Politics, religion, and culture where East meets West

Archive for November 2013

Conscription reform

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It has been criticized as a simple vote-grabbing tactic, but it’s much more. Perhaps most significantly, it is an unabashed attack on the traditional socialization methods of Turkish nationalists: A nail in the coffin to follow up the coup plot cases; something that could never have happened ten years ago.

But it’s also, more tangibly, an indication of a more professional, and agile, Turkish military on the horizon. Which makes perfect sense, given the terrorism and insurgency threats that have largely replaced last century’s concerns of Soviet land invasion.

It may take decades to take full effect, but Ankara’s once-ubiquitous image of drab military buses full of young, G3-wielding conscripts is certainly on its way to being a thing of the past.

Turkey Reduces Length of Compulsory Military Service
AFP; DefenseNews; Oct. 21, 2013

ANKARA — Turkey’s Islamic-rooted government will reduce compulsory military service to 12 months next year, the deputy prime minister said Monday.

. . .

Written by M. James

November 19, 2013 at 5:39 pm

Gökalp on ümmet, devlet, and millet

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Though this particular problem may be historical, the general problem is a timeless one. What follows is a brilliant exposition of the three central concepts surrounding early Turkish modernization, and the three groups who fought for ownership of those concepts:

Gökalp, Ziya, “The Ideal of Nationalism: three currents of thought,” trans. Niyazi Berkes, Nationalism in Asia and Africa, ed. Elie Kedourie

When we look at social realities, we cannot fail to see that an Islamic ümmet, an Ottoman state (devlet), a Turkish or an Arab nation (millet) do exist. However, if this statement corresponds to any reality, the term “ümmet” must denote the totality of those people who profess the same religion, the “state” all those who are administered under the same government, and the “nation” all those who speak the same language. The statement will be valid and will correspond to reality only if the above definitions are accepted. It seems, then, that those who do not accept this statement deny it, not because its meaning does not correspond to reality, but because they do not believe that these words are suitable for denoting the respective meanings.

The Islamists say that the word “nation” [millet; Arabic milla] denotes what we cover by the word “ümmet.” The term “milla,” they say, means “sect” in Arabic. The perfection of a language means the existence of a meaning for every word and a word for every meaning, and also the existence of words expressing several meanings. Even if we ourselves do not do this, the language itself will. It is for this reason that the current [Turkish] language uses the word “ümmet” for those who belong to the same religion, and the word “millet” for those who speak the same language. As the majority of the people uses them with these specific meanings, we too must accept them. There is no use creating difficulties on questions of terminology.

The Ottomanists, on the other hand, believe that the “state” and the “nation” are synonymous. To them, the sum total of the citizens of a state constitutes a nation. This might be true, if we disregarded reality and took only the logical relation between the concepts into account. As a matter of fact, to have a state composed of peoples who speak the same language, or to make only those peoples who speak the same language an independent state, seems more natural and most desirable. But are existing states formed that way? If not, then how is it justifiable to disregard that which is existing and to believe that what ought to exist is really existing?

The Turkists, on the other hand, criticizing the theses of these groups, come to the following conclusions: (a) the ümmet and the nation are different things; (b) the nation and the state are also not the same. One may object to these conclusions, but only in so far as they do not correspond to sociological realities, and not by insisting that these realities should not be so. We must fit our concepts to the realities and not the realities to our own concepts!

Written by M. James

November 19, 2013 at 5:00 pm

Incorporation in Islam

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A similar phenomenon to the absence of Western state-theory:

Stern, S.M., “The Constitution of the Islamic City,” The Islamic City: A Colloquium


I should like to put forward the idea that one of the striking differences between the society of medieval western Christendom and Islamic society was this: that whereas in the former all sorts of corporate institutions proliferated, in the latter, they were entirely absent. The propensity to organize institutions in the form of corporations was not in the West something primeval, but arose, if I am not mistaken, sometime about the eleventh century. I am not competent to give a reasoned account of this development or to try to determine its causes, but shall perhaps not stray too far from the mark if I suggest that the example of the religious orders with their highly developed constitutions had a great deal to do with this; a secondary factor may be the existence in Roman law of the idea of legal associations and juridicial persons.

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Written by M. James

November 18, 2013 at 5:57 pm

Süzme Sözler III

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From a 1935/6 collection of clever sayings about everything from nationhood to Hitler and Greta Garbo, by Turkish writer Raif Necdet Kestelli:

Medeniyet için ne büyük bir leke, ne hazin bir mahrumiyettir ki çok dürüst, çok temiz ve samimî zekâlar hâlâ iyi bir diplomat olamıyorlar!

In translation:

What a great stain on civilization, what a sad deprivation, that very honest, upright, and sincere minds still cannot be good diplomats!

Süzme Sözler II
Süzme Sözler I

Written by M. James

November 16, 2013 at 3:57 pm

Mutual dependency: The AKP and the economy

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The following is a very tidy, instructive read from the pen of a former Fulbright ETA on a topic that is all-too-often brushed over. Though the far more interesting corollary (for those of us not exposing our portfolios to Turkey anyway) is the unstated inverse—that “Turkish political stability depends on the economy”—the brief history lesson comprising the article manages to prove both points.

Click through.

Turkish economy depends on political stability
Eli Lovely; Global Risk Insights; Nov. 9th, 2013

Turkey has undergone tremendous economic development over the last 15 years, but protests earlier this year revealed underlying social fractures and areas of political risk. Investment opportunities abound in this emerging market but remain dependent on political stability.

. . .

Written by M. James

November 12, 2013 at 11:19 pm

Posted in Politics, Turkey

Tagged with , ,

The Iran détente in context

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Some people have asserted that diplomatic ties between the U.S. and Iran were never really severed—they merely went underground, to reemerge at a convenient time.

The alacrity with which nuclear- and sanctions-talks have developed since the election of Rouhani should suggest the truth of this assertion.

First, to that effect, here’s some recent news—from Oct. 28th (here):

Tehran (AFP) – The Tehran municipality has removed anti-American posters from the streets of the capital which questioned US honesty in nuclear talks with Iran, media reported on Sunday.

And from today (here):

(Reuters) – Iran’s supreme leader gave strong backing on Sunday to his president’s push for nuclear negotiations, warning hardliners not to accuse Hassan Rouhani of compromising with the old enemy America.

Now, to put it in context, here’s George Friedman’s divination (2012), which I covered in a prior post:

In simple terms, the American president, in order to achieve his strategic goals, must seek accommodation with Iran.

. . .

The Iranians will be assuaged in the short run by their entente with the Americans, but they will be fully aware that this is an alliance of convenience, not a long-term friendship. It is the Turks who are open to a longer-term alignment with the United States

. . .

As long as the United States maintains the basic terms of its agreement with Iran, Iran will represent a threat to Turkey. Whatever the inclination of the Turks, they will have to protect themselves, and to do that, they must work to undermine Iranian power in the Arabian Peninsula and the Arab countries to the north of the peninsula—Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon.

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In due course, the Turks will begin to react by challenging the Iranians, and thus the central balance of power will be resurrected, stabilizing the region. This will create a new regional balance of power.

Syria, too, must be understood in this context. And the Saudis know it.

Written by M. James

November 3, 2013 at 1:53 pm

Posted in News, Politics, Turkey

Tagged with , ,

The Turkish state-construction complex

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I’ve made only passing remarks about the tentacles of the Turkish construction industry before, so here’s something more in-depth from an insightful Turkish ABD in Germany.

And having spent a good deal of time in Ankara, I can attest to the accuracy of not only the attitudes toward gecekondus, but also TOKİ’s cringeworthy, unaesthetic response.

The abstract follows. Read the whole article.

Islamists, State and Bourgeoisie: The Construction Industry in Turkey
İsmail Doğa Karatepe; Neoliberalism in Turkey (conference); Oct. 28, 2013


This short study is designed to explore the three crucial elements of construction boom that Turkey has experienced since 2002, when the islamist/conservative Justice and Development Party (AKP) came to the power. I claim that the construction boom and its impacts in general appear to be outcome of the certain composition of following elements. First element is the regarded relation between GDP and the construction industry with its supposedly strong linkages with other industries such as transportation, manufacturing etc. The second element is the waxing involvement of subsequent AKP governments. Since AKP swept the victory in Turkey’s parliamentary elections with an overwhelming majority, the governments’ direct involvement into the construction industry has been drastically expanded. Concerning the increasing government activities in the construction industry, a public agency, the Housing Development Administration of Turkey (TOKI) deserves special attention. The administration, which had been initially established to carry out social housing projects in the year 1984, became a significant actor in the construction industry. Last but not least, clientelistic networks between AKP and certain bourgeois fraction have been conducive to rapid construction wave. The clientelistic networks as such favor certain capital groups that are ideologically close to islamist/conservative politics. However, discussing these three elements does not mean that some structural elements are neglected while evaluating the boom. In contrast, it is argued that financially dependent accumulation pattern of Turkey, and increasing role of finance in the construction industry along with the tendencies towards restructuring/recommodifying of urban areas at global level has constituted the suitable structural circumstances for the boom.

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Written by M. James

November 2, 2013 at 9:22 pm