Politics, religion, and culture where East meets West

New troughs

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A bold new low.


Written by M. James

January 27, 2014 at 8:53 am

Posted in News, Politics, Turkey

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Geceyarısı Ekspresi

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Everyone who knows something about Turkey knows Midnight Express. And so do most people who know nothing about Turkey, wherein lies the problem with the film—its success. The film’s acclaim has left its broad American audience with an unflinchingly brutal portrait of Turks as prison rapists and torture artists, which the Turks do not particularly appreciate.

The cynic could, of course, attribute Turks’ dislike for the film to a perceived damage done to their vital tourism industry (probably true), but in my experience, the hurt is genuine. The film, they think, was just plain unfair—unwarranted. And what’s even worse is that it just won’t… go… away. Here’s a Turkish columnist’s wry commentary on one such new development.

The Express nightmare returns
İzzet Çapa; Hürriyet; January 13th, 2014

The calamitous nightmare that showed us as a kind of boogeyman for years, Midnight Express, is coming back.

The writer and “hero” of the novel, Billy Hayes, enemy of the Turks, will now take the stage in The Midnight Express, a one-man play starting January 22nd on Broadway. Billy will allegedly play out heretofore unrevealed details from his time in İmralı. Obviously running short on money, he is once again bringing up old issues of ours.

Ouch. But actually, the title is Riding The Midnight Express With Billy Hayes, and there is an indication that part of the purpose of the play is to “correct” some of the fictional fabrications from the movie. So maybe you shouldn’t be so critical, Mr. Çapa.

Fans of one-man plays about Turkish prison (appealing, no?) can go here for tickets.

Written by M. James

January 13, 2014 at 3:28 am

Süzme Sözler IV

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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:

Dünyayı idare eden tek bir kuvvet vardır: yalan..

In translation:

There is but one force that governs the world: lies.

Süzme Sözler III
Süzme Sözler II
Süzme Sözler I

Written by M. James

January 9, 2014 at 6:03 pm

The Turkish corruption scandal in context

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On Oct. 23rd, 2012, I posted (“Turks subvert Iran sanctions”) an excerpt from a Reuters exclusive report on the gold trade between Turkey and Iran, through Dubai.

On Feb. 15th, 2013, Reuters published another exclusive, revealing Halkbank’s role in the movement of the aforementioned gold, and explaining the “gold-for-gas” trade. The pressure on Halkbank had already begun.

On Oct. 4th, 2013, The New York Times ran a feature on Iranian business tycoon Babak Zanjani titled “To This Tycoon, Iran Sanctions Were Like Gold.” Now Zanjani was under pressure for his role in subverting U.S. sanctions on Iranian energy.

In early November, 2013, the U.S.-Iran détente picked up speed and bargaining began.

On Dec. 17th, 2013, the Turkish “graft probe” began and Halkbank CEO Süleyman Aslan was implicated.

On Dec. 21st, Aslan and Reza Zarrab, an Iranian-Azeri businessman accused of moving much of the gold, were arrested.

A week ago, Babak Zanjani was arrested “on alleged corruption charges.” His transgressions were, of course, simply the Iranian equivalent of the Halkbank scandal. The charges themselves are obviously contrived.

Apparently, one of the topics of debate in the ongoing “nuclear talks” between the U.S. and Iran is how to make the message perfectly clear: Gold is not a currency, and trading in gold is subversive. Those who do so will be punished. This has, after all, been a theme of the past two years in U.S.-Iran relations, so it should come as no surprise. Nor should it come as a surprise if Iranian energy exports, in one way or another, end up denominated in dollars in the near future.

Happy New Year.

Written by M. James

January 6, 2014 at 5:48 pm

Posted in News, Politics, Turkey

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The winds of change

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Two truly unique events have transpired over the past week in Turkish politics, which has been otherwise marked by arrests, investigations, dismissals, resignations, an assassination, and a call, from within the party, for Erdoğan to resign.

The first unique event is Gülen’s heretofore unprecedented diatribe. The second is the AKP’s outright implication of the U.S. in the events of the last week (e.g., from today).

The “facts” are now widely available in your favorite newspaper, so I won’t go into detail. Here’s a good executive summary.

And here’s a chart worth watching in the coming months.


Worst ratio since 1981.

Written by M. James

December 25, 2013 at 5:02 pm

Posted in News, Politics, Turkey

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LPG: rekor zam

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As Russia loses a reliable friend in Iran, it takes precautions in the Caucasus and re-engages with its energy clients. Today, a “yurtdışı maliyetlerdeki artış” (foreign price increase) is blamed for a sharp, overnight rise in the price of LPG (Liquified Petroleum Gas) in Turkey.

Turkey has been meddling in the Caucasus over the past few days, seeking to begin a settlement the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute between Azerbaijan and Armenia, with hopes for its own normalization (?) with Armenia. Russia is not interested in settling this dispute, much less doing so to Turkey’s advantage.

The vast majority of Turkish energy is imported from Russia.

Over a third of Turkish passenger cars use LPG otogaz.

LPG’ye gece yarısı 30 kuruş zam
İsmail Altunsoy, Zaman, 3 Aralık 2013

LPG vehicle owners awoke this morning to a record price increase. LPG’s per-liter price rose by 30 kuruş  [$0.15]. Along with the increase, the price of one liter of LPG in Istanbul climbed from 2.81 to 3.11 lira; in Ankara, from 2.61 to 2.91 lira. This most recent increase is the greatest one-time price increase made to LPG in history.

. . .

Written by M. James

December 3, 2013 at 3:17 pm

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