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TURKEY. 1998.
Renault cars factory.

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“…ultimately, the current conflict reflects a larger shift in orientation. With President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s troubling consolidation of power in the past year, the spat over Brunson is likely only the beginning of a series of conflicts, in which the United States will have little leverage or bargaining power. Turkey’s economy is in bad shape, and the sanctions since last week have caused the Turkish lira to fall still further; but the fundamental reality is that Turkey is not as vulnerable to American actions as it once was. The European Union is Turkey’s main trading partner, with $84.7 billion in exports. Trade between the United States and Turkey, by comparison, amounts to only $9 billion. Foreign investors in Turkey also tend to be European, not American. U.S. foreign direct investment inflows are exceeded also by the Gulf countries.

As Trump alienates Europe, Turkey has used the opportunity to renew relations with its neighbors. The abandonment of the Iran nuclear deal is certainly a unifying point between Brussels and Ankara. Both capitals are eager to keep the Iran nuclear deal—the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)—alive, with Iranian oil accounting for nearly half of all Turkish imports in the first half of 2018. At Angela Merkel’s invitation, Erdogan will pay a state visit to Germany in September. Meanwhile, Erdogan is organizing a summit with France, Germany, and Russia to discuss Syria. He has also restored relations with The Netherlands, which had gone off the rails last year.

It is unlikely that the United States and Turkey will resolve their differences anytime soon. But given Turkey’s geostrategic location—in the backyard of Russia, and bordering Iraq, Iran, and Syria—the United States has an interest in maintaining the relationship. Turkey, meanwhile, does not need to add to its economic woes. The hope, at this point, is that as both Erdogan and Trump play to their bases, they’ll refrain from actions that would be hard to walk back from without embarrassment to either leader’s large ego. Despite the shifts of recent decades, the United States and Turkey still need each other. And the temporary political benefits domestically probably don’t outweigh that.”

– Elmira Bayrasli, “Welcome to the New U.S.–Turkish Relationship.The New Republic, August 9, 2018.

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“Armed guards are showing protecting Cape Cod cranberry pickers who did not desire to walk out in the recent strike. It is from this section of the country that most of the crop for Nova Scotia is harvested. If the berries are not plucked when ripe a turkey would go without its side-dish.”

– from the Toronto Star, September 16, 1933. Page 19.

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“What led Yusuf and so many other young men and women to sacrifice their lives has its roots in a hundred-year struggle for Kurdish identity and rights. But more than just the reignition of a long-running conflict, what we see engulfing the southeast of Turkey comes as the Kurds occupy a new place on the world stage. They are garnering international praise for defeating ISIS village by village in Syria, at the same time advocating a federal system to ensure a peaceful, democratic future for the whole country. In Turkey, the People’s Democratic Party (HDP)—a predominantly Kurdish left party based especially on women’s and minority rights—made significant electoral gains last year in defiance of President Erdoğan’s increasingly authoritarian rule. And at the heart of the Kurdish movement’s recent successes in Rojava and Bakur has been democratic confederalism—a political paradigm of participatory self-governance proposed by Abdullah Öcalan, the jailed leader of the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK).

In a shift away from his earlier Marxist-Leninist beliefs, for over a decade Öcalan has advocated for a networked system of local assemblies and people’s councils that base societal decision-making at a direct and accessible level. Foregoing the nation-state, democratic confederalism names the practices of self-organization that ensure people the collective power to determine how they will live, linked together in egalitarian fashion and on a regional scale. The system mandates meaningful inclusion of minorities and equal participation of women, and indeed women have been leading the charge on many fronts. Since its formulation, the Kurdish movement has been patiently putting this concept to work and building a kind of stateless, horizontal democracy across their diverse territories. Flourishing behind the barricades of the current war is not only the familiar and well-deserved claim to Kurdish self-determination, but this vision of a truly democratic way of life.

Turkey’s response to the growing momentum of the Kurdish movement, both inside and outside of its borders, as well as its radically democratic vision of social life has been swift, brutal, and unmistakably clear. Soon after the HDP’s entry into parliament with the June 2015 general election, the state broke off the ongoing ceasefire and negotiations with the PKK. That summer, people’s councils in many Kurdish cities in the southeast declared “self-rule” in line with their vision of democratic confederalism. Militant youths barricaded political strongholds like Diyarbakır’s historic Sur district, to which Erdoğan responded by imposing strict 24-hour curfews and deploying troops to these areas. Within days, skirmishes broke out between Turkey’s occupying forces and the youth of the affected neighborhoods.

The government has since pursued a counterinsurgency campaign to root out “terrorism” in the southeast, launching a series of fierce operations that have leveled not only Sur but large portions of other major cities such as Cizre, Nusaybin, and Şırnak. Against the special forces of Turkey, armed with the latest weaponry including tanks, artillery, and planes, young Kurds in the urban centers, mostly untrained and with scant resources, try to repel the assault, supported by more experienced PKK fighters conducting guerilla actions in the countryside. The number of militants killed over the last year is in serious dispute, ranging from 5,000 according to state sources to the more modest 500 according to the independent International Crisis Group. The Human Rights Foundation of Turkey has confirmed that over 300 civilians have also been killed by the state since last August.

All told, a bloody year with no clear end in sight. HDP and many other Kurdish organizations have been repeatedly calling for an immediate resumption of the ceasefire and previous negotiations. Turkey’s response has been total refusal and an underhanded maneuver to oust HDP, the leading voice for peace, from parliament. Other politicians, academics, journalists, and activists who speak out against the state’s disproportionate campaign are routinely jailed. Western nations and global governance institutions have remained largely silent on these matters, hesitating to criticize Turkey’s security policies given the key position it occupies in managing both the refugee crisis and the spread of ISIS. A dark trade-off in the ledger of human rights, with an outcome yet to be grasped.

*                      *                     *
During Yusuf’s ceremony at the House of Mourning, our fixer introduces us to Omar, a middle-aged man whose story is typical of those displaced by the resurgent war. He and his family are among some 45,000 people who fled the Sur district during the clashes, according to a report from the municipality. Omar wears a gray suit, matching his hair and mustache, and he keeps his pale brown eyes trained on us while we talk. We learn that he and his family of six stayed in their home for over forty days of curfew before the fighting finally forced them out. “We saw,” he explains of their decision to leave, “that we would really die there.”

Omar and his family left without any belongings and went to stay with relatives in a crowded apartment on the outskirts of Diyarbakır. With the help of the municipality, he recently rented another house where his family now lives. These days he is looking for a job in construction and trying to piece their life back together. The Turkish state offers no aid and will not divulge any information about their old home—whether or not, for example, it still stands—or what will happen to their beloved neighborhood in the coming months. “About the future, I don’t know anything,” Omar says simply. “They say, wait wait wait, and I’m still waiting. I’m staying like this, living without information and only waiting.”

Throughout our travels in the region, we again and again encounter people like Omar grappling with the conflict’s fallout. With cities under curfew and some neighborhoods flattened by shelling, former residents find themselves without homes, possessions, income, or any legal recourse for what befalls them. A recent estimate compiled by regional municipalities puts the total number of displaced people in the southeast at a staggering 400,000. As these internally displaced persons receive no aid from the central government nor from international organizations, Kurdish-run municipalities are under severe strain to provide even minimal assistance. One humanitarian group we interviewed, the Rojava Solidarity and Aid Association, was originally founded to offer relief in Syria but has now shifted its efforts to within Turkish borders.

All of this compounds a thoroughly complex situation with Turkey hosting some 2.7 million Syrian refugees, many of whom are also located in the southeast. Along the highways between towns, we could spot these refugee camps on hillsides only kilometers away from ongoing Turkish military operations. While the Kurds embrace the vision of a multicultural body politic, the long-term effects of the state’s campaign against them could very well lead to increased divisions among the region’s mosaic of identities and further destabilize an already precarious Middle East.”

– Ryan Richardson and Siddhartha Gurung, “Kurdish Autonomy, Under Siege.” Guernica, July 19, 2016

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‘“Our Spirit.” A Modern Ottoman Interpretation of Ottoman History’

“In order to
be able to govern a community well, it is necessary to have
understood it; in order to understand it, it Is necessary to know its
spirit. I take it that up to the present our spirit has not been
analyzed. This is a very broad subject for investigation. As a brief
introduction to it, I offer this rough draft of an essay.

"This is
certain : we belong to a people originally nomad shepherds. For
example, like the primitive Germans, the property of our ancestors
consisted in flocks. Being under the necessitiy of searching for
pasture, they had no permanent centers of life. They were satisfied
with a camp instead of a house, and in the place of heavy household
effects, they contented themselves with huge saddle bags and meager
supplies which were easy to transport. In this way they passed on to
us the instinct to go lightly laden. It can be said that even to-day
you will not find a Turkish home without its travel boxes.

"Our
ancestors, like well trained shepherds, were dexterous, devout,
imaginative, and openhearted. Because they managed flocks that were
always obedient to them, they became accustomed to authority. It is a
well-accepted sociological principle that the customs of ancestors
consti- tute the most important of the factors which determine
character. The fact that our ancestors were accustomed to authority
has created in us a ‘tendency to tyranny.’ I remember a saying which
I used to hear frequently twenty or twenty-five years ago: ‘An Abdul
Hamid burns in the spirit of every one of us.’ And we see every day
that those who reach places of authority among us act somewhat like
shepherds, and treat the people somewhat as if they were a flock of
sheep. I have not yet seen in our country a government which, except
under pressure and necessity, challenges thought, explains its
policies, and calls for an expression of popular will from us in one
way or another, as if we were men. When the subject is looked at in
this light, the yoke of the past appears to hang on our necks with
all its burdensomeness.

"Neither the
palace nor the Divan at any time demanded thought, shrewdness, and
intelligence from the people. Their sole and perpetual demand was
obedience. They expected from us immeasurable, unending, and
universal tractability. This constant obedience has become a very bad
mold for our spirit. In our most liberal judgments a form of
servitude can be detected. Our minds cannot draw a deep intellectual
breath; and our intellects are not commensurate with the liberty
demanded by our hearts.

"If you look
closely, our history is six centuries of tyranny. The pyramid of
government from top to bottom was an apparatus of oppression. It
quite flattened out the Turkish soul whose exaltation was its holy
task. Every official stamp is a pollution of the spirit of the
people. Our feelings with reference to the rulers of our affairs can
be summarized in a few words: the state of being cowed. We recall
that one name of a subject was ‘slave.’ In reality, bad government
has stamped us a little with the spirit of the slave. We were
accustomed to mistrust and deception and, although outwardly pleased
with the government, at the bottom of our hearts we were critical.
Our historians are interpreters of popular sensibilities: ‘Under a
layer of deceit a deep ocean of contempt,’ they say.

"Upon these
original endowments there were grafted on to our spirits in
succession three civilizations: the Seljuk, the Moslem, and the
Byzantine. The Seljuks had brought to Western Asia the civilization
of the Persians with whom they had been in contact for a century and
a half. In their life and art there was a strange Persian flavor.
They spoke Turkish but they wrote Persian. Among the Seljuks as among
the Persians, Islam had assumed the form of mysticism.

"Ertoghroul
Bey and our ancestors who were with him naturally were influenced by
this Seljukian civilization which was originally Persian. Thinking it
poor and contemptible, they did not deem the language which they had
brought with them from Central Asia suitable for official
correspondence and for literature. Our language was left open to
Persian words without rule or limitation. Along with Persian thought
and literature a tendency to emphasize details had its influence on
our spirit. We lost the power to master the general form of the
intellectual and artistic aspects of our life, as a shepherd surveys
a landscape. Our minds were seeking both beauty and truth in elements
and details.

"Our poets,
disregarding the thought structure of a poem, exhibited diffused and
disordered art in its couplets and hemistichs. Structural beauty was
sought, not in the general make-up of our buildings but in their
interior designs and detailed ornamentation. The beauty of our music
also was found in simple melodies rather than in the harmonious
movements of music. In painting, even, principles of art inspired by
Persia were prevalent. There was no science of perspective; there
were no rules of arrangement; there was no eloquence of exposition;
the only beauty held in honor was that of very fine lines and
acrostics.

"On the
other hand, the influence of Moslem culture began to be felt in court
and sanctuary. Our vocabulary was thrown open to Arabic words for the
sake of law and religion. Our intellect remained under the discipline
of Arab learning.

"After we
entered Constantinople we found ourselves in contact with Byzantine
civilization. The Byzantine legacy was a mixture of good and evil.
For example, on the one hand, well-filled libraries, advanced fine
arts, lofty sages, and wise historians were found. On the other hand,
superstitions, lethargy, superficial culture, a paper government,
moral indulgence that was open to criticism, bribery, legal delays,
the arrest of justice because of hair-splitting distinctions.

"Neither
Persian, nor Arab, nor Byzantine civilization was suited to our
character. For in our minds there is no great aptitude for minute
philosophizing like the Persians, nor for fine analysis like the
Arabs, nor for devotion to aesthetics like the Byzantines. The Turks
are an active folk. Like the English and the Romans they could excel
in the field of activity and achievement. In our veins there was a
wealth of life. This ought to have been discovered and directed
toward fruitful efforts. Bewildering success was promised to the Turk
in agriculture, commerce, and industry on land and sea. The object of
our attention ought to have been science and art, especially their
practical aspects. Our old leaders misunderstood progress. They
fancied that a far-flung kingdom of territory would assure general
happiness. They dissipated the life of the nation in ceaseless
warfare.

"Our worthy
religion suited as it is to every type of worldly progress, every
development, and every phase of evolution in the hands of extremely
conservative men suspicious beyond reason, became, so to speak, a
thickened and congealed social factor. We could not sufficiently
realize the comfort arising from the breath of civilization which
fills Islam. Some forbidden things were emphasized in an excessive
degree, and some lawful things were abused. For example, on the one
hand women were imprisoned in ignorance and blindness, on the other
hand decorated dungeons, consisting of fifty or sixty rooms, were
opened for women under the name of Pashas’ harems. The one was abuse
of the veil, the other was abuse of concubinage.

"We have
heaped upon the path of our history a mass of the ruins of things
that have vanished. We ought to have bound these together in a
unified system; we could have done this by the grace of Islam. We did
not do it. Our countrymen have lacked cohesion. This land of ours has
been too early stopped up with a mass of the sediment of division. We
left to other elements duties which were suited to the native ability
of the Turk. We allowed the Turk to become intoxicated with his
political supremacy, and we yielded to the flaccidity of Byzantium.
The faithful and persistent Turk grew laxer and laxer.

"If the Turk
had received an historical training suited to his temperament, like
the English, he would have been a model of persistence and
perseverance, and he would have been as devoted to national
traditions. Our ancestors followed a single purpose for centuries
without faltering. Today any movement which continues for a few
months shakes us like a disease. Afterwards giving way to some other
movement,it disappears. I can assert that every movement among us
grows old before it reaches maturity and leaves no trace in its path.

"Our
national traits are, in a word, negative. Living in the present we do
not really master the present, let alone live through the past. For
every one of us history begins with his swaddling clothes and ends
with his tomb. We are not subject, as it were, to time and place.
Sons destroy what their fathers built, and no one thinks about the
founding of a spiritual structure which shall be the dwelling place
of conscience for our race. At the same time all of us imagine that
we are laying foundations, and what we call a foundation is such a
house of cards as is built in the morning but torn down by the wind
in the evening.

"Our
connection with the past is this only: we bear the torture of our
long line of forefathers. We have no definite plan based on the
experience of history. Once in a while in our political actions,
well-thought-out phases appear but you never see a phase tested by
life. If you probe a little into our administrative policies that
seem most fundamental, you will find their roots suspended in
emptiness; as if the freedom that is necessary for administration is
to be found in such emptiness.

"Finally,
the spirit of the Turk has received an historical training which has
overwhelmed his character, because of the mass of ruins with which he
has come in contact. We have wanted without selection to make use of
the products of civilization which have come to our hands. The spirit of the
Turk has been urged on in directions contrary to its capacity.

"Worthy
aspects of our nature have not been allowed to develop. We have been
able to exhibit a puny, hybrid civilization. If we had followed a
line of development congenial to our original endowments, the social
calamities which we have experienced would have been each one a
lesson in regeneration, and our life in general would have become a
line of shrewd progress. What use is it that the fine dough which
makes up the spirit of the Turk has been kneaded by unskillful
hands!”

– Jenab Shehabeddin Bey, Professor of the Turkish Language and Literature in the University of Stamboul. “Our Spirit.” Peyam-Sabah {Morning News), January 31, 1921.

– from Clarence Richard Johnson, ed., Constantinople to-day; or, The pathfinder survey of Constantinople; a study in oriental social life.  New York: MacMillan Company, 1922. pp. 57-62

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