Sunday, June 29, 2008

Pains of the Past, Hopes for the Future

More Alevi demands go unmet (see June 16 post), more calls to reconcile a troubled past . . .

From BIA-Net:
Fifteen years passed since the Madımak massacre at Madımak Hotel in Sivas in eastern Central Turkey, where the Muslim-Sunni crowd that surrounded the hotel intellectuals and activists for an Alevi celebration were staying and forced thirty seven of them burn to death.

According to the European Peace Assembly, “Fifteen years passed since this massacre done by the reactionary forces under the state protection. But Sivas is still burning, because those responsible for it have not been caught yet.

“We protest the Justice and Development government”
The demands of the assembly are the following:

“Madımak Hotel must be closed down immediately and turned into a museum as soon as possible. A monument for those massacred at Sivas must be built. Those responsible for the massacre and their collaborators inside the state must be brought to justice and punished. The rightful democratic demands of the Alevi society must be met without further delay.

Criticizing that Madımak Hotel is not closed down ad is still open as a “meat restaurant”, the assembly said, “The demands by the democratic social dynamics, foremost among them are victims’ relatives and the Alevi society, have not been met. Even though Etuğrul Günay, Minister of Culture and Tourism, had said that this place would be opened as a florist, this did not happen.”

Firstly the Alevi society and then the whole democratic public realize what AKP’s Alevi approach mean, when they see some of the perpetrators as AKP members. We protest the AKP government for trying to make people forget Sivas massacre.

Other religions such as Christianity, Judaism, Alevi and Yezidi must be as close to the state as Islam is and Alevi religion must be recognized as a separate belief. The obstacles that prevent Cem Houses from functioning as houses of worship must be removed. The state must get out of the field of religion, abolish the Department of Religious Affairs, whose budget comes close to the budgets of three ministries combined, and discontinue the religion box of the identity cards. (EZÖ/TB)

More Trouble With Europe

Turkish relations with Europe have become further stressed and hope for its bid to eventually enter the EU further dimmed as a result of a special meeting held by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. Turkey is a member of the Council and the party closure case has caused the Council to express serious concern for the democratic normalization of Turkey. The result of the meeting was a further condemnation of the closure case (AKP officials had requested last April for PACE to condemn closure—see April 19 post) and the threat of a renewed monitoring by the Council. Full-monitoring ceased in 2004 and paved the way for the European Commission's recommendation for the EU to initiate accession talks with Turkey. Since then, a special committee of PACE has continued to follow Turkish political development in a phrase of "post-monitoring," which committee member Luc Van den Brande pointedly stated has continued as a result of Turkey's unwillingness to adopt European political and human rights norms. PACE called the urgent meeting on May 29.

Although EU relations are already imperiled, the PACE consensus, coming from outside the EU, will strengthen European condemnation and the and the hand of EU politicians in the Sarkozy camp who are opposed to Turkish membership. The PACE report approved Thursday strongly warned Turkey of the political risks in closing AKP, recognized the utility of the Venice criteria for party closure and condemned the closure of political parties for violations of secularism, urged PACE to consider re-imposition of monitoring of Turkish democratic and human rights practices, and significantly, demanded Turkey to treat the recent political crisis as an opportunity to move forward with a civilian constitution.

As does the EU, PACE walks the difficult diplomatic line of not provoking too strong a retaliatory condemnation of PACE, which would rally public support for the Euroskeptics, while at the same time fulfilling its need to address the closure case as a serious concern that will imperil EU-Turkey relations. The PACE decision is likely to heighten tensions between Europhiles and Euroskeptics within Turkey and might well complicate AKP's relations with Europe. CHP and MHP officials have already condemned the PACE meeting as unwanted interference and Foreign Minister Ali Babacan was conspicuously absent. Bababcan cited his necessary attendance at the regular monthly meeting of the National Security Council, but Babacan's decision not to attend is likely motivated by AKP's attempts to distance itself from European criticism and risk being accused of fomenting outside criticism, a definite taboo.

Apart from the report, PACE also passed a report on Friday urging Turkey to better conditions on the Greek islands of Gökçeada and Bozcaada, in so doing restoring Greek exiles' property rights and allowing for the construction of a school. PACE members also signed a motion for a resolution condemning the conviction of Ragıp Zarakolu and urging the Turkish government to undertake more comprehensive reform of Article 301. For some Turks, Friday's moves will add insult to injury.

The PACE decision reflects growing polarization between Europe and nationalist politicians in Turkey, and with reform stalled (see Jan. 19 post), it is unlikely that the rhetoric is to stop until the closure case has come to an end. In light of the PACE decision, Joost Lagendijk, Co-chair the EU-Turkey Joint Parliamentary Committee, reaffirmed the grave danger closing AKP will have on future accession negotiations. Still, the EU is unlikely to formally suspend accession talks—once suspended, talks are difficult to recommence—in the face of AKP's closure and thereby give up critical diplomatic leverage.

Corruption, Corruption, Everywhere . . .

From the Turkish Daily News:
The Constitutional Court called for the executives of the opposition Republican People's Party, or CHP, to be probed for financial irregularities in the accounts of the party, the third political party in Parliament to face criminal charges.

The top court announced that there were financial irregularities in the 1998, 2004, 2005 and 2006 accounts of the party, asking the Ankara Prosecutor's Office to launch criminal inquiries into the conduct of the top executives of the party.

The court also asked the Treasury to withdraw around YTL 900,000 from party coffers, noting that there were irregular payments amounting to that amount over the years.

The CHP's Parliamentary group deputy leader, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, said they had to respect the decision of the top court, adding that they would be addressing the deficiencies.

He also said that if any charges were laid against any official, party lawyers would defend them.
The investigation will not result in closure of CHP and does not include allegations of wrongdoing in regard to a CHP-intiated transfer of funds to Kanaltürk in exchange for the channel to run pro-CHP news (see April 22 post).

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Souring Economy Does Not Bode Well for AKP

Bad news for the ruling party (esp. in the southeast) . . .

From Today's Zaman:
Increasing energy and food prices worldwide and drought conditions at home have started to impact the living expenses of households in Turkey.

With the prices of food staples rising in local markets and grocery stores, Turkish families are being forced to foot ever-increasing food bills. What is troublesome to many, however, is that personal income has not risen in parallel to offset the high cost of living in Turkey.

According to trade groups, the prices of basic food and consumer goods have shot up 45 percent compared to last year, more than the official inflation figures released by government agencies.

The Turkish Statistics Institute (TurkStat) has revealed that the consumer price index (CPI) for May returned to double-digit figures, hitting 10.74 percent for the first time since April 2007. Analysts say the higher global commodity prices are driving inflation in Turkey, which imports 95 percent of its natural gas and oil.

The Central Bank of Turkey, which raised the benchmark interest rate twice in the last two months, is trying to curb inflation by increasing interest rates. In a written statement last week, the central bank said it is ready to continue raising rates in a "measured" way to counter the risk of rising inflation caused by high oil and food prices. Central Bank of Turkey Governor Durmuş Yılmaz explained on Wednesday that the bank would take the necessary measures if inflation rises above new inflation targets. Earlier this month the bank nearly doubled its inflation consumer price inflation target to 7.5 percent from 4 percent.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Support High for Women's Rights

A recent opinion poll conducted by, a project managed by the Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland, found significant support for women's rights in Turkey. The poll asked citizens in multiple countries about their support for women's rights and thoughts about the discrimination of divorced and widowed women in their respective societies. According to the press release,

a large majority in Turkey (70%) perceives discrimination against widows with the largest number (52%) of any of the nations polled saying that they are mistreated a great deal. The same pattern applies to divorced women—72 percent think divorced women are mistreated, with 51 percent saying a great deal. This issue may have gained a greater profile in Turkish society as part of the process of Turkey seeking accession into the European Union. The European Parliament has said that while women have officially had full political rights in Turkey since the 1930s, customary treatment of women in the country’s southeast has varied from the legal ideal.
Without the support of a male relative, divorced women in traditional settings can have an incredibly difficult time "getting by." Divorced women are also prone to greater sexual harrassment, as their marital status makes them more readily accepting of sexual advances in the eyes of some men.

Are We All Torturers Now?

A recent opinion poll by measures popular support for torture in Turkey to be among the highest in the world. According to WorldPublicOpinion:
Turks now show majority support for making exceptions for using torture in cases of terrorism, a dramatic shift from the majority that endorsed clear rules against torture in 2006. Turks also have the largest minority (along with China) among the publics polled that favor allowing governments to use torture in general.

In Turkey, a slight majority (51%) believe that governments should be allowed to use some degree of torture for exceptions such as terrorists, including 18% that feel governments should be allowed to use torture in general. A significant number (36%), though one of the smallest, says that unequivocal rules against torture should be maintained.

Support for making exceptions to use torture in the case of terrorists has risen dramatically from 2006 and is now a majority (51%, up from 24%), while those endorsing clear rules against using torture in any circumstance have decreased just as significantly (36%, down from 62%).
Torture is historical in Turkey and I have met numerous people who have talked of relatives being tortured by the state and even joked about it. Most of these memories are of events that occurred under the military government that took power in the 1980 coup. However, torture is still quite commonplace, especially in the southeast. Both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have documented an increase in the number of cases and one local human rights group. The Human Rights Foundation of Turkey documents that there has been a 100 per cent increase in the number of cases from 2006 to 2007. According to HRFT's statistics, in 2005, 193 people said they were subjected to violence or mistreatment in the same year, while the figure rose to 222 in 2006 and 310 in 2007. In the first five months of this year, the figure has been 112. The number was 1,023 in 2000.

From today's Turkish Daily News:
A meeting was held yesterday in Ankara's Sincan Prison to discuss the elimination of torture and mistreatment by the Delegation of the European Commission to Turkey and the Justice Ministry. Among the attendees were Ulrike Hauer, undersecretary of the European Commission delegation to Turkey; Hasan Fendoğlu, president of the Prime Ministry Human Rights Presidency; İlyas Pehlivan of the Justice Ministry; Metin Bakkalcı of the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey, or HRFT; Emel Kurma of the Helsinki Citizens' Assembly; and Hakan Gündüz of the Social and Legal Studies Foundation. After the meeting journalists were taken on a tour of the prison.

Torture cases continue

Speaking at the event, Hauer said the fight against torture was a key priority of the European Union.

“The comprehensive legislative reform based on the policy of zero tolerance toward torture that Turkey launched in 2003 and the legislative measures introduced to limit the de facto impunity of the perpetrators of torture have had positive effects. The reported cases of torture and ill-treatment showed a decrease,” said Hauer.

“However, cases of torture and ill-treatment are still being reported, especially during arrest, outside places of official detention and during demonstrations,” Hauer said.

She said the trend was further exacerbated by the passing of a new police law in 2007which grants officers wide-ranging powers to stop and search, and that the fight against impunity of perpetrators remains among the areas of concern. The lack of prompt, impartial and independent investigation into allegations of human rights violations by members of security forces as well as delayed judicial proceedings were the main reasons for this concern, according to her.

The commission has so far supported projects aiming to improve human rights in Turkey with 4.8 million euros.

Judicial system needs reform

Fendoğlu said the number of sentenced and imprisoned people was around 96,000 in Turkey as of December 2007 and that 61 percent of these were not sentenced. Only 40 percent of the defendants were considered guilty by the courts, which means that most of them were kept in prison needlessly.

“The high number of imprisoned and sentenced itself reveals that there should be a judicial reform in the country,” he said, adding, “The people also complain about the long judicial proceedings.”

He also said Turkey ranked third in number of cases taken to the European Court of Human Rights, or ECHR, which didn't paint a good picture of the country.
The contention that most torture occurs before arrest or during unofficial detention has been affirmed by numerous watch groups, including HRW and AI. It was also something I was told twice during my trip to Diyarbakır.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Ece Temelkuran: "They Shoot Pidgeons, Don't They"

Waiting for a bus from İstanbul to İzmit, I had one of the most pleasantly surprising encounters I have yet experienced in my five months here. The man I met was just a bit older than me, and works for a neonationalist daily. Conveying to me that his political sentiments were not in line with those of his paper, we ended up discussing in brief some of the common problems faced by all nations, but perhaps most especially as of late, Turkey and the United States. As we struggled to communicate using his meager English and my meager Turkish, we somehow managed to get our worldviews across. What came across most clearly was a firm rejection of nationalism as dehumanizing, a force that robs individuals of freedom while at the same time celebrating the notion as something for which to die.

However, freedom is no more to be found in nationalism than are sufficient the flags that consecrate the coffins of those who die under its mantle. While freedom is no doubt worth dying for, it is not death that gives freedom meaning, but life. Insomuch as nationalist ideology calls for the surrender of the thought, expression, and when necessary, bodies, of those from whom it expects the homage of absolute loyalty, so does it deprive its drunken masses of the true pleasures and pains of freedom; so does it sacrifice life for death. The nationalist is an object to be manipulated at the behest of a particular nation-state; no longer is she a subject left to meet life fully, unencumbered by the bonds of graven ideology. Rather, she is left forlorn, cloaked only in the temporary satisfaction of jejune ritual, the host of mantras not of her making, but which nonetheless cross her lips. Their refrain is mandatory and satiates an addiction, allowing her feet to feel the illusion of a ground that is far from stable, her lungs to feel the reassurance of a breath that is far from pure, but rather carries the sickly sweet taste of narcotics—the drugs with which another has prepared her every inhalation, drugs to ease what Erich Fromm has famously called an escape from freedom. Such an escape forgoes engagement, necessitates denial, and requires adherence to forces located outside oneself, the corrupting forces of strength and authority that turn human beings into automatons.

Encouraged by my new friend to examine the writing of Ece Temelkuran, I conducted an Internet search a few days ago and discovered the article I think it appropriate to post today. Commenting on the nationalist surge that has followed Hrant Dink's assassin, it is this narcotic-driven sensation and the violence it all too frequently engenders of which Temelkuran writes.
WHAT HRANT LEFT BEHIND—Ece Temelkuran (The Guardian, 22 Jan 2008)

Recently, a couple of high school students sliced their fingers and made themselves bleed on purpose. They used their blood to paint a Turkish flag. It wasn't a small one, either. They framed the picture and sent it to the chief of military. He cried when he received the "bloody mail"; and reporters were there to witness and report about the sacred flag.

The story of the bleeding didn't end there, though. A few days ago, a conservative and nationalist newspaper (Tercüman) decided to print the picture of the flag drawn with children's blood. And so the blood multiplied as the circulation of the newspaper increased.

If this doesn't seem strange at first, a bit of perspective soon allows you to see the apocalyptic scenery here, which resembles Bosch's paintings of hell. And you realise that the apocalypse started when our friend the Armenian journalist Hrant Dink was shot. He was shot a year ago this week, and a Hollywood-like series of events ensued. People who were touched by the horrible incident were on streets, thousands of them shouting the slogan: "We are all Armenian, We are all Hrant Dink." The slogan touched the weakest link in Turkish nationalism and a counter-slogan by the established writers and prominent opinion leaders was brought to the public stage: "We are all Turks!"

The fever of McCarthyism, as we all know, is the most contagious fever of all and the Turkish public was contaminated overwhelmingly. Soon after this, and just before the elections, the protest demonstrations against the ruling party AKP's Islamisation policies - called "mild Islam" - were combined with this nationalist uprising under the name of "flag meetings". All of a sudden, things got out of control and the streets were full of young rednecks calling to account anyone who didn't hang flags from their balconies. One night Istanbul's Kurdish districts almost reached boiling point, as young men gathered in front of buildings and shouted for Kurdish people to come out. While the media didn't do anything to praise these scenes, it still - with the exception of a few columnists who dared to speak of their concern about the nationalist atmosphere - approved the driving force behind them. Things got so serious that I remember how one night, during a political meeting of intellectuals in Istanbul, we talked about establishing an emergency network so that if something should happen to one of us the others would find out about it.

After a little while we understood what this contrived crisis was about. The army, together with AKP, decided to carry out a big campaign against PKK. The war began. The news bulletins immediately took on the appearance of Fox TV during the Iraq invasion. "We" was the subject, "cleaning" was the verb and the targeted object was always "them", as if Kurds don't live in Turkey. As if the militants of PKK who are bombed don't have relatives in the Kurdish part of Turkey. But who would dare to ask such questions when the streets were strewn with flags and the nationalist gangs were made out to be the "legitimate" ones?

The war - or, as they call it, the "operation" - is still going on: a hygenic war where you see only the rifles, bombs and thermal camera footage broadcast on the TV news, accompanied by a primitive militaristic commentary. Not forgetting, of course, the footage of martyrs' coffins with sad music playing in the background, as if this whole thing is not happening to us but is part of some Middle Eastern version of Saving Private Ryan. But the film that began with the shooting of Hrant and the nationalist uprising that followed brought us to where we are now. Schoolchildren, probably with their parents' and teachers' consent, send their blood to the chief of the army in a glittering frame.

This is the apocalypse of Turkey. The apocalypse in which most of us cannot dare to say that blood only stains a flag.

And if the Turkish flag needed to be a deeper shade of red, Hrant's blood was more than enough. My dear friend was writing his last article 52 weeks ago, saying that his heart was a "timid pigeon" waiting for bad things to happen. Now, after his death, we have all stepped into an era where I can say: "They shoot the pigeons, don't they."

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Unexpected Peace in Cyprus?

If the EU can indeed bring about a solution in Cyprus, a significant hurdle will be overcome in Turkey's EU accession process. Who knows . . . the peace might even reignite the reform process here in Turkey. From Hugh Pope in the Wall Street Journal Europe:
Nobody has ever lost money betting on the failure of the Cyprus peace process. But this year, the best chance in decades to end this conflict has quietly crept up on local and international policy makers, and the European Union now has one last opportunity to undo past mistakes.

. . . .

The U.N.'s policy chief for Cyprus, Undersecretary-General Lynn Pascoe, who has expertly shepherded the talks this far, last week judged progress better than expected. "I really do think we are on the path that is going to make it work this time," he told a news conference.

Walking the balmy streets of Nicosia, it's hard to feel the Cyprus dispute. Amid honey-stoned British colonial villas and palm tree-lined roads full of gleaming sports cars, the island looks more like a prosperous East Mediterranean emirate than a frozen conflict. Yet the status quo is as deceptive as ever.

With the island's Greek Cypriot part now in the EU, failure in these talks will come at a cost for the rest of Europe, too. The Greek Cypriots are already causing trouble by blocking the discussion of energy coordination between Brussels and Ankara as part of Turkey's EU accession talks. If all goes wrong, the Greek Cypriots will certainly use their EU membership to wreck the bloc's relations with Turkey, just like Greece held up EU financial aid to Turkey with damaging results in the 1980s and 1990s.

Turkey, in its turn, is already using its NATO membership to punish the EU. Ankara is holding back on joining peacekeeping missions and blocking formal EU-NATO cooperation. Turkey will doubtless go even further if the current talks crash.

In short, it's time for European leaders to put Cyprus on the front burner. What better way to demonstrate the EU's relevance after the Irish treaty rejection than by bringing peace to Cyprus? Spreading democracy and prosperity has been the EU's most noble goal and biggest success. It can do so again by helping Messrs. Christofias and Talat get right in 2008 what everyone got so badly wrong in 2004.
For background on Cyprus' role in Turkey's EU membership bid, see Jan. 19 post.

"Make Noise Against Coups"

PHOTO BY Johan Spanner/The New York Times
The sign pictured reads: "We Were Small in the 80s. Now You Are."

Mary Ann and Richard brought me my very own sign from the large demonstration leading up to Taksim Square on Saturday. Thousands of people attended the unsanctioned protest (there was no permit), but police did nothing to intervene save block access to Taksim. The signs being waved read, "Make Noise Against Coups," and the protests were indeed loud enough to warrant a story in Sunday's New York Times. The NYT article focuses on the class dimension of the current political struggle and the heightened anxiety of the "secular establishment."

From BIA-Net:
On Saturday (June 21) the “Stop the Coups” meeting was held in Istanbul, which was organized by the organization Say Stop To Racism And Nationalism”. Among the supporters were the Global Action Group (KEG), Young Civilians, Organization of Human Rights and Solidarity for Oppressed People (MAZLUM-DER), Say Stop To Racism And Nationalism, the Democratic Society Party (DTP), the Revolutionary Socialist Workers Party (DSİP), the Foundation of Volunteer Organizations of Turkey (TGTV), the Socialist Democracy Party (SDP), the Socialist Party Initiative, The Peace Congress Activists, Lambdaİstanbul LGBTT Solidarity Association and the Political Horizon Movement.

“We can stop the coups”
Gathering in Istanbul’s historic Tünel neighborhood, the crowd of thousands of people, among whom were intellectuals like Adalet Ağaoğlu, Nazlı Ilıcak, Abdurrahman Dilipak, Lale Mansur, carried the banner that said “70 Million Steps Against The Coup”.

The meeting crowd, which chanted slogans such as “Say Stop, Say Stop, Say Stop To Coups”, “Free, Free, Freedom” and “We can stop the coups”, was interesting in showing that individuals from different backgrounds could get together for a common cause. Kurds, covered women, gays, socialists and many others walked together, making the same demand.

White glove, Turkish flag and police barricade
Among people who were wearing white gloves and blowing whistles against coups, there were those who were carrying Turkish flags as well.

Although the meeting crowd was planned to go all the way to Taksim square originally, it had to end with a press release in front of Galatasaray High School, midway between Tünel and Taksim square, once the crowd encountered the police barricade set for them.

“Today is the day to show the first reaction against the attempt to place democracy under the guardianship of military”
Zeynep Tanbay, who read the press release on behalf of the crowd, said, “Today is the day to raise our voice against coups, coup attempts of all sorts, the day to show the first reaction against the attempt to place democracy under the guardianship of military.”

“Are we experiencing a military coup? At first sight, it seems not possible to talk about such a coup. But, especially the developments after the April 27 manifesto by the military show that we are in a slow-motion coup process, that democracy is subjected to a sort of intervention.”

The concepts of freedom, justice and equality are thrown into the background
Reminding that there were closure cases against the political parties DTP and AKP and that the amendment that permitted the use of headscarf in the universities was annulled, Tanbay told the crowd that “We are facing a new stage in the intervention process that has been taking place for a while in Turkey. The demand by the forces on the side of democracy for a democratic constitution has been dropped from the agenda during this process and The concepts of freedom, justice and equality are thrown into the background.”

We will continue taking steps until we arrive at real democracy
Indicating that they want to disperse organizations such as Ergenekon, the Republican Work Groups and spoil the plans made behind the closed doors, Tanbay continued, “We will raise our voice against coups regardless if it is a summer day, an autumn night or a winter morning. Against coups, we will be on every street in Turkey .We will continue taking steps until we arrive at real democracy. (BÇ/EZÖ/TB)

Sunday, June 22, 2008

CSIS Report on Turkish-US Relations

CSIS researchers Stephen Flanagan and Sam Brannen have authored a 19-page report entitled "Turkey's Shifting Dynamics: Implications for U.S.-Turkey Relations." The report is part of CSIS' U.S.-Turkey Strategic Initiative and provides a nice synopsis on Turkey's relations with the United States, Iraq, Central Asia, and Europe. Flanagan and Brannen conclude that Turkish politics will continue to be characterized by polarization or take an either neonationalist or Islamist direction. In the case of continued polarization, Turkish foreign policy will persist in unwieldly fashion, with Ankara's attention focused on domestic affairs. In the case that a neonationalist Turkey emerges, foreign policy might again be characterized by a strong alignment with the West, or more likely, become more isolationist and aggressive toward perceived internal and external enemies. If an Islamist focus begins to take stronger shape, we should expect a Middle East-focused policy akin to Refah. Flanagan and Brannen intimate it is then likely that Islamist movements will destabilize the southeast. Missing is a fourth, more hopeful option in which Turkey becomes more firmly anchored to Europe.

Most significantly, the report concludes that a strategic dialogue between Washington and Ankara is sorely needed so as to affirm a stronger relationship between the two countries that has in recent years been weakened thanks to divergent foreign policy concerns.

Headcarves and Provacateurs

Also in Sunday's Zaman:
Since a woman announced on a live television show that she does not like the founder of the Republic of Turkey, she has drawn the ire of many segments of society. She has been labeled a "provocateur" and accused of having been paid to utter those words.

But no one has focused on the real reason behind her dislike of Atatürk. We talked to the person behind the controversy to find out what shapes her views.
Nuray Canan Bezirgan, 31, is a mother of three and wears a headscarf. But she is also more than that. Bezirgan has been one of the few vocal opponents of a ban on wearing headscarves on university campuses that began to be implemented in 1998 in the wake of the Feb. 28 unarmed military intervention against a coalition government with the stated purpose of preventing the rise of Islamist movements. The entire country learned her identity when she appeared on a political debate show hosted by Fatih Altaylı on the Kanal 1 television station and said "I don't like Atatürk, but I like Ayatollah [Khomeini]," the leader of the 1979 Iranian revolution.

"First of all, that is not what I said," Bezirgan says, angered by the media's simplifying her point to a single phrase, which she did not utter in one sentence. She says she was invited as a guest to discuss a recent ruling of the Constitutional Court annulling a government-sponsored amendment that would have lifted the nearly two-decade-long ban on the headscarf. She was one of the guests, she said, because she had legal troubles when an anti-headscarf campaign was started after the Feb. 28 process. "In 1998, I was a second-year student at İstanbul University's Health Services Vocational College," she says. On one day, a few weeks before the graduation ceremony in June of that year, she was ordered by her instructor to leave a final exam because she was wearing a headscarf. When she refused, the instructor called the police, which were already deployed on campus as a safety measure against daily headscarf protests and journalists filming them. The police entered the classroom. She remembers them as Robocop figures and speaks of being very scared because the police came in only for her, with a horde of media members tailing them, and dragged her out. She was detained by the police and later charged with "obstructing education," eventually being expelled from school. She was released pending trial and when the trial ended in the June 2000, she was sentenced to six months in prison, a sentence later converted to a monetary fine. Many other people had similar experiences, but only a few of them spoke out.

Bezirgan said the first time she became interested in the headscarf issue was when she saw protesters like her future self when she was 14 or 15. "I didn't know anything about the headscarf or Islam back then. I remember I saw headscarved students at the Cerrahpa?a School of Medicine. I must have been there for a medical problem. I asked them what they were protesting and they told me. That was the first time I heard of such a problem in Turkey."

Her mother, with roots in the former Yugoslavia, was from the western Thrace region, where she was raised, while her father's side of the family is from the more traditional central Anatolian province of Kütahya. "I was mainly brought up with the culture of Thrace," she says. She was the first woman on her mother's side to cover her head and says she even had difficulties with her family when she adopted her religious convictions. "It really was difficult when I lived with my family," she says. But later, she moved out to a state dorm, where things became easier. While studying at the university she met her husband, 33-year-old Ömer Bezirgan, who shares a similar outlook on life.

Her first detention on the day of that final exam, however, was not her last. In February 1999 she was detained once again, along with 17 others, during a demonstration of headscarved students at Marmara University. She was four-and-a-half-months pregnant with twin boys. "I was not even part of the demonstration. I was waiting for a friend there," she recalls. When she fainted in the detention cell and was taken to the hospital she was told by the doctors that she had lost one of the babies. She spoke of this terrible memory while showing a forensic medicine report of the incident citing an in utero mort fetalis. After her release she was charged with "opposition to the law on demonstrations," of which she was acquitted at the trial's conclusion. She also remembers that male protesters were beaten by the police and humiliated by officers. At some point during her hospitalization, an officer even tried to remove her from the hospital to take her to court despite doctors' objections.

The psychological trauma of what she had been through was heavy, but she nevertheless continued to protest for her cause. In November 1999 she was detained once more by the police during another headscarf protest at Marmara University after releasing doves as part of the demonstration.

However, it was not until November 2000, when she appeared on a television program with journalist Mehmet Ali Birand on CNN Türk that she considered leaving the country. She was threatened physically during the show when a viewer called in and said: "We know where you live. We will kill your other child, too." In retrospect, she sees she had every reason to be scared. Many of those living through problems stemming from their wearing a headscarf were simply not vocal about what was going on. This, she believes, is an important reason why so many people do not understand what the big deal about the headscarf is. "Taking my headscarf off is like cutting my head off," she says, but complains there weren't too many people to explain this to others. "Most of the girls' families did not let them [appear on TV shows or make statements to explain their situation]," she suggests as an explanation of her being one of the few who are vocal about their problems in those times.

This happened at a time when international rights groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch (HRW) had taken an interest in her plight. She and her family left Turkey, aided by HRW, which suggested trying to seek asylum in Canada. The country granted the couple asylum, deciding that they were under pressure from their government in practicing their religion.

Bezirgan and her family lived until 2006 in Canada, where she and her husband both majored in English for Academic Purposes (EAP) and tourism and recreation with student loans from the Canadian government. They decided to return to Turkey, because Canada, Bezirgan says, proved to be "too liberal" to raise her children with the values she wanted to. "For example, they are too liberal on issues such as homosexual rights. At school the teacher tells children it's possible to have a family with two mothers only or two fathers. It is confusing for the children." However, Ömer Bezirgan quickly notes, "We haven't fully settled yet; we are only trying out [living in Turkey]." The family rents the house they live in and complains of financial problems as they owe more than $50,000 to the Canadian government in student loans. The family may decide to give up and move back to Canada.

Back at home now, Bezirgan is facing an investigation for saying "I don't like Atatürk" on television. Three separate prosecutors who suspect her words might be a violation of respecting the memory of Atatürk, a crime under the current penal code, have moved to prosecute her.

"There is nothing here against the personality of Atatürk. I am only discussing the opinions of this personality as well as the opinions and applications of these opinions by people citing his thoughts. They are trying to present me as if I had insulted Atatürk, the person, and that is not the case."

"Mountain Language" Indeed

From Sunday's Zaman:
It was 1985, when playwright and Nobel laureate Harold Pinter, along with the late Arthur Miller, visited Turkey on behalf of International PEN to investigate the situation of writers in Turkey, a visit that inspired him to write his play "Mountain Language" three years later.

"One of the things I learnt while I was there was about the real plight of the Kurds: quite simply that they're not really allowed to exist at all and certainly not allowed to speak their language," Pinter said in an interview at the time, after his play was performed for the first time at the Royal National Theatre in London in October 1988. He was responding to a question on why he wrote the play.
"For example, there's a publisher who wrote a history of the Kurds and was sent to prison for 36 years for simply writing a history of the Kurds," he went on saying, in an apparent reference to the then-situation of prominent sociologist İsmail Beşikçi.

"… The springboard, in answer to your question, was the Kurds, but this play is not about the Turks and the Kurds. I mean, throughout history, many languages have been banned -- the Irish have suffered, the Welsh have suffered and Urdu and the Estonians' language banned; the Basques' language was banned, you know, at various times," Pinter said.

Taking into consideration the recent adoption of a bill by the Turkish Parliament that allows full-time state broadcasts in Kurdish, one might be tempted to file Pinter's remarks away as "ancient" quotes, belonging to the time when Turkey had not introduced reforms expanding freedoms and rights in line with its European Union membership process.

However, the reality argues otherwise: Hundreds of complaints have been filed by prisoners, particularly since early 2007, to several chambers of the Human Rights Association (İHD) regarding a ban on the use of Kurdish in telephone conversations with their families.

Sevim Salihoğlu, secretary-general of the Ankara-based İHD, told Sunday's Zaman that both the headquarters in the capital and İHD chambers in several cities have been receiving a lot of complaints on the issue of Kurdish language usage in prisons since early 2007.

"Sometimes, a complaint letter is signed by 10 prisoners. I can surely say that we have received complaints from more than 200 separate prisoners," Salihoğlu added. The relatively high number of formal complaints the İHD has received suggests the problem affects many more.

The ongoing problems are related to a Justice Ministry guideline outlining rules for "Management of Criminal Execution Institutions and Execution of Penalties and Security Precautions."

Article 88 of the guideline outlines "the right to talk on the telephone." Entry (p) of the same article says: "Speaking takes place in Turkish. However, if the convict doesn't know Turkish or if it is determined that his/her relative -- via examination in location of the relative with whom the convict notified [authorities] he will talk to -- doesn't know Turkish, the talk is allowed and recorded. If it is understood as a result of examination of the records that talk is used for activities which have the possibility to constitute a crime, then the convict is not allowed to talk in any other language than Turkish with the same relative."

Lawyer Ömer Halefoğlu, member of administration board of the İHD Diyarbakır branch, shared similar complaints by three prisoners with Sunday's Zaman. "I've been convicted at Erzurum Special Type Prison. Around since one year. I'm not allowed to have telephone talk in Kurdish which is my mother tongue with my family. My mother and my aunty cannot speak at all Turkish. That's why, I can't talk to them since one year. I'm demanding legal assistance from you in order to be able to talk in my mother tongue," Fettah Karakaş, one of those prisoners, wrote in broken Turkish in a letter dated April 15, 2008.

Regarding three complaints, one from 2007, the İHD Diyarbakır office sent letters to the Justice Ministry, Parliament's Human Rights Commission and the Prime Ministry's Human Rights Presidency (BİHB). So far, only Human Rights Commission Chairman Zafer Üskül, of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party), has responded. He basically and briefly referred the İHD to "The Guideline Concerning Management of Criminal Execution Institutions and Execution of Penalties and Security Precautions."

"In a response letter to Üskül, we will list problems stemming from the guideline itself. For example; we will explain the arbitrary practices of security forces during examination of the relative with whom the convict notified authorities he will talk to, and we will explain that the final report after these examinations does not always reflect the truth," Halefoğlu told Sunday's Zaman in a brief telephone interview.

Sources from the Justice Ministry also referred to the entry (p) of Article 88 of the same guideline, when approached by Sunday's Zaman.

"The minister has asked for detailed information regarding news reports on the issue, and it is still being assessed whether there is a trouble in the implementation of the guideline," the sources, who requested anonymity, told Sunday's Zaman, referring to recent Turkish media reports on the issue.

As Pinter's 20-minute-long play begins, the audience sees a group of women waiting all day through snowfall to visit their imprisoned husbands and sons. As Salihoğlu explained, almost all of those relatives subject to grievances due to the guideline are old people who cannot speak Turkish at all. And the majority of those old people are female, needless to say because they lack even a primary school education. The ministry's final evaluation and the response to hundreds of complaints will give a clue on whether Kurdish is still a "mountain language" in Turkey.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Taraf Story Alleges 2007 Coup Plan

The Islamist daily Taraf recently published a story alleging that the Turkish General Staff had drawn up plans for a coup last September (see June 5 post). This coup is in fact different from the 2004 coup plan Nokta is said to have revealed in March 2007 and into which Public Prosecutor Suleyman Aydin had called for an investigation. Most significant, the reported coup plans include Land Forces Commander Gen. İlker Başbuğ who is set to replace Büyükanıt as leader of the Turkish Armed Services (TSK) come August. TSK denies that the document in question was authorized by the General Staff. From Today's Zaman:
The Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) has devised a comprehensive plan of action to intervene in politics and civilian life, a leaked army document printed in the Taraf daily yesterday showed.

The army's plan went into force in September 2007, according to the Information Support Activity Action Plan, which is composed of a series of "measures" against the government, which the military deems the source of a "religious reactionary movement."

The document defines its goal as: "Bringing public opinion into line with the TSK on issues the TSK is sensitive about, preventing the development of incorrect opinions about the TSK, ensuring the unity and solidarity of opinions and actions within the TSK." The same introductory chapter issues a caveat, stressing the need to avoid, "conflict with other state agencies" and relaying "the image of intervening in daily politics."

The plan also emphasizes it is necessary to "bring universities, presidents of the higher judiciary, press members and artists into line with the TSK because they have the power to foment public opinion, and to ensure that these individuals act in the same way as the TSK."

Of note is a secret meeting between Constitutional Court Justice Osman Paksüt and Land Forces Commander Gen. İlker Başbuğ, also recently exposed by Taraf. The plan claims the AK Party government and its municipalities are organizing activities to spread an Islamic lifestyle in society. The document also defines a new constitution drafted by the AK Party as against the idea of "nation-state." According to the action plan: "The government is continuing to effectively use all the legitimate means of democracy, such as schools, dormitories, companies, associations and the media, in organizing and shaping the society. It is also known that Islamist centers have gone a significant distance in hiring their own in state institutions." The document also said the public had to be shown that the TSK was not against religion and that for the TSK, "religion is a necessary institution."

The document is in the form of a Microsoft Excel worksheet. Every individual and unit in the General Staff Department is assigned a code, making it difficult for the uninformed to discern which department or person the document is referring to. An official document proves that the Excel document was in fact created at the General Staff's Office, Taraf claims.

The plan also includes a schedule. The names of individuals and organizations the army decided to work together with have been withheld in the plan, but they are frequently referred to by the usage of expressions such as, "trustworthy names," "civil society organizations," "the proper media organs," or "those who have similar opinions to the TSK."
Taraf reporter Yasemin Çongar uncovered the document and a translation of her story is available from Today's Zaman.

In recent weeks, Islamist papers like Taraf and Vakif have directed a great amount of criticism toward Gen. Başbuğ, much of it anti-Semitic and bordering on the ridiculous. However, if the memorandum is validated and the story proved to have a strong basic in fact, the revelation will subject the TSK to many questions. Much of the reportage about Ergenekon and plans for past coups is to the political benefit of pro-AKP supporters wishing to shore up their democratic credentials. With much of the reportage being quite vague in details and using unnamed sources, it is very difficult discern how much of these stories are based in legitimate fact, how many of the facts contained therein rely on government sources (no doubt with their own agendas), and how much of the information might be exagerrated at best, and at worst, completely cooked, by any number of sources. Turkey has plenty of Ahmed Chalabi-type figures and when combined with the ready ears of highly-partisan presses, it is completely impossible to really know just what to believe and what to not.

The Overlooked Closure Case

Much overlooked by the AKP closure case, DTP is also facing closure and the ban of 221 party members, eight of which are deputies. However, in contrast to AKP, DTP's approach to closure has been to stall proceedings. The Constitutional Court yesterday granted the party's request to postpone its oral argument to the court to Sept. 16. The DTP filed its defense earlier this month and Chief Prosecutor Abdurrahman Yalçınkaya has already made his oral argument. In its defense, DTP is citing the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms' protection for free assembly and thought. The defense is interesting in that the party is not arguing that it is not connected to the PKK, but rather suggesting that there is nothing criminal in voicing support for the PKK. At the same time, DTP is claiming to reject violence and argue that negotiation with the PKK is the only means by which to reach a solution to the Kurdish problem. The argument is not at all likely to win favors and reflects the sentiments of hardliners who have recently come to control the party. A succinct summary of the party's fragmented leadership following its election last July appeared in the June 1 edition of Today's Zaman.
The decision-making process in the DTP works from bottom to top so, while the election of candidates came to the agenda, those with PKK sympathies had a determining effect. The DTP was hoping to have at least 30 deputies, but it emerged from elections with only 20, which is just enough to establish a parliamentary group. Although the DTP officials found excuses for the party's election results and accused the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) of using governmental means, such as distributing coal or giving parents money for their children's' school fees, the moderate wing behind closed doors accused the radical wing of making some systematic mistakes. The radicals suggested that the decrease in votes took place because of the inadequate policies of the moderates.

Before the general elections Türk was the chairman of the party, but he resigned from the post in order to run as an independent candidate. After his resignation the party council elected Nurettin Demirtaş as the acting leader and left the search for a chairman until after the elections. Meanwhile when the DTP formed its parliamentary group, Türk became the chairman of the group. But the radicals were against the chairmanship of Türk, especially after the hand-shaking incident with Bahçeli.

Five months after the general elections the two groups finally agreed to elect a chairman from outside of Parliament. They reached a consensus on Diyarbakır Yenişehir Municipality Mayor Fırat Anlı. But Anlı at the last moment withdrew his candidacy, and in November 2007 Demirtaş was elected chairman, rather than mere acting chairman. However, soon after his election a court case was opened against him on the grounds that he had falsified documents in order to get out of military service; he was arrested and served a short term in prison, but was subsequently released and enlisted in the military. After these developments, the discussions on who would lead the DTP started up again, and now the decision has been left until the DTP's extraordinary congress in July.

But meanwhile, Türk, during a visit to northern Iraq, said in an interview the armed struggle of the PKK is harming the Kurds. This statement angered the radical segment of the party, and while he was still in northern Iraq the party council elected Emine Ayna as the acting leader of the party.

According to parliamentary bylaws the chairperson of a party must also be the chairperson of the party's parliamentary group. The law experts at the DTP warned the party that Ayna, even though she is merely the acting chairperson of the party, has to be the chairperson of the parliamentary group. Türk, in view of the situation, resigned from the acting chairmanship of the parliamentary group.

After this development Türk said his resignation had nothing to do with the internal struggle of the party. "We will continue our work with solidarity. We are a party with a mission and are working for solutions. Of course in politics there will always be debates and critics, but we will always be united," he said, adding that he had not decided whether to run as a candidate for the chairmanship of the party at the July 20 congress.
The party is hopeful to solidify its leadership at another party congress to be held July 20. The factional politics of DTP and the many debates within the party as how it should act in relation to the PKK, most of which never make it into the Turkish press, suggest just how complicated is the issue of PKK affiliation and reflect deep divides over and misgivings about the PKK's continued dominance of Kurdish politics. For more on the issue of negotiation with the PKK and the thorny business of Kurdish politics, see Feb. 4 post and May 16 post.

Honor Killings On The Rise

From Today's Zaman:
Around 200 people fall prey to honor killings each year in Turkey and the figure is increasing, according to the author of a recent report on the subject.

Professor Hasan Tahsin Fendoğlu, head of the Prime Ministry's Human Rights Directorate, on Thursday released a report titled "Honor Killings between 2003 and 2007" during a meeting held at İstanbul's Swissôtel.

"Honor killings in our country are on the rise. This increase is not at dramatic levels, but is still thought-provoking," he said. According to the report, 220 people in different regions of Turkey in 2007 were victims of honor killings, while this figure was 150 in 2003 and 216 in 2006. The total number of honor killings in the last five years exceeded 1,000.

"Though Turkey has recently taken significant steps in the fight against honor killings, the number of victims continues to rise. The main reason behind such killings is our society's patriarchal structure," said Fendoğlu.

He also noted that honor killings are committed mainly in big cities, which see a high level of intercity migration. "More than half of honor killings committed in the last five years all across Turkey were committed in İstanbul, Ankara, İzmir, Bursa, Diyarbakır and Antalya. İstanbul takes the lead among these cities with 167 killings. Another striking fact about İstanbul is that the number of honor killings committed in this city almost doubled in 2007. While 27 people were murdered in honor killings in 2006 in İstanbul, this figure rose to 53 in 2007," stated Fendoğlu.

Fendoğlu also emphasized that the victims and perpetrators of honor killings are generally uneducated. "Contrary to general belief, not all honor killing victims are females. Sometimes males are also the target in such killings. Nine percent of honor killings are perpetrated by children," he said.

He noted that imposing tougher penalties on perpetrators of honor killings has a deterrent effect on such crimes. "We believe an increase in the number of women's shelters will help reduce violence against women," Fendoğlu remarked.
Until the Turkish Penal Code was revised in 2004, honor killings carried lesser sentences since prison time could be reduced if the murder was committed by a provoked relative. However, despite the legal change, the number continues to rise. In some cases, families get around the law by having sons commit the murder so that the sentence is reduced. In July 2006, BIA-Net documented another tactic: calling upon the women to do the job themselves or be killed by male family members.

In addition to tougher sentences, more support for the growing number of women's shelters throughout the country seems a critical step.

Bad News on the Freedom of Expression Front

PHOTO FROM Today's Zaman

Ragıp Zarakolu has become the first convicted under the revamped Article 301 for insulting "the institutions of the Turkish Republic." (Never mind that Zarakolu's offense was publishing a book about the killings of Armenians in 1915 when Anatolia was under Ottoman rule.) If there were any doubts that Article 301 prosecutions would not stop, the Zarakolu case has put them to rest.

From BIA-Net:
The organizations are especially alarmed that this is the first conviction since this article was slightly amended on 30 April 2008, after over 1,000 people, including hundreds of writers, publishers and journalists, have been brought to the courts in the three years since its inception in 2005.

IPA and PEN have been calling for the repeal of this law ever since it was presented in draft form, and are deeply disappointed that rather than remove this legislation, the amendments are simply cosmetic.

Around 29 writers and journalists are on trial today under Article 301. They are among a total of 79 charged under a range of laws that impinge on the right to free speech, including Article 318 that has led numerous commentators on conscientious objection to the courts, and a raft of articles under Anti Terror legislation and against "incitement" that have been used against writers on the Kurdish issues.

There is clearly much more to do to bring Turkey in line with its international requirements that safeguard free expression.

Ragıp Zarakolu, recipient of the 2008 IPA Freedom to Publish Prize and an Honorary Member of several PEN Centres worldwide has said that he will appeal the sentence and is determined to go as far as the European Court of Human Rights if need be. IPA and PEN support him in demanding that Publisher Zarakolu be acquitted in appeal and urge the Turkish Judiciary to complete this trial swiftly, efficiently, quickly and fairly.

The case leading to the conviction of Ragıp Zarakolu was initiated in December 2004 for the publication of London-based author George Jerjian's book entitled: The truth will set us free/Armenians and Turks reconciled. The first hearing of this case took place in Istanbul on 16 March 2005 and since then there have been more than ten hearings.

Ragıp Zarakolu was originally charged under Article 159 TPC, which criminalized acts that "insult or belittle" various state institutions . This article was abolished in 2005 and replaced with the now notorious Article 301. In some cases, defendants on trial under Article 159 benefited from the changes by having their cases closed, but this was not so for Zarakolu. Instead he found that his trial continued under the new law. When Article 301 was slightly amended on 30 April 2008, Zarakolu hoped that this time the case would be dropped, or at the very least referred to the Ministry of Justice for review as now provided under the amendments. However the judge ruled that as Zarakolu was tried under the old Penal Code Article 159, the new amendments do not pertain.

Observers believe that Zarakolu is being singled out by the more conservative elements of the judiciary because of his decades of struggle for freedom of expression, and particularly his promotion of minority rights. Throughout his life, Ragıp Zarakolu has been subjected to a series of long, time-consuming and expensive court hearings. The conduct of the trial in itself took the form of harassment and punishment against the defendant for daring to produce works, which touch on sensitive issues such as the Armenian question, Kurdish and minority rights.

The condemnation of Ragıp Zarakolu shows that the recent cosmetic change to Article 301 TPC was not enough to put an end to freedom of expression trials in Turkey. Turkish legislation (new Article 301, Law 5816 etc.) must be amended or repealed to meet international standards, including the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union.

Charges Against Choir Boys Dropped

The Diyarbakır court trying the three boys for spreading terrorist propaganda dropped the charges yesterday. The boys were being tried as adults, and if convicted, faced a prison sentence of five years.

From Gareth Jenkins:
Perhaps most bewildering is that the Turkish authorities do not appear to understand that the often draconian suppression of Kurdish language and culture can be counterproductive; inviting ridicule and opprobrium abroad and serving as a gift for organizations such as the PKK, which use it as a recruiting tool and a justification for their campaigns of violence. There can be no doubt that the judicial persecution of children for singing a song has made a greater contribution to PKK propaganda than the song itself could have ever done.

But, for the moment at least, there is no indication of a change in official attitudes. On June 19, the Turkish media reported that the Turkish General Staff (TGS), which has traditionally regarded the preservation of a homogenous national culture as being a security issue, had initiated a campaign to purge the Turkish used in military establishments of foreign loanwords such as “brunch,” “fast food” and “restaurant.” Posters have been pinned up in military camps exhorting everyone to “Speak our beautiful Turkish” and calling for an end to the use of the letters “q,” “w” and “x”. (Radikal, June 19) It is unlikely to be a coincidence that these letters are found in the Kurdish alphabet but not in the Turkish one. Quite how far the TGS will take its own advice currently remains unclear, as it frequently encourages Turks seeking reliable information to visit its official website,

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Childrens' Choir Accused of Terrorism


From Der Spiegel:
Three teenaged members of a boys' choir will go on trial today in Turkey for "making propaganda for a terrorist organization" -- namely the Kurdish separatist group, the PKK -- after singing a Kurdish song at a music festival in San Francisco late last year.

In October 2007 the boys sang a Kurdish-language march called "Ey Raqip" ("Hey Enemy") at the San Francisco World Music Festival. They performed a number of other songs, too, but the prosecutor in Turkey argues that "Ey Raqip" is a PKK anthem.

The indictment also says flags displayed at the festival belonged to the PKK. The defense says the flags were Kurdish but not specifically associated with the rebel group.

Six other members of the choir who are under 15 will be prosecuted under the same charges at a Children's Court in Diyarbakir, the city in southeastern Turkey where the choir is based. The three older boys -- aged 15 to 17 -- will be tried as adults.

'Promoting Separatism'

The head of the Diyarbakir Yenisehir Council Children's Choir, Duygu Özge Bayar, has said "Ey Raqip" was requested by the audience in San Francisco. "We shared our culture there, at the festival," he said in a statement. "We sang various songs showing the styles of Diyarbakir … If performing these songs is separatism, then we are guilty of promoting separatism."

The boys' defense lawyer, Baran Pamuk, argues that the song was written 68 years ago, before the PKK was founded, by an Iranian-Kurdish poet called Dildar. But the prosecution says the song is now an anthem by the PKK.

Amnesty International has taken a position on the case, declaring that the song's performance "cannot be regarded as a threat to public order" and that the boys would be considered "prisoners of conscience" if convicted and thrown in jail.

The charges against the older boys carry a maximum sentence of five years behind bars.
See here for the public statement made by Amnesty International.

Every Move You Make

Apparently, I had YouTube access for a brief time on Wednesday night before the website was once again restricted. YouTube access has long been denied within Turkey along with access to several other sites for a whole array of different reasons (see May 9 post). According to Today's Zaman, if the Ankara Chief Prosecutor's Office gets its way, Turks will no longer be able to evade court rulings by accessing banned websites via proxyservers.

For more on Internet freedom, see Gareth Jenkins' recent article:

The first change came in 2004 and 2005 when ADSL broadband, which is the almost exclusive preserve of a single company, Turk Telekom, began to replace dial-up access, which had been provided by over 100 Internet Service Providers (ISPs). As a result, the authorities effectively must notify only one company in order to block access to what they consider undesirable websites.

In 2007 the Justice and Development Party (AKP) rushed through a new law to regulate the Internet. Law No. 5651, which came into force on November 27, 2007, listed the terms under which access to websites could be blocked by the courts: seven offences in the Turkish Penal Code (ranging from “encouraging suicide” to “facilitating the use of narcotics,” “obscenity” and the “sexual exploitation of children”) as well as a 1951 law that makes it a criminal offence to denigrate the memory of Ataturk. Law No. 5651 also required ISPs to store details of all the websites visited by their subscribers for a period of one year (see EDM, November 16, 2007).

Even before the introduction of Law No. 5651, the authorities had begun to order Turk Telekom to block access to certain sites, extending the restrictions on laws designed for the printed word into the digital domain. The Turkish courts forbade access to 153 websites in 2005, 886 in 2006 and 549 in 2007 (figures from, a website for Turkish Internet professionals). Access has been forbidden to a further 124 websites under Law No. 5651 since it came into force on November 27, 2007.

Click here for Jenkins' coverage from November.

Two More Chapters of Acquis Opened

The European Commission and Turkey opened up two more chapters of the 35-chapter acquis designed to harmonize Turkish and European policy. The two chapters opened pertained to corporate law and intellectual property rights. The Commission held out the promise of seven additional chapters should the reform process continue: food safety, taxation, employment, public procurement and the environment.

A rather defensive Ali Babacan reiterated that Turkey is not the only party to blame for the slow-moving accession talks and placed guilt on France for blocking five chapters, including the "Transport Policy" chapter that is suspended by the European Commission at-large until Turkey comes into compliance with promises made that it would open its ports to Cyprus in accordance with the Customs Union to which both countries are party. As a result of Turkish recalcitrance in regard to Cyprus, no chapters can be closed until Turkey opens its ports. Babacan's comments are unnecessarily combative and played on the ears of an already irritable European press. Further, in Turkey, they reaffirm the notion that the EU reform process is stalled because of shifting political positions in Europe (see June 3 post). I had the chance to meet with a high-level municipal official here in Kocaeli yesterday and he informed me that it was not Turkey that was changing, but rather the shifting positions of EU member states. However, the European Commission's reports have changed little in their recommendations and the Turkish state has done little to meet the Commission's demands since the reform slowdown (see Jan. 19 post). While it is true that attitudes of EU member states have shifted with the election of politicians who are less than eager to see Turkey accede, the position of the Commission has changed in no way whatsoever. Further, the French refusal to allow the Commission to open up the four chapters, in addition to the one already suspended by the Commission, does not prevent Turkey from making progress toward accession and actually following through on the Commission's recommendations. Additionally, such rhetoric is inappropriate coming from Babacan who is still serving as both the chief negotiator of the accession and foreign minister. The Commission has long requested that the AKP government designate another person to meet the hefty demands of the job. This is especially necessary in view that more chapters are waiting to be negotiated.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Closure A Foregone Conclusion

AKP filed its defense statement today and ahead of its deadline to do so. The action indicates that the party is adopting a strategy that treats its closure as a foregone conclusion. Arguing publicly that party officials do not want to drag the country through the political and economic turmoil of a hard-fought closure case, privately the party is planning for the creation of a new party. The party is unlikely to differ much from AKP save for a potential change in leadership. The real question starting to be paid attention to is just which AKP politicians are going to face five-year political bans and exactly how the party is preparing to organize new leadership. Erdoğan is, of course, "the big fish" to be caught and his ban is almost certain. However, more a matter of debate is just how and to what degree he will exercise power behind the scenes. Legal analysts have said that it is perfectly legal for the prime minister to seek elected office as an independent candidate since the political ban only applies to politicians who are members of political parties. However, just what the Constitutional Court and the Higher Election Board decide is subject to speculation, especially as a local election board prevented former RP prime minister Necmettin Erbakan from running in elections as an independent in 2002. Also of interest is discussion of center-right challengers to Erdoğan from both within and outside of AKP.

If AKP is banned, how exactly will events unfold? This question is difficult to answer and due to the variety of contingencies still very much being sorted out, Erdoğan has kept parliament working throughout the summer so as to keep deputies close at hand and parliament poised to initiate early elections should they be deemed necessary. Whether elections will come in the form of provisional elections (depending on the number of deputies the court bans in both the AKP and DTP closure cases) or early elections is also still very much subject to speculation. The prospect of early elections might fall on the same date as municipal elections, currently scheduled for March 29, and the ultimate decision rests with the Higher Election Board. In the event of a shutdown, AKP's preference is for the earliest elections possible.

The 98-page defense statement was itself quite simple and focused mainly on the very political nature of the case. Provocatively, the statement also declared that has confused the issue of secularism and that the Turkish model is out of date with a "universal understanding" of the concept. Rather than defining secularism as a "lifestyle," as the prosecutor has done, the statement argued that secularism should be understood as a separation of church and state. While such a model of secularism follows the American model, the Turkish model is much more similar to that practiced in France, a model that denies religion from having any influence in public affairs whatsoever (see April 13 post). Criticism was also made of Yalçınkaya's sloppy indictment (the Chief Prosecutor's love of Google) and fell along the same lines as the critique of the indictment submitted to the Court in AKP's preliminary defense statement. From the statement:

"All data in this case against us have been interpreted by the Chief Prosecutor’s Office at the expense of freedoms. However, the fundamental principle of universal human rights law is ‘interpretation in favor of freedoms.’ Let alone interpreting data in the favor of evidence, the Chief Prosecutor’s Office has literally used the method of ‘divination’ in assessing the AK Party’s alleged goals and has shown things not likely to happen as likely.”

As the Court's decision in regard to the türban amendments evidences, such a defense is not likely to be well-received. The Court's decision in the case could come as early as July, and rest assured, AKP will be prepared for the verdict.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Assimilation with a Sunni Islamist Taint

The Alevi community has long been skeptical of AKP as a Sunni Islamist party desirous to expand the role of Sunni Islam in public and private life. However, this January, some hope was presented when AKP deputy Reha Çamuroğlu was appointed by Erdoğan to lead an initiative to resolve conflicts between AKP and the Alevi community. While most Alevis were highly skeptical, the mood in the moderate Islamist press was quite positive. However, any goodwill has since vanished with Çamuroğlu's resignation.

Principal among the Alevis' concerns are that Alevi children not be subject to Sunni-Islam based religious classes, which are compulsory for all Turkish students. Director of Education Hüseyin Çelik has been anything but accommodating and this despite a decision by the European Court of Human Rights that held mandatory religious education to be in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. The ruling in Hasan and Eylem Zengin v. Turkey urged that Turkey come into conformity with Article 2 of Protocol No. 1, which covers the right to education. The protocol reads:
In the exercise of any functions which it assumes in relation to education and to teaching, the State shall respect the right of parents to ensure such education and teaching in conformity with their own religious and philosophical convictions.
In response, the AKP government said it would change its policy so as to offer an optional course teaching "universal religious knowledge" and said at the time that it would change its standard curriculum to come into compliance with the ECHR decision. Since then Çelik has affirmed that no number of court decisions will influence the state to end compulsory religious education, mandatory under the current constitution. Çelik's statement came after the Council of State, an appeals body charged with administrative law, decided that compulsory education as it was carried out by the Directorate of Education's current curriculum is illegal. At the time, AKP reacted strongly against the ruling and accused the Council of State of acting outside its bounds. Directorate of Religious Affairs head Ali Bardakoğlu said that religion was essential to the education of all children, going so far as to conclude that Alevism cannot be included as a religion outside of Islam and is therefore most respected by including its teachings in the state's curriculum. Most disturbing is that despite EU calls to do so, AKP refuses to lift the requirement in its draft of the new constitution. According to Ali Balkız, president of the Alevi Bektasi Organization that brought the Zengin case to the ECHR, “The AKP is an Islam-based Party that has two sensitive spots, Alevis and women. These two are the last not on the democratization list for AKP."

Alevis are further discriminated against insomuch as their religious institutions, cemevis, are not afforded the same legal protections as mosques and churches. Bardakoğlu has continued to withold government funding from the support of cemevis on the grounds that they are not alternatives to mosques, and despite the director's repeated utterances that a majority of Alevis worship in mosques, the truth of the matter is that the cemevi—where women and men pray together—is the center of Alevi religious communities. Further, the government continues to post Sunni imams to Alevi villages over the petitions of residents. From the Turkish Daily News:
Tahir Aslandaş, president of the Sivas Ali Baba Association, said the group gave a petition to the Sivas governor in January to demand withdrawal of an imam sent to the Beykonağı village populated by Alevis. “The petition was never heeded,” he said. “This is a general phenomenon in Sivas. It is an attempt for an assimilation policy. No one goes praying, but the Imam reads the call to prayer nevertheless.” He added that the Beykonağı village also suffers from poverty and a lack of medical care, with eight households and elderly people in need of medical attention and only a small clinic that has no doctors or nurses.

An expert on the Alevis from Middle East Technical University, Assistant Professor Aykan Erdemir, noted that the AKP top administration is made up of people raised with prejudices against the country's 15 million Alevis, prejudices that also create material divides in the society. “From promotions to bids and contracts, from employment to nomination to key state posts, being a Sunni conservative is a great advantage over being an Alevi,” he underlined.

President of the Pir Sultan Abdal Cultural Association Fevzi Gümüş noted that mosque construction in Alevi villages has resumed with greater speed. “Discrimination against Alevi students increased to unprecedented levels. Our demands about Cemevis merely served as a government show who wanted to appease the European Union. It is clear that the AKP only cares about freedom of religious beliefs when it concerns headscarf wearing,” he underlined.
Alevis are very much exceptional to the Turkish mainstream and have long discriminated against for their heterodox Shi'a beliefs. They are also frequently the targets of Sunni Islamist extremists and right-wing paramilitarists (see April 13 post).

Monday, June 16, 2008

RAND Recommends U.S. Seek Alternatives to İncirlik

From Today's Zaman:
The study, sponsored by the Pentagon and conducted by the International Security and Defense Policy Center of the RAND National Defense Research Institute, said the Turkish policy toward the Middle East is likely to remain a sensitive issue in bilateral US-Turkish relations. “Turkey’s growing interests in the Middle East are likely to make Ankara wary about allowing the United States to use its military facilities for regional contingencies except where such operations are clearly perceived to be in Turkey’s interest,” it said, calling for a diversification of US access options that would provide alternatives to İncirlik air base in case Turkey increases restrictions on US use of it or other Turkish facilities.

Turkey disappointed the US by refusing to cooperate militarily in the war on Iraq in 2003. Iran, whose nuclear program is viewed with deep suspicion by the US, is expected to be the next issue of contention between Ankara and Washington in the event the US administration decides to go ahead with military sanctions to force Tehran to end its nuclear program.

The RAND report also cautioned the US administration against describing Turkey as a “model” for coexistence of Islam and democracy in its political system because this makes many Turks, particularly the secularists and the military who believe that it pushes Turkey politically closer to the Middle East and weakens Turkey’s Western identity, “uncomfortable.”

This, however, does not mean that Turkey is different from other Muslim countries in its long experience with fusing Islam with Westernization. Referring to Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party), the report said: “The ability of a party with Islamic roots to operate within the framework of a secular democratic system while respecting the boundaries between religion and state would refute the argument that Islam cannot be reconciled with modern secular democracy. On the other hand, if the experiment fails, it could lead to greater secular-Islamic polarization, further reducing the middle ground needed to build the moderate Muslim bulwark needed to contain the spread of radicalized Islam.”

“Beyond Turkey, the accommodation of Islam with democracy and secularism that has been achieved there is a valuable resource in the current ideological conflict between radical and mainstream interpretations of Islam. Mainstream entities in Turkey, therefore, should be encouraged to partner with groups and institutions elsewhere in the Muslim world to propagate moderate and pluralistic interpretations of Islam,” the report also noted.
No recommendations on U.S. action in the closure case, but RAND's recognition that Turkey is no longer the stalwart Cold War ally it once was and is developing a foreign policy that might run counter to future U.S. actions should fall on primed ears after its 2003 refusal to allow the U.S. to use its borders to invade Iraq. While this move brought Turkish policy closer to Europe, Turkey seems ready to use its military might as it sees fit, as seen its pursuit of the PKK inside Iraq's borders and especially in light of the Parliament's green light last fall to allow for such an invasion. Rather than seeing the adjustment of Turkish foreign policy as a strictly negative development, Washington would be well-benefitted to seek creative ways to use Turkey's new foreign policy independence as a bridge to reaching states with which it does not have a strong foundation for positive relations. Turkey's new positioning places it in a pivotal role to perhaps negotiate with Iran and even become an important actor for forging peace with Israel, not to mention building stronger ties with Central Asia. Turko-philes in Europe have already realized this potential and have used it as an argument for Turkish membership.

In the meantime, the United States should continue to support the development of democratic institutions in Turkey by taking a posture akin to that taken by Europe. This means supporting democratizing forces within the country (not necessarily just AKP). Such support, of course, entails condemning the Turkish state's more authoritarian elements. A Turkey anchored to Europe and the United States is a Turkey that will not only be more likely to set a positive example in the region, but also build the kinds of alliances and partnerships with other countries that have before been lacking. Further, RAND's recommendation that the United States not identify Turkey as a "moderate Islamist regime" should be taken seriously. Doing so has prompted much of the hostility and hysteria on the part of the secular establishment, and unjustified or not, it is one of many reasons for increased anti-American sentiment (see April 28 post).

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Kurds Don't Have Tails: Why I Went to Diyarbakır

Before beginning, I must say that I am still very much processing all that I experienced and observed during my trip to Diyarbakır more than two weeks ago and hence the delay in writing about it. Thinking back on my mindset as I boarded my flight from Atatürk, I had little idea what to expect and the actual experience has proved quite overwhelming.

Upon arriving, I was warmly greeted by my taxi driver and given the low-down on the city: a tranquil place where people want peace and are most certainly not terrorists, as most Turks think. I assured him that most of the Turks I have met do not think of Kurds as terrorists, but I could not help thinking of the some of the stories I have heard. Most of these related to the PKK and involve such gory details as fighters cutting open the insides of dying pregnant women so as to kill their unborn children before their very eyes. Others, less graphic, are more generally disparaging of Kurdish people on the whole: they have far too many children, are a dirty and lazy people, and like to make trouble. While I do not think that a majority of Turks hold such views, they are common enough and range in degree from general stereotypes to outright racism and prejudice. Upon my return, I have been asked about my trip repeatedly: Why did you go to Diyarbakır? Was it dangerous? What were you doing? Who were you with? Who did you meet and what did you see? Has your opinion of Turkish people changed? No doubt adding to my sense of being overwhelmed, I think the wisest thing to do is to simply encourage people to visit the city, an experience few Turks have had. I would be terrified of Diyarbakır, too, if all I have ever heard from the region involved trouble of some kind, and usually violent trouble at that. However, herein lies the problem. Most Turkish citizens have little idea as to what the southeast is actually like and have even less of an idea as to the complex politics of the region. In fact, few people are PKK-fanatics, just as few Turks are hell-bent to prevent Kurds from exercising the cultural rights for which they so yearn.

I arrived in Diyarbakır the night before Erdoğan was scheduled to present what AKP had primed as a landmark speech marking cooperation between AKP and the Kurdish people for the benefit of Turks and Kurds alike. I have written a fair amount on AKP's attempts to co-opt demands for Kurdish cultural rights by focusing on the economic side of the Kurds' plight (for example, see March 13 post). Erdoğan's speech was to focus on GAP (Southeast Anatolian Project), the much touted development project that is the cornerstone of AKP's plans to "develop" the region. However, AKP's plans for development seem to preclude the cultural rights the Kurds have long demanded: the right to publish books and newspapers in their own language free from government intervention; the right to Kurdish in public settings, unencumbered by prosecutors who claim that the very use of Kurdish promotes separatism; the right to educate their children in Kurdish, a right that is—in spite of reform allowing for the formation of private educational institutions—effectively denied to the vast majority of Kurds because schools are expensive, few, and far beyond their reach; the right to peacefully assemble sans the glaring eyes of security forces, and the fear that the riot police might be called upon at any moment. In addition to these cultural rights, the Kurds long for security, best understood as freedom from the violence of security forces and the government economic policies that have long kept the region underdeveloped. While AKP is more or less keen to address the last two concerns, it has made little effort to seriously prosecute police who use excessive force and torture against those deemed "separatists" and "terrorists," and seems to exact a price for the southeast to be included in the prosperity that the rest of the country has experienced in recent years—namely, that Kurds be content with the promise of economic betterment and stray from any brand of politics that could be deemed separatist.

Unsurprisingly, Erdoğan's speech was not well-received by the majority of the Kurds with whom I spoke. Although AKP received 53 percent of the vote in July's elections, much has happened since. First, and most pressing, is inflation. Many Kurds with whom I spoke cited AKP's free market economic policies as reason for their current plight. I was told that the cost of basic food staples has almost doubled and that while a group of Kurds have begun to make their way into the middle class and are even making money, the overwhelming number remain destitute and very much affected by creeping inflation that is now in the double-digits. With little to no social welfare network, this leaves the poorest of the poor to beg for money. There was nowhere I went where someone did not ask me for a few coins, their poverty marked by ragged clothes and old shoes, the souls of which had been worn out long ago. I am often told that the southeast of Turkey is another world, and the destitution of the region surely reinforces this idea.

When Erdoğan spoke, his tone was hopeful, imbued with the positive attitude that a full stomach and multiple homes can bring. I did not meet a single Kurd who shared this optimism. There were some who expressed their pleasure with AKP plans to develop the region, but many more Kurds expressed skepticism as to whom the plan will actually benefit. It is unclear how much of the hydroelectric energy generated by the dams to be built will find its way to the southeast. Further, while the dams that have been built have increased crop yields, they have done little to bring jobs to the southeast's bulging cities. The completion of the project is expected to do little more. So, when the prime minister pointed his finger at DTP politicians, who he intimated had kept state monies from reaching the people, claiming their "identity politics" were responsible for the misery of the region, there was little applause outside the stadium in which he spoke. AKP is hoping to repeat electoral victories in the southeast next year, but if my findings in Diyarbakır are any indication, the party is likely to be sorely disappointed. What is more is that the prime minister's accusations actually raised the ire of many Kurds who are becoming more suspicious of what they conceive as AKP's politics of charity. I was constantly told that Erdoğan was up to nothing but getting votes, when in the end, freedom is what people want. Two young men proudly told me that Kurds will never accept anything less than the same freedoms to be Kurds that the Turks have to be Turks. They were particularly upset about the prime ministers' accusations against DTP members, arguing that if DTP practiced a politics of identity, AKP practiced a politics of division. Despite the fact that all of the people with whom I spoke were fairly well-educated, with at least some time in university under their belts, I imagine the same sentiments more or less hold true for many of the city's residents living in slums just outside the city's glorious walls.

A number of DTP politicians, including Diyarbakır mayor Osman Baydemir, pointedly skipped the prime minister's speech and some fifty demonstrators located just outside of the event were taken away and detained by police. However, it is Baydemir and these protesters to which Erdoğan should be paying the most attention if peace is to every fully emerge in the southeast. AKP deserves to be praised for taking a more progressive stance toward the region, but as many Kurds informed me, he is no Turgut Özal. As Ferhad Ibrahim and Gülistan Gürbey write in The Kurdish Conflict: Obstacles and Chances for Peace, Özal advocated that "democracy, integration, dialogue, and unlimited freedom of opinion and speech were the mainstays for the settlement problem . . . . Özal believed that he could go ahead with integration by granting cultural rights." For several of those with whom I talked about Erdoğan's speech, the example of Özal sparks a retort in the form, "I knew Turgut Özal; Turgut Özal was a friend of ours. Prime Minister, you're no Türgut Özal." Just before violence peaked following his death, Özal urged the state to grant an amnesty to the PKK and allow for the open formation of political parties, including the PKK. Özal's solution was comprehensive, and the argument that the PKK should be allowed to participate as a political party aside, it is this sort of sweeping vision and comprehensive reform that is most needed and very much respected by Kurds. No one with whom I spoke was comfortable with PKK violence and some told stories of the organization's violence against Kurdish civilians in the late 1980s. However, all argued that "the organization," as Kurds call it, is an integral part of Kurdish political society and that no final solution can be achieved until it is adequately dealt with. What exactly constitute "dealing" is open to debate, but one suggestion presented to me quite calmly over nargileh one night is to simply look past DTP's entanglements with the PKK and work with people like Baydemir to grant Kurds cultural rights—rights they are afforded under international law. Identity has much to do with the Kurds' situation, and a politics that fails to renounce what has been the Turkish state policy of assimilation and denial is simply not going to work. My interlocutor that night informed me that by disparaging "identity politics," AKP fed directly into the hands of "the organization," who can then go to Kurds and say, "Look at what we've been telling you all along. These people don't care about you as Kurds. They only want your votes, and are trying to buy them from you."

The goal for many Kurds becomes one of being able to stand up anywhere in Turkey and declare pride in being a Kurd. Yet, the Turkish state retains a historical phobia that prevents it from taking the steps requisite to this happening. Instead of engaging in the bold, unveiled dialogue many respect, AKP insists on a weak and veiled rhetoric of platitudes about cultural diversity, a rhetoric that hints the party is uncomfortable with Kurdish identity. However, the matter is not just rhetorical, but also a matter of policy. Not too long ago, Sur district mayor Abdullah Demirbaş stood accused of aiding and abetting a terrorist organization simply for distributing municipal materials in Kurdish; though acquitted, Demirbaş was removed of his post. There are many other politicians and activists who face similar charges, and as long as the charges are tacitly supported by AKP, it is unlikely that crowds waiting to throw rotten tomatoes at the prime minister will disperse. Despite its many hardliners, DTP politicians have begun to soften their positions, going so far as to call Turkish soldiers who were killed by the PKK "martyrs." All of the party's parliamentary leaders, and not near so moderate as the party's former leader, Ahmet Türk, continue to denounce violence as a legitimate political tool. However, charges of separatism continue to fly unabated, dimming any hope that the state might begin to formulate a workable solution.

On the third night of my visit and after the cameras to broadcast the prime minister's speech had cleared, I witnessed a strong and lively testament as to why economic co-optation will simply not work. As I was walking away from an interview, the streets of Diyarbakır's old district began to swell full of people and an ebullient spirit took the air. It was the night the city marked its municipal festival, its second-largest gathering next to Newroz. Fathers carrying their children far above their heads and women in colorful costume poured onto the main artery dissecting Diyarbakır's old city only to pull to its flanks as a parade began to push its way to the main square just inside the city's three thousand-year old walls. The tenor of children's delightful screams pitched highly through the summer air as men standing on pogo sticks danced gleefully about the crowd. There were plenty of yells for Öcalan and many hands reached high into the air bearing the V-sign, marking support for the PKK. However, absent was any sign of the violence that the PKK has unleashed against Turkish citizens throughout the country. Experiencing the tremendous confusion that can only be brought on by extreme cognitive dissonance, I was left to think how so many people who really do want peace are left with so little hope that such a demonstration makes sense.

The excitement of the night ran high as people began to fill the square that would soon fill with traditional Kurdish music and stirring political speeches. To the joyful faces flooding space that had only a few hours before been home to a few people drinking çay and children playing, there was no such mental confusion; however, there was also no call to violence. Thanks to the information I had gleaned in my short time in the city and before this deluge of humanity had emerged to overwhelm my senses, I began to realize that most of these people had no idea of the fear and anguish with which so many Turks think of the PKK. They thought not of the organization's violence, but only of the victory that they thought it promised. If victory did not bring peace, they were at least glad that such a strong institution declared itself to be on "their side." However, more than anything, the bubbling exuberance shining through on people's faces in reality had little to do with the PKK, but everything to do with being allowed—in these next few hours—the opportunity to be Kurdish, to meet with their fellow Kurdish citizens and be proud of an identity the state has long denied. As things heated up and Öcalan slogans started being yelled with greater frequency, the people who accompanied me asked that we leave. The police were starting to take photographs and one of my new friends worked for the municipality.

What exactly constitutes the denial of Kurdish identity and what are its consequences? I had been told one month prior to arriving in Diyarbakır and by a very nice and well-educated woman that the Kurds were really Turks. Sure, they had their specific traditions and cultures, but ethnically, they are Turks. Their subsequent demands for identity are merely the business of tricky, shallow, and dangerous politics, an opportunity taken by the all-evil PKK to deny the people of the southeast their Turkish heritage and foment trouble within the state. The story she told me went something like this: When the Turks migrated to Anatolia from their homeland in Central Asia, many were tired and hungry, and by the time they came to the Taurus Mountains, several decided not to complete the journey and stayed behind. Those who stayed forgot their native Turkish language and became "mountain Turks." In Diyarbakır, one of my interlocutors informed me that there is actually an etymology applied by some of these pan-Turkists: the word "kurt" (Kurd) is related to the Turkish word kar (snow), and, therefore, the Kurds must be related to Turks, their ancestors once left behind in the snow. Understandably, most Kurds react quite strongly to this thinking and it is difficult to believe that an educated, literate woman can believe so wholeheartedly such a fanciful and obviously propagandist tale. In fact, the Kurdish language is not related to Turkish at all, but is an Indo-European language similar to Farsi. Further, the Kurds have a long history in the region that predates Turkic migration to Anatolia. Other mythologies exist, and some more disturbing. It is an old wives' tale in some Turkish villages that Kurds have tails, suggestive of their sub-human form. One person told me that one of his most disturbing moments in childhood came when another student asked to see his tail. While such fallacies are surely less common now than they once were, they are evidence of the difficult bridge Turks and Kurds have to cross in order to arrive at a point of mutual understanding.

These identity problems have a long history. In the years after the formation of the Republic, Atatürk worked diligently to build a nation premised on Turkish identity. However, the nation allowed no space for Kurdish identity. Treated as "mountain Kurds," the Turkish citizens of the Kurdish southeast were expected to assimilate into a larger Turkish culture. The project, of course, failed, and the state has been forced to deal with numerous Kurdish rebellions since its founding. However, what is as haunting as the violence is the continued denial, ignorance, and astoundingly incompetent treatment of Kurdish identity. One young woman told me the story of her friend who was given an eye exam upon entering primary school. The child had a fair understanding of Turkish, but belonged to a family that spoke Kurdish in the home. Unfortunately, the pictures with which he was presented and had to identify included household objects that he did not know the words for in Turkish. So, too embarrassed to admit that he did not know the words in Turkish, he failed his eye exam.

Apart from childhood embarrassments, the wounds of the war between the state and the PKK are still very fresh for many Kurds. The sheer number of children on the street not only suggest that people have more children than they should, but that a good number are without parents. At the conclusion of the war upon Öcalan's capture, orphanages in the southeast were far above capacity. As with most modern wars, the brunt of the damage was afflicted on the population, and a walk through the old city of now peaceful Diyarbakır left me thinking of the many scars left on the consciences' of the people I saw, whose eyes I met, but could hardly penetrate. One man I met in my fourth day told me the story of how the village in which he grew up is now occupied only by old people, for during the war many had ventured into Diyarbakır in fear that it might be burned only to stay at its conclusion. Indeed, the seeming impenetrability of Diyarbakır's walls, which are so thick and sturdy that they can be seen from space, must have provided some level of psychological comfort when war was raging in the countryside. One night over tea, two men hinted of the destruction in the 1990s, and one mentioned the burning of his village in 1994 because it was thought to be a PKK stronghold. Oftentimes, and in a manner that recalls Viet Nam, villages were considered "PKK villages" because they refused to work with the Turkish state by designating "village guards," village residents charged with the responsibility of collaborating with Turkish authorities to keep out the PKK. Under the "vilage guard" system, the Turkish government asks villages to keep out the PKK and arms a few villages who they charge with the task of keeping out the PKK. The policy was pushed during the military's scorched earth campaign at the height of the war and placed many villages in a difficult position: Was it better to work with the Turkish military and risk being targets of the PKK or vice-versa? In recent years, the"village guard system has caused more problems than it has solved, the armed and untrained men often capable of acts of extraordinary cruelty and intimidation. Indeed, several work the lucrative drug trade in the region, and the paramilitary effect of the system creates instability. Still stubbornly in place despite pressure from the EU, the village guard system continues to plague the southeast. However, the legacy of the village guard system and the military's scorched earth campaign of the 1990s is best seen by taking a walk along the city walls. Gathered against their looming rise are the slums that mark the homes of the wars' many internally-displaced persons. Many of these houses are little more than shoddy constructions, in many instances lacking even a solid roof to keep out rain. Plastic swimming pool tops and other materials were cleverly used in such makeshift designs. With unemployment far above thirty percent, it was not at all a challenge to explain the existence of the many beggars I encountered. However, difficult to fathom was how so many poor people managed to survive, to eke out any sustainable existence, no matter how sub-standard.

Despite all of the pain, misery, and scars of the past, what struck me most about my days in Diyarbakır was the underlying sense of optimism. In sharp juxtaposition with troubling memories, most people accentuated the positive, most importantly the position they see the EU as playing in maintaining the peace. Few dwelled on the past and despite my reluctance to ask questions that might conjure up painful memories, the tone of most of my encounters echoed a sentiment that peace had come and the city was rebuilding itself. This optimism most evidenced by a trip I made into what is referred to as new Diyarbakır, just outside the old city walls, I could not help feeling a sense that the past had receded. Walking the fashionable, "modern" streets, the past seemed to lie somewhere in the distance, the city and its people now looking onward. In marked contrast to the old city, new Diyarbakır seemed outside the bounds of history, its main boulevard filled with cafés, bars, and modern trendy restaurants, the likes of which I cannot even find in İzmit. One morning, my professor with whom I had met up, was taken around by local businessmen and investors intent to show her the progress made. Most of these well-dressed men were Turkish, well-dressed and probably well-intentioned men who saw their work as benefitting Turkey and the southeast. Indeed, one cannot help be awestruck by the glistening new buildings and elegantly landscaped sidewalks. Such development is the promise held out by AKP officials, but the thoughts that coursed through my head as I walked the "new city" also included memories of the municipal festival the previous night, of the the many people who had proudly told me, "I am Kurdish." While economic development is most certainly being made in the opening provided by the current peace, I seriously doubt that it can in any way be lasting unless it takes into account the true root of the problem—the failure to recognize Kurdish identity.

Back in the old city later that night, I found myself taking another short walk while attempting to meld together all the things I had been told. Despite the bold promises of economic progress, the current peace, and the sense that the past is somewhere in the distance, I could not help thinking of Walter Benjamin's angel of history, a magnificent figure looking toward the past, wanting to remake it, reorder it in so that it can be more easily understood. However, the angel's attempts are unexpectedly shattered. AKP's attempts to reduce the Kurds' dismal past to a matter of poverty—to look back at their suffering and declare this the reason for Kurdish suffering—are no more aware of the present forces still very much making history than was Benjamin's angel caught by the destructive gales from Paradise. AKP's offer of an economic panacea fails to take account of the chaos that still characterizes the Kurdish experience, a chaos that might very well bring Benjamin's nihlist vision to fruition. There is no use in packaging the Kurds' plight and boiling their suffering down into a rather simple and politically convenient set of explanations, a series of answers that is far to keen to ignore the repressive forces that still eat at their humanity.

At the moment, there is much reason to hope because the problems resulting from the Turkish denial of Kurdish identity has been suspended by the EU process. Further, the hope is justified in that the peace is slowly bringing a new order to society. Civil society groups are beginning to emerge and there is a true possiblity that the EU process will eventually lead Turkey to grant Kurds full cultural rights and ensure that they are effectively realized. In such a scenario, integration is indeed possible and Kurdish politicians will no longer be deemed separatists, but welcomed into mainstream politics. Such a move would disempower the militant politics of the PKK and lead to a real opening by which systemic problems can be consensually solved. However, if the promise of this post-national EU politics fails, the result is likely to be increased confrontation between the state and the PKK. A return to militarism at this stage in the game would surely devastate any progress made and cannot be dismissed. Turkey cannot afford not to carefully examine such a future scenario so as to ward it off.

One civil society activist who I was able to meet put it this way: reform is implemented and society kept in order because the EU is very much in the picture. If there is trouble or discrimination, civil society groups can turn to EU officials to turn up the pressure on troublesome government officials. From his account, such support can occur on a very informal and local level. However, reliance on this support is worrisome insomuch as it is indicative of a reliance on the EU to implement reform (see Feb. 4 post) and raises concerns about what might happen should the EU diplomatic mission come to an end, the conditionality of EU membership removed from the picture. Forced to find ground between the PKK and Turkish security security forces, civil society organizations face difficult, but all-important work, and with continued EU support they will likely continue to make progress. However, most important is the state's recognition that if peace is to be sustainable and an independent, moderate Kurdish politics emerge out of the midst of past violence and polarization, it must adopt a politics of emancipation, a politics that offers a legitimate alternative to the militancy of the PKK and real hope to the Kurdish people.

My last day in the southeast took me on a dolmuş ride to Mardin. A rather dusty town built atop a very high plateau looking out on the Syrian and Iraqi plains, the town was striking in its quiscence. The journey from Diyarbakır to Mardin was replete with glorious panoramas of sunbaked scenery and plenty of farm animals on the side of the road, landscape that evoked a feeling of moving back in time. After a cup of tea, my friend and I went out in search of the Ulu Camii, one of the oldest mosques in Turkey and a world heritage site. Walking out of the mosque and resting to take a view of the mosque's impressive minaret, we were greeted by the owner of a nearby çayhane who promised us a glorious view of the countryside should be come inside his restaurant and take çay on his roof. We followed and were met with the most remarkable panorama I have ever seen in my life—a vast plain stretching like the ocean as far as I could see. My breath somewhat tooken away, I adored the scene before my eyes until my visison stretched to the left and I caught sight of a hill perpendicular to the cliff from which we were gazing. Etched on its side were the words, "Ne Mutlu Türkum Diyene!" (How Proud the One Who Says He is a Turk!). Even though I hope that the Kurds can one day come to reconcile both a Kurdish and Turkish identity in the way many Basques have come to forge a Spanish/French and Basque identity, I could not help but be taken aback my the seeming inappropriateness of these words burned into the otherwise uninterrupted scenery, a seeming affront to the otherwise peaceful nature of this small town 20 miles from the Syrian border. I seriously doubt that any peace will ever successfully be concluded until Kurds can take the other hill and etch something of their own making, in much the way that one is met by signs declaring that one has entered Basqueland when travelling from Zaragoza into San Sebastián.

So, why did I venture to Diyarbakır? I went to undertake a journey that far too many Turks miss out on, to experience a land and a people with a unique history, but that is nonetheless firmly bound to Turkey by more than borders. The Kurdish people I met had no desire to secede from the state, but expressed hope only in the chance that one day they might be able to peaceably co-exist as Kurds living in a greater Turkish nation. When I asked a group of seven men if they could consider themselves both Kurdish and Turkish, members of an integrated and freer Turkey, about half said they could imagine such a complex negotiation of identity and this in a time when not even a full ten years have passed since 1999's abrupt turnaround in Turkish-Kurdish relations. My travels led me to a more nuanced understanding of one of the most haunting dilemmas in Turkish politics. Most important of all, I realized that though this dilemma is oft referred to as "the Kurdish problem," a term I myself have used, this language does not do the problem justice. The struggle for recognition of Kurdish identity is not just a Kurdish problem, but a Turkish problem as well. Turks and Kurds are both used as pawns in games played by elite, established organizations that are reluctant to work too fully toward peace and surrender power to an intermediate sphere in which Kurdish and Turkish interests might more easily allay. Turks die by the hundred in a conflict they do not understand, in a region they never visit unless the military provides a ride that is most certainly not voluntary. In the meantime, Kurds are trapped by the authoritarianism of the PKK, in my mind even more ominously referred to as "the Organization." While peace has come to the southeast for the time being, how long it lasts will ultimately depend on the Turkish state. Will it grant, implement, and realize the cultural rights of the Kurdish people, thereby facilitating integration? Or, will the state continue on as it has of old, denying Kurds the right to claim their unique identity and language and/or providing half-measures to mitigate the pain? Throughout history, Turks and Kurds have been revered as greatly skilled in the art of war; perhaps a time will come when they, too, will be considered skilled in the greater art of peace.

The photographs are mine save for the one of the tenements outside Diyarbakır's walls, which is thanks to Carrie Rasmussen.