Ataturk's Panopticon:
"Bu siteye erişim mahkeme kararıyla engellenmiştir" (This site has been blocked by a court-order)
Law 5651 and Turkey's Continuing Battle to Define "Turkishness"
“We will create a civilization of the Mind in Cyberspace. May it be more humane and fair than the world your governments have made before.”—John Perry Barlow

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It is wildly prevalent that in the "developed world" the Internet has permeated into almost every crevice of our lives, more times than not we are connected to a network, through mobile technologies, tablets, laptops, and even toys. Since its societal inception in the late 1960s with ARPANET to now, the discourse surrounding assumptions about this technology have represented a sort of inter-societal power-ridden utopia. Much of the common discourse surrounding the Internet sounds something like this:…the Internet represents our newfound power, of information sharing, knowledge construction, and intercultural communication; it is this century’s Gutenberg Press…The problem of thinking in this static and extremely idealistic way is we underrepresent the true power and influence that something like a set of networks have on our lives. This is when it becomes crucial to recognize the profundity of “the Medium is the Message” thesis. McLuhan’s thesis takes Western man, his innovations and looks down on American society from a Tocquevillian point of view highlighting the “invisible” or intrinsic power that technology has over us. Focusing on his notion of “the global village” and looking at technological forms like the Internet exhibits the way these technologies themselves, not the messages received within them impact cultures worldwide. Barring the fact that during the time McLuhan was writing, ideas of globalization—although, they had existed for at least a century—hadn’t taken full effect within Western society;
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“As electrically contracted, the globe is no more than a village. Electric speed in bringing all social and political functions together in a sudden implosion has heightened human awareness of responsibility to an intense degree. It is his implosive factor that alters the position of the Negro, the teenager, and some other groups. They can no longer be contained, in the political sense of limited association. They are now involved in our lives, as we in theirs, thanks to the electric media” (McLuhan 2)

In reality, this “global village” is more nuanced and extraordinarily complex than he expresses, especially when considering economic, social, cultural, historical and ethnic divides. Nonetheless, the “global village” has been realized, and has taken shape in the Internet. The complexity that emerges within these ideas is that even though the Internet has been revered for improving our lives, in many cases it has been abused and manipulated into a tool of suppression. This is because the medium is complex, the message that emerges from something as permeable as the Internet is that it can be adopted and shaped into anything. It is part of what defines the Internet, openness. This fact is exhibited in many different national contexts, looking at Law 5651 created in 2007 in Turkey, which most notably prohibits and criminalizes any slanderous material about Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the Father of the Turkish Empire, from appearing on the Internet. To China’s own ubiquitous methods of censorship, which are infamous for burying Chinese heads in the sand, choosing ignorance over enlightenment, purposefully hiding information offensive to the state, and punishing informers who offend the state. To the “Three-strikes policy” existing in the UK and France, which literally bans people from the Internet for copyright infringement within a “three-strikes you’re out” paradigm. These cases show the way the Internet has literally permeated into every aspect of our lives. I argue, that the representations of the Internet have shaped a discourse surrounding notions that instill feelings of fear within states who aim to shape identity and control the masses. Thus, taking a mediological look at the Internet, its meaning, power, and construction; then Internet law, or rather lack there of; and finally Turkey as a case study exihibiting the power of the Internet on influence and perception, I hope to discern the actual power the Internet contains.

The Semiotics of the Internet

Defining the Internet is much like defining culture. There is no absolute definitive meaning of what a culture is. In Webster’s dictionary alone there are roughly ten descriptive sentences attempting to define this lucrative word, making it one of the most nuanced and ambiguous ones in the entire dictionary. This is because “culture” means a multitude of things to many different people in various contexts. The standard definition includes no specificity or sense of determinism, but complexly states, the integrated pattern of human knowledge, belief, and behavior that depends upon the capacity for learning and transmitting knowledge to succeeding generations (Webster's Dictionary). What exactly is human knowledge? Belief? And behavior? How is it possible to define something that is inherently “human”, especially when qualifiers are added like “behavior” or “belief”? Coming from a semiotic point of view, our experiences in this world are entirely constructed by signs and symbols, which ultimately construct our various realities. To put this idea in more general terms, we know a chair is a chair because we were told that it is a what is a chair? we know the sky is blue because we were told that it is blue…but how do we know what’s blue? better yet, how do we know it's a sky? This sort of mind-twisting word game is meant to demonstrate the power we have as human beings over our discursive identity. Ultimately, we construct our reality, and there is no omnipotent chair-making god looking down on us from Olympia.

This idea ties directly into conceptions of the Internet. The experiences had on this unique medium differ by context and on an even deeper level, by the individual. The Internet exists as our nouveau public sphere, and identities existing online become representations of our true identities. More now than ever before we are in semiotic control of our reality. In order to even begin defining the Internet, in proper mediological fashion, I would need to look at the loaded word “technology” in tandem with the development and later dissemination of the Internet. This analysis of its cultural transmission will give a holistic perspective on the construction of the Internet within our societal consciousness.

Utilizing Barthes three-pronged model, one can look at the signifier (technology), the signified (the Internet), and then formulate the sign. Although, the meaning isn’t static, it is constructed based on our consciousness; it has developed, over time—which Lotman notes is extremely important, as he says “the text is not reality, but the material for its reconstruction. Therefore, a semiotic analysis of a document should always precede a historical one”. Thus, the sign becomes defined by a multitude of terms that seemingly represent its reality: consumption, awareness, information, identity construction, autonomy, democratization, communication, singularity, hybridity, authorship, the list goes on (Lotman 216). In the most romantic way these words disseminate and become a part of our every day discourse, to the point when we anthropomorphize the Internet and give it omnipotent and omniscient power. These words exhibit a range of feelings, actions and attitudes that emerge with use of the Internet, but as broad as this list seems, it is ultimately limiting in its global scope. If novels like 1984 and Brave New World, have taught us anything, it is that utopia doesn’t exist, and in the place of technological optimism is determinism, and dystopia. The perfect example of cyber-utopianism, in regard to conceptions of the Internet, was the nomination of the Internet for the Nobel Peace Prize by Wired Italy in 2010. This was done without objection from the Norwegian Nobel Committee, and with the support of a public campaign backed by celebrities like Georgio Armani and a previous prize winner Shirin Ebadi. What this example exhibits is that the Internet is understood within a specific optimistic, and utopian parameter (Evgeny Morozov, 16).
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From the very beginning of the Internet’s societal inception there was much optimism and excitement regarding the power and possibilities that would accompany having a global infrastructure like the Internet. People like John Perry Barlow who wrote “A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace” saw the Internet as a space where government and regulation couldn’t infiltrate, the ultimate Habermassian ideal, a public sphere where minds could gather, share, discuss, and ultimately foster change, “We are creating a world where anyone, anywhere may express his or her beliefs, no matter how singular, without fear of being coerced into silence or conformity". The sad present reality of this cyber-libertarian world that Barlow envisioned, is that it's the complete opposite of what he described. His requests were ignored and the governments of the Industrial world, the "weary giants of flesh and steel" actually erased any sovereignty that might have initially existed on the Internet and replaced it with a medium that has been corrupted by multi-staked regulation and State control.

Who Owns the Internet?

We occupy an Internet that has multi-stake holdings. In this Internet, private companies like Google with peering agreements and contractual arrangements for exchange of traffic; non-governmentally sanctioned regulating standards bodies like ICANN (the Internet Corporation for Names and Numbers) and the IETF (International Engineering Task Force) which develop technical standards and protocols; and International organizations like the ITU (International Telecommunications Union) and WIPO (World Intellectual Property Organization) who set rules for intellectual property and spectrum policy; all have a stake in the Internet. As can be seen, there are a lot of invisible hands that help shape, govern and regulate the Internet. This technical reality helps better highlight the structuring of the Internet, and gives a good framework to analyze how its possible to regulate services on the Internet. With many NGOs and International organizations shaping the Internet, and disseminating it freely, it only makes sense that States without any sort of international governing declaration would manipulate the Internet.

The Internet, New Media, and Law

By the use of the Internet and services such as, Facebook, Twitter, and Blogging, people have forged spaces for themselves within the dominant cultural and political discourses of individual states, instilling fear in the minds of the elite. With a new kind of technological language, within a newly delegated public sphere, people are given the power to discursively express their dissent, elation, anger or delight in a multitude of different forms. These are all aspects of the power of the Internet. As Clay Shirky suggests, this is possible because,

“As the communications landscape gets denser, more complex, and more participatory, the networked population is gaining greater access to information, more opportunities to engage in public speech, and an enhanced ability to undertake collective action.”

The Internet is making room for a plurality of authors and audiences in the public sphere. The appeal of this medium becomes the way that it differs vastly from traditional media forms in regard to voice, for instance, one could cross a line of moral and societal normality on a blog post in China, on topics that aren't discussed or even recognized within state controlled media forms. Unfortunately, what results is blocking, censorship, criminalization, or a multitude of other actions, which exhibits the fact that this freedom comes at a cost...

In July 2009 a Pakistani law from 2007 was amended and re-implemented, “the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Ordinance”. Since 2007, this ordinance sought to criminalize the subtleties of authorship within traditional forms of media. Basically, this law was constructed using extremely vague language to define the term “cyber terrorism”, which was intentionally done to give more power to the government in controlling online activity. In 2009, it was amended to include new media forms. The ordinance initially contained 45 different terms cited by the Pakistani government about the legality of online discourse; the new amendments were versed even more strategically than before by leaving linguistic room for subjective governmental manipulation. The act of committing a cyber-crime based on the loosely defined term, “cyber terrorism”, which is extremely nuanced by definition, has the intrinsic ability to put a lot of people in jail. This is because the language within the ordinance is ultimately ambiguous, making anything written online that is seemingly threatening or explicitly against the interest of the government a cyber-crime. Some examples of this are, political figure spoofing, sending any information out over mass-texts and email, and most importantly the analysis of language and the meaning attributed to these examples. These instances are analyzed in an extremely subjective way and cover anything the government could possibly find lewd or offensive.
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The institutional fear that translates into cruel action emanating from many different contexts in the world today, in regard to the Internet and new media, is overwhelmingly relevant. It is this irrational fear, or “logophobia”, as Foucault discussed, "that reveals why governments are afraid of the freedom of voice, a fear that, without all these discursive "taboos, . . . barriers, thresholds and limits," discourse might be dangerous and uncontrollable--a fear of everything that could possibly be violent, discontinuous, querulous, disordered even and perilous in [discourse], of the incessant, disorderly buzzing of discourse" (Foucault, 288). This only emphasizes the power that is attributed to both language and authorship in adding to societal discourse as well as the power derived from these individual voices. Jailing, disappearing of family members, and blacklisting, are all state efforts done to quell the voice of the people, and this fact alone further supports the power of this new technological language and public sphere.

As Dayem says, Governments spend a lot of money and time coming up with ways to block connectivity, and blogging, but governments can’t do what they used to do with printing presses, there will always be another 14 year old genius hacker tearing down whatever system is put in place to stop new media usage. This is because we are living within “a new frontier” where people are able to talk more freely, and it is becoming even more difficult for governments to silence dissenters.

In 2007, the BTK in Turkey made the extremely bold move of blocking “YouTube”. This was considered one of the most controversial moves towards internet censorship that Turkey has made in regard to the Internet. This move was made to combat a negative image of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk that was exhibited through a video posted on Youtube’s site, the ban was lifted once the video was taken down. These measures, along with many others against internet freedom, currently happening in Turkey, has reached the tipping point of citizen backlash, which other Muslim countries such as Egypt, Iran and Pakistan have gone through in recent years. Thousands of Turkish people took to the streets to protest the new censorship systems being put in place, notably Law 5651. These actions are inspired, much like the revolutions that took place in Pakistan in the pursuit for voice, and freedom of self online. These examples exhibit the lack of an International Internet law based on human rights, privacy and security, and because of this, countries around the world are given the ability to self-govern and manipulate these technologies. As is seen in Pakistan with the Ordinance, and in this Turkish case of banning YouTube, all the power belongs to the State, and often times the power of voice has a hard time breaking through the restraints of governmental fear and control.

The Aggressive Modernization and Europeanization of Turkey

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Immediately following the decline of the Ottoman Empire, a new nation was constructed. In 1923 this nation became a Republic and was dubbed “the Republic of Turkey”. Its construction was a deliberate and intricately planned one, and its leaders uncompromisingly vied for a modern place in the world during the early 1920’s, by any means necessary. This resulted in an extremely fragmented approach towards modernity that to this day continues to try and define what it means to be modern. The process used almost takes the form of homogenization; it was a process that stripped away all differing identities and attempted to create an entirely new one, dubbed “Turkishness”. As Sami Zubaida described in his lecture on “Cosmopolitans, Nationalists and Fundamentalists in the modern Middle East”, “the actual policies and processes in the establishment of the Turkish Republic brought about the homogenisation of the Turkish population and culture: ethnic cleansing of Greek and Armenian populations, then the enforced Turkicisation of Muslim minorities, Kurds and Circassians”. Mustafa Kemal Atatürk was the sole instigator of this relentless route towards modernity. Atatürk sought to create a Turkish nationalist effervescence that would in-turn lay down the framework to construct a democratic, secular, and simply modern Turkish nation. Robert D. Lee, described Atatürk’s exact rational behind his conception of secularization:
“The idea of divorcing politics and religion drove changes in language, dress, social habits, and even the choice of the capital city. Atatürk sought to remake Islam into a state-supporting ideology, propagated by official preachers and public schools—an ideology dedicated to eradicating Islam from public life. Not surprisingly, this ideology created alienation and resistance”. (Robert D. Lee)
In sum, Ataturk re-defined what it meant to be a nation through the wide incorporating lens of combined European and Traditional beliefs.

The ways in which Ataturk attempted to unify the nation of Turkey was ultimately insignificant to the actual creation of it. These details such as emphasis on language, and religion, do not equate to feelings of camaraderie within a nation. Instead Ataurk, convinced that they would, forced implementation of these details within Turkey’s society; in turn they took on the form of tools used to influence the citizens as a whole--disrupting their livelihood for a set of rules and reformations that were dictated by the elites, “Its aim was a unitary and homogeneous nation”. Instead of the Turkish nation functioning as a united soul, it was divided by differences in ethnicity, language, dress, and religion.
All these factors played a role in the shaping of Turkish identity in the 1920s, and have been perpetuated ever since. The attempts by the Turkish government to uphold the work that Ataturk did while simultaneously carving out a place for themselves in the European union, have shaped their actions today, especially in regard to the manipulation of the Internet.

Ataturk’s Panopticon, the Case of Turkey and Law 5651:

Since April 14, 1987, Turkey has made numerous public strides to gain ascension into the European Union. The country has consistently exhibited a firm dedication to building themselves up as a strong First World Power since Atatürk put the first policies in place. This included taking national control of not only the media sources, but the telecommunications structures and information sectors.
The privatization of the once State sanctioned Company Turk Telekom, owned by the Undersecretary of the Treasury, was carried out in November 2005. Following that Turk Telekom monopolized the Internet, gaining a 95.7% market share in ADSL Internet access services, with other companies holding 4.3%. From information provided by the Open Net Initiative on Turkey’s telecom and network structure, it can be seen that “Turkey has one main commercial backbone connection, owned and controlled by Turk Telecom…”, what this ultimately means is that all Internet traffic passes through Turk Telecom’s infrastructure, making it obvious that the Turkish Government controls information flow, they know what information is coming in and what is being produced within their national boundaries. This lack of liberalization over the networks compromises their EU aspirations, and as a candidate, Turkey is under an obligation to align its national legislation with that of the EU in all 31 areas of //acquis communautaire// (including telecommunications and IT). Since many of their actions are inconsistently in line with the character of EU telecommunications law. As the Open Net Initiative stated, “Turkey will need to abolish its licensing regime for electronic communications services and replace it with a clear, predictable, and transparent general authorization process, as proposed by the EU”.
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Freedom of the Internet?

According to Freedom House's 2011 Net Freedom report, Turkey’s press freedom is “partly free”. In 2010, there were only about 39.82 users of the Internet per 100 Inhabitants, this ITU’s statistic show that there is a disparity in access. As Freedom House explains, “Many people access the Internet from workplaces, universities and Internet cafes, poor infrastructure—including limited telecommunication services and even lack of electricity in certain areas, especially in the eastern and southeastern regions—has a detrimental effect on citizens’ ability to connect, particularly from home”. Those reasons and many more like price of access, and lack of technical literacy also inhibits wider Internet use. In the next few years, Turk Telekom has plans to invest about 800 million USD in order to increase Internet usage in both urban and rural areas. Although, valiant in its intentions, this could have very detrimental results, such as the perpetuation of the invisible hand of Turkey’s governmental monopoly continuing to shape discourse online, suppress freedom and criminalize expressive actions on the Internet.

Before 2005, the Internet was a relatively "free" medium in Turkey. However, post-2005 laws were introduced to restrict content because of the widespread use of the medium and growing concerns about the sensitive content, which was largely uncontrolled.
In the draft of the Bill there were provisions aimed to separate the government from law, and make the criminalization of the Internet a case of Intermediaries vs. individual users. The content was broad and ambiguous, expressing provisions on hacking, information and identity fraud, child pornography, gambling, and state security, ultimately leaving room for interpretation.
“Law no. 5651 on the Regulation of Publications on the Internet and Suppression of Crimes Committed by means of Such Publication aims to combat certain online crimes and regulates procedures regarding such crimes committed on the Internet through content, hosting, and access providers”.

This law was passed and enacted by Parliament on May 4, 2007, and it exhibited the definition of “fear mongering”, fear of the power of representation, and information sharing on the Internet. They have constructed a Law which aims to suppress anything that could possibly ever corrupt or incite malignant opinions about the State online. Law 5651 introduced criminal liability for people who post "unsettling" or "defaming" content. I put those words in quotes, because the information considered either unsettling or defaming is ill defined and ultimately ambiguous, much like within Pakistan's Ordinance. For instance, public denigration of the Turks’ culture and identity is a crime, as well as defamation as an offense against honor. As can be seen by the articles within this law, like Article 81, which forbids political parties from using languages other than Turkish in written material or at public meetings, namely Kurdish, is a criminalization of expression that doesn’t fit under the umbrella of “Turkishness”.
YouTube was blocked again in 2009 for an entire year because someone had posted a video defaming Ataturk, again from a server outside Turkey, if anyone within Turkish borders attempted to access this site they would receive a warning message: "Bu siteye erişim mahkeme kararıyla engellenmiştir" which roughly translates to say, This site has been blocked by a court order."
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This is because, “as Ataturk is the founder of the secular Turkish state, an insult to him is considered an insult to Turkey’s governing system in general and an act of state treason”. Under Internet Law, ISPs become responsible for blocking access to illegal web content…the Telecommunications Authority is tasked with identifying the actor responsible for the offensive content”. The process of criminalization is quick, and takes roughly 24 hours to be delivered and implemented. In some cases intermediaries refuse to block access or censor themselves, which is evident in Google’s complex relationship with the nation, but the sanctions that were envisioned sends hosts or even ISPs who refuse to block access to prison for six months to two years.
There are two instances where it is deemed “ok” to protect Turkish citizens from “anti-Turkish” sentiments and block sites without going through the legal parameters to properly take down or block information:

a) The offending web site hosts the previously mentioned crimes and is hosted outside Turkey, or
b) A website contains sexual abuse of children or obscenity and its host resides in Turkey.

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What this case exhibits is that, control over the Internet is just another mode of nation-building and identity shaping reforms. Turkish citizens aren't as easily adopting these changes as they had done over the past 80 years, “In July 2010, Internet users organized a major protest against Internet censorship, the first of its kind. The protest gathered approximately 2,000 people in Istanbul who demanded the abolishment of Law No. 5651”. Since then many demonstrations have been seen, and the Turkish Parliament is being urged to reconsider and revise this law into one that is less ambiguous and restrictive in nature. As this instance and all the other examples of Pakistan, Egypt, Iran and China have exhibited, the meaning of the Internet differs in particular contexts. The experience of the Internet in Turkey is one that is currently going through hardships as they are fighting through barriers to freedom of expression and access. The power that this medium has in instilling fear or uncertainty in the Minds of government officials is astounding, especially since all the autonomy of this technology belongs to the users. As can be seen by the protesters on the street, A Government can censor or block information, or restrict access to the Internet, but they can't silence the voices of people.
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The discourses of power, consumption, awareness, information, identity construction, autonomy, democratization, communication, singularity, hybridity, and authorship, that are all attributed to the Internet, take shape within a paradigm that ultimately constructs our reality. As can be seen by these cases, because of the over-representation of the Internet, it is seen in a very fearful light by those in power, like the governments of Pakistan, China, France, Turkey and a multitude of other nations who hinder speech and criminalize actions online.
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These are the paths that become necessary to take when considering the power of influence, persuasion and of possibly inciting defensive and violent actions. The fact that the Internet is a part of our every day lives is such a profound way of thinking about the power that this medium contains. Although it is necessary to point out, that this is a power that is not fully recognized or appreciated without the users' autonomy and self expression. It is as Barlow says,

"In our world, all the sentiments and expressions of humanity, from the debasing to the angelic, are parts of a seamless whole, the global conversation of bits. We cannot separate the air that chokes from the air upon which wings beat."

Works Cited

  1. “Freedom on the Net 2011: Turkey”. Freedom House. Date Accessed: November 28, 2011.
  2. Akdeniz, Yaman and Altiparmak, Kerem. “Internet: Restricted Access, A Critical Assessment of Internet Content Regulation and Censorship in Turkey” May 5, 2008
  3. Barlow, John Perry. //A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace//, February 8, 1966. Accessed: December 3, 2011
  4. “Governance of Critical Internet Resources” Center for Democracy and Technology, November 14 2007.
  5. Open Net Initiative, “Turkey”. December 18, 2010
  6. Dayem, Mohamed Abdel. //Politics and New Media in the Muslim World.// 2009.
  7. Pakistan, The Government of. //The Prevention of Electronic Crimes Ordinance.// Ordinance, Islamabad: The Gazette of Pakistan, 2007.
  8. //Pakistan: Media Restrictions Undermine Election.// Human Rights Watch, 2008.
  9. Shirky, Clay. "The Political Power of Social Media: Technology, The Public Sphere and Political Change". Foreign Affairs, 2011.
  10. Yusuf, Huma. "Old and New Media: Converging During the Pakistan Emergency (March 2007-February 2008)." //Center for Future Civic Media//, 2009: 1-38.
  11. McLuhan, Marshall. __Understanding Media: The Extension of Man.__ 1967.
  12. Yuri Lotman, "On the Semiotic Mechanism of Culture". 1978.
  13. Webster's Dictionary: "Culture". Date Accessed: November 27, 2011
  14. Zubaida, Sami. "Cosmopolitans, Nationalists, and Fundamentalists in the Modern Middle East". Date Accessed: November 28, 2011.
  15. International Telecommunications Union, "The World in 2011: ICT Facts and Figures" Date Accessed: December 1, 2011
  16. Foucault, Michel. "The Discourse on Language." In The Archaeology of Knowledge, by Michel Foucault, 215-239. Tavistock Publications Limited, 1972.
  17. Foucault, Michel. What is an Author? 1969.
  18. Kronstadt, K. Alan. Pakistan Political Crises. CRS Report for US Congress, Congressional Research Service, 2008.
  19. Morozov, Evgeny. The Net Delusion, 2011
  20. Lee, R. D. (2010) "The Politics of Religion in "Secularist" Turkey." In Religion and Politics in the Middle East: Identity, Ideology, Institutions, and Attitudes, 167-206. Westview Press.
Endnote: While I was living abroad in Istanbul there was a wide disparity of people who had regular Nokias and those with Apple IPhones and Blackberry ICTs, the ones with those advanced technologies were more times than not from the city, and came from a very wealthy background, sometimes having two to three cellphones. The Nokias were hundreds of Liras, and the price of utilizing them was astronomical. There is a wide economic disparity in Istanbul alone, and I can only imagine how much worse it is in the rest of the country.