‘A campus should not be a trade zone’

(This blog post was written by my intern Zehra Kaya, who studies at the Journalism Academy in the Netherlands. She is currently studying for one semester at Yeditepe University in Istanbul.)

Thanks to banners saying ‘Occupied area’ it’s hard to miss the Starbucks on the huge campus. The branch of the coffee giant has been occupied by students since last week. After stepping inside, I soon find out the occupation is not aimed at American companies, but against commercialisation of the university. Student Uğur: ‘A university is not a trade zone.’

The occupation of Starbucks is taking place at the campus of one of the most famous and respected universities in Turkey, the Bosporus University. The students want their affordable cafeteria back, and also several other commercial developments have to be cancelled, they say. When I visit the campus, there are about fifty occupiers present. They tell me on week days their group is much bigger.

Tea kettle

In the newspapers I read that the students have turned Starbucks into their home, and indeed: when I come in, I smell food. In the kitchen not only a lentil dish is being prepared for the evening, but also helva, a sweet dish of flour and sugar. At the end of the hall there are blankets and pillows on the floor. And yes, at the kitchen door is the famous tea kettle with which the students make their own tea! In Turkish papers some jokes were made about the kettle. Right across from the kitchen you can enter Starbucks. All chairs are occupied by students with books and laptops. Even the floor!

Students occupy Starbucks - and even took their own carpet. (Photo: Zehra Kaya)

While we enjoy a cup of tea, the students explain to me that they sometimes go home for a shower and a change of clothes, and that they have a meeting every day about the progress of the occupation. There is even a daily schedule on the window. Everything is tightly planned. For example, not too many students may take a break from the occupation at the same time. Skipping class is being tolerated by most of the teachers, but still the protestors try to attend as many lessons as possible. Sometimes that’s not necessary because teachers come to Starbucks to give their class.

The rumours that the protest is aimed at Starbucks because it is an American company, are not true. The opening of a Starbucks on campus was just the last drop that makes the cup run over. There are several American outlets on the campus. Why they were not occupied, is because there the prices are set by the university and are thus still affordable.

Starbucks on the campus has the same prices as the branches outside. ‘A cup of tea costs 3,25tl here. Before we had a cafeteria at this location where you could get tea for 0,50tl’, says Uğur (20). ‘We could also sit in that cafeteria without ordering anything, or we could eat our own food. That’s not allowed here. That is a bad development, because a university campus should not be a trade zone.’


Other topics for the students are the fees for student certificates, the shuttle buses on campus that are no longer for free and the expensive dinners on campus. Uğur: ‘That’s why we protest commercialisation and globalisation. Some journalists attack us because we wear Converse shoes and Levi’s jeans, but we have no choice. They rule the market.’

Uğur says they had no idea a Starbucks would be opened, until it was suddenly there. ‘That’s also a problem: nothing is shared with the students. Recently the deputy rector told us that filing a petition would have been better. Actually, we did that a month ago, but got no reaction. That is why this occupation is necessary now.’

Student Esra (21) says only deputy rector Tereza Varnali passed by, without coming in to talk to the occupying students. Esra: ‘She considered it not appropriate to enter the occupied area because she thinks such a protest doesn’t suit the culture of Bosporus University. We spoke to her outside, but without any result. She was totally not interested in what we had to say. She just came to take a look, not to listen to us.’
I would have liked to add a reaction from Tereza Varnali, but after trying for two days, I gave up. She just doesn’t answer her phone.


Despite this lack of interest on the part of the university the students say they have achieved a lot in five days. They got a lot of media coverage, and they say the number of protestors increases every day. They want to see the Starbucks closed down, and the old cafeteria re-opened. Also, they want the student certificates and shuttle buses to be free of charge again. The students want to stay until they get a result. Esra: ‘These capitalist companies have occupied our area. Now we occupy it back.’

Two coats that don’t fit

And there I found myself, in a café in Istanbul with a book in my hands and tears in my eyes. It was the banned book by Ahmet Şık. I just bought it and really, really wanted to read it. But the first two pages not only took me an hour, they also drove me nuts: I didn’t understand most of it. That frustrated me to tears. I took a deep breath to get a grip, but hardly managed. I felt stupid, even more so because I bought another book as well: a Turkish-Kurdish dictionary. Yes, I started learning Kurdish, Kurmanci to be precise, the Kurdish most spoken in Turkey. What am I thinking? I can’t even get my Turkish right, and now I start another language? 

Why is this language learning so important to me, and why does it frustrate me to tears in public when I feel inadequate? Thinking about that, something a Dutch friend said to me a few weeks ago came to mind. He has been coming to Turkey for decades, speaks fluent Turkish and has been living here for years. He said: ‘You are really screwing yourself into Turkey, aren’t you?’ I liked that image of what I am doing here: trying to get to know the country and the people better, trying to dig deeper, trying to learn more, trying to take root here solidly.

Dutch coat

Why? Turkey suits me, to start with. But also, I have been here for five years this month, and I have reached a point of being in between countries, or, you could say, in between identities. Changing coats is a suitable metaphor for that. When living in the Netherlands, I wore my Dutch coat: it fitted just right – I lived there and my identity matched my surroundings. Then I moved to Turkey. I tried (and managed!) to build a life here, and that naturally means that the Dutch coat doesn’t fit so comfortably anymore. But throwing it away, just like that, is not possible. My new, Turkish coat is unfinished, it hasn’t shaped fully yet so it’s also not comfortable. I am wearing two coats that don’t fit.

It’s not nice to wear an uncomfortable coat. I, like every human being, need to belong somewhere, to fit in. I don’t have a family of my own and at the moment not even a partner to belong with, and the people who know me best and who are the closest to my heart, are far away. So I need to try to belong in another way. My Dutch coat will, I think, never be fully comfortable anymore. Even if I return to my home country one day, living abroad has changed me and that can never be undone. For now, though, I have no intention of returning to the Netherlands. I want to stay here. So if I want to have a comfortable Turkish coat to wear, I have to shape myself further. And for me, language is one of the keys.


The book I was reading in the café last night is symbolic of the situation I’m in. As a journalist for the Dutch press, I could very well stick to reading about the book and the reactions to it, and follow the developments: will it be freely available now, or will it be confiscated, and will the people who edited and published it get into trouble? But for me, that’s just not enough. I am not just a journalist in this country anymore. I live here, I want to be part of this society. So I want to read the book and fully understand it.

Wanting to learn Kurdish is just as symbolic. As a journalist for the Dutch press, it would be enough to read about Kurds and see how all the issues involving Kurds in this country develop, but for me, this is just not sufficient. Kurmanci is the second language of this country. Learning Kurmanci is an essential part of shaping myself for living in this country. For a coat I can comfortably wear in Turkey. (I have to add learning Kurmanci is a bit of a statement too. Forbidding and surpressing a language for decades doesn’t make it go away.)

Dutch lining

When I heard the metaphor of the coats for the first time, some 5 years ago, it scared me. Having no comfortable coat, the horror! But I knew that if I stayed in Turkey, I would inevitably find myself in the coatless situation one day. And here I am. The confrontation with that fact last night was disturbing. But there is only one way out of this situation, and that is, of course, forward. One day, I will have a comfortable coat. The lining of it will be Dutch, to keep me extra warm.

Sinterklaas for one day in Turkey

ISTANBUL – Dutch Turks who live in Turkey pass the tradition of Sinterklaas (Saint Nicholas) on to their children. ‘I celebrated Sinterklaas in the Netherlands when I was little, so it’s nice to get my children acquainted with it too’, says one of them, Nermin Celik (38). If you want to see ‘Sint’ in Turkey, can go to the Dutch consulate in Istanbul and the embassy in the capital, Ankara.

Hüseyin Celik (38), husband of Nermin and father of three children between 2 and 8 years old, finds it a pity that in Turkey Sinterklaas is purely a children’s celebration. He was born and raised in Rotterdam, and Nermin lived there for thirty years. The couple moved to Istanbul three years ago, for Hüseyin’s work. Hüseyin: ‘In the Netherlands we also celebrated Sinterklaas evening, with presents. I miss that, and the whole atmosphere that comes with it. I am grateful that we can go to the consulate with the children, so we can at least show them who Sint is.’

Besides Sinterklaas, Nermin and Hüseyin also still celebrate Easter now that they live in Turkey. Not so much for the Christian tradition, says Nermin: ‘We hide eggs for the children. I think we will return to the Netherlands within a few years, so for the children it’s practical if they stay in touch with Dutch culture. Then they can easily join in again later.’
‘Sinterklaas celebration in Istanbul’, she adds, ‘is comparable to Sinterklaas celebration for children of employees in Dutch companies, when the children come to their parents’ work, where Sinterklaas comes and distributes candy and presents. Sinterklaas for one day.’

Sinterklaas candy 

That one day, this year on 3 December, starts with the arrival of the Sint at the Dutch consulate at Istiklal Boulevard, the busiest shopping street of Istanbul. Nermin: ‘The locals find it very strange. They think: is that Santa Claus? It’s very nice to be part of the group of people who know exactly who Sinterklaas is.’ Semiha Ünal (44) joined Sint for a few times at Istiklal, as one of his helpers. ‘Many Turks make pictures. They don’t know Sinterklaas, which is strange because he was actually born in Turkey.’
After that there are presents, and typical Sinterklaas candy, brought over from the Netherlands. What started twenty years ago as a small party with ten kids attending, now attracts about 120 children, both Dutch children of consulate personnel and expats, as well as kids of Turkish Dutch parents.

For Semiha, who lived in the Netherlands from age one to eighteen, joining the Sinterklaas celebration was an emotional moment: ‘For more than twenty years I have had to miss the Sinterklaas atmosphere, until I moved from a smaller town to Istanbul three years ago. Via the Dutch club I was able to sign up as Sint’s helper. I was as happy as a kid!’
She is sad that this year she won’t wear her typical make up and funny clothes that Sint’s helpers always wear: she has trouble with her ankle. Semiha: ‘When I am Sint’s helper, I want to do it right. I can’t jump around now.’

Banned book of imprisoned journalist Şık published

This blog post was written by my intern Zehra Kaya. She also did all the research.

The banned book of the imprisoned journalist Ahmet Şık is available in Turkish book shops starting tomorrow, 1 December. The unpublished version of the book was put online last March, with the title “The army of the imam” but will be published now as ‘Who touches it, gets burned’. Because the book was considered a ‘terror document’, Şık was arrested in March. He is being suspected of involvement in Ergenekon, an organization that allegedly planned a coup against the AKP government.

‘I think I’m being followed’, Ahmet said to his friend and colleague Alper Turgut last January. They both attended the commemoration of journalist Metin Goktepe, who was killed by police in January 1996. Şık told his friend about the book he was writing. ‘I felt he was anxious and nervous’, says Turgut. ‘That is not so strange, because Ahmet wrote about a subject that you can hardly touch in Turkey because it is surrounded by fire.’

Police as instrument 

Alper Turgut, filmcritic for newspaper Cumhuriyet and board member of the Turkish union for journalists (TGS), and I are talking in a small bar in Istanbuls district of Kadiköy. He doesn’t care people around us are listening along. ‘Ahmet was investigating the infiltration of the Gülen movement in the police corps.’ Turgut calls the Gülen movement, that is lead by the preacher Fethullah Gülen and that has a lot of followers in Turkey, a ‘radical islamic movement’, and says: ‘I think it is a danger for democracy.’

‘I last talked to Ahmet when he was in Ankara for some interviews for his research’, says Irfan Aktan, a journalist at the magazine Express. ‘Ahmet didn’t keep his investigation a secret. He told me he found out that the police is used as an instrument for a new political order. De police chiefs who didn’t obey the Gülen movement, were fired, which was done in a way that was not legal’.

‘There were apparently people who didn’t like this investigation’, Aktan says. The prosecutor marked the book as “terror document” and publication was forbidden. According to Turgut the Gülen movement can not stand critics and it interferes ruthlessly when somebody gets in its way, which doesn’t actually fit islam, he says. The movement is supposedly a partner of the current government. That is supposedly also the reason the movement is powerful enough to interfere in a situation in which it is criticized. Turgut: ‘That’s the idea behind the title of the book. If you “touch” this movement, you will “burn’, meaning “get into trouble”.

Not a crime document 

Aktan says it’s never nice for a writer when his book is published online unedited. Ahmets friends, who believe in his innocence, considered it necessary to share the book and decided to put it online. Ahmet was said to have a few potential titles for the book, for example ‘The army of the imam’, and ‘Who touches it, gets burned’. His friends chose the first title, so society could see it was not a crime document. Turgut: ‘The current title “Who touches it, gets burned’, sounds more logic now’.

After Şık was arrested, 125 journalisten, activists and academicians came together to edit his book and to sign it as support for Şık. This was kept a secret until 16 November, when the book was presented at the book fair TÜYAP in Istanbul.

‘We were afraid when we published he book’, Turgut says. ‘The book is forbidden, so at the book fair it could have been confiscated, and it still can be. And we can be prosecuted. But we wanted to do this. Everybody was silent so somebody had to speak out.’ According to Turgut this matter doesn’t only concern Şık but the whole society: ‘The freedom of speech is at stake here’. Aktan says the country is heading towards dictatorship if civilians can not express their opinions.


Why is the book edited and published now, and not sooner after Şık got arrested? ‘We are in a more calm period now’, explains Turgut. ‘The content of the indictment against Şık is known now, and it’s clear that there is no problem at all with the book. It’s funny that he is charged with planning a coup by writing a book. Is he going to overthrow the government with his pen? The indictment is included in the book, so everybody can see there is nothing special in it.’

Aktan and Turgut think the book must be read to judge whether it is a terror document or not. Irfan Aktan: ‘According to the prosecutor it’s a terror document, but when we read it, we don’t get the slightest impression that’s what it is. To see how unfounded the charges against Şık are, we want people to be able to read it.’

The book is still banned in Turkey and the people who publish it now, can still be convicted because of it. Aktan: ‘But if that is the price of the freedom of expression, I am willing to pay it.’

The next hearing in the court case against Ahmet Şık is on 26 December in Istanbul.

Turkey: from one dictatorship to the other

The AKP government of Prime Minister Erdoğan has effectively decreased the once unlimited power of the army. The power of the judiciary was strengthened. But now that power has too strong a grip on society.

Why did you visit wounded demonstrators in hospital? Why did you give interviews to so many TV and radio stations? Why did you attend that press conference? Why did you help get bodies of PKK members back to their families? ‘All legal activities’, says human rights lawyer Reyhan Yalcindag, based in the southeastern city of Diyarbakir, ‘but Kurdish politicians and activists are being questioned and jailed for it.’

And not just a few Kurdish politicians and activists were arrested and jailed, but a total of about 4,000 since April 2009. And that number is still rising, because all over Turkey new suspects are still being arrested in what has become known as the ‘KCK trials’. The KCK is an umbrella organisation of Kurdish groups,  including the PKK, which is considered a terrorist organisation by Turkey, the EU and the United States. By arresting peaceful, democratically elected politicians and activists under the KCK flag, practicing democratic rights suddenly becomes a crime. Lawyer Yalcindag: ‘And so you can end up in a cell for giving out a press release, for participating in a demonstration or for shouting a slogan.’

Anti-democratic network

Criticism of the firm grip of the judicial power over several opposition groups in Turkey is increasing. It happened gradually. At first, it seemed the increasing influence of judges and prosecutors initiated by the AKP government of PM Erdoğan, which came to office in 2002, would be beneficial to democracy. The judicial power for example started to deal with the ‘deep state’, an anti-democratic network of prominent figures in for example the bureaucracy, army, secret service and the mafia. The unlimited authority and privileges of the army were curtailed, military courts for civilians were abolished and for certain crimes army personnel now have to appear before a civilian judge.

Maya Arakon, sociologist and political scientist and until recently an assistant professor at Yeditepe University in Istanbul, used to have faith in the way the army was dealt with by the AKP: ‘The army has always controlled the country since the foundation of the republic in 1923’, she says. ‘So when the trials against the ‘deep state’ started, I and many others were happy with that. It is not wrong for the government to have more power than the army. But then that power has to be used in the right way for the right goal. It should benefit the people, who should get more rights and freedoms. That is not happening now, even though the government insists democratisation is the goal of their policies.

The power of judges and prosecutors is turning itself against democracy now, claims Arakon: ‘The AKP uses judges and prosecutors to silence opponents. The KCK trials are an example of that. The Kurdish party BDP is the biggest rival of the AKP in the Kurdish southeast of Turkey.’ Conspiracy thinking? The first arrests in the KCK case were at the beginning of April 2009. The local elections, which the Kurdish party won convincingly, were held at the end of March 2009.

An odd alliance

But not only Kurdish politicians and activists are victims of the ever tighter grip that the judiciary has on society. Even the once so powerful army doesn’t escape. An odd alliance: in the nineties the army was so powerful that they could ruthlessly and without fear of punishment get rid of the PKK or anybody they even suspected of having sympathy for the separatist movement, but now they are in a way in the same boat as the Kurdish activists. They are no longer hand and glove with the government, like before, but have become opponents. And they taste defeat.

Part of the trials against those involved in the ‘deep state’ is the so called Balyoz case. That case is about a group of high-ranking, partly retired army men who have allegedly conspired against the AKP government. They had spectacular plans: they would first cause great unrest in society, for example by bombing a huge mosque in Istanbul during Friday prayer and provoke a military confrontation with Greece, and then topple the government.

Lawyer Celal Ülgen, who represents main suspect Cetin Dogan and the other ‘big fish’ Dursun Cicek (once head of the military units who decapitated Kurds in the nineties), doesn’t believe any of it. He opens his Apple computer and says: ‘Now I’m going to convince you in half an hour that the whole case is fake.’

Copied signatures, lost CD’s

He starts a presentation and shows how evidence has been doctored. It’s about copied signatures, about lost CD’s, about dates that don’t make sense. It’s too complicated to explain it all here, but even some people who are not automatically on the army’s side are becoming convinced that the evidence in the Balyoz case isn’t clean.

The problem for both the KCK and Balyoz suspects is that they are actors in a pretty polarized society and they don’t have many allies outside their own circles. Balyozlawyer Celal Ülgen often hears it said that it wouldn’t be the first time that an elected government in Turkey was toppled by the army, and that it is for that reason not unthinkable that the army, which has a deep hatred and suspicion of the AKP, could have such plans again. Ülgen: ‘Many people think like that, and it makes it more difficult to convince people the Balyoz case is based on doctored evidence.’

And every activist Kurd automatically has, according to many Turks, a PKK odour, whether he or she takes up arms or supports the Kurdish struggle as a member of Parliament or mayor. There is sympathy among human rights activists and liberal intellectuals, but in Turkey that’s only a very small group.

Secret material

Doctored evidence, unlawful evidence, indictments for practising democratic rights, it would be less bad if at least the suspects could rely on the independence of the judges in their cases. But they don’t rely on that. They have little reason to. Already during the trials it turns out that (internationally) respected legal norms are not being followed and that judges don’t seem to care. Norms such as the access of lawyers to evidence. Both Celal Ülgen and Reyhan Yalcindag don’t get access to evidence, exactly the evidence that they think has been fabricated or consider unlawful.

KCK-lawyer Reyhan Yalcindag: ‘Private phone calls have been tapped, against all international legal regulations. These taps are being used as evidence, but the lawyers don’t have access to them because it’s considered ‘secret material.’ Balyozlawyer Celal Ülgen: ‘I want to inspect documents about a certain CD, but I’m not allowed to. Consequently I can’t defend my clients properly.’

Another example: the very long pre-trial detentions. Some of the suspects had been in remand for years, sometimes without indictment or without having any information on when the trial would start, continue or finish. That’s not the case for suspects in other high profile trials in which the suspects are close to the government, as became painfully clear in October. In a huge fraud case against board members of Deniz Feneri Dernegi, a charity organisation close to the government, the judges decided to release all suspects from remand.

Destruction of Kurdish political life

‘Because of these sorts of cases, the public’s faith in the judiciary decreases’, says sociologist and political scientist Maya Arakon. ‘People don’t believe anymore that there is justice, and that is very dangerous, because they will take justice into their own hands. Of course you can wonder if things were better before. No, they were not, but that doesn’t justify what is happening now. The judicial power protects the interests of the state, and nowadays of the government, instead of working for civil rights and fundamental freedoms that should protect civilians against the state and the government.’

For Kurdish politicians, she says, it goes even further than that: ‘In their view, these developments are part of the destruction of Kurdish political life in Turkey, and I can understand that very well. They can hardly do anything else these days than defend themselves against all these arrests.’

‘You can’t solve problems with legislation only’

The European Union looks at it with concern, as becomes clear in the progress report published in mid-October. The judicial shortcomings in both the Balyoz case and the KCK trials are mentioned explicitly. It’s all rather sour: the changes that were pushed through under pressure from the EU, and that were meant to serve democracy, look good on paper but, as happens more often in Turkey, something goes seriously wrong in their implementation. EU MP and Turkey rapporteur Ria Oomen-Ruijten: ‘Indeed, you can’t solve problems with legislation only. That’s why the EU invests in the training of judges and prosecutors.’

But what if they are pressured to start the ‘right’ prosecutions and give the ‘right’ verdicts? And what if judges and prosecutors of important cases are being replaced at strategic moments, with an outcome pleasing the government? Oomen-Ruijten: ‘It’s true, sometimes strange things happen. But that’s of course also why we monitor it all. There is no proof that the government directly interferes. Our starting point still is that Turkey is a civilized nation.’

But sociologist and political scientist Maya Arakon doesn’t expect much from the EU:  ‘Europe has its own problems. They now and then send a delegate this way, but their interest in Turkey isn’t sincere.’ Oomen-Ruijten, one of those delegates, strongly disagrees: ‘My report on Turkey and the EU, which will be published halfway mid-November, will be about interdependence in several areas, from economy to the fight against terrorism. But human rights, that’s another subject, more important than anything else. Human rights, the rule of law, those are strict Copenhagen criteria and Turkey has to comply with them.’

A huge paradox

Does Maya Arakon think the tide will turn within a reasonable time? ‘This is Turkey, she sighs. ‘Everything can change in a day and nothing can change in years. I don’t know, but I don’t have much hope.’ The AKP is firmly in charge: the party won the elections last June with a bigger majority than ever before. Most Turks are not directly harmed by the developments in the judiciary and don’t feel very involved in huge, elusive court cases against Kurds and military personnel. They vote based on changes in their own lives, or, in other words, based on a growing wealth and a growing economy.

Balyozlawyer Celal Ülgen clings to Europe. That’s also why he talks to the European press. ‘The consciousness about this matter has to grow in Europe’, he says. ‘Then maybe Europe can pressure Turkey more.’ A huge paradox, because it’s exactly EU pressure that helped erode the power of the army in the last couple of years. An even bigger paradox is that the hope of the Balyoz suspects, military men who still fight bitterly against the PKK, is focused on the solution of the Kurdish question. Ülgen: ‘They are terrorists, and my clients are also jailed based on terrorism laws. If there is ever to be an amnesty law for PKK members, there is a good chance that same law will free my clients too.’ He considers that chance bigger than the chance a judge will judge fair.

Apology by decree

What’s it worth, this apology that Prime Minister Erdogan made yesterday for the Dersim massacres? He said it, he actually said that he apologizes on the state’s behalf for what happened in 1937 and 1938. A novelty in Turkish politics. But at the same time it is not a novelty at all. It is not the first time people’s pains are being used for playing political games. And it’s not the first time Erdogan just states or decides something, without first taking his proposal to parliament or conduct a nation wide debate about it. He rules by decree, and this is an example of it.

A political game? Of course it is. Erdogan just wanted to put opposition leader Kilicdaroglu on the spot. Kilicdaroglu has his roots in Dersim, family members of his were murdered, and the whole Dersim debate going on these days was started by a CHP MP from Dersim who stated that the massacres were a planned attack, and that Atatürk, President at the time, ordered it. Heavy discussions in the CHP: many MP’s attacked their Dersim colleague for his words: the CHP is Atatürks party who was ruling the country as the only permitted party, and criticizing what happened in Dersim touches the roots of their political history.
The discussions and allegations between Kilicdaroglu and Erdogan were going on for some days already, and Erdogan also heavily attacked Kilicdaroglu in his speech in which he apologized. What a shameful behaviour, to make politics over the pain of thousands of people. How must it feel for people from Dersim to be used like this for the Prime Ministers gain?

Legitimate action

Besides all this, ruling by decree is not worthy of a democracy. Not when it comes to any policy field, but especially not when it comes to deeply black pages of Turkey’s history like the Dersim massacres. For a wholehearted apology, first a careful, sincere debate is needed about what exactly happened, why it happened and why an apology would be in order.
This apology of Erdogan came totally out of the blue. Until the day before yesterday, the state version of what happened in Dersim was that there was an uprising going on in the province, that threatened the still young republic, and this uprising was legitimately cracked down. If this was the case, why would an apology be needed? It must be weird also for Turks, who have learned the state history in schools. Why is our Prime Minister apologizing for a legitimate action?

Apologizing out of the blue is not a way to confront the past. Confronting the past is throwing all historical taboos overboard and discuss the matter from every angle. With everybody whom it concerns. Open archives, put responsibility where it belongs, listen to people’s stories, acknowledge pain. Then an apology can follow – by the President, since he represents the state, and not by the Prime Minister, who represents the government.


The danger of this apology is not only that it will not bring any relief to the survivors of Dersim and the families of the ones who didn’t survive, but also that it blocks the road to real reconciliation. The apology is already done, so why now start debating the whole issue? Why acknowledge pains, why researching in detail what happened? I fear the day that the survivors and the families of the deceased are being silenced because Erdogan apologized already and they are being asked what more they could possibly want.

So no, I won’t praise Erdogan in any way for his apology. It’s sad to say, but it came too early.

Erdogan apologizes for Dersim massacres

ISTANBUL – The Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan has apologized on behalf of the state for the massacres in the eastern province of Dersim, in 1937 and 1938. Around 13,000 men, women and children died in the massacres. Goal of the operation was to bring the rebellious province under the control of the republic.

The discussion about Dersim, which is called Tunceli since the mass murders, flared up the past few days after a remark of Hüseyin Aygün, a MP of the CHP, the biggest opposition party. He claimed that the founder of the republic Atatürk, Turkey’s President at the time, ordered the Dersim operations and that they were carefully planned.
That is contrary to the official version of Turkish history, which states that there was an uprising going on in Dersim, a province at the time mainly inhabited by Alvei Kurds, and that the uprising was cracked down legitimately. That version of history has been openly doubted by many these past few days. The preparations for the crack down would have started already as early as in 1932. In a speech in parliament in 1936, Atatürk called Dersim ‘Turkey’s biggest internal problem’.

The apology of Erdogan came unexpected. The question is though if he apologized for humanitarian reasons, of because of party politics. The remarks of the CHP MP caused a heavy internal debate in the CHP. The party was once founded by Atatürk and was the only party allowed during the Dersim massacres. The CHP MP was criticized by other party members, who prefer to stick to the official version of history.
The matter put CHP leader Kilicdaroglu is an awkward position, because he has his roots in Dersim. The heavy discussion between Kilicdaroglu and Erdogan that followed, lead to the apologies from Erdogan, putting Kilicdaroglu on the spot.

Meanwhile a MP of Erdogans party AKP proposed to change the name of the second airport of Istanbul, Sabiha Gökcen. Sabiha Gökcen was the adopted daughter of Atatürk, and the first female combat pilot in the world. Her first combat action was bombing Dersim.

No TV to watch the news

Now and then I invite a Turkish journalist to write a guest blog post on my site. This guest blog is written by Turkish-Dutch Zehra Kaya. Zehra is a student at the Journalism Academy in the Dutch city of Utrecht and is currently studying for one semester at an Istanbul university. During these months, she is my intern. Zehra dreams of becoming a documentary maker in Turkey.

This blog post was written by Zehra Kaya (see boxed text).

I’ve been an exchange student in journalism now for two months at Istanbuls Yeditepe University and am having a good time. What I do miss during my meals, is watching the news. At Journalism Academy in the Dutch city of Utrecht, it’s not even possible to avoid the news. There is a display in the faculty building where news is shown constantly, and in the canteen the public news channel is always turned on.

At Yeditepe university that is totally different. Finding a TV with the news is basically impossible. Even at the faculty of communication and journalism they don’t watch the news..!

The Social Building of the uni has four canteens. They all have several televisions, always showing the famous music channel “Powerturk”. To make sure, I asked at one of the cafeterias whether I could watch the news somewhere at the university, but unfortunately the answer was ‘No’.

The people in the canteen say that everybody wants to see something else. ‘If we turn on the news, somebody will come to ask to switch to a soap. When we turn on the soap, somebody else will come and again ask for another channel. To get rid of this, we just turn on a music channel. That’s the easiest for us’.

To my question if there is also a lack of news at state universities, they had no answer. Yeditepe is a private university. I’m not even surprised that they follow the wishes of the sudents here, since the students at private universities are called ‘clients’. So for now there is no way I can watch the news while chewing my food. I have no choice but to listen to “Tuttu fırlattı kalbimi”

Guus Hiddink bites the dust

Now and then I publish guest blog posts on my site, written by Turkish journalists. This guest blog post is written by Engin Baş. Engin worked in Athens for several Turkish media and as a journalist for several online versions of papers, like Radikal, Hürriyet and Sabah. Now he is a freelance journalist. He is especially interested in soccer – not only the game, but also the politics.

This blog post is written by Engin Baş (see boxed text).

Another Dutch bites the dust. Guus Hiddink this time. Its not the first time he’s sent away from Turkey after ‘failure’: in 1990, when he was shining star as a trainer of Fenerbahçe, the club had the worst season ever. Fenerbahçe made a ‘deal of the year’ with him, a huge transfer for Europe at that time. But it lasted so shortly.

Maybe this was his challange coming to Turkey back again to break a leg. It’s seems Turkey is the only place he hasn’t shown his ‘magic’. Even though € 8 million a year can be considered a good motivation. But he didn’t reach his goal: this week, in the final match against Croatia, Turkey couldn’t qualify for the European Championship next year.

Again Hiddink separates the roads with Turkey and no one is sad about it. Because everybody agreed this time its his turn to leave because he didn’t succeed. All autorities of Turkish football media one more time enlightened that a non-Turkish coach shouldn’t be the head of the national team, because they don’t understant Turkish football mentality (if such a thing exists!) and players. ‘Turkish National Team’s coach has to be a Turk because players are emotional and maxed out their potensial when they have been motivated by Turkish coach emotionally’, the Turkish football media says.

Surely Hiddink has plenty of mistakes. His coming to Turkey from Russia was a big mess. He wanted to go to World Cup as Ivory Coast coach, but when they didnt agree in terms of salary he came early to Turkey. He lived with the ‘overgreedy guy’ mark on his face.

When he took the job, everybody thought that he would spend his time in Turkey, which he didnt. Actually he didn’t care. He left that duty to his assistents such as Oğuz Çetin who has no achievement as a coach in Turkey. It was a very expensive distant relationship for both sides. And it ended as it should be.

Turkish sport pages headlines warmly welcome the new Turkish coach, Abdullah Avcı. The atmosphere is that Turkey got rid of a real problem. Is it so? Was Hiddink responsible of lack of infostructure and youth system? Was he the main reason of new coming German youth Turks choosing to play for the German National team instead of the Turkish team? Was he the key man of the ‘Match fixing’ scandal in Turkey? Or was he the main reason Turkish Federation can not rule the Football and referees suck?

At least he has a consolation: getting sacked from Turkey is very normal and expected. But is there any consolation for Turkey?

Turkey supports Syrian opposition

ISTANBUL – Turkey supports both armed as peaceful Syrian opposition, and offers both groups the possibility to operate from Turkey. The peaceful Syrian National Council might open an office in Turkey soon. The armed Free Syrian Army operates with Turkish military protection from a refugee camp in the border province of Hatay.

The Free Syrian Army (FSA), composed of defected Syrian Armed Forces personnel who found shelter in Turkey and of cells in Syria, is being commanded by colonel Riad al-As’aad, who is in a refugee camp in Turkey at the border with Syria.The ‘officers camp’ is tightly protected by Turkish armed forces.

The connection between the Turkish government and the FSA became clear for example late last month by an interview Riad al-As’aad gave to the New York Times: the interview was arranged by the Turkish Ministry for Foreign Affairs, the suit al-As’aad was wearing was bought for the occasion by his guest country, and the leader arrived accompanied by a group of heavily armed Turkish soldiers. After the interview Turkey didn’t allow press contact anymore.

Much more open is the Turkish support for the Syrian National Council (SNC), that was founded at the end of August in the Turkish metropole of Istanbul. The Turkish Minister for Foreign Affairs Davutoglu keeps in touch with the representatives of this umbrella of Syrian opposition groups, and within a few days it must become clear if the SNC can open an office in Turkey. There are also talks going on, with also the Arab league, about establishing a buffer zone of five kilometers around the Turkish-Syrian border where the opposition could withdraw if necessary. The buffer zone would also stop Syrian refugees wanting to go to Turkey.

Ever since the uprising in Syria started Turkey developed from an ally of Syria into one of the strongest supporters of the resignation of the Syrian government. Supporting both armed and peaceful opposition is part of that.