Addict (drugaddict) wrote,

News from Turkey

Esteemed correspondents,

 In preparation for our June 2008 ten-day cruise on the Aegean from
Bodrum to Cesme, I sent our shipmates some findings from the three week
stay my wife and I recently had in Turkey.

 I have excised those portions dealing specifically with the cruise
itself, but thought that some overall impressions we had might be of
interest to you.

Collegial warm regards,


*News from Turkey*

_Recent Turkish Political History_

    As many of you may well know, the parliamentary elections in Turkey
of July 24th returned the Islamic party, AKP [/Adalet ve Kalkinma
Partisi/ -- Justice and Development Party] to a reinforced majority in
the Turkish Parliament.  In  the 2002 elections, the AKP gained 34% of
the seats, which, because of peculiarities in the Turkish electoral law,
gave the party a controlling majority; in 2007 they raised their
percentage to 46%.  Why?

    First of all, because Turkey has been doing extremely well
economically in the last five years, both because of the pro-business
policies of the AKP, and because of extraneous world circumstances.  Our
business-oriented Turkish friends voted for the AKP largely because of
this.  Those close Turkish friends who did not vote for the AKP
abstained.  They abstained because there is _ no_ credible opposition
party in Turkey today.  The old, corrupt and ineffective, center-left
and center-right parties have no significant support in the country.
[The AKP won in 80 of the 81 Turkish provinces; it lost only in Izmir,
where Atatürk's old party, the / Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi/ (Republican
People's Party) came out ahead.]

Secondly, the political pendulum in Turkey in recent years has
swung to the ascendancy of workers and peasants, largely from the
heartland of Anatolia, from the so-called / beyaz Türkler/ ("white
Turks", presumably because the did not get their hands dirty in their
occupations as doctors, teachers and professors, lawyers, bankers,
industrialists, etc).  Thus, the parliamentary elections of 2002,
reinforced by those of 2007, has been as much a _ class_ change in
Turkey as a religious change.

    In its first five-year mandate, the AKP operated in a political
milieu where checks and balances to its executive and parliamentary
powers were provided by a strongly secular president of  the republic,
Ahmet Necdet Sezer, previously the Chief Justice of the Turkish
Constitutional Court.  Sezer's term as president came to an end in May
2007, but because of political disagreement, he only abandoned the
position on August 28th of this year.  Under the Turkish Constitution of
1982, the Parliament, not the public, elects the president, and Abdullah
Gül, one of the principal leaders of the AKP, and Foreign Minister
during the AKP's first mandate, was elected on August 28th to the

    While the president of Turkey has nowhere near the powers of most
western presidents, his powers, under the Constitution of 1982, are
significant.  He appoints the Chief of the Turkish General Staff.  He
appoints the members of YOK, the Higher Educational Council, which in
turn appoints the rectors and deans of Turkish universities.  And, he
appoints the members of the Turkish Constitutional Court.  Sezer
utilized all of these powers effectively to block actions by the AKP
Executive and Parliament which measures Sezer considered contrary to the
policies of Atatürk.  Sezer thus kept in check AKP measures aimed at
diminishing the secular state of the nation.  Gül, of course, will not
follow Sezer's path.

    Gül is considerably more suave and less confrontational than the
AKP leader and prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.  [Erdogan, indeed,
spent time in Turkish prison as a result of a speech he made while Mayor
of Istanbul in which he stated "Our (the Islamists') bayonets are our
minarets".]  Gül will be more cautious about taking steps which could
arouse the Turkish military or the many Turkish secularists who still
firmly defend the separation of church and state in that country.  Two
interesting recent examples of this:

         A.       At the reception Gül held in the Presidential Palace
in Çankaya (Ankara) to mark his accession to office, his wife -- who
wears the / turban (/headscarf) -- as well as all other women who
normally would be similarly dressed, were not in attendance.  [The
Presidential Palace is considered a government office, where the /
turban/ is forbidden, as it is in the schools of the country.]

         B.  At a later reception, this one for journalists, in the
same building,/ mirabile dictu/, alcohol was served.

   _ Current Turkish Attitudes Towards the USA and Americans

    The popularity of America and Americans has never been so low as it
currently is in Turkey.

    A Gallop/Pew poll of Turks in 2000 found that 52% of those polled
were favorably disposed toward the USA and Americans.  This poll was
repeated in March of 2007, and the figure had fallen to 12% -- a
decrease of forty percentage points in seven years.  I would guess that
the figure has dropped further over the last six months.

    The US is unfavorably viewed in Turkey for a number of reasons, viz.:

         A.  Its invasion of Iraq in 2003, which all or most Turks
consider a totally unjustified invasion of a fellow Muslim state by an
arrogant and callous superpower.

         B.  The US failure to take any steps in the summer of 2006 to
stop the Israeli invasion of southern Lebanon, and the wanton
destruction of much of Lebanese superstructure -- including numerous
civilian targets unconnected to Hamas -- by Israeli warplanes, cluster
bombs, etc.  The general feeling in Turkey, with which I agree, is that
the US not only approved of, but probably actively supported the Israeli

         C.  Deeply seated belief  -- totally erroneous, by the way
--by the Turkish populace that the US is supporting the PKK Kurdish
terrorists who run murderous raids into southeastern Turkey from the
Qandil mountain ranges in northwestern Iraq.  [I did not myself see it,
but I have been told of a poster in Beyoglu, Istanbul, which states
"America is the Killer of / Mehmetcik/".  {/Mehmetcik/ is the Turkish
equivalent of the American "GI Joe".}]

         D.  The favorable vote earlier this year by the Foreign
Affairs Committee of the US House of Representatives on a resolution
condemning the "Armenian Genocide" in Turkey in the second decade of the
twentieth century.  Fortunately, the bill was quietly withdrawn by
Speaker Pelosi, but it will be back again next spring.

    That's the bad news.  The good news is that our personal Turkish
friends still love us. And, in the course of the three weeks, we
frequently ran into Turks whom we did not know who would, after a few
pleasantries in Turkish, ask us where we were from.  I would reply, in
Turkish, "We are Americans, but we bear no responsibility whatsoever for
George W. Bush".  Inevitably, this would bring a laugh, and everything
was fine.

    We went once to that superb Sultanahmet fish restaurant, Balikçi
Sabahattin, eponymously named after its founder and owner, Sabahattin
Bey.  The latter came up to greet us after we entered the restaurant,
and said to us "You have not been here for two years", which was both
accurate and incredibly surprising.

_Manifestation of the Growing Importance of Islam in Turkey_

    In Sultanahmet, south of the Golden Horn in Istanbul, I would
estimate that 50% of the non-tourist, and therefore Turkish women were
wearing the/ turban/ .  This was far, far higher than during our last
trip to the country, three years ago.  I would assume that this
percentage would be considerably lower in Beyoglu (European Istanbul),
north of the Golden Horn, but cannot confirm this, as we only went into
Beyoglu briefly twice during our visit, and one of these visits was at

    In an afternoon and evening in Izmir, I saw NO/ turban. / We were,
however, almost entirely in an upmarket area of the city.  AND, in
Anatolia, Izmir is widely known as / Gâvur Izmir/ ("Infidel Izmir"), as
it is really more of a European, Aegean city than a Turkish one.

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