Ayşe Zarakol

17 February 2023

Akhenaten in Ankara

Akhenaten is sometimes credited with inventing monotheism, but I think of him rather as the first extreme political centraliser. The Ancient Egyptian state was already organised in such a way that there were very few checks on pharaonic power; they were already deified. But polytheism meant the pharaoh could only be one among many. By eliminating all the other gods in the name of an abstract sun disc whose cult could only be mediated through himself, Akhenaten was essentially trying to centralise all authority – both political and religious – in his person only. What Erdoğan has attempted in Turkey, more than three thousand years later, follows the same pattern.

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19 April 2017

When Yes Means No

The outcome of the Turkish constitutional referendum to expand President Erdoğan’s powers was a foregone conclusion from the moment it was announced. The results were nevertheless surprising because they showed how resilient the opposition in Turkish society is. Turkey has been under an oppressive ‘state of emergency’ since 21 July 2016. Declared after the failed coup attempt on 15 July (and set to continue for the foreseeable future), it has given President Erdoğan nearly unlimited powers. Tens of thousands of people have been arrested and more than 100,000 sacked, including thousands of academics, judges, prosecutors and union activists. It is a good bet that anyone left in a civil service position in Turkey is either an Erdoğan crony or someone who knows how to keep their head down. The president has captured most state institutions which are supposed to be autonomous or free from political pressure, including the Electoral Board.

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20 December 2016

Assassination of an Ambassador

At 7.05 p.m. Turkish time yesterday, the Russian ambassador, Andrei Karlov, was shot dead in an Ankara art gallery. The assassin, Mevlüt Mert Altıntaş, an off-duty Turkish police officer in a suit and tie, calmly shot Karlov in the back several times; spoke in Turkish about Aleppo, with his hand in the air, one finger pointed upward (a jihadi sign, symbolising ‘takbir’, the greatness and oneness of Allah); and then said, in accented Arabic, a few sentences associated with Jabhat al-Nusra. (We can be sure of all this because the shooting was captured by an Associated Press photographer.) Altıntaş was killed by security forces who stormed the building. Vladimir Putin was informed of the assassination while on his way to watch a play written by Alexander Griboyedov, Nicholas I’s ambassador to Persia, who was killed in 1829 when a mob stormed the Russian embassy in Tehran.

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3 August 2016

Turkey through the Looking Glass

Since the failed coup attempt on 15 July, two distinct narratives about Turkey have emerged. Talking to Turks and non-Turks about the coup increasingly resembles travelling between parallel universes.

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