Thirty people, who consider themselves of some significance, write to Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. A reply is not expected, surely?
I don’t know how much a one-off, full page advertisement in The Times costs: quite a tidy sum, I would imagine. Still, split thirty ways by wealthy individuals, it probably boils down to the price of an edible and quaffable lunch per head. Even so, what I fail to understand is: why would a group of eminent people in their respective fields (literally, in the case of the Marquess of Downshire, who is listed as ‘landowner’ by way of occupation or achievement!) go to the collective expense of purchasing advertising space in which to publish an open letter of protest to Turkey’s prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan?
The fact that, in all likelihood, he may never see it – or a true translation of it, anyway – is only fractionally less significant than the matter of the letter itself and the rationale behind it. Moreover, it is worth bearing in mind that among the 30 signatories, a number are prominent, successful writers including: Tom Stoppard, Edna O’Brien, Frederic Raphael, Rachel Johnson and Julian Fellowes. That being said then; why is the letter so badly written? Don’t take my word for it, read it below:
“Dear Mr Erdogan,
We, the undersigned, write this letter to most vigorously condemn the heavy-handed clamp down of your police forces on the peaceful protestors at Taksim Square and Gezi Park in Istanbul, as well as in other major cities of Turkey, which, according to the Turkish Medical Association, has left 5 people dead, 11 blinded-due to indiscriminate [sic] use of pepper gas, and over 8,000 injured.
Yet, only days after clearing Taksim Square and Gezi Park relying on untold brute force, you held a meeting in Istanbul, reminiscent of the Nuremberg Rally, with total disregard for the five dead whose only crime was to oppose your dictatorial rule: There are more journalists languishing in your prisons than the combined number of those in China and Iran. Moreover, you described these protestors as tramps, looters and hooligans, even alleging they were foreign-led terrorists. Whereas, in reality, they were nothing but youngsters wanting Turkey to remain a Secular Republic as designed by its founder Kemal Ataturk.
Finally, while you aspire to make your country a member of EU [sic], you refute all criticism levelled at you by its leaders, on grounds [sic] of Turkey being a Sovereign State. Notwithstanding, may we respectfully remind you, on grounds [!] of the Convention signed on 9 August 1949, Turkey is a member of Council [sic] of Europe, and by virtue of ratifying the European Convention on Human Rights, on May 18 1954, it has also indisputably placed itself within the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights. Consequently, your orders which led to the deaths of five innocent youths, might well constitute a Case to Answer, in Strasbourg.
Dr. Claire Berlinski Writer; Lady Cholmondeley President Chopin Society; Jeremy Corbyn, Labour MP; Maurice Farhi, MBE, Writer; Lord Julian Fellowes Screenwriter. Oscar winner: ‘Gosford Park’; Jack Fox Actor; James Fox Actor; Christopher Hampton, CBE Playwright/screenwriter. Oscar winner: ‘Dangerous Liasons’; Rachel Johnson Novelist; Fuad Kavur Film maker; Sir Ben Kingsley Actor. Oscar Winner: ‘Ghandi’; Edmund Kingsley Actor; David Lynch Film director. Palme D’Or: ‘Mulholland Drive’; Dr. Andrew Mango Biographer of Ataturk; Marquess of Downshire Landowner; Lord Monson Writer; Edna O’Brien Writer; Hugo Page, QC Barrister; Sean Penn Actor/Director. Oscar winner: ‘Milk’ & ‘Mystic River’; Frederic Raphael Writer. Oscar winner: ‘Darling’; Susan Sarandon Actress. Oscar winner: ‘Dead Man Walking’; Fazil Say Composer, pianist; Christopher Shinn Playwright; Dr. David Starkey, CBE Constitutional historian; Sir Tom Stoppard Playwright/ Screenwriter. Oscar winner: ‘Shakespeare in Love’; Lord Strathcarron Documentary maker; Ronald Thwaites, QC Barrister; Igor Ustinov Sculptor; Vilmos Zsigmond Cinematographer. Oscar winner: ‘Close Encounters’ .”
I have taken the liberty of not copying the extraordinary conceit of the above-assembled names of printing their names in capital letters. Tayyip Erdoğan will need to be briefed on just who most of the signatories are and certainly, what, if any significance they might have to thus address and upbraid him, however ‘respectfully’ they might have purported to do so. Indeed, the need to specify their respective ‘professions’, ‘achievements’ or awards bespeaks a niggling worry that Mr Erdoğan might not appreciate their significance on the world stage!
That the Turkish prime minister has unveiled the full extent of his religiously driven authoritarianism and his increasingly autocratic antagonism towards all non-believers in his divine right to rule – on the back of three successively crushing majorities in general elections – is not in doubt. The official voices of secularism and opposition to his megalomania have been ineffectual at best.
It was a relatively benign issue involving the planned and partially practised destruction of the lone remaining green area in the centre of Istanbul in favour of yet another shopping centre that inspired a determination among a wide cross-section of Turkish society to cry “ENOUGH!” and demand a halt, not only to the environmental catastrophes Erdoğan has been wreaking, but to the whole Islamisation of the country’s cultural and social environment too. Massively destructive projects – most notably, the construction of a third bridge across the Bosporus – have been driven through with no credible public consultation and against the unanimous advice of experts in urban planning and the environmental impacts of Grandes Oeuvres.
Enviable economic progress has been mirrored in massive infrastructure improvements, notably in road and rail expansion or upgrading. The biggest ‘Crazy Idea’ (Erdoğan’s own phrase) to come is a deep and wide canal to be blasted through from the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara and running parallel to the Bosporus to take the monster oil tankers out of the city centre. And of course, his intention to build Turkey’s biggest mosque on top of Istanbul’s highest hill in Çamlica is the ultimate ego trip for the man who would be Sultan.
It is not a self-consciously self-important letter from thirty people who reckon themselves and make a clear comparison between the Turkish prime minister and Hitler (the all-essential H-word when addressing foreign strongmen!) that is going to make a blind bit of difference to a man content to let his police gas, blast with water, baton-beat or downright shoot dead people exercising their democratic right to publicly protest.
The sanctimonious thirty letter-writers would have made a better public statement that would have avoided ridicule (and bad writing) if they had pooled their lunch money and donated it to the Red Crescent, for example, rather than lining Murdoch’s pockets and adding to the Turkish leader’s sense of self-righteousness.
FOLLOW THE STORY as we update, analyse and comment on developments: Erdogan threatens to sue The Times and letter writers; Confusion over who did what continues as The Times declines to comment; London-based Turkish film producer, Fuad Kavur, admits organising but not writing or financing the letter and advert; Erdogan says Turkish unrest and toppling of Egypt’s Morsi is ISRAEL’S fault!
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