On Sunday night, Berat Albayrak, who is Turkey’s finance minister and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s son-in-law, terminated all but one of his social media accounts and announced on Instagram that he was resigning. Citing health reasons, Albayrak said he wanted to devote more time to his family, ending the note with an ominous plea for help from God.
Having long lost its independence, mainstream Turkish media appeared too afraid to report on the resignation for 24 hours, until the presidency finally issued a statement saying Albayrak’s decision to step down had been accepted. In the absence of an official explanation, Turks took to their favorite WhatsApp groups, where the popular explanation was that Albayrak had resigned in protest of the replacement of central bank governor last week without his knowledge.… Seguir leyendo »
On Sunday, Turkey pulled back its seismic exploration vessel, Oruc Reis, from the contested areas of the eastern Mediterranean to pave the path for the beginning of negotiations with Greece. Just as well. Tensions in “the East Med” — the shorthand for a corner of the Mediterranean with rich gas reserves and contested maritime boundaries — run so high that no one is ruling out an actual war between Turkey and Greece.
Turkey, Greece and Cyprus are at loggerheads about how to allocate zones to explore the newly discovered hydrocarbon resources in the area — with France throwing its weight behind the Greek position and the United Arab Emirates sending warplanes to Crete.… Seguir leyendo »
Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople lowered his voice in exasperation. “What can I say as a Christian clergyman and the Greek patriarch in Istanbul? Instead of uniting, a 1,500-year-old heritage is dividing us. I am saddened and shaken.”
The 80-year-old spiritual leader of 300 million Orthodox Christians worldwide was referring to the Turkish government’s plans to convert Hagia Sophia, a 6th-century Byzantine cathedral and one of the most precious architectural wonders of the world, into a mosque. For centuries, the terra-cotta-colored building served as the largest church in the Christian world. When Ottomans conquered Istanbul in 1453, they carefully covered the mosaics and turned it into a mosque.… Seguir leyendo »
In Turkey, a video of a truck driver went viral this week, as he voiced the feelings of millions of working-class Turkish citizens too poor to observe the government’s stay-home advice.
“Now you are telling me to self-quarantine at home. Man, how can I?” he asked. “I don’t have a pension. Am not a state employee. Am not rich. I am a worker, a truck driver. If I don’t work, I have no bread. I cannot pay the rent, the electricity or water bill. That’s worse than dying. Before you ask us to stay home … stop making a fool of yourself.… Seguir leyendo »
Idlib is an inferno. Since December, the Assad regime has conducted an offensive to take over Syria’s final rebel-held territory — which sits along the Turkish border — leading to massive destruction. The death toll over the past month is more than the number of people confirmed dead from the Wuhan coronavirus. Entire towns are now heaps of rubble and, according to the United Nations, some 500,000 Syrians have already been displaced. Idlib is crammed with almost 3 million people, and the relentless Russian and Syrian bombardment will undoubtedly push them north toward Turkey.
For Turkey, this is a nightmare.… Seguir leyendo »
Whenever President Recep Tayyip Erdogan gives a speech, most Turkish news networks broadcast it live, no matter the topic. That’s the way things work these days. But sometimes one can learn more from what’s not broadcast — as when former prime minister and Erdogan ally Ahmet Davutoglu announced last week the formation of a new political party in a large hall with supporters. No network picked it up, fearing the government’s wrath.
Davutoglu is a heavyweight in conservative circles, and his challenge to Erdogan is significant in tipping the balance further in favor of the opposition forces calling for an end to Turkey’s authoritarian nightmare.… Seguir leyendo »
In an erratic attempt to justify his decision to pull U.S. troops from Syria and open the way for a Turkish military incursion, President Trump said recently that Turkey and the Kurds are “a natural enemy” and that “one historian said they’ve been fighting for hundreds of years.”
Both assertions are dangerously wrong.
As Turkish tanks roll into Syria to take territory from U.S.-allied Syrian Kurdish fighters, I worry about the long-term effect of Trump’s reductionist understanding of our region of the world. I worry about rising nationalism in Turkey. I worry about the further tightening of free speech under our beleaguered democracy.… Seguir leyendo »
The Istanbul city hall building is a huge modern structure at the heart of the city’s historic peninsula, which is otherwise replete with Ottoman-era mosques and remnants of Byzantine churches. The building’s mid-century modernism reflects the yearnings of the young republic in the early 1950s, when Turkey was about to join NATO, eager to claim its place in the West.
But the edifice represents more than just Turkey’s contrasts with its own past. Now it is the central battleground for the survival of Turkish democracy since the opposition’s victory in local elections last month.
Last month, I went to the municipality to meet with Ekrem Imamoglu, the new mayor of Istanbul, who wrenched the city from 25 years of conservative Justice and Development Party (AKP) rule at the end of March following a fierce campaign.… Seguir leyendo »
The result of Sunday’s presidential elections in Turkey is forcing us to come to terms with a new reality: that liberal dreams of establishing a Muslim democracy can easily be crushed by the creeping power of illiberalism. We now live in what President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s supporters call “the New Turkey.” Despite the economic downturn and frustration with Erdogan’s draconian policies that suffocate a large section of the society, including secularists and Kurds, the Turkish president was reelected with 52 percent of the vote.
That is a heartbreaking defeat for those of us who had hoped that the vote on Sunday would send a strong message to Erdogan to return to the path of democracy.… Seguir leyendo »
In Turkey, politics means everything. But football is life. So it’s hard not to take seriously the internal elections of one the most important teams in the country, Fenerbahce.
Ali Koc, a Harvard-educated businessman, thrashed Aziz Yildirim, the club’s chairman of 20 years and an ally of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in a landslide.
Many Fenerbahce fans, especially secularists, saw this as a metaphor for Turkey’s elections on June 24. There is a peculiar reality about this upcoming vote. Even before the Fenerbahce defeat, Erdogan seemed more vulnerable than is usually understood outside of Turkey. Nearly everyone in the West thinks it’s a foregone conclusion that Erdogan, who had been running the country for 15 years, will win one way or the other.… Seguir leyendo »
Let’s start with the question of sanity. Here is a letter from Turkey’s leading civil society leader, Osman Kavala, who spent months in prison for the following reasons: having dinner with a visiting American academic; for organizing the failed coup of 2016; and funding an urban uprising in Istanbul in 2013 or supporting Kurdish separatists, depending on which version of the official story you chose to believe:
“I have just completed the fifth month of my sojourn at Silivri [Prison]. My health is in good shape and I walk for almost two hours in my courtyard. I have no complaints about the food.… Seguir leyendo »
The U.N. General Assembly on Thursday voted to rebuke the recent decision by President Trump to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. With an overwhelming 128 nations demanding that Washington reverse its decision, in defiance of President Trump’s last-minute threats to cut off aid, one would think that a bright new future is awaiting Palestinians – that the U.N. vote would finally usher in their much-awaited statehood.
But that’s unlikely. The vote is symbolic and non-binding.
And just like everything else about the Jerusalem saga, including Trump’s decision to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, the U.N. episode is more about the power of populism than about solving the Israeli-Palestinian dispute.… Seguir leyendo »
Seven years ago, a Tunisian street vendor set himself on fire in defense of his dignity, unknowingly triggering an avalanche of public demonstrations across the Middle East. People in the region wanted what was denied to them for almost a century — a fair order, better lives and a little breathing space.
Seven years down the road, what the people got in return is upgraded despotism and chaos.
Cab gossip is not an entirely infallible guide to world affairs. But a few weeks ago in Istanbul, a chatty driver said, “They say there will be a war. That’s what everyone who gets in the cab is talking about.”… Seguir leyendo »
Who would have thought that Germany, long led by a leader seen as the symbol of the continent’s reserve and realism, would finally emerge at the forefront of the struggle for democracy?
Oh no, I am not talking about the European panic about the ways and means of President Trump and the new role forced upon Berlin as the fortress of the Western liberal order — although all of that is certainly happening.
I am referring instead to the role Germany and Chancellor Angela Merkel have recently assumed with Turkey as careful critics of Ankara’s despotism and the unraveling of its democracy.… Seguir leyendo »
Sometimes a tragedy can unite a family — or a nation. Across Europe, the citizens of various countries that have been hit by Islamic State terrorism displayed a heartfelt solidarity in their moment of national grief. There were candlelight vigils, outpourings of sorrow on social media, a general sense of “We are in this together” across the political spectrum.
This is not happening here in Turkey. Each and every terrorist attack over the past year — and there have been at least a dozen — pulled us further apart as a country, threatening identities and lifestyles, triggering dormant fault lines and getting us at each others’ throats.… Seguir leyendo »
On a trip to Germany this month, the deputy head of the Turkish parliament and a close ally of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had her purse and passport stolen from a hotel lobby. After filing a complaint with the police, she was taken to the police station at the airport, where she waited alongside illegal immigrants and suspects and faced what she described as “humiliating” behavior at the hands of German police before being allowed to board a plane to Turkey. The Turkish politician was furious, but not nearly as much as the Turkish president, who threatened “retaliation.” The German ambassador was subsequently summoned to the foreign ministry in Ankara, and Turkey briefly detained four German diplomats on their way home.… Seguir leyendo »
The speed of Turkey’s decline is mind-boggling, even when you live through its the day-to-day machinations.
This week started with the Turkish government announcing plans to reintroduce the death penalty at the urging of the country’s strongman, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in order to garner the support of ultra-nationalists in his bid to expand the powers of his presidency. Later in the week came the arrests of the editor-in-chief and columnists of Cumhuriyet, Turkey’s oldest paper and a symbol of its fast-eroding secularism, on trumped-up charges of terrorism. And finally, Thursday night brought the detentions of Selahattin Demirtas, the charismatic leader of the country’s pro-Kurdish party, and Figen Yuksekdag, the co-leader of the party.… Seguir leyendo »
“A sub … what?” I asked. My doctor described my ailment during a visit to her in early August.
“It’s called a subacute thyroiditis. Means your thyroid is infected and that’s why you have fever. We think it is viral. But seeing how many people are showing up with this lately, I can only imagine it has something to do with what is happening in the country.”
Great. On top of ruining my television career, inhibiting my journalism and cannibalizing all my mental space, Turkey’s repression was now destroying my body too.
As if a full-blown insurgency in the Kurdish areas and a string of Islamic State bombings in Istanbul this year were not enough, we survived a horrifying military coup on the night of July 15 — complete with with low-flying F16’s, sonic bombs, gunfire and incessant calls from minarets to resist the uprising echoing in our small apartment on the Bosphorus.… Seguir leyendo »
My generation of Turks grew up hating Kurdish separatists. Instead of questioning why Kurds weren’t allowed to speak their own language, live in their own villages or sing their own songs, we blamed the Kurdistan Workers Party, or P.K.K., which had been waging a guerrilla war against Turkey since 1984, for all of Turkey’s woes. Kurds were responsible for the death of our soldiers, we said. They were guilty of tearing up the country, draining our resources and siding with our enemies. In the mainstream press, they were simply “baby killers.”
Over the past few decades, that view started to soften as the history of human rights abuses committed in Turkey’s Kurdish regions was revealed.… Seguir leyendo »
As a Turkish journalist who for years covered the United States, I’ve spent the last few days repeatedly answering the inevitable question from my fellow Turks: “Does Washington see Turkey as a moderate Islamic republic?” That description may sound like a compliment to American ears. But in Turkey, it is an outright insult.
Since 2004, when the “moderate Islamic” formulation was innocently introduced by Colin Powell, the American secretary of state at the time, Turks have believed that Washington values Turkey’s religious identity over its secular democracy — that it would rather Turkey become a conservative American ally in the Muslim world than evolve into a European democracy.… Seguir leyendo »