Merkel’s blunders are piling up


Mein lieber Gott! So, according to recent polls, German Chancellor’s popularity is on rise again. Does Merkel have to do anything but change the colour of her costume to make a “political comeback”?

Perhaps our German friends are drinking too much beer and eat to many Bratwürste by the evenings to have enough time to follow politics, because I cannot understand it otherwise. Whatever it may be, this overrated and lacklustre politician sat through her office withholding any decisions until it was absolutely inevitable. And when she took them, she made everything much worse: think of Ukraine, Greece or now, Turkey.

While Turkey descends into an autocratic sultanate and guns down the Kurds, Merkel negotiates a draft deal that gives Turkey: a) payments for returning migrants from Greek islands back to Turkey, b) visa-free travel for Turkish citizens from June 2016, c) speeding up EU membership negotiations across all chapters, d) 6 bn EUR that are (supposed) to be allocated for refugee facilities for Syrians in Turkey. Plus, the preliminary agreement includes a nice clause reminiscent of trading with human beings – for every Syrian moved from the Greek islands to Turkey, Turkey will move another Syrian to one of the 28 EU Member States. Besides being fairly twisted, does it even make any sense?

Now, what the EU gets out of it? More secure borders? More money for the Greeks and other countries to improve their refugee facilities? Recognition of Cyprus’ territorial integrity? Ceasing violence against our anti-ISIS allies, the Kurds?

Well, there is your answer how useful politician Merkel is.

Chalk vs. Tablet: Can FATIH Project Revolutionize the Turkish Education System?

PM of Turkey presenting the FATIH project to children © Ekonomik Ayrinti
PM of Turkey presenting the FATIH project to children © Ekonomik Ayrinti

In many ways, and by any standard, Turkey is a vibrant country. Those who follow events in Turkey closely would definitely agree, as they must nowadays have difficulty with following the dizzying pace of events and making sense out of them. To be more concrete and specific, it would be appropriate to mention a few hot topics in the news in the past week.

To begin with, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan officially proclaimed his objective of “raising devout generations which embrace [their] historic principles” and equated being a non-devout with being a “drug addict.” In a different occasion, the main opposition party, Republican People’s Party (CHP) physically occupied the Parliament’s rostrum to protest various amendments proposed by the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government. Kicks and punches followed. In the middle of the week, as a part of a probe into the Kurdish Communities Union (KCK), the alleged urban wing of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a prosecutor has summoned the head of National Intelligence Organization (MIT), Hakan Fidan, and four others, including the former head and deputy head of MIT, to answer questions about secret talks the agency held in Oslo with the PKK. Upon this, AKP blocked the investigation and prepared a new law to stop arbitrary arrest of top government officials. In addition, the prosecutor was removed from the case hastily. On the following day, Erdogan had his second surgery for noncancerous intestinal polyps. Even though the weekend was quiet, Turkish security forces raided the headquarters of several labor unions, as part of the ongoing operations against KCK and detained around 100 people countrywide on Monday. At the time of this writing, thousands of soccer fans were shouting slogans outside a Turkish courthouse in support of 93 suspects, including the jailed president of the last champion Fenerbahce, who went on trial in a massive match-fixing scandal1 which has plunged the country’s multi-billion-dollar league into chaos.2

Unfortunately due to this vibrant, complex, and unpredictable political atmosphere, media and political analysts can sometimes overlook or pay inadequate attention to noteworthy developments in Turkey. One such example is the under-coverage of the implementation of the Movement of Enhancing Opportunities and Improving Technology Project, abbreviated as FATIH, despite arguably being the most significant and ambitious educational investment of Turkey in recent years. This article can hopefully give a basic understanding and insight into the FATIH Project, the existing problems of the education system in Turkey, and the debate regarding the necessity of implementing the project in question.

The FATIH Project

As Altunbasak and Ayci argue, Turkey has grandiose targets for 2023, the centennial celebration of the Republic of Turkey. In parallel with these ambitious goals, such as national automobile and aircraft production, it has planned to make giant investments and to leap forward in various areas of strategic importance.3

Education is indeed one of these areas. Accordingly, under the FATIH Project, 40,000 schools and nearly 600,000 classes will be equipped with the latest information technologies and turned into computerized education classes (Smart Class) to have a well-educated generations to realize the above-mentioned goals.4 In addition, all students and teachers will be provided with tablet PCs, while the classrooms will be equipped with interactive smart boards that are compatible with tablet PCs between 2011-2014.5 It is planned that educational e-contents will be created by harmonizing curriculums with information technology supported education and new e-books and educational objects will be prepared for each course.6 With the project, textbooks will be thoroughly eliminated, as students will access course materials using their tablet PCs. The project, which is expected to cost about 3 billion Turkish Liras (around 1.7 billion US Dollars), represents the largest single allocation of resources to education in the history of modern Turkey.7

On February 6, 2012, the project has been implemented in 52 schools in 17 provinces across Turkey, with a total of 12,800 tablet PCs issued to ninth grade students as part of a pilot program aiming to integrate state-of-the-art computer technology into Turkey’s public education system.8 On the very same day, Prime Minister Erdogan stated that “Fatih Sultan Mehmet conquered Istanbul and put an end to a dark era, the Middle Ages, and went on to start off a new era. With the FATIH project, we are also closing an era to embark upon a new one.”9
Then came the controversy. Granted, the FATIH Project is a bold step, and has the potential to revolutionize the education system in Turkey. However, much debate revolved around the questions regarding the necessity of implementing such a billion-dollar project, at a time when there are still imbalanced conditions in every aspect of Turkish education system, including, but not limited to, the university exams, language of the education, as well training programs for teachers.10

Existing Problems of Education in Turkey

While it is beyond the scope of this article to pinpoint all the problems in the education system in Turkey, it is worthwhile to specify some in order to reflect how grim the situation actually is. To begin with the country’s international score card, in the education section of the Legatum Properity Index, which annually assesses the economic growth, personal well-being, and quality of life in 110 countries, Turkey ranks 76th out of these 110 countries.11 According to the index, even though Turkey places around the global average in terms of access to education, there is an under representation of girls in primary and secondary education in Turkey. Classes are above average in size, with a pupil-to-teacher ratio of 23 primary school pupils per teacher. Also, 35% of citizens express dissatisfaction with the quality of education provided in their local areas, and less than 50% of Turks think that children in their country have the opportunity to learn and grow every day.12

In addition, according to the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) 2009 results released by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in December 2010, Turkey stands as the 32nd among 34 OECD countries and 40 percent of Turkish 15-year-old students cannot reach basic competence level in mathematical literacy. Moreover, socioeconomic background plays a huge role in determining the success of Turkish students, and schools are more or less segregated in line with the socio-economic background characteristics of their students.13 Eurostat’s education statistics of 2011 further indicate that Turkey is one of the European countries with the lowest percentage of people with tertiary education and with the highest percentage of individuals aged 18 to 24 who have finished no more than a lower-secondary education, and who are not involved in further education and training.14

Unsurprisingly, low foreign language education in Turkey remains as a serious problem. In 2011, Turkey has ranked a dismal 43rd out of 44 countries in the English Proficiency Index (EPI) created as a standardized measurement of adult English proficiency.15 The report also points to educational spending as a key indicator of proficiency in English. Countries that rank in the top 25 of the EPI test spend an average of $32,000 on educational institutions per student, whereas Turkey only spends $12,708.16

To elaborate more on the problems, the reasons why students and teachers suffer the most in the Turkish education system are arguably the serious lack in equipment, insufficient number of qualified educators, crowded classrooms, high dropout rate due to low family incomes and pessimism about their higher-education prospects,17
and the private course-oriented system that allegedly prepares students for the higher education where there is excess demand and insufficient supply. To illustrate the last point, in 2005 the number of applicants to the nationwide competitive examination was 1,851,618 while only 20.5% of these were placed at a university program.18

Another core problem, according to Sambur, is that Turkish students are not given the chance to develop themselves freely. “In [Turkish] education system the concept of self-realization is lacking. The questions of ‘Who am I?’ and ‘What I should become?’ are not asked.19 According to Ozturk, on the other hand, the general problem Turkish students face at school is a lack of nutrition, as poor diet influences both the mental and physical development of young students.20

Apart from these, Turkish education is almost completely teacher-centered and based on memorization. The teacher talks and the students listen quietly. Standard operating procedure is to memorize random information for exams and then forget everything. Students generally memorize rules and small pieces of information because on a Turkish exam, they do not ask for the most important or relevant information.  They test you on the most random information to check your memorization skills.21 Related to the problem of memorization is the lack of critical thinking or lateral thinking skills with many students. Because the education system focuses on the memorization of rules, students often fail to understand concepts and fail to apply skills or methods outside of issues taught.22 Briefly, given the picture above, one would legitimately ask why implementing the FATIH Project, or pouring billions of dollars into that project, was a necessity and priority for Turkey.

If There is a “New” Turkey…

Without a doubt, the current picture of education in Turkey and mixed results of the studies to measure the effectiveness of smart classrooms on the academic achievement of students point to the high risks of this investment. Implementing the FATIH Project is extremely risky because, while there is very little evidence that kids learn more, faster or better by using [tablet PCs],23
some studies point to an increase in math and science scores, graduation rates, and attendance, as opposed to a decrease in dropout rates.24

In a similar vein, it is risky because, while some argue that chalkboard, marker board and now “smart” board may create increased costs for schools and profits for manufacturers,25 some studies find that the implementation of interactive whiteboards and laptops reduce the paper use and waste, thus, considering the increasing cost of paper and printing, constitutes a positive shift for the budget, productivity and environment.26

It is risky because, while the project’s opportunities include greater access to rich, multimedia content, the increasing use of online course-taking, and the widespread availability of mobile computing devices that can access the Internet, the vast majority of the studies looking at the effects of mobile technologies on learning are funded by the very companies and institutions that have created and promoted the technology. These studies are often based on small samples of students involved in short-term pilots, not the kind of large-scale, ongoing samples of students.27 This, indeed, decreases the validity of the studies.

Briefly, there is no guarantee that the FATIH Project will equip Turkish pupils with the needed skills and qualifications to adapt to the challenges of the changing world. There is the grave risk that billions of dollars will be spent on zero return.

Despite the daunting picture of the education system in Turkey, mixed results of the studies, and risks of the project, I personally believe that changing the culture of instruction and preparing students for the realities of the digital and global world are positive and necessary moves. Without turning a blind eye to the existing problems and actual needs of students and teachers, the FATIH Project, and similar future projects, should be merged with the current education programs in order to raise a generation that can compete in the global marketplace and become engaged citizens. Giving young Turkish minds a quality education that will allow them to enter international markets is just as important as empowering teachers and providing them in-service training, decreasing the number of students in a class, helping students develop their personalities and encouraging them to socially and actively participate within the community. In other words, these are not, and should not be, mutually exclusive projects.

Without a doubt, the transition from the “chalkboard era” to the tablet era will be a painful process. I believe it is worth enduring the pain and taking the risk in investing in future generations by implementing the FATIH Project, as it is a revolutionary move for Turkey, even in the case of failure. After all, investing in human is required and critical to Turkey’s political stability, economic growth, scientific and technological progress, and socio-economic and humanitarian advancement, especially if there is a “new Turkey” on its way to joining the ranks of major global actors on the world scene.

Show 27 footnotes

  1. ‘Huge Soccer Match-Fixing Trial Begins in Turkey,’ CBS News, February 14, 2012. Available at: http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-501623_162-57377273/huge-soccer-match-fixing-trial-begins-in-turkey/
  2. Ece Toksabay, “Turkish Court Begins Match-Fixing Trial,” Reuters, February 14, 2012. Available at: http://uk.reuters.com/article/2012/02/14/uk-soccer-turkey-matchfixing-idUKTRE81D0IW20120214
  3. Yucel Altunbasak and Ilker Ayci, “FATIH Project Announcement Letter.” January 16, 2012. Available at: http://fatihprojesi.meb.gov.tr/tr/duyuruincele.php?id=11
  4. “FATIH Project Begins on Monday in Turkish Schools,” TurkishNY.com, February 6, 2012. Available at: http://www.turkishny.com/english-news/5-english-news/79719-fatih-project-begins-on-monday-in-turkish-schools
  5. Yucel Altunbasak and Ilker Ayci.
  6. “Education Projects in Turkey,” ICT News Eurasia, February 9, 2012. Available at: http://ictnewseurasia.com/180-education-projects-in-turkey.html
  7. Busra Kirkpinar, “Students Embrace Lesser Loads with FATIH Project,” Today’s Zaman, February 8, 2012. Available at: http://www.todayszaman.com/news-270859-students-embrace-lesser-loads-with-fatih-project.html
  8. Ibid.
  9. “PM Erdogan Realizes a World’s First in Education,” Sabah English, February 7, 2012. Available at: http://english.sabah.com.tr/National/2012/02/07/pm-erdogan-has-realized-a-worlds-first-in-education
  10. “Turkish Education System Lacks in many Aspects, Report Says,” Hurriyet Daily News, June 21, 2011. Available at: http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/default.aspx?pageid=438&n=turkish-education-system-lacks-in-many-aspects-report-says-2011-06-21
  11. Legatum Institute, “Turkey – Legatum Prosperity Index 2011.” Available at: http://www.prosperity.com/country.aspx?id=TR
  12. Ibid.
  13. Nihan Koseleci Blanchy and Aytug Sasmaz, “PISA 2009: Where Does Turkey Stand?” Turkish Policy Quarterly, 10 (2), 2011. Available at: http://www.turkishpolicy.com/dosyalar/files/nihan_aytug.pdf
  14. “Education Statistics at Regional Level,” Eurostat, March 2011. Available at: http://epp.eurostat.ec.europa.eu/statistics_explained/index.php/Education_statistics_at_regional_level
  15. “EF EPI English Proficiency Index,” Education First, 2011. Available at: www.ef.com/epi
  16. “Turkey Gets F Grade in English,” Hurriyet Daily News, December 22, 2011. Available at: http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/turkey-gets-f-grade-in-english.aspx?pageID=238&nID=9744&NewsCatID=344
  17. Erisa Dautaj Senerdem, “Grim picture emerges of Turkish education system,” Hurriyet Daily News, June 17, 2010. Available: http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/default.aspx?pageid=438&n=participation-to-highschool-education-alarming-2010-06-17
  18. Elif Kalayci, “A Look at the Turkish Higher Education System from the Institutional Economics Point of View,” International Journal of Business and Social Science, 3 (2), 2012. Available at: http://www.ijbssnet.com/update/archive/952.html
  19. Ipek Emeksiz, “Turkey’s education system fails students,” Hurriyet Daily News, September 19, 2010. Available at: http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/default.aspx?pageid=438&n=the-spirits-of-children-are-damaged-with-the-present-education-system-say-experts-2010-09-17
  20. Ibid.
  21. Nick Jaworski, “Challenges Faced in the Turkish Classroom,” Turkish TEFL, September 29, 2009. Available at: http://turklishtefl.com/for-teachers/obstacles-faced-in-the-turkish-classroom/
  22. Ibid.
  23. Winnie Hu, “Math That Moves: Schools Embrace the iPad,” New York Times, January 4, 2011. Available at: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/05/education/05tablets.html?pagewanted=all
  24. Alan Schwarz, “Mooresville’s Shining Example (It’s Not Just About the Laptops,” New York Times, February 12, 2012. Available at: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/13/education/mooresville-school-district-a-laptop-success-story.html?_r=2&ref=gradingthedigitalschool&pagewanted=all
  25. Paul Thomas, “A Misguided use of Money,” New York Times, January 3, 2012. Available at: http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2012/01/03/the-frontier-of-classroom-technology/a-misguided-use-of-money
  26. “Smart Classrooms: Cutting Costs, not Trees,” Queensland Government Education Views, January 24, 2011. Available at: http://education.qld.gov.au/projects/educationviews/smartclassrooms/2011/jan/paper-reduction-110124.html
  27. “Research Center: Technology in Education,” Education Week, September 1, 2011. Available at: http://www.edweek.org/ew/issues/technology-in-education/

Egypt: Facing the Challenge of Democracy

Egypt: Facing Challenges to DemocracyThe elections in Egypt  are a great deal since the aim of the Tahrir Revolution was and still is ‘democracy’. Considering  the on-going experiences of my country, Turkey, I am very well aware that the consolidation of democracy is not something that might come over in one election. It will take years before Egypt is a fully-functioning democratic state, but I would like to continue being optimistic. I believe that once the Egyptians taste the ‘power’ they hold in their hands, which will be their unique version of democracy, they will not give up on it. The aim of this article is to summarize the main issues and challenges in the wake of the election season in Egypt, and present some moderate suggestions in order to contribute to the on-going brainstorming for ‘where it all began’.

Discovering ‘Power’: The Case of Egypt

I attended a seminar yesterday on ‘the fundamental principles of politics’. It was given by a professor who is also a member of the Turkish parliament. The first words of the lecturer were a question: ‘What is power?’. This question is very familiar to international relations and political science students. There are various possible answers according to different schools of thought. Personally, I welcome power only if it’s used for the good of others; if it’s used as a means to do more for a better company, city, country, world, universe (in the case of God) or whatever else you are into. Unless you use ‘power’ to leave something behind that others can benefit from, then I say you wasted your power together with your life. Anyway, while I was considering my own thoughts on power, there appeared a follow-up question ‘May power cause a soul to decay because of the abilities it provides to its holder?’ My answer was an immediate ‘yes’, considering the history of abusive dictators of the past, present and possibly, but not hopefully, of the future. The lecturer continued by telling historical examples of controlling the power and its side-effects. ‘The most recent one’ he said ‘is democracy,’ then he lowered his voice and said: ‘and by democracy I mean the elections.’ I would argue that in contemporary democracies the best functioning tool is free elections. You make your choice and vote for the representatives whom you think might be the best for you and your country. If you don’t like the way they work, you punish them by not voting for them again. This way you save their souls from possible decay and control their power. Isn’t this a better way of limiting power compared to the bloody end of Gaddafi?

Why did I say all this? Well, I’ve been reading a lot about Egypt lately and the first elections are to be held at the end of this month. These elections are a great deal since the aim of the Tahrir Revolution was ‘democracy’. Considering my country’s on-going experience for consolidating it, I am very well aware that democracy is not something that might come about after a single election. It will take years before Egypt is a fully-functioning democratic state, however, I would like to continue being optimistic. I believe that once the Egyptians taste the power they hold in their hands, which will be their unique version of democracy, they will not give up on it. The aim of this article is to summarize the main issues and challenges in the wake of the election season in Egypt, and present some moderate suggestions in order to contribute to the on-going brainstorming for ‘where it all began’.

What is ahead?

If the current plan for elections is implemented then the elections for both parliamentary chambers will start with on the 28th of November, ten months after the overthrow of Mubarak, and will be carried out in three phases until March 2012. After the completion of the parliamentary elections, the process of drafting theconstitution writing will start. This commission was originally to be formed by the parliament but according to a document published recently, 80% of the commission is to be selected by the army and 20% by the parliament. The constitutional commission will have six months for drafting. If the commission is unable to draft a constitution in six months the communique anticipates that the task of writing will be handled by the army. This constitution will be voted upon in a national referandum and only after it is approved, SCAF and the parliament will work on organizing the presidential elections. This process might continue till 2013 and until then the military will continue to act as the president.1

Major Challenges

As an outsider I can point out three major challenges ahead. These are the army and the role it will play in the Egypt’s future, the role of Islam, and the economic situation that needs a comprehensive planfor the short and long term duration.

The Army

The fear in the heart of many pro-democracy Egyptians is rooted in the long-history of the military-supported and -dominated state governance of Egypt. Obviously, the army would not like to yield the sweet power it holds over to a civilian government. This is easily seen in the latest el-Selmy Communique made public by the Deputy Prime Minister Ali el-Selmy, from which it becomes clear that the army is using its power to get a privilieged position in the country’s future. There was immediate and unanimous uproar against the communique from almost all political actors.2 They threatened the SCAF with a million-men march in Tahrir and then two sides negotiated for amendments.[1]3 Political actors, such as the Muslim Brotherhood, will join demostrations unless the document is issued without these amendments. 4 I think this is a very positive step, not for the country’s stability of course, but to understand that what Egyptians want is democracy and they won’t give up their fight until they achieve this goal. So, although I am worried about the stability issue, I think the political and social actors should continue the pressure against the army with the goal of controlling the power until their democracy matures enough to do this automatically.

The Role of Islam

To be honest, I don’t think there will be an Iran-like Egypt. However, analysing the potential political actors of the upcoming parliament, it would be naive to hope for pure secularism. The majority of the political actors, except for the extremes of course, want a ‘civil state’ with Islam being recognized as the state religion. This includes the Egypt Bloc as well as the Democratic Alliance for Egypt. 5They also want Islam to be the main source of legislation. Well, as a citizen of a secular country, I could easily claim that ‘without secularism there won’t be democracy’, however I am not going to do that. As long as the political decisions are taken by representatives of the people and state and judicial institutions are treating every citizen equally regardless of their religion, ethnicity, race, sex  (and whatever else is included in those international agreements) without interfering in personal choices and lives, I won’t argue in favor of the need for secularism. Although there are divisions among them as well, it looks like Islamist parties will win some important portion of the votes in the Egyptian elections. Tunisia and Egypt will be experimens in this sense. We’ll see if they will be able to control the power of religion through democracy and show the world if Islam and democracy can work together.

The Economic Situation

The economy seems to be in a mess right now. Egypt is one of the biggest recipients of international aid and funds, but the efficiency of their usage is questionnable. The public sector is excessively crowded and not functioning efficiently.  Tourism profits and investments have been decreasing significantly since the revolution. The private sector lacks the dynamism and small and medium enterprises don’t have easy access to funds. The health sector is not in a good shape either. Corruption is everywhere. 6 Looking at this negative picture, the socio-economic demands of the masses who rose up against Mubarak can be understood easily.  These demands are still waiting in line and this issue will be a major determinant of stability in the near future. I am not an economist, but I can easily comprehend that there should be a comprehensive economic plan that aims to provide for the basic needs of the people in the short term. This could be done by channeling a proportion of funds to a programme that might include social projects, incentives for the SMEs, micro-crediting for individual entrepreneurs and trainings for skilled and unskilled labor force in order to dynamise the urgently needed business sector. Once the people are shown that they have a prospect of being employed and earning some money, stability will be easier to achieve and this will open a way for investments and trade. In the medium term, there is a clear need to re-organize the public sector which constitutes a big proportion of the large budget deficit. 7 The people working in the public sector are not earning much and they are not considered to be very qualified. This is why large numbers of people could be transferred to the private sector, with the social benefits of the state sector being preserved of course, after some training programmes that are created according to the needs of the private sector. In the long-term, the private sector and trade needs to be boosted alongside the re-structuring of banks and the funding, health and education systems. In this regard, the support from international donors like the US and the EU should not be limited to providing the funds but asist the Egyptian government in coming up with a comprehensive plan for measures that meet the needs of the Egyptian people. For all this to happen, first there needs to be an established political elite to lead the process – which will emerge only after some time.


Well, I am very well aware that I had to skip many other issues and actors that are crucial to understand the current situation in Egypt. I hope I can fill in the blanks in another article but my intention for now was to summarize the most debated issues and to contribute to the brainstorming as a young observer who lives in a once-military-dominated democracy with a developing economy that had similar problems and a Muslim-majority population, which has been polarized over the issue of Islam and secularism for years.

As the Turkish parliamentarian said yesterday, the question is ‘how to control the power ’. In democracies, politicians hold the power to shape the lives of their people and the people hold the power of ballot. In Egypt, the question remains the same. Nevertheless the answer may be different, which would still be good since even universal concepts like democracy need some diversity.

Drug Trafficking and Countermeasures in Turkey: A General Assessment

Drug trafficking has been on the global agenda for more than a century.1 In simplest terms, it is a global illicit trade involving the cultivation, manufacture, distribution, and sale of substances which are subject to drug prohibition laws.2 Globally, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) estimates that between 149 and 272 million people, or 3.3% to 6.1% of the population aged 15-64, used illicit substances at least once in the previous year.3 These numbers are worrying, especially for countries on inter-regional trafficking routes where there are numerous non-state actors involved in manufacturing, importing, exporting, distributing, dispensing or possessing drugs across the borders.

Turkey is one such country; with its unique geographical location at the center of the drug smuggling crossroads, it has been one of the most negatively affected countries by drug trafficking in Eurasia. It has been a transit country, where drug trafficking has provided a breeding ground for other organized crime activities and a financial relief for Kurdish terrorist organization Partiya Karkeren Kurdistan (PKK) for years. These harsh realities necessitated Turkey to take concrete steps to fight against drug trafficking at the national, regional, and international levels and embrace a cooperative, multi-faceted, and decisive approach. The following sections contain detailed information regarding the major trafficking routes affecting Turkey, drug trafficking-PKK terrorism nexus, and Turkey’s domestic and international efforts against drug trafficking with particular emphasis on the aspect of intelligence sharing.

Major Drug Trafficking Routes Affecting Turkey

According to 2011 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report published by the US Department of State, Turkey is affected by three main heroin drug trafficking routes, namely: the Balkan route, the northern (Black Sea) route and the eastern Mediterranean route.4 In addition, starting from early 1990s, traffickers began to use a new route called the ‘Silk Road,’ where the inadequate border controls between the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) countries allowed traffickers to transit illicit drugs from Afghanistan to Russia, Ukraine, Eastern and Central Europe, the Baltic and the Nordic countries.5

Given its excellent strategic location between Europe, Central Asia, and the Middle East, Turkey acts as a transit route for opium and its derivates originating from Afghanistan6 en route to Western Europe, for methamphetamine from Iran for markets in the Far East, for captagon tablets originating in Eastern Europe en route to countries in the Middle East, and cannabis from Lebanon, Albania, and Afghanistan.7 As an outcome of this high rate of drug trafficking, approximately 75% of heroin seized in Europe has a Turkish and Kurdish connection; having either transited through Turkey, been processed there, or been seized in connection with Turkish criminal syndicates.8 According to more recent sources, the percentage is even higher; Robins indicates that 90% of the heroin trade is controlled by Turkish and Kurdish gangs.9 This trend is no different within the country. Many major traffickers based in Turkey are ethnic Kurds and many of the same individuals and families have been involved in smuggling contraband for years.10

Indeed, there are other factors fueling drug trafficking in Turkey and the region. To name a few, smuggling has a long tradition within the east and southeast regions of Turkey. Common ties of language, culture, and religion among the residents of southeast Turkey, northern Iraq, and northwest Iran encouraged the smugglers to continue their business.11  As clearly put by a Kurdish smuggler living in Van, a city in eastern Turkey, “in this region, smuggling is part of [the] economy. If it weren’t for animal husbandry and smuggling, the people in this region would not have survived for centuries. Smuggling is a way of life here and is not something negative.”12 Another fueling factor is high profit margins; the market is so lucrative that a kilogram of heroin worth $1,000 to $2,000 in Thailand or Afghanistan rises to $6,000 to $8,000 in Turkey and $20,000 to $80,000 in Germany with a street value of $200,000.13  These factors combined indicate how profitable drug trafficking business is for illegal non-state actors, such as organized crime groups and terrorist organizations in need of instant money especially for operational capability.

Drug Trafficking-PKK Terrorism Nexus

It is by and large the case that politically motivated terrorist organizations, mostly due to financial burden, have established links with the illegal businesses. The PKK is no exception to this. The ongoing lawlessness, disorder, and poor sociopolitical and socioeconomic conditions of the region paved the way for the organization to carry out illegal operations to finance its activities. In this context, the PKK aimed to exploit a considerable amount of money in a short time span in order to be capable of continuing its fight against conventional Turkish forces. Towards this end, the organization was involved in the taxation of drug shipments, the protection of drug traffickers throughout the southeastern Turkey,14 and illegal drug trade.15

Drug trafficking-the PKK nexus is not mere speculation; there are clear evidences regarding PKK’s involvement in the business. To name a few, for example, International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL) concluded that nearly 178 Kurdish organizations were suspected of illegal drug trade involvement in 1992. In addition, Germany’s Chief Prosecutor maintained that 80% of the drugs seized in Europe were linked to the PKK in 1994.16 As expected, the revenue the PKK has raised out of drugs is considerably high. According to Turkish intelligence sources who wished to remain anonymous, the revenues of the PKK earned from the control over the drug as well as arms trafficking between Central Asia and Europe during the first half of the 1990s vary between 5 to 7 billion dollars a year.17 The numbers suggest that the PKK has found the financial relief it has sought through drugs; considering that these large sums are used to purchase arms and maintain the core military cadre controlling the military wing of the organization.

PKK’s trafficking activities are interlinked with other Turkish organized crime networks as well; traffickers are thus able to take advantage of the freight traffic into Europe. In addition, with almost 8 million Turks and Kurds living in Europe, half of whom visit Turkey each year, there are tremendous opportunities to take out the drugs and bring in the cash in return.18 It has also been alleged that persons whom Turkish state had granted some rights and privileges as the civilian counterinsurgency forces in southeastern Turkey contributed to the untrammeled growth of the drugs trade through eastern Turkey, and enabled criminal networks to gain control over parts of the Turkish state apparatus.19 Drug smuggling, therefore, constitutes a major part of the PKK’s financial apparatus, given the involvement of the organization in almost all phases of drug trafficking to sustain its activities. Turkey, in response, is indeed taking counter measures at home and abroad to prevent the activities of organized crime groups and terrorist organizations both to maintain its national security and contribute to regional stability.

Turkey’s Efforts Against Drug Trafficking

As mentioned earlier, Turkey’s struggle against drug trafficking is multi-dimensional and multi-level. To begin with the domestic level, first and foremost, the essential need for the fight against addictive substances is stated under the Turkish Constitution. According to the Article 58, “the state shall take all the necessary measures to protect young people from alcohol addiction, illicit drugs, delinquency, gambling, illiteracy and other similar bad habits.”20 To this end, Turkish law enforcement organizations focus their efforts on stemming the traffic of drugs and intercepting precursor chemicals. The Department of Anti-Smuggling and Organized Crime of the Turkish National Police (TNP), Gendarmerie, and Coast Guard are all part of the Ministry of Interior and have significant anti-narcotics responsibilities.21 The other state agencies that actively participate in the struggle are Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Labor and Social Security, Ministry of National Education, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs, Supreme Council of Radio and Television, Directorate General for Turkish Radio and Television Corporation, Directorate General of Turkish Grain Board,22 and Undersecretariat of Customs. This extensive list, along with a considerable number of local authorities and NGOs assisting state agencies, manifests Turkey’s commitment to disrupt narcotics trafficking at home.

To illustrate Turkey’s efforts to fulfill this commitment, the country has adopted a series of new pieces of legislation in late 1990s; the most operationally important change was most likely the new legislation that would permit international controlled deliveries of illegal drugs.23 Also, more recently, Turkish International Academy against Drugs and Organized Crime (TADOC) organized 60 training programs focusing on drug law enforcement, intelligence analysis, illegal immigration and human smuggling, interview techniques, surveillance techniques, and antiterrorism training for judges and prosecutors for 1500 local and regional law enforcement officers and trained a total of 639 Turkish officers in computer-based training centers throughout Turkey in 2009.24 In addition, during 2010, Turkish counternarcotics officials began a series of efforts to address the increase in narcotic smugglers using international airports to smuggle illegal drugs either from Turkey or through Turkey. Since the inception of this program in January 2010, 133 couriers were arrested and over 329 kilograms of illegal drugs were seized, a dramatic increase from the previous year.25 It should also be noted that the increase in the quantity of heroin seized between 2002-2007 is five-fold,26 thanks to Turkey’s momentum and dedication in institution building, training, and supply and demand reduction.

Turkey’s global strategy on the fight against illicit trafficking of drugs, on the other hand, is based on the principle that the issue can only be addressed by extensive cooperation, exchange of information and expertise within the international community.27 Under this principle, Turkey has concluded more than 65 bilateral and multilateral cooperation agreements as of 200628 to continue its anti-trafficking efforts and contribute to related projects together with the international community, specifically the ones addressing the problem and its implications in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iran, three countries forming the “Golden Route” for traffickers.

For this purpose, Turkey has assisted other countries to take substantial steps to address the drug-related issues in Afghanistan not only by hosting and attending international meetings such as Paris Pact Round Table Meeting, but also funding and planning training programs for Afghan law enforcement officers.29 Its contribution to solve the drug-related problems emanating from Iran should not be underestimated, either. In 2008, Turkey and Iran signed agreements to cooperate in the fight against illicit drug trafficking, organized crime and terrorism.30 To strengthen the cooperation, Iranian President Ahmadinejad has announced a newly passed law on an Iran-Turkey agreement to work together in the same areas in 2011.31 In a similar vein, Pakistan and Turkey have agreed to take measures to “broaden an deepen” security cooperation and greater interaction between their intelligence agencies against terrorism, illicit arms and, drug trafficking, under the name “intensified cooperation” in 2009.32 President Zardari and his Turkish counterpart Gul agreed to further deepen, broaden, and strengthen the partnership between two countries in every field for better results in 2011.33 These agreements suggest that Turkey aims to take preemptive measures against drugs entering its soils from Central Asia, where the illicit cultivation and production is the highest in the world.

Indeed, Turkey has not directed its attention solely towards the Golden Route; there are numerous bilateral agreements signed between Turkey and European countries affected by drug trafficking. To name a few, for instance, under Turkey-UK Strategic Partnership, two countries agreed to strengthen ties and deepen the level of cooperation on the fight against terrorism, aviation security, illegal drugs trade, illegal immigration, and other organized crimes, and also to regularly update their joint assessments of the threats in 2007.34 A similar cooperation mechanism exists among Turkey, the Netherlands and Germany. Turkey accepted to share wiretap evidence with those countries as a part of its efforts; specifically the close relations established between MIT, Turkish National Intelligence Organization, and German Verfassungschutz generated positive results in terms of their fight against drug trafficking and PKK.35 Additionally, in line with Turkey’s EU accession process, Turkey became a full member of the European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) after the European Parliament ratified Turkey’s participation in 2006, following a successful EU twinning project.36

Turkey cooperates closely with the US as well. Drug Enforcement Administration and the US Embassy in Turkey work closely with Turkish officials to offer regional training opportunities to Turkish Law Enforcement officials throughout the country and at the TADOC center to provide additional investigative and prosecutorial tools to Turkish officials and their international counterparts.37 The US government also provides Turkish National Police with equipment support for intelligence gathering and interdiction operations and assists Turkish Customs to improve interdiction at Turkey’s main land border crossings with Bulgaria, Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Georgia.38 Most notably, to break the drug trafficking-terrorism nexus, the US imposed sanctions on the PKK to cut off its funding resources under Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act, froze any assets some senior PKK leaders might have in the US, and banned US citizens from engaging in any business with these persons.39

In addition to bilateral agreements, Turkey has ratified major multilateral agreements and international conventions in the combat against addictive substances. These include, but not limited to, Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs (1961) and Protocol amending the convention (1972), Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (1988), Agreement Between the European Community and Turkey on Precursors and Chemical Substances frequently used in the illicit manufacture of narcotics drugs or psychotropic substances (2004).40 Turkey also actively contributes to the work of most relevant major international and regional platforms such as the UNODC (the Commission on Narcotic Drugs-CND, the Paris Pact), the International Narcotics Control Board, the Pompidou Group, the Southeast European Cooperative Initiative, Black Sea Economic Cooperation Organization, and Economic Cooperation Organization.41 Still, intelligence sharing plays a critical, yet overlooked role in the cooperation to prevent trafficking. In terms of this matter, Turkey has been a member of Central and Eastern Europe Regional Intelligence Liaison Office (RILO) since 1994, concentrated its focus on tight coordination with its neighbors, and presented proposals for the “Istanbul Platform”, which contained the creation of a regional coordination and analysis unit for Turkey and its neighbors, and also the setting up of a regular dialogue between drug and police liaison officers from several countries stationed in Turkey, other Balkan countries, and in some countries of the South Caucasus.42 Additionally, FBI’s Office of International Operations runs the Legal Attaché Program in Turkey.

Conclusion and Way Forward

Just as terrorism, drug trafficking can be reduced and contained, yet cannot be totally eliminated. Inter-regional and intra-regional drug trafficking is likely to continue, given the high and growing demand for drugs in destination countries and high production rate, lawlessness, poverty, and instability in the source countries in Central Asia. In addition, so long as the windfall gains and profit margins remain high, terrorist organizations are likely to continue their involvement in drug taxation, protection, production, and trafficking. Accordingly, Turkey, as an outcome of its location, is likely to remain as a key transit country for drug traffickers for a considerable period of time in the future.

Turkey’s national, regional, and international efforts against drug trafficking appear to be effective, yet better results can be achieved through more intelligence cooperation and case-by-case collaboration. Even though intelligence and security cooperation is problematic due to the fundamental tension between an increasingly networked world and highly compartmentalized national intelligence gathering,43 cooperation at international level has become an effective tool of foreign policy conducting, of using that intelligence for ensuring their national security,44 and of combating drug trafficking and terrorism nourishing from organized crime. In addition, liaison arrangements reduce the risks of collection operations against adversaries, particularly if the collaborating party has ethnic, geographical, or historical ties that offer improved cover, language skills, or physical access to the target.45 Under this light, Eurasian countries on the critical trafficking routes can initiate a regional intelligence sharing mechanism where Turkey, with its location, mixed identity, and long-standing experience in fighting against drugs, may be the key actor in intelligence gathering against targets that European governments have difficulty tracking.46

Without a doubt, establishing such mechanism is a difficult task. However, similar mechanisms established earlier in the past, such as “5 Eyes” group that permitted the division of effort in sharing signals intelligence (SIGINT) among the US, UK, Commonwealth countries, Denmark, Norway, Germany and Turkey47 in 1947, or Treaty of Periphery (TRIDENT) initiated by Turkish, Israeli, and Iranian intelligence in 1958 to provide intelligence cooperation against the rising tide of Arab nationalism48 prove its feasibility.  In the same vein, a similar intelligence sharing and liaison arrangement mechanism can be initiated in Eurasia with the support of specifically Western intelligence services that are operationally more capable, experienced, and knowledgeable of drug trafficking.

It should be noted that establishing liaison relationships can be highly difficult and costly, even among close allies. There is always the risk that a weak power may be able to inflict considerable strategic damage on a great power by manipulating its asymmetric advantages in intelligence liaison relationships or by using its counterintelligence apparatus to effectively capture the great power’s intelligence system for its own purposes.49 It is also possible that some smaller countries in particular regions may lack regional SIGINT capabilities; in the Mediterranean region, for instance, the intelligence services cannot afford extensive global coverage with the possible exception of Israel and Turkey.50 Similarly, some advanced intelligence services may lack human intelligence (HUMINT) and suffer from insufficient numbers of linguists, difficulty accessing certain countries, and the challenges of infiltrating tribal organizations in Eurasia. There is also the problem of national interests. As one former director general of Britain’s Security Service notes, international intelligence sharing “is [still] something of an oxymoron,” since intelligence services embody “individual state power and national self interest.”51 Apart from these, differences between legal systems, the lack of knowledge of these differences, different law enforcement systems as well as diverging interests and cultural differences, excessive bureaucracies, endemic corruption,52 strict privacy laws are other obstacles that complicate the cross-border liaison arrangements and intelligence sharing.

In sum, drug trafficking is an international problem with growing and dangerous links to other criminal activities and terrorism. In Turkey’s context, PKK’s engagement in trafficking and marketing drugs is a sound example supporting this argument. Turkey remains strongly committed to disrupting drug trafficking and addressing its implications on its national security and regional security. Still, for Turkey and other actors, increasing the level and quality of cooperation with particular emphasis on an intelligence-driven approach is strongly needed to counter drug production and trafficking in Eurasia, given the complexity of emerging security threats, changing threat perceptions, and the incapability of states to address non-traditional threats alone in changing international relations environment. Thus, taking steps towards this end is a necessity, not an option for more effective future counter-trafficking policies and responses at national and regional levels.

Show 52 footnotes

  1. “World Drug Report 2009,” UNODC (New York: UN, 2009).
  2. “Drug Trafficking,” UNODC, 2010. Available at: http://www.unodc.org/unodc/en/drug-trafficking/index.html
  3. “The World Drug Report 2011,” UNODC (New York: UN, 2011). Available at:http://www.unodc.org/documents/data-and-analysis/WDR2011/World_Drug_Report_2011_ebook.pdf
  4. “2011 INCSR: Country Reports – Somalia Through Zambia,” US Department of State, March 3, 2011. Available at: http://www.state.gov/p/inl/rls/nrcrpt/2011/vol1/156363.htm#turkey
  5. Vladimir Fenopetov, “The Drug Crime Threat to Countries Located on the ‘Silk Road’,” China and Eurasia Forum Quarterly 4, No. 1 (2006): 5-13.
  6. Afghanistan is the major source of heroin, producing approximately 70-90% of the world’s supply of opium, which is converted to heroin. Conversion of local opium into heroin is increasingly common in Afghanistan because all Afghan-based drug traffic is destined to the lucrative illicit markets in Europe where the street price of heroin is 20-fold higher than in the areas close to the Afghan borders.
  7. “2011 INCSR: Country Reports – Somalia Through Zambia.”
  8. Salih Fuat Sahin, “Case Studies In Terrorism-Drug Connection: The Kurdistan Workers’ Party, The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, and The Shining Path” (M.Sc diss., University of North Texas, 2001).
  9. Philip Robins, “Back From the Brink: Turkey’s Ambivalent Approaches to the Hard Drugs Issue,” Middle East Journal 62, No. 4 (Autumn 2008): 630-650.
  10. “2011 INCSR: Country Reports – Somalia Through Zambia.”
  11. Salih Fuat Sahin.
  12. Ahmet Icduygu and Sule Toktas, “How Do Smuggling and Trafficking Operate via Irregular Border Crossings in the Middle East?,” International Migration 40, No. 6 (2002): 25-54.
  13. Salih Fuat Sahin.
  14. Philip Robins, 630-650.
  15. Salih Fuat Sahin.
  16. Michael P. Hankard and Saruhan S. Hatipoglu, “The Workers’ Party of Kurdistan (PKK),” United States Global Strategy Council, 1994. Available at: http://www.fas.org/irp/world/para/docs/studies5.htm
  17. Mustafa Kibaroglu, “Turkey’s Concerns About the State-Building Efforts in Iraq,” The Iranian Journal of International Affairs 18, No. 4 (2005): 443-454.
  18. Michele Steinberg, “PKK Terrorists Named ‘Drug Kingpins’; Nations Move Against Narcoterrorism,” Executive Intelligence Review, August 1, 2008 http://www.larouchepub.com/other/2008/3530pkk_terrorists.html
  19. Martin van Bruinessen, “Transnational Aspects of the Kurdish Question,” (working paper) (2000).
  20. “Agenda Item 4: Cooperation in the Field of Drugs,” Screening Chapter 24, Justice, Freedom and Security: Turkey’s Country Session, February 15, 2006.
  21. “2011 INCSR: Country Reports – Somalia Through Zambia.”
  22. “Action Plan For the Implementation of National Policy and Strategy Document on Counteracting Addictive Substance and Substance Addiction,” Ministry of Interior in Turkey (2007).
  23. Philip Robins, 630-650.
  24. “2011 INCSR: Country Reports – Somalia Through Zambia.”
  25. Ibid.
  26. Abdullah Bozkurt, “EU Cannot Sustain Drug Policy Without Turkey,” Today’s Zaman, November 7, 2009, http://www.todayszaman.com/tz-web/mobile.do?load=wapDetay&link=192242
  27. “Turkey’s Efforts Against The Drug Problem,” Republic of Turkey Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Available at: http://www.mfa.gov.tr/turkey_s-efforts-against-the-drug-problem.en.mfa
  28. “Agenda Item 4: Cooperation in the Field of Drugs.”
  29. “Turkey’s Efforts Against The Drug Problem.”
  30. “Iran, Turkey Ink Pact to Fight Drug Trafficking, Terrorism,” Thaindian News, August 15, 2008, http://www.thaindian.com/newsportal/uncategorized/iran-turkey-ink-pact-to-fight-drug-trafficking-terrorism_10084243.html
  31. “Iran, Turkey to fight terror, narcotics,” Press TV, May 23, 2011. Available at: http://drugbustsworldwide.com/2011/05/iran-turkey-to-fight-terror-narcotics/
  32. “Pakistan, Turkey Resolve Against Terrorism,” Asia News, October 25, 2009, http://www.asianews.com.pk/13079/pakistan-turkey-resolve-against-terrorism.html
  33. “Pakistan, Turkey agree to deepen, broaden and strengthen partnership in every field,” The President of Pakistan Press Center, October 31, 2011. Avaiable at: http://www.presidentofpakistan.gov.pk/index.php?lang=en&opc=3&sel=3&id=763
  34. “Turkey UK Strategic Partnership 2007/2008,” Foreign and Commonwealth Office, October 25, 2007, http://www.fco.gov.uk/resources/en/news/2007/10/fco_not_251007_turkukstratpart
  35. Enis Berberoglu, “MIT’in Orta Asya Zirvesine Sabotaj,” Hurriyet, September 2, 1997, http://hurarsiv.hurriyet.com.tr/goster/haber.aspx?id=-262509&yazarid=6
  36. “2011 INCSR: Country Reports – Somalia Through Zambia.”
  37. Ibid.
  38. “International Narcotics Control Strategy Report: Turkey,” US Department of State Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (March 1996), http://www.hri.org/docs/USSD-INCSR/95/Europe/Turkey.html
  39. “Kongra-Gel’s Drug Kingpins,” VOA News, October 24, 2009, http://www.voanews.com/uspolicy/2009-10-25-voa4.cfm
  40. “Agenda Item 4: Cooperation in the Field of Drugs.”
  41. “Turkey’s Efforts Against The Drug Problem.”
  42. Vladimir Fenopetov, 5-13.
  43. Richard J. Aldrich, “Transatlantic Intelligence and Security Cooperation,” International Affairs 80, No.4 (2004): 732-733.
  44. Shlomo Shpiro, “The Communication of Mutual Security: Frameworks for European-Mediterranean Intelligence Sharing” (2001).
  45. Jennifer E. Sims, “Foreign Intelligence Liaison: Devils, Deals and Details,”International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence 19, No. 2 (May 2006): 195-217.
  46. Stephane Lefabve, “Turkey’s Intelligence Community in Changing Times,” International Journal 61 No. 124 (2005-2006): 105-124.
  47. Derek Reveron, “Old Allies, New Friends: Intelligence-Sharing in the War on Terror,” Orbis 50, No. 3 (Summer 2006): 453-468.
  48. Shlomo Shpiro.
  49. Jennifer E. Sims, 195-217.
  50. Shlomo Shpiro.
  51. Stephen Lander, “International Intelligence Cooperation: An Inside Perspective,” Cambridge Review of International Affairs 17, No. 3 (October 2004): 481-493.
  52. Ludo Block, “Cross-Border Liaison and Intelligence: Practicalities and Issues,” in Clive Harfield, Allyson MacVean, John GD Grieve and David Phillips, eds. The Handbook of Intelligent Policing (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008).

Women in Turkey: Are They Born to Suffer?

Turkey and women rights
Turkey and women rights © SETimes.com - SES Türkiye

I have never been exposed to domestic violence. Even though I still clearly remember how my dearest brother employed innovative and semi-sadistic tactics to provoke me for another round of a brotherly scuffle, or how my stubborn babysitter threatened me to make me finish a mountain of rice on my plate, I cannot identify my traumatic experiences as domestic violence, while women in Turkey experience the worst kinds of abuses almost every day.

That was exactly what I thought when I saw the front page of one of the most popular newspapers in Turkey, Haberturk on October 7 as I was sipping my morning coffee. I could hardly swallow my sip as I saw a topless, semi-conscious, severely beaten woman lying faced down on a hospital bed, covered in stained blood, and stabbed from her back with a large knife which was almost buried deep into her abdomen. Uncensored. Even though I was disgusted by the newspaper’s violation of ethical and privacy rules, that morning I hoped that carefully chosen photo was going to raise some awareness of domestic violence and gender inequality in Turkey.

It really did. The photo whipped up public anger, created a lot of controversy, and drew attention to the growing and worrisome women’s right abuses and domestic violence in Turkey at a time when Turkey is deemed to be a rising star in international politics, a miraculous model in economics, and allegedly a model for many countries with its “advanced” democracy. The debate that followed revealed not only the dire situation women in Turkey have been facing, but also the deep discrepancy between Turkey’s international image and its harsh domestic realities that may eventually hinder its rise and European Union (EU) accession.

A Daunting Picture

The numbers plainly tell how alarming the situation of women in Turkey is. According to a 2009 survey conducted by Hacettepe University in Turkey, about 42% of women experience physical or sexual violence inflicted by a husband or relative at some point in their lives.1 In comparison, according to a United Nations (UN) report released in 2011, this figure is 22% in the United States (U.S.) and between 3-35% in Europe. The only countries exceeding Turkey in the report are Sub-Saharan African countries and the Pacific island nation of Kiribati.2 Honor killings are also a source of debate and shame for the country. According to a U.S. State Department report, 5375 women committed suicide and 1806 were killed by relatives accusing them of bringing dishonor on their families between 2001 and 2006 in Turkey.3

As if physical and emotional abuse is easy to overcome, Turkey is short of shelters for domestic violence survivors. Different studies point to different numbers, but as of today there are between 26 to 62 shelters in total in Turkey, while there are about 800 in Germany alone.4 In addition to the shortage of shelters and their inadequate services, a Human Rights Watch (HRW) report released in 2011 and a different study conducted in 2009 show that only 3-8% of women who have experienced sexual or physical violence seek help from any institution.5

In addition to high rates of domestic violence and inadequate services, illiteracy and low participation to labor force are also bleeding wounds of Turkey. The same HRW report indicates that 3.8 million of the 4.7 million illiterate Turks are women.6 Rates of employment by women are no better; a World Bank report shows that only 23.5% of adult women were employed in 2009, while the figure was 64% in the EU in 2007.7 It is not that women do not enter the labor market, but is that they end up quitting due to several factors such as poor working conditions, family duties, and family and peer pressure.

Turkish parliament is not immune to low participation trend, either. The rate of female parliamentarians was 4.5% in 1935, 8.72% in 2007, and is 14.2% as of today.8 There is only one female minister in the cabinet. These rates imply a broad gender inequality and reinforce the secondary role deemed appropriate to women in decision and policy-making level.

Actually, the snapshot above is far from being surprising, given that Turkey ranked 83rd on the United Nations Development Programme’s Gender Inequality Index in 2010 and 126th out of 131 on The World Economic Forum’s 2010 Gender Gap Report.9

Why should Turkey care?

The findings above point to the bitter truth that women in Turkey are marginalized, excluded, and divested of power in Turkish political, social, and economic life. There are legitimate reasons why the Turkish government should prioritize women’s rights in general and address their grave problems.

First and foremost, every political entity is responsible for the dignity and protection of its own citizens. Regardless of their gender, religion, or political leanings, persons have to be protected from physical violence emanating from individuals, non-state actors, and the state itself. Turkey’s bad human rights record is a clear indication that Turkey failed to take necessary steps to protect the dignity and certain freedoms of its own citizens in the past. Today, Turkey cannot afford to make the same mistakes and stay indifferent to current and future abuses, given its changing Weltanschauung and aimed transformation from a “security state.”

In addition to Turkey’s responsibilities and duties towards its citizens, the country has certain obligations in international law. The documented abuses not only violate Turkish laws, but also constitute a breach of all the international agreements and human rights treaties signed and ratified so far. Turkey should adhere to the rules of international law, especially due to the preeminence Turkish constitution gives to international agreements in the legal system, if the envisioned “advanced” democracy is based on the of rule of law and accepting the pacta sunt servanda principle in international interactions.

Another international dimension of the problem is directly related to Turkey’s EU bid. At a time when the accession process is moving toward a dead-end, implementing improved human rights policies and taking bold democratization steps to meet the EU’s high standards are of the highest importance for the continuation of membership negotiations. No matter how fast the Turkish economy is growing, how proactive Turkish foreign policy is, or how improved the civilian-military relations are; without addressing the human rights issues within the country, Turkey cannot even become a privileged partner, let alone full EU membership.

A Way Forward

Despite its imperfections, Turkey is not a hopeless case. Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founding father of modern Turkey, had believed in the gender equality; therefore had granted the right to vote and be elected in the elections in 1930. In comparison, women obtained the right to vote in 1944 in France, in 1945 in Italy, and in 1948 in Belgium. If the government, local administrations, NGOs, and public in general show sincere willingness to address the issue, there is reason to believe that Turkey can once again catch up with its European counterparts.

To this end, one of the most crucial steps to be taken at the government level is to change the contradictory and patriarchal rhetoric regarding women in Turkey. This should start off with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, as his statements at times contradict with his stated commitment to women’s rights. To illustrate, on different occasions he did not refrain from making it public that he did not believe in gender equality. Also, he frequently stresses that Turkish women should have at least three children. Combined with his latest decision to change the name of the Ministry for Women and Family into Ministry of Family and Social Policies, such kind of backward steps to combat gender inequality and violence against women are discouraging. He should be more aware of his charisma, influence on Turkish public, and role model responsibility. Therefore, it would be a major step in resolving the crisis “[if] we can have the prime minister, who uses such strong rhetoric, saying with full conviction that whoever slaps a woman, carries out violence against women, will face the state; the state is against [violence].”10

Another essential step would be to close the gap between legislation and practice. It is not the case that Turkey is leaving women to their own fate and reluctant to improve its laws. As reiterated elsewhere,11 the government has enacted laws, by-laws, strategy papers, national action plans and protocols on important issues such as the prevention of violence against women, on the schooling of girls, eradication of illiteracy among women, and increasing women’s participation in the labour market. To be more precise, Turkey became a party to The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in 1985 and entered the vanguard of countries offering civil mechanisms to protect against domestic violence by adopting the Law 4320 on the Protection of the Family in 1998.12 The current government amended the law in 2007, passed a Labor Law in 2008, signed a new Council of Europe Convention on Violence against Women and Domestic Violence in 2011, established a national mechanism, and is belatedly taking steps to amend and broaden the scope of Law 4320. However, the implementation remains problematic in every case, making the protection system unreliable and unpredictable. To avoid this, the government should work harder to transform the legislation into practice.

The efforts should not be limited to government activities alone. In this context, the increased involvement of women’s rights NGOs including but not limited to KA-DER, Mor Cati, KAMER, MAZLUMDER, Ucan Supurge in the process is promising. Despite their activism and contributions, however, the cooperation between the government and civil society is not yet at the desired level. Women’s rights NGOs and the Minister of Family and Social Policies herself should reverse this trend and encourage more cooperation and dialogue between parties for a healthier decision-making process and better policies based on a broad consensus.

In addition to the steps above, ridding the law enforcement and legal system of the rotten apples is sine qua non to be successful in endeavors to alleviate gender inequality and domestic violence. Unfortunately, abused women still risk being turned away by the police forces or prosecutors, fail to get the protection order from the officials handling their cases, and at times are being forced to reconcile with the abusers. A “zero tolerance” policy should be implemented and subjected to annual review to fight against women’s rights abusers and also civil servants in malfeasance. The goal should be more towards preventing the potential future harm rather than punishing the past behavior; therefore, measures such as electronic monitoring of the perpetrator, psychological support, and family counseling can be supportive and effective.

Last but not least, social and mass media tools play critical role in both encouraging violent behavior and taking preventive measures against abuses. In other words, it has a Janus face. Given that Turkey’s press freedom record is as bad as its human rights record, the government should ease its oversight over media operations and media organs themselves should establish auto-control mechanisms and broadcast selectively and responsibly. The best the government can do in this process is to enact deterrent laws to punish and prevent those who may violate the personal rights of a victim and/or relatives of the victim, or agitate for the sake of higher ratings. In other words, the fine line between the censorship and order should carefully be drawn in order to prevent both future press freedom and privacy violations.

Women in Turkey are not born to suffer and they deserve much more than they have now. Just because they were abused in the past and being abused now should not necessarily mean they will always be abused, beaten up, and marginalized. I am hopeful that there will not be any need to publish another sensational photo for Turkish public, government, and international community to remember and address the dire situation of women. Abusers in Turkey will eventually comprehend that women are as human as men. That will be the day I will be fully assured that our children will not go through the same nightmare their mothers and grandmothers did.

*The author thanks Melis Ulug for her help and suggestions.

Show 12 footnotes

  1. “Turkey: Backward Step for Women’s Rights,” Human Rights Watch, June 9, 2011. Available at: http://www.hrw.org/news/2011/06/09/turkey-backward-step-women-s-rights
  2. Alyson Neel, “UN report: Turkey exceeds US, EU in violence against women,” Global Rights, July 17, 2011. Available at: http://www.globalrights.info/rights/women/1814-un-report-turkey-exceeds-us-eu-in-violence-against-women.html
  3. U.S. Department of State, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices – Turkey, March 11, 2008.
  4. Dorian Jones, “Turkey’s Murder Rate of Women Skyrockets,” VOA News, February 28, 2011. Available at: http://www.voanews.com/english/news/europe/Turkeys-Murder-Rate-of-Women-Skyrockets-117093538.html
  5. “He Loves You, He Beats You,” Human Rights Watch, May 4, 2011. Available at: http://www.hrw.org/reports/2011/05/04/he-loves-you-he-beats-you-0
  6. Ibid.
  7. Female Labor Force Participation in Turkey: Trends, Determinants and Policy Framework, The World Bank and Turkish State Planning Organization, report, November 23, 2009.
  8. “78 Kadin 472 Erkek Vekil Meclis’te,” (78 Women and 472 Men at the Parliament) Bianet.org, June 13, 2011. Available at: http://bianet.org/bianet/siyaset/130697-78-kadin-472-erkek-vekil-mecliste
  9. “Turkey: Backward Step for Women’s Rights.”
  10. Barcin Yinanc, “Turkish PM must stand against men killing women, says activist,” Hurriyet Daily News, August 26, 2011. Available at: http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/n.php?n=turkish-pm-must-stand-against-men-killing-women-says-activist-2011-08-26
  11. “Draft Report – ‘2020 perspective for women in Turkey’:´Alliance of genders´ in achieving factual gender equality,” Yerelce, September 22, 2011. Available at: http://yerelce.wordpress.com/2011/09/22/draft-report-%E2%80%982020-perspective-for-women-in-turkey%E2%80%99-%C2%B4alliance-of-genders%C2%B4-in-achieving-factual-gender-equality/
  12. “He Loves You, He Beats You.”

Is there no space for the disabled?

Image of disabled people playing on a beachLet me start by answering the question above. There is of course enough space for the disabled, for everyone actually. All that is needed looking around more carefully: the disabled are an ‘invisible’ sub-culture. They are ‘invisible’ because they are not wanted to be seen or remembered often. However, they do exist in every society and they are more than they are seen. The only thing that should be done is to release them from their ‘prisons’. The European Union deals with the issue in detail and encourages the candidate countries to comply with necessary laws and regulations. Nevertheless, all those rules do not seem to be enough. That is why, in Istanbul there are some projects running about the issue bases on volunteerism. In this paper, I will deal with the disabled in Istanbul. I do not want to write about the whole Turkey, because I wish to write using my own observations as I have lived in Istanbul for 5 years. Firstly, I will touch the problems that they have to face every day, then I will briefly mention how the European Union handles the issue, and I will conclude the article by examining the progress made on the issue.

‘I always think of how the life is hard for those people and the people around them. Being disabled makes you dependent on someone else to make your wishes. At that point you have to give up on something that you desire.’

I always feel upset when I see disabled people having trouble with the things that I am able to do. This makes me grateful that I am healthy. However, I am still very sensitive with disabled people because I am aware of the fact that I also can become one of them any time. I always think of how the life is hard for those people and the people around them. Being disabled makes you dependent on someone else to make your wishes. At that point you have to give up on something that you desire. I strongly believe that everyone in society must access their rights equally. Being disabled is not the result of a choice or fault. Disabled people are sometimes born in that way or sometimes their disability is caused by their working conditions or even ‘terrorist’ attacks.

I have always been interested in minorities & sub-cultures subject, but what made me write this article is the news that I had read. I read about a project (named Istanbul ‘a Çık) for disabled people in Istanbul two days ago in the Turkish newspaper named Radikal.[1] Istanbul’a Çık refers to two different meanings in Turkish. Firstly, this is a slogan inviting the disabled to go out and discover their environment and secondly, it refers to Istanbul Açık which means that Istanbul is open to the disabled. I felt very excited when I read it. Mainly, the project aims at making disabled people more visible in society. It is written that a group of people (both disabled and healthy) discover Istanbul together.[2] At first, healthy members of the group go to explore the region and then if it is fine for the disabled members, they all go there for a picnic or something. This activity has taken place since 2009. The most beneficial outcome of the project is that they report their observations and pass them on to Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality. The members are happy that their comments and demands are taken into consideration by the authorities. For instance, the Department of National Palaces at the Grand National Assembly of Turkey put an elevator in Dolmabahçe Palace (Istanbul) and they will put one also in Beylerbeyi Palace (Istanbul) soon. Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality seems to be interested in the issue, though I do not find it enough.

‘The disabled (at least 40% disabled who are registered in their ID) and the companion are free of charge for the public transportation in Istanbul. However, the problem is with the accessibility.’

In my opinion, there is no significant difference between deficiency and absence. Let me explain this with an example. The disabled (at least 40% disabled who are registered in their ID) and the companion are free of charge for the public transportation in Istanbul. However, the problem is with the accessibility.[3] Unfortunately, not all stations have an elevator, ramps, or sometimes the evelator button is put on a very high point for a person on a wheel chair. The municipality organizes meetings with disabled people once in three weeks. Through these meetings, the municipality plans to transform Istanbul into a city which is suitable also for the disabled. While being developed, Istanbul ‘closed’ itself to the disabled. This is why the city has potential problems for the disabled such as uncomfortable means of transport, traffic lights and roads…Well; actually not only for the disabled but also for cyclists and people with buggies Istanbul is not an ideal city. However, I am very optimistic with ongoing promising progress.

Now, let’s look on this issue in the context of the European Union. The EU aims at active inclusion and full participation of disabled people in society. The EU deals with the issue from the human rights perspective and supports full access to equal rights. To achieve its goals, the Commission adopted the European Disability Strategy 2010- 2020 based on the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and took into account the experience of the Disability Action Plan (2004- 2010). The European principle is: ‘Nothing about disabled people without disabled people’.[4] The Union pursues its objectives in eight priority areas: accessibility, participation, equality, employment, education and training, social protection, health and external action.[5] I am glad to say that the union has a strategy on the issue; however I hope all those policies make sense in practice as well.

The European Commission released Turkey 2011 Progress Report two days ago. The Commission deals with the issue of socially vulnerable persons and/or persons with disabilities paragraph in human rights and the protection of minorities section. The Commission assesses some progresses though it finds them insufficient. In the report, Turkey is praised because of the adoption of a strategy paper on accessibility and the related national action plan. On the other hand, the country is criticized for not turning constitutional changes into specific measures in favour of the disabled and still not having a national mechanism for monitoring implementation of the UN Convention on the rights of disabled persons. The Commission does not find the efforts sufficient to increase the employment of persons with disabilities. Besides, the Commission notes that physical barriers to access to public, social and health services still continue despite legislation in force. Overall, the EU encourages Turkey to work more on full participation and active inclusion of disabled people and notes that to achieve this further awareness- raising is needed.[6]

In conclusion, I would say that the main problem in Turkey is implementation of concerning laws and regulations. What Turkey should do is to build an effective executive and controlling body on the issue. Otherwise, all that legislation would not make sense. I hope awareness of the issue will rise soon. I assure you that the disabled are not far from us. They are with us and part of us. Keep in mind this is not just about them, but also about their families and the whole society. All members of society should embrace each other to reach peace in home and social cohesion. There is space for everyone…

Wake up EU, it’s 2011!

An image showing Turkey's and EU's flags on the foreground and a minaret on the backgroundSo, here it is. The third term with the AKP, the political party that has been making the reforms for the accession negotiations with the EU, the party which the hard-core secular Turks are scared of, the party that made Turkey much more confident in its foreign policy by expanding its range. This more independent approach, according to some, is leading Turkey out of her EU membership goal, even though the leaders of AK Party claim that it doesn’t. They state that EU membership still forms the major goal of their foreign policy, that they will continue making the necessary reforms despite the Cyprus problem and the negative signals coming from leaders like Sarkozy and Merkel. They say, they are not going to be the ones who will leave the table, however, EU should not forget that Turkey is not the country of economic and political instabilities of the past and that the EU needs Turkey as much as Turkey needs the EU.

The signals coming from the EU haven’t changed since the beginning of this journey. ‘We don’t want to lose you, but we are scared to let you in. This is why we are going to continue to give you some incentives to make you feel like you are moving towards the membership while at the same time ‘some’ of the leaders of our member states will oppose your membership harshly based on your identity to give you the feeling that you are not wanted here.’ We all know this story, right? What the EU doesn’t seem to acknowledge is that the negative signals coming from the EU side with greater emphasis on ‘Turkey not being European’ will be of no use to the EU in terms of its higher goal of becoming a global player in world politics. This is even more relevant in the case of recent uprisings in the Arab world. The identity based opposition against Turkey, a secular state ruled by AK Party, which is a party inspirational to many in the Muslim world, will decrease the potential influence of the already-ineffective-EU as an international actor especially in the Middle East and North Africa.

The European Identity Turkey doesn’t have.

Being a Turk with a degree in European Studies is tough. Whenever I go out of Turkey, either for education or for leisure, people keep asking me the same question. ‘So what do you think of Turkey’s membership bid for the EU?’. I always argue based on what the EU is. More clearly, I think it’s hard to achieve if you take the EU as a cultural union, but not that difficult if you see it as a political and economic one. I say this because of two reasons. First is that the EU crumbles up when you dig into issues like identity and culture. There is no clear answer to what European identity or culture is. If you follow the European myths and the argument on religion to find a solid ground, you find yourself at the ‘Christian Club’, ending up with the exclusion of the ‘we believe in multicultural diversity’ option. If you claim that EU has a diversified culture, including different religions, cultures with all their uniqueness then you find yourself at ‘let’s not worry about the cultural identity and move on with what has been unifiying us: politics and economics’. My second reason is related to the first one, very simply, EU is not a cultural union, it is founded on political and economic goals and still operates based on them.

The case with Turkey is very much related to the cultural arguments. The groups opposing Turkey’s EU membership are mostly using the identity card, even the geography and population arguments are based on identity, which is very understandable since our cultures lead us to build our personal identities as well as the national ones. For example, President Sarkozy keeps opposing Turkish membership with the ‘Turkey is not European’ argument. Well, he would have a good point if only we knew which or what European identity he’s talking about. Turkey has a different culture than France, that’s true. Turkey has a different culture than many of the EU member states, true again, but aren’t each and every member states’ cultures different from each other? It is a union of 27 states which of many used to fight against each other frequently before there was the idea of creating a union! If the EU leaders want to make convincing arguments based on identity and culture against Turkey’s membership, I think they should first of all clarify some terms. What is that European identity that opposition team keeps talking about? Is it based on religion? Is it some myth that only seems to convince some of the scholars who know them? Is it democratic values, liberal economy, promotion of rule of law? (Oh wait, these were kind of universal!) Or is it ‘ We believe in multiculturalism’ as it is stated in the official EU documents? Is it a combination of all these? Unless they come up with a proper explanation, the non-EU part of the world will continue to believe that the so-called non-Europeanness of Turkey comes from the religious difference because Turkey has been moving on with a growing economy and reform-making. I am certainly not claiming that Turkey has accomplished the necessary reforms for accession, however, one should acknowledge that Turkey is much different than it was nine years ago when Turkey was a country of economic and political instabilities. In this sense, the identity-based exclusion seems to be a little bit dangerous especially under the light of the changing dynamics in the Middle East and North Africa since an exclusive EU may attract extremism to the region as a reaction.

EU as a Global Actor?

As we all know, massive changes are happening in the Arab world nowadays. The major global players are looking for ways to increase their influence and make the situation favorable to themselves. In this respect, we haven’t seen any constructive steps being taken by the EU as a bloc yet, except for the declarations ‘condemning violence’. The member states don’t seem to agree even on the consequences of the on-going crisis in Libya. EU member states like France and Italy are playing very actively, however EU as a foreign policy actor stays as it was, an impotent regional player. For example, France initiated the operation against Qaddafi to save the civilian lives, right? Then, why couldn’t the leaders of the EU members agree even on the action that are needed to handle the consequences of their operation, namely, the refugees? No positive or constructive response came to Berlusconi’s calls for help to handle the humanitarian crisis of refugees in Italy. (Oh wait, ‘something’ happened with the Schengen visa and France, anyone remembering that story?). The EU members act with their NATO identities, take decisions during their NATO meetings while EU publishes documents condemning violence in Libya, Syria… Is it only me who can’t see any worthy initiative on the EU side or is there really nothing to talk about?

Why Turkey’s AK Party?

Considering what’s said, it doesn’t seem possible that the EU will be able to become a major player unless they choose to cooperate with the AK Party government in Turkey, since they are considered to be a success story with their conservative stance, liberal economic policies and progressive approach in democracy. The claim that Turkey can increase EU’s influence in the Middle East and more generally the Muslim world is nothing new, the new development is the changing dynamics in that part of the world. Despite their ethnic, religious or cultural differences, the people in the countries where riots have been taking place want similar things: jobs, public services and democracy. They want what the AKP has been offering to Turkish people: bridges, dams, hospitals, schools, factories, jobs… They want more equality, not limited to what the political elites have been offering them for years. This is what the AKP has done so far, creating jobs and providing public services to the people, taking the control from the political elite and giving it to the people. With ‘people’ I refer to the masses who have been suppressed by the political elite for years, the ‘people’ who have been excluded from the political and social circles… One can even assert that AK Party has done a similar revolution in Turkey silently, by using the most visible tool of democracy: elections. This is why, maybe not Turkey, but what the AK Party has done in Turkey in nine years can be a model to these countries.

We don’t know if AKP success will continue but now is the time to speed up the accession dialogue with Turkey who is also going through the consequences of the instabilities in her neighbors, namely, Syria. I am not a fan of Turkey’s membership in the EU, however I think the possibility of it makes EU an interesting organization and Turkey a unique case. If the EU decides to update itself, this should take form in speeding up the accession process by removing the political obstacles (you all know what I am talking about: Cyprus) in front of opening up new chapters in the negotiations. Turkey doesn’t have much to lose in case of keeping the relations as inefficient as it is right now, because apparently Turkey seems to be moving on regardless of the slow accession process. Can we say the same for EU though? The EU that struggles to balance the economic crises in its members? The EU that is losing its influence on its neighbors, even on its biggest candidate?

Updating is good.

Considering the failure of the EU policies towards the countries where riots are taking place and the change in Turkey in the last nine years should trigger some action from the EU side to change the exclusive-identity based opposition towards Turkey. ‘Some’ leaders of the EU should realize that those arguments are outdated now, things change very rapidly, so does Turkey, whereas the arguments on the EU side stay the same since the very beginning. The leaders of the EU should accept that EU has not been able to cope with change in Turkey and the changing dynamics in its region. The architect of this process in Turkey, AK Party, has been re-elected with about 50% of the votes. This political party has been a unique case, either people like them or not. They boosted the Turkish economy, they made the Turkish foreign policy much more confident and diverse and they have taken ‘some’ major steps towards consolidating democracy (I’d like to keep my right to wait and see to this but still some revolutionary steps have been taken). The party and its success inspire many Arabs, especially the young ones. This is why Turkey, with the AKP, can actually help the EU to increase its influence in the Middle East and the rest of the Muslim world. Excluding the symbol of Muslim democracy from the EU would just lead to decrease the already minimal influence of the EU as an international actor in its neighboring regions.