Turkey on the brink (again)

September 17, 2015

I’ve written a piece for New America’s Weekly Wonk newsletter about the current mess in Turkey. Unfortunately it’s not very optimistic:

“Turkey has been rocked in recent weeks by a fresh wave of violent clashes between its security forces and the militant Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). After each PKK attack on security forces, politicians and the media stress that Turkey stands “united” against terror, but rarely has the country been more bitterly divided…

“The situation now seems to be spinning out of anyone’s control … Turkey desperately needs unifying statesmen to rise above the political fray. Instead, it is heading into yet another needless and divisive election campaign. President Erdoğan faces a personal fight for his political survival. The AKP’s senior figures, enjoying legal immunity so long as they remain elected officials, are paranoid in the face of what they see as a stark choice: office or jail.

“With the stakes so high, what should we expect from the November elections? What if again no single-party winner is produced, forcing fresh coalition talks? Turkey’s major parties are essentially based on expressions of identity politics, so voters tend to shift allegiances very little. But Turkey is also a very unpredictable country, and the violence currently shaking it may also shake voter behavior in ways currently unclear. Do Turks agree with Erdoğan that only a strong AKP under his thumb can resolve the current unrest? Or do they think this instability is being cynically manipulated by the AKP? Can an election even take place in environment of such bloody instability? Whatever the answers, the fact that such questions are even being asked makes it difficult to be optimistic about Turkey’s short-term future.”

Read the whole thing at New America.

This week I spoke to Diana Darke, the author of “My House in Damascus: An Inside View of the Syrian Revolution.” The book describes her experiences after buying a 17th century courtyard house in the center of Damascus in 2005, including Syria’s descent into bloody civil war after 2011.

Here’s a link to my interview with Darke at the Hurriyet Daily News.

And here’s my review of the book from a couple of days ago.

House In Damascus


The interview is also available in podcast form. Download here.

Subscribe to the Turkey Book Talk podcast via iTunes (and while you’re at it do rate the show!)

Subscribe via PodBean.

I should say that the two things in the title are unrelated.

My interview this week was with Toni Alaranta of the Finnish Institute of International Affairs, discussing his new book “National and State Identity in Turkey: The Transformation of the Republic’s Status in the International System” (Rowman). In the book, Alaranta traces how the entrenchment in power of authoritarian political Islam in Turkey after 2002 was critically aided by the West’s misguided search for a “moderate Muslim democracy” after the end of the Cold War and the 9/11 terror attacks.

Read the interview at the Hürriyet Daily News here.

And read my review of the book here.


This also marks my first step into the world of podcasting. From now on I’ll be publishing these author interviews in audio as well as written form, through my new podcast “Turkey Book Talk.” The podcast will include some extra parts that didn’t make the written edit, as well as some fancy music, etc.

Click here to listen to the first episode (a work in progress as I’m still figuring out the best host, player, etc).

To subscribe to the feed, visit my PodBean page.

Subscribe via iTunes here.

Please spread the word to anyone you think may be interested, and do get in touch with any suggestions on how I can improve the podcast!

I’ve been walking in north Wales so haven’t had chance to post this piece I wrote on Turkey’s nervous LGBTIs and the “perils of visibility.” Clouds have darkened in recent weeks for LGBTIs in Turkey after last month’s police crackdown on the annual Pride March and a broader uptick in violent incidents and homophobic rhetoric.

The paradox I try to explain in the article is that this has accompanied an increasingly vocal LGBT rights activism that has flourished in the country over the past couple of decades:

“Yeşim Başaran, who works at LGBTI rights group Lambda Istanbul, agrees that a ‘conservative resistance’ has arisen in response to the campaign for recognition. ‘The two things have happened at the same time. The issue of LGBTI rights has become more visible in the media and activists have become more vocal. Opposition parties have nominated gay candidates in elections and have LGBTI people working in their party organizations. That would not have happened a few years ago,’ she says. ‘Life for LGBTIs in Turkey was never easy. They already were subject to attacks in public and within their families. They were at risk of being fired from their jobs or committing suicide. But in the last few weeks it has become more concrete.'”

Read the whole piece at Balkanist.

Istanbul's 2013 Pride March, in happier times. Source: Wikipedia Commons.

Istanbul’s 2013 Pride March, in happier times. Source: Wikipedia Commons.

It was particularly interesting to meet the pro-Erdoğan AK-LGBTI group. Many people assumed they were trolls, but I can confirm that they are serious and in the process of becoming a legally recognised “dernek” (association). Turkey is certainly full of surprises.

This week saw some of the worst clashes between Turkish security forces and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) since the (now ended?) peace process officially started over two years ago.

As a result my interview and review this week are sadly topical. I spoke to Cem Emrence, who co-authored a new title on the history of the Turkey-PKK conflict, “Zones of Rebellion: Kurdish Insurgents and the Turkish State.” It is a slim but rich book, elaborating a complex theory of path dependence that has limited the options of both the Turkish state and the PKK over three decades and ultimately led to stalemate.

Read the Q&A with Emrence in Hürriyet Daily News here.

And read my review of the book from earlier this week here.


Zones of Rebellion


And something completely different: In next week’s Times Literary Supplement I review a new English selection of the great Sait Faik’s stories. It’s only available in print form so you’ll have to seek out an actual real physical copy of the TLS if you’re interested in reading it.



A couple of months ago I visited the Armenian side of the border with Turkey – specifically the Akhuryan train station, 2 km from the border and just outside Armenia’s second biggest city Gyumri.

The station has been closed since 1993, when Turkey sealed the border amid the Nagorno-Karabakh War between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Ever since, former station conductor Hagop Kevorkian has stayed on as a guard, forlornly waiting for services to restart.

When we visited, Hagop was just sitting alone in the dark station office wearing his fading old Soviet-era uniform, midway through his 12-hour shift doing nothing. Another guard waits at the station on rotating days, but they have not seen trains for over two decades. The Akhuryan Station is thus a sad symbol of the human cost of the diplomatic impasse between Ankara and Yerevan.

I wrote an article for Al Monitor about the station and the slim chances for the border reopening. Read the piece here.

Below are some of the photos I took of Hagop and the station.












My Q&A this week was with Mustafa Gürbüz, a policy fellow at the Center for Global Policy of George Mason University, who contributed an essay on the history of Hizbullah (the Kurdish Islamist group, unrelated to the Lebanese Shiite militants) to the volume “Understanding Turkey’s Kurdish Question.”

The subject is particularly topical at such a delicate time, amid sporadic violence and rising tension between secular and Islamist groups in Turkey’s southeast – a reflection of the meltdown across the border in Syria and Iraq.

Read my interview with Gürbüz at the Hürriyet Daily News.

And here’s my review of “Understanding Turkey’s Kurdish Question” from earlier this week.

Understanding Turkey's Kurdish Question cover


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