Monday, July 26, 2010

Informing the Turkish Public?

A Turkish Jewish association in Israel is attempting to present the Israeli side of the recent rift in relations between Jerusalem and Ankara. From Hurriyet Daily News:
A website from the group, HASTÜRK, at, has been online since July 20 and is attempting to provide news from the Israeli press and official statements made by the Israeli government in the Turkish language.

Rafael Sadi, a spokesman for the organization, said he hoped the initiative would serve the friendship between both countries.

"This idea grew almost 10 years ago due to the anti-Israel attitude in the Turkish press in the wake of the second intifada of 2000. As a Turk and Israeli who was born in Turkey and has been living in Israel for 10 years, that concerned me a lot," Sadi told the Hürriyet Daily News.

"Turkish society has become anti-Israeli within 10 years’ time," he said.

Explaining the main objective of the project, Sadi said: "As people who live in Israel, who speak Turkish and who know Israel very well, it is us who can better explain Israel to Turkish society. It is only us who can understand how deep is the impact and the harm dealt by inaccurate news.”

He said the website would post stories from the Israeli press and Israeli Foreign Ministry statements in Turkish.

"That will be an interesting service for Turkish people who want to see the reality," according to Sadi. "The whole matter is to provide Turkish readers with accurate news without disseminating any hostility and without distorting the facts."

There are almost 100,000 Turkish Jews in Israel and the union has almost 3,000 members.
Turkish press reports and opinion pieces in the wake of the Gaza flotilla incident were indeed quite strong, and some newspapers did run rather sensational headlines. At the same time, anti-Israel sentiments did not simply arise in Turkey in the past ten years with the intifada or the election of the AKP, though it has surely intensified under the party and with increasing international criticism of Israel's policy toward Gaza. For more context here, see my recent article in the Jerusalem Post.

Though most Jews of Turkish descent re-located to Istanbul at various times following the foundation of the Turkish republic, there are approximately 23,000 Turkish Jews in Turkey, most residing in Istanbul.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

YouTube Ban Final?

From Bianet:
The Ankara 13th Criminal Court of First Instance dismissed the appeal filed against the decision of the Ankara 1st Magistrate Criminal Court regarding the access ban to 44 IP addresses that provided access to the global video sharing site YouTube.

The appeal had been filed by the Internet Technology Association (INTED). According to the nationwide Radikal daily, the decision finalized the ban imposed on YouTube two years ago.

About 2,000 people had met at Istanbul's centrally located Taksim square on Saturday (17 July) and walked down the popular Istiklal Avenue to protest internet censorship in Turkey. The demonstration was seen as a signal for more protests to come.

. . . .

While the access ban was reasoned with videos insulting the memory of Atatürk, Transport Minister Binali Yıldırm in particular announced on different occasions that YouTube as a company did not pay its part on advertising revenues. He furthermore pointed out that YouTube had not opened a representation in Turkey and that access to the site was banned because this was a breach of Turkish law.
The YouTube ban is facilitated by a 2007 Internet law allowing the government's Telecommunications Directorate and Turkish courts to restrict access to websites that violate Turkish law, here namely a law that violates the insult of Ataturk. The Turkish government has recently claimed that YouTube is in violation of Turkish laws pertaining to internet commerce.

For background, see July 1 post.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Protecting Turkey's Soy

PHOTO from Radikal

Prosecutors have filed a case against Turkish actress Sevda Demirel after she became pregnant upon using an American sperm donor.

On March 6, the Turkish Health Ministry effectively made it a criminal offense for women to use a foreign sperm or egg donor to conceive a child using artificial insemination (see March 21 post). The law is premised in protecting Turkey's soy, or patrilineal bloodline.

Demirel is not the first Turkish actress to use a foreign sperm donor and attract this kind of attention, but she is indeed the first to be prosecuted under the new law. To add to the controversy, Demirel used an African American sperm donor.

For my analysis on the law, click here. Also, see Jenny White's commentary at Kamil Pasha.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Erbakan Moves Defeated in Saadet Congress

An internal rift inside the Saadet Party (SP) came to the forefront during the party's congress this past Sunday. Necmettin Erbakan, a veteran figure in Turkish Islamist politics and former prime minister of the Refah Party (RP), which was effectively removed from politics in Turkey's 1997 post-modern coup (also known as the Feb. 28 process), attempted to introduce a party list comprised of supporters and relatives. The list was rejected by another wing in the SP led by party leader Numan Kurtulmus.

The rift in the party, and its future, is significant in that the SP stood to gain from the Israeli rad on the Gaza flotilla. The IHH, the Turkish Islamist charity behind the Mavi Marmara, has strong connections to the SP, though it also seems to have worked with the AKP. The IHH thanked both parties before setting off on what turned out to be a dramatic collision course with Israeli security forces.

According to one analyst with whom I talked, the AKP might well have loaned support to the flotilla, or at least stood by and let the Mavi Marmara sail, in an attempt to outstage the SP, not thinking that Israel would respond in the way it did. Now that tensions are high, the AKP most surely has to pay mind to the SP and other factions on the Islamist right, which in the absence of strong action from the AKP and with the continued presence of the Israeli-Palestinian issue on the Turkish political agenda, could garner a significant (though still small) number of votes from AKP supporters. Though the SP is highly unlikely to reach the 10 percent threshold, every percentage point matters for the AKP now that it is under increased pressure from a re-juvenated CHP.

In this environment, signs of problems in the SP, including an old and apparently contentious Erbakan, are surely positives for the party. Here is a report of the congress from Today's Zaman:
Even though there was only one candidate, a quarrel erupted during the congress for the party's new Central Executive Board (MYK). Delegates who support Erbakan and those behind current leader Kurtulmuş fought over the party administration list. During the party congress, Kurtulmuş presented his "white list" for the party's MYK. However, Erbakan presented another list, titled the "green list," for the MYK.

Erbakan wanted to include his daughter Elif Erbakan, his son Fatih Erbakan, his son-in-law Mehmet Altınöz, Orhan Altınöz -- the older brother of his son-in-law -- and Ayşenur Tekdal, who is the daughter of Ahmet Tekdal, a die-hard supporter of Erbakan, and one of the party's elders. Kurtulmuş was listed as the leader on the green list.

Kurtulmuş and his followers refused to be listed or a part of the green list. The fight began at this point, and Erbakan asked his supporters to leave the congress. The crisis erupted when Kurtulmuş, who got angry over Erbakan including close friends and family members, announced that he withdrew from Erbakan’s “green list.” Kurtulmuş included only one person on his own list who was on Erbakan’s list, Recai Kutan. Erbakan’s supporters later began leaving the meeting, calling on everyone who loves Erbakan not to cast a vote. The voting session began in the wake of these disputes, and despite everything, Kurtulmuş was re-elected during the third round with 310 votes. Kurtulmuş was elected to the leadership during the 2008 congress with the support of 924 of 946 delegates.

Although Kurtulmuş emerged as victor and was re-elected, the fact that he was able to be re-elected only during the third round is a sign that a tough period has begun within the party since Kurtulmuş was able to get the support of only 310 out of 1,250 delegates. Only 634 delegates cast a vote since Erbakan’s supporters had left the congress. The resignation of many delegates is expected soon.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

The Ancestry of Mimar Sinar

The ancestry of Mimar Sinan, the famous architect responsible for building numerous mosques throughout 16th-century Ottoman Turkey [including Sultanahmet ("The Blue Mosque") and Suleymaniye in Istanbul], has long been subject to debate. The architect is said to have been Greek and Armenian while some Turkish nationalists have long insisted in his pure Turkish patrilineage. It was no doubt this insistence that led zealous Turks to dig up his grave in the 1930s and remove his skull from the rest of his remains in order to finally prove his "Turkishness." From Hurriyet Daily News:
According to Professor Selçuk Mülayim from Marmara University, the corpse of Mimar Sinan, best known for the 16th-century Süleymaniye Mosque in Istanbul, was taken from its modest tomb next to that building Aug. 1, 1935, in order to measure the famed architect’s skull.

Documents show that the team, headed by Turkish Historical Society Director Hasan Cemil Çambel, society member Şevket Aziz Kansu and historian Afet İnan, conducted the excavation in an hour, Mülayim told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review recently.

“The purpose was to prove he was an ethnic Turk,” the professor said. “Kansu took measurements with compasses and other tools and from these measurements it was decided that he was an ethnic Turk.”

At the time of the team’s foray into the tomb, there was a rising appreciation of Mimar Sinan in Europe, where people were increasingly claiming that the great architect could not have been Turkish, Mülayim said. “The excavation was an answer to these claims.”

To this day, few members of the Turkish public know that the man hailed as the greatest of Ottoman architects was actually a Muslim convert of Armenian origin.

Following the excavation of Sinan’s tomb, the Turkish Historical Society team took its findings to Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the Turkish Republic. “He refused to look at the results, saying, ‘Instead of measuring his skull, make a statue of the architect,’” Mülayim said.

The idea that Sinan’s skull is missing from his tomb is not a new one, but one that many experts have avoided repeating in public.
For more on the construction of Turkish identity, click here. Though Turkey has come a long way, defensive notions of "Turkishness" are still at the heart of much of the country's identity politics.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

No Budging on YouTube

The Turkish government is maintaining its position on YouTube, defending its ban of the video-sharing site by stating that Google, which owns YouTube, should and must be treated as any other entity in Turkey. Turkey's Ministry of Trade, which regulates telecommunications here, is claiming YouTube owes Turkey back taxes, a claim Google disputes (for past post, click here).

Access to YouTube and other websites in Turkey has been restricted since 2007 when the government pushed through a law giving broad powers to courts and the Telecommunications Directorate to regulate the Internet. For more on this law and other websites that have been blocked as a result of its application, see Jan. 24 post.

Under the Internet law, either the Telecommunications Directorate or courts have the right to block internet sites that contain content in explicit violation of Turkish law (pertaining to Turkey's many laws against obscenity, morals, slander, insult, etc.).

Meanwhile, an internet rights group, the Internet Technologies Association, has filed suit against the ban, claiming the government is violating Turkish law and the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. Similar suits are already on file at the European Court of Human Rights, which has yet to issue a ruling on the law.

From Bianet:
During a speech delivered at the award ceremony of the "IT 500" survey carried out by the Interpromedia Research Service, Yıldırım said, "YouTube is treated just like any other ordinary person".

As reported by the news channel CNN Türk, Yıldırm stated that "shortcuts have already become a tradition" in Turkey. He continued, "This is a global brand, blah blah blah... 'Sir, how can you stick up to this huge company'. If you believe in universal law and if you respect the sovereignty of the countries, you have to stick to the country's rules regardless of who you are dealing with. A citizen from the country 'X' does not have priority in country 'Y'. This conception is incompatible with democracy and modernity".

"Unfortunately, there are people in our country defending this issue on behalf of modernity. That hurts. Everybody is obliged to abide by the law of this country. Nobody has priority. This can be a willing representative or a passionate advocator, it does not concern us".

"We say, 'go ahead, if you do business in this country, you will be treated before the law just as any other ordinary person in the Turkish Republic. We are not concerned with anybody's freedom regarding internet commerce. Turkey is a state of law. Everybody should be tied to the force of law".

Minister Yıldırım indicated that informatics and legislation do not get on well with each other. He argued that informatics is an area that ruins memorization, abolishes conservatism and creates a change of attitude. Legislation on the other hand pursued to keep everything under control, he said.
Yildirim's rather political assessment about the conflict between "legislation" and "infomatics" most surely gives internet rights and free speech activists cause to worry, and indeed seems to hint that the current dispute with Google centers on much more than just back taxes.

UPDATE I (7/5) -- An Ankara court has rejected the Internet Technoogy Association's appeal disputing one of the many various bans Turkish courts have put into effect against YouTube while at the same time adding 44 alternative IP addresses being used to access the site to the existing order. See Bianet for the report. Nicki Sobecki also has a report on the most recent Internet squabble in The Guardian.