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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.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

WikiLeaks revelations: Turkey snubbed over NATO deal

Turkey had spoken loudly and resolutely against Anders Fogh Rasmussen taking the reins at NATO when the secretary-general post became vacant early last year.

The Turkish position was entirely personal: Mr Rasmussen, then Danish prime minister, refused to clamp down on pro-PKK television stations inside Denmark. Turkey also objected because of Denmark's handling of that cartoon crisis. It was only resolved when Barack Obama personally intervened. But all this  was already known.

What we didn't know then, but do know now, is that part of the deal was for "a qualified Turk" would be considered for the position of Mr Rasmussen's deputy. But the Turkish foreign ministry official goes on:
Instead...a German of uncompelling merit was selected. "We suspect a deal between Rasmussen and Merkel." ... "We missed an opportunity with the selection of the Assistant Secretary General." [the official] added: "We let Rasmussen have Secretary General, because we trusted you."
Who is this German of "uncompelling merit"? NATO's website throws up no clues.

Turkey aided al Qaida, apparently

Turkish aid has gone directly to al Qaida in Iraq, while the United States has similarly assisted the PKK in the region. That, at least, is what is rumoured to be in some of the US diplomatic correspondence that is to be imminently released by the online whistleblower Wikileaks.

The Turkish press picked up on the story over the weekend as it emerged Turkey was one of the countries briefed by the US State Department. It appears there has been a warning to expect something "potentially embarrassing". To whom, and in what way, remains to be seen.

Being only rumours, there's little real comment I can make. You don't need me to tell you that, if vindicated, this could be explosive. But it all does seem just a little too far-fetched.

The Twitter scene seems to think there will be a release at 4.30pm New York City time tomorrow (Sunday). We shall wait and see.

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Is Bursa a racist town?

This isn't a football blog. In fact, I can't remember the last time I wrote about it. But the bizarre response to a recent game in the northwestern town of Bursa recently has some telling signs for the way some Turks think.

For the uninitiated, some quick background: Bursaspor are the current Turkish champions. They won the national league in May in a thrilling twist on the final day of the season, becoming only the second team outside of Istanbul to do so. But they were destined to become runners-up until a simultaneous game involving Trabzonspor went Bursa's way: Trabzon, who was out of the running for the championship, defeated the only other contender, Fenerbahçe, to ensure a Bursa victory.

The new season is now well underway, and Bursa and Trabzon played each other - in Bursa - for the first time this season last Saturday. Trabzon won the game 2-0, thus taking the league leadership from a hitherto undefeated Bursa side. I must declare an interest at this stage - I am a Trabzonspor fan, and have been since childhood, and was delighted by the result. But what I found remarkable wasn't the game so much as a televised incident that occurred the following morning on Bursaspor's TV station.

While reviewing newspaper coverage of the game, Seda Çapçı, the presenter, launched into an astonishing rant about Bursa's Black Sea community, ostensibly in response to anti-Bursa chants by Trabzon fans at the game.

"We always saw them as one of us, we never discriminated," she said, before adding: "They opened businesses here, earned their bread here, lived here, sent their children to school here, found work here, and we were happy." She went on to identify specific neighbourhood of Bursa where people from Turkey's Black Sea region tend to live, and taunted them for not showing their faces in the town centre after the game.

Two things are striking about Ms Çapçı's comments: firstly, that they appear to invoke a sense of racial difference where many Turks would not have dreamed of thinking one existed, and secondly, that they had such resonance around the country.

The Laz, as people from the Black Sea are known, have their own language and a distinct language and culture based around the mountainous, fertile region where they have lived for centuries. It's fair to say they are more closely integrated with the rest of Turkey too: they tend to be bilingual, and separatist aspirations have seldom been seen. They are also the butt of several jokes, largely because of their unusual accents and mannerisms, not unlike the Irish or Welsh would be in some English circles.

I spoke to a long-time Bursa resident who told me members of the city's Black Sea community had long been conspicuous in the city. Sometimes their actions would be comical: "I knew this one family who must have moved from a village straight into the city, because - hand on heart - they tended a cow in their fourth floor flat." But never, she told me, were there racist tensions. They were Turks moving from one part of Turkey to another.

However, in the week of Eid al-Adha, when news is slow, Ms Çapçı's comments found nationwide coverage. The day after the broadcast, a group of Trabzon fans gathered outside the main Ataturk memorial in Bursa's central square to read a statement condemning the broadcast, but police had to be called when a fight broke out with fans of the home side. Four Bursa fans were arrested.

Bursaspor TV has since disassociated itself for the comments and issued an apology. Ms Çapçı has been fired, and might be facing charges for inciting hatred.

So, the question remains: is Bursa a racist town? No. As with most football-related incidents, this appears to be the opinion of the few. But it does provoke thought on the mindset of some people in Turkey.  This isn't the first time I've highlighted signs of antipathy towards a minority; what is encouraging is that, this time, Ms Çapçı's views did not go unchallenged.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

You propose an alliance?

One of the long-standing customs of Eid al-Adha (Kurban Bayramı, the Festival of Sacrifice) is for people to use the holiday as an opportunity to visit their relatives. Turkish politicians do much the same with their political rivals: for the week-long holiday, hands are wrung, tea is served and baklava is awkwardly nibbled, as representatives from Party X chat to Party Y's people about what a wonderful time of year this is. Of course, the cameras are there to capture the moment.

On the whole, these are tedious affairs that last little longer than half an hour in practice and barely thirty seconds on the evening news. This year, however, there has finally been a reason for excitement: the pro-secular Republican People's Party (CHP) met the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) for the first time.

That in itself is quite something. CHP has long snubbed the smallest party in parliament during the holidays, largely because they have tended to regard the BDP as too close to the PKK and too far from the concept of a undivided Turkish state for comfort. But CHP is under new leadership, undergoing a period of significant renewal, and yesterday's visit revealed that the two have more in common than they think. Both are - ostensibly, at least - parties of the centre-left. Indeed, both were represented at this week's Socialist International council meeting in Paris.

During yesterday's Eid visit, in full view and earshot of the assembled journalists, the BDP proposed an electoral alliance. Unity among the Turkish left has not happened for more than a quarter century, but many proponents believe it is a key step towards unseating the governing (centre-right) AK Party at next year's election.

There would be other material advantages too: BDP members would presumably run on the CHP list, thus avoiding entanglements with the 10 percent electoral threshold. For CHP, it would deliver instant and solid gains in East and Southeast Turkey, a region where they haven't won anything for years. Besides, they have a common rival: BDP's only main challenger in the region is AK. The opportunity for a credible opposition is clear.

So they'd be mad not to go for it, yes? Well, the matter is complicated by the BDP's Kurdish connection. There is a significant nationalist contingent within CHP who, disgusted by the prospect of an alliance, could split the party and take its votes elsewhere - to the Nationalist Action Party (MHP), for example. As Ahmet Altan points out in today's Taraf, "the girl who threw stones at the BDP convoy during a party visit to Izmir [a CHP stronghold] last year would not easily vote CHP".

It is definitely too early to say, but this could be the start of something special.

UPDATE: Milliyet has CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu being rather unequivocal about all this. "Our view is clear: we want to govern alone," he told reporters in Ankara. "We have no search for an alliance, nor have we called for one."

That's that, then.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Despicable journalism on Turkish television

Tonight saw one of the worst examples of news reporting I have seen in my career.

It all revolved around the story of a three-year-old boy from an Istanbul village, who went missing on Monday. A massive search operation involving the gendarmarie was launched, but by Wednesday evening there was still no news. As residents helped with the hunt, the media went into overdrive. Turkey's plethora of news channels were all reporting live from the scene; at one stage, when there was nothing fresh to cover, they appeared to be taking it in turns to interview the boy's family.

On Wednesday evening, Kanal D, one of the country's "big four" stations, sent a reporter into the boy's family home to provide live two-ways and speak to the family during the main evening news bulletin. During one interview, the reporter, Özay Erad, announced (to camera, not to the boy's mother) that she had just been informed that a child's body had been found a few kilometres outside of the village. The boy's mother is seen to collapse into a frenzy and, as the camera pans in upon the family trying to calm her, the reporter shouts over the commotion that she had misheard her earpiece, and that it was a child's voice that had been heard outside the village.

The boy has since been found safe and well.

A recording of the incident is available on NTVMSNBC, but be warned: the scenes are distressing.

It is journalism at its very worst - causing distress, spreading incorrect information - but all too common among Turkey's mainstream bulletins. So often the news on all four big channels is car crash television: presented by elderly men to an epic film soundtrack (ATV opts for Gladiator), sensationalism is their main ingredient. A typical bulletin may begin with a graphic footage of an overturned lorry on the motorway, followed by close-ups of the blood on the ground from a midnight neighbourhood brawl, interspersed with pictures of the prime minister walking in and out of buildings as a voice drones about proceedings in parliament, before finishing with shots of female European tourists sunning themselves at a Mediterranean resort.

There was plenty wrong with Kanal D's broadcast tonight, not just that the reporter misheard what she was being told by her director. Ms Erad should not have been in the house in the first place: if she had to be near the scene, she should have stationed herself outside. If she had an inkling of doubt, she should have asked the gallery to repeat the report to her. She should have emphasised that the report she was communicating to the viewers was unconfirmed. The first time the boy's mother heard the rumour that her son might be dead should not have been from this reporter. None of it should have been on live television.

Kanal D should be ashamed. I certainly would be.