My Original Blog Topic
Pardon me, I mustache you a question…

What began as a humorous blog about Turkish mustaches in the political arena has quickly morphed into what will most likely read as a stern chastisement of the current ruling party in the Turkish government. I had hoped to steer clear of this, however, recent events – many, many recent events – have made that all but impossible. There is simply too much to report on from here. I can no longer ignore the situation. So much has happened over the past six months, I’m not quite sure where to start. I feel a bit of back story is in order…

2014 is an election year, as is 2015. The former is reserved for local and regional elections while the latter will be for the national offices and posts. I noticed a series of political posters across the capital city of Ankara as soon as Jen and I returned from Egypt in early February. Since then, the political climate has worsened considerably due to the ever-changing policies of the sitting prime minister. He seems to be flying by the seat of his pants and his actions are either dictated by his mood or the direction of the wind – we’re not sure which.

Yes, the Man Never Smiles
Yes, the Man Never Smiles

His name is Recep Tayyip Erdogan and he belongs to the AK Parti, or Justice and Development Party (the name itself is ironic). Most of you have heard by now that he blocked Twitter access across the nation. That decision follows a law enacted by the GNA – General National Assembly – to limit freedom on the internet; a law which paved the way for an unconstitutional yet 100% legal ban of Twitter. According to the legislation, authorities – without a court order – can block sites and collect users’ personal data, under the guise of protecting the population.

The real reason is protecting the reputation of the government. It seems Erdogan is enacting his own personal vendetta against social media. Just a few days ago, the government banned Youtube for the second time in 3 years. The rumors are that Facebook is next on the chopping block. I can’t even access CNN news articles about the ban because they themselves have been banned (this is beginning to read like the opening credits to  Monty Python film)!!!

Those Who Were Responsible for the Sacking, Have Been Sacked...
Those Who Were Responsible for the Sacking, Have Been Sacked…

We have to back up to fully understand the implications of such a law. When AK first won office, they made certain promises. They reassured the Turkish people that they planned to follow the secular lead of the late Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. Those secular regulations and protections have consistently eroded over the past decade and now, Erdogan has more in common with Kim Jung Il than the founder of Turkiye (which shouldn’t be surprising considering his sketchy rise to power).

Erdogan was previously banned from public office in the 1990s following criminal convictions. When his party won the election, they altered the procedural laws regarding term limits (among other things) which then allowed him to run for parliament. Four months later, the sitting PM – Abdullah Gul – resigned and Erdogan assumed control. Gul is now the President, a mostly ceremonial position and one that may not exist within the next year or so.

The Head Scarf Controversy
The Head Scarf Controversy (2008)

Since Ataturk’s time (19231938), Turkiye has made move after move to westernize the nation, an effort to appear more attractive to Europeans. They have applied to join the European Union multiple times and been shot down on each occasion. The constant rejection has altered the powers that be and created a 180 degree shift the other direction. In 2002, when the Islam-based AK Parti won the election, they promised to uphold the secular principles as written in the constitution. A promise that didn’t last long.

Prior to AK’s rise, women working in government offices and enrolled in universities were forbidden from covering their heads with the Islamic hijab (one aspect of Ataturk’s westernization plan). In 2008, a law – proposed by the AK Parti – giving women the ‘freedom’ to cover if they so chose, passed by a very narrow margin (this sounds great in theory, but in practice it does more harm to women than good). The people petitioned to ban the AK Parti from government, but the petition failed. Today, the veil can be see in even the most liberal cities. This is just one example of many illustrating how little in common the AK Parti platform has with the secular ideals established by Kemalism.

The government has been making a secret push to hire only the most conservative members of Turkish society, a move that will pull Turikye farther from the EU. If Europe won’t have them, then Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Saudi Arabia will. Which brings me to my next point.

Protesters Gather in Taksim Square - Istanbul
Protesters Gather in Taksim Square – Istanbul (2013)

In 2013, the Turkish police detained dozen of people, including the sons of three ministers, as part of an investigation into corruption allegations. Essentially, Turkiye has an embargo with Iran in much the same way the United States has halted all trade with Cuba. The sons of the ministers led back door trading worth hundreds of millions of dollars with contractors and manufacturers based in Tehran. The profits from these deals were then embezzled by the families of the accused ministers.

Gulen and Erdogan Together in 1998
Gulen and Erdogan Together (1998)

Erdogan responded quickly by firing those in charge of the investigation and replacing them with paid stooges. He claimed the corruption and subsequent flood of media information was spurned by his political rivals and denounced his former ally, Fethullah Gülen. Gulen is an important man with millions of followers in Turkiye, in fact, the school I work for is technically a Gulen school.

The only important element of the Gulen angle is that AK and Erdogan used to support him and now they don’t. He is one of the ‘rivals’ Erdogan is paranoid about and the US based Gulen (he currently resides in Pennsylvania) may or may not have been involved in leaking the corruption information. In addition to the corruption, there have been protests across the nation for over a year for a variety of reasons.

In May of 2013, the government sent out bids to contractors so they could bulldoze and develop over one of Istanbul’s few green spaces – Gezi Park. The people in Ankara, Istanbul, and other major cities took to the streets to protest and eventually Gezi Park was saved. Under Erdogan’s authority, police answered non-violence with violence and two protesters were killed.

Tear Gas Fills the Air in Ankara
Tear Gas Fills the Air in Ankara (2014)

In 2014, less than a year later, protests erupted across the country again in response to the death of an innocent, teenage boy who was hit in the head by a can of tear gas during the protests. He had been in a coma for almost a year and the day they took him off life-support, hundreds of police were called in to defend Ankara’s city center from the angry mob (Jen and I were there and let me tell you, tear gas doesn’t feel good).

Following the untimely death of the young boy, Erdogan banned Twitter – as I’ve already mentioned (the words Twitter Mwitter were actually used) – and last week, newspaper headlines read about leaked conversations between Erdogan and his son as well as other high-ranking government officials.

The first leaked audio files chronicled a cell phone conversation during which Erdogan implores his son to hide 35 million dollars on the family’s private island.

The second recounts his plot to take down the leader of his political opposition with a forged sex tape.

Scandal, scandal, scandal… It appears, nothing is beneath the current Turkish PM.

On Sunday, March 30th, the people took to the polls in local elections across the country. Unfortunately, as in many countries, nothing changed. Erdogan’s AK Parti took over 45% of the vote and won too many mayoral races in the major cities across Turkiye (and as guessed, there have been serious allegations of election fraud and at least a half dozen recounts so far). Twitter and Youtube will remain banned and Facebook is probably next. Someday, the people will learn that politicians can’t be trusted.

So, there you have it. Not too much about the prevalence of the mustache in Turkish politics (men can actually see a cosmetic surgeon in Istanbul for an implant), but you can read more about it here, here, and here. At the end of the day, I may not be able to tweet about any of this, but at least WordPress isn’t banned.

Until Next Time (or my freedom of speech is quashed completely)…

-Justin

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