Friday, November 28, 2008

Virginity Tests Discriminate Against Female Students

From Bianet:
Virginity tests are back. Lawyer Yasemin Öz and President of the Education and Science Workers Union (Eğitim-Sen) Zübeyde Kılıç think this practice victimizes the girls and the female students.

A principle of a dormitory forced a father to get a virginity report for her daughter C.G. who is a university student (18 years old) in Avcılar Istanbul. The incident happened when the principle of the dormitory where the said university student was staying called her father and told him that he should come and get her daughter, on the grounds that the reddish marks around her face and neck were obvious signs of a sexual relationship. The father had to come and take two virginity reports for her daughter from two different hospitals. The father said he was going to file a complaint.

A similar incident took place in another private student dormitory in Beşiktaş, Istanbul, when an official from the District Education Board visited the dorm. Thirty girls were picked randomly by the official and asked questions regarding the dormitory, if there were pregnant girls, if they were drinking, getting drunk and yelling on the streets, and if boys were coming to the dormitory.
For full story, click here.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Prosecutor of Ceber Case Bases Prosecution on ECHR Law

From Bianet:
The High Criminal Court of Bakırköy has accepted the indictment about sixty officials held responsible for the arrest, torture and death of Engin Ceber.

Taylan Tanay, one of Ceber’s lawyers, said in the written announcement he made that the three of the guardians and a prison director will be prosecuted for the charge of killing a person by torture”, facing life imprisonment.

Fuat Karaosmanoğlu, prison director on duty at the time and guardians Sami Ergazi, Nihat Kızılkaya and Selahattin Apaydın, all of whom are accused of torture, are still arrested.

Moreover, the twenty-seven guardians are accused of not reporting the crime, the three guardians and the two prison directors are accused of misconduct in office and the three guardians are accused of tormenting.

In addition to this list, thirteen police officers will be prosecuted for “tormenting” once or more than once. Four gendarmerie officers are accused of malicious injury and the doctor who prepared a medical report without examination will be prosecuted for preparing a fake official document.

The European Human Rights Convention against the Turkish Penal Code
According to the indictment, the police officers who took Ceber and his friends into custody and those at the station they were taken to are among the accused as well.

The Prosecutor’s Office stated that nobody could be subjected to torture, referring to the European Human Rights Convention (EHRC). It also emphasized that the EHRC was at the same level with the Constitution and therefore came before the Turkish Penal Code (TCK).

Basing its argument on the decisions of the European Court of Human Rights, the prosecutor described beating and wetting with water as “bad treatment” and based the accusation of torture on the EHRC. The prosecutor also indicated that the claim in the legal background of the 94th article of the Penal Code that the purpose of the person making the torture was a factor of the crime was not valid according to the EHRC.

The hearing is in January
Tanay said that it was important the torture accusation was in the indictment and this happened because of the public pressure.

When the accused had been arrested the prosecutors had not included the torture among the reasons, but the lawyers had opposed to this.

On September 28, Ceber and his three friends had been taken into custody for protesting the fact that the police officer who had shot and left paralyzed Ferhat Gerçek had not been arrested. They had been arrested the next day and sent to the prison.

In the prison, Ceber had been tortured and eventually lost his life at the intensive care unit of the Şişli Etfal Hospital on October 10.

The Medical Examiner’s report had emphasized that Ceber had died because of the torture he had experienced. Minister of Justice Mehmet Ali Şahin had recognized that Ceber had been tortured and apologized for it.

The first hearing will be on January 21, 2009.(EÜ/TB)

Women Organizing Against Domestic Violence Met with Police Repression

From Bianet:
The November 25 Women’s Platform organized an exhibition composed of objects symbolizing and the pictures showing the violence against women, but the exhibition was ended by a sudden and violent police intervention.

The exhibition of the November 25 Women’s Platform planned to last five hours ended due to the police intervention.

The platform was organized for the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women and was reported to the Beyoğlu Police Department, as it was to be held in front of the Galatasaray High School in Beyoğlu.

However, about twenty police officers dispersed the boards used for the exhibition, using physical violence in the process, on the grounds that it was an “unauthorized activity”, despite the laws said otherwise.

The women are protesting the situation with a sit-in.
For full article, click here.

Violence against women is in the spotlight this week. As in many other countries, domestic violence against women is an issue of serious concern, and not one many male politicians have been very eager to publicize. For demonstrations commemorating this Monday as International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women that were not met with police violence, click here.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Turkey Another Yugoslavia?

A very sinister analysis from Kerem Öktem in The New Humanist:
Xenophobia and racism have become a serious problem in a country whose citizens are used to thinking of themselves, particularly in Germany, as the victims of racist abuse. According to the latest Pew Global Attitudes Survey, Turkey has become one of the most xenophobic countries in the world. More than 70 per cent of Turkish citizens dislike both Christians and Jews, almost 70 per cent think unfavourably of Hamas, the cause célèbre of virtually any Muslim society, around 45 per cent dislike Saudi Arabia and, believe it or not, almost 10 per cent disapprove of Islam, in a country whose population is nominally 99 per cent Muslim.

These figures fly in the face of marketing narratives of Turkey as “the mosaic of religions”, a “country of tolerance”, and Istanbul as a city where mosques, churches and synagogues sit back-to-back peacefully. But counter-evidence, like the Altinova attacks, has been amassing in the last few years: since 2006, two priests have been killed, many more attacked, and three Christian missionaries, two of them converts from Islam, slain. The most prominent murder of a Christian was that of the Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink, who advocated a new approach to history based on the recognition of Turkish atrocities, an advocacy that flew in the face of the state-enforced denial of the 1915 genocide.

The present state of affairs seems to confirm the worst fears of Turkish secularists, who have always argued that the government of the Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP), who have now been in power for six years, would lead to a rise in religious tensions, and precipitate the destruction of the secular Turkish Republic and establishment of a theocratic regime based on Sharia law. In this light, the legal proceedings brought against the party earlier this year, which threatened to outlaw the AKP (and were only narrowly averted by a majority of one in the constitutional court), would appear almost justified. It would also be a justification for the secular-minded army taking further steps to prevent Turkey from slipping any further down the road to regime change.

But this picture is far too simplistic: neither the AKP proper nor rogue elements within the party are behind the recent religious hate crimes. Nor are the military command the doughty champions of secularism they claim to be. Indeed the idea that Turkey has ever been a secular country is itself a myth. The Turkish version of state secularism foresees neither separation nor disestablishment, but rather the state-financed administration of a certain type of Sunni Islam. This is beaucratically entrenched through the Diyanet, a vast religious services agency with more than 80,000 imams on its payroll, which provides substantial state support for religion across Turkish society, and imposes its orthodox version of Islam on all communities in Turkey, including those of different beliefs, like the Alevis, and the non-religious.

. . . .

As it appears now, the two large blocs vying for hegemony are not secularists and moderate Islamists, but isolationalists and nationalists – ranging from the military to the Republican People’s Party – on the one side and authoritarian Islamists on the other. Both blocs are determined to impose their ideological straitjacket on society, both are ready to use religion for their political ends, both base their politics on the vilification of others and both are happy to exclude the two large minority groups, the Kurds and the Alevis, without whose enfranchisement Turkish democracy will remain incomplete. Yet both blocs are also Machiavellian enough to drop almost any ideological commitment, if this would bring them closer to power.
Turkey might soon be waking up to a sinister spectacle: a wave of ethnic and religious violence erupting in its main cities and in areas where Kurds or Alevis are sizeable and visible minority communities. This would be a sad repetion of the inter-sectarian and political violence that almost ripped the country apart and culminated in the military coup of 1980. Against this worst-case scenario one can count the immense progress in civil society, liberal thinking and independent academic institutions that has been made in the last decade of rapprochement with Europe.

Lurking in the background is one terrifying possibiity. It was summed up by one AKP liberal, frustrated by the lack of progress regarding his government’s policy towards religious minorities, who told me recently during a visit to Ankara, “Yugoslavia always remains an option.”
For full article, click here.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Dangerous Precedent Set for Kurdish Dissenters

From TDZ:
The Supreme Court of Appeals has issued a verdict punishing people who participated in demonstrations held in support of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) as if they were PKK members.

The Supreme Court of Appeals issued its decision with reference to the Turkish Penal Code (TCK), which states, "People who are not members of an organization but commit crimes in its name are to be punished as if they were members." The court was examining the case of a teenager who participated to an illegal demonstration in December 2006. A local court had convicted the youth on charges of "participating in an illegal demonstration," but the Supreme Court of Appeals has ruled that he should be punished for being a member of the PKK because calls for the demonstration to be organized had been broadcast on the PKK-affiliated Roj TV.
"The organization urged people to close their shops for a boycott and not to send their children to school," the court noted in its decision.

The court also underlined that in a recent PKK meeting the organization decided to use nonviolent actions that would create problems for the state domestically and internationally. Some of these actions included petition drives for universities to open Kurdish-language departments and for primary schools to offer education in Kurdish and encouraging people to wear traditional Kurdish clothes in demonstrations.

Former Human Rights Associations (İHD) Chairman Yusuf Alataş noted that local courts will take the ruling into consideration in future cases.

"It seems that, first a decision was made to prevent people from participating demonstrations. Then they asked themselves how they could distort the law for this aim. In order to be regarded as a member of an illegal organization it is necessary to have a place in the organization's hierarchy," Alataş said.

Hasip Kaplan, a lawyer and deputy for the Democratic Society Party (DTP), suggested that if courts reach verdicts on the basis of this decision, their rulings will be rejected by the European Court of Human Rights. He added that this decision portrays any demand regarding the rights of Kurds as terrorist demands but stressed that these kinds of decisions would not be enough to prevent people from making such demands.
The Court's ruling is yet another barrier to allaying the Kurdish conflict, and will likely fuel zealous prosecutors to file similar cases under Turkey's rigid anti-terrorism laws. Note that these protests were largely peaceful, and most definitely difficult to define under any viable international consensus as to what constitutes terrorism.

Turkey should liberalize its laws in the southeast if conflict there is to be allayed. Kurdish politics are murky, and in many ways, inextricably linked to the pervading presence of the PKK. If Turkey changed its legal norms so as to lessen restrictions on the politics of its Kurdish minority, the power of the PKK would surely diminish. New openings conducive to conciliation would likely to merge, and the polarization between the Turkish state and the PKK that has largely fueled the conflict would be less severe.

In addition to this most important precedent, this case is also significant in that it again involves the state trying children as adults.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

EU Links Freedom of Expression to the Kurdish Issue

Turkey's persistent and indiscriminate approach to cracking down on the expression of opinions that incite violence and the expression of non-violent opinions has finally prompted the European Union, of which Turkey aspires to become a member, to write for the first time in its yearly progress report specifically about the problem of freedom of expression in relation to the Kurdish issue.

"This year, the EU has used more specific language with freedom of expression over the Kurdish issue, as we have witnessed permanent harassment of Kurdish mayors in the southeastern region, despite the fact that they have been expressing non-violent opinions," said a Western diplomat.
The diplomat further stressed that they saw the need to encourage the people of the Kurdish-dominated Southeast to engage in the political process, through the free expression of their opinions to reduce the violence instigated by outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) terrorists.

In previous years, progress reports issued by the EU have expressed concerns with problems in freedom of expression as a whole in Turkey, but the 2008 Progress Report, which was issued on Nov. 5, for the first time, used "Kurdish issue" in relation to serious flaws in the area of freedom of expression.
For full article, click here.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

ECHR Decision Means Major Changes for Judicial Review

From TDZ:
European Court of Human Rights ruling on Thursday that the right to freedom of expression of a former Turkish prosecutor had been violated when he was disbarred for attempting to prosecute the leader of a coup is likely to open the decisions of Turkey’s Supreme Board of Prosecutors and Judges (HSYK) to further judicial review, experts say.

The European court unanimously held that there had been a violation of freedom of expression in the case of former prosecutor Sacit Kayasu, who was removed from his job because he filed a court case against Kenan Evren, the leader of Turkey’s 1980 military coup. The decision is first expected to give Kayasu his old job back and, secondly, to open other HSYK decisions to judicial review.

According to professor of law Mustafa Şentop Thursday’s decision was very significant. “Earlier, appeals against HSYK decisions were mostly about discipline procedures. This one was entirely a human rights issue. They have made the right decision. This should have major effects. First, a reversal of the HSYK decision. That is, returning Kayasu’s right to practice law and, second, it should open HSYK decisions to judicial appeal in Turkey -- and not just the HSYK, but also other agencies, such as the Supreme Military Council [YAŞ], whose decisions cannot be appealed,” Şentop said.

. . . .

In a statement regarding its decision, the European court observed the "possibility of prosecuting the instigators of the coup d'état of Sept. 12, 1980 and the Constitution, which had been adopted following a referendum in November 1982 and was still in force. This was unquestionably a debate of general interest, in which the applicant had intended to participate both as an ordinary citizen and as a public prosecutor."

The court also stated that the imposition of a criminal sanction of that nature on an official belonging to the national legal service would by its nature have a chilling effect, not only on the official concerned but on the profession as a whole.

In its verdict the court also questioned the status of the HSYK: "The Court observed that the impartiality of the bodies that had been called upon to review the applicant's objection had been open to serious doubt."
For the ECHR statement, click here. For an earlier interview with Kayasu, click here. Kayasu believes Gen. Evren can still be prosecuted for his role in the 1980 coup.

Constructing the Nation-State

From Bianet:
The Organization of Human Rights and Solidarity for Oppressed People (MAZLUMDER), filed a criminal complaint against Ministry of Defense Vecdi Gönül, accusing him of discrimination.

In the complaint, the association said Gönül justified the discrimination between ethnic groups and praised the discrimination witnessed at the period of the founding of the Turkish Republic by stating in his speech that “If there would be Greeks in the Aegean region and Armenians in many regions in Turkey today, then could there be today’s national state?”

MAZLUMDER claimed that Gönül violated the Turkish Penal Code (TCK) as well as the international conventions that Turkey is also a member, praising “the crime and the criminal.”

The Association to Research and Face the Social Events sends out an invitation for a “maturation” meeting
Cafer Olgun of the Association to Research and Face the Social Events has invited Gönül to a meeting of facing the past events held in the organization.

In the text handed out to the public, Olgun says “they do not want to hide their feelings of regret”, asking the following questions.

“Did you think how much you offended our Armenian and Greek citizens who live in this country and everyone with a good sense, when you emphasized that the “state” and the “nation” came into existence through forced migration, disciplining and forced exchange of populations? What have you understood from the critics and reactions? Have you thought of apologizing and resigning?”

While wishing that Gönül should see this meeting as an opportunity to develop himself democratically, he said that he should realize that the position he occupies should also come with the responsibility of rendering account of his deeds to the civil society.” (TK/TB)
For a very polemical article on the construction of the Turkish nation-state, see Uğur Ümit Üngör "Seeing Like a Nation-State: Young Turk Social Engineering 1913-1950."

Arrests at Sakarya Prison: The Beginning of the End for Impunity

A long way to go, but if this is not just public relations, good progress indeed. From TDZ:
Five prison guards at a Sakarya prison were arrested on Thursday for abusing and torturing an inmate.

An investigation was launched recently by the Sakarya Public Prosecutor's Office into prison guards at the Sakarya Ferizli Prison, deemed one of Turkey's most modern prisons, who were accused of torturing an inmate, identified by the initials S.İ. The inmate was arrested and placed in prison last month on charges of sexually harassing three children.

S.İ. filed a criminal complaint against five prison guards earlier this month, saying he was subjected to various types of torture, including being burned with a hot iron. The prosecutor's office examined prison camera footage and verified that S.İ. was tortured and mistreated. Five prison guards were ordered arrested on Thursday by a court.

The arrests came only weeks after the death of an activist, allegedly at the hands of police and prison guards at an İstanbul prison. Engin Çeber, an inmate at İstanbul's Metris Prison, died last month after reportedly being abused and tortured, initially at the hands of police officers who interrogated him and later by prison security personnel when he was in jail. Çeber was pronounced dead after suffering from a brain hemorrhage as a result of head trauma. An autopsy suggested that severe bruises were detected on various parts of his body, strengthening claims that the activist was subjected to torture.

Results of the autopsy were verified by a forensic report released on Thursday, which cited the reason behind Çeber's death as torture. The nine-page report stated that Çeber died of a type of torture known as corporal punishment.

Justice Minister Mehmet Ali Şahin, who previously apologized for the death of Çeber on behalf of the Turkish state and the government, stated that his ministry is diligently investigating claims of mistreatment and torture.

"We consider human dignity above all. The Justice Ministry and the government are fighting against all wrongdoings, and we will continue to do so," he said.
According to the January-October 2008 report of the Human Rights Association (İHD), 238 people applied to the association for having been tortured during this period. 26 people died in the prisons or because of the rights violations in the prison during the same period.

Turkish Representation in Germany

From TDZ:
Cem Özdemir tells public audiences how he was wrapped in a towel in a Turkish bath when a German woman walked in naked. So he dropped his towel "to show that I was well integrated at home in Germany."

The story is Özdemir's way of showing that even though he's an ethnic Turk, he is comfortable with German ways. And the message is all the more important now that he will be named co-leader of the influential Green Party this weekend. The appointment will make him the highest-ranking ethnic Turkish politician in a country that still tends to keep its Turkish minority at arm's length.
On a continent that has struggled to produce leaders from minority communities even as it celebrates the triumph of Barack Obama in the United States, Özdemir stands out as a rare politician who has broken racial barriers to win national prominence.

Born to Turkish Muslim parents in Swabia, a culturally proud region in a heavily Roman Catholic state, Özdemir, 42, often finds himself straining to prove that Germany's 2.7 million ethnic Turks are invested in society. He also takes pains to quell Turkish suspicions that Germans are conspiring to keep them out of power. "Sometimes I feel like I'm the one who translates and explains how the others behave, think, dream," he says.

Relations between Germans and Turks are generally civil but not warm. Germans fret over the divide between their secular values and Islamic culture, while Turks struggle for access to quality schools and positions of power. Five Germans of Turkish origin serve in Parliament, but none has joined their party's leadership or Cabinet. And while Turks have found success in independent businesses and the arts, they have little presence in the management of major German companies.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Prosecutor Demands Steep Sentences for Child Protestors

From TDZ:
A prosecutor has demanded 23 years in prison for six elementary school students aged between 13 and 14 for participating in illegal demonstrations and throwing stones and Molotov cocktails at the police two weekends ago, during protests of the prime minister’s visit to the predominantly Kurdish Southeast.

The indictment, prepared by the Diyarbakır Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office, claimed that the demonstrations were organized by the terrorist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) through Web sites and calls broadcast on Roj TV, a PKK-affiliated station.

. . . .

The indictment says suspect Ş.B. chanted illegal slogans and acted with a group that attacked security forces with sticks and stones. Suspect E.B. is being accused of unfurling an illegal poster and of throwing Molotov cocktails at the police, acts the prosecutor says are recorded on security footage.

Suspects V.D. and Ş.A. stand accused of keeping watch for a group that burned car tires in the illegal demonstrations, while Ö.S. and M.A. are accused of joining a group that set up a barricade and threw rocks at the police.

The minors could be sentenced to up to 23 years in prison under various articles of Turkey's Anti-Terrorism Law, including "spreading the cause of a terrorist organization," "committing a crime on behalf of a terrorist organization without holding membership," "resisting police dispersion attempts with weapons or instruments" and "vandalizing public property."

The Higher Criminal Court for Juveniles will hear the trial in the next few days. The minors are under arrest, pending trial.
For an earlier incident of the Diyarbakır Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office seeking steep sentences for minors, see the attempt made this summer to prosecute members of a children's choir for singing allegedly pro-PKK anthems while attending a concert in the United States. Under the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which applies to everyone under 18, states should aim to establish laws, procedures, authorities and institutions specifically applicable to children accused of infringing the penal law. The UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Administration of Juvenile Justice ("The Beijing Rules"), adopted by the UN General Assembly in November 1985, stipulate in particular that proceedings for children should be conducive to the best interests of the child and shall be conducted in an atmosphere of understanding allowing them to participate and to express themselves freely, and that the well-being of the child should be the guiding factor in the consideration of the case.

ECHR Orders Turkey to Pay Damages to Harrassed Prosecutor

From BIA-Net:
The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) sentenced Turkey to pay 41 thousand euro to Adana’s former prosecutor Sacit Kayasu for restricting his freedom of expression when he made an attempt for the prosecution of retired four-star general Kenan Evren, architect of the September 12 military coup.

While Kayasu’s petition as a normal citizen for the same purpose on August 1999 was not answered, the Supreme Council of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK) had reprimanded him on March 30, 2000 for preparing an indictment regarding Kenan Evren’s prosecution on March 28, 2000.

ECHR: Kayasu was prevented while doing his duty
On the grounds that the 13th and 10th article of the European Human Rights Convention was violated, the ECHR ruled today (November 13) that Turkey had prevented both prosecutor’s right to express himself through his actions and decisions and his attempt to seek for justice.

Kayasu had emphasized in his indictment that Evren had to be prosecuted, since the said crime will not be prosecutable after September 12, 2000, since the statue of limitations would be reached soon for te case.

On March 29, 2000, the Minister of Justice had reached the decision to prosecute Kayasu on the grounds that Kayasu had held a press release in his house to the journalists and handed out the copies of the indictment.

The ECHR described the sentences against Kayasu as intimidation tactics
Concurring with the decision of the General Committee for the Penal Chambers of the Supreme Court of Appeals on May 15, 2001, the 9th Penal Chamber of the Supreme Court of Appeals had sentenced Kayasu for “misconduct in office” and “denigrating the military” on December 11, 2002. The conviction was converted to a fine and postponed.

Kayasu was suspended from his job as a prosecutor on April 20, 2000 and then was expelled from his profession on February 27, 2003 by the decision o the HSYK. Today, Kayasu is not even able to work as a lawyer.

The ECHR, the Turkish judge Işıl Karakaş among them, reached the decision that these sentences against Kayasu had eventually served as intimidation tactics and therefore were of disproportionate nature. (EÖ/TB)
For coverage from TDZ, click here.

Justice Ministry Allows for More 301 Prosecutions

From BIA-Net:
The Minister of Justice granted the permission for the prosecution of the ten university students under article 301 of the Penal Code (TCK). The students were nearly lynched in Eskişehir while protesting the prison operations of 2000 after seven years. They were taken into custody afterwards.

With this decision, students Ali Haydar Güneş, Esma Yavuz, Sabit Çiçek, Şahin Kösedağı, Nadide Toker, Ali Bozkına, Can Aydemir Sezer, Atilla Aka, Esra Sönmez and Nihal Samsun will be tried for the statements such as “murderer state” and “December 19 veterans”. They will be facing two year prison sentences. Their first hearing will be at Eskişehir’s 2nd Criminal Court of First Instance on November 19.

Temel Demirer, another person for whom Minister of Justice Mehmet Ali Şahin granted permission to be tried under article 301, will have his trial tomorrow (November 14).

Ministry of Justice had given permission for the continuance of the trial of Temel Demirer under article 301 for saying that Hrant Dink was not only killed for being an Armenian, but recognizing the genocide as well.

The court sent the case of Demirer who is on trial for “denigrating publicly the state of the Turkish Republic to the ministry on May 15.

Thoughts on Obama

From Sevgi Akarçeşme:
Aside from such a historic change coupled with his rhetoric along the same lines, should we expect much change from the Obama administration? I do not think so. Despite his unconventionally diverse background for an American president, Obama has not followed a completely different path from his predecessors. As an alumnus of Ivy League schools Columbia and Harvard, he gained a similar world outlook as a "WASP" (white, Anglo-Saxon Protestant). Not do only his education and training make Obama of the same kind, but he also started building his political career at a local level in accordance with the "rules of the game." After all, as political scientist Louis Hartz argues, Americans seeks the "same estate" and make a choice among liberals only.

Although Obama's background and his early exposure to the rest of the world might give him a better understanding of the "other," his first choice for senior staff hints that not much will change in the course of US policies.

. . . .

As far as Turkish-American relations are concerned, there is no doubt that at least a different mood will mark the new era. Notwithstanding the constants of American foreign policy, we might expect the new administration to be at least more open to dialogue. It is public knowledge that mutual mistrust and frustration determined the tone of US-Turkish relations in the post-March 1, 2003, era despite periodic efforts to mend fences. From the end of the Cold War until that date, there was already a need for a redefinition of relations as the assumptions of the Cold War era coupled with the complacency that they brought about disappeared. The relations were no longer on "automatic pilot," but in the lost years of the 1990s, Turkey was overly occupied with domestic tensions in the absence of a stable government let alone a visionary leader to draw up a new framework for US-Turkish relations.

With the adoption of a proactive foreign policy in the 2000s, Turkey began to seek a leadership role in the region while trying to reduce problems with its neighbors. In addition to emphasizing the already well-known yet unique features of its identity (being the only secular Muslim country in such a strategic and troubled region of the world), Turkey wanted to assume the role of an arbiter in the most contentious matters in the Middle East. Considering the never-ending domestic tensions and the struggle to constitute the primacy of civilian politics at home, Turkey might not have had an upper hand. Yet, despite its domestic chains, Turkey has not quit its efforts to be a more active player in the region. In a way, these efforts paid off when Turkey was elected a temporary member to the United Nations Security Council.

It seems that an American administration that would avoid military means as much as possible and prefers diplomacy and dialogue over pre-emption would be much easier to cooperate with for Turkey. Although Turkish society was overly focused on Obama's stance on the Armenian question, when looked at a macro level, a proactive Turkey that targets zero problems with its neighbors is likely to have a broader overlap of interests with the Obama administration than with the neocons. Having said that, I do not suggest ignoring the Armenian issue. Yet, we have to acknowledge that this issue has almost a public relations dimension. Unfortunately, because of decades of poor lobbying, we seem to be losing the hearts and minds of the international community in that respect. Rather than seeking the support of the US president regardless of his convictions, we have to have a long-term strategy of changing the public opinion in the first place. In such a framework, it is clear that Turkey's move to ameliorate the relations with Armenia was a constructive step that will give us leverage in such a touchy subject.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Erdoğan Offers to Mediate Between U.S. and Iran

Erdoğan publicized the offer in an interview Sunday with the NYT's Sabrina Tavernise. From the New York Times:
Turkey wants to be the mediator between the new Obama administration and Iran, using its growing role in the Middle East to bridge the divide between East and West, said Turkey’s prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Mr. Erdogan said in an interview on Sunday that Barack Obama’s election opened new opportunities for a shift in relations between the United States and Iran, Turkey’s neighbor. Mr. Obama said during his campaign that he would consider holding talks with Iran, something the Bush administration has long opposed.

Mr. Erdogan described the note of congratulations sent to Mr. Obama last week by the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, as “a step that has to be made use of.”

“We are ready to be the mediator,” Mr. Erdogan said, before going to the United States to attend a meeting about the global economic crisis. “I do believe we could be very useful.”

The United Nations has placed sanctions on Iran for a nuclear program that the United States and other nations say is working to develop a nuclear bomb. Iran says the program is peaceful.

Turkey supports the position of its Western allies but argues that the sanctions are weakening Iranian reformists.

“We watch the relations between Iran and U.S. with great concern,” Mr. Erdogan said. “We expect such issues to be resolved at the table. Wars are never solutions in this age.”

Turkey fears an economically and politically isolated Iran, which supplies it with its principal alternative to Russian energy. It also wants to avoid another military conflict on its borders.
For full article, click here.

Turkey has its own nuclear ambitions and is undergoing efforts similar to those in Iran. Further, Turkey is in the middle of important energy developments occuring between the EU and Iran, in which the latter might well supply the former with large amounts of natural gas via pipelines laid across Turkish soil. Any positive role Turkey can play in allaying the tension between Iran and the Untied States is certainly to the benefit of Turkey as well. Ahmadinejad visited Turkey in August.

ICG Release Report on Turkey-KRG Relations

From International Crisis Group:
Turkey’s newly adroit management of its relationship with Iraqi Kurds has resulted in a tentative victory for pragmatism over ultra-nationalism, but many obstacles remain before relations can be normalised.

Turkey and Iraqi Kurds: Conflict or Cooperation?,* the latest background report from the International Crisis Group, examines the study in contrasts that has been Ankara’s policy: Turkey periodically sends jets to bomb suspected hide-outs of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in northern Iraq and expresses alarm at the prospect of Kurdish independence, yet it has now significantly deepened its ties to the Iraqi Kurdish region.

“Both Turkey and Iraq’s Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) have made a breakthrough in challenging ultra-nationalism”, says Oytun Çelik, Crisis Group’s Istanbul-based analyst. “They should continue to invest in a relationship that, though fragile and beset by uncertainties over Iraq’s future, has become more pragmatic and potentially very fruitful”.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

ISS Note Raises Questions About Öcalan, Peace with KRG

From TDZ:
The chief operative of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), Murat Karayılan, has met at least twice with officials from Turkey's National Intelligence Organization (MİT), and Iraqi Kurdish leaders are convinced that the terrorist group's leader, Abdullah Öcalan, is being controlled by Turkey.

These are some of the assessments offered by a European Union think tank specializing in security issues, the EU Institute for Security Studies (ISS). In an "institute note," prepared after a visit to northern Iraq in July, the ISS also said that the Iraqi Kurdish administration, which runs northern Iraq, has its own problems with the PKK, despite a widespread Turkish conviction that it tolerates and supports the terrorist group, which launches attacks on Turkey from its bases in northern Iraq. The report comes before a key meeting between Turkey's special envoy for Iraq, Murat Özçelik, and Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani in October.

The study also noted antipathy towards the Democratic Society Party (DTP), the main pro-Kurdish party in Turkey, which has recently had problems with the government. "It was interesting to see how much antipathy there was towards the DTP, which is widely regarded as being under the control of the PKK," said the note. "In the end, some argue, if Turkey acted more benignly and tried to follow a more reasonable policy, the DTP would be integrated into the country's political landscape, just like the ultranationalist Nationalist Movement Party [MHP] on the political right," it added.

. . . .

Kurdish officials meeting with the ISS delegation have stressed five "salient" points regarding their relationship with Turkey and the PKK, the ISS note said and listed them as follows:

“There can be no military solution to the problem but only a negotiated one; the PKK made a fundamental break with its ideology when it abandoned its commitment to separatism; the organization wants peace now in principle and is ready to hand in its arms; in order to achieve this, Turkey must agree to grant a real government amnesty, not a semi-amnesty as is currently the case and to recognition of the Kurdish identity and culture in the country; if, on the other hand, the PKK rejects a genuine offer, it would lose credibility with the Kurdish population and the [northern Iraqi] Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).”

The Kurdish administration has problems with the PKK because it needs to maintain good relations with neighboring Turkey to achieve development in northern Iraq. “The PKK is therefore an irritant which in the KRG’s view only worsens what are already complicated relations,” said the ISS experts. On the other hand, there are others who say the Kurds cannot afford to fight the PKK or that they should not have any responsibility in the shedding of Kurdish blood, as this would ultimately result in widespread protests.

Iraqi Kurds are calling for a peaceful solution and condemn Turkey’s military operations against the PKK in their territory. Convinced that the military option is not a solution, some even doubt that the PKK is really a Kurdish nationalist force at all. The ISS cited comments by Masrur Barzani, son of Iraqi Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani, who is also the Kurdish intelligence chief. Accordingly, Barzani said the fact that Öcalan is in a prison on İmralı Island near İstanbul led to changes in his statements and made “him sound like a propagandist for Kemalists,” referring to the state establishment of Turkey. Turkey does not want to use its influence over him to improve the situation because “Turkey, or at least the military, has no interest in changing the situation.”
For full article, click here. For my most recent analysis of the PKK, click here. Also, interesting to look at are the historical relations between the Turkish "deep state" and the PKK, as well as the internal Kurdish politics at play in relation to the Ergenekon investigation. Revelations that the Turkish state is in control of Öcalan and/or is conducting secret negotiations with the PKK are nothing new in what is hardly a transparent relationship between Turkey and the PKK.

Ergenekon Defense Testimonies Commence

From TDZ:
Suspects in the trial against Ergenekon, a criminal network accused of plotting to overthrow the government, started giving defense testimonies in the 12th hearing of the trial, which began Oct. 3. The massive indictment against the suspects was read aloud first because of demands from some of the suspects' lawyers.

The first defendant, out of 86 in total, to testify was Oktay Yıldırım, a retired noncommissioned army officer with alleged links to hand grenades discovered inside a house used as an arms depot in İstanbul's Ümraniye district in summer 2007. The discovery set off the Ergenekon investigation.
According to the indictment, one hand grenade had the same serial number as those used in an attack at a café. Yıldırım is allegedly implicated in supplying these hand grenades.

. . . .

The İstanbul 13th High Criminal Court is hearing the case in a makeshift courtroom inside Silivri Prison near İstanbul. Among the 86 suspects are retired Gen. Veli Küçük; lawyer Kemal Kerinçsiz, who is known for filing lawsuits against intellectuals over writings that question or criticize the state line on issues such as Armenian allegations of genocide; and retired Capt. Muzaffer Tekin. Forty-six of the suspects are in custody, and the rest have been released pending the outcome of the trial.

Meanwhile, the panel of judges issued warrants for those suspects who are not in custody and who did not attend yesterday's hearing without citing an excuse.
For full article, click here. For an analysis of the case's importance, click here.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

CHP to Embrace Minority Rights . . . Hmm?

From Hürriyet:
The main opposition Republican People’s Party finalizes the draft of a new party program. Race, religion, language, difference in origin and sect will be considered the richness of our cultural mosaic, a condition of our pluralism and a necessity for our democracy, reads the draft

The main opposition Republican People’s Party, or CHP, the target of harsh criticism in recent years due to its lack of transformation, has taken up the challenge to change in a new party program.

The draft program, updated after 14 years and to be put into effect mid-December, foresees a more active role for the CHP in solving the country’s controversial issues, including the Kurdish problem and minority rights. The draft, “From 21st century to bright future through a compass for change,” offers integration instead of assimilation to solve the Kurdish issue.

“The Kurdish problem is a problem of democracy and development. Ethical and cultural differences are our richness. Different ethnicities, cultures, sects and religious beliefs of those living within national borders cannot prevent synergy and the creation of a nation,” the draft says, adding that the removal of differences can never be a policy of the state.

“We offer integration, not assimilation. A mother tongue is a means of dialogue, official language is a means of political unity,” it says.

. . . .

According to the draft, the CHP will also launch a daring initiative on the status of “cemevis,” Alevi prayer houses.

The main opposition defends the existence of the Department of Religious Affairs, saying it should be open for each sect wanting to join and promises to grant equal status to cemevis as given to mosques, so that they too can benefit from state facilities.
We will see where this goes, but if the new party program does indeed lead to significant reversals of CHP policy on Kurdish and other minority issues, it will definitely place pressure on AKP and its reluctance to embrace cultural and minority rights. Such a party platform would also diminish the power of ultra-nationalist MHP, which has been able to form alliances with CHP in taking hardline positions on issues involving ethnic and religious minorities.

EU Accession Must Be More Than 'Strategic'

From İhsan Dağı:
“Being strategically important will not make Turkey an EU member-country.” This was the warning from a friend of Turkey, Joost Lagendijk, the co-president of the EU-Turkey Joint Parliamentary Commission, published in a commentary by the Taraf daily last week.

This is a valuable comment to keep in mind. While there have always been strong advocates of the geopolitical argument on the Turkish side, it seems that there are some in Europe who are increasingly emphasizing Turkey’s strategic importance. What should be underlined is that those advocates of the geopolitical argument, both in Turkey and in Europe, are not really enthusiastic about Turkey’s accession to the EU. They are more than prepared to settle with a “special partnership” for Turkey.
The strategic thinking that works on the Turkish side maintains that if the EU really wants, it should take Turkey in without questioning the nature of its political regime. What those who ask for such an offer do not know is that the EU is not a strategic alliance but a union of values.

Even an alliance like NATO has in the post Cold War era developed a set of political values as the basis of the alliance, thus going beyond strategic cooperation. If Turkey asked for NATO membership today, I doubt very much that it would be qualified to be a member.

The Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) is an important aspect of the EU’s institutional and political cooperation. Yet, since the Maastricht Treaty, signed in 1992 between members of the European Community, one of the objectives of the CFSP has been to promote and consolidate democracy, human rights and the rule of law worldwide.
For full article, click here. See my analysis of EU accession as transforming domestic institutions (Sept. 16 post).

Turkey Between East and West

My recent article in Foreign Policy In Focus:
Turkey has long aligned itself with Western powers, dating back to Ottoman participation in the Concert of Europe. It’s currently a member of the Council of Europe, the Organization for European Economic Cooperation (OEEC), and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Many Turks view accession to the European Union (EU) as the capstone to its longstanding ambition to be recognized as a modern European power. Others in Turkey, however, are leery of EU-inspired democratization schemes and wonder if admission is indeed worth the cost of the ticket.

If the accession partnership between the EU and Turkey ultimately falters, Turkey could well end adrift, isolated, and more sympathetic toward Russia, Iran, and possibly China. Long the most eastward player among Western powers, Turkey could well reposition itself as the most western power among a loose bloc of Eastern players.

Turkey — like Spain, Greece, and the Balkan states before it — must democratize further to successfully emerge from accession negotiations with a membership offer, but internal politics and frustrated relations with Europe threaten to imperil the process. In early November, the European Commission released its annual report on Turkey's progress toward accession. The report criticizes the slow pace of Turkish reforms and problems with their implementation, while highlighting the lack of compromise and political dialogue among Turkey's political parties.

When Turkey became an official candidate for membership at the Helsinki summit in December 1999, an avalanche of reforms soon followed in order to meet criteria required for accession talks to begin. Reform continued unabated following the Justice and Development Party's (AKP) landslide victory in the 2002 elections, and in October 2005, Turkey officially commenced accession negotiations. Following the Helsinki summit, however, the steam driving the reform revolution dissipated, causing the accession process to sputter.

Although such reform fatigue is perhaps inevitable — much like the exhaustion that sets in after the first third of a marathon race — the slow pace has seemed to take Turkey off the accession track and imperil Turkey-EU relations. Growing resentment of European demands, returning problems with Cyprus and the Kurds, and a revamped Turkish nationalism have all contributed to muting the hopeful ebullience of the early years of the reform process. While the AKP's recently proposed third national program to accelerate accession is designed to reignite the process, many within and outside the party still seem largely ambivalent. Turkey's relations with Europe and the United States — and by extension Turkey's future as a stable democracy allied with the West — thus remain largely up in the air.

Significance of the Accession Process

Turkey is lured by the prospects of EU membership for both historical and economic reasons. Its founder, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, who modernized the country along European lines, aspired to see it recognized as a European power. The Europe that transfixed Atatürk is no longer an imperial collection of states but rather a thriving economic market. But the pending relationship between the EU and Turkey isn’t simply economic. Amidst the wreckage of World War II, Europe radically transformed itself into a post-national union, with an overwhelming commitment to participatory democratic institutions and the strongest human rights regime in modern history. Through accession, aspiring member countries must not only adopt EU political norms but, in doing so, undergo political transformation parallel to that taken by Europe after the Second World War. Thus, EU accession is as much a major domestic process as it is a cementing of external relations.

As Turkey undertakes the reforms needed to meet criteria needed for EU accession eligibility, its citizens face heady questions about the direction in which to take their country. At one end of the spectrum are Europhiles, who wish to see Turkey enter the EU and move closer to international norms of human rights and democratic governance. At the other end are Euroskeptics, who are less keen to see their country make the sacrifices to sovereignty that EU membership requires. Most Turks fall somewhere in between these two extremes. The Euroskeptics oppose reforms they see as diminishing the state's police power in dealing with ethnic and religious minorities, political dissenters, and other elements that "threaten the solidarity" of the Turkish nation-state. Euroskeptics are also leery of reducing the power of the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) and the judiciary, both bastions of the old elite. Whereas Europhile Turks largely support continued and improved relations with Western powers, many Euroskeptics, sometimes called Asianists, are starting to look to emerging powers in the East with which to build future relations. Hurt feelings over a failed accession process could push Turkey closer to these non-Western powers, something that neither Europe nor the United States desires.

Building Positive Relations

Yet some European leaders seem determined to push Turkey further eastward. Both French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have expressed support for a "privileged partnership" for Turkey in lieu of full membership. From similar arrangements the EU has made with other Mediterranean countries, it is clear that such an offer would in no way carry as much diplomatic leverage as full membership. At this point, such second-class membership represents backtracking from earlier European pledges.

Turkey-EU relations have been further soured by Turkey's failure to abide by its commitment to open its ports to Cyprus. As a result, in 2006, the European Council suspended eight of the 35 policy chapters to be successfully negotiated if Turkey is to become a member, and ruled that no chapter can be closed until Turkey reverses its position on Cyprus. Negotiations focus on the candidate's adoption, implementation, and enforcement of EU policies. After unanimously closing a chapter, the European Council decides that an acceding country's policies are adequately in line with those of the EU. Only upon closure of all 35 chapters will a treaty be executed to finalize Turkey's accession into the EU. So far only one chapter, science and technology, has been closed. The EU's suspension of chapters has no effect in preventing Turkey from moving forward with legislation, especially in those policy areas where negotiations are expected to be difficult. However, the suspension has deeply offended many Turks and remains a source of political ill will on which Turkish politicians frequently harp.

In the meantime, EU politicians should remain positively consistent in their positions on Turkish membership, assuring full accession if it successfully meets the accession criteria. In recent months, Europe's position on this point has improved. In June, the French Senate rejected a law that would have required Turkish membership to be submitted to referendum. Also, France's turn with the EU presidency has resulted in the opening of two more chapters of EU policy — company law and intellectual property law — and an expressed hope that two more, information society and media and free movement of capital, will be opened at the European Summit in December. France also created goodwill in November, when its Senate struck down a bill to make it illegal to deny claims of Armenian genocide. Much can also be said of gestures like Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero's celebration of iftar — the breaking of the Ramadan fast — with Turkish politicians in Istanbul this September. Another encouraging factor in EU-Turkey relations is that Turkish attitudes toward Europe seem to have improved following the attempt by anti-democratic forces to close the AKP this past March. Right now, support for EU membership is at its highest level since 2005.

Turkish politicians need to stay focused on the accession process and eschew verbal confrontations with EU politicians. Sadly, this is something neither Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan nor Foreign Minister/EU Chief Negotiator Ali Babacan has succeeded in doing. At a meeting of the EU troika in Brussels this past September, Erdoğan lambasted the EU for double standards and intimated that Turkish membership was solely up to the Europeans. In fact, Turkey has much to do if it is to meet the political and economic criteria for membership, and such claims do little to assuage very real concerns in Europe about Turkey's lackluster human rights regime. Many EU citizens are also skeptical of the EU's already stretched economic capacity to absorb less affluent member states, and a smaller group has reservations about Turkey's Muslim identity.

While the xenophobia of the latter is difficult to address, Turkish politicians can certainly do more to alleviate the concerns of reluctant Europeans. To begin, Turkey could send a powerful message to assuage reservations about its treatment of religious minorities by re-opening the Halki Greek Orthodox seminary the state has kept closed for some time. Both Greece and Cyprus would approve of such a simple gesture. In Cyprus, Turkey should strengthen fledging alliances with Greek Cypriots to build support for a bicommunal solution, as well as look for and publicize foreign policy positions it shares with Europe, such as criticism of ally Uzbekistan for the Andijan massacre in 2004. Turkey would do well to work with Europe to devise mutually beneficial energy solutions, in particular the construction of the Nabucco pipeline, to supply Europe with natural gas from Central Asia. The Nabucco pipeline is vital for European energy independence from Russia. The Turkish government should also bolster support for Europe within Turkey, highlighting the rewards of membership while debunking baseless rumors about the costs of membership that have ranged from mandates to remove images of Atatürk from public buildings to outlawing the selling of kokoreç (Turkish tripe) on the streets.

U.S. Interests in Turkey

Turkey's AKP-led government, having survived a recent court case attempting to close it down for anti-secular activities, will be expected to move forward with its newly drafted third national program. However, as the only political party in power with a pro-EU position, the AKP has little incentive to push for reforms with which it disagrees or put it at political risk. At the moment, opposition political parties protest even the smallest, most cosmetic of reforms, and too often the accession process is used as a pawn in internal political gamesmanship.

The AKP, for its part, has lost the support of many liberal reformers who have come to doubt its sincerity and/or competence in moving Turkey toward liberal democracy and eventual EU membership. Thus, implementation of the party's third national program will be a test for the party, as well as the Turkish public, although significant progress will not likely be made on the reform package until after local elections in March 2009.

As Turkey struggles to position itself somewhere between Europhilia and Euroskepticism, the United States must continue to support Turkish accession into the EU. For its part, it should ignore neoconservative efforts to undermine the AKP, meanwhile doing all it can to improve its own relations with Turkey, mainly through encouraging dialogue between Turkey and the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) The more the Turkish government works directly with the KRG, the less likely the United States will be caught in disputes between the two. Any convergence of interests arrived at through talks between Turkey and the KRG is to the benefit of the United States. Further welcome is Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's recent praise of Turkey's efforts to build a regional alliance in Central Asia, after a period of initial resistance to the initiative resulting from its exclusion of the United States and the EU. Turkey as an EU member would be valuably cemented to the West, serving as an important bridge to Central Asia as well as a potential peacemaking force in the Middle East.

Barack Obama’s presidential win offers further opportunity to strengthen relations with Turkey. As a function of his opposition to the Iraq War and his message of "change," the president-elect enjoys popularity in Turkey akin to the popularity with which former President Bill Clinton was met on his visit following the 1999 earthquakes. Obama's promise to restore good relations with Turkey is eagerly received by many Turks, though not without caveats. Many Turks are leery of Obama's position on the Armenian massacres of 1915, and his recognition of them as genocide would badly damage U.S.-Turkey relations. Also feared are Vice President-Elect Joe Biden's previously expressed plans for a tripartite division of Iraq, which Turkey believes would empower the KRG and possibly foment calls for a united and independent Kurdistan. However, if Obama treads carefully on the Armenian issue, and supports a regional solution to terrorist efforts of the Kurdistan Worker's Party (PKK), which involves Turkey and the KRG as well as Baghdad, the next administration has a tremendous possibility to rebuild relations that the Iraq War badly damaged.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

German Mosque Raises Questions About EU Integration

From TDZ:
The opening of the Duisburg Merkez Mosque on Oct. 25 in Germany was a great day for the country’s Muslims, as it provides room for more than 1,200 people to pray and is currently Germany’s largest Muslim place of worship.

With a highly decorated main central dome (measuring 23 meters in diameter) and a number of equally impressively decorated half-domes as well as a 34-meter-high minaret pointing up to the sky, the mosque was built in classical Ottoman style in the western German federal state of North-Rhine Westphalia and is reminiscent of İstanbul’s famous Hagia Sophia. But it was not only the extraordinary size of the house of worship that made the event so important. Rather, what stood out was what preceded the inauguration of the building and the three years of construction as well as the absence of accusations so often used to undermine other mosque building plans in Germany. So what made the difference? Can Duisburg be called a prime example of successful integration? Sunday’s Zaman decided to find out.
For full article, click here.

Mosques for Germany's many Turkish communities are often the subject of various zoning disputes, a source of tension between native Germans and Turkish immigrants. In hopes to allay those tensions, some have suggested finding more amicable approaches to mosque construction, e.g. constructing mosques that fit more naturally with German architecture, integrating Turkish and German design.

Friday, November 7, 2008

A New Era in Turkish-American Relations?

From Saban Kardaş in EDM:
Many Turks joined the worldwide rejoicing over the Democrats’ victory and Barack Obama’s election as the next president of the United States. The Turkish public is sympathetic to Obama’s call for change as they find parallels in his story to Turkey’s experience with the reformist wave brought about by the Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) landslide electoral victory in 2002.

President Abdullah Gul, in a letter to President-elect Obama, reflected this positive mood in Turkey: “Your message of change and hope is one that meets the expectations of our day. It is a message that Turkey embraces” (, November 5). Similarly, by emphasizing Obama’s background, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan presented Obama’s victory as evidence of the American political system’s democratic credentials (, November 5). Obama’s vision on pressing issues of American politics aside, his promises of reorienting America’s role in the world instilled hope for a new direction in American foreign policy, hence reinvigorating the Turkish American relations in the wake of the Bush administration.

Growing anti-Americanism in Turkey, caused by the current administration’s unpopular policies, has been one of the factors adversely affecting Turkish-American relations. Several studies have found that the Turkish people harbored unfavorable views about the United States and preferred the Democrat Obama over Republican John McCain (Pew Global Attitudes Survey, June 12; Given the positive image of Obama among the Turkish people, analysts expect him to take important steps toward saving the United States’ image in Turkey and helping to revitalize the relationship (Turkish Daily News, November 6).
For full article, click here.

EU Progress Report Released—Off the Bicycle It Seems

The EU's annual progress report on Turkey's progress toward accession revealed no big surprises from the draft copy the EU Commission released earlier. However, what will be surprising is a decision by AKP to use the laundry list of reforms in need of adoption and/or implementation seriously. Although, President Gül reaffirmed his commitment to the reform when speaking at the North-South Europe Economic Forum, it is unlikely AKP will move forward with much of the needed legislation until after local elections in March.

The reluctance of AKP to commit seriously to reforms has led to serious doubt of the party's liberal/reform credentials in some circles. While Euro-phile Gül is still popular with EU politicians and seemingly quite serious about the accession processs, Prime Minister Erdoğan has given many observers of Turkish politics reason to worry. The prime minister has frequently and most unproductively lambasted the EU, accusing EU politicians of double standards while paying little attention to the many reforms Turkey needs to make in order to be admitted to the EU—reforms that every other candidate country made before it. He is joined frequently in these attacks by Foreign Minister and EU Chief Negotiator Ali Babacan, raising questions as to which diplomatic path Turkey will take: Will it chart the course of Gül's reasoned diplomacy, or rather that mapped by the disastrously dangerous rhetoric of Erdoğan? (See Aug. 2 post.) Recent grumblings with the prime minister have grown louder, leading prominent critic Mehmet Altan to wonder if EU membership will ever be taken seriously by the ruling party or whether it will remain a tool used for political gamesmanship.
"As long as it lacks the necessary political and societal will, Turkey is like Alice in Wonderland; it has to run just to stay in place. And without making new reforms, it is not even possible to stay in place, that is to say, it lags behind its vested position. Thus, while it fails to protect the existing improvements, it also paves the way for the revival of old reflexes and viruses," Altan told Sunday's Zaman, offering the failure in policies against torture as an example of a revival of these old viruses.

"The Ankara criteria metaphor used by the prime minister is not so helpful because in Turkey internal dynamics have been very weak. Thus, there is need for an external dynamic, for a positive will from outside," Altan said.

"The EU bid has been a political choice and tool for the government, but this approach is not appropriate. Such an approach is also the reason behind the increase in torture and the fading of the light of hope. The EU issue should be handled as an issue of social transformation, so it should be kept away from political calculations. Once the government takes the EU issue as an issue of social transformation and comprehends the significance and depth of this transformation, then the rest will just remain as details that can somehow be sorted out," he added, suggesting that the government has been suffering from "Ankara-ization," moving closer to the status quo maintained by pro-establishment forces in the Turkish capital.
Fellow critic Barçin Yinanç concurs with Altan, but also wonders if the EU is equally content with the slow process of the reforms. Meanwhile, TDZ columnist Amanda Akçakoca is more forgiving of the EU, but also seriously questions AKP's politics, wondering how Erdoğan could have been elected "European of the Year" in 2004.

From Europe, an interesting comment to come out of the public discourse leading up to the report's release came from Joost Lagendijk, Co-Chair of the Turkish-EU Joint Parliamentary Commission. Most surely anathema to many Turks, Lagendijk has suggested he is in agreement with DTP's calls for more regional autonomy for the Kurdish southeast, expressing support the party's Democratic Autonomy Project.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Turkey Supports Pakistan in Dispute with U.S.

Further evidence of emerging Turkish proclivities to assert a stronger, more independent role in the region. From the EDM:
On October 27 Pakistan's Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani began a four-day official visit to Turkey. In Ankara Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan welcomed Gilani with full military honors at the Prime Ministry (Hurriyet, October 28). During meetings with Erdogan and President Abdullah Gul, Gilani discussed myriad matters of mutual interest, agreeing to sign framework agreements for cooperation in science and technology. Economic issues were also high on the agenda; the two prime ministers agreed to increase bilateral trade from its current level of around $700 million to $1 billion as soon as possible and to fast-track negotiations for a Preferential Trade Agreement. After three days Gilani flew to Istanbul to attend the World Economic Forum (WEF) (, October 30).

Economic issues aside, however, Gilani's greatest accomplishment was to persuade Erdogan to agree to use the Turkish government's good offices to endeavor to rein in U.S. aerial raids into Pakistani territory. Gilani's press secretary, Zahid Bashir, confirmed to the Pakistani media that Turkey had informed Pakistan that it would use its "influence" as a NATO member and U.S. ally to attempt to persuade Washington to stop the U.S. incursions into Pakistan’s territory (The News International, November 2).
For full article, including analysis of Turkey's role in Afghanistan, click here.

Fergie's Investigation of Turkish Orphanages Causes Row

PHOTO FROM The Independent

From TDN:
State Minister Nimet Çubukçu responded yesterday to observations made by the Duchess of York, Sarah Ferguson, after entering two Turkish orphanages undercover.

Çubukçu said the European Committee to Prevent Torture, in a recent secret inspection, had concluded rehabilitation centers in Turkey met international standards, despite some inadequacies.

Ferguson had gone undercover and entered the orphanages to record the institutions conditions and its treatment of mentally disabled children for a documentary.

Çubukçu said the footage, which showed a girl tied at the wrist, had been taken at the Saray rehabilitation center and that there was a huge gap between this footage and Ferguson's comments.

"Ferguson claimed that women were lying in pairs on filthy beds. But there is no such footage," Çubukçu said, adding that tying mentally disabled children's hands for reasons of medical necessity is a worldwide practice. "It is not me who asserts this. Please ask an expert."

The minister said attempts to prevent broadcast of the footage on British television continue, adding that Turkish channels already aired the footage. The Duchess's visit was covered by newspaper British Mail On Sunday's correspondent Chris Rogers of the Independent Television News, or ITN.

Ferguson's motivation is strange, as she has no formal duty or mission in Turkey, Çubukçu said. "Places she claimed were orphanages were actually mental institutions. Any initiative on these issues should only be undertaken with expert consultation," Çubukçu said, adding the ministry's inspection results will come out late Wednesday.

"Turkey is in negotiations with the European Union, it is a member of the European Council and will sign the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights very soon. Turkey is not cut off from the world. It is open to inspections of international institutions. The Committee of Human Rights also makes surprise visits and their opinions on the institution are positive," Çubukçu said.
See coverage from today's Independent.

An Obama Presidency

PHOTO FROM The New York Times

From TDZ:
Democrat Barack Obama's landslide victory in the US election is a dream come true for most ordinary Turks, but it could mean more pressure on the government to speed up reforms for a better state of human rights in the country.

It is also likely to spell a definite end for the long-held Turkish policy of dealing with Armenian claims of genocide through counter-measures to suppress pro-genocide resolutions in Congress.

Turkey has had ups and downs in its strategic ties with the United States during the George W. Bush administration, differing on Iraq, the best way to handle a dispute over Iran’s nuclear program and Middle East peace efforts. But during the two terms of the outgoing president, Turkey has heard little criticism over its human rights record, contrary to the practice during the era of Bush’s Democratic predecessor, Bill Clinton. Pundits say Obama is likely to revive the Democratic tradition of applying more pressure to do more to improve human rights, a key demand of the European Union in the membership process.
For full article, click here. TDZ reports that business is also excited.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Prominent Creationist Reveals Dark Side of New Internet Law

Adnan Oktar, whose pseudonym is Harun Yahya, is an Islamic fundamentalist author/activist with fervent creationist views. Oktar is the head of a prominent creationist organization, the Scientific Research Foundation (Bilim Arastırma Vakif—BAV), and was recenty entangled in a criminal court case as a result of his political activities. Oktar and BAV have been making headlines for sometime in the Turkish press, but his efforts to take advantage of a new law passed in November making it possible for individuals to petition to close websites have gained the attention of the international press. The court case against the Islamist occurred in the heat of the closure case launched against AKP for allegedly being a center of anti-secular activities, and while no doubt politically inspired, fell amidst Oktar's own political machinations, especially his zealous attempts to limit freedom of expression.

Oktar's most famous target is Richard Dawkins, whose website he successfully petitioned to have shut down in September. Since that time, he has successfully shutdown other sites, including the newspaper Vatan and that of the Education Personnel Union. One of the first websites Oktar had shut down was the popular website Ekşi Sozluk, a type of urban dictionary replete with sour humor. Accusing the site of libel, his petition was granted and access to the site restricted by Türk Telekom. His publications have a broad readership throughout the Muslim world, where he is well-known for his anti-evolutionist views, and his publishing house is devoted almost exclusively to the issue.

Oktar (Yahya) recently appeared in The Guardian, which featured an interesting, but none too flattering profile in a larger story about the evolution debates. As a Texan, it is particularly amusing to read he has ties with a bizarre creationist organization in Dallas, Texas.
But ideas do not die, they spread and mutate. Creationism might be on the back foot in America, but it is blossoming elsewhere as Richard Dawkins discovered when Turkish readers told him they could no longer access his website. Dawkins's offence was to satirise Harun Yahya, the pen name of Adnan Oktar, the front man for a wealthy Islamic publishing house. Its lavishly illustrated Atlas of Creation spends 500 pages comparing fossils with present-day species to argue that evolution never took place. Dawkins looked at a picture of an ancient fossilised eel and a picture of what Yahya claimed was a modern eel and pointed out that it was in fact a sea snake.

Yahya went on to represent the immutability of God's creation by claiming that a fossilised insect had survived unchanged for millions of years. Unfortunately, the modern version of the caddis fly Yahya chose to illustrate his point was not a fly at all, but a steel fish-hook with a fake insect on top to lure fish on to the line.

Yahya is a joke, but few Turks are laughing. Index on Censorship reported last week that the Turkish courts and the Islamist government were banning Turks from accessing YouTube and the hosting sites Blogger and WordPress for various moral and political reasons as well as When Bianet, a Turkish human rights group, published a critical piece, Yahya told its journalists: 'This is an insulting article, take it off the internet or we will have you banned like Richard Dawkins.'

'On the one hand, fundamentalists say all they want is a debate,' said Padraig Reidy of Index. 'But as soon as they get power, they close debate down.'

Westerners say that Yahya reminds them of American creationists. The link is more solid than they know. In Atlas of Creation, Yahya acknowledges his debt to Duane Gish from the Institute for Creation Research in Texas. Gish has spent years arguing that the fossil record contains no evidence of species evolving and blustering whenever a palaeontologist contradicted him. As a Muslim, Yahya did not need to accept the institute's Protestant fundamentalist 'young-Earth' doctrine - the notion that God made the world in 4004BC or thereabouts. But he happily borrowed Gish's equally idiotic delusion that today's species cannot have evolved and must therefore be identical to their ancestors of tens or hundreds of millions of years ago.

Vast sums of probably Saudi money are fuelling the move of creationism across the Atlantic. In Turkey and the Middle East, poor schools are grateful for Yahya's free books and scientists are becoming frightened of speaking out. Last year, the Council of Europe warned that Yahya was also targeting schools in France, Belgium, Spain and Switzerland. In Britain, academics talk of expelling mainly Muslim science students. They do not make a fuss about it in case post-modern relativists in the mould of Steve Fuller accuse them of religious discrimination, but say, very quietly, that if religion stops their students accepting evolution, there is no point in them staying at university.

Maybe in a generation's time, Americans will patronise Europeans as quasi-fascist bigots. If we are to avoid their condescension, we must accept that creationism will not go down with the American conservative movement. It is evolving and its opponents must evolve, too, if they want to defeat it.
Interestingly, to some degree, Oktar's views may be moderating, as he recently expressed told a group of a reporters a few weeks ago that Muslims can believe in evolution, and still be good Muslims. There are plenty of evolutionists in the United States who do not apply the same attitude toward Christianity.

For a wonderful article in the international press about Internet freedom, see Yigal Schleifer's recent piece in the Christian Science Monitor. Schleifer's article focuses on Oktar, but also assesses the impact of the new Internet laws:
Turkish officials have admitted problems with the law’s enactment, but defend its intent. ‘The fight against elements that aim at degenerating societies and poisoning the youth and children is the fundamental task of each country. Every country has different regulations related to the Internet,’ transportation minister Binali Yildirim, who is also responsible for communications, recently said.

‘Our aim is not to ban websites. Such measures will come to an end as soon as our courts are able to ban problematic content instead of entire websites,’ he said.

But critics like Yaman Akdeniz, a professor of law at the University of Leeds and director of Cyber-Rights.Org, believe Turkey’s Internet law is too flawed to be salvaged and would most likely not stand up to a legal challenge at the European Court of Human Rights, whose judgments are binding on Turkey.

‘The current law should be abolished and the government should start from scratch when it comes to controlling the Internet,’ he says.

Mustafa Akgul says without a new approach, Turkey may find itself increasingly left behind when it comes to utilising the power of the Internet.

‘Turkish politicians haven’t had any real vision on how to develop the Internet. There are more people working on censoring it than developing it,’ he says.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Blogspot Back, but Internet Freedom Question to Persist

From Today's Zaman:
A ban on the popular blog-hosting service was lifted on Monday until “missing evidence” has been collected. The Diyarbakır First Court of Peace announced the decision on Monday afternoon by faxing a statement to Türk Telekom, a Turkish Internet service provider.

The statement indicated that the ban was lifted until missing evidence has been collected. The ban may be re-imposed when the court finds enough evidence to close down the site.
However, the statement reportedly did not explain what the missing evidence was.

Access to these sites was suspended Friday upon a complaint by Lig TV, the founding broadcaster of the Turkcell Super League. According to the complaint, the blog-hosting service enabled their users to watch soccer matches without subscribing to the TV station.

Turkish Internet users trying to access the popular blog-hosting service received an error message saying that access to the site has been blocked by court decision, without stating the court ruling or explaining why the service has been banned. The latest in a series of bans on popular Web sites has spurred many to question the future of Internet freedom in Turkey. The ban received harsh criticism from several associations and activists who said it was a great mistake to block access to the whole Web site instead of screening out unwanted content.

Several Turkish nongovernmental organizations advocating freedom of speech and expression stressed in a written statement on Monday that frequent Web site bans damage Turkey’s image abroad.
For more on the statement put out by a wide assortment of NGOs, click here. Sites like Wordpress, and even Google Groups, have been banned before. From BIA-Net:
In Turkey where access to a global video sharing site has been banned for six months now, of Google Corporation may meet the same fate as well.

The measures against websites are being taken under article 8 of Law 5651 on online publications and the fight against cyber-crime, which was adopted on 4 May 2007 and took effect in November 2007.

In Turkey, internet sites are banned if their content is deemed harmful to
children, encourage use of drugs, gambling, prostitution, dangerous elements for
health, pornography, suicide and contain insults against Atatürk, founder of

1112 internet sites, among them YouTube, as well, has been banned in Turkey.

Among those banned are,, Prof. Richard Dawkins',, and

Wordpress and Google Groups were banned before, but are now open.

In May 2007, twenty non-governmental organizations that are expert in telecommunications had declared that the Law of 5651, passed on May 4, 2007, had many problems as far as the freedom of expression was concerned, giving the bureaucracy the authority to censor any internet site without a trial.
One has to wonder at how easily a decision was made to shut down at the behest of Digiturk, what this has to say about the state's relation to corporations versus concerns with freedom of expression, and that little effort seemed to be made to narrrow the material restricted. Why was Blogspot restricted alongside

TDZ reports on Transportation Minister Binali Yıldırım's efforts to look into ways to block unwanted pages of websites versus the site as a whole.

At this rate, Article 8 of Law 5651 on Online Communications stands to become as infamous as Article 301, and will surely draw the attention of Europe and likely appear in the progress report due to be issued Nov. 5.

2 Chapters to Be Opened at December Summit, Ready for Energy

More pleasant news from a comfortably placid, even encouraging French presidency. From TDZ:
The European Union is expected to open two new negotiation chapters with Turkey during an intergovernmental conference scheduled to be held on Dec. 18 and EU term president France would like to open more, were it not for problems beyond its control, French Secretary of State for European Affairs Jean-Pierre Jouyet has said.

France actually wanted to open more negotiation chapters during its presidency, which will finish at the end of December, Jouyet told a group of journalists on Wednesday at a reception held at the Turkish ambassador's residence in Paris to mark the Turkish Republic's 85th anniversary. However, it may not be possible to open a third or fourth chapter due to factors unrelated to the French term presidency, Jouyet added without elaborating. Sources told Today's Zaman that technical preparations had been completed for the opening of talks on the chapter on energy, but that this cannot be done due to objections from Greek Cyprus, which is at odds with Turkey over its planned oil exploration in the Mediterranean. The Anatolia news agency, meanwhile, quoted anonymous diplomatic sources as saying that chapters on the free movement of capital and on the information society and media would be opened. The same sources said Turkey was also technically ready for the opening of the chapter on energy but noted that this is not yet possible due to certain objections from within the EU.

Babacan Says NPAA in Last Stage, 51 NGOs Submitted Feedback

From TDZ:
Consultations on a government program outlining reforms planned to bring Turkey closer to meeting the European Union's standards for membership are in the last stage, Foreign Minister Ali Babacan said yesterday in Ankara.

Copies of the Third National Program, which is several hundred pages and is still in draft form, were sent last month to both political parties and nongovernmental organizations for their comments and contributions. Fifty-one of the 87 NGOs presented with the plan sent their comments in written form to the government, Babacan said. The draft will be finalized by the government after it receives all comments and contributions from political parties and NGOs.
For their part, CHP and MHP are still stubbornly refusing to sit down and review the third NPAA.