Sunday, July 26, 2009

Row Over HSYK Reveals Institutional Weaknesses

The intersection of politics and the judiciary is difficult for many countries, but has been partiuclarly problematic for Turkey. Among one of the many thorny issues pertaining to Turkey's judicial system is its appointment of judges and prosecutors through the High Council of Prosecutors and Judges (HSYK). The HSYK appoints all judges and prosecutors, and usually a list of appointments is announced each June. However, the ongoing Ergenekon investigation, as well as investigations into war crimes committed by the Turkish gendarmerie (the military police force) have brought increased importance to the appointment process. Last week, HSYK member Ali Suat Ertosun sparked a firestorm of controversy when he indicated that prosecutors involved in the Ergenekon investigation of crimes committed by individuals alleged to be members of Turkey's "deep state" might not be re-nominated. Though there have been justified concerns about the politicization of the investigations, Turkish government officials and civil society groups strongly protested Ertosun's declaration.

Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin and Justice Ministry Undersecretary Ahmet Kahraman also sit on the HSYK, a seven member board established by Article 159 of the constitution. The board is chaired by Ergin, and oversees the appointment, transfer, and dismissal of Turkey's judges and prosecutors as the justice minister. The other five members of the HSYK are nominated by the president, the Supreme Court of Appeals, and the Council of State. (For a summary of Turkey's judicial system, click here.) There have long been concerns about the criteria used to select prosecutors, as well as the Council's representation of the judiciary as a whole. From the EU Commission's report of Turkey's progress toward accession:
Concerns remain about the impartiality of the judiciary. On some occasions senior members of the judiciary made public political comments which may compromise their impartiality in future cases. As regards independence, there has been no progress on the composition of the High Council of Judges and Prosecutors or on the reporting lines of judicial inspectors.
The selection criteria of judges and prosecutors was amended in December 2007, though complaints persist that the criteria are open to subjective interpretation.

Institutional conflict within the Turkish state is often summarized as occuring between the elected executive/legislative branches of the government and the judiciary. The judiciary has long been home to pro-status quo politicians often seen as representative of the Kemalist old guard, and to some extent, the political and legal legacies that came into effect after the 1980 coup. This understanding of institutional conflict was manifested in the AKP closure case of last year when the Chief Prosecutor of the Supreme Court of Appeals filed a case to close AKP for violating the constitution and the Law on Political Parties. The power of the judiciary was also on display in April 2007 when the Constitutional Court invalidated the election of President Gül, claiming a two-thirds quorum of 376 PM's was needed to elect the president. The Constitutional Court also has the authority to veto legislation, including the headscarf amendments of last year and law creating an office of ombudsman. The ideological orientation of the judiciary is also evinced by the composition of the Judges and Prosecutors Association (YARSAV).

The appointment of judges and prosectors has always been a polemical process within Turkish politics, especially alongside accusations against AKP for allegedly abusing its executive power to appoint judges and prosecutors sympathetic to what are seen as its Islamic-oriented politics. The Ergenekon investigation has only served to heighten these accusations as many public opinion leaders critical of the party have characterized AKP as using the investigation to destory its political enemies and ensure its dominance over the state. The Ergenekon investigation is being led up by top prosecutor Zekeriya Öz, whose position, alongside other Ergenekon prosecutors, is among those rumored to be in jeopardy. Other prosecutors' whose replacement is rumored appeared on a list published by Bugün:
A Turkish daily released the names of judges and prosecutors Ertosun wished to replace on Monday.

According to the Bugün daily, Ertosun demanded the replacement of Ergenekon prosecutors Zekeriya Öz, Mehmet Ali Pekgüzel and Fikret Seçen.

İstanbul Chief Public Prosecutor Aykut Cengiz Engin and Deputy Chief Prosecutor Turan Çolakkadı are also on the HSYK member's list.

Bugün also wrote that Ertosun is not pleased with the head of the Diyarbakır High Criminal Court, Dündar Örsdemir. Örsdemir is well known for his investigations into unsolved murders in the Southeast.

The HSYK member also demanded that Murat Gök, a prosecutor who conducted various probes into criminal organizations in the Aegean city of İzmir, be removed from his position.

Rüstem Eryılmaz and Resul Çakır, the judges who ordered the arrest of Col. Dursun Çiçek -- whose signature was found on a highly disputed action plan against the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) and the Gülen movement, are also on Ertosun's list.

Though Çiçek was arrested on suspicion of links to the plot, he was soon released after an appeal by his lawyer.

Ertosun also demanded the replacement of İdris Asan, a judge at the İstanbul 9th High Criminal Court. Asan has ordered the arrests of several Ergenekon suspects.
Alleged HSYK interference in the Ergenekon case was also on display this January when HSYK announced that it would be appointing more prosectors to İstanbul in an effort allegedly designed to stifle the investigation.

In contrast, public opinion leaders on the other side of the political equation have criticized the institutional structure of the HSYK as allowing for too much executive involvement. CHP deputy chair Onur Öymen has said it is impossible for the HSYK to act independently when the Justice Ministry is not only on the council, but chairs it. Many taking this side of the issue have argued for the removal of executive influence over the HSYK, and subject to particular scorn is the rule that the HSYK cannot meet without being called by the justice minister. Criticism of the HSYK's institutional arrangement also includes its lack of an independent secretariat and dependence on the Justice Ministry for its budget.

The release of the list by the HSYK will continue to be delayed until some sort of consensus is reached between Ergin and Ertosun. For newspaper coverage of the deadlock, see these articles from Hürriyet and Today's Zaman, the latter of which levelled insinuations that Ertosun and YARSAV head Ömer Faruk Eminağaoğlu are affiliated with Ergenekon.

Debating larger institutional arguments are two op/ed's recently published in Hürriyet. The first is authored by Rıza Türmen, columnist for Milliyet and former ECHR judge, and the second by Özlem Türköne, an AKP MP and memberof the Turkish delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE). While Türmen argues the HSYK should function more independently of the judiciary, Türköne assesses the politicization and establishment bias of the HSYK and the judiciary. The two columnists talk past each other, though both bringing up valid points and arguments for meaningful reform.

Worth looking to is TESEV's 2007 report on the independence of the judiciary. TESEV also recently released a book on people's perceptions of the judiciary (see report in Turkish).

Ilısu Dam Project in for Hard Times Despite Government Plans

PHOTOS of Hasankeyf from the Atlantic

On July 7, the German, Swiss, and Austrian governments announced plans to withdrawal from the Turkey's 1,200 megawatt Ilısu dam, an ambitious engineering project designed to generate 3.8 billion kilowatts/hour of electricity to the country per annum. The dam is part of Turkey's larger Southeast Anatolia Project, commonly referred to as GAP. Plans for GAP date to the 1970s, and the total project is estimate to cost an estimated €32 billion of which the Ilısu project was expected to cost €1.2 billion. From Amnesty International:
In March 2007 the German, Swiss and Austrian governments agreed to support companies from those countries to supply equipment and engineering services for the construction of the Ilısudam. This support was provided through ECAs [export-credit agencies], which arepublic or semi-public institutions thatgrant government-backed loans, guarantees and insurance to domestic companies that seek to do business overseas. Germany's Euler Hermes Kreditversicherungs-AG, Austria's Oesterreichische Kontrollbank Aktiengesellschaft(OEKB) and Switzerland's Swiss Export Risk Insurance(SERV) agreed to disburse a total of 450 million Euros in export risk guarantees.

When the three ECAs granted their support, a committee of independent experts was set up to evaluate and monitor the implementation of an agreement between the governments of Switzerland, Germany and Austria and the Turkish government on the impacts of the dam, including the social and environmental impacts. The agreement required the Turkish government to put in place mitigating measures, adequate compensation and a comprehensive scheme for the resettlement of affected communities. Following repeated breaches of this agreement, the governments of Germany, Switzerland and Austria put the contracts of national companies on hold for 180 days at the end of 2008. On 7 July 2009, when the Turkish government had not met the agreed standards, they decided to withdraw their support to companies involved in the project.

Had the ECA support not been withdrawn,Germany, Austria and Switzerland, as well as the companies receiving export credit guarantees, would be at risk of complicity in human rights violations and/or profiting from a project involving serious human rights violations.
The holds were ordered on Jan. 6 and the social and evironmental impacts referred to involved the expropriation of land from villagers who live on the proposed site and the failure of the Turkish government to conduct environmental impact assessments adequate to the demands of the ECAs. Since the Turkish government did not meet the 153 funding criteria placed on the project by the German government, Germany suspended funds and Switzerland and Austria followed suit. The German share of the project was €450 million. The funding criteria reflected World Bank environmental and heritage standards.

Ilısu would have been constructed on 300 square kilometers of expropriated land, involved the displacement of some 80 villages (mostly Kurdish) and 55,000 people (though Hürriyet reports it would have displaced 65,00 people), and flooded heritage sites, in particular the village of Hasankeyf, a city dating to Roman times and said to be home of over 20 cultures. The town was destroyed by the Mongols, but rebuilt by Selcuk Turks in the eleventh century. I posted on Hasankeyf in December.

Despite the withdrawal of foreign investment, Turkish Environment and Forestry Minister Veysel Eroğlu has said Turkey will continue to the poject. Particularly disconcerting, Eroğlu chalked opposition of the project up to From the AFP via Hürriyet:
"We have successfully carried out some important work in order to realize the project in accordance with international standards . . . The criticism is untrue. This is the work of foreign powers that do not want Turkey to become a regional power," he added.
An article in TDZ made no reference to Eroğlu's combative remarks, but did note the minister's insistence to carry on with the project for the economic good of the country's east and southeastern regions.

This claim is up to debate and figures into what has long been a debate about both the Ilısu project and Southeast Anatolia Project (GAP)as a whole. As Gareth Jenkins pointed out in an article last year, GAP is a long-standing project that has heightened tensions in the region for over thirty years. Though AKP has been quick to tout the project as benefitting the southeast, this is a dubitable claim. Additionally, it is largely seen by many Kurds and observers of Turkish politics as part of what Ece Temelkuran has termed Turkey's "Islamist banana" poltiics. (For Jenkins and "banana politics," see my post from last March.

So far, Turkey has invested an estimated total of $20 billion in GAP, and though GAP's irrigation projects have increased yields two to three times, it is reported to have left many of those whose lands were expropriated in an even greater state of poverty. Yigal Schleifer, in an article for Eurasianet last June notes a recent study by the Turkish Confederation of Young Businessmen (TÜGIK). According to TÜGIK, despite the investment in GAP, "the region’s share in the national income is lower today than it was 40 years ago. While the 2007 per capita income in the region around Istanbul was $14,500, in Turkey’s southeast it was only $5,200." The Ilısu dam project made up a significant sum of the $12 billion Prime Minister Erdoğan promised on May 27, 2008, and which he spoke of on his visit to Diyarbakır last summer. As for Ilısu, Schleifer points out little attention was paid to building local manufacturing jobs or to food processing facilities, industries that would have seen a real benefit for economic development in the largely Kurdish southeast. In the same piece, Schleifer writes that not all of those forcibly removed in previous phases of GAP received compensation and interviewed some of the displaced who were now working as loaborers on the farm lands they had once inhabited on the fertile Harran plains.

The Ilısu project was slated to be completed in 2013, but the ECA withdrawals -- despite the claims of Minister Eroğlu -- leave its completion up in the air. It is not at all clear, especially amidst the havoc of the financial crisis, that Turkey has the funds it needs to complete the project. However, as the Guardian reports, the dam, first planned in the 1980s, "has a history of troubles." The British construction company Balfour Beatty scrapped plans for a £200m investment in 2001 under pressure from environmentalists and human rights groups." Will the Turkish government complete the project, or will it look for funding elsewhere?

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Socialist International Condemns CHP Opposition to Military Courts Reform

The Socialist International (SI) has condemned the CHP's opposition to recent legislation requiring civilian courts to try military officials who pose threats to national security, constitutional violations, organizing armed groups and attempts to topple the government in peace time. The CHP had supported the legislation during its passage, but after claimed it had been duped by the AKP. The SI has released a statement quoted from in Today's Zaman:
The Council of the Socialist International … condemns in the strongest terms the coup d'état against the government of President José Manuel Zelaya Rosales in Honduras,” inspiring people on the streets in Turkey to carry banners with the message “The CHP can now join the government in Honduras,” accusing the party of aligning itself with coup supporters. The SI defines itself as an “association of political parties and organizations which seek to establish democratic socialism.” Therefore, political parties affiliated with the SI should by definition be social democrats and should never inspire this kind of public criticism.
Click here for full article.

This criticism from TDZ is not new, and is echoed not only by TDZ, but by leftist Turkish intellectuals and critics who actually have a stake in the SI and have long criticized CHP's inconsistent policy positions alongside its SI membership. (See, for just one example, Baskın Oran's call in 2008 that the CHP be expelled from the SI.) The SI, for its part, has also long been critical of the CHP. This July, CHP leader Deniz Baykal did not go to the SI's summit in Greece. Former vice-chairman of SI, Baykal lost his seat to Iraq's Jalal Talabani.

The SI, unlike some conservative entities in Europe, has long been supportive of Turkey's accession to the European Union. However, in a rather bizarre twist for outsiders of Turkish politics, the CHP has often opposed efforts to pass important political reforms required for Turkey to come into harmony with the EU's Copenhagen criteria for membership. The CHP opposed cosmetic reforms to Article 301, amendments to Turkey's law on foundations, and reforms pertaining to expanding the cultural rights of Turkey's Kurdish minority. It might be said that the CHP would be more supportive of these reforms if they were not the party in opposition, but the CHP's political positions and nationalist rhetoric is all that most people hear. The generation of this opposition rhetoric seems to be more the priority of Baykal's CHP than any effort to work with the AKP on developing substantive policy to move Turkey all the closer to satisfying the EU's political criteria for membership. For another socialist European leader's take on the CHP, German Foreign Minister Frank Walter-Steinmeier's recent comments. TDZ columnists Klaus Jurgens and Orhan Kemal Cengiz, neither leftists, echo familiar criticisms of the CHP regarding the inconsistensy of its policy positions with the SI platform.

I have posted rather frequently on the state of the Turkish left on this blog, and would refer to my previous posts for more information on the political context in which CHP's conservative political positions are taken. Not since Bülent Ecevit's DSP has there been a powerful Turkish party on the left that has addressed traditional social democratic concerns like the expansion of neoliberalism rather than focus on the preservation of Turkey's traditional nationalist/laicist regime. See also Ron Marguille's article from 2007 on the state of Turkish socialism in response to the AKP's neoliberal moderate Islamism.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Victory for Graduates of Imam-Hatip Schools

From Jenny White at Kamil Pasha:
Graduates of theological high schools and other vocational schools will now be able to enter college on the same basis as graduates of academic high schools. On Tuesday, the Higher Education Board’s (YÖK) General Council abolished the system of using a lower coefficient to calculate the university admission examination (Student Selection Examination [ÖSS]) scores of graduates of vocational high schools. Entrance to a college and field of study is decided exclusively by the student’s score in a single nation-wide exam, leading to an entire separate industry of private cram schools that remains unaffected by this ruling. In the old YÖK system, graduates of vocational high schools had points deducted from their admission scores when they applied to a university department unrelated to their curriculum. This system made it more difficult, for instance, for an imam-hatip high school graduate to gain entrance to medical school than a student from a normal high school with the same ÖSS score.
Professor White goes on to explain the formation of imam-hatip schools and the lower co-efficients, as well as to note that the reform will have little impact on türban-wearing women whom are restricted from entering public universities. For coverage from Today's Zaman, which has a pro-headscarf perspective, click here.

Middle East Diplomacy Continues

Additionally, Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas' recent visit further evidenced Turkey's desire to position itself as a mediator between Fatah and Hamas, as well as between Israel and a Palestinian national unity government. Abbas came to Ankara amidst somewhat of a brouhaha after visiting Cyprus and allegedly declaring his support of Greek Cypriot president Dimitris Christofias' position on Cyprus' longstanding dispute with the Turkey and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, though Abbas and the Palestinian Authority was careful to emphasize that the PLA had no position on the issue. President Gül eschewed the controvery altogether, instead taking the opportunity to re-affirm Turkey's commitment to a two-state solution and press for an agreement between Fatah and Hamas. Turkey attempted to position itself as a mediator between Hamas and Israel during the Israeli invasion of Gaza last December, though Egypt ended up ultimately leading the talks. Nonetheless, Turkey remains committed to bringing all parties together in an effort to prove its diplomatic clout in the region and is seen as uniquely positioned to do so as a result of its strategic relationships with both Israel and the Arab states. Turkey's western orientation yet predominantly Muslim population, as well as its non-involvement in Arab internecine conflicts, are also thought beneficial to the relationship. Also singificant is Gül's rejection of EU foreign policy chief Javier Solona's proposition of a deadline for recognizing a Palestinian state sans a consensus. It would be interesting to know what attempts, if any, have been made to coordinate Turkish policy with that of the European Union. For an analysis from the Eurasia Daily Monitor, click here.

At the same time, Turkey is eager to facilitate Syria and Israel in indirect peace talks. Following Abbas' departure, Prime Minister Erdoğan visited Syria, both endorsing the normalization of relations between Turkey and Syria and emphasizing the importance of Israeli-Syrian rapprochement. Israel and Syria have long been deadlocked on the issue of the Golan Heights, though Turkey remains optimistic that it can help barter a solution. The United States, initially ambivalent about Turkey's mediator role, has since endorsed Turkish-led peace talks. How successful they will be is another question. For analysis of the prime minister's trip to Damascus, click here for another piece from the Eurasia Daily Monitor.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Smoke Like a Turk?

(updated below)

Last January, Turkey passed law that would prohibit smoking in public places, including restaurants, cafés, and even nargileh. That law went into effect this Sunday, leaving many Turks anguished with the fact that the long tradition of smoking indoors has been brought to an end. While the law was enacted for public health concerns, many Turks are framing the issue in terms of individual rights. This has manifested itself in numerous public attacks on the AKP government, the smoking ban joining other charges that the government is bent on pushing an Islamic value scheme. Hürriyet's Yusuf Kanlı exemplifies this opinion among those less than happy about the ban:
What is indeed the intention of the government of Sultan Recep the First? Is it....aimed at confining Turks to their homes? Are we leaving through a process of advancing red zones in the cities? Or, is it as Le Monde or some other Western media outlets implied in their reports, an effort by the neo-sultan in the footprints of Murat the Fourth aimed at avoiding Turks coming together and criticizing his all benevolent and all capable government?
According to Bianet, the Ministry of Health has set up a hotline by which citizens can report on smokers who violate the law. The law also includes a mesaure that allows police to assess a 25YTL fine on smokers who throw cigarette butts on the ground, as well as provisions to fine businesses who are found to be in violation and restrictions on advertising.

UPDATE 8/1 -- A university professor recently completed a study on smoking in Turkish coffeehouses. Among the findings, while only 30 percent of Turks smoke, 70 percent of coffeehouse goers smoke (and a lot). The study also notes that coffeehouses are important places for men and women to gather to talk. This findings gives reason to wonder if the smoking ban will have on Turkey's public sphere. Coffeehouse cultures have long been appreciated as important spaces for political discourse. Will the smoking ban end up squeezing valuable public space in Turkey?

EU Visas to Non-Muslim Countries Raises Ire of Some Turks

From Today's Zaman:
The European Union's new visa regime, which will allow visa-free travel for citizens of Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia within the EU while excluding Muslim Bosnians and Kosovars, as well as citizens of predominantly Muslim-populated Albania, has had repercussions in EU candidate Turkey as well, where a skeptical public now tends even more to think that the EU is a "Christian club."

The EU announced the new proposal -- which will allow the citizens of Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia to travel to EU countries without needing a visa starting from Jan. 1, 2010, if all 27 member states give their approval -- on Wednesday. The European Commission's proposal excluded three other Balkan countries which have Muslim-majority populations, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Albania and newly independent Kosovo.

Randomly surveyed by Today's Zaman, residents in the capital of Ankara said the move was not surprising because the EU is a Christian club and favors Christians over others.

Galip Bayar, 70, a bookstore owner, said the EU's latest move is indubitably religious discrimination. “It is obvious that there is an anti-Muslim sentiment within the EU, both at the societal and the political level. This directly translates into discrimination against Muslims in terms of policies as well as social practices. This situation should be known by all. We are respectful of their beliefs and never argue about these beliefs with them. We simply accept them as they are, but what we receive in return is really not an equal level of tolerance,” he said with frustration. Nafiye Erten, 55, a housewife, said she completely agreed with Bayar and added that there are very few reasons to believe that the EU is neutral to the adherents of all religions.
Click here for full article. For a particularly scathing commentary on the visa regime decision, see Milliyet columnist Emre Kızılkaya's response.

Many opinion leaders have expressed particular anger at the admission of Serbia, a country with a strong sense of ethnic-based, and to some degree Christian, nationalism. As Hajrudin Somun, former ambassador of Bosnia and Herzegovina to Turkey points out, the EU's decision regarding Serbian visas will allow Bosnian Serbs to travel through Europe freely. Bosnian Croats (Christians) are already able to travel freely, meaning that Bosniak Muslims will be the only citizens of Bosnia-Herzegovina not allowed this privilege. While some politicians' view that Serbia must be allayed to keep it from gravitating toward Russia no doubt had an impact on the EU's decision, it does mean that some Serb genocidaires will be able to enter Europe without delay, a freedom not yet enjoyed by their Bosniak Muslim victims.

Turkey has enjoyed a Customs Union with the European Union since 1995 (though still refusing to open its ports to Cyprus) and is now the only country with an accession partnership whose citizens are not allowed to travel freely in Europe. Croatia already enjoyed this status, and Macedonia's inclusion in the visa-free zone, despite European concerns about corruption and organized crime in the country, now leaves many Turks feeling like they are out in the cold.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Diyarbakır's Demirtaş Aims to Protect Women

From Bianet:
Abdullah Demirtaş, mayor of the Sur municipality in the southeastern city of Diyarbakır, has collaborated with Vezir Perişan, president of the Diyarbakır branch of the trade union for municipal workers (Belediye-İş) in order to implement a collective labour agreement that includes sanctions against domestic violence.

According to this new labour agreement, which was amended on 1 July, municipal staff who treat their spouses or children violently will have half of their wages deducted, and it will be paid to the spouses. In addition, any payments due to an employee on resignation will also be paid to the spouse. Should a person have contracted more than one marriage (i.e. one official and other religious marriages), the payments will be made to the officially married spouse.
Demirtaş' labor plan also encourages municipal employees to learn other languages, including English, Armenian, and Kurdish (both Kurmanci and Zaza). Kurdish-speaking women have long been disadvantaged since several speak little to no Turkish and have difficulty attaining municipal services. Inability to speak Kurdish exacerbates problems of domestic violence. The New York Times Magazine ran a profile of the mayor in February 2008.

TESEV Releases 2006-2008 Security Almanac

From Hürriyet:
’Almanac Turkey 2006-2008: Security Sector and Democratic Oversight’ focuses on information about the security sector as a whole in Turkey and aims to accumulate information for civilian surveillance of the sector. Funded partially by the European Commission, the almanac includes an extensive scan of documents and legislation.

Tension is racking the heated political agenda in light of debates over curbing the influence of the military in politics. In a recent study the Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation, or TESEV, concluded that there is no improvement but a regression on the civilian control of the security sector since 2005.

Released in a panel Wednesday at Conrad Hotel, "Almanac Turkey 2006-2008: Security Sector and Democratic Oversight," aims to provide information about the security sector in Turkey for strengthening civil supervision over the sector. The almanac’s articles examine the relations between civilian and security institutions, as well as the security perception of civilian institutions. It also includes widespread scanning of security documents, laws, media stories and analysis.
For the complete TESEV report, click here. There is an introduction in English.

In the Eurasia Daily Monitor, Lale Sarııbrahımoğlu offers further analysis of the report.

Gül Vetoes Private Labor Employment Bill

From Bianet:
The International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers' Unions (ICEM) lodged strong protest early this week demanding Turkey President Abdullah Gül veto a bill giving "Private Labour Offices" broad rights to place temporary workers in enterprises. On 9 July, President Gül did veto the bill, and now the ICEM demands the Turkish Parliament not bring it back.

. . . .

Mustafa Kumlu, President of the Confederation of Turkish Trade Unions (Türk-İş), said accurately it would render existing mechanisms between unions and government useless. Kumlu, an ICEM Executive Committee member, said "social rights, social security, and other benefits" would disappear under this legislation.
For full article, click here. For coverage of ICEM's meeting in TDZ, click here.

Mistaken Moustache Leads to Lawyer's Targeting

From Hürriyet:
The Ankara lawyer in trouble for hanging a photo of his father, which police believed was a photo of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, leader, has instead been charged for possessing a photo of his sister at a rally.

The police investigation in the Gölbaşı region of Ankara started with a tip that said the lawyer had hung Abdullah Öcalan’s photo in his office right next to a photo of Turkey’s founder Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.

Police officers raided the lawyer’s office March 26. Ignoring the lawyer’s explanation that the photo was of his father, who had died in 1993, officers noted in their report that Öcalan’s photo could be seen right next to Atatürk’s on the office wall.

The police report was submitted to the local prosecutor, who filed a charge that the lawyer was guilty of “possessing terrorist propaganda.” The local prosecutor initiated an inquiry, ordering a search of the office April 7. The same day, the lawyer was detained by police in court while he was awaiting trial.

Conservative Vakit Causes Firestorm Outside Topkapı

From Jenny White at Kamil Pasha:
On the evening of July 11, the world-renowned classical pianist Idil Biret and the Whitehall Orchestra performed at the Topkapi Palace, one of the early palaces of the Ottoman Empire, now a museum that contains the artifacts of empire — among them the Ottoman crown jewels and important Islamic relics. For decades parts of the palace, especially the vast courtyards, have been the site of world-class music concerts. The day before, a far-right Islamist newspaper Vakit had fomented against the fact that alcohol was to be served at this concert in the hallowed halls of an Ottoman palace in proximity to the relics and at a time of concern for outrages against the (Muslim) Turkic Uighurs in China. A group of fifty to a hundred protestors led by an ultranationalist group called the Alperenler Hearth rampaged in front of the concert doors, calling out Allahu Akbar and tearing down and burning the concert posters. They knelt on a Turkish flag (the Vakit account states they knelt on an Alperen flag) to pray. The show went on as planned, but the performers had to escape out the back door. The Alperenler crowd, held in check by the police, then made its way through local neighborhoods shouting Allahu Akbar.
For full post with analysis, click here.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

An Imam, a Priest, a Rabbi, and a Buddhist Monk . . .

From the Guardian's Robert Tait:
It sounds like the beginning of a joke: what do you get when you put a Muslim imam, a Greek Orthodox priest, a rabbi, a Buddhist monk and 10 atheists in the same room?

Viewers of Turkish television will soon get the punchline when a new gameshow begins that offers a prize arguably greater than that offered by Who Wants to be a Millionaire?

Contestants will ponder whether to believe or not to believe when they pit their godless convictions against the possibilities of a new relationship with the almighty on Penitents Compete (Tovbekarlar Yarisiyor in Turkish), to be broadcast by the Kanal T station. Four spiritual guides from the different religions will seek to convert at least one of the 10 atheists in each programme to their faith.

Those persuaded will be rewarded with a pilgrimage to the spiritual home of their newly chosen creed – Mecca for Muslims, Jerusalem for Christians and Jews, and Tibet for Buddhists.

The programme's makers say they want to promote religious belief while educating Turkey's overwhelmingly Muslim population about other faiths.

"The project aims to turn disbelievers on to God," the station's deputy director, Ahmet Ozdemir, told the Hürriyet Daily News and Economic Review.
For full article, click here. Tait has an audio commentary available here.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Mor Gabriel Case Raises Questions About Syriac Minority

A dispute over the land rights of a Syriac Christian monastery, Mor Gabriel, has spurned a series of controversial law suits, yielding differing rulings over the monastery's rights to the land surrounding it. The case of Mor Gabriel's land rights is not simple, and involves a redrawing of the monastery's boundaries as part of a larger 2008 effort to update the national land registry --- part of a cadastre modernization project in compliance with EU instructions. The monastery is located in the Midyat district of Mardin province, a heavily Kurdish area that was once home to a diverse population of Kurds, Syriacs, Armenians, and Turks. Turkish authorities and the three villages in opposition to Mor Gabriel's redrawing -- Çandarli, Yayvantepe and Eglence -- claim that the new boundaries correctly adjust lands that were wrongly apportioned to Mor Gabriel 15 years ago. The case is significant in that it highlights tensions between Syriacs, their largely Kurdish neighbors, and the Turkish state.

Syriac Christians have long been disciminated against by the Turkish state. Not recognized as a minority under the Treaty of Lausanne, which granted minority rights to Greek and Armenian Christians, the Syriacs are afforded little protection as a group. Largely as a function of the dispute, villagers surrounding Mor Gabriel have complained that the monks are proselytizing to their children, referring to them as "missionaries" and stirring up a good bit of bad feeling. Though members of the Kurdish DTP have tried to reach out to the Syriac community in recent years, the Mor Gabriel case reflects extant tensions between the two groups -- the Kurds having their own disputes with the state.

The most recent ruling came from a Midyat court on May 22 and found in favor of the villagers. The monastery won its challenge to the redrawing in January, and plans to appeal the most recent ruling to the Supreme Court of Appeals. If the Supreme Court of Appeals rules affirms the Midyat court's decision, the monastery has said it will take its case to the European Court of Human Rights.

Some background from Today's Zaman:
In the name of Turkey’s strict secular laws, authorities have over decades expropriated millions of dollars worth of property belonging to Christians. Syriacs, Armenians and Greek Orthodox Christians -- remnants of the Muslim-led but multi-faith Ottoman Empire -- are viewed by many as foreigners. Syriacs are one of Turkey’s oldest communities, descendants of a branch of Middle Eastern Christianity. These Christians, united by a language derived from Aramaic, are split into several Orthodox and Catholic denominations.

There were 250,000 Syriacs when Mustafa Kemal Atatürk founded Turkey after World War I from the ashes of the Ottoman Empire. Today they number 20,000. Syriacs migrated throughout the 20th century to Europe, fleeing first persecution by the new secular republic and later to escape violence between Kurdish separatist terrorists and the Turkish military in the Southeast.

A local prosecutor in August 2008 initiated a separate court case against the monastery after mayors of three villages complained the monks were engaged in “anti-Turkish activities” and alleged they were illegally converting children to the Christian faith. Monks say the mayors are instigating anti-Christian feelings by accusing Mor Gabriel of being against Islam. Villagers in neighboring Çandarlı, a settlement of 12 humble houses with no paved roads, said they had nothing against Christians and accused the monastery of taking land they need for cattle.

“There is a continued campaign to destroy the backbone of the Syriac people and close down the monastery,” said Daniel Gabriel, director of the human rights division of the Syriac Universal Alliance, a leading Syriac group based in Sweden. “These proceedings cannot take place without the sanction of the Turkish government. If the government wanted to protect the Syriac Christian community, it would stop this case,” he said.

Many churches and monasteries in southeast Turkey -- known to Syriac Christians as Turabdin or “the mountain of worshippers” -- are now abandoned and in ruins. “You need people to have a church. Without the community, the church is only a building,” said Saliba Özmen, the metropolitan, or bishop, of the nearby city of Mardin.

The Conference of European Churches, a fellowship of 126 Orthodox, Protestant, Anglican and Old Catholic churches from European countries, has said it is “deeply concerned about the threat to the survival of the monastery.” The group has raised the issue with the EU and Turkish officials. Considered the “second Jerusalem” by Syriacs, Mor Gabriel was built in A.D. 397 near the border of today’s Syria and Iraq.

The ocher-colored limestone building has seen invasions by Romans, Byzantines, Crusaders and Muslim armies and the monastery was once raided by the Mongol leader Tamerlane. After falling into disuse, Mor Gabriel was revived in the 1920s and today teaches the Syriac faith and Aramaic language to a group of 35 boys, who live and study at the monastery. By law, Syriacs must attend state schools where teaching is in Turkish, but they can be taught about their own language and religion outside school hours.
The land rights case made its way into the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom's annual report on Turkey, and could well make its way into the EU progress report.

As some Syriacs have returned to their lands following the bloody war between the Turkish military and PKK insurgents in the 1990s, such disputes have become fairly commonplace. Being a monastery, however, the Mor Gabriel case raises specific questions about religious minorities in Turkey. The monastery has paid taxes to the Turkish state since 1938.