Friday, February 29, 2008

Turkey Pulls Troops Back Over the Border

Turkey withdrew from the Iraqi border today, thereby ending tensions and potential fears of instability in northern Iraq. Secretary Gates met with high level military officials yesterday, but was not given an answer as to when the conflict would end. Soon after, President Bush issued a strong warning to Ankara to bring the conflict to a close. Although Ankara says its decision was not influenced by Washington and asserts that it retains the right to re-enter Iraq, Turkish troops were pulled over the border soon after. Numbers as to casualties on both sides are very much disputed with the Turkish military claiming that it suffered minimal losses and killed many more PKK fighters than the PKK claims. The PKK maintains that it issued heavy casualties on the Turkish military. The numbers game reflects just how political this conflict is and the messages both sides want to send.

CSIS Turkey Program Director Bülent Ariza offers analysis of the conflict within the context of the challenge it posed for American diplomacy.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

YÖK Chair to Seek Court Order to Enforce Amendments

Photo: CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE: Şule Gökçek puts a wig over her türban and enters university after first being denied entry into the gates of Ondokuz Mayis University in Samsun. A friend of mine showed me this terrific photo from the front page of Radikal, a Doğan paper with strong connections to the secular left. I really wish I read Turkish because I am sure there is so much more I could gleen. Photographer: İSMAİL TEMİZ / DHA

YÖK Chairman Yusuf Ziya Özcan announced yesterday that he will seek a court order to insist that university rectors who continue to prevent türban-wearing students from entering university campuses are doing so in violation of the Constitution.

Two students at Kocaeli Univeristy became the first to launch a criminal complaint. The complaint was filed in a Kocaeli Court against Kocaeli University rector Sezer Komşuoğlu . A section of the complaint is quoted in Today's Zaman:
"The Constitution says every individual is equal before the law regardless of his language, race, gender, political views or religion. State bodies and administrative units have to deal fairly with everyone in accordance with this principle. Rector Komşuoğlu is explicitly violating the Constitution by turning a blind eye to the constitutional package lifting the headscarf ban."
Meanwhile today CHP and DSP filed a petition with the Constitutional Court to annul the amendments.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

New Accession Partnership Document

The European Commission has released Turkey's latest Accession Partnership Document (see Jan. 19 post). The APD defines the parameters of Turkey's Accession Partnership Agreement and lists the many areas in which reform is required if Turkey is to be considered for membership. Although the Commission decided in October 2004 to recommend the commencement of accession talks, thereby opening chapters of the acquis for negotiation, the Commission stressed that Turkey would be monitored by EU authorities throughout the accession process. The European Council decision in December 2004 to commence accession talks in accord with the Commission's recommendation made clear that negotiations would be open-ended and that no end could be guaranteed.

So far, Turkey has opened and closed only one chapter of the acquis (science and technology policy) while five others remain open. Further chapters cannot be closed until Turkey implements the additional protocol of the Ankara Agreement. The additional protocol expands the conditions of the Customs Union to all EU member states, thereby allowing Cypriot ships to access its ports. Further, eight of the chapters pertaining to trade and commerce will not be opened until Turkey implements the additional protocol.

US Supports Turkish Action in Northern Iraq

Still attempting to balance its alliances with Turkey and the KRG in northern Iraq, the United States has declared its support for the Turkish invasion, but has urged that it be quick. Secretary Gates is in Ankara today.

Yesterday's Remarks from the White House

McClatchy Report from Monday

Meanwhile, the Iraqi cabinet is demanding that Turkish troops leave Iraq while Turkey says that it has no time table for the mission.

Ulterior Motives?

I was talking with someone yesterday who shrugged that the recent incursion into northern Iraq is motivated by the desire of AKP to direct public attention away from the türban and curry support with those who are unhappy with recent government moves. While no one can be sure if such a calculus was performed by AKP and despite the fact that I have doubts insomuch as an Iraqi incursion will do little to turn attention away from what will be a long and difficult battle ahead, it is indeed a possibility. The Turkish invasion certainly does rally the nation and in many ways distracts AKP detractors who would otherwise be launching front page stories against the recent türban legislation. Such claims were paid heed by the Washington Post today in a piece the paper ran exploring just this accusation.
Government leaders, once reluctant to allow the military to go after Kurdish rebels in Iraq, canceled state trips this week to attend funerals of soldiers killed in the operation. Meanwhile, two secular political parties asked the country's constitutional court Wednesday to restore the head scarf ban.

On the front pages and in opinion columns of Turkish newspapers this week, the two battles were linked.

A cartoon in the national daily Milliyet depicted Gul rallying ground troops rushing into northern Iraq. "Onward!" he shouts, thrusting an arm into the air. Another panel of the cartoon showed the president rallying legions of female Islamic activists in head scarves to storm Turkey's universities. "Onward!" he shouts again.
It is impossible to assess such claims and important to realize that the claims themselves are politically-motivated. Turkish foreign policy is murky business and the invasion could be read as strengthening or weakening AKP. I my opinion, the effect of the invasion will be a net negative insomuch as the incursion will weaken already waning Kurdish support for AKP. See my Feb. 23 post as to a similar insinuation made by The Independent.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Foundations Law Well-Received by EU

EU Commissioner for Enlargement Olli Rehn described recent passage of amendments to the Foundations Law as a welcome step forward toward Turkey's accession into the European Union. Rehn noted that it will be important for Turkey to implement the new law in accordance with the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.

The final article of the law was passed on Wednesday over the opposition of MHP and CHP. Article 68 moves to restore property rights to fixed property held by non-Muslim foundations. These rights were annulled by the Constitutional Court in 1974 following increased animosity toward Greece in the aftermath of the Cyprus crisis.

Despite EU applause at the amendments, especially as they seem to indicate that the government is once again picking up its EU-inspired reform agenda and moving with it, the amendments' shortcomings and the many areas of the Foundations Law that are not addressed will continue to be subject to criticism. Meanwhile, opposition parties have vowed to challenge it at the Constitutional Court. President Gül is expected to ratify the law in the coming week.

Turkey Invades Iraq

There has been much talk over the past couple of weeks of a possible invasion of northern Iraq in attempt to diminish the capacity of the PKK to carry out attacks inside Turkey in the coming spring. The PKK usually launches offensives in the spring and the Turkish military is claiming that the action is necessary in order to prevent future attacks. However, most experts note that the attack is unlikely to be very successful since the PKK has a firm guerrilla presence inside northern Iraq and knows the terrain much better than the invading Turkish troops.

The invasion puts the United States in the difficult position of balancing its alliance with the Kurdish Regional Government with its much older alliance with Turkey. It is not clear if American officials were told in advance of the attack and the size of the Turkish force that crossed the border is disputed. The TSK is reporting that 10,000 troops crossed, but the KRG and American sources are indicating that the force was much smaller. The government has said that the operation will be quick and limited.

Here is today's article from the New York Times as well as coverage from The Independent. The latter insinuates that the invasion is linked to Turkey's domestic politics, which is hard to deny. An invasion of northern Iraq in search of the PKK will rally nationalist sentiment and divert public attention away from the ongoing türban debate, but it will also weaken support for the AKP among Kurds and will draw the military ever more into the AKP governments' more conciliatory handling of the Kurdish problem, essentially making it less conciliatory. Just how domestic politics have influenced the invasion is hard to say, for foreign policy decision making is far from transparent and it is difficult to identify the actors, much more their intentions.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Uncivil Society?: The Türban and the Failings of Political Discourse

PHOTO: This Internet-posted photograph illustrates the uncivil discourse that characterizes the headscarf debate. Such photos have been floating around the Internet in recent week on students' blogs and on the Facebook social networking site.

AKP announced on Sunday that it will wait for CHP to take recently passed amendments that effectively legalized women to wear the türban on university campuses before moving for a vote on Article 17 of the Higher Education (YÖK) law.

Meanwhile, I would like to draw attention to an excellent article that appeared in yesterday's New York Times relating to growing animosity toward women who wear the türban. The article portrays the sense of otherness that some secularists feel toward covered women, addressing how this sentiment has grown over the past years as a burgeoning religious class has begun to move up the economic ladder. Also provocative, the article examines claims that this discrimination parallels the United States' treatment of African Americans in the 1960s. This comparison has been drawn for some time by critics of the headscarf ban, and its dissection by Sabrina Tavernise is intriguing. Tavernise quotes Atilla Yayla as saying that strict secularists often "hate religious people" -- the latter often become targets of discrimination as a result. Quoting Yayla, "They don't encounter them as human beings. They want them to evaporate, to disappear as fast as possible." The story accounts the discomfort many covered women feel when walking in neighborhoods more liberal or Western, and such experience surely evidences the polarization that occurs when people come to think of the türban as a singular symbol of some grand ideology. It is this mode of thought that CHP has used as of late to conjure a politics of division -- a politics perhaps expedient for CHP, but which has the potential to send Turkey spiralling dangerously out of control. At a most basic level, such identity politics abuses women.

From talking to people about the türban, it is clear that the vituperative nature of attacks such as Baykal's and the uneasiness about lifting the türban ban rests squarely on how some have chosen to interpret the türban as a symbol. The ban might be read as unfair from a number of different vantage points, but key to these symbolic interpretations is the seizure of another's agency. To interpret the türban in one particular way is to label another's action according to one's own ideological narrative. When this happens what for many women is a matter of personal choice instead becomes subject to what is all too often a dangerously intolerant, unbending, and frequently hegemonic understanding of secularism. Using this understanding to read the action of the türban-wearer, the defender of secularism imagines the covered woman as something "other." The türban-wearer is no longer to be treated as an individual whose reasons for dress might be complex and multi-faceted, but rather an actor in a political drama. Instead of the türban-wearer being able to choose her own lines, the defenders of secularism in this drama exert control over the story. What unfolds is very much an intrusion into the lives of others. Coercive in their reduction of reality, the stories surrounding the türban do not account for the multi-dimensional realities involved women's choices. The stories instead seek to categorize decisions about apparel in a taxonomy very much instrumental to reinforcing a particular view of things, and are thereby used as tools to hegomonically control the lives of the women.

A wonderful example of such story-telling can be seen in the recent rhetorical gamesmanship of Baykal. Differentiating the türban from the headscarf worn by whom Baykal often refers to as our "mothers and sisters in the Anatolian heartland," the türban is an object of foreign cultures—of a creeping Islam that is determined to undermine the values of the secular Republic. What is perhaps most telling is the amount of description and allusion Baykal has spent in strengthening this narrative. Further, like all good narratives, it has united opposition behind the headscarf as self-avowed 'defenders of the Republic' rush to assume their roles in the political drama. In the game of practical politics, it has strengthened Baykal's standing in the CHP and assured him continued support despite the fact that he is far from popular within the party. For an illustration of this narrative's re-telling in action, see this video on YouTube that has been making the rounds recently. I have so far received it in my inbox six times in just the past two weeks.

These stories are also dangerous in that they foster a more uncivil society. Instead of individuals coming together as individuals each with their own unique agency and multiple potentials, and most important, in recognition of their plurality, multiplicity and plurality are replaced by the singularity and reductive function of ideology. Intolerance and the reduction of difference, rather than its celebration for creative potential, come to define political relations between citizens and here enters Tavernise's investigation.

While I agree that discrimination against covered women is a serious problem that merits discussion, I want also to say that it seems to me that such intolerance is practiced by only a small minority. Further, discrimination is usually quite veiled —perhaps the occasional smirk and, most often, a sense that women who cover themselves are uppity. This is not unlike the attitude that some Americans feel toward religious people who opt to move outside of the social spheres where they have felt most comfortable. What is the most disheartening about the headscarf issue as it presently stands in Turkey is that it is precisely this integration of spheres and publics of which Turkey is in most need if its democratization project is to develop real roots in Turkish society. In İzmit, too often groups tend to form that seem to have this or that particular identity and rarely co-mingle. Usually, when I see a covered woman she is accompanied by other covered women. Likewise, women who are dressed in much more modern clothes are usually walking arm-in-arm with other women like them. While it is not at all uncommon to see covered women walking arm-in-arm, it is something of which I nonetheless find myself taking note. In İstanbul, it is not an uncommon occurence at all.

Comparing Turkey and the United States in relation to what I mean by this seeming lack of integration between publics, the matter somewhat parallels the integration and sense of mystery built around 'otherness' that is still descriptive of race relations in the United States. Although younger generations of Americans seem to be moving past such characterizations, it is not at all uncommon to hear people refer to friends as their "black friends." To recall a famous episode of "Seinfeld" in which one of the characters actively seeks out a "black friend," the comedy sketch is telling in that it highlights the sense that race is for many people something still very mysterious and one-dimensional in American culture. The idea that I would reductively define my friend's identity by her race is abhorrent to many Americans, but to perhaps just as many people there is little offensive about it.

In Turkey, it is common for Kemalists to talk about having "covered women" as friends--and, by this, they usually mean women who wear the tight-fitting, allegedly "political" türban--but, just as it is for race relations in the United States, such descriptions are telling of the pervadingly reductive and one-dimensional thought on the issue. Increased integration in Turkish society between members of the country's established urban, modern, and secular established and its rising, devout, and newly urbanized middle-class is critical to the long-term democratic stability of the country. Contrary to so many fears that reside here, the real pillar of building democracy is pluralism—not secularism. If Turkish society is to more fully embrace pluralism, it is key that people begin to recognize identity as multi-dimensional and human relations as fluid. Sure, my friend is a "covered woman," but she also aspires to be an attorney, is a lover of Miles Davis, and studies Tae Kwan Doe. As I mentioned in my first blog post, no matter where I go, the one thing that never ceases to amaze and comfort me is how amazingly complex, surprising, and difficult people are to define. I find Turkey to be not the least bit exceptional in this regard. Sadly, the political discourse and social risk-taking that should accompany this diversity lags far behind, and this is perhaps the greatest disappointment of Turkish politicians in recent years.

In a country as amazingly and beautifully diverse as is Turkey when it comes to ethnicity, culture, and religious identity, it is a very sad thing indeed that political rhetoric remains so primitive and divisive. Rather than embrace complexity and what a favorite professor of mine once referred to as a toleration for the ambiguity that surrounds human relations, politicians have instead relied on narratives in which difference is reduced to barren roles more characteristic of dime store novels than reality. However, not only is such one-dimensionality sad—it is also dangerous.

Three days ago I received an invitation via Facebook—yes, I have a Facebook account—to join a group comprised of students opposed to the türban. I have received such invitations before, but what was shocking about this particular invitation was its disturbingly intolerant portrayal of covered women. The creators of this Facebook group had posted photos of themselves wearing what was supposed to be a türban while they posed in various and sometimes vulgar positions. One of the photos featured a rather chubby, typical-looking college student without a shirt and wearing a bra. While no doubt a joke to these students, the intention was to ridicule türban-wearing women. Crueler than other taunts I have observed, the group is representative of exactly the sorts of targeted jeers that risk driving covered women and the newly-landed religious middle class out of schools and neighborhoods in which they quite understandably might feel uncomfortable.

Ironically, it is this sort of reinforced segmentation of society that really does risk the rise of an Islamic state, and proponents of 'modernism' and 'secularism' should take heed of this warning. Turkey's best defense of avoiding Islamic tyranny is its population's coming to terms with pluralism, acceptance of the multiplicity inherent to human identity and relationships, and toleration and respect all individuals. If Turkish society can acheive all of this, a political discourse might emerge in Turkey deserving of its cultural richness and refusal to be easily categorized.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Academics Urge Gül to Find Kurdish Solution

A group of Turkish academics have petitioned President Gül to find a solution to the Kurdish problem while contending that DTP's closure will only exacerbate tensions. The letter is notable in that it reflects the fact that there are plenty of Turks who are not happy with the state's current handling of the Kurdish problem.

The Cultural War in the Southeast

Abdullah Demirbaş on Diyarbakır's famous walls. PHOTO BY Kathryn Cook/THE NEW YORK TIMES

New York Times Magazine ran a piece yesterday by Meline Toumani featuring Abdullah Demirbaş, the former DTP district mayor of Sur, the old center of Diyarbakır province. The piece is quite empathetic in its treatment of DTP, but a careful read highlights well the difficulties DTP politicians face in terms of breaking ties with the PKK (see Feb. 4 post). The Demirbaş profile is thought-provoking and paints a portrait of the unavoidable role the Kurdish language necessarily plays in public life, and consequently, why reform cannot exclude cultural rights. While AKP has been largely supportive of development efforts in the southeast, this support has not often been applied to the extension of Kurdish cultural rights, involving the use of the Kurdish language and the ability to gather and participate in politics as Kurds. AKP seems reluctant to endorse the notion that one can conceivably be both Kurdish and Turkish, and is instead intent to focus on the economic aspects of reform, a move that some observers see as a co-optation of the larger Kurdish agenda for cultural rights.

Demirbaş was dismissed last July for his public use of Kurdish. Also mentioned is the prosecution of Diyarbakır mayor Osman Baydemir who was put on trial after using Kurdish in an attempt to quell protests in March 2006.

From the article:
Demirbas was in a legal ordeal when we spoke last summer because he had been using Kurdish in his capacity as the mayor of Sur, Diyarbakir’s central district, an ancient neighborhood ringed by several miles of high basalt walls. For printing a children’s book and tourist brochures in Kurdish, according to a report by the pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party, Demirbas was accused of misusing municipal resources. For giving a blessing in Kurdish while officiating at a wedding ceremony, he was accused of misusing his position. And for proposing that his district should employ Kurdish-speaking phone operators and print public-health pamphlets in Kurdish, he was accused (and later acquitted) of aiding a terrorist organization — the Kurdistan Workers Party, or P.K.K.

The fact that a reference to terrorism should find its way into the reported accusations against Demirbas, a 41-year-old schoolteacher-turned-politician, might seem bizarrely beside the point, given the scale of the conflict between Turks and Kurds. The fighting between P.K.K. guerrillas and Turkish soldiers has raged in various forms for nearly 30 years and since 2004 has alternated between short-lived cease-fires and sporadic attacks. After 12 Turkish soldiers were killed in a devastating assault in October last year, the military began a series of airstrikes against P.K.K. camps in northern Iraq. These came after months of diplomatic wrangling in which Turkey criticized American and Iraqi leaders for not supporting its fight against the P.K.K., and the Bush administration begged Turkey not to destabilize the one part of Iraq that was fairly functional. This would seem to be far more serious than a dispute over the language of a children’s book.

But the battle that Demirbas entered, waged entirely on paper and in courtrooms, is closely related to the violence. For the past two years, politicians all over southeastern Turkey, along with human rights advocates, journalists and other public figures, have been sued for instances of Kurdish-language usage so minor that they are often a matter of a few words: sending a greeting card with the words “happy new year” in Kurdish, for example, or saying “my dear sisters” in a speech at a political rally. Such lawsuits have become so common that in some cases the accused is simply fined for using the letters W, X or Q — present in the Kurdish but not the Turkish alphabet — in an official capacity. In cases involving elected politicians, like Demirbas, the language usage is sometimes considered disloyalty and can carry a prison sentence.

This miniaturist culture war and the fighting in the mountains are related because they both reflect the inability of Turkish society to integrate Kurds — about 20 percent of the country’s total population and the majority in the southeast — in a way that doesn’t insist on assimilation down to the last W, X or Q. For decades, Turkish law has not allowed acknowledgment of Kurds as a distinct ethnic group; from 1983 to 1991 it was even illegal to speak Kurdish in public. Until 2002, broadcasting in Kurdish was essentially banned, and only in 2003 could parents give their children Kurdish names (except, again, for names using W, X or Q). But even these small advances suggest that while the military fight has been a stalemate, the deeper cultural conflict can, with relative ease, be resolved. Such at least is the vision of Abdullah Demirbas. His may not be the effort that makes headlines, but it is probably the one that matters most.

. . . .

Since D.T.P. members first entered Parliament, they have been urged by everybody from the prime minister to the European Union to the United States to condemn the P.K.K. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the leaders of other parties have stated repeatedly that until the D.T.P. does so, it will not be trusted. D.T.P. leaders have attempted to distance themselves from the P.K.K. without directly condemning the group: in public statements, they constantly reiterate that they are against separatism, do not want to divide the Turkish state and oppose all violence. In the autumn, D.T.P. leaders began calling fallen Turkish soldiers “martyrs,” as the military and the rest of Turkey’s establishment have always done. But that wasn’t nearly enough after an early-October attack killed 13 — the worst strike by the P.K.K. in years. Turkish television channels broadcast continuous gut-wrenching footage of soldiers’ mothers collapsing over coffins and uniformed officers comforting them. An intense climate of national mourning set in, along with a focus on national security that Kurdish activists feared would obliterate any hope for cultural reforms.

Aysel Tugluk, a young female leader of the D.T.P. and a one-time member of Ocalan’s defense team, sounded exhausted when she spoke at a conference in Istanbul later that month. She started her talk with a long string of condolences for all those who died, then went on to say: “If you force the D.T.P. to condemn the P.K.K., you deny us the possibility to take initiative in a way that could turn out to be effective.” But she added that if Kurdish cultural demands were met, the D.T.P. would be able to condemn “any force that deploys violence” and that the most important step right now would be for Kurds to be allowed to express themselves in their native language. “After 30 years, we still have violence,” Tugluk said, “so I think we should stop and ask, What was our mistake? The P.K.K. has to be taken into account from a sociological point of view; it is the result of the nonsolution to the Kurdish issue: we have to focus on the origins of that issue.” Ayhan Aktar, a sociologist at Istanbul’s Bilgi University, described the situation to me more bluntly: “If the D.T.P. condemns the P.K.K., they won’t ever be able to go to Diyarbakir again; they will get beaten up on the street by some hotheads when they set foot in town.”

Dilek Kurban, an analyst at Tesev, the research institute that was a sponsor of the event at which Tugluk spoke in October, told me that the personal element should not be discounted: “Every family in the southeast has someone in prison or in the mountains.” (“In the mountains” is a euphemism for fighting on behalf of the P.K.K.) “For them,” she continued, “the condemnation seems like a betrayal of their own sons and daughters, who, in their opinion, have paid too high a price for their national liberation. If those people are integrated into social life and civic life, I wonder how much of this problem will remain. But when there is still a conflict, both sides cling to their symbols: the Turkish flag or the photos of Ocalan.”

After the October crisis, harassment of Kurdish politicians only worsened. In December, a military court arrested the 35-year-old D.T.P. chairman, Nurettin Demirtas, on charges of forging medical documents to avoid military service. (Among politically minded, university-educated Kurds and Turks alike, it is common to evade military service.) Demirtas is now in a military jail awaiting word on a possible five-year prison sentence. Meanwhile, a photo began to circulate of a woman, dressed in a P.K.K. uniform, standing outside a camp in northern Iraq. The largest Turkish daily, Hurriyet, along with many other media organizations, reported that it was the D.T.P. legislator Fatma Kurtulan, leading to an official investigation. (When reporters asked Kurtulan to explain herself, she said, “You know perfectly well I’m not the person in that photo.”) In December, the Turkish chief of staff, Gen. Yasar Buyukanit, made a statement that showed what some in the military thought of the D.T.P.’s July election gains. “The P.K.K. is in the Parliament,” the general said, a charge repeated throughout the Turkish media.

But the most dubious moment in this legal battle came last month, when the chief prosecutor for Turkey’s capital city, Ankara, filed a case against Ahmet Turk, a D.T.P. deputy (and former party president), for “insulting the military.” The reason for the accusation was emblematic: last August, when the military held a reception celebrating Turkish Victory Day, it refused to invite D.T.P. legislators. The D.T.P.’s Turk (who is Kurdish, despite his last name) made a statement admonishing the military for excluding his party, saying, “Now it is clear who is engaging in separatism.” As a result, he stands to face a two-year sentence for insulting the military by accusing it of being separatist.
Baydemir and other DTP members are facing another probe for attending a party conference in Diyarbakır in which Öcalan was lauded.

Monday, February 18, 2008

A Less Liberal AKP? (Part II)

To further comment on the new skepticism that some liberal critics are launching at the regime, I would like to draw attention to two recent columns in the Turkish Daily News. In addition to the two divergent view points represented by the columnists, I would also like to turn readers to a special op/ed in Today's Zaman by Şaban Kardaş, an instructor at the University of Utah and the chair of the Middle East and Central Asia Conference Committee. Most lucid in its recent telling of a decline in liberal support for AKP , Kardaş argues that the amendment package is a positive development in that "it will bring conservative people closer to adopting and possibly internalizing a universal human rights discourse."

The argument has oft been made that AKP's reversal of welfare policy is sincere insomuch as the party came to a realization that the best way to promote the rights of conservative Muslims is to protect everyone's rights. Thus, instead of using democracy as a means to accomplish an Islamist end, the argument goes that conservative Muslims in AKP have adopted rights-based liberalism and plural democratic politics because it is in there own interests to do so.

The first TDN column is authored by Mustafa Akyol who argues that the lift of the headscarf ban is in no way a contradiction of AKP's larger reform agenda and was instead chance to further political rights and meet the demands of its conservative base. Akyol asks, "Why would [religious conservatives] continue to support a “liberalization” that systematically excludes their rights?"

The second TDN column is authored by Yusuf Kanlı and argues that AKP revealed its hidden Islamic agenda when it rushed into its alliance with MHP and therefore "preferred majority imposition to pluralism." Kanlı argues that AKP should have tried to forge a greater consensus outside of Parliament before moving forward with the amendment package.

Here is the entirety of Kardaş' op/ed—a welcome contribution to any discussion of how AKP's amendments should be read in relation to the long-term aspirations of human rights activists.

Turkish academia on headscarf and human rights: bringing the politics back in

On the eve of the Turkish Parliament's recent constitutional amendment intended to lift a ban
on headscarves on university campuses, a group of liberal and conservative Turkish academics organized a petition drive to support the joint initiative of the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP).

Though partial, they viewed the proposed changes as a step in the right direction to expand the scope of individual liberties.

The declaration, which was supported by around 3,500 academics, unsurprisingly sparked a counter-coalition of Kemalist academics that insisted on the continuation of the existing ban and argued against Parliament's decision to amend articles 10 and 42 of the Constitution on the grounds that far from being a sincere attempt to promote basic rights, this move was meant to shore up the gains of the increasing conservative influence in the country. It, they believe, will impose one form of morality on the rest of the society, breeding conformity to a religious lifestyle. The growing sense of rift among academics, which is thought to reflect a likely polarization of society should the new regulations go into force, alarmed many would-be supporters of the constitutional changes. These liberal and leftist intellectuals, who have been ardent advocates of further democratization and liberalization, expressed their concern with the way the new political compromise was carried through Parliament as well as with the specific make up of the constitutional changes.

They now organized themselves into, in their own words, a "third way/alternative" between the two polar opposites that supposedly led to a deadlock and prevented any meaningful public debate. Of the various points the supporters of this position make, one in particular stands out. On various occasions they have argued that an attempt to restore the rights of the students wearing headscarves should have been part and parcel of a broader reform package which would have included the rights of other groups, including homosexuals and secular individuals, and concerned the elimination of restrictions on other categories of rights, most importantly limitations on freedom of expression. In other words, such a reform should have come about as a result of a consensus between broader segments of society. This, in their view, is only natural as human rights are inalienable and cannot be rank ordered. They criticize the government and the academics issuing a declaration in support of the constitutional amendment for undermining the powerful pro-reform coalition. The withdrawal of the crucial liberal support behind the governing AK Party, they argue, will only result in weakening the conditions for further deepening human rights.

Such a support for freedoms, though qualified, is no doubt a welcome development. I will, however, take issue with the third way argument on an important point. That position appears to claim an upper moral ground in that it seeks to avoid two so-called extremes: endorsing the continuation of the status quo, hence the restriction of liberties -- a la the second group -- versus expanding the rights for only a particular group, hence subordinating to the political agenda of the governing party -- a la the first group. After all, a third way, echoing the middle ground and common sense, is always thought to reflect common sense rather than the poles. Does it not?
I claim it does not. The supporters of the third way, ironically, coalesce with the advocates of the second position on an odd ground: They "depoliticize" rights by downplaying the politics behind human rights advocacy. While seeking to maintain their privileged position in claiming and defining rights and freedoms according to their parochial worldview and lifestyle, the supporters of the status quo elevate the definition of rights to an extra-political realm. By reserving such a right for the appointed judges and bureaucrats, they ignore politics, and hence societal demands. The calls of the advocates of a comprehensive reform, on the other hand, border on a moral idealism. Although in principle such a position is a noble goal in and of itself, it risks drifting reforms to an apolitical realm.

Individual freedoms

The struggle for the recognition and protection of rights in essence is political. Although liberal human rights discourse is universal and is thought to be applicable to all human beings irrespective of their origin, human rights policy, i.e., promotion of individual freedoms, both on domestic and international levels has been and, unfortunately, will continue to be subject to politics. Drafting a set of universal rights through the UN Declaration on Human Rights and subsequent twin covenants did not necessarily result in the full recognition of those rights worldwide. Adoption, implementation and deepening of human rights at home and abroad, be it in the case of the liberation of women or the prevention of ethnic cleansing, have been filtered through politics and political processes. When it comes to politics, those who make their case best or those who perform better, rather than the particular merits of the right or the group under question, may get their way. Unfortunately politics prioritizes and selects, and it does so impartially at times.

There is no such thing as a wholesale granting of rights once and for all. The spread of rights to different groups has advanced through a gradual process and mostly as a result of fierce struggles for equal recognition. The relevant question therefore is who defends human rights discourse and carries those demands to the political realm. Philosophers might be the pioneers in raising awareness and struggling for rights. As a matter of fact, however, those who waged the war for the recognition of universal rights are the groups victimized by the dominant groups or the repressive state policies. To the extent that those groups framed their own quest in the language of universal human rights and internalized this discourse in their political outlooks they have been able to expand the scope of freedoms not only for themselves but also for other groups in the society at large.

It is in that sense no surprise that the cause of human rights in Turkey was taken up by the left, the Kurds, conservative groups and, lately, people with alternative lifestyles who have been discriminated against and subjected to violations of basic rights at various degrees. The denial of a basic right to a large group of people, as in the headscarf ban, serves only to alienate these people and weaken the coalition for freedoms. The best way to expand freedoms and solidify the coalition is to let individuals enjoy their basic rights. This will not only broaden the constituencies behind freedoms, but will also give them a chance to internalize a universal human rights discourse. One cannot delay a right supported by an overwhelming majority of the people on the one hand and expect the same people to embrace a broader notion of human rights on the other.

The societal quest for rights, however, is a necessary but insufficient condition for their realization. The movement for recognition of rights still requires a political enactment. I believe it is only natural that the AK Party and the MHP, two political parties with popular mandates, will respond to the societal demands for the abolition of an unwarranted practice. This political compromise, no doubt, involved more than a concern for removing yet another barrier before the realization of rights. It is most probably a mixture of sincere concerns and backdoor politicking. But what political act intended for humanitarian good is a product of pure motives anyway?

Is disengagement from this political move -- and instead arguing for a reform package that introduces a comprehensive set of rights -- the advisable course of action? I believe this moral idealism is tantamount to philosophers' seeking refuge in an abstract and unfeasible agenda, an ivory tower of sorts. Rather than representing a middle ground, the third way in fact presents a utopian extreme to the position advocated by the supporters of the status quo. It is only ironic to call for top-down liberalization yet ignore an actual and, to some, more pressing societal demand the solution of which will represent a genuine domestic impetus for reform. This position also downplays the fact that much of the supposed polarization is a result of the deep-seated fears of the supporters of the status quo, which wanders on the verge of hysteria. The secularists are opposed to not only the elimination of the headscarf ban but more so to other freedoms demanded by the liberals. The third position needs to show realistically that a comprehensive reform package, easing among others the restrictions on freedom of expression and cultural rights, will meet less opposition from these circles than the current resistance to the constitutional amendments.

Through their pragmatic moralism, the organizers of the first petition drive, therefore, are on a more solid ground and have taken a bold stance by stepping out of their ivory towers. The removal of the ban will end an injustice and expand the scope of freedoms in Turkish society. First, it will bring conservative people closer to adopting and possibly internalizing a universal human rights discourse. There is no guarantee that the former victims will moderate their discourse and not turn into new oppressors. Recalling that many past advocates of freedoms, particularly in the ranks of the Turkish left, still object to the extension of rights to different groups, while others have developed a genuine human rights discourse, it is reasonable to conclude that not all conservative groups will take this crucial step and adopt a liberal human rights discourse. I, however, believe that there is no better way than trusting the people and giving them a chance. It is worth a try and is more prudent and humane than the continuation of the ban.

Understanding the other

Through these changes, on the other hand, the secularist segments of the society that have emerged as a new cultural and ideological minority may for the first time start to realize that maintaining a privileged position over other groups and protecting their own rights and lifestyles through their monopoly over the coercive powers of the state is no longer a viable option. As they fight for their own rights on a civil platform, they may come to appreciate the rights of others. Ironically, their putative fear of victimization at the hands of the majority may force them to reconsider their position on the rights and force them to discover an all-encompassing universal human rights discourse, breaking the last bastion of restrictionism, further broadening the pro-rights coalition. They may start realizing that they cannot take their rights granted while systematically delaying those of others.

As the supporters of the third position are well aware, any reform project needs an agent to sponsor it in the political realm and the AK Party remains the only force capable of doing so. These intellectuals, however, have to concede that they cannot expect the AK Party to deliver on the issues that are important to themselves while at the same time tying its hands when it comes to delivering on an issue that has been vital to its core constituency. One simply cannot have the cake and eat it, too. I believe, having solved this problem, the AK Party and liberals will be better positioned to deepen the reform process. While the AK Party can mobilize its grassroots behind a reformist agenda, liberals will be justified to insist on the AK Party broadening the scope of rights into new directions.

The third way academics join the restrictionist secularists is in their questioning the sincerity of the AK Party, the MHP and their core constituency to democracy. They also need to recognize that they have to convince the rest of the society that they are committed to the rights for all, irrespective of lifestyle. Asking for further public deliberation by the time a consensus on a broader reform package is reached, or asking the government to avoid destabilizing the economy through "its untimely insistence on the headscarf issue," in effect, means keeping a large number of students from going to their classes yet another day or attending school yet another year or semester. Delaying rights for the sake of political stability and economic development has been a common strategy of authoritarian regimes, not liberal reformists. For true liberals, freedoms go hand in hand with stability and development. As Martin Luther King, Jr. remarked, "A right delayed is a right denied."

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Foundations Law Clears Parliament, AKP Does Not Back Down

AKP has further enhanced its liberal credentials following a major overhaul of the 1935 Foundations Law, hich addresses the establishment of religious foundations. Since religions, including Islam, do not enjoy recognized legal status, the state governs religious organizations through bodies of law that recognize the legal status of their foundation or association. Religious minorities have long claimed that these laws are discriminatory and now that their arguments are bulwarked by criticism from the EU, there has been in recent years an impetus to eliminate the most discriminatory aspects of the law.

One of the principal issues at stake in the Foundations Law surrounds deeds owned by religious foundations, in particular Christian minorities whose properties have been seized by the state and sold non-transparently. Since Turkey assented to the ECHR, Europe has become involved in settling many of Turkey's historical disputes over confiscated property, especially following a 1974 decision in the Court of Cassation that facilitated state seizure of a number of religious properties acquired after 1936.

AKP attempted to reform the Foundation Law in 2006 and a similar major overhaul passed the parliament only to be vetoed by President Sezer on a series of very technical grounds. As is the case now, support for the new law from religious minorities is mixed. Some see it as providing non-Muslim minorities with more rights than they currently possess, while others fear the law as creating a distinction between Muslim and non-Muslim foundations that could actually harm minority rights. This latter opinion is shared by the much-respected Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation (TESEV). According to TESEV program officer Dilek Kurban,
“It does not do away with injustices but, on the contrary, paves the way for similar injustices to continue in the future,” she said, citing the clause under the new law that allows the management and properties of non-active foundations to be taken over by the General Management of Foundations. “This was the aspect about the foundations law that we most criticized,” she said, adding that this was applied mostly to the Greek community.

“One of the difficulties arising from the bureaucracy was that these foundations could not elect their directorial board. This was an unlawful application. But this new law ensures the continuity of this application,” said Kurban
The legislation grants non-Muslim foundations rights to receive donations from and collect donations to be sent to foreign countries, engage in international activities, send representatives abroad, and be members of foreign institutions within the framework of the institutions' charters.

Earlier this week it seemed as if AKP might further dilute the bill by making significant concessions to MHP concerning non-Muslim minorities, which has referred to it as the "traitor bill." However, AKP proceeded with the legislation as drawn up last January and used its majority to push the bill through Parliament. MHP's specific concerns largely involve claims that the rights the new law grants are not reciprocally granted to Turkish minorities in other countries (in particular, Greece). Religious minorities find this argument offensive and contend that they are citizens of Turkey and that their rights should not rest of how other countries treat their minority populations. Officials from AKP cited that while Greece does not afford Turkish foundations the same rights provided by the new law, it is time for Turkey to set the bar higher. CHP and the Democratic Left Party (Demokratik Sol Parti—DSP) also opposed the new law.

The measure has long been demanded by European Union officials, but has been mired in controversy because many politicians see it as cow-tailing to demands of Western countries and jeopardizing Turkey's international security. In 2007, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) stepped into a dispute involving the seizure of a Greek school and has affirmed that sections of the 1935 law are indeed a violation of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Passage did not include Article 68 of the omnibus law. Article 68 returns confiscated property to non-Muslim foundations and will be debated next week.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Speech Trial Library

I just found a terrific website documenting current trials pursuant to enforcement of the many laws restricting freedom of speech. A great reference.

Current Trial Library

Friday, February 15, 2008

AKP Moves Forward with Article 301

A new resolution has been reached by AKP as to the proposal it will make to amend Article 301 of the Turkish penal code. Although a proposal to amend the article was submitted to the Parliament's Justice Committee last month (see Jan. 25 post), no significant action has been taken by the government. Under the new plans designed by the executive committee of AKP, the president will be required to sign off on all Article 301 prosecutions. There has been debate within the party for sometime as to what institution should be required to sign off on prosecutions and the previous proposal had devised that such approval be granted by the Justice Minister. The hope is that requiring the approval of an executive institution will curtial the zealous prosecutions that have brought the law under fire from human rights groups in recent years.

Amending Article 301 has the support of AKP and DTP. The latter has long supported eliminating the article completely since a significant number of the prosecutions that occur under its provisions target Kurdish activists.

In other recent news of note, last week Turkey launched a new program to train judges and prosecutors as to proper application of Article 301. The training will encourage judges to look to Article 90 of the Turkish Constitution to ensure that all Article 301 prosecutions are in accordance with the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and the case law of the European Court of Human Rights.

A Less Liberal AKP?

Amidst the dramatic rhetoric being exchanged between Prime Minister Erdoğan and CHP opposition leader Deniz Baykal, questions are now being asked about the intentions of the AK Party. Turkish Daily News columnist Karabekir Akkoyunlu asks if the events of the past weeks have "unveiled a less liberal AKP?" Akkoyunlu argues that by placing so much political capital on an explosive issue while delaying consideration of Article 301 raises serious conerns about the intentions of AKP to push forward with its promised reform agenda.
By putting most of its political weight behind the headscarf issue, and therefore placing it at the centre of the country's political agenda, the AKP has presented the ban as Turkey's foremost, if not only, democratic deficit. That is hardly the case. Limits to all forms of freedom of expression, discrimination against religious minorities, and a potentially explosive socio-political situation in Turkey's Kurdish populated southeast are, at the very least, issues of equal importance and urgency.
Acknowledging the headscarf ban to be unjust, Akkoyunlu asks an important question that is possibly reflective of growing disillusionment with AKP as long as it stalls on the rest of its liberal reform agenda. These concerns have been echoed by the international press and in Europe to some degree, but they are still very much a reaction to the amendments. It seems to early too call the sincerity of AKP into question. The headscarf issue was not something apart from AKP's set of promised reforms, but the early compromise and rush for a vote has been and will likely to continue to be a concern.

International coverage of the past week has been plentiful, but noteworthy is the New York Times' sympathetic profile a woman unable to practice law and continue with graduate study because she was covered. Reflecting the skepticism some feel toward the recent legislative moves is an article in the Economist that urges Erdoğan to push forward with more reform.

Long charged of harboring an Islamist agenda, criticism of the party's creeping conservatism points to efforts at the municipal level to restrict the sale of alcohol and pork, an upcoming national law more tightly regulate the distribution of alcohol permits, reminders of Erdoğan's previous attempt to introduce adultery to Turkey's penal code, and allegations that Islamist officials in the Education Ministry have introduced religion into textbooks. All of these charges are worth exploring, but after almost six years in power, the hidden agenda theory is difficult to believe.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Where Have All the Leftists Gone?

A friend with little knowledge of Turkey recently asked me how an Islamist-oriented, rather conservative political party like AKP became the force of liberal reform in Turkey. Was this always the case? Is there no Turkish left? The questions would probably appall many Turks who identify themselves as anti-AKP and quite "liberal," but they are fair to ask. AKP's main opposition in parliament is formed by two nationalist parties that in many ways sound very much like each other, and by most definitions, are anything but leftist. In fact, recent discourse about Article 301 and the türban place CHP on the reactionary end of a left-right scale.

Highly-criticized in liberal circles, comprised of those who seek an expansion of personal liberties, but yet are critical of AKP's pro-market, libertarian-type ideology, Baykal's CHP is frequently seen as a barrier to the entrance of a viable leftist politics. While AKP exists as the only pro-Europe party, the party's center-right, liberal democratic credentials remain unchallenged. AKP, perhaps best considered a center-right party akin to Germany's Christian Democrats, is thus the only party capable of courting pro-Europe liberals. Thus, the leftist constituency in Turkish politics is left without adequate representation, their social democratic values left unvoiced in AKP's center-right politics or lost completely thanks to CHP's unrelenting nationalism and demagoguery, a seemingly right-wing, conservative politics more in line with the proto-fascist MHP than with the social democratic parties of Europe.

So, what is CHP's relation to the left? In name, the oldest party in Turkey and the party of Atatürk, CHP underwent many transformations in its long and turbulent history. Following the rise of leftist politics in the 1960s, CHP became the manifestation of Turkey's mainstream left. Under the leadership of Bülent Ecevit in the late 1960s and 1970s, CHP espoused a social democratic politics built on a Kemalist foundation. In many ways, its politics mirrored that found in the emerging social democracies of Europe, and it even joined the Socialist International. While it is true that the party always held true to a rigid protection of the state's secular identity, it also promoted civil liberties, and under Ecevit's leadership, decried military interference in politics. However, following the 1980 coup and a complete re-working of the political left, CHP re-emerged weak alongside an array of other parties, all of which fell short of representing the leftism that had changed the face of Turkish politics in the two decades prior to the military's violent intervention.


Prior to the 1960s, there had been extreme leftist groups in Turkey who fell in line with the idea of a strictly statist economy to be centrally-planned and managed by the Turkish state. Statism was a central tenet of the old Kemalist regime, but the Kemalist understanding of statism did not approach central planning as a communist enterprise, but rather as a matter of national sovereignty and good government.

Importantly, the Kemalist regime of the early years of the republic did not oppose foreign investment and the state made little effort to regulate private investment. Turkish statism under the Kemalist regime did not mean that the state would interfere with private property rights or investment pursuits, but rather that the state would be responsible for capital-intensive industry. The state did create systemtatic schemes of central planning, but stayed determinedly away from adopting any sort of aggressively socialist or communist ideology. When price-fixing and other economic measures the government had taken proved disastrous in the 1940s, the government applied to join the IMF. With the election of the Democratic Party soon after, the economy began to open further under the helm of prime minister Adnan Menderes who encouraged direct foreign investment and sought foreign loans to bolster economic development. However, due to DP mismanagement, the investment led to little in terms of sustainable increases in productive capacity and a lack of regulation contributed to a high-level of growth from which only the richest benefited and inflation sky-rocketed. Economic disenchantment contributed to the demise of DP and the leftist politics that would come to pass in the 1960s.

Following the 1960 coup, a discourse began to develop among the intellectual left replete with prescriptions for state planning and protectionism. This leftist discourse was much abetted by the respect the military government paid to the academic left following the moderate turn it took when it dismissed ultra-nationalists from its ranks. The academic left had supported the military during the 1960 coup and the military had turned to it for assistance in drafting a new constitution. Thus, there was a tolerance for the rise of the more radical leftist politics that burgeoned in the 1960s.

Spurned by socialist dialogue elsewhere in the world and temporarily saved from government repression, many intellectuals began to propose radical reforms. Following the student movements in Europe and the United States, similar radical groups of young people began to emerge in Turkey and some of these began to call for radical revolution and sometimes through violent means. Many of these militant groups began to rebel against the state ideology or amalgamate its nationalist component with a communist narrative based on class solidarity. The state soon grew concerned by many of these groups and began to repress their more radical manifestations, but the radical left stayed largely intact up until the 1980 coup.

In the meantime, a more moderate form of democratic socialism was being embraced within the ranks of CHP. Following the 1960 coup, the party was also subject to the development of leftist thought experienced in the 1960s and following disappointing election results in 1961, adopted a center-left ideology that contrasted greatly with that of the Justice Party (Adalet Partisi—AP). While the AP supported a traditional understanding of Kemalism and took a combative and sometimes repressive posture to the emerging left of the early 1960s, CHP integrated the left's calls for social justice and democratic order into its party platform. Led by Bülent Ecevit, this effort stumbled in its beginning, but led to election victories in the municipal elections of 1968.

The party continued to consolidate its center-left stance throughout the latter part of the 1960s and into the 1970s. It was under Ecevit's leadership that CHP became a member of the Socialist International. However, as radicalism became a burgeoning problem on the fringes of the leftist movement and communism an ever greater fear, Ecevit found it increasingly difficult to integrate these more radical elements and a serious fragmentation began to occur. Although the center-left stance was certainly progressive when compared to the positions of its mainstream rivals, it never came to close to incorporating the sort of radical reform some demanded into its larger agenda nor did it ever have the political power to execute the progressive agenda to which it did aspire. In this end, Ecevit's progressive reform agenda did not successfully co-opt the more radical elements by way of any great re-working of society as happened in Europe.


Increasingly concerned with the radicalism of the left, the military staged its September 1980 coup—the aftermath of which virtually devastated leftist politics. Under the leadership of General Kenan Evren, the newly-established National Security Council (NSC) squelched political discourse and arrested over 10,000 people in its first weeks in power. Many of those arrested had been involved in leftist political activities and many were detained and tortured for indefinite periods of time. The NSC established the constitution under which the country is still governed and exercised tight control over the formation of political parties and in so doing denied the formation of any viable leftist opposition be it moderate or radical. This is significant in that political parties since 1960 are the principal structures in which organized political activity occurs and this development meant that the left was stifled from mainstream participation in politics for some time to come. The NSC also actively sought to purge leftist university professors, firing hundreds while coercing others to reform by threatening their pensions. In addition to the universities, the NSC activiely sought to eliminate any trace of lefist thought in civil society and among the press.

Thanks to the toleration of Turgut Özal's center-right Motherland Party (Anavatan Partisi—AVP), leftist politics began to reassert themselves in the 1980s. Özal's AVP emerged out of the aftermath of the 1980s coup and came to power following its overwhelming victory in the 1983 parliamentary elections, in which the party gained an absolute majority. Largely a rejection of the direction in which the NSC had taken the country following the coup, AVP reasserted the primacy of democratic politics and due to aims of its own, allowed some of the previously banned parties and the politicians that led them to participate in the 1984 municipal elections. During Özal's reign, leftism began a process of slow recovery, but never regained the strength or influence it had prior to 1980.

Erdal İnönü's newly-formed Social Democratic Party (Sosyal Demokrat Parti—SDP) was the most successful new party to emerge and reunited the disenfranchised liberals that had been ignored (if not repressed) in the early 1980s. The SDP contrasted with the People's Party (Halkçı—HP) that the military had allowed to run in the 1983 elections alongside AVP in that SDP represented the liberal wing of the old CHP and as HP had been little more than a construction of the military to create a party in which to place CHP's old conservative wing. Understandably, in the 1984 muncipal elections, SDP fared much better than HP, the latter of which failed to meet the 10 percent threshold it needed to enter parliament. However, both parties merged in 1985 to become the Social People's Party (Sosyal Halkçı Parti—SHP).

SHP became the more conservative of the two mainstream leftist parties when Bülent Ecevit re-emerged in 1985 to found the Democratic Left Party (Demokrat Sol Parti—DSP). Unencumbered by the conservative presence of the old CHP, Ecevit was able to move further to the left than before. DSP entered parliament in 1986, although it soon lost its voice in November 1987 when it was overshadowed by İnönü's SHP. Although these liberal parties were able to participate fully in democratic politics throughout the 1980s, the era's dominance by two center-right parties—AVP and Demirel's old AP—made it impossible for it to wield much influence.

Here enters Baykal and what some Turkish leftists pointedly refer to as "the new CHP": In the late 1980s, Baykal emerged within the ranks of İnönü's SHP to become its Secretary-General and began to openly challenge İnönü's leadership of the party. Repeatedly unsuccessful, Baykal decided to found his own party in 1992 and branded it CHP. Amidst the political sectarianism of the 1990s and the fragmentation of the two center-right coalitions, the leftist parties fared paritcularly poorly in the 1994 elections that brought to power the Islamic Refah Party (RP). Now faced with a common enemy, İnönü's old party (now under the leadership of Murat Karayalçın; İnönü had resigned in 1993) combined with Baykal's re-fashioned CHP in 1995.

The merger brought together two very strong personalities in a testy alliance, but both party leaders decided to step aside and Hikmet Çetin was chosen to lead the new party. Çetin was soon pushed aside by Baykal and the struggling party performed poorly in the 1995 elections depsite the alliance. Although a significant liberal coalition did emerge within the fragmentation of the two center-right parties and managed to pass through a liberalization package under pressure from the European Union (similar to the one currently being pushed by AKP), the coalition was divided on issues related to secularism and Baykal used the opportunity to oppose many of these reforms as a battling cry to garner power within CHP viz. espousement of an ideology that fell far from what should be called "liberal." Continually decrying the "Islamist threat," Baykal virtually became the CHP.

As the CHP became a virtually non-existent player following its massive defeat in 1995, Ecevit was able to regain his position as the leader of the left. Following the post-modern coup, Ecevit became prime minister when he posted the strongest showings in the 1999 elections (only 22 percent of the vote). However, as prime minister, Ecevit's coalition was not guided by liberalism, but by recalcitrant adherence to the the principles of secularism.

In 2002, Ecevit's health and his own stubbornness led the DSP coalition to fall apart and basically destroyed the DSP. In the elections to follow that year, DSP support fell 95 percent. Thus, as AKP came to power, CHP was able to reassert itself as the only viable alternative to Islamism. The party received only 19 percent of the vote, but Baykal's Leviathan has acted to quash dissenting voices in its ranks, aptly silencing would-be challengers. Further, it is deaf to criticism coming from leftists outside the country, most markedly to the criticism of the Socialist International, which is considering its explusion from the organization, a move welcomed by many leftists within Turkey.


In so many ways, the demise of the Turkish left can be attributed to its' members own dogmatic prescriptions for the role of religion in society. The left's strict interpretations of secularism and conflation of the Islamist threat have proved a serious distraction for the advocacy of the social and economic reforms that typify leftist existence in other countries. As the sole inheritor of the left's legacy, CHP is a frightfully sad representation of its past history. Caught up in what it imagines as a virtual state of war against Turkey's internal and external enemies, the CHP and its secular elite are more likely to espouse Hobbes than Rousseau or Mill. Rather than protecting free speech, it must be stifled to preserve the integrity of a state facing threats from Islamists and Kurds. Rather than allowing for democracy, elected parties must be periodically closed because they might threaten the nationalist or secularist order. Rather than joining truly social democratic nations in Europe, EU accession must be held circumspect because it involves a surrendering of centralized state control, a re-negotiation of secularism, and countenance liberalism, for individuals vested with too much liberty might act contrary to state ideology and the carefully devised plans of the ruling elite.

Many liberals have left CHP, casting relucant votes for the center-right and vaguely Islamist AKP rather than continue to support the stumbling block Baykal and the CHP have thrown up in the way of Turkey's larger political development. How many of the many "floating voters" that cast ballots for AKP in 2002, and again in 2004 and 2007, were disgruntled leftists, fed up with Baykal and CHP authoritarianism? Other liberals have continued to support CHP, but not without due anguish. Still, yet another group, perhaps not liberal, per se, but frustrated with Baykal and the CHP status quo while equally afraid of AKP's economic liberalization schemes and "creeping conservatism," continue to support CHP rather than wed themselves to a more liberal vision of Turkish politics, a liberal ideology that if properly formulated, might coalesce the reasons for their resentment toward AKP with an incipient support for individual liberties and democratic pluralism.

Meanwhile, CHP seeks to dissolve all challenge as evidenced by the party's plans to swallow DSP, which has retained a small membership base and a negligible presence in parliament as a result of the election of some of its members to parliament as independents. With the opposition crushed, Baykal maintains his stranglehold on the party, the recent türban amendments giving ample opportunity for the party leader to do what he does best—demagogue on secularism. Baykal's rallying cries that the amendments are proof that AKP is intent overturn the secular order of things are likely to further strengthen his position in the party , making it even more difficult for leftist challengers in CHP to oppose him come the party's spring congress. As Baykal beats the familiar rhythms of the CHP drum, its members continue to move in circular unison, in no direction and with no place to go.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Something Wicked This Way Comes?

In a back hall of parliament, CHP leader Deniz Baykal caused a firestorm of criticism when he was took a question from a reporter during the first round of voting on the headscarf amendments.

When asked by a reporter whether or not an entirely new constitution can be drafted, Baykal said: “Of course it can: You chase away the enemies and found the country from scratch. You erect your flag. It has already been done. … You can stage a revolution, risk being hanged. And after that the entire constitution can be changed.”

“We have been elected to implement the constitution, not to draft it. It would be wrong if we attempted to cancel the current one and make a new constitution,” he said, reiterating that his party will appeal to the Constitutional Court for the cancellation of the amendments that lift the headscarf ban.
AKP politicians have already denounced the remark as terrifyingly irresponsbile, but it raises an important question as to just how far AKP can go without the political establishment intervening á la the military. After last April's stern warning to AKP delivered via email, 'coup' by memorandum some say, AKP should feel itself treading on delicate political ground. General Yaşar Büyükanıt, chief of the Turkish Armed Services, shares Baykal's scorn toward the new constitution and although keeping quiet following Gül's election and, so far, throughout the opening days of the türban legislation, military intervention cannot be dismissed.

In a wonderful article that came out two months before I came in the New York Review of Books, Christopher de Bellaigue warns of three potential dangers that could destabilize AKP. The first of these is an increase in PKK activity that could rally nationalist support in Turkey. The second is a disproportionate response by the Turkish military that would rally Kurds toward the PKK and endanger European Union membership. The third is that the AKP will do something feckless like lift the türban ban at university. Of the third possibility, Bellaigue writes "there will be another crisis. It would be a mistake for the AKP to assume brazenly that the age of coups is over. " It seems the third has come to fruition and could possibly be complicated by the first two. As things heat up in the east with renewed engagements between the PKK and the military, the potential of an antagonistic Europe should the conflict enlarge is a grave threat. In the face of the much hated PKK, European denunciation of Turkish military and police actions would no doubt weaken the lure of EU membership and its influence on Turkish politics. As this influence might prove pivotal to keeping AKP in power and avoiding another coup, be it post-modern or traditional, we should all be paying attention to what is going on in the east.

Is Turkey headed for a crisis? The angst is already being felt as scores of protestors take to the streets to protest the türban legislation. Recent unrest recalls a column a melancholic Elif Şafak authored during the crisis last July. Şafak asks if Turks are always to live in the shadows of unrest, always anxious about what political development the next month will bring.
It is not easy to be a Turk in a world that is becoming more and more polarized. A world where the number of people who believe in a “Clash of Civilizations” escalates each day. A world in which more and more hardliners claim that Islam and Western democracy cannot coexist. At first glance, Islamic fundamentalists and Western Islamophobics might seem to be poles apart. But they are not. They share the same prejudice and narrow-mindedness toward the Other and the same desire to exclude everyone who doesn't echo their views. Hardliners in one country produce more hardliners elsewhere.

“East” and “West” are relational categories, and yet, they are often used as if they were mutually exclusive. The world we are living in regards gray areas with suspicion as if life is solely composed of two colors: Black and white. Today, there is a considerable degree of fear of Islam in the West and a considerable degree of dislike of the West in the Muslim world. Biases are produced mutually, and they keep breeding one another.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Headscarf Amendments Pass, Number of Headscarves Decline

Both amendments passed the second and final round of voting in Parliament today. The first amendment to Article 10 was passed with a final vote of 403-107 and the second amendment to Article 42 was passed with a final vote of 403-108. President Gül observes the right to call a referendum on the amendments, but such a move is not expected.

Additionally, one additional tidbit of information I have recently gleaned is that the proportion of women who wear some sort of head covering (türban or otherwise) has actually declined in recent years. According to a study released in November 2006 by the Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation (TESEV), a very well-respected think-tank, the percentage of Turkish women wearing no head covering increased from 27 percent in 1996 to 37 percent in 2006. This is contradictory to the oft-made claim that a rising Islamist tide has been responsible for more women covering themselves in recent years.

To move outside Turkey for a bit, NYU law professor and CFR fellow Noah Feldman wrote in Friday's New York Times that if Erdoğan continues to move forward with other progressive reforms, the vote has the potential to set a positive example of the potential co-mingling between Islam and democracy. More reaction to follow. . .

Friday, February 8, 2008

Headscarf Amendments Clear First Round of Voting

Both amendments cleared the first round of voting yesterday without any major problem. The second round of voting will take place on Saturday. Debate was vigorous and it was interesting to read the reportage in both Today's Zaman and the Turkish Daily News.

Interesting also is the current animosity between MHP and CHP. MHP continues to contend that it is not trying to win political advantages by joining in a coalition with AKP while CHP has seized on the opportunity to portray MHP as a traitor to Kemalism. The latter is best observed in Turkish Daily News writer Mehmet Ali Birand's most recent column.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Recent Strikes Incite Kurdish Tensions

I feel like I should I have knocked on wood following my Feb. 4 post concerning reasons to be skeptical about the relative peace enjoyed at the moment in the Kurdish southeast. The recent air strikes in northern Iraq have prompted Kurds to join in numerous rallies throughout Turkey. An article in Today's Zaman chronicles the journey of a convoy of DTP supporters in İstanbul who planning to converge in Diyarbakır to demonstrate against the raids and raise awareness about the Kurdish problem. The convoy was subject to numerous stops by security services, including here in Kocaeli. The Turkish city with the largest Kurdish population is İstanbul, not Diyarbakır, and the article goes to prove that Kurdish unrest affects the whole country, not just the southeast region. Motivated by a search for jobs and a better life, many Kurds have moved in recent years to large cities in the west, driven by the lack of opportunities characteristic of the southeast's underdeveloped economy.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Headscarf Vote Due Tomorrow as Protests Mount

I witnessed my first protest in İzmit today in opposition to the recent legislative moves to lift the headscarf ban. I did not have my camera and am thus unable to post photographs, but the demonstration basically consisted of 40-50 some odd protestors. Most seemed to be university students from Kocaeli University. I was able to ask one young türban-wearing woman who if this changes her hopes to attend university. She just graduated from her lise and is taking the year to improve her English. She responded that she would simply wait and see. Her excitement was evident, but there also seemed an underlying skepticism as to whether the amendments will actually pass and survive being challenged at the Constitutional Court and all this sans military interference.

As to news about the legislation, the first round of voting is due tomorrow after which a second vote will be held on Saturday. If the amendments are approved, the provision to the Higher Education Board (YÖK) Law will be introduced in Parliament. The commission leading the legislation commenced on Friday.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Renewed Air Strikes in Northern Iraq

Per yesterday's post, reports flooded newspapers today about another tound of Turkish air strikes inside northern Iraq. The air raids had ceased by the beginning of January, but yesterday's renewal speaks to the Turkish military's intentions to route the PKK out of northern Iraq before it has an opportunity to launch a spring offensive. Here is the article from today's New York Times.

No Country For Young Men

PHOTO FROM Today's Zaman
Pvt. Ramazan Yüce with his mother following his release.

Following an attack in Dağlıca in Hakkari province last October, eight Turkish privates were captured by the PKK and later released in what was a carefully orchestrated public relations move by the PKK. DTP members had visited northern Iraq to secure their release, but upon the soldiers' release, the soldiers' release was used to evidence DTP collaboration with the PKK and the eight soldiers were accused of treason. To further complicate matters, the Turkish General Staff released a press statement denouncing press accusations that the men are being charged not for misconduct, but because they embarrassed the military.

From Today's Zaman:
Van military prosecutor Hakan İleri has asked for permission from the General Staff to investigate whether Lt. Col. Onur Dirik had any responsibility in the attack by the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in October of last year, during which eight soldiers were taken hostage.

The eight Turkish soldiers were released earlier this month pending trial on charges of disobeying orders, including main suspect Pvt. Ramazan Yüce, whose lawyer filed charges against Dirik for breaching security at the time of the incident. The Van prosecutor was acting on the complaint filed by Yüce’s lawyer.

The charges in the file on Dirik, who was in charge of the Dağlıca battalion at the time of the incident, include causing the killing of more than one person and the kidnapping and injury of many others by reason of negligence and failing to take measures to prevent the attack.

If the military authorities allow it, a criminal investigation will be launched into Dirik.

The charges brought against the Dağlıca commanders include the following: Although an attack was imminent according to the depositions of 13 eyewitnesses, radio communications and thermal camera records, the commanders failed to take the necessary security measures. The military staff that was responsible for seeing to the safety of the Dağlıca battalion only included privates. No soldiers were deployed in the neighboring hills to protect the battalion. Two posts for artillery and a grenade launcher were vacant at the time of the attack since no soldiers were commissioned to use them. Dirik did not approve a request to bring a Cobra helicopter from a nearby military headquarters to protect the battalion. The PKK’s ability at the time to use heavy artillery to carry out this attack over such difficult terrain stemmed from a lack of sufficient intelligence and security measures.

The claims from Yüce and his lawyer filed against the lieutenant colonel were not the first suggestions that it might be necessary to further investigate the responsibility of higher-ranking officers in the incident. Reports and documents on the case acquired by some Turkish newspapers have also suggested that some very strategic mistakes were caused by the negligence of higher-ranking army officers.
For additional background on the hostility the privates face, see Doğu Ergil's column in Today's Zaman:
The first response, which shook us all, was a statement by the justice minister, who said that he was not happy the kidnapped, captive soldiers were still alive. He was not alone in his sentiment: Rather than being taken captive by a terrorist organization, they should all die. By staying alive they have damaged our national pride!

Later, the soldiers were released as part of a propagandistic gesture by the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). Few of us were happy at their freedom because we were embarrassed at being humbled by a terrorist organization. After all, we were the mighty Turkish nation, and our army is the second-biggest and strongest in the NATO alliance. Yet in this confused state of mind we did not ask why and how a battalion that was battle-ready and on the frontline could be ambushed by a peasant organization, lose 13 soldiers and allow eight of their own to be dragged tens of kilometers away without any punitive pursuit.

Those responsible for this scandal have not yet answered to the people they serve or their representative organ, Parliament. No official statement has been released regarding the dismissal of the commanders who faltered so badly. Yet the military prosecutor has sentenced all the freed soldiers to several years of imprisonment and one of them to life in prison on grounds of treason.

The so-called "traitor," Ramazan Yüce, is of Kurdish origin. The military failure has been blamed on him by labeling him as a PKK mole. Yet until the moment of the ambush he was entrusted as a wireless operator and thermal camera watchman. Yüce defends himself by saying, "If I was a PKK member, how could I be trusted with these critical duties?" He is also on record as stating that he heard the approaching PKK on the wireless and located them coming with loaded mules on the thermal camera -- and informed his superiors. No one can answer why proper counter-measures were not taken.

Yüce is also accused of not firing on the enemy. He said he did so until the nozzle of his rifle swelled and became inoperative. The prosecutor does not believe him, but the weapon is missing because it was taken away together with the soldier by the PKK.

The prosecutor also claims that the soldiers surrendered immediately. But military statements that appeared in the press revealed that the battle dragged on for 36 hours. The soldiers in the ambushed outpost were a part of a battalion. Why did neither the battalion nor other relief forces come to their rescue?

These questions may be increased and ridiculous accusations like "leaving the post of duty to go to a foreign country (sic) without official permission" may be mocked. But this does not change the seriousness of the melodrama the prosecuted soldiers are suffering through. They are dishonored, their families are embarrassed and they are punished for a war that is the making of years of neglect on the part of old men who demand that they sacrifice their lives.

Would they ever think of coming back from captivity if they knew they would be so brutally denigrated by their countrymen and superiors alike? These young man are facing long prison terms, and one of them life imprisonment, only to satisfy the wounded ego of their nation and its ruling elders. No, no one has the right to ridicule the country's youth from whom so much sacrifice is demanded with so little in return.

The Future of the Southeast: Reason for Skepticism

In contrast to the hopeful vision presented yesterday, much has happened in the past three years to warrant a skeptical view toward Turkey's settling of its problems in the Kurdish southeast. There are two chief and interconnected reasons for this skepticism and they once again relate to poles in Turkish politics that have become more extreme in recent years.

The first reason (or pole) is the rising Turkish nationalism that has taken hold in recent years. With Euro-skepticism struggling to gain the upper hand, the Turkish state has become increasingly intransigent to calls for greater Kurdish autonomy and more cultural freedoms. Despite the EU's continued recommendations to grant greater cultural freedom to the Kurds and devolve power to the local level, recent actions by the Turkish state reflect a move in the opposite direction. Not only is the situation at a standstill, but it is getting worse.

The second reason (pole), which of course influences the first and vice versa, is the continued militarism of the PKK. Although largely divided on matters of tactics and its general strategy of pursuing greater Kurdish autonomy, a fact that Turkish policy makers and citizens largely fail to recognize, the PKK is a central force against a peaceable resolution of the conflict. A more militant faction, the Kurdistan Freedom Falcons, has carried out a series of very violent terrorist attacks on Turkish civilians and foreign tourists. However, the dominant position in the PKK is to restrict its attacks to the Turkish military. In the latter case, the method is still highly-confrontational and very brutal. Turkey has a conscripted army and fears of young Turkish conscripts being ambushed and savagely murdered by PKK members only heightens the wrath of the Turkish citizenry, reinforcing Turkish recalcitrance to come to a peace accord with the terrorist group. Further, the PKK has prevented more moderate voices from rising in Kurdish politics and its affiliation with DTP is akin to that between the IRA and Sin Feinn in Northern Ireland or ETA and Harri Batasuna in the Basque country. Most Kurds point to the ties between DTP and the PKK and affirm the former to be nothing but the political wing of the terrorist group that has murdered its sons and daughters. While the relationship is no doubt more complicated than this characterization paints it, it prevents the DTP from being a real agent of change. DTP deputies are often elected with the tacit support of the PKK and at the very least by a constituency still very much sympathetic to the fight the PKK is waging in the name of Kurdish freedom. As violence increases between the PKK and the military, so will the resentment of the Kurdish and Turkish populations.

When the PKK assumed a dominant position in Kurdish politics in the 1980s, it was the first time that a Kurdish revolutionary movement had attracted so broad a base of support, especially among the mostly uneducated Kurdish populace. Blending Marxist socialism with Kurdish nationalism, the movement was cohered by a powerful ideological amalgam that simultaneously spoke to Kurdish poverty and the yearning for greater freedom, the right to express an identity that is uniquely Kurdish. Despite its inhuman tactics, in particular the 1993 campaign that targeted Turkish teachers assigned to the southeast and Kurds selling Turkish-language newspapers and a campaign in 1987 in which it killed large numbers of Kurds who lived in villages that were suspected of being 'pro-Turkish,' Öcalan and the PKK remain the driving political force in Kurdish politics. Philip Robins lays out the principal reasons for how the PKK garnered so much support:
"the increasing growth of a self-conscious Kurdish nationalism inside Turkey; the material disdain for the southeast on the part of the Turkish state, which provided few resources for economic development or social services; structural economic factors, which have helped accelerate the sharply growing relative poverty in Turkey; and the coercive nature of the Turkish state, both in terms of forced assimilation to the values and ideology of Kemalism and in terms of the increasingly extensive activities of the security services. The very receptivity of Kurds in Turkey to the PKK is evidence of the conditions inside the country" (Robins, Suits and Uniforms: Turkish Foreign Policy Since the Cold War (Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press, 2003), 184).
Robin's latter observation still holds true, a vicious cycle between the actions of the Turkish state and the PKK that perpetuates itself today.

Much changed upon Öcalan's capture in 1999. In a highly-publicized trial, Öcalan confessed his violent past and pled guilty to the charges of the court. Although the verdict was virtually predetermined, Öcalan expressed his desire to see Kurds live within the boundary of a Kurdish state. Although the PKK had begun to change its position as early the 1990s as Turgut Özal began to make gestures toward the group that indicated a desire to come to sort of negotiated settlement, the 1999 trial was surprising for many observers in that Öcalan went so far as to speak of his hope that one day Kurds might live in harmony with the Turkish devlet, a move Stephen Kinzer describes as "truly astonishing, almost incomprehensible." The concept of devlet is ingrained in the Turkish national mentality as a force that coheres the Turkish nation, a meaning that Kinzer elucidates as connoting "something bigger than the judicial system, bigger than the Turkish government, bigger than the people. He was offering to collaborate with that incorporeal but holy entity that is at the center of Turkey's consciousness" (Kinzer, The Crescent and the Star: Turkey Between Two Worlds (New York: Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux, 2001), 127). Despite Öcalan's conviction and most Turks' opinion that the statement was insincere, the PKK announced a ceasefire in 2000. The reason for the ceasefire is not linked to Öcalan alone, but also found reason in hopes that Turkey's aspirations to join the European Union might bring about the greater freedom and autonomy for which the Kurdish yearn. However, the ceasefire broke down in 2003 and ended completely in 2004. With the resumption of hostilities, the PKK became ever more hated by most Turks and all of the Turks with whom I have brought up the subject mark continued hostilities as evidence of the lack of PKK sincerity to pursue any real solution.

The lack of promise for peaceful resolution leaves the future of the southeast very much uncertain and as AKP seems to be losing grip on its reform agenda, a solution is becoming less and less likely. Indeed, the AKP finds itself hard-pressed to take actions that can be portrayed as 'pro-Kurdish.' Kurds continue to be prosecuted under restrictive speech codes as torture and detention of suspected PKK-members is on the increase. Further, AKP is less likely to offer its support to local efforts that promote Kurdish culture or education. Although the EU still has a very important role to play in implementing law that legalizes rights for Kurds to hold cultural gatherings and conduct Kurdish language education, AKP support for such undertakings has been half-hearted. In particular, the AKP government acted very badly in its failure to prosecute persons responsible for a terrorist attack on a Kurdish bookseller in Şemdinli when it learned that they had connections to the TSK. In its response to riots that broke out in Diyarbakır following the funerals of four PKK fighters in March 2006, AKP also showed itself less amenable to building bridges. Following riots that resulted in the deaths of 13 people, AKP removed Diyarbakır mayor Osman Baydemir and made no effort to intervene in the massive waves of prosecutions and detentions that followed, including prosecutions of local DTP politicians. In June 2007, the party removed Diyarbakır's district mayor and council after attempting to offer multilingual government services.

Although AKP's support for Kurdish cultural rights seems to have waned, it is still quite keen to offer more social services and distribute monies to the southeast. As a result, a large number of DTP parliamentary candidates running as independents last summer lost votes to AKP, perhaps seen as promising, but only in the instance that this support is not threatened by an increase in violence that brings attention to AKP's unwillingness to grant cultural rights and support Kurdish overtures that might be regarded as separatist by nationalist forces. In this way, the AKP and those Kurds who are not comfortable relinquishing their cultural rights are very much in the midst of the two large polls—the PKK and ultra-nationalist elements of the Turkish state. The impact is that recent AKP actions very much put into doubt its ability to act as the mediator of any peaceful resolution between the state and Kurdish nationalists. Instead, AKP seems more likely to equate Kurdish cultural aspirations with separatism. Such a position feeds directly into the hands of the PKK and jeopardizes inroads the party has made with Kurdish voters who might well decide to remove its support of AKP if cultural restrictions continue. The latter is especially exacerbated by the increasing violence between the PKK and Turkish security forces, the ongoing closure case against DTP, and rising inflation that is very much blamed on AKP economic policy.

It seems that if any peaceful solution is to be reached, it must take into account the PKK. This position has been argued by Turkish Daily News columnist Yusuf Kanlı and is not uncommonly acknowledged. AKP passed a law in 2003 that granted a limited amnesty to PKK fighters, but it was extremely limited and in no way comprehensive enough to end in any sort of accord. Meanwhile, tensions continue to mount between Turkey and Northern Iraq, a Turkish military invasion of which seems increasingly likely.

Below is an interview with Kurdish intellectual Ümit Firat that appeared in Today's Zaman in October. It is well worth the read.
Kurdish intellectual Ümit Fırat believes Turkey should abandon its policy of rejecting the Iraqi Kurdish administration and start implementing immediate social and political reforms immediately instead of resorting to military options to end the terrorism of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

“Turkey should abandon its policy of rejecting an entity that emerged under Iraqi law and its constitution and should instead recognize it under international legal instruments as generated through the internal developments of Iraq. It should view the northern Iraqi autonomous Kurdish administration as a friend. This is the way to end the current tension,” said Fırat, a writer for the Kurdish political magazine Serbestî, published in İstanbul in Turkish.

In addition to carrying the risks of confrontation with the United States and the peshmergas, a cross-border operation would increase tension and make the problem chronic, he said adding, “Northern Iraq needs peace, and a strong and stable northwestern border.”

On Sept. 29, 12 people -- seven of whom were village guards -- were massacred in the Beytüşşebap district of the southeastern province of Şırnak, and then on Oct. 21 at least 12 soldiers were killed in near the village of Dağlıca in Hakkari, stretching Turkey’s patience to its limit. Parliament passed a motion authorizing a cross-border operation into northern Iraq to hit the PKK bases there if diplomatic efforts fail. For Monday Talk, Ümit Fırat told us how the developments can be seen from the Kurds’ perspective.

What would happen if Turkey entered Iraq?

Turkey will have to deal with two actors if it enters Iraq: the autonomous Kurdish administration formed under the Iraqi constitution and the peshmerga units subordinate to this administration. The peshmergas are considered part of the Iraqi army; therefore conflict with them will automatically mean opening war with Iraq, and this inevitably carries with it the possibility of confrontation with the United States. This will all eventually lead to abandonment of Turkey’s six-decade-long international policy.

But isn’t the region home to the PKK?

The actual sphere of influence of the PKK is in Turkey, and if a solution were sought, measures should be implemented inside the country. Those who are settled on Kandil Mountain in northern Iraq got there through Turkey and return to the same territory. Turkey would not be able to resolve anything in Iraq through a military intervention.

The PKK would fulfill its goal of dragging Turkey into northern Iraq if Turkey launches a military operation. It will not be easy to present a cross-border operation as part of a comprehensive combat against terrorism. Above all, there is a general assumption that combat against terrorism is executed by special forces -- not by regular army units. Besides, for such an operation against terrorism [to be successful], the consent of the country where the operation will be carried out is required. Otherwise, Turkey will be considered an invader.

And even though the military and the government seek to present a cross-border operation as a matter of internal security, this action is declaration of war under international law. In that case, it will not be possible for you to call your opponent a terrorist organization as they become the other party of the war. In a possible conflict, international organizations will refer to the terrorist organization as warring party. In that case, calls for cease-fires and calls for implementation of the provisions of the Geneva Conventions might come into consideration.

Don’t you think that an army operation would have a role in preventing further PKK attacks?

The only benefit of the operation would be proof of military superiority -- which Turkey already has. Besides, it is obvious that no social problem can be resolved through military methods. Attempting to test whether this is the case once more would be too expensive and risky. I want to emphasize that a climate of killing and ending lives has emerged in the region, and attempts should be made to change that and ensure normalization.

Furthermore, a military incursion by Turkey into northern Iraq would possibly de-align the Kurds in the region from the PKK, whereas it would strengthen Barzani’s KDP [Kurdistan Democratic Party]. Turkey should be determined to resolve the Kurdish question if it really seeks to eliminate the PKK terrorism. A Turkey committed to resolving the Kurdish question will have the chance to overcome the obstacles in time.

What was the difference between the Beytüşşebap and Dağlıca incidents?

There is no similarity between the two. In Beytüşşebap, the victims were working on the construction of a canal to transport water to their village. They were killed on their way home for iftar [fast-breaking meal during Ramadan]. I cannot help but remember a very similar massacre that was committed in Şırnak-Güçlükonak in 1996. In that massacre, 11 villagers, including some village guards, were forced to get off the minibus and were killed at the scene. The terrorists burned the bodies. Despite this, the identification cards were found in good condition. The authorities took journalists to the site, but they were not allowed to talk to the local people, who disagreed with the security forces on who had committed the murders. They thought that the massacre was committed by some state units.

Are you convinced that Beytüşşebap massacre was committed by some clandestine powers in the state?

We know through our experience that we have no reason to believe the official statements, considering past explanations that followed many similar incidents. It may come as no surprise to see the “good guys” who were behind the Semdinli incidents two months ago. Actually, the conclusion I want to draw here is not to single out who the perpetrators of the incident were -- that’s not something I can tackle at any rate. But why aren’t these events being illuminated through official investigations? Why are the people who question these events warned or threatened? Why does Turkey insist on this policy?

Who do you think are the “good guys”?

The powers organized by the “good guys” might include former PKK informants and village guards who became stronger and then turned into gangs that threatened society. It’s possible to get an idea about this through documents submitted to the courts and the memoirs and interviews with retired military men. In the current environment of violence and conflict, nobody would question why this country has one of the largest armies in the world. While some make calculations to increase the influence of the army in politics considering the consequences of the prevalent environment of violence, others seek an opportunity to establish absolute authority by the PKK in the region through the same environment. An organization whose purpose of existence is war and armed conflict may preserve its political survival through the existence of an environment compatible with its goal.

And what would you say about the Dağlıca incident?

The military unit attacked in Oremar [Dağlıca] was there for a military operation; the PKK militants, acting based on the intelligence on the presence of the military unit at the site, carried out the assault. The Turkish troops would have done the same if they had similar intelligence. That is, if there is a conflict, it is inevitable for one of the parties to suffer substantial losses. For instance, a few days before the Beytüşşebap incident, nine PKK militants were killed in a conflict. I want to emphasize again that a climate of killing rules, and moves are needed to change that.

What should be done?

The post-Saddam developments following the US occupation in 2003 seriously damaged the “stability” policies of Turkey to preserve the status quo in the region. The new situation in Iraq was perceived by the status quo actors of Turkey as a threat. These actors never accepted the new state of affairs. Turkey should abandon its policy of rejecting an entity that emerged under Iraqi law and its constitution and instead recognize it under international legal instruments as something generated through the internal developments of Iraq. It should view the northern Iraqi autonomous Kurdish administration as a friend. This is the way to end the current tension -- a friendly state would not support hostilities. Increasing the tension will not resolve the problem; quite the contrary, it will make it chronic. Effective measures should be taken immediately before further Beytüşşebap-like incidents are committed. Northern Iraq needs peace, and a strong and stable northwestern border.

But the discourse promoted by Barzani and Talabani does not imply peaceful actions from Turkey’s perspective.

In such delicate times, even ordinary actions may fall outside reason and rationale. Considering that the editor-in-chief of a major daily newspaper in Turkey provokes the nation to exhibit a strong reaction and that Barzani makes provocative statements, it’s only normal if the regular citizens of the country act in accordance with their basic instincts rather than reason. History tells us that such statements are of no use. These remarks and statements usually speak to the excessive sentiments of the masses, and they do not transform into permanent policy. Fortunately the initial outrage is gradually being replaced by reasonable action and words, anyway.

What would you say about the role of the DTP [Democratic Society Party] deputies on some vital issues, particularly on the release of the soldiers held captive by the PKK?

There is nothing they can do on their own initiative. If the PKK agrees to make a gesture by handing over the eight hostages to DTP deputies, at that time they may be involved in the process. It does not seem possible for them to assume a role at present to determine the PKK’s actions.

What would happen if the DTP deputies recognized the PKK as a terrorist organization?

Nothing. Let’s say they did. Would the PKK’s strength decrease? No, on the contrary DTP deputies’ power would decrease because these deputies were elected by those who have an affinity or allegiance with the PKK. The DTP deputies have to consider their demands and political views. The deputies have to be influential within the party in order for them to detach from the PKK. However, they are aware how they have been nominated. It now seems impossible that they will have a proper position to attract the moderates, particularly given the latest developments.

So you’re saying that the DTP deputies cannot have an independent sphere?

Following the 2004 election, Abdullah Öcalan [the imprisoned leader of the PKK] gave a start for the formation of a new party because he was threatened by the autonomous policies of DEHAP [the Democratic People’s Party] and gave orders for the establishment of the new party, naming it the DTP. I don’t think the DTP could be an address -- apart from the PKK -- in solving the Kurdish problem in Turkey. And I don’t think the Turkish government needs such an address to solve the Kurdish problem as long as it says this is a problem of Turkey.



Author and editorial board member for the Kurdish political magazine Serbestî, published in Turkish in İstanbul, he also writes for the Turkish dailies Zaman and Radikal as well as the Bianet Internet news site. Originally from Bingöl, he had a bookstore in Ankara between 1973 and 1979 until he was sent to jail for four years by the repressive regime of the Sept.12, 1982 military coup. An İstanbul resident since 1989, he has been active in the formation of many Kurdish initiatives, including the Helsinki Citizens Association and Kurdish Intellectuals Initiative, which organized a sizable conference that was allowed by Turkey to have “Kurdish” in its name for the first time -- “The Necessities of Recognizing the Kurdish Reality.” In the early ‘90s, he worked actively in Cem Boyner’s widely respected New Democracy Movement (YDH), which later became a political party. He was also active in 2004 promoting a signature campaign in Turkey for the text “What Do the Kurds Want in Turkey?” published by the International Herald Tribune, Le Monde and Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspapers.
For a context as to DTP's closure, see the Turkish Daily News article breaking the news in November. AKP has so far maintained the position that the parliamentary immunity of DTP deputies should not be lifted.