Sunday, September 24, 2006

Something Sincere
Something Unpredictable

I'm listening to an interview by author Mert Özmen now, who wrote a book called "The Girl
Who Grew Up Listening to Sezen Aksu Songs." This is the second of his three-book sequel, and it's about the '80's in Turkey. The first one was about the '70's, and the last one will be about the '90's.

The '70's, as the author put it, was about revolution. It was about the conflict between far left and far right. It was about people with dreams. My parents went to high school and university at this time, so I heard a bit about it. But because it was about dreams, it wasn't real. And the dreams were broken with the '80 coup.

The '80's, however, were more individual, more personal, more real. Just because of that, they were more sincere. The author says that they were about love, not revolution. They were firmly based on real emotion. And nothing addressed this emotion as well as Sezen Aksu songs.

I think this is why I will be drawn back to Turkey whereever I go. I will miss the songs, I will miss the cheesy dramas. I will miss this feeling, it would be called corny, arabesque elsewhere, but it can be real and sincere, hopefully. Borne out of the beauty, chaos, energy, and irony of my country.

The ideal would be to be rational when it comes to business, but never lose that feeling.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Thailand (and how it's similar to Turkey)

You can read the Economist article here. The news of the military taking over while the Thai PM Thaksin Shinawatra was away at the UN General Assembly meeting was very interesting. Turkey itself has experienced three military coups before I was born and a quasi-coup in 1997 (a "National Security Council" declaration which in turn led to the "voluntary" dissolution of the coalition government and closure of its senior partner, the Islamist Welfare Party.)

The root problem in Thailand and Turkey are the same: The "enlightened" part of the population (in the minority, but backed by the military) believes that the "backward" part of the population, which is the majority, is not worthy of democracy. The elites are threatened by the choices the masses are making: They don't want to be subject to the governments, which the uneducated, poor, rural, backward masses bring to power.

The Turkish Independence War was fought and our republic was founded by soldiers. They were influenced by Europeans, especially the French (the Ottomans had long realized that they were left behind, and the Ottoman elites often traveled to Europe.) They wanted to adopt the European values fast: Laicism was one of them, which required the state to be totally free from the influence of religion. To free itself from the tentacles of religion, the state even reverted to limiting and controlling religious factors by force.

During the time of Ottoman Empire, religion was an important common ground that bound different nations together. But the national uprisings, along with World War I, left the Turks bereft of any other territory or nation to rule upon. They decided to build their young republic around a new national identity, "Turkishness." They hoped that everyone who lived in Anatolia would own this identity and stay loyal to their state.

This was a fast, top-down revolution that did not evolve naturally by the masses thinking differently over time and changing their views and habits, but instead they were dictated by new laws and force. The first twenty years of the republic was a one-party rule: During this time, new parties were allowed only for a short time, then they were suspended, because they were indeed representing an important vein in the society: Religion, ethnicity, tradition, old values and habits...

As new parties were founded, the divisions within the society surfaced, and the "modernization process" never gained the same momentum again, often suffering from backlashes. The military always remained powerful as the "defenders of the Kemalist revolutions and republic," protecting the secularist republic often from the democratic will of the population. The military took the role of a father who limited his children's freedom for their own sake.

And many urban Turks supported the military for the sake of security, seeing the uneducated, poor masses as a threat (see below post!) Many urban Thais, including my close Thai friend with whom I just spoke about the coup, think the military did the right thing by taking over the government. She said that Thaksin Shinawatra was buying the votes of the rural poor, who didn't see his corruption and cronyism. The urban elites clearly saw his flaws and wanted to oust him, but they were in the minority. The only remaining option was to step out of this democratic vicious circle by a military coup.

The military, on the other hand, is not always a benevolent savior. According to the Economist article, the class of generals who took over the government was upset that Shinawatra was giving important positions to his friends in the military. In Turkey too, the military is upset that the government, in the name of EU reforms, is limiting its role in the civil life. Now there is a new law proposal suggesting the auditing of military spending by the state's audit institution (Sayistay.) The military does not want to be accountable to the government chosen by the people, but it wants to be an independent, even superior body, who decides whether it is necessary to intervene or not. And it is the only group that has the ability to take up arms, because it has the monopoly over violence.

However difficult it is, there is a way out, but it will definitely take time. First of all, people's education and economic situation should be improved, so that they will be able to make well-judged decisions, not only based on short-term considerations and promises, but on a consistent world-view and opinions based on information.

People are not capable, or can be held responsible of obtaining the necessary information to form opinions and make a judgement. There are institutions for this purpose: Media, police, investigators, and courts. They are the ones who are obliged to investigate and surface the allegations for corruption, crime and cronyism. They are the checks and balances of democracy. (Also, laws should be changed to allow these institutions to do their job, for example, immunity of the politicians should be lifted.) Only then will the people have the necessary information to base their choices upon. As these institutions do their job well and the bad politicians are either eliminated in the elections, or in the courtroom, decent people will not be intimidated to go into politics. Then the society, in turn, will have better options to choose among.

Lastly, people should feel confident that they are able to voice their opinions and make a difference in the existing democratic system. The current threshold should be lowered for this purpose, so that people can trust the integrity of democracy in Turkey.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Turkey's Paradox

I may be drawn to Turkey when I'm far away, and I fathom serving my country some way some day, but I can't stand living here! How big a double standard is that?? I don't feel as happy and fullfilled here as I would have been anywhere else in the world. The stark difference between "have"s and "have not"s disturb me. The difference is two-fold: The difference between people's incomes, but also the difference in people's education, values, habits, mind-set. (of course, many people who can close the income gap cannot close the mind gap, that's another story.) These two differences reinforce each other in a vicious cycle, until some extraordinarily smart (or clever) person breaks the circle and steps up. This leads to a feeling of insecurity and threat.

In Turkey, a decent person with a decent education and income who minds his own business is scared, intimidated or disturbed by the following: Pick-pockets, thieves, city thugs with guns and knives, street children (and teenagers!), traffic accidents, seperatist terrorists, Islamists with their secretive groups and intentions, women with headscarves, a military coup, capricious tax regulations, capricious tax audits, a new economic crisis, and the police. I'm sure I forgot something. And in the case that one of these threats is realized, our decent man does not feel secure that the judicial system will bring sufficient and timely justice.

But people survive in this environment, do business, and enjoy their lives - and they miss it when they are away... Gotta go now, bis bald!

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Comments to FT Columnist Gideon Rachman's column of September 18, 2006: Clashing Civilisations on the Banks of the Bosphorus:

Clash of civilizations???
19 Sep 2006 01:22 PM
I think the column portrays the situation in a well-balanced way, but I would like to comment on a few points:

1. Turkey definitely needs to improve on many fronts, the mind-set and education of many of its people being the foremost. At one point Mr. Rachman points to the "Deep social forces within Turkey that determine the country's relationship with Islam..." Firstly, some values and traditions that prevail in Turkey cannot be associated with Islam alone, rather they are a result of lack of education and economic problems (as is the case in everywhere in the world that is fundamentalist in one way or another.) Secondly, this backwardness could not be eradicated since the reforms in 1920's, because the roots of these problems were not adequately addressed. One big problem is that our political elite has generally been incapable, catering to the backwardness rather than trying to change it. If left alone, I don't think these problems would be addressed for years to come, because of these "deep, conflicting social forces." But the European Union is a solid symbol for improvement. It's a solid goal, and no interest group in Turkey can openly oppose the notion of EU membership. And we should not let our national pride get in the way of seeing the obvious need for reform. We should not get angry because Europeans see the obvious and criticize us.

2. However, not all European demands and criticism is just, and they divert the attention from areas where reform is really needed. Focusing the attention solely on Cyprus and Armenian Genocide is blocking the negotiations, thereby making EU membership out of reach for us, and killing the support, energy and enthusiasm for reform. We think the Europeans are not trying in good-faith. I am not denying our responsibility for Cyprus and Armenian Genocide, but these issues should be dealt with not BEFORE, but IN PARALLEL to the other negotiation chapters. Politicians like Nikolas Sarkozy are utilizing Turkish membership as an easy source of fear for their populace. Instead, they should focus on their own economic problems to be able to face the forces of globalization better, rather than getting scared of Turkish membership that is at least 15 years off.

3. Really, the issue can be seen in two ways: Turkish membership can alleviate the division between West and East, with Turkey reforming itself and Europe showing a sincere effort to include Turkey. Or the division between West and East can be seen as an obstacle for Turkish membership, which will make the problem impossible to solve.

4. Lastly, although I do think the response of the Muslim world is too harsh, the Western world does not have the right to insult the sensitivities of Muslim people. They should think twice, again in good faith, before they make comments or draw cartoons. They should make a cost-benefit analysis. They should ask, "does my point really say anything valuable, besides a stubborn affirmation of my right to say anything I want?.. And what might be the consequences?" I know, nobody should get hurt or no company should be boycotted as a response to some person's thoughts. But the real world is not ideal, so the Western world should act responsibly.

Monday, September 18, 2006


Once I wrote somewhere that your country is your fate. Your country plays a prominent role among the cards you get, and overlooking its role in your life (and your role in the life of your country) will probably prove to be a bad strategy.

My country has been a natural focal point for my interests. Of course first I had to move far from it to identify it as an interest, kind of a natural specialty. Because when you live in your own country, you are hardly special. In fact, I wouldn't be your average, typical Turk, many would think I grew up in a protected caccoon. I come from a middle-class entrepreneur family, lived all my life in the liberal western city of Izmir, never traveled to the east of Ankara, went to a private high school and went abroad for college. However, I did live in Turkey for 18 years, went back for every possible vacation (which made the differences between Turkey and the other places more striking), and even if I don't struggle with some of the difficulties your average Turk goes through, I do observe. (Am I getting self-defensive here?!)

When you move far away, on the other hand, your country, its culture, politics and economy becomes a subject that you know more than anyone else. They become your specialty, especially if you are studying international politics or economics. This is exacerbated by the romanticism of being away, and some unrealistic idealism: You can employ your education to tackle your country's problems and become a national hero :P

So the next few posts are dedicated to Türkiye - with all its beauty and ugliness and energy and annoyances!

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Freedom and Responsibility

"Life consists not in holding good cards but in playing those you hold well." - Josh Billings.

I think happiness only comes when you overcome challenges. Something is only valuable when you strive to get it. Happiness is measured by the distance you travel, not where you start from. The feeling of self-respect, happiness and satisfaction is as great as the effort you put in a goal, in a project, in a dream.

So one could be happy only when one's convinced that he's playing his cards well, as well as he could. One is free to play the cards as he chooses, and playing them well or not is his own responsibility alone. I don't know many card games, but we have cards from yesterday, and a few new cards are dealt every single day, and we make choices as how to make our next move.

Freedom comes with the responsibility of one's own happiness: Many people try to delay their freedom just because they are scared of carrying this responsibility. They let other people, or the circumstances decide for them, just to be able to ease the burden of freedom. If they turn out unhappy in the end, they blame those other people, those circumstances, the fate, the cards... But in fact, the decision to turn over your freedom is your decision. And your life is your own responsibility. And so is mine.

"They who give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety." - Benjamin Franklin

Friday, September 15, 2006

Focus! Focus!

Here's my problem: I'm lazy. And my attention span has been getting shorter progressively over the recent years. Information and thoughts just pass through my brain like indistinct clouds without leaving a trace. I'm forgetful. I don't know what I'm interested in anymore. Or I'm interested in too many things.

This blog is force myself to get informed, think and form and opinion... Hopefully it won't be another satellite in cyber space just turning into space trash. Inspired from a friend who clearly has interests and talents - and pursues them. (Jealousy thankfully counteracts laziness.)

I would hate reading about myself, -everybody has enough problems, insecurities, desires... why would anyone read about mine?? So no more blabbering - but instead - good quality blogging!