Monday 31 March 2014

David Haye and TOWIE cast watch Sugar Hassan in action

Sugar Hassan in action against Gary Pryor on 22 March 2014

Former world champion David Haye and members from the hit TV series The Only Way Is Essex (TOWIE) were among the 1,100 capacity crowd to watch Sugar Hassan in action last weekend. The British Turkish Cypriot Light Welterweight faced IBA Southern Area champion Sam Webster in a rematch at the City Pavilion in Romford. Their fight was one of ten to feature on the IBA Boxing Essex Boys bill on Saturday 22 March.

As with their first boxing match in December, this fight again also went the distance. Existing champion Webster just edged it against Hassan on points, with a 2-to-1 decision from the judges.

After the fight, Sugar’s father Issy Hassan told T-VINE: “It was a great fight and [Sugar] did us all proud. He showed composure, style and skill in and out of the ring.”

David Haye with Sugar Hassan after the fight
The match was watched by past and present TOWIE cast members including Mark Wright, James Argent, and Mario Falcone, as well as former WBA champion David Haye. After the fight, Haye told Hassan: “You'll get him next time”.

Now fighting as part of the Essex Fight Academy, Sugar said, “Even though I lost, I gave it my all on the night and the better fighter on the night won. He’s very talented and I'm about to start a very hard training camp for the [next] fight.”

Hassan and Webster will meet in the ring for a third time on June 7th.

Sunday 30 March 2014

There’s no place like home (is there?)

MP Jeremy Corbyn with the Islington Turkish, Kurdish & Cypriot Women’s Group, part of the new Gurbet Yok! ( Mu?) exhibition

The public are invited to a sneak preview of a new exhibition about London’s Turkish speaking community and what it is like to be away from their ethnic homelands. Titled Artik Gurbet Yok! ( Mu?) /  There’s No Place Like Home (Is There?), the exhibition explores the life of this dynamic, colourful immigrant community in the capital. It has been created and curated by Semra Eren-Nijhar, an author, film maker and policy consultant on migration and Turkish people living in Europe.

Eren-Nijhar (left) intends for the exhibition to travel across different parts of London, with each one putting the spotlight on the Turkish-speaking citizens in that area. The first display homes in on the London Borough of Islington; Eren-Nijhar has collaborated with the award-winning Islington Turkish, Kurdish and Cypriot Women’s Group to offer a snap-shot of life for British Turks in the borough as women talk about what it’s like to be away from “home”. This first event will also celebrate the role of women.

A respected social commentator who also writes for T-VINE magazine, Eren-Nijhar believes the exhibition is extremely timely given the “important juncture in the political, social and economic landscape of London and across the world” and hopes many people from within the community will attend on Tuesday evening and also lend their support for future exhibitions.

The preview event takes place on Tuesday night at Islington Town Hall. It will be officially opened by Theresa Debono, the Deputy Mayor of Islington Councillor, at 6.30pm, with other local politicians and dignitaries also expected to attend. This one-night only exhibition is free to the public.

See Artik Gurbet Yok! ( Mu?) / There’s No Place Like Home (Is There?) on Tuesday 1 April at Islington Town Hall Committee Room 1, Upper St, London N1 2UD from 6.30pm. 

Main photo from Islington Tribune

Friday 28 March 2014

Fikri Toros the new head of the Turkish Cypriot Chamber of Commerce

New KTTO president Fikri Torus (L) with outgoing president Günay Çerkez

The Turkish Cypriot Chamber of Commerce (KTTO) elected a new committee during its 51st AGM on Monday night. Fikri Toros is the new President, to be aided by two Vice-Presidents: Serhan Kombos and Vargın Varer. Aziz Limasollu, Mustafa Erk, Mustafa Genç, Salih Çeliker, Selen Necat, and Serhan Kaner form the remainder of the new committee.

Following his selection, Toros addressed the KTTO members: “The Chamber of Commerce is recognised internationally, and is the Turkish Cypriot community’s most effective and significant economic body; we have the added responsibility of ensuring all our ventures are successful”.

He outlined the aims of his term, explaining that KTTO would focus on “participation” and be “a locomotive” during this “period of evolution for Turkish Cypriot society”, especially in the area of external relations. Among the priorities were tourism and agriculture, which Toros described as two of the TRNC’s most important sectors, with neither yet to fully realise their potential. He concluded by thanking outgoing KTTO President Günay Çerkez and his team for their services.

Fikri Toros is a well-known businessman and regular commentator on Cyprus affairs. He heads up a large family business with his two brothers. Initially a textile company that was formed by their grandfather some forty-five years ago, the interests of the Toros group now span: white and electrical goods, lighting, furniture, property, and finance. They are also the TRNC distributor for some of the world’s leading brands including Philips and Whirlpool.

Former TRNC President attacked by far-right protesters in South Cyprus

ELAM supporters as they try to storm the building where Mehmet Ali Talat was speaking

Former Turkish Cypriot President Mehmet Ali Talat was again targeted by far-right nationalists in South Cyprus. The incident took place on Wednesday evening during a conference in Limasol where Talat was part of a panel of speakers discussing the benefits of a united Cyprus.

On March 26, several hundred ELAM (National Popular Front) supporters – the Cypriot equivalent of Greece’s neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party – tried to disrupt the conference that was also being attended by the US ambassador to Cyprus, and senior officials from the Greek Cypriot government and the European Commission.

Although being forewarned, only two or three police were on hand to deal with the protests and were completely outnumbered by the far-right extremists. According to eye-witness reports, the protesters jeered, threatened and physically jostled those trying to get into the building – many were too intimidated to gain access and left. ELAM supporters then started banging on the doors, which could be heard inside, before forcing their way into the hall outside the conference room. They unfurled Greek flags, and threw eggs, fruit and a flare at those inside, creating panic in the room.

The incident was initially contained by the American ambassador’s bodyguards, who managed to hold the protestors at bay until the police arrived. The conference continued, with Talat remaining calm throughout, even when the protesters had managed to cut off the building’s power supply. After the event, Talat and his team were given a police escort to the Green Line. It is unclear if any arrests have been made.  

"We have started on the road to is natural we will face such unpleasant protests"

Following the attack, the Greek Cypriot leader Nicos Anastasiadis called Talat to apologise, promising a full investigation and a guarantee that future events in South Cyprus would be properly policed. On 19 February, a smaller group of ELAM supporters had also tried to disrupt a conference at the Neapolis University in Baf (Paphos) where Talat was speaking. Their efforts to storm the building had been thwarted by university security.

In a statement posted on his Facebook page yesterday, Mehmet Ali Talat said, “We have started on the road to peace. As we work towards a solution to the Cyprus Problem and for a culture of peace to prevail, it is natural we will face such unpleasant protests. Given the circumstances, it would be strange if we did not face this.”

He went on to say the protesters do not represent all Greek Cypriots and asked that people do not permit these small groups of fanatics to adversely impact on the negotiations or the peace process. Talat said speculation that the Greek Cypriot police had failed to take measures to avoid such an incident was true, but he had been reassured by Nicos Anastasiadis that all necessary precautions would be taken in future.

Main photo: Cihan

Thursday 27 March 2014

Özcan Deniz’s Su ve Ateş: a familiar and clichéd story

Film / Review

By Evrim Ersoy

Su ve Ateş is Özcan Deniz’s third attempt at becoming a filmmaker; he may have the technical credits, but his ability to write and construct a story leaves much to be desired.

Aimed squarely at Deniz’s fans, the film tells the impossible love story between Kemal (aka Hasmet) and Yağmur who meet on a flight to London. She is a hairdresser studying English and he is on the run from a blood-feud. The two begin a burgeoning affair marked by the sights and sounds of London. It’s not long before Hasmet’s family begin a byzantine plot to separate the lovers so that they can hitch him to a bride from the enemy family to end the feud for once and all.

Although the young cast give it their all, the film is dead on arrival. Deniz plays on his popular persona as the silent, gruff type – cleverly writing in a joke or two at his own expense, showing he does not lack a sense of humour. Yasemin Allen delivers a one-note performance of much disappointment, her character having been reduced to one hysterical outburst after another whilst Pelin Akil bravely wrestles with Nupelda trying to inject some much-needed emotion in what is clearly an underwritten part.

However all is vain as the scenario can never navigate the emotional complexities needed to bulk up such a familiar and clichéd story.

Turning up the melodrama to 11, Su ve Ateş brims with moments designed solely to get the audience weeping. But paper-thin characters stop the audience from ever engaging with any of the events unfolding on the screen.

It’s indeed a pleasure to see London reflected on the screen through a Turkish lens – however the second half of the film slows down to such a drag that even this becomes a chore. Marked by an incessantly loud score, Su ve Ateş seems determined to beat its audience into submission. 

Here’s hoping that Deniz can hire a professional writer for the next film and focus his attention on directing.

Sunday 23 March 2014

Controversial businessman returns as head of North Cyprus Constructors Union

Cafer Gürcafer re-elected head of the TRNC’s Constructors Union

A businessman with a poor commercial track record has been voted back in as the head of the TRNC’s Constructors Union. Cafer Gürcafer beat Hasan Tosunoğlu by 115 votes to 89 to return to the post he vacated in August 2012 when he fled to South Cyprus following the collapse of several business ventures.

Over 90% of CU members cast their vote in elections last Sunday, which had been postponed a fortnight earlier as a result of furious objections to some of the candidates. Last week’s election results also determined the new CU executive board who will work alongside Gürcafer. These are: Meriç Erülkü, Ceyhun Tunalı, Kemal Aktunç, Redif Nurel, Halil Öncülay, and Yakup Tel.

News of Gürcafer’s reappointment has been met by considerable dismay in several quarters. Immediately below the news posted by on 15 March, Turgut Sunalp, added his own damning comment. He alleges he had successfully sued Gürcafer and another lady in 2007, with the court finding in his favour and awarding him £30,000 in compensation.

Claims of an arrest warrant out for Constructor's Union head Cafer Gürcafer

Sunalp continued: “We have not received a penny. Three weeks ago, we obtained a new court order for their arrest, but this gentleman and lady continue to roam free as a bird and for whatever reason they are not being arrested. Does Cyprus have any brave, honest police? Are you not ashamed to elect such a man as the chairman? Shame on all of you!”

Pauline Read, one of the Kulaksız victims
Talking to T-VINE, Pauline Read, one of the British victims of the Kulaksız property scandal, said Gürcafer’s re-election is: “Out with the old and in with the old. His very public promises to help Kulaksız on ADA TV were just self-publicity. He did nothing. His case in the Republic of Cyprus against Turkey and the alleged death threats just make him a joke and a very bad choice.”

Cafer Gürcafer became head of the CU following the Annan Plan referendum in 2004. At that time, there were some 60 firms specialising in construction. With the international community backing the Plan, which marked out the territory in North Cyprus that would remain in Turkish Cypriot control, many felt confident to invest in the unrecognised country, generating a massive property boom. The number of developers in the TRNC at one point was thought to have spiralled to some 800.

Without firm planning, implementation of regulations and legal accountability, many CU members repeatedly failed in their responsibilities to thousands of property buyers. Many developers were guilty of poor workmanship, while others were accused of fraudulently taking money without delivering completed homes or title deeds.

Some, such as the elderly buyers of the Kulaksız site in Girne, found that their developer had fraudulently taken out loans on homes they had already sold to finance other building projects. When the developer defaulted on loan payments, the bank sought to repossess their homes instead. The victims of Kulaksız are still fighting for their rights in the TRNC courts, some five years after the issue first came to light. Their plight was backed by the late former TRNC President, Rauf Denktaş.

TRNC property sales down 50% on boom years

Many victims and interest groups such as the Homebuyers Pressure Group lobbied the CU over the widespread problems in the construction sector. However, they claim they could not get any real commitment from Gürcafer to push for essential reforms or for him to drive action against those guilty of fraud or poor workmanship. Even where law suits were successful, there was no effort to enforce decisions.

As a result, overseas confidence in the TRNC property sector has plummeted, impacting massively on sales. According to one former CU board member, Bora Kutruza, sales are 50% lower than in 2009 – the year that the property boom period era drew to a close.

Gary Robb at the incomplete Amaranta Valley site in Girne
Even in companies where the authorities appointed Gürcafer to the board of directors to help resolve serious issues, the victims claim he failed them. One such case concerns Aga Development, headed by convicted criminal Gary Robb. He sold off-plan properties on several sites in Girne to some 250 buyers and allegedly received £1.5 million in sales before disappearing to Thailand. The developments were never completed and the Aga buyers have been unable to secure compensation or titles. Several have died as they wait for the TRNC authorities to find a solution.

"He had his chance to do the job, he failed. Give someone without his chequered past a chance"

In 2009, Robb was extradited to the UK and jailed for drug trafficking offenses. Britain’s Serious Organised Crime Agency brought civil recovery proceedings against him and was granted permission by the High Court to use his assets to refund victims. The Aga victims pressed Gürcafer to do the same in the TRNC. Although the authorities seized Robb’s assets, they have yet to follow suite in compensating victims. Gürcafer was also criticised for not demanding action against the Turkish Cypriot Aga directors who also profited handsomely from this failed venture.

Gürcafer completed his fall from grace when his own businesses, the Mimosa hotel and a floating casino-cum-cruise liner in the Eastern Mediterranean, went bust. In August 2012, he fled to South Cyprus and soon after started legal proceedings against Turkey, claiming he had been duped into developing land he was not aware was formerly owned by Greek Cypriots – an offense in South Cyprus.

The case was a major embarrassment for the CU and the TRNC authorities, who have long championed their right to develop land abandoned by Greek Cypriot refugees, pointing to similar development of Turkish Cypriot refugee land in South Cyprus.

Pauline Read said, “Why was he even allowed to throw his hat into the ring?  He has as much chance of resurrecting the building industry as I have of winning the lottery and I have stopped buying tickets.  He had his chance to do the job, he failed. Give someone without his chequered past a chance.”

Saturday 22 March 2014

President Gül breaks Turkey’s Twitter ban as government extends internet censorship

President Abdullah Gül was among hundreds of thousands to flout the Twitter ban in Turkey 

The President of Turkey made a series of tweets that a blanket ban on social media platforms was “unacceptable” hours after a nation-wide ban on Twitter came into force. Abdullah Gül was one of many of Turkey’s 10 million Twitter users to flout the ban to voice their opposition to the Turkish government’s latest efforts to censor the internet.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan followed through on threats he had made a few days earlier by blocking Turkey’s access to Twitter on Thursday night. Within an hour of the government decree, news was circulated on Twitter and other social media on how Turkish users could circumvent the block. The following morning, President Gül was one of hundreds of thousands in Turkey who had by-passed the ban.

In a series of five tweets on 21 March, the President said: “It is not acceptable for social media platforms to be totally blocked. In addition, as I have made clear many times before, the advances in communication technology means today it has reached a position where technically it is impossible to block access to all users. If crimes involving the invasion of people’s personal privacy have been committed, then only those pages should be closed by a court decree. I trust this ban will not last long.”

Erdoğan, who has been in power for 11 years, is battling a major corruption scandal that has been amplified through viral social media posts, which carry alleged evidence of government wrongdoing. He has been criticised for not addressing the allegations, instead simply labelling the corruption claims as “fabrications” created by his opponents who want to bring down his government.

Ironically, it was President Gül who recently signed into law new powers for the Turkish government to impose stricter control over the internet. With various national newspapers such as Radikal joining Twitter and individuals in circulating details of how to bypass the Twitter ban, Hurriyet Daily News reported earlier today that the Turkish government has since extended its restrictions by also blocking access to Google’s DNS service.

No statement has been made by the Turkish authorities about this latest move, prompting speculation it was made as a result of an executive and not judicial decision. Other access points to Twitter, such as Open DNS and VPN, are currently functioning normally, although there are concerns the government may seek to block these too in the run-up to local elections on 30 March.

Turks becoming internet experts as get to grips with DNS, proxy, and VPN to overcome internet censorship 

Turkey previously blocked access to Youtube for a period of two years after the site refused to remove offensive videos about Atatürk, the founder of modern Turkey. However, the Turkish public found ways to circumvent government restrictions and Youtube remained in the top 5 of most visited websites in Turkey throughout the ban.

Many believe the Turkish government’s efforts to censor the internet is aiding the Turkish public’s proficiency on the internet. One user posted on Facebook: “DNS, proxy, VPN have become part of our daily lives. In the not too distant future, my people will become [internet] network experts.”

Friday 21 March 2014

Happy Nevruz! Nevruz'u kutlu olsun! Newroz piroz be!


Over the past 24 hours, people from Turkey, Iran and many other countries in central and south Asia have been celebrating Nevruz. Meaning ‘new day’ in Farsi where the word originates from, this ancient annual festival falls on or around 21 March – the day of the northward Equinox. Dating back thousands of years and rooted in Iran, Nevruz transcends faiths and ethnicities. As spring breathes new life into the northern hemisphere, Turks, Kurds, Iranians and many others from Azerbaijan to India annual celebrate their New Year on this day.

Each community has its own unique rituals to mark the first day of spring. Many will undertake a major spring-clean of their homes, and purchase new clothes and fresh spring flowers for the occasion. Family and friends will visit each other, and there will be communal celebrations in the streets and other public places.

Turkic mythology has it that the ancient Göktürks were trapped in the Ergenokon valley by steel walls built by a tyrant. For centuries they lived here until their numbers grew so large the space could no longer hold them. On 21st March, when night and day were equally long, they managed to melt the steel walls using fires and break free, rejoining the rest of the world. Nevrus has therefore come to mean a new beginning and the rebirth of the East.

For people of Persian and Kurdish origin, Nevruz (‘Newroz’ in Kurdish, ‘Nowruz’ in Persian) is an integral part of their identity and they place huge significance on this annual holiday. On the eve of Nevruz, they hold large colourful festivals where people gather together to welcome in the spring through music and dancing. One of the highlights is the lighting of a fire for people to dance around or jump over. The fire is part of local folklore, signifying an important victory over tyrants.

For years, Nevruz was banned in both Turkey and Iran. For the former, this event came to be associated with the Kurdish struggle for their political rights, while in Iran the Islamic government deemed the annual event a pagan celebration that needed to be stamped out. Neither attempts to ban were successful and in 2010, the UN formally recognised the International Day of Nowruz and the festival is now officially registered on the UNESCO List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

So to all who celebrate it, T-VINE wishes you all: Happy Nevruz! Nevruz'u kutlu olsun! Newroz piroz be!

Thursday 20 March 2014

Doğan Mehmet says “it’s been a privilege” to star in award-winning West End show War Horse, now set for return to music

Doğan Mehmet (R) with Ben Murray appearing in War Horse at the New London Theatre

The curtain came down for the last time on Saturday for Doğan Mehmet in the award-winning play War Horse. The talented Turkish Cypriot actor bowed out after a year of playing Songman, one of the show’s leading roles, to packed audiences at the New London Theatre in Covent Garden. Reflecting on his time in the show, Mehmet said: “It’s been a privilege playing in this spectacular show, but now it’s time to look forward.” 

Doğan appeared in more than 300 performances of the show since being cast as Songman (the play’s musical storyteller) at the start of 2013. For the past 12 months, he would open the show singing, “Only Remembered” an old Scottish hymn from the early 1800s. Doğan would reappear on stage frequently, often at the height of the play’s most emotional scenes. His short solos would express the feelings of the audience and provide commentary to the strong visual scenes both on stage and through projections on a big screen behind. Vocally demanding, Doğan shared the role of Songman with Ben Murray, performing as a musician and backing vocalist on alternate weeks, playing the fiddle and accordion, as well as helping on stage with the puppets.

Based on a children’s book by Michael Morpurgo, War Horse has been described as “a landmark theatre event”. The internationally acclaimed play has been seen by over two million people worldwide, including The Queen, since receiving its World Premiere at the National Theatre on 9 October 2007. The West End show features life-sized puppets of horses and other animals that form part of the play, which has been staged on Broadway (New York), in Melbourne, Toronto and Berlin, and has toured Australia, the USA, Britain and Ireland. In another first, on 27 February 2014, Doğan was among the cast whose performance of War Horse was transmitted live to audiences in cinemas around the world.
A scene from War Horse. Photo by Brinkhoff Mogenburg
The play starts on the eve of World War One. Having bought Joey at an auction, young Albert’s beloved horse is sold to the British cavalry and shipped to France. Joey is soon caught up in enemy fire and fate takes him on an extraordinary odyssey.  But Albert cannot forget Joey; although not old enough to enlist, he embarks on a treacherous mission to find his horse and bring him home. This mesmerising and tender tale highlights the special bond between animals and humans, and the universal suffering of war.

Doğan backstage at War Horse
On his time in War Horse, Doğan said, “It’s been a privilege playing in this spectacular show around great actors and a brilliant production team. Anyone who hasn’t seen the show really should – it is a play for all times and all people. You will be blown away.”

The versatile young entertainer was praised by the likes of Liza Minelli and Gary Barlow for his performance as Songman. Alongside acting, Doğan is an accomplished Folk singer and multi-instrumentalist whose credits include two critically acclaimed albums, and starring in BBC1’s The Omid Djalali Show and West End musical Stomp. 

He told T-VINE: “The last few days [in War Horse] were emotional for sure, but I’m also looking forward to the next chapter in my career. Music is my life and it will be great to get back into the studio to record new songs, which will again include a mixture of Turkish and English Folk.”

After an intense year of performing, Doğan will be taking a short break before returning to the studio to record his third album, due for release in 2015. Just 23 years old and originating from Brighton, this rising star is equally well-known for his abilities as a singer-songwriter as he is for his acting and dancing. He first burst onto the scene as a runner-up in the 2008 BBC Young Folk Awards and has since released two critically acclaimed albums, Gypsyhead and Outlandish. 

A second generation Turkish Cypriot, MOJO magazine described Doğan as, “a roaring fanfare for multicultural Britain, merging Anglo-Turk traditions with relish and conviction”, his lyrics and songs reflecting the remixed sounds of Britain, Turkey and Cyprus. His charismatic stage presence has earned him invites to prestigious music festivals such as Glastonbury, Beautiful Days and Larmer Tree. He has sung with Folk legends James Fagan and Martin Carthy, and was part of global all-star Folk band The Imagined Village that performed during the London 2012 Olympics.

Tuesday 18 March 2014

Turkish parliament to reconvene tomorrow over government graft scandal

Four former government ministers indicted on serious corruption charges L-R: Egemen Bağış, Muammer Güler Erdoğan Bayraktar & front far right Zafer Çağlayan

Turkey's parliament will meet for an extraordinary session on Wednesday 19 March, following demands by the main opposition party to discuss summary proceedings issued against four former government ministers. Serious corruption allegations have engulfed Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s government following police raids in December in which dozens of suspects were detained including the sons of three ministers. The state prosecutor recently issued indictments against 21 people.

With parliament currently in recess due to the upcoming local elections on 30 March, Speaker Cemil Çiçek confirmed on Friday that he had recalled the general assembly in line with due parliamentary process. It came after CHP, supported by the other opposition parties, had demanded parliament reconvenes to discuss summary proceedings against former Economy Minister Zafer Çağlayan, former EU Minister Egemen Bağış, former Interior Minister Muammer Güler and former Urbanization and Environment Planning Minister Erdoğan Bayraktar.

The graft scandal first broke on 17 December, when police raided homes of various government officials and leading businessmen known to be close to the government who were suspected of corruption, bribery and tender-rigging. Police found shoe boxes stuffed full of $4.5 million in cash in the home of the chief executive of the state-run Halk Bank; a money-counting machine and piles of bank notes were also discovered in the bedroom of a government minister’s son.

Details of the corruption allegations and those indicted have not been made public. However speculation has been rife in Turkish newspapers since December, with many citing prosecutors' documents that the charges relate to construction projects, government tenders and Turkey's gold trade with Iran.

 Graft scandal biggest challenge to Erdoğan’s authority in past 11 years
A second wave of the graft scandal emerged in February when a series of illegally wiretapped telephone conversations were made public via the internet. Some are allegedly of Erdoğan telling his son to hide large sums of money, which the prime minster has vehemently rejected as “a montage”. In other recordings, which Erdoğan has accepted are real, he is heard to be interfering in judicial matters, defence tenders and the coverage of opposition leaders on a mainstream TV news channel.

The government continues to deny any wrongdoing, claiming the raids and leaked wiretappings were orchestrated by Islamic cleric Fethullah Gülen, once a close ally of Erdoğan, as part of a plot to smear the prime minister and bring down his government.

Fethullah Gülen
Gülen, who has lived in voluntary exile in the USA since 1999, is said to have extensive influence in Turkey's police and judiciary. He and his followers are thought to have helped put dozens of senior Turkish military personnel in jail through the infamous Ergenekon cases using what is now increasingly believed to be fabricated evidence.

Erdoğan has described the police raids as, “a dirty operation” and since December, his government has launched a purge against prosecutors and judges said to be loyal to Gülen, removing thousands of people from their posts. Using its large parliamentary majority, AKP has also pushed through new laws that give the government greater influence in the appointment of judges and prosecutors. It follows demands that police chiefs inform the government in advance of any future raids.

The reforms have prompted widespread concern inside and outside of Turkey about the rule of law and the separation of powers. The graft scandal has become the biggest challenge to Erdoğan’s authority since coming into office 11 years ago. It follows the large anti-government Gezi uprising last summer.

Saturday 15 March 2014

British Turks urged to play their part in 2015 elections


Representatives from Britain’s diverse communities took part in an historic election summit in London last week. Organised by Operation Black Vote, speakers highlighted the impact of racial justice falling off the political radar and stressed the importance of Black and Minority Ethnic communities becoming more politically active in the run-up to the 2015 General Election. According to OBV, BME voters hold the balance of power in some 170 marginal seats in Britain, nearly half of them in London.

“History is waiting to be written"

OBV’s 2015 election summit, held at its headquarters in Bethnal Green, drew a packed house with people travelling from places such as Belfast and Bradford to attend. T-VINE magazine’s editor İpek Özerim was among the kaleidoscope of activists present, which included academics, students, trade unionists, BME journalists, and community group leaders from the Chinese, Turkish, African, Asian, Caribbean, Latin American, and the Gypsy and Traveller community, as well as representatives from the Muslim, Sikh, Hindu, and Black-led Churches, alongside members from Labour, the Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and the Greens.

OBV's Deputy Director Francine Fernandes opened the summit, setting the scene with findings from OBV’s 2013 report: The Power of the Black Vote in 2015. Using the 2011 census, researchers looked at the BME electorate in all 573 of the seats in England and Wales and found 168 marginal seats where BME voters outnumber the majority held by the sitting MP. This equates to one quarter of seats nationally and nearly 40% of seats in London where BME voters hold the balance of power. Fernandes concluded, “History is waiting to be written".

OBV’s Simon Woolley and, Professor Anthony Heath from Oxford University, Ratna Lachman, from Just West Yorkshire, Lee Jasper, Co-chair of BARAC formed the election summit panel. Each highlighted a different part of the racial justice issue.

Woolley said neither the Prime Minister David Cameron, nor the opposition leader Ed Miliband had made a single speech about tackling race inequality in the past four years. Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg was the only party leader who had focussed on persistent race inequality, but this was not followed up with any discernible action.

Using findings from his groundbreaking book, ‘The Political Integration of Ethnic Minorities in Britain’, Heath compared BME attitudes on national issues to those of white British voters. There were similarities in pretty much all fields except racial injustice: on average, 80% of BME groups prioritised the issue, whilst the white population rated this issue at only 19%.

"BME voters hold the balance of power in some 170 marginal seats in Britain, nearly half of them in London

Latna and Jasper both spoke of how racial inequality had grown under the recession, hitting the lives of BME communities even more than white communities, with unprecedented levels of poverty and unemployment.

Latna explained how Bradford BMEs had come out in their droves for the last election. However, there had been no noticeable change in their local environment or life opportunities. The general public sense the North has been abandoned by the mainstream parties: the Tories do not feel they can win and Labour complacently believe victory is guaranteed. As a result, many northern BMEs, particularly women, are fast losing hope that politicians will ever take up their issues.

Lee Jasper, Co-chair of BARAC 
Jasper (left) argued that life is harder for British black youths in 2014 than thirty years ago. He said: “We are in danger of bequeathing less to our children than our parents bequeathed to us. The irrationality of racism means that Black talent is squandered, Black youths are readily criminalised – data shows white youths being cautioned for possessing class A drugs, whilst Black youths are criminalised for possession class C drugs". 

"Black communities and immigrants in general are blamed for the nation's woes.” 

"In many parts of the capital, Turkish is the most commonly spoken language after English - if we don’t vote, none of the parties will care for our issues either”

Audience members also participated in the summit. Many shared their experiences in the political sphere, both negative and positive, suggesting ideas on how to galvanise their communities into action. Simon Woolley stressed the importance of BME grassroots activism to ensure BME communities first register to vote and then exercise this right (up to 60% often fail to do so). He said OBV will help create a national BME network in the run-up to the elections to enable greater collaboration and support across the various communities, which in turn will push Britain’s major parties to take action over race inequality.

Following the summit, İpek Özerim said: “British Turks are one of the largest BME communities in London. In many parts of the capital, Turkish is the most commonly spoken language after English. It’s vital we play our part in the upcoming elections – if we don’t vote, none of the parties will care for our issues either.”

Tuesday 11 March 2014

Teenager Berkin Elvan loses fight for life, becomes sixth casualty of Gezi Park protests


The parents of 15-year-old Berkin Elvan announced on Twitter this morning that their son has died in hospital. He had been in a coma since last June after a tear gas canister fired by police during the Gezi protests struck him on the head while he was out buying bread from a local shop in Okmeydan, İstanbul.

Elvan’s death brings the number of people killed during the Gezi uprising to six. He had been in a coma for 269 days, becoming a symbol of the heavy-handed police tactics that Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had ordered to combat the anti-government protests, which began over İstanbul's Gezi Park and spread across Turkey last year.

Last week, spokespeople for the family announced that the teenager’s weight had plummeted from 45 kg to just 15 kg during his time in the hospital. His weakened body had recently suffered an epileptic fit and air pockets were found in his lungs.

"It's not God who took my son away but prime minister Erdoğan"

Earlier today, his family posted this message on Twitter: "To our people: We lost Berkin Elvan today at 7am (5am UK time).Condolences to us all".

Crowds had gathered outside Okmeydanı SSK Hospital all last week to offer their support to the family. Over the weekend, Istanbul governor Hüseyin Avni Mutlu ordered they be dispersed causing tense scenes. Today there were more clashes when news broke about Elvan’s death, with police again firing tear gas, injuring hospital visitors and those holding a vigil for young Berkin and his family.

Speaking to reporters outside the hospital, his mother Gülsüm Elvan challenged Mr Erdoğan who had praised the police for their "heroism" during the protests.

"It's not God who took my son away but prime minister Erdoğan," she said through tears.

Berkin Elvan was just 14 when he was hit on the head by the tear gas canister. He was one of thousands of people hurt during the protests. Five protesters, Mehmet Ayvalıtaş, Ahmet Cömert, Ethem Sarısülük, Ali İsmail Korkmaz and Ahmet Atakan, also lost their lives during the Gezi protests last summer.

In May last year, a small group of activists had peacefully gathered to protest plans to raze Gezi Park and redevelop it. A brutal police crackdown against protesters quickly morphed into massive anti-government demonstrators that took place across the country – the biggest challenge to prime minister Erdoğan’s authority since he came to power in 2003.

To date, no investigation has been launched into how Elvan sustained his injuries. The first formal contact the family had from the Turkish government was a call from President Gül on 10 March. 

Sunday 9 March 2014

Disko No 5 puts the spotlight on Diyarbakır’s notorious jail


The Times newspaper lists Diyarbakır Military Prison No. 5 among the world’s ten most notorious jails. Located in southeast Turkey, it was built by the Ministry of Justice after the 12 September 1980 coup d'état, with the facility administered by the Turkish military. Prisoners, mainly of Kurdish origin, were regularly exposed to horrific and systematic acts of torture, with 34 prisoners losing their lives between 1981 and 1984.

Disko No 5 is based on real stories gleaned from memoirs, interviews and documentaries. Written by and starring Mîrza Metîn, this one man, one hour play puts the spotlight on this dark chapter in Turkish history where Diyarbakır No. 5 became a centre of torture par excellence. 

Metîn masterfully plays a spider, a mouse, a dog, a guard and a prisoner, contorting his body and changing his voice to reflect each one as they talk about the incredible cruelty they witness, pushing them and viewers to the limits of their intelligence and imagination.

Produced by İstanbul-based Destar Theatre, this striking play was first performed in Turkey in 2011. It has since toured Europe: Germany, France, Denmark, Sweden, and Switzerland, as well as in North Iraq winning several awards and commendations from Hurriyet, NTV and Tiyatro Tiyatro Magazine. It comes to Britain next weekend courtesy of Zet Productions. 

The play is performed in Kurdish with English and Turkish surtitles.

Event date: Saturday 15 March 2014 (London) and Sunday 16 March 2014 (Doncaster)
Venue address: Cypriot Community Centre Earlham Grove, London, N22 5HJ | Doncaster Little Theatre 1 King Street, Doncaster DN1 1JD
Tickets:  £21 (£12 concessions)
Shows: Saturday 19,30pm and Sunday 1pm

For tickets & info:  0741 355 9399

Friday 7 March 2014

Australians captivated by world’s tallest man Sultan Kösen

Sultan Kösen at Amity College, Sydney. Photo: ABC

Sultan Kösen, the world’s tallest man, has become a huge hit with the Australian public on his first visit to the country. The 31-year-old farmer from Mardin in south east Turkey, had flown to Sydney to attend the Anatolian Turkish Festival and also took time to visit a nearby school. During his week-long stay in the city, Kösen attracted widespread public and national media interest, with his visit covered by a host of Australia media, including AAP, Channel 7 and ABC News. 

The rain failed to dampen spirits at the two-day Anatolian Turkish Festival, which took place at Darling  Harbour last weekend. Towering over everyone else, Kösen was one of the star attractions. Also on the bill was Turkish pop star Yusuf Güney and the Mehter Military Band, alongside many local Turkish entertainers.

Yusuf Güney live in Sydney

During his stay in Sydney, Kösen also visited Amity College at the invitation of head teacher Deniz Erdoğan. The school children, like the wider Australian public, were captivated by Sultan’s huge physique. They queued to get signed autographs and have pictures taken with the gentle giant, who uses crutches to assist his movement, while talking to the children and media through his interpreter Fatih.

"It was a fantastic experience for the students and staff" said Mr Erdoğan. Those present felt privileged they had been the only school visited by the big man and the head teacher appreciated the emphasis Sultan Kösen had placed on the importance of education and diversity when he addressed the school.

Kösen was crowed the tallest man in the world by the Guiness World Record in 2009. He measures an astonishing 2.51 metres (8 feet, 3 inches) tall and also has the largest hands on the planet, each one measuring 28.5cm from the wrist to the middle finger. His extraordinary size is due to a condition known as pituitary gigantism, involving an over-production of growth hormones.

His international fame helped find a cure for his condition. In 2010, American doctors performed surgery to remove a tumour affecting his pituitary gland, which then stopped his growth. He said: “the surgery saved my life.”

Middle & bottom photos from in Australia  

Thursday 6 March 2014

Turkish director’s shoestring production wins What’s On Opera 'Best Newcomer’ award


A young Swiss-Turkish director emerged as a surprise winner in the third annual What’s On Stage Opera Poll. Aylin Bozok’s production of Debussy's Pelléas et Mélisande (pictured), staged at the Arcola Theatre's Grimeborn Festival last year, was voted the Best Newcomer to the UK Operatic Scene in this year’s awards. A total of 15,000 votes – the highest on record – were cast by members of the British public.

Bozok’s Pelléas et Mélisande proved to be a big hit with theatre goers last year. Created on a shoestring budget, What’s On described it as, “full of simply-realised ideas that brilliantly elucidated what for many is a difficult opera”. They added, “Bozok's talent marks her out as a worthy winner of and an exciting prospect for the future”.

Born in Switzerland to a family of musicians, Aylin Bozok started to play the piano aged 4 and sang as a member of the children's chorus of Grand Théàtre de Genève from the age of 10. She graduated with a degree in Theatre Directing from Bilkent University in Ankara and went on to become one of the youngest directors to stage a play in Istanbul State Theatre.

Trained in the Stanislavski System, she has experience in opera, physical theatre, new writing and musicals. Her credits include Il tabarro (Grimeborn Opera Festival 2012, Director) and The Importance of Being Earnest (Royal Opera House, Assistant Director).

Her production of Pelléas et Mélisande generated rave reviews from the British media, including in the Evening Standard and What’s On Stage (the UK’s biggest theatre publication). The Daily Telegraph described it as, “stunning…the best fringe opera in London.” 

Main photo: Planet Hugill