Post #8

The guest lecture that will stick with me after this course is over is the one about the Cheslatta Carrier First Nation. Part of that comes from how passionate the professor who spoke was about his experience with that nation. He clearly had strong feelings about their situation and hearing how he had spent years of his life focused on preserving their language and mapping their land was particularly interesting.

That discussion, while very specific to the particularities of the Cheslatta’s land rights and the hydroelectric dam project, illuminated some larger ideas as well. My initial reaction to his experience was that of discomfort. I was skeptical of the implications of this white, educated, American man intervening in this society in such a way that in some ways mirrored colonial relationships between indigenous people and white colonists. His clearly emotional relationships that he’s built over the years obviously benefit him and his work, and the cynical part of me recognizes that he is going to monetize his experience with them through his upcoming book.

However, I felt like he addressed a lot of those concerns with humility in his discussion. He admitted that not everyone in the Cheslatta nation felt comfortable with him integrating himself. Despite that, I think it was clear by the end of the presentation that he was able to provide a concrete good with his work there.

His discussion about the symbolism and meaning of place as it related to the burial grounds was thought-provoking. That, in combination with the readings for that week, led me to think of places in a new way. I have never had those types of spiritual relationships to places, but it was illuminating to learn and understand how for some people places have agency.
As for insights I gained while blogging, I think the main one is that no country is very clear cut. I would not say that I have a complete knowledge of Turkey after reading about it for a couple of months. In fact, I think this blogging project helped me see how places are unknowable in a lot of ways. You can move somewhere new, live there for several years, and still not fully understand that country in a complete or accurate way. And I think the same goes for places you grew up in as well. Your knowledge of a place is filtered through your experience in a way that dilutes absolute truth. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It just should humble you into realizing how much you don’t and will never know.


Post #7

Sex trafficking is a global issue, so Turkey is not immune to the problem. Historically it has been an issue in Turkey particularly with the trafficking of women from former Soviet countries, as the LA Times report in 2006. The majority of the women were aged from 18 to 24 and about half came from Moldova and Ukraine. The LA Times reported that the estimation of the profits of those women’s sex slavery was $3.6 billion over the course of one year alone.

Turkey is considered a “destination country” because of its geographic location. Often these women are offered other jobs like cleaning or childcare before entering Turkey, much like some of the stories in Half the Sky, and then once they arrive, their passports are taken and they are forced to work in the sex industry, according to the UNHCR. While Turkey has made some efforts to address the problem of human trafficking within its borders, the UNHCR says it has not done enough. It recommends that Turkey ratify legislation against human trafficking, create more supports for victims of human trafficking, prosecute traffickers more heavily, and train their police forces to better identify victims.  Others are suggesting that Turkey enact legislation that would make human trafficking violations be classified as terrorism.

What further exacerbates the situation currently is how the refugee crisis has increased the number of people vulnerable to the threat of human trafficking. A 2014 report on the state of female Syrian migrants “tells of early and forced marriages, polygamy, sexual harassment, human trafficking, prostitution, and rape that criminals inflicted upon Syrians in Turkey.” The report found that girls aged 15 to 20 were the most vulnerable to forced prostitution, but that younger girls were still affected as well.

The Sustainable Development Goals do specifically mention human trafficking as an issue to be dealt with in three of the goals: 5, 8, and 16. The fifth SDG is all about gender equality, aiming to end discrimination against women and girls entirely. The eighth SDG focuses on providing “decent” work for sustainable economic growth and part of that promotion of employment for all works as a way to “eradicate forced labour, slavery and human trafficking.” The sixteenth SDG works to reduce violence and promote just and peaceful societies, citing that where there are lax laws sexual violence and exploitation must be addressed.

So what can be done to fight human trafficking? Well I think it’s clear that human trafficking is a global phenomenon that as citizens of the world, we are all responsible for ending. But I also think it’s important to acknowledge that since the problem is so widespread, it can feel intimidating to try and tackle it. And the standard question of how you as an individual can do anything is understandable too, but in order to really combat the issue, we need to push past that attitude. The State Department has a list of ways that individuals can help fight human trafficking, including several ways that you can stay aware of the issue, be an observer of the injustice, and report what you see happening in your community.

Here’s how Obama has responded during his administration: 

Post #6


Broadly, Polman discusses the two different philosophies of international aid work that inform how workers decide who to help. Do you treat everyone indiscriminately? Or do you treat people strategically, in an effort to avoid wasting resources or prolonging a conflict? What those questions really get at is whether aid organizations should remain neutral in conflicts. Polman argues that that neutrality has negative effects on conflicts, in some cases prolonging them. She uses her experience in the humanitarian aid crisis in Goma as an example. In some cases, much like in journalism, aid workers don’t realize they are showing their biases through the choices they have to make. So Polman argues that they just give up the charade of pretending to be neutral to begin with.

Voices of America

I don’t think she makes a strong enough case for that though. Her argument relies on anecdotes about her observations in Goma, in which I found her not particularly credible enough to take her thoughts as absolute truth. For one, her argument lacks specificity. This book is too generalized of an argument, lacking in academic rigor and specificity. So in that sense, it makes the book more appealing to an average reader who would maybe be interested in a hot take on aid organizations and enjoy it as an entertaining argument. But I think in general this piece does not provide a thoughtful and academic of an argument.

Toward the end of her book she writes “Aid organizations are businesses dressed up like Mother Teresa.” This is a fairly typical catchy and provocative statement for a journalist, making you think about something generally thought of as positive like aid organizations in a more critical way. But again she’s dealing in generalities. She argues in this passage about how journalists don’t question aid organizations as much as they would a business. I think that this may be valid for some journalists working in international conflict zones in particular. As a journalist parachuted into a conflict zone, an NGO or aid organization from your country would be a comfortable place to start. You would have an easy access point to sources, filtered through people who understand both you and hopefully the context of the culture you are reporting in. However that filtering process is what she points to as problematic. However, her assumption that journalists often stop there and fail to question or investigate that organization’s work is unsubstantiated. It’s definitely a bias that many journalists must work around – automatically not trusting anything that anyone tells you. But it’s a fundamental part of the job, and on that I think most journalists understand and strive to practice. So since she cannot possibly know the motivations/work habits of all journalists working in all conflict zones all over, one can only assume she is speaking from personal experience. So that furthers my distrust of her as a journalist and a truth teller.

photo: Sven Torfinn, DRC Congo, Goma, North Kivu. November 2012. Displaced people

photo: Sven Torfinn, DRC Congo, Goma, North Kivu. November 2012. Displaced people

She also points out that sometimes journalists are not as independent from aid organizations in these kinds of situations too: “often the journalists reporting on an aid campaign are also financed, or at least accommodated, by one of the aid agencies taking part in the caravan.” While this may be true anecdotally in her life experience, she does not prove that empirically. As a reader, I don’t have any reason to necessarily trust her anecdotes, and she fails to build that credibility in her writing.

I agree with Polman that we the public and we journalists must remain vigilant and critical of humanitarian aid in order to ensure that it is effective. I think governments can also play a role in this in setting specific legal requirements for aid organizations funding in the same way that many push for stricter oversight of political campaign funding. Transparency is the biggest key to success for aid organizations: transparency with journalists so they can relay the truth of the work and its effectiveness to the public and transparency with the governments the organizations work with.

Post #5


Climate change and human rights are interconnected issues. You can’t look at one without considering the other. However, unfortunately much of the dialogue surrounding climate change fails in this regard. In order to convince political and industry leaders that climate change must be addressed in a drastic way now, we need to frame it as a rights issue. Political leaders have the obligation (both moral and legal) to fulfill and protect their citizen’s rights. Now as our world has become increasingly global, those leaders have an obligation to protect the rights of people outside of their nation’s borders.

In her TEDx talk in Maui, anthropologist Dr. Elizabeth Lindsey talks about how her elders interpreted our relationship to the environment and what advice they have for us today. She says she wanted to bear witness to all the changes around her, which influenced her decision to become an anthropologist. She speaks about her elders in Hawaii and how they dealt with experiencing an “encroaching culture.” She relates this to her experience in Micronesia when a village chief told to slow down. She applies that advice to how our (Western) culture, focused on work and industry, implies that our value as individuals is directly related to our productivity.

At first when I watched this video, I saw how it related tangentially to climate change but did not see how this related to human rights. She talks more about individual advancement as opposed to collective work. But in reflecting on it now, I see how she really was laying the foundation for understanding the basis of human rights – that each individual person has worth and dignity far beyond their economic value.


The main pressing human rights issue in Turkey is the refugee crisis. Turkey has been on the frontlines of dealing with the flow of refugees this past year, with some estimates that the country hosted more than two million asylum seekers last year. The bureaucratic issues with dealing with that large of an influx has meant that asylum seekers in Turkey have little access to health care, housing, education and employment. That is, if they are even allowed to stay in Turkey. Many refugees have been forced out of the country without having completed the proper asylum seeking procedures.


Press freedom has increasingly become a human rights issue in Turkey as well. Freedom House has classified Turkey’s status as “Not Free,” citing a five year decline. Turkish government has created more laws to allow for censorship and increase the amount of legal hoops journalists, especially those critical of the AKP party, have to jump through to deal with these types of lawsuits. The future is not looking very bright on this front either.

“The combination of the breakdown of the Kurdish peace process and crackdown on media and political opponents over the past year spell dark times ahead and take Turkey further away from the goal of being a rights-respecting country,” said Emma Sinclair-Webb, the lead Turkey researcher at Human Rights Watch.


Finally, as for environmental issues, Turkey does not have a strong reputation for being environmentally friendly. A report from a couple of years ago shows that few Turks consider environmental issues a high priority. Some of the major environmental issues in Turkey are air and water pollution. From 1990 to 2011, Turkey’s carbon emissions increased 124 percent, which has come mostly from the energy sector and industry.


As Turkey aims to become a member of the European Union, it has adopted some of the EU’s more advanced environmental policies. Turkey’s Tenth Development Plan in particular is focused on creating more sustainable environmental practices, including a focus on clean water. It remains to be seen how effective this plan will be in accomplishing its goals.

Post #4


Yes, we have a moral obligation to take action to protect the future of our planet. As Sheila Watt-Coultier said in her piece in Moral Ground, “it would be internationally significant if global climate change were debated and examined in the arena of human rights, an arena that many countries, particularly those in the developed world, say they ‘take seriously.’” I like this quote because she is calling the bluff of those countries. It’s clear that the time of hemming and hawing over what to do about climate change and who bears the most responsibility are over. It was important to see in December following the COP21 summit, that countries are now legally bound to fight rising temperatures. But still, that progress is not quite enough. As Watt-Coultier noted that while she might see the effects of climate change on her community in her lifetime, her grandson most certainly will. Because of that, we need more active inclusion of young people in the dialogue and decision-making processes related to climate change. Young people have a right to have their voice not only heard but taken into account in a meaningful way. If you want to learn more about what young Europeans think about the COP21 negotiations and climate change, read this from the European Youth Forum (where I worked last semester).

ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES IN TURKEY does not currently work in Turkey, but that doesn’t mean water is not an issue there. About two years ago, during a particularly hot summer, Turkey went through a period of fresh water scarcity. That crisis had impacts on energy production, agriculture and even trade. That experience shows how delicate the connection is between the way we live and the impact that has on the environment.

Turkey has a few pinpoints on the map, which aggregates projects and campaigns focused on climate change. The first one, a green arrow signifying a global power shift, is centered on Istanbul. In Istanbul in June 2013, “hundreds of climate leaders from around the world gathered in Istanbul to share stories, learn skills, and sharpen strategies.” So it was more about training the leaders and activists of climate change movements across the globe, so they can go out from there and be better prepared to actively fight for environmental protections.

Here are some photos from the event:

The second pinpoint is in Adana, where is protesting 12 coal plants that will be built along the coast of the Mediterranean. This specific, local protest is a part of the organization’s larger effort to reduce carbon emissions. It’s an interesting example of how the local can connect with a larger global issue – where the term “glocal” has now been seen as useful in describing that relationship.



Some of the main issues Turkey is facing in terms of environmentalism is related to the recent uptick in energy consumption and subsequent carbon emissions in the country. This website has some interesting graphs that show how rapidly Turkey’s energy consumption has risen over the last couple of decades. That makes sense given the context that I have previously written about regarding the rapid economic growth Turkey has seen recently. As with many issues Turkey is facing, the prize of EU membership is consistently dangled in front of its face as a means of motivating the country to solve the issue. For example, the article with the graphs argues that in order for Turkey’s application to be stronger, it must be more energy efficient.


Here is a list of other environmental groups working in Turkey. Greenpeace does have a presence there as well, and the organization came into media focus a few weeks ago. President Erdogan a few weeks ago made a play on words criticizing Greenpeace and claiming that he is greener and cleaner than the international organization.

Overall, Turkey faces many of the same environmental issues that countries with strong industrial economies face – namely, how can you continue to move economically upward while practicing sustainable business strategies?

Post #3


Nationalism is defined as “a feeling that people have of being loyal to and proud of their country often with the belief that it is better and more important than other countries.”  In The Post-American World, Zakaria recognizes nationalism as “a backward ideology” (p. 35). He sees the danger in the rise of nationalism alongside globalization because as countries rise, gaining power, they also gain certain responsibilities. These countries in order to establish legitimacy rally around their origin stories, increasing national pride. That pride then gets in the way when multiple powerful countries must cooperate on tackling issues on the global scale.


Turkey is a good example to look at when thinking about nationalism. During the Ottoman Empire, Turkey was divided up into religious sections called millets. That became problematic because those divisions were too blunt in some circumstances. For instance, the Muslim millet combined different cultural groups that maintained separate identities like the Turks and the Kurds. That structure established the connection between religion and national identity in Turkey.

Following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire after World War One, Turkey underwent a dramatic secularization process spearheaded by the first president of the country, Kemal Atatürk. Aiming to modernize Turkey, Atatürk introduced reforms modeled after the West that tried to root out the Islamic institutions in Turkish society. For example, Atatürk changed the official calendar from the Islamic calendar to the Latin one, banned the hijab, turbans and the fez, and replaced Arabic words with Turkish ones. These secular reforms aimed to promote a Turkish identity separate from religion.

Kemal Atatürk.

Kemal Atatürk.

This conflict between secularism and Islam in political life in Turkey is still felt today. Erdogan, the current president (and dictator by some standards), rode the wave of Islamic reforms and rules over the country with a religious perspective. Many in Turkey find the lack of secularism today appalling to Atatürk’s memory. However, clearly Atatürk didn’t have all the right answers. You could argue that his secularization bred the sectionalism and conflict that still exist today. Turkish nationalists have consistently demanded Kurdish assimilation in society. Thus in retaliation, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) has been calling for independence from the Turkish state since the 1970s-80s. Violence between the armed PKK and Turkish military has been escalating in the recent years, and just over the summer, Turkey launched airstrikes against PKK camps. Along with those attacks that broke a ceasefire, the number of attacks against ordinary Kurds in Turkey increased. Some then worry that prospect of peace between the Turks and the Kurds might not be able possible.


In Ill Fares the Land, Tony Judt writes that inequality “is not just unattractive in itself; it clearly corresponds to pathological social problems that we cannot hope to address unless we attend to their underlying cause” (p. 18). This quote is especially salient when looking at inequality in Turkey. While Turkey’s economy has boomed since the early aughts, income inequality is a growing problem. The percentage of unionized workers in Turkey fell nearly forty percent from 2003 to now. In 2014, the OECD reported that one in three Turks cannot afford to buy enough food. That report also showed how Turkey’s employment rate is the second lowest in the OECD, just above Greece, and that it has the lowest employment rate for women at just under 30 percent.
That leads to another aspect of inequality that’s particularly problematic in Turkey: gender inequality. With a president who openly acknowledges that women’s equality is against nature, Turkey is far from a feminist’s paradise. Turkish feminists have been fighting against the culture that calls them inferior, but it’s a tough fight when you have the necessary laws on the books but need to change the minds of unwilling people.

Turkish feminists protesting the lack of prosecution against violence against women.

Turkish feminists protesting the lack of prosecution against violence against women.

Post #2


The primary language in Turkey is unsurprisingly modern Turkish. Overall, there are a total of thirty-six languages in Turkey. One of those thirty-six is considered extinct today and the rest are living. Some of the languages considered “immigrant languages” are Avar, Chaldean Neo-Aramic, Chechen, Dargwa, Iranian Persian, Lak, Lezgi, North Levantine Spoken Arabic, Northern Uzbek, Ossetic and Spanish. About 1.2 percent of the population speak Arabic, and most of those speakers are bilingual with Turkish. About ninety percent of the population speaks Turkish, and only six percent of the population speaks the minority languages. That includes Kurdish.

A Brief History of the Kurdish Oppression

The Kurds, the fourth largest minority group in the Middle East, have been in conflict with the majority Turks in the country since World War One. Following the first world war and the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, several treaties divided up the area into modern day Turkey, Syria and Iraq, failing to provide an independent Kurdish state. Since the 1920s, the Turkish majority has made efforts to wipe out Kurdish culture and influence in the country. For instance, the words “Kurd” and “Kurdistan” were made illegal, and the intent was clear: to force an entire population in the country to disappear. The conflict continues today as Turkey has been fighting against Kurdish insurgent groups like the PKK in the southeastern region of the country. From this example, we can see how important language plays a role in identity and nationalism.

History of the Turkish Language

The Turkish spoken today has roots back as far as 5500 to 8500 years ago. Some of the attributes that make Turkish different from European languages are:

The language had three distinct historical periods: Old Anatolian Turkish (between 13th and 15th century), Ottoman Turkish (16th to 19th century) and 20th century Turkish. In the 1920s after the Republic of Turkey was founded, the country’s leaders focused on creating a new alphabet for the Turkish language. They modeled the new Turkish alphabet after the Latin one, in part signifying a step in Turkey’s process of westernization.

Turkish-alphabetIn 1932, the organization that is now called the Turkish Language Association was founded to reform and study the Turkish language. It still exists today and is the center for many arguments about what words can be added to the Turkish dictionary.

Want to learn Turkish? Get started by watching this video series below:


UN Membership

Turkey was a founding member of the UN in 1945. One of fifty-one countries, Turkey signed the Charter of the United Nations and the Statues of the International Court of Justice in June 1945. Turkey has been a part of the UN Security Council and is currently participating in 10 UN peacekeeping operations globally.

IMF Membership

Turkey is a member of the International Monetary Fund, as well as the G20, a group of twenty finance ministers and central bank governors that meet to address issues with the global economy. Turkey’s economy is seen as healthy and growing but the IMF has tried to keep that growth at a more “moderate pace”. Some argue that Turkey’s economy has the potential to be performing better than it currently is. Turkey has the 17th largest economy in the world, and since the financial crisis in the late 2000’s, the country has an unemployment rate of 10 percent.  

In 2001, Turkey’s economy collapsed and the IMF came to the rescue with a plan that loaned the struggling country $10.4 billion. In the years that followed, Turkey saw consistent economic growth. Since receiving its first IMF loan in 1961, Turkey has in total borrowed $50 billion from the IMF.

WTO Membership

Turkey became a member of the World Trade Organization in 1995 and was a member of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) since 1951. Some argue that Turkey “plays role of a middle-power actor who positions herself between developed and developing economies” on the world economic stage. Turkey is currently a negotiating member of these organizations: Asian developing members, G-33, Friends of A-D Negotiations and W52 sponsors.

Post #1

Turkey, former home to one of the longest running empires of the world, seems poised at this particular moment between East and West and between forward movement and backward. But even saying that feels inaccurate. The issues in Turkey are not that neat or black and white. It’s not possible to divide them on clean lines of what is right and what is wrong.

My goal with this blog is to explore the complexities within modern Turkish societies, drawing on its rich history and examining the implications for the broader world. I am interested to watch over this semester how Turkey continues to take a larger role on the global stage.

Here’s a little background on the country before I get into some of the specific issues of the day:

  • Population: 72.9 million
  • Predominant religion: Muslim (Sunni)
  • It has a literacy rate higher than the US.
  • Today’s Zaman is the leading English-only newspaper in Turkey. I will primarily use this as a source for independent news.
  • Politics: The current president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is the first democratically-elected president of Turkey. He spent the eleven years before the historic 2014 election serving as the Prime Minister of Turkey, leading many to conclude that the election was perhaps more of a power grab than a decision made by the people.

Media freedom in Turkey

Turkey has been seen as a safe spot in a dangerous neighborhood. Syria to its east where many journalists have been captured and killed brutally has been one of the deadliest countries for journalists, but a new report from the Committee to Protect Journalists is pointing out that Turkey is not as safe as once thought. Journalists working in Turkey have become increasingly more fearful as ISIS’s reach has grown further across the border. Since October of last year, ISIS has claimed responsibility for the murders of several journalists in Turkey.

With 70 percent of the media owned by a few groups which have connections with the power structures in Turkey, another pressing issue is the lack of independent news sources. Journalists routinely self-censor in fear of the dangerous repercussions of reporting stories that are critical of the government or military. I can’t blame them either because many of their colleagues have been jailed or their newsrooms raided for doing just that.

Women’s rights

Domestic violence remains a large issue in Turkey, despite having some progressive laws in the books. Reports about violence against women have mobilized a strong movement fighting for cultural change. Some take the easy but inaccurate route in pointing to the country’s Islamic heritage as the source of the misogyny in its culture. That response is fairly typical of Western minds, and I think it comes from a lack of real knowledge about Islam. The religion and women right’s are not incompatible. Several really interesting Islamic scholars, like Amina Wadud in the US, have looked at and reinterpreted passages in the Quran in a feminist worldview. I hope to be able to keep blogging about Islamic feminism, which I think many Western women especially fail to recognize and give credit to, as the semester goes on.

Immigration and European Union Bid

As the refugee crisis continues on, Turkey remains in the global spotlight as one of the first points of entry for those fleeing Syria. Currently, 2.5 million refugees are residing in the country, and the EU has promised to financially support the burden of the crisis Turkey is carrying. Turkish and EU leaders met in Brussels at the end of November to discuss the refugee crisis. The negotiations touched on Turkey’s longstanding application for EU membership and ultimately led to an agreement that the EU would give Turkey $3.2 billion in aid as well as a promise to reconsider adding Turkey to the EU.


Turkey was one of the first countries to apply to be a member of the European Union, but many Western Europeans have resisted adding it to their union. Some of the reasons include the argument that Turkey does not qualify because its democracy is not of the same standard as that of other European nations. Others argue against saying that Turkey geographically is more Asian than European, and with that, some take the more racist and Islamophobic view that Turkey could never be a part of the EU because its people look different and practice a different religion than the dominant group in Europe. Furthermore, the EU has strict economic standards for incoming nations that some argue Turkey has yet to meet. As Turkey inches closer to EU membership, it will be fascinating (and depressing) to watch some Europeans continue to resist its inclusion.