Staging a show in the Mediterranean

This blog’s name is “Beyond the Bosphorus.”  The Bosphorus flows between the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara.  And this post is about what happened today aboard the boat called “Mavi Marmara” (Blue Marmara).  Social media is overflowing with furor over the deaths at the hands of Israeli Navy forces as they boarded the boat.  The boat was leading a flotilla, carrying activists and humanitarian aid from different European countries to Gaza, which has been under an Israeli blockade since 2007.  While I am enraged like everybody else at the disproportionate use of force which has become a signature IDF response and at the civilian casualties, I still see what happened last night as an unfortunate end of a showdown, a SHOW-down.  Both the activists and the state of Israel were staging their own shows over the waters of the Mediterranean.  I don’t see a “right” or “wrong” side in this confrontation, there is “wrong” and “even more wrong”.  I’ll do some brainstorming about the motivations of the different actors in an effort to understand their actions that led to this outcome.

First, Israel:  The state of Israel and most Jewish Israelis have a constant concern about their survival.  If you consider the persecution, the Holocaust, the anti-Semitism they have been subjected to throughout their history, it is not surprising that Jewish people harbor an existential fear.  Israel is seen as a safe harbor, a place to call their own where they won’t be subjected to whims of a non-Jewish majority, the Zion.  The problem is that, Israel was not established over uninhabited lands AND it has never been willing to accept those “other” inhabitants as its equal citizens, a combination which is a recipe for conflict.  Israel is constitutionally a “Jewish” state, if that changes Israel ceases to be “the Zion.”   Of course I cannot go through the whole history of the Israeli-Palestinian (or at times Arab-Israeli) conflict.  But at its heart, it is a clash of Zion vs. Palestine.  Two peoples have a claim over the same territory and are unwilling and unable to live together.

The "security wall" in east Jerusalem, separating out the Arab neighborhood of Abu Dis.

The current political situation is this: there are de facto two states although there are many issues about the borders (e.g. the settlements in West Bank) and the infrastructure (e.g. people who live in the WB and work across the fence/wall, water sources).  The Palestinian Authority territory is not contiguous though, there is the West Bank and there is the Gaza Strip along the Mediterranean.  The political authority in the two Palestinian areas, which came to power after elections and the internal strife between Fatah and Hamas are different as well.  So within the de facto Palestinian National Authority, there is another de facto state in the Gaza Strip, and this one is under the control of Hamas.  Hamas is considered to be a terrorist organization by several states, including the US, and that is a big part of the problem because it does not have international legitimacy.

For Israel, having an independent Palestinian state is one thing, having it ruled by a militantly anti-Israeli and anti-Jewish party is another.  They are also worried about the Islamicization of the Palestinian “nationalist” struggle since the 1990s and increasing involvement of Iran through its relationships with Hamas (and Hizballah in S. Lebanon).  The existential worries of Israel cannot tolerate Hamas, so it has been wary of Gaza where Hamas rules.  Israel performed military operations on Gaza in 2007-8 and 2008-9, as a response to the missile attacks from Gaza to the Israeli cities across the border.  This is also the beginning of the blockade, which was aimed at preventing weaponry reach Gaza but ended up in a humanitarian disaster.  People of Gaza are suffering of malnourishment and access to drinking water most, among lacking other necessities.  I have been to Sderot, an Israeli city which suffered the rocket and mortar attacks and I do empathize with people’s worries about their lives.  The houses in the city are renovated to include a shelter-room with boosted walls and roof, each (I mean each and every!) bus stop has a shelter where people should seek safety if sirens start.  Who wants to live like that?  Shame on Hamas for the -mostly blind- attacks on the cities.  Hamas may have won in popular elections, but we cannot call Palestine a democracy yet, can we?  With its inability to contain its militant wing and its radical Islamist tendencies, I cannot see Hamas as a democratic political party.  If they were, they could settle their differences with Fatah democratically.

Rockets that fell onto the Israeli town of Sderot.

That said: Israel’s response to Gaza has always been disproportionate.  In response to missiles, they performed air strikes and invasion, in response to local rocket production by Palestinians, they blocked entry of everything bringing a weekly quota for transfer of “allowed” goods (and the quotas are ridiculous).  The blockade and its results have been criticized within Israel and worldwide, but the policy remained in effect.  Egypt officially sustains the blockade across its border with Gaza, but individuals have discovered that building tunnels across the border into Gaza is a lucrative business.  An unimaginable variety of things are smuggled through the tunnels (e.g. sheep and goats), probably including weapons and weapon materials.  So, Israel could not stop weapons from coming in, and is starving people for no good reason.  As you can imagine, the poor majority of Gazan people cannot purchase the goods which are smuggled in because they are basically luxury-goods because of the supply and the risk-premium on their price.  Weapons in, few rich Gazans (probably including Hamas’ top echelon) unaffected, poor Gazans suffering: the result of the blockade.  How can Israeli gov’t and military not see how ineffective and how much a PR disaster this is?  This is beyond the effects of the existential paranoia, I think it has to do with the hawkish military having too much influence and the dynamics of the coalition government; but I don’t know much about domestic affairs of Israel to reach a decisive answer on this.  Whatever the reasons may be, given the precedence, it does not take a genius to guess that any attempt to breach the blockade will be disproportionately responded and Israel does not refrain from killing civilians.

No man's land and Gaza from Israel, looking west. Tower of Gaza airport in the middle, Ashkelon's electricity production facility (which provides Gaza's electricity) on the right, and the wall/border between them

One final note: this attack happened on international waters.  Territorial waters are recognized as 12 nautical miles off a country’s coast, and an extra 12 miles constitute contiguous waters.  This attack happened 60+ miles off the Israeli coast.  I heard in some report that Israel has extended its zone last week citing a naval military exercise as the reason.  Still, Israel can’t bend international law as they please, this attack -at least by location- is illegal, period.

Ok, the other side of the story, the flotilla: It’s an interesting amalgam of people with different agendas.  They converge on their opposition to the blockade and their sympathy for the Gazans’ plight, but I guess their commonalities end there.  There are people from different countries of Europe, and they probably are left-leaning or liberal.  Even some parliamentarians are aboard the flotilla.  I can safely assume that their purpose was humanitarian.  What complicates the picture is the group of Turkish people on the flotilla.  It’s easy to notice that they are Islamists.  They are more conservative than moderate in their Islamism, too; but this is not to say that they are radical militants as some Israeli sources have suggested.  Their goal is not exactly humanitarian, but rather solidarity with their Muslim brothers.  If the humanitarian effort were for the suffering people of Darfur, their choice would be keeping silent, if not backing the Muslim gov’t of Sudan.  When the effort is for Palestinians, who have become the symbol of Muslims’ suffering (just like Afghans, Chechens and Bosnians were at some point in recent history), they do join actively and financially.

However, this different agenda changes the picture.  I wonder if the result would be the same if the flotilla only included people from Greece, Britain, etc. and not Turkey.  I wonder if the reason that the Israeli navy boarded the Mavi Marmara, the Turkish boat, is only because it was the leading boat in the flotilla.  I don’t know the answers, but I do know that the Turkish organizations which c0-organized this trip were there for the “show” as much as for the aid.  Theirs was a failproof action.  If they get stopped by Israeli forces violently, there would be some PR consequences for Israel (check).  If they are let go through, they would have set a precedent and aid would have reached Gaza, which is a A+ in their record.

This whole attempt is a provocation.  Even though the goals may be noble, the organizers and the participants, Turkish or otherwise, knew that Israel wouldn’t just let them through.  They should have known that IDF is not known for its delicate handling of civilians.  The flotilla wanted to draw the world’s attention to the blockade and stir up popular opinion especially among the Muslims, and they succeeded big time, but at what cost?  Here is how you bring “humanitarian” aid to Gaza peacefully.  Maybe construction materials wouldn’t be allowed, but lives wouldn’t be lost either.  We need some real honesty about the priorities and goals of the flotilla activists.  While drawing attention to the blockade, protesting it, condemning Israel’s heavy handed approach to Gaza are all valid causes, they shouldn’t be hidden behind the cause of humanitarian aid.  ”Humanitarian” is neutral, but the activists are political, there is an inconsistency there, and they should admit it.  (A sign that this is a staged show:  The Islamists in Turkey were ready for a protest, waiting for Israel to intervene in a way that gave them a reason.  All the Palestinian flags for all the headbands condemning Israel and supporting Palestine in today’s protests in Istanbul show that the protest was not just an ad hoc event or a spur of the moment.)

Israel is releasing videos of the boat after they took control.  They show evidence that the people aboard were armed, but it is ridiculous.  All they show is slingshots and marbles and metal rods which look like broken-off parts of the boat.  Israeli commandoes have also claimed that Arabic speaking men have grabbed their pistols.  I don’t know about the Arabs, but almost all adult Turkish men have served in the military (like Israeli men and women) and they should’ve been expected to retaliate, have the ability to use guns etc.  My personal belief is that people defended themselves and their boat when they saw navy soldiers descending upon the boat.  When I saw the videos, I was listening to the public announcements from the capatin’s deck rather than the reporters.  They make it quite obvious that they had no preparation and no organization for an attack, they seem and sound very clueless and panicked to me, often uttering “calm down!”  I am sure they were expecting an intervention (thus the baby, women and old people on board as human shields), but I don’t think they were ready for an intervention like this.  Israel has taken preemptive action and used disproportionate force -yet again.  They have their reasons for this intervention, but the intervention and the results are unjustified, no matter what the goals and actions of the activists may be.

Finally, the Turkish government: I’ve read in many English language sources that the Turkish organization involved in the flotilla is supported by or has links to the governing party.  Ummm, not exactly!  It is true that the Turkish government did not do anything to stop them from leaving (when they could restrict its citizens’ actions much more easily than say Britain or Ireland).  However, the Turks on the boat, the Turkish organizations and the bulk of protestors who got together in Istanbul are not the constituency of the AKP but of Saadet Partisi (SP, Felicity Party).  Although AKP is a splinter party off of the SP line, they are not the same.  SP caters to the far-right conservative Islamists but AKP has been trying to aim center-right votes while trying to steal the more center-right leaning voters of the SP base invoking their shared past with the SP.  Since SP failed miserably in the elections and does not have any representation in the parliament, AKP is the sole representer of the Islamists in the parliament.  It could comfortably play the moderate Islamist because the conservatives couldn’t pose a serious challenge.  Until now, I guess.  The far-right conservatives may be few in numbers but they are also the well organized and zealous ones (think: the Tea-party guys).  These zealots pulling off such an international trick could worry AKP.  It is a relatively safe bet for AKP to support the flotilla though: If it succeeds it can be the Davos “One Minute” episode all over again, the Muslim world will love Erdogan twice as much.  If it fails, it’ll be Israel’s fault and they’ll get credibility for “at least we tried.”   My guess is that the Turkish government just turned a blind eye to what the zealots set out to do, expecting to capitalize on it or distancing itself from it depending on the outcome.  AKP and Erdogan are akin to the principle of the school whose drama club stages a play.

Israel is already trying to turn this against Turkey and Muslims in general.  Tactics:  Portraying the flotilla as Islamist rather than humanitarian, portraying the Islamists aboard as radical militants, trying to connect the flotilla to the AKP government.  But, what will Erdogan do? He can’t really put on a big show, it’ll probably be the usual: some strong remarks, recall the ambassador, http://www.elitereplicawatch.net maybe kick out the Israeli one, cancel some contracts, blah blah.  Only to kiss and make up in a few months.  We already know that he does not refrain from alienating Israel to surf the anti-Zionist and anti-Semitist waves in Turkey and in the Muslim world.  Currently, Turks of all political views were outraged, so he could just capitalize on these trends.  However, a too-harsh attack on Israel would strain the ties with the US and would move him closer to the SP line.  That’d be a very bad move, especially after Kilicdaroglu has taken over the CHP and is revamping the party.  They can’t afford to lose the center votes now, because come 2011 elections, each center vote they lose will probably be one more for CHP.  I don’t think the current constituency of AKP will become more conservative and slide towards the SP line as a result of these events.   I’ve -unfortunately- read reactions that hoped Hitler had succeeded (and quite a few of them), but this kind of anti-Semitism has been on the rise for a while now, it’s not new.  I don’t think Erdogan would lose votes for not reacting strong enough.  If the elections were very soon, maybe.  But a year from now, Erdogan’s reaction for the Gaza flotilla event will matter much less.  Any reaction discrediting the claim that he is a puppet of the US would be good enough. (On a side note: Workers and leftist organizations had been banned from Labor Day (May 1st) meetings at Taksim square for decades and had been violently thwarted from the square until this year.  It’s amazing how when it is an anti-Israel rally, the gov’t, Istanbul’s governor, municipality or the police have no problem with Taksim square meetings. I know hypocrisy when I see one!

One word about the US: The US cannot just abandon Israel, but Obama administration is not the all-loving brother the previous administrations had been and has objected Israeli policies at least on the WB settlements. If this event creates the necessary public opinion, the Gaza blockade can be added to that list besides the WB settlements issue.  But of course, the US won’t allow Turkish navy to attempt a second blockade breach with NATO flag doning ships.  Don’t expect this to get militarized.

Long story short: Israel should end the blockade, because it has become much more costly to Israel, to Gazans and now to others than any Hamas mortar attack could be.  It’s not working anyway.

Did “Banality of Evil” strike Siirt or is it something else?

This morning I read the appalling news about the sexual abuse of 7 underage girls by numerous boys and men in Siirt (news in Turkish and in English).  I felt a mix of emotions -sadness, anger, frustration- like I guess many who read it felt.  I remember feeling very similarly upon reading the unfortunate events involving a 7 year old girl in Trenton, NJ (news in English).  The two stories share two elements: the girls who were abused and raped are very young, practically children, and the offenses were “communal” events.

Although I am very sad for the young girls who were the victims of this violence, I will just say that I hope they get the help they need to move on.  I want to discuss the sociopolitical aspect of this event.  Let me first note how ironic it is that the Turkish news surfaced the same day a constitutional amendment (to Article 41) passed in the parliament.  The amended article says “Each child has the right to be protected and cared for and to establish and continue personal and direct relationship with his/her mother and father unless it is clearly agains his/her benefit/well being.  The state takes all necessary precautions against all kinds of abuse in order to protect/guard the children.”  I put the last sentence in italics, read it again.  We’ll come back to this.

The reaction when we read such appalling news is probably: “How could they!  We are humans, not animals!” etc.  We, as individuals, have certain principles and moral codes.  When we hear about such events, we imagine whether we could do such a thing ourselves, and of course decide that we never could.  There is right and wrong, for some there is heaven and hell.  But then, there’s a lot of evil in the world.  I don’t want to diminish the monstrosity of what these girls experienced or of how the whole episode of abuse unfolded over 2 years, but they are not the only young girls who were abused.  Girls their age experience these all over Turkey and everywhere including Trenton, NJ.  Almost everybody says to themselves “Oh, no, I could never do such a thing!” yet a lot of people turn evil and victimize these children.  In some cases like Siirt and Trenton, the “evil” is not a single person but a group of people.  A group victimizes the children, and nobody stops what’s happening -to the contrary- the “evil” becomes a social product.

You probably have heard about Hannah Ardent’s “banality of evil” argument, as well as the results of Milgrom and Zimbardo’s psychological experiments.  These are attempts to explain how evils (like the Holocaust) come to be accepted by large numbers of people, how evil becomes “normal.”  You may also have heard or read that the “banality of evil” argument has been criticized and reevaluated by further psychology studies (and historical examination of the Eichmann case Ardent wrote about).  I find it amazing how seemingly normal people turn “evil” and justify the various types of violence they conduct.  I tend to think that human beings are rational, even when they answer the seductions of the dark side.  Evil becomes banal because the people choose to accept it.  Of course social pressures, political machinery, ideology, authority etc. may be factors in people’s choice, but it is their choice in the end.  We are not drawn to or pushed towards evil by some outside force, we walk towards it and what we think it promises.

In the Siirt story, when 5 girls complained to the school counselor about the abuse of a vice-principal, the counselor started the official procedures which unearthed the large scale abuse of 7 girls by many men, including their male classmates.  According to the newspaper reporter, these abuses were almost “common knowledge” among some in the town.  After the initial abuse of one girl, as the word spread, more men from all ages and walks of life started to abuse the girl.  As her sister (who eventually complained) came to age, these men saw her as a target as well.  Why didn’t anybody say something or try to stop it?

I guess the answer lies in the comments of the school-boys.  The reporter says that they start singing a suggestive song “Ellere var da bize yok mu?” (Yes to others and none to us?).  Boys and men in this town were hoping to get their turn in the abuse!  I think it is the “culture of honor” in Turkey that created this social response.  Men who could kill their sisters for “seeing a boy” lining up to rape victims of previous rapes sound so contradictory at first.  However, they both have the same source: keeping the male pride alive, keeping the reputation as a male untarnished, which are the prerequisites to keep your status in the male dominated society.  These social dynamics require that it is the man’s job to make sure his sister, daughter and wife are “modest” women and also that he shows his masculinity when he can (think: machismo).

Just think of a man in that social setting.  He hears about these girls who  have become preys and his friends are telling (probably grossly exaggerated) stories of how they had intercourse with them.  If he goes and reports these men to the authorities, he will be a rat and social repercussions will be quite bad.  If he says something disapproving, the response will be “Oh, sissy man!”  If he refuses the “opportunity” to repeat others’ offense and taking his turn, his masculinity and sexual prowess will be doubted.  This man may be a good man inside, morally he may know very well that abusing this young girl is wrong, but it is in his best interest to keep silent and repeat the offense because it is a chance to prove masculinity, the currency for social standing.  I am sure the girls were “de-humanized” within the male-talk concerning them.  They were probably not treated as “women of our community of whose modesty we are responsible for” but “objects to be taken advantage of”.  Note that this male dominated, male-pride centered culture is universal.  You can see it in Siirt or in Trenton, NJ.

Ultimately, I hold individual choices made within social constraints responsible for the “evil” in question.  However, there’s one other component in this story.  The political authority.  Besides being immoral or sinful, rape and underage sex are illegal.  The moral compass or the religious convictions of these men did not stop them from victimizing the girls, that can be blamed on their individual faults maybe.  Why could the threat of legal punishment not stop them?  Some of the offenders were employees of the state (a policeman, a member of the military, the school vice-principal).  So, the state whose constitution was amended to charge it with taking all necessary precautions to prevent abuse and to protect children failed big time.  Why would the shopkeepers and students stop when they knew even the agents of the state were doing the offense?  Where would the girls go knowing that their vice-principle was among the main offenders?  It is almost a miracle that the counselor took some action, reported this to the other vice-principle and then to the higher authorities.  What if the counselor feared the repercussions from the offending vice-principal and kept silent?  Unfortunately, in some cases, when the victims get the courage to complain to some agent of the state, they get inaction or worse.  Why would the men be concerned about the state or the law when they know it’s on their side?

If you’ve been following this blog, you’ve seen me complaining about the patriarchal tendencies of the state in Turkey.  Yeah, maybe the patriarchy in the laws and practices of the state do not mean much when they force me to report my marriage and take my husband’s last name.  It doesn’t hurt me much to pay a fine or carry the last name of the man I lovingly married.  But the same patriarchy has more dire consequences for other women all over the country.   Women who are not as lucky as I am are victimized when the state’s patriarchy and the patriarchy in the society join forces.  My objections and complaints are not only against the way the state sees me, but against the way it sees women in general.  I can compensate for my “female deficiency” in other ways (education, socioeconomic status etc.) and protect myself, but apparently the 2 daughters of the poor porter in Siirt could not and were victimized.

The court decided to prevent further reporting on this case, probably because it is a controversial case which is currently heard in court.  I just hope the offenders eventually get enough punishment to deter repetition of such events and to encourage victims to speak up.  I hope we all remember how we felt when we read the news report today and not forget this incident like we forgot about the numerous scandalous cases that surfaced before.  I hope the institutions and agents of the state live up to at least what the constitution promises children.

Is Turkey in a transition to a presidential system?

Question: What political system does Turkey have? Presidential, parliamentary or semi-presidential?  Of course it depends on how you define the characteristics of each category, but if you take the two usual criteria, whether the president is elected and whether the president is the head of government, Turkey is a semi-presidential system since the referendum of October 21, 2007.  Many of the participants of the referendum (turnout rate: 64%) did not know what they voted on, some thought they were voting on the draft of the new constitution which was a hot topic at the time (items passed in Turkish).  That referendum was a reaction to the parliamentary impasse experienced during the election of the 11th president.  AKP, which gained a majority in the parliament in the general elections that took place in July 2007, got Abdullah Gul elected as president and prepared this constitutional amendment to make sure such an impasse won’t be repeated again.  The amendment changes the quorum rule for the parliament and changes the procedure for the election of the president such that the president is elected by general vote and for 5 years (previously 7 years) repeatable for one more term.  Introduction of presidential elections, coupled with the more-than-symbolic powers of the office (thanks to the 1982 constitution) makes Turkey a semi-presidential system like France.

So, Turkey is currently a semi-presidential system, although it still pretends to be parliamentary.  R. Tayyip Erdogan, the current PM from AKP, has recently hinted that the era of semi-presidentialism may last shorter than we would have guessed.  In a TV program where he answered questions of  journalists, he dropped the bomb and said that after the 2011 elections they may pass a new constitution introducing the presidential system.  Nevermind that he is so confident they will have the majority necessary to pass a new constitution after the 2011 elections, and focus on the new constitution.  His comments show three things: 1. He was very impressed with Obama during his recent visit to the US, 2. He is VERY short sighted (almost reminiscent of the roving bandits a la Olson) 3.He does not understand the principle of “separation of powers” or “independence of the judiciary”.

Before I elaborate on these points, let me say that I don’t think presidential systems inherently have an authoritarian tendency.  The causal arrows run in the opposite direction. That is: It is not that the presidential systems inevitably decay into authoritarianism because of the concentration of powers in the hands of a single person.  It is the opposite: polities that are structurally, culturally or institutionally predisposed to authoritarianism end up with presidentialism rather than parliamentarism.  Studying the institutional choices of former British colonies in sub-Saharan Africa after independence provides a lot of insights about this process.  One could also look at how the parliamentary systems of Europe developed (hint: most still have kings and queens as “heads of state”) or how semi-presidentialism in France came about (hint: de Gaulle).  So, in my opinion, if the polity is democratic already, presidentialism will not be the end of that democracy.

That said, I don’t think whatever level of democracy Turkey has can survive a presidential system, it will sure not be strengthened by it (as the PM suggests).  A presidential system is not even functionally necessary.  Turkey has a highly centralized (not federal) administrative system and government, and is geographically not so big (i.e. it does not need to balance regional interests as represented by the Congress vs. interests of the “whole country”/federal gov’t as represented by a President).  In addition, the very low levels of intra-party democracy in Turkey is not a good combination with presidentialism. Erdogan wants the presidential system for the wrong reasons, and that’s why it is a bad idea.

During the TV program, he openly states that he considers the current system to be similar to semi-presidentialism and thinks of this as a trial for a possible presidentialism.  He gives the example of the US as a system where presidentialism works, separation of powers is at its best and congressional approval is necessary for decisionmaking.  I think he was impressed by how Obama+House Ds could pull off the very controversial Health Care Reform and would like to have that kind of power himself.  Of course he missed the whole story of how the reform package that passed is very different from what it used to be, how much compromise it took to pass what passed, how much opposition and discussion there was within Obama’s own party, and how significant the efforts of Pelosi&co were.  He probably just got the part where Obama wanted health care reform bill and he got the health care bill!

How can I think that he is after the power and not the (possible?) efficiencies of this system?  The justifications he gives for this proposal are just naggings, that’s how.  He complains about Ahmet Necdet Sezer (without explicitly giving the name) and blames him  for not being able to do much in their first term in government.  Yes, Sezer was an active president, used his veto powers liberally, but I think it is unfair to blame the failures of the government on him.  If they didn’t vaporizer reviews devote their energies to hopeless pursuits like attempting to criminalize adultery, maybe they could get more done.  Just as Erdogan and his party reacted to the parliamentary impasse during the election of the 11th president by amending the constitution to eliminate the possibility of that episode repeating itself, they are reacting to the Sezer period’s “presidential opposition” by proposing changes that eliminate the possibility that a president stops them from doing what they want or from passing anything they want.  For their short-term goals of running the show “as they like it”, they don’t mind turning the system upside down.  (Yet, Turkish political history is replete with stories of how purposefully designed systems bite the designers in the ass.  e.g. Menderes authoritarianism -military’s post coup 1960 constitution- party fractionalization and parliamentary deadlocks)

Erdogan has previously shown that he does not exactly understand the democratic principles like “consensus” or “majority rule.”  He has expressed numerous times that having received 47% of the votes gives him the legitimacy to do anything and he does not need to compromise/negotiate with the other parties on anything (more than half a century after Menderes, still no improvement on the understanding of how electoral democracy works).  He is assuming that receiving a similar plurality -or best case scenario- a strong majority of votes in the ballots in 2011 will give him a strong mandate.  Menderes had told his voters they could bring the caliphate back if they wanted, Erdogan seems to be testing the waters to see if he can ask his voters to bring back the 21st century sultanate.  What’s presidency with a puppet majority party, no parliamentary negotiation and compromise and no independent judiciary?

One other principle he does not understand is the role of independent judiciaries in the separation of powers.  He keeps referring to “the elected” and “the appointed”: the parliamentarians (i.e. his majority) are the elected and the constitutional court judges are the appointed.  He complains that “the appointed” prevent things that 411 elected have passed.  Recent hot discussions on the AKP proposal for “judicial reform” also had the same complaint (among others) as motivation. Somebody has to check the constitutionality of the bills a president or a parliament passes and that body has to be independent from pressures of the president or the parliamentary; that’s a pillar of separation of powers (legislative, executive and judiciary, remember?).  Making the system presidential doesn’t relieve the system from judicial reviews.  Maybe Erdogan focused too much on the President-Congress relationships in the US and didn’t notice the Supreme Court?

If somebody with such an understanding of “democracy” becomes the head of gov’t in a presidential system, of course that polity will decay into authoritarianism!  The Turkish political system needs a massive restructuring before it can be compatible with a presidential system that is efficient and democratic.  I don’t think Erdogan and AKP are interested in that.

If Erdogan and his party are unhappy about the constitutional court or the president vetoing/returning their bills on the grounds of the bills’ unconstitutionality, they should just change the constitution rather than complaining about the c.court or the president!  The discontents of the post-coup 1982 constitution are not limited to the AKP, pretty much everybody wants it changed.  Unlike the coalition governments before itself, parliamentary arithmetics 5 Htp Side Effects give an advantage to AKP to introduce a new, democratic constitution. They had a group working on a draft and a draft was circulated at some point.  But the effort died away (to the best of my knowledge).  There have been some piecemeal amendments, most in order to comply with the EU accession criteria (another effort that died away, to the best of my knowledge).  And there have been some hopeless attempts, attempts they knew would fail but still went through with in order to please their conservative constituencies, such as the amendment that would allow veils at universities.  Many are in expectation of a democratic constitution, many are rooting for expanded rights and freedoms through a new constitution; but the new constitution is not coming.  I don’t know what the excuse is.  It looks like they are waiting for the aftermath of 2011 elections.  Hoping to gain an even bigger parliamentary majority, AKP probably thinks they can introduce a new constitution/major constitutional amendments with minimal, or better yet, no deliberation and compromise.   And that, ladies and gentlemen, is “democracy, AKP style”

When the Big Brother is too lazy to watch you…

I recently had the misfortune of finding out about the nonsense details of the Turkish population registration laws.  I am a citizen of Turkey but I have been residing in the U.S. for quite a long time.  I had heard about the transition to the “Address based population registration system” in the news; however, I did not pay much attention because I do not have an address in Turkey.  I found the hard way that this new “system” is nothing but the Big Brother.  The only difference is, this Big Brother is too lazy to watch you: it expects you to go to its door to report on yourself, and punishes you if it finds out that you have failed to report what it wants to know.

The US is going through its aviation insurance right now.  Census forms are mailed to every address and people are asked to fill them out and mail them back.  Once the “mailing” period is over, census workers will start knocking the doors.  I don’t have a general problem with the state trying to get information about its population.  Those census statistics become very important in determining services and allocations to different communities, determining representation (which is a pillar of democracy, isn’t it?).  There is one critical aspect of the US Census, which distinguishes it from this new Turkish system: it is voluntary!  US Census Bureau, local municipalities, local or identity based communities are advertising their “clientele” to participate in the census; they are trying to get the people BE in the statistics.  BUT, nobody is forced to participate and there is no fine or punishment for not participating or refusing to do so.

Let’s go back to the Turkish system and how I got fined myself.  I got married to another Turkish citizen residing in the US in 2009.  We had a dear friend get commissioned for the day, got our license, did our ceremony, put the documents in order and sent it to the county clerk -all fine, all legal, no complications.  I called the recorder’s office to find out when I could get a certified copy of the marriage license (which I needed to register my new legal name in other offices), they told me to check back in 6-8 weeks.  I have slowly been changing my name in different institutions (e.g. on credit cards).  I had it on my list that we should get our marriage registered with the Turkish Consulate, which also involves getting new national ID cards,  getting the (optional) “International Family Document”  and having the name changed in the passport.  Mind you, we did not need to authenticate our marriage; Turkey recognizes marriages by foreign local authorities as long as they conform with Turkish civil law.  All we needed to do was to let the consulate know that we had been married, so that we could continue with other paperwork (See note 1 below).  We were not in a rush, because we did not need our Turkish documents (national id cards or passports) until the summer.

We went to the consulate in person to get this out of the way -in person because we thought we were being smart.  Our friends had gotten their registration done by mail, but their national id cards were not returned, they were asked to come in person to get their new id cards.  So, we thought: If we have to go to the consulate anyway, we can just go now and get all these done in one visit to the consulate.  Little did we know!  To make the long (and nerve-wrecking) story short, we had to pay a fine because we didn’t register our marriage within 1 month of our marriage, we were not given any receipt whatsoever for the money we paid in cash, and it turns out that you cannot get the new id cards issued until the registration is completed (which -we were informed- takes 1.5-2 months).  We left the consulate in a fury, didn’t want to pay any more money for the “family document” (what the hell is it anyway?) and decided to wait until the registry is done and new id card is issued before I do anything about the passport.

Why the hell did we pay more than $20 in fines?  Why were we punished?  Turkish state is notorious for finding all kinds of ways to skim money off of its citizens.  I am familiar with the charge for exiting the country that each citizen except those who live/work abroad pay when they go abroad and I have recently read the (officially unconfirmed) news about the cost of the new Turkish passports (which makes them the most expensive in the world).  But a fine for not registering your marriage within 1 months???  I googled around a bit to find about this “administrative monetary fine” I paid.  Apparently it has its sources in the new Law on Population Services (No. 5490) (See the end of the post for the original law and the new law -unfortunately in Turkish, and a summary document on the new registration system in English).

According to the new population registration system, everybody residing in Turkey (including non-citizen aliens) have to be registered through the address they reside. Citizens living abroad are registered by city and country only.  If you move, you have to let the authorities know, or you pay more than $200 in fines.  If you give a wrong address, you pay a >$400 fine.  You have to register births, deaths, marriages and divorces, or you’ll be fined.  Don’t lose your id card, or forget to renew it before it expires, or you’ll be fined.  Apparently, since Jan. 2010 the consulates started to apply these administrative fines.  The state wants to know what’s going on, but it is too lazy to put together a system where these events can be tracked automatically.  Because it is lazy, it passes the responsibility on to the citizens, punishing them if they fail.

Take marriages:  In Turkey you cannot have a legal civil marriage performed by a religious leader (imam, rabbi, priest, etc.) or your friend who gets commissioned.  It has to be someone official (generally from the local municipality or from the consulate), there may be exceptions for captains.  Why can’t these state offices that handle the marriages pass the information on the population services department?  Why do the individuals have to inform this office themselves?  In our case, we had to let the consulate know about our marriage because of the necessary changes in the paperwork anyway.  Why can’t the consulate update our information in the records in Turkey?  It’s not that our marriage is illegal or that we are trying to hide it, we didn’t think it was urgently necessary to inform the Turkish state.

What’s the urgency, the rush?  I do not even live in Turkey but I need to inform the state about my marriage within a month?  I couldn’t even get the necessary marriage certificate within 1 month of my marriage!  One explanation is this: the state is trying to protect my rights.  It is trying to make sure that my husband doesn’t marry another woman in Turkey, or that I get what’s legally mine in case something happens to him or to our marriage, or that our children are born “within marriage.”  I can’t convince myself that this is the explanation.  I am legally married in the US and this marriage is also legal in Turkey.  I have all the rights of a married woman in both countries even if I don’t register my marriage in the consulate.  I believe that the “urgency” emanates from the patriarchal undertones of the Turkish family laws and civil law again (remember this older post on assisted fertility treatments?).

Turkish law wants women to “belong” to a man, period!  This man can be your father or your husband, but a woman is ultimately identified through a man.  She has to carry the last name of a man and her records are kept under the family records where the father or the husband is the “head” (This has recently changed on paper, but in practice the state still recognizes the “husband” as the head of the family).  When a woman marries, her records are “migrated” to the husband’s family records (or they can start a new record as a family independent of larger families).  The state simply wants to know which man is my “guardian” at any given time, that is the urgency!

How can I be sure?  Here is how:  When I gave the paperwork to the consulate agent and he asked for $43, I thought that this covered the International Family Document.  The amount on the e-consulate website was less than that, but just I thought they didn’t update the increase in the price.  They take cash and don’t give any receipt of any kind.  We wanted to get the paperwork for the renewal of our national id cards, because we didn’t want to go to the consulate in person again.  For me, the last name would change and the marital status box would be changed to show “married” rather than “single” (see Note 2).  For my husband, just the marital status would change.  The agent at the consulate gave me a form and asked 2 photos (and $4).  I was puzzled and asked whether this single form was for the changes for both of our id cards.  The agent says, “Oh, it’s OK, his card doesn’t need to be changed right away!”  So, his id card can continue to declare him as a single man, but I have to change my name to take a different/another last name and my id card needs to show the new name and the new marital status.  It is all about where I stand as a woman,  the state wants to know right away, in 30 days, tick tock tick tock.  Husbands’ status? Meeh!

I was quite upset that all this paperwork was about the woman, did not concern the man at all (although it is legally the responsibility of the man to register the marriage unless the husband is an alien).  Then I asked whether they’d be needing the photos the website asked us to bring for the family document.  The agent said that the application for the family document needed to be submitted separately, did I want to fill the form and pay the fee now?  I was puzzled further, because I thought I’d already paid for it.  Then, he told me that I’d paid the fine (and postage).  I was furious, I said I didn’t need any family document (I was done certifying our new little family with the Turkish state) and left.

Needless to say, the e-consulate website did not say anything about administrative fees under sections about marriage registration.  The only place where it states that you need to register a marriage within 30 days is under the section for applying to get married in the consulate (which is not a section those who already got married by local authorities like us would look). The state expects you to know the details of the population law and the related fines even if you live abroad, and it doesn’t bother telling you about your responsibilities or fines on the websites you’d use (like the consulate website).  Later, when I read about the administrative fees, I learned that any official who is charging carpet cleaning san antonio these fees should declare that the citizen has to pay a fine for so and so wrongdoing (think speeding ticket).  And you would expect that there would be a written record, at least a receipt showing that this money (in cash) has been paid.  Nada!  I wouldn’t even know that what I’d paid was a fine if I didn’t ask about the photo!  It’s a shame that a major Turkish Consulate is doing such shady business.  I wish I could fine the state and its agents for not doing their part in informing me when they should

I am disappointed with the state of Turkey again.  As a woman, I am disappointed that the state sees me as a property whose owner should be correctly recorded immediately.  As a citizen, I am disappointed that the state is forcibly extracting information from us rather than developing its own efficient and reliable information systems.  As a Turkish national, I am offended and disappointed that the state is using fines and punishments to get compliance and doesn’t show any effort in developing ways of getting individuals’ voluntary compliance and cooperation.  As a Turkish passport holder, I am disappointed that the treatment I get at the Turkish consulates each time makes me glad that I am not living in Turkey where I’d constantly have to endure this kind of treatment, get robbed, and have no feasible way of placing a complaint (let alone an official recourse).

I’ll just leave you with my disappointment…

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Note 1.  Most of the paperwork is necessary because I had to change my last name.  In the US, I could legally keep my last name as it was, but I didn’t because I wanted my US and Turkish legal names to be consistent.  By Turkish laws, the default is that the woman gets the husband’s last name.  A woman can submit a petition at the time of marriage (or in our case, registration of marriage) which states that she wants to keep her last name, which will then be added before the husband’s.  There have been a few cases where women took this issue to court (all the way to the ECHR) and succeeded in going back to their original name, without the husband’s last name.  That a woman has to take the husband’s last name and that her registry is carried over to be placed under her husband’s family registry after marriage are indicators that the Turkish civil law is really insistent on putting the woman under the guardianship of a man and on making sure it is clear which man (father or husband) the “guardian on paper” is at any given time.

Note 2.  The national id card is outdated by today’s standards of “equality”.  I’ve mentioned previously how it is blue for men and pink for women (because anything other than this is not OK by the state).  It has a box indicating your marital status and another one indicating your religion.  The religion box is filled by civil servants automatically as “Islam,” in most cases you have to go through a struggle to have it left blank or have them write something else.  I recently read that the ECHR declared this box a violation of religious freedom (in a case where an Alevi wanted to have “Alevi” rather than “Islam” in the box.  The court said the box should be eliminated altogether).

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Amendments (Law no 4826 dated 2003)

New Law on Population Services (Law no 5490 dated April 2006)  

A document in English explaining the Address based Population Registration System

Homophobia vs. Defending Freedoms (sincerely)

If what you are is not heterosexual, you can have lots of difficulties living in Turkey.  For lesbians, gays and bisexuals, making sexual preference obvious may cause all kinds of problems. Gender reassignment operations are not illegal, but like tansvestites, transgenders will be seen as “freaks.”  As in any conservative society, including the conservative parts of the U.S., LGBT community in Turkey has ample difficulties and is subject to social pressures.  This is not surprising.  Homophobia, intolerance and ignorance is everywhere.

What is surprising is that the state institutions and the government are as homophobic, as intolerant and as ignorant.  Legally, if you are LGB, you don’t really exist: there is the men with blue national id cards and the women with the pink (as if national id cards had to conform with the baby-store color codes), gays, lesbians, bisexuals can legally exist only as the physical sex prototype they most look like.  Same-sex marriage (and all kinds of rights that are associated with it) is of course not permitted, but different state organs can openly insult and discriminate against you with no problem.  That people convicted of hate murder of gays get reduced sentence is a case in point. The minister (responsible for women and family) saying homosexuality is a disease and can be cured is another.

There is a popular TV program in Turkey, which is essentially an on screen matchmaking effort, trying to get people married.  One day a woman calls in, talks about her previous marriage while in the Netherlands and reveals that she is interested in one of the female candidates.  At that point, the show-host Esra Erol gets upset, says that such deviances have no place in her show and hangs up.  Afterwards, she tries to save face saying nobody has the right to judge others’ sexual preferences but then claims that these preferences are formed as a result of people’s experiences and processes they go through their lives.  She says she doesn’t care what people do in their homes (but apparently doesn’t want to have these preferences revealed in public).  Notice two common homophobic arguments here: 1. “Homosexuality is something that happens” (this one sees it as a reaction to trauma or lifestyle for others see it as a disease) 2. “We don’t care what they do within the 4 walls of their homes” (seeing homosexuality only as a “bedroom affair” and revealing that they DO care because they think what happens within the 4 walls of “their” homes is so shameful that it should never be made public.)  I saw another video where she tried to explain her behavior on a TV program she joined as a guest.  She and the host together play the “our children card,” i.e. “We don’t want our children to be exposed to homosexuality, it’ll ruin their psychology” (sound familiar? Californians?).  She defends herself saying she is bound by law, if she let the conversation continue the Radio TV Higher council (RTUK) could punish the program or the channel.  This is not wrong, but she’s definitely throwing the blame on the laws, without any criticism of the restrictive laws or without feeling sorry for what happened.  RTUK didn’t tell her to have that disgusted expression on her face when the caller revealed her preference after all.

LGBT organizations and their friends protested while the mainstream media made news of this program with headlines that read: “Scandal!: Woman proposes to woman on TV.”  A minority protested the host while the majority found what happened (the caller’s request not the host’s reaction) outrageous.  Did I mention homophobia runs strong in Turkey?

More recently, the Minister responsible for women and family, Selma Aliye Kavaf, said these in an interview: “I believe that homosexuality is a biological disoder, a disease.  It is something that should be treated.  Thus, I don’t think positively about same sex marriages.  Our ministry doesn’t have any studies seo services about them.  There’s no demand communicated to us anyway.  We’re not saying there are no homosexuals in Turkey, this case exists.”  I don’t see it necessary to explain this, it is pretty clear what she thinks, what her mindset is.  The ignorance, the denial, the rejection of the TV show host is all here as well.  But this is the person who is responsible for women and children, if the LGBT were legally recognized they would be her responsibility too (after all, LGBT are the groups that lack the upper hand in the patriarchal system just like women and children).  The minister who is expected to represent the LGBT pretty much thinks they are sick people who need treatment.  Ouch!  As usual, they are on their own. They shouldn’t feel very bad though, because the record of this woman minister in pursuing the rights of women and children is not great either.  In the same interview she objects the NGOs (probably women’s organizations) that consider the husband asking the wife “What’s for dinner?” as psychological violence.  She does not understand that it is not the question, it is the whole set-up, the whole system of the family where the woman is “obliged and expected” to carry out domestic duties that is the psychological violence.  And we are expecting this minister, who does not have an issue with the domestication of women, to represent women as their minister.  Good luck with that!  LGBT and women’s organizations protested her statements as expected, but their protests didn’t change anything

Things got even more tragicomic after the interview.  Another minister from the AKP (the governing Islamist party) tried to do some damage control after the outrageous remarks of his co-minister.  Recep Akdag, minister of Health, said these: “Same sex marriage isn’t something Turkish society can accept.  These should be left to individual freedoms.  We should do whatever is necessary for children’s sexual education to develop right.  It is a fact that homosexuality is difficult for those who live it in Turkey.  It can be a cause for discrimination.  Society should be tolerant and fair.  It is clear that there are matters that distinguish homosexual relationships from normal relationships.”

Mainstream media just bought into this attempt, even portrayed as if he contradicted Kavaf’s words and the two minister’s opinions clashed, they were opposing each other, there was a polemic.  I read what the health minister said and thought “How is this damage control?  Adding injury to the insult is more like it!”  There is the unmistakeable “our children card,” lest they learn about homosexuality somehow, they will be damaged forever!  He doesn’t say homosexuality is a disease, quite the opposite it seems like he is trying to oppose the minister who said it is.  But it is so obvious that he thinks it is a disease, it represents “something gone wrong”, it is a-normal. According to Akdag,  sexual development gone right ends up in heterosexuality, if it goes wrong it ends up homosexuality.  How is this any different than what Kavaf has said?

Or should we cut him some slack since he understands the difficulties of being gay in Turkey?  Well, if he is so understanding, he should do something about it.  He is a minister!  He’s in government!  If this discrimination is wrong and he is bothered by it, why doesn’t he do something about it?  Remember how the TV show host blamed the laws for her behavior?  The minister is blaming the society and its culture.  For him, the only way for homosexuality to be OK is if the “society” becomes tolerant and fair.  This is your “tyranny of the majority 101.”  It is up to the state to take precautions so that the minority is protected.  The minister cannot just sit back, watch gays be discriminated, and say “oh, what a pity!”  If he does, it means he is actively participating in the discrimination.  If you are a minister, your inaction is actually an action.

Later, he was asked about the “controversy” again and he said: “It is wrong to evaluate this as a polemic of two ministers.  I was asked a question, I spoke my opinion.  Rather than turning this into a  tabloid discussion, we should remind ourselves of our kids and youth, that we should take this seriously in terms of their sexual education.”  He goes on and on about the “threats” from the internet the youngsters are exposed to (guess what he means!).  Upon another question asking whether he thinks it is a disease, he said it is a complicated issue, psychiatrists and scientists should be asked about it.  The “our children” card, the “apparently something wrong happened to them” approach, the “why can’t they keep it to themselves?” complaint.  The same thing, over and over again.

And the last development on the issue, which triggered me to write today.  A platform of different NGOs, including MAZLUMDER (Association for Human Rights and Solidarity for Oppressed Peoples), had a press release in support of Minister Kavaf (full text in Turkish here).  I really cannot bring myself to translate the whole document here, it is just too painful even to read it (I’ll post a link immediately if I see an English translation somewhere).  It starts with the “medical controversy” about homosexuality, stating even in societies where homosexuality is accepted as “not a disease” there is an anxious search against the spread of homosexuality!?!  They go into religion, as expected (these are all Islamist NGOs).  The letter goes: Homosexuality is deviant according to flappy bird cheat android all Abrahamic religions, it is a sin and it has been punished.  While Islam is the religion of peace and tolerance, there are limits to both (hmm…) and it is the duty of a Muslim to prevent the immoralities and the sins gain legitimacy.  It’s an abnormality, it is a disease, it threatens the future of humanity, the family, and security of new generations, it has to be stopped, brought to an end, yada yada yada.  Then comes the “our children” argument at the very end.  But there’s something new in this letter, different from the three cases above: The conspiracy of the gay lobby!  Apparently, they believe that there is a strong lobby that tries to make the “societal subconscious” accept that homosexuality is a natural choice (They got even this wrong! If there were such a lobby, they’d say that it is NOT a choice.).  They claim that this lobby uses unthinkable methods, uses TV series and competition shows, video clips, news reports, discussion programs (pretty much everything on TV then)

Isn’t it funny that an “Association for Human Rights and Solidarity for Oppressed Peoples” could be behind this? Gays are not considered as “oppressed peoples” to be in solidarity with and the right to live your sexual life as you please is not a “human” right?  They say it loud and clear, as explicitly as it can be, in the letter: peace and tolerance as long as it is in conformity with what they believe, neither is unlimited.  This letter, right here, IS the biggest failure of Islamist politics in Turkey.  Islamist parties and groups want more democracy, struggle for more freedoms.  But unfortunately, over and over again, they show that the democracy and the freedoms they want are only for themselves, where “they” are predominantly patriarchal minded Sunni Muslim Turks.  They want full freedom of religious expression, but when it comes to the freedom of LGBT to express their sexual identities, they are not even silent, they are explicitly and strongly against it.  I’m afraid the readers will see many other examples of this selective democracy, rights and freedoms approach of the Islamist AKP, or other Islamist groups in my future posts.  The Islamists in Turkey will continue to fail the democracy test unless they realize that democracy means they have to ACCEPT and RESPECT the rights and freedoms of people who are not like them and who do not conform to Islamic teachings.  That something is sinful in a religion is not enough reason to make it illegal or wrong.

I have been disappointed with believers when Proposition 8 passed in California, I’m disappointed with believers when they release this letter which is almost hate speech.  All this talk of clash of civilizations and the culture wars between Islam and Christianity, and they agree on this one thing: their hate for the LGBT. What a sad irony!

Erdogan’s Bravado and Diplomacy

If you’ve followed my other blog (in Turkish) or if you follow this long enough, one thing will be clear to you.  I am not a fan of the current Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his politics.  There are many reasons for that, the one which became prominent through his recent declaration about Armenian migrants in Turkey is his bravado.  Bravado is a quality that I’d attach to a street thug, not a PM. One expects a PM to be “statesmanlike,”  but Erdogan lacks qualities of being statesmanlike and diplomatic.

Diplomacy is an art and a game; politics, likewise.  While voicing threats and putting your bargaining chips on the table are important parts of these artful games, the way you do these and the timing matter as much as the threat or the chip itself.  The way Erdogan plays this game is… well, I can’t describe it -mainly because he’s not playing the game.  He’s just there on the playground, breaking things and yelling like a fussy child, to get what he wants; he doesn’t care about the rules of the game.

If you’ve been following the news, you probably know that recently U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs has approved the Armenian Genocide resolution, days before the Swedish parliament passed a resolution on the issue.  Honestly, at this point, this is getting old for me (not the issue itself,  I’m not taking what happened lightly).  Every year, around March there’s a lot of excitement, talk, and headlines over the issue, culminating in whether the U.S. President says “genocide” in his April 24th speech, and the buzz dies.  Each year, around the same time, some parliament votes on the issue accepting or rejecting it (This is a whole different topic I don’t want to get into right now).  For the duration of the two months, it’s a beehive, and then it’s as if the colony collapsed for the rest of the year.

It’s the height of the buzz right now.  As April 24th approaches, I can imagine there’s a lot of lobbying and diplomacy going on about this.  I just know about the outcomes.  As April 24th approaches, it’s as if the current government in Turkey is not the same one that was pushing harder than any recent governments towards normalization of relationships with Armenia.  I can’t say there were huge leaps or steps forward, but there was some soccer diplomacy and talking, better than just nothing.  The PM reacts to the international developments with his usual bravado, and pours water onto the feeble foundations of the relationships over Turkey and Armenia.

And the threat: “We are turning a blind eye to the remaining 100,000 [non-Turkish citizen Armenians in Turkey]… Tomorrow, I may tell these 100,000 to go back to their country, if it becomes necessary.”  Using poor immigrant workers to get a leverage against governments/parliaments which recognize the genocide?  Leave aside how wrong it is from a moral perspective, I wonder if he ever thought how petty it is.  Just voicing this threat practically means the same thing as: “I’m so overwhelmed with foreign governments recognizing this thing against my wish, but I can’t stop them.  I tried everything within my power, but they don’t work.  I’m desperate.  I just don’t know what else I can do.  Oh, wait, there are these migrant Armenians in Turkey, I can kick them out!  Is this very clueless of me, you think?”  See, THIS is bad statesmanship!

There are a lot of legal/illegal immigrants in Turkey, originating from a lot of different countries.  I suspect most are from the former Soviet Union, but I don’t know the official statistics.  Erdogan’s threat is racist, because it targets the Armenians among all these immigrants (i.e. it is not even an overall anti-immigrant, Turkish jobs for Turks only kind of stance which is common in the U.S.).  It is outright against the Armenians.  It’s also ironic that this threat is 1915 all over again: When we cannot deal with the difficulties in our hands, we just target some people and kick them out.  I thought Erdogan’s position was that our ancestors were not the kind of people to do such a thing.

Think of possible costs and benefits for Turkey of deporting these Armenian migrants.  No foreign government or no individual will change their positions on this issue, quite the contrary, those who support these resolutions will say “Q.E.D.!” (see above).  Armenia will not start begging “Please don’t deport them, we’ll drop all our lobbying, we’ll let go of this issue!”  Yes, remittances from these migrants may be important for the Armenian economy, but not THAT much.  It will not help the Turkish position a bit.  It will only make the Turkish position and the immigrant Armenians and their families suffer.

It’s really not difficult to do this thought exercise, it doesn’t take much. How Erdogan could come to the conclusion that throwing this threat out there is a good response escapes me. Initially… Then I remember that Erdogan cares most about his domestic approval and this wouldn’t be the first time he sacrifices (or slaughters) diplomatic relationships or concerns to gain the applause of his domestic constituency (remember the whole Davos incident with Israel), and it all makes sense.  His constituency feels like a wounded wolf as a result of the US and Swedish resolutions, this little threat would be enough to make them feel alive again!

Long story short: I realize there’s a long ongoing diplomatic struggle taking place and I realize that a leader can’t go wrong with nationalist discourse aiming for popularity in Turkey, but leave the poor immigrants out of it.  It’s embarrassing to see a PM sink this low in desperation.

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Turkish state regulates, oh, baby!

This morning I was checking who said what through my online social networks and I saw a focal point of outcry.  According to the reactions, a new regulation (on fertility assisting treatments and fertility assisting treatment centers) suggested that mothers who get pregnant through donor sperm can be jailed up to 3 years, all in the name of protecting the “Turkish lineage”  (the Turkish term in question is “soy”).  Now, if you know anything about Turkey, widespread ideas of nationalism (which border on racism) therein, and about the Turkish ministry of health, this is hardly surprising.  After all, we are talking about a country that rejects bone marrow donations from Armenia even if there is a match for leukemia patients (I should insert a link to that piece of news here, but take my word for it for now).

My initial reaction was the Turkish version of “Oh, come on!”   What else were they going to do to protect the purity of the “Turkish blood”?  Were they going to start jailing women who had children (through sex, not insemination) from non-Turkish fathers within or outside wedlock?  Even given the absurdities of the Turkish state, this was beyond ridiculous.  So I looked further into it.  Apparently they were trying to regulate “assisted fertility” but screwed up.  Here is how and why.

If you’ve ever watched “Private Practice,” you must be somewhat familiar with all kinds of legal disasters and personal dramas involving in-vitro fertilization (IVF) and other fertility treatments.  One that I remember involves an older woman who had her last eggs harvested and wanted to get impregnated using these eggs (and I’m assuming donor sperm).  In this story was another woman and her husband, who needed IVF to have their own children.  And the embryos got mixed during the implantation (is this the right word?).  They find out when the baby the older woman carried turned out to have a fatal sickness (and eventually had to be aborted).  Now who has the rights over the other baby?  Who is the mother?

Donation and utilization of reproductive human cells (sperm, eggs or embryo) is not something that should be taken lightly.  Unlike other donor tissues (such as hearts, livers, name pretty much any body part or organ), these cells are used to produce new human beings.  There is the issue of “when life begins” which concerns abortion rights, but that’s a whole different issue.  What’s at stake here is establishing parentage when DNAs of child and either (or both) parents do not match.  The state has to regulate parentage rights for the sake of both the child, the parents and possible siblings.  And the word “soy” in this regulation is used to mean “parentage,” I could not find any direct reference to “Turkishness”/nationality/race whatsoever.

Two articles in the Turkish Penal Law are cited in this regulation (in the context of the responsibilities of centers to inform the patients regarding their rights).  The first one is A90 on experimentation on human beings (with exceptions involving children), typical consent etc. etc.  The second one is A 231 on “family/parentage linkages of a child”.  According to this article a person who changes or conceals the parentage linkages of a child is punishable up to 3 years in jail.  Also, a person whose irresponsibility causes mistaking of a child for another in a medical institution is punishable up to a year in jail.  This article is intended to prevent different forms of drama involving children and parentage: the rights of a father to know about his child, the settlements of cases where hospitals give families each other’s children,  etc. I remember a case I had read in Turkish newspapers but I don’t remember the details, I think it involved a hospital that allegedly used third party sperm (rather than husbands’ sperm) to inseminate the eggs of IVF patients. Nothing here is about third party donors.

Back to the regulation.  First: This may not be the right formulation of the regulation, but regulation is necessary.  We are talking about medical procedures, and it is the responsibility of the state to regulate the standarts these medical facilities should conform to.  Much of the regulation is about the conditions and requirements about the medical facilities and staff.  The section that raises the eyebrows is Article 18, which is on the “prohibitions” about the fertility assisting treatments.

Now, rewind a bit to the beginning of the regulation document.  It says in Article 1 that this regulation’s objective is to regulate the treatments, the centers that are involved with treating those medically deemed appropriate among MARRIED COUPLES who cannot have children.  So this regulation disregards outright single women who may want to have children with a man she’s not married to or through a donor AND same-sex couples (because same-sex marriage is not legal in Turkey).

So, keep it in mind that the cases in question here are limited to MARRIED HETEROSEXUAL COUPLES (who get the medical go).  Back to article 18.  First it forbids any treatments except for centers and persons who get the permit.  Then it forbids any use, storage, transfer or sale of eggs/sperm/embryo belonging to the pair in treatment other than their treatment.  This makes sense, because nobody would want to be donors without their consent.

Now the tricky part: It says that the couple can be applied only their own reproductive cells.  Any use of donors, generating embryos through donors, any use of embryos from the couple’s eggs+sperm on other candidates (there goes surrogacy!!! Nobody raises an issue about this?) is forbidden.  Ok, you can’t get fertility treatment involving third parties in Turkey.  What if you want to be a fertility tourist?

Section 6 says that, if you want to be a “” you’re pretty much on your own.  It doesn’t say that you can’t go to Denmark, choose a sperm donor, get your baby and come back.  It forbids centers or their personnel to refer, direct, encourage, patients to domestic or foreign fertility centers or act as intermediaries for procedures outlawed in Section 5.  If you are about to pack your bags for a trip to Denmark, wait a second though.

Section 7 says that if it is detected that a procedure that is against sections above has been undertaken at any stage, everybody involved is reported to the office of the DA.  Everybody involved includes the staff that did the medical procedure, those who referred or were intermediaries AND the pregnant woman AND the donor.  So, if you really want that third party donor baby, hide it, don’t let them find out.  Unlike the very visible single mothers Leyla Bilginel and Guner Ozkul, don’t talk to journalists about this.  If you want to be a single mom without worrying about the law, load up on alcohol on the day you ovulate, hit the classiest bar in town and have a one night stand with a guy you won’t ever see again.  If you cannot conceive children naturally or if you are not into men, then curse those who wrote this piece of traditionalist crap.

The rest is about #s of embryos to be implanted, selective-abortions (say what? they forbid selective-abortions favoring male embryos? How progressive of them!)

Section 11 is about “sperm/egg banks”.  Sperm/egg donation and banks that facilitate these donations are illegal in Turkey at this time, and this regulation confirms that.  That’s a different issue though, reproductive cell donations are forbidden in some countries, heavily regulated in cases they are legal.  This one counts the exceptions (e.g men and women can store their reproductive cells before treatments like chemotherapy, but they have to give written consent every year confirming they still want them to be kept).

I’m getting bored, but this one is quite interesting.  If a couple has embryos they want to be frozen and stored, it is possible if they both consent (every year).  If they divorce or one of them dies, or they both consent, the embryo is destroyed.  Having the child of your dead husband is out of the window.  So if you want the fruit of your love, do it now!  I can imagine how many inheritance cases this would be critical in, but still, isn’t it a bit harsh?  Maybe not with the divorce, but with the death?

So, good news: This regulation is NOT racist/ultranationalist.  It does not have a hidden eugenistic agenda. Doesn’t matter whether the donor is Turkish or not, no donors, end of story!  However, it is  VERY BAD news in many ways.  As much as it is necessary, it is terribly outdated and outright traditionalist.  It is based on the notion that a family is made of a married man and a woman, and a child should be born into such a family.  It is not illegal for single women to bear children out of wedlock (adoption is almost impossible though), so the question is: why does it matter whether the sperm got into the woman’s body through a penis or an injection?

My guess is that this is essentially about the issue of parentage again.  If there is a penis involved, the identity of the father is known whether he is involved with the upbringing of the child or not.  But if the sperm comes from a donor, especially an anonymous one, there is not much possibility of knowing.

The issue of “anonymity” of donors is still a kink in the process even in countries where sperm banks etc. are legal.  Wikipedia mentions cases where courts found donor fathers financially responsible for children that are fruits of long forgotten donations.  Relevant articles also mention that a significant number of donor-children do want to find out their biological fathers and some courts have ordered the information to be released to the children after they are 18.  There are many discussions about legal issues involving raspberry ketone surrogacy as well.  Making babies naturally or “artificially” involve multifaceted legal issues.  With the latter issues on privacy (of donors), right to paternity (and associated issues like inheritance and legal guardianship), children’s rights, commercialization of babies, etc. come into the picture.  If Private Practice episodes are any indication, there is possibility of intense human drama with no “just” legal solution.  So, the Turkish state washes its hands clean off of these issues by just forbidding it.  ”Yassah gardesim!” is not unfamiliar to the Turks anyway, state forbids it, you can’t do it.  Women and gays, this is about your rights.  Those rejecting traditional and patriarchal understanding of “family” and “marriage,” this is your fight.  Let’s see if the uproar will continue when it becomes obvious that this is not about nationalism but conservatism&hellip

And the sad thing is that many in Turkey would read this regulation and say: “But, of course!”  The conservatism of the regulation just reflects the conservatism in the society.  People in Turkey are not very tolerant of single mothers and same sex couples.  Some in Turkey would reject a child if it turns out that it wasn’t his sperm/her egg used in the production of the embryo (thus the child is unrelated biologically).  So, no surprises in this regulation really!

The piece in BBC on this, which is not exactly correct in its details (first sentence: artificial insemination is NOT already illegal, married couples have been doing it for a long time).

For those who can read Turkish, here is .

Soon to Come…

Insights into the weird world of Turkish politics and Eurasian happenings.  No matter whether you’re looking east or west of the Bosphorus, interesting politics abounds.  That’s what I intend to write about.

I am expecting to write more heavily on issues regarding women’s rights, gender issues, identity politics and Islamism.  It’s a Turkey-centric blog, but it is one country which has a central location and whose politics is deeply intertwined with the larger scale political developments around it.  I don’t think I can avoid talking about the surrounding regions (Europe, Central Asia, the Middle East) and countries.

In the meanwhile, if you know Turkish, visit “Politik Hayvan’in Gundem Takibi” my other blog, which I intend to replace with this one.