Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Democracy and Education (And An Evermore Divided Turkey)

PHOTO from Vatan

The parliament took up the proposed education law (see past post for background) yesterday just hours after 20,000 demonstrators gathered in Ankara's Tandogan Square to protest what opposition groups view as a unilateral attempt by the ruling AKP to overhaul the education system.

The law the AKP is trying to pass is publicly referred to as "4+4+4" because it seeks to make 12-year education mandatory for all children. Yet that is not the full story. Under the current system, public education is mandatory for the first eight years, after which students may opt to attend imam-hatip, or religious high schools that teach a mixture of standard education and theology, and which are subject to different standards -- and, naturally -- a different ideological/pedagogical atmosphere. The proposed law, which has been amended since my last post, also includes provisions that would pave the way for children to opt to attend imam-hatip  as early as 10 years of age, as well as enter special vocational schools. The original law had included a measure that would allow children to opt into "open education," or home schooling, as early as 10 years of age. That provision has since been amended under pressure from women's another groups that introducing open education at such an early age would lead to an increase in child labor and young girls being kept from school to work at home -- a problem in conservative communities that activist groups have long sought to remedy.

The proposed system seeks to effectively divide education into three tiers -- first, middle, and high school. The government also plans to introduce a year before primary education akin to what in the United States is known as "pre-school," and which AKP politicians have haled as a major selling point of the new law. Under the proposal, children would also be able to join private religious education courses, often held during the summer, after their fourth year in school.

For AKP policymakers, the new system is to be celebrated not only as a means to further the quality of public education but also "democracy" -- a word much heralded by AKP politicians, but which for all intents and purposes, seems simply to mean rule by the majority, and a majority as the ruling party interprets it (for more on this, see this past post he AKP's sparring with TUSIAD, the leading business association in Turkey which has puts itself squarely in opposition to the new arrangements).

Much at the heart of the AKP's framing the issue is the fact that the current system is largely the product of the 1997 "postmodern coup" that toppled the country's former Islamist-led coalition, in which the AKP has its roots. Under military tutelage in the years after the coup, the government sought to guard secularism against what the generals saw as the rising tide of political Islam and the current education system was a major concern, in particular the increasing popularity of imam-hatip. The system prior to the coup allowed parents to place their children in imam-hatip at the age of 10, a policy to which the AKP is returning. It also forbade children to take private religious courses (for example, during summer vacation) before completing five years in school.

Though the reform process at the time was far from democratic and involved a major abuse of power by the military, as well as persecution of numerous educators and students haling from conservative Muslim backgrounds, the new policy did yield some positive results, including an increase in the enrollment rate of girls in the first eight years of public education (from 34% to 65%). While the coup-driven education reform of the late 1990s should in no way be celebrated, the AKP should at the least explain how its new policy will not seek to imperil the success of the past decade in this regard. Yet rather than explaining how the new system (or devising one alternative to that proposed) might build on increased enrollment rates while adopting a more sensitive approach to religion, the party has instead simply decried opponents of the law to be against "democracy."

Polarization over the new law reached a new high two weeks ago when the parliamentary commission responsible for education policy ramrodded the proposal through the commission amidst fistfights between the ruling party and the opposition. Knowing that debate could delay the law's passage through the commission, the AKP blockaded opposition party members' attendance in attempt to forestall efforts to frustrate passage to the parliament's general assembly.

Soon after the brawl, the opposition CHP petitioned to annul the commission's vote, arguing that procedural rules had been violated. Yet parliament speaker Cemil Cicek seems to have no intention of returning the law to commission, and the party's plans at this point are to pass the law in the general assembly by the end of the week.

The protests yesterday reveal just how divided Turkey is becoming. Speaking at Tandogan, CHP leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu said the law is not "4+4+4," but "8/2." Kilicdaroglu was referring to the two different standards of education children would be receiving after the first eight years (and, in reality, after the age of 10 given the planned introduction of vocational schools and imam-hatip at so young an age). Yet there is another element to the leader's words worth exploring.

Though some of the AKP's policies have aimed to strip national education of some of the more distressing nationalist/ideological aspects of public education (for example, military-designed national security education courses and celebrations of national youth day, which liberals have long considered quasi-fascist), the fact that the government's most recent effort seems to setup a system parallel to that of national education (that is, imam-hatip and vocational education), there is real concern that the secular/conservative divide could grow deeper.Further, there is the very real possibility that a large number of Turks (future voting citizens) as early as age 10 could receive an education that is sub-par when compared to their counterparts that finish 12 years of public eduction. While these students might be more likely to constitute the "pious generation" Erdogan envisioned a few weeks before the education debate started in full, it is highly unlikely that they would demonstrate the same level of political efficacy and sophistication as their more educated counterparts.

Among the groups protesting the new legislation at Tandogan is Egitem-Sen, the left-leaning teachers' union, as well as the Rightful Women's Platform and the Federation of Turkish Women's Associations. The Confederation of Public Sector Workers (KESK), of which Egitem-Sen is a part, is also present. Egitem-Sen has called for two days of teachers' strikes to demonstrate against the proposed law, and is the chief organizer of the demonstrations alongside the CHP.

Ankara's governor, who is a member of the AKP, has questioned the legality of the assembly, and though he has yet to break up the gathering, he has threatened to do so. The municipality has removed banners and placards put up in the environs -- a move CHP parliamentarian and women's rights defender Binnaz Toprak described as a violation of freedom of expression. And so it seems there is potential for the fighting in parliament to soon bleed onto the streets -- a country divided indeed, and with neither liberal nor consensual democracy anywhere in sight at the moment. For more coverage in English of yesterday's protests, click here.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Syria Humbles and Horrifies

PHOTO from Evrensel
Leftist demonstrators in Taksim protest imperialist intervention in the Middle East and Syria.

Speaking in Tunis today, President Gul unequivocally proclaimed Turkey's opposition to intervention in Syria emanating from outside the region. The statement comes days after the president and Prime Minister Erdogan called for a humanitarian corridor to be opened in order to mollify the suffering of the Syrian people. Gul's statement should serve as a warning for American policymakers that despite what some in Washington have taken to be Turkey's refreshingly aggressive position against the Syrian regime.

Turkey is essentially between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand, the Turkish public is increasingly angered by UN reports putting the death toll of Syrians at 35,000, horror stories broadcast on Turkish television from Hatay where over 10,000 refugees have sought haven on the Turkish border, and particular disgust among many who are more than angered at a Shi'a regime killing mostly Sunnis. Yet, at the same time, Turks are nervous. The border shared with Turkey is over 900 km across, and most are more than nervous (and rightfully so) that conflict in Syria could spill over the border and result in an influx of refugees and, worst of all, Turkish military involvement in what could be a very protracted civil war.

Further, concern that the United States could be goading Turkey into a war is also growing, and the more bellicose the statements coming from American policymakers (for instance, John McCain), the greater the concern. There is also, of course, concern about antagonizing Iran, upon which Turkey heavily relies for natural gas. The installment of a missile defense shield in Malatya, while pleasing to the United States, has jeopardized relations with Iran. It is doubtful that Prime Minister Erdogan's planned March 28 trip to Tehran will result in a re-setting of relations, and recent tensions are likely one reason why Turkey is seeking to host P5+1 talks on the Iranian nuclear issue.

Add into the mix the issue of destabilizing the Kurds in Syria, which Assad kept quiscent and among which Turkish media are already rumoring are now in cahoots with the PKK, as well as fears of al-Qa'ida and the possibility of a more complicated situation in Iraq as sectarians in that tension increase, Turks are understandably nervous.

As the situation intensifies, so does Turkish ambivalence, and so where does this leave Turkish support for a humanitarian corridor? Some Turkish officials have already stated that they are in support of a corridor that would be open to the Mediterranean rather than the Turkish border. This alone implies support for a multilateral effort, and one that would likely include players other than just the Arab League. And while Gul and Erdogan have called for a corridor, they have declined to comment further on how it would be executed.

Essentially, Syria is a wake up call for Turkey. It is simply impossible to have zero problems with neighbors, and especially in such a difficult neighborhood. Further, the idea that Turkey might go-it-alone is also likely to lose weight. As Barcin Yinanc elucidates:
Every time I see Turkey make an effort to mobilize international support to end the bloodshed in Syria, I cannot help but recall the results of the Transatlantic Trends survey conducted by the German Marshall Fund. When asked in the 2009 survey with which Turkey should cooperate most closely, the EU or the US, some 43 percent said Turkey should act alone – nearly twice the percentage of those favoring cooperation with the EU and ten times that favoring cooperation with the US. In 2010 this rate dropped to 34 percent, while in 2011 it has gone down further to 27 percent.

I am assuming that this rate might drop even further in the 2012 poll, if the Turkish public continues to hear complaints such as that voiced by Cemil Çicek, the Parliament speaker, which put the situation with Syria in unequivocal terms. “Don’t wind us up on that issue (Syria). No one should be so cunning, watching [the conflict in Syria] like a football game and leaving it to Turkey to handle,” Çiçek said last week in an interview with a media outlet from Saudi Arabia.

Çiçek described as “cunning” those who are taking the easy way out of the Syrian crisis by saying, “let’s leave the dirty work to Turkey.” Indeed, most probably they recall Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu’s famous statement from last year, when he addressed Turkey’s ambassadors. Davutoğlu said that Turkish diplomats would not only be like firefighters, rushing to stop crises in any corner of the world, but also like city planners, meaning that they would pursue a policy of preventing crises from happening.

It happens that Turkey’s firefighters have proven unable to extinguish the fire right next door. And naturally not a day goes by without an article appearing in the international press emphasizing the contrast between Turkey’s rhetoric and its real capacity to deliver.
And as this is one fire that is unlikely to easily be put out, Turks are waking up to the call that multilateralism is a must in Syria. Ironically, the current imbroglio across the Middle East--from Turkey's troubled relationship with Israel, Iran, and more recently, Iraq--might renew support for multilateralism and a more humble vision of Turkish foreign policy. This is refreshing for liberals who fear that the AKP's expansionist foreign policy have caused the government to take its eyes off of the European accession process (for those liberals who ever did think, much more still think, this is still a serious ambition of the government).

At the end of the day, and despite all the rhetoric otherwise and the rather proud and ambitious overreaching of Turkey's foreign policy, Turkey has been and will likely remain realist in its foreign policy orientation. Syria is humbling, and in the most horrible of ways since the reality is brought home by the enormous difficulties inherent in rendering aid and defense against mass human rights abuses -- brutality that Turks watch every night on television before going to bed, and know is occurring just to their south.

Yinanc says this is not a good time for Turkey to learn lessons, implying it is not a good time for Turkey to continue its Middle East adventuring. Yet, it seems there are other lessons to be learned.

The Powers That Be

PHOTO from Radikal
Thousands of protestors organized this Saturday to mark the one-year anniversary of the detention of journalists Nedim Sener and Ahmet Şık. Both men have been in prison since March of last year on what appear to be trumped up terrorism charges (see past post), and are by no means alone. They are joined by more than 100 other journalists who are imprisoned on a variety of charges ranging from membership in a terrorist organization to spreading propaganda on behalf one. The overwhelming majority of these cases are against Kurdish nationalist journalists or journalists whom prosecutors have attempted to link to Ergenekon, the shadowy deep-state network thought to be continually plotting to overthrow the government.

Rather than repeat what I have written in past posts on the issue (click here), I would simply like to draw attention to a recent statement released by Reporters Without Borders calling for Turkey to live true to its internationally articulated position that freedom of expression is paramount in a democratic society. These remarks came in response to the recent effort in France to make it illegal to deny the 1915 crimes committed against Armenians as genocide.

In response to both the French National Assembly and Senate's passing of the law, Turkish diplomats joined press freedom advocates and liberals throughout Europe and the world to denounce the law as an unjust and dangerous restriction on the freedom of expression. For the most part taking the moral high ground, French liberals and Turkish diplomats won a major victory last week when the French Constitutional Council ruled that the law violated French constitutional provisions protecting freedom of expression. From RSF:
“We are pleased that freedom of expression has not been sacrificed to a cause, no matter how just the cause may be,” Reporters Without Borders said. “The dangerous breach opened by this law has been closed for the time being but it has already damaged the credibility of the democratic values defended by France and those who defend human rights and the Armenian cause in Turkey.

“We urge France’s politicians to renounce any intention of drafting an amended version of this law. Any thought of using legislation to establish an official history of past events should be ruled out for good after this precedent.

“The Turkish authorities must now face their responsibilities. In the name of free speech, they have for weeks been condemning the French parliament’s meddling in history. Now they must prove that their comments were not just tailored to the circumstances by allowing Turkish citizens to mention the Armenian genocide without fear of being prosecuted.

“Consistency requires that, at the very least, they immediately decriminalize two offences, insulting the Turkish nation (article 301 of the criminal code) and insulting the memory of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk (Law 5816 of 25 July1951).

“This decision does not exempt Turkey from finally confronting its own history; quite the contrary. Now that Ankara no longer has the excuse of ‘foreign meddling,’ it must remove the straightjacket of official history from the Turkish republic, open a debate about the fate of Turkey’s minorities and end the growing criminalization of journalistic activities.”
Yet the aforementioned restrictions remain, in addition to a host of other offenses that--vaguely interpreted--can be wielded against journalists, including, inter alia, accusing journalists of influencing judicial processes, discouraging citizens from military service, and inciting hated among the citizenry.

While these laws still exist on the books, most concerning, of course, is the use of anti-terrorism laws against journalists, a practice that has picked up under the helm of Ergenekon and KCK prosecutors and within the past three years. Using anti-terrorism laws against journalists is common practice in authoritarian countries ranging from Ethiopia to Venezuela, but it is Turkey who now rivals Iran and China in having the highest number of jailed journalists in any country in the world.

For the past report by the Council of Europe's Human Rights Commission Thomas Hammarberg (April 2011), click here. Since the reporting dates, both the KCK and Ergenekon investigations have continued, raising the number of jailed journalists even higher. In December, at least 29 journalists were detained in a wave of operations against the KCK. Prosecutors accused the journalists of relaying PKK messages to Kurdish nationalist protestors. Numerous other arrests, sometimes on a mass scale, took place throughout 2011.

For a detailed accounting, see Bianet's recently released 2011 Media Monitoring Report, released just last week. I am adding a link to it in the "Key Documents" column on the right-hand sidebar. Bianet reports there are over 104 journalists in prison, up from 30 at the end of 2010.

According to AKP officials, this number is inflated since these people merely happen to work as journalists. They are not in prison for their writing or for being journalists, but because they are members of terrorist organizations who happen to be journalists. Attempts to portray the issue in terms of press freedom are therefore insincere, and according to some, part of an international smear campaign devised by -- guess who? -- terrorist aligned with the ultra-nationalist deep state.

[For those based in Washington, the Center for International Media Assistance, an initiative of the National Endowment for Democracy, will be holding an event on press freedom in Turkey on Tuesday, March 13, at 2 p.m. The event is entitled, "The Big Chill: Press Freedom in Turkey," and you can RSVP here.]

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Calling Places

PHOTO from Milliyet

One of my favorite political/rhetorical theorists, Kenneth Burke, reckons rhetoric -- and, more specifically, the politics it facilitates -- as akin to theater. According to Burke, life and politics are theater, and we all, as political actors, are on a stage. Though accusing someone of making political theater is pejorative, for Burke, we all make theater. Think Arendt and her Greek-influenced notion of politics as action -- as individuals appearing to each other in public fora whereby they put forward their thought and ideas, and wherein those thoughts and ideas, though sometimes agonistically incommensurable, are negotiated in communication with others.

For Burke and Arendt, while we may all be actors on a stage or in a public forum, no one has the right to call places. In a liberal democracy, politicians, civil society activists, and citizens all have a right to express themselves in the public sphere -- to partake in politics on any range of issues without being bounded. Tracing the development of civil society's relation to the state, this sort of boundlessness is key to civil society's ability to challenge the state -- to have and take advantage of the space necessary to enact truly democratic politics capable of holding the state accountable to those it governs.

Yet, for many politicians in the AKP, this idea is strange -- and, for too many, anathema. See, for instance, the recent comments of AKP parliamentarian Nurettin Canikli in response to the Turkish Businessmen and Industrialists' Association (TUSIAD)'s criticisms of the government's plans for 4+4+4 education reform. TUSIAD is one of the most important NGOs for Turkey, and has proven a tremendous force for the country's European Union accession process and the democratic reform/EU harmonization packages that have so changed Turkey (and, which, contrary to so much of the coverage one sees in Western media, commenced in 1999, more than two years before the ruling AKP came to power).

According to Canikli, TUSIAD, as a business association, has the right only to speak on matters of business and economic policy -- not education. For Canikli, it is no matter that the quality of education is indubitably connected to both, as the boundaries he would place on the organization are quite strict. But that said, why might TUSIAD not also be able to speak on other important political issues, including human rights, the Kurdish conflict, freedom of the press, and a host of other issues on which it has in the past, should, and hopefully will continue to voice its opinion? For Canikli, if this happens, the association "should not only throw punches, but be ready to get punched."

Canikli, in stronger terms, is echoing remarks Prime Minister Erdogan delivered last Tuesday at his party's parliamentary group meeting. Though Erdogan laid off the issue during yesterday's party meeting, the prime minister stirred a series of heated exchanges between the AKP and TUSIAD when Erdogan lashed into the organization, accusing it of being a supporter of the Feb. 28 process (Turkey's 1997 postmodern coup) and telling it to "mind its own business." TUSIAD responded with a calmly generic explanation of the important role civil society plays in a democracy, and rhetorical clashes between the organization and the AKP continued throughout the week. (Here, and to his credit, note that on Saturday President Gul defended TUSIAD's role to engage in the education debate.)

Though there is nothing necessarily improper about a civil exchange of views between the government and civil society organizations, there is something quite wrong about the government circumscribing the activities of organizations, a frequent action taken by authoritarian governments around the world to restrict civil society and the freedoms it enjoys under international law. Here, it should be noted that associations law in Turkey has undergone a series of meaningful reforms under AKP rule, including a major overhaul in 2004 to the Associations Law. The AKP should be lauded for these changes, but rhetoric such as that coming from Erdogan and Canikli is threatening.

In stirring defense of liberalism and the role of civil society, Milliyet columnist Mehmet Tezkan digs into the implication of Canikli's comments: that civil society organizations might only speak on issues related to their particular focus. According to Canikli, this would mean labor unions speak on workers' rights, bar associations speak only about matters of the judiciary, and doctors' associations speak only about medical issues. Such narrowly consigned responsibilities not only restricts the space in which civil society may act, but to some extent, also neutralizes them. Canikli seems to be saying that if civil society organizations get involved in politics, there will be consequences. Doing so not only sends a signal that civil society organizations should be apolitical, but that there might indeed be costs for being political.

If politicians in the government wish to criticize TUSIAD and other organizations within the public sphere, they should, of course, be free to do so. Yet, if these "punches" involve restrictive measures such as libel suits, criminal charges, and troubles registering and operating, there is a problem. Given Prime Minister Erdogan and others' understanding of the role of the press, there is little reason to think that the government's approach to civil society is much different -- and, indeed, leaders of numerous civil society organizations, at least in regard to the Kurdish problem, have been rounded up alongside journalists. Taking on an organization with the kind of international clout of TUSIAD is a different matter, though Erdogan and Canikli's statements in regard to the organization are revealing of the AKP's liberal democratic deficit (not that many political parties have proved much better upon coming to power).

This is the first clash this year between the AKP and TUSIAD, and the vitriol of Erdogan's rhetoric has raised serious eyebrows given that TUSIAD is a mainline pro-reform/pro-Europe organization that has in the past loaned support to the AKP's reform initiatives. In 2010, before the country's constitutional referendum in September, Prime Minister Erdogan demanded that TUSIAD take a stand for or against the constitution, arguing that those who stayed neutral would be "eliminated." EU Chief Negotiator Egeman Bagis followed up, declaring that he would challenge "the mental health and patriotism of anyone who intended to vote against" the referendum.

TUSIAD's position at the time was that Turkey needed a brand new constitution -- not simply a series of amendments designed to benefit the AKP. It should be remembered here that the amendments in 2010 were largely aimed to break the old establishment's hand on the judiciary, and in many ways, have since allowed the government to exert increased control of the organization. I know several Turks who opted to boycott or vote no against the referendum given these remarks and others like them. The latest set of exchanges is but a continuation of what has become prime minister's increasingly hostile stance toward the organization. More evidence of a rift between the AKP and TUSIAD emerged this week when news broke that a joint panel the two were planning to hold this month in Mardin had been cancelled.

And so what of the rhetoric of elimination? It is curious that Erdogan used this word when it also is the main accusation launched by Kurdish nationalists against the government -- they claim the government is trying to eliminate them, too. If the AKP respects these views, why the rhetoric? Is it mere populism against organizations like TUSIAD that are perceived by some AKP supporters as "elite"? Is it the prime minister's well-known tendency for rhetorical lavishes, and what many consider to be his quick temper? The government is clearly not intent to eliminate TUSIAD, but will it respect the organization and value its opinions? Most are not holding their breath.

The new film Fetih: 1453, which depicts the Ottoman conquest of Istanbul, has been used in the past two weeks as political capital against what Erdogan's critics receive is his sultan-like attitude toward politics. In the past couple weeks, videos have been circulating on YouTube and elsewhere of the film's caricature of Fatih Sultan Mehmet, the great Ottoman conqueror, juxtaposed with Erdogan (like this one). And while sultanism is in no way unique to Turkey or to the AKP in Turkey (the country's history of political leadership is a great testament to the truth of Lord Acton's famous axiom), the sheer number and intensity of these criticism and others like them represent a shift in how those fifty percent whom Erdogan and the AKP do not represent (see my election analysis) are increasingly alienated and wary at the prospect of the AKP's seeming strict majoritarian conception of democracy.

Some AKP politicians, including Erdogan, often seem baffled by this. Are they not democratizing the country? Have they not led the country's economy to be one of the strongest in Europe and the Middle East? Is Turkey not a great success story to be modeled elsewhere in the world? One might expect these party officials to bow down in gratitude to Erdogan as Orthodox Greeks do to Fatih Sultan Mehmet in 1453.

Such disbelief is not altogether uncommon for politicians who, often well-intentioned, place ends over means, and arrogantly, if not condescendingly, approach politics as if they know what is best for the direction of the country they govern and the citizens therein. But there is no such ijtihad. The prime minister and other AKP officials, not to mention those in opposition parties (which have their own democratic deficits and sultanist legacies!), represent the people -- they are not elected to tell the people what is best for them, or so says many of the criticisms launched against the party.

Yet the AKP and its dominant narrative of conquest and victimage (see past post) continues. Too often not only Prime Minister Erdogan, but all Turkish politicians, seem like great figures on a stage, players in some great drama that ordinary Turks simply sit back and watch. But real democratic politics, while perhaps dramatic as Burke argues, involve the citizens, too -- the citizens are players, too (not mere spectators), there is no director, and most importantly, no one gets to call places. No one can simply be eliminated.

(Note: An incomplete, draft version of this post appeared earlier today when I accidentally hit "Publish" instead of "Save Draft." Hopefully this complete version reads better, and makes a bit more sense.)

UPDATE I (3/8) -- Hurriyet Daily News columnist Gila Benmayor offers a bit more perspective on the recent clash between TUSIAD and the government, as well as criticism of the government's rushed attempt at this bill. As Benmayor argues, this is once again another example of the government pushing through massive reform packages with little consultation of civil society, especially civil society groups with whom it disagrees. The education package has now also lost the support of the Education Reform Initiative (ERG), which again, is not a Kemalist organization diametrically opposed to the AKP, but a moderate/reformist group that adopts a practical and non-ideological approach to the potential harms of the proposed legislation.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

"New" Survives

PHOTO from Radikal

CHP leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu more than weathered two extraordinary congresses held in the past two days. On Feb. 26, the party held its first convention, which was called by Kilicdaroglu in response to a petition by the old guard within the CHP that is attempting to defeat Kilicdaroglu and what the party's new leadership has called "the new CHP"  (see past post). After having survived the first, the second convention was anti-climactic.

The CHP is Turkey's oldest party, and having undergone many transformations over the years, dates to Ataturk. In the 1990s and 2000s, the party had drifted from its earlier social democratic roots to embrace a traditional Kemalist/nationalist platform focused on secularism and defending the state against Kurdish separatism. During this time, the party was led by Deniz Baykal, who when I first started paying attention to Turkish politics, was regarded as a figure similar to the Energizer bunny -- he just would not go away. Yet all that changed in 2010 when a sex tape brought him down. The result was a party congress that brought forward Kemal Kilicdaroglu, an Alevi with a more progressive vision.

Though Kilicdaroglu is still far from what one might call progressive, he has also had a lot to deal with since coming to power (see past post) and the CHP has made tremendous strides to transform itself into something new. Sometimes it is hard be hopeful in regard to politics, but the shakeup in CHP offered some reason for optimism -- and, I think, continues to do so.

The congress convened with over 800 members, well over the 625 needed to establish a quorum among the 1,248 delegates. Baykal and party stalwart Onder Sav had attempted to wage a boycott of the convention, which would have essentially caused a crisis in confidence of Kilicdaroglu's leadership and brought him down. Luckily, they failed miserably, and Sav ended up giving a rather desperate-seeming and indignant press conference not far from the convention vowing that Kilicdaroglu would pay in the end.

Of the delegates, the breakdown between the old guard, loyal to Baykal and the old vision, approximates 400. Before the party's regular congress this summer, at which Kilicdaroglu will stand for re-election, many of these delegates will no longer be eligible to participate thanks to a rule regarding term limits.

Now that Kilicdaroglu has a significant feather in his cap, it can only be hoped that he will return the CHP to the more progressive positions it was taking before the election. At the convention, Kilicdaroglu promised to take on the issue of specially-authorized courts, though it lacks much clout in this regard, as well as fully embrace a social democratic and liberal version of Turkey.

The party also plans to strengthen internal party democracy, which has been lacking. Provisions in this regard include primary elections for parliamentarians, as well as open elections for positions in party branches. The CHP has also bolstered its gender quota from 25 to 33%, as well as introduced a youth quota of 10%.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

The Opening Salvo?

PHOTO from Girgir
Prime Minister Erdogan and religious leader Fethullah Gulen play a game of chess. Erdogan declares, "I have taken all of your pawns," to which Gulen retorts, "My child, you will force me to take your king."

Hakan Fidan is not a name soon to be forgotten nor is the recent row between the Gulen movement and the Erdogan government. Yet the row does not center on Fidan alone, but is rather a larger struggle for control sparked by the government's increasing uneasiness with the control Gulen wields over the judiciary and police -- or, what Vatan columnist Rusen Cakir (for English, thanks to Hurriyet Daily News, click here) points to as the "axis of courts with special authorities" by which the movement has been able to use police, prosecutors, and judges to target political opponents.

This week included announcements by some AKP officials that specially-authorized courts had gone too far, and included more aggressive talk of reforming Articles 250 and 251 in the Turkish Penal Code (TCK) by which these courts derive their power. Reform of these articles has been discussed for sometime, but never with as much focus. On Wednesday, Parliament Speaker Cemil Cicek called for new arrangements to regulate the power of specially-authorized courts, though noting their past utility in dealing with state terrorism, namely Ergenekon. Yet, according to Cicek, while the courts are still needed, more focus needs to be paid to how they work in practice -- the implementation of Articles 250 and 251.

And, so what does this mean? Why is it significant? And why the shift in attitude? Let's start with the last question first. As prominent Islamic liberal Yeni Safak columnist Ali Bayramoglu explains in what is a fairly polemical interview with Cakir, the Hakan Fidan affair should be read as an intervention by Gulen -- a challenge to the AKP's authority. Tensions between Erdogan and Gulen have been on the rise given the amount of bad publicity the government has received thanks to the Ergenekon investigation, in particular the arrests of journalists Ahmet Sik and Nedim Sener last March. Following these arrests, Erdogan dismissed Ergenekon lead prosecutor Zekeriya Oz, who is known to be close to the movement and a mastermind of the  Ergenekon probe (see past post).

As Radikal columnist Omer Sahin writes, Erdogan was content to use the Ergenekon prosecution to purge anti-government forces from the state, namely those perched in high places in the military and in the Turkish press. Gulen and Erdogan supported each other in this push from the AKP's 2002 entry into office up to just more than a year ago. Yet, as Bayramoglu observes (see his Wednesday column), now that the government has largely defeated resistance within the Turkish Armed Forces, things have changed.

This shift is further explained, as Bayramoglu continues, by the sheer frustration of Erdogan with the blatantly adversarial nature of the investigations. In August 2010, prosecutors went after police chief Hanefi Avci, who once sympathetic to Gulen, was arrested two days prior to a scheduled press conference at which Avci was going to present evidence as to how the movement had infiltrated the judiciary. The next year he was charged with membership in Ergenekon, as were Sik and Sener following similar attempts to bring light to the nexus between the Gulen organization and the police.

The cost of the Ergenekon and Sledgehammer investigations are simply no longer worth the effort, and now that prosecutions seem to be targeting figures with whom the AKP has friendly relations (i.e. Fidan) and potentially elements in the military that are now pro-AKP, Erdogan, wary of power that is not his own, is likely to come down hard on Gulen. He will do this by curtailing the judicial and police power the Gulen movement has established for itself, and the first target will likely be weakening the axis of power to which Cakir refers.

Yet still unexplained is the sheer tenacity of the Gulen organization toward the Erdogan government in this first serious battle. It is true that the past weeks have evinced tension building between the two groups (stirs over the match-fixing scandal and the Uludere strike, by which Gulen figures also tried to smear the MIT -- see past post), but the source of this latest conflict is still unsure. Perhaps it was an attempt to test Erdogan. Or, it might have been a way to express Gulen's opposition to the state's efforts to negotiate with the PKK, which could be restarted in coming months. A combination of the two? We are probably unlikely to ever know.

What we can say, though, is that what was witnessed last week was a serious test of Erdogan's authority. As Bayramoglu tells Cakir, the Gulen movement expressed a unique determination this time around: first, it mobilized its media outlets and network to smear the MIT (my question: was Uludere an opening act?); second, even when Erdogan expressed that he would standby Fidan, prosecutor Sadrettin Sarikaya not only continued in his pursuit of Fidan, but upped the ante by issuing arrest warrants for four high-ranking intelligence officials. It was only when Erdogan suspended top brass officials in the police that Gulen seemed to back down.

But the end is likely not over. Bayramoglu conjectures that Gulen may take to the sidelines, realizing that Erdogan is not likely to allow Gulen to continue such free-wielding control of the police and judiciary, though not all are so sure. For sure, Erdogan does not want to see a shakeup before he ascends to the presidency in 2014 and passes a new constitution that he likely still hopes will bolster his power once there but at the same time it is unclear if Gulen will be so comfortable with his rise -- and, just what the exiled leader might do about it. As Cakir writes, rather fatalistically I might add, such a clash will largely be spectacle for most Turks, third parties will not matter, and as TUSIAD head Umit Boyner expressed last week, will simply observe in horror.

UPDATE I (2/25) -- Today's Zaman columnist Emre Uslu had a column on Friday which I nearly missed and in which the columnist postulates a conspiracy against the Gulen movement in which he implies the government is complicit. According to Uslu, the government has long been intent on curbing the powers of specially-authorized courts, and this latest episode rather was an operation against the Gulen movement. From Uslu:
If this insistent call for the amendment of Articles 250 and 251 of the anti-terror bill had been made in conjunction with the MİT crisis, I would believe that it had something to do with the MİT crisis. However, this call was made 10 days before the outbreak of the MİT crisis, in a report by the Sabah daily. The report said: “It is possible to associate every offense with terror charges, which could be further subjected to special investigation and trial procedures. To ensure the right to a fair trial, Articles 250, 251 and 252 of the Code on Criminal Procedure [CMK] on the workings of special courts and their procedures shall be revised.”

The insistent calls after the MİT crisis made reference to the same points. The meaning of this is obvious: The KCK investigations will be conducted more leniently, and KCK suspects will be released.

If you live in a country like Turkey; are aware that the KCK investigations will be ceased and the relevant parties to those protocols agreed to the release of KCK suspects; if you have read in a paper, known for its staunch support of the government before the outbreak of the MİT crisis, that Articles 250 and 251 will be revised; and all writers and columnists supportive of the KCK-AKP-MİT equation insistently called for the amendment of Articles 250, 251 and 252 of the CMK when the MİT crisis erupted; and if you call all of these a coincidence, you are surely naïve.

And for these reasons, I would say that the situation presented to us as an MİT crisis is in fact an operation jointly conducted by MİT, the pro-negotiation figures within the AKP and some pro-negotiation intellectuals. The prosecutor and the police department were framed in this operation; MİT planned and executed this operation. The signals from the AKP show that this operation will be completed, despite the decision by the Court of Appeals that the KCK is a terror organization. You will see that Articles 250, 251 and 252 of the CMK will be amended, the KCK suspects will be released and pro-Gülen movement bureaucrats will be removed from duty."
Sabah is a paper friendly to Prime Minister Erdogan, and according to Uslu, it is the government to blame for the excesses of the Ergenekon investigation, not the Gulen movement. Of course, this is highly unlikely given that it is the prime minister who ordered Oz's dismissal after the Sik/Sener arrest and the targeting of Avci, but the accusation is there all the same. Uslu also does a good job of further smearing the AKP by including a desire to release KCK/PKK suspects as part of the operation, thereby using the Kurdish issue to heighten tension.

While several figures, especially those in the government such as Yalcin Akdogan, have done their best to play down tensions, revelations of Uslu and others point to some sectors in the Gulen movement who are not so content to simply sit by sidelines.

Religious Education and 4+4+4

PHOTO from Birgun

Fast approaching the anniversary of the Feb. 28 process, or the 1997 "postmodern coup" that brought about the fall of the Islamist Refah government and a slate of reforms to defend secularism against what was perceived by some as the encroaching threat posed by political Islam, the government has announced plans to restructure Turkish education.

Reforms include provisions that would allow school children to receive education at religious (imam-hatip) high schools after completing four years of primary education or pursue distance learning (essentially "home school") courses. At the moment, students are required to complete eight years of education before being allowed to complete the final four years at imam-hatip, which combine traditional and religious education. Under the new law, education would be structured into three four-year segments: four years primary (ilk), four years middle (orta), and four years high school (lise), and hence the 4+4+4. The government is arguing the new law is an improvement since all 12 years will be mandatory even if it is to be completed at home.

The problems with the law should be apparent, and late this week earned the denunciation of the Turkish Businessmen and Industrialists' Association (TUSIAD) and prominent opinion leader and entrepreneur Guler Sabanci. In rural areas, particularly in the east and southeast where children, particularly girls, already do not go to school, the law would greatly diminish educational standards. Parents in these areas are often not well-educated themselves (this is an understatement), and would not be capable of providing a quality education. Further, child labor is a tremendous problem (see past post) and girls are frequently kept at home (for more on this, see past post; see also the above advertisement from a 2010 campaign launched by Milliyet urging fathers to send their daughters to school).

The proposed law also allows for provision that would reduce the age of apprenticeship to 11, though it is still unclear to me as to how an apprenticeship works. (Is it pursued concurrent with other curriculum? Does it allow one to withdraw from school entirely? Would this possibly trigger more child labor?) The apprenticeship is also chief among TUSIAD's concerns (for more, click here).

On Wednesday, the parliament sub-commission for education took up the bill after a debate by a wider debate by a larger commission. Though the AKP has been sensitive to criticisms coming from groups such as TUSIAD and has expressed some willingness to compromise, it is unclear just how many of the proposed provisions could be made law. The sub-commission is scheduled to take the draft up once more on Feb. 28 after some tweaking from party officials. For an account in English, click here.

Cumhuriyet columnist Utku Cakirozer frames the recent move within the context of the Feb. 28 process. Cakirozer refers to measures put into play soon after the coup that required all students to attend eight years of primary education (from five to eight) before dropping out or enrolling in imam-hatip. The generals also restricted Koran courses. Students were not allowed to enroll in Koran courses until after their fifth year of school, and courses were subject to inspection by the Directorate of Religious Affairs, or Diyanet. Penalties, including prison sentences for parents who did not send their children to schools or sent their children to Koran courses before they were old enough. In addition, operators of illegal Koran courses were also subject to penalties.

Gradually, the AKP government has whittled away at what some might read as particularly intrusive restrictions, particularly on religious education. In 2003, prison sentences were replaced with fines; in 2004, parliament reduced the sentence for running an illegal Koran course from three years to one and ended and authorities ceased closing down illegal courses; in 2005, the Diyanet ceased inspecting Koran courses; and after last June's elections, the minimum age for Koran courses was eliminated. According to Cakirozer, the goal is now to do away with the eight-year rule for uninterrupted education.

As it inevitably does, the headscarf also falls into the debate. As Cakirozer points out, young girls wearing the headscarf (as young as fifth grade) will now be allowed to do so at imam-hatip, effectively ending the ban. I care more about the fact that these children will simply not receive the same quality of education as I do about an effective end to the ban after that age (the ban was one of the reasons driving the government to do this to begin with), but it is important to note that is also important for many critics of the new law (for another example, see this coverage from Hurriyet).

Other columnists and opinion leaders see the law as a broad-based effort to increase the influence of Islamist education, particularly imam-hatip and Koran courses. For an example, see Egitim-Is head Veli Demir's comments in Melih Asik's column in Milliyet.

UPDATE I (2/27) -- Nicole Pope's column in Today's Zaman offers a solid English-language analysis summing up the threat the proposed law poses to Turkish education.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Still in Hot Water

PHOTO from Hurriyet

One of the stories I overlooked last week was the Supreme Court of Appeals' rejection of a petition to hear the case of former Chief of General Staff Ilker Basbug. The court ruled that it could not hear Basbug's case because he had been charged with terrorism, and that therefore the specially-authorized court responsible for his launching his prosecution had jurisdiction.

Last month's news of Basbug's arrest caught nearly everyone by surprise, and ratcheted up questions as to just how far the specially-authorized courts charged with the Ergenekon and Sledgehammer investigations are willing to go. For background on Basbug and the controversy over whether it should be the Supreme Court or the specially-authorized court that brought the indictment, in addition to some background as to the division within the AKP thanks to pro-Gulen forces, click here.

At the same time, it appears specially-authorized prosecutors are also digging deeper into figures involved in the Feb. 28 process, the 1997 postmodern coup that brought about the demise of Erbakan's Islamist Refah-party and its governing coalition. Leading figures in the AKP have long resented the Feb. 28 process, and historical memory of the events continues to influence AKP politicians and its supporters (see Feb. 7 post).

The event is known as the Feb. 28 process since this is the date on which the National Security Council (MGK) met to begin a protracted process through the spring that ultimately resulted in the government's falling and a series of new laws and restrictions on Islamist political activity. Standards of education were changed to counter the rising popularity of imam-hatip high schools (religious high schools where students receive a mix of standard and theological curriculum), regulations on the headscarf were strengthened, the Refah party was closed, and numerous Islamist politicians, including the prime minister, banned from politics and tried in courts for offenses against the secular unity of the state.

According to Milliyet, four civilian officers working in the MGK at the time have been asked to give testimony as part of the investigation. The paper reports that the officers were working in the high ranks of the institution, and played a role in writing the various orders and memos that guided the coup.

At the same time, government officials are starting to talk about possible reform of laws allowing for specially-authorized courts and prosecutors. These developments follow the crisis with Hakan Fidan and apparent power move by elements supported by religious leader Fethullah Gulen. Yet it seems for the moment that Basbug's trial will go on despite President Gul's call for the former chief to have his case heard at the higher court. Critics of Erdogan have pointed out that the prime minister had no problem in saving Fidan from prosecution, but are willing to take no such measure to save Basbug despite the apparent cooked-up charges against him.

The specially-authorized court has accepted the 39-page indictment against Basbug in which he is charged with planning to topple the government multiple times, the last and most critical to the charges being through a plan to create numerous websites that would spread black propaganda ("psychological operations") against the government and foment the conditions for a coup. The indictment also alleges that when Basbug was Land Forces Commander he also planned to overthrow the government, but gave up when he realized he did not have the resources to carry through his plans.

Evidence in the indictment is shoddy at best, largely consisting of various accusations and innuendo, as well as circumstantial links to other figures charged with terrorism, including former Cumhuriyet columnist Mustafa Balbay. Basbug gave an interview to Balbay in 2004 on negotiations with Cyprus, but did so at the time anonymously.

Basbug has denied the charges in the indictment, saying that he did not even have a computer in his office and that if the military truly planned to overthrow the government, it had more powerful means at its disposal than websites.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Reason to Hope?

PHOTO from Milliyet

The President's State Inspection Board today released its report on the assassination of Hrant Dink. The 649-page report comes one month after the court hearing the case of 18 defendants accused of organizing the plot found no evidence to establish a connection that Dink's murder was not but a random act of violence carried out by a few ultra-nationalist youth--not the state-linked conspiracy which Dink's lawyers and supporters have alleged was at work. For background, click here. The report, though not binding, sends a powerful message to the Supreme Court of Appeals to re-open the investigation and commence a new trial, a decision that should come by year's end.

The State Inspection Board decided to release its report following the public outcry after the Dink trial came to a close, which at the time the president and other AKP officials cautiously denounced while urging the public to wait for the appeals process to come to an end. Its contents blame Dink's death in part on the negligence of state officials, and suggests that the trial of those officials should have never occurred separate from the trial of the 18 defendants, a point argued by Dink's lawyers from the very beginning.

According to Milliyet, the report also documents lack of coordination between the gendarme in Trabzon and police in Trabzon and Istanbul, as well as calls into question the Samsun police officers who were shown posing with Dink's young killer, Ogun Samast, days after the murder. Just as  importantly, it calls into doubt the work of the Istanbul court and its verdict, citing that the investigation failed to take into account possible connections between the accused conspirators and state officials.

UPDATE I (2/25) -- The full verdict of the Istanbul court has been released one month after being announced. It points to the possible existence of links between the conspirators and the state, but as the chief judge Rustem Erilyilmaz told media soon after the trial's conclusion, argues the court lacked evidence to issue a ruling on the matter.

Eksi Sozluk: A Model for the Middle East?

Eksi Sozluk (or, "Sour Dictionary") is an Internet compendium of information comprised by numerous authors similar to Wikipedia. From The Next
The site has 36,000 authors, and an equal number of users who hope to become authors. It contains more than 10 million entries, gathered into more than 2.5 million topics, and it attracts 7.5 million unique visitors a month, out of a total Turkish Internet population of a little over 30 million. It’s an enormous success that few outside Turkey have heard of.

This is even more surprising, when you consider that the site just celebrated its thirteenth anniversary February 15th. It’s the grandfather of blogs, older than Wikipedia, Facebook and Twitter; it was launched before Urban Dictionary, which has 6 million entries.

Screen shot 2012 02 18 at 12.16.06 PM Can Turkeys contribution to the Web be reproduced elsewhere?“The idea was to create a user-made dictionary,” says Sedat Kapanoğlu, the site’s founder. There’s no editing: anyone can create any definition. Like a real dictionary, the entries are ordered numerically, but there’s no limit to how many definitions there can be; they can surpass 10 thousand entries, as is the case with “Love”, or for the prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The most-read definitions are ranked first. All of this is processed in real time.

Some people see this as a sort of forum, but, Kapanoğlu insists, “We wanted to avoid that, and we created rules to prevent it from happening. We wanted a dialogue between ideas, not people. When a contributor leaves, the ideas and conversations remain.”

The site’s only revenue stream is advertising; in order to avoid “disrupting the user experience,” it is limited to one ad per page.

“We have more entries than the English version of Wikipedia,” Kapanoğlu responds when asked, “but the quality isn’t the same.” Jokes and false info abound. “We believe that no one has the authority to decide what stays on a site,” he says. “We’re neutral in terms of administrating it, and we’ve become one of the largest Turkish sites to defend the freedom of expression in a country where it is threatened.”

So there is no control of any sort. “I decided to let everybody express themselves, independently of social, religious or political stance It was very radical back then… and now makes us one of the most popular sites in Turkey.”

. . . .

The requests to copy the idea in English, French, Romanian and Arabic haven’t had much success. Kapanğlu is convinced that it can’t work anywhere else. “The way the site has grown is linked to specific aspects of Turkish society. We wanted to express ourselves, but had no space for that. The laws of physics don’t apply to social media; every culture needs its own platform.”

It’s a fascinating response, but one that Uçkan, the professor, doesn’t agree with. He recalls that Google’s social site Orkut, which is immensely popular in Brazil (and which plays an important role in India), was invented by Turkey’s Orkut Büyükkökten. Turkish-style socialization could perhaps spread elsewhere. “It can be copied. The format can be entertaining anywhere.”
It should be noted that Eksi Sozluk is one of many websites to face censorship and other attempts by the government to limit freedom of expression. Just this past June government officials detained 50 Eksi Sozluk users for insulting religion, and this was not the only time the website has been subject to state action. For more on Internet freedom in Turkey, click here.

UPDATE I (2/23) --  See also this article in today's Wall Street Journal on Turkey's emerging Internet market. According to the article, Turkey constitutes the fifth-largest Internet market in Europe, and Turkish users, in contrast to their other European counterparts, tend to spend more time online and be quite younger. Even more significantly is Turks use of social media. Turks constitute one of the top five audiences on Facebook and are within the top ten on Twitter.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Has Erdogan Won?

PHOTO from Cumhuriyet

In what many are perceiving as the first big battle between Gulen-friendly and not-so-Gulen-friendly ranks within the AKP, it seems Prime Minister Erdogan has won. Yesterday the parliament passed a law to protect not only Hakan Fidan, but expand the prime minister's power to have the last word on prosecutions targeting "state officials the prime minister has assigned with special tasks." The law has been in the works since the start of the crisis.

The law was passed with fierce resistance from opposition parties who feared the expansion of the prime minister's executive power. In order to get it through, the AKP limited the scope of protection to be extended from all prime ministerial appointees to those "assigned with special tasks."

Additionally, the General Directorate for Security on Tuesday dismissed nine officials in the Istanbul police department. All officials were working as part of a unit tasked with the KCK operations, and were presumably fired from their duties in connection with the recent Fidan probe. Two other high-ranking police officials had been removed last week.  Also, a large number of persons who had just on Monday been picked up in KCK operations were released, leading some observers to speculate a major shift in the direction of the KCK operations, though perhaps a bit too prematurely.

And, if the police purges and new law were not enough, Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin has given his approval to the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK) to begin an investigation of Sadrettin Sarikaya, who -- up until the weekend, when he was dismissed -- was overseeing the proble into MIT. Sarikaya is charged with violating the secrecy of the prosecution and abusing his power, and the investigation could result in disciplinary proceedings and, possibly, a criminal trial.

Looking back on it all, one cannot help but agree with Turkish Businessmen and Industrialists' Association (TUSIAD) head Umit Boyner, who earlier this week remarked that TUSIAD was watching in horror as the state fought with itself. Boyner described the crisis as a shadow play of opposing figures, an apt description of an affair that will take a long time to understand. Yet the play might not be over. Erdogan has won the battle, but there might well be a war to be fought.

UPDATE I (2/19) -- 700 Istanbul police officers working in departments related to intelligence, terrorism, and organized crime of the Istanbul Emniyet have been re-assigned to the southeast. The police are reported to have been engaged in the Ergenekon and KCK investigations. Shakeup indeed.

On Saturday, before the announcements of the reassigned officers, Erdogan, recovered from surgery, spoke at a youth rally where he declared the "institutions of our state" and the "sons of our nation" to be at peace. Erdogan was referring to speculation about the recent conflict within the state--that between his supporters and the Gulen movement.

For one interpretation of the remarks, see Fatih Altayli's column in Habertürk. Altayli believes Erdogan has come down in support of the wing in his party known to be sympathetic to the National Outlook (Milli Gorus) movement, which might be insufficiently explained as a conservative view propagating an idea that nation and state are one. For an extended explanation, see past posts.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Uludere Probe Continues

PHOTO from Milliyet

Parliament's commission for human rights is expected to issue a report in the coming days as to what exactly happened in Uludere on the night of Dec. 28 when 35 Kurdish smugglers were killed in strikes carried out by unmanned drones. The government and security officials soon announced that the strikes were a tragic mistake, but so far evidence has been far from forthcoming.

The report follows a visit by parliamentarians to the site of the tragedy, as well as interviews they conducted with local officials, including local military commanders, and villagers. Some parliamentarians, in particular CHP deputy Levent Gok, have already spoken to the media about their findings. According to Gok, the strikes were conducted without the knowledge of local commanders on the ground or the local mayor, meaning the strikes were carried out by Ankara.

According to one local gendarme commander with whom parliamentarians spoke, forces were ordered to pull back one day before the incident, though apparently the band of smugglers was sighted at a military outpost from which one local gendarme officer reported that, if asked, he could have told officials higher up in the command chain not to strike.

Yesterday the military provided parliamentarians access to footage from the Heron drones responsible for the strikes that Gok and others report show the smugglers were clearly not PKK militants since there were more mules than people and they did not try to escape once attacked.

Monday, February 13, 2012

And the Battle Continues . . .

PHOTO from Radikal

There are two more developments to report in the recent MIT episode.

The first was a series of early morning raids of mostly labor unions accused of working with the KCK to foment protests on what will be tomorrow's anniversary of imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan's capture. The raids occurred in Istanbul, Ankara, Izmir, and throughout the southeast, and resulted in the detention of over 100 people.

The operations might have been ordered by Sadrettin Sarikaya, who was relieved of his duties in the MIT case, but whom some reporters report is still directing the KCK operations alongside also specially-authorized prosecutor Bilal Bayraktar.

The second involves a statement made by Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag in defense of Hakan Fidan. Defending Fidan and MIT-led operations, Bozdag said that the probe into MIT seriously compromises intelligence activities, and in doing, basically verified that the MIT had infiltrated the KCK. Concerns have been raised that the MIT probe endangers MIT agents who are currently working undercover and that these agents could be weeded out and then assassinated by the PKK.

Meanwhile, Istanbul Deputy Chief Prosecutor Fikret Secen said the MIT may have abused its power and helped the PKK carry out terrorist activities. Secen said that it was not beyond the judiciary's grasp to probe intelligence agents who might have been involved in such activities while at the same time being careful to say that the probe was not related to state policies and in no way involved the negotiations that took place in Oslo.

The parliamentary proposal aimed to protect Fidan was approved by the parliament's justice commission on Monday, and will now make its way to the full assembly for a vote. Commenting on the new law, Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc said it was unclear at this time if the final law would protect military officials as well, a claim being launched at the government by critics from both the Gulen movement and opposition parties. The fact that these two groups would be united on this front shows one just how much the political scene has changed. For an example of a Gulen-friendly argument against the new law, see Mumtazer Turkone's column in Today's Zaman.

Sunday, February 12, 2012


PHOTO from Cumhuriyet

Sadrettin Sarikaya, the specially-authorized prosecutor at the center of the recent probe into MIT, has been removed from the MIT case after he boldly proceeded to issue arrest warrants on Friday for four top intelligence officials.

Chief Prosecutor Turan Colakkadi said Sarikaya had withheld information from from his superiors and violated the secrecy of the investigation he was conducting. The allegations stem from a leak to the media last week that Colakkadi was planning to interrogate MIT head Hakan Fidan, his predecessor, Emre Taner, and two other top officials regarding alleged participation of the intelligence organization in PKK terrorism (see posts from earlier this week).

Meanwhile, speculation continues to boil as to what forces are behind the apparent conflict within the state. According to Cumhuriyet, the current conflict is between Erdogan and forces loyal to Fethullah Gulen and the large Islamic community. Though the two groups have experienced serious tension in the past year, this is the first time in which the two groups appear to be openly challenging each other.

Based in Pennsylvania, Gulen leads "the Cemaat," which exists of perhaps up to 6 million supporters and even more sympathizers. The Gulen movement, or Hizmet movement as its followers refer to it, is critical to the electoral support the AKP has enjoyed over the years, though the organization avows to eschew political affairs. Yet an easy review of its website speaks to the contrary.

Two recent developments might explain this recent bout of in-fighting:

First, Prime Minister Erdogan, who in many ways shares a view quite different from Gulen, has recently cleared his way to accede as president in 2014 (see past posts). With Erdogan as president and many top AKP lawmakers unable to serve again in parliament due to the AKP's three term limit, there will be a major shuffle within the party in which the Gulen movement -- as a major component of the AKP coalition -- will play a part. Between 2014 and 2015, Turkey will experience presidential, parliamentary, and municipal elections, and so opportunity for major transformation within the party, the dominant force in Turkey, will have profound implications for the future. Asserting its power now could well be a way of firing the first shot, perhaps a warning signal to the prime minister and other elements in the party of the movement's prowess.

Second, the prime minister may well be preparing to re-open negotiations with the PKK, a move that is opposed by the Gulen movement. Gulen and his followers take a harder-line stance on making peace with the PKK, adopting the view that Turks and Kurds might come together based on a Sunni Islamic supra-identity. My interviews in Turkey's largely Kurdish southeast attest to Kurdish nationalists, including those who are PKK-affiliated, being more afraid of the Gulenists than traditional Turkish nationalists.

For years, the Gulen movement has accused the PKK and the Turkish state of working in cahoots with one another (see the litany of Zaman articles from the past five years), and the Ergenekon investigations, led by Gulen-friendly prosecutors, have routinely featured accusations that the Turkish deep state and the PKK worked frequently in tandem with each other. These accusations, in addition to the largely successful co-optation of many disempowered Kurds thanks to Gulen/AKP-led charities and social services, have put serious pressure on Kurdish nationalists while earning their furor.

Yet in 2009-2010, the prime minister seemed to take a different tack. Instead of aiming to defeat Kurdish nationalism through Islamist bananas alone, Erdogan began to rely increasingly on the MIT and direct negotiations with the PKK. As Avni Ozgurel discusses in an interview with Nese Duzel in Taraf, the MIT underwent a major transformation under the leadership of its former director Emre Taner. Under his leadership, a groundbreaking analysis was issued that articulated the Kurdish issue as the major obstacle to Turkish democratization and the latter as the means to solve the former. In this context, MIT officials began to call for political solutions for the conflict, including a re-working of Kurdish citizenship (see former deputy director Cevat Ones's statements as early as 2007), Kurdish language and other minority rights, and in some instances, even an amnesty for the PKK and direct negotiations.

The former director is now subject to an arrest warrant issued by Sarikaya, and Hakan Fidan, now at the center of the current imboglio, was his deputy director. Fidan, close to Erdogan, no doubt brought the prime minister closer to the MIT paradigm, and the AKP government's strategy began to shift. In 2009, when the government released its so-called "democratic opening," many of the steps taken were in line with what was MIT policy at the time. Yet the opening went awry soon after it started when the likely MIT-negotiated return of PKK rebels at the Habur border gate between Turkey and Iraq resulted in what appeared to be PKK victory celebrations. The spectacle largely angered the public, cost the AKP and its proposed initiative a great deal of political capital, and left Erdogan feeling seriously betrayed.

Though talks with the PKK continued and despite an upsurge in terrorist violence throughout the next year (the worst since PKK founder Abdullah Ocalan's capture), Erdogan halted negotiations soon after last June's elections and talks have not picked up since. Yet news did break of prior negotiations when audio recordings of negotiations between MIT agents and PKK representatives in Oslo were leaked to the press last September. Erdogan, who had previously denied that negotiations were taking place, came forward and defended the MIT, including Fidan, whose voice was presumed to be a leading one in the tapes. At the time, Erdogan made a distinction between "the state" and "the government," arguing the former was able to negotiate with whomever it pleased if the ultimate aim was peace.

It must be said that the democratic opening was also supported at the beginning by forces friendly to Gulen, and the Police Academy, which is chalk full of Gulenists, played a leading role at the beginning of the public initiative. All the same, at some point, and likely after Habur, attitudes changed and a conflict that is not at all public could well have emerged between those supporting the negotiations and those who did not. The source of the leaked audio tapes, which might also be interpreted as targeting the prime minister, is still not known.

According to Ozgurel, there is yet another dimension to the possible Gulen-Erdogan conflict -- the tension between the MIT, which has remained largely free from Gulen influence, and the police, over which Gulen is widely seen to assert a considerable degree of influence. The police have felt largely left out of the government's dealing with the PKK whereby the MIT has taken the lead. In this way, the conflict might be seen as one between institutions, though both institutions can also be interpreted as proxies for different groups/paradigms competing for power.

UPDATE I (2/14) --  Thickening the plot a bit, PKK political spokesman Zubeyir Aydar has said that police officials are responsible for the leaks of the audio tapes. The PKK might also have had reasons to leak the tapes and embarrass the prime minister, but the accusation certainly makes the recent row a bit more interesting.

Friday, February 10, 2012

And Things Just Get Weirder . . .

Specially-authorized prosecutor Sadrettin Sarikaya has apparently issued immediate detention orders for former MIT head Emre Taner and current MIT undersecretary Afet Gunes, as well as two other MIT officials. The detention orders were issued just days after news broke that Sarikaya was conducting a probe into the possible involvement of MIT in perpetrating PKK terrorism. The ultimate target of the investigation could well be Prime Minister Erdogan (for background, see yesterday's post).

The detention order is a bold move and the first of its kind. Apparently police also searched the homes of the agents. Erdogan is standing by MIT, insisting yesterday and before the detention orders that Sarikaya did not have the authority to question Taner, Gunes, or current MIT head Hakan Fidan without first seeking his approval.

Instead of reporting to the prosecutor's office in Istanbul, Fidan paid a visit to President Gul's office in Ankara while the prime minister's office spearheaded efforts to craft legislation to further shield MIT agents from prosecution. Legislation is said to include provisions that could make it outright illegal to prosecute intelligence officials, a move that has sparked some to criticize the government as hypocritical (it had no problem with prior specially-authorized prosecutions) and anti-democratic. Sarikaya's persistence flies in the face of these efforts, and might be read as a direct challenge to Erdogan's authority.

The investigation has prompted a firestorm of speculation as to what forces and motivations might be behind Sarikaya's investigation. So far, the rumors have included conjectures that elements within the state opposed to the dovish stance the MIT has taken toward the PKK are behind the investigation (see Yeni Safak's Abdulkadir Selvi), as well as notions that Sarikaya is being directed by the Gulen movement, which is largely thought to have deeply penetrated critical positions in the police and judiciary (see .

Tensions within AKP ranks have made themselves increasingly manifest in recent months (see past post), and Gulen is thought also to oppose moves the Erdogan government has made to negotiate with the PKK. Additionally, rivalry between the MIT and the police has been considered to be high for sometime, and according to some observers, might have increased in recent months as MIT agents who had infiltrated KCK were (and this is speculation) detained in the operations against the illegal organization.

Could the same forces behind the audio tapes leaked in September also be responsible for Sarikaya? And is it a matter of doves versus hawks, Erdogan versus Gulen, or some other power struggle/conspiracy that has yet to be revealed?

One has to be careful with conspiracy theories, but there is obviously something fishy going on.