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The Turkey director of International Crisis Group, NIGAR GÖKSEL, joins the podcast to discuss their recent report “MANAGING TURKEY’S PKK CONFLICT: THE CASE OF NUSAYBIN.”

The report examines the 33-year conflict between the Turkish security forces and the PKK through ground-level research in Nusaybin, a small Kurdish-majority town in Mardin province that has been particularly badly hit by violence since the collapse of the peace process in summer 2015.

Download the episode or listen below.

Here’s a link to the report we discuss. It is also downloadable in PDF form. Here it is in Turkish.

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Silopi'deki_çatışmalar_sırasında_hasar_gören_bir_evin_içi,_22_Ocak_2016

Inside a home in Silopi ruined in clashes between the PKK and Turkish security forces in January 2016. (Source: Wikimedia commons)

*SPECIAL OFFER*

You can support Turkey Book Talk by taking advantage of a 33% discount plus free delivery (cheaper than Amazon) on five different titles, courtesy of Hurst Publishers:

  • ‘Jihad and Death: The Global Appeal of Islamic State’ by Olivier Roy
  • ‘The Circassian: A Life of Eşref Bey, Late Ottoman Insurgent and Special Agent’ by Benjamin Fortna
  • ‘The New Turkey and its Discontents’ by Simon Waldman and Emre Çalışkan
  • ‘The Poisoned Well: Empire and its Legacy in the Middle East’ by Roger Hardy
  • ‘Out of Nowhere: The Syrian Kurds in Peace and War’ by Michael Gunter

Follow this link to get that discount from Hurst Publishers.

Another way to support the podcast, if you enjoy or benefit from it: Make a donation to Turkey Book Talk via Patreon. Many thanks to current supporters Michelle Zimmer, Steve Bryant, Jan-Markus Vömel, Celia Jocelyn Kerslake and Aaron Ataman.

RYAN GINGERAS, associate professor at the Naval Postgraduate School in California, joins Turkey Book Talk once again. This time he is discussing his report, penned for Washington’s Bipartisan Policy Center, “DEEP STATE OF CRISIS: RE-ASSESSING RISKS TO THE TURKISH STATE.”

Download the episode or listen below.

Here’s a link to the PDF of the report we are discussing.

Subscribe to Turkey Book Talk :  iTunes / PodBean / Stitcher / Acast / RSS

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Gingeras Bipartisan

Ryan previously appeared on the podcast last year to discuss his book “The Fall of the Sultanate: The Great War and the End of the Ottoman Empire, 1908-1922” (Oxford University Press):

He also joined to discuss his biography of Atatürk: “Mustafa Kemal Atatürk: Heir to an Empire” (Oxford University Press):

 

*SPECIAL OFFER*

You can support Turkey Book Talk by taking advantage of a 33% discount plus free delivery (cheaper than Amazon) on five different titles, courtesy of Hurst Publishers:

  • ‘Jihad and Death: The Global Appeal of Islamic State’ by Olivier Roy
  • ‘The Circassian: A Life of Eşref Bey, Late Ottoman Insurgent and Special Agent’ by Benjamin Fortna
  • ‘The New Turkey and its Discontents’ by Simon Waldman and Emre Çalışkan
  • ‘The Poisoned Well: Empire and its Legacy in the Middle East’ by Roger Hardy
  • ‘Out of Nowhere: The Syrian Kurds in Peace and War’ by Michael Gunter

Follow this link to get that discount from Hurst Publishers.

Another way to support the podcast, if you enjoy or benefit from it: Make a donation to Turkey Book Talk via Patreon. Many thanks to current supporters Michelle Zimmer, Steve Bryant, Jan-Markus Vömel, Celia Jocelyn Kerslake and Aaron Ataman.

The latest Turkey Book Talk podcast is with Mustafa Gürbüz, the author of “Rival Kurdish Movements in Turkey: Transforming Ethnic Conflict” (Amsterdam University Press).

Apologies for the delay in dropping this latest pod. I’ve had a technical nightmare.

Download the podcast or listen below.

Subscribe: iTunes / PodBean / Stitcher / Facebook / RSS

Here’s my review of the book at Hürriyet Daily News. Here’s the interview in written form.

Rival Kurdish movements

Follow Mustafa on Twitter.

Here’s another interview I did with him from last year about his research on the outlawed Kurdish Islamist militant group Hizbullah.

Finally, reposting my recent podcast with Frederike Geerdink discussing the Kurdish issue.

This week’s podcast is with Frederike Geerdink, author of “The Boys are Dead: The Roboski Massacre and the Kurdish Question in Turkey” (Gomidas).

We chat about her time as a journalist in the Kurdish-majority city Diyarbakır, her deportation from Turkey last year, and the troubled history/present of the issue in the wake of the collapse of the peace process last summer.

Download the podcast, or listen below:

Here’s my review of the book at Hürriyet Daily News.

The boys are dead

Subscribe to the Turkey Book Talk podcast via iTunes or via PodBean.

Follow Frederike Geerdink on Twitter.

Added bonus: I’ve dug out this interview from last year with sociologist Cem Emrence, co-author of “Zones of Rebellion: Kurdish Insurgents and the Turkish State” – quite a thought-provoking book.

My interview this week was with Professor Michael M. Gunter, author of “Out of Nowhere: The Kurds of Syria in Peace and War” (Hurst).

Out of Nowhere

The slim book charts the Syrian Kurds’ rise to international profile since 2011, taking in their modern history under Ba’athist oppression, their development of “national conscience,” and ties between the PYD in northern Syria and the PKK in Turkey.

Download the interview in podcast form.

Please subscribe to the Turkey Book Talk Podcast via iTunes, via Podbean, or via Soundcloud.

Here’s the text of the interview at HDN.

And here’s my review.

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 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.

 

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The dust has almost settled after the fallout from daily Milliyet’s controversial publication of the “İmralı leaks.” The paper’s reporting of leaked details of the meeting between imprisoned PKK head Abdullah Öcalan and a parliamentary delegation shook the media agenda two weeks ago, and was widely condemned by government officials as an attempt to “sabotage” the ongoing peace process. In fact, the episode has not had this effect, but it has managed to expose the fragile state of media freedom in Turkey once again – it’s regretful that such bold government criticism of the media has become increasingly familiar of late.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan led the reactions from the front, repeatedly singling out Milliyet in the days following the leaks. “If that’s how you’re doing your journalism, shame on you! The media will say [the same thing] again: The prime minister is attacking us. But whoever tries to spoil the process in the media is against me and my government. There cannot be limitless freedom,” he said, before calling on the media only to report “in the national interest.” Of course, given Erdoğan’s past record on such matters it’s not surprising to hear him once again hitting out at media coverage that he considers inconvenient. However, the apparent emotion behind the outbursts on this occasion is probably related to the fact that his personal political destiny depends to a large extent on the success of the current peace talks.

milliyet_2013-02-28

Milliyet’s front page on Feb. 28, announcing the leaked details of the İmralı island prison meeting between Abdullah Öcalan and a parliamentary delegation from the BDP.

Rumours circulated that sackings and resignations from Milliyet would follow the leaks, but editor-in-chief Derya Sazak wrote a robust defense on the Monday following Erdoğan’s words: “If the story is accurate, which it is, we print it. We do not take the prime minister’s words upon us.” Nevertheless, the criticism evidently had an effect, as veteran writer Hasan Pulur’s column did not appear on the same day, and it was also widely reported that the paper’s owner wanted government critics Can Dündar and Hasan Cemal to be removed on the prime minister’s order. Indeed, Cemal has not appeared in Milliyet for two weeks since the İmralı leaks, although no official announcement has been made. Dündar and Cemal are perhaps surprising names for Erdoğan to target, as – despite often being critical of the ruling AKP – both have expressed their support for its current peace process.

Although many government-supporting voices in the media unsurprisingly joined Erdoğan in condemning Milliyet’s “sabotage” attempts, there were many others defending the principle of media independence. In her daily Habertürk column, The Economist’s Turkey correspondent Amberin Zaman described Milliyet’s responsibility to print the İmralı meeting details as being a journalistic duty in the public interest:

“A journalist’s job is to find the truth and then inform the public; to protect the citizen from the state … By publishing the İmralı minutes, did Milliyet give Turkey’s enemies advantageous operational information? No. Did it put the sources’ lives at risk? No. Was sharing the talks between Öcalan and the BDP something that would injure the national interest? No. In the end, Milliyet was only doing journalism.”

In an interview with daily Akşam, Alper Görmüş – the editor-in-chief of political journal Nokta when it was closed down under military pressure in 2007 – also said Milliyet was right to print the leaked minutes, stating that he too would have published them if he was in the same situation.

Meanwhile, the International Press Institute issued a statement condemning Erdoğan’s comments and warning about the troubled state of media freedom in Turkey:

“The principle criterion of journalism is honest reporting. The fact that no party has refuted Milliyet’s story on the ‘Imrali transcripts’ and that almost all of Turkey’s newspapers quoted the story the following day show that it was true … The public has been informed truthfully about a process that it has an interest in learning about. This is honest and proper journalism …

“The media has no mission to side with the political power. It should stand by the truth. A contribution to the process of a solution can only be realized by writing the truth and the facts, not by hiding them or by exercising self-censorship.

“Indeed, governing a country and practicing journalism are different things. In a country where those who govern try to teach journalists how to do their job and where journalists attempt to govern, it cannot be possible for democracy to stand on its feet.”

A thoughtful response to the events also came from Today’s Zaman’s Yavuz Baydar, who again returned to the effect of media ownership structures on press freedom in Turkey – one of the most crucial (but less discussed) aspects of the issue:

“Jail and detention have been the focus with regards to Turkey, but the real threat to the media remains (under an old, well-known dark shadow of the power) owner-induced censorship and self-censorship, including being banned from writing on specific subjects.

“Whether one denies it or not, ownership issues dominate the freedom and independence of our media today. If we in emerging democracies need to defend both of these issues, we need new ownership models.”

In the same paper, Orhan Kemal Cengiz bemoaned the more immediate issue of direct government pressure on the media with respect to Milliyet’s İmralı leaks:

“Yes, it is true; the publishing of these leaked notes has damaged the peace process … But it is a level of damage which is absolutely nothing when compared to the damage that would occur to our democracy and freedoms if our media suddenly starts censuring itself out of fear from ‘what will the government say?’ every time it encounters a newsworthy and important document it wants to print.”

Actually, the situation is rather more urgent than Cengiz suggests. The fact is that the damage that “would” come from self-censorship has already been occurring for quite some time.

The hunger strikes of 682 Turkish prisoners are entering their 57th day. The way that they – and the broader issues related to them – are being reported by media outlets known to be close to the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) clearly reflects the direction that the government’s Kurdish policy has recently taken.

With the government’s “Kurdish initiative” apparently having run out of steam, the conflict between the Turkish security forces and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) has become increasingly bloody over the last 12 months, and chances for a political solution seem to be ever more remote. The latest bloody incident  in south-eastern Turkey took place in the Şemdinli district of Hakkari province on Nov. 4, when a car bomb targeting a military vehicle killed 11-year-old boy Faris Demircan and wounded 26 others. Although there was no immediate claim of responsibility, the PKK is widely thought to be behind the blast.

On Nov. 5, the Gülen-affiliated Cihan news agency reported that pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) Hakkari deputy, Esat Canan, tried to visit the family of the deceased to offer his condolences, but was refused entry to the family home. However, no sources were referenced and no quotations on the incident from the family were included in the report. What’s more, no other news agencies mentioned this and local media in the area reported quite the opposite, saying that Canan had in fact been welcomed in to “share the pain.”

Those known to be close to the government, or the Gülen movement, were the only national newspapers to feature Cihan’s story. Zaman included it as their main front page story, under the headline: “Family of 11-year-old Faris respond to the BDP: ‘You killed our child, how dare you come here’”.

Star included the same story on its front page, alongside news claiming that local traders in Şemdinli were closed in protest against the incident. The headline read: “Şemdinli’s shutters closed against the PKK.”

Strongly Islamist daily Yeni Şafak carried a front page headline declaring: “BDP driven from the door”, included under which was a subtle subtitle: “God damn them.” Popular pro-government daily Sabah also featured the same story at the bottom of its front page under the headline: “You murdered my son.”

BDP deputy Canan has written a formal letter of complaint – which I have read (anybody interested can contact me) – to Cihan news agency about its “baseless” report. In the letter, he says that his visit was in fact accepted by the family of the deceased, and he claims that Cihan’s news was written without any examination of the area and without any correspondent on the ground. He demands a retraction and an apology, warning that he will exercise his full legal rights to pursue the case if he does not receive one.

I came back to Istanbul this week, after spending three weeks at home in the UK. On my return I was greeted by airport newsstands full of papers with headlines focusing on the funerals of the nine “martyrs” killed in the recent terror attacks in the southern Turkish city of Gaziantep. Of course, I kept vaguely up-to-date with events while I was away, but the contrast between Turkey – currently in one of those periodic bouts of nationalist hysteria that always follow clashes with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) – and Britain – which is still basking in the fuzzy, generous, inclusive afterglow of the London Olympics – was nevertheless striking.

Although there are serious doubts as to whether the PKK was actually responsible for this latest attack, the Turkish press did not hesitate in reverting to predictable form. For a flavour of the current mood, here is a selection of newspaper front pages from Thursday (Aug. 23), focusing on the previous day’s funerals.

Like many others, nationalist daily Sözcü showed a photo from one of the funerals, with a coffin wrapped in the Turkish flag in the foreground. The funeral was attended by various state heavyweights, including the leaders of all three main political parties, all of whom were shown in mourning in front of the coffin. Above this, a larger picture showed the face of one-year-old Almina Melisa, whose mother and father were both killed in the Gaziantep bomb. Addressing the political figures in the picture below, the headline challenged: “Almina, will she forgive you?”

Islamist daily Yeni Şafak’s main photo also showed the same funeral. The headline above read: “70 million people on the same side”.

Daily Akşam: “You cannot divide”

Finally, here is the reassuring front page of tabloid daily Güneş’s Friday edition. The headline referred to counter operations conducted against the PKK by the Turkish military in the southeastern province of Hakkari: “30 Traitors Killed”.

Last week (June 19) saw the latest clashes between the Turkish security forces and the militants of the outlawed terror organisation the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in Turkey’s southeast. Eight soldiers were killed and 16 wounded in a pre-dawn raid by the PKK on military border posts in the Dağlıca district of Hakkari province, on the border with Iraq. The attack prompted the familiar public outrage, and the military duly responded, launching a massive operation in the mountains of southeastern Turkey and northern Iraq. Over the following days the Turkish media reported with unconcealed satisfaction the rising numbers of PKK members “neutralized” in counter strikes.

The PKK always intensifies its operations during the spring and summer months, so these clashes should not come as a surprise. This time, however, the sense of disappointment among many observers (as opposed to the anger of most) was palpable. Just a week before, efforts toward a diplomatic solution seemed to be gaining genuine momentum, with the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) approaching a rare agreement with the governing Justice and Development Party (AKP) on the issue. The agreement was for the formation of an inter-party parliamentary commission to chart the course for a meaningful, long-term, political solution to a conflict that has cost close to 50,000 lives over the past 20 years. Such moves now seem hopelessly out of touch with the overwhelming public mood of anger and bloodlust.

The life and death story of one of the eight killed soldiers received particular attention in a number of Turkish news sources. The June 22 edition of daily Cumhuriyet published a short piece titled, “Martyr İsa’s story is Turkey’s reality,” referring to İsa Sayın, who died in the latest clashes. The article described the life and death story of Sayın as illustrating what it called “all of the contradictions and pain of Turkey’s last thirty years.” Sayın was born in 1991 in Ulukaya village, in the largely Kurdish southeastern province of Muş. During the early 1990s the conflict between the Turkish army and the PKK was at its most fierce, with the former conducting a scorched earth policy across the southeast, emptying and burning down villages suspected of supporting PKK militants. Sayın’s family house was burned down in 1993, and his family was forced to move away and settle in the city of Mersin on the Mediterranean coast. There, his father worked for construction firms in order to look after his six children. Sayın remained illiterate, and he had to do irregular work alongside his father in construction until he was conscripted to do his 15 months’ compulsory military service. It was during his military service that Sayın was posted to Hakkari province, where he was killed in last week’s attacks. In a further twist, it later emerged that the Sayın family is related to the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) Muş parliamentary representative, Sırrı Sakik.

With regard to a long term solution to the problem, there can’t be many grounds for optimism. When news filters through of every fallen “martyr” in the Turkish army, the sheer virulence of the nationalist reaction somehow always comes as a surprise. The country becomes increasingly divided; the hand of the doves becoming weaker and weaker against that of the hawks. It’s difficult to see how an inclusive, broader definition of “Turkishness” can gain traction when such a stubborn die has already been cast. Of course, the Kurdish question crosses national boundaries, and its future will likely be most affected by the rapidly changing landscapes in northern Iraq and northern Syria. It seems increasingly naive to tie a comprehensive solution to simply granting Kurds the right to broadcast in their own language on Turkish television, or for Turkish schools to teach Kurdish as a first language where the demand exists. Language is only one symbol of a more fundamental and profound sense among so many, that they are living in a country essentially “not their own.”

Perhaps it’s best to end with a quotation from İsa Sayın’s mother, appreciating just how distant the solution that she demands may well be:

“Weapons, blood, and pain will lead nowhere. Ask mothers about this pain, they know their children’s pain best. The blood has to stop running. We want a solution to the problem. The armed one in the mountains is a Kurd, and my dead son is also a Kurd. Brother is killing brother. We want the state to solve this problem.”

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