The Failed Coup in Turkey: Comments & Predictions

Here comes some of my personal comments and predictions following the failed coup attempt in Turkey. Some important points have been missing in the media reports:

Turkey Coup 2016

1) The denouncements of the coup by world leaders are natural. But why has the world not as strongly denounced the coup that Erdogan already executed, by gradual taking control of all institutions, including the judiciary? In practice he has made himself a dictator. Also denounce that!

2) The blaming of Fetullah Gülen by Erdogan has its obvious reasons, and should not be repeated in the media as if it was a truth. By blaming his arch enemy, a single guy and a “few” officers, Erdogan wants to take away focus from the fact that about 50 percent of Turkey’s population despise him, and maybe not supported the violent coup, but at least wants a change away from his authoritarianism. 

3) The failed coup attempt is not a victory for democracy. On the opposite, Erdogan will use this failed attempt to take even more control over institutions and make himself into a dictator, now also in writing. Already he has fired about 3000 judges as a result and wants to implement death penalty to scare any opposition to complete silence.

4) Last but not least, the turkish society will most likely become even more divided, and in the long run, I have a hard time seeing how such a divided country can continue to be a functioning unit. With that said, things will probably get much worse before they get any better. However, the world leaders, not the least the ones of EU, have to stop cuddling with Erdogan by silently accepting his hate speech rhetorics and crack down on all opposition. Again: Erdogan’s gradual coup over the last couple of years, has to be denounced in the same fashion as the coup of yesterday was denounced.

Turkey Coup 2016

Media control: The biggest threat to fair elections in Turkey

Presidential candidates turkey 2014

There is a presidential election coming up in less than five days, and the winner will most likely be prime minister Erdogan. But there are many reasons why this elections can not be considered fair. Here are my 3 main points of concerns:

1. Erdogan runs as a prime minister

Despite a law that says that a public servant can not run for president, Erdogan still runs for president at the same time as he continues to be prime minister of Turkey. He is and has been using the full power and resources of the state apparatus throughout his campaign, while the oppositions candidates has barely been able to get a banner up – Erdogan is on the other hand everywhere.

2. TRT coverage of the presidential candidates

It is a fact that the majority of the Turkish population do not receive impartial and balanced information about the different candidates. The main news source in Turkey is television, and less than 50% has access to the Internet. Looking at the state channel TRT and their coverage of the campaigns, more or less all time has been spent on Erdogan, despite the fact that the state TV should be impartial. The impact of such an uneven coverage can not be underestimated: The only one that about 50% of the voters in Turkey hear and see is Erdogan.

3. Heavy self-censorship in the media

Media in general covering the presidential candidates very unfairly, and generally avoid to say anything negative about Erdogan, while the opposition candidates are heavily attacked and scrutinised. One example of how this is happening, is that many TV-channels repeatedly goes on discussing the arrests of the police officers recently, without nowadays mentioning the reason why they are arrested: they gathered evidence for corruption within the government. This is symptomatic for how self-censorship shifts the focus of an event and avoid to put the real issue on the table. It is deceiving and effectively manipulate voters into viewing Erdogan as a victim.

I am nervously waiting for Sunday…

Interpersonal trust – Q & A

Since my article about interpersonal trust turned out to be both popular and controversial, I decided to give my answers to some common questions in this blog post.

Lets start with the most burning one of them all:

Turkey heart flag

You are a foreigner, so why do you write shit about Turks? (“Fuck off!”)

Well, this was happily only the response by a small minority of the commentators, but still, the question deserves an answer.

Firstly, the numbers representing trust in the Turkish society, were not made up by me. These were based on real answers from real people, consisting of a representative random selection of the different countries’ population. In that sense I was merely stating a fact. The numbers was not some “mumbo jumbo”, as one of the commenters said.

Secondly, I am an enormously big fan of Turkey, and love the people, the society and its culture. I love more or less everything about the country, except… well this trust issue. I experienced it very clearly while residing in the country, and saw first hand how it damaged peoples lives. But by pointing out this problem, and its negative consequences there was no ill-intention. The opposite. As I wrote in the previous blogpost on the issue, lack of trust easily becomes a vicious circle that is hard to break. But the first step if you want to break it, is to clearly identify it. Was it then wrong of me to write about it? Maybe it was a bit provocative, but once again, I had no ill-intention in doing so. I love Turkey! Why else would I write this blog to begin with?

I don’t agree that Turks trust no one!

This was one of the most common misconception in the critique against the article: That the low interpersonal trust-score for Turkey, meant that Turkish people trust no one. This not at all how the score should be interpreted.

Interpersonal trust is measured by asking a statistically representative selection of a population the following question: “Generally speaking, would you say that most people can be trusted or that you need to be very careful in dealing with people?”. The main indicator is then the percentage of people who reply “most people can be trusted”.

So, in case of Turkey, the result does not mean that Turkish people do not trust anyone. It just means that Turks are more reserved to people in general. How much they trust their family and friends are not specifically the subject of this question.

Bakkal defter note book

A Bakkal Defteri is a notebook in which debt to the shop owner is written down.

In Turkey we have something called Bakkal Defteri, isn’t that a sign of trust?

I think that the Bakkal Defteri-system, where credit is given to locals of a Mahalle by the owner of a local store, is especially interesting to discuss in the context of interpersonal trust. At first I admit that it might look like it is a system based on trust between individuals. But if you scrutinise it, I would rather argue that it is built on a strong social control. Why?

  • Credit is only given to people that the shop owner knows well and lives in the area
  • In a traditional Mahalle, everyone knows each and most people live in the same area for all their life = it is impossible to run away from your debt
  • If you still avoid paying, everyone will know about it = trouble ahead

There is also a very good reason why this system, is a necessity in Turkey to begin with: Salaries and payments are more erratic since unions are weak, and there is a need for a system that still puts food on the table for hardworking people (read about the workers on the third bridge here). The reason why some Bakkals give credit to begin with, is probably also because there are often many in one area, and competition between forces them to provide extra services to keep their customers.

So, even though there is some amount of trust involved in this system, I would rather argue that it is mainly built upon social control and necessity.

This is also my general impression of how it works in Turkey: Trust always seems to be accompanied by some sort of social control. This constitute a big difference towards the Northern European countries.

In Turkey people are more likely to talk to strangers than in Europe, isn’t that a sign that they trust people more?

Yes, Turkey has a very strong social culture. But is that really because people trust each other more to begin with? I would rather argue the social culture in Turkey, comes from the fact that the country lacks strong formal institutions, which means that everything from finding a job to getting justice in court or help if you get unemployed, all goes through your social network. The more friends you have, the more likely you are to live a secure and happy life.

This constitute again a big difference towards the Northern European countries, where formal institutions instead are strong.

The social culture can also be directly deduced from the lack of trust: If you don’t trust “people in general”, it means that you have strong incentives to turn “people in general” into friends. And how do you do that? Well, you start talking to them…

So, from my point of view, the act of talking and trying to make friends, isn’t necessarily a sign of trust to begin with.  It can rather be interpreted as a sign of the opposite.

Do you agree or disagree? Use the comment field below!

3 questions to Mustafa Altıoklar about his new Gezi film project

Little more than one year has passed since the Gezi protests in Turkey. Mustafa Altıoklar, renowned Turkish film director and one of the medical doctors volunteering during the protests, is now planning to make a film about the events. In short, the film will portray a love story between a female protester and a young man, whose family has ties to the ruling party, AKP. A sort of Romeo and Juliet story, that will also contain real life footage, shot by Mustafa Altıoklar during the protests.

Mustafa Altioklar Gezi protest Film movie

He has already written a script for the movie, and producer Nida Karabol has been assigned to the project.

Now he is reaching out to the public in order to get funding for this film, that is highly controversial in today’s Turkey.

I asked Mustafa Altıoklar three questions about the project. Here are his answers:

First of all, how was the process of writing the script?

Mustafa Altıoklar: Painfull… As I am a medical doctor under my other hat, I treated the wounded as a volunteer doctor in the make-shift infirmary in Gezi Park even as tear gas and rubber bullets were raining down. So, I observed the events in a unique position to tell this story as an insider who witnessed unfolding dramas first hand. I started writing the diaries during the days of the protests and finalised the script soon after the termination of revolts. 90% of the events in the script are true stories, so most script writing job consisted of conjoining them in a meaningful way. This operation took about two months and was painful, since I recalled the tragic events over and over through out the process.

Why reach out to the public for funding?

Mustafa Altıoklar: Firstly, I want to make clear that this is a non-profit venture. All funding will be used in the making of the film and any surplus, as well as proceeds from the film, is to be donated to other non-profit ventures or organisations. Secondly, the current repressive situation in Turkey makes it almost impossible to secure funding for a project that goes against the government’s liking. Media and even businesses feel the autocratic pressure daily and the government, with all forces at its disposal, acts promptly and forcefully at the slightest whiff of public dissent. It is, of course, futile to apply to the Ministry of Culture for support funds for a project like this. Consequently the only way to raise funding for this movie is crowd-funding.

What measures do you think the government will take to stop this film?

Mustafa Altıoklar:  On the 18th of June, just some days ago, the government banned certain subjects to be discussed openly, such as the Roboski massacre, Reyhanli massacre, the 17th December corruption operation, the Soma disaster and ISIS terrorism. So, they may just add another prohibition to shoot this film. They may also send treasury inspectors to dig out pseudo legal issues, or they may send narcotics to disrepute any of the volunteers of the project. They will definitely threaten the providers, supporters and media who publish any news about the project. They may cancel or forbid the locations that we want to film at, and finally they may imprison me to stop filming. We are prepared to handle any of this, including me going to jail. I already made a plan on how to finish the film remotely.

In order to donate to this Gezi film project CLICK HERE!

Understanding Turkey: Lack of interpersonal trust

It was one of those normal evenings during my last months in Turkey. I was laying on the couch after dinner, surfing the internet. I was basically just cruising around, went to some website here, looked up some statistics there, went back to Google, found something, went back, clicked on a link again. And then, suddenly, I was looking at some numbers that made all my scattered understanding of Turkey come together…. What was before my eyes, explained it all. There it was, in black and white… This graph:

Interpersonal trust - OECD - percentage of people expressing high level of trust in others

The graph shows the percentage of people in the OECD countries expressing high level of trust in others. As you see, Turkey is at the bottom of the list. Only 24 percent of the Turkish people in the survey highly trusted their fellow citizens. Compare that to the Scandinavian countries, where almost everyone seem to trust one and other.

But this is only the OECD countries, I thought… what about the rest of the world?

As I continued to search the internet for other surveys relating to interpersonal trust, I found this world map, and by then I was sure…

Interpersonal trust World map

…Turkey has a huge problem with trust,  may it or may it not be for good reasons. Even compared to other places in the entire world, Turkey sticks out as a country in which people’s trust of each other is surprisingly low.  To me, it does not only explain something about peculiarities in it’s society, but it also predicts future problems, not the least relating to economic development.

Lack of interpersonal trust and its consequences

In one way you can say that the foundation of any society is built on trust. To be able to do business with someone, you need to be able to trust that person. The whole capitalistic system in terms of specialization rather then self-sufficieny, is based on trust between individuals. So, what happens in a society with low interpersonal trust?

Well, you can see all the signs in Turkey…

  • Where does the extreme social culture come from? – a way to be sure where you have other people?
  • The love for the family – are they maybe the only one you can trust?
  • A tendency for jealousy – everywhere there is threats to both love and friendships

And in business and politics?

  • Shortsightedness – While you’re in power grab as much you can, feed only yourself
  • Widespread nepotism and corruption – same as above
  • Why is Erdogan personally involved in everything? – he doesn’t trust anyone else

And of course, the lack of trust easily becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. The situation becomes much like the prisoners dilemma, a vicious cycle hard to break free from, like this:

I know that you will cheat me, so I better cheat you first!

For Turkey to become an advanced economy, lack of trust is not a good thing. The interpersonal trust issue will increasingly become a hinder for economic growth and development. Where there is no trust, the transaction costs are high and a nepotistic society quite effectively makes sure that niether the best individual nor the most suiting company gets the job or the contract.

And maybe not even the love within the family isn’t that great after all? There is a Turkish expression saying, Babana bile güvenme! 

It translates: Don’t even trust your father!



What Tunisia and Ben Ali taught me about Erdogan’s future

What Tunisia and Ben Ali taught me about Erdogan's future

What Tunisia and Ben Ali taught me about Erdogan’s future

Two weeks after I came home from a touristic travel to Tunisia in early december 2010, the uprising against Ben Ali started. I was surprised, since I had traveled throughout the whole country and talked to many people, not the least students, asking them what feelings they harboured for the man in charge. Except minor complaints about the high unemployment, all they said was positive. Education was free, people were happy. I left the country with a totally wrong perception of Ben Alis popularity. I had been naïve, and the Arab spring came as a surprise to me.

Ben ali Tunisia Erdogan Turkey

Ben ali Tunisia Erdogan Turkey

But I would would fall into the same trap twice…

During my two years in Turkey, before the Gezi protests, politics was something that people smoothly avoided to talk openly about at dinner tables where not all guests where known. Only at closed gathering, in my predominantly secular circles of friends, did some anger and the dissatisfaction with Erdogan’s politics show. But this I only realised in hindsight and I was therefore surprised when the Gezi protests took place and grew to a national phenomenon. I could never have guessed they would occur one week before they started.

I came to draw the conclusion that in an environment, where critical opinions can´t be ventilated on a continuous basis, sudden, unexpected outbursts – such as the Gezi protests and the Arab Spring- will always be the way of change – BY DESIGN.

So, what can this teach us about the future of Erdogan, the feelings about him in his own circles now so celebrating, supporting and free of criticism against him?

Does the silence and acceptance within the AKP mean that no one harbours any criticism towards him?

Most definitely not.
One example: Bulent Arinc is by many looked upon as the reasonable voice of AKP, before so talkative on all issues. Why has he recently been so silent?

And what does the grass roots of the AKP think about the Soma accident where no secularists where victims, but instead people like the ones Erdogan says he is trying to help?

Does people close to Erdogan buy his explanation and his denial of any involvement in the company who manages the mine?

Do the AKP believe in the Robot Lobisi?

I have decided not to fall into the same trap a third time. The AKP keep silent, just like the liberals and the secularistic Turkey did before the Gezi protests, before they had enough, before it all had built up to being just more than they could accept. But I know better now.

I know that that silence harbours more criticism than thousand words are capable of.

Piece by piece Erdogan is building up a heavy pile sh*% that will eventually fall down on him, crush him, bye bye!


Unaccountability of officials raises risks for further disasters in Turkey


The unwillingness of politicians in Turkey to take any responsibility for any part of what has gone wrong, as a tragedy in a Soma coal mine recently demonstrated in a most shocking way, may not only erode political ethics but also pave the way for other disasters in the future, analysts have warned.

“As long as such a mentality reigns [with those in power], we are bound to come across even graver tragedies [in the future],” Atilla Kart, a deputy from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), told Sunday’s Zaman.

No Cabinet minister, neither the Labor and Social Security Minister Faruk Çelik nor the Energy and Natural Resources Minister Taner Yıldız, resigned following the tragedy in Soma, which may turn out to be the deadliest workplace-related event in the history of the Turkish Republic.

To read full story, click here.

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