In primary school we were all taught that people in the 15th century thought the world was flat. There were the medieval era maps that depicted the world at the Asian coast, leaving an area on which was inscribed "Hic sunt dracones" (Here be dragons). It was into this unknown that the courageous Columbus dared to sail.
However, as with so many things these days, what we were being taught was far from the truth. Most pre-Socrates thinkers believed in the flat earth theory; however, before the medieval period - that is long before Christopher Columbus - most scientists and thinkers were pretty sure that the world was round.
The idea that there is a falling-off point to the earth - or that beyond a certain point in the world only dragons or monsters exist - is not so popular today.
This is a time when many people in Turkey have started to wonder if our understanding of the world, if our perceptions, are really so askew as they appear when we read Western media reports about this country. Are we living in a world in which what is not understood is simply painted over and labeled "Hic sunt dracones?"
Perhaps, if all those things that are printed are true, then perhaps the world is really flat, and we are living among dictators and dragons?
This article should stretch back as far as the Gezi Park events where the media, particularly Western media, lamented the heavy hand taken against the protestors. No one in Turkey is against the right to demonstrate, the right to free speech. Peaceful protests are something that many of us want to see more of.
However, most protestors in Turkey don't know how to remain peaceful. The limits that protests should take have yet to be learned. The problem for most Turks with the Gezi Park events is the damage caused by the protestors after the first few days. Public property, public and private buses, public schools, television channel trucks and pavements were all destroyed. The cost? According to one estimate TL 167 billion ($5.741 billion) to another estimate of TL 210 billion of public funds. In any case, a large amount of money from the public purse.
However, most Western media outlets overlooked this vandalism and hooliganism; the perpetrators were lauded as heroes who were standing up to a so-called dictator. That this so-called dictator had invited the protest leaders to his office on the second day of events and had chatted with them, listened to their demands and agreed with them is overlooked.
The world appears to have been flattened a bit...
But let's not go back that far; that is past history.
Macedonia has decided that it cannot take Syrian refugees from Homs and Damascus, that they should not be accepted, as these are safe cities. Knowing a lot of people who are in Istanbul, having had to leave their beloved cities of Homs or Damascus, it is hard to comprehend this statement. Have the people in Macedonia seen the photos taken of Homs from a drone released last month? No building has been left standing. Perhaps that is why it is safe: Because there is no one left to bomb? One Syrian youth told me that no food or water is allowed into Homs. Only drugs. The people remaining in the city are left to starve, but given ample "comfort" with narcotics. Doesn't that bode well for the future? No, Macedonia is right. A city without food, water or other facilities, but with plenty of mind-numbing drugs is a safe place.
The world is getting flatter...
But Macedonia is another world away; let's look closer to home:
The story about the "closing" of the Zaman newspaper and the Cihan News Agency... Neither of these institutions has been closed down. Receivers were appointed by the court to continue to run them, while the finances of the group are being investigated.
Yet there are ridiculous claims that Erdoğan appeared on the front page on the first day after being taken into receivership. Well, he did appear. But he appeared as part of a story about the opening of the third bridge. The third bridge is one of the longest in the world; it has been built in the shortest amount of time. This is news; this is news that is worthy of the front page of any paper. And, funny enough, the president of the country showed up to cut the ribbon. The state leader is present at a major event....
But back to the taking into receivership of Zaman and the Cihan News Agency: These cases are very similar to that of İpek Koza. These groups are all part of Gülen-associated companies.
The groups were not taken into receivership because they were critical of the government. They were taken into receivership because there is evidence of fraudulent financial transactions, including stock market manipulation, double bookkeeping and tax evasion.
The problem lies in this. There are plenty of newspapers and media groups in Turkey that are critical of the government. Many other newspapers that are critical of the government have not been taken into receivership.
It should be no surprise that Gülen-associated groups are suspected of shady financial dealings. Charter schools run by Gülenist groups have been investigated for exactly this reason in the U.S., with the FBI raiding 19 different schools throughout the country. According to The Atlantic, in Utah there was a financial probe into the Gülen-associated school there. This was due to large debts and also because the school had donated public funds taken from the local community to other Gülenist organizations, as well as using these funds to bring in teachers from Turkey. Again, according to The Atlantic, "The school spent about 50 cents to pay the immigration costs of foreign teachers for every dollar that it spent on textbooks." In Texas and in Georgia, as well as in a number of other states, public funds were being funneled to Gülenist companies.
It is one thing to be critical of the government. It is totally another to try to cover up illegal financial transactions behind a smoke screen of government criticism. Newspapers, anti or pro-government, papers and media outlets should not commit financial fraud. It is for this reason that the cry "Black day for journalism" rings incredibly hollow and opportunistic for the majority of Turkish observers. People here understand the Gülenist group well. They should be well understood elsewhere, but unfortunately, this wouldn't fit in with the image that is being created of a Turkish dictatorship that is cracking down on the free press.
The world has just got a little bit flatter...
Then there was the furor when President Erdoğan said he did not respect or abide by the decision of the Constitutional Court to release Can Dündar, who was on remand on charges of spying. Turkish law is not unusual in that there is no bail for cases of espionage. The president's comment was related to the fact that the Dündar case had not yet been heard in the lower court; no decision had yet been made. For an "appeal" to be made, there has to be a "decision." Now, any decision that the lower courts make will be moot. The Constitutional Court has already decided the case. This is not the proper judicial procedure, and it is to this that objections were made (and not just by the president).
The funny thing is, this is the same judiciary that put the Gülenist companies under receivership. That is, when the judiciary does something that is in line with government policy, the media in the West see them as "lap dogs." When they do something that is not in line with the government, they are tigers fighting the good fight. Yet surely such a dichotomy is an indication that the judiciary is independent and working to uphold the law?
Then there were the negotiations in Europe this week. Many observers are shocked and horrified that Turkey is not content with the 3 billion euros already promised. It wants an additional 3 billion euros. And it wants visa restrictions lifted. Those sneaky Turks; they are such wheelers and dealers. They have duped Europe into paying over the odds for a vase made in China. They make Del Boy look positively innocent.
Turkey has spent over $10 billion housing refugees, trying to make them comfortable so that they do not flow into Europe. The EU has offered Turkey 3 billion euros to help with this. This is not enough; sorry, but it is not enough. Turkey asks for 3 billion euros more; but, this is still less than Turkey has already paid out.
However, Turkey is Europe's frontline, not only against a flood of refugees, but also against DAESH and other terrorist organizations. Turkey has not only taken in nearly 3 million refugees, it is struggling against the PKK, (let's make this clear - Turkey is not fighting the Kurds, it is fighting the PKK - please can the papers get it right? Turkish soldiers are not fighting the Kurds. Turkey has no problem with the Kurds. Turkish citizens of Kurdish ethnicity are just that - Turkish citizens. With exactly the same rights and duties of other Turkish citizens. Terrorists are just that - terrorists).
If Europe wants to ensure that the refugees do not break through the borders, they have to invest in Turkey. Investment in countries, candidate or full members of the EU, is nothing new. The idea that giving money to a neighboring country, whether or not they are part of the EU, to ensure that they can take care of the refugees - retraining them, employing them and educating them - is not actually a bad plan. Many Syrians would prefer to stay in Turkey; it is close to their homeland, there is the call to prayer, the food is all halal; for them, if the employment problem and housing problem could be solved, there would be no question of going to Europe.
Lifting visa restrictions is not a new proposal; this was mentioned during talks with Chancellor Merkel in November of last year. It is neither new nor shocking.
The world has just got a little flatter.
The flatworlders would have us believe that the above facts do not exist. For example, The Guardian the other day stated, (Turkey) "... is waging war on an ethnic minority, its riot police just stormed the offices of a major newspaper, its secret service faces allegations of arming ISIS [DAESH], its military shot down a Russian bomber - and yet Turkey wants to join the European Union."
Turkey is fighting the PKK, an internationally recognized Marxist-Leninist terrorist group; it is not waging war against an ethnic minority. This ethnic minority is represented in Parliament, both as part of the AK Party, which has many Kurdish members in Parliament, and with the Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), although the latter is closely affiliated with the PKK, and makes no bones about it. That's right. The PKK's political wing, the HDP, is the fourth party in Parliament. Some dictator, huh?
Riot police "storming" offices... The police were necessary as the Gülenists were prepared to stage a fight. Yes, stage a fight. In Turkey today, where there is a very real threat of suicide bombers, the Gülen supporters brought their children, let's repeat that, CHILDREN, to protest outside the offices. They tried to stop the court-appointed receivers from doing their jobs. The police had to be there to make sure the law was obeyed.
The allegations that the secret service is helping DAESH are nonsense, and although appearing in a number of publications, have never been supported by any type of evidence. Turkey has been supporting the Turkmen in Syria to fight both DAESH and the PKK. This is a matter of national security, and the fact that not only were facts about the operations leaked, but spin was put on what was a very important strategic move AGAINST DAESH to make it appear as if these operations were HELPING DAESH demonstrates just what a twisted world we are living in.
The Turkish military did shoot down a Russian plane after a number of warnings, both on earlier occasions and at the time. As written earlier in this column, the Russians are making a habit of pushing (Daily Sabah, Nov. 28, Standing up against the Bullies) NATO's borders to see what will happen. They were in a war zone; they were flying over an area where Syrian government troops and Daesh are located. That is, there are armed combatants on both sides. There are times and places for playing chicken with airspace; this, as Turkey frequently reminded Russia before the event, was neither the time nor the place. The Russian jet's failure to identify itself was what led to it being shot down. Refusal to answer calls to identify oneself is a clear threat. This could have been a Syrian jet, which are of the same type. What happened was in accordance with the rules of engagement.
And the final hilariously inaccurate, twisted, flatworlder sentence from The Guardian is (actually, there are many more in this article, but my sides are hurting from laughing too much) "Erdoğan got himself made president."
The presidential elections in 2014 had a "record low turnout" of 75 percent (probably due to the elections being held in the summer when many people were on holiday). The U.K. had a record high in the last election with just 66 percent, (The U.S. struggled to achieve 53 percent); 52 percent of the voters who turned out in Turkey voted for Erdoğan. Yet, "he got himself made president." Pretty skilled of him. Maybe he can offer master classes to Trump and Clinton on how to secure such a high turnout.
The world is not flat. It is round. Even if it may look flat when I look out my window, I am wise enough to know that not everything is visible from here.
Dear flat-earth journalists. Cease looking from one window. The window that looks on the East is not sufficient. From here all you see is the writing, "Here be dragons"; it is hard to understand that the dragons are really just simple human beings trying to build democracy in a country that was repressed for so long.
Try looking out the window with the northern vista, the southern vista and, especially, the western vista. You can see the curve of the horizon if you look carefully. You can see that Turkey is inhabited by people who care about democracy. You can see that Turkey is a country that is trying to unite, despite the pleasure that the media, both domestic and foreign, take in trying to rip it apart...