Adam McConnel

Initial reflections (2) on Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s “Ahlat Ağacı” (The Wild Pear Tree)

Both dialogues are interesting not just for their content. The movement and physical position of the characters while the conversations take place is also worth noting. Both dialogues begin on a hillside overlooking the community, and as the conversation takes place, the characters move downward, into, and across the community.

Reflections (1) on Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s “Ahlat Ağacı” (The Wild Pear Tree)

Sinan’s personal struggle strongly suggests an autobiographical element. Nuri Bilge Ceylan grew up in a small town slightly to the east of Çan, which is a one-hour bus ride east of Çanakkale (on the Dardanelles) over the Kayacı Mountains. Ceylan’s home town is called Yenice, and he had to start from the bottom, with no help whatsoever, to make his own name in Turkish cinema. This is perhaps echoed in the way Sinan is trying to break out through literature.

Normalization (4) Turkish culture entering post-modernity

Over the past two or three decades Turkish people have slowly awakened to what was wrenched away from them. The alphabet change, for example, is achieving recognition as a monumental mistake that, while not reversible, needs to be approached with far more circumspection. If Japan can be modern and industrial without discarding Japanese cultural elements and identities, then so can (or could) the Turks.

Normalization (3) the Turkish economy

More important than any other issue is that Turkish industrialization continues, and that Turkey keeps building technological capacity in high value-added sectors. The armaments sector, given special emphasis for the last decade, has become a major driving force in technological development, and is now paying important dividends. The emphasis on armaments also promotes the development of advanced technologies.

Normalization (2)

The long and short of it is that the U.S. have no one to blame for the Afrin development but themselves. The American military command’s continued insistence on arming and training a force long nurtured by an organization which is on its own list of “terrorist” groups will continue not only to blight relations with Turkey, but also to erode the standing of the U.S. across the region.

Normalization (1)

The state of emergency that has been in effect since the week after the July 2016 coup has no presence at the street level. There are no soldiers armed with machine guns strolling around Istanbul’s streets. Instead, the state of emergency is directed to extirpating Fethullah Gülen’s cultists (and others who have associated themselves with outlawed militant organizations) from state institutions.

I, too, am deeply disturbed, Mr. Ambassador

This article was written and sent to Serbestiyet a day before the US Embassy suspended all visa applications by Turkish citizens.

That, Mr. Kingsley, is the single mystery (3)

The language used in the Obama Administration’s statements concerning the coup was strangely neutral, especially considering that Turkey is a NATO ally. And after the coup, no prominent U.S. officials traveled to Turkey for more than two weeks to express solidarity and condolences. When a civilian U.S. official did show up, it was Vice President Joe Biden instead of President Obama or Secretary of State John Kerry. Overall, the Turkish people have been left with the impression that the U.S. administration felt at best blasé, and at worst disappointed about the coup and its outcome.

No, Mr. Kingsley, there is no mystery (2)

Kingsley appears to be puzzled by why the coup was launched on Friday evening, by some people “arguing” that it was moved up from early Saturday morning, by the “failure” to target private tv channels, by a similar “failure” to apprehend government leaders (including especially President Erdoğan). But on all these points, the evidence is clearcut. The plotters did think that they had been exposed; they did target all tv networks, telecommunications, and the AKP leadership. Himself misinformed, Kingsley is disinforming his readers.

No, Mr. Kingsley, there is no mystery (1)

No one in Turkish society really doubts that it was Gülenists who carried out this plot. Turkish society doesn’t feel the confusion that Kingsley claims is present. So Kingsley is telling international readers that a question exists, when it doesn’t actually exist. Neither is there any lack of clarity in the court proceedings. Instead, there is now a mountain of data that has accumulated through the investigations, suspect confessions, and courtroom testimonies. It shows without a doubt that Gülen and his organization were the instigators.

Developing reciprocity in Turkish democracy

Is it possible that, since the agreed constitutional changes make the President responsible for political decision-making and appointing ministers, Turkish parliamentary life can finally normalize? Because the parties in parliament will no longer be competing over control of state institutions, the threshold for entry to parliament can be drastically reduced. Members of parliament may therefore be forced towards cooperation in legislative matters.

After the Erdoğan-Trump meeting

President Trump is entirely engulfed in scandal. The controversy surrounding his firing of FBI chief James B. Comey and the investigation into his relations with Moscow must be occupying most of Trump’s time and attention. And even under the best of circumstances it’s difficult to imagine Trump having any sort of intricate knowledge about U.S. relations with Turkey. At least in the near term, Turkey is on its own in the immediate region.

Gülen’s cult and the 2015-2016 violence (10)

Serious future analyses of Turkish security performance over 2013-2016 will have to deal with the reality of the Gülenist presence inside the Turkish state. Then the difficult issue will be to decipher exactly what Gülen’s adherents can or cannot be blamed for. Meanwhile, there is something that most foreign commentators, and certainly those concentrating on security issues, have been neglecting all along: the Turkish security forces are exhibiting a definite, clear-cut learning curve -- on both the individual level and the institutional level.

The struggle against Gülen’s cult after December 2013 (9)

What the Gülenists in the gendarmerie did with the MIT trucks in January 2014 was an unparalleled violation of both state security and hierarchy for the sole purpose of falsely accusing Turkey of complicity with IS before the international public. As for Demirtaş, exactly what motivated him to behave as he did in late-2014 and then during the 2015 election cycles? Was he having his strings pulled a superior third party, such as the PKK or even Gülen, for the sole purpose of trying to plunge Turkey into chaos?

Latent or leftover Marxism in the Turkish opposition (3)

Because of (a) the long-run legacy of Kemalist revolutionism and progressivism; (b) the medium-run legacy of Ecevit’s left-turn in the 1960s; and (c) the segment of society that the CHP represents, there is a sizable element of latent revolutionism among CHP voters. Outside the party, Turkey’s remaining Marxist-Leninists also keep voting for the CHP because it is their only realistic electoral alternative, its ideological background is acceptable, and it is the party that opposes the “counter-revolutionary” AKP. They have always supported, and continue to stand by, Mustafa Kemal’s positivism-fueled modernization project.

Latent or leftover Marxism in the Turkish political opposition (2)

The 1960 military coup, which targeted Turkey’s first democratically-elected political party, was carried out by the younger ranks of contemporary military officers. Most possessed a nationalist-statist Third World type of ideology, heavily borrowing from Leninist anti-imperialism and accelerated national developmentalism. By the same token they were also very dubious about parliamentary democracy, which they saw as the hotbed of popular, hence reactionary, hence counter-revolutionary (meaning anti-Ataturkist) ideas.

Latent or leftover Marxism in the Turkish political opposition (1)

In signing a friendship pact with Ankara in March 1921, Lenin had more in mind than just trying to shore up his southern flank. He had previously interpreted the Young Turks’ coming to power in 1908 as a “bourgeois” revolution. According to Lenin, such revolutions needed to be helped along because they were a necessary step on the road to the proletarian revolution. This opened the doors to giving aid to nationalist movements against colonialism or imperialism.

For the record (4) Turkey’s or America’s interests are not Russia’s interests

Trump’s Turkish admirers have overlooked the Russian angle to the object of their affection. Russia’s interests are diametrically opposed to those of Turkey in a massive region stretching from the Balkans across the Black Sea and the Eastern Mediterranean to the Caucasus, the Caspian Sea, and Central Asia. This has been the case for more than three hundred years.

For the record (3): Trump is the facilitator for a racist, Christian-nationalist political movement

Trump’s constant focus on immigration is what, in U.S political parlance, is called a “dog whistle”: he keeps referring to an issue which his supporters understand as a reference to racial attitudes despite the lack of a direct, overt espousal of racism. So how do Putin, the Russian Orthodox Church, and Great Russian Nationalism find a friend in Trump?

For the record (2): Two wrongs do not make a right

In fact, after Trump’s impulsive ban on any sort of entry by people born in seven predominantly Muslim countries, which happened only a week after he was inaugurated, some prominent Turkish pundits began gently walking back on their previous pro-Trump stances. This was eminently predictable, but those whose political memories don’t stretch back to the pre-Obama era, and who didn’t pause to examine U.S. foreign policy under, say, the G.W. Bush Administration, have doomed themselves to this outcome.

For the record

The comparisons between Trump and Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan, from both the pro- and anti-Erdoğan commentators on both sides of the Atlantic, are faulty on all levels, ranging from the superficial to the fundamental. For a start, there is nothing in common between the political history of the U.S. and Turkey, their social realities, or the voting base of Trump and Erdoğan’s respective parties.

Jim Andrews Rex Tillerson confirmed as Secretary of State

When someone has reason to celebrate, but celebrate covertly, a Turkish idiom says that “they’re preparing henna” (kına yakıyorlar); I imagine Moscow has gone through a lot of henna since November. It is a different story in Turkey. As hours and days keep flying by, it becomes more and more difficult for any Turkish political commentator to maintain a positive narrative about President Trump.

A tangential discussion: creating modern state institutions in Turkey (3)

Because Turkey’s state institutions never achieved the capabilities of Western states, and because Turkish life standards, measured by a variety of indicators, never reached the same levels as in the West, we should expect the nation-state construction process to keep going in Turkey. In other words, Turkish state institutions, and the Turkish state overall, will most likely become stronger in the near future.

A tangential discussion: creating modern state institutions in Turkey (2)

A recent news item illustrates well the size of a problem that Turkey has only just begun to deal with. Last month, Istanbul police carried out operations against two organized crime groups that had been murdering each other, the Şahinler and the Sarallar syndicates. According to press reports, the Sarallar syndicate has a membership of 35-40 thousand.

A tangential discussion: creating modern state institutions in Turkey

Obviously, Turkish state institutions were not and are still not democratically accountable or transparent -- otherwise a religious cult could never have infiltrated its members into them in numbers sizeable enough to even entertain the possibility of assuming political control. In contrast, while it has been at least a decade since I first heard rumors that the Mormons had become highly influential in U.S. intelligence institutions, as far as we know there is absolutely no threat of the Mormons trying to take over the U.S. government.

Gülen’s cult (8) the post-December 2013 struggle against Gülen’s institutional power (*)

A grim reality of Turkish politics is that no other party (other than the AKP) even has an identifiable platform (other than short-term slogans); no other party has a broad, practical, clearly-defined ideological foundation that can be used to attract voters; no other party has an organization that can carry out complex political events, run a campaign, or carry out door-to-door canvassing in all sectors of Turkish society.

Tillerson confirmation hearings: Some relief, but plenty of vagueness

“We have to re-engage with President Erdoğan in Turkey, this is a long-standing NATO ally. Due to the absence of U.S. leadership, he got pretty nervous about the situation. He has turned to his next available ally, he has turned to Russia. To make it clear to him, this is not a sustainable ally. Your sustainable alliance is with the United States.” (Incoming Secretary of State Rex Tillerson)

Gülen’s cult (7) November-December 2013: Elected versus unelected state actors (*)

Turkish politics turned on a dime in that critical month of December 2013. Many who had previously either supported Gülen’s organization or, at best, had not seen Gülen’s organization as a real threat, were now confronted with blatant confirmation of their betrayed trust and fears, and thus became his vigorous opponents. Some others who had been vocal opponents of Gülen -- both out of concern for their own socio-political status, and also hatred for the AKP -- suddenly became Gülen’s allies and promoters.

“The Russo-Turkish Alliance” (4)

For the first time in a century, Turkey appears to be developing multi-dimensional political, economic, and military capabilities that enhance its regional presence, which means that it has an increased ability to act on its own. In other words, Turkey’s need for an offshore balancer may be in decline. This is a development that the U.S. needs to understand soon, and especially because the U.S.’s own actions are a contributing factor.

“The Russo-Turkish Alliance” (3)

Since WWII, the U.S. had acted as an “offshore balancer” to Soviet power for Turkey. Throughout the Cold War, U.S. military power backed Turkey’s front-line status in the effort to contain Soviet influence. The attitude displayed by the Obama Administration over the past four years may be the first time since WWII that a U.S. administration has declined to resist Russian incursion into Turkey’s immediate region.