Friday, May 12, 2017

Rethinking "the Just" under Emergency Rule


In between the lines of this blog, you can see a dichotomous and hierarchical interpretation of Turkish politics and society. This is a perspective I am borrowing from the works of Şerif Mardin. I have recently re-read a Mardin piece on "the Just" where he is reiterating this interpretation that posits a westernizing and secularizing elite vis-a-vis the bulk of the lay folk who are best summarized by tradition and Islamic values. In Mardin's account, this divide is rooted in the very structure of the Ottoman Empire where a small military and bureaucratic elite governed the rest of the society. However, with the Tanzimat reforms, a cultural divide, once dormant, started to grow. As the Ottoman elite were making their peace with Western values such as progress and secularism, they were losing their cultural connection with the rest of the society - the pious and the just.

In other works, Mardin carries his argument on the divide between the modernizing elite and the traditional society into the Turkish Republic. In this account, it is the Kemalist elite (not only soldiers and judges, but also doctors and teachers) who took it upon themselves to educate the ignorant rural masses. It is possible to read Republican People's Party's political conflicts with the Democrat Party (or the Justice Party that came after) with these lenses that underline a repetitive meta-conflict between the center and the periphery. Mardin does not go that far, but it is also possible to interpret AKP's (Justice and Development Party) cooptation of the Republican regime as the periphery's decisive victory over the center. If we wanted to be fancy, we could identify contemporary Turkish politics as the centralization of the periphery and the peripherilization of the center.

My focus on Mardin's argument and extrapolating it to explain contemporary phenomena should not mean that the center-periphery dichotomy is the only significant fault line in Ottoman and Republican Turkish societies. Economic, religious, and ethnic divisions obviously played (and continue to play) important historical roles. Major issues such as the changing geography of the class structure, the Sunni-Alawi divide and the Kurdish resistance movement notwithstanding, I want to focus on the center-periphery dichotomy as it still signifies how power flows in contemporary Turkish society.

The unwavering belief of different official elites in the necessity of imposing overarching yet unpopular reforms in Turkey throughout the past two centuries was a sharp diversion from the liberal path West European countries followed. As new bureaucracies and institutions emerged in Europe to shape the modern subject, they were accompanied by the continuous development of a legal framework that imposed limits on the power of these institutions. In other words, after long struggles and lots of bloodshed, the individual's rights were protected against arbitrary state control. It is a separate discussion whether these protections were sufficient or whether they made a significant change in social and political hierarchies; however, it is my claim that the Ottoman and Republican Turkish story took a different path.

As I often do so on this blog, I will continue with broad speculations and generalizations (something that does not befit a lowly assistant professor I tell myself -- if only I could remain a grad student...)

State centralization, rule of law and legitimacy went together to a great extent in the European experience. Again, it is a separate discussion whether legitimacy was sustained through sheer coercion, social contract, or institutional discipline. However, it seems a foregone conclusion that almost all European societies accept the dominance of the modern nation-state, and accept the limits brought by the rule of law on individuals and the state. Moreover, this is considered as the blueprint for a just society. Mardin's key insight on how the top-down modernizing Ottoman central elite lost touch with the cultural priorities of the traditional and pious periphery constitutes the starting point for the different path that the Ottoman/ Republican Turkish centralization/ modernization took. The modernizing elites extended the growing tentacles of the centralizing state to the remote corners of the country and codified this expanding official apparatus in law. However, the state always operated in a fog of illegitimacy. The uneducated and uncultivated masses that the elites wanted to educate never completely believed in the process and in the legitimacy of the modern secular elites. Two centuries of institutionalization and indoctrination undoubtedly had many successes, however the central state and its rule of law never completely conquered the minds of Turkish citizens as it did in Europe.

This observation opens up many interesting comparative questions. Is the divergent Ottoman and Turkish experience because of a weak state vis-a-vis the society? In other words, did the supposedly strong Turkish state actually lack the power to penetrate its own society? Or maybe, it was not a weak state but simply a strong and entrenched civil society? These are important and interesting questions but I am more interested in tracking the evolution of the ambiguous relationship between the rule of law and the just when a consensus on either of them were never reached. In other words, when Turkish state centralization and modernization copied the path of legal codification as it took place in Europe, but never completely reached the hearts and minds of the people, what happened? Let me exaggerate the question: What happens when the rule of law fails to achieve legitimacy?

In Turkey, the immediate result was instrumentalization of law both by the official authorities and the public. One of my favorite people wrote her MA thesis on how the Constitutional Court, based on the changing dynamics of the Republican elite coalition, used the law for counter-majoritarian purposes (Belge, 2006). In this post's terms, the center interpreted the law in instrumental ways to limit the periphery's (Kurdish movements, leftist revolutionaries, Islamic movements) access to political power. In other words, the law was malleable - fitting to the immediate needs of the elite whether it was closing the political party of a Kurdish or Islamic movement; or granting almost complete immunity to law enforcement which were suppressing the members of these movements. Nevertheless, it is important to note that despite this heavy instrumentalization, the Republican elite never gave up the facade. Everything was done according to the book. There was always prima facie evidence for the existence of a strong regime of rule of law, unless you cared to scratch the surface.

Available studies show that the public also adopted an instrumental relationship with the law. Koğacıoğlu's ethnography on the everyday life of the law at an Istanbul court showed that the urban poor, even when they were not completely sure about the language or the promise of the law, did not hesitate to mobilize their rights when they thought it would benefit them. Neither befuddled with its glorious promises, nor angered with its perpetual failures, Koğacıoğlu argues that the urban poor in Istanbul went to the courts when they saw an advantage.

What changed in the 21st century with AKP's rise was the abandonment of the facade. The Republican elite in its last-minute efforts to block AKP, and AKP after its victory in eliminating the last remnants of that elite, stopped bothering about sustaining even the image of the rule of law. The list of the legal atrocities would take pages, but the bogus decision of the High Election Board at the recent referendum is a perfect example. Even though AKP still pays lip service to the rule of law, it practically and obviously defies it almost daily. The Emergency Rule that was declared after the coup attempt in July 2016 was perhaps the last nail in the coffin.

This leaves us at a dead end for prospects of democracy and the rule of law in Turkey. The rigid rejection of the old Republican elite in opening up the political arena for the "uneducated masses" was simply disgusting, yet hope remained as naive social scientists, such as myself, pointed at the facade that was the rule of law and identified it as slow institutionalization. When AKP dismantled the old elite and established its own rule, the premise of the center-periphery dichotomy did not change. Now we are ruled by another center that imposes its own order top-down. The history of counter-majoritarianism in Turkey ended with majority rule that imitates the authority structure of the regime it had conquered. The cultural divide remains. However, this time it seems that the new center has merged the state with the just and the pious, but left the rule of law aside, as it had become redundant. The new center does not need the facade of the rule of law to sustain legitimacy. It inherently represents the just and the pious.

We live at very sad and dangerous times. I am pathetically mourning for the loss of a facade. However, without the facade of the rule of law, we remain 50%-50%  divided with no immediate common ground to bridge the cultural gap. This is where two centuries of top-down modernization that could not instill a sense of legitimacy leaves us.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Trump, The Flying Man

Please watch this minute-long video, from several years ago, of a morning show in a Turkish channel to meet Sabri, the Flying Man.


They were discussing if he could fly or not; so he flew. Funny? Somewhat... Weird? Definitely...

Later, they asked one of my favorite comedians, Cem Yılmaz, what he thought about this incident. His response was pretty good. He basically argued that if you put someone on a show because he claims that he can fly and do not test it beforehand, you should not be surprised when he "flies" during live broadcast.

I remembered this rather weird incident as a somewhat imperfect, but quite revealing, metaphor for Donald Trump's presidency. I see many distressed friends posting on Facebook after the first disastrous ten days of the new administration, and I cannot help but think of Sabri, the Flying Man. But, as I said, this is an imperfect metaphor. We had never heard of Sabri before but the Americans knew Trump as a reality TV star, whose crude and cruel key phrase was "You're fired!" During the elections, the Americans heard about his crude and cruel remarks about women, Muslims, Mexicans, and a Gold Star family. Yet, he was still elected as the President. He was elected to make America Great Again. And, there you got it. Trump, the Flying Man, is "making America Great Again".

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Hypocrisy of liberalism and the loss of truth






Recently, I have read a few articles on the similarities between Turkish President Erdoğan, who is about to institutionalize an authoritarian regime change, and US President-Elect Trump, who is about to assume power. Turkey and the US have quite different historical backgrounds, however the rise of Trump and Erdoğan's turn to authoritarianism, together with Brexit and the rise of xenophobia all around the world, share the same historical setting: Collapse of the liberal world order just a generation after the collapse of the Soviet Bloc. Am I being too pessimistic or too trigger-happy? Maybe, but we should let the cats speculate in their garden nonetheless...


Hardt and Negri had attributed a revolutionary potential to the multitude, in their famous book, Empire (2000). This multitude, a widely differentiated group of people all around the world, is a product of global capitalism, i.e. the empire. With the globalization of production and the prominence of transnational corporations, we would see the emergence of this multitude all around the world. In quite a Marxist dialectic twist, they argued that this multitude which is widely differentiated but is subject to the same global forces everywhere, will bring the destruction of the empire. In a way, they repeated Marx's revolutionary call to the working class to rise against contemporary global capitalism.

With the end of the Cold War, the last challenger to the liberal world order collapsed. We cannot really deny that global capitalism is able to reach and reshape the remotest parts of the world today, more than ever. I am not sure if the multitude, a rather vague concept at best, is the new revolutionary force. However, the recent developments demonstrate that there is indeed increased disgruntlement across the world, including at home in the US, about the liberal order.

The liberal order is in crisis at a global level - a crisis of credibility. Global capitalism is creating a willing and winning class of consumers. However, the rapid changes inherent in global capitalism (such as the continuing de-industrialization in the US or the changing human geography all around the world because of migrations) unsettle many people. There are various facets and levels of these disturbances. Let me discuss three different unsettling consequences among many. First, global capitalism can mean working for below-subsistence level jobs as a worker. Transnational corporations today are more eager than ever to transfer to new locations where they can get more waivers on environmental regulations and minimum wage requirements. Many workers in the world are trying to just get by on incredibly low-paying jobs.

Second, global capitalism can mean getting in a vicious loop of unemployment, felony, and imprisonment. When the person is released, either through a violation of parole or another crime, going back to prison is very likely. There are countless studies on mass incarceration that provide details to this process. Essentially, what is going on is managing an undesirable group of people through the penal system. Besides those who work for a very low wage, those who could not even get those jobs need to be "warehoused", excluded from the rest of the society, sometimes for the rest of their lives. Western and Beckett (1999), in a very important article titled "How Unregulated is the US Labor Market?", argue that if the historically low US unemployment rates are adjusted to include prisoners, they appear at the same level with west European unemployment levels. Global capitalism has to exclude some people.

Third, globalization triggers migration, and migration brings different people to your neighborhood: Mexicans in an American town, or Syrians in a Turkish town. These people do not look like you; they do not speak like you; they do not live like you. It certainly changes from place to place, but this sort of mobility is inevitably unsettling for the natives and much more so for the immigrants.

I brought these examples to describe the contemporary version of liberalism's crisis of credibility. Liberalism is founded on the promise of freedom and equality. However, what we see and experience after liberalism's historic triumph is freedom and equality only for a select group. I am not here to condemn liberalism. I am basically arguing that the fast pace of global capitalism has created a dissonance across the world. On the one hand, we cannot even begin to think of an alternative way of life. On the other hand, we know deep inside that there is something wrong with what is going on. We want to believe in freedom and equality, but then we daily see, or experience, their failure.

Enter Erdoğan and Trump with their bravado. They speak to the disillusioned masses. They tell us "what it really is like". They point at the inherent fallacies of the current order and how we have been duped. I do not mean to say that people like Erdoğan and Trump have become the voice of the multitude. What I am saying is that the liberal world order, under the banner of transnational companies, lost its moral high ground. The stark differences between its message and the fast-paced daily realities it produces around the world neither match nor can be hidden. The multitude have seen or experienced the vices of global capitalism and some of them are rapidly falling into the fascist arms of charismatic authoritarian leaders.

Another common ground between Erdoğan and Trump are the loss of truth in their messages. In talking about how the current world order is staked against us and challenging our beliefs, they pull us into a bizarre post-modern world. When the very modern claims of liberty and equality are debunked, it feels like all claims to truth lose legitimacy as well. Both Erdoğan and Trump speak blatant fallacies and just move on without feeling the burden at all. During the presidential campaign, Trump openly mocked a disabled reporter. It was simply disgusting, but he recently just denied it. Moreover, just google it and you will see that many articles that support his denial popped up. So are we to believe our own senses or Trump and his supporters? Recently Erdoğan asked this question after a terrorist attack by a Jihadist at a nightclub on the new year's eve: "Is there anyone who can claim that their lifestyles are threatened?" Whenever Erdoğan makes such claims that distort reality, pro-Erdoğan media immediately pick those versions up and push them relentlessly.

In this post-truth era, intellectuals are often targeted as well. Examples from Turkey, where many journalists and novelists are jailed, would be redundant. However, such anti-intellectualism seems to be on the rise in the US as well. If nothing else, the substitution of a cerebral, rational and measured president by a bigot is a testimony to this change. Another example would be the attacks against political correctness. In recent Republican discourse, including Trump's, political correctness became a vice.

The loss of truth and its promotion by the partisan media is undoubtedly related to the dissonance created by the liberal hypocrisy I have discussed here. The promises of the liberal order on freedom and equality have failed so soundly, and we have been grabbed (you know from where) by charismatic authoritarian leaders so strongly, that reality as we know it has completely shattered. We now live in their reality, which changes according to their needs. Transnational corporations will inevitably reach a deal with the Clown-in-Chief and the Sultan-Reincarnate, however I am not so optimistic about the redemption of our liberal values.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Dystopia: Congratulations America! Welcome to the club!

 
I am dumbstruck, like the rest of the world, with the news about 'President-Elect' Trump. Congratulations, America! Welcome to the club!

As I am trying to make sense of this development, I'll just share my thoughts here.

In  a way, this can be seen as another swing of the pendulum that is American politics. In my mind, America represents both the best and the worst. Liberals in U.S. have become the spearhead in progressive politics. From gay rights to the occupy movement, we look up to them. On the other hand, well, America produced the Tea Party and Trump. I have the pendulum metaphor in mind, because, at least in recent history, major achievements by the liberals were followed by Republican governments that pulled in the opposite direction. The Civil Rights Act was a major achievement but it was followed by Reaganomics that abandoned the lower classes to the whims of the 'free market', and the war on drugs that resulted in mass incarceration of minorities, especially African Americans. Then came W. Bush and his war on terror. Perhaps, the heavens cautioned us (not only the Americans but the entire world) about what kind of wreckage a clueless American president could cause. First it appeared that that caution was heeded. Obama's inspiring election campaign with the motto, 'Yes, we can!', restored liberals to power. Obama achieved important accomplishments such as The Affordable Care Act, the Iran nuclear deal, and the normalization of relations with Cuba among others. The new president was a rational, reasonable, and decent man with amazing oratory skills. In addition, he was the first African American president. I believe many Americans could not make peace with that fact. The pendulum is swinging to the other side. Trump votes are a strong reaction to a progressive black president.

Trump received reactionary votes and I believe part of the blame rests on President Obama's shoulders. Obama promised change and he did not deliver. True, he was blocked by the Republicans along the way and that limited what he could achieve. This simply does not change the fact that his campaign that galvanized the youth and created so much hope did not bring change. And unfortunately for Hillary Clinton, this election, even more so than the 2008 elections, was about change.

Many people make this argument so I am not going to belabor the point: Very similar to other parts of the world, many lower-class Americans feel the effects of globalization that enables free mobilization of businesses, goods, and people. Not only the fast technological changes themselves are unsettling, but also loss of their jobs, and appearance of different-looking people in their neighborhoods are big changes in lower-class Americans' lives. Enter Trump (or replace the name with Erdoğan, Orban, or Netanyahu) with an appearance of grandeur and big promises of bringing back past times of greatness. These leaders' bigger-than-life charisma itself is a point of identification. People without much hope for the future look up to the fearless, wealthy, non-apologetic and self-righteous leader and find their betrayed hopes in him. A wealthy, crass, arrogant and simply inadequate man who brags about not paying his taxes (in addition to grabbing women by their genitals) shines as someone who beat the system with no repercussions - unlike the people themselves. Populist and discriminatory rhetoric directed towards the disillusioned masses is not a new phenomenon. Surprising news for American exceptionalism! Again, congratulations America, welcome to the club!

There certainly were other factors that contributed to Clinton's defeat and they raise important questions about the democratic system in the U.S. For example, the reports on the closure of voting stations in some minority areas is very disturbing. (I should also mention the disenfranchisement of felons as another major problem here.) FBI chief's bizarre and disturbing involvement in the elections with Clinton's e-mail investigation was also highly problematic. Simply put: If it was possible to investigate the files before the elections, why did not Comey wait until the investigation was over to warn the Congress? I believe, a bigger problem lies with the media - a problem we also suffer here in Turkey. This starts with the free airtime the sensational Trump received during the primaries, and follows to the different expectations imposed on the candidates. Using a private e-mail server as a Secretary of State is reckless behavior. Yet, is it equal in importance to bragging about grabbing women by the genitals, bragging about how smart someone is for not paying taxes while earning millions of dollars, or not even declaring tax returns? I understand that the ratings matter but this nexus of capitalism, media, and democracy bring us to our current predicament.

We are living through a period where global capitalism is searching for a solution to its perennial problem: How to deal with the masses that are needed (and sometimes not needed) for production and consumption. Democracy, human rights and the rule of law have been the traditional western liberal path to maintaining meaningful order. Emergence of unabashedly illiberal leaders that successfully appeal to people's fears with populist and discriminatory rhetoric is undermining democracy, human rights and the rule of law. Current developments in Turkey are a testimony to this. Turkey is becoming a bad copy of Russia, whose leader Trump is infatuated with. We should neither easily dismiss people's fears nor the illiberal solutions these authoritarian leaders' are offering them. These phenomena are a direct consequence of the unfettered reach of global capitalism that destroyed human lives and the nature with impunity for centuries. It faces yet another crisis, where disillusioned masses all around the world are not buying into the game. And surprisingly enough, either through state manipulation of the media, or partisanship of the media, or just because of how contemporary social media could block any oppositional worldviews out of your sight, individuals never get the full picture anymore.

We are facing a complete failure of the ideals of the Enlightenment. More than two centuries ago, Kant argued that we needed "public use of reason". It was vital for him that people had the room to speak up their minds, so that eventually each person heard others and eventually developed the skills to think for themselves. Where global capitalism brought us today is masses of disillusioned people who either do not care, or do not have access to different viewpoints. Trumpalike vultures are feeding on this. Two centuries after Kant, even with a robot on Mars, we still cannot think for ourselves. Liberalism is in crisis, is it time to get back to Marx?

Thursday, January 21, 2016

The Sultan-Reincarnate




This is not an Onion piece. It is real. An olive tree (reportedly a thousand years old) had been uprooted to be planted somewhere else by the President during a ceremony. (And yes, there is a giant mascot there...)

There are many things to discuss in this picture: The notable absence of women; The subservient body language of most of the men in suits, especially the hands folded in front. However, I just want to briefly discuss the mindset that uproots a thousand-year old tree to replant it during a ceremony.

I did not research the issue, but I will assume that there is a risk in replanting a tree. It is possible that it could wither and die. The ruthless and reckless audacity in taking the risk of killing a thousand-year old tree for ceremonial purposes represents what Erdoğan has become. First, his decisions are backed up by almost unrestricted power. Erdoğan has dominated the state apparatus (including the judiciary) to a great extent; but he also controls and/or co-opts important social forces such as media and academia.

Second, Erdoğan seems more and more like Marx's sorcerer (in the Communist Manifesto) "who is no longer able to control the powers of the nether world whom he has called up by his spells." Marx was describing the bourgeois society and how it is no longer able to control the enormous means of production that it created. Similarly, Erdoğan seems like he has unleashed a buried inner demon upon Turkey that devours dissent and gets bigger and more self-righteous after each feast.

He knows what is best and necessary. If he has decided that a thousand-year old tree could and should be uprooted, it will be done. It is a curious mindset. We as a country, embodied in the mascot and the men with hands folded in front, are expected to conform. If laws are not in congruence, they shall be changed. If academics do not agree, they shall be fired. If journalists criticize, they shall be jailed. I am not writing these in mockery. This really is the mindset. All other systematic sources of knowledge are deemed subservient to the needs and orders of the Sultan-reincarnate. Law, science and rationality need to adapt because he has decreed so.

What is really frightening is the dissemination of this model of power and authority in daily life. More and more people seem to be imitating this ruthless and reckless audacity in Istanbul, which makes daily life much harder and very unpleasant. In public transport, parking, traffic, and queues, I observe more and more self-righteous behavior that is unchecked by custom, religion, or rationality. He has done it. He has moved on. You will live with the consequences of his behavior.

Let me not end on such a discouraging note. Here is a picture from Erdoğan's visit to another park last year. In this visit, he was pictured poking the doves with an umbrella:


I think this picture is another perfect example of the mindset I have been discussing. But on a funny note, it became another internet phenomenon. Here are a couple examples that play with the image:

With Darth Vader and Luke


In the Sesame Street

And you can find some more here.

Friday, December 25, 2015

The Fairy Tale of Rights in Turkey

I will be teaching a course on law and society next semester. I have taught this type of a course back in the US, but this will be my first experience in Turkey. My advisor Michael McCann at UW used to teach this course by starting with Stuart Scheingold's 1974 book, The Politics of Rights. My thinking about law and the US is still very heavily influenced by this book. Scheingold initially focuses on the ideological appeal of the law: 'the myth of rights'. On page 17, he says: 'The myth of rights rests on a faith in the political efficacy and ethical sufficiency of law as a principle of government.' This widely shared myth then forms the basis of his analysis in explaining how it can provide opportunities for legal and political mobilization. I find all of this quite fascinating but what I am really interested in at the moment is the argument's Durkheimian undercurrent: The notion that this 'myth of rights' is widely shared by Americans. In Durkheim's language, the myth of rights would be a strong component of the collective consciousness that holds the American society intact. Let's put the empirical question - whether this is still (or was ever) an accurate assessment - aside. Now, to come back to my course next semester, and as a die-hard comparativist, I have always wondered how this particular argument would hold in Turkey: 1) The Scheingold question: Is there any basis for a myth of rights type of argument in Turkey? In other words, does the rights-bearing subject play at least a partial role in how individuals are imagined within the collectives consciousness(es) in Turkey? 2) The Durkheim question: Regardless of the question of law and rights, what is it that holds the society in Turkey intact? What has it been? What is it now? Is there such a common story anymore?

I am planning to think and write on this more. However, here is my brief take on these questions.

1) This is the type of question that my research is likely to pursue in the future, so no easy answers yet. However, from a comparative perspective, I can easily claim that the myth is more like a fairy tale in Turkey. Compared to a daily American context, you almost never hear the invocation of a rights-bearing subject here. Of course there is wide-spread formal and informal legal mobilization, but I daresay it is rather an example of mobilizing official tools that are external. These external tools may offer good opportunities for reaching our goals but they do not really shape our imaginations.

2) If not rights or law, then what shapes our consciousness? Well since this is their garden, I will let the cats offer some speculations. The Ottoman Empire consisted of different religious communities. I am not an Ottoman historian, but the fact that these communities co-existed side by side for centuries, implies an operational shared common set of understandings, norms and practices, (which were inevitably enforced by official violence).That legacy had been annihilated by the WWI and the establishment of the Republic. The non-Muslims had come to be perceived as the agents of European capitalists and enemies. They were purged and/or killed. Most of the remaining non-Muslims were eventually sent away through population exchanges. The state offered and imposed a non-apologetic tranformation that focused on westernization and Turkishness. This took place while the properties of the non-Muslims were being expropriated and redistributed. I am basically arguing that the new Republican collective consciousness was about forcefully becoming western and Turkish, all the while suppressing the historical guilt of killing and purging the non-Muslims. When that meta-story was finally challenged with AKP's cooptation of the Kemalist state in early 2000s, I am afraid we are now even bereft of that dirty story that somewhat connected us to each other in our guilt and ignorance. We have now become Durkheim's nightmare: A society still in the process of capitalist transformation with no common and accumulated story to connect us in these dire circumstances. Actually, the stories we have accumulated are pitting us against each other. We pretty much hate each other here now...

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Path to Civil War

Please do not read this if you do not want to see graphic pictures of violence.

It is Christmas time, but it is not merry here. We are on our path to a civil war. The Suruç massacre on July 20, and the Ankara massacre on October 10, propelled the PKK (or some groups tied to the PKK) to respond with attacks on security personnel in eastern Turkey. Moreover, in the past few months, a new type of resistance emerged: Ditches in urban centers. The goal, as it appears, is to block the access of state security forces in urban areas. This is supposedly in congruence with PKK's calls for 'democratic autonomy.' The official response has been declaring curfews enforced with snipers (yes, snipers); surrounding these towns and neighborhoods with armored vehicles and heavy artillery; and marching these units to demolish ditches and barricades. As you might imagine, many civilians were killed by explosions or by sniper fire. Let me underline this fact: Turkish citizens have been killed by the Turkish military's sniper fire. Thankfully, our state declared that it regrets such casualties...

First, let me state that I do not claim to see the complete picture yet. Are these ditches built by the guerillas (or terrorists, in official discourse), or are they built by the civilians? Or, maybe, is there an organic cooperation? I hesitate to reach conclusions at this point. But let me say this: If this is the implementation of a decision taken by the PKK command, I have no sympathy for it and I believe they are as responsible of these civilian deaths as the state.

Here are some pictures:

A 13 year old girl was shot dead and could not be buried because of the curfew at Cizre. Her family kept her in the deep freezer until the curfew was lifted.

The body of a dead PKK guerilla was mutilated and was pulled behind a police vehicle at Şırnak.

A 70 year old man was killed by sniper fire in Cizre. His body stayed out in the streets for three days until the curfew was lifted.

And these pictures are a few months old. New ones are coming in, as the conflict over the ditches spread into a number of urban centers. However, I want to talk about a different picture that I saw at diken.com.tr earlier today:


This picture is from a house at Nusaybin and reflects my feelings on these recent events rather well. The photographer went into the yard and took the picture of the girl (who went outside) from inside. She is smiling at us, from the direction that the bullets came in. I just hope it was safe then, and has been so since. The fact that she is smiling is giving me hope that noone she loves was hurt. The fact that she is smiling is giving me hope that smiling is still possible there.

I appreciate that the photographer went inside and took these pictures, as I believe this is what we lack. We know what the state tells us: 'They are fighting the terrorists,' and 'they are in a legitimate fight to establish control in urban centers.' But, at what cost? Our own citizens are suffering under inhumane curfews and assaults. We need such journalism that goes 'inside,' and tells the story from there. And, of course, we need outlets that would carry those stories. Tough luck on that!

The only way to avoid a civil war in the (maybe not so) long run is to let the smiling face of this little girl pierce through our barriers, as those bullets did so to her house. And for that, we need to understand how war, funded by our money and votes, hurts fellow citizens inside those doors with bullet holes.