Jan 262017
 

By , 99GetSmart

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Turkey has once again updated its national education curriculum, downgrading philosophy, cutting classes on single-party rule in the 1940s and adding the latest coup attempt under philosophy and the social sciences.

On 16 January, the Ministry of National Education announced the new education curricula for secondary and high schools in Turkey.

The national curriculum has been a recurring topic of debate in Turkey for decades. It has always been controversial, given that all governments and political bodies have wanted to reinvent the educational system in the ideological image of the ruling party.

Less philosophy, more religion and values

The number of chapters in the philosophy course books has been generally reduced, while keeping political philosophy and philosophy of science. According to the new curriculum, class hours will remain the same at 72 hours per term, while the expected learning outcome for philosophy has been slashed from 58 to 20 points on Turkey’s assessment scale.

This major reduction of philosophy’s significance in the curriculum echoes the debate from a few years ago on the possibility of studying philosophy in the modern Turkish language. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the prime minister at the time, said that this was inadequate, insisting that one needs to use the Ottoman Turkish, which borrows the alphabet and most of its vocabulary from Arabic and Persian, or English in order to study philosophy.

“If we were to teach philosophy for 20 years, it would be a different country”

Istanbul-born philosopher and President of Philosophical Society of Turkey, Ioanna Kuçuradi, said “We make philosophy but he does not recognise us as philosophers.” In an interview with Sözcü in March 2016, Kuçuradi claimed that ignorance is at root of Turkey’s current social and moral crises and that they could be overcome through proper philosophical education: “If we were to teach philosophy for 20 years, it would be a different country.”

A pro-government conservative education union, Eğitim Bir-Sen, recently proposed the removal of ‘Ataturkism’, the official ideology describing the founding principles of modern Turkey, from the social sciences curriculum, and starting religious education at first grade.

While Eğitim Bir-Sen’s proposal on compulsory religion classes for first grade students was not introduced, Ataturkism has indeed been scrapped, and the principle of encouraging the observance of religious holidays adopted.
In line with the spirit of Eğitim Bir-Sen’s proposal, ‘Darwin & Evolution Theory’ was also purged from the school syllabus. It had been a controversial matter in Turkey for some time, especially since the Turkish Science Institute’s prohibition of publications about evolution.

The new approach will now rely on ‘values education’, e.g. the notions of ‘national unity & solidarity’ as well as ‘national, moral and universal values’. The new curriculum refers to values education as having a cultural impact, claiming that it is significant in turning these values into new norms and daily behaviours for society in the future.
As part of the new elective course for secondary schools ‘Basic Religious Teachings’, ‘jihad’ will be taught as part of religious values. Positivism and secularism will be categorised under the ‘Problems of Faith’ chapter, dedicated to the “promotion of individualism and the separation of state and religion”. Also under the problems of faith heading, students will be taught about deism, agnosticism, atheism, nihilism, satanism, reincarnation and false prophets.

Shifts in historical education with a special focus on the 15 July coup attempt

The coup attempt on 15 July 2016, which had a major impact on social and educational life in Turkey, has also been brought into the curriculum. Students will start learning about the coup attempt starting at sixth grade as a part of social science and philosophy classes. However, it is not certain whether previous coups will be referred to in the same classes.

At high school level, the students will now be asked to write essays on “Social Resistance against the Anti-Democratic 15 July Coup Attempt” within the framework of national-will, rule of law, and democratic understanding. “National Will” is a common reference in AKP (the ruling Justice and Development Party) campaigns, referring to the strong support behind the party in elections.

Contemporary Turkish and World History classes that focus on World War II will no longer refer to the anti-war efforts of Ismet Inonu, the president of the republic at the time and leader of the single-party CHP (Republican People’s Party) regime. Nor will it refer to his contributions to Turkey’s political and economic activities in the 1940s. Inonu was a general during Turkey’s War of Independence, a friend of the founder of republic and was declared “National Chief” during World War II, while keeping Turkey out of the war at all costs. As Inonu’s efforts at neutrality are being erased from history books, the transition to a multi-party system and the history of the Democrat Party is put under the spotlight.

The class on contemporary history, which has a chapter on the ‘Cold War Period’, will now include topics on ‘Political, Economic, Social and Cultural Developments in Turkey during the Time of the Democrat Party’. This in itself was a controversial period, with the start of a multi-party system that brought about the grasp of power by the Adnan Menderes government, starting in 1946. The new topic will focus on the election systems that were initiated in this period, which was heavily criticised for authoritarian tendencies and gerrymandering, due to the Democrat Party’s post-election downgrading of urban entities that did not predominantly vote for the ruling party.

Honouring Turkish success

The revised educational curriculum will honour Turkish citizens that have had international success. High school chemistry books will now have a topic on Prof. Dr. Aziz Sancar in the chapter on ‘Relations between Inter Chemical Species’ with his Nobel Prize-winning study on DNA-repair. Contemporary History will include Galatasaray’s winning of the UEFA Cup in 2000, as well as the national football team’s finishing third in the World Cup.

Students will be informed about scientific and technological developments in Turkey, about its satellite programme and communications technologies.

While the new curriculum is being championed by some media outlets in Turkey as the new system that will generate geniuses and inventors, many critical eyes see the decreasing presence of philosophy in the curriculum and hostile approach to secularism and positivism as a problem.

Even though the AKP’s efforts to erase ideological traces from national education may appear to modernise the education system through a more results-oriented approach, rewriting the history books from a centre-right political perspective only replaces the existing problems with new ones.

 

About the author

102.thumbnailGürkan Özturan is a graduate of Bosphorus University in Istanbul and he obtained his MA degrees from CIFE and Istanbul Bilgi University on European Studies and International Relations. His main areas of research include Far Right, Populism, Radicalism and Digital Media & Politics. Currently he works as a project curator and coordinator, writer, translator. He is a board member for Turkey Europe Foundation, as well as taking part in general coordination meetings of several other NGOs

Dec 152016
 

By 99GetSmart

Emek Movie Theatre (Photo: Nazım Serhat Fırat)

Emek Movie Theatre (Photo: Nazım Serhat Fırat)

The 8th edition of Istanbul’s Which Human Rights Film Festival (WHRFF) was launched on December 9th, on the eve of the International Human Rights Day. The opening ceremony was a tribute to the city’s iconic Emek Movie Theatre, demolished in 2013 to make place for a shopping mall.

Three years after the unsuccessful attempt to defend the heart of the city’s cinema scene, which also paved the way to the Gezi resistance movement, hundreds of viewers gathered at Şişli Urban Cultural Centre for the premiere of the documentary Audience Emancipated: The Struggle for the Emek Movie Theater.

The premiere coincided with the opening of a cinema multiplex under the name of “Emek Hall” at the Grand Pera shopping mall that was constructed on the original site. 

The Cinema

The original Emek Movie Theatre was as old as Turkish cinema itself. Located in the historical building of Cercle d’Orient (built 1884) the cinema opened its doors to public in 1924. It was originally called Melek Sineması or Angel Cinema as a reference to the Art Nouveau angel sculptures at the entrance of the former structure, and was the oldest cinema hall in Republican Turkey. 

The building was originally constructed for purposes other than film screenings. Among others, it used to serve as a theatre hall and as the gathering place for Istanbul’s cultural life. Its giant hall and the lounge, which could welcome hundreds, was ultimately found suitable for film festivals. 

Located on Istiklal, one of the most crowded avenues in Europe, the hall had been the home of Istanbul Film Festival for decades and the most popular cinema hall in the country for almost a century. It had left a deep mark in the social memory of the city.

Emek Movie Theatre (Photo: Nazım Serhat Fırat)

Emek Movie Theatre (Photo: Nazım Serhat Fırat)

Writing about a cinema-goer, Yusuf Atılgan, an early republican Turkish novelist, argues of the importance of being able to walk out into the city after watching a film and to be part of the society in order to digest what she or he had just watched.

Yeşilçam (Green Pine) Street, at which Emek’s entrance was located, gave the name to Turkish Cinematosphere. For Turkey, Green Pine is what Hollywood is for the US.

Emek cinema was not just any other movie theatre screening expensive international productions with profit-oriented mentality but a social space, which allowed young directors and independent films to find a screen and flourish.

The Film

At the opening of the WHRFF, the Cultural Center was filled with activists, architects, directors, researchers, students, labourers, former managers of Emek and many other people. They arrived well ahead of the screening to be united around the memory of the lost movie theatre and the ongoing struggles for presence in the city. 

The famous banner of Emek was placed in the hall, reading “Emek is Ours, Istanbul is Ours”. Many old friends met once again under this banner, the excitement was palpable.

“Emek is ours, Istanbul is ours” (Photo: Gürkan Özturan)

“Emek is ours, Istanbul is ours” (Photo: Gürkan Özturan)

Audience Emancipated captures the activism for the right to the city in Istanbul, such as the Emek is Ours Platform and their years-long struggle against demolition or neglect of cultural spaces, low-income residential neighbourhoods and parks. 

The 48-minute-long documentary summarizes the stages of demolition and resistance against it, stating the significance of this building for the cultural life of the city and the lure of profits for the investors, despite the court decisions marking the structure for preservation and other court decisions dictating a halt on demolition/construction works. 

However, experts, architects, the judiciary and even internationally renowned directors, such as Costa Gavras, stated opinions against demolition of the structure. And even though there were given many official decisions by courts to stop demolition, none of these were heard by the government, municipality, investors and construction companies went ahead with their plans. 

Now, a shopping mall enchants the luxurious consumers of Istanbul in the increasingly de-cultured and profiteering atmosphere of Istiklal Avenue. 

In the film, the mayor and construction company experts explain to the media how the Emek Hall will be preserved, not at the street level on ground floor but, thanks to the “modern preservation technique called ‘moving’, it will be dragged to the eight floor of the new shopping mall, exactly as it is.” This statement caused an uproar of laughter during the screening. 

After the screening, there was a period of discussion, quite emotional moments as the two former operators of Emek cinema came up on the stage. They had avoided the construction site in order not to see the demolition three years ago; and they had seen it for the first time, on screen. Their hands were shaking as they held onto the microphone and spoke about the times when they thought they’d be running Emek for their whole lives.

Photo: Nazım Serhat Fırat

Photo: Nazım Serhat Fırat

Right after them, Master Architect Mucella Yapıcı, the general secretary of the Turkish Union of Architecture and Engineering Chambers, Istanbul Metropolitan Branch, took the stage and emphasized the significance of reclaiming the city and social memory. She drew attention to the destructive populism wave of demolishing urban spaces and living areas for humans and animals, as well as trees in the city. As a final remark she reiterated the importance of not giving in and losing morality in the face of this expanding threat. “We must continue putting things on top of each other, building up culture and future,” she added. 

In the discussion after the screening, there was a consensus to boycott the shopping malls and unsocial profit spaces that destroy and demolish the memory of the city without even asking the people suffering the consequences or living there. 

The trailer of Audience Emancipated:

Nov 102016
 

By 99GetSmart

The Creature played by Bendedict Cumberbatch (photo: Catherine Ashmore/National Theatre)

The Creature played by Bendedict Cumberbatch (photo: Catherine Ashmore/National Theatre)

As many Turkish artists fight for their existence under difficult circumstances, a growing number of people are flocking to theatre halls to breathe the freedom of art, against all odds.

I recently attended a screening of the London National Theatre’s “Frankenstein” at the Istanbul Culture and Arts Foundation (IKSV) Hall, which broadcasted a recording of the play along with many other cinema halls around the world. Of course, I would rather see Jonny Lee Miller and Benedict Cumberbatch play Dr. Frankenstein and his monster live. But looking at the Turkey’s recent cultural developments, I believe it will not be possible, in any case not in the near future.

As in the play, when the monster is hounding Dr. Frankenstein for acceptance, the artistic stage in Turkey now seems to be expanding at a faster pace under growing pressure.

Turkey’s most famous culture house, AKM, – the notable structure on Istanbul’s Taksim Square– has been under renovation since 2007. Recently, the minister of culture once again expressed his wish to demolish it. The highly contested plan to redesign the building now seems like a neglect-based long-term demolition plan.

Additionally, the government has made several attempts to limit the themes of plays in recent years, using two major arguments: public morality and political criticism. Certain newspapers report on the “taboos and insults to the nation” committed by artistic groups, which they continually target for “immorality”, and judicial and bureaucratic measures inevitably follow close behind. Since the popular protests in 2013, many actors and actresses have been participating in mass protests and some have even become the faces of protests. This has been used as one more reason to up the pressure on the theatre houses.

There are striking similarities to censorship attempts in the Ottoman Empire in the 19th century, when a board called the Star Chamber was founded to “edit” the parts out of narratives and plays which were considered harmful. The same period is now officially called the “Despotism Era” in the history books. These measures have intensified, with private theatre houses receiving a notification that in order to continue receiving subsidies, they must guarantee the staging of plays that comply with public morality standards.

Due to restrictive measures and intimidation, state-owned theatre houses have been suffering badly, while one of the biggest mechanisms keeping the private companies afloat – the state’s cultural subsidies – seems to be disappearing into tax fines for companies whose actors have participated in protests or spoken out openly. Yet, the plays that have been staged in the past half a century in Turkey have generally had political or social-gender themes, rattling the nerves of conservative and nationalist viewers while serving as a massive hub of progressive ideas and liberal notions.

Despite all the hardships, the Turkish stage after the resurrection of restrictive measures is now coming back to haunt the authorities, much like Frankenstein’s monster. As in the play, when the monster is hounding Dr. Frankenstein for acceptance and taking a more severe stand when deceived, the artistic stage in Turkey now seems to be expanding at a faster pace under growing pressure.

According to Turkey’s National Statistical Board there are 719 theatres across Turkey that welcome some six million viewers annually. Although the same report also suggested that performance numbers are down 2% compared to the previous year, despite the 18% increase in the number of halls. Even though the government charges theatres with immorality, the counter-argument in defence of the stage is also a moral one. In response to all the things going wrong in Turkey at the moment (corruption, impunity, child brides, gender violence, etc.), the notable Turkish theatre and cinema actor Haluk Bilginer said, “The more theatre houses there are, the less immorality exists in society.”

What the stage in Turkey is currently experiencing reminds me of the storyline of the 1999 movie (and the fate of 1937 musical) “The Cradle Will Rock,” which deals with the state impositions on federal theatre in the US during the 1930s, when the target was the “Reds” and theatrical performances were deemed to be socialist propaganda that needed to be shut down. Unlike 1930s America, however, the restrictions in Turkey hit the mass media hardest, in a nation whose media tradition was already relatively weak.

However, humanity finds most use for fiction precisely during moments of despair. It is used to create hope and design a vision for a better future. It could be due to the growing pressure on media platforms (published and broadcast), that each year more people are taking up the habit of reading regularly and watching plays on stage.

Or perhaps it is merely a way of making a quick getaway from reality. “In such times of crisis,” urges Turkish political scientist Dr. Büşra Ersanlı, “hang onto theatre, books, literature and invest in your artistic capacity.” It might not be ideal at this time, but developments will come gradually.

Turkey’s theatre might have a much brighter future than the monster in the play and, perhaps soon, we might get to enjoy Benedict Cumberbatch’s acting live in Istanbul. Until then we must rely on London, Berlin, Paris and New York.

Nov 022016
 

By The Radical Democrat, 99GetSmart

Academia and media in Turkey have been devastated by two gruesome decree rulings that stripped academics of their work and shut down over a dozen media organisations. The purge continues with full speed, and an unfortunate victim of imprisonment has been Tolaz the Parrot.

Tolaz the parrot, DIHA

Tolaz the parrot, DIHA

Dicle News Agency (DIHA) offices have been sealed after a ruling by decree decision (October 29th) declared over a dozen media organizations closed in the early hours of November 1st, when there was no office worker there. When the offices were sealed without any prior notification after the tax officers and police made their inspection and reporting, Tolaz the Parrot – the mascot of the news agency – was locked inside, and door-locks were changed.

According to media reports Tolaz answered upon a reporter knocking on the door by saying “Heval who is there” (heval: [Kurdish] brother). Several journalists kept staying at the door of the news agency offices, keeping company to the parrot from a behind the door and waiting for someone to come and open the door to free Tolaz. However for a long time, no official that had answered, seemed willing to take any responsibility, and Tolaz’s fate depended heavily on the bureaucracy of Turkey.

One Nation, One Language, One Parrot?

Contrary to the echoing motto being chanted on streets by many people and political leaders as “One State, One Language, One Nation”, Tolaz the bilingual parrot can speak up to 70 words in both Turkish and Kurdish. Tolaz’s name also comes from Kurdish, and it means “womanizer”.

Caretaker of Tolaz, a DIHA journalist Hayri Demir stated “Tolaz has not been fed since early hours of the day before and he needs food and water urgently. He gets upset when there is no one around him talking; that’s why I brought him to the office. He is quite social, responds when there is doorbell ringing or dances if there is music.”

DIHA journalists waiting to free Tolaz

DIHA journalists waiting to free Tolaz

Amidst the raids on critical news organizations and imprisonment of journalists with alleged crimes of “harboring terrorist activities without being a member of a terrorist organization” Tolaz the Parrot is now of symbolic value beyond a pet, in all absurdity of the situation already.

Upon the suffering cries of Tolaz, main opposition CHP’s deputy Sezgin Tanrıkulu initiated a process and notified the Çankaya Municipality in Ankara to find a solution, to free the parrot from captivity. Finally when all official steps were taken, Tolaz was saved from captivity at 14.00, thanks to DIHA journalists’ efforts.

As a final word, it would be appropriate to have a closing remark with this couplet from the poet Cemal Süreya:

“Life is short,

Birds are flying…”

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Oct 292016
 

By , 99GetSmart

Iceland's top Pirates (photo: Pirate Party Iceland Blog)

Iceland’s top Pirates (photo: Pirate Party Iceland Blog)

A decade after it was founded, the Pirate Party are set to make yet another historic step, this time in Iceland, where it has has mobilized a great level of public support and has been leading the polls ever since the announcement of the national election.

A decade ago I was invited to a meeting of the newly founded Pirate Party in Sweden. It was intriguing, since I was fed up with the traditional right-left party politics, which keeps falling back to questions of identity rather than ideology. Having started out as an anti-copyright movement, the Pirate Party has definitely become something beyond a radical protest party. Its agenda is quite simple: transparency, freedom of information, direct democracy, public participation and decriminalization of narcotics.

Birgitta Jónsdóttir (photo: Pirate Party)

Birgitta Jónsdóttir (photo: Pirate Party)

Ahead of the Icelandic election that will take place on October 29, the Pirates look forward to at least quadruple their presence in the parliament. With only 5% support and three MPs, the Pirates have already led a successful term. Former spokesperson of Wikileaks and the Icelandic Pirates’ figurehead Birgitta Jónsdóttir defines herself as “poetician” (poet+politician). Her vision for Iceland is very different from that of other political parties. The party currently stands at over 22% in opinion polls and she might have a major impact by becoming the parliamentary speaker in the next term.

The Icelandic Pirates had forced Prime Minister Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson to resign after it was revealed in the Panama Papers that his wife owned an offshore investment company with claims on Iceland’s failed banks, which constituted an evident conflict of interest for the former prime minister. The week after the prime minister stepped down, the polls showed Pirates at 43%, after a long march reclaiming a new record every second week for over a year.

Mattias Bjärnemalm

Mattias Bjärnemalm

The Pirates set out to bring a new approach to party politics also elsewhere in Europe. Vice-President and Net Political Spokesperson of Pirate Party Sweden, Mattias Bjärnemalm, says “I cannot emphasize enough how important it would be for the pirate movement globally to have a government with pirate ministers. Today before the elections, they are standing with more parliamentary experience.”

Julia Reda, a Member of the European Parliament and the president of Young Pirates of Europe (YPE), the European federation of Pirate Party youth organizations,  states:

“The Icelandic Pirates are not just carried by the hopes of the electorate, they have been convincing in their day-to-day parliamentary work. I think they are a great role model for Pirate Parties in other countries, where voters may want to give the local Pirates a chance. But may have doubts about their effectiveness in parliament.”

Getting elected to the Abgeordnetenhaus, Berlin’s state assembly in 2011,  the German Pirate Party were the first Pirates to ever enter state parliament. However, partially due to internal divisions, the public support in the party fell dramatically in the Berlin’s state election this year. With 1.7% of the votes, the party lost its seats in the assembly.

Julia Reda, MEP

Julia Reda, MEP

Over the years, when I had been talking to people about the Pirate Party, most responses revolved around “they too have no ideology” or “it’s just another radical protest party.” Yet in Iceland, the Pirates have successfully led campaigns to abolish blasphemy laws, declare asylum for Edward Snowden, campaign for Chelsea Manning, and they have been speaking up against injustice and dysfunctional systems; there is more to the party than a mere protest voice.

The electoral agenda of the Pirates in Iceland promises an adoption of a new constitution, ensuring just distribution of the wealth generated through natural resources, re-establishing free health care, increasing public participation in decision-making, restoring trust and tackling corruption. A strong set of promises on the road to sustaining liberties and empowering the people.

Smari McCarthy

Smari McCarthy

Pirate Party Iceland’s prime ministerial candidate, Smari McCarthy, reiterates the promises saying:

“We are on the cusp of a new wave of liberal politics, where corruption and abuse of power is challenged and systems reformed to serve the needs of the public, rather than the needs of powerful elites.”

Even though all party-groups from right to left have Europe-wide associations, the Pirates might have the highest interconnectedness thanks to their focus on digital communications and social media. This weekend in Reykjavik, Iceland’s Pirates will welcome the support of Pirate Party representatives from over 30 other countries.

They are pioneers in terms of structure, like no other political movement before. As a Europe-wide grassroots movement, the Pirates are validating themselves through elections in the eyes of the electorate, while refusing to be categorized in traditional terms.

Aug 172016
 

By Banu Adiyaman, 99GetSmart

Turkish preacher Fethullah Gülen and OKC Thunder center Enes Kanter. (NonDoc)

Turkish preacher Fethullah Gülen and OKC Thunder center Enes Kanter. (NonDoc)

ISTANBUL — Enes Kanter, a center for the Oklahoma City Thunder, was recently disowned by his family for following and backing the so-called cleric Fethullah Gülen after a small military junta linked to Gülen launched an attempted coup July 15 in Turkey. Kanter announced he has changed his name to Enes Gülen.

Kanter appears to be a young man simply finding shelter in a father figure in the U.S. The Gülen movement is very good and experienced at attracting and ensuring the loyalty of young people through their schools in Turkey and all over the world. Some say Gülen has given Kanter an incredible honor by comparing him with the Prophet Muhammad’s adopted child Zaid bin Harith, who did not leave Muhammad after his family wanted to take him back.

In reality, it is much easier for Kanter to continue following Gülen after the coup attempt because he does not live in Turkey. Gülen himself lives in Pennsylvania.

Harsh decisions

Since the coup attempt, Turkey has embarked on a massive purge of all elements linked to Gülen from a range of institutions, detaining or sacking tens of thousands of people. The number of people dismissed from governmental services is nearing 70,000 as of the writing of this article.

In light of this climate, people in Turkey are forced to choose their sides between the Gülen movement and the government very harshly nowadays. Simply being a secularist or having always openly denounced military coups and Gülen’s hizmet (“service”) movement — even when mutual affection between AKP and Gülen was at its warmest point — would still leave doubt in the government’s eyes as to your loyalties. Therefore, even if you prefer simply to abstain from the ruling authority’s current protests and demonstrations against the coup and its backers, you can still be stigmatized as a “coup supporter” or even a “traitor.”

This could be part of why Kanter’s father, Mehmet Kanter, a lecturer at Medeniyet University, released a statement saying that his family condemned his son’s actions.

“We think that he was hypnotized and being used by Gülen. We are rejecting Enes and are asking him to change his surname. I apologize to the President [Erdogan] and the Turkish people for having such a child.”

Enes’ father’s position as a lecturer in a country in which almost 1,000 public and private university employees have been fired in a few months leaves little chance for his family to survive in Turkey if they had backed their son. Also, Mehmet’s claim that Enes is being used and deceived by Gülen likely has a base: the 24-year-old has invested in the so-called service movement, which was confirmed by recent hacking revealing Enes’ Twitter messages to a Turkish comedian linked to Gülen.

Gülen: Former political insider deemed ‘terrorist’

Since late October, Gülen has appeared on the Ministry of Interior of the Republic of Turkey’s “most wanted terrorists” list, designated in the red category to indicate the highest threat level. Before earning such a dubious distinction, Gülen had close relationships with the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and had many followers in the police, army, judiciary and the governmental system. However, Gülen’s increasing demands to share power with President Recep Tayip Erdogan led the way for tension between the two parties to reach a climax.

Given the background between Gülen and Erdogan, Kanter made headlines owing to his strong support for Gülen even after the coup attempt, and he drew widespread criticism for that — access to his Twitter account is still banned in Turkey. (Similarly, Turkish singer Sıla’s concerts have been canceled recently over her remarks about a “democracy” rally Aug. 7 in Istanbul, which she described as a “show” and where Erdogan hinted at the return of the death penalty in Turkey.)

What goes around …

Ideas don’t change overnight, but it is satisfying, to say the least, for one’s sense of justice to see that Gülenists can’t get away with all their bad karma after years of dominance and cronyism in the judiciary, the military, police organizations and ministries, eliminating non-Gülenist elements with unbelievably designed plots regardless of merit, experience and competence.

I hope karma will ensure what goes around comes around for others and allow us to be in the front row to see when they get theirs, too.

 

“IF YOU’RE REALLY A MEAN PERSON YOU’RE GOING TO COME BACK AS A FLY AND EAT POOP.”
― KURT COBAIN

Jul 282016
 

By Gürkan Özturan, 99GetSmart

(Flickr/Merton Wilton)

(Flickr/Merton Wilton)

Turkey has opened its first Traitors’ Cemetery in the aftermath of the July 15th coup attempt and Istanbul Metropolitan Mayor announced that the first burial has taken place.

“There is a place needed, to be called the cemetery of the traitors; all passers-by to curse when around it. All those walking by should curse and spit on it; there shall be no resting in peace for them, even in their graves.” –Kadir Topbas, Istanbul Metropolitan Mayor


Some days it feels like life in Turkey is a chapter in a dark and deep dystopian novel. Today is one of those days. On July 20th, only days after the failed coup attempt, Istanbul Metropolitan Mayor, Kadir Topbaş announced his will to open a cemetery for the traitors who participated in the bloody coup on July 15th. According to media reports, the cemetery has just been opened and the first burial taken place.

The first body buried is Captain Mehmet Karabekir who killed the community chief in Istanbul’s Acıbadem neighbourhood on the night of the coup attempt. The mayor announced that the family of the dead did not want his body, so he was to be buried somewhere and the ‘Traitors’ Cemetery’ was the venue for this occasion. The cemetery is located in Istanbul’s Pendik district, at the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality’s ‘dog shelter’.

Previously, the religious authority of the Prime Minister’s Office, Diyanet had announced that there would be no religious services for those who died in an attempt to overthrow the government through a violent coup. Denial of religious services had previously been discussed for certain leftist/progressive academics and journalists, yet no matter how much reaction there was from right-wing supporters, the services still took place.

However, there are also many unknown graveyards of notable rebels of the state; Sheikh Said, the leader of an Islamist/Kurdish uprising in the 1920s; Seyid Rıza, the religious leader of the Kurdish movement in the 1937-38 Dersim Rebellion; Said Nursi, an influential Kurdish Sunni cleric in the early years of the Republic who later inspired many Islamist movements formation and rhetoric. Their graveyards are still unknown to date.

Apart from rebel leaders, the body of Aziz Güler, who had gone to Rojava to fight against ISIS, was kept waiting for 2 months at the border before being given to his family for burial; and another disturbance occurred when Şafak Yayla, the perpetrator who had taken prosecutor Mehmet Kiraz hostage at the Istanbul Court Palace, was killed, and his family had to bury him in the front yard of the house after violent mobs threatened to attack the body, which finally ended with his family pouring cement on the gravesite.

Attacks against graveyards are also a recurring theme in Turkey’s history. After the 1960 military coup, when the prime minister at the time, Adnan Menderes, and two of his ministers were hanged by Alparslan Türkeş (later founder of far right Nationalist Movement Party MHP), their bodies were buried in a neglected state on İmralı island –currently where the PKK leader Öcalan is kept in solitary confinement. However, Menderes’ remains were carried to a mausoleum in 1990.

The idea of a ‘Traitors’ Cemetery’ and its location at the dog shelter feels like it is straight out of a dystopia, or a horror film. However, this is the reality in Turkey; still a country that feeds on hostility, even regarding the dead. Yet, the word ‘traitor’ is used quite loosely by almost everyone, and who knows, perhaps some of those who are accusing each other of treason might lie side by side in that cemetery someday.

Mar 242016
 

By The Radical Democrat, 99GetSmart

bogazici

 

Turkish government had declared academics, who have announced their opinion contrary to security policies of the government, as “traitors who should be declared as terrorists without weapons” and started acting on presumptions to intimidate, detain and arrest them. Just recently three academics had been arrested for terrorism charges while dozens of others are still under investigation and hundreds are subjected to even more serious threats. The fact that Turkish universities are subjected to Higher Education Authority (YOK), and do not have absolute autonomy makes it difficult for academics in uttering their opinions. Yet, since there were no crimes listed earlier in the penal code, the academics facing investigation could not be put on trial easily. With the new additional regulations to Higher Education Law, the legal framework for putting academics on the “felon’s dock” becomes much easier.

The government has quickly drafted a new bill to suppress academic freedoms that allow critical scholars to announce their thoughts that are contrary to government policies. According to the new draft bill, any academic that gets involved with “activities that have separatist claims or terror activities, or acts in support of this” would be kicked out of universities and lose public offices.

According to the new bill, these are the new regulations:

-An update to Higher Education Law that previously foresaw “warning, condemnation, temporary loss of wage, stopping promotion” now also includes losing academic title, dismissal from work, dismissal from public office”.

-Academics who get involved with separatist claims or terror activities or those who get involved with ideological or political actions, or supporting such actions will lose their public office.

-Apart from political activities, involvement with boycott, occupy, slowdown strike, strike, stopping public works that would disturb institutional tranquility, peace and work atmosphere, would result in losing employment.

-Against political works at universities, YOK president is now authorized to start investigation, YOK Disciplinary Board has authority to give punishment, university disciplinary boards have authority to dismiss one from work and from public office.

-Crimes of political involvement include crimes of political and ideological petition, propagating for political parties; discrimination based on language, race, color, gender, political thoughts, philosophical belief, religion and sect, attain personal interest, act on political and ideological reasons.

The new regulation has not left the retired academics, who had signed the peace petition that initiated the latest stir in Turkish judiciary. The academics who have retired or ended their academic work for any other reason will have a mark in their personal files, and their punishments will be given if they go back to work or start working for foundation (private) universities.

Mar 222016
 

By The Radical Democrat, 99GetSmart

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Turkey had seen an increased mobility in the campuses when over 1100 academics from across the country had got together to sign a petition calling for peace. Quickly they were declared as traitors and recently three academics, Dr. Esra Mungan, Dr. Muzaffer Kaya, Dr. Kıvanç Ersoy were arrested, waiting for trial in the Bakırköy Prison in Istanbul.

Esra-Mungan

As of March 21, Evrensel reporter, Mithat Fabian Sözmen, wrote that after three days at the short stay unit, Dr. Mungan has been put in a solitary confinement cell with 1.5 hours of air time during the day, without any chance of seeing another face. The solitary confinement cells are located in the branch of the prison where inmates are allowed visitors only once a month. Dr. Mungan had previously written letters to her students and fellow academics from prison on the note pads of visiting politicians and lawyers, where she had explained that they read a lot.

University Stands with Academics

Dr. Mungan teaches cognitive psychology at one of the most prestigious universities in Turkey, Bosphorus University, which was founded in 1863 as Robert College. The university president, Gülay Barbarosoğlu, led the senate on the nights of March 17th, and on March 18th, the university came up with a statement:

For the first time in its history, a Bosphorus University professor has been arrested. Dr. Mungan has been accused of “propagating for terrorist organization.” We find this accusation unacceptable. Our colleague Dr. Mungan’s place is not prison but in the campus halls, where she has been teaching and researching for 15 years.

As Bosphorus University, we have always and under all circumstances had the sanctity of human life as basis and stood up against all kinds of violence. None of our professors have encouraged terrorism, and would not.

Our university, with her students, professors and alumni, have stood up against all steps that harm democracy. The right to free expression and thinking make up the body of this stance.

Where there is no right to free expression and thinking, there can not be a university, no lecture can be given, no research would be carried out and scientific advancement would stop. A climate of violence and terrorism would most effectively and rapidly be defeated at the free discussion atmosphere.

Dr. Mungan and fellow academics, Dr. Kaya and Dr. Ersoy, who have been arrested, and Dr. Camcı, about whom there is an arrest warrant, and Dr. Stephenson, who was deported, have all used their right to free expression, which is under constitutional guarantee.

We demand that our fellow professors be released and that they be rejoined with their students immediately.

Visit to Prime Minister

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After the statement, university president Gülay Barbarosoğlu had applied to the chief prosecutor for the release of academics from prison. On March 19th Saturday afternoon, President Dr. Barbarosoğlu also paid a visit to Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu – also an alumni of Bosphorus University – who, prior to his political career that started in 2009 with his appointment as Minister of Foreign Affairs, had been teaching as professor of political science. The meeting ended with impressions that Prime Minister Davutoğlu would closely monitor the process.

Another statement had been made by the University Professors Association that welcomes all lecturers as members. The statement followed “the arrests in our country are a signifier of a very dire course of events. Intellectuals and academics get subjected to investigation, detention and even arrest simply because they made critical statements. As the trials continue with academics under arrest, this application itself has turned into “punishment without trial” mechanism that does not hold even reasonable justification. We demand an immediate release of our three fellow academics, who we believe have been arrested actually for opposing views and other intellectuals who have been subjected to investigations for their articles, statements, works.”

Pro-Government Academics Against Peace Petition

Vice-President of the Sebahattin Zaim University, which is a recently founded educational institute that includes AKP officials, ministers, prime minister and president as its founders, Dr. Bülent Arı evaluated the “Academics for Peace” on a TV program on March 20th. Dr. Arı briefly stated that the real problem of Turkey is the people with education, and that it is the ignorant people that will keep Turkey standing. Dr. Arı also stated that in order to leave a future to next generation, the current one needs to sacrifice itself and die. Regarding the peace petition Dr. Arı stated:

“I trust the judgement of the uneducated ignorant segment in this country. They are the ones to keep the country on its feet, the uneducated, not even primary school graduate, the ignorant people who have not been to university. They would never make such mistakes; how should I evaluate that declaration. They are leading Turkey into the middle of the fire. The educated segment in Turkey, starting from professors and going further back, the most dangerous types are the university graduates. The ones who can evaluate things most clearly are the primary school graduates, because their minds are clear. University and higher is very dire, they can not read the situation, their minds are blurred.

Let’s go back to Ottoman era, Sultan Hamid initiated royal schools where secular education would spread to whole country. Those who studied in those schools, toppled Sultan Hamid. Now when reading rate increases, I become exasperated. I am frankly afraid, I always trust the judgement of the ignorant people. Even in traffic the most dangerous types are university graduates. The ignorant ones abide by whatever you give them in traffic, these ones would not pose a constant threat. Those who can not see the world are those who have studied. The more one studies, the less able they are in analyzing Turkey. We are faced with an imminent disaster if Erdoğan is gone. We are at an undercover war, let’s accept that. We need to sacrifice maybe even ourselves and loved ones, to leave something for the next generation.”

Mar 162016
 

By The Radical Democrat, 99GetSmart

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Over 1100 academics from 89 universities in Turkey had gathered in a meeting hall in Taksim, Istanbul on the 11th of January, to compile a declaration calling for peace. The original text demanded Turkish government to end the “siege” in the Southeastern cities of Turkey, and reiterated the motto of the text -which later came to be the title of it- stating “we will not be party to this crime!

The academics have seen violent reactions since then; their offices have been raided and marked (marking doors have been a reminder of earlier massacres in modern Turkish history), some of them have been subjected to pressure on campuses, intimidation in daily life, they have been subjected to hate campaigns by pro-government media and the government officials have stated that these academics will face dearest of all punishments for “complying with terrorism through means of academia”. A notorious criminal who had been awarded “the Khan of all Turks” title by the Ministry of Culture, Peker said “There will be rivers of blood, and I will bathe in the blood of the academics who do not wish to be party to a crime.”

Marking doors have been a common far right exercise in Turkey prior to massacres.

Marking doors have been a common far right exercise in Turkey prior to massacres.

Upon violent intimidation of the academics, the declaration had been opened for further signatures in Turkey and abroad, and over 2000 academics have signed the petition including Noam Chomsky, David Harvey, Etienne Balibar, Judith Butler, Immanuel Wallertein. Although there has been somewhat international declaration of solidarity from individual academics and civil bodies, due to lack of unwavering commitment by International Political Science Association (IPSA), the academics for peace had also started a call for a boycott of the IPSA’s 24th World Congress that was originally to be held in Istanbul, Turkey. There have been legal investigations against 1128, suspension of 27, termination of 40, and threatening of 47academics so far, and legal action is expanding against those who criticize the ongoing state violence against civilians. The repression of academics had ignited many other professional platforms and they had started new petitions calling for peace and declaring solidarity as Writers for Peace, Translators for Peace, Students for Peace, Cinema for Peace, Theatres for Peace, Journalists for Peace, Lawyers for Peace, Doctors for Peace, Pharmacists for Peace, Pensioners for Peace, Unionists for Peace, Tourist Guides for Peace, and White Flag for Peace.

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The original peace declaration had called for a return to negotiation table and a democratic solution without state imposing violence on its citizens. However the excessive reactions to the original declaration came to such a level that a second declaration had been drafted with a headline “Regardless of all threats, we will not back off”. The three professors who had read out this second declaration, Esra Mungan of Bosphorus UniversityMuzaffer Kaya of Nisantasi University, and Kivanc Ersoy of Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University, had been called to the courthouse to be questioned about their statement, later on transferred to the prosecutor on duty, who then arrested the academics for “propagating for a terrorist organization” and “humiliating the Republic of Turkey and its organs section of the [infamous] Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code of protection of Turkishness”.