29/03/2014

Happy Election's Eve


"TGIF" was the first facebook message I received on Friday morning, sitting down to a cup of tea at work. I could not agree more.

It has been a hell of a week on just about every level you can think of - my local area for one. Tarlabaşı has become rather lively since the police moved their main Taksim base from our area to the main square, where they now have a permanent barracks. It doesn't matter what time I've been walking back, but something seems to be always up. I've been a witness to heinous crime and assisted in a police investigation, chilled around camp fires with a load of dealers on ecstasy, broke up a bloody fist fight between a Russian gay couple and fled the scene of an armed dual. And that's just half of it.

However, the background to all these shenanigans has been the constant drivle of politics. Like a white noise, there has been no escape. The signs and posters plastered on every lamppost in the city, the vans blasting out this year's party theme songs, the news, the facebook updates, the TV stations and haw-haw hilarious forwarded memes. 

This is not to say that I don't take an active interest, far from it. But having to listen to my colleagues compete for who can appear as the most blindly fanatical anti-AKP slacktivist often drives me to becoming that most hated of social pariahs - the guy who has his earphones on so loud that everyone is bugged by an incessant, tiny drum beat. And I am conscious of how petty that is, but what can I do?

Whilst most would tell me to quit whinning, I should mention, as I have done in the past on here, that my place is rather different to that of most in regards to the current political situation as I'm one of those who has had, until the last year, a fond admiration for the AKP. As for those who have been cursing them since they came into office, I simply say that a broken clock is right twice a day. Their own Republican preferences set the precident for autoritarianism and lack of consideration for free speech even when they shared a more seats with the AKP in their first years in office. They don't show obvious signs of having learnt anything from this time in opposition, which just confounds my depression, as it leads me shuffling back to the AKP like an abused lover too scared to run. How I would love to be smuggly outraged by Ergdoğan's cringe-worthy phone recordings, offensive tone and absurd excuses (which would be considered comic gold if Turkish politics was a shiny-shoed improv group). 

I am just distraught, and my only response is facetiousness in the face of despair. 

At the AKP rally in Yenikapı, I wandered through the crowds. The number of people amassed was huge. However, the intrinsing suspicion of me as a foreigner with a camera, who either couldn't know anything, or was looking for a negative spin was awful. When taking photos of snipers positioned on the rooves a gentleman turned to me and demanded I stop, I protested that he had no right to which his response was (pointing to an armband I had just bought with the words of the shahada written on them) "do you even know what that means?", when I answered with the Arabic formula, the man had a moment of panick and quickly put on a façade of integrity stating, "it doesn't matter if you are Muslim, I was just asking, you can't take photos of them". It was evident from his first defence (pointing at the crowd, saying "you should be taking photos of these people") that the intention was the undermine any chance of the dirty foreign media trying to create false spin of the event.

Had these people any idea what was going through my mind, when I saw the posters and the flag waving, the chanting and the hyperbole, and the instant denial mechanisms at work when I offered an alternative view, they may have been won around to a little more nuance. But unfortunately an instant though-transferl machine  has not been developed by Apple yet, so for now, we'll see. 

The leader, and the waves of followers gathered at Yenikapı were whipped up by a dangerous sense of mission and destiny; The saviour was here - unblemished and undefeatible. The Kemalist zealots, with their uncritical approach and unwavering loyalty despite all the facts, have met their match. As Niesche might have put it had he been living in Turkey today, "when you gaze into Turkish Republican ideology, the ideology gazes back into you". The groups are so entrenched in their ways, with a smatter of mixed-up ideology, intangible buzzword like 'democracy' and 'freedom' and a double dossage of personality cult, that the idea of dialogue and a middle road is laughable right now.

As for me, having been told by the CHP in Bakırköy last week, that if I fostered a nuanced approach to identity, I should marry someone from my own country, and told by the MHP that there is no such concept as 'from Turkey' but that 'for us, you can be a Turk', I can see no serious ideological or political maturity from either main opposition party. The DSP got my sympathy ("If you want to fuck your girlfriend in the street, what's it to me", me: "do you think most Turks could think like that?" "They'll get used to it") and the HDP got my vote as the most 21st century-thinking party in the race. If only they could shake off the stigma that comes with being associated with the Kurds.

Tomorrow will be the AKP's once again. Sure they are likely to lose the coast-line, and a couple of Anatolian enclaves like Adana in the East, but the opposition must count on more than songs, posters and meaningless non-policies, like Mustafa Sarıgül's list of promised reforms - none of which are actually tangible.  Essentially, there needs to be a vision of an alternative future and a candidate trustworthy enough to convince the masses that there is an alternative to Erdoğan who will respect them and maintain their presence in society too.

How the AKPers, or the CHPers would tolerate the emergence of a movement like that, is beyond me right now though.

22/03/2014

Twitter, Shmitter and the Overwhelming Irony of it All


"You were warned Melih, enough already. Lots of love, Tayyip"
My own incredibly lo-fi attempts at pictorial satire to one side, it is obvious that the biggest victim to Turkey's Twitter ban will be the Mayor of Ankara, Melih Gökçen, who's addiction to Tweeting has provided comedy gold for at least the past year or so. Here's my favourites:

1) Making the most common mis-spelling in the Turkish language in a tongue-in-cheek style. Many detractors didn't catch the purposeful irony, but it's the desperate cry of 'I INVITE YOU ALL TO SEND YOUR MESSAGES :)' that recalls some the most self-obsessed 16 year old girls on facebook, which really makes me smile.


 2. Stating obvious facts and banal activities like 'hoovering the roof' and 'bathing the plants' can wind up even the most passive of Twitter users like myself (I have tweeted about 10 things in the last year. But Melih breaks the mold with the immortal 'Today is Friday 7th June. Tomorrow it will be Saturday 8th'. As testiment to the fact that Turkish social media users can be the most deliciously sarcastic on the planet, the first comment simply stated 'Melih mate, this is the most sensible thing you've ever tweeted'.

3. And finally, everyone's favourite. On the week when several ministers were forced to resign and their children were being rounded up after a spate of corruption charges, some joker commented on one of Melih's tweets that 'They've got your son', to which, rather than calling his boy or at least checking out the latest news, Melih hastily typed 'WHERE DID YOU READ THAT'. The user replied 'Only kidding, but tell him to stay indoors, it's going down out there'.


Double-standards

The Twitter ban was the talk of the town yesterday at work. Despite the fact that everyone accessed it perfectly fine in the morning it was displays of indignation from everyone who walked in the room. Yes, it is a blatant means of trying to curtail more information being released about government scandals that comes after half the prosecutors and police involved in the scandal have been replaced. That is the essential problem. 

However, this ban is no more enforcable than the ban on alcohol after 10 (which you can easily get if you a) put it in a bag before you leave the shop, or b) go to a bar). It is just as oppressive as the smoking ban, which is only really observed in public buildings. Apart from universities. And police stations. Essentially, these laws are simply symbolic aimed at looking tough, but in effect, actually succeeding in doing very little apart from moving the agenda from corruption, to censorship. Job well done.

And on this point of censorship, is where the Gezi supporters, previously looking so fresh and independent, a rupture in Turkish history, have begun to look like sour janus-faced old-regime conservatives. 

I sat down with a group of colleagues swapping snippy remarks about the ban and interrupted unannounced, with the slightly jolting question of 'Is there a party in Turkey that you think wouldn't do internet censorship?'

After a palpable pause one girl offered 'The CHP'. Yes, Mustafa Kemal's old party, who in 2008 said not a word in protest as their friends in the state prosecutor's office banned Youtube for over two years because of a blastphemous, low-quality video showing the leader in a toilet bowl, were suddenly deemed to be the savours of internet freedom. 

I thus offered that if censorship was the real issue, that it was one for the whole political class to think about.

However, I was cut off by another colleague, who said matter-of-factly, 'But that was about Atatürk canım, that wa reasonable'.

Thus, while Gezi may have represented a break from the past in terms of public partication in Turkish politics, the ghosts of the past continue to linger in the air, and pollute what could otherwise be a genuine beckoning of internalised democratic values. However, despite being, for the first time in Republican history, pushed to the margins of political influence, the old-school 'modernists' may still not quite have learnt the lesson that needs to be learnt, that you cant only complain when your own group's rights are being taken away...





04/02/2014

Jazz in Istanbul: It's there if you want it.

Elif Çağlar is particularly good at the jazz 

When I was a young boy, my father told me something that will always stick with me. “Son, there are two types of jazz” he said, “and they’re both shit”.

When something is funny, it is automatically more convincing – especially to an impressionable, snotty teenager seeking things to quote to sound cool. On this basis, it’s fair to say that my views of the most bona fide American art form were jaded from the get-go. I duly maintained a natural apathy towards jazz for my whole life; I’ve just never liked it.
To save you the trouble of falsely anticipating a charming literary twist, I may as well tell you outright that I still don’t like jazz. For I have never liked jazz.
This should make it all the more surprising that I found myself at a Mile Davis tribute concert at Salon IKSV on Saturday night.
How did this happen? Was I under the influence of drugs? Do I have masochistic tendencies? Had I landed there from space? There may be a certain amount of truth to all of these explanations, but essentially I’m just very susceptible to peer pressure. Besides, my one attempt to duck-out and head home early by complaining about the entry fee was botched by Yabangee editor Emma Harper’s insistence on treating me to a ticket. From there, with a grimace of polite appreciation, my fate was sealed.
It is predictably obvious to describe the audience walking in as people-who-seem-like-they-are-better-than-the-sort-of guy-that-I-am – but it’s true, they genuinely are of a better breed. IKSV jazz fans dress more fancily, swagger more purposefully and even smell vastly better than I do (although ‘decorum’ forbid me from verifying the latter conclusively).
The IKSV has been hosting these kinds of events for a while now. Since 2011, they have had musicians and singers from the Istanbul jazz scene come together to pay homage to Frank Sinatra, Ray Charles, Ella Fitzgerald and Duke Ellington amongst other prominent members of the Jazz Ulema.
Our two presenters for the evening, Vedat Ödemiroğlu and Hande Soral, got up on stage to introduce the evening. Vedat looks like the kind of sociology professor who rides a bicycle to school and is apparently having an affair with a girl from another class. He has a very natural charm and, amongst cheeky çapulcu references, made sure to thank Garanti bank for sponsoring the night while trying to cajole others into doing the same. Hande actually looks like she could be the girl from the other class, in the jazz school-based soap opera now showing in my head. In any case, the two seem like regular big-wigs in the scene, as they looked immediately at-home on stage and fostered a familial atmosphere in the crowd, who responded to their presence with warm smiles and measured tezahür.
At this point I feel very comfortable. These people seem splendid. Even as a lone trumpet-player approached the mike, I remained untroubled. For almost a second, I thought that perhaps, like football and badger-baiting, maybe the reason I don’t get jazz is because I don’t get to see it live very often. I mean, at high school I used to take my girlfriend to a regular jazz night at the last independent coffee shop in Birmingham city centre, but that was obviously because I wanted to look continental and sophisticated – not because I liked jazz. For I have never liked jazz.
On a screen above the stage, a slide show displays various photos of Miles Davis from his youth, messing around with a trumpet – as was his habit. I’d never realised what a devilishly handsome young man he’d been: a kind of leaner version of Don Cheadle (who I now find out is literally portraying him in an up-coming biopic).
The success of this night was always going to be measured in terms of how our trumpeteer for the evening, İrner Demirer, dealt with the pressure of interpreting Davis’s masterpieces. Davis, after all, is credited with making staggering brass-based contributions to every sub-genre of jazz which developed during his long life-time. Many of those genres he himself having created. For an assessment of Demirer’s performance I relied mostly on fellow attendees’ views, as my own opinion was – simply stated –that while it was exactly what you would expect from a good jazz concert, mercifully, it didn’t go on too long.
The general consensus from other members of the audience though, was that whilst apt in the art of blowing and fingering his instrument in public, the focus too often shifted from Demirer’s givings to the three young, dazzling chanteuses, who took it in turns to orate before coming together in a debauched crescendo of scat.
All three performers are frequent frequenters of the Istanbul jazz scene, familiar to anyone who attends Nublu or Nardis clubs on the regular. Despite an unassuming stage presence, Ece Göksu’s voice glides between octaves and caresses your eardrums. Sibel Köse has a wonderfully silky tone in delivery, and despite giving fellow performer Elif Çağlar a run for her money in terms of beebopperloobing, the latter by far stole the most attention as Çağlar has an energy and flair to match her vocal abilities. A special mention should also be made for both the bassist and drummer – Volkan Topakoğlu and Ediz Hafızoğlu, respectively – who provided a strong backbone to every number, whilst at the same time reveling in their own talent with irreverent yet very impressive soloing whenever the time was appropriate. It’s this sort of behaviour which prompted Jimmy Rabbitte, from The Commitments movie to term jazz “musical masturbation” – another quote which has stayed with me since youth.
When I think about how resiliently both my father’s and Jimmy Rabbitte’s vituperative dismissals of jazz have stuck in my mind,  I come to the conclusion that perhaps it’s not a case of primitive brainwashing, but rather that, while my enjoyments are profane, jazz is divine.
To investigate that fully I’d have to throw off the heretical shackles and listen to much more of it with open ears, of course. But there are surely more worthwhile activities to pursue. So, I don’t like jazz, and that’s fine with me.

12/01/2014

Gripin Perform at Jolly Joker


What a crowded Jolly Joker lacks in elbow room it certainly makes up for in performance quality, and this month's Gripin performance was no exception. The venue has a constant circulation of quality Turkish pop and rock artists no doubt attracted by the spectacle it can offer in terms of sound and lighting.

Gripin have been around for years, and respect for them has only increased amongst a wide range music-lovers with time. Even the most culturally dilettante of yabangees will have heard Aşk Nerden Nereye ("What has happened to love?") while waiting for a haircut or sat on a late night taxi ride. 


The aforementioned song, particularly, has a strong resonance lyrically, as it talks about changes in conceptions to love as the years and generations go by. 

I feel cheap and dirty in explaining Gripin's style to people as 'pop-rock'. That ambiguous misnomer encompasses almost every chart-topping guitar-based band from Alanis Morissette to Nickleback (is it Canada's unique gift to civilisation?). 'Pop rock' more robustly, in fact, represents an industry's attempt to legitimate sinister musical hate-crimes more accurately billed 'mom rock' and 'dad metal'. 

Yet Gripin, sort of makes 'pop-rock' okay. It sounds funny, but it feels right.

Their rhythms, beats and instrumentation, utilising electronic back tracks and pedal effects, create a dark, layered rock undertone to refrains and vocal harmony of a distinct pop quiddity. Gripin are also measured in their incorporation of other genres and instrumentation without diviating from their specific sound, mastered over time.

No wonder they are considered amongst the best in Turkey's musical hall of fame. A strong performance, though because of their songs' dispensation to climax dramatically, I feel a bigger setting would give them the ability to better spread their wings, güya.








27/12/2013

The Night Before the Revolution, Taksim 2.0

Crowds are already gathered on Ankara's Kennedy Street

Turkey has had a stressful week and so have I - in many ways parallel to that of the country. Essentially, I've come to realise I must commit to facing some home truths about the way I have been living in the past four months. So have the people of Turkey, it seems.

For my own part, the aftermath of the protests brought on the kind of depression that one gets waking up to nothingness after a night of dancing and debauchery - the kind of night that living in Taksim has provided far too easily for me since I moved there and attended the Gezi protests this summer.

Waking up with a ringing in one's ears from the bass, aches from contorted muscles and a violent sense of lack from the night before, somewhat diminishes the beauty of the dawn. But in that moment, when you clearly feel affected - between being jolted back into the dunya from slumber and life carrying on, there is a moment of clarity; Things have got to change.

For most people, this is expressed in cliche vows none-the-less inspiring in their goals (namely "I'll never drink again!"), forgotten no sooner than they are uttered. 

But with this week of Turkish news, jolting us back to life, the momentum has returned. And this time, the country seems bustling with anticipation to strive to do something inspiring.

 AKP-gate

After a heavy police response, sustained over a number of months, the protest movement's sense of mission was broken. By last weekend, there was more or less no police presence in Taksim; no chanting, no gathering - just shopping, tourists and club culture - the modern opium of the masses. Thus, in the last month an incentivised judiciary, pressured by vengeful political pressure, thought it portune to ignite a witch hunt discussing custodial sentences for everyone who was caught in handcuffs or on camera, from pensioners  to minors.

However, the latest scandal, after weeks of tit-for-tat between the two old allies, Fethullah Gülen and Erdoğan, has led the country into a state of madness whereby I had to stop myself from using the internet while writing this, as the situation has been changing on an hourly basis, rendering any chance I have to write up the events, utterly useless (then, that is the essence of beyhude)

The scandal unveiled by prosecutors and police units who were probably sympathetic to Gülen, unveiled in perfect timely fashion, a huge scam involving the children of AKP members. Several of the highest personages of the AKP were later forced to resign, and a new cabinet was ordained by the prime minister (photographed below with the caption "the last supper", by one Twitter member). In the meantime, the entire upper echalons of the police force and prosecution involved in the investigation against AKP members were fired and replaced by mandarins loyal to the government. Not-to-mention, a TV quizshow similar in style and popularity to Britain's Countdown, both of which I love, has been knocked off the air due to focus on the definition of the word 'someone who steals money from the people'. (answer: yitici - 'scavenger')


I could go on, but it's best you refer to this article by Emre Kızılkaya to get the full-update, as of two hours ago. ..

Resmi Twitter'da görüntüleTaksim 2.0

Twitter has been blowing up with messages of those pledging to gather there tomorrow night. I estimate the police build-up throughout the day will be formidable. 

Despite this, the protesters are looking defiant. Many are beginning their messages with the phrase "warn the police!"

Erdoğan should be worried now. Firstly, the opposition has broadened to include not just the Gezi youth and old opposition groups, who were nay-sayers from the start, but from the ranks of former voters. After all, losing the confidence of Hizmet members does not cause a substantial dent in the AKP electorate, however, many non-aligned conservatives will be put off by the sudden violent turn on the leader and his movement. Erdoğan must erase the memories of those who, despite being AKP, were taken aback by his unilateral decision to start this war and close down the Hizmet movement's schools. As Orwell might have put it, "Oceania the AKP has always been at war with Eastasia Gülen". He will do this by focusing on the group's US links and location. This might bring Erdoğan at direct odds with the states, but at this point, that is not looking unlikely to happen.

Secondly, with a judiciary in ruins and a thoroughly ruptured police force, Erdoğan risks losing the support of the security forces he has worked so hard to build the trust of over the years, in the AKP's quite noble fight against the military.

Broadened Opposition

Months ago, I shared my disappointment that there was no figure respected by both sides equally, who could bring calm to both sides of society in the heat of conflict. Now, I feel ardent that such a leader is not necessary; For if these two entities in Turkish society - the urban secularist young and practising Muslims of the same generation, living completely separate lives albeit side-by-side, can come together and hit it off in the streets, then this will be the beginning of something great for Turkey. Somewhat perversely, we have the AKP to thank for that. Credit where credit is due, but for now, their role is to allow for the steady transferal of power.

I believe the beginning of the end will come this weekend.

It is time for all of us to look inwards and refocus our energy on moving on to a new stage in life, with grace and finesse. For me, this involves a revolt against the part of me who just wants to rock out in Taksim, at the expense of greater things. For Turkey it involves doing just that, to call for greater things.