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Turkey Interrupted

by Abdullah Bozkurt

A powerful analysis of the AKP government’s journey toward authoritarian regime since December 17/25 anti-corruption operations

: Mar 15, 2015 • 216 Pages • 6 x 9 inches • ISBN 9781935295693
: Backlist, Current Affairs,
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This book strives to explain what has happened in Turkey since Dec. 2013, when major corruption investigations incriminated Turkey’s President, Recep Tayip Erdogan, and his family members and business associates.It shows how veteran police chiefs who were hailed as heroes by Erdogan himself and received letters of citations from his office suddenly turned into villains after exposing an unprecedented graft network within the Turkish government.It also reveals that the so called “parallel structure”—invented by Erdogan as part of a global conspiracy—is nothing but a slanderous farce used to distort facts, shift blame, and find scapegoats for his own troubles.
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Derailed or on track?

It seems that the “Twittersphere” thrives on controversy. At the time this article was written, one of the top hashtags was #BringBackClarkson, a reference to the popular presenter of the BBC’s worldwide smash hit program for automobile lovers, Top Gear. Jeremy Clarkson, who had been given a final warning after complaints about racist comments and claims of various instances of obnoxious behavior, apparently went too far and is said to have punched a producer over an argument about dinner being late.

He’s made a name for himself by being impudent and rebellious. His comments are often irreverent and his humor is sarcastic. Now all of his fans are busy petitioning for him to be able to carry on doing what they would love to do but either wouldn’t dare to or don’t have the budget for -- such as destroying all of those caravans!

This is a big change from the debate about “The Dress” -- the internet phenomenon that preceded it. Normally at this time of year a dress that gets everyone talking is a daring number worn by a celebrity on the red carpet at the Oscars. But all of the above were overshadowed by one picture loaded to Tumblr by a relatively unknown Scottish singer. Caitlin McNeill was singing at her friend’s wedding and later had an argument with some friends over a picture she had taken of the dress worn by the bride’s mother. In this slightly over-exposed photograph, the dress that had black and blue stripes appeared to some as being black and blue but to others as white and gold.

She asked her followers on Tumblr what they thought and an internet sensation was born. In one week over 10 million tweets mentioned the dress with hashtags such as #thedress #whiteandgold and #blackandblue.

The first time I saw it I thought it was white and gold but the next time I looked, I briefly thought it was black and blue. However, every time since then I have been with the 68 percent of people on BuzzFeed who see white and gold.

In a world dominated by the horrendous news of atrocities performed by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), continued violence in Ukraine and arguments over the specter of an Iranian nuclear bomb, it seems that frivolous subjects like a Clarkson punch and a chameleon dress provide light relief. When talking about “the issue that divides the world,” heavyweight newspaper The Washington Post was not referring to whether Netanyahu should have been invited to address Congress or whether we should be negotiating with Iran, it was referring to blue and black, or white and gold?

Silliness aside, the photograph prompted scientists to weigh in with their explanation of how people see colors differently. With the public momentarily mesmerized by their specialist subject, they seized the opportunity to explain that it is all a matter of the way we perceive color in our brains.

The scary things about the picture is that it reminds us that we don’t always see what is really there and that sometimes a statement like “I’ll believe it when I see it” is a very dangerous one. Apparently the way we interpret what we see is a complicated tango between the brain and the eyes: There are as many nerves feeding information back to the eyes from the brain as there are feeding pictures to the brain from our eyes.

As one expert put it, “A lot of what you rely on as your vision is really just your brain filling in gaps”-- with a guess.

So I see one color, you see another, even when we are looking at the same thing. It is all a matter of perception.

Sometimes it feels that way when looking at Turkey’s political or economic scene. We are never quite sure whether what we are looking at is the real McCoy and two people can look at the same picture and come to diametrically opposed conclusions. For some President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is the savior of the nation, for others he is a scourge. When it comes to Ergenekon, government corruption and ministerial kick-backs, and the existence of a “parallel state,” opinion is divided over whether these are fact or fantasy. For some the “dress” of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government and Erdogan’s presidency is white and gold; while others see blue and black in the same thing.

What #thedress taught us is that it is very interesting to hear the rationale and opinion of those who see things in a completely different light. So whether you are an Erdogan supporter or not, a new collection of insightful articles by Abdullah Bozkurt is a must read.

Readers of this newspaper, familiar with Bozkurt’s writing, will not be surprised that his stance is not supportive, as is evident from the title he has chosen: “Turkey Interrupted: Derailing Democracy.” Those who know Turkey well will not miss the reference to a statement made by President Erdogan many years ago, which is often quoted as a train but in the original referred to a tram: “Democracy is like a tramway. When we reach the station we want, we will get off.”

The articles originally appeared in Today’s Zaman newspaper between November 2013 and June 2014. Bozkurt’s journalistic experience with lobbyists on Capitol Hill and at the United Nations gives him an insight into self-interest in politics that applies to analyzing the Erdogan years. A major conclusion he comes to is that classical and modern political science theories remain incomplete or insufficient in analyzing Turkey as they, “Fail to take into account parochial group interests and the personal ambition of greedy politicians.” In doing so he doesn’t mince his words -- a brave stance in a climate where such criticism can elicit a heavy response.

He characterizes Erdogan’s period in office as “scare-divide-rule” with a “my way or the highway” attitude, surrounded by a team of non-elected advisors. As the book was originally a series of newspaper articles it is eminently readable, full of strong one-minute sound bites. Their juxtaposition creates a well-crafted narrative.

However, to make the book more accessible to those unfamiliar with the intricacies of Turkish politics, the book could have benefited from detailed notes giving a bit of background to the events mentioned and explaining how things evolved after the article was published.

Despite the no-holds barred analysis of the Erdogan years, this is an optimistic journalistic treatment of the subject of Turkish democracy. Bozkurt is convinced that Turks love of democracy and the deeply ingrained Sufi tradition that motivates a large selection of the electorate will ultimately mean that no leader, of any political or religious opinion, will be allowed to become a dictator. “Don’t let your hearts be troubled much,” he tells us, “we will have the chance to lay the foundation for democracy by consensus, which is the only way to rule a large country like Turkey.”

So, is #thedress #whiteandgold or #blueandblack?

Most commentators agree that Turkey has a troubled foreign policy with its neighbors and also some of its staunchest allies. Most commentators agree that the result of statements by Turkey’s leader is an escalation of tension that divides and polarizes the nation. Most commentators agree that there is a tendency to accuse a long list of others for Turkey’s woes. This is the picture. But what exactly is the color of the dress in the picture? Whether you agree with Bozkurt or not, it is such an important issue for the future not only of the current government in Turkey but for democracy itself in the country, so it is well worth spending the time reading his arguments.

Sunday's Zaman, March 15th, 2015

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Abdullah Bozkurt
Abdullah Bozkurt

Abdullah Bozkurt is the Ankara Bureau Chief for Today’s Zaman, Turkey’s best-selling English daily. He contributes to the paper as a regular columnist. Bozkurt worked as the Bureau Chief in New York City covering the United Nations for the Turkish daily Zaman, the largest circulated paper in Turkey. He also served as Washington Representative for the paper, covering the State Department, Capitol Hill, and Pentagon in the US capital.