Fifteen years ago, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was the hope of the Islamic world. He was an Islamist, of course, but that was part of his appeal. As the mayor of Istanbul, one of the world’s great cities, Erdoğan had governed as a charismatic and smart technocrat. He’d served time in prison, in 1999—for reading a poem that seemed to celebrate militant Islam—but his jailers had been the country’s rigid, military-backed secular leaders who, by then, seemed as suited to the present day as dinosaurs. When Erdoğan became Prime Minister, in 2003, every leader in the West wanted him to succeed. In a world still trying to make sense of the 9/11 attacks, he seemed like a bridge between cultures.
Tag Archives: Turkey
The mysterious case of Reza Zarrab, a Turkish-Iranian businessman facing federal charges in New York, has grown even stranger over the past couple of weeks.Zarrab, who is thirty-three, was arrested by F.B.I. agents, in Miami, last March. At the time, he was one of the flashiest and wealthiest businessmen in Turkey. He sported a pouf of black hair; owned twenty houses, seven yachts, and a private jet; was married to one of Turkey’s biggest pop stars; and counted among his friends Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Turkey’s strongman President.The U.S. government, however, believes that Zarrab masterminded a sprawling operation to help the Iranian government evade economic sanctions that were put in place to hinder the country’s nuclear-weapons program. Zarrab’s operation—which relied on what the Turkish government claimed was a legal loophole in the sanctions—involved shipping gold to Iran in exchange for oil and natural gas, which Zarrab then sold. The scheme, according to prosecutors in New York’s Southern District, involved moving enormous amounts of cash, gas, and gold; at the operation’s peak—around 2012—Zarrab was buying a metric ton of gold and shipping it to Iran every day. The Obama Administration protested Zarrab’s operation, which the media dubbed “gas for gold,’’ but he carried on anyway. For the Iranians, the gold was as good as American cash, and it helped shore up the rial, Iran’s currency, whose value was collapsing.
Ak Saray, the residence of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is a complex of around 1,100 rooms in acres of hillside over Ankara. It is not garish or tasteless, like some of Saddam Hussein’s architectural monstrosities were, but then Turkey’s President sees himself not as just another Kalashnikov-wielding strongman, but heir to the legacy of Ottoman sultans.
A few colleagues and I were given a conducted tour of Ak Saray, “White Palace” in English, soon after last summer’s attempted coup, when Erdogan was being presented as a defender of democracy against the perfidy of a treacherous exiled cleric, Fethullah Gulen, and a renegade military faction. But the White Palace definitely seemed a home more befitting a potentate than that of a champion of the people and Turkey’s referendum has now confirmed Erdogan in that position. And, at the same time, any effective international backing for attempts to dethrone him is now relatively meaningless after Donald Trump called him from the White House to congratulate him on his victory.
What critics claim is the openly fraudulent Turkish referendum ends parliamentary democracy in the country and gives President Recep Tayyip Erdogan dictatorial powers. The most unexpected aspect of the poll on Sunday was not the declared outcome, but that the ruling AKP (Justice and Development Party) allegedly found it necessary to fix the vote quite so blatantly.
The tightness of the final outcome of the referendum – 51.4 per cent “yes” to the constitutional changes and 48.59 per cent voting “no” – shows that the “no” voters would have been in the majority in any fairly conducted election.
In the final days before Turks vote in a referendum on 16 April on whether or not to give President Recep Tayyip Erdogan dictatorial powers and effectively end parliamentary government, the mood in Turkey is prone to conspiracy theories and suspicion of foreign plots.
A sign of this is the reception given to a tweet that might have seemed to the sender to be exceptionally benign and non-controversial. It was sent in Turkish and English by the British ambassador to Ankara, Richard Moore, and read: “Tulips in Istanbul heralding spring. Hooray!” Accompanying it was a picture of a bank of tulips blooming outside the Dolmabahce Palace in Istanbul.
The 1982 constitution that followed the military coup of 1980 was always challenged in Turkey for it made the army the real players. But the nature of this challenge, demonstrated by numerous revisions and plans to replace it, has changed with the rise to power of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s AKP (Justice and Development Party).In the early 2000s, Turkey’s fundamental law was reformed to meet European standards regarding respect for fundamental freedoms and thereby pave the way for EU accession talks. The army’s grip on politics also had to be reduced — especially on the National Security Council, whose composition and role were revamped in October 2001. The AKP continued this direction of travel when it came to power in 2002, facilitating the incorporation of the European Convention on Human Rights into Turkish law and formalising gender equality and the abolition of the death penalty in a 2004 reform. In addition, there were civil and criminal law reforms and a demilitarisation of judicial processes (limiting the powers of military justice and making military personnel subject to the common law in appropriate circumstances). Given its origins as an Islamist movement, the AKP government’s liberalisation of Turkey’s political system came as a surprise.
The tension between Turkey and European countries over allowing propaganda speeches for the April 16 referendum campaign reached a dangerous peak when the Dutch authorities barred a Turkish minister from entering the Turkish consulate in Rotterdam on the evening of March 11.More than that, the Dutch police not only barred Turkish Family and Social Affairs Minister Fatma Betül Sayan Kaya, but also detained her bodyguards, seized escort cars and forced her to leave the country for Germany in the early hours of March 12.
The first time I met Selahattin Demirtaş, the leader of Turkey’s largest Kurdish political party, known as the H.D.P., he arrived at a restaurant in Istanbul with a single assistant accompanying him. Demirtaş is warm and funny. Among other things, he is an accomplished player of the saz, a string instrument that resembles the oud. At the time—it was 2011—Demirtaş was trying to lead his party and people away from a history of confrontation with the country’s central government. It wasn’t easy. Like other Kurdish leaders in Turkey, Demirtaş had spent time in prison and seen many of his comrades killed. I remember him telling me how, in the nineteen-nineties, when civil unrest in the country’s Kurdish areas was hitting its bloody peak, a particular make of car—a white Renault—had been notorious in Kurdish towns. The cars were used by Turkish intelligence officers, who had developed a terrifying reputation for torturing and executing Kurds. “I’ve been inside the Renaults,’’ Demirtaş told me. “A lot of people I know never made it out of them.”
There was something especially obscene about Turkish president Erdogan’s comparison of Angela Merkel’s Germany with the Nazis. “Nazi practices” were going on in Germany, he said, after Berlin banned Turkish political demonstrations – something which Erdogan does regularly. It’s not just that Germany daily repents its destruction of Europe’s Jews in the Second World War. Nor that Merkel’s extraordinary and humane – and, for her, politically damaging — decision to allow the Middle East’s refugees to enter her country was the greatest act of contrition for Hitler’s crimes. It’s that Erdogan’s own nation stayed heroically neutral in World War Two.
Derya Okatan, a leading journalist on Istanbul’s Ozgur (Free) radio station, sensed what was to come when its website was shut down without warning on 28 September last year.The staff prepared for the next possible step and were not surprised when three days later police broke through the broadcaster’s office doors and stormed its studios.”Fourteen staff were beaten up and arrested. The building was officially sealed,” she told a delegation of present and former members of the European parliament and the Council of Europe in Istanbul a few days ago.What particularly angered her was the confiscation of equipment. If the station is allowed to re-open the staff will have to start from scratch.