Janus of the Bosporus
Published 13 September 2010
In a wider push for power, the Turkish Prime Minister has
shoehorned a political power-grab into otherwise laudable
constitutional reform. Sound familiar?
There's an old joke that goes "there's two things I don't like about you:
your face". Turkish Prime Minister Recap Tayyip Erdogan proves a
suitable butt for this one-liner after his ruling AK party won a major
constitutional victory yesterday, with 58 per cent of the Turkish electorate
agreeing with reforms to the Turkish constitution. Erdogan is expected
to press on with a wholesale change to the current constitution.
Road to Brussels
The government's success has been lauded by the US and the EU.
Their congratulations dovetail with David Cameron's earlier praise for
Erdogan and endorsement of Turkey's ascension to EU membership,
one based in no small part on the potential for access to natural
resources and trade and labour markets. If Cameron had is way,
the Europa would fly in Ankara tomorrow.
Much of the press coverage describes the constitutional reforms as
drawing Turkey closer to EU accession. The chief obstacle
(notwithstanding France and Germany's obduracy) is apparently Turkey's
economy . This barrier may fall within ten years or so thanks to Erdogan's
sweeping market reforms.
Even if European intergration is a bridge too far for Nicolas Sarkozy and
Angela Merkel, both see a tight 'partnership' bond with the country as
desirable and inevitable. If or when full accession happens, Europe's
eastern borders will be with Iran, Syria, Armenia and Azerbaijan,
and Turkey would have -- by virtue of its population -- the second
largest group of MEPs, surpassing Germany's by 2020.
But the prospect of Turkey harmonising with the values, aims and
practices of the EU are remote while Erdogan remains in the
ascendancy, and is likely to stay that way. With Erdogan at the
wheel, the eastward progress of the EU is best halted at the
Many of the recent constitutional reforms are largely uncontroversial, such
as gender equality measures and improved rights of privacy. Notably,
however, freedoms of religion and expression are still lacking. It will also
be harder to the army to destabilise the country through future coups d'etat,
as they will now face the civil judiciary for breaches of the law.
However, the executive's newly won ability of to decide almost all judicial
appointments is a measure designed to limit the oversight of the judiciary.
The president - widely expected to be Erdogan from 2012 - will be able to
appoint 16 of the 19 judges on the Constitutional Court, with the remainder
appointed by parliament (currently controlled by Erdogan's AKP).
The judiciary will also be weakened, with judicial power of the Constitutional
Court and the Council of State will be limited to administrative practices and
Many of the adjustments that would be sensible in a pluralist country sit less
easily in an overwhelmingly Sunni Muslim country where a robust judiciary is
required to buttress a broadly Kemalist constitution against populist battering
by the legislature and executive.
Erdogan's political opponents have accused him of violating the separation
of powers, and facilitating an increased influence of political Islam via the
back door. Despite Erdogan's pedigree as a staunch political Islamist, the
latter claim may be exaggerated.
There is, however, little doubt Erdogan is consolidating his party's power and
electoral prospects, by bundling undemocratic reforms in with a broadly sensible
reform bill (sound familiar?).
A minor but telling social change may be Erdogan's plan to lift the ban on
headscarves in universities, which the Constitutional Court upheld in 2008.
The Turkish PM has long hoped to overturn the ban -- despite it being ruled
legal by the European Court of Human Rights -- and with a hobbled judiciary
is expected to do so. It is perhaps difficult to sensibly maintain such a ban in
a predominantly and proudly Muslim country, where many of the protests
against the ban have been staged by university students and professionals,
though it does bespeak a direction of travel.
Erdogan fully supports of his country's repulsive official denial that
the 1915 massacre of thousands of Armenians constituted an attempted
genocide, or expressed regret or shame at the forcible wholesale
extinction of Armenian culture - and many of it's proponents - within
its borders. Indeed, he has threatened to finish the job if he is pushed
on the issue. This vile threat at mass deportation that was greeted in
the US and the UK with conspicuous silence. Reconciliation on this
point is unlikely anytime soon.
Not content with the commission of further crimes to mask the greater one,
Erdogan currently presides over the murder -- including by aerial and chemical
means -- of Kurds within Turkey and in Iraq (NB a war crime), and a kulturkampf
against Kurdish language and culture. The Kurds in the main abstained from the
referendum, as it did not offer anything in their interest.
Fearing a break in his country's bridge to the Middle-East, he prefers to see an
active Kurdish PKK continue their violence against his people as an excuse to
continue to refuse Kurds within Turkey an Iraq-style autonomous zone (or even
equal legal treatment to Turks).
The strengthening of matters domestic has partnered increasing
refulgence on the foreign relations scene. Erdogan seems unalarmed
- as only someone who claims that Hamas are "not a terrorist
organization" could be - by the hypocrisy of decrying the fate of the
Palestinians while occupying a third of Cyprus and immiserating Kurds
and Armenians within his own country's borders.
While on the subject of Palestine, we should also remember where the so-called
"humanitarian activists" (a wild misnomer if ever there was one) were from -- and
whose boat they set sail in. Erdogan supported breaking the Gaza blockade, an
act of war against a UN county, which Israel had legal right to stop (though not to
comprehensively cock up). Given the huge regional political filip Erdogan
received from providing the port of departure, and his petulant and demagogic
response to it, it would be naïve to divorce the enthusiastic support given the
flotilla by the deeply questionable IHH and the foreign policy aims of its state
The Turkish PM has, after all, played games on the most spurious basis to court
the favour of his Middle-Eastern allies before.
More generally, Erdogan has carefully fostered diplomatic and trade ties with
Iran, Syria, Iraq. In receprosity for beneficial trading arrangements, Erdogan
(with Lula) earlier this year struck a willfully duff nuclear fuel-swap deal with Iran.
In a fit of pique over the UN's sensible rejection of this deal, Turkey voted 'no'
to recent UN sanctions against Iran.
The Turkish PM
To Erdogan's further discredit, during the last OIC conference he held cordial
meetings in Istanbul with Omar Hassan al-Bashir, the Sudanese ruler and thug
currently wanted by the International Criminal Court on charges of genocide,
crimes against humanity and war crimes in Darfur.
Eyes on the prize
While signing trade deals in Tehran, Erdogan recently told Mahmoud
Amedinijad his party has "one face to the west and one face to the east".
Turkey's constitution may now be in shape for EU membership, with an
economy soon to follow. However, the country will not be ready to join the
European experiment until it faces the crimes of its past, gives the right of
self-determination to the Kurds, and proves by it's uniformity of relations with
East and West that Ataturk's singular vision of "peace at home, peace in the world" continues.
Armenian church used as polling station in Turkey
12:48 • 13.09.10
An ancient Armenian church has been used as a polling station during
Turkey's 12 September constitutional referendum, according to Turkish
news agency Dogan.
Saint Mary Church is Kayseri, central Turkey, has for 40 years been
used as a sports hall.
Earlier the Turkish authorities had said that they wanted to renovate
the church and reopen it as a museum.
Russian military base in Gyumri poses threat to Armenia's sovereignty
and security in the region: Grigol Vashadze
17:43 • 07.09.10
The increase of Russian military bases in the South Caucasus poses a
great threat to Georgia, Azerbaijan and more to Armenia's sovereignty,
Georgia's Foreign Minister Grigol Vashadze told Azerbaijan news agency
"The increase of the number of Russian military bases in the South
Caucasus poses a great threat to Georgia, Azerbaijan and more to
Armenia's sovereignty," said he.
Commenting on the extension of the term of deployment of the Russian
military base in the Armenian town of Gyumri, Grigol Vashadze said the
reinforcement of the military base poses great threat to Armenia's
"This military base does not promise security, stability or
cooperation to anyone. Moreover, this military base does not pave the
way for the civil and diplomatic solution to the conflicts in the
South Caucasus. The only aim of the Russian military base is to
increase tension in the region. The extension of the term of
deployment of this military base in Armenia for 24 years and change of
its function poses serious threat to the region," he said.
Sept 8 2010
Turkey's Mount Ararat glaciers shrink: scientist
AFP - The glaciers atop Mount Ararat, the peak in eastern Turkey where
Noah's Ark is believed by devotees to have settled after the biblical
flood, have shrunk by 30 percent in surface area over the last 30
years, a researcher said Wednesday.
"We used satellite images to analyse the response of glaciers at the
summit of Mount Ararat to climate change," geologist Mehmet Akif
Sarikaya told AFP.
"The glacier surface area decreased from eight square kilometres (3.04
square miles) in 1976 to 5.5 square kilometres (2.09 square miles) in
2008, a loss of about seven hectares (17 acres) a year," said
Sarikaya, an assistant professor at Istanbul's Fatih University, who
also lectures at the University of Omaha, Nebraska.
The scientist warned that temperature change might eventually threaten
the very existence of the ice fields.
"We sought the reasons for the melting and found that the temperature
had increased by 0.03 degrees Celsius (0.05 degrees Fahrenheit) per
year" during the period studied, he said.
Other factors, such as increased precipitation, sunshine or
topography, might have also contributed to the glacial loss, he added.
Sarikaya said he was unable to comment on the causes of climate change
around Mount Ararat.
Previous research has found accelerating glacier erosion in the
European Alps and South American Andes, and attributed the loss to
man-made global warming.
The Book of Genesis says God decided to flood the Earth after seeing
how corrupt it had become, and told Noah to build an Ark and fill it
with two of every species.
After the waters receded, the Ark came to rest on a mountain that
believers contend is Mount Ararat, at 5,137 metres (16,853 feet) the
country's highest peak.
Many teams have scoured the mountain to find the Ark, without any
convincing results so far. Sarikaya declined to comment on whether the
melting of the glaciers would provide new opportunities in the search.
Sept 11 2010
4th international musical festival opened in Yerevan
September 11, 2010 | 16:40
The 4th international musical festival has been opened in Yerevan
today, September 11.
The festival directors are the Honored Worker of Art of Armenia Eduard
Topchyan and the cellist Alexander Chaushyan from Great Britain.
The Yerevan festival will host 22 musicians from 12 countries.
The renowned musicians will hold master classes for young Armenian
musicians. Such renowned musicians as Julia Fischer, Isabelle Faust,
Anton Sorokov, Svyatoslav Moroz and Daishin Kashimoto are taking part
in the festival.
The participants will perform Ludwig van Beethoven, Felix Mendelssohn,
Robert Schumann, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Dmitri Shostakovich.
Concerts on the occasion of the 90th birthday anniversary of Alexander
Harutyunyan and Independence Day in Armenia will be performed as well.
The festival has been organized under the patronage of Armenia's First
Lady Rita Sargsyan.
Those who attended the last Hayasdan Fund concert will recognise the
exceptionally talented young boy kanounist in this clip:
Thursday, 16 September 2010