Mon, November 10, 2014 100 Years After WWI, Turkish Leaders Nostalgic For Empire

Soldiers of the Ottoman Empire in the First World War.

Soldiers of the Ottoman Empire in the First World War.

Elliot Friedland

This Armistice Day (November 11) marks the 100 year anniversary of the World War I which saw the collapse of the 700 year old Turkish Ottoman Empire. Yet on Friday (Nov. 7) Prime Minister Ahmet Davotuglu spoke of Turkey's Ottoman colonial territories as if they still belong to them arguing that "Al-Quds [Jerusalem] has been entrusted with us by [Muslim caliph] Hazrat Omar. Al-Quds has been entrusted to us by [Ottoman Sultan] Yavuz Sultan Selim and [Ottoman Sultan] Süleyman the Magnificent. Al-Quds has been entrusted to us by the last soldier of the Ottomans."

Jerusalem was captured by the British in 1917 along with Turkey's other imperial possessions in Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Jordan and Syria. The division of the empire by the victorious powers created the modern map of the Middle East.

After the war the only victorious Ottoman general, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, created modern Turkey out of the Anatolian heartland of the empire (Ataturk means 'Father of the Turks) and invented a new Turkish nationalism on which to base the identity of the new country.

As part of his reforms he formally abolished the Ottoman Caliphate on March 3rd 1924.

This event marked the first time in Islamic history that there had been no caliph. It had a profound emotional effect on Muslim identity and group consciousness worldwide.

The tension between the secularist forces imposed by Ataturk that have been dominant in Turkish society since the 1920s and the resurgent Islamism of Turkey's President Tayyip Recep Erdogan and the AKP party is the primary fissure in Turkish political culture today.  Erdogan's Islamist ideology landed him in prison in 1998 when he was given a 10 month prison sentence for reciting a poem which included the lines "The mosques are our barracks, the domes our helmets, the minarets our bayonets and the faithful our soldiers." The secularist judiciary held it to be "inciting religious hatred."

Turkey has since begun to re-evaluate its Ottoman history, led by the now ruling Islamist AKP party. In a speech in mid-October 2014, Erdogan evoked his 'neo-Ottoman' outlook, blaming modern day 'Lawrences of Arabia' for Turkey's woes in the region, referring to T.E. Lawrence, the British liaison to Arab leaders during WWI. He said: "Lawrence was an English spy disguised as an Arab. There are new voluntary Lawrences, disguised as journalists, religious men, writers and terrorists."

When asked what he thought of allegations that he was a "neo-Ottoman" by Time magazine in 2011, Turkish President Tayyip Recep Erdogan said "We were born and raised on the land that is the legacy of the Ottoman Empire. They are our ancestors. It is out of the question that we might deny that presence. Of course, the Empire had some beautiful parts and some not so beautiful parts. It’s a very natural right for us to use what was beautiful about the Ottoman Empire today."

Erdogan's Islamism has cost him on the international stage. His close links with the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas have severely damaged Turkey's relationship with Egypt, where general turned president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi is busily engaged in crushing any visible signs of the movement.

The Turkish Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH), heavily linked to Erdogan's AK party, was involved in recruiting and funding for the Muslim Brotherhood affiliate Hamas, damaging Turkey's previously warm relationship with Israel.

Following Erdogan's speech at the UN attacking Egypt,  President Sisi blasted Turkey's pro-Muslim Brotherhood stance saying that Ankara was "keen to provoke chaos to sow divisions in the Middle East region through its support for groups and terrorist organizations."

In something of an Ottoman cultural revival in Turkey, the most popular television show is called Magnificent Century, a soap opera about the court of Suleiman the Magnificent, regarded by many as the high point of the empire.

In 2009 Erdogan even opened a museum commemorating Sultan Mehmet's 1453 conquest of Constantinople. He has also presided over a far broader beatification campaign in Istanbul, seeking to restore the erstwhile imperial capital to something of its former glory, neglecting the republican capital of Ankara. An attempt to bulldoze trees at Taksim square in order to make room for the reconstruction of Ottoman era barracks prompted widespread protests against his increasingly corrupt and authoritarian rule.  The move was seen by many as an attempt to wash away the secular legacy of Ataturk.

Returning to Lawrence of Arabia, it is easy to see why Erdogan chose that reference. Lawrence's role was to precipitate the Arab revolt against Ottoman rule, aiding Western powers in dethroning Turkey from its place as the leader of the Middle East and the caliph as spiritual leader of the Muslim world.

His neighbors certainly regard Erdogan as 'neo-Ottoman'. Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad was quoted as saying "he [Erdogan] personally thinks that he is the new sultan of the Ottomans and he can control the region as it was during the Ottoman Empire under a new umbrella. In his heart he thinks he is a caliph."

Wed, October 15, 2014 Turkey Refuses US Access to Airbase vs ISIS, Bombs Kurds

Turkey’s Islamist Prime Minister, Tayyip Recep Erdogan, snubbed the US on Monday, refusing to allow US planes to use a key Turkish airbase. Susan Rice, the the US National Security Adviser, announced on Sunday that Turkey agreed to allow coalition fighter jets to use Incirlik base as a launching point to fly missions against the Islamic State. Turkey said that no such deal had been finalized.

Instead, Turkish jets bombed Kurdish targets inside Turkey. F16 and F-4 jets bombed Daglica near the Iraqi border. The Turkish army claimed that the strikes were in response to the alleged shelling of a Turkish military outpost by the PKK, the leading Kurdish political and military faction in Turkey.

The attacks are the first on a Kurdish target since a ceasefire was signed in 2013 with the PKK. The deal ended 30 years of armed uprising in the Kurdish majority southeast of Turkey.

Incirlik base is used by the US to fly reconnaisance missions over Iraqi airspace as a result of an agreement made in 2007.

Turkey has been widely criticized for its refusal to actively participate in the US led coalition against the Islamic State. Its troops have sealed the border with Kobane, refusing to allow Kurds to cross to aid the defense of the beleagured town to do so. This is despite the Turkish border long having served as a conduit for supplies and recruits for various groups fighting in Syria, including the Islamic State. The Islamist group has also used the Turkish border to smuggle oil for a large profit, with almost no intervention from Ankara. 

Support for the Islamic State, rather than the Kurds, seems to be growing in Turkey. On Monday, 46 people were arrested in Istanbul University after a riot broke out between supporters of the Islamic State and left-wing students. Sticks and a meat cleaver were weapons confiscated by the police from scene of the brawl. Local media are reporting seeing signs of support for the Islamist group across Istanbul, including the distinctive Islamist black flag and stickers in the windows of cars. It is not known how widespread the support is or how deep it runs.

 Islamic State sympathizers and Kurds have already faced off in the streets of Turkey in almost 30 cities. Additionally police conducted a counter-terrorism raid in the southeastern province of Gaziantep and seized "150 kilograms of C4 explosives, 20 vests for suicide attacks, and a number of guns and bullets in the operation." This collection of weaponry is enough to destroy a small city, according to the police report. It is not yet known whether the arsenal belonged to the Islamic State or the PKK

With the Turkish army remaining on the sidelines, the Islamic State has all but surrounded Kobane and is flooding reinforcements in from other areas to try and ensure it succeeds in sacking the city. Yesterday the Kurdish defenders recaptured a strategically located hill on the outskirts of the town with the help of US airstrikes. However the defenders remain outnumbered and outgunned.

At the same time, Erdogan gave a speech on Monday denouncing ‘modern day Lawrences of Arabia’ who according to him were manipulating Middle Eastern affairs in the interests of Western powers. He was referring to T.E. Lawrence, the British officer who acted as liason between British forces and Arab leaders during World War I. He is famous for helping to precipitate and win the Arab revolt against the Turkish Ottoman Empire.

Erdogan accused foreign journalists and aid workers of supporting the interests of unspecified enemies and acting as spies. In his televised speech at the Marmara University in Istanbul, Erdogan said “Lawrence was an English spy disguised as an Arab. There are new voluntary Lawrences, disguised as journalists, religious men, writers and terrorists."

The Turkish newspaper Hurriyet Daily News said that the speech made it clear that Erdogan regards the Middle East as Turkey’s sphere of influence that should be free of other country's influence.


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Be Careful What You Say in Today's Turkey

A woman reads to police as part of a protest against Turkey's Islamist government.

A woman reads to police as part of a protest against Turkey's Islamist government.

Lonna Lisa Williams

Be careful what you say or publish in Turkey. Even if you are a journalist from another country, you could be arrested or expelled. Islamists in Turkey are trying to control free speech, protesters, the media, the legal system, and even the police. This week, new restrictions over the internet came into effect. The Turkish government will be able to block objectionable websites within hours.

One Turkish man told me, "Many internet sites are now blocked, especially foreign news sites. When there is a protest against Erdogan's restrictive policies, internet sites that cover it are blocked, and the local T.V. and newspapers are even more controlled. Hardly anyone knew about the protests in Istanbul yesterday."

In fact, the U.S. Consulate in Istanbul issued a warning to Americans living in Turkey to avoid yesterday's protest in Taksim Square, site of last spring's Gezi Park protests. I received this email from the U.S. Consulate in Istanbul:

U.S. Consulate General Istanbul informs U.S. citizens of news reports that a protest against recent legislation expanding the government's power to regulate Internet content is scheduled to take place at Taksim Square starting at 19:00 on Saturday, February 8. Large crowds and police presence are expected on surrounding streets as well, including Istiklal Street, and may begin to gather well before the scheduled start time of the protest ...The Department of State strongly advises avoiding the area during the protest.

However, when I looked at the U.S. Consulate's website, I could not find the warning under "Messages to U.S. Citizens." Did they remove it because Erdogan insisted that they cover up the protest?

When I was living in Turkey for two and a half years, I attended the Kocaeli Book Fair. Thousands of books were highlighted in huge conventional halls, many on the topic of Islam. But the book fair, controlled by the Islamist AKP party, allowed not one Bible. When I asked if I could find a Bible or any Christian book, the book fair director called security and labeled me a "Christian provocateur."

I left before I could be arrested, but the Muslim woman who came to the book fair with me later denounced our friendship. Although she had attended my wedding and freely posed for photos not only at the wedding, but on outings we had taken together and even outside the Kocaeli Book Fair, she complained to an AKP party prosecutor about a photo I published with her in it.

Police came to arrest me last September, just days after I left the country to teach English in China.

Ironically, Islamists demand rights they deny others. If someone exposes their restrictive policies, they immediately cry out, "Hate speech!" Recently, Digital Journal, the website where I often publish, was accused of "hate speech" against Islam and of shoddy journalism by citizen journalists.

The real enemies of free speech are Islamists who do not tolerate other religions, religious books, ways of dressing, smoking, drinking alcohol, and many other "haram" (forbidden) things. Sadly, Islamists kill more fellow Muslims (from minority sects like the Alevi and Shiite) than they kill Christians, Buddhists or other religious minorities among them. Just look at what has been happening in Iraq.

Recently, a French documentary about Syria interviewed Syrians who have been opposing Assad for years. These residents of Aleppo objected to the hijacking of their freedom revolution by Islamists who want to create an Islamic State in Syria, under sharia law.

One Syrian father declared, "Foreign Islamists who came to Aleppo saw a Syrian man smoking a cigarette and ripped it from his mouth, then destroyed the whole pack. They killed a Syrian girl for wearing a skirt. We cannot let them control our war for freedom."

Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan has been allowing foreign Islamists to cross the Turkish border into Syria and bring weapons. He publicly supports the Muslim Brotherhood. He has been making laws to hurt his own people and has fired or imprisoned thousands of people since the December, 2013 corruption scandal.

When he was mayor of Istanbul, Erdogan shouted at a rally:

“Democracy is merely a train that we ride until we reach our goal. Mosques are our military barracks, minarets are our spears, domes are our helmets, and the faithful are our army.”

Is this not the real hate speech?

There are over 80,000 mosques in Turkey, and Erdogan will not let Christians build one church in the capital city of Ankara. Ancient churches are being converted to mosques. Erdogan and his fellow Islamists ignore Turkey's long Christian history and other religious minorities while limiting free speech, freedom of the press, the ability to protest, and even the internet.

In Saudi Arabia, which is ruled by strict Islamic sharia law, a group of 15 school girls were allowed to burn to death in 2002 because they fled their school without their veils, and the morality police locked the gate so that no one would see them uncovered. Recently, a female university student died of a heart attack because a male ambulance crew was not allowed into her women-only university.

Policies like these show great hatred,and countries that call themselves democracies and bastions of freedom must speak out—or come under the control of Islamists who will not tolerate other ways of life than their own.

Reporter's Update: Reuters reported that, in an impassioned television interview late on Monday, February 10, Fatih Altayli, editor-in-chief of the mainstream Haberturk newspaper, said government pressure had left media editors intimidated and created a climate in which they were unable to publish freely.

"The honor of journalism is being trampled on. Instructions rain down every day from various places. Can you write what you want? Everybody is afraid," Altayli told CNN Turk.

Editors and reporters have said in the past they had received phone calls from government officials asking them to alter their coverage or dismiss journalists, but they usually only spoke out after losing their jobs.

"This is not the first time a senior editor has spoken about this, but the intensity of Altayli repeating 'I am not the only one' means the entire conglomerate media, at a senior level, has been kept under immense pressure from Erdogan," Yavuz Baydar, one of Turkey's most prominent journalists, told Reuters.

"But I truly doubt that the pattern of media managers acting like black boxes—keeping government and company secrets to themselves—can be broken," said Baydar, a columnist for Zaman newspaper, which is close to Erdogan's rival, Fetullah Gulen.

Baydar added, "The problem is, editors in conglomerate media seem to have sold their freedom and integrity at a price. They live in lies, constantly chased by the truth."


Lonna Lisa Williams teaches English overseas and writes books about surviving cancer, travel adventures, science fiction, and fantasy.  You can follow her blog or find her onFacebookTwitter, and Youtube.  She also regularly contributes news articles and photo essays to “Digital Journal” and “Yahoo.”

This article and photo appeared originally on Digital Journal and was reprinted with the permission of the author.


Why Is America's Door Open to Powerful Islamist Fetullah Gulen?

A Gulen school in Istanbul. (Photo:  © Reuters)

A Gulen school in Istanbul. (Photo: © Reuters)

Lonna Lisa Williams

An Islamist cleric who runs a vast media empire and school system can challenge Turkey's Prime Minister from his secure compound near Philadelphia. Why does America harbor Fetullah Gulen, and how did he get his visa?

Many Turkish people are poor, struggling just to pay their electric bills this winter. They eat soup and bread and rarely splurge to buy tea for 1 lira at the local outdoor cafe. Often they work long hours for little money and few benefits.

If they are not a member of the ruling Islamist AKP party, they have little hope of a better job, especially in the government. Those who dare to speak out against Prime Minister Erdogan often end up in prison, including journalists, academics, writers, ex-army generals, and even musicians.

Many of these Turks, who are politically persecuted, dream of coming to America to start a new life in the "Land of Freedom and Opportunity." However, the emigration visa process is difficult and costly. A stack of papers (written only in English), that would challenge an American teacher to fill out, must be completed. At least $2000 must be paid just for the application fees, and various interviews must be held at the U.S. Embassy in Ankara.

But if a Turk doesn't have a job or home in America, or at least $10,000 in the bank, he can give up hopes of being accepted. How much of this difficulty in obtaining an emigration visa is because Turks are issued I.D. cards that automatically list their religion as "Islam"?

If America is so afraid of Muslims emigrating, why does it open wide its doors to powerful Islamist clerics like Fetullah Gulen? He was accused of attempting to establish an Islamic state in Turkey in 1999 and somehow managed to flee to America where he directs his vast empire of T.V. stations, newspapers, and even private schools—from his well-guarded, compound-like estate near Philadelphia.

"Gulen has at least 30 million followers, mostly in Turkey," a Turkish man told me. "He has people in the police, judiciary, and even the secret service. No Turkish journalist would dare write anything negative about him. His followers say they are practicing 'hizmet,' or Muslim community service, but they have other agendas."

Indeed, Gulen, a sweet-looking, grandfatherly man who wears a white prayer cap, regularly broadcasts his Islamist T.V. shows (such as Samanyolu TV) into Turkey. His newspaper, Zaman, (published in Turkish and English) is heavily biased toward Islamist thinking. And Gulen is powerful enough to challenge Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan after Erdogan began closing down his private (Hizzmet) schools in Turkey. Gulen's name and comments have been in the world news lately as the corruption scandal and protests rock Erdogan's Ak Party government.

According to some Gulen investigators, "Gülen’s writings from the 1990s contain detailed discussions of how to deal with the Christian world when Muslims are weak and not yet able to vanquish their opponents. 'Make sure you disguise your real thoughts and feelings from them,' he advises his followers; 'if you let yourself known, you will only cause them to triumph.'"

BBC investigated Gulen and observed that he takes large donations from his followers and makes strict rules for teachers in his schools, such as no smoking, alcohol or divorcing. BBC also observed that in 1999 Gulen spoke these words in Turkey (not long before he left for America):

"You must move within the arteries of the system, without anyone noticing your existence, until you reach all the power centres. You must wait until such time as you have got all the state power, until you have brought to your side all the power of the constitutional institution in Turkey."

BBC also noted that "Several of Hizmet's most prominent critics have been jailed in Turkey, sparking claims that it has become a sinister controlling force in its native land. A police chief who wrote a book on Gulen's influence on the police and judiciary was jailed, as were two Turkish investigative journalists. One of the journalists, Ahmet Sik, shouted during his arrest: 'Whoever touches them [Hizmet supporters] burns!'"

However, his official website calls him a "pious peace advocate and scholar." The 72-year-old continues to rule his empire from his Pennsylvania estate, which was picketed by activists this summer.

America should rethink its emigration policy and not let visas to America be bought by power and money. Many poor, politically persecuted Turks would like a chance at the freedom Gulen enjoys. Gulen should be more closely watched in America.


Lonna Lisa Williams teaches English overseas and writes books about surviving cancer, travel adventures, science fiction, and fantasy.  You can follow her blog or find her onFacebookTwitter, and Youtube.  She also regularly contributes news articles and photo essays to “Digital Journal” and “Yahoo.”

This article and photo appeared originally on Digital Journal and was reprinted with permission of the author.


Turkey: No Compulsion … Yet!

The Sultanahmet mosque, known as the Blue mosque, in Istanbul (Photo: © Reuters)

The Sultanahmet mosque, known as the Blue mosque, in Istanbul (Photo: © Reuters)

Raheel Raza

This Thanksgiving we took a much overdue trip to Istanbul, Turkey and I feel compelled to write about what I saw. It was interesting to try and convince my grandsons that the “Turkey” we were visiting was not the same turkey they were consuming!

We had chosen a place to stay at random, and it was a pleasant surprise that it turned out to be in the Old City walking distance from The Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia and Topkapi Palace.
Having come from Canada, it was a balm to our ears to hear the azaan (call to prayer), and we traipsed off in search of the mosque.

We had to walk through the Bazaar and it was interesting to note that not everyone rushed off to pray. Those who wished to worship, did so quietly and others stayed on the sides respectfully while those who were not in the mosque went about their business. There was no feeling of being compelled to pray, and it was a new sensation for those of us who have seen the likes of Saudi Arabia where you are beaten into submission. It also makes sense of the Quranic line “there is no compulsion in religion.”

Next day we had breakfast in the hotel which by the way, served soup, salad and cheeses that kept us going all day on one meal. We met a tourist from Sweden who liked to start and end his day with local Turkish beer. Then I noticed that the corner convenience store also sold beer and raki.

So it was – belly dance and beer exist side by side with mosques and minarets. The person who comes out of the Mosque and the person who comes out of the bar meet but do not collide in the public square. Religiosity is a buzz in the background, not in your face, with no one telling you what to do or not to do – yet.

You can’t tell by looking at anyone where they are from as heels and hijab, short skirts and shalwars (traditional pants), beards and buzz cuts mix and mingle with ease.

People were happy and friendly, especially to Pakistanis which is a pleasant surprise. I kept refreshed on fresh pomegranate juice which gave me energy for the whole day. Topped up with Turkish coffee, Turkish food, Turkish delight and Turkish tea – we were in culinary heaven. 

There are beautiful public squares with benches, everyone is kid-friendly, and while it was cold for others, coming from Canada all we could say was what’s cold, eh?

There was a framed photo of Mustapha Kemal Ataturk in the hotel lobby, and the young people who ran the hotel called themselves proud “secular” Turks. The word secular came up many times during our stay.

Our young guide who took us to the Mosque of Ayub Ansari and other sites, mentioned time and again that Turkey is secular. It was also fascinating to note that none of the mosques are lit up or heavily decorated – the old architecture from the time of the Ottomans has been kept as close to the original as possible with no ostentatious additions.

There is a strong Sufi influence even though Sufism also went underground during Ataturk’s reformation towards secularism, but there are enough people who follow the Tareeqas to make it a reality. I think it’s due to the Sufi influence that there is a softness among Turkish Muslims which was inspiring.

However all is not what it seems on the surface. When the rallies started at Taksim square, people thought this was another incident like Tahrir Square in Egypt. Through conversations with Turks both within and outside Turkey, my understanding is that this was different. First of all, Turkey is economically stable and you can see this in Istanbul, so the grumblings of economically deprived masses is not the case.

Secondly, they have had years of being secular and the push back, especially by young Turks was against Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s insistence on forcing Islam into the public square.

At first he made subtle moves like putting a ban on stewardesses wearing red lipstick on Turkish Airlines. The response was not so subtle. Every stewardess regardless of age wore bright red lipstick – I like that! I believe the ban was lifted.

But in September this year, two dramatic announcements by Erdogan sent shivers down the spines of many of the country’s secularists. Erdogan annulled a decades-long ban on wearing headscarves in public institutions and ended the daily reciting of the pledge of allegiance in primary schools.

These moves have the potential to alienate Turkey’s minority non-Muslim communities. Turkish researcher Halil M. Karaveli, claimed in a New York Times op-ed that far from helping Turkey’s minority, Erdogan was increasingly playing with sectarian fire. Already from 13 synagogues, there are now only three left.

“Erdogan is turning Turkey into a powder keg in an attempt to shore up his own political base,” Karaveli wrote. “He is intentionally activating the longstanding fault lines separating religious and secular Turks — and most dangerously the divide between the country’s Sunni majority and its Alevi minority. If he continues to do so, Turkish democracy itself could become a casualty of his confrontational policies.”

More recently there was a petition to turn Hagia Sophia into a Mosque, and this has many Turks in a dither.

So Turkish youth come out regularly to Taksim Square to protest what they call Erdogan’s dictatorship and intrusion into their private lives, such as restrictions on personal freedoms, the non-availability of alcohol after 10 pm, the ban on public displays of affection and the “advice” from Erdogan for Turkish women to have “at least three children.”

These young Turks want “freedom” and will continue to lobby for their right to have these freedoms in a secular Turkey.

See ClarionProject.org's interview with Raheel Raza: 

 Separation of Mosque and State


Raheel Raza is the President of the Council of Muslims Facing Tomorrow(MFT), a non-profit think-tank established with the purpose of bringing together the East and West. She produced a documentary titled, Whose Sharia Is It Anyway? about the debate over ShariaLaw in Ontario, Canada.

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