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Pushing the limits of Turkish martyrdom

Speaking with a group of Turks in southwest Turkey recently about the Kurdish issue, I was told bluntly by a 30-year-old partner in a successful real estate business: “I hate Kurds.”

The man subsequently amended his statement such that the object of hatred became “terrorists” rather than a full 20 percent of the Turkish population. The lexical overlap of the two terms was however underscored when he reverted to a discussion of “Kurdish” insistence on making martyrs out of Turkish soldiers.

The Turkish word for martyr, şehit, is the subject of a national rhyme—“Şehitler ölmez vatan bölünmez”—according to which martyrs never die and the homeland will never be divided. Shouted at patriotic rallies and emblazoned on Turkish hillsides, the slogan wards off any secessionist aspirations harbored by members of Turkey’s largest ethnic minority—who, it bears reiterating, were formerly promised autonomy by none other than the iconic founder of said indivisible homeland: Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.

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Turkey blocks blogspot

When I first noticed earlier this month that I was unable to access my blog here in Turkey, I assumed that I had unintentionally offended Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, founder of the Turkish Republic, whose sanctity has caused Turkish courts to block YouTube access for extended periods of time.

It quickly became clear, however, that the crime was not mine and that blogspot.com had simply been blocked at the order of a court in the southeastern Turkish city of Diyarbakır, following complaints by the Digiturk satellite network that its exclusive football broadcasting rights had been violated somewhere on the site.

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U.S. confused by lack of press freedom in Turkey

Last week Turkey arrested four journalists suspected of links to the ultranationalist Ergenekon organization, which is accused of plotting to force a military coup against the ruling AK Party.

U.S. Ambassador to Turkey Francis Ricciardone responded to the arrests by stressing the importance of freedom of the press:

Journalists are being detained on the one hand, while addresses about freedom of the speech are given on the other. We do not understand this.”

In the interest of adding to the ambassador’s confusion, I am submitting the following two recent news excerpts on the subject of press freedom. The first is from an article in The Guardian about the possible true identity of “Raymond Davis,” the American contractor who murdered between two and three people in Pakistan at the end of last month. The second is from the introduction to a Democracy Now! interview with American journalist Brandon Jourdan.

1. “A number of US media outlets learned about Davis’s CIA role but have kept it under wraps at the request of the Obama administration. A Colorado television station, 9NEWS, made a connection after speaking to Davis’s wife. She referred its inquiries to a number in Washington which turned out to be the CIA. The station removed the CIA reference from its website at the request of the US government.”

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Erdoğan Reminds Mubarak that Presidents Die Too

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has finally weighed in on the situation in Egypt, issuing the latest in a sequence of recommendations to preferred U.S. allies in the region.

Last year’s post-flotilla advice to the Israeli regime consisted of an excerpt from the Ten Commandments, delivered in both English and Hebrew: “Thou shalt not kill”.

This year’s advice to Mubarak covers the same themes of religion and death. Reminding the Egyptian leader of the plot in the ground that is inevitably awaiting him, Erdoğan has instructed Mubarak to listen to the wishes of the Egyptian citizenry, given the irrelevance of political rank when “the only thing that will come with you when you die is your burial shroud”.

Valley of the Anti-Semites?

The Turkish film “Kurtlar Vadisi: Filistin”—“Valley of the Wolves—Palestine”— opened yesterday in Turkey. Based on the immensely popular television series “Valley of the Wolves”, the film is a response to the May 2010 Israeli attack on the Turkish-led humanitarian aid flotilla en route to Gaza, which resulted in the murder of nine Turkish activists.

The New York Times points out that the TV series “has portrayed Israelis as baby-killers and human organ thieves. Israel has criticized the series as viciously anti-Semitic fiction”. Perhaps Israel should direct similar criticism at the Times for publishing articles with titles like “Gazan Mother and 4 Children Killed” and “Israeli Shells Kill 40 at Gaza U.N. School”, and for describing Israel as a “nexus” of global organ trafficking.

I watched “Valley of the Wolves—Palestine” at a crowded cinema in a town in southwest Turkey last night. It is an action film and the plot is straightforward: three Turkish agents, led by Polat Alemdar, travel to Israel to pursue the demise of Moshe Ben Eliezer, the fictional Israeli commander who masterminded the flotilla raid.

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Learning from Israel

Israeli sunbathers felt so threatened by the impending arrival of aid to Gaza in May 2010 that they organized a 16-boat protest against the flotilla, complete with banner depicting the Turkish prime minister (Photo: Reuters)

With the release of the first part of the report from its investigation into the May 2010 attack on the humanitarian aid flotilla en route to Gaza—in which nine Turkish activists were murdered by IDF commandos—the Israeli Turkel Commission has underscored Israel’s capacity for democratic introspection.

The commission’s findings include that the commandos in question acted in self-defense and that the Israeli blockade of Gaza is not in contravention of international law. According to Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, the report proves that Israel is “a law-abiding country”.

I’ve made a short list of ideas for possible commissions in other countries interested in attaining a similar status:

1. The United States.

Commission to investigate inordinate number of civilian casualties of U.S. drone attacks on Pakistan.

Possible conclusion: Drones were acting in self-defense.

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Erdoğan’s Report Card

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan visited the town of Fethiye on the southwestern coast of Turkey this afternoon for the mass inauguration ceremony of 34 new regional institutions, ranging from elementary schools to health facilities. The ceremony took place at Republic Square in the center of Fethiye, home to the town’s primary Atatürk statue. An estimated 20,000 people were in attendance, including myself.

Attendees were relieved of pens, loose change, fruit, and other dual-use items by police on the way into the square. I am including a photograph below of one of the piles of spoils in case the Israeli Foreign Ministry would like to add the image to its Flickr photo series “Weapons found on Mavi Marmara”—published following the 31 May 2010 attack by IDF commandos on the humanitarian aid flotilla en route to Gaza. (The attack resulted in the deaths of nine Turkish activists, who obviously deserved to die given that they were hoarding weapons such as kitchen knives, a bucket, and a Palestinian scarf; as Flickr specifies that the Foreign Ministry’s photos were taken between 7 February 2006 and 7 June 2010, I doubt the ministry would deem 15 January 2011 to be out of range.)

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