Sunday, 29 March 2015

Islington Council to host Semra Eren-Nijhar’s new book launch and a conference on female Turkish-speaking migrants in Britain

Conference speakers (L-R): Gül Koçak, Semra Eren-Nijhar, & Prof. Belma Ötüş-Baskett

A year on from her acclaimed exhibition Artık Gurbet Yok! (mu?) There Is No More A Place Far From Home (Is There?), sociologist, author and documentary producer Semra Eren-Nijhar returns to Islington for the launch of her book of the same name, as part of a conference in Turkish titled, “Göç, Kadın ve Gurbet” (“Migration, Woman and Far From Home”). The event builds on the enormous interest shown in her 2014 exhibition, which offered a unique insight into the lives of different Turkish-speaking female migrants in North London through their own words and pictures.

Monday night’s conference is chaired by Cllr. Suna Hurman from the London Borough of Enfield. Eren-Nijhar will present the findings of her research, as captured in her new book. She is joined at the conference by fellow female migrant speakers, Prof. Belma Ötüş-Baskett and Gül Koçak, the head of Islington’s Turkish, Kurdish and Turkish Cypriot Women’s Group. Islington Council leader Cllr. Theresa Debono and Consulate General of Turkey in London Emirhan Yorulmazlar will also say a few words.

Following the conference, Eren-Nijhar will sign copies of her new bi-lingual book Artık Gurbet Yok! (mu?) There Is No More A Place Far From Home (Is There?). Attendance is free and open to all members of the public.

Event:   “Göç, Kadın ve Gurbet” – this conference is primarily in Turkish
Date:   Monday 30th March 2015
Time:   18.30 - 20.30
Place:   Islington Town Hall, Committee Rooms 5-6, Upper Street, London N1 2UD
For more info:   Gül Koçak (07905 744 756) or Semra Eren-Nijhar  (07957 657 456)



There’s no place like home (is there?), 30 March 2014

FOCUS: Remembering Osman Türkay on his88th birth anniversary, 24 Feb. 2015

Friday, 27 March 2015

Enfield Mayor Ali Bakır aiming for a sell-out Charity Spring Ball


The Mayor of the London Borough of Enfield is promising “non-stop entertainment” at his forthcoming Charity Spring Ball. Taking place on Saturday 18th April at La Royale Banqueting Suite in Tottenham, the event includes English and Turkish singers, Salsa and Turkish folk dancers, a big-prize raffle and much more.

Cllr Ali Bakır, who is originally from Kahramanmaras in southern Turkey and the UK’s first Mayor of Turkish origin, hopes his Charity Ball will raise thousands of pounds for local charities working with children with learning difficulties.

Talking to T-VINE, the Mayor said: “I love children and want to help give them all the best start in life. We have some fantastic local charities that are doing an amazing job supporting children with special needs, but they need funding. I hope all our community can come out and have some fun, and make this event a sell-out, so we can raise money for a very worthy cause.”

He added, “People need to hurry – we’ve almost sold out! And even if you can’t attend, please donate – every penny we raise via the Charity Spring Ball will go to local charities.”

Tickets are priced £50 per person, which includes a champagne reception at 7pm, followed by a 3-course meal comprising hot and cold meze starters, Fırın Kebabı (Lamb Kleftico) or vegetarian option (must be pre-ordered) with rice and vegetables, and baklava and ice cream for dessert. There are also complimentary soft drinks, wine, whisky and rakı. Tables seat 11 people. Carriages are at 1am.

Bookings and/or donations can be made via the Mayor’s office – telephone the Mayor’s secretary on 020 8379 4751 or email


Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Marching against racism

London: UN Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, 21 March 2015. Photo: E. Hidayettin

By Ertanch Hidayettin

A bitterly cold March day. Only yesterday [Friday 20th], on a warm, sunny day I sat on a park bench at Ally Pally and watched little children feed the ducks. This is England. It is possible to witness a few seasons in a few day.

I leave home, my wife’s warnings to be careful ringing in my ears. My destination is Portland Place, outside the iconic BBC Television Centre. I arrive there very early. I stroll to a nearby café. I curse myself for not taking my woolly cap with me. In the warmth of the café, while sipping my not-so-hot coffee, a hand touches my shoulder. The friendly, smiling face of my dear friend, Fevzi [Hussein], the Chair of Embargoed! and a union activist.

With my dear friend Fevzi
We meet a huge crowd gathered around the BBC building. Union members, students, older people, young people are all congregated in large groups. Some are distributing or selling their papers and other publications, some try to organise their groups in a disciplined way. Some are vying for strategically prominent positions in front of masses of media photographers.

A cacophony of noise fills the area. Whistles ring in our ears. It is great to see so many young people, most of them students, in the crowd. It is also pleasing to see the majority of the crowd comprising white people – the people who are least affected by racism and discrimination. Some familiar, old faces are also there: black, white, Asian. Tired faces. But these activists are never tired of promoting anti-racism and anti-discrimination. You are guaranteed to see them at every event.

Saturday 21 March 2015. Today is the UN-designated International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. Marches and other events are organised around the world. An important, symbolic day. It is a day of awareness-raising on racism and discrimination. We have gathered together to show solidarity with each other. To say to those political parties terrified by the rise of UKIP: “We are here too. Our voice is very strong too”.
 Photo: E. Hidayettin
It’s been a strange seven days. At the beginning of the week I watched a chillingly terrifying television programme – ‘Britain’s Racist Election’ – screened on Channel 4. Assisted by Enoch Powell, Peter Griffiths, a teacher and a Tory Party candidate, won the Parliamentary seat for Smethwick, Birmingham – regarded as a Labour stronghold – by running a racist campaign during the 1964 General Elections. During that year, around 5,000 immigrants from the Caribbean had settled in Smethwick. A woman who appeared in the programme said she was horrified to be met by such vicious racism. After all, she was “invited by the Queen”.

I was amazed to learn that the Birmingham branch of the KKK (Ku Klu Klax) was initiated around that time. Yes, in Birmingham England, not Alabama. I learned too that the great Malcolm X came to Smethwick to support the immigrant communities in their fight against the racists. Griffiths only lasted for 18 months. He lost his seat in the snap election called by Harold Wilson.   

Last week, Nigel Farage advocated for the removal of anti-discrimination legislation. He reckoned there was no need for them anymore. Needless to say he was not able to intellectually support his argument. How could he?  

Photo by E. Hidayettin
Then on Thursday night, armed with two pairs of slippers to throw at the telly, I sat to watch Trevor Phillip’s programme. Phillips was almost apologising for being the champion of anti- racism. According to him, preventing people from expressing racist views, in other words ‘political correctness’, caused white people to fear being accused of racism if they spoke up. This, he claimed, had negative results for race relations and had led to serious consequences.

As an example, he cited the Victoria Climbie case. While Phillips may have some validity on this, he surely can’t blame little Victoria’s demise purely on the fear of speaking out? Sure, ethnic communities have some issues such as spirit possession to deal with, and deal with these they must.

Trevor Philip’s other example of crimes committed by specific communities only served to reinforce pre-existing stereotypes. He had no qualms labouring the crimes committed by ethnic communities, while conveniently skimping over those committed by the majority community. For instance, most child abuse cases are perpetrated by white people. The next day the Daily Mail declared Trevor as their hero of the decade. LBC was over the moon. They all felt vindicated. A title and pass to the Lords for Trevor? We’ll see.

Photo by E. Hidayettin
An elderly disabled woman pleads with her daughter to let her walk at least a little with the crowd. Behind them, another three disabled women are being pushed by their carers. In a red coat, a little girl walks with her mother holding her hand and shouting excitedly: “No racism, no discrimination”. A woman wearing a turban, pushes her child’s pram. The child is carrying a placard with the words: “Stop Racism, Stop Islamophobia”. A few tear drops fall from my eyes, already watered with the effect of the cold.

We are passing through Regent Street, one of the richest streets in the UK. Tourists spill out of famous shops, carrying posh looking carrier bags, no doubt filled with items of famous labels. Some take photos with their cameras and mobile phones. The neon lighted Coca Cola advertisement board appears ahead. On the steps of the Eros statute a group of around 30 white men, representing white supremacist organisations wait for the marchers, waving their British flags and the flag of St. George. Their face contorted with hatred and red with fury. Eros looks down on them disapprovingly.

They are protected by at least fifty policemen. A group of marchers surround them and tease them by shouts of: “There are more of us”.

We finally arrive at Trafalgar Square. There we listen to a large number of speakers. I have to leave early. I meet Jeremy Corbyn on my way out of the Square. I chat a little with this great man, a politician I sincerely respect.

My friend Fevzi and I lamented earlier about the fact that we had come across so few members of our own [Turkish] community. I am reminded of Pastor Martin Niemöller’s words that begin and end as follows:

“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out because I was not a Trade Unionist….Then they came for me. There was no one left to speak out for me”.

T-VINE columnist Ertanch Hidayettin is a Cypriot Turk of African heritage who came to the UK in 1970. A qualified teacher he chose to pursue a career in local government, working for local authorities in a variety of posts including as an Equality Officer for Islington Council, before retiring in 2007. Since then he has worked with the National Resource Centre for Supplementary Education (NRCSE). He is a community activist and a commentator in Turkish and Cypriot media.


Slave to technology, 30 Sept. 2014

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Shrapnel 34, review: “Compelling, moving, and at times deeply uncomfortable viewing for Turks”

Ferhat (Tuncay Akpınar) with what remains of his brother-in-law Hüsnü. Photo by Nick Rutter

By İpek Özerim

On 28 December 2011, two Turkish jets dropped bombs on a human convoy close to the Turkish-Iraqi border, killing 34 of a group of 40 people. The official view: based on US intelligence, the strike had targeted PKK militants crossing the border. In reality, they had killed unarmed civilians – mostly teenagers – of Kurdish origin from Uludere village (Roboski in Kurdish) on a smuggling run that their village regularly undertook to bring back cheap diesel and cigarettes from Iraq.

Writer Anders Lustgarten puts this tragic episode into sharp focus with his powerful new play Shrapnel: 34 Fragments of a Massacre. The drama unfolds around the villagers who embark on this journey, their personal stories interspersed with the wider aspects of the massacre: the arms trade, the role of the media, the ideologies that underpin the Turkish Republic, and attitudes towards Kurds.

Simple props and quick changeovers by the cast, who all play multiple roles, rotate the story around six overlapping areas told in 34 short scenes: the village, Turkish Armed Forces on duty, the journey across the mountains, awards ceremonies, a media news room, an arms manufacturer, and nerdy engineers in an arms factory. 
Hüsnü (Aslam Percival Husain) Savaş (Josef Altin) 

up in the mountains. Photo by Nick Rutter
The play opens with video footage of children reciting their oath to the Turkish republic – “Türküm, doğruyum, çalışkanım…” – a pledge all Turkish pupils have made since 1933, but which was abolished by the AKP government in 2013.

In scene 2, a cast member steps into a single spotlight and gives us a brief snippet about the life of Nevzat Encü aged 19. His family celebrated his birthday around his headstone. The heavy mood of the play is set from hereonin.

We enter Roboski as Ferhat (Tuncay Akpınar) is trying to placate his pregnant sister Semira (Karina Fernandez). She is upset that Ferhat has opted to stay behind to watch the big football derby, while sending his 14-year-old son Savaş on the smuggling run instead.

In a Turkish army barracks, a rookie soldier (Ryan Wichert) has to deal with his bullying superior officer (David Kirkbride), a large man whose bellowing voice alone intimidates. Their exchange is set in the aftermath of another tragedy: the deaths of 23 Turkish soldiers killed in a clash with the PKK.

Nationalist commentator (Karina Fernandez)
. Photo by Nick Rutter 
Lustgarten also presents us with the two faces of the media. First, a reporter trying to tell the truth about the massacre as she sees it, who is admonished by her News Editor mindful of the official version of events. On the flipside, an award-winning commentator whose strident acceptance speech redefines who is the victim and who the aggressor, an allegorical scene that would work equally well for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

One of the most memorable scenes involves an executive for an arms manufacturer giving a slick PowerPoint presentation (delivered superbly by Aslam Percival Husain) about their “impeccably” performing weaponry. Having taken us through their considerable arsenal of death, he asks without a trace of irony, “Are we really on the side of the angels?” before telling us world peace depends on the defence sector.

Directed by Arcola Artistic Director Mehmet Ergen, Shrapnel is a compelling, moving play performed masterfully by its cast, but at times it makes for deeply uncomfortable viewing for Turks. Those familiar with the history of Turkey will know its Kurdish minority have suffered discrimination for decades, with the Uludere Massacre being one of many terrible incidents etched into the consciousness of the people. Occasionally Shrapnel seemed to veer into the realms of propaganda, presenting Turks as lusting after Kurdish blood, while promoting the need for Kurdish independence: “There is no such thing as a happy colonised people. Never has been and never will be. That is our basic delusion." Had the writer’s concern for the Kurds and telling this tragedy got the better of him or was I just being a sensitive Turk?

Young smuggler Savaş is interrogated by a
Turkish soldier (Ryan Winchert). Photo by Nick Rutter 
I discussed this with Lustgarten in Arcola’s lounge after the play. He felt my ‘propaganda’ point was fair, explaining he had spent two years working for KHRP, a Kurdish human rights group in Diyarbakır in eastern Turkey – an area he describes as ‘Kurdistan’ – ten years ago, during which time he was arrested and interrogated several times by the Turkish army. His personal experiences, coupled with the state’s anti-Kurdish policies and his feelings about nationalism were further amplified by TV broadcasts about Operation Protective Edge that he watched last summer as he wrote Shrapnel.

Lustgarten, a political activist and playwright whose previous work has explored British fascism, capitalism and, in Black Jesus, the Mugabe regime in Zimbabwe, stressed he was mindful of maintaining balance throughout Shrapnel. He gave examples of where he had injected elements to offset his brutal portrayal of the Turkish regime. However, he conceded that having not visited Turkey since 2006, he may be out of touch with the Turkish public’s shift in attitudes towards Kurdish rights.

Do these shortcomings make Shrapnel any less accomplished? No. Lustgarten’s urgent, provocative style of writing throws up important questions that in his words, “call out the logic of colonialism and domination”. Ultimately 34 innocent people were killed and this docudrama underscores the need for both political accountability and moral responsibility that cuts across a very wide spectrum.

Remembering the 34 innocent villagers killed. Photo by Nick Rutter 
Play ends: Thursday 02 April 2015

Address:  Studio 1, Arcola Theatre, 24 Ashwin Street, Dalston, London E8 3DL
Start time:  Mon-Sat evenings: 7.30pm, Sat matinee: 3pm
Duration:  75 minutes (no interval)
Language:  English with Turkish surtitles
Entry: £19 (£15 conc) / Tuesday – Pay What You Can (tickets in person from 6pm on-the-day, subject to availability)
Info and bookings: or call Box Office on 020 7503 1646 

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Turkish Cypriot entrepreneur Touker Suleyman joins BBC TV show Dragons' Den

Touker Suleyman, owner of Ghost and Hawes & Curtis

A successful Turkish Cypriot businessman is among three new Dragons entering the Den for series 13, the BBC announced on Tuesday. Retail king Touker Suleyman, whose business portfolio includes fashion brands Hawes & Curtis and Ghost, joins founder Nick Jenkins and Sarah Willingham, creator of restaurant chain The Bombay Bicycle Club and existing Dragons Peter Jones and Deborah Meaden in the successful TV show where budding entrepreneurs enter the Den to pitch their business ideas to the multi-millionaire Dragons willing to invest their own cash.

Originally from northern Cyprus, Touker Suleyman has 40 years' retail and manufacturing experience and is best known as the founder of quintessentially British menswear brand, Hawes & Curtis and the man credited with reinventing the seminal 90s womenswear label, Ghost.

After a false start in accountancy, Touker kicked off his retail career at the age of 18. He entered into a joint venture in a leather factory and soon after established a clothing manufacturer supplying to some of the biggest names of the British high street.

Touker’s rise in the business world has not been without its challenge. In the 1980s auditors identified significant debt behind one of his business ventures and he had six weeks to find £2 million pounds. Unfortunately a potential investor pulled out at the last minute, forcing the business into liquidation, and he was forced to start again from nothing.

Touker went on to build a thriving international clothing manufacturing business, which still sits at the heart of his commercial interests. He is now a serial entrepreneur, backing seven retail and commercial property businesses. Touker has a keen interest in supporting start-ups and invests in a number of small British companies.
The iconic chairs in the Dragons' Den.  Photo: BBC
Touker told the BBC: “It is a privilege to join the panel of Dragons’ Den and support the next generation of UK entrepreneurs. Dreams and big ideas are plentiful, but few people have the courage to realise their ambitions. I want to support those people with the guts to pursue their dreams and provide the financial backing, opportunities and support that will ease their path to success. I am a long-standing fan of the show and would have loved to have the opportunity to stand before the Dragons in my early days. I know precisely what it takes to become a business success and I will certainly draw upon my own experiences when considering whether to invest. I can’t wait to get started and look forward to initiating new business partnerships over the coming months.”’

Dragons' Den has been running for ten years, with nearly £15 million pounds worth of investment offered by the Dragons who have graced the iconic chairs. Filming for the new series begins next week and the show will return to BBC Two later in the year.

Last chance to book tickets for special London centenary dinner and talk on the Çanakkale (Gallipoli) War


British Turks are hosting a series of events to commemorate the centenary of the Çanakkale War. Yesterday a party of some 200 people, including the Turkish Ambassador Abdurrahman Bilgiç and TRNC London Representative Oya Tuncali, visited the Turkish Naval Cemetery in Portsmouth to offer prayers for the fallen soldiers on the anniversary of the start of the campaign on 18th March 1915.

The Çanakkale War brought the diverse communities of the Ottoman Empire together in a determined bid to repel the half-million strong invading forces that comprised of France and member states of the British Empire, including Australia, India, New Zealand and the United Kingdom. Turks, Arabs, Kurds and many other Turkish Muslim communities fought alongside Turkish Greeks, Armenians, Jews and others in this bitter 9-month campaign that resulted in a famous victory for the Ottomans, but also exacted a heavy toll on both sides with some half-a-million reported casualties.

The Portsmouth visit was organised by the Çanakkale Remembrance Platform (ÇRP) in conjunction with the Turkish Embassy, where prayers were said for the martyrs. In his speech, Ambassador Bilgiç recalled the 26 Turkish sailors who had died in battles fought in 1850-51, along with those sailors who died at Çanakkale during the naval campaign which marked the start of the 1915 War.

Entrance to the Turkish Naval Cemetery in Portsmouth (R) & Ambassador Bilgiç pays his respects to the fallen. Photos: Turkish Embassy
“For Turks, the history of 1915 is the defence of their heart, a campaign for survival which lasted until 1923 and screamed at the world that they will never be defeated,” said Ambassador Bilgiç.

Recalling the huge loss of life among the Anzac troops that had travelled thousands of miles to fight, the ambassador said the people of Australia, New Zealand and Turkey had forged a unique friendship and bond by remembering the bravery of all the fallen soldiers during the Çanakkale War.

The ambassador also reminded the youth that this victory was only possible because of “education, discipline and self-confidence.”  

On Sunday 22 March, ÇRP and the British Turkish Women’s Association (BTWA) continue the centenary events by hosting a special dinner at the Millennium Hotel in Mayfair, central London, which will be addressed by two keynote speakers: Prof. Gökhan Çetinsaya and Prof. Çağrı Erhan.

Prof. Çetinsaya, a former university chancellor and head of YÖK (Board of Higher Education), has researched extensively into the history and politics of the Ottomans, the Turkish Republic and the Middle East during the 19th and 20th centuries. Prof. Erhan has written extensively about the Ottomans, Turkey and Europe, contributing to various international and Turkish research centres and strategy groups.

The evening starts with a reception at 17.30 and dinner commences at 18.30, with keynote addresses in Turkish from 20.30. Tickets for the dinner are priced £50 person and must be purchased in advance of the event – there will be no tickets on sale on the night.

For more information and tickets, email or call 0771 779 0830 (central London), 0785 7050 189 (North London) and 0777 0181 881 (South London).

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Turkey in Europe: the dilemma of Islamophobia

Ambassador Abdurrahman Bilgiç addressing the conference

By John Oakes

Turkey in Europe: the dilemma of Islamophobia – Istanbul's Aydin University presented these two themes for a public panel-debate in Cambridge on March 12th. Opening the discussion, its President, Dr Mustafa Aydin said: "Islamophobia dates back to the Crusades. But the world is now a global village. We must all learn to live together."

Lord John Sharkey, Chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Friends of the TRNC Group, expressed the view that anti-Muslim sentiment had increased partly due to "the failure of Islam to create an identity separate from Islamophobia” and that “Islam needs a champion in its mainstream form, and Turkey is ideally suited to that role."

An active politician and committed friend of Turkey, Lord Sharkey also said, "When I first visited Turkey over 40 years ago, she was agrarian, poor and secular. But she is now a developed nation with a huge manufacturing base, and less secular under the AK Party – something which I'm sure has made a difference to its perception in Europe." 

He added there was also "deepening concern" over Turkey’s increasingly authoritarian government, over corruption scandals, and “whether Turkey was heading towards, or away from Europe.”

Abdurrahman Bilgiç, the Turkish Ambassador to London, said that Turkey looked to Europe for lessons in democracy, but had never allowed anti-Semitism to develop, even during World War ll. She was also currently providing for hundreds of thousands of refugees, without domestic tension.

"Terrorism is not part of our understanding of Islam.....We need to upgrade our political dialogue, and stress the need for tolerance and mutual understanding. The history of Europe cannot be written without Turkey," said the ambassador.
Dr Julian Hargreaves, an expert on
British Muslim communities
Panel member Dr Franck Düvell, from  Oxford  University's Centre on Migration, Policy and  Society, said European views of Turkey were outdated, that she was now "an economic star",  and unlikely to swamp Europe with cheap migrant labour.

“The EU blames Turkey for the influx of people from countries like Iraq, Somalia and Afghanistan. But this should be an international responsibility."

Dr Düvell also stated that "The Turkish community in the UK is a small, under-researched   minority of about 140,000 with twice the national unemployment average. It seldom hits the media, and is not involved in gangs or gun-fights."

Dr Julian Hargreaves, from the Cambridge Centre of Islamic Studies, said Islamophobia was a form of cultural racism, and that – as opposed to anti-Semitism – it was widely under-reported, despite the existence of groups like Tell Mama: "My findings are that the media create a widespread climate of anti-Muslim discrimination, although not much of that is directed against Turkey."

Sunday, 15 March 2015

Turks urged to take advantage of World Money Transfer Day and help end rip-off charges

Charities and online money transfer companies come together to launch World Money Transfer Day

Today is World Money Transfer Day (WMTD), a new initiative launched in London to challenge major banks and money transfer companies who charge exorbitant remittance fees that deprive the world’s poorest of essential income.
Anyone making an international money transfer today through one of the firms participating in WMTD will not be charged a fee regardless of where they are sending their cash or how much.

The brainchild of Dame Tessa Jowell, who has long campaigned on the need to stop the ‘transfer tax’, and Michael Kent, co-founder of online money transfer company Azimo, WMTD aims to raise awareness about the shameful practices of the big players who dominate the market and highlight the alternatives that are available.

250 million migrant workers keep 1 billion people afloat with the $0.5 trillion they transfer back home

According to the World Bank, an estimated one billion people around the world are dependent on the $450 billion they receive each year from family members working abroad. International money transfers by some 250 million migrant workers are a critical lifeline to their families, helping to pay for vital needs, whether it is food, health care bills, education, essential home repairs or investment in a new business.
Turkish migrant workers send over $1bn home each year. Photo:

Tessa Jowell says that between them, Britain’s diverse Diaspora communities transfer £2 billion a year to their families back home – that’s equivalent to 18 per cent of the UK’s entire aid budget.

The Turkish Diaspora also regularly sends cash home to support their families. Research by the World Bank into bilateral remittances found that Turkey receives over $1 billion from migrant workers. Those in the UK transferred $17 million in 2011, while Germany’s 5 million Turks sent $701 million in the same year.

Most migrants use transfer services managed by global corporations such as Western Union and MoneyGram, or high street banks. On average, these companies charge between 6-9% for their services, rising to as high as 20% in central African countries impacted by excessive charges by both the outgoing and receiving transfer agents.

Michael Kent, CEO of Azimo, explains why his company is championing WMTD: “Azimo is a business founded by migrants for migrants, so we understand the problems that high fees and poor customer service bring. The benefit of alternative and particularly online money transfer services is that it’s super easy, low cost, fast and secure. As an industry, it’s time that money transfer businesses come together and helped our customers understand that there are alternatives to the likes of Western Union and MoneyGram who are just out there to line their own pockets. ”

He added that their research shows most people believe 2.5% to be a fair charge for money transfer service providers. When tackled on how likely such a figure could be attained, Kent said using online technology and cutting out the middle men meant it was already possible for transfers to many parts of the world. But, he added, reduced transfer fees must take root in both the country of origin and country of destination for recipients to benefit.

A dozen backers for first World Money Transfer Day, 15 March 2015

Azimo are joined by TawiPay, MoneyTO, Xendpay and who have all committed to zero transfer fees and zero commission on exchange rates for all transfers made on Sunday 15 March. The companies are supported by a host of charities and organisations too, including the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and AFFORD whose UK heads were present at the UK launch on Thursday.

During her presentation, IOM UK’s Chief if Mission Clarissa Azkoul highlighted the enormous benefits that migrant workers create for both their new and home countries. She said as part of WMTD, her organisation was making three key demands: “Transparency in transfer costs. Better use of new technology to drive down these [transfer] costs. And an increase in financial literacy so migrants can better manage their money.”

AFFORD UK director Onyekachi Wambu
“We need a scheme like Remit Aid for international money transfers” – Onyekachi Wambu

AFFORD UK's Onyekachi Wambu, said poor people in developing countries no longer want a ‘band aid, but serious and sustained investment’. He cited Kofi Annan’s ‘Triple Win’ strategy, where migrants, their host and home countries all benefit from pooling resources. The Director of Policy and Engagement believes incentives must be better harnessed and that migrants should be placed at the heart of the conversation.

He highlighted a novel idea from Afford, “Remit Aid – a scheme that operates along the same lines as Gift Aid.” Essentially, instead of migrants being taxed for the money transfers, they are instead recognised for the vital contributions they are making to developing countries and are given a tax top-up by the state.

Wambu also called on the British Turkish community for support to end rip-off charges: “In October, Turkey is hosting the Global Forum on Migration and Development in Istanbul. Let’s work together to get this money transfers issue on the agenda.

Friday, 13 March 2015

End of an era as London Turkish Radio stops broadcasting on 1584 AM


After twenty five years of broadcasting on the Medium Wave, British Turks lost their sole official voice on the airways following OFCOM’s decision to re-allocate their 1584 AM frequency to Panjab Radio - a station serving British Asians. The switch took place last Friday.

London Turkish Radio first went on air in 1990
London Turkish Radio (LTR) first went on air as a part-time community channel in 1990. Within a few years, it had a full OFCOM licence to deliver a mixture of news, views and music 24 hours a day to an estimated two hundred thousand Turkish speakers living in North and East London.

The station quickly became the primary way for British Turks to keep in touch with the community and their roots. LTR’s humble studios in Wood Green, visible to all passing down the High Road, were regularly visited by dignitaries from Cyprus, Turkey and Britain, all keen to engage the British Turkish community.

Ümit Dandül served LTR for 17 years
LTR’s roster boasted a host of colourful presenters that became household names. They included Osman Balıkçıoğlu whose comedy sketches in the Cypriot dialect had listeners in stitches, the well-respected Young Turks talk show by Fevzi Turkalp, and the brilliant Ümit Dandül (pictured), who served LTR for 17 years as its programme controller, a popular prime-time presenter and voice behind numerous adverts. There were also shows aimed at a younger audience by the likes of Akin Pastırmacıoğlu and his brother Ahmet (Mr P).

Its analogue broadcasts had limited its geography reach. However, this changed with the advent of the internet giving the station a global audience. Yet over the past decade, its survival was threatened by the appearance of Turkish pirate radio stations in London.

The threat from Turkish pirate radio stations
Having been in the UK since the 1950s, Turkish Cypriots – the early beneficiaries of LTR broadcasts – had become well integrated into mainstream society. With most families into their third or fourth generation in Britain, most now preferred to speak in English. It meant that in the new millennium, the bulk of LTR’s listeners were originating from Turkey.

Most of these had arrived in Britain during the 1990s and were mainly of Kurdish origin. They had fled the country’s bitter guerrilla war with the PKK, with some also seeking asylum having been persecuted by the state due to their ethnicity or left-wing views. LTR’s political line – right of centre and highly patriotic – did not sit well with them.

With help from North London’s urban and dance music pirate stations, a few young Turkish Kurds set up their own station in 2005 on the FM. With its pop playlist and underground appeal, Bizim FM quickly garnered a large and loyal following among young Turkish speakers from the Kurdish and Cypriot communities.
Pirate threat? Koray - one of Bizim FM's most popular presenters
Bizim FM undercut LTR’s advertising rates and quickly found a host of business clients among their own community willing to support them. There was no shortage of unpaid presenters too, satisfied with the kudos of being on air and having a growing public profile.

By 2009, three more Turkish Kurdish pirate stations were on air in London. The market was growing, but none of the benefits was coming into LTR. The capital’s only legitimate radio station paid its dues to OFCOM, the tax man, its staff and to music owners in the form of royalties. But these higher overheads meant they were unable to compete with the pirates.

LTR fighting a losing battle
LTR would regularly complaint to OFCOM, who would monitor the illegal stations and seize their equipment when they could, but these were always replaced. In fact the operation to maintain the illegally erected antennas was so slick by Bizim FM in particular that they experienced virtually no downtime in broadcasts, prompting many to assume the station was now operating legally. Even OFCOM-driven legal action against the perceived owners failed to make any headway, as did threats of prosecution against those who gave the pirates any advertising.

In 2011, LTR ownership changed with Erkan Pastırmacıoğlu selling the debt-ridden station to Ahmet Baştürk, but the mindsets did not. The station’s new directors continued their war talk against the pirates instead of accepting that such stations are an ever-present in all communities.

Trevor Nelson, Gilles Petterson & John Peel all started out presenting on pirate radio stations
Some 150 are said to be running at any one time across the UK, while research by OFCOM showed a quarter of all adults in the London boroughs of Hackney, Haringey and Lambeth all listened to pirate radio, the figure rising to 37% among young people aged 14-24 and 41% among people of African-Caribbean origin. Indeed, these illegal broadcasters have become the training ground for emerging talent, with mainstream stations such as Kiss FM, Capital Radio and BBC1 all hiring former pirate radio presenters.

Time and energy was spent on a losing battle, when in reality LTR needed to overhaul its programming to make it more relevant to the Turkish Cypriot community in particular who had stopped listening to the station in their droves.

Last year, rumours circulated that LTR, unable to cope with the illegal competition, had handed back its OFCOM licence and ceased the station’s broadcasts on 1584 AM. There was indeed a void on the radio dial where once Turkish broadcasts were heard and mail delivered to LTR’s Wood Green studios came back marked “undelivered”.

Panjab Radio takes over 1584 AM, as the voice of British Turks disappears from the airways

The reality was that LTR had closed its North London studios, but had continued to broadcast online, thereby reducing its overheads significantly. It sold its 1584 AM slot to Panjab Radio, which has been broadcasting since 2000, but for the first time had an analogue frequency to add to existing platforms on Sky, DAB digital radio and the internet.

The one sticking point was LTR’s OFCOM licence, which ran until 2016. As the British regulator had set the 1584 AM frequency aside for broadcasts that served the Turkish community, OFCOM now had to consent to this change. Panjab Radio made an application to this effect, but in the interim struck a deal with online station Avrupa Radyo (sister to the UK’s Avrupa Newspaper) to continue Turkish broadcasts on 1584 AM and thereby comply with the terms of the existing license.

Ümit Dandül returned to head the Avrupa team, but it was a short-lived experience. Following OFCOM’s consent, at 7am on Friday 6 March 2015, the official voice of British Turks disappeared from the airways, replaced by Panjab Radio.

The new challenge: to get an FM frequency for London Turkish Radio

T-VINE spoke to LTR presenter Ahmet Subaşı (pictured), who told us, “This station has been a major part of this community and now we really need their support. It’s true our Wood Green studio is closed, but we are still broadcasting – contrary to the false rumours spread by some. We have made an application to obtain an FM frequency and we have important hearings coming up”

On questions about the programming content, Subaşı said it was said was best to speak to the owner Ahmet Baştürk but explained, “[LTR] is pan-Turkic station. We are reaching out to all Turks in Britain, including the new arrivals from Bulgaria, Azerbaijan and other central Asian republics. Our presenters and programmes also reflect this. We don’t want to lose our identity, language or our roots, which is why our station broadcasts in Turkish.”