Monday, August 31, 2009

Armenia, Turkey move towards diplomatic ties

YEREVAN (Reuters) - Armenia and Turkey said on Monday they would complete talks in six weeks and sign an accord on re-establishing diplomatic relations after almost a century of hostility.

The neighbors have no diplomatic ties, a closed border and a history of mutual distrust stemming from the mass killing of Armenians by Ottoman Turks during World War One. Turkey rejects allegations that the killing of Armenians was genocide.

The two countries announced in April that they had agreed a plan for normalizing relations, but gave no details. Diplomats said it included the reopening of the border and establishment of diplomatic ties.

Monday's joint statement, issued by the foreign ministries of Armenia and Turkey and mediator Switzerland, said they would begin "internal political consultations" on protocols to establish diplomatic relations and develop bilateral relations.

"The political consultations will be completed within six weeks, following which the two Protocols will be signed and submitted to the respective Parliaments for the ratification on each side," the statement said.

"Both sides will make their best efforts for the timely progression of the ratification in line with their constitutional and legal procedures."

Armenia has been pressing for concrete progress since the April announcement, and President Serzh Sarksyan is due to attend the return leg of a World Cup qualifying football match between the two countries in Turkey in October.

Turkey closed the frontier in 1993 in solidarity with fellow Muslim Azerbaijan, which was fighting Armenian-backed separatists in the breakaway mountain region of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Sarksyan has said he will not travel to the football match, the first leg of which Turkish President Abdullah Gul watched last year in Yerevan, unless the border has reopened or there are at least clear signs it is about to re-open.

But since the April announcement, Turkish government officials -- faced with a backlash from Azerbaijan -- have said the border will not re-open until Armenia makes concessions on Nagorno-Karabakh.

Turkey seeks to carve out new niche in global fashion industry

August 31, 2009
Associated Press

ISTANBUL: Turkey is seeking to carve out a new niche in the global fashion market by promoting its dynamic generation of young designers.

With a solid reputation for textiles and production for big international brands like Gap and Dolce & Gabbana, it sees its home-grown creativity as the best strategy to combat the threat to the sector from China and the Far East.

‘Our target is to make Istanbul one of the top five world fashion capitals, alongside Paris, Milan, New York and London.’ Hikmet Tanriverdi, the new chairman of ITKIB, the body representing manufacturers and designers told AFP.

Tanriverdi was the prime mover behind the just-ended Istanbul Fashion Days, the first event to present designers and brands under one roof to invited international press and buyers.

The initiative has enthusiastic government backing, with good reason: 55 percent of Turkey's exports are to Europe, of which 82 percent are in the apparel sector.

Minister of State for Foreign Trade Zafer Caglayan said Turkey was already ‘an address for good quality clothing’ but needed to develop strong brands with wider recognition.

He was optimistic about the sector's future, while frustrated at delays in Turkey achieving its goal to become a full member of the European Union.

‘When it does, the EU's border will touch Asia. Turkey is a bridge, an excellent corridor between the East and West. It is only four hours by plane to more than 50 countries — a quarter of the world's population and a quarter of the world's economy.’

While Turkey's clothing sector had been hit by the global recession, the effect had been mitigated by the falling exchange rate of the local currency to the euro, he said.

As to competition from cheaper Asian imports, he told AFP he was confident: ‘There are international trade laws which must be respected. I do not see China as a threat. I see China as an opportunity; in fact I am flying there tomorrow at the invitation of the prime minister and foreign ministers.’

Odile Baudelaire, a Paris-based agent who advises the buyers of specialty stores like Nordstrom in the United States and Myer in Australia, agrees.

‘The price is a bit higher in Turkey than China but creativity and design is much better. So are the fabrics.’

Michael Bonzom, a trend spotter for the NellyRodi agency and style consultant, noted there is already regional cooperation over the Asian competition: ‘Turkey, Morocco and Italy are all trying to get together to beat the threat from China.’

Turkey's very good reputation for respecting production deadlines and delivering on time was in its favour, he added.

On the likely future success of Istanbul fashion week in attracting international press and buyers, opinions were reserved.

‘Many Turkish designers don't show anywhere in Europe so it is a good alternative. I think there is potential. They have the factories and they have the creativity,’ says Baudelaire.

But she wondered if buyers would trek to Istanbul and whether it might make more sense to hold showrooms in the other fashion capitals.

Paul Chan, a buyer from Singapore, was similarly sceptical.

‘Paris, Milan, London are all close together and they have the big name brands like Louis Vuitton and Dior.’

He said the 10-hour flight was too far for southeast Asian buyers and that Istanbul would need to promote itself in the region. Meanwhile he thought there was untapped potential closer to home: ‘Why don't they design for the Middle East?’

The verdict of Faris and Layla Shehri, from the exclusive Art of Kohl Ltd shops in Riyadh, was ‘quite interesting. It is a good initiative from government to recognise talent in the fashion industry.’

But they felt Istanbul had ‘invited the buyers too soon. They are not ready.’
Bonzom was more upbeat.

‘Turkey is known for casual wear, cotton, denim, beachwear, and leather but not at all for its ready-to-wear. They are quite right to want to construct an identity in the middle to luxury ready-to-wear range.’

‘They have some very talented designers, like Arzu Kaprol. Also good menswear. I really hope it will pay off.’

Natalie Lacroix, a buyer for the exclusive Franck et Fils boutiques in Paris, was impressed by all the edgily-dressed young women jostling to get into the shows and the hip street scene in Istanbul.

‘They are clearly mad about fashion.’

She liked the idea of Istanbul's fashion week — ‘Turkey is the first country in the Mediterranean basin to try to establish its fashion identity’ — but the catwalk shows fell short of expectations. ‘Some designers need to westernise their styling more.’

Designer Mehtap Elaidi, who was on the organising committee, said the event already provided a much-needed platform.

‘To put a show on in Paris costs as much as a whole season here. We want to show we really have something. This is just the tip of the iceberg.’

But it takes a long time to build a brand, let alone a fashion capital. As several insiders put it: ‘There's a long road ahead.’

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

TCA Condemns Actions by Armenian Lobby

Washington, DC – The deposition of former FBI translator Sibel Edmonds in Washington this past weekend was supposed to be the latest chapter in the defamation case filed by Congresswoman Jean Schmidt against David Krikorian, a candidate for Schmidt’s Ohio Congressional seat in the 2010 elections. Instead, her testimony was a recitation of a familiar story in American politics: a full-on assault against the national interests of the United States and the integrity of its justice system by the Armenian lobby.

Krikorian, whose candidacy is backed by various Armenian groups including the Armenian national Committee of America (ANCA), has made a series of unfounded and slanderous accusations of Congresswoman Schmidt, including that she has accepted “blood money” from the Turkish government. The Congresswoman’s case has been supported by the Ohio Elections Commission in a unanimous vote affirming her suit against Krikorian.

With no basis for these claims against the Congresswoman, and with President Obama and the United States Congress refusing to endorse ANCA’s version of century-old events in a now-defunct empire (the treatment of Ottoman Armenians during their rebellion against the Ottoman regime), Krikorian and his lobbyist backers are getting desperate.

Their latest stunt was to produce Ms. Edmonds, a former FBI translator with no knowledge of the case between Mrs. Schmidt and Mr. Krikorian. The key items that we learned on Saturday were that Ms. Edmonds has never heard of the any of the Political Action Committees that Krikorian has accused of trafficking in ‘blood money;’ she learned of the case between Krikorian and Schmidt eight days prior to her deposition; she has a self-aggrandizing imagination inflating her position at the FBI to that of an interrogator of terrorists; and that she has a book coming out this fall.

Why would she testify then? Was the Armenian Lobby merely trying to divert the court’s attention away from the case at hand by introducing a witness who would make further unfounded accusations against the Turkish government, none of which involved the defendant or the plaintiff? Or, one might ask, has there even been a bigger waste of time for the American legal system?

The irrelevance and insignificance of Ms Edmonds deposition can be evidenced by the fact that Mr. Geragos, Mr. Krikorian’s attorney of record, did not bother to show up. Instead, Krikorian was represented by a proxy attorney whose familiarity with the case extends to a few hours before the deposition took place. And who could blame Mr. Geragos? His job is to serve as a defense attorney in this particular case, not to watch a discredited former employee of the FBI (who served the federal government for a total of six months before being fired), give an in-depth analysis of apples when the topic of conversation was supposed to be oranges.

Saturday’s deposition was nothing more than an opportunity for Ms. Edmonds to make unsubstantiated claims and air conspiracy theories ranging from the tragedy of September 11th, to lurid sexual innuendo regarding unnamed members of Congress, and briefcases full of money. Stories such as this belong in a John Grisham novel rather than a formal legal proceeding.

Nor were the Armenian lobby’s tactics limited to Ms. Edmonds’ testimony. Following the deposition, the Communications Director for ANCA, Elizabeth Chouldjian (who conveniently also serves as a freelance “journalist” for Armenia Horizon TV), ambushed attorneys representing Mrs. Schmidt in a further attempt to steer the discourse away from the actual substance of the legal case. It is astonishing how low ANCA and its officials will sink to impose their view of history on others.

This diversionary tactic by the defense to confuse the issue is further evidence that the 83% of the Ohio 2nd District were correct in rejecting the flawed thinking of Krikorian, who was rejected first by both major political parties.

Furthermore, it displays the lethal mixture that results from a disgruntled and discredited former federal employee, a single-issue Armenian lobbying organization that serves the interests of a foreign government to the detriment of the security and interests of the United States, and a fringe candidate in a congressional election willing to make unfounded and slanderous accusations against public servants. Trying to manipulate a legal case is just the tip of the iceberg.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Celebrating Turkey in the Heart of Paris

By: Susanne Fowler
New York Times
Aug. 2, 2009

PARIS | Visitors strolling past the Trocadéro in Paris recently could be forgiven for thinking that they had somehow been transported to another time and place. There on the square, with the Eiffel Tower glowing behind them, were dervishes whirling to the delight of thousands of spectators.

The presentation was part of the opening ceremony for “Saison de la Turquie en France,” an impressive celebration of Turkish arts and culture — especially considering that it is taking place in a country that has, at times, vocally disputed Turkey’s inclusion in the European Union.

With the countries budgeting at least 24 million euros in government and private support for the program, the “Saison,” is a nine-month-long culture festival that is bringing hundreds of Turkish artists, musicians, writers and other experts to cities throughout France.

The wide-ranging events are detailed in French in the festival catalog (PDF) and on the frequently updated Web site.

While the action is taking place in many cities, including Lille, Toulouse, Marseille and Lyon, here are some of the Parisian highlights:
– Encounters with writers like Elif Shafak and the Nobel Prize winner Orhan Pamuk.
– Illumination of the Eiffel Tower in the red and white of the Turkish flag during the month of October.
– Photography exhibits, including Ara Guler’s moody shots of Istanbul from the ’50s and ’60s.
– A film festival celebrating Turkey’s current “new wave’’ in cinema.

Because the program is so extensive, visitors may have a hard time choosing where to start. The answer may be a stop at the Café Turc, an airy and welcoming structure designed by the architects Han Tumertekin and Francois Pin in the historic Jardin des Tuileries, near the Place de la Concorde.

The cafe, open through Aug. 8, from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m., is a great way to dip a toe into some great Turkish traditions, including a workshops on puppetry and traditional instruments, or by simply pulling up a stool, sipping a demitasse of rich black Turkish coffee and listening to one of the many free concerts. It was standing room only last week for Göçebe Sarkilar’s concert of songs of the Anatolian nomads. The cafe’s closing night, on Aug. 8, should be rocking when Selim Sesler takes the stage with his clarinet and his gypsy-jazz band.

The irony of France playing host to a huge Turkish festival is not lost on the co-chairmen of the event.

Stanislas Pierret, the French co-commissioner, said his goal was to provide “a platform for the Turkish people to show what Turkey is really like.’’

“Istanbul now is like the New York of Europe,’’ he said. “There is a lot of creativity every where.’’

Gorgun Taner, the Turkish co-commisioner, agreed. “Our contemporary art and music scenes are dynamic,’’ he said, “as they should be when you realize that 50 percent of the Turkish population is under age 25.”

He hopes that the “Saison” can forge a lasting bond between the two countries.

“We are trying to bring to France examples of the multiculturalism of Turkey, to show not only how we differ, but also how much we look alike,” he said.