Sunday, March 30, 2008

"Ethnophobia" in Greece

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has issued two rulings against Greece in regard to the Greek state's treatment of its minority Xanthi Turkish population. While Turkey must meet the Copenhagen political criteria to secure entry into the EU, it is not at all clear that the same criteria were met by Greece prior to entry. From the ECHR decision as rallied by the Greek Helsinki Monitor for human rights(and advice to Turkey):
"The Court observed that even supposing that the real aim of the applicant association had been to promote the idea that there was an ethnic minority in Greece, this could not be said to constitute a threat to democratic society. It reiterated that the existence of minorities and different cultures in a country was a historical fact that a democratic society had to tolerate and even protect and support according to the principles of international law. The Court also considered that it could not be inferred from the factors relied on by the Thrace Court of Appeal that the applicant association had engaged in activities contrary to its proclaimed objectives. Moreover, there was no evidence that the president or members of the association had ever called for the use of violence, an uprising or any other form of rejection of democratic principles. The Court considered that freedom of association involved the right of everyone to express, in a lawful context, their beliefs about their ethnic identity. However shocking and unacceptable certain views or words used might appear to the authorities, their dissemination should not automatically be regarded as a threat to public policy or to the territorial integrity of a country.”
See also Yavuz Bayar's column in Today's Zaman.

Rapporteur Releases Report on AK Indictment

Constitutional Court Rapporteur Osman Can released his report Thursday evening as to whether the Court should accept the closure case currently pending against AKP. Can recommended that the Court should hear the closure case, but apparently stressed concerns about the evidence collected by Chief Prosector Yalçınkaya. Although the report is not public, it was leaked that Can stressed the fact that under Article 174 of Turkey's Code on Criminal Procedure (CMK) it is required that the indictment provide concrete evidence. The significance of this is that it indicates the report was concerned with a lack of solid evidence against AKP. Also significant to the report is the political ban facing President Gül and whether he might be banned from politics based on acts in which he engaged prior to his presidency.

A decision by the Constitutional Court to accept the case is expected as early as Monday and will require a majority of the Court's 11 judges. If the case is accepted, at least seven judges must decide to rule against AKP if the party is to be closed.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Demirtaş & the Case Against the DTP

From Today's Zaman:
The Air Forces Command Military Prosecutor’s Office filed a lawsuit yesterday against 98 people, including Democratic Society Party (DTP) leader Nurettin Demirtaş, for forging documents to avoid compulsory military service.

The office demanded that 73 of these 98 people, including Demirtaş, be sentenced to 10 years in prison each for submitting a fake health certificate to avoid military service and that 25 others be sentenced up to 730 years each for masterminding and being involved in such criminal acts.

Demirtaş was put in prison late December of last year on charges that he had used a fake health report to avoid his military service, after he underwent a series of medical tests to see whether he had any health problems to prevent him from serving in the army.
The charges against Demirtaş came at the heels of the closure case and were an additional move against DTP, a move that came from inside the military. Then leader of the DTP, Demirtaş was arrested upon his arrival in İstanbul after return from a long trip abroad.

Since Demirtaş' arrest, DTP has been without firm leadership. Traditionally, the party has had one male and one female party leader. The female leader is hardliner Emine Ayna and Demirtaş' position has largely been filled by former leader Ahmet Türk, who is seen as a moderate. He often suggests that PKK tactics hurt the greater Kurdish cause and disenchanted many Kurds when he shook hands with MHP leader Bahçeli upon being sworn into Parliament last summer (a move that also resulted in criticism from Öcalan by way of his attorneys). Faced with infighting, competition within Kurdish politics, and most of all, an ongoing closure case, DTP is an extremely confused party at the moment, unsure as to its own identity and aims.

In another ruling Wednesday, the 9th Chamber of the Supreme Court of Appeals ruled that DTP deputy Selahattin Demirtaş, Nurettin's brother, does not have parliamentary immunity from charges filed against him under the Anti-Terror Law for "making terrorist propaganda." Selahattin had been charged in connection with comments he made on Roj-TV, arguing that the Turkish state should consider Öcalan a legitimate interlocutor in its efforts to accomplish peace in the Kurdish southeast. The 9th Chamber's decision is founded in its reading of Article 14 of the Turkish Constitution, which it interprets as removing all rights and liberties granted in the Constitution if an act is held to constitute an effort to undermine the "indivisible integrity of the state." The ruling is significant in that it paves the way for other DTP members to be tried for violating the vague Anti-Terror Law before the Constitutional Court comes to a decision in the closure case.

Friday, March 28, 2008

More Talk of Coups

From Today's Zaman:

Allegations put forward by a newsweekly last year accusing former military commanders of plotting a coup d'état have been confirmed by a technical investigation conducted as part of an ongoing probe into an illegal gang-like and neo-nationalist formation known as Ergenekon that was allegedly paving the way for a military takeover against the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government.

A technical investigation conducted by police information technology experts as part of the Ergenekon case revealed that allegations leveled last summer by the Nokta newsweekly that in 2004 now-retired Adm. Özden Örnek had confessed plans he and the four force commanders at the time had to stage military coups to be named Ayışığı (Moonlight) and Sarıkız (Blonde Girl).

Last year in April, weekly newsmagazine Nokta published excerpts from a diary it said belonged to former Navy Commander Örnek, which contained details of coup attempts dating back to 2004. An investigation was launched following the allegation -- not into Örnek and his coup plans, but into Nokta Editor-in-Chief Alper Görmüş. The newsweekly was shut down several weeks after a police raid on their office.

According to the Nokta report, Örnek, a disciplined journal writer since 1957, recorded every detail about the plan by Land Forces Commander Gen. Aytaç Yalman, Air Forces Commander Gen. İbrahim Fırtına and Gendarmerie Commander Gen. Şener Eruygur -- who today heads the Atatürkist Thought Association (ADD) -- to stage a coup they termed Blonde Girl in 2004 when they were still in the military, but gave up due to the unwillingness of some higher-ranking officers, the US attitude at the time and the democratic stance of Hilmi Özkök, the then-chief of the Turkish General Staff. Örnek’s journal suggested that Eruygur then planned a coup by himself that he called Moonlight.

Zekeriya Öz, one of the prosecutors working on the case, called Görmüş on Tuesday to testify and give information about the coup diaries, the Taraf daily reported on Wednesday. Görmüş said a copy of the diaries was also handed to the prosecutor.

Görmüş wrote in yesterday’s Taraf that IT teams had determined that the digital excerpts were copied initially from a computer at Naval Forces headquarters.

Örnek had denied last year that the journals belong to him and filed a lawsuit against Görmüş on charges of slander. Görmüş is still on trial, facing up to nearly seven years in jail for “slander” and “publicly insulting an individual.”

In the latest hearing in the trial, held on Feb. 29, Görmüş presented three briefcases of documents to the court. However the court rejected the paper evidence and demanded they be converted into a digital format for submission.
In other news, Taraf correspondnt Soner Arıkanoğlu has been arrested for reporting on the Ergenekon investigation. The Chief Prosecutor's in Istanbul said the reporter had violated the confidentiality of the investigation. Arıkanoğlu reported on Monday that Ergenekon had planned to attack the Supreme Court of Appeals.

Rights and Reciprocity

AKP has fallen under sharp criticism in recent days for its handling of recent arrests made in connection with the Ergenekon investigation. Although harsh criticism of AKP is nothing new, AKP should not be quick to dismiss recent complaints concerning the detention of Cumhuriyet columnist İlhan Selçuk and other journalists in dramatic arrests made just before daylight on March 22.

Little evidence has been presented into the arrests of the journalists and AKP being duly criticized for their detention. Selçuk is 83 years old and his late night arrest in particular has raised the ire of media already content to criticize AKP.

However, some of this criticism is coming from groups who are not strongly affiliated with the strict secularist left. One such group is the BİA-Net media rights-based monitoring group. 80 percent of the group's funding comes from the European Union's Initiative for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR). By no means an organization out to destroy AKP, BİA-Net is one of other well-respected groups who have criticized the arrests and demanded that more information be released.

According to a recent article posted on the site by Ertugrul Kürkcü, the real issue at stake in the Ergenekon investigations is whether AKP will keep its pledge to ensure that the individual rights are protected throughout criminal proceedings. "The issue is not whether these people committed the “crimes” that have been ascribed to them; rather, it is about citizens’ rights not being protected when they are prosecuted and tried by police and judiciary," writes Kúrkcú.

Other criticisms of late launched against AKP include its renewed attention to the constitutional reforms and move to correct the long-criticized stance on party closures. The DTP also faces closure, but AKP detractors say the party did little to protest the closure law when it was not in their self-interest to do so. Given the highly-contentious nature of AKP and the high political costs involved in taking a bold stand against DTP's closure, I am not prepared to launch such criticism. However, it does underline the need for AKP to safeguard individual rights no matter how atrocious the person to whom they might belong (even Abdullah Öcalan?).

As any undergraduate enrolled in an introduction to political theory class can tell you, reciprocity is the essential cornerstone of a rights-based democracy. If a right is extended, there is a duty on the part of others not to violate that right. When it comes to AKP, the best defense of rights is no doubt to carefully safeguard and even promote the rights of others. The louder and more publicly AKP makes these arguments, the more it will assuage its liberal critics.

This is exactly the point Today's Zaman columnist Andrew Finkel made in his column on Tuesday. That article is excerpted below.

The legal writs and indictments are flying through the air like paper darts in a particularly unruly kindergarten class.

The chief prosecutor prepares a case to shut down the governing party. A week later, the police show up with Stasi-like timing at 4:30 a.m. to question the 80-something-year-old lead writer of the country's main opposition newspaper for purported involvement in a plot to overthrow the elected government. The Constitutional Court considers annulling a constitutional amendment that would allow headscarves to be worn in universities. A staunch opponent of headscarves and former rector of Istanbul University is detained over the weekend for his involvement in a criminal conspiracy that included the assassination of the Armenian newspaper editor Hrant Dink…

So thick is the atmosphere of bitterness and accusation that it has become difficult to decide whether we are witnessing the wheels of justice grinding slowly or the second act of some grotesque tale of revenge.

There is a long legal road ahead before the courts rule on the legality of the Justice and Development Party (AK Party). The first step (which seems probable) is that the Constitutional Court must agree to hear the case -- even though this would be in defiance of precedent ruling by the European Court of Human Rights. The government has the means at its disposal to escape from the threat that it violated the secular nature of the Constitution. It may or may not be able to change the Constitution retrospectively with yet another amendment to make it more difficult for the courts to convict. However, it can more easily change the penalty. To take an example, when the government abolished the death penalty, all those convicted of capital crimes -- including Abdullah Öcalan -- benefited from the lighter sentence. By lifting the sanction of party closure and the banning of convicted politicians from holding public office for five years, the government can convert the threat facing it into a souped-up parking fine.

This does not, however, alter the harm that has been done to the prestige of the Turkish legal system. That the criminal courts now stand accused in public opinion (if not convicted) of using their powers to extract retribution from the government's opponents only makes this crisis worse. Until the case has been made in court, it is hard to know how serious the charges are against a new wave of suspects in the Ergenekon investigation into a murderous conspiracy to destabilize the government. If the case against them is weak, then further damage to the majesty of the law will have been done.

On trial, one highly respected lawyer put to me, is the quality of Turkish democracy -- can the will of the people through their elected representative rule in accordance with respect for inalienable human rights, or is Turkey to be run by those whose only mandate is a belief that only they know best?

However this is not the only issue. Also at stake is the principle that "the best defense of one's own rights is the defense of others." A cursory look through the back issues of the papers reveals a whole series of trials in which justice is seen to be denied. The trial of two noncommissioned gendarmes accused of an act of political provocation in the Kurdish town of Semdinli -- the bombing of a bookstore in which one person died and several others were injured -- continues to be postponed, hearing after hearing. Is it entirely a coincidence that when police tried to break up a demonstration over the Nevruz holiday in the city of Van (the site of that trial), it escalated into an ugly confrontation?

Another trial, which did not even make most of the papers, was the sentencing to 10 months' imprisonment (now pending appeal) of Eren Keskin, founder of the "Legal Aid for Victims of Sexual Harassment and Rape Under Detention Project." Ms. Keskin, herself a lawyer, was tried for her contribution to a public discussion in Cologne, Germany. She was accused of insulting the military under Article 301 -- a law which the government refuses even to amend.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Secular Jihadis?

In a column in today's Wall Street Journal, Mustafa Akyol (who regularly writes for the Turkish Daily News) compares AKP and the rise of "Muslim bourgeoisie" to Islamic groups in other countries while maintaining that there are many similarities between so-called 'Islamic fundamentalism' and the "secular fundamentalists" that are currently in favor of closing AKP á la "secular jihad."

Akyol calls on the United States to stand by Turkey's elected government.


Who would you expect to be zealous enemies of "moderate Islam"? Islamic fundamentalists? You bet. From Osama bin Laden & Co. to less violent but equally fanatic groups, Islamist militants abhor their co-religionists who reject tyranny and violence in the name of God. But they are not alone. In this part of the world, there is another group that holds a totally opposite worldview but shares a similar hatred of moderate Islam: Turkey's secular fundamentalists.

This secular hatred comes, most recently, in the form of a stunning attempt by judicial means to shut down the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and ban its top 71 members, including Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, from politics for five years. Even President Abdullah Gül, a former AKP minister, is on the to-ban list of the country's chief prosecutor, Abdurrahman Yalcinkaya, who submitted his indictment to the Constitutional Court in Ankara on March 14. The court is expected to decide this week whether to take up the case.

It is, needless to say, the first time that a ruling party, which won 47% of the vote less than a year ago, is threatened with judicial extermination. In the past, pro-Kurdish parties have been closed down due to their links with the outlawed PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party). Yet the AKP is under threat simply because of its political views. It's a judicial version of the military coup d'etats that Turkey has experienced four times in the past half century.

Yet what are those political views of the AKP which, according to the chief prosecutor, require its banning? The 53,000-word indictment gives a clear answer: The AKP folks are too religious, they speak about God and religion in the public square, and they want more religious freedom.

The major "crime" of the AKP that is emphasized in the indictment, and which provoked the whole process, is the recent constitutional amendment that opened the way for female students to wear Islamic head scarves in Turkish universities. This ban was enacted in 1989 by a Constitutional Court decision. Since then thousands of young girls have been forced to choose between their beliefs and a university education. Some have gone to European or American colleges. Others have tried to wear wigs on top of their scarves in order to enter Turkish campuses.

The indictment also presents lengthy quotes from Prime Minister Erdoğan that demonstrate his "antisecular views and activities." These include his remarks in June 2005 to CNN's Wolf Blitzer: "My daughters can go to American universities with their head scarf. There is religious freedom in your country, and we want to bring the same thing to Turkey." In another "criminal" statement, made in London in September 2005, Mr. Erdoğan said, "my dream is a Turkey in which veiled and unveiled girls will go to the campus hand in hand." During a February 2005 interview with Germany's Welt am Sonntag, his "crime" was to note, "We Turks prefer the Anglo-Saxon interpretation of secularism to the French one" -- for the former grants more religious freedom to its citizens. For the chief prosecutor, these all prove that Mr. Erdoğan and his party aim to dilute and then overthrow secularism.

Actually there is some truth to this claim, because Turkey's official secularism is fiercely illiberal and shows limited respect for religious freedom. Any religious expression or symbol in the public square is considered an infringement of secular principles. For Ankara's old guard, the public square should be dominated by what former President Ahmet Necdet Sezer proudly defined as "the state ideology."

According to Princeton historian Sükrü Hanioglu, this ideology is rooted in the "vulgar materialism" of late 19th-century Germany, which heralded a postreligious age of "science and reason." This philosophy, which was emulated by some of the Young Turks and inherited by most of their Kemalist successors, has been openly endorsed by the Constitutional Court. "The secularism principle," Turkey's top judicial body argued in a 1989 decision, "requires that the society should be kept away from thoughts and judgments that are not based on science and reason."

A similar secular fundamentalism is propagated in the West by popular thinkers such as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens -- but there it is one of many competing ideas. In Turkey secular fundamentalism is the official ideology, and it is eager to crush any alternative.

Besides their ideology, Turkish secularists also use a seemingly realist argument. If religion is given even a little bit of space in public, they argue, it will soon dominate the whole system. This doctrine of pre-emptive intolerance guides, and misleads, Ankara's establishment on virtually every issue. If we allow the Kurds to speak in their mother tongue, the establishment has argued for seven decades, we will have a Kurdish problem. But today they have a much bigger problem precisely because they have suppressed the Kurdish language and culture. Despite their presumptions, it is repression, not freedom, that feeds political radicalism.

Turkish secularists also portray the AKP as part of the radical Islamist movement. For them, there is no difference between the Gucci-wearing, head-scarved woman in Istanbul who wants to study business and the chador-wearing woman in Tehran who cries, "Death to capitalism!"

But the Muslim-democrat AKP is quite different from the Islamists of the Middle East. That's simply because Turkish Islam is a unique interpretation of the global faith. Since the Ottoman reforms of the 19th century, Turkey's observant Muslims have been widely favorable toward democracy. And since the 1980s, thanks to their engagement in globalization and capitalism, they have become much more Western-oriented than much of the secular elite. That's why the secularists constantly accuse the AKP and the supporting "Muslim bourgeoisie" of serving "American imperialism" and "Zionism." The same paranoia is reflected in the chief prosecutor's indictment. In it he notes, apparently in all seriousness, that Colin Powell and other U.S. officials have praised "moderate Islam," and he connects Prime Minister Erdoğan to "the American Broader Middle East Project which aims at ruling countries via moderate Islamic regimes."

The U.S. should indeed encourage Turkey not to enact a "moderate Islamic regime" -- a project that exists only in the fantasies of Turkish secularists -- but to achieve a real democracy in which the sovereignty of the people overrides the ideology of its bureaucrats and army officers. What the latter threatens these days is not only the most popular and successful political party of Turkey, but also this country's democracy.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

AKP Looks to Amend Law on Party Closures

AKP is ever more intent to attempt to push forward new law that would restrict the closure of political parties and possibly save AKP from closure. AKP and MHP had already announced the creation of commissions by which to study the law on party closures, but AKP announced yesterday that it will be introducing a set of amendments to Article 68 and 69 that allow parties to be closed by decision of the Constitutional Court. Possible changes include changing the criteria under which parties may be closed to resemble that established in EU countries (the party must advocate violence and/or seek to overthrow the state) and/or amending the process governing closure cases so that other institutions must consent to the case's opening.

Amendments to the constitution require a 2/3 majority in parliament or majority approval in a national referendum. Hopeful to strike a deal with MHP and thus avoid the confrontational political situation that would surely follow should AKP decide to take the amendments to referendum, AKP will be seeking the cooperation of MHP as it works out what any such amendment might look like. MHP has expressed support for examining law pertaining to party closures, but is holding onto all of its cards and will no doubt seek to exract significant concessions from AKP before agreeing to any sort of compromise. Important to MHP is that any such amendment in no way benefits DTP and that the power to prosecute individual party members be preserved. This would mean that the 71 members of AKP currently under indictment could still be banned from politics. It is unlikely that AKP will agree to this.

CHP and MHP have warned that taking amendments to referendum is unacceptable and a threat to the sanctity of Turkey's constitution. Meanwhile, the Turkish Industrialists and Businessmen's Association (TÜSİAD) and the Turkish Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges (TOBB) have urged that a compromise be reached that might stablize the situation. A compromise would ensure that AKP will not seek a referendum and thus run the risk of direct confrontation with the military establishment.

Worthy of a look is Orhan Kemal Cengiz's column in today's Turkish Daily News in which he assesses the possible outcomes of the closure case. Cengiz concurs with the dominant opinion that should the case be accepted and AKP does not seek constitutional reform to prevent its closure, the party's fate will be all but sealed.

Constitutional Court to Review Foundations Law

At the behest of a petition for review filed by CHP on Monday, the Constitutional Court has decided to review changes recently made to the Foundations Law. The recent legislative push to address problems have been long-cited by the European Union and Turkey's minorities as violations of basic political rights. Many members of minority groups feel the new laws do not go far enough.

CHP will likely again fall subject to criticism that it has turned to Turkey's judiciary to reverse law passed by significant majorities in the parliament. MHP is also in support of the petition.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Why Not Diyarbakır and Batman?

DTP members blamed state authorities for Newroz violence, arguing that in the cities of Diyarbakır and Batman, where demonstrations were allowed, but carefully monitored, no violence broke out. It was only those cities in which Newroz celebrations had been prohibited where violence occurred. DTP does not stand on solid enough ground to make this argument successfully, but it indeed needs to be taken seriously and reflects the increased reluctance on AKP's part to grant Kurds cultural rights and eschew pro-PKK demonstrators rather than engaging them (and others) violently.

Avşar Trial Provides Good News For a Change

From the Kurdish Human Rights Project:
On 20 March, the Diyarbakir Heavy Criminal Court Number 3 sentenced Gültekin Sütçü, a former member of the Turkish security forces, to 30 years imprisonment under 448 of the Turkish penal Code for “homicidal attempt to murder”, for his involvement in the killing of Mehmet Şerif Avşar in Diyabakir, south-east Turkey in 1994.

KHRP welcomes this decision, 14 years after the killing of Mr. Avşar, as an indication of Turkey’s new willingness to hold members of its security forces to account for their violations of Turkish law. Mr. Avşar was taken into custody by several armed policeman on 22 April 1994 in Diyarbakir and was later found dead. In a KHRP-assisted case in 2002, the European Court of Human Rights found Turkey responsible for his death, in violation of the Right to Life under Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights, as well Article 13 based on its failure to adequately investigate the killing. Whilst several individuals were convicted by Turkey in 2000 for their involvement in Mr. Avşar’s death, Sütçü has until now escaped prosecution.

However, KHRP, along with the victim’s family, is deeply concerned to learn that the court decided not to remand Sütçü in custody until his sentence is ratified by the High Court of Appeal. This is in keeping with Turkey’s handling of the case since Sütçü’s arrest in October 2006. Prior to this, Sütçü had spent several years in hiding, thus showing himself to be a serious flight risk. Now that he has been sentenced, it is highly likely that he will once again disappear and evade justice.

Upon learning of the sentence, KHRP Executive Director Kerim Yildiz stated, “The sentencing of Gültekin Sütçü is in itself a positive development, indicating greater recognition on the part of Turkey for the crimes committed by its security forces during the conflict in the Kurdish Region of Turkey in the 1980s and 1990s. Yet any failure to ensure that he serves his sentence will severely undermine this process. Over the past 15 years, KHRP has been involved with a number of cases in which Turkey has failed to bring to justice members of its own security forces for torture, abductions and murder. Indeed, the ultimate casualty of this is the integrity of the rule of law, which is severely undermined by a culture of impunity that this creates.”

Monday, March 24, 2008

Evidence Links Closure Case to Ergenekon Investigation

The daily Taraf reported yesterday that a copy of Supreme Court of Appeals Chief Prosecutor Abdurrahman Yalçınkaya's indictment was found on the computer of one of the fourteen people detained in a series of arrests that took place in the wee hours of the morning Friday. The copy of the indictment is apparently dated two days before it was filed with the Constitutional Court and indicates that the current closure case with which AKP is faced might indeed be linked to the government's ongoing investigation into Ergenekon.

The arrests took place in conjunction with the ongoing Ergenekon investigation and the individuals arrested were mostly leftist journalists and members of the Workers' Party (İP). They include 83-year old Cumhuriyet columnist İlhan Selçuk and İP leader Doğu Perinçek.

Due to the lack of government disclosure, AKP has been subject to criticism in recent days that the investigation is turning into a witchhunt aimed at its political enemies.

More Newroz Violence

The Turkish press are confirming two Newroz-related deaths, including the death of the man fatally wounded in Van on Saturday. Protests in İzmir also led to violent protests, injuries, and detentions. Both papers, but especially Today's Zaman, play up provocation by pro-PKK Kurds, but in no way criticize police action as excessive.

Coverage from the Turkish Daily News

Coverage from Today's Zaman

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Newroz Festival Marred By Violence

PHOTO FROM Efe / El País
Newroz marks the start of the new year for Turkey's some 15 million Kurds and is by far the most important holiday in the southeast. Celebrations of past years have been marked by violent protests spurned by state repression and Kurdish provocation. For some Kurds, the holiday marks an important day of protest against Turkey's repression of Kurdish identity and has become a symbol of political resistance. Embraced by DTP, this year's political theme is "Enough is enough." Festivities got under way peacefully in Diyarbakır, but this was not the case in the eastern cities of Van, Hakkari, Siirt, Batman, Silopi y Mersin. In these cities, state authorities did not allow for celebrations and when they ensued, violence soon broke out. According to news reports, the police responded when demonstrators began to shout slogans for Öcalan and wave posters carrying his image.

The Spanish newspaper El País reports that in Van one man was shot in the chest by police and that some 100 more were injured. Additionally, at least 400 others were detained by police. Characterizing scenes in these cities as "battle grounds," footage of clashes between the police and demonstrators demonstrate violent acts taken by both sides. The demonstrators threw stones and Molotov cocktails, while police responded with gun fire, severe beatings, and pepper gas. For a look at the anarchy, see footage from EuroNews. The violence will only inflame sentiments against the state and further polarize Kurds and Turks.

The Forgotten Case of Eren Keskin

With all the recent talk of coming reform, it seems important to stress yesterday's conviction of human rights activist Eren Keskin. Keskin was sentenced to six months in prison under Article 301 after the Turkish General Staff filed suit against her for a comment she made to the German newspaper Der Tagesspiegel.

Commenting on what even EU diplomats have called an unhealthy amount of involvement of the military in politics and an undue influence in judicial proceedings, Keskin told the paper, "Politics in Turkey is dominated by the military; no Turkish civilian government will ever be able to enforce its program against the generals." The Turkish General Staff claimed that the comment insulted the military and was therefore illegal under Article 301.

She was sentenced in a hearing that lasted no longer than 15 minutes.

Keskin's case has failed to attract much attention since yesterday's skimming of New York Times was the first time I had heard of her. The Times included a small news brief of her conviction from Agence France-Presse. It is sad that not more attention is given to such cases as such a shaky conviction would surely make news had it happened in other countries. However, as I write in my post of March 13, most Article 301 convictions rarely make headlines.

According to Today's Zaman, Keskin had been convicted once before in 2006 for comments she made regarding sexual assault in womens' prisons—a victim of Article 301 both times. In that case, Keskin refused to pay a fine of YTL 6,000 and opted instead for the prison sentence. Keskin insists that her comments were political criticism and not an insult of the military and said she will appeal her case.

Keskin founded the Project for Legal Aid to Victims of Rape and Sexual Assault under Custody and is head of the Istanbul branch of the Human Rights Association. No stranger to perilous circumstances, Keskin has received numerous death threats. In 2001, Amnesty International issued an alert regarding her safety.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Democracy Interrupted

Excerpted below is an op/ed in Today's Zaman authored by political analyst Sevgi Akarçeşme:

Whenever we Turks begin to think that, finally, good things are happening to us as well and we are getting out of a vicious cycle in which the country has been struggling, our hopes are sabotaged.

We have gotten accustomed to disappointment so much so that, even in times of brief intervals of political and economic stability, our anxieties based on previous experience come to the surface. Thanks to a shocking decision of the highest-ranking prosecutor in the nation to start a closure trial against the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party), once again our fears have been confirmed. It feels as if there is an "invisible hand" factor in Turkish politics that disrupts stability and possible reforms toward becoming a truly liberal democratic state.
In 2007, during the process that led to the presidential election, Turkey witnessed anti-democratic interventions in politics not only by the military, but also indirectly from the judiciary. Following an April 27 e-memorandum that attempted to discourage the AK Party government from nominating a candidate from its ranks, the judicial establishment approved an unprecedented "367 criteria" for the presidential election procedure as a result of a very unusual interpretation of the Constitution. Such a tailored decision by the Constitutional Court convinced public opinion that the judiciary is not impartial and has become highly politicized. As a result of the passive political culture in Turkey, instead of a loud and public reaction to such unlawful and unjust attempts, the people spoke out at the ballot box. In national elections, which almost turned into a referendum, the AK Party was rewarded with a landslide victory coupled with the legitimacy to determine its own candidate for the presidency. Notwithstanding such a broad mandate for the AK Party's candidate, Abdullah Gül, it was surprising -- at least to me -- to see that his journey to the presidency was not aborted, given the desperate combined attempts by a small, but influential coalition of pundits, the judiciary and the military.

Last week's news, which shocked all rational and democratic members of the nation, demonstrated that the establishment did not give up that easily. While we thought that the elitist center of the state finally came to terms with the realities and unwillingly acknowledged the democratic procedures, a prosecutor who acted on behalf of the "people" played the last card. In a "normal" country, an attempt to ban a political party, let alone the one that has been in power for the last six years with a renewed mandate, could not be expected at any time. However, in Turkey, a country that more often than not has witnessed the unlikely becoming likely, a couple of signs were there for suspicious minds. Shortly before the trial request, remarks by another high-level prosecutor praising the 1960 military coup that resulted in the execution of the prime minister of the era along with two leading ministers went unnoticed. Similarly, a speech by the former head of the unusually politicized Higher Education Board who vehemently opposed Gül's presidency was disclosed on YouTube. In the voice recording, he implied an "accident" in the event an AK Party candidate makes it into the presidency. Again, under normal circumstances, one would expect such unfortunate remarks by high-level bureaucrats to be investigated. Instead, the state came up with an indictment against the AK Party on the grounds that the party has become the center of anti-secular actions.

For any impartial eye, the indictment is nothing less than humorous material. What the prosecutor calls actions are a combination of various speeches made by leading AK Party figures coupled with newspaper clippings, some of which were already proven to be wrong. The indictment demands a ban on political activities of President Gül and Prime Minister Erdoğan along with many other AK Party politicians. The requested number of bans is meaningful as it could prevent the current government from forming a majority in Parliament if is taken seriously. The "evidence" for anti-secular activities is so ridiculous that certain civil society groups -- such as the Young Civilians -- have begun to use it for mockery.

In even a less than perfectly normal country one would expect such an indictment to be dismissed. Unfortunately, our very recent collective memory warns us to be cautious as "anything" can happen in Turkish politics thanks to the invisible hand factor.

Clearly, the indictment reflects more than a legal case againstthe ruling AK Party. It probably constitutes the final battleground for the power struggle between the status quo and change. The establishment is desperately trying to cling to the final trump card it has by undermining whatever is left in the name of rule of law in the country.

Regardless of the outcome of the process, which has already had a negative impact on the economy, it is Turkish democracy and the trust in the judiciary that will suffer more damage. The people of Turkey have seen enough visible and invisible interruptions in politics every time we strive to "normalize." Is it too much to ask to live in a country in which people's main concerns are gas prices or the climate instead of what a "man of law" or a general would say?

Confessions from the Deep State

From Gareth Jenkins:
On March 20, two members of the Turkish Gendarmerie admitted receiving detailed intelligence regarding a plot to assassinate Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink and then, after Dink’s murder, trying to cover up their knowledge by lying to investigators.

The confessions came as two Gendarmerie officers, known by their initials as O. S. and V. S., went on trial for dereliction of duty after evidence emerged that the security forces in the eastern Black Sea city of Trabzon had been informed of the plot to assassinate Dink months in advance but had failed either to apprehend the plotters or attempt to protect Dink (Anadolu Ajans, CNNTurk, NTV, March 20).

Friday, March 21, 2008

A Blessing in Disguise?: Promises for Human Rights, New Constitution

Following an emergency parliamentary meeting to discuss the closure case, AKP has been announcing over the past few days that it will pursue constitutional reforms with greater intensity in the coming months. The party was much criticized for postponing these reforms following its watershed agreement with MHP to move to lift the headscarf ban.

Now facing closure, the priority of constitutional reform will inevitably be to overhaul the processes by which parties may legally be closed. Critics have said that this is a self-interested effort on AKP's part and that it bears little evidence of a sincere commitment to pursue major democratic reform. Whether this criticism is justified, it is really beside the point. The fact of the matter is that there is now a significant catalyst in place that has the potential to bring parliamentarians to seriously attend to reforms that have long been demanded by human rights activists. Major human rights protections rarely take place in a vacuum and the constitutional reforms AKP is now all the more serious about seeking would indubitably be a boon to the human rights project.

Principal among such reforms would hopefully be a major overhaul of the judicial system that would hopefully take place with the advice and assistance of the European Union. This should be read as a political benefit for Turkey in and of itself, but would, of course, also have the major impact of making Turkey a much more serious contender for eventual EU membership.

As to party closures, an informative article appeared in Today's Zaman comparing Turkey to other countries in terms of laws pertaining to party closures. Hopefully the comparative value of the information contained in the article will put into perspective counter-arguments for reform that contend Turkey is no different than other EU countries who also have provisions allowing for party closure.

Below is a link to an article from the March 18 edition of Today's Zaman discussing prospects for constitutional reform.

Commissions Created to Examine Party Closures

From this morning's Today's Zaman:

AK Party ponders EU criteria for party closures

Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan asked AK Party officials to explore possibilities that will make party closures more difficult. The ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) and the opposition Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) have set up commissions to explore the possibility of drafting constitutional amendments that will make it more difficult to close political parties.

Both parties are working on own their specific solutions to the issue. A generally accepted approach in both commissions is to use the party closure policies of EU member countries in modeling changes to the Constitution and the Political Parties Law. EU countries that have legislation for closing political parties generally restrict closures to extreme cases of parties that advocate fascism or violence. The amendments under consideration would likely also include the advocating of Islamic rule as a legitimate reason for closing a party.

The AK Party's legal experts, including Deputy Prime Minister Cemil Çiçek, parliamentary group deputy chairmen Bekir Bozdağ, Sadullah Ergin, and Nihat Ergün, Parliamentary Constitutional Commission Chairman Burhan Kuzu, Deputy Chairman Dengir Mir Mehmet Fırat and former Parliament Speaker Bülent Arınç, have outlined possible amendments to the Constitution and the Political Parties Law.

Having discovered that many EU member countries do not have legislation concerning party closures, they have decided to design a system that will incorporate elements from the practices of Spain, Portugal and Italy, which have party closure provisions in their constitutions and laws. In these countries, only those parties who openly support terrorism can be shut down. These countries also require the consent of the government or the parliament for launching a closure case.

The AK Party’s legal experts have made five suggestions for changes to party closure procedure. The first is that the Constitutional Court should only hear closure cases for parties that support terrorism. The AK Party is planning to amend the constitutional article that regulates party closures in a way that will comply with the criteria set forth in the Venice commission, which are currently implemented in Spain, Portugal and Italy. According to the principles of the Venice commission, only those political parties that engage in violent activities for political purposes can be closed down. Parties that are involved in terrorism and racism (fascist, national socialist) will be open to closure as well.

According to the AK Party’s second suggestion, the Supreme Court of Appeals’ chief prosecutor’s powers related to party closures will remain unchanged, but the prosecutor must obtain consent before proceeding with a closure case. It has not yet been decided whether the authority of this consent should be assigned to Parliament
or to the criminal board of the Supreme Court of Appeals. In Japan, parliamentary consent is sought for such cases. Given the possible reactions that may emerge from other parties, the AK Party is more likely to give this authority to the criminal board of the Supreme Court of Appeals.

The AK Party’s third suggestion is that the practice of banning individuals from politics should be eliminated. The AK Party argues that instead of closing down a party, individual members of that party should be penalized. However, they suggest making an exception to this rule for political parties that support terrorism. Thus, political party members who are held liable for the closure of their party can be banned from entering the next elections, instead of being banned from politics outright, they say. The AK Party is also planning to abolish the constitutional provision that says that these people cannot be founders, members, executives or auditors of another political party.

The AK Party’s legal experts have also suggested that a unanimous vote of the Constitutional Court should be required to shut down a party. Currently, the Constitutional Court may decide to shut down a political party with a two-thirds majority.

While some deputies argue that a provisional article should be added to the Constitution that would ensure the cancellation of closure cases currently pending with the Constitutional Court, the AK Party will most likely refrain from doing this, as this may spark criticism toward the party. The closure cases currently being heard by the court include those against the pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party (DTP), the Rights and Freedoms Party (HAK-PAR) and the AK Party.

As the final criterion, these constitutional amends may be taken to referendum. Pointing out that a referendum process may take a long time, some AK Party deputies maintain that it would be better to consult other political parties about the amendments and try to ensure their cooperation.

What does the MHP want?

The MHP is warm to the idea of amending the Constitution and the Political Parties Law in a way that will bring tighter regulations to party closures. It, too, has established a commission -- chaired by MHP Deputy Chairman Faruk Bal -- to work on the subject. MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli, at a meeting of his party’s parliamentary group last Tuesday, said that political parties should only be closed down by the Turkish nation. He said he has instructed party officials to work on amendments to article 68 and 69 of the Constitution.

Bahçeli suggested that party members who can be held liable for activities that would previously have led to the closure of a party should be penalized, instead of shutting down the entire party. He also suggested that parliamentary immunities may be regulated accordingly and that exceptions can be made concerning political parties that support terrorism or nurture separatist ideologies.

The MHP also does not want the chief prosecutor’s powers to be curtailed or the Constitutional Court’s composition to be changed. The MHP’s legal experts are against any provisional article that would lead to the cancellation of pending cases. Work should instead concentrate on establishing legal norms, they say. The MHP has also wants the involvement of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) in the amendment process.

The legal experts from the AK Party and the MHP will meet today to exchange and discuss their proposals. They are expected to meet once again over the weekend. If the AK Party and the MHP fail to reach agreement, Turkey may have to hold another referendum concerning the amendments. In this case, to speed up the referendum process, the AK Party will reintroduce a previous constitutional amendment designed to decrease the referendum standby period from 120 days to 45 days. The amendment had previously been vetoed by former President Ahmet Necdet Sezer.

DTP hopes to benefit from amendments

While the DTP has said it will lend its unconditional support to the constitutional amendments, the AK Party will not officially request its support. However, the amendments prepared either by the AK Party or the MHP will probably not come to the rescue of the DTP, which is currently being tried on charges of being the focal point of separatist activities.

CHP and DSP to go to Constitutional Court

The CHP does not approve of the amendments suggested by the AK Party and the MHP. The Democratic Left Party (DSP), which generally follows a political line close to that of the CHP, has also been cool to the proposals. The CHP and the DSP are planning to apply to the Constitutional Court for the cancellation of the amendments if they are passed. CHP leader Baykal has openly stated that they disapprove of any change in the Constitution or the Political Parties Law.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

"A Second Revolution?"

In recent days, I have been emailed various messages from people who are enthused by the AKP's closing. Intrigued by an image I continue to see on blogs and facebook groups set up by AKP detractors, I am left wondering just how sinister a force does AKP represent in some people's minds. The image is of a lightbulb cloaked in a burqa (the lightbulb is an AKP symbol). It seems to represent perfectly the fears that many have that AKP is closeting an Islamic agenda to turn Turkey into an Islamic state along the lines of Iran. Indeed, this fear is so strong that one young woman informed me the other day that she thought Turkey was in need of another revolution. We had been talking of Atatürk and his role in building the Turkish state when she somewhat out-of-the-blue made this declaration. Turkey is on the edge of a slippery slope these detractors decry—the country needs something to happen to push it back to its safe plateau.

However, these detractors are themselves difficult to characterize and like so many of the people with whom I have talked, do not easily fall into the Manicheanism of the rubrics with which many approach Turkish political actors: Islamist, Kemalist, religionist, secularist, rightist, leftist, reformer, establishmentarian. The young woman who made the "second revolution" comment is also a devoted Muslim who does not use alcohol and has an interest in the history of Islam. Food for thought, indeed...

In the news today, AKP received support from MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli who said yesterday that the indictment is irreponsible and jeopardizes Turkey's political future. "This case of closure will bring with it deep political consequences. Turkey, which has focused on the case opened to shut down the AK Party in the last few days, has entered a turbulent period. Such high tension in the society will deeply influence our state and public. We may even go through a political crisis. We may undergo an atmosphere of chaos whose consequences might be hard to handle," Bahçeli said. It should be noted that Bahçeli was among those who praised the closure case against DTP. Bahçeli says the cases are different in that DTP was engaged in separatist activities and tied to the PKK.

Meanwhile, CHP leader Deniz Baykal approved of the indictment despite prefacing his remarks with a history of his own's party closure. He concurred that AKP had violated the tenets of secularism essential to the protection of Turkey's secular state and that a judicial solution was appropriate: "The judiciary says there is a conflict. Nobody can twist this. There is no clash between law and national will or between law and democracy. There is a clash between law and politics. This should not be misunderstood. What underlies this conflict is the ban on mixing religion with politics."

AKP leaders have expressed that they are preparing for all possibilities, including the shutdown of the party.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Lagendijk Condemns Judicial Interference, Politics of Fear

Joost Lagendijk, Co-chairman of the delegation of the Joint EU-Turkey Parliamentary Committee authored an op/ed in Today's Zaman. In it, Lagendijk stresses that the closure case is a blatant defiance of democracy and raises serious questions about separation of powers in the Turkish government.

Notably, Lagendijk also raises questions about the politics of fear that CHP and others in the opposition to AKP have used for political gain. Last fall, I was struck when a former professor of mine informed an audience of people that fear was democracy's greatest threat. As Lagendijk writes, what has happened in Turkey is certainly evidence for such a claim.

The entirety of the text is excerpted below.

Efforts by one of the country's top prosecutors to close down the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) are a clear example of the mindset that is still dominant within the Turkish judiciary. They see themselves as the ultimate guardians of the foundations on which the republic is based. Even if most people reject their claims, these hard-core secularists do not hesitate to stage a constitutional coup against the party that represents almost 50 percent of the Turkish people.

In the run-up to the elections in July 2007 many accusations were thrown at the AK Party, putting their secular credentials in doubt. Then President Ahmet Necdet Sezer, Chief of General Staff Gen. Yaşar Büyükanıt and Republican People's Party (CHP) leader Deniz Baykal all warned the Turkish population that by electing Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Abdullah Gül the country would be in danger of losing its secular character. The accusations against the AK Party were all expressions of a worldview that I would call "aggressive" secularism. According to this view, the "beliefs" of a religion should be pushed back into the private domain, if necessary through coercion and prohibitions.

In July this strategy, based on fear and suspicion, totally backfired. On top of the support from its core electorate, the AK Party received the votes of many Turks that did not believe Erdoğan was leading Turkey in the direction of Iran. Almost 50 percent of the population rewarded the government for its economic policies and were open to a new interpretation of secularism (let's call it "passive" secularism) resembling the one practiced in Europe and the US, where the state adopts a neutral position on all religions and has no objection to religious expressions in the public domain.

Taking advantage of the defeat suffered by the army after their e-coup, the government managed very cleverly to strike a deal with Büyükanıt. The army would remain silent on politics for the foreseeable future but would get the opportunity to prove themselves in the fight against terrorism.

It made them so confident (some would say arrogant) that they pushed the changes to the Constitution through Parliament without bothering to create trust among many doubtful moderate secularists. Erdoğan should have spent much more energy in trying to convince AK Party skeptics that lifting the ban at universities was part of a new consensus and not a stepping stone to allow the wearing of headscarves at other public places as well. Distrust in Turkey and in Europe could also have been prevented when the government had presented these changes as part of a package of reforms (or a proposal for a new Constitution)that should have contained other reforms on freedom of speech and minority rights as well.

The AK Party self-confidently ruling the country without effective opposition left the hard core of the dogmatic secularists desperate. The CHP had lost the elections and the army was busy in northern Iraq. How to stop the AK Party now? The only method available was to use the last secular bulwark not touched (at least for the moment) by the new spirit in the country: the judiciary, full of people that deep down think they know better than the majority of the people. Most judges and prosecutors feel so strongly about the perceived dangers to the Turkish state that they believe the rule of law and the outcome of democratic elections can be overturned if necessary. They said so in a recent opinion poll, they acted accordingly last Friday. The state had to teach the people a lesson.

The constitutional coup we are now witnessing is the action of desperate people, afraid of what the future will bring. They know the present Constitution, based on the idea that the state has to be protected against its citizens, will soon be replaced by a new civil and democratic one that will protect the citizens against the state. This coup is the ultimate effort to stop history. It may succeed in the short run because the present highest judges share the same mindset. It will fail in the long run because the Turkish people will punish the politicians, the military and the judges supporting this coup.

What will be the effect on Turkey-EU relations? That depends of course first and foremost on the decision of the Constitutional Court: Will they open a case against the AK Party or will they not? If there is no case, the damage will be small also because it will show that Turkey has moved beyond the point where political disputes can be decided via court cases. If the AK Party has to defend itself before the court, the effects could be worrying -- at least in the short run. The court case will stop the efficient functioning of the government and Parliament. Reforms the EU has been waiting for for such a long time will be postponed again. Turkey skeptics in Europe will use the situation to prove they were always right and that the EU better forget about integrating such an unstable and undemocratic country. Defenders of Turkish accession will have a hard time making the case for ongoing negotiations while the reform process is halted and the pro-European elected politicians in Turkey are in danger of losing out to the anti-European bureaucrats.

In the long run I am much more optimistic. This crisis might well turn out to be a turning point in Turkish history. I am also deeply convinced that many AK Party opponents will come to the conclusion that this is not the way to fight Erdoğan and his policy. If one thinks that Turkey would be better off with another policy, then the next elections are the moment to prove the AK Party is wrong and to convince the people. The irony is that most probably after a court case or after a possible closing down of the AK Party, its successor will gain even more votes because most Turks do not want either the army or the judiciary to tell them what is right or wrong. This means the process of reform will continue. There will be a new Constitution. There will be a new generation of prosecutors and judges that are willing to serve the people instead of bullying them. The EU will see that things are moving on in Turkey and that it is in the self-interest of Europe to have Turkey as a member state where democracy has defeated the self-appointed guardians of the status quo.

More About the AKP Indictment

To post more about the indictment/petition to close AKP, see two perspectives of the allegations against AKP. The first appears in Today's Zaman and the second in the Turkish Daily News.

The Constitutional Court has announced that it will decide whether or not to accept the case in the next ten days.

In other news, in an emergency AKP parliamentary group meeting, Erdoğan continued to urge party members to refrain from provocative comments and remain calm. He is also said to have questioned any potential links between the closure case and the ongoing Ergenekon investigation. The Turkish Bar Association and TÜSIAD have denounced the petition as inappropriate and a threat to political stability. In recent days, Turkey's currency has lost value against the Euro and the American Dollar. For a financial analysis of the situation, see Andrew Finkel's column in Today's Zaman.

Unemployment Numbers Do Not Bode Well for AKP

More children when unemployment is rising is a very bad idea. Simple as that.

From Gareth Jenkins:

The latest employment figures released by the Turkish Statistical Institute (TURKSTAT) suggest that, despite six years of robust macro-economic growth, Turkey is failing to create enough jobs for its growing population.

On March 17, TURKSTAT reported that, at the end of 2007, the unemployment rate in Turkey stood at 10.6%, only marginally above the figure of 10.5% at year-end 2006. The unemployment rate among young people is reported to have risen from 20.3% at the end of 2006 to 20.6% at the end of 2007. However, a closer scrutiny of TURKSTAT’s data suggests that the true rate of unemployment is considerably higher, particularly among young people.

. . . .

One of the main reasons is a dramatic decline in female participation in the workforce. Female representation has increased in some of the professions. For example, in Turkey, women now account for 36% of all university teaching staff, 31% of architects, 29% of doctors, and 26% of lawyers (Dunya, March 8). However, overall female participation in the workforce stood at 22.2% at end-2007, less than half the rate for the population as a whole and down from 34.1% in 1990 (Anka Haber Ajansi, March 6).

There is little question that many in the ruling Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP) believe that a woman’s place is in the home rather than the workplace. The current Council of Ministers has only one female member and, perhaps predictably, she is State Minister Responsible for Women’s Affairs. Very few of the wives and daughters of the leading members of the AKP have careers. On March 7, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan infuriated women’s groups by calling on Turkish women to have at least three children (Radikal, Hurriyet, CNNTurk, March 8).

However, such conservative attitudes are not, by themselves, sufficient to explain the decline in the number of women in the workforce. The main reason appears to be urbanization. Traditionally, most of the agricultural work in Turkey has done by women, usually on small, family-owned plots of land. Even today, 58.5% of all working women are believed to be employed in agriculture (Dunya, March 8). However, urbanization has meant that a higher proportion of the Turkish female proportion than ever before now live in cities. Although men may have been prepared for their womenfolk to do most of the work in the relative privacy of the family fields, they are often less keen for them to work outside the home in the cities; where most of the paid manual labor is, in any case, done by males.

But the latest TURKSTAT statistics suggest that the AKP’s failure to create sufficient jobs for more than a small proportion of the young people entering the job market each year could also have other social and political repercussions. Although the Turkish political agenda is currently dominated by the case before the Turkish Constitutional Court for the AKP’s closure (see EDM, March 17), the government is nevertheless aware that ultimately its political future probably depends more on its ability to deliver on the economy, particularly by creating jobs. For the moment at least, there is no question that it is failing.

Closure Cases Criticized in Europe, Emphasizes Need for Judicial Reform

PHOTO FROM Today's Zaman
European Parliament's rapporteur on Turkey Ria Oomen-Ruijten in the European Parliament.

Response from Europe has been highly-critical of the closure case recently opened against AKP and EU parliamentarians have already begun to talk of the case being a sever hindrance to European membership. EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn told Reuters on Saturday, "In a normal European democracy, political issues are debated in parliament and decided in the ballot box, not in the courtroom."

However, what is perhaps most sad is that this is a good thing for many of the people with whom I have talked who are already fatigued with Turkey's continued efforts to join the European Union. One person told me how disgusted she was of Turkey's constant need to bow at Europe's feet (words she used) and cited how Turkey had already given up too much of its national sovereignty when the country banned the death penalty and opted not to carry out PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan's death sentence.

Much has been made of increased Europe fatigue, but for those who are happy with the closure case (a small minority), pressure from Europe will have no effect whatsoever and will further reinforce their motivation to ban AKP and protect what they see as the state's secular inheritance from Atatürk. However, the EU strong line is useful insomuch as it shores up support for AKP and reminds those Euro-philes who overlap with the anti-AKP camp that closing the party will be taken very seriously in EU diplomatic circles.

The closure case will likely reinforce EU concerns about the independence of Turkey's judiciary and its use as a political weapon to be used against opposition parties at the whim of judges and prosecutors who are find themselves in the democratic minority. The case leaves many EU politicians frustrated when left to think that AKP might have avoided this mess if the party had eschewed the political opportunity MHP offered it in February and instead focused on constitutional reform. However, in the current circumstances, there is no use dwelling on the past. Still, sigh . . .

From Sunday's Today's Zaman:

European Parliament's rapporteur on Turkey Ria Oomen-Ruijten, whose report was published only several days ago, had some difficulty in believing the news that a lawsuit had been filed at the Constitutional Court to close down the AK Party.

"This is absolutely crazy. I have never, ever, seen in my life a prosecutor using legal tools for political purposes. I do not believe at all that the AK Party has been the center of anti-secular activities. There are even people saying that the AK Party is defending secularism in Turkey," Oomen-Ruijten said, arguing that prosecutors made fools of themselves with such cases.

In her newly published report on Turkey Oomen-Ruijten had noted: "Notes the progress made as regards the efficiency of the judiciary;welcomes the Turkish government's plan to implement a reform strategy designed to strengthen the independence and impartiality of the judiciary and to increase the confidence enjoyed by the judiciary amongst the public; is of the view that this strategy should, as a priority, ensure that interpretation of legislation related to human rights and fundamental freedoms is in line with ECHR standards; notes with concern that, in 2007, the European Court of Human Rights handed down more judgments against Turkey for violations of the ECHR than against any other country."

She said the case against the AK Party demonstrated clearly the urgent need to radically reform the nation's judiciary.

To AKP's credit, Erdoğan has instructed all party members to remain calm and not to issue any strongly retaliatory statements. President Gül, who under the Turkish Constitution is theoretically positioned to be above politics, is also included on the list of 71 AKP members the closure case is asking the Constitutional Court to ban from politics for a five-year period. His inclusion in the "list of 71" is particularly controversial since the only crime the president can be tried for under the current constitution is treason

Sunday, March 16, 2008

The Crimes of the AKP

The below column by Mustafa Akyol appears in today's Turkish Daily News.


I have been telling you that these people are crazy. And now they proved it beyond any doubt.

You must have heard what I am speaking about. Turkey’s chief prosecutor has just filed a case against the incumbent AKP (Justice and Development Party). He asks for the closure of the party and the banning of Prime Minister Erdoğan and his 70 top colleagues from politics. A political party which has just gained the votes of the 47 percent of the Turkish people is now under threat. Even President Abdullah Gül is on the list of the would-be banned politicians. Unbelievable but true!

For long we have feared military coup d'état’s in Turkey. That type of assault on democracy happened four times and left behind an executed prime minister, hundreds of imprisoned politicians, and thousands of tortured intellectuals and activists. But although the Leviathan that organized those military coups is very orthodox in its authoritarian ideology, it is not totally mindless. It, as Donald Rumsfeld once said in a different context, “has a brain – is continuously changing and adapting tactics.”

The Empire Goes Mad

The 21st century tactic is to stage coups via not the military but the judiciary. As I noted in my piece dated Jan. 24 and titled “The Empire Strikes Back (Via Juristocracy),” now the bureaucratic empire in Ankara attacks the representatives of the people with legal decisions, not armed battalions.

If you talk to them, they will proudly tell you that they are saving Turkey from Islamic fundamentalism. You have to be a secular fundamentalist – or hopelessly uninformed – to believe that. The AKP has proved to be a party committed to the democratization and liberalization of Turkey, a process which, naturally, includes the broadening of religious freedom. But that democratization and liberalization is the very thing that the empire fears from.

If you look at the “evidence” that the chief prosecutor presented to the Constitutional Court to blame the AKP, you will see how fake all this “Islamic fundamentalism” rhetoric is. The anti-secular “crimes” of AKP include:

- Making a constitutional amendment in order to allow university students to wear the headscarf. (Maddeningly enough, this bill was accepted in Parliament with the votes of not just the AKP’s deputies but also those of the Nationalist Movement Party [MHP], and the pro-Kurdish Democratic Society party.)

- Supplying free bus services for the student of the religious “imam-hatip” schools, which are nothing but state-sponsored modern high schools that teach some Islamic classes in addition to the standard secular education.

- Naming a park in Ankara after the deceased leader of a Sufi order.

- Not allowing the public display of a bikini advertisement.

- Employing headscarved doctors in public hospitals.

- Allowing one of the local administrators to issue a paper which has the criminal sentence, “May God have mercy on the souls of our colleagues who have passed away.” (The simple fact that he dared to mention God [“Allah” in Arabic and Turkish] in an official setting was considered as a crime.)

Yes, this is absolutely crazy. It is like defining the Republican Party in the United States as an “anti-secular threat” and asking for its closure based on facts such as that it has pro-life (anti-abortion) tendencies and that President Bush publicly said that his favorite philosopher is Jesus Christ.

The heart of the matter is that Turkey’s self-styled secularism is a fiercely anti-religious ideology akin to that of Marxist-Leninist tyrannies. And the AKP has been trying to turn Turkey into a democracy. That’s the party’s real “crime.”

A Shipwrecked Turkey?

Now what?.. We will see… The chief prosecutor’s file will be evaluated by the Constitutional Court, which is notoriously dominated by the ultra-secularists appointed by the previous president, Ahmet Necdet Sezer. Recently the same court cancelled a law which allowed foreign companies to buy real estate in Turkey. (Yes, the empire is against not just religion but also capitalism.) In that real estate decision, the ratio of the judges was 6 to 5, which was enough to cancel a law. But to close a party you need 7 votes (3/5th of the 11 members). And if 6 is the number of illiberal judges sitting there, that might not be enough to make an extremely illiberal decision such as closing down the AKP.

But what if the AKP really gets executed? To be sure, a party with a similar program will be formed soon and it will win the next elections. Meanwhile, though, the economy will be ruined, the EU process will be wrecked, and the hopes and dreams of millions of Turkish citizens will be crushed. That’s really the worst thing about tyrannies: You ultimately win your struggle against them. But, in the meantime, they give you hell.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Post-Modern Coup—Take Two?

Last night an amazing thing happened: A case was filed in the Constitutional Court to close down AKP for allegedly anti-secular activities. Under Turkey's 1982 Constitution, parties may be closed by the Constitutional Court. Although some European states have similar provisions for party closure, the provisions in Turkey have long-been used as a political weapon against parties who step too far outside of the establishments' comfort zone. In total, 18 political parties have been closed down under the 1982 Constitution. AKP now joins DTP in facing potential closure.

Significant to the closure case is a list of 71 politicians that now face being banned from politics for a 5-year period. The list includes Prime Minister Erdoğan and President Gül and the bans could have a more serious impact on AKP politics than actual closure of the party. As before noted, AKP is in fact the reformulation of two other previosuly closed parties and its top leaders have experience in handling party closures. Banning Gül proves particularly interesting in that the president is theoretically positioned to be "above politics" and it will be interesting to see how the Court handles his name being on Yalçınkaya's list.

The closure case will change the entire pace of Turkish politics. With a popular mandate of a near 47 percent of the vote received last July, it seemed that AKP had stood up to the old guard (namely the military) and survived. However, as AKP has expressed strong intentions to pursue the Ergenekon gang's investigations and politically weakened itself by pushing so hard to lift the headscarf ban, it seems that the old institutional structures are now pushing back.

See reportage of the story in Today's Zaman.

Poll Cites Increase of Religious Tolerance

Today's Today's Zaman included an article about a recent poll conducted by "independent polling company Veritas on 4,500 individuals across 33 cities for the Star dailÿ." According to the poll, "An overwhelming 92 percent define themselves as believers. Of those surveyed, 49.2 percent responded that they prayed five times daily, while 43.6 percent said they do believe in religion but do not practice it regularly. Only 7.2 percent said religion has no place in their life."

The main objective of the poll was to measure religious tolerance—a phenomenon the poll seemed to largely measure according to peoples' felling toward the türban. Based on interpretations by Today's Zaman, "the poll suggests that about 95 percent of the society has no problem with a woman covering her head."

The poll also evidenced a strong support for separation between church and state in Turkey.

Most alarming to a newcomer, though, and despite Today's Zaman's seeming dismissal of the finding, 16.5% of those polled expressed intolerance for Turkey's Alevi population. The Alevis are criticized for their religious unorthodoxy (they do not observe the Five Pillars), their Shi'a influenced beliefs, and their well-known adoration for independent thought. The Alevi community continues to fascinate me, and although I have posted little on them before, I hope to be able to do so in the near future.

Additonally, the poll also attempted to gauge religious piety among members of Turkey's political parties by using a measuring how many people claimed to observe namaz five times a day. According to the poll, "About 18 percent of those who voted for the Republican People’s Party (CHP) -- known for its hard-line secularist discourse -- say all the daily prayers, while that figure is 65.9 percent among voters for the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) and 46.4 percent of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP)."

Obviously, measuring a value like "religious tolerance" is a difficult and multi-faceted task, but the poll and its interpretation in Today's Zaman are food for thought. Amonf notable variables missing are toleration for alcohol consumption (an issue in the news of late since an AKP-sponsored law is set to ban alcohol in sports clubs at the end of the month), other Abrahamic faiths, faiths outside of the Abrahamic tradition, and atheism. It would also be interesting to measure the attitudes of those polled toward issues like public prayer, science in classrooms, the teaching of other religions in schools, and similar issues that embroil the separation issue in state-society relations across the globe.

Friday, March 14, 2008

EU Draft Calls on Ergenekon Investigation Among Other Measures

A recent draft of the European Parliament's assessment of Turkey's progress toward European Union membership calls on Turkey to aggressively investigate the Ergenekon gang's connections to the state. As documented in the United States Department of State's recently released country report of human rights practices in Turkey, this is more easily said than done. The connection between judges and prosecutors is often strong and there is no doubt a great amount of political influence wielded in these relationships that might run counter to such aggressive inquiry.

The draft welcomes Erdoğan's recently stated commitment to EU reform measures, in particular the newly passed Foundations Law, but harshly criticizes the fact that little has been done to address Article 301 and other measures limiting freedom of expression in Turkey. These measures are themselves strongly connected to the structure of Turkey's judiciary and demonstrate the very political nature of juridical practice in the country. Of note is that the tone is much less vitriolic than the EU Parliament report of last June (see Jan. 19 post).

An article in yesterday's Today's Zaman summarizes the EU draft report.
EU calls on Turkey to uncover Ergenekon’s links in state

The European Parliament, one of the European Union's strongest institutions, has called on Turkey to investigate the shadowy Ergenekon network to unearth its "deep connections" within the state.

The Ergenekon gang, a neo-nationalist group accused of involvement in plans to stage a violent uprising against the government, was discovered at the end of an investigation that came upon the heels of a police raid in June of last year that uncovered an arms depot in a house in İstanbul's Ümraniye district. The prosecutor in the Ergenekon case has said the gang worked to create disorder and chaos through divisive and violent acts so the public would be willing to accept a military intervention to restore order.

"Turkish authorities should resolutely pursue investigations into the Ergenekon affair, to fully uncover its networks reaching into the state structures and to bring those involved to justice," the draft report, prepared by Dutch Christian Democrat MEP Ria Oomen-Ruijten, said.

The group is suspected of involvement in the murder of three Christian missionaries in Malatya in 2007, the 2006 murder of a priest in the northern city of Trabzon, the murder of ethnic Armenian journalist Hrant Dink in 2007, a 2006 attack on the Council of State and a grenade attack on daily Cumhuriyet in 2006.

The draft report also strongly called on the government to speed up its reform process and fulfill its promises on sensitive issues such as Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code (TCK). The nine-page draft viewed by Today's Zaman is expected to be discussed at the Foreign Affairs Committee in April and to be approved by the parliament in May.

The draft, which is expected to be amended several times before approval by the European Parliament, welcomes a declaration by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan that 2008 would be the year of reforms. Another development that the report refers to with satisfaction is the civilian authorities' success in confronting the military interference in the political process back in April, when the government boldly rejected an intervention by the military in the process of presidential elections.
Welcoming Parliament's passage of the Law on Foundations granting broader property rights for non-Muslim minorities, the draft calls for vigorous further steps for reforms. Calling the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) a terror organization, the draft says the PKK should declare an immediate and unconditional cease-fire. The draft also took note of Erdoğan's statements on assimilation, which he made in Germany and which were widely criticized in EU capitals. Erdoğan said in Germany last month that the government wanted the Turks to integrate better in the German society, but rejected assimilation, saying it was a "crime against humanity."

In her draft report Oomen-Ruijten refrained from using the word “genocide” to describe events of World War I, which Armenians claim amounted to a genocide of their ancestors in eastern Anatolia by the Ottoman Empire. She instead called on Turkey and Armenia to work together to start a process of reconciliation. Oomen-Ruijten, in her previous resolution on Turkey last fall, came under enormous pressure from Armenian groups to refer to a genocide, but she refused to do so.


Basic issues highlighted in report
* Civilian-military relations: [The European Parliament] welcome[s] the fact that in 2007 democracy prevailed over attempts by the military to interfere in the political process; encourages the Turkish government to make further systematic efforts to ensure that the democratically elected political leadership bears full responsibility for formulation of domestic, foreign and security policy and that the armed forces respect this civilian responsibility.

* 301: [The] Turkish government and the Parliament should carry out, as a priority, the repeatedly promised reform of Article 301 of the Penal Code; [the European Parliament] deplores the fact that no progress has been achieved regarding freedom of expression.

* Law on Foundations: [The European Parliament] welcome[s] the recent adoption by the Turkish Parliament of the Law on Foundations; welcomes the commission’s intention to examine the new text, and underlines that it should analyze whether the law addresses all shortcomings faced by non-Muslim religious communities with regard to property management and acquisition, including expropriated property sold to third parties.

* PKK: [The European Parliament] strongly condemn[s] the violence perpetrated by the PKK ... reiterates its solidarity with Turkey in its fight against terrorism; and once again calls on the PKK to declare and respect an immediate and unconditional cease-fire.

* Northern Iraq: [The] Turkish government should not engage in any disproportionate military operations violating Iraq’s territory; urges Turkey to respect Iraq’s territorial integrity, human rights and the rule of law, and to ensure that civilian casualties are avoided; urges the government of Iraq and the Kurdish Regional Government of Iraq not to allow Iraqi territory to be used as base for terrorist acts against Turkey.

* Kurdish Issue: [The] Turkish government should launch, as a matter of priority, a political initiative favoring a lasting settlement of the Kurdish issue, which can only be based on tangible improvements in the cultural, economic and social opportunities available to citizens of Kurdish origin, including real possibilities to learn Kurdish and to use it in broadcasting and in access to public services; calls upon the [Democratic Society Party] DTP, its members of parliament and mayors to engage constructively in the quest for a political solution to the Kurdish issue within the democratic Turkish state.

* Armenia: [The] Turkish government should end the economic blockade and re-open its border with Armenia; calls once again on Turkish and the Armenian governments to start a process of reconciliation, in respect of the present and the past, allowing for a frank and open discussion of past events.

* Hrant Dink murder: [The European Parliament] strongly urge[s] the Turkish authorities to carry out a full investigation into the murders of Hrant Dink and of the three Christians in Malatya, as well as all other cases of politically or religiously motivated violence, including full clarification of allegations of negligence on the part of the competent authorities, and to bring all responsible to justice.

* Constitution: Takes note of the process under way to prepare a new, civilian constitution; regards it as a key opportunity to place the protection of human rights and freedoms at the core of the constitution.

Touting Islamist Bananas

PHOTO FROM Today's Zaman

Turkish intellectual Ece Temelkuran has compared AKP policy in the southeast to giving out Islamist bananas, an attempt to perhaps bridge the development gap, but that fails to address the demands of Kurds for the state to recognize their unique identity and standing in Turkish society. While some Turks far too often decry such a demand as separatism, other Turks and most Kurds see recognition as the foundation of basic human rights—the right to address each other in their own language without state interference, to educate their children in the language of their grandmothers, to celebrate their culture in free assembly, and to enter politics as individuals with identities that might be both Kurdish and Turkish, and therefore, more difficult to negotiate than that of the average Turk. However, what Temelkuran identifies as "Islamist banana politics" and the politics that analyzes in his consideration of AKP policy, fall far short of meeting this demand. Nonetheless, AKP seems to hold economic development and the creation of a state television channel as sufficient compromises, a secret battle plan to combat a war on terrorism. While AKP's realization of the need to develop the southeast is light years ahead of the thought asserted by other political parties, it still simply not enough, and as a result, likely to fail.

Nonetheless, in the past week, AKP has been fiercely promoting its development plans and even landed a story in the New York Times that seemed to laud the GAP development project as something new and beyond criticism. In fact, GAP, largely a project designed to generate hydroelectric power via the building of very large dams in the heartland of southeastern Anatolia, is far from new and even further from criticism. Many Kurds oppose GAP, claiming that most of the power generated by the dams will not flow to southeastern Anatalia, but to the west. What is more, GAP has displaced thousands of Kurds and promises to displace more. While not condemning GAP as a bad idea, it is certainly not without its faults and the New York Times' Sabrina Tavernise should have been much more diligent in her writing about the project rather than just touting the current offering of bananas.

In a much more complete analysis, Gareth Jenkins assesses GAP and AKP's plans for a state-run Kurdish-language channel.

The [New York Times] reported [Erdoğan] as saying that the government would use the money to build two large dams and a system of water canals and to complete paved roads. In addition, Erdogan reportedly promised that the AKP would assign one channel of the state-owned Turkish Radio and Television (TRT) to the minority languages used by the population of southeast Turkey, including Kurdish, Arabic, and Farsi (New York Times, March 12).

In fact, none of these initiatives are new. TRT already includes a few hours of broadcasts in minority languages. On February 17, during a visit to Germany, Erdogan declared that TRT would dedicate an entire channel to Kurdish, Arabic, and Farsi. There is no question that there is a demand in southeastern Turkey for broadcasting in Kurdish. Many houses in the poorest areas have satellite dishes on their roofs, which are assumed to be used for Kurdish channels beamed into Turkey from outside the country, such as by the pro-PKK Roj TV. But the real demand is for independent Kurdish stations, not a state channel that would be regarded as a vehicle for state propaganda (Radikal, March 13).

Erdogan’s proposals have already been dismissed by the pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party (DTP).

“The basis of the Kurdish problem is the attempt to create a nation based on a single language, a single religion and a single ethnicity,” said Selahattin Demirtas, the head of the DTP parliamentary party. “Broadcasting in Kurdish on TRT won’t solve the Kurdish problem. What is needed is a change in mentality” (Radikal, Milliyet, Hurriyet, March 13).

It is unclear whether, in his interview with the New York Times, Erdogan was being disingenuous in presenting the promised $12 billion as a new initiative or whether the reporters were unaware of the project’s background and thus assumed it was a new initiative. In fact, the dams, water canals, and roads form part of what is known as the Southeast Anatolia Project (GAP), which was first formulated in the 1970s and began to be implemented in the early 1980s.

GAP is an irrigation and hydroelectric power project covering nine provinces of southeastern Turkey in the basins of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. GAP has always been politically controversial, not least because it reduces the quantity and quality of the water flowing to downstream countries such as Syria and Iraq. Opposition to GAP was one of the main reasons for Syrian support for the PKK during its first insurgency in 1984-99. During the early 1990s, the PKK even attacked some GAP facilities in southeast Turkey.

GAP was originally expected to cost $32 billion and to have been completed by 2010. At its heart lies a system of 22 dams, 19 hydraulic power plants, and the irrigation of 17,000 square kilometers (approximately 6,500 square miles) of land. GAP is currently only two-thirds complete, and a shortage of funds has meant that it is running well behind schedule. The dams, irrigation channels, and paved roads mentioned by Erdogan are all part of the uncompleted project. The two dams, which are at Ilisu and Silvan, are currently provisionally scheduled to be built by 2013. However, Turkey is unlikely to be able to finance them completely from its own resources. Nor, in the prevailing economic climate, is there a great appetite in the foreign investment community for the funding of large-scale infrastructure projects in developing countries.

One only has to fly over the region to see the effect of GAP on agriculture in the Tigris and Euphrates basins, transforming large tracts of what was previously semi-arid land into cultivated fields. In areas such as the Harran plain, annual yields of cotton, wheat, barley, and lentils have tripled. However, GAP has had a greater impact on agricultural productivity than on employment. Even though it has undoubtedly created jobs in local service industries, GAP’s overall impact on employment in southeast Turkey has been minor.

As well as being the poorest region in Turkey, the southeast also has the highest rate of population increase. Even in some of the richest areas in the GAP region, the pace of job creation has lagged behind the growth in available workforce. In most of the cities of southeast Turkey the unemployment rate is double or triple the 9.9% average in the country as a whole. Among young people in the cities of southeastern Turkey, unemployment often reaches 50-60%. There is no reason to suppose that, even if they can be completed, the Ilisu and Silvan dams and their associated irrigation systems will have a major impact on employment in the region.

The political controversy over GAP has not been restricted to Turkey’s foreign relations. The filling of the dams that have already been completed necessitated the forced evacuation of a large number of villages. Some of the displaced villagers received free housing in nearby towns. Others did not. None were provided with an alternative livelihood. The filling of the dams also inundated numerous archaeological sites. When it is completed, the Ilisu dam will inundate most of the ancient city of Hasankeyf, whose history goes back 10,000 years.

Many Kurds already resent not only the displacements resulting from GAP, but also what they regard as the resulting destruction of their heritage through the filling of the dams, which are also used to produce electricity for the rest of the country.

It is also difficult to see how the completion of a project that was originally formulated in the 1970s will be interpreted as demonstrating the AKP’s commitment to the region. Perhaps more significant, although it is impossible to be sure of the precise impact of the two-thirds of GAP that has been completed to date on recruitment to the PKK, what is certain is that it has not prevented it. Whatever else the PKK and other militant organizations in southeast Turkey – which is also the main recruiting ground for violent Islamist groups – may be short of, it is not recruits.