Monday, December 29, 2008

Female Circumcision in Iraqi Kurdistan

PHOTO from the Washington Post

From the Washington Post:
Kurdistan is the only known part of Iraq --and one of the few places in the world--where female circumcision is widespread. More than 60 percent of women in Kurdish areas of northern Iraq have been circumcised, according to a study conducted this year. In at least one Kurdish territory, 95 percent of women have undergone the practice, which human rights groups call female genital mutilation.

The practice, and the Kurdish parliament's refusal to outlaw it, highlight the plight of women in a region with a reputation for having a more progressive society than the rest of Iraq. Advocates for women point to the increasing frequency of honor killings against women and female self-immolations in Kurdistan this year as further evidence that women in the area still face significant obstacles, despite efforts to raise public awareness of circumcision and violence against women.

"When the Kurdish people were fighting for our independence, women participated as full members in the underground resistance," said Pakshan Zangana, who heads the women's committee in the Kurdish parliament. "But now that we have won our freedom, the position of women has been pushed backwards and crimes against us are minimized."
There is a photo gallery accompanying the story, and, yes, it is quite gruesome to get through.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Environment and Human Rights Concerns Defeat Ilısu Dam

PHOTO BY Carolyn Drake/The Walrus

From the Guardian:
Insurers delivered a victory for environmentalists and dealt a body blow to Turkey's economic regeneration plans yesterday by pulling the plug on a bitterly contested dam project that critics claimed would wreck habitats, displace people and drown ancient archaeological treasures.

A consortium of German, Austrian and Swiss insurance firms ordered a halt to the £1.1bn Ilisu dam in Turkey's impoverished south-east after concluding that it failed to meet standards set by their governments and the World Bank.

The decision means suppliers underwritten by the insurers will have to stop work on the dam, located by the banks of the Tigris near Turkey's borders with Iraq and Syria, for 180 days and casts doubts on its long-term viability.

Environmentalists, heritage organisations and human rights groups campaigned against the project claiming it would have meant the loss of around 80 towns, villages and hamlets and the destruction of large areas of farmland. They argued that the mainly Kurdish local population had not been properly consulted and that between 50,000 and 80,000 people would be forced from their homes without compensation.

Heritage campaigners also claimed that the project would flood ruins from ancient Mesopotamia in the town of Hasankeyf and other sites, which are believed to contain evidence of 100,000 years of human occupation.
For full article, click here. The proposed dam has long been controversial, and has had both human rights and environmental groups mobilized for some time. There were concerns earlier this year that the German government might block the dam's construction. Hasankeyf was featured in an issue of the Atlantic this past November. See also Yigal Schleifer's earlier reportage of Ilısu, and the Southeastern Anatolian Project (GAP) of which it is part. The AKP had sold the project on the grounds that it was vital to the economic development of the Kurdish southeast, though it is likely a majority of Kurds opposed it.

Also happy will be Turkey's southern neighbors, Syria and Iraq, which had both expressed anger at Turkey's decision to dam the valuable water of the Tigris.

Friday, December 26, 2008

The Pleasures and Guilts of Wealth: New Money and What to Do With It

One of New York Times correspondent Sabrina Tavernise's recurring themes is that of Turkey's emerging religious middle classes, and her insight into this new elite is on full display in this article from today's NYT. From the article:
Money is at the heart of the changes that have transformed Turkey. In 1950, it was a largely agrarian society, with 80 percent of its population living in rural areas. Its economy was closed and foreign currency was illegal. But a forward-looking prime minister, Turgut Ozal, opened the economy. Now Turkey exports billions of dollars in goods to other European countries, and about 70 percent of its population lives in cities.

Religious Turks helped power that rise, yet for years they were shunned by elite society. That helps explain why many are engaged in such a frantic effort to prove themselves, said Safak Cak, a Turkish interior designer with many wealthy, religious clients. “It’s because of how we labeled them,” he said. “We looked at them as black people.”

Mr. Cak was referring to Turkey’s deep class divide. An urban upper class, often referred to as White Turks, wielded the political and economic power in the country for decades. They saw themselves as the transmitters of the secular ideals of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, Turkey’s founder. They have felt threatened by the rise of the rural, religious, merchant class, particularly of its political representative, Turkey’s prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

“The old class was not ready to share economic and political power,” said Can Paker, chairman of the Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation, a liberal research organization in Istanbul. “The new class is sharing their habits, like driving Mercedes, but they are also wearing head scarves. The old class can’t bear this.”

“ ‘They were the peasants,’ ” the thinking goes, Mr. Paker said. “ ‘Why are they among us?’ ”

Ms. Aydin, 40, who wears a head scarf, encountered that attitude not long ago in one of Istanbul’s fanciest districts. A woman called her a “dirty fundamentalist” when Ms. Aydin tried to put trash the woman had thrown out her car window back inside.

“If you’re driving a good car, they stare at you and point,” Ms. Aydin said. “You want to say, ‘I graduated from French school just like you,’ but after a while, you don’t feel like proving yourself.”

She does not have to.

Her father started by selling curtains. Now he owns one of the largest home-appliance businesses in Europe. Ms. Aydin grew up wealthy, with tastes no different from those of the older class. She lives in a sleek, modern house with a pool in a gated community. Her son attends a prestigious private school. A business school graduate, she manages about 100 people at a private hospital founded by her father. Her head scarf bars her from employment in a state hospital.

Her husband, Yasar Aydin, shrugged. “Rich people everywhere dislike newcomers,” he said. In another decade, those prejudices will be gone, he said.

The businessmen describe themselves as Muslims with a Protestant work ethic, and say hard work deepens faith.

“We can’t lie down on our oil like Arab countries,” said Osman Kadiroglu, whose family owns a large candy company in Turkey, with factories in Azerbaijan and Algeria. “There’s no way out except producing.”
Tavernise also briefly touches on how this newly emergent middle class is dealing with their new money status, and religious dictates that one should not consume more than one needs. Tavernise observes many wealthy and religious Turks justify the purchasing of extravagances by complementing such acquisitions with generous donations to religious charities (like Deniz Feneri). For full article, click here.

In my mind is Dutch painter Pieter Aertsen's juxtaposition of sinful meats and mussels alongside less lavish foods of piety, like bread and fish. For more on Islamic Calvinism and Turkey's religious classes, see the European Stability Initiative's 2005 report on the subject. For more on class politics in Turkey, see my June analysis of a 2005 law prohibiting newly arrived "black Turks" -- by no means the Islamic Calvinists referred to by Tavernise as buying fancy sinks and curtains -- from swimming in their underwear.

The İstanbul Cobber and the Shoe Heard Round the World

From Yigal Schleifer at his blog, Istanbul Calling:
I just spent some time today in the factory of the Turkish shoemaker who claims that it was his company's shoe that was thrown at George W. Bush and that his sales are now booming. Hard to verify his claims: the offending shoes have apparantly been destroyed, although I did see a group of men in the company's workshop feverishly making pairs of the shoe -- now renamed the "Bye Bye Bush" model -- for delivery to Iraq.

There certainly is a precedent for this intersection of politics and fashion (if that's a word we can use in connection with a very chunky, though suprisingly light, pair of shoes). In late 2005, Istanbul suitmaker Recep Cesur made headlines and then reaped a harvest of increased sales after Saddam Hussein appeared in a Baghdad court wearing a pinstriped Cesur suit. Cesur's sales skyrocketed in Iraq and other parts of the Middle East, his suits now carrying with them the scent of power while making the statement that "I'm sticking it to the Americans" (or, more likely, to George Bush). During a visit to Cesur's Istanbul showroom, I even met an Iranian wholesaler who was snapping up Cesurs. The Iranians, who suffered terribly during the long war with Iraq in the 1980's, are no fans of Saddam, he told me. But a Cesur suit now had cache, he said. "If Michael Jackson drinks Coke, people will go to the supermarket and ask for Coke, not something else," he said.

You can read the article about Cesur and his suits here.
Click here for the New York Times article featuring Ramazan Baydan, the Turkish shoemaker who claims to have made the famous shoes.

Monday, December 22, 2008

A Smoker and an At Times "Ordinary" Man: Heaven Forfend!

From TDZ:
Journalist-documentary maker Can Dündar gave testimony at the Ankara Prosecutor’s Office on Saturday after criminal complaints were filed against his latest documentary film, which recounts the lesser-known sides of the life of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the Turkish Republic.

“Mustafa,” which hit the theaters on Oct. 29, Republic Day, was the latest effort by Dündar, who has written and directed several documentaries on the life of Atatürk over the past 15 years, starting with his 1993 television documentary “Sarı Zeybek.”
This latest film brought with it heated debate in all segments of society over whether it depicts Atatürk’s character and private life correctly.

Criminal complaints against Dündar were filed by three individuals.

On Nov. 10, the anniversary of Atatürk’s death, Ahmet Ercan, founder of the Anti-Smoking Association, and Orhan Kural, honorary president of the Fighting against Smoking Foundation, filed a criminal complaint against “Mustafa,” in which Atatürk is frequently shown smoking.

The complaint reads: “The content of the film and its interpretation of its topics damage the republic and Atatürk. Damaging such values can lead to the breakup of Turkey and to the loss of national pride. On top of that, the father of the Turks has been shown smoking and drinking heavily. His esteem has been lowered. A person who was a good example for Turkish youth has been killed spiritually. The biggest cigarette advertisement in Turkish history has been made using Atatürk.”

Ercan and Kural submitted the petition to the Şişli Prosecutor’s Office to be sent to the Ankara Chief Prosecutor’s Office. They claimed that Dündar’s film violates the law on “preventing damage from tobacco products and their control.”

Another criminal complaint against Dündar was filed by lawyer Gülnihal Soydan, who claimed a lawsuit should be filed against not only Dündar but the entire cast and the sponsors of the documentary.

Soydan claimed that the documentary depicted Atatürk as an ordinary man by referring to him as “Mustafa” and constituted a crime under a law regarding crimes committed against Atatürk.
For more on Dundar's film, click here.

Davutoğlu's Dominos

Ahmet Davutoğlu is Erdoğan's chief foreign policy advisor. From the Washington Post's David Ignatius:
As Ahmet Davutoglu, Turkey's leading foreign policy strategist, explains the series of political choices that are ahead in the Middle East next year, he might be describing a row of dominoes. If they fall in the right direction, good things could happen. But if they start toppling the wrong way, watch out.

Davutoglu's domino theory deserves careful attention from Barack Obama's team as it thinks about Middle East strategy. The Turkish official knows his stuff. As the top adviser to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, he has managed Turkey's successful mediation between Syria and Israel as well as other delicate diplomacy in this messy part of the world.

Davutoglu spoke with me Wednesday in the Dolmabahce Palace on the shores of the Bosporus. The Ottoman setting was appropriate. For Davutoglu has overseen a shift in Turkish diplomacy over the past several years -- away from Europe and toward the surrounding region that, until a century ago, was governed from this ancient city. This change of emphasis upsets some Turks, but I'll get to that later.

What's intriguing about Davutoglu's analysis is that it involves a series of elections. That's good news for a region that has had too little democracy. The bad news is that voters may make choices that confound U.S. policy -- and that make peace in the region more difficult.

"We want the world community to understand that these elections are important, and that they will affect the Obama presidency," explains Davutoglu.

. . . .

Davutoglu says his slogan is "zero problems on our borders." The next few months will test whether that optimistic strategy is viable.

As I noted earlier, not everyone here is enthusiastic about the Turkish government's new stress on regional diplomacy. Critics argue that although Erdogan is still officially committed to joining the European Union, he is actually abandoning that goal. "They have lost enthusiasm on the E.U. All their energy now is on regional politics," contends Sedat Ergin, editor of the daily newspaper Milliyet.

Some Turks also worry that as Erdogan turns away from Europe, he is becoming less tolerant of his opponents. Critics cite his call in September for a boycott of Milliyet and other papers that had reported on a corruption case in Germany involving members of his party. "His limit of tolerance for freedom of the press and freedom of expression is pretty low," argues Soli Ozel, a columnist for Sabah newspaper.

Davutoglu stresses that Turkey's new regional role isn't a throwback to the days of the Ottoman pashas. The world has changed. Democracy rules. But that doesn't guarantee people will vote the way the United States wants.
For full article, click here. For Turkey's shifting foreign policy focus, see my recent analysis in Foreign Policy in Focus.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Ersoy Acquitted in Article 318 Case

From Bianet:
The 18th Criminal Court of First Instance acquitted Bülent Ersoy, the famous transsexual singer of Turkey, of the accusation of alienating people from military service through her words during a TV program. She had said that if she had a son she would not send him to fight in the Northern Iraq operations.

The court ruled yesterday (December 18) that there was no intention of committing crime, she was using her freedom of expression. Ersoy did not come to the last hearing.

. . . .

Ersoy defended her position by saying that she was demanding solution rather than dying to solve the problem at hand and she also added that she had the right to express her opinions as an artist who was born and raised in Turkey and paid her taxes.

“If it is treason or alienating people from military service to ask for solution rather than death, then that is simply a matter of understanding. I am here because I was misunderstood.”

Ersoy is on trial for talking against deaths in the Northern Iraq operations during the TV program Popstar Alaturka on February 24, which was aired by Star TV.

The prosecutor had filed the lawsuit following complaints by ten people and based his arguments on the claim that every Turk was born a soldier and that Ersoy’s speech was quoted by the pro-Kurdish Roj TV.

According to article 318 of the Turkish Penal Code, “(1) Anyone caught encouraging or suggesting alienation of people from the military service or does propaganda towards this goal will be sentenced to prison from six months to two years. (2) If this act is done through media then the sentence will be doubled.” (EÖ/TB)
Ersoy was charged in May, another victim of another article limiting freedom of expression apart from 301. Ersoy's remarks questioned the use of the term "şehid", or martyr, when referring to Turkish soldiers killed in the state's conflict with the PKK have prompted a prosecutor to file charges against her using one of the many laws restricting freedom of expression in Turkey—discouraging membership in the Turkish Armed Services. Ersoy also claimed, “If I had a child, I would not send him to the grave for the war of other people.” Notable to this case is that the prosecutor Ali Çakır, who submitted the indictment against Ersoy, used as evidence the airing of Ersoy's remarks on Roj-TV. TDZ quoted Çakır last May:
Considering the words she used as a whole, these remarks were made while the Turkish Armed Forces [TSK] were conducting a ground offensive in northern Iraq and when the Turkish society’s sensitivity toward military service and soldiers had reached a peak. Her remarks were aimed at discouraging people from sending their sons to military service. For this reason Ersoy was praised by Roj TV, known as the media organ of the PKK. Some were encouraged by her statements and called on the Turkish society to not send its sons to military service under these circumstances, claiming that Turkish soldiers were martyred in a meaningless war in northern Iraq.
The prosecutor also placed the credo that "every Turk is born a soldier in his indictment. This is precisely what freedom of expression is up against in Turkey, the kind of resistance to free thought and expression that must be overcome if Turkey is to have a freer marketplace of ideas in the future. Ersoy's court victory is a step in the right direction, but wonders if the verdict would have been different if she was Kurdish.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Turkish Rights Groups Document Dismal Year in Human Rights

From TDZ:
In a common statement they made on Wednesday to mark the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Human Rights Association (İHD) leader Öztürk Türkdoğan and Turkey Human Rights Foundation (TİHV) head Yavuz Önen expressed their concern that the world has yet to create an international order based on the rights and freedoms included in the universal declaration. "The demands the world has today are to establish peace based on rights and freedoms," said Türkdoğan.

The groups in their statement called for changing the Constitution to improve rights and freedoms in Turkey. Türkdoğan said human rights and democracy remained in the country as a chronically fundamental problem and that a change to the Constitution as well as many other laws was an absolute must to make certain democratic principles function.

Türkdoğan said Turkey's political parties laws, which impose anti-free speech provisions as well as language bans; the country's election laws that have higher election thresholds, making it hard to find representation for minority groups; and the ease of shutting down political parties in Turkey still marred the country's democratic improvement.

"The civilian and military relationship has still not been raised to that of a democratic country," Türkdoğan said. "The current legislation has aspects that are restrictive to freedom of thought and expression."
For full report, including a litany of documented violations, click here.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Women in Politics and the Türban Bugaboo

Turkey was one of the first countries to allow women to hold elected office, but out of 8,794 men who have been elected to Parliament since 1935, the year in which Turkish women first took office, only 236 women have been elected. While it is true that women now hold a near 10 percent of seats in the Turkish Grand National Assembly (though many are in DTP), only a mere 2.32 percent hold local office. Even more shockingly, only .56% of all elected mayors are women. Out of those women who are elected to Parliament, many are so beholden to the males in their respective parties that they rarely speak out on their own accord. In the cabinet, there is only one woman, Nimet Çubukçu, and she is charged with women's issues. Many of these women are dependent on a tightly-controlled political party system that systemically preserves patriarchy as well as it does the elitism and nepotism long characteristic of Turkish party politics. Women are few and far between, especially women taking progressive political positions, and as if they did not face enough challenges, over sixty percent are barred from entering the public sphere as a result of their headscarves.

According to a recent report from AKDER, preoccupation with the türban issue has not only taken the focus off improving the status of women in politics, but systematically denied a majority of Turkish women rights to political participation. As a result of the headscarf bugaboo, women have also been deprived of rights to education, employment, and economic and social security. Women who wear the headscarf are further subjected to abuse from society-at-large, in addition to the pain that comes with knowing one is not able to fulfill their potential.
Forbidding women to exercise their basic rights or barring their entrance to public places unless they take off their headscarves is clearly a form of violence. According to CEDAW, "gender based violence is violence that is directed against a woman because she is a woman or that affects women disproportionately."[65] Then again “being denied access to existing rights” is a form of violence against women. In addition, we must accept discrimination on the grounds of clothes worn on the basis of religious conviction as violence.

Women sometimes took their headscarf off just because they were “persuaded” by an employee or because they were threatened or injured physically. Sometimes they were insulted by staff or thrown out of a place and threatened with prosecution. Being turned off university campuses is a very common experience. YÖK (the Higher Education Council in Turkey , the central state body which regulates the whole of university education, including private universities, and has a reputation for applying restrictive and repressive policies) has published circulars to ensure that veiled women are not admitted into university staff’s residential quarters.[66] Women have been ejected from exam rooms because university staff did not approve of their wigs[67] and when a woman went to take her driving test, she was told “showing your hair will not damage your virtue and honour”[68] and frogmarched to the door by police.

Headscarfed women receive treatment very much like that received by black people in an apartheid society, unable to enter white people’s churches, restaurants bus stations and barred from higher education a situation which can cause real psychological trauma.[69]

Physical attack harms physical integrity, but an emotional and psychological attack damages emotional and psychological integrity. As psychiatrists might put it, the attack on the headscarf ban is an attack on personal identity for women who view the headscarf as part of their identity. The anger and frustration that headscarfed women feel at the cutting short of their future plans, the feelings of internal conflict, the strong feelings of having their path blocked when they refuse to take their headscarf off, and the feelings of guilt if they do take it off all amount to a highly destructive experience. [70]

Because wearing a headscarf is a woman’s conscious act and her own decision, the psychological damage is heightened even more. If the “uncovered head” which is being imposed in the interests of modernity were merely a matter of clothing, if the condition for entering education was to dress in green from head to foot, every woman who wanted to continue their education might have put up with such a rule even if it were against their individual preference. But the fact that the headscarf is worn for religious reasons makes the dilemma much sharper for women. The headscarf ban puts women in the position of submission to government authority, the school or the employer, choosing between wearing the headscarf or exercising her rights.

Removing a woman’s right to choose her own clothes under such circumstances is a profound external interference. Forcing a woman to either uncover her head or give up her rights is psychological violence, in the same way that forcing a woman to cover her head is psychological violence.

This is a current and ongoing violation because the ban remains in place and subjects women to constant negative feelings and thoughts. When women who choose to wear the headscarf for their own important reasons are confronted with coercive interference from the state, and not wanting to take the headscarf off are forced to do so, they suffer severe internal conflict at having to act contrary to their own choices and determinations.

The research entitled “Covered Reality of Turkey” has determined that women who had to take their headscarf off were indeed badly affected. The research found that 70.8% of women who removed their headscarf believe it damaged their personalities, and 63.2% felt insulted.[71] Consequently many women chose to stay away from education rather than take off their headscarf. But this in turn left those women feeling empty because they were not permitted to fulfill their potential.
As TDZ's Roberta Davenport gleans from the report, “If the authorities had spent one-tenth of that energy and time bringing solutions to the long list of real women’s problems, the status of women in Turkey would be much better today -- problems such as the fact that only one-quarter of women are employed and have poor access to health insurance or a pension, that more than 5 million women are illiterate, that although one in three Turkish women have been exposed to violence, that there are only 38 shelters for women in a country with 81 provinces and a population of 72 million.”

In a recent survey by the World Economic Forum, its annual Global Gender Gap Report, Turkey ranked 123rd of 130 countries analyzed --a dismal result for a country in which men and women are legally equal, and more so, a society hugely supportive and proud of its inclusion of women in the public sphere.

To rectify women's subjugation in politics, some have advocated using gender quotas to bolster the participation of women in politics. Women's groups take different positions on the use of quotas, but many, like AKDER, have supported quotas as a means of positive discrimination by which to promote the equal participation of women in politics. Prime Minister Erdoğan opposes quotas, saying that they would make women dependent on the benevolence of men. However, as others have argued, it is hard to see how this is not already the case. AKDER was particularly perturbed last month after its campaign for gender quotas won the endorsement of TÜSIAD only to be criticized by Erdoğan. For many women's rights activists, the prime minister generated further doubt of his support for women in politics when he stated in March -- and on International Women's Day -- that every Turkish woman should give birth to at least three children.

PHOTO of Emine Bozkurt, European Parliament Rapporteur on Women's Rights in Turkey

No political party has been particularly supportive of women's rights, and when women do reach political office, they either take a back seat or are used as political pawns. As Itir Bağdadi, lecturer at İzmir University of Economics, alluded to at a panel I was able to attend at this year's Middle East Studies Association (MESA) conference, women in the public sphere often behave as if they have to prove their masculinity -- often eschewing their interests as women, and perhaps going so far as to even compensate for their perceived femininity. The example Bağdadi brought up was former prime minister Tansu Çiller, who despite being rather centrist before landing in the position of prime minister, soon became a national security hawk. Çiller was Turkey's first female prime minister, and one of the first female leaders of governmet anywhere in the world. However, in Turkey, she is largely remembered as fomenting the war in the Kurdish southeast. The war deeply damaged Turkey's reputation around the world, failed to quell the PKK, and involved military/deep state tactics that systematically killed, injured, and displaced large swaths of Turkish Kurds, many of whom are still displaced today. Previous to rising to power as prime minister, Turgut Özal had been president, and his conciliatory stance on the Kurdish problem placed Turkey in the unique position of negotiating a solution -- a prospect with which Çiller was in favor when she said she favored a "Basque solution" to the problem (Zürcher). However, faced with pressure from Kemalist hardliners and what was likely a perceived exigency to prove herself "tough" on national security issues, Çiller led Turkey into a vicious political cycle from which it would not extricate itself until 1999. According to most of the women with whom I have talked, women are still very much reluctant to embrace their identities as women in the public sphere, and either resign themselves to work in a specific policy portfolio of "women's issues," or so respond to the double bind in which they are caught by abnegating their femininity.

Regardless of their weakened positions in party politics, women have become key public players. Women's groups are a critical sector of Turkey's inchoate civil society, and their strength is exemplified by the reforms these groups have helped secure. For example, in 2004, women's organizing resulted in the creation of a more progressive Turkish Penal Code. The voices of women were also harnessed in 2007 in opposition to the Turkish government's abortive attempt to change the constitution so as to characterize women as a vulnerable group in need of special protection.

Recently drawing attention to the dearth of women in politics, Emine Bozkurt, European Parliament Rapporteur on Women's Rights in Turkey, described the problem as systemic, eschewing arguments of culture and chalking women's discrimination in politics up to the political system. Bozkurt's arguments give further argument to quotas, but as AKDER acknowledges, should gender quotas become a reality, they do little for the estimated 62 percent of women denied the right to hold political office. From AKDER:
The United States Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, in a judgment in 1927 stated that “Men feared witches and burnt women.” While problems of women’s rights, modernization, human rights, and democracy are being discussed throughout the rest of the world in the 21st century, Turkey , for the last ten years, has been preoccupied with whether women with headscarves have the right to enter higher education institutions. The talk is of progress and the contemporary world, but what is actually happening is that women who wear the headscarf are being excluded from society, and while the arguments about the headscarf/türban drag on, no serious steps are being taken about women’s existing and all-too-real problems.
For more on Turkey's preoccupation with the headscarf debate and the crippling position in which it leaves women, see Feb. 19 post. If CHP is serious about its recent change of heart, it will do all it can to immediately rectify what its politics of division has done to impoverish Turkish women.

More on Police Violence

From Bianet:
Although Justice Minister Şahin, Police Chief Cerrah and the police educators say that the police officers should show their identities when asked, the citizens still get beaten up for asking their identities and the authorities still make statements protecting these police officers and file suspicious lawsuits against the victims.

Mustafa Akdoğan tells that when he asked the police officers to show their identities they yelled at him saying how he could ask them their identities, telling him if he could not see they were in their uniforms and beat him up at the Avcılar neighborhood of Istanbul.

This incident took place after Celalettin Cerrah, Istanbul Police Chief, told that the citizens hould ask the police officers for their identities. According to “ATV” TV channel, Akdoğan will not ask the police officers for their identities and he will try not to see any police officer again, if possible. According to newspaper “Radikal”, there are fractures in his skull and nose, and his chin is broken.
For full article, click here. Police retaliation following such a request is one of many problems Human Rights Watch highlighted in its recent report on police violence.

All Talk and Little Hat on Human Rights Day

Foreign Minister Ali Babacan espoused the Turkish government's great admiration for the UN Declaration of Human Rights, stating that the government will maintain its efforts to promote human rights inside Turkey. However, as The Guardian revealed earlier this week, Kenneth Roth, executive diretor of Human Rights Watch (HRW), got a look at what lies beneath the veneer. From Bianet:

[Roth] described Cemil Çiçek, minister in charge of the issues related to human rights, with whom he met about their reports about the police violence in Turkey and not punishing those responsible for it, as sarcastic and too defensive.

Roth met with three ministers about the report: Cemil Çiçek, State Minister in charge of the issues related to human rights, Beşir Atalay, Minister of Interior, Mehmet Ali Şahin, Minister of Justice.

“Çiçek denies even the existence of the problem”

According to Roth, Çiçek denies even the existence of the problem and when reminded of the police violence cases, describes this as an outcome of the psychology of the police officer up against terrorism.

“He offered excuses about everything”

Emphasizing that Çiçek offered excuses about every matter they brought up in regards to the human rights violations, Roth said, “When we mentioned the Constitutional Reform, the freedom of expression and the police violence he brought up the constitutional process in the European Union (EU), the EU’s attitude towards Turkey and the violence used by the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), respectively.”

“It is ironic that Çiçek is the minister in charge of the human rights. It made me think that if Çiçek was a minister for improving the human rights or one for violating them. Let alone the implementation of the recommendations in the report, he did not even want to discuss the matter.

“It is obvious that the government is divided”

Roth said Atalay, Interior of Minister, was more constructive, more open to the problem, willing to look for a solution, in agreement with the recommendations and said they were trying to implement some of them.

Roth added that Atalay was especially in agreement with keeping the police officers and the units accused of violations out of the investigations about them, stopping the counter suits by the police against the victims and discontinuing with the practice of making statements to protect the suspected police officers. However, he also said that the main problem was if Atalay had the power to implement these changes or would be prevented by people like Çiçek.

“We know that the problem of Iraq, the PKK, the closure case against the Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the EU’s changing attitude towards Turkey have been affecting the reform process negatively. But these reforms should not be done for someone else, but the people of Turkey. It is obvious that the government is divided. The real question is if Erdoğan’s government is loyal to the reforms in spite of all the negative factors.”

“The problem is not only the implementation”

Roth noted that Minister Şahin also agreed that the problem was not with the law about the police violence, but its implementation; however, especially the arrangement regarding using deadly force is open to all kinds of violations.

Roth also pointed out to the disappointment they had with Şahin’s giving permission to 58 article 301 investigations since May, saying it was problematic that the minister sees criticizing the government as a call to violence sometimes and as an insult some other times.

Roth added that the HRW was going to continue watching and reporting the police violence. (TK/TB)

For more on HRW's report and police violence in Turkey, click here.

Justice Minister Mehmet Ali Şahin should also be held to task for doing little to address the issue of torture before arrest. Although measures have been taken to curb torture by police occuring after arrest, torture now frequently takes place in a period of detention prior to any formal charging.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Police Violence in the Spotlight

PHOTO of police beating a group of women in Van this March.

Police violence has been one of the many human rights-related epidemics to plague Turkey over the years, and a recent report released Dec. 5 focuses attention on the problem. Turkish police -- civilian and military -- have long been accused of excessive use of force, torture, illegal detention, and various other human rights violations and improprieties, all of which are more frequently than not treated with impunity. From the HRW release:
The 80-page report, "Closing Ranks against Accountability - Barriers to Tackling Police Violence in Turkey," documents 28 cases of police abuse against members of the public since the start of 2007, and examines official investigations of police conduct in those instances. The cases include fatal and non-fatal shootings by the police; ill-treatment and excessive use of force by police against demonstrators; and ill-treatment during or following identity checks. Those who file complaints against the police often find themselves put on trial for having "forcibly resisted" the police.

"Turkey needs to tackle its violent and trigger-happy policing culture," said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. "That can only happen if the criminal justice system holds the police to account for these serious crimes."

Police violence in Turkey has been exacerbated by changes to the law on police powers made in June 2007, which give police excessively broad discretion to use lethal force and encourage arbitrary stops and searches by police. Since the research for this report was finished in June 2008 there has been a spate of shootings by police officers in cities such as Ankara, Istanbul, Adana, Bursa, and Antalya. Seven of them were fatal.

The problem is compounded by the failure to adequately investigate abuses when complaints are made. The report documents a pattern of police interference with investigations, including attempts to conceal, contaminate, or plant evidence. Investigations by prosecutors last many months and even years, often with no result. Where a prosecution is commenced, trials also last for years and the rate of conviction is extremely low. Convictions rarely lead to prison sentences.

"Victims of police violence we interviewed frequently told us that the police feel untouchable," Roth said. "That will only change if police officers who break the law are punished."

PHOTO of Cüneyt Ertuş

I have tried to follow incidents of police violence since starting this blog, but reports are numerous and media coverage of specific cases is sparse in detail, sporadic, and regularly inconsistent. The impunity of police officers charged with rights violations is routinely decried by human rights groups inside and outside of Turkey. As HRW writes in its report, incidents of police violence have been on the rise despite government pledges to curb abuse. However, pledges are not always followed up with substantive action. Take torture: The AKP-led government has announced a zero-tolerance policy on torture, but police continue to torture despite official government policy. In fact, police torture is on the rise, and despite this fact, the political environment is such that just last month AKP deputy Abdulkadir Akgül said he supports the use of force on "enemies of the state," drawing little nuance as to just how such a determination is made, when, and under what circumstances (á la torture, maybe . . . ?). Although measures have been passed to prevent torture by police, the practice is still rife and frequently occurs before arrest -- when the suspect is in custody, but has yet to be charged. People are often frequently subject to "open air" torture by police, as was the case of 15-year old Cüneyt Ertuş whose arm was broken in front of European news cameras in this year's Newroz riots.

As mentioned by the HRW report, rights violations take place in a culture of impunity. Ahmet Kaymaz and his 12-year old son Uğur were killed by police in Mardin in 2004, and though the officers accused of using excessive force were exonerated, the case drags on. Claiming that there was not going to be fair trial since the beginning, the family's lawyer, Tahir Elçi says, “When we look at the violation of rights that have happened in Turkey in the past year, we see how right we have been. These incidents are the proof of how dominant the culture of no-punishment is. If the police officers who killed Kaymaz and his son had gone through a fair trial then perhaps the public officials would not act this comfortably and Engin Ceber [click here for Ceber's case, which involves prison abuse] would not be killed. The trials about torture and extrajudicial killings have reached no where. Kaymaz case is a good example.” According to Bianet, Elçi was prosecuted for “attempting to influence the process of fair trial” because of his words about the case, but was acquitted.

Although HRW's report does not document incidents occuring past June 2008, the most recent police shooting to attract national attention occurred in August. 22-year old Fatih Cem İnci was shot by a plainclothes police officer for little apparent reason. To make the killing all the more heinous, the officer used his gun to prevent passersby from rendering assistance. İnci died of massive blood loss. Luckily, in İnci's case, police officer Mustafa Atasoy was charged with voluntary manslaughter and stood trial shortly after.

A further illustration of police officers' sense of being "above the law" occurred earlier this month when a young woman was accosted by a Kadıköy police officer who apparently objected to the newspaper she was reading. The woman hired a lawyer who managed to convince a prosecutor to investigate the incident, a move for which the police retaliated by detaining the woman and verbally harassing her. As HRW documents, police routinely use such methods of intimidation. Another incident of police violence that received quite a bit of attention this year was the beating of grocer Metin Şahin by two municipal police officers in the Keçiören district of Ankara. Police are thought to have targeted Şahin because he sold alcohol and is Alevi. Unlike other cases of police violence, Şahin's case was widely reported and an investigation opened.

Police have also drawn sharp criticism for using excessive force to control demonstrators. May Day celebrations are always a tense time of protests in Turkey, but this May, İstanbul police showed little restraint. As testified to by two incidents this past month, the use of police force in response to political demonstrations is frequently questionable. In the first incident, Ankara police used tear gas on a group of allegedly riotous demonstrators. In the second, İstanbul police in Beyoğlu harassed a group of women who were holding an exhibition of photographs portraying violence against women. The exhibition was to raise awareness of domestic violence, and according to Bianet, police used "physical violence" to break up the allegedly "unauthorized activity."

In addition to local police forces, Turkey also has a national police force, in addition to a military police force. The Gendarmerie -- or Jandarma in Turkish -- are a branch of the Turkish Armed Forces, and in theory, are chiefly designated to patrol rural areas, including the largely rural and Kurdish southeast. The Gendarmerie has long been criticized for human rights violations, and democracy/rights activists have long called for the military force to be placed under civilian control. Largely a bow the EU demands for reform, the government plans to place the Gendarmerie under a proposed civilian-governed Domestic Security Undersecretariat, a new unit that will be solely responsible for coordinating security units in fighting terrorism. Under the plan, both the national police department and the Gendarmerie will be placed under the undersecretariat. The change is likely to be met with fierce opposition; however, as HRW's most recent report indicates, civilian control is far from a panacea.

Here are some suggestions from HRW:
The report contains detailed recommendations to the Turkish government, including:

-The establishment of an effective, independent police complaints authority to investigate police misconduct, leading to the prosecution of offenders;

-Requiring police to report when they use stop-and-search powers, and giving the person stopped a form that includes the officers' names, identification numbers, and the reason for the stop;

-Legal clarification that use of lethal force should be a means of last resort and used only where necessary to protect life;

-Tamper-proof video and audio recording in police stations at all times; and

-Action to ensure that trial hearings of law enforcement officials facing prosecution take place without undue delay.
Action should also be taken to clearly condemn all forms of torture by police, including that occurring before arrest and in open air areas.

For the full report from HRW, "Closing Ranks Against Accountability: Barriers to Tackling Police Violence in Turkey," click here. (The report is available in Turkish, too.) For an earlier report issued this year by the Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation (TESEV), click here. For coverage of the report on BBC World News, click here for video.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Google and Turkey's Internet Laws

From Jeffrey Rosen in New York Times Magazine:
In March of last year, Nicole Wong, the deputy general counsel of Google, was notified that there had been a precipitous drop in activity on YouTube in Turkey, and that the press was reporting that the Turkish government was blocking access to YouTube for virtually all Turkish Internet users. Apparently unaware that Google owns YouTube, Turkish officials didn’t tell Google about the situation: a Turkish judge had ordered the nation’s telecom providers to block access to the site in response to videos that insulted the founder of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, which is a crime under Turkish law. Wong scrambled to figure out which videos provoked the court order and made the first in a series of tense telephone calls to Google’s counsel in London and Turkey, as angry protesters gathered in Istanbul. Eventually, Wong and several colleagues concluded that the video that sparked the controversy was a parody news broadcast that declared, “Today’s news: Kamal Ataturk was gay!” The clip was posted by Greek football fans looking to taunt their Turkish rivals.

Wong and her colleagues asked the Turkish authorities to reconsider their decision, pointing out that the original offending video had already been voluntarily removed by YouTube users. But after the video was taken down, Turkish prosecutors objected to dozens of other YouTube videos that they claimed insulted either Ataturk or “Turkishness.” These clips ranged from Kurdish-militia recruitment videos and Kurdish morality plays to additional videos speculating about the sexual orientation of Ataturk, including one superimposing his image on characters from “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.” “I remember one night, I was looking at 67 different Turkish videos at home,” Wong told me recently.

After having many of the videos translated into English, Wong and her colleagues set out to determine which ones were, in fact, illegal in Turkey; which violated YouTube’s terms of service prohibiting hate speech but allowing political speech; and which constituted expression that Google and YouTube would try to protect. There was a vigorous internal debate among Wong and her colleagues at the top of Google’s legal pyramid. Andrew McLaughlin, Google’s director of global public policy, took an aggressive civil-libertarian position, arguing that the company should protect as much speech as possible. Kent Walker, Google’s general counsel, took a more pragmatic approach, expressing concern for the safety of the dozen or so employees at Google’s Turkish office. The responsibility for balancing these and other competing concerns about the controversial content fell to Wong, whose colleagues jokingly call her “the Decider,” after George W. Bush’s folksy self-description.

Wong decided that Google, by using a technique called I.P. blocking, would prevent access to videos that clearly violated Turkish law, but only in Turkey. For a time, her solution seemed to satisfy the Turkish judges, who restored YouTube access. But last June, as part of a campaign against threats to symbols of Turkish secularism, a Turkish prosecutor made a sweeping demand: that Google block access to the offending videos throughout the world, to protect the rights and sensitivities of Turks living outside the country. Google refused, arguing that one nation’s government shouldn’t be able to set the limits of speech for Internet users worldwide. Unmoved, the Turkish government today continues to block access to YouTube in Turkey.
Click here for full article. Rosen goes on to examine Google's use of I.P. blocking in a variety of other cases, including requests made by neoconservative U.S. Senator Joseph Lieberman to block sites the senator considered "jihadist." As Rosen propounds, Google's role as the "Decider" certainly places the world's largest information search engine in a truly powerful position, ultimately determining what content may be seen in what country.

As Rosen notes, Google's IP blocking technique has failed to mollify Turkish critics. YouTube continues to be intermittently banned for a variety of offenses, as do a number of other websites, including GoogleGroups, WordPress, and most recently, BlogSpot. Under a law passed in May 2007, Internet websites can be banned by Turkish courts or blocked by Internet service providers under a variety of circumstances, including personally offending someone. Adnan Oktar, a prominent Turkish creationist, has successfully petitioned to have a number of websites banned, most famously Richard Dawkins'.

Human rights activists have grown increasingly concerned with the new law, which appeared in the annual reports of Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. The law has also drawn criticism from European Union officials, most recent being British MEP Richard Howitt. Most damaging diplomatically, the law was cited as unduly limiting freedom of expression in the European Commission's most recent progress report on Turkey's progress toward accession, and is also likely to play prominently in the European Parliament's upcoming report.

In documenting rights violations that have occurred under auspices of the new law, Kerem Altıparmak and Yaman Akdeniz have authored a recent book, Restricted Access, alleging the law to be in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. According to Altıparmak and Akdeniz, violations are not limited only to undue restrictions on the freedom of expression, but also rights to a fair trial and privacy. They have also assembled a website to document and publicize the violations. From TDZ:
Akdeniz and Altıparmak argue that Law No. 5651 was rushed through Parliament just before the Parliament was dissolved for the 2007 general elections and that it had not received broad public support before or after its enactment. Universities and experts, including bar associations, were not consulted about the bill, either.

The authors point out that Web sites can only be blocked if they commit crimes listed under Article 8 of Law No. 5651: encouraging suicide, sexual exploitation of minors, encouraging drug use, supplying harmful substances, obscenity, providing a forum for gambling and prostitution. Web sites may also be banned under other laws, such as the Law on Intellectual and Artistic Works. After examining the many instances of Web site bans over the past year, Altıparmak and Akdeniz suggest that many of the blocking orders that have been issued are actually against the law.

“It is unlawful for the courts, judges and public prosecutors to issue blocking orders and precautionary injunctions outside the scope of these two provisions. Based on this view, blocking orders issued outside the scope of these provisions should be lifted by the courts that issued the orders in the first place,” they claim.

Aside from the issue of the law itself, blocking Web sites is simply an inadequate method for combating illegal content, the authors argue. “Blocking as a preventative policy measure has been explicitly dismissed within the context of terrorist use of the Internet at the level of the European Union. Furthermore, circumvention technologies are widely available, and the filtering and blocking mechanisms and methods currently used in Turkey are easy to circumvent even for inexperienced Internet users. The futility of the current blocking measures is evidenced by the fact that was the 16th most accessed site in Turkey according to the Web site on Aug. 18, 2008, almost three months after the latest blocking order was issued,” the writers point out.
For full article, click here.

Happy Kurban Bayramı!

PHOTO from Jenny White's blog, Kamil Pasha

From TDZ:
Monday is the first day of Eid al-Adha, Islam's most important four-day religious holiday during which millions in Turkey travel to spend time with family members and loved ones.

After the Eid prayer, performed on the first day of the Eid, animals are slaughtered as a reminder of the Prophet Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son Ishmael to God as an act of obedience and submission. The holiday is also when Muslims able to do so go on the annual pilgrimage to Mecca.

Eid al-Adha is seen as a time of year when Turks actively socialize and reunite with friends and family, creating a positive atmosphere across the country with solidarity between relatives, neighbors and society at large, with communities not forgetting the needs of the poor and less fortunate even at this joyful time. It is a time of giving and sharing.

Eid al-Adha is also a day of remembrance for those who are no longer with us, with many visiting the graves of deceased relatives and loved ones over the holiday.
Eid Mubarak!

Speaking Out About 1915

From The Guardian:
Academics and writers in Turkey have risked a fierce official backlash by issuing a public apology for the alleged genocide suffered by Armenians at the hands of Ottoman forces during the first world war.

Breaking one of Turkish society's biggest taboos, the apology comes in an open letter that invites Turks to sign an online petition supporting its sentiments.

It reads: "My conscience does not accept the insensitivity showed to and the denial of the Great Catastrophe that the Ottoman Armenians were subjected to in 1915. I reject this injustice and for my share, I empathise with the feelings and pain of my Armenian brothers. I apologise to them."

The contents expose its authors - three scholars, Ahmet Insel, Baskin Oran and Cengiz Aktar, and a journalist, Ali Bayramoglu - to the wrath of the Turkish state, which has prosecuted writers, including the Nobel prize-winning novelist Orhan Pamuk, for supporting Armenian genocide claims.
Bianet quotes further from the letter:
“What happened to the Armenians is not well-known; people are forced to forget it, and the subject is highly provocative. The Turks have heard this mostly from their elders, their grandfathers. But, the subject has not become an objective historical narrative. Therefore, today many people in Turkey, with all the good intentions, think that nothing happened to the Armenians .”

“The official history has been saying that this incident happened through secondary, not very important, and even mutual massacres; they push the idea that it was an ordinary incident explainable by the conditions of the First World War. However, unfortunately, the facts are very different. Perhaps there is only one fact and it is that the Kurds and Turks are still here, but the Armenians are not. The subject of this campaign is the individuals. This is a voice coming from the individual’s conscience. Those who want to apologize can apologize, and those who do not should not.”
Turkish writers and academics have long been targeted by zealous prosecutors for various statements made in connection with the 1915 massacres. In September, Ahmet Altan was targeted for an article entitled "Oh Brother" in Armenian. Another recent case involves Temel Demirer, in whose case Justice Minister Mehmet Ali Şahin said, “I cannot let someone call my state “murderer”. This is not freedom of expression. This is exactly what the crime of insulting the person of the state is.” Under new legal requirements for prosecution under Article 301, Turkey's most infamous legal restriction on freedom of expression among many, Şahin authorized Demirer's prosecution, virtually declaring him guilty. In June, Ragıp Zarakolu became the first convicted under the revamped law.

"Why I Love Turkey's Smoking, Drinking Founding Father"

From Aslı Aydintasbas in Forbes:
It felt like treason, and it probably was.

I was betraying my country in that dark seedy room, afraid someone would recognize me in the very act of selling out the republic. Ah, the republic that emerged from the ashes of a bankrupt empire, as we were reminded every day in school, with amazing human sacrifice and collective determination to create a fresh new order.

That would be the Republic of Turkey, my homeland. And I was about to betray it by attending the noon showing of a controversial film about the life of its founding father, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

Mustafa opened in theaters on Oct. 29--the 85th anniversary of, well, the republic--to the delight of an eager crowd. A general-turned-statesman, Ataturk not only led an epic war of independence against the invading Western powers in 1919, but also transformed a declining Ottoman Empire to a modern republic by abolishing the sultanate, the caliphate and establishing a secular democratic system. His radical reforms--ranging from adopting the Latin script to equality for women--revolutionized Turkish society and anchored the young nation to the west.
For full article, click here.

Talking State Security After Ergenekon

From TDZ:
The current undersecretary, Emre Taner, is famed for his efforts to "get his house in order" and reform the organization.

A former senior Turkish intelligence official has warned against weaknesses in Turkey’s intelligence-gathering mechanisms, suggesting that an intelligence coordination unit should be established under the Prime Ministry.

“There has been a lack of will for ensuring coordinated intelligence gathering in Turkey. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan should address this problem. Due to the absence of coordination, Turkish institutions in charge of gathering intelligence are jealous of each other. Thus, they refrain from sharing information that they have been gathering among themselves,” said Ertuğrul Güven, former deputy undersecretary of Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MİT), in an interview with Sunday’s Zaman.

Güven’s remarks come at a time when the MİT has been linked to an alleged member of the Ergenekon terror organization. Eighty-six defendants are facing trial for suspected membership in Ergenekon, a criminal network that is believed to have been plotting to overthrow the government.

Tuncay Güney, who currently resides in Canada as a rabbi, was captured by police in Turkey in 2001 on suspicions of gang membership. What he told the police at that time has helped prosecutors expose the activities of Ergenekon.

According to an MİT document published by the Sabah daily last month, Güney purposefully infiltrated Ergenekon and JİTEM, an illegal intelligence unit in the gendarmerie, to gather information for the intelligence organization.

In a press release, the MİT confirmed the authenticity of the document, but denied that Güney, a former journalist whose name has featured prominently in the Ergenekon trial, was an agent employed by the organization.

“As far as I can remember, Güney was not an MİT agent,” Güven said.

The MİT counterterrorism unit, together with the problems it had created, was taken out of the MİT organizational chart in 1997, the same press release explained. Mehmet Eymür, a former MİT official who was implicated in a number of intelligence scandals, was the head of this unit.

However, Güven declined to speak about the details of the Güney incident or Eymür.

. . . .

Güven has also warned against assigning nationwide intelligence gathering duties to the police under a plan to create a new counterterrorism unit under the Interior Ministry.

"Internal security issues cannot directly be affiliated to the Security General Directorate, otherwise there will be problems. For example, there is an organization in Germany to protect the constitution. This is directly affiliated with an undersecretary at the German Interior Ministry. Similarly, the German police are also affiliated with this undersecretary. The security directorate can have its internal intelligence gathering mechanism, but cannot have nationwide intelligence-gathering duties. There needs to be a mechanism of control over the intelligence-gathering organizations," Güven said.
For full article, click here.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Another Percussion Bomb

From Reuters by way of the Washington Post:
A percussion bomb exploded in front of a bank in central Istanbul on Saturday, wounding three people, a local official said.

The area was cordoned off to keep traffic away in case of a second bomb attack, he said.

"The injured were able to go to the hospital themselves, and I wish them all the best. Hopefully we will have more details on what exactly happened later. For now the area where the bomb exploded has been closed to traffic in case there is a second bomb," the official said.

Percussion bombs make a loud noise but usually do little damage. The bomb had been placed in a rubbish bin, the official said.

Television images showed a heavy police presence where the bomb exploded in Istanbul's Fatih district.

Bombings are not uncommon in Turkey and past attacks have been carried out by ethnic separatists, Islamists and leftist militants.

In July a double bomb attack killed 17 people in a crowded area of Istanbul, the first blast caused by a loud percussion bomb and the second a more powerful explosion that ripped through the crowd.
This attack follows another that killed six just last week. The most recent attack targeted AKP headquarters in İstanbul. A group called the "Revolutionary Headquarters" has claimed responsibility for the blast. There is speculatio the group might be linked to Ergenekon.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Intellectuals, Party Politics, and Hopes for the Future

Mümtaz'er Türköne examines intellectuals' relationship to politics, specifically the CHP. While holding intellectuals to task for adopting the same elitism as CHP members, Türköne acknowledges many to have supported AKP because of the party's pro-democracy and pro-EU agenda. Türköne is responding to a column by Oral Çalışlar in the leftist Radikal in which Çalışlar laments the emerging pro-establishment --meaning more nationalist/statist -- position of AKP, a development which has come to concern many progressive intellectual reformers as of late.

As CHP moves further to the right in its efforts to reach out to religious Turks, many of whom live outside the country's urban centers or are recent immigrants to the cities, AKP seems to be more accepting of CHP's pro-military/nationalist positions (and, before this, overly-concerned with its socially conservative base). Where does this leave pro-democracy intellectuals, who Türköne identifies with the left, and who have before supported AKP as a result of its liberal democratic credentials? At the moment, Turkey has no center-left party (see Erik Zürcher's recent critique of Turkish politics). While AKP can be aptly, though perhaps not adequately, explained as a center-right party (the party is economically and socially conservative), CHP is traditionally regarded as the establishment bastion of the Turkish left. However, CHP is more staunchly nationalist than it is pro-labor, more concerned with preserving Kemalist understandings of secularism --and, frequently, even ethnic solidarity -- than it is with promoting economic and social rights. Neither party is willing to aggressively address the issue of rights for ethnic and religious minorities, gender inequities, or draconian restrictions on the freedom of expression. Türköne intimates that intellectuals would be best represented by a third party, but in the end concludes that in the absence of a party, AKP is still the best hope. From Türköne:
Because of the elitist tradition on which it has relied, the CHP has failed to appeal to all of society and has not overcome its image as a bureaucratic party destined to always act as an opposition party. This was a problem of not only the CHP, but also intellectuals, who, like the CHP, are the products of the elitist tradition. However, intellectuals have a greater dilemma than the CHP. This is because intellectuals are accepted as intellectuals to the extent that they appeal to society. Unlike the CHP, they have to do things beyond this elitist tradition in order to advocate freedom, democracy and the rule of law. This accounts for why intellectuals cannot join the CHP, but at the same time, have problematic relations with conservative and traditional circles.

As the CHP reviews its elitist past, intellectuals are discussing their problems with the Justice and Development Party (AK Party). Having supported the AK Party against the militarist and bureaucratic political guardianship, intellectuals are now questioning this support.

In Turkey, being an intellectual makes you automatically leftist. As the term "left" or "leftist" are preferred concepts in Turkey, these intellectuals tend to define themselves as "democrats." Although this designation is used for a different reason, it means "liberal" as it does in the US Democratic Party. The designation of "democrat" is used out of habit or for convenience for these intellectuals, most of whom are former Marxists. Oral Çalışlar, a Radikal columnist, says the number of these intellectuals is "40 or 50 at most," but this is not a small number either. As an intellectual acts as a translator for the feelings and tendencies of the masses who cannot express them, this figure is rather high. To dispel any doubt, we may also provide some names. This is a long list including Ahmet Altan, who ruthlessly shoulders the entire burden alone, the Altan brothers, Eser Karakaş, Şahin Alpay and Cengiz Çandar.

. . . .

First, we need to question the frequently voiced theses that "The AK Party is not democratic" and "Everyone seeks democracy for only their own community." How can one suggest that a political party -- not only the AK Party, but also the CHP and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) -- do not support democracy, which is their raison d'être? How can intellectuals, who are supposed to defend freedom against all sorts of power, yield to democracy, i.e., the rule of the people? Isn't there a problem with the description "a democratic intellectual who says the AK Party is not democratic"?

Our political system, which we call a representative democracy, is run through political parties. When you take political parties out of the system, there remains nothing that we can call democracy. Democracy is what makes parties exist. Parties are what make democracy exist. The description "a party that is not democratic," which Çalışlar is comfortable using, is not quite accurate. If he refers to "intra-party democracy," it is an altogether different topic. The political system that is up and running inside political parties is a product not of the Political Parties Law, but of the political culture of the nation.
For full article, click here.

An AKP stalwart, Türköne's conclusion is far from surprising, but interesting is his resignation at the structure of political parties. Türköne discounts the important role played by emerging Turkish civil society groups operating at the grassroots, and seems to suggest political parties to be the only driving force in democratic politics, in Turkey or otherwise. Attacking Çalışlar's position on political parties, Türköne argues that their predominance in Turkish politics has more to do with political culture than it does with the Political Parties Law. While this may indeed be the case, an issue addressed in my post two days ago about youth participation in politics, it does not mean that Turkish political leaders should not promote a more participatory polity.

Political culture is not static, and in Turkey, seems to be on the verge of recovery. Türköne's argument that intellectuals are best served by AKP may indeed be the case when it comes to the ballot box, but it is their engagement with the party outside of the dictatorial normal politics of inner-party decision making in which lie the best prospects for Turkish democracy. The development of a vibrant and diverse civil society is precisely what is needed in Turkey because the political party system is so impoverished, and one of the reasons for this poverty is the exact same party-centric view Türköne perpetuates. As Turkish citizens from a variety of religious and ethnic backgrounds, social classes, and political groups come to participate more in politics, Turkish political parties will in turn become more diverse, and consequently, more sophisticated in their understanding and approach to politics -- regardless of whether these citizens cover their heads, speak Kurdish, or practice heterodox forms of Islam. Increased participation in and organization of Turkish civil society should translate to increased demands for better representation, and demands for better representation are the only hope that a more democratic party politics might one day come to pass.

Gül Hosts Trilateral Meeting with Karzai and Zadari

From TDZ:
Amid rising tension between New Delhi and Islamabad in the aftermath of last week’s terrorist attacks in Mumbai, President Abdullah Gül yesterday hosted a trilateral meeting with the presidents of Afghanistan and Pakistan in İstanbul for talks aimed at boosting cooperation between the neighbors.

. . . .

In the spring of 2007 Turkey arranged a meeting between Karzai and his then-Pakistani counterpart, Pervez Musharraf, after Kabul accused Islamabad of not doing enough to stop militants from entering Afghanistan from Pakistan.

During the landmark trilateral summit in Ankara in late April of last year, Karzai and Musharraf issued a joint statement called the “Ankara Declaration,” which stresses mutual commitment to fighting terrorism.

That was the first meeting between Karzai and Musharraf since September 2007, when they were brought together by US President George W. Bush to try to ease tensions.

Yesterday's trilateral meeting in İstanbul came in the midst of a recent row between New Delhi and Islamabad as India made allegations of Pakistani elements being involved in the terror attack on the Indian city of Mumbai.
For full article, click here.For more of the below analysis of the meeting from EDM, proceed here.
This is the second such trilateral summit that Turkey has arranged. The presidents of Turkey, Afghanistan, and Pakistan met for the first time on April 29 and 30, 2007, in Ankara. At that time the Pakistani and Afghan leaders issued the so-called Ankara Declaration, which underlined their intention to take concrete steps toward regional development and the fight against terrorism. Following the meeting, the parties agreed to form a joint working group to follow up on the conclusions of the summit and maintain the trilateral process (Stratejik Analiz, June 2007;

Gul extended his invitation for a new meeting to his counterparts during the UN General Assembly in September 2008, and they accepted. After deliberations over the scheduling, the three heads of state finally decided to meet in Istanbul. The main items on the summit agenda are cooperation in security and the economy. The joint working group composed of senior-level officials met the day before to discuss the specific areas set in the first trilateral meeting. Given Turkey’s experience, the parties are expected to reach an agreement to train Afghan and Pakistani officers in Turkey’s anti-drug trafficking and anti-terrorism educational centers. The joint declaration prepared by the working group will be approved by the leaders and made public. Moreover, representatives of the business sector met within the framework of the Istanbul Forum founded by the Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges of Turkey (TOBB) with it’s the equivalent bodies from Afghanistan and Pakistan (, December 3;, December 5).

The inclusion of the private sector and economic issues as a separate group reflects Turkey’s recent foreign policy philosophy that a comprehensive solution to political problems can be built on the foundations of strong economic cooperation.

The Rush Limbaugh of Turkey

From TDZ:
Fatih Altaylı, a journalist famous for making disparaging statements against women, has been condemned by women’s rights activists and some of his colleagues for claiming that women should not be critical of the military since “the army is protecting what is between a woman’s legs.”

Altaylı, who has been appointed the editor-in-chief of a mainstream newspaper that will be launched next year, wrote a column on the Internet referring to a TV discussion program that featured Gülay Göktürk, a prominent female writer from the Bugün daily. In his article, Altaylı wrote, “Lady, maybe you are not aware of the fact that the Turkish army is also protecting what is between a woman’s legs. The Turkish army protects the borders of Turkey, and this border lies between a woman’s legs.”
Halime Güner, from the Flying Broom Association, said women are sick of Altaylı. “He cannot take his mind off a particular part of his body. This attitude of his has led me to think that he has some problems with it. I strongly advise him to seek medical attention immediately,” Güner said.

She added that in Turkey there are endless debates and that many of them are concentrated on women’s bodies.
For full article, click here. As the article notes, Altaylı has a history of verbally assaulting people, especially women, including covered women wishing to enter university and human rights activist Eren Keskin.

Friday, December 5, 2008

A Win for Laicism at the ECHR

From TDZ:
The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that a complaint filed by two Turkish immigrants in France is not admissible, while pointing to a previous headscarf decision against Turkish national Leyla Şahin as a precedent for the ruling.

The applicants, Belgin Doğru and Esma-Nur Kervancı, are French nationals who were born in 1987 and 1986, respectively, and are living in Flers, France. As practicing Muslims, they complained about their expulsion from the school they had been attending as a result of wearing headscarves during physical education and sports classes. The two relied on European Convention on Human Rights Article 9, which covers freedom of thought, conscience and religion, and on Article 2 of Protocol No. 1 of the convention, which covers the right to an education.
The European court, however, ruled yesterday that its reasons for rejecting a similar case by Şahin set a precedent for these applicants’ complaints as well, the Anatolia news agency reported.

Şahin had to leave university in 1998 because the school prevented her from attending courses and exams when she refused to remove her headscarf. The court’s Grand Chamber ruled in 2005 that the ban did not violate the right to freedom of thought, conscience or religion guaranteed by an international human rights treaty.

The ruling was in response to an appeal by Şahin against an earlier ruling from a lower chamber of the court, which found the headscarf ban was in place to protect the rights and freedoms of all students and safeguard public order.

A law banning Islamic headscarves and other religious symbols from French state schools went into force in September 2004. Forbidden items include Muslim headscarves, Sikh turbans, Jewish skullcaps and large Christian crucifixes.
The ECHR affirmed Şahin in a similar decision this June. The political context of the ruling is that the ECHR's stance on the türban does little to endear Europe in the hearts and minds of religious Turks, some of whom have tended to support Europeanization as a potentially positive force in efforts to renegotiate state secularism.

Zana Sentenced to 10-Year Prison Term

From TDZ:
A Turkish court on Thursday sentenced pro-Kurdish politician Leyla Zana to 10 years in prison for “committing crimes on behalf of a terror group,” court officials said. She is expected to appeal the decision at the Supreme Court of Appeals.

The Diyarbakır 5th Higher Criminal Court also revoked Zana’s right to vote and run for political office as well as other political rights. Zana was a potential candidate for a mayoral nomination from the Democratic Society Party (DTP) in the upcoming local elections in March.

Zana and her lawyer, Fethi Gümüş, did not appear in court at yesterday’s session.

Zana was facing charges of “spreading propaganda for the Kurdistan Workers’ Party [PKK]” and for “committing a crime on behalf of the organization,” but she was convicted of “membership in a terrorist organization” under Article 314 of the Turkish Penal Code (TCK). The court said it believed Zana’s actions went beyond spreading propaganda or committing crimes on the PKK’s behalf. The court reiterated its earlier opinion that “the defendant, in her statements to the Chief Prosecutor’s Office, has expressed that she does not see the PKK as a terrorist organization and that she sees the leader of the organization, Abdullah Öcalan, as the ‘leader of the Kurdish people,’ thus, indirectly accepting the charges.”

Zana gained prominence in 1991 for taking part of her oath of office in Parliament in Kurdish, a language not recognized as an official language in Turkey. She was convicted in 1994 by the State Security Court (DGM) of links to the PKK, which is considered a terrorist group by Turkey, the United States and the European Union.

In 2004, she was released after the appeals court overturned her conviction and that of three other Kurdish former lawmakers. PKK is u terrorist organization and responsible for the deaths of 40,000 people in Turkey.

Lagendijk to Teach at Sabancı University

From TDZ:
Joost Lagendijk, a Dutch Green party member of the European Parliament and co-chairman of the EU-Turkey Joint Parliamentary Committee, will move to Turkey next year and teach at a university in İstanbul, a statement from his office said yesterday.

He is leaving politics in Brussels to take up a lecturing post at Sabancı University and work as a senior advisor at the İstanbul Policy Center (IPC) starting July 1, 2009. Lagendijk will lecture on the European Union at the university and will be working on Turkey and the EU at the IPC, according to the statement. "After European Parliament elections in June 2009, I will stop my work as an MEP. My wish to stay involved with EU enlargement and Turkey issues and use my experience in this area came true. I am very much looking forward to my new job at Sabancı University and also to moving to İstanbul, a fantastic city," Lagendijk said.
Lagendijk has been a member of the European Parliament since 1998 and has been the co-chairman of the EU-Turkey Joint Parliamentary Committee since 2002. He has also worked as rapporteur of the European Parliament on Kosovo since 2005. He announced in April that he would not run for the European Parliament in next year's elections.

"As you know my personal situation has changed lately and to be honest I am sometimes getting fed up with all the traveling to Turkey, to the Balkans and Strasbourg. I want the last part of my working life to be quieter and not [spent] at airports and on airplanes all the time," Lagendijk had told Today's Zaman in April, referring to the fact that he has been married to Nevin Sungur, a senior reporter for the NTV news channel, since October 2006.

Turkey Ratifies UN Convention on Rights of the Disabled

From Bianet:
The Parliament has unanimously ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The number of the countries that ratified the convention has become 42.

Turkey had signed this convention on March 30, 2007, but not ratified it until today.

The activists for the rights of the disabled were campaigning for the ratification of the convention. At the press statement made yesterday (December 3) for the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, Turkey’s Disabled Association (TSD) had demanded ratification of the convention and the optional protocol.

The optional protocol is next
The convention imposes on the state obligations regarding incorporating the persons with disabilities into the society, protecting them from discrimination and stigmatization, making all the services accessible to them and in the matter of equality before the law.

The optional protocol, on the other hand, provides the individuals and the groups with the ability to apply directly to the UN Commission for the Rights of the Persons with the Disabilities, once all the internal legal means in their countries are exhausted. (TK/TB)