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Günbatımı Bulvarı: How the International Perspective of Rule of Law has Changed in Turkey

February 21, 2011

“I am big. It’s the pictures that got small.”

It’s one of the most quotable bits of one of Hollywood’s most famous movies. Sunset Boulevard is about the fading glory of a silent picture star. And while the plot would seemingly have more to do with Mubarak (or Ben Ali, or Ghaddafi, or al Khalifeen…) the quote reminds me of Turkey’s in some respects awkward place on the world stage. No longer being congratulated for its steps towards European-style liberalism, it is now criticized for its steps away from it. Ne oldu?

Also: Geeyah Stage Makeup!

As Yigal Schleifer put it in his most recent bit on Istanbul Calling, Turkey is now being seen as a model for the Middle East.I agree that this is bizarre considering that there’s no discussion of the 80 years of history of the Republic that got us here, only the end goal. And I agree that the carrot of EU ascension has been key. But I would like to demonstrate how the overall arc of his pessimism is largely due to a perspective shift.


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Istanbul nightlife, or why the new alcohol law makes sense

February 18, 2011

Katherine Ammirati currently works as a legal intern in Istanbul. Her interests include the art of conversation, urban culture, and city life. She will be back.

The other day, as the conversation neared the limits of my Turkish, a new acquaintance asked me whether I went out on the weekends. I told him yes, and he made a face. “The Istanbul nightlife is terrible,” he told me. “I’m so sick of it—there’s nowhere to go.”

That’s a complaint I’ve heard often. According to this guy, the problem was that “men stare at the women, and the women don’t talk to men. There’s no energy here—in Amsterdam or Berlin, everyone just wants to have a good time.”

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So is the Aegean one big Cordonne Sanitaire? Turkey has an issue with North Cyprus (KKTC)

February 17, 2011

Following the carnage and fallout of an Erdogan quote has gotten to be far less fun than it used to be. And although he has come out with one of his triumphs of speechwriting and positioning by being one of the first world leaders to call for Mubarak’s makat, he’s also stewed himself into trouble with the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (from hereon out: KKTC).

The Cyprus Mail is probably a bit overblown in their coverage; I don’t think that the naming of Halil Ibrahim Akca as Ambassador to KKTC is going to cause some insolvable dissolution between Turkey and Cyprus’ concrete half. But the story shows the inherent weirdness of their relationship.

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Ethics, US Congress, and Turkish-Armenian intrigue

February 16, 2011

So, Jean Schmidt. Republican Congresswoman from Ohio’s 2nd district.

If your Jeopardy answer to that was “Which American politician is currently the subject of a House ethics investigation over ties to a Turkish-American interest group?”, well done.

TPM does a good job of outlining what exactly the current inquiry is and what it covers, so I highly recommend reading that first. The Cliffs Note version is that complaints have been filed with the Office of Congressional Ethics that Schmidt is receiving legal assistance from the Turkish Coalition of America. Schmidt’s lawyer, Bruce Fein, “is an attorney with the Turkish American Legal Defense Fund and a resident scholar at the Turkish Coalition of America.” The issue seems to be whether Fein did any work for Schmidt that was paid for by the TCA.

But! Look further and this is the tip of one big giant mud-slinging iceberg between Schmidt and her two-time opponent for the House seat, David Krikorian (Krikorian, TPM says, “has filed several complaints with the OCE” concerning Schmidt). Yes, Turkish-Armenian ethnic politics have become a US ethics investigation and one of the primary actors is neither Turkish nor Armenian. What a world. Let’s examine the players and background:

David Krikorian ran as an independent for the OH-2 House seat in 2008, winning 18 percent of the vote, and sought the Democratic nomination for the seat in 2010, losing to Surya Yalamanchili, who went on to lose to Schmidt. Although his Wikipedia page reports he is a former local leader of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, it seems he actually is a former local leader of the Armenian National Committee of America (several sources online say ANCA is ARF-affiliated or that ARF serves as an umbrella organization for ANCA). If you were at all uncertain, he is Armenian-American.

Jean Schmidt is a third-term Congresswoman, and previously was in the Ohio Legislature. She’s on the Agriculture Committee and the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Between 2007 and October 2009, Schmidt “accepted $12,650 from the Turkish Coalition USA PAC and another $5,800 from the Turkish American Heritage PAC,” according to OpenSecrets. Kaya Boztepe, president of the Federation of Turkish American Associations, donated to her campaign (I assume her 2008 one, this article is from 2009). For her 2010 election, Schmidt accepted $7,200 from Turkish Coalition USA PAC and $3,500 from Turkish American Heritage PAC; if any other Turkish-related PACs contributed, it was under $2,500, which is as far as I can see on OpenSecrets’ contributions list.

Congresswoman Schmidt has taken four privately-financed trips abroad since 2008 – one to Germany and Israel, one to Canada, and two to Turkey. In May 2009, Schmidt traveled to Ankara and Istanbul for a week. The trip cost $10,580.49 and was sponsored by the TCA. In November of last year, Schmidt and her husband traveled to Ankara and Istanbul, again for six days. That trip cost $11,546.18 and was sponsored by the Franklin Center for Global Policy Exchange.

Back to Krikorian. He has the dubious distinction of being named Keith Olbermann’s Worst Person in the World twice after apparently asking a VFW crowd, of his Indian-American Democratic primary challenger, “Do you think a guy with a name like that has a chance of ever being elected?” and then alleging that his first nod as Worst Person in the World had something to do with that candidate’s employer, Procter & Gamble.

During the 2008 campaign, Krikorian distributed campaign literature accusing Schmidt of accepting “$30,000 in blood money from Turkish sponsored political action committees to deny the slaughter of 1.5 million Armenian men, women and children by the Ottoman Turkish government during World War I.” Oh yes, this all comes back to the Armenian genocide resolutions.

Schmidt filed a lawsuit against the campaign literature allegations before the Ohio Election Commission, which ruled in her favor and reprimanded Krikorian for making false statements. During that lawsuit, “the Turkish American Legal Defense Fund provided her legal counsel.” I believe this is the legal counsel subject to the House OCE complaint.

The 2010 OH-2 House race was the Armenian-American community’s “top priority for the 2010 elections.” In a June 2009 editorial, Armenian Weekly’s Aram Hamparian called Schmidt an “energetic apologist for Turkey’s sins,” citing as proof a photo of Schmidt laying a wreath at Anitkabir (pretty much every visiting foreign dignitary is invited to lay a wreath at Anitkabir; Obama did it, Ahmadinejad did it, everybody does it). Hamparian also calls Schmidt “the genocide-denying darling of the Turkish lobby.” Well there’s a sobriquet.

The lawyer in question, Bruce Fein, was an associate deputy attorney general during the Reagan administration. He’s been an analyst and commentator for several conservative think tanks, including the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprises Institute. Fein is a resident scholar at TCA, and author of a pretty cringe-worthy editorial on why the events of 1915 do not constitute genocide over at the Assembly of Turkish American Associations.

Not necessarily related to the Ohio election campaigns, the ethics complaint or Armenian-Turkish issues in the US Legislature, but Schmidt, you may recall, is the Congresswoman who, as a freshman representative, told the venerable Representative John Murtha, D-PA: “A few minutes ago I received a call from Colonel Danny Bubp, Ohio Representative from the 88th district in the House of Representatives. He asked me to send Congress a message: Stay the course. He also asked me to send Congressman Murtha a message, that cowards cut and run, Marines never do. Danny and the rest of America and the world want the assurance from this body — that we will see this through.” Murtha, who passed away last year, was a Marine Corps officer and the first Vietnam veteran elected to Congress. Ironically, this was two months after Schmidt had said, while being sworn in to Congress: “I pledge to walk in the shoes of my colleagues and refrain from name-calling or the questioning of character. It is easy to quickly sink to the lowest form of political debate. Harsh words often lead to headlines, but walking this path is not a victimless crime.”

I guess at least she didn’t buy a statue of Ataturk with her per diem?

İstanbul'dan Dünya'ya: We keep showing up elsewhere

February 15, 2011

Apologies for the sudden quietness going on in this site. It was largely social life related and we promise it will not happen again.

The Southeast Times, a news website run by the United States European Command, did a podcast profile of expatriates living and working in Istanbul. They’re run by the U.S. Military, sure, but they are well-run and do lots of good things in 10 languages.

The creators of this website, Asher Kohn and Rebecca Doffing, were profiled in the podcast along with 3 others: Julia Harte, Melanie Poole, and Ehsan Shookoohy. It’s an interesting listen, and we suggest you check it out.

.mp3 file is here, transcript is here.

And no, it’s not pronounced “Koch” but hey.

So why is the Bosporus so important?

February 13, 2011

If you have a spare moment (or 30), absolutely head over to the BBC, where they have a really well-done podcast up about the Bosporus. Its timing is fortuitous, as I was just thinking about how I should write about why the Bosporus is so important, historically, culturally, and today, and it does a great job of covering much of that.
It’s easy to think that in today’s world of globalized trade, the Bosporus isn’t as critical as perhaps it once was, but it would be a mistake to discount the Bosporus’ continued strategic shipping importance. Today the strait is a major transitway for crude oil and other petroleum products – the US Department of Energy classifies the Bosporus as one of its “World Oil Transit Chokepoints” and noted that in 2009, 2.5 million barrels a day of crude oil passed through the strait. That might sound like a lot for a country with no significant oil reserves, but as the DOE points out, “The ports of the Black Sea are one of the primary oil export routes for Russia and other former Soviet Union republics.”
Each year, 50,000 vessels transit the straits, not including local traffic like the city ferries. Of those 50,000, about 5,500 are tankers. On a per-day average, this works out to about 140 through-traffic vessels, including 15 tankers.* According to Bosphorus Strait News, the strait is second in vessel density only to the Strait of Malacca. So many tankers and other vessels transit via the Bosporus, in fact, that there are often weekslong delays – you can see an entire city on the water out on the Marmara if you take the shore road to the Ataturk Airport. It’s beautiful at night. These ships wait as long as 20 days before being able to get through to the Black Sea, and I imagine there’s likely a similar waiting area on the north side, waiting for permission to go through to the Marmara.
Unfortunately for Turkey, under the terms of the 1936 Montreux Convention it can’t charge transit fees for commercial vessels. The convention also grants passage to all commercial vessels from all nations. This is a big reason why Turkey is so gung-ho about its pipeline projects – if an energy pipeline is built through Turkey, it will relieve some of the burden of the Bosporus for energy transport and on top of that, Turkey will be able to make a very tidy sum in transit fees. A pipeline would also mitigate some of the environmental damage being done to the Bosporus by the tankers – there’s a lot of oil that leaks into the water, and the Bosporus today is shockingly polluted.
There’s also a not-insignificant risk of an accident or collision. The Bosporus is S-shaped, and at one point (just south of Kandilli) ships must make a 45-degree turn – not easy with a giant ship at full speed. Between 1953 and 2002, there were 461 “maritime incidents” in the Bosporus or in the Marmara right at the end of the strait. In 2009 a tanker lost control and collided with a waterfront mansion – luckily it slowed enough that it didn’t crash straight on through the house. There’s a listing of some of the more notable incidents here – among them a 1991 collision between two ships, one of which was carrying livestock. As the site notes, 21,000 sheep drowned at Anadoluhisari, causing major pollution as the bodies decomposed.** With the oil and LPG being carried through the strait these days though, there’s a risk of a much greater disaster than 21,000 dead sheep. As the BBC podcast points out, estimates of death tolls if a tanker exploded while in the Bosporus start at 10,000.

For a waterway that serves as the heart of the city, the Bosporus is so much more. And the ancient waterway retains its commercial importance today, serving as a major transit point for oil, other petroleum products, and many other commercial interests traveling between the Black Sea (and thus Eastern Europe, Russia, the Caucasus, and Central Asia) and the rest of the world.

*You can follow vessel traffic in and around the Bosporus live at It’s amazing — as I write this, there are 193 cargo vessels and tankers in the Bosporus vicinity.

**This led me on a wonderful tangent as I googled around trying to find out if sheep can swim. The answer? They can, although it’s “not their preferred recreation activity.” Sheepnet goes on to say: “Their swimming style can best be described as a doggy-paddle.”

Tale of the Tape: Justin Beiber vs. Kemal Ataturk

February 7, 2011

Accidentally scheduled this for 7/2/2010 at first. Apparently I missed the new year. Oops.

I mentioned my approval of Fuck Yeah Turkish Nationalism! in a recent post I did, but really, more must be said. More must be said about this:

It’s captioned with “Justin Bieberin ATATÜRK’ten Daha Çok Anıldığı Bir Ülkede Yaşıyoruz ! Justin Bieber mı Kurtardı Vatanınızı !” or “Justin Beiber is celebrated more in this country than Ataturk! Did Justin Beiber found this country?” and it links to the Ben Turkum!! Facebook page.

But I can’t help but wonder, who IS more important/generally better. Justin Beiber or Ataturk?

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