Tyrant or man of the people? Erdogan divides expat Turks

Pro-Turkey demonstrators wave Turkish flags outside the entrance to Downing Street in central London on May 15. (AFP)
Updated 17 June 2018

Tyrant or man of the people? Erdogan divides expat Turks

  • Guzelkasap is also worried by the influx of Syrian refugees which Turkey has absorbed under an agreement with the European Union
  • Erdogan has always had strong appeal among working-class, rural, conservative Turks

LONDON: A butcher’s shop is not an obvious place for a heated debate, but when the subject is the forthcoming elections in Turkey and the customers are split between support for the incumbent, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and his opponents, it does not take long for voices to start rising and arms to start waving.

However, we are not in a back street in Istanbul or Ankara but in northeast London, though you would never know. Green Lanes is not a street where you will hear much English.
The shops and cafes all have Turkish names, as do the two social clubs. The men — the customers are invariably male — in every one of those establishments apologize for their poor command of English.
They are not merely being self-effacing. Their English is shaky. How long have they lived in Britain? “Twelve years,” says Tarkan Bahadur. “Twenty-nine years,” says Adnan Guzelkasap. Osman Alae beats them all. “Forty-one years,” says the 65-year-old.
Turkey goes to the polls on June 24 to elect a new president, or to keep the existing one. But voting for Turks living overseas begins on Saturday and continues until Tuesday.
Adnan Guzelkasap, 54, the owner of the butcher’s shop, can barely utter Erdogan’s name, such is his disdain.
“He has no respect for democracy. He wants to be a dictator,” Guzelkasap said. “He hasn’t even got a degree. He won’t show his degree certificate because he can’t — he never finished university. All he understands is how to talk rubbish about the opposition parties and anyone who doesn’t agree with him, he puts them in prison. His supporters are people with not much brains.”
Guzelkasap is also worried by the influx of Syrian refugees which Turkey has absorbed under an agreement with the European Union. “Turkey is a poor country, but we have to support all these people who pay no taxes and bring nothing to the country.”
Two of his assistants, however, are fervently pro-Erdogan. “I love him,” said Tarkan Bahadur, 45. “He is doing a good job, building bridges and good roads. He pays benefits to old people. And he is a religious man and religion is important.”
Guzelkasap interjected. “Forget about the bridges. What about that big palace he built for himself?” he said, referring to the 1,100-room Ak Saray (White Palace) the president had built in Ankara in 2014 at a cost of $650 million.
Erdogan has always had strong appeal among working-class, rural, conservative Turks. But his opponents say he also exploits their lack of sophistication and education.
“He gave washing machines and televisions to a village where they don’t have electricity, but still they were happy, even though they can’t use them,” said Guzelkasap. “He can tell them anything he wants because most of them can’t read.”
London his home to an estimated 200,000 people of Turkish origin. At the Canli Balik Cafe and Grill on Green Lanes, manager Servet Kaya, 47, is another Erdogan supporter. Recently returned from a visit to Turkey, he said the country finally looks like a modern nation.
“For 40 years, we felt powerless against the corruption. Now there are good hospitals in every main city. Erdogan is for the people,” he said.
Like the president, Kaya used to admire the cleric Fetullah Gulen, but now accuses him of masterminding the failed coup of 2016. After quashing the revolt, Erdogan imposed a state of emergency on Turkey that remains in place.
“Gulen is for the elite. He did good things for education, but he produced robots because he must be in control. He wants control not just of Turkey but the whole world. He lives in the US and his name is on nothing, but don’t worry, he is in control of everything,” said Kaya.
Over the road in the Berber Ramazan barber shop, another lively discussion ensues over delicious homemade borek, a traditional savoury with layers of pastry. The staff there are three-to-one against Erdogan. “But we are trying hard to convert him,” said Mehmet, the oldest.
Mehmet declined to give his real name. As a young man, he was a communist. In 1980, the military took control of Turkey and Mehmet was imprisoned for two years and tortured. He came to the UK 25 years ago and remains left-wing in his politics. In his eyes, Erdogan is “a fascist, who appeals to the lowest feelings in people.”
As a naturalized British citizen, Mehmet said, he can no longer vote, but even if could, he wouldn’t bother. “I’m sick and tired of the lot of them. They are all liars.”
Back in the butcher’s shop, Guzelkasap said much would depend on how the Kurdish group the People’s Democratic Party performs. “If they get more than 10 percent, Erdogan will lose. If they get less, he wins.”
His own vote will go to Muharrem Ince, of the Republican People’s Party.
It is left to Osman Alae, the elder statesman among them to sum up. “Erdogan is dangerous. He is a dictator. He used the coup as an excuse to put half the country in jail. The doesn’t work anymore. People are fed up,” he said.


Iraqi PM tightens government grip on country’s armed factions

Updated 17 September 2019

Iraqi PM tightens government grip on country’s armed factions

  • The increasingly strained relations between the US and Iran in the region is casting a large shadow over Iraq

BAGHDAD: Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi is putting increased pressure on the nation’s armed factions, including Shiite-dominated paramilitary troops and Kurdish guerrillas, in an attempt to tighten his control over them, Iraqi military commanders and analysts said on Monday.

Military commanders have been stripped of some of their most important powers as part of the efforts to prevent them from being drawn into local or regional conflicts.

The increasingly strained relations between the US and Iran in the region is casting a large shadow over Iraq. 

Each side has dozens of allied armed groups in the country, which has been one of the biggest battlegrounds for the two countries since 2003. 

Attempting to control these armed factions and military leaders is one of the biggest challenges facing the Iraqi government as it works to keep the country out of the conflict.

On Sunday, Abdul Mahdi dissolved the leadership of the joint military operations. 

They will be replaced by a new one, under his chairmanship, that includes representatives of the ministries of defense and interior, the military and security services, the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) and the Ministry of Peshmerga, which controls the military forces of the autonomous Kurdistan region.

According to the prime minister’s decree, the main tasks of the new command structure are to “lead and manage joint operations at the strategic and operational level,” “repel all internal and external threats and dangers as directed by the commander-in-chief of the armed forces,” “manage and coordinate the intelligence work of all intelligence and security agencies,” and “coordinate with international bodies that support Iraq in the areas of training and logistical and air support.”

“This decree will significantly and effectively contribute to controlling the activities of all combat troops, not just the PMU,” said a senior military commander, who declined to be named. 

“This will block any troops associated with any local political party, regional or international” in an attempt to ensure troops serve only the government’s goals and the good of the country. 

“This is explicit and unequivocal,” he added.

Since 2003, the political process in Iraq has been based on political power-sharing system. This means that each parliamentary bloc gets a share of top government positions, including the military, proportionate to its number of seats in Parliament. Iran, the US and a number of regional countries secure their interests and ensure influence by supporting Iraqi political factions financially and morally.

This influence has been reflected in the loyalties and performance of the majority of Iraqi officials appointed by local, regional and international parties, including the commanders of combat troops.

To ensure more government control, the decree also stripped the ministers of defense and interior, and leaders of the counterterrorism, intelligence and national security authorities, and the PMU, from appointing, promoting or transferring commanders. This power is now held exclusively by Abdul Mahdi.

“The decree is theoretically positive as it will prevent local, regional and international parties from controlling the commanders,” said another military commander. 

“This means that Abdul Mahdi will be responsible to everyone inside and outside Iraq for the movement of these forces and their activities.

“The question now is whether Abdul Mahdi will actually be able to implement these instructions or will it be, like others, just ink on paper?”

The PMU is a government umbrella organization established by former Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki in June 2014 to encompass the armed factions and volunteers who fought Daesh alongside the Iraqi government. Iranian-backed factions such as Badr Organization, Asaib Ahl Al-Haq and Kataib Hezbollah represent the backbone of the forces.

The US, one of Iraq’s most important allies in the region and the world, believes Iran is using its influence within the PMU to destabilize and threaten Iraq and the region. Abdul Mahdi is under huge external and internal pressure to abolish the PMU and demobilize its fighters, who do not report or answer to the Iraqi government.

The prime minister aims to ease tensions between the playmakers in Iraq, especially the US and Iran, by preventing their allies from clashing on the ground or striking against each other’s interests.

“Abdul Mahdi seeks to satisfy Washington and reassure them that the (armed) factions of the PMU will not move against the will of the Iraqi government,” said Abdullwahid Tuama, an Iraqi analyst.

The prime minister is attempting a tricky balancing act by aiming to protect the PMU, satisfy the Iranians and prove to the Americans that no one is outside the authority of the state, he added.