Erdogan left with a divided Turkey after referendum

By expanding his powers through a slim, contested victory in Sunday’s referendum, Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan has consolidated his rule – but over a nation bound for social turmoil. Diego Cupolo reports from Ankara.

Türkei Referendum Präsident Erdogan (Reuters/M. Sezer)

For many voters in Turkey’s referendum, the choice was between an empowered President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the unknown. After leading the country for 15 years, Erdogan has become central to the embattled nation’s economic success, while at the same time diminishing political opponents to the point where viable, mainstream alternatives have been absent for years.

But this doesn’t mean the call for another vision has been subdued. On Sunday, Turkish voters decided to consolidate governing powers under the presidency by the narrow margin of 51.2 to 48.8 percent of the electorate, according to the state-run Anadolu Agency. Erdogan’s supporters celebrated through the night, while his opponents stayed home in front of television sets, reflecting on the future of a nation that seems to be moving steadily away from its secular, democratic ideals of the past.

Watch video00:58

Erdogan dismisses reports of voting irregularities

Following the historic vote, the question Turks now face is how to mend a society composed of two disparate halves. Erdogan has so far made few efforts to unite the nation, and has aggravated divisions through campaign rhetoric that vilified opponents as terrorist sympathizers.

‘Victory for all’

In his post-referendum speech, Erdogan said the victory was for “all ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ supporters.” But while the results may lead to more political stability in the country, there are few guarantees for social cohesion.

Türkei Regierung erklärt Sieg bei Referendum (picture alliance/AA/ E. Menguarslan )Erdogan supporters celebrated the “Yes” victory

With purges still ongoing in the wake of the failed coup of 2016, and government continuing with its widespread demonization of political opponents, Turkey will remain in a state of crisis for years to come, said Soner Cagaptay, senior fellow at the US-based Washington Institute and author of the upcoming book, “The New Sultan: Erdogan and the Crisis of Modern.”

He’ll become president of only half of the country,” Cagaptay said in a phone interview before the referendum. “The other 50 percent will never fall under his rule and, to me, that’s a recipe for long-term disaster.”

“It’s a country that’s stuck in a permanent state of crisis, so it won’t be able to unleash its energies for growth and be a regional actor,” Cagaptay continued. “It’s going to be consumed by never-ending domestic political tensions,” and ongoing regional conflicts with “Islamic State” and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

What to expect next

In the immediate aftermath of the referendum, just two of the 18 constitutional amendments voted upon will take effect. The rest will be enacted following the 2019 presidential election.

Key changes to the constitution will include the concentration of legislative, judicial and executive powers under the presidency. The office of the prime minister will be abolished, while the role of parliament will be diminished, as the president is endowed with authority to make key judicial and ministerial appointments, without the need for secondary approval.

Türkei Referendum Auszählung (Getty Images/AFP/I. Akengin)Ballot papers were kept simple at the referendum

The president will also be able to issue decrees, as is the case under the current state of emergency, and presidential limits will be extended to two five-year terms, unless early elections are called in a leader’s second term, which would allow for a third presidential term.

In the coming months, Erdogan hinted at holding a second referendum on the EU accession process, in which Turkish voters would decide whether to end long-stalled negotiations. Turkey-EU relations plummeted to new lows during referendum campaigning after ministers with the governing Justice and Development Party (AKP) were barred from holding rallies in several EU cities. Erdogan responded to the incidents by accusing German and Dutch officials of using “Nazi methods.”

Turkish lawmakers have also proposed reinstating the death penalty. This has raised international concerns, particularly following mass arrests and allegations of torture that resulted from the country’s post-coup crackdown. Reintroducing capital punishment would further distance Turkey from European nations, and could effectively end accession prospects while possibly also rattling trade relations.

Some analysts have also suggested the possibility of reduced military conflicts in and around Turkey’s borders, but such notions remain open to interpretation, as Prime Minister Binali Yildirim struck a truculent tone in his post-referendum address.

Türkei Yildirim verkündet den Sieg der Ja-Sager (picture alliance/AA/A. Balikci)Yildirim stressed Turkey’s strength

“This nation once again demonstrated that it will not bow down to any [military] domination, external intervention or threat,” Yildirim said.

“Our struggle with internal and external enemies will be intensified,” he added.

Weakness and points of concern

Still, for all the strength Erdogan has amassed, cracks in yesterday’s voting patterns brought out apparent weaknesses in what was supposed to be a solid conservative voting base.

The leadership of the far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) had backed Erdogan’s presidential system, but its voters, about 10 percent of the electorate, failed to follow through. With the AKP holding about half the voting block, the support of MHP supporters, in theory, should have resulted in at least a 60 percent vote for “Yes.”

For the first time in Erdogan’s tenure, he also lost Istanbul to the “No” vote, which is particularly striking, because this was where he rose to prominence in Turkish politics as the city’s former mayor. Turkey’s other two major cities, Ankara and Izmir, also voted “No.”

Nein zu Erdogan Istanbul (Reuters/H.Aldemir)Voters in Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir tended to heed calls for “No” (Hayir)

Yet looking past political divisions, Cagaptay said the most concerning aspect in post-referendum Turkey was the reduced strength of the military. Many leading officials have been purged or jailed since last year’s coup, essentially hollowing out Turkey’s security apparatus at a time of high instability.

“[Turkey survived past] crises, because it had a strong national security institution, the military, that ultimately stepped in and prevented the implosion of the country,” Cagaptay said. “[The coup] effectively neutered, if not destroyed, the military as a national security institution that can come to the rescue… that’s why I’m worried.”

Watch video02:34

What next for Turkey?

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WikiLeaks, Donald Tusk, European Central Bank: Your Friday Briefing

Good morning.

Here’s what you need to know:

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CreditChung Sung-Jun/Getty Images

A South Korean court ousted President Park Geun-hye from office, a first in the nation’s history that could reshape the strategic landscape in Asia.

Hundreds of thousands of people had taken to the streets in recent months to protest a sprawling corruption scandal that reached the presidency.

Her downfall is expected to shift South Korean politics to the opposition on the left, whose leaders want more engagement with the North.

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CreditStefan Wermuth/Reuters

Prime Minister Theresa May of Britain is resisting pressure to call an early general election to solidify her Conservative majority in the House of Commons while the opposition is in disarray.

A larger majority would take pressure off Mrs. May in the negotiations to leave the E.U., the result of which Parliament must approve, and allow her to claim her own personal mandate as prime minister. But she has vowed not to hold an election before the next scheduled vote, in May 2020.

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CreditLefteris Pitarakis/Associated Press

• A bitter dispute between Germany and Turkey escalated as leaders in both countries accused the other of acting in bad faith.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey has accused Germany of using “Nazi practices” to block him from campaigning among Turks living there for a constitutional referendum at home that would expand his powers. In remarks to Parliament, Chancellor Angela Merkel called the Nazi comparison “sad and incredibly misplaced.”

In Ankara, the prime minister also accused Germany of pushing for the referendum’s defeat, which he said would backfire.

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The founder of WikiLeaks, Julian Assange, moved to seize the moment after his organization released a new trove of classified information about the C.I.A.’s cyberweaponry.

Speaking from the Ecuadorean Embassy in London, where he has sought refuge since 2012, Mr. Assange presented himself as a defender of some of the biggest American technology companies against their own government.

The C.I.A. described Mr. Assange as “not exactly a bastion of truth and integrity.”

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The U.S. is sending an additional 400 troops to Syria, nearly doubling the American forces deployed there.

A spokesman for the U.S.-led command said the move was intended to support preparations for an assault on Raqqa, which the Islamic State claims as its capital.

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Business

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• The European Central Bank held monetary policy steady but faces growing pressure to begin the politically charged task of drawing years of stimulus to a close.

Facebook reported the BBC to the British police after a reporter provided the company with examples of sexualized images of children that had been posted on the social network.

Oil fell below $50 a barrel for the first time since December. Here’s what to make of the volatility.

Chloé, the French fashion label owned by Compagnie Financière Richemont, has named Natacha Ramsay-Levi as creative director.

With Donald J. Trump in the White House, other American executives are asking, why not me?

Here’s a snapshot of global markets.

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In the News

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Donald Tusk, above, was appointed to a second term as president of the European Council, despite objections from his own country, Poland. [The New York Times]

The German police arrested a man in an ax attack that injured seven people at the main train station in Düsseldorf. [The New York Times]

Swiss lawmakers in the upper house voted against a proposal that would ban the niqab and the burqa in public places. [Politico]

The U.S. Justice Department declined to confirm a White House statement that Mr. Trump was not the target of a counterintelligence investigation. [The New York Times]

Jon M. Huntsman Jr. is said to have agreed to be U.S. ambassador to Russia. [The New York Times]

An antiques specialist visiting Blenheim Palace in England discovered an ancient Roman sarcophagus that was being used as a flower pot. [The New York Times]

New research by the British Library suggests that Jane Austen may have died from arsenic poisoning. [The New York Times]

Smarter Living

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CreditCraig Lee for The New York Times

• Prefer cold-brew coffee? Here’s how to do it right.

• Recipe of the day: Treat yourself to the comfort of Swedish meatloaf and caramelized cabbage.

Noteworthy

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In memoriam: Howard Hodgkin, above, a British painter who was one of the most admired artists of the postwar period, has died at 84. And Kurt Moll, a German basso who was his generation’s pre-eminent Baron Ochs in “Der Rosenkavalier,” has died at 78.

• The actor Samuel L. Jackson questioned the casting of the black British actor Daniel Kaluuya over a black American in the comedy-horror film “Get Out.” Here’s what some British minority actors who have worked in the U.S. have to say about the issue.

• Want to get in tune with today’s music? Here’s a curated 25-song playlist featuring Future, Adele, Mitski and more, with essays by some of our best culture writers.

“Countryfile,” a British television show that focuses on rural issues, is wildly popular in a nation where people have a “proprietorial attitude” to the countryside.

Back Story

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CreditElias Williams for The New York Times

In this age of e-readers and Amazon, it might be surprising that an American mail-order book business started nine decades ago is still supplying readers with literary selections.

Before best-seller lists and well-stocked bookstores, the Book of the Month Club tried to steer a growing middle class to the “right” books. Having such titles in the home became a sign of status.

In March 1926, “Lolly Willowes” by the British author Sylvia Townsend Warner was gaining acclaim, and a month later, it became the club’s inaugural pick.

Famously, a panel of literary experts made the choices over lunch and sherry around an oak table. Their credibility built the fledgling club’s membership.

They had hits like “Gone With the Wind” and “The Catcher in the Rye.” One miss was “The Grapes of Wrath.”

While critics viewed the club as middlebrow, it became a powerful literary institution in the U.S. Its influence diminished with the spread of bookstore chains in the 1980s and further declined with online bookselling.

But some of us still want to be guided by their judges. As an early club brochure said, “What a deprivation it is to miss reading an important new book at a time when everyone else is reading and discussing it.”

Adeel Hassan contributed reporting.

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Your Morning Briefing is published weekday mornings and updated online.

Read the latest edition of the U.S. briefing here and the latest for Asia and Australia here.

What would you like to see here? Contact us at europebriefing@nytimes.com.

Istanbul: Terror attack in an increasingly toxic atmosphere

The attack at the Reina nightclub in Istanbul occurred amid deep ideological discord. Turks disagree on their country’s cultural identity. And Ankara’s turnaround on Syria has confused an already muddled situation.

Istanbul Reina nightclub nach Anschlag (Getty Images/AFP/O. Kose)

Enjoying a New Year’s breakfast on January 1 is a tradition that is beloved in some parts of Turkey and despised in others. Muslims traditionally celebrate according to the Islamic calendar, which this year put the turn of the year on September 21. But people in the country’s big cities, especially secular Turks in Istanbul, celebrate according to the Gregorian calendar. Their conservative compatriots tend to accept that fact. Others are much less tolerant and see the celebration as an attack on Muslim culture.

The Turkish state has also voiced increasingly strong criticism of the tradition over the years. The Washington, DC-based online magazine “Al-Monitor” reports that Turkey’s Religious Affairs Directorate, Diyanet, looked favorably upon New Year’s celebrations as late as 2003. “Al-Monitor” quoted the agency’s official declaration at the time, which stated that such celebrations were “part of a universal culture, like Mother’s or Father’s Day,” and thus markedly different from Christian festivals such as Christmas. Yet, this well-meaning – or at least indifferent – attitude has disappeared. “Over the last few years,” writes “Al-Monitor,” “Diyanet statements have taken on a much less positive tone. Now, the office points out that such celebrations ‘alienate’ Muslims from their own culture.”

Masked revellers in IstanbulNot everyone in Turkey wants to see New Year’s celebrations like these in Istanbul

‘No friendship with non-believers’

That message is being taken to heart by a portion of Turkish society. “Al-Monitor” also reported that shortly before Christmas, members of a conservative religious youth organization protested against the increasing popularity of Christian Christmas symbols among secular Turks. Their displeasure was not only directed at the festival itself; the protesters accused secular Turks of “leaving the faithful and befriending non-believers. Are they seeking honor and dignity at their side? All greatness and honor is with Allah.”

The terror attack in Istanbul was not carried out just at a time of cultural tension. The crime was committed before the backdrop of a sharp change of foreign-policy course. From the very start of the rebellion in Syria, Turkey’s conservative government, under then-prime minister and now-President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has been opposed to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and has strongly supported his resignation. Turkey’s government has also been repeatedly accused of giving logistical support to Sunni extremists as well as offering them safe haven in Turkey. Journalists Can Dündar and Erdem Gül of the Turkish newspaper “Cumhuriyet” reported on such activities. As a result, both men were given long – though not yet legally final – prison sentences.

Armed police standing outside the Reina nightclub (Getty Images/AFP/Y. Akgul)Turkish police currently face huge challenges

Political reversal of Syria policy

Many observers were therefore very surprised by Turkey’s complete reversal of policy on Syria. Last week Ankara announced it would work in cooperation with Russia and Iran, both of whom have been fighting to keep Assad in power. Shortly before Christmas, the Turkish foreign minister, along with his counterparts from Moscow and Tehran, signed the so-called “Moscow Declaration.” In it, all three top diplomats announced their “full respect for the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of the Syrian Arab Republic.” That is no less than an indirect call for Assad to remain in power.

In the London-based newspaper “Rai al-youm,” political analyst Abdel Bari Atwan recently wrote that this political about-face would not fail to attract the notice of “Islamic State” (IS) supporters. “One must suspect that this change has caused Turkey to drift into the bloody earthquake of terrorism. The country’s policies and positions are confused, and its political leadership has lost its orientation. This has created a number of enemies for it.”

Scant condemnation of ‘IS’

The terrorists that struck on New Year’s Eve did so against a politically ambiguous backdrop, wrote Bülent Mumay – formerly a journalist at the Turkish newspaper “Hürriyet” – in the German newspaper “Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.” Following an IS terror attack that killed 100 people in Ankara in October 2015, Mumay says, then-Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu described the terror organization as a “collection of people brought together by anger.” According to Mumay, Davutoglu’s deputy Emrullah Isler even went a step further, saying, “IS kills but it doesn’t torture.”

Mumay went on to write that IS had yet to be pursued as it should be in Turkey. “But what can one expect from a country in which people were allowed to drive through the streets honking after the terror attacks in Paris, their cars adorned with IS flags? And booing and whistling by Turkish soccer fans during a moment of silence for victims of the IS attacks also received broad support,” says Mumay.

Türkei Recep Tayyip Erdogan Ankara (picture-alliance/dpa/Y.Bulbul)Erdogan speaks of mysterious “powers” behind terrorism – but does not say who they are

The president’s word games

Statements by President Erdogan have also done little to calm the situation. Kristian Brakel, who heads the German Green party-affiliated Heinrich Böll Foundation’s Istanbul office, told DW that the president has repeatedly unsettled the country’s citizens with unclear allusions.

“Erdogan is always talking about the existence of invisible hands, invisible enemies, that attempt to hinder Turkey’s rise. Depending on how one reads it, that could mean the Americans, the Jews, the Europeans or the Germans.” Erdogan used his New Year’s address to repeat such suggestions once again. “Terror organizations are simply the visible face, the tool in this fight,” he explained. “We are primarily engaged in a fight against the powers behind these organizations.” He did not elucidate exactly who those powers were.

The crimes committed on New Year’s Eve have obviously failed to unite Turks in common defense. Many observers have noted that the president, who normally comments on such attacks verbally and publicly, chose to comment on the deaths of mainly secular Turks in a nightclub with a written statement instead.

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Turkey extends state of emergency by three months

Following the New Year’s attack at an Istanbul nightclub, Turkey has extended its state of emergency for three more months. The news came as Turkish authorities continued their search for the main suspect in the attack.

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Turkey extends emergency rule after Istanbul attack

The Turkish parliament on Tuesday voted in favor of extending its state of emergency, which was set to expire January 19, for an additional three months. Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus said the extension was necessary due to recent terrorist attacks in the country, including the attack on an Istanbul nightclub during a New Year’s celebration that killed 39 people.

The state of emergency has worried the European Union, which believes emergency rule has been used to crack down against political opponents of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and not just those believed to be behind the failed coup attempt in July. The state of emergency gives Ankara powers to fire state employees and shut down other associations, including media outlets.

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Police hunt for IS-linked New Year’s shooter

Turkish police are continuing their search for the perpetrator of a mass shooting at an Istanbul nightclub in the early hours of New Year’s Day, killing 39, and wounding almost 70. Tom Stevenson reports from Istanbul. (03.01.2017)

Terror attack in increasingly toxic atmosphere

Journalist charged with spreading terror propaganda

Turkey: ‘Worst country’ for media freedom in 2016

TAK claims responsibility for Istanbul bombings

More than 40,000 arrested

At least 100,000 people, including soldiers, police officers, teachers, judges and journalists have been removed from their positions over suspected ties to Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom the Turkish government has blamed for inspiring the attempted coup on July 15.

More than 40,000 people have been arrested for their suspected ties to Gulen, who lives in self-imposed exile in the United States.

The state of emergency also extends the time suspects can be held in jail without being charged. Gulen has denied involvement with the coup.

Since the state of emergency was first imposed, more than 130 media outlets and publishing companies have been forced to close, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), a press freedom organization based in the US.

CPJ also states that at least 81 journalists were imprisoned in Turkish prisons as of December 1.

Members of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) have also been arrested during the imposed state of emergency, accused of supporting the outlawed and militant Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

Kurdish militant group Kurdistan Freedom Hawks (TAK), a splinter group of the PKK, claimed responsibility for a December bombing in Istanbul that killed 38 people.

Hunt for suspected attacker continues

Turkish authorities continued their manhunt for the assailant on Tuesday. Police have arrested 20 people so far with a potential link to the New Year’s attack, including two foreign nationals detained Tuesday afternoon at Istanbul’s airport.

Police are still hunting for the man they believe was responsible for the attack, who was able to escape the scene of the shooting and is still at large. They are focusing on men with Central Asian and North Caucasus nationalities.

The attack, which took place at the Reina nightclub in Istanbul’s Ortakoy district shortly after midnight on Sunday, was the first on Turkish soil to have been formally claimed by the so-called “Islamic State” (IS) group.

Late Tuesday, US President Barack Obama called Erdogan to offer his condolences for the attack. The two leaders agreed they must “stand united” to defeat terrorism, said the White House in a statement.

Watch video02:34

Closing in on Turkey’s most wanted man

kbd/cmk (AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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Turkish police hunt nightclub attacker

“Islamic State” (IS) has claimed responsibility for the attack on the upscale Istanbul nightclub that left 39 people dead, reportedly including at least two Germans. Turkish police are still searching for the gunman.

Watch video00:59

Dozens killed in New Year gun attack at Istanbul nightclub

The militant group released the statement on Monday, saying that “a heroic soldier of the caliphate struck one of the most famous nightclubs where the Christians celebrate their apostate holiday” in Turkey.

In the online statement, they also labeled the Muslim-majority Turkey a “protector” of Christianity.

Türkei Bild des Verdächtigen für den Anschlag in Istanbul (Reuters TV)The police have issued this handout of the man they believe was behind the attack

Meanwhile, Turkish authorities were still looking for the attacker who opened fire in the prominent Reina during the New Year’s celebrations on the day before. Dogan news agency reported that eight people were arrested over the attack on Monday, but the shooter was believed to still be on the run.

The assailant reportedly shot a police officer outside the club, then entered and started shooting at hundreds of patrons inside,less than one hour after Turkey rang in the new year. Some of the guests jumped into frigid water of the Bosporus to avoid the attack.

At least 39 people were killed and 69 injured, officials said.

“A manhunt for the terrorist is underway,” Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu told reporters. “We hope the attacker will be captured soon.”

Watch video00:59

Turkish police step up search for NYE gunman

He added that 15 of victims have been identified as foreign nationals. Family Minister Fatma Betul Sayan Kaya also said that many Arab tourists were killed in the shooting.

“There are foreigners and Turks, but the majority are foreigners. From different countries – Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Lebanon, Libya,” the Anadolu news agency quoted Sayan Kaya as saying.

Authorities in the Bavarian city of Lansberg also believe that at least two Germans were killed in the attack, namely a 28-year-old from Lansberg and a 26-year-old from the nearby town of Kaufering. This information has yet to be confirmed by the federal government.

According to Soylu, officials believed that only one gunman was responsible for the assault. Local media previously spoke of two attackers who allegedly used Santa Claus outfits as a disguise.

The interior minister also said it was likely that the attacker left the club wearing different clothing.

Erdogan defiant after terror strike

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed that his country would continue fighting terror.

“They are trying to create chaos, demoralize our people, and destabilize our country,” he said, addressing the nation on Sunday morning. “We will retain our cool-headedness as a nation, standing more closely together, and we will never give ground to such dirty games,” he added.

One witness told the Associated Press she saw bodies in the nightclub following the attack. “Before I could understand what was happening, my husband fell on top [of] me,” said the witness outside Istanbul’s Sisli hospital. “I had to lift several bodies from on top of me before I could get out.” The witness’ husband was not in serious condition, despite being shot three times.

No rest from terror

Local reports showed men wearing suits and women in cocktail dresses leaving the building.

Professional footballer Sefa Boydas, said “people were walking on top of people” while fleeing the club. Talking to the AFP news agency, he also said that “many girls fainted” upon hearing the gunshots.

“My girlfriend was wearing high heels. I lifted her and carried her out on my back,” he later posted on Twitter.

During 2016, the dominantly Muslim Turkey has been hit by several deadly terror attacks, both by the so-called “Islamic State” militia and the Kurdish insurgency. At least 17,000 police officers were on duty in Istanbul during the New Year’s celebration.

Watch video02:11

Gunman kills at least 39 at Istanbul club

dj, ksb/rc, se (AFP, AP, Reuters, dpa)

 

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German school in Istanbul repudiates ban on Christmas

A German-funded school in Istanbul has reneged on an earlier directive saying it would ban all things relating to Christmas. The school claimed that it was all a misunderstanding.

Schule Istanbul Lisesi (picture alliance/dpa/C.Merey)

Christmas has been deemed an acceptable topic after all for classroom discussions and activities at an elite public high school in Istanbul, following controversy at the German-funded school over what amounted to a ban on the Christian holiday.

“After a joint meeting between the Turkish school management and the directors of the German department, I can inform you that there is no prohibition on discussing ‘Christmas’ in classes,” an email circulated by the school said. The school added later that the whole affair had been “a misunderstanding.”

Istanbul Lisesi, founded in 1884, caters exclusively to Turkish students but places an emphasis on teaching the German language and communicating German values – including the cultural importance of Christmas. This reportedly extends, among other things, to teaching Christmas songs and hanging up advent calendars in classrooms each December.

Germany classifies the school as a Deutsche Auslandsschule (German International school).

Change after strong reactions in Germany

The effective Christmas ban had prompted uproar in Germany where German politicians had criticized the move as part of a larger change away from secularism across Turkey under Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s leadership.

Istanbul Lisesi (picture-alliance/dpa/L.Say)The elite school in central Istanbul has been embroiled in controvery after reports said it would ban Christmas

The German Foreign Ministry had called the initial decision “regrettable,” saying that the decision would affect the German-Turkish friendship at the school. German Foreign Ministry spokesman Martin Schaefer stressed that three Turkish prime ministers (Mesut Yilmaz, Necmettin Erbakan and Ahmet Davutoglu) had been educated at Istanbul Lisesi.

Numerous lawmakers had also expressed outrage. Frank Josef Jung, a lawmaker from Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU), criticized the measure:

“If Germany is financing the teachers at this school, it has a say in what they teach,” said Jung at the time. Turkish-born lawmaker Sevim Dagdelen of the opposition Die Linke party, even went so far as to call the decision at the school a sign of “Islamic dictatorship” in Turkey.

Turkish MP voices outrage on social media

Mustafa Sentop, a member of Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), meanwhile expressed his disapproval of the reversal of the school directive, commenting that the German-Turkish school was allegedly engaging in religious activity by promoting Christmas and referring to the Christmas lessons as “missionary education at a state school” on social media.

He also contended on Twitter that teachers at the school had “gone as far making mulled wine and serving it to the students earlier.”

Sentop took particular umbrage to the involvement of German politicians in the issues, tweeting, “Get a hold of yourselves. This is Turkey. A state school cannot allow this nation’s children to be subjected to the religious and political propaganda of the German government.”

Critics of President Erdogan’s government and his AKP say that he is actively eroding modern Turkey’s constitutionally enshrined brand of secularism, including by imposing a more Islam-focused education system.

Tit-for-tat diplomacy?

The initial decision to prohibit the mention of Christmas at the school came one week after the school’s choir was prevented from singing at the German consulate in Istanbul. While the motivation for that decision remains unknown, it is assumed that the frail security situation in Turkey prevented the German embassy from welcoming the students at this point.

A long series attacks this year in Istanbul and the capital city, Ankara, have resulted in increased security measures taken at locations of high importance across the country.

ss/rc (dpa, AFP, Reuters)

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