Hrant Dink shot dead

Hrant Dink, an Armenian-Turkish journalist who won fame and notoriety for challenging Turkish nationalism, was shot dead in Istanbul yesterday.

If you’re not following events in Turkey closely, you might not have heard of Hrant Dink. Briefly: he was an ethnic Armenian but born and raised in Turkey. The genocide didn’t kill or expel all of Turkey’s Armenians, quite; there are still about 50,000 of them, mostly living in or around Istanbul. Dink was the editor of the Armenian community’s newspaper, Agos, and also its most prominent public intellectual.

Dink got into trouble with Turkish authorities for two things: he insisted on the reality of the Armenian Genocide, and he openly discussed the ambiguous position of ethnic and religious minorities in the Turkish state. Dink wrote about how, as a boy, he had to sing the Turkish national anthem every day in school: “I am a Turk, I am hard working and honest… happy is he who calls himself a Turk… great is our race.” It made him think, he wrote: who am I? If not a Turk, then what?

“As a child, I didn’t know what it meant to be Turkish or Armenian. At Armenian boarding school in Istanbul, I recited the Turkish credo every morning, but I was also told I should preserve my Armenian identity. I never came across my own name in school books – only Turkish names. As an adolescent, I heard the word ‘Armenian’ used as a swearword. As a Turkish citizen, I saw high-court decisions that referred to Armenians as ‘foreigners living in Turkey’. The Armenian orphanage that I worked so hard to establish was confiscated by the state.”

Continue reading

Meanwhile in an EU Candidate State

From Lebanon’s Daily Star:

Turkey on Monday appointed a general who is expected to adopt a tougher line toward EU negotiations to replace the head the country’s powerful military, who was widely considered a moderate. The change in leadership, which was widely anticipated, comes as Turkey is insisting that Washington do more to crack down on Turkish Kurdish rebels operating out of bases in northern Iraq…

Buyukanit raised eyebrows this year by praising a soldier subsequently jailed for a bombing believed to be aimed at stirring up unrest in the mainly Kurdish southeast. The bombing triggered riots in the region and a parliamentary inquiry.

Analysts say Buyukanit’s no-nonsense views have been shaped by the time he spent in the southeast during the 1990s, heyday of the separatist Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) which is now seen as weakened but far from defeated.

“Buyukanit is more pro-American, more security-minded than Ozkok. He is not against the Europeanization of Turkey but he is more influenced by nationalist tendencies,” said Hussein Bagci of Ankara’s Middle East Technical University.

“He will be much tougher in the fight against the PKK.”

Hmm…

Security-minded is what one would usually expect a general to be, but the key question will be how broadly he defines the interests of Turkish society. Has he kept up with changes, or will he try to turn the clock back?

I’m not at all sure that “no-nonsense” is the proper way to describe someone who advocates purely military solutions to Kurdish issues in Turkey. In fact, that view is full of nonsense, as much of the 1980s and 1990s demonstrate.

And just what a “tougher line toward the EU” means is another question. The EU line (and the NATO line, for that matter) is that civilian governments control the national military, full stop. The fact that the political views of a Turkish general are a matter of interest is itself a sign of the distance still to go for Turkey. Questions like this are a normal part of accession — Greece’s military junta ended its rule just seven years before that country joined the EC; there were worries early on about Poland’s military (a legacy of Col. Pilsudski in the inter-war era); Spain and Portugal probably had to address the issue as well, given Franco and Salazar.

Bears watching.

Kabooom!

They’re at it again, Miss. It’s appropriate that Doug used the phrase “ramming speed”, because that was just what the Greek and Turkish fighter planes were travelling at when they collided. This has been going on for ages. Among Greece and Turkey’s catalogue of territorial disputes is one over the line between the Athens and Istanbul Flight Information Regions, the basic units of state sovereignty in the air. The Turkish air force regularly probes the Greek air defence, and the Greek QRA (Quick Reaction Alert) is scrambled, and they try to force each other to turn away or land. A form of hypermodernist ritual combat.

It’s not new. In the cold war, Soviet aircraft would roar down the North Sea to prod the NATO radar chain, and (mostly) British and Norwegian fighters would red-alert into action to intercept them. And then the jousting would begin, often in distant corners of the Arctic seas. Both parties put a lot of effort into this; sometimes there might be US F15s from Iceland, Norwegian F-16s, British Lightnings, Phantoms or Tornados, British VC10 tankers, US KC135 tankers, British Shackleton AEW aircraft and perhaps a US or NATO multinational AWACS involved at the same time. It’s hard to escape the conclusion that this was because it was fun, something the governments would never admit and the pilots would be the first to declare with suitable gestures.

Greek-Turkish relations aren’t great, but are not bad at all compared with almost any other period except the burst of fraternity after the Turkish earthquake. So why all the drama? After all, a high rate of FIR violations has been going on for a year or so. Well, the best explanation is that it’s the internal culture and preferences of the air forces involved. If you ask fighter pilots if they’re up for a bit of supersonic aerobatics, you’re only realistically going to get one answer. Fortunately neither side has nukes, given the short distances and hence warning times involved. (Although there is an argument that it was precisely the balance of nuclear terror that meant it was possible to piss around and survive.)

The danger is that someone will take it all too seriously, which happened back in 1996 when the Greek-Turkish situation was considerably more poisonous than it is now. A Greek Mirage-2000 shot down a Turkish F-16, the only F-16 ever shot down in air-to-air combat. But the grown-ups stepped in and war was avoided. There’s only one lasting answer, of course-which group of countries with highly developed air forces and common borders don’t do this? The European Union. Greece and Turkey amply show that NATO doesn’t cut it on its own. Whe EU member states feel the need…the need for speed, they take it to somewhere like the RAF’s instrumented range in the North Sea to settle it like gentlemen.

Parents of Kurdish political refugee murdered in Turkey

There is some friction between Belgium and Turkey.

First there was the case of Fehriye Erdal, a far-left militant that was convicted last Thursday in Belgium for being a member of a criminal organisation (Turkish group DHKP-C or Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front). Trouble is, when Belgian authorities proceeded to arrest her she had disappeared. A big fuss ensued with Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gül demanding an investigation and the extradition of Erdal to Turkey.

Today another story has emerged in the Belgian press. The unlinkable VRT Teletekst reports on pages 157 and 158 that Flemish Minister of Foreign Policy Geert Bourgeois has written the Turkish ambassador to Belgium a letter asking an explanation for the murder of the parents of Derwich M. Ferho, the president of the Kurdish Institute in Brussels. Ferho’s parents were kidnapped last Thursday in Turkey and killed in what some people, notably the Kurdish Institute, suspect to be an assault by Turkish death squads and local security services. It seems that Ferho’s parents had previously been threatened by Turkish authorities because their two sons, both political refugees living in Belgium, had engaged in, and I quote from the unlinkable news item on VRT Teletekst, “anti-Turkish activities abroad”.

Geert Bourgeois has asked for an explanation and warned that there could be a problem if Derwich’s parents were indeed murdered by Turkish authorities, especially in view of Turkish negotiations to enter the EU. When Bourgeois himself was asked if there could be a link with the missing Erdal, he responded: “It would be too early to say, but I would not rule out that possibility”.

Since nothing seems to be confirmed yet… to be continued

Some Facts On Turkey And Avian Flu

As everyone keeps saying, the important thing in circumstances like these is not to panic. But the best defence against panic is information, and after that knowledge. So here goes:

1/. The flu virus was actually first detected in the laboratories of the Turkish Agriculture Ministry on December 9 2005, despite the fact that a ministry statement on the same day denied the existence of the disease in Turkey. So when I implicitly questioned the Turkish Health Ministry version in this post on 2 January it seems I was right to be sceptical.

2/. Nearly 100 people are currently receiving treatment in suspected bird flu cases across Turkey. Since there have only been 142 confirmed cases across the globe since the H5N1 strain was first identified in 2003, the New York Times is undoubtedly right to suggest that the flu is spreading faster than expected.

3/. Elizabeth Rosenthal of the NYT is however not quite right when she says that “the Ankara cases have the most alarming implications because….. it is a relatively well-off area, where it is not the norm for humans and animals to live under one roof. ” This is a misunderstanding, since on the outskirts of Istanbul there is a large Kurdish migrant population, which basically lives in shanty towns, and in shanty towns people often keep their own hens:

Five of eight chickens owned by Ramazan and Muhittin Mentes, living in a shanty house in Ikitelli, Istanbul, reportedly died one by one after the New Year. Members of the Mentes family who ate the remaining three sick birds last Tuesday were taken by ambulance to hospital after neighbors notified officials. Members of the Mentes family immigrated to Istanbul from the Baykan district of Siirt, a southeastern Turkish province, two years ago, and have been earning a living selling lemons in the street markets.

There is a blurring of boundaries here, since many of the people affected may simply live outside the formal limits of Istanbul. However, according to this article:

The Governor of Istanbul has announced quarantine measures will be applied in the areas of Istanbul within a three kilometer radius of regions where poultry samples tested positive to bird flu.

4/ The shanty-town structure is important, since it means the bird/human interface is much larger, and thus the possibility of transmission much greater. The speed of the spread may thus not be a function of virus mutation, but rather of the high ratio of birds to humans in some areas.

There is still no evidence whatever of human/human transmission, although obviously the more human cases there are, the higher the possibility of this ocurring. The most important objective, IMHO, should be to eliminate this outbreak before a more normal human flu strain arrives, since this would provide the ideal host for the kind of mutation that none of us want to see happen.

Something Seems To Be Working

According to the Turkish news agency Hürriet Turkish Deputy prime Minister and Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul spoke last night to the NTV news channel regarding:

“the recent wave of legal battles being held against Turkish intellectuals and a senior member of the European Parliament. Gul criticized the actions that were being taken under the controversial article of the country’s new penal code and said, “There seems to be a chain of systematic complaints. There appears to be a mentality deliberately aiming to create chaos.”

The FT quotes Mr Gul as saying:

“There may need to be a new law. As a government we’re watching closely how the existing laws are being implemented.”

The law in question is the one which makes it an offence to insult “Turkishness”. This law has been highlighted recently by the Orhan Pamuk case and now by the strange threat to prosecute Joost Lagendijk, a Dutch member of the European parliament, for suggesting the Turkish army provoked Kurdish rebels in the hope of extending its influence. Interestingly enough Joost Lagendijk supports Turkish membership of the EU. State prosecutors are reportedly studying the complaint against Lagendjik.

Now I have to say that not of this surprises me. Turkey is a society in transition. Fortunately the transition is from a bad equilibrium to a batter one, and we in the EU are doing our bit. I feel that Gul’s statement confounds the fears of the sceptics. In this case EU pressure will be rigourous, and change will be far reaching, but the process will, obviously, have its ups and downs.

So I was really surprised to read in the FT:

“Turkey knows that gaining entry to the EU will become an increasingly arduous task in the coming years, because of widespread antipathy inside the 25-member club towards future enlargement. “

No! Turkey gaining entry to the EU will be an arduous task because it is good for Turkey and good for the EU that it be so. If some people are using their ‘enlargement fatigue’ as an excuse for trying to make things more difficult, then they are the ones who will end up even more fatigued (and frustrated) as time after time Turkey complies with their demands.

This could be another example of shooting-yourself-in the-footism as in complying with the demands Turkey will become an increasingly modern and economically competitive society, which means, of course, that when it does join in 2014 it will, as the largest member state, have even more influence :).

Kurdish TV in Denmark

One of the many reasons I continue to support the Turkish EU accession process is because I think it will be good for human rights and democracy in Turkey, and good for the Kurds. This latest spat between Turkish prime minister Tayyip Erdogan and his Danish hosts, is simply another good example of this at work. The pressure is constantly on Turkey.

Turkish prime minister Tayyip Erdogan boycotted a joint press conference with the Danish leader in protest at the presence of a Kurdish TV station on Tuesday (15 November), highlighting European values on free speech.

“There is a fundamental difference between Turkey and Denmark in matters of freedom of expression,” the Danish prime minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen said at the press conference his Turkish counterpart avoided.

The Turkish prime minister was visiting the Danish capital Copenhagen as the first stop in a tour around EU capitals to discuss the prospects of Turkey’s EU membership. Mr Erdogan stayed away from the press conference in protest at the presence of a journalist from the Danish-based TV channel Roj TV.

Turkey has repeatedly urged Denmark to close the channel, which sends news, entertainment, debate and children’s’ programs to Kurds in Denmark, arguing it is financed by the Kurdish rebel party, the PKK, which is on the EU’s list of terrorist organisations. Danish police are investigating the station, but have not found evidence of links to forbidden organisations so far.

Source: EU Observer

Turks snubbing arranged marriage with EU?

The excellent Dutch weblog Sargasso has an entry on Turkish cult novelist Burak Turna, whose latest book The Third World War or Üçüncü Dünya Savasi is turning into a regular best-seller in Turkey. One quote from Turna, taken from the International Herald Tribune:

”Turks are waking up to two facts,” Turna said at a café near Istanbul’s bustling Taksim Square, where he was greeted like a rock star by young fans. “One is that everything told to the Turkish people by EU leaders is lies. Two, that a Muslim country will never get into an EU that doesn’t want us”.

Fair enough. However, in his novel The Third World War Turna acts out Turkish feelings of anti-EU resentment in the following way:

The year is 2010 and the European Union has rejected Turkey. Fascist governments have come to power in Germany, Austria and France and are inciting violence against resident Turks and Muslims. A vengeful Turkey joins forces with Russia and declares war against the EU. Turkish commandos besiege Berlin, obliterate Europe and take control of the Continent.

Continue reading

Luxembourg compromise.

Something is happening. Although not in Berlin, apparently. The SPD’s steering committe has not (yet officially) accepted what appeared to be an offer from Mr Schröder to pursue coalition strategies that would not include him. Since the SPD’s chairman, Franz Müntefering, explained later that the party’s goal were still a government led by Gerhard Scröder as Chancellor, Mr Schröder’s statement could also be interpreted as tactical move aimed at forcing Angela Merkel to do the same, hoping that the CDU’s more intense internal rivalry might cause her to have to live up to her proposal. Either way, much ado about nothing in Germany today – Meanwhile, in Luxembourg…
Continue reading