akp

3 questions to Mustafa Altıoklar about his new Gezi film project

Little more than one year has passed since the Gezi protests in Turkey. Mustafa Altıoklar, renowned Turkish film director and one of the medical doctors volunteering during the protests, is now planning to make a film about the events. In short, the film will portray a love story between a female protester and a young man, whose family has ties to the ruling party, AKP. A sort of Romeo and Juliet story, that will also contain real life footage, shot by Mustafa Altıoklar during the protests.

Mustafa Altioklar Gezi protest Film movie

He has already written a script for the movie, and producer Nida Karabol has been assigned to the project.

Now he is reaching out to the public in order to get funding for this film, that is highly controversial in today’s Turkey.

I asked Mustafa Altıoklar three questions about the project. Here are his answers:

First of all, how was the process of writing the script?

Mustafa Altıoklar: Painfull… As I am a medical doctor under my other hat, I treated the wounded as a volunteer doctor in the make-shift infirmary in Gezi Park even as tear gas and rubber bullets were raining down. So, I observed the events in a unique position to tell this story as an insider who witnessed unfolding dramas first hand. I started writing the diaries during the days of the protests and finalised the script soon after the termination of revolts. 90% of the events in the script are true stories, so most script writing job consisted of conjoining them in a meaningful way. This operation took about two months and was painful, since I recalled the tragic events over and over through out the process.

Why reach out to the public for funding?

Mustafa Altıoklar: Firstly, I want to make clear that this is a non-profit venture. All funding will be used in the making of the film and any surplus, as well as proceeds from the film, is to be donated to other non-profit ventures or organisations. Secondly, the current repressive situation in Turkey makes it almost impossible to secure funding for a project that goes against the government’s liking. Media and even businesses feel the autocratic pressure daily and the government, with all forces at its disposal, acts promptly and forcefully at the slightest whiff of public dissent. It is, of course, futile to apply to the Ministry of Culture for support funds for a project like this. Consequently the only way to raise funding for this movie is crowd-funding.

What measures do you think the government will take to stop this film?

Mustafa Altıoklar:  On the 18th of June, just some days ago, the government banned certain subjects to be discussed openly, such as the Roboski massacre, Reyhanli massacre, the 17th December corruption operation, the Soma disaster and ISIS terrorism. So, they may just add another prohibition to shoot this film. They may also send treasury inspectors to dig out pseudo legal issues, or they may send narcotics to disrepute any of the volunteers of the project. They will definitely threaten the providers, supporters and media who publish any news about the project. They may cancel or forbid the locations that we want to film at, and finally they may imprison me to stop filming. We are prepared to handle any of this, including me going to jail. I already made a plan on how to finish the film remotely.

In order to donate to this Gezi film project CLICK HERE!

Part 3: Victory?

Erdogan victory akp

The day after the local elections I stood on the sidewalk with my bags waiting for a taxi. I was on my way to a friend where I would stay during my last days in Istanbul. It was clear that AKP had won, even though the votes were still being counted.

After putting my luggage in the backseat, I sat down next to a smiling taxi driver, who immediately, as most strangers asked about my nationality, after wrongly assuming I was from Germany.

The radio was playing loud. Every second minute, parts from Erdogan’s victory speech, in which he promised to crush all his opponents, was aired. Now and then, the radio station also played pieces of the song specially written for the local elections with the simplistic but telling refrain “Reeeecep Taaaaayyip Errrrdooogaaaaan!”

“How is it going in Ankara?” I asked the driver. “Have they counted all the votes yet?”

“AKP won!” he answered while taking his right hand off the steering wheel, raising his thumb up in the air.

“45% percent they got” he continued.

“So what do you think will happen to Fetullah Gülen now?”

He again lifted his right hand from the steering wheel, this time imitating a razor blade cutting against his throat.

“He is finished!” he said.

We continued to talk about other things, but as the taxi came closer to my final destination, I wanted to ask him one last question.

“So, do you think there were any corruption? Do you think Erdogan is corrupt?”

He did an upwards nod.

“No! There is no corruption!” he said with certainty in his voice.

I sat in silence for a while, watching the expression on his face. He looked friendly.

“But…” I started, discretely smiling. “… This is Turkey. Aren’t most politicians corrupt here in some way? The CHP also, I mean.”

His face changed somewhat like he was preparing to say something, but he remained quite.

“Do you really believe he is not corrupt?” I continued and smiled.

At this point his facade broke down.

“You are right. He might be! He might have taken some money” he said almost in a whispering tone.

“So what do you think about that?”

“Well, he is the best we have!” he continued after a while. ”I like him! He is doing great things for people like me!”

As I stepped out of the taxi, grabbed my luggage and said god bye to him, I thought about the fact that AKP has had constant wind in their sails since they came to power in 2002. And when they were faced with their first real challenge, the Gezi protests, they managed to ruin their entire worldwide reputation as a progressive democratic party in less than a couple of weeks. After the corruption allegations, they now only have the poor and uneducated people left to vote for them. This is enough to win the elections under todays political circumstances, but is Erdogan able to provide another ten years of economic success and reforms, that these poor voters hope for?

That is the burning question.

Part 1: The Taxi Drivers

Taxi in Istanbul

The taxi drivers

A couple of nights before the local election I was out walking. Outside one of the night clubs in the central historical part of Istanbul, where you will find many of the liberal Gezi youngsters partying and drinking, stood a group of taxi drivers, with their yellow cars, waiting for the night club guests to be in need of their services. I could tell, somehow, from the way they looked towards the entrance, that they weren’t happy with what they saw.

“How is business going?” I asked them.

Surprised that I spoke to them in Turkish, they asked where I came from, and after I answered we continued to talk about other things. I suggested that spring had come to Istanbul, they said it had been a warm winter.

After a while I cleared my throat.

“What are you going to vote for in the elections?”

A slightly noticeable discomfort spread among them, they started to look at each other, some turned aside and laughed nervously.

“I am going to vote for AKP” one of the short men, said, “I am voting for Tayyip!”, he continued in a louder voice, looking to the other men for assurance.

“Have you always?”

“Of course!” he exclaimed, like it was the most ignorant question on earth. “There is no one else than Tayyip Erdogan!”

The other men repeated “Tayyip Erdogan” in some sort of mumbly choir and laughed.

“So, You also vote for the AKP?”

“Of course” they all said.

A short moment of silence occurred.

“So, what do you think about the corruption allegations? Are they real?”

The men’s discomfort now became more evident than before, and one of them was just about to open his mouth, when a tall and rather well dressed man suddenly came in front of me.

“We don’t talk about this! AKP is going to win, we gonna vote for them, and Fetullah Gülen will be gone. Thats it!” he said in an aggressive manner.

I took a step back, and if the man had had a more rough look, I would have escaped the scene. But instead I stood silent observing how he seemed to spread fear among the men. He was clearly above them in the pecking order.

“We gonna win on sunday!” he continued now facing the men. “AKP will win! We going to vote! And after that Turkey will continue as usual!”

Then he hastily went away after someone had called on him from another group of taxis a bit away. All of us watched his back in silence as it faded into the night.

“Who was that?” I asked after a while.

“It is our boss!” the short man said. He organizes our taxis, gives us work…”
“From the municipality?” I said.

The short man smiled insecurely.

“Maybe!”

To me, this was a perfect illustration of how freedom of thought and expression in Turkey is a luxury that only can be afforded by the very few who are economically independent. One of the main reasons for AKP’s success is that they have managed to activate the grass roots of the society and make politics out of almost everything in their everyday life. In a society that is almost to an absolute extent already built upon friends, family, and social network, this has become a very efficient way to maintain support and silent opposition among the poor conservative, working people, who is in an overwhelming majority in the country. Especially occupations that in some way is under the government and municipalities control, have quickly turned into professions where only people who agree with the AKP is allowed to enter. This is valid for the professions high up in the hierarchy down to the very bottom, where even workers, are expected to agree with everything the AKP stands for. If you do not agree, you will face problems, likely get fired.

I said goodbye, and the group of men was dispersed. The short man jumped in to his taxi, started the engine and drove slowly towards a waving group of youngsters at the night club’s entrance.

 

 

 

Electoral fraud cont.

Here are some articles that relate to my previous post about that AKP is planning to rig the elections. This is naturally very worrying…

http://turkishpoliticsupdates.wordpress.com/2014/03/23/biggest-electoral-fraud-ever-to-be-staged-in-turkey/

http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/election-fraud-concern-grows.aspx?pageID=449&nID=63883&NewsCatID=409

http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/ruling-akps-demand-for-list-of-ballot-box-clerks-raises-election-fraud-concerns.aspx?pageID=238&nID=63935&NewsCatID=338

And to cheer you up – here comes my favorite local election poster. In the star on top it says “With us everything will cost 3 TL”. That is pure genius!

Yerel secim poster en komik funny

“With us everything will cost 3 Turkish Lira

Will the local elections in Turkey be fair?

Will the local elections in Turkey be fair?

Is it all about the ballot box?

The question posed above deserve some thinking. What is a fair election?

Erdogan’s answer would be that it is all about the ballot box, no matter what factors are shaping the final result. In other words, this represents a technical approach to fairness at democratic elections. It is about making sure that people are not hindered to vote for the party of their choice and that their votes are later counted accordingly. However, even Erdogan’s  kind of fairness seems to be under threat in today’s Turkey…

The most worrying fact is that YSK, the powerful organ that organize the elections, is a branch under the judiciary, that is now under the governments control due to the changes of the HSYK that recently was implemented.

In a letter to the European Parliament the liberal democratic leader, Cem Toker, has called the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to send neutral observers to guard the elections. In his letter he refers to an article, giving reasons why everyone should be worried on the 30th of March. One indication of possible cheating is that considerably more ballots than registered voters have been printed. The same was the case in the referendum 2011, and what happened to the ones left then is still unknown. Another indication that points towards cheating in both previous and upcoming elections, is that YSK has been very unwilling to provide transparency in a way that is crucial in a democracy… many things point to them being heavily controlled by the ruling party. Read Cem Toker’s very worrisome article here.

And even beside the technical ballot box aspect, there are many other things pointing towards an unfair election.

This week a report was released showing that 90 percent of the airing time from election campaigns on the state television was devoted to AKP. Only 5 percent of the coverage went to CHP. In addition, there are endless number of examples of how television and media in Turkey are working as propaganda machine for the government, rather than as a provider of information for people to make their own decisions upon. 

Now, remember that TV is the only news source for the big majority of Turks on the country side. Thus, many people are only reached by Erdogan’s version of everything that happens in the country… 

The questions boils down to: would people vote differently if there wasn’t any censorship?

If the answer is yes, can we really talk about fair democratic elections in Turkey at all?

Is Kayseri worried about Erdogan’s corruption?

I came up with the idea of trying to find out where the sound recording between Tayyip Erdogan and his son Bilal were watched the most in Turkey. Where there any districts that stood out?

To learn more about this I use Google Trends. This is a tool that makes it possible to find out the relative amount of searches in Google in the different districts of Turkey. Since the search term “erdoğan ses kaydı” (erdogan sound recording) was the one most commonly used to find the clip, that was also what I used as an indicator. So, where did people search the most for this term?

Screen Shot 2014-03-04 at 17.47.59

Screen Shot 2014-03-10 at 12.29.24

The map above is an illustration of the search incidents for the search term reported by Google Trends for the period February 5 – March 4. The same is shown in the first column of the table and in the second column the districts numerical order in population size is shown. This is to give some baseline in order to compare the search frequencies. A high number in the second column thus means that the population is relatively small, and therefore, since it is on the top ten list of searches, it means that the district sticks out with a high incidence of searches.

The most interesting deviations from what population size would predict is found in the districts of Kayseri and Samsun. These are both AKP strongholds. In the 2011 election, AKP got 65% of the votes in Kayseri and about 61% in Samsun. There is also something extra curious with the fact that the district of Kayseri is on this list, since this district is regarded as the one bringing Erdogan to power, because of the support from its many rich businessmen.

Does this mean that Erdogan should be worried? I think so.

2 scenarios: What will happen in Turkey?

What will happen in Turkey?

A poster for an ungoing campaign urging people in general to vote in the coming local elections.

The election campaign leading up to 30th of March is likely going to be the dirtiest in the republic’s modern history. The fight between the AKP and the opposition parties has already passed the point where civilized debate is possible. Ankara’s controversial mayor Melih Gökcek, has even suggested that he might be assassinated during the election campaign. I think that he is not alone worrying that the hateful climate in the country is going to lead to violent clashes, and even planned attempts on politician’s lives. Erdogan has effectively prepared a fertile ground for violence to emerge.

The reason why the tone in the campaign is hateful is that the outcome of the election will drastically influence Turkey’s future. In many ways it is a fight for life and death between the main opposition and Erdogan personally.

Here are two possible scenarios and their short and long term consequences:

1. AK Party gets ABOVE 40% of votes – status quo

In this scenario Erdogan will be able to sell that the population of Turkey agree to his narrative on the corruption probe. It will also continue the winning strike of the AK Party and make his ministers and party members stay loyal to him. Another, and more important consequence of this scenario, is that Erdogan will have plenty of room to continue restructuring the country’s institutions to his own liking. The biggest loser will naturally be democracy in general, and in specifics, the opposition, individuals, companies, newspapers and institutions that have been critical to Erdogan. Without any resistance, and with the full power of the police, the judiciary, MIT etc. behind him, he will  start a witch-hunt for everyone he considers as an opponent to his cause to stay in power. Turkey will quickly develop into a one-party-state, and any return from there will be a very long and slow process.

2. AK Party gets BELOW 40% of the votes – Ankara or Istanbul is lost

A result below 40% will instead be a blow to Erdogan, especially if Istanbul or Ankara is lost to CHP. Erdogan will, however, initially try to sell the election as a victory, pointing to the fact that the party still has a majority of the total votes in Turkey. But eventually discontent will grow, since he won’t be able to stabilize the country and restructure it to his own liking in the same way as before. Especially he will have a hard time to pursue his goal of a presidential system with himself as president. The struggle between AKP and the opposition parties will at the same time become more even, and together with the economic effect of the interest rate-hike in January and the weakening of the lira kicking in, people will get the impression that Erdogan is losing control. It is then  likely that the members of AKP  will start thinking of a future without him as their leader. How long this would take, is impossible to predict, since it depends on how much below 40%  AKP receives in the election.

So, which one of the two scenarios is the most likely?

In one way I am certain that even more incriminating voice recordings of Erdogan is soon to be released. But as I have already pointed out earlier in this blog, a big chunk of the population in Turkey only have access to government-friendly information about what is going on in the country; about 80% of the voters belonging to Erdogan’s core group does not have access to Internet. This group is additionally more occupied with making ends meet than to follow and question political issues they do not fully understand. In order for this group to turn away from Erdogan, something extraordinary has to happen, and I am afraid some files on the Internet are simply not enough.

Only one thing is certain. More political and economical turmoil is unavoidable in the near future!

Leaked sound recording might determine Erdogan’s future

The heat has turned up on Turkish Prime minister Tayyip Erdogan. With about one month left to local elections, five phone recordings were leaked on Youtube yesterday. In just a couple of hours, the video with the recordings had over one  million views. Why? It exposes that Tayyip Erdogan and his family are bathing in enormous amounts of unaccounted cash.

Most of the conversations on the leaked recordings allegedly took place between Tayyip Erdogan and his son Bilal Erdogan on the 17th of December, the same day as a graft probe was unexpectedly initiated against ministers and sons in Tayyip Erdogan’s own government.

Tayyip Erdogan, who is in Ankara, calls his son, who seems to be sleeping and unaware of the turmoil created by the corruption investigation. Its 08.00 in the morning:

R. TAYYİP ERDOĞAN: Are you at home?

N. BİLAL ERDOĞAN: I am, father.

RTE: This morning they did an operation, this Ali Agaoglu, Reza Zerrab, our Erdogans son [another Erdogan], Zafers son, Muammers son, their homes are being searched.

NBE: Tell me again, father.

RTE: I am saying Muammers son, Zafers son, Erdogans son, Ali Agaoglu, Reza Zerrab, 18 people right now, the are doing a big corruption operation and their homes are being searched.

NBE: Yes

RTE: Ok? Now I say, whatever you have at home, take it out! Ok?

NBE: What would I have, father, there is your money in the safe.

RTE: That’s what I am saying! I am sending your sister now. Ok?

NBE: Who are you sending?

RTE: I am saying that I am sending your sister!

NBE: Eh, ok!

RTE: Then the same way, she has that information, ok? Talk to your brother!

NBE: Yes!

RTE: Lets do that things, talk to your uncle too, he should also take it out the same way, talk to your brother in law, he should also…

NBE: What should we do to it, father, where should we put it?

RTE: To specific places, do it!

In the other, following recordings, Bilal Erdogan calls back to his father and report how the work is proceeding. After a day of collecting enormous amounts of cash, allegedly about USD 1 billion from 5 different houses and making it disappear by buying flats and paying in advance for projects to businessmen they work together with, he still haven’t been able to hide it all.

At 23.15 the same day this call takes place:

NBE: Hi daddy, I am calling to… we almost did it. Eh, did you call me father?

RTE: No I did not, you called me.

NBE: I was called from a secret number

RTE: By saying mostly, did you fully dissolve it?

NBE: We did not zeroized it yet father. Let me explain. We still have 30 million Euros that we could not yet dissolve. Berat thought of something. There was an additional 25 million dollars that Ahmet Calik should receive. They say let’s give this to him there. When the money comes, we do something, they say. And with the remaining money we can buy a flat from Sehrizar, he says. What do you say, father?

Tayyip Erdogan accepts his son’s ideas about how the last 30 million Euros should be hidden. The next day, on the 18th of December, Bilal Erdogan calls his father and says that all the money has been “zeroized”.

How the leaked recordings are going to influence the upcoming local elections March 30 is hard to say at this point. The opposition parties, naturally, immediately called for Erdogan to resign, while the prime minister himself claimed that the over 11 minutes long file of conversation was a montage, adding that he was going to sue the ones behind the “dirty plot” against him and his family.

However, its certain that the voter’s reactions to the recordings is going to be crucial for Turkeys near future. If these recordings can’t harm Erdogan considerably in the upcoming elections, I am afraid that nothing can.

Diyanet – a state within the state

Diyanet – a state within the state

Mehmet Görmez, the president of Diyanet, the ministry of religious affairs.

Erdogan has accused the Gülen movement of forming a state within the state. However, a majority of the Turkish people  believe that this is an exaggeration. About 60 percent of people asked in polls think that Erdogan instead is trying to cover up the corruption within his own government by blaming the Gülen movement.

But something that could be called a state within the state actually exists in Turkey, sponsored with the tax payers money. Its name is Diyanet, The Ministry of Religious Affairs. It serves directly under the prime ministers office.

Ataturk founded Diyanet in 1924 as a replacement for the caliphate, that was managing the religious affairs during the Ottoman era.  Diyanet’s role thus became to support the building and management of mosques and to teach citizens about religion in different ways.

Since AKP came to power in 2002, the size and influence of Diyanet has increased dramatically. Its personnel has doubled to almost 120 000 people, and more than 2000 people from the Diyanet has been positioned within other state ministries, without clear reasons. The ministry’s tone against other religions has also become more harsh; it publishes propaganda books against christianity as one example. 

But the most jaw-dropping thing with this ministry is its budget. During the AKP rule, it has skyrocketed to an astonishing TL 4.6 billion in 2013 and it is going to increase to TL 5.4 billion in 2014.

To get the impression of how much money Diyanet is given each year by the AKP, lets compare its budget to the budgets of other ministries in 2013.

A budget of TL 4.6 billion is:

1.6 times larger than the budget allocated to the Ministry of the Interior

1.8 times larger than the budget allocated to the Ministry of Health

1.9 times larger than the budget allocated to the Ministry of Industry, Science and Technology

2.4 times larger than the budget allocated to the Ministry of Environment and Urban Planning

2.9 times larger than the budget allocated to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs

3.4 times larger than the budget allocated to the Ministry of Economy

4.6 times larger than the budget allocated to MIT – Secret Services

How this enormous amount of money is spent is far from known. In 2009 it was reported that only  TL 3 million went to support the building of mosques. The rest seem to be put into religious education, religious services towards families and providing each mosque with an Imam. But its hard to find any reason how this can add up to TL 5.4 billion. If you don’t consider corruption, that is.

In short, Diyanet is a discriminative, religious institution, employing 120 000 people with a jaw-dropping budget that is not properly accounted for.

From my point of view it is the closest you can come a state within the state in Turkey.