Category Archives: Turkey

Posts covering Turkey.

Social Justice for Turkish Women

by Jessica Stone

Turkey is making strides to be a modern country, but its treatment of women is still far behind the times. Largely because of the prevalence of strict religious fundamentalism, women who have been raped are often blamed as much as, if not more than, the perpetrator of their rape. The Guardian columnist Elif Shafak describes the society in Turkey as viewing unmarried non-virginal women negatively, which means rape victims are shamed and said to have lost their honor. For this reason, Shafak writes that neither Turkish domestic abuse victims who want to leave their spouse nor Turkish rape victims have few options for legal recourse:

“For women in Turkey who are victims of domestic or sexual violence, there are few doors to knock on. There are few women’s shelters, and too often society tends to judge the victim, not the perpetrator. Every year women are killed or forced to commit suicide in the name of honour. In a context as unfair as this, we need politicians who are sensitive to women’s problems and dedicated to solving them. However, unlike other areas of life in Turkey, local and national politics remains stubbornly patriarchal.”

The issue of arranged marriages also raises some women’s rights concerns. The Jerusalem Post cited a U.N. statistic showing that 3.6 million girls under 18 are married in Turkey. same article also quoted Nezihe Bilhan, the president of the Turkish Association of University Women, as saying, “Early marriage is a major human rights violation because you take away her right to be educated. When you take her right to be educated then you take her future. She cannot have a future if she is not educated.”

Some of the concerns about women’s rights have to do with worries that Turkish Prime

Erdogan's government has been criticized for its views toward women. Source: The Guardian
Erdogan’s government has been criticized for its views toward women. Source: The Guardian

Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is catering to religious fundamental groups that don’t support many women’s rights.   Middle East news magazine The Tower reported in October that Erdogan recently repealed a ban on religious headscarves in civil service jobs, a rule a former Prime Minister implemented to separate church and state, and the country’s vice president publicly criticized a TV anchor for not dressing modestly enough.

These actions suggest the country’s elected officials believe women should dress, act, and behave under extremely strict religious guidelines. Part of the reason for that could be a lack of women in the Turkish government. E.U. Neighborhood Policy Commissioner Stefan Fule said that only 1 percent of the municipalities in Turkey have a female mayor, according to the United Press International.  Fule also said part of the problem was Turkish society’s attitudes toward gender:

“We are all aware that progress on women’s rights also depends on a change in mentality and perceptions on gender,” Fule said. “Such change cannot take place overnight, neither in Turkey nor anywhere else.”


NGO – Women for Women’s Human Rights

by Jessica Stone

Women for Women’s Human Rights – NEW WAYS was founded in 1993 “to promote women’s human rights and to support the active and broad participation of women as free individuals and equal citizens in the establishment and maintenance of a democratic and peaceful order at national, regional and international levels.”  It was formed to address basic human rights violations that women experience in the workplace and at home.  In Turkey, women are deprived of schooling and face forced marriage, prohibition from work, domestic violence, and honor crimes and killings.

As part of WWHR-New Way’s first field research as an official NGO in 1993, researchers

Turkish women protest restrictions on abortion rights. Source:  The Guardian
Turkish women protest restrictions on abortion rights. Source: The Guardian

discovered that women in Turkey’s most populated cities are “unaware of the rights granted to them by the law.”  Furthermore, according to its website, this research verified that “…women’s lives in Turkey are shaped by patriarchal practices, traditions and customs that govern all social zones, rather than the legal rights obtained on paper. Additionally, the patriarchal practices did not take into consideration the needs and the expectations of women, including sexual and reproductive rights.”  With this knowledge, WWHR – New Way has called for the eradication of gender roles in Turkish society with activism, advocacy, and lobbying.  The NGO’s efforts have been imperative for accomplishing various legal reforms in Turkey, networking in Muslim societies, and promotion of women’s equal human rights at the United Nations level.  The NGO has worked with the Economic & Social Council of the UN, which provides consultation on difficult affairs.

The NGO developed the Human Rights Education Program for Women (HREP) to inform and cultivate Turkish women’s knowledge of their human rights.  Since its implementation in 1995, the nation-wide outreach has reached more than 7,500 women in 42 Turkish provinces.  But the outreach extends much further – participants have become a resource for equality and advocacy in their community so that other women can develop – and hone – necessary skills to improve their confidence when handling personal adversities on a daily basis.  Together, women from all parts of Turkey have become active agents in advocacy efforts for social reform on the national and international level.  Lastly, HREP has initiated and is coordinating “The Coalition for Sexual and Bodily Rights in Muslim Societies (CSBR)”, the first active solidarity network in Muslim societies for the promotion of sexual and reproductive health and human rights.

Source: Women for Women’s Rights “About Us” Page

Gezi Park Protests Raise Human Rights Concern from UN Officials

Turkish protesters fight to preserve the Takism Gezi Park in Istanbul.  Source: Google Images.
Turkish protesters fight to preserve Gezi Park in Istanbul. Source: Google Images.

by Jessica Stone

In June, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay urged the Turkish government and Turkish citizens to take immediate action to ease social and political tensions caused by Taksim Gezi Park protests in Istanbul.  According to a BBC News article, the protests started out as a small group demonstration, consisting of a few city planners and environmentalists hoping to preserve the aesthetic environment of the park, since the property may be used for urban development.

This BBC article examines how the new development, a shopping center, would affect Taksim Square and Gezi Park.

The current area around Gezi Park.  Source: BBC News.
The current area around Gezi Park and Taksim Square. Source: BBC News.Building plans for a new mall on Gezi Park's property.  Source: BBC News. Proposed building plans for a new mall on Gezi Park’s property. Source: BBC News.

But the protests soon attracted “a diverse array of people disenchanted by the government’s Muslim conservatism, its free-market policies, or both.”  The protests turned into violent riots that raised considerable concern about the Turkish police’s “excessive use of force against peaceful groups of protesters.”   Demonstrators alleged that police fired tear gas canisters,  pepper spray, and rubber bullets at them from close range or into closed spaces, and sexually abused and beat protesters.  Human Rights Watchdog Amnesty International provided a comprehensive report of Gezi Park human rights violations.

Pillay told Turkish officials that such allegations of human rights violations need to be “promptly, effectively, credibly and transparently investigated.”  Pillay said Turkish officials they must seize the opportunity to resolve “some remaining systemic problems in the country’s approach to the rule of law” to punish those who perpetrated the excessive violence, adding, “the government must also provide adequate reparation to victims of excessive use of force and other serious human rights violations by security forces.”

One of the most compelling videos from the protests comes from the the VICE blogging network:

For more information on Turkey’s human rights violations, this CNN article provides more in-depth coverage of various accounts and includes Turkish authorities’ response to the allegations.  Also, Hürriyet Daily News provided a detailed timeline of the protests.

Stray Dogs Remain a Concern for Turkish People

by Jessica Stone

Dr. Fischer discussed the week before Thanksgiving break about the sheer number of dogs she saw wandering the streets of Turkey.  I wanted to research why the country is struggling to deter the rampant growth of street dogs that seem to just casually “fit in” and share the city streets with such a large population of people.Stray dogs are part of everyday city life in Istanbul, and many people actually enjoy the free-roaming dogs.

They are part of the city’s culture and tradition, dating back centuries to the Ottoman Empire.

A depiction of stray dogs
A depiction of stray dogs roaming the streets of Istanbul.
Currently, stray dogs are tagged, vaccinated, spaded to protect against rabies and other health issues in the city. Source: Google Images
Currently, stray dogs are tagged, vaccinated, spaded to protect against rabies and other health issues in the city. Source: Google Images

However, large groups of stray dogs sometimes perturb and intimidate people both young and old in Turkey, along with families and small children, as there have been some deaths from feral, rabid dogs.  When giving directions, some people advise to avoid certain routes that have more feral dogs.  Although not many people have encountered an overly aggressive, dogs often keep people up with their nightly barking and scare drivers when they occasionally dart in front of traffic.  However, the potential danger has not thwarted large groups of animal rights protesters not just in Istanbul, but throughout Turkey, from expressing concern of recently proposed legislation on the issue.

In October 2012, the Turkish government’s proposed legislation that has since received much public scrutiny around the world.  According to a Hürriyet Daily News article,  the proposed legislation “…authorizes the removal of all stray animals from the streets, limits the number of pets permitted in homes, and recommends the termination of ‘dangerous’ breeds. Activists fear the regulation will lead to the mass killing of cats and dogs, regardless of whether they are pets or strays.”  Another part of the proposal includes removing dogs from the city and transporting them to areas outside the cities, perhaps in a forested area fenced off, where they will “run free, and they will have a good lifestyle, and will all be looked after.”

But more than 100,000 stray dogs roam the streets of Istanbul.  Can officials really transport so many dogs? Animal rights activists don’t think so.  They say the dogs should be allowed to continue living the way they have for so many years.  Bernd Brunner, a freelance writer in Istanbul, says in a post that the dogs “are used to having people around, and even depend on them, but they don’t live directly with humans.” His post examines dogs’ position in Turkish society….

According to a 2012 CNN article, the “natural habitat parks” described in the proposed legislation would serve as temporary homes for strays when space in animal shelters becomes overcrowded, and until they are adopted, according to the Turkish Forestry and Water Works Ministry.” The article says activists have questioned the government’s credibility on the issue and adamantly oppose the “natural habitat parks,” calling them “animal concentration camps.”  Turkish Forestry Ministry officials have denied various allegations of cruel animal treatment, and insists that dogs will “live a comfortable life” and would receive adequate food and shelter.  Officials insist the law would “ensure that they are protected as best as possible from bad treatment, pain and suffering.”

However, Turkey’s sordid past with stray dogs leaves many animal advocates concerned.  This video from Occupy for Animals examines the disconcerting history of stray dogs in Istanbul.

To summarize the people, in 1910, Turkish sultans decided to transport street dogs to an uninhabited island, where they were left to starve and ultimately resorted to cannibalism of those already deceased.

Interestingly, Turkish people are against euthanasia of dogs and cats for “population control,” whereas in the United States, free-roaming, healthy, unwanted dogs are less-tolerated.  Fortunately, public sentiment about euthanasia of homeless pets has evolved in the last 50 years in the U.S.

According to a CBC interview with Istanbul reporter Dorian Jones, the Turkish government’s strict legislation is most likely based on two things: the Islamic religion’s view toward dogs and the government’s way of pushing toward modernization.  He says the government is treating it as a matter of health provisions and they point to requirements that “all modern cities deal with stray animals.”  Some people point to the fact that the government has Islamic’s roots and dogs for the Islamic faith are considered unclean.  

Despite the long road ahead, thousands of Turkish citizens continue to fight for their beloved street dogs. 


Western Culture Influences Turkey

by Jessica Stone

The most known Turkish music types and popular music genres played in Turkey are:

  • Classical Turkish Music
  • Polyphonic Turkish Music
  • Turkish Folk Music
  • Arabesque / Belly Dance Music
  • Pop, Rock and Jazz
  • Military Music
  • Religious and Sufi Music

However, Western culture has greatly influenced popular music in Turkey.  There are several songs on iTunes Turkey Top 100 songs (updated hourly) that are also popular in the United States.  Besides their cultural music, Turkish people have been downloading songs such as The Monster by Eminem (feat. Rihanna) and Talk Dirty by Jason Derulo (feat. 2 Chainz).  The third most downloaded song is from one of Turkey’s pop artists, Erdem Kinay.

Popular Turkish movies reflect the people and culture of Turkey.  Similar to Americans, Turkish people go to movie theaters in their leisure time.  Here is a link to a blog by an American student studying abroad in Turkey.  In one post he wrote about the distinctions between the process of going to a movie in Turkey compared to America. Although the process is similar in some ways, which suggests the West’s cultural influence, he says the movie-going experience was much more enjoyable in Turkey.

According to Today’s Zaman, “Turkish films are very dramatic — the plot nearly always includes gun chases and romance. They always have a sad ending.”  The columnist also provides a descriptive list of leisure time activities in Turkey, and specific cultural names for traditions and items associated with popular activities.

Wikipedia‘s list of movies filmed in Turkey is actually surprising.  A few films on the list have received exceptional reviews and remain popular in the United States.  For example, two James Bond movies – The World is Not Enough and Skyfall – were filmed in Turkey, as well as Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix,  Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and Hitman. 

Sustainable Development in Turkey: The Balance between Human Development and Environmental Conservation

by Jessica Stone

Turkey is part of the UN Millennium Development Goals.  The Millennium Development goals are: 1) Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger 2) Achieve universal primary education 3) Promote gender equality and empower women 4) Reduce child mortality 5) Improve maternal health 6) Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases
7) Ensure environmental sustainability and 8) Develop a global partnership for development.

With the United Nations Development Programme’s support, the Turkish government has engaged local communities in the process of developing sustainable management in the long-term.  Turkey’s rapidly growing economy and industrialized cities have drastically increased its demand for natural gas and electricity.  According to the Republic of Turkey Ministry of Foreign Affairs, “Over the last decade, Turkey has been the second country, after China, in terms of natural gas and electricity demand increase.”  The increase in demand can be attributed to its geographic location, which increases its potential for changes in the energy sector that involve refined renewable energy sources.  “Turkey is geographically located in close proximity to more than 70% of the world’s proven oil and gas reserves.”

However, Turkey remains quite dependent on imported fossil fuels, especially Russia.  According to the World Bank, “Turkey imports more than 60% of its energy – much of it in the form of fossil fuels – despite an abundance of untapped, renewable energy sources throughout the country.”  Turkey’s limited domestic energy resources have become problematic due to the country’s growing energy demand.

One way the country is trying to reduce dependency on imported fossil fuels is by generating nuclear energy and improving energy efficiency.  The country is utilizing its advancements in hydro, wind, and solar energy.  According to the Republic of Turkey Ministry of Foreign Affairs, “Turkey ranks seventh in the world and first in Europe in terms of geothermal energy.”

Renewable energy use in Turkey. Source: Google Images.Renewable energy use in Turkey.  Source: The World Bank.

Addressing this growing demand while also benefiting economically and environmentally remains a challenge for Turkey.  The increased demand has bolstered Turkey’s energy supply security.  As a result, Turkey has been forced to become more vigilant of energy consumption ands aims to diversify its energy supply and maximize all renewable energy sources.  According to the World Bank, “Turkey aims to meet a target of 30% for renewable energy production in the country and to reduce its energy intensity levels (energy consumption of energy per unit of GDP) by 20% between 2011 and the end of its Centennial year.”

In order to accomplish this goal, Turkey is focusing on an economic structure that also considers environmental factors and contributes to overall human development.  According to Turkey’s 2012 Sustainable Development Report:

Turkey believes in a “human” centered development. Sustaining the existence of human beings in a strengthened way is only possible by realizing the principles of equity and sustainability. Based on this notion, green growth can only be a meaningful part of national and international agenda if it presents a more honored life to people. In other words, an economic structure which places more emphasis on environmental values can only be acceptable and applicable to the extent that it contributes increasingly to human development for present and future generations.

Urbanization Brings Environmental Problems for Turkey

by Jessica Stone

As with other developing countries, Turkey faces the problem of advancing socially and economically while still protecting its natural resources.  Rapid urbanization and industrialization in Turkey have caused several environmental issues, one being air pollution.  According to Turkish news sources, air pollution is the biggest environmental issue in 33 cities in Turkey, and is primarily attributed to urban transformation and industrial developments in Turkey’s most populated cities.  “Air pollution, which threatens 79 of Turkey’s 81 provinces, is largely caused by fuel usage in homes,” according to the Hürriyet Daily News.

Smog at dusk in Istanbul due to traffic. Source: Google Images.
Smog at dusk in Istanbul due to traffic. Source: Google Images.

According to the World Development Indicators 2012 report published by the World Bank, which includes data on pollution in cities around the world, “air pollution in Ankara and İstanbul exceeds the maximum acceptable limit set by the World Health Organization (WHO).”  The air pollution consists mostly of sulfur dioxide concentration, a pollution caused by the consumption of coal, diesel fuel and gasoline containing sulfur.  Also according to the report, “Turkey’s two largest cities, Istanbul and Ankara, are placed rather high on the list of most polluted cities: Istanbul is ranked seventh and Ankara 26th out of 97 cities.”

Traffic in Turkey's capital, Ankara, is one factor that contributes to its air pollution problem.  Source: Google Images
Traffic in Turkey’s capital, Ankara, is one factor that contributes to its air pollution problem. Source: Google Images

Turkey’s urban growth has strengthened its industrial sector, which in effect has improved its economy.  According to a Carnegie Europe article,  “There has been a major influx of European direct investment in Turkey.  The country has emerged as an integrated production platform for European manufacturing industries.”  The article also says the economic boom from such investments has contributed to major improvements in “Turkey’s public services and infrastructure, including airports, roads and highways, high-speed railroads, utilities, hospitals, universities, and museums.”  While beneficial to the economy, such improvements require more energy consumption, fuel, and expendable land.  Expanding the industrialized sector also means more deforestation, air pollution and water pollution in coastal areas.   

The government’s involvement with this urban transformation has received criticism, according to Carnegie Europe:

“However, the Turkish government is implementing urban transformation through sudden, top-down decisions that do not sufficiently account for environmental protection or consultations with citizens. In the process, the population’s leanings are largely ignored, making it impossible to nurture civic consensus on the pace and nature of economic development.”

Rapid population and industrial growth has extended to suburbs of Turkey’s largest cities, thus placing more pressure on the government’s sustainable development task. With specific environmental problems in each province, there is no simple solution to eradicate multiple issues.

The next post on environmental issues in Turkey will cover the country’s renewable energy plan.

Turkish economy accelerating, but hitting some speed bumps

by Jessica Stone

Turkey is a founding member of the UN, and remains actively involved.  According to Turkey’s United Nations Security Council Candidate site,  “Turkey maintains Permanent Delegations at the UN Headquarters in New York, at the UN Offices in Geneva and Vienna, and at the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in Paris. ”  Turkey also makes substantial contributions to “UN funds, programs and agencies, as well as other relevant organizations.”

According to Turkish Business Outlook 2012, “Turkey is a manufacturing country, a major producer of a diverse range of industrial products.”   It also currently represents ” the 17th largest economy in the world and the 6th in Europe.”  It became a member of the IMF in 1947.   In May, the country paid off its $422.1 million debt to the IMF,  thus changing its IMF role from frequent borrower to lender.  This was a remarkable accomplishment since Turkey’s exports, the country’s primary economic strategy, still thrived in a unstable global economy.  By paying off the debts, Turkey “will become a net contributor to the IMF with a scheduled $5 billion investment that will see its role and influence in the fund increase.”

The Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, Turkey. Image Source: Bloomberg News, via Wall Street Journal
The Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, Turkey. Image Source: Bloomberg News, via Wall Street Journal

The IMF is impressed with how Turkey has challenged the global economic crisis.  Turkey-IMF relations have fortified and will only continue to become closer in the future. IMF senior representative Mark Lewis told SES Turkiye:

“Turkey’s role in the IMF is growing, and will continue to do so. With the ongoing reform of the IMF’s voting and capital, expected to be completed in the coming months, Turkey will be one of the 20 largest members of the IMF, and combined with the increase in capital across all countries, Turkey will see its capital in the IMF increase by about four times.”

Turkey has been a member of the World Trade Organization since 1995, and is a member of four coalitions within the organization. The groups in the WTO in which Turkey claims membership are the Asian Developing Members, G-33, Friends of A-D Negotiations, and “W52” Sponsors.

Compared to 20 years ago, Turkey has made significant progress in the global economy, and has become an emerging country.  Twenty years ago, Turkey would have been considered a typical ‘developing’ country.  But today, it boasts “historically low inflation, vigorous growth rates, falling debt levels, a thriving private sector, and increasingly stable democratic institutions” (Zakaria, 28).

However,  the Wall Street Journal reports Turkey’s thriving market is starting to slow down due to political uncertainty:

“The days when Turkey was considered a market darling are over and the government is in for a bumpy ride,” said Mert Yildiz, chief Turkey economist at Burgan Bank. “Turkey is either set for a pronounced crisis or years of slow growth that will feel like recession.”

This relates to what Sharma writes in the last paragraph in Broken BRICs.   Sharma says countries like Turkey may continue to rise but they will rise more slowly and inconsistently than what the IMF and economic experts are anticipating.  This theory is consistent with economic data about Turkey’s productivity, which shows it hasn’t fully reached the level of productivity of the world’s economic leaders.

The Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development’s labor statistics show countries’ GDP per hour of labor compared to the United States. Turkey’s labor productivity as measured by that statistic was only 46.3 percent of the United States’ productivity. By that measure, Turkey’s economic productivity narrowly beats out developing countries like Mexico and Chile, and has a way to go before it can beat the world’s productivity leaders such as Norway, Luxembourg, and Ireland.