Friday, January 30, 2009

Erdogan's Troubling Quote

My very good friend David Adler, a New York-based journalist who often writes about the intersection of music and politics, has an important post up on his blog about one of the more disturbing – and so far not much talked about – aspects of the Erdogan-Peres row in Davos: the Turkish PM’s quoting of musician Gilad Atzmon as part of his final remarks.

“This is also very interesting. Gilad Atzmon, a Jew himself, says: Israeli barbarity is far beyond even ordinary cruelty,” Erdogan told the audience just before storming off the stage. It seems that Atzmon’s only credential for being quoted by the Turkish leader is simply his being Jewish. But just who is Gilad Atzmon? Adler’s description: “a UK-based jazz saxophonist and political loudmouth” and the author of “foul anti-Semitic writings.” (For more about Atzmon, take a look at this post on Oliver Kamm’s blog, where he writes: “Atzmon's beliefs are a case apart because of their malevolence as well as their stupidity.”)

As an example, here’s what Atzmon wrote in an editorial that appeared on a website called Al-Jazeerah (not to be confused with the news network Al Jazeera) during the 2006 Lebanon war, which contains language very similar to that in the quote Erdogan cited:
“To regard Hitler as the ultimate evil is nothing but surrendering to the Zio-centric discourse. To regard Hitler as the wickedest man and the Third Reich as the embodiment of evilness is to let Israel off the hook. To compare Olmert to Hitler is to provide Israel and Olmert with a metaphorical moral shield. It maintains Hitler at the lead and allows Olmert to stay in the tail.”
“While Nazism was a nationalist expansionist movement with extensive yet limited ambitions, the Jewish State and its Zionist lobbies are trying to revive the spirit of a global crusade in the name of a bizarre religious war (Judeo-Christian versus Muslim).”
(the full piece can be read here.)
For the leader of a European Union-candidate country to approvingly cite Atzmon on the world stage is disturbing stuff. One wonders what other source material Erdogan has or is being fed on the Israel-Palestine conflict. At the rate things are going, we may find out soon.

A Hero's Welcome

The BBC has a report on the Turkish prime minister's return to Turkey from Davos, where he stormed out of a panel discussion about the situation in Gaza. Waiting for Erdogan at the airport in Istanbul was a crowd of thousands, waving Turkish and Palestinian flags. Some were holding signs saying, "Welcome, World Leader."

From the BBC's report:
"In Davos, all the world witnessed what has not been happening for many years," said Istanbul resident Mustafa Mastar.
"This showed the power of Turks. It showed that Turks are standing on their feet in Europe, in the world."
"Tonight I was really proud. I feel really happy," said Mustafa Sahin, another person in the crowd.
(Photo -- Crowds in Istanbul greeting PM Erdogan upon his return from Davos. By AFP.)

The Deep State Talks

Over at the Kamil Pasha blog, Jenny White points out that Bianet has just published an English translation of a recent interview in the Taraf newspaper with Abdulkadir Aygan, a former PKK member who then went to work for JITEM, a clandestine intelligence agency believed to be behind thousands of extrajudicial killings in Turkey's southeast during the 1980's and 90's. Aygan is currently living in Sweden. (Follow this link for the interview in English.)

From the interview conducted by Taraf's Nese Duzel and originally published on Jan. 27:
How many activities did you take part in when you worked for JITEM?

They called them “operations." For instance, a criminal was identified. Normally what happens? The security forces catch this person on demand of the prosecution and the prosecution takes that person to court. The person, depending on the crime, goes to prison or not. But JITEM operations were not like that. There were local agents and informants among the people. They told JITEM about those providing the PKK with provisions or having contact with the organisation. Then JITEM did its job.

What does “do its job” mean in JITEM speak? Killing?

“Doing its job” means “illegally taking a person to JITEM, questioning them, killing them and getting rid of the bodies by burning or burying them.” The importance of the operation depended on the importance of the person to be killed. The JITEM commander sometimes informed the Gendarmerie Public Security Gendarmerie Command, and they sometimes informed the Emergency State Governor’s Office, and sometimes they were not informed.
JITEM's existence had long been denied by the Turkish state, although the recent Ergenekon coup-plot investigation has started to shed some serious light on its work. One complaint made by some critics of the Ergenekon investigation is that while the government is busy going after the alleged coup plotters -- many of them hard-core critics of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) -- as a way of dismantling Turkey's "Deep State," little was being done to look into the thousands of state-sanctioned murders that took place in the Southeast as part of the fight against the PKK. If you want to see the real work of the "Deep State," look there, the critics say. Aygan's confession may force investigators to start doing just that.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Mediation for Mediators

After what happened in Davos, it increasingly looks like it's Turkey and Israel that are in need of a mediator. The New York Times' Nicholas Kristof is blogging from Davos, and had this to say about what he saw during the Erdogan-Peres session:
Erdogan is important because he — and Turkey generally — have played an increasingly important role as intermediary between Israel and the Arabs, both with Syria and in Gaza. Erdogan and the Turkish foreign minister, Ali Babacan, separately said that the Israeli-Syrian indirect talks (which Turkey mediated) had made great progress, until the Israeli assault on Gaza killed the process for the time being. Turkey could play a very important role in the area since it has ties with Israel as well as Iran and the Arab states, but I worry a little bit that Erdogan’s anger at Israel is so deep that mediation may be more difficult.

Valley of the Fools

The Independent’s Nicholas Birch has an article today about Turkey’s latest political/media scandal: the on-air admission by actor Atilla Olgac that he killed ten Greek Cypriots – including a POW whose hands were tied behind his back – during the 1974 Turkish invasion of the island.

Olgac is one of the stars of the hit television series “Valley of the Wolves,” which tells the story of a group of gangsters led by Polat Alemdar, a patriotic undercover intelligence officer who infiltrates the mafia but starts operating in the murky zone where the interests of unsavory elements of the state and of organized crime meet. It's as if special agent Jack Bauer of the hit show "24" took over Tony Soprano's gang, but instead of engaging in protection rackets started bumping off enemies of the state. The violent show was even yanked off the air at one point for fear that it would stoke nationalist sentiments in Turkey to dangerous levels. (For more on the influential show, take a look at this article I wrote about it for the Christian Science Monitor in 2007.)

Olgac, known as the “tough wolf,” clearly has been spending too much time on the set. "The commander told me to kill on his orders," Olgac said during a recent tv interview. "The first kid I shot was a 19-year-old prisoner. His hands were tied behind his back. When I pointed my gun at him, he spat in my face. I shot him in the forehead." It was more of a macho boast than a confession.

Olgac quickly retracted his story, saying it was only a “scenario” that he was developing and trying out on the television audience. It was a nice try to kill the story, but things will likely not end there for him. As Birch writes:
“Ali Cakir, the Istanbul prosecutor, opened an investigation yesterday into the case, citing the Third Geneva Convention, related to the treatment of prisoners of war. Should evidence of wrongdoing emerge, the dossier will be sent to the International Criminal Court in The Hague, the prosecutor said. Mr Olgac would be the first Turk to face international justice for war crimes, if indicted.”
Olgac’s story brings new attention to the issue of the estimated 2,000 missing persons in Cyprus, victims of the violence of the 1960’s and 70’s that ended up splitting the island. As noted in an earlier post and in a story I recently wrote for the Monitor, the Committee on Missing Persons in Cyprus (CMP) – a Greek and Turkish Cypriot project to find the remains of the missing – is one of the few successful joint projects on the island.

Despite the project’s success in locating some of the missing, a complaint I heard from some of the people involved with the CMP is that Turkey has been less than forthcoming with whatever information it may have about any of the missing. That may change: After Olgac’s confession, Cyprus filed a case with the European Court of Human Rights demanding Turkey provide details of what it knows about the fate of those who disappeared.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Turkey Turning Down the Rhetoric on Israel?

After denouncing Israel’s recent operation in Gaza with some of the harshest rhetoric outside of Venezuela and Iran, is Turkey now making some efforts at reclaiming the image of the neutral regional mediator that it had worked hard to cultivate over the last few years?

An article in today’s Hurriyet Daily News & Economic Review suggests just that, noting that Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan will meet with Israeli president Shimon Peres on Thursday, as part of a session at the World Economic Forum in Davos, and that Turkey’s defense minister recently made a point of clarifying that a deal to buy Israeli unmanned aerial vehicles was still on track (there had been vociferous calls during the Gaza crisis for Turkey to cancel its various defense deals with Israel).

(UPDATE -- Apparently things didn't go very well at the Davos session that featured both Erdogan and Peres. According to the AP, Erdogan stalked off the stage after being cut off by the moderator during Peres's defense of Israel's recent actions in Gaza. "You are killing people," Erdogan said to Peres, according to the AP. A finger-wagging Peres told Erdogan, meanwhile, that he would have done the same thing had rockets been falling on Istanbul.)

(UPDATE II -- this blog report from the Davos session gives more details on what took place. Interesting reading.)

Most significantly, the article highlights an interview Turkish foreign minister Ali Babacan gave the other day to the Milliyet and Radikal newspapers. "Hamas needs to make a decision as to whether it wants to be an armed organization or a political movement. Our advice is to take part in a political movement," Babacan said in the interview. It was the kind of diplomatic language that many wanted to hear coming out of Ankara during the recent fighting.

The Turkish government may now be realizing that it needs to do some damage control. While Erdogan’s harsh words may have been heartfelt and motivated by domestic political considerations – or even, as some Turkish analysts suggest, a calculated ploy to earn Hamas’s trust and pull it away from its traditional backers – it seems Ankara has some image rebuilding to do.

“In my opinion, Turkey has lost much of the role it could play in the Middle East during this period,” Hikmet Cetin, a former Turkish foreign minister and parliamentary speaker, told the Cumhuriyet newspaper in a recent interview. “It is a big mistake to be seen to be siding with Hamas when you want to mediate” between the two sides.

For more on the subject, take a look at this article in The National, which looks at the "uncertainty" surrounding Turkey's continued role as a mediator. And in this column, Milliyet editor Sedat Ergin takes a look at Erdogan's recent rhetoric and analyzes what makes it "problematic."

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Curtains Rising or Falling on Nabucco?

Named after a popular Verdi opera that tells the story of the Jews’ liberation from exile in Babylon, the troubled Nabucco pipeline project – designed to wean Europe off its dependence on Russian gas – has enough drama surrounding it that it could very well inspire an opera production of its own. There would be villainous Russians, cantankerous Turks, bumbling Brussels bureaucrats and a chorus of shivering Bulgarians begging to be delivered from clutches of Gazprom.

The 12$ billion, 2,050-mile long (3,300 kilometer) pipeline is designed to bring gas from the Caspian region and the Middle East to European markets via Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary and Austria. Construction is scheduled to start in 2010 and the pipeline is expected to start delivering gas three years later. That’s the plan, at least.

But most experts warn that Nabucco faces major hurdles, the biggest one being just how to fill the pipeline with gas. So far, only Azerbaijan has signed on to providing gas for Nabucco, but it can only fill a fraction of its capacity. Turkmenistan is an option, but there are logistical problems with getting its gas to the pipeline. The best answer for filling Nabucco, in many ways, is Iran, which has huge gas reserves. But both the United States and the European Union are currently opposed to making the Iranians part of Nabucco for political reasons.

Meanwhile, while Turkey’s role as a transit route for the pipeline is crucial, Nabucco is under threat of being held hostage to the politics surrounding Ankara’s beleaguered EU membership bid. During a recent visit to Brussels, Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that if the opening of the accession talks’ energy chapter is blocked, Turkey “would of course review our position [on Nabucco].” (Although Erdogan quickly backtracked, Germany’s Economy Minister Michael Glos accused Ankara of engaging in “political blackmail.”)

Nabucco is even under threat of being undercut by Moscow, which is suggesting Europe diversify is gas shipment routes (though not its supply) by the construction of South Stream, a pipeline that would bring Russian gas under the Black Sea to Bulgaria.

“What we have is a series of agreements and a theory,” says Bulent Aliriza, director of the Turkey Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, about Nabucco. “It’s got problems all the way down the line.”

The good news for Nabucco’s backers is that the recent gas dispute between Russia and the Ukraine, which left large parts of Europe shivering in the cold, might breath some new life into the pipeline project. The Hungarian government is today hosting a high-level summit for the various governments involved in Nabucco and there are hopes that the Russia-Ukraine row might push all the actors to get more serious about making the pipeline a reality.

Of course, even if Nabucco were built, it would still need to be seen as only part of a wider energy security and diversification program for the EU. To put things in perspective, while Europe’s annual gas demand is around 500 billion cubic meters (and growing), Nabucco is designed to carry only about 31 bcm annually. So, although it’s an alternative, it’s far from the answer to the EU’s energy woes.

“Simply building a pipeline slightly south is not a strategic issue; it’s a regional one,” says Andrew Monaghan, a research advisor at the NATO Defence College in Rome who recently wrote a paper examining Nabucco for the European Parliament. “What I’m saying is that we should consider enhancing the process, not simply changing the line and hoping that will create a better picture.”

For more on Nabucco’s prospects, take a look at my recent article in the Christian Science Monitor. An article on the Eurasianet website, tackles the thorny issue of Iran’s possible involvement in the project.

UPDATE -- As Reuters reports from the summit in Budapest, the EU is offering support for Nabucco in the way of possible loans, but is not ready to give direct financial support for the project.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Rise of Citizen Propaganda

My latest article in the Christian Science Monitor looks at how the recent war in Gaza played out online, where a fierce battle of its own was taking place.

Israel's decision to bar reporters from entering the Gaza Strip provided an opportunity for bloggers and other new media voices to fill the void. It also gave a chance for the new media ventures of mainstream media organizations, especially Al Jazeera, to come into their own.

At the same time, elements of the online war over Gaza provided another example of the rise of what some are calling "citizen propaganda." As Ethan Zuckerman, a research fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University, puts it: "Rather than becoming the cafe of the world, where we interact on common ground, the Net has become a very effective place to rally people to your own cause and try to coordinate their actions."

Zuckerman said something very similar happened last summer's conflict between Russia and Georgia. "I think what has become really interesting is that in an era when you have armed conflict between states, you now have people online looking to see how [they] can become part of that conflict without leaving their computers," he says.

For more background, take a look at this article by Riyaad Minty, a new media analyst at Al Jazeera.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Armenian Issue: Ready on Day One

President Barack Obama has come into office with the promise of a new era in American politics. While the rest of the world is celebrating that promise, in Turkey – as Today’s Zaman puts it in an article that ran on inauguration day – Obama’s pledge is cause for “both expectations and fears” (with “fears” coming first).

What we are talking about, of course, is the Armenian genocide issue. As the paper explains: “Turkey's most obvious fear is about recognition of the Armenian claims of genocide by the administration. Obama already pledged during his election campaign that if elected he would recognize the Armenian claims.”

“Obama's choices of Joe Biden as vice president and Hilary Clinton as secretary of state have made it clear to Ankara that the US will never be as friendly as it has been in the past when it comes to speaking about the Armenian claims.”

The issue certainly has the potential to dominate – if not possibly damage – Turkish-American relations, as we saw in 2007, when Congress came very close to passing a resolution recognizing the genocide and Turkish-U.S. relations went through a period of high tension.

Obama will likely have to deal with the problem very soon. Not far away is April 24, the date on which Armenians commemorate the genocide, and on which American presidents have to find a way of acknowledging what happened in 1915 without calling it a "genocide" (and angering Ankara). Meanwhile, with Congress now controlled by people more receptive to the Armenian cause, the possibility of a genocide resolution finally passing is greater than ever.

For a more in-depth look at how the issue is playing out in Turkey, read Meline Toumani’s piece in Global Post, a newly launched international affairs news site. For the view from Washington, read this column by the Brookings Institution’s Omer Taspinar, which warns of “the coming storm” over the genocide issue.

UPDATE -- In a new column, Taspinar says Ankara and Washington might be heading towards a collision on the Armenian issue even earlier than April 24, with supporters of a genocide resolution hoping to bring it to a vote in Congress as soon as possible. 

"Is there a way out of this ordeal? The short answer is 'not likely,'" Taspinar writes. "As things stand right now, we may very well be heading towards disaster in Turkish-American relations even before April 24.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Turkey Jump Starting its EU Bid?

Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is in Brussels on a mission to save Turkey’s European Union bid. It’s almost hard to believe, but this is Erdogan’s first visit to the EU’s headquarters since 2004, when Turkey started its arduous accession talks with the bloc.

Since then, after a flurry of activity, Turkey’s EU reform process seems to have almost come to a halt, which makes Erdogan’s Brussels visit all the more significant. According to many analysts, 2009 is going to be a make or break year for Ankara’s EU hopes. The unresolved Cyprus issue, in particular, looms large as a major problem for Ankara this year. (For more, take a look at the International Crisis Group’s recent report on the subject).

"Our accession to the EU is a top priority for Turkey," Erdogan was quoted by Reuters as saying in Brussels. "I hope that 2009 is going to be a very different year. For us there is no alternative to becoming a member," he added.

Those are encouraging words, but EU officials will most likely wait for action from the Turkish government. One important step that Ankara has taken is the appointment of Egemen Bagis as Turkey’s first full-time EU negotiator. Until now, the job had been the responsibility of foreign minister Ali Babacan, who simply wasn’t able to devote the kind of time needed for the membership bid.

The choice of Bagis is an interesting, though somewhat surprising, one. An advisor to Erdogan on foreign affairs, he studied and lived for an extended period in the United States, making him more familiar with Washington than with Brussels. Within the Justice and Development Party (AKP), Bagis’s role – in terms of foreign relations – has been less of a policy maker and more of a liaison to the west, responsible for sending out soothing words when Erdogan starts breathing fire. He’s good at selling Turkey (or, at least, the AKP) to western audiences, but let’s hope he was appointed to be more than Ankara’s P.R. man in Brussels. The optimistic view of his appointment is that, as a close advisor of Erdogan’s, he has the prime minister’s ear, which might allow for EU matters to remain a priority.

For more, take a look at this article in the Financial Times. Reuters, meanwhile, has an interesting timeline of Turkey's "long and winding" road towards the EU.

(Photo: Pedestrians in Istanbul's Taksim Square walk by a European Union information office. Photo by Yigal Schleifer)

Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Deep State in Deep Trouble?

News about Ergenekon, the name given to an alleged plot by secularist ultranationalists to topple the Turkish government, has been keeping Turks spellbound since the summer of 2007, when an investigation into the conspiracy began.

Reporting on Ergenekon (the name refers to place found in Turkish mythology) has proven to be a challenge, at least if trying to write for an audience outside of Turkey. Taking a "just the facts" approach doesn't suffice, since the facts are frequently quite murky and – there is no other way to put – simply strange, almost unexplainable outside of the Turkish context. In today’s edition of the English-language Today’s Zaman, the paper criticizes the western media’s coverage of the case in an article headlined: “Foreign media simplifies labyrinthic Ergenekon as a way out.” Perhaps. Ergenekon certainly is a labyrinth.

At the same time, it’s not hard to criticize some of the reporting that’s been done on Ergenekon by some of the Turkish papers, especially the pro-government ones (such as Today’s Zaman and it’s Turkish-language counterpart, Zaman). Often times, it’s been credulous and breathless, quick to attach to Ergenekon every unexplained political and criminal misdeed that has taken place in Turkey over the last few decades. Columnist Andrew Finkel, a wry observer of Turkish politics for Today’s Zaman, gave one of his recent pieces the title: “Ergenekon Ate My Homework.” The case, regardless of its merits, is also becoming part of the bitter struggle here between the liberal Islamic AKP government and the secularist establishment, further muddying the facts.

But it would be dangerous to caricature the case just because it is complicated and confusing. Some 100 people have been arrested as part of the investigation, among them some real nasty figures who had been previously linked to extrajudicial killings and other crimes. And, at the heart of the Ergenekon case lies the question of the Deep State, a phrase used to describe a shadowy zone where state interests intersect with lawless and corrupt elements of the bureaucracy, military and the security establishment. Ergenekon may not be the Deep State itself – perhaps something more like its bastard child – but many believe that going after its plotters would be an important step in dismantling the influence of unelected powers in Turkey.

I provide some background about the Ergenekon debate in an article in today’s Christian Science Monitor. Bianet offers a quick history of the case here.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Erdogan: Heat at Home, Heat Abroad

Israel's attack on Gaza continues to put Turkey and its leader, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in a difficult spot. Turkey still very much wants to play the role of regional mediator (and the country would likely be a key part of a multinational force that may end up monitoring the Egypt-Gaza border as part of a cease-fire agreement), but Erdogan's harsh criticism of Israel has some critics asking (see this New York Times article) whether Turkey has now lost its chance to play the role of honest broker between Jerusalem and its neighbors.

At the same time, Erdogan and his government are confronting an unprecedented level of public anger in Turkey over Israel's actions in Gaza. Large protests have been held almost daily throughout Turkey. An Israeli basketball team recently playing in Ankara had to flee to the safety of the locker room after angry protesters rushed onto the court. With local elections coming up in March, Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) certainly don't want to be seen as too close to Israel right now. Some of the anti-Israel protests are already featuring signs and placards showing Erdogan shaking hands with Israeli PM Ehud Olmert, accusing the Turkish leader of "collaborating" with Israel. A recent poll taken in Istanbul found the liberal Islamic AKP losing ground, partially to the old school Islamists of the Felicity Party (SP), which has been a driving force behind several of the large anti-Israel protests. 

There have been calls from members of parliament and Turkish NGOs for Ankara to freeze relations with Israel, but Erdogan might be limited in how far he can downgrade the ties with his problematic ally. If Turkey stops talking to Israel, then it loses an essential trump card that it uses to promote itself as a regional mediator, which is that it has good relations with all the countries in the Middle East. Furthermore, Turkey's connection to Israel serves as a kind of conduit to Washington, giving Ankara improved access to Congress and American Jewish organizations, which have frequently served as a surrogate lobby for Turkey. 

Many in Washington (and, to a certain extent, even in Brussels and other European capitals) look at Turkey's ties with Israel as a kind of litmus test of Ankara's "Western" orientation. A move away from Israel would be seen by some -- among them some fairly influential people -- as a move away from Turkey's traditional foreign policy path.

For an expanded analysis of the issue, please take a look at my recent piece in Eurasianet.

UPDATE -- In a move that's raising some eyebrows here, Turkey's Ministry of Education sent out a directive that called for all primary and secondary school students to observe a moment of silence for the children of Gaza this past Tuesday (Jan. 13). An article in the Hurriyet Daily News & Economic Report speaks with some child psychologists and educators who are critical of the ministry's directive. Meanwhile, the paper's chief columnist, Yusuf Kanli, fears the Turkish government is "exploiting" students for political purposes.

(Photo: Marchers at a recent protest in Istanbul against Israel's attack in Gaza. The men are holding signs that show Turkish PM Erdogan shaking hands with his Israeli counterpart, Ehud Olmert, with the words "These are our killers" written underneath. By Yigal Schleifer)

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Courting the Conservative Kurdish Vote

Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has, for the last few years, been making serious inroads among voters in the predominantly-Kurdish southeast region. With its strong Islamic credentials and a more progressive approach to the Kurdish issue than previous governments (at least until recent months), the AKP presents a very appealing package for Kurdish voters, a large segment of whom tend to be socially and religiously conservative.

This has spelled trouble for the pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party (DTP), which used to be the undisputed political power in the southeast. The party now realizes that talking tough on the Kurdish issue might alone no longer be enough to woo voters, and that it also has to pay attention to their religious sensitivities. This is quite a change for a party whose roots are Marxist and deeply secular.

Local elections will be held throughout Turkey in March and the DTP and AKP are already engaged in a bitter fight for the hearts and votes of the southeast's Kurds. The name of the game this time around, it appears, is crafting a message that successfully mixes the Kurdish issue with religion.

I recently went down to Diyarbakir, in southeast Turkey, and filed this report on the subject for the Christian Science Monitor.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

A Scrappy Fighter in Turkey's Media Battles

Suzy Hansen's excellent article about Taraf, a new Turkish daily newspaper that is shaking up the establishment, is highly recommended -- both as a way of learning about the paper and about the current troubled state of the Turkish press.

Although Taraf has at times been guilty of committing some of the same journalistic sins as its competitors  --  the use of sophomoric, provocative headlines; running with leaked information, regardless of its source -- the fiercely independent paper has also been doing groundbreaking work, particularly in its willingness to challenge Turkey's powerful military. As Suzy's article makes clear, this has come at a significant cost for Taraf, which has seen its advertising revenue dry up because advertisers are afraid to be associated with it.

Turkey currently finds itself facing deep political and social divisions, and those divisions are being reflected in the mass media, where pro-government newspapers and television stations are facing off against pro-secularist media outlets, each being accused of slanting the news in a way that seems to benefit their position. Lost in all of this, critics and some journalists say, is the truth provided by a truly independent media. Taraf, though not perfect, is the closest Turkey has right now to an independent mainstream media voice. In a very short time, the paper has been able to establish itself as an authoritative media voice. The question now, it appears, is whether it will be able to survive.

(Photo: A vendor selling newspapers in Istanbul's Kadikoy neighborhood. Photo by Yigal Schleifer)