Turkish Election—A Pyrrhic Victory?

“Yes’ vote gives unprecedented powers to the office of the President in Turkey.”

Here is yet another post from my (understandably) anonymous friends in Turkey. I appreciate their understanding of this disturbing result. Measured optimism? See for yourself.

A Pyrrhic Victory

Pyrrhic victory: a victory that is not worth winning because the winner has lost so much in winning it. (Cambridge Dictionary)

The Turkish referendum of 2017 is over and, according to semi-official figures, the ‘Yes’ vote to giving unprecedented powers to the office of the President squeaked out a narrow victory of 51.4% to 48.6%. Lest our readers, especially those of you viewing these events from afar, think that Turkey has now entered definitively onto the road to dictatorship, we will argue that the referendum results should not be read in this fashion. In our opinion, the razor-thin margin of victory should be seen as a Pyrrhic victory for President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the ruling AK Party. What do we mean by this?

Turkey, Istanbul, annmariemershon.com, You Must Only to love them, https://www.amazon.com/You-must-only-love-them-ebook/dp/B01DFUGIEI
48,000,000 votes

First, let us remind our readers of the conditions under which this referendum was held: the shameless and scandalous use of state resources and services for the ‘Yes’ campaign; the total domination of the media, print and broadcast, by the government with no equal time for ‘No’ campaigners; the jailing of leaders of the opposition Kurdish-based HDP party which made it impossible for them to mobilize support for ‘No’; the slandering of ‘No’ supporters as traitors and terrorists; thug attacks on ‘No’ events and cancellation of their venues for spurious reasons; and the conducting of the referendum while Turkey is under a State of Emergency where intimidation and fear has put a damper on freedom of speech, the press and assembly. These were the obstacles facing ‘No’ supporters. RTE, the AK Party leadership and the allied nationalist MHP leadership threw everything they had at ‘No’ supporters and still only managed to win by a mere 1%, a true Pyrrhic victory.

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Hail to the Chief?

The ‘Yes’ camp was hoping for a minimum of 55% in their column. Not only did they not reach that goal, they managed to lose Turkey’s three largest cities, Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir, as well as such major urban centers as Adana, Antalya, Mersin and Diyarbakır. (RTE even saw his Istanbul home district of Üsküdar go ‘No’ and then the entire city, where he had been a popular mayor.) In other words, most of Turkey’s financial, industrial, political, educational and cultural centers opted for ‘No’ in the referendum. These results can scarcely be read as a resounding victory for the President and the ‘Yes’ camp. The weak and divided ‘No’ supporters faced off against the ‘Yes’ Goliath and fared well. The HDP showed via the strong ‘No’ vote in the largely Kurdish southeast and in the major cities that, in spite of government pressure and dirty tricks and even though it was not able to wage an effective ‘No’ campaign, it retained the support of its voter base. No small achievement when the government has been clearly out to demonize and destroy it.

Turkey, Istanbul, election, annmariemershon.com, You must only to love them
Spring-y Optimism?

The one big loser in this referendum is the nationalist MHP, whose leadership entered into an alliance with RTE and the AK Party for the ‘Yes’ vote. They simply did not deliver. It is estimated that some 80% of MHP supporters voted ‘No’, following the lead of a group of dissidents who had been expelled for opposing the ‘Yes’ alliance. The MHP’s fate is now uncertain as it may soon face the emergence of a new nationalist party.

In the aftermath of the vote we can now expect a number of legal challenges to the results, based on how the referendum was conducted, major irregularities in the vote tabulation process and allegations of outright voter fraud. In the past, senior dogs have always been comfortable with what we saw as the overall fairness of Turkish elections and we’ve always had confidence in their results. Unfortunately, we don’t think that this is any longer the case. The widespread instances of manipulation, pressure and outright vote-stealing being reported must now be added to the litany of reasons why the results must be considered illegitimate. Since the ruling party controls the appeals process, it is, however, hard to be optimistic that the results will be overturned.

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Contemplating what lies ahead for Turkey

Be that as it may, in our opinion, the referendum’s results were a Pyrrhic victory for Erdoğan, highlighting not his unbeatable power, but rather his weakening grip on Turkish politics. If he cannot deliver – i.e., reinvigorate Turkey’s ailing economy, show something positive for his intervention in Syria, put a stop to the attacks which have crippled tourism and foreign investment, and offer more than a military solution to the ‘Kurdish question’ – we suspect we will see more erosion of his popularity in the period ahead, as the new executive super-presidential system takes shape and he prepares for his run for president in 2019.

In the meantime, we are hopeful that the post-referendum period will see more self-confident opposition forces emerge, raring for a fight back, a result of RTE’s ‘victory’ he didn’t count on. On the evening of the election, he uttered an antiquated Turkish saying, Atı alan Üsküdar’ı geçti (He who grabbed the horse has passed Üsküdar, roughly meaning ‘I won, and everyone will just have to learn to live with it.’). But then again, we saw that in fact, he didn’t even get past Üsküdar.

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17 years down, how many to go?  Recep Tayyip Erdoğan

 

Turkish Referendum Looms on April 16th

Once again, I’m compelled to post a missive from my dear—albeit anonymous— friends in Turkey. They remain anonymous with good reason.

As you may know, Turkey faces a referendum that will strengthen the power of the president, effectively weakening the country’s parliamentary system and the government’s checks and balances. President Erdoğan, now in his fourteenth year in office, could remain in power another 13 years. He has already used the coup attempt as reason to close  down liberal newspapers and television stations and jail hundreds of military and education personnel. He has unabashedly used government funds to promote his move toward dictatorship for Turkey. Frightening.

Here’s the news from my friends on the inside:

No! No! A Thousand Times No!

The cruise missile attack by the Trump administration on a Syrian army base this week, in addition to further delaying an end to the slaughter and destruction in our neighbor Syria, has added another layer of anxiety here in Turkey as we head toward next Sunday’s referendum. The attack has put more wind in the sails of our President, who has been militating for the overthrow of the Syrian government since 2011.

Istanbul, Turkey, election, annmariemershon.com, You must only to love them
The Grand Bazaar on a National Holiday demonstrates the patriotism of the Turkish Republic

We suspect that our readers by this time have heard about as much as they can take about the Turkish referendum. The authors of this newsletter have certainly had enough and can’t wait for the campaign to be over. Fortunately for our sanity all campaigning has been banned during the coming week leading up to the vote. We’ve been suffering from a form of political bi-polar disorder – one day hopeful, next day down in the dumps. So we will not belabor the point. Our final appraisal is this: Should ‘Yes’ win, the results can have no legitimacy in the eyes of any impartial observer. Why?

Istanbul, Turkey, election, annmariemershon.com, You must only to love them
A Turk selling flags  the New Mosque

1. The referendum is being conducted while Turkey is being ruled under a State of Emergency, giving authorities limitless powers to intimidate and crack down on free speech, the media and the right to assembly.

2. The third largest party in Parliament, the Kurdish-based HDP is under severe attack, its leadership in jail, and the municipalities it administered seized and placed under receivership. Even their ‘No’ campaign song in Kurdish has been banned. (Probably because it’s cute and catchy, anathema to most Turkish politicians. Plus, you don’t need to know Kurdish to get the message.)

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One of my favorite photos—a patriotic Turk walks the Istanbul Marathon

3. The President and Prime Minister have unabashedly used the resources of the state, paid for by the taxpayers, to campaign for the ‘Yes’ vote.

4. The media, and especially the TV networks, have shamelessly favored the ‘Yes’ campaign in their news coverage, and this in a country that has the highest level of TV viewing in the world.

5. Thug attacks on ‘No’ proponents and their meetings have placed serious restraints on the ability of the naysayers to campaign. No wonder so many people say they are undecided in poll surveys.

6. And finally, the yea-saying government has total control over the entire referendum process, including ballot counting and handling of any challenge to the results that might arise.

Istanbul, Turkey, election, annmariemershon.com, You must only to love them
An Ataturk monument to a secular democracy, Arnavutköy, Turkey

In spite of the ‘Yes’ campaign’s apparent total dominance, most opinion polls say it’s still too close to call. Whatever the official results on April 17th, Turkey will remain a deeply divided country with an uncertain future. However, should a ‘No’ vote prevail against all odds, it would mean a humiliating defeat for those who have been curtailing the most basic democratic rights and closing down political space for those struggling for social justice.

We say No! No! A thousand times No! in the referendum and No! to the continuation of the war in Syria.

Istanbul, Turkey, election, annmariemershon.com, You must only to love them
This colorful patriot could often be seen on Istiklal, Freedom Street

*  *  *

As a follow up to our ‘Turkish Hairlines’ newsletter posting, we can’t hold ourselves back from reporting that the Turkish President, during a ‘Yes’ campaign rally at the presidential palace entitled “‘Yes’, of course, for a beautiful Turkey”, signed a decree under the State of Emergency (!) authorizing beauticians at beauty salons to do laser hair removal. This is an extremely popular procedure among Turkish women which was formerly restricted, for safety and health reasons, to dermatologists in government-approved hospitals and clinics. Was this an indication of the kind of Presidential decrees we can expect if ‘Yes’ prevails on April 16? Another reason to vote ‘No’.

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Oh, what lies ahead for the Turkey I’ve grown to love?

You must only to love them.

It’s the truth, according to my friend Uygar. To control Turkish students “you must only to love them.” He was right, and his ungrammatical advice is the title of a new memoir about my years in Turkey—finally, finally, finally finished! Complete! Finito! Bitmiş!

Whew!

PINK-Rose-Colored-Glasses-300x193I must admit, I wore rose-colored glasses much of the time, but this book does explore some of the darker sides of my experience, too, like being caught in a big demonstration with riot police:

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And then there was the disastrous soccer match–Oh, my!

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And believe me, it’s honest. You’ll see when you read it. No holds barred on this one.

If you followed my escapades over the years you might find this account a walk down memory lane. If you haven’t, perhaps it will pique your interest in Turkey, a country I grew to love—deeply.

Turkey has a wealth of history, amazing edifices and artifacts, and astounding terrain, but the true beauty of the country is its people. I hope I’ve shown that in my stories.
I don’t want to spoil the book for you. In fact, I’d love for you to read it. The e-book is under four dollars, and it’s also available as a paperback. Reviews so far have been excellent, so I’m confident you’ll enjoy it. Click on the book below to transport yourself to Amazon:

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And if you’d like to try something new, there’s a rafflecopter giveaway for the book through May 16th. Here’s the link for that.

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Ottoman, Anka, and Pizza

As I sit writing in the overstuffed brown leather chair with my feet propped on its matching ottoman, I wonder why my footstool has the same name as Turkey’s centuries-long empire. In a quick hunt for the word’s etymology, and I find an unsatisfying explanation that the Ottomans liked reclining on long couches, so the name was attached to couches and eventually footstools. Hmph!

Enjoying the comfy chair and OTTOMAN

It’s been a busy week here, starting Monday evening with a Paul Anka concert. Four of us 50+ female teachers trekked across the city for this concert, wondering what we were thinking, not quite sure what to expect. Anka is no longer the wavy-haired pouty-mouthed fellow I remember, but a trim 70-year-old Tony Bennet look-alike.

 

The younger and the more recent Paul Anka

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He played his audience like a Las Vegas night club crowd, and we reveled in it. People shook his hand, danced with him, and we sang gleefully along to “Diana,” “Put Your Head on My Shoulder,” and “Puppy Love.” Enthusiasm abounded in the packed auditorium of Turkish Paul Anka fans—an amazing concert.
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I never realized Paul Anka wrote “My Way” for Frank Sinatra and “She’s a Lady” for Tom Jones, as well as numerous other hits.  Apparently he kept writing after he left the limelight, developing deep friendships with stars like Michael Jackson and Sammy Davis, Jr.

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My biggest thrill this week, though, was Thursday evening when I hosted my thirteen resident students (students from across Turkey who live on campus) for dinner. I’d given them all maps to my apartment, and they began straggling in just as I was ordering pizza after racing home from an after-school meeting. I was on Yemek Sepeti.com (meaning: food basket), an amazing Turkish food delivery web site. There are nearly 200 restaurants that will deliver to my apartment in Arnavutköy, and there’s no extra charge for the service.

Many have a minimum delivery amount of about $5, but McDonald’s will deliver anything—even an order of fries. Amazing. Each of these restaurants has an online menu on the site, and every kind of food is available, from fast food to traditional Turkish foods to high-end fish dinners. Food delivery motorcycles toot up and down the hills of Istanbul day and night, let me tell you.

McDonald’s delivery scooters at the ready… (photo by Norma B.)

 

Anyway, three boys arrived early and helped me finish choosing the pizzas from Little Caesars (yes, we have it here). I ordered five large pizzas, which I thought would be plenty. Most of my guests were boys, though—teenaged boys. Had I forgotten about the bottomless teenaged stomach? I threw together a big salad, and everyone said they got enough to eat, though I wonder. Next time I’ll make a huge pot of stew or something.
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A few of my guests arrived bearing lavish bouquets, which have brightened my apartment all week—how incredibly sweet!

One of my stunning bouquets

One joy of this spacious apartment is that there’s room to entertain a crowd, and we had space for everyone to sit together around the living room. I taught them to play charades, and I haven’t laughed so hard in ages. Remember, lots of these kids have pretty shaky English, so there were plenty of mistakes and long Thinking Pauses. Ege had us all in stitches with his expressive gestures and facial expressions, mostly just while contemplating. Tuna was laughing so hard he had to leave the room.
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Libby and I walked everyone back up to campus (she’d been cheated of her early evening walk), and I felt a bit tearful as I bid them farewell. They all had homework, though—the never ending plague of the Robert College student. Many of them work 3-4 hours every night. They’re serious about education here; they see it as their job.

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That, my friends, was the highlight of my week, and I forgot to take photos. I was just too darned busy reveling in the warmth of these kids. Gosh, I love them.

 

I did take the camera on my morning walk with Libby, and I have a few photos to share from the area around our home here. Enjoy.

One of my favorite streets in town–The Antik Locanda restaurant.

The facade of our local Greek Orthodox Church, with services every week.

 

A local metal-polisher outside his shop.

And a photo of a produce truck that sells on a city street on Saturdays.

Volunteering in Ethiopia

I’m in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, volunteering at an orphanage for the Children’s Home Society. It’s been a real eye-opener, let me tell you.

I don’t have any photos of the children in the Care Center because they don’t allow photos for confidentiality and security reasons. It makes me a little sad, as I’ve already grown more than fond of these little people and would love photos to remember them by. Many of them will be adopted soon, but others have been in the orphanage for years. It’s hard to find families that will adopt siblings or children with disabilities, sweet as they are.

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Me with the Children’s Home Ethiopia Care Center in the background–nice digs!

I’m enjoying my mornings with the children–I teach ages 5-10 (16 kids), and about a third of them can write their names. Most know the alphabet, so I’m trying to find ways to stimulate the ones who are ahead yet not leave the others behind. I taught them  the “Hokey Pokey”, and they love it. The oldest boy, Samuel, always says, “One more time, please.” They’re supposed to call me Miss Ann, but they always call me Mama. What’s THAT about? A ploy to get me to bring one of them home? Tempting, but I’m a little old to dive into parenthood again. I’m working on learning their names–a real challenge with only a few that are familiar. Asnakech, Konjit, Sintayehu, Tadiows, Ashenafi…guess which are girls. (at the end of the post)

classroomMy little darlings hard at work (photo OK because no kids are recognizable)

The other day after my class I sat in on an interesting session. A laughter therapist visits every week to lead laughter play with the older children–all 29 of them. He gets them all giggling and laughing within minutes, then has them tell repeated stories, go through familiar physical antics, etc. It was amazing to watch. He told me that this particular orphanage has the best facility and the best care of all the orphanages he visits–which are many. I’m amazed at how happy and well-adjusted these children appear to be. Their nannies are warm and caring women, yet they manage the behaviors effectively. The older children help out a lot, too—apparently a cultural thing.

funny kids--Addis

Some kids posing for me on the street–typical boys!

The orphanage and the guest housing where I stay are in the embassy district. The contrast between the wealth of the embassy homes and the poverty surrounding it is shocking at best. I walk less than ten minutes to the orphanage each day, then back to guest house for lunch. Then I walk to the Children’s Home Society offices in the afternoon, where I’m mostly editing extensive reports on each child (written by the social workers). I’ll also be working on scripts for DVD’s  about the country and each child’s personal background. A unique DVD is prepared and sent home with each adoptee. I’m truly impressed with all they do here.

chs buildingThis is the Children’s Home office building–7 floors. I had a small office on the sixth floor-92 steps up.

Children’s Home Society has done a phenomenal job of giving back to this country for sharing their children through adoptions. They established the orphanage in 2003, and with the help of these adoption funds they’ve founded a clinic/hospital for mothers and children (a 50-bed facility), they’ve established three tuition-free schools for poor children, and they also monitor the care and nutrition at rural orphanages from which they pull adoptees. CHSFS employs over 400 Ethiopians.

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A small street market near the Care Center. Can you see why it seemed out of place for me to take a morning walk with my water bottle and ipod? I couldn’t face all the beggars.

me and Matt with tej

Me and my friend Matt posing with tej, the local honey wine. Tasted a little musty to me.

There’s one other volunteer here, a doctor from the U of M. We get along well, and it’s nice to have a buddy. Matt left a wife and 15-month-old son back home, so he’s particularly distressed about the exorbitant cost of internet here. It’s quite slow and very expensive, so we won’t be skyping or blogging. We paid $108 for just two hours of internet, though most of that cost was the usb satellite connection. They have dial-up here in the guest house, but it seldom works. The internet is a government-owned monopoly, and it seems unfair that such an impoverished population should have to pay so dearly for internet–and slow service at that. It’s only for the wealthy.

Ethiopian elderAn elder sitting against an embassy wall

The last thing I need to say is that I’m really struggling with the poverty here. Though it’s not pervasive, I see it every time I go out. Yesterday I was approached by about 12 beggars. It’s hard to walk by and ignore them, so I’ve done two things. I decided to keep small amounts of money handy to give those who ask for it, and I’ve found an alternate route to the office so I don’t have to walk by the clusters of beggars outside the church. I’m told that I shouldn’t give money where there are many beggars because I’ll be deluged. I just feel so badly for them when I have so much and they have virtually nothing. One person advised that I give to service agencies rather than to individuals, and another gave me a phrase to say that means “God protect you.”

local beggar

A beggar on my daily walk home–I gave her a small bill every day (very small–6 cents), and she was always appreciative.

Names: Ashenafi and Tadiows are boys–the others are girls (all wonderful).

MY AUSTRALIA FINALE—A DIDGEREDOO

Australia is known for kangaroos, wombats, wallabies, and …the didgeridoo. Although not an animal, the didgeridoo as unique to Australia as its marsupials. After a week in New Zealand, I returned to Melbourne to spend a day with my sister-in-law Angela and my nephew Josh. They treated me to delicious meals (including ice cream with watermelon and raspberry topping—YUM!) and an enlightening open poetry reading at a downtown pub.

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An outstanding poet, reading straight from her mac

A number of the poems were quite funny—some even hilarious. A serious piece read by an elderly Scottish poet brought me to tears. Shades of Dylan Thomas. I have to admit, though, there were a few poems that wouldn’t have even survived in my 9th grade classes. Oh, well. It’s all about expression and what each of us has to offer. Josh and I had a heated conversation afterwards about “giftedness.” But I digress.

Back to the didgeridoo.

After dinner, we decided to take in a film (Invictus, a stunning film about Nelson Mandela and the South African soccer team). Just outside the theater we stopped to listen to a grizzled Aboriginal playing his didgeridoo with abandon as he perched on an overturned milk carton.

didgeredoo on crate

Mr. Didgeredoo a la sidewalk concert

I pulled out my camera, shooting photos of him as he played his six-foot instrument, the wide end of which rested on the ground. The sound was deep and haunting, yet captivating. He also marked rhythm by tapping a stick on its side. After we dropped a few coins into his hat, he stopped playing to chat with us.

didgeredoo very close

Our Aboriginal musician

He explained that he’d fashioned his instrument from a small eucalyptus tree he’d found rolling in a river. Apparently it takes years of searching to find a eucalyptus sapling of the right size that has been hollowed out by termites—not too much, and not too little. He lifted the wide end of his crudely-decorated didgeredoo so we could see the termite imprints inside its “trunk.” It was pretty amazing, almost like fossilized images in stone.

Didgeredoo shoing inside to Angela

Showing Angela the interior of his instrument

didgeredoo interior…and a close-up of the inside

He held his instrument as though it were an extra limb—an extension of himself, then sat down to play again. He told us to stand still, and he held the end of the didgeredoo near each of our chests as he played. The vibrations of the lengthy tones emanating from the opening were physically palapable. Quite moving, actually.

Josh and didgeredoo

Josh “feeling the vibrations”.

I later learned that accomplished didgeridoo players master circular breathing to maintain a continuous tone on their instrument; this means they breathe in their nose and blow out their mouth at the same time. To do this, they use their cheeks almost like a bellows to keep the air moving as they inhale. Apparently an accomplished didgeridoo player can play continuously for over a half hour. Unbelievable.

This happenstance meeting offered another fascinating glimpse into Australian culture. Lucky me.