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Islam Without Extremes: Interview with Turkish Political Commentator and Media Personality Mustafa Akyol

October 9, 2011 (EC)–Mustafa Akyol is a Turkish political commentator and author based in Istanbul, Turkey. In Turkish, “Akyol” literally means “the white path.” Akyol was born in 1972 in Ankara, where he also completed his primary education. His secondary education was completed at the Istanbul Nisantasi British High School, and undergraduate and graduate work at the Bosphorus University. His master thesis was on the Kurdish question.

Since 2002, Akyol has been a regular commentator in the Turkish media. He is currently a regular columnist forHurriyet Daily News, Turkey’s foremost English-language daily. In addition to the English daily, he writes a regular column for the Turkish-language daily Star. He has appeared regularly on Turkish TV; and, served as a speaker or panelist on many platforms, including various universities and think-tanks in the United States, Europe and the Middle East. His talk “Faith Versus Tradition in Islam,” at TED has been widely acclaimed.

Over the years, Akyol’s articles have appeared in numerous publications such as Foreign Affairs, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, International Herald Tribune,Newsweek, The American Interest, First Things, The Weekly Standard, The Washington Times, The American Enterprise Magazine , Huffington Post, National Review Online, The Forward, Tech Central Station, Bitter Lemons and IslamOnline.

How do you, Mustafa Akyol, define your identity? What has influenced or shaped your identity?

I am a liberal Muslim, which means politically liberal and Muslim in faith. Thus, there are two main factors that shape my identity. The first one is being Muslim. I have been a religious person since I was a little kid; this is my primal identity. My grandfather had a tremendous influence on my life when I was young. In addition to participating in religious groups like Nurcular, I read and studied many sources and the Qu’ran. Religion has always attracted me.

The other factor that shaped who I am today is my political identity. In 1990s, I believed a political model could be formed based on Islam. However, as the time passed, I realized this was not possible. There are other political models in the world that exist. After some trials, I came to believe that the best model is a liberal democracy. I believe in and defend liberal democracy and a free market economy. I do not think it is contrary to my religious views. Actually, I believe it is in sync with my religion, which is what I have sought to explain via my books and essays.

Liberalism is not all about my life-style. I think that people’s ways of practicing their religion and their political views have to be in accord with each other all the time. For instance, I do not believe that being religious implies having a dress code. Consequently, I do not believe Islam has a dress code either. Some people ask me if the liberal people fast less compared to other Muslims. This is irrelevant because religion is within our soul; it is not about how you live. A Liberal Muslim should advocate that people have freedom of belief. Being a traditional Muslim does not pull you away from believing in democracy and liberalism. What really matters is to respect people who do not identify themselves as Muslim. It is about what people feel within themselves about religion.

Could you tell us about your books and their contents?

My first book was “Reconsidering the Kurdish Problem”, which was published in 2006. It was concerned with answering the questions about the mistakes made and what should be done in the future. That book was originally my master thesis and it analyzed the mistakes of both the Turkish and Kurdish sides. Many open-minded Turks and most Kurdish people, except the PKK supporters, supported the book.

I was interviewed by Enver Sezgin after this book, which was published in a book, titled “Kurdish Problem In The Dawn of Solution”. I also have published a book called “Informal Recent History,” which is a compilation of my newspaper essays. “The Benefits of Blending Religion with Earthly Business” was a criticism of Turkish secularism. Another is called “The White Turks, The Black Turks and The Mountain Kurds,” which critiqued Kemalism, conservationism and the Kurdish mind. Thus, I have five books published, and my most significant is my last on called “Islam Without Extremes”. It was published in the US, but I believe it will globally have more meaning because of its subject.

You have lectured quite a bit in a variety of platforms and venues outside of Turkey. Why do you think you were given this opportunity? What makes you different?

I am a columnist and write in English. Since 2004, I have been writing for different magazines in the USA. This exposure, especially when writing about Islam, has piqued the interest of people and led to conference invitations. It is the sequence of the happenings: People get interested, they invite me, new people listen to me speaking, and they invite me to other places and so on. It all develops a network.

There are two different but parallel contents in my speeches: I am expected to declare my views relevant to Turkish politics and I am expected to talk about Islam. Turkey’s becoming more effective and significant in the world of Islam coincided with those two subjects. I have 8-9 lectures planned in US; I’ll be at Barnes & Noble in Redlands, CA on October 5, in Peace Catalyst, Seattle First Free Methodist Church, on October 6; Discovery Institute, Seattle on October 7; Anatolian Cultures Festival, Costa Mesa, CA on October 8&9; Cato Institute, Washington DC on October 13 and Heritage Foundation, Washington DC on October 17.

Some of these lectures are about my books and others about the recent political happenings in Turkey. Then, I will head out to London to speak at the National Liberty Club. I will be going to Saudi Arabia and Israel afterward.

There are many reviews published in recognized media outlets outside of Turkey regarding your last book , titled “Islam Without Extremes”. Why do you think there has been such attention?

The west has interest in Islam, both in a good and a bad way. Islam has become a main part of the agenda after September 11. There is politics of Islam, an Islam world, and fear of Islam. There is a big crowd who are not phobic, but curious about the religion. There is anxiety, which is caused by the authoritarian, repressing administrations and terror in the Islam world. There is criticism of the West within the West.

I am trying to tell relevant things to people and debate against Islamophobia by bringing my experiences from Turkey, since I am an author in that country. For the last 10 years or so, there has been a big debate in the US. I believe I contribute to this on-going debate through my publications, but as an author from Turkey.

What are your messages conveyed in your writings on Islamophobia and for which audience?

What I say to the West is that there are problems in the Islamic world, but not all of them are caused by Islam. There are dictatorships in many Islamic countries, but this is not a product of Islam; it is the result of the structures relevant to the location. There is violence against women, but this is the problem of macho men and male-domination. These problems are not caused by Islam; violence against women exists in the West as well. It exists in the Christian communities of both west and east. These problems are caused by local culture. I am explaining to the west that they are partially responsible in the creation of radical Islam. These are definitely consequences of the unlimited support to Israel ,and to the dictatorships against as well as the rough politics towards the East. At the same time, I accept that Islamic thought needs reform. I especially try to transmit that message to the Muslim world. What I say is “I, as a Muslim, am very loyal to my word and this is a very precious thing that will last eternally”.

Could you interpret the term “ijtihad” ?

Before we get to ijtihad, I’d like to state that the first few centuries of Islam is a period when significant debates were ongoing. It is an orthodox tradition that has settled afterwards. I reviewed some of those debates in my book, especially the ones relevant to the concept of freedom. There is a debate between People of Reasoning and People of Tradition. People of Reasoning believe in the Qu’ran and the mind. They are led by Imam Azam Abu Hanifa. The other group, People of Tradition, disbelieve and distrust the mind and believe it is misleading people. They desire to limit human rights by looking to or finding reference in the ‘hadith’. They emphasize the importance of hadith in Islam. The hadith began to be collected two hundred years after the death of Muhammed.

First of all, it is very suspicious that the hadith found are trustworthy. Secondly, even if it is discovered that the prophet actually was doing something in a specific way, it should not be forgotten that it is very historical. For instance, one hadith states that “The Prophet ate seven dates every morning”. The question is should this activity be taken as an Islamic norm, just because the prophet was doing this; or should we say that he was doing whatever everybody was doing? The simplest example of this is the clothing. For instance, the shape of the beard based on sunnah-based reasoning, the clothes, use of “misvak” etc. I do respect people who choose to live that way.

Has local interpretations formed after the Prophet? Are there any arbitrary enforcements?

First , there are prohibitions that are out of the scope of verdict of the Qur’an; and, second, there is tendency of interpreting the verdict of the Qur’an in the way people want. It is inevitable for people to interpret it differently from each other. Let’s say I am a liberal person and I have an interpretation, and someone else is authoritarian. There is apart in the Qur’an that says, “Command the good, ban the evil”. Authoritarians say “Yes, that is what we do, we ban the evil, we command the good”. But that quotation does not necessarily mean imposing is the way to achieve this end. There is another part saying, “There is no forcing in the religion”, but they ignore it and somehow see the other.

Many Muslims agreed that democracy is appropriate for Islam in the modern age, but no one had stated that in the 18th century. This is because democracy was not a part of the agenda. Inevitably, we all live up to the values of the time we live in and we interpret the religion with that perspective. What I want to emphasize is that the writers whom have written the books we sanctify, were interpreting the religion with their own time’s perspective. It’s impossible for Imam Hanbal, Şhafi and Malik, whom have lived in 9th-10th century, to develop a perspective for democracy. They tried to expand the political perspective of Islam, bringing up terms like the School Of War and School Of Islam. Anywhere not governed by Muslims is seen as a battlefield. One would not be able to go to Byzantine and live freely as a Muslim at that time, but today Muslims can go to US, UK etc and live freely as a Muslim because of the law within a democracy has developed this ability. As we see, it is inevitable for Islam to comprehend Islam once again. I respect the old understandings, but if we try to carry on with them we will make mistakes.

The Qur’an focuses on the individual and does not emphasize the collective very much. What is the place of congregations in Islam?

The Qur’an, like I stated in my book, focuses on the individual. The individual has responsibilities to Allah. It also appeals to the crowd of believers, but we should note that this crowd is led by the Prophet. There is just one reality and no such reality afterwards. There are some properties given to the crowd of believers, but there are 1.5 billion Muslims in the world today and it is impossible to carry on with this definition of the “crowd of believers”.

The Qur’an says obey the Prophet. He is not alive at the moment and nobody was authorized after his death. The understanding of “congregation” has risen after the Qur’an. For example, it says every individual is going to account for himself, but in the post-Qur’an period the idea of intercession has been empowered. Of course Muslim people are allowed to form congregations among themselves; it is acceptable to gather around an idea, form an understanding of service, publish a newspaper or establish a charity organisation. But to believe in a congregation, saying it’s the only right way to practice Islam, saying everybody outside of the congregation is deviant or believing, it is necessary to engage in a congregation, is wrong. I might feel like one congregation close to myself, I might learn something from it and after a while change my mind and leave it. This cannot be a religious responsibility. Religious responsibility is to Allah; it cannot be an individual. I believe the conception of congregation in Islamic world should loosen up a lot more.

When we examine the sectarian differences, we see variance among application. The first thing to come to mind is “Either the Prophet was doing all or he wasn’t doing any of this.”. What do you think about that?

This is pretty much impossible to know, as hadith books were written almost 200 years after the Prophet’s death. The authors of these books argue that they picked the precise happenings, but the understanding of the authors is subjective. We do respect their work, but Muslims, just like they suspect Bible considering it may not be accurate seventy years after Jesus’s death, should have a critical approach towards these texts, which have many conflicts within. I am not implying the hadith has no importance at all, but they are historical resources and may or may not be accurate. The Qu’ran is different; it has a sacred position.

Islamic Reformists in 19th century started their work by criticizing the hadiths. Shariah is based 95% on hadiths, especially the rules debated in the modern world such as the death penalty for abandoning Islam, repressing women and treating them like second class human beings, or on physical punishments. They do not exist in the Qur’an. There are some punishments, but in my opinion there is none for sins. This is what I am explaining in my book. There is punishment for crime but not for individual sins. The Qur’an says “do not drink wine,” but no punishment exists for engaging in this behavior. Thus, in my book, I am talking about the freedom of sinning. The Ulema decided that some behavior must be punished at the time, but we need to focus on the now and understanding in today’s world.

You are talking about the freedom of sinning, can you explain that a little?

In fact, it is a notion that even the President of Religious Works has used, so I mentioned it in my book. When I say freedom of sinning, people tend to think sinning is a good thing! What I am asking to the community is, shall religious Muslims physically stop other people from sinning? I mean, shall I tell a gambler not to gamble, or shall I think it’s his choice, and not get involved? Shall I say “Muslim brother, you shall not do this…” ?Do I have any responsibility for enforcement? Shall there be prohibitions? There are some enforcements and punishments in Islam, but these are not based on the Qur’an, which means they are post-Qur’an and need to be questioned. These prohibitions lead us to hypocrisy.

People who practice all the religious responsibilities, who are prohibited from certain things, begin to conduct their religion by government and societal pressure. They get away from doing it for the consent of Allah. These prohibitions raise questions such as “Do people go to the mosque for the consent of Allah or because they are frightened of the police?” Saudi Arabia is the simplest example to this: People are taken to the mosques by police during prayer time. You cannot run verses of the Qur’an by government pressure.

You say the ideal regime for Muslims is secular regime. How should we interpret that? How do you define secularism?

Yes, I said that but I don’t mean the usual, traditional, Kemalist secularism. I distinguished this in my book by defining two concepts–one being the “secular state” and the other being a “secularist state”. Secularist interferes with your religious service by trying to make you less religious. It does not lock the mosques but does not like the Qur’an courses. It tells you not to send your kids to those courses before a certain age. This is wrong, and I am against this. This is traditional secularism in Turkey. Liberal secularism is a good thing. The fact that government is not defined by a religion permits individuals and congregations to develop their own religious views. From this aspect, Prime Minister Erdoğan’s defending secularism in the Arabic world was very good. I liked it.

You talk of a third way in “Islam Without Extremes”. What is the third way?

Third way is about the name of the book. Two opposite groups came across each other in 20th century. The first was secular dictated. Even though they don’t define themselves as secular, Hüsnü Mübarek was a secular character. As in İran, the new secular and Islamic authorities clashed. Like the national view in Kemalism, this also has an authoritarian vision. However, the advantage in Turkish version is that the National View stayed among a small branch of a thought. Democratic Islamic thought formed and found its address in the central right, evolving toward an Islamic democracy. On the contrary, the Islamists that Mubarek repressed became more radical. This led to terror entering the picture. The compromising way, therefore, is a third way that lay between authoritarian secularism and authoritarian Islam. Beyond the Islamic understanding, the third way is at peace with both democracy and Islamic values. I believe Turkey is the best example of that.

There are 3 parts in the book: “freedom of states”, “freedom of sinning” and “freedom in religion”. In the first chapter, I state that secularism is an acceptable and appropriate regime for Islam. In the second chapter, I argue that no religion should be imposed. In the third, I explain that people should have the right to abandon and live their lives outside of Islam. All three of these are already widely accepted in Turkey. A secular state that is not pressuring and liberal secularism, which is what AK Party is defending. “People can sin if they want , we live with our own religion. Or people could be Christians or atheists but they must be safe and free in this community”. These are all argued and accepted in the Ottoman State as well. Ottoman intellectuals, such as Namık Kemal and Prens Sabahattin are of this view too. They want liberalism, but they think there are Islamic grounds to it. That tradition becomes forgotten in time and a strict Kemalism takes over. Islamists become poorer in ideas, their language gets more radical but they cannot hold on. Fortunately , the democratic main position which defended epistles of Nur prevailed. Is Turkey perfect? No. Turkey’s situation should not be exaggerated but it is in a very good place in comparison to other countries.

Can you share your observations about other Islamic countries?

I have been in the Arab countries in the last 10 years, but I cannot say I know their internal structures very well. I read the debates about political Islam and secularism in Arab world and we developed our relationship with Arab intellectuals only via interactions. Therefore, I cannot say my book draws a very detailed picture of the Islamic world. Some people say they oppose the Islamic Movement of Egypt. That is not me; I read, I follow from the media what they think, what are the debates about democracy in the Arab world, how do they see Turkey and etc.

How do you think they see Turkey?

There is a lot of attention directed at Turkey in the Arab world. More modernist and reformist of the Islamic movements in the Arab countries take AK Party as a model. I do not say all the Islamists do this, but there is a reformist and a traditional group among the Muslim brothers and sisters in Egypt. The group that reacted to Erdoğan’s secularism lecture is the traditional group. Some of those traditional groups actually broke and founded more liberal parties such as WASAT. The change in that direction in countries like Egypt, Tunisia or Libya cannot happen in one day. Just like in Turkey, it will happen step-by-step; they have a tendency to change. There are people who admire Erdoğan and want to be like him among the members of PAS, which is the Islamic Party of Malasyia. There is another group calling themselves Erbakan-followers. Turkey is the best example in converting Islamism into democracy. As one part of that movement follows Tukey with interest, another group tries to avoid thinking that Turkey is too liberal for them. Even in Turkey, there is a Muslim crowd thinking AK Party is a little too deviant, arguing that it made Turkey too capitalist, too democratic and modern.

“Law” is a very important factor for a liberal view. Does it coincide with Islam or your expression “liberal Muslim”?

There are parts in my book which I debated about the general, universal definition of Law. Is law something government makes or does it exist prior to the government, which the latter must follow? Positive law is something government makes, and natural law exists without the government; government has to obey it. It is not true to believe whatever the government does is right. There are certain rights and wrongs, which are universal and government obeys them. Liberalism naturally defends law. For instance, Hitler made laws and killed Jewish people; this cannot be justified just because it was law created by government. This is why we have universal human rights and governments are expected to obey them. This is what the liberalism of the West defends and the definition that coincides with this in Islam is Shariah. Shariah is a law above the government. For instance, the government cannon just come and take over my wealth because, by Shariah, that belongs to me and the government has to obey that law. The main idea of the Shariah is that law is something Allah created, grounded in the Qur’an and details of which were left to be discovered by humans. Fairness is a concept beyond government and state.

Kemalists in Turkey argue that law serves the state, but in fact state serves the law. Shariah is way beyond the government because it takes power from Allah, a divine source. When a sultan has been cruel to the public in the Ottoman Empire, the people yell “We want Shariah!”. This means “ We want justice!”. Once upon a time, a Muslim Emir levies a very high tax on Hindus in India. The head of Islamic structure at the time says “You can’t. It is against the Shariah.” Yavuz Sultan Selim tries to convert the Christians to Islam by force and the religious leader says, “They have the right to stay Christian by

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the Shariah. “Şeyhülislam, Sheikh ulIslam,” is like the constitutional court at the time, so the sultan cannot do whatever he wants.

The question we need to consider then is what is Shariah. Is it a group of laws formed in 7th and 8th centuries or is it the meaning and goal of it? There are two different understandings; one says it is just what the word says and the other argues it is the meaning behind the words. Imam Shafi, who lived in the 14th century, has a theory called the Intentions of Shariah. He says in that theory that Shariah has five main goals: to protect the life, to protect the religion, to protect the ownership, to protect the will and to protect the mind. These are the main factors that form a state of law. Are these goals universal? Yes. The ways of conducting those could change from time to time. In the old times, it was impossible to build a prison. If you employed a guardian, it would be torture for the guardian. That is why there were physical punishments in the first times of Islam; it is the same all around the world. The prison was founded in the time of Hz. Ömer. The physical punishments changed by interpretation and stoning someone to death does not even really exist in Islam. There has only been two stoning cases in the Ottoman Empire. The verdict of Shariah can and should change; the physical punishments of the time can be replaced by imprisoning.

What are the similarities and differences between Europe’s and US’s perspectives towards Islam?

Europe and the US are both pretty consistent internally, but if we compare them with each other, being religious is less accepted in Europe. It is weird for them to see a woman wearing a head scarf and praying because Europe is much more secular. Americans respect religion more than Europeans. I like the US because of their respect for belief. The US is polarized toward Israel, while the European countries are more neutral. If you ask about the middle east and politics and closeness to Israel, the US is bad. However, in the aspect of respect for religion, the US is far better. For instance, the prohibition of the Burka was not considered in US but it is banned in France. To place the UK near the US (both because of respect for religion and not being so close to Israel) would probably be a good synthesis of two continents.

You mentioned Israel, do you mind sharing your thoughts about Mavi Marmara incident?

I do sympathize with the Mavi Marmara mission and I classify the seige on Gaza as illegitimate. I support the Gazza mission. There were Europeans, Irish and others on the boat as well. The Turkish government has my full support; Israel must apologize and pay a compensation. The only debatable point is how should the activists on the boat have resisted when the Israeli soldiers came on board? The activists could have resisted passively like the others, thus resulting in no casualties. I curse Israel for shooting Furkan Doğan in the head with five bullets an killing nine activists. To prevent any further casualties, I believe the activists should have stopped instead of going on with their active resistance. I do believe that the activists had the right do defend their boat, but I am not debating their rights here. I am questioning what could be done to prevent casualties. Was it rightful of Hamas to throw a rocket to Israel? Well I think so, but I prefer not doing it; they should try solving their problem via cultural, diplomatic and political means.

What is your message to the world?

I advise Muslims to look at the religion with the perspective of today’s world. Values of Islam are universal but their interpretation is historical. There are many historical interpretations which do not fit in today’s understanding, such as “kill people who abandon religion” etc. You cannot move forward with a logic that accepts this kind of statements. As free Muslims, I believe we should be loyal to our values and represent them as well as we can. You cannot explain the goodness of Islam with another method. The values should be interpreted again, in the free world, with respect to order of law and public. This is the message I am trying to transmit with my last book “Islam Without Extremes”.

 

Reklamlar

Muhsin Öztürk: The1960 Military Coup and Its Political

Muhsin Öztürk: The1960 Military Coup and Its Political

Consequences on Turkish political life by Ayten Turan

Muhsin Öztürk was born in İzmir, in 1972. He studied political science in Hacettepe University. He worked as a reporter and editor for more than ten years in a weekly news magazine called “Aksiyon”. He wrote several books such as State of May 27, The Untitled Coup D’état 93, Interviews Before and After April 27 and The Legendary History. He still studies on recent politic and social changes in Turkey.

(Back Cover)

Problems of the country we live in constantly invades our lives. “State of May 27”,is an idea that came along during such invasion and a period of big debates on democratization. It might also be defined as a consequence of the struggle of getting in the debate at the right time and place.

Status quo and corporate identity of guardianship have been formed in Turkey after the  Coup D’état in  1960 and caused the “enlightened and bureaucratic” region of the society to take over the job of governing the country. The elected bureaucrats, therefore executive and legislative branches have become the weakest links and Chief of Staffs started acting like “the shadows of Prime Minister”. The government that came to power right after May 27 was founded on the idea of the elected party being unable to govern the country.  The biggest problems political system in Turkey was fed by the ideologies and institutions of the 1960 coup d’état(such as Constitution Courts).Starting in 1960,the Jacobean government founded the guardianship system via democratic instruments, carried out coup d’etats accompanied with liberal lectures and repressed the public using the fear of public. This is why the decay of State of May 27 is not a problem of regime, but an inevitable, good and normal phase before the settling of democratic system.  This book traces the path of this government and its decadence after 2007.

Ayten Turan: You are the first one to use the term “State of May 27”. What is the meaning of this concept in Turkish political readings?

Muhsin Öztürk : The idea of State of May 27 presents a new point of view to the reader. Turkish political history is full of coup d’etats and they first started in May 27, 1960. Since then, the action of coup d’etat became an ordinary part of the military agenda as an acceptable  way of dealing with political problems. The fact that Turkish Armed Forces(TSK) could stage a coup whenever the conditions were available was the biggest problem in both Turkish political life and Turkish Army. Every Chief of Staff was on alert against any kind of danger that come from below. Every elected party and politicians were supposed to be ready for an intervention from the military. Moreover, party in power and bureaucrats had to be aware of the fact that they were not the only ones to have a word in governing the country. State of May 27 meant that the state was under the guardianship of militaristic power. The army was now the partner and mostly the boss of every political matter. New institutions were being formed and an intense  human resource cleaning was performed in the government. 235 out of 255 generals in TSK have been retired, more than 5000 military officers have been expelled from the army. State Council was closed for a while, big discharges were performed in the Supreme Court of Appeals and many universities. National Security Council, which gave the Chief of Staff power that was equivalent to Prime Minister’s, has been founded. The Court of Constitution, which had the function of broadening and protecting the liberties in Europe, was narrowing the liberties and desensitizing politics. For example, some court members who had convicted Prime Minister Menderes and two other ministers to death in Yassıada Courts were appointed to Court Of Constitution later on. The biggest enemy of the new government was the public and politics. Democracy and the public were repressed because the government actually feared these two. We then witnessed this situation for many many times in the next 50 years of Turkish political life.

AT: What was the difference of State of May 27 and Atatürk’s Republic?

MÖ: This is not an easily distinguished difference. It is important to have the power to execute the Prime Minister. The creators of May 27 coup kept this courage and hatred alive. This is the time when the one and only ideology of the government, Kemalism was formed. This ideology is very different from the Kemalism that was articulated in 1930s, when Atatürk was still alive. The newly defined Kemalism was the only tool military used when they put themselves in the center of the government and it had no relation to Atatürk, nor to his closest friend and colleague İnönü. The author of “Militaristic Modernism” Murat Belge refers to some eccentric studies such as Sun Language Theory and Turkish History Thesis, and states that this kind of studies have actually been conducted, but Atatürk was not a militarist person and the militaristic government have been constructed after 1960. The Kemalism that was created by the army has been modified and developed further in ’71,’80 and ’97 coups. One of the major factors that prepared the atmosphere for the coup was the fact that Republic Public Party(CHP), which thinks of itself as the founder of the Republic, could not grab power after multi party system has been accepted(between 1950 and 1960). The Executive Power which was seized by Atatürk and İnönü drew attention during Democrat Party era and Menderes was claimed to be a dictator. Even before the coup, there was a plan to eliminate the elected party in power. The government that was founded after May 27 was a government that could not be ruled by elected representatives. The Assembly and the executive power did not have any affect even in the simplest political issues and therefore the idea of “government in government” (also known as secret government) was going in effect. People found out may years later that the country was not being governed by the representatives that they see, but by the militaristic and civil bureaucracy that was invisible to the public.

AT: It is claimed that a new State has been founded after the coup in May 27 1960. We cannot explain this only by the military intervention, could we?

MÖ: Of course. The subject that we do not really go into during debates on  coups issue is the role civilians play in those actions. The role of CHP and İsmet İnönü in ‘60s  is very debatable. Everybody knows that there were academics that provoked the students in the riots prior to the coup and they also were involved in making the new constitution and took part in forming the new state afterwards. These academics also lead the forming of the system that hated civil politics and tried to prevent military officers from passing over the administration to the civilians. This situations easily points out the privileged civilians who are the biggest boosters of the coups. A theory states that a lawful base for coups would not take place if there were no such civilians who were privileged and supported the army. For instance, there were news all over the papers with big headings  which claimed that the dissenter students were thrown in to meat grinding machines, and this was shown as one of the legitimate reasons of the coup.

AT: There is a big confusion in Turkey about the investigation of the coups, which sometimes reflects to foreign media as well. It is claimed that the coups are not investigated well and many dissenters have been taken under probation. What do you think about this?

MÖ: Anew circle of people with privileges were introduced and a new social class was constructed by the new system founded in 1960. Therefore, there formed a group of people who hoped for a gain from the coups and supported the actions. Frankly, people who try to provoke the army for coups still exist. Journalist Mustafa Balbay, the CHP representative who was elected to the Assembly while he was in prison, was discussing the coup, actually the coup that was planned against the Chief of Staff during AKP years. It is openly written in his journals. in Turkey, it is not extraordinary for a gazette’s Ankara representative to hope for a gain from a coup. The choice of İstanbul’s big investors, which were fed by government bids, were in favor of the government and military until recently. These investors’ silence and supportive speeches during coup periods even when disruption  of money was not a part of the plan. Army has developed very sophisticated instruments for staging a coup and ruling the country. When Turgut Özal was elected in 1983, files of Kurdish Problem and Cyprus problem were slipped onto his desk and he was kindly told to stay away from those. Politics has always been under open or secret militaristic guardianship. Interventions made in the last 15 years were named as “ post modern e-ultimatums”, which means interventions are not done by army walking in streets and physically taking over. Plus, it is well known that there are some situations and problems  created to legalize the coups and make the public agree that the army would be the solution of the situation and the domestic problems and political murders are parts of the design. There happened a coup in February 28, 1997 which was solely based on the speculations imposed upon the civilians. Every other coup wears the army out and this is very well known by the military as well. This is why civil factors have a bigger role in the militaristic interventions of the last twenty years. The chain of coups that civilians play essential parts in is a design. Jurisdiction and the media received a briefing from the government on this subject. Even though none of the trials are criticizable, it not right to say that the people subjected to coup investigations are being repressed. The purpose of the idea that they are repressed is to bock the function of the investigations and control the continuum of May 27’s affect on the civil life.

AT:  In your book, you claim that State of May 27 has started collapsing after 2007. Can you explain that a little bit?

MÖ: The problems of the country we live in invades our whole life. We crave for a boring but serene life like the people in the West live. The debate shows which lasted for hours do not taste the same anymore, we are done with debating over the same problems for generations. We want this to change, we do not want this. It was obvious that things were not the same when the army released an e-memorandum on April 27, 2007. The power that considers itself as the real owner of the state had decided that kicking the government under the table was not enough and an obvious, visible intervention was required. The party in power, which trusted the dynamic power of the society, called an early election and let the army know that this guardianship system had to end. This is why the biggest democratic encounter in Turkey did not start with AKP’s coming into power in 2002, but it started with the public getting on the stage after an intervention trial on July 22, 2007. After this, Abdullah Gül became the president, important developments in Kurdish problem took place, some political parties got closed and big investigations like “Ergenekon” and “Balyoz” were conducted, September 12 was voted, 2011 elections were pretty big etc… Turkey encountered problems that were enough for a century in avery short time and it does not seem to end.

AT: What part of republic history readings does it change to create the concept “State of May 27”?

MÖ:State of  May 27 was an idea that came along during intense debates on democratization. It was probably a result of our struggle to enter the argument in the right place and our desire to end this meaningless debate that does not really solve anything. Constitution Court, National Security Council, Planning Agency, militaristic jurisdiction, political role of the army, ineffectiveness and inability to hold the power of the Assembly and the endless struggle and debate over all these concepts… Did we miss a point while we focused one-party era  and status quo? Status quo and corporate identity of guardianship were formed in 1960. The constitution that was accepted as the most liberal one Turkey ever had was in fact the most fundamental document of the guardianship system. Most of the problems of the political system were caused by the existence of ‘constitutional institutions’. Since then, Chief of Staffs were ‘shadow prime ministers’; sovereignty was given to the assembly under ambiguous conditions. The new system enabled the Jacobean government exist in a democratic order.

When the militaristic power, which  considered itself as the true owner of the state after multi party system was accepted, figured that it was not possible for them to be legally elected. This is why they decided to stage a coup and established a system which relied on elected governments’ inability to govern. More cops were staged after May 27, almost every decade. The system was revised and developed in favor the military and civil bureaucracy after each of them. Although the  ideology and system problem was existent in Turkey since the last years of Ottoman Empire, status quo did not have an institutional identity until 1960.This means that the obstacles before Turkey in the path of democracy are the institutions and ideologies of 1960s, not 1930s.The struggle for Democratic settlement is not even about the republic, it is about the system military founded.

AT: You mentioned the fear of democracy and there is a chapter in you book about it. Why is democracy feared and what are the consequences?

MÖ:Fear of democracy refers to the change of governments and regular people of the country who  are found to be insufficient for “public field”,  to play a role in this process. This is a problem that existed for almost one hundred years now. Here is a quote that refers to constitutional monarchy from Berat Özipek, who is the author of the book “Conservationism”:  “As soon as one class of democracy starts presenting itself as a social group, a conflict between bureaucracy and the rest of the society occurs”. The first political party in Turkey was named  “Public Party” because the founders of the party noticed that the public was not comfortable with the elites. It was hoped that this name would remove the discomfort, but it did not work out that way. With the same logic, Democrat Party’s name  was a reflection of the public’s discomfort against the regime. After moving on to the multi party system, Turkey witnessed choosing their representatives and their being taken down by armed forces. There always existed professors, investors and bureaucrats hiding behind guns. Even though they pressured and pretended to be “enlightened guides” to the public, the people stood against them and did not step back from voting for those they wanted to be governed by. After each election, they chose politicians like Turgut Özal which were not wanted by those who staged coups. This is why fear of democracy was parallel to fear of the public. The goal of 1960 coup and 1961 constitution was to stop the democratically elected governments from being sovereign. Even though this constitution seemed liberal and obviously showed a huge fear of democracy and it is recently accepted that it is not even democratic.

Fear of democracy also reflects fear of coming to an end in the guardianship spell that has been in our lives for almost 50 years now. The liberties granted by  courts or any kind of bureaucratic systems are no longer accepted with appreciation.

AT:Do we run into fear of political reaction while we deal with the fear of democracy issues?

MÖ: ANAP, Justice Party and Democratic Party were the trendy parties of their times which were founded by people who were not very religious and did not see religious people as a threat and they consistently emphasized  “liberty of religion and conscience”. They always suffered from the difficulties of shaking hands with the bureaucracy and its gigantic hands. It was .özal who made us get over the idea that .anatolia was a mass of unqualified people. What ÖZal succeeded was not easy, elite bureaucrats were always skeptical of him and he was accused of being a little too religious. He was always considered to be harmful because he was a free market investor, the first person to apply for Turkey’s EU membership, the person who opened Turkish economy to the outside world and a religious man, although it was never obvious to the outside. Civil society and Anatolian capital grew at the same time and the people tasted the pleasure of existing without the protection of government. It was a time of “fear” in politics in 1993 when Özal died. Even though Özal’s reason of death was recorded as “heart attack”, it is still doubted that it was caused by  the state’s policy of destroying all the progress he made since then. For example, he started a new central examination system that let a poor kid who was enrolled in a good school to get his Ph. D. abroad. Hardworking and smart kids from any region of the country and any class of the society had the chance to study abroad without pulling any strings. According to Bekir Berat Özipek, this application caused a change in the elite structure of Turkey. The first action of February 28 coup was to cancel that examination  system and replacing it with a system that relied on “interviews” and calling back the students who were sent abroad during Özal’s era, claiming that they were involved in “political reaction”.

 

 


Aziz Akgul: Addressing unrest with loans by Ayten Turan

Aziz Akgul: Addressing unrest with loans by Ayten Turan

When Aziz Akgul became Head Consultant to the Prime Minister of Turkey in 1996, he was asked to reduce terrorism in the east and southeast. The first thing he did was investigate motives.

“We saw that unemployment and poverty took first place in the reasons list,” says Akgul. “Yes, ideological reasons did exist, but poverty and unemployment were ahead of those reasons. We figured out that people who have nothing to lose could be a part of anything.”

Akgül worked with Muhammed Yunus* to draw up plans to begin a micro credit program, which were recommended to the National Assembly by the National Security Council, but the postmodern coup of Feb. 28, 1997, replaced President Süleyman Demirel with a a government backed by the military. After Akgul returned to teaching, Industry Minister Yalim Erez invited Akgul to help “try something new.”

Named president of the Republic of Turkey Small and Medium Enterprises Development Organization (KOSGEB), Akgul formed five working groups assigned to create job opportunities for disadvantaged groups: women, the elderly, the young, the disabled and the families of veterans and martyrs.

“Our original goal was to reduce poverty by giving people micro credits, not grants, so they could establish their own business and be productive,” says Akgul. “We were hoping to create firms that would do export.”

Akgul gives the example of Aynur Demirtekin, a woman who borrowed 500 Liras in 2004.

“Her father had a salt shop. She bought a sewing machine with the loan turned the shop into her workplace,” he says. “We kept giving her increasing loans and most recently she borrowed 10,000. She now pays taxes and has employees working for her. Her goal is to become an exporter.”

Akgul says they don’t loan money to men.

“Of course we do not totally deny them, but we make them bring their wives or mothers to take the loan,” he explains. “We like women borrowers better. They are in a different state of mind, and they are more responsible.”

Although they don’t have a scheduled consultancy service, they do advise their clients.

“We become their therapists in some ways,” says Akgul. “For example a customer comes and tells us she works with five people and we ask her how she will manage the money. We talk to her and discuss the situation, and then we give her the loan.”

By the year 2012, Akgul says they gave away 113 million Liras in loans  to 51,000 members via 75 branch offices in 56 cities under the Turkey Grameen Micro Loan Program (TGMP). He says TGMP aims to elevate 50 percent of the low income to middle income level.

Akgul says the borrower is required to start being productive in one week, after which, the paying-back period begins.

“If they take a long break before they start, it gets very difficult to keep track of the loan because there is no assurance or bail. We completely depend on trust,” he says, adding that the loan is paid back within a year with weekly payments. “Education level, language, religion or race does not matter for us. We are a loan company and we operate for women with low income. Discipline, hard work, unity and making a family succeed with their financial independence is our goal.”

Aiming to help people support their families and serve their country, Akgul started the Foundation of Waste Prevention as a family foundation, investing his own cash and apartment to develop ways of preventing waste.

“We began to perform workshops and seminars at schools and we conducted some projects,” he explains. “When micro credit projects got bigger, my financial sources began to fall short and we started receiving donations. We received 21 Million Liras of donations and gave away 137 Million Liras of credit.”

Today it is no longer a family foundation.

“We see this as a corporation,” says Akgul, who went to Saudi Arabia in March, as a guest of Prince Tallal bin Abdülaziz. “We discussed the possibility of founding a micro finance bank in Turkey. They agreed to invest the seed capital and we are planning on establishing a micro finance bank with a social entrepreneurship model.”

Akgul explains that social entrepreneurship is when investors invest in a corporation, they will receive  shares from the profit.

“After they take the amount they invested, they will not be receiving shares from the profit anymore,” he says.

Akgul has worked in business, military and government institutions, as well as non-governmental organizations. He says that in every field he worked he saw waste tried to prevent it.

“I asked the question ‘Why?’ in every place I worked,” Akgul says. “Why is the Court of Account building of so huge? Do we need a building that big? Who do you think pays for the electricity, water or design of this building? I do, you do, public in general does. I am sorry but no one gets to spend my money like that. Do you know why we lack that awareness of citizenship in Turkey? Because only people who are occupied with merchandise pay taxes and you become a citizen when you pay taxes.”

Like the good professor he is, Akgul encourages questions.

“Our education system contains no questioning,” he says. “We do not teach our kids to ask why. We need a generation to ask why and reply. This is what is called a productive generation.”

Born in Diyarbakir , Aziz Akgül’s father is Kurdish and his mother is Arabic, but he calls himself Turkish.

“Everybody that lives in the Republic of Turkey is called Turkish,” says Akgul. “Of course there are minorities under that name like Turkish with Kurdish origins, Turkish with Arabic origins, Turkish with Armenian origins or Turkish with Christian origins.

“I personally believe in multicultural societies and I think everyone should be one hundred percent free to live and practice their religion however they want. Whatever fits the nature of the human should be embraced. Every cultural right should be given to the people. Humans are mortal, they will be passing away soon anyways. I cannot consent to someone being tortured during the time they have on Earth. People should not be suffering; they should be living honorably and humanly.

“I see the systems we created as systems that do not work. Capitalism, Marxism, Fascism are all the same, all artificial. Capitalism, which is a structure that aims the maximization of the profit, is collapsing. Social entrepreneurship, which aims to earn money by solving the problems that exist, is rising instead. Of course there will be some business that people will profit, but we cannot forget that there are people in this country who go to bed hungry every night.

“We should be questioning why.”

Akgul entered the Kuleli Military High School when he was fourteen and graduated in fourth place from the Military Academy’s Business department, the valedictorian of his class. He was the first member of Turkish Armed Forces to receive an assistant professor’s degree in business and he received a letter of appreciation from Chief Of Staff Necip Toruntay for this effort.

He is known for adopting the Millî Görüş (National View) ideology.

“If I have adopted National View or any other ideology, the biggest reason for my straying is Armed Forces, because I have been held there from age fourteen to thirty eight,” Akgul says. “If I have ever felt close to an ideology, it is Armed Forces who caused this. If I have somehow caused damage in this country, they are the reason. My parents handed me to them when I was very young. I only had the chance to see them twice a year and my visits were only fifteen days long.”

Though Akgul’s parents are illiterate, he is very proud of them.

“They never manipulated me to adopt an ideology but they taught me what I needed to be able to serve this country and make myself useful,” he says. “I am really proud of this. I would like Armed Forces to reply to this, can they? I was embraced by the Armed Forces as a boy.”

When he was invited to Kenya for a micro credit summit, Akgul visited the tin shelter with Queen Sophia, Yunus and a local minister.

“I was supposed to stay for only five minutes, but we stayed an hour and a half, thanks to Queen Sophia’s very well developed moral values,” says Akgul. “I saw that tragedy. I could not eat nor sleep at the hotel that night. Prophet has that really good quote: Visit a patient or a grave every week.”

Akgul says the elderly need to be included in economic development plans.

“We really need to respect and believe in the elderly more than we do right now,” he says. “We need to understand that they need to be a part of the society and they can work like any other member of this community. It is very rude to call them ‘old.’

“I remind you that in U.S. they call the elderly ‘senior citizens,’ which is a very respectful saying. Language is developed by nuances. Calling someone old is insulting them.”

Akgul says he is a conservative by nature, but is also open to progress.

“The person who claims to know a lot knows nothing,” he says. “I read the most recent articles, I closely follow the agenda and my best sources are my doctorate students. External powers use the PKK issue way too often too wear Turkey out and I reprove everyone who acts on this intentionally or not. Why?

“It is impossible to understand the terrorism issues in Turkey that are currently going on. I am a child of that region. I think we should take a seat and discuss what should be done. If they want Kurdish classes, we should be teaching them.

“We are part of a culture that taught the world what multicultural means. We are descendants of a brilliant generation who taught the world what multiculturalism is without imposing any idea on the minorities, but now we try to relearn it from Canada or USA.

“This country is the most rapidly growing country in the world and we do have problems. Everyone does. The U.S. Is dealing with health issues, England’s social security system has collapsed,” he says. “Our intelligence is not enough to create a better system. The leaders should be considering and figuring out a system that eliminates unproductive debates and makes the members of the society happy.

“Turkey is an amazing country.”

* Muhammed Yunus, with Grameen Bank, was awarded the 2006 Nobel Prize “for their efforts to create economic and social development from below.”


Ragıp Duran on the role of Islamic movements in the Turkish Media…

Ragip Duran on the Role of Islamic movements in the Turkish Media by Ayten Turan

 Ragip Duran studied at Galtasaray High School (1973) and Aix-Marseille Law School (1978) and lived in Istanbul, Ankara, Paris and London where he worked as a reporter for media corporations like AFP, BBC, Hürriyet, Milliyet, Aydinlik and Özgür Gündem. He continued his education in the field of journalism at Nieman School(2000) of Boston. He still works as a local reporter at French gazette Libération. He published three books on media criticism. He taught journalism classes in Communications departments of Galatasaray University and Marmara University. He was rewarded by several national and international awards in the field of media freedom. He still writes for the website http://www.apoletlimedya.com and Express.

Ayten Turan: Could we say that media is the fourth power in Turkey?

Ragip Duran: Of course we could. I saw a comic recently that showed “congregation” as the fourth power in addition to legislative, executive and judiciary branches. Well, if we replace congregation with media, we see how television and written press are taking the role of a fourth power by being supportive of the government or other parties. In fact, 19th century liberals stated, fourth power is supposed to check on the other three, make sure they work as they should, criticize their actions on behalf of the public and manipulate them in the interest of people in the country. Now that there is no separation between the three fundamental powers, the fourth power is naturally under the control of the same people as well.

Let’s put it this way, if the party that is currently in power won 50 percent of the votes in the last election, 90 percent of the media is formed by that 50 percent, therefore it is not right to say that Turkish media represents public opinion. Turkish media mostly represents legislation’s political views, hence the party in power and some side groups of it. It is true that 50 percent is a big fraction, but the remaining 50 percent rarely has have voice in the media.

This situation comes with many questions, for example, did not any AKP related city administrations get involved in corruption issues? Did not any of the ministries have a problem- which we once heard rumors about-, is this why we never hear this kind of things in the media? If we only cared about what Turkish media wants us to know, we would all believe that Turkey is a country where everything works flawless, it is the 17th biggest economy in the world and it is one of the best examples of democracy.

This is a serious problem because there is a giant conflict between the “facts” of media and the reality. For example, an American Turcologist who speaks perfect Turkish will probably try to follow Turkish agenda from the internet, reading Turkish newspapers and watching Turkish channels. Can you imagine how the image of Turkey in his mind would collapse when he came to Turkey? He, as a person who believes Turkey is a very strong, positive country who has a big influence on the Middle East, will be very disappointed with what he actually sees here. It’s almost schizophrenic to meet these facts. I think his thoughts would change dramatically when he finds out that the country he thought he was specialized in was not what he thought it to be.

AT: Can you share your thoughts on the role of Islamic movements in Turkish Media?

RD: We should evaluate this question in a historical perspective. This is an interesting question to me since it is the first time I’ve encountered a question of this kind. We should take a look at the origins of these media elements in the Ottoman Empire era. I am not a historian, but I am interested in media history so I have some knowledge about the subject.

There are some press companies called Atlas (Abbas), which label themselves as Islamic or Islamist. These words have different interpretations today, and every observer or academic who works on the subject has their own comments about the use of these words.  Who is the Islamist media? What does Islamist mean? Are they trying to say Islamist or Islamic? These are all questions in our heads when we think about the past of the Islamic or Islamist media. If we consider the time we live in, Islamic media is a bit inconsistent among itself, because media is based on the freedom of speech and thought and Islam is –like any other religion- restrained by some rules.

For example, if you are aiming to specialize in Islamist journalism, you cannot allow any approaches which would criticize Mohammed. In contrast, journalism means you should give a chance to any thought as long as it does not contain elements of violence or discrimination. I remind you the Mohammed comics that were published in Denmark. I think this incident showed us that Islam or any other religion has its limits, taboos and privileges. When there are taboos or privileges involved, it is not possible to perform journalism freely. Even if you try, it cannot be whole.

I would expect the TV channels and radio stations which define themselves with the word “Islamist” to criticize the economic, cultural and political incidents by making connections with Islamist idea, rather than broadcasting a variety of religious shows. Let me explain this with a simple analogy. If there was something called Marxist media, I would expect them to look at the issues in Syria or the economic status in Turkey and commentate on the subject according to Marxism, as if Marxism was a pair of glasses to wear while taking a look at situations.

I am not interested in things like religion, God, prophets or churches and mosques. I believe the most valuable things in life are human and the human mind. I think religion and Islamist ideologies are against the human mind; this is why I am trying to stay away from those kinds of thoughts.

I am sorry that I had to talk so long. It would be right to say “media that is supportive of the party in power” if we are trying to find an explanation for Turkish Islamist media. “Islamist” is just a word used in Turkish media to define people who call themselves Islamist and commentate on Islamic values and knowledge, and use these comments in TV and newspapers.

I don’t believe there are any channels that a good Muslim would love watching. I do not think they meet the expectations and values of an idealist Muslim. Most of these media elements praise the government and the strong while insulting different points of view. For example, the racist protests which were supposedly exhibited in memory of “Hocali Massacre” took a big part in the Islamist media. They displayed acts racism against the Armenian, which was against the principles of Islam. Racism and discrimination has no place in the Islamic thought. Islamist media members do not hesitate to show their real, racist faces when the party in power is Islamist as well and there is no need to be fear from being judged.

AT: Could you explain the effects of AKP era on Turkish media?

RD: Let’s start with a positive one. Before AKP era, journalists had a hard time investigating many subjects because of the censorship and pressure of the nationalist, militaristic ideology. It was not easy to debate on the problems of the regime. For instance, the Kurdish problem, Armenian problem, Kemalism and secularism issues were the four fundamental subjects that put not only us, but also the academics in a tough position. We could not publish or broadcast about these subjects and if someone did, they would end up in bad situations. Taner Akçam, Ismail Beşikçi and Ragip Zarakol are examples to this.

I had to encounter prosecutors, judges and even prison because of my interview with Abdullah Öcalan. This is a sign of retardation in a country. If you end up in courtrooms and jail after writing on a subject, there is obviously something wrong with the system.

The attitude on Kurdish and Armenian problems and Kemalism and secularism issues got milder after AKP came to power. We can now talk about these issues. The word “genocide” was not used much before, now we can easily use it everywhere. Our attitude towards secularism and Kemalism is more flexible now.  The positive effects of AKP on these four subjects do not mean that freedom of speech issues in Turkey are resolved. But the thing is, there is the government and there is the press, which are both responsible for the welfare of the public. It is media’s responsibility by its definition to expose the flaws of government in order to protect the well being of the people in the country.

Like I said, we are free to write about Kemalism or Armenian problem now, but Turkish public is expected to keep quiet about abuse or negativity in the government. We, as a nation are expected to believe that there is no corruption, no negativity in the administration. Of course there is, and these will all be exposed when the government falls. It would be fair to state one more positive effect, by the way. I lost the count, but a good number of Turkish journalists had been murdered in front of everybody’s eyes in the past, cases remained unsolved. There have not been any murders of this kind since Hrant Dink case.

This does not mean we are totally free though; there are many journalists in prison right now. You might think we would choose to go to jail rather than being murdered, but this is unacceptable as well. Of course it would be much worse if Nedim Şener or Ahmet Şik got murdered, but no one should expect us to be happy that our friends are in prison, at least not dead! They were not supposed to be in prison.

AKP is not killing journalists, it’s making them crawl. Militaristic authorities thought the best journalist was the dead journalist, AKP believes it’s the imprisoned. Turkey beats Iran and China in imprisoning journalists. This is very calamitous when we consider the level of democracy and freedom and also the population in these countries. When we take a look at the terms and expressions used to express lack of freedom of speech, we see Kurdish politicians use the term “AKP fascism,” which might be used for agitation.

Totalitarianism and authoritarianism are less obvious terms used by other opposing parties to express AKP’s attitude against not only freedom of speech, but freedom of all kinds and its actions in legislation and jurisdiction. AKP’s actions show that they are moving toward something that is not democracy.

AT: What do you think about the term “central media”which is widely used by some Turkish journalists lately?

RD: In other countries, newspapers are classified and central and marginal,mostly depending  on their sizes. Partisanship is mostly used to express close relations with the government. In the Democratic Party era, the term “nurtured press” was used for this kind of media units, because these newspaper companies were nourished with advertisement by the government.

We now have to consider these terms and concepts in a different way, because Turkey has gone through a major change in cultural, social, political fields in both positive and negative ways. Some of these changes were caused by media, this an inevitable consequence. What we call central media was formed by mainstream newspapers such as Hürriyet, Sabah and Milliyet which were not totally supporting the government or attacking the opponents but keep a safe distance with both sides.

The interesting part is, some of them changed owners even though they were owned by people who had close relations with the party in power. Sabah changed three or four owners I believe. Zaman became the best selling paper despite the fact that it was not popular at all before. Yeni Şafak and Akit became newspapers we had to follow. We see that the definition of central media is changing, too. Sabah seems to be in the center and it will probably stay there for a while. But we should consider who is practically in the center, thinking that being in the center means being close to the government. Zaman, which used to be a marginal congregation paper, is now considering itself “central.”

Well, the opposite of marginal is central, you are either in the margin of right or the left. The opposite of partisan is opponent, and I believe a newspaper is a real newspaper only if it does include opposing views. The terms central and partisan are used as if they have close meanings, but this is a wrong approach. Central media always exists, the ones that don’t display a choice between political powers and manages to keep a safe distance from both government and the opponent. “Partisan media” derives its reason of existence from its relationship with the government. Let’s imagine AKP loses power. What will happen to that partisan newspaper, how long will it last? What will it rely on after that? I don’t mean that it would have no power. This is also valid for Yeni Şafak.

AT: Did not these newspapers exist before AKP?

RD: They did, but can you compare the Zaman before AKP and the Zaman now?  It is different now, both in the sense of circulation and influence. Yeni Şafak, Milli Gazete, Akit… They all existed but they were not as influential as now. Newspapers that take their power from current government cannot succeed when the government changes. Only way to be successful in written press is to be independent or distant from let’s say Party A or Party B.

AT: Newspapers and media corporations are also commercial establishments and their values change by time. Some of them become more expensive and some of them become stable. Do you think media corporations can carry on by relying on only advertisement and promotions? What would happen if their owners did not do any other types of business? Do the things you explained, which are theoretically true, express the reality?

RD: No, the things I said are not practically in sync with the reality, especially in the neo-liberal world of ours. It used to be true though, which we can still see some examples of this kind. The New York Times and Washington Post are still holding on by relying on advertisement. But Turkey is different, there are special conditions. You would not get crashed by only opposing the current government. You would be collapsed when you oppose the current political and economic system.

Cem Uzan is the best example to this. 202 companies of him were seized in one night. This is special to Turkey. Then there is no point in being a journalist, it makes more sense to sell lemons. Journalism is not something you would do to benefit economically; it is conducted to inform the public in the best possible way.

There is a French magazine called Kamerajene which sells 500-600 thousand and will be celebrating its 100th year in 2015. They started publishing in 1915; they oppose everyone and everything without an exception, including itself, just like Beşiktaş’s fan group Çarşi. They have never taken an advertisement. This is an incredible example. They have a humorous style, they use comics but at the same time they publish interviews with the president or the prime minister. They always come up with a very serious story, they have brilliant sources and the whole French media works for them in some way. The stories which could not be published in other newspapers end up in their pages.

Of course we cannot expect all the media corporations to be this good. Even though I don’t approve for NY Times’ policies, I have to say that they are pretty good at keeping the balance between journalism and the commercial concerns. It is very easy to write stories in favor of the powerful people and benefit from this, but this means your newspaper is their bulletin. This is not what journalism is supposed to be. If the commercial concerns get more important than the job itself, you should just quit, it’s not a job you would make millions anyways.

AT: Is an era ending in the Turkish Media? How is Turkish media doing in the AKP era?

RD: Media has been evolving and changing for the last 150-200 years, not only in Turkey, all around the world. There are certain dates in the history for Turkey like 1071, 1453, 1923… We went through major changes at these times and media was inevitably affected by these changes as well.

I think it is true that we are at the end of an era and media is changing again, but politics is not the only reason of it. Internet, blogs, social media networks all affect journalism and reporting in Turkey and people’s ability to reach information is changing, in both positive and negative ways. It’s not “Some people got off the stage and and now it’s our time” kind of change. For example, there is no such thing like Fatih conquered Istanbul and New Age started; I studied in France in my senior year in high school, and they never mentioned this. If New age started somewhere, it started everywhere.

Changes do not happen only in the political field, but some incidents and dates, for example 1923, are very important for media as well as it is for the Turkish nation. Transition to a multi-party system in 1946 is also a good example to those breaking points in history, for both media and society. Some changes did occur after AKP came to power, very few of those were positive and most of them were negative. For example, Nuray got off and Nagehan got on stage, such an unfortunate incident for media. Nuray lost her influence, Nagehan’s popularity rose in the Turkish media.

AT: What is the official media policy in Turkey?

RD: Actually, Turkey does have an official media policy. This is not directly related to AKP, nor is related to Turkey itself. Even though they all claim they are democrats, all the elements of political and power in the world want to make media dependent, or at least unable to oppose them. This is the way it is in USA, Russia…Methods and powers used against freedom of media changes according to time and place. It used to be militaristic powers in Turkey, now it is mostly changed; now it is another type of power. I mean it was the military who kept press from being free, and now it is the party in power.

I have been following the French media for a long time, since I am a reporter in a French newspaper. Nobody cares about the military in France because military is not powerful enough to stop media. However, there are big economic powers which conquered the media corporations. For example, Buick Hashet; these companies are involved in concrete industry and they have factories producing air craft, but at the same time they are interested in media. This situation implies that there are big economic powers which have taken over the media in France.

Media in USA is also in a tough position, trying to keep balance between political and economic powers. As you can see, freedom of media is something that we cannot define clearly and is not totally obtained in anywhere. It needs to be discussed more widely every day, and we need new points of view, there no finish line. The struggle about what we are supposed to write still goes on everywhere, just like in Turkey.

AT:  The consultant of the prime minister is a writer at Today’s Zaman. Can you evaluate this in the aspect of ethics? We see AKP partisan authors, such as Gülerce, expressing thoughts like “There’s no fight between AKP and the congregation, Gulen Movement.” What do you think about all this?

RD: What I know is, being the prime minister is a type profession, and being the media is a completely different one. There is a concept called “conflict of sectors,” one person cannot conduct two duties like this at the same time. For example, someone cannot be a judge and a prosecutor at the same time, or the witness and the accused cannot be the same person. Of course there exists some countries in Africa where chief editor is also the prime minister, or intelligence manager is the minister of information. These are countries that lack democracy.

This kind of incidents do not happen in democratic countries like European Union members.

There are similar examples in Turkey in the past. Ismail Cem was a precious colleague, and then he became foreign relations minister but kept on writing at Sabah. This is not right, you cannot be a minister and writer at the same time. The reason is, he was writing about foreign relations, but he had more potency and better access to information. Kadri Gürsel was also writing on the same subjects, how could you compare these two? Kadri is a good journalist, but he is only a journalist. He does not have access to all the information of the ministry.

Plus, journalism exists to criticize the government.  Parliament members used town newspapers and write in them during 1930s and 1940s. It is not breaking news that a minister is also a writer. Politics and media is very nested in Turkey. It is also far from honest, as they are writing with nicknames probably because they know it is not ethical. Governments mostly believe that media a massive power, and it is indeed pretty big, but not as big as they think. If it was as big as they thought it to be, the most powerful newspaper Pravda, or ?zvestia would be able to stop the regime form collapsing.

Therefore being powerful in the field of media is not the only criteria in being strong. If you are powerful among the society, you have a certain amount of power in the media as well. All the power holders, including AKP, try to conquer and be present in media or thinking that having their voice represented in press and sports clubs would be in their benefit. They are making consultants write in newspapers because they over estimate media’s power.  This situation is called spit.

There is an interesting situation in the UK and USA: media’s duty is to criticize the government, but at the same time lead it towards the right path, which is schizophrenic. The thing that matters is Yalçin Akdogan’s motives and to identity when he is writing. Is he an academic member or the consultant of the prime minister when he is writing? This is the same thing with playing ping pong in a football field or cooking on a ping pong table. You should be cooking in the kitchen and play ping pong on the ping pong table.

AT: Although I am concerned that the reader might not be familiar to the names, I still would like to ask what you think about Ertugrul Özkök’s article,in which he claimed Ozan Kütahyali was snitching and “marking other journalists’ doors” to get them arrested. 

RD: I think Özkök is right. It is true that when we consider journalists’ attitude towards their colleagues, it was not as bad as it is now. Turkish media has not been as corrupted and government supportive as it is now since the 1940s. There were journalists who openly supported the Public Party or the Democrats and they would debate very often. Today we see examples like Kütahyali and Baransu.

The fact that politics is above everything and government is the ultimate decision maker, took away the freedom and self determination of media, jurisdiction and legislation. Judges and prosecutors lost their professional focus; everybody is focused on the government and everybody is trying to be different to be able to stay in their position. It is possible to become different by your own talent; there are some very successful fellow reporters and writers. But most of the people choose to slander others’ names and try to keep their position this way. This is why I said Ertugrul Özkök was right.

Until nowadays, journalists debated over their ideas. For example, Peyami Safa and Nazim Hikmet were in a constant argument. Peyami Safa was closer to the government but he never claimed he would get Nazim Hikmet imprisoned. Their debates were always on a high level of intelligence, especially compared to the ones we see today. The news did not mean strategy reporters in Ankara will go under prosecution, it was a warning meaning “be careful, or you will be eliminated.”

I don’t believe there are any autonomous professions in Turkey anymore. As we all understood after the prime minister’s surgery, even medicine has lost its self-determination. The doctors could not make an explanation about the surgery Erdogan went through. Prime ministry’s representative only states that he had digestion problems. It is very wrong to treat people like they are ignorant and stupid, and it always ends badly. Everywhere around the world, prime ministers and presidents go through health examinations and the reports are released every month by the doctors, not by the ministry’s representative.

We do everything as if we live in the Soviet period. It is a right of the public to be informed about the health conditions of their prime minister and the only one that can make this explanation is the doctor. Everyone is arguing about after-Erdogan period and we all know where countries without transparency in administration end up. These are crucial examples. We are all concerned about his health. If something happened to him, the stock market would flip upside down, foreign and domestic policies would change dramatically. That’s why we all care about his health. The public needs to be informed by authorized people in such cases.

AT: Why are the liberals, who seemed complaisant to AKP in the beginning, are complaining about them now?

RD: Liberals and also some of the left were fond of AKP because of some positive changes they brought and EU reforms they made rapidly. They removed death penalty in 2000s , which was very positive. There are many reasons why they could not keep making changes of this kind. Brussels-Ankara relations should not be linked only to actions of Ankara. We all know that Brussels did not keep its promises like they were supposed to. Our main problem is the “not enough but yes” attitude. This is the motto of liberals who support AKP from their points of view but do not think what they offer is enough.

This is wrong in a few aspects. Yes, we do know where these people come from and how they came to power but it would be wrong to have prejudice and oppose them because they are religious, at least in the beginning. They were supported when they did something good. Because of the lack of intellectual establishments and cultural strength, people just agreed to say yes, but not enough.

I only know how it is in the universities and the media, and I can see that people who don’t seem honest at all have become deans. They gained important positions in the state and got permanent promotions. People, who would not even qualify as assistant reporters, have become column writers. Therefore I think the support there is not totally political. We know that AKP partisan Mehmet Altan used to be a chief author in a very government supportive newspaper, but he was forced to quit. AKP is ruthless after gaining 50 percent of the votes. They clearly show they will not be tolerant to anyone and they are not interested in allies. People who supported AKP but were not totally partisans were very disappointed with this attitude of AKP.

I would like to give one positive and one negative example to this. Ali Bayramoglu, is the positive one. He tried to maintain his independence and free will in a very government-supporting newspaper. He tried to defend whatever he thought and expressed his democratic thoughts in every possible way. Etyen Mahcupyan on the other hand, has become an enemy of the left wing like AKP could never be. The party in power should be questioning if these writers are the ones that really support them or not. We should be investigating which reporters are being discarded and which are being promoted. For example, Nuray Mert is a woman colleague who is being sacrificed and Nagehan Alçi is the one who is being promoted.  It is painful to even witness this situation because they are not in the same league. They should not even be colleagues. It is like a team from Champions League playing against a team from the fifth league in India. It does not make sense.

AT: How do you think the system works then?

RD: I don’t think there is a well-planned strategy. I don’t believe they know who to promote or who to discard in advance. Governments promotes people who somehow served them in the past. There are not visible mechanisms. What you need to do in order to be promoted is very well-known. Just praise Erdogan, talk against the opponents and it is done. If you are not a big AKP fan and there is nothing to stop you from attacking the opponent, it is the attitude that would make you rise.

AT: How does Turkey control the influence of foreign media?

RD:Prime Minister Erdogan talked against BBC and Reuters, like no other prime minister had ever done before. I do not recall any other prime minister talking against any media corporation so directly and openly. It is BBC and Reuters’ duty to criticize prime ministers and governments. These media corporations have no specific problem with powers in Turkey. Of course Milliyet, Hürriyet or Zaman cannot criticize Erdogan very easily since they got a lot at stake. BBC and Reuters don’t have any concerns about this; they are trying to be honest journalists.

I work as a reporter in French and Lebanese newspapers. Some reporters of foreign publications are Turkish and we sometimes have meetings. Even the reporters who are not Turkish, but stayed in Turkey for so long suffer from a disease I call “inability to oppose the government.” They don’t want to mention some stuff like congregation issues and problems of AKP administration. They know writing about these subjects will put them in a tough position. Instead, someone from the central office of the journal is making the story or they write their articles without signatures, like the Economist is doing lately.

Defiance is not about ideologies, it is about facts. Prosecutors ask journalists where they found the story and then label them as terrorists. They do not ask real terrorists what they had been doing though; this is such an interesting conflict. I sometimes witness my colleagues trying to avoid certain subjects in the meetings I attend. This is mostly local though, foreign reporters are much more comfortable. Their central offices are not really affected by the constraints and pressure on Turkish media.

AT: Is the Gülen Congregation, Movement, an obstacle for Turkey’s progress in democracy? Is media really in between congregations and the government?

RD: I studied in Galatasaray French High School, I went to college in France therefore I have the republican understanding of the French. It is different from the Kemalist republicanism; it externalizes the idea of congregation. Their idea of republic relies on freedom and equality. There cannot exist an establishment where some people are more equal or freer than the others.

I don’t oppose the idea of congregation just because of its religious side, I oppose it because it is against the principles of republic and the French government would not let it exist. Congregation, by its definition, gives privileges to some citizens, which is against the idea of republic. Ten years ago, I used to lecture about media and Zaman daily news would sometimes summon me as a lecturer too.  After awhile, they stopped summoning me because of articles I had written as a media critic.

They have gone through major changes. They were rewarded by a college and media corporation, for the best layout design which they made sure everyone heard about. I researched a little to see who the jury members were. There was not one member who knew Turkish in the jury. Layout is not all about shape and design, it is very political and it is about where the stories are placed. I did write an article and criticized this situation. If I was asked to evaluate a Chinese newspaper’s layout, I would probably fail to do it even though I do know what layout is.  I don’t know how, but Zaman got that award. This is ridiculous; no one who doesn’t speak Turkish can evaluate a Turkish newspaper’s layout. American people should be evaluating American papers. Even knowing Turkish is not enough; the person to do the evaluation should know and constantly follow Turkey’s agenda.  If you studied the news about congregations,Gulen Movements,  published in Zaman, you would see 90 percent of the stories are altered interpretations.

I did point out one of these articles and they claimed they were doing “free translation.” What they did was not free translation. They kept all the positive comments about their congregation and removed the negative ones. This is not free translation, it is altered interpretation. They published articles about a school in Paris and the congregation. We are not blind, there are many people in Turkey who speak and understand French and follow Zaman and Le Monde. Gulen Movement,Congregation, has not brought any help to media, it only brought dependency.

You never see one single criticism of Fettullah Gülen in the newspapers published by the congregation, just like it’s impossible to see criticism of Mustafa Kemal in Cumhuriyet and criticism of Aydin Dogan in Hürriyet. They claim they sell a million papers every day but I live in Çanakkale now and you can see free newspapers delivered in the industrial site. Who pays for these? We don’t know the answer to that question but we know for sure that they don’t sell one millions copies a day. Kurdish discrimination is promoted on TV shows broadcast in Samanyolu. We cannot expect positive outcomes from such establishments. We have to be aware that even though they came out with ideas like tolerance, dialogue between religions and etc., they imprisoned people who wrote books on this subject. They even summoned MIT counselor for an inquiry,which was such a brave move. Of course he could be questioned, but this was not the right way to do it.

AT: Who does Emre Uslu represent? Who does Mehmet Baransu represent?

AT:This is an interesting observation. There is no independence in our profession anymore, random people have become reporters and column writers, even people from intelligence agencies. Journalism and intelligence are two contradictory fields. Intelligence is a very important profession in the state. The border between those two professions should not disappear. Lines between them should be clearly drawn. Intelligence agents are supposed to collect enquiry and where the information obtained is used for certain purposes. When these two professions get tangled, it causes confusion.

We should also be careful with the situation we call spit. Baransu got six of his ten stories refuted by Ayşenur Aslan in only three days. It is normal to make some mistakes in journalism, but 6/10 is such a big fraction. I think this implies disinformation and no journalist would like to have such reputation. If you are an intelligence agent, work as one. If you are a journalist, do what you need to be a journalist. They have different rules, different authorities they are supposed to report to. An intelligence agent reports to his chief; a journalist reports to the editors.

There was a woman in US who had to return a Pulitzer because she was in the same situation. I can’t comment about the column writers because they express their own ideas and we cannot classify ideas as wrong and right; we can only say we agree or disagree with them. The situation we are discussing is completely different; Baransu and Uslu claim that they are journalists. According to my experience, this kind of “journalists” can never hold on in a gazette in US, neither in France or Germany and UK. I believe he would even be banned from being a journalist. These people don’t choose this job to be real journalists; they try to use it as a step to reach their ultimate purposes.

The real purpose of journalism is to inform the public in the best possible ways but what they do is to hide the truth to make the government look innocent. (I don’t even say this specifically for Uslu or Kütahyali.) There are other things they have to do because of their dependency to the government. To stay quiet against injustice, to avoid criticizing the government is a crime; but it is perceived as normal in Turkey because we lack an auto control and self-criticism. There are people and establishments who question this kind of behavior in other countries.

 


Al – Khalaf calls for international support for Syrian people…

Al-Khalaf calls for international

support for Syrian people By Ayten

Turan

Khaled Al-Khalaf says it’s time to call for an embargo on Syria.

“I hope the whole world places Syria under an embargo so that the Syrian regime does not use war planes on its people,” says Al-Khalaf, a member of the Syrian National Council (SNC) and chairman of the Regional Council Against Violence and Terrorism and Support of Freedoms and Human Rights.

Since the uprising in Syria began in 2011, Al-Khalaf says nearly 100,000 have been arrested, 60,000 are missing and 20,000 killed, including 500 children. While millions live under hunger and extreme poverty, thousands have been killed in political prisons under the single-party regime.

President Bashar Assad and his son Hafez are the only rulers of the intelligence units, says Al-Khalaf.

“In Syria, the intelligence units are everything,” he says. “Assad’s party is only there to keep people distracted. He’s a dictator.”

A leader of the Bakara, one of Syria’s largest tribes, Al-Khalaf was arrested for giving speeches against the Assad regime and tortured for the three months he was imprisoned.

“I was always speaking against the regime,” says Al-Khalaf, who founded the Regional Council human rights organization in 2003, even though such organizations are forbidden. He has lived outside of Syria since he escaped in 2008 after his father, Sheikh Salih Hidir Al Khalaf of the Sunni Sayyid, paid $500,000 to arrange a one-day release that allowed him to flee to Lebanon. There he applied for refugee status through the United Nations.

In 2009, they secretly announced their intentions in Syria and openly in Lebanon.

“Our goals are the same all over the world, they don’t change: we’re against violence and support human rights,” he says. “When we were first established, we had 550 people. Now, we’ve reached 25,000 people. We have members in different countries around the world, in Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia, and Paris. We’ve made demonstrations and held conferences in Lebanon. Many people in Europe and America have joined us.”

 

Uniting the opposition

While there is no official opposition party inside Syria, Al-Khalaf says the Muslim Brotherhood is the opposition outside.

“All the Syrian opposition besides the Muslim Brotherhood are ‘individuals’,” says Al-Khalaf. “Normally, in a democracy, you have people and groups with different views and perspectives, which is really great. God willing, a multi-party system will be brought to Syria.”

Al-Khalaf describes the corrupt nature of the electoral process, which is literally done with blood.

“They let blood flow from the tip of the finger, and press the blood onto the voting sheet,” he says. “Voters use that blood to vote.”

In the 2006 election, the ballot boxes at the school where Al-Khalaf voted reported that 100 percent of the 400 ballots cast were for Assad.

“I know 70 people that certainly did not vote for Assad,” he says. “We certainly didn’t accept it. We objected to it. You can’t ask these questions in Syria. There’s no real election in Syria. If you don’t vote in Syria, you get fined. You’re forced to vote. I agree, I don’t agree – whether you agree or not, the result doesn’t change. If you don’t vote for Assad, then there’s no work, there’s no home, they use all the elements of pressure, they use sanctions against you.”

The Syrian National Council recently announced that it intends to “found a civil, pluralistic and democratic government.”  Al-Khalaf says that after it is freed from the Assad regime, Syria will be an open country with honest elections.

“I want to bring all of the Syrian opposition and revolutionaries together under one roof, into a real opposition,” he says. “There’s a lot of people from the opposition who weren’t made part of parliament, a lot of honest people who stayed out of parliament, good and effective people weren’t taken into the provisional parliament. There’s a darkness over that parliament. And we’re working to not let our struggle soften or slow down.”

Al-Khalaf says the tribes can guarantee a transition period to democracy.

“It’s normal, it’s necessary to view it positively,” he says. “As tribes, we’re all armed. There are some people who support Assad in them, but if the tribal leaders tell them not to do anything, they won’t. There are a lot of individual political opponents, but they can’t lead the people. The situation is different with the tribes. We can guarantee it because we have guns in our hands.”

When asked if it might be necessary to examine this concept of “tribe” that means telling 1.2 million people to vote for this person or “stand up, sit down,” Al-Khalaf says the tribal chiefs are essential to bringing democracy to Syria.

“There are tribes all around Syria, and for that reason we can be the safe key in the transition process to democracy in Syria,” he says. “We are the children of different tribes. We’ve agreed that a democratic regime is to be founded in Syria and that it will stay. They are our nations and our tribes. There’s one thing uniting all the opposition, and that’s to overthrow the Assad regime and bring Assad to court.”

Some critics claim that Netanyahu is secretly supporting Assad. Al-Khalaf explains why.

“The border with Syria in the Golan Heights is Israel’s most secure border,” he says. “Hafez Assad and his son Bashar Assad only keep the border with Turkey protected securely, not with Israel.”

“I think a democratic Syria that receives Israel with some understanding would be good for relations,” he says. “I’m not defending Israel, but Israel is seeking safety and stability. If there are any problems between Israel and its neighboring countries, then that affects Syria.”

The critical role of Turkey

Once the opposition becomes unified, Al-Khalaf believes the international community will recognize its legitimacy and says Turkey is a source of hope for Syrians.

“In Turkey, human rights are protected,” he says. “I’ve seen the demonstrations done in Turkey with my own eyes. If they had been done in Syria, at least 100 of the participating people would have been killed. In Turkey, it’s enough that the demonstrators don’t do anything bad, and the police won’t interfere.”

Noting that one third of the Syrian population is of Turkish origin and that 400,000 people from his tribe live in Turkey, Al-Khalaf says the Syrian people are waiting for an armed intervention by Turkey, as are Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, and Oman.

“If you look at the support that Turkey has provided up to now, it’s much more than that given by other countries,” he says. “Turkey has become the best model. Even Arab countries haven’t supported the opposition like Turkey has.”

Al-Khalaf says that though it is forbidden to support the opposition in Arab countries, Arab people are slowly beginning to think about the need to change that. He notes that there is a good amount of support in Europe and America, but that the world needs to know that Assad does not represent the Syrian people.

“He represents himself,” he says, adding that Assad supports terrorist groups all over the world. While he was imprisoned in Syria, Al-Khalaf heard members of Al-Qaeda say that they had been arrested under agreement that they would be released after a week.

“They were only arrested for show,” he says.

Bashar Assad recently claimed to be executing reforms while they “try to get rid of the armed gangs,” Al-Khalaf says these “gangs” are civil and innocent people.

“If he really had wanted to democratize and modernize Syria, why didn’t he do so in his 12 years of power?” he asks. “He’s just making excuses. He won’t make any reforms.”

Al-Khalaf says the Syrian people dislike violence and want to solve their issues with neighboring countries through UN channels. He predicts that after Assad, Syria will establish a democratic and civilized multi-party system.

“We Syrians are indebted to those who support us,” he says.

 

 


A conversation between IHH’s Hakan Albayrak and Ayten Turan

My Daughter’s Gifts to Gaza: A Conversation between IHH’s Hakan Albayrak and Ayten Turan

Posted on December 24, 2011 by EC

“I was carrying or transporting my daughters’ gifts to the children of Gaza,” says Hakan Albayrak at the start of his interview with Ayten Turan, EC’s correspondent in Turkey. Hakan Albayrak is a journalist living in Turkey and also on the Board of Trustees of iHH (Insani Yardim Vakfi), which is a foundation for human rights, freedom and humanitarian relief in Turkey.  Albayrak is most known to the world and inside Turkey for his participation in and being aboard the Mavi Marmara that was hijacked by the Israeli military, which led to the death of nine activists.

In spite of the heroic efforts of all the activists that have attempted to break the unjust and illegal siege imposed on the Gaza Strip by Israel and to those who have given their lives for justice, Palestinians living inside the Strip remain subjected to an inhumane policy.  Participation in any and all forms to break the siege may be mere symbolic acts of resistance, but to do nothing ensures that injustice will continue to prevail over justice.

As stated by Hakan Albayrak in the interview that follows, which is also reflective of the larger policy of IHH, “The end goal has to be for justice and liberty to reign, for a Near-East where peace, justice and freedom are on the increase.”

Thus, it is only by, to use a phrase by Albayrak, an “uprising of conscience” and collective mobilization from the bottom to the top that will finally put an end to the unjust Israeli policies imposed on the Palestinians and permit freedom to ring from the roof tops of all Palestinians living inside the land of Palestine.

*****

 

Ayten Turan: Who is Hakan Albayrak?

Hakan Albayrak: A Turkish Muslim. A columnist.
AT: What are the factors that make up your identity as a journalist and writer?

HA: The desire to have some part in the founding of a new world.

AT: The world knows you as one of the activists on the Mavi Marmara ship. Why did you decide to go with the Mavi Marmara to Gaza?

HA: Because of Gaza, and Palestine in general, not being a part of Israel; so that Israel couldn’t do what it wanted to do over there; to show that the blockade being carried out in Gaza is illegal. And also to transport my daughters’ gifts to the children of Gaza. There was a giant suitcase full of toys. The Israelis took all of them apart.

AT: How did the Gaza Freedom Flotilla form? How did volunteers from different countries come together in one place?

HA: Some civil service organizations in Europe got it started, and we followed from there.

AT: Can you talk a little about the profile of the volunteers on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla? They were from different countries, different age and gender, different beliefs and different political lines of thought. How was this volunteer activist movement organized?

HA: Muslims, Christians, Jews, and atheists… Turks, Kurds, Arabs, Spanish, Greeks, English, and Germans… they were all on the ship. The reason was an uprising of conscience. Those with a conscience came and the others who were unable supported us from where they were in various ways such as through prayers, sending positive energy, protest demonstrations, or explaining to others the legitimacy of our pursuits.

AT: In spite of the warnings from Israel before the Gaza flotilla left, which was basically do “not come, we will intervene,” the ships left anyway. Did you not believe in the warnings? What was planned regarding an intervention?

HA: They could stop us by striking our ship’s propeller or by enclosing our ship between two large ships. There were other ways as well. There was no need for soldiers to climb onto our ship. But we also took this possibility into consideration. We said, “If they climb aboard our ship, we’ll try to stop them, even if this might be only a symbolic form of resistance”.

AT: Can you share some of the experiences of the Israeli soldiers boarding the ship? What can you say about the disproportionate use of force?

HA: Israeli soldiers attacked a civil aid ship in international waters and killed nine people and injured dozens. “End of the story”. The rest are just details.

AT: In your columns, you characterize the Israeli soldiers as “pirates” and state “we weren’t the ones to retreat, they were; the boats drew up to our sides dozens of times and retreated”. Why did they have to retreat when they had a disproportionate share of force compared to you?

HA: International courts also say that attacking a civil aid ship in international waters is piracy. If they hadn’t attacked us in international waters, but in the vicinity of Gaza, it still would have been piracy.  Gaza does not belong to Israel. It isn’t even an occupied territory of Israel.  In 2005, when soldiers removed settlers from Gaza, Israeli leaders made a statement to the effect that, “now we have no remaining interest in Gaza”.

To come to the second part of your question, when the Zodiac boats approached the ship, we would yell “Allahu ekber”, and they would get scared and retreat from the ship. That was the view from my spot, on the edge of the second floor.

AT: In a writing of yours regarding the raid on the Mavi Marmara, you say that “the weapons of the Israeli soldiers on deck were taken and thrown overboard. After 1 hour of fighting, an announcement was made that ‘we have a lot of martyrs. We’re waving the white flag so that more blood doesn’t flow; let’s have everyone take a break from the struggle and meet in the hall”. Can you detail that process for us? Following the struggle, young Furkan Doğan, who was shot in the head with four bullets, was one of the 9 activists whose life was taken. Israeli soldiers stated that they were “defending themselves”. What kind of resistance did the activists show?

HA: Some of my friends had clubs, while others had plastic bottles in their hands. Most of us had nothing. We showed no greater resistance to the Israeli pirates than that which was shown to police at anti-globalist demonstrations in the USA or Europe. Molotov Cocktails are used in those demonstrations; we didn’t even those. And yet the result was 9 dead. There’s no need for me to go into details. I just want to underline one detail: All of the dead were activists. The Israelis say, “We killed in order to save our lives”, and we say: If we had meant to come for your lives, we would have come against you armed with weapons, and we wouldn’t have thrown the weapons we took from you into the sea.

AT: After the Gaza Flotilla came into Israeli control, where did they take you? What did they do to you? Did they interrogate you? Did they employ any physical violence?

HA: They took us to the Ashdod port, and from there to the Bershava prison. A number of my friends experienced violence along the way. It’s also possible to describe the traveling conditions as violent. I don’t want to go into details; those who want to know can find and read them on the internet. As for the interrogation… everyone asked “Why did you come to Israel” and we all answered, “We didn’t come to Israel”. IHH head Bülent Yıldırım and a few others were taken by intelligence officers for special interrogation. I was also interrogated. It was a ridiculous dialogue. They thought I was part of Prime Minister Erdoğan’s family. There’s no connection.

AT: In another column of yours, you tell how a Greek journalist on the ship asked you, “Erdoğan won’t leave you in their hands. But Papandreou might not fight for us. If we’re left homeless, will Erdoğan take us in?”. How did you feel in response to that question? How did a Christian activist carrying a feeling of trust in Turkey and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan make you feel?

HA: I felt very human things then.

AT: Your possessions were confiscated. Were there any items that weren’t returned? Were there things that were seen as dangerous or inconvenient to return?

HA: There were some Barbie dolls. They passed over my daughters’ headscarves. Yes, the headscarves may have been inconvenient!

AT: Did the other ships in the Gaza flotilla show resistance to Israeli soldiers as on the Mavi Marmara? Your struggle with Israeli soldiers became a hotly debated issue in the following days. Some of the people who thought your resistance was legitimate, who felt a sympathy with the aid flotilla and the activists, who cursed Israel, made comments that “if the activists on the other ships had non-violently resisted like the activists on the Mavi Marmara, 9 people wouldn’t have lost their lives”. Can you share you thoughts on this with us?

HA: I refuse to debate any more about this! A civil aid boat in international waters faced a military offensive, which as a result 9 people died and dozens were injured; this is the only thing that’s necessary to emphasize. Talking more about this issue will just undermine the pain of this crime.

AT: Why did Israel raid the Gaza flotilla? What did they hope to find besides “humanitarian aid supplies”? What was on the ship?

HA: There were no illegal materials on the ship; and, if you ask me, the reason for the Israeli intervention wasn’t a suspicion like that, anyway. They wanted to send a message that “the whole world must bow down to our despotism”.

AT: Can it be said that ‘the 9 people who lost their lives on the Mavi Marmara brought the whole world’s attention to the blockade in Gaza’?

HA: Certainly.

AT: In another of your writings, you say that “if they had said ‘if you don’t surrender right now, we’ll shoot you with real bullets’, we would have hardened our hearts and given up” and add “none of us got on the Mavi Marmara to die”. Why did you write this?

HA: Why? To completely explain what I wrote.

AT: Fetullah Gülen used the term ‘martyr’ in his June 3rd 2010 message of condolence for those who died in the Israeli raid on the Mavi Marmara. In a later statement, he added “those who journey to become a martyr, and go to their death on purpose, cannot be called martyrs”. What do you think about that?

HA: I didn’t like his statement.

AT: From a ‘human rights’ perspective, anywhere in the world, would you have the same volunteer activist reflex or feeling for a Christian, Jewish, or atheist community that was subjected to political isolation or an embargo, or that had its rights taken away? That is, is the ‘Muslim community’ the primary issue for you, or is it a rights issue?

HA: Being a Muslim requires one not to look at the religion or nationality of anyone who suffers injustice. Hrant Dink was an Armenian. It was necessary to defend him when he was sued in court because of one of his writings; I defended him. When a a synagogue was bombed in Istanbul, I wrote: “This is not only an attack on Jewishness; it is also an attack on the Islamic Civilization,” as the latter encompasses encompasses synagogues. When churches were attacked in Egypt and Egyptian Muslims stood in front of the churches to stand guard, I congratulated them.  If I had the opportunity, I too would have joined them. I’ve taken part in movements for or like this committed to the liberation of African people’s liberation from imperialism or neo-colonialism, and I’ve never said “let’s only save Muslims; let’s leave Christians and Animists behind”.

AT: In another of your columns, you write “if Palestine cannot establish a united government, then Gaza’s management should temporarily enter into a Turkish mandate”. Do you really see this as a possible situation?

HA: Life goes on

AT: Can a united Hamas and Fatah movement build an acceptable life for the Palestinian people, at least from a ‘human rights’ perspective? What do you see for the management in the region in the future?

HA: God does everything, whatever He does is always good.

AT: Between Hamas and Fatah, who will benefit from a “United Government”?

HA: Palestine will benefit.

AT: If a ‘United Government’ doesn’t succeed, if its continuity can’t be provided for, what will happen?

HA: Hamas will probably focus on developing guided missiles.

AT: How will Israel and Egypt continue with the blockade following all these events?

HA: I expect a step back. We can’t forget that Israel retreated from Southern Lebanon in 2000 and from Gaza in 2005.

AT: What’s your opinion of the Goldstone Report?

HA: It’s a fair and balanced report. Mr Goldstone apparently doesn’t like it anymore, though. He’s lost the balance to the Israeli critics.

AT: What’s your opinion of the Palmer Report?

HA: I don’t have one.

AT: In reports published by UN human rights experts such as Richard Falk, it’s recorded that the embargo carried out by Israel has “left 1.6 million Palestinians deprived of basic human rights”. Which of the reports prepared regarding Middle-East politics in recent times will be dominant?

HA: I don’t know.

AT: What’s your opinion of recent Turkish policies towards Israel? What do you expect from the AK Party government for management of the region?

HA: The position developed by the AK Party government against Israel is an ethically and politically correct position. The support given by this government to the Arab revolutions is also ethically and politically correct. The end goal has to be for justice and liberty to reign, for a Near-East where peace, justice, and freedom are on the increase. This is the AK Party’s goal.

AT: If an aid flotilla is formed again, would you consider taking part?

HA: Yes.

____________

Haykan Albayrak is journalist living in Turkey and on the Board of Trustees of IHH (Insani Yardim Vakfi), which is a foundation for human rights, freedom and humanitarian relief.

Ayten Turan is EC’s Middle East Correspondent living in Turkey.


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