Friday, October 31, 2008

Diplomacy with Arbil

From Mehmet Ali Birand:
For the past two or three years the Turkish military held a sharp vıew of the northern Iraqi Kurdish leader, Mesud Barzani. Barzani's stance toward Turkey after the invasion of Iraq by U.S. forces, plus the expansion of the PKK's activities in northern Iraq caused fury beyond belief. The former Chief of General Staff, Yaşar Büyükanıt, often called attention to “not talking to northern Iraqi Kurds,” a result of this reaction.

In reality, the Turkish military was not in favor of no contact with the Kurds but wanted the government to take steps. The military was to be kept out. Within this framework they stepped back. The situation is progressively changing. The Turkish military has relaxed. The Chief of Staff is still against Kirkuk being connected to the Kurds or northern Iraq becoming independent. But in view of the changing conjuncture, he cannot declare this in a sharp manner.

The Kirkuk issue has been postponed and it is not obvious when it will come up again. On top of that, Sunni and Shiite Iraqis have shown more sensitivity to Kirkuk than the Turks. It is a place far too valuable to leave to the Kurds. Namely, the real owners of this issue are Iraqi Arabs. The issue of independence has dropped from the agenda because all segments, Iraqis Sunni, Shiite and even Kurds, have agreed that territorial integrity needs to be preserved. These two issues are no longer top priorities.

Another development is that Barzani has started to watch his words. He used to heavily accuse Turkey when he was not able to manage his nationalist reflexes. He must have realized that this was a needless approach and harmed relations, as he became quiet. Both sides have understood their interdependence.

If I were to summarize, I would use this sentence without hesitation, “Both sides understand that they depend on each other and need to continue their lives showing understanding for each others sensitive matters.” Who is more or less dependent, we cannot calculate. Turkey is larger and more powerful than northern Iraq, but dependent on northern Iraq's support regarding the PKK.
For a detailed analysis of rapprochement between Turkey and the KRG, and the TSK's new take on Barzani, click here for recent analysis from EDM.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

A View from Europe

From Karel De Gucht, Belguim Minister of Foreign Affairs:
The Russian-Georgian conflict has been a shocking experience for the EU, albeit a shock that was perceived in a different way throughout the 27 member states.

For some, it carried echoes of a Cold War mentality they have known all too well. For others, it seemed like a prelude to a very hot war, the likes of which we haven't seen for generations. For all of us, it was a profoundly humbling experience – one that would make us think and that should make us act more convincingly than we have been doing for some time.

A strong and united European foreign policy is now needed more than ever. A common European energy policy is not just a complement but a precondition for that to come about.

Because it is our dependence on Russian energy more than anything that has prevented us from more decisive and unified action. Some of the EU member states import up to 100 percent of their oil and gas from Russia, and Russia has been more than ready to exploit that simple fact of life. It knows very well that it has the finger on the button that makes lights go out all over Europe.

It is only by linking our energy markets and finding new ways and sources of providing for them that we can take remedial action against this geopolitical weakness.

And that's where Turkey comes in.

Those of us who have actually spent time looking at the map will know that all of the existing oil and gas pipelines southeast of Europe run through Turkey, coming in through Georgia, from Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and, of course, from Russia. Likewise, all projects aimed at importing energy supplies from those countries but bypassing Russia will definitely have to run through it.

There is no doubt about it, the European energy policy we so desperately need, both for economic and for political reasons, will involve a lot of money, it will involve a lot of resolve and it will involve closer and unbreakable ties with Turkey. Then what are we waiting for?

. . . .

These are troubling times. With so many states reaching economic and political power, people are afraid Europe might fall off the map. And because so many of these international forces value the hard power of oil, guns and money over the soft power of enlightened ideals, democracy and institution building, they are rightfully perceived as a threat to our way of life, to the values and ideas we stand for, to the worldview that has made us what we are.

We are right to be apprehensive. But we would be wrong to let fear paralyze us, and we should not let it force us into making the wrong decisions, into making no decisions at all or into closing ourselves off from what is happening in the rest of the world.

Quite the contrary: We'll fight for our place in tomorrow's world. And I believe we will win this fight, simply because our liberal values and ideals of democracy, in the end, are stronger than any power. They have proved to be exactly that in the past, and they will be in the future.

In all this, despite what scaremongers throughout Europe try to tell us, Turkey is our ally. As an integral part of the European family, sharing the same values, it is our bridge towards the emerging powers in Asia and – let's not forget – the Middle East. Even more than that, Turkey is a bridge to the Muslim world, it is the prime example that modernization, secularization and democracy are not anathema to Islam.

It is, in short, an essential ally in the two most important struggles the world is engaged in for years to come. So let us rise above our fears and be as great and generous as the great game demands us to be.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Eyes Turned Toward Release of Progress Report

With the European Commission's annual progress report due to be released on Nov. 5, Turkey's politicians and less than objective newspapers are already spinning its expected contents.

The progress report is expected to be critical of the government, noting the fact that little has been done in terms of passing meaningful reform. Significantly, it will assert that now is the time for AKP to move forward with serious EU-inspired reform, and while surely welcoming AKP's draft of the third national program (NPAA), will pressure the government to move for its approval in Parliament and for the Turkish government to get started on the reforms described therein. Of important note is EU dissatisfaction with the lack of compromise between political parties, and with CHP and MHP still refusing to do so much as even meet with EU Chief Negotiator Ali Babacan to discuss the contents of the new program, this concern is certainly well-founded. The report will also likely reiterate what the Commission has found time and time again in past annual reports: despite reforms, implementation is often lacking, torture is still rife, and restrictions on the freedom of expression abound. The AKP pursued reform of Article 301 is likely to be treated as welcome, but rather cosmetic, slightly improving problems with the article rather than eliminating it altogether.

AKP and AKP-sympathetic press has blamed the slow pace of reforms on the closure case, but its lack of enthusiasm for picking up sweeping reform in the new session will not be so easily dismissed, especially if the party does not take serious steps to reach out to other political actors to initiate real reform capable of remediating what the EU has repeatedly and frustratedly expressed as a recurrent series of political crises. Homage will likely be paid to the observation made by many observers that the government's earnest pursuit of EU reform seems to inoculate the country from experiencing serious political instability.

For a preview of the report from TDN, click here. From TDZ, click here.
For a detailed analysis of the accession process, see Sept. 16 post for my two-part examination of Turkey's membership bid.

Familiar Criticisms, but Always Food for Thought

Ever provocative words from Ezgi Başaran at Hürriyet by way of TDN:
Turkey needs an urban, secular and liberal political movement that can successfully utilize the inherent potential of society to complete the modernization process while addressing the Kurdish and secularist-anti-secularist clash, according to Dutch historian and Turkey expert Erik Jan Zürcher.

Speaking to Hürriyet daily, Zürcher said while the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, exemplified the republican modernization process with the rural elite electing their own leaders to replace the republican elite, the party was not equipped to utilize the nation's resources to provide a boost to advancement.

He said the victory of the AKP in 2002 over the increasingly powerless republican elite had given hope to the people but its paternal structure and hierarchy, not its conservative roots, precluded it from transforming the country into a modern state.

The pace of progress in society was not matched by politics, said the historian, who is widely read in Turkey, adding that ultra-secularist and ultra-nationalist movements were not the solution either.

“The Republican People's Party, or CHP, is not working for democracy. The AKP is not equipped to modernize the country. I don't know where you can turn. There is a huge gap in politics. There is a need for a liberal, urban, secularist political movement that does not try to gain legitimacy from either the military or religion,” said Zürcher.

. . . .

He said the AKP's policies seem a lot like the Justice Party, or AP, in the 1950s. The AP was the first political party to win power from the CHP after the single-party era ended in 1946. Its first election success was in 1950, with an even bigger victory in 1954. “However, [Prime Minister] Adnan Menderes was spoiled and once the economy went down, he started to implement tyrannical policies and abused religion,” he said. The military toppled the AP in 1960 and Menderes was hung along with two of his ministers.

He said it was hard for Turkey to become a country that respects the rights of women, homosexuals and minorities with an AKP government, arguing that the party had neither the mentality nor the necessary human resources for the task. “Liberalism is mandatory for modernization. A free market economy is not the only tenet of liberalism,” he said.
I've written here quite extensively about the need for a viable leftist party, as well as about the demise of the Turkish left as a serious political force.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

On Founding Power and the Constitutional Court

From İlter Türkmen:
As underlined in the report prepared by the court's rapporteur, the court can examine changes in form only, not in content. But the court ruled to abolish the amendments even though irrevocable articles in the Constitution cannot be changed. The verdict although intended to prevent a potential political crisis, was certainly a violation of the law. The reasoned decision announced by the high court last week also reflects a troublesome attitude toward the constitutional system in Turkey, because the reasons given by the court do not recognize Parliament's authority to ratify a new constitution or amend the current one, although legislative bodies are elected in a democratic election process. The decision does not even recognize the fact that the foundation of power is the people and that Parliament is elected by the people.

The top court on the other hand, defined “founding power” as follows: “power which is produced by interruptions depending on various political factors and which emerges outside the legal framework.” Professor Ergun Özbudun in his article published in daily Zaman on Oct. 23 could not help himself and said, “The translation of the court's decision is that a new constitution could only be the product of interruptions such as coups d'etat or civil wars and that is against all logic.” Ironically the CHP agreed with the court's theory of founding power due to the fact that the seventh president and the mastermind of the military coup of Sept. 12, 1980, Kenan Evren, always said that the 1982 Constitution was prepared in accordance with the conditions of the period but that Parliament could change it. We have quite a number of people who are more royalist than the king. Didn't they play a role in having so many military coups?

The high court's decision in the AKP closure case is full of contradictions. The AKP's European Union-related policies are pointed at as the reason why the ruling party was not dissolved! It is nice to hear that the court supports the EU policies but why does the court not take into consideration the constitutional dictum in which the European Human Rights Court and the European Human Rights Convention practice? The only way out of today's legal and political dead-lock is to have a brand new constitution. But the Constitutional Court now claims veto power on constitutional amendments, either in part or in full. How will we overcome this obstacle?
For full article, click here.

German Efforts Attempt to Stem Islamophobia

A further look at integration of Turkish immigrants in Germany from Fulya Özerkan at TDN:
With an overall population of about 82 million, Germany is home to about 15 million people of immigrant backgrounds, including 3.5 million Muslims – the majority of who are of Turkish origin. However, linking the immigration problem just to the size of the Turkish community could lead to unhealthy results. International developments may shape these perceptions.

The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the U.S. were a turning point, according to Bekir Alboğa of the Turkish Islamic Union for Religious Affairs, or DİTİB.

“The situation for Muslims in Europe has been deteriorating since 9/11,” he said.

In the post-9/11 era, yet another development has fed the rising anti-Islamic sentiment worldwide. The killing in 2004 of Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh after his film “Submission” triggered outrage among Muslims in the Netherlands, added to anti-Islamic sentiment and bolstered the tendency to associate Islam with violence. Van Gogh's murder opened the question of integration of around 1 million Muslims living in the Netherlands.

“The failure of integration in Holland has forced the German government to review its policy in that area,” said Oğuz Üçüncü, the secretary general of the Islamic Association Milli Görüş, or National View.

“Since then, the German government has started taking steps to center its integration policy on the maintenance of domestic security and assimilation,” said Üçüncü.

Despite the criticisms, the German government's better-late-than-never efforts to change perceptions of immigrants are inspiring people to keep searching for a solution to problems of integration.
For full article, click here.

Gül Takes EU Lead on University Reform

From TDN:
The appointment of university rectors leads to serious problems in universities and should not be the responsibility of Turkey's president, President Abdullah Gül said yesterday.

Gül's remarks came at a meeting in Ankara yesterday to discuss issues in higher education. The meeting was hosted by the Turkish Industrialists' and Businessmen's Association, or TÜSİAD.

Speaking at the event, Gül said he was dissatisfied that universities' appointment of rectors had become the business of the nation.

“The issue of rector appointments should be revisited. It creates deep problems in the universities. It is not how these issues are handled in the most developed countries and universities. Such issues shouldn't be left to the authorization of the president,” he said. “I would like to state that I am ready to turn over these appointments to more appropriate institution.”

. . . .

Gül pointed to the importance of cooperation with leading universities around the world, especially those in the European Union, in order to reorganize Turkish universities. The education standards of the EU should be adapted to the Turkish education and university system, Gül said.

Gül further said universities could benefit from EU funds for scientific research and Turkish universities should be integrated with European universities in many senses.
For full article, click here. For more on the rectors polemic, see August 9 post.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Blogspot, Blocked in Turkey

From the Turkish Daily News:
Following the censorship of YouTube, now the widely used site has been shut down, reported daily Radikal yesterday. The censorship decision was made by the Diyarbakır Penal Court on Oct. 20. Together with, the site's extension is also not going to be reachable by users in Turkey. Thousands of people who use the site reacted strongly to the news of the ban. “Instead of celebrating the birthday of the site, now we are going to have to ask each other what other ways we can find to enter the site?” wrote one blog user. “What crime did my blog commit? What crime did sister Nalan's blog commit, who writes her food recipes?” wrote another user ironically. “What is the crime of food recipes? Do they also have a destructive effect?” Blog sites, which are used all over the world by millions of people, have played a significant role on the personalization of the Internet. Thousands of people in Turkey are using the site to publish their own voice on the Internet.
Blogspot joins other websites banned by various Turkish courts.

Click here for coverage in TDZ. See June 19 post. So far, people can still easily navigate their way around banned sites like YouTube by using proxy servers.

Jandarma Objects to Third NPAA

One of many huge clashes to come . . .

From TDN:
The Gendarmerie has objected to coming under civilian rule, which is one of the proposals in the government's draft National Program to be submitted to the European Union.

The Gendarmerie Command, which is under the military, sent a letter to the Interior Ministry on Sept. 26, noting that they had learned about the proposed changes from the media and that the change ran counter to the suggestions they had made, reported daily Taraf yesterday.

The letter published by the daily was signed by Lt. Gen. Mustafa Bıyık. It objected to the pledge that all internal security apparatuses would come under civilian rule. This is interpreted as placing the Gendarmerie Command under the Interior Ministry.

The police department, which is in charge of security in urban centers, is under the Interior Ministry, while the Gendarmerie, in charge of security in rural areas, is linked to the military. The Gendarmerie's range of authority covers 92 percent of the country geographically.

The Gendarmerie's letter argued that a demand to bring them under civilian control had not come from the EU, noting that they saw this change – inserted in the program without any consultation from the Gendarmerie – as “ill intentioned.”

In the letter, the Gendarmerie then asked the government to remove the said pledge from the program.

The daily said the government's response would be seen when the National Program was presented for parliamentary approval.
For an excellent look at the exigency for bringing the Jandarma under the control of the Interior Ministry, see Lale Sarıibrahamoğlu's analysis in TDZ. Yesterday, TDZ ran a story about the government's intention to conduct counter-terrorism operations in a manner consistent with the new NPAA. Gen. Bıyık's letter in Taraf makes it clear that many of the governments' designs to do just this will be hard-fought.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Court Announces Reasoning Behind Closure Decision

A weid, and ultimately bizarre ruling from the Constitutional Court, which issued its reasoning for its decision in the AKP closure case last summer. From TDZ:
The Constitutional Court explained late Thursday in a reasoned opinion that it had fined the governing Justice and Development Party (AK Party) for undermining Turkey's secular principles instead of shutting it down because of the party's efforts to gain Turkey membership in the European Union and to improve women's rights.

The court imposed financial penalties on the party in July for eroding secularism but dismissed the state prosecutor's case to shut down the party and ban Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and other leading party members from political activity for the next five years.

Nihat Ergün, chairman of the AK Party's parliamentary group, said Friday that the opinion confirmed the AK Party's success in pushing democratization and the EU process.

"The reasoned opinion has two aspects," Ergün said. "One emphasizes that secularism is important, and it's a warning to pay attention to sensitivities about secularism. The other aspect says the government is not aiming to erode secularism. It confirms that the government is democratizing Turkey. These two aspects should be evaluated together."

Ergün also noted that the Constitutional Court had dismissed 370 pieces of the evidence against the AK Party, highlighting that only 30 statements and acts by AK Party officials were found to be anti-secular. But he said his party attached importance to the court's finding that some words and actions were against secularism.

He stressed that the court had reviewed evidence in favor of the AK Party, establishing that the government had moved forward Turkey's EU membership process, carried out political and legal reform, removed obstacles to democracy and freedoms, introduced affirmative action for women, increased human rights standards and expanded press freedoms.
Of course, remember that the Constitutional Court has been anything but generally cooperative in terms of complying with decisions issued by the European Court of Human Rights, and that its finding in the türban case is a huge stumbling block to any serious reform of the consitution, causing some to question if the Court even thinks it is possible to legally draft a new constitution in peace time.

Of further interest will of course be the impact this has on the domestic politics of accession since it seems to imply a strong endorsement of the accession process by the Court, and will surely place pressure on AKP to push for more reforms so as to further prove its credentials.

For coverage from TDN, click here.

Friday, October 24, 2008

More Reason Why Turks Support Obama

From TDZ:
US Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama has blamed the administration of Republican President George W. Bush for straining the country's ties with Turkey, its NATO ally, and pledged to lead efforts to bring Turkey and the Iraqi Kurds to find a solution to the terror threat posed by the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).

In a blueprint of his plans to create a stronger partnership with Europe, Obama said he and his candidate for vice president, Joe Biden, believe a close relationship with "a stable, democratic, Western-oriented Republic of Turkey" is an important national interest for the United States. "That relationship has been deeply strained in recent years, most importantly by the Bush administration's misguided and mismanaged intervention in Iraq, which has helped revive the terrorist threat posed to Turkey by the separatist Kurdish Workers Party [PKK]," the document, published on his election campaign Web site, said. "The result is that this strategically important NATO ally, the most advanced democracy in the Muslim world, is turning against the West," said Obama and Biden, recalling recent opinion polls indicating that the number of Turks with a favorable opinion of the United States had fallen to 12 percent.

"Barack Obama and Joe Biden will lead a diplomatic effort to bring together Turkish and Iraqi Kurdish leaders and negotiate a comprehensive agreement that deals with the PKK threat, guarantees Turkey's territorial integrity, and facilitates badly needed Turkish investment in and trade with the Kurds of northern Iraq," said the document.
None of the Turks with whom I have talked seem to think of Obama as a hugely transformational figure, though many are impressed that an African American, and someone many see as sympathetic to the Third World, has a chance of becoming president. A good number of people with whom I talk still are resoundingly convinced Obama has no chance, and some even suggesting he is part of a right-wing conspiracy in the United States--a charade to be thrown up to make the eventual election of John McCain look democratic. However, almost all think if Obama does win the election, Turkish-U.S. relations will improve, and the border with Iraq might become more stable.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Göğüş and the Virtues of

From TDN:
A independent Web site dedicated to European Union affairs has filled a gap in communication between Turkey and the EU, according to the founder of the site's Turkish edition. is a Web portal that produces content in Belgium, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, France, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and it recently added Turkey to its network. celebrated its first anniversary Tuesday.

“We are part of the endeavor to show Turkey's presence on EU platforms,” publisher and founder, Zeynep Göğüş, said Tuesday. “We are working with a very dynamic and young team. We cover everything that goes on in the European Union with all its aspects.”

Arguing that one of the most important problems in the Turkish-EU relationship is in communication,Gögğüş said the Web portal could fulfill an important gap in that area. “ We started from zero but reached 50,000 readers,” said Göğüş, adding that their news coverage was shared by Euractiv's 9 other partners.

Christopher Leclerq, the founder of Euractiv, said he was encouraged by the development of Himself a former EU official, Leclerrq said the big need to involve civil society in EU affairs was the main motivation behind establishing the Web portal. In the mini-panel that took place on's first year anniversary, Leclerq elaborated on the consequences of the global economic crisis on Turkish-EU relations, saying that protectionist policies of European countries and unemployment problems will increase the fears against Turkish membership. He said Turkey could take a place in the new Bretton Woods system that will take shape in the near future. is a great resource, especially when it comes to finding EU reports on Turkey.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Unrest in Diyarbakır Over Alleged Abuse of Öcalan

From the Turkish Daily News:
The prime minister hardly seemed yesterday like a visiting politician trying to persuade voters to elect his candidate as mayor in Diyarbakır. The region's security forces spent the day divided between protecting him and fighting running battles with stone-throwing demonstrators.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's visit to the region was supposed to be dominated by the start of the new academic year at Diyarbakır Dicle University and a meeting at the local Justice and Development Party, or AKP, branch office in order to devise a new strategy to win over the region.

Instead, demonstrations in the region since Saturday over alleged mistreatment of Abdullah Öcalan, the jailed leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, spilled over to Monday and tainted the prime minister's visit. Most shops remained closed throughout the day in protest as roads on the prime minister's route were shut down and police officers in Sikorsky helicopters patrolled from the skies. There were also sharpshooters placed along the route, reported Doğan news agency.

Öcalan's lawyers reported he had been assaulted by a guard and threatened with death in his cell on the prison island of İmrali, in the northwest, where he is the sole inmate.

Municipal busses did not run and 90 percent of the shops were closed in some sections of Diyarbakır, in line with a call from the PKK, reported the Doğan news agency.

Demonstrators pelted officers with stones, burned tires and closed streets, while police fired shots in the air and used tear gas and water cannons.
So far, at least one person has died in the street violence. While Erdoğan struggled hard to get votes, his dismay at there being trash on the street probably looks a bit more than ridiculous given the dire poverty of so many of the city's denizens.

Hasankeyf in the Atlantic

From The Atlantic:
Life moves slowly in Hasankeyf, a town on the banks of the Tigris in the heavily Kurdish region of far southeastern Turkey. Geography and political unrest have kept the modern world largely at bay. During my recent visit, Ali, a local artisan, demonstrated his trade for me—weaving rugs on a loom built by his grandfather, working in a room hewn from the limestone cliffs by a more distant ancestor.

Then the 21st century intruded, in the form of a lumbering Ankara Express bus. A group of Chinese tourists filed out, then stood in silence, absorbing the centuries of history before them. Archaeologists believe Hasankeyf may be one of the oldest continuously inhabited settlements in the world, dating back some 10,000 years. The cliffs lining the river are speckled with gaping black holes—homes carved out of the soft rock by cave dwellers thousands of years ago. What remains of a citadel built by the Byzantines in the fourth century A.D., and later expanded and reinforced by the Artukids and Ayyubids, rises above the city. Other ruins show the influence of Assyrians, Romans, Seljuks, Mongols, Ottomans—successive waves of conquerors who fought for dominance of the lucrative trading routes in northern Mesopotamia.

Hasankeyf may soon be hit by another conquering wave—this time, a watery one that could drown its history. Fifty miles downstream, near the village of Ilisu, a consortium of German, Swiss, Austrian, and Turkish contractors is preparing to build a massive hydroelectric dam that would catch water from the Tigris just before the river spills into Syria and Iraq. If all goes as planned, most of Hasankeyf will be submerged by a reservoir. Ali pointed out the projected waterline—about halfway up the spire of a 15th-century minaret.
For more on Hasankeyf and the Southeast Anatolia Project, see Sept. 3 post.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Turkey Elected to Security Council

From TDN:
Turkey's foreign policymakers bear a greater responsibility now, after the country was elected Friday as a non-permanent member on the U.N. Security Council, or UNSC, for 2009-2010, after 48 years of absence. Turkey previously held a seat on the Security Council in 1951-52, 1954-55 and 1961, and will now retake its seat in January 2009.

Instead of being forced to take sides on the Security Council, experts say Turkey will lean even more toward its tendency to find a middle path between contending parties, especially in the Iran nuclear row, one of the most pressing issues on the Security Council agenda.

“Turkey has been playing a positive role in the region and I think that this will reinforce Turkey's tendency to not to take sides in regional conflicts and act as a mediator looking for the best of all parties,” said Hugh Pope, a senior analyst for the International Crisis Group, speaking to the Turkish Daily News yesterday.

Retired Ambassador İnal Batu, who represented Turkey at the United Nations, said Turkey would not be forced to follow any particular path and would bring its own approach to regional tensions. “If we were a European Union member, we would have to act accordingly. But we are not, and just like we did not say alright to everything the U.S. demanded on Iran, we can resume doing so in our position on the Security Council,” Batu said.

Fuat Keyman, a professor of International Relations at Koç University, struck a similar note. “On Iran, Turkey may choose one of two choices. One is to assume a status quo stance, which would in fact negate any significance of its membership. But it can also give weight to diplomacy and promote dialogue. I think this is the vision of the government. That's one of the factors that won Turkey the seat in the first place,” Keyman said.
For full article, click here.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Gül and Pamuk Meet in Frankfurt

President Gül and Nobel laurate writer Orhan Pamuk met at the International Frankfurt Book Fair Tuesday where Turkey was this year's honorary guest. Pamuk spoke on the increased appearance of literature in non-Western languages, and its potential to bridge cultural divides. Pamuk is a popular figure throughout Europe, and the most famous Turkish citizen next to Hrant Dink to be tried under Article 301, the most infamous section of the Turkish Penal Code posing restrictions on freedom of expression. Pamuk received a minutes-long standing ovation from the largely German audience. President Gül also spoke at the event, as did German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who is expected to be Social Democratic Party's candidate against current Chancellor Angela Merkel, a Christian Democrat, in elections to be held next September.

Pamuk quoted in TDZ:
Delivering one of the opening speeches of the fair and taking the stage ahead of Turkish President Abdullah Gül, Pamuk said, "The Turkish state's penchant for banning books and punishing writers unfortunately continues." The 2006 Nobel literature prize winner was referring to the infamous Article 301 -- which prohibits insulting Turkishness and state institutions.

He said the pressure inflicted on writers in Turkey in the last century has not helped in enhancing Turkish literature, but has led to a deterioration. Pamuk, recalling the process of writing his latest novel, said he could watch films and clips and listen to the songs of the era depicted in the book whenever he needed historical sources while he was writing "Masumiyet Müzesi" (The Museum of Innocence). "But I cannot do this now. Because access to hundreds of … Web sites is banned for the citizens of Turkey due to political reasons. Holders of political power might be happy with these pressures, but when we say promoting our culture worldwide, what we … artists understand from this is not these pressures," Pamuk said.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

No Impunity . . . At Least Not in Ceber's Case

From TDZ:
Justice Minister Mehmet Ali Şahin apologized yesterday for the recent death of an activist allegedly at the hands of police and prison guards and announced that 19 members of the security staff believed to have been responsible for the tragedy have been suspended, a statement to which human rights groups in Turkey responded positively.

Şahin announced yesterday that 19 individuals who may have been responsible for Engin Ceber’s death have been suspended. “In the first stage, 19 employees involved in this have been suspended from duty,” he announced in televised remarks.

Ceber, an inmate at İstanbul’s Metris Prison, died last week after allegedly being abused and tortured, initially at the hands of police officers who interrogated him and later by prison security personnel when he was in jail. Ceber was reportedly taken into custody on Sept. 28 along with three friends in İstanbul for selling a leftist magazine. They were later convicted and sent to Metris Prison. The four inmates were allegedly subjected to mistreatment and torture by policemen and prison guards. Ceber was taken to the hospital last week and pronounced dead on arrival after suffering from a brain hemorrhage as a result of head trauma. A post mortem report has suggested that severe bruises were detected on different parts of his body, strengthening claims that the activist was subjected to torture.

The Long Path to Avrupa

From Der Spiegel:
Cem Özdemir is a good person to ask when it comes to explaining Turkey to the West. The Green Party politician, born in 1965 in Bad Urach in southwestern Germany, is both a bridge-builder and a self-starter. He was the first member of the German parliament, the Bundestag, of Turkish descent. On talk shows, he liked to refer to himself as the "Anatolian from Swabia," a region in the southwestern German state of Baden-Württemburg. He had the misfortune of accepting a donation from a dubious PR consultant, a scandal that made Özdemir front-page news. To clear his name, he resigned and ran for a seat in the European Parliament, but he may soon experience a roaring comeback -- as the national head of Germany's Green Party.

Özdemir is participating in a public discussion forum in Bonn. Turkey is the focus of this year's Bonn Biennale, a theater and cultural festival. The panel is discussing the modern and European characteristics of a country whose 74 million citizens are almost all Muslim. Is democracy taking hold? Is there a risk that Turkey could slide into Islamism?

There are no easy answers to these questions, as Özdemir explains with the nuanced picture he presents. But there are trends and developments, and there is reason to be cautiously optimistic. The politician, who calls Turkey his "second home," points to the reforms of the last 10 years: laws banning forced marriages, honor killings and marital rape, the relaxation of taboos relating to controversial issues like the Kurdish question, Cyprus and the Armenians.

"Whenever I appeared on Turkish television in the past," Özdemir says, "I would ask the interviewer, before an interview began, which topics we could not discuss. Sometimes it was so absurd that it boiled down to a choice of words. For instance, a journalist would say: We don't refer to the 'Kurds.' 'Okay, what are you calling them now?' I would ask. The journalist would respond by referring to something like the 'Southeastern Anatolia question.' That was Turkey. And this wasn't even that long ago."

There was a period in the 1990s when Özdemir was Public Enemy No. 2 for some Turkish media outlets. The tabloid Hürriyet had a penchant for printing his photo next to that of Abdullah Öcalan, the leader of the Kurdish separatist group PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party), the implication being: Look, two traitors! But Özdemir's supposed infractions amounted to nothing more than condemning the Turkish military's war against the Kurds and upholding democracy. He became the subject of vile threats, and bodyguards soon became a part of his daily life.

But things change, and Özdemir is convinced that they will continue to. "The fundamental issue is that we accept others, and that includes their religion or atheism, their Kurdish or Cherkessian language, their Alevi 'cem evi,' or meeting house, Jewish synagogue or Greek Orthodox church. That's all," he says.

Is this a vision? Of course it is. Özdemir believes that visions don't necessarily have to be harmful in politics. He's also a realist, though. "Unfortunately, Turkish society is deeply divided and, sadly, a large segment of the political elite is failing." His hopes rest on those who are not part of any camp: not the diehard Kemalists, who see every woman wearing the headscarf as the advance guard of a theocracy, and not the religious fundamentalists, who dream of infiltrating the state.

Özdemir gesticulates energetically on the podium in Bonn, and then he leans back to discuss the subject from a broader perspective. "From the Arab standpoint, Turkey was a colonial power first, then the West's listening post in the Cold War. Nowadays, Arab intellectuals look to Turkey because it presents the historically unique opportunity to achieve a democracy, with all its trappings, in a majority Muslim society." For the Arab world, says Özdemir, this is an alternative to the model of Islamism and to the authoritarian models of government in Tunisia and Egypt.

Özdemir's next sentence is a political one, meant to bring everything together: "Turkey must take this third approach." It sounds a bit mysterious, but perhaps this is the best prediction a politician can make when it comes to a country like Turkey.
For full article, click here.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Ceber Death Raises Questions About Torture, Prisons

From TDZ:
The recent death of an inmate allegedly resulting from torture at the hands of police and prison guards has once again shown that Turkey still has problems with human rights, despite a zero-tolerance policy on inhumane treatment and torture.

Human rights groups in Turkey have said the government’s previous launch of a zero-tolerance policy on torture and abuse fell short of expectations. “The death of Engin Ceber has shown that Turkey still has a serious problem with human rights violations,” noted Ömer Faruk Gergenlioğlu, chairman of the Association of Human Rights and Solidarity for Oppressed Peoples (MAZLUM-DER).

Ceber, an inmate at İstanbul’s Metris Prison, died last week after allegedly being abused and tortured at the hands of police and prison guards. Ceber was reportedly taken into custody along with three friends in İstanbul for selling a leftist magazine. They were later convicted and sent to Metris Prison. The four inmates were allegedly subjected to disproportionate use of force and heavy torture by policemen and prison guards. Ceber was taken to the hospital last week and was pronounced dead there after suffering from a brain hemorrhage as a result of a head injury. Ceber’s lawyer, Taylan Tanay, said his client complained several times that he was frequently subjected to inhumane treatment in prison. Ceber was buried in İstanbul’s Kocatepe Cemetry.

“How can anyone explain why a person selling a legal magazine was taken into custody and convicted? This is not acceptable. We say there is zero tolerance on torture, but people still lose their lives because of it. Turkey has geared up over the last couple of years to protect human rights as part of efforts to become an EU member, but changes to this end, including the zero-tolerance policy on abuse, remain nothing but words,” Gergenlioğlu said.

Turkey’s attempts to harmonize with the European Union norms had produced a zero-tolerance policy on torture and abuse as part of sweeping changes made to the Turkish Penal Code (TCK).
Click here for coverage from the International Herald Tribune.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

AKP Contemplates EU Negotiator Position

A special column in TDZ by Mehment Kalyoncu:
As Parliament begins its new legislative year, the AK Party leadership is preparing to undertake a major reshuffling of the Cabinet. In addition to its relatively successful foreign policy and sustained economic growth for several years in a row, the AK Party leadership proved successful in reshuffling the Cabinet at the start of its second term in office, reducing the number of former Islamist Welfare Party (RP) members in it and replacing them with social democrats. These days, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is preparing to do the same with one difference: He is planning to appoint a “chief EU negotiator.”

Certainly one of the critical decisions the prime minister has to make is choosing who is to lead Turkey’s negotiations with the European Union. The position has so far been held by Foreign Minister Babacan because acquiring EU membership has long been the main pillar of Turkish foreign policy. However, lately, probably as a result Turkey’s increased involvement in regional and international affairs, it appears the government believes that the responsibility for EU negotiations should be taken off the foreign minister’s shoulders to ease his burden.

Some would argue that creating a separate “chief EU negotiator” position is just a cunning attempt to train a potential contender to the AK Party leadership. In a way, Erdoğan by himself will bring about his and his government’s own end, depending on who is chosen to be the prospective chief. After all, given the importance Turkish foreign policy attaches to full EU membership and the public’s increasing involvement in debates regarding the EU accession process, there is no doubt that the prospective chief EU negotiator will be one of the most popular political figures and a person who will make headlines every day. He may well be the most popular person -- depending on the dominant media groups’ tendency to promote him as a potential contender to Erdoğan’s political leadership either within or without the AK Party. As such, depending on who he is, the prospective chief EU negotiator may well be manipulated to clash with the prime minister as his popularity grows. It goes without saying that a political figure that clashes with the prime minister would certainly fail, if not purposefully resist, to work with the country’s foreign minister and seek to exclude the latter by all means from deliberations and decisions regarding Turkey’s EU accession.
For the full article, click here. For an understanding of/need for the position, click here. See also Aug. 2 post.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

A Closer Look at Diminishing Freedom on the Internet

From Gareth Jenkins at EDM:
The Turkish authorities have long sought to block Internet users in Turkey from accessing websites associated with militant groups that espouse violence, such as the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). Over the last 18 months, however, there has been a rapid rise in the censorship of websites, purely because they contain material that expresses values or opinions deemed unsuitable for the Turkish public.

Until May 2007, there was no legal framework in Turkey specifically designed to regulate the content of Internet websites. In practice, the judicial system tended to apply the same laws that were used to regulate traditional media outlets such as newspapers and television channels. On May 4, 2007, however, the Turkish parliament passed Law No. 5651, which was specifically designed to regulate Internet content and prevent websites from being used for crimes such as “encouraging suicide,” “the sexual exploitation of children,” “facilitating the use of narcotics,” “obscenity,” “prostitution,” and “gambling” (Law No. 5651 of May 4, 2007, published in the Official Gazette No. 26530 of May 23, 2007). The law also provided for the prevention of access to websites that violated other Turkish laws, such as anti-terrorism legislation or the law that forbids insulting the memory of the Turkish Republic’s founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk (Law No. 5816 of July 25, 1951, published in the Official Gazette No. 7872 of July 31, 1951). In addition, under Article 24 of the Turkish Civil Code (Turkish Ministry of Justice website,, individuals can apply for access to be blocked to a website that they feel is “infringing on their personal rights.”

In the case of content that is deemed to be obscene or to exploit children sexually, Law No. 5651 empowers the state-run Telecommunications Board to prevent access to the website without recourse to a court decision. For most other offences, a court ruling is required. Since November 2007, members of the public have been able to notify the Telecommunications Board of what they believe is inappropriate content via a designated telephone number and website.

Under Turkish law, the decision to block access to a website is made by the court or by the Telecommunications Board on its own. According to figures released by Tayfun Acarer, the head of the Telecommunications Board, access has been prevented to a total of 1,112 websites since November 23, 2007, with 251 of them blocked by a court ruling and 861 by a decision of the Telecommunications Board itself. The owners of the websites in question do not need to be informed and invariably only learn that their website has even come under suspicion once access to it from inside Turkey has been blocked (Radikal, October 2, Milliyet, October 3).

Since early May, Internet users in Turkey have been prevented from accessing the popular video-sharing website YouTube, after Greek nationalist youths used the site to post some amateurish videos mocking Ataturk (Ankara First Petty Crimes Court, Decision No 2008/402 of May 5). Websites banned for “obscenity” range from genuine hardcore pornographic sites to the photographs link on, a website set up by a U.S. group that annually bares their buttocks at passing Amtrak trains (Ankara Ninth Petty Crimes Court, Decision No 2008/140 of February 4).

. . . .

There are also increasing signs that Internet censorship is not being used to “protect” Turkish citizens but to try to enforce a particular worldview or political opinion.
For full analysis, click here.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Parliament Back in Session Today

From TDN:
Parliament is set to return from summer recess Wednesday, with President Abdullah Gül ready to address deputies in an opening speech.

In his keynote speech the president is expected to urge ruling and opposition party deputies to cooperate on adopting the National Program and passing European Union-inspired reforms.

The leaders of the Republican People's Party, or CHP, and the Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP, refused to give an appointment to Foreign Minister Ali Babacan for consultations over the National Program, a key document that outlines the government's timetable to fulfill the reform program for alignment with the EU Acquis. The adoption of the national program before the EU Commission releases its annual progress report due in November could be a good signal for Turkey, which has so far opened and closed only one negotiating chapter or policy area with Brussels.

Ankara began accession negotiations in October 2005, but eight out of 35 chapters were frozen due to the row over Cyprus. In previous remarks, Gül emphasized that Turkey must show the will to proactively open and close the chapters, something he said which would bring about a change in mentality. He highlighted the necessity of consensus between the deputies for progress in negotiations, given that two or three deputies are enough to block the passage of laws in Parliament.

Parliament to extend authorization

Besides the National Program, Parliament will discuss a government motion to extend for another year the military's authorization to conduct cross-border operations in northern Iraq, where outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, terrorists are based. The current authorization expires Oct. 17.

Since December, the Turkish military has launched a number of air operations and one large-scale ground operation against the PKK, which, according to official sources, have severely damaged the terrorists.