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Thursday, 22 February 2007

Election 2007: Being aware of the danger

Anyone who happened to see a copy of Cumhuriyet this morning will have seen the paper has relaunched its advertising campaign of a year ago. The paper's name translates literally as "Republic"; the slogan they've recycled for their latest push for more readers is "Are you aware of the danger? Own up to your Republic!" A clever pun, you see.

Last year they wrote it backwards in a green font that resembled Arabic. This time around, they opted for a bog standard sans serif instead. "1881 - 2007", it reads. "The May 2007 Presidential election is taking place. Are you aware of the danger?" 1881 was the year Kemal Atatürk, founder of modern Turkey, was born.

Both versions, of course, allude to the perceived threat to secularism. It's not much of a campaign: Cumhuriyet's circulation hardly budged from its usual 60,000 during the Arabic phase last year, and this year is no different. They're not getting the readers. It's not exactly the Great Moon Hoax, is it?

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's AKP is on the verge of launching an Islamic revolution in Turkey. They will begin, god protect us, by installing one of their number as the new President. Then, before we know it, our alcohol will be outlawed and our women will all be forced into headscarves. That at least is what a large part of Cumhuriyet's target audience would have us believe.

I can't begin to count the number of people who believe a coup is nigh for Turkey. "If (parliament speaker Bülent) Arınç becomes President, the tanks will start rolling.....guaranteed." was the textbook comment from an anonymous reader in this blog a few weeks ago. Many have the same prognosis for an Erdoğan presidency too.

I have spent an awfully long time waiting for that Islamic revolution. Surely it must be soon that my place of work becomes legally obliged to operate minibus services to my local mosque, five times a day? And the day of rest should be switched back to Friday, like in all proper countries, yes? Oh, and is it not about time that we bring a healthy spot of polygamy back into marriage?

If that's the AKP's secret agenda, they're doing a good job of hiding it. Turkey has had plenty of things to distract itself with since 2002 - an economy in dire need of reform, a war on its southeastern doorstep, and a huge, corrupt state network made up of bureaucrats, soldiers and mafiosa. And on top of having all that, there has been the start of talks with a supranational bloc that has brought Turkey closer to the West than Atatürk could have possibly dreamed.

But if the Islamic revolution is upon us, but the voters certainly don't seem to care. The latest SONAR poll gives the AKP a 28.26 percent share of the vote. The main opposition CHP are at 13.21, followed closely by the MHP on 12.23 and the DYP on 11.68 percent. The results point, unsurprisingly, to another AKP victory and a greatly reduced CHP share in seats. AK too will probably lose a number of seats, as can only be expected after such a crushing majority, but might just be able to continue a single party government. It also seems very likely that there will be more than one party in opposition this time.

If the polls are to be believed, Turkey is looking at five more years of stable government and greater representation of the electorate in parliament. Tell me, where is the danger in that?

Saturday, 3 February 2007

Thugs above the law: the Turkish police today

Nearly two years ago, a Women's Day celebration in Istanbul turned very ugly when police decided the women were demonstrating without permission, and were therefore doing it illegally. When the group refused to disperse, officers dived in with pepper spray. 29 women were arrested, countless more were beaten with truncheons. Turkish television filmed it all.

It just so happened that EU leaders were in Istanbul too. They were stunned by the violence, and were shocked further when the government shied away from criticising the police. The press was outraged. Istanbul's police chief did weakly claim the demonstrators were chanting pro-terrorist slogans, but the damage was done and the force's already dismal reputation sank that little bit further.

A month later, the national police office did something it hadn't done before. It launched an advertisement campaign. The intention, no doubt, was to remind those of us who might have forgotten about what the police actually did.

It wasn't so much a campaign, more a healthy spot of instilling Orwellian fear. I provide my translation below; the attached photograph is of a billboard on Turan Güneş Boulevard in Ankara, taken by me in April 2005.

What if it did not exist?

Perhaps your children
would know only
a dark world

A world of pitch black
where street law applies.

But these are only bad dreams.

Even if you only remember it
in times of woe
the police is always by your side.

Now, I'm sure most of you have seen how the suspected killer of Hrant Dink, Ogün Samast, was not immediately returned to Istanbul upon his arrest. Instead, police officers decided to give the suspect a Turkish flag and have their photo taken with him (see The Guardian's story). There are also reports Samast was given a hero's welcome when he eventually was transfered to Istanbul.

Ismet Berkan says in today's Radikal that the idea of terror being praised by people wearing official uniforms is like a punch in the stomach. But it is the truth. Turkish police already has a notorious history of thuggery; this week, it added to that a conspiracy with murderers. The force will find it very difficult to try and claim the moral highground in this one. After all, if some of its officers seem to think Hrant Dink's killer is a hero, why should the Turkish people want the police at their side?