Author Archives: daniella


Daniella Kuzmanovic

The reactions of the Turkish government following the tragic events in the territorial waters off Gaza have a range of domestic and international ramifications. Right now one significant international emphasis is on the worsened bilateral relations with what was just ten years ago its closest ally in the region, Israel. But what could very well become more significance in the years to come, are the kind of expectations the Turkish government’s responses to the Gaza situation since late 2008, and particularly the rhetoric of the government in the past few days invariably produce in the Arab Middle East and beyond. Not only has the Turkish government been fierce and outspoken in their critique of the Israeli government, its policies and its actions throughout the past days, and threatened with various responses. The government has also, through their critique and actions, taken on the role as the voice of the critical international community with regard to the Gaza issue in specific and the Palestinian issue in general. Turkey now speaks for the world, at least for that part of the world that sees injustice being done. Not least in the Arab Middle East Turkish reactions most likely leads to increased expectations of Turkey being able to deliver on the issue and hence do the almost impossible: somehow contribute to a revitalization of the peace process. Other countries, like Iran, may have articulated themselves in similar terms as the government. However, as opposed to such countries, which have no legitimacy in the international stage, Turkey’s international position and alliances hold other promises. The Turkish government may therefore slam down on its Israeli counterpart as we speak. But if pressure on Turkey to live up to such expectations rises, they may rather quickly find themselves having to improve relations with Israel once again to succeed.

Turkish prime minister Erdoğan has spent the past days threatening a severe Turkish response to the Gaza incident, where a number of Turkish citizens were killed by Israeli soldiers during the attempt of the latter to take control of a ship attempting to bring aid to Gaza. No doubt Erdoğan will have to deliver on his promise to the Turkish public, who are for the most part outraged by Israel’s Gaza policies. Pictures of the Israeli bombings of Gaza in late 2008 left quite an impression on most Turks. It resulted in a number of solidarity demonstrations, a fierce critique of Israel and its imperialist friends, and a sincere wish to help those who suffered and were victims of such policies in Gaza. Among other, this heartfelt outrage and indignation revolving round a sense of great injustice being done, was a driving force behind the ‘one minute’ incident in Davos. Here prime minister Erdoğan managed to tell Shimon Peres that Israelis know well how to kill, before he got up and left the session infuriated because he as opposed to the Israeli representative was only allotted a couple of minutes to speak. Since then what the Turks deemed a downright humiliation of the Turkish ambassador to Israel, and a Turkish TV series dealing with life in the Palestinian territories have contributed to remind Turks of their sincerely felt indignation. Should Erdoğan fail to deliver with regard to the Gaza incident it could cost the AKP a number of votes in the national elections, which are to be held next year at the latest. It would simply make Erdoğan and the AKP seem untrustworthy and would make them vulnerable to critique.

But the implicit built-up in expectations, which is somehow part of the way in which Turkey has publically lashed out at Israel, is not just taking place with regard to a domestic audience. If not before then definitely now Turkish government starts to look like someone who will take on the role of ring leader in that part of the international community who oppose Israeli policies and push for a solution to the Palestinian issue. In other words it seems as if a range of Arab Middle East countries now actually begin to see Turkey as a state who will possibly be able to revive the peace process through their pressure on Israel. In that sense the stakes are gradually getting much higher for Turkey. The government may quickly find themselves caught between a rock and a hard place as they aim to produce international results with regard to the Palestinian issue, while they also need to hammer away on the Israeli government. No doubt, the Turkish government has no ambition to return to the warm relationship with Israel of for example the 1990ies. This is not in line with the foreign political vision of the AKP. Nor does it serve the security interests of Turkey any longer, on the contrary. Yet there may be a high price to pay if Israel mistrusts Turkey to the extent where Turkey has no role to play with regard to attempts to revitalize the peace process. This has already been seen in relation to Turkey’s attempts to revitalize the Israel-Syria rapprochement, but here the stakes were much lower than in the present Gaza related case. If Turkey fails to live up to its expectations and disappoints the raising expectations in the Arab Middle East, the centre-stage role the current Turkish government envisions for Turkey with regard to peace efforts in the region and with regard to positioning Turkey as a major regional (and global) power may soon prove to be far from reality.

As stated the current Gaza incident has multiple domestic and international ramifications, and only a few have been touched upon in this analysis. Significantly though, as sketched above, the Gaza incident may just prove to be the event that provides the Turkish government with the opportunity to live out their foreign policy visions, including the role of Turkey as regional power, problem solver and peace promoter in the wider Middle East. But if they cannot live up to the expectations and deliver the results that supposedly should come with such a role as ring leader, Gaza could also bring the downfall of the AKP’s ambitious foreign political visions for Turkey once the enthusiasm of the Arab Middle East withers and disillusionment sets in. Stakes have always been high for those who take up the Palestinian issue. Turkey is no exception in this regard.


by Daniella Kuzmanovic

After the Turkish parliament approved a comprehensive package of amendments to the Turkish constitution late Thursday, all things now point to a referendum on the amendments. What are we then to think of the prospect of a referendum on these changes to the Turkish constitution? No doubt the amendments in themselves are significant steps towards political democratization, and so is asking the voters for their opinion. Nevertheless, I have trouble making up my mind when it comes to whether the referendum is a good or a bad thing under the current circumstances. Let me share some of my considerations on the issue with you.

A referendum on amendments to the constitution where voters actually have something to vote about, will in itself be a significant step in relation to political democratization and liberalization in Turkey. Any step that can potentially increase the Turkish voters’ notion of having-a-say on the future political culture of the country is welcome, not least given that the past couple of years have made more and more Turks ask themselves, whether they actually have any influence on what is going on in their country. There is a real danger of a couple of generations of Turks becoming completely alienated and disengaged from national politics. The last time there was a referendum on the constitution was back in 1982. After the 12th of September 1980 military coup the military junta had a new constitution prepared, which despite a number of revisions is still in function. The constitution was among other designed to control not least civil politics by creating a range of institutional checks and balances that secured the influence of state organs and thus of the kemalist-statist military-bureaucratic-judiciary elite. When the voters were subsequently asked to vote on the constitution in 1982, the vote was de facto a choice between continued military rule or a return to some sort of civil politics, since a return to the latter required acceptance of the new constitution. Hence, the Turks accepted yet another (the third) constitution prepared not through a democratic political process but by an authoritarian elite’s desire to restructure Turkish politics (even the more liberal constitution after the 1960 coup was created in this manner, even though it created an at that time unprecedented political liberalization in Turkey).

Almost needless to say, a likely ‘yes’ to the amendments in a referendum will create a legitimacy around the political democratization process in Turkey, and send a clear signal to the statist military-bureaucratic elite and their supporters. The high-profiled amendments in the package are after all particularly aimed at undermining the ability of the Kemalist statist elite to control civil politics – such as including more members in the Constitutional Court and restructuring the HSYK (Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors) – as well as aimed at continuing the process of bringing military personnel within a framework of the rule of law – such as making it possible to prosecute those involved in the 1980 military coup, or consolidating the civic prosecution of military personnel. A clear ‘yes’ with a good margin of the voters will furthermore signal that the amendments to the constitution are truly the wish of the Turkish nation rather than just the ambition of the ruling party, the AKP. It would be a significant signal of the desire of the Turkish people to move towards more political democratization and liberalization.

In other words, for those of us who hope the future for Turkey holds a development of a more democratic political culture, the amendments in themselves as well as the prospect of a referendum seem like significant steps on the way. On the other hand, I hold certain reservations as to just how beneficial a referendum will be given the circumstances, context and political climate in Turkey today. Moreover, a referendum pushes the prospect of getting a whole new constitution into a distant future.

During this week’s debates on the critical amendments in the Turkish parliament – not least the amendment making it more difficult to close political parties which was rejected and withdrawn from the package – there were at least two kinds of opposition. One (CHP and MHP), reflects a deep-seated skepticism towards the motives of the AKP with regard to carrying through political reforms. Such opponents fear that the constitutional amendments will make it impossible for the state to control the AKP, hence consolidating the power of the party and possibly paving the way for a complete pro-Islamist take-over and an undermining of the founding principles of the Turkish state. The other (BDP), points out that even though the amendments are a step in the right direction more democracy and a consistency with regard to removing anti-democratic passages is needed. Among other BDP suggested that the very problematic ten percent threshold in national elections should be lifted, in return they would have voted in favour of the amendment regarding party closures. (I will not speculate on the motives of the 12 members of the ruling party who also abstained or voted against the party closure amendment).

Even though the above mentioned reservations express different kinds of opposition they both put a question mark behind the motives of the AKP. Are they in fact pursuing national interests or only their own interests? Needless to say that this question will also be the main theme of a referendum on the amendments, just as the so-called true nature of the ruling party has been the main theme in the on-going struggle between various statist and political parties in Turkey. In that sense the referendum will only contribute to further polarization of the Turkish population in a situation where democratic dialogue is already handicapped. I fear that a referendum, which prime minister Erdoğan and AKP will do their outmost to win and where the stakes are high, will not provide a context for improving the possibility for democratic dialogue in Turkey. Fresh in mind is also the attempt of the AKP to draft a new constitution a couple of years back. Even though the people AKP put to design this constitution were highly skilled and aimed to create a democratic constitution, the process around the draft was marked by secrecy and closed-door policy rather than dialogue and inclusion in the draft process. An obvious mistake, if the aim of the AKP was to create a democratic culture and signal the wish for increased plurality and inclusion of the plural in national politics.

An additional issue is that a referendum on the amendments will most likely mean that any notion of getting a whole new constitution will be pushed into an indefinite future. For one you don’t hold referendums on such issues every other day. On top of that next year is election year in Turkey. The need for a new constitution has, though, been pointed to again and again, just as it has been pointed out that amendments, no matter how many, are not sufficient to create the institutional framework necessary to underpin a full-blown democratic political system in Turkey. Keeping in mind that the draft for a new constitution could not make any headways in Turkey due to the way it came into being and the general political climate of suspicion, we have to recognize that a referendum on the amendments are, alas, the second-best option. But at present it is the only option, and when all comes to all better than nothing.


by Daniella Kuzmanovic

The current crisis will be solved within the framework of the constitutional order and the frameworks of the laws. This was the bottom line of the statement from the presidency after the crisis management meeting Thursday the 25th of February in Ankara between President Abdullah Gül, prime minister Recep Tayyıp Erdoğan and chief of general staff İlker Başbuğ. Considering the serious political crises and the way it has rubbed off on the financial markets, it was about high time to send the message that people in and outside Turkey must trust in the political and legal institutions of the country to be able to deal with the crisis. Needless to say that a repetition of the February 21, 2001 incident, where former president Ahmet Necdet Sezer quarreled with then prime minister Bülent Ecevit in the National Security Council  thereby more than adding to a severe financial crises Turkey if not directly setting it off, must be avoided at all costs. This is seemingly recognized by all parties in the political conflict.


That the statement centered round the issue of the workings of rule of law and the institutional checks and balances in Turkey should come as no surprise. Not just due to the recent historical experience of 2001. Rather one has to understand how the judiciary is for better and worse the gravity point of the crisis. The question of whose ideological outlook dominates within the judiciary is a key concern by supporters as well as adversaries of the AKP government. The former explains how the judiciary has traditionally been in alignment with the Kemalist etatist elite including the military. The rulings of the Kemalist stong-hold par excellence, the Constitutional court, serve as prime examples. The closure case against AKP and DTP in 2008, and the recent overruling / annulment in January 2010 of the reform package passed by parliament in July 2009, which would among other have allowed civilian courts to prosecute military personnel. Even though this overruling has had limited practical effects, military personnel do in fact face trial by civilian courts in the on-going Ergenekon-Sledgehammer investigations, it has been seen as a strong symbolic support to the conceptualization of some people in Turkey as being above the law in the interest of the nation-state. Hence, they argue that what is in fact going on is democratization and strengthening of rule of law in Turkey. Those adversaries with a more conservative Kemalist leaning lament, how the whole Ergenekon-Sledgehammer case is nothing but a politically initiated witch hunt on behalf of the current government, thus revealing how the AKP has succeeded in a civilian take-over of not only the bureaucracy but also the judiciary. In this context the problematic structuring of the HSYK (Supreme Board of judges and prosecutors) where the minister of justice among other has a seat is presented as one of many examples of the ways in which government can somehow pressure the judiciary.


The current case of prosecutor Ilhan Cihaner really shows the intricacies of these relations (intricacies which can barely be disclosed in the brief section that follows but nevertheless). In mid Feburary 2010 Cihaner was arrested and interrogated as part of the Ergenekon case. The arrest was warranted by another prosecutor, Osman Şanal, with special authorities. Cihaner had launched an investigation into an Islamic religious sect in 2007 and later in 2009 attempted to launch an investigation into the Gülen movement. These acts had put him squarely in the secular Kemalist camp who are fighting what they believe is an anti-secular AKP government. Immediately following upon the arrest the HSYK (Supreme Board of judges and prosecutors) removed the special powers of the prosecutor who had had Cihaner arrested. In the light of HSYK being seen as a Kemalist stronghold, this removal was interpreted as the secular Kemalist elite showing its muscle, an opinion among other aired by the ministry of justice. Yet the very same ministry of justice was accused by critics of intervening in order to slow down the removal of Şanal, something which gave him time to forward the investigation file on Cihaner to the courthouse. Meanwhile AKP critics also saw the detainment of Cihaner in the first place as an attempt on behalf of the government to stop any investigations relating to Islamic religious networks. The underlying assumption is of course that such investigations might hurt the ruling party since they have close relations to the Gülen movement and (excuse the expression) God only knows who else.


It is easy to get caught up on either side of the polarized debate. There are however also those observers in Turkey who argue for the necessity of once and for all ridding Turkish politics of the legacy of military influence, while simultaneously criticizing the AKP for replacing military tutelage with civilian tutelage. AKP may say that they are acting in the name of democratization but they are not themselves acting as true democrats. On the contrary they are using the existing rules and regulation aimed at state control with civilian politics to consolidate their own power. Upholding the 10 percent threshold in national elections is but one example of this. In this sense AKP follows in the footsteps of a long and by no democratic standards glorious political party tradition in Turkey. It is also in this context that one can hear speculations as to the extent to which government is able to affect the judiciary. Of course there are problematic areas for example regarding the HSYK. But does this simply mean that the continued politicization of the judiciary is the only reasonable explanation to everything that is going on including the arrest of military personnel, or could it be that part of the explanation has to do with circles in the judiciary who are tired of accusations of lack of independence, and tired of a reputation as somebody’s lapdog? Could it be that there are in fact people in the judiciary who act as they do because they pursue a strengthening of rule of law and the separation of powers?


Why is it, one may now ask, that this latter seems as such a naïve idea in a Turkish context? This I believe has partly to be explained by how the current tensions and political struggles between various elites have reasserted the prominent and popular notion that all acts are part of a larger master plan. Be it the plan of etatist elements or the AKP, the notion that acts are symbolic representations of a larger strategy and initiated by somebody for some higher purpose is by now the dominant lense through which all things must be interpreted and understood. As if there are not enough threats against the development of a democratic culture in Turkey, this is for sure one more problem to add to a long list.

A secular cartoon crises?

by Daniella Kuzmanovic

Needless to say that visual portrayals of the founding of father of the Turkish republic, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, are object of scrutiny. Any portryal which may seem insensitive to the national sentiments of Turks, or disrespectful and degrading to the memory of Atatürk is obviously met with resentment and anger by many Turks. Hence, it should come as no surprise that Turks in the Netherlands have reacted to the use of the iconography of Atatürk in relation to an advertisement for a travel agency.

The picture used in the poster, which according to the newspaper is to be found in a variety of public spaces and can for example be observed while waiting for the bus, shows a Turkisk Lira bill (featuring the picture of Atatürk in the middle). Below the bill is a pair of hald covered women’s breasts. The poster is put togteher so as to look like the head and shoulders of Atatürk continues into the full bosommed woman. Let’s hope this is not the beginning of a secular cartoon crises….

EU Progress Report and Civic Culture In Turkey

by Daniella Kuzmanovic.

Wednesday, October 14th, it was once again time for the yearly assessment of Turkish efforts to meet the political and economic criteria in relation to the EU membership negotiations ( With regard to the political criteria all the usual critical issues are, as could be expected, mentioned in the report: Minority issues, the Kurdish problem, human rights, equality with regard to gender, sexual orientation and disabled people, children’s rights, labor and union rights, the role of the military in politics, administrative structural problems in the bureaucracy, anti-corruption initiatives, the structure and functioning of the judiciary, the Ergenekon case, freedom of expression, and the lack of action with regard to the Cyprus issue and the question of opening Turkish ports for Cypriotic vessels. This year, in the light of the on-going tax case against the Doğan media group, and the accompanying verbalized attacks against the group’s media and journalists from members of the ruling party, concerns regarding freedom of speech were, as could also be expected, particularly emphasized.

My attention, though, was immediately drawn to a couple of smaller sections of the assessment report (page 20) dealing with civil society. This should perhaps not come as a surprise, since civil society in Turkey has been my object of research for some years. The role of civil society and input from civil society is frequently mentioned in the report. But on page 20 there are a couple of paragraphs that deal with some of the many challenges civil society faces in Turkey. One deals with the issue of funding, another with the issue of state – civil society relations:

“Some legal provisions place an undue burden on the operations of associations. There are high fines or severe punishments for failing to comply with the Law on Associations [note 23 inserted: In the event of failure to keep the necessary records of an association, the executives of the association are liable to imprisonment of between three months and one year.] The legal obligation to notify authorities before receiving financial support from abroad places a burden on associations. Negative portrayal in certain media and at times disproportionate inspections of NGOs receiving funds from abroad, including EC funds, remain a further cause for concern.”


“There is a growing awareness in public institutions and in the public at large about the crucial role played by civil society organisations, including in the accession process. However, some difficulties encountered with the consultation procedures reflect the lack of trust between State institutions and civil society organisations. The legal framework for collection of donations and tax exemptions for NGOs needs to be strengthened, in line with EU good practice, to improve NGOs’ financial sustainability.”

To take up the latter first, for sure one of the main obstacles with regard to an enhanced role for civil society in Turkey is the lack of trust between state authorities and particular sections of civil society. That is to say those sections which have traditionally perceived themselves as being in opposition to the statist elite and the authoritarian state tradition in Turkey, and which have used the idiom of civil society to express this opposition from the mid 1980ies onwards. Having stated this, I have also stated that the lack of trust, among other, has to be understood with reference to the events of September 12, 1980 (i.e. the military coup) and the subsequent clamp down of state authorities on a range of civic political and intellectual forces, but particularly leftists. The result of the 1980 coup were also a number of highly restrictive laws with regard to associations (dernek) and foundations (vakıf), associations being more heavily controlled than foundations, though, since associations were associated with leftist activities. In addition the lack of trust must also be understood with reference to the events of February 28, 1997 (the so-called postmodern coup) particularly aimed at pro-Islamic forces. These two sections are in fact two prominent sections of that part of civil society in Turkey, which aims to influence the political developments and decision-making processes. Many of the NGO’s that have the attention of the EU are indeed part of a broader leftist tradition.

The restrictive laws on associations and foundations have in recent years finally been revised. However, building trust between state authorities and civil society takes more than legal revisions and strengthening of procedures. Yet the wording in the progress report makes it sound as if the issue of trust is a technical issue, rather than stemming from those broader historical experiences of the past decades that still influences state- civil society relations. The EU does in fact support trust-building measures with regard to state-civil society relations in Turkey, but the report fails to mention this.

The first of the quoted paragraphs touching upon the issue of funds from abroad for civic activities, deals with the way in which the influx of foreign support for civic activities is perceived in Turkey by state authorities and by “certain media”. As a matter of fact, foreign funding for civic activities is also a major issue of debate among civic activists themselves. For several reasons accepting foreign funds is viewed with suspicion by some segments of civil society, and those organizations that do receive funds from the EU, the Soros Foundations or alike thus make themselves a liable target for critique from various other segments of civil society. One of the main aspects of this critique pertains to a firm belief that funds do not come with ‘no strings attached.’ They are part of a political-ideological ambition (or plot as some would prefer) to establish ideological and economic dominance in Turkey. Not least US funding has been read with such a perspective in mind, the Soros Foundation being seen as a prominent example of how a US neo-liberal, pro-Israeli segment is gaining influence in Turkey. A book entitled ”Project democracy”: Sivil örümceğin ağında (Project democracy: In the web of the civil spider) (Ankara: Ulus Dağı Yayınları) is a prime example of such thinking. Other aspects of the critique pertain to a desire among civic activists to dissociate themselves from western values and influence more generally speaking, in order to state that their organization does not adhere to such values.

The issue taken up in this section of the progress report is in fact a complex issue pertaining yet again to the way in which various historical experiences form part of civic activism in Turkey. One pertains to the question of Turkish sovereignty, which is close to the heart of both traditional Kemalist civil society organizations that hold on to the notion of Turkey as ‘threatened’ by foreign powers, as well as to those leftists who see themselves as involved in a global anti-imperialist struggle. Another pertains to the struggle between western modernity including political values, and what not least a number of pro-Islamic organizations perceive as ‘local’ (read: authentic) forms of civic activism. That was just to mention a few of the aspects of the issue. Again the report barely hints at the variety of historical experiences, which are involved in constituting the critique in certain media and the general suspicious attitude towards foreign funds. I stress the importance of this outlook and sensitivity towards the historical experiences in play in order to underline how technical solutions aimed at transparency, alterations of legal structures and bureaucratic procedures is only one aspect of supporting civic culture in Turkey. This has also been pointed to in numerous reports on civic culture in Turkey, such as those from TÜSEV. I just wish, the sections in the EU progress report had also shown even greater sensitivity towards the issues at stake.


By Daniella Kuzmanovic

According to the Turkish newspaper Posta (May 23, 2009) the famous, or notorious depending on who one asks, singer, entertainer and TV star Ibrahim Tatlıses intends to establish a national news channel in Turkey. The name will be either ‘Tempo Haber’ (Tempo News) or ‘Haber 63’ (News 63). Tatlıses’ business interests are widespread and include among other entertainment, food, transport, hotels and a music TV station. Tatlıses has apparently applied to the Turkish national Radio and Television Board (RTÜK) in order to obtain a broadcasting license for his news station.

Judging from numbers, establishing a news channel has become quite the thing to do in Turkey during the past decade. The first 24 hour national news channel, NTV, was launched in 1996. Today there are around ten TV channels that can be considered as national news channels, including CNNTürk and Haber Türk. In addition, all major national channels such as the private ATV, Show, or Kanal D and public TRT have extensive news coverage as part of their daily programs. The various national news channels seem to represent both a variety of business interests, and a variety of political-ideological outlooks. Turkish media market is dominated by a few large holding companies, which each have one or more news station in their portfolio. Moreover, the various channels represent various ideological outlooks ranging from right-wing nationalist, Kemalist, conservative, pro-Islamic to liberal. If Turkey’s biggest star should not then have his own news channel, who should?

Considering that the population of Turkey is approximately 72 million around ten news channels is quite a lot. Turkey actually rivals the US when it comes to the number of national news channels. So, either one can conclude that a lot must be happening around the clock in Turkey, and that Turks are unusually interested in socio-political affairs; or one can suspect that the bouquet of news channels reflect something else. Turkey does have its fair share of events and happenings but not more so than other countries. That Turks should be unusually interested in socio-political affairs would also be hard to sustain, given that social scientists have pointed to the general lack of interest in politics in the traditional sense, i.e. party politics, national political debates etc. This is particularly predominant among youth (the median age of Turkey is under 30). The lack of interest in traditional politics stems, among other, from the conscious depoliticization of Turkish society in the wake of the 12th of September coup (1980) – which made associating with the realm of politics into something bound to cause you trouble – a lack of being able to identify with the current political establishment in Turkey dominated by elderly males, but also reflects a general trend in youth culture across the globe, where leisure, consumption and entertainment has moved to the foreground.

Thus, the many news channels in Turkey must presumably be explained along other lines. As I am not an expert on financial or holding company strategies I will refrain from speculations as to the advertising money a ‘Tatlıses branded’ news channel could attract, or how holding companies within the entertainment industry spread their investments. This undoubtedly also plays into Tatlıses’ interest in establishing a news channel. But it has also been pointed out by some of the comments on Tatlıses’ new endeavor that he is bound to loose money on this adventure. Hence, other reasons, which are not solely economic, must be taken into consideration. One of these reasons is the perception of possessing power, which is associated with being one of the major players within the media industry in Turkey. And if anything owning a 24 hour news channel on top of all one’s other media interests signals an intention to be a ‘media tycoon’ and thereby influence the socio-political and economic agenda of the country. As mentioned Turkish media is dominated by a few large holding companies. The biggest of those is the Doğan group, which of course has a news channel in their portfolio (CNNTürk). So does the Çukorova group (Sky Türk), the Doğuş group (NTV), the Feza / Samanyolu group (Samanyolu haber), Ihlas holding (TGRT haber) etc. Turkuvaz being a notable exception but they do own the prominent TV station ATV and Sabah newspaper. Also state-owned TRT has a news channel (TRT2).

There is an on-going controversy between the Doğan group and the Turkish government. The Doğan group is known to be anti-AKP, and is presumed to use its stronghold in Turkish media to oppose the government. Doğan has become involved in an enormous tax case. Earlier this year the holding company was fined for tax evasion and ordered to pay around half a billion dollars. Doğan has of course dismissed the case as being a government led attempt to crack down on opposition. The case clearly indicates the kind of power media is perceived to have in Turkey, and also indicates that media are not considered to be relegating objective news but are rather seen as stake-holders in on-going political-ideological clashes in the country. The media sector is not only characterized by being in the hands of few holding companies. Moreover these holding companies support various political-ideological segments of society, and make sure that all kind of media including newspapers, TV, radio and publishing houses are available to the particular segment they cater.

Tatlıses can, hence, write a new page in the history of the poor migrant from Urfa who became one of Turkey’s biggest stars because of his ‘sweet voice,’ developed into a business tycoon, and then attempted to run for parliament. Now he attempts to add new aspects to the public perception of him as a man of power by moving into the serious part of the media market. Of course, this apparent move has immediately been met with a range of joking comments as to who will be news anchors in this new channel, including suggestions of fellow arabesk music stars or the oriental dancer Tatlıses has had an affair with and who has featured in his TV shows.

Finally insights into the judicial culture in Turkey

By Daniella Kuzmanovic

The judiciary in Turkey tends to have a statist, Kemalist bias. The judiciary in Turkey has traditionally never been considered objective by the Turkish public at large. Rather they have been viewed as representatives of particular perspectives, outlooks and worldviews, most notably that of the statist, Kemalist elite but also to some extent of right-wing nationalists. Two highly interesting reports came out yesterday from Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation (TESEV), which substantiate such claims. The first report analyses data from 51 qualitative interviews with judges and prosecutors (12 women and 39 men) from four various provinces in Turkey (Ankara, Istanbul, Diyarbakır and Trabzon). This report illustrates how people within the system are inclined to articulate and also rule on the basis of the worldview of the statist elite. The second report analyses data from 59 qualitative interviews with people from 20 provinces in Turkey (18 of the respondents are from Kars, though, and many other provinces are only represented by a single or two respondents) about their views on and possible experiences with the judiciary. One of the main conclusions of this report is that people perceive the judiciary as if it is a government agency, and that the courts do not display equal treatment for all citizens.

The reason for the reports is of course that public trust in the integrity, independence and impartiality of the judiciary is a backbone with regard to the development of a democratic culture in Turkey. At present, however, controversial cases and rulings are always debatable by reference to the political outlook of the prosecutors and judges, who have been involved in the case. Every time a case is discussed in public the key question being asked is always who is handling the case – meaning who as in what are the supposed political ideological stances of the particular persons involved, what segment do they belong to? High profiled cases are politicized from the outset. The on-going Ergenekon investigation is a case in point. The accused and their political supporters claim that the Ergenekon network is pure fantasy, a case initiated by the AKP government in order to clamp down on its ideological enemies within the statist elite. On the other hand, other segments of Turkish society welcome the attempts of the judiciary to confront those within the statist elite who think they have the right to act outside the boundaries of the law in the interest of the nation. Another spectacular case from recent times is the Şemdinli bombing case – that is the case investigating the bombing of a Kurdish bookstore in 2005, where it turned out that it had been carried out by persons associated with the Turkish gendarmerie special unit although they had attempted to make it look as if the bombing was done by PKK. During the investigation, as the prosecutor attempted to investigate how high up the system the order had come from hence implicating senior security personnel, he was suddenly suspended from his duty and later fired. On top of that are closure cases against political parties, prosecutions against civic actors, intellectuals, journalists and so forth.

The first of the two reports dealing with the outlook of the judges and prosecutors, among other, emphasizes two aspects of the prevalent outlook. One is that judges and prosecutors tend to be in line with the traditional Kemalist, statist elite regarding the idea that their prime obligation is the protection of the interests of the state, i.e. downplaying the rights of the citizen as the pivotal point of the justice system. The other is a ‘nationalist reflex’ to express suspicion towards Turkish integration with the outside world, here expressed through a fear of what the prevalence given to international law due to a change in article 90 of the Turkish constitution implies to the legal system in Turkey and the ability to protect national interests. The judges even seem to express reluctance to abide to the present article’s underlining of how international law must be given prevalence. Here one only has to recall the former President of the republic, Ahmet Necdet Sezer. He, if any, embodied the kind of outlook which the report from TESEV concerns itself with. Sezer was chief justice of the Constitutional Court before he became president in 2000. While residing in Çankaya, the official residence of the president in Ankara, Sezer went out of his way to defend the secular order of Turkey, which implied constant clashes with the AKP government. He indeed perceived himself as protecting the Turkish state and state principles. In a similar vein he also expressed the classic fear of the statist elite of undermining Turkish national sovereignty if the integration with the outside world is not strictly controlled. Sezer, among other, was known to be skeptical of the extent of privatizations of state owned companies taking place in Turkey and the increased role of foreign capital investments.

Turkey and the Durban II conference: Above all there is silence

By Daniella Kuzmanovic

While my fellow bloggers have called attention to the Iranian and Arab reactions to the Durban II conference in Geneva, I have refrained from writing anything on Turkey. The reason is obvious: The Durban II conference has been bypassed in almost complete silence by the Turkish press at large, by columnists, as well as by Turkish politicians. Apart from reporting on the speech by Iranian president Ahmedinejad and the reactions it caused, the Durban II conference has simply been a non-issue. One column by pro-Islamic writer and thinker Ali Bulaç in Zaman 24.4.09 ( seems to be the exception that proves the rule. Instead, other domestic policy related issues including among other a speech by the Commander in chief, economic crisis, Turkish-Armenian relations, Ergenekon related weapon finds, Northern Cyprus elections, and a possible reshuffle of the cabinet are obviously of more pressing concern.

Considering that Turkish government, including prime minister Erdoğan himself, has put some effort into becoming the new best friend of the Muslim world, the lack of comments on the Durban II conference by Turkish political establishment deserves a few notes, though. One of two issues at the centre of the Durban II conference is the Palestinian question and the possibilities of a critique of Israel. Most probably recall the showdown in Davos earlier this year, where prime minister Erdoğan walked out during a session on the Gaza situation after having called the Israelis ‘killers’, and having complained that he was only allowed a few minutes for comments while the Israeli representative, president Peres, was able to speak for a lot longer. Subsequently Erdoğan was hailed as a hero at home and in a range of Arab countries. Moreover, Erdoğan also articulated the sentiments of a range of Muslim countries when Turkey displayed strong concerns regarding the choice of Mr. Rasmussen as general secretary of NATO.

Turkey, alongside most UN countries apart from Iran, has only been represented by their diplomatic UN staff at the Durban II conference. In addition to this, it has not gone unnoticed in Turkey that the OIC secretary-general, Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu (a Turk!), would be attending the Durban II conference. One could suggest several reasons why the Durban II conference is not really given much attention by Turkish policy makers and thus not by the Turkish press either:

-          Turkey, more specifically prime minister Erdoğan, is one of two founders of the UN supported Alliance of Civilizations initiative, and would rather that this is the forum in which issues concerning the Muslim world, freedom of speech and of religion is debated

-          Turkey is at present member of the UN Security Council and see little benefit in creating further tensions by profiling themselves in a forum which is much less significant and boycotted by among other the US. Not least since the new US president is seemingly interested in making Turkey a key ally in a new, dialogue-oriented foreign policy in the Middle East and Central Asian regions.

-          If Turkey were to stand out with critical remarks at the Durban II conference they would be associated with the outbursts of president Ahmedinejad, which would damage their image as oriented towards dialogue and building bridges rather than burning them. The grand ole man of Turkish pro-Islamism, and the one who AKP has broken away from, Necmettin Erbakan, actually visited Ahmedinejad only days before the Durban II conference started. The AKP will probably make an effort to avoid this kind of association

More reasons could surely be listed. Feel free to add…

Déjà vu! Inciting social unrest in the name of national interest

by Daniella Kuzmanovic

The rapid unfolding and alleged extent of the so-called Ergenekon network in Turkey startles all observers of Turkish affairs. At the heart of this wast and complex case are the allegations that a network of persons within the Turkish state apparatus, or ideologically in tune with the statist Kemalist, nationalist elite, have conspired to cause social unrest in Turkey with the aim of toppling the current AK party government. There are primarily two reasons why these people are upset with the AK party. Firstly, they are convinced that the AK party is in fact undermining the secular order of Turkey, secularism being one of the crucial principles of the Turkish republic. Secondly, they are suspicious of the way in which the AK party has pursued a policy of among other European integration, something which in their view is endangering the national sovereignty of the Turkish republic. Undermining national sovereignty means exposing Turkey (once again) to the influence of foreign powers, severely limiting the ability of Turkey to make decisions with regard to vital national interests on her own, and hence ultimately threatening the existence of the Turkish nation state. In other word these people see themselves as protecting national interests.

It has already been pointed out by various commentators and analysts, how the roots of Ergenekon in Turkey must be traced back to the 1960ies and 1970ies, and the battle against Communism and radical leftists during the Cold War period. The similarities between the strategies of the Ergenekon network and the Operation Gladio of the 1950ies have of course not gone unnoticed either. The methods are supposedly roughly the same; false flag operations in order to frame the enemy (most notably leftists and Communists) thus creating public support and legitimacy for various military and security-related measures taken against such enemies, and causing unrest in order to legitimize the use of force and cohesion to maintain social order. Among the many allegations raised against ‘the Ergenekon gang’ has thus been that they are behind the hand grenade attack in 2006 against the staunchly secular newspaper Cumhuriyet, a newspaper which represents the outlook of the Ergenekon network. In fact several of its editors, journalists and columnists have been arrested as suspects in the Ergenekon case, most notably Mustafa Balbay and Ilhan Selçuk. Another allegation is that Ergenekon was behind the attack on the Turkish council of State (Danıştay) in 2006 leaving one judge dead and four injured. One of the judges was known for ruling against the wearing of the headscarf by school teachers. The shooter yelled ‘God is great’ before he fired so as to make it look like he was seeking revenge on behalf of pro-Islamic forces in Turkey.

The other day, as I was reading about the Events of September 6-7 (1955), also known as the Istanbul pogroms, I could not help but being struck by a déjà vu. Not that this is in any way to be interpreted as an attempt on my behalf to establish any sort of direct links to the present case, although the events seemed to involve a wing of Turkish military known to be acting as a counter-guerilla. Rather than propagating any conspiracy thinking, it simply struck me how these strategies of false flag operations and the stirring of social unrest appear again and again in a number of historical contexts, also in Turkey, in order to protect or strengthen the nation state. That is too say they are instigated in the name of national interest. The wider context of the pogroms was not least the way in which the Cyprus issue had become redefined as a matter of vital Turkish national interest during the early 1950ies, thus being able to serve as a mean to mobilize Turks versus Greeks including Turks versus the Greek minority in Turkey.

The event, which set in motion the Istanbul pogroms, however, was the news of the bombing of the Turkish Consulate in Thessaloniki on September 5th 1955, near the house which was the birthplace of the founder of the Turkish Republic, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. It was therefore depicted as a plot against Turkey. The following day, as the reports reached Istanbul through the vivid (but not altogether accurate) accounts of the Turkish press, crowds started gathering around Taksim square. The mobilization is suspected to be partly orchestrated by Turkish military and other authorities, partly by civic and political organizations sympathetic to the Turkish nationalistic account of the Cyprus issue. But no doubt the mobilization also gathered strength from the general strong animosities towards the Greeks accentuated by the nationalization of the Cyprus issue and the way this had been exploited by the Democratic Party, the party in power throughout the 1950ies in Turkey, in order to gain public support in the face of economic hardships. The crowds soon began to attack businesses and properties belonging to non-Muslim minorities, particularly Greeks, and the riots spread beyond Taksim. The events lasted until midnight, when the Turkish Army intervened and declared martial law. The results were devastating, although sources vary as to the number of businesses, residences, schools and churches attacked and the number of persons assaulted. The long term effects were that yet many more from the Greek-speaking minority left Turkey, hence contributing to the homogenization of the population bringing it in accordance with the national ideal of the homogenous (ethnic) Turkish nation state.

The déjà vu, though, most of all stems from the fact that the bomber of the Turkish consulate in Thessaloniki, Oktay Engin, turned out to be connected to the Turkish Intelligence Service. In other words it was a false flag operation most probably intended as part of a plot to cause social unrest and incite acts of revenge against Greeks in Turkey. This, of course, all in the name of protecting and advancing national interest.


Studies on Events of September 6-7, 1955:

Güven, Dilek (2006): Cumhuriyet dönemi azınlık politikaları ve stratejileri bağlamında 6-7 Eylül 1955 olayları. İletişim

Vryonis, Speros Jr. (2005): The Mechanism of Catastrophe: The Turkish Pogrom of September 6 – 7, 1955 and the Destruction of the Greek Community of Istanbul. Inc