Foreign Affairs, Europe, Travel, Espionage, Fiction, Non-Fiction, In the News

A Phantom Wrapped in an Enigma Wrapped in a Riddle

Why we should worry about Turkey's missing jet

August 11, 2012

It is apparently lore at the Economist that foreign correspondents have a shelf life of three years. After this, they know too much. They become too involved in the minutiae of local politics to explain a story to their domestic audience. Then, of course, there is the famous State Department "clientitis" problem—diplomats, it is said, need to be rotated out in roughly the same amount of time lest they begin to understand the host country's point of view a bit too well.

Having lived in Turkey for seven years, I can confirm the folklore. It seems impossible to me that the whole world isn't following the drama of escalating Turkish-Syrian tensions with the same avidity as I am, waking early to parse the statement of every concerned minister and official, studying maps, attempting to read between the lines of the Turkish press, weighing what these omens might portend. But to judge from the commentary emanating from the United State, it's not.

Turkey: A Baffling 24 Hours In Istanbul

It's now easier to get news from Mars than Hakkari

August 9, 2012

I confess freely that I'm finding it difficult to make sense of recent events in Turkey, and I submit that anyone offering a confident analysis is exaggerating either his access or his analytic acumen. There is obviously a great deal happening; but the people who understand it aren't talking, and the people who are talking don't understand it.

Here is what we do know: This morning, there was a terrorist attack in Izmir that claimed the life of a Turkish soldier and injured eleven more. A remotely-controlled land mine exploded as a military bus was passing on a road in the Aegean town of Foça. The attack is believed to be the work of the PKK, and has many of the PKK's signature hallmarks. To judge from reports on Twitter, Izmir citizens were--predictably--appalled, enraged and terrified.

When Turkey's Weirdest Televangelist Met Sean Ali Stone Or: Why I don't bother writing fiction anymore

The Turkish televangelist Harun Yahya, also known as Adnan Oktar, is a controversial figure in Turkey, controversial among other things for his litigiousness—scores of websites in Turkey, including Wo

Turkey's Sex, Lies and Videotapes

Gatestone Institute
June 26, 2012


The news from Turkey, journalists here always complain, comes so hard and fast that they just can’t keep up with it. The Supreme Court obviously decided to take pity on them last week by declaring war on porn. Now, they didn’t criminalize all porn—let’s not exaggerate here—but the Supreme Court of Appeals ruled that anyone in possession of videos depicting oral or anal sex may be sentenced to prison.

This followed a recent ruling identifying videos of gay and group sex as “unnatural”—that is, in the same category, legally speaking, as videos depicting sex with animals, children and corpses, all of which are forbidden by Article 262.2 of the Turkish Penal Code. That article stipulates that owning, trafficking, distributing or publishing such videos will earn you one-to-four. The “no-blowjobs” ruling came—so to speak—after a suspect was sentenced to six months in prison by a local court for selling CDs depicting what we in the decadent West might call “sending your husband off to the office happy.”

The Cold War’s Arab Spring

Stolen Kremlin records show how the Soviets, including Gorbachev, created many of today’s Middle East conflicts.

TABLET, June 20, 2012

The dominant narrative of modern Middle East history emphasizes the depredations visited upon the region by European colonization and accepts as a truism that the former colonial powers prioritized the protection of their material interests—in oil, above all—above the dignity and self-determination of the region’s inhabitants. Thus did botched decolonization result in endless instability. The most intractable of the regional conflicts to which this gave rise, that between the Arabs and Israelis, is attributed in this narrative to Israel’s unwillingness to accede to Palestinian national aspirations. Thus did the region become a breeding ground for radicalism, intensified by Cold War rivalry between the superpowers, who replaced the European colonizers as the region’s meddling overlords. Then came Mikhail Gorbachev—a Westernizing reformer. At last, the Cold War was over. A new world order was at hand.

What if this conventional wisdom is nonsense? Russian exile Pavel Stroilov argues just this in his forthcoming book, "Behind the Desert Storm." “Not a word of it is true,” he writes. “It was the Soviet Empire—not the British Empire—that was responsible for the instability in the Middle East.”

Davos on Tour in Istanbul

June 8, 2012

The arrival of the World Economic Forum in Istanbul this week was overshadowed in the Turkish media by the arrival of Madonna and her entourage, although there was a symmetry in events—massive security, caravans of expensive cars with tinted windows, snarled traffic and cab drivers cursing them all. Tagging behind the Material Girl was her twenty-four-year-old lover, Brahim Zaibat; tagging behind Turkey’s mercurial prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas. In both cases, the pair looked every inch the happy couple.

The Museum of Innocence

May 14, 2012

Orhan Pamuk, born in 1952 to a wealthy but waning Istanbul family, is Turkey's best-known, best-selling, and most controversial novelist. Cevdet Bey and His Sons, published 1982, was awarded the Orhan Kemal and Milliyet literary prizes; The Silent House, received the Prix de la découverte européene in 1991. With The White Castle and The Black Book he achieved international renown, particularly for his evocative and experimental exploration of Istanbul, past and present. Snow, which he describes as “my first and last political novel” was published in 2002. In 2003 he received the International IMPAC award for My Name is Red. His books have been translated into 46 languages. Not all of them are great, but some of them are. The Museum of Innocence is one of the great ones.

Supping Full with Horrors: A social evening with Turkish outcasts

April 23, 2012

I came back late at night from the Distinguished Physician’s special dinner party for minorities, Leftists, and persecuted journalists. His villa in Istanbul overlooks the once-picturesque cove of Tarabya on the European shore of the Bosphorus. It is still picturesque, if you look only to your right. Harold Nicolson wrote of this view:

Margaret Thatcher: In the Name of Power

"The Iron Lady" paints a human picture of Margaret Thatcher. But the film, which opens Thursday in theaters, ignores her political legacy: her belief in state authority, and her victory over socialism.

March 1, 2012

(Published in German as "Margaret Thatcher: Im Namen der Macht")

Subtergenekon and Other Crimes

In Turkey, alleged terrorism requires a brand-new vocabulary.

3 January 2012

George Orwell’s greatest act of genius was the invention of Newspeak, the official language of Oceania, devised to meet the ideological needs of “Ingsoc,” or English Socialism. Explaining the nature of a mass trial in Turkey likewise requires the construction of a language all its own. Of late, journalists’ trials have received particular notice in the foreign press, but only because the arrest of journalists excites other journalists. In fact, early-morning raids, mass arrests, detentions without trial, and mass trials are a common feature of the Turkish landscape—for academics, students, suspected members of the so-called KCK (the urban wing of the terrorist Kurdish group PKK), lawyers of suspected members of the KCK, heads of soccer teams and their associates, members of parliament, generals, admirals, and an indeterminate number of unfortunates who just got sucked up in the vacuum.

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