Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Amnesty Calls for Restraint Before May Day

From a press statement issued by Amnesty International:
On the eve of planned May Day demonstrations in many Turkish cities, Amnesty International calls upon the Turkish authorities to ensure that the right to freedom of peaceful assembly is respected and that law enforcement officers use force only where strictly necessary and only to the extent required to perform their duties.

In a letter to the Minister of the Interior Mr Besir Atalay, Nicola Duckworth, Europe and Central Asia Programme Director at the human rights organization, said:

"The right to hold peaceful demonstrations is protected by the right of peaceful assembly in international human rights legislation. Any limitations placed on this right must only be those which are prescribed by law and necessary in a democratic society for the protection of national security or public order or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others."
I am leaving for Spain tonight, and am told that it is possible that some of the demonstrators will be bused to İzmit. We will see what happens. . .

Ultranationalists Attack DTP in Sakarya

From Today's Zaman:
Democratic Society Party (DTP) parliamentary group chairman Ahmet Türk said on Tuesday his party will not take part in parliamentary sessions for an unspecified period of time to protest an attack on a DTP festival in Sakarya on Sunday. Members of Alperen Ocakları, the youth branch of the Grand Unity Party (BBP), allegedly perpetrated the attack.

Speaking to DTP deputies during a meeting of the party's parliamentary group, Türk said: "With this latest attack, part of a lynching campaign against our party, they gave the message that they will not let us live in this country, let alone devise policies for our people. In Sakarya they attempted to organize a massacre similar previous events in Sivas, Mara? and Çorum," he said, referring to incidents in which large numbers of people were killed preceding the 1980 coup d'état in Turkey. "While 500 members of our party, including Şanlıurfa deputy İbrahim Binici, were gathered in a wedding hall on Sunday, a group of ultranationalists attacked them. These people were under siege in the hall for five hours, and the ultranationalist group outside continued attacking."

Türk reminded the DTP deputies that Ebubekir Kalkan, one of the people in the hall, died of a heart attack during the attack, adding that the hall's occupants were evacuated under police escort.

Nurettin Demirtaş Enters Military, But Faces Additional Charges

PHOTO FROM Today's Zaman

From Today's Zaman:
Pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party (DTP) leader Nurettin Demirtaş, who was incarcerated last year on charges of forging a document to evade military conscription, was released on Monday by a military court and enlisted in the army along with four other people yesterday.

In the fifth hearing at the Air Force Military Court, 52 others facing the same charges were released along with Demirtaş. During the hearing, lawyers for the accused argued that the defendants had no intention of forging the documents. Approximately 60 members of the DTP, including deputies Bengi Yıldız, Emine Ayna, Sebahat Tuncel, Gülten Kışanak, Fatma Kurtulan as well as Demirtaş’s lawyers, traveled to the Sincan L-type prison where Demirtaş was being held to witness his release.

Demirtaş along with Servet Gül, Serkan Özdemir, Enver Geçgel and Mehmet Güler were sent to the gendarmerie headquarters in Karabük’s Safranbolu district for the enlistment process.

DTP deputy Selahattin Demirtaş, who is the brother of the DTP leader, said to the Cihan news agency, “All of those who were released are being taken to gendarmerie headquarters and they will be enlisted in the army depending on the medical exam results.” He also noted that those released were deprived of their freedom as they were taken directly to the gendarmerie headquarters upon their release.

The Air Force Prosecutor’s Office filed a lawsuit in March of this year against 98 people, including Nurettin Demirtaş, for forging documents to avoid compulsory military service. The office was demanding 10 years in prison for 73 of the suspects, including the DTP leader.
For background, see March 29 post.

CSIS Report on Turkey's EU Accession

CSIS' Seda Çiftçi reports on Turkey's accession progress. She notes that while "confronted with what it sees as ‘a judicial coup’ and understandably distracted by the possibility of being closed down and pushed out of the political arena, the JDP could find it difficult to move ahead on the sensitive issues identified by Barroso. The domestic forces opposed to Erdogan and his party are also at the forefront of resistance to additional concessions to the EU. Consequently, Erdogan might once again choose to avoid additional risks associated with bold action and try to balance the commitment to the EU with internal considerations. As a result, it may be too early to state with any degree of confidence that Turkey is on the verge of a new chapter in its EU odyssey." Click here for the full report.

Rally Around . . . Baykal?

CHP's party congress concluded yesterday as expected—little changed. In fact, change seems more hopeless than before since CHP leader Deniz Baykal, elected Saturday for the tenth time, further consolidated his power by purging the party's leadership of those few who had made steps to oppose him. Some members of the party's council and central executive committee supported the candidacies of Haluk Koç and Umut Orhan or had expressed views contrary to Baykal's and the neo-nationalist message with which he has dominated the party. What is particularly sad is that neither candidate posed much change for the party. Koç is a long-time Baykal supporter who largely shares his neo-nationalist view and Oran's views are by no means radical.

I have met no CHP supporters who actually like Baykal, but yet he continues to get elected. This just goes to show how much control he is able to wield within the party and confirm earlier analysis about the party's authoritarian structure (see May 25 post and April 9 post). Baykal will continue to beat the drum of secularism and represent himself as the embodiment of Kemalism. In the meantime, it is up to leftists to either found a party with an opposing view or seek some revolutionary way to change CHP. The former is made difficult by the divided and feeble nature of Baykal's opposition and the requirements that parties must pass the ten percent threshold and run candidates in all provinces in all districts thoughout the country in order to be elected to parliament. After yesterday, the latter seems all the more impossible. Perhaps a progressive party with a less rabidly nationalist message will manage to find its way into parliament the way DTP and DSP have by running candidates as independents.

However, some are more skeptical and see no chance of CHP reforming or a liberal party emerging within the political structure defined by the 1982 constitution. Former CHP Çankaya mayor Doğan Taşdelen told Today's Zaman,
"It was exactly like I expected. They made a complete purge [of critics]. If you plant a rotten seed in infertile soil, it will not sprout. Such infertile soil was prepared in Turkey with the Sept. 12 coup for political movements. This ground is now yielding its own fruit. Not a single decent left wing party has come into being in Turkey since that date. Not a single democratic or liberal party has been formed since that time. And it cannot happen. We shouldn't try to fool ourselves. But now, the people are aware that the ground is unproductive. Now the ground will have to be transformed."
If Baykal is determined to prevent the rise of a viable leftist challenge to AKP, and thus to CHP, he has all the more reason to resist the constitution. It is convenient for him that he can call such a move an attack on nationalism and secularism and have so many rally around him.

Where have all the leftists gone? Really, when will they ever learn?

See my Feb. 12 post for an attempt to answer this question.

Article 301 Proposal Revised

It seems that AKP has heeded criticism that the president should not be vested with the power to approve court cases prosecuting individuals under Article 301. Following criticism by opposition parties and the reported reluctance on President Gül, AKP has revised the proposal to place this authority in the hands of the Justice Minister. Differing opinions on what office should have this authority have been ongoing since AKP first started considering the proposal (see previous posts).

Passage of the amendment will likely take place within the coming week.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Hakan Şükür & 'Thepobia'

I have been told that there are three driving forces in Turkey: Islam, the legacy of Atatürk as the great founder of the Turkish state, and football. While no doubt an over-simplication, a controversy embroiled around remarks made by Galatasary super-star Hakan Şükür is an arguments about balancing the amalgamation of all three.

Having lived here for more than three months now, I can testify to the fact that Turks take football very seriously. One of the first questions I am frequently asked after it is established that I am from Texas and, yes, enjoy Turkish food, is to what football team I support. I can also testify to the fact that after big football games there is almost always a raucous that follows in the streets involving cars proudly waving Turkish flags alongside those of the football team of which they are devoted fans, car horns galore, and every once in awhile, an occasional fight that breaks out. The match between Galatasaray and their rival Fenerbahçe promised raucous galor and is the context of Şükür's remarks.

So, what exactly did Şükür say to warrant all of the media attention? The footballer claimed that the raucous be kept to a minimum because the game would take place during the week of the Prophet's birth. This deeply angered the secularist establishment who were not delighted to have football combined with religious commentary. With the press enraptured in the controversy, what has emerged is a discourse on secularism. Mustafa Akyol comments on that discourse in his column's contribution to today's Turkish Daily News.
THE TROUBLE WITH THE THEOPHOBES—Mustafa Akyol

One of the interesting and tell-tale controversies of the past week was the fuss over the recent remarks of Hakan Şükür, Turkey’s famous football star and a pious Muslim. In an interview with daily Zaman, he warned the supporters of his team, Galatasaray, and the other big one, Fenerbahçe, about the impending match between the two. In Turkey, football matches, especially such key derbies, often turn into orgies of violence. But that is very much against the morals of Islam, Şükür noted. And, he added, it would be especially bad to swear and attack fellow human beings during the “week of the holy birth,” that of Prophet Muhammad, in which this match will be played. He reportedly said:

“We are in the week of the holy birth, and we should be worthy of it. We should, in fact, raise our youth and children in the spirit of the tolerance of our Prophet… The fans (of Fenerbahçe and Galatasaray) should come to the stadium with not knives but roses.”

Hakan Şükür’s Blasphemy

Thus saith the football star, and all hell broke loose... Secularist media put his remarks in the headlines and presented it as “anti-secular propaganda.” Daily Vatan wrote critically about how Şükür “tries to insert religion into football.” In daily Milliyet, sports columnist Ercan Güven made the following comment:

“If this country faces much bigger troubles one day, if brothers become the enemy of brothers, if the regime tumbles and the nation falls, make sure that Hakan Şükür will have lots to do with all this.”

Like-minded people on Şükür’s team, Galatasaray, were also outraged. Former presidential candidate of the club, Adnan Öztürk wrote a letter to the current president, Adnan Polat, in order to denounce Şükür. “Our club has always been a symbol of secularism and modernity, and such remarks do not match with our values,” he wrote. He also asked for “the necessary measures to be taken,” which implied that Şükür should be punished or even expelled from the team. Fatih Altayl, another of prominence in the ultra-secular Galatasaray universe, asked for an “investigation” into Hakan Şükür.

I think this whole episode nicely presents a fundamental problem in Turkey. Quite many people in this country, especially those who consider themselves to be the elite, suffer from a sort of neurosis that can aptly be called thephobia. That term refers to the irrational fear from, and disgust towards, anything that relates to God and religion. It is, as American writer Tony Snow puts it, “the absolute, frenetic, run-away-from-Godzilla panic that afflicts some people when they hear the ‘G’ word.” For them any reference to, or symbol of, religion is simply horrifying.

That is what lies beneath the bizarre notion of secularism that the Turkish Republic and its masters subscribe to. In the free world, secularism is a democratic principle that gives people the right to live according their beliefs or disbeliefs. In Turkey, it is the principle that is used to suppress religion, marginalize believers, and ridicule their practices. That is why Turkey’s self-styled secularism is often at war with democracy, and the Constitutional Court declares that “secularism will not be sacrificed to freedom.”

But why are so many Turks theophobes? Well, that is the way that the “education” system and the official ideology have indoctrinated them for decades. The average “white Turk” – the one who thinks he is Westernized – believes that religion must be forcefully pushed to the corners of society for us to be a “modern” nation. The die-hard Kemalists are, of course, the most devout believers in this dogma, but others, including even some “liberals,” have been influenced by it to a great extent. They can doubt the official ideology in matters relating to matters such as the Kurds question, but they very much they share its theophobia.

Revisiting Islamism

The way the term “Islamist” is used in this country, as I have noted in a previous column, is a manifestation of this trouble. In the free world, “Islamist” often refers to one who wants to impose Islam as a state ideology. But in Turkey, anybody who takes Islam seriously and speaks about it is labeled as an “Islamist.” Hakan Şükür, for example, is depicted as such these days because of this abovementioned remarks.

Which brings me to a recent piece by my fellow columnist Burak Bekdil. In his April 23 column titled “Who is an Islamist? Who isn't?” he apparently revisited my distinction between Islamists and Muslims. Among the several descriptions he offered for the former, there was this interesting line: “[An Islamist is]… someone who has a desire to see an increase in the number of observant Muslims.”

Mr. Bekdil can, of course, give any description he wants, but since he defines Islamism as a threat to democracy – which I would have agreed on another definition – we should be careful here. The fact is that, Muslims, of course, can “have a desire to see an increase in the number of observant Muslims.” They can even work hard to make that happen. That is just fine. Both Islam and Christianity are universalistic faiths, and their believers do have a wish to see the spread of their faith, which they see as the path to salvation.

The crucial point is whether they impose their faith, or simply propose it. The former is a threat to freedom, but the latter is entirely justified in a democratic system. Forced conversion is not acceptable, but missionary work is.

Indeed, in an open society, every creed has the right to publicize itself as much as it can. What the theophobes want to do is to deprive religion of this right. They want to make believers shut up so that they can’t mention God or Scripture in the public square.

Only One Idea…

Their psychology is driven by theophobia, to be sure, but they also use a seemingly rational argument. “If we allow a bit of religion,” they say, “how can we be sure that it won’t dominate the whole society?” Well, I can ask the same question for virtually every creed or philosophy. If we allow dialectical materialism to have a say in society, how can we be sure that we won’t soon have a communist revolution? If we allow nationalist ideas to flourish, I can similarly ask, how can we be sure that we will not turn into a fascist state?

Despite the convictions of theophobes, almost every point of view has extremes and carries the potential to go there if all other options are suppressed. "Nothing is more dangerous than an idea,” as Alain Chartier put it, “when you only have one idea." The threat to democracy, in other words, is not religion or some other idea. It is the lack of pluralism.

If you don’t believe me, just look at contemporary Turkey and see how the dominance of one idea, i.e., Kemalism, threatens the whole democratic system, religious freedoms, minority rights, the EU process, and the economy. While the theophobes are freaked out about religion and how it will deprive us from modernity, it is the very ideology fed by their paranoia that is doing that.

Friday, April 25, 2008

CHP Authoritarianism, Part II


PHOTO from the Turkish Daily News

As CHP prepares for its party congress tomorrow, the party is being criticized for its lack of intra-party democracy. Baykal has been elected as CHP's leader nine times in a row and has had year's to organize the party so as to eliminate the slightest showing of viable opposition to his iron-clad rule. Under CHP's by-laws, contenders for the leadership of the party need to have the support of 20 percent of of the party's 1,300 delegates to even be nominated. To make securing this support even more difficult, Baykal has sought to control the local party elections of these delegates. In cases where officials oppose Baykal at the local level, the leader is able to have them removed

From the Turkish Daily News:
There are only two candidates, Haluk Koç and Umut Oran, with the slimmest hope of becoming official candidates and they need the support of 243 party delegates. The ordeal seems to be an impossible one, given Baykal's purge tactics, which were well tested by authoritarian parties in the 1930s.

Baykal has led the party since 1992, except for a brief interlude from 1999-2001. “Since 1996, Baykal has cleansed the party of any possible strong opposition,” said Sedat Bozkurt, Ankara representative of FOX TV. “Candidates against Baykal are from merely third-class cadres, as Baykal systematically removed any potential leaders,” he said.

The election of delegates, who in turn will elect the party leader, at local party meetings, is a telling example of Baykal's grip on the party.

Former CHP deputy and retired Ambassador İnal Batu stressed that what people call delegates are actually a strata of Baykal's men.

“Delegates have no connection whatsoever with the party base. In every congress, those who oppose Baykal suffer swift elimination. In the last congress those who supported Sarıgül, provincial and district level party administrators, as well as mayors, were all purged. Not one of them survived,” Batu said.

“The party center reigns over local party elections where delegates are designated. Baykal's delegates have won all provincial and district level elections,” Bozkurt said, noting that Baykal canceled local delegate elections that upset him, just to make sure he is invincible.

“Party founders and lawmakers are natural delegates. Among 99 deputies, there are really few who would oppose him. In Istanbul alone, 159 delegates are submitting signed statements pledging they will support Baykal,” Bozkurt said, pointing to the fact that this would give Baykal a 90 to 95 percent supremacy at the congress.
Today's Zaman has run profiles of both challengers Umut Orhan and Professor Haluk Koç. The paper also ran informative analysis of the effects of CHP's inta-party politics that begins with an intriguing statement made by Bülent Ecevit in 2004:
"It is impossible to have a real left-wing party and a pure democracy in Turkey unless the CHP is closed down. Therefore, the CHP has to leave the political scene and reorganize itself as an association."
Thoughts? For more on CHP and the left in Turkey, see my Feb. 12 post.

European Parliament Progress Report Released

The European Parliament released its 2007 report of Turkey's progress toward accession today. The report was approved in committee by the EP on Monday and expressed concern about the closure case, declaring it expected the Constitutional Court to rule in accordance with ECHR case law and the Venice criteria for banning political parties, thereby essentially throwing out the case against AKP. The report also praised efforts to reform Article 301 while strongly maintaining that this is merely a first of many steps Turkey will need to take to end restrictions on freedom of expression. Few changes were made from its earlier released draft (see March 14 post).

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Charges of AKP Corruption

From Gareth Jenkins:
On April 22, it was announced that two Turkish state-owned banks had stepped in to provide $750 million in loans to Calik Holding, which is owned by a close friend of Prime Minister RecepTayyip Erdogan, in order to enable it to purchase the second largest media group in Turkey.

On December 5, 2007, the Turkuaz Media Group, which is owned by Calik Holding, successfully bid $1.1 billion for the Sabah-ATV media group. Sabah-ATV had originally been owned by Dinc Bilgin, who had been one of Turkey’s leading press barons in the 1990s. Together with several others of Bilgin’s assets, his media companies had been seized by the authorities when the collapse of a bank he owned left him in heavily in debt to the Turkish state.

The Calik Group is owned by Ahmet Calik, a long-time close associate of Erdogan. The group’s assets have more than quadrupled since the Justice and Development Party (AKP) first came to power in November 2002 and are currently estimated at around $2.5 billion. In March 2007, Calik appointed Berat Albayrak, Erdogan’s 26 year-old son-in-law, as the holding’s general manager.

The Calik Group is mostly active in construction, energy and bidding for state contracts. The Sabah-ATV media group consists of one national TV channel (ATV), one radio station, five newspapers (including Sabah, one of Turkey’s leading dailies) and eight magazines. In the heavily politicized Turkish media, the Sabah-ATV group had traditionally been on the liberal, center-left and a frequent critic of the AKP and other religiously-oriented political parties.

Discipline & Punish (Indeed)

Although I have written fairly frequently about Turkey's many speech codes, state repression is not only against speech actors, but can often be wielded against those who share unorthodox views or, even more significantly, those who even do so much as dare seek perspectives outside of state orthodoxy. Consisting of actions taken by state authorities that often fall behind the radar of everyday news coverage and human rights monitoring, this kind of repression is more latent and impossible to empirically document,. However, every once in awhile an event occurs that highlights this repression. Such is the case of Ercan Elmastaş, a Tunceli police officer who was recently dismissed because he attended a meeting in which DTP speakers spoke in opposition of government policy toward the Kurds. Significantly, Elmastaş' crime was not speaking, petitioning, or protesting—it was listening.

From Radikal (by way of the Turkish Daily News):
A police officer who on his day off attended a panel organized by a rights group was dismissed from his position for “unbecoming conduct.”

Ercan Elmastaş attended a panel on the Constitution organized by a Kurdish rights organization, the Rights and Freedoms Front (HÖC),at the Tunceli Municipal Conference Hall on Nov. 11, 2007 as a guest, but it cost him his job.

Elmastaş had been assigned to work in the eastern Anatolian city of Tunceli in his fourth year in the profession.

The panel was organized legally. The speakers included a lawyer and the local pleaders of the pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party (DTP) and Labor Party (EMEP).

Investigators did not find Elmastaş's statement that he attended the panel as a social activity credible and that he had opted to go to the panel instead of going to a coffee house or the cinema.

Moreover, video records of the panel show that Elmaştaş did not ask for any information from the police officers standing at the door of the conference hall, went through the security search as an ordinary citizen, listened to the panel carefully and, according to another police officer's statements, he even clapped when the speakers were done.

Elmataş's argument that he neither knew the speakers nor the organizers and he only clapped when the whole audience did was also dismissed by the inspectors. They noted that Elmataş watched the panel for one-and-a-half hours.

The Tunceli Governor's Office and the Police Discipline Commission decided to fire Elmataş for attending a panel that did not have a scientific, cultural or technical content and was organized by an association of which the police department is not a member.

The Police Headquarters High Discipline Commission, which met under Police Chief Oğuz Kağan Köksal, also approved the verdict.

Elmastaş's lawyer has filed a case to reverse the ruling.
While it is fairly easy to assess state repression when manifested in full public view, as was the case during this year's Newroz festivals, it is near impossible to adequately account for smaller phenomenon existing just beneath the surface. However, the irony is that it is this much less obvious kind of repression that has the greatest effect in terms of stifling dissent. I often wonder why more Turks do not speak out against government policy in the southeast in the same way that many Israeli citizens speak out against the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories or by means paralleling those used by Americans who have protested the war in Iraq, but I suspect that the answer has much to do with state repression akin to that Elmastaş experienced.

While there does seem to exist tremendous social pressure in Turkey that influences the the act of "speaking out," of raising one's voice in opposition to state policy, it is foolish not to acknowledge that this pressure is not affected by state repression. Since pressure is not so much explained by demands to conform for conformity's sake as it by the desire to maintain relationships—acts that defy traditional authority are not typically those that cement existing social bonds—state policies that punish risk takers have profound effects. There is good reason not to take political risks when doing so means one might be punished. (In the case of Elmastaş, unemployment also punishes his family.) Take the example of speech codes. Making it illegal to say something unorthodox renders speech something dirty, oppositional, and troublesome to the social order, making the speaker an outcast, an object of moral reproach. In this way, speech codes are not merely to prosecute people with whom the state disagrees, but have another function as well. They discipline. In regulating norms of acceptability, codes not only generate a silencing effect, usually explained in terms of deterrence, but actually shape social norms and mores.

What is remarkable about the Elmastaş case is the crime committed. Elmastaş was not punished because he said or did something, but merely because he listened—considered ideas that the state found disgusting. While he did not necessarily agree with these ideas, and might have even opposed them, the very fact that he went to the forum was evidence enough to fire him. If perspective-taking is necessary for a peaceful society, as I am certain it is, Elmastaş' dismissal should be viewed as a large strike against democracy, against the quotidian enactments of citizenship upon which a democratic project rests.

There is one more dimension to the Elmastaş dismissal. Although the state released Elmastaş, it is not unlikely that individuals face similar fears in regard to private employers, associations, etc., and, of course, if such action was taken by one of these private entities, having committed the same offense, it is unlikely that the state would provide any recourse. Of course, this is yet another way in which the state exerts power over society. If such social norms existed before the state's formation is not as important as its present role as disciplinarian.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Early Elections Seem an Increasing Likelihood

Today's Zaman reports that sources close to AKP have told the paper that the party is seriously considering calling early parliamentary elections so that it can secure the 2/3 majority it needs in parliament pass constitutional amendments needed to prevent its closure. The election would also have the anticipated effect of bulwarking AKP's popular mandate and making it more difficult to justify its closure. Due to AKP reform of Article 301, procuring MHP support for the package became an impossibility and with it any hope of securing the passage of constitutional amendments aimed to save AKP (see April 9 post). The paper quotes AKP Ankara deputy salih Kapusuz:
"The AK Party has three options in front of it. It will either do nothing and
wait for the Constitutional Court's decision, which apparently will not be in
its favor, or it will find support in Parliament to make the necessary changes
on political parties, though this also appears to be something very difficult,
or it will risk taking the package to the people and holding early elections. If
a referendum on the package and the early election are held on the same date,
this would turn into a "referendum of democracy." It is difficult for the AK
Party to find another way out."
Kapusuz suggested June 29 might be a good day to hold elections. Of note is that the election might also include a referendum on the constitutional amendments. According to Turkey's constitution, in order to call a referendum, parliament must pass the constitutional amendments by a simple majority. The vote would then be published in parliament's record and submitted to referendum. A simple majority vote is needed in the referendum for the amendments to become law. With 339 votes in parliament, AKP could easily pass the amendments with the expectation that they will fall short of the 2/3 majority required to become law and then prepare to have them approved by referendum. However, should the amendments be anulled by the Constitutional Court, there is no protection of the party from closure. Such a strategy also places AKP in a rush for time, as it must hold elections and pass amendments before the Court moves to close the party, and, of course, faced with such an aggressive strategy on the part of AKP, the Court might well be prompted to act quickly.

The paper also reports that AKP has not halted its plans to pass a new constitution as opposed to the ad hoc reforms it is currently seeking, but aspires to take up the constitution again following the elections and passage of the amendments. There might be a legal advantage in doing this as some legal experts claim that a new constitution can only be adopted by a newly-elected parliament. The party put on hold consideration of the constitutional draft an academic committee led by law professor Ergün Özbudun had devised.

MHP: The Only One Left?

A state prosecutor filed a legal inquiry with the Constitutional Court this past week over a YTL 3 million transfer of funds from CHP to the television channel Kanal Türk. It is alleged that the funds were paid so that Kanal Türk might propagandize on CHP's behalf. Although Zaman no doubt hopefully hinted earlier in the week that the charges might lead to a closure case being opened against CHP, this seems unlikely. As darkly amusing as it would be to have MHP be the only party represented in parliament that is not facing a closure case, it is unlikely that CHP-sympathetic prosecutors will take such a move. There also is a debate as to whether CHP even violated the Political Parties Law that would require the Chief Prosecutor to file a case against it and I cannot make heads or tails of the analysis because it is all couched in the obvious political slant of the paper presenting it.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Opportunities Missed


Demands for more than bananas . . .

From Today's Zaman:
Sezgin Tanrıkulu, the head of the Diyarbakır Bar Association, says a considerable part of the Kurdish population sees armed struggle as legitimate because they think they are excluded from the democratic process.

According to Tanrıkulu, it is possible to change this understanding by taking democratic steps. He and the representatives of 17 civil society organizations from eastern and southeastern Anatolia met with President Abdullah Gül and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to share their views on economic and democratic solutions to Turkey’s Kurdish question last week. At the meeting with Erdoğan, he and Tanrıkulu exchanged harsh words on the subject of education in Kurdish. In an interview with Sunday’s Zaman Tanrıkulu explains the situation in eastern and southeastern Anatolia and his concerns about the possibility of local Turkish-Kurdish clashes.
At your meeting with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan you had a discussion about “mother tongue” education. What do you mean by that?

There are different points about it. “Education in one’s mother tongue” means using the language in all levels of education. But “mother tongue education” means simply to teach this language. Although I defend the right of “education in one’s mother tongue,” under the given circumstances, Turkey can only reach a consensus on “mother tongue education.” But the problem is that now, in Turkey there is categorical objection to all mother tongues except Turkish. The prime minister says only minorities have the right to mother tongue education. [According to law, only non-Muslims are considered minorities in Turkey.]

What is the situation in Turkey now, and what do you want, exactly?

Turkey opened the way for mother tongue education, but only in private courses. Most of these courses have been closed, anyway, because the regulations were restrictive. They were open only for people older than 15, and finding teachers was very difficult. Mother tongue education should be done in all public schools. There should be elective courses in the public schools. We are also asking for the establishment of Kurdish departments and institutions at the universities. Also, all the obstacles and restrictions on broadcasting in languages other than Turkish should be removed. Regarding the broadcasting, there are no legal obstacles, actually. The law indicates that this kind of broadcasting is allowed. But the regulations of the Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK) say that it is done only by the TRT. We opened a court case against this regulation with the Council of State, but our application was rejected on the basis that we didn’t have a right to open such a case.

What exactly happened in the discussion between you and the prime minister?

He said the problem only has an economic aspect. He told us that Kurds can be presidents, prime ministers and deputies. I told him that there is a cultural aspect to the problem, too, and that not just Kurds but anyone in Turkey who feels different should be able to learn, broadcast and get services in his language. Then the prime minister told me that I was wrong and that there is nowhere in the world where this is possible and he gave the example of Germany. But I told him that in Germany it is possible to learn Turkish in schools. He said that in Sweden Turks can learn Turkish only in private courses. I replied by saying that in Sweden it is even possible to learn the Laz language. Then he told me that I was lying, so I left the meeting.

When you are talking about providing public services in the mother tongue, are you suggesting official languages other than Turkish?

There is no discussion about that, and there is no reason for that. There is only one official language of the Turkish Republic, and it is Turkish. The situation of the Diyarbakır Sur Municipality is very dramatic. Their council made a decision to provide some services in Kurdish. The mayor has a court case against him because he published some fliers in Kurdish. This is absurd. If this is a crime, then English-language publications from the Ministry of Culture is a crime, too. The Interior Ministry did an investigation and claimed that the municipality was being used as a political place, so the mayor and the city council were removed from the office by the Council of State. Turkey should not have to deal with these kinds of things anymore.

You mention that there is a categorical rejection of the Kurdish language, but if we consider the demands of Kurds, where can there be consensus?

Actually it is not that difficult. There are some steps that have to be taken on the cultural level. I mentioned the ones related to Kurdish. There is a fear on the part of the state and the government: What will we do if everybody wants the same accommodations? If we start, will it take us to chaos? But there is no reason for this. If the people get their rights, why should they ask for more? Kurds are losing their faith in democratic solutions, and there are a considerable number of people who think that the armed struggle is legitimate. We should look for ways to change this situation.

On one side, there is an understanding that is rejecting everything. On the other side, there is another understanding that thinks the armed struggle is legitimate. Why is a third way not emerging?

Kurds do not have a dialogue amongst themselves. There is a lack of tolerance. Also, under the circumstances it is not possible. Neither the state nor the organization [the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK)] want this. There are only civil society organizations but, of course, by nature they cannot have the same spirit as a political party. But, yes, there is a vacuum; so far it is being filled with civil society organizations, and I think they are getting stronger.

Why do some groups consider violence legitimate?

Because of the policies related to the Kurds. For 20 to 25 years there has been no change in the situation. Over time this led some people to think that if there are no guns, we will be suppressed. This understanding has now become the dominant understanding. I never think that the violence is legitimate, but it has social legitimacy in the region. The state should be aware of this, and it should take steps accordingly. It is very important to create faith in democratic solutions among these people. This will lead to the strengthening of a feeling of belonging. Otherwise, it will be very difficult.

If the state implements such a strategy, who should it talk to about this?

There is no need for a counterpart. The only counterpart is the citizens. The state can say, “I do it for my Kurdish citizens.” Then the citizens can turn to those who are thinking that the armed struggle is legitimate and say, “Don’t use guns in our name.” Once the democratic atmosphere develops, then Kurds can have dialogue among themselves without hypocrisy. Today, all the Kurdish parties are hypocritical. They are not able to share their real agenda with society. It is not possible under the circumstances. Kurds are not able to say what they really want because of the lack of a democratic atmosphere.

There have been many recent developments in Turkey, like the closure case against the AK Party and discussions about the economic situation. But the Kurdish question is not on the agenda that much, is it?

This is exactly why we decided to visit Ankara. Before these developments, the Kurdish question was on the agenda and seriously under discussion but, because of some coincidences -- interestingly, every time the Kurdish question is on the agenda these kinds of coincidences always come up -- the closure case against the AK Party was opened and the discussions on the Kurdish question were once more postponed. According to us, they should not be postponed. Because to postpone the solution opens wounds that cannot be healed. Think about the Nevruz events. There was nothing in Diyarbakır or İstanbul, but events in Van, Siirt and Hakkari reminded us of the images that we are used to. The women who are beaten up, the children whose arms are twisted and a security official who is saying that he will not shake hands with a deputy; all these things have led to more social indignation. This indignation leads to social disengagement. Everybody is asking if we will go back to the old days. The government has no excuse; these officials are appointed by them. If they were judges or army officers, the government could say, “It is not under my jurisdiction.” But they can easily remove those officials from their posts. I never saw a governor who was removed from his post for this reason. Turkey should give up this kind of understanding. We mentioned this in our meetings, too. The prime minister himself also mentioned that there was no problem in Diyarbakır or Ankara. But he added that in other places the public was holding illegal demonstrations. Even if this is the case, this should not be the attitude toward citizens. In a state of law, the understanding cannot be “If the citizens do this, I will act like this.”

How do you evaluate the recent clashes at Akdeniz University? For some it was a simple crime of passion, while for some it was a Kurdish-Turkish clash.

This is exactly the point where we should be hesitant. This is why we have to find a solution before it is too late, because the prospect of clashes between the two societies is increasing. The feelings of the police and soldiers’ families during the March 28 events [in 2006 after a funeral for some PKK members, there were demonstrations in which 10 people were killed] are on the one side and, on the other side, in İstanbul and Ankara, Kurds are withdrawing into their own ghettos. If it goes like on this, it can turn into Turkish-Kurdish clashes and it would be the end of the country.

For some people it is hard to believe that there are many mixed families. The two societies have been interwoven for years. Do you agree?

Recently I had a chat with a prison guard in Van. He is originally from the Black Sea region. I asked him if he will stay in Van. He told me that his father told him that he does not want anyone in the family who has Kurdish friends. Also, the Kurds who migrated to the west a long time ago have started to buy houses in Diyarbakır because they don’t think that these places are safe for them. This kind of sentiment can turn into clashes. Recently I saw a security official on TV who was saying that the Mediterranean coast had been captured by Kurds. If this is the mentality, there could be clashes -- maybe not in general, but local ones.

What could be the possible impact of these events for the upcoming local elections in the region?

One year is a very long time for a country like Turkey, but I can say that among the Kurds who voted for the AK Party in the general elections there has been a huge amount of disappointment. If it goes on like this, it will be difficult for the AK Party to capture the same success in the region. It is true that it is not easy to deal with the Kurdish problem, but the AK Party should take steps on the issue. To be the architect of peace is a very rare opportunity. The AK Party has this chance, but it is not using it properly.
For more on the Tanrikulu-Erdoğan spat, see April 12 post.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Can Article 301 Prosecutions Become Even More Political?

Publisher Ragıp Zarakolu is currently charged under Article 301 for insulting "Turkishness" thanks to his publication of a translation of George Jerjian’s The Truth Will Set Us Free. According to Today's Zaman, the book is a call for reconciliation between Turks and Armenians and tells the story of how a Turk saved the writer’s Armenian grandmother. The newspaper's profile of Zarakolu includes the publisher's skepticism that reform to Article 301 will amount to anything.

Indeed, Zarakolu hints that the reform measure might even foment the zealotry of the prosecutors who are pursuing his case. One of the provisions of the new law currently awaiting consideration by the parliament's General Assembly is a reduction of the maximum sentence allowed under the criminal code from three to two years so that the sentence might be suspended. Sentences can only be suspended for prison terms less than two years. Individuals found guilty and sentenced under Article 301 are frequently sentenced for periods of less than two years and often serve suspended sentences. Zarakolu is serving such a sentence right now for another piece of journalism. According to Zarakolu, although his sentence would be eligible for suspension under the new law, the fact that he is already serving a suspended sentence combined with the intense political climate might well land him in prison. Remarkable is the fatalism the publisher has adopted, but, really, what is the man to do?

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Der Spiegel Assesses Impact of 301 Reform

From yesterday's Spiegel Online:
ANKARA TO CHANGE ONE LAW, BUT OTHERS STILL MUFFLE DISSENT—Stefanie von Brochowski

This month, Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) plans to soften the controversial Article 301 of the Turkish penal code, which makes it a crime to "denigrate Turkishness." The law has been used to prosecute numerous intellectuals who dared to speak out about the 1915 Armenian killings during the last years of the Ottoman Empire, most notably Turkish Nobel Prize-winning novelist Orhan Pamuk and journalist Hrant Dink. A Turkish court later dropped the charges against Pamuk. Dink was found guilty and received a six-month suspended prison sentence. A nationalist teenager later shot and killed him.

The bill to amend article 301 was approved by a parliamentary committee on Friday and is set to go to the floor on Tuesday.

Late last year, the European Union warned Turkey that if it didn't move to cut or amend the law, its prospects for membership might be reduced to null. "It is not acceptable that writers, journalists, academics and other intellectuals ... are prosecuted for simply expressing a critical but completely non-violent opinion," EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn said at the time.

But even as the Turkish government moves to modify Article 301, legal experts are criticizing the fact that a number of statutes are still on the books in Turkey that pose a potential threat to free speech.

Article 288 of the penal code, for example, outlaws making public comments about an ongoing court case. Fethiye Cetin, formerly a lawyer for ethnic Armenian journalist Dink, said the law has been used by nationalist-minded judges to prevent public criticism of human rights violations. She also noted that, due to their ambiguity, a number of laws could be applied arbitrarily to silence dissidents. One of them, Article 305, makes it a crime to "engage in deeds that run counter to fundamental national interests."

"It’s all a matter of interpretation," Cetin told SPIEGEL ONLINE. "Some articles should be removed, but that’s not enough. What we need is for judges and prosecutors to believe in human rights and freedom of expression."

The AKP seems to be listening to criticism of Article 305. Huseyin Tugcu, a paliamentarian who is one of the founders of AKP and a member of the committee on foreign affairs, told SPIEGEL ONLINE on Friday: "The EU is right when they say that also Article 305 is open to a judge's interpretation." He continued: "At the moment, it is our main concern to improve Article 301 for our people, but if there will be problems in the future, we can also discuss Article 305. But at the moment, there aren't any such plans."

Other laws seen as obstacles to freedom of expression include Article 216, which makes it a crime to "incite people to hatred and hostility," and Article 318, which criminalizes "discouraging the public from serving in the army."

Ambiguous Statutes

Atilla Yayla, a political science professor at Ankara's Gazi University, said he fell victim to a similarly ambiguous statute. The academic caused an uproar in his country with a speech in which he allegedly insulted Turkey’s revered founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk by calling him "this guy." Turkish media called him a traitor, extremists threatened his life and a court handed him a 15-month, suspended prison sentence in January.

Yayla was punished under the lesser-known statute 5816, which is meant to protect Ataturk's legacy but, according to human rights lawyers, is one of about three dozen laws that limit freedom of expression in Turkey.

The law most criticized outside Turkey, though, is Article 301, which in its current form makes insulting Turkish identity or the country’s institutions punishable by up to three years in prison. Like dozens of other Article 301 trials, the lawsuits against Orhan Pamuk and the late Hrant Dink were filed by ultra-nationalist Kemal Kerincsiz. The well-known lawyer was arrested this year in connection with an investigation into a shadowy gang accused of plotting to bring down Turkey’s moderate Islamist governing party.

AKP’s original proposed amendment of Article 301 would have required prosecutors to seek approval from the Turkish president before filing any charges under the law. But sources in parliament say that, under pressure from the opposition, the draft has been changed so that the Ministry of Justice would be responsible for approval. The new law would also lower the maximum prison sentence from three to two years and thereby open the way for the suspension of prison terms. In Turkey, a prison sentence that does not exceed two years can be suspended by the court unless the offender commits the same crime again. With AKP controlling more than 60 percent of the seats in parliament, the measure is expected to pass by a comfortable margin.

'This Amendment Will not Change Anything'

But lawyer Cetin, who represents Dink’s Turkish-Armenian weekly Agos, doesn't believe the change will make a difference for intellectuals in Turkey. She said that even the revised version of Article 301 could still be applied arbitrarily.

"It is obvious that this amendment will not change anything, because its substance hasn’t been changed," she said. "There are taboos, and when you break them the state reacts in a knee-jerk way. These taboos include the Cyprus conflict, the Kurdish and the Armenian issue. And this causes self-censorship, which is the most dangerous one."

Meanwhile, academic Yayla worries that the case against him will also cause more academics to censor themselves. "By looking at my situation probably they tell themselves ‘keep quiet, don’t get involved in critical issues, don’t speak out, keep your ideas to yourself’," he said.

Officials charged Yayla after he gave a speech in late 2006 at a youth conference in the coastal city Izmir, in which he noted that Turkey’s single-party era, from 1925-45, was not as progressive as the later years of the republic with respect to freedom of expression, religious freedom and rule of law. In his speech he also noted that the ubiquity of Ataturk statues and pictures in Turkey might astound foreign visitors. The local newspaper reacted with a front-page story.

"There was a lynching campaign in the media against me," the soft-spoken academic told SPIEGEL ONLINE by telephone from England, where he teaches as a visiting professor at the University of Buckingham.

"After seeing the headline of the local newspaper, called Yeni Asir, which declared me a traitor, I immediately understood that something bad would happen. But what happened exceeded my expectations."

Legal complaints, one of them filed by the Izmir Bar Association, prompted prosecutors to file criminal charges against Yayla. His university in Ankara initially dismissed him over the controversy, but it has since given Yayla his job back.


'Turkey Is not Yet Able To Handle Freedom of Speech'


Kadir Sivaci, an editor of Yeni Asir, remembers discussions about the case in the newsroom. "The things he said at the panel in Izmir, for example calling Ataturk ‘this guy’, offended us," he said, explaining the newspaper's initial reaction. But the editors of the daily soon regretted how they covered Yayla's speech.

"We understood our responsibility, and we understood how wrong it is to make people a target like this," he said. "Unfortunately it is very difficult for us to stay impartial on some sensitive issues. Turkey is not yet able to handle freedom of speech when it comes to subjects like Ataturk."

'There Will Be Chaos'

Many here believe that the legacy of Ataturk, who founded modern Turkey from the ruins of the Ottoman Empire and sought to make it a modern, secular state, requires special protection. To that end, even some journalists defend legal limitations like Article 301.

"Article 301 says ‘do not insult the state and its institutions.' It doesn’t say you cannot express your opinion," said Hayri Koklu, editor of the national-conservative daily Yeni Cag. "Shouldn’t there be laws in a democracy that protect against slander? If you abolish Article 301, there will be chaos."

Alper Gormus, former editor of the popular investigative magazine Nokta, said that in his case it was not merely the laws but also Turkey’s powerful military that interfered with press freedom.

Last March Nokta ran an article about an internal military document that categorized some journalists and organizations as being "against the army." The police, under instructions from a military prosecutor, raided the offices of the magazine shortly after the story was published, confiscated documents and copied computer hard drives.

"The magazine was stormed, and we lived with the policemen there for three days. They stayed overnight, too," Gormus said.

Turkish media organizations called the practice an affront to press freedom.

Shortly before the owner closed down the journal, it also published a story that claimed there had been a plot to stage a military coup in 2004 against the ruling AKP government.

Indicted for slander under Article 267 of the Turkish penal code by a retired navy commander named in the story, a court in Istanbul last Friday acquitted the former chief editor of Nokta on all charges. Meanwhile, Turkish media report that the "coup memoirs" mentioned in the story have been identified as files saved to computers of the former navy commander who sued Gormus.

Atilla Yayla wants to return to Turkey despite the issues that writers, journalists and intellectuals face. After the death threats he’s received, he only leaves the house with a police bodyguard when in Turkey.

"I have only one country," he said. "Turkey will change. I believe that in the mid-term and the long run we will have more freedom of expression. I am optimistic."

The PACE Flop

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) has issued a statement expressing worry over the AKP closure case. Almost all in Europe and the news would mean little save for an accusation that the statement was elicited by the head of the Turkish delegation to PACE, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu. According to PACE President Luis Maria De Puig, the statement was issued at the behest of Çavuşoğlu, a charge that he denies. Opposition members in PACE then chastised Çavuşoğlu and said that the parliamentary committee as a whole did not request Puig to issue the statement. The whole affair is embarrassing for AKP, but perhaps more ridiculous is the enormous fuss AKP opposition parties are making, using the incident to criticize AKP's use of foreign diplomatic pressure in what they argue is purely a domestic issue.

Elephant Indeed (and an Ass)

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice addressed the American-Turkish Council (ATC) yesterday in a speech much anticipated because it was still unclear as to what position the Bush Administration might take in response to the AKP closure case. While the EU has issued a series of firm criticisms, American officials are greatly divided on the issue. Many foreign policy realists favor a cautious approach so as to not jeopardize American security and business interests in the long-term while many officials in the still strong neoconservative lobby is opposed to the AKP government on ideological grounds. When the speech finally came, Rice made no mention to the closure case, but when asked in the question-and-answer period that followed, Rice reflected the divided and cautious stance of the Washington establishment: "It is a matter, obviously, for Turks to decide. We believe and hope that this will be decided within Turkey's secular democratic context and by its secular democratic principles. But I think it is in everybody's interest that it be done in this way, that the voters will be heard. Turkey has democratic institutions, and it is our great hope that it will be resolved in that context." As confusing as the statement State Dept. deputy spokesperson Tom Casey made in the weeks following the case's filing (see April 2 post), Rice's comments essentially dodge the question. An article by Zaman's Washington correspondent characterized Rice's remarks as essentially ignorning the elephant room. Ali H. Aslan of Today's Zaman speculated that Rice had been urged to take a cautious line on the closure case at the last minute:
Details became clear upon a little research. According to a source of mine that receives last-minute news from the American administration, one of the objections stated against referring to the closure case in the speech was this: If we put a strong emphasis on popular will, we will look like we are making a choice between the judiciary and the people and therefore we violate the principle of separation of powers. I also confirmed with my own sources that the section on the closure case was removed from the text in the last minute. My sources told me that these were some of the sentences taken out of Rice's speech:

"We are closely following the developments while the Turkish democracy is dealing with the closure case against the AK Party currently under review by the Constitutional Court. The elements of the case will be discussed by the Turkish people and the Turkish institutions and a final decision will be made based on the deliberations. Democracy is not easy; it is not perfect either. However, it is the best system that guarantees the will of the voters while ensuring commitment to the secular values and the rule of law."

After all, Rice would have never talked about the issue if the Turkish colleague had not asked that question. She was stressful when replying to this question. Her answer was choppy simply because she was careful to select appropriate words. Obviously, she was briefed on what she would say if she encountered such a problem and paid utmost attention to use previously agreed upon statements. She gave the message that they did not make a choice between democracy and secularism by using the "secular democracy" notion a few times in the speech in an attempt to not disturb certain circles in Turkey and the US, then expressed hope 'voters will be heard'.
Aslan concludes with a rhetorical question: Who is influencing the White House's policy toward Turkey. Undoubtedly, the cautious line is contrary to what many academics hoped would be a firm line against the closure case akin to the position taken by the European Union. However, this was not the case. American Enterprise Institute resident scholar Michael Rubin, at the forefront of the neoconservative establishment, urged Rice to completely ignore the question in a piece he authored in America's ultra-conservative National Review:
When Islamists pursue campaigns of hatred, Western officials not only pretend nothing is amiss but also, as in the case of Palestinian leaders, often increase their support. This week Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will address the judicial case against Erdoğan and the AKP. Members of her staff suggest she will lend subtle support to the prime minister. Indeed, it may be tempting to condemn the court action as a political stunt: The prosecutor’s legal brief is shoddily written and poorly argued. Despite its faults, however, the underlying legal issues are real.

Rice should be silent. Any interference will backfire: Turks, already upset that U.S. ambassador Ross Wilson seldom meets with opposition leaders, will interpret any criticism of the case as White House support for the AKP. Secularists will ask why Turkey’s liberal opposition should not have the right to all legal remedies. They already ask why the West applauds legal action taken against Austrian populist Jörg Haider and French demagogue Jean Marie Le Pen, but the same U.S. and European officials appear to bless Erdoğan’s legal exceptionalism. By undermining judicial recourse, Rice may accelerate violence and lead support to those who argue — wrongly — that the government’s disdain for the law and constitution should be met with the same. On the off-chance, however, that Rice accepts that the court case should run its course, Turkey’s religious conservatives will accuse her of masterminding the approach.

Over the past seven years, the Bush administration has made many mistakes. Bush was correct to recognize the importance of democratization; bungled implementation has turned a noble ideal into a dirty word. By equating democracy only with elections, the State Department and National Security Council fumbled U.S. interests in Iraq, Gaza, and Lebanon. One man, one vote, once; parties that enforce discipline at the point of a gun; and politicians who seek to subvert the rule of law to an imam’s conception of God do little for U.S. national security. Never again should the United States abandon its ideological compatriots for the ephemeral promises of parties that use religion to subvert democracy and seek mob rather than constitutional rule.

Turkey is nearing the cliff. Please, Secretary Rice, do not push it over the edge.
Rubin is one of many responsible for the American disaster in Iraq and is the chief hawk and so-called "Iranian expert" that is advocating for U.S. military engagement with Iran. I heard the man speak once at a forum in Washington in which he argued that if only the United States would take bold action against the Iranian regime (invasion?), the majority of Iranians would rise up to support the United States and democracy. Despite the fact that this highly contrary to opinion polls taken of Iranian citizens, many of whom are young and are indeed disenchanted with the regime, but also antagonistic toward U.S. intervention, Rubin's arguments seemed to win the audience over: a magical panacea for an otherwise difficult situation. Rubin's article in the National Review, and I suggest reading it so that you too can stare at your computer screen with your mouth agape in disbelief. Rubin's argument begins with a comparison of controversial Islamist Fethullah Gülen to Ayatollah Khomeini and then moves on to argue that AKP is preparing the way for an Islamist revolution in Turkey. The argument is baffingly misguided (and misinformed), but one would expect no less. Gülen does indeed have ties to AKP, but he has repeatedly denounced the Iranian Revolution and his Islamist movement bears no relation whatsoever to that of Khomeini. Khomeini was staunchly anti-American and clearly authoritarian in his approach long before he came to power. While Gülen should certainly not be immune to criticism, comparing him to Khomeini is preposterous. Further, likening the badly handled arrests of Cumhuriyet columnist İlhan Selçuk to an action taken by an authoritarian police state is equally ridiculous (for more information on Selçuk, see March 27 post).

While hopefully Rice is not being specifically guided by those in the White House's entrenched neoconservative establishment, Rubin's thought is cause for concern insomuch as it might seriously be leading American policymakers away from supporting the institutionalization of democratic procedures in Turkey. The issue of condemning the closure case has much less to do with AKP than it does with the need of bulwarking Turkey's democratically-elected government from what is shaping up to be another post-modern coup. Policy makers around Rice should realize that it is in the United States' interest to promote democratization in Turkey and hold true to Bush's stated support of Turkey's EU accession, which is now in great peril.

Luckily, the likes of Rubin are not the only American actors to have spoken out. In a recent article in the American popular news magazine Newsweek, Turkey experts Morton Abramowitz and Henri J. Barkey argue
. . . . the United States cannot stand on the sidelines. The threat to Turkey's stability is sufficiently grave, and the potential damage to U.S. interests so great that at some point a more forceful U.S. intervention is warranted. The United States must make clear privately, and if necessary publicly, that attempting to remove the AKP in this manner endangers bilateral cooperation and makes U.S. support of Turkish positions politically difficult. The hope is that Turkey recognizes it is far too tied to the West economically and politically to ignore such warnings altogether.

The ideal scenario now would be for all parties somehow to pull back from the abyss and adopt more conciliatory stances.
Noting that such a conciliation will prove difficult, the authors are right in arguing that the consequences of instability are great. Further, it is essential that the United States take a strong stand if only to make it clear to the political forces currently opposing AKP that closure of the party will isolate Turkey. While Turkey has been developing strong relations with Russia in recent years and despite the fact that the rising power of China continues to undermine the power of Western diplomacy, strong pressure from the United States and the European Union might cause those responsible for bringing the closure case to re-think it insomuch as it would be made clear that closure would essentially cut Turkey off from the West, ending Atatürk's ultimate Westward-looking project.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Baydemir Fined

I first mentioned this case against Osman Baydemir in February (see Feb. 18 post). The mayor was convicted and fined YTL 1,500. From Today's Zaman:

Diyarbakır Mayor Osman Baydemir was fined yesterday for voicing his support for a group of protesters during riots that broke out during funerals for several Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) terrorists in March 2006.

The rioting lasted for weeks and left more than 10 people dead. In his defense, Baydemir referred to the PKK terrorists as “militants,” saying: “The pain felt by the mother of a Turkish soldier when her son dies is the same pain felt by the mother of a militant when her son dies. I feel the same when either a Turkish soldier or a militant is killed in my province.” The court ruled that Baydemir’s remarks were not within the scope of freedom of speech and sentenced him to 50 days in jail for praising criminals, in accordance with Article 215 of the Turkish Penal Code (TCK).

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Turkey Seeks Spot on Security Council

From Gareth Jenkins:
Turks have recently been receiving an unexpected geography lesson as the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has stepped up its campaign to secure a seat on the UN Security Council when five places come up for election in October 2008.

In recent weeks Turkish newspapers have entertained their readers with photographs of government leaders, particularly Foreign Minister Ali Babacan, meeting a succession of dignitaries from little-known states in far-flung corners of the world, many of them exotically dressed in their local costumes. The AKP appears to have chosen April as the month of small island states. Last week, the leaders of leaders of Nauru, the Republic of Vanuatu, the Solomon Islands, the Marshall Islands, the Cook Islands, Tuvalu, Papua New Guinea, the Republic of Palau, Fiji, the Federated States of Micronesia, Samoa and Tonga arrived in Istanbul for a conference on how to improve Turkey’s almost non-existent ties with the Pacific. This week Foreign Minister of the Maldives Abdullah Shahid was in Ankara for discussions with his Turkish counterpart (Radikal, Turkish Daily News, April 17).

Turkey last served on the UN National Security Council in 1961. On July 21, 2003, eight months after it first came to power, the AKP formally submitted Turkey’s candidacy for election to the Security Council when a vote is held on October 16, 2008. If chosen, Turkey will serve a two year term starting on January 1, 2009.

Although Turkey would undoubtedly stand to benefit diplomatically and politically from being a member of the UN Security Council, it is likely that the AKP is at least as attracted by what it regards as the prestige and the boost to national pride that would accrue from serving, albeit temporarily, on one of the most powerful decision-making bodies in the world.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

DTP Removes Its Support for 301 Proposal

The Kurdish DTP announced yesterday at his party's parliamentary group meeting that DTP will not be supporting AKP's proposal to amend Article 301. According to DTP leader Ahmet Türk, the proposal falls short of addressing the fundamental problem of restrictions against freedom of speech in Turkey.
“Several circles have discussed whether the president should be entitled to give
permission for the prosecution of individuals under Article 301. Isn’t Turkey’s
aspiration to save individuals, journalists and writers from being charged under
this article?”
Türk drew attention to the numerous other laws under which individuals can be prosecuted for their speech and which are frequently wielded against DTP members and Kurdish activists. While the trial of Turkish intellectuals under Article 301 has attracted a great amount of attention from the Western press, cases against Kurdish politicians and activists under other articles of the penal code have attracted far less attention. Oftentimes, Kurdish activists and journalists are accused of acting in cahoots with organizations and newspapers that support terrorism and very little evidence is ever provided as to the validity of these accusations. For documentation of this phenomenon and the greater context of Türk's remarks and DTP's decision not to support AKP's proposal, see "Reform and Regression: Freedom of the Media in Turkey," a fact-finding report released in October by the Kurdish Human Rights Project in London, the Index on Censorship, the Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales, and the Centre for European Studies in Limerick, Ireland.

Same Speech, Same Courthouse, Different Ruling

If there was any doubt to the capriciousness entailed in the application of Article 301, it should be laid aside. Although Eren Keskin was found guilty in 2006 of violating Article 301 for critical remarks about the military, she has been acquitted for the same crime and in the same courthourse as that in which she was convicted last year. The crime for which Keskin was convicted last fall stemmed from commentary she gave at a conference in Cologne in 2002 in which she addressed the problem of sexual assault in the military. Keskin was convicted again this March for comments she made in a German newspaper (see March 22 post).

In Cologne, Keskin remarked, "The military in Turkey is involved in commerce. It buys and sells banks. It collects arms and capital in the same hand. As long as the country is not ruled by civilian forces, the problems of women will never be solved. The soldiers [i.e., the military] engage in sexual abuse. They even give married women chastity tests just to torture them." Two criminal investigations were opened against Keskin under Article 301 for the same remark. One investigation followed a complaint made by staunch secularist academic and CHP deputy Necla Arat and the other followed a complaint filed a year later by the police in İstanbul.

Keskin's 2006 conviction was in response to the complaint filed by Arat and was delivered by the Kartal Criminal Court of 3rd Instance. Her acquittal was issued in the Kartal Criminal Court of 5th Instance not far from the court that had convicted her the year before. The latter court ruled that Keskin's remarks "are only harsh criticism. They fall under the scope of freedom of expression."

The case further scandalizes the Turkish state's practice of convicting its critics for speech some state actors consider offensive. The Kartal Criminal Court of 3rd Instance sentenced Keskin to 10 months in prison. Although the verdict was converted to a fine of YTL 6,000, Keskin is appealing the ruling to the Supreme Court of Criminal Appeals and has vowed to serve her time in jail rather than pay it. The appeals court is expected to announce its verdict May 22.

Roj-TV and the 53 Mayors

A Diyarbakır court convicted 53 mayors on Tuesday for "praising a terrorist organization." The charges followed a petition to the Danish government that the mayor signed last year asking that the PKK-affiliated Roj-TV stay on the air. Roj-TV is the most watched television station in the southeast and is transmitted from a station in Belguim. The channel's ties with the PKK are currently being investigated by the Danish government, which license the broadcasts from the Belgian station into Turkey.

Turkish authorities have been relentless in their efforts to close the station, which often runs interviews with PKK members in mountain hideouts. However, Belgian and Danish government officials have not been so receptive to Turkey's very strong claims that the station incites violence. As always, the question of just how the organization is affiliated with the PKK is very complicated, and it is certainly not the mouthpiece the Turish government declares it to be. That said, it is entirely within the realm of possibility that the station receives a substantial amount of its funding from the PKK and ties are no doubt present. However, again, to understand the claim is to understand the PKK's complicated structure and dominance in the southeast. Many Kurds refer to the PKK as "the Organization," and is so a part of Kurdish political life that it is difficult to tackle any civil society project without being somewhat affiliated, or perhaps a better word is "entangled," within the larger PKK web.

Among the mayors prosecuted is the venerable Osman Baydemir, the mayor of the greater Diyarbakır municipality. Although the prosecutor had asked for two-year prison sentences, Baydemir's sentence and those of the 52 other mayors, mostly members of DTP, were commuted to a fine of YTL 1,835. In fact, at the case's inception, the prosecutor had asked that all 53 mayors be charged with aiding and abetting a terrorist organization, a charge that carries up to 15 years in prison.

In February, Belguim assessed a 4 million euro fine on Roj-TV and seized its funds. Although the station has been careful in recent years not to push too many boundaries, even running educational programs on the European Union.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Repression, Dissent, and the Turkish Press


PHOTO: Hrant Dink's body lies on an İstanbul street. The journalist was among one of the 41 murdered in less than 20 years. It is alleged that the murder is connected to the Ergenekon gang, a paramilitary organization with links to the Turkish Armed Forces.


At a meeting commemorating its twentieth anniversary, the Turkish Press Council reviewed restrictions on press freedom over the past twenty years. A report prepared by the Council documented the murder of 41 journalists since 1989, the most recent being the assassination of Hrant Dink in January of last year. According to its annual report, the press is under continued threat of state repression. Documented practices of repression include the physical assault of journalists by police forces (the report says this has largely been replaced by taking journalists into custody for various amounts of time), the prosecution of journalists under various laws that restrict freedom of speech and expression, press closure (such was the case with Nokta last year), and the restriction of press outlets from generating advertising monies.

The Press Council also discussed AKP's proposal to amend Article 301 and echoed criticism from other quarters that the changes would likely not amount to much in terms of furthering freedom of the press. Some members of the Council commented that the new law might in practice prove more obstructive than the old law in that journalists since the article changes the terminology of "investigation" to one of "legal proceeding" and adds additional steps to the process of prosecuting journalists under the article. One reporter told the Turkish Daily News that this amounts to requiring procecutors' to start an investigation, calling upon the journalist to come and make a deposition, then the expert preparing his report, the prosecutor preparing his or her indictment, giving it to the court, the court declaring the acceptance of the case, and then the legal proceedings would be started and the court would write to the president to ask for his permission.

Introduced to the parliamentary Justice Commission, pressure continues to build around proposal's vesting the president with the power to approve prosecutions. An article in Sunday's Radikal reported that President Gül had expressed skepticism about the measure's potential to turn the president's office into an "additional judicial court." In recent years, the number of 301 cases prosecuted has been well over one hundred and the job of granting prosecutors the green light would no doubt be cumbersome and, most importantly, very political. Justice Minister Ali Mehmet Şahin denied that the president is in opposition to the measure and Prime Minister Erdoğan defended it by stating that giving the president such approval is the only way to assure that approval of prosecutions is not political. Erdoğan expressed the opinion that the president's office is better suited for granting approval because other offices are political (such as that of the justice minister).

Turkey-Iran Partnership

From Gareth Jenkins:

Turkey and Iran will look to boost security cooperation during the 12th meeting of the Turkey-Iran High Security Commission in Ankara on April 14-18. The agenda is expected to be dominated by discussions about cooperation against violent rebel Kurdish groups: the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which targets Turkey, and the Party of Free Life of Kurdistan (PJAK), which is active in Iran.

The eight-member Iranian delegation is headed by Deputy Interior Minister Ali Akbar Mohtaj (Mehr News Agency, April 13). The Turkish delegation will be led by Interior Minister Undersecretary Osman Gunes and is expected to include senior officials from the Turkish National Police, National Intelligence Organization (MIT), the Gendarmerie and the Turkish Ministry for Foreign Affairs (Today’s Zaman, April 12). The previous meeting of the commission was held in Tehran in February 2006.

The commission was first established in 1988 but for the first decade of its existence was essentially moribund. During the late 1980s and early 1990s, elements from Iranian intelligence were in close contact with violent Turkish Islamists, providing them with arms and training in camps outside Tehran and using them to conduct surveillance and carry out attacks inside Turkey. The primary targets for Iranian intelligence were exiled Iranian dissidents. However, the Turkish Islamists trained in Iran also assassinated foreign diplomats stationed in Turkey, sometimes at their Iranian handlers’ behest, as well as and prominent Turkish secularists. Although Tehran provided little support to the PKK, it tolerated the organization’s activities inside Iran and offered a safe haven for PKK militants being pursued by the Turkish security forces.

“Many times, I watched the PKK terrorists flee across the border into Iran,” the late Gen. Dogan Beyazit once told Jamestown. “Whenever we protested, they would prevaricate and then send a car to the border and tell us to go and look for ourselves. But when we accepted the car would travel at 20 kilometers an hour, and then have a puncture or break down or something. By the time we arrived anywhere the terrorists had already gone. And then the Iranians would deny that they had ever been there. It was a lie, of course.”

It is now more than a decade, however, since violent Islamists with links to Iranian intelligence carried out attacks inside Turkey. Since the election of the moderate Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP) in November 2002 and particularly since the establishment of PJAK in 2004, security cooperation has improved dramatically.

. . . .

The PJAK has long presented the United States with a dilemma. Allegations, particularly by Tehran, that the organization is backed by Washington have been publicly denied. PJAK leader Haji Ahmadi was, however, allowed to visit Washington in the summer of 2007, when he met with some low-level U.S. officials.

Nevertheless, since the United States began supplying Turkey with intelligence against the PKK, there has been a noticeable hardening in attitudes towards Washington in PJAK propaganda. On April 13 Ahmed denied that the PJAK was receiving support from the US. “We have no relations with the Americans, and Iran’s claim that we have an alliance with America is not true,” she said (AFP, April 13).

The precise agenda of the Turkey-Iran High Security Commission in Ankara is currently unclear. However, there is no doubt that both countries have sufficient reason to want to boost security cooperation against the PKK/PJAK. Yet Turkey will be eager to avoid jeopardizing its access to U.S. intelligence on PKK movements in northern Iraq by being seen to be cooperating too closely with Iran. For the United States, the dilemma is probably even more acute. It has no desire to encourage Turkey to cooperate more closely with Iran, least of all on an issue with possible repercussions for stability inside Iraq. Yet, while the PKK continues to pose a threat to Turkey’s security, it is probably also unrealistic to expect Ankara’s full cooperation in any future international isolation of the regime in Tehran.

Sticks and Carrots

President of the European Commission José Manuel Barroso and EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn arrived in Turkey on Wednesday amidst much anticipation as to what exactly he was to say and do here. Both EU politicians stuck close to their line that closing down political parties is not in line with acceptable European political practice, but were careful not to dwell on the issue. Before their coming, Javier Solana, EU High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy, issued a stern warning in view of the closure case.
“I hope the Supreme [Constitutional] Court is sensible in its ruling because it would be a hard blow for Turkey and a blow for Turkey's relations with us in Europe . . . . The consequences could be very grave.”
Apart from the warning were EU promises that two more chapters are expected to be opened for negotiation of the acquis. The statement is no doubt intended as an award for AKP's promise to pursue further reform, in particular its decision to amend Article 301. It will is also valuable political capital much needed for AKP given the level of liberal and Euro-phile disenchantment with the party at the moment.

Relations between the EU and opposition parties were not so conciliatory. Expressing offense at EU meddling in what CHP and other opposition parties contend are Turkey's domestic political issues, CHP leader Deniz Baykal threatened to walk out of Barroso's address to Parliament should President Barroso mention the closure case. In his address to Parliament, Barroso did not address the issue head-on, but has repeatedly asserted that the EU does indeed have a serious stake in the issue and is perfectly within its right to issue commentary as a result of Turkey's pending EU application. Notably, Barroso also questioned Baykal as to CHP's support of the accession process and told him that EU politicians were unsure of CHP's support for Turkey's entry into the EU. Baykal responded that CHP had serious reservations about some measures involved in the accession process and shifted the burden to Barroso by arguing that support for the EU would be greater if CHP could be assured that the EU Commission was serious about Turkey's eventual entry. More evidence of why AKP seems to enjoy so much EU favor. . .

To this effect, see Ihsan Dagı's column (excerpt):
Looking at the political actors in Turkey, the Europeans are struck by the fact that there are not many with which to work. Comparing the AK Party and the CHP, the Europeans realize that the so-called pro-Islamic AK Party is more willing to cooperate with the EU than the so-called Kemalist social democratic CHP.

It is pretty obvious for the Europeans that despite slowing down on reforms, the AK Party is still the only political party committed to the idea of integration with the EU and prepared to make the necessary political reforms. Bringing Turkey to accession negotiations, the AK Party's performance between 2002 and 2005 was considered impressive by EU circles.

It must be noted that amid criticism of slowing down on reforms the AK Party cleared another hurdle before the closure case with a new foundations law improving the state of foundations held by non-Muslim citizens of Turkey. Also recall that this law was vetoed by the Kemalist former president, Ahmet Necdet Sezer. During the proceedings in Parliament the reformed law was strongly opposed by the CHP and Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) on the grounds that the AK Party was giving in to foreign pressure. The EU, in asking for such a reform, must have viewed these debates as an indication of pro and anti-reform groups in Turkey.

Moreover it is also known that the AK Party's commitment to EU membership is not confined to its leadership but also involves its grassroots. The latest opinion poll conducted by Pollmark, for instance, found support for EU membership at 59 percent. But the support for the EU among AK Party voters exceeds the average at 68 percent. So for the sustainability of the membership process the AK Party grassroots presents a better picture.

The EU values a dialogue between civilizations, particularly between the West and Islam, and is aware that this cannot be carried out by radical secularists. A "democratic secularism," as Barroso put it, is required to be a bridge between the two sides. It seems the AK Party is better equipped to play such a role than the CHP, which appears to sacrifice democracy for "militant secularism."

Monday, April 14, 2008

Murder in Gebze


An Italian woman making a mission of peace ended in violence. Pippa Bacca was hitchhiking from Italy to Tel Aviv in a wedding dress when was murdered in Gebze last week. Gebze is a town not far from İzmit and is the industrial center of Kocaeli, which is itself the industrial center of Turkey. A cityscape of the town from the main highway from here to İstanbul is comprised of an odd mix of minarets and smokestacks. I go there two times every week and I can honestly say it is one of the least attractive places I have ever seen in my life. This has absolutely nothing to do with the murder of this poor woman, but the event will no doubt solidify the idea of Gebze in my mind as a very unpleasant place. The event has saddened and embarrased many Turks and one woman commented to me today how unfortunate it is that the event might re-inforce negative attitudes toward the country in the minds of Europeans. Murders are very uncommon in Turkey, although violence against women is quite a large problem.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

The EU and Secularist Dogma

Interesting also to Barroso's tour were comments the Commissioner made the night before he left for Turkey: "We are looking for a secular, democratic Turkey. You cannot impose religion by force, you cannot impose secularism by force . . . . Since Turkey is an EU candidate country, we cannot be indifferent to this type of development." Some in the press have used tham as grounds to attack the closure case and as evidence that the EU is not at all comfortable with the Kemalist treatment of secularism. To this effect, see Mumtaker Tokone's column that appeared in Saturday's Today's Zaman (excerpt):
The type of secular understanding emphasized by Barroso for its liberal and democratic nature respectful of religious faiths is the one rejected by those who maintain that the AK Party should be closed. Their interpretation of secularism is based on a completely totalitarian and repressive understanding.

Today, the greatest obstacle preventing a real secular constitutional order from being settled in Turkey is this type of totalitarian secular interpretation. Barroso's approach provides an opportunity for comparing our secularism with its EU counterparts.

We can see the daunting reality of this totalitarian secularism in the indictment of the chief prosecutor of the Supreme Court of Appeals and in the previous rulings of the Constitutional Court. You can change the word "secularism" in the definitions and interpretations of the high judiciary with any word that has an ideological tone. What we are, then, faced with is an imposed "lifestyle," a "philosophical belief" and a harsh stance on utterly bad terms with the religious faiths of the society, in lieu of a legal principle meant to hold Turkey's "fundamental skeleton" together. Attempting to perpetuate this "thing," which is definitely not secularism, is possible through defending academic (or scholarly) thought and a totalitarian order. Asserting that the academic (or scholarly) understanding peculiar to the 19th century, which claims that the methods and principles of the positive sciences can be applied on society, is in fact a form of secularism, would be tantamount to defending a "scientific social order," which would make the entire world laugh at us.

One could defend such a thing only by taking on the approach of academics that there is only one knowledge system and that this system is based on unquestionable authorities. Adding arguments to an indictment -- every single one of which can be criticized scientifically -- before everything else means imprisoning the society in a medieval academic system prior to shutting down the AK Party.

Academic thought can be eliminated only through concepts. In the face of the never-ending secularism debates, the EU is itself a concept. Now, try to defend secularism as a "lifestyle," a "philosophical belief" and "opposition to religion," within EU standards. The things touched upon by Barroso indicate that secularism defined as a lifestyle would be treated as an iron curtain ideology.

Turkey is holding onto its power struggle through the principle of secularism, which is so fragile and precious that it cannot carry this load on its back. Those seeking legitimacy for their demands for power are, as usual, hiding behind their defense of secularism, whereas the real secularism which should live and be perpetuated is the secularism in effect in the EU. Furthermore, it is very obvious that those who see secularism as a lifestyle and who defend it as a philosophical belief against religion are an obstacle to Turkey's modernization, even when they have some sort of power, let alone their running the country.

Turkey is face to face with a crisis generated by the judiciary. The judiciary has transformed democracy into a guardian administration by establishing a guardianship over Parliament. Their reason for doing that is the effort to impose a totalitarian ideology on the society and then keep that ideology as strong as possible.
While it is true that Turkish secularism is particular and diverges in many ways from European treatment of religion in state and society, it cannot be said that Europe itself has a uniform understanding of secularism. France maintains the laicist practice of strictly separating religion from the public sphere, whereby French citizens are to appear to each other in public argument devoid of religious particularities. French laicism is most akin to Turkish secularism as evidenced by the fact that the very word for "secularism"—lailik—was directly lifted from the French laïcité. Meanwhile, Germans take a more American approach and instead seek separation of religion from the state sans restricting religious arguments in the public sphere. A critical difference between the French and German concepts of secularism is that while French laïcité asks citizens to abandon their religious identity when participating in politics, the German concept of secularism recognizes religion as a component of personal identity and makes accomodation for the role of religion in public life. In Germany's case, this does not mean that religion is not to be separated from the state, but rather that religion might be exercised in the public sphere in accordance with the German constitution's free exercise clause.

Turkish secularism is unique in that it is still very much grounded in a certain reverence to the natural sciences and Enlightenment absolutism that in France was undermined by later philosophical movements. As a result, there is indeed, as Tokone argues, a certain Newtonian dogmatism present in the thought of the Kemalist the elite. The rigidities of Enlightenment empiricism aside, Turkey will largely be expected to sort out competing versions of secularism for itself. The EU expressed that it is not in its domain to issue opinions as to the Turkish interpretation of secularism nor its application to the türban. Although sympathy has been expressed by Rehn and other EU politicians, such sympathy should not be read as constituing a firm European opinion. However, Europe does indeed offer a firm grounding for such a new coalescece of religion and politics, and EU institutions promise to hold in check the "rule from above" mentality that concluded in Europe with the end of enlightened monarchism.

Although Barroso did not spend a great amount of time addressing secularism, the fact that he touched upon it and that his comments have been picked up by papers like Zaman means that they might well bulwark support for the EU among those religious Turks who seek to re-work the state's approach to religion.