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Militant Islam Monitor > Articles > The Trouble With Turkey

The Trouble With Turkey

August 12, 2011


August 12, 2011 - San Francisco, CA - PipeLineNews.org - Thomas Bruning, the general secretrary of the Netherlands Union of Journalists (NVJ), is rather pessimististic about press freedom in Turkey. In March alone, eight journalists were arrested in Turkey. Two prominent investigative journalists, namely Ahmed Sik and Nedim Sener, were among them. Some 60 Turkish journalists are in prison now, just because of what they wrote or on fake charges. "In view of the persecution and intimidation of journalists and the lack of transparency questions can be raised about the state of Turkish democracy," Bruning wrote in April (2011). "In a country that calls itself democratic and wants to join the European Union, free reporting is essential. Press freedom is democracy's greatest good."

Since Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyib Erdogan came to power in 2002 Turkey gradually moved away from its traditional secularism. Turkey's new rulers belong to the Justice and Development Party (AKP), which initially presented itself as a moderate and pro-Western Muslim party – even though it was unprecedented for prime minister of Turkey to have a veiled wife. Emine Erdogan is a woman who proudly wears the Islamic headscarf calling on other women to follow her example. The AKP no longer is as moderate as it initially claimed to be. It was under Erdogan that Turkey opened a new page with Iran and its Muslim fundamentalist dictators who deny the Holocaust. Nationals from neighboring Muslim countries (notably Iran, Iraq and Syria) no longer need a visa to enter Turkey. Erdogan's new enemy now is Israel, pro-Iranian Hamas and Hezbollah, though, are seen as new allies. As the "Jerusalem Post" noted recently, "Erdogan's anti-Israel rhetoric cannot be seen in isolation from his oppressive policies at home and his pursuit of Islamist allies."

Erdogan's "Ottoman nostalgia" versus the Turkish army and Kemal Atatürk

Erdogan's highly successful economic policies and his remarkable election victories in 2002, 2007 and 2011, made Turkey's Muslim rulers even more arrogant and oblivious to criticism. In August 2007, Erdogan's ally Abdullah Gül was elected president, although the secularists and the army opposed his nomination and subsequent election. The swearing in was not attended by the Chief of the Turkish General Staff and the secularist Republican People's Party. Gül's wife is also wearing the Islamic headscarf, a clear offense to the kind of secularism (separation of religion and politics) which the Turkish nation state has embraced since the days of the pro-Western Mustafa Kemal Atatürk (1881-1938). Atatürk's policy was to westernize and modernize Turkey and abolish the Islamic headscarf for women. He was strongly in favor of the emancipation of women. But he failed to make a real impact on the conservative countryside. Gül succeeded Ahmed Necdet Sezer, a lawyer devoted to secularist and Kemalist ideals. Sezer believed that Islam does not require women to wear the headscarf and was worried about the gradual "Islamization" of Turkish society. So was (and is) the Turkish army.

Having strengthened their position in 2007, the leaders of the AKP began to undermine the position of the army, which had historically been the most important and powerful guarantor of Turkish secularism and Kemalism.

On July 29, Turkey's top military leaders resigned. The chief of staff general Isik Kosaner as well as the commanders of the navy and air force handed in resignation letters. General Kosaner was not a military hardliner. He refrained from interference in political affairs. Yet, his recent resignation showed that he was deeply worried about the high number of officers who have been arrested in recent years. Seventeen generals and admirals along with 200 other officers are in jail now on allegations of being involved in plotting a coup. There had been previous army coups in 1960 and 1980.

The army and judiciary are known defenders of the secularist (Kemalist) status quo and pro-Western policies. Erdogan and his AKP want to prevent another coup but they are now over-reacting. "They tried to create the impression that the Turkish Armed Forces was a criminal organization," general Kosaner wrote in his farewell message "to my esteemed comrades in arms." "The biased media encouraged this with all kinds of false stories, smears and allegations." Gareth Jenkins, an authoritative British expert on Turkey, was quoted in the Amsterdam newspaper "De Volkskrant" as saying: "In recent months more and more officers were arrested on ever more absurd grounds. In many cases the evidence was clearly fabricated."

There are concerns that Erdogan's real agenda is the establishment of an Islamic state, the same agenda that the Muslim Brottherhood pursues. (Erdogan supports the IHH, the Turkish "Humanitarian Relief Foundation," which is linked to Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood.) The current Turkish AKP rulers are gradually breaking down the barriers to the Islamization of state and society. The times of military coups are clearly over, but what do we get in return for military non-intervention?

Nowadays, Erdogan and the AKP are only paying lipservice to Kemal Atatürk, in reality they want to abolish the very Turkey that he created back in 1923. Gareth Jenkins decribes in "Jane's Intelligence Review" how "the AKP shifts Turkey's political compass." He notes that Atatürk abolished the sultanate and established the modern Turkish republic in 1923. "Atatürk banished the Ottoman royal family from Turkey. The female members were not allowed to return until 1952, the males until 1974."

However, Turkish prime minister Erdogan attended funeral prayers for Osman Nami Osmanoglu, the last prince of the Ottoman dynasty, in Istanbul on July 17, 2010. This was not coincidental. Jenkins comments: "No Turk who watched the ceremony would have been left in any doubt that when he lifted the coffin onto his shoulder, in itself an extraordinary act for a serving Turkish prime minister, Erdogan was demonstrating that he was not only carrying the physical remains of one of the Ottomans but identifying the AKP as the bearer of their political legacy, both domestically and in foreign policy." "The AKP is exchanging the country's traditional pro-Western orientation for a closer allignment with the Islamic world." "More critically, the AKP's ultimate aim is not simply to swap membership of one bloc for another but to establish Turkey as a power in its own right. In this context, Erdogan's Ottoman nostalgia is not for Turkish suzerainty over the empire's former provinces but for its international pre-eminence as the recognized leader of the Muslim world." "The AKP has never sought merely to be part of the Muslim world; it wants to be the leader. Indeed, the strong sense of Ottoman nostalgia means many members of the AKP regard Turkish leadership of the Muslim world almost as a natural right."

Turkey's current foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu published a book in 1994 entitled "Civilizational Transformation and the Muslim World." He argued, writes Gareth, "that the world was divided according to value systems and, even though they might have fallen behind the West economically and technologically, Muslims remained morally superior and would eventually become the 'determinant civilization' in the world as soon as they were able to 'operationalise their value structure as a social and economic form.'" He believes in the revitalization of the universal Muslim Brotherhood or "Ummah," "Dar-al-Islam, as a world order and the caliphate as the political institutionalization of this world order." Before he became foreign minister in May 2009, Davutoglu was Erdogan's most important foreign policy advisor. He is on very close terms with the Iranians.

Turkey's Christians under siege

During a visit to Turkey in October 2010, German president Christian Wulff pleaded for more religious freedom. "Just as Muslims in Germany can practice their religion in a dignified manner, Christians living in Muslim countries should have the same rights to practice their religion openly," he said. "Christianity has a long tradition in Turkey and there is a call to open more churches." Just like Muslims in Germany are allowed to build a growing number of mosques, so should Christians be allowed to open new churches. So far, however, Christans are allowed to open very few new churches. Christian leaders and priests have even been killed by militant Muslims.

John Eibner, an American specialist on religious freedom, claims that Turkey's Christians are under siege. "The brutal murder of the head of Turkey's Catholic Church, Bishop Luigi Padovese, on June 3, 2010, has rattled the country's small, diverse, and hard pressed Christian community," he writes. "The 62-year-old bishop, who spearheaded the Vatican's effort to improve Muslim-Christian relations in Turkey, was stabbed repeatedly at his Iskenderun home by his driver and bodyguard Murat Altun, who concluded the slaughter by decapitating Padovese and shouting, 'I killed the Great Satan. Allahu Akhbar!' He then told the police that he had acted in obedience to 'a command from God.'"

Remarkble, though, was the fact that both prime minister Erdogan and president Gül remained silent on the matter. Erdogan is much more outspoken if something happens to the Palestinians in the Hamas controlled Gaza strip or so-called Gaza Flotillas who seek to break the Israeli naval blockade. Indeed, last May Erdogan claimed Hamas was not a terrorist organization. "Hamas is a political party," he said. "It is a resistance movement trying to protect its country under occupation." Gareth Jenkins notes in Jane's Intelligence Reivew that "AKP officials have consistently supported Hamas not just against the Israelis, but also against the more secular Fatah."

Bishop Padovese was not the first Christian to be killed in recent years. In April 2006, three evangelical Christian book publishers were killed in the town of Malatya. Just two months earlier a Catholic priest named Andrea Santoro was shot in his church. "Witnesses report that the convicted killer, a 16-year old, shouted 'Allahu Akhbar' before he fired his pistol," Eibner writes. In January 2007, the Armenian Christian journalist Hrant Dink was murdered. "A vigorous and well-known campaigner against Turkey's denials of the Armenian genocide," Eibner writes. "Dink had been convicted of having violated article 302 of the penal code banning 'insults to Turkishness.'"

Another interesting quote from Eibner: "At the end of 2009, Bartholomew I, the normally subservient Ecumenical Orthodox patriarch of Constantinople, appeared on CBS's 60 Minutes and shocked Turkey's political establishment. Speaking to Bob Simon, the patriarch reported no significant improvement in conditions for the church. Instead, he argued that Turkey's Christians were second class citizens and that he personally felt 'crucified' by a state that wanted to see his church die out. Asked whether Erdogan has responded to the petitions submitted to him in the course of many meetings, Batholomew answered, 'Never.'"

Eibner also discusses the 2006 blockbuster "Valley of the Wolves," "an action-packed adventure film set in post-Saddam Iraq." "Reviewing the movie in 'Spiegel,' Cem Özdemir – a member of the European Parliament of Turkish descent – decried its pandering to 'racist sentiments' and making 'Christians and Jews appear as repugnant conspirational holy warriors hoping to use blood-drenched swords to expand or reclaim the empire of their God.'" "Turkey's president Gul refused to condemn it, and Erdogan's wife is reportedly a fan of the racist film."

Turkey, Iran and Syria

In September 2010, the London "Daily Telegraph" reported that Iran donated $ 25 million to Turkey's ruling party. "Western diplomats say they are alarmed by reports that Mr. Erdogan has negotiated a deal with Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for Tehran to make a substantial contribution to the campaign funds of Turkey's leading Islamic party." Turkey later denied this claim.

In August 2010, European intelligence sources asserted that Erdogan's Turkish government "has quietly agreed to an Iranian proposal meant to help Hezbollah. The sources said Turkey has agreed not to block Iranian weapons shipments to Lebanon and Syria destined for Hezbollah," "Geostrategy-direct" reported. "The sources said Erdogan, despite pressure by the European Union and the United States, has directed at least one close aide to coordinate with the Tehran regime regarding assistance to Hizbollah and Syria. They said Iran, which has offered energy and investment incentives to Ankara, has sought Turkish guarantees that it would not interfere with weapons convoys to Syria." "On August 11, 2010, Italy's Corriere Della Sera newspaper reported that Turkish intelligence chief Hakan Fidan discussed Hizbollah coordination with Iran. The Rome based daily asserted that Fidan met his Iranian counterpart, Hussein Taeb, to explore options for the flow of heavy weapons to Hizbollah and Syria."

However, the German newspaper "Süddeutsche Zeitung" and "YNetnews/AFP" reported on August 4, that Turkey foiled an Iranian arms shipment to Syria. "The weapons were meant for Hezbollah." "In March Ankara informed the UN Security Council that it had seized an Iranian cargo plane headed to Syria with a cache of weapons in its belly." In recent months relations between Turkey and Syria have deteriorated due to president Assad's violent crackdown on massive demonstrations and protests. A wave of Syrian refugees entered Turkey, forcing Erdogan to distance himself from his former ally Assad. Politics in the Middle East often shows a pattern of shifting alliances.

Erdogan's recent stance on Syria also led to frictions between Turkey and Iran, a close ally of Syria. According to Reza Kahlili, a former CIA agent in Iran's Revolutionary Guards and author of the book "A Time to Betray," Iran warned Turkey "to butt out of Syria." "A recent article published in the weekly magazine Sobh'eh Sadegh, one of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard's media outlets, sternly warned Turkey against its stance on Syria, emphasizing that Iran stands squarly with the Assad regime."

"The article, entitled 'Iran's Serious Stance in the Face of Syrian Events,' warned that 'should Turkish officials insist on their contradictory behavior and if they continue on their present path, serious issues are sure to follow. We will be put in a position of having to choose between Turkey and Syria. Syria's justification in defending herself along with mirroring ideological perceptions would sway Iran toward choosing Syria.'"

Ali Alfoneh, resident Fellow at American Enterprise Institute, wrote an interesting article on "Mixed Response in Iran" in the Middle East Quaterly. He made the following observation on Syrian-Iranian relations: "As for Damascus, it was completely exempted from the regime's rhetorical support for people power as there were no commentaries and very little press coverage of the Syrian protests. Instead of supporting the protesters, Larijani (a prominent Iranian, V.) met Syrian prime minister Muhammad Naji Otri on March 10 to discuss the regional developments."

Turkish immigrant communities in Europe: Crime, drugs, prostitution migrant trafficking, polygamy, honor crimes

Turkey's Islamist rulers in Ankara are unable to tackle the huge problem of crime. Not only do Turkish and Turkish-Kurdish mafia networks and gangs pose a direct threat to Turkey itself, they also successfully penetrated Turkish immigrant communities in Europe (notably in Bulgaria, Greece, Germany, the Netherlands and Great Britain). The Turkish newspaper "Hürriyet" reported recently that Turkish criminals have an annual turnover of 3.3 billion euros. The Turkish networks are specialized in drugs, migrant trafficking, prostitution, racketeering and the production and sale of counterfeit goods. The London Times reported in October 2009 that recent "gun murders in North London" were "linked to Turkish gangs in heroin war." "Senior police officers said that they were increasingly concerned at the readiness of the rival gunmen to use extreme violence and their total disregard for innocent passers-by."

Saban Baran was a notorious Turkish pimp in Holland. As he frequently used to beat his female victims, he was also referred to as "the brutal beast." While in jail he married one of his prostitutes, a native Dutch woman, and quickly made her pregnant. When the child was born he got permission to visit his wife and newly born child outside the prison. He subsequently escaped to Turkey. Many of his victims in Holland were terrified. They were afraid that Saban Baran would try to kill them because they had previously dared to testify about his numerous crimes. Fortunately, not too long after his arrival in Turkey, Baran was arrested on suspicion of laundering 20 million euros in Holland. Because of his Turkish citizenship, however, Turkish authorities will not expel him to the Netherlands.

According to official German police statistics – the so-called "Polizeiliche Kriminalstatistik" – Turkish immigrants play a signifant part in immigrant crime. There is the additional problem of the many so-called honor crimes when Turkish women are killed by one of their relatives if they are deemed to have violated the honor of the family.

Although officially prohibited both in Turkey and Germany, not so few Turkish men practice polygamy, having more than one wife. It is often sanctioned by the local mosque in the form of "an Islamic marriage." An important advisor to prime minister Erdogan is reportedly married to three wives.

A German journalist named Isabella Kroth recently published a shocking study on Turkish immigrants in Berlin many of whom are poorly integrated into society. She describes Turkish "parallel societies," domestic abuse, honor crimes, the problem of "import brides" and "import bridegrooms," forced mariages and Turkish-German males who ignore the official ban on polygamy. One of them, a typical macho and a brute, is married to three women. One of his wives comes from Hungary. She was nearly killed by him after allegations of having violated his honor.

Turkey should never be allowed to join the European Union. Not just because crime is still rampant there or because of often poorly integrated Turkish immigrant communities in Europe, but also because Turkey is bordering instable countries such as Iran, Iraq and Syria. Moreover, the current Islamist leaders of Turkey cannot be trusted. Their real agenda, so it seems at least, is the restoration of Ottoman power. They want to abolish the achievements of Kemal Atatürk.

Emerson Vermaat is an investigative journalist in the Netherlands. Website: emersonvermaat.com.


Thomas Bruning, Persvrijheid in Turkije, in: NVJ Nu (the Netherlands) April 22, 2011.

Jerusalem Post (Editorial), June 13, 2011 ("Turkey on the Edge of Autocracy"). Hürriyet (Turkey), July 31, 2011 (website), quoted in: De Volkskrant (the Netherlands), August 1, 2011, p. 14 ("Criminelen zettel elk jaar 3,3 miljard om").

Daren Butler, Analysis: Turkish Government Strengthens Control on Military, Reuters, July 30, 2011.

De Volkskrant, August 1, 2011, p. 14 ("Macht Turkse generaals tanende"). Quote from Gareth Jenkins; NRC Handelsblad (the Netherlands), August 1, 2011, p. 9 ("Oude kliek verliest van nieuwe politiek"). "De chef-staf die vrijdag aftrad, Isik Kosaner, hield zich verre van samenzweringen en politieke bemoeienis."

Gareth Jenkins, One the Edge. The AKP Shifts Turkey's Political Compass, in: Jane's Intelligence Review, September 2010, pp. 8-11.

Nederlands Dagblad, October 20, 2010, p. 5 ("Wulff pleit voor christenen Turkije").

John Eibner, Turkey's Christians under Siege, in: Middle East Quaterly, Spring 2011, pp. 41-52.

IPT News, May 12, 2011 ("Turkey's Prime Minister Declares Support for Hamas").

The Daily Telegraph (London), September 14, 2010 ("Iran donates $ 25 million to Turkey's ruling party"); Hürriyet Daily News, September 15, 2010: "Turkey denies Daily Telegraph claim of Iran donation to AKP."

Geostrategy-direct/East West Services, August 27, 2010 ("Turkey enabling Iran shipments to Hizbullah").

YNetnews.com, August 4, 2011 ("Report: Turkey foils Iranian arms shipment to Syria").

Reza Kahlili, Iran Warns Turkey to Butt out of Syria, Fox News, July 25, 2011.

Ali Alfoneh, Mixed Reponse in Iran. Middle Eastern Upheavals, in: Middle East Quaterly, Summer 2011, pp. 35-39.

The Times, October 10, 2009 ("Gun murders in North London linked to Turkish gangs in heroin war").

De Telegraaf (the Netherlands), February 22, 2010 ("Saban Baran opgepakt in Turkije").

RTL4 Nieuws (Dutch TV news), August 2010. "Ook een belangrijke adviseur van de Turkse premier Erdogan is met drie vrouwen getrouwd." (On polygamy in Turkey.)

Isabella Kroth, Halbmondwahrheiten. Türkische Männer in Deutschland. Innenansichten einer geschlossenen Gesellschaft (Munich: Diederichs Verlag/Verlagsgruppe Random House, 2011), pp. 8, 9, 29-33, 140-165 (polygamy).

©2011 Emerson Vermaat. All rights reserved.

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