New Standard in Turkey: Presidential Decree & President’s Shadow Cabinet

With the constitution written during military rule in Turkey in 1982, the president of the republic -by then top general- was awarded the trust to declare Presidential Decrees to run duties such as secretarial institutionalization, organization, governance, working principles, appointment of officers. First popularly elected president of Turkey, Erdoğan has used this trust to change a few things regarding the presidential institution by a presidential decree.

In the previous years when Erdoğan was the prime minister, Turkish electorate was getting used to “law decree” terminology, which does not require the parliamentary debate or even vote but can be declared just by the approval of the cabinet. Presidential Decree on the other hand does not even require the approval of cabinet ministers, moreover it is out of the reach of judicial controls, which makes the decree invincible. Having been created with an invincible presidential decree, the new cabinet has high chances of being “above the law” with its untouchable qualities, bypassing the constitutional and judicial checks on lawfulness.

Erdoğan’s Shadow Cabinet

The decree that establishes a shadow cabinet is declared through a secret order, which means the official papers do not refer to it. Currently presidential organization puts four bodies to be under president’s responsibilities; financial and economic affairs, institutional communications, informatics technologies, human resources. These directorates are directly answering to the President and will take guidance from the office.

With the new decree, the number of these institutions have been updated to 13 including such directorates as:

  • National Security Directorate
  • Foreign Affairs Directorate
  • Economy Directorate
  • Defense Directorate
  • Energy Directorate
  • Social Affairs Directorate
  • Investment Tracking Directorate
  • Communications Central Directorate

 

 

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“Çarşı” the Ultras to Hold Protest Rally in Cologne

 

Gezi Park was raided by the police and most people were losing hope when Çarşı started a call for solidarity and asked for 100 gas masks to take back the park. Raising hopes in doing so, the ultras have emerged to win people’s hearts by helping take back the park and be at the forefronts of the OccupyGezi Resistance. In the aftermath of taking the park, Çarşı activists had taken charge of a work-machine and chased the police’s water cannons the TOMAs with it. Çarşı was originally founded in 1980s as a reaction to by then military dictatorship that was ruling Turkey; they are the ultras, supporters of Beşiktaş that have been carrying out social responsibility actions and stood against many injustices over the decades.

As a prosecutor accepted the file accusing Çarşı of plotting a coup d’etat against the government by joining OccupyGezi Movement, leaders and main figures of the ultras had been detained and taken to court. On December 14th, Çarşı groups across Europe will be gathering in Cologne to protest against this unlawful trial their fellow ultras are facing in Turkey. Çarşı Berlin announced that there will be a protest rally to call for justice for the Çarşı supporters.

Çarşı Duisburg will officially organize the protest and they have published this release to call for support and solidarity:

 

 

 

“This supporters group in Turkey is being accused to a coup d’etat. If court proceeds, the ultras will receive life sentence. We the people who have loved Çarşı, would like to draw attention to the absurdity that the government in Turkey is forcing on any opposition, and we want to show that we stand with our friends. We renounce the lawsuit opened against our friends and we find the accusation of a coup absurd. Such a charge is comical and funny at the level of frivolity. Beşiktaş is the people’s team, and of course will deal with people’s problems. The scarves thrown for the children who were left homeless after Van earthquake in 2011, the campaigns to donate blood for the leucemia patients, the shelters we have built for stray animals on streets, the funds and aid we have collected as relief for the children in rural areas, if all these were a coup d’etat, then we are all guilty of this coup.”

 

On December 14, Çarşı supporters from various European cities will be at Hans-Böckler-Platz/BF West Sq., Cologne.

 

 

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Caferaga Squat House Targeted by Municipality in Istanbul: @direnCaferaga

In the aftermath of #OccupyGezi protests, a group had occupied an unused space and turned it into a Community House in Istanbul’s Kadikoy district. Officially, it is the second place that has been occupied in Turkey, right after Gezi Park itself. For some time, the house had been targeted by the authorities and faced eviction. One more notification has just arrived to the squat house recently and informs of eviction to begin at 10 am on December 5th, on friday.

The occupiers have declared a public statement calling for solidarity and support from all friends, inviting them for a defense of the house at 9am.

The statement follows:

“We, who revolted to prevent concretion of our lives one and a half years ago, are people who do not look alike but suffer from same grievances.
There is a house in our neighborhood whose door is open to anyone. A publicly owned abandoned place that we brought into use, a place that everyone can pull up a chair and catch their breath, join in a deep conversation while having some tea, a place that belongs to all of us. This house was brought into being by the contribution and labor of thousands of people up until now, as a place that everyone can cook and eat together, that has a library, dark room, carpenter’s shop, swap market, as a place for everyone who is willing to talk, discuss and produce.
We are the residents who embrace the ones go down under alive and come out dead, whose heads with gas canisters, whose infant bodies with bullets, whose dark bodies with bombs smashed into pieces, as our own neighbors. We are your neighbors, who long for soil among piles of concrete and thus create gardens, who protect disaster assembly areas for the coming earthquake from concretion, who discuss over their desires regarding our neighborhood, who take it to the streets wearing bathrobes, stinking of lack of water during shortages or who keep watch in our parks and streets against any quarrel.
We heard that they will come to shut our doors down. Those tyrants who have taken an oath to sell everything that is beautiful and everything that lives; every drop of water, every tree and every shadow, they will attempt to wreck our house on us. We invite everyone whose hearts beat with ours to our Community Center/Squat to defend our common space that we are in existence all together, shoulder to shoulder on Friday, the 5th of December, at 9 am.
This house belong to all of us, let us defend it together.
CAFERAGA SOLIDARITY
Meeting,
Date: 5th of December, Friday, 9 am
Address: Hacı Şükrü sok. No: 24
Caferağa Mahallesi, Kadıköy”
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Turkey: Free Expression “Still” Under a Shadow

Jorgen Lorentzen, Carl Morten Iversen, Sara Whyatt

 

 

Turkey has been under PEN focus for a long time, and recently PEN Norway has published a report on freedom of speech in Turkey, with the title of “Free Expression Under a Shadow”. Basically, PEN has employed a team of experts in the last two years to interview renowned writers, authors, academics, journalists, bloggers and many others in Turkey, to write a report on the developments in the country regarding free expression.

The title of the report comes from a 2012 meeting with -by then- President Abdullah Gul, during which the president had said “There are many developments in Turkey with regards to democratization but the concerns over freedom of speech cast a shadow on all improvements.” Since 2012, the reporting has been focusing on the developments and cites the improvements as release of the writers from prison and the judicial reform package that seemed to tilt the trend towards more positive future. However, the harsh repression of peaceful protests, ongoing trials of all the writers that have been released from prison, arbitrariness of persecution, media bans, backlash on the judicial reform through parliamentary bills continue casting shadows on the few developments.

An interesting aspect of the report states the financial authorities being perceived as the “new guns of an authoritarian government”. While corporations and businessmen that do not necessarily have a favorable view of the government receive tax auditors as visitors quite often, there are also reports that individual citizen journalists and bloggers also get caught up in the radars of the tax authorities, through casual visits by auditors to their or their parents’ small businesses.

During the presentation of the report to Turkish press, the bans in Turkey have been referred to as absurd and definition of such attempts have been declared as censorship. The report however focuses mainly on the physical publishing in terms of media, and another report is being drafted at the moment, regarding the digital freedoms and digital censorship attempts in Turkey.

While the report was being discussed in Istanbul, in Ankara the new EU minister Bozkır was holding a meeting with representatives of hundreds of NGOs, promising a new reform package on freedom of speech to resolve all democratic problems of Turkey. After hundreds of “harmonization” and “reform” packages to bring Turkey in line with more democratic states as well as the EU Acquis, it no longer seems sincere when a government official claims or promises improvements with this corrupt system.

Simultaneously, when the PEN report was being discussed and EU Ministry was holding a meeting to advance the “improvements” in free speech in Turkey, a court was about to give decision of a “media ban” to stop journalists from questioning, publishing and broadcasting anything related to the biggest corruption case in the history of mankind. While even the tip of the iceberg is supposed to be a non-stop reported issue, declaration of a media ban gives a clear image of the approach to freedoms and liberties by this government unfortunately.

Just like any other topic that the pro-government media outlets fail to convince masses in, this issue also got added to the “banned pieces from media” list. Yet again, the most recent developments with regards to free speech and free press in Turkey, in the light of the PEN report, bring it to daylight once more that there is an urgent need for new initiatives to take journalism -if there ever was such an era- back to its ethically aware days, in atmosphere of freedom and courage.

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Facebook aktivistler için ücretli mi olacak?

Facebook, kullanıcıların alışkanlıklarına göre bazı profilleri, kişisel amaçlar dışında bularak toplumsal sayfalara dönüştürüyor. Bu durum bireysel aktivistlerin kişilik haklarına bir müdahale.

(Orjinali AGOS’ta)

 

ABD’de Occupy Wall Street (OWS) eylemleri aktivistlerinden biri olan ve Facebook kullanmaya başlamasından uzun zaman önce sıkı bir MySpace hayranı olan Patti Beers bir gün hesabına girdi ve ekranda bir uyarı ile karşılaştı. Uyarıda, kendisinin profilinin bir marka, ürün ya da kuruluşu temsil etmek için kullandığının tespit edildiği ve kişisel profilinin sayfaya çevrileceği belirtiliyordu. Bu uyarı ile birlikte kendisinin ‘zaman tüneli’ artık kamuya mâl edilmiş, kişilikten çıkarılarak kurumsallaştırılmış oluyordu.

Bireysel hareket eden, katıldığı eylemlerde kendi hesabı üzerinden canlı yayın yapan ve video kanalını da bu hesaptan duyuran Beers için kaybolan yalnızca bir zaman tüneli değil aynı zamanda binlerce kişi ile yürüttüğü kişisel iletişim, aile fotoğrafları ve yakın dostlarıyla olan dijital hatıralarıydı. Kurumsallaştırılmış bir sayfaya dönüştüğünde Beers’in profili kişisel bilgilerinden arındırılarak, bundan böyle yalnızca paylaşacağı içerikleri gösterecekti. Kendisi bu durumu “Sanki dilimin kesilmesi gibi” olarak niteliyor.

Facebook kullanıcı sözleşmesi, kullanıcıların herhangi bir kuralı ihlal etmesi durumunda bir hizmeti kısmen ya da tamamen kesilebileceğini belirtiyor. Beers’ın profili de böylece yüklediği binlerce fotoğrafı, kaydettiği videoları ve paylaşımlarını yitirmiş durumda. Katıldığı eylemlerde ‘Ustream’ kanalını her açtığında 3500 kişinin anlık olarak görüntülediği canlı yayın bağlantıları artık yeni profilinde anasayfaya eskisi kadar sık düşmeyecek de.

Kapatılan aktivist profilleri

Beers, bir haber kanalına dair yorumlarının ardından profilinin kişisel zaman tünelinden çıkarıldığını belirtiyor. Bu süreçte arkadaşlarının kendisine ulaşmaya çalıştıklarında, kullanıcı sözleşmesini ihlal eden bir kullanıcı profiline erişim sağlanamayacağı ve mesajlarının iletilemeyeceği uyarısıyla karşılaştıklarını belirtiyor.

Yakın zamanda anonim kullanıma karşı başlatılan uygulamalarıyla da dikkat çeken Facebook, daha önceki aktivist profillerinin kapatılması eylemlerinin ardından yeniden dikkatleri üzerine çekti. Anonim hesaplar kapatılırken çok sayıda pedofil-avcısı aktivistin hesabı kapatıldığını da hatırlatan Beers kendisinin gerçek adını ve kimliğini kullandığını, kullanıcı sözleşmesinin hiçbir maddesine aykırı davranış göstermediğini belirtiyor.

Hesabın kapatılması ve kurumsallaştırılması ardında yatan bir diğer neden olarak ekonomik getiri öne sürülüyor. Facebook, sayfaların iletişim amacıyla kullanılırken sağladığı hizmetlerin kalitesini aldığı ücretlere göre değerlendirmeye başlamış ve sayfa yöneticilerinin ancak ücret ödemesi karşılığında paylaşımlarını belli sayıda kişiye yönlendirme stratejisi belirlemişti. Daha önce bireysel profil kullanan Beers’ın yeni sayfası aynı etkiyi yaratabilmek ve benzer rakamlarda kişiye ulaşabilmek için oldukça yüksek meblağlar ödemesi gerekecek. Daha önce on binlerce kullanıcıya ulaşan ve hatta bazı paylaşımları viral olarak yayılan Beers’ın yeni sayfasında ulaşabildiği kişi sayısı henüz 13’ü geçmiyor.

Aktivist haberciliği karşısında bir engel

Aktivist ağlarından doğan bir haber portalı olan ‘Revolution News’ın kurucu editörü Jenny Baker, yaşanan olayın temelinde Facebook’un iş modelinin bulunduğunu belirtiyor. RevoNews için de 12 milyon gibi yüksek bir erişim rakamının, ‘sayfalar’ uygulamasının güncellemesiyle yalnızca yarım milyona düşmüş olması örneğini veren Baker, kâr odaklı şirketlerin iş modelleri güncellendikçe aktivist ve gönüllü muhabirlerin işlerinin zorlaşacağını da belirtiyor.

Yalnızca OWS aktivistleri değil, Türkiye’de de birçok aktivistin profilleri çeşitli gerekçelerle kapatılmıştı. Hatırlanacağı gibi özellikle de yurttaş gazetecilik örnekleri birer birer Facebook kullanıcı sözleşmesi gerekçe gösterilerek defalarca kapatılmış, sansür mağduru olmuştu. Ötekilerin Postası editörlerinden “Radikal Aktivist”in profili neredeyse düzenli denebilecek aralıklarla halen kapatılıyor.

Kişisel veriler meselesi

Bugüne kadar kişisel verilerimizi nasıl koruyacağımız, mahremimizi nasıl saklayabileceğimiz üzerine çokça tartışma yürütülmüştü. Ancak belki şimdi ilk defa, paylaşımlarının bozulmadan kalmasını isteyenlerin hikayesini konuşmaya başlıyoruz. Takma adlara karşı savaş açmış olan Facebook’un kâr politikaları günden güne mecrayı, toplumsal sorumluluk hissi taşıyan aktivistler ve gönüllüler için zorlu bir ortama dönüştürse de; gerçek adını kullanan bireysel paylaşımları olan kişiler için de artık tehlike arz eder oldu.

Kişisel paylaşımlarını adeta bir bireysel gazete gibi kullanan aktivistler için RevoNews ve diğer yurttaş gazetecilik ağları verilerini çarpraz şekilde güvenlik altına alarak aynı zamanda her daim bir kurtarma klasöründe kopya saklamayı öneriyor. Unutulmaması gereken önemli bir husus, şu an gayet geniş kitlelerin kullandığı sosyal medya mecralarının asla özgürlüğün kendisi olmadığı ve bunların birer şirket olmaktan öte gitmediğidir. Bir süre için ne şekilde hizmet sunarlarsa sunsunlar, her ne kadar hürriyet-araçları sağlarlarsa sağlasınlar, bir gün “şirket politikaları” gereği herkesi ya da her şeyi satışa çıkarabileceklerini unutmamak gerekli.

 

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“Say Stop to Antisemitism” Protest was held in Istanbul

 

There has been a steep rise in antisemitic hate speech and attacks in Turkey over the last few years. Especially during and after every Israeli offensive in Palestinian lands. Most recently some racist and violent groups have taken up the excuse of Al-Aqsa Mosque provocations and used this is a pretext to attack Turkish-Jews and synagogues.

In order to protest against the rising antisemitism in Turkey and commemorate the horrific events of the past, Say Stop has held a protest meeting with dozens of participants. When activists were gathering in Galatasaray Square in Taksim’s Istiklal, right next to the venue was placed ten times more policemen than activists as usual. The moment banner was opened, interestingly enough some people came to ask questions in English, thinking anyone protesting antisemitism would come from abroad and not from within Turkey. It was also interesting to hear questions as the the meaning of the word “antisemitism” as some of the passer-bys did not know what it means.

In fact, this happened to be a protest in delay. There was supposed to be a protest meeting to commemorate the Kristallnacht and rising antisemitism in Turkey the week before. This commemoration would be taking place in the open air for the first time in Turkey, yet due to several reasons it did not happen. As “Say Stop” collective of anti-racist activists was preparing for the commemoration, attacks to Neve Shalom Synagogue came as a bad surprise. On November 7 and 9 two attacks took place, significant for the timing also because it was just a week before the 11th anniversary of Al-Qaeda attacks on Istanbul’s Neve Shalom and Beth Israel synagogues, which took place on November 15th, 2003, leaving 27 dead and 300 wounded.

There are unfortunately many groups that take courage from notable people’s antisemitic rhetoric and hate speech that goes unpunished. Over the summer of 2014 when there was the Israeli offensive in Gaza killing thousands, the head of constitutional commission from the governing AKP Samil Tayyar had tweeted “may your ancestors perish, may your Hitlers be abundant”, which then led a wave of antisemitic support on social media. Much like several politicians and musicians who had such rhetoric at the time, over 30.000 people used similar remarks most of which would be considered hate speech. This hate speech was later followed by one shop keeper putting up a sign that stated “jew dogs can not enter”.

“Jew dogs can not enter”

One might also remember other instances of antisemitism prevailing in Turkey, perhaps the incident right after the mining tragedy in Soma, current President Erdoğan had called “jewish sperm” to a mourning relative of a miner as an accusation towards him. One other incident that also got caught up on news was the head of physics department from Bilecik University, Ali İhsan Göker got into a quarrel with a journalist who published a story on antisemitism in Turkey, at an Israeli newspaper. Dr. Göker referred to Treblinka where hundreds of thousands of people were killed and tweeted “Treblinka will be ready soon. Constructing the railway to transport jews at the moment.”

Say Stop has been campaigning against racism, nationalism, discrimination, and is an all-inclusive collective of activists which had slowed down on activities for some months last year. Just when activities were to be kick-started once again with the “racist of the month” ‘award’, then came more than 30 thousand candidates in a month which made things a little bit complicated; so for the month of July, collective Say Stop declares all antisemites as “racist of the month”.

And once again, the activists of Say Stop / DurDe will be with all those that are being targeted out of hatred, for their origins, religion, language, choice, preference, status, etc. Just like any other group that Say Stop campaigns in support of –such as Armenians, Roma, refugees, immigrants, LGBTI individuals- the Jewish population is not alone either.

 

 

 

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Digitaler Salon in Berlin: How do Blogs score in contemporary media league?

One of the best outcomes of international gatherings in world-scale metropolises is new connections and emerging opportunities. The Digitaler Salon in Berlin’s Humboldt University is one of those outcomes. While in Berlin someone suggested I pay a visit to the Institute for Internet and Society and introduce myself. I was invited to a very exciting and informative event organized by the Institute. On the evening of October 29th, Digitaler Salon was held with the participation of three very successful experts from academia, journalism and blogging. The topic was Crisis Reporting with the comments of Christoph Sydow of Al Sharq, Thomas Wiegold, a journalist who covers defense and military policies, and Dr. Johanna Roering, a media researcher focusing on propaganda at Tübingen University.

Out of my habit of not being able to rely on punctuality and effectiveness of public transport in many countries and cities, I left before the agreed time and arrived at the venue earlier than expected. The speakers greeted me and we started talking about the day’s topic, crisis and war reporting and the involvement of social media and bloggers, and also about how blogs are perceived and how the media are transforming. The discussion took place at the Humboldt Institute for Internet and Society, located right at the Bebelplatz, facing the infamous “book burning memorial” that was erected at the place where thousands of books were burnt in 1933, May 10.

The pre-discussion of course had a tendency to turn towards news from Turkey, as there was one particular participant in the audience who had brought much news from Istanbul to their attention previously. So talk began revolving around the level of press freedom, the number of journalists who have lost their jobs, government control over what gets published, and even controversial accidents journalists have had. As there was a professor present who focuses on “propaganda and media,” the 6,000 “social media experts” the Turkish government has hired were also mentioned in the context of manipulating media focus and online discussions. This is a negative example of the use of digital tools for journalistic purposes.

After a few pretzels and some wine, the the actual session was ready to start. The coordinators were ready, cameras were rolling and everyone took seats in a very cozy atmosphere. Greetings were exchanged and participants were welcomed, and the talks began. While the topic in general was issues of reliability and verification of the news—comparing the limited resources of many bloggers to newsrooms’ advanced networks and resources—there was a special focus on media pluralism and press freedom in countries where there seem to be problems with freedom of expression and press freedom.

Verification Problems

It is an undeniable argument that bloggers lack the resources or the ability to build networks as reliable as the mainstream media. Yet verification has many levels and tools these days. A very useful book, Verification Handbook, supplies a lot of information not only for newbie bloggers but also old-school journalists who might need further help. The book is being translated into several languages. Also, it is important not to have high expectations of bloggers and citizen journalists who mostly run their pages on a voluntary basis, unlike profit-oriented media outlets. Yet a blog post from the ground can also guide the professional journalist who might otherwise be unable to grasp the issue from the outside. In the end, real news should be a fine balance between what we see on the blogosphere and print (traditional) media.

What happens under governmental pressure?

When it comes to international news, and especially news related to defense strategies, the military, and security, it is true that traditional journalists have better connections and sources for supplying reliable information from the ground; however when the type of news changes to national scale, then the balance might be disturbed a little. At the Digitaler Salon the main focus of the discussion was on defense and military related news. But the situation in the streets in Hungary, for example, was being reflected in a completely different way the traditional media there and by bloggers during the same week. That could be a perfect example of what might go wrong with traditional media outlets where there is a lack of media pluralism.

Basically a profit-oriented company that focuses on expanding revenues while trying to reach out to even more buyers/audience, and facing pressure from the national government, would not really reflect the psyche of the streets and would want to continue keeping friendly relations with the authorities. In that case it would only be the independent reporters in the country who might be able to reflect on what’s going on there. Yet, if this independent journalist is not an expert of the region or country, or has not spent long enough time to really grasp what is going on, s/he would not be able to give an accurate report of the event. In that case s/he also relies on good contacts who might be able to share more information with the journalist and this happens to be mostly in blog form these days apart from personal conversations.

In a similar fashion the citizen journalists and bloggers might also reflect onto events in too much passion and misinterpret the situation. If the person reporting the news or events is coming from the right in the middle of whatever might be going on, it would probably be hard for the person to give accurate information freed from personal passion, grudge, and all other emotions. Or these reports may be subjected to misinformation and unverified sources that may in fact cause more harm. And one important aspect not to be forgotten is, how to differentiate the citizen journalists from the classical journalists that they complain about; or what to do in order for anyone reporting from a crisis zone to avoid war-fetishism when it comes to reflecting on the pulse of the streets?

Overall, it was an occasion to bring forth the discussions revolving around journalism, media pluralism and press freedom in 21st century. As a final comment, I can say that it was a valuable experience to be able to attend such an occasion and perhaps it could set an example for other parts of Europe to elaborate such discussions, of course in a way that it would serve as more informative from multiple aspects. And in terms of sustaining media pluralism, a more internationalist approach could in fact help covering issues that local authorities might not enjoy seeing be covered.

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Turkish Media seamlessly support the One Man


The notorious level of the media’s freedom in Turkey has proven their inability to report accurately many times in the last couple of years. On the national level it is a daily habit by now to witness the performance of the pool-media where, on certain days, all newspapers come out with the same headlines and main articles, and compare these pieces of “news” to the parody paper Zaytung. However, when it comes to international fiascos, one has to wait a few months for another example of scandalous reporting.

Colorless milk ports flap furiously

Only a couple of months after the Gezi Park Protests, the daily Yeni  Şafak had won the gold medal in the propaganda Olympics by trying a long-shot attempt at proving Noam Chomsky’s “manufacturing consent” theory through an interview with Chomsky himself, yet failed to publish the answers to non-existent questions correctly. When it was discovered that some of the answers printed on paper did not actually belong to the internationally renowned philosopher, the editors published a Web page showing all the claimed-original answers, which included some really bad Google-translated sentences, one of which also included the word “milk port.” Later on this fiasco was referred to as “a general plot against national stability and security” by the editor-in-chief of the newspaper.

At the beginning of October, a video was shown of US Vice-President Biden at Harvard University talking about the Middle East and how some allies, including Turkey, have helped radical entities, and especially ISIL, in the region and explaining that this had expanded the scope of instability in the region. Upon these words, Turkish President Erdogan had said that the American Vice-President would be “history for me if he has indeed used such expressions.”

Towards midnight on the day this demand came from the Turkish President, all pro-government media started emergency broadcasts of the news, with news flashes of the apology that came from the US Vice-President. According to the reports, Joe Biden had called Erdogan and apologized for his “claims.” CNN Turk had broadcast the news, referring to White House spokesperson Josh Earnest and reporting that Joe Biden had apologized for misinterpreting a conversation with President Erdogan.

There were long articles as to why an American Vice-President would apologize to the Turkish President and how it took place. Many “experts” on all TV stations interpreted the situation as Turkey’s emerging as a giant power, and proving to the whole world what a marvelous neo-Ottoman state Turkey has become. The next day, it was possible to hear citizens on the streets talking about the strength of their state and their pride in making one of the strongest peoples on earth apologize to their “fatherland.”

 

Yet, the milky dream lasted about a month before Biden was on the screens of CNN, this time stating that he never apologized. He said “There’s nothing I’ve said that I haven’t said that was truthful. And so sometimes – you know, everybody says they’re looking for authenticity. What I have done is where – if there’s been a general – genuine misunderstanding – let’s take the comment, you know – I’m told I – I apologized to (Turkish) President Erdogan. I never apologized to him. I know him well. I’ve dealt with him. I called him and said, ‘Look, what was reported was not accurate to what I said. Here’s what I said.’”

In the atmosphere of lack of media pluralism, I presume that not many reporters bothered to run a background check on the claims or demand a further comment from Vice-President Biden regarding the apology. On the other hand, in a country where the media are under a lot of pressure, it would be hard to ask for verification of the news when the claim is coming from the One Man of the country. Yet, it is enough to make the whole country the world’s laughing-stock once again, alongside all the other fiascos in every corner.

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Schloss Wartin or How to #FixEurope with European Alternatives

Activists and intellectual young people from across Europe from all directions gathered in the heart of Europe, at a centuries old castle near Berlin, at Schloss Wartin. European Alternatives that has organized the meeting has set up the agenda to discuss problems that Europe faces and find possible “solutions” that might bring about a better future for all of us. We have shared, we have learned, we have explored and most importantly elaborated all kinds of matters that Europe is facing today.

Dozens of people gathering around a table of vegetarian grill raised their glasses for a better future in the hopes of a more complete Europe. People seem eager to discuss matters that they think are vital for the future of the continent, and suddenly it became all of a sudden much easier to solve any problem the old continent might have. Once the path to discussion and dialogue is opened, rational people would be able to find a way to come over whatever is bothering the whole area, and be able to give an answer to those who claim that there would never be any answer.

When participants were asked to simply note down the things they think needs fixing in Europe, the list just went on and on. The list was getting almost as long as the history of the castle. This is not to discourage any Europhile in fact. It is a mere opportunity to see what happens when there is a very unilateral understanding of integration and European unification plan.

Our delightful host’s food is served in the main hall, impatiently waiting while enjoying the tunes of the piano, one would wonder how many new ideas are popping up in everyone’s head at that moment. Every single minute is inspirational, among all the creative and impressive people in a calm and quiet atmosphere in the lack of internet connection. Ideas actually get jotted down and new ones spread around on tables, faster than the circulation of food I must say.

Issues that swept from attention get brought up to agenda, and the things that people did not maybe pay enough attention to previously. This time we can spare all the time in the world for a few days, as there is no wifi zone to bring us the distractive “unread 666 messages”. Glasses and bottles cling, new ideas keep popping up right in the middle of sounds of nature. Peace and tranquility surround the activists, giving them the much-needed peace. In the darkness and cold of the night, old project get talked of, bringing about new project proposals already.

Premiere of the Transeuropa Caravan took place at the castle with the participation of all the activists in the campus. No need to add that it was inspirational as all other events; revealing certain local problems that parts of Europe experience and most other parts would not even hear if it was not for such initiatives to bring Europe closer to all citizens.

We gathered in Berlin with one big aim, to target and tackle problems of Europe in general. We left the Schloss Wartin with thousands of new ideas and a lot of inspiration and motivation to get to work. The ending of the campus was a joyful ride back to Berlin city center, where we had the chance to attend a conference at the Heinrich Böll Stiftung, which opened with a keynote speech by Saskia Sassen. She talked about all the crisis moments that we can see very clearly all around, especially the housing bubble and gentrification tactics in most major cities. Sustainability has become one of the primary topics for us all.

After all the talks and discussions, we the activist of European Alternatives at #FixEurope campus meeting, can agree to the slogans of the streets “this is yet the beginning…”

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Armenian-Turkish Youth at Closed Borders Open Minds Meeting

Armenian and Turkish youth has got together in Istanbul for the second phase of the project titled “Closed Borders Open Minds” after the first one in Yerevan May, 2014. This has been my second participation in an Armenian-Turkish project and there has been a few Armenian participants who have attended the first part as well. The Regional Studies Center has been carrying out this project as part of a consortium, funded by the European Union, for normalization between the two countries and I remember the exact words of one of the coordinators, Haykak Arshamyan back in Yerevan: “At the end of the day what matters most is the friendships that emerge out of such projects”. And that is exactly what seems to have happened.

Throughout the project trainings and free time social activities, I can not help but compare this initiative to several other cross-border cooperation projects I have been part of with young people from Greece and Bulgaria. I happen to remember some of the trainings from that period too, but most of what I remember is the person-to-person interaction that we have experienced and the friendships that were forged in those days. Similarly, this time with the Armenian young people, same thing has been happening.

Compared to the first phase of the projects there are a few things I can see being different. Back in Yerevan we were staying at a hotel not at the city center but about 10km outside, which required taxi transportation for 15 minutes and speaking no Armenian, some locals’ guidance for us every time we wanted to go to the center. Here in Istanbul, we were staying at the very heart of the city, right next to the famous Gezi Park, in Taksim. This meant that anyone could stroll around freely and being in one of the most cosmopolitan places in the world, it meant that one can even melt in crowds easily by herself without the help of any locals. In my opinion the interaction between locals and visitors helps creating bonds and contributes to the success of project goals.

A second significant difference between Yerevan and Istanbul was that this time there has been more personal gossip between participants compared to the first time, especially the ones that had already been together previously. This, in my opinion, is also a plus in the calculations as it means that we are not focusing on the national, political, top-down problematic situations but more on human interaction. Out of the social time we spent, there emerged more personal discussions first elaborating issues on individual level and later being flooded by ideas and inspiration, being creatively dedicated to future collaborations.

For me personally it seems like the actual success of this program will not be when (if) politicians and diplomat from both sides take their seats down on two sides of a table, but when we keep meeting and be able to have tea together in whatever country we may be. It is inspiring to see the young people’s interest in the normalization process and so many applications to be part of this project. As long as there are people willing to further the dialogue with the “other” side, there is always hope for more. Who knows, perhaps Hrant Dink’s foresight regarding the normalization.

In my opinion, the free time we got all together was the most productive part of the week. We have been to several places. Some places had been playing Armenian music and some playing shared tunes in both cultures. This seemed to surprise some of our guests as there was expectations of less inclusive social culture perhaps. Another surprising moment we had noted was the citation of Armenian architects that worked at the construction of Ottoman palaces in Istanbul, in the recent touristic guidebooks.

One major visit we had as a small group from among the participants was to Bosphorus University where our friends have enjoyed the beautiful view of the campus as well as the history and significance of this campus for Armenia. I am glad to have completed the program with such positive outcomes and raised hopes for future progress. Perhaps time may come to even bring the monument to humanity back some day with the normalization; yet being more realistic, of course we are focusing on the personal level and continue our dedication to the process.

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