Saturday, June 26, 2010

The Headscarf and Women's Employment

The Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation (TESEV) has released a new study authored by Dilek Cindoglu and Ebru Ilhan documenting discrimation faced by female employees wearing the headscarf. Bianet gives a summary of the results:

* According to research conducted by KONDA and MetroPOLL in 2008, 71-72 percent of all women cover their head, while only eleven percent of female university graduates wear headscarves. A study by World Bank and the State Planning Organization revealed that these women's participation in labour dropped from 50 percent in 1998 to 35 percent in 2006.

* The two working areas in which women are represented the most are as unpaid family workers in agriculture and as trained professionals.

* The women wearing headscarves at university are not a homogenous group. Religious affiliations of these women differ as well as their level of political interest, adoption and level of traditional values, the level of individual religiosity and their economic and social capital.

* The headscarf ban is the most basic field of conflict for young professionally trained women with headscarves.

* Wearing a headscarf at work is part of these professional women's religiosity and individuality. They are respected by their colleagues and especially by men in lower positions. The headscarf makes them feel safer on the street and at work.

* When women wearing headscarves have to include a photograph in their CV, they are more likely to face difficulty related to salary policies or when they are made redundant. They hear things such as "It is anyway a blessing to work here" or "You do not have to financially support a family", respectively.

* Employers want women wearing headscarves to be 'invisible'. They should either be 'invisible', take off their headscarf or should not publicly represent the company. This means that they are not participating in meeting with clients or in training courses and that they are kept away from work related to state offices.

* Employers focus on traditional patriarchal patterns thinking that even though the woman is working, she does not actually have to support the family. This way, employment of women wearing headscarves is being marginalized.

* Women wearing a headscarf in business perceive that they experience discrimination and obstructions almost entirely by reason of their "headscarf".

See also this report from Hurriyet Daily News that includes pieces of an interview with Cindoglu.
The headscarf has long been seen as an obstacle to women's employment, though camps on both sides of the issue face the issue differently. Pro-headscarf advocates argue that limitations on headscarved women entering university poses a serious hindrance to their position in higher-level unemployment, and that once out of university, women continue to face discrimination, and often, outright ridicule. Proponents of restrictions on headscarves, including some women's rights groups, argue the headscarf is a function of conservative, patriarchal attitudes, and that frequently it is the attitudes of headscarved women's families, most importantly, their husbands, that keep them out of the workplace.

This study very much disputes this notion in documenting cases where women choose to work, and in many cases, where their employment is necessary to the livelihood of their family.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Sarigul Throws In Support for the CHP

DHA Photo from Hurriyet Daily News

On Tuesday, Sisli mayor and leader of the Turkey Movement for Change (THD) Mustafa Sarigul announced a cancellation of his plans to form a new poitical party in Turkey. Instead, Sarigul said the change taking place within the CHP was hopeful and seemed to hint that Kilicdaroglu's election obviated the need for a new leftist political party. Sarigul was expelled from the CHP in 2006 following a fiercely contested bid for the party's leadership.

For more on Sarigul and the TDH, see Feb. 9 post.

Keeping Daughters (and Sons) In School

A recent report put out by the Education Reform Initative takes a look at the nubmer of children who either do not go to school or do not go onto receive a seconday education. As expected, the document confirms that the percentage of girls not in school is much higher than that of boys, though the number not attending seconday school is quite high for both groups. Bianet summarizes the report's findings:
* In the age group of 15-19-year-olds, 26 percent of the boys and 50 percent of the girls neither are going to school nor to work. In international comparison, this ratio amounts to 8, respectively 9 percent in other OECD countries.

* Access to secondary education is dependent on significant regional disparities. 78 percent of the 14-17-year-olds are enrolled in high school in the Southern Marmara region, whereas this ratio reaches a mere 44 percent only in the South-East of the country.

* Also the parents' education level is an important influence: 17 percent of daughters of illiterate fathers and 94 percent of the daughters of university graduates go to a secondary school.

* 15 percent of all male high school students enrolled in the academic year of 2008/2009 dropped out of school. The proportion rises to 23 percent at vocational schools.

* A total of 360,000 students dropped out of high school in 2008/2009. Considering the number of school days, more than 2,000 students dropped out of school every day.

* In 2009, the per capita expenditure for secondary education amounted to TL 2,273 (€ 1,136), the figure for vocational and technical schools lay at TL 2,937 (€ 1,558) per student. For 2010, the budget is planned at TL 2,051 and TL 2,188 respectively. The reduction stems from increasing secondary education to four years and trying to make it more prevalent without allocating sufficient resources.

* Per capita expenditures for students significantly vary among different provinces: Public spending on secondary education per student in 2009 amounted to TL 1,379 (€ 690) in Istanbul and TL 3,508 (€ 1,754) in Amasya (northern Anatolia).

* In comparison to the previous year, 175,000 more children benefited from pre-school education in 2010. Three out of five 20-72-month-old children were enrolled.
Many families do not simply refuse to send their daughters or sons to schools because they see it as unnecessary, but because the children's labor is viewed as necessary for the family's sustenance. Too often, I suspect it is the daughters that make the biggest sacrifice in this regard. Interesting here also are the regional disparites in terms of the total amount spent on each student.

For a video from a campaign the Turkish daily Milliyet recently did to encourage families to send their daughters to school, click here.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Where is the BDP -- A New Initative or More Combative Politics?

Former DTP leader Ahmet Turk

Last week Prime Minister Erdogan made his strongest statement yet against the the Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), accusing the party of supporting the PKK: "Saying peace won’t bring peace. Those who are in direct or indirect contact with the PKK are accomplices to murder."

Erdogan's remarks draw a strong response from BDP leader Selahattin Demirtas, who accuses the prime minister for essentially calling for the closing of the BDP. At the same time, in the face of heightening violence and statements from some BDP officials warning of even more violence should the government give into PKK demands and negotiate (see Emine Ayna's remarks early this month), the BDP might well find itself in an even more difficult position to forge a credible place for itself in the Turkish political scene.

Though it can be argued that the BDP gaining an amount of credibility sufficient enough to be effective outside of strong Kurdish nationalist circles is but a pipe dream, there is little doubt that the party is playing with fire. Though the AKP made little effort to support the BDP's predecessor, the Democracy and Society Party (DTP), in its over two-year closure ordeal, during which time the AKP also faced closure, gaining the wrath of the AKP and other Turkish opposition parties might well alienate the Kurdish nationalist party in the eyes of softer nationalists and more moderate Kurdish forces within the Turkish political scene. Just as importantly, such rhetoric and continued refusal to deal sensitively with PKK violence also risks the party losing European support.

In parliamentary debate following yesterday's bombing, BDP Co-Chair Gultan Kisanak argued that the government's Kurdish initiative led to the recent escalation, agreeing with MHP leaders in so doing.While the government did fail to take very concrete steps in moving forward with the initiative it proposed last summer and has done little since to elaborate on the details, to make such statements without acknowledging that the move was significant and praiseworthy, at least in its rhetoric, risks further alienation of the BDP, especially in the midst of rising PKK violence.

Yet, other voices in the BDP have staked out less aggressive positions. As the struggles within the BDP over whether to endorse the government's constitutional package reveal, the party is not without out its divisions, some monolith controlled by the PKK/KCK. Ufak Uras, along with other moderate actors, is organizing a workshop in Istanbul this weekened that would bring together Turkish and Kurdish political actors to discuss new solutions to the conflict outside the framework of violence in which the conflict is descending. Uras, who joined the BDP after DTP's closure and the expulsion of its former leaders Ahmet Turk and Aysel Tugluk so that the party could form a group in parliament, has publicly said that the PKK should lay down its arms (a position the former independent deputy maintained).

In an interview with Milliyet today, Ahmet Turk gave the first indicator of such a new initiative In the interview, Turk criticizes the government's initiative, but also blames the Kurdish politicians for failing to put forward workable solutions. Turk calls for dialogue as opposed to violence, and argues that violence only complicates a solution. The interview is a signal that an attempt is being made to organize the more moderate/independent elements of the Kurdish political milieu, a move that would pressure both the government and the PKK. At a press conference today, Uras echoed Turk, as well as called on the PKK to lay down its arms and declare a ceasefire. According to Uras, Turk, long a more dovish figure in Kurdish politics, has the potential to play a 'Mandela-type' role in the conflict, and some Kurdish civil society leaders agree. From Hurriyet Daily News:
Speaking to the Daily News about the possible role of such an initiative, former Diyarbakır Bar Association Chairman and lawyer Sezgin Tanrıkulu said it was wrong to only blame the current and former governments for the escalating violence.

“Kurdish politicians, political parties and NGOs have also an important responsibility in the solution of the problem. Such a civilian move can be effective and successful,” Tanrıkulu said. “All [other] opportunities have been used up anyway. This initiative is important because there are no other initiatives other than these independent initiatives, and democratic ways are wanted as a solution. I think such initiatives will be welcomed within the military.”

According to Tanrıkulu, the violent and military methods used in the past kept Kurdish politicians from getting involved.

“Kurdish politicians need to pressure both the organization [the PKK] and the Turkish government to stop using methods involving weapons,” he said.

Şah İsmail Bedirhanoğlu, chairman of the Southeastern Anatolia Businessmen’s Association, or GÜNSİAD, said that Türk is an important figure, and that the initiative’s success depends on who is involved.

“Türk is an important politician with good sense who uses the language of peace. I think Türk’s personality and his possible step will also be considered important by the government, the military and the PKK,” Bedirhanoğlu said. “I hope such a move will be successful. We support this initiative.
Bedirhanoglu and Tanrikulu represent more moderate forces within Kurdish society/politics, and they are far from alone in advocating for this middle path. However, just how much political space such an initiative has in the midst of ongoing violence is hard to say. The Turkish government continues to promote the idea that there is little hope for the BDP to broker peace independent of the PKK, and leaked details concerning the ongoing KCK operations have been used by government officials and some opinion leaders to enforce this idea. (For example, see evidence leaked from the case that BDP Osman Baydemir had to seek permission from the PKK/KCK before appearing on a television news show.)

Also on the BDP front . . .

From Bianet:

The deputy chair of the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), Bengi Yıldız, called on civilians to make use of their right to conscientious objection and to refuse military service.

Yıldız made a press release in the course of a demonstration in Batman (south-east) on Sunday (20 June). Though the demonstration was hindered by the police, Yıldız said, "There is no need to declare martial law and a state of emergency. We are right in the middle of martial law just now because our country entered a state of serious violence and war".
Discouraging military service is a crime under Turkey's Penal Code, and will likely result in Yildiz' prosecution.

The Aftermath -- Martial Law Coming Anytme Soon?

Responding to yesterday's attack on a military convoy in Istanbul's Halkali district, MHP leader Devlet Bahceli has called to designate the predominantly Kurdish southeast an emergency rule region (OHAL), a move that would essentially ring martial law to the region. Bahceli's proposal is unlikely to garner much support, though it does speak to the level of animosity and polarization that has emerged in the wake of increased PKK violence.

Bahceli issued the call during his party's parliamentary group meeting yesterday just a few hours after leading his party in boycotting a vote on a long-coming measure to amend the Anti-Terrorism Law so that Kurdish childred aged 15-18 will no longer be tried as adults.

At Monday's security summit, no mention was made to OHAL, and Chief of General Staff Ilker Basbug firmly rejected the possibility of imposing OHAL in a speech he gave Monday -- less than 24 hours before yesterday's bombing. However, with the National Security Council (MGK) set to meet tomorrow to discuss the security situation in the region, top government and military officials are now saying all options are on the table.

Parts of the southeast were first placed under martial law (provided for by the 1982 non-civilian Turkish constitution) in 1987, which did not disappear from the region until 2002. Much of the day-to-day violence during what some have coined the "dirty war" in the southeast occurred in conjunction with security measures taken under the auspices of OHAL, and the isolation of the region from the rest of Turkey under OHAL's unique governerning/security schemes is largely attributed to worsening the region's alienation from the rest of Turkey and contributing to a sense of victimization.

Other than OHAL, which despite Bahceli's hawkish rhetorical utterings is still a far possibility, the MGK will discuss the short and medium-term security solutions proposed in Monday's summit, namely the restructuring of military/security forces (including their greater professionalization) and increased coordination/cooperation with the United States and the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG). From Hurriyet Daily News:
In line with the results of Monday’s state summit, the system of intelligence gathering and how this information is coordinated among security institutions will also be reviewed at the MGK meeting. Hakan Fidan, the new head of the National Intelligence Organization, or MİT, will brief the council about these efforts.

In the operational dimension, the MGK will review the results of recent cross-border operations into northern Iraq, where the training camps of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, are located. The military plans to carry out more cross-border operations as needed.

The council will also discuss potential measures to stop the further spread of terrorist activities to urban and tourist areas ahead of the beginning of the tourism season.

. . . .

Discussions at Thursday’s MGK meeting will also address the foreign connections of the PKK and will likely focus on Massoud Barzani, the head of the Regional Kurdish Administration in northern Iraq, who some have accused of doing too little to contain the outlawed group. During his landmark visit to Turley in early June, Barzani refrained from acknowledging the PKK as a terrorist organization but pledged his full support to Turkish officials in their fight against terror.

Though Barzani issued a condemnation of Saturday’s deadly attack, some Turkish officials are still far from being satisfied with his level of support.

Turkish officials are also planning to hold more meetings with the United States to review the countries’ current cooperation on intelligence sharing. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s meeting next week with President Barack Obama is expected to focus on the joint fight against terrorism.

In its meeting, the MGK will likely emphasize the need for societal unity in the fight against terror and call for the participation of all political parties, nongovernmental organizations and the media.
More as it happens . . .

In other news, police have detained 27 suspects thought to be involved in yesterday's bombing.

UPDATE I (6/27) -- For some thoughts from security experts and civil society/opinion leaders on imposing OHAL, see this short news feature from Today's Zaman.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

PKK Terror Strikes Istanbul

PHOTO from Radikal

An attack on a military bus in Istanbul's Halkali district killed four Turkish soldiers and the daughter of another. Eleven others were wounded.

The Kurdistan Freedom Falcons (TAK) have claimed responsibility for the bombing. The same group was responsible for a series of bombing on tourist resorts in Marmaris in 2006. Its exact relationship with the PKK is unknown, though Turkish security forces maintain it merely operates as a front for the PKK, committing the more atrocious and alarming attacks for which the PKK does not want to claim credit. For more on TAK, click see Aug. 25, 2008 post following speculation that the group was responsible for the 2008 bombing in Istanbul's Gungoren district.

An excerpt of coverage from Hurriyet Daily News:

The TAK statement said the group bombed the military bus because Turkey is “planning a massacre of the Kurdish people” and has adopted “a concept of aggression” against convicted PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan.

The shuttle bus was the last in a three-vehicle convoy carrying military personnel who live in lodgings in Halkalı. The blast caused damage to the first two vehicles as well.

The driver of the attacked bus, Neşet Yeni, said he had been on the job for six months, working as a subcontractor for the Turuncu Turizm Company, which operates the buses. “There were 30 or 35 people on the bus. I brought out 10 injured people,” he said. “The commander of the vehicle opened fire a couple of times and called for help.”

Chief of General Staff Gen. İlker Başbuğ came to the scene of the attack after visiting the wounded soldiers in the hospital. The top general also met Gen. Hasan Iğsız, commander of the First Army, at the airport upon his arrival in Istanbul.

An eyewitness told broadcaster NTV that he heard a blast while he was in his house and rushed out to the street. “I saw a man running away after the blast. I also saw a man carrying a wounded girl and helped him,” the eyewitness said.

Buse Sarıyağ, 17, the youngest victim of Tuesday’s attack, is the daughter of soldier Ünal Sarıyağ, who was slightly injured. The teenager had been riding on the bus to attend the military’s private course for preparing high school students for the university entrance exam. Her younger sibling was on the bus as well.

Soldiers Bekir Çelik, Çağlar Bölük, Uğur Ekir and Duran Bayram also died in the bomb attack.

Monday, June 21, 2010

New Security Measures?

At a security summit called by President Gul in response to the attacks over the weekend, government and military officials announced that "short and medium-term solutions," in contrast to "daily and temporary solutions," would be found in order to address perceived intelligence failures.

A statement after the meeting announced that military and intelligence personnel in the southeast will be restructured and that greater effots will be made to attain inteligence from the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) and the United States. Importantly, sweeping security measures associated with a declaration of a state of emergency (OHAL) in the southeast were not brought up, and firmly rejected by Chief of General Staff Ilker Basbug, who did not attend the summit, but addressed the violence and the military response in a speech delivered in Canakkale.

Prime Minister Erdogan, Defense Minister Vecdi Gonul and Interior Minister Besir Atalay, as well as senior military commanders and the head of the intelligence agency, participated in the meeting. From Hurriyet Daily News:
The threefold anti-terror strategy announced Monday will see Turkey review current operations, intensify cooperation with neighboring countries and work to boost the nation’s morale while psychologically weakening terrorist groups.

The government’s announcement, however, was not met with full support from opposition parties, which called such “daily and temporary measures” insufficient to stop the bloodshed.

“The fight against terror was widely assessed and in light of recent developments, additional short- and mid-term measures were decided to be taken,” read a written statement issued following a security summit chaired Monday by President Abdullah Gül with the participation of top civil and military officials, including the heads of the intelligence service and the newly established civilian anti-terror unit.

Twelve troops died over the weekend in clashes with the PKK, largely as a result of the outlawed group’s assault on a military outpost in the Şemdinli district of Hakkari province. Forty-six Turkish troops have been killed in the last two months, prompting renewed concerns about the threat the PKK poses to the country.

Participants in the summit agreed to review the intelligence-gathering operations and structure of the military personnel serving in the country’s Southeast, where the PKK is very active. This decision was seen as an acknowledgement that security officials are aware of the lack of information on the moves of terrorist groups, though the military and the National Intelligence Organization, or MİT, have denied allegations of the existence of such gaps.

The military has also been criticized for sending new recruits to a region where the fight against the PKK, which is listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and the European Union, requires more expertise. Military experts suggested deploying only the best troops to the region and strengthening the military outposts in the area

The second part of the new strategy calls for intensifying coordination with neighboring countries and others related to the fight against the PKK, a change that is likely to bring more talks with Iraq and especially Massoud Barzani, the head of the Regional Kurdish Administration in northern Iraq. During his landmark visit to Turkey in early June, Barzani was given strong evidence and information on the PKK’s moves in his region. Though some progress has been observed, Turkish diplomats said they are still far from satisfied with Barzani’s support for anti-terrorism efforts.

The subject is also expected to be part of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s likely meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama during the G-20 summit in Toronto on June 26 and 27. “The joint fight against terror will be on our agenda if this meeting is set,” a diplomat told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review on Monday.

Before relations soured following Israel’s attack on a Gazi-bound aid flotilla, Turkey received crucial support from Israel in its fight against the PKK and the Turkish military still uses Israeli-made drones to provide intelligence about the terrorist group.

The third part of the strategy calls for a solid psychological “war” to keep up the nation’s morale without giving courage to the terrorists through press headlines. “The media should be more sensitive in informing the public opinion,” the statement issued Monday said.

According to government sources, the meeting Monday will be followed by others to review the state of the fight against the PKK, and will be accompanied by meetings with opposition parties to try and secure the entire country’s support.
Among those critical of the military response is AKP parliament speaker Mehmet Ali Sahin, who said over the weekend that the parliament had a responsibility to exercise review over the military and that he was waiting for an adequate explanation of what happened at Hakkari.

After the summit, Gul also met with opposition leaders. CHP leader Kemal Kilicaroglu repeated his calls for economic solutions to the conflict, again eschewing any discussion of Kurdish demands on the cultural/minority rights front, while MHP leader Devlet Bahceli used the attacks to call for total annihilation for the PKK.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Semdinli Attack to Raise Specter of Violence

A PKK attack in Semdinli (Hakkari) killed 11 Turkish soldiers yesterday, the largest death toll to be inflicted in a single attack. Another soldier was killed today in another attack in Palu (Elazig). In the wake of the attacks, some Turkish politicians began calling for new military/security measures, the most reactionary of them arguing for a return to martial law in the southeast. Turkish television is reporting that President Gul has called for a security summit to be held tomorrow.

As PKK attacks on Turkish soldiers continue to increase in the southeast (see Kurdish Timeline), the chance of success for the the kind of political solutions and roadmaps for peace discussed last year look increasingly bleak. PKK attacks on Turkish soldiers, mostly conscripts, only augment popular support for military action, making whatever will the government had for finding a political solution weaker and more difficult to put into action.

At a funeral service for the soldiers held today , Prime Minister Erdogan strongly denounced the PKK , declaring that PKK fighters will “melt in their own darkness, dry up in their own swamps, drown in their own blood.” Meanwhile, AKP opposition figures held the AKP's initaitives toward the Kurds responsible for escalating the violence.

Anger with the PKK also provides an opportunity for Turkish politicians to score points with strong populist-minded rhetorical denunciations of the terrorist group. Such an environment also strengthens the PKK in a political sense, which benefits from a militarization of the conflict since more moderate voices are squeezed out. The PKK wants to engage in dialogue with the government on its own terms (now centered on demands for "regional autonomy"), and though the government is now less likely to do so, the organization can now claim that the moderates have failed and the organization was correct in arguing that the Turkish state is intent "to eliminate" the Kurdish political movement.

Saturday's attack prompted additional Turkish military operations into northern Iraq. KRG news sources are reporting that a young girl died in the Turkish bombing.

UPDATE I (6/21) -- In contrast to Erdogan's sweeping comments yesterday that PKK members wil "drown in their own blood," EU Chief Negotiator Egeman Bagis made a surprising statement addressing the deaths of the 12 PKK militants who are reported to have died in retaliatory attacks. From Hurriyet Daily News:
State Minister Egemen Bağış has said he shares the grief of the families of both soldiers and terrorists who died during military clashes with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK.

“Unfortunately, eight of our soldiers were martyred today in the morning hours. We have [also] learned that 12 of our youth, who were born and grew up on this land, lost their lives during the shootout. Fire has fallen upon 20 homes, and I share the grief of the 20 families,” Bağış, who is also Turkey’s chief EU negotiator, said Saturday at a meeting at the Van Chamber of Industry and Commerce of Van.

The total body count in the weekend attacks by the PKK, listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and the European Union, was 20 at the time Bağış spoke.

Reminded Sunday by daily Milliyet reporter Mehveş Ehvin that government officials do not regularly say these things, and asked whether he is worried about the reactions such comments might receive during these sensitive times, Bağış responded: “We have not said [these things] for 30 years. What has happened?”

Friday, June 18, 2010

Greek Orphanage Returns Minority Real Estates to Spotlight

The Greek Orthodox orphanage now in disrepair at Buyukada is Europe's iggest remaining wooden building. PHOTO by Hasan Altinisk / Hurriyet Daily News

A European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) decision ordering the Turkish government to return an abandoned orphanage and its grounds back to the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate after it was seized in 1995 has again brought attention to the issue of real estate owned by religious minorities in Turkey. From Hurriyet Daily News:
The 112-year-old orphanage, Europe’s biggest remaining wooden building, was built in 1898 as a hotel and casino on the largest of Istanbul’s Princes’ Islands, then purchased by a prominent Greek family that donated it to the patriarchate for use as an orphanage.

“The orphanage was opened in 1903 by Sultan Abdülhamid and remained so for a long time,” Osman Doğru, a law professor at Marmara University, told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review. “Yet in 1964, it was emptied for security reasons and then left to its destiny.” For almost 30 years, the building simply rotted away. In 1995, Turkey’s General Directorate of Foundations took over ownership – and the court cases began.

“The decision to transfer the orphanage building’s ownership to the foundations directorate was based on the claim that the Greek Patriarchate didn’t do any maintenance work on it. However, it was the Turkish state that didn’t allow any restorations during that period,” said Kezban Hatemi, a lawyer for the patriarchate.

“Such a transfer is legally very problematic, and this case is not the only one,” Hatemi told the Daily News. “Since the 1960s, there have been many violations to the rights of properties owned by minority foundations.”

According to a 2009 report by the Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation, or TESEV, there are approximately 1,000 “immovable properties,” essentially land parcels and buildings, in the country that originally belonged to Greek foundations but were confiscated by the Turkish state.

Foundations administered by other minority groups have been affected as well; some 30 properties belonging to Armenian foundations have likewise been seized, an issue that Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink tried to raise awareness about before his assassination in 2007.

“In 1936, the Turkish government asked all minority foundations to declare their properties. Yet, in 1975, the Supreme Court of Appeals decided that minority foundations do not have the right to hold any property and ordered all properties gained after 1936 to be returned,” Dink once said. “Yet these immovable properties weren’t returned to their [original] donators either, because they were already dead. So many of these properties were transferred to the General Directorate of Foundations.”

According to law professor Doğru, the case of the Büuükada Orphanage was complicated by the fact that the patriarchate claimed the building in 1936, when the government asked minority foundations to report their holdings. “However, the Supreme Court of Appeals found a very creative solution to the issue and said the building was actually claimed by the orphanage foundation, not the patriarchate itself, so they could transfer it to the General Directorate of Foundations,” he said.

After the building was confiscated in 1995, the Fener Greek Patriarchate applied to have the court decision cancelled. When this application was rejected, the patriarchate took the issue to the European Court of Human Rights.

“Minority foundations in Turkey did not have any property problems until the mid-1960s,” said patriarchate lawyer Hatemi. “But this situation completely changed when the Cyprus crisis started during that period. Only then were the declarations of 1936 remembered and minority foundations were used as a tool to gain power over Greece.”
The issue of minority foundations and the property they own is legally complicated and a bit too thorny to adequately get into in a blog post, but the 2009 TESEV report alluded here is an excellent source for further information. The report, "The Story of an Alien(ation): Real Estate Ownership Problems of Non-Muslim Communities and Foundations in Turkey," is authored by Dilek Kurban and Kezban Hatemi.

In spring 2008, the Turkish parliament passed major reforms of Turkey's Foundations Law, under which both the Greek and Armenian minorities are governed, though the reforms are largely argued to have not gone far enough in addressing such issues as real estate.

For more on how minority foundations are governed in Turkey, see also Today's Zaman columnist Orhan Kemal Cengiz's two-part op/ed series. In the first part, Cengiz lays out the history of minority foundations, while turning his attention in the second part to the 2008 reforms -- which the CHP, in one of its more overtly nationalist overtures, opposed -- and the current climate for further reform.

Ergenekon Releases

Key suspects were released in two different Ergenekon cases on Friday. In the first, retired Gen. Cetin Dogan, the former commander of the First Army, and 13 other suspects, including one other retired general, were released after having been detained since February. Dogan and company are charged in relation to "Operation Sledgehammer" (see past posts). In the second, Erzincan Chief Prosecutor Ilhan Cihaner, also picked up in Feruary's wave of Ergenekon arrests, was released alongside nine other suspects. Hurriyet Daily News gives an accounting on Cihaner's trial here. See also past posts.

UPDATE I(6/22) -- Twelve more suspects in the "Sledgehammer" case were released today. From Hurriyet Daily News:
In its justification of its release decisions, the court said both the manner of the suspects during the investigation and the fact that the evidence has already been collected – leaving no possibility that it might be destroyed, hidden or changed – were taken into consideration. The court said there is no strong suspicion that the suspects would try to influence witnesses or victims in the case, nor that they would present a flight risk.
See also this coverage from Bianet, as well as Hurriyet Daily News' recounting of interviews Cihaner gave to Cumhuriyet and and Milliyet upon his release in which the prosecutor defends his decision not to cooperate with Ergenekon investigator Osman Sanal.

Turkey, Iran, the Arab Street (And the Other Reality)

A recent op/ed in the New York Times penned by Elliot Hen-Tov and Bernard Haykel examines Turkey's rising regional role in the Sunni Middle East, arguing that Turkey's gaining popularity is largely Iran's loss. From the piece:

Since Israel’s deadly raid on the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara last month, it’s been assumed that Iran would be the major beneficiary of the wave of global anti-Israeli sentiment. But things seem to be playing out much differently: Iran paradoxically stands to lose much influence as Turkey assumes a surprising new role as the modern, democratic and internationally respected nation willing to take on Israel and oppose America.

While many Americans may feel betrayed by the behavior of their longtime allies in Ankara, Washington actually stands to gain indirectly if a newly muscular Turkey can adopt a leadership role in the Sunni Arab world, which has been eagerly looking for a better advocate of its causes than Shiite, authoritarian Iran or the inept and flaccid Arab regimes of the Persian Gulf.

. . . .

While most in the West seem to have overlooked this dynamic, Tehran has not. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad used a regional summit meeting in Istanbul this month to deliver an inflammatory anti-Israel speech, yet it went virtually unnoticed among the chorus of international condemnations of Israel’s act. On June 12 Iran dispatched its own aid flotilla bound for Gaza, and offered to provide an escort by its Revolutionary Guards for other ships breaking the blockade.

Yet Hamas publicly rejected Iran’s escort proposal, and a new poll by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research found that 43 percent of Palestinians ranked Turkey as their No. 1 foreign supporter, as opposed to just 6 percent for Iran.

Turkey has a strong hand here. Many leading Arab intellectuals have fretted over being caught between Iran’s revolutionary Shiism and Saudi Arabia’s austere and politically ineffectual Wahhabism. They now hope that a more liberal and enlightened Turkish Sunni Islam — reminiscent of past Ottoman glory — can lead the Arab world out of its mire.

You can get a sense of just how attractive Turkey’s leadership is among the Arab masses by reading the flood of recent negative articles about Ankara in the government-owned newspapers of the Arab states. This coverage impugns Mr. Erdogan’s motives, claiming he is latching on to the Palestinian issue because he is weak domestically, and dismisses Turkey’s ability to bring leadership to this quintessential “Arab cause.” They reek of panic over a new rival.
As much talk has been made in recent years of the rising power of Iran and a Shi'a Middle East, Ankara's new position, thanks to its increasing coziness with Hamas and the anti-Israel rhetoric, is indeed interesting to say the least. However, there is another side to the equation. As Turkey seeks to expand its regional role and, in search of new markets, its trade ties with the Middle East, popularity in the Arab World also seems a double-edged sword. Authoritarian governmentmes in the Middle East alarmed at Turkey's rising regional role, might well be less likely to cooperate with Ankara in the future. After all, the leaders of these governments are the real holders of power, not those on the Arab street now enamored with Erdogan. Will Arab governments tolerate a new Nasser, especially if he is Turkish?

Aydemir Continues to Fight for Conscientious Objection

The case of conscientious objector Enver Aydemir has become a rallying cry for activists pushing Turkey to recognize a right to conscientious objection from military service. Of the 47 countries in the Council of Europe, Turkey joins Belarus and Azerbaijan as the only three countries that do not recognize conscientious objectors.

This week an Ankara court heard the cases of 19 supporters of Aydemir currently on trial under a variety of charges related to a demonstration they held on Jan. 6 in which the group issued a press release. Among the charges were alleged violations of Article 315 of the Turkish Penal Code (TCK), making it illegal to discourage or alienate the public from military service. The charge is often brought against conscientious objector and those who defend them. Two of the 19 charged in Ankara were convicted under the provision.

After claiming conscientious objector status in 2007, Aydemir was detained and held for three months in prison as a deserter. After giving a speech in Istanbul this December at the Covention of the Platform of Conscientious Objection for Peace, Aydemir was detained and arrested once more and subject to another three months in a military prison.

Following this second detention period, Aydemir was jailed once more when he was taken back to his military unit and refused to wear a uniform. Released from an Eskisehir prison on June 9, the Turkish military issued an "incapability report," stating that Aydemir was unable to serve due to a social personality disorder.

In a press release issued in association with the Human Rights Association in Istanbul, Aydemir and his attorneys argued that Turkey's failure to recognize the legal validity of Aydemir's conscientious objector status constituted a violation of international law.

Despite the European Union raising the issue with Turkey in accession negotiations, the Copenhagen Criteria does not address the subject and Turkey has not signed relevant international law creating such a right. However, in 2006, in the case of Osman Murat Ulke, the European Court of Human Rights did find that the way Turkey punishes conscientious objectors by basically stripping citizenship rights constutes a violation of the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.

For other cases of conscientious objector status, including the EU position on the issue, see past posts.

UPDATE I (6/27) -- On Saturday, Sendogan Yazici became the 121st Turk to claim conscientious objector status. From Hurriyet Daily News:
In a press conference in front of the Turkish Radio and Television’s Istanbul Radio building on Saturday, Yazıcı, supported by the “Conscientious Objection Platform for Peace,” said he was refusing to touch a weapon so as to “contribute to a peaceful world for my children.”

Yazıcı, a 36-year-old with two children, said he was aware of the consequences of his action, but was happy to be a part of the conscientious objection movement.

Addressing journalists after Yazıcı, Ezgi Aydın, a member of the platform, said the recent military operations in the southeast are making families and the youth worried about their future.

“Conscientious objection is a right,” she said. “We call on everyone to claim their rights. Use your free will not to kill or be killed – do not spill your brothers’ blood.”
It will be interesting to see if increased dangers in the southeast (and other parts of the country), as well as opposition to the state's response to the recent upsurge in PKK violence, make claiming conscientious objector status a more frequent phenomenon and just how the Kurdish conflict might transform the issue, for better or worse.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Makhmour Returnees Arrested at Diyarbakir Trial

Ten members of the group of eight PKK memers and 26 residents of the Makhmour refugee camp who crossed at Habur in October were arrested today in Diyarbakir. Today's arrests took place in a trial against 16 of the returnees (the eight PKK members and eight of the 26 civilian returnees). Members of the group have faced charges from multiple directions and on multiple different grounds. From Hurriyet Daily News:
All the returnees, with the exception of four minors, are standing trial in three groups at two separate courts in the eastern city of Diyarbakır.

The hearing Thursday included 16 people, 10 of whom were arrested by the court on grounds that they pose a flight risk. The remaining six will be on trial without arrest.

The charges against the group were brought in two separate indictments regarding the festivities that welcomed them back to Turkey and the statements they gave at various times and locations afterward. The group reportedly re-entered Turkey in response to a call from convicted PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan and was welcomed at the Habur gate with ceremonies that sparked unrest in other parts of the country.

The PKK has been listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and the European Union.

The eight PKK members in the group are on trial for “being a member of a terrorist organization” and “making propaganda for a terrorist organization” and each face 20 years in prison. The returnees from Makhmour, who each face a potential 15 years in jail, are being charged with “committing a crime in the name of a terrorist organization without being a member” and “making propaganda for a terrorist organization.” A total of 25 lawyers are defending the group.

The court informed the suspects that separate indictments had been prepared for each of them and merged before the trial, then asked for their defense. Suspect Mustafa Ayhan said group members would offer a joint defense and read the text.
For background on the returnees, see May 2 post.

UPDATE I (6/24) -- After some of those standing trial failed to attend a second hearing, the court issued an order declaring that the charged will be brought to the court by force if necessary.

Making Way for President Erdogan? . . .

The parliament's constitutional commission has given the greenlight to a bill that would allow a sitting prime minister to run for president without resigning her or his position in parliament. As Prime Minister Erdogan has expressed interest in running for the post at the end of President Gul's term, the law is widely regarded asn effort to secure the prime minister's position as a potential candidate.

In 2007, following the political crisis that ensured in relation to the election of Gul, the constitution was amended to faciliate the popular election of the president. Before, the president had been elected in parliament. Under the current constitution, the president is elected for a five-year term (though it took some time to sort out whether the term would e four or five years) with the right to serve two consecutive terms. President Gul's term will end in 2012.

In April, Erdogan caused further alarm in some circles when he discussed the virtues of installing a presidential system in Turkey along the lines of the American system. The prime minister said that a presidential system might better resolve ongoing conflicts about the separation of powers in Turkey's constitutional system, but skeptics quickly jumped on the statement as evidence of Erdogan's intentions to consolidate his own power once elected president.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

"Cage Plan" Hearings Get Under Way

PHOTO by Emrah Gürel/Hurriyet Daily News

With eyes focused on Turkey-Israel relations, Turkey's recent vote on Iranian sanctions, and increased PKK violence, the Ergenekon investigation continues onward, as do the trials it has brought in its wake. Among these are of the 33 suspects charged with participating the Cage Action Plan, the mysterious designs of which the Turkish daily Taraf revealed last November. The first hearing for the Cage suspects got underway in Istanbul yesterday.

According to Taraf and a susequent investigation, active and retired military staff plotted to commit mass acts of violence against Turkey's non-Muslim communities in a premeditated effort to cause enough chaos and discontent with the AKP government to force it out of power. These acts of violence allegedly included the assassination of Hrant Dink, as well as the murders of three Christian missionaries working at Zirve publishing house in Malatya and Catholic priest Andrea Santoro in Trabzon. The group is thought to have also been hatching further actions.

At yesterday's hearing, the 12th High Criminal Court in Istanbul granted the Turkish-Armenian Agos newspaper, of which Dink had been the editor, joint plaintiff status, allowing Dink lawyers to participate in the hearings. Fethiye Cetin, who has long advocated on behalf of the Dink family and the Hrant Dink Foundation to bring the shadowy operation surrounding Dink's murder to light, argued that the alleged conspirators had long waged a campaign of intimidation against the paper and was responsible for Dink's murder. Two separate trials involving Dink's murder ae currently ongoing, and have been plagued with problems and continued coverups.

The defendants denied the allegations, arguing the document laying out the plan is a hoax. They had requested to e tried in military court, stating that the civilian court in which the case is being tried had no jurisdiction. The court denied their request while granting that of Agos. For an account of the hearing, see this report from Bianet.

The Cage suspects face 7 to 15 years in prison for being memers of an armed terrorist organization.

For more on the Cage Action Plan, see Jan. 25 post.

UPDATE I (6/18) -- The second hearing took place yesterday at which alleged "Cage Plan" ring leader retired Vice Admiral Ahmet Feyyaz Ögütçü gave his defense, dismissing the charges against him as based on a series of fabrications and hoaxes that are part of a conspiracy designed to weaken the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK). For an account of the hearing, see this report from Bianet. A third hearing is taking place today.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Rally Around the Flag (But Whose?)

In the more than two weeks that have passed since the flotilla crisis, AKP government officials continue to pound Israel, raising concern with Western alliances, favor in the Arab Street, and just as significantly, political points at home. Milliyet columnist Semih Idiz weighs in on the domestic side of the equation in today's Hurriyet Daily News:
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan appears set to milk the popularity he gained in the streets of Turkey and the Middle East after the Marmara crisis in which nine Turks were killed by Israeli forces in a seriously botched up military operation.

It is almost as if he was waiting for a new crisis with Israel to be able to work the streets in order to regain some of the political ground his ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, has been loosing over bread and butter issues at home.

He and his party executives are clearly worried that the reinvigorated Republican Peoples Party, or CHP, may make headway given the successful manner in which its new leader, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, has been hitting at the government over topics that really matter for the average man on the street. He is also concerned that the Saadet (Felicity) Party, the other Islamist party, may steal votes from the AKP given the rising dissatisfaction among the public.

Turks are fickle though, and easily swayed emotionally even if this means that the bread and butter issues of vital importance to them are pushed to the background. It is clear that there is great public animosity towards Israel today. As for the almost endemic anti-Americanism among Turks, this is also adding grist to Erdogan’s populist mill.

So we see him increasingly turning up the volume of his demagoguery, and hitting at Israel and the United States at every opportunity that presents itself. No doubt he is keeping a close eye on the “political rating meter” as he sends his crowds to paroxysms of delirious applause with his remarks, some of which smack openly of anti-Semitism and reflect a growing anti-Western tendency.

After the Marmara incident he was not only quick to use the harshest and most insulting adjectives when referring to Israel, but also had thinly veiled warnings to Washington, suggesting openly that those who stood behind Israel were also culpable in the crimes committed by that country.

Over the weekend he went further and openly named the U.S. this time, thus revealing what lies in his heart-of-hearts. This is what he had to say while addressing an adoring crowd in Rize, on the Black Sea coast, where people are not only religious but also ultra-nationalist.

“They are asking us what Turkey is doing in the Middle East, in Palestine. Why is Turkey bothered about Gaza? But could they not be asked in return what America is doing in Iraq? What is it doing in Palestine? Could it not be asked what is it doing in Afghanistan? What are France, Britain, and Holland, and so on, doing in these places?”

Erdogan went on threateningly to say, “I am calling on the Israeli supported international media and their subcontractors at home: Turkey is not like other countries.” His only tribute to sophistication during this show of demagoguery was his reference to “the Israeli supported international media.”

Previously he had made references to the “Jewish controlled international media” but must have been warned by his advisors that this was too overtly “anti-Semitic,” and thus politically incorrect. This no doubt forced him to make a slight modification in his nevertheless anti-Semitic reference to the international media.
A survey conducted by METROPoll on June 3, just four days after the flotilla raid, found that nearly two-thirds of the 1,000 Turks surveyed thought the government response was too weak, a finding the AKP is no doubt aware. Winning votes is important for any government, and with the possibility of early elections looming as the constitutional reform package waits to be ruled on by the Constitutional Court, no doubt figures into AKP decisionmaking.

Additionally, there is reason to be concerned. A rejuvenated CHP might well take economically-minded and liberal (those that are left) voters away from the party at the same time the Israel issue has mobilized the Islamist right, possibly bringing votes to Saadet Partisi. Though Saadet has finished far under the 10 percent election threshold since the AKP came to power, an increased vote for the party could all the same take critical votes away from the AKP even if it does not pass the threshold. The question for me here is why did Erdogan let the Mavi Marmara sail knowing that what happened on May 31 was a definite possibility. If domestic politics figured in at all, a calculation may have been made to divert attention away from the Kurdish front and score political points, but was thought not given to what effect such a move could have on those right of the AKP, namely strengthening the hand of Saadet Partisi? Is this perhaps what was behind the warnings of Fethullah Gulen in his interview with the Wall Street Journal (see June 7 post)?

It is hard to say to what extent this figures into the AKP's anti-Israel rhetoric and foreign polcy posturing, but the domestic factor should not be ruled out. Injured by its failed Kurdish initiative and increasing PKK violence, the Israel imbroglio helps the AKP at home at a time when it needs all the help it can get, which might explain why the government is focusing on the larger Palestinian issue and the Mavi Marmara incident (though this has been more or less the case in its relations with Israel since the latter's incursion into Gaza in December 2008), often conflating the two, rather than the growing conflict in the southeast. Nationalism has always been a powerful force in Turkish politics, but now the Israeli flag also serves a potent a force at the moment as the Turkish one.

UPDATE I (6/18) -- Istanbul's municipal council has accepted a proposal made by the Saadet Partisi to make Gaza a sister city.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Battle With Google Deepens

A tax dispute with Google has further hindered Internet freedom in Turkey. According to Transportation Minister Binali Yildirim, who is responsible for Internet regulations, Google has made advertising revenues from the YouTube website, access to which Turkey has locked off-and-on again for over two years. As a result of the most recent dispute (the first that has been tax-related), regulators in Turkey's Telecommunications Directorate have seemingly managed to somehow slow down and sometimes completely disable a variety of Google services, including Google Maps, Google Documents, Google Analytics, and even GMail.

The initial cause of the YouTube block involved offensive videos of Ataturk, which despite YouTube/Google's attempt to work with Turkey (see Dec. 8, 2008 post), was consequently blocked. Instead of simply isolating the offensive videos and removing them, Turkish courts and the Telecommunications Directorate took the extraordinary step of blocking the entire website.

The YouTube ban has been facilitated by a 2007 law giving broad powers to courts and the Telecommunications Directorate to regulate the Internet. For more on this law and other websites that have been blocked as a result of its application, see Jan. 24 post. Under the Internet law, either the Telecommunications Directorate or courts have the right to block internet sites that contain content in explicit violation of Turkish law (pertaining to Turkey's many laws against obscenity, morals, slander, insult, etc.).

However, what is different about the most recent bit of meddling is that it is being done by the Telecommunications Directorate without such a reference, though the Transportation Minister has been emphatic that Google is violating tax laws.

Google executives have requested a meeting with the Telecommunications Communication Presidency (TIB), though Yildirim has given little indication that the meeting will result in an agreement.

Lawsuits against the incessant YouTube bans and 2007 Internet law are ongoing, and the European Union (see Progress Reports), the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), and watchdog groups like Reporters Without Borders have all weighed in on the issue, but to little avail. The media monitoring website Bianet has also recently filed a lawsuit, claiming the Internet law and most recent Google ban has improperly hindered their operations and output of news content.

For more on the most recent squabble, see Yigal Schleifer's Friday post.

UPDATE I (6/18) -- According to the TIB, an Istanbul court ordered the Telecommunications Directorate to block access to a Google IP address used to access Google applications. The court order was made on June 7.

UPDATE II (6/23) -- The OSCE has weighed in on the most recent dispute with Google. OSCE Media Freedom Representative Dunja Mijatovic announced on Tuesday that she wrote personally to Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu urging the Turkish government to cease blocking/hindering access to YouTube and Google applications, as well as to overhaul its Internet law. Turkish civil society groups have also protested the most recent government actions. Still no word from the government.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Hamas Question

In the wake of the flotilla crisis, Prime Minister Erdogan has been issuing statements supportive of Hamas, characterizing the group as resistance fighters who won an election. These statements not only further heighten tensions with Israel, but also threaten Turkey-United States relations, prompting U.S. State Department spokesperson Philip Crowley to reiterate emphatically that the United States considers Hamas a terrorist organization. Just as importantly, the prime minister's statements have not gone without domestic criticism.

Turkish critics, many of whom are supportive of strongly condemning Israel's attack on the Mavi Marmara, fear the pro-Hamas rhetoric risks conflating Israel's raid on the Mavi Marmara (an issue between Israel and Turkey) with Israel's relations with Hamas. Some have even gone so far as to argue that Erdogan personally identifies with Hamas, a political organization that has gained popularity with Palestinians in part due to some Palestinians' perception that rival Fatah is elitist, too secularist, and out of touch with the masses.

Hamas, of course welcoming the prime minsiter's statements, has for its part expressed support for Erdogan's political model. Hamas Foreign Minister Ahmad Yusuf recently gave an interview to Hurriyet, more or less comparing Erdogan's politics with that of the Taliban. From the interview:
According to Yusuf, who said he is writing a book called “Erdoğan and a New Strategic Vision,” the Taliban is “opposed to everything,” including education and women’s rights.

“Erdoğan’s model, on the other hand, is liberal. It is a model that dares to take responsibility and change things and establishes good relations between the religious and secular elements of society,” he said. “It is a model that works for democracy and human rights, and supports an open society. That is what we want.”
Yusuf's statements fits within Hamas' broader attempts at what Thanassis Cambanis terms "tunnel diplomacy." From Cambanis'articel in Foreign Affairs:
Since Israel has claimed that it will end the Gaza blockade only if Hamas surrenders power, the movement has been willing to improvise and embrace whatever works -- a merchant’s approach of finding the best deal and then justifying it retroactively.

Hamas has applied the same formula to its diplomatic strategy. It has hedged its bets, alternately hectoring and wooing Egypt, cozying up to Iran and Turkey, and shaming the Gulf petro-states into giving it money and political cover. In January, Gaza’s prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh, chastised Egypt from the minbar at Friday prayers in Gaza City for “losing its compass” and joining the ranks of those who “criminalize the resistance.” The Arabs, he argued, must draw close to Turkey: “We are working to build a new balance against the Israelis in the region.”

Since the 2006 elections, Hamas’ brain trust has been trying to plot a path out of global isolation. Ahmed Yousef leads the effort, drawing on his experience running an Islamic think tank in what he calls the “paradise” of Washington, D.C., for more than a decade. The number-two official in Hamas’ foreign ministry in Gaza, he is at once a consummate politician and a fierce defender of Hamas’ resistance ideology. He may be a conciliator, but he is no moderate.

“We want the West to understand it can do business with us,” he told me in January during a long conversation in his Gaza City office. “They want to know if we are more like the Taliban or like [Turkey’s Islamist prime minister, Recep Tayyip] Erdogan. They will see that we are closer to Erdogan. We are flexible.”

Diplomatically, Hamas has cast a wide net. The group has launched Web sites in English and Turkish and has dispatched senior officials to meet with any influential Westerners willing to talk, in public or in secret. Now, Hamas is benefiting from the results of its diplomatic groundwork. The flotilla that it did not organize has played right to Hamas’ strategy, earning it a spate of attention and summoning international pressure on Israel to loosen the blockade.
Diplomatic relations between Turkey and Hamas began in 2006 when a five-man delegation headed by Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal visited Ankara.

Not writing about the AKP government's identification with Hamas, bur rather the Palestinians as a whole, Orhan Kemal Cengiz had a provocative column yesterday in Today's Zaman. An excerpt:
Erdoğan’s defense of human rights of the Palestinians is based on identification. This makes him reactionary and prevents him from playing a vital role in solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Since he could not rise above the problem, his way of engaging with the Palestinian question has the serious potential of making Turkey a part of the problem, rather than contributing to a solution.

Can we contribute to the solution of this problem if we turn a blind eye to the sins of Hamas, which is responsible for grave human right violations, has created an oppressive regime in Gaza and has killed many innocent victims in its endless suicide attacks? Can we seriously and effectively defend the rights of the Palestinians while we are turning a blind eye to human rights violations in Darfur and in Iran?

Can we be taken seriously when we try to draw attention to the war crimes Israel has committed in Gaza while we still refrain from endorsing the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court?

Erdoğan and his government could be a perfect mediator between Israelis and Palestinians if they end this identification. I cannot imagine any other government in the world which could show Hamas that their obsession with the extinction of Israel is actually one of the biggest obstacles to the solution of this problem. I cannot imagine any other government which could convince Iran and Syria that they could peacefully coexist with a peaceful Israel in the region.

But instead we will witness the dance of anger for a while.

Pushing Western Alliances

EU Chief Negotiatior Egeman Bagis called on NATO to help end what he characterized as an illegal the Israeli imposed blockade of Gaza, even suggesting that it send a fleet of ships to protect the safety of Palestians and Israelis. Though Turkey has not made such a request in the formal framework of NATO, the call, combined with Bagis' characteriation of EU Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton's response to the flotilla incident as a "joke," is unlikely to win Turkey many friends in NATO or the European Union.

In other flotilla-related news, see Ha'aretz's report on the work of Medi Nahmyaz and Nathalie Alyon, two Israeli citizens of Turkish descent who were called to translate for Turkish citizens detained by Israel during the flotilla affair. According to the two translators, the majority of Turkish citizens on board the flotilla were unaware of the military blockade. The women reported that most were uneducated, came from pious backgrounds, and most significantly, thought that everything had been arranged for their safe arrival in Gaza. from the report:
Many passengers spoke of coming "to help children in Gaza, orphans, hungry children," or "to bring humanitarian assistance." Alyon and Nahmyaz got the impression that many of them believed before they left Turkey that everything had been arranged and they would reach Gaza. They also did not seem to have broad political knowledge or a distinct ideology.

The medical team was very nice, say the interpreters, and people almost apologized for feeling unwell or saying it was hard to breathe. "That's very Turkish," says Alyon. "The doctor is such a big and important man, who am I to bother him?" The activists from Western Europe were blatantly different. They spoke loudly, demanded their rights and refused to talk until their representatives arrived.
Also relevant

Consolidating Control Over the Media? . . .

The AKP-led drafted bıll to restructure Turkey's Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTUK) has raised new questions about the government's relations with the media, especially amid skeptics of the AKP's intentions, many of whom are determined that the conservative-oriented party is bent on gaining control over the media. The more outlandish arguments of an insiduous, deep-reaching plot to dominate media institutions aside, provisions in the bill that would increase the RTUK's already significant supervisory powers raise real questions about the freedom of broadcast media in Turkey.

Introduced to parliament in April (see April 10 post), the bill was hotly debated in the Turkish parliament this week amid accusations from the opposition that its intentions were to further consolidate AKP control over the Turkish media. Given the Dogan tax fine and some very large purchases of media conglomerates by figures close to the party in recent years, the issue is particularly sensitive. The opposition CHP and MHP demanded fuller consideration of the bill, which was eventually sent back to a parliamentary committee for further review.

In addition to the CHP painiting the effort as a further attempt by the AKP to gain control over the media, CHP officials also claimed the bill would give PRime Minister Erdogan the power to prevent specific people with whom he disagrees from broadcasting. According to Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc, the bill is geared toward restructuring RTUK so as to allow for more foreign direct investment in Turkish media and better supervision of media institutions.

For its part, the AKP insists the bill is line with efforts to harmonize Turkey's media law with that of the European Union, and that there is nothing deeply nefarious in its design.

Yet, just what do these increased powers of supervision entail? Given recent statements by RTUK officials, which opposition figures claim the AKP has thoroughly infiltrated, as well as the remarks of some AKP officials on programming they consider offensive or corrupting (see here Family and Women's Affairs Minister Aliye Kavaf's remarks on the popular televison series Ask-i Memnu).

Also relevant are questions as to how foreign direct investment in Turkey's media will work, and if the business-related aspects of the law would give pro-government cadres more control of who owns what and at what price.

Dare Not Question . . .

Express journalist Irfan Aktan received a 15-month prison term this week for making propoganda for the PKK. The charges followed a piece Aktan ran that offered critical analysis of the government's "Kurdish initiative." In the piece, Aktan interviewed a numer of people from the predominantly Kurdish southeast, including two PKK members. In the piece, also quoted from a PKK brochure. From Hurriyet Daily News :

“It is not like this man said, ‘We will make war, we will destroy,’ and I said, ‘Bravo to you, you are doing a great job,’” the journalist said in response to the sentence handed down Friday, defending his coverage of what he called a newsworthy topic.

Aktan traveled to southeastern Turkey last year to look at how the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, government’s initiative for solving the Kurdish problem was being perceived among the region’s people.

For his news analysis story, published in monthly Express in October 2009, Aktan talked to a wide range of people, from local mayors to members of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, and including women and children. The criminal factors in his report, according to the court, were two paragraphs from an interview with two PKK members and a quote from a PKK official that Aktan took from one of the group’s publications: “There will be no solution without struggle.”

The charges brought against Aktan were “making propaganda for a terrorist organization through the press” and “announcing the opinions of a terrorist organization and helping to sustain these opinions in the public realm.” The PKK is listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and the European Union.

Aktan said Express is not a radical publication and does not praise violence, adding that he is the first reporter in the magazine’s 16-year history to receive such a sentence.

When asked why he used the quote from the PKK publication, Aktan said, “I was looking into the stance of the organization toward the [government’s] initiative for my story and this sentence summarized its answer.”

The two paragraphs of interviews noted by the court included comments from PKK members saying they would neither “come down from the mountain,” nor leave the group, no matter what the government does. “This is news in a country where the initiative is being discussed,” Aktan said. “What I said was: ‘Look, there is this state of mind. If an initiative is going to occur, know that there is this perspective."

. . . .

Aktan said he was among the people who were reporting the actual facts during the process of implementing the Kurdish, or democratic, initiative and suggested he might have offended the government as a result. “We were saying via analyses that the atmosphere of optimism might be misleading,” he said.

All journalists in Turkey can be tried within the scope of the country’s anti-terror law, Aktan said: “The lottery can hit any journalist at any time."

And, the lottery has, though the majority of cases launched against journalists covering the Kurdish question are still against those working for publications with pro-PKK views.

Though Article 301 and other restrictions in the Turkish Penal Code (TCK) that remain a serious hindrance to freedoms of the press and expression, the Anti-Terrorism Law, passed in 2006 just one year after Turkey concluded an accession partnership with the European Union, remains the most onerously relevant to journalists, intellectuals, and activists working on Kurdish issues.

What is further troublesome is that the silencing effect of the law might well have a silencing effect on Turkish jurnalists who do dare to record voices in the region and present them to the Turkish public. Most Turkish citizens not living in the southeast or who did not immigrate from the region have little idea as to what the region is like, making dialogue and mutual understanding near impossibile. The dearth of press coverage only contributes to this divide, helping to create what are almost two different existences in once country and further abetting conflict dynamics at play between the region and the Turksh state.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Campaigning in Kurdish Still Illegal

Three former members of the DTP, the now defunct Kurdish political party, have received sentences of six months each for using Kurdish in their political campaigns. The court decision follows an April 11 amendment to the political parties law and the elections law, which were amended to allow campaigning in languages other than Turkish.

The politicians hale from Midyat (Mardin province) and were convicted for greetings they made to constituents during the course last year's local elections. Their sentences commuted, the Midyat politicians' convictions evidence that restrictions on use of the Kurdish language remain--or, at least that the amendments have yet to be properly implemented.

Before the recent amendments, all oral and written campaign propaganda was required to be in Turkish. Yet, in some of Turkey's electoral provinces, Turkish is not the most widely spoken language.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Constitutional Court to Hear CHP Petition

Supreme Court of Appeals Chief Prosecutor Abdurrahman Yalcinkaya / PHOTO from Hurriyet Daily News

The Constitutional Court announced today that it will hear the CHP's petition to annul the constitutional amendments passed last month. It is still not clear whether the Court will examine whether the articles are in line with the first three un-amendable articles of Turkey's 1982 military constitution. There is a legal debate as to whether such an examination is substantive or procedural, and thus whether it falls within the purview of the Court. In 2008, the Constitutional Court annulled a constitutional amendment on the headscarf on the grounds that it violated the first three unchangeable articles of Turkey's 1982 constitution (see June 7, 2008 post).

Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc said the Court's power of review extended only to procedural questions, taking the narrower view of what "procedural" means in this instance. Further, Arinc said the Court cannot meet to discuss the amendments until after the referendum on Sept. 12. However, Constitutional Court President Hasim Kilic said earlier that in the event the Constitutional Court decides to hear the appeal, a decision would be prior to Sept. 12.

Supreme Court of Appeals Chief Prosecutor Abdurrahman Yalcinkaya, who brought the closure case against the AKP in 2008 and is thought to be preparing another, also weighed into the debate. According to Yalcinkaya, the amendments violate Article 2, and in doing, should be struck down. Yalcinkaya said the amendments were designed to undermine the judiciary and were a threat to separation of powers.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Never the Same? -- A Reading of Turkey After the Mavi Marmara

Protests in Istanbul continued on Saturday, drawing crowds in the thousands. AP Photo from Hurriyet Daily News

Upon the return of Turkish Ambassador Oguz Celikkol to Ankara, President Gul declared that Turkey's relations with Israel "will never be the same."

Departing for Ireland the day Israeli commandos raided the Mavi Marmara in international waters, I left Istanbul's Taksim Square with the images of enraged protestors fully in my mind. From Ireland, reports of continued mass protests drawing crowds of up to 10,000 and feiry statements of Turkish government officials flooded Irish radio and the BBC.

Ireland, too, was not without protest: the Irish-flagged Rachel Corrie, part of the same flotilla, had lagged behind the other vessels and the Irish government was insisting that it be allowed to reach Gaza without incident. Protests occurred in Dublin and Belfast, as they did in other places across the world. Though Ireland was much less at the center of the raid than Turkey, it was clear that the Israeli raid would affect not only Turkey-Israel relations, but how Israel was perceived throughout the world.

I won't take the time here to regurgitate the news surrounding the raid and the deaths of nine Turkish citizens, one of them also a dual citizen of my own country, other than to focus on the Turkish response and Turkey's demand that a UN-backed investigatory commission be authorized to investigate the incident (which Israel rejects) -- an insistence all the more justified in Turkish minds following the release of autopsy reports revealing that the nine victims had been peppered with bullets and some shot at a very close range.

Soon after the raid, the Turkish government condemned the Israeli action as tantamount to murder, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu describing the actions in front of the UN Security Council as "piracy" and "banditry." The response elicted from Prime Minister Erdogan, who flew back from a trip to Chile, was just as strong. Erdogan issued aggresive statements throughout the week, comparing the incident to Sept. 11, iterating the commandment not to kill in multiple languages before the glare of video cameras, and characterizing Hamas as an organization comprised of "resistance fighters."

Meanwhile, Israel moved quickly to portray the Turkish citizens killed as Islamic exremists and terrorists bent on waging global jihad against Israel, linking the still murky Turkish humanitarian aid organization at the center of the incident with global terrorist organizations, including al-Qa'ida (for more on the humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH), see Yigal Schleifer's article in the Christian Science Monitor).

The difference in narratives striking, tempers waged throughout the week as the bodies of those killed were returned to Turkey amidst more protests and calls for Turkey to cut off all relations with Israel. The Turkish government recalled its ambassador, cancelled joint military exercises scheduled with Israel, and suspended work on energy projects. The Turkish parliament issued a strong resolution calling on the government to reconsider military and eocnomic ties with Israel.

Calls for an even stonger reaction resided throughout the Turkish public and were not limited to supporters of the AKP or stronger Islamist parties (see this poll), or even to particularly religious people for that matter. Criticism from Turkish opposition parties often urged the government to take stronger action, and newly-elected CHP leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu, while urging calm, has criticized the government for being "two-faced": "They’re saying ‘one minute’ in front of cameras, and ‘yes please’ behind closed doors."

Over the weekend, Erdogan and Kilicdaroglu engaged in mutual finger-pointing, both accusing the other of being under the undue influence of Israel. Referring to recent statements made by Fetullah Gulen and Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc that revealed a rift in the party over how to deal with Gaza, Kilicdaroglu declared that the "Tel Aviv advocate" is within the AKP. Tucked away in Pennsylvania, Gulen gave an interview to the Wall Street Journal in which he criticized the IHH's failure to reach an agreement with Israel. In the interview, Gulen seemed to warn the Turkish government to be careful in its posturing vis-á-vis Israel for fear of damaging relations with the United States. Hurriyet Daily News columnist Mehmet Ali Birand picked up on this message in his column today:

Gülen explicitly warns Turkey.

He opposes entering such a process with the National View. For, the IHH is according to him a radical Islamic movement and he believes turning this humane help attempt into an Islamic help movement would harm Turkey very much.

Gülen with his approach does not oppose the AKP. He just criticizes IHH’s attitude. He warns that such steps might go as far as cutting off relations between Turkey, the United States and Israel. He draws attention to how dangerous the situation is. It seems as if he says, “These guys are about to cause trouble for the country, stop them.”
According to Birand, AKP Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc might well have heeded Gulen's call when he said on Friday, "The hoca points in the right direction."

In an interview with KanalTurk on Sunday, Arinc expressed that more tension with Israel should be avoided, seeming to call on the IHH and other organizations to the right to back off. Whether Gulen and Arinc's statements are made for fear of weakening ties with the United States and Israel and/or are motivated by concern that Islamist parties to the right of the AKP might get a boost out of the incident in the same way they did after Israel's incursion into Gaza at the end of 2008 is unclear (see Jan. 14, 2009 post), but the question should be on the radar of those observing the AKP's Israel policy in coming weeks.

If Turkey-Israel relations are to be normalized, and even more importantly, if the United States is to preserve good relations with Israel, efforts should be made to come to a consensus on the investigatory commission proposed by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon. Ankara has put the commission forward as essential to its normalization of relations with Tel Aviv, and while Tel Aviv, for its part, continues to resist, it is no doubt looking to gain the approval of the Obama Administration as it moves to craft its own internal investigation. For the United States, the Turkey-Israel alliance forged in 1996 is one of the few bright spots in the Middle East, and given the amount of political ill will toward nine Turkish citizens being killed by Israeli commandos in international waters, it would make sense to do everything in its power to somehow bring Turkey and Israel into some sort of compromise.

Turkey took a powerful first step despite all the feiry -- and, at times, more than unseemly -- rhetoric coming from government officials this week insomuch as it welcomed a rather vague statement coming from the UN Security Council last week without making too much fuss (the statement, falling short of a resolution, condemned "those actions" resulting in death, without assigning responsibility).

Given the gravity of animus toward Israel inside Turkey at the moment, as well as calls from other governments around the world for an independent investigation (including the UN Human Rights Council, the resolution of which the United States voted against), it would make sense for the all parties to do everything in its power to assure a comprehensive and open investigation of both the Israeli military's actions and the activities of the IHH.

For more on Turkey-Israel relations, see past posts.

UPDATE I (6/7) -- Two interesting analyses worth drawing attention to are Hugh Pope's piece in Friday's The Guardian and Steven A. Cook's assessment of Turkey-U.S. relations in Foreign Policy. Pope urges that Turkey's rift with Israel not be looked at as a turn away from the West, but rather as the response to a humanitarian crisis in Gaza. For Pope, when one objectively looks at Turkish policy in the Middle East in recent years, the country can be seen as "explicitly imitating lessons from the EU that proved how such convergence can end cycles of conflict." Cook, examining crucial foreign policy differences between Turkey and the United States, portrays the two countries as "frenemies," concluding the two countries competing strategic powers in the Middle East. See also a very insightful, albeit tragic, analysis by Alon ben Meir thanks to Jenny White at Kamil Pasha.

UPDATE II (6/8) -- Hosting the Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia (CICA) in Istanbul, Turkey took the opportunity of the conference to condemn Israel in an attachment to the conference's final declaration. 21 of the 22 countries in attendance, all save Israel and including Russia, joined the statement, calling for an international investigatory commission to be setup and condeming Israel's use of force in international waters. Though not linking the statement to the flotilla incident, Russian President Vladmir Putin said the Blue Steam II natural gas project, linking Russian gas supplies to Israel and Turkey, might not extend to Israel due to lack of demand.

UPDATE III (6/9) -- For a decent summary of the military, economic, and energy ties between Turkey and Israel and potential ramifications of the flotilla affair, see Saban Kardas' analysis in the Eurasia Daily Monitor. Though trade with Israel constitutes only one percent of Turkey's total foreign trade, much of it food imports, Ha'aretz reports that some Israeli supermarkets are already boycotting Turkish goods.