Tuesday, February 28, 2012

"New" Survives

PHOTO from Radikal

CHP leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu more than weathered two extraordinary congresses held in the past two days. On Feb. 26, the party held its first convention, which was called by Kilicdaroglu in response to a petition by the old guard within the CHP that is attempting to defeat Kilicdaroglu and what the party's new leadership has called "the new CHP"  (see past post). After having survived the first, the second convention was anti-climactic.

The CHP is Turkey's oldest party, and having undergone many transformations over the years, dates to Ataturk. In the 1990s and 2000s, the party had drifted from its earlier social democratic roots to embrace a traditional Kemalist/nationalist platform focused on secularism and defending the state against Kurdish separatism. During this time, the party was led by Deniz Baykal, who when I first started paying attention to Turkish politics, was regarded as a figure similar to the Energizer bunny -- he just would not go away. Yet all that changed in 2010 when a sex tape brought him down. The result was a party congress that brought forward Kemal Kilicdaroglu, an Alevi with a more progressive vision.

Though Kilicdaroglu is still far from what one might call progressive, he has also had a lot to deal with since coming to power (see past post) and the CHP has made tremendous strides to transform itself into something new. Sometimes it is hard be hopeful in regard to politics, but the shakeup in CHP offered some reason for optimism -- and, I think, continues to do so.

The congress convened with over 800 members, well over the 625 needed to establish a quorum among the 1,248 delegates. Baykal and party stalwart Onder Sav had attempted to wage a boycott of the convention, which would have essentially caused a crisis in confidence of Kilicdaroglu's leadership and brought him down. Luckily, they failed miserably, and Sav ended up giving a rather desperate-seeming and indignant press conference not far from the convention vowing that Kilicdaroglu would pay in the end.

Of the delegates, the breakdown between the old guard, loyal to Baykal and the old vision, approximates 400. Before the party's regular congress this summer, at which Kilicdaroglu will stand for re-election, many of these delegates will no longer be eligible to participate thanks to a rule regarding term limits.

Now that Kilicdaroglu has a significant feather in his cap, it can only be hoped that he will return the CHP to the more progressive positions it was taking before the election. At the convention, Kilicdaroglu promised to take on the issue of specially-authorized courts, though it lacks much clout in this regard, as well as fully embrace a social democratic and liberal version of Turkey.

The party also plans to strengthen internal party democracy, which has been lacking. Provisions in this regard include primary elections for parliamentarians, as well as open elections for positions in party branches. The CHP has also bolstered its gender quota from 25 to 33%, as well as introduced a youth quota of 10%.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

The Opening Salvo?

PHOTO from Girgir
Prime Minister Erdogan and religious leader Fethullah Gulen play a game of chess. Erdogan declares, "I have taken all of your pawns," to which Gulen retorts, "My child, you will force me to take your king."

Hakan Fidan is not a name soon to be forgotten nor is the recent row between the Gulen movement and the Erdogan government. Yet the row does not center on Fidan alone, but is rather a larger struggle for control sparked by the government's increasing uneasiness with the control Gulen wields over the judiciary and police -- or, what Vatan columnist Rusen Cakir (for English, thanks to Hurriyet Daily News, click here) points to as the "axis of courts with special authorities" by which the movement has been able to use police, prosecutors, and judges to target political opponents.

This week included announcements by some AKP officials that specially-authorized courts had gone too far, and included more aggressive talk of reforming Articles 250 and 251 in the Turkish Penal Code (TCK) by which these courts derive their power. Reform of these articles has been discussed for sometime, but never with as much focus. On Wednesday, Parliament Speaker Cemil Cicek called for new arrangements to regulate the power of specially-authorized courts, though noting their past utility in dealing with state terrorism, namely Ergenekon. Yet, according to Cicek, while the courts are still needed, more focus needs to be paid to how they work in practice -- the implementation of Articles 250 and 251.

And, so what does this mean? Why is it significant? And why the shift in attitude? Let's start with the last question first. As prominent Islamic liberal Yeni Safak columnist Ali Bayramoglu explains in what is a fairly polemical interview with Cakir, the Hakan Fidan affair should be read as an intervention by Gulen -- a challenge to the AKP's authority. Tensions between Erdogan and Gulen have been on the rise given the amount of bad publicity the government has received thanks to the Ergenekon investigation, in particular the arrests of journalists Ahmet Sik and Nedim Sener last March. Following these arrests, Erdogan dismissed Ergenekon lead prosecutor Zekeriya Oz, who is known to be close to the movement and a mastermind of the  Ergenekon probe (see past post).

As Radikal columnist Omer Sahin writes, Erdogan was content to use the Ergenekon prosecution to purge anti-government forces from the state, namely those perched in high places in the military and in the Turkish press. Gulen and Erdogan supported each other in this push from the AKP's 2002 entry into office up to just more than a year ago. Yet, as Bayramoglu observes (see his Wednesday column), now that the government has largely defeated resistance within the Turkish Armed Forces, things have changed.

This shift is further explained, as Bayramoglu continues, by the sheer frustration of Erdogan with the blatantly adversarial nature of the investigations. In August 2010, prosecutors went after police chief Hanefi Avci, who once sympathetic to Gulen, was arrested two days prior to a scheduled press conference at which Avci was going to present evidence as to how the movement had infiltrated the judiciary. The next year he was charged with membership in Ergenekon, as were Sik and Sener following similar attempts to bring light to the nexus between the Gulen organization and the police.

The cost of the Ergenekon and Sledgehammer investigations are simply no longer worth the effort, and now that prosecutions seem to be targeting figures with whom the AKP has friendly relations (i.e. Fidan) and potentially elements in the military that are now pro-AKP, Erdogan, wary of power that is not his own, is likely to come down hard on Gulen. He will do this by curtailing the judicial and police power the Gulen movement has established for itself, and the first target will likely be weakening the axis of power to which Cakir refers.

Yet still unexplained is the sheer tenacity of the Gulen organization toward the Erdogan government in this first serious battle. It is true that the past weeks have evinced tension building between the two groups (stirs over the match-fixing scandal and the Uludere strike, by which Gulen figures also tried to smear the MIT -- see past post), but the source of this latest conflict is still unsure. Perhaps it was an attempt to test Erdogan. Or, it might have been a way to express Gulen's opposition to the state's efforts to negotiate with the PKK, which could be restarted in coming months. A combination of the two? We are probably unlikely to ever know.

What we can say, though, is that what was witnessed last week was a serious test of Erdogan's authority. As Bayramoglu tells Cakir, the Gulen movement expressed a unique determination this time around: first, it mobilized its media outlets and network to smear the MIT (my question: was Uludere an opening act?); second, even when Erdogan expressed that he would standby Fidan, prosecutor Sadrettin Sarikaya not only continued in his pursuit of Fidan, but upped the ante by issuing arrest warrants for four high-ranking intelligence officials. It was only when Erdogan suspended top brass officials in the police that Gulen seemed to back down.

But the end is likely not over. Bayramoglu conjectures that Gulen may take to the sidelines, realizing that Erdogan is not likely to allow Gulen to continue such free-wielding control of the police and judiciary, though not all are so sure. For sure, Erdogan does not want to see a shakeup before he ascends to the presidency in 2014 and passes a new constitution that he likely still hopes will bolster his power once there but at the same time it is unclear if Gulen will be so comfortable with his rise -- and, just what the exiled leader might do about it. As Cakir writes, rather fatalistically I might add, such a clash will largely be spectacle for most Turks, third parties will not matter, and as TUSIAD head Umit Boyner expressed last week, will simply observe in horror.


UPDATE I (2/25) -- Today's Zaman columnist Emre Uslu had a column on Friday which I nearly missed and in which the columnist postulates a conspiracy against the Gulen movement in which he implies the government is complicit. According to Uslu, the government has long been intent on curbing the powers of specially-authorized courts, and this latest episode rather was an operation against the Gulen movement. From Uslu:
If this insistent call for the amendment of Articles 250 and 251 of the anti-terror bill had been made in conjunction with the MİT crisis, I would believe that it had something to do with the MİT crisis. However, this call was made 10 days before the outbreak of the MİT crisis, in a report by the Sabah daily. The report said: “It is possible to associate every offense with terror charges, which could be further subjected to special investigation and trial procedures. To ensure the right to a fair trial, Articles 250, 251 and 252 of the Code on Criminal Procedure [CMK] on the workings of special courts and their procedures shall be revised.”

The insistent calls after the MİT crisis made reference to the same points. The meaning of this is obvious: The KCK investigations will be conducted more leniently, and KCK suspects will be released.

If you live in a country like Turkey; are aware that the KCK investigations will be ceased and the relevant parties to those protocols agreed to the release of KCK suspects; if you have read in a paper, known for its staunch support of the government before the outbreak of the MİT crisis, that Articles 250 and 251 will be revised; and all writers and columnists supportive of the KCK-AKP-MİT equation insistently called for the amendment of Articles 250, 251 and 252 of the CMK when the MİT crisis erupted; and if you call all of these a coincidence, you are surely naïve.

And for these reasons, I would say that the situation presented to us as an MİT crisis is in fact an operation jointly conducted by MİT, the pro-negotiation figures within the AKP and some pro-negotiation intellectuals. The prosecutor and the police department were framed in this operation; MİT planned and executed this operation. The signals from the AKP show that this operation will be completed, despite the decision by the Court of Appeals that the KCK is a terror organization. You will see that Articles 250, 251 and 252 of the CMK will be amended, the KCK suspects will be released and pro-Gülen movement bureaucrats will be removed from duty."
Sabah is a paper friendly to Prime Minister Erdogan, and according to Uslu, it is the government to blame for the excesses of the Ergenekon investigation, not the Gulen movement. Of course, this is highly unlikely given that it is the prime minister who ordered Oz's dismissal after the Sik/Sener arrest and the targeting of Avci, but the accusation is there all the same. Uslu also does a good job of further smearing the AKP by including a desire to release KCK/PKK suspects as part of the operation, thereby using the Kurdish issue to heighten tension.

While several figures, especially those in the government such as Yalcin Akdogan, have done their best to play down tensions, revelations of Uslu and others point to some sectors in the Gulen movement who are not so content to simply sit by sidelines.

Religious Education and 4+4+4

PHOTO from Birgun

Fast approaching the anniversary of the Feb. 28 process, or the 1997 "postmodern coup" that brought about the fall of the Islamist Refah government and a slate of reforms to defend secularism against what was perceived by some as the encroaching threat posed by political Islam, the government has announced plans to restructure Turkish education.

Reforms include provisions that would allow school children to receive education at religious (imam-hatip) high schools after completing four years of primary education or pursue distance learning (essentially "home school") courses. At the moment, students are required to complete eight years of education before being allowed to complete the final four years at imam-hatip, which combine traditional and religious education. Under the new law, education would be structured into three four-year segments: four years primary (ilk), four years middle (orta), and four years high school (lise), and hence the 4+4+4. The government is arguing the new law is an improvement since all 12 years will be mandatory even if it is to be completed at home.


The problems with the law should be apparent, and late this week earned the denunciation of the Turkish Businessmen and Industrialists' Association (TUSIAD) and prominent opinion leader and entrepreneur Guler Sabanci. In rural areas, particularly in the east and southeast where children, particularly girls, already do not go to school, the law would greatly diminish educational standards. Parents in these areas are often not well-educated themselves (this is an understatement), and would not be capable of providing a quality education. Further, child labor is a tremendous problem (see past post) and girls are frequently kept at home (for more on this, see past post; see also the above advertisement from a 2010 campaign launched by Milliyet urging fathers to send their daughters to school).

The proposed law also allows for provision that would reduce the age of apprenticeship to 11, though it is still unclear to me as to how an apprenticeship works. (Is it pursued concurrent with other curriculum? Does it allow one to withdraw from school entirely? Would this possibly trigger more child labor?) The apprenticeship is also chief among TUSIAD's concerns (for more, click here).

On Wednesday, the parliament sub-commission for education took up the bill after a debate by a wider debate by a larger commission. Though the AKP has been sensitive to criticisms coming from groups such as TUSIAD and has expressed some willingness to compromise, it is unclear just how many of the proposed provisions could be made law. The sub-commission is scheduled to take the draft up once more on Feb. 28 after some tweaking from party officials. For an account in English, click here.

Cumhuriyet columnist Utku Cakirozer frames the recent move within the context of the Feb. 28 process. Cakirozer refers to measures put into play soon after the coup that required all students to attend eight years of primary education (from five to eight) before dropping out or enrolling in imam-hatip. The generals also restricted Koran courses. Students were not allowed to enroll in Koran courses until after their fifth year of school, and courses were subject to inspection by the Directorate of Religious Affairs, or Diyanet. Penalties, including prison sentences for parents who did not send their children to schools or sent their children to Koran courses before they were old enough. In addition, operators of illegal Koran courses were also subject to penalties.

Gradually, the AKP government has whittled away at what some might read as particularly intrusive restrictions, particularly on religious education. In 2003, prison sentences were replaced with fines; in 2004, parliament reduced the sentence for running an illegal Koran course from three years to one and ended and authorities ceased closing down illegal courses; in 2005, the Diyanet ceased inspecting Koran courses; and after last June's elections, the minimum age for Koran courses was eliminated. According to Cakirozer, the goal is now to do away with the eight-year rule for uninterrupted education.


As it inevitably does, the headscarf also falls into the debate. As Cakirozer points out, young girls wearing the headscarf (as young as fifth grade) will now be allowed to do so at imam-hatip, effectively ending the ban. I care more about the fact that these children will simply not receive the same quality of education as I do about an effective end to the ban after that age (the ban was one of the reasons driving the government to do this to begin with), but it is important to note that is also important for many critics of the new law (for another example, see this coverage from Hurriyet).

Other columnists and opinion leaders see the law as a broad-based effort to increase the influence of Islamist education, particularly imam-hatip and Koran courses. For an example, see Egitim-Is head Veli Demir's comments in Melih Asik's column in Milliyet.


UPDATE I (2/27) -- Nicole Pope's column in Today's Zaman offers a solid English-language analysis summing up the threat the proposed law poses to Turkish education.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Still in Hot Water

PHOTO from Hurriyet

One of the stories I overlooked last week was the Supreme Court of Appeals' rejection of a petition to hear the case of former Chief of General Staff Ilker Basbug. The court ruled that it could not hear Basbug's case because he had been charged with terrorism, and that therefore the specially-authorized court responsible for his launching his prosecution had jurisdiction.

Last month's news of Basbug's arrest caught nearly everyone by surprise, and ratcheted up questions as to just how far the specially-authorized courts charged with the Ergenekon and Sledgehammer investigations are willing to go. For background on Basbug and the controversy over whether it should be the Supreme Court or the specially-authorized court that brought the indictment, in addition to some background as to the division within the AKP thanks to pro-Gulen forces, click here.

At the same time, it appears specially-authorized prosecutors are also digging deeper into figures involved in the Feb. 28 process, the 1997 postmodern coup that brought about the demise of Erbakan's Islamist Refah-party and its governing coalition. Leading figures in the AKP have long resented the Feb. 28 process, and historical memory of the events continues to influence AKP politicians and its supporters (see Feb. 7 post).

The event is known as the Feb. 28 process since this is the date on which the National Security Council (MGK) met to begin a protracted process through the spring that ultimately resulted in the government's falling and a series of new laws and restrictions on Islamist political activity. Standards of education were changed to counter the rising popularity of imam-hatip high schools (religious high schools where students receive a mix of standard and theological curriculum), regulations on the headscarf were strengthened, the Refah party was closed, and numerous Islamist politicians, including the prime minister, banned from politics and tried in courts for offenses against the secular unity of the state.

According to Milliyet, four civilian officers working in the MGK at the time have been asked to give testimony as part of the investigation. The paper reports that the officers were working in the high ranks of the institution, and played a role in writing the various orders and memos that guided the coup.

At the same time, government officials are starting to talk about possible reform of laws allowing for specially-authorized courts and prosecutors. These developments follow the crisis with Hakan Fidan and apparent power move by elements supported by religious leader Fethullah Gulen. Yet it seems for the moment that Basbug's trial will go on despite President Gul's call for the former chief to have his case heard at the higher court. Critics of Erdogan have pointed out that the prime minister had no problem in saving Fidan from prosecution, but are willing to take no such measure to save Basbug despite the apparent cooked-up charges against him.

The specially-authorized court has accepted the 39-page indictment against Basbug in which he is charged with planning to topple the government multiple times, the last and most critical to the charges being through a plan to create numerous websites that would spread black propaganda ("psychological operations") against the government and foment the conditions for a coup. The indictment also alleges that when Basbug was Land Forces Commander he also planned to overthrow the government, but gave up when he realized he did not have the resources to carry through his plans.

Evidence in the indictment is shoddy at best, largely consisting of various accusations and innuendo, as well as circumstantial links to other figures charged with terrorism, including former Cumhuriyet columnist Mustafa Balbay. Basbug gave an interview to Balbay in 2004 on negotiations with Cyprus, but did so at the time anonymously.

Basbug has denied the charges in the indictment, saying that he did not even have a computer in his office and that if the military truly planned to overthrow the government, it had more powerful means at its disposal than websites.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Reason to Hope?

PHOTO from Milliyet

The President's State Inspection Board today released its report on the assassination of Hrant Dink. The 649-page report comes one month after the court hearing the case of 18 defendants accused of organizing the plot found no evidence to establish a connection that Dink's murder was not but a random act of violence carried out by a few ultra-nationalist youth--not the state-linked conspiracy which Dink's lawyers and supporters have alleged was at work. For background, click here. The report, though not binding, sends a powerful message to the Supreme Court of Appeals to re-open the investigation and commence a new trial, a decision that should come by year's end.

The State Inspection Board decided to release its report following the public outcry after the Dink trial came to a close, which at the time the president and other AKP officials cautiously denounced while urging the public to wait for the appeals process to come to an end. Its contents blame Dink's death in part on the negligence of state officials, and suggests that the trial of those officials should have never occurred separate from the trial of the 18 defendants, a point argued by Dink's lawyers from the very beginning.

According to Milliyet, the report also documents lack of coordination between the gendarme in Trabzon and police in Trabzon and Istanbul, as well as calls into question the Samsun police officers who were shown posing with Dink's young killer, Ogun Samast, days after the murder. Just as  importantly, it calls into doubt the work of the Istanbul court and its verdict, citing that the investigation failed to take into account possible connections between the accused conspirators and state officials.



UPDATE I (2/25) -- The full verdict of the Istanbul court has been released one month after being announced. It points to the possible existence of links between the conspirators and the state, but as the chief judge Rustem Erilyilmaz told media soon after the trial's conclusion, argues the court lacked evidence to issue a ruling on the matter.

Eksi Sozluk: A Model for the Middle East?

Eksi Sozluk (or, "Sour Dictionary") is an Internet compendium of information comprised by numerous authors similar to Wikipedia. From The Next Web.com:
The site has 36,000 authors, and an equal number of users who hope to become authors. It contains more than 10 million entries, gathered into more than 2.5 million topics, and it attracts 7.5 million unique visitors a month, out of a total Turkish Internet population of a little over 30 million. It’s an enormous success that few outside Turkey have heard of.

This is even more surprising, when you consider that the site just celebrated its thirteenth anniversary February 15th. It’s the grandfather of blogs, older than Wikipedia, Facebook and Twitter; it was launched before Urban Dictionary, which has 6 million entries.

Screen shot 2012 02 18 at 12.16.06 PM Can Turkeys contribution to the Web be reproduced elsewhere?“The idea was to create a user-made dictionary,” says Sedat Kapanoğlu, the site’s founder. There’s no editing: anyone can create any definition. Like a real dictionary, the entries are ordered numerically, but there’s no limit to how many definitions there can be; they can surpass 10 thousand entries, as is the case with “Love”, or for the prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The most-read definitions are ranked first. All of this is processed in real time.

Some people see this as a sort of forum, but, Kapanoğlu insists, “We wanted to avoid that, and we created rules to prevent it from happening. We wanted a dialogue between ideas, not people. When a contributor leaves, the ideas and conversations remain.”

The site’s only revenue stream is advertising; in order to avoid “disrupting the user experience,” it is limited to one ad per page.

“We have more entries than the English version of Wikipedia,” Kapanoğlu responds when asked, “but the quality isn’t the same.” Jokes and false info abound. “We believe that no one has the authority to decide what stays on a site,” he says. “We’re neutral in terms of administrating it, and we’ve become one of the largest Turkish sites to defend the freedom of expression in a country where it is threatened.”

So there is no control of any sort. “I decided to let everybody express themselves, independently of social, religious or political stance It was very radical back then… and now makes us one of the most popular sites in Turkey.”

. . . .

The requests to copy the idea in English, French, Romanian and Arabic haven’t had much success. Kapanğlu is convinced that it can’t work anywhere else. “The way the site has grown is linked to specific aspects of Turkish society. We wanted to express ourselves, but had no space for that. The laws of physics don’t apply to social media; every culture needs its own platform.”

It’s a fascinating response, but one that Uçkan, the professor, doesn’t agree with. He recalls that Google’s social site Orkut, which is immensely popular in Brazil (and which plays an important role in India), was invented by Turkey’s Orkut Büyükkökten. Turkish-style socialization could perhaps spread elsewhere. “It can be copied. The format can be entertaining anywhere.”
It should be noted that Eksi Sozluk is one of many websites to face censorship and other attempts by the government to limit freedom of expression. Just this past June government officials detained 50 Eksi Sozluk users for insulting religion, and this was not the only time the website has been subject to state action. For more on Internet freedom in Turkey, click here.


UPDATE I (2/23) --  See also this article in today's Wall Street Journal on Turkey's emerging Internet market. According to the article, Turkey constitutes the fifth-largest Internet market in Europe, and Turkish users, in contrast to their other European counterparts, tend to spend more time online and be quite younger. Even more significantly is Turks use of social media. Turks constitute one of the top five audiences on Facebook and are within the top ten on Twitter.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Has Erdogan Won?

PHOTO from Cumhuriyet

In what many are perceiving as the first big battle between Gulen-friendly and not-so-Gulen-friendly ranks within the AKP, it seems Prime Minister Erdogan has won. Yesterday the parliament passed a law to protect not only Hakan Fidan, but expand the prime minister's power to have the last word on prosecutions targeting "state officials the prime minister has assigned with special tasks." The law has been in the works since the start of the crisis.

The law was passed with fierce resistance from opposition parties who feared the expansion of the prime minister's executive power. In order to get it through, the AKP limited the scope of protection to be extended from all prime ministerial appointees to those "assigned with special tasks."

Additionally, the General Directorate for Security on Tuesday dismissed nine officials in the Istanbul police department. All officials were working as part of a unit tasked with the KCK operations, and were presumably fired from their duties in connection with the recent Fidan probe. Two other high-ranking police officials had been removed last week.  Also, a large number of persons who had just on Monday been picked up in KCK operations were released, leading some observers to speculate a major shift in the direction of the KCK operations, though perhaps a bit too prematurely.

And, if the police purges and new law were not enough, Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin has given his approval to the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK) to begin an investigation of Sadrettin Sarikaya, who -- up until the weekend, when he was dismissed -- was overseeing the proble into MIT. Sarikaya is charged with violating the secrecy of the prosecution and abusing his power, and the investigation could result in disciplinary proceedings and, possibly, a criminal trial.

Looking back on it all, one cannot help but agree with Turkish Businessmen and Industrialists' Association (TUSIAD) head Umit Boyner, who earlier this week remarked that TUSIAD was watching in horror as the state fought with itself. Boyner described the crisis as a shadow play of opposing figures, an apt description of an affair that will take a long time to understand. Yet the play might not be over. Erdogan has won the battle, but there might well be a war to be fought.


UPDATE I (2/19) -- 700 Istanbul police officers working in departments related to intelligence, terrorism, and organized crime of the Istanbul Emniyet have been re-assigned to the southeast. The police are reported to have been engaged in the Ergenekon and KCK investigations. Shakeup indeed.

On Saturday, before the announcements of the reassigned officers, Erdogan, recovered from surgery, spoke at a youth rally where he declared the "institutions of our state" and the "sons of our nation" to be at peace. Erdogan was referring to speculation about the recent conflict within the state--that between his supporters and the Gulen movement.

For one interpretation of the remarks, see Fatih Altayli's column in Habertürk. Altayli believes Erdogan has come down in support of the wing in his party known to be sympathetic to the National Outlook (Milli Gorus) movement, which might be insufficiently explained as a conservative view propagating an idea that nation and state are one. For an extended explanation, see past posts.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Uludere Probe Continues

PHOTO from Milliyet

Parliament's commission for human rights is expected to issue a report in the coming days as to what exactly happened in Uludere on the night of Dec. 28 when 35 Kurdish smugglers were killed in strikes carried out by unmanned drones. The government and security officials soon announced that the strikes were a tragic mistake, but so far evidence has been far from forthcoming.

The report follows a visit by parliamentarians to the site of the tragedy, as well as interviews they conducted with local officials, including local military commanders, and villagers. Some parliamentarians, in particular CHP deputy Levent Gok, have already spoken to the media about their findings. According to Gok, the strikes were conducted without the knowledge of local commanders on the ground or the local mayor, meaning the strikes were carried out by Ankara.

According to one local gendarme commander with whom parliamentarians spoke, forces were ordered to pull back one day before the incident, though apparently the band of smugglers was sighted at a military outpost from which one local gendarme officer reported that, if asked, he could have told officials higher up in the command chain not to strike.

Yesterday the military provided parliamentarians access to footage from the Heron drones responsible for the strikes that Gok and others report show the smugglers were clearly not PKK militants since there were more mules than people and they did not try to escape once attacked.

Monday, February 13, 2012

And the Battle Continues . . .

PHOTO from Radikal

There are two more developments to report in the recent MIT episode.

The first was a series of early morning raids of mostly labor unions accused of working with the KCK to foment protests on what will be tomorrow's anniversary of imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan's capture. The raids occurred in Istanbul, Ankara, Izmir, and throughout the southeast, and resulted in the detention of over 100 people.

The operations might have been ordered by Sadrettin Sarikaya, who was relieved of his duties in the MIT case, but whom some reporters report is still directing the KCK operations alongside also specially-authorized prosecutor Bilal Bayraktar.

The second involves a statement made by Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag in defense of Hakan Fidan. Defending Fidan and MIT-led operations, Bozdag said that the probe into MIT seriously compromises intelligence activities, and in doing, basically verified that the MIT had infiltrated the KCK. Concerns have been raised that the MIT probe endangers MIT agents who are currently working undercover and that these agents could be weeded out and then assassinated by the PKK.

Meanwhile, Istanbul Deputy Chief Prosecutor Fikret Secen said the MIT may have abused its power and helped the PKK carry out terrorist activities. Secen said that it was not beyond the judiciary's grasp to probe intelligence agents who might have been involved in such activities while at the same time being careful to say that the probe was not related to state policies and in no way involved the negotiations that took place in Oslo.

The parliamentary proposal aimed to protect Fidan was approved by the parliament's justice commission on Monday, and will now make its way to the full assembly for a vote. Commenting on the new law, Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc said it was unclear at this time if the final law would protect military officials as well, a claim being launched at the government by critics from both the Gulen movement and opposition parties. The fact that these two groups would be united on this front shows one just how much the political scene has changed. For an example of a Gulen-friendly argument against the new law, see Mumtazer Turkone's column in Today's Zaman.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Fitna

PHOTO from Cumhuriyet

Sadrettin Sarikaya, the specially-authorized prosecutor at the center of the recent probe into MIT, has been removed from the MIT case after he boldly proceeded to issue arrest warrants on Friday for four top intelligence officials.

Chief Prosecutor Turan Colakkadi said Sarikaya had withheld information from from his superiors and violated the secrecy of the investigation he was conducting. The allegations stem from a leak to the media last week that Colakkadi was planning to interrogate MIT head Hakan Fidan, his predecessor, Emre Taner, and two other top officials regarding alleged participation of the intelligence organization in PKK terrorism (see posts from earlier this week).

Meanwhile, speculation continues to boil as to what forces are behind the apparent conflict within the state. According to Cumhuriyet, the current conflict is between Erdogan and forces loyal to Fethullah Gulen and the large Islamic community. Though the two groups have experienced serious tension in the past year, this is the first time in which the two groups appear to be openly challenging each other.

Based in Pennsylvania, Gulen leads "the Cemaat," which exists of perhaps up to 6 million supporters and even more sympathizers. The Gulen movement, or Hizmet movement as its followers refer to it, is critical to the electoral support the AKP has enjoyed over the years, though the organization avows to eschew political affairs. Yet an easy review of its website speaks to the contrary.

Two recent developments might explain this recent bout of in-fighting:

First, Prime Minister Erdogan, who in many ways shares a view quite different from Gulen, has recently cleared his way to accede as president in 2014 (see past posts). With Erdogan as president and many top AKP lawmakers unable to serve again in parliament due to the AKP's three term limit, there will be a major shuffle within the party in which the Gulen movement -- as a major component of the AKP coalition -- will play a part. Between 2014 and 2015, Turkey will experience presidential, parliamentary, and municipal elections, and so opportunity for major transformation within the party, the dominant force in Turkey, will have profound implications for the future. Asserting its power now could well be a way of firing the first shot, perhaps a warning signal to the prime minister and other elements in the party of the movement's prowess.

Second, the prime minister may well be preparing to re-open negotiations with the PKK, a move that is opposed by the Gulen movement. Gulen and his followers take a harder-line stance on making peace with the PKK, adopting the view that Turks and Kurds might come together based on a Sunni Islamic supra-identity. My interviews in Turkey's largely Kurdish southeast attest to Kurdish nationalists, including those who are PKK-affiliated, being more afraid of the Gulenists than traditional Turkish nationalists.

For years, the Gulen movement has accused the PKK and the Turkish state of working in cahoots with one another (see the litany of Zaman articles from the past five years), and the Ergenekon investigations, led by Gulen-friendly prosecutors, have routinely featured accusations that the Turkish deep state and the PKK worked frequently in tandem with each other. These accusations, in addition to the largely successful co-optation of many disempowered Kurds thanks to Gulen/AKP-led charities and social services, have put serious pressure on Kurdish nationalists while earning their furor.

Yet in 2009-2010, the prime minister seemed to take a different tack. Instead of aiming to defeat Kurdish nationalism through Islamist bananas alone, Erdogan began to rely increasingly on the MIT and direct negotiations with the PKK. As Avni Ozgurel discusses in an interview with Nese Duzel in Taraf, the MIT underwent a major transformation under the leadership of its former director Emre Taner. Under his leadership, a groundbreaking analysis was issued that articulated the Kurdish issue as the major obstacle to Turkish democratization and the latter as the means to solve the former. In this context, MIT officials began to call for political solutions for the conflict, including a re-working of Kurdish citizenship (see former deputy director Cevat Ones's statements as early as 2007), Kurdish language and other minority rights, and in some instances, even an amnesty for the PKK and direct negotiations.

The former director is now subject to an arrest warrant issued by Sarikaya, and Hakan Fidan, now at the center of the current imboglio, was his deputy director. Fidan, close to Erdogan, no doubt brought the prime minister closer to the MIT paradigm, and the AKP government's strategy began to shift. In 2009, when the government released its so-called "democratic opening," many of the steps taken were in line with what was MIT policy at the time. Yet the opening went awry soon after it started when the likely MIT-negotiated return of PKK rebels at the Habur border gate between Turkey and Iraq resulted in what appeared to be PKK victory celebrations. The spectacle largely angered the public, cost the AKP and its proposed initiative a great deal of political capital, and left Erdogan feeling seriously betrayed.

Though talks with the PKK continued and despite an upsurge in terrorist violence throughout the next year (the worst since PKK founder Abdullah Ocalan's capture), Erdogan halted negotiations soon after last June's elections and talks have not picked up since. Yet news did break of prior negotiations when audio recordings of negotiations between MIT agents and PKK representatives in Oslo were leaked to the press last September. Erdogan, who had previously denied that negotiations were taking place, came forward and defended the MIT, including Fidan, whose voice was presumed to be a leading one in the tapes. At the time, Erdogan made a distinction between "the state" and "the government," arguing the former was able to negotiate with whomever it pleased if the ultimate aim was peace.

It must be said that the democratic opening was also supported at the beginning by forces friendly to Gulen, and the Police Academy, which is chalk full of Gulenists, played a leading role at the beginning of the public initiative. All the same, at some point, and likely after Habur, attitudes changed and a conflict that is not at all public could well have emerged between those supporting the negotiations and those who did not. The source of the leaked audio tapes, which might also be interpreted as targeting the prime minister, is still not known.

According to Ozgurel, there is yet another dimension to the possible Gulen-Erdogan conflict -- the tension between the MIT, which has remained largely free from Gulen influence, and the police, over which Gulen is widely seen to assert a considerable degree of influence. The police have felt largely left out of the government's dealing with the PKK whereby the MIT has taken the lead. In this way, the conflict might be seen as one between institutions, though both institutions can also be interpreted as proxies for different groups/paradigms competing for power.


UPDATE I (2/14) --  Thickening the plot a bit, PKK political spokesman Zubeyir Aydar has said that police officials are responsible for the leaks of the audio tapes. The PKK might also have had reasons to leak the tapes and embarrass the prime minister, but the accusation certainly makes the recent row a bit more interesting.

Friday, February 10, 2012

And Things Just Get Weirder . . .

Specially-authorized prosecutor Sadrettin Sarikaya has apparently issued immediate detention orders for former MIT head Emre Taner and current MIT undersecretary Afet Gunes, as well as two other MIT officials. The detention orders were issued just days after news broke that Sarikaya was conducting a probe into the possible involvement of MIT in perpetrating PKK terrorism. The ultimate target of the investigation could well be Prime Minister Erdogan (for background, see yesterday's post).

The detention order is a bold move and the first of its kind. Apparently police also searched the homes of the agents. Erdogan is standing by MIT, insisting yesterday and before the detention orders that Sarikaya did not have the authority to question Taner, Gunes, or current MIT head Hakan Fidan without first seeking his approval.

Instead of reporting to the prosecutor's office in Istanbul, Fidan paid a visit to President Gul's office in Ankara while the prime minister's office spearheaded efforts to craft legislation to further shield MIT agents from prosecution. Legislation is said to include provisions that could make it outright illegal to prosecute intelligence officials, a move that has sparked some to criticize the government as hypocritical (it had no problem with prior specially-authorized prosecutions) and anti-democratic. Sarikaya's persistence flies in the face of these efforts, and might be read as a direct challenge to Erdogan's authority.

The investigation has prompted a firestorm of speculation as to what forces and motivations might be behind Sarikaya's investigation. So far, the rumors have included conjectures that elements within the state opposed to the dovish stance the MIT has taken toward the PKK are behind the investigation (see Yeni Safak's Abdulkadir Selvi), as well as notions that Sarikaya is being directed by the Gulen movement, which is largely thought to have deeply penetrated critical positions in the police and judiciary (see .

Tensions within AKP ranks have made themselves increasingly manifest in recent months (see past post), and Gulen is thought also to oppose moves the Erdogan government has made to negotiate with the PKK. Additionally, rivalry between the MIT and the police has been considered to be high for sometime, and according to some observers, might have increased in recent months as MIT agents who had infiltrated KCK were (and this is speculation) detained in the operations against the illegal organization.

Could the same forces behind the audio tapes leaked in September also be responsible for Sarikaya? And is it a matter of doves versus hawks, Erdogan versus Gulen, or some other power struggle/conspiracy that has yet to be revealed?

One has to be careful with conspiracy theories, but there is obviously something fishy going on.

Weakening Minority Rights in Parliament

PHOTO from Hurriyet Daily News

At a time when Turkey is gearing up to craft a new constitution, its parliament is currently drafting changes to its rules that would significantly shorten the period of debate, extend sessions into the weekend if necessary, and limit proposals to draft laws.

The ruling AKP is claiming the rules are intended to streamline debate and increase parliamentary efficiency while opposition parties are claiming the new regulations are intended to silence opposition voices (for specific changes, click here). The debate reached a climax yesterday when the CHP, the largest opposition party, stormed the rostrum after Speaker Cemil Cicek closed debate after a five hour standoff wherein CHP and BDP lawmakers shouted slogans against the speaker, forcing Cicek to call numerous recesses.

The eventual result was a fistfight after Cicek closed the session. Fistfights are not altogether uncommon in the parliament, and in 2001, a similar debate over rules left one parliamentarian dead of a heart attack after a fight broke out. Cicek has been trying for the past week to reach a compromise between the AKP and opposition parties, though his efforts have clearly failed.

All three opposition parties are united against the rules changes, and claim the AKP is attempting to fix the rules ahead of the constitutional draft being submitted to the general assembly in order to easily force the document out of parliament and submit it to referendum, as the party did the 2010 amendment package. Though the AKP is three votes shy of the 330 votes (3/5 majority) it needs to pass the new constitution in parliament and take it to referendum (as it did in 2010), the opposition fears that the AKP could well cobble together this majority rather than engage all parties in a more consensual process.

Clearly such an endeavor would hurt the legitimacy of a new constitution and certainly contradict the ruling party's stated objective of achieving the widest degree of consensus possible -- but, here again, the operative word is "possible," and efforts to build consensus will depend on just how the AKP interprets this mission, and how committed it will remain to it. A party operating with a solid 3/5 majority since its entrance to parliament in 2002, consensus-building has not exactly been the party's forté, nor has it, in all fairness, to any Turkish political party. For more on this point, see E. Fuat Keyman and Meltem Muftuler-Bac's recent article in the January issue of the Journal of Democracy.

The appropriateness of fist-fighting aside, the move to change the rules has led opposition parties to boycott the constitutional reconciliattion commission charged with framing a new civilian constitution, and has, in general, detracted from the commission's task-at-hand. The commission is comprised of  12 members (three from every party) and is designed to garner consensus among political parties and civil society.

At this phase of the re-drafting process, the commission is currently seeking proposals from politicians and civil society groups, which up until recently, could be viewed publicly on this website parliament setup in October. Yet at the beginning of February the commission decided to hide the substance of proposals being submitted in order to protect the names of individuals and groups submitting them since some were quite controversial. At the moment, only the names of individuals and groups submitting proposals are left on the site. For more, see this front-page article from the Jan. 27 edition of Milliyet.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Crisis in the State

PHOTO from Radikal

All hell began to break out within Turkey's corridors for power on Tuesday night when it was leaked to the media that the country's top intelligence officials were being summoned by a prosecutor to answer for their possible role in PKK terrorist activities.

The three officials, MIT director Hakan Fidan, his predecessor Emre Taner, and MIT undersecretary Afet Gunes, are being called to account for what some media reports claim is their possible role in helping transmitting instructions to carry out PKK terror attacks or standing by while such transmissions took place. One accusation is that the MIT, under Taner's leadership and then Fidan's, wielded control of the KCK, the PKK's so-called urban wing. As far-fetched as these accounts are (and most everyone is still struggling to make sense of them), their target could well be Prime Minister Erdogan.

In September, audio tapes were released detailing negotiations between MIT officials and PKK leaders who have since been confirmed to have been conducting peace talks in Oslo. At the time, Erdogan vowed to stand by Fidan, who is a close confidant and on whom the prime minister has heavily relied to broker a solution to the Kurdish conflict.  Taner, Fidan's predecessor, was the architect of the talks, which by all knowledge Erdogan approved and encouraged up until last June's elections when negotiations collapsed.

MIT, for its part, is insisting that the intelligence officials cannot be questioned without the approval of the prime minister according to MIT law. The specially-authorized prosecutor behind the investigation, Sadrettin Sarikaya, is the same prosecutor responsible for the KCK operations that have landed over 3,500 in individuals in detention.

Ordinarily, prosecutors would have to attain administrative permission to question intelligence officials, but Hurriyet reports this is not the case for specially-authorized prosecutors conducting terror probes. Interestingly, Istanbul chief prosecutor Fikret Secen denied the reports that Fidan, Taner, and Gunes were being called for questioning on Tuesday night, evidence that perhaps Secen did not know of Sarikaya's intention. Government officials have seemed equally surprised.

To add another twist, two high-ranking official's in Istanbul's Directorate for Security have been re-assigned. Yurt Atayun, head of the department for anti-terrorism, and Erol Demirhan, head of the department for intelligence, have both been removed from their posts. The two officials have been key to the KCK operations, and their removal is most likely linked to the investigation into MIT.

So far Erdogan has stood by Fidan, and just what the coming days will hold as to just what the government will do, what forces are behind the investigation into MIT, and what their motives are remains largely anyone's guess.

The Path of the Pharaohs

PHOTO from Radikal

Before paying a trip to Washington, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu outlined on Turkish television a new Turkish approach to Syria he is expected to share and discuss while in town. The new approach includes plans for a "Friends of Syria" contact group akin to the Libya Contract Group that met in Istanbul in the weeks before rebels seized power in Tripoli.

According to Davutoglu, Turkey has exhausted diplomacy with Syria. It first attempted to deal directly with Assad, and when those efforts failed, it turned to the Arab League. After the Arab League failed to stop the violence despite what Davutoglu characterized as its best efforts, Turkey joined the United States and other countries to work through the United Nations. After the Chinese and Russian veto on Feb. 4, however, new steps are needed to resolve the conflict and bring relief to the Syrian people.

Over the weekend, Davutoglu responded to the UN Security Council's failure to adopt a resolution regarding Syria by declaring that Turkey would be opening up its doors to refugees escaping the violence that intensified after the vote.

Then, on Tuesday, Prime Minister Erdogan announced that Turkey would be launching a new initiative regarding Syria. Erdogan's news followed comments that Assad had chosen the "path of the pharaohs," and that he would be punished for his decision. The prime minister's remarks came on the thirtieth anniversary of Hafez al-Assad's massacre of hundred at Hama, in whose footsteps he said Bashar, Hafez's son, was now following. Speaking rhetorically to Assad, Erdogan then declared that Assad would reap what he sowed.

On yesterday, Davutoglu followed up with details as to the initiative, announcing plans for a contact group that will include the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) countries, in addition to the Arab League and members of the UN Security Council. The foreign minister also discussed possible plans for bringing humanitarian aid to Syria, which raises the possibility of establishing a humanitarian corridor inside Syria for which Turkey, along with other countries and most likely the United Nations, would be responsible.

Turkey had been waiting for the outcome of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavarov's talks with Assad to come to an end, and Davutoglu said that Assad's promises for reform announced soon after the meeting could not be trusted. 

Turkish newspapers report that Turkey is making plans to accommodate more refugees fleeing the conflict, including a container town to accommodate up to 10,000 refugees similar to that constructed in Van following Saddam Hussein's campaign against Iraqi Kurds. Syria has so far accepted 12,000 refugees.


UPDATE I (2/11/12) -- At the Center for Strategic and International Studies on Friday, Davutoglu linked the government's policies in Syria to Turkey's support for peoples instead of states. In the speech, Davutoglu reports that when asked why Turkey was friendly with Assad before the Arab Spring, he is able to easily respond that at this point Assad was not fighting against his own people.

The foreign minister's speech touched on the need to side with peoples instead of states in the new post-Cold War age, and he contextualized Syria as a state whereby the people had clearly turned against the state. Given this situation, Turkey could not be expected to continue to side with Assad.

I am sure CSIS is soon to post a transcript, but until then, you might read Davutoglu's remarks against Soli Ozel and Gencer Ozcan's recent article in the October issue of the Journal of Democracy on Turkish foreign policy and democracy promotion.

UPDATE II (2/15/11) --  Davutoglu met with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton where both reported Syria was at the top of their agenda. The leaders are expected to join representatives of the Arab League in Tunis on Feb. 24 to discuss a new approach to Syria. There still seems to exist difference on the American and Turkish sides as to whether Russia and China should be invited to the meeting. Also on the table will be the issue of a possible humanitarian corridor to be established in order to deliver aid to Syrians affected by the violence. Turkish papers are reporting Turkey to be in favor of opening up the corridor through the Mediterranean rather than using Turkish soil, a prospect Turkish officials are saying would pose a security risk.

Additionally, though Davutoglu continues to say all options are on the table, there seems to be little appetite for a buffer zone to be setup along the Turkish-Syrian border.

Also on Monday, and shortly after Davutoglu's visit with Cointon, U.S. Central Command head James N. Mattis held a meeting with Turkish Chief of General Staff Necdet Ozel presumably at which possible operations involving Syria were discussed.

According to Milliyet columnist Asli Aydintasbas, Syria is more keen for intervention than the United States and tabled a strategy to include military, diplomatic, and humanitarian elements while the American side is still reluctant to get to engaged in the conflict during an election year.

And, one more note: the Center for Strategic and International Studies has posted the video and transcript of remarks Davutoglu delivered there on Friday.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Why the Prime Minister Cares About Paul Auster

PHOTO from Hurriyet

Paul Auster and Prime Minister Erdogan stirred a controversy after Auster gave an interview to Hurriyet in late January in which the Jewish-American author said he would not visit Turkey due to the number of imprisoned writers. Prime Minister Erdogan fired back at his party's parliamentary group meeting a few days later, calling Auster "ignorant" and hypocritical for visiting Israel, which the author visited in 2010. The spar between the two men only ratcheted up when Auster issued a response in the New York Times in which the prominent author reiterated his concerns about press freedom in Turkey. CHP opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu soon jumped into the fray, inviting Auster to come to Turkey at his invitation, after which another back-and-forth ensued in which Erdogan said Kilicdaroglu and Auster should "go for a picnic together" atop a hill in Israel overlooking Gaza.

Just why these remarks triggered such a firestorm is something of a mystery to outsiders of Turkey (I have had four people ask me this in the past two days), but it has a lot to do with the sensitivity of the prime minister and the political opportunism involved on all sides. After all, this is politics. If Erdogan had simply let the author's comments go by the wayside when first they were issued, this would be a non-story. Yet Erdogan decided to attack Auster, not only contradicting his claim writers were being imprisoned in Turkey for expressing their views (according to Erdogan's public statements, these writes are "terrorists," people who plotted to overthrow the government or who supported the PKK), but linked Auster to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, a move sure to win him popular support among the party's base.

As far as I can tell, Auster has been largely ambivalent on the issue of Israel's occupation of the Palestinian territories, but at the same time, Erdogan's ad hominem attack on Auster is more deflection than reasoned response, and in turn, Kilicdaroglu's backing of Auster an attempt to put raise the profile of the continued attacks on press freedom in Turkey, and of course, win political points in so doing. To me, what is significant here is that Auster's comments, whose Jewish ancestry and shakiness on the issue of occupation make for an easy target, were so singled out by prime minister. Erdogan's remarks, while not necessarily anti-Semitic, show the familiar lack of control for which the prime minister has often been criticized by friends and enemies alike.

Most interesting here is how Erdogan and others in the AKP, as well as AKP-friendly public opinion leaders, were quick to label Auster as either a victim or perpetrator of a massive smear campaign designed to discredit the party. Sabah columnist Nazli Ilacak portrays Auster as seriously misinformed, but places the blame on an organized psychological campaign being carried out against the AKP-led government. Is the misinformation that made its way to Auster the product of Ergenekon? Is this the kind of black-ops for which former General Chief of Staff Ilker Basbug is currently imprisoned?

According to AKP Vice President Bulent Gedikli, the answer is yes. In a statement made yesterday, Gedikli said, "Paul Auster is part of the plot." "What plot?" I might ask, but many in the AKP, including a number of their supporters, would dismiss me as a fool -- and do so quite sincerely.

The narrative of many in and supportive of the AKP is defined by victimage, of shadowy forces conspiring to keep them at the bottom ranks of society and far removed from political power even when every indication of the Turkey that exists after nearly ten years of AKP rule is that the reality could be further from the truth.

Unfortunately, this narrative is largely a by-product of real policies in over 80 years of Turkish history that were designed to do just this -- most significant among them, at least in terms of the historical memory of those currently in power, the Feb. 28 process that brought down the elected Refah party government in 1997 and the policies to follow that were designed to, though not so successfully, to keep political Islam in its place and guard against the rise of a pious majority. The narrative is one of oppression, and democracy, for many, therefore understood solely in terms of allowing for the majority, long downtrodden, to finally take the reigns of power. For those who imagine plots at every corner and shadowy networks bent on destruction, democracy is about liberation, but it is not necessarily liberal.

What the recent Auster imbroglio reveals is that these myths are not gone from historical memory, and despite ten years of dominant party politics, will likely not be gone anytime soon. Also revealed is that playing on these anxieties, especially if the opponent is as easy a target as Auster, can garner a good bit of political capital. At the end of the day, Erdogan likely emerged stronger and the victim mentality ever more entrenched while few will remember who Paul Auster is in a few months time.

"Pious Generations"

PHOTO from Radikal

The prime minister made waves last Wednesday when criticizing CHP Kemal Kilicdaroglu, who had, as he routinely does, accused the prime minister of religious populism.

Erdogan, in response, said, "Do you expect the conservative democrat AK Party to raise atheist generations? This may be your business and objective but not ours. We will raise a generation that is conservative and democratic and embraces the values and historical principles of its nation?" The remarks have caused a firestorm of controversy, most of it re-active, as the Turkish public waits for Erdogan to clarify his remarks.

Though the AKP has always publicly affirmed its commitment to secularism, most notably of late in the prime minister's address in Cairo last September, doubts still linger as to whether the party is simply waiting to show its true face. Yet this does not really capture the picture. The issue now is not so much whether Turkey could give way to the religious fanaticism of Iran, which was always an overblown assessment, but whether religious minorities and nonbelievers can be secure in their rights as minorities amidst a largely Sunni, and fairly conservative, religious population. The tension between the two rises to the surface as much in private space as public, in particular when it comes to neighborhoods where the more and less religious are now residing next to each other and walking the same streets.

The real concern with Erdogan's remarks is to just what role he envisions the state to play in the religious arena. AKP officials are well-known for espousing their support for the American interpretation of secularism over the French, which is entirely different, but as I have written before (see past posts), these same officials often do not have a very good understanding of the American system nor is it free from excesses and more than the occasional encroachment of religion into public policy making whereby minorities -- religious, sexual, and otherwise -- routinely face discrimination thanks to legislation seeking to promote values.

Turkey, though not by any means more liberal than the United States, has to some degree been protected from such excesses thanks to the state's understanding of secularism, which, despite a horrible history of discrimination against what likely is a religious majority (for example, the headscarf ban), has explained why many of Turkey's minorities, in particular Alevis and Jews, are quite nervous about the state of secularism in Turkey (whether they would characterize it as "deterioration," "decline," or "renegotiation"). I know this last sentence has a lot of clauses, but is revealing of the degree of careful qualification and nuance the issue requires. What is disturbing about Erdogan's recent remarks is precisely their lack of nuance.

Even more disturbing is that after making the remarks, Erdogan did simply clarify his remarks and put the matter to bed. First, seemingly attempting to re-frame his remarks by stating that "people can be both pious and modern," and only after stating that criticism of his remarks was the product of an ill-intentioned defamation campaign, the prime minister posed this set of twin rhetorical questions: "Do you want our youth to become thinner addicts? Do you want a new generation that has no moral values and no purpose?" Thinner addiction has become a major problem among youth in many of Turkey's large cities, which have experienced massive amounts of migration and where many still live in poverty.


UPDATE I (2/15) -- The Young Academicians have initiated a campaign in response to the prime minister's remarks, which can be viewed here, along with a letter of concern (English version here) addressed to the prime minister. An excerpt:
We, as the youth and academics of this country, of Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Zoroastrian, Alawite, Shafi'i, religious and nonreligious, atheist and agnostic backgrounds, all joined with a firm belief in secularism, find your recent remarks about raising a religious and conservative youth most alarming and dangerous.

. . . .

We further condemn your speech which served only to hurt and humiliate the children that live on the streets in Turkey (stigmatised with the media-catchphrase of ‘thinner-addicted children’), who already live under harsh conditions and who are subject to abuse. The plight of these children is not due to a lack of spirituality, as you have implied, but is caused by the deep-rooted social and economic problems of our country, to which you have served as Prime Minister for a decade.

Monday, February 6, 2012

For Hrant, For Justice, For Turkey

PHOTO from Birgün

Perhaps no issue is more revealing of the struggle for liberal democracy in Turkey than the assassination of Turkish Armenian journalist Hrant Dink and the trial of members of a likely state-linked organization that gunned him down on Jan. 19, 2007.

Almost five years to the date of what was a very calculated murder, the Istanbul court hearing the case of 19 defendants accused of participating in the conspiracy to slay Dink ruled on Jan. 17 that there was indeed no organization, no conspiracy. Instead, the court portrayed the assassination as a random act of violence carried out by two ultra-nationalist youths acting alone. The court did not even touch the issue of links between state officials and the organization that have been revealed in the five years following the assassination. For more on the verdict from Reporters Without Borders, click here.

Not a Random Act of Violence

Dink presaged his murder, telling friends before his murder "that his heart was a 'timid pigeon' waiting for bad things to happen (see June 26, 2008 post). Dink had begun receiving threats from ultra-nationalists in 2004 following an article he wrote for the Turkish Armenian paper Agos, over which he presided as editor. In the article, Dink claimed that Sabiha Gokcen, Ataturk's much beloved adopted daughter, was an Armenian orphan. The article earned him the scorn of then Chief of General Staff Yasar Buyukanit, who denounced the article as a crime against national unity.

Before 2006, Dink had been subject to numerous court cases because of his questioning of an ethno-national conception of Turkish identity and his writing on the 1915 massacre of tens of thousands of Armenians. Throughout his work, Dink tried to bridge divides between Turks, Armenians, and Turkish Armenians, challenging both Turkish and Armenian identity, polarizing approaches to the genocide issue, and the general recalcitrance of the two sides. He did this as only a Turkish Armenian could, and his thinking challenged fellow Turkish citizens and ethnic Armenians alike. Most of all, Dink represented the expression of difference -- not just being different, but expressing it, and doing so always as an individual guided by free thought and its commensurate dignities. His writing, and that he attracted so many fans, Turkish and Armenians, is a testament to where Turkey has come since its founding and the longing for liberalism shared by so many of its citizens.

Yet not all were so content with Dink's ideas, his constant challenging of Turkish state and society. In 2004, Dink began receiving numerous death threats. The gravity of their danger to Dink's life prompted the deputy director of security in Istanbul to order police in Bakirkoy, where he lived, and Sisli, where he worked at Agos, to make provide for his protection.

In February 2006, intelligence of the murder conspiracy to which he would soon fall victim made their way from police in Trabzon to Istanbul. The memo from security officials in Trabzon stated, and quite simply, that Yasin Hayal, a known ultra-nationalist in the Black Sea province, was going to kill Dink. Less than one year later, Hayal, acting alongside 17-year-old gunman Ogun Samast, gunned down Dink outside Agos's offices.

Yet it seems the memo, ranked "low priority" by Trabzon police chief Ramazan Akyurek, was not paid much attention, if any, by Istanbul police, and little action was taken by either authority nor the gendarme in Trabzon, who were also watching the conspirators, to halt the assassination. Akyurek has since been promoted to head the Board of Inspectors in the General Directorate for Security. Dink knew his death was coming, and so did members of the Istanbul and Trabzon police, as well as the Trabzon gendarme. Meanwhile, Nedim Sener, one of the journalists who took the Dink investigation seriously and documented what the police knew before the murder, has been jailed on charges of being linked to the Ergenekon terrorist organization.

To offer further damning evidence of the neglect -- and quite possibly, involvement -- of elements within the Turkish security forces, one of Dink's assassins, young trigger-man Ogun Samast, posed with police officers in Samsun behind a Turkish flag just two days after the murder. While government officials have complimented themselves on apprehending Samast and other conspirators soon after the murder, adequate explanations for this photograph and the events before the murder have yet to come to the forefront, and according to many of Dink's supporters, have indeed been subject to a massive cover-up in which the state is complicit.

Where Does the Government Fit In?

Indeed, the more than four-year trial of Dink's conspirators has been hindered from the beginning due to an inability, and perhaps unwillingness, to procure evidence from state security offices, as well as government agencies such as the Telecommunications Board (TIB), which only last December turned over evidence documenting phone conversations and text message exchanges between the conspirators. TIB, citing a 2007 provision by the Justice Ministry related to the use of phone records in criminal investigations, had refused to turn over evidence for more than four years following the murder. Video footage of the street on which Dink was shot was erased from cameras soon after the incident, another fact that has led to accusations against the police ranging from neglect to complicity.

As Hurriyet columnist Sedat Ergin points out, efforts, or lack thereof, to hold state officials to account for their role in the murder have given way to serious misgivings on the part of the Turkish public. In 2008, and administrative court acquitted police of neglect while failing to really delve into the events in the days and months before the murder, and in 2009, another effort to investigate the role of security officials was blocked by the Interior Ministry, which at the time and just as today, was controlled by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). The gendarme is the only state organ wherein an official has been found responsible for neglecting to prevent Dink's murder.

Though AKP government officials are always careful to point to the independence and integrity of judicial processes, the fact that the government now has firmer control of the judiciary has caused many critics, both of the government and the investigation into Dink's murder, to point their finger at the government. When the Dink investigation started in 2007, the government did not have the control over judicial organs, such as the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK), that it currently wields. (Click here for a bit of insight as to how the AKP has gained more control through amending the constitution to give its elected representatives the ability to appoint members to this body and Turkey's high courts. See also this past post.) The HSYK is currently investigating the presiding judge in the case, Rustem Eryilmaz, as well as prosecutor Hikmet Usta, though on grounds that the two inappropriately spoke out publicly after the verdict rather than that they mishandled the case.

More cogent criticism centers on the government's relation to the police. As Milliyet columnist Metin Munir indicates (luckily, Hurriyet Daily News has translated this column into English, and so it can be read here), the real blame should be placed on the government's failure to prevent the police from hindering the investigation. According to Munir,
Nobody is blaming the government for not interfering with the judiciary; its guilt is in not intervening with the police, with the intelligence organization and in not demonstrating the necessary attention to bring out the truth. In Turkey, judges and prosecutors are not as strong and independent as, for example, in the United States, the United Kingdom or Italy.

While in the West the prosecutor commands the police, in Turkey the police command the prosecutor. This is the truth in practical terms, especially in politically sensitive cases.

The judges are also bound to prosecute whatever is in the indictments presented to them. The government does not command the courts and prosecutors. But it does command the security forces. For this reason, it has its share of responsibility in the verdict the court has ruled. It could have put pressure on the police to provide that a more comprehensive and a stronger file be handed over to the prosecutor. It did not.

The government is still boasting about catching the murderer in 32 hours. This is not a matter to be proud of; it a matter to be ashamed of. Who was going to kill Dink and when it was going to happen were known by security forces days before the murder. If the incident was stopped at that time and the murder was prevented, then yes, it could have been a matter of which to boast. But it is not hugely ingenious to identify the assassin and then catch the killer.

This is what the government has to explain: Why isn’t the entire organization, the one for which the killer acted as a hit man, foiled and punished even if it is five years that have passed since the murder? What is the reason for the systematic reluctance on this matter?
Mustafa Akyol, generally more sympathetic of the AKP, explains that this reluctance might be driven by the fact that many of the bureaucrats and police who neglected to properly investigate Dink's murder (and, my words, not his, but perhaps even cover up critical aspects of the killing) are now aligned with the AKP and have been appointed to key positions within the government. These include not only Akyurek, but also former Istanbul police chief Celalettin Cerrah, headed the Istanbul police at the time of Dink's murder. The government has never allowed Cerrah to be questioned in relation to the case, and in 2009, he was appointed a provincial governorship in Osmaniye. Similarly, the failure of the AKP to put pressure on TIB and the obstructive role of the Interior Ministry throughout the investigation give great cause for concern.

A Chance for Redemption?

Soon after the verdict, Dink family lawyer Fethiye Cetin declared that the effort to unveil the truth behind Dink's murder had only just begun, and it is quite possible this is the case. An indignant Cetin has already appealed to the Supreme Court, which will likely render a decision in one year's time. Hikmet Usta, the Istanbul prosecutor charged with the case, has also made an appeal, joining Cetin in denouncing the court's inability to find evidence that the crime was the premeditated work of a criminal organization as a complete oversight of the facts presented.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

A House Divided

Tensions between the stalwarts and the leading new guard in the opposition CHP continue in the lead-up to what could be two extraordinary congresses held back-to-back at the end of this month while CHP leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu continues to toughen his rhetoric against the ruling AKP government.

In January, dissidents within the CHP began to plan for an extraordinary party congress to challenge Kilicdaroglu's leadership (see past post) and successfully collected the necessary number of signatures from dissidents within the party to call for an extraordinary convention. Dissidents collected 362 signatures from among 1,250 delegates, 12 more than the 350 required to apply for the congress. The dissidents state that their aim is to bolster intra-party democracy, though their more likely aim is to challenge Kilicdaroglu. Among the dissidents' demands is a lowering of the number of delegates required to call for electing a new party chairman.

Outmaneuvering the dissidents, Kilicdaroglu called for an extraordinary congress of his own to be held before the dissidents. The congress is scheduled for Feb. 26, and will allow Kilicdaroglu to shape the agenda so that he might stave off dissident moves that would prove particularly damaging to his leadership. Allies of Kilicdaroglu claim their aim is to reach a compromise with the dissidents, though, of course, they are also driven by the need to preempt a resurgence of the old guard.

It is precisely this fear of a resurgence that has prompted Kilicdaroglu to retain the anti-democratic rules that he vowed to replace upon becoming party chair. While it is true that these promises were not met, as Vatan columnist Bilal Cetin points out, the party's lack of reform in this regard is also to some degree understandable given the fact that it is still very much fighting for its own survival. The dissidents are threatening to file legal action against Kilicdaroglu in an effort to forestall the convention, claiming that Kilicdaroglu's announcement of a Feb. 26 congress is a violation of the party's by-laws and the national Political Parties Law.

The move is also defensive on the part of the dissidents. Kilicdaroglu has plans to limit the number of terms CHP deputies can serve in parliament. At the moment, and unlike other parties (for instance, the AKP limits members to three terms), the CHP has no such rules. While more democratic, term limits are also a way for Kilicdaroglu to further consolidate his power within the parliament since most of the CHP deputies who would no longer be eligible are loyal to former party leader Deniz Baykal and Baykal's like-minded general secretary, Onder Sav. 

Ratcheting Up the Rhetoric: Erdogan vs. Kilicdaroglu

Meanwhile, Kilicdaroglu has continued to ramp up his rhetoric against Erdogan, and his efforts reach outside of Turkey. Today's column in the Washington Post has Kilicdaroglu pointing to the eight elected members of parliament who are still under detention, as well as the issue of mass detentions in general. Kilicdaroglu also addresses the attempt in January of one particularly zealous prosecutor to remove the leader's parliamentary immunity after he compared the facility in which the two detained CHP parliamentarians are being held to a concentration camp. After the incident, Kilicdaroglu asked that his parliamentary immunity be removed, a call echoed once more in this morning's Post.

The AKP, hesitant to draw even more criticism, has attempted to defuse the situation and has and will likely make no such move to remove Kilicdaroglu's immunity. The tenuous position Kilicdaroglu holds within his own party, and to some degree, amidst the Turkish electorate, is enough, as he is not perceived as a threat despite the recent rhetorical grandstanding, which, as I wrote in the January post referenced above, has more to do with his position within his own political party rather than an effort to garner votes throughout the country.

Tensions between the two parties have escalated in recent months as AKP prosecutors have launched investigations into the financial dealings of the Izmir municipality, a CHP stronghold. Izmir Mayor Aziz Kocaoglu currently faces 397 years in prison on corruption charges, and similar investigations are also ongoing in Eskisehir and Istanbul's Adalar district, also CHP strongholds.

There was also an earlier attempt by the government to link the CHP to funds coming from German foundations to CHP and BDP-controlled municipalities that some officials alleged, without much evidence, were being channeled to the PKK.

Additionally, speculation is brewing about a possible investigation into the sex tape scandal that brought down Baykal in 2010. According to Kilicdaroglu, an investigation could be launched soon as some prosecutors hostile to the CHP seek to portray the release of the tape as the work of an illegal criminal organization, and thereby launch operations against the CHP similar to the KCK operations in which the BDP is currently embroiled. This is still largely rhetoric at the moment, but the accusations are getting increased media attention, especially in hardline Kemalist newspapers like Sozcu

Seeking Solidarity with Europe

The CHP has also been active in seeking the support of fellow European socialists against what it is labeling as the encroaching authoritarianism of Erdogan and the AKP. The Socialist International condemned the recent legal action against Kilicdaroglu, issuing a declaration expressing its concern over freedom of expression and judicial independence. For its full statement, click here.

The party is also working with European politicians to establish direct dialogue between it and the European Union through joint working groups and other possible mechanisms. These efforts follow-up on a November trip Kilicdaroglu paid to Brussels, where met one-on-one with Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fule. As Haberturk reports, CHP vice-president Faruk Logoglu has been following up on the initiative. This sort of outreach to Europe was unheard of in the days Baykal was party leader, and is one of many positive developments that has occurred under the auspices of the party's new leadership.


UPDATE I (2/13) -- The dissidents within CHP have re-scheduled their congress from March 1 to Feb. 27, the day after Kilicdaroglu is to hold his.