AK Party’s decision to close dershanes a pre-emptive perception operation ahead of graft probes

This weekand’s guest for Armchair Conversations is Murat Aksoy, a columnist for the Turkish dailies Todayand’s Zaman and Millet, who defines himself as supporter of left-wing ideology despite developing close ties with conservative circles based on shared beliefs on rights and freedoms. The leftist ideologyand’s devotion to labor and freedoms was crucial in luring Aksoy to the left. Aksoy refers to the motto of one of Germanyand’s most remarkable post-war politicians, Oskar LaFontaine, who said, andquotThe heart beats on the left.andquot
Aksoy was born in 1970, in Erzincan, but moved to Istanbul when he was a baby. Since he was two years old, he has continued to live in the city and until the last three years he was living with his family in Istanbuland’s Okmeydani neighborhood.
He spent his whole childhood in Okmeydani, which is known for frequent protests staged against the government and had a role in shaping his identity and political views. The only period of time that Aksoy left Okmeydani was between 1990 and 1Dogan when he went to Kayseri for his university education. Aksoyand’s mum passed away when he was 10 and he lost his dad in 2007. Aksoy has a big family comprising nine siblings: six boys and three girls.
In 1936, his grandfather migrated from the Dersim district of Tunceli province to Erzican province, just a year before the Dersim massacre in which thousands of Alevi Zazas were killed by the Turkish government on the grounds of quelling the rebellion led by Seyid Riza against the state, as many others were displaced due to the conflict.
For two decades, his family stayed in Tercan, a city of Erzincan province, before moving in the middle of 1950s to Otlukbeli, another city in Erzincan. From the end of the 1960s, his older brothers started to come to Istanbul to work seasonally. By the early 1970s, the whole family had left Erzincan.

Aksoy is first from right, sitting behind the group in front.
h2 and’Municipal policeand’ demolishing our home traumatized me as a childand’h2 andquotConcerning Okmeydani, something particularly traumatized me as a child. In fact, I remember that in those days Okmeydani used to be a slum neighborhood where everyone was building their houses by themselves, with their own means, piece by piece. Back then, municipal police were demolishing homes that were built there illegally. I remember that our house was built bit-by-bit since we didnand’t have enough money to complete the construction at once. First, a room at the back, then another one beside,andquot Aksoy remembers sadly.
and”We had to build it piece by piece for financial reasons, my older brothers were working so we were accumulating money and we were building our house in bits,and” he continues. and”However, I remember that the municipal police were coming and destroying with a sledgehammer what we had built. I was a kid at the time and I remember being in a back street, close to our small grocery store whose owner was called Laz [in an affectionate reference to an ethnic group from the Black Sea region] and whenever the municipal police came to destroy our house I used to cry. I will never forget this.andquot
Aksoyand’s dad was a small tradesman who ran a small grocery store in Okmeydani until he retired. In the late 1970s, Aksoy moved with his parents from Okmeydani to the neighborhood of 1 Mayis in the andumraniye district on the Anatolian side of Istanbul. Aksoyand’s family has quite a revolutionary background and the Revolutionary Peopleand’s Liberation PartyandndashFront (DHKP-C) offered them a house in the neighborhood. One of his older brothers and cousins were playing an active role in this outlawed organization. In these neighborhoods, the organization was seizing houses and handing them over to the families of their members.
andquotI never had any kind of relationship with any illegal organization. I was on the left ideologically but I was studying in Kabatai High School [one of the oldest and most prestigious high schools in Turkey]. I was not involved in politics because from 1981-84 I was in middle school, and my political awareness had not then developed. When the 1980 coup occurred, there was already an apolitical environment surrounding us. During my years at Kabatai High School I joined a dancing group. The son of Orhan Gencebay [a prominent Turkish musician] was there as well, he also danced very well,andquot notes Aksoy.
Later, instead of joining any kind of political group, Aksoy developed his intellectual revolutionary base by reading books by the famous Marksist-Leninist politician and theorist Hikmet Kivilcimli. The following year he studied for his university admission exam and was accepted to read business at Erciyes University.
At university, Aksoy became more sociable with other students and became a member of the International Student Associations Council. He became a board member of its Kayseri branch and was later president for 1993. The same year he met with the New Democracy Movement (YDH) in Istanbul. The movement comprised a number of Turkeyand’s leading intellectuals who often discussed the Kurdish issue, a subject about which it was not tolerated to discuss publicly as the state had ramped up its pressure on the Southeast and Kurds as many people were killed in the region and many murders went unsolved in the mid-1990s.
That platform had a big influence on Aksoyand’s career choice as a writer. The platform included Cem Boyner, Asaf Savai Akat, Mehmet Altan, andumit Firat, Ali Bayramoilu and Etyen Mahandcupyan — all opinion formers who continue to play a key role in shaping the countryand’s collective thought processes. In 1995, the YDH took part in parliamentary elections, but had disappointing results. The party gained only 0.5 percent of the vote.
After he graduated from university, it was time for his military service. However, he had undergone surgery to his right ear and was therefore supposed to obtain a certificate denoting his ineligibility for military service, but no such certificate was provided. Then came the 1999 earthquake [in izmit, in which thousands of people were killed] and it became possible to be a paid soldier. Aksoy decided to apply and was sent to the city of Kandutahya in Western Turkey. However, the doctor who examined him gave Aksoy a certificate of disability and he was discharged from the military after 13 days. andquotBut I am in favor of turning the military service into a professional occupation rather than a compulsory mission. As an intellectual, I do not lean towards military service,andquot Aksoy notes.
Aksoy married his wife after he had turned 29. Despite living in the same neighborhood for a long time they didnand’t know each other until they met during a bus ride and later went out. andquotWe greeted each other, became friends and later got married,and” he says. Despite studying business, Aksoy was actually interested in political history and politics, so in line with his field of interest he started to write many articles about Turkey and sent them to the Yeni Yanduzyil daily newspaper for publication. In 1999, a group of leading intellectuals with liberal backgrounds — including Kanduriat Bumin, Mete Tuncay, Murat Belge, Tarhan Erdem, Osman Kavala and Ergin Cimen andndash established the Sivil Anayasa inisiyatifi (Civil Constitution Initiative).
In 2001, a declaration was published announcing that Turkey needed a new Constitution and the Civil Constitution Initiative began to organize the project throughout the country. A severe economic crisis in 2002 and political turbulence within the country doomed the initiative to remain half finished. andquotDuring this period (the 2000s), the debate on the Constitution was actually a luxury due to the economic crisis,andquot adds Aksoy.
Aksoy then started a weekly radio program on Cem Radyo, receiving academics, authors and politicians as his guests. On Sept. 21, 2001, Aksoy hosted current Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoilu on his program to speak about the countryand’s political situation. Three months later the program continued for three years on YandOn FM.
h2 and’I wrote my Masterand’s thesis on a womenand’s right to wear a headscarfand’h2 As Aksoy continued to send articles to several papers for publication, by 2001 he had also started work at the Helsinki Citizensand’ Assembly (HYD) in 2001 and had joined an international project aiming at developing projects for torture victims at the US-based Civitas, a center set up for torture victims worldwide.
Later Aksoy, began studying for a Masterand’s degree at Bilgi Universityand’s department of human rights law and wrote a thesis arguing that wearing a headscarf is a fundamental right that should be respected and that anyone who wishes to do so should be able to continue their university education unburdened by a ban. At the time, many students were prevented from receiving a university education in Turkey on the grounds that they wore a headscarf as doing so meant that the prevailing government considered them a threat to the secular structure of the state.
In 2001, lawyer Ayten Ekinci started publishing The New Law magazine. By 2006, Aksoy had become the journaland’s editor-in-chief. When it ceased publication due to financial issues, Mustafa Karaalioilu, who was editor-in-chief at Yeni iafak, offered Aksoy the job as editor of the dailyand’s opinion columns.
andquotThe difference I think I created at Yeni iafak was to contact more academics and intellectuals with a pro-freedom mindset to publish their comments in the pages [I looked after]. Later, I launched a series of interviews with leading political and social figures of the country and faced no pressure from the dailyand’s administration until 2013,and” Aksoy remembers about a time that coincided with the publication of the countryand’s worst corruption scandal — implicating then-Prime Ministetors and headscarved women, and paraded them through the street until they were escorted to police cars in an operation carried out against the faith-based Gandulen movement, popularly known as the Hizmet movement and inspired by the teachings of Islamic scholar Fethullah Gandulen. The operation was carried out over charges of providing financial support to alleged members of the and”parallel structure,and” a term invented by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to refer to the Gandulen movement.
Images of the suspects in handcuffs, in particular those of headscarf-wearing women, sparked public outcry. Following the reactions, Ceren was suspended by Manisa Governor Erdogan Bektai upon an order from Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoilu.
Ceren was appointed Manisa police chief in June of last year. Since then, Ceren has made controversial statements and conducted controversial police operations in Manisa. He ordered police raids on three and”reading roomsand” that provide a beneficial environment for children from disaantaged socioeconomic backgrounds as well as 11 civil society organizations, which were raided on April 30 based on the much criticized and”reasonable suspicionand” clause that was signed into law by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Dec. 12.
Speaking to the press about the raids on the Manisa CSOs, Ceren declared their owners, educators and businessmen criminals despite these people having no criminal record. Ceren even likened these people to members of the terrorist Kurdistan Workersand’ Party (PKK), which has killed over 30,000 people so far.
Even former Deputy Prime Minister and former Justice and Development Party (AK Party) spokesman Bandulent Arinandc criticized the police raids ordered by Ceren at the time.
During a news program on May 6, Arinandc acknowledged that the raids were government-led and criticized them, saying that something suspicious was going on in Manisa and that these operations would lead to a loss of votes for the AK Party, adding: and”Iand’m going to ask Manisa to vote [for us], as I already have. Wonand’t they say to me: andlsquoWe know you and we like you, but [police under pressure from the AK Party] are raiding other people we likeandhellip The police chief is doing this and that like the head of a gang!and’ How can I reply when they say this to me?and”
Arinandc, continuing in his criticism of the raids on the CSOs, said: and”[Police] are conducting raids in the middle of the day. What are they looking for? The CSO are innocent. It is a very grave matter to these people that their associations are being raided like terrorist organizations.and”
Other controversial operations:
April 8: Teams from the Manisa Police Departmentand’s counterterrorism unit conduct simultaneous raids on five CSOs in Manisa: the Manisa Workers Union (MAandcAD), the Manisa Education Volunteers Union (MEGDER), the Manisa Active Educators Association (AKED), the Manisa Millennium Public Servants Association and the Industrialists and Businessmen of Manisa (MASiAD) — all raided by dozens of police officers based on and”reasonable suspicion.and”
May 5: Police raid six associations in Manisa, among them the Manisa branch of Kimse Yok Mu, a charity.
May 13: Seven businesses, including a media distribution office, are raided by the police in Manisa. The raids targeted Cihan Medya Daiitim A.i., which distributes the Zaman and Todayand’s Zaman dailies.
Aug. 26: Police officers and inspectors from several government bodies raid Gandulen-inspired private and prep schools in Manisa, including a kindergarten.
Aug. 30: Police raid the iehzade Mehmet Primary and Secondary Schools in Manisa.


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