Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Transforming Turkey

"Solving ethnic and religious strife through demographic engineering is a policy of the Turkish government that goes back well over a century."
"The latest developments in Sur need to be viewed through this framework."
Taner Akcam, Turkish historian

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan. © Adem Altan

Members of Turkey's Justice and Development party are busy doing the bidding of Recep Tayyip Erdogan; agitating to change the constitution of the country. There is a divide between religion and government; a Muslim country and a secular government; the legacy of Kemal Ataturk which brought Turkey closer to its European neighbours in outlook if not in practise. Since Erdogan's Islamist party took power a dozen years ago, much has changed in Turkey.

There is a decided divide between the Islamist Turks and the more secular-oriented, socialist, temperate Turks who decry the growing autocracy of their President, formerly Prime Minister, but planning to alter the constitution to empower the presidency to a greater degree and enable Mr. Erdogan to rule in perpetuity.

This man's popularity is on the wane, but not among Turkish Islamists. Turkey's human rights record with its Kurdish population, its Cyprus adventure, its Armenian past, the silencing of journalists and critics of the government all mitigate against membership in the European Union.
Activists hold portraits of victims during a silent demonstration to commemorate the mass killings of Armenians by Ottoman Turks in Istanbul, Turkey April 24, 2016. © Osman Orsal
But the crisis that Europe is facing with the ongoing brutalization of Syria's Sunni population by the Shiite Baathist regime of Bashar al-Assad's killing machine creating millions of Syrian refugees has given Erdogan an opportunity to sweep aside the EU's lack of enthusiasm to welcome Turkey as a new member. Even while Turkish warplanes are pounding the hell out of Kurdish villages in the country's southeast, scarring the lives of Turkish Kurds once again.

The robust Turkish economy has taken a direct hit in the last few years with the influx of millions of Syrian refugees fleeing the combustible civil war and the presence if Islamic State in a now-truncated nation of interminable battles. Russian tourists no longer flock to the holiday spots in Turkey famous for hosting them, and nor do Israelis leave behind any longer their own tourist dollars, thanks to the estrangement that Erdogan's volatile temper and malevolent views cause, exposing his credentials.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan has alienated relations between the countries most influential in aiding his own country's economy. And his projects have angered ordinary Turks, from plans to transform a popular urban park into a mega-shopping mall, to more latterly 'restoring' an area of the Kurdish city of Diyarbakir in the heart of Turkey's southeast to encourage Turks to crowd out the traditional Kurds and Armenians have caused additional palpitations in the hearts of Turkish minorities.

The historical Armenian Surp Giragos Church and a number of others along with large areas of property are being targeted for Erdogan's transformation of ruined neighbourhoods that his own bombing by his military has occasioned, in conflict with the Kurdistan Workers' Party. Armenians and Kurds fear the government's plans are to replace the neighbourhoods shared with minorities, and put in place luxury rentals and condominiums for wealthy non-minority residents.

"The government wants to seize the heart of Diyarbakir and singularize it, ridding it of its rich multifaith and multicultural structure", said Abdullah Demirbas, a former Diyarbakir mayor. The Diyarbakir Bar Association is suing the government, viewing the project of reconstruction as a work of "military and security reconstruction". And the Surp Giragos Church, one of the largest Armenian churches in the Mideast, is preparing legal action.

A video produced for the office of the prime minister reflecting the government's project vision for the area focuses on mosques and residential areas, superseding other prominent religious establishments. One narrated expression in particular drew the focus of religious minorities, that said: "The call to prayer that rises from Diyarbakir's minarets will not be quieted down".

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