Thursday, July 31, 2008

AKP Saved by One Vote

PHOTO: Constitutional Court Chairman Haşim Kılıç, the only judge who ruled against any sanctioning of the party.

The Constitutional Court has just announced its decision regarding AKP's closure, which fell one vote shy of the seven judges required to close down a political party and consider banning the 71 politicians prosecutor Abdurrahman Yalçınkaya accused of violating the Turkish Constitution's protection of secularism. The 11-judge panel instead issued a decision that denies some treasury funding to the party. The fact that the vote was so close testifies to the case's divisiveness and the high drama that accompanied it. With financial markets actually gaining the past few days on expectation that the Court would rule not to close the party, the Court's decision affirmed expectations and surprised many commentators and several AKP politicians who were predicting closure.

Six judges voted for closure, four for penalities to be imposed on its state funding, and the Court's Chairman, Haşim Kılıç, voted against any sanction.

Kılıç did say that despite AKP's eventual salvation, he believed the party will get the message and curb activities that might be considered anti-secular. He also criticized press coverage of the closure case, which he felt was unfair to the Constitutional Court, and blamed Turkish politicians for not making it more difficult to bring a party closure case to the Court.

For coverage from the Turkish Daily News.

For coverage from Today's Zaman.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

More on Objectivity and the Turkish Press

Difficult to follow indeed . . .

From Yigal Schleifer at the Eurasia Daily Monitor:
In many ways, the Turkish press has been making news, as much as it has been reporting it. Several journalists were among those arrested in the Ergenekon affair, including the chief columnist and the Ankara bureau chief of Cumhurriyet, a secularist daily that has been extremely critical of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). Meanwhile, columnists and editors have been slinging serious mud, publicly accusing their rivals of distorting the truth. Four newspapers have even initiated a lawsuit against a competing paper that accused the plaintiffs of being "pro-coup."

"It appears that some parts of the Turkish media have been in support of Ergenekon," says Bulent Kenes, editor-in-chief of Today’s Zaman, an English-language newspaper that belongs to a media company closely linked to an influential Turkish Islamic movement and which publishes Zaman, the country’s largest circulation newspaper.

"Some of the big media organizations have been trying to blacken the case and trivialize it by producing fabricated news about the Ergenekon case, saying it was a tiny gang and that the government is trying to use it to create pressure on its opposition," he adds.

The pro-government press has been particularly critical of the Dogan Group, a media giant that publishes four of Turkey’s top-ten circulation papers, including the influential Hurriyet and Milliyet papers, and which has been less eager than its competitors to run with the Ergenekon story.

Sedat Ergin, editor-in-chief of Milliyet, says he has tried to take a more "cautious" tack on what has frequently been a sensationalized story. "When we have had reliable information, we have not been afraid to run with it. The accusation (that Milliyet has downplayed the Ergenekon story) is not fair. On the contrary, a series of articles we intended to publish on the issue was officially banned by the [case’s] prosecutor on the grounds that it might compromise the secrecy of the investigation," he says.

Adds the editor: "When such a polarization is rampant, in such a political atmosphere, every debate is held captive by this divide. Journalistically, it makes our job difficult. Ideology and strong political convictions become dominant and usually take precedence over the facts."

Indeed, when the Istanbul chief prosecutor, Aykut Cengiz Engin, recently released the Ergenekon indictment, he took the media to task for its reporting on the affair. "A great portion of the reports and commentaries [on Ergenekon] were not factual," he said at a press conference. "These reports, to a large extent, led to information pollution and the public was misinformed."

The use of disinformation in the Turkish media is nothing new. Planted press reports were instrumental in the Turkish military’s non-violent ousting in 1997 of the Islamist Welfare Party government -- an event that has come to be known as the "post-modern coup."

But the emergence of a powerful Islamic press and some questionable moves by the AKP, such as the recent sale of the bankrupt but influential Sabah ATV media conglomerate from state receivership to a business group run by the prime minister’s son-in-law, have given the government an unprecedented level of influence over media coverage, critics charge.

In the Ergenekon affair, for example, pro-government papers have been on the receiving end of a constant flow of sensational leaked information -- some of it patently false -- about the case. "The AKP is utilizing all its tools to control the media, either directly or indirectly. The government has learned how to manipulate the media -- you can see this especially in the Ergenekon case," according to SAIS’s Kaya.

"There is no balance in the support for the government by the pro-government media in Turkey," he says.

But Today’s Zaman’s Kenes contends that the aggressive reporting that his paper and others have done on the Ergenekon case does not mean they are blindly following the government’s lead. "We’re pro democracy. If the government does something wrong in terms of democracy, everybody will see that the Zaman group will resist that. We are independent of the government," he says.

What seems to have been lost in Turkey’s increasingly bitter journalistic scuffle is the chance for readers to find news they really can believe in, observers say.

"Everybody has had to take sides in one way or another," commented Bulent Aliriza, director of the Turkey project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a think tank in Washington, D.C. "It’s becoming harder to say that there is an independent media with an objective view."
For background on the press coverage of the Ergenekon investigation, see July 9 post.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Designs on Iraqi Oil


Neocon Richard Perle has his hands on the pie (and not so surprisingly). From Susan Schmidt and Glenn R. Simpson in today's Wall Street Journal:
Influential former Pentagon official Richard Perle has been exploring going into the oil business in Iraq and Kazakhstan, according to people with knowledge of the matter and documents outlining possible deals.

Mr. Perle, one of a group of security experts who began pushing the case for toppling Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein about a decade ago, has been discussing a possible deal with officials of northern Iraq's Kurdistan regional government, including its Washington envoy, according to these people and the documents.

It would involve a tract called K18, near the Kurdish city of Erbil, according to documents describing the plan. A consortium founded by Turkish company AK Group International is seeking rights to drill there, the documents say. Potential backers include two Turkish companies as well as Kazakhstan, according to individuals involved.

AK's chief executive is Aydan Kodaloglu, who, like Mr. Perle, has been involved with the American Turkish Council, an advocacy group in Washington. She didn't respond to requests for comment. Phyllis Kaminsky, who identified herself as the U.S. contact for Ms. Kodaloglu, said she herself was aware of the drilling plan but referred questions about it to Mr. Perle.

"Richard would know the most," Ms. Kaminsky said. "He is involved, I know that."

People with knowledge of the discussions said they involve Alexander Mirtchev, a Washington consultant and adviser to the government of Kazakhstan, and an associate of his, Kaloyan Dimitrov. Mr. Perle has attended events promoting the interests of Kazakhstan, an oil-rich nation whose ruler, Nursultan Nazarbayev, is involved in a long-running U.S. investigation of 1990s-era oil-company bribery. Mr. Perle has
publicly lauded President Nazarbayev as "visionary and wise," according to a publication distributed by the Kazakh embassy in Washington.

Mr. Perle said by email that Mr. Mirtchev is a friend of his who once spent a night at his vacation home in France. Mr. Perle said Mr. Mirtchev is "justly...proud of his influence on the liberalization of the Kazakh economy."

Asked about pursuing oil concessions, Mr. Perle said, "I am not involved in any consortium involving Mr. Mirtchev or Mr. Dimitrov, nor am I 'framing plans for a consortium'" involving either one. He declined to elaborate.

Brian Shaughnessy, a lawyer for Mr. Mirtchev, said his client "is not working on oil related projects in Kazakhstan or Kurdistan with Richard Perle, nor have they done any business deals of this nature." A lawyer for Mr. Dimitrov didn't respond to questions about oil discussions.

A spokesman for Qubat Talabani, the Kurdistan regional government's representative in the U.S., confirmed that the envoy had been approached by Mr. Perle. In a statement, Mr. Talabani said "one of my duties...is to seek out potential investors for our new, growing economy in Iraqi Kurdistan as well as respond...to all legitimate requests for investment information."

Kurdish authorities have been granting oil-drilling contracts even though Iraq's central government and the Bush administration want them to hold off until a national oil law is passed.

The K18 concession, which is estimated to hold 150 million or more barrels of oil, would potentially be operated by Houston-based Endeavour International, according to documents and people familiar with the discussions. A spokeswoman for Endeavour said, "At this point we wouldn't have anything definitely going on, and we wouldn't comment on anything that hadn't been publicly announced."

Mr. Perle also has explored obtaining an oil concession in Kazakhstan in tandem with a northern Iraq deal, according to people familiar with those discussions.

Mr. Perle, who was an assistant Defense secretary in the Reagan administration, is known for his strong support of Israel and hawkish views on arms control. In the early days of the Bush administration, he was one of the most influential proponents of U.S. military action to oust Iraq's President Hussein.

Mr. Perle was chairman of the Defense Policy Board, which advises the Pentagon, but resigned in March 2003 amid criticism of his role as an adviser to a telecom company that was seeking U.S. government approval for a sale to Asian investors. He is a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute think tank.

Trying to Piece It Altogether

Like the rest of us, trying to make sense of it all is Gareth Jenkins at the Eurasia Daily Monitor:
On July 25, the 13th Serious Crimes Court in Istanbul formally accepted the indictment in the 13-month investigation into the shadowy ultranationalist group known to the Turkish media as Ergenekon (see EDM, July 24) and set a date of October 20, 2008, for the first hearing in the trial. The 2,455-page indictment charges 86 defendants—of whom 47 are currently in custody and the remainder, mostly allegedly minor figures, free pending their trial—of membership of a terrorist organization.

The indictment was immediately hailed by the pro-government media as a historic milestone which would finally reveal the nefarious activities of a network of covert organizations with its roots in elements in the security forces and which Turks traditionally refer to as the derin devlet or “deep state.”

The fiercely anti-military Taraf daily trumpeted the indictment as heralding “the cleansing of the century” (Taraf, July 26). Meanwhile the pro-government Islamist daily Zaman seized on the allegations in the indictment that the Ergenekon gang had been responsible for virtually every act of political violence in Turkey in the last 20 years. “All the dark moments of Turkey’s recent history could be the result of a deliberate attempt by a central network to create a state within a state,” it reassured its readers (Zaman, July 26).

There is little doubt that the Ergenekon investigation is rooted in fact. But what is alarming about the indictment is that it extrapolates from a kernel of truth through rumor, hearsay, unsubstantiated supposition and simple invention into the realms of fantasy.

One of the most startling claims in the indictment is that Ergenekon was cooperating with—and in many cases had both created and subsequently controlled—the entire range of terrorist groups in Turkey, ranging from leftists and Kurdish nationalists through to violent Islamists; and was responsible for almost every political assassination in the country since the early 1990s.

The claim is a fiction, albeit a convenient one for conspiracy theorists and those non-violent Turkish Islamists whose own horror at the atrocities committed in the name of their religion by militant groups invariably results in them attempting to shift responsibility for them to other—usually mysterious—forces.

Writing in the Islamist daily Today’s Zaman, columnist Bulent Kenes proclaimed that the indictment proved that Ergenekon had “played a major role in the formation of the pro-Kurdish Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), the religious fundamentalist Hezbollah, Marxist-Leninist terror organization the Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party/Front (DHKP-C) and the fundamentalist Islamic Great East Raiders Front (İBDA-C)—and it still has the power over them to direct and manipulate” (Today’s Zaman, July 29).

Even if such claims were true, it would still leave questions such as how an organization which the indictment suggests was run by just a handful of men—who were so incompetent that they left diagrams detailing the names and roles of the leadership hierarchy lying around on tables in their offices and apartments—managed to create and control organizations which grew to be as powerful as the Turkish Hezbollah or the PKK. When the Turkish police seized Hezbollah’s archives in the late 1990s, they found 20,000 CVs from people wishing to become members and hundreds of videotapes showing the organization’s victims being tortured and murdered against a backdrop of quotations from the Qur’an. Perhaps more bafflingly, the alleged leaders of Ergenekon are known to have been actively involved in covert operations—including assassinations—against the PKK and DHKP-C in the 1990s and been targeted in return.

In reality, the truth behind Ergenekon is considerably more complex. The Turkish “deep state” has its origins in what are commonly called “Gladio” operations, the creation during the 1950s of indigenous stay-behind forces in NATO countries which were trained to conduct insurgent operations in the event of a communist takeover (see Terrorism Focus, January 29). There is evidence to suggest that Turkish Gladio forces were involved in covert operations during the clashes between leftist and rightist groups that brought the country to the brink of civil war during the 1970s. However, the heyday for the “deep state” in Turkey came in the late 1980s and early 1990s during the war against the PKK.

Contrary to most Turks’ assumptions, the “deep state” was never a single, centrally coordinated body. The emphasis of Gladio training was on serving as a catalyst rather than membership of a hierarchical structure. As a result, as it expanded to try to counter the PKK, the “deep state” was more of a web of networks and organizations—some linked, some semi-autonomous and some virtually completely autonomous—consisting not only of members of the security forces but also civilians, bureaucrats, journalists, academics, political organizations and even members of organized crime groups. The defining characteristic was not central control but legal immunity as the result of recruits in the judicial system. In addition to intelligence gathering, some elements in the “deep state” ran death squads, targeting members and sympathizers of the PKK.

By the late 1990s, with the PKK in retreat, many of the “deep state” groups became moribund. Some members retired. Others returned to their previous lives. A few turned exclusively to organized crime. There were even turf wars and assassinations as rival groups fought over lucrative activities such as access to state contracts and the narcotics trade.

One small group of former members of the “deep state” decided to establish a new group, initially to counter what it regarded as the increasing erosion of Turkey’s sovereignty as a result of its application for EU membership and more recently to combat what it saw as the anti-secularist policies of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government. They tried to recruit both from other former members of the “deep state” and ultra-nationalists and hard-line secularists who had previously had no involvement with it. There is little doubt that this new organization, which has become known as Ergenekon, planned to use violence. There is evidence to suggest that it was responsible for a handful of violent incidents, though nothing like as many as alleged in the indictment. But the claim that this new grouping was responsible for acts going back to the early 1990s, when it had not even been formed, is simply absurd.

In truth, Ergenekon is a hangover from the heyday of Turkey’s “deep state,” which was much larger and complex than in the simplistic conspiracy theories now being pedaled by AKP supporters. But, contrary to the claims of many of the AKP’s opponents, it was also as much a reality as the organizations which continue to resort to terrorism in Turkey in the name of socialism, Kurdish nationalism or Islam.

Monday, July 28, 2008

İstanbul Shook by Deadly Bomb Attacks


PHOTO FROM AFP

Two bombs were detonated last night in İstanbul's Güngören district, a shopping and residential neighborhood that is relatively quiet. So far, 16 people have died and over 70 were left wounded, many critically. The timing of the bombings was particularly destructive and well-orchestrated, as the first bombing brought many people to the aid of victims before the second and apparently larger bomb exploded. No group has claimed responsibility, although many are on edge since the attack follows last week's attack on the U.S. Consulate and comes amidst revelations about the Ergenekon organization. The bombings also occur before the Constitutional Court is to rule whether to close AKP.

Unlike past bombings, this attack targeted Turkish citizens and not tourists or foreign targets. Most disconcerting, the attack was clearly designed to kill as many civilians as possible, a modus operandi somewhat different than past bombings perpetrated by the PKK and homegrown Islamist groups. Many newspapers here have already pointed fingers at the PKK, although the group has denied they have any involvement in the attack. İstanbul Governor Muammer Güler also suggested that there seemed to be a link between this bombing and past PKK bombings. It should here be noted that it is not so easy to blame the bombing squarely on the PKK, as the main Kurdish terrorist organization responsible for such violent attacks on civilians are the Kurdistan Freedom Falcons (TAK). (No one is sure just how close the PKK is to TAK.) While the PKK has yet to renounce violence, it has also not targeted Turkish civilians on a large-scale. If this bombing is indeed the work of the PKK or PKK-affilated organizations, it is serious cause for concern. Al-Qa'ida is also a very real possibility, as is involvement by paramilitarists like those accused of being part of the Ergenekon gang (at which the pro-AKP press is also pointing fingers). So, the question that bears most heavily is just who is responsible for this tragedy.

From the New York Times:
Two bombs exploded within minutes of each other late Sunday in a crowded pedestrian area of Istanbul, killing at least 16 people and wounding more than 150 in what the city’s governor called a terrorist attack.

The double bombing appeared to be the worst case of terrorist violence in Turkey in nearly five years and seemed to take the Turkish authorities by surprise. There were no immediate claims of responsibility, although Kurdish separatist militants were initially suspected.

Residents in buildings near the explosion sites hung Turkish flags from their windows and balconies in reaction to rumors that the separatists were responsible.

There was no obvious reason the Istanbul neighborhood that was bombed, which is almost completely residential, had been the object of a terrorism plot.

The first blast, which the police and witnesses said was relatively minor, attracted scores of onlookers curious about the commotion, with at least some of them thinking it was caused by a gas leak explosion. Many of the onlookers were then hit by flying shrapnel and debris in the second, more powerful blast about 10 minutes after the first and about 20 yards away, the governor of Istanbul, Muammer Guler, said in a news briefing broadcast by Turkish television.

Witnesses described a scene of panic with victims lying on the street in pools of blood. The bombings seemed timed to exploit the summer pastime of many residents of the pedestrian area of Gungoren, in central Istanbul, to stroll in the cool late evening before going to bed.

“It’s surely a terror attack, there’s no doubt,” Governor Guler said. “Because people were gathered after the first explosion, and because the second explosion happened right after, people sitting right across got severely injured.”

Senol Simsek, a witness who provided first aid to the wounded, told the NTV television network that he had seen at least five people lying and writhing near a telephone booth that was destroyed. The police quickly sealed off the entire area and closed it to all traffic.

Hayati Yazici, deputy prime minister who happened to be visiting Istanbul on Sunday, visited the bombing site and told the Anatolian News Agency: “It is obvious that this is the work of a villain organization, a person or people, however it is not certain as to who this is. Our friends are investigating, it will be discovered for sure.”

The double bombing appeared to be the most serious terrorist attack here since twin truck bombings at two Istanbul synagogues killed 23 people and wounded more than 300 on Nov. 15, 2003. An obscure group linked to Al Qaeda took responsibility for the synagogue blasts, which were the worst in a series of explosions blamed on Islamic extremist groups that year that killed more than 60 people.

Why Are the Neocons Attacking Turkey?

At it again, but now messing with Turkey and an explanation for all those nasty articles coming from Michael Rubin . . .

From Avni Doğru in Foreign Policy In Focus(excerpt):
Some neoconservatives in Washington are obsessed with attacking Iran before President Bush leaves office at the end of this year. Hence, they have been pushing the Bush administration for increased economic and political isolation of Iran in order to weaken its current regime. Crucial to this plan is the support of Turkey, a traditional U.S. ally and an increasingly critical player in the region.

But to the enormous frustration of the neoconservatives, such an attack does not align with Turkey's interests given its newly enhanced regional ties, maturing democracy, and new foreign policy. Instead, Turkey plays the negotiator role and favors diplomacy and direct talks to resolve the dispute over Iran’s nuclear program.

With neoconservatives pressing for an attack on Iran and Turkey maneuvering to play a mediating role, which way will U.S. policy swing?

. . . .

Frank Gaffney, Daniel Pipes, and Michael Rubin, three leading neo-con writers, have published pieces equating Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan with far-right ultra-nationalist politicians such as France’s Jean-Marie Le Pen, Austria’s Joerg Haider, and even Osama bin Laden. They have accused the AKP and Erdogan not only of having a hidden agenda to turn Turkey into an Islamic state, but also of paving the way for an Iranian-style Islamic revolution by Fethullah Gülen, a prominent religious leader known for his moderate and progressive views. Moreover, Rubin defended both the case to shut down the ruling AKP and the coup launched by the Turkish military last year as democratic. These accusations and assertions against the AKP government were harsher even than those made by the government’s own critics. Rubin’s arguments went largely ignored in Washington, since they are in clear conflict with U.S. foreign policy. However, they were more than enough to rally his friends in the Turkish military.

In addition to attacking the Erdogan government, Rubin claimed that Massoud Barzani, the president of the Regional Kurdish Government in Iraq, of selling U.S. arms to the Kurdish separatist group PKK. Rubin even went as far as to boldly suggest that Turkey should capture and imprison Barzani next to PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan in the Turkish island prison of İmrali in order to stop the PKK terror. Once again, although not taken seriously in Washington, Rubin’s arguments were applauded in Turkey by the hawkish wing of the military general staff. His surreal arguments were reflected as “American expert opinion from Washington” in Turkey’s anti-AKP media outlets to create an illusion of international support for their cause.

The neoconservative campaign has had two main goals. The first has been to team up with non-democratic powers within Turkey, primarily some circles within the military as well as the state and the political system, to oust the democratically elected government. A less democratic Turkey with a more dominant and politically active military would be more susceptible to neocon pressure to support a U.S. attack on Iran. The second goal has been to strengthen the Israeli-Turkish alliance by boosting the influence of the more Israel-friendly military circles within the Turkish politics. Not surprisingly, in order to strengthen the position of the military in Turkish society, the neoconservatives have not hesitated to support something the Bush administration has been desperate to avoid: opening another front in the Iraq War by supporting a possible Turkish incursion into northern Iraq to hunt down PKK terrorists.

. . . .

The teaming up of U.S. neoconservatives with pro-military and anti-AKP circles in Turkey in an effort to topple the Erdogan government is self-destructive and has little chance of success, given popular support for a stronger and more pluralistic democracy in Turkey. Moreover, such neoconservative manipulations taint the image of the United States in Turkey, even at a time now when the Bush administration is distancing itself from many neoconservative positions.

The Bush-Erdogan summit in Washington in November 2007 marked the beginning of a new era in U.S.-Turkish relations. The Bush administration put pressure on Congress to squelch a resolution calling on Ankara to acknowledge the Armenian genocide, and Turkey got a more sympathetic audience for its security concerns related to the PKK in northern Iraq. Both sides now keep communication channels open in order to avoid the kind of dips in relations that have taken place in the past.

It is in the U.S. interest for Turkey to play an expanded peacemaking role in the region. But for Turkey to do so, it must continue on its current path of democratic reform. By supporting the military’s return in Turkey and a more hardline approach to Iran, U.S. neoconservatives want to turn the clock back on Turkish reform and plunge the entire region into even greater chaos.
For the full article, click here.

Ergenekon and the Left

The Ergenekon indictment was made public this Friday, but is still being turned over by Turkey's many pundits. Additionally, on Wednesday, 26 more individuals were arrested for links to the Ergenekon gang. Contrary to the arrests of hardline secularists that came at the beginning of July, those arrested in the latest raid are connected with Islamist-nationalist views. Many are affiliated with the National Solution Journal, an intellectual sounding post for such past Islamist parties as Refah and Saadet. Accusations about links to the PKK, leftist-nationalist terrorists, and Islamists continue to abound while many are left simply baffled at just what exactly to make of it all. The individuals arrested represent a vast collection of organizations, movements, and perspectives that have no semblance to each other and render the investigation all the more incoherent. Despite what I believe is almost every responsible person's total disorientation, for consideration is an article in today's Sunday Zaman. The piece considers the Turkish left and its various stances toward Ergenekon while considering the left's reluctance to take much stock in the investigation.

From the Sunday Zaman:
The Ergenekon investigation has triggered an animated discussion among the leftists of Turkey about their position regarding the deep state. In this self-critical discussion, the leftists accuse each other either of being supportive of coups d'état or being helpful to the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party), which some leftists see as being "democratic only for itself."

There are suggestions for a third option, too: not taking sides with either the AK Party or the coups.

Prominent leftist intellectual Professor Baskın Oran claims that the reason for this situation is the obsession of the left with secularism, while another professor, Mithat Sancar, thinks it is right to be suspicious of the AK Party but that the left should not make the mistake of not taking a side.

According to Marxist Sungur Savran, there are three types of leftists in Turkey, and their positions regarding the Ergenekon investigation are closely connected to these positions. The globalist left thinks history is a clash between the state and civil society, and that in Turkey the state is the main obstacle to the improvement of civil society. Savran states that for globalist leftists the guarantee of democracy is the European Union.

According to Savran, the second type is the nationalist leftist. These leftists believe the aim of globalization is to destroy the nation-state and that the US administration wants to destroy the Turkish Republic, which, in their view, is the best thing that could happen to Turkey.

Also in order to succeed, the US administration is trying to turn Turkey into a model of “moderate Islam” by using the AK Party. According to the nationalist left, the guarantee of the continuation of the republic is the military.

Savran cites the third kind of leftists as the Marxist internationalists, who think globalism is actually a competition among the nations. Their aim is the unification of all the working classes of the world, instead of unifying with the EU, which they consider an imperialist entity. Their focus is the class struggle.

Savran’s classification of the left can be helpful in understanding the position of different leftists on Ergenekon. The globalist left strongly supports the Ergenekon investigation and wants to see it expanded. The nationalist left has a tendency to rationalize the actions of Ergenekon or at least to be very hesitant in taking sides on the issue, and the internationalist Marxist left has come out in opposition to both the AK Party and the coup attempts.

Coups: raison d’être of left

İsmet Demirdöğen, Ankara representative of the Taraf daily and an expert on the discussions within the left, says the main reason the left has not gotten involved in the matter is its distrust of the AK Party and its practices.

“To consider the beginning date of the Ergenekon gang as 2003 and not to mention the September 1980 coup is one of the major question marks about Ergenekon. On one hand there was an attempt at a coup d’état and on the other there was a real coup d’etat in 1980 in which 1.5 million were tortured, thousands had to flee the country, 53 were hanged and 650,000 were convicted,” he states.

According to Demirdöğen, the left thinks it is not getting enough guarantees from the government to believe that this investigation will be extended because the AK Party does not have the courage or the intention to do so; for example, it is not doing anything to amend Article 15 of the Constitution, which protects the members of the National Security Council (MGK) who realized the 1980 coup from prosecution.

Sancar puts forward some existentialist questions, emphasizing the importance of the 1980 coup for the left. “The coup and its cruel system since Sept. 12 [1980] has been the main foundation and reference point of the left. The victim mythos, not only in the theories of the left but also in its literature and cinema, is the determining motivation,” he says.

“Are the arrests of the coup planners triggering the fear from the loss of raison d’être in the subconscious of the leftists? For instance, perhaps the absolutely decisive role of the military in the political sphere has caused the left to put the blame of every political failure on the dragon that is believed to be invincible, thereby ridding itself of responsibility. If so, when this dragon was observed losing its influence, could this have triggered a panic within the left related to a re-assumption of responsibility for leftist politics? Or, what’s worse, is there a possibility that in the conscious or subconscious of many leftists, the military, while being hated, is at the same time regarded as the eventual assurance for the continuation of the life to which they are accustomed? Is there a love-hate relationship between them?” Sancar questions.

Obsession with secularism

Professor Oran proposes that the military pacified the left by using its obsession with secularism.

“The military recognized this obsession of the left on Feb. 27, 1997, and silenced the left the next day,” he says, referring to the post-modern coup on Feb. 28, 1997, meant to prevent the alleged Islamization of the political system.

For the left, the fear that secularism is being threatened and its many questions about the AK Party led to it taking the position of “neither the coup nor the AK Party,” in other words, not taking a side.

“The Turkish left thinks the Ergenekon investigation is basically a power struggle within the system and is not related to democratization. In the past it suffered much in scenarios of the elephant fight, the grass is torn up. Now, the Turkish left is not able to choose between the elephants,” Demirdöğen says.

Ufuk Uras, İstanbul deputy and the leader of the Freedom and Solidarity Party (ÖDP), says there are many reasons for the hesitation of the left regarding the Ergenekon investigation but that the fundamental one is the weakness of the left in general.

“One cannot argue that the left is performing well in other areas but is crippled on the issue of Ergenekon. Currently the leftist movement is so weak that it cannot have much of an influence on the matter,” Uras notes.

Sancar recalls that some leftists are trying to downplay the Ergenekon operation because they don’t want to be perceived as allies of the AK Party. This is why they are expending most of their energy emphasizing that they are opposed to coups; meanwhile, the AK Party speaks all the time about the practical mistakes and violations of rights during the operations in order to convey that the result of the Ergenekon operation will not be an enhancement of democracy.

Sancar says he understands the left’s suspicions regarding the Ergenekon operation, but that this does not mean it should stand back and not take a side. “To expect that during a power struggle in the system a part of the system will be able to take radical steps forward is absurd,” he states, adding: “The real focus of the left should be taking advantage of the opportunity to confront the past regardless of who was guilty of what. And this does not mean being blind to the insincerity of the AK Party or ignoring social problems.”

Uras suggests that the left must struggle against the neo-liberal policies of the AK Party and also the coup attempts. Oran, however, is not hopeful for the future of the left in the short term. He says the hesitation of the left regarding the Ergenekon investigation will cause the already weak left to reach its weakest point. “Only after experiencing the utmost disgrace will the left have the impetus to improve.”
See also my post, "Where Have All the Leftists Gone?" Feb. 12.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

What Will the EU Do In Case of Closure? Will Pragmatism Prevail?

The following brilliant analysis/speculation of the EU's response to AKP closure comes from Amanda Akcakoca in Sunday's Zaman.
Turkey's membership negotiations are already in trouble, and even without this closure case there would be very little good to put in the commission's 2008 Progress Report (due to be published in the autumn). There are serious question marks over Ankara's commitment to EU related reforms; major problems still remain on freedom of expression; very worrying signals that backsliding it taking place on issues of human rights and minority rights; increase in torture and maltreatment; and the military continues to play a completely unacceptable role in political life. In this light and given that in countries like France, Germany and Austria, opposition to full Turkish membership is strong, it would seem to be the easiest thing in the world for the EU to suspend the negotiations, making the whole problem of full Turkish membership disappear. This would be the end of Turkey's membership project, as it would be a near impossible task to ever get 27 member states to agree to reopen the talks. However, at the same time it would be delivering the ultimate gift to those who are opposed to Turkey's transformation in Ankara and elsewhere.This, of course, leaves the EU with a dilemma. As Commissioner Olli Rehn has stressed, it is unthinkable that the EU can continue with business as usual with Turkey if the AKP is banned. However at the same time it is very unlikely that the commission will recommend an "official" suspension of talks and it is also difficult to believe that there would be one-third of member states (nine) ready to go against the commission's recommendation and support a suspension of this nature. Turkey is already in a very precarious position and the EU should not act in a way that will add to the instability. Rather, the EU needs to put itself in a position where it can act as a tool to help Turkey through this difficult period -- given that there are many people in Turkey from many different walks of life who are counting on the EU to do just that.

Of course Turkey's relationship with the EU is going to pay a price for what has happened, but because it is also in the EU's own strategic interest to keep Turkey in its "orbit" and thereby able to maintain some leverage on Turkey, the suspension of talks may well take the form of an unofficial "rupture" that would give Turkey and the EU a timeout during which time Turkey will probably have early elections. This sort of break in talks would not require "unanimity" to get things moving again, but at the same time Turkey could be required to meet some "pre-conditions" such as a new constitution or significant judicial reform. Nevertheless, the risks are still high, as Turkey many never meet any of the preconditions and the negotiations could remain stalled for a very long time. But at least then the EU would have removed the ball from its own court and put it back in Turkey's. This response could hardly be described as "soft." This is not the first time the EU has had such a dilemma with Turkey. Another crisis situation at the end of 2006 came about when Turkey refused to extend its EU customs union to Greek Cyprus, something that it is legally obliged to do. At that point there was also much talk of suspending negotiations, but finally it was decided to instead freeze the eight negotiating chapters linked to the customs union. Turkey had three years to resolve the issue. To date there has been no change.

The EU is not in the habit of creating instability in its own neighborhood, and so sometimes acts in a way that is perceived as bending its own rules. The case of Serbia is a good example. Following Kosovo's declaration of independence and the catastrophe this caused in Belgrade, the EU knew it needed to keep Serbia from derailing by putting it on a strong EU track. They therefore offered Belgrade a new agreement, setting it on an EU path without Serbia having to comply with all the pre-conditions. There was objection from some member states, but at the end of day the long-term stability and prosperity of the country was at stake. Before the elections on May 11, EU foreign ministers set aside reservations about the failure of Serbia to arrest key war crimes suspects and signed the new agreement. It sent the message that Europe likes Serbia, which was a successful ploy. Instead of embracing nationalism and isolation, voters gave Boris Tadic's party the most seats in Parliament and there is now a pro-EU ruling coalition. But the EU had to bend its own rule to get the result. Turkey has already lost a lot over the last six months. According to State Minister for the Treasury Mehmet Şimşek at least $20 billion, as the markets have rollercoasted. Turkey's image has also been severely damaged in the outside world both by the closure case of the AKP and by the ongoing Ergenekon scandal. The issue now is how Turkey will overcome the possible outcomes of the case without democracy and stability in the country being further injured. As in Serbia, the EU needs to set aside differences between member states and put Turkey's stability and prosperity at the fore. This is why the EU will show Turkey "tough love" and act in a very pragmatic fashion -- don't expect the ultranationalists and Kemalists to like it, though!
For full article, click here.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Getting Serious About Sexual Harassment (Hopefully)

From BIA-Net:
Following the Democratic Society Party (DTP) and the Republican People’s Party (CHP), the Justice and Development Party (AKP) introduced a bill that will make “sexual harassment” a crime not requiring a complaint.

The bill envisions a doubling of the prison sentence for the crime.

Sexual Harassment at New Year celebration
DTP deputy Hasip Kaplan’s proposal on January 8 is still waiting at the Justice Commission. Kaplan had made this proposal in protest to the releasing of those responsible for the sexual harassment incident at the New Years celebration with meager 57 YTL (about 3 Euro) fine.

The women activists who had started the Purple Needle activity right around this time had made a similar demand.

CHP deputy Canan Arıtman also made a similar proposal to the commission three days after the incident. Like AKP’s proposal, both of these proposals envision changes in article 105 of the Turkish Penal Code.

MHP’s proposal
In June, four MHP deputies made a proposal to have the punishments for the crimes defined under article 102, titled “sexual attack”, and article 103, titled “sexual exploitation of children,” increased.

MHP deputies’ reason was that there was an increase in these crimes and the punishments were not deterrent.

Complaint is necessary
According to article 105:

- A person who sexually harasses someone else will receive a prison sentence of three months to two years or fined, if the victim complains.

- If these crimes are committed at the work place by using one’s status, the above punishment will be doubled. If the victim had to leave the job because of this crime then the punishment cannot be less than a year.

According to the report regarding DTP’s proposal of daily Hürriyet, all these proposals will be combined when they are taken up in the commission. (EÜ/TB)
For more on the Purple Needle campaign, see Bianet's coverage in January. Laws regarding sexual harassment were introduced in the re-drafted Turkish Penal Code passed in 2004 and thanks to the influnce of women's groups. It should also be noted that sexual harassment litigation as it is known in the United States and Europe does not exist in Turkey.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Islamic Calvinists and the Anatolian Tiger

Having taken a tour of a prominent AKP politician's home, I am prompted to say, "Islamic Calvinism indeed."

From Nicolas Bich at EurasiaNet.org:
"Tell me where Allah is and I will give you an orange. Tell me where Allah is not and I will give you an orange grove." This particular Koranic phrase graces a whiteboard at the entrance to the third biggest company in Gaziantep, a city of 1 million close to Turkey’s border with Syria.

Naksan Holding exemplifies what Turks call the "Anatolian Tiger" economy. Set up 40 years ago by a successful local tradesman, it is now the largest producer of plastic bags anywhere in the Balkans or Middle East. Its rise has been phenomenal, dwarfing even the 7 percent per annum growth of Turkey’s economy between 2001 and 2007. A decade ago, Naksan was the country’s 480th largest company, according to statistics from the Istanbul Chamber of Industry. Now, with a turnover of US$450 million, it ranks 136th.

"We’ve done very well, and our future looks bright", says Taner Nakiboglu, 35, describing how the company has just invested US$300 million to build a power station in western Turkey.

Plump and loquacious, the US-educated Nakiboglu is representative of the new generation of Anatolian businessmen: he is as pious as the "thought of the day" posted at the corporate offices’ main entrance.

. . . .

Coinciding with the growth of conservative political parties, the rapid rise of industrial Anatolia has attracted widespread attention, not least because its apparent combination of piety and worldly success contradicts a perception held by many Westerners’ and westernized Turks.

Highlighting the recent trend in Anatolia, one Berlin-based think-tank titled its 2005 study of the wealthy Anatolian city of Kayseri "Islamic Calvinists," a reference to the German sociologist Max Weber’s theory that capitalism sprang from Protestantism. "Economic success has created a social milieu in which Islam and modernity co-exist comfortably," the European Stability Initiative (ESI) concluded. "It is the Anatolia shaped by these values that is now pressing its case to join the European Union."

A sociologist in Konya, a conservative city 500 miles west of Gaziantep, Yasin Aktay agrees that the growth of conservative capital has changed religious life-styles. "Frugality has been replaced by what you could call ’comfortable’ religiosity," he says. "Consumerism used to be seen as extravagance. Now, owning a big house isn’t a luxury, it’s a display of [God’s] blessings."

A doctor in Islamic theology whose spare parts factory in Konya now has an annual turnover of US$50 million, Huseyin Ciftci has seen the transformation closer to home. "Look at my family: two brothers married to Europeans," he says. "Just 20 years ago, that would have been out of the question around here."

Yet ESI’s talk of "Islamic Calvinism" pushes it dangerously close to the cliché it seeks to correct -- of an Anatolia united in its religious conservatism.

That is far from true. While Konya and Kayseri have long been strongholds of political Islam, both Gaziantep and the western Anatolian textile hub Denizli have traditionally voted for secularist parties. If AKP won 51percent of Gaziantep’s votes at general elections last July, it is because "people here vote with their pockets," says Murat Ozguler, owner of an ultra-chic pastry shop in the city centre.
For the analysis from ESI, click here.

Executive summary of the 2005 ESI publication:
Among Europeans who are sceptical of Turkish membership of the European Union, it is common to hear the view that Turkey has two souls, only one of which is Western. They contrast the cosmopolitan outlook of Istanbul with the vast Turkish interior, which is seen as backward, impoverished and 'non-European' in its values.

Central Anatolia, with its rural economy and patriarchal, Islamic culture, is seen as the heartland of this 'other' Turkey. Yet in recent years, it has witnessed an economic miracle that has turned a number of former trading towns into prosperous manufacturing centres. This new prosperity has led to a transformation of traditional values and a new cultural outlook that embraces hard work, entrepreneurship and development. While Anatolia remains a socially conservative and religious society, it is also undergoing what some have called a 'Quiet Islamic Reformation'. Many of Kayseri's business leaders even attribute their economic success to their 'protestant work ethic'.

This report explores these social and economic changes in the Central Anatolian province of Kayseri, home to one million people. It presents detailed case studies of a number of strategic sectors: the emergence of Kayseri as Turkey's leading cluster of furniture manufacturers; the rise of Orta Anadolu, producing one percent of the world's denim; and the success of the Kayseri sugar refinery and its impact on local agriculture. These case studies illustrate how industrial capitalism emerged from a predominantly rural and merchant society within a single generation. They also demonstrate how policy failures by successive governments caused the 1990s to be a 'lost decade', and how the economic crisis of 2000/01 and the structural reforms which followed it have marked a decisive turning point for the Turkish economy.

The report also explores how over the past decade individualistic, pro-business currents have become prominent within Turkish Islam. It looks closer at Kayseri's most successful small town, the industrial district of Hacilar, whose 20,000 inhabitants have given birth to 9 out of Turkey's top 500 companies. It finally examines the position of women in this evolving Anatolian society, and why this could prove to be the Achilles heel of continued rapid development.

Today's governing party, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) of Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Abdullah Gul (Kayseri's most prominent politician), and its political philosophy of 'democratic conservatism', are very popular in Central Anatolia. AKP's Kayseri headquarters was one of its first to be established, and in the 2004 municipal elections in Kayseri it won an overwhelming majority of 70 percent, its highest in the country. Democratic conservatism embraces many goals reminiscent of centrist political parties across Europe.

The report concludes that economic success and social development have created a milieu in which Islam and modernity coexist comfortably. It is the Anatolia shaped by these values that is now pressing its case to join the European Union.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

AKP-Alevi Standoff on Religious Education

To follow-up on my post of June 16 . . .

From BIA-Net:
Fevzi Gümüş, president of Pir Sultan Abdal Culture Association (PSAKD), an Alevi organization, criticizes the insistence of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) to keep the religion classes in schools mandatory in spite of the decisions by the European Human Rights Court (EHRC) and the Turkish State Council.

“It does not look like the AKP will be able to solve this problem with its own version of the freedom of belief, which is reflects the desires of its own constituency.”

“With the lawsuits, a few Alevi youth were able to save themselves from the assimilation that surrounds them. However, millions of Alevi youth continue going through the same torture.”

Gümüş told Bianet that the Alevi community might consider other options such as mass lawsuits and boycotting the mandatory religion classes, if the AKP kept this attitude.

EHRC: Content and Implementation

The ERHC had stated in its November 2007 decision that the mandatory religion classes were a violation of “the right of education.”

In Hasan Zengin and his daughter Eylem’s application, the court had emphasized that the content of these classes were based on Islam’s sunni interpretation. Moreover, the court had claimed that keeping the non-muslim students exempt from these classes was not enough for “the freedom of belief.”

Minister of Education (MEB) Hüseyin Çelik had stated previously that this decision was about the old curriculum. Since Alevi belief was included in the new curriculum, according to the minister, this decision by the ERHC was inapplicable.

“Complaint Line”

Lawyer of the Zengin family and president of the Federation of Alevi-Bektaşi Associations Kazım Genç applied recently to the ministry regarding this subject.

Although Genç’s application was accepted by “ALO 150” complaint line a month ago, it has not been answered yet.

“It has to be removed”

In spite of the government’s claims, the jurists and experts say ERHC’s decision demands that the religion classes become voluntary.

President of the Education and Science Workers Union (Eğitim-Sen) Zübeyde Kılıç also confirmed to Bianet that this was the only solution; there was no place for religious education in a secular and scientific education system.

“It may at the university level, but it is unacceptable for children who are still developing.”

It is against legal rights and pluralism

Both Kılıç and Gümüş said the mandatory religion classes were added to the curriculum after the September 12 Military Coup in 1980, they reflected the coup mentality.

Both names added that the government was insisting on not fulfilling its obligations demanded by the international conventions.

Gümüş said, “The AKP and the other political formations that share its mentality keep seeing the cultural differences in Anatolia not as richness, but as a separatist component in the country.”

“The court decisions are a turning point in the struggle of Alevis and the democratic forces. Now it is time for the government to remove the mandatory religion classes, which are in contradiction with secularism, human rights and the international conventions.”(EÜ/EZÖ/TB)

DTP Reaches Consensus at Party Convention


PHOTOS: Ahmet Türk and Emine Ayna will see the DTP through its difficult days ahead.

DTP held its much anticipated party congress this Saturday and elected veteran Ahmet Türk as its party chairman. Türk, largely regarded as much more conciliatory toward Ankara and a "dove" within the party, will serve alongside Emine Ayna, the party's female co-chair. Although Turkish election law states that political parties must have only one chair, DTP, by its charter, elects two chairs—one male and one female. Ayna is in many ways Türk's opposite and is much more hostile toward Ankara. While both politicians demand that the state recognize long-denied Kurdish rights as a foundation for peace, Türk has been much more active in making gestures toward Ankara. Most important and divisive among these are his repeated rejections of terrorism and attempts to influence the party to reject violence. Fierce hawk Mahmut Alınak had earlier announced his candidacy against Türk, but withdrew at the last moment. In contrast to Türk, Alınak urged a strengthening of contacts with the PKK and a much more aggressive position toward Ankara.

Just as important as Türk's election is DTP's decision to plan to bring Kurdish nationalists and Marxist-inspired Kurdish leftists together under the same umbrella. Kurdish politicians have long been divided along these lines, and the conference's ultimate result seemed to hint at a vigorous effort to bridge differences among Kurdish politicians in an attempt to acheive greater solidarity. If DTP is closed by the Constitutional Court, the hope of the conference is that such a broad-based and comprehensive political party might take a place. If DTP should happen to remain open, the party will seek to expand its reach and bring both factions under its wings.

Also much talked about at the conference was the DTP's role in the Ergenekon investigation. Ayna has been quite insistent that the investigation is likely to go no where and is only a function of AKP's attempts to solidify its own power. However, Türk was much more optimistic and referred to the investigation as important to Turkish democratization.

BIA-Net posted a summary of Türk's remarks:
Ahmet Türk said the following according to ntvmsnbc.com:

“You may shut down out party. You may even arrest us, put us in jail, but the fact is that you will never be able to silence Kurds. The Kurdish people have paid every price for its dignity and free future and it will continue doing so. Instead of closing parties and limiting the political space, start a dialog with Kurds and open the doors of that you shut to DTP’s face. Let us stop using weapons as tools of seeking rights. Let us create a democratic and peaceful political space. This will, first of all, help Turkey grow more and open new doors for it.”

Kurds demand the right to speak in their mother tongue and the model of democratic autonomy
Türk said that he sees Ankara as the address of the solution and the Parliament as the center of the solution.

“Kurds demand recognition of their identity, to be able to use their mother tongue both in public space and in education, and the model of democratic autonomy that will develop decentralization.”

Türk mentioned the subject of roof party
Türk said the following about a roof party:

“Legal arrangements that will open the way to return to the social and political life will be an important step in laying down arms. Look, there are calls coming from İmralı [where Abdullah Öcalan, leader of PKK, is serving his life sentence] in this effect. Mr. Öcalan says, “Take different identities and cultures under constitutional assurance, the arms will be laid down in one month. This is a very important call. Nobody can close his/her ears to this call. Answering this hand of peace with aggravated isolation policies is a provocation and deepens the deadlock. These practices must be discontinued immediately.”

“One should pay attention to social sensitivity. We will take the approach and attitude in this area as the indicator of willingness to solve the Kurdish problem. This country needs a new soul, a new political understanding. Turkey’s workers, the exploited, need a roof party that will help those who demand to get together, with their different cultures, for freedom. We said before that we will support such a roof party that will help Turkey’s democratization, normalization.”
For coverage from Today's Zaman.

Also of note is former DTP leader Nurettin Demirtaş' conviction and sentence of one year in prison for evading military service. Demirtaş was arrested under the charges soon after being elected leader of the party last November.

Court to Deliberate on July 28

The Constitutional Court will meet to deliberate the AKP closure case on July 28. Seven of the 11 total judges on the panel must vote for closure if AKP is to meet its final demise. The general mood is not optimistic despite Court Rapporteur Osman Can's recommendation that the party not be closed for allegedly anti-secular activities.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

German Hostages Released by PKK

The three German hostages being held by the PKK were released yesterday and have been flown back to Germany. There is some question in both the German and Turkish press as to whether the German government paid off the PKK in order to secure their release. Angela Merkel declined to comment, but said that the German government did everything possible to secure their release. The hostage-taking is thought to be the result of PKK infighting.

For coverage from Today's Zaman, click here.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Importance of İncirlik Might Wane

From Today's Zaman:
Turkey is concerned that once the US strikes a deal with neighboring Iraq regarding the maintenance of a US military presence in the country in 2009 and beyond, this will lessen the importance of its İncirlik air base in the southern part of the country in particular and its geo-strategic importance in general.

The US has already started building military facilities both in Romania and in Bulgaria, Turkey's neighbors with coasts on the Black Sea, under bilateral access and training agreements signed with Romania in 2005 and Bulgaria in 2006. Those agreements will provide a platform for other fellow NATO member countries -- mainly the US -- in their engagement in the eastern Mediterranean as well as in the Caucasus and in Central Asia, areas that also fall under Turkey's close scrutiny.

Currently İncirlik is used by allied forces in neighboring Iraq as well as in Afghanistan for overflights (not for combat purposes), while being utilized as a cargo hub, particularly by the US.

"Turkey has been the last country which has provided overflight permission to its close ally the US," recalled one Western diplomat, speaking to Sunday's Zaman. "Since Turkish Parliament's rejection of a motion that would allow access to US troops for using Turkish soil in March 2003, Ankara has proven that strategically it is an undependable ally.

Coalition members and in particular the US do not know if permission, for example, for overflights will be cut off at any time. Washington does not know either whether Turkey will threaten to stop the US from using İncirlik every time the Armenian genocide allegations of the Ottoman Turks come up on the agenda," remarked the same source.

Every year in April, regarded as the commemoration of the alleged genocide of Armenians, US diplomats make an effort to discourage the US president from using the word genocide during their messages to Armenians in order to avert possible negative reactions from Turkey.

For strategic planners, the predictability of the country regarding deployment plans is of great importance, said another Western diplomat in Ankara.

"Therefore, in the future the US will seek cooperation with Bulgaria and Romania as well as with Iraq, negatively affecting the strategic importance of İncirlik," he said.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Turkey's First Gay Honor Killing?


Not so sure about the quality of analysis related to "traditionalist circles wedded to an old regime," but, yes, in all the turmoil of Turkey's politics, gays no doubt have a difficult time. The military subjects gays to all kinds of embarassing treatment (see HRW's reporting of the trials gay men must endure in order to prove their "gayness," June 4 post), İstanbul's ruling AKP-governor is seeking to shut down the city's leading gay organization, LAMBDA İstanbul, and there is no political party with the least degree of power that seeks to protect homosexual minorities. The machismo typical of Turkish society makes the likelihood of more protection for homosexuals all the more unlikely.

From the Independent:
In a corner of Istanbul today, the man who might be described as Turkey's gay poster boy will be buried – a victim, his friends believe, of the country's deepening friction between an increasingly liberal society and its entrenched conservative traditions.

Ahmet Yildiz, 26, a physics student who represented his country at an international gay gathering in San Francisco last year, was shot leaving a cafe near the Bosphorus strait this week. Fatally wounded, the student tried to flee the attackers in his car, but lost control, crashed at the side of the road and died shortly afterwards in hospital. His friends believe Mr Yildiz was the victim of the country's first gay honour killing.

"He fell victim to a war between old mentalities and growing civil liberties," says Sedef Cakmak, a friend and a member of the gay rights lobby group Lambda. "I feel helpless: we are trying to raise awareness of gay rights in this country, but the more visible we become, the more we open ourselves up to this sort of attack."

Turkey was all but closed to the world until 1980 but its desire for European Union membership has imposed strains on a society formerly kept on a tight leash. As the notion of rights for minorities such as women and gays has blossomed, the country's civil society becomes more vibrant by the day. But the changes have brought a backlash from traditionalist circles wedded to the old regime.

Bungled efforts by a religious-minded government to loosen the grip of Turkey's authoritarian version of secularism have triggered a court case aimed at shutting the ruling party down, with a verdict expected within a month.

Against this backdrop, the issues of women's rights, sexuality and the place of religion in the public arena have been particularly contentious. Ahmet Yildiz's crime, his friends say, was to admit openly to his family that he was gay.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

BIA-Net Quarterly Human Rights Report: Mostly Bad News

BIA-Net recently released its quarterly monitoring report of human rights violations committed by the Turkish state.

From BIA-Net:
In Turkey, violations and pressures in the area of the freedom of expression have increased in the past three months. From caricature to literature, journalism to speech, every field of expression received its share of violations and pressures. The only consolation was the reduction of the compensation payments in the European Human Rights Court cases.

BİA Media Monitoring Desk’s Media Monitoring Report for April-May-June 2008 states that in these three months, 194 people had to face the judge for expressing opinions about the implementations and procedures of the state and protesting the human rights violations done by the state.

Of those tried in total of 88 cases, 79 were journalists. There were 132 people last year in the same period, 60 percent increase compared with this year’s figure.

Oran and Kaboğlu Acquitted

Good news for a change . . .

From Today's Zaman: The Supreme Court of Appeals' Penal General Council (YCGK) has released its reasons for acquitting two professors of charges of "inciting hatred and animosity" through a report on minority rights.

The reasoning, which was made public yesterday, said the report prepared by professors Baskın Oran and İbrahim Kaboğlu "clearly contains scientific information" and offers solutions and criticisms "within the boundaries of freedom of speech." The decision relates to a case that has been going on for years since the publication of their report on minorities by the prime ministerial Human Rights Advisory Board (BİHB) in November 2004.
Oran and Kaboğlu, who worked voluntarily for the BİHB, said in the report that religious minorities in Turkey were barred from careers in state institutions and maintained that legal restrictions on minority languages violate the country's commitments under the 1923 Lausanne Treaty.

Rapporteur Recommends Against Closure

Constitutional Court Rapporteur Osman Can has somewhat raised the prosects that AKP will not be closed by issuing a recommendation that the Court should not consider the party to have violated secular provisions in the Turkish constitution. However, Can also recommended that the Court not annul February's law lifting a prohibition against the headscarf at universities and reportedly recommended that the Court not accept the closure case from the beginning (see March 29 post).

From Today's Zaman:
Osman Can, the Constitutional Court's rapporteur, told the court on Wednesday afternoon not to ban Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's Justice and Development Party (AK Party) over charges of being a focal point of anti-secular activities because the government's moves were peaceful and aimed at expanding freedoms. Mithat Sancar, a professor of law at Ankara University, said the report is nonbinding and only serves to guide the members of the court as the rapporteur is allowed to make his own evaluations.

"The members [of the Constitutional Court] look at the report to get a better understanding, but in the end vote on the closure case using their own judgment. They do not necessarily vote as the rapporteur advises them to," he said in a phone interview with Today's Zaman.

The same rapporteur recommended to the court earlier this year that it allow the lifting of a ban on headscarves, but the court overwhelmingly -- 9 to 2 -- decided to leave the ban in place. The ruling has been interpreted by most as the judiciary's seizure of Parliament.

Can pointed out that it was Parliament that voted to lift the ban on headscarves on campus and that a previous decision by the top court annulling the lifting of the ban eliminated that threat, according to an unidentified source quoted by The Associated Press at the court on Wednesday.

Mustafa Şentop, an associate professor of law at Marmara University, said the court has a tendency to weigh precedent more heavily than the recommendations of its advisers -- especially on critical decisions such as the closure case and removing the headscarf ban at universities.

"When we look at the court's decisions, we see that the members are in line with the court advisor's recommendations in the majority of cases but are in conflict with the rapporteur on critical issues," he told Today's Zaman.
For the full analysis, click here.

Friday, July 18, 2008

The Beginning of a Hopsitable Friendship . . .

From the Eurasia Daily Monitor:
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's recent visit to Iraq has initiated a new chapter in bilateral relations. Several problems, including the Kurdish question, the Iraq-Iran war, and Turkey's support of the U.S.-led international coalition during the first Gulf War in 1991, have made relations between Turkey and Iraq bumpy. During the previous visit of a Turkish prime minister to Baghdad 18 years ago, Saddam Hussein harshly criticized Turkey's foreign policy and threatened his guest in front of international media correspondents. For at least the past three decades, Turkish-Iraqi relations have been shaped by regional or border crises. The "strategic, economic cooperation and integration agreement" signed during Erdogan's visit can finally move Turkish-Iraqi relations beyond a crisis-related agenda.

With this agreement, the parties decided to develop institutions between the two countries to build a sustainable relationship. Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih, a Kurd himself, thinks that "the agreement of integration" is important for two main reasons. First, integration between Turkey and Iraq would connect the Persian Gulf to Europe. Second, it would open a way to develop a regional economic union, which has the potential to bring democracy and economic prosperity not only to Turkey and Iraq but to the Middle East in general (Milliyet, July 11).

The components of the agreement include regional security, fighting terrorism, controlling the borders, and ensuring joint interests in terms of oil and water resources, border crossings, trade exchanges, cultural activities, and the role of Turkish companies in reconstructing Iraq (BBC Monitoring, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east, July 11). The agreement calls for the formation of a High Level Cooperation Council. In addition, under the leadership of the two prime ministers, the agreement anticipates holding "strategic council" meeting once a year and three meetings between ministers who work in the same areas (Anadolu Ajansi, July 16). Given that the last high level meeting between the two countries took place 18 years ago, the annual meeting between prime ministers seems to be very good progress.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Ergenekon Investigation Still Anything But Clear

The Office of the General Staff Military Prosecutor has denied that the records he requested in regard to the Öz's investigation of the retired generals arrested in July have anything to do with an intention to begin a military investigation into the "coup diaries." Meanwhile, the Ergenekon investigation remains as impenetrable as ever. The near 2,500-page indictment will not be made public until its admissibility is considered by the court. The indictment contains a miscellany of allegations against various "suspects" who have been arrested throughout the investigation, but falls short of referring to them as defendants. Meanwhile, it is clear that the many rumors that circulated about Ergenekon and the multiple allegations that the organization is linked to the military and various past plans to enact military coups were largely premature and have yet gained much substance in fact. Just what the Ergenekon investigation holds for Turkey's future is hard to say, but rest assured, the case will continue to dominate headlines. What will become of various revelations of the coup diaries prepared by retired military generals is also unsure. No one really knows what is going on with Ergenekon, but hopefully information will eventually be brought forward in an ordered, responsible form that respects judicial process. Only time will tell.

From Saban Kardaş for the Eurasia Daily Monitor:
Turkish prosecutors investigating the Ergenekon network finally submitted their indictment to the court on July 14. The indictment was presented a year after the network was first discovered and many influential figures including retired army generals, journalists, businessmen and academics were arrested or interrogated as part of the investigation. This delay has caused much speculation that the investigation was being used by the government to silence the opposition. The substance of the indictment is also a matter of contention, because in the wake of different waves of arrests, the case has evolved from the investigation of a criminal organization into a probe of a network connected to the "deep state" with extensions in various sectors of civil society seeking to change the government, by staging a coup if necessary.

Istanbul's high criminal court will examine the 2,500-page indictment and decide whether to accept it and open the case, reject it, or return it to the prosecutors for amendments. This process may take up to two weeks, and the court is currently working hard to ensure that its procedure is compatible with the penal code (CNNTurk, July 16). In the meantime, the indictment cannot be made public; but in an unusual press briefing, Istanbul's chief prosecutor summarized the main charges. There are a total of 86 suspects, of whom 48 are in custody and 38 temporarily released. It is not clear which ones will be tried for which crimes. Sections of the indictment have been leaked to the press as well. The prosecutors accuse the suspects of various crimes including "membership in an armed terrorist group"; "attempting to destroy the government of the Republic of Turkey or block it from performing its duties"; and "being in possession of explosives, using them, and inciting others to commit these crimes." More importantly, the prosecutors have established connections between the Ergenekon network and the 2006 Council of State shooting and an attack at the daily Cumhuriyet's Istanbul office. Moreover, the indictment charges the suspects with inciting several unresolved murders in Turkey's recent past, which may lead to the reopening of some closed cases (CNNTurk, July 14).

The indictment produced mixed reactions from the Turkish political community and the Turkish media. For some reformists it was a step toward further democratizing the country, while others found that it did not live up to expectations. The opposition, in contrast, believes that the case is highly politicized.
For Kardaş' whole analysis, click here.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Germans Caught in the Middle of PKK Infighting

More evidence that the PKK can hardly be considered a highly-organized, homogenous entity . . .

From Today's Zaman:
An ongoing internal power struggle within the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) appears to be the cause of the kidnapping of three German mountaineers in eastern Turkey, according to Turkish security sources.

Three Germans in a group of 13 mountaineers -- Helmut H. (65), Martin S. (47) and Lars R. (33) -- were kidnapped by the PKK last Tuesday on Mt. Ağrı (Ararat), and PKK members said they would not be released until Germany changes its "hostile" policies toward the group, designated as terrorist by Turkey, the United States and the European Union. The remaining 10 mountaineers returned to Germany over the weekend.
Based on intelligence from radio communications among PKK members, Turkish security sources believe the kidnapping was ordered by a PKK faction leader, Syrian Kurd Fehman Hussein, the Anatolia news agency reported yesterday. The PKK leadership, headed by Turkish Kurd Murat Karayılan, is furious over the kidnapping because this is against the group's latest decisions not to kidnap civilians, radio communications revealed. PKK members have been recorded as saying in the radio communications, "The Syrian overstepped the line" and "He signed the decree for his own execution." They also expressed worry that Germany would "not forgive this time."

Hussein and Karayılan have long been at odds over control of the terrorist group, and there have been several reports of assassination attempts against each other circulated in the Turkish media. The PKK is planning to convene a congress soon, and Hussein is prepared to use the German hostages as a bargaining chip against those who want his dismissal from the PKK, Anatolia reported.

Turkey Provides Plenty to Think About

An interesting examination of the opinions/reflections of foreign students studying abroad in Turkey . . .

From Today's Zaman (excerpt):
It is intriguing to converse with students who spend a period of time -- generally between four and 12 months -- in Turkey, and hear their impressions. It makes a native realize the differences between him/her and “the other,” as well as the diversity of perceptions. When one tries to see things from the perspective of such students, divides along cultural, ethnic and religious differences seem pointless, as Benazir Chhotani from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign points out: “One of the most enlightening experiences about studying abroad in Turkey was realizing that even though the food, sights, customs and beliefs were drastically different than [those in] America, the people all had the same concerns, priorities and such. I was humbled to talk to my roommates and realize that we had the same fears about school and growing up, even though we lived in two different parts of the world.”

What, then, is Turkey to a foreigner who catches sights of the points Turks usually miss? The answer lies in their initial intentions in visiting the country and the final assessment after departure. And the period in between the two discloses quite a number of opinions about anything and everything related to Turks.
For full article, click here.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Ergenekon: Making Sense of the Soup

The Ergenekon indictment released yesterday included charges made against 86 people who have been detained in the past months. İstanbul Chief Prosecutor Aykut Cengiz Engin filed the 2,455-page indictment, which did indeed include a near 60-pages of evidence linking Alparslan Arslan to the 2006 shootings at the Council of State. Those charged do not include retired General Şener Eruygur, former Commander of the Gendarmerie, and retired General Hurşit Tolan, former Commander of the First Army Force (İlk Ordu), nor any of the other other suspects detained on July 1. Most significant to the indictment was the absence of what have come to be known as the "coup diaries," alleged to have belonged to former Navy Commander Adm. Özden Örnek and first published in Nokta in March 2007. Over the past weeks, many newspapers have hinted—and sometimes directly alleged—that Ergenekon had close ties with the military and has been working over the past years to overthrow the AKP government. Engin instead issued a sharp condemnation of the media's reportage of the investigation:
“Since this investigation started many documents, some of them secret, and much information have appeared in the media; many reports and interpretations have been published. It is media’s duty to inform the public. However, major part of these publications was not true. They have caused great deal of misinformation; the public have been misinformed. Misinterpretations based on these publications lead to wrong expectations, violate the private lives and fundamental rights of the suspects and cause severe and unfair criticism regarding the justice system.”
Engin asked the public to continue to wait patiently until lead investigating prosecutor Zekeriya Öz has time to finish his investigation.

In the meantime, the General Staff Military Prosecutor has called on lead prosecutor Zekeriya Öz to turn over all information pertaining to Eruygur and Tolon as part of a separate investigation being launched by the General Staff about the coup diaries. Announced on the private television state NTV, this separate military investigation is a new and interesting development that adds another dimension to the investigation of just what exactly occurred within the TSK's top brass and if there was/is indeed any link between some in the Turkish General Staff and the so-called 'deep state,' as represented by Ergenekon and/or other shadowy underground network.

From Mehmet Ali Birand in today's Turkish Daily News:
At first, I was quizzical about the Ergenekon investigation. The information that was made available at the beginning led me to view this investigation as nothing but a ‘black hole.’ We were face to face with a soup-like situation. Weird and ambiguous allegations flew about and the detainees seemed to have nothing in common with each other.

I repeat that those were nothing other than impressions gathered from press leaks, political analyses, pro/anti-AKP media broadcasts and TV panel discussions.


A genuine soup:

Former soldiers, who had been too arrogant to let themselves to be questioned about the Susurluk Affair, and who had formed associations with sworn in members; retired commanders who, to my mind, could not have achieved anything beyond forming dissident organisations; businessmen; journalists, whose activities had always left me in doubt; scientists; and to top it all, ‘mafia’ leaders and murderers...

As I said, a genuine soup. Ambiguous press leaks poured into the cauldron to ignite a mad witch-hunt or to set off a scalp-hunting expedition...such were the growing and spreading impressions.

The situation was not easy to take in by sectors that refused to take sides in the Ergenekon Affair. They did not know what to make of it.

Another product of this bedlam was the public belief that the AKP government had launched the Ergenekon investigation in order to retaliate for the closure case.

If the allegations have any truth in them, then the coordinators of the investigation and the press leaks have made a serious mistake by discrediting this indictment in this way. They have failed miserably in communications. Let’s not forget that someone leaked this news. The media did not make it all up.

Many people believe that in response to the closure case and the chief public prosecutor’s indictment that lacked concrete evidence, a pro-AKP prosecutor came up with an indictment just as flimsy “to retaliate for the other indictment also based on statements and press articles.” Some retired soldiers, businessmen, NGO chairmen and journalists had initiated a civilian dissident movement in the name of democracy, and this prosecutor had mistakenly perceived this initiative as a ‘takeover conspiracy.’

That’s the general impression formed by a certain sector...No amount of objection will change this view of the Ergenekon Affair held by many people.

However, some people are gradually beginning to review and reassess this impression, except for those who are dead set against Erdoğan and the AKP and want them to be removed from politics and/or from the government all costs.

We are now about to begin the process of putting on trial those that attempted or conspired to effect a military coup.


The Özkök factor:

This investigation took on a different direction especially after the latest statement made by former Chief of Staff Özkök. He appears to be saying –without actually indicating- to the prosecutors, “Be more diligent in your investigations. Things have happened that resemble closely the events described in these diaries. I will also attest to them if necessary.” He does not actually say all this, but that is the impression he gives.

Özkök is preparing to appear before us as the key name and as the most important witness. His statements almost place him in a position to validate this investigation.

Two journalists have been the key instruments in bringing the investigation to this point- Fikret Bila, through his interviews of some commanders, and Murat Yetkin through his very important article that appeared in Radikal last Sunday, have revealed a different aspect of this affair.

It looks as if the Ergenekon case is going to be transformed in some ways into a score settling among retired commanders.

This conflict is thought to be have originated from the 2002 handover of the positions of chief of staff and commanders of various forces and from the events that followed this interchange.

It looks as if this settling of old scores will take place between Özkök and Kıvrıkoğlu, the chief of staff of that time, who openly said that he did not want Özkök to replace him, and who, when he failed to prevent his promotion, had Aytaç Yalman appointed as commander of land forces instead of Edip Başer and Şener Eruygur as the commander of gendarmerie, in order to fill the general staff with the ‘tough’ generals.

This has never happened before. Until now, what happened in the past used to be covered up and pushed into oblivion as part of the fight for democracy.

This will be a FIRST. If Özkök shares with the public the information that he is unable to reveal at the moment, the Ergenekon Affair will be transformed into the first putsch investigation in the near history of Turkey. It will be the first time that the judiciary investigates the allegation of the attempt of a takeover.


This case will affect the country’s future:

If managed well, the Ergenekon case can make important contributions to the near future of this country. This case may cause Turkey to leave behind all fears of gangs and military takeovers. If it is mismanaged, however, it would deepen the existing wounds and open such new ones that we would not be able to get back on our feet for a long time. That is why I wish to elaborate on a few points:

1) The rough interrogation methods have to be abandoned and more importance must be given to communicating with the public. This case is too important and sensitive to be disparaged by rough methods. If the public gets the impression that injustice is being done, the public conscience will reject any result that may follow.

2) This case must not take years. It must not drag on as it happened in the cases against the Peace Society, DISK or the MHP. Justice that arrives too late is of no use to anybody.

3) Judges and the prosecutors must never forget that they are involved in a case of great public interest and one that could shape Turkey’s future. Their decisions must not be based on ideologies or obsessions, but on the principle of a secular-democratic Turkey.
For coverage from the Turkish Daily News, click here.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Ergenekon: Difficult Ground Indeed

The Ergenekon indictment is expected to be released tomorrow and stories are still flying about the nature of the organization, its criminal activities, and most importantly, its links to the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK). As noted in my July 9 post, the investigation poses a difficult test for Turkish democracy and coming amidst the AKP closure case, risks a significant destabilization of Turkish politics. The following from Saban Kardaş appeared on July 9 in the Eurasia Daily Monitor:
To establish a credible case for this charge before the courts, the prosecutors have to connect the perpetrators to “actual plotters” in the military. This seems to be the Achilles’ heel of the entire case: proving Ergenekon’s intent and its capability to overthrow the government requires the conviction of a good many shadowy figures; but as the prosecution pursues influential people, it gets engulfed in the muddy waters of Turkish politics. Civilian investigations into past coups and alleged coup attempts, let alone bringing those involved to trial, is a venture into uncharted territory for Turkish politics.

. . . .

Prosecutor Zekeriya Oz assumed a Herculean task by deciding to expand the scope of the Ergenekon investigation. In this already politicized case, the prosecution will have to prove that what is on trial is not the neo-nationalist political program opposing the AKP but a group that poses an imminent threat to legal order. Hence, the Ergenekon investigation ironically coalesces with the closure case in an odd way. If the prosecution cannot furnish a strong case, it will be charged with seeking to prosecute advocates of an idea rather than the wrongdoings of a terrorist organization, paralleling the charges that the Constitutional Court closes political parties for harboring ideas without looking into hard evidence.
The task is indeed Herculean, and time will simply tell exactly what happens. Recent leaks of the investigation have included linking the assassination plans of Alparslan Aslan to Ergenekon. According to media sources close to the government, Aslan is said to have received assistance from Ergenekon to assassinate judges at the Council of State and also in his 2006 hand grenade attack on Cumhuriyet's İstanbul office.

In other news, more dirty laundry is being aired. Former Chief of General Staff retired Gen. Hilmi Özkök has neither confirmed nor denied that some members of the General Staff had pursued plans for a coup as early as 2003, one of which is rumored to have called for Özkök's own assassination. Some have linked these coup attempts to Ergenekon, but if more or less true, they could exist as a phenomenon altogether separate or perhaps only slightly connected and defined by very different driving forces. Revelations of plans for Özkök's assassination were first reported by the newsweekly Yeni Aktüel (click here for the story in Today's Zaman).

We will see what tomorrow brings in terms of an actual indictment. The indictment will not include the suspects detained on July 1, allegations against whom will be formalized in a later appendage to the larger indictment. There will no doubt be plenty of leaks in the interim.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Al-Qa'ida in Turkey?


From Today's Zaman:
One of the three policemen killed in an attack on the US Consulate died at the hospital of wounds sustained during the attack. İstanbul Police Chief Celalettin Cerrah inspected the scene.
Three policemen and three gunmen were killed in an armed attack yesterday on the US Consulate General in İstanbul that sent shockwaves across Turkey at an already troubled time.

Both Turkey and the United States described the attack as a terrorist act, and US Ambassador to Turkey Ross Wilson said the US and Turkey would "stand together and confront this, as we have in the past."

The attack coincides with political tensions in Turkey. The police are probing a shadowy far-right group suspected of plotting a military coup against the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party), which is in a legal fight to avert closure over charges of anti-secular activities.

The consulate occupies a citadel-like structure on a hill in İstinye, a densely populated residential neighborhood along the Bosporus on the European side of İstanbul. Turkish police guard the street, while US personnel are in charge of security inside the consulate compound. During the attack US security personnel stayed inside the compound, as they are not authorized to engage in armed action on Turkish soil.

The assailants came in a car and three of them later got out, opening fire on policemen at an entrance gate of the consulate at around 11 a.m. yesterday. Three police officers -- Nedim Çalık, Mehmet Önder Saçmalıoğlu and Erdal Öztaş -- were killed in the shooting and three assailants were shot dead, reportedly all by the same policeman, identified as Osman Dağlı, in the resulting shootout. News reports said the fleeing car was loaded with explosives.

Sources said some bystanders who had been waiting for US visas were also injured in the attack. The wounded were rushed to nearby hospitals for medical attention.

There was no immediate information on who was behind the attack, although there were unconfirmed reports that al-Qaeda or al-Qaeda-trained elements were involved. İstanbul Governor Muammer Güler said all three assailants killed in the clash were Turkish citizens, denying earlier speculation that they had Syrian passports.

"It is, of course, inappropriate now to speculate on who may have done this or why. It is an obvious act of terrorism," Ambassador Wilson told a press conference.

Police launched an operation to capture the fourth assailant, who fled the scene in the automobile, and private CNN-Türk reported that two suspects, one of whom was identified as Atilla Çınar, were soon taken into custody. Sources identified the assailants as Erkan Kargın, Rauf Topçıl and Bülent Çınar and news reports said they had been trained in Afghanistan.

"At first sight, the attack appears to be pointing to al-Qaeda," said Sedat Laçiner, the head of the Ankara-based International Strategic Research Organization (ISRO/USAK), adding that it might be a symbolic assault on both the United States and the Turkish police protecting the consulate building. "If you look at other similar attacks in the Middle East, you will see that they are directed more at the local forces protecting the Western interests than the West itself. Attackers may believe that they inflicted harm on the Turkish police who protect the US," he told Today's Zaman.

Mahir Kaynak, a former intelligence chief, expressed doubt that the attack could be related to the ongoing investigation into the Ergenekon network, which has so far resulted in the arrests of dozens of people, including two retired generals. "The attack was primarily directed against the US Consulate. The target would have been something else if the attack was related to domestic developments," he said.

Wilson also said he didn't believe the attack had any links to the Ergenekon terrorist organization, saying in response to a question that there was no evidence pointing to such a link at the moment.

Güler told reporters that one of the slain police officers worked at the consulate and that the other two were traffic policemen. "One of the police officers died at the scene of the incident during what police said was a two-minute gunfight. Two died of their wounds at a hospital. Two other policemen were injured in the attack. Their conditions are not life-threatening. One of them was injured in the shoulder and the other in the elbow. They were rushed to nearby hospitals," he said.

"Weapons and shotguns have been found at the scene of attack. We have launched an investigation into the incident. We will examine it in all its aspects. It is said the assailants arrived at the scene in a vehicle. I cannot say which group or terrorist organization the attackers belonged to at the moment. We are very sorry for our martyred police officers. May their souls rejoice. I extend my condolences to their families," he said.

A US Embassy spokeswoman said there were no reports of casualties among consulate employees. "We are cooperating with the police and taking the appropriate measures," she said.

One eyewitness said: "They came in a white car. They had hand grenades, pistols and weapons in their hands. Three of them got out of the vehicle and fired at police officers waiting in front of the consulate. Policemen started shooting in return, but three of them were martyred. I saw them dead, lying on the ground."

Another eyewitness, Ulus Durgut, said the attackers were bearded men with long hair.

Interior Minister Beşir Atalay expressed his sorrow for the martyred policemen. "A comprehensive investigation has been launched into the incident. Three police officers were killed in the attack. Our pain is great. We will make a broad statement when the shroud of mist around the shooting dissipates," he said.

Security increased around US missions

İstanbul Chief Public Prosecutor Aykut Cengiz Engin told reporters that the evidence so far pointed to a terrorist attack.

"According to preliminary reports, the assailants were between the ages of 25and 30 and had guns and shotguns. They have not yet been identified. The fourth attacker managed to flee from the scene. The modus operandi, nature and characteristics of the attack show that it was a terrorist act," he said.

Wilson thanked the Turkish police for the courage they showed in the attack. "The staff at the US Embassy is in good condition. We are grateful to the Turkish police for the bravery they displayed," he said. "It is enough to say that they are terrorists who carried out a dastardly and cowardly attack. The attack was perpetrated against both Turkey and the US. Our countries stand together in the fight against international terrorism. Such attacks will not be able to distort the friendly relations between Turkey and the US," he added.

Wilson said security around US diplomatic missions in Turkey had been increased after yesterday's attack. "We asked for increased security presence, and the police responded effectively and quickly," he said.