Monday, May 30, 2016

Erdogan vs. Gulen in Texas Courts: Battle of Two Turkish Powerhouses

Erdogan vs. Gulen in Texas Courts: Battle of Two Turkish Powerhouses

A decade ago, two Turkish Islamist leaders—Recep Erdogan (now President) and prominent Sunni cleric Fethullah Gulen—were the best of friends. Their common enemy was the Turkish military. But as Erdogan solidified his dictatorial rule by castrating the generals, he turned against his old ally, Gulen, to monopolize his grip on power. Erdogan purged and jailed hundreds of Gulen followers: journalists, judges, police, and state officials.
Erdogan (left) and Gülen. (Photo: Hayatin Kendisi Burada)
To expand its global investigation into the activities of Gulen-led organizations, the Turkish government hired, for $50,000 a month, the London-based law firm of Amsterdam and Partners. The law firm will also provide legal advice on the Erdogan regime’s request for Gulen’s extradition from his self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania.
“We have been retained by the Republic of Turkey to expose allegedly unlawful conduct by the Gulen network worldwide,” stated Robert Amsterdam, founding partner of Amsterdam & Partners LLP, during a recent press conference in Washington DC. “The activities of the Gulen network, including its penetration of the Turkish judiciary and police, as well as its political lobbying abroad, should concern everyone who cares about the future of democracy in Turkey.”
The high-powered lawyer’s insincere lament regarding “the future of democracy in Turkey” is preposterous, as Erdogan himself has single-handedly demolished all vestiges of democracy in Turkey!
In a recent press release, Amsterdam claimed that “The Gulen network, which operates more than 100 charter schools in the U.S., has become the subject of federal and local law enforcement and regulatory investigation in the United States. According to separate cases filed against Gulen-affiliated schools, the group has allegedly engaged in systemic abuse of the American visa system.” The lawyer representing Turkey also asserted: “Globally, the Gulen network operates thousands of schools and has an agreement with the African Union to open 1,000 new schools in the region.”
Erdogan’s long arm has now reached all the way into Texas, going after Harmony Public Schools, the largest charter school system based in Houston, which has 30,000 students and operates under various Gulen-affiliated non-profit organizations.
Last November, Amsterdam and Partners filed a 90-item public information request that would cost Harmony $4.5 million to complete. Even after the lengthy list was shortened, it would still cost Harmony $690,000 to compile and provide that information. The Texas Attorney General will now have to decide the appropriateness of the Turkish request.
This week, Amsterdam and Partners is expected to file a 30-page complaint with the Texas Education Agency (TEA) against Harmony schools. Jim Arnold, an Austin-based lobbyist, also hired by Turkey, sent an e-mail to the Texas Governor’s office stating that the complaint “will outline a series of allegations concerning Harmony’s financial operations as well as their alleged misconduct, and request a comprehensive investigation by TEA.”
In response, Soner Tarim, chief executive officer and co-founder of Harmony Public Schools, told the Houston Chronicle that the targeting of his schools by the Turkish government is “mind-boggling and politically motivated.”
Meanwhile, Amsterdam and Partners has filed similar complaints against the Gulen-affiliated Magnolia Charter Schools in California, “urging the California Department of Education to conduct a full investigation of the charter network’s financial practices,” according to the Houston Chronicle.
In a strongly-worded letter, Cong. Brad Sherman complained about the Turkish government’s attacks on Magnolia Charter Schools: “President Erdogan is a repudiation of everything that good American schools stand for. He has personally done tremendous damage to democracy in the Republic of Turkey.”  Cong. Sherman also wrote in his April 26 letter that “Amsterdam & Partners was being paid $600,000 a year to disparage Magnolia Public Schools” and that “at various times, President Erdogan’s government has assisted ISIS. Accordingly, I cannot think of a worse source of information about American education than President Erdogan and his paid agents,” the Houston Chronicle reported.
Tarim told the Houston newspaper that regretfully “The Turkish government is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars and countless time attacking these American schools, forcing Harmony to match the effort. The money and energy would be better spent on students.”
Armenian-Americans can sit back and watch with great interest this costly and scandalous court battle between the Turkish government and Gulen’s organization. Let them waste their money and energy by fighting each other rather than wining and dining U.S. officials on all-expense paid extravagant junkets to Turkey and lobbying members of Congress against Armenian issues!

Pope Francis to Arrive in Armenia on June 24

YEREVAN (—Pope Francis will arrive in Armenia on June 24. After the official welcome ceremony at Zvartnots Airport, the Pontiff will leave for the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin.
Pope Francis with President Serge Sarkisian in September 2014
The same day Pope Francis will meet with President Serge Sarkisian at the Presidential Palace. His Holiness is also expected to meet with representatives of the Armenian authorities, civil society and diplomatic corps.
The first day of the visit will conclude with a meeting with His Holiness Karekin II, Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians.
In the morning of June 25, Pope Francis will visit the Dzidzernakaberd Memorial and the Armenian Genocide Museum Institute. He will later leave for Gyumri together with the Catholicos of All Armenians to serve a Holy Mass at Vardanants Square. In the evening of June 25, an ecumenical service and a Prayer for Peace will take place at the Republic Square in Yerevan.
On June 26, the Pope will meet with Armenian Catholic Bishops and will participate in a Holy Liturgy and an ecumenical dinner at the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin.
Pope Francis and the Catholicos of all Armenians will sign a joint statement and will hold a prayer at Khor Virap Monastery.

Mouradian: The Two Sides of the Mountain

Paintings of Mount Ararat hang in the homes of many Armenians, and photographing (or posing with) the mountain is ever popular with visitors of the homeland.
I have often reflected on its never-eroding magnetism for generation after generation of Armenians. Thousands of paintings, writings, and songs later, our journey with this beloved rock still offers twists and turns worth exploring.
Mount Ararat (Photo: Rupen Janbazian)
Sitting at the base of the mountain one evening a few years ago, the obvious suddenly dawned on me: When Armenians look at Ararat from Yerevan, they are not just staring at the mountain itself, but beyond it—they are, indeed, looking at historic Western Armenia.
Yet the view from the Turkish side—the heart of the Armenian homeland—is no less symbolic of the journey that lies ahead of us as a nation.
Standing here, in what is today’s Turkey, among ruins of Armenian cultural heritage, and looking at Ararat, I was not merely gazing at the mountain; I was looking at the republics of Armenia and Artsakh.
I was looking at a portion of the homeland where the schools and churches were not in ruin, where the nation thrived, and where we are more than tourists.
And the message was right there, imposing and overwhelming like Ararat on a clear day: Without bolstering the homeland east of the mountain, we will never achieve justice west of it.
Without a strong, prosperous, and democratic Armenia and Artsakh, there is little to look forward to on either side of the mountain.
That is what the mountain, if it could speak, would whisper in our ears as it poses with us for a photograph.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

The Madness of Turkey’s ‘Sultan’ Erdogan


05.25.16 1:00 AM ET

The Madness of Turkey’s ‘Sultan’ Erdogan

The Turkish president’s addiction to power is a disease his country can no longer afford.
LONDON—Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan came to power in 2002, a year after the formation of his AK party. But spending 11 years as prime minister wasn’t enough. In 2011, Erdogan changed the system, clearing the way for him to become  the country’s first directly elected president in 2013.
True to all incremental power grabs, he initially sold this move to Turks as merely “ceremonial.”
 That facade has now ended.
After this month no one was left in any doubt as to Erdogan’s neo-Ottoman delusions of grandeur, as he pushed out Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu while maneuvering to replace him with a long-time crony.  At one point his own son in law seemed a likely appointee.
To use the cliché “palace coup” would not even be metaphoric on my part. Perched atop a hill on the outskirts of Ankara sits Erdogan’s specially commissioned 1,000-roomWhite Palace, or AK Saray. Bigger than the White House and the Kremlin, this Sultan-like extravagance cost even more than the budgeted $615m. And as Erdogan’s sultanate grows, so too does Erdogan’s sultan-like caprice. 
Freedom House reports that Erdogan has been eroding freedom of the press in Turkey at an alarming rate over recent years. This unhinged crackdown on journalists culminated last month in the seizure and state takeover of opposition newspaper Zaman, which is now embarrassingly owned and operated by the Turkish state. Such has been Erdogan’s assault on journalists that even President Barack Obama felt the need to warn the authoritarian Erdogan to back off.
But this is all run-of-the-mill for tinpot strongmen, who so often mistake their ability to retain office as a demonstration of popularity and power. The truth is, it's also a weakness. Power is a weapon. And like a domestic firearm, it is a weapon that is likely at least as dangerous to you as to others.
Nothing highlights this weakness, this manic insecurity, and this puerile obsession with control in a more darkly comical way than the stunt Erdogan just pulled in Germany. 
The president of Turkey, this once great leader of that proud and historic nation, filed a criminal complaint against Jan Boehmermann, a German satirist for… writing this poem  about him.
The origins of the truly serious offence that was taken are found in the peculiar incident of Germany’s ambassador to Turkey, Martin Erdmann, being summoned to the Turkish Foreign Ministry over an ‘Extra 3’ satirical video about Erdogan. There, Erdmann was asked to explain—yes, explain— the video, and to ensure that it was taken off air. It was this incident that inspired Boehmermann’s poem.
You see, the Great Leader was butt-hurt. 
But he won. Due to Germany’s archaic laws against offending organs of “foreign states,” one of Germany’s most intelligent satirists has been ordered by a Hamburg court to censor his song about Erdogan’s brutal assault on Turkey’s press.
Boehmermann responded on Twitter  by linking to the iconic Beastie Boys song, “(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party!).” 
From there, it was the reaction of the traditionally irreverent British liberal press that stole the show. The Spectator’s Douglas Murray responded to Erdogan’s cry-bully tactics by introducing an “insult  Erdogan” poetry competition. That magazine even offered a £1000  ($1,448) prize for the most insulting limerick. The more offensive the better, they said, and the winning entry is worth repeating here:
There was a young fellow from Ankara
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Who was a terrific wankerer
‘Till he sowed his wild oats
With the help of a goat
But he didn’t even stop to thankera.
One suspects that this prize entry was noted less for its lyric virtues, and more for its author. Deliciously, it was uttered ad-lib by London’s former mayor Boris Johnson, of part-Turkish ancestry himself. One would be forgiven for tweeting the insulting lines under hashtag #OffendErdogan.
Mockery aside, there is a very serious and very dark element to Erdogan’s megalomania. Article 299 of the Turkish penal code—barely used in the past—states that anybody insulting the head of state can be jailed for up to four years.
Under Erdogan, between August 2014 and March 2015 alone, 236 people wereinvestigated for "insulting the head of state.” From 2003 to 2014, 63 journalists were sentenced to a total of 32 years in prison. A 16-year-old boy was indicted earlier this year for calling the president a thief during a demonstration. If convicted, he faces a four year sentence. Even a former Miss Turkey has been charged for posting a poem on her Instagram account that the “Sultan” found offensive.
This is how the great Turkish Republic, long a bastion of pluralist secular Islam, is slowly being reduced to the midlife crisis of one man hunting down comedians in foreign countries. 
Once upon a time—a couple of election cycles ago and before he kept changing the system to ensure he stayed in power—I used to defend Erdogan. I drew hope from the way he wrestled the Turkish economy from ruin to an expansion of 68 percent. That’s an average annual growth rate of 4.5 percent, second only to China. I was impressed by the way in which he pushed the perpetually interfering, habitually undemocratic Turkish military back into base camp. I was optimistic about his post-Islamist direction of travel towards religiously inspired secular democracy. 
No longer. I was wrong, and I wholeheartedly apologize to liberal Turks everywhere. 
To say that Erdogan has become drunk on power would be an understatement. The man is more like a crack addict. The sooner he is retired, the better. Indeed, the whole “Turkish Model” is dead, overdosed on Erdogan.