Saturday, August 30, 2008

More Allegations of Discrimination Toward Alevis

PHOTO FROM the Turkish Daily News

From Jenny White's KamilPasha:
It has been alleged that the beating of a shopkeeper in Keçiören, a suburb of Ankara, for selling alcohol after 11 pm has another side: AKP discrimination against Alevis. The shopkeeper [Metin Şahin] is an Alevi living in an AKP-run neighborhood where Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan also resides. Other Alevis have complained about discrimination and threats from the municipality and police. Alevis are a syncretistic Muslim sect whose members have often supported left-leaning parties as well as Ataturk’s secularist reforms, which Alevis hoped would free them from Sunni Muslim oppression dating back to Ottoman times. There are estimated to be around 20 million Alevis in Turkey. Many Kurds are Alevi. The mayor of Keçiören denies that there is targeting of Alevis or that alcohol is banned in his district.
Şahin's accusation has received a good bit of attention in Turkey's print and broadcast press, and the mayor of Keçiören, Turgut Altınok, has vigorously denied discrimination of Alevis and even noted in media reports that he appreciates the contribution made by shops which sell alcohol. Altınok, the presumable AKP challenger of the mayor of Ankara's greater municipality, Mehli Gökçek, has further alleged that all of the media hype has more to do with CHP politics than the legitimacy of Şahin's accusations. However, Şahin's accusations are very disturbing and he is not the only Alevi in Keçiören making such charges. From the Turkish Daily News:
In Keçiören, with a population over 800,000, there are no restaurants selling alcoholic beverages, with a mere 163 shops selling alcohol allowed to remain open only until 11:00 p.m. In 1994, there were 14 restaurants serving alcohol, but all of them were shut down a few years after the election in 1994 of Altınok, who is affiliated with the ruling Islamic-rooted Justice and Development Party, or AKP.

Locals said, however, that what was reflected in the media about the recent incident was just the tip of the iceberg of the discriminatory municipal practices.

“There is a municipality-motivated polarization and discrimination in the region, which was almost divided into two sections -- where the leftists, including Alevis, are gathered and where the AKP electorate lived,” said Hacı Ali Gölpınar, an executive member of the Freedom and Democracy Party, or ÖDP, and Keçiören Solidarity Center director.

“The municipality makes a great investment in the areas where their electorates live, ignoring the others parts including İncirli, Piyangotepe and Ovacık, where people with leftist ideas reside.”

Gölpınar also said the alleged “A Team,” a group of people working under the authority of the municipality, beat couples for holding hands and attacked shop owners who sold alcoholic beverage after 11:00 p.m., in order to intimidate locals.

“Altınok actually is satisfied with this situation as he gives a message to his party and electorates via this event that he carries out his duty as mayor and at the same time, he paves the way for the religious and traditional customs to be maintained in his constituency area,” he added.

Other shop owners, who wished to be anonymous, also complained about the municipality's rules that shops that do not sell alcohol are allowed to stay open after midnight, while those who sell alcohol are forced to close their doors at 11:00 p.m.

Altınok meanwhile refuted the allegations yesterday and said he did not confirm the incident. He said the municipality had terminated the employment of the municipal police and the prosecutor had launched an investigation into the action. The case was an individual incident.
For Altınok's take on the allegations, click here for an article in Today's Zaman.

With the Keçiören community so polarized, and with national press coverage of these events so infused with the usual strong political bias, it is difficult to ascertain just what happened. However, again, AKP is faced with difficult questions in regard to their treatment of Alevis and, again, I would feel much more able to dismiss these as accusations made in a singular instance if it were not for AKP's documented discrimination of Alevis in other areas of public and religious life. For more, see July 23 and June 16 posts.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Miltary in the Public Sphere

The following analysis from Emrullah Uslu at EDM is a bit bold, but certainly something is to be said of the changing relationship between Prime Minister Erdoğan and the TSK, especially now that Başbuğ is at the helm.
In recent months the visibility of military generals in the public sphere has increased, creating the impression that Turkey has two legislative and two executive bodies, one elected civilian and one military. Former minister Hasan Celal Guzel claims that the civilian Prime Minister Erdogan is, in fact, subservient to the military Prime Minister Basbug (Today’s Zaman, October 27). Three interrelated issues have made the military visible in the public sphere. First, the way the new Chief of Turkish General Staff, General Ilker Basbug performs his job makes him and his staff more visible. Second, the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) has increased its terror campaign, which has brought the military into the spotlight once again. Third, since the Ergenekon trial began, alleged ties between Ergenekon and the armed forces have also affected the public visibility of the military.

. . . .

Basbug’s way of dealing with the media and public has made him the subject of news reports. Especially his angry appearance in his press conference on October 16 placed him in the center of a controversy. Thus, political observers have started thinking of him as the second prime minister.

In contrast to his predecessor General Yasar Buyukanit, who in his last period in office was harshly criticized for being docile with regard to the policies of the Justice and Development Party (AKP), Basbug has established a good relationship with the AKP. Since Basbug took office, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has followed Basbug’s policies. When the TSK paid a visit to Ergenekon suspects in prison, Erdogan expressed surprising support for the TSK’s decision (Zaman, September 5). Erdogan continued to back Basbug after his angry press conference, stating, "Some people use ugly expressions such as saying that I am the prime minister of the General Staff. We are a state. I am a Turkish citizen" (Today’s Zaman, October 18). Moreover, for the first time in the history of the Turkish republic, the Chief of General Staff and other top commanders attended a cabinet meeting on October 27. Turkish Daily News (TDN) stated that “This is a very extraordinary situation, because nowhere in the Turkish Constitution or laws is there a clause defining under what conditions the top commander or commanders can participate in Cabinet meetings and what additional powers their participation provides to that Cabinet meeting”(TDN, October 27)

The military has not been this visible in public since the February 28 “soft coup.” This visibility could lead to an election setback for the AKP, at least in Turkey’s Kurdish regions. Many people who supported the AKP in the July 22, 2007, elections are dissatisfied because they feel that the AKP is becoming the party of Ankara not the party of the people (Star, October 19). It is very likely that the AKP could lose in Kurdish cities in the forthcoming election in March 2009, if voters associate Erdogan with the military. An AKP loss in the Kurdish regions would give a big boost to Kurdish nationalists, which neither Erdogan nor Basbug would like to see.
For full analysis, click here.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Kurdish Question and the Future of Turkey

From Christopher Frey at the Canadian magazine The Walrus:
One could sense, in the wake of the pkk ambush, something more existential at stake than just the quarrel between Turks and Kurds. Militarily, the fight had mostly devolved into a low-grade regional conflict since the capture of pkk kingpin Abdullah Öcalan in 1999. Rather, the outrage on the street reflected deep-seated uncertainty about Turkey’s sense of itself and how it interacts with a globalizing world.

In May, just prior to the escalation of the pkk conflict, the country had emerged from a polarizing political crisis. The governing Justice and Development Party (akp), an organization with Islamic roots, had put forward Abdullah Gül, a former foreign minister, as its presidential candidate, prompting Turkey’s military leadership — enshrined in the constitution as the protector of the state’s secular character, and the instigator of four coups since 1960 — to contest Gül’s selection. The brass criticized him for comments he had made in the early 1990s questioning official secularism, and more symbolically for the fact that his wife wears the hijab. A constitutional court blocked Gül’s appointment, prompting new elections in July, but these returned the akp with an even larger majority, and increased the party’s share of the popular vote from 34 to 46 percent. The military boycotted Gül’s swearing-in.

Despite the akp’s Islamist bent, the party has proven itself to be the most adept and progressive manager of Turkey’s affairs in decades — a moderate, broad-based organization whose policies more closely resemble those of the centre-right Christian Democrats in Europe than Hamas or Hezbollah, and that draws support from across the political and ethnic spectrums. The akp has successfully wrestled with the chronic inflation that plagued the economy, dramatically increased foreign investment, and implemented the strongest steps yet to fight corruption in the public and private sectors. It also stepped up accession talks with the European Union and made substantive overtures to the country’s Kurdish population. In the symbolic debate over the hijab, meanwhile, it positioned itself as a defender of individual freedoms, overturning the law that prohibited women from wearing head scarves on university campuses.

Although Kemalists accuse the akp of secretly harbouring a radical Islamist agenda, the only evidence of this has been the implementation of dry zones in a few conservative neighbourhoods by local party officials, and a quickly rescinded attempt to criminalize adultery nationwide. Nonetheless, secular nationalists have gone to absurd extremes in their efforts to discredit the akp. A quartet of bestselling exposés last year asserted that the party’s leaders were in fact Zionist Mossad agents. More recently, after a statue of Atatürk astride a horse was vandalized in Denizli, the town’s mayor appeared at a press conference, holding up a photograph of the damaged statue. “As you see, the penis of the horse Atatürk sits on has been broken,” he said. “We think akp cadres have broken the penis.”

The pkk attacks, however, united the two sides. Wounded by its recent loss of face, the military saw an opportunity to reassert itself, while the akp had to demonstrate that it could handle a terrorist threat. The rest of the world, though, and particularly the United States and Europe, urged Turkey to proceed carefully. The Americans, who had reason to fear that a military incursion into northern Iraq would destabilize that country’s most secure region, agreed to provide intelligence about pkk positions there. But the perceived lack of support from Europe was more aggravating, and it fed into Turks’ frustration with the EU accession process. Leaders such as France’s Nicolas Sarkozy had already made alienating comments, while other officials had expressed fears that if Turkey were granted full membership it would become the second-largest nation in the EU after Germany, with 17 percent of the assembly’s vote. The West’s pressuring of Turkey to acknowledge the Armenian genocide, to improve treatment of its Kurdish citizens, and to back off from the dispute over Cyprus were also irksome. Turks have yet to work out these issues for themselves.
Frey's analysis is quite compelling here and follows my own assessment of the need for AKP to embrace pluralist politics in the southeast and come closer to the policies of Turgut Özal in terms of embracing cultural rights. Instead, AKP seems content to continue to tout Islamist bananas--a strategy that might win the party some votes, but from what I could gather from my own trip to Diyarbakır (June 14 post), not many. In contrast, what AKP's refusal to grant cultural rights will do is to intensify violence with the PKK and empower hawks on both sides of the conflict (see Aug. 12 post).

In the Middle of a Difficult Situation

I have been remiss to write much about Turkey's role in the Georgian conflict, but will now take the time to post some links to some recent analyses. In the weeks before I left Turkey, the Georgian crisis loomed large in the minds of many Turks with whom I talked. Sadly, many young people my age feared Turkey being dragged into a war as a proxy of United States' ambitions to counter Russian aggression.

From the German Marshall Fund:

After Georgia: Turkey's Looming Foreign Policy Dilemmas
Written by Ian Lesser
August 26, 2008
By all indications, the crisis in Georgia is unlikely to end anytime soon. Even if Russian forces withdraw to negotiated positions, there is every prospect for a sustained Russian political and security presence in the country. Under these conditions, Ankara will once again face Russian power directly on its borders. In the near-term, Turkey will face difficult policy choices in reconciling the country's Russian and Western interests. Even more difficult dilemmas are on the horizon as a more competitive relationship with Russia looms, and NATO is compelled to rethink its own strategy and posture. How should Turkey's foeign policy be shaped?

Crisis in the South Caucasus: Turkey's Big Moment
Written by Amerin Zaman
August 25, 2008
As the only NATO member to border the Caucasus. Turkey control the Bosporus and Dardanelles, through which Russia and other Black Sea countries conduct most of their trade. The conflict between Georgia and Russia offers Turkey a unique opportunity to bolster its regional clout, to check Russian and Iranian influence, and to help secure the flow of Western-bound oil and natural gas from former Soviet Central Asia and Azerbaijan. Will Turkey's leaders rise to the occasion?

Click here for a link to both.

Click here for "Turkey's Delicate Balancing Act in the Black Sea," by Saban Kardaş, Eurasia Daily Monitor (Aug. 27)

Click here for news analysis from LALE SARIIBRAHIMOĞLU at Today's Zaman (Aug. 22)

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

YouTube Access Restored!

From Today's Zaman:
Access to YouTube, a popular video sharing Web site banned in early May by a controversial court decision for broadcasting videos deemed insulting to the nation's founder, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, was reinstated on Saturday night.

It may take up to 72 hours for all Internet users to be able to access the Web site as Turkey's Internet service providers reconfigure their systems to reflect the court's decision. An estimated 1.5 million people from within Turkey had been visiting YouTube every day despite the ban by using several proxy server Web sites. Turkey was one of four countries to block access to the Web site; Thailand, China and Pakistan continue to impose similar bans. YouTube has been banned in Turkey five times since March 2007.
Bans on YouTube and other Web sites were criticized and strongly protested in Turkey. A campaign, launched by to draw attention to and protest the bans, lasted for three days, ending on Aug. 20. Web sites participating in the campaign posted notices on their home pages reading "Access to this Web site has been denied by the Web site's own decision," in imitation of what one sees upon trying to access a banned Web site.
As this report from BIA-Net indicates, YouTube is not the only Internet site that has been targeted by the Turkish authorities.

Monday, August 25, 2008

The PKK Is Not Monolithic

Rather than the PKK, the Firat News Agency is reporting that the Kurdistan Freedom Hawks (TAK) carried out the most recent terror attacks in the western cities of Mersin and İzmir. This is more reason to dismiss of tired thinking of the PKK as a monolithic organization void of its own complexities and inner conflicts. Further, since it is not at all clear what TAK's relation is to the PKK, there is all the more reason to adopt a more nuanced analysis of Kurdish terrorism that breaks from more of the same finger-pointing at the singular evil of the PKK. Further, and despite arguments that TAK is nothing more than a cover for the PKK's more violent activities, it becomes paramount to consider TAK as an organization acting outside of the PKK's central command structure. Below is analysis from James Brandon at the Jamestown Foundation's Terrorism Monitor that appeared soon after TAK claimed responsibility for the August 2006 bombings in Marmaris, Istanbul, and Antalya. These attacks targeted foreigners and radically broke with the normal pattern of PKK violence.
At present, little is known about the TAK's size, leadership or ideology, although the group probably has only a few dozen active members. The group is presumably secular-leaning; however, its signature attacks on foreign tourists raise the possibility of a broader anti-Western agenda in common with the then-Marxist PKK during the 1980s and 1990s. Although there is no precise information, it is possible that the TAK was founded by Kurds who disagreed with the PKK's softening stance toward Turkey. Since the capture of PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan in 1999, the PKK's goals have shrunk from demanding full independence for Kurdistan to the granting of cultural rights and some form of limited autonomy to Turkish Kurds. Although Turkish politicians and media argue that the TAK is a front for the PKK, it is more likely that the group is a rival and potential successor to the PKK.

There are important ideological differences between the PKK and the TAK. While the PKK mainly attacked military and political targets—for example, targeting army bases and assassinating judges—the TAK has deliberately attacked Turkish and foreign civilians. The geographical spread of TAK attacks also suggests that its members live in Kurdish migrant communities in western Turkey and in Istanbul, rather than in the Kurdish heartlands of the southeast that were the focus of PKK actions.

Additionally, while the PKK now issues carefully-worded demands, intended to be the basis of negotiation, the TAK's sporadic statements are deliberately uncompromising. The TAK's violent and nihilistic rhetoric is also remarkably similar to that of radical Islamists—although without the Islamic references—perhaps indicating the growing influence of jihadi methodology even among secular Middle Eastern groups. For example, after one minor bombing in Istanbul in March, one TAK press release stated: "We declare to the public that our people are not without protection. The Kurdish people will not remain defenseless. From now on, every attack against our people will be met immediately by even more violent acts. We will start to harm not just property, but lives too. With our actions, we will turn Turkey into hell. The bomb attack in Kocamustafapasa [an Istanbul district], carried out by our action team was just a warning" (al-Jazeera, March 31). TAK statements are only rarely issued, and the TAK gives a low priority to communications. It briefly ran a website at, but when that was taken off-line, it was never replaced.

There are other indications of a growing rivalry between the PKK and the TAK. From mid-August, Murat Karayilan, a senior PKK commander on Mount Qandil in northern Iraq, declared that a new PKK cease-fire would come into effect on September 31 (, August 24; Terrorism Monitor, September 21). The TAK, however, dealt the cease-fire a probably fatal blow when they carried out a triple resort bombing on August 28. Kongra-Gel, a branch of the PKK, swiftly condemned the August 28 TAK attacks, perhaps fearing that the violence would make Ankara less willing to compromise on Kurdish issues (Firat News Agency, August 30). Within days of the attack, the Turkish prime minister and the army's chief of staff both said that they would not recognize the PKK cease-fire and would continue to treat the group as a "terrorist organization." The TAK attack, therefore, dealt a blow to both Turkey and the PKK.

The TAK, therefore, appears less a front group or successor to the PKK than a marginal, but more radical, alternative. Although Turkey may struggle to tackle the TAK in the short–term on account of its secretive nature and its low-risk style of attack, unless the group can produce a more positive ideology it is unlikely to ever become more than an irritant between Turkey and its Kurds.
Reading over the coverage of the recent terrorism perpetrated against Turkish cities in the west of the country, I am particularly disturbed by the myopic treatment of the PKK as a monolithic. While this is nothing new, the singularity with which the overwhelming majority of Turks with whom I have spoken speak of the PKK is one of the many reasons to be skeptical about solving the Kurdish question. The PKK is an unbelievably tricky and sensitive subject in Turkey, and not a topic about which I asked too many questions for fear of alienating friends and raising emotions to a level at which it is simply not possible to have the kind of frank and open discussion necessary to forging better understandings. Just as al-Qa'ida is for so many Americans, the PKK is too often perceived as an 'all-evil' entity, and while the terrorism either group commits is truly despicable, at some point it becomes necessary to analyze the groups' motives, methods of operation, and reason for existence.

The most frequently cited example of PKK terror is the group's targeting of unarmed school teachers in 1993. As hostilities between PKK terrorists and the TSK (and their deep state proxies) were heating up in the early 1990s (see Feb. 4 post), the PKK savagely murdered Turkish school teachers who the Turkish government assigned to the southeast. These teachers were faced with the decision of reneging on their government obligation to complete their assignment or to risk death at the hands of the PKK. The memory of murdered school teachers is one of many memories the Turkish public carries in their mind when they think of the PKK. Of course, most significant is that the struggle against the PKK affects every Turkish citizen quite directly insofar as the Turkish state mandates every male citizen perform military service. As a result, many Turks have relatives who have perished in fighting the PKK, or as a result of being the target of PKK terrorism carried out against military facilities. Thus, the PKK, and understandably so, is an emotionally-charged issue that is very difficult to discuss (for an example, see the story of Bülent Ersoy, June 1 post).

This said, it is time to eschew simplistic thinking of the PKK as a monolithic organization out to destroy the Turkish state and kill innocent Turks. Rather, Turks need desperately to realize the PKK as a complex organization that exists in a political climate. Most importantly, it is important to understand the PKK as having plenty of factions within the organization. If the PKK is an enemy to the Turkish state, and it most certainly is, it is to the Turks advantage to get to know the organization from the inside out. (This is to say nothing of the benefit to be had in simply thinking of the political situation that has resulted in support of the PKK in the southeast--thinking akin to imagining oneself in another's shoes.) As with the all too frequent shortcomings of my own country to rise to such a level of analysis, it is increasingly frustrating to see Turks enraptured by the FauxNews-type media coverage that so often seems to characterize reportage of Kurdish terrorism. Further, sometimes coverage is all the more disconcerting in that it is so inflammatory that it leads some Turkish citizens to carry out acts of terror against their Kurdish counterparts (see June 25 post and this story on violence against Kurds that ran in the Turkish Daily News on Aug. 3).

Media coverage of the most recent bombings in Mersin and İzmir, as well as of the Güngoren bombings that most Turkish papers are attributing to the PKK despite the organization's consistent denial, refers only to "the PKK" as the guilty party. Although the Zaman papers did run a story about factionalism within the PKK in reference to the German hikers kidnapped in July (July 16 post), Turkish journalism routinely fails to examine the complexity of the PKK (for examples, click here for an analysis of PKK terrorism from Today's Zaman and here for an example from the Turkish Daily News).

A Portrait of Ahmet Türk

From the Turkish Daily News:
Guns and violence serve neither the state's effort to challenge Kurdish nationalism, nor efforts by the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, to impose its own political will, in the view of the leader of Turkey's main pro-Kurdish political party.

“Bombs do not solve anything,” said Ahmet Türk, leader of the Democratic Society Party, known by its acronym of DTP. His comments came in an exclusive interview with the Turkish Daily News.

Türk shared his views in the wake of recent urban bombings in Güngören and Izmir that have renewed debate over the outlawed PKK and policies to combat its embrace of terror. Although the organization has not assumed responsibility for the bombings, the timing is widely interpreted as retaliation against the Turkish military's heavy air strikes in morthern Iraq.

Türk and his party members have been broadly criticized for their refusal to label the PKK a terrorist group and the party faces a resulting indictment that may force its closure.

Türk, however, argued that the tipping point towards a non-violent solution to the Kurdish problem is the state's attitude towards Kurds. “We openly tell the PKK to disregard arms as a means to obtain rights. But of course, there is a societal reality. Kurds will react to policies based on a denial of their identity and their cultural demands,” he said. “As long as the state does not change those policies, it cannot reduce the influence of the PKK on people. You can not make the PKK believe that arms are unnecessary.”

Türk reiterated that dialogue was the solution to problems “within Turkey's borders.” It is mostly the task of the government and the state to end the problem, he believes, but he has sent messages to the PKK as well. “We must act in such a way as to make even the PKK think of the Turkish Republic as its own country, and see that it must act accordingly in face of a new approach. Without this logic, forging a common dialogue and drawing a roadmap has been impossible.”

Violence can never serve the aims of the PKK, says Türk, insisting that they be more open to dialogue. “We tell PKK that they will achieve nothing, even if they fight for five more years.”
With DTP still facing a closure case, the fate of the party will no doubt have a tremendous impact in deciding just what the future holds for the southeast. AKP is unlikely to win as many voters in the southeast as it won in the last elections, and with the Kurdish population in Turkey growing, Türk is right to suggest that demographics alone promise to change Turkey's handling of the Kurdish question in the coming years. For more on Türk and DTP politics, see Aug. 12 post.

Anticipating Difficulties

From Today's Zaman:
Though the Third National Program declared last Monday by government spokesperson and State Minister Cemil Çiçek raised hopes among the pro-EU intellectuals of Turkey, many are skeptical about the program's prospects.

The program is too presumptuous for a government weakened by two years of friction with the organs of the establishment, according to analysts. But the top politicians of the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) are determined to go through with the program. Though not all the AK Party politicians are aware of its details, all are aware that the success of the program would be a life buoy for the AK Party in a hostile political environment.

For AK Party members, the situation is clear: The program will be carried out not because the government is up to the task, but because it has no other option. AK Party parliamentary group deputy chairman Nihat Ergün is frank enough to admit that even the program itself was a product of a lack of options. "The Third National Program is important in the sense that it defines the priorities of the government." Stressing that the program was shaped according to the priorities set by the EU, Ergün said it was important that the EU was there to prevent arbitrary program priorities that may change from government to government. AK Party Yozgat deputy and parliamentary group deputy chairman Bekir Bozdağ could not agree more.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Turkey a State-Party to the ICC? (İnşallah.)

Also, part of that third harmonization package . . .

From Today's Zaman:

Turkey has plans to ratify the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC), the treaty which created the first permanent global court capable of trying individuals accused of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, as part of the government's new European Union reform package, but the move has already produced heated debate.

Opponents of the treaty are concerned that members of the military who were involved in Turkey's fight against terrorism and soldiers who carried out the Cyprus Peace Operation could be tried by the court.

[This is ludicrous because the ICC only has jurisdiction of crimes committed after 1 July 2002, but such nonsensical criticisms are typical and, as is the case here, often go uncorrected when reported in the Turkish media.]

The Justice Ministry and the Foreign Ministry had a falling out over the issue in 2007, but the Justice Ministry prevailed in convincing Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan not to sign the treaty. Turkey declared at the time that it would not sign the treaty unless the court has jurisdiction over the crime of terrorism. With this demand Turkey intended to ensure that high-level members of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) who reside in European countries are tried by the ICC, but the EU rejected this demand.

. . . .

The EU has issued repeated calls for Turkey's ratification of the Rome Statute, which it sees as an essential component of the democratic model and values of the EU since Turkey is the only EU candidate country that has not ratified the treaty.

In a statement before the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) on Oct. 8, 2004, Erdoğan declared, "Turkey will soon approve the Rome Statute … and will become part of the International Criminal Court coalition."

In February 2005 an international coalition of more than 2,000 nongovernmental and civil society organizations, the Coalition for the International Criminal Court (CICC), in a campaign initiated by Amnesty International called on the Turkish government to ratify the Rome Statute.

The CICC also noted the advances made in Turkey regarding constitutional amendments, in particular the amendment to Article 38 that allows for the extradition of Turkish citizens to the ICC, as well as the full abolition of capital punishment, limitations on the Turkish military's authority and strengthening of press freedom. The group stated that in early 2004 Turkey also joined the Friends of the ICC, a group of states that work to support the goals of the ICC.

Following Erdoğan's promising statement before PACE, the Foreign Ministry started preparations for ratification, but since the Justice Ministry opposed the move, preparations were suspended.

The world's first permanent criminal court, the ICC was established in The Hague, the Netherlands, on July 1, 2002, when the Rome Statute entered into force. The court does not have jurisdiction over any crimes prior to that date. The ICC may also have jurisdiction in situations referred to it by the UN Security Council. In accordance with the court's principle of complementarity, however, the ICC will only act when national courts have been unable or unwilling to do so. The court's chief prosecutor last month requested an arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir on charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur.

Justice Ministry officials have stressed that all high-level officials who have been involved in the fight against PKK terrorism since the treaty went into force could be tried at the ICC. They say the PKK's upper ranks have been preparing to ask the ICC to prosecute Turkish commanders fighting the terrorist organization in Turkey's East and Southeast. In addition, opponents of the treaty bring up the example of the United States, which refuses to ratify the Rome Statute.

Among the several international civil society groups that have demanded Turkey ratify the treaty are Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch (HRW), Parliamentarians for Global Action, the Turkish Human Rights Foundation (TİHV) and the Helsinki Citizens' Assembly. As part of a campaign initiated by Amnesty International Turkey in 1997, a national coalition of NGOs, including the TİHV, the Association of Human Rights and Solidarity for Oppressed Peoples (MAZLUM-DER), the Human Rights Agenda Association, the Human Rights Association (İHD) and the Helsinki Citizens' Assembly, are also lobbying for the ratification of the ICC treaty.

For the full article, click here.

As expected, CHP and MHP, opposition parties controlled by ultra-nationalists, are opposed to the Rome Statute on the grounds that it means the surrendering of a significant amount of Turkish sovereignty to an international body. As evidenced by the Justice Ministry's resistance, it is also important to impact that support for the Rome Statute is not universal among AKP politicians. AKP is by no means immune from similar nationalist sentiments. The Rome Statute has enormous support within DTP and the Kurdish southeast.

Turkey's ratification of the Rome Statute would prove a monumental development for the advancement of human rights, and would go a long way in providing structure to the Turkish state's handling of the Kurdish question and possibly prevent the kind of abuses that occurred in the 1990s.

To endnote, see the ICC's explanation of why terrorism is not addressed within the jurisdiction of the ICC.

Dağlıca Trial Seeks Taraf Report

From BIA-Net:
The Military Court attached to the Van Gendarmerie Corps Command Post have decided to ask the Military Prosecutor for the General Staff report about the eight soldiers kidnapped by the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) in Hakkari province in the eastern Turkey, which was published by daily Taraf under the title “Dağlıca ambush was known.”

The report published by Taraf on June 25, 2008 had made it clear that the authorities had known ahead of time about the Dağlıca ambush that had cost the lives of 13 soldiers and led to the kidnapping of eight.

Dinçel Aslan, the lawyer of Ramazan Yüce, told bianet that the fact the military asked for the report was important for reaching the truth and formalizing their demand regarding his client that he had reported the ambush, but these reports had been destroyed.

. . . .

According to the documents published by daily Taraf, the information about where the ambush was to take place, its coordinates, and its time were in the intelligence report stamped urgent by the Van Gendarmerie Law and Order Corps Command Post in detail. (EÖ/EZÖ/TB)
Today's Zaman has drawn an provocative link between Ergenekon and the disaster at Dağlıca. For more on Dağlıca, see my posts of July 1 and Feb. 5.

5 Steps for Prime Minister Erdoğan

These appeared in an op/ed authored by Turkish expert Stephen Larrabee in today's Washington Times:
To avoid further political turmoil, Mr. Erdogan must move quickly to restore confidence in his leadership and show he has learned from the court's action. Five steps in particular need to be taken in the coming weeks:

(1) Mr. Erdogan must build bridges to the secular establishment, particularly the military - something he neglected to do in the aftermath of the AKP's overwhelming victory in the July 2007 parliamentary elections. This was a serious tactical error that must not be repeated. Mr. Erdogan must show he takes the court's warning seriously and avoid taking actions that could be seen by the military as challenging the constitutional order, particularly secularism.

(2) Mr. Erdogan needs to reinvigorate the domestic reform process and get Turkey's EU membership bid back on track. While the current difficulties with Brussels are not all Turkey's fault, the Erdogan government bears considerable responsibility. After a strong start, the domestic reform process in Turkey has recently stagnated, exacerbating strains with Brussels. One of the first orders of business following the constitutional court's decision is to kick-start the reform process and give the accession negotiations with the EU new momentum.

(3) Mr. Erdogan should open a dialogue with the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in northern Iraq aimed at resolving outstanding bilateral differences, especially the role of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), a Kurdish separatist group that has launched terrorist attacks against Turkish territory from sanctuaries in northern Iraq. The PKK problem can't be resolved without the assistance and support of the KRG.

As long as it appeared as if the AKP would be closed, the Kurdish authorities in northern Iraq had little incentive to negotiate seriously with the Erdogan government. But the constitutional court's decision changes the context and improves the chances that talking could bring positive results.

Better communication is in the KRG's self interest anyway. The Kurdish authorities in northern Iraq - where there are large untapped oil deposits - have a strong economic incentive to improve ties with Turkey. The KRG needs to get this oil to Western markets, and the cheapest and most direct means of doing so is through Turkey.

(4) Mr. Erdogan needs to improve the living conditions of Turkey's Kurdish community. The PKK problem cannot be solved by military means alone; the military campaign against the PKK must be combined with serious social and economic reform that addresses the concerns of Turkey's own citizens - a fact that the Turkish military is beginning to realize.

(5) Finally, Mr. Erdogan must strengthen Turkey's relationship with the United States. The increased U.S. political and military support since Mr. Erdogan's Washington visit last November has been crucial in helping Turkey deal more effectively with the PKK threat and has led to a marked improvement in bilateral relations. Mr. Erdogan needs to ensure that this support and general upswing in relations continues after President Bush leaves office.

These measures are no panacea. But taken together, they would go a long way toward healing the fissures engendered by the recent crisis and provide a firm basis for stabilizing Turkish democracy.
These are all wise steps, though I would stress the need for Turkey to not only strengthen its foreign relations with the United States, but also Europe. This means more than simply moving forward with the accession process, although this is a considerable step. As I have repeatedly written in this blog, Turkish foreign policy is becoming more and more schizophrenic by the day. One day Turkey is declaring its commitment to human rights in Brussels, and the next it is hosting Sudanese dictator and genocidiare al-Bashir and talking about building better relations with a genocidal state. This must end, and Turkey must instead work to better align its foreign policy with that of Europe. While Europe is no doubt still struggling in its own right to determine a common security policy, Turkey is moving further and further away from European foreign policy norms.

And, not to sound the skeptic, the military is far from realizing the need to grant cultural rights demanded by a significant portion of Turkey's Kurdish minority—most significantly, those Kurds who tacitly or directly support the PKK. Perhaps even more discouraging is that AKP is increasingly reluctant to grant these rights, thereby elevating support for Kurdish extremists and empowering the more hawkish elements in Kurdish politics. Many Kurdish politicians have long insisted that the Turkish state is still far from serious when it comes to moving forward with meaningful social and legal forms that secure cultural rights for Kurds, and the government is giving them more and more credibility by the day. However, if Erdoğan were to move more aggressively forward in this area, the prime minister risks alienating the military. A double-edged sword, the question of the Kurds, essentially a larger question about the evolution of the Turkish nation-state, is just as intriguing, provocative, and complicated as the secularism issue which Larrabee highlights in his first point.

Friday, August 22, 2008

New NPAA Introduced (Thank Heavens!)

AKP has released Turkey's third National Program for the Adoption of the Acquis (NPAA). The NPAA essentially lays out a game plan by which the Turkish government will work to harmonize Turkish law with that of the EU. In order to accede, Turkey must align its policy with that of the EU according to 35 chapters of the acquis, each pertaining to different policy areas. These chapters will be unanimously opened and closed by the European Council throughout the accession process and only upon closure of all 35 chapters will Turkey qualify for membership.

In accordance with negotiations of the acquis, Turkey is still working in toe with its Accession Partnership Document (APD). The APD defines the parameters of Turkey's Accession Partnership Agreement and lists the many areas in which reform is required if Turkey is to be considered for membership; the NPAA is Turkey's response to the APD, thereby laying out a plan as to how Turkey will accomplish the conditions of the APD. The APD was last amended in February, but since then little has been done to produce an NPAA since AKP was fought in a struggle for its very survival.

Click here for the most recent APD. (See also Feb. 27 post).

Although the Commission decided in October 2004 to recommend the commencement of accession talks, thereby opening chapters of the acquis for negotiation, the Commission stressed that Turkey would be monitored by EU authorities throughout the accession process. The European Council decision in December 2004 to commence accession talks in accord with the Commission's recommendation made clear that negotiations would be open-ended and that no end could be guaranteed. So far, Turkey has opened and closed only one chapter of the acquis (science and technology policy) while five others remain open. Further chapters cannot be closed until Turkey implements the additional protocol of the Ankara Agreement. The additional protocol expands the conditions of the Customs Union to all EU member states, thereby allowing Cypriot ships to access its ports. Further, eight of the chapters pertaining to trade and commerce will not be opened until Turkey implements the additional protocol.

From the Turkish Daily News:
The Justice and Development Party, or AKP, has drafted a new national program regarding European Union accession, in a sign that the government plans to reinvigorate EU-backed reforms.

The 400-page Turkish National Program for the Adoption of the EU Acquis, which outlines timetables and the government's commitments to comply with EU standards, is made up of four parts: introduction, political criteria, economic criteria and membership commitments. The plan includes 120 to 130 legal amendments and 342 secondary regulations.

“This is a well-grounded program that takes into account Turkey's realities,” government spokesman, Cemil Çiçek, told reporters after a Cabinet meeting late Monday.

The document will be published in hard copy after Foreign Minister Ali Babacan's meetings with the opposition parties and nongovernmental organizations, noted Çiçek.

Following the first wave of speedy reforms between 2002 and 2004, the government's performance paradoxically slowed, despite the formal launch of accession negotiations with the EU in October 2005. The domestic fluctuations on the political landscape -- including the painful presidential election process in 2007 leading to snap elections and the closure case filed at the Constitutional Court to disband the ruling party -- had a negative influence on Ankara's bumpy path to the EU.

In a move that might appear to be a fair response to EU support during the lingering court process, the government has pushed forward with reforms. However, what counts for Brussels is not the launch of a program on paper but how speedily and effectively it will be implemented by the AKP. Although EU officials are in summer recess until the end of August, the number one agenda item on Turkey's desk in Brussels after their return will be the reforms. The government's further efforts will be a serious message demonstrating Ankara's firm commitment to sticking to EU objectives after a long period of fatigue.
Many of the reforms in the NPAA will prove quite difficult to pass through parliament, especially as the most controversial and most pressing will require amendment of the constitution. With CHP suggesting that it will not work with AKP to amend the constitution, AKP will not be able to pass the most fundamental of the reforms in the NPAA until it is able to increase its working majority in parliamentary elections or a new constitution is passed. CHP recalcitrance, and most importantly, the precedent the Constitutional Court set with the headscarf decision by which the Court assumed the power to review constitutional amendments, will make constitutional reform all the more pressing. If AKP tries to carry out reform without first passing a new constitution, any amendment to the Turkish Constitution to which CHP is opposed will likely be submitted for review by the Consitutional Court. Resistance to reform is great, and with AKP now significantly weakened and perhaps more hesitant to enact the kind of bold reform that the party itself seems quite conflicted over, time will only tell how successful Turkey will be toward acheiving the conditions laid out in the APD. However, a new NPAA is a hopeful sign and observers can only wait and see if the process will be truly reinvigorated.

More Disclosures from the NPAA Draft

Just one part of the NPAA that will require constitutional amendment and will be very difficult to pass . . . (But is it not wonderful to be talking about these things again?)

From Today's Zaman:
The government's new national program, in line with the requirements of EU accession, calls for significant changes in Turkey’s military-civilian relations, an area of Turkey’s state structure that is frequently criticized by the EU.

The ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) on Monday released a long-awaited EU reform package that suggests changes to 131 laws and 342 bylaws and regulations, including legal changes to the auditing procedures for all Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) expenditures.

The package, prepared by the Foreign Ministry and the Secretariat-General for EU Affairs, is the draft of the Third National Program of Turkey. It calls for changes in the laws regarding the Court of Accounts that will enable military spending to be audited.

The program continues to be called a “draft” although it has already been discussed by the Cabinet because parts that include political commitments are yet to be discussed with opposition parties.

The EU has recently been stressing the need for Turkey to reorganize its civilian-military relations, especially following the military’s strongly worded statement warning to the ruling AK Party on April 27 of last year. The Second National Program, drafted in 2004 by the AK Party government, had limited the authority of the once-powerful National Security Council (MGK), a body that essentially institutionalized the military’s control over Turkish politics, to an advisory role and removed military members from key political bodies. The annual progress report compiled by the European Commission in November of last year said, “Full civilian supervision of the military and parliamentary oversight of defense expenditures still need to be established.”

Accordingly, the government’s third EU harmonization package requires a change in Article 160 of the Constitution and then another change in the Court of Accounts Law for the auditing of all military spending.
Also covered in this article is planned judicial reform:
The program asks that preparations for judicial reforms be completed by the end of 2008 and brought to Parliament as one of the last stages of the reform package.

A judicial reform strategy covering the years between 2010 and 2014 will
be prepared in order to increase the accountability of the judiciary.

Other judicial reforms will include the restructuring of the Supreme Board of Prosecutors and Judges (HSYK), the establishment of a union of judges and prosecutors, the passing of a law on arbitration of jurisprudential conflict and amendments to the Notaries Law, the Turkish Penal Code (TCK) and, most importantly, the Code on Criminal Procedure (CMK) so as to make the decisions of the European Court of Human Rights enforceable in Turkey.

The HSYK has been a controversial institution because it is not possible to appeal its decisions. A former prosecutor who had claimed in an indictment in 2006 that a top military official had set up an illegitimate organization was disbarred by the HSYK.

The judicial reforms will also introduce changes to reduce the workload of the judiciary. For that purpose, the Supreme Court of Appeals will be expanded. An ombudsman institution will be introduced to bring quick solutions to some disputes. New laws will be passed to carry out these changes.

As part of the judiciary reform process, institutions of forensic medicine will be restructured under the guidance of objective experts.

The reform package will also address the needs of the judges and prosecutors. They will receive continuing education regarding the international agreements to which Turkey is signatory, such as the European Convention on Human Rights.

A general administrative procedures law will be adopted to determine time limits for opening lawsuits against administrative processes or procedures.

Judicial press offices will be established to ensure transparency.

To reduce the workload of prosecutors and judges, paralegal secretaries will be employed.

A new institution will be established to deal with international cases and to increase communication with the European Union and other international institutions.

To increase transparency in public institutions a new law will be introduced and a fully functioning public service inspection office will be established.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Not One, But Two Deadly Bombings This Week

I will depart Turkey tomorrow, but unfortunately, my last week here will include two deadly urban bombings that injured nearly thirty people over the past week. The first bombing occurred Tuesday morning and involved a man who killed himself and injured 12 of the police officers who were pursuing him when he detonated the car he was driving. The car contained 30 kilograms of C-4 plastic explosives, and Turkish officials and the media have largely blamed the bombing on the PKK. The second bombing occurred this morning in the Konak district of the Aegean city of İzmir, Turkey's third-largest city. This bombing targeted the city's police force, and reports indicate that it injured 16 officers who were being transported on a dolmuş at the time of the explosion. Turkish officials and media reports have also been near unanimous in their consensus that the second bombing is also the work of the PKK.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Gül Hosts Genocidaire

PHOTO FROM Today's Zaman

From the Turkish Daily News:
Turkey came under fire yesterday for hosting the controversial leader of Sudan for a summit of African leaders in Istanbul.

The visit by Omar al-Bashir marks his first trip abroad since the International Criminal Court accused him in July for charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Yavuz Önen, president of the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey, condemned the government for inviting al-Bashir to Turkey for a second time.

“While the Sudanese leader is facing serious charges at an international court, the political support the authoritarian leader receives in Turkey is something that he does not deserve,” said Önen.

He also criticized Turkey for not signing the treaty that founded the International Criminal Court and said, “Why is Turkey running away from being a party to an international convention? This is rather controversial.”

As Turkey is not a party to the treaty, Turkish authorities are unlikely to arrest al-Bashir even if the court's international prosecutor is able to issue a warrant.

İlter Turan, a political scientist at Istanbul's Bilgi University, said no matter what its interests were Turkey should not have hosted a leader who is not approved of by humanity. Ankara wants to boost ties with the African continent and is also seeking the votes of African countries for its bid to secure a temporary seat at the U.N. Security Council.

“This drags Turkey into the front of wrong countries and impairs its image abroad,” he added.
To make matters worse, al-Bashir denied the genocide on Turkish soil and claimed the ICC charges and criticism from human rights activists worldwide were part of a Western conspiracy against his regime.

Shame, shame indeed, and especially at a time when Turkey should be moving to further its human rights image abroad. Turkey has not ratified the Rome Statute despite promises made by Prime Minister Erdoğan to the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) in 2004 that it would do so.

PHOTO FROM the New York Times
PHOTO FROM Brian Steidle

The village of Um-Ziefa is being burned by Janjaweed rebels receiving telecommunications and other logistical assistance from the Sudanese state.

Click here for a letter from HRW concerning al-Bahir's visit.

For more on the Darfur genocide and the crimes of al-Bashir, click here for a website Amnesty Internatinal has put together to document the atrocities.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Story Not Over On Iranian Energy Deal

Although Turkey did not sign an energy agreement with Iran during Ahmadinejad's visit, Foreign Minister Ali Babacan is due in Tehran in two weeks to further discuss the potential accord. Energy cooperation with Iran will diversify Turkey's energy portfolio.
Iran is Turkey's third biggest natural gas supplier. Turkey's investments in gas production in Iran are estimated at $3.5 billion. Turkey, which is a net importer of gas and oil, has been trying to find a way to use its geographical position between Europe and the energy-rich Caspian to import gas and sell it on to Europe.

Last July Turkey and Iran signed a preliminary agreement to export Iranian gas to Europe through Turkey, including a provision for Turkey to produce 20.4 billion cubic meters of natural gas in Iran's huge South Pars gas field. (TDZ, Aug. 16)
Natural gas prices have peaked in recent months, and Turkey is desperate to increase its supply and possibly strike an accord similar to that it made last July.

Monday, August 18, 2008

More of the Same

Eurasia Daily Monitor's Emrullah Uslu's recent profile of Gen. İlker Başbuğ who is largely seen as a smarter version of Büyükanıt. Although Başbuğ has been more ready to talk about the economic reasons for Kurdish terrorism, he is just as recalcitrant as Büyükanıt when it comes to granting cultural rights--something AKP has also proved reluctant to do. As Uslu's analysis notes, Başbuğ is also just as equally committed to status quo understandings of the Turkish 'nation-state,' solidly inculcated with the familiar rigidity of Kemalist ideology. Of particular interest, however, is Başbuğ's concern with 'Islamic reactionism.' I have heard about this from a few other sources, but his fixation with an Islamic backlash against the nation-state is certainly relevant to how he will govern and contradicts analysis by many experts of Turkish politics who write of political Islamists inside Turkey as devout nationalists (see Berna Turam's analysis of Gülen in Between Islam and the State and Yıldız Atasöy's even more developed conversation of the topic in Turkey, Islamists, and Democracy: Transition and Globalization in a Muslim State). From Uslu:
Basbug is now in a firm position to maintain the durability of the nation-state. He thinks that “without maintaining the structure of nation-state, it is not possible to maintain the unity of the state ( August 25, 2006). Like his predecessors, Basbug also believes that the Turkish nation-state has two challenges. The first is the Kurdish question. On this issue, Basbug, like the rest of the security establishment, is deeply committed to eradicating the PKK through any means possible, including harsh military repression (Sabah, October 5, 2007). Unlike many of his colleagues, however, he is realistic enough to acknowledge the social and economic aspects of the problem and engage in criticism toward former policies that “failed to prevent people from joining the PKK” (Sabah, October 5, 2007). Basbug is, however, by no means sympathetic to the idea of providing political rights to the Kurds (Milliyet, October 28, 2006).

Basbug’s thinks that the second challenge to the foundations of the nation-state is Islamic reactionarism, irtica. In an opening address at a ceremony of the Turkish Military Academy in 2006, Basbug made the irtica debate public, stating that there was a threat of irtica against the state. Since then, Basbug has been the foremost advocate of this view.

With regard to irtica, domestic developments are against Basbug’s position. An overwhelming majority of Turks are sympathetic toward moderate Islamic government and social networks and do not consider the networks a threat to the state. In that area, Basbug has no public support. Basbug, who has a Western orientation, recently found himself in a political environment led by neo-nationalist movements unsympathetic to the West. Under the influence of these movements, Basbug went so far as to suggest that Turkey needed a “local bourgeoisie” that subscribed to protecting and maintaining the Turkish revolution (Milliyet, December 1, 2006)

Political circumstances and international developments are not on Basbug’s side. If he insists on an isolationist political perspective and tries to use his power to replace the new middle class political figures with neo-nationalist politicians, he is likely to face political confrontation at best or political chaos at worst.
Click here for the whole analysis.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Following Ergenekon

Click here for a recent timeline Today's Zaman has created of the confusing set of events surrounding Ergenekon. Keep in mind that some of the less than stellar reporting coming from Zaman is reason for some of the confusion, but the timeline is useful and it helps to at least keep track of the charges being made even if there is little explanation as to how they fit into the larger picture, little concrete evidence, and/or little reason to think that the charge being made is new.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

A Pawn in the Game?

PHOTO of AKP deputy Edibe Sözen from Today's Zaman

In what appears to be a rather orchestrated set of events, a recent legislative proposal drawn up by AKP deputy Edibe Sözen has been withdrawn from consideration and the female deputy scolded by AKP's male-dominated leadership.

Sözen's Protection of Youth bill mandated public schools provide places of prayer (for all religions) and included tough regulations on pornography and minors' attendance at nightclubs and restaurants that served alcohol. The pornography restrictions would have required vendors to procure the national ID numbers of consumers and report these buyers to the Department of Youth and Sports. It would have also required vendors to sell items deemed pornographic in red bags. Introduced last week, Sözen's proposal drew criticism from numerous journalists and political analysts.

Following this week's AKP executive meeting, Erdoğan publicly scolded Sözen for acting on her own initiative and without the party's consultation. The prime minister reportedly instructed Sözen to wait for the party's lead before introducing proposals to the public. On Tuesday, AKP's secretariat-general issued a formal statement renouncing Sözen's proposal as neither in AKP's legislative program nor its intra-party regulations.

While I might indeed be wrong in doubting that Erdoğan, who is well-known for his tight control of the party, had little idea as to Sözen's release of the proposal to the public, it is hard to believe that the party leadership did not give a significant amount of instruction to Sözen before the proposal was released. Sözen released the bill amidst claims that it was consistent with German law intended to protect minors, and even meant to further the EU accession process. According to Sözen, the proposal was the result of a year-long commission comprised of AKP members who she oversaw. It is further hard to believe that Sözen would release such a controversial proposal so soon after the closure case without consulting Erdoğan. What is more likely in my mind is that Sözen's proposal was used by the AKP to curry support with European politicians and prove that the party is indeed being more careful in its treatment of secularism. To this end, Sözen was used as a pawn in a much larger game. If such is the case, the fact that Sözen is a woman is interesting insomuch as the party chose one of its female members to play the role of the "bad guy" to publicly sanction in a well-coordinated game of political theatre.

Related to this story is the discussion of pornography that Sözen's proposal generated in the Turkish press. I am amazed that daily newspapers shamelessly include photos of topless women in their inner pages alongside serious news stories and coverage of last night's football game, but this is again one of the many seeming contradictions (to a Westerner) inherent in the complex diversity of Turkish society. One month ago I remember finding myself astonished while on a dolmuş with about eight to ten older, much more traditional women and men from outlying villages, a couple of obviously very conservative women (clad in the complete niqab), and a middle-aged man sitting in front of me who was glaring openly at the bare breasts of women appearing on the inner pages of the day's Milliyet. No one thought much of it, and I was left to just simply put the experience aside as one of those things that still made little sense to me--perhaps due to the prejudices of my own experience--but that one day I might understand. To this end, Mustafa Akyol's column is particularly interesting. He compares Turkish law regarding pornography to that in the United States, and his discussion provides a bit of insight into just how confusing issues like pornography can be here.

For coverage from Today's Zaman of Sözen's public scolding, click here.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Açıkalın and Beyaz Harrassed in Adana

From Bianet:
Human Rights Association (İHD) Adana branch representative Hüseyin Beyaz had his arm broken during a police search in the Adana province building of the Democratic Society Party (DTP).

In the incident that occurred in the morning of August 14, the police forced the İHD representatives, who were there as observes, to leave the premises. There was an argument between the police and the İHD Adana Branch President Ethem Açıkalın and the branch administrator Hüseyin Beyaz.

Açıkalın: We did not resist the police; we will sue
During this argument, the police pushed Beyaz down the stairs and his arm was broken. The medical report given to Beyaz stated he could not work for two months.

Açıkalın told bianet that they did not interfere, since the police had a search warrant, but the search was very arbitrary; they did not show any reason.

Planning to file a criminal report, Açıkalın said they did not resist the police, although the police filed a complaint saying that they were resisted during the search.

The İHD Adana announced that the Adana police had been trying all kinds of methods to prevent their activities for some time now.

İHD İStanbul: Those responsible should be identified and tried
Announcing the attack Açıkalın and Beyaz experienced, İHD’s Istanbul branch said that they condemned the violence the human rights defenders were subjected to while doing their job. They furthermore demanded the identification and trial of those responsible for the attack.

The announcement also pointed out to the UN’s Vienna Document regarding the World Human Rights Conference (1993) and the Declaration of the Protection of the Human Rights Defenders (1998), both of which emphasize protecting and assisting those who work in the field of human rights.

In spite of these documents, Ethem Açıkalın was deprived of his freedom for months without due process of law.
Açıkalın was arrested in Adana in January, and accused of being a member of Devrimci Sol, a Marxist terrorist group. He spent six months in pretrial detention.

Hints and Allegations

I was having tea with a Turkish friend the other day and we were talking about how difficult it is to follow Ergenekon. My question was how any Turk could stand all the confusion: new charges emerging everyday; links of this retired general to that particular action; sometimes links that do not make complete sense, but that surely hint to some deeper, lingering conspiracy; the weight of all the charges and innuendo, true or false, bearing down on the public mind and seemingly begging to be sorted out. My friend answered that for most people, there is little cause for concern. Ergenekon is simply business as usual, but the proverbial Pandora's box of state and government secrets has simply been left open a few more minutes more than usual this time around. The result is not necessarily more transparency, though, but a greater range of accusations. As Andrew Finkel discusses in his column in Today's Zaman, many of these hints and allegations are nothing new. From Finkel:
The milk in my coffee curdled, a pen leaked in my shirt and the tap in the bathroom is dripping again. Call me paranoid, but I am sure the plot hatched deep within the recesses of the Turkish state to make my life miserable has moved into a higher gear.

Or could there be some other explanation? Goodness knows, we should take seriously the trial of those accused of conspiracy to use violence to undermine legitimate authority and frustrate the popular will. On the other hand, let us try to get the hysteria into perspective. Those defendants in what has become popularly known as the Ergenekon affair are accused of some pretty terrible things. On the other hand it is an absurdity to think that they are responsible for every unhappy swerve in Turkey's post-war history.

Many of the things now being attributed to Ergenekon are not shadowy events that are suddenly emerging into the light, but things everyone knew about at the time. It was with amazement that I read that the Feb. 28 pincer movement to unseat the government in 1997 was the work of men in green-tinted sunglasses maneuvering behind the scenes. I seem to recall that senior generals held a public press conference in a well-coordinated exercise in breaking up the governing coalition. The newspapers that supported those efforts are now excused of having had a venal motive -- swapping their support in exchange for bank licenses and privatization tenders that by the 2001 financial crisis cost the country dearly. Duh! Did anyone ever think otherwise? Newspapers were bartering support for pecuniary gain before 1997 and are doing it today. Is Ergenekon behind the decision by two state banks to finance the purchase of Sabah newspaper, or is it just business as usual?

It's not Ergenekon that causes people to keep their mouths shut. There is a culture of complicity in which citizens turn a blind eye to others' wrongdoing because they hope to get away with their own petty crimes. A mountain of regulations exists to protect the environment and natural and historical values, but a bird's eye view of any Turkish city suggests those rules are there to line the pockets of those charged with enforcing them. The great example was in the 1994 local election when current Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was running for mayor of İstanbul. Newspapers paraded the shock-horror story that he had built two houses without planning permission. According to most psephologists, this almost certainly increased his vote. When Ahmet Isvan was elected İstanbul mayor in 1973 and was photographed with a sledgehammer destroying a mafia-built casino near Taksim Square, over half the city whose own homes were built without proper procedures took fright. He was not re-nominated as the Republican People's Party (CHP) candidate in 1977.

This notion of complicity explains why even after the great warning bell in the 1994 economic crisis, Turkey was so reluctant to reform. People had become much too skilled at making the old engine work. The fact that governments were issuing bank licenses to people you wouldn't trust to walk your dog didn't stop ordinary people from investing at the very highest rate of interest under a blanket government guarantee on deposits. Were they hired by Ergenekon to pave the way for instability? We all know how the system eventually collapsed morally, economically and at the expense of an entire generation of politicians. After the earthquake in 1999, even buildings themselves fell to the ground. Was it Ergenekon shaking the foundations?

Of course there are many unsolved political crimes in Turkey that in the interest of justice need to be explained. Was Hrant Dink, the Turkish-Armenian editor, gunned down by a bunch of ultranationalist hooligans acting alone, or were they manipulated by a paramilitary clique that staged the incident to derail Turkey's ride to Europe. Did security officials fail to protect Hrant because they were obeying a secret set of instructions, or were they listening to the teachings of nationalist textbooks and the headlines of a chauvinistic press -- and just couldn't be bothered.

So yes, the Ergenekon conspiracy is broad and far-reaching. And the terrible thing is that the whole nation is in on it.
In fact, many of the stories being run in Zaman's own newspapers claim to reveal new narratives to past events by interweaving Ergenekon as some sort of secret agent heretofore unknown. The fact is that many of the claims now being brought to the forefront are not new at all, but simply label past events under the Ergenekon umbrella without really explaining just what Ergenekon is or how it works. In this way, my friend told me that Ergenekon seems to become a sort of "boogie man," a larger-than-life figure on which to pin all the country's wrongs. As Finkel explains, the answer--or rather, answers--are far sophisticated than many in the media or the government would like the public to believe. The greater public, for its part, simply sits idly by and watches from the sidelines as the powers that be sort out the details. However, as my friend frustratingly explained, such citizen spectatorship is precisely why all the old charges seem new, and why blaming it all on Ergenekon--despite all the confusion--provides some level of psychological comfort. Ergenekon is becoming the scapegoat, a demon-like figure by which to atone for a guilt that is in reality looms much larger and is much more difficult to explain. Exorcism will be no easy task.

For more on Ergenekon and the accusations of papers like Zaman, see July 7 post.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Ahmadinejad in İstanbul

PHOTO FROM Reuters by way of Today's Zaman

President Gül has spent the past weeks preparing for the working visit of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Ahmadinejad is being received over the protests of Israel and the United States, and will arrive a month following a historic energy agreement reached between the two countries last month (see July 2 post). Ties between both countries have also grown stronger thanks to the security collaboration between both in dealing with PKK and PJAK terrorism threats. While the main focus of Ahmadinejad's visit is an energy accord, which was said to be coming together before Ahmadinejad's visit, reports have indicated that the Iranian position has shifted in recent days and that an agreement is unlikely at this exact time. However, the visit will allow Ahmadinejad to launch attacks on Israel and the United States from within Turkey, something that will not sit well with either ally, but will nonetheless be tolerated. There is also some talk about Turkey playing a pivotal role in the six-party talks being held with Iran over its nuclear program, but just how pivotal role is doubtful and talks are not the focus of the trip. Much of the focus in the Turkish media has been to just how the Iranian leader was received. As plans were first being drawn up, it seems that Ahmadinejad was to visit Ankara; however, when it became obvious that he was unwilling to visit Anıtkabır, the mausoleum that houses Atatürk's tomb and to which it is customary that foreign leaders pay homage during official state visits, Gül moved the meeting to İstanbul and labelled it a "working visit."

In his analysis today in the Eurasia Daily Monitor, Gareth Jenkins writes of Ahmadinejad's visit fitting within a larger picture of AKP naivete when it comes to foreign affairs. If AKP is serious about joining the EU, from Jenkins' perspective, and one with which I am inclined to agree, it is beneficial for the country to start taking foreign policy stances more in line with the EU. Instead, as I wrote in my Aug. 2 post in response to another of Jenkins' posts, AKP foreign policy has assumed a sort of schitzophrenia while adopting an increasingly antagonistic stance toward Europe. From Jenkins (excerpt):
The same naivety can also be seen in the AKP’s decision to push ahead with Ahmadinejad’s visit. There is no reason to doubt that AKP officials genuinely believe that the visit offers an opportunity for Turkey to boost its international standing by acting as an intermediary in the long-running standoff between Tehran and the international community over its nuclear program. What they do not appear to understand is how Ahmadinejad will use the visit to demonstrate both to the international community and to the public in Iran that the country is not alone.

Speaking to Turkish journalists on the eve of his visit to Turkey, Ahmadinejad was effusive in his praise for the “great Turkish people,” the “great friendship between Turkey and Iran,” and his pleasure about the “ever-growing political ties” (CNNTurk, NTV, August 13). He also took the opportunity of the interview being broadcast at prime time on Turkish television to launch one of his characteristic tirades against Israel and repeat his support for the Palestinian opposition to what he described as the “occupying Zionist forces” (CNNTurk, NTV, August 13).

In its eagerness to host Ahmadinejad, the AKP also acceded to his refusal to visit Anitkabir, the mausoleum of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk (1881-1938), the militant secularist who founded the modern Turkish Republic in 1923. Anitkabir is an essential part of a visit by any head of state to Turkey. Even al-Bashir visited Anitkabir to pay his respects, but the Iranians have consistently refused to do so.

When it became clear that Ahmadinejad would not visit Anitkabir, his planned “official visit” was quickly downgraded to a “working visit”; and it was agreed that he would meet with both Erdogan and President Abdullah Gul not in Ankara, the capital of the modern republic, but in Istanbul, the old Ottoman capital (Hurriyet, Milliyet, August 5).

In his interview on Turkish television, Ahmadinejad disingenuously claimed that he was traveling to Istanbul because that was where Gul and Erdogan were going to be anyway. This is not true; but when asked whether this meant that he would have visited Anitkabir if Gul and Erdogan had agreed to meet him in Ankara, Ahmadinejad prevaricated. “Turkey is a very large country and has a large population. There are a lot of places in Turkey. Of course, that means that there are many places for the president to go to,” he said (CNNTurk, NTV, August 13).

In the run-up to Ahmadinejad’s visit, Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan attacked the Turkish media for its coverage of his refusal to visit Anitkabir. “I consider these discussions about the details of the visit irrelevant,” declared Babacan (Zaman, Hurriyet, Milliyet, Radikal, August 5).

But, as so often, the devil is in the details.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Kurds and Ergenekon

Recently re-elected DTP leader Ahmet Türk has attracted attention recently for his great hope that the Ergenekon investigation will make the Turkish state more amenable to Kurdish politics and the kind of political freedom enjoyed by minority politics in other states. His faith in the investigation, which is largely being led by police and security officials close to AKP, has cut the DTP in two. The DTP's other leader, Emine Ayna, has been much more reluctant to endorse the investigation and has expressed skepticism in that the intention of the investigation is anything other than securing political benefits for AKP. From Today's Zaman:
Successfully concluding the investigation into Ergenekon, a shady network that stands accused of trying to overthrow the government, will ensure social peace in Turkey, said head of the pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party (DTP) Ahmet Türk said on Saturday.

He argued that that the Ergenekon case -- in which the Ergenekon crime gang, the members of which include political party leaders, retired army officials, businessmen and intellectuals, is being tried on charges of carrying out tens of murders and assassinations with the ultimate aim of overthrowing the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) and previous governments -- will not produce a reliable outcome if murders committed by unknown assailants in Turkey’s eastern and southeastern regions are not exposed. “This is considerably important in revealing the mentality that is attempting to create a feud between the Turkish and Kurdish peoples,” he said. Türk went on to claim that “about 170 executives of the [DTP] party were killed” and indicated that they would try to ensure that the victimized families appear as co-plaintiffs in the Ergenekon case.
Difficult to follow, the investigation into Ergenekon is almost as interesting in terms of the reactions it provokes than it is in terms of what is actually being revealed--especially as the latter is characterized by highly-unreliable media reports generated by leaks motivated by political games. What makes the reactions of Türk and Ayna more than simply interesting, but important, is that they reveal just how divided Kurdish political elites are in their approach to AKP and reaching consensus with the Turkish state. As political analysis of a developing understanding between AKP and the military gains currency among observers, as well as a particular validity following the Constitutional Court's narrow decision to save the party from closure and the TSK's decision not to purge itself of allegedly Islamist officers (Aug. 5 post), the "Kurdish question" is coming to be asked in a new context.

The Kurdish question is particularly significant in that the issue of PKK violence and the prospect of a renewed war in the southeast--and this time, with perhaps greater implications to be felt outside the region--has united pro-AKP forces with the ruling old guard. Following the Dağlica ambush last year and the anti-Kurdish sentiments that culminated across Turkey as the state moved to flex its muscle, AKP leaders were presented a test: Was the government capable of dealing toughly with the PKK and meeting the hawkish demands for retaliation that the Turkish public required? Gül's procurement of assistance from Washington and tough talk resolutions promising intervention in northern Iraq won the party credibility with much of the Turkish public, but it also dealt a great deal of cognitive dissonance in the minds of many Kurds with whom AKP had made inroads.

Although those in the DTP or who are supportive of its alternative politics are most definitely not in this grouping, AKP's hawkish positioning strengthened the hands of hawks within DTP. Party members like Ayna instantly decried how correct DTP was to doubt the sincerity of AKP's politics in the region and how little the party understood the Kurdish situation. While AKP had attempted to win votes in the southeast by promises of economic development and playing on the politics of Turgut Özal, who supported Kurdish cultural rights and is popular in the region, its bow to the establishment and the familiar demands of the Turkish public for revenge in the short-term rather than a long-term solution to the conflict empowered the hawks within DTP at the same time it dwindled the power of doves like Türk as the power of doves like Türk dwindled.

The question of an incipient AKP-military détente in a time of renewed PKK violence and increased calls to deal hardly with the organization again raises an important question for DTP politics. Türk, who has made efforts to separate te DTP from PKK violence and tried to move the party closer to a genuine renunciation of PKK terror, will face a more difficult time in so doing if tensions continue to increase and support for the PKK in the southeast increases. If the Turkish state renews strong-arm tactics and does not take a hard-line against the kinds of discrimination and targeting of Kurds throughout the country, as happened last fall when numerous Kurds were beaten and targeted in mob violence, those who are willing to work for compromise and the consensus requisite to initiate a dialogue that might one day bring about a solution to the Kurdish question will be marginalized.

How does Türk's endorsement of the Ergenekon investigation stand out in all of this? For Türk, denouncing Ergenekon is a gesture made toward AKP as the ruling party of the day. In expressing faith that the investigation might route out those in the Turkish state who perpetrated human rights violations against the Kurds in the war of the 1990s and who have continued to take advantage of opportunities to cause ethnic strife within Turkey, Türk is practicing a politics of conciliation. When Tansu Çiller basically authorized armed thugs within the country's deep state to do the dirty work to be carried out in often violent extremes against Turkey's Kurds, she reversed the emerging conciliatory policies of Özal and instead raised tensions between Kurds and Turks to a boiling point. Türk's statements are helpful in that they offer a means by which the state might atone for past wrongs and suggest that the demons that got in the way of a successful peace in the past might be exorcised as a result of the Ergenekon investigation.

By applauding the AKP-led investigation and expressing hopes that it might result in ridding the state of those who desire to foment ethnic tension, Türk's statements contrast with Ayna. Ayna and the hawks in DTP have grown increasingly embittered as AKP struggled to save itself from closure over the coming months, but made little effort to do the same for DTP. For Ayna, Ergenekon, like the politics of the closure case, are about little more than achieving the self-interested aims of AKP. While Türk is opening a door for conciliation, Ayna is skeptical, embittered, and reluctant to work with a party whose politics do increasingly seem to resemble that of the "Islamist banana politics" described by Ece Temelkuran (March 13 post).

For more on Kurdish politics, see July 22 and June 14 posts.

Monday, August 11, 2008

PKK Steps Up Attacks

There is still question as to whether the PKK had a role in the Güngören attacks, but no observer of the terrorist organization doubts that there are significant goings-on inside the organization at the moment. The PKK has stepped up its attacks in the past year, and is now carrying out attacks in urban centers throughout the southeast. Such attacks have not been seen since Öcalan's capture in 1999 and the PKK-declared ceasefire that followed. More disconcerting are the series of attacks carried out in western cities outside the southeast. These include the suicide bombings in Ankara in July 2007, and possibly the Güngören attacks, although the PKK has denied responsibility for the attacks and İstanbul authorities have been far too quick to draw a narrative.

Most analysts are unsure as to what the increased attacks mean for the terrorist organization. Has the PKK lost control of its central command function therefore leading to an onslaught of violent and disorganized attacks? Is the organization so desperate that it is risking further alienation in the eyes of European governments who might otherwise be sympathetic to the organization's stated ends? The kidnapping of three German climbers by a PKK commander who seemingly acted out of command (July 16 post) is cause to think that the organization might be undergoing some internal challenges, but just what the future holds for the PKK is yet to be determined. A recent attack in İstanbul's Üsküdar district on Thursday raised additional concerns about PKK violence inside Turkish cities. To heighten concerns is fear that the PKK might be behind recent forest fires in Marmara and Antalya provinces, as well as a declaration from the organization that it had a hand in bombing the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline that carries Azeri oil through Turkey for Western export.

Here are a few excerpts of analysis from Emrullah Uslu at the Jamestown Foundation's Terrorism Monitor:
The fighting between Turkish security forces and the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) has intensified in recent months. Turkish air raids on the PKK camps in northern Iraq have resumed since mid-July. Between July 10 to July 16, 36 PKK members were killed, and there were reports the PKK’s military commander, Fehman Hüseyin (a.k.a. Dr. Bahoz Erdal), was seriously wounded in one of the air strikes (Hurriyet, July 18). Huseyin has not appeared in any pro-PKK media outlet since mid-July despite PKK denials of his injuries (Yeni Safak, July 18). At the end of the month, Turkish fighter jets hit a cave believed to be used as a bunker in the Quandil Mountains, killing 30 to 40 PKK members who took refuge there (Hurriyet, July 30). Turkish fighter jets also carried out three major raids (July 23, 27, and 29) against PKK camps in the Qandil Mountains and the Zap district of northern Iraq. For the month of July overall, the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) claimed between 75 to 100 PKK members killed in various operations carried out by Turkish security forces (, press releases for July).

To counter these attacks, the PKK has intensified its operations against Turkish security forces. One pattern is clear: in its recent attacks, the PKK has targeted not only military convoys and barracks in rural areas but also civilians and police stations in city centers. The Kurdish militants even threatened to set fire to forests in the Mediterranean, Aegean, and Marmara regions.

. . . .

In terms of numbers lost in the TSK-PKK battle, it is impossible to obtain independent verification of the claims coming from either side. However, one of the most important aspects of the TSK’s campaign has been the infliction of significant damage to the communications capacity of the PKK. With growing U.S. surveillance and intelligence sharing, the PKK’s military leaders have started avoiding the use of telephones. Moreover, the PKK’s long range radio communication infrastructure was seriously damaged. Thus, starting from the beginning of 2008, the PKK may have relocated militants with training on how to prepare and detonate bombs to the metropolises and told them to detonate bombs whenever they find it suitable.

If bombing attacks such as the one in Gungoren are not planned by the PKK’s central authorities, it could signal a growing weakness in the PKK’s command and control structure. The PKK is traditionally known for its rigid top-down command structure. In order to keep the organization intact and to maintain discipline, PKK leaders have not hesitated in the past to kill senior militants who deviate from the command structure, such as Kani Yilmaz and Hikmet Fidan, who left the organization to form a nonviolent alternative group, the Patriotic Democratic Party (Partiya Welatparezen Demokraten Kurdistan – WPD-K). [1] If the recent bombing in Istanbul were carried out without approval from the PKK leadership, it could be a sign that the PKK’s strict hierarchy no longer controls its members. Except for the May 6 assault on the Aktutun border station, the PKK’s recent assaults on police stations and military barracks have not produced any significant damage to Turkish security forces. Undeterred by these small-scale attacks, Turkish security forces have intensified their counter-terror campaign within Turkey’s borders and northern Iraq, which, at the very least, should provide a psychological advantage over the PKK.

Given the present sensitivity of international markets to even minor disruptions in oil supply, the PKK attack on the BTC pipeline risks raising international anger against the PKK cause. Nations on the receiving end of the BTC supply are unlikely to tolerate the PKK as a destabilizing force in their vital energy corridors. The attack suggests the PKK may now be in such a difficult position that it is prepared to gamble with its very existence against the international community.
For the whole analysis, click here.