Thursday, January 31, 2008

CHP to Challenge New Legislation at the Constitutional Court

It was announced today that CHP plans to take the amendment package and the proposed revision to Article 17 of the Higher Education Law to the Constitutional Court. This is not surprising, but it is interesting insomuch as I am left to wonder if the older amendment package (the one regarded as "" too vague") might better withstand such a constitutional test.

By itself, the now more diluted amendment to Article 42 seems much less clear than the original proposal to amend the article to declare as unconstitutional all discrimination based on apparel. Legal experts quoted in Today's Zaman indicate that it is more difficult to challenge a constitutional amendment than the amendment to Higher Education Law. What I am left wondering is that if it is this: If it is indeed easier to challenge the Higher Education Law provision and since the amendment to Article 42 now rests on this definition, would it not then be made easier for the Constitutional Court to declare the provision unconstitutional under the Turkish Constitution's Article 2 guarantee of secularism? Since interpreting Article 42's equal right to an education unless otherwise "clearly set forth by law" is now dependent on the interpretation of the provision to the Higher Education Law and since the provision is more easily challenged, it seems possible that the Constitutional Court might easily be able to rule the Parliament's definition of the headscarf unconstitutional. Not up to par on my Turkish constitutional law, I hope to better follow such legal analysis in the future, but it does make me wonder if it had not been smarter for AKP to insist on a stronger amendment or table the headscarf issue entirely until presentation of the new constitution.

As to the politicians:

CHP leader Deniz Baykal has long made his antagonism to lifting the headscarf ban well-known, but I thought it might be useful to take part of today's post to discuss his criticism and the thought behind it. In a meeting of CHP's parliamentary group this Tuesday, Baykal declared the move to lift the ban to be motivated by Islamic fundamentalism. Further, he said that this would be the first time in Turkey's history that a law will be passed by Parliament that is in direct contradiction with the secular principles Atatürk laid out at the state's founding.

Both these claims are highly-charged and perhaps a bit difficult to swallow in light of the fact that the headscarf had been more or less allowed in universities prior to the 1997 coup (even if one could argue that the Constitutional Court made it illegal in 1989) and that Iran seemed no closer to Iran than now. If you refer to my first post on the issue, the Higher Education Council (YÖK) had provided that the türban be legalized in 1984. As to Parliament, a historian's view of Turkey might look back to the Parliament during its control by the Democratic Party (Demokrat Parti-DP).

The DP controlled the Turkish Parliament soon after the state allowed opposition parties and controlled Parliament from the time it won 53 percent of the vote (to CHP's 40 percent)in 1950 to the time of Turkey's first military coup in 1960. Although DP was by no means very determined in its opposition to secularism as it had been practiced since the state's founding, it did adopt a religious rhetoric that was much stronger than any AKP might use today. During its time at the parliamentary helm, DP legalized the prayer call to be made in Arabic, expanded religious eduction and actually made it necessary for parents to opt-out of having their children enroll in such classes rather than opt-in, funded the construction of mosques, and increased the number of educational institutions for clerics. At a DP congress in 1958, Prime Minister Adnan Menderes boldly declared: "Without paying heed to the outcry of the zealots of the revolution, we Arabicized the call to prayer. We accepted religious teachings in schools. We had the Koran recited over the radio. Turkey is a Muslim state and t will remain so." Although this rhetoric is largely responsible for its violent exit from Turkish politics, Parliament under its reign undeniably passed a number of reforms that one might view as much more Islamist than the reform currently in question. Notably, a similar argument can be made in terms of CHP during Turkey's transition to multi-party democracy. In this time, the CHP-controlled Parliament re-introduced elective religious education in schools and set up the educational institutions for Islamic clerics that DP later expanded.

I do not bring these arguments up to challenge Baykal or offer my own opinion on the issue, but simply to illustrate the fact that historical memory—as it is in all countries—is selective. In claiming that the legislation was linked to religious fundamentalism, Baykal presented the argument that this would be the first step of turning Turkey into an Islamic state akin to Iran or Saudi Arabia:
“Our state organization, however, can't be based on religious foundations. Religion is for people, not a device for the government. Turkey made its choice independent of the Islamic religion surrounding the country. People's freedom of faith has been protected. Otherwise the pictures observed in Saudi Arabia, Iran and Iraq would have also been here as well.”
This sort of slippery slope and fear-based line of argument is not at all unique to Baykal. I am hearing it frequently from many people with whom I am talking and, for most, this seems a real and genuine fear for them. Generally, my interlocutor begins with the current legislation and then, even if he or she is not opposed to it in principle, ends up informing me as to how this is the first step to eventually requiring all women to wear the türban. First, the türban will be legal in universities, and then in primary and secondary schools, then in all public buildings. The inevitable peer pressure and condescension that will be turned against women who do not wear the veil will result in parents forcing their children to wear it. And, perhaps a few years later, there will be ample support to pass a mandate requiring all women wear it. It will take me a while to fully come to terms with this line of thought.

In other responses to the legislation, MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli said that the country had nothing to learn from Baykal. Bahçeli also condemned former Court of Appeals Chief Prosecutor Sabih Kanadoğlu for statement the latter had made about the unconstitutionality of the amendment package as well as the Turkish Industrialists and Businessmen's Association (TÜSİAD) for their expressed opposition to the parliamentary move. He also tried to score some points with religiously-inclined national voters by declaring that Turkey's Parliament will not be held back by the concerns of Europe.

TÜSİAD released a statement today arguing that CHP and MHP had overlooked the Constitution and, in its view, the Copenhagen Criteria for EU entry and a decision by the European Court on Human Rights in 2005 in which the ECHR ruled that Turkey's headscard ban was not a violation of human rights as understood by the Court. In the statement, TÜSİAD further claimed that "the fact that both the AK Party and the MHP seemed to be in a rush to remove the headscarf ban at university campuses proves that they wish to divert Turkey from its objective of full membership in the European Union."

Also, food for thought is a story appearing in yesterday's Turkish Daily News. The story quotes European Parliament member Ria Omen-Ruijten as being opposed to recent legislative moves to settle the headscarf issue. It quotes only one other EPM, but presents the idea that the EU is largely opposed to the new legislation. I should state here that the Turkish Daily News is the country's first English-language newspaper and part of the Doğan Media Group (DMG). DMG also owns Hürriyet and Milliyet, which are both considered to be Kemalist newspapers. Meanwhile, Today's Zaman is not without its own political leanings. It is the English-language extension of Zaman, Turkey's third-largest newspaper. Zaman is considered by some an "Islamist" paper, but is probably more appropriately described as being religiously conservative while opposing the political establishment in the same vain as the growing religious middle class.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

"The Style of Our Mothers and Grandmothers'

I ate lunch today in İzmit's prime place for pizza and watched news break of the proposal AKP and MHP presented to Parliament yesterday. (Yes, there is pizza in Turkey.) The proposal includes the two constitutional agreements upon which the two parties previously agreed, but with a slight revision. Now, instead of reading that everyone has a right to higher education regardless of their apparel, the article instead simply reads, “No one shall be deprived of the right of learning and education in universities unless otherwise is clearly set forth in law.” Apparently, experts thought that the former article was vague and that revisions were needed to define what is exactly being prohibited. To further clarify, AKP and MHP will amend an article of the existing law on higher education.

To brief you on this rather confusing development, after the meetings between the parties concluded on Monday, it seemed that Article 42 would read as follows:
"All attire is allowed at institutions of higher education as long as it does not go against the public order, revolutionary laws [of the Constitution], conventional morality and restrictions that prevent constitutional rights and freedoms from being abused."
However, after spending more time on the issue, representatives from both parties decided that a more exact definition of what is allowed and what is not should be presented. The article now reads as follows:
“No one shall be deprived of the right of learning and education in universities unless otherwise is clearly set forth in law.”
To further evidence that the headscarf is a tricky issue here (see Jan. 21 post), an additional law will be passed to the Higher Education law that will offer a formal definition of what headscarf fashions are allowed and which are not. The proposed Article 17 reads:
“All attire is allowed at institutions of higher learning as long as it does not violate the laws in force. No one shall be deprived of the right to learning and education on charges of wearing the headscarf. No regulation or practice contrary shall be allowed. However, wearing the headscarf shall be in the manner of covering the head with a headscarf fixed beneath the chin without covering the face so as to allow easy recognition of identity.”
Today's Zaman reports that the definitional revision was modeled after an earlier measure that allowed covered women to enter public hospitals.

While both parties are content with this agreement, several activists have expressed the desire that it does not go far enough. With a clear popular mandate for reform, there are critics of the measure who feel the Parliament should not quibble with such details. Indeed, the "fixed beneath the chin" element of the provision to the Higher Education law is reminiscent of past distinctions that have been made (most notably by the military) to distinguish an 'Islamic' headscarf from a traditional one. It has often been argued by headscarf proponents that Atatürk's mother wore the garment and this was one way for Kemalists to answer such claims. After the 1980 military coup, this was a particularly frequent claim as it was felt acceptable that the mothers and grandmothers who might have lived before 1923 continued to wear the headscarf, but that younger women wearing a more stylish and alleged 'Islamic' scarf were potential troublemakers. Thus, a phrase came into vogue that should the headscarf be worn, it should be done 'in the style of our mothers and grandmothers'—not in a style that some Kemalists associated with creeping political Islam.

So, all of this brings me back to the pizza restaurant. For thirty minutes, I watched Turkish television coverage of two women discussing which headscarf fashions are permissible and which are taboo. To demonstrate, one of the women continued to place a piece of fabric on her head in a variety of different ways. While most certainly baffling to an outsider (which I still very much am), this display somehow is starting to make more sense to me.

In another important note, AKP parliamentary group deputy leader Nurettin Canikli said on Monday that the attention to the headscarf issue has further delayed legislation pertaining to Article 301.

And, as an additional footnote, the New York Times reported on the upcoming parliamentary move today, but sans note of all of the provisions that have been attached. These would no doubt be too difficult to explain to an American audience unfamiliar with the issue.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Ergenekon Planning Coup in 2009

In addition to charges of plotting the assassinations of Orhan Pamuk and pro-Kurdish politicians Leyla Zana and Ahmet Türk, Today's Zaman reports that members in the Ergenekon group were also planning a coup to be staged in 2009. Recalling revelations of plans for a coup that emerged in 2004, the paper draws attention to the fact that any such undertaking in 2009 would necessarily involve participation by officials in the military.

Recalling that a newsweekly had uncovered generals' plans to overthrow the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government in 2004, most pessimists say there are still groups in the military who are pursuing coup d'état ambitions. "Since the civilians [currently in custody] cannot stage a coup, then who was going to?" asked the Taraf daily, urging the authorities to carry on with the investigation without fear. The prosecution is currently working on finding exactly those parts of the network that would hopefully link the current suspects to the bottom of the "iceberg."

Some University Rectors Defy Constitutional Amendments

Yesterday marked the first day that türban-wearing women were able to claim constitutional rights to enter university. As expected, President Gül ratified recent amendments to Article 10 and Article 42 to the Constitution this Friday. However, the story is not over. Several university rectors had expressed their intention not to comply with what most here contend is now a constitutional requirement to allow all students to enter university regardless of their decision to don the türban.

Yesterday, many of these rectors held true to their promises. Among them is Kocaeli University rector Sezer Komşuoğlu. He is joined in his defiance of the new law by rectors at Istanbul, Marmara, Uludağ and Atatürk universities. Some rectors have expressed that they will not open their universities because they believe that doing so will violate Article 2 of the Constitution and other have stated that they will wait until the parliament moves to pass the amendment to Article 17 of the Higher Education Law.

Yesterday, the Higher Education Council (YÖK) issued a statement reading that all university rectors are now legally required to allow türban-wearing students to enter the university regardless of Article 17's passage.
"The essentials of the republic, defined in the Constitution, ensure the
protection of fundamental rights and freedoms, and thus cannot be used as legal
grounds to restrict individual rights and freedoms. . . . Activities of
education and training are a public service. Thus, obstructing an educational
activity is tantamount to denying an individual his right to education. The
right to education is a fundamental right and fundamental rights and freedoms
can only be restricted via laws or when they violate the related articles of the
Constitution. These restrictions cannot be contrary to the principles of a
democratic society and the republic."
YÖK Chairman Yusuf Ziya Özcan was just recently appointed to his position as chair of the Council and is facing significant opposition from some of its members. AKP-appointed members now have a majority in the Council, but nine members have openly declared their disagreement with Özcan's decision.

Media coverage of the confrontation reveals just how divisive the issue is here. Today's Zaman declares the rectors "oppressive" and in direct violation of the Constitution while the Turkish Daily News has played up the "chaos" caused by""confusion" surrounding the ban.

Outside the gates of Kocaeli University, I witnessed a group of 20-30 protesters waving "No Türban!" signs. So far I have seen no "pro-türban" demonstrators.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

There's No Such Thing as Free Speech in Turkey: And It's a Bad Thing, Too!

Responding to an article in yesterday's New York Times, it seems a good time to present information about freedom of speech, an issue that sometimes receives more attention in the foreign press than in national newspapers. The article touched on the case of political science professor Atilla Yayla who is on trial right now for insulting Atatürk. The article brings to light recent concerns about the number of increased prosecutions of academics, journalists, publishers, politicians, and ordinary citizens under Article 301 of Turkey's now infamous penal code. Although Turkey is in the midst of attempting to reform Article 301 and release itself from the pressure of human rights groups, any attempt to pass meaningful reform of the article and especially to eliminate it completely will be hard fought.

President Gül has likened the negative publicity stemming from Article 301 to that received following the portrayal of Turkish prisons in the 1978 film Midnight Express and the exposés that followed. However, for nationalist politicians who garner a great deal of support among Turkish citizens, Article 301 and other articles in the Turkish Penal Code (TCK) are necessary to maintaining law and order and preventing people from defaming the state. Many of these people argue that chaos would ensue if speech were not to be checked and claim the law is necessary to keep at bay Turkey's "internal enemies." Ask self-idenitifed nationalists how they feel about 301 and the response one gets usually goes something like this: "People can't just go around insulting each other, the state, and its institutions! How dangerous!"

Article 301 dates back to the 2004 revision of the Penal Code and became subject to criticism by human rights activists as nationalist prosecutors began to use the speech code as a means to promote nationalist causes (see Jan. 19 post). The media monitor and news service BİA-Net documented an increase in the number of prosecutions under restrictive speech codes: from 157 in 2005 to 293 in 2006. Although Article 301 gets much of the attention, there in fact exist numerous articles in the TCK that restrict free speech and several more not in the penal code under which citizens can be prosecuted for expressing opinions with which others—namely the zealous prosecutors aforementioned—disagree. An example of the employment of one of these many other codes is the case of Atilla Yayla. The academic is being prosecuted under a 1951 law outside of the penal code that makes it illegal to insult Atatürk, "the Immortal Leader."

That these cases can be so easily filed can be attributed in part to the structure of the judicial system. Under Turkey's legal system, any individual may bring a complaint to a prosecutor and the complaint must be investigated. Further, it is not at all difficult for zealous prosecutors wanting to make a political argument, score political points, or persecute a particular individual to do so by applying the vast amount of authority they have under the auspices of the system and the ambiguity of the speech codes. Thus, the speech codes can easily be wielded as political weapons and often are.

No particular person or group seems immune from prosecution as cases have been filed against individuals from a variety of ideological backgrounds—from Marxist to Islamist to secularist to Kurdish. This said, the speech codes are most often used against individuals who come into conflict with the members or ideas of the Kemalist old guard who insist that the codes be preserved. Since this stalwart political establishment is well-positioned throughout the judiciary, the speech codes are another way by which Turkey's political elite is able to retain control.

Hegemonic in purpose, the speech codes have a chilling effect on free speech and independent thought and in some ways have become so routine that many Turkish citizens think little about them. This is the principal reason why cases rarely get much attention in the foreign press and often receive no attention at all unless the person being tried is famous or the EU involved. If someone is being tried under a speech code, she or he must have done a very bad thing indeed. For some of the Turks with whom I have talked, the very fact that prosecutions even happen are just more proof that Turkey has internal enemies who seek the destruction of the state. For three in four people I have asked, the codes are also about maintaining order and a quite normal part of keeping the state-society relationship stable. One young woman I asked told me that without some restrictions on speech, demagogues would be able to stir furor with Turkey's uneducated masses, causing discord in society and potenially even destablizing the government. This is very much in-line with the informal Kemalist belief that the state á la the enlightened elite know best. Perhaps the best example of this point of view is CHP's election slogan in the 1920s, "For the people, despite the people."

To examine the codes in greater depth, let's start with Article 301. Under Article 301, it is a crime to "insult" or "denigrate Turkishness" (depending on the translation of the TCK). If found guilty, this crime carries a prison sentence of six months to three years in prison. If the person is a member of the judiciary or military or security services, then the sentence is from six months to two years and if the crime is committed outside of Turkey, the sentence can be extended to three years. Although Article 301 contains a provision that denigration should be separated from criticism, this standard is obscure and unable to be applied in any meaningful or consistent manner. Therefore, the ambiguity of the code accounts for the arbitrary nature in which it is applied.

Other articles of Turkey's penal code that restrict speech include Article 216 under which it is a crime to incite hatred or hostility among the population, Article 267 under which it is a crime t commit slander (these are criminal, not civil cases), Article 277 under which it is a crime to influence the judiciary during an ongoing court case (this is frequently wielded against journalists), Article 285 under which it is a crime to violate the confidentiality of investigations, Article 288 under which it is a crime to influence the result of a fair trial, Article 318 under which it is a crime to discourage individuals to serve in the military, and according to legal experts, a myriad of up to two dozen more. Particularly egregious is Article 305 under which it is a crime to engage in acts that run counter to fundamental national interests. Who decides which national interests are fundamental and what acts run counter is left to the prosecutor and the court.

Human rights groups like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have continually criticized these codes as violations of basic human rights. As a State Party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and to the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, Turkey is in violation of international law.

Although proponents of the speech codes often claim that European countries have similar restrictions, the codes are rarely applied whereas in Turkey they are quite commonplace and built into the structure of the post-1980 regime. Of particular concern, in the past two years the number of prosecutions has increased. According to a BİA-Net, the number of cases increased from 157 in 2005 to 293 in 2006. In regard to cases filed under Article 301, the number rose from 29 to 72. 2007 saw a similar case load to 2006. Human Rights Watch has done an excellent job documenting this trend and included their findings in an April 2007 letter to Prime Minister Erdoğan. The increase is likely die to an increase in nationalist sentiment and is probably largely a response to the diminishing power of the Kemalist old guard.

Speech codes also jeopardize Turkish accession into European Union and have come under particular scrutiny by members of the European Commission. In its November progress report, the Commission again criticized Turkey's restrictions on free speech as human rights violations (pp. 15-16). The Commission also expressed concern over the increase in the number of cases being tried by zealous prosecutors.

Apart from Yayla, notable prosecutions against academic include cases against well-known intellectuals like Hrant Dink (who was convicted, but whose sentence was suspended), Orhan Pamuk (who was acquitted in January 2006), and Elif Şafak (who was acquitted in September 2006). While several other individuals from across the spectrum of Turkish society have been tried, these cases attracted the most attention in Europe and throughout the world. Cases have also been brought against publishers. Two notable examples are prosecutions made against individuals who published the work on Noam Chomsky and Richard Dawkins. However, perhaps one of the most tragic elements to thse prosecutions is that so many of the cases never receive publicity. People taking part in politics and expressing dissent on a more quotidian level rarely receive press attention. Additionally, the speech codes are also used to repress the Kurdish population in the southeast.

However, the criticism of famous people like Pamuk has indeed brought international pressure on Turkey to the broiling point as the government has announced that it will soon introduce a legislative proposal to amend Article 301, the code that has become by and large the most infamous. The news is greeted with welcome ears by human rights/democracy organizations like Freedom House, but the recently released draft of the proposal has been continually delayed as criticism mounts from intellectuals who demand more meaningful and urgent reform that half-steps simply will not do.

The proposal submitted to Parliament today does not even come close to constituting a half-step and it is likely to gravely disappoint those hoping for serious reform. The proposal was submitted by Justice Minister Ali Şahin and contains provisions to change the offense from one of denigrating "Turkishness" to one of denigrating "the Turkish nation." The only two real reform marked by the proposal is a requirement that the justice minister sign off on all Article 301 prosecutions, a measure that will hopefully provide a check on the zealous prosecutors, and a reduction of the maximum prison sentence allowed under the statute from three to two years. This is significant in that the TCK allows sentences of two years or less to be suspended.

Despite disappointment in the proposal's meagerness, it will likely prove very controversial. The drafting divided even AKP members and cabinet ministers, some of whom are not committed to Article 3o1 reform and share the opinion of the nationalists. Due to this controversy, the proposal was submitted to parliament not by the party, but by Şahin. It arrived in the parliamentary Justice Committee where it will then proceed to the General Assambly after discussion.

One sticking point to note in the drafting process is a conflict as to whether the justice minister or another institution should be granted the authority to approve the prosecution of 301 cases. According to Today's Zaman, State Minister Cemil Çiçek is said to have disagreed with Şahin, insisting instead that approval should be sought through a committee of at least eleven people. Çiçek also argued that changing the phrase "Turkishness" would make the law even more cumbersome.

The Ergenekon Arrests

I thought that I would have some time to get used to living in Turkey before big stories started to break, but this has not been the case. This past Wednesday 33 ultra-nationalists were arrested for their alleged connections to a gang called "Ergenekon." The name the group gave themselves has associations with Turkey's far right and refers to the Turkish mythical homeland out of which a wolf is said to have led the Turkish people to their new home in Anatolia. It is sad that this mythology will now forever be connected with the mass violence the group is alleged to have committed over a yet unknown, but assumedly very long, period of time.

Among those arrested include a former major general, Veli Küçük, and perhaps most interestingly, Kemal Kerincsiz, an ultra-nationalist prosecutor who filed several cases against a wide variety of individuals alleged to have "insulted Turkishness" under Article 301. Their suspected crimes include the assassination of three Christian missionaries last year in Malatya and the assassination of Hrant Dink last January. The Malatya murders had been blamed on Islamists and as put to rest the claim that they are evidence of the growing threat of political Islamism that some members of Turkey's political establishment have launched at AKP. As to Dink, it was just this Monday that Justice Minister Mehmet Ali Şahin urged further probes into his assassination. January 19 marked the one-year anniversary of the Turkish-Armenian's murder and questions have persisted since about the participation of shadowy groups thought to comprise Turkey's deep state. The investigation also discovered plans to assassinate Nobel Prize-winning author Orhan Pamuk and notable pro-Kurdish politicians. The state has issued a moratorium on press reports about the arrests, but it has largely gone ignored.

Most significantly, the investigation that led to the arrests renews long-standing rumors of a Turkish "deep state," a shadowy group with connections inside the miliary and government that conduct assassinations and other acts of violence through proxies at the bequest of agents within the structure of the state (see Jan. 24 post). Talk of a "deep state" grew very loud following an event in 1996 involving a car crash in Susurluk just west of Bursa. Three bodies were found after the accident and included a top police chief, Hüseyin Kocadağ, along with Abdullah Çatlı, a known assassin accused of being connected with the attempted assassination of Pope John Paul II, and Çatlı's girlfiend. After the discovery, rumors filled the Turkish press as to the mysterious activities of Kocadağ and Çatlı. An investigation was conducted, and in 1997 a report was released stating that the Turkish Armed Forces had indeed used a quasi-fascist paramilitary group, the Grey Wolves, as proxies and in order with a variety of different security aims. Nonetheless , rumors of a deep state persisted. Although the report revealed little about Susurluk, it gave veracity to long-standing rumors about the existence of a deep state and indicated a nexus between some factions in the military and the Grey Wolves during the turbulent 1970s, in which groups like the Grey Wolves perpetrated violent attacks against leftists.

Said to be connected to NATO efforts. largely influenced by American Cold War policy, to create clandestine paramilitary organizations to counter Soviet activities, the theorized deep state was thought to have connections within elements of the Turkish military and to have operated against Turkish leftists in the late 1970s and Kurdists during Turkey's fight against the PKK during the 1990s. In so much as the deep state's origin is thought to be a function of the communist threat, it is not unique. Other European states had similar groups and all were funded by NATO. Indeed, the Turkish deep state is sometimes compared against Gladio in Italy, a similar group of paramilitarists who operated in cahoots with rightist Italian governments to violently quash leftist political organizations. Many point to the creation of a special operations group formed by the Turkish Armed Forces in 1952 called the Seferberlik Taktik Kurulu (STK - Tactical Mobilisation Group). This group likely received funding by NATO and functioned as part of a larger effort to keep the "communist threat" at bay. As violence peaked in the 1970s, concern about the role of such groups and the military began to grow both within and outside of Turkey.

Criticism of the deep state in Turkey reached its apex in the 1970s following a 1977 attack on demonstators celebrating May Day in Taksim Square. The attack left 39 people dead and more than one hundred injured. It also led Prime Minister Bülent Ecevit to publicly voice his suspicion of state involvement á la state proxies operating as part of the deep state. When Ecevit expressed these concerns to President Fahri Korutürk, significant public attention was drawn to just what groups like the Grey Wolves were up to and what connections they might have with the Turkish military. An investigation led by Ankara prosecutor Doğan Öz soon commenced, and Öz's final report stated that much of the violence Turkey was experiencing at the time was led by a unified effort in which military and civilian actors were cooperating to accomplish common objectives. Öz further argued that much of the violence was led by the Special War Department (Özel Harp Dairesi) and that the Counter-Guerillas on whom the department's operations relied included the Grey Wolves and other paramilitarists. Further, these groups largely operated under the hand of MHP, which was then very much outside of the political mainstream and quite extreme. MHP was staunchly nationalist, xenophobic, anti-Communist, and racist in ideology, the manifestation of the twisted vision of its leader, Alparslan Türkeş. However, like Susurluk after it, the investigation did not go much further, and Öz was assassinated in March 1978 by a member of the Grey Wolves. İbrahim Çiftçi, who confessed to the crime and claimed to be "untouchable," proved to be so when Turkey's highest military court appealed his verdict and sentence. (For more information on Gladio and the Turkish deep state, see Daniele Ganser, NATO's Secret Armies: Operation Gladio and Terrorism in Western Europe (New York: Routledge, 2005)).

Although it can hardly be said at this point that Ergenekon has any ties to the long-theorized "deep state" of the 1970s and Susurluk, and whether indeed it has any ties to the military at all or is simply a rogue force operating on its own accord, the arrests are indeed of great importance since they renew the role of groups operating outside the democratic government. The Ergenekon arrests date to June of last year when a small amount of explosives and hand grenades were found in an İstanbul house. A series of detentions followed, but reportage of the investigation was largely lost in news coverage of the presidential crisis. Time will tell just what Ergenekon is and in what illegal and violent activities it had its hand.

Below is today's article from the Turkish Daily news:

Operation Takes 'Deep State' Under the Spotlight

As the echoes of Tuesday's extensive police operation against a shadowy group, referred to by some as the “deep state” continues, Turkey is once again haunted with memories of assassinations, bombings and mass provocations of the distant and not-so-distant past.

Some 33 people, among them former generals, lawyers, two “mafia” leaders, rank-and-file soldiers and even a journalist have been apprehended in a nationwide operation that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan blessed with the words “The government is working” Tuesday. The state has imposed a ban on press reports on the issue, but yesterday nearly all newspapers' headlines were full of disturbing details about the operation against the gang known as “Ergenekon.”

Those under custody may be accused of plotting to assassinate senior figures such as Leyla Zana and Ahmet Türk, two prominent pro-Kurdish politicians, and novelist Orhan Pamuk, according to media reports.


It is also suspected that they are linked with various provocations, including three bomb attacks against the daily newspaper Cumhuriyet in May 2006, the assassinations of Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink last January and nationalist writer Necip Hablemitoğlu on Dec. 18, 2002.

The name “Ergenekon” implies an ideological link to the Turkish far-right, as in Turkic genesis mythology, it is believed that a grey wolf showed the Turks the way out of their legendary homeland “Ergenekon.” Turkish ultranationalists have used the name “Grey Wolf” for decades.

Nevertheless, those under police custody have a different profile than an ordinary “ultra nationalist on the street.” The most prominent name is Retired Brig. General Veli Küçük, whose name hovered over many political scandals - but remained virtually untouchable, since a groundbreaking traffic accident in Nov. 3, 1996, dubbed as the “Susurluk scandal.”

The scandal broke out when the identities of four people in a Mercedes were revealed after an accident in Susurluk, approximately 400 kilometers southwest of Istanbul. The three dead were Hüseyin Kocadağ, a former deputy chief of Istanbul police, Abdullah Çatlı, an ultra nationalist convicted of the massacre in which seven students were murdered brutally in Ankara in 1978 and his girlfriend. Sedat Edip Bucak, the Şanlıurfa deputy from the True Path Party (DYP) and a local leader of a practically private “army” of village guards used by the state against the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), was wounded. The scandal kept the public awake for months, revealing shadowy relations between various powers within the state apparatus and ultra nationalists. For some, the accident revealed the tip of the “deep state” in Turkey.

Defending the ‘official line':

Veli Küçük is the alleged founder of JİTEM (Gendarmerie Intelligence), whose existence was denied by governments for years. Others in custody are no less interesting than him: Lawyer Kemal Kerinçsiz, who came in the spotlight as one of the leaders of protests in front of Turkish courts against prominent writers and intellectuals such as Orhan Pamuk and Hrant Dink, is one of them. Kerinçsiz is known to be a staunch supporter of the infamous Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code, and he has, on various occasions, accused those who spoke against the “official line” in issues such as the Kurdish problem or the alleged Armenian genocide of “treason.”

Three other detaines are Güler Kömürcü, a columnist at Akşam daily, Fikri Karadağ, the President of the “Kuvayi Milliye” (National Forces) Association, Ali Yasak and Sami Hoştan, two alleged “mafia” leaders, and Fuat Turgut, lawyer of Yasin Hayal, the alleged instigator of the murder of Dink.

Another figure that press reports linked to those is Retired Captain Muzaffer Tekin, who is accused of instigating Alparslan Aslan into storming the Council of State on May 17, 2006 and killing one top judge. Tekin was arrested last year, after a police raid in Ümraniye that unveiled 27 hand grenades in a slum house.

Seeking money for murder:

The shadowy organization was seeking YTL 2 million (approximately $1.7 million) to assassinate renowned novelist Orhan Pamuk, according to yesterday's Hürriyet daily. The paper said telephone conversations of the suspects had been wiretapped for the last eight months. Another allegation is that an associate of those under custody was planning to murder a retired colonel, according to Hürriyet.

Meanwhile, daily Radikal focused on the “Ergenekon” organization itself. According to the paper, members believe they are the “real defenders” of the Turkish Republic, and are intent on doing everything possible to “pacify or even liquidate internal enemies.” The organization consists of four “command posts” and two “civilian presidencies” directly accountable to one “president.” The “civilian leaders” are responsible of “organizing civilian elements” in the society, while former officers and former intelligence officials are the “backbone” of the whole organization, Radikal wrote.

Core within a core:

According to documents confiscated last year, civilians constitute an “inner organization” within “Ergenekon.” This “core” is named as “Lobby” and is led by five civilians, who are in contact with the rest of the group through two “appointees.”

The documents claim that the “Lobby” aims to create a “counter-force” against “foreign non-governmental organizations operating in Turkey.”

Another function of the “Lobby” is, according to Radikal, “influencing trade unions,” while also gaining economic power through commercial companies.

Speaking to the “Haber 7” Web site, former police chief Bülent Orakoğlu said the “final aim” of the operation is to destroy “Turkish Gladio,” resuscitating an old debate. “In many countries, operations against Gladio were launched and these relics of the Cold War were destroyed,” Orakoğlu, a former police intelligence chief, said. “But such an operation had not been launched in Turkey. Now I am under the impression that Turkey has taken this step.”

“I think that the operation has some sort of preventive quality,” Orakoğlu continued, strengthening allegations that the group was about to unleash a high-profile assassination.

Gladio, meaning “Sword” in Italian, was a code name given to a clandestine NATO operation in Italy during the Cold War, allegedly aiming to counter a “Soviet invasion” of Western Europe. However, the name passed to obscurity, as it was unveiled that all NATO members had created similar clandestine organizations, under alleged CIA supervision.

The suspects will be taken to court today.

Friday, January 25, 2008

AKP and MHP Reach Deal to Bring Amendments to Parliament

Following yesterday's post, AKP has reached an agreement with MHP to present a package of constitutional amendments to Parliament next week. Amendments will be made to Article 10 and Article 42. The amendment to Article 13 is not likely to be made. The coalition assures that the amendments should pass the Parliament next week without problem.

A Decision for Parliament

At a public meeting of his party, MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli criticized Chief Prosecutor of the Supreme Court of Appeals Abdurrahman Yalçınkaya for his comments last Thursday and declared that the headscarf issue is a matter for Parliament to decide and not the judiciary. The criticism is significant in that it asserts that AKP and MHP are acting together in moving forward with the headscarf issue and, in so doing, challenging Turkey's secular establishment. CHP leader Deniz Baykal has expressed disgust at the agreement between the two parties, but is in a more difficult position to criticize AKP since it is moving forward with MHP's backing.

Bahçeli's speech is quoted in Wednesday's Today's Zaman:
The sphere of the legislative, executive and judicial bodies is clearly defined in the Constitution. So are the principles and rules to be complied with by political parties. Everyone should obey the related articles of the Constitution in their acts. Policies of conflict, which benefit from debates over national and spiritual values, disrupt social peace and weaken our ability to solve problems. The MHP is ready and determined to stand behind the principles of foundation of the Turkish Republic, its political structure and the Turkish nation’s national and spiritual values.
On Monday, AKP parliament speaker Köksal Toptan had joined the fray. He is second-in-command of the governmnet behind Erdoğan and reiterated that power to make law regarding the headscarf issue rested with Parliament and not the judiciary. He was also criticial of statements made last week by Yalçınkaya and the Council of State.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Dink and the Deep State

STILLSHOT from the private television network TGRT.

Jan. 19 marked the anniversary of the murder of Turkish-Armenian activist Hrant Dink, a respected academic whose late career had focused on public discourse surrounding what is perhaps best referred to as the "Armenian Question"—how Turkey should come to terms with the events of 1915 in which tens of thousands of Armenians living in the Ottoman Empire died in massacres and deportations. Although Turks had begun to talk much more openly about the Armenian Question in the years preceding the rise in nationalism that now seems to be influencing recent events, the topic is very much taboo and Dink was/is quite a controversial figure.

Dink was gunned down on Jan. 19 of last year in İstanbul by a teenage assassin operating as part of a larger network that is most likely linked to an ultra-nationalist gang with connections in high places. Suspicion deepened when a series of photographs were released soon after the murder. The photographs showed his assassin, Ogün Samast, proudly posing with security and police authorities behind a Turkish flag and a banner bearing an Atatürk quote, "The nation's land is sacred. It cannot be left to fate." Turkish civil society and press began to call for an investigation, but efforts have not resulted in much more than a group of 18 people who were tried in July. The investigation continues, but recent events suggest that it might be hampered by a cover-up within the security forces. In October, it was learned that the file of prime murder suspect Erhan Tuncel had been destroyed by security services on the grounds that its contents contained "state secrets."

The EU and human rights activists have joined many Turks in demanding a full investigation that might root out individuals involved in what has come to be called Turkey's "deep state" (in Turkish, derin devlet), a set of paramilitary operations with loose and shadowy affiliations to the military and security forces, thus operating within a zone of tacit, if not more direct, government support.

In his column yesterday, Turkish Daily News columnist Cengiz Çandar writes of the need to continue the investigation
When the connection between the Greek intelligence and the Abdullah Öcalan of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) came to light in 1998 for instance, Greek Prime Minister Costas Simitis took action and routed the “Greek deep state” completely. In order for Turkey to do the same as Greece, the country has now the opportunity to make the “justice mechanism” to work in the Hrant Dink case. That'd be perfect if the government can use this opportunity.

Unless Turkey makes the “justice mechanism of the Hrant Dink murder case” work, there could be no progress in the European Union membership bid, let alone the actual accession. A country having such a flimsy justice and security system cannot even get close to the EU. No one should be surprised if the investigation of the “Hrant Dink murder case” turns into a problem between Turkey and the EU.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

AK Shows Reluctance to Move Quickly on MHP Proposal

While MHP has put pressure on AKP to accept its proposal to amend Article 10 so that it might be interpreted to guarantee state services to all citizens regardless of difference, AKP seems to be increasingly reluctant to accept the proposal. MHP is best characterized as Turkey's most nationalist party and its opposition to AKP's plans to pass constitutional reforms in the areas of freedom of speech and association are well-known.

It is possible that this is an attempt by MHP to co-opt AKP from moving forward with its constitutional package as a whole. Most certainly, the maneuver benefits MHP insomuch as it allows the party to express its support for lifting the headscarf ban and, of course, to blame AKP should the party choose not to accept its proposal. Significantly, MHP's recent maneuver has paved the way for an address of the headscarf issue outside of the constitutional reform process.

This should be interpreted as bad news for the overall project of constitutional reform in that should the party come to a resolution with MHP on the headscarf, it will lose the issue as political capital to be used when pursuing other amendments to the constitution—amendments that might do such things as render void Article 301 of Turkey's penal code. It is widely acknowledged that lifting the headscarf issue is highly popular with the vast majority of Turkey's voting populace.

MHP Adana deputy Kürşat Atılgan is quoted in Today's Zaman as proudly declaring that "MHP's proposal has cornered the AK Party. They have now realized that they will no longer be able to abuse this issue. We have sent a fireball to Mr. Erdoğan. Now they will try to slow down the process." There is no doubt that AKP is in a difficult position, but it seems that they are not rushing to endorse the MHP proposal. By Monday, it became clear that AKP was not content to settle only for an amendment to Article 10. Instead, it stated that since any such amendment might be left open to a broad interpretation that could be used by the Constitutional Court to maintain the status quo and might not give a clear enough directive to the Higher Education Council (YÖK), it is best to also amend Article 42 of the new constitution so that it will read that all persons have a right to an education regardless of apparel.

Most importantly, by reasserting its desire to include the issue in a discussion of the new constitution, AKP has declared its intentions to move forward with constitutional reform and to try as best its can to resist coming to a pre-mature settling of the headscarf issue.

From Today's Zaman:
In response to the pressure from the MHP to take immediate action, the AK Party still prefers to go the slower route of introducing a constitutional package to handle the headscarf issue. Ergün, who is asking for further discussion of the issue by the public, said in a statement to Today's Zaman: 'The proposed amendment to Article 10 of the constitution is not sufficient to lift the ban. Based on our studies so far, we do not believe that the projected amendment will resolve the issue. Academics also agree that the amendment will not solve the problem. If the issue is handled through a comprehensive constitutional package, a more reliable and sustainable resolution is achievable. Nobody should present a particular offer as the only viable option. Every proposal should be reviewed very carefully.'

Noting that the constitution and the laws in effect do not contain any provisions that ban wearing the headscarf and that the ban is implemented based on a narrow interpretation by the Constitutional Court, Ergün said the issue should be discussed further by the public. 'There is no single provision in the constitution or legislation in effect that bans the headscarf. The problem is based on the lack of a liberal interpretation of the constitution. For this reason, the constitution should be taken as a whole for a lasting resolution. The MHP believes that a one-article amendment will suffice to address the question. We welcome their offer; we view it as a positive approach. However, we also ask for discussion of several other issues at the same time. How legal have the implementations on this issue been so far? Why are arbitrary decisions contrary to human rights still in effect? Are the universities obligated to proceed with the status quo? Is it possible to implement a decision by the Constitutional Court as if it were law? We believe the issue should be discussed with references to these questions.'

Monday, January 21, 2008

The Headscarf Debate: AKP and MHP Agree to Work Together

The past week has once again put the issue of headscarves at the forefront of Turkey's political agenda. Before midnight this last Thursday, it was announced that AKP and MHP had come to an agreement to work together so as to assure that parliamentary action would soon be taken to lift the ban. Details as to how this will happen are still developing, but needless to say, the move signifies an important development in Turkish politics and one that is likely to antagonize the political establishment to which AKP is seen opposed.

Watching the story break, it was hard not to be caught by the enthusiasm of the Turkish pundits offering commentary. In Turkey, women are forbidden to wear the headscarf while on a public university campus. Since two-thirds of women in Turkey wear the garment, the rule has effectively denied education to a large number of women who aspire to a university education. Some headscarved women do enter university, but are forced to stuff their scarves in their purses before entering university gates and oftentimes don a cap or wig in substitution of the disallowed scarf. The issue is one that promises a great amount of vitriol to be spewed from both sides of the dialogue—in particular from those who will inevitably come to see the state's secular values as under direct attack from AKP. For them, this will surely mean that the Islamic agenda they suspected all along has finally revealed itself.

For those who are outside the issue, the headscarf polemic is difficult to get a grasp on. In the United States, for example, it is hard to comprehend how the government can prohibit women from wearing articles of clothing they might feel compelled to wear for personal, religious, or cultural reasons. Few people think twice about a Muslim woman donning a headscarf in a public place and no serious move of which I am aware has ever been made to prohibit this right in the public arena. It is basically a non-issue. This said, it should be noted that the issue is by no means exceptional to Turkish politics, but has rather been important in other countries as well: France bans the headscarf in public schools (and all other "overtly religious" clothing and/or symbols) and even conservative Kuwait struggled with the issue of allowing women to wear the niqab in science classrooms (for safety reasons). In Turkey, the headscarf is of particular importance insomuch as it has come to be seen by many as a political symbol of Islam. Those who wear it are often seen as agents of Islam who are challenging the state's secular value scheme as laid out at its founding by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. More than anything else, it is this symbolic attachment that some people place on the headscarf that makes it such an explosive issue.

The headscarf issue is interesting in that its very presence in Turkish politics nicely illustrates the dynamic between Turkey's strict secular establishment and its more religiously conservative silent majority. A poll published last June in the Turkish left-wing daily Radikal found a majority of Turkey's populace to be in favor of lifting the headscarf ban. In many ways, Turkey's politics since its transition to multi-party democracy have been the story of opposition parties attempting to represent what might be called this silent majority or trying to curry favor with it.

To begin to understand the origins of the secular establishment to which I have been alluding, it is useful to turn to the Turkish state's origins. Founded in 1923 under the leadership of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the Turkish state moved quickly to establish itself as a modernizing force. Atatürk, very much influenced by the Young Turk ideology the formation of which he was a part, believed secularism to be a crucial pillar to any such movement forward. The first years of Turkey's political history brought a great number of Western reforms, including revision of the Turkish language from an Arab script to a Roman one, sartorial reform that included the elimination of the fez that was viewed as a symbol of the Ottoman Empire's Islamic past, the suppression of Muslim brotherhoods/dervish orders (tarikats), and most importantly, the enshrinement of secular politics following the elimination of the old Ottoman Caliphate. A secular, republican state intent to pursue political development along Western lines and in strict accordance with the nation-state model, Turkey's political heritage is very much rooted in these early days of the Republic. A single-party state until 1945 (CHP is in name an inheritor of this first party), Turkey's troubled transition to democracy and the military's constant interventions in the name of preserving its "secular democratic politics" is very much a story of Turkey's secular established elite (often self-identified as Kemalists) and various conflicts emerging within and outside of this elite. The most significant element from outside the elite are parties—some which have been identified as Islamist—that claim to represent the majority of Turks' more religiously conservative attitudes. As there are a great deal of significant divides and past conflicts within those who identify themselves as Kemalists and as the tale of Turkish politics is about much more than a clash between secular and religious values, this account is necessarily over-simplified for purposes of introduction. However, it is important to grasp before coming to terms with the history of the headscarf.

The history of the headscarf issue is a long and complicated one, but its root lies in the confrontation that came to fruition during what has come to be known as the 'post-modern coup' of 1997. Soon after RP was disbanded, Turkey's Constitutional Court, a long-time stalwart institution of the Kemalist secular guard, ruled that the headscarf was illegal. The Court's statement appeared in its ruling to disband RP as a political party. The judges reasoned that insomuch as the headscarf had been determined to be illegal under previous decisions of the Constitutional Court (although there has never been any specific law banning he headscarf and despite the fact that these decisions were never enforced) and insofar as RP encouraged women to wear the headscarf in universities, they had encouraged illegal activity. Although this was not the only reason to disband the RP, it did figure into the Court's decision and reinforced the link in the minds of the Turkish public that the headscarf was connected to political Islam. Soon after the decision, the military proclaimed that a formal ban should be established and university rectors duly issued a formal proclamation banning the headscarf in all public universities.

To give some brief background of the context in which the issue emerged in 1997, it is necessary to understand what was happening inside Turkey in the 1980s. As mentioned in yesterday's introduction, the primary concern of the military following the 1980 coup was to dissolve leftist opposition. Paying little attention to what the establishment would later see as a Kemalist threat, the military largely left observant Muslims alone. As economic prosperity brought more and more conservative Muslims to the populated coastal cities of the West and as many of these more conservative Muslims began to make their way into the middle class, they soon found themselves as neighbors to, working beside, and attending university with members of Turkey's established Kemalist class. The headscarf was frequently worn by more observant women when they went off to university and amidst insecurity about its legal status, attempts started to be made to assure its legality.

Despite lacking the fanfare the polemic receives today, there were restrictions the military put in place following the coup that forbade female primary and lise (high school) students to cover their heads. Passed in a series of comprehensive orders that regulated all sorts of things in the first years following the coup, the restrictions were paid little heed. Although the headscarf had traditionally been viewed as forbidden, there was no firm law on the matter and, again, the issue was never vested with the amount of importance it is today. The issue of wearing the headscarf in university appeared after 1982 as students were trying to distinguish the türban from the headscarf. Türban is a French word that came into vogue as some female university students were trying to distinguish the two fashions. Although the headscarf had traditionally been viewed as forbidden, there was no firm law on the matter and it was soon argued that the türban was different than its predecessor and should be treated as such. In 1984, the Higher Education Council (Yüksek Öğretim Kurulu—YÖK) ruled that the türban was allowed in universities, but that the traditional headscarf was banned. What is considered a türban, or at least as I am coming to understand it and by today's standards, is a garment worn tighter than the traditional headscarf. The garment covers the neck much more than the loosely-fitting traditional headscarf, but the woman's face remains uncovered. The türban is often worn with a tight band that holds down the woman's hair (almost like a skullcap). There must be a name for this piece of apparel in Turkish, but I have not asked about it and cannot find it online. At any rate, the türban seems much more fashionable than its more traditional counterpart and I am constantly amazed at the various and sundry styles in which it may be worn.

Ironically, the reason asserted was that the türban was more modern and therefore less of a political challenge. The opposite is the case today. Young women donning the türban are seen by their more 'secular' counterparts as particularly pious and often political whereas older women who wear the more traditional headscarf are said to do so for traditional or, it has even been told to me, more purely religious reasons. One of the dynamics that is most fascinating—if not, most disturbing—about these arguments is that they often call the religious sincerity of another into question. I have been told on more than five occasions now that many "covered women" do so for political reasons—they want to make a political point and are not at all motivated by their religion. This argument bothers me on a number of counts, but most significantly by the way that it presumes to make a judgments about anothers' intention without ever engaging that person in dialogue. To make the matter more egregious, it seems to pre-empt dialogue by declaring the other person a nuisance, a "trouble maker" to whom it is not worth talking. I am not quite sure if these statements meant to be as strong as they at times across, but this will no doubt be one of the thing I keep in mind as I continue to follow this issue.

Returning to the history of the headscarf, following the passage of a national law in 1988 to formally legalize the türban, the Constitutional Court made the decision in 1989 to declare the law unconstitutional. The Court interpreted the provisions of secularism in the 1982 Constitution to determine that any law motivated by religious reasons is unconstitutional. Under this strict definition of a secular state, the United States and several other countries would no doubt be theocracies. Although other attempts were made to legalize the türban, none ever successfully challenged the 1989 decision. Notably, a 1990 law legalizing the scarf made its way to the Court, but the case was refused for reasons that the Court had already come to a decision. Throughout the 1990s and up until the military coup, women continued to wear the headscarf, or türban as it had become known, to university.

When AKP was elected in 2002, many pundits proclaimed that the state would be in for another showdown on the headscarf issue. However, AKP focused instead persisted in shoring up its political support and moving forward with much needed economic and EU-inspired political reforms. In 2005, a case made its way to the European Court on Human Rights (ECHR), and much to the disappointment of conservative Muslims who had come to support Europe as a check on state control, the ECHR effectively ruled that the türban ban did not constitute a violation of the European Convention on Human Rights' Article 9 guarantee to "freedom of thought, conscious, and religion." Some conservative Muslims began demanding a state-led renegotiation of secularism that would address the issue once and for all. While AKP has continued to talk of the headscarf as a matter of discrimination against Muslims who observe the practice and a matter of women's rights, little has been done until now to put the matter in front of the Parliament. Much to the disenchantment of some AKP supporters outside of the party's conservative Sunni Muslim base, the wrath of secular Kemalists, and some women's groups who might be constituencies of either of the latter two groups, the AKP constitutional draft released last fall included the right of women to headscarves in university.

Many have thought that AKP would sit on the issue until a full constitutional draft is once again submitted and finally presented to the Parliament for consideration. The proposed alliance with MHP on the issue puts this into question as MHP is known to be very much opposed to many of the other provisions any such future draft is likely to contain (e.g., the document's revision of the strict secularist paradigm ingrained in multiple articles within the 1982 Constitution and free speech measures that would nullify Turkey's Article 301). It seems now that AKP might be content to move forward with a set of amendments to the current constitution instead of waiting to include it in a larger debate of its new constitutional draft. Today's Zaman quotes Salih Kapisuz,former deputy chairman of AKP's parliamentary committee, as saying that MHP's cooperation on the headscarf issue will make it easier to
"to implement the constitutional amendments. There were several critical issues that have been tangling up the drafting process. The headscarf issue was one of them. All political parties may eventually arrive at an agreement over other amendments to the constitution."
MHP is likely eager to see the headscarf issue dealt with now rather than risk it being used as political capital for AKP once debate on the new constitution commences. It also seeks to gain political capital from those voters who support lifting the ban. Also quoted in Today's Zaman is MHP deputy chairman Tunca Toskay: “It is our intention that the headscarf issue be solved before the drafting of the new constitution. We will not allow them to stir public opinion by mixing the headscarf issue with the new constitution.”

In order to work with MHP and consider what steps might be taken next, AKP has put together a joint commission with members of MHP in which possible amendments to the Constitution might be further studied. MHP proposes that the issue can be solved by amending Article 10 of the constitution to equally guarantee the rights of all citizens to state services. AKP is skeptical that such an amendment will be sufficient to affirm any right of covered women to attend university and have suggested that an amendment to Article 10 might be coupled with an amendment to Article 42 pertaining to rights to education. If an amendment is to be made to the constitution, it will be necessary for AKP to procure MHP's support. With only 340 members in the Parliament, it will need 367 to amend the constitution.

To recap on the events of the week that have catapulted the headscarf into the thrust of today's political discourse and deal-making, news started being made after Prime Minister Erdoğan addressed a UN forum in Madrid on January 15. Before the commencement of a set of talks on dealing with cultural differences at the Alliance of Civilizations meeting, Erdoğan talked of the state's headscarf ban as a limit on freedom of expression and a contradiction of Turkey's liberal democratic values. Most significantly, he stated that even if the türban was worn as a political symbol, this still does not mollify the injustice inherent in the ban. Quoted in Zaman, Erdoğan argued, "Even if it is worn as a political symbol, can you consider wearing it as a political symbol a crime? Can you bring in a ban on symbols?"

The response was almost immediate. CHP leader Deniz Baykal moved to denounce Erdoğan's words as irresponsible and re-asserted that Turkey has no problem with the headscarf, but only with it being worn as political symbol. The logic of this argument is explained somewhat above and is, of course, very particular to the Turkish case and the political mind of rigid secularists like Baykal. After the announcement, Chief Prosecutor of the Supreme Court of Appeals, Abdurrahman Yalçınkaya, responded that the headscarf was against the "secular and unitary structure of Turkey," a warning that AKP will not take lightly as it draws up plans to move forward. To follow up Yalçınkaya, the Council of State issued another somber warning on Friday via its website declaring that the ban was necessary to Turkey's secular political heritage and that its lifting would create instability and possibly erode into other areas of public space. Again, this sort of slippery slope argument is quite common among members of the secular establishment who fear Islam's extension into the public realm.

This Saturday, the issue appeared in the New York Times.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

A Beginning

I arrived in İzmit on January 14, 2008, and instantly found myself caught up in the city’s daily bustle. My first time in Turkey, I could not fully anticipate the commotion that characterizes this city’s streets on a daily basis. Although the city can be somewhat quiet in the early morning, by noon its streets are packed with a great diversity of people—all with something to do and some place to go. Since I cannot speak Turkish, this sight seems all the more mysterious, exotic, and—although careful not to be trapped in some sort of Orientalist trap—almost romantic. Everything from the yells of the simitçi selling hot simit outside of my apartment (“sıcak, sıcak!”) to the aromas of food I have never before tasted tells me I am in a different land and that I am in for a range of experiences very different from those to which I have before been accustomed. Although the aim of this blog is not personal, it seems appropriate at its beginning to share my foreigner’s sense of being overwhelmed by this country—the difference I feel between it and me.

This said, I must say that just three days here has brought an end to much of this mystery or sense of Turks being somewhat ‘other’ than myself. I have found that this happens whenever you meet people who at first seem outwardly different than you, but during my time here I expect it to be proven even more profoundly true. This is unquestionably one of the tremendous comforts of the normalcy that comes with getting to know people and, of course, one of the great dangers of wrapping what are essentially other people up in what is often one's own de-humanizing fiction of another. Further, I believe one of the ways in which living in this country will prove most valuable to my career is simply the fact that its people are not so easily ordered. While one person might appear very ‘Western’ on the surface—familiar clothes, hair fashions, etc.—their beliefs might be much more outside what might be considered a more liberal or 'Western' understanding of things when compared to those of another person who perhaps dresses in fashions more foreign. It is cliché in Middle East studies to say that little is as it appears (if Turkey can even be considered "the Middle East"), but there does seem to exist a great deal of veracity to this claim. What is perhaps much more interesting and meaningful, though, is the fact that no ‘Turk’ seems easily categorized.

From the beginning, I want to make it clear that I aim to steer away from generalizations about what is ‘typically Turkish’ and what is not, what is "Western" and what is not. While these dichotomies and their constructions no doubt carry real meaning in contemporary discussions of Turkey, my own discoveries made in just the past few days have informed me that such distinctions are obfuscatory, if not misleading, and should be held suspect. Just as the United States and Americans are baffling in terms of the sheer multiplicity of ideas and identities that characterize their culture, so, I know must be Turkey and Turks. Of course, much more familiar with the United States and aware of the difficulty in drawing definitive conclusions about any country or its people from my own attempts to understand the place in which I was born and raised, I am equally aware of the conscientiousness and care required in any such task undertaken in reference to another country.

More so, I expect Turkey to be all the more baffling—perhaps just because the country is itself in so many ways at a crossroads between what Edward Said has called our conceptions of ‘Occident’ and ‘Orient.’ A set of puzzles most certainly exists, but I do not see my work as an attempt to solve them—only to arrive at a better understanding as to their existence and their role in shaping the lifeworlds of Turkish people, in particular, Turkish citizens. T.S. Eliot once wrote that “we shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.” I am not anywhere near so optimistic or foolhardy as to think that by the end of this project I might know the place where I now begin. My ambition is only that I will move a little closer.

To introduce this project, let me first state that my intention is in no way to present myself as an authority on Turkish politics. I am a student—nothing more. As a result, any analysis I present in this forum will indubitably be influenced by unrefined assumptions and judgments still very much in the process of being formed and, of course, inevitably grounded in my own experience—those events and historical processes that as Gramsci informs have deposited themselves in me without leaving any inventory as to their contribution. My prior experience consists only of a sustained interest in Turkish politics that has lasted for approximately two-and-one-half years and has led me to intermittently follow the subject in the English-language Turkish press and engage in a fair bit of reading that can by no means be characterized as comprehensive. So, from the start, I ask readers to be aware of and patient with the very novice and incipient nature of this project.

Rather than try to author some grand introduction to politics of Turkey and the plethora of issues present therein, I will avoid this near impossible task and instead present such information as later commentary might demand. This said, I do think it necessary to introduce the basic political context in which my project exists so that I might convey how excited I am to finally be here and writing.

This year promises many groundbreaking political developments for the country as Turkey’s ruling political party, the Islamic-oriented, yet reform minded, Justice and Development Party (Adalet ve Kalkinma Partisi—AKP) prepares to introduce a new constitution that might well overhaul important elements in the country’s 1982 constitution. After winning a bold mandate—a near 47 percent of the vote—in last July’s elections, AKP is in a powerful position from which the party might transform Turkey (for better or worse depends on with whom you talk). The current constitution was drafted following Turkey’s infamous 1980 coup and is in many ways a relic to the political circumstances that accompanied the military’s seizure of political control following the establishment’s unease with the leftist tone oppositional politics were taking at the time. Hence, a new constitution promises systemic change. Prior to being appointed the chairman of the academic commission to which AKP tasked the drafting of the new constitution, Ergun Özbudun highlighted the dramatic change a constitution would promise the country.
"A constitution, which should be an ideologically neutral instrument as far as possible, should not impose the same social and economic choices on all contesting parties. If it does, the essential meaning of multi-party politics and inter-party competition will be lost."
Although the draft of a new constitution was released in September, its introduction to parliament has been stalled as the country has turned its attention to the suppression of PKK terrorist activities in the southeast. However, AKP has already been heavily criticized for the draft indubitably due to its polemical inclusion of articles pertaining to freedom of dress at university (effectively permitting women to wear the headscarf, or türban, on university campuses), freedom of expression, and most significant, its revision of articles that would revise the strict definition of secularism imposed by the current constitution—the most controversial imposition that the drafters of the new constitution hope to eliminate.

The background in which constitutional debate is set to occur is defined by July's groundbreaking elections. With a history of military-led coups and interventions, these elections are a watershed in Turkish politics. The elections affirmed AKP’s political popularity throughout the country and consolidated democracy in lieu of a military coup. They also represented a victory for the country's rising Islamic middle class, a social fact with which Turkey's paternalistic establishment and its attendant political class is having trouble coming to terms. Infused by powerful national sentiment rooted in the story of Turkey's founding by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the Immortal Leader, the power this political class once held over national politics is waning. The old political class' rabid protection of the secular components of Kemalism can become quiet virulent, the myriad contortions of which are anathema to democratic liberalism: free speech is restricted, electoral majorities undermined, and when deemed necessary, detention and torture used against "enemies of the state."

In party politics, Turkey's established political class is best represented by the Republican People’s Party (Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi—CHP) —a party that is itself not easy to characterize, but that has long held true to a staunchly secular vision of the Turkish state and that has as of late been very much in-line with the opinions of the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK). CHP is also Turkey's oldest party, the party of Atatürk, and, in theory, the country's center-left party. Despite the influence of liberal politics in the 1960s and membership in the Soviet International, CHP is a devotedly nationalist party intent to preserve the status quo. Interestingly enough, another large component of AKP is the ultra-nationalist National Movement Party (Milliyetçi Hareket Partisi—MHP). MHP has a long standing in Turkish politics and was once associated with far-right paramilitary groups and it is only in the past ten years that it has moderated its position, sought in roads with religious Sunni Muslim voters, and played a prime role in parliament.
With no other viable opposition to challenge the status quo, AKP has become the reform party and as such has filled what had long been a progressive void in Turkish politics. AKP portrays itself as a moderate, pro-Western party that seeks to protect the rights of all citizens and its pro-EU position belies the anti-European, pro-Arab diplomacy of past Islamist parties. AKP politicians have repeatedly denied that there agenda is one of political Islam and have rejected the Islamist label entirely. However, critics are simply not convinced. AKP detractors often point to the party's support for policies that benefit its conservative Muslim base, in particular its advocacy for lifting the headscarf ban at universities. However, AKP answers that conservative Muslims have not been allowed to realize their Turkish citizenship to the same degree as their more 'secular' counterparts due to social barriers and that it is merely seeking equality for all citizens. To this extent, the party contends that the headscarf ban has prevented conservative Muslim women from receiving education. In retort, the secularists claim that AKP is merely couching an Islamic agenda in liberal democratic rhetoric. They opine that the party's pro-Europe position is a farce and the AKP has everyone fooled, especially Europe toward which secularists are becoming more and more hostile. For them, AKP's ties to the radical Welfare Party (Refah Partisi—RP) are enough to condemn the party.

Shortly after Turkey’s last coup in 1997 (the 'post-modern' coup), Turkey’s Constitutional Court closed RP and banned from politics its prime minister, Necmettin Erbakan, along with other RP politicians (including Erdoğan who was then the mayor of İstanbul). RP was widely feared when it came to power in 1994's municipal elections and then entered parliament with a plurality of the vote in the next parliamentary elections. The party's ideology was an amalgam of political Islam and anti-imperialism and never did it espouse liberal democratic ideals. It was authoritarian to its core, anti-EU, and paid little heed to the concept of personal liberty. Although the party moderated its radicalism once in parliament, it did so because it had to in order to maintain the coalition it had formed with the center-right. Despite this moderation, Erbakan was subject to a deluge of criticism when he made state visits to Iran and Libya, seeking to influence foreign policy, traditionally the domain of the president. Further, he urged children to attend religious schools, proposed the construction of mosques in secular centers, and most importantly, failed to control RP municipal authorities who began to pass very restrictive laws, shutting down cinemas, lingerie stores, and restaurants that refused to close their door during Ramazan. Following the dissolution of RP, many of its members re-organized and established the Virtue Party (Fazilet Partisi—FP) in 1998. FP was in many ways a continuation of RP and although posting a strong showing following elections in 1999, faced problems soon after resulting from internal divisions among more Islamist sectors in the party and those who began to identify themselves as reformers. Erdoğan and Gül are members of the reform group and it is this group which formed AKP in 2001 just after the Constitutional Court’s closure of FP. Although some of the more radical actors within RP and FP entered AKP, Erdoğan dismissed with many of them upon coming to power.

Following the collapse of a divided parliament in early 2002, AKP swept to power in elections held in November that year. The party won a surprising 34 percent of the vote—enough to capture an absolute majority in Parliament. AKP's victory seems to have had more to do with reform than Islam. This is indicated by the losses of truly Islamist parties in 2002 and the years that followed. In contrast to AKP, the Felicity Party (Saadet Partisi—SP) was formed by the faction of more Islamist FP members and did quite poorly in the 2002 elections. The general conclusion to be drawn is that AKP was not successful because it was Islamist, but because of the large coalition it brought together thanks to its promises of stability, an end to corruption, and significant economic reform. Again, the success of AKP in delivering its promises depends with whom you talk, but beyond question is the country’s economic success following the increased political stability that followed the election and largely thanks to a series of economic reforms AKP made to correct a disastrous economy. Since AKP’s election, Turkey’s inflation has been brought under control and the country has repeatedly posted a GDP growth rate between five to seven percent. Additionally, foreign direct investment has drastically increased, a stronger and healthier middle class has started to emerge, and unemployment has decreased. Significantly, cash is also flowing in the east of Turkey as entrepreneurs move to invest in cities like Diyarbakır, Elazığ, and Erzincan and the governments found development projects aimed to improve standards of living that lag far behind the west.

The party strengthened its electoral mandate in the 2004 municipal elections when it won 42 percent of the vote. Significant to this election was AKP's increased support in the cities along the coast of Turkey (which are less religiously conservative) and in the southeast. In the southeast, AKP made considerable inroads among the Kurdish community and cut into the support its representative party—the Social Democratic People’s Party (Sosyaldemokrat Halk Partisi—DTP). This latter vote is important insomuch as it represents co-opation of the Kurds’ prime political party. DTP is often accused of being comprised of Kurdish nationalists and of having links to the militant Kurdistan Workers’ Party (known in Kurdish as the Partiya Karkerên Kurdistan, or most commonly, the PKK). AKP’s promises of economic development in the southeast have undoubtedly weakened the hand of the DTP and more significantly, undermined support for the PKK. In the July elections, several Kurdish constituents made it known that they would only cast votes for DTP MPs who promised to support Gül's candidacy for the presidency.

Things came to a head this past April with the expiration of President Necdet Sezer’s term in office. Under the Turkish Constitution, the president is appointed by vote of the Parliament. With an AKP-controlled parliament, for the first time the president and prime minister would be coming from an allegedly Islamist party. Although Turkey’s constitution places the president 'above politics,' important powers are vested in the office, e.g. the right to veto legislation and appoint judges to the Constitutional Court. Following a first round of voting in parliament in which Gül was elected by a total of 357 MPs, the military issued a stern warning that shook the country and moved it into a period of great uncertainty. Amidst talk of another coup, CHP filed a petition with the Constitutional Court to annul Gül's election. CHP had boycotted the vote and argued that a quorum (367 MPs) was required to elect the president and that as a consequence Gül’s election was unconstitutional. This “367 criterion” had not before been applied, but the Court nullified the election on May 1 on these same grounds.

Following a second round of voting that failed to procure the needed 367 votes, AKP called for parliamentary elections. The elections were held on July 22 and the party increased its mandate and won enough MPs to guarantee Gül’s election under the Court’s criterion. The months in which these events pursued were quite intense and talk of possible military intervention did not recede until after Gül was elected on Aug. 28 in a third round of voting without disruption. For a detailed account of these events, see Walter Posch's occasional paper, “Crisis in Turkey: Just Another Bump on the Road to Europe?” Occasional Paper No 67 (European Union Institute for Strategic Studies, June 2007).

Soon after the election, AKP came through in its promises to deliver liberalization in the form of a new constitution and soon entered the Özbudun-led constitutional commission. The new constitution engenders a democratic project that aspires to expand civil liberties and political participation while curtailing the power of the military, and granting Kurds formal recognition of their ethnic identity, language, and culture. For reasons already mentioned, civil liberties and increased political participation represent represent serious challenges to the state structure. There is a great amount of fear that mass politics would degenerate into violence that would jeopardize the political stability of the country and its Kemalist underpinnings. In just three days, I have already been presented with the argument that Kemalism protects all Turks, including the Islamic hordes from middle and eastern Anatolia who might turn Turkey into another Iran if given ample opportunity. Unrestricted speech and majoritarian democracy would surely give way to chaos. "Turkey is not like Europe," I was told. Additionally, the military is expected to firmly resist weakening of its authority and the guardian role it has played since the inception of multi-party democracy. Concessions to Kurdish demands will augment resistance to democratization in that a more empowered Kurdish southeast is seen as a grave security threat by the military and many Turks alike. Constitutional reform is faced with a number of hurdles and I wait in eager anticipation to watch the process unfold.

In addition to the constitution, controversial elements in Turkey’s penal code in regard to freedom of speech are also likely to be revisited in the coming year. Turkey has long been criticized by human rights organizations for its prosecution of journalists, academics, politicians, activists, and ordinary individuals for speech acts that government officials find offensive. Most important in this debate is Article 301 in which it is codified a crime against the state to insult ‘Turkishness.’ Despite enduring pressure from the European Union, moves to revise the article have been slow. Indeed, just last week parliament’s consideration of a legislative proposal to amend the law was again delayed. Future stall tactics are likely since status quo forces strongly oppose revision. For them, Article 301 is a necessary tool to prevent defamation of the state by the opposition and even a national security issue. Recent 301 prosecutions include the conviction of renown Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink before his assassination last January and the more recent proceedings brought against Turkish novelist and Nobel Prize-winner Orhan Pamuk following comments each made regarding the Ottoman Empires’ involvement in the re-location and mass killings of Armenians in 1915. Pamuk’s case was dismissed, but only after attracting a great amount of negative press in Europe.

To close, I am sure many people will be asking me, “Why İzmit?” Many of the people I have met have already posed this question to me. The answer is that the province of Kocaeli of which İzmit is the capital is one of the places where Turkey’s emerging middle class is among the most active and visible. Suit-and-tie Islamists are not at all an uncommon sight nor are elegantly clad headscarved women donning all sorts of colorful and expensive-looking jewelry. Kocaeli is home to a very diverse population that cuts across class lines and geographic heritages. Essentially, people come here from all over Turkey—for jobs. Just outside of İstanbul (İzmit is one hour by bus), the province includes Turkey’s industrial corridor as it unfolds along the Sea of Marmara. It is home to numerous multinational companies including major operations of Ford, Honda, Hyundai, and Isuzu motor companies. Tüpraş, Turkey’s largest domestic enterprise and producer of 27 percent of the country’s refined petroleum, is also located here. Outside of the tourist hustle and large ex-patriate population of İstanbul, my guess is that İzmit might afford me a better understanding of Turkey and perhaps provide more opportunities to interact with people and hopefully learn a decent bit of Turkish.

This said, I had a chance to visit İstanbul for the first time today and was amazed by how distinctly 'Turkish' it still felt in spite of its cosmopolitan and international character. Indeed, the posted photo is of a view of the Bospurus and not from İzmit. (I have not yet had a chance to take photos of İzmit.) Although Kocaeli province is perhaps best known for the destruction wreaked here following the 1999 earthquake of which Gölcuk, just across the Marmara from where I live, was the epicenter, it seems to have recovered quite well. There are still some evident signs of the earthquake—I am fairly confident he building next to mine was leveled. However, from the frenetic daily bustle on the streets each day, one would find it hard to know without being told or arriving here with previous knowledge of the event.

In terms of politics, although historically a stronghold of CHP, Kocaeli's influx of immigrants and rising Islamic middle class have formed a strong base of AKP support that earned the party control of the province in 2004. Since the 1950s, Kocaeli had been the center of a bureacratic and industrial working class, the traditional base of CHP support. Before, the province had been governed by CHP notable Sefa Sirmen. Sirmen is largely responsible for developing the province throughout the 1990s and in spite of charges of corruption, he seems largely respected. He resigned before the 2004 elections to make a bid for the Parliament and was replaced by one of İzmit's municipal mayors, Hikmet Erenkaya. I am told Erenkaya was a rather disastrous replacement and he lost heavily in the 2004 elections to an AKP candidate. Like elsewhere in the country, AKP won significant majorities at all levels of government throughout the province.

I know this was a rather long first post and I hope it has not been too cumbersome to read. I look forward to sharing more as I pass the coming months here and, again, am excited about what this opportunity has to offer.