We have moved / Taşındık!

If you're reading this, you've come to the old home for the James in Turkey website. The website has changed servers and adopted a new look ahead of the 2014 local election.

For the latest Turkish politics and election analysis from Michael Daventry redirect your bookmarks to jamesinturkey.com.

Friday, 1 November 2013

We have moved / Taşındık!

If you're reading this, you've come to the old home for the James in Turkey website.

The website has changed servers and adopted a new look ahead of the 2014 local election.

For the latest Turkish politics and election analysis from Michael Daventry redirect your bookmarks to jamesinturkey.com.

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Friday, 6 September 2013

Turkey does not deserve the Olympic Games

After a disgraceful summer for Turkish democracy, the government does not deserve an Olympic prize.

On four previous occasions Turkey has tried and failed to bring the Summer Olympics to its largest city. It did not even make the shortlist for the 2012 event, its most recent attempt. The 2020 Games, the host of which will be decided by members of the International Olympic Committee this weekend, could prove different. This could be Istanbul’s year.

The Istanbul candidacy has been a strong one since it was announced two years ago. Bid leader Hasan Arat has been active and enthusiastic: just yesterday, he made a point of invoking the potential of the country’s youth, which is the kind of thing that always goes down well with the IOC. This morning it won the support of The (London) Times, which crooned in an editorial about the “sheer symbolism” of an intercontinental Olympic marathon across the Bosphorus Bridge. It is significant, the paper said, that no Games have ever been held in a Muslim country.


But this author dispenses with symbolism and believes that when IOC members assemble in Buenos Aires at 9.45pm Turkish time on Saturday, they should vote for Madrid or Tokyo.

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Lessons from the past: Turkey's parliament could veto Syria action too

“Speaking after the government’s motion [in support of military action] was defeated, the prime minister said: ‘It is not right for us to make this a matter of domestic politics. The democratic process has worked. We will follow developments and do what is necessary.’ He added that despite the narrow margin of defeat, he did not look warmly upon asking parliament to vote again.”

As parliaments around the world debate whether or not to bomb Syria, we have become accustomed to stories like the above in the press. But the prime minister in this quotation is not Britain’s David Cameron or Jordan’s Abdullah Ensour, but Abdullah Gül of Turkey.

On 1 March 2003, Turkish MPs voted on a government motion that would add their country to the growing number of coalition countries preparing to invade Iraq. The motion – the product of a deal between President George W Bush and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who had not quite yet become prime minister – allowed for foreign (read: American) troops to be stationed on Turkish soil and foreign aircraft (ditto) to use Turkish bases as part of preparations to invade Iraq from the north. The Bush administration had sweetened the deal with a promise of $6 billion in financial aid.

Saturday, 27 July 2013

Would a CHP-MHP alliance work?

It is two months since the first Gezi Park protests broke out. This morning's Cumhuriyet recounts the casualties: five dead, eleven blinded, 106 with head traumas and 63 people seriously injured. Although the protests continue, notably in Antakya last week, there is no doubting the protests have died down.

It is quite clear that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his governing AK party have embraced what The Economist astutely described as "democratic majoritarianism", the view that electoral might always makes you right. Three consecutive terms, a 50% victory at the last election and an opinion poll lead that was curbed but not shaken by the Gezi Park incidents all point to the government's enduring legitimacy, AK supporters say.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

CHP surges in first post-protest opinion poll

One way of assessing the political implications of the unrest in Turkey, which has entered its fifteenth day, is to look at what opinion polling has to say. Politicians, reporters and foreign observers alike are all keen to know how the events have affected how the country intends to vote.

We may now have the results of the first serious attempt at polling in the last two weeks. They show a significant narrowing of the gap between the governing AK party and the opposition CHP.

The headline figure (with changes from Gezici's last poll in May) is AKP 38.5% (-3.2), CHP 31.8 (+3.6), MHP 18.5 (-1), BDP 8.2 (-0.9).

The result is the strongest CHP showing that I've seen since just after current leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu's election in May 2010. Consider this graph:

Friday, 7 June 2013

Erdoğan's hidden safety net

There's plenty of speculation out there on the implications of the last eleven days for Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's political future. The Economist called this week for him to step down next year and make way for President Abdullah Gül. Ben Judah argued in the Financial Times that the prime minister needed to see this as his "1968 de Gaulle moment". Others have said any Erdoğan departure would lead to the immediate implosion of his Justice and Development (AK) party and the splintering of his centre-right/conservative/moderately Islamic coalition.

Perhaps. I will freely admit I am not in a position to guess what will happen next. No-one is, really. Right now, events on the ground feel a little like a swinging pendulum: first there was the calm when the police withdrew from Taksim, then there were the clashes in Beşiktaş. We then had the widely-publicised apology from deputy prime minister Bülent Arınç, but the pendulum swung back after we saw a greater police crackdown in Ankara

Saturday, 1 June 2013

From street battle to street party

I have to admit I felt just a little awkward. Four-wheeled cabin baggage would not have been my apparel of choice while walking into a riot zone, but I had no choice.

I am in Istanbul this weekend to attend the wedding of an old friend. My hotel, booked weeks ago, is a small place in the backstreets of Şişli, just a few streets away from a certain Gezi Park. It's normally a two minute walk from Taksim's metro station; today, I had to find my way on foot from Mecidiyeköy, several kilometres away, as passers-by warned me there was tear gas about.

What follows is an account of what I saw.

Friday, 31 May 2013

Erdoğan's Thatcher moment?

It is hard not to be appalled by the scenes coming out of Taksim's Gezi Park, where police have swept in yet again to try and evict demonstrators protesting the park's demolition to make way for a shopping centre.

Police have used pepper spray and water cannon and batons to break the groups up. People wearing gasmasks – strongly suspected to be plainclothes officers – have been pictured setting fire to the demonstrators' tents. Dozens have been arrested, many others injured. The tear gas is so pungent and pervasive that Istanbul metro services into Taksim have had to be cancelled. And yet a further wave of protests is planned, meeting in Taksim at 7pm this evening.

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Defining 'Turk': a constitutional barrier overcome?

Reverse psychology can be a wonderful thing. Just at Turkey's prime minister again cast doubt on his country ever having a new, cross-party constitution, the commission charged with writing that document appears to have accelerated its work.

Ahmet Türk
It was on Sunday that Recep Tayyip Erdoğan told reporters following him on his trip in the United States that he was "losing hope" over the constitution-writing process. He continued:

"If there is no solution, we will follow our Plan C and use our own [draft constitution] template. We have 326 MPs and, as you know, it will be a secret ballot, so perhaps a few brave souls will emerge despite their own party's pressure. If we can get the numbers, we will take it to a referendum."

The said parliamentary commission is made up of twelve MPs, three each from the governing AK Party and opposition Republican People's (CHP), Nationalist Movement (MHP) and Peace and Democracy (BDP) parties, and chaired by the speaker, AK Party MP Cemil Çiçek.

The prime minister’s Plan C refers to oft-repeated AK Party threats to team up with the pro-Kurdish BDP and other opposition rebels to reach the magic 367 number, a two-thirds seat majority, which would allow the government to change the constitution unilaterally.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Fazıl Say, Emre Bukağılı and an unending conflict in Turkish society

Fazıl Say Emre Bukağılı
Another artist was persecuted for offending Turkey's nouveau establishment this week when the pianist Fazıl Say was handed an eight month prison sentence for comments he made on Twitter. His tweets from last April, long since removed from his @FazilSayOfficial account, were deemed to be blasphemous and offensive to the country's Muslim population. 

Among the offending tweets was one posted on 5 April 2012 that read: "This muezzin finished the evening call to prayer in 22 seconds. Prestissimmo con fuoco! What's the hurry? A woman? A rakı drinking table?" In other tweets he quoted preachings on the afterlife attributed to an 11th century Islamic theologian and commented: "is heaven a brothel?" Tashlik has a good summary (scroll down for English) of the tweets.

Fazıl Say is a vocal critic of the government, which helped to attract extensive coverage of the outcome to his trial in Turkey and abroad. There are three observations that can be drawn from his conviction.