Monday, June 30, 2014

It just gets better!: Istanbul’s 12th annual LGBT Pride March

For over a decade, I have taken part numerous times in Istanbul’s Pride march which starts in Taksim and runs along the main pedestrian avenue, Istiklal, ending in the Tunel neighborhood. Once over, thousands remain in Tunel, music of drums beating and local bars filling up, with many fearing in what condition they will be in at work the next Monday morning at work! 

This year the protest started off with a bit-of-tension with the police blocking the march from starting in Taksim Square, in what seem was to just a way to remind all that they are watching closely (with six water-cannons placed along Istiklal). Remarkably, it seems Pride has become the only mass-protest which has not seen police interference in the recent past, when so many other civil initiatives are met with heavy doses of teargas and police violence. 

Every year, Pride has grown, and with last year’s Gezi Park protests, Turkey’s LGBT community received a new source of support, due to the active role of LGBT activists in the protests. Yesterday’s march however showed the outpouring of support was not just a one-time event. It seems safe to say that yesterday’s pride even outdid last year’s in terms of spirit, energy, and solidarity. Amazingly, year after year, Istanbul’s Pride just gets better and better.

In Solidarity with those who died in Gezi protests: On with the Struggle! 

While the almost hundred thousand supporters show that protests in Turkey can be fun (so many of Turkish protests revolve around outdated leftist uniformity), no one should be mistaken about the activists serious agenda. Equality based on sexual orientation is not part of Turkey’s Constitution, which is currently-and slowly-being overhauled by the ruling AKP-ruled government. And, while the government seems to try to avoid any discussion of LGBT issues, pro-government press is free to promote hate against the community.

Most pressing is the issue of violence against transgender individuals. This year alone, four transgender woman have been murdered, with an attack on two transgender women taking place just last April, leaving one shot dead and another injured. In fact, last year Turkey saw five of these hate killings; here is a link to a past blog post, where I wrote about the sad case of Irem, who was murdered. A few years back, Amnesty International, released a major report which documented the extreme violence and hate the LGBT community faces in Turkey, which also has included “honor-killings” of gay men.

On the bright side, even if the AKP remains staunchly opposed to recognizing the rights of the LGBT community, the main opposition CHP, and the leftist-Kurdish coalition HDP party, both are leading the way at creating a new Turkey, where Gays, Lesbians, and Transgender, are part of public life, both in policy and party representation (during last spring’s local election six LGBT candidates were listed for municipal representation).

 For more on the topic, here is a link to a policy article I wrote on the LGBT community and Turkey, and also for more of my photos of yesterday's Pride, see the following link

Happy Pride to all! Together in solidarity for freedom and equality!

Friday, June 27, 2014

A Podcast about Turkish foreign policy and events in Iraq

June 27, 2014

Here is a link to my recent conversation with the podcast, Global Dispatches, hosted by Mark Leon Goldberg, of UN Dispatch (United Nations News and Commentary global news forum), where I expand on some ideas that I first wrote about two weeks ago, in a blogpost entitled: Some thoughts on the US,Turkey, and the Fall of Mosul. I thank the host of the show for asking such point-on questions! 


Friday, June 13, 2014

Some thoughts on the US, Turkey, and the Fall of Mosul

Three days ago, we awoke to a new reality. Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, placed way in its north, not far from the Turkish border, and sandwiched between Kurdish Northern Iraq and Syria, fell to ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) rebel forces, which plowed over the Syrian-Iraqi border. The day after this, in a bold move, ISIS also took over the Turkish consulate building in Mosul, holding the Turkish staff hostage, in addition to other Turkish workers.

ISIS Forces erase the Iraqi-Syrian border
There is no doubt that what we are seeing is first and foremost is related to the continued lack of US leadership concerning a clear policy in the Middle East. The 2003 US invasion of Iraq started the break-up of Iraq; in place of unifying the different Sunni and Shia factions, US policies led to a polarized division. Parallel to this, the US opted to root out any Baathist found near and far, completely destroying Iraq’s political infrastructure. Iraq was to be recreated anew. This is the outcome.

The current situation however is just as much related to a US failed policy in Syria. Over three years ago, a popular uprising against the cruel regime of Bashar al-Assad erupted. Unable to convince Russia and China of the need to oust Assad, the US, and its allies (Turkey and the Gulf States) opted to play out a war of attrition by arming opposition forces. However, despite the good will of many fighting for a democratic Syria, radical Islamic groups took hold wreaking havoc. Like most civil wars, the Syrian quagmire has left the country in shambles with millions of refugees.  

For the Turkish AKP-ruled government the current crisis is led many in Turkey to question the wisdom of its policy. Just a few months after the breakout of the peaceful Syrian revolution, Erdogan correctly cut his ties with the Assad regime once it was clear the Syrian president refused to take any steps at democratizing his country. Further, as attacks against civilian populations increased, the Turkish government undertook a major humanitarian operation, accepting a huge influx of refugees, which stands at about 800,000 people today. However, despite its correct policy concerning the humanitarian action, something went wrong.

During the last two years, numerous reports have emerged that Turkey has been assisting some of the radical groups, such as Jabha al-Nusra, and even ISIS; the assistance ranged from supplying ammunition, providing entrance to foreign fighters, free-movement, and medical help, seemingly with the grace of Uncle Sam. In fact, just last winter, the government tried to silence any debate concerning Turkish trucks making ammunition deliveries to Syrian opposition forces.   

For Turkey, the unfolding events in Mosul, and the capturing of the consulate and kidnapping of its workers, marks a major miscalculation by the Turkish government. So much so that less than 24 hours before the consulate workers were taken hostage, Turkey’s FM Davutoglu assured all that the correct measures were taken to protect them. In other words, Turkey’s government was completely taken by surprise the fall of Mosul, an intelligence failure at the highest level, especially since it is only about sixty miles from the Turkish border.

As negotiations are underway to release the Turkish citizens held in Iraq, what is being mostly discussed in Turkey is whether arms that were shipped from Ankara are now being used against its own citizens. The opposition in Turkey has numerous times challenged the consensus of arming radical groups and the lack of transparency related to Turkish policy in Syria. In short, it is becoming clear that different than the United States, for Turkey, the fall of Mosul, together with ISIS’s defacto control of three border posts between Syria and Turkey, has long turned into a domestic issue with far-reaching repercussions.

Yes, for Turkey, the recent events show how ill-prepared its government was in understanding developments occurring right on its doorstep. For many, however, the fear is that if the situation continues to deteriorate the violence of the radical ISIS could spill over into its own borders, or drag Turkish soldiers into the mess. 

Therefore, even if this is of major concern for the United States, for Turkey, it really hits at home.