Turkish FM Davutoglu and the global thinkers club

Tuesday, December 28, 2010 
Foreign Policy magazine has named Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu one of the "top 100 global thinkers" of 2010, whatever that's supposed to mean.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu

Davutoglu finished #7 on Foreign Policy's list, which would have made him eligible to play in the Bowl Championship Series of global thinkers if only Turkey played in a BCS-eligible conference.

A very borderlandy Christmas

Monday, December 27, 2010

I hope all Borderheads are having an enjoyable end-of-year! All is well here in the Bozone! Last week I took some pictures around town, and over the weekend there was plenty of festive Christmas skiing at Bridger Bowl! Here are some of the shots:

Livaneli's Veda and the Kemalist Dilemma

Wednesday, December 1, 2010 

Well, it's been a busy couple of weeks in the Bordlerands. The week before last, of course, MSU held its Turkey Extravaganza, hosting several days of talks, discussion, fun, food, and frolicry.

One of the highlights of Turkey Week was Stephen Kinzer's talk to open the festivities. Kinzer was challenged by a number of the Turkish students at MSU, which led to several interesting exchanges. The main critique of the Turkish students (who are here as part of joint-degree programs that MSU has with Istanbul Technical University and Selcuk University in Konya) was that Kinzer was too hard on Ataturk and too easy on Tayyip Erdogan and the AKP. I thought the critique was a fair one, but Kinzer did a good job of responding to this critique with more nuance than I think he was given credit for.

Confronting our fears

Monday, October 25, 2010 

Up here at the Borderlands Lodge, winter slowly seems to be heading our way. While it's been in the 60s pretty much every day for the past couple of weeks, this week the weather is supposed to turn colder. On the mountains, the snowline has been growing steadily each day.

Meanwhile, the Juan Williams controversy has been heating up the rest of the country, generating lots of chatter and denunciations (Juan Cole weighs in here and here). 

Williams, of course, had said the following while appearing on Fox's O'Reilly show:

"I mean, look, Bill, I'm not a bigot. You know the kind of books I've written about the civil rights movement in this country. But when I get on the plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous."
What to make of this?

Ending the headscarf ban in Turkey

Wednesday, October 13, 2010 

As many of you know, a recent directive issued by the director of upper education in Turkey has prohibited professors from throwing students out of their classes on the bases of the student's attire or headgear. With one directive, it seems like the Turkish government has finally cleared the way towards finding an end to the headscarf-in-university controversy that has transfixed some political figures in Turkey for the better part of the last fifteen years or so.

When I started living in Turkey in the early 1990s, individual universities made their own choices regarding the permissibility regarding women wearing headscarves to class. At the university where I worked, Marmara University, women could wear headscarves but some men were told to shave their beards if they got too long and scraggly. The anti-beard rules, apparently, had originally been enforced in opposition to what had been perceived, in earlier years, as a symbol of Marxism. Now it was a symbol of Islam.

Later on, of course, the headscarf would be banned altogether from Turkish universities, just like it was already banned for students (and teachers) at Turkish public schools and in public offices. From this point forward, overturning the headscarf ban emerged as the the front-line "culture war" issue among a populace increasingly divided in Turkey between self-styled "secularists" and supporters of lifting the ban (often called 'Islamists," but really a misleading term). When the AKP successfully passed a constitutional amendment enabling women to wear headscarves to university, the law was overturned by the Constitutional Court and the AKP almost found itself shut down as a result. Anyone wondering why the AKP placed so much emphasis upon gaining a few more sympathetic judges in Turkey's recent referendum needs to start here (look here for my recent discussion of the referendum and what it means).

Fighting for their right to cover up: women protesting headscarf ban in Turkey

My take on the recent referendum in Turkey

Monday, September 13, 2010 

Well, the ballots have been counted and the "Yes" side carried the day in Turkey's national referendum yesterday. The final vote was 58% in favor of 'Yes' and 42% against, a major victory for Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan and his AKP government.

The referendum, as I discussed in my post yesterday, permits Turkey's AKP government to expand the country's constitutional court from 11 to 17 members in a move reminiscent of FDR's court-packing scheme from 1937. 

The AKP was able to win such a big victory by first securing the support of people who are already inclined to vote for the AKP, and then attracting the support of non-AKP supporters by including several anti-military planks in the referendum (people could only vote on the entire package of amendments, rather than vote on each amendment individually). Thus, in addition to giving the AKP enormous powers in shaping the judiciary in Turkey for generations to come, the package voted on yesterday also allows for the leaders of the 1980 coup to be put on trial (something which was not allowed according to the coup-era constitution that Turkey is still working under). Military officers can now also be tried in civilian, rather than military, courts (see imperfect but serviceable English translation of the amendments here). 

On Turkey's referendum

Sunday, September 12, 2010 

Turkey's much-anticipated referendum on constitutional amendments is taking place today, with exit polling data indicating strong, if unsurprising, support for the "Yes" side.

The proposed amendments (here's an English translation) constitute a number of elements, but the most important thing is that the amendments--which are voted upon as a single package (i.e., no picking and choosing)--would give the current AKP government the ability to pack the constitutional court as well as the state body that appoints state prosecutors and judges. The constitutional court would be expanded from 11 to 17 members, with the (AKP) president and (AKP) parliament being given the opportunity to pick the new six members. The Supreme Court of Prosecutors and Judges (HYSK), meanwhile, would likewise be expanded from 5 members to 22, with the president and parliament again given the job of choosing the new members.

Meanwhile, the amendment package would also make it possible for military officers to be tried in civil, as opposed to military courts.

Entertainers only

Saturday, September 4, 2010
Jenny White has put up a link to an interesting story re transgender brothels in Istanbul. Originally I was going to just link to Kamil Pasha in the N & P, but I ended up writing so much I decided to make it a separate post. 

I always found the place of transgendered people in Turkey to be interesting. With the exception of Thailand, I've probably seen more transgendered people in Istanbul than anywhere else in the world. When I was living in Istanbul in the 1990s, I'd often walk home to Tesvikiye late at night from Taksim via Cumhuriyet Caddesi and Harbiye, where loads of transgendered prostitutes would hang out late at night, standing by the side of the road and looking for a date. I'm not sure if they're still there, but the market clearly hasn't diminished since then.

Many of the transgendered in Turkey have been the victims of attacks, and there have been several murders in recent years in Istanbul. 

But what is also interesting is the degree to which transgendered and other effeminate and/or semi cross-dressing entertainers have been popular in Turkey, a country that many people associate with "macho" behavior and/or "Islamic values" (whatever that means).

Years before Boy George seemed so risque in the US, Zeki M
üren was wearing long, flowing Mrs. Roper-style muumuus and wild costumes that appeared to evoke dresses. In his early days, however, he'd played a straighter public role, often appearing as the male lead in romance movies.  
A young Zeki Müren 

Serving up more Ergenekon Kool-Aid

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Here is a copy of the report entitled "Ergenekon is our reality," which I talked about a bit in my post from the other day.   
One of the more striking features of this report, which was produced by a couple of organizations that I know nothing about, is the manner in which it is argued, with a series of "claims" being posited, and then refuted. But many of the biggest problems surrounding the Ergenekon narrative are never explored, and the "claims" that are made are often diluted, thus making them easier to refute. Finally, for a report that was supposedly created in order to help non-Turkish speakers better understand the Ergenekon trial, there's very little argumentation or detail. Arguments are made in the form of declarative sentences, "supported" by a series of footnotes relating to documents and materials printed in Turkish.

Neo-Ottoman Silliness

Friday, July 2, 2010

As I discussed in my previous post, on Saturday night the Turkish military carried out a raid against what it described as PKK bases in northern Iraq. According to one source, at least one civilian has been injured.

In this (Turkish-language) column appearing in the Turkish newspaper Radikal, Murat Yetkin reports that the US government green-lighted both last night's raid and future Turkish incursions into northern Iraqi air space, providing that a) no civilians are injured (see above), and b) that there is no engaging the Peshmerga forces of Iraqi Kurd leader Mesut Barzani.

Yetkin says that one of his (anonymous) sources tells him that the US gov's green-lighting of Turkish incursions into Iraq was relayed to Tayyip Erdogan ahead of his meeting with Barack Obama in Toronto on June 27, whereas another source reports that it has been at least three weeks since this permission was issued.

In any case, the timing related by either of these sources would fit in with recent developments in Turkey suggesting a more aggressive Turkish stance against the PKK outside Turkey's borders (in my previous post I mention recent arrests in Syria of suspected PKK supporters), as well as supporting recent rumors (which I referred to in my post four days ago--scroll down to bottom) of imminent Turkish plans to launch a "major offensive" against the PKK in Iraq in the face of a series of recent attacks against Turkish soldiers. 
These events and the diplomatic maneuverings (particularly with respect to recently improved relations with Syria) involved in setting them up should cast a new light on recent yammerings about the Turkish government's supposed desire to "look east."  
For some reason, whenever non-western countries where people speak less common languages are involved, people tend to employ grandiose and abstract theories to explain policies which are, in most cases, simply based upon how a government perceives both its own political interests and the interests of the country it represents.

Lately, one of the most noticeable examples of this is "neo-Ottomanism," the current flavor of the week for describing Turkey, which is being peddled here, and in many, many other places recently. The problem with stuff like this is that, rather than looking closely at why a country's leaders would consider it important to pursue certain policies (i.e., their interpretations of national and political interests, as well as personal ones, in some cases), this type of analysis reduces policymaking to "identity"-oriented gobbledy-gook. People buy this because it's easier to "understand" Turkey (or Russia, or China, or Japan, or the "Islamic world") through abstract concepts than through the hard work of learning details and developing comparative and relational approaches to discussing the issues at hand.

Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan has taken a hard stand against Israel and has sought to improve relations with Syria for a number of reasons, but especially these three, in no particular order: a) bashing Israel is good domestic politics at a time when the AKP's popularity has been weakening; b) Erdogan, I think, genuinely feels morally outraged at Israeli policies towards Gaza; and c) his government believes that, in the context of an increasingly independent northern Iraqi statelet backed by the United States, Turkey's needs the support of regional powers with respect to the Kurdish issue.

But rather than get our fingers dirty by looking at things like the US government's policies towards the Kurds and northern Iraq (like this)--policies which might shake up our complacent fantasies about America's supposed lack of imperial interests in the region--it's just plain easier to assign grandiose identity-based motivations to policies, especially when they seem to be at variance with US objectives like supporting Israel no matter what.

Rather than talk about Turkey's "turn to the east" or "neo-Ottomanism," let's talk about things the US and Europe are doing which contribute to the policies that we're talking about with this abstract shorthand. No, it's not all about the US and Europe (as I said, there are internal political factors and, sometimes, personal ones at stake as well), but our government's actions are a component of the thinking going into these policies and should be acknowledged.

I don't mean to imply that Erdogan and his cohort have no interest in using identity as a political tool--governments do these things. But I do believe that most governments pursue certain policies because they believe they will bring specific benefits, and not because these policies fit with a certain identity-based template.

In too many cases, we're the ones who are coming up with the template, then randomly trying to fit the actions of other governments into them. But as I said, doing this is easier than actually learning stuff.

More St. Petersburg shotz

June 26, 2010

Things have been busy in St. Petersburg. I've been going to the archive and library pretty regularly, and in my spare time am trying to finish up on article that I've been working on for a (long) while.

I've also been making an effort to go out and have some fun. Last weekend a friend and I went to the Philharmonic to see a concert of Viennese music, and earlier this week I saw a performance of (mostly) Rachmaninoff music in commemoration of June 22--a day of "memory and mourning" in Russia, as this was the day Hitler invaded the USSR in 1941.  On July 2 I have tickets to see Bi-2, a really great band whose music I was first introduced to in the second Brat movie.

The Kurdish Initiative: Designed to Fail?

Sunday, June 20, 2010

There's been some hand-wringing in the media lately over the future of the so-called "Kurdish initiative"--a set of proposals put forth by the government of Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan to end the rebellion of the pro-independence PKK and create a new set of laws making it easier for Kurdish language and culture to become part of the public sphere in Turkey. This is what Yigal Schleifer writes:
As the Turkish press reports today, ten members of a group 34 Kurds who returned to Turkey last October after several years in exile in northern Iraq have been arrested after being charged with supporting the PKK. The group's return (several of them were former PKK members) was one of the first visible signs -- and tests -- of the government's new initiative (sometimes referred to as the "Kurdish opening"). More groups of exiled Kurds were supposed to come after the first one, but the heros' welcome given to the initial group and the fact that jailed PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan said they returned at his command, turned the whole thing into something very costly for the government, and plans for further returns were put on hold.
I think the "Kurdish initiative can be viewed primarily in two contexts. Firstly, it's part of a larger effort by Erdogan's government to overhaul the system in Turkey. The threat of Kurdish separatism and the threat of Islamist rule have for decades constituted the two bogeymen that Turkish political and civilian rulers have invoked as explanations for defending authoritarian rule. As the leader of a party that is derided by its opponents as "Islamist," Erdogan has systematically worked to undermine a number of the taboos that have formed the basis of Turkish political culture since the 1980s (and earlier, in some cases). Thus we have not only seen a "Kurdish opening" and efforts by Erdogan to create a larger place for Islamic piety in the public sphere, but also an "Armenian opening ," an "opening" towards Arab states in the region like Syria, and--most importantly--a concentrated effort on the part of government-supported authorities to crush the influence of the military in politics through the kangaroo-court process known as Ergenekon.

The second context of the "Kurdish initiative" is more prosaic--it's an effort by Erdogan to win the support of Kurdish voters in the conservative southeast who are already inclined to vote for a religious-oriented party like Erdogan's AKP. While the AKP holds a majority in parliament, support for the party has been slipping for some time. Last year, in nationwide municipal elections, the AKP won about 39% of the vote, down from the 47% share they'd won in national parliamentary elections in 2007. One part of the country where the AKP needs to do better if the party is to hold on to power after the next parliamentary elections is the southeast, where the Democratic Society Party (DTP), a party that was associated with the cause of liberalizing laws pertaining to Kurdish culture and language in the public sphere, was particularly strong. 

In the municipal elections of March 29, 2009, the DTP received just 5.42 percent of the vote nationally, but scored some important victories in the southeast of Turkey, where they took four important municipalities from the AK Party. The AK Party had tried hard to win Kurdish votes in the southeast, including an attempt by the AK Party governor of the province of Tunceli to distribute more than 5 million Turkish Lira's worth of applicances and electronic goods to voters. Ten days before the elections, Prime Minister Erdogan pledged to set up a Kurdish-language radio station and even spoke Kurdish himself at a campaign rally (something which is against the law in Turkey).

A Kurdish-language banner prior to last year's municipal elections.  

In December of 2009, the DTP was closed down, ending a legal process which had begun years earlier. In my opinion, the "Kurdish opening" to a large extent constituted an effort by Erdogan to position the AKP to receive Kurdish votes in the southeast in response to the political vacuum that the closure of the DTP has created.

As was the case with Turgut Ozal's discussion of his Kurdish roots in the 1980s, however, the "Kurdish opening" has been largely symbolic. Foreigners writing on Turkey and AKP sympathizers in the Turkish media have made a big deal about it, but the "Kurdish opening" never addressed structural challenges to the Kurdish cause that exist on just about every level of society in Turkey. Creating Kurdish-language radio and television were overdue moves, and allowing Kurdish villages to change their names back to the original Kurdish created good press. But it also appears clear that, at the local level, little has changed. People are still harassed by local officials, and even children are brought up on charges for crimes related to Kurdish expression.

The "Kurdish initiative" may have struck some people as a harbinger of real change, but to me it seems like a rather cynical ploy to win some people's votes and other people's approval without really changing anything. While the steps that were taken in this initiative were without question welcome, it's hard to see what has really changed in a conflict that continues to tear at the very heart of Turkey.

St. Petersburg Shotz

Monday, June 14, 2010 

I spent most of the weekend trying to get set up in my apartment. On Saturday I took some time out to walk around town. 

It's hard to believe that it's been seventeen years since my first trip to Russia back in 1993. Back then I spoke no Russian, but still had a great time visiting Moscow, St. Petersburg, Novgorod and Tver with an Irish woman with whom I was living in Turkey. We took hundreds of photographs, and were fascinated by just about everything we saw.

Over the years, I've come back to Russia numerous times. I visited as a tourist again in 1998, when I was still living full-time in Istanbul, and since then have returned on research trips on an almost yearly basis since 2002. Photos from some of those previous trips can be seen here.   

Nevskii Prospekt

Getting settled in St. Petersburg

Friday, June 11, 2010

Well, it’s been a pretty wild ten days. I’m in St. Petersburg now, but only a week and a half ago I was still in Montana. Since that time I’ve been in Ann Arbor, Castle Park, Amsterdam and Istanbul. For now, however, I’m staying put for a month, and my bags are unpacked and out of sight.

On June 1 I flew from Bozeman to Michigan, where I met up with friends and family. My parents are out on Lake Michigan, so last Friday I rented a car and drove out to see them. Sunday morning started in Castle Park—as the place on Lake Michigan where I grew up spending my summers is called—and then I drove back to Ann Arbor before heading to Detroit to catch my flight to Amsterdam.

More shots from Japan

March 25, 2010

Well, I've had a pretty busy time for me this semester--which is probably clear, given the fact that I've been posting so little lately. Still, I wanted to put up some of the photos I've been taking recently. 

First of all, here are some more shots from my trip to Japan in January. Soon after I got back, I posted some photos from Tokyo. Here are some shots from Osaka and Kyoto: 

I took the Bullet Train from Tokyo to Osaka. Here's a shot of Mt. Fuji

Japan Photos

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

I got back from Japan two nights ago. It was a great trip, taking me to Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto. 

I'd been to Sapporo, Osaka and Kyoto once before, in 2007, but I'd never been to Tokyo. As was the case back then, this trip was made in connection with the Slavic Research Center at the University of Hokkaido.  The folks at the SRC have made an incredible contribution to the study of Islam in Russia, and in addition to running their own symposia over the years they've also formed partnerships with other universities in Japan to hold a number of joint conferences and workshops. I feel incredibly grateful to have been included in this one.

US helping to patrol border inside Iraq

Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2010

According to the New York Times, the US military is going to begin patrolling the unofficial 'border' which separates the areas of northern Iraq from the rest of Iraq. 

This northern front, or “trigger line,” dates to the American invasion in 2003. As Saddam Hussein’s army collapsed, Kurdish forces called the pesh merga pushed from their three provinces in the north [note from Jim: these are Dahuk, Arbil, and Sulaymaniyah] and occupied sections of Nineveh, Kirkuk and Diyala Provinces that the Kurds had historically claimed.
They have controlled the areas ever since, despite calls by Iraq’s government and regional Sunni leaders for them to withdraw to the “green line” that established the internal Kurdish boundary before 2003.

Releasing Mehmet Ali Agca

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Mehmet Ali Agca has been released from prison after serving only ten years of his sentence for killing Turkish journalist Abdi Ipekci in 1979. 

Agca released after serving just 10 years

Agca (pronounced "Ah-jaa") who is now 52, is better known internationally as the man who shot Pope John Paul II in 1981. After serving 19 years in a jail in Italy for his assassination attempt on the Pope, Agca was pardon at John Paul II's request and then transferred to a Turkish prison in 2000 in order to serve his punishment for killing Ipekci ("Ee-pek-chi"). 

Back from Istanbul/Going to Japan

Sunday, January 17, 2010 

Happy New Year! I hope you're all doing well. 

Things are good with me. As I mentioned in my previous post,  I spent a week in Istanbul over New Year's as part of a project I'm working on for the SSRC's "Teaching Islam in Eurasia" project. It was great to be back in Istanbul, but pretty hectic as well. The weather was often great, and I met up with a lot of friends. But perhaps most important of all, I ate and drank really well. 

 I bought a lot of stuff in Beşiktaş: two kilims, a Turkish tea pot, a new watchband--many things. But I did not buy any fish.