Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

May 15, 2014

Aide to Erdogan kicks protester

Filed under: Turkey — louisproyect @ 1:46 pm

afcd292c-5f84-4034-8173-df986d612f35-460x276A protester is kicked by Yusuf Yerkel, an adviser to Turkey’s Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, as Special Forces police officers detain him during a protest against Erdogan’s visit to Soma, Photograph: Stringer/Reuters

March 7, 2014

From Both Sides of the Aegean

Filed under: Counterpunch,Film,Greece,Turkey — louisproyect @ 12:52 pm

Counterpunch Weekend Edition March 7-9, 2014

Maria Iliou’s “From Both Sides of the Aegean”

In the Wake of the Ottoman Empire

by LOUIS PROYECT

It would be hard to imagine a documentary making more of an impact on the mind, the heart and the eye than Maria Iliou’s “From Both Sides of the Aegean: Expulsion and Exchange of Populations, Turkey-Greece: 1922-1924” that opens at the Quad in New York on March 21.

When I ran into Ms. Iliou before a press screening at the Quad on Tuesday, she described her new film as a follow-up to “Smyrna: the Destruction of a Cosmopolitan City”, a film that I reviewed for CounterPunch almost a year ago.  The first paragraph of that review referred to my personal connection to the terrible tragedy of September 1922:

In my one and only visit to Izmir to meet my wife’s relatives, we walked along the quay to see some of the picturesque city’s landmarks including the statue of Mustafa Kemal that looked toward the sea. My wife’s cousin Ceyda, the daughter of a General assigned to NATO and a rock-ribbed Kemalist, paused in front of the statue to inform me that this was where their war of independence was won. The quay, from which the city’s Greek population was literally driven into the sea, is as important a symbol of that country’s birth in the early 1920s as the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia is to an American.

As in the first film, Iliou draws upon a treasure trove of historical photos and film footage, interviews with academic specialists in Greek and Turkish history, and reminiscences of the children and grandchildren who were driven from their homeland both through naked terror and through “legal” decisions made at the top by cynical politicians. Given the pain—both physical and emotional—visited on the Greeks and the Turks, the distinction between illegal and legal becomes moot.

While the film would be of particular interest to someone like myself, it has a universal message for those who cannot but be aware of the toxic after-effects of the breakup of the Ottoman Empire, as Jews, Christians, and Muslims fought to defend statehood claims like vultures fighting over dead meat.

full article

February 22, 2014

Kurdish and Turkish films of note

Filed under: feminism,Film,Kurd,Turkey — louisproyect @ 11:26 am

Over the past several days I’ve looked at two Kurdish and two Turkish narrative films that would be of particular interest to my readers. The Kurdish films were filmed on location in Kurdistan, the new state taking shape in northern Iraq and the Turkish films in the remote Black Sea and Anatolian regions that are far from urbane Istanbul. Moreover, despite the intensity of the Turkish-Kurd conflict, the four films depict societies that despite their deep contradictions, especially involving the oppression of women against the backdrop of communal solidarity, are very much alike. Leaving aside their topical relevance, they are all examples of art film in the best sense of the term.

Opening yesterday at the Quad Cinema in New York are two films by Jano Rosebiani, Kurdistan’s leading director. I use the term Kurdistan to indicate a people rather than an existing state although conditions are ripening in the Middle East that will make that a reality before long, both in Iraq and Syria.

Set in Kurdish territory in northern Iraq, “One Candle, Two Candles” is a comedy about a very serious topic: a young woman named Viyan (Kurdish for desire) is about to become the third wife of a local “headman” who is old enough to be her grandfather. As a car dealer, Haji Hemmo is about as close to a big businessman as you will see in Kurduva, the fictional name for Akre, a particularly beautiful town in Kurdistan where the film was shot. It is a jewel of the liberated territory that has extracted itself from the ongoing sectarian bloodbaths to its south.

In fact the bucolic charm of this town is a poignant reminder of what Iraq could have become if a combination of war and ethnic/religious sectarianism had not torn it apart. In a part of the world where state powers have become synonymous with brutality and economic greed, it is interesting to see how a historically stateless people can lead the way.

At the beginning of the film, Botan, a young, handsome and carefree artist from Zakho, the town that director Rosebiani grew up in, is sketching Viyan and her two companions while he charms them with allusions to ancient Kurdish history. He compares them to beautiful Nefertiti, the Hittite queen of Egypt who came from Zakho. Although the ancient history of the Kurds is not easily documented, there is no question that they originated in the territory occupied by the Hittite kingdoms.

The film is structured around the rivalry between Botan and Haji Hemmo over Viyan as they each line up supporters. Viyan’s father has a vested interest in seeing her married to Hemmo since the dowry includes a car from his lot. The town menfolk live in fear of Kitan, a middle-aged woman who is nicknamed the “ball-buster” since she squeezed the life out of her husband’s family jewels on account of his abusive treatment. Although the Kurds have moved a long way towards achieving peace within their borders, the household remains a battlefield with women under siege. As Engels once said, within the family the husband is the bourgeois and the wife the proletariat.

When Kitan walks through town, men practically duck into an alley to avoid her punishing grip. In one of the film’s many slapstick moments, she spots Viyan’s father on a virgin spin in his new car. She then commandeers the car and forces him to a stop; the town’s avenging proto-feminist in pursuit of another deserving prey. If Norman Mailer considered feminists to be ball-breakers, Kitan would be his worst nightmare. It is too bad a Kitan never got her hands on him.

At times the film will remind you of magical realism. Viyan climbs a tree in a wedding dress to avoid Hemmo’s all-too-persistent advances, a scene that will remind you of a Gabriel Garcia Marquez novel. But it probably makes more sense to see it in terms of a thousand-year old folk tale that Kurds might have told each other around campfires long before there was the novel, movies, television or the Internet.

“Chaplin of the Mountains” is listed as a documentary on the Quad Cinema website but it actually a narrative film. Perhaps the fact that its action consists mostly of some young film students making a documentary in Kurdistan leads to this confusion.

At a hotel in Erbil, a beautiful young Kurdish woman named Nazé, who grew up in France, strikes up a conversation with a group of young filmmakers who have come to Kurdistan to visit small towns and villages in order to document the reaction that people have to their screening of Charlie Chaplin films. Considering the Chaplinesque moments in “One Candle, Two Candles”, one can easily imagine them having the same outlook as director Rosebiani when he was a film student himself.

When Nazé’s flight back to Paris is cancelled, she decides to join the film crew on their tour and accepts their generous offer to help her find her mother’s village that was destroyed during one of Saddam Hussein’s genocidal attacks.

As they wend their way through the countryside, the results are not quite what they expected. Although the children are amused by Chaplin’s antics, some of the elders question the value of comedy to a people trying to build a new nation. Even worse, when they use a temple wall as a screen for a Chaplin one-reeler, they come close to being charged with sacrilege.

As a classic road movie, “Chaplain of the Mountains” is more a series of vignettes than a conventionally plotted drama. To this viewer, what makes it most memorable is the portrait of ordinary Kurdish people shot on location in a remote but beautiful region. They are the real stars. Most of all, you will be mesmerized by a series of performances by Kurdish folk musicians and dancers who are celebrating the continuation of an ancient civilization against all odds.

Ten years ago, almost to the date, I wrote an article about the Kurds for Swans, an online magazine. Given that the USA had just invaded Iraq, I tended to bend the stick in the direction of backing the Sunni resistance, which meant referring to the Kurds as “pawns”. I would not write the article in the same way today. I would refer you to the article if for no other reason that it will stimulate you into learning more about a people with a unique history. At the time I wrote:

The Kurds are ethnically related to the ancient Medes, but only came into their own with the rise of Islamic power. A Kurd by the name Salah-ud-Din reconquered Jerusalem from Richard the Lionhearted in the 12th century. Better known as Saladin, he established the Ayyubid dynasty which ruled over much of the Middle East until the rise of the Ottomans.

Columbus’s “discovery” of the New World had an enormous impact on commerce in the Middle East, which would no longer serve as a lucrative link between Europe and East Asia. Among the casualties were Kurdish merchants and toll-collectors.

In addition to being economically marginalized, the Kurds were isolated geographically as well. Preferring to dwell in the mountains or rocky hills, they subsisted on sheep-herding and small-scale farming. In the strict Marxist sense, class formation of modern capitalist society never took place until late in the 20th century.

Perhaps the amity that now characterizes Kurdistan today is an expression of the belated development of class relations. That is a topic worthy of further investigation.

“Watchtower” is a 2012 Turkish film directed by Pelin Esmer that is now available from Film Movement, a Netflix for the cognoscenti. This is probably at least the third film I have reviewed from their inventory and continue to be impressed by their curatorial finesse. “Watchtower” is a hauntingly beautiful film that is Turkish art film at its very best.

Essentially a two-character film, it depicts a middle-aged man and a young woman drawn together through pure happenstance in the Western Black Sea region, a ruggedly beautiful area. Nihat, the man, has just taken a job as a fire spotter on a mountaintop watchtower. Seher, the young woman, has taken a job with a small bus company headquartered in the tiny village at the foot of the mountain where Nihat stands watch. When she is not serving as a hostess on the bus, she is doing odd jobs around the restaurant that serves the bus passengers during a rest stop.

Seher’s parents have no idea why she should have dropped out of college and taken a dead-end job in such an isolated place. She can only reveal to her mother that she has become pregnant and is due to give birth shortly. Being unmarried and pregnant is tough enough for a Turkish woman from a traditional Anatolian family but in her case there is the added complication of her having been raped by her uncle. The bus stop is a way for her to get the birth of the baby out of the way and allow her to return to a normal life.

After finally giving birth, she leaves the newborn at the gate in front of the bus stop in the same fashion as poor women leaving their baby on the doorstep of a police precinct or hospital in New York, if they are at least humane enough not to leave it in a garbage can as happens from time to time.

Seher does not realize that Nihat has spotted her from inside the restaurant. In response to a tragic loss he has just suffered, he brings mother and child with him into the watchtower as they embark on a complicated relationship. He tries to persuade her to take a more loving relationship to the child despite her frequent attempts to be free of the responsibilities of motherhood, all the more understandable given the circumstances of how it came to pass.

The cinematography of “Watchtower” is stunning, with constant long shots of the Turkish forests and mountains. And even more effectively, there is an inspired use of sound. Dispensing with a film score, the action is highlighted by the sound of automobile tires on the roads beneath the mountains and the rustling of the leaves in the forest, creating a forlorn mood that is the perfect accompaniment to the unfolding human drama.

Female director Pelin Esmer majored in sociology at an Istanbul university before launching a career in film. “Watchtower” is a work imbued with a humanism that is very rarely seen in American films, either Hollywood or indie. It reminded me of a Chekhov short story as if a Turk had written it. Although the film is definitely an art film, it is also a deeply touching story that reminds you of what was lost when young filmmakers discovered irony. A must-see.

I discovered “Bliss” trawling through Netflix trying to find a movie that is geared to those with more than an IQ of 25. It is a 2007 film directed by Abdullah Oğuz that like “The Watchtower” and “One Candle, Two Candles” deals with the oppression of women in Turkish and Kurdish society. If you are not a Netflix subscriber, you can also watch it on Youtube. Part one is above.

When the film opens, we meet Meryem, a 17-year-old woman who has been violated in some fashion in a rural village in Anatolia, the eastern part of Turkey that is hobbled by “traditional values”. Despite the fact that Meryem is the victim, she is deemed unclean and must kill herself as expiation for her sins. While I have doubts that such a punishment is at all prevalent in Turkey, there are reports of such barbaric treatment of women elsewhere in Muslim society. In 2008 a 13-year-old had been gang-raped in Somalia. Instead of punishing the rapists, she was stoned to death by a mob.

Just before Meryem is forced to hang herself in a makeshift cell, soldiers enter the town since it has become notorious for imposing its own vigilante version of Islam, disregarding—for example—the Koranic stricture against suicide.

In order to expedite the punishment, the town elder, a creep named Ali Riza who is cut from the same cloth as Haji Hemmo, orders his son Cemal to take Meryem to Istanbul where he will take her life. Since Cemal has just returned from serving as a commando in the Turkish military against Kurdish rebels, he presumably can be trusted to carry out another act of brutality.

In Istanbul, he takes Meryem to a bridge and orders her at gunpoint to jump. She asks only one favor, if he would allow her to make a blindfold out of her scarf. Just before she jumps, Cemal decides that her life is more important than a village’s rigid codes and pulls her back from the edge. It also helps that the two have become infatuated with each other on the way to Istanbul. Love conquers all.

From that moment on, the couple are fair game for Ali Reza who dispatches a couple of goons to track them down in order to carry out the punishment. Just one step ahead of the hit squad, Cemal and Maryem are fortunate enough to run into Irfan, a professor who is on an extended leave from the academy and the shallowness of urban life in Istanbul. He invites them to work on his yacht as first mate and cook as he sails from island to island in the Sea of Marmara, an inland body of water that is one of Turkey’s most beautiful natural assets.

Irfan develops a paternal affection for the couple, understanding that they are fugitives—not so much from the law but from those who would wish them harm. Essentially, a three-character drama, the relationships between the three intensifies throughout the film as the village hit men close in on them.

“Bliss” is based on a novel by Zülfü Livaneli, a 68 year old Turk who is also a composer, singer, and politician. In 1997 he performed before a crowd of a half-million people in Ankara, to give you some sense of his popularity.

Wikipedia reports:

During his political career in Ankara, Livaneli presented a legislative proposal for amending Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code. The amendment proposed that the concept of “Turkishness” should be replaced with that of the “Turkish nation” which would put an emphasis on the concept of “nation” which, as formulated by the Republic, unites under its umbrella people of different origins. With this amendment, there would no more be a stress on the notion of Turkish race.

It is in the hands of people like Zülfü Livaneli and Jano Rosebiani to lead the transformation of the Middle East and North Africa. As I have stated on previous occasions, it is the artist—and particularly the filmmaker—who is functioning as the real vanguard of social change. The four films under review here will give you a sense of the yearnings of a people to finally make the land that was the birthplace of civilization its crowning glory once again.

January 13, 2014

Turkish break dancing

Filed under: dance,Turkey — louisproyect @ 1:23 pm

December 28, 2013

Ahmet Tonak on the AKP-Gulenist confrontation

Filed under: Islam,Turkey — louisproyect @ 12:10 am

Last night I interviewed Ahmet Tonak, a Marxist economist and long-time activist, about the current political crisis in Turkey that pitted the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) against the Gulenist movement led by Fethullah Gülen, a cleric who lives in the United States.

The interview was structured in part as a commentary on points made by Berkeley sociologist Cihan Tugal in an article titled “Towards the End of a Dream? The Erdogan-Gulen Fallout and Islamic Liberalism’s Descent” that appeared in Jadaliyya on December 22nd. Ahmet agreed with some points in the article and disagreed with others.

In addition, Ahmet touched upon the status of the Kurdish struggle that is now facing challenges in Iraq, Syria and Turkey. He concluded with an assessment of the opportunities facing the left in a period when both Islamism and Kemalism in Turkey are on the defensive.

On a technical note, apologies for the poor lighting. Next month I am buying proper lamps for the next time I shoot indoors after dark.

June 14, 2013

Taksim Square in context

Filed under: Turkey — louisproyect @ 4:52 pm

This article is divided into two parts. The first is an attempt to understand the historical origins of the ruling party, and particularly its capacity for repression. The second is a video interview with Marxist economist E. Ahmet Tonak, who has been both a scholar and committed activist for four decades. He comments more directly on the Taksim Square protests.

To unravel all the contradictions that led to the explosive confrontation between protestors and cops in Taksim Square this week would probably require us to go back to the origins of the Turkish republic in 1921.

But it is also possible to begin with a traumatic event that is in the memory of most Turks living today, namely the coup of 1980 that was a response to mounting challenges to the status quo by an earlier generation of activists. Kemalism was based on an import-substitution model adopted by many semi-peripheral nations aspiring to break into the top tier of capitalist powers. Among them was Argentina, another country led by a modernizing nationalist—Juan Peron.

In the 1970s Turkey entered into a stormy period marked by the failure of that import-substitution model not that different from Argentina’s of the same time. It revolved around balance of payments difficulties growing out of increasing imports, foreign debt, IMF directives and all the other ills associated with the Washington Consensus. When a powerful left and trade unions stood up to the government, the army stepped in and crushed the mass movement.

The army made a decision early on to exempt Islamic institutions from state terror. In doing so, it was following the model of the Shah of Iran who had developed a partnership with the Imams after Mossadegh was overthrown. Despite some disagreements between the Shah and the clergy over issues such as mosque ownership of land, they formed an uneasy alliance against the left. The same scenario developed in Turkey.

Once the left and the trade union movement were crushed, it provided an opportunity for a fraction of the capitalist class to utilize the opening it provided to take a different approach than that of the Kemalist bourgeoisie that was wedded to state control and monopolies. Hailing from Anatolia and much more religiously observant than the heavy-drinking and heavy-partying Kemalists (I have seen them in action in visits to Izmir), they were able to take advantage of a unorganized workforce and new trading opportunities in the West. These “Anatolian Tigers” were based mainly in the textile business and sought a business climate not that much different than the traditional textile business of the American South until it relocated to East Asia and elsewhere. Using its Islamic bona fides and a willingness to dispense charity in the form of food banks, clinics and free religious schools, the Islamist bourgeoisie began to exercise political power capable of challenging the old guard.

This excerpt from an excellent PBS documentary on the Anatolian Tigers will give you an idea of this rising bourgeoisie’s relationship to its observant workforce:

The first modern Islamist party was formed in 1983. Called the Welfare Party, it was led by Necmettin Erbakan who served as Prime Minister in 1996 to 1997 until ousted by the army. As is typical of the unprincipled character of Islamist parties in Turkey, Erkaban forged a coalition with the Correct Path Party, a rightist Kemalist formation that blended secularism with free-market orthodoxy.

The Justice and Development Party (AKP) was formed as a split from the Welfare Party in 2001 by Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the former mayor of Istanbul, and Abdullah Gül, who had a PhD in economics and worked in banking. The new party cleverly soft-pedaled the Islamist ideology and stressed its democratic credentials. To many Turks, including the liberal and social democratic intelligentsia, the new party was a breath of fresh air. It promised to break the stranglehold of the Turkish army on politics, to resolve the conflict with the Kurds, and move Turkey closer to the European model if not make it a member of the European Union.

I have vivid recollections of my Turkish language professor at Columbia University telling his class that he intended to vote for Erdoğan in 2007. He was a typical liberal intellectual who had bitter memories of performing military service under bullying Kemalist officers. Against that experience, he saw the AKP as beneficent dispensers of free medical care who would rein in the bullies.

Some Turks remained distrustful. Over 300,000 people demonstrated in Istanbul against the AKP campaign, fearing that it would bring an end to secularism and the unique character of modern Turkey. Among them was my wife’s closest friend, a woman who was as likely to appear in a scarf in public as I was. My in-laws in Turkey were all rock-ribbed Kemalists, including my wife’s parents who moved out of Üsküdar because religious folks from Anatolia were swamping it. It was getting harder and harder to find a restaurant that served alcohol.

Such inconveniences aside, the real shortcomings of the AKP were exactly the same as those of the system it replaced. In January 2007 Hrat Dink, a Turkish-Armenian who advocated reconciliation between the two peoples and human rights in general, was gunned down by an ultraright nationalist. Despite many warnings about the threat to Dink, the cops sat on their hands. When Ramazan Akyürek, the head of intelligence at the time, received word about a plot to kill Dink, he did nothing. Public outrage led to his transfer to a less sensitive position but in early 2012 he got a promotion to a top post in Ankara. So much for AKP concern about human rights.

This is not to speak of the crackdown on journalists and personalities who have only the slightest connection to the Kemalist power elite. In 2010 Turkey was roiled by government charges that a conspiracy named Ergenekon had been uncovered. Supposedly the discredited officer corps of the Kemalist party was plotting a coup. But typical of the wide net spread by the prosecutors was the arrest of a famous transvestite named Sisi, who happened to be doing a documentary called ‘The Women of the Republic”, on the role models of Kemalism in country’s early period.

Sisi was not the only “trannie” to get on the wrong side of the Islamist authorities. In 2008 Bülent Ersoy, a transsexual performer of Ottoman classical music, was a judge on the Turkish version of “American Idol” when she spoke out against the Turkish invasion of Northern Iraq directed against the Kurds—stating that if she was a mother, she would not allow her son to fight. After being charged with the crime of “turning Turks against compulsory military service”, she was found not guilty.

Anticipating Erdoğan’s smear of Taksim Square protestors as being in league with terrorists, he attacked planned trade union May Day demonstrations as being instruments of Ergenekon subversion.

Until very recently Turkey was held up as the “good Muslim” country that could serve as a model for countries that were associated with the Arab Spring, particularly Egypt where the Muslim Brotherhood hoped to adopt the same mixture of neoliberal economics and ham-fisted repression that had made Turkey such a “success”. With its 5 percent annual growth rate, its “moderate” commitment to Islamic values, its supposed tolerance for dissent, and most importantly its willingness to support imperialist objectives in the Middle East, it was the West’s poster boy even if it strayed from the consensus by sponsoring flotillas to Gaza.

All that is left in smoldering ruins today, at least for that sector of public opinion that is not likely to be interviewed on “Meet the Press”. Erdoğan is a first-rate bully cut from the same cloth as Mubarak. Given a sufficient amount of “provocation”, he could easily be seen as willing to drown protests in blood.

With respect to the Arab Spring, or what is left of it, Turkey’s relationship to the ongoing events deserves some deeper scrutiny especially in light of Syria rapidly turning into a confrontation allegedly involving super-powers. In his latest article that appeared in the July-August 2012 New Left Review (“Democratic Janissaries?”), Berkeley sociologist Cihan Tuğal takes a close look at Turkey’s involvement with the massive changes taking place in the Middle East.

In the very first uprising that took place in Tunisia, Turkey remained silent. When Egypt followed fast on the heels of Tunisia, Erdoğan advised Mubarak to keep a step ahead of the “exploiters” and “dirty circles” that had dark scenarios in mind for Egypt—not a very encouraging take on matters for someone facing what might amount to a “Turkish Spring” before long.

Ankara was also silent when protests erupted in Bahrain, even when demonstrators were gassed and shot. On March 20, just after Saudi tanks advanced on the mostly Shi’a masses, Erdoğan announced that Turkey and Saudi Arabia “provide an important contribution to regional peace and stability, and exhibit a model cooperation”. Tuğal writes:

Indeed, Erdoğan and Davutoğlu moved to consolidate Turkish relations with Saudi Arabia as the Arab Spring wore on, serving to strengthen the sectarianization—Sunni versus Shia and Alawi—of the region. Ankara was prudently silent about the uprising in Yemen, too, where Saudi and American interests might have been endangered had demands for jobs, living standards and democratization been satisfied. As repression took its toll, the divisions within the ruling tribal elite took on greater salience, eventually pitching tribe against tribe, rather than activists against the dictatorship. Tribal brokerage ultimately led to the removal of President Saleh without any major change in the state apparatus, which was still fit for purpose as far as the Saudis and the Obama Administration were concerned.

Given Turkey’s ostensibly aggressive stance against Bashar al-Assad, it is worth taking a close look at the relationship between the two countries—once again through the lens of Cihan Tuğal.

He points out that a free-market trade agreement between Turkey and Arab states that resembled those found in the West like NAFTA was partially responsible for the revolt against Baathist rule. “Here, the very free-market policies that Erdoğan and Davutoğlu had been promoting through the regional Economic and Trade Association had helped to worsen the plight of youth in the run-down agricultural towns, from Daraa in the south to Homs, Hama and Idlib, that would be the centre of the revolt, while a tiny elite had grown spectacularly rich.”

From early on, there were signs that the AKP leadership was willing to sell out the revolution. Tuğal notes:

In early March 2012, Gül was favouring the ‘Yemeni road’ for Syria: Assad should appoint one of his aides, as Saleh had done, and step to one side, leaving the governing structures intact; the notoriously divided Syrian opposition was not yet ready to rule the country. The following week he warned against military intervention, calling for a ‘political solution’ and an expanded ‘Friends of Syria’ meeting in Ankara that would include Russia, thereby ruling out a military option.

Events seem to be catching up with Gül’s Metternichan calculations. The AKP took a gamble on backing the Syrian rebels, expecting perhaps a rapid victory through a combination of their fighting spirit and the willingness of Sunni-ruled states to supply arms sufficient enough to break the back of the Syrian army. However, American intervention was successful in preventing the revolutionaries from obtaining the weapons they needed to take down aircraft or stop a tank in its tracks. With its massive armaments, its support from Russia and Iran, and finally its genocidal appetite for the deaths of combatants and noncombatants alike, the Baathist regime appears capable of staying in power for the foreseeable future.

That being the case, it is no wonder that the AKP—always ready to make a fast buck—is seeing its way to make some war profits at the expense of its hollow Islamist values.

http://news.yahoo.com/turkish-company-supplies-diesel-syrian-regime-145251990.html

Turkish company supplies diesel to Syria

By Humeyra Pamuk | Reuters – Mon, Jun 3, 2013

ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey has become an unlikely new source of vital diesel for the Syrian government, according to shipping documents and sources.

Private Turkish oil company Aves, from the Mediterranean port city of Mersin, has loaded seven cargoes of ultra low sulphur diesel in April destined for Syria’s state-controlled port of Banias.

Turkey is not subject to EU sanctions against Syria, however, the trade is a potential embarrassment for Ankara – one of Damascus’ most outspoken critics.

The Turkish foreign ministry declined to comment on the specific matter but reiterated its position on Assad regime.

June 5, 2013

Expropriating the expropriators

Filed under: Turkey — louisproyect @ 11:23 pm

April 5, 2013

Smyrna: the Destruction of a Cosmopolitan City

Filed under: Film,Turkey — louisproyect @ 2:36 pm

Counterpunch Weekend Edition April 5-7, 2013
A Review of “Smyrna: the Destruction of a Cosmopolitan City”

When Madness Swept the Mediterranean

by LOUIS PROYECT

In my one and only visit to Izmir to meet my wife’s relatives, we walked along the quay to see some of the picturesque city’s landmarks including the statue of Mustafa Kemal that looked toward the sea. My wife’s cousin Ceyda, the daughter of a General assigned to NATO and a rock-ribbed Kemalist, paused in front of the statue to inform me that this was where their war of independence was won. The quay, from which the city’s Greek population was literally driven into the sea, is as important a symbol of that country’s birth in the early 1920s as the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia is to an American.

Although I have been very critical of Toni Negri and Michael Hardt’s “Empire”, I am tempted to agree with their argument that the nation-state is a toxic formation when I think about Turkey’s origins over the mountains of Armenian, Greek and Kurdish skulls. Like the Native American corpses that are vomited up at the end of “Poltergeist”, that’s the chilling spectacle you get in the powerful documentary “Smyrna: The Destruction of a Cosmopolitan City” that opens on April fifth at the Quad in New York. With previously unseen photographs and film footage, the city is revealed in both its cosmopolitan glory and the immolation in 1922 that changed the character of the city forever. Henceforth it would be referred to by its Turkish name—Izmir—just as Constantinople would be known as Istanbul.

full: http://www.counterpunch.org/2013/04/05/when-madness-swept-the-mediterranean/

March 6, 2012

Cartel!

Filed under: music,Turkey — louisproyect @ 7:44 pm

January 23, 2012

Eurovision, Turkey, and the Jews

Filed under: anti-Semitism,music,Turkey — louisproyect @ 6:55 pm

(Hat tip to David Shasha of the Sephardic Heritage mailing list.)

Eurovision, Turkey, and the Jews

By: Rachel Amado Bortnick

I first heard of Can Bonomo less than a year ago, in an interview with him in the Istanbul Jewish weekly Şalom on the occasion of the release of his first CD, Meczup (Lunatic). But what drew my attention then was not that a Jewish boy was a popular musician (there have been, and are, many Jews that are popular musicians in Turkey) but that he was from Izmir, the city where I was born and raised. I thought, in fact, that he was probably the great grandson of the Mr. Bonomo who owned a bicycle repair shop in our neighborhood, as there was only one Bonomo family in Izmir. When later on, in June of 2011, I read that Can (pronounced as John) got a prize in the musical competition Altin Kelebek (golden butterfly) organized by the Turkish daily Hurriyet, I was happy, as I would be for a young relative who had done well.

But when I learned, on January 10, 2012 that Can Bonomo was nominated by the Turkish Television Network TRT to represent Turkey at the next Eurovision song competition – to be held in May in Baku, Azerbaijan – I was truly proud.The buzz about Bonomo’s nomination continues daily with the posting of a widely-seen You Tube video of his performances, and on Turkish websites, articles, TV and radio features and commentaries and interviews. In most cases, the commentators or interviewers are kind and happy for him, ignore or downplay his Jewishness, and just ask him about the songs he will submit, about his musical training, and so on, and wish him good luck.But unfortunately there has also been a barrage of Anti-Semitic articles and comments, some going as far as accusing the musician of being part of the Jewish conspiracy to dominate the world! Can has been very dignified, and to all those that bring up his Jewish background as an issue, he has replied that “Music has no language, religion, or race”, and explaining that his family has been here for 540 years, he is a Turk, and can represent Turkey.

The Eurovision song contest, though not well known in America, is a big deal every year among the participating nations (its website states that approximately 125 million people watch it on TV) and winning it is a cause of national pride, akin to winning a “Miss Europe” contest. Jewish Americans probably heard about it in the years that Israel won (it did 3 times: 1978, 1979, and 1998) and are reminded of it especially when the popular song “Halleluyah” is introduced as “the Eurovision winner of 1979.” But this year Eurovision is in the Jewish media because a Jewish boy is going to represent a Muslim country!But it is not pride in a Jewish person’s achievement that is motivating the coverage, but rather criticism of Can’s statements regarding his Judaism, and countering the possible notion that Turkey is a tolerant country. At least this seems to be the case in the recent JTA article titled, “Turkish Jews celebrate country’s Eurovision pick, but singer would prefer quiet about his religion”

http://www.jta.org/news/article/2012/01/17/3091233/turkish-jews-celebrate-countrys-eurovision-pick-but-singer-would-prefer

The article objects to Bonomo’s statement, citing it as: “My family came from Spain 540 years ago. I am Turkish and I am representing Turkey, I will go out there with the Turkish flag … I am an artist, a musician. That’s all that everybody needs to know.”

The writer, Ron Kampeas (who is probably Sephardic also, judging by his last name) writes:

“Should Bonomo, who was born in the coastal city of Izmir, decide one day to shuck off his hesitancy about his Jewish roots, he might discover how they informed his music.

Jewish cafe singers drew crowds in the 1920s and 1930s with their modernized versions of their parents’ aching and ancient Ladino love ballads. A number of their modern Israeli interpreters, including Hadass Pal-Yarden and Yasmin Levy, have taken their acts to Turkey and won acclaim.”

The fact is that Bonomo’s statement, which even referred to his people’s history in Turkey, had no “hesitancy” about his Jewish roots. Nor has he ever tried to hide his Jewishness. Even though his first name, Can, is Turkish (it means “soul”), his surname is clearly is Sephardic, and, as probably everyone knows by now, means “good man” in Italian. (Some have mused that he may be a relative of the famous American clarinetist Benny Goodman!)

Mr. Kampeas has never interviewed Bonomo to find out what the musician knows about what “informed his music.” And who were the “Jewish cafe singers [who] drew crowds in the 1920s and 1930s …?”

There is no tradition of Jewish café singers in Turkey! Perhaps Mr. Kampeas was thinking of Roza Eskenazi, star of Rebetiko music, who is the subject of the movie “My Sweet Canary.”

[You can read her story in: http://www.mysweetcanary.com/PDF/bio.pdf ]

Roza is not typical of Sephardic women, who traditionally did not perform in public. The many Jews who were Turkish classical musicians and composers in Ottoman times were not “café singers” either.  Nor did Mr. Kampeas have to refer to Israelis who sing in Ladino today. There are wonderful Ladino musical groups and singers in Turkey, including Los Pasharos Sefaradis, Janet and Jak Esim, and the world’s only Ladino children’s chorus, Las Estreyikas d’Estambol. Additionally, the group Sefarad, made up of Jewish musicians, performs in Ladino and Turkish, has recorded several CDs, and remains extremely popular. But none of this adds or detracts from Bonomo’s personality as a Jew or a musician.

I agree with the interviewee Saporta in the article, who said that the antisemitic verbal attacks on Bonomo come from “political factions that deride minorities in general,” but unfortunately their pronouncements concerning Jews are as Anti-Semitic as one finds anywhere. Yet, Can Bonomo‘s popularity has prompted thousands in Turkey to express outrage at the racism and discrimination in the country, and to promote the traditional kindness and humanity of the Turkish people. As Jews, we have had a long history of living peacefully with and among Turks. We hope that Can Bonomo will win first place with his song in the 2012 Eurovision contest, and bring glory to Turks and Jews, with ripple effects for good will everywhere.

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