Author Archives: Shannon

Getting Acquainted

It’s been a busy couple of weeks, so I thought I’d take the time to quickly update what’s been going on.

On our first weekend here, we ventured out into Florence to acquaint ourselves with the city. From the Villa (and from my apartment), it’s pretty easy to get into the city center via bus.

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Alan, our director, gives the story behind Ospedale degli Innocenti, which was originally a children’s orphanage.

We also found the public library in Florence, where many Italian students go to study and hang out with friends. (It looks quite different from the libraries that I know!)

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First up-close view of the Duomo!

First up-close view of the Duomo!

And, of course, this isn’t Florence without stumbling upon a statue or two.

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Sorry for the nudity, Grandma! It’s in the name of art!

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I also got my first gelato of the semester at a place near Piazza della Signoria.

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Over the weekend, I also moved into my host family’s apartment. More photos of that later, but it’s been a wonderful experience so far!

The outside of the apartment building

The outside of the apartment building

During orientation, Alan took us on a “walking tour” of Fiesole. Turns out, it was more of a hike than a walking tour, but that’s just semantics. We hiked up to Piazzale Leonardo, where Leonardo Da Vinci famously tested out his flying machines.

On Sunday, we had some time to get lost in the city, armed with a map in hand. One of the highlights was crossing the Arno right at sunset, when the sun casts a beautiful golden glow over the buildings.

Last week, we began our first week of classes, a fairly condensed schedule since we only have class four days a week. After my Italian class every morning, I have some combination of the other three courses that I’m taking this semester: a government course on EU Identity and Globalization, a history course on the Late Renaissance, and another government course on Italian Politics since 1796. In between, I get some reading done in the library or music room at the Villa.

On Wednesday, I tagged along with the Art History class to visit the Bargello and Uffizi––two of the great art museums located here in Florence. Last Friday, we took a group field trip to meet local artists and paint our own scarves for our City of Florence class, a 1-credit course that encourages us to get out and explore an aspect of the city.

Over the weekend, Julia and I decided to jump right into sightseeing, pulling off an exhausting 12-hour day at Museo dell Piedre Dure, Museo di San Marco and the church, and several more hours at the Uffizi. I also bought a student annual pass, which will hopefully allow for many more museum visits over the next several months. We put it to use on Sunday, by going to visit Michelangelo’s iconic David at the Accademia.

A doppo!

Benvenuti a Firenze

I didn’t quite know what I was getting into when I signed up for this. And I mean that in the best way possible––I never imagined that on this Tuesday morning* I would be sitting in an high backed leather chair in a 100-year-old library, sipping my tea with a view of Florence and the Villa gardens. I savor these moments because they are accompanied with the scary realization that I don’t know when else I will be treated this well again. After you spend days wandering around the winding streets of Florence, is it only downhill from there?

Philosophical waxing aside, it’s been a whirlwind couple of days as I’ve settled in, adjusted to the effects of jet lag, and began classes for the semester. I’ll write more on that later, but first it’s time to recap how I got here.

I left San Francisco on an early 6 o’clock flight to Chicago on Wednesday morning, before connecting to my transatlantic flight to Frankfurt. Luckily, despite the weather woes that plagued most of the United States, I managed to make both of my connections. My flight in Chicago was delayed two hours––a nerve-wracking experience when your connection is only two hours to begin with––but we managed to make up enough time in the air so that I was able to reach my gate in Frankfurt with time to spare.

I finally arrived in Florence early on Thursday morning, after watching the sunrise over the peaks of the Alps. When the plane broke through the cloud cover to land in Florence, I was captivated by the rolling green hills and farmland of the Tuscany countryside. So this is it, I thought to myself.

I collected my luggage and got a taxi to Fiesole by myself, as the two others who were supposed to have been on my flight had been delayed elsewhere. The taxi driver raced up the winding road to Fiesole, which lies on a hill above the city of Florence. He’d repeatedly accelerate madly to try to make a green light, then laugh and look in the rearview mirror to see my reaction. “Vroom, vroom,” he laughed at me, as we sped through a narrow one-way alley. I nervously laughed and gripped the side of the car.

Finally, we arrived at Villa le Balze itself, whose name literally means “Villa of the Cliffs” after the cliffs it is situated on.

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Street view of Villa le Balze

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After arriving, I met the Villa staff, processed some paperwork for my permit to stay in Italy, and got a tour around the grounds themselves. Exhausted, I then promptly fell asleep as I waited for the others to arrive.

Around lunch time, I met Taylor, who will also be doing a home stay this semester. (There are only three of us out of the group of 14.) After having some lunch, we decided to explore the gardens. Of course, my camera was in tow:

Afterwards, we decided to walk further up the hill towards Fiesole, where we heard there was a fantastic lookout. And indeed, there was:

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At dinner, we had our first group meal in the dining hall as everyone struggled to stay awake after days of travel.

For me, it’s strange to be embarking on this whole experience of study abroad once again––thrown into a whole new group of people after I had been so accustomed to other eight with whom I lived, studied, and traveled in Turkey. Once more, I’m living amidst unfamiliarity, with a group, a country, and a language that I don’t quite know. But at the same time, it’s exciting to embrace this change one more time.

Ciao!

* At the time I’m posting this, it’s currently Thursday evening. Unfortunately (and fortunately), it can be hard to find time to figure out how to upload all the photos to WordPress when one’s days are filled with class and afternoons are filled with exploring Florence by foot.

On the Road (Airway?) Again: Countdown to Firenze

It’s strange to be leaving again.

My huge purple suitcase is once again stuffed with a semester’s worth of stuff. I’ve got my system down at this point. In fact, I hardly unpacked at all during the two weeks that I’ve been home. It only took several hours this afternoon to throw everything back in, replacing the shorts and dresses that were my staples in Alanya with clothing more suited for the rain and cold of a Firenze spring.

With my bags all packed, I’m now utilizing every outlet in my room as I charge up all the electronics for the travel marathon that commences tomorrow at 3:30 a.m., which is when I need to leave my house in order to make my early morning flight out of San Francisco. From there, I’ll stop in Chicago and Frankfurt before finally touching down in Florence on Thursday morning. (That is, if everything goes to plan!)

Over these past couple weeks, I’ve been so busy savoring my time with family and friends that I haven’t really had much time to reflect on all the wonderful experiences I had in Turkey last semester. And so, as I’m preparing to leave for Italy, it’s not California that I’m starting to feel homesick about, but Alanya.

I unpacked my duffel bag this afternoon to find the picture frame that my Turkish host family gave to me at our last dinner in December. Next to it, I found the beautiful blue, loopy scarf that my host mother had knitted for me. I am incredibly thankful for the charming people and culture that welcomed me to Turkey––encouraging my attempts to make conversation with my broken Turkish, cooking endless amounts of food and sweets, and inviting me into their homes and businesses. I hope that my experience this semester amounts to even just half of that.

I’ll be actually living with a host family this semester––something that both excites and terrifies me at the same time. While last semester I went to my host family’s flat for dinners and hung out with my host sister in town, now I will be living, sleeping, and eating with my new Italian host family. I’m excited to explore and have time away from the Villa in this sense, since that physical separation between home and school was absent in Turkey, where we did everything in the same building. I cannot wait to have my own Italian family, but I’m nervous about the logistics of living in a stranger’s home.

That being said, I cannot wait to explore the city of Florence itself and to touch and feel its centuries of influence as one of the great cultural capitals of the world. I cannot wait to rome its streets, capture its words on paper and its beauty in photographs. I splurged on a couple of the DK Eyewitness Travel Guides for Florence and Italy, and I’ve been pouring over the photographs and drawings. Though they take up several precious pounds in my suitcase, I hope to try out some of the self-guided walking tours for myself. And then, there’s some places that I’ve already bookmarked. I can’t wait to picture the Medicis at home in Fiesole, explore the bizarre taxidermied collection of the Museo Zoologico La Specola, or marvel at Renaissance art.

I’m truly thankful for the incredible opportunity that I have to continue my adventures abroad in Italy. I hope to build off my one semester of Italian to become somewhat conversational in this beautiful language. I hope to learn not only about what Italy meant in the past, but what it means today in global politics. But above all, I hope to have time to wander and savor the country and its people.

A Visit from St. Nicholas

Last Friday (Dec. 6) was St. Nicholas’s Day. In my family, we celebrate by putting our stockings out in front of the fireplace for St. Nick’s visit during the night. I always considered myself lucky that St. Nick visited my family not once, but twice, during December.

St. Nicholas himself came from present-day Demre, a town in southern Turkey about four hours east of Alanya. In the 4th century, he had a reputation for secret gift-giving, serving as a model for the Santa Claus we know and love today. During the Byzantine Empire, St. Nicholas was also one of the many bishops who answered Constantine’s request to appear at the First Council of Nicea, where he was one of those who signed the Nicean Creed.

And so, it was a pleasant surprise to visit a Christmas Market (Noel Pazarı) here in Alanya last Sunday. To all the naysayers who worry about the rising Islamism or intolerance in Turkey, I’d like them to take a look at the wonderful market that the town organizes every year near the harbor.

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There was lots of food! Many of the local cultural associations in Alanya––from the Russians to the Lithuanians to the Germans to the Dutch––set up booths with their traditional sweets.

Amanda and I with our berliners!

You could buy all kinds of handmade crafts.

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I found the Polish booth.

There was even a Christmas tree!

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I also tried salep for the first time, a Turkish drink made from the flour of the tubers of orchids. It’s mixed with hot milk and sprinkled with cinnamon on top––so good!

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Happy holidays!

Castle Walls and Friday Bazaars

Last week, I had some free time in the afternoons to go exploring around Alanya. On Tuesday, it was exploring the area near Red Tower and the castle walls, climbing our way up the cliffs along the castle wall. On Friday, I made a solo expedition to the weekly bazaar, where local farmers line up their produce for sale in a vibrant outdoor market.

Only a week left.

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Into Occupied Territory

The Turkish and the TRNC flag

After our day in Adana/Mersin, we got on a flight the next morning to fly to Cyprus, or more specifically, the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, a self-declared state that comprises the northeastern half of the island. Northern Cyprus is only recognized by Turkey, while rest of the international community considers it an occupied territory of the Republic of Cyprus.

After centuries of Ottoman than British rule, united Cyprus gained in independence in 1960, with a constitution that designated specific administrative roles to Greek and Turkish Cypriots. Unfortunately, this unity didn’t last long. By 1963, most Turkish Cypriots had vacated their government positions in opposition to a series of amendments proposed by President Makarios. Violence erupted between the Turkish and Greek Cypriots, often between former neighbors, with significant casualties on both sides.

In 1974, the military junta back in Greece supported a coup d’etat of the Greek Cypriots, which removed Makarios from office and replaced him with Nikos Sampson. Under the 1960 treaty that created Cyprus, Turkey, Greece, and Great Britain had signed on as guarantors. Using this as legitimization, Turkey invaded the island in July 1974 under the pretense of protecting the Turkish Cypriot population. The army preceded to take over roughly 37% of the island, which remains divided even today by the “Green Line,” a border that UN forces continue to patrol. In 1975, the Turkish Cypriots declared a separate state, which was rejected by the Republic of Cyprus and the United Nations.

And so, almost 40 years later, the island remains paralyzed by this separation. In the meantime, a whole generation of Cypriots has grown up in this division. While there have been decades of relative peace, Turkey still maintains a large military force in the territory. The Turkish invasion and occupation of the TRNC continue to be condemned by the UN Security Council each year.

In 2004, when Cyprus was admitted into the European Union, it did so without resolving the conflict that continues to divide the island. In the same year, Cypriots voted on the UN-proposed Annan Plan to reunite the island, which was put to the people as a referendum. Interestingly, the proposal was supported by 65% of Turkish Cypriots, while 76% of Greek Cypriots opposed the plan. As it remains, there seems to be little impetus to finally reach a solution in Cyprus, even as the division approaches its 40th anniversary.

Nevertheless, if Turkey ever wants to join the EU itself, its accession hinges on its ability to reach a solution in Cyprus. At the moment, several chapters of the accession talks are closed until a resolution is met. (This is one of the issues that we’ve been discussing in my class on Turkey and the EU.)

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We arrived in Cyprus on a beautifully clear day, and immediately drove to Famagusta,  a city on the east coast of Cyprus. After lunch (and some amazing dessert), we had some time to walk around the old part of the city.

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In the heart of Famagusta, I was surprised to find an old, gothic-style cathedral. While today it is known as the Lala Mustafa Pasha Mosque, it was built as Saint Nicholas’s Cathedral between 1298 and 1400 A.D. by the French Lusignan dynasty, who ruled Cyprus during the Middle Ages. It was consecrated as a Catholic cathedral in 1328, then converted into a mosque after the Ottomans captured Famagusta in 1571. It remains a mosque even today––check out the inside!

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The city itself was beautiful, as well.

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However, a part of Famagusta remains abandoned to this day. Prior to 1974, the Varosha quarter of Famagusta was once the number one tourist destination in Cyprus. However, during the invasion, its primarily Greek Cypriot inhabitants fled, leaving behind their houses and extensive tourist developments. Today, no one is allowed to enter the area besides military personnel, leaving the huge hotels and apartment complexes empty.

You can only drive by the outskirts of the quarter by bus, so I wasn’t able to get too many good photos. Here are some I found online:

So eerie!

Afterwards, we headed back to the hotel, where we had the opportunity to talk to a Turkish Cypriot family whose son was a student of one of our professors. It was fascinating to hear their stories, but also heartbreaking to hear about how former neighbors could suddenly turn into such enemies.

After dinner, Alex and I went exploring around our hotel in Girne, going a walk that ended up being a 2-hour fast-walking (because we don’t walk any other way) odyssey where we managed to get lost, twice. We ended up at our hotel later absolutely exhausted.

The next morning, we decided to try at it again, and went exploring down by the harbor in Girne.

Afterwards, the group met with a representative from the EU Coordination Organization in Nicosia, the group who is working on aligning the laws of the TRNC with EU acquis––an interesting arrangement, considering that the EU officially doesn’t recognize the TRNC.

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The man who talked to us actually was trained and educated as an attorney in England, before he moved to Northern Cyprus to work as a law professor. Now, his specialty is intellectual property law, where his task is to comb through old laws (many dating back to the British colonial period) and make recommendations about how to bring them up to match EU acquis.

After our discussion, we then had the opportunity to cross the Green Line itself. Since the border opened up in 2004, movement between the two sides of the island is relatively easy––although I had to show my passport and get a stamp before crossing through.

(I edited out my personal information.)

(I edited out my personal information.)

Once we passed through to the Republic of Cyprus, suddenly we were inundated with all the symbols of Western consumerism: Starbucks, McDonald’s, Coldstone, Topshop. Instead of Turkish, many signs were in Greek in addition to English. The streets were packed with all kinds of shoppers––since the borders opened in 2004, many Turkish and Greek Cypriots regularly cross the borders to go shopping on the other side.

At this point, I have a confession to make. After months of Turkish food, there was nothing that sounded better than some McDonald’s fries. And so, Alex, Amanda, and I caved and went to McDonald’s for lunch.

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Since we had already made the jump, we figured that we might as well finish off our meal allowance with Starbucks. (In Turkey, most of the coffee we drink is the powdered Nescafé stuff, so it’s hard to find some normal brewed coffee.)

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There’s something comforting about the fact that every Starbucks you go to looks exactly the same, down to the comfy arm chairs and music soundtrack.

And then to top it off, we headed back to the McDonald’s to get some McFlurries for dessert.

Feeling somewhat sick, we spent the rest of our time in the RoC walking around the streets and looking into all the shops. But after 4 months on the Turkish Lira, I’m fairly stingy on my purchases when it comes to how expensive things are on the euro––next semester in Italy is going to be a rude awakening having to pay for everything in euros.

We headed back over to the other side of the border to meet up with the group, then took a bus ride over to Bellapais, a small village in Northern Cyprus. The village is home to the site of the Bellapais Abbey, built by the French, that has a long view down to the Mediterranean Sea.

After that, we headed to the airport for our flight back to Antalya. We happened to be in the airport at the same time the Fenerbahçe and Beşiktaş soccer game was going on, so everyone in the airport was glued to the two televisions that were showing the game. So much so, in fact, that the airport employees were so involved in the game that someone neglected to display our flight on the screens until 10 minutes before our flight was scheduled to leave.

With a short flight over the Mediterranean, we were soon on the bus ride home to Alanya, getting ready for our final stretch here in Turkey.

In the Fields by Day, On the Stage by Night

We woke up early on Thursday morning to catch a flight to Adana, where we then took a bus to a small village outside of Mersin that is home to Ümmiye Koçak.

Who’s Ümmiye? By day, she works in the fields or takes care of her family, as is typical of women who live in this small village in the Taurus Mountains. But at night, she writes plays.

In 2000, Ümmiye attended a theater production at a local high school in Arslanköy and watched her very first play. She was mesmerized.

From The New Yorker:

For a long time, [Ümmiye] had been puzzling over the situation of village women––the many roles they had to play. In the field, they worked like men; in villas, they became housekeepers; at home, they were wives and mothers. “I kept turning it over in my head, how is it that I do all these things,” she later recalled. “Then I saw Hüseyin’s theatre. That’s when I decided that the thing I’d been turning over in my head was theatre.”

Inspired by the performance, Ümmiye set out to create her own theater group. She gathered together a group of other village women, many of whom couldn’t read, and formed the Arslanköy Women’s Theatre Group. Soon, the group collaborated on their own play, based on their own difficult life experiences, which included domestic violence and forced marriage.

Over the past decade, Ümmiye’s troupe (still all-women) has attracted attention far beyond the borders of their small village. Their performance of Hamlet was covered by The Guardian; last December, even The New Yorker devoted a profile to this courageous group of women.

At the request of one of our professors, we traveled to the village to meet specifically with this group of women. As the sun was setting, we sat outside her house in the country, talking to Ümmiye about her work and it means to her.

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She explained how she spends most of her day in the fields, then spends several hours each night writing and working on her plays. Currently, she is working on a series of plays: one is a conversation between a mother and daughter about global warming. Theater gives her an outlet, a voice, she said.

The sun had set by time we got back to Adana, where we went to a kebap restaurant for dinner and settled in at our hotel for the night. The next morning, we had a quick tour of Adana by bus, before catching our flight to Cyprus. At our short glance, Adana is a very different city than those we’ve encountered so far––it looked and felt like we were more in the east.

Turkey in Turkiye

We got back late last night after spending the Thanksgiving weekend in a whirlwind trip to Adana and Cyprus, after taking three flights and three days. Our actual Thanksgiving evening was spent in a restaurant in Adana, eating none other than Adana Kebap (so good!). Because we would be away, we celebrated Thanksgiving on the Tuesday before, inviting all of our Alanya friends to a giant turkey dinner.

We don’t have ovens in our apartments, so we were somewhat limited in what we could make, ordering a turkey from a local hotel and pies from a restaurant. Mara and I claimed the mashed potatoes, so we spent the afternoon peeling potatoes, boiling them in water, and mashing them up with copious amounts of butter and milk.

At one point, when Mara, Amanda, and I were peeling potatoes, Lindsay remarked, “Of course we have the Foley’s, O’Malley’s, and Galvin’s peeling potatoes.” Of course.

We decorated Yamaç Cafe with a box of Thanksgiving decorations that had been shipped from the U.S., then laid out all the food in a huge spread: turkey, mashed potatoes, salad, rice, baked carrots, brussels sprouts, gravy, stuffing, pies, and so on. We invited our host families for the meal, and slowly the restaurant began to fill up with our big Alanya family.

My host family was amused that we called the meat “turkey.” In fact, the Turkish word for the bird is hindi, which is also the word for someone from India. So really, the circle of confusion just continues!

While it’s hard to be away during the holidays, there’s so much to be thankful for here in Alanya. I am thankful for my friends and professors, those who have shared this wonderful experience with me. But I’m also incredibly thankful for my “Turkish family,” who has generously and open-heartedly welcomed me into their home and lives. I can’t say how lovely it is to see The Hunger Games in a movie theater full of Turkish teenagers, to play countless games of Okey, and to share meals that always include never-ending amounts of delicious food. (They even brought me a cake and a container of ashure to take home with me after the meal!) They are absolutely the best.

It was truly a Happy Thanksgiving.

Turkey and the European Union

“The EU Accession process is less of a negotiation than an imposition,” we were told, meeting with Michael Miller, the Head of Political Affairs for the EU Delegation to Turkey in Ankara.

And indeed, the accession process is intrusive, as the European Commission issues thorough recommendations about what must be done for Turkey to bring itself in line with the European Union acquis. As a result, the EU Accession process has been a driving force behind reform in Turkey.

The headquarters of the EU Delegation to Turkey in Ankara.

The headquarters of the EU Delegation to Turkey in Ankara.

The EU Accession process has also been a long time coming. The EEC and Turkey first entered into an Association Agreement in 1964, aimed at eventually securing Turkey’s full membership in the EEC. However, the next several decades were rife with political violence and instability, with military coups in 1970 and 1981. In 1987, Turkey applied for full EEC membership; it was rejected as the European Commission stressed the existing gaps between Turkey and the EEC. Turkey and the EU instead formed a Customs Union in 1995. Finally, the European Council finally entered Turkey into its list of candidate countries at Helsinki in 1999, and accession negotiations opened in October 2005.

There are some obvious benefits of Turkey’s accession for both sides. The EU has an interest to stabilize Turkey politically, and the location of Turkey as a key energy transit route would make its EU membership extremely strategic. For Turkey, the EU is its biggest trading partner, accounting for 40% of its foreign trade. The EU is by far the biggest investor in Turkey, and it would make sense to solidify this economic partnership through greater integration.

However, the European Union has evolved significantly from its beginnings as an economic union in the EEC. In this sense, Turkey is chasing a moving goalpost or target when it comes to EU accession. The EU has increasingly been seen to embody a set of European values with regards to democracy and human rights.

While these reforms can be made, there remains hesitancy whether it is worth it. After initial progress in the early 2000s, the accession of Cyprus to the EU without resolving the border dispute spurred Turkish resentment, resulting in a hiatus in accession talks between 2004 to 2012. In contrast, many chapters are closed in the Turkish accession talks until a resolution in Cyprus. Comments by French President Sarkozy that “Turkey… has no place inside the European Union” suggest that even if Turkey could meet the acquis, it might still be unable to receive the unanimous vote to ultimately become a member.

There is also the question about whether Turkey actually needs the EU. The country managed to breeze through the world financial crisis of 2008-2009 relatively unscathed, in part due to the banking sector reforms instituted as part of its IMF loan package at the beginning of the decade. It has a large and growing domestic market, as over 50% of its population is under the age of 30. Also, there tends to be talk in Turkey about its options in the East, looking to Russia or countries in the Middle East as possible economic and political partners.

At the same time, Mr. Miller told us, “Turkey would do well to look at the costs of non-membership as well,” believing that Turkey does not have the political ability to institute reforms without external pressure. The lack of progress after 2004 has demonstrated this shortcoming, although Prime Minister Erdoğan’s Democratization Package may signal a renewed dedication.

“We need to get the EU accession process back to the leverage it had in 2002 to 2004,” Mr. Miller said.

Human Rights in Turkey

“Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world,” begins the preamble to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the document adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1948 following the experience of WWII. And indeed, one of the triumphs of the 20th and 21st century has been a further expansion and recognition of this “inherent dignity” to all of humankind.

Yet there is still much to be done.

In Turkey, the 20th century was marked by repeated military coups, political violence, and an armed insurgency in the southeast by the PKK. The brutal crackdown of protests in Gezi Park last June provides one of the most recent examples of the constraints on the freedom of expression in Turkey.

In the early 2000s, the possibility of EU accession drove Turkey to institute a number of positive reforms in the arena of human rights: rewording some problematic articles in the Constitution and Penal Code, expanding the rights of minority groups like the Kurds, and limiting the application of the death penalty. But after this initial reform period, EU accession talks stalled after the admission of Cyprus into the EU in 2004. Consequently, the reforms also stopped. Only within the last couple months did the EU and Turkey resume negotiations, possibly again renewing the impetus for reform. Indeed, President Erdogan recently introduced a series of reform measures in his “Democratization Package” on Sept. 13.

Standing up for human rights

In Ankara, we met with representatives from İnsan Hakları Derneği, a human rights NGO (non-governmental organization, for those who aren’t familiar with all the acronyms in IR speak) in Turkey with its headquarters in Ankara.

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İHD is the oldest and biggest human rights association in Turkey. Established in 1986, today it has 30 branches across the country. While the association addresses a wide variety of issues within the realm of human rights, it tends to concentrate on issues of gender and freedom of expression, focusing on increasing awareness as well as providing free legal aid.

This can be a dangerous pursuit. In the early years of the association, two members were kidnapped and disappeared while they were working on cases of disappeared people. However, there has been much progress. While the organization does not face as much of a physical threat anymore, there still remains legal and administrative pressure on its activities.

We spoke with the International Affairs Secretary for İHD. He had recently been released from prison in April, after being held for 10 months for charges related to a speech he had made about international lobbying activities. He was ultimately released on the first hearing about his charges, but pretrial detention in Turkey can last up to five years. During the first seven months of imprisonment, neither he nor his lawyers had access to his indictment because it was under secrecy.

He was imprisoned under the pretenses of Turkey’s wide-scoping anti-terrorism law, which was introduced in 1991 to counter an insurgency by the PKK. However, due the wide-scoping language of the law, thousands of people––including many journalists––have been jailed. The definition of terrorism is so ambiguous that wide groups of individuals can be sent to prison. Very few of these individuals are accused of violent or criminal action, but instead are accused with promoting the aims of illegal organizations. To Turkey’s credit, the definition of what constitutes terrorist propaganda was narrowed last April, although the scope of the law remains an area of debate and criticism.

We discussed the possibility of EU accession as an incentive to improving human rights issues within Turkey, noting that the recent September 13th Democratization Package was passed just two weeks before the EU Progress Report. The president of İHD emphasized the need for the EU to establish an effective follow-up measure, highlighting an issue that we’ve examined time and time again in my classes this semester. While Turkey has many of the institutional frameworks in place, it lacks the administrative and social capabilities to ensure their implementation. Enforcement remains an issue. Nevertheless, the recent Democratization Package is promising, as it demonstrates an effort by the Justice and Development Party to address some of the issues within Turkey.

“In total, I am still an optimist,” our speaker told us about the reforms.

In the southeast of Turkey, the continuing crisis in Syria has had serious effects on those living near the border. Estimates vary, but there are currently around 800,000 Syrian refugees in Turkey, with around 200,000 in designated refugee camps. The refugees are particularly vulnerable to human rights abuses.

“For us, the right to life is the most basic right,” said the president of İHD. “If there is no right to life, you can’t talk about democracy or rights in any country.”

The international community has a serious role to play in finding a sustainable solution to this crisis.

Out of the closet: Addressing LGBT issues in Turkey

In Ankara, we also met with a woman from Kaos GL, an NGO that focuses in LGBT rights and issues within Turkey. When we arrived, their meeting room was currently being used by another workshop, so we walked to go sit at a bar nearby that’s known as a safe space among university students in the area.

Kaos GL began meeting as a group in 1994, but was formally established as an organization in 2005 when they began publishing a magazine. Today, they engage in various forms of outreach and education within the community to deal with continuing issues of discrimination.

In almost every major city in Turkey, you’ll find a set of rainbow stairs. (There’s even a set of rainbow stairs near the harbor in Alanya.) Originally one man started doing it in Istanbul, when he kept painting the stairs rainbow after the city municipality kept painting them back to normal. Soon, LGBT communities started painting rainbow stairs in each of their own cities.

An example of rainbow stairs inside a high rise in Ankara

For more information on human rights in Turkey, check out the following resources:

  • The Human Rights Watch’s 2013 Report on Turkey gives an overview of the current status quo and recent developments regarding human rights in Turkey
  • The U.S. State Department’s 2012 Human Rights Report on Turkey provides an extensive summary of the major obstacles to the guarantee of human rights in Turkey
  • Amnesty International keeps an active blog on Human Rights in Turkey with regular updates