SACW - 28 June 2018 | Afghanistan: Taliban shadow Govt / Bangladesh: Islami Andolon / Pakistan: ‘Systematic, Creeping, Coup’ / India: Lynchings; Vigilantism / Vietnam: Mass protests / Erdooan’s ‘new’ Turkey
aiindex at gmail.com
Wed Jun 27 17:52:30 EDT 2018
South Asia Citizens Wire - 28 June 2018 - No. 2992
[via South Asia Citizens Web - sacw.net since 1996]
1. Life under the Taliban shadow government | Ashley Jackson (ODI Report)
2. Islami Andolon Bangladesh: Who are they and what do they stand for? Fazlur Rahman Raju
3. Cyber intimidation: a bad idea | Pervez Hoodbhoy
4. India: Lynchings / Vigilantism / Troll armies
5. People’s Convention in Bombay Vows to Challenge Undemocratic & Destructive Global Finance: Resolves to Build Political and Economic Alternatives
6. The Mass Murder We Don’t Talk About / A Deathly Hush | Helen Epstein
7. Recent on Communalism Watch:
- India: IPS officer in Agra transferred for shutting down RSS shakha
- If even India’s foreign minister isn’t safe from right-wing trolls, who is? Barkha Dutt (in The Washington Post)
- India: Gandhi memorial at RajGhat shut on 24-25th June to ensure security of Vishwa Hindu Parishad meeting in the vicinity
- India: A nightmare worse than the Emergency, says Nayantara Sehgal
- India: Sushma Swaraj Is the Latest Victim of Right-Wing Trolling
- India: Mob lynching cases since 2015 (The Quint)
- India: Gauri Lankesh murder suspect’s ‘hit list’ spikes threat perception to Karnataka
- India: Butcher Thrashed By UP Cops For Allegedly Selling Beef Dies At New Delhi hospital
- India - Hapur Lynching: Police attempt a cover-up
- Five UN special rapporteurs write to India's foreign minister to adhere to human rights norms in National Register of Citizens
- India: Hapur Mob March - where are we heading? Cartoon by Satish Acharya
- Book Review by Nandini Sundar of Foot Soldier of the Constitution: A Memoir by Teesta Setalvad
::: URLs & FULL TEXT :::
8. Buddhist extremism: is monk Gnanasara’s jailing a sign of Sri Lankan enlightenment? Russell Blinch
9. The Taliban has successfully built a parallel state in many parts of Afghanistan, report says | Pamela Constable
10. Pakistan Media Says It’s Targeted in Army’s ‘Systematic, Creeping, Coup’ | Saeed Shah
11. Learning to Live in the Colonies and Camps - Repatriates and Refugees in Tamil Nadu | Frank Heidemann, Abhijit Dasgupta
12. India: Citizens, non-citizens, minorities | Sanjib Baruah
13. The groundwater contamination across India must be probed, and safe sources identified - Editorial, The Hindu
14. Overlooked No More: Amrita Sher-Gil, a Pioneer of Indian Art | Tariro Mzezewa
15. Punjabi farmers look to Ukraine for a profitable harvest | K G Sharma
16. Mass protests sweep Vietnam for the first time in decades | Vu Quoc Ngu
17. Purges and Paranoia - Ella George on Erdoğan’s ‘new’ Turkey
1. LIFE UNDER THE TALIBAN SHADOW GOVERNMENT | Ashley Jackson (ODI Report)
Based on first-hand interviews with more than 160 Taliban fighters and officials, as well as civilians, this paper examines how the Taliban govern the lives of Afghans living under their rule.
2. ISLAMI ANDOLON BANGLADESH: WHO ARE THEY AND WHAT DO THEY STAND FOR? Fazlur Rahman Raju (in Dhaka Tribune)
Bangladesh’s big Islamist organisation ’Islami Andolon Bangladesh’ that has an estimated 20 million followers . . .
3. CYBER INTIMIDATION: A BAD IDEA
by Pervez Hoodbhoy
To gag voices that dare criticise abuse of power cannot lead to a better and more viable Pakistan
4. INDIA: LYNCHINGS / VIGILANTISM / TROLL ARMIES
INDIA: A LYNCHING NATION CANNOT BE DEMOCRATIC - PUBLIC STATEMENT BY P.A.D.S.
P.A.D.S. calls upon all Indians to stand up against any attempt at lynching and mass violence. Political parties and social organisations should make special efforts to prevent incidences of public violence. Mass campaigns, especially involving youth and students should be started against culture of violence.
INDIA: WAGES OF VIGILANTISM
by Zoya Hasan
Episodes of mass communal violence have given way to smaller-scale attacks against individuals
INDIA: SILENCED BY FEAR? EXTRA-CONSTITUTIONAL THREAT TO PRESS FREEDOM | Manu Sebastian
What can the Constitutional Courts do when fundamental freedoms are curtailed by non-state actors like troll armies and fringe elements?...
5. PEOPLE’S CONVENTION IN BOMBAY VOWS TO CHALLENGE UNDEMOCRATIC & DESTRUCTIVE GLOBAL FINANCE: RESOLVES TO BUILD POLITICAL AND ECONOMIC ALTERNATIVES
Mumbai, June 23  : “The international financial institutions like AIIB (Asia Infrastructure and Investment Bank) must function in a deeply democratic manner respectful of national sovereignty; or else be shut down for they constitute a threat to the nation’s economic and political security. These financial institutions are harbingers and promoters of the neo-liberal reforms responsible for hijacking of the democracy itself; regressive changes to environmental, labour, land, accountability laws; promoting privatisation and cartelisation; and burdening every citizen with huge debt; and destruction of minimal welfare measures.”
6. THE MASS MURDER WE DON’T TALK ABOUT / A DEATHLY HUSH | Helen Epstein
Two part review article on the 1994 Rwandan genocide
7. RECENT ON COMMUNALISM WATCH:
- India: IPS officer in Agra transferred for shutting down RSS shakha
- If even India’s foreign minister isn’t safe from right-wing trolls, who is? Barkha Dutt (in The Washington Post)
- India: Raj Ghat memorial to Mahatma Gandhi was shut to public on 24-25th June to ensure security of Vishwa Hindu Parishad which was oganising a meeting in the vicinity
- India: A nightmare worse than the Emergency, says Nayantara Sehgal
- India: Sushma Swaraj Is the Latest Victim of Right-Wing Trolling
- India: Mob lynching cases since 2015 (The Quint)
- India: Gauri Lankesh murder suspect’s ‘hit list’ spikes threat perception to Karnataka
- India: Butcher Thrashed By UP Cops For Allegedly Selling Beef Dies At New Delhi hospital
- India - Hapur Lynching: Police attempt a cover-up
- five UN special rapporteurs write to India's foreign minister to adhere to human rights norms in National Register of Citizens
- India: Hapur Mob March - where are we heading? Cartoon by Satish Acharya
- Book Review by Nandini Sundar of Foot Soldier of the Constitution: A Memoir by Teesta Setalvad
-> available via: http://communalism.blogspot.com/
::: URLs & FULL TEXT :::
8. BUDDHIST EXTREMISM: IS MONK GNANASARA’S JAILING A SIGN OF SRI LANKAN ENLIGHTENMENT?
by Russell Blinch
The South China Morning Post
24 June 2018
The surprise sentencing of the Bodu Bala Sena leader, which comes in wake of anti-Muslim riots, brings hope of a new approach in a country that seldom brings its Buddhist extremists to justice
Just before being hauled off to jail, the seemingly untouchable firebrand monk – clad in a brilliant saffron robe – wanted to get in the last word.
“I have done my duty towards the country,” Galagoda Aththe Gnanasara told reporters early this month as he boarded a prison transport vehicle shortly after his sentencing in a Colombo courtroom. “Why should I regret?”
While the controversial monk expressed no remorse, his many critics were cautiously hopeful that his internment showed Buddhist extremists were no longer untouchable in a country where hatred is easily sparked in the tinder dry jungle that is Sri Lanka’s combustible religious make-up.
The monk Gnanasara, head of the so-called Buddhist Power Force, was sentenced to six-months in jail for threatening the wife of a missing journalist, a surprise decision in a country where Buddhist extremists are not often brought to justice.
“That government prosecutors supported a custodial sentence is also positive and noteworthy, as Sri Lankan governments have been reluctant to prosecute militant monks, even when there has been strong evidence of their involvement in crimes,” said Said Alan Keenan, a Sri Lankan specialist at the Project Crisis Group in London.
[Buddhist monks at a Bodu Bala Sena or Buddhist Power Force convention in Colombo. Photo: AFP] Buddhist monks at a Bodu Bala Sena or Buddhist Power Force convention in Colombo. Photo: AFP
In this case the monk was not convicted of a crime involving inciting religious violence, an accusation that has dogged him and his organisation, known locally as the Bodu Bala Sena, or BBS, for years. The monk was instead brought down by the acrimonious hangover from the civil war that ended in 2009.
Some believe the conviction of the monk reaffirms the independence of the judiciary, which comes just months after Sinhalese mobs, urged on by Buddhist monks, attacked mosques and shops owned by Muslims in the central city of Kandy. An island-wide state of emergency was imposed, and restrictions were slapped on Facebook and other social media to cap the violence. Monk Gnanasara was accused of whipping up anti-Muslim sentiment when he attended the funeral of a Sinhalese truck driver who died after being attacked by a group of Muslim men in a road rage incident.
Muslims make up only 10 per cent of the country’s population and historically the biggest ethnic fault line has been between the Sinhalese Buddhists, with 70 per cent majority, and Tamils, who are often Hindu, which constitute around 13 per cent of the population.
[Muslims, made homeless after two days of anti-Muslim riots in Sri Lanka’s tourist region of Alutgama, demonstrate against radical Buddhist group Bodu Bala Sena. Photo: AFP] Muslims, made homeless after two days of anti-Muslim riots in Sri Lanka’s tourist region of Alutgama, demonstrate against radical Buddhist group Bodu Bala Sena. Photo: AFP
The Sri Lankan army, after a brutal war lasting more than a quarter of a century, crushed the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in 2009 who were fighting for an independent Tamil homeland in the north.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s government of the day was often accused of stoking a sense of triumphalism after the war, which encouraged the rise of militant Sinhalese Buddhist nationalism. But in 2015, President Maithripala Sirisena took power on promises to reinforce the judiciary, fight corruption and investigate war crimes, sparking hopes of reconciliation among the ethnic factions.
A prominent newspaper columnist, Tisaranee Gunasekara, said the case of Monk Gnanasara “reveals the degree of progress made since January 2015 as well as its limitations”.
[Sri Lankan police guard the headquarters of the Bodu Bala Sena after dispersing activists demonstrating against religious extremism and hate speeches. Photo: AFP] Sri Lankan police guard the headquarters of the Bodu Bala Sena after dispersing activists demonstrating against religious extremism and hate speeches. Photo: AFP
She noted in a column in the Sri Lankan Guardian that the monk was not being held responsible for the March riots, nor for an incendiary speech in 2014 that critics blamed for inciting Sinhalese Buddhists to attack Muslims and their property in southwestern parts of the country, leaving at least four dead and 80 injured.
What does China have to do with a Maldives coup? Ask Sri Lankan tourists
“Though elected to challenge extremism of every variety, the government’s preferred policy is a cross between appeasement and acting the ostrich,” the columnist Gunasekara wrote of the current government.
Keenan at the Project Crisis Group said Gnanasara and other radical monks faced a variety of charges involving hate speech, intimidation and incitement to violence against Muslims.
“But the cases have made little progress and there is no sign the government is willing to prosecute,” said Keenan. “As long as it hesitates to tackle the problem, the risks of more and possibly more serious violence will remain.” ■
9. THE TALIBAN HAS SUCCESSFULLY BUILT A PARALLEL STATE IN MANY PARTS OF AFGHANISTAN, REPORT SAYS
by Pamela Constable
The Washington Post
June 21, 2018
Afghan Taliban militants celebrate a cease-fire Saturday on the second day of Eid in the outskirts of Jalalabad. (Noorullah Shirzada/AFP/Getty Images)
KABUL — For those who imagine that Taliban control in some regions of Afghanistan consists mainly of men being beaten for failing to pray and girls being forced to stay home from school, a new report based on scores of interviews in those areas paints a very different portrait, but one that in some ways may be equally disturbing.
“Life Under the Taliban Shadow Government,” a detailed study published Thursday by the Overseas Development Institute, describes a “sophisticated system of parallel governance,” with commissions for each area of service, such as health, justice and finance, operating in numerous districts fully or partly controlled by the insurgents. The study surveyed 20 such districts across seven provinces.
The main conclusions of the report, written and primarily researched by Ashley Jackson, are that the Taliban sets the rules in “vast swaths” of Afghan territory but is far more concerned with influencing people. It has largely shifted from outright coercion to “creeping influence” over Afghans through services and state activities, it is often part of the local “social fabric,” and it views itself as preparing to govern the country, not just to participate in political life, whenever the 16-year conflict ends, the report says.
In many areas, the report finds, Taliban representatives interact almost routinely with local government officials, aid agencies and other groups, negotiating terms in a hybrid system to deliver health care, education and other services. Taliban bureaucrats collect taxes and electric bills, and their judges hear civil and criminal cases — some traveling by motorbike between hearings.
Although the first Taliban shadow governments were established more than a decade ago, the report documents how widely they have spread, despite years of Afghan and foreign military resistance. It also shows how they have evolved from using force and intimidation against local populations to building carefully run, accountable systems that address people’s needs, which some residents say they find more honest and effective than government control.
The report says Afghan and foreign officials are “worryingly unaware” of how assiduously the Taliban has worked to exert local control, make bargains and influence services. Today, its leaders view themselves not as insurgents but as a “government in waiting,” the report says.
At a time of growing national hopes for a negotiated peace, the consolidation of Taliban administrative control in numerous areas seems to challenge the official argument that the insurgents might accept a role as just another political force in exchange for giving up arms and settling the war.
Andrés Manuel López Obrador has run for Mexico’s highest office twice before, but this year he has a commanding lead heading to the July 1 vote. (The Washington Post)
Over time, the study found, Taliban policies in areas of control shifted from repressive violence to cooperation and public relations. By 2011, Taliban leaders had signed agreements with 28 aid organizations, including permission to conduct polio vaccination drives. As NATO forces withdrew, Taliban professionalism grew.
“We could be less warlike,” one Taliban member said. Unlike the amateur Taliban rulers of 1996 to 2001, the insurgents now have a seasoned, “quasi-professional core of individuals” to run things, the report says.
One of the most dramatic areas of evolution in Taliban attitudes has been toward education. In areas under its control, there is better teacher and pupil attendance, less theft and more order, although the Taliban vetoes texts on modern topics and may forbid English from being taught. On the whole, a majority of people interviewed “felt that the Taliban had improved” how public education was run.
The issue of girls’ education has remained thorny. Officially, the Taliban policy is now not to attack schools or ban female education, but in practice, many of its strict requirements for segregated buildings and all-female teachers have been hard to meet. The researchers could not find a single secondary school for girls open in areas of heavy Taliban influence. Yet the report also describes a broader societal and official reluctance to educate girls as dovetailing with Taliban wishes and pressure.
In health care, the report found a similar situation of professional interaction with government and private aid facilities, and it noted that among health workers in Taliban-controlled districts, most described government interference, corruption and theft from clinics as “more problematic” than Taliban interference.
The delivery of swift and fair justice has always been a selling point for the Taliban in a country where official justice is chronically slow and corrupt. In areas of Taliban control, the report described a complex, multilevel shadow justice system dealing with areas ranging from peace talks to common crime. Its most popular feature is resolving disputes, a common problem in rural areas.
The report found that Taliban judges were well trained and drew on cultural norms and common sense, not just Islamic precepts. But it also cited complaints of arbitrary or extreme rulings and noted that Taliban religious rules remain similar to those in the past Taliban regime: mandatory beards, no music, no TV, no women in public without a male escort.
One chilling aspect of living under the insurgents was what the residents described to the researchers as an ominous, “creeping quality to Taliban authority” that allowed them to prepare themselves to obey strict rules by gradually changing their behavior or decide to leave the area.
One of the most visible ways the Taliban creates the sense of being a government is by collecting taxes. The report says the group has developed a comprehensive system of tax and revenue collection, in areas including mining, electricity, agricultural production and customs. It also collects religious taxes for charity, as well as taxes on opium production, an especially lucrative source of income.
But the report suggested that the insurgents’ reported income from drugs may be exaggerated and that they encourage opium poppy growing because it helps the poor survive and makes them more compliant with Taliban control.
10. PAKISTAN MEDIA SAYS IT’S TARGETED IN ARMY’S ‘SYSTEMATIC, CREEPING, COUP’
by Saeed Shah
The Wall Street Journal
June 26, 2018
Critics say the military’s move ahead of a July 25 election is part of a larger power grab that seeks to ensure a pliant government emerges from the polls
Pakistani military leaders at a parade in March. The military has denied accusations of press interference ahead of next month’s election. Photo: aamir qureshi/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan—A major Pakistani newspaper recently discovered the new limits of press freedom here after it published an interview with ousted Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in which he questioned the military’s counterterrorism efforts.
Soldiers confiscated copies of the Dawn newspaper in army-controlled regions, officials harassed its distributors, and cable TV networks dropped the group’s TV news station, the company says. The government, then still run Mr. Sharif’s own party, “condemned the fallacious assertions” made by him, after a meeting with top military brass.
Pakistan’s powerful military is stifling the media ahead of a July 25 election, part of a larger power grab that seeks to ensure a pliant government emerges from the polls, say human-rights groups, politicians and media personnel.
“I’ve not seen this before under any democratic rule, not even under martial law,” said Hameed Haroon, Dawn’s CEO and president of the All Pakistan Newspapers Society, which represents newspaper owners. “They seek to influence the election results, influence the national narrative and liquidate the press.”
The military declined to comment. But it has denied accusations of press censorship or political interference, and says it supports democracy.
Pakistan’s armed forces have staged several coups in the past. But since democracy was last restored in 2008, critics say the military has instead focused on gaining influence over civilian spheres from behind the scenes. The military has since gained leverage over government policy, the political opposition, moved against dissent in civil society, and allied with the courts, critics say.
That effort gained momentum over the past couple of years as Mr. Sharif’s government clashed with the armed forces over his desire to make peace with India and his call for action against jihadist groups operating from Pakistan.
Washington has long accused the Pakistan army of using militant groups as its proxies, including the Taliban in Afghanistan, a charge it denies. Pakistan’s military alleges that India uses Afghan territory to support Pakistani insurgents, an accusation that Delhi denies.
The media has long been an irritant to the military.
In periods of martial law, the military imposed official censorship, with Pakistan’s state broadcaster a prime target. In a now democratic Pakistan with an abundance of private media, more subtle forms of censorship and self-censorship pervade, reporters and lawmakers say.
“There has been a systematic, creeping coup. The powers have been taken over by the security establishment,” said Farhatullah Babar, a recently retired opposition senator. “Without taking over a single television station, the media has been tamed.”
In this election, the military seeks to boost the party of Mr. Sharif’s toughest challenger, Imran Khan, to ensure that Mr. Sharif’s party loses its majority in parliament and must forge a coalition, say Mr. Babar and analysts.
Both the military and Mr. Khan’s party—which brought the lawsuit that led to Mr. Sharif’s court-ruled ouster and his current corruption trial—dismiss any links to one another. Mr. Sharif denies any corruption. The judiciary says it is independent.
The control room of the Geo News television channel in Karachi last April. Geo News was taken off air by cable companies for several weeks this year until it negotiated directly with senior military officials to be allowed back.
The control room of the Geo News television channel in Karachi last April. Geo News was taken off air by cable companies for several weeks this year until it negotiated directly with senior military officials to be allowed back. Photo: akhtar soomro/Reuters
Polls show Mr. Sharif’s party is ahead in the election race, which journalists say explains a recent ratcheting up of repression against the media. One result, these people say: What little reporting there is on sensitive national security issues is told from the military’s viewpoint. Criticizing the military “would be suicidal,” said one media executive who has clashed with the military.
For example, TV stations have virtually avoided covering a new protest movement lambasting the military for human-rights abuses of the Pashtun ethnic minority. Dozens of the protest movement’s followers have been charged, including with sedition.
Meanwhile, many newer private news channels are owned by industrial tycoons outside the media, from tobacco to cooking oil, trying to gain influence, the journalists say. Those owners won’t often take a stand on editorial freedom, and some openly support the military’s stance, these people say.
In practice, the military contacts many TV channel owners about content it finds troubling, who in turn convey editorial direction to their journalists, say reporters at several channels, adding that the military also exercises influence over some hirings and firings at the stations.
Broadcasters have also reduced live programming to allow time to edit out dissenting opinion, these reporters say.
Cable distribution is also manipulated through its owners. The owners of four cable TV local distribution companies told The Wall Street Journal that they have been told directly by security officials to take particular channels off the air in recent months.
Geo News, the leading news channel, was taken off air by cable companies for several weeks this year until it negotiated directly with senior military officials to be allowed back, say two people familiar with the talks.
Several columnists at the group’s newspapers recently tweeted their reports when the papers wouldn’t publish them. Geo declined to comment. Security officials privately say they found Geo’s coverage too sympathetic toward Mr. Sharif.
The Pakistan Broadcasters Association, which represents many channels, didn’t respond to a request to comment. But one of its members disputed the notion that editorial policy is compromised.
“By and large I don’t see any coercive pressure,” said Taher Khan, owner of the News One channel and an association board member. “As a responsible media, we shouldn’t say anything that’s antistate,” he said. In Pakistan, the term antistate is often used to describe opinion critical of the military.
At a press conference this month, Maj. Gen. Asif Ghafoor, the military’s spokesman, challenged any media owner or journalist who was told what to report by the military to disclose it on air.
Maj. Gen. Ghafoor also displayed a chart showing which journalists have retweeted “antistate and anti-army” posts on Twitter. He said “anti-Pakistan” Twitter accounts based abroad had grown fivefold between January and May this year.
“We have to stay united, we have to defeat them,” he told journalists.
The next day, Gul Bukhari, a journalist and military critic with dual British-Pakistani citizenship, was abducted by uniformed and plain clothes men in the Lahore military zone.
She was released hours later after her channel publicized the news and an outcry ensued. But journalists said the message was clear: No one is safe. In an interview, Ms. Bukhari said she has since sought police protection. Police say they are investigating.
The military denies involvement in her abduction.
Last year, five bloggers critical of the military said they were kidnapped by security officials, held for more than three weeks and badly tortured, they said after they were freed and fled abroad. One of the bloggers, Ahmad Waqass Goraya, said his parents, still in Pakistan, were threatened by military officials this month. The military denies involvement.
Independent-minded reporters say they will persevere.
“People who know the craft, they somehow push out information, using metaphors, sarcasm, signs, tone,” said Murtaza Solongi, the host of a political talk show on TV. “I don’t see censorship and self-censorship working.”
—Waqar Gillani in Islamabad contributed to this article
11. LEARNING TO LIVE IN THE COLONIES AND CAMPS - REPATRIATES AND REFUGEES IN TAMIL NADU
by Frank Heidemann, Abhijit Dasgupta
Economic and Political Weekly
Vol. 53, Issue No. 8, 24 Feb, 2018
Involuntary migration of Tamil repatriates and refugees from Sri Lanka to Tamil Nadu began in the late 1960s and continued for several decades. The relief and rehabilitation offered to them by the Government of India was far from adequate, and life in the camps and colonies was hard and often unbearable. The unsuitable living conditions forced the migrants to learn how to deal with adversity and to assert agency in the midst of despair and hopelessness. Although life in the camps and colonies was difficult, migrants managed to carve out a space for themselves.
12. INDIA: CITIZENS, NON-CITIZENS, MINORITIES
by Sanjib Baruah
The Indian Express
June 28, 2018
The Indian approach to the minority question has not always been so insensitive to regional dynamics. (Illustration: CR Sasikumar)
The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016, is intended to be supportive of religious minorities facing persecution in neighbouring Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan. But members of those communities living in the three countries do not seem to welcome the proposed amendment. Only those who have moved to India, and now live their lives as members of the majority community, do.
The Bangladesh Hindu Bouddha Christian Oikya Parishad (Hindu Buddhist Christian Unity Council) for example, has expressed fears that the proposed amendment would make the communities it represents more insecure, not less. It would embolden political forces that would like to evict them from their lands and force them to leave Bangladesh and cross into India. Organisations like the Oikya Parishad have had to fight back rumours that the bill is the result of their reaching out to friendly political forces in India and to the Modi government.
To anyone familiar with the regional dynamics of the minority question in the Subcontinent, this will not come as a surprise. Developments in India have long affected the plight of minorities across the border. The suspicion of dual loyalty has been a persistent source of anxiety and fear for minority communities in the Subcontinent. There are many instances of communal conflict in India creating a backlash against minorities in Bangladesh.
Given this history, it is not unreasonable for the religious minorities in Bangladesh to expect India to be attentive to their predicament and not make their situation worse. The rhetoric of benevolence and humanitarianism that has been used to justify the citizenship amendment bill must sound contrived to their ears.
In the updating of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) — the Supreme Court has set June 30 as the deadline — as well as the citizenship amendment bill, there is an illusion of unilateralism that marks Indian policy. In election campaigns in the Brahmaputra Valley in Assam, ruling party politicians including Prime Minister Narendra Modi speak incessantly about expelling “Bangladeshis”. Then they opportunistically change their rhetoric in the Barak Valley where a fundamentally different set of memories of the Partition prevails because a large number of people displaced by the Partition live there. In diplomatic meetings with Bangladesh, the same politicians are reluctant to broach the subject of unauthorised migration. They pretend that India has no such problem with Bangladesh. The NRC exercise and the citizenship amendment bill, in their eyes, are meant only to serve domestic constituencies; they do not belong to the high table of diplomacy and strategic affairs.
One can hardly blame Bangladeshi officials for treating the NRC exercise as a matter of Indian domestic politics with no implications for their country. Even as the process nears completion, the official position of Bangladesh remains that there are no unauthorised Bangladeshi migrants in Assam. Senior Bangladeshi officials claim that India has never raised the question of deporting illegal immigrants in discussions at any level with the Bangladeshi government. India has not challenged this position.
This illusion of unilateralism is the main reason why people whose names will not appear in the final NRC in Assam are likely to face a gloomy future. They have long been subjects of suspicion of being false nationals. The NRC will now officially bestow on them the status of stateless citizens or of non-citizens with no rights. It is remarkable that the Supreme Court, which has mandated and monitored the updating of the NRC, has not been more proactive on this aspect of the question.
The Indian approach to the minority question has not always been so insensitive to regional dynamics. The illusion of unilateralism is of relatively recent vintage. Indeed, the NRC exercise and the citizenship amendment bill — and the illusion of unilateralism driving them — would have been incomprehensible to political leaders of the Partition generation.
It is worth recalling that the landmark Nehru-Liaquat Pact of April 1950 was a bilateral agreement between the two governments on the security and the well-being of minorities. Its main goal, in the words of diplomatic historian Pallavi Raghavan, was to reassure “minority populations of their security within the country and to discourage them from migrating”. The two governments not only made a commitment to mutual accountability, the Pact even provided an institutional infrastructure — including provincial and district minority boards — to address the concerns of threatened minorities.
To be sure, the relief that the Nehru-Liaquat Pact would afford proved to be temporary. Yet thanks to this Pact, large numbers of minority migrants who had crossed the Partition’s border because of communal violence felt encouraged to return to their homes on the other side. The bilateral premise of the process may be more relevant today than we recognise.
In the world of diplomacy, the bilateral way of approaching the question of minorities has a long history. Even the Peace of Westphalia of 1648 — conventionally thought of as the foundational event of the modern international state system — included safeguards for religious minorities. Concluding minority treaties was the instrument of choice for the protection of minorities during the early part of the 20th century. This was when the unraveling of the Austro-Hungarian, Russian, and Ottoman empires had led to the emergence of a number of new minority situations in the reconfigured political space. In the Paris Peace Conference of 1919, the great powers assigned the task of enforcing the minority protection clauses of those treaties to the League of Nations. By the time the Nehru-Liaquat Pact was signed, the United Nations had replaced the League of Nations. But the memory of the League of Nation’s way of dealing with the minority question influenced the thinking of the leaders of the Partition generation.
The events that led to the outbreak of the Second World War discredited the League’s system of minority rights protection. The UN Charter therefore makes no reference to minority rights. But since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the rights of minority communities have featured in a number of bilateral agreements. The security of ethnic Russians that became a minority in many of the former Soviet republics is now a matter of concern for Russia’s foreign policy. Bilateral treaties between Russia and a number of these countries include provisions on minority protection. The European Union also emphasises the bilateral mode of addressing tensions arising out of the minority question.
Abandoning the illusion of unilateralism may be the first step in creating a durable regime of minority protection in the subcontinent. If India continues to hide behind the unilateral illusion, future historians will blame political leaders of the post-Partition generations for being unwitting accomplices to redrawing the demographic map of South Asia.
In an interview he gave just before the end of his term in office in 2016, Mizanur Rahman, the then chairman of the National Human Rights Commission of Bangladesh, painted a grim picture of the condition of minorities in that country. He was very critical of “the way the religious minorities are being treated” and the response of the Bangladeshi state institutions. “If it goes on,” he said, “I think within 15 years there will be no Hindus in Bangladesh.” This would be an ironic vindication of the two-nation theory that India otherwise rejects.
13. THE GROUNDWATER CONTAMINATION ACROSS INDIA MUST BE PROBED, AND SAFE SOURCES IDENTIFIED - Editorial, The Hindu
June 27, 2018
Tainted by uranium: On groundwater contamination
The groundwater contamination across India must be probed, and safe sources identified
Reports of widespread uranium contamination in groundwater across India demand an urgent response. A study, published in Environmental Science and Technology Letters, has found over 30 micrograms per litre (mcg/l) of the heavy metal in parts of northwestern, southern and southeastern India. Drinking such water can damage one’s kidneys, and the World Health Organization prescribes 30 mcg/l as an upper limit. Unfortunately, the residents of the regions surveyed were using the contaminated wells as their main source of drinking water. These findings highlight a major gap in India’s water-quality monitoring. As the Bureau of Indian Standards does not specify a norm for uranium level, water is not tested regularly for it. This is despite the fact that evidence of uranium contamination has accumulated from across India over the last decade. A 2015 Bangalore study, for example, found uranium levels of over 2000 mcg/l in the southern part of the city. Other studies found levels of over 500 mcg/l in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. The Environmental Science paper adds new data to this body of evidence by sampling wells in Rajasthan and Gujarat.
The health effects of drinking uranium-tainted water merit special attention. A few small animal and human studies have found that the heavy metal damages the kidneys. The studies indicate that this is a chemical effect, rather than a radiological one, even though uranium is radioactive. But the chronic effects of uranium consumption are still unknown. Could there be, for example, a link between the high rates of chronic kidney disease (CKD) in India and uranium exposure? In a survey conducted between 2005 and 2010, an Indian registry found 8,385 CKD cases with no known cause. One cluster of mystery disease, located in Srikakulam district in Andhra Pradesh, has stumped epidemiologists for years. It is impossible to say if these clusters have anything to do with groundwater contamination, unless researchers look at it systematically. Another critical area of research is the mechanism by which uranium enters groundwater. The Environmental Science paper identified two types of terrains with heavy contamination. In Rajasthan and other northwestern regions, uranium occurs mostly in alluvial aquifers; while in southern regions such as Telangana, crystalline rocks such as granite seem to be the source. When groundwater is over-extracted from such soils, the researchers suggest, the uranium is exposed to air, triggering its release. These hypotheses must be explored, because they will help determine where to find safer water. This is what happened in West Bengal, where a decade of research revealed why the contaminant arsenic mainly occurred in shallow aquifers. Researchers found that a combination of geological and chemical triggers brought arsenic to the Ganga delta in the Holocene era, and then released it into the sediments from that period. Similar research across India’s uranium hotspots can uncover who is at risk, and how to protect them.
14. OVERLOOKED NO MORE: AMRITA SHER-GIL, A PIONEER OF INDIAN ART
By Tariro Mzezewa
The New York Times
June 20, 2018
With her paintbrush, Sher-Gil explored the sadness felt by people, especially women, in 1930s India, giving voice and validity to their experiences.
With her style and her emphasis on women, Amrita Sher-Gil became known as the “Indian Frida Kahlo.”CreditHistoric Collection/Alamy
Since 1851, obituaries in The New York Times have been dominated by white men. With Overlooked, we’re adding the stories of remarkable people.
Amrita Sher-Gil, a pioneer of modern Indian art, used her paintbrush to depict the daily lives of Indian women in the 1930s, often revealing a sense of their loneliness and even hopelessness.
She painted women going to the market, women at a wedding, women at home. Sometimes she showed women bonding with other women. At times the works seemed to convey a sense of silent resolve. It was a rendering rarely seen in depictions of Indian women at the time, when portrayals tended to cast them as happy and obedient.
The melancholic painting “Three Girls” for instance, shows women wearing passive expressions, their solemn brown faces a contrast to the vibrant reds, greens and ambers of their clothing. The mood is despondent, as though the women are waiting for something they doubt will ever come along.
“Three Girls” is one of many paintings by Sher-Gil that captured the raw emotions of women in India in the 1930s.CreditThe Picture Art Collection/Alamy
With her style and her emphasis on women, Sher-Gil became known as the “Indian Frida Kahlo.”
She understood the loneliness of her subjects well, since their moods were a reflection of her own. Because of her upbringing, she lived between worlds, often searching for a sense of belonging.
Sher-Gil was born in Budapest on Jan. 30, 1913, to the Hungarian-Jewish opera singer Marie Antoinette Gottesmann and Umrao Singh Sher-Gil Majithia, a Sikh aristocrat and a scholar of Persian and Sanskrit. She began taking formal art lessons at age 8, when her family moved to Summer Hill, Shimla, in northern India.
At 16, she moved to Paris and continued studying art, first at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière and later at the École des Beaux-Arts. She had early success.
Her 1932 painting “Young Girls” received a gold medal in 1933 at the Paris Salon, the renowned art show. It depicts her sister, Indira, wearing European clothing and a look of confidence while sitting with a partially undressed friend, Denise Proutaux, whose face is obscured by her hair — one woman bold and daring and another reserved and hidden. The painting reflects the different aspects of Sher-Gil’s personality — outgoing and sociable, as she was known among those who encountered her at Parisian parties, or tucked away and painting vigorously.
In addition to paintings of relatives, lovers and friends, she created self-portraits that showed her “grappling with her own identity,” one of her biographers, Yashodhara Dalmia, wrote in “Amrita Sher-Gil: A Life” (2006).
They often reflected an introverted and troubled woman caught between her Hungarian and Indian existences.
“Self Portrait as Tahitian” evokes the style of the French post-Impressionist Paul Gauguin, who often painted dark-skinned Tahitian women. Her own brown body is painted in Gauguin’s stylization of the female nude, with a plain ponytail and distant, somber expression on her face.
Sher-Gil also felt conflicted about her sexuality. She was drawn to the idea of a lesbian affair, Dalmia wrote, “partly as a result of her larger view of woman as a strong individual, liberated from the artifice of convention.”
She formed a strong bond with the painter Marie Louise Chassany, and some art critics — including her nephew, the artist Vivan Sundaram, who also wrote a biography of her — believed her piece “Two Women” reflected their longing for one another.
At one point her mother asked about the nature of their relationship, according to the book “Same-Sex Love in India” (2000), by Ruth Vanita and Saleem Kidwai.
Sher-Gil denied intimacy with Chassany in a 1934 letter to her mother — translated from Hungarian for Vanita and Kidwai’s book.
Though she cited the “disadvantages of relationships” with men, she said of Chassany: “We never had anything to do with each other in sexual terms.” She added: “I thought I would start a relationship with a woman when the opportunity arises.”
She did, in fact, have relationships with men, seeing marriage as a way to gain independence from her parents. In 1938, she married a cousin, Victor Egan, revealing only afterward that she was pregnant. He arranged for an abortion.
Despite being acclaimed for her work, Sher-Gil felt unfulfilled in Paris. She wrote that she was “haunted by an intense longing to return to India, feeling in some strange inexplicable way that there lay my destiny as a painter.”
She went back in 1935, and found the inspiration she needed as she traveled around the country and reconnected with its people.
Her family had close ties to the British Raj, but she sympathized with the Indian National Congress, which had been fighting for the rights of average Indians who sought independence from Britain.
She described her technical style during this period as becoming more “fundamentally Indian.”
“I realized my artistic mission then: to interpret the life of Indians and particularly of the poor Indians pictorially, to paint those silent images of infinite submission and patience, to depict their angular brown bodies,” she wrote.
In 1939, Sher-Gil and Egan ultimately settled in Saraya, a village in India’s Gorakhpur district.
She was depressed while living there. After a time, she and Egan decided to relocate to Lahore, a growing cultural center in India that is now part of Pakistan. Days before her first significant solo art show in Lahore, she became ill.
Sher-Gil died on Dec. 5, 1941. The cause was believed to be complications from a second, failed abortion performed by Egan, Dalmia wrote in her biography of Sher-Gil. She was 28 and was just gaining widespread popularity and taking on commissions.
Sher-Gil’s legacy has grown in recent years. Unesco, the cultural organization of the United Nations, declared 2013, the 100th anniversary of her birth, the international year of Amrita Sher-Gil.
“I painted a few very good paintings,” she wrote in a letter to her mother in October 1931, when she was 18. “Everybody says that I have improved immensely; even that person whose criticism in my view is most important to me — myself.”
© 2018 The New York Times Company
15. PUNJABI FARMERS LOOK TO UKRAINE FOR A PROFITABLE HARVEST
by K G Sharma
June 22, 2018
Wealthy farmers from the Indian state of Punjab look for new opportunities in Ukraine as the bread basket of India fails to fulfill their needs.
India’s much-lamented brain drain is no longer restricted to the fields of science and technology. Rich farmers from the bread basket of India, Punjab, are targeting rich rewards in Europe’s own bread basket, Ukraine.
Punjab farmers point to multiple reasons behind the bold move.
Many blame their home state’s irregular power supply, a shortage of rainfall, rising costs, and the non-availability of agricultural land for expansion as the reasons behind stagnation, non-profitability and even losses in farming over the past two decades.
Leading the exodus are the state’s cash-rich modern farmers, who are expanding operations in other agriculture-based nations, where relatively low levels of investment provide better returns than can be found in Punjab.
The same farmers are also eyeing other countries’ advanced marketing systems and food processing industries, which are key to the profitability of the agriculture sector, but which have never taken off in Punjab.
Ukraine devotes 71.2% of its total land area to agricultural use, has lower operational costs than in Punjab, and its government is actively promoting agriculture as a business sector.
On top of that, farming of Ukraine’s 32.5 million hectares of arable land contributes 34% to the nation’s Gross Domestic Product. The country is a leading producer and major exporter of wheat, sunflower oil, maize and barley, and its climate is favorable for the production of grain, cereals, oilseeds and other profitable agricultural products.
Pavitar Singh Pangli, president of Borlaug Farmers Association for South Asia, acknowledges the attraction, describing Ukraine as a country with vast agricultural fields and fully mechanised farming.
“It is a competitive agriculture market, with facilities like electricity, irrigation, seeds and fertilizers, and systematic and affordable labor,” he said.
For farmers and other investors in the agricultural sector, Ukraine is also an excellent gateway to world markets. It enjoys proximity to the large and growing markets of the Russian Federation, the European Union, and even the Middle East and North Africa through its well-equipped sea ports.
Meet Jaswinder Singh
Jaswinder Singh is the latest of the modern farmers from Punjab’s Jalandhar region to move base. Singh has already completed agricultural projects in Ukraine and has acquired about 12,000 acres (about 5,000 hectares) of land there.
According to Singh, he and his associates wanted to expand their agricultural profile, but couldn’t do so given the present conditions in Punjab.
“It is not possible to expand agriculture-based projects in Punjab, a state of great poverty. On top of that, the cost of inputs including seeds, fertilizers, pesticides and insecticides has been increasing day by day without state control,” he complained, while also pointing out farmers’ woes over the unreliable supply of electricity during key production seasons.
“Expansion (in Punjab) was simply not possible, even in the foreseeable future,” he added.
Ukraine also offers a competitive edge thanks to its fertile black soil and favorable climate.
Anil Sharma of Punjab Agriculture University, Ludhiana, describes Ukraine as the bread basket of Europe: “For this, the country should be thankful to its black chernozem soil, which is highly fertile and rich in organic matter. Covering more than half of Ukraine’s cultivable land, chernozem soil offers exceptional agronomic conditions for the production of a wide range of crops, especially cereals and oilseeds.”
Over the past few years, Ukraine has actively wooed overseas farmers by inviting them to explore investment opportunities, identifying land for lease and promoting related businesses like poultry, dairy and pig farming.
Where Punjab is losing
When it comes to agricultural land, Ukraine offers farmers a sweet deal.
Davinder Pal Singh Chawla is a prominent agricultural land promoter and director of Sunbeam Colonisers Pvt Ltd who has reportedly made the most profitable investment in Ukraine. He told Asia Times that the cost of agricultural land in Ukraine is quite low compared to Punjab.
“The average price per hectare of agricultural land in Ukraine is about US$3,000 to $6,000. Average lease rates of agricultural land are $32 to $75 per hectare per annum. Also, the agricultural fields are very far apart here in comparison to Punjab, so it is easy to manage big holdings in comparison to small chunks and more profitable too, due to low cost of inputs per hectare,” Chawla said.
In Punjab, prices are steep for farm land near major cities and adjoining highways or other link roads. The average price per hectare in prime areas is about $600,000 to $700,000, with plots in more rural areas commanding prices of $75,000 to $150,000. Leasing rates for agricultural land are also soaring.
“So buying agricultural land in such locations has become extremely difficult,” Chawla said.
It is easy for foreigners to buy land not intended for agricultural purposes in Ukraine, where the Land Code regulates purchase of property. However, to acquire land intended agricultural use, one needs to establish a legal entity on the territory of Ukraine and to purchase a parcel of land for this legal entity. Foreign farmers, with the help of local law firms, acquire land for cultivation in this way.
Sushil S Malhotra, the general secretary of the Progressive Innovative Farmers’ Association, had another complaint about Punjab, the state of the 1960s Green Revolution.
“The poor and vulnerable people are poorly cared for in the state,” he said, adding that “electricity supply to the agriculture sector is only available four to five hours a day. Groundwater level is already down as irrigation is dependent on tubewells in the major portion of the state. Even canal water is available only to a limited agricultural area and is not fulfilling the requirements of most of the sector”.
16. MASS PROTESTS SWEEP VIETNAM FOR THE FIRST TIME IN DECADES
Vu Quoc Ngu
June 22, 2018
An Arab spring has started to emerge in Vietnam,” said Pham Chi Dung, a former member of the ruling Communist Party, following the largest and most widespread protests in years.
Over the weekend of June 9-10, tens of thousands of Vietnamese took to the streets across the country to protest two bills on cyber security and the creation of new special economic zones, or EEZs. The protest began with the participation of around 50,000 workers from the Pouchen footwear factory in Tan Tao industrial zone in Ho Chi Minh City, the biggest economic hub in the Southeast Asian nation.
Thousands of people gathered in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Danang, Nha Trang and other cities, chanting and carrying banners that read “Say no to bill on EEZs,” “No land lease to China even for one day,” and “Cyber security law means silencing people.”
The protests showed how widespread the dissatisfaction is with systemic corruption, serious large-scale environmental pollution, deep social inequality, and the government’s weak response to China’s violations of Vietnam’s sovereignty in the resource-rich sea.
In an article for the unregistered Independent Journalist Association of Vietnam, Dung said the protests mark “the first time since 1975 [when the communists took over South Vietnam] that an action directly challenged the ruling government had been taken.”
The demonstrations took place the week after the National Assembly, the country’s highest legislative body, publicized its plan to discuss and approve the two bills on June 12-15, as part of its month-long session, which started on May 20.
The call urging people to rally circulated on social networks such as Facebook and Twitter. Over 60 million Vietnamese people are online, and Facebook — with more than 40 millions users in Vietnam — is the most popular social network in the country.
Vietnam’s security forces responded aggressively to the call for peaceful demonstrations. Authorities sent plainclothes agents and militia to private residences of local activists to prevent them from participating in the protests. Many activists said they had to leave their houses before the weekend and go into hiding to avoid being locked in by security forces.
On June 10, large numbers of police, militia and thugs were deployed to suppress the demonstrations, detaining hundreds of protesters and beating others. While police successfully suppressed small protests in Hanoi by noon, the rallies in Ho Chi Minh City and Nha Trang, went until the early hours of Monday. Police in Ho Chi Min City deployed Long Range Acoustic Devices purchased from the United States to equip patrol ships of the Vietnam Coast Guard, which generates intense sound that can cause extreme physical pain and permanently damage hearing.
In Phan Thiet and Phan Ri, in the central province of Binh Thuan, police used tear gas and water cannons on local residents. After one protester was knocked unconscious by police, protesters attacked the police’s special units with stones and bricks, and occupied government buildings. Police surrendered and took off their equipment and went home. However, the government was able to take full control there by the morning of June 12.
The police detained over 500 protesters, according to state media and leaked information from police. Protesters were interrogated for hours. During their time in detention they were beaten and their cell phones and other belongings were confiscated. Police released many detainees but still keep dozens of others, threatening to prosecute them on allegations of violating national security rules and “causing public disorders.”
According to legal experts, the bill on cyber security will give sweeping new powers to the Vietnamese authorities, allowing them to force technology companies to hand over vast amounts of data, including personal information, and to censor internet users’ posts. According to activists, the law aims to silence government critics and could lead to internet users being criminally charged for exercising their basic right to freedom of expression. As a result, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have called on Hanoi to not approve the bill. The United States and Canada, however, have merely urged Vietnam to postpone the vote on the bill to ensure it aligns with international standards.
Meanwhile, with the law on special economic zones, Vietnam’s communist government wants to establish three zones — namely Van Don, Phu Quoc and Bac Van Phong — in strategic locations where foreign investors may be allowed to rent land for 99 years. Activists suspect that the bill is the first step to allow Chinese investors to acquire land and bring untrained Chinese workers to these locations.
Many senior economists, including veteran chief economist Pham Chi Lan, say that Vietnam — which has already signed a number of free trade agreements with the European Union, the United States and other countries — has no need to set up more special economic zones to attract foreign investment.
In addition to national security issues — with the potential investment from China — these special economic zones will allow companies in these locations to pay lower or no tariffs for years, according to entrepreneur Le Hoai Anh.
In an interview with Free Asia radio, veteran novelist and former communist soldier Nguyen Ngoc said “I decided to join the protest [because] the EEZ law will severely impact national security, and the cyber security law will kill off people’s right to freedom of expression, freedom to speak out. This will lead to a nation that is lacking in creativity. Everything will be pushed back to the past, while we need to advance towards the future.”
In response to the public pressure, Vietnam’s communist-controlled parliament and government said they would postpone the discussion and approval of the bill on special economic zones to the next session of the parliament scheduled in October. The cyber security was approved on June 12, and the law will become effective on January 1, 2019. Despite government repression, protests against the approval of the law and parliament’s plan to resume working on the bill on special economic zones in October are expected to continue.
A central concern with the the bill on establishing new special economic zones, is how it will affect the country’s sovereignty in the East Sea. Vietnam and China have a long history of disputes. China has sent their armies to attack Vietnam 22 times over the last thousand years, according to historian Dao Tien Thi. In 1979, China sent around 60,000 soldiers to invade the six northernmost provinces of Vietnam, killing tens of thousands of Vietnamese soldiers and civilians and destroying the entire infrastructure there.
In 1988, China also invaded several islands and reefs, known as the Spratly Islands, controlled by Vietnam. In recent years, China has turned these reefs and islands into artificial structures and deployed modern missiles and other military equipment there in a bid to turn the East Sea into its own lake.
The ruling Communist Party of Vietnam, in order to maintain its power in the country, treats China as its closest political ally. The communist government in Hanoi has verbally protested China’s violations instead of taking stronger actions, such as bringing the case to international tribunal court, as the Philippines has done.
Hanoi has systematically suppressed anti-China protests and persecuted anti-Sino activists. Many of them have been convicted and sentenced to lengthy sentences in trumped up politically motivated cases.
However, suppression may only increase the number of people in disagreement with the government. As more and more ordinary people become interested in politics, Vietnam’s government needs to carry out drastic political reforms to allow free elections, and must respect human rights as it works to address social dissatisfaction. The government should use dialogue, while local civil society organizations could mediate between protesters and the government. If the leaders insist on running the country with a one-party regime and continue to rely on violence, the grievances of the people will not be resolved and the nation may fall into internal struggle.
“The administration needs to care for what its people care for,” said Nguyen Si Dung, a former deputy head of the National Assembly office.
17. PURGES AND PARANOIA
Ella George on Erdoğan’s ‘new’ Turkey
The London Review of Books
Vol. 40 No. 10 · 24 May 2018
pages 22-32 | 12290 words
The elections due to be held on 24 June, brought forward abruptly from the end of 2019 by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, come after a period of repression and fear that represents the most serious rupture in the history of the Turkish republic. In the last two years more than 100,000 people have been detained, and tens of thousands are waiting for their lives to be upended by a knock on the door, or the publication of a new emergency decree. Tens of billions of assets have been seized and 150,000 people have been purged, losing not only their jobs but their passports (and those of their spouses); they are branded national security threats and become unemployable. Often, they lose their housing (tied to government employment) and their pensions. Turkey has experienced more than its share of state violence directed at civil society, but when military juntas imposed martial law at least there was always the hope that a return to civilian rule would bring a reprieve. Turkey today is a deeply traumatised society. The purges and detentions are a lottery: one signatory of a petition calling for peace with the Kurds is purged from higher education, another remains precariously employed; someone is detained for getting a mortgage from a now expropriated bank, someone else who held an account with the same bank is unaffected. Turks today confront the capriciousness of arbitrary power with no recourse to anything that resembles the rule of law.
Even those whose relatives and friends haven’t been designated national security threats have been affected by the repression. The newspapers they read have been shut down, the columnists they followed have been detained, the local medical clinic has had its assets seized, the school round the corner has been closed, the dozens of voluntary associations that formed the fabric of their community have gone, and the politicians they voted for – from municipal officials to provincial governors – have been forcibly replaced or fear they are about to be. The purges of prosecution lawyers and judges have reached such proportions that among the new appointees are recent graduates who do not know the rules of their own courtrooms. All judges are aware that any decision deemed adverse to the government may end their careers. The scale of the social transformation being wrought by these measures exceeds even the founding convulsions of the republic. To appreciate what has happened in Turkey requires historical perspective, not least because the government is bent on reinventing the republic in its image, and rewriting its history.
The story of the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and the rise of the Turkish republic has been ably told in these pages by Perry Anderson.＊ The founding of the republic in 1923 was a largely authoritarian affair, even if the declaration of popular sovereignty represented a break with the imperial past. Tightly controlled elections gave Mustafa Kemal the presidency of what by 1925 had become a one-party state. From that office, Kemal – who was given the surname Atatürk, or ‘father of the Turks’, by the Turkish parliament in 1934 – presided over a cultural revolution of astonishing proportions, transforming religious institutions, the language and alphabet, dress codes, the calendar and the legal system in less than a decade. There was little resistance, in part because this transformation was accomplished in the wake of imperial collapse and affected a population that had experienced decades of dislocation and traumatic violence, from the Balkan wars to the Armenian genocide and the First World War. The most serious opposition was from Turkey’s Kurdish population, who objected to the ethnic and linguistic homogenising imperative behind Kemal’s Kulturkampf. But resistance was brutally repressed. Indeed, any opposition to the one-party state – whether from Kurds, communists or religious groups – led to detention, assassination or exile. Given the scale and speed of the measures employed to transform religion, tradition and custom, less repression was required than might have been expected, but there was no broad-based backing for the revolution. Kemalism, as the secularising, Turkifying, state-centric ideology of the founding vanguard came to be known, was supported by the urban elites of the country’s western cities, but elsewhere – in the Anatolian provinces and the south-east, the area closest to the Middle East – the reforms achieved at best a superficial penetration.
Nearly a century later, a new cultural revolution is underway, targeting what its leaders dismissively describe as the ‘old Turkey’. What they mean by that is members of the socioeconomic elites identified with Kemalism. To some extent, like Atatürk’s revolution, this counter-revolution borrows from and builds on what it seeks to replace. The republic’s spectacular break with the language and traditions of the Ottoman Empire – with Arabic script replaced by Latin and loan words from Arabic and Persian replaced by Turkish equivalents – masked what were in some ways far more profound structural continuities. The state bureaucracy, the military corps and the basic social order were left intact, preserving status and property for those ready to serve the new republic. Even the official commitment to secularism coexisted with the selective use of religion in the service of the state.
Today’s cultural revolution borrows heavily from Kemalist strategy: it too is about consolidating one-party rule, dictating new traditions, purging and jailing opponents. Like Kemal, Erdoğan seeks to boost the power of the state while simultaneously transforming its institutions. But where Kemalism preserved much of the Ottoman social order, the ‘new’ Turkey, whose birth Erdoğan announced in a speech on 28 August 2014, represents a more fundamental break. One elite is being displaced by another: property is changing hands, new cadres are being groomed for the civil service, the universities are being emptied of one class of intellectuals to be replaced by more loyal alternatives, and regime-friendly capital is gaining access to state largesse, including the bounty resulting from asset seizures. The ‘new’ Turkey project is seen by its proponents as setting the clock back not to the moment of the republic’s founding but a century earlier, before the modernising and Westernising reforms of the 19th century. It is an outright rejection not only of Kemalist elites but of their reformist Ottoman forebears. Where the Kemalist revolution lacked a social base, this project has support from pious and conservative constituencies among the urban lower middle classes, provincial businesspeople and the rural poor: they have been beneficiaries of Erdoğan’s rule, thanks to improvements in their standard of living and the removal of restrictions on religious practices such as the wearing of headscarves. But if recent elections are any indication, this amounts at most to half of the country’s population.
Turkey isn’t yet a one-party state, and the leaders of its political parties are well known to the public. They make headlines and give speeches, offer political programmes and cultivate relationships. Their parties have existed in some form or other for decades: the republicans of the CHP (Republican People’s Party), the ultra-nationalists of the MHP (the Nationalist Action Party) and the pro-Kurdish politicians of the HDP (Peoples’ Democratic Party), which has a progressive platform. The wrangles within these parties are still the stuff of newspaper stories and public discussion: the creation of a new centre-right party, the İYİ (or ‘Good’) Party, which splintered from the MHP, has generated breathless headlines for months. Speculation about the parties’ strategies in next month’s elections dominates the news as it might have done before Erdoğan came into power. It’s true that in ordinary times party leaders and MPs are not imprisoned by the dozen, as is currently happening to the HDP (at least one MP from the CHP is also in jail). But what is most jarring is that beneath the veneer of a multi-party system the truth is that not even the Justice and Development Party (the AKP), in government since 2002, has any power. The political life of the country has been reduced to the person of its leader, Erdoğan, and his entourage of relatives and cronies.
Erdoğan’s son-in-law Berat Albayrak became an MP in 2015, by which time Erdoğan had complete control of the party lists. Albayrak is minister of energy but is widely understood to be part of the small group that governs the country along with Erdoğan’s son Bilal and his daughter Sümeyye. The AKP provides the means for Erdoğan to manage parliament, mobilise voters and dispense favours in election campaigns, and develop cadres to fill the increasing number of vacancies in the state bureaucracy. But while he uses the party to achieve some of his goals, he isn’t bound by it or dependent on it. Rather the reverse: the party depends on Erdoğan. He has long since sidelined or ousted the earlier generation of AKP leaders – some of them, like Abdullah Gül and Bülent Arınç, among the party’s founding members. In the place of government controlled by a party that spanned the centre right of the political spectrum, Erdoğan has developed a system of personal rule legitimated by increasingly choreographed elections.
Some liberals in Turkey and elsewhere worry that it was a mistake to support the AKP when it appeared on the political scene at the beginning of the new millennium. Their initial hope – that the party would be a vehicle for reforming the constitution, reducing the influence of the military and introducing a more pluralist conception of national belonging – has given way to self-flagellation. But the democratising potential of the AKP was uncertain from the start, and many who count themselves on the left never embraced it. The AKP shared with parties across the Turkish political spectrum, from Kemalists to right-wing ethnonationalists, a superficial commitment to democracy, yet like most political parties in Turkey, with the notable exception of the HDP, it was never internally democratic – a fact which later facilitated the sidelining of more pluralist voices within the party. Erdoğan joked in an interview while he was mayor of Istanbul as a member of the earlier pro-Islamist Welfare (Refah) Party in 1996 that ‘democracy is like a tram; you get off when you have reached your destination.’
The AKP emerged, however, at a time when civil society movements were increasingly calling for a reckoning with the country’s past – including the Armenian genocide – and a repudiation of the ongoing repression of the Kurds. There was also growing impatience with, and in some quarters even revulsion towards, the country’s history of military coups and suppression of political parties, particularly pro-Islamist parties. For all its conservative appeal, the AKP was able to make common cause with liberal critiques of the role of the army and the courts in constraining the country’s political horizons, even if it only did so because its own future depended on defanging the tutelary institutions of the state. In the end, reforms to place the military under civilian control and to restructure the senior judiciary were not sufficient to ensure that the country’s political trajectory would remain democratic. According to the essentialist narrative, the Turkish case demonstrates the incompatibility of democracy and Islam. This is an oversimplification. The AKP’s trajectory is better understood as providing a demonstration of the way the historical and structural features of a country’s political culture and institutions can bring about democratic reversal.
The AKP was founded in 2001, under the overall leadership of Erdoğan, to replace parties that had been shut down on account of their allegedly anti-secular character, among them Refah, which was subjected to constitutional closure in 1998. As a means of enforcing strict adherence to Kemalism, the constitutional court had a special interest in disbanding parties that were deemed pro-Islamist, pro-Kurdish or communist. In the early 2000s there was a growing concern among Turkish liberals that these party closures were disenfranchising a sizeable constituency. When the AKP appeared, running on a moderate religious platform with an avowedly pro-democratic and pro-business outlook, it seemed to be a version of political Islam designed to fit the constraints set by the constitutional court. More important for those who were not religiously observant, the party platform aimed to liberalise and modernise the country’s economy in the wake of a major financial crisis in 2000-1, when the government’s yawning deficit had caused an investment panic and stock market crash that ultimately required an IMF loan.
In the 2002 national election the AKP won 34 per cent of the vote, which translated into nearly two-thirds of the seats in parliament thanks to an electoral law left over from the days of the military junta that excluded from parliament any party that achieved less than 10 per cent of the vote. In 2002 only two parties – the AKP and the CHP (with 19 per cent of the vote) – polled above the threshold and so the AKP was able to secure a majority of seats. Since the AKP’s victory followed a period of minority and coalition governments that had lasted since 1991, the possibility of stable single-party rule seemed attractive to much of the electorate. Inside and outside the country, the AKP was flatteringly compared to the Christian Democratic parties of Europe. With a platform that appealed to the religiously observant majority but also promised to preserve the republic’s secular character, the AKP offered to address religious grievances without embracing Islamism. Perhaps even more important, by apparently endorsing a civic rather than ethnic definition of citizenship, it looked like it might address the long-standing demands of the country’s Kurdish citizens.
None of this came to pass. Trying to comprehend the distance between 2002 and 2018, which feels to most Turks as if it should be described in decades, is a maddening exercise. That the AKP was not more democratic than any other Turkish political party should have been obvious from its failure to use its majority to repeal the 10 per cent electoral threshold despite its clearly anti-democratic effect. Its promises to represent the religiously observant, address the grievances of the Kurdish minority and commit itself to EU accession might have been democratising but in fact served to help consolidate its own rule. The best way to make sense of the party’s trajectory is to identify the moments at which alternative paths were ignored in favour of another step towards authoritarianism. The honeymoon period for the AKP was its first term in office, between 2002 and 2007, as a single-party government facing no credible opposition. The financial crisis had destroyed the electoral prospects of the other centre-right parties – the centre right usually attracted a clear majority of the vote, though it was split between several parties – and this cleared the field for the AKP. One of the party’s central ambitions at this point was for Turkey to join the EU, an ambition it shared with the country’s Westernised elite. In its first term, the AKP’s success in advancing Turkey’s candidacy was widely popular.
The reforms it undertook to satisfy the EU’s requirements included curtailing the role of the military in civilian governance and abolishing the state security courts that meted out summary justice in the south-east of Turkey, where much of the country’s Kurdish population lives. Restrictions on the use of the Kurdish language were eased, the death penalty was abolished and the state of emergency in the Kurdish provinces ended. The AKP stuck to the economic policies established by an IMF stabilisation package after the financial crisis and pushed forward a programme of privatisation. An economic recovery followed that eventually became a boom. Looking at the list of public assets sold to business interests allied to the AKP, one can identify the origins of what would become a bonanza of corruption. But back in 2007 the improvement in the country’s economic position, combined with investment in infrastructure – as well as health and education – had tangibly improved the lives of the poor and delivered clear benefits to the party’s core constituency.
The AKP’s margin of victory in the 2007 election marked a turning point. Turkey uses a party list system, which means that party leaders can choose who goes to the top of the list and gains a seat in parliament. The AKP’s top-down structure allowed Erdoğan to place his loyalists high on the list. The party secured 47 per cent of the vote, increasing its vote share by a third; its newly purged ranks ensured that MPs would march in lockstep behind their leader. Its votes were more evenly distributed across the country than in 2002, though it won fewer seats because a third party – the ultra-nationalist MHP – made it past the electoral threshold of 10 per cent behind the CHP, which came second, as it has in every election since 2002.
The size of the AKP’s electoral victory meant it had enough parliamentary votes to ensure the appointment of its candidate for president, Abdullah Gül, a moderate Islamist whose candidature had previously been blocked by the opposition and had drawn pointed criticism from the army (which saw itself as tasked with defending secularism). This challenge to its candidate prompted the AKP to propose a constitutional amendment that would allow the president to be elected by a popular vote rather than a parliamentary one. Opposition politicians campaigned against the change, fearing that it would shift the balance of power in favour of the executive. Despite these concerns, it was passed in an October 2007 referendum with nearly 69 per cent support. The success of the referendum strategy laid the groundwork for several disturbing developments.
Following the 2007 election, the pace of liberalising reforms slowed as EU accession talks stalled. When the new EU constitution was put to referendums across Europe in 2005, its rejection by voters in France and the Netherlands was ascribed in part to opposition to Turkey’s joining the union. The fear-mongering about Turkish accession by political figures in powerful European countries led the Turkish public to turn away from Europe and embrace nationalism themselves. And as accession became increasingly unlikely the ability of the EU to serve as a lever in favour of liberalising reforms waned. Erdoğan instead used the AKP’s second term to loosen the grip of key state institutions that sought to block his party’s consolidation of power. The three most significant elements in this strategy were a second constitutional referendum, this one aimed at restructuring the judiciary; a sustained campaign against the media conglomerate Doğan Holding, which provided a blueprint that the party would later use to destroy press freedom; and the Ergenekon trials, which unleashed the full force of the prosecutorial system on a number of people accused of plotting to bring down the government.
Ergenekon, named for the valley in a Turkic origin myth, was claimed to be a clandestine organisation whose members, retired secularist military officers, were planning a coup. There may have been some truth to the claims that some former military personnel were considering it. In 2007, the liberal magazine Nokta published what it billed as ‘coup diaries’ written by Özden Örnek, the former head of the Turkish navy, detailing plans – drawn up with former commanders of the air force and the army – for a potential coup in 2004. The initial allegations against Ergenekon therefore seemed plausible enough, and in 2007 an investigation into its supposed activities was launched. The first indictments against 86 defendants were detailed in a document nearly 2500 pages long in July 2008. This was the AKP’s first large-scale attempt to use prosecutorial powers to purge its opponents. Military officers, journalists, opposition politicians and public intellectuals were rounded up, charged with involvement in a plot, and spent long periods in pre-trial detention. Between 2008, when the first indictments were submitted, and 2011, more than five hundred defendants were detained. Another alleged coup plot (known as the Balyoz – or Sledgehammer – plan), resulted in more than three hundred suspects being sentenced to imprisonment in 2012. A massive new courtroom with a capacity of more than seven hundred was set up in Silivri prison to allow mass trials to take place. As the cases dragged on, some of Turkey’s best-known investigative journalists, including Ahmet Şık and Nedim Şener, were arrested on the grounds that they had supported the conspiracies. The charges were occasioned by Şener’s reporting of official complicity in the murder of a Turkish-Armenian journalist called Hrant Dink, and Şık’s reporting on the infiltration of the police by members of the Gülen movement – a religious group, led by the exiled cleric Fethullah Gülen, with which the AKP was at that time closely allied. In short, Ergenekon and associated trials became a vehicle for silencing dissent and covering up evidence of misconduct by the AKP.
Those who had been convicted were finally released in 2016, after the court of appeal overturned all the guilty verdicts for lack of evidence. But this reversal was possible only because it now suited Erdoğan to align himself with the defendants who had served years in prison as a result of his machinations. He now claimed that the trials had been brought by police officers, prosecutors and judges who belonged to the Gülen movement, no longer in favour: it was the Gülenists who he now claimed were plotting a coup against him. Silivri prison and its massive courtroom would soon be filled with new defendants. Much of the Turkish press dutifully reported Erdoğan’s claim without mentioning his years of vocal support for these same prosecutors and judges.
Turkish civil society was profoundly altered by the Ergenekon trials. As those who questioned the prosecutions became defendants themselves, it soon became clear that prosecutors had been empowered to hold mass trials of the government’s opponents. More significantly, the erstwhile guardians of the republic – the military and appeal court judges – not only failed to prevent the trials but were among their chief targets. Of course, political trials, manufactured evidence and reliance on hearsay were not new to the Turkish justice system: the country’s Kurdish citizens had long been subject to summary justice and violations of procedural rights. But this was the first time that members of the urban, secular, ethnically Turkish elite had been dealt with in this way. Several of the military leaders put on trial had been architects of the Turkish army’s counterinsurgency campaign in the Kurdish south-east in the 1990s, which destroyed thousands of Kurdish villages, displaced up to two million Kurdish citizens and resulted in thousands of civilian deaths. Long after it became clear that the evidence presented in the Ergenekon trials was fraudulent, the prosecutions remained popular in some circles because they served to curb the military.
After the Ergenekon trials began, Erdoğan’s focus shifted from reducing the power of the military to bringing the appeal courts under his party’s control. In 2010 the AKP unveiled a new set of constitutional amendments that were sold to the public as being designed to limit the military’s ability to influence the government, once again calling a referendum on their plans. The Turkish military’s record – direct and indirect intervention in 1960, 1971, 1980, 1997 and 2007, when it issued a memorandum challenging Gül’s presidential candidacy – meant that many Turks were sympathetic. In fact, while some of the proposed amendments did place limits on the jurisdiction of military courts and curb the role of the military in government, the most important changes concerned the composition of the judiciary. The appellate courts in Turkey had long served, together with the army, as guardians of Kemalist ideology. During the AKP’s first term, the courts had acted as a check on the party’s legislative agenda and the Constitutional Court even entertained a bid to shut down the ruling party because it engaged in anti-secular activities.
Combining structural changes to the judiciary with several liberalising changes enabled the party to present the package of amendments as a democratisation initiative. The judicial reforms could be portrayed as a response to the EU position that the control the highest echelons of the Turkish judiciary exerted on all judicial appointments and promotions was a problem. The amendments would allow more members of the judiciary to have their say, but there were widespread fears that the AKP’s real intent was to manipulate the new appointments system in such a way as to install and promote its own loyalists. Despite this, 58 per cent of the electorate voted in favour of the proposals. Within a month, opposition fears were realised as a slate of AKP nominees for election to the body in charge of judicial appointments and promotions took control. Over the next year, they appointed 160 new judges to the Court of Cassation and 51 to the Council of State. Four years later, the next elections to the judicial board saw overt manipulation as the AKP launched a high-profile bid to purge its erstwhile allies from the courts, publicly asserting its control over the judiciary.
The final move towards authoritarianism in the AKP’s second term was a showdown between Erdoğan and a group of newspapers and TV stations partly owned by Aydın Doğan, a businessman and a prominent critic of the government. The financial crisis that had paved the way for the AKP’s first electoral victory had also thinned the ranks of media ownership in Turkey. The collapse of twenty Turkish banks, many of which had print and television holdings, resulted in the government Savings Deposit Insurance Fund putting many media outlets into receivership. Over time, they were repackaged and put up for sale and several were sold to AKP-affiliated holding groups. The newspaper Sabah, for example, which had a circulation of more than four hundred thousand at the time, was sold to Ahmet Çalık’s firm, which was managed by Berat Albayrak, Erdoğan’s son-in-law. Çalık received financing from a state-owned bank to support his bid.
Doğan Holding – which owned the TV station CNN Turk, along with two other TV channels, and two of the country’s largest circulation newspapers, Hürriyet and Milliyet, as well as six smaller ones – had emerged as the most powerful anti-AKP media group. Several of Doğan’s newspapers and TV channels carried claims that the AKP was engaged in anti-secular activities, a charge that led Erdoğan to call publicly for a boycott of Doğan newspapers.During the 2007 elections, Doğan Holding supported the opposition. Afterwards, the AKP took its revenge: a $2.5 billion tax fine against Doğan Yayın (the media subsidiary owned by Doğan Holding) was announced in 2009. The fine – justified as the result of a reinterpretation of tax rules on share transactions – was widely seen as politicised: the amount came to nearly 80 per cent of the value of the parent company’s holdings. Doğan Yayın was forced to sell two of its newspapers – Milliyet and Vatan – and one TV station, in addition to paying a reduced fine. The group then attempted a difficult balancing act, with their flagship Hürriyet newspaper retaining its oppositional stance while taking a softer editorial line and avoiding stories that would anger the government. When Albayrak’s emails were hacked in 2016, they revealed that senior members of the Doğan group had had exchanges with the government about journalists and editors working at the paper. In March this year Doğan sold its remaining media assets, including Hürriyet, to a government-aligned business group, Demirören Holding.
The next elections, in 2011, represented the high-water mark of the AKP. The party entered its third term with a vote share of 49.8 per cent, an increase of nearly 3 per cent. This was Erdoğan’s last opportunity to stand in a parliamentary election: AKP rules impose a three-term limit on members. The two other parties represented in the 2007 parliament were also returned, though the MHP lost ground to the AKP, and a slate of independents representing a coalition of Kurdish politicians and left-wing candidates from 17 parties and NGOs including the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) won 35 seats.
Up to this point, the AKP’s strategy in dealing with the Kurdish electorate had been two-pronged. The party cultivated relations with Kurdish businessmen and conservative political figures, encouraging them to run on the AKP ticket, even appointing some Kurdish MPs to cabinet positions. It was also responsible for a relative liberalisation in the state’s approach to Kurdish cultural rights, offering modest support for a Kurdish television station and allowing the Kurdish language to be taught in schools. Ultimately, though, the strategy was just a sophisticated version of the traditional Turkish technique of rewarding Kurds who support the government and repressing those who do not. But rather than pushing assimilationist ethnic policies, as the Kemalists did, the party was seeking support from Kurds willing to embrace its religious platform. At the same time, any independent civil or political organising that threatened to reduce the AKP vote was harshly treated.
The pattern of detentions between 2009 and 2010 in the Kurdish provinces tells its own story. After the BDP did well in local elections in 2009 some 1800 Kurdish citizens were arrested in counterterrorism operations, with trade unionists, human rights activists and elected officials charged with belonging to a terrorist organisation. The detentions aimed at suppressing the Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK), an umbrella group for various political factions with ties to Abdullah Öcalan, the jailed leader of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). The long-standing designation of the PKK as a terrorist organisation served as the excuse. On a single day in December 2009, eighty people were arrested, including eight BDP mayors. Among them was Osman Baydemir, the popular mayor of Diyarbakır, the unofficial Kurdish capital of Turkey, who was threatened with a 36-year prison sentence. The KCK prosecutions shared all of the procedural and evidential defects of the Ergenekon trials and by 2011 had resulted in nearly ten times as many arrests, with more than 7700 suspects held, nearly half of them in pre-trial detention. That the abuses of the Ergenekon trials attracted so much attention while the KCK prosecutions were rarely discussed reflects the continuing second-class citizenship of the country’s Kurdish population.
The success of the BDP-led slate in the 2011 elections led to a new political coalition in Kurdish politics, attracting representatives from smaller left-wing parties, as well as the Alevi and Armenian communities, women’s organisations and LGBT activists. In 2012 this coalition founded the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), a successor to earlier left-wing, pro-Kurdish parties but with a considerably broader political platform. The HDP intended to represent historically marginalised communities across the country; gender equality, in particular, was built into its internal structures, with male and female leaders at every level.
The HDP’s leftist credentials ensured that it was well placed to capitalise on the wave of protests that hit Turkey in the summer of 2013. The first protests were against the replacement of Gezi Park in Istanbul with a new shopping mall designed as a replica of an Ottoman artillery barracks. The loss of one of the few remaining green spaces in the city to make way for a neo-Ottoman commercial venture sited next to Taksim Square, with its Monument to the Republic, encapsulated what protesters viewed as the worst aspects of the AKP’s agenda. When the initial demonstration was met with disproportionate force by the police, images of the violence went viral, galvanising thousands more to rally in Taksim Square. The demonstrators, many of them students, proclaimed their opposition to the AKP’s authoritarian neoliberalism. The closure of Gezi Park was just one example among thousands of government-driven projects that brought global investors and private developers into partnership with AKP-run state entities, whether to undertake mega-infrastructure or mass housing projects, or to develop new business districts or satellite cities. All these projects ignored urban planning and environmental regulations, and the social fabric of the existing city. New laws facilitated the eviction of tenants in areas slated for redevelopment. The government transformed the public housing authority into the primary vehicle for its construction frenzy, enabling it to act as urban planner, regulator, owner and in many instances contractor – subcontracting, in turn, to pro-government developers, all of this producing huge profits while displacing the urban poor.
The sudden and conspicuous wealth acquired by senior AKP officials during the party’s first decade in office is widely seen as a direct result of such public-private partnerships and the kickbacks that came with them. (Erdoğan was an early developer, in every sense – 18 corruption charges were filed against him during his time as mayor of Istanbul in the 1990s.) The displacement of long-term renters to make way for high-end construction in historic urban districts fuelled widespread anger. The Gezi protests ignited a nationwide campaign with demonstrations held in 78 of the country’s 81 provinces. Privatisation and deregulation also affected a wide range of other industries. A year after the Gezi protests, more than three hundred miners were killed in an accident in a privatised coalmine run by the AKP-aligned Soma Holding company, best known for helping the party distribute free bags of coal in the run-up to elections. The mine failed to meet the most basic safety requirements.
The Gezi demonstrators were also protesting against the government’s encroachment on secularism, which was gathering pace. Erdoğan repeatedly asserted that the government would ‘raise a religious generation’, called on women to have more children, sought to tighten access to abortion, imposed new regulations on the sale of alcohol, even attempted to prohibit public displays of affection. Fears that the republic’s secular character was under attack were accompanied by concerns that restrictions on press freedom and freedom of assembly were limiting the potential for effective opposition. The protests themselves revealed the extent of self-censorship – in addition to government censorship – among Turkey’s mainstream media, most of which downplayed or failed to cover the initial protests for fear of government reprisals. Doğan Media’s CNN Turk aired a documentary about penguins rather than cover the battles between protesters and riot police in the centre of Istanbul. Earlier in 2013 the AKP municipal government in Istanbul had imposed a ban on public assembly to prevent May Day protests in Taksim Square. The Gezi protests were a rare example of public defiance and the fierce police response, with widespread use of tear gas and water cannon, was a revelation to the largely middle-class demonstrators. Anywhere between three and five million people took to the streets in more than five thousand demonstrations over a month-long period. Many of them had never taken part in a protest before, and they became newly aware of the extent of censorship and police brutality, as well as the possibility of acting in solidarity with the more traditional activists who led the protests: environmentalists, feminists, LGBT activists, human rights workers and leftists, particularly from the Alevi community. As a result, new political aspirations were created among many who had grown up after the 1980 military coup and had never expected to lead political lives. While Kurdish participation was limited, Sırrı Süreyya Önder, an HDP parliamentarian, joined the protests.
The first major opportunity to test the national impact of the Gezi protests was the August 2014 presidential election, the first to be decided by popular vote after the AKP’s constitutional amendment of 2007. Since party rules meant he couldn’t stand again for parliament, Erdoğan had set his sights on the presidency. Soon after the 2011 elections, he began campaigning for a third set of constitutional amendments, this time to shift the structure of government from a parliamentary to a presidential system. The Gezi protests suggested real resistance to the change – the move was widely seen as a power grab. Until now the presidency had been a largely ceremonial office, but the popular mandate possessed by a directly elected president would inevitably mean that the executive would gain more power. There was little doubt that Erdoğan would win – the only question was whether he would get an outright majority in the first round of voting.
In the run-up to the election, Erdoğan was widely accused of financing his campaign with public funds and engaging in classic vote-buying schemes, such as distributing free coal and handing out food and clothes. In the end, he did win in the first round, receiving 51.8 per cent of the vote, against 38.4 per cent for Ekmeleddin Ihsanoğlu, a moderate Islamist, the candidate of the main opposition parties. The more surprising result was that the HDP candidate, Selahattin Demirtaş, a human rights lawyer, got nearly 10 per cent of the vote.
The emergence of Demirtaş as a significant figure may have played a role in ending the AKP’s support for the Kurdish ‘solution process’. Between 2009 and 2011, the AKP had taken part in talks with Kurdish rebels in an attempt to end the thirty-year conflict with the PKK, which sought to establish an independent Kurdish state, a demand later reduced to autonomy. Erdoğan acknowledged for the first time in December 2012 that the government had been negotiating with the Abdullah Öcalan, the PKK’s jailed leader. By March 2013 talks had progressed sufficiently that a letter from Öcalan announcing a ceasefire and the PKK’s withdrawal from Turkey was published and widely disseminated. After the withdrawal of PKK forces into northern Iraq the following month, the government declared an end to the conflict and convened a commission to build popular support for the ‘solution process’.
This met with enormous public enthusiasm – a poll conducted in May 2013 put support at 81 per cent in the south-east. Erdoğan, with his eye on the 2014 presidential elections, hoped to translate this enthusiasm into votes. But the peace process soon unravelled as a result of two major developments. First, the Syrian civil war gave Syrian Kurds the opportunity to form a de facto autonomous region, known as Rojava. Turkey had initially adopted a strong anti-Assad line, and allowed its border with Syria to be used as a conduit for supplies and funds to Syrian opposition forces, as well as a route for Syrian refugees fleeing the conflict. But the existence of a Kurdish-controlled territory, within a few miles of its south-eastern towns and cities, unnerved both the AKP and the Turkish army, which was wary of international support for PKK-affiliated Syrian Kurdish militias just across the porous border, and of their military prowess. As a result, during the siege of the Syrian Kurdish town of Kobani by Islamic State in the autumn of 2014, Erdoğan blocked international and local efforts to shore up Kurdish defences.
Perhaps the more important development from Erdoğan’s perspective, however, was the rising popularity of the HDP both in the south-east and nationally. He won the presidency in 2014 easily enough, but the party was not polling at its usual levels in the lead-up to the June 2015 parliamentary elections. In the spring of 2015 Erdoğan complained that the AKP was bearing the burden of the peace process while the HDP was reaping its rewards. Having imagined himself as the architect of a new Turkey that would bring peace to the south-east and replace an ethnic conception of citizenship with a religious one, Erdoğan found it intolerable that a peaceful, pluralistic country might have to endure a system of shared governance. Demirtaş campaigned against Erdoğan’s plans for a new presidential system of government and developed an electoral platform that would appeal not only to Kurdish constituencies but also Alevis, liberals, women, workers and young people. As the HDP gained ground, Erdoğan broke off talks with Öcalan in April 2015 and began courting Turkish nationalists. Öcalan was returned to solitary confinement and visitors were again forbidden to visit him. The election realised Erdoğan’s worst fears, with the AKP’s vote share falling by 9 per cent to just over 40 per cent. The HDP won 80 seats in parliament, with more than 13 per cent of the vote, becoming the first pro-Kurdish party to exceed the electoral threshold. The combination of the AKP’s weaker showing and a fourth party taking seats in parliament meant Erdoğan no longer had an absolute majority, leaving the AKP unable to form a single-party government for the first time in more than a decade. Worse still, the HDP had denied Erdoğan a clear majority for the proposed constitutional amendments necessary to create a presidential system.
Erdoğan responded to this setback with the most ruthless gamble of his career. He began a new military campaign against the Kurdish rebels and pursued an alliance with the right-wing nationalist MHP. Over the summer of 2015, Islamic State fighters stepped up attacks on Kurdish targets in Turkey, including a particularly vicious bombing in the town of Suruç which killed 33 Kurdish youth activists who were preparing for a humanitarian mission to Kobani. Many Kurds blamed the government for failing to prevent this and other terrorist attacks. Days after the bombing, two Turkish counterterrorism police officers were found dead. The PKK claimed responsibility as revenge for Suruç. Erdoğan seized on these killings as an excuse to declare an end to the peace process. Turkey had joined the American-led anti-IS coalition that summer, allowing coalition airstrikes to be launched from its airbases. The pattern of Turkish airstrikes made clear, however, that the true target of Turkey’s efforts was the PKK: fire was focused on the Qandil mountains of northern Iraq, where the PKK leadership was based. These strikes led to massive protests in the cities of the south-east; soon, the Turkish military was targeting those cities. In April 2015, Diyarbakır had welcomed delegations of diaspora Armenians marking the centenary of the genocide. By the end of the year, much of its old town, together with other Kurdish centres like Cizre and Nusaybin, had been reduced to rubble by the Turkish army. This ferocious military campaign was in some ways more intense than the low-grade civil war of the 1990s. By March 2017 the United Nations issued a report which used satellite imagery to show the scale of the destruction and detailed serious human rights violations. The military onslaught displaced hundreds of thousands of civilians and resulted in hundreds of civilian deaths. It also represented a profiteering opportunity: in 2016, it emerged that the Turkish state had agreed to pay more than $36 million for the purchase of drones from a company owned by the family of another of Erdoğan’s sons-in-law, Selçuk Bayraktar.
The significance of Syria in Erdoğan’s about-face on the Kurds pointed to changes in Turkey’s foreign policy. During its first two terms, the AKP had shifted Turkey from an exclusive focus on Washington and Brussels to a broader regional engagement. Initially, this meant deepening trade ties with the Balkans, the Caucasus and the Middle East, and in 2010 Turkey announced plans for a free trade zone with Syria, Jordan and Lebanon, while its then foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoğlu, outlined a vision for co-operation with the Arab world. After the 2011 uprisings, the AKP presented the country as a model to be emulated in the Middle East. Erdoğan called on Assad to liberalise, and within months he had allowed opposition groups to set up headquarters on Turkish territory. South-eastern cities like Gaziantep were soon awash in Gulf financiers and arms dealers meeting with various Syrian opposition factions, while Turkey absorbed millions of Syrian refugees fleeing the fighting. But after the rise of Islamic State in 2014, as the US began to carry out military operations in partnership with Syrian Kurdish militias, Turkey found itself facing the prospect of Nato arms and funds going to PKK-affiliated groups. As a result, its objectives shifted from the overthrow of Assad to countering the advance of Kurdish militias and limiting Syrian Kurdish control of a region on the Turkish border. Erdoğan’s military campaign against Kurdish targets inside Turkey was both an extension of his Syria policy and an effort to court the ethnonationalist vote.
Following the June 2015 election, Erdoğan – acting as de facto leader of the AKP despite the constitutional requirement for the president to renounce party affiliation – blocked the formation of a coalition government; as president, he declared a hung parliament and called for a snap election to be held in November. The period before the new election saw a ratcheting up of violence in the Kurdish south-east and suppression of Kurdish political organising nationwide. The message of the pro-government press – which, by this time, meant the vast majority of the media – was that only an AKP government could save the country from terrorism and chaos. The AKP cast itself as the only party capable of ending the violence while framing the HDP as a party of terrorists. By November, the military campaign in the south-east had made it difficult for the region’s electorate to get to the polls, depressing the HDP vote; it also drew ultra-nationalists away from the MHP. Erdoğan’s gamble paid off handsomely: the AKP got 49.5 per cent of the vote and a comfortable majority. The MHP lost almost half of its votes to the AKP, but still made it past the electoral threshold, as did the HDP.
There had been times in the AKP’s first terms in office when both ethnically Kurdish and ethnically Turkish citizens could imagine a conflict-free future. But Erdoğan’s AKP was at best an accidental vehicle for these hopes. The HDP is now the only political party that supports reconciliation, but as a result of a stepped-up campaign of Kurdish repression after the November 2015 election, most of its leadership is behind bars. Demirtaş, the party’s co-leader, Figen Yüksekdağ, and ten other HDP members of parliament have been detained on terrorism-related charges. Prosecutors are seeking a 142-year prison sentence for Demirtaş. Many Kurdish media outlets have been shut down and dozens of pro-Kurdish mayors removed, replaced by AKP-appointed ‘trustees’.
The AKP’s fourth term, Erdoğan’s first as president, has been far and away the most repressive. Since 2015, the country has been dragged into a war and experienced an attempted coup; it has been ruled under a state of emergency for 21 months and counting. The AKP can be charged with crushing the country’s secularist opposition, eroding the separation of powers, waging war and embracing a hyper-chauvinist nationalism. Yet the damage caused by a schism within the AKP’s own coalition may be worse than all that.
The AKP came into office intending to break the secularists’ 75-year stranglehold on the state bureaucracy and courts. This was a goal shared by the movement led by Fethullah Gülen from self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania (where he was driven in 1999 by the AKP’s predecessor in government, a coalition led by the Democratic Left Party, which had charged him with treason). The community to which Gülen was attached followed the same Sunni Hanafi tradition as the majority of Turks, including Erdoğan. But whereas the AKP grew out of Islamist political parties affiliated with the Milli Görüş (or ‘national view’) tradition, the Gülen movement emerged from a more apolitical current of thought, influenced by the Islamic scholar Said Nursi, that emphasised culture, education and morality along with a strong commitment to Turkish ethnonationalism. Despite this supposed apolitical position, during the political violence of the 1970s, when clashes between ultra-nationalist groups and leftists resulted in thousands of casualties, Gülen set out to empower religiously observant young people in the Anatolian provinces to form a bulwark against the left. A system of scholarships was created to prepare a generation of religious students for national university examinations and civil service entry. In this way, young people were given a path out of their villages and provinces, an opportunity to become something other than factory or farm workers. At the same time, by preparing them for civil service exams, Gülenists were seeking to alter the composition of the state bureaucracy, gradually filling positions with religious cadres. Because the state enforced adherence to Kemalism among its bureaucrats, the Gülenists were careful not to spell this out. Instead, their efforts were presented as merely promoting social mobility.
By the early 2000s, graduates of Gülen preparatory programmes were increasingly well represented in the state bureaucracy. When the AKP came to power and began to challenge the secular dominance of key government positions, Gülen was a natural ally. Indeed, the Gülen graduates were the only group capable of providing alternative candidates to replace the Kemalists. Many commentators now believe that the AKP-Gülen alliance replaced one ‘deep state’ with another. By the end of the AKP’s second term, the battle against the secularists had largely been won and Gülenists were filling key civil service positions. Either because the AKP no longer felt it needed to rely on Gülen followers or because Erdoğan felt threatened by their dual allegiance – or perhaps because Gülen sympathisers were wary of Erdoğan’s growing authoritarianism and his overtures to the Kurds – there was a series of public disagreements. When Gülen-affiliated prosecutors questioned Erdoğan’s ally, the head of the national intelligence agency, Hakan Fidan, in an investigation that disclosed for the first time that secret talks had taken place between senior AKP officials and the PKK in 2012, it started to become clear that the presence of Gülenists in senior positions might pose a risk to the AKP.
During the Gezi protests, prominent AKP members who were rumoured to have links with Gülen – including the party’s then president, Abdullah Gül – were clearly uncomfortable with the crackdown. While Erdoğan dismissed the protesters as ‘looters’, several AKP officials took a softer line. Gül himself commented that democracy cannot be reduced to elections alone, and senior ministers expressed respect for the right of non-violent protest. The Gülen movement’s newspaper Zaman published criticisms of excessive police violence. In November 2013, Erdoğan announced new regulations that would result in the closure of the schools set up by the Gülenists to prepare their supporters for college and civil service entry. It was the opening salvo in an all-out war between Erdoğan and Gülen.
A month later, in the early morning of 17 December, the properties of more than fifty AKP members and businessmen with connections to the party were raided. Police emerged with shoeboxes stuffed with cash, reportedly confiscating as much as $17 million. The raids were the result of a year-long investigation, allegedly conducted outside the chain of command in the Ministry of Justice, into allegations of rigged state tenders and bribery. Among those detained were the construction tycoon Ali Ağaoğlu, whose mega-projects made him the most prominent figure associated with AKP-backed urban redevelopment; the head of the state-owned Halkbank, Süleyman Aslan; and the Iranian-Turkish businessman Reza Zarrab, who was accused of operating a money-laundering scheme in an attempt to bypass American sanctions against Iran. Prosecutors charged more than a dozen people with fraud, bribery, money laundering and gold smuggling. A separate investigation into rigged bidding for the Sabah newspaper implicated Erdoğan’s son Bilal, his son-in-law Berat Albayrak and Binali Yıldırım, then minister of transport. A recording in which Erdoğan allegedly told Bilal to move tens of millions of dollars, quickly, was leaked to the press. Erdoğan insisted that the recording was fake and that the enormous volume of incriminating evidence made public by the prosecutors was all forged. In the face of mounting public outrage, four AKP ministers resigned.
The prosecutor leading the investigation was Zekeriya Öz, chief prosecutor in the Ergenekon cases and, many believed, a Gülenist. The corruption allegations would of course be tried by members of a judicial branch restructured after the 2010 constitutional referendum called by the AKP. With local and presidential elections due in 2014, and with his own son and members of his immediate circle implicated, Erdoğan had to find a way to quash the investigation.
On the defensive, Erdoğan claimed that the graft allegations amounted to an attempted ‘judicial coup’. The Gülenists carrying out the investigation were, he said, part of a ‘parallel state’ which had infiltrated the police, prosecutors and judiciary. The AKP-supporting media went into overdrive. To prevent evidence from the investigation emerging, the government tightened restrictions on social media platforms and authorised the destruction of wiretap recordings. Erdoğan also borrowed from Öz’s strategy in the Ergenekon cases, describing all Gülen followers as members of a treasonous organised conspiracy. Öz himself, lionised by the AKP during the Ergenekon trials, was now vilified.
In January 2014, the AKP carried out the biggest purge of the judiciary in Turkish history. Within weeks, prosecutors affiliated with the case had been replaced with new appointees willing to wind down the investigation. By the end of the month, a hundred judges had been removed from their posts, and at least two thousand police and prosecutors had been fired or reassigned. Many of those who were sacked had also been involved in the Ergenekon cases, and the government now withdrew its backing of those trials. Erdoğan was prepared to free the Ergenekon defendants and even to strike an alliance with some of his secularist former rivals if that was the price of ridding himself of the Gülenist threat. One of the main defendants in the Ergenekon trials, Doğu Perinçek, was released in March 2014 (having been given a life sentence to be served in solitary confinement) and promptly became one of Erdoğan’s closest advisers. The government introduced a bill to give the executive even greater control of judicial appointments, triggering objections from the EU. Two other new laws strengthened Erdoğan’s hand, one allowing the government greater control over the internet and the other increasing the powers of the intelligence services. The new internet regulations enabled the government to block YouTube and Twitter without a court order, limiting, on national security grounds, public access to evidence leaked online.
The government intensified the purge of Gülenists in 2015, targeting the state bureaucracy as well as the private sector, seizing corporate and media assets and imposing court-appointed trustees to run expropriated businesses – a lucrative new way of rewarding loyalists in the run-up to the parliamentary election called by Erdoğan in November 2015. By the end of that year, the government was presenting its anti-Kurdish military campaign, the purges of Gülenists and the fight against Islamic State as part of a unified effort to combat a ‘cocktail of terrorism’.
[ . . . ]
FUUL TEXT AT: https://www.lrb.co.uk/v40/n10/ella-george/purges-and-paranoia
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