Friday, April 29, 2011

The Forbidden Zone

The Turkish government via the Prime Ministry's Information Technologies Board (BTK) recently introduced a system in which websites bearing domain names carrying certain words will be automatically banned. Yesterday the government, through the Telecommunication Directorate (TIB) sent the list to Internet service providers ordering that website carrying these domain names be banned. From Hurriyet Daily News:
The affect of the decision could see the closure of many website that feature the banned words. For example, the website “” ( because the domain name has “animal” in it, a banned word and likewise “,” ( would not be able to operate under its current name because it has “anal” in it; also among the 138 banned words. Websites cannot have the number 31 in their domain names either because it is slang for male masturbation.

Some more banned English words are: “beat,” “escort,” “homemade,” “hot,” “nubile,” “free” and “teen.” Some others in English have different meanings: “pic,” short for picture, is banned because it means “bastard” in Turkish. The past tense of the verb “get” is also banned because “got” means “butt” in Turkish. Haydar, a very common Alevi name for men, is also banned because it means penis in slang.

“Gay” and its Turkish pronunciation “gey,” “çıplak” (naked), “itiraf” (confession), “liseli” (high school student), “nefes” (breath) and “yasak” (forbidden) are some of the other banned words.
Obviously there are problems with the list, and I do not think I have to mention that a website does not contain pornography just because an Internet domain site includes the word "gay."According to Yaman Akdeniz, who is at the lead of the fight for Internet freedom in Turkey, the government is in violation of the law. As draconian as Turkey's 2006 Internet regulation might be, there indeed seems little legal basis for what the BTK is doing.
“Hosting companies are not responsible for monitoring for illegal activities; their liability arises only if they take no action after being notified by the TİB – or any other party – and are asked to remove certain illegal content,” Akdeniz said.

The TİB cited the Internet ban law number 5651 and related legislation as the legal ground for its request. The law, however, does not authorize firms to take action related to banning websites.

“The hosting company is not responsible for controlling the content of the websites it provides domains to or researching/exploring on whether there is any illegal activity or not. They are responsible for removing illegal content when they are informed and there is the technical possibility of doing so,” according to Article 5 of the law.

On Thursday, following the heated debate surround the “forbidden” list, the TİB said the list was sent to hosting firms for informatory purposes. But the statement further confused the situation, as the body threatened companies with punishment if they did not obey its directions regarding the list in the first letter sent to service providers.
So, not only is the government violating rights to freedom of expression on a large scale, it is not even acting according to the rule of law -- at least not yet. The ban on domain names occurs at the same time the government is moving to implement a new regulation that paves the way for such infringements in the future.

As far as I can tell, the BTK is not citing recent regulation as the legal basis for its authority to demand internet service providers block access to these domain names, instead basing its authority on the 2006 Internet Law (No. 5651), which I have written about extensively. This law is draconian, but what is coming seems even worse.

The new regulations gives the government the authority to block and filter websites according to its own designs (independent of any court order), and importantly, not make its blocking and filtering practices public. Though the old regulation does give the TIB the authority to block access to websites, the authority blocking the website, whether the TIB or a specific court, is public information and the person trying to access the website encounters a message that the website is blocked. The TIB also acts on a set of criteria determined by the 2006 Internet law. For more on the old law, click here. If anyone can give me more information on the legal scheme here, I would much appreciate it.

Though Turkey has made considerable democratic progress in the past 10-15 years and in many ways improved its human record, this backsliding on media freedom raises serious questions about its democratic trajectory. Increasingly, the government seems to take the position that they can do anything they want as long as they are elected by a majority. Liberal democracy this is not. Electoral authoritarianism? Maybe.

UPDATE I (5/5) --  Bianet, a new portal from which I post regularly, is challenging the new regulations at the Council of State. Other websites are also following suit, and it might not be too much longer before the European Court of Human Rights is inundated with another round of freedom of expression cases in Turkey. Here is hoping the government repeals this insanity now and begins to work with experts on Internet law to pass a new Internet law that does not violate rights to freedom of expression and access to information, at least not on such a massive scale. For a bit of legal analysis from experts quoted in Hurriyet Daily News, click here.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

A Second Bosporus . . . ?

IMAGE from Hurriyet Daily News

The Turkish government's plans to build a second canal right through the heart of Istanbul have raised more than a few eyebrows. The government first talked about this last fall, but yesterday announced a two-year study plan, after which construction would begin. Jenny White gives a summary of the project and asks a couple of really good questions at Kamil Pasha:
There will be a two-year “study period”. Then they’ll start digging. Goal to finish is 2023. Expected cost, a mere $10 billion. Istanbul will become an island and two half-islands. The canal site will be on state-owned land, but there will also be expropriations.

The idea is to allow the biggest tankers to go through the city in the new canal instead of along the Bosphorus, thereby avoiding potential environmental catastrophe in case of a ship crash, oil spill, floods, etc on the Bosphorus. Because the Bosphorus is an international waterway there are all kinds of hazardous materials traveling unhindered through the middle of the city. But the ships in the new canal would still be going through the middle of the city, admittedly without the treacherous currents that afflict Bosphorus traffic. The canal, unlike the Bosphorus, would be fully under Turkish control. Can Turkey legally ban ships from using the Bosphorus? What if the ships prefer that route instead of using the canal (especially if the canal is more expensive)?

Canal length: 45-50km. Depth: 25 meters. Width: 145-150 meters. The soil will be used to build a new harbor and a new airport. (click here)

Maybe it’s me, that I just can’t think big enough. But I also don’t trust the government’s reasons, rationale, and ability to do this properly with sufficient study and technical expertise. (eg what effect would this have on Istanbul’s earthquake susceptibility?)
Hmm, yeah? . . .

UPDATE I (4/30) -- Aengus Collins asks some more good questions of his blog Istanbul Notes.
Mr Erdoğan clearly wants to present himself as a visionary leader who is ready and willing to stamp the power of his imagination on the most significant city in his country. But there are many more imaginative things that he might have chosen to do, many other ways in which he might have sought to improve the lives of the city’s millions of inhabitants had he wanted to.

How about a serious attempt to remedy Istanbul’s criminal unpreparedness for the major earthquake that everyone knows is coming and that everyone knows will kill thousands upon thousands? How about an overhaul of the planning system to incorporate some awareness of the fact that the built environment isn’t an end in itself, but a means of furthering a wide range of human needs? How about overcoming the insanity that passes itself off as driving on Istanbul’s roads? How about a public library worthy of one of the world’s great cities? How about a commitment to retain what little green space is left here and perhaps recover some that has been lost? How about a concerted attempt to deal with the various countrywide factors that are driving crippling and unsustainable increases in the city’s population?
I think Jenny and Aengus have this covered, and so I will leave it at that.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Defense Lawyers Threaten to Boycott KCK Trial

DHA Photo from Radikal

Defense lawyers announced Monday that they will boycott the KCK trial currently ongoing in Diyarbakir unless the court allows defendants to use Kurdish when defending themselves in the courtroom. For background, click here. From Hurriyet Daily News:
Defense lawyers withdrew themselves at a Tuesday hearing from the Kurdish Communities Union, or KCK, trial and gathered to discuss whether the action should be permanent or not.

The trial has been grid-locked many times over the suspects’ demand to give their defense in Kurdish despite the court’s consistent refusal.

The 21st hearing of the case started with suspect Songül Erol Abdil, the former mayor of Tunceli province, offering his defense in Zaza, which the court refused to hear, stating the statement was in “a language believed to be Kurdish.”

Abdil corrected the court, saying that the language was Zaza and offered the defense in writing. The court refused it once more, saying, “The suspect knows Turkish.” Defense lawyers said the action was illegal and that written statements must be translated and put into the case file.

After the same thing occurred with another suspect, the defense demanded that the statements be included in the case file in both Kurdish and Turkish, that the court make a decision of lack of jurisdiction and transfer the trial to the Constitutional Court and that all the arrested suspects be present at hearings.

The court tried to end the hearing after a recess without addressing the demands, leading about 100 defense lawyers to withdraw from the case, stating they cannot do their jobs.

UPDATE I (4/27) --The Diyarbakir hearing the KCK case has ruled that the Diyarbakir Bar Association will be asked to provide new representation to clients should the lawyers who have announced to boycott the trial not attend the next hearing. The Bar Association has said it will not do this. Hurriyet Daily News quotes Emin Aktar, a lawyer in the KCK case and current chairman of the Bar Association:
“The trial is already in a gridlock; six months have passed and not one defense has gone on record.” 
"It is meaningless for us to be there,” he added.
“The court will not even add defense in Kurdish to the [case] file, let alone allow it to be read,” he said, adding that according to the law, the defenses should be translated into Turkish and added to the case files.

“There are lots of wire-tapped conversations in Kurdish used as evidence against the suspects,” Aktar said. “You [the court] translated then and [added them to the file]. Then take those out too.”

The defense lawyers have also objected to the suspects being brought to trial in groups of six, rather than altogether, even though the courtroom is large enough to handle all of them and none of the suspects caused any disturbance or insulted the court when they were brought before it, Aktar said.

“It is against the universal concept of law. The indictment accuses them of being in an organization together, of being connected to each other somehow, so they should be tried together, but you will bring some of them to the hearings and not others,” he said. “You will start to read the evidence and those not present will not be able to answer the [claims] about them. And this would be called a trial.”

Moreover, Aktar said, the defense lawyers are unaware of which suspects will be brought to court beforehand and thus cannot prepare a defense. He called for the Justice Ministry to intervene to solve the problem or for the court to “give up on its stubbornness.”
It is highly unlikely that the Justice Ministry will intervene in the trial as doing so would constitute a major concession from the government and be perceived as a political victory for the BDP.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Kurdish Nationalism is Not Going Away

The backs of young men shouting slogans in support of Ocalan and the PKK at a festival organized by the Diyarbakir municipality. PHOTO by Ragan Updegraff

In the wake of the spate of violence sparked last week after the Elections Board (YSK) decided to bar 12 BDP candidates from running in June's parliamentary elections (the board decided on Thursday to reverse the decision), this Monday, as last, threatens more unrest as police acted to detain prominent BDP politicians.
Police detained 35 people Monday in the southeastern province of Hakkari, including the deputy mayor and other local officials, in connection with ongoing investigations into the Kurdish Communities Union, or KCK.

The operations, reportedly carried out by police with special authority at city-center locations and at the “Democratic Solution Tent” set up by the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP, drew strong criticism from the party.

“This policy of the government is aimed at emptying out our party and [demoralizing] all those who love peace and democracy. This is psychological warfare,” said Mehmet Salih Yıldız, an independent candidate for Parliament supported by the BDP.

The 35 people who were detained in the operations include Hakkari Deputy Mayor Nurullah Çiftçi, Vice Mayor Hatice Demir, provincial council head Ferzınde Yılmaz, BDP provincial chairman Orhan Koparan, BDP central district chairman Kenan Kaya, the area “muhtar” (headman) and members of the provincial council and the municipality.

The suspects will be transferred to court after being questioned by the Hakkari police, the Anatolia news agency reported.
The recent operations in Hakkari are sinfificant in that they include top officials in the BDP-governed municipality, which is one of the most fervent BDP strongholds in the country. Since local elections in March 2009 in which the BDP captured large majorities in several southeastern provinces, the party has worked hard to govern these municipalities as relatively sovereign from Ankara. The party has focused on providing municipal services and using the municipality in novel ways to further its political agenda, including organizing political fora, such as the "democratic solution" tent in Hakkari, that challenge the AKP's approach to dealing with the problem.

And what is that approach? For many Kurds, more important than the "Kurdish opening" is what they see as the ruling party's attempts to suppress Kurdish political organization that challenges the AKP agenda. Though the "Kurdish opening," which was soon changed to a "democratic opening" and then to a project to promote "national unity and brotherhood," promised to offer solutions to long-existing problems, particularly in the area of cultural and minority rights, the opening gained little momentum and was largely dead by October. (For a history of the opening up to May of last year, click here.) After a very violent summer, there is little hope for the opening in the region and the AKP is facing record lows in terms of its popularity in provinces like Hakkari and Sirnak.

Monday's detentions will only further stoke nationalist sentiments and resentment against the AKP among Kurds already inclined to support the BDP. Combined with the complete and utter mess that defines the trials of alleged "KCK members" currently ongoing in Diyarbakir and Van, relations between Turks and Kurds will get worse before they get better. The BDP stands to gain votes as a result of the increased tensions, and in my analysis, the AKP is misguided if it thinks it can seriously "remove" (a nasty word) the Kurdish political actors it deems more unsavory.

Some leading AKP figures have attempted in the past year to distinguish between "bad Kurds" and "good Kurds," the main criterion for the separation between the two being the latter's support of the government. If the AKP thinks this a waiting game, that these players, attitudes, and demands will just go away with enough repression, it is sorely mistaken. As former Turkish security officials and long-time observers of the Kurdish question can testify, such an approach has been taken before, it has failed before, and it will fail again.

Hence, we have former Turkish officials like retired MIT deputy director Cevat Ones calling for  a serious reconsideration of the problem, a re-working of Turkish nationalism and the constitutional foundations of the Turkish state that accommodates the self-determination demands of nationalist-minded Kurds. Ones's words seem to be falling on deaf ears, but the problem is not going away. (See Nese Duzel's column in Taraf (in Turkish) for more on Ones.)

Remembering Mec Yeġeṙn

PHOTO from Hurriyet Daily News

April 24 marks the day of remembrance for the purported 1.5 million Armenians who perished in the year 1915 during what Armenians refer to as Mec Yeġeṙn. While Armenians have pushed for years to pass laws in other states acknowledging Mec Yeġeṙn as "genocide" such efforts have done little to yield recognition of the tragedy inside Turkey. However, despite these efforts, an increasing number of Turks are exploring the history of the events of 1915 when what was then the Ottoman Empire systematically eliminated the Armenian population then living in Anatolia after concerns that Armenians were cooperating with the Russians to bring about dissolution of the Empire.

Yesterday, for the second year in a row, Turks gathered in Taksim Square to pay homage to the Armenians who lost their lives almost 100 years ago and call for a "coming to terms history." The first demonstration of this kind was held last year when the world was paying more attention to whether United States President Barack Obama would refer to Mec Yeġeṙn as "genocide" in his annual speech commemorating the tragedy. He did not, but what did not get noticed, and in what my mind is more important, is that Taksim was home to Turks raising awareness of the issue. Whether they called Mec Yeġeṙn "genocide" is less important than that there is now a lively discussion in Turkey that was not at all present 5-10 years ago. Last year hundreds of Turkish intellectuals and common citizens signed an online apology for what they referred to as "the Great Catastrophe." From Hurriyet Daily News:
Apart from two events in Istanbul, sit-ins were held simultaneously in Ankara, İzmir, Diyarbakır, Bursa and Bodrum. Prayers for the tragedies were conducted in all Armenian churches in Istanbul after the Easters prayer. The church’s limited their commemorations to prayers and no statement were made.

The first of the events in Istanbul was held in Sultanahmet by the Human Rights Association, or İHD, in front of the Turk Islam Artifacts Museum at 2 p.m. The crowd gathered with red cloves and read a press statement. The cloves had the names of Armenian intellectuals who were taken from their homes in Istanbul on April 24, 1915, and died in exile. The black banners held by the crowd read, “The Museum – prison of 1915” and “The intellectuals were held before sent to the journey of death.” The names of 250 intellectuals were read and the crowd left the cloves and banners near a tree in front of the museum before disassembling.

Ayşe Günarsu, member of the İHD Istanbul branch and the Commission Against Racism and Discrimination, spoke to the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review. She said they were there to refresh a memory that society was made to forget. “This location where the museum stands used to be İbrahimpaşa Palace in those years; also called the Central Prison. The intellectuals were gathered here and then sent to exile from Haydarpaşa train station. Many of the intellectuals never returned.” Günaysu said the Turkish intellectuals are too late “to commemorate the genocide.” İHD held a protest at Haydarpaşa last year.

“This is a matter of conscience,” said İhsan Kaçar, another member of the commission. “Intellectuals are not sufficient for Turkey to face itself. The NGOs need to have a clear stance on this matter. Facing the Armenian taboo will mean Turkey has to face its own history.”
For coverage of the demonstration last year and the strong efforts to pass a genocide resolution in the U.S. House last year, click here. For more on Turkish efforts to address the Armenian question, which is still difficult in Turkey given the country's many laws limiting freedom of expression, click here.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Women, the Headscarf, and Discrimination in the Work Place

This month the Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation (TESEV), one of the country's leading think-tanks, released a study examining employment discrimination against women who wear the headscarf. While the headscarf has long been a controversial issue in the public arena (for more, click here and here), much less attention has been paid to the issue in the private realm. What obstacles are faced by women who wear the headscarf and do manage to graduate from university (or, for those who may choose to don it after graduation)? For the report, authored by TESEV's Dilek Cindoglu, click here.

The rate of women's employment in Turkey is lower than any other OECD  country--21.6%, and down from 34.3% in 1988. The average in the European Union is 57%. Female employment has been dropping for a variety of reasons, among them the decline in agricultural employment. However, apart from structural changes to the economy, a number of impediments prevent women from entering the workforce, including the low level of female education, the lack of adequate childcare facilities, sexual harassment, and conservative attitudes when it comes to women working and leaving the house/traveling about. Another is no doubt the systematic labor discrimination that women who choose to wear the headscarf face both in terms of getting a job and no doubt once they are in a job as well.

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 covered 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 covered 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. Cindoglu, along with Ebru Ilhan, published a similar study on the subject last summer.

Last fall, Richard Peres wrote an excellent article in Today's Zaman discussing the issue, as well as the prospects for Turkey to adopt a remedy along the lines of the affirmative action policies the United States put in place for African Americans in the 1960s. From Peres's article (which I stumbled upon thanks to Jenny White at Kamil Pasha, who adds some thoughts of her own here):
In addition to professionals, women who wear headscarves face perhaps the largest and most difficult barrier in white collar jobs. Preference is given to uncovered women for the better positions in private industry, such as office and information workers, as well as sales positions. The reasons vary from simple prejudice against covered women to organizations not wanting to be viewed as fundamentalist. According to a report by AKDER in November 2008, “Even in sectors for production of commercial goods and services, the employment level of the women who wear the headscarf is low.”

I have a friend who wears a headscarf who had to go to Cyprus for her college degree. She is bilingual -- she helped me interview Turks for a book I am writing -- but has been unable to find a white collar job for over a year. Often when she shows up for an interview, she finds that the position has been mysteriously filled or is no longer available. She has little recourse but to keep trying or to migrate to another country.
. . . .

s Turkey ready to implement a remedy for discrimination against covered women like the American experience? I doubt it. The reason: The American civil rights movement was the result of a long political struggle that mobilized millions of people throughout the country to bring about change. African-Americans and women did not sit back and wait for one political party or another to effect change, or for an agency like the Higher Education Board (YÖK) to send a letter. They got organized, influenced elections directly, exposed discrimination, fought cases in court, ran for elections, and put real political pressure on state legislatures and the US Congress. Waiting for the government to act was not enough to bring about landmark legislation with real enforcement power and supportive agencies to handle and investigate complaints, and go to court on the behalf of complainants if necessary.
That said, there is a decent amount of activism on the issue, like this TESEV report, as well as from organizations like the Women’s Rights Association Against Discrimination (AK-DER). Nonetheless, I have met more than covered woman who has told me she does not participate in such activism because the cause seems hopeless, etc. Yet, last fall's relaxing of headscarf requirements at university and the amount of progress being made on the issue is likely to spark more activism and pressure.

If you should be in Washington, Cinodoglu will present the study at SETA-DC tomorrow at 12 p.m. Merve Kavakci will serve as discussant. Click here for event details.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Mass Protects Continue in Response to YSK Decision

President Gul called today for Turkey's Supreme Election Board (YSK) to solve problems surrounding the candidacy of 12 BDP members the BDP put forward earlier this month. The YSK barred these candidates from running on Monday, sparking protests across the country that are still ongoing and have resulted in at least one death. The YSK, under tremendous pressure, is set to meet tomorrow to review its decision.

On Monday, the YSK set a deadline of Wednesday for the candidates to submit proper documentation that they had resolved outstanding issues related to prior convictions. The YSK lifted the barring of some BDP candidates, including Sebahat Tuncel, Gültan Kışanak, Leyla Zana, Ertuğrul Kürkçü and Hatip Dicle, after candidates submitted proper documentation.

The YSK is backing down on its decision and most surely looking for an exit strategy despite earlier declarations it would stand by its decision. That said, some candidates have yet to be reinstated and so the issue is still up in the air as to whether the BDP will actually go through with its threat to boycott the June elections.

The YSK decision has also raised discussed of the 10% threshold currently in place for Turkish parties to represent parliament. If the BDP candidates had been running a full-fledged party members rather than independent candidates, they would not have been subject to the YSK's scrutiny.

More as it happens . . .

UPDATE I (4/22) -- The YSK has reversed its decision (from Radikal, in Turkish).

UPDATE II (4/24) -- Aengus Collins reflects on the YSK debacle and "the rules of the game." An excerpt:
As soon as the YSK barred the Kurdish candidates, the game was lost. There were better and worse ways of trying to recover the situation, but none that would prevent a bright light being shone on serious problems. Had the YSK dug its heels in and insisted that the rules gave it no choice but to exclude the candidates from June’s election, Turkey’s outrageous infringements of the political rights of its Kurdish voters and politicians would have been advertised more glaringly than is usually the case.

Far preferable, then, for the YSK to have reversed its decision relatively swiftly? Well, yes, up to a point. The decision’s reversal is to be welcomed. But look at what it says about the robustness of the system that underpins Turkey’s electoral mechanics. On Monday, the rules were interpreted to mean that these individuals had forfeited the right to stand for election. This was the conclusion of a state body the decisions of which are not subject to appeal. And yet on Thursday the same body performed a neat little pirouette to arrive at more or less the opposite of its position on Monday.

What does this tell us about the integrity of the rules? It tells us that what matters in Turkey is not the formal construction of the rules, but the spirit in which they’re interpreted and implemented at any given time. This is not a phenomenon peculiar to Turkey, and it is not a phenomenon that necessarily yields negative results. But at a time when Turkey is considering a wholesale revision of its constitution and when the gap between lofty democratic rhetoric and grubby coalface politics is wider than ever, it warrants some attention.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

AKP Takes a Nationalist Turn

In the wake of massive unrest sparked by the Election Board's decision to bar 12 BDP candidates from running for parliament (see below), Prime Minister Erdogan has declared that "there is no Kurdish problem." The declaration came during an introductory meeting of the AKP's parliamentary candidates. Remarks included:
"The Kurdish problem in this country no longer exists. There are the problems of my Kurdish brothers and sisters who are abused. They tell that the AKP withdrew the Kurdish origin candidates in the Southeast region. As I said before, they either speak with ignorance or they do not know that we nominated our professional candidates there.

. . . .

We see no difference in our peoples, regardless of their origins and identities. We do not discriminate between Kurds and Lazs. What matters is a single identity and to be a citizen of the Republic of Turkey. However, some people are troubled with this flag. Why does this flag disturb? The colour of this flag was taken from the martyrs of all of us. A single nation, single flag and a single land is coming. A single land with 780 thousand square meters. The land which will belong to all of us, not to any ethnic constituent or a group. This state is all ours and will not be separated. My Kurdish brothers and sisters can easily speak their language there. Having enabled speaking Kurdish in prisons and Kurdish courses, we will continue our way with this step”.
The remarks reflect a nationalist turnabout for the party, which in July 2009 declared a "Kurdih opening."  The Kurdish opening followed a famous speech in Diyarbakir in 2005 in which the prime minister said "the Kurdish problem is my problem."

Perhaps Erdogan thinks the problem is "solved" now, but the statement certainly flies in the face of a Kurdish opening that produced little in terms of concrete results other than a change to the political parties law that allowed campaigning in Kurdish and another to the criminal code that halted treating minors as adults in criminal trials, a practice that had landed thousands of Kurdish children in regular courts.  

More likely, it seems the party is going after nationalist voters, namely those inclined to vote for the ultra-nationalist MHP. The party is hovering at the 10% threshold parties must meet to enter parliament. If the party fails to meet the threshold, its votes will get dispersed between the AKP and the CHP according to Turkey's D'Hondt system of proportional representation. If this happens, the AKP would be much closer to a 2/3 majority in parliament, allowing it to unilaterally push through a new constitution.

All the same, Erdogan's most recent bit of rhetoric stands in contrast to statements he has made in preparation of and since the government's "Kurdish opening."  In May 2009 in Duzce, Erdogan argued that Turkey's historical treatment of minorities is "a result of a fascist mentality."

It is not the first time the prime minister has backed down from statements on the Kurdish issue. In a historic speech in Diyarbakir in 2005, the prime minister spoke of a multi-ethnic Turkey, eschewing references to nationalism. Yet, in another speech delivered in Diyarbakir in 2008, Erdogan referred to "one nation, one flag, one motherland, and one state," a reference that deeply bothered many Kurds and in many ways affirmed what was already the party's growing distance from a key sector of pro-Kurdish cultural rights voters in the region.

For past posts on the break, click here (reflecting on the Kurdish question at the end of 2008) and  here (reflections on my trip to Diyarbakir when this speech was given) and here (on what Ece Temelkuran penned as AKP's policy of "Islamist banana" charity and a clairvoyant piece by Kerem Oktem).

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Elections Board Bar 12 Kurdish Politicians, Sparks Uproar

Turkey's election board is at the center of what could be a major crisis. On Monday, the elections board voted to bar 12 BDP candidates from running in June's elections.From Hurriyet Daily News:
"Prominent leaders of the Kurdish movement such as Leyla Zana and Hatip Dicle, as well as Gultan Kışanak and Sebahat Tuncel, who are already in Parliament, were among the people affected by the Supreme Election Board, or YSK’s, decision late Monday.
The board announced that 12 independent candidates, seven of them backed by the pro-Kurdish peace and Democracy Party, or BDP, could not run in the June 12 general elections due to earlier convictions, though it later indicated that some of the decisions could be reversed if certain conditions were met.
In its reasoning released Tuesday, the YSK said it cancelled the candidacy of 10 applicants, six of them BDP deputies, because they did not submit their documents regarding the court decisions that reinstated their right to vote and be elected after being convicted of certain crimes.
The YSK based its decision on Article 76 of the Constitution, which stipulates that those who have been convicted of involvement in terror-related acts or encouraging terrorist acts are not eligible to run for election. The article also bars people who have been sentenced to a prison term totaling one year or more, excluding involuntary offences, or to heavy imprisonment, from running as a deputy in elections.
The YSK said in a statement that on Wednesday it would review additional documents submitted by some of the barred candidates. The board also said if the necessary documents are submitted and approved, then the candidates could stand for election.
BDP officials have issued a furious response to the decision, threatening to withdraw from the June elections if the situation is not remedied. “We are even considering pulling back from the elections. We’ll announce our final decision Thursday after a meeting with all our independent deputies,” BDP co-chair Selahattin Demirtaş told reporters late Monday."
Protests ensued in Istanbul and in the southeast, some turning violent. In Istanbul, BDP supporters staged a sit-in in Taksim Square before marching into Aksaray, where there were clashes with police. In the southeast, protests were particularly violent in Diyarbakir (where the Firat News Agency reported  a 15-year old boy was shot), Van, and Yuksekova. For a video of the protests in Istanbul, click here.

Demirtas called on all political parties to respond to the decision. CHP leader Kemal Kicidaroglu threw his support behind the BDP, calling on the AKP to join it in any necessary options that need to be taken to save the party.

The move by CHP should win it sympathy among Kurds and BDP supporters. It was just two years ago that the CHP would have relished in this kind of decision. Of course, the party stands to benefit since the BDP is the main opposition to the AKP in Turkey's mostly Kurdish southeast. A BDP-CHP coalition . . . highly, highly unlikely, but the "what if" question is out there.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

BDP "Smart Politics"

BDP candidate Leyla Zana with other BDP officials in Diyarbakir. PHOTO from Today's Zaman

The BDP has set a goal of electing 30 parliamentarians in June. At the moment, the party has 20 and if its gains in the 2009 elections and the AKP's increasing feebleness on the Kurdish issue say anything, it is possible they could do just this. Today's Zaman has a solid piece up taking a look at the party's electoral slate. The slate aims to broaden the BDP's appeal, including pop stars, Alevis, women, Turkish leftists, and for the first time, a Syriac. From the piece:
The BDP, which has nominated Leyla Zana, Hatip Dicle, Emine Ayna and Nursel Aydoğan from Diyarbakır, also cooperated with Kurdish political groups that do not toe the same line as they do and with socialist movements. Participatory Democracy Party (KADEP) leader Şerafettin Elçi, who is a leading actor in Kurdish politics and who is known for his conservative stance, is the BDP’s independent deputy candidate from Diyarbakır. Journalist Altan Tan, who is close to religious groups in the region, is also an independent candidate for the BDP from Diyarbakır.

There are some strategies behind these moves by the BDP. The population of Diyarbakır has increased almost threefold in the past 20 years because of migration. People who were forced to leave their villages or who could not continue their lives in their hometowns due to clashes between security forces and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) during the 1990s moved to Diyarbakır. A considerable number of people whose sense of belonging to the Turkish state was weakened gathered in Diyarbakır. A leading figure in the Kurdish political movement, Zana is an important personality who attracts these people. In addition to pro-PKK groups, Zana, who recently defended Kurdish singer Şivan Perwer when he was threatened by the PKK, is also able to appeal to those who are proud of their Kurdish identity but also oppose armed clashes.

Another independent candidate from Diyarbakır, Hatip Dicle, is currently under arrest and is being tried in the ongoing trial of the Kurdish Communities Union (KCK), the alleged urban arm of the terrorist PKK. He is a figure much liked by radical groups. Ayna and Aydoğan are also able to get votes from the BDP grass roots and to appeal to Kurdish women in particular.

Elçi and Tan are two figures who can reach out to those outside of the BDP’s grass roots. This picture reveals the BDP’s plan to garner as many votes as it can. The BDP aims to get the biggest victory of its and its predecessors’ history in the elections by appealing to both hawks and doves, Kurds who do not follow the BDP line and religious groups.

It is also possible to see a similar strategy emerging in Mardin as well. The party that nominated the leader of the now-defunct Democratic Society Party (DTP), Ahmet Türk, for his hometown of Mardin plans to have at least three deputies from the province.

The BDP also has an independent deputy candidate of Assyrian origin, lawyer Erol Dora from Mardin, which has the largest Assyrian population in the country. Another BDP-supported Mardin candidate is Gülser Yıldırım, a KCK suspect. Speaking to reporters after filing an application with the YSK to run in the elections, Türk recalled earlier remarks by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who once said his party has more Kurdish deputies than the BDP and that they receive more support than the BDP. “We will take this trump card from the prime minister,” he said.

In Tunceli, which is predominantly Alevi, Alevi folk music singer Ferhat Tunç will seek to become a deputy with the support of the BDP. The BDP, which managed to have its Tunceli mayoral candidate elected in the 2009 local elections and which currently has a deputy from the province, lost its power in the province to some extent after Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu assumed leadership of the CHP last year. In last year’s Sept. 12 referendum on a set of government-sponsored constitutional reforms, the majority of Tunceli voters said “no” as the CHP wanted and did not boycott the referendum as the BDP called for. The BDP now wants to regain the votes it lost in Tunceli with the nomination of Tunç.

. . . .

The pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), which will run in the upcoming June 12 elections with independent deputies due to the 10 percent election threshold in Turkey, sees June 12 as the day when it can prove itself. Because of this, it will play all its trump cards.

The goal of the party is to increase its number of deputies in Parliament to 30. The BDP, which has nominated Leyla Zana, Hatip Dicle, Emine Ayna and Nursel Aydoğan from Diyarbakır, also cooperated with Kurdish political groups that do not toe the same line as they do and with socialist movements. Participatory Democracy Party (KADEP) leader Şerafettin Elçi, who is a leading actor in Kurdish politics and who is known for his conservative stance, is the BDP’s independent deputy candidate from Diyarbakır. Journalist Altan Tan, who is close to religious groups in the region, is also an independent candidate for the BDP from Diyarbakır.

There are some strategies behind these moves by the BDP. The population of Diyarbakır has increased almost threefold in the past 20 years because of migration. People who were forced to leave their villages or who could not continue their lives in their hometowns due to clashes between security forces and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) during the 1990s moved to Diyarbakır. A considerable number of people whose sense of belonging to the Turkish state was weakened gathered in Diyarbakır. A leading figure in the Kurdish political movement, Zana is an important personality who attracts these people. In addition to pro-PKK groups, Zana, who recently defended Kurdish singer Şivan Perwer when he was threatened by the PKK, is also able to appeal to those who are proud of their Kurdish identity but also oppose armed clashes.

Another independent candidate from Diyarbakır, Hatip Dicle, is currently under arrest and is being tried in the ongoing trial of the Kurdish Communities Union (KCK), the alleged urban arm of the terrorist PKK. He is a figure much liked by radical groups. Ayna and Aydoğan are also able to get votes from the BDP grass roots and to appeal to Kurdish women in particular.

Elçi and Tan are two figures who can reach out to those outside of the BDP’s grass roots. This picture reveals the BDP’s plan to garner as many votes as it can. The BDP aims to get the biggest victory of its and its predecessors’ history in the elections by appealing to both hawks and doves, Kurds who do not follow the BDP line and religious groups.

It is also possible to see a similar strategy emerging in Mardin as well. The party that nominated the leader of the now-defunct Democratic Society Party (DTP), Ahmet Türk, for his hometown of Mardin plans to have at least three deputies from the province.

The BDP also has an independent deputy candidate of Assyrian origin, lawyer Erol Dora from Mardin, which has the largest Assyrian population in the country. Another BDP-supported Mardin candidate is Gülser Yıldırım, a KCK suspect. Speaking to reporters after filing an application with the YSK to run in the elections, Türk recalled earlier remarks by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who once said his party has more Kurdish deputies than the BDP and that they receive more support than the BDP. “We will take this trump card from the prime minister,” he said.

In Tunceli, which is predominantly Alevi, Alevi folk music singer Ferhat Tunç will seek to become a deputy with the support of the BDP. The BDP, which managed to have its Tunceli mayoral candidate elected in the 2009 local elections and which currently has a deputy from the province, lost its power in the province to some extent after Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu assumed leadership of the CHP last year. In last year’s Sept. 12 referendum on a set of government-sponsored constitutional reforms, the majority of Tunceli voters said “no” as the CHP wanted and did not boycott the referendum as the BDP called for. The BDP now wants to regain the votes it lost in Tunceli with the nomination of Tunç.

What about İstanbul?

In addition to nominating its current İstanbul deputy Sabahat Tuncel and former BDP İstanbul provincial chairman Mustafa Avcı, the BDP cooperated with leftist figures for İstanbul, which has the largest Kurdish population, at 2 million. Writer and director Sırrı Süreyya Önder and Labor Party (EMEP) leader Levent Tüzel are two other independent deputies supported by the BDP in İstanbul. Tüzel who was an independent candidate from İzmir in the 2007 parliamentary elections but could not be elected will now seek election with the support of the BDP. As for Önder, a columnist with the Radikal daily, he is known to be a victim of the Sept. 12, 1980 coup d’état. He plans to get leftist votes in İstanbul.

Hakkari and Şırnak are also among the provinces where the BDP seeks to have more than one deputy. These two provinces, which lent strong support to the BDP in its call for a boycott of the Sept. 12 referendum with more than 90 percent of the voters refusing to cast a vote, are regarded as a “liberated zone” by the BDP. The aim of the BDP in Hakkari is to have all of three independent candidates elected. BDP Co-chairman Selahattin Demirtaş, who entered Parliament from Diyarbakır after the 2007 elections, will this time run in the elections for Hakkari. Another BDP-sponsored candidate from Hakkari is Esat Canan, an ethnic Kurd and former CHP deputy for Hakkari.

Canan came to prominence when he disagreed with his party on the infamous Şemdinli scandal. He questioned the role of JİTEM, an illegal group inside the gendarmerie, in the 2005 bombing of a bookstore in which two noncommissioned army officers were caught red-handed. He later parted ways with the CHP and joined the DTP, but he was also expelled from the DTP when he criticized the enthusiastic welcome of a group of terrorists who surrendered to Turkish security forces in late 2009. He is now an independent candidate from the BDP. The third Hakkari candidate of the BDP is Kurdish writer and journalist Adil Kurt.

As for the BDP’s Şırnak deputy candidates, current Şırnak deputy Hasip Kaplan and former DTP Deputy Chairman Selma Irmak will run as independent deputies in the elections from this province. Irmak is also currently under arrest as part of the KCK investigation. The BDP, which has 61 independent candidates from 39 provinces, followed a similar strategy in other provinces as well. The party that wants to get the support of Kurdish and Alevi voters in Malatya nominated director Gani Şavata as an independent deputy. Journalist Ertuğrul Kürkçü will also run in Mersin as a deputy candidate.

The BDP nominated KCK suspects Dicle, Irmak, Faysal Sarıyıldız, İbrahim Ayhan, Kemal Aktaş and Gülseren Yıldırım for the elections, but did not nominate any BDP mayor who is under arrest as part of the KCK probe.
This will be the first parliamentary election that candidates will be allowed to speak Kurdish per an amendment to the Political Parties law last April. Candidates will all run as independents, a usual practice of the BDP since entering parliament requires meeting a 10% threshold, as well as meeting requirements that candidates must run in one-third of the districts in each of held of the provinces. Once the BDP independents are elected, they are allowed to form a parliamentary group should there be at least 20 members from the party elected.

In recent years, the BDP (and its predecessor, the DTP) have come to assert more independence from the PKK. At the same time, the BDP is still home to many individuals with very close links to the terrorist organization. Its expanded appeal and voice in Ankara, however, will likely decrease the role played by the PKK's exiled leader Abdullah Ocalan and its commander in Kandil, Murat Karayilan. This grouping of candidates is just as diverse and potentially unwieldy as the set devised by the CHP, which is also re-crafting itself. We'll see what happens . . .

Friday, April 15, 2011

Trust Not the People

Aengus Collins wrote an excellent piece last fall on the democratic flaws inherent in Turkey's current system of closed-list proportional representation. As Collins notes, though the 10% threshold required of parties to enter parliament gets most of the attention (including recent mention in a 2010 Council of Europe report), considerable less attention is paid to the actual method by which parties and voters choose candidates. From Collins:
There are problems at every stage of Turkey’s electoral process. As I highlighted in my most recent post, parliament’s 550 seats are badly misallocated among the country’s 81 provinces. Next, the processes used to translate individual votes into seats for parties are deeply skewed. The 10 per cent threshold that parties need to clear before they can enter parliament deservedly gets the most attention, but it’s not the only issue here. Once the threshold has been passed, the d’Hondt method is used to distribute seats among the remaining parties. Of the many variants of proportional representation, d’Hondt is the least proportional, systematically favouring larger parties.*

We reach a further set of problems when it comes to filling the seats that have been allocated to the various parties. Turkey uses a closed-list proportional representation system. This means that voters vote for the party of their choice, but there is no mechanism for them to express a preference for one or more of the party’s individual candidates. Instead, a list of candidates for each province is drawn up by the party leadership and any seats won in that province are automatically assigned to the names on the list, starting from the top.

It’s not the list per se that causes the problems here. List-based proportional representation is an extremely widely used electoral approach. But in most cases an open list is used, which allows voters to influence the rank-order of the names on the list, and therefore the order in which seats will be allocated to party candidates. Turkey’s closed-list variant is less common. It has tended to feature in countries where democracy is relatively novel and/or shallow. The reasons for this should be clear. Closed lists produce an authoritarianism-friendly form of democracy, keeping power and control in the hands of party elites rather than individual voters.

Consider some of the negative effects that flow from the use of closed lists. First, as noted above, voters have no way of influencing the identity of the person who will represent them. Accordingly, the link between citizen and representative is weak at best. Second, parliamentarians are particularly strongly incentivised to bend to the will of their party leadership rather than to act in the electorate’s interest. Third, the calibre of party candidates is likely to be weaker than it could be, because leaders are free to promote weaker candidates on their lists in an effort to prevent rivals from emerging. Fourth, voters are left with no easy way to hold an individual politician to account by voting them out of office
Electoral systems are not the sexiest of business, but do not get enough attention. One of Turkey's chronic problems is the sheer strength that political parties wield over the system. Political leaders in Turkey are famed for staying around forever: once you are at the top of your party, there is little going away. This is, of course, also a problem of internal party democracy, but once leaders ascend to the position of party leader, they can virtually choose who will and will not be elected. Of course, this creates plenty of incentive for corruption, weak candidates with little popular appeal (think Deniz Baykal), and most importantly, a low level of democratic responsiveness to the people. The whole piece is worth a thorough read, and kudos to Aengus for writing it.

Prime Minister Erdogan has announced plans to draft a new constitution after the June 12 election, including a move to a presidential system. Why not an open-party list in addition?

Aengus also gives attention to parliamentary immunity, referencing Simon Wigley's equally cogent 2009 HRQ article on the topic. That one is also well worth the read.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Erdogan Defensive on Threshold Issue

The question of Turkey's high 10% electoral threshold came up again on Wednesday when Prime Minister Erdogan spoke at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE). The Council of Europe recommended in January 2010 that Council members adopt a 3-5% threshold. When a PACE parliamentarian asked the prime minister why Turkey had such a high percentage, Erdogan became pointedly defensive. From Hurriyet Daily News:
The question brought a stinging response from the Turkish leader, who said the 10 percent election threshold was determined by the Turkish people’s will, rather than the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP.

“The 10 percent threshold is not determined by my party, we also came [to power] with this threshold. We established our party and managed to come to power 16 months later,” he said, impyling that the threshold was no barrier to becoming elected.

Lowering the 10 percent threshold is not a matter of democracy, according to Erdoğan.

“We will lower the threshold when the time comes, but we will do this by asking our people, not you,” Erdoğan said.

Russia, at 7 percent, is the only other European country approaching Turkey’s 10 percent threshold.

Germany and Belgium have thresholds of 5 percent each; Estonia, Georgia, Hungary, Moldova, Poland, Czech Republic and Slovakia all have thresholds of 4 percent; Austria, Bulgaria, Italy, Norway, Slovenia and Sweden have 3 percent; Spain, Greece, Romania and Ukraine have 2 percent; Denmark has 0.67 percent, while the Netherlands merely requires parties to win 1/150 of the votes cast to enter parliament.

Although the practices varied widely, the report said the general application was around 4 to 5 percent.

Studying Turkey, the report analyzed 2002 general election data and noted that only two political parties succeeded in passing the 10 percent threshold. The Justice and Development Party, or AKP, gained 66.9 percent of the seats even though it won only 34.2 percent of the votes, while the Republican People’s Party, or CHP, gained 33.1 percent of the seats with 19.5 percent of the votes.

As such, 46.3 of the votes were not represented in Parliament in the wake of the 2002 elections, the report said.

“More than half the electorate was deprived of representation and those parties that were elected had a percentage of seats twice that of their percentage of votes, [meaning] that a proportional system became a majority one,” the report said.
For the Council's full report and recommendations, click here. While the CHP and BDP have supported lifting the threshold, the AKP has resisted. Whether to raise or lift the threshold is, of course, a matter of politics. Lifting the threshold would cost the AKP the super-majority it hopes to land in the parliament in June elections while the BDP and AKP would stand to benefit from the AKP's loss. One would expect the MHP to also get on board the threshold issue given that it stands to lose the most should it not reach the the threshold in June. The BDP subverts the threshold by running independent candidates, and then forming a parliamentary group after their election.

UPDATE I (4/18) -- State Minister and EU Chief Negotiator Egeman Bagis defended the threshold yesterday using Israel as a counter-example while speaking on a TV program. “In Israel, they have a foreign minister who flushes the toilet as he speaks on radio . . . . The guy in his youth was a nightclub bodyguard in Moldova. He still thinks of himself as one and cannot pass on to being a statesman. Israel’s foreign policy has been entrusted to this man because they don’t have an election threshold.”

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

"No Headscarves, No Vote!"

Merve Kavakci in 1999, shortly before being expelled from parliament.

Nicholas Birch has an excellent piece on Eurasianet about a new civil society campaign geared to promote the election of women who wear the headscarf and the ambivalent response the campaign has received from conservatives, including the AKP. An excerpt:
Turkish women's groups have been traditionally divided along ideological lines. But they are uniting behind the initiative, launched in March by a non-partisan group called Women Meet Halfway, to have women who wear headscarves placed high enough up on party lists so that they stand a decent chance of being elected.

"No headscarves, no vote," shouted sixty-odd women who gathered outside the parliament building in Ankara on April 8. "As it stands, our democracy is half-baked", said the group's spokeswoman, Nesrin Semiz. "Two-thirds of Turkish women cover their heads. Not one of them has a seat in parliament."

The campaign is generating an ambiguous reaction from an electoral constituency that, at least at first glance, would appear to be a natural ally: religiously conservative men.

In general, the conservative press is trying to ignore the campaign. Those columnists who have addressed it have tended to be disparaging. A columnist in the mass-market conservative daily Zaman, Mehmet Kamis, has described the headscarf issue as "meaningless."

"These elections are a vital opportunity for Turkey to create the foundations of civilian democracy," he wrote on April 2. "Why put that at risk with all this talk of headscarves." Kamis was alluding to the main plank of the governing Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) election campaign: the promise of a new "civilian" constitution.

The AKP has Islamist roots, and the wives of some top party leaders wear headscarves in public, but those same party leaders make no secret of wanting to win more than two-thirds of the seats in parliament. Such a total would allow the AKP to push through a new constitution on its own. Party leaders worry that strong backing for the headscarf issue could complicate their electoral goal. Yet, they also know that distancing themselves from the issue could create political problems.

. . . .

Supporters of Women Meet Halfway's campaign think fears of a repeat of 2008 or 1999 are unfounded. The Constitutional Court, which narrowly voted against closing the AKP in 2008, has since been packed with justices sympathetic to the governing party, campaign member Hilal Kaplan points out.

A secular party that lobbied hard for the court’s intervention against the AKP in 2008, meanwhile, has signaled that it will take no action, if women wearing headscarves are elected to parliament.

In any case, says Fatma Bostan Unsal, a founding member of the AKP who wears a headscarf and has put her name forward as a candidate, there is nothing in parliamentary regulations about headscarves -- only a requirement for women to wear "suits." Turkish courts stripped Kavakci of her position in 1999 not because of her headwear, but because she had become a US citizen "without the permission of the Turkish authorities."

Unsal says she will run as an independent if the AKP doesn't support headscarf-wearing candidates. With just under nine weeks to go until Turks go to the polls, she still doesn't know what colors she will be presenting herself under: Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the arbiter of who rises and who falls in the AKP, is keeping his options wide open.

But a ferocious attack last week on the headscarf campaign by one of Turkey's most prominent Islamist intellectuals has led some women to wonder whether all the high-minded talk of the need to protect the AKP from a repeat of 2008 isn't hiding something rather less savory. Writing in Zaman on April 2, Ali Bulac described the campaign’s leaders as "fifth columnists ... working from the start to destroy the Islamist movement from within."

Supporting the use of the headscarf is "a religious obligation of every believing man and woman," Bulac went on. But the campaigners "look down their noses at their own neighborhoods," and "have stripped the headscarf of its religious significance, reducing it to a simple issue of human rights inspired by feminism."
Hilal Kaplan has written in Taraf and elsewhere that it is a shame that covered women, which constitute a considerable percentage of people in Turkey, do not have even one representative in parliament.

Bulent Arinc said in February that while having a covered woman in parliament was desirable, no was not the time. Apparently the AKP as a whole agreed with him. Only one covered woman was nominated for parliament, and her name placed very low on the party list, lessening her chances of getting elected.

The last candidate who donned the headscard to be elected to parliament, Merve Kavakci in 1999 from the Virtue Party, was expelled from parliament and eventually stripped of her Turkish citizenship on the grounds that she had not disclosed her United States citizenship.  In 2007, Kavakci won a case at the European Court of Rights, which determined her expulsion from parliament was a human right violation.

For more on female electoral candidates and the headscarf, click here for a piece I wrote on the issue in 2008.

Party Lists Released . . . Game On.

Turkey's political parties have released their party lists ahead of June 12 parliamentary elections. The AKP's list considerably diminishes the power of National Outlook ("Milli Gorus") politicians and aims to gain votes in coastal centers where the party has not fared strongly.

Meanwhile, the MHP is sticking to its strategy of going for votes in both Turkey's coastal areas and Central Anatolia. The MHP suffered a tremendous loss in last year's Sept. 12 election when many of its supporters broke with the party to vote for the AKP-sponsored referendum. MHP leader Devlet Bahceli made the referendum a chance to challenge the AKP on its Kurdish opening, but at the end of the day, MHP's brand of ultra-nationalism seemingly increased support for the MHP, which is now hovering right at the 10% threshold required for parties to enter parliament.

The AKP will go after the MHP with full force in an effort to have the party fall under the 10% threshold. Should this happen, the AKP would almost certainly be guaranteed the super majority of 367 deputies it needs to conduct business without much compromise. It is a make-or-break year for the MHP. Turkish political parties that fall under the 10% threshold have a difficult time coming back, and the MHP would likely come out of the bruising with an even more ultra-nationalist attitude.

Significant to the party lists is the lack of minority representation. No party nominated an Armenian candidate as initially conjectured. Two Jews and two Syriacs were nominated, though all but one of these candidates have either been placed low on the party lists or are representing small parties and so have little chance of entering. Erol Dora, a Syriac, is running for the BDP from Mardin and stands a decnt chance of being elected. If Dora is elected, he will be the first Syriac member of parliament in the history of the Turkish Republic.

Women also got the short end of the stick. The CHP nominated the most women (at 20 percent), and has made gender equality, which the party considers to be under attack, a major plank in its platform. The AKP nominated 14 percent, and the MHP 12 percent. 12 women are running as independents, mostly from the pro-Kurdish BDP, which has by far the highest representation of women in parliament. Among these women is Leyla Zana, a hardline BDP candidate who is very divisive in Turkish politics.

There was some initial speculation that the AKP might attempt to nominate a female candidate who wears the headscarf, though it seems Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc's February statement that now is not the time seemed to have held true in the end. Only one covered candidate was nominated, a school teacher from Antalya, and her name was placed toward the bottom of AKP's party list. For more on women's political representation (and the headscarf), click here.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Running for Parliament from Jail

A number of people currently under arrest in the ongoing mass trials of Ergenekon and KCK suspects have appeared on party lists of the CHP, MHP, and BDP. Deputy Prime Minister Cemil Cicek said on Sunday that pre-trial incarceration is not an obstacle to running for parliament, but the prospect of these people winning seats does raise questions about the June elections. From Hurriyet Daily News:
The 14th Amendment of the Turkish Constitution says that suspects cannot be granted legislative immunity, meaning the courts must decide to release these figures and suspend their sentences in order for them to serve in Parliament.

On its candidate list released Monday, the main opposition Republican People’s Party, or CHP, nominated Başkent University’s rector, Professor Mehmet Haberal, for Zonguldak, journalist Mustafa Balbay for İzmir, and former Ankara Chamber of Commerce head Sinan Aygün for Ankara. All three are suspects in the ongoing Ergenekon case, with Haberal and Balbay under arrest, and all three are placed high on the party’s list and will likely be elected.

The fact that Haberal and Aygün do not come from a leftist or social-democratic background was criticized within the party at the assembly for the final determination of candidates.

Retired Gen. Engin Alan, an arrested suspect in the Sledgehammer case, was nominated by the Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP, for the first spot on the list for Istanbul’s first region. Ergenekon suspect Tuncay Özkan, who applied to the CHP as a candidate, was left off that party’s list, however, and will thus enter the election as an independent candidate.

Former police chief Hanefi Avcı, a suspect in both the Ergenekon and the leftist Revolutionary Headquarters organization trials, will run as an independent candidate for Istanbul.

. . . .

Other jailed suspects who will run as independent candidates include retired general and top Sledgehammer suspect Çetin Doğan for Istanbul, as well as retired gendarmerie Col. Hasan Atilla Uğur for Antalya and politician Doğu Perinçek for İzmir, both Ergenekon suspects. All three will run from the list of the Union of Republican Strength, an ultranationalist bloc against the ruling party.

The pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP, formed an electoral bloc with small Kurdish or socialist parties called the Freedom and Democracy Bloc. The independent deputies list to be supported by this bloc include suspects from the ongoing Diyarbakır case against the Kurdish Communities Union, or KCK, such as Hatip Dicle for Diyarbakır, Faysal Sarıyıldız for Şırnak, İbrahim Ayhan for Şanlıurfa, Kemal Aktaş for Van, Selma Irmak for Şırnak and Gülseren Yıldırım for Mardin.
Some might ask how a candidate running from jail could possibly gain enough popular appeal to be elected? The Ergenekon and Sledgehammer investigations in which the CHP and MHP candidates are suspected are held with quite a bit of scorn by a large number of Turkish voters, and so placing these candidates on party lists draws on that frustration and does not necessarily detract from the votes they get. That said, the Turkish constitution makes their actual entry into parliament difficult.

In the case of the BDP candidates who are part of the KCK trial, the BDP has opposed the KCK trial as a political witch hunt since the day it started and its supporters are could be all the more influenced to vote for arrested persons. Interestingly, the election of a BDP candidate wrapped up in a trial and facing potential prison time could be fertile ground for more protest -- a display of civil disobedience akin to Irish Republicans' election of Bobby Sands to Westminster.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

United States Issues Annual Human Rights Report on Turkey

The United States Department has issued its annual report on human rights practices in Turkey. For the report, click here.

Though many accusations might be leveled at the United States for not taking a consistent position on democracy and human rights issues, a difficult task for any country, the State Department's reports on human rights are refreshingly objective and often come into conflict with other objectives of U.S. foreign policy making. Issued by the State Department's Bureau for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, the reports are issued independent of the State Department's other policy making arms. For more on the reports and how they are assembled, click here.

Friday, April 8, 2011

A Not-So Liberal Today's Zaman

Today's Zaman columnist Andrew Finkel has been fired from the paper after trying to publish a column on the recent raids of newspapers and detention of journalists connected with Ahmet Şık's unpublished manuscript Imam Ordusu (The Imam's Army), which documents connections between the Gulen movement and the police (for more on Şık, click here). Gulen owns Today's Zaman, as well as the Turkish-language Zaman, which has always been even more conservative and decidedly less "liberal" in its editorial decisions. The column ran instead in today's Hurriyet Daily News. Here is an excerpt:
It was a bit over three years ago that I was recruited to write this column for this newspaper (Today’s Zaman). I remember the conversation well. The editor-in-chief anticipated that I might be hesitant to associate myself with a press group whose prejudices and principles might not always coincide with my own. He explained what I knew already, that the Zaman Group supported and was supported by the Fetullah Gülen Community and that I would have to take that on board. However, he explained the paper's mission was to fight for the democratization of Turkish society – that Turkey was no longer a country which should be ruled by military fiat. He also impressed upon me that he was committed to liberal values and to free discussion. And then, of course, he flattered me by saying that mine was a voice which the target audience of Today’s Zaman would want to hear.

. . . .

I have already expressed my concern that the fight against anti-democratic forces in Turkey has resorted to self-defeating anti-democratic methods. This in turn has led to a polarization in Turkey. If your side loses power then the natural fear is that they will use your methods against you. In case this sounds like I am speaking in riddles, I am referring to the aggressive prosecution of people who write books. These may be bad books, they may be books which are written with ulterior motives, they may be books which contain assertions which are not true. But at the end of the day, they are books – and there are libel courts – not criminal courts – designed to protect individuals from malicious falsehood. In short, writing a book offensive to the Gülen community is not a crime.
In the column, Finkel explains his initial reasons for writing for Today's Zaman, which has seemingly grown more conservative, partisan, and unreliable in the past two years to the point that many foreign observers of Turkey (including me) have stopped regularly posting from the paper. For another take on this phenomenon, see Jenny White's reflections on Finkel's firing.

Though the paper still has a few good journalists, namely the always probing, always thought-provoking Ayse Karabat, the paper has for the most part ventured far from its more liberal beginnings. Luckily, Hurriyet Daily News has much improved in recent years from the state it was in when I first began following events in Turkey on a daily basis in 2008. Friends who have worked at Today's Zaman have told me the vast majority of the staff belong to the Gulen organization, and that the news organization has a strong culture that makes dissent more than difficult.

Yet, both papers are still widely read by English-language Turkey observers, including members of the European Parliament (for example, see CHP Onur Oymen's exchange with Ria Oomen-Ruitjen, the European Parliament's rapporteur on Turkey, last February).

Finkel's firing is unfortunate, but more for Today's Zaman than Finkel. The paper loses a good columnist who is sure to find work elsewhere while further undermining its credentials as a reliable news source with a liberal editorial line, as the paper at least used to present itself. This is also not Finkel's first firing. The veteran journalist was fired from Sabah  in 1999 at the behest of the National Security Council (MGK) after publishing pieces critical of the Turkish military establishment.

UPDATE I (4/11) --  Today's Zaman editor-in-chief Bulent Kenes has written a column explaining the paper's reasons for firing Finkel. An excerpt:
Today’s Zaman’s faith and efforts to turn this country, which has suffered from coup d’états, a deep state, unsolved murders, bloody gangs, discrimination, human rights violations -- in brief, a country that has suffered because it hasn’t had a strong democracy and an accountable state -- into a country where universal democratic standards and the rule of law are ensured, and to bring individual rights and freedoms to the highest level, is as strong as it was the first day and will continue to be that way. No one should doubt that. It is obvious that Today’s Zaman has not changed. It is also obvious that we are making publications to expose bloody gangs despite several risks. So what is it that has changed? What has changed is that some of our writers have come under the influence of the strong and dark propaganda that is at play and have started to stagger. Unfortunately I feel the same way about Finkel, who I know does not have ill intentions in any way.
So, if one does not agree with the editorial line of Today's Zaman, they have have been brainwashed by "strong and dark propaganda." A world of black-and-white . . . how convenient.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

BDP Going After the Religious Vote?

From Milliyet (translated by World Bulletin):
Pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) leader Selahattin Demirtaş has called on Kurds in the country's Southeast not to pray behind state imams on the grounds that they are spying for the state and working to promote the government.

Speaking to the Milliyet daily, Demirtaş claimed that the list of imams sent to the country's predominantly Southeast is made at National Security Council (MGK) meetings as he said: "Those imams are selected by the MGK and then sent here. We ask our people not to pray behind those imams who are sent here with a special mission. There are imams working for the Justice and Development Party [AK Party] there."

Demirtaş claimed that those imams are imposing Turkishness and statism on the people.

Last month, the BDP made an announcement calling on Turkey's Kurdish population to stage acts of civil disobedience.

Demirtaş's statements came as a response to the recent statements of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who accused the BDP of plaguing religion with separatism. Demirtaş also dwelled on the Kurdish sermon issue and asked Erdoğan why sermons in Kurdish are not allowed in mosques in the country's Southeast.

He said the rules in the mosques should not be made by the state, but by those attending the mosque, and that sermons in Kurdish should be allowed. "Everyone listens to sermons in Kurdish in the mass prayers held in city squares in the Southeast. Mosques are not the homes of the state, but Allah. The rules in the mosques should be set by the people attending that mosque, not by the state. If the state is deciding which language is going to be spoken in mosques, this has nothing to do with religion. Let people pray in the way they want," he said.
The BDP's politics are starkly secular, but recently it has made efforts to court more religious voters who over the years have been inclined to vote for the AKP. The PKK was suspected of killing two imams last year.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

More Journalists in Prison in Turkey than China

The OSCE has released a list of the 57 journalists currently in Turkish prisons (10 more awaiting trial), asking Turkey to bring its current law into compliance with OSCE standards on media freedom. The OSCE listing includes a table of all 57 journalists, complete with the circumstances and laws leading to their conviction. Disturbingly, according to the International Press Institute (IPI), Turkey now has more journalists in jail than any other country in the world, including China.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Erdogan Versus the Gulenists?

PHOTO from Zaman

Reflecting on Ergenekon lead prosecutor Zekeriya Oz's removal from the Ergenekon investigation, Turkish expert Gareth Jenkins points to a rift in the AKP. From Jenkins:
On the afternoon of March 30, 2011, Zekeriya Öz, the chief prosecutor in the controversial Ergenekon investigation, was abruptly removed from the case by the Turkish Justice Ministry. The decision came after a month in which allegations of links to Ergenekon had once again been used to try to silence critics of the exiled Islamic preacher Fethullah Gülen. On the morning of March 30, 2011, police acting on Öz’s orders had raided the homes and offices of seven theologians opposed to Gülen. On March 3, Öz had triggered domestic and international outrage by ordering the arrest of eleven journalists and academics who had been critical of Gülen and subsequently attempting to erase all copies of an unpublished book about him.

. . . .

There have long been allegations that not only the media coverage but also the Ergenekon investigation itself is being run by Gülen’s supporters. In August 2010, Hanefi Avcı, a right-wing police chief who had once been sympathetic to the Gülen Movement, published a book in which he alleged that a network of Gülen’s supporters in the police were manipulating judicial processes and fixing internal appointments and promotions. On September 28, 2010, two days before he was due to give a press conference to present documentary evidence to support his allegations, Avcı was arrested and charged with membership of an extremist leftist organization. He remains in jail. On March 14, 2011, Avcı was also formally charged with being a member of the alleged Ergenekon gang.

On February 14, 2011, four employees at an anti-AKP internet television channel called OdaTV were arrested as they prepared to broadcast footage showing police officers involved in the Ergenekon investigation apparently planting evidence at premises associated with one of the accused. All of the arrested staff from OdaTV have now been charged with membership of Ergenekon.

On March 3, 2011, eleven suspects, nine of them journalists, were detained in police raids ordered by Zekeriya Öz. The journalists included Nedim Şener, a reporter for the daily Milliyet who had won international press awards for his work on the alleged involvement of the security forces in political assassinations, and Ahmet Şık, a reporter for the daily Radikal. Şık had recently completed the first draft of a still unpublished book on the activities of Gülen’s supporters in the police force entitled İmamın Ordusu (“The Imam’s Army”).

Şener, Şık and the others arrested on March 3, 2011, are now in jail facing charges of belonging to Ergenekon. On March 25, 2011, the police raided the offices of Radikal and Şık’s prospective publisher. They deleted every digital copy they could find of Şık’s manuscript and displayed a court order warning that anyone found in possession of a copy would face prosecution as a member of Ergenekon.

Prosecutors refused to allow Şık’s lawyers to see a copy of the manuscript they had taken from his computer on the grounds that it had been produced by a “terrorist organization”. But this did not prevent them from leaking a 49-page police report on the book, including copious quotations, to pro-AKP newspapers, including Zaman, which duly published details on March 27, 2011.

However, Şık or someone close to him had already taken precautions. On March 31, 2011, a copy of Şık’s manuscript appeared anonymously on the internet. It immediately went viral, recording over 100,000 downloads in the first 48 hours.

. . . .

In this context, the removal of Zekeriya Öz from the Ergenekon case represents the most serious setback for the Gülen Movement since the AKP came to power. Publicly, the AKP insists that the judiciary is independent and that the decision to dismiss Öz was taken by the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK), which oversees all judicial appointments. Privately, officials report that the decision was taken by the government.

Although the Gülen Movement has always been broadly supportive of the AKP, its relationship with Erdoğan has often been problematic. This is partly because Gülen is a follower of the idiosyncratic Kurdish Islamist Said Nursi (1876-1960), while Erdoğan is a member of the much older, and highly institutionalized, Naqshbandi Sufi order; and partly a simple question of power. Erdoğan is aware that the support of the Gülen Movement provides considerable political benefits, both domestically and internationally. Its vast network of NGOs, businesses, schools and media outlets have made the Gülen Movement arguably the most powerful non-state actor in Turkey. Internationally, its schools and NGOs have laid the foundations for Turkey’s recent attempts to expand its influence in the Balkans and Africa. The movement has also been very active in the U.S., running more than 120 charter schools in 25 states, establishing NGOs in Washington, D.C., organizing conferences and providing funding to U.S. think tanks.

Erdoğan has always been wary of a power he cannot control. He has publicly supported the Ergenekon investigation, which has intimidated and weakened his political opponents. But he has not been driving the case; often only learning of arrests after the suspects have already been taken into custody. However, in recent months, what was once a political benefit has become an embarassment; particularly as the increasingly blatant persecution of critics of the Gülen Movement has coincided with mounting international criticism of Erdoğan’s growing authoritarianism. More urgently for Erdoğan, the most recent arrests came as the AKP was preparing its campaign for the June 12, 2011 general election, in which the party will attempt to emphasize its commitment to democracy and freedom of expression.

rdoğan has invested too much political capital in the Ergenekon investigation to allow it to collapse before the June 12, 2011 election. However, after the removal of Öz, prosecutors are likely to be under pressure from the AKP to avoid any more high profile arrests in the run-up to the polls.

Öz’s dismissal may also mark the beginning of a trial of strength within the AKP as Erdoğan begins to finalize the list of the party’s candidates for the June election. Erdoğan has already announced that he will attempt to introduce a new constitution after the election, replace the current parliamentary system with a presidential one and have himself elected president in place of the incumbent Abdullah Gül. Gül, who has the support of the Gülen Movement, has publicly opposed the change. As a result, Erdoğan is aware that, in order to push the new constitution through parliament, he needs a clear majority not only in the assembly but also within the AKP parliamentary party; which means reducing the number of AKP deputies who are sympathetic to Gül and/or the Gülen Movement.
Jenkins notes that just how the Gulen movement will react is yet to be determined. It is conjectured that Erdogan pushed for Gul's presidency in 2007 in an effort to push him out of the party's decision making. Though Gul is often seen by foreigners as more pro-Western, even more democratic than Erdogan, it is not difficult to find Turks opposed to the AKP who view Gul as the larger threat since he is thought to be allied with Gulen, who many view as the ultimate bogey man. On rifts within the AKP, the party's falling away from Erbakan's National Outlook Movement, as well as the rift between Gulen and Erbakan, become relevant here. It is a long history, but in short, the AKP represents a broad coalition, and the Islamists/former Islamists in the party are a diverse grouping.

For more on Sik an Sener's arrests, both of whom are still in prison, click here.