So watcha want? Choices re Syria

Sunday, September 15

Now that the US and Russia have reached an agreement to destroy Syria's chemical weapons stocks, the Obama administration needs to take this opportunity to figure out what it really wants in Syria. 

A while ago I posted a set of ten questions that I'd like to hear the Obama administration answer. There was particular love for #9, which was nice to see.

But the big question facing the Obama administration right now is: should the goal in Syria be regime change or ending the conflict?

Obama & Co. seem unsure on this point, and it is for this reason that policy towards Syria has been, to put it charitably, somewhat less than coherent. So far, regime change appears to have been the goal, but the administration doesn't give the impression of having a clear idea about what Syria should ultimately look like (question #2 from last week). More than anything, administration's sabre-rattling seems to have thus far been mainly about 'maintaining credibility.'

10 Questions regarding Syria

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

The following are some questions I hope congressional leaders ask the Obama administration regarding Syria: 

1. Wait--why is this a good idea again?

    This question always seems worth asking, especially when someone is     trying to convince you that we suddenly need to go to war. 

2. What, if any, idea do you have regarding how you want Syria to 
     look when this conflict is over?

If the Assad regime falls, there is potential for Syria breaking apart. 
      Does the Obama administration view the current borders of Syria as         sacred? What about the Kurdish region of northern Syria?

New article: Speaking Sharia to the State in Imperial Russia

Thursday, August 22 
Greetings from the friendly confines of the Borderlands Lodge! Montana is a bit smoky right now, with regional forest fires mucking up the otherwise pristine nature of Gallatin County.

I wanted to mention that a new article of mine is now out in the journal Kritika: Explorations in Russian and Eurasian History.
 The piece is called "Speaking Sharia to the State: Muslim Protesters, Tsarist Officials, and the Islamic Discourses of Late Imperial Russia." It tells the story of nearly three decades of protests taking place among Muslim communities in the Volga-Ural region of late imperial Russia. How, I ask, does a series of conflicts relating to economics, law, and administration end up getting articulated, by Muslim protesters and Tsarist officials alike, in terms of Islam?

Flowers, tear gas and public toilets: more thoughts on Gezi

Monday, July 8

Tonight I was working at my office in the Urban Bar in Galatasaray, next to the umumi tuvaletler, or public toilets, located on a little side-street next to Galatasaray high school. I've been going there (the bar, that is) for almost twenty years, and ever since the legendary Kaktüs became Lonely Planetified a couple of years ago, the Urban ("Oor-bahn") has been my main place in the neighborhood, mainly for old time's sake. The clock on the wall even bears my last name.

Anyway, at a little after seven pm I heard two loud bangs and then about a half-dozen people ran down the street in front of the bar. It was happening again: gas in the city in this summer of anger.

It turned out that the much-heralded re-opening of Gezi Park that took place today didn't last for long. The Taksim Solidarity Platform had announced that they would exercise, in the park, their right to protest peacefully at 7 pm tonight. The response? Police-sponsored mayhem, again. All of the pretty flowers that city officials had boasted of planting in the park since it was cleared of protesters in mid-June made little difference. People still want the right to demonstrate without getting attacked.  

Chillin' in the B-lands/Fatih Kerimi

Thursday, July 4

A month or so ago when I was in Istanbul I visited Kubbealti, king of the photocopy men, and bought the original Arabic-script version of Fatih Kerimi’s travelogue Istanbul Mektupları, first published in Orenburg, Russia, in 1913. The book details Kerimi’s four-month trip to Istanbul in 1912-1913, during which time he met up with his friend Yusuf Akçura, who was working as the Istanbul correspondent for Kerimi’s Vakit newspaper back in Russia.

Over the course of this visit, Kerimi meets up with Akçura, Halide Edip, Ahmet Mithat and other Ottoman luminaries of Unionist-era Istanbul. It's a fascinating, beautiful book and a great travelogue.  
Fatih Kerimi in late imperial times

Other people's dissent

Sunday, June 3

As everybody knows by now, the Gezi Park protests have slowed down considerably over the past couple of weeks, although there is still pots-n-pans clanging of the sort that lasted for six weeks or so after Susurluk* in the late 1990s. The genie, as I observed a couple of weeks ago, has been largely stuffed back into the bottle. 

Susurluk, of course, was the first major scandal that I recall prompting loads of people in Turkey to say 'now, nothing will ever go back to the way things were before.' The other two times in which I heard this have been after the 1999 earthquake and after Gezi.
The shadow of Susurluk still haunts this country
Since my last post, however,  I've been spending most of my time writing frantically from my undisclosed location in the Turkic-Russian borderlands, working on my book. I hope you all get a chance to read it one day.

I've been assisted in my scholarly pursuits by the generally low availability hereabouts of internet access, which has been great, a throwback to the glory days of the 1990s when I lived in Istanbul without wired and wireless encumbrances, free to embrace the simplicity of paper, pen, and word processor.

Stuffing the genie back into the bottle

Friday, June 21

It's been a busy week. Late Tuesday night I flew back to Turkey from Copenhagen, but frankly didn't feel great about it. All weekend long there had been protests, which appeared largely peaceful, but with protesters being attacked repeatedly with tear gas and water cannon. At least five deaths and nine missing people since the protests began in late May, and thousands had been arrested nationwide. Folks on the plane, including myself, were in a grim mood.

Worse yet, deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç, apparently wearing his special brown trousers for the occasion, had recently announced that the government was thinking of calling in the military to end the protests. The folks running the show in Ankara--or at least some of them--appeared to be getting panicky. And panicky governments, especially those with an authoritarian bent, can do some very stupid and destructive things.

And then came the standing man (duran adam). The standing man, as I wrote about earlier, is the dude who stood on Taksim Square, staring at the Ataturk banner covering the Ataturk Cultural Center for several hours before being detained by police and setting off a new protesting trend in the process.

'Standing' people in Taksim


Turkey: On the "standing man" protests and other questions

Tuesday, June 18
Watching this past weekend's spectacle of still more police violence only made clearer my earlier sense--based upon what I saw with my own eyes during the first two weeks of protest and what I've been observing since then--that these are basically police riots inflicted upon peaceful protesters. Both within Gezi Park and since the dispersal of the occupiers last week, the protesters have, for the most part, gone out of their way to be non-violent.  
Even non-Turkish speakers should check out the live feed of the action from Halk TV, which I provide here. Even if you can't understand the language, the visuals are really incredible, and give a good indication of who is behind the violence in Turkey.

Watch Halk TV on the JMB feed

Premature Evacuation

Saturday, June 15

That low moan of relief you hear coming from Ankara is the sound of long-delayed satisfaction. Turkish PM Tayyip Erdoğan has been gritting his teeth for three weeks, thinking about what he should do to all of those free-love types taking over his future shopping center site. There was simply no way he was going to let those protesters stay much longer.
After announcing earlier today that the police would clear Gezi Park on Sunday, plans were changed and the cops entered the park in the early evening on Saturday, Turkish-time. Erdoğan's twenty-day itch has finally been scratched.
The PM finally gets some long-awaited release

Photos from Istanbul

Friday, June 14
I'm in Copenhagen this week attending a conference at the University of Copenhagen called "Growth: Critical Perspectives from Asia."
It's quite awesome, to tell you the truth, and I'll probably put up some photos from here pretty soon.

Gezi Protests: The Scene in Taksim

Monday, June 10
I'm heading off to Copenhagen tomorrow, so after meeting up for drinks at my office in the Urban bar, a friend and I decided to head over to Gezi Park again. After all, I'm heading off soon to the land of the Danes. Who knows what things will look like by the time I get back... 
PM Erdogan continues to talk tough, and is due to hold big rallies in Ankara (Saturday) and Istanbul (Sunday) this upcoming weekend. 
My guess is that sometime shortly after these rallies an attempt will be made to take back the park, perhaps even as early as next week. 
It won't be easy. Gezi Park and Taksim have been transformed into an open-air bazaar, even more than is usually the case. The park is filled with thousands of people. 
In addition to the usual occupy-type stuff we've all grown used to seeing--dispensaries, libraries, information centers, etc.--there's also an unmistakable Turkish flavor here. Taksim Square is filled with vendors selling food, drink, and Gezi-related souvenirs. 

More updates re Gezi Park

Saturday, June 8
Things remain relatively quiet in Istanbul, but not elsewhere. 
Gezi Park continues to be filled with people, and there are no police to be seen anywhere in Taksim. At nine pm folks continue to bang their pots and pans as the Çapulcu phenomenon continues to grow. Occasionally walking the streets of Kadikoy or Taksim you encounter a group of students, or professors, or lawyers, or some other group participating in a march, shouting slogans. 
For now, at least, lots of people seem to be having an incredibly fun time. 
It's fun for now...


Lessons from last weekend: Press chill

Thursday, June 6

One of the most chilling aspects of the events last weekend concerned press coverage. While battles were raging between protesters and police in Beşiktaş and Taksim, foreign news agencies and internet sources like FB were the only access that people in Turkey had to information. The television channels and newspapers in Turkey barely discussed these events. CNN-Turk, NTV, and other major news stations in Turkey have very, very little credibility these days in Turkey.

 CNN-Turk aired a documentary about penguins during the protests

İsyanbol: More thoughts re the situation in Turkey

Wednesday, June 5

Today things were again pretty calm. With Turkish PM Erdogan still in North Africa, the situation here has become considerably more relaxed.

Tonight I met up with the Famous Mr. G, my first ever boss, the man who brought me to Turkey to work after college. He's still living here, staying just down the road, in fact, from my present accommodations in the Koy of Arnavut.

Tomorrow, PM Erdogan comes back to Turkey, and his return raises all kinds of questions. What will happen next?

Frankly, I don't see the exit. Erdogan, a man who spent months in prison for having once read a poem in public, is not someone to back down from a fight. There's no way he's going to resign, and there's no way his party is going to get rid of him.

Meanwhile, Gezi Park is filled with thousands of people, the vast majority of whom are youngish and college-aged. They spent last weekend getting their heads cracked by the cops on the eve of their final exams. From next week onwards they'll be on summer break, and from all indications are having the time of their lives in Gezi Park right now. They're hanging out in the park sleeping in tents, listening to Turku music concerts, feeling virtuously revolutionary, and basically having a blast, for the most part, as far as I can tell. I don't see them going back home to Mom and Dad anytime soon.

So what happens after Erdogan comes back?

An uneasy peace: pictures from Istanbul

Tuesday, June 4

Today things were a little bit different. The morning began with a trip to the poğaça shop and the purchase of a couple of newspapers.

The first thing I noticed was that the media censorship seems to be lifting. The newspapers had more coverage of events in cities outside of Istanbul, as did the television news later in the day. The fact that Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan has left the country for a meeting in Morocco has helped a lot, I think. Erdoğan's absence leaves the handling of the crisis largely in the hands of two other AKP politicians--president Abdullah Gül and vice-PM Bülent Arınç--who have a decidedly different approach to dealing with confrontation than Erdoğan. Whereas Erdoğan has seemingly gone out of his way to invite confrontation with protesters, Gül and Arınç (as well as Istanbul mayor Kadir Topbaş, who is also AKP) have gone out of their way to try to defuse the present crisis. Gül's two major soundbites were that "democracy is not just about elections" and that "well-intentioned messages" have been received.

Arınç, meanwhile, has already apologized to the country for the excessive use of force. It's all that was necessary, frankly, from the start. Whereas Erdoğan just kept throwing gasoline on the fire this weekend, practically begging protesters to keep fighting by announcing on Sunday that he planned to tear down the Ataturk Cultural Center, yet another symbol of Kemalism that he seem hell-bent on erasing from the public sphere, finally some adult politicians--folks who don't seem to have a perpetual chip on their shoulders--had entered the room. And not a minute too soon.

Raising the roof: more on the Gezi protests

Monday, June 3

The Ataturk Cultural Center (known as the AKM) used to be one of my favorite places in Istanbul. As a cheapo foreigner, I liked taking dates to the inexpensive ballet and (usually western) classical music performances that were held there. Cheap 'n classy, that's the way I used to roll in those days.

Mostly, the fare at the AKM consisted of a few very frequently presented shows like Swan Lake or Carmen. One time, I went to a performance of Kazakh music performers with a girl I was seeing at the time when the concert was halted suddenly, like at the beginning of Madonna's Eva Peron film. They announced that the great Turk Sanat Muzigi performer Zeki Muren had passed away, and a palpable groan came from the audience. The concert ended and we all left.

Anyway, these are the sorts of memories I have of the AKM, which also used to be the main meeting place for people in Taksim during the years before the cellular phone. It's located right next to Gezi Park.

This weekend's events: more impressions

Sunday, June 2

I arrived in Istanbul in the middle of the night this past Thursday/Friday. Normally my temporary residence in town this past decade has been in a green-ish quiet-ish neighborhood a few miles up the Bosphorus from more central areas of the city. Because I was arriving so late, however, I decided to crash at a hotel in tourist-central Sultanahmet the first night, then head up the Bosporus Friday morning.

Riding up the next day, my taxi driver mentioned that there were some 'events' taking place around the park in Taksim, but I didn't take him very seriously. Internationalist Borderlander that I am, I follow the Turkish news, even from the faraway hamlet of Bozeman-on-Mountains. I knew that some people were staying in the park to protest the trees--there are few of them in Istanbul--getting destroyed in the envisioned construction in the park. I figured my driver was talking about this. After all, it was a Friday--a traditional day for protest in Turkey and other Muslim-majority countries. A couple of times a month there's a march or something in Taksim. Sometimes the cops are cool with things, and sometimes the cops, demonstrators, or onlookers get violent. No big deal, I figured.

As usual, I was wrong.

Sarin gas in Adana

Saturday, June 1

Obviously the big story in Turkey today is about the riots which have engulfed the country since Friday, but there was something else that appeared in the news a couple of days ago which also merits comment.

Mayhem in Taksim: It's not just about the park

Friday, May 31

Everyone is talking about the massive police attack on demonstrators that took place today in Taksim's Gezi Park.
For those of you who haven't been following the story, the government in Ankara has decided that a shopping mall should be constructed in Taksim (Gezi) Park, in the center of Istanbul.

Flying the fezzy skies

Monday, February 25, 2013
In case anyone needed further evidence that the AKP and their supporters in Turkey are running out of ideas: 
The New York Times reports on proposed new uniforms for Turkish Airline stewards and stewardesses:
Turkish Airlines in the late 1940s they wore cotton blouses under blue suits tailored to accentuate “the contours of the body,” as a fashion history of the airline puts it. In the ’60s and ’70s the trend continued with fashions straight off the Paris runway, designed to show Turkey’s European flair on its flagship airline. Now, the country’s shifting mores are reflected in a proposed new look: long dresses, skirts below the knee and Ottoman-style fez caps.
Fezzes? Well, kind of. Here's a shot:
Newspaper mash-up comparing old and new uniforms