Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Istanbul Pride 2011

First, here is a link to photos of pride on my facebook! Enjoy, they will attest to what an amazing day it was!!

Following the BDP protest (see previous blog), I made my way over to the annual Istanbul Pride Parade, which I have participated in for four years now. Every year the parade has grown, and this year it took a bit longer for the participants to reach Taksim due to the closure of the roads as a result of the BDP support protest; therefore, the first photos (see link above) seem as if it was going to be less people, however within a half hour it appeared that there were anywhere between 3-4 thousand people, if not more. I have to say that with each passing year I enjoy Pride more and more; it is simply impossible for me to describe the positive energy from the participants and from the onlookers who often clap and cheer. This year the parade was led by Lamda Istanbul’s Family Support group, with mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers joining in and showing their solidarity and pride with their children and siblings. Also, we were happy to have parliament member Sebahat Tuncel and upcoming parliamentarians Sırrı Süreyya Önder and Ertuğrul Kürkçü (all affiliated with the BDP) taking part, following the early clashes between them and their supporters and the police. During the Pride parade, due to the wind shifting directions tear gas was in the air often burning our eyes. During the last few years, Tuncel has been an important supporter of the LGBT community and the coalition to bring equality to all citizens of Turkey.

This year’s Pride Parade comes at an important crossroads in Turkish history with the upcoming parliament set to rewrite the constitution. Therefore, in Turkey, the main goal for the LGBT community is to amend current anti-discrimination laws to also prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender-identity, and to introduce laws protecting the community (and other communities in Turkey) from Hate Crimes and Hate Speech, among other issues such as ending the rampant violence suffered especially by the transgender community (here is a link to my previous blog on the topic). Like last year some of the slogans were “homosexuals will no longer be silenced,” and “we are here so get used to us.”

Following the parade, crowds gathered in Tunel Square for a festive evening of drinking and dancing in the street. To end, I will attach a paragraph that I wrote last year when I covered Pride, and I think it still holds quite true: Istanbul Pride is a true show of force and optimism. While the Turkish society overall is quite conservative they to are coming to terms with the fact that the LGBT as an active community is here to stay. No longer can government ministers, such as [the past] Aliye Kavaf (minister of Woman and Family affairs), who stated that “homosexuality is a disease that needs to be treated”, hide from the slogans thrown at her by thousands of protestors. The fact that she [did not] resign is in itself a disgrace to the [past] government. Furthermore, the march signifies more than anything that Turkey has changed a lot during the last decade and that the Turkish society is indeed in the midst of a quite dynamic phase.

Monday, June 27, 2011

BDP Protest Photos

Here is a link to photographs I shot during a protest in Taksim supporting Hatip Dicle, one the independent candidates affiliated with the Peace and Democratic Party (BDP)who was banned by the Turkish Supreme Electorate Board from entering the new parliament. Two elected BDP members were at the protest, Sebahat Tuncel and Sirri Sureyya Onder, which was a continuation of an earlier protest in Sisli; trying to make their way to Taksim square they were blocked by police and were forcefully dispersed with tear gas. The two upcoming members then joined the annual (Gay) Pride parade, which received a small dose of tear gas due to the wind. As for myself, I "cried" for about twenty minutes since I also had a nice dose of tear gas. It must be said that unfortunately, the police seemed to have used excessive force to break up a crowd of not more 300-350 demonstrators.

Sebahat Tuncel speaks at demonstration:

Demonstration being dispersed with tear gas:

Tomorrow, I will cover the story of the latest political crisis in detail following the swearing of the new Turkish parliament members on June 28.

Friday, June 24, 2011

My Haaretz article translated to Turkish

Here is a link to the Turkish version of my Haaretz article, which appeared on 21 June 2011 in the newspaper, Radikal. I am currently working on an upcoming blog peice; hopefully, it will be finished in a few days. Until then...best wishes to all from Istanbul.


Monday, June 13, 2011

Understanding Turkey’s Election Results

June 13, 2011

2007 Election Results
Ak Party %46.47.........341 MPs
CHP Percent %20.84.........112 MPs
MHP Percent %14.26..........71 MPs
Independents %5.19..........26 MPs

2011 Election Results
AK %49.46...........326 MPs
CHP %25.88...........135 MPs
MHP %12.97............53 MPs
BDP (+1) %6.65.............36 MPs

Below I have prepared some of the main questions concerning the recent elections. I tried not to get bogged down in details. However, like most political systems, the Turkish one can get quite complicated. If you have any questions concerning the recent elections, please feel free to ask them and submit them into the comment section. I will check it daily and answer any questions which come up. Also, all other comments would be appreciated!

If the ruling AK party has gained approx. 3.5 percent more votes than the 2007 elections, why have they lost seats in the Turkish parliament?

This is simply due to the ten-percent threshold needed for a party to enter politics. In 2002, the two parties entering the parliament, the AK party (34.8%), and the People’s Republican Party (CHP) (19.4) were the sole parties able to conjure up 10% of the vote allowing them to enter the parliament, leaving over 45 percent of the vote uncounted. Thus the 550 of the total seats of the parliament were divided up between the two parties with the AK party receiving 363 seats and the CHP 178 seats, and 9 seats going to independents, who due to only running a single candidate are not subject to the 10% threshold.

In 2007, fewer votes were wasted: the AK party won %46.47 of the vote (341 parliament seats), the CHP party won %20.85 (112 seats) and the National Action Party (MHP) recovered from the former elections receiving %14.29 (71 seats). The Kurdish Peace and Democratic party (BDP) (then known as DEHAP) opting a different strategy than 2002 decided to run independent candidates who once elected would form a party within the parliament, and received 22 seats, plus 3 other independents entered the parliament. In other words, only around 12.5 percent of the vote was thrown out due to the fact that it did not pass the 10% threshold.

During the current elections, the trend of voting for stable parties continued and therefore even though the AK party took %49.86 votes, the fact that the CHP improved by over 5 percent receiving %25.88 of the vote dented the AK party’s numbers in terms of parliamentary seats; this along with the fact that the BDP Kurdish bloc received a surprising 35 seats by running independents ( in addition to the BDP there was one other independent who entered the parliament, with the total vote for independents reaching %6.6. of the total vote). Lastly, the MHP votes dropped this time with them receiving %12.97. Therefore, during the current election only a mere 5 percent of the votes were not counted due to the high threshold leaving the final number of seats divided in the following order: AK party (326 seats), CHP (135 seats), MHP (53 seats), and the independents (36 seats). What we can learn from this (long) exercise is that the Turkish public has matured and during this election voted mostly only for the parties which they truly believed could pass the 10% threshold.

Did the AK party fall short of seats they needed in parliament?

Even with the current overwhelming victory, the fact that they did not receive 330 seats was a great disappointment since PM Erdoğan’s goal was to receive at least 330 seats, if not 367 seats. Why? 367 seats is exactly 2/3 of the parliament and this would allow his party to make constitutional changes without bringing the vote to a plebiscite, a general referendum. Now, if they had 330 seats they would be able to implement constitutional changes and then bring it to a general vote. However, without the 330 votes neither is possible. This leads Erdoğan into an internal crisis since his main goal is to continue to implement constitutional changes. Among these changes is his goal to change the Turkish political system giving the president of the Turkish republic extensive powers, a position he aims to take once his tenure of Prime Minister is over. While, it is quite possible that members of other parties might defect giving him the 330 seats, it generally points to the fact that the AK party alone will not decide the fate of Turkey, and PM Erdogan will need to work hand in hand with the BDP, CHP, or the MHP, if they want to make any drastic changes. Therefore, in this sense, even though the AK party received more votes, the fact that they received fewer seats makes their work much harder than the previous two governments they lead.

How many votes did the People’s Republican Party gain this election compared to the last election?

The CHP under the leadership of Kemal Kilicdaroglu gained 3.5 million votes than the last election. This was certainly due to the fact that the former head of the CHP, Deniz Baykal, finally left the party and opened the door for a more liberal group to enter. Now as an opposition, they will need to prove that their party is serious about change and their next major test will be in upcoming municipality elections, 2-3 years away, in addition to their parliamentary record.

Why did the BDP candidates gain 13 more seats than the last elections and what does this mean for the future of the Kurdish question?

The BDP’s impressive gain seats shows the urgency of the Kurdish issue. While not all of the BDP members are Kurdish, such as the Turkish film director Sırrı Süreyya Önder, who is of Turkman origin, they are seen by most as the political force which follows a close line with the outlawed PKK Kurdish organization, whose jailed leader Abdullah Ocalan is in constant contact with concerning the party’s agenda. In simple words, the gain in popularity shows that PM Erdogan cannot put off the Kurdish question much longer. Among those elected for parliament is the once 10 year imprisoned former parliament member Leyla Zana, and Ahmet Turk, who was recently barred from politics during the previous term. Topping their agenda is greater freedoms, and the introduction of public education being taught in Kurdish in the dominated populated Kurdish region in Turkey’s Southeast. In the future week’s I will hopefully readdress this issue in more detail.

How many women are now in the current parliament compared to the last one?

While this might be a small step, it certainly is a positive one. Women members of the Turkish parliament have gone up from 50 to 78. The AKP has 45, the CHP, 20, the MHP, 3, and the BDP has 11 bringing it up to 14% of the parliament; a long haul for equality in Turkey to say the least. It must be reminded that also since the Merve Kavakci scandal, when she was elected in 1999 and entered the parliament wearing an Islamic headscarf only to be thrown out, the AKP has not attempted to place a covered woman in parliament. It seems quite possible that this will be their goal for the next elections, hopefully an issue that all the parties can work towards solving in the upcoming term.

Are there any non-Muslim members in the new parliament?

The only non-Muslim in parliament is BDP member, Erol Dora. He is a Christian Assyrian from the city of Mardin which is a mixed Arab-Turkish-Kurdish city with once a large Assyrian Christian population. This is the first time a non-Muslim has entered parliament since Cefi Kamhi, who was a Jewish member for the True Path Party (DYP) from 1995-1999.

I hope this has helped clarify some of the election results! Once again, please feel free to submit questions in the comment section.

Warm regards from Istanbul,


Sunday, June 12, 2011

A Quick Note about the Turkish Election Results (to be followed by a detailed analysis tomorrow)

June 12, 2011
This evening I spent at some friends watching the election results. For the a third time, the ruling AK party has proven its ability to sweep up the votes, this year receiving an astounding 49.9 percent of the overall vote. For my American friends this might seem like a slim victory. However, for a parliamentary system this is indeed impressive. However, in the detailed analysis I will provide tomorrow, I will explain why PM Erdoğan might be facing the toughest opposition yet and a greater amount of polarization.

In fact, all parties elected can claim a certain amount of success. The Peoples Republican Party (CHP), marked a 5 percent rise in votes, while the National Movement Party (MHP), dropped less than 2 percent from the 2007 elections despite the numerous scandals which recently plagued their party with the release of “sex-tapes,” leading to the resignation of many of their influential leaders. Lastly, the (mainly Kurdish) Peace and Democratic Party (BDP), which runs independent candidates due to the fact that otherwise their party would not pass the 10% threshold, marked a rise in their members in parliament from 22 seats to 35.

For now, I will leave it here for now, and tomorrow I will dedicate one or two more articles analyzing the results, beginning tomorrow. For now, good night!

AKP 21,429,460 49.84 %

CHP 11,150,489 25.93 %

MHP 5,586,371 12.99 %

BGSZ (Independent BDP)2,847,357 6.62 %

Sunday, June 5, 2011

An Update and One week to go to Turkish elections

First, I wanted to share with my readers that I have not written for a few weeks aince I am on a week vaction abroad and because I was quite busy preparing two lectures: one was a seminar at Sabanci University’s History Seminar Series, where I presented entitled: “Palestinianism” during the Young Turk Period. This was basically a review of what will be the second chapter of my upcoming book, which will hopefully be published within the next two years (long process to say the least). The second talk was part of the Hrant Dink Memorial Workshop, a workshop which was dedicated to the topic of freedom of expression. For this conference, I presented a paper entitled: Memories of the Past/Present: the Palestinians and Jews’ Right to Remember the Nakba and Obligation Not to Forget. This paper is actually a continuation of a project which I embarked on almost three years ago on history and memory, where I presented a lecture for Bezalel architecture department on Jerusalem and Istanbul in the Ottoman/post-Ottoman nation-state era, and a former paper which I presented twice, once in New York at a conference and previously also at last year’s Hrant Dink Memorial Workshop, entitled: Remnants of the Past/Present: Jews, Armenians, and Greeks as Historical/Living Artifacts.

As for the upcoming elections, while the ruling Ak party is set to sweep an easy victory against the People Republican’s Party (CHP) and the National Movement Party (MHP), the question now is how great the victory will be. It is hard to estimate the outcome, however it seems that the AK party will capture a similar number of votes to the last election: between 45-50 percent, the CHP might pass 30 percent of the vote, and the MHP, despite the scandalous “sex” video clips of many high party members, which led to numerous resignations within the party during the last few weeks, it seems they will make it over the 10 percent threshold. The Peace and Democratic Party (BDP) which ia mainly Kurdish, by running independent candidates like the last elections, seem like they will retain their strength in the parliament and perhaps even strengthen by one of two seats. If the AKP goes over the 50 percent mark, this will mark a major victory, which is their goal. However, I highly doubt that this will happen and believe that they might even drop a few percent, which certainly will send a strong message to them that at least 50 percent of the country is disappointed with Erdogan’s performance. Also, while the opposition CHP leader Kilicdaroglu is not nearly as charismatic of a leader as Erdogan, he certainly has breathed new life in the party, which is something long overdue. If the MHP does not pass the ten percent threshold, due to the recent scandals, this will send shock waves through the Turkish political system, and will once again show the unjustness of a ten percent threshold, which the AKP has kept intact despite their previous promises to lower it.

I will be back in Turkey on Thursday morning after a week vacation abroad and will be following the elections closely. Please follow my blog for analysis of the first election results which will take place late Sunday evening. I will submit more extensive analysis the following day.

Until then, warm regards and best wishes to all.