Tag Archives: Turkey

Banning Social Media to Prevent Islamization

The Turkish government today announced a series of restrictions on social media, blocking access to Twitter and other social media websites in an effort to prevent the spread of images from the circulation of images from the Suruc bomb attack. Critics argue it’s a broader effort to prevent mobilization of anti-government protests by Kurds dissatisfied with the government’s approach to the crisis in Syria.

Yesterday a massive suicide bomb attack targeted a protest organized by youth activists in the southern Turkish town of Suruc. At least 32 people were killed and more than 100 injured in the bombing, believed to be the work of Islamic State militants. Located along Turkey’s southern border with Syria, the town had seen a massive influx of Kurdish refugees fleeing fighting in Syria. The protestors, mostly members of the Federation of Socialist Youth Associations, had been planning a relief trip to the Syrian town of Kobane and were angry at the Turkish government for not doing more to combat the Islamic State and support Kurdish fighters in Syria.

What do you think? Is the Turkish government right to block access to social media to prevent the publication of images from the bombing in Suruc. Or is it merely trying to stifle anti-government protests?

Anti-Government Protests in Turkey

Turkish protestors in Istanbul clashed with police yesterday as protestors attempted to push through police lines and march to Taksim Square to highlight the importance of workers’ rights in the country. Turkey has a long history of labor protests, but in recent years the pro-labor marches have merged with anti-government movements. Yesterday’s May Day protests marked the first major protests since the government expanded the authority of police to detain protestors. Protestors yesterday were met with rubber bullets, tear gas, and water cannons as police attempted to prevent them from reaching the symbolic Taksim Square.

Critics of the government contend that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has engaged in repressive tactics ahead of elections in June. Erdogan’s government has enacted policies liberalizing the economy which have been widely unpopular with the left. At the same time, he is seen as socially conservative figure, and secularists have opposed his religious agenda. Such conflicts have also intensified debates over Turkey’s desire to join the European Union.

What do you think? How might Turkey’s ongoing political challenges—symbolized most dramatically by yesterday’s clashes—affect Turkey’s ambitions to join the European Union? If you were an EU official, would you support Turkish membership? Why?

The Face of Gender Equality in Turkey

Thousands of Turkish women took to the streets of Istanbul last week to draw attention to the murder of a woman in a minibus taxi in Turkey. Women’s rights organizations note that violence against women in the country is on the rise, and several organizations are calling for equal rights for women in society. The groups accuse the Turkish government of an “insufficient response” in addressing gender-based violence, and in particular for normalizing the rape of non-conservative women in Turkey.

Ozgecan Aslan, a 20-year-old psychology student, was killed by three attackers while resisting a rape attempt on her way home from university. Her burned and dismembered body was discovered on last week, sparking massive protests across the country. Aslan’s case has become the rallying point for the protests and the symbol of the struggle for gender equality in Turkey.

What do you think? Has the Turkish government done enough to address the status of women in the country? What additional steps, if any, do you think the government should undertake?

Banning Twitter in Turkey

The government of Turkey yesterday announced it would “eradicate Twitter,” prompting a sharp protests in social media.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has a troubled history with social media, which has been sharply critical of his leadership. Critics of the government have used social media to mobilize protests and distribute information charging the government with corruption. Prime Minister Erdogan asserted that “We’ll eradicate Twitter. I don’t care what the international community says. Everyone will witness the power of the Turkish Republic.” But Google and Twitter quickly announced ways around the block, and the number of posts from Turkey actually increased following the announcement.

What do you think? Will Turkey be successful in its efforts to control the internet? Or does the decentered nature of the internet undermine Turkey’s ability to control it? And what might this suggest for the future of social media and its relationship to governments and politics around the world?

The Turkish-Syrian Conflict and the Doctrine of Proportional Response

A Syrian mortar round explodes in the Turkish town of  Akcakale.

A Syrian mortar round explodes in the Turkish town of Akcakale.

On Wednesday, a Syrian mortar round landed in a Turkish village along the border between the two countries, killing five Turkish civilians. The incident sparked a sharp response from the government of Turkey, which launched a military operation shelling Syrian positions along the border.

On Thursday, the Turkish government approved a resolution authorizing military action against Syria, but stopping short of formally declaring war against their neighbor. On Friday, the Turkish military moved tanks and anti-aircraft units into the region.

Actors on both sides are attempting to manage the escalating crisis. Thousands of anti-war protesters on Friday took to the streets in Turkey, protesting against military conflict with Syria. The Turkish government also appears to be maintaining a proportional response, for fear that it not outrun the policies of its NATO allies. A statement by the United Nations Security Council condemned the Syrian mortar attack and urged parties to exercise restraint. The Russian government, arguably Syria’s closest ally, urged Syria to issue a statement describing the attack as a mistake.

In its efforts to respond to the Syrian attack, the Turkish government must walk a fine line. It seems clear that Turkey does not want the conflict with Syria to expand. Nor does the Syrian government, which is already engaged in a protracted civil war, want war with Turkey. The ability of two to manage the crisis would appear to rest on their ability to prevent the conflict from escalating. It seems likely that that Turkish government will attempt to keep its response proportionate to the original attack. As long as Syria perceives that response proportional, it will likely allow Turkey to proceed. But whether the two are able to manage the crisis, or whether the crisis outruns both their efforts, remains to be seen.

A Non-Multicultural Germany

A Turkish Parade in Berlin

A Turkish Parade in Berlin

German Chancellor Angela Merkel last week asserted that multiculturalism had “utterly failed” in Germany. Her comments, offered as part of a broader speech to young members of the Christian Democratic Party, provoked sharp debate. And it was a somewhat surprising development, given Merkel’s history of trying to placate both sides of the argument by simultaneously calling for stricter integration standards for immigrants while simultaneously calling for the public to accept the religious freedom of immigrants, particularly the existence of mosques.

In a sense, the German debate echoes similar debates in the United States, where concerns over the “Ground Zero” mosque have stoked anti-immigration and anti-Muslim sentiment. Recent polls in Germany show that 1/3 of the population believes the country had been “overrun by foreigners” and over half believed that “Arabs are “unpleasant people.”

Other German leaders reflected this sentiment. Earlier this month, Horst Seehofer, head of the Christian Social Union, the Bavarian sister party of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats, called for Germany to halt immigration for Turks and Arabs on the grounds that they have difficulty assimilating into German society. And in August, Thilo Sarrazin, who is a member of the governing board of the Bundesbank, Germany’s equivalent of the U.S. Federal Reserve, published a book in which he claimed that immigration from Turkey and the Arab world had made Germany “more stupid” and that Arab and Turkish immigrants had no useful function “except for the trading of fruit and vegetables.”

But the problem of integration in Germany is complicated by the nature of German citizenship and the history of Turkish immigration. German citizenship is based on the principle of jus sanguine, or right of the blood. This means that individuals acquire their citizenship from the based on the nationality of their parents rather than from the country in which they were born (jus soil). As a result, millions of ethnic Turks, born in Germany as the children of workers who migrated to Germany in the 1960s to satisfy German demand for labor under the Gastarbeiter (Guest Worker) program. These ethnic Turks grew up in Germany, attending German schools, speaking the German language, and often even adopting German customs and traditions. But because of the principle of jus sanguine, they were not entitled to German citizenship.

Changes to German citizenship laws passed in 2000 were intended to rectify the worst instances of this. Under the new law, a person born in Germany to parents who had legally resided in Germany at least three years prior to their birth and who does not have citizenship in another country can apply for German citizenship after they turn 23 years of age.

But, as in the United States, recent economic difficulties have sharpened tensions between eh various ethnic communities that comprise the country. In Germany, Turks have become the target for economically disenfranchised Germans. In the United States, Hispanics and Muslims have played a similar role. But rather than rejecting multiculturalism as the problem, perhaps the underlying issues of alienation and economic disenfranchisement should be the target of public policy.

Five Stories You Might Have Missed

The Nobel Prize Committee sparked considerable debate on Friday when they named President Barack Obama the recipient of the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize. According to the committee, Obama received the award for “his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and co-operation between peoples,” citing in particular his effort to reach out to the Muslim world and his push for nuclear disarmament. FT blogger Gideon Rachman commented, “while it is OK to give school children prizes for “effort” – my kids get them all the time – I think international statesmen should probably be held to a higher standard.” Qari Mohammad Yousof Ahmadi, a senior spokesman for Afghanistan’s Taliban movement said of the award, “Obama should be awarded the war prize, rather than the peace prize.” Daniel Drezner said the decision “cheapens an already devalued prize.” At Foreign Policy, David Rothkopf decried the decision as “the most ludicrous choice in the history of an award that has a pretty dubious history… It’s as if a freshman tailback were handed the Heisman Trophy as he ran onto the playing field along with a hearty pat on the back and the explanation that he’d been selected to encourage him to have a great year to come.”

But most of the criticism of the award seems to be reserved for the Nobel Peace Prize Committee rather than for President Obama. Indeed, while calling the decision a “ludicrous choice,” Rothkoph also praised Obama’s speech regarding the award. He wrote,

Short of deferring his acceptance of the Nobel Prize, President Obama could not have struck a better tone in his remarks this morning accepting the award. From saying he did not deserve it to framing the award as a “call to action” to citing others who merited such an award, he was pitch-perfect. And in reciting some of his key goals — from the elimination of nuclear weapons to combating climate change to bringing a lasting peace between Israel and Palestine — he raised hope that the award might be even further motivation to advance to what are, as noted above, worthy objectives.

In news from outside the Nobel Prize awards:

1. The security situation in Pakistan appears to be in serious decline. Over the weekend, a group of militants stormed the headquarters of the Pakistani military in Rawalpindi, taking hostages and creating a standoff situation. The Pakistani military was able to retake the compound early Sunday, rescuing 42 hostages and killing most of the militants. On Friday, a car bomb exploded near a shopping mall in Peshawar, a city in the northern part of the country. The attack, described by Pakistani security officials as “one of the most daring attacks ever carried out by the Taliban,” killed 49 people and injuring nearly 100. The attack came just one day after a similar bombing outside the Indian embassy in Afghanistan, and may constitute part of a renewed offensive by Taliban elements operating along the Afghan-Pakistan border. Last week, the Pakistani government launched a renewed offensive against the Taliban in the Waziristan region of the country. But so far, the campaign has had few successes, and the increase in recent attacks, particularly the brazen attack against Pakistani military headquarters, cast doubt on the ability of the Pakistani military to effectively address the Taliban threat.

2. Despite reservations that the treaty would erode national sovereignty and transfer too much power to Germany, Lech Kaczynski, the President of Poland, signed the Lisbon Treaty on Saturday. Poland’s accession make the Czech Republic the lone European Union member that has not approved the Lisbon Treaty. Despite Czech resistance, the treaty appears to be headed for adoption and thus a radical restructuring of the European Union. The treaty would make EU decision making more efficient, streamlining the current voting system in the European Council and strengthening the role of the European Parliament.

3. A number of trade disputes intensified last week. On Thursday, the United States announced an investigation into Chinese steel pipes, the culmination of which could result in a 98.7 percent duty on steel pine imports from China. The announcement follows the imposition of a 35 percent duty on Chinese tire imports last month and a longstanding dispute over Chinese currency values.  Meanwhile, the United States filed a complaint against the European Union with the World Trade Organization on Thursday. The complaint alleges that EU restrictions on the importation of chicken meat washed with chlorine and other chemicals constitutes an unfair trade barrier. Canada last week filed a complaint with the WTO alleging US country-of-origin labeling requirements in cattle and hog exports also constitute an unfair trade barrier.

4. Intervention by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was able to help overcome last minute setbacks to the Armenian-Turkish peace treaty on Saturday. The agreement, which must still be approved by both country’s parliaments, sets out a timeline to restore diplomatic relations and open the border between Amenia and Turkey. While the agreement was difficult to reach, both sides stand to gain. For Turkey, resolving the longstanding dispute could smooth its path to membership in the European Union and increase its influence in the Caucasus. Armenia could see its economy improve access to European Union market. Despite the potential benefits, the agreement could still be derailed due to longstanding tensions between the two countries, which date back to 1915 murder of up to 1.5 million Armenians by the Ottoman Empire, often referred to as the world’s first genocide.

5. On Tuesday, Idelphonse Nizeyimana, a key player in Rwanda’s 1994 genocide, was arrested in Uganda. Nizeyimana was responsible for the organization of the genocide in Butare, a southern province in Rwanda. The arrest was the second high profile detention in a month, following the arrest of Gregoire Ndahimana in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. But the arrests highlight tensions between Rwanda and the United Nations over the handling of charges related to the genocide, in which more than 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and politically moderate Hutus will killed. Both Nizeyimana and Ndahimana have been transferred to Tanzania to stand trial at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, despite efforts by the Rwandan government to have them tried by the Rwandan government in Kigali.