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Politurco in July: Extraordinary insights again…

In “In the light of Islamic values, is it war or peace that is essential?” of July 8, 2018, author Dr. Ahmet Kurucan makes an extraordinary contribution to understanding the true nature of Islam through an examination of misunderstandings about Islam regarding the term ‘jihad.’ He details the debate about the nature and meaning of jihad throughout history, exploring the Islamic texts, first and foremost the Quran, in the context of the political, social, cultural and economic background in which it was revealed.

He reminds readers that there are three different classifications of jihad that exist in traditional Islamic studies, beginning with the distinction between greater and lesser jihad. He also examines verses of the Quran to see how jihad in the military field was routinely conducted during the life of the Prophet (PBUH) in order to better understand how the concept should be applied today. His approach is not one of literal interpretation, but rather one that emphasizes that different evaluations and readings can be made in accordance with the order and reasons for revelation, the holism of the Quran, and the practices of the Prophet (PBUH). He expertly analyzes a group of six verses (190-195) in the Surah Al-Baqarah, which are critical to understanding jihad and the very nature of Islam. Kurucan clearly demonstrates how if you ignore the context, and approach verses individually, you can mistakenly arrive to the conclusion that in Islam “war is essential in international relations.” He notes that slogans such as “Islam is a religion of war” or “Islam is a religion of peace” are obstacles to understanding the true nature of Islam. In fact, his careful and thorough analysis of the relevant texts convincingly shows how a more appropriate interpretation of Islamic values would be a balanced politics of peace, where peace is a priority, but war is also permissible under certain circumstances.

In Ahmet Kucuran’s second article, which goes beyond the ordinary perspectives again, focuses on “What is martyrdom and is it a goal to be a martyr within the Islamic values?” He questions how appropriate it is to bring martyrdom as a goal and purpose for youth, arguing that given the importance of martyrdom, it is essential that youth should be raised with an understanding of what it means. The author explains that martyrdom is a name or adjective applied to someone who gives his/her life in the way of Allah. It should not lead to a narrow focus on war and death, however, as the Prophet (PBUH) puts life above death. As the author states, “Life must be the center of all of the discourses, plans, and projects, not death.” It is in this vein that we must examine and answer the questions surrounding what “in the way of Allah” truly means.

“Get tough with Erdogan at the NATO summit,” a July 2, 2018, article by Professor David L. Phillips, argues that Member States should use the July 11-12 NATO summit as an opportunity to raise their concerns directly with Erdogan. They should attempt to “bring Turkey back in the tent”; failing this, they should limit security cooperation and avoid financially supporting his regime. He notes that Turkey was once a valuable NATO member, but Erdogan has made Russia and Iran Turkey’s primary strategic and commercial partners. In particular, Phillips argues that the U.S. should cancel the sale of F-35s to Turkey should Erdogan insist on going ahead with the purchase of Russian S-400s. In addition, the U.S. should increase pressure on Erdogan by using the Leahy Amendment to suspend all weapons sales to Turkey and withdraw from Incirlik Air Force Base.

The article, “Why can’t Turkey enjoy the benefits of the devaluation championship?” by Professor Elvan Aktas explains why currency devaluation has not led to economic growth in Turkey. The economy expanded rapidly from 2003 to 2008 when the ruling AKP provided much-needed political stability, undertook key reforms, strengthened regional ties and trade, and ensured transparency, accountability and discipline in the public finances. The period from 2008 until 2013 was the era of “cheap money,” when foreign investments brought higher GDP, but the government failed to invest in things like education and infrastructure that were needed to solve the country’s long-standing structural problems. The country’s debt was downgraded to junk status, in part due to the reversal of reforms by the ruling AKP and corruption, as well as a deterioration in relations with the EU, U.S. and most of Turkey’s neighbouring countries. Turkey fell victim to a vicious cycle of increasing interest rates, increasing inflation, and currency devaluation. The situation is further exacerbated by the fact that most of Turkey’s debt is short-term. In addition, the current account deficit has been at record and alarming levels only seen before during the 2000-2002 financial crisis.

Doctoral researcher Abdulmelik Alkan’s article on “Political Sufism: The Case of Menzil Nakshibendi Group during the AKP Governments”, published July 3, 2018, explores the ‘Salafization’ of a Sufi order. Although Sufi orders are traditionally not involved in politics, one of the largest Sufi orders in Turkey, the Menzil Naqshbandi-Khalidi community agreed to become politically active under the AKP government. The author conducted a confidential, semi-structured survey with 20 active, critical members of the group to explore why many Sufis support Erdogan and how the concept of the ‘Dergah’ has changed since the decision was taken.

“A new Exilic Community: The Hizmet Movement” by Abdulmelik Alkan is another remarkable article reporting that since the coup attempt many followers of the Hizmet movement, a faith-based community in Turkey, face jail, torture, or self-exile. The author draws parallels between the current situation and the aftermath of the successful 1980 military coup, when the secularist government forced hundreds of thousands of people to leave the country. However, Alkan highlights the fact that the Erdogan Government has specifically targeted the Hizmet movement, whose adherents are inspired by the teachings of Fetullah Gulen. Even in exile, its members are not safe from the Government’s retribution; some face extradition requests while others have been kidnapped and returned to Turkey. Nevertheless, the author emphasizes that the Hizmet adherents in exile continue to engage in interfaith and multi-cultural efforts, exhibiting a civil and civic face of Islam that contrasts sharply with the politically ambitious and ugly face of ISIS and the Erdogan regime.

In my article titled ‘Decoding the messages of illegal overseas operations of the Turkish Government,’ I explained how Turkish Intelligence uses local figures for illegal overseas operations to kidnap Gulen followers focusing on the recent failed attempt in Mongolia. I argued that these attempts to kidnap the Gulen followers in the world shall give no fruitful outcome for the Turkish Government noting that it actually would help Gulen followers to develop a solidarity and group motivation in all over the world. I questioned whether it is rational to build animosity and hatred among the next generations which would eventually result in willingness to be opponents of Turkish State in the future or not? I noted that Turkish Government should be aware of the fact that their overseas operations are considered as ‘terroristic’ and the tortures and killings in Turkish prisons are followed by many countries very carefully and will be used for sanction purposes in the near future adding that the Turkish Government should stop these irrational activities and find a way to normalize her policies with Gulen Movement.

The July 4, 2018 article, “Erdogan regime started executions in prisons after the elections” by investigative journalist Adem Yavuz Arslan alleges that prisons have turned into death houses under the Erdogan regime. Zeki Güven, former Intelligence Staff Section Chief in Ankara, is only the latest in a series of dozens of prisoners that have died in prison since the coup attempt. Most of these cases did not make the news. The author lists 28 of these victims, along with their profession and date, cause and place of death, lamenting that neither the media nor civil society has investigated these deaths. No independent autopsies were conducted. The author notes the possibility that Güven’s death could be a result of torture, and provides background information on the charges against him and the people who could have wanted to kill him. The article makes it clear that Güven was potentially a key witness whose testimony could have implicated many other officials and highlights that other imprisoned police commissioners are reportedly being tortured in order to force them to sign false testimonies. The author concludes that given the lack of concern amongst human rights organizations, the media or public about the suspicious circumstances surrounding Güven’s death, such deaths will likely continue.

Ekrem Dumanli, former editor-in-chief of Turkish Daily Zaman, asks, “Is NATO ready to work with the radical Islamist army officers?” in a July 27, 2018, article. Dumanli explains that the failed coup attempt triggered a significant purge in the Turkish military. He examines two key questions: first, who is deciding on the discharges, and on what basis? And second, who is replacing the dismissed officers and what are the criteria for their selection? Regarding the dismissals, Doğu Perinçek, the ultra-nationalist, anti-NATO leader of the Vatan Partisi (Patriotic Party), has claimed that his party drew up the list of military officers to be purged. Anyone aspiring to join the military now apparently requires a reference from the AKP, to ensure that their political views align with those of the Government. The author argues that the purge is becoming an international problem, as evidenced by the secret shipments of weapons to armed groups abroad and the assassination of the Russian Ambassador to Turkey by a young police officer. This will likely complicate NATO’s relationship and cooperation with Turkey, in particular regarding strategies and intelligence-sharing.

A July 16, 2018 Politurco article on “How Turkish Tycoon Akin Ipek frightened Erdogan Government,” looks at the real reasons that prompted the Anadolu Agency targeted Akın İpek, a businessman living in England. The article explains that the Turkish government-funded Anadolu Agency is required to register as a “foreign agent” in the U.S. due to the way in which it produces fraudulent news content. Not only are Anadolu’s financing sources unclear, but its news stories target solely dissidents of the Turkish regime by using sophisticated surveillance techniques. İpek became a target shortly after his company filed a case requesting payment of five billion dollars in damages with the World Bank against the Turkish Government for damages related to the Government’s seizure of the company’s assets. The Turkish Government fears that this case could set a precedent for similar cases in the future.

Investigative journalist Ahmet Donmez asks the question, “Why is July 15th still not being clarified?” in a July 21, 2018 article. He laments the lack of a real independent civil society in Turkey, which exhibits democratic maturity and operates in accordance with rules and principles. Turkish society is instead divided into various warring social camps, each of which sees the others as harmful. With the exception of the Gulen movement and a few others, all of these groups believed the Government’s narrative of the July 15th events, because it gave each of them something that they wanted. Two competing narratives have since grown around these events, the Government’s ceremonial narrative and the Gulen movement’s self defence, both of which focus only on the victory of their own group. The author states that the truth lies somewhere between the two, and its revelation would require putting the search for truth ahead of the interests of any particular group. Donmez illustrates this point by relating some developments related to Sedat Ergin, who is considered to be one of the most objective journalists and as a person who has the best knowledge of the July 15th files, but who nevertheless manipulated two main points about the day and night of the coup in an interview he gave. The author points out inconsistencies in Ergin’s version of the events, noting that myriad critical questions surrounding the coup attempt remain unanswered to this day.

The July 6, 2018 article on “How did Erdogan destroy the media in Turkey?” by investigative journalist Faruk Mercan gives an overview of Erdogan’s efforts to obtain control over approximately 90% of media outlets in Turkey. The author shows how Erdogan used state resources to pressure media owners into selling their media outlets to people or organizations close to Erdogan. Mercan examines the cases of Aydın Dogan, the owner of Dogan Media Group which controlled nearly 50% of the Turkish media at the point he became a target in 2009, and Akın İpek, whose media group owned two newspapers and two television channels. He explains how the businessmen who purchased these media outlets have silenced criticism of Erdogan, and enabled Erdogan to cement his grasp on power in Turkey.

Investigative journalist Kamil Maman asks the question, “Is Erdogan going to bring back Capital Punishment?” in his July 5, 2018 article. He observes that all dictatorships contain the seeds of their own destruction. Erdogan, like every dictator, obsesses over the thought of who is conspiring against him, and endeavors to secure himself through extraordinary laws and powers. Yet over time he is becoming more isolated and paranoid; his fear is reaching an unbearable level. The author speculates that Erdogan will bring back the death penalty ostensibly to “protect the people” from violent criminals, but in reality he will use it to keep his opponents in check. Maman rightly states that dictators can be ruthless in their fight for power and survival; if the law on capital punishment is passed, Erdogan might again use the media to brand his opponents as traitors, who would then face the death penalty—similar to those who are now facing life imprisonment for opposing Erdogan.

In another article I wrote, titled “Does Trump praise Erdogan for the sake of the new Iran politics?”I tried to look at larger geopolitical forces affecting Turkey at a summit meeting characterized by Trump’s harsh criticism of NATO Member State leaders, Trump’s startling praise of Erdogan was interpreted as a sign of support for the latter’s increasingly authoritarian ruling style. I noted that the U.S. Government is focused on neutralizing Iran’s power, working together with Saudi Arabia while isolating Qatar and speculated that Trump is perhaps counting on Erdogan, a pragmatist, to side with the U.S. While this is not an impossible development, I cited a number of reasons, including internal considerations regarding the Kurds and rampant anti-Americanism in Turkey, as well as external considerations such as Turkey’s relations with Russia, that make such a move less likely.

Doctoral researcher Deniz Zengin writes on July 2nd, 2018, about “The Use of Chemical Weapons in Syria,” noting that approximately 2,000 people have been killed by chemical weapons in Syria despite a ban on their production, storage, and use. The article explains that after UN experts found clear evidence that the Syrian Government had used chemical weapons against civilians in 2013, the Assad regime bowed to international pressure and destroyed 1,300 tons of chemical weapons under international observation. However, in 2018 reports surfaced of a chemical weapons attack in Douma. Experts from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) investigated the attack and determined that 34 civilians were killed by chlorine gas; based on the OPCW report and other international investigations, it was determined that the Assad regime was responsible for the attack. The U.S., France, and England undertook a limited bombing campaign in retaliation for the Douma attack. In conclusion, the author observes that chemical weapons can negatively affect the health of victims for decades.

In a July 26, 2018 article, Abdulmelik Alkan asks, “Will Sanctions against Turkey Be Effective?,” opining that unless the proposed U.S. sanctions are supported by the UN or another multi-lateral organization like the EU or NATO, they will likely remain ineffective. Turkey has gradually been shifting its focus to the East, as evidenced by growing strategic and military ties with Russia and a shift in Turkey’s policy in Syria. Turkey’s relations with the West are at a low point, which has perhaps prompted Turkey to boost its eastern connections. U.S. sanctions, if not coordinated with European partners, could backfire, strengthening Erdogan’s position and increasing anti-American sentiment in Turkey.

In another article on July 25, 2018, Deniz Zengin reports that, “Syrians in the border of Jordan remain under pressure”.  The author details the deteriorating conditions for Syrian civilians in Syria, particularly in the southwest of the country, where the Assad regime began an offensive in June. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) stated that hundreds of thousands of civilians fled their homes, with more than 120,000 massed near the border with Jordan. The UN announced on July 8 that almost all of the refugees that had fled to the Jordanian border subsequently returned home, with only 150 to 200 remaining. The author argues that a balance must be found to protect the interests of both Syrian civilians and host countries such as Jordan, which has taken in approximately 1.4 million Syrian refugees since the start of the civil war.

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Aydogan Vatandas / Editor-in-Chief
Aydogan Vatandas / Editor-in-Chief
Aydoğan Vatandaş is an investigative journalist from Turkey, specializing in Political Science and International Relations. He is the author of 13 books, many of which have become bestsellers in Turkey. 'Reporting from the Bridge' and 'Hungry for Power: Erdogan's Witch Hunt and The Abuse of State Power' are the first two books published in English in the U.S


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