Wednesday Night #1632

Written by  //  June 12, 2013  //  Wednesday Nights  //  No comments

An exceptional occasion as neither Herb Bercovitz, the faithful scribe, nor Diana, the editor of these accounts, was present. From all accounts, it was a  full evening (participants and topics) and we are grateful to Sam Totah for not only generously sharing his knowledge of the city of Istanbul and the politics of the current unrest in Turkey, but also for forwarding this delightful summary of the evening. It will be remembered that Sam is the originator of the summaries, having written the first one after his introduction to Wednesday Night.
Dear Diana…
I thought I would drop you a line or more than a line to tell you about last night! Always called Wednesday Night. The name does not change but the content does! You were absent…and I missed your presence  … Now, I want you to be present on what I saw, what I heard, what I had to say and so on. I was absent from the scene of Wednesday nights for quite a while now, I should say I was not present since you moved to your new location. From Westmount to Montréal proper. A nice move, long due and you know the feeling and the details. But the Wednesday night remained with you as a tradition. Now it is soiree #1632 … Bravo. One word alone resumes it all.
Such is not the case in what is happening right now in Istanbul, Turkey and for that matter more than just that lovely city where I come from. But in addition other major cities in Turkey were also affected. Not exactly a revolt or revolution in the definition of the dictionaries but…somewhat the population is stirring up against some of the decisions of the strong man in Turkey, the Prime Minister Recep Erdogan — or just Erdogan by his short name.
So, on your invitation I did go show up in your new home — expecting somewhat that “the scene” would be different from the previous Westmount enclave but the feeling would be the same. I was right and wrong. Or my expectations were correct or incorrect. Here is what transpired from the moment I found your new home. Ground floor apt. excellent idea…who wants to climb those stairs and wait for the elevator to show up on a push of a button. We already push too many buttons during the day, on the computer clavier to find out what we are looking for…in the world of Google and non-Google! This latter does not exist –practically. All seem to go around the Google. More on that subject later on but for now, let me stick to the introduction. David, welcomed his guests — and your two lovely dogs did the remaining greetings. David remembered what each guest meant to him…and for my part he introduced me to the guests around…as the first writer –of the Wednesday nights – good memory, in return I reminded David that you and David crossed the first Bosphorus bridge in Istanbul, Turkey a good number of years ago…and then you walked on that bridge as the first couple I should say…the first foreign couple. Chutzpah! David appreciated that memorable day! Sure enough, it makes life easier to remember the good old days when health was not an issue then and we could walk all the way towards any destination we wanted to…specially in your case you crossed two continents in just one walk, since Istanbul, lies in between two continents! That brings me to the subject of what is going on right now in Istanbul — not a very tough subject for me…since I am from Istanbul and still have very fond memories of my school and non-school days. Specially Taksim where the action is taking place! This is where I grew up – home almost at 5 minutes walking distance from the park — the Gezi park, That park is – or was – doomed to be converted to a shopping centre. Bonjour tristesse, sad event. Then, for a first, David asked me to join him. Right across his chairman’s chair and in full view of his commands and it was a novelty for me. I am not used to attention…and in the old days that would have put me at a “non-ease” situation, but this time, it meant that people around the table were ready to hear and listen to what I had to tell them — the rectangular table in contrast to a round table always tell who is who sitting around. Among your younger guests and somewhat older guests from an era when internet did not exist… the average age was about 40 yrs. old. And that statistics would please us all that once again we are in that age bracket we want to think and feel like in the good old days! For me, there were a few familiar faces but most were new acquaintances. I especially liked the encounter with one gentleman guest…sitting on my right…who had just come back from Istanbul, Turkey and that connection made the evening much warmer and closer. I had lots to say about the city I know best both as a former resident and an official guide. Now, the truth is every time there is a new video posted on You tube about the current events, I go and get my Kleenex first and then watch the scene that is on the You tube!. Hard to explain in words, what exactly is happening and why it is happening. Suffice here to say it is a physical and verbal expression of people – decent young and old people, called the Istanbuliotes, who are displeased on not being consulted on the present and future of their beloved city. Orhan Pamuk, the noble prize winner in literature expressed it best in a recent article on that same question on how come the government decides to change or erase the memories of the people without their consent. The issue being converting a park, a tiny park in the heart of Istanbul — the once European district where ethnic communities lived and shopped side by side, Turks and non Turks and now, the government has decided on its own to cut the trees in the park. A small group of people began a peaceful resistance, they were less than 100 people and that figure swarmed up to over 100,000 people in the days to come. The reaction of the government to that peaceful assembly was swift and abusive. Pepper spray, water cannons, burning the hand-made tents and personal effects of people congregating in the park, and the list goes on. What is then the exact issue? The conversion of the park to a shopping mall is one issue, but then the public at large realized that they had other issues to settle with the current government. In one word …they just wanted to remain secular and did not want the government to dictate or interfere on how they should live and pray in their privacy, plus of course what they should think and what they should say. In the famous words of some previous upheavals of the same nature “let my people speak!” would fit in — the people spoke but there were no credible listeners, thus the conflict got out of hand –until the day your friends and I met at your Wednesday night reunion. The latest news just 3 hrs. before the Wednesday night started, there was instant news on my cell phone that indeed the Turkish government will go on record of making its new decision on the park question based on a referendum. Kind of to be and not to be situation for both parties. The future will tell exactly what route this new development will take us to.
In the meantime, during my talks I reminded your Wednesday Nighters gathered in your new lovely dwelling…home sweet home … that in order to understand Turkey, one has to know its history. Thus, I mentioned the three empires that were indeed facts of life in the current Constantinople (now Istanbul) and any judgment on what is really happening has to take account of a good knowledge of Turkey’s last 100 yrs.! Not a very long period – just a life time span of a healthy human being.
Especially the partition of the “Sick man of Europe” as it was then called in the early years of the 20th century. And to account for the fact that to be an empire i.e. the great Ottoman Empire and now a nation is not the easiest transition for any community, society, nation and whatever one wants to call the residents of that spot — easily spotted on the Google map. And Istanbul is an exception to the rule compared to any other major city in the world because of its past! Only people who live in Istanbul, who visited the city…and not just seen videos alone would truly understand what is going on. Not really knowing the end result…of all the current upheavals is the very nature of Istanbul. Unpredictable like a lover but yet very present. Then I tried to answer many questions that arose both from my talk and from what people wanted to understand or hear! Conclusion: there are two views, those insiders who are on the real action itself, and those who are on the outside looking inside. We have to keep looking at the videos and arrive at our own conclusions depending on where we come from and the knowledge we have on Turkey and its political and geographic history and current status. End of the conversation.
Then the subject of Wednesday nights shifted to economics, finance and the index of the stock market.
There were as usual different voices and opinions added to the interpretations! And one of your guests asked me pointedly where does Turkey go  from now on. I did not have an answer to his query –and told him so. But, after seeing the graphs and the numbers shown on David’s video of where the market is or was heading…the world financial market…I returned to the last question of your guest and responded to the gentleman that if we want to assess the importance of what is happening on the Turkish scene, we just have to look at the Istanbul stock market indices. With no further comment — the subject was closed and the answer was satisfactory.
Last but not least – Turkey
water canon, teargas canisters, pepper spray, rubber bullets, 4 dead, 5000 injured, disproportionate and excessive force, people scurrying as in a stampede, hope that the Turkish government will de-escalate both the rhetoric and the violence, voila! — such were the comments in the foreign newspapers…all of course “off the record” to adhere to the “politically correct” version of facts and figures as always in these lovely and lively Wednesday nights reunions.  Case rested.

P R O L O G U E

After last week’s intense focus on Canada and the US, what an assortment of news items and issues confronts us this week, with no particular common thread, although there are some themes. Let us take them one-by-one.

Turkey
Monday night, the BBC informed us that Turkey’s Erdogan to meet protesters
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is to meet the organisers of ongoing protests against his government on Wednesday, says his deputy.
“They will be briefed on the facts and our prime minister will listen to their thoughts.” Doesn’t sound like an altogether open-minded approach, but better than tear gas and does seem to indicate a slight change of heart (or policy).  However, late breaking news on Al Jazeera says that the police have moved in on Taksim Square and protestors are throwing Molotov cocktails.
Twelve hours earlier, Reuters reported – the Prime Minister warned that his patience has its limits and compared the unrest with an army attempt six years ago to curb his power.
It is a complex issue and as noted elsewhere, the opposition is only united temporarily against the government; individual groups have very different agendas and there is neither common cause, nor common leader. We suspect that problems will continue for some time without any resolution. One Friend of Wednesday Night is at Taksim Square and is posting updates on FB. (See Turkey 2012-2013 for more)

Iran
The election takes place on Friday, but the world outside Iran has little information and less understanding of the stakes, or for that matter, the players. CNN refers to the election without buzz.  Thank you to the BBC for a straightforward Q&A that points out that of the approved candidates, the contest is between ultra-loyalists and moderate reformers, but there is little informed discussion of nuclear plans or possible reaction to further sanctions which, as usual, appear to hurt only the general population.

Middle East
The problems of Syria, Lebanon, Israel, and the diplomatic manoeuvres of Russia have taken a temporary back seat to the headlines focused on Turkey and Iran.

The US
The dominant issue is the debate over Edward Snowden’s actions: is he a hero who blew the whistle on a dangerous government intrusion into privacy or a villain who criminally endangered our national security?
Revelations – and accompanying outrage – about the NSA’s collection of communication records of millions of US citizens are further complicated by the outing of Snowden as the source and questioning of how he gained access to documents that had nothing to do with his job. The Washington Post offers some excellent background on the real roots of the NSA surveillance scandal
An intriguing new development: Freedom-loving Russia could offer Snowden asylum – what a gold mine (if his assertions are true about his unlimited access) for Mr. Putin.

Canada
Both the National Assembly and Parliament are entering into the silly season as they prepare for summer recess – as we have noted before, a particularly appropriate term. Neither body has distinguished itself by producing thoughtful, citizen-friendly legislation. Maybe the barbecue circuit will improve the policy development process?
The PQ’s all-too-familiar legislative antics have now been overtaken by the controversy over turbans and soccer; in an ugly reprise of the Reasonable Accommodation debate, Pauline Marois is aligning her government with the Quebec Soccer Federation, maintaining that “It is not subject (to the Canadian federation), it is autonomous, not subject to the Canadian Federation and in this regard I support it in its orientations.”

Meantime, Mr. Harper is again escaping the various annoying problems associated with Mike Duffy, Pamela Wallin, Nigel Wright, secret PMO funds, the Senate, etc., etc., by flying off in his newly repainted (branded?) RCAF 01 to Europe where he will most likely NOT be signing the CETA (Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement) despite having set a deadline for so doing. [Memo to self: always better to set a deadline well beyond when you expect to accomplish the task.]
The G8 may not be quite as much of a picnic as he could have hoped as David Cameron has tax havens on his agenda and Canada appears to have been a wee bit sloppy about fighting that global problem.

In the department of sober second thought (nothing to do with the Senate) two items of Canadian cultural interest:
The first is the rapid retreat by Radio Canada from its inane plan to rebrand itself as “Ici”. On Monday CBC announced that in the face of a backlash, RC would re-rebrand itself.
The second is Minister James Moore’s realization that cuts to the National Archives’ budget have an impact on the pace of preservation efforts.  Seems he may want to revisit that budget item.

Europe
As though the seemingly unending debate over the EU’s financial woes and the application of austerity (Being the IMF does not mean never having to say you’re sorry) were not enough, floods have wreaked “havoc unseen in decades across Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Hungary, Slovakia, Poland and the Czech Republic” – some of the photographs of flooding of  otherwise impeccably groomed towns and villages are simply extraordinary and in a way more devastating than the usual ones of cresting rivers or inundated fields.  We hope to have an account from Tony Deutsch who  has witnessed some of the devastation over the past ten days. It seems too early to begin to ascertain the economic impact (including health costs) of the floods, but we look forward to comments.

Media
Finally, in the current atmosphere of amateur and professional reporters rushing to tweet the latest unconfirmed news, we warmly recommend this thoughtful piece:
When reporters keep silent instead of scoops
During the Bosnia conflict, reporters in Sarajevo kept quiet about at least two great stories. We did so with an unwritten rule of realizing that sometimes silence is more important than scoops. … Those past moments come to mind with the stories now of how the Islamic cultural treasures of Timbuktu called for the same caution and awareness for reporters to go along with their accurate and fearless work from such conflict areas.

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