August 6, 2016
I’m currently on holiday, but posted below are a couple of things I wrote on the coup attempt and its aftermath.
The view from Taksim Square – Times Literary Supplement.
I also spoke on the TLS podcast about that piece. Listen here (my bit is from 30.22). I wouldn’t have framed the whole thing as the presenters do, but they’re not the only ones who got the balance wrong in the aftermath of the coup, as I describe here:
Turkey and the West are heading for a breakup – War on the Rocks.
I’ll be posting the next Turkey Book Talk podcast in two weeks. Thanks for your patience.
April 16, 2016
Cihan Tuğal, a sociologist at UC Berkeley, chats about “The Fall of the Turkish Model: How the Arab Uprisings Brought Down Islamic Liberalism” (Verso), charting how Turkey went from a model “Muslim democracy” for the Middle East to an increasingly authoritarian state.
Download the podcast or listen below:
Here’s my review of the book at Hürriyet Daily News.
Support the Turkey Book Talk podcast via my Patreon account. You can help me keep producing the podcast by making a monetary donation, big or small, on a per episode basis! Many thanks to current supporters Sera Aleksandra Marshall and Andrew Cruickshank.
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.
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.
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.
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 written a piece for Politico about Turkey’s critical general election. Specifically, the article looks at the shift by President Erdoğan and the government in recent months from emphasising economic competence to peddling bombastic conspiracy theories:
“While signs of this paranoiac shift have long been evident, the AKP’s earlier years in power mostly focused on making an economy-based pitch to voters. Economic competence and extending services to the poorer sections of society – along with an appeal to the conservative religious values held by many Turkish citizens – proved a winning combination for a string of crushing election victories. But while the party still pledges to spur development, its rhetoric leading up to Sunday’s election has tilted decisively in favor of a combination of conspiracy theories laced with historic posturing about reconnecting Turkey with the glory of the Ottoman Empire. When you’re on a glorious path, the AKP’s leaders suggest, you will inevitably have enemies.”
Read the whole thing over at Politico.
March 19, 2015
I’ve written a short piece taking a longer view of the ongoing tug-of-war between the government and Turkey’s Central Bank.
The piece argues that current speculation about the Bank’s independence should not be seen in isolation, but considered within the context of the government’s long-flagging enthusiasm for the economic reforms passed after the meltdown of Turkey’s financial sector in 2000-01. The jettisoning of long-term economic planning is one side effect of President Erdoğan’s bid to centralise all power in his own hands, and could herald a period of severe economic turbulence in the country.
July 24, 2014
As Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan flies around on his apparently never-ending election campaign, the symbolism of “Erdoğan’s jet” and who he invites onboard is coming under increasing scrutiny. These days, only reporters from the most craven pro-government media outlets – the usual suspects of Sabah, Yeni Şafak, Star, Akşam, Türkiye, Yeni Akit – tend to be given the golden ticket to fly on Erdoğan’s private “ANA” jet; a place on board is almost used as a carrot to reward docile behaviour. As daily Hürriyet’s ombudsman Faruk Bildirici wrote in a piece last month, the reporters accepted onto the plane are guaranteed not to ask difficult questions, choosing to do little more substantial than perform as the AKP’s media arm, “as assistants to help Erdoğan comfortably transmit whatever message he wants to the public.”
An increasingly narrow coterie of trusted media figures is being granted access to the prime minister. The effect isn’t only seen in who Erdoğan accepts onto his plane; it is also there in the TV stations and newspapers that he and other prominent government figures choose to grant interviews to, and in the hand-picking of interlocutors during these exchanges. Of course, democratic governments across the world have media groups to which they are closer and which, to some extent, they rely on; indeed, the opposition parties in Turkey also have their own “reliable” media camps. But there’s something blatantly unfair about the mutually supportive state-private network that is reinforcing the AKP government in power today. The cosiness of the prime minister and the media accepted onto his jet is just one of the most obvious examples of this favouritism.
Last week, the Nielsen Company’s AdEx advertising information report caused quite a stir in Turkey, revealing how advertising provided by state companies was weighted heavily in favour of government-friendly media groups. According to the report, of the 18 national newspapers examined, the three that received the most public advertising slots in the first six months of 2014 were the pro-government Sabah, Star and Milliyet dailies. The bottom five, meanwhile, were all broadly AKP sceptics, despite two of them – Posta and Zaman – having the highest circulation figures in the country. The two newspapers known as being close to the movement of ally-turned-bête noir Fethullah Gülen – Bugün and Zaman – received almost zero advertising from state institutions. Similarly, TV stations that are known to be closer to the government received far more advertising from public bodies in the first half of the year. Two pro-Gülen television channels – Samanyolu and Bugün TV – received no advertising revenue whatsoever from state companies. While much of the recent focus has been on public broadcaster TRT’s hugely imbalanced coverage in favour of Erdoğan ahead of next month’s presidential election, the way that state institutions are marching in lock-step with government-friendly private companies also has perilous consequences.
The issue of who gets to travel on the prime minister’s private jet is only one symptom of a Turkish media stuck in a broader partisan malaise. Indeed, while those who get invited onto the PM’s plane see their role as only being to transmit whatever the prime minister says, the myopic fixation on every word uttered by Erdoğan is unfortunately shared across pro- and anti-government outlets (as I have previously written). With important exceptions, all sides are sucked into an endless, meaningless argument about where they stand on whatever Erdoğan’s latest utterances and positions are – those positions are the fuel motoring 80 percent of Turkish media’s shallow news agenda. “Important Statements from the Prime Minister” stories are only becoming more common as power becomes more centralized around one man, and the situation isn’t likely to improve after Erdoğan is elected president next month.