Camel greeting

Monday, 26 November 2012

Reviews of 'Turkey File'

The following articles appeared last weekend in a popular Istanbul English language newspaper:

Understanding Turkey: a perpetual case of ‘Anlamadım’
Marion James, Sunday’s Zaman

The book reads a bit like the blog that it is: Each chapter is a self-contained article dealing with one particular aspect. Although common themes run throughout, there is no progression of a central theory leading to a final conclusion. This makes it ideal for the busy reader in the modern world who wants to be able to dip in to a book for 10 or 15 minutes, read a section and come away with a challenging concept or idea. Conversely, it could be frustrating for one wanting more depth.

This is a gutsy exploration of Turkey. Scott is not afraid to tackle nearly all of the taboos. Religion, democracy, Greeks and other minorities -- we learn Scott’s opinion on all of these and more. He even entitles one chapter “Who killed the Armenians?” Refreshingly controversial, particularly for the reader fed up with the Emperor’s New Clothes style of herd journalism, Scott’s Turco-phile leanings still come through strongly. A good job too for an author who dares to try to define “Turkishness” in a country where insulting that quality is a criminal offence.

Going from newbie to expert
Charlotte McPherson, Today’s Zaman

You can be in a country for years and years, living in a foreign bubble, and not really rub shoulders with the locals at all. To illustrate my point, did you ever see the film “A Passage to India”? Some of the British officials had been in India for a long period of time but had hardly strayed from the colonial club and its British ways. They understood very little of the Indian way of life.

If empire and Raj-style living won’t help you understand the culture, should you go 100 percent native instead? Maybe, but perhaps you don’t have to go whole hog.

I was recently reminded of these questions when reading a book compiled from a regular blog published by Alan Scott. A New Zealander, Scott has lived in Turkey since 1995. He lectures at Okan University, and the blog and book are both called “Turkey File.” As I read through his interesting anecdotes and analysis, my attention was caught by comments and phrases he threw in that gave great insight into how he managed to begin to understand the culture.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Nasrettin Hodja on the Turkish Economy

We’ve had quite a procession of big name visitors to Istanbul recently, from Jennifer Lopez (who apparently was so taken with the city that she purchased an apartment) to Dr Dieter Zetsche, the Chairman of Daimler AG and Head of Mercedes cars. Well, we’ll return to 'Jenny from the Block' and Dr Dieter later, but first I want to direct your attention to the words of another VIP, IMF Director for Turkey, Mark White Lewis, speaking at the Active Academy 10th International Finance Summit. Mr Lewis had clearly done his homework on Turkish culture, and illustrated his laudatory comments on the local economy with a tale from the Nasrettin Hodja canon.
Nasrettin Hodja

Probably you know that Nasrettin Hodja was a 13th century Sufi teacher much-loved in Turkish culture for his down-to-earth populist philosophy. Many tales are told in which the Hodja presents an unusual angle on an everyday situation. Mr Lewis’s chosen tale refers to a funeral where one of the pall-bearers asks Nasrettin Hodja where the best place is to support the coffin as it is carried - at the front, the back, the left or the right. Doesn’t much matter, replies the Hodja, as long as you’re not inside it.

I haven’t read the full text of the IMF man’s speech, so I can’t confirm whether he actually said what our newspaper’s headline announced – that the global economy is dead. Nevertheless, it was clear enough that, in his opinion, there is a global economy coffin, and many countries are (God rest their souls) inside it. The point Mr Lewis was making was, that Turkey is one of twenty countries in Nasreddin Hodja’s recommended location, i.e. outside the coffin.

Now I’m not sure what Jennifer Lopez’s credentials are as a commentator on economic matters, so I’m going to leave her aside in the mean time, and return to the Mercedes Benz man. Dr Zetsche didn’t, as far as I am aware, recount any tales of Sufi wise men. However, he did express positive feelings about Turkey’s economy, and he too, had clearly done some research on how to strike a harmonious chord with the locals. The generously moustachioed German doctor (who, according to Wikipedia, was actually born in Istanbul), quipped that his abundant facial hair did not mark the limits of his ties to Turkey. Any positive reference to the founder of the Republic by a foreigner is received by most Turks with great appreciation – and Dr Zetsche noted that Mustafa Kemal Atatürk was the first customer of the newly opened Mercedes franchise in Turkey. He also had nice things to say about Turkish coffee, and the scenic beauties of the country’s beaches – before going on to suggest that his company is very keen to make further investment in the local economy.

Another yardstick of Turkey’s burgeoning economic growth is the art scene. Friends in America recently sent me the link to an article on Apparently ‘the Tate Modern’s curator of international art, Jessica Morgan, had just been there [Istanbul]. The article goes on to report that ‘the market for Turkish art has soared, both within and without the country. The inaugural sale of Turkish modern and contemporary art at Sotheby’s London in March 2009 was a bright spot in an otherwise tanking global market, with 50 of the 71 lots selling, nearly all within or above estimate. The total climbed from £1,307,400 ($1.8 million) to £2,436,850 ($3.8 million) in 2010. By the following spring, Phillips de Pury & Company was in on the action with a selling exhibition of contemporary Turkish art at the Saatchi Gallery in London. New York galleries like Paul Kasmin and Lehmann Maupin were testing the waters of the Istanbul market. Judging by the number of special fair sections and exhibitions devoted to the country’s artists this year and next, interest in Turkey appears to have reached a fever pitch.’

In a similar vein, our local paper reported that a gentleman by the name of Regis Krampf, said to be of some repute in New York art circles, has recently relocated to Istanbul. He was quoted as saying he simply couldn’t stay in New York with the Turkish market developing as it is!

Still, we’re talking about the top end of the market here, I guess – those who can afford to buy Dr Zetsche’s company’s products, and whose disposable income can comfortably accommodate the purchase of contemporary works of art. It doesn’t necessarily reflect how things are going at less ethereal levels of the economy.

Another news item that caught my eye over the weekend announced that Turkey’s neighbour Greece, with whom relations are not always the most cordial, is planning to channel some of the bail-out funds received from the EU into restoring a few of its neglected mosques, with a view to attracting more Turkish tourists. As one who has been critical in the past of Greece’s attitude towards preserving uncomfortable relics of its pre-independence history, I can only applaud this turnaround, even if it took a disastrous financial crisis to effect it. In fact my wife and I benefited last summer from this more relaxed approach to visitors from Turkey, making a day visit to the Greek island of Kalymnos with a fast ferry-load of Turkish day-trippers.

And it seems it is not just Greece looking to free up access for Turkish visitors. The UK Immigration Minister, Mark Harper,  paid a visit to Istanbul and Ankara earlier this month, fairly bubbling with enthusiasm at the prospect of doubling trade between the two countries by 2015. London City bankers are, apparently, casting favourable eyes upon investment opportunities in Turkey, and the British Government is looking to streamline visa applications and approvals for Turkish businessmen, and who knows, perhaps others. Again, having visited the UK with my Turkish wife, and having seen the hoops she was required to jump through to obtain a short-term visitor’s visa, I can say it’s not before time.

OK, I know not all of you get as excited about economic matters as I do, so, as promised, I’m going back to Jennifer Lynn Muniz (née Lopez), according to Wikipedia, one of the highest paid actresses in Hollywood. JLo performed a string of concerts here recently and, as noted above, decided to buy a luxury apartment so that she has somewhere nice to stay when fulfilling her wish to ‘spend more time in Istanbul.’ Nothing wrong with that. I can fully understand JLo’s captivation with the city, being myself the owner of a (somewhat less-than-luxury) apartment here.

Still, it’s not that long ago that Ms Lopez held a different view about Turkey. On July 20 2010, she was booked (for a $3 million fee) to perform at the opening of a new hotel in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. Less than two weeks before the event, Ms Lopez cancelled her appearance. Her official website carried the following explanation: “Jennifer Lopez would never knowingly support any state, country, institution or regime that was associated with any form of human rights abuse. After a full review of the relevant circumstances in Cyprus, it was the decision of her advisors to withdraw from the appearance. This was a team decision that reflects our sensitivity to the political realities of the region.”

Well, anyone’s entitled to change their mind, of course – or maybe Jennifer decided that she had punished Turkey enough. But all these reports of the rich and famous falling over each other to benefit from the booming Turkish economy reminded me of another tale of that perceptive Sufi sage. Nasrettin Hodja was invited to a feast, and being an unpretentious sort, he strolled along in his everyday Sufi garb. Apparently the hosts were unimpressed and ignored him. Suitably chastened, the hodja went back home and changed into his best outfit, complete with a plush fur robe. On his return, he was welcomed with open arms and given pride of place at the head of the table. As each choice dish was served, the hodja took his cloak by the collar, saying, ‘Eat, my fur cloak, eat!’ His neighbour at the table asked, ‘What’s this, my hodja. Can a fur robe eat?’ To which the hodja replied, ‘What can I do? The host is offering these rich morsels to my fur cloak. I’m warning it now in case it gets angry with me later for eating all the food myself.’

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Atatürk, Teachers, and Turkey's Image Abroad

That's Istanbul

Turkey features a lot these days in the international news media, for reasons good and bad. For better or worse, Istanbul is once again taking its place as a world city and a hot tourist destination. Two recent mega movies locate at least some of their action in this 'city of the world's desire.' The 50th anniversary offering from the Ian Fleming franchise ‘Skyfall’ has motorcycle-mounted Bond James Bond/Daniel Craig pursuing his foe over the rooftops of the five hundred year-old Grand Bazaar. ‘Taken 2’, an action pic involving ex-CIA man Liam Neeson saving his family from a gang of evil Albanians (they get a bad press too, don't they!), spends more time in the city, but tends to focus, naturally enough, on the more oriental atmospheric parts of town.

While celebrity wisdom holds that any publicity is good publicity, there has been some criticism locally that the films pander to Western stereotypes of a culturally backward nation remarkable for little but its historical quaintness. The producers make no apology. Their purpose was not to advertise Turkey as a tourist destination, they said - and true enough. If you want to impart your own spin it'll cost you. Free publicity comes with another price.

So I was heartened to see a report in our local newspaper quoting Turkey's Minister of Culture and Tourism on the subject. The films may not have shown the whole Turkey, but what they did show is indisputably there. A democratic country doesn't control what visitors see. If we don't want visitors to see the decay and the backwardness, the solution, said Mr Günay, is in our own hands. Good for you, I thought. It seems to me also that the Minister's government is prepared to put its money where its mouth is. Witness its work on restoring historical sites, developing public transport infrastructure and pushing ahead with urban renewal.

Undoubtedly much remains to be done, and clearly the Minister is as aware of that as I am. Residents of Western European cities often have a stereotypical picture of Turks based on the ones they see around them - down-trodden women and bearded men isolating themselves in cultural enclaves, stubbornly adhering to their own language and traditions. Europeanised Turks in their own cities sometimes have a similar view, resentful of the flood of immigrants from the small towns and villages of Anatolia who have altered the cultural landscape of Istanbul and other coastal cities in the last forty years.

Well, we have had a feast of republican fervour in recent weeks, as Turks, quite rightly, celebrated the foundation of their secular democratic state, and commemorated the passing of its founder, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. This Saturday, schools around the country will pay tribute to the work of their educators, for whom the great man set aside that date, 24 November, as Teachers' Day. In every public square and building in every corner of Turkey, you will see statues, busts, paintings and photographs of the nation's first president. Yet he himself was adamant that to remember his physical appearance was not enough[1]. Building a great country required an understanding of his philosophy - and foremost in this was his assertion that the future of the republic lay in education[2]. The new generations that would follow in his footsteps would be moulded by the nation's teachers - hence Teachers' Day.

Unfortunately, it is easier to pay homage to portraits and statues than to find money for schools and hospitals, teachers and doctors and nurses. It is easier to criticise and belittle the backward and uneducated than to take responsibility for educating them and raising their living standards. The dominant contemporary economic wisdom insists that the market is the best organizer; and private enterprise the best provider. It doesn't require a Harvard MBA, however, to understand that bottom-line accounting will inevitably focus on short-term profits at the expense of less tangible long-term goals - the very antithesis of what is required in the education and health sectors.

Sadly, vested business interests pull influential strings. 'Tax cuts for the wealthy' is another axiom of free market proponents - but until every individual or corporate entity in the country bears an equal burden of taxation, Atatürk's dream of raising the entire nation to a state of modernity will remain just a dream. 'Our new nation has no place for rigid social classes,' he said. 'The high class individual is the one who serves his or her nation.'[3] What follows from that is the understanding that merit, measured by service to the nation, will be rewarded. From my observation of private enterprise at work in the field of education, that is rarely the case. I am hopeful that lip-service to the memory of Atatürk is gradually being replaced by a genuine desire to work towards realizing his dream of greater equality for all in a civilized modern democratic republic, and I applaud the Minister of Culture and Tourism for his timely reminder.

[1] Beni görmek demek, mutlaka yüzümü görmek demek degildir. Benim fikirlerimi, benim duygularimi anliyorsaniz ve hissediyorsanız, bu yeterlidir.

[2] Öğretmenler, yeni nesil sizin eseriniz olacaktır.

[3] Millete efendilik yoktur. Ona hizmet etmek vardır. Bu millete hizmet eden onun efendisi olur.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Post Your Comments?

My apologies to readers who have been trying to post comments and meeting with frustration. I welcome comments and I'm trying to solve this problem. I've made one adjustment that may work. Try again and let's see. If you have any suggestions, please let me know. If all else fails, you can post your comment anonymously.

Monday, 12 November 2012

The Money Problem – Source and Solution (Guest Post)

I have had some feedback on economic and monetary ideas I have touched on in several of my posts. Here is an interesting one – with thanks to David McGregor

Money and it’s creation is an interesting subject – and the fact is, the idea of "Social Credit" is on the rise yet again - as if economic hardship/depression is the ideal fertile ground for questioning the financial status quo.

And so it should be questioned.

We do indeed have a private banking system which has managed to create a monopoly on the creation of money. And they have done this by partnering with governments in an unholy alliance. 

In the "old" days Kings and governments had to live within their means. If the king wanted to go to war, he had to raise an army and pay them. And to do that he needed plenty of gold (or silver). No money, no war.

As democratic governance arose, there also arose the desire to have more money than could reasonably be taxed off the hapless citizens. That's when banks - and their nefarious fractional reserve banking - came to the rescue.

They in effect said, you can have as much money as you like - we'll lend it to you.

Ever since we have had spendthrift governments winning elections by bribing the electorate with "goodies' that could not be afforded, except by going into debt to the banks. Witness the mess Europe and most western countries are in today.

The "evil" inherent in modern banking is not that the banks are private, but that they have a monopoly on the actual creation of money out of thin air, which they lend at interest to all comers.

Giving the government this same licence, to "print money out of thin air" would not solve our problems one whit, but would in fact enable a government to go on a spending binge and ultimately generating a hyper-inflation of some sort. I hate to think what sort of control they could accomplish by having their dirty hands on the "printing presses".

The only remedy for our existing dilemma is to abolish the fraudulent fractional reserve system of money creation - which is the reason all banks are perpetually insolvent. A bank run is simply proof of the obvious - that the bank never has all the funds deposited with it.

In essence, fractional reserve banking means this: say I deposit $1,000 in the bank. The bank can now lend up to 90% of that. So Joe Blogs takes out a $900 loan. The bank now has two liabilities - my $1000 and Joe's $900. We are both entitled to take out our money - - but the bank only has the original $1000, while having $1,900 in circulation. This is the crux of the problem - not interest as such.

So how to get away from this clearly fraudulent system?

Money must be something that cannot be created. This is why gold and silver were always money - money that people freely chose via the free market.

Banks can only ever lend out what they have actually taken on deposit. So only funds on contractual term deposit can be lent out - so there is only one claimant to the funds at any one time.

Fiat money, as we know it, can work - provided people have faith in it. But having faith in paper money which is constantly subject to both bank and government manipulation is a recipe for disaster.

That is why I have a great interest in the monetary experiment known as Bitcoin -

Here you have a privately issued fiat currency which cannot be manipulated. It has no central control. No company. No government. No counterfeiting. No inflation.

In fact, bitcoin is by nature deflationary - as only 21 million BTC can ever be in circulation. This means that as production rises, prices must fall - which is the natural order of things. 

A naturally deflating money encourages people to save (no interest required) because the value of their money is rising over time vis-à-vis spending power. These savings form the basis of capital formation, giving rise to investment and progress.

There is a growing market for bitcoins, and it is truly a subversive technology - one which has the potential to replace money as we know it, if/when it can reach a break-out of users and usage.

A monetary crisis in the banking sector, or full-blown hyperinflation could provide a trigger.

You can see one of the most popular bitcoin exchange markets here:

I purchased $2,000 worth of BTC around a year ago, at the price of $5 per BTC. It's currently $10.85 as I write this.

It's interesting to note how bitcoins are tracking inflation, in a similar way to gold - because neither BTC nor gold can be created out of thin air, and are not subject to human intervention or manipulation.

What's more, bitcoin represents true financial privacy - encrypted and outside the system. 

As we speak there are Bitcoin apps being launched on the Apple store, enabling people to pay for things and pay each other with the tap of a finger.

I find this technology to be a potential harbinger of things to come, and as an "experiment" it holds great promise in my opinion - to finally turn the money system around so it actually does what it's supposed to do - instead of being the means of our enslavement.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Turkey’s 'War Criminals' - Who’s pulling whose strings?

I've mentioned before that I dabbled a little in politics years ago in New Zealand. In fact I actually stood as a candidate in one local body and two parliamentary elections. To tell you the truth, I was singularly unsuccessful on all three occasions. I wasn't especially disappointed for myself. I was never particularly ambitious for power or personal influence. If I had been, I would probably have tried to work my way up through one of the two political parties that held sway in the first-past-the-post electoral system in force In New Zealand in those days. However, I was young and foolish, and still nursed the belief that I could save the world, or at least my own country, if the world as a whole didn't want to be saved.

At the time I was fired up by the economic theories of an eccentric Scottish engineer and amateur economist, CH Douglas, who claimed to have found a third way between communism and capitalism, before the New Labour parties of Tony Blah and his ilk reduced the term to meaninglessness. The Douglas Credit philosophy, or Social Credit, as it came to be known in New Zealand and Canada, essentially maintained that you could privatise pretty much all aspects of a nation's economic system, except the creation of the money supply, which power must be retained by the state alone. This may appear to the naive and economically uninitiated as a self-evident truth, but unfortunately it is not the case in any nation on Earth to the best of my knowledge. Economists will tell you that banknotes and coins make up only a small fraction of a modern state's money supply, the bulk of it being in the form of cheques, credit cards, bank deposits, loans, mortgages, and other arcane instruments that bankers and financial wizards may from time to time invent to bamboozle the rest of us into bankruptcy and penury.

In short, the creation of a modern nation's money is essentially in the hands of a relatively small coterie of privileged private sector financiers whose major motive, needless to say, is the generation of profits for themselves – the larger the better. The money is created and loaned out at interest - and who are the biggest borrowers? The governments, of course, who have handed over the right of money creation to the wealthy few. Every project financed by this borrowing at interest will be paid for twice or three times over during the term of the loan - and, to cut a long story short, the nation sinks under an ever-increasing mountain of unrepayable debt.

Anyway, I'm not writing a paper on Social Credit economic theory here. If you want to read more, there is plenty of information available online. The simple fact is, it's true - and it is the refusal to admit or recognise this that prevents our governments from solving the ever deepening crisis of unemployment, economic stagnation and unequal wealth distribution with the attendant costs of endemic poverty, family breakdown, substance abuse, crime and violence that plague our societies. Why I'm telling you this is that, back in my foolish youthful days, I used to believe that the truth would out. That in a free and democratic nation such as New Zealand (whose freedom and democracy, we were, as kids, constantly told, my father and his father and their peers had fought and died for), you would offer the electorate a solution to their problems, the majority would vote for it, and the resulting government would implement the policies they had been mandated to pursue.

Ah, such innocence and naïveté! I am sure, as you read this, you are pitying my youthful self. You are wondering that such a one could ever have expected to be elected to the parliament of any civilized nation on Earth, and you are imagining the blows rained on this poor innocent in the school of hard knocks that forced a sense of reality into his ludicrously idealistic head. Well, I did give up the struggle, I confess – but not because I’d realised the error of my ways. What I came to understand was that the forces of entrenched privilege would do anything to ensure that the simple tenets of that revolutionary political movement would never be put into practice.

Their first line of defence was a propaganda machine that churned out readily digested and easily reproducible sound bites designed to ridicule the concept of Social Credit, thus avoiding the need to engage with it on an intellectual level. Once we started to overcome this defence, and gain some electoral successes and media attention, the opposition became more aggressive. First the corporate mass media began to ignore our party and focus back on the two traditional parties, despite clear evidence that a significant portion of the public was fed up with both of them. Then the government of the day created a major issue in our sports-mad country that polarised the nation along the old two party lines. That was enough to ensure victory in one election, but it wouldn’t work a second time. The next electoral cycle produced a more subtle and effective long-term strategy. First, a government-dominated commission altered the boundaries of certain electorates to divide the concentrated power bases of our successful candidates and see them removed from parliament. Second, the conservative establishment found a high profile entrepreneurial character to front a newly created and well-funded political grouping to ensure that the anti-both-your-parties vote would be fragmented. The result was the virtual eradication of our party and a return to the good old days of two-party “Tweedledum and Tweedledee” politics in New Zealand. Needless to say, the aforementioned “high profile entrepreneurial character”, the election over and his purpose achieved, returned to his preferred business of making money for himself.

Yeah, ok, you say. More groundless conspiracy theories from another failed political aspirant. So what has all this got to do with Turkey? The connection was brought home to me the other day while chatting with a Turkish colleague at work. We were discussing the education system, and my friend informed me that pretty soon all the schools in Turkey would be religious schools, by which I understood him to mean they would become fundamentally Islamic establishments. Well, my previous place of employment was one of a chain of almost rabidly republican secular Kemalist institutions, and I couldn’t resist asking if he thought these schools would be forcibly converted. Pretty unlikely, Ekrem acknowledged. And what about all the state schools whose freedom from religious interference is protected by the constitution? Well, maybe not those either, he conceded. Feeling that I had made my point I didn’t pursue the argument further – but I couldn’t help wondering about the source of the outrageous statement that had begun our discussion. I am reasonably confident that Ekrem is accustomed, in a circle of his peers, to having such a claim received with sagacious nodding of heads, and probably the offer of several other similarly preposterous forecasts of impending doom.

Exemplary Islamic First Lady
This is a relatively recent phenomenon in Turkey: the proliferation of assertions that the country is headed down a slippery slope towards a neo-Ottoman dark age of bearded men muttering Koranic verses in Arabic as they inflict Shariah-sanctioned beatings and stonings on their black-burka-clad women. The principal target of these accusations is the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan – who, admittedly, makes no secret of his Muslim faith, and whose wife unashamedly wears a headscarf in public. I remember an email circulating a year or two before the Arab Spring began to blossom. The mail showed pictures of leaders of Islamic nations like Syria, the United Arab Emirates, and Tunisia with their beautiful young European-style trophy wives, comparing them with the modestly dressed matronly ladies of Mr Erdoğan and his ministers. Subsequently the reputations of those others got a little tarnished, and the comparison lost much of its point – which had been, recipients would assume, that Turkey was more conservatively Islamic than its progressive neighbours.

Nevertheless, demonstrating the absurdity of one such nonsense by no means stems the flow of similar accusations and innuendos. Mr Erdoğan’s plan for the future is unquestionably to re-establish an Islamic Ottoman Empire with himself as Padishah – Sultan Recep the First, and no reasoned argument can dissuade his opponents from their unshakeable conviction that he and his government are following a secret agenda aimed at dismantling the secular Turkish republic and replacing it with an Islamic Caliphate, complete with compulsory mosque attendance, obligatory lessons in Koranic recitation for school children, all enforced by public whippings, stonings and amputation of bodily parts.

Well, let me say at this point that I am not, and never have been, an uncritical mouthpiece for any political party. I am not happy, for instance, with the extortionate price I now have to pay in Turkey for a bottle of beer or wine, knowing that most of it is going into government coffers; and knowing too that this policy could well destroy the fledgling Turkish wine industry, a potentially big earner in a land that probably invented the beverage. I’m not sure that it is fair for Turkey to have the world’s most expensive petrol prices at the gas station pump (again, mostly tax), when a significant proportion of its people are struggling to get by on the minimum wage of 700 TL a month ($US 390). Nevertheless, credit where credit is due. I’ve been in Turkey long enough to remember the days before the AK Party Government was elected . . .

I have a statement of income for 2002, the year Mr Erdoğan’s team took up the reins of power. It shows that, working as a humble teacher of English, I earned almost forty billion Turkish Liras. Sounds all right, huh? Until you understand that, at the height of its inflationary spiral, the Turkish Lira was ‘worth’, if that’s the right word, approximately 0.00006 of a US cent. The annual inflation rate actually peaked at 120% in 1994, the year before I arrived in the country, and was still a gob-smacking 99% in 1997. By 2004 it had dropped to a more or less acceptable 9.35%, allowing the government to erase six zeroes from its New Turkish Lira, thereby adjusting the price of a daily newspaper, and a local bus ticket, to less astronomical levels.

It takes a few years of hyperinflation for a currency to get into a state where you need to pay a million dollars, or liras, or whatever, for a short ferry ride across the Bosporus. Turkey’s inflation rate passed 50% around 1978, and fluctuated between 30% and 100% for the next quarter century, with successive governments either unwilling to, or incapable of stemming the tide. Perhaps it’s not altogether surprising. In the twelve years from 1987 to 1999 there were ten different governments formed from coalitions of minority, mostly right-of-centre secular republican parties. The one exception was when Turkey’s first woman Prime Minister formed a coalition that brought the Republic’s first overtly Islamic Prime Minister into short-lived power – short-lived because the Turkish military ousted him in what became known as the “post-modern coup” of 1997.

Well, better a post-modern bloodless coup than the full-on variety with tanks and guns, hangings and disappearances which had characterised Turkey’s political scene in the two decades from 1960 to 1980. Prior to the advent of the AK Party, the most stable government in recent memory had been the precarious perch of Bülent Ecevit, who managed to cling to power from 1999 to 2002. Mr Ecevit had some sympathetic following in Turkey because it was he who had authorised the Turkish “Peace Operation” that liberated Northern Cyprus in 1974. However, by 2002, the poor man was 77 years old, and clearly not in the best of health.

In a nutshell, since 1960, Turkey had experienced three-and-a-half military coups, a succession of weak coalition governments, inflation of banana republic magnitude, large-scale corruption and ongoing bureaucratic inefficiency, accompanied by violent outbursts brought about in part at least by an unwillingness to recognise the existence of significant minorities within the nation. That a party, formed in 2001 could win a landslide victory in national elections a year later must be a measure of the desperation of the Turkish electorate at that time. That a government so elected could preside over a ten-year period of unprecedented growth and prosperity, and get itself re-elected twice with an increased share of the vote each time, must surely be an indication that they have got some things right. In spite of this, however, they continue to face a barrage of vituperative criticism that seems, to an impartial observer, to be out of all proportion to any mistakes they may inevitably have made during those ten years in power. Let me give one example.

James (Cem) Ryan, according to his own website: “. . . was born and raised in The Bronx, New York City. He has been a soldier, a businessman, a teacher, and a writer. A graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point, he holds advanced degrees in economics and English literature, a Master of Fine Arts degree in writing from Columbia University, and a Ph.D. in literature . . . He lives and writes in Istanbul, Turkey.”

I want to quote from an article published by this gentleman on a website

“In a classic provocation reminiscent of the Gulf of Tonkin fairy tale that ‘legitimized’ the Vietnam War, and Hitler’s bogus rationale for invading Poland, the Turkish war criminal gang ‘led from behind’ by Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are trying to do the impossible. Impossible, if one has half a brain. They are trying to convince the world that Syria, besieged for over a year by its once friendly neighbor, Turkey, its cities ravaged by terrorists based and financed in Turkey, wants to provoke an even wider, bloodier conflict.”

Hard to imagine that a paragraph of ninety words could include so much arrant nonsense, but there you are. “The Turkish war criminal gang” I assume is intended to refer to the present government, who are apparently under the control of Obama and Mrs Clinton. Turkey is said to be financing the Syrian rebels, though there is ample evidence that it is the governments of Saudi Arabia and Yemen who are supplying their arms. Well, I don’t intend to lend credibility to Mr Ryan’s splenetic ranting by debate, though I do wonder who is paying his salary. I can’t help feeling that, if I were a Turkish Prime Minister with a penchant for imprisoning dissident journalists, Mr ‘Renaissance Man’ Ryan would be high on my list of candidates for a spell inside.

What is very clear from that one brief paragraph is that General James is no lover of President Barak Obama. It’s a short leap of logic to assume that he is a manic supporter of the US Republicans and the richest man ever to stand for election to the top job in that land of equal opportunity. It tends to reinforce a feeling I have long held about opposition to Mr Erdoğan’s party in Turkey – that the rich and powerful have been unhappy with him from Day One. They were having a less inhibited time under previous regimes of venal incompetents, when they could rely on a tame military to terrorise the population into passive acceptance at regular intervals. It seems to me that the biggest threat to Turkey’s democracy these days is not Recep Tayyip Bey, but the lack of a credible opposition.