December and bad news come together in Turkey.
Two years ago, it was the Turkish planes that bombed a caravan of Kurdish villagers in the mountains of Kurdistan.
34 innocent Kurds met their violent end. In fact, when the scene of carnage was visited, only two of the victims were identified. 1500 body parts served as 32 Kurds for burial. 21 of them had been in their teens. 29 carried the same last name to their resting place.
Three days later, the fireworks lighted the skyline of Istanbul. Turks welcomed the New Year in a festive mood. Their government had not told them to go easy on the entertainment. The far-from-existing “brotherhood” of Turks and Kurds, the one so speciously touted by shallow Turks and Kurds, took a heavy toll on that night. The mood of each people said it all.
This December, a major bribery scandal hit the government. Three cabinet members resigned from their posts. A fourth was almost dragged from his position, but nonetheless managed to hold on to his seat in the Turkish parliament. He may very well need the immunity from prosecution that is granted to all serving parliamentarians.
He used to live in New York and at one time ran the Antik Bar at Jolly Madison Hotel. A phone call, according to his online biography, put him on the path of becoming a cabinet member in the Turkish government.
The minister who resigned reluctantly was one of the most colorful in the Erdogan government. He used to live in New York and at one time ran the Antik Bar at Jolly Madison Hotel. A phone call, according to his online biography, put him on the path of becoming a cabinet member in the Turkish government.
I didn't know him then, but knowing what I know of him now, I would have definitely patronized his bar in the Big Apple. I would have loved, for example, to know of his favorite drinks. The exchange might have provided me with some clues as to why he became an ardent advocate of prohibition after joining the Turkish government.
I say this because this ex-cabinet member became a soldier of the Turkish prime minister in order to designate Ayran, a non-alcoholic beverage, as a national drink. Given his background, the transformation was worthy of a feature article in the pages of the New Yorker. The title might have read, “From Bartender to Teetotaler: the Story of Egemen Bagis!”
I still have my doubts if he is indeed a teetotaler. But I have no doubts at all that he will be missed—terribly, I hasten to add—for his antics in politics that I suspect he had honed so well at the Jolly Madison Hotel. Indeed, they were so good that sometimes he himself was not aware of their “powerful effect!”
My all time favorite happened right here in Washington, DC. The Turkish minister, in his capacity as Minister for European Union Affairs, was invited to deliver a public lecture at German Marshall Fund at Dupont Circle. I RSVP’d for the event and looked forward to seeing him in person. I wanted to laugh “live,” as it were!
DC hosts a lot of boring events. Dictators are often hailed as friends of humanity. People who despise Christians and Jews at home are dangled as examples of religious probity. But Minister Bagis was bound to be different. For one thing, he didn’t need translators. I was going to hear it “from the horse’s mouth.”
I was not disappointed. He is—there is no other word for it—a talented salesman. He can sell a rug to a Persian, vodka to Russians and Toyotas to the Japanese and maintain a poker face at the same time. That day in Washington, he sold the notion that “sovereignty unconditionally belongs to the people” to Americans, the close cousins of Europeans, and got applause for it!
The way he did it was exquisite. “A group of American lawmakers were visiting me in Turkey,” he said. “I gave them a tour of our parliament. One of them noticed the words, ‘Egemenlik kayitsiz sartsiz milletindir,’ a quote, on the wall above the speaker’s seat, and wanted to know what it means. I translated for him: ‘sovereignty unconditionally belongs to the people.’
“The American lawmaker then looked at the quote again, and me later, and said, ‘Why in the hell are you trying to join the European Union?’” The meaning he implied was: why give your sovereignty to a bunch of European bureaucrats! But the way Mr. Bagis related the exchange, with the experience of tending a bar obvious in his diction, prompted a chorus of laughter—as if Jay Leno had delivered a particularly funny joke.
There were, alas, several problems with the “joke.” Mr. Bagis, for example, did not bother to tell us whose signature underlay the quote in the Turkish parliament. I can remedy his shortcoming: Ataturk. But the quote is most famously attributed to Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the spiritual father of the French Revolution. I doubt very much if Mr. Bagis is aware of this historical fact.
In his plagiarism, Ataturk, who knew a smattering of French, claimed it as his own, and, as far as I know, no Turk has dared to question him to date. As to the spirit of Rousseau’s quote, it is, by far, one of the most subverted maxims in the history of “modern” Turkey. Ataturk never believed it. He ran Turkey like a dictator.
DC hosts a lot of boring events. Dictators are often hailed as friends of humanity. People who despise Christians and Jews at home are dangled as examples of religious probity.
His successors simply added new layers to the farce.
So when the bribery charges were leveled against Minister Bagis—that he had directed the delivery of one and a half million dollars to his various addresses—I knew right away that the world of Turkish politics was about to be deprived of its “brightest” light for generations to come. My only consolation was the possibility that he might get his bartending job back at Jolly Madison Hotel in New York, which would give me a chance to ask him my questions!
Mr. Bagis himself was quick to blame foreign agents for his woes. The only “foreign” actor that has so far been linked to the scandal is Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen, who lives in Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania. Although I don’t care for Gulen’s Kurdish politics, I can’t help but respond with an “amen, brother,” when he says, “those who don’t see the thief but go after [the Turkish police] who chase the thief ... May God burn their homes!”
Spoiler alert: God has forsaken the entire Middle East!
Fiction writers often say it better than the fact compliers. Tolstoy put it best when he had Anna Karenina say of Alexie Alexandrovich Karenin, “I know him, and I know that he swims in perjury like a fish in water.” The same, alas, goes for the likes of Mr. Bagis in Turkey. A country that refuses to allow 20 million Kurds to have a preschool in their name is capable of a lot more than what is in the news these days. We have only seen the opening scene of Act I.
Fellow Kurds: buckle your seat belts!