Tag Archives: Culture

The EU; Ukraine and Turkey

EU flagFollowing on from the ‘list of countries with more than 100,000 prisoners as a percentage of their population‘ in which there is one EU candidate country (Turkey) and one ‘Eastern Partnership participant (ENP)’ (and potential EU candidate) (Ukraine).

I won’t go as far as to say that these two countries hold genuine ambitions of joining the European Union but it remains a distinct possibility. With Ukraine the 5th worst in the world and Turkey the 10th it once again highlights both how far these countries have to come and how alien their values are from European ones.

The question once again is, ‘Where does the European border really sit?’ and ‘Should the EU continue strong relations with countries holding opposite values?‘.

European shared values map

Blue: EU. Green: Candidates. Brown: ENP.

Ukraine has been in the news a fair bit lately what with the political tug-of-war the EU and Russia seem to be doing for the loyalty of Ukraine. For those who have been living in cave Ukraine was set to sign a free trade and association agreement with the EU however after pressure from Russia’s Vladimir Putin the agreement has been delayed. The delay has caused much unrest in Ukraine with pro-EU protests getting the capital Kiev.
However with the large prison numbers, many of which can be considered political prisoners (such as the accused former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko) should this be the last connection between the two entities? Sign the trade agreement and that’s it. Until Ukraine can sort itself out and adopt a more democratic approach any further EU/Ukraine agreements should be off limits.

Turkey it seems is forever hitting headlines and tables for all the wrong reasons (many of which I have written about before). Once again Turkey hits the top 10 on the prisoners list, many of which are either journalists or political prisoners. Turkey has such appalling levels of free speech even the mere suggestion of joining the EU should be off limits. Turkey who jails journalists and proponents of free speech and the democratic process, Turkey who treats women as second class citizens and sex objects, Turkey who refuses to recognise the Armenian genocides, Turkey who illegally captured half of Cyprus and the Turkey that is turning away from secularism.

These are not the values and standards of Europe, there is no place within our community for people like you.

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Turkey’s attitude – The EU and beyond

Turkish FlagToday’s news from Turkey (reported here from the Turkish media and here from the UK media) is about comments Egemen Bağış has made. Mr Bağış is the Turkish minister for EU Affairs and chief negotiator of Turkey’s accession talks with the European Union.

Mr Bağış is currently under investigation by Swiss authorities for genocide denial with comments he made in 2012 in Switzerland in reference to the Armenian genocide carried out by the Ottomans in 1915.

Mr Bağış has said that he believes that Turkey will never become a full member of the European Union , citing ‘stiff opposition’ and ‘European prejudices’. There is certainly strong opposition to Turkey’s application to join the EU but it’s not prejudice.

As I have written about before and has been well documented the opposition to Turkey’s application is mainly due to several specific issues such as:

The Cyprus issue
The Armenian genocide
Freedom of speech
Freedom of the press

However some of the opposition is more general, the European Union is a union of countries that share the same or similar values. Yes the union is an economic union, a financial union, a political union but it is also a social union, a union of shared culture and values.

Any European who has lived in Turkey or spent a reasonable amount of time in Turkey will know that Turkey isn’t a European country. This is not about geography, this is about culture, values and attitudes.

I want to focus on the general attitude of the Turkish people and their government (as I have already covered in part about the other aspects)…

The attitude is one of irresponsibility and denial, one of misplaced arrogance. This can be seen both past and present but we cannot change the past so let’s think about the present.
This can be seen by their words and actions in relation to the listed above issues but also from a personal perspective I have seen this when working with Turkish people and living in Turkey (mentioned in previous blog posts).

They have the attitude of male superiority over women, that their influence and history is greater than that of other nations and the complete failure to recognise their own failings at both the individual and national level. The Turkish people fail to accept any global reports that reflect badly on Turkey (such as HDI, freedom of the press etc) saying that they are a conspiracy. It’s hard to provide examples with evidence as these are from conversations I have had personally but here are a few just from the last couple of days (in the news)…

Turkey sets up ‘Turkvision’ because it keeps losing the EuroVision song contest.

Turkey gets humiliated at the EuroBasket (European basketball competition) after it’s best player is sent home for exercising free speech.

Mr Bağış blames Europe for Turkey not recognising and dealing with its own problem (Armenia, freedom, Cyprus etc) because they are ‘prejudice’.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan blames foreigners for the Gezi Park protests.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan blames prejudice for not winning the right to hold the Olympic games

Recep Tayyip Erdogan blames anyone and everyone for anything and everything (except himself or his party)

Something the Turkish people should learn is what ‘prejudice’ means:

Prejudice – Preconceived opinion not based on reason or experience.

Europe is NOT prejudice because its reasons ARE based on reason and experience.

2 years in Turkey

Turkish FlagThe introduction

Firstly let me set the scene, I am a 29 years old and I’m from Britain. I have spend the last two years in Turkey and most of my experience comes from living and working in the capital city Ankara.

When I arrived in Turkey from China I came with an open mind, I had not been to the country before and in all honesty knew very little about the country. One of my relatives has been to the country several times before (as a tourist) and always spoke highly of the country and its people.

Here, is my experience…

The job

I wont go into exact detail as to not incriminate myself and others.
Before I left China I searched for a job and was promptly offered a teaching position in Ankara, I explained my experience and qualifications and we agreed that I would come and work for them.

After I arrived I started work within a couple of days, a month or so later the company took me to the immigration office and sorted out a residence permit. I was told that was enough and of course I continued to work. A year later the police come knocking at the company for illegally employing foreigners and after extensive denial the company and I depart. Of course as everyone knows, you need a work permit to work!

Much later another former employee threatened me on facebook for my comments about news articles relating to Turkey.

The apartment

Leaving the job was not a problem as by this time I was already engaged to and living with a wonderful Turkish woman. We decided that her apartment was not in a suitable location for working in the city centre with all the transport time and costs so we went apartment hunting.

Unfortunately we very quickly found out that no-one would rent their apartment to us, why? Because we are not married! She was told by every landlord that if they see people of the opposite sex coming in and out of the apartment that she will be evicted!!

The car

So after staying put in her old apartment we decide that the next best thing is to buy a car to make life easier.

Cars in Turkey are very expensive, even second-hand ones, so we eventually find one that seems nice and is in our price range. Before we hand over the cash and sign for ownership the car is taken to a garage to check that everything is ok, which of course it is.

We pay for the car and sign for ownership, all notorised no problems… however when we take it to OUR garage, we find it’s been in a significant previous accident (which the records didn’t show) and that the engine size is smaller than stated, in fact, the engine is so small that it struggles to get up and down the numerous hills and slopes that make up the city of Ankara!

The crash

This one sounds worse than it actually is to be fair but I have to put it in some perspective….

I have lived in a few different countries, most of which with terrible road safety records (China, Turkey and Cyprus). It took 29 years to be involved in my first (and hopefully last) road crash. Travelling on a coach from Ankara to Bursa we were hit my a car, I’m not sure how it happened exactly but we felt a hit and then heard a screech followed by another crash and then we saw the car limp in front of us and pull over to the side. The was little damage to us put their car had to be towed away. Thankfully no-one was hurt.

The cat

A sad story, you could say that this sums up capitalism or life in a developing country.

My fiance and I bought a cat, a beautiful Scottish Fold female we called Illa. We bought her from a pet shop in Ankara, who were the middle men for a breeder in Istanbul. The cat arrived about two weeks later to our home, a small and very adorable cat which we loved very much. We noticed that Illa had external parasites and wanting the best health for the cat we took her to a vet in Golbasi (on the outskirts of Ankara) which is the closest to where we lived.

The ‘vet’ prescribed some medication, unfortunately wrong medication and in the wrong dosage, instead of a pill for small cats, he prescribed for dogs and said to give the quarters of the pill in a much shorter time apart.

After Illa stopped eating and drinking we decided to take her to Ankara’s animal University who did all they could and immediately recognised the problem. Unfortunately not only was Illa effectively poisoned she was taken away from her mother too young and still needed her mothers milk.

It later came to our attention that many vets in Turkey are actually operating using a bought license and are not trained veterinarians. So we have a breeder and a pet shop who only care about getting their money and not the welfare of the animal and we have a ‘vet’ who also only cares about making money and not the animal.

We had Illa for 10 days before she eventually died after taking her to the animal university every day after she became sick.

The marriage

Getting married in Turkey as a foreigner to a Turkish citizen (as may be true for other countries) is a bureaucratic nightmare. One aspect of the process really got to me though, the proof that Turkey is NOT a secular country, as part of the process there is one particular form which includes a space for religion. Of course I left this blank as I have no religion, this however is not acceptable, neither is atheist or agnostic. There HAD to be a religion, either Muslim or Christian, in the end in order to proceed with the marriage I told him to put what he likes, so he did! No freedom of choice here!

The exit

After we got married, we went to the immigration office a few days before my residence permit expires and along with the marriage certificate and the fees I got a 1 year extension (from 27th April 2013).

Leaving Turkey at the Bulgarian border I was taken off the coach and asked why I didn’t have a valid permit to be in Turkey, when I have them my Turkish citizen number and explained the situation the said that I didn’t have a valid permit and that it expired (yes you guessed it) on the 27th April (with today being the 19th August). Of course I was promptly fined 65 euros and told not to come back for 3 months!

The marriage (again)

I am now married to a beautiful and wonderful Turkish woman who is part of a lovely warm, friendly and welcoming family and I couldn’t be happier.

>The exit (again)

The second best thing in my life (after my wife) is leaving Turkey.

The summary

So I came to Turkey with an open-mind, ready to embrace another culture with it’s customs and habits. I welcomed the prospect of Turkey joining the European Union so that it may break down the barriers of Islamophobia, that Europeans and Muslims can learn to understand each other and realise that we’re not so different after all.

Now I think and feel pretty much the opposite, the Chinese share more similarities with Europe than Turkey does. The values that the average Turk holds dear are not compatible with European values. Europe and Europeans value democracy and freedom of choice and expression, sadly, generally speaking Turkish people do not.

Aside from my personal experiences almost daily you can find examples from the Turkish press (in English) where this is proved to be true. Children being sold into marriage, girls gang-raped and the girl gets sentenced and the men go free. Where if you tell someone you do not believe in God they can kill you. Sadly the list is almost endless.

I have met some very nice Turkish people, some have become very close friends but these people are in the vast minority and they themselves hide who they really are, what they really think because to express oneself freely in Turkey means to risk your own life.

England & Wales Census 2011; immigration

The 2011 England & Wales census findings continue to be released in dribs and drabs with todays (amongst others) on employment, immigration and religion.

The media have of course focused on immigration (maybe the national dislike of foreigners helps sell papers). This is turn has led to online posters winging out the immigration issue (or problem as they like to say).

A quick look at the figures…

The population of England and Wales has gone up by 4.1 million over the 10 year period since the last (2001) census.
The same number (4.1 million) is also the amount that those describing themselves as Christian has fallen (12%).

Most of the immigrants during the 10 year period came from Poland with India and Pakistan making up the top three.
1.15 million more people identify themselves an Muslims (up 2%).
14 million said they have no religion a huge increase of 6.4 million.

So while religion on the whole is falling (good news) Islam (due to immigration) is rising (bad news) with the biggest change being those of no religion rising sharply (great news).

The findings (for me at least) paint a generally positive picture but the main issue is the unsurprising online response from the public of England & Wales in regards to immigration.

It’s no secret how the British (I know the census is England & Wales but the online posters are from all over Britain) public feel about foreigners and it’s certainly not positively!

So I was thinking about foreigners, who are the good foreigners and who are the bad foreigners?

Has anyone ever complained about the Dutch or Swedish immigrants in the UK? Are white foreigners ok while non-whites are not ok? Maybe rich foreigners are fine as long as the poorer ones stay out?

Judging from the online posters I’d say that rich and white-skinned were much more preferable to poor and brown-skinned. Brown-skinned people seem to be perceived and not willing to adapt and integrate into British society bringing in with them their own religion and culture that doesn’t adhere to Britain’s own values.
No-one complained about the Russian oligarchs buying British football clubs and attracting the best players. Britain doesn’t like benefit scroungers (unless of course they are white British benefit scroungers then it’s certainly less of an issue).
Some may think I’m being too hard on my fellow Brits, unfortunately I’m not.

Similarly as I posted about European Identity Britain wants those who accept and adhere to its own set of values. Someone who pays their taxes, drinks real ale, supports the England national teams and speaks with an English accent (cor blimey guv’nor).

Personally my experiences of foreigners have been generally really good in Britain (mostly Europeans good) and Africans and Caribbeans a mixed bad (some really good while others awfully homophobic and rude).

Turkey & the EU

Before I came to live in Turkey I was fully in support of their EU membership bid. Turkey has a strong and growing economy and it is one of the most modern secular countries with a vast majority Islamic population.

I thought that with the current economic crises facing Europe and the growing wave of Islamophobia throughout Europe that having this modern thinking and ‘successful’ country join its ranks that we in Europe would see that actually we are all the same and that their inclusion is of great benefit to us all.

Now, having lived in Turkey for just over a year I think pretty much the opposite.

Why the sudden turnaround I hear? Well…

As I briefly mentioned before in two earlier posts (1 year in Turkey & European Identity) it soon became clear that we (Europeans and Turks) are not all the same deep down and that Turkey really isn’t a modern and progressive country.

I oppose Turkey joining the European Union because of many things but ultimately it can be put down to one thing, Turkey isn’t European.

What I mean by this is not its geographical location and not its peoples’ religious views but the values they have are just so incompatible with European values. From my experiences of living here in Turkey (where I still reside) I can provide numerous examples of such differences but mostly it comes down to free will.

Before people jump the gun ‘free will’ means:

The power of acting without the constraint of necessity or fate; the ability to act at one’s own discretion.

People in Turkey have to sneak around with their partners if they’re not married for fear of reprisal. Even if you are engaged to your partner you still can’t live with them. You can’t rent an apartment as an unmarried couple. These are not actual laws enforced by the government but are unofficial rules enforced by the people themselves. If you express your views, religious, political, cultural etc you can expect anything up to being murdered (again not by the government but by normal everyday Turks). This cannot be any further from the European values of do what you like, no-one cares, no-one is staring at you, no-one will kill you for kissing the same sex in public etc.

Armenian Genocide

Speaking to people in Turkey, young and old alike there is a uniformed attitude and response to the Armenian genocide issue which is simple that there was no Armenian genocide, there was a civil war and people on both sides were killed and that the Armenian genocide issue is a conspiracy by the whole world against Turkey (paranoid!).

Cyprus

This one is a little more tricky, while arguably you could say the problems stem from the Greek-Cypriots coup attempt which gave Turkey no choice but to invade Cyprus to ‘protect’ the Turkish-Cypriots the fact is that the Turkish military didn’t leave the island after the coup attempt failed and normal democracy was restored. The occupied territory in the North did however vote to unify the island but the Republic South voted against it. The occupied territories of northern Cyprus are even today only recognised by Turkey leaving the situation a long way from being resolved and neither side of the issue willing to budge.

The Armenian and Cyprus issues are two of the biggest issues facing Turkey’s long standing EU negotiations.

A month ago in Berlin Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that the EU will lose Turkey if it isn’t granted EU membership by 2023.
Well Mr Erdogan, there is a reason why Turkey hasn’t been granted EU membership and will never be granted membership while Turkey’s values and attitudes remain so incompatible with ours.

The Leveson Report & the EU

After reading the Leveson inquiry in the news and nucleus.uk.net‘s Leveson write up I thought I would pass some comments.

For those who don’t know the Leveson report/inquiry looks into the ethics, culture and practice of the press in the UK. A summery can be found here.

The part I want to focus on in relation to a regulatory body is…

‘The body should consider encouraging the press to be as transparent as possible in relation to sources for its stories, if the information is in the public domain.’

Which leads me to the list of outrageous nonsense the British media have spouted over the years about the EU (found here) which has created an unprecedented amount of negativity towards the European Union and no doubt an irreversible amount of damage (so much so that a UK referendum on leaving the EU is on the cards).

These people in the media, the owners, the journalists and editors etc clearly have an agenda whether that is their own personal agenda or one being handed down by politicians is pretty much unimportant, the point is that facts must be shown to the public, then commentators can add their own opinions of the facts.

Freedom of the press is a must, however the truth should be a must too. Too many papers twist the truth, spin the truth or just outright lie.

This must be stopped and made illegal, it effects people and their opinions of people, parties and institutions.

Remember the EU bendy bananas nonsense? Yes because it’s all made-up!

Coffee – Starbucks & Culture

With Starbucks in the UK news recently in regards to leaching off society by not paying its fair share of tax I thought I would write an entry about one of my passions; coffee.

Some time ago I bought a book called ‘The connoisseur’s guide to coffee’ by Jon Thorn and Michael Segal. It’s an interesting book with information about coffee from around the world, from the history, growing, production to various consumption methods.

One thing I noticed about the book was how many times Starbucks was mentioned, it seems that in the US at least Starbucks is seen as top-end coffee (is this true?!?)

I like Starbucks coffee, I’d describe it as good coffee but that’s all, not great, not fantastic, just good.

It’s not that I want to go down the anti-capitalist route of corporate chains are awful and independent cafés are by far the best (at least in Turkey this is certainly not true). I care about what tastes good and what I am willing to pay for.

Since I now live in Turkey getting hold of coffee that isn’t in a sachet (like nescafe 2-in-1) or Turkish style (Turkish coffee is like a double espresso shot filled with sand) is extremely difficult, the choices are very limited. This originally had me in Starbucks at pretty much every opportunity however since I now have filter, grinder and espresso machines at home, honing my barista skills I find myself rarely going to Starbucks, quite frankly I can make better myself, pop it into a flask and I’m away.

Turkey just doesn’t have a coffee culture, probably like the US and to a lesser extent the UK.

If anyone from the US reads this I would really appreciate any feedback in regards to Starbucks’ coffee (in terms of coffee quality) and US coffee culture in general.