remarks. I am not responsible for this situation. I am not only a minister, I have my own weight...I never want to be turned into the punching bag of some…” The highlight of his talk was that even if he personally agreed with Erdogan over the issue of co-ed housing, he was critical of Erdogan’s wishes to place this into law.

Unfortunately, this comes just after Erdogan was applauded by the Turkish public at large for partially lifting the headscarf ban just a few weeks back (see my former article, Whats in a Headscarf), with four women parliamentarians entering the parliament, crushing one of Turkey's taboo. Despite this major step forward, Erdogan's wish to ban co-ed housing introduces just more trouble for women who already face discrimination when trying to rent apartments, due to their single status. In other words, it just another case of male hegemonic discourse. Over the last decade, in Turkey's major cities and liberal neighborhoods, women are increasingly living on their own. Together with this, co-ed housing is becoming quite the norm among some sectors. Now with the Prime Minister's taking a stand it will certainly cause some apartment owners to think twice about renting to these communities. 

This case is also just another clear signal that secular lifestyle is under threat. While it differs with the case of alcohol, where Erdogan can claim the government restrictions are in sync with some European countries laws restricting sale of alcohol, banning co-ed housing in private sphere is a blatant violation of even Turkish law. Nevertheless, it is similar to the case surrounding alcohol as it shows the Prime Minister's zero tolerance to other lifestyles; let us not forget that he has stated in the past that anyone who drinks should be considered an alcoholic. Also, while alcohol is legal, and no threat to it ever being banned, he has done his utmost to minimize drinking by taxing it to such an extent that it is cheaper to buy Turkish alcohol outside of Turkey; simply, for many Turkish citizens, even drinking beer can be seen as a luxury.  

Turkey is a dynamic country and any interference by the government, whether secular or religiously conservative, into one's lifestyle should be condemned. The current case once again reiterates that Erdogan has lost touched with a large part of the Turkish population, including his moderate base. While Turkey faces municipal and presidential elections next year, and parliamentary ones in 2015, Erdogan's constant polarizing actions can only be a sign that his party's support will decline. However, whether the CHP and other parties will be able to benefit from this stills seems far from reality. Only time will tell, but one thing is for sure: even the Prime Minister's own party seem to becoming weary of his escapades. 


Monday, October 21, 2013

What is in a Headscarf? Some thought concerning Dress Code Revisions in Turkey

Turkish government signs onto revising dress code
partially lifting head scaef ban 
After over a decade in power, Prime Minister Erdoğan finally announced that his government has done away with the headscarf ban as part of his “Democratization Package,” which is aimed at correcting an array of state-sanctioned injustices. As of October 8, women in Turkey are now allowed to wear the Muslim headscarf in the public sector, ending one of the Turkish Republic’s most stringent secular codes. The next day, television crews were out there to get a glimpse of public school teachers coming to school with their headscarves on.  As someone who has for years spoken against the ban, seeing these teachers was a joyous moment; I still remember when it was also forbidden for university students with the headscarf to enter the classroom. Good riddance to such times.    

Even if there are still some pockets of staunch secularists who vehemently oppose the right of women to cover their heads, it seems most Turkish citizens see this as a something of the past, and clearly unjust in its application. Simply, it was an absurd law that was blatantly discriminatory. One voice of objection actually came from an American emerita professor of anthropology at Stanford University, Carol Delaney, in a letter to the editor in response to a previous article entitled,  Turkey Lifts Longtime Ban on Head Scarves in State Offices (09 October 2013). She states:

The Turkish government’s lifting of the ban on head scarves in government offices  should not be taken as a sign of democracy, despite what Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan claims. Instead, it is another insidious step toward the Islamist state he desires and against the secular republic founded by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk”

What Professor Delaney had in mind when writing this (or anyone else supporting the continued ban) is hard to imagine since the debate over the headscarf for the most part has been a point of contention among male politicians and not the Turkish population at large. However, her point of view does represent one stream of the former intolerant Turkish State’s political elite.  

Erdoğan’s revising of the dress code, however, also received a negative response among some who have fought years for an end to the headscarf ban since the Turkish government fell short of addressing the issue in its entirety, keeping the headscarf ban in place in the military and police force. Further, while woman lawyers are able to cover in court, they still cannot serve as judges or public prosecutors. In other words, Erdoğan has legitimized the right to restrict the headscarf in certain fields of work, something that should be seen as a grave development in the path to freedom.

The fact that the Prime Minister has chosen to keep the ban in these fields of work is disappointing. While it can be argued perhaps that he chose to remain at a safe distance from the former secularist bastion of the courts and army, we know that over the last decade he has systematically strengthened civil institutions in Turkey, securing a state system that is no longer threatened by military coups; in other words, this does not hold up under scrutiny since he certainly has the power to implement it also in these spheres. Such a decision can lead to the conclusion that the Prime Minister might not find employment in security forces as a proper place for religious women to serve. In other words, yes for teachers, but not police officers.  

Women are not the only ones shortchanged in the revision of dress codes (by the way, women public employees still need to make sure their skirt goes down to their knees with no slit on the side). According to the current dress code, men employed in the government sector need to be clean shaven; meaning, a man with a beard, which also can be due to religious reasons, is still unable to work in the public sector (while the beard is banned a modest mustache is permitted; closely mirroring Erdoğan’s own facial features). 

So what are we to make of this? While the recent changing in the dress code should be applauded, citizens in Turkey supporting a liberal democratic state can actually interpret this move as a continuation of the “uniform” state, i.e., not a state that promotes diversity, but one that supports uniformity based on  the “State’s” will.

Further, the move by Erdoğan to implement the changes in the dress code now, can actually be interpreted as being motivated out of realpolitik and not out of a liberal understanding of equal rights. With three elections just around the corner (municipality, presidential, parliamentary), Erdoğan needs to address his own conservative base, and other political groups that have adopted a more religious conservative agenda than his own; especially since some liberal camps, who have supported his reforms during the last decade, are reconsidering their support in light of the Gezi Park protests.  

Perhaps it is telling that the same day when the newspapers were congratulating the new changes in the dress code, one of Erdoğan government ministers criticized a woman television presenter’s dress, as it showed too much cleavage. The next day she was fired by the television company. Truly this is a sign that in Turkey (as many places) controversy related to a women’s dress or body, will continue to be debated and monitored by male politicians.

While the partial-lifting of the headscarf ban is a great move towards allowing more women into the workforce, it seems that this is not topping the Turkish government’s agenda. With Erdoğan continuing to encourage families to have at least three children, if not four, heavy social pressures are being placed on Turkish women to remain in the home. Further, with Turkey’s booming economy, one would think that in terms of gender equality, Turkey would have improved; however, the opposite is true with Turkey dropping from 105 (out 135 countries) in 2006, to 124 in 2012, on the Global gender gap scale; despite this, one sign of hope is that women in the workforce has jumped from 23.3% in2008 to 29.3% in 2012 according to the Turkish Statistic Foundation (TUIK).

With huge gaps in gender equality, the major force of debate in Turkey now should move on from the issue of headscarves onto working towards a more gender equitable society. Unfortunately, the government’s continued partial ban on the headscarf sends a tacit message that women are not welcomed in all fields of government employment at a time when the opposite message is needed. 

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The State did not Protect him: Hasan Ferit Gedik's Untimely Death*

Last Sunday evening, news of an armed attack on a group of protesters started to appear across my twitter feed. One of the protesters was in intensive care due to multiple bullet wounds, his name was Hasan Ferit Gedik (hereafter: Ferit). Reports were confusing, with some saying he was alive and others he was dead; well, within hours it was clear that he would not make it. He was only 21 years old. What a loss. As for his friend, Gökhan Aktaş, he was in critical condition, now stable, and even if his life is out of danger he will have a long agonizing road to recovery.

Not like the six Gezi protesters who were killed facing police violence, Ferit was murdered while protesting the presence of drug gangs, who have taken over Maltepe’s sub-neighborhood of Gulsuyu, on the Asian side of Istanbul. Unknown assailants shot six bullets in his head, back and neck, ending the People’s Front (Halk Cephesi) demonstration in tragedy; however, despite the police knowing of the sensitivity of the protest, they did not protect them. In the past, other protesters have been attacked by members of the drug cartel in the very same neighborhood.  The police force’s inability to clampdown on the drug trafficking, prevent attacks-or indifference to such attacks-has led to the serious accusation that the police are in cahoots with the cartel.

If only those allegations had been leveled; following Ferit’s death, there were reports of plain clothes policemen entering the hospital room, and his shirt and undershirt being lifted. The next day, the public prosecutor announced that he did not order any evidence to be confiscated and that it had gone “missing”; of course, an essential piece of evidence.  While at the same time, less than 72 hours after his death, news broke that the weapons used in the attack-2 pistols and an assault rifle- had been located off the coast not too far from the scene and were retrieved by police divers. Therefore, even if there have been arrests made, Ferit’s family and friends have little reason to trust the authorities.

Throwing salt on the wounds, as of Wednesday night, Ferit’s funeral procession has been blocked by the Turkish authorities who refuse to heed to the family’s demand that his body before being buried be taken to the site of his killing as a memorial to his untimely death.  For the last 48 hours, his body has been resting in a coffin in his own neighborhood’s Cemevi (jem-evi), the Alevi sect’s house of prayer. This neighborhood, Küçük Armutlu, is no stranger to the Turkish police since it is a known leftist stronghold with a tradition of challenging state authority. As of last night the neighborhood is basically under siege with police and water cannons surrounding it.  

If this was not enough, the fact that he was of the Alevi sect comes at a time when the religious minority is locked in conflict with the state-despite wide representation from all walks of life, all of the protesters in Gezi who were killed were Alevi, and numerous clashes have recently taken place against state projects to gentrify and transform their lower middle-class neighborhoods. Most recently, an article in the online newspaper, Al-Monitor, addressed the issues of the Alevis and the recent events. While some had expected that PM Erdogan would address some of the Alevi demands in his unveiling of the much-awaited “Democratic Packgage” on Monday-just hours after Ferit’s passing away-this too proved to be a disappointment.

What is clear is that the Turkish government must open a transparent investigation into the murder of Hasan Ferit Gedik. While police violence remains for the most part without any serious investigation as was demonstrated in the Gezi Park protests, this case brings the accusations up a notch, raising questions if there are connections between the police and drug traffickers; if these accusations are not addressed at the top-level, it will serve as just another example of the growing mistrust many Turkish people feel towards their government.

UPDATE: Today, Thursday (03-10-2013) Ferit has been buried in the Gazi cemetery  Before burying him the state authorities heeded the demands of the family that his body be taken to the site of his killing, where a memorial ceremony/protest was held.

*For articles in Turkish that helped me "fill in the blanks" concerning the case I used the following 3 articles from Radikal. This is an edited version of the original (slight changes for clarity).


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Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Gezi benim için ne ifade ediyor?*

Gaz ve Duman
Geçen hafta, Türkiye'nin güneyinde bulunan Hatay şehrinde Ahmet Atakan'ın eylemler sırasında hayatını kaybetmesi üzerine İstanbul da dahil olmak üzere Türkiye'nin birçok şehrinde eylemciler yeniden sokaklara döküldü. Gezi eylemlerinden farklı olarak polisle eylemciler bu sefer Anadolu kıtasında bulunan ve tarih içerisinde sol protestolara birçok kez ev sahipliği yapmış, seküler bir semt olarak kabul edilen Kadıköy'de karşı karşıya geldiler. Hükümet eylemcileri sık sık provokatör olarak ilan ederken polisin Kadıköy'de göstermiş olduğu aşırı sert müdahalenin de provokasyona yol açtığı açıktır. Son bir hafta içerisinde polisin bu semtte eylemcilere karşı gerçekleştirmiş olduğu sert müdahalenin, Kadıköylülerin Taksim'deki protestoları desteklemesine yönelik karşı bir atak olduğu söylenebilir. Çünkü önceleri Kadıköylülerin sık sık Taksim'de eylemlere katılmasına rağmen polis, şu ana kadar Kadıköy'de gerçekleştirilmiş eş zamanlı eylemlere müdahalede bulunmamıştı. 

Kadıköy'deki arka sokaklarinda
Diğer yandan Kadıköy’de olanlara dair bilgisayarımdan an be an ulaşarak öğrendiğim bilgileri anlayabildiğim en iyi şekilde Twitter'dan paylaştım. Haliyle bu durum bana kendi mahallemi anımsattı. Çünkü gezi eylemleri süresince benim mahallemde çatışmaların gerçekleştiği başlıca bölgelerden biri haline dönmüştü. Seyahatten döndüğüm günün sabahı polisin Gezi Parkı'nı eylemcilerden geri aldığını öğrendim. Mahalleme döndüğümde TOMA ve biber gazı tüm sokağı kaplamıştı, sanki bir savaş alanıyla karşı karşıyaydım. Endişemi gizleyemiyordum çünkü çocuklu aileler sokakta köşelerde sıkışıp kalmışlardı. Ayrıca mahallenin büyük bir kısmını yaşlılar oluşturuyordu.

Şu anda New Yorktayim ve bu nedenle Gezi eylemlerinden tamamen farklı olarak Kadıköy'de gerçekleşen eylemlerle aramda bir mesafe var ve kendimi koruyabiliyorum. Bu durum Gezi eylemlerinin neden koca bir yazımı işgal ettiği sorusunu kendime sormama neden oldu. Doğrusu durum apaçık ortada, eylemler etrafımda olup bitiyordu. Bu nedenle gece gündüz Gezi olaylarına bizzat tanıklık ediyordum.

Gezi olaylarına karşı bu kadar takıntılı olmamın en bariz nedeni ise İstanbul'un on yıldan fazladır benim evim olmasından kaynaklanıyor. Neredeyse hayatımın dörtte birini bu şehirde geçirmiş bulunuyorum. Her ne kadar düzenli olarak New York'a gidip geri dönsem veya İsrail'e gitsem de İstanbul'da bulunan ve çocuğumun ilk yıllardaki anılarını; el emeği biblolarını ve geçmişten bugüne fotoğrafları barındıran dört duvar ev, yakın arkadaşlarımın ziyarete geldiği ve komşularımla paylaştığım bu apartman benim evim. Birkaç ayda bir gidip gelmeme, 5 kat boyunca bavulu aşağıya inip çıkarmama alışmış olan komşularım. Zamanla ben onlara alıştım, onlar da bana.

Daha önceki yılları ve İsrail'e gidip geldiğim iki kısa seyahati saymazsak Gezi olayları gerçekleştiğinde bir seneden daha fazladır İstanbul'daydım. Hayatı boyunca durmadan ve sürekli göçebe gibi yaşayan biri olarak İstanbul'da bulunduğum bu dönem, hayatımın en huzurlu dönemlerinden biriydi. Ta ki Gezi olayları başlayıp bu sakinliği ve huzuru bir anda bozana dek.

Tüm olay ve kötülüklerin patlak verdiği 31 Mayıs akşamından hemen önce şans eseri kendimi İstiklal'de eve dönüş yolunu ararken buldum. Girdiğim ara sokakların duvarlarında biber gazı kapsüllerinin bırakmış olabileceğini düşündüğüm izler vardı. İstanbul'un sokaklarını çok sevdiğim Tel Aviv'inkilerden çok daha iyi tanıyorum.  New York sokaklarından bile çok daha güzel. İstanbul ile tanışmama karşıma şans eseri çıkan bir iş fırsatı vesile oldu. Kanunlar tarafından yasaklanmayan ve girilmesi engellenmeyen; ait olmak için bir pasaporta veya oturma iznine sahip olmanın gerekli olmadığı sokaklara büyük bir tutkum var. Ancak zamanında kızımı bebek arabasıyla gezdirdiğim, ona bisiklete binmeyi öğrettiğim, yarı sakin Pazar günlerinde gezintiye çıktığım, diğer insanlarla paylaştığım bu sokakları inanılmaz büyüklükteki gaz bulutları altında görmek beni derinden sarstı. 

En çok şaşırdığım durumlardan biri de ikinci evim gibi olmasa da düzenli olarak ve çok severek gittiğim Beyoğlu'ndaki barın çok yakınında gerçekleşen çatışmanın ortasında kalmaktı.  Bar, eylemler süresince bazen geçici hastane görevi görüyordu. Bir haftasonu, plastik mermiyle sırtından yaralanmış bir kadın ve birisi polis tarafından dövülmüş, biber gazı kapsülünün bacağına isabet etmesinden dolayı yaralanan bir eylemci de içeri girdi. Barmen herkesin güvende olduğunu anladığı an kepenkleri tamamen indirerek tüm ışıkları kapadı. Herkeste polisin bir anda içeriye dalıp olası gözaltılarda bulunabileceği korkusu vardı. Diğer yandan eylemler süresince iki kez turistleri çatışmaların ortasından kurtardım. Bir sefer de İstiklal Caddesi'nde her yer biber gazıyla sarılı ve polislerle çevriliyken Mısırlı bir anneyle olanlardan çok korkmuş olan kızını o ortamdan dışarı çekmeyi başardım. Bu durum bana yalnız eylemcilerin değil aslında herkesin güçsüz ve sakat bırakıldıklarını, korku ve öfke içinde olduklarını ancak hiçbir şekilde meydan okumayı elden bırakmadıklarını göstermiş oldu.

Benim için Türkiye'deki siyasetin Gezi'ye karşı olan tutumumla cok az ilgisi var. Kişisel kanaatten çok daha önemli olan bir şey var o da herkesin düşüncelerini engellere takılmadan açıkça ifade edebilmesidir. Bu düşünce ve konuşma özgürlüğüdür. Bu yaralanmış masum insanları savunmak, biber gazından fenalaşan yaşlılara yardım etmek, polisin göstermiş olduğu orantısız güce karşı ayaklanmak, eylemlerde hayatını kaybedenlerin önemsiz olmadığını göstermek demektir. Bir Türk vatandaşı olmasam bile, Gezi olayları bana, neredeyse tüm zamanımı burada geçirdiğim ve gönülden bağlı olduğum bu ülkede yaşananlara karşı kayıtsız kalamayacağımı göstermiş oldu.

Evet, Gezi benim için kişisel, oldukça kişisel bir durum.

*Bu makalle inglizce'den tercüme edilmiştir

For my articles on Gezi Park Protests see the following links:


"With One Voice they yelled: Erdogan Resign!" (artilcle appears in entirety on my blog, or Haaretz's website) 


"Erdoğan istifa diyenler ne istiyor" (Haaretz'den tercumesi)

Todays Zaman

Istanbul-Tel Aviv-New York (my blog)

"A Monday night Stroll from Besiktas to Gezi Park," 

"Update from Istanbul: Has teargas become a Saturday Night Ritual,"

הארץ  "זה לא רק הפארק: המפגינים באיסטנבול רוצים דמוקרטיה"


FOLLOW ME on TWITTER @istanbultelaviv for more on whats happening in Turkey and Israel/Palestine, the uprising in Syria, and the Middle East at large.

What does Gezi mean to Me?

Photo of teargas and fire barricades in Kadikoy (photo circulating on net,
 please contact me for accreditation)
Last week, following the death of Ahmet Atakan, a protester in the Turkish southern province of Hatay, people took to the streets in different cities in Turkey including Istanbul.  For the first time since the Gezi protests, the Turkish police crossed the Bosphorus and decided to take on protesters in Kadikoy; a known secular neighborhood, with a history of leftists protests taking place. While the government often tries to characterize the protesters as provocateurs, it should be stated that the Turkish police’s violent clampdown on this neighborhood was blatant provocation; until now, Kadikoy’s protests had been left alone, and its residents often frequented the protests in Taksim. Indeed, the intensity of the police actions on the new turf can only be interpreted as a “payback” for their enduring support of the Gezi Park protests.

During last week, on any given afternoon, my computer was receiving live feeds from Kadikoy, and I was tweeting the information to the best of my knowledge. It sparked memories of the Gezi protests when my neighborhood was one of the centers of clashes between protesters and the police; in fact, the morning after the police finally took Gezi Park back from the protesters, I returned home from a trip to a TOMA (water cannon) and teargas on my street; it looked and felt like a warzone and I worried greatly for all the parents with children stuck there, and the elderly who occupy a great part of the neighborhood.    

On the side streets of Kadikoy
(contact for accreditation)
Now that I am back in New York, I was able to distance myself somewhat from the events in Kadikoy.  This was important since it gave me the chance to ponder on the question why the Gezi Protests occupied most of my summer; indeed, the protests were like a massive wave crashing down on me. Day-in-and-day-out I was living Gezi.      

The most obvious reason I was so fixated on Gezi is the fact that Istanbul has been my home for over a decade; almost a quarter-of-my-life.  Even if I have been commuting back and forth from New York, and at times from Israel (making it a lot easier in terms of distance), my four-walls in Istanbul are my home. They include memories of my child’s first years (her first shoes), a collection of pointless memorabilia (magnets from cities of the world), and artifacts from the past (the long forgotten photo albums). Indeed, this is a personal side that few know about, save for close friends, and of course my neighbors, who see me come and go every few months, as I lug my suitcases up-and-down the 5-floor walk-up.  They have long become use to me, and me to them.

Not like past years however, Gezi happened just as I had been over a year in Istanbul, making only two brief trips to Israel. For someone who has spent his life in a constant nomadic state this truly was one of my most relaxed periods of my life; a year filled with plenty of love and happiness; and, the Gezi protests broke this calm and serenity. 

By chance just before all hell broke loose during the evening of May 31, I found myself on Istiklal, Taksim’s main pedestrian avenue, trying to find a route home and every side street I went down seemed to be drenched with teargas. I know the streets of Istanbul even better than the ones in Tel Aviv, a city I adore, and much better than the ones in New York, a place where I randomly ended up due to employment; a love for the streets is not bound by law and belonging is not based one’s passport or by a resident permit. The same streets I saw under massive clouds of teargas are the very these same streets where I pushed my daughter’s stroller, and where I taught her to ride a bicycle. It is in also these streets I forged love and said farewell to other loves. It is in these streets I regularly take a stroll on semi-serene Sunday evenings. These streets are mine, and I share them with all who walk them.

A surprise to me was that where I encountered the violence up close was actually at my favorite bar in Taksim; perhaps not a second-home but a regular hangout for me. During the protests, it served at times as a makeshift hospital; on weekends, as teargas poured in, so did the injured-a woman injured by a plastic bullet on her back, an activist beaten black-and-blue by police, and a leg injury due to a teargas canister. And, once everyone was in safely the barman quickly brought the shutters down, turned out lights fearing a police raid that could lead to arrests.  Twice I met tourists who took cover there, and once I led an Egyptian mother and her panicking daughter from the bar once the gas settled and across police lines in the midst of battles taking place on Istiklal. For me, this side showed me that when push came to shove the protesters were left powerless, left with wounds, fear, and anger, but nevertheless defiant.  

For me, the politics of Turkey have very little to do with my stance on Gezi; it is much more about a personal conviction that every person has the right to express dissent unhindered; it is about freedom of expression, it is about defending the innocent people who were injured, it is about helping the elderly who fell down due to teargas, it is about standing up against excessive force used by police, it is so that the death of the protesters will not be in vain. Even if I am not a citizen of Turkey, Gezi showed me that I have invested way too much in the country to remain indifferent.

Yes, for me Gezi is personal, very personal.

For my articles on Gezi Park Protests see the following links:


"With One Voice they yelled: Erdogan Resign!" (artilcle appears in entirety on my blog, or Haaretz's website) 


"Erdoğan istifa diyenler ne istiyor" (Haaretz'den tercumesi)

Todays Zaman

Istanbul-Tel Aviv-New York (my blog)

"A Monday night Stroll from Besiktas to Gezi Park," 

"Update from Istanbul: Has teargas become a Saturday Night Ritual,"

הארץ  "זה לא רק הפארק: המפגינים באיסטנבול רוצים דמוקרטיה"


FOLLOW ME on TWITTER @istanbultelaviv for more on whats happening in Turkey and Israel/Palestine, the uprising in Syria, and the Middle East at large.