The Art of War

Eastern philosophy has been of great interest to me. I resonate with the strict treatment of virtue where principles of righteousness, loyalty and moral strength are absolute and where cowardice and deceit are viewed as traits of the dishonourable. Martial arts is the physical symbol that applies the same austere practices, where practitioners often link the required physical strength to the same psychological characteristics necessary to lead a life of virtue. The Zhou Dynasty, a dynasty that stretched its lengthy arm in ancient China for over eight hundred years lived the great philosopher Confucius (551-479 BCE). During his life, a cohesive royal system of ancestral aristocrats controlling principalities under the rule of the Zhou monarchy gradually disintegrated into feudal rivalries for power between each of the states. Caught toward the end of the Spring and Autumn period (770-475 BCE) where the Eastern Zhou Period begun following the move of the capital east of China to Luoyang so as to adequately protect itself from possible invasion, small fiefdoms and nomadic tribes united forces with various states that gradually matured to onset the Warring States period (475-221 BCE) just following Confucius’ death. Confucius is said to have written Chūnqiū or the Spring and Autumn Annals[1] that chronicled the vassal state of Lu now an area of the modern province of Shandong and the home of Confucius. It was also the oldest record mentioning techniques of hand-to-hand combat, or martial arts, utilised during the Spring and Autumn period likely because of continuous violence with minimal weaponry.

Confucian political and social ethics is clear by his commentary on civil society and ethical pluralism, strengthened by principals of harmony that reinforce ‘hard’ moral concepts including loyalty and honesty but balanced by a ‘soft’ humble wisdom. The Analects of Confucius, a compilation of teachings that reference the importance of cultivating and demonstrating moral and ethical education and behaviour and attributed to the philosopher also deliberates on the subject of war, moral refinement and the authority of rulers.

 said: “To

While there exists controversy surrounding the historical accuracy of Sun Tzu as a military leader and strategist, it is no doubt that his treatise The Art of War became highly influential particularly throughout the Warring States period where the growth in numbers, the sophistication and the brutality of war became visibly ruthless and chaotic. Philosophers including Mencius and Xun Kuang turned their attention to the philosophy of law and legalism, on war and just war theories, and social and political education as the period was marked by intense battles. Both Sun Tzu and Confucius were said to have lived during the same period toward the end of the Spring and Autumn period. It is said by Sima Qian, a historian of the Han dynasty that wrote the Records of the Grand Historian that Sun Tzu was a general from the Wu province and commanded the great victory between the Wu army during the Battle of Boju,[3] where numbers were significantly lower than the Chu army, but the accuracy of this is widely contested.

While the Art of War is certainly the most well known Chinese text on military strategy, it was canonised among other military doctrines during the Song Dynasty, entitled as the Seven Military Classics.[4] Notwithstanding the tactical practices and other systematic components of warfare that embody strict commandment through lessons that deliberate victory or defeat, the Seven Military Classics is a historical illustration that exemplifies the influence of analytical ruminations on Chinese military science. The texts including The Art of War are T’ai Kung Liu-t’ao (Six Secret Teachings), Ssu-ma Fa, Wu-tzu, Wei Liao-tzu, and Huang Shih-kung San-lueh (Three Strategies).[5] They broadly encompass a variety of warfare operations that attempt to understand the nature of war and strategies that include a variety of topics such as leadership, cavalry and infantry, as well as weaponry. For instance, the Six Secret Teachings attributed to T’ai Kung covers tactical advantages of employing disinformation and psychological manoeuvring through manipulation and deception that would enable victory without actual fighting.[6]

The bloody wars during the Warring States Period and continued through the Imperial Era of China combined complex tactical strategies that innovated armament. It was a period where the sophistication of the instruments of war propelled by the continuous hegemonic struggles that elicited the continuous advancements of military equipment. Ancient China soon invented semi-automatic crossbows, multi-phase rockets, naval fortresses with catapults, and the use of gunpowder that bear a striking resemblance to modern lethal weaponry. And what would advanced lethal weaponry look like today? The Aero Vironment Nano Hummingbird is an unmanned aerial vehicle [UAV] and as an ornithopter drone appears like the bird in flight only it carries a video recorder that feeds back aerial information. This spybot has a wingspan of only sixteen centimetres. Further still, the Northrop Grumman X-47B UCAS-D (Unmanned Combat Air System Demonstrator) currently being tested by the US Navy is a lethal drone that has the capacity to work automatically, which changes naval aviation activities considerably. If a machine made autonomous decisions, who would be accountable for the deaths caused by it? With increasing technological advancements, automaton lethal weaponry and the utilisation of artificial intelligence for killing, questions about the scope of violence and how international humanitarian law will adapt to these sweeping changes has been raised a focus on weapons and tactical strategy since tens of thousands of people are being killed with no chance of even being remembered or buried. The United States since the Obama Administration increased its covert activities in several key states including Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Libya and Yemen utilising drone weaponry that has resulted in a huge number of civilian deaths, including women and children.[7] The administration has failed to adequately answer how the numbers differentiate between sources and the scope of the strikes.

The territorial disputes and strategic rivalries continued in China well into the twentieth century, clearly accountable for the invasion of Tibet along with numerous campaigns in Korea, Vietnam, India and the Soviet Union. But a new strategy of warfare developed in the late 70’s that intended to win the war for economic power. These reforms began through the statesmanship of Deng Xiaoping that changed the staunchly critical China as a closed economy to one that opened the doors toward a global reach through foreign investments.[8] As such, the China’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has steadily increased since then and the balance of power is now starting to shift in China’s favour, forecasted to increase and surpass that of the United States. This economic strategy was followed by changes to its military strategy, particularly visible when they witnessed the advances of US military power during the Gulf War, which displayed the advanced technology in modern warfare. As visible in China’s historical battles between warring states, strategic victories were possible when economic strength enabled advantages in military might and weaponry. Decisive changes to China’s economic approach matched with the growth and expenditure to their combat capability.

Disclosure on military matters in China remains well guarded and though difficult to ascertain the exact defence budget, in 2015 defence spending was at $146 billion. Though, they cannot hide the sheer size of the Peoples Liberation Army [PLA] whereby the active reserve personnel and perceived fighting strength is totalled at over 2.3 million in manpower.[9] Tactical efforts to change China’s aviation capabilities is clear including very discomforting advances in weaponry such as the DF-ZF [formerly Wu-14] hypersonic glide vehicles[10] that project missiles out of the Earths’ atmosphere and overcome defence shields before re-entering at much faster speeds. Other weapons include the Xian H-6 Bomber capable of long-range and anti-ship missiles and maritime powers through investments in cruisers such as the Type 055 Destroyer.[11] This is amalgamated with a strengthening space program and the interest is certainly not scientific with satellites boosting radar and electronic capabilities that strengthen intelligence and counter-offensive navigation among other tactical advantages.

More than just weaponry, military strategy also includes a range of other factors including battle logistics, geographical values, and resources such as petroleum and nuclear power. This begins to raise questions about the recent changes between China-Russia relations and their steadfast position to support Iran and Syria. Improved relations particularly during the late 90’s between Jiang Zemin and Boris Yeltsin[12] that developed corporation particularly around common geopolitical interests along with changes to improve offensive military technology through arms sales, clarifying that there is indeed an invisible war and one that would determine who the global superpower will be.

The Warring States period exposed China as a practitioner of merciless strategies for power and expansion, an adaptation that continues in contemporary Chinese politics as seen during the Warlords Period between 1916-1928 where bandits, cliques and militias plagued the country with wars until the People’s Republic of China (PRC) following the Chinese Revolution of 1949 unified the country under the leadership of Mao Zadong. The ruthlessness of the political system, brutality toward dissenting opinions, and authoritarian leadership is markedly influenced by the political history and cultural attitudes that has stretched for hundreds of years and defined by the philosophies in the Hundred Schools of Thought that continue to inspire the attitudes and social consciousness present until this day. China has an extensive population and resources that may ensure the continued management of economic growth despite the size of the country raises concerns of territorial claims. Though it is clear that the international community believe that China is far behind the military prowess of the United States with comparatively feeble technology… is it really?

“All warfare is based on deception. Hence, when we are able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must appear inactive; when we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away… If your enemy is secure at all points, be prepared for him. If he is in superior strength, evade him. If your opponent is temperamental, seek to irritate him. Pretend to be weak, that he may grow arrogant.”

― Sun Tzu, The Art of War

[1] Charlene Tan, Confucius (2014)
[2] 13:30, The Analects of Confucius
[3] Jann Tibbetts, Fifty Great Military Leaders of All Time (2016)
[4] Sarah Foot, Chase F. Robinson, The Oxford History of Historical Writing: Volume 2: 400-1400 (2012)
[5] Ralph D. Sawyer and Mei-chün Sawyer, The Seven Military Classics of Ancient China (2007)
[6] Ralph D. Sawyer, D Sawyer One Hundred Unorthodox Strategies: Battle And Tactics Of Chinese Warfare
[7] See more information at the Bureau of Investigative Journalism
[8] M.Y.M. Kau, Susan H. Marsh, Michael Ying-mao Kau, China in the Era of Deng Xiaoping: A Decade of Reform: A Decade of Reform (2016)
[9] Michael Codner, Michael Clarke, A Question of Security: The British Defence Review in an Age of Austerity (2011)
[11] Anthony H. Cordesman, Steven Colley, Chinese Strategy and Military Modernization in 2015: A Comparative Analysis (2016)
[12] Jeanne Wilson, Strategic Partners: Russian-Chinese Relations in the Post-Soviet Era: Russian-Chinese Relations in the Post-Soviet Era (2015)

That Awkward Moment in Turkish Politics

Perhaps I am being somewhat suspicious but well after a decade of factitious ideological politics, the recent failed coup in Turkey could almost be considered theatrical, a prominent show of untruths entwined within truths that one can no longer differentiate between the two. The ‘truth’ itself – whatever that may be – may just be too daunting to face that the majority would subconsciously prefer and even deliberately avoid confronting it so as to maintain a sense of serenity that divisive politics affords the ignorant. That is, othering imparts a sense of relief for many who require tangible justifications for their subjective foolhardiness. Subjectivity being intangible requires conventional points of reference so that feelings – such as fear – make sense and become transferrable, often to blind submission either implemented by politics or society, or hatred because of individual evil. Whilst people may call it determinism, they choose whether consciously or not (the unconscious mind is still a form of consciousness) to paradoxically never choose, that is, they choose to be slaves.

This schism of opinions that stand either for or against Recep Tayyip Erdogan – current president of Turkey and former Prime Minister – is riddled with suspicions, distrust against him and his party, distrust for his intentions to control the military, distrust that a gradual implementation of Islamic culture is being enforced despite Turkey’s history since the time of Kemal Ataturk. Blaming cleric Fethullah Gülen for the coup, lashing out against the CIA among many other ridiculous displays held in the media – a media said to be controlled by Erdogan himself of which I will explain a little later – the coup being botched by an elite, world-class military experienced in coups makes one really wonder about what is going on. The Justice and Development Party (AKP) emerged as a saviour during a difficult economic and social time in Turkey, encouraging the prospect that they can embrace both Islam and Democracy under the banner of human rights and freedoms and effectively implement reforms to complete the Copenhagen criteria toward EU accession. These reforms included legislative changes through amendments of the constitution underlined by the strengthening of an independent judiciary and the advancement of freedoms and cultural rights. As said by Erdogan himself, “one of the greatest common denominators of mankind’s existence on earth is the development of humanistic values over centuries. Universal values that are embodied in the concept of democracy and supported by principles such as human rights, rule of law, good governance are the product of the collected wisdom derived from different civilisations.”[1] Such discourse on responsibility and gaining prominence by acting as an example in a complex global environment has consistently been reiterated by the AKP and while constitutional reforms along with a number of ratified international conventions have since taken place, the current social and political dynamics prove such discourses to have been nothing but mere flatteries without weight to the mechanisms that strengthen the principles of human rights. The almost schizophrenic movement between an uncompromising, conservative paternalism with the conservative-moderate political model appears to be a type of Newtons Cradle between a want for EU accession and an opportunity to strengthen a neo-Ottoman agenda. The AKP has either way attempted to strengthen legitimacy by showcasing popular domestic support and representing themselves as significant actors of democracy and human rights, an image recently proven by social media to be fictitious. While it is evident that media representation of the party is one-sided with Turkey becoming notorious for arresting journalists and restricting the independence of journalism and the media in its entirety, social media has become an expressive platform to expose the discontent displayed by the population.


Historically, Turkey was born out of the ashes of a failing Ottoman Empire, the late nineteenth century initiated the beginnings of Turkish nationalism through Jöntürkler or the Young Turks, when the underlying complexity between “a territorial, an ethnic or a religious basis for the ‘nation’”[2] promoted discourse on political identity and what it meant to be ‘Turkish’. It was not long afterwards that the proclamation of the Turkish Republic headed by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk was established following intense international and domestic upheaval including the First World War, the Balkan Wars and the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire, together with domestic strife such as the Sheik Said rebellion in the Eastern provinces. While the efforts and overall establishment of the Turkish parliament can be considered a success, the contradictory nationalist ideas particularly between Islamism and Turkism along with violence against ethnic and religious minorities proved the application of this new Turkish identity was initiated through an aggressive state nationalism in an attempt to submerge resistance.

As such, intense cultural and social transformations were implemented to change the structural dynamic of the new country from the old culture, the first being the abolishment of the caliphate that had been the primary system of governance in the region for centuries. Other instituted policies included the control of the appointments of imams, the abolishment of religious courts and schools, and other laws such as enacting the prohibition of any religious interference within the Grand National Assembly and Turkish politics.[3] While such political and cultural reforms no doubt had an impact on the calculated efforts to transform civic society and culture by strengthening loyalty to the new Turkish nationalism, the schism between secularists and Islamists proved the acceptance of the new ideology was indeed a complicated endeavour.

The one-party system changed in the late 1940’s toward a multi-party system and this process of democratisation exposed the broader Islamic sensibilities and cultural norms of the citizens. Consolidating the transformation toward democracy also allowed the country’s marginalised an avenue for political participation and thus this new opportunity never previously afforded to a public desirous to engage in a politics of identity became the basis of confrontational movements as part of this transformative process. Consequently, particularly during the late 1970’s, Turkey experienced serious social and political upheaval between what became known as the ‘leftists’ with the ‘rightists’.[4] With the propagation of Islamic nationalism by identifying Turkish nationalism with Pan-Turkic identity, an ultranationalist right-wing ideology founded by political leader Alparslan Turkeş and strengthened by the youth-wing (the terror organisation Grey Wolves), the determination to fight against what it saw as the growth of left-wing humanism escalated the violence.[5] Political parties such as the Aydinlar Ocaği or the Hearth of the Enlightened (AO) and the National Salvation Party (MSP) mobilised support and increased social turbulence. The evolution of the violence was amplified with the changes from a predominantly rural context toward an urban environment with mass population movements to the cities for employment causing poverty and squatter settlements. A ‘clash’ of various groups illustrated by serious street violence between the Alevi and Sunni, Kurdish, non-Turkish such as Muslims from the Balkans, Communists and right-wing Ultranationalists among others proved that espousing Turkish nationalism and identity within a democratic space clearly contained hostilities that had not been effectively uprooted.

This period of unrivalled turmoil led to the 1980 military coup d’état, whereby the Turkish military took control of the government and closed down political parties, banning leaders from political interference and revoking the constitution as part of its sweeping reforms of the country.[6] The intervention of the Turkish armed forces into social and political life during the most tumultuous period of its history can be viewed as both a breakthrough since the military are seen to have saved the country from an impending civil war and become the bastion of Kemalism, but in doing so implemented a harsh regiment of torture and extreme violence that found hundreds of thousands arrested, executed or dying in custody.[7] Recent developments found the final two surviving military leaders General Kenan Evren – who served as president during the junta – along with Tahsin Sahinkaya arrested and sentenced to life imprisonment for the brutality of the military during that period.[8] The several years of martial rule was an attempt to transition Turkish society and governance toward democratisation; the first and significant step required was a complete overhaul of the Turkish constitution and restoring a more effective civilian government.

Other changes included basic education of Islamic principles and morals,[9] whereby military authorities purported that religious education had been corrupted by leadership and as such became part of the cause of the political and civic violence. Additionally, neo-liberal economic reforms based on individualistic and profitable activities – perhaps unintentionally – developed as a causal effect from the trauma of the radical changes that were implemented during the military coup and as such an increase in political disengagement and fear of losing property and family members compelled a change in economic processes.[10] Military interference continued particularly during the 1990’s where ideological and ethnic violence reared its ugly head once again, particularly the PKK and the Kurdish-Turkish conflict, mass violence such as the Sivas massacre, along with “deep state” suspicions that led to the death of President Turgut Ozal with assassinations of important military and judicial figures. These suspicions have been solidified with the Ergenekon trials that found the indictment of apparent members of a clandestine secularist organisation that were secretly plotting against the Turkish government.[11] On the contrary, the Adelet ve Kalkinma Partisi [AKP], the popular centre-right political party founded by Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been consistently accused of implementing an Islamist agenda by addressing domestic lawmakers to execute changes against restrictions set by secular policies, foreign policy statements that imply a neo-Ottoman stance, and as said earlier, gradually restricting the power of the military that some imply to be a way to provide him with the freedom to continue strengthening this agenda hiding under the banner of international obligations toward EU accession.

It is essential to understand the influence media has with social life and thus arguably it’s often controversial relationship with politics since “almost everywhere in the world, most of the media is still politically differentiated along with general political orientations.”[12] To have named Fethullah Gülen, a Sufi preacher of peace and writer, the mastermind behind the coup and to label him a terrorist, whereby social media suddenly opened and went on the attack, is an expression of why identifying the nature of this relationship between politics and society is necessary. Ascertaining the degree of political influence and intervention on reporting and especially legal regulations that encourage partisan content through restrictions to freedom of expression is a model that can often be causally linked to the historical conditions of the country in question. Thus, in order to understand the distinct Turkish experience along with the necessary and proper conceptualisation of the failure to consolidate human rights norms at political and cultural level, it is essential to feature historical and social factors that influence and ultimately undermine the effective habituation of democratic principles. These have been factored into several important cleavages, which include 1. Military and beaurecratic elitism and the uneasy relationship with the citizens, 2. The schism between Sunni Islam and Shia Islam [primarily Alevi], 3. Dominant ethnic rivalries namely between the Kurds and the Turks.[13]

Thus the recent and tumultuous history of the country and the constant suspicions against the potential hidden intentions vis-à-vis political, ethnic or religious leanings is linked to the reservations raised against media communication and freedom of speech. It does not help that the polarisation of these ethnic and religious cleavages undermine the democratic transformation within Turkey, and that may be exactly what is wanted. The Ottoman past remains highly influential, clearly visible with the symbolic relationship between Turkey’s military and government with Turkey itself considered the father, a preference for a paternal and perhaps authoritarian management of civil affairs rather than democratic. Whilst defining ‘democracy’ is certainly ambiguous and perhaps to a degree the interpretation is relative to the customs and conventions in the context of each national government and its relationship with and regulation of its citizens, religious and ethnic cleavages rooted in Turkey’s unfavourable history that proves the acclimatisation of even the most basic tenets of democracy such as the structure and equitable distribution of executive powers along with the effective participation of and guaranteed rights of its citizens appears to have become crystallised in beaurecratic elitism, perhaps itself rooted in the former tradition of Ottoman centralism. While democratic progress and achievements have taken shape, they have nevertheless failed to consolidate culturally and appear superficial and at best mere “instruments of convenience.”[15]

Rooted in the current legal and political framework, not only is it clearly visible that political elites exercise a formulation of ownership policy that nevertheless manufactures independence and sincerity to pacify sceptics, Turkish media laws are also marked by a historical relationship with censorship policy that illustrates a continuation of civic suspicions. The onset of the Tanzimat period during the Ottoman Empire can be considered the commencement of press related activities with newspapers such as the French Bulletin des Nouvelles in 1795, the Turkish-Arabic Vakay-I Misryiye in 1828, and the first Turkish Takvim-I Vekayi in 1831 under the reign of Sultan Mahmud II being successfully published and circulated. Such activities only increased over time and eventually shaped the Matbaa Nizamnamesi (1857) that regulated printing houses and publishing materials. However, the fractured condition of the empire particularly during the reign of Abdul Hamid II [1842-1918] who imposed Draconian censorship against current affairs or any liberal political views, further censored the former press regulations whereby in 1909 it was replaced with Matbuat Kanunu [Press Law] and by extension was the continuation of the former regulations but with greater restrictions determined by the Ministry of the Interior and continued long after. “Böylece 45 yil yürürlükten kalan 1864 Matbuat Nizamnamesi;nin yerini alan ve 32 yil sonar 1931 Matbuat Kanunu’yla yürürlükten kalirilacak olan 1909 Matbuat Kanunu yayilanmiştir.”[16] The Hamidian system established the Domestic Press Directorate (Matbuati Dahiliye Müdiriyeti) that included, “a director with five assistants; five examining clerks (mümeyyiz); more than a dozen inspectors (müfettiş) responsible for supervision of newspapers, printing establishments and theatres,”[17] and rigorously examined content of the press and periodicals to ensure censorship both pre and post-publication. The regulations were arbitrary and lacked specificity or concrete guidelines, thus remained dependant on the examination and decisions of officials usually in the context of current affairs.[18]

Attention and discussions relating to the absence of Internet laws was realised in 1998 with the prosecution of 18-year-old Emre Ersöz, who mistakenly criticised the national police for the extreme and unnecessary violence against a group of blind protestors.[19] The charge itself was for “[p]ublicly insulting state security forces” on a Turkish forum Turknet[20] and he was prosecuted with a suspended sentence of ten months imprisonment under Article 159 of the Turkish Penal Code. Article 159 could at the time imprison for up to six years for publicly denigrating Turkishness. While Article 301 made a series of changes from Article 159, the ambiguity of the language and the uncertainty surrounding the interpretation of the clauses did not modify the potentially detrimental impact the code had on human rights and freedoms. Claudia Roth, the vice-president of the German-Turkish Inter-parliamentary Friendship Group and Germany’ Greens politician stated that the death of Armenian-Turkish Journalist Hrant Dink is linked to Article 301 of the Turkish Penal code, as the latter strengthens nationalism.[21] Nationalism, freedom of expression and human rights have remained key issues vis-à-vis Turkey’s democratisation process, with remnants of the past, global culture and modernisation together with religion, civic and ethnic nationalisms all playing a role in the popular attitudes and mobility – or lack thereof – of the population.

On one end, there certainly does appear a risk to security with the continued conflict of ideological positions between ethnic and religious groups that unlike more liberal and democratic countries where such freedom of expression could have little direct impact or consequence, the risk of violence in Turkey appears to be much higher. For instance, the Sivas Massacre found 35 dead after Islamic Salafists set fire to a hotel where Alevi intellectuals were holding a cultural festival, one such intellectual purporting to have organised a discussion on the Satanic verses by Salman Rushdie.[22] In the case of Gündüz V Turkey[23] at the European Court of Human Rights, Müslüm Gündüz campaigned on live television for the implementation of Sharia laws and criticised secularism, with the court finding it favour of Gündüz (under article 10 of the convention) defending Sharia without inciting violence cannot be considered hate speech, his criminal conviction of two years imprisonment under Turkish law thus in violation of ECHR.[24] The margins of defending Sharia, which is known for intolerance and having the potential impact of inciting violence and hatred expresses the difficulty of ascertaining what justifies as hate speech according to the history and culture of a country like Turkey. The Sivas Massacre – where police and fire brigades that were at the scene during the incident, did little to protect, prevent or assist – highlights the impact and the risk public communication has in Turkey and the lack of human right commitments at a social and cultural level. Censorship can in addition also ensure that young people are not exposed to content or information that could be detrimental to their wellbeing, that racial vilification and hate speech is controlled as well as reduce crimes such as violations of copyright laws, rampant spamming and other security concerns.

On the other hand, however, the restrictive line to freedom of speech and communication is crossed when too much government control begins to limit access to information, hindering websites and removing content and thus inhibiting knowledge and current affairs. For instance, failure to highlight or broadcast activities that prove political opposition or that criticise governance and legislation. This suspicion that the liberalisation of the press had been infiltrated by political influence was solidified with the recent Gezi Park Protests in Istanbul that caused domestic and international outrage at the handling of peaceful protesters, a story rarely mentioned on popular television broadcasters in Turkey during the tumult. Prior to the enactment of internet censorship Law No. 5651, media reports on child pornography was sweeping that some claim was intentional to ensure support for the law, as it “came across as an orchestrated effort.”[25] In addition, there are growing concerns at the censorship and restrictions against journalists and a liberal and independent media, with many journalists losing their jobs amid political pressure and yet others being arrested or targeted in arbitrary prosecutions under anti-terrorism legislation [Law 3713]. Turkey has become notorious for being a country arresting local and international journalists and while state control of the media is not new, the AKP agenda has intensified. “There has been state influence on journalists in Turkey for decades, but the situation has deteriorated, in three ways, since the AKP won second term in 2007… by abusing the legal framework to criminalize Kurdish journalists, by instrumentalizing a major political investigation – Ergenekon – to prosecute dissenting journalists, and by exploiting its economic relationships with media conglomerates to engender self-censorship in the press.”[26]

The Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK) have been noted to place pressure on channels that are critical against the government and Turkey’s major broadcaster TRT is known for remaining one-sided and propagandist toward the AKP. CNN Turkey 5N1K program terminated journalist Murat Aksoy’ position, for instance, following his comment that the AKP should investigate corruption.[27] In 2000, the Telecommunications Authority under Law No. 4502 was established due to local and international pressure to liberalise the telecommunications industry, however legal provisions expose a failure to safeguard independence and political interference, which is clearly visible with the provision that purports members of the board are appointed by the council of ministers.[28] During this period, a draft bill attempting to regulate internet publications by including it under the same umbrella of legal restrictions that was already governing television broadcasting, print media and radio had risen to the fore and while controversy arose during this period, by 2002 amendments to Law No. 4676 were passed that included regulations vis-à-vis internet publications.[29] The monopoly between the state, private media companies and the economic value media has neglected to focus on interests of the public or human rights and freedoms. By 2007, Law No. 5651 on the Regulation of Publications on the Internet and Suppression of Crimes Committed by means of such publications came to force and access to sites – including Youtube – were consequently blocked or regulated. The law itself provided a catalogue of crimes along with the legal and procedural framework during the investigation and consequent banning of a website, attempting to work within the configuration of the Budapest Convention of Cybercrime, an international treaty that attempts to regulate internet and computer crime (only signed by Turkey in 2014). The catalogue of crimes include the Incitement to suicide (TCK-84), sexual abuse of children (TCK-103), facilitation of the use of narcotics (TCK-190), provision of substances harmful to health (TCK-194), obscenity (TCK-226), prostitution (TCK-227), facilitation of gambling (TCK-228), crimes against Ataturk (Law 5816 for defamation as defined in Article 125 of Turkish Criminal Law) and gambling (under sports law).[30] In addition, Turkey’s Telecommunications Directorate [TIB] was granted the authority to block access to websites without a court order and the scope of what and the reasons behind the banning has not been publically or adequately supplied.

In 2011, a major domestic project was implemented that required all internet users to select a profile [family, standard, domestic, child] as an attempt to filter websites linked to the profile choice.[31] This caused demonstrations against privacy in major cities and the obligatory requirement was eventually changed to a voluntary one. In 2014, amendments to Law No. 5651 was ratified primarily because of the outpour of discontent across Turkey during the Gezi Park protests. It was in the same year that Erdogan vowed to eradicate Twitter, what he referred to as a “menace” to society[32] and such discourse and eventual implementation parallels the AKP political identity of power and legitimacy both locally and internationally. It ensured harsher regulations against social networking and a faster process to ban web content, failing to follow correct procedural consultations as is oft required when amending or passing new laws. In 2015, further amendments continued when the internet became a medium to expose corrupt political officials and other high profile scandals with changes to internet defamation.[33]

From an international human rights scope, several problems are exposed when assessing social media and censorship in Turkey. The first and perhaps primary question is whether social media itself is a human right. The choice to follow and have access to information, to choose your associations and the value the interactive platform has to expression is essential to the rights articulated in International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights. Social networking sites are not public forums in that they are privately controlled and therefore the topic of human rights vis-à-vis social media falls primarily under the banner of freedom of expression, association and information and as such the exercise of such rights carries responsibilities. During the 2011 London Riots, however, where thousands looted and set fire to property in London and other towns following the death of 29 year old Mark Duggan by police, questions were introduced as to the potential of blocking social media in an otherwise Western and liberal country.[34] David Cameron explored the possibility of blocking social media such as twitter, facebook and other internet communication technologies during times of civil unrest.[35] As emphasised earlier, it raises a difficult problem between human rights and national security. For instance, while Turkey ratified the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms that includes articles which safeguard freedom of expression and the prevention of interference by public authorities, it is essential to point that that 10.2 of the article states that the exercise of such freedoms may be subject to restrictions or penalties as prescribed by the law in the interest of national security, territorial integrity and public safety. Thus, there continues to remain the difficulty of interpreting the agenda and the ambiguity of language used in Turkish law that assess what warrants restrictions and perhaps the reason why accountability and transparency remain vital to the integrity of a democratic society. Accordingly, 80,000 websites as of May 2015 have been banned in Turkey[36] with the reasons behind the decisions lacking clarity and while regulation to the internet may have been necessary to protect the security of the state, it should be within the limitations set by international human rights principles. This lack of clarity has unfortunately made it difficult to ascertain whether the plurality and independence of the media is in serious jeopardy, relying on international cases to outline whether the restrictions are justifiable. There have been a number of cases against Turkey breaching Article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights. One such case was Ürper and Others V Turkey[37] where the publication and distribution of a series of newspapers were restricted under section 6(5) of Law no. 3713 (the Prevention of Terrorism Act) for disseminating propaganda[38] due to alleged connections or sympathies with the PKK (Kurdish Workers Party). The European Court of Human Rights found in favour of Ürper and Others[39] that the government failed to safeguard freedom of the press. The suspension of their newspapers even for short periods had an impact on the value of the information it intended on supplying.[40]

The bridges between moral laws and democracy have often co-existed on shaky grounds, particularly in Islamic countries. While Turkey views itself as a champion of synthesising Islam with Democracy, the recent events particularly the Gezi Park protests demonstrates that this is not the case. When one considers the power the military has in Turkey being the second largest NATO army to date, to stage a coup that fails as badly as it did in Turkey raises many questions. As Turkey maintains this important and determined separation between religion and a secular government with the Turkish military the backbone to the Kemalist agenda, penetrating and ultimately challenging the separation of powers could leap Turkey into the authoritarian realm that many secularists fear Erdogan is attempting to achieve. Democracy sets the political foundation for the establishment of human rights and fundamental freedoms, raising the problem of whether Islam and Democracy is mutually exclusive or compatible. Social media has thus become a symbol of the right to expression and to obtain information from sources otherwise unavailable in Turkey and the Arab World and itself a voice of democracy. The separation of religion from state has been an ongoing problem, John Locke writing about the social contract theory and why absolute power and governance fails to protect natural liberties. “For no government can have a right to obedience from a people who have not freely consented to it.”[41] Freedom of expression has been one of the key issues in Turkey’s democratisation process. The European Court of Human Rights has found Turkey in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights in a number of cases and the laws of internet censorship contains provisions that continue to violate fundamental freedoms. While legislation against public denigration is not something that is unique to Turkey, with Italy, Poland, Spain and Germany also regulating and convicting under similar laws,[42] variations in the application and interpretation of these laws exist in part from the legal and political history and cultural attitudes of the country in question. This is clearly visible with Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code relating to the criminalisation against those that denigrate Turkishness, the Republic and institutions and organs of the state. The ambiguous nature of the term ‘Turkishness’ and the various interpretations and definitions particularly by political parties and institutions prove the controversial nature of the term. In addition, justifiable terms that inhibit human rights in the name of security, such as prosecuting freedom of speech under ‘terrorism’ laws is in itself dangerous territory. The lack of transparency as to the number of sites blocked and the reasons ascertaining the ban is certainly not clear, making it difficult to correctly assess and analyse the justifications behind the blockage or ban. If there exists a chance of uniting democratic ideals with religious, economic and political standards, human rights and freedom of expression remains the key component, with social media standing at the forefront of this symbolic unison.




[1] Recep Tayyip Erdogan, “Conservative Democracy and the Globalization of Freedom” Speech at the American Enterprise Institute (January 29, 2004)

[2] Hugh Poulton, Top Hat, Grey Wolf and the Crescent: Turkish Nationalism and the Turkish Republic, New York University Press (1997) 315

[3] Tuğrul Ansay, Don Wallace, Introduction to Turkish Law, Kluwer Law International (2011) 52

[4]Meltem Müftüler-Bac, Yannis A. Stivachtis, Turkey-European Union Relations: Dilemmas, Opportunities, and Constraints, Lexington Books (2008) 304

[5] Gerald MacLean, Abdullah Gul and the Making of the New Turkey, Oneworld Publications (2014)

[6] Elifcan Karacan, Remembering the 1980 Turkish Military Coup d‘État: Memory, Violence, and Trauma, Springer (2015) 139

[7]According to statistics, 650,000 citizens were arrested and taken into custody, with 230,000 placed on trial. 517 were sentenced to the death penality and 50 executed by hanging, along with 299 prisoners dying from ‘unknown’ causes. See The Mobilization of Political Islam in Turkey by Banu Elgur, (2010) 90

[8] Robert B Durham, False Flags, Covert Operations, & Propaganda (2014) 348

[9] Milli Eğitim Bakanlığı Din Bilgisi Oğretimi (Ankara, September 1981). Op. Cit., Hugh Poulton, 181.

[10] Op. Cit., Elifcan Karacan, 162

[11]Ebru Canan-Sokullu, Debating Security in Turkey: Challenges and Changes in the Twenty-First Century, Rowman & Littlefield (2013) 86

[12] Rasit Kaya and Baris Cakmur, “Politics and the Mass Media in Turkey,” Turkish Studies, (Vol 11:4) 521-537, December 2010

[13] Nevzat Soguk (1993) A study of the historico cultural reasons for turkey’s ‘inconclusive’ democracy, New Political Science, 13:1, 89-116,

[15] Ibid.

[16] Doç. Dr. Nurşen Mazici, “1930’a Kadar Basinin Durumu ve 1931 Matbuat Kanunu”, Akdeniz Üniversitesi Fen-Edebiyat Fakültesi Tarih Bölümü Öğretim Üyesi. 1 E Ji. Carr, Tarih Nedir? İletişim Yayınlan, İst. (1987), s.41 137

[17] Carter Vaughn Findley, Bureaucratic Reform in the Ottoman Empire: The Sublime Porte, 1789-1922, Princeton University Press (2012) 253

[18] Ottoman Press: from Tanzimat to early Young Turk period (1830s-1909)

[19]The World Bank, The Right to Tell: The Role of Mass Media in Economic Development, Roumeen Islam (2002) 212

[20]Turkish Teenager Sentenced for Internet Comments; HDN, 6/3/1998:

[21] 301 Concerns Resurface During Dink Trials, October 02, 2007:

[22] Kenneth Christie, Ethnic Conflict, Tribal Politics: A Global Perspective, Psychology Press (1998) 167

[23] Case of Gündüz V Turkey, ECHR, 14/11/2000.

[24]Jane Boulden & Will Kymlicka, International Approaches to Governing Ethnic Diversity, Oxford University Press (2015) 29

[25]Melih Kırlıdoğ and Mustafa Akgül, “Internet censorship in Turkey” Internet Policy Review (Vol 4:2) 2015

[26]Natalie Martin, Security and the Turkey-EU Accession Process: Norms, Reforms and the Cyprus Issue, Palgrave Macmillan (2015) 171

[27]Journalist from pro-government daily fired over TV comments, Jan 12, 2014:

[28] Article 8 of Law No. 2813

[29]Jostein Gripsrud, Lennart Weibull, Media, Markets & Public Spheres: European Media at the Crossroads, Intellect Books (2010) 184

[30] Yaman Akdeniz, Report of the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media on Turkey and Internet Censorship, Organization for the Security and Cooperation in Europe

[31] Eda Çataklar, Decision of the Internet Authority Concerning Internet Security and Access Restriction, IRIS (2011) 7:1/45

[32] Bissera Zankova, Andrej Školkay, Iliana Franklin, Smart Journalism,, 128

[33] New Law to Further Tighten Turkey’s Internet Control, January 24 (2015) Today’s Zaman

[34] BBC News, England riots: Government mulls social media controls (11 August 2011):

[35] Ibid.

[36] Op. Cit., Melih Kırlıdoğ and Mustafa Akgül

[37] Ürper and Others v. Turkey, (Applications nos. 14526/07, 14747/07, 15022/07, 15737/07, 36137/07, 47245/07, 50371/07, 50372/07 and 54637/07), Chamber Judgment of 20.10.2009, paras 39-45.

[38] §6(2) and §7(2) of Law no. 3713, as well as Articles 215 and 218 of the Criminal Code

[39] Article 44 §2 of the Convention

[40] Op. Cit., Jane Boulden and Will Kymlicka

[41] John Locke, Second Treatise of Government, §192

[42] Louis-Léon Christians, Expert workshop on the prohibition of incitement to national, racial or religious hatred, Study for the workshop on Europe (9 and 10 February 2011, Vienna).