Sunday, March 28, 2010

Rasmussen: A Friend to Turkey After All?

NATO Chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen is calling for the European Union to allow Turkey administrative arrangements with the European Defense Agency (EDA), a move that would greatly strengthen cooperation between NATO and the EU. Since Cyprus, a non-NATO member, was admitted to the EU in 2004, tensions between the EU and Turkey within NATO have run high as Cyprus has sought to block Turkish membership in European security institutions, among them the EDA. Turkey has long aspired for an EU-Turkey Security Agreement, as well as administrative arrangements in the EDA, both of which Cyprus has said it will oppose until a settlement on Cyprus is reached. From Hurriyet Daily News:
"Why doesn't the EU grant such an arrangement to Turkey?" said Rasmussen, in a pointed demand for Ankara, which provides NATO with one its biggest armed forces, to join the European Defense Agency, or EDA, a mainly research and development arm.

His call, delivered to top policymakers attending a transatlantic security conference in Brussels, was directed squarely at listening EU parliament head Jerzy Buzek.

The former Danish premier, who sparked outrage in the Muslim world over his defence of controversial cartoons lampooning Islam, has actively courted Ankara since before it dropped opposition to his appointment last year at the last minute.

Rasmussen said that Brussels should also conclude a security partnership with Ankara, and involve non-EU countries in decisions affecting its mission to Bosnia.

"Turkey is the second-largest contributor to the EU operation in Bosnia ... but the EU does not provide non-EU contributors with the opportunity to contribute" to policy and decision-making, he said, adding that it was "essential" it does
In 2003, Ankara consented to the Berlin-Plus agreements, which effectively created a framework for the EU to have access to NATO assets in exchange for non-EU members to involve themselves in the EU's European Security and Defense Policy (ESDP), now headed up by EU Foreign and Security Affairs Chief Catherine Ashton. Yet, Cyprus' admission to the EU in 2004 and the EU's subsequent inclusion of Cyprus in ESDP planning complicated matters. An especially sore point for Ankara is its lack of say in ESDP planning in ESDP-related missions to which it contributes more resources than some EU member states.

Transsexuals and Spaces of Appearance

PHOTO from Zaman

People are often surprised to learn that Turkey, Istanbul in particular, has a significant number of transgendered people, some of whom have become quite famous and hold an important place for some Turks as pop icons. Most famous among these icons is singer Bulent Ersoy, who appears on a Turkish television show similar in format to American Idol and its European equivalents. Reuters' Simon Akam takes a brief look at Ersoy's career, transsexuality in Turkish society, and the role of transsexuals in Turkey's LGBT movement. From Akam:
Singer Bulent Ersoy is renowned for her elaborate wardrobe, formidable décolletage, countless albums, a stint on Turkey's most popular TV talent show and a spin-off film career. She was also born a man.

The transsexual Ersoy -- and a host of other ambiguously sexed entertainers -- have achieved success despite the conservatism of Turkish society and the prejudice that faces the country's gay and transgender communities.

According to Sahika Yuksel, a psychiatrist at Istanbul University who studies sexual identity, many Turks "don't accept their neighbor's son is gay, but they accept someone who is a figure outside, in television, in newspapers."

Earlier this month Selma Aliye Kavaf, the Turkish minister responsible for women and family affairs, said in an interview with the Hurriyet newspaper that homosexuality is a disease and should be treated.

Elsewhere, violence against gays and transsexuals is a regular occurrence. According to Human Rights Watch, at least eight transgender women have been murdered in Istanbul and Ankara since November 2008.

The most recent killing was of a transgender woman called Aycan Yener on February 16, 2010, in Fatih, a conservative neighborhood of Istanbul.

Yet, tellingly, Bulent Ersoy's most recent brush with controversy had nothing to do with her transgender status. In 2008 she stirred scandal when she said that if she had a son she would not let him fight in other people's wars, a comment taken as a criticism of Turkey's military operations against PKK separatists in the south-east of the country.

Observers see a number of reasons for the co-existence of popular transgender entertainers and widespread intolerance.
For Ersoy's 2008 brush with the law, see June 1, 2008 post. For a more in-depth look MERIP took at transsexuals in Turkish society, click here.


UPDATE I (3/10) -- AFP's Nicolas Cheviron takes a look at the status of LGBT rights that gives a good basic overview of discrimination against LGBT people, as well as the targeting of transsexuals. From the piece:
A total of 45 gays and transgender people were killed over three years in "hate murders", said Demet Demir, a transsexual and leading activist from Istanbul-LGBTT, a civic body promoting homosexual rights.

"In February alone, five people were killed. In Antalya (southern Turkey), a transsexual friend was brutally murdered; her throat was slit.

"In Istanbul, another was stabbed to death. Three young men... killed her for money, but she only had 70 liras (46 dollars, 34 euros) and a gold chain," Demir said, adding that three gay men had also been killed in Anatolia.

. . . .

The Turkish army classifies homosexuality as a "disease" while police are notoriously harsh against transsexuals.

"Just yesterday, police raided the flat where we meet our clients, breaking down the door," Ece, a 43-year-old transsexual, said.

"They arrested everyone and beat one of the girls with a truncheon. She had to have three stitches to her head," she added.

Although the Islamist-rooted government has enacted a series of rights reforms to boost the country's EU bid since it came to power in 2002, it has turned a blind eye to homosexual rights.

In March, Family Affairs and Women's Minister Selma Aliye Kavaf declared in a newspaper interview that she believed homosexuality was a "biological disorder, a disease."

"I think it should be treated," she said, attracting a storm of anger and enhancing fears that Islam is taking a more prominent place under the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).

According to Demir, the violence against homosexuals and her kind has its roots in a "rise in nationalism, Islamic values, poverty, and unemployment in the past seven or eight years".

"In such a climate, homosexuals and transsexuals are easy targets. Assailants think that nobody will ask questions and that they won't risk heavy penalties if they kill a transsexual," she said.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Turkey's Madisonian Dilemma: The Constitution and Why "Neighborhood Pressure" Matters

On Monday the AKP made public its proposed package of constitutional amendments over stark protestations from opposition parties and some figures in the judicary who have issued public statements against the package. There is dissent about both the content of the amendments, as well as allegations about the AKP's intentions and the means the party is employing to push the package into law.

For several in Turkey who view the AKP as a sinister force bent on consolidating its own power and, for some people, pushing through an "Islamist" agenda, the constitutional package is nothing more but an attempt to aggrandize executive powers, shifting the separation of powers in its favor by diminishing the role of the judiciary. Yet, for others, the package is the only hope for meaningful reform, especially in regard to the judiciary, which has consistently used its authority to annul legislation and threaten political parties with closure. A majority in Turkey, in some polls well upward of 60 percent, think a new constitution is necessary, but that support does not necessarily translate into support for the proposed constitutional package, which the AKP admits is less than perfect, but the only means to reform in a political climate where drafting a new constitution is but a pipe dream. Yet, in either scenario, there is little doubt that the current momentum behind the constitutional package and the AKP's firm commitment to seeing it passed is related to the current polarization between it and the judiciary, including the possibility of yet another closure case (see Feb. 20 post). Going the route of the constititutional package means that the AKP has put itself on the track of advancing incremental reforms versus seeking a complete overhaul, which it had promised to do in 2008 before being faced with the closure case it survived by the skin of its teeth. (For a bit of background, see Feb. 5 post and March 7 post.) The party presented the constitution to opposition parties on Tuesday and Wednesday.

What's in the Package?

The most significant areas of reform include new law on the closure of political parties and a re-design of the Constitutional Court and the Supreme Council of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK), the latter of which the European Union has consistently stated is in sore need of reform in order to shore up the independence of the judiciary. The number of judges on the Constitutional Court would be increased from 11 to 19, each judge serving a 12-year term and being ineligible for re-election therafter. The vast majority of the judges, 16, would be appointed by the president, who thanks to a constititional amendment passed in 2007, is now popularly elected. Three judges would be appointed by parliament. Some AKP supporters have pointed to this as a significant area of compromise since it is common in many systems to have constitutional judges appointed by parliament to begin with.

The majority of HSYK members would be increased to 21 and its powers reduced, a move that has establishment figures in the judiciary in a fervor. The HSYK currently consists of seven members -- five from the Supreme Court of Appeals and the Council of State, and two from the Justice Ministry (the Minister, who heads the Council, and the undersecretary). An additional 10 provisional members would be appointed. Of the 21, four would be chosen by the president, one by the Constitutional Court, three by the Supreme Court of Appeals, one by the State Council, seven by judges and prosecutors from among judges and prosecutors of the highest rank, and three by administrative judges and prosecutors of the highest rank. The re-structuring of appointments gives more power to the president and to lower ranks of the judiciary. Also importantly, decisions by the HSYK to remove a prosecutor (as happened in the case of Erzurum prosecutor Osman Sanal) would be subject to further appeal.

In terms of making it more difficult to close political parties, another move long recommended by the European Union and the Council of Europe, political party closures would require parliamentary approval. Instead of the Chief Prosecutor of the Supreme Court of Appeals preparing an indictment to be pursued at the Constitutional Court, the Chief Prosecutor would instead be required to petition a parliamentary commission setup for the express pruposes of dealing with potential closures. All parties with a parliamentary group would be equally represented in the commission, and a 2/3 secret vote would be required before a case could be launched at the Constitutional Court. Evidence used and rejected in past closure cases could not be used again. And, in terms of political bans on politicians pursued in line with closures cases, and which are more politically destructive than party closures, any imposed ban would be reduced from five to three years and banned parliamentarians would be able to retain their seats (and, presumably, their immunity) until the end of their term. One significant lacuna here is the lack of inclusion of the Venice Criteria, which define reasons why political parties can be closed. Officials from the Venice Commission have largely welcomed the package of amendments despite the exclusion of the criteria.

One other amendment would also make radical changes to the current order of things by allowing for the trial of military officers in civilian courts. As a result of new amendments, decisions by the High Military Council could be challenged in civilian courts and the body would be theoretically subject to standards of judicial independence. The Constitutional Court annulled a law passed last summer to try military officers in civilian courts.

Other items in the package would open up political parties finances to auditing by the Court of Accounts, limit the reasons for which a citizen could be banned from international travel, protect personal data, and remove provisional Article 15, which granted immunity to individuals involved in the 1980 coup of which Turkey's current constitution is a product. The last move is largely symbolic and has broad support across political parties, though some have argued for prosecutions of who are by this time some very old generals. Also of potential significance are laws pertaining to labor, women, and children, which many critics suggest were, along with amendment of Article 15, as "sweeteners." Civil servants would be given the right to collectively bargain, though not to strike. An arbitration commission would be established to settle disputes, the decisions of which would be final. This is unlikely to gain much support from Tekel workers and others who are staunchly opposed to the neoliberalism of the AKP. Also, disciplinary decisions reached by boards of public agencies would be subject to judicial review. As to women, measures assuring positive discrimination would be introduced, though some women's groups have demanded that the operative term here should be "actual equality."

Addressing the Madisonian Dilemma

The AKP's plans to push the package through by referendum should it not be approved by an unlilely 2/3 majority of parliament raises important questions about majoritarian democracy and those whoare very much afraid that their rights are threatened by the more devout Sunni Muslim majority the AKP is thought to represent. Though the AKP constantly claims that it represents all citizens of Turkey, passing constitutional reforms that enhance executive power and diminish the role of the judiciary, however much needed, is a sensitive issue and should not be dealt with lightly. American constitutional theorist Robert Bork refers to the need to resolve the tension between values associated with what he refers to as competing moral demands for civility and toleration. Canadian political theorist Colin Farrelly expounds:
Civic liberalism takes seriously what Robert Bork (1990) calls the ‘Madisonian Dilemma’. This is the dilemma between the moral demands of the virtues of toleration and civility. Respect for toleration leads us in the direction of limited government, government that does not unjustly interfere with individual liberty. This concern for individual rights provides the normative basis for constitutionalism. This can be contrasted with the moral demands of civility, demands which leads us to majority rule and the idea of self-government. If we take only the moral dimensions of these two virtues into account, it seems that we cannot resolve the Madisonian Dilemma. For we have two contradictory prescriptions- limited government and self-government. But civic liberalism inspires a public philosophy that gives due attention to both the moral and pragmatic dimensions of these virtues. It does not seek to give an absolute priority to any of the moral demands of toleration or civility. Rather, it seeks to reconcile the diverse demands of toleration, civility and fairness. As such, civic liberalism does not see the Madisonian Dilemma as paradoxical. This apparent dilemma reinforces the case for invoking a virtue-oriented approach rather than a principle-oriented approach to government. Civic liberalism defends a virtue-oriented conception of liberal democracy that takes both sides of the Madisionian Dilemma seriously. A public philosophy that takes the complexities of the Madisionian Dilemma seriously is one that will seek to steer a middle path between judicial and legislative supremacy.
Steering such a path in Turkey is no easy task, but it is a road about which the Turkish government, judiciary, and most importantly, Turkish citizens should think hard on and debate fervently. Much of the criticism of the AKP's constitutional package centers precisely on this lack of debate, which is only compounded by the self-interests of the AKP that would be advanced by the package (for example, see this piece from "The Bosporus Straight"). The AKP's previous attempt to draft a new civilian constitutional was also subject to such criticism, though the latter argument about the AKP's self-interests could not gain near as much traction since the draft came after the party's huge electoral victories in 2007. Yet, replete with the liabilities that come with a lack of public consultation and consensus-seeking, a lack of public discourse opens the package up to serious, and some case, warranted criticism, however difficult discourse and consultation-seeking is given the recalcitrance of opposition parties, the lack of coalition building and dialogue in Turkish civil society, and the authoritarian nature of political parties and the policymaking process. At an event last night, one woman broke into near tears as she conveyed her fears, however valid they may be, that the AKP was leading Turkey down a path contrary to its "republican" and "secular" heritage. Rather than dismissing such fears as paranoid or delusional, or placing this woman in the position of being the member of an "elite" who does not want to lose power in a system that has historically benefitted members adhering to her values and ideological orientations more than devout Sunni Muslims, the AKP should take steps to allay these fears by addressing them head-on, addressing the limitations of state power and majoritarian democracy when it comes to values and lifestyles shared by a minority. Here, "neighborhood pressure" again becomes part of the discourse, and rather than dismissing the term and the validity of the phenomenon, the AKP should do everything in its power to engage citizens who fear what is perceived by many as its creeping conservatism. From my Aug. 1, 2008 post following the Constitutional Court's narrow decision not to close the AKP:
For those skeptical to affirm AKP's center-right identity, the party must move away from the intra-party authoritarianism that characterizes all of Turkey's political parties, open its eyes and ears to the complaints of liberal reformers, and renew its commitment to constitutional reform—change that seeks to expand personal liberties and redefine Turkish citizenship along lines much more agreeable to contemporary understandings of democratic pluralism.
So far, the party has done very little in this regard. For those fearful of AKP's more Islamist tendencies, the judiciary and the military, and for that matter, the state's laicist understanding of secularism, exist to protect civil liberties and freedoms (including to do such things as drink alcohol, not wear the headscarf, watch Western films, etc.). Until conservative Turkish governments can assuage fears that liberties and freedoms are not at risk, measures that reduce the power of the military or the judiciary will continue to be strongly resisted and seen by many as part of a hidden, alternative agenda. However much the AKP compares itself to center-right parties in Europe, few in Germany think the Christian Democrats are out to turn Germany into a strictly-conceived "Christian state." While the validity of perceptions that the AKP is out to do so might be open to question, this does not negate the need of the government to address the, and in doing, pursue the deliberation and dialogue necessary to resolve the Madisonian dilemma in the context of Turkish constitutional democracy.


UPDATE I (3/26) -- The Turkish Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges (TOBB), the Turkish Confederation of Employers’ Unions (TİSK), the Confederation of Turkish Real Trade Unions (Hak-İş), the Confederation of Turkish Labor Unions (Türk-İş), the Turkish Tradesmen and Artisans’ Confederation (TESK), Turkish Public Workers’ Labor Union (Kamu-Sen) and the Turkish Union of Agricultural Chambers (TZOB) have released a joint statement in which the unions said they would lend conditional support to the constitutional package, through they stressed a need for a new constitution. TUSIAD also expressed its desire for a new constitution, which some EU officials have said will prove a prerequisite for Turkish accession. TUSIAD stressed the importance of lowring the 10 percent threshold political parties must meet in order to form a parliamentary group -- a measure left out of the reform package, and which some have used as evidence that the AKP is concerned only with strengthening its own position. The fragmentation of opposition parties, many of which have not and are unlikely not to reach this threshold, has benefitted the AKP, especially in the 2002 elections that saw the party into power. The package will be presented to the parliament on Monday.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Contesting "Statism": More of a Thatcher Than a Khomeini?

AA Photo from Hurriyet Daily News

The BBC's Jonathan Head takes a look at Tekel workers and their continued efforts to resist receiving temporary working status and a reduction of their pay and benefits. (For background, see March 7 post.) From the story:
From its shiny new headquarters that towers over the squat, 1930s buildings of Ankara, the AK Party is projecting a very different vision of Turkey than the one envisioned by the country's founding father, Ataturk.

Often described as Islamist because of the conservative religious habits of its leaders, the party is actually driven at least as much by business as by faith.

Prime Minister Erdogan is more of a Margaret Thatcher than an Ayatollah Khomeini.

"The AKP is in favour of the market, against state enterprises - they have a prejudice that everything the market does is proper and just and successful", says Professor Burhan Sanatalar, an economist at Istanbul's Bilgi University.

"The revenue side is also very important to them", he says.

"From the 1980s to 2008 privatization generated around $36bn, and 70% of that has been received during the AKP's period in government."

The AKP's approach has helped generate impressive economic growth over the past decade, and spawned hundreds of successful new private businesses.


Tekel workers say they will no longer vote for the AKP
But in a country where the state has dominated so much of life since the founding of the Turkish republic 87 years ago, it has also come as a shock to many Turks.

Back in 1931 Ataturk announced his "Six Arrows" - the six principles that he believed should underpin the character of the nation.

One was "statism", a belief that the state should play a leading role in Turkey's economic development.

Even as late as the mid-1990s, more than half a million people were employed by state enterprises, about 20% of the industrial workforce.
See also my Feb. 9 post.

Human Rights Association Releases Prison Report

From Today's Zaman:
The chairman of the Human Rights Association (İHD), Öztürk Türkdoğan, has criticized the high number of arrests made as part of judicial investigations in Turkey, which he said has become a form of punishment in itself.

Speaking at a press conference on Monday where he discussed the İHD’s “Report on Violations in Prisons 2009,” Türkdoğan called on the Justice Ministry to amend Article 100 of the Code on Criminal Procedure (CMK) to make it more difficult for people to be arrested when an investigation is being conducted into them.

More than half of those imprisoned in Turkey have simply been arrested and are either awaiting trial or are waiting for a verdict on their cases. Currently there are 118,929 people in prison in Turkey, 60,598 of whom have not yet been sentenced, according to the Justice Ministry’s statistics. “This is a clear indicator of how anti-democratic and unjust the regime of arrests is and how it is used as a type of punishment. The ratio of people under arrest among the prison population is not as high in any other country. Inmates are sleeping in shifts in Turkey. There two to three times more people in prisons than the facilities are capable of holding. This situation causes many cases of human rights violations.

The situation is even worse in juvenile prisons, where there are currently 2,789 inmates. Less than 10 percent are serving prison sentences, the rest have simply been arrested and are awaiting trial. “Turkey continuously violates the Declaration of the Rights of the Child,” the human rights activist asserted.

The report, which was prepared based on information received by the İHD and cases mentioned in the press, suggests that 24 inmates died in prisons last year. “Forty-nine more people were not released despite their serious health problems,” said Türkdoğan. He said if the president continues to use his pardoning power based on reports prepared by the Council of Forensic Medicine (ATK), more people will die while in prison.

Türkdoğan further argued that prison conditions deteriorated in 2009 compared to previous year. “Torture and mistreatment as well as violations of the right to nourishment and medical attention have increased,” he said.
For Bianet's summary of the report, click here. I have tried to find the IHD report, but have had no success.

Professor Jenny White on Nationalism and Islam

Professor Jenny White recently gave an interview to the new blog Changing Turkey in a Changing World in which she discusses the existing literature on Turkish politics and history, including on the question of nationalism and Islam. She also discusses her most recent book in the Kamil Pasha series, The Winter Thief, which was just released.

Abramowitz and Barkey on the AKP and the Future of Turkey

In an insightful piece in The Wall Street Journal, former Ambassador to Turkey and Century Foundation Senior Fellow Morton Abramowitz and Carnegie Endowment for International Peace Vistiting Fellow Henri Barkey give a brief summary analysis of recent goings-on in Turkey. From the piece:
Shortly after the 2002 AKP electoral victory, elements of the Turkish military, including senior commanders, began worrying that the AKP would transform Turkey from the secular democracy inherited from Ataturk to a more religious and authoritarian state. Some, as we now know, began plotting against the new government. Their fears turned out to be correct, not because the AKP has turned Turkey into an Islamic state—it has not and is not likely to—but because it has gone very far in eliminating the military's role in Turkish political life. That is an extraordinary achievement, although it is not AKP's alone. Rather, it is the result of a profound and long-coming societal change—namely, the emergence of a conservative and pious middle class.

Shaken by the arrests, a tough response from the Turkish military cannot be ruled out. Senior judges and prosecutors remain squarely in the military's camp even if their subordinates do not, and the military may rely on the Turkish judiciary to somehow check the AKP, as it has tried to do before. Even if that succeeds, it would be a Pyrrhic victory and, in the end, be unlikely to change the course of Turkish politics' steady civilianization. The Turkish military will, of course, not lose its importance. It is a formidable force in an unstable area and Turks cherish its patriotism and its contributions to the country's security. It will retain much of its independence and remain a thorn in the side of the AKP. But its days as a kingmaker of governments are coming to an end.

The military's past attempts at interfering in political issues, ranging from the selection of the president to judicial processes, have served to undermine its own legitimacy, while helping the AKP win a second electoral victory in 2007. Still, the paralysis and distraction engendered by the court cases against the military have also taken a toll on the AKP. The party remains the most popular and powerful, but it is more vulnerable than ever, with its poll numbers dropping.

The AKP has done much to modernize and democratize Turkey—something only a pious and conservative party could have achieved. However, its increasingly combative style and its modus operandi of picking domestic fights rather than carrying out meaningful economic and political reforms have helped reduce its popularity. Its all-powerful prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has turned into an increasingly authoritarian leader, contemptuous of criticism. Mr. Erdogan's proclaimed activist foreign policy in the Middle East, especially his softness on the Iranian nuclear program and harshness on Israel, has won him domestic and occasional foreign plaudits, but it has also contributed to his sense of invincibility. Neither will his international efforts, however popular at home, compensate for rising unemployment and stalled reform efforts. A party cannot live by foreign policy alone, especially when it also sets the stage for serious overreaching and the alienation of friends and allies. Mr. Erdogan's remarkable outburst threatening to expel all "100,00 Armenians living illegally in Turkey" in retaliation for the adoption of resolutions in some countries recognizing the 1915 Armenian Genocide, is likely to call into question Turkey's sincerity in reconciling with its neighbor Armenia, and has even earned him criticism at home.

Turks will make up their own minds about how to deal with the AKP. Turkey's tragedy has been the absence of a serious opposition to challenge the AKP. The resulting vacuum has usually been filled by the military. The inability of the opposition to focus effectively on economic or judicial reforms may be a major boon to the ruling party, but it has seriously undermined Turkish democracy.

Despite Turkey's impressive strides under AKP rule and the praise it has received from the West, the U.S. and other Western countries still have to put their money where their mouths are. While a genuinely free-market party, the AKP is not a liberal party in the traditional sense—Mr. Erdogan rules his party with an iron fist. Nor does the AKP appear to have much time for the needs of those who oppose it. It has ignored the legitimate fears of pro-secular groups, especially women, and it is intent on subduing the media rather than reforming it. It has also yet to effectively tackle the major cleavages in Turkish life: It made a start on the Kurdish issue but has lost its appetite; has long ignored the need to overhaul its authoritarian constitution and unfair election practices; and has failed to make clear to the public whether it is a truly secular party, as it proclaims.

Turkey will only move forward if the AKP reshapes itself and acts on its promises to make Turkey a better-functioning democracy. That will not be easy, since politics in Turkey have been a zero-sum game this past decade. The West has praised the AKP until now, but it does Turks no favors by shying away from declaring that major changes are essential for Turkey to be a part of the EU and the wider democratic world. If the AKP doesn't hear and heed that message, it may engender precisely what Turkey's Western friends would loathe to see: The re-emergence of an authoritarian society, or even the military's political comeback.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Bagis Talks to Der Spiegel

In an interview that has quite a lot to say about Minister for European Affairs and EU Chief Negotiator Egeman Bagis, the politician talks with a very aggressive interviewer from Der Spiegel. As expected and seen in prior interviews, Bagis affirms his country's enthusiasm for EU membership and argues Turkey's geostrategic importance for Europe (for my critique of this rhetoric, see Feb. 21 post). Yet, here Bagis is asked some questions a bit outside his protfolio, and his answers are worth a look. On the question of the United States and the recent genocide resolution passed in the U.S. House, Bagis brings up American reliance on Incirlik. He also, not coaxed, repeats Prime Minister Erdogan's statistic that 100,000 Armenians are working in Turkey illegally as a means of evidencing Turkey's benevolence in response to a question about the possibility of Armenia accepting reparations and quite candidly responds to questioning about whether what happened in the Ottoman Empire in 1915 constituted genocide. Bagis is also asked about Minister of Women and Family Selma Aliye Kavaf's recent statement that homosexuality is a disease in need of treatment (see March 9 post), telling the interviewer he disagrees with Kavaf's assessment, though he is "neither a historian nor a doctor." A good bit of the interview is par for the course, but the flow and candidness make for a good read and provide some insights into Bagis and just what he can and is willing to say.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

More Resolutions, More Troubles

Three significant developments unfolded in the past two weeks in regard to Armenia. One, on March 12 the Swedish Riksdag voted by a margin of one vote to define the 1915 massacres of Armenians genocide in a non-binding resolution that the Swedish government has flatly denounced. Two, Obama Administration officials in the State Department have backed off affirmations that the genocide resolution passed in the House Foreign Affairs Committee will not come to a floor vote. Three, Prime Minister Erdogan, in an interview with BBC's Turkish-language service, seemed to threaten to crack down on undocumented Armenians working in Turkey.

Sweden

Following the unexpected March 12 vote, Turkey recalled its ambassador to Sweden, Zeygun Korkuturk, and Prime Minister cancelled a trip he was planning to make to Stockholm on March 17 to sign a strategic partnership with the country that would resemble partnerships already in place with Spain and Italy. The partnership has been put on hold despite assurances from the Swedish government that the resolution has no legal bearing nor will it be adopted as official policy by Sweden's center-reight government. Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt and Foreign Minister Carl Bildt assured Turkey that they thought the resolution unwise, and adopted the Turkish government's position that genocide resolutions passed by foeign parliaments threaten reconciliation with Armenia. Significantly, the Swedish genocide resolution did not limit itself to the Armenian community living in the Ottoman Empire in 1915, but also recognized atrocities committed against other Christian communities. This week the Swedish government announced that it would be providing financial assistance to Turkey to help it along with the EU accession process, including increased funding to Turkish civil society groups. Swedish Minister for International Development Cooperation Gunilla Carlsson said, “Turkish EU membership is strategically important for the European Union. Sweden is in a position to provide support in connection with these needs and can help strengthen civil society by supporting organizations working for the rights of minorities and other groups in need.”

United States

Turkey has yet to send back Ambassador to the United States Namik Tan though three weeks have passed since the U.S. House committee vote on March 2. Erdogan has said that he wants a clear signal from the United States that the resolution will not be passed, and still publicly blames the Obama Administration for not doing more against the resolution. Yet, so far the Obama Administration has proven unwilling or unable to send such a clear signal. At an event held at the Brookings Institution, Assistant Secretary of State Philip Gordon said Congress was an independent body and that "they are going to do what they decide to do." Gordon did echo the Turkish government's position that the resolution is an obstacle to reconciliation. Following an invitation to a summit on nuclear energy to be held on April 13-14, Erdogan said he will not be attending, indiciating that he will send someone lower in the government chain-of-command. With Turkish officials still unwilling to visit Washington in the current climate, the American-Turkish Council and the Turkish-American Business Council have pulled the plans to hold their annual conference on April 11-14. Similarly, the Turkish Industrialists and Businessmen’s Association (TUSIAD) called off a trip to the US that was scheduled for March 16-17. An issue of some curiousity occured when Virgina Foxx, who heads the Congressional Turkey Caucus, told Turkish journalists that House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Howard Berman had told her that the resolution would not move to a floor vote, though Berman strongly denied that such a message was made. When Tan will be sent back to Washington remains unclear, though all eyes will be turned to Washington as April 24 approaches. For an understanding of the genocide resolution's place in American politics, see former Ambasador to Turkey and Century Foundation Senior Fellow Mort Abramowitz' piece in The National Interest.

Perhaps Some of Us Are Not So Armenian After All

In the heat following the Swedish resolution, Erdogan's inclusion to brin undocumented Armenian workers in Turkey into the discussion earned the prime minister domestic and international condemnation (see interview, in Turkish). Erdogan remarked,
Look, there are 170,000 Armenians in my country -- 70,000 of them are my citizens, but we are managing [tolerating] 100,000 of them in our country. So, what will we do tomorrow? If it is necessary, I will tell them, ‘Come on, back to your country.' I will do it. Why? They are not my citizens. I am not obliged to keep them in my country. I mean these are [defenders of the Armenian claims of genocide], their attitude is affecting our sincere attitude in a negative way, and they are not aware of it.
For an excellent report on the Turkish reaction to Erdogan's remarks, see Ayse Karabat's reporting in Today's Zaman. From Karabat:
Leaving aside foreign policy considerations, civil society organizations criticized Erdoğan's remarks on several grounds: first, he mentioned Armenian Turkish citizens together with the citizens of Armenia, and secondly, he was using foreign workers as a tool of foreign policy and neglecting the humanitarian side of the problem.

But Suat Kınıklıoğlu, deputy chairman of the AK Party Foreign Affairs Committee, underlined that Erdoğan was trying to explain that Turkey tolerates the irregular Armenian workers. “As has been known for many years, there are Armenians illegally living and working in Turkey, and as a reflection of our goodwill and efforts toward normalization which started in 2005, we do not really touch them.

We tolerate them and take their difficult circumstances into consideration. In particular, we are not questioning their status due to the acceleration of the normalization process in Turkish-Armenian relations. The prime minister needed to draw this fact to people’s attention, especially now, when resolutions have been accepted which damage normalization. I think Turkey’s magnanimity is being ignored,” he said, and added that the prime minister did not mean he would immediately send those workers back to their country.

Öztürk Türkdoğan, the chairman of the Human Rights Association (İHD), said Erdoğan’s remarks could easily be considered a “threat” and as discrimination. “These remarks could lead some people to think that to expel people is a 2010 version of forced migration. This mentality is far from human rights-oriented thinking. People have the right to work, and this is universal. There are many Turkish workers all over the world; does it mean that Turkey will accept their expulsion when there is an international problem? Secondly, these remarks are discriminatory; there are many workers in Turkey of different nationalities,” he said.
As Karabat goes onto examine, the 100,000 number Erdogan gave the BBC is also quite controversial. A recent study by the Eurasia Partnership Foundation puts the number at between 12,000 and 13,000 Armenian citizens working in Turkey, and CHP leader Deniz Baykal, citing numbers from the Ministry of Labor, put the number at an estimated 14,000. BDP member Ufak Uras also criticized the remarks: “The prime minister’s remarks reflect the deportation concept of the 21st century. While we consider similar remarks as racist or xenophobic when directed to Turkish immigrants living in Europe, it is unacceptable to talk in this manner about the immigrants in our country."

The press' reaction was also quite strong, the Armenian newspaper Agos running the headline, "A Lot of Unionists, But No Progress" (see Today's Zaman columnist Sahin Alpay on the media reaction, as well as his inclusion of more positive statements Erdogan has made on the Armenian Question). Arguing that his comments were taken out of context, Erdogan blamed the media for inflating/maliciously reporting the story.

31 Turkish NGOs signed a joint condemnation of Erdogan's remarks, from which Bianet extracts the following points:
* Nobody abandons the place where he/she was born for insignificant reasons; and nobody stays in a country where they cannot find work.

* The Armenian immigrant workers have the right to humane treatment just as anybody else.

* It is unacceptable to make thousands of defenseless people subject to bargaining in order to dismiss the decisions that might be taken by third countries parliaments.

* Erdoğan is the Prime Minister of a country that alleges to bring together civilizations, to sort out the quarrels and normalize relations with Armenia which are international demands. In these terms, Erdoğan's statement carved out a huge contrast.
For another hearty response to Erdogan's comments, see the Armenian Weekly's Katchdig Mouradian's post on a blog he is writing to chronicle his experiences as a member of an American delegation of analysts and commentators visiting Turkey organized by Economic Policy Research Foundation of Turkey (TEPAV). Also worth a glimpse is Today's Zaman columnist Orhan Kemal Cengiz's look at the work of Turkish historian Taner Akcam. In his column, Cengiz excerpts part of a leter Akcer addressed to Erdogan and Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc, part of which I have excerpted here:
Mr. Prime Minister and Mr. Arınç, the answers to the problems that are the legacy of 1915 can’t be found in the denialist policies of Veli Küçük, Doğu Perinçek, Şükrü Elekdağ and Yusuf Halaçoğlu. Don’t search for the answers there. You won’t get anywhere repeating the chorus they’ve been singing for 95 years. They are your adversaries on the issue of 1915, just as they are when it comes to the Kurdish issue and the issue of the military’s place in politics. You cannot construct your response to 1915 by holding rank with those who want to drag the country into chaos, who murdered Hrant Dink, who have planned massacres against Christians and who have been plotting coups against you.

“If you are going to respond to 1915, you need to search for an answer different from the answers given by Ergenekon or by those who plotted the coups. To do this, you should follow your Muslim roots in Anatolia that have grown alongside your party and take a closer look at what these roots did during 1915.

. . . .

Mr. Arınç, you can’t build a future on the backs of murderers. You can build a future on the backs of those righteous Muslims in Anatolia who challenged the murderers. In the same way that you can’t resolve today’s problems by supporting Hrant’s murderers, the ‘Samasts’ and the ‘Veli Küçüks,’ you won’t get anywhere supporting the murderers of the Hrants of the past. The answers to 1915 can’t be found in the answers of Doğu Perinçek or Veli Küçük. They are members of the Ergenekon gang that killed Hrant Dink; it’s natural that they defend the murderers of the Hrants of the past. Let the ‘Veli Küçüks’ defend the murderer Samast of today and the murderers Talat, Enver and Kemal of yesterday. Your place is not at the side of Veli Küçük. Your duty is to stand by the side of the ‘Haji Halils,’ to stand up for those Muslims who put themselves and their families at risk by opposing the massacres.
As for the status of the protocols, which seem most certainly dead in the water, Armenian President Serzh Sarksyan continues to accuse Ankara of using the genocide resolutions as another pretext not to introduce ratification. With the prime minister's most recent remarks, ratification might indeed prove all the more difficult in Armenia, the diaspora and Armenian nationalists having been handed a huge propaganda gift.


UPDATE I (3/24) -- Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc announced plans to make new policies ensuring that the children of Armenian immigrants receive proper education in Turkish schools.

Also, TUSIAD has announced that it will send a delegation to the United States after all. The visit will occur April 19-20, just days before Obama will issue a statement addressed to the Armenian community on April 24 in which all eyes will be on the American president to see if he uses the word "genocide" to label the massacres of 1915. Last year, he chose to refer to the events as the "Great Catastophe (Metz Yeghern in Armenian)," a phrase many Armenians have for years used, and which recently some Turks have employed, albeit quite controversially.

UPDATE II (3/26) -- Prime Minister Erdogan has announced that Korkuturk will return to Stockholm next week. Also, Today's Zaman columnist Etyen Mahcupyan, with whom Bulent is likely to disagree, argues that the reaction of the press and of some AKP supporters was quite critical of Erdogan. From the column:
The prime minister’s unfortunate remarks served as a litmus test that brought to surface the change in Turkey. All media organizations reported his remarks along with interviews with Armenians. All human rights associations condemned Erdoğan, and perhaps as a more important indication, Muslim readers sent messages protesting or criticizing him. This incident indicates once again the risks before the Justice and Development Party (AK Party). Today, the AK Party does not face serious competition in the political spectrum, but its supporting demographic are freeing themselves more quickly from the party.
And, on the issue of formerly Armenian property:

If, in addition to this policy of denial, Turkey shows extraordinary resistance to returning the properties that belonged to the foundations of non-Muslim minorities, this possibility of attaching the “genocide” label to the incidents will increase further. This is because the story of 1915 and its aftermath is not only one of the people who were displaced or killed, but also one of a community whose cultural assets and properties were usurped. Turkey not only refuses to carry the burden of the dead people, but also continues to hold a handful of their properties as spoils. This inevitably adds credence to the genocide-still-continues discourse.




UPDATE I (4/2) -- Erdogan announced that Tan will be returning to Washington next week. The primme minister also confirmed plans to attend a summit on nuclear proliferation to be held April 12-13.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Lausanne and Beyond: The Council of Europe and Greeks in Turkey

PHOTO from Hurriyet Daily News

Earlier this month, Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc met with religious leaders, including Greek Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew, Chief Rabbi of Turkey Ishak Haleva, Armenian Archbishop Aram Ateşyan, Syrian Orthodox Archbishop Yusuf Çetin and Simon Zazadze, who represented the Catholic Georgian Church. At a press conference following the meeting, Arinc averred that the government will move to amend Turkey's laws to allow the Greek Orthodox Halki Seminary at Heybeli Island to be re-opened. The seminary was opened in 1844, but closed in 1971. The Greek Orthodoz Patriarchate has long argued that its re-opening is essential to the preservation of the church (see Jan. 10 post), and this was not the first time that government officials have made promises to re-open the seminary (see June 30 post). However, Arinc's statement might be more than a bit premature. Soon after Arinc's remarks, Deputy Prime Minister and government spokesperson Cemil Cicek said, "The Turkish constitution and related regulations do not make the opening of private religious schools possible. If you are going to introduce new rules regarding human rights and freedoms, you need to do it for all groups equally."

In addition to opening up Halki, the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate seeks recognition of its ecumenical status, which Turkey has long denied. For Turkey, the Patriarchate represents Turkey's now tiny Greek minority (estimated at between 2,000-4,000 people). The Constitutional Court has blocked past efforts to recognize the Patriarchate as the ecumenical representative of the entire Greek Orthodox Church, and a local court has recently held the same finding in a decision that the Venice Commission declared this month to be inconsistent with the European Convention on Human Rights, namely Article 9 pertaining to freedom of religion. The issue of Halki and recongizing the Patriarchate as ecumenical all comes down to the Lausanne Treaty, which set up relations between Turkey, Greece, and their minorities at Turkey's founding in 1923.

At the heart of any reform is Lausanne's status in both Turkish and Greek law. In a bold and diplomatic resolution passed this January, the Parliamentary Committee of the Council of Europe (PACE) called on both Greece and Turkey to eschew Lausanne and recognize the supremacy of the European Convention of Human Rights as the appropriate framework in which to make policies related to minorities and minority rights. Arguing Lausanne to be outdated, the resolution calls on Turkey and Greece to deal with minorities as citizens of equal status and to drop the constant rhetoric of reciprocity (in line with Lausanne) inherent in both countries' discourses. Minorities in both Turkey and Greece have long fallen victim to the 1923 treaty, legal arguments both states have make about reciprocity going something like this: Greece treats their Turkish minority in Thrace badly, and so Turkey must as well, and vice-versa.

Bianet does an excellent job of laying out Turkey's homework on minority rights as given to it by the PACE. Importantly, the inclusion of criticism of Greece strengthened the reception of PACE's report, making it both palpatable and welcome to some Turkish politicians, policymakers, and opinion leaders. (In contrast, see the European Parliament's one-way criticism of Turkey in regard to Cyprus, which Hurriyet Daily News reported side-by-side with the PACE resolution. See also Feb. 17 post.)

Also passed by the PACE in January was the report, “Freedom of Religion and Other Human Rights for Mon-Muslim Minorities in Turkey and for the Muslim Minority in Thrace [Eastern Greece]," of French parliamentarian Michel Hunault. The report follows a tour of Turkey some visitors of PACE made in June of last year. Soon after the report was released, Turkey's Ambassador to the European Union Volkan Bozkir headed a 12-member delegation comprised of members from the Foreign Ministry, the Interior Ministry, and local officials that met with Greek community leaders. Because of the continued importance of Lausanne, issues involving Turkey's Greek minority are handled by the Foreign Ministry, one of many recommendations the Venice Commission has said needs to be changed.

The most recent Council of Europe action -- the opinion by the Venice Commission -- follows January's PACE resolution and Hunault's report. Significantly, the report analyzes the legal dimensions of the Treaty of Lausanne and, though stating its subordinance to the European Convention on Human Rights, finds no legal basis in Lausanne by which Turkey can justify its refusal to recognize the Patriarchate as ecumenical. Whether the Commission's decision will help the government change current law and navigate around exisiting Turkish case law on the subject remains to be seen, but its unequivocal statement that Lausanne does not limit the Turkish government from recognizing Bartholomew's title will not ring weakly in the ears of those who are listening, however limited their number. From the Commission's opinion as relayed by Today's Zaman:


“The argument appears to be that the Patriarchate was only allowed to remain in Istanbul on the condition that it would shed its ecumenical status. This argument cannot be supported for several reasons,” it said, listing those reasons: “First, even assuming that there was a conflict between the ECHR and the provisions of the Lausanne Treaty the latter does not prevail over the first … Second, there is nothing on the ‘ecumenical’ nature of the Patriarchate in the provisions of the treaty itself, which do not mention the Patriarchate at all … Third, recourse to the preparatory work of the Lausanne Treaty or the circumstances of its conclusion as supplementary means of interpretation (Article 32 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties) do not lead to a different conclusion.” The commission concluded, “The 1923 Treaty of Lausanne therefore in no way limits the right of the Patriarchate to use the title ‘ecumenical’.”
The Venice Commission's "Opinion on the Legal Status of Religious Communities in Turkey and the Right of the Orthodox Patriarchate of Istanbul to use the Adjective 'Ecumenical,'" is not limited to the Patriarch, but the Greek minority in Turkey as a whole, and came at the behest of the PACE following the visit by the PACE delegation last June. For the full opinion, click here.

CORRECTION (3/22) -- Halki was shut down in 1971 following a Constitutional Court decision that annulled sections of the law governing private universites. All private universities were faced with either nationalization or closure . The Patriarchate chose not to nationalize and the seminary closed.


UPDATE I (3/25) -- Deputy Prime Minister Huseyin Celik discusses the persecution of Greeks and the status of the Patriarchate in an interview with Today's Zaman. He also questions the Greek Turks status as a minority under Lausanne.
Serious injustices were done to all these groups during the single-party era in Turkey; however, the injustices done to the non-Muslims were more severe. The wealth tax was a disgrace. The closure of the Greek seminary was a great shame. The Sept. 6-7 incidents were an inhumane conspiracy that humiliated Turkey in the eyes of the world. The alienated villagers were unable to enter Ankara’s city center until 1946. The violation of the rights of the humiliated Alevis, Kurds and the pious have continued until today.

. . . .

We have been having ‘ecumenical’ debates for a long time. Is Bartholomew ecumenical or not? It’s none of our business. Why do Muslims debate the world leader of the Orthodox community, why do they want to be decision-makers regarding this issue? Let the Orthodox community decide on this. If they see İstanbul Fener Patriarch Bartholomew as ecumenical, do we have any right to debate this as nnon-Orthodox people? Let the Orthodox people decide of their own free will.

. . . .

In my view, none of our 72 million citizens should be treated as a minority,” Çelik said. Indicating that believers of the three monotheistic religions along with many other religious communities lived in peace during the Ottoman Empire, Çelik said the state approached all religions and beliefs with tolerance back then. “The slogan that reflected this in the Ottoman Empire was ‘Diversity in unity,’ a slogan which is now promoted by the Council of Europe. The two cultures met at the same point centuries later.
I wonder if this interview would have run in Zaman (the Turkish edition) . . .

Sunday, March 21, 2010

More Detentions, More Confusion, and Plenty of Talking

AFP Photo from Hurriyet Daily News

More Ergenekon-related drama unfolded this week when 28 active and retired military personnel were detained. These detainess are reported to be linked to retired police chief Ibrahim Sahin who was charged in 2009 as an Ergenekon conspirator, though the detentions were not explicitly linked to the Ergenekon investigation. On Friday, an Istanbul court indicted 33 suspects accused of being part of the Cage Plan, including three retired admirals.

The week started with a bang when the Sunday edition of Milliyet ran an interview with Chief of General Staff Ilker Basbug, wherein Basbug said Operation Sledgehammer (see Jan. 25 post) was the most serious of the various coup plans and confirmed that the military was conducting a "comprehensive and multi-dimensional" probe of Colonel Cicek, who is accused of masterminding the "Action Plan Against Reactionary Forces." Meeting with journalists on Monday, Basbug gave a highly-charged speech in which he told reporters he was in "a challenging mood" and, according to Today's Zaman, warned journalists they could face charges for reporting stories that undermine relations between superior and junior officers under Article 95 of the Military Penal Code. Star columnist Mehmet Altan responded to Monday's speech with claims that Basbug could be charged under Turkey's Penal Code for interfering with the Ergenekon investigation and influencing the judiciary. Basbug has rejected claims in the media that some military officers threatened to resign in reaction to the detentions and arrests of colleagues, and harshly criticized a recent seizure by police of a civilian truck carrying hand grenades for the military. Police seized the truck on March 10 on a tip that the truck was carrying weapons to be used in violence to be carried out in the southeastern city of Mus during Newroz, though t was later announced that the military had clarified the incident and that no investigation would be launched. Basbug also defended his relationship with President Gul and Prime Minister Erdogan, saying there is nothing inappropriate in the state of civil-military relations and that future disputes would be settled within the same framework of the meeting the three held following last month's mass detentions and arrests of top officers. Baykal's remarks follow criticism from CHP leader Deniz Baykal, who has openly questioned what he refers to as the "bargaining" between the government and the military.

For a good briefing of the Ergenekon investigation (up to March 9) and some background into past military coups, see Bilgi University Professor Ilter Turan's analysis released in conjunction with the German Marshall Fund's "On Turkey" series.


UPDATE I (3/23) -- Another 10 people were arrested yesterday. From Bianet:
Accordiong to CNN Türk, Erikel is the lawyer of Lieutenants Noyan Çalıkuşu, Eren Mumcu, Önder Koç,Hasan Hüseyin Uçar, Mehmet Ali Çelebi ile Neriman Aydın, Kemal Aydın, Durmuş Ali Özoğlu, İbrahim Özcan and Hamza Demir, defendants in the second Ergenekon case. The lawyer was said to be among the ten people arrested and being interrogated on Monday.

Auditing the Military

A subcommittee of the Parliamentary Planning and Budget Commission has begun debating a proposal to more fully audit the military and allow for the Court of Accounts to examine military spending. On March 10, representatives of the Turkish Armed Forces conveyed their opposition to the proposal in a formal report to the subcommittee. Today's Zaman translates some of the TSK's report:
Efficiency and economy, which are the essence of performance auditing, cannot be sought at the same time in the TSK’s auditing. This situation is in contradiction with the spirit of defense services. The performance of the TSK can only be overseen by military personnel who are competent in this field. The efficiency and effectiveness of the armed forces can be ensured with education. The efficiency of the education is measured by drills. The efficiency of the drills can only be assessed by professional military experts.
The TSK also objects to measure in the proposal that would allow the Court of Accounts t review its inventory, as well as give the Court oversight of military facilities such as military clubs, canteens, museums and orduevis (dining facilities for members of the military). According to the TSK, the latter are non-profit organizations, and thus are not subject to auditing. In regard to the former, as with other legal efforts to provide for civilian auditing of military activity, the TSK cites state security. The auditing of military institutions is constantly cited as necessary to satisfying EU political standards for accession. From the 2009 Progress Report:
As regards auditing, under the Constitution the Court of Auditors can carry out external expost audits of military expenditure. However, these audits are based on accounting records and take the form of desk reviews. Auditors are not allowed to conduct on-the-spot checks.

Moreover, the court remains unable to audit movable assets belonging to the military, pendingadoption of the draft Law on the Court of Auditors. Last year, the Court of Auditors decided that it has a mandate to audit the SSDF. However, implementation has not yet started.

Concerning internal auditing, the 2003 Public Financial Management and Control Law, which provides for internal audits of security institutions, has not been implemented yet.

Guarding Turkey's 'Soy'?

The Health Ministry has announced a regulation that would effectively make it a criminal offense to use a foreign sperm or egg donor to conceive a child using artificial insemination. From Hurriyet Daily News:
With domestic egg and sperm donations already banned, Turkish women seeking to become pregnant have now been prohibited from receiving similar fertility treatments abroad by a new regulation seeking to “protect the country’s ancestry.”

According to İrfan Şencan, the director of the Health Ministry’s Health Services Department, the recent amendment to the law was made to “protect the ancestry, to make the newborn’s father and mother known.”

. . . .

The new regulation says, “Spouses will only be able to receive cells belonging to each other. Using a donor in any [other] way is prohibited.” If a center in Turkey performs an operation using a sperm or egg donation taken from a member of an unmarried couple, or transplants an embryo, the facility will be closed indefinitely and all personnel working there will likewise be barred from working at similar centers.

Since sperm and egg donations and using a surrogate mother are both banned in the country, many Turkish people have been applying to centers abroad to have sperm or egg transplants performed, recent media reports have said. The new regulation bans this practice as well.

In addition, Turkish doctors and medical centers are also prohibited from leading or encouraging couples to have sperm or egg donations performed abroad, or even informing them about the possibility. Centers that recommend a foreign facility or mediate between Turkish couples and doctors abroad will be closed for three months for their first offense. Centers that continue to do so will be closed indefinitely by the governor’s office, according to the new regulation.

The amended law says that complaints about facilities that perform sperm or egg donations or send patients to either foreign or domestic centers for such procedures will be filed with the public prosecutor’s office, along with complaints against the woman and the donor.
A woman breaking the law faces a three year prison sentence. The new regulation did not go through parliament, but rather takes advantage of an existing law in Turkey's penal code (Article 231) that makes it a criminal offense to obfuscate a child's parentage. The BBC quotes women's rights activist Pinar Ilkkaracan:
This is completely against the philosophy of the reformed penal code.

We spent years fighting to improve the law so that it would properly protect women's autonomy over their bodies and sexuality.

This government has slipped this regulation in without any debate in parliament.
Motivation for the regulation is unclear, but there is plenty of speculation, that the law is partially inspired by a concern to protect Turkey's bloodline (soy). Following the Kocaeli earthquake in 1999, Turkey's health minister at the time banned foreign blood donations from Greece entering the country, citing concerns about protecting the integrity of Turkish blood. The decision was widely detested at the time, and still does not sit well with many Turks. Sencan rejects this as the reason, and in defense of the measure, cited similar regulations in "Christian countries." Perhaps religion is more behind the new law than race, though it is also likely both are at play here and the result is a further restriction on women's bodies. (From the reportage I've seen, it seems only women can be tried under the criminal provisions and not their husbands or partners who might have also been involved in the decision -- not that including husbands or male partners would make the law less of an exercise over a woman's body and reproductive decision making.)

Today's Zaman columnist Nicole Pope writes that the law will prohibit couples from conveiving children, and relaying the sotry of a friend who conceived using artificial insemination, discusses the concept of soy, patriarchal notions of family, and its impact on women.
In this traditional society, women are under great pressure to produce children. We all remember Prime Minister Erdoğan’s call for them to bear at least three offspring. For years, I witnessed the trials and tribulations of a friend who was unable to conceive. She had to contend with the jibes of in-laws who viewed her as imperfect because of her inability to bring the heir they expected. Relatives would even urge her husband to swap her for a more fertile “broodmare.” Thankfully he resisted, but one of his uncles discarded four “sterile” wives, causing them untold misery, without ever admitting that he could have been the source of the problem.

Eventually my friend and her husband managed to conceive through IVF, but they had to seek medical help in secret because they feared relatives would disapprove or even reject their offspring.

At the heart of the matter lies a patriarchal definition of the family, linked by blood ties that need to be protected and kept pure no matter what. Taken to its extreme, this approach is responsible for most of the violent attacks reported against women in this country, whether it is a young girl killed for refusing to marry the partner chosen by her parents or a wife punished by a violent husband when she seeks to leave an abusive relationship.
The focus on reproduction and traditional views of the family might also help explain Minister for Women and Family Selma Aliye Kavaf's recent comments on homosexuality being a "disease" in need of treatment. See also Jenny White's blog post on this subject, including comments, for more discussion of the new regulation.

Paranoid Politics and Seismic Risks

Istanbul-based freelance journalist Claire Berlinski has a particularly cutting and perspicacious piece on Turkey that ran in The Wall Street Journal about a week ago. The piece struck me when I read it then, and I think it useful to post if only to share Berlinski's portrait of a country that is difficult to easily paint and abundant in contradictions, mysteries, and potentials for obfuscation. Incisive and polemical in the many points of argument and analysis she presents, Berlinksi draws particular focus on what she considers to be Turkey's paranoid style of politics.
Almost everyone in Turkey subscribes to one of two conspiracy narratives about this party or its antagonists. In the first, the AKP is a party of religious deception that seeks to bring all elements of the government under its control. Its hidden goal is the eradication of the secular state, the wrenching of Turkey from the West, and, ultimately, the imposition of Islamic law. In this narrative, the specter of the sect leader Fethullah Gülen, who has undefined ties to the party and has taken exile in Utah, arouses particular dread. His critics fear he is the Turkish Ayatollah Khomenei; they say that his acolytes have seeped into the organs of the Turkish body politic, where they lie poised, like a zombie army, to be awakened by his signal.

The second version holds that the AKP is exactly what it purports to be: a modern and democratic party with which the West can and should do business. Mr. Gülen's followers say the real conspirators are instead members of the so-called Deep State—what they call a demented, multitentacled secret alliance of high-level figures in the military, the intelligence services, the judiciary and organized crime.

Neither theory has irrefragable proof behind it. Both are worryingly plausible and supported by some evidence. But most significantly, one or the other story is believed by virtually everyone here. It is the paranoid style of Turkish politics itself that should alarm the West. Turkey's underlying disease is not so much Islamism or a military gone rogue, but corruption and authoritarianism over which a veneer of voter participation has been painted.

The system does not look too undemocratic on paper. Turkish political parties are structured, in principle, around district and provincial organizations. There is universal suffrage, but a party must receive 10% of the vote to be represented in Parliament. Party members elect district delegates, district presidents and board members. Yet Turkish prime ministers have near-dictatorial powers over their political parties and are not embarrassed to use them.

Protesters against the rash of coups d'etat in downtown Istanbul in February.
.It is the​party members, not voters, who pick the party leader. Members of Parliament enjoy unlimited political immunity, as do the bureaucrats they appoint. The resulting license to steal money and votes is accepted with alacrity and used with impunity. Corruption and influence peddling are the inevitable consequence. Business leaders are afraid to object for fear of being shut out.

Conspiracies flourish when citizens fear punishment for open political expression, when power is seen as illegitimate, and when people have no access to healthy channels of influence. They give rise inevitably to counterconspiracies that fuel the paranoia and enmity, a self-reinforcing cycle. Throughout Turkey is the pervasive feeling that no one beyond family can be trusted.

The common charge that the AKP is progressively weakening the judiciary and the military is objectively correct, as is the claim that this concentrates an unhealthy amount of power in the hands of the executive branch. Yet the prime minister and his intimates insist that their actions are defensive. "For 40 years, they have kept files on us. Now, it is our turn to keep files on them," AKP deputy Avni Doğan has said.

Their enemies voice the same worldview. "When you look at Turkey today, it is as if the country has ... fallen under foreign occupation," the leader of the opposition CHP party Deniz Baykal has said.

Paranoia is inevitably also grandiose. When the House Committee on Foreign Affairs passed up the recent resolution to describe the massacre of Armenians in the First World War era as a genocide, Suat Kiniklioglu, the spokesman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Turkish Parliament, explained Turkey's outrage thus: "I think the Americans would feel that same if we were to pass a resolution in our parliament talking about the treatment of [native] Indians in this country."

Mr. Kiniklioglu speaks fluent English; he has spent years in the West. Yet he is blind to the most obvious of facts about American culture: No one in America would give a damn.
In the piece, Berlinksi also assesses Turkey's large informal economy, which Berlinksi assesses has "been exaggerated by statistical legerdemain," as well as what she seems to in part symbolically put "among the most serious of Turkey's problems" -- "the grave seismic risk to Istanbul," which according to Berlinski, is effectively "ignored in the constant din of mutual accusations." Berlinski concludes:
The failure to prepare for this predictable event is a betrayal of trust, like so many the Turkish people have suffered. Each deepens the paranoia. Each citizen believes that to survive, he must lie and conspire. Everyone assumes everyone else is lying and conspiring against him because he himself is lying and conspiring.

Turkish Ambassador Namik Tan recently said that the West "must understand that in this region, two plus two doesn't always equal four. Sometimes it equals six, sometimes 10. You cannot hope to understand this region unless you grasp this."

Psychiatrists are typically advised to attempt to form a "working alliance" with the paranoid patient, avoid becoming the object of projection, and provide a model of non-paranoid behavior. This is also sound advice in diplomacy.

​But paranoia is known to be a particularly intractable disorder. Those who experience it do not trust those trying to help them. The West should keep this, too, in mind, for the paranoid spiral here could easily do what spirals are known to do: spin out of control.

Anti-Discrimination Proposal Sees Light of Day

The government has released a draft of its legislative proposal to enact a series of measures aimed at curbing discrimination based on "gender, race, colour, language, religion, belief, ethnicity, sexual identity, philosophical and political opinion, social status, marital status, health condition, disability, ages and similar essential basics." The proposal includes the establishment of an "Anti-Discrimination and Equality Commission" that would have the authority to receive, review, and rule on applications form individuals claiming to be discriminated against. The commission will have financial and administrative autonomy, the power to dole out fines up to 500,000 TL, and the right to file criminal complaints.

Significantly, the proposal also allows for cases of positive discrimination in the case of disadvantaged groups. The reform package currently under preparation is said to include provisions for positive discrimination, reform long sought after by women's groups as necessary to close Turkey's rather large gender gap in terms of employment and politics. See the above link for specific legal amendments some women's rights activists are pushing.

Barriers to Protecting a Woman's Right to Life

Following the European Court of Human Rights' June 2009 decision that states have an obligation to protect a woman's right to life, and that failing to do so amounts to gender-based discrimination, Turkey is still struggling to meet its legal responsibilities. A recent law mandated that cities with populations of more than 50,000 provide a women's shelter, but there are no sanctions in force to give the law teeth. March has seen four women who had applied to state institutions under the auspices of new procedures designed to empower women in cases of domestic violence subjected to extreme forms of violence. Minister for Women and Family Selma Aliye Kavaf said the police in these cases did not inform her ministry, and so proper procedures were not followed. Kavaf also cited bureacratic difficulties in sorting through applications from women with the same name. From Bianet:
Gökçe Kartaler, volunteer of the women's shelter Mor Çatı ('Purple Roof'), recalled a decision of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) given in June 2009. The court sentenced Turkey to a compensation fine in the case of Nahide Opuz because "she had not been protected by the state" when she applied for help by reason of her violent husband.

Kartaler indicated that subsequent to this decision, the Ministries of the Interior and of Women and Families signed a joint protocol. However, difficulty was experienced for the implementation of the protocol.

"According to the protocol, records must be drawn up instantly if a woman comes to the police to document the exposure to violence. If the woman does not want to go back home, she shall be directed to a shelter. Yet, the statement made by Kavaf shows that the police do not fulfil this responsibility", Kartaler argued. Selma Aliye Kavaf is the Minister for Women and Families.

In Kartaler's opinion, not only police forces are responsible for women murders but also the lack of capacities regarding Social Services and Child Protection Agencies.

Kartaler calls for increasing these capacities since even if the police directs the women to a shelter, there is no social service unit available 24 hours a day seven days a week. The police cannot reach social service officials off-time. Another deficiency is the education within the service.

"Many police officers do not know where they are supposed to look for help and that the prosecutor has to be informed in case of an application related to violence", Kartaler said.

What needs to be done? Kartaler replies, "First of all, a service has to be established that works 24 hours a day seven days a week. The police must be able to contact experts on domestic violence at any time, they could provide a more sensitive and effective approach. Additionally, social service experts are needed at police stations".

Kartaler also touches upon the importance of vocational training for police officers for the prevention of violence against women. "Education is insufficient. When a police officer changes his/her position, it is not checked whether s/he received training accordingly. The presence of a trained police officer in every police station for every shift is not being monitored."

"Considering European standards, one save place for a women and her child is allotted in 7,500 people. In Turkey, we struggle to open shelters for municipalities of a population exceeding 50,000 people", Kartaler explains and expresses her hopes: "There are positive developments. Now we are struggling for their implementations".
Questions: What procedures must a woman go through when seeking protection from the police, and are these in any way cumbersome? What is the application process for entering state-run women's shelter, and what protections are afforded upon entry? What specific trainig, if any, have local police undertaken to ensure that procedures are properly followed, and just how do local authorities coordinate efforts with the Ministry for Women and Families? And, to date, how many shelters have been opened in cities with populations of over 50,000 people, and just what is the Ministry and the government doing to ensure compliance with the law?


UPDATE I (3/22) -- Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) Van deputy Fatma Kurtulan submitted a question motion demanding a response from the justice minister on why so many women who are victims of domestic violence are killed by their husbands or abusive lovers despite having applied to the police and prosecutors for protection several times. From Today's Zaman:
Kartaler says that following Turkey’s conviction at the ECHR, a protocol was signed between the Interior Ministry and the Ministry for Women and Family Affairs. However, there have been problems executing it. “According to the protocol, when a woman goes to a police station, the officers have to file records without demanding proof of violence. If the woman doesn’t want to go home, she should be referred to a women’s shelter. However, the police rarely fulfill their responsibility.”

Caferi Organize Workshop

Recent intitiatives taken by the government to advance minority rights now include the Alevis, the Kurds, and the Roma. Another group, oft-overlooked, are the Caferis, whose number has been estimated at 3 million. Caferis are largely Azerbaijani Turks who hale from Igdir provicne, which was included in Turkey following the province's transfer from Russia to Turkey following World War I. Caferis, however, largely identify as Shi'a Muslims distinct from Alevis, and the largest concentration of the group is in Istanbul. The Caferis recently organized a workshop for their community leaders. Like ther religious minority groups, the Caferis demand autonomy from the Religius Affairs Directorate, including the right to freely administrate their mosques, religious education classes, and property. They are also seeking inclusion of information about their religion in textbooks designed for manatory religious education classes in public schools, as well as opportunities to talk about their religion on Turkish state television and radio.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Turning a Vicious Cycle Into a Virtuous One

EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fule at a press conference with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu.
AA Photo from Hurriyet Daily News

In his first trip to Turkey, EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fule re-stated the European Union's position on Cyprus, urging Turkey to implement the Additional Protocol of the EU Customs Union and so end the blockade of Turkish ports to Cyprus. Not surprisingly, Ankara re-stated its position that it will not do so until the EU ended its isolation of Northern Cyprus and that it will not recognize Cyprus until an agreement between the north and the south is reached. Fule re-affirmed his commitment to Turkish membership, and in an op/ed published in Today's Zaman before his visit, argued the importance of the EU honoring commitments to Turkey and maintaing its credibility.
I am aware of voices both in the EU and in Turkey who question this course of action. But I have no doubt that honoring our commitments is the right thing to do, so that our engagement remains credible. Credibility needs building with concrete actions on both sides. We will continue our cooperation program and support the ambitious reforms undertaken in Turkey. We need to continue working together on the negotiations, opening new chapters as well as making progress in the chapters that have already been opened. We need to overcome the deadlock over Cyprus. With the ongoing negotiations in Cyprus, there is a unique opportunity to find a comprehensive settlement to reunify the island. I will use all the instruments at my disposal to support a solution to this problem.

I am convinced that we can turn this around, from a vicious circle into a virtuous one, provided there is political will of all actors involved. I know it takes courage and determination to do so, but I believe neither is in short supply in Turkey.
There are plenty of reasons to hope that this can in fact happen despite the recent polarization in Turkish politics thanks to the Ergenekon investigation and the government's plans to push for judicial and other constitutional reforms over recalcitrant opposition. The government has recently passed a new EU action plan, and as I wrote last month (see Feb. 21 post), there is plenty of momentum going into ths year Cyprus aside. Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos has said Spain hopes to open new policy chapters on education, competitiveness, food safety, and should Cyprus prove agreeable, energy. Yet, as UN-sponsored Cyprus talks continue with no end in sight, Cyprus will remain the elephant in the room until some breakthrough is reached. (For more on Cyprus and the accession process, see Feb. 17 post.) See also EurActiv's analysis of Fule's visit.

In other EU-related news, an informal EU parliamentary group was launched last week. Friends of Turkey brings together 47 MEPs.
Among the group’s members are the spouse of Swedish Prime Minister Carl Bildt, Anna Corazza-Bildt; Sandra Kalniete (Latvia); Jaroslaw Leszek Walesa (Poland); Birgit Schnieber-Jastram (Germany); Georg Bach from Luxemburg’s Christian Democrats; İsmail Ertuğ, Knut Fleckenstein, Jutta Steinruck and Peter Simon (Germany); Emine Bozkurt (the Netherlands); Richard Howitt and Claude Moraes (UK); Tanja Fajon (Slovenia); Ioan Enciu and Victor Bostinaru (Romania); Boguslaw Liberadzki (Poland); Said El-Khadraoui (Belgium); Baris Zala (Slovakia); Evgeni Kirilov (Bulgaria); Raimon Obiols (Spain); and Kader Arif from the French Socialists.

Metin Kazak (Bulgaria); Jelko Kacin and Ivo Vajgl (Slovenia); Graham Watson, Andrew Duff, Sarah Ludford and Michael Cashman (UK); Marietje Schaake and Sophie in’t Veld (the Netherlands); Michael Theurer and Alexandra Thain (Germany); Liisa Jaakonsaari and Anneli Jaatteenmaki from the Finnish Liberals; EU-Turkey Joint Parliamentary Committee co-chairperson Hélène Flautre, Catherine Greze and Karima Delli (France); Fransizka Keller and Jan Philipp Albrecht (Germany); Raul Romeva i Rueda (Spain); Indrek Tarand (Estonia); Heidi Hautala (Finland); Judith Sargentini from the Dutch Greens and Sajjad Karim from the Dutch European Conservatives and Reformists are also among the members of the group.

"Ayrilik" Resurfaces (This Time in Saudi)

The 13-part Turkish television series "Separation: Palestine in Love and War"("Ayrilik") has been sold to a Saudi and an Emirati television channel. The television series ran on state television in Turkey last year, and along with the "Valley fo the Wolves" ("Kurtlar Vadisi") series, drew scorn from Israel and eventually resulted in the Ayalon affair this past January. The series documents Israeli soldiers shooting Palestinian civilians, killing a newborn baby girl and an elderly man making their way back from Mecca. The first broadcast on the Saudi channel shows tonight. Jenny White has analysis of the series at Kamil Pasha, including a glimpse of some of the violence via a link provided by Ha'aretz.