musings on travel, international living, development aid, politics, turkey (the country more than the meat) and anything else that comes to mind...

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Why Turkey's EU accession talks should end

Over five years ago (my goodness, has it been that long?) I wrote my masters thesis on some of the changes happening in Turkey and the importance of the continued involvement of the military in politics to preserve Turkey's sacred secularism. All this was discussed within the context of EU accession talks looked upon skeptically by generals and enthusiastically by the government who knew that EU-mandated 'reforms' would eventually curb the influence of their nemeses in uniform.

(I don't expect anyone to read the entire document that is gathering dust in my storage unit and on my parent's shelf in Ankara, so the thesis is summarized in an article (found here) published the subsequent year.)

Almost exactly one year ago, I published another two-part article that expressed grave concern over a referendum that resulted in a further decrease in the Turkish military's involvement in politics. From an outsider's perspective perhaps you might think that's a good thing. As a 50% outsider, 50% Turk, I 100% do not. Although not uniquely responsible, that referendum could not have happened without strong support from the west. Many western leaders even congratulated Erdogan on the results, praising the "vibrancy of Turkish democracy" that it showed. I only hope that this was 'diplomatic speak' that included some embedded secret code exposing what this truly means for Turkey.

So today I'd like to turn my attentions back to the west - specifically the European Union. I will be thanking them for their pigheadedness, periodic xenophobia, and overall lack of desire to ever have Turkey included in their midst. Congratulations to the EU on being used as tools of a highly effective incumbent Turkish political machine that arguably never wanted to join in the first place.

Five years ago I wrote that "it is the Turkish military’s stabilizing role in politics that troubles Europeans because they overlook the fact that it is the military they attempt to reform that is the protector of the democratic ideals they want to perpetuate." This lack of understanding of Turkey's (shall we say former?) style of democracy - one that promoted democratic participation while at the same time curbing fundamentalism - has been systematically and wholeheartedly exploited by Prime Minister Erdogan and his political cronies.

Even before Turkey's military brass resigned en masse this July, it's influenced had been seriously waning thanks to 'reforms' championed under the guise of EU accession and culminating in the aforementioned game-changing referendum of 2010. This left many Turks throwing their hands up in the air in despair and others (foolishly) hoping that the EU would come to the rescue after having seen the true nature of Turkey's Islamist leaders and, subsequently, the follies of their ways. Alas, no such luck.

To their credit, a few European leaders (not to mention Obama) have potentially seen the writing on the wall. Although it's been a while since we've heard similar rhetoric from him, British PM David Cameron expressed anger at the slow pace of negotiations with Turkey in mid 2010. Undoubtedly he sees the massive cultural and political expansion of Turkey into the Arab world as troubling. Potentially useful if Turkey chooses to play in the European proverbial sandbox... potentially disastrous if they choose instead to settle in the actual sandbox to the south.

I used to be afraid of what Arabs would think of me (as someone who looks/speaks like a Westerner) after the Iraq war started, only to realize that all I had to do was tell them I was Turkish... voila, we were instant family! "I love [insert name of stereotypical Turkish melodrama here]! It's my dream to go to Turkey!"

Gone are the days of Turkish isolationism towards the Arab world (not a terrible trend in my opinion - I'm a fan of dealing with your neighbors whomever they may be). Unfortunately, gone also are the days where Turkey was seen as a natural partner with the west. Cameron must have sensed that the EU is losing Turkey. Very savvy of him, albeit a little late in the game.

Of course it is easy to blame Erdogan for incessant manipulation and his fundamentalist sheep for devouring his every populist word. Trust me, it's easy - I've done it before. But quite frankly, I would expect nothing less of any intelligent, politically adept, power-hungry Islamist given the right opportunity. His ability to control all parts of government, and now the military, is awe-inspiring and terrifying; but he didn't do this alone. By effectively hiding behind the EU's initial support to his brand of 'moderate Islam' and their desire to see the military's role decreased, he was able to build what appears to be an unstoppable empire. All this while continuing to have the overt support of many in the west, including (until recently) many in the western media. Quite an impressive accomplishment when you think about it.

He needed the Europeans' help in achieving his vision of utter domination of Turkish politics and integration of fundamental Islam into all facets of life. Ironically, he probably suspected (as I did at the time - hence the thesis) that the EU never wanted Turkey in their midst in the first place, so selectively agreeing with their calls for political military reform played right into his hands.

Given the political chaos that has characterized the EU essentially since it's inception and the general malaise towards Turkey among Europeans, I guess I shouldn't be surprised that they've been an easy pawn for the politically savvy Erdogan.

But it's time for a change. Enough is enough.


Dear EU,

Please end accession talks for Turkey. Now. Today.

Turkey's economy is stronger than yours and you don't seem to realize how much you and your declining birth rates need us anyways. Despite this, if your people/politicians don't want Turkey for whatever reason and it's unlikely that accession will ever take place (c'mon, don't deny it), don't continue negotiations. Doing so only perpetuates a situation whereby you are being manipulated for the political gain of Islamic fundamentalists in Turkey and potentially even fomenting more anti-European sentiment among the immigrant populations in your own countries... don't you see the irony?

Don't worry, I will still stop by periodically to enjoy your food, public transportation and funny accents. You won't get rid of me that easily.

Yours truly,


Thursday, September 15, 2011

Turkey's Leaders are Getting More Ridiculous by the Hour

I'm going to limit my ranting on this post for the benefit of all humanity. If you're interested in my views on what Turkish politics is turning into, see a previous rant.

Gareth Jenkins recently posted a well-researched academic-style article on the ridiculousness that is the current slew of bogus accusations being thrown at the Turkish military and some prominent civilians. He summarizes his article as follows:
Since it was launched in June 2007, the Ergenekon investigation has become the largest and most controversial case in recent Turkish history, resulting in over 300 people being charged with a membership of what is described as a clandestine terrorist organization seeking to destabilize the country’s Islamist government. In the parallel Sledgehammer investigation, 195 members of the fiercely secularist Turkish military stand accused of plotting a coup in 2003. Yet not only is the evidence in both cases deeply flawed, there are also increasing indications that much of it has been fabricated.
The full article can be found here: I highly recommend it.

Don't get me wrong, the Turkish military hasn't always played by the rules. Their utter devotion to Ataturk (i.e. Kemalism) has included some instances where they are advancing their own ideas under the cloak of Kemalism - not unlike the technique used by fanatics who distort largely peaceful religious texts to justify holy war.

In fact, when I heard initially that they were accused of planning a coup against the Islamic government some years ago, I wasn't terribly surprised. I'm sure there were discussions about what to do if Erdogan and his cronies continued to derail nearly 100 years of progress. I would expect nothing less of the military commanders. But what they're being accused of here is not discussions over a glass or two of raki. They've being accused of actively planning a military coup to overthrow a democratically elected government.

In this case the military most likely did nothing wrong other than a few war games (which all well-prepared militaries do) and contingency plans. As time has gone by and more 'evidence' has emerged from the cases, the ridiculousness of the allegations are becoming more and more apparent. Thinking of the hundreds of people (including active duty military leaders) that are in jail on phantom charges gives me the same sensation Midnight Express gave to many back in the '70s.

They shouldn't be there.

To me, this is a clear tactic used by the ruling AKP (or JDP as Jenkins refers to them in his article) to quell any opposition to their continued expansion of conservative Islam already permeating all levels of Turkish government. The biggest opposition to any kind of radicalism (may it be Islamic, leftist, or any other) has traditionally been the staunchly Kemalist military, many of whose leaders are now in jail or recently quit out of protest.

I'm still wondering what the tipping point will be. When is enough... well... enough?

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Notes from the Somali Border

Actually I was actually about 100km from the border in the Somali Region of Ethiopia, but I got your attention didn't I?

By way of background, my NGO has been doing an assessment of people's needs in the Horn of Africa. If you haven't heard that there's a drought in that part of the world, turn off CNN and switch to Al Jazeera. Trust me, you won't go back.

Needless to say, people in the Somali region are hurting. It hasn't rained at all in over a year and their already precarious pastoralist lifestyle gets more difficult each day rain doesn't come. They need water, food, money, access to healthcare, etc. You name it, they probably need it. Well, maybe not an xbox 360. They don't need that. 

But enough serious stuff. We'll be compiling a snazzy needs assessment document; in case anyone is interested just let me know.

Instead of writing a summary of my trip which might or might not bore you to tears (if you're a tree-hugging bleeding heart expat humanitarian aid worker you... well... you probably cry about everything anyways so no harm done), I've broken the trip down into special little quips that will hopefully elucidate some of the ridiculousness that essentially sums up 'normal' life for me right now.

On time
Apparently the Somalis closely follow the Ethiopian clock which I sadly didn't even know existed because most 'highlanders' (i.e. folks from Addis Ababa and other non-desert areas of Ethiopia) in Addis have mostly adjusted to the western clock. Not so with our Somali friends. So here's how it works: Our 7am is their 1am. Their day starts at 1am. So our today is still their yesterday until the minute after 6:59am our time. Got it?

On marriage
"What, you're not married? Ok. When you go home you have to make a plan for marriage." - the driver

On Islam & marriage
"Oh, your father is Muslim? Does he have 4 wives?" - same driver who, as an aside, is waiting for us to get another project so that he can 'take' another wife. He apparently only has one so far. As an aside to the aside, in retrospect I should've told him that my mother is the only woman my dad can handle or, depending on who you talk to, is the only woman who can handle my dad.

On telecommunication
If you want to truly travel to the end of the telecommunications universe, I recommend travel to the middle of the Pacific Ocean or the WFP compound in Gode. You can expect similar levels of connectivity to the outside world in either instance.

On light
Always bring a flashlight (or a torch as the Brits would say) to a place where electricity comes on for 4 hours each day. Doh.

On dinner
I was fortunate enough to have several amazing meals with our staff, each one more decadent than the last. 3 things struck me: 1. this is a ton of food, hopefully they're giving the leftovers to the whole neighborhood (turns out they were), 2. it's definitely more uncomfortable when the women who prepared the feast can't enjoy it with you, and 2. goat can be prepared in quite a few different ways.

On divorce
"I don't get you Americans. When you divorce the woman gets half." Yes, that is the common practice in our society. "That's dumb, she didn't earn the money so why should she get it if I divorce her?" - random staff member who apparently looks a lot like some rapper I've never heard of called Big Show; which is quite amusing because according to my cursory google search just now, Big Show is an overweight Caucasian WWE wrestler who has dabbled in rap. I tried to argue with him about this one then finally gave up when I started getting a headache.

On diplomacy
"Didn't you know, Israel is funding al Shabab so that Somalia can be destabilized?" - also Big Show. To which I responded... huh? Don't worry, he couldn't even remotely back that one up.

On camel milk
Yes. I had some. Yes, it was warm. No, it did not have a lasting effect on my digestive system (as was promised by our local staff).

On pastoralism
"Do you have pastoralists in America?" - another staff member. They're quite vocal those Somalis. Yes, I replied, but where I come from we call them cowboys.