As noted in a recent post on this blog, Russia's moves regarding Crimea left Turkey facing something of a conundrum, unable to protest too much because of its crucial trade and energy ties with Moscow.
As the crisis in Ukraine continues, Turkey's dilemma regarding how to respond to developments there has only deepened, posing an even stickier challenge for Turkish-Russian relations -- something which Eurasianet's Dorian Jones covered in an article today.
In an analysis that was also released today, Ian Lesser, director of the German Marshall Fund's Brussels office, takes a further look at how the conflict over the future of Ukraine is testing Turkish foreign policy. Writes Lesser:
For those who follow Turkey closely, that Freedom House moved the country from "Partly Free" into the "Not Free" category in its annual Freedom of the Press report was not particularly surprising. Still, the report provides an interesting look into just how Turkey's record on press freedom has become so tarnished (despite the government's insistence that it's doing better on this issue than some countries that aren't on the "Not Free" list).
To get a better sense of the report, the methodology behind it and just what the Turkey has done to earn its new ranking, I reached out to Karin Karlekar, the Freedom of the Press index's project director. Our resulting email interview is below:
In your report, Turkey had the biggest drop in press freedom in Europe and one of the largest globally. Why was that?
Like the rest of Syria's neighbors, Turkey has found itself dealing with severe problems and worries resulting from the bloody conflict next door. From taking in a massive number of refugees to figuring out how to deal with the violent spillover from the Syrian conflict, Ankara faces a series of difficult policy choices.
A year ago, the International Crisis Group took a look at the challenges the crisis in Syria posed for Turkey, suggesting:
Turkey must stop betting its reputation on a quick resolution of the Syria crisis, and make some long-term changes of emphasis. In order to talk to all parties from a position of greater moral authority, it should avoid projecting the image of being a Sunni Muslim hegemon. It should also re-secure its border and ask Syrian opposition fighters to move to Syria. Publicly adopting a profile of a balanced regional power, rather than a Sunni Muslim one, would likewise do much to reduce any possibility that the sectarian polarisation that is crippling Syria will jump the border to Turkey, in particular to Hatay province.
This week, ICG released a followup report, one that find Ankara still dangerously vulnerable to what's happening in Syria. From the report:
Although Turkey's short-lived ban on Twitter is now over, that doesn't mean the service's trials and tribulations in Turkey are finished.
After the Constitutional Court in Ankara issued a ruling on April 2 calling for the block on Twitter to be lifted on the grounds that it violated Turkish citizens' freedom of expression, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan reacted angrily. "I don't find it right and patriotic that the Constitutional Court has adopted such a decision," Erdogan said.
"While they are protecting an American company, our national and moral values are being disregarded."
But Turkey's Twitter-related troubles go deeper than just Erdogan's disdain for the social media platform. More ominously, there are currently several court cases taking place in Turkey that target Twitter users, accusing them of a range of crimes.
In Izmir, 29 defendants recently went on trial, accused of a range of "crimes" connected with last summer's Gezi Park protests. Reports the German press agency dpa:
Rights activists say the defendants, mostly youths, shared information on social media platforms about the mass demonstrations that started in Istanbul and spread nationwide, but none of them broke the law.
"These types of tweets must be protected by the constitution and actually they are protected," Duygucan Yazici, one of the defence lawyers, told dpa. "These are political charges."
The annual April 24 commemoration of the Ottoman-era mass killing of Armenians has long played out according to an unchanged script, with Ankara refusing to acknowledge the horrible deeds of the past and Yerevan and the Armenian diaspora using the refusal to again remind the world that Turkey remains unrepentant for what took place almost 100 years ago.
This year, though, things played out a bit differently, with mercurial Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan going off script and issuing a statement yesterday that offered Turkey's "condolences" to the grandchildren of those Armenians who lost their lives during the events of 1915. "Having experienced events which had inhumane consequences - such as relocation - during the First World War, should not prevent Turks and Armenians from establishing compassion and mutually humane attitudes among towards one another," Erdogan's statement, which was translated into nine languages, including Armenian, further said.
Erdogan's words were certainly a change from the blanket denials of the past and were welcomed by some in Turkey's small Armenian community. Rather than groundbreaking, though, they were more of an elaboration on a statement Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu made this past December during a visit to Yerevan, when he called the "deportation" of Armenians in 1915 "inhumane."
[UPDATE: As of April 28, Boston's Uyghur food truck is officially in business and rolling on the streets of the city. Check out the truck's website for locations.]
In what will be a first for New England and perhaps even the rest of the United States, Boston is about to get its very own Uyghur food truck. Although the truck won't have an onboard noodle maker turning out plates of lagman, the truck -- which is scheduled to hit the streets in the coming days -- will be serving Uyghur style kebabs, sold on skewers or inside wraps.
The truck, Uyghur Kitchen, is the brainchild of Payzulla Polat, a professional musician currently studying music production and engineering at Boston's Berklee School of Music and who originally hails from the Uyghur city of Urumqi. I recently reached out to Polat, who is busy with the various last-minute details that need attention before his truck is ready to roll, to find out more about his groundbreaking project. Our conversation is below:
How did you get the idea for a Uyghur food truck?
When I was a student in Los Angeles back in 2008, most days I got lunch from the food truck next to my school. They served really delicious doner kebabs and they were really cheap compared to regular restaurants. After eating there several times, I became a big food truck fan, and always pictured myself opening a Uyghur food truck in the future. It's the perfect idea for Uyghur kebabs as they're easy to make and easy to eat on the go. Other big reasons for starting a food truck are the relatively low investment costs for a new business and the movable location, which will make it accessible to more people.
Besides your truck, are there any other places in Boston to get Uyghur food?
Although the rules of conflict forbid the targeting of civilians, that hasn't stopped Russia and Ukraine from punishing each other's populations with a very cruel method: cutting off access to beloved chocolate and candy brands.
Moscow fired the first shot in this confectionary war, placing a ban last summer on chocolates, candies and cookies made by Roshen, a Ukrainian company that is one of Europe's largest manufacturers of sweets and whose products have a large and devoted following in Russia. As the New York Times explained last October: "Roshen was doing so well in Russia partly because it introduced a Russian Classic line of chocolates, reviving 18 Soviet brands like the Seagull bar, a plain milk chocolate slab with a Socialist Realist style beach scene on the wrapper."
"Alternative" tourism is all the rage these days. Rio has its favela tours and New York its organized outings to the outer boroughs in search of obscure ethnic cuisines. And what about Istanbul? Well, perhaps the city should start thinking about offering excursions that allow visitors to take in what is becoming Istanbul's newest claim to fame: it's profusion of environmentally, aesthetically and legally dubious megaprojects.
Several recent articles and online projects are certainly making virtual tours of Istanbul's megaprojects -- grand construction schemes that are very much at the heart of the recent corruption scandals that rocked Turkey -- possible. A new article from the Istanbul-based Cornucopia magazine offers an introduction to Istanbul's "ten most gruesome development projects," from the new bridge across the Bosphorus to plans for a mall to be built on the spot where the city's most iconic movie theater now stands. The Megaprojeleristanbul.com site, meanwhile, offers an interactive map that gives a detailed look (in Turkish only) at many more of the big projects being built across Istanbul. Networks of Dispossession, another site, goes a bit more high-concept, with spider web-like maps that attempt to trace the relationship between all the different companies involved in Istanbul's megaprojects.
When Turkey's parliament last summer passed a new law that curtailed when and where alcohol can be sold and also placed new limits on booze advertising, wine and beer manufacturers expressed concern about how these new restrictions might impact their bottom line.
Almost a year later, it would appear that this concern was justified. As the Hurriyet Daily News reports, the recent decision by Efes, Turkey's largest beer maker, to shut down one of its breweries, is highlighting wider difficulties facing Turkey's liquor industry. From the HDN's article:
Players in the sector, especially wine producers, are feeling the pressure of tough regulations as alcohol fights to survive in a tough environment.
Anadolu Efes, which has faced setbacks in its main markets in Turkey and Russia due to legal regulations, announced April 2 that it had decided to shut down its Lüleburgaz factory in the northwestern province of Kırklareli, four months after closing two breweries in Russia.
The beer market in Turkey shrank by 12 percent in 2013 after Turkey banned alcohol advertising and tightened restrictions on its sale. Price hikes in the market stemming from the rise in Special Consumption Tax (ÖTV) caused a further retreat in the company’s revenues. Beer makes up 90 percent of alcoholic beverage consumption in Turkey, which fell to just over 1 billion liters in 2013 from 1.12 billion liters in 2012.
Selim Ellialtı, the owner of wine producer Suvla, said the sector’s morale had long been hurt by the government’s strict regulations.
By now, Turks have grown accustomed to being cast in the role of bit players in the one-man show, starring Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, that Turkish politics have become. This was perhaps best illustrated during the recent municipal election campaign, where the ruling Justice and Development Party's (AKP) rallies starred Erdogan rather than the local candidate, who, almost like an afterthought, was usually brought on stage after the PM's long speech to quietly wave at the crowd while standing in his leader's shadow.
Having successfully worked through the drama of the corruption allegations against him and his inner circle to emerge victorious in Sunday's vote, Erdogan is now facing something of a Hamlet moment: namely, to run or not to run in the August election for President?
After the AKP's strong win in the 2011 parliamentary elections, it was assumed that since his party's bylaws would keep him from running for a fourth term as PM, Erdogan's next move would be into the presidential palace, albeit after pushing through a new constitution that would grant the President increased powers. But since the AKP's efforts at constitutional reform and at creating a more powerful presidency have faltered, the new thinking has been that Erdogan is likely to push the AKP to scrap its term limit bylaws, which would allow him to remain PM and for the current President, Abdullah Gul, to run for reelection in August.