North Korea

North Korea
The always bombastic and unpredictable North Koreans go hysterical again. This time the country is prepared to "go to war" with South Korea because that country is playing loudspeakers directed at North Korean territory. A headline from a UK paper reads, "More than 50 North Korea submarines 'leave their bases' as war talks with South continue "

Sunday, August 23, 2015

The origins of the major Baltic Sea cities

Of the five major cities lying more or less along the 60th north parallel, four are connected to the Baltic Sea. Trading and fishing were the common threads for three of these cities which grew from humble outposts.

Some of the early groupings of peoples and societies in the Scandinavian/Denmark/Baltic Sea region during the years of 1200-1400. Note that Helsinki and St.Petersburg don't show up yet. Graphic from "Scandinavia1219" by MasterOfHisOwnDomain in Wikimedia.

Tallinn, Estonia

Tallinn was an early trading center between the Russian and Scandinavian peoples. Though the town site had less than 1000 inhabitants right up into the middle of the 14th century (1350), it had become a prize and "base camp" for the Teutonic Knights and the Kingdom of Denmark during centuries-long expansion, some of which is referred to as the "Northern Crusades." These religiously inspired blends of conquest and piety occurred in the early 13th century when Christianity was forcibly imposed on the local population. Nonetheless, by the late 1400's, the population of Tallinn was 6000-7000, and well on its way to being the capital city of what we know as Estonia.

So, if nothing else, one can look up what the "Northern Crusades" was all about. By the way, name 'Tallinn' is actually derived from the Estonian words 'taani linnus,' meaning 'Danish castle.'

Stockholm, Sweden

The name Stockholm is first heard of in the Chronicle of Eric (Eriks krönikan), probably written in the early 1300s. According to this chronicle Stockholm was founded by Birger Jarl in 1252 - the name Stockholm refers to the town in between the bridges.

According to the website,, Stockholm was built much because of the waterways. "The land was high in these days, making it impossible to travel by boat or ship between Lake Mälaren and the Baltic Sea. Instead, everything on the vessels, brought for the purpose of trade, had to be reloaded in Stockholm. The goods transported were; iron, copper, tar and fur. Being located in a strategic spot, as it were, trade was an important factor, and, therefore, it became vital to fortify the islands of the inner city with a wall."

Stockholm (big pink area) is the consolidation point of Lake Malaren to the West, and the Baltic Sea to the East. Graphic at

Helsinki, Finland

With the two older cities now referenced, modern day Helsinki came into being when Sweden’s King Gustavus Vasa founded the town on the mouth of Vantaanjoki River in 1550 to compete with Tallinn for Baltic Sea trade. King Gustav intended the town - originally called Helsingfors - to consolidate trade in the southern part of Finland and provide a competitor to Reval (which was the name for Tallinn early on). Info from

Russia conquered Finland in the early 1800s, with Finland regaining its independence only in 1917 as the first World War commenced. Early during the Russian rule, and after a great fire in 1808 destroyed much of the town, a German architect, Carl Ludwig Engel, gave Helsinki its wide layout - known as "Empire" style, including tree lined avenues, and space between buildings, so the wooden structures would not be prone to fires. Interestingly, Engel had previously held the position of town architect for Tallinn ...

Senate Square in Helsinki, the legacy of Carl Engel. Photo from

St Petersburg, Russia

The youngest city of these major 60th parallel north metropolis's, St Petersburg was founded by Tsar Peter the Great on 27 May 1703. Saint Petersburg was capital of Russia for more than two hundred years (1712–1728, 1732–1918), before the Bolshevik revolution in 1917 moved the capital to a more distant and safer location at Moscow.

In the convoluted history of the lands bordering the Baltic Sea, Sweden held much of Estonia, including Tallinn at the time called Reval, as well as the town of Nyen. Russia gained that land and city as the new century began, and the Tsar Peter the Great took the Swedish fortress of Nyenskans and the tiny accompanying settlement of Nyen, on the Neva river with plans already in mind. Graphic from

From, we read, "Peter himself went to Amsterdam and pretended to be a simple worker serving [the Russian embassy there] - just to get the taste of real life and first-hand experience. On his return to Russia, Peter was determined to build a true European city in his own country, something like Amsterdam, his favorite at the time. He knew he couldn't improve Moscow, which was definitely Russian, so he decided to built a new city. Peter chose nice a strategic spot at the shore of Baltic Sea, which was a desolate swamp, uninhabited no man's land."

True to his decisive character, Peter ordered [...] thousands of peasants to the area and cover the swamp with the ground. Many people simply died because of the hard manual labor and cold. The obsessive attempt to replicate Amsterdam on the swampy land worked out, after years of work and several thousand deaths. After the city was built, Peter ordered the rich merchants and intellectuals to move there from Moscow. Those who refused, risked getting out of favor with the emperor, so many followed the orders. That is why nowadays St. Petersburg is sometimes called the city on bones."

The tidy look of this map of St Petersburg hides the cost of its construction. Nevertheless, the Tsar had his modern city on the Baltic Sea, here looking west through the Gulf of Finland. Graphic from For a more detailed history of St Petersburg and its Swedish roots, read here.

As we leave these four major cities, we should remember that Sweden in its glory days looked eastward to the Baltic Sea where it's empire collided with Russia's western expansion plans. The other major northern city, Oslo, Norway, was the center of the Norwegian vikings, along with their Denmark "cousins." These peoples looked westward for their expansion and have a different history.

Another post for that city and people ...

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Five far north cities

Previously, we looked at the 60th parallels - 2/3s of the way from the equator to either the north or south poles. A cold and stormy ocean is found in the South, while in the north, mainly wilderness and small villages.

But there is an amazing regional exception - five major cities, four of whom are capitals of nations, are located in a cluster along the 60th parallel north.

Oslo, Norway; Stockholm, Sweden; Helsinki, Finland; Tallinn, Estonia, and the major Russian city of St. Petersburg. All lie in a nearly straight line close to the 60th northern parallel. Their combined population is approximately 10.3 million individuals (Oslo is 1.5 million, Stockholm is 2.1 million, Helsinki is 1.2 million, Tallinn is .4 million, and St Petersburg is 5.1 million) Graphic from

Once we realize how unique these population centers are, in that they lie so far north, we can appreciate anew the concept of the "Nordic" countries, and for that matter the Baltic sea with which they all touch.

While Oslo, Norway, technically is situated on the east edge of the North Sea, the rest are on this shallow Baltic sea. Photo from

Urban life in these major population centers is much like any other modern metropolis, though nowhere else do such large numbers of people live with dark cold winters, and celebrate with such fervor the summer solstices. (Teatree notes, of course, that there two smaller, but still notable cities: Anchorage, Alaska, and Reykjavik, Iceland.)

Helsinki citizens celebrate the summer solstice with historic costumes and symbols. Photo from

Stockholm, Sweden, like any other major modern city, experiences tensions of income inequality, and more recently, rising ambivalence towards an unending stream of immigrants that soak up social benefits. Photo from

It is not all spectacular summers and touristy scenes, as this modest Oslo neighborhood in winter shows. Photo from

At least a sunny day during the winter, here in St Petersburg, lifts the spirits during the "frozen months." Photo from

And Christmas in these lands (Tallinn, Estonia) is the quintessential setting. Photo from

There are likely a few more nuggets of interest in this concentration of northern population before we leave them behind.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

The 60th parallel north

When looking at a globe, the 60th parallel north is pretty far up the curve towards the North pole, in fact 2/3rds of the way. The Arctic circle is still further north, its parallel is 66 + degrees and it is the line where the sun disappears for 24 straight hours in the winter and stays above the horizon for one full day during the summer.

In Canada, the 60th parallel north is also the line delineating the country's territories from its provinces. Graphic from The Economist.

What is most interesting is to compare the 60th parallel south with that of the north. Looking at the globe again, there is essentially no land mass on the 60th parallel - just ocean. (Though the continental Antarctic land mass of the Southern pole is rather phenomenal itself.)

The 60th parallel south is all cold water ... Graphic from

Another thing about the 60th parallels - both north and south. This latitude is where the Arctic and Antarctic polar air masses sink to the earth in a somewhat closed cell or loop (see graphic below). And where there is no land mass to interfere with or influence that sinkage, ie. the 60th parallel south, it is also especially windy besides being cold. A fascinating read on the science of south swells here.

Warmed air on the equator is eventually mixed with the cold polar air. Their mixing tends to occur most dramatically at certain latitudes.

One last point. Earth's land masses at the equator are traveling a lot faster than their counterpart masses at the 60th parallel north (as there are no land masses at 60th parallel south), because they have a lot more distance to travel in a 24 hour period. Hence, the very quick sunrise and sunset at the equator - a matter of 15-20 minutes from dark to light and vice versa. That is on top of the length of daylight varying little compared to that experienced at the 60th parallels.

The Peter and Paul Fortress at St Petersburg, Russia, in front of a long lingering sunset due to the city's 60th parallel location. Photo from

Thursday, July 23, 2015

The die is cast on Iran ...

After this post, following a string of posts which has morphed into rather dire commentaries on world conflicts, Teatree is changing direction for the coming year. Stay tuned. But in a fitting end-piece to the past couple of years, we return to the Middle East with its civil, Jihadist, and proxy wars, both current and potential.

In the news this past two weeks is the agreement between Iran and a group of five nations who have permanent seats on the UN Security Council (US, Great Britain, France, China, Russia) plus Germany regarding Iran's nuclear program.

Iran has long maintained it has a right as much as any nation to utilize nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, and maintain sovereign rights to privacy. The West in general and Israel in particular are opposed to Iran gaining such operational and technological expertise given Iran's track record of supporting extremist groups as well as publicly calling for the destruction of Israel and denying the Holocaust. In the end, it is the possibility of Iran developing nuclear weapons as an outcome of developing nuclear expertise and facilities that fuels the angst.

Iran, with a population of nearly 80 million - similar to Germany - has large oil reserves, substantial military power, and a history of aggressive actions towards its neighbors that coincides with the ascendency of its theocratic rulers. Graphic from

The ambitions of Iran since 1979 when the Islamists came to power, have always included a construction of a strong theocracy, hostility to the West, death to America, annihilation of Israel, and in general the aggrandizement of the nation as a regional if not global power by whatever means necessary.

The West, led by the US but in general throughout the European Union, has slapped harsh economic sanctions on Iran for defying calls for openness and transparency in regards to inspecting the country's supposedly peaceful nuclear infrastructure. Indeed, there is little disagreement that Iran has moved towards nuclear weapons with various secret programs, facilities, and general research trajectories that strongly point towards developing weapons grade nuclear material in spite of its denials. For an exhausting comprehensive timeline of Iran's nuclear ambitions and world reaction, go to

But here we are, the UN Security Council has endorsed the P5+1 deal with Iran, and sanctions may soon be ending. The agreement limits Iran's capabilities for another decade to build enough highly enriched material that could be used to make nuclear bombs, and allows inspections of facilities if so desired - all this in exchange for a removal of harsh sanctions that have crippled Iran's economy over the past several years. Critics of the agreement call it a disaster that will lead to Iran becoming a nuclear power over time, while proponents of the deal say it avoids the scenario of a future war to prevent Iran becoming another possessor of nuclear weapons ... kind of.

Negotiators lining up for the photo shoot as deal is reached. From left, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, French foreign minister Laurent Fabius, UK Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, and US Secretary of State John Kerry. Photo from

Key Agreement Points

Proponents of the deal say that the numbers of centrifuges Iran is allowed (items that can enrich nuclear fuel to a level that allows a nuclear bomb to be assembled) along with inspections slows any plans to create a bomb, giving nations time to slap sanctions back into place ... or take more forceful action. At the same time, the amount of enriched nuclear material Iran already has accumulated is to be greatly reduced, with the majority shipped out of the country.

One key and controversial component of the agreement is the ability of inspectors to enter nuclear sites to test and monitor the acceptable actions under the agreement as well as note any prohibited actions. The actual access procedures are long and complicated, a detailed review can be found here in a CBS news article. Some sites are well known and accessible while Iranian military sites where nuclear enrichment might be conducted are "negotiable."

Here, our old friend, Iranian ex-president and holocaust denier Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, talks with Iranian nuclear technicians in front of nuclear centrifuges which are at the heart of the inspection controversy. Photo from

Four ways to assess the results

Will Arab neighbors, in particular Saudi Arabia and its allies, begin to bulk up their own nuclear research, with the potential of a destabilizing regional arms race.

Will Israel be placated over the next year with new assurances of US support and defense.

Will Iran follow the agreement - inspections as requested/demanded by UN international inspectors. (Teatree remembers the long drawn out cat and mouse game played by Iraq's Saddam Hussein, and the hundreds of ways inspections were foiled.) And will the nearly month-long grace period between inspection demands and deadlines for compliance be effective.

Will a near-future removal of economic sanctions against Iran's rulers and businesses quickly turn into a boost for Iran's various proxy militias and dependent regimes (such as Hezbollah, Hamas, Assad's fragile Syrian regime, and for that matter, the Houthis in Yemen).

But the die is cast so to speak, and we will know more clearly by the end of 2015 whether this agreement has ceded power to an aggressive Islamic theocracy, or induced Iran into acting more constructively.

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, far from attempting to project a more positive image after the nuclear agreement, declared in a recent Reuters article "U.S. policies in the region were "180 degrees" opposed to Iran's, at a speech in a Tehran mosque punctuated by chants of "Death to America" and "Death to Israel". In this photo from, Khamenei greets his friend, Hamas leader Ismail Haniya

Future posts - we'll be leaving the world of woes behind for perhaps a year - and introduce ourselves to little outposts around the globe that are near the Arctic circle. Perhaps we can interweave a bit of climate change discussion into the stories.

Photo from

Saturday, July 4, 2015

What do Greece and Puerto Rico have in common

Greece and Puerto Rico have been in the news this past week, both having spent or borrowed more than their ability to repay ... sound familiar?

Greece, of course, has been well covered in the world media. A leftwing politician, Alexis Tsipras, rose to power six months ago by promising Greek citizens that it was the International Monetary Fund, Germany, banks, and a collection of other villains that had conspired to hold Greece down in a particularly annoying form, by demanding that the country repay its debts.

Greece, a country with a population of 11 million and an economy the size of the US state of Connecticut. Graphic from

Teatree agrees that there are a few valid points made by Tsipras, or at least one. The average Greek citizen is the one who is being hurt disproportionately, and pensioners specifically, by debt repayment terms. At the same time, those earlier leaders who made decisions to borrow and spend without addressing revenue and fighting Greece's culture of avoiding taxes, are likely already at their second homes elsewhere in the world.

A pensioner exhausted emotionally and physically, waiting at a bank with many fellow Grecians. Photo from the BBC

The sorry situation in Greece is a problem faced by many countries who elect politicians who borrow heavily and spend frivolously (insert many many countries and leaders here), and leave office so that the next generation of leadership must either dance around the growing problem, or stand and face the consequences.

The Guardian newspaper describes how Greece has come to the mess it is in. Starting in 2008, the worldwide financial pullback accelerated a Greece economy already stressed. "In the 10 years before the financial crash, public sector wages doubled and departmental spending soared. Already high defence costs continued to soar, propelled by years of antagonism with its neighbour Turkey." ... And as for revenues, "A report by the EU in 2014 estimated that Greece lost a third of its VAT revenues in fraud and avoidance (only Lithuania, Latvia, Romania and Slovakia lost more). With a VAT system that has six bands, tax experts say it was open to manipulation. Shipping, one of the main industries and the source of Aristotle Onassis’s vast fortune, was known as a tax-free zone. Income taxes and corporate taxes, traditionally the subject of huge avoidance, collapsed in the wake of the financial crisis."

Tsipras, the current Greek Prime Minister, is probably not helping his country's cause as he and his cabinet attempt to renegotiate debt payment terms with Greece's creditors. He varies, sometimes on an hourly basis, between bombastic rhetoric and finger-pointing, to offering proposals soon followed by withdrawing them. In just six months, he has alienated most of the country's creditors to the point that they are simply standing by to see whether a referendum Tsipras has called for Sunday, July 5th, backs him up or essentially rejects him. For another concise summary of Tsipras presiding over the Greek implosion, try this article from The Australian, titled, "Greece must face up to reality."

If Greece votes yes to stay in the European Union and accept debt repayment terms (Tsipras urges a NO vote),a new government would likely follow. But the effects of the default which Greece is already in, will continue to escalate, and meanwhile the lines, anguish and turmoil for the middle class Greeks will make for a long miserable hot summer.

Alexis Tsipras, current Greek Prime Minister, whose abrasive and self-righteous style has not only brought little relief to the average Greek citizen, but is likely to make the "misery index" much worse. (In this picture, unfortunately, he is also using the patented Bill Clinton non-finger point to make a point.) Photo from

On to Puerto Rico

The dynamics are the same in Puerto Rico - too much public spending (in comparison to the revenue coming in), and kicking the can to the next set of politicians to deal with (.ie. NOT). But the difference in this case, is that the current leader is attempting to face the consequences without scapegoating the lenders.

Puerto Rico is a Caribbean island, a U.S territory, with a population of just over 3.6 million people (all natural born Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens). Graphic from

For a quick summary by, "Puerto Rico is bankrupt according to Governor Alejandro Padilla because it is mathematically impossible to pay its $73 billion debt it owes to creditors. In an interesting turn of events, the Associated Press reported that Padilla met privately with the New York Times before he met with Puerto Rico’s political leaders to discuss the uncontrollable debt problem the island-nation was facing. Padilla was quoted as saying that “the last four administrations have kicked the can down the road,” he continued “At this point; there is no more can to kick. So we’re going to take some very strict measures and some very profound measures. It’s going to hurt, but there’s no way out” the AP reported."

For Americans, it is pretty clear that the U.S federal government is not exactly ready to line up and lend some of its own borrowed money to dig Puerto Rico out of its hole. Plenty of US cities and a few states (think Detroit, Chicago, and Illinois) are in the same trouble (read overspending compared to revenue, along with the game kick-the-can). And once again, it will be the average citizen who suffers, while the erstwhile leaders move on to their next visionary posting.

The Governor of Puerto Rico is Alejandro Padilla. Native born, educated on the Island, and aligned politically as a democrat, nonetheless, Mr Padilla is stating enough is enough. Photo from

To his credit, Padilla is stating, "There is no other option. I would love to have an easier option. This is not politics, this is math," Garcia told the New York Times. The island nation, which has a population of 3.6 million, has been in recession for over a decade. Governor Padilla wants to negotiate with creditors, while also looking to defer some debt payments, according to his spokesman, Jesus Manuel Ortiz."

Paseo de Diego, a pedestrian corridor in San Juan, P.R., that once buzzed with shops and shoppers, sits nearly empty, as businesses have closed. Photo by Christopher Gregory for The New York Times

Similar to the story in Greece, the New York Times reports, "“So many people are leaving you can’t even find suitcases,” said Erica Lebrón, 30, as she sat outside a housing project bodega. Before long, Puerto Ricans will face more tax increases — the next one is in October. Next on the list of anticipated measures, these for government workers, are fewer vacations, overtime hours and paid sick days. Others in Puerto Rico may face cuts in health care benefits and even bus routes, all changes that economic advisers say should be made to jump-start the economy.

People ricochet from anger to resignation back to anger again. Along San Juan’s colonial-era streets, in homes and shops, Puerto Ricans blame the government for the economic debacle. Election after election, they say, political leaders took the easy way out, spending more than they had, borrowing to prop up the budget, pointing fingers at one another and failing to own up to reality."

Sigh, key words and phrases: "reality," "promises," "spending more than they had," "the easy way out," "borrowing," ... sound familiar?

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Malaysia as destination for climbers and refugees

Malaysia has crept into the news the past few weeks - first as a destination for desperate refugees from Bangladesh and Myanmar - and second as the scene of an earthquake on its highest mountain, Mt Kinabalu.

Malaysia, with a population of 30 million has two parts, East and West, separated by 400 miles of open sea. (Talk about borders being arbitrary from legacy governance ..., but to its credit, Malaysia has made it work.) Graphic from

Refugees from Bangladesh and Myanmar have worked hard to enter this country by any means. By and large, the arrival of Muslim Rohingya of Myanmar have been quietly tolerated in this Muslim country over the years. But with the number of boat people doubling in the first three months of 2015 compared to 2014 (25,000 as a broad estimate), Malaysia has said enough.

Still, how has Malaysia become a beacon? From nationsencyclopedia we read, "Since 1970, the Malaysian government has actively implemented social policies aimed at the elimination of poverty and social inequality, and the development of a social welfare system . The communal unrest of 1969 prompted the Malaysian government to introduce the New Economic Policy (NEP). This 20-year program established state support of poor communities and access to education and social benefits for Malays and indigenous people (the Bumiputera ). This latter aspect included the establishment of privileged access to public services, the granting of land rights, preference in education and training, and job quotas in the public sector. In the 1980s, Malaysia's leadership envisioned the formation of the Malay Baru (New Malays), a better-educated, politically and socially active people able to live in harmony with other communities. In the early 1990s the government relaxed some privileges and reduced some quotas for Bumiputera, making the social welfare system more inclusive and accessible to a wider range of people than it had been before."

Malaysia has been characterized as a moderate Muslim nation, yet, like Turkey, has recently shown some inclination to the siren call of Islamic fundamentalism.

Along with its commendable initiatives to address poverty and inequality, Malaysia has long exhibited a moderate version of Islam. Its constitution is secular, though Sharia law acknowledged as adjunct. Unfortunately, its current Prime Minister has recently tolerated or ignored growing comments among his administration that promote a harsher, "purer" adherence to Islamic principles.

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak has been criticised for openly praising Islamic State militants. AFP: Nicholas Kamm

Malaysian academic and writer Farouk Peru is one of two dozen leading Malaysian voices that, back in December 14, wrote an open letter to the government, expressing their concern about the direction of the country's religious inclinations. In an interview, he stated, "I myself wrote an article in the Malaysian Insider saying that Najib does not exactly know what he's saying," he said. "I really believe this because I do not believe that Najib is of a fundamentalist bent, but what I do believe is that there is an infiltration of Islamo-fascist elements within the prime minister's department and you can see that coming from his department, all sorts of things which are ridiculous.

"Yesterday we had someone say that liberalism and pluralism are deviations against Islam ... I mean this kind of stuff never came out before but I think Najib is too complacent and he doesn't realise really what the implications are."

Farouk Peru, a Malaysian intellectual, and self described "human being in the world, blogging my existence." He is currently a Phd Candidate in Islam and Postmodernism and teaches Islamic Studies at King's College, London. An essay or two to get a flavor of this Muslim thinking and writing about his faith. The second essay is a reflection on the Charlie Hebdo massacre that occurred in France in January, 2015. Photo at

Before the refugee crisis, the disappearance of a Malaysian jetliner brought the country into the spotlight of western media, and now, the latest is the detainment and deportation of young Western yahoos who decided to climb a revered mountain in East Malaysia, take off their clothes and take selfies of themselves on May 30.

That alone probably would have not become a story with any reach, but unfortunately, "by coincidence" there was an earthquake five days later which killed 18 people including children, and leaving hundreds more stranded. With rumors subsequently connecting the two events, East Malaysian authorities stepped in and detained the Western tourists. No flogging however, just the roundup, detainment, a fine, followed by sending them packing back to their homelands.

From CNN, "Four foreign hikers who posed naked on Mount Kinabalu in Malaysia were freed Friday after they were fined and sentenced to time served. The backpackers -- from Britain, Canada and the Netherlands -- were arrested after stripping naked May 30 and posing for photos on the mountaintop, the nation's Bernama news agency reported. The mountain is considered sacred in Malaysia. They had pleaded guilty to "committing an obscene act."

At 13,435' (4,095 m), Mount Kinabalu has snow, is considered sacred, where ancestors spirits dwell, and up which tens of thousands climb each year due to its relative accessibility. Photo from

So, a glimpse at Malaysia.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Turkey's rulers seek a "pious generation" amidst a threatening region

Turkey continues to present a mosaic of contradictory policies and positions to the world as its June 7 parliamentary elections near. The elections will decide the makeup of the 550 members of the Grand National Assembly, and the elected members will form the 25th Parliament of Turkey.

Turkey has a population of nearly 75 million people, compared to Egypt's 82 million and Germany's 80 million. The country sits strategically between Europe and the Arab world, and it has a turbulent history with its neighbors. Graphic from

From wikipedia, we read, "The governing Justice and Development Party (AKP) will seek a fourth consecutive term in government. Its leader, Ahmet Davutoğlu, will seek a full term as Prime Minister of Turkey in his own right, having taken over from Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in August 2014. The AKP's goal is likely to be to win more than 330 seats in order to have the right to put constitutional changes to a referendum, or more ideally 367 seats to bypass a referendum and change the constitution directly within parliament."

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, campaigning for his AKP party which is expected to gain a majority of seats in the June 7th election. Such a majority in turn would allow him to adjust the country's constitution to reflect his own vision of the nation and Turkey's leadership in the region. Photo from The Economist with the article here.

So what direction is Erdogan, with his party, wanting to take Turkey?

As a recent BBC article (found here) put it, "Under the 12-year rule of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, constitutionally-secular Turkey has fundamentally changed. There is now a push to raise a "pious generation"

The article continues, "The government has constantly stressed its vision of stay-at-home mothers, urging three children per family. Last year, the deputy prime minister told women not to laugh in public; the president recently insisted that men and women were "not made equal".

And from the Economist article noted above, "seen against the background of his recent behaviour, Mr Erdogan’s plans for a strong presidency are troubling. He has dismantled checks on his power. His approach is majoritarian and divisive: so long as his party wins elections, it can trample any critics. Critical newspaper groups have been subjected to capricious tax fines. Columnists have been fired. Turkey had more journalists in jail than any other country until the middle of last year, when a clutch of 40 were let out. Reporters Without Borders, a Paris-based group, ranks it 149th of 180 countries for press freedom, above Russia but below Venezuela.

The authorities have often tried to close off access to critical websites and social media. In the second half of 2014, Turkey filed 477 requests to Twitter to remove content, five times more than any other country. And since Mr Erdogan became president, 105 people have been indicted for insulting the head of state.

Attacks on the media and a harsh crackdown on the protests in Gezi Park in Istanbul two years ago deepened a rift with the supporters of Fethullah Gulen, a Muslim preacher. The Gulenists, formerly Mr Erdogan’s allies against the army and the secular establishment, have now become enemies. The battle with them intensified after tape recordings of AK officials taking bribes were leaked. Mr Erdogan promptly reassigned hundreds of policemen, prosecutors and judges who were looking into cases of alleged graft."

President Erdogan has raised the debate with Fethullah Gulen, a former imam, who is self-exiled in the U.S. Gulen, who has millions of Turkey supporters, "teaches an Anatolian version of Islam, deriving from Sunni Muslim scholar Said Nursî's teachings. Gülen has stated that he believes in science, interfaith dialogue among the People of the Book, and multi-party democracy. He has initiated such dialogue with the Vatican and some Jewish organizations" according to Wikipedia. Photo from The Guardian

Gülen is actively involved in the societal debate concerning the future of the Turkish state, and Islam in the modern world. He has been described in the English-language media as an imam "who promotes a tolerant Islam which emphasises altruism, hard work and education"

Turkey's contradictions and tensions abound.

Even as Erdogan states clearly where his citizens should head, there is increasing discord by a variety of minorities within Turkey itself. Izmir, Turkey's third largest city and on its westernmost coast, is home to the opposition CHP party, which is the party of modern Turkey's founding father, Kemal Ataturk. The party is adamantly secular, strongly pro-women's rights, and nervous about the AKP's push to Islamicize the population. It made recent news by holding women bicycle rallies to offer a different vision for women rather than accepting a subservient Islamic role.

Izmir women on bicyles - a threat to Erdogan's pious generation? Photo from the BBC

Not to be outdone, President Erdogan also rode a bicycle with a few of his friends and bodyguards during a recent 51st Presidential tour. Photo from

At that same time, it is unclear as to how Erdogan's party will interact with its restive Kurdish population in the east of the country. Most readers will remember the outrage in Turkey over Erdogan's passiveness as Kurds in Kobane were under siege by ISIS. His inaction over Kobane undermined his bright spot over the past decade in attempting to better integrate Turkish Kurds into the country as a whole. The still potent separatist Kurdish PKK remains firmly secular with both men and women serving equally in its ranks, and is unlikely to line up behind Erdogan's piety.

Regarding Turkey's neighbors in an increasingly broken region of the world, Erdogan continues to confound his allies and potential partners.

Erdogan has become hostile towards Israel, a recent ally, while savagely opposing Syria's Assad. Yet while Turkey spends 2.4 % of its gross national product - about $18 billion - on its military, a number that puts it among the countries that spend the most on their militaries (and shames most European countries who have let themselves grow woefully weak in their ability to meaningfully confront Russia's aggressiveness in Ukraine and the Baltic nations), the country is aloof in participating in a Sunni-led alliance against the Syrian leader.

The Turkey-Syria Akcakale border in southern Sanliurfa province. One of many flashpoints that face Turkey as the Syrian civil war lumbers tragically towards a somber conclusion. Photo from Australian Broadcasting Company

Erdogan was borderline hysterical with indignation at the recent movement - from the UN to western media - to accept the definition of genocide by Turkey 100 years ago towards Armenians, leaving many would-be allies unsure of the nation's ability to confront its own history.

Time will tell through the rest of 2015 where Turkey heads, there are the elections in just less than a week, a possible end game in Syria between Hezbollah and Assad vs ISIS and other rebel groups, a restive Kurd population with new discomforts with Erdogan and a long affinity with the Kurds of Iraq. Whither Erdogan's hope for his pious generation.