Herald optimism misplaced

July 23rd, 2016 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

Paul Buchanan and Kate Nicholls write:

As students of comparative civil-military relations, we were surprised to read theHerald’s editorial, “Coup’s failure hopeful sign for democracy.” We see no positives resulting from the aborted coup. Instead we foresee the death throes of a painstakingly crafted secular, albeit imperfect, democracy, that has been under siege since the election of Recep Erdogan as Prime Minister in 2003 and President in 2014.

The cornerstones of Turkish democracy were an apolitical professional military, an independent secular judiciary, and a multiparty electoral system characterised by a separation of powers and a system of checks and balances between the executive and legislative branches.

Granted, Kemal Ataturk’s nationalism, which bound the country together in the wake of the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, often worked to stifle free speech and repress ethnic minorities, notably the Kurds. Turkish democracy has also always been “guarded”, meaning that the military has on occasion acted as unelected veto-player. Yet since the rise of Erdogan to power 16 years ago, things have gotten incrementally but steadily worse.

Since he assumed office, Erdogan has undermined the judiciary by appointing ideological cronies and firing or arresting independent-minded jurists; sacked hundreds of senior military officers and replaced them with loyalists; introduced mandatory Islamic Studies into military curricula; censored, banned and/or arrested non-supplicant media outlets and reporters; rigged electoral rules in favour of his own party; and instituted constitutional amendments designed to perpetrate his rule and re-impose Sharia precepts on public institutions (something not seen since the days of the Ottomans).

Erdogan’s response to the coup makes me somewhat regret it didn’t succeed.

He has alleged it is the work of some exile in the US. Not a shred of evidence has been produced to back this up. But on the basis of this allegation, he has purged judges, police, civil servants and academics. He’s even banned academics from overseas travel without permission.

I fear elections will be the next to go.

Death Penalty or EU membership

July 19th, 2016 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

European Union foreign ministers urged Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan on Monday (Tuesday NZ Time) to respect the law and human rights in dealing with defeated coup plotters, warning that reinstating the death penalty would likely end Ankara’s EU membership bid.

After a breakfast in Brussels with US Secretary of State John Kerry, the ministers condemned the weekend coup attempt in a common EU statement, but expressed alarm at Erdogan’s public comments on Sunday (Monday NZT) that there could be no delay in using capital punishment.

“The EU recalls that the unequivocal rejection of the death penalty is an essential element of the union acquis,” ministers said, referring to the body of EU law that underpins the bloc.

The statement was agreed by all 28 EU ministers, including new British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, who campaigned successfully for Britons to vote to leave the bloc, attending his first EU Foreign Affairs Council in Brussels.

Germany, Austria and France also warned separately that bringing back the death penalty, which Turkey abolished in 2004, would undo years of membership talks that began in 2005.

“Reintroduction of the death penalty would prevent successful negotiations to join the EU,” said German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, a position echoed by his French counterpart Jean-Marc Ayrault in less direct terms.

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini noted that Turkey was a signatory of the European Convention on Human Rights, which bans capital punishment across the continent.

It will be interesting to see what Erdogan does. Being able to join the EU has been an ambition for Turkey for many years, and will he want to walk away from that?

Having said that, the chance of membership in the foreseeable future is minimal. A few years ago there was considerable support for Turkey being able to join, but since then freedom of speech and other aspects of democracy have been whittled away.

Democracy dying in Turkey

July 18th, 2016 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Even before the unrest was under control, Erdogan’s government pressed ahead Saturday with a purge of Turkish judicial officials, with 2,745 judges being dismissed across Turkey for alleged ties to Gulen, according to the state-run Anadolu news agency. It said 10 members of Turkey’s highest administrative court were detained and arrest warrants were issued for 48 administrative court members and 140 members of Turkey’s appeals court.

Erdogan is using the attempted coup as an excuse. The coup plotters should be arrested, but sacking 2,475 judges is an authoritarian act.  Sadly the once great country of Turkey looks to have a dim future.

Coup fails in Turkey

July 16th, 2016 at 5:27 pm by David Farrar

The Guardian has good coverage of the events in Turkey. It looks like the coup has failed, partly because the most senior military leadership was not behind it.

A coup is the last resort and wasn’t justified. However I think President Erdoğan has a track record of trying to consolidate and abuse power, and I worry he will use this to give himself more power and impose his Islamist leanings on what has previously been a very good secular Muslim majority nation.

Boris sticks it to Erdoğan

May 26th, 2016 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

The Guardian reports:

Boris Johnson has won a £1,000 prize for a rude poem about the Turkish president having sex with a goat.

The former mayor of London’s limerick, published by the Spectator as a rebuff to Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s efforts to prosecute a German comedian’s offensive poem, also calls the president a “wankerer”.

Johnson, a former editor of the magazine, won the Spectator’s “President Erdoğan offensive poetry competition”, despite judge Douglas Murray saying the contest had received thousands of entries. The prize money has been donated by a reader.

The limerick was written off-the-cuff by the Conservative MP during an interview with the Swiss weekly magazine Die Weltwoche. …

Johnson then offered the limerick: “There was a young fellow from Ankara, Who was a terrific wankerer.

“Till he sowed his wild oats, With the help of a goat, But he didn’t even stop to thankera.”

Not bad for something created on live television.

This is why Boris as Prime Minister would be such fun – he’ll offend so many people!

A law Germany should get rid of

April 18th, 2016 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

The Washington Post reports:

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has cleared the way for the prosecution of German comedian Jan Böhmermann, whose poem mocking Turkey’s president has become the centerpiece of a clash between Germany’s free-speech traditions and the government’s efforts to safeguard its important relations with Turkey.

In a news conference Friday, Merkel emphasized that it will now be up to German courts to decide whether Böhmermann is guilty of insulting Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. But critics — including members of her own government — have described it as a betrayal of values protecting open expression.

“In a country under the rule of law, it is not up to the government to decide,” Merkel said. “Prosecutors and courts should weight personal rights against the freedom of press and art.” …

In her statement Friday, Merkel tried to appease critics by announcing that she would seek to repeal the controversial German law against insulting heads of state.

They should repeal the law. Heads of State are exactly the sort of people who should be able to be insulted, not protected.

Is being compared to Gollum offensive?

December 4th, 2015 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

The Washington Post reports:

Left: Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan listens to statements at the COP21, United Nations Climate Change Conference, in Le Bourget, outside Paris, Monday, Nov. 30, 2015. (Francois Mori/Associated Press). Right: Gollum in “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” (Warner Bros.)

Turkish doctor Bilgin Çiftçi lost his job. He’s been put on trial. And whether he goes to prison hinges on one thing:

Is Gollum a good guy?

According to the Turkish news agency DHA, Çiftçi was expelled from the Public Health Institution of Turkey in October after sharing a meme comparing Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to the creepy creature from “The Lord of the Rings.”

Insulting the head of state is a crime punishable with jail time in Turkey, and Çiftçi was promptly put on trial after the meme was spotted in his Facebook feed.

But when he appeared in court, Çiftçi insisted that he hadn’t insulted anyone at all. For all his slimy skin and questionable syntactic habits, many say Gollum is not a villain. He may even be a hero. After all, it was he who freed Middle Earth from the tyranny of the ring by biting it off of Frodo’s finger and (albeit inadvertently) plunging with it into the lava roiling inside Mount Doom (spoiler!).

When Çiftçi’s lawyer Hicran Danışman challenged the chief judge for his reading of the complicated character, the judge admitted he’d only seen parts of the movies, according to the Istanbul newspaper Today’s Zaman.

With that, the judge called for an expert panel to determine whether Çiftçi’s defense is valid. The group will comprise two academics, two behavioral scientists or psychologists and an expert on cinema and television productions, according to Today’s Zaman. It has two and a half months to review to the evidence before the court reconvenes in February.

It would be hilarious if it was not so sad. Five experts to determine if being compared to Gollum is an insult.

But no country should have a law making it an offence to insult a politician.

UPDATE: Peter Jackson has entered the fray and said the photos are of Smeagol, not Gollum, and Smeagol is a god guy and hence it is not an insult! I love Peter Jackson for this!

Turkey vs Russia

November 25th, 2015 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Turkey has shot down a Russian warplane near the Syrian border, saying the jet had repeatedly violated its air space, in one of the most serious publicly acknowledged clashes between a Nato member country and Russia for half a century.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said the plane had been attacked when it was 1kminside Syria  on Tuesday and warned of “serious consequences” for what he termed a stab in the back administered by “the accomplices of terrorists”.

“We will never tolerate such crimes like the one committed today,” Putin said, as Russian and Turkish shares fell on fears of an escalation between the former Cold War enemies.

I assume the plane was inside Turkish territory.

Turkey had the legal right to shoot the plane down. However that doesn’t mean it should have. Far preferable would be informing Russia of the breaches, and warning them that future breaches will risk being fired on.

The Turkish military said the aircraft had been warned 10 times in the space of five minutes about violating Turkish air space. Officials said a second plane had also approached the border and been warned.

“The data we have is very clear. There were two planes approaching our border, we warned them as they were getting too close,” another senior Turkish official said.

Again Turkey had the legal right, but more prudent would be not just to warn the pilot (who may have orders) but to go up the chain of command.

In Washington, an official said the United States believed the incursion probably lasted only a matter of seconds before the jet was downed.

If correct then it seems regrettable.

I don’t trust what either Russia or Turkey claim. Hopefully an independent country can verify whether it did breach Turkish air space and for how long.

A sad example of the problems of extreme Islam

November 19th, 2015 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

In my earlier blog post I laid out that the problem with Islam extends beyond Jihadist Muslims to other Islamists or extreme Muslims who cheer on death in certain circumstances. They are a minority of Muslims, but still number in the hundreds of millions.

We sadly see this in this story:

Turkish fans booed and chanted Allahu Akbar (“God is greater”) during the minute’s silence for the victims of the Paris attacks before their national team drew 0-0 with Greece in a friendly international match on Tuesday (Wednesday NZ time).

They celebrated the slaughtering of youths at a nightclub.

Starting to rethink my view that one day Turkey should be allowed into the EU.

A good result in Turkey

June 8th, 2015 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

The Guardian reports:

Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has suffered his biggest setback in 13 years of amassing power as voters denied his ruling party a parliamentary majority for the first time since 2002 and gave the country’s large Kurdish minority its biggest voice ever in national politics.

The election result on Sunday, with almost all votes counted, appeared to wreck Erdoğan’s ambition of rewriting the constitution to establish himself as an all-powerful executive president. Erdoğan’s governing Justice and Development party, or AKP, won the election comfortably for the fourth time in a row, with around 41% of the vote, but that represented a steep fall in support from 49% in 2011, throwing the government of the country into great uncertainty.

This is a good outcome. This will mean Erdoğan won’t get executive presidential powers.

The overall votes are:

  • AKP 41% (-9%) – 258 seats (-53)
  • CHP 25% (-1%) – 132 seats (+7)
  • MHP 16% (+3%) – 81 seats (+29)
  • HDP 13% (+7%) – 79 seats (+50)

The AKP is a semi-Islamist party, with conservative and authoritarian tendencies. Quite good on economic management, but less good on other issues. NZ equivalent might be Conservatives.

The CHP is a social democratic party. NZ equivalent might be Labour.

The MHP is a nationalistic party. NZ equivalent might be NZ First.

HDP is a left wing pro-Kurdish anti-capitalism environmentalist party. NZ equivalent might be the Greens.

Turkey vs Twitter

March 24th, 2014 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Turkey’s government on Saturday accused Twitter of allowing “systematic character assassinations” a day after social media users easily evaded a government attempt to block access to the network.

The attempted crackdown came after links to wiretapped recordings suggesting corruption were posted on Twitter, causing Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government major embarrassment before local elections on March 30.

The government’s effort to shut down the service backfired on Friday, with many finding ways to continue to tweet and mock the government for what they said was a futile attempt at censorship. Even President Abdullah Gul worked around the ban, tweeting that shutting down social media networks cannot “be approved.” Turkey’s move to block Twitter sparked a wave of international criticism.

Sad to see a country head down the path towards attempted censorship of the Internet. Of course it has backfired.

Turkish PM also muses about closing down Facebook!

March 13th, 2014 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has backtracked on a threat to shut down Facebook and YouTube in Turkey.

Erdogan, who is fighting allegations of corruption, said last week that the government was considering steps to prevent secretly wiretapped recordings from being leaked on the internet, including shutting down Facebook and YouTube.

NZ Labour’s progressive ideas are starting to catch on globally!

Looks fair

September 2nd, 2011 at 4:24 pm by David Farrar

YNet reports:

UN’s Palmer Report says Israel’s Gaza blockade legal, slams ‘reckless’ violence of Turkish activists facing IDF soldiers; however, Israel’s deadly raid on vessel characterized as ‘excessive, unreasonable’

A long-anticipated United Nations report on Israel‘s deadly raid on a Gaza-bound ship in 2010 justifies Israel’s blockade of the Strip, but accuses the IDF of using “excessive and unreasonable” force to stop the vessel.

 The UN’s Palmer Report was first published by the New York Times Thursday evening. The full report is available here.

Addressing Israel’s Gaza blockade, the UN’s Palmer Report notes that the Jewish state “faces a real threat to its security from militant groups in Gaza.”

“The naval blockade was imposed as a legitimate security measure in order to prevent weapons from entering Gaza by sea and its implementation complied with the requirements of international law,” the report says.

The UN panel noted that Israeli forces who boarded the Mavi Marmara in order to prevent it from breaching the blockade faced “organized and violent resistance from a group of passengers,” adding that the violence required the IDF to use force.

I thought that Sir Geoffrey would do a fair job, and without having read the full report, it looks like he did.

The summary that the blockade was legal, that the passengers were armed and violent but that the Israelis used excessive force in responding is pretty much what I expected would be the situation.

Sadly Turkey is rejecting the recommended settlement.

Around Istanbul

November 11th, 2009 at 8:49 pm by David Farrar

On Monday did a cruise on the Bosphorous. It is often called a river, but in fact is a strait connecting the Black Sea with the Sea of Marmara. More significantly it is the boundary between Europe and Asia, and the strait is of such strategic importance, it is why Constantine I founded Constantinople there. Many a war has been fought over it.


This is the Bosphorus Bridge, constructed in 1973 to link Asia and Europe. It is 1.5 km long. Being a suspension bridge, it sags when vehicles go over it. The sag is 90 cm when fully laden.


That coast guard boat was there for a reason. Meeting in that hotel (the most expensive in Istanbul) were the Presidents of Iran, Syria and Turkey along with many other local heads of governments.


Now that is what I call a waterside view.  I’d love to be able to dive into the water from your balcony, let alone having a boat instead of a car out front!


Also did a bus tour around the city. This is Taksim Square, and is the Times Square equivalent. The monument is the Cumhuriyet Aniti to mark the formation of the republic in 1923.

It features the founder of the republic – Kemal Ataturk. On Tuesday it was the 71st anniversary of his death and at 9.05 am the entire city comes to a stop as a sign of respect. Every car stops driving. Every pedestrian stops walking. It was awesome to see, and also well deserved. I am a huge fan of his legacy.


A view of the city from above.


I just love the blend of architecture.


All around the city (literally) are remains of the Walls of Constantinople. The walls, first constructed 1500 years ago, stretched for 21 kms. The wall was five metres thick and 12 metres high.


The Bosporus is packed full of ships. At anyone time I could normally see a couple of score.


Near the Spice Bazaar, it is pigeon city.


This is the covered area of the Spice Bazaar. The smells here are just divine, and enough Turkish Delight that Edmund Pevensie would never have to be nice to Jadis again!


An external part of the Bazaar.

con23I think the cat thinks it must be Christmas!

Topkapi Palace

November 10th, 2009 at 4:51 pm by David Farrar

Topkapi Palace has been the highlight of the sights in Istanbul – not so much the Palace itself, but also the collection of relics and treasures.

The Sultans of the Ottoman Empire lived here for around 400 years. Istanbul is unique in having been home to three empires – the (eastern) Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman.

The palace was built for Sultan Mehmed II, who conquered Constantinople at the age of 21.


This is the main entrance into Guilhane Park, leading into the Palace.


A view from the cafe at the Palace. Worth eating there just for the view, but be warned the prices are outraegous.

The highlight was the relics and treasures. You can’t take photos of them but you can slobber as you gaze on the Spoonmaker’s Diamond – an 86 carat diamond, surrounded by 49 smaller diamonds. In terms of relics, they don’t get much more holy (for Muslims) than the sword and cloak of Muhammed. For Christians there is the (claimed) forearm and hand of John the Baptist.

They also have a general arms collection, with around 400 weapons. The total amount of wealth in the treasures is probably incalculable. There are also two golden candleholders. Each weighs 48 kgs and has 6,666 cut diamonds. They’d look good in my apartment I concluded – definitely impress the girls 🙂


This is from inside the Circumcision Room. This is where the Princes had it happen!

Topkapý Sarayý

Photo from Wikimedia showing part of the Palace.

You can easily spend half a day looking around. I did.

The Hagia Sophia

November 10th, 2009 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar


This is the Hagia Sophia shot from outside the Blue Mosque. It is a magnificent building.  It is also 1500 years old, originally constructed as a cathedral, serving as the centre of the Eastern Orthodox Church for 1000 years. In 1453 it was converted into a Mosque, and was the principal mosque of Istanbul.


A shot of the interior.


There are cats everywhere in Istanbul, including this one which has made the Sophia his home. He’s found a nice perch and just sits there happily. I suspect he is the most patted cat of all time – almost every visitor gives him a rub.


One of the images in the upstairs gallery.

The Basilica Cistern

November 10th, 2009 at 4:35 am by David Farrar

This was a must see for me. Not the beauty of the palaces or the mosques, but a real link to the past.


The Basilica Cistern was constructed in the time of Emperor Justinian I, around 1500 years ago. It is quite huge – over 100,000 square feet, and has 336 marble columns. It is dimly lit and very very slippery. So tread carefully. Photo from Wikipedia.


The highlight are the two columns with a Medusa head at their base. One is upside down, and one is on its side. They were only discovered in 1987 when a metre of mud was cleared out. As a long time fan of Greek mythology, I loved seeing an ancient carving. Photo from Wikipedia.

There is also a cafe in the cistern for those who want to dine underground and watch the fish swim about.

The Blue Mosque

November 9th, 2009 at 5:31 pm by David Farrar

The first place to see was the Blue Mosque, or more formally the Sultan Ahmed Mosque. Now sadly the photos are crappy one from the Blackberry as I left my camera in the taxi. Doh. I got a new camera on Day 2, so the photos will be better.


A photo from across the park.


This photo (from Wikimedia Commons) far better captures its majesty.

A local insisted on showing me how to enter the Mosque (it is around the back) and he was quite helpful. He could tell I was suspicious though, as he kept saying he did not have a gun. As I suspected he met me when I came out and insisted I visit his shop one minute away. They sell carpets and had a nice silk carpet for just 1600 Euros for me.

Luckily I used my (not feigned) distress over my missing camera to escape sans purchase.


A very bad photo of inside, from the Blackberry.


And again a far better photo from Wikimedia Commons.

There isn’t a huge amount to see in the Mosque, compared to other attractions. You tend to be in and out in well under an hour. It was an impressive sight to see, but not as spectacular as some of the others.

5 am in Turkey

November 7th, 2009 at 4:54 pm by David Farrar

Around 30 hours after leaving Wellington I’m in Turkey. No photo as it is 5 am. Delighted that my hotel is allowing me to check in nine hours early, and withiout even charging me extra. That s what I call customer service.

The Thai Airlines flight to Bangkok was12 hours, and went quickly. I had a row to myself so was very comfortable propped up in a corner, stretched out and reading a Robert Harris’ latest novel on Cicero, and the GI Joe movie.

Had two to three hours in Bangkok Airport, and thank God for my Star Alliance status, I could use the Thai Royal Orchid Lounge, even though I am flying cattle economy class.

Then had my first ever flight on Turkish Airlines. Seemed as good service as most international airlines. Didn’t want to waste Saturday catching up on sleep, so for the first time ever I took sleeping pills on a trip. Normally I can almost never sleep on a flight. Again, I had a row to myself (I wonder if this is because of my status point or am I just lucky?) so got a good eight hours sleep. I’m dislike taking drugs generally, but a good investment this time.

Bring Dylan home

March 17th, 2009 at 5:00 pm by David Farrar

Just been reading up on the sad case of Dylan Laybourn at Bring Dylan home.

Dylan’s parents are both NZ citizens. The mother, who is also a Turkish citizen, went with Dylan, then aged four months, for a three week holiday in May 2007. She phoned from Turkey to say she is not returning home and will not return Dylan.

Stuff has an NZPA story from last October that reported:

Prime Minister Helen Clark has stepped into a custody battle over a New Zealand child taken to Turkey by his mother 18 months ago.

Four months after he was born in Auckland, Dylan Laybourn was taken to Turkey in May 2007 by his Turkish mother Gulsen for a holiday.

After she refused to return him, Dylan’s father Bruce visited Turkey twice and pursued government and legal avenues to try to get him back.

Under the Hague Convention on Child Abduction, any custody dispute should be heard in the child’s country of origin, in this case New Zealand, Mr Laybourn said on 3 News tonight.

However, Turkey did not recognise New Zealand’s membership of the Hague Convention in 2007 due to an oversight.

Mr Laybourn was told that then-Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters would not raise the issue when he was in Turkey earlier this year, and the legal case to retrieve Dylan had closed in Turkey because of the technicality over the Hague Convention.

“Diplomacy has done all it can, officials have done all they can, the legal obligations do not require Turkey to return the child unfortunately,” Miss Clark told 3 News.

“That’s why I have said I will personally take it up with the Turkish Prime Minister,” she said.

I am not sure what the technicaly is, but it will be appalling if the father loses his rights due to this, and I hope the NZ Government continues the work done by Helen Clark to get a satisfactory conclusion to this.

Racism in Invercargill

January 15th, 2009 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

The Southland Times reports:

Two women were shocked after being kicked out of an Invercargill cafe yesterday because they come from Israel.

Sisters Natalie Bennie and Tamara Shefa were upset after being booted out of the Mevlana Cafe in Esk St by owner Mustafa Tekinkaya.

They chose to eat at Mevlana Cafe because it had a play area for Mrs Bennie’s two children, but they were told to leave before they had ordered any food, Mrs Bennie said.

“He heard us speaking Hebrew and he asked us where we were from. I said Israel and he said `get out, I am not serving you’. It was shocking.”

Mr Tekinkaya, who is Muslim and from Turkey, said he was making his own protest against Israel because it was killing innocent babies and women in the Gaza Strip.

“I have decided as a protest not to serve Israelis until the war stops.”

He said he had nothing against Israeli people but if any more came into his shop they would also be told to leave, and he was not concerned if he lost business.

I wonder if he would refuse to serve Israeli Arabs?

I wonder how he would like it if a shop refused to serve Turks until Turkey apologises for the Armenian genocide (or even accepts ot happened) or if after 9/11 a shop refused to serve Muslims because the 9/11 hijackers were Muslim?

It is absolutely legitimate to protest against the Israeli Government if you disagree with what they do. But it is quite wrong to target individual citizens.