Tag Archive: freedom of speech


Our last day of the trip in Istanbul was a rather interesting day, to say the least. We woke up and had our usual semi-Turkish breakfast where I had a small bowl of olives to myself. I couldn’t get enough of the olives. Olives in Australia aren’t very good, so I was getting as much in as I could. Anyway, today we had a briefing with Today’s Zaman, an English newspaper, visited the Spice Market, went to a cooking class and then spent our night out on the town.

PROPAGANDA

Let’s start with “Propaganda”. Today’s Zaman, as I previously stated, is an English newspaper. They are a subsidiary of “Zaman”, which is a Turkish newspaper that is notorious for their very conservative, religious views. I was interested to see what the editor we were speaking to had to say on topics such as the government, freedom of speech and civil rights in Turkey. The presentation was very…illuminating. The editor we spoke to gave his spiel about how wonderful Zaman and Today’s Zaman is, giving us the number of people that take the papers, the rankings of the paper since inception (900,000 subscribers to Today’s Zaman, making them the top English paper in Turkey…out of 2). He gave us the spiel about how they have so many contacts in the world of journalism, being that they are affiliated with the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times, etc. Woop de do. I wanted to get onto the good stuff. They claim to be so successful because they seperate opinions from the news. But somehow, they manage to do this while sticking with their very conservative, religious values. They CLAIM that they don’t sensationalise the news. So basically, they don’t print something if it’s pointless and is only used to sell papers to say…celeb addicted idiots or people who freak out when they hear a rapist is in court despite the fact that they are already in prison.

One of my big questions was “How does Turkish journalism  affect Europe’s perception and how does it affect entrance into the European Union?” OH THE DIPLOMACY! I heard so many answers to the question of how does ____ in Turkey affect entrace into the EU. It was always the conservative’s who are very much in line with government policy and give very diplomatic answers, and Today’s Zaman was no exception. They also like to put the blame on other countries that they don’t get along with. When I asked my question the response was that Greece is blocking Turkey’s negotiations because they are very close with parts of Europe with a significant weapons dealer presence. The EU, the editor claimed, is essentially a peace project  and major corporations don’t want peace, because it’s bad for business. They don’t want people from Turkey coming in either because they feel that there is an “Asian problem” in European countries. The issue of freedom of speech as a basic human right and the questionable actions of Turkey in regards to derogating from this human right did not seem to be an issue for Today’s Zaman. They claim that there are very few journalist communication issues with Europe and Greece is simply using the derogation of free speech as an excuse.

Well that was interesting. We then arrived at the topic of a government referendum on the constitution when elections are held in June. There is an interesting thing most people don’t know about Turkey. The Government and the State are 2 completely different things. At this point in time I’m not entirely sure how it works, but I fully intend on looking into it over the uni holiday when I have the chance and may or may not update this blog to explain it.

Supposedly the government is beginning to hold the state accountable on this issue. I’m not entirely sure this is the case. Today’s Zaman claimed that journalistic integrity in Turkey was previously an issue and journalists were products of the State, however there are now over 10 papers in Turkey that are “pro-democracy”. Interesting, considering Turkey is already democratic as per the principles of Ataturk, who essentially handed the Turkish people democracy. Our tour guide, Özçan, thinks that the reason “democracy” in Turkey is so all over the shop is because the people were literally just handed it and so don’t really know what to do with it or what it’s like to fight for it. Anyway, Today’s Zaman claimed that they were really big into investigative journalism because they believe in justice, despite the fact that journalists can be jailed for exposing state “circumstances (whatever those are) and secrets”. All this, but they don’t lend legal support to their journalists who face the courts. Hmmmm….

Here’s the one we were all dying to know about. Insulting Turkishness. It is actually illegal to insult “Turkishness” in Turkey. You can go to jail for 3 years for it. When we asked the editor about this he basically said that it was up to the journalist to “carefully word” what they are writing and to not criticise Ataturk. They said that things are much better than they used to be, so people should stop complaining, for the most part. I find this very interesting as there is a case at the moment where 3 journalists are facing trial and it’s being heavily debated whether they are facing trial for things they have written (which haven’t even been printed or published anywhere yet) or if it’s because of alleged links to a terrorist group. The indictment’s haven’t even been released yet while these journalists are in jail. I have also noticed after browsing through Today’s Zaman that they are a major fan of the current government. I don’t think I’ve seen a single positive article on any other political party regarding the coming election. The Editor himself stated that everyone who works at Today’s Zaman is very pious and favours a religious state. But they are pro-democracy. Bit of an oxymoron if you ask me. Needless to say, I was not impressed with Today’s Zaman.

PANDERING

Oh the Spice Market. It was awesome. I love the markets. In Turkey they are called bazaar’s. In the Arab countries they are called souks. Regardless, I love them. The markets the tourists all go to, mainly the Spice Market and the Grand Bazaar, contain much of the same thing. I didn’t buy anything except sunflower seeds to eat at the Spice Market, but it was a fun experience anyway. I happened to have my usual red bull in my hand due to the fact that there are no bins inside the Spice Market and I refuse to litter, even if it is common practice in Turkey.Waiting to toss my empty can aside seemed to be a mistake though. Every single shop I passed I heard “red bull girl! Hey, red bull girl!” followed by some reason to come look at what they were selling. So where does the pandering come in? The number of times I was told that I was “so beautiful” and “gorgeous” and “most lovely woman I have ever seen” was enough to make me skeptical whenever anyone says that to me in the future. The shopkeepers would say “hello” to me in whichever language they thought I spoke. I was spoken to in Italian, Spanish, German, English, French and Turkish. Turkish was a common one. Apparently I look Turkish. But these men would use any means of flattery they could think of to try and get me to make a purchase. I looked at a pashmina and one man said to me “Normally 35 Turkish Lira, but because you are so beautiful, for you I make it 25 Turkish Lira”. 25 Turkish Lira is INSANELY overpriced for a pashmina. That’s about $20 US and Australia. While it’s about a quarter of the cost of what they are in those countries (for the exact same thing), it’s still at least twice as much as you should be paying in Turkey.

There was so much to see in the market. There were stalls of tea and spices where you could buy not only ground spices and traditional Turkish Black çay (tea) or elma çay (apple tea), but you could buy whole spices to grind yourself and tea sets containing dried spices that you could grind for fresh tea. You could buy little ceramic bowls with beautiful (though mass produced) paintings of tulips and swirls and evil eyes and flowers to put the spices in. In Turkey, at every meal, rather than a salt and pepper shaker or grinder they have little bowls of spices, which often contain sea salt, paprika, oregano and chilli. There were Turkish tea sets with all sorts of designs and colours. When in Turkey, unless you go to a tourist area and are obviously a tourist, it is common courtesy to offer tea. Every time we entered a shop we were offered tea served in a beautiful little glass that is (in my opinion) shaped similar to an hourglass, is served on a matching glass plate with a tiny spoon and two sugar cubes. Even elma çay was served with 2 sugar cubes, though I don’t know why as it was certainly sweet enough. I saw so many tea sets that I would have loved to own. I wanted one that had little evil eyes on it, one with silver designs, one with tulip designs. Ah well, maybe one day.

Following on the mosaic tile motif that is EVERYWHERE in Turkey there are also stalls of candle holders that have beautiful patterns of coloured glass tiles covering them that reflect wonderfully. These were often sold alongside the most beautiful lantern/chandelier type hanging things. These hanging lanterns also had beautiful glass tile patterns in numerous colours and designs. You could buy them as a single hanging light cover or several smaller ones all attached to make a lovely stepping pattern. I REALLY REALLY REALLY wanted one of those, but unfortunately I rent and probably couldn’t have gotten back even if I did have a place to put it. Next time.

While I’m aware it is called the Spice Market it is becoming increasingly obvious that they sell more than spices. They also sell jewelry. Jewelry in Turkey, much like everything else, is much cheaper than it is in Australia and the US. Sterling silver necklance chain? $15 maximum. At one point I bought a sterling silver pendant and a pair of sterling silver earrings and I spent about $15. Love it. I wasn’t terribly interested in the jewelry other than the evil eyes though and was much more interested in the pashmina’s. I ADORE pashmina’s. They are the most comfortable scarves and have some of the most beautiful patterns. I love walking in to look at them and just running my hands along them while admiring the colours and patterns. If I could have afforded to I probably would have come home with an entire suitcase full of scarves. I think I only came back with 5 or 6 though.

Between all these stalls were stalls filled with random touristy knick knacks and items like snow globes and magnets and hanging ornaments and jewelry boxes and nargilahs (or hookahs). Outside the Spice Market there was a makeshift food market where you could buy all sorts of nuts, fish, fruit and veggies or olives. I really wanted to buy olives, but didn’t want to carry them with me from town to town so just bought sunflower seeds (1 pound of sunflower seeds for about $1!). The Australian’s thought it was funny that I ate them because they don’t eat them here, but for my American friends who know me well, you’ll understand how excited I was about this as we don’t have sunflower seeds (in the shell) here in Australia.

PETULANCE

From the Spice Market we went back to Sultanahmet for a cooking class at Cooking A La Turka Cooking School and Restaurant. I wasn’t really looking forward to this much as I don’t like cooking and believe there are other things I could be doing with my time, but the one thing that really turned me off from this class is the fact that the woman who runs it isn’t Turkish. She’s actually Dutch and has been living in Turkey for 8 years. Her employees were Turkish, but she wasn’t. It started out nicely enough, with everyone having fun (and everyone had fun throughout the entire experience) and you will have to excuse my language here but the woman who owned and ran the place was a wretched bitch. She was a horrible, two faced woman who acted like a petulant, bitter old hag. She was nice to us as she sort of had to be, and everything she said in English was perfectly polite and friendly, but whenever she spoke to her chefs who pretty much only spoke Turkish she was yelling at them, cursing at them, calling the names, saying they were idiots and stupid. I didn’t even have to speak Turkish to understand this because you could tell just by the tone of her voice. I asked Sara, my roommate who is Australian-Turk and speaks Turkish, what the woman was saying and she confirmed what I had thought she’d been saying. Not only was she being horrible to her employees, she was also bad-mouthing us while we were there saying how we were loud and annoying and ruining the meals and what not. It was a bit of a nasty shock for her when she found out at the end of the night that Sara understood everything she had been saying.

Personally, I was not a fan and I would definitely recommend people NOT go to that particular cooking school. I would recommend finding a lovely Turkish woman who runs cooking schools locally and speaks some English and go there because from what I understand those make for a lovely experience.

This was our last night in Istanbul and as such, we went out to a little street off of Istiklal caddessi that is lined with bars. It’s a very narrow street that always seems to be busy, no matter what time of day or night it is. We ended up in a little bar called “Lala” to sit and watch one of the European league matches. I was planning on having a quiet one, but somehow one shot turned into another, which turned into a beer or two or three or four. We got back to the hotel around 4 am and I still wasn’t packed and passed out. It made for an exciting next morning.

Pictures of our last day in Istanbul can be found in this album here. It also contains photos from Ankara, but that will come in another blog.

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Briefing: Intercultural Dialogue Platform

I’m going to attempt to not bore you too much regarding our briefings, so if you aren’t interested just don’t look at any of the blogs that start with briefing, but I would like to give a brief background and I would like to give my opinions and thoughts on the briefings.

The Intercultural Dialogue Platform is a NGO (Non-Government Organisation) headed by a man by the name of Fethullah Gülen. This man is actually exiled from Turkey due to the fact that if he returns he will be tried by the government for his “un-Turkish” ideals and his religious opinion in government. This idea of “insulting Turkishness” will be touched on in a different blog.

This groups was really fascinating to me. Their purpose originally was to establish a dialogue between the Muslims (predominant in Turkey), Christians and Jews in Turkey to find common ground, determine what could be done to benefit everyone and what could be done for a more peaceful interaction between the different religions. The actual board of this NGO is made up of 20 some people I am told from different sects of Christianity, Catholic priests and bishops, and Muslim Imam’s.

This group has seven main platforms and the main platform is dialogue, but they have a very recent platform which includes women which actually is in regard to the perception of women in the media (very different discussion from the women’s education group we met with). This group’s opinion of women in the media is that women are sexualised and this needs to stop. As a VERY liberal woman I would have to say that I agree with them. I find it interesting that Turkey is such a conservative country (In all towns I have been wearing long sleeves, long pants and always have a scarf just in case I need to cover my head) but all the billboards and TV adverts and music video’s I see include scantily clad, gorgeously beautiful women. I’m pretty sure I saw a mobile (cell) phone advert that had a woman in a bikini. So yes, one of their campaigns is trying to combat the sexualisation of women in media.

I would actually be interested in seeing a translation of a Turkish school textbook after this briefing as they mentioned that there were “negative connotations” (these weren’t elaborated on) in Turkish school textbooks of minorities and other groups of people. I can assume that the Armenians and Kurds may be mentioned in a negative light, but I’m not sure who else it would mention in a negative light. I think it would be similar to US history texts mentioning the Native Americans as “Primitives” or “savages” though. They mentioned that they successfully campaigned to have these negative connotations removed from textbooks. I would be especially interested in having English translations as I did a thesis at Montana State University on censorship of textbooks in public schools. One of the guys on this trip who is Chinese discussed with me that he was glad to see that it wasn’t just China who altered “history” in textbooks. It truly is a fascinating topic.

Another thing that really interested me about this group can relate directly to Prime Minister of Germany Angela Merkel’s direct quote “multi-culturalism hasn’t worked.” Talk about a racist comment in light of a country that outlaws anti-semitism language. In context she is talking about a minority population migrating to a country with better opportunities but not assimilating and integrating with the local culture. They are retaining their own culture and staying with their own communities and particularly in “radical Islam” is recruiting young kids into a downward spiral, not of drugs, but of terrorism. Minority youth are feeling increasingly isolated and as a youth I can say that kids will look to anywhere that they can feel as part of a group. I digress. This group is focusing on dialogue for how groups can get together without integrating and assimilating, but can live side by side in their own communities within one country ruled by a minority group. They are looking at how to teach tolerance at a grassroots level in children because they are the future) without forcing them to assimilate and integrate different cultures to have, as Bill Bryson would put it, “Amalgamation, the perfect small town.”

I find this view very interesting. I can see where they are coming from as I think it is very important to remember your own culture and where you are from (for educational and discussion purposes if nothing else) as I am from the US and living in Australia and travelling around the world, but I think staying within your own community and not assimilating to the local culture breeds nothing but resentment and deprives the local culture from a very good learning experience. It’s like bringing Mexicans into the US solely for the Mexican food and then wanting them to leave or the Asians into Australia for the food and then wanting them to leave. It doesn’t make sense. It breeds racism and a superiority complex (I’m not saying it’s just “white’s towards other races” as it definitely works both ways and a mate of mine who is Chinese is somewhat racist towards other parts of China). I’m going to use my roommate again as an example and for this I hope she will forgive me.

She is Australian Turk. She was born and raised in Australia by Turkish parents. Went to a Turk school, goes to my University, is very interested in women’s rights and having a career, but is also very much tied to her Turkish culture. She wants a husband and children but also wants her career in a culture where a woman is a housewife once she has children. I can see from the way she talks that there is a difficulty in reconciling the Australian and Turkish culture, even if she doesn’t realise it yet (she is only 19). The fact that she has thought about it though and managed to be a very outspoken and independent and opinionated woman growing up in a very Turkish household and a Turkish school shows a successful assimilation and integration (in my opinion) of a multi-cultural lifestyle and I am rather impressed and believe that it can work and that it can only lead to good things in a country.

The main thing that I got out of this briefing, though I didn’t agree with everything was that it is extremely important to accept differences. I know that growing up I was different from many of my peers and my family for various things, but my family for the most part accepts me as I am. They may strongly disagree (my parents included) with a lot of my views and beliefs (or lack thereof pending on the subject), but they accept my differences and they believe in me and they know I am a good person. I have had family members and friends of the family who have essentially disowned me for some of my views, but other family members accept me for what I am, views and all. This, to me, proves that multi-culturalism can and does work when people are willing to be tolerant of those with different views and though I may not agree with everything the Intercultural Dialogue Platform ascribes to, I do think they have a very good message to send to the world.