Talking Turkey 362


To simply say “protestors good, government bad” in Turkey is a symptom of the Blair delusion, that in civil conflicts there are guys with white hats and guys with black hats, and that the West’s role is to ride into town and kill the guys in the black hats. That is what “liberal intervention” means. The main aim of my second autobiographical book, “The Catholic Orangemen of Togo”, was to explain through the truth of the Sierra Leone experience how very, very wrong this is.

In fact civil conflicts are usually horribly complex, anent a variety of very bad people all trying to gain or retain power, none of them from an altruistic desire to make the world a better place. There may be ordinary people on the streets with that altruistic desire, being used and manipulated by these men; but it is not the ordinary altruistic people on the streets who ever come to power. Ever.

In Turkey the heavy crushing of a rainbow of protests in Istanbul has been going on for at least a month now. A week ago I was discussing it with my publisher, whose son lives in the city. A fortnight ago I was in Istanbul myself.

The Turkish people I was with were natural Erdogan supporters, and what struck me very forcibly was the fact that he has sickened many of his own natural allies by the rampant corruption in Turkey at present. Almost everyone I met spoke to me about corruption, and Turkey being Turkey, everyone seemed to know a very great deal of detail about how corruption was organised in various building and development projects and who was getting what. It therefore is hardly surprising that the spark which caused this conflict to flare to a new level was ignited by a corrupt deal to build a shopping centre on a park. The desecration of something lovely for money could be a metaphor for late Erdogan government.

The park is very small beer compared to the massive corruption involved in the appalling and megalomaniac Bosphorus canal project. Everyone talked to me about that one. The mainstream media, who never seem to know what is happening anywhere, seem to have missed that a major cause of the underlying unrest in Istanbul was the government’s announcement eight weeks ago that the Bosphorus canal is going ahead.

People are also incensed by the new proposal that would ban the sale of alcohol within 100 metres of any mosque or holy site, ie anywhere within central Istanbul. That would throw thousands of people out of work, damage the crucial tourist trade and is rightly seen as a symptom of reprehensible mounting religious intolerance that endangers Turkish society.

So there are plenty of legitimate reasons to protest, and the appalling crushing of protest is the best of them

But – and this is what it is never in the interest of Western politicians to understand – Government bad does not equal protestors good. A very high proportion – more than the British public realise by a very long way – of those protesting in the streets are off the scale far right nationalists of a kind that make the BNP look cuddly and Nigel Farage look like Tony Benn. Kemalism – the worship of Ataturk and a very unpleasant form of military dominated nationalism – remains very strong indeed in Istanbul. Ataturk has a very strong claim, ahead of Mussolini, to be viewed as the inventor of modern fascism

For every secular liberal in Istanbul there are two secular ultra-nationalist militarists. To westerners they stress the secular bit and try to hide the rest, and this works on the uncurious (being uncurious is a required attribute to get employed by the mainstream media). Of course there are decent, liberal, environmentalist protestors and the media will have no difficulty, now they have finally noticed something is happening, in filling our screens with beautiful young women who fit that description, to interview. But that is not all of what is going on here.

There certainly was no more freedom in Turkey before the AKP came to power. Government for decades had been either by the Kemalist military in dictatorship or occasionally by civilian governments they tolerated and controlled. People suddenly have short memories if they think protest was generally tolerated pre-Erdogan, and policy towards the Kurds was massively more vicious.

The military elite dominated society and through corruption they dominated commerce and the economy. The interests of a protected and generally fascist urban upper middle class were the only interests that counted at all. The slightest threat to those interests brought a military coup – again, and again, and again. Religion was barely tolerated, and they allied closely with Israel and the United States.

When Erdogan first came to power it was the best thing that had happened to Turkey for decades. The forgotten people of the Anatolian villages, and the lower middle class of the cities, had a voice and a position in the state for the first time. In individual towns and villages, the military and their clients who had exercised absolute authority had their power suddenly diminished. I witnessed this and it was a new dawn, and it felt joyous.

Then of course Erdogan gradually got sucked in to power, to money, to NATO, to the corruption of his Black Sea mafia and to arrogance. It all went very wrong, as it always seems to. That is where we are now.

Yes of course I want those pretty, genuinely liberal environmentalist girls in the park to take power. But they won’t. Look at the hard-eyed fascists behind them. Look at the western politicians licking their lips thinking about the chance to get a nice very right wing, anti-Muslim and pro-Israel government into power.

We should all be concerned at what is happening in Turkey. We should all call for an end to violent repression. But to wish the overthrow of a democratically elected government, and its replacement – by what exactly? – is a very, very foolish reaction.


362 thoughts on “Talking Turkey

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  • someone from Turkey

    This is the best English-language article about this event so far. I hope it’s read by many people. It’s pretty close to what I think as a liberal Turkish citizen.

  • Steve Callerame

    This is the only sensible and true commentary I’ve seen on recent events in Turkey. I’ve been living in Istanbul for 2 years now, and have always been amazed at the fact that it is virtually impossible to meet anybody with a sane grasp of Turkish history, or a genuinely progressive outlook on equal rights for minorities. The government has brought exactly the benefits and troubles you mention, but the protesters have no clear vision, and bring with them disturbing ideological baggage of their own. It is all very well to try to save a park, but the protesters themselves would all tell you that their goal is much more sweeping than that. They are against the ruling party’s corruption, but blind to the faults of the other party, which are mired in nationalist exceptionalism and a Disney version of history.

  • conjunction

    Thankyou for an interesting and nuanced piece. However to extend the perspective you seem to be striving for, is your picture of Ataturk really fair? Especially if you compare him with the ridiculous old Empire he replaced? From what I have gathered he was a hard man and far more effective than Mussolini but did he not have to be to get rid of centuries of religious – based government which didn’t even attempt to serve its people? The hardness as I understand it was to get the idea that secular was alright accepted. Without Ataturk or someone like him there might be no Turkish state at all.

  • Charles Edward Frith (@charlesfrith)

    I think you’ve misjudged the geopolitics here. Erdogan is a NATO puppet of the Fethullah Gullen school of Islamization that allows the CIA to control client states like Turkey much as the Muslim Brotherhood is a CIA outfit to control Egypt after the synthetically triggered Arab Spring (A CIA colour revolution).

    All of this is detailed on FBI whistleblower Sibel Edmonds site or her interviews with James Corbett. It takes a day or two to digest all the information that presented but after that there’s no question how the region operates.

  • Jim

    I agree with Conjunction, your portrayal of Ataturk seems to be biased. He was truly a kindhearted leader, who has helped progress the country immensely.

    You are British after all, so I believe your bias may have roots from the First World War, where your nation clashed with Ataturk. And the outcome was not as feasible as it could have been for the British.

  • Flaming June

    Is B.Liar a pal of Erdogan’s? I bet J P Morgan are into Turkey. I know that the World Bank are there.

    This is his latest rant against Muslims – the extremist kind – according to him.

    “The Ideology of Rigby’s murder is profoundly dangerous, why don’t we admit it. Tony Blair launches a brave assault…”

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/article-2334560/The-ideology-Lee-Rigbys-murder-profound-dangerous-Why-dont-admit–Tony-Blair-launches-brave-assault-Muslim-extremism-Woolwich-attack.html

    TB: “When I return to Jerusalem soon, it will be my 100th visit to the Middle East since leaving office, working to build a Palestinian state.”

    LOL on the latter claim.

    Three Terms, Hypocrisy & Hubris: Thatcher, Blair And… Erdogan
    April 14, 2013
    http://thebackbencher.co.uk/three-terms-hypocrisy-hubris-thatcher-blair-and-erdogan/

  • kashmiri

    Read with pleasure, great analysis. Thanks, Craig. (Even if you seem to have a soft spot for Erdogan’s government, perhaps for its anti-Israel stand).

  • John Goss

    “In fact civil conflicts are usually horribly complex, anent a variety of very bad people all trying to gain or retain power, none of them from an altruistic desire to make the world a better place.”

    While the statement might have truth, civil uprisings can often comprise as well as bad people those genuinely desirous of seeing a “better place”. It is when the CIA, MOSSAD and other secret political forces bribe and cajole bad people into causing mayhem against sitting governments with promises of future power and aid, that the evil of destabilisation occurs. In essence there are those in the west who see perpetual destabilisation as an aim in itself, as in Lybia, Syria and Iraq for example. When the factions finish fighting and are war-weary, the Zionists will march in.

  • Emmy

    I agree that Erdogan has fought the deep-state kemalist establishment (see Ergenegon trial purging more than 100 kemalists from the army) that undermines the development of democracy in Turkey. But he is doing so to replace them with Gulenists? another secret unaccountable ideologically driven organisation with strong ties to economic centres albeit different to the kemalists’ ones (for now). It is a fallacy to think that this strengthens democracy in the long run.

    I am not a friend of kemalists either they are responsible for the disappearance of millions of Christians who did not fit into the “Turkey for Turks” doctrine. They filled the prisons with every man woman and child who does not share their idea of nation or politics, they gagged the journalists. But Erdogan has done little to address these kemalist crimes. Furthermore, he follows a Neo-Ottoman policy in the Balkans (why did he establish a Turkish naval base in Albania). Under his premiership the violation of Greek air and sea in the Aegean has increased exponentially. He cut communications with EU whilst Cyprus had the presidency, he has not removed one single Turkish infantry boot from the 30,000 that illegally occupy the north, not one of the 110,000 settlers.

    I think he emulates the kemalists by offering rights and democracy only to one part of the population that will be ideologically loyal to him not to the whole population. He also emulates the kemalists in his foreign policy.

    Good luck to all the peoples of Turkey, I fear not just for them but the region.

  • Ruth

    ‘Look at the western politicians licking their lips thinking about the chance to get a nice very right wing, anti-Muslim and pro-Israel government into power.’

    I don’t believe this is at at all what Western powers want. It increasingly appears to me they want Arab states to come under the Muslim Brotherhood umbrella. Once they do, all policy can be controlled from the top by either Turkey or Qatar and will conform to Western needs. Muslim Brotherhood’s agenda looks democratic but then once in power step by step this changes. In Libya the instability at the moment is caused by the underhand machinations of the Brotherhood.

  • Stephen Webb

    Very honest, thoughtful and thought provoking article on events in Turkey but on the whole I have to agree with Charles Frith that the issues are also mired in the complex geopolitical situation of the region as whole. To suggest otherwise I am afraid is also symptomatic of Blair delusion.

  • Horseman Joe

    Of course, another cause of public discontent with Erdogan is his use of Turkey’s territory and resources to support rebel and terrorist groups contributing to the violence and chaos in Syria. Many Turks are unhappy at their government’s contribution to the suffering of their Syrian neighbours. Without Turkish support for the violence it’s very likely Syria would now be at peace.

    It’s ironic, now the ‘Arab Spring’ has finally caught up with Erdogan. The biter bit.

  • nevermind

    Great article Craig, the geographical position has made Turkey. Its, in some cases ancient connections, the way it has dealt with its neighbours, the smuggling, political strife between the grey wolfs and more left leaning factions, the Kurdish PKK and the Kurds fight for a recognised homeland all have left indelible stamps on Turkish society.

    The Baba’s still rule and the military and corrupt middle class are still in charge.

    Turkey will not change unless a new younger generation wants it to change, there will always be smuggling in Turkey and the illusion of Turkey outside the EU, when we already have hundreds of ties, is wrong.

    Turkish organised crime is still controlling many of Europe’s heroin markets, for them the EU is already a reality, they also smuggle people and arms and these political definitions don’t exist, they will merely take advantage of the extra opportunities should Turkey join fully.

    Torture is accepted in Turkey and the military, tending to lean to the right, would be less immune from prosecution if Turkey would join, so there are upsides. I would be cautious, scale it in, because Turkey by its vital position as the trade valve for Europe to the middle east, bordering six countries, is also a monumentally important country in anyone’s global strategy.

    Well spoken.

  • Habbabkuk (La vita è bella!)

    Good article, which shows once again that Craig Murray is aware that most matters are not black or white but different shades of grey. Would that the Eminences of his blog had the same awareness.

    Mostly interesting comments from others as well and all on-topic…except of course the one from the Premier Troll (aka April Showers/Flaming June) who uses her comment to talk about Tony Blair.

    Please do not spoil this thread – which is on an important issue and an increasingly important country – by importing pet obesessions which would be better placed on more appropriate threads.

  • Noor-e-Hira

    Thank you Craig for giving us a fine account of Turkey uprising. I am very interested in the country but cannot find authentic resources to dwell on it much. Thanks again.

  • Lilian.el-doufani

    Thank you so much for that clear analysis.

    I heard Erdogan wants to be President but he’s already had three terms as PM. That just being drunk on power like Putin.

    He’s stood up to Israel, had some independence in foreign policy and opted not to join the EU. That’s all good but I hear he has also supported corporate ‘interests’ (crony capitalism) and gone more ‘Islamist’. I am also, however, told the kind of Islamists that make up Erdogan’s AKP party would pass for liberals in Egypt.

    I gather than there have been some tiny demonstrations by fossilised old self-proclaimed ‘leftists’ against helping the rebels in Syria, nothing more.

  • Trowbridge H. Ford

    Good introduction to this growing, surprising crisis, but no mention of how the nationalist Ecevic government got in trouble with Clinton over Yugoslavia and ousted after the Izmit earthquake, how the moderate muslim Erodogan got in trouble with Washington by standing up to Mossad attacks, how the Pentagon-made earthquakes around Lake Van finally forced Erdogan to come to terms with the unpopular Kurds and join NATO’s campaign against Syria, etc.

    It’s a good example of how Washington gets independently-minded regimes to toe its lines, thanks to its space weapons, or face peril, and until populations in the West take note of what their mission is, they will be essentially blind about what is really going on.

  • John Berg

    Seems to me that Kemalism, too, must be seen dialectically. As some commenters noted, it moved Turkey ahead, and strenghthened secularism – but by failing to liberalize and democratize, by continuing to suppress the Kurds and do little for the poor, it prepared the way for resurgent Islamism.

  • Mark Golding - Children of Conflict

    I now have little trust in Erdogan since the “synchronization between Turkey and the United States” on Syria. Simply put, “..the corner stone of a political solution the formation of a transitional governing body through mutual consent, within a defined and agreed upon timeframe, to assume full executive authority, including all powers of the Presidency in addition to control over the armed forces and the security and intelligence apparatuses, for an agreed upon and defined timeframe for the transitional period,” this means the transition in Syria without Assad.

    I admit I never advocate constructive ambiguity as a tool of diplomacy and the sequence of actions defined by Geneva II must include President Assad in the process of establishing a new political regime in Syria.

    Any other way will incur the risk that Syria will become like Iraq, witnessing sectarian slaughter, violence and virtually ungovernable, with power falling into the hands of foreign controlled and foreign funded Islamic extremists.

    Without Assad, Russia’s restraining chains on UKUSIS preemption and predominance will have been fruitless, a wild goose chase, lost in the annals of history and certainly spearheading a strike on Iran.

  • doug scorgie

    Horseman Joe
    2 Jun, 2013 – 12:36 pm

    “…another cause of public discontent with Erdogan is his use of Turkey’s territory and resources to support rebel and terrorist groups contributing to the violence and chaos in Syria.”

    Yes I agree but who plotted and carried out the bombings in Reyhanli?

    “In the worst example of the spill-over into Turkey, 52 people were killed when twin car bombs ripped through the border town of Reyhanli on May 11. Turkey has accused Syria of involvement in the attacks,”

    To me Syrian involvement is the least likely answer; more likely to be western-supported rebels trying to pull Turkey into an all-out attack on Assad’s forces.

    Is Erdogan playing the false-flag game, with the help of the Syrian rebels, to give NATO a reason to engage militarily?

    Also in the news, more support for the rebels:

    “On Saturday, influential Muslim cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi called on Sunni Muslims from around the Middle East to join the battle against President Assad.”

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-22744286

    Yusuf al-Qaradawi, described here by the BBC as an “influential Muslim cleric”, has been banned from entry to the US the UK and France for being a “hate preacher”.

    “David Cameron… called for his exclusion from the UK, saying Qaradawi was a “dangerous and divisive” preacher of hate.”

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2008/feb/07/religion.politics

    Seems the BBC has taken a liking to Qaradawi now he supports “the rebels”.

  • Horseman Joe

    “But to wish the overthrow of a democratically elected government, and its replacement – by what exactly? – is a very, very foolish reaction.”

    Be careful not to conflate overthrowing the state, which is what was done to Iraq and Libya, and leads to chaos, with overthrowing the government which could take the form of forcing resignation followed by fresh elections.

    The same argument about overthrowing applies to unelected governments too – replacement by what? If the government is very very bad, then it may be worth overthrowing it, elected or not. The best result for Turkey would be to force Erdogan’s resignation followed by new elections, assuming a viable and less corrupt government could be formed

  • Horseman Joe

    Mark Golding

    I agree. President Assad still has a great deal of popular support and if peace could be magically restored and open elections held he would probably win. Foreign powers insisting he must leave office are interfering in matters which can only be for Syrians. Whether Syria holds multi-candidate elections or not, Assad cannot be excluded arbitrarily by foreigners who are motivated by hope for a more compliant successor, and also for a face-saving way out for themselves after their long-standing and incontinent demonisation of him.

  • Ruhi Yaman

    I find your throw-away piece neither interesting nor nuanced. In fact, it is very typical of the Churchill syndrome, who I’m certain you would list among your heroes. You start with assumptions that are neither necessarily true nor relevant to arrive shakily to your main assumption, which is to say Ataturk was a fascist. Who is saying government bad, protestors good. It is Politics 101 to assume that in any public protest there will be some with agendas that are outside the main. Are you even remotely aware of the events that led to the foundation of Turkish Republic? Erdogan is making every effort to turn Turkey into a proto-Islamic state. If there is no secularism, there is no Turkey. Electoral majority and population majority are different issues. Erdogan does not command 50 per cent of the votes in Turkey. The real culprits that caused his continuing rule are the awful, worthless opposition that can’t stop their infighting and achieve nothing other than dividing the rest of the population. It is offensive beyond belief to liken Ataturk to Mussolini.

    The real struggle is not about the white hats and black hats in Turkey. The real struggle is to protest against, nay stop, the forced rush into a non-secular government style that would divide the nation by making the term ‘Turk’ obsolete. There will be a Commonwealth of Anatolia, which will consist of different ethnic groups with only the Islam as the connecting bond. Khalifate is to follow. It is that ignorant, uncouth, corrupt street merchant that is the Prime Minister now who dreams of becoming the new Sultan. I don’t care what hat people are wearing. A democracy can stand any form of adversarial stance. However, no decent, halfway educated Turk will allow the rolling back of freedoms and the creation of a new State based on the shaky foundations of a book written 1,000 years ago, and badly at that. This is the struggle, this is the fire. Taksim, corruption, alcohol are just sparks.

    Do not presume to make assumptions about Turkey, sir, when it is clearly obvious that you have no clue. And, do not patronize us with your homilies.

  • Samantha Cameron and Boris Johnson

    Meanwhile, the story about Samantha Cameron’s affair with Boris Johnson is about to break. (Mail, Telegraph, now Guardian.)

  • Dan Iliescu

    Congrats! A lucid and well balanced point of view over the situation.

  • Ben Franklin -Machine Gun Preacher (unleaded version)

    Ruhi’s avatar seems to capture his frequent mood.

    I’m as educated and informed as the next dude, but I object to Craig’s continual habit of trying to broaden my knowledge inventory. Every time I think I’m getting a handle on cultural and political nooks and crannies, he reintroduces me to the learning curve, which for me is a gradual incline, but I’m still walking uphill. End of rant 🙂

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