Thursday, January 29, 2009

DTP Calls for Investigation of JİTEM

Şırnak deputy Sevahir Bayındır is one of several DTP politicians to call for an investigation into JİTEM, a clandestine military intelligence unit alleged to have organized mass atrocities against Kurdish civilians.

The recent arrest of Ret. Brig. Gen. Levent Ersöz, who had escaped to Russia last July, has brought the operations of a clandestine military intelligence unit, long known as JİTEM, to the forefront of public attention. Ersöz is thought to have worked directly underneath Ret. Maj. Gen. Veli Küçük, and to have been the leader of the illegal and long-rumored JİTEM. JİTEM is responsible for mass atrocities committed against Kurds since the 1990s, including the forced disappearances of HADEP politicians Ebubekir Deniz and Serdar Danış in Silopi in 2001. Under Ersöz was Ret. Col. Abdülkerim Kırca, who recently committed suicide when former JİTEM subordinate Abdülkadir Aygan, who is exiled in Sweden, recounted his participation in the stealth organization to Taraf.

Until recently, Turkey had long been remiss to investigate crimes committed by JİTEM thugs and assassins, many of whom seemed to have worked as civil servants in the Gendarmerie. Turkey's failure to open an investigation into the disappearence of Deniz and Danış resulted in a finding against it by the European Court of Human Rights and an order to pay damages to the men's families. As a function of the Ergenekon investigation, which has now led to an investigation into a whole assortment of alleged deep-state activities, including JİTEM, it is possible than an investigation might just now be opened.

To mark the disappearances, thousands of Kurdish protestors in Silopi, a district town of the southeastern province of Şırnak, took to the streets to demand a thorough investigation. DTP district chair Halil İrmez and MP Hasip Kaplan requested searches be made of the state-owned wells of the Turkish Pipeline Corporation (BOTAŞ), a request which DTP MPs have taken to the Justice Ministry. There is suspicion that JİTEM buried the bodies of Deniz and Danış -- alongside other victims -- in BOTAŞ' acid wells. Earlier Ergenekon informant Tuncay Güney alleged this was a common method of summary execution used by JİTEM in the 1990s. According to TDZ, "Late in December, the Silopi Prosecutor’s Office authorized investigators to locate and open local oil wells. BOTAŞ’s management announced that it would provide any assistance necessary in opening up the wells. However, BOTAŞ has only a few oil wells in Silopi; most of the wells in the region belong to the Turkish Petroleum Corporation (TPAO), and these wells must also be examined." In response to the DTP MPs, Justice Minister Mehmet Ali Şahin has expressed willingness to uncover the wells if more evidence comes to light.

The EDM's Emrullah Uslu elucidates the nexus between Ergenekon and the state/deep state's activities in the southeast:
. . . [T]he debate over Ergenekon has finally turned to the state’s policies toward the Kurds in the 1990s. Abdulkadir Aygan, a former member of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) and later a member of the clandestine gendarmerie intelligence unit known as JİTEM, confessed to the media that when retired Colonel Abdulkerim Kirca was the head of JITEM in Diyarbakir, the unit conducted dozens of executions (Star, January 19). Since then, Aygan has been living in Stockholm for fear of his life. The following day, Kirca committed suicide (Star, January 20). Chief of General Staff General Ilker Basbug, armed forces commanders, and a large number of military officers attended Kirca’s funeral in what was apparently a show of solidarity by the military for its members (Hurriyet, January 21). The Turkish Armed Forces issued a statement saying, “the media with its untrue stories judges people and drives them to tragedies. The authorities should act to stop this irresponsible media coverage” ( January 21).

As was to be expected, the media continued giving attention to Aygan’s confession. Aygan claimed that JITEM had executed between 600 and 700 Kurds in the 1990s and that “JİTEM operations always ended in death.…those who were reported to JİTEM as having any relationship with the PKK were executed” (Taraf, January 27).

. . . .

With the possibility of establishing a relationship between Ergenekon and some of the unsolved murders and PKK operations in the Kurdish region, the Ergenekon prosecutors asked the court in Diyarbakir to send the files of the JITEM trial in which 11 accused JITEM members have been tried in the last 10 years without producing a conviction (Referans, January 28).

Moreover, the Ergenekon prosecutors have asked the court to send the files on Brigadier General Bahtiyar Aydin who was mysteriously assassinated in town of Lice in Diyarbakir Province in 1993 and the files of colonel Ridban Ozden, whose murder in Mardin Province in 1995 was blamed on the PKK, a theory that is rejected by many including Ozden’s wife (Sabah, January 28).

It still remains to be seen how Ergenekon prosecutors will connect the murders in the Kurdish region in the 1990s with the arrested Ergenekon suspects and the buried ammunition found after the last two waves of Ergenekon arrests in January.
The 10-year JİTEM trial of 11 suspects will be combined with the Ergenekon case. The case regards offenses committed in 1989.

Earlier this week, TDZ profiled Aygan, tracing his life from early involvement with the PKK through his career in JİTEM. In Sweden, Aygan enjoys political asylum.

DTP MPs calls are part of a larger effort within DTP premised on the hope that by taking advantage of the current opportunities for sunshine offered by the Ergenekon investigation, Turkey might actally succeed in routing out those in the state who perpetrated human rights violations, and who continue to take advantage of opportunities to cause ethnic strife within Turkey. For more on Ergenekon and Kurdish politics, see Aug. 12 post.

Last Thursday marked the eleventh wave of arrests in the Ergenekon investigation. Though not as dramatic as the tenth wave, more than 30 people were arrested, including Türk Metal Union leader Mustafa Özbek.

UPDATE 2/2 -- Bianet has published Taraf reporter Neşe Düzel's interview with Aygan from his home in Sweden. The interview ran in Taraf on Jan. 27.

Young Civilians Protest HSYK Appointments

Protesting in front of the İstanbul 13th High Criminal Court yesterday, the Young Civilians decried the Supreme Board of Prosecutors and Judges (HSYK) on Tuesday that three prosecutors had been appointed to İstanbul. It is thought that HSYK's appointments are an attempt to impede the Ergenekon investigation.

From a statement issued by the Young Civilians by way of TDZ:
“Forty prosecutors into the Ergenekon case will not suffice, let there be 367,” the statement read, poking fun at former Supreme Court of Appeals Chief Prosecutor Sabih Kanadoğlu, who previously stated that at least 40 prosecutors should be appointed to the case. Kanadoğlu nullified the election of Abdullah Gül as president in 2007, prompting the Constitutional Court to enforce a quorum of two-thirds -- 367 deputies of a total of 500 -- of Parliament for the first two rounds of voting.

“Kanadoğlu wanted 40 prosecutors in the Ergenekon case; and the number of Ergenekon prosecutors has started to increase. Uncle Sabih! Why don’t you just take your hand out of our lives and leave us alone? It is apparent that Kanadoğlu will not settle for 40 prosecutors, and even 367 prosecutors will not be enough for him. The latest trick of those who have come to realize that they will no longer be able to play down the Ergenekon case with the recent discovery of Ergenekon ammunition aims to water down its prosecutors now,” the statement continued.

The Young Civilians also stated that Turkish society was fully aware of what the appointment of new prosecutors into Ergenekon would mean. “We think there is one point they have disregarded. ... We are not the idiots that you suppose us to be. Having become bitter from our experiences in the past, we will not allow you to cover up the Ergenekon case. Beware!” they said.

Turkey and the ICC

The Parliamentary Council of Europe (PACE) issued a resolution yesterday calling on Turkey to sign and ratify the Rome Statute establishing the International Criminal Court (ICC). Turkey is among eight of 48 Council of Europe countries -- including the Russian Federation, Ukraine, the Czech Republic, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Moldova and Monaco -- not to have ratified the Rome Statute. The resolution also urges all Council of Europe countries to fully cooperate with the ICC, addressing specific obligations States Parties have in so doing.

German MP Dr. Herta Daubler-Gmelin, chair of the Legal and Human Rights Committee of PACE, spearheaded the resolution alongside a report documenting the progress the ICC dossier has made in a number of Council of Europe countries, especially Turkey and the Czech Republic. MPs from Turkey endorsed the resolution, which also called on the United States, as an observer in the Council, and Israel, as an observer in PACE, to sign and ratify the Rome Statute.

Although ratification of the Rome Statute is not included in the Copenhagen Criteria, the ICC is part of the Common Foreign and Security Policy. Turkish ratification of the Rome Statute would go a long way in proving that Turkey is intent to act in accordance with the foreign policy principles adopted by EU member states, and further bolster support for its accession inside Europe. And, the issue of European accession aside, it would also go along way in garnering support for Turkey in its campaign against the PKK, allaying concerns of human rights activists that Turkey continues to subordinate human rights in its struggle against the terrorist organization -- and, in doing, often violates the rights of Kurdish citizens.

In 2004, Turkey amended Article 38 of the Constitution to allow for the extradition of Turkish citizens to the ICC. At the time, Prime Minister Erdogan stated that Turkey would be ratifying the Rome Stature in the near future. However, in January 2008, Erdogan reversed this position, citing concerns that Turkish assent might compromise its ability to deal effectively with the PKK. To add insult to injury, this past summer Turkey hosted Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who is currently facing prosecution by the Court for war crimes committed in the Sudanese genocide.

In yet another turn, AKP included ratification of the Rome Statute in its third harmonization package. CHP and MHP are opposed to ratification on the same grounds Erdogan presented last January, citing concern that the Rome Statute does not include terrorism within its jurisdiction. For a statement from the UN as to why this is so, click here.

As it has in the United States, the ratification to the ICC becomes fodder for nationalists, many of who launch misinformation campaigns about the Court. As evidenced by earlier resistance from Ali Sahin and the Justice Ministry, it is also important to impact that support for the Rome Statute is not universal among AKP politicians. This row within AKP and Erdogan's folding in January 2008 evinces deeper divisions within the party between hardcore nationalists and liberal reformers.

The Rome Statute enjoys enormous support within DTP and the Kurdish southeast. It also enjoys widespread support among Turkish civil society. According to TDZ, "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."

UPDATE 1/31 -- Click here for a recently issued press release from the Coalition for the International Criminal Court (CICC) on the PACE resolution.

UPDATE 2/4 -- The Coalition for the International Criminal Court has selected Turkey as this month's target in its universal ratification campaign (URC). To encourage Turkey's government to sign onto the Rome Statute, click here.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Güvenç Case Settled at ECHR

From Bianet:
Oktay Güveç was under fifteen years old when he was arrested for alleged PKK membership and tried in a State Security Court. He was kept in prison with adults for more than five years and tried with the threat of the death penalty for 18months.

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has decreed that Turkey violated the ban on torture, his right to freedom and security and his right to a fair trial. It has sentenced Turkey to paying Güveç 45,000 Euros compensation and 4,150 Euros legal costs. The court said that the time in prison damaged Güveç psychologically.

Referring to international agreements, the ECHR said that children should only be detained as a last resort and that their trial should be resolved in the shortest time possible. The fact that Güveç was tried in a State Security Court rather than a children’s court, so the ECHR, represented a violation of the right to a fair trial.

This is by no means the only case in Turkey. Currently children accused of “membership in an illegal organisation” after taking part in protests in Diyarbakır, Adana and other provinces are being tried in Special Authority Heavy Penal Courts (set up after the State Security Courts were dissolved) instead of children’s courts.

Changes in the Law on Terrorism in 2006 have made it possible to try children aged 15-18 in these courts.

Recently, two children were sentenced to 21 years imprisonment in Adana after taking part in pro-Kurdish Newroz events in Gaziantep.
Güvenç was arrested in September 1995, and put on trial the next year. For a press release and a link to the judgement issued by the ECHR, click here. His case has been in Turkish courts for over a decade. Since this time, Turkey has eliminated the death penalty. However, torture continues, as do questionable detentions and a number of other abuses by security forces.

Güvnç's arrest is also a violation of his rights as a child. Despite significant progress made since 1995, children's rights continue to be violated largely thanks to Turkey's 2006 amendments to its Anti-Terrorism Law. Turkey is a state-party to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which its continued prosecution of children contravenes. 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. In a high-profile case earlier last year, choir children were tried as adults in Diyarbakir province for singing Kurdish anthems at a concert in California. The case is a good illustration of just how the Anti-Terrorism law is used.

For more information, see the Child Information Network in Turkey.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Freedom of Expression for Armenia Apologists

From TDZ:
After completing its investigation, the Ankara Chief Prosecutor’s Office has concluded that there is no basis to prosecute Turkish intellectuals who collected signatures for a statement that contained a personal apology for the events of 1915, which Armenians claim constituted genocide.

The prosecutor’s decision was based on the idea that “in democratic societies, opposition views are under protection within the framework of freedom of thought,” the Anatolia news agency reported.

Prompted by six Ankara residents, the Ankara chief prosecutor launched an investigation into the apology campaign organizers and the people who signed the statement.

In their petition in early January, the six citizens based their arguments on the grounds established by the Turkish Penal Code’s (TCK) infamous Article 301, which has been used to prosecute several intellectuals, journalists and activists for “insulting Turkishness.” With the Turkish Parliament’s amendment of the disputed law last year, “insulting Turkishness” was replaced with “insulting the Turkish nation.”
For a background of the complaint, see Bianet, Dec. 1. Intellectuals who have spoken on the 1915 massacres, one of the most taboo subjects in Turkish society, have been frequent targets of Article 301 (see Dec. 7 post).

All major political parties have strongly condemned the petition, though President Gül publicly defended the freedom of expression of those who wrote, organized, and signed it. Erdoğan, for his part, squarely dismissed the petition as ludicrous, unnecessary, and offensive. For explanations from apologists as to why they felt inclined to sign the petition, see recent pieces by Şahin Alpay and Engin Parev, as well as the Spiegel's interview of Baskın Oran. For the petition in question, click here. For additional background, see Saban Kardaş in the Eurasia Daily Monitor.

Encümen-i Daniş & More Speculation About Feb. 28

The Ergenekon invetigation has raised a flurry of questions about political events in Turkey's not-so-recent past, including hints and allegations of just exactly what happened in the country's "postmodern coup" of Feb. 28, 1997. The coup toppled the Islamist Refah Party, which was closed shortly after by a decision of the Constitutional Court. Refah is the more conservative antecedent of AKP, and among the many recriminations that have circled around Ergenekon are charges that the deep state group colluded with elements in the Turkish Armed Forces. From TDZ:
An organization calling itself Encümen-i Daniş (Consultation Council) sent a letter to former President Süleyman Demirel in 1994 with a list of recommendations on a number of issues in an attempt to influence decision-makers in the country ahead of the Feb. 28, 1997, post-modern coup, the Bugün daily reported yesterday.

Considered to be a “think tank” that included some of the most powerful figures in the country, who came together behind closed doors to talk about Turkey’s problems, Encümen-i Daniş sent a letter to Demirel and then-Prime Minister Tansu Çiller in 1994 in an attempt direct political decisions in the country. Paragraphs from the letter were quoted verbatim a few years later -- this time in a grim resolution issued by the National Security Council (MGK) in 1997 that led to the collapse of an elected coalition government.

Encümen-i Daniş is, according to some, a clandestine committee that also has links to the Ergenekon gang and to the Western Working Group (BÇG). BÇG was another clandestine group formed within the army during the Feb. 28 coup that blacklisted various politicians, intellectuals, soldiers and bureaucrats as “dangerous personalities” who were threatening the regime.

Included in the six-article recommendation letter sent to Demirel and Çiller are calls for the strict implementation of the Law on Political Parties; tough controls on Quran courses; and the reclassification of imam-hatip schools -- high schools that offer religious education -- as vocational schools so that students would have a lesser chance of being admitted to university.
For full article, click here.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Obama Reigns in Era of New Opportunity in U.S.-Turkey Relations

PHOTO from the New York Times

President Obama's inauguration on Tuesday excited millions around the world hopeful that a new American administration -- led by a seemingly very different man -- might translate into real and meaningful change. Like elsewhere across the globe, Obama's message of change, perceived moderation, and calls for transparent government are well received by Turks. Upon Obama's election, 44 sheep were slaughtered in the eastern city of Van to commemorate Obama's election as the 44th president of the United States. A recent BBC poll (taken before the Gaza crisis) revealed that 51 percent of Turks believe Obama will strengthen American relations with the rest of the world, a number up from 11 percent just six months ago when most Turks seemed despairingly indifferent to the results of the U.S. election. Not only is the increase significant, but also the sheer number of hopeful people: Turks are one of the most anti-American populations in the world, and conspiracy theories about U.S. support for the PKK and Middle East designs abound (see "I Am Not in the CIA," June 11 post, for more background). With such political capital at his disposal, President Obama has a real opportunity to transform U.S.-Turkey relations for the better. The U.S. and Turkey have plenty of national interests in common and foreign policy areas ripe for mutual cooperation are many.

As I laid out in Foreign Policy in Focus in November, Turkey is teetering between East and West in its foreign policy orientation. Although Turkey has historically linked itself to the West, largely anchored by its European vocation and NATO membership, a growing number of Turks have begun to advocate that Turkey should strengthen relations with Eastern powers, especially Russia, and/or adopt a more isolationist posture. Essential to determining Turkey's future relations with the West will be the outcome of its accession to the European Union, as well as good relations with the United States. In order to assure both, the United States should do all it can to facilitate Turkish accession and come to terms with a Turkey more independent in its thinking, and with foreign policy aspirations more its own than at any time during the Cold War. The U.S.-Turkey relationship is in transition, and Cold War understandings of Turkey are anachronistic. Russia is now Turkey's largest trading partner, and Ankara is seeking better relations with Muslim capitals throughout the Middle East. The more complex relationship between Europe and the United States also plays a hand. Europe and America are not always on the same page, and Turkey should not be expected to choose between the two -- for an example, look no further than European opposition to the invasion of the Iraq. The ambitious foreign policy of Turkey's AKP-led government seeks to expand Turkey's soft power and restore relations with countries that were once provinces over which the Ottomans were suzerain (see Mustafa Akyol, Newsweek, Dec. 6). As Turkey endeavors to meet its foreign policy objectives -- and, discover their implications in so doing -- the United States should look for areas of overlapping interest, meanwhile doing all it can to anchor Turkey firmly to the West.

The United States should build multilateral ties with Turkish NGOs, businesses, and cultural/educational institutions. By way of this new multilateral approach (Cf. Mary Kaldor, Boston Review, Feb./March 2005), President Obama will not only bolster support for inter-state diplomacy, but build the kinds of deep, inter-penetrating social ties that will not only counter anti-Americanism inside Turkey, but provide the cement for friendly future relations. Obama would also do well to promote Turkey within NATO, praising the productive role it is playing in Afghanistan and the potential it has in brokering peace in the Middle East. In terms of NATO, Obama would do well to encourage Turkey to assent to the Berlin Plus Agreement, uniting Turkey with the rest of Europe in support of a mechanism important to the EU's Common European Security and Defense Policy. President Obama would also be well-advised to encourage a diplomatic solution to Cyprus, taking advantage of the election of moderates on both the Greek and Turkish-Cypriot sides so that a UN-sponsored bicommunal solution again becomes a viable option.

The Obama Administration should do everything in its power to support human rights and democracy in Turkey, strengthening governing institutions by standing firmly behind pro-reform/accession forces inside Turkey and the European Union. President Bush was rather lackadaisical in his support of the EU process, and criticism of human rights/support for democratic institutions in Turkey has been lacking in the past eight years. When sinister forces threatened to topple the AKP-elected government last year and sought to undermine the election of President Gül the year before that, the United States did little to voice its disapproval, leaving Europe largely alone in its vehement opposition to these anti-democratic posturings. While AKP survived the closure case, its leaders have not forgotten the lack of support(see Henri Barkey, Washington Post, Aug. 23). President Obama should address this lacuna quickly and steadfastly by expressing solidarity with Turkish democratization efforts, including the salvation of AKP at the Constitutional Court last July -- though, disappointingly, AKP was found guilty of the trumped up charges it faced, just barely escaping closure.

Concomitantly, President Obama will do well to ignore the falsehoods and propaganda coming from neoconservative think-tanks and journals like the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and the Middle East Quarterly (see my posts of Nov. 24 and April 18; also, Avni Dogru, Foreign Policy In Focus, July 24). Turkish press have a tendency to fixate and generate conspiracy theories based on the publications and public statements of figures like Michael Rubin, and Obama would do the U.S.' relationship well if it makes clear from the beginning that these people have no influence in policy making.

And, finally, one last thing the United States might do to bulwark democratization is demonstrate its support for the ongoing Ergenekon investigation. Although the United States is well-advised to stay far removed from the volatile domestic politics in which the investigation is inextricably entangled, President Obama could further strengthen relations if he were to make a public statement expressing support for the opportunity the investigation offers to extirpate lingering elements of Turkey's historic 'deep state,' the shadowy, obfuscate network of anti-democratic forces hidden beneath state structures. In doing, the President should also call for government transparency during the investigation. The impact of such a position would bolster support for the United States within AKP and its political constituency, but might also -- depending on how it is made -- curry favor with secular leftist Turks, many of whom still remember the 1980 military coup in which deep state elements were indubitably involved. To add weight to this second point, it is appropriate to note the significant amount of conjecture about U.S. involvement in the anti-leftist coup ('Operation Gladio,' see 25/1/08 post), resentment around which is still a part of Turkish historical memory.

Obama foreign policy toward Turkey is not without its usual pitfalls and opportunities, though Ankara's neo-Ottoman foreign policy has perhaps made things a bit easier. The Armenian 'genocide' question still persists, as does the United States' role in Iraq, namely the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) and the use of northern Iraq as a safe haven for the PKK. However, thanks to Turkey's rapprochement with Armenia and the KRG, both situations, respectively, might be improved. More difficult will be the United States' support for Israel, which given the size and intensity of Turkish protests against Israel's recent invasion of Gaza, poses the risk of infecting good relations by the sheer potential preponderance of the issue. Ankara's new interest in the conflict, not to mention the demonstrated willingness of the Israelis to inflict mass civilian casualties, make the situation in the Palestine Occupied Territories even more explosive in terms of U.S.-Turkey relations.

Turkey's expanding foreign policy might well prove of mutual benefit to both states. There is hope that Turkey's symbiotic relationship with Iran places Turkey in a useful position to mediate between the United States and the Islamic Republic. Shortly after Obama's victory, identifying Iran as the United States' most vexing challenge, Prime Minister Erdoğan expressed Turkey's willingness to help the United States negotiate a solution. Further, Turkey's efforts to achieve an alliance between Caucasus states are critical to the security of Central Asia, a potentially effective way to protect the sovereignty of these newly-independent states.

And, as a hopeful aside, in December, Obama transition aides mentioned the President is considering a major speech debunking Huntington's infamous "Clash of Civilizations" thesis to be delivered in a Muslim capital -- might it be İstanbul?

(For a wonderfully concise analysis and fairly dead-on take on the U.S.-Turkey relationship and what Obama might do to improve it, see Spencer P. Boyer and Brian Katulis, "The Neglected Alliance Restoring U.S.–Turkish Relations to Meet 21st Century Challenges," Center for American Progress, December 2008.)

Thursday, January 22, 2009

After the War

Prime Minister Erdoğan has gained popularity throughout the Muslim world for his renunciation of Israel's invasion of Gaza, but what will the future hold for Turkey-Israel relations and Turkey's aspirations to become a key player in the region? PHOTO from Le Monde

Last Saturday's ceasefire brought an end to one of the worst humanitarian tragedies of this century. Many eyes were on Turkey throughout three horrific weeks of Israeli operations, and with Operation Cast Lead brought to a close, questions remain as to just how Gaza will affect Turkish foreign policy in the region. Throughout the conflict, Turkey conducted fast-pace shuttle diplomacy between Damascus, where prominent Hamas leaders are stationed, and Cairo, where Egypt attempted to use its diplomatic clout in order to attain a ceasefire agreement between Israel and Hamas. At dispute were Israel's continued chokehold of the Gaza Strip and the steady supply of munitions that make their way to Hamas through Egypt. Throughout the three-week ordeal, Turkey used its newly acquired UN Security Council position to argue for an immediate ceasefire, journeyed to Arab capitals throughout the Middle East, and offered forces to act as peacekeepers to patrol the Refah border crossing between Gaza and Egypt. Turkey, which hopes to bolster its diplomatic clout by proving itself capable of successfully mediating Mideast conflict, not only has plans to facilitate negotiations between Hamas and Israel, but also Hamas and Fatah. All the while, Turkey has kept relations with Tel Aviv home, and though the Turkey-Israel relationship is no doubt more complicated after the war, it is unlikely that relations between the two countries will be permanently affected.

Although some have accused Turkey of hypocrisy or held its diplomacy to be confused, its balancing act is a function of its ambition to be an important player in the region. Since these larger regional aspirations are premised on good relations with Israel, the Arab World, and even Iran, the appearance of any emotionally-clad violent conflict lands Turkey on difficult terrain. Therefore, Turkey has an interest in eschewing conflict, making Turkish diplomacy a valuable force for peace in the Middle East. Additionally, as aforementioned, conflict -- although to be avoided -- provides fertile opportunity to prove its diplomatic credentials as evinced by Turkey's recent attempt to broker a Syrian-Israeli peace accord. With neo-Ottoman ambitions to restore to the MENA region the relative peace it once knew under the Ottomans, Turkey hopes its soft power will become a defining force in the region. In attempt to resolve the lonf-standing dispute between Syria and Israel over the Golan Heights, four low-level talks were held last year (see
Gareth Jenkins, EDM, April 29), although plans for more were halted with the crisis in Gaza. The real question now is just where Gaza leaves Turkey's chips. Within what limits -- and with what caveats -- can Turkish diplomats act, and just what exactly can they acheive within these boundaries?

While Gaza bolstered Prime Minister Erdoğan's popularity in the Arab world (see
Emrullah Uslu, EDM, Jan. 15), at question is just what Turkey will do to mend relations with Israel. Turkish rhetoric, especially from Prime Minister Erdoğan, has been especially vitriolic. Other less than cordial diplomatic exchanges included the denial of Israel Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni's request to visit Ankara, and Erdoğan and snub of Israel during the Prime Minister's tour through the Middle East just after Israeli operations began. Erdoğan refused to meet with Israeli officials until a ceasefire had been acheived, decrying the Israeli incursion as an affront to all humanity, characterizing it as ruthless and savage, losing no opportunity to denounce Israel's illegal use of white phosphorus gas, DIME explosives, and indiscrimnate strikes on women and children, particularly those taking refuge in UN schools and other supposed "safe" facilities. In one set of remarks, Erdoğan pointedly declared that God will punish those who kill innocents. At no point during Turkey's intensive efforts did any Turkish officials make any attempt to reach out to Israel. Returning the cold shoulder, Amos Gilad, Ha'aretz reports that the head of the Israeli Defense Ministry's Diplomatic-Security Bureau, refused to meet with President Gül this weekend, citing Erdoğan's rhetoric as the reason.

Government action is not the only problem. Each day the conflict continued, the crescendoing scale of Israel's attacks drew larger and larger protests across Turkey. The size and anger of the protests increased pressure for the government -- already pushing the envelope with Israel and the U.S. -- to cut off diplomatic relations with Israel in their entirety. Apart from demonstrations, protests included boycotts, e.g. the
Turkish Consumer Association's boycott of Israeli goods. Some Israelis, in turn, have called for boycotts on Turkish goods and services, including Turkish hotels. And, just as the Turkish press has been quite critical of Israel, Israeli press have lost few opportunities to launch shots at Turkey. However, observers should also appreciate that despite over 1,300 violent deaths in Gaza and the massive international outcry that ensued, Erdoğan nor any other government official used the word "genocide" to describe Israel's actions, which was not the case in other countries across the region. Turkish reaction to bloodshed in Gaza was indeed so intense that protests united Kurds and Turks in Diyarbakir, where demonstrations drew together over 50,0000 people.

However, despite recent tensions, it is unlikely that much will fundamentally change between Turkey and Israel. On Friday, just one day before the ceasefire, Foreign Minister
Ali Babacan re-affirmed his dedication to keep channels of communication open, expressing hopes that Turkey might play a constructive role in a permanent end to hostilities. Israel is simply too valuable to Turkey, too instrumental to its larger foreign policy objectives to cast aside. However, the real issue is just how Turkey's damaged relations with Israel will affect its ability to mediate in the region, and to this end, Turkey is faced with the same double-edged sword that has confronted past mediators.

President Gül met with other leaders in Sharm el-Sheikh on Sunday to discuss the ceasefire, and still unclear is just what role might Turkey play to make the current ceasefire sustainable? Hamas had agreed to a
Turkish troop presence because of its "respect to Turkey as an Islamic nation." Hamas' assent occurred reluctantly, and with likely pressure from Egypt. The news was enthusiastically welcomed by the Turkish press, and public enthusiasm is quite high for such participation. However, details of such an arrangement have yet to be worked out. This did not stop chief foreign policy advisor Ahmet Davutoğlu from claiming credit for the ceasefire shortly after it was concluded. If Davutoğlu is correct in his prideful evaluation of Turkish influence, then Turkey's diplomatic hopes to promote peace in the region should not be dismissed.

Playing Both Sides

Despite expressed intentions to normalize relations with Israel, Erdoğan did not seem to have second thoughts about characterizing Western countries' treatment of Gaza as hypocritical, saying in Brussels on Sunday that the U.S. and EU were much more quicker to intervene to stop ethnic cleansing in Georgia this summer than they were to stop the mass atrocities we have seen in Gaza. More provocative, though, were statements undermining Mahmoud Abbas' leadership. Couched in a call that Western powers and Fatah recognize Hamas as the legitimately elected representative of the Palestinian people, Erdoğan insinuated that failure to recognize and negotiate with Hamas is a contradiction of democratic principles. The Brussels comments won
praise in Tehran. Earlier this month, Javier Solana, EU High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy, praised Turkey's efforts to mediate a truce with Hamas as constructive, but it is not clear what position the EU will take on Turkey's expressed intent to become an arbiter between the Palestinians. However, the EU has invited Turkey to take part in its own efforts to make Saturday's ceasefire holds.

Although Iran and Syria have called on all Muslim countries to break relations with Israel (Qatar and Mauritania have done so), Turkey has different designs. As aforementioned, Turkey needs good relations with Israel in order to hold onto its diplomatic clout in the region; however, it also needs a relationship with Hamas, thereby filling a gap in Palestine-Israel diplomacy. While Arab autocracies like Qatar and Saudi Arabia are ambivalent toward Hamas, Turkey recognizes the potential of its working relationship with Hamas leaders. Ans, whereas Egypt lost much of its credibility in the Arab world when it failed to open up its borders to Gazan refugees, Turkey is relatively unscathed. Its Islamic-leaning government is inspiring when held against the authoritarianism of Egypt or Jordan, and because it is not an Arab state, Turkish diplomats are able to operate outside of Arab internicene politics.

Turkey's relationship with Hamas first began to develop in 2006 when Turkey hosted Hamas leader Khaled Mishaal, after which Turkey has repeatedly recognized Hamas' role as necessary to any resolution of the Palestine-Israel conflict. Relations with Israel are underpinned by a 1996 bilateral agreement. Israel sells and repairs Turkey weapons, including tanks, combat aircraft, unmanned spy planes to monitor PKK activity in the southeast of Turkey, and -- in a most
recent deal -- radar, electronic warfare and intelligence systems technologies. In hopes of perpetuating good relations on all sides, Turkey will find itself in a precarious position over the coming months. There is talk that President Gül has plans to make a conciliatory trip to Israel in the coming month, and government officials are drawing up plans for a Middle East Security and Cooperation Conference. Turkey's role in negotiating a sustained peace between Israel and Hamas is yet to be determined, and should a decision be made by Israel or the United States to pursue negotiations with Hamas, Turkey is well-positioned to play an important role. It has already become Hamas' de facto representative at the Security Council.


Throughout the Gaza imbroglio, Erdoğan
insisted that his criticism against Israel was not anti-Semitic. However, many anti-Israel demonstrations also contained elements of anti-Semitism, as many demonstrators were not anywhere near so cautious as to draw a difference between Jews and the Israeli state. Political rhetoric has also failed to make the distinction. According to Hürriyet, Hasan Karakaya, a columnist at Vakit, recently wrote: "Jew equals terrorist." Similar statements have appeared in print and broadcast media throughout Turkey, as well as on placards, posters, and billboards. Hürriyet also reports that some Turkish hotels in Antalya put up signs declaring that Jews are not to be welcomed, although Minister of Culture and Tourism, Ertuğrul Günay, expressed concern with the signs. Worries about anti-Semitism held constant throughout the crisis in Gaza -- e.g. Emrullah Uslu, EDM, Jan. 7. And, despite Erdoğan's denials to the contrary, according to respectable Turkey expert Henri Barkey, the Prime Minister's rhetoric drew on traditional anti-Semitic prejudices.

UPDATE 1/22 -- For an an analysis of Turkey's potential peacekeeping role, see
Uslu's consideration of both the risks and the benefits. Uslu recalls Abbas' 2007 request for Turkish peacekeepers be sent to Gaza, which Hamas rejected. Is Turkish public support for the deployment of Turkish peacekeepers sustainable?

UPDATE 1/24 -- The American Jewish Committee, the Anti-Defamation League, B'nai B'rith International, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs sent a letter to Prime Minister Erdoğan expressing their concern about the recent wave of anti-Semitism in Turkey. As TDZ reports, "the Jewish Telegraphic News Agency, an online news portal, noted that "the organizations that signed on to the letter declined to support a 2007 US congressional resolution recognizing the Armenian genocide, concerned that such legislation could harm the relationships between the United States and Turkey and Israel and Turkey."

And, not to discount concern about anti-Semitism, see President Gül's welcome response to a recent op/ed by Leyla Navarro, a profesor of psychlogy at Boğaziçi University. Navarro's article -- summarily titled "Being a Jew in Turkey: Loneliness of 500 years" -- responds to Erdoğan's remark about Jews being welcome in Turkey since the Spanish Inquisition, asking why Turkish citizens who are ethnically or religiously Jewish are still treated as guests in a country where they have full citizenship rights.

UPDATE 1/28 -- Babacan has told Turkish newspapers that Hamas should renounce violence and lay down its arms. From the Khaleej Times:
‘Hamas should make a decision: is it going to be an armed organisation or a political movement? We advise them to be part of the political process,’ Babacan told the popular Milliyet daily.

The minister spoke amid criticism at home that Ankara acted as a supporter of Hamas—considered a terrorist group by the West—during the Israeli offensive on the Gaza Strip, dealing a blow to its ties with the Jewish state, a key regional ally.

‘We cannot approve of what Hamas is doing, but peace cannot be achieved by ignoring Hamas,’ Babacan said in further remarks, published in the liberal Radikal.

‘A mid-way formula should be found... Hamas is a reality in Gaza,’ he said.
The call is likely an attempt by the AKP-led government to qualify its relationship with Hamas. Domestic and foreign critics alike accuse the government of taking an unbalanced approach to the conflict, especially in its dealings with Hamas. For an example of such criticism, see Millyet's Sedat Ergin's op/ed, "Why is PM's Gaza Rhetoric Problematic?" Ergin argues that Hamas terrorism should be firmly rejected by Turkey and that its fault in the conflict should not be dismissed. Erdoğan will meet with Israeli President Shimon Peres on Thurday at the World Economic Forum meeting in Switzerland. The meeting comes amidst other signals that Turkey is moderating its position, including a phone call late last week between President Gül and Mahmoud Abbas, a move which led to speculation about a schism in the Gül and Erdoğan's approach.

Yesterday UN Humanitarian Affairs Chief John Holmes criticized Hamas at the UN Security Council for using civilians as human cover throughout the 22-day crisis. Holmes criticized both sides for their involvement in the humanitarian tragedy, arguing both sides-- but especially Israel as the occupying power -- have a responsibility to allow humanitarian supplies to move uninterrupted over and within Gaza's borders.

LAMBDA Wins at Supreme Court of Appeals

From Amnesty International:
The Turkish lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) solidarity organization, Lambda Istanbul, has won its appeal against the closure of the association. The Supreme Court of Appeal’s decision was communicated to Lambda Istanbul’s lawyers on Tuesday.

A local court in Istanbul had ordered the closure of the association on 29 May 2008. The original ruling followed a complaint by the Istanbul Governor's Office that Lambda Istanbul's objectives were against Turkish "moral values and family structure".

The Supreme Court of Appeals rejected the local court's decision on the grounds that reference to LGBT people in the name and the statute of the association did not constitute opposition to Turkish moral values. The Court’s judgment also recognized the right of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals to form associations.

The case will now go back to the local court in Istanbul, which is expected to uphold the Supreme Court of Appeals’ decision.
According to Öner Ceylan, a long-time leader in LAMBDA with whom I spoke yesterday, the association has gained in members and organization since its beginnings in 1993. LAMBDA became an official association in 2003, and just last year, drew a crowd of over 2,000 people to one of its parades on İstanbul's famous İstiklal Cadessi. İstanbul Mayor Muammer Güler attempted to close down LAMBDA last year by challenging the legality of its charter under Turkey's law on associations. Before that, İstanbul police harassed the organization. For more on LAMBDA and LGBT rights in Turkey, see May 24 post.

UPDATE 1/27 -- LAMBDA has issued a statement in response to the Supreme Court of Appeals' reasoning. Despite the Court's reversal of the court of first instance, the ruling contains elements that should be read by activists and observers inside and outside the country as enabling future discrimination. From the press release :
We consider the reasoned decision we received as a positive step towards the continuation of the legal personality of Lambdaistanbul, proving the vital role of our movement today. However, as we take a closer look on the fifth page of the reasoning, it is noted that the court of appeal indeed agrees to a great extend with the court of first instance with regards to its persuasions on "general morals". Without a doubt, the following sentence on the fifth page is an open threat to all LGBTT organizations in Turkey:

"Certainly, the execution of the above mentioned articles 30 and 31 and the dissolution of the defendant association could still be demanded, if it would act counter to its constitution, in the ways of encouraging or provoking gay, lesbian, bisexual, transsexual and transvestite behavior or acting with the aim of spreading such sexual orientations."

Sexual orientation or sexual identity cannot be changed through imposition. It is the fact both for LGBTT and for heterosexual people, admittedly the majority of the population.

For the last 20 years, it is not the number of gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transsexuals and transvestites increasing, rather it is their individual and organized visibility that has been pressured and silenced until today. It is thus, unfortunate, that the court of appeal considers the organized visibility and rights struggle of the ignored LGBTT's, who are subjected to pressure and othering because of their sexual identity and sexual orientation, as a risk to society.
LAMBA has joined other LGBT groups in calling for an amendment to Article 10 of the Constitution, which guarantees equal protection from discrimination "irrespective of language, race, colour, sex, political opinion, philosophical belief, religion and sect." LAMBDA argues that a similar protection guarantee from discrimination premised on sexual orientation and gender identity should be included in this litany. According to the group, its addition will curtail the homophobic interpretations of morals clauses used frequently to restrict the activities of LBGT individuals and groups.

Engin Çeber Case Commences

From today's The Guardian:
A landmark trial opened in Turkey yesterday of 60 police officers, soldiers and prison officials implicated in the death of a political activist from injuries allegedly sustained under torture.

The defendants, who include three prison governors and a doctor, are accused of inflicting intentional injury on Engin Ceber, who died from a brain haemorrhage in October after being arrested at a demonstration against police brutality.

Four of the defendants are charged with causing death through torture.

Human rights groups see the case as a litmus test of Turkey's willingness to combat torture and curb police abuses.

Observers say 29-year-old Ceber was kicked and beaten with metal and wooden bars in Istanbul's Metris prison after police accused him of resisting arrest. He had been detained after handing out leaflets protesting against lack of action against officers accused of shooting and paralysing another activist at a previous rally.

His lawyer says he was abused at a police station then denied treatment for days for injuries suffered in prison, a delay that could have contributed to his death.

Ceber's death drew a public apology from the Turkish justice minister, Mehmet Ali Sahin, who blamed it on "ill treatment" and ordered an investigation.

Only some of those indicted appeared in court for the start of the trial. While 19 prison officers have been suspended, campaigners have complained that many of the accused have stayed on duty.
The Çeber case thrust the issue of police violence and impunity from prosecution into the spotlight.

Monday, January 19, 2009

"We Are All Hrant Dink"

Today marks the two-year anniversary of journalist Hrant Dink's death. Nationalist thugs shot down Dink outside his house, and after their arrest, appeared in posed photographs with smiling police. Police and security forces were involved in Dink's death, but so far only two gendarmerie officers have been put on trial. Charges widened this past December when the Trabzon Chief Prosecutor's Office launched a preliminary investigation into Ali Öz, former Trabzon Gendarme Regiment Commander. Speculation exists that the Ergenekon gang executed the assassination, though details -- as with other charges against the group -- are murky, and obscured by politics.

In Hürriyet, Dink's lawyer, Fethiye Çetin, recounts Dink's fear a few days before his death. Bianet offers a summary of trial proceedings thus far. Memorial demonstrations will occur throughout Turkey.

Worth re-posting on this occasion are Ece Temelkuran's reflections on Dink's death, excerpted from a column she wrote in the Guardian last January.
Recently, a couple of high school students sliced their fingers and made themselves bleed on purpose. They used their blood to paint a Turkish flag. It wasn't a small one, either. They framed the picture and sent it to the chief of military. He cried when he received the "bloody mail"; and reporters were there to witness and report about the sacred flag.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Pamuk on Multiculturalism, Secularism, Islam, and the EU

Orhan Pamuk at the Frankfurt Book Fair, which celebrated Turkish literature, earlier this year. PHOTO from the Spiegel

Orhan Pamuk recently gave an interview to the Yomiuru Shimbun, in which he discusses multiculturalism in the context of Ottoman Empire, fundamentalist secularism and Islam, and the recently deceased Huntington's much hyped "clash of civilizations" thesis. An excerpt from the interview:
In a Harvard classroom, Samuel Huntington's thought [of a "clash of civilizations"] is an interesting idea. There is some truth in it. But as it is represented by the international media, it has become an idea that only paves the way to more fights and more killings. The West kills more Muslims they are afraid of or embarrassed by and say, "It's a clash of civilizations." It is not a clash of civilizations. It is just killing people.

People with different origins, ethnic backgrounds, opinions, races, religions, even with a history of fighting each other, should and can live together. This is an ideal I believe in. You may say, "Oh, naive Orhan, they can only kill each other." But I don't want to believe that humanity is that bad.

I don't think Palestinians and Israelis can live happily in the same street and kiss each other for at least another 50 years. But Kurds and Turks have been living [alongside each other]. If the Turkish government is wise, they can continue to live [side by side] for quite a long time. So what I believe sometimes may contradict what happened in history. Cynics do not have ideals. I have ideals. I believe that this is possible and that's why I want Turkey to join the European Union, which has higher standards of respect for different cultures and multiculturalism.

You may say, "You are naive--look at your book 'Snow.'" I have a character who lives through all these dilemmas. He naively believes, like me, in all these things and falls into politically bad situations. But I don't want a cynic's life.

The Ottoman Empire realized coexistence to some extent.

You can only run an empire with a sort of tolerance. Do not think that they were multicultural, like EU or American tolerance. They were totally different. It was inevitable. If you are running an empire, you have to be tolerant to minorities. What I respect most in the Ottoman Empire was that they did not impose Islam too much. They imposed Islam, but compared with [the extent that] the West [imposes its values], relatively less. An empire is always multiethnic.

There has been a long history of confrontation between Western and Eastern cultures. Istanbul has been a powerful symbol of that confrontation and coexistence.

Some people only point out the confrontations of cultures in their lives, give their energy to focus on confrontations. I always point out how harmoniously they come together. Some people go out and only see head-scarved girls and mini-skirted girls and the conflict. Some people go out and see how they do not notice each other and live in peace in the streets of Istanbul. It depends on what you want to see. But, yes, this is a country where all the contradictions are abundantly available and visible. Is that a bad thing or a good thing? Politicians, groups who want to get people's attention through cultural difference, through secularism and conservatism, dramatize these things.

Turkey is more politically troubled than socially troubled. If there is a social problem, that is poverty--class distinction between the rich and the poor. But politically, the representatives of the secularists, who are heavily embedded in the state apparatus, secularists and the army, are clashing with the popular Islamic voters. And this clash is really harming the country. Both sides are responsible for it. And most of the time lower classes and women suffer from it. Islamic boys can go to universities, but women cannot if they wear head scarves. Islamist politicians go into the parliament and enjoy life, but women cannot if they wear head scarves. The suffering of lower classes is not represented in the media. Turkey's first problem is that there is so much class difference between a very rich, leading bourgeoisie, making 50 percent of the national income, and the immense poverty. This real conflict is expressed through secularism, Islam and the army, and this kind of politics.

Turkey is a multicultural country, not politically but ethnically and religiously. But I do not only see these problems as East clashes with West. Only after September 11th was "clash of civilizations" set as a sort of a standard model for the world.

While more then 99 percent of the population is Muslim, the state is secular. Some say this secularism has reached its limit. Don't you think this secularism is unnatural?

You are defending the argument of fundamental Islamists or fundamentalist secularists. There are fundamentalist secularists who think Islam is the problem, but I do not think so. There are also Islamic fundamentalists. Your opinion is valid and very popular in Turkey. But I disagree. Yes, Islam is a religion which does not stay in the private sphere. It is not only about personal beliefs, but also about how to run a country, about laws and governments. And the rules are in the traditions of Islam and Koran. But this is the argument of ultraradical secularists, which can only base its power on the force of the army. Many people like me think that most of the Turkish people believe at the same time both in a blend of secularism and a blend of Islam.

I believe in secularism. I believe that public life should not be ruled by the laws of the religion. But Islamic tradition is not like that. Up to now, public life in Turkey has not been ruled by the rules of traditions of Islam, but the rules of secularism. I am a secularist, but a liberal secularist. There should be a harmony between the people's wishes and secularization energy. Turkey's secularists should be also liberal. We have secularists who base their power only on the army. That damages Turkey's democracy. Once in 10 years we have a military coup. In the last 10 years we have not had one, thank God. But every day, the army says don't do this, don't do that. I don't like that. But it doesn't mean you are an Islamic fundamentalist. I am also troubled by the raise of political Islam. So I am squeezed by two sides, but I don't have to take a side.

Secularism is now combined with nationalism in Turkey. This combination has depressed ethnic minorities including Kurds, Armenians and Christians.

There is an obvious rise of nationalism in Turkey. There are many reasons for that. One is the anxiety of those ruling classes who think that if Turkey joined the EU, their interests will be damaged. Another is that, unfortunately, some part of the Turkish Army is upset about negotiations with the EU. Turkey's improvement in democracy is developing in parallel with Turkey's relationship with the EU. Some measures were taken by the previous and present governments, which I am happy about. More freedom of speech, more respect for minorities, more multiculturalism--unfortunately half of them are done just to enter the EU.
Pamuk also discusses the European Union, criticizes those European conservatives who regard the EU as a "Christian club," and talks of the importance of Turkey preserving its traditional culture alongside a more liberal and less militaristic state.

For a look at Pamuk's take on literature, see his recent contribution, "My Turkish Library," in the New York Review of Books.

HRW Turkey Report

Human Rights Watch released its world report on the status of human rights in countries. Summarizing the state of human rights in Turkey, HRW cited the increase in police abuse it documented in detail in its December report, as well as the continued use of torture, ill-treatment, and killing by security forces. HRW writes these abuses are aggravated by the impunity of police and security forces. In addition, the report documents continued limitations on freedoms of expression, assembly, and association, the continued harrassment and persecution of human rights defenders, and the continued killing of civilians by the PKK. The report also recommends the revivification of the reform proces, and notes the important role of the EU and the ECHR in the protection of human rights. From HRW:
The European Union remains the most important international actor with the potential to foster respect for human rights in Turkey. The public hostility of some EU member states, notably France and Germany, to eventual EU membership for Turkey—even if those countries did not block Turkey-EU negotiations—lessened the EU’s leverage. The European Commission commented on the continuing lack of progress on human rights in its annual progress report published in November.

At this writing, the European Court of Human Rights has issued 210 judgments against Turkey in 2008 for torture, extrajudicial execution, unfair trial, and other violations.
For the full report, click here. See also HRW's report, "We Need a Law for Liberation," on the discrimination of and violence committed against Turkey's LGBT community. To compare this report with that of last year, click here.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Ergenekon Heightens Divisions in Turkish Society

In a press conference yesterday, Gen. Metin Gürak accused prosecutors of violating the constitutionally enshrined principle of the presumption of innocence. Gürak's comments are a reflection of heightened criticism of the Ergenekon investigation emanating from the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) following this latest tenth wave of arrests (see a summary from Bianet, Jan. 12). This most recent criticism comes in response to accusations made by police informer Tuncay Güney on television yesterday against Ret. Gen. İsmail Hakkı Karadayı. President Gül warned that putting pressure on the judiciary while the Ergenekon investigation is underway will undermine the investigation and further polarize Turkish politics. However, it is clear that the judiciary, the military, politicians, and the Turkish press are already very polarized, creating tremendous doubt as to whether objectivity -- by the judiciary, or any other sector of Turkish society -- is in fact possible.

Recent analysis by Lale Sarııbrahımoğlu considers divisions within the TSK as to the proper position the TSK should take in regard to the Ergenekon investigation, cleavages between Asianists and Europhiles, pro and anti-coup forces. Sarııbrahımoğlu assesses the TSK's reluctance to denounce Ergenekon and some recent infighting as a possible function of NATO involvement in TSK affairs. The TSK is far from a monolithic entity, and throughout recent years, chiefs of staff have taken different positions toward international affairs and intervention in domestic politics.

See also Emrullah Uslu's analysis of different actors in the Turkish judiciary. The Ankara and Istanbul Bar Associations, as well as the Judges and Prosecutors Union and some sitting judges have expressed criticism of the investigation, while others have refrained from comment. These divisions manifest themselves on the Supreme Court of Appeals. The arrest of the Court's former prosecutor, Sabih Kanadoglu, has increased tensions in the judiciary.

Adding to the drama of the last wave of arrests is the apprehension of Ret. Brig. Gen. Levent Ersöz, who just narrowly escaped to Russia last July before police could apprehend him. Ersöz is thought to have worked directly underneath Ret. Maj. Gen. Veli Küçük, and to have been the leader of the clandestine (and illegal) JITEM gendarmerie intelligence unit. Ersöz and JITEM are likely responsible for mass atrocities committed against Kurds, including the forced disappearances of HADEP politicians Ebubekir Deniz and Serdar Danış in 2001, Turkey's failure to open an investigation into which resulted in an ECHR ruling against it and an order that €170,000 be paid in damages.

In other news, more weapons caches were also discovered near Ankara and İstanbul.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Gaza Dilemma

Protests across Turkey are targeting the government's vicissitudinous relationship with Israel. Here, protestors organized by the Felicity Party hold placards with photos of Erdogan shaking the hand of Olmert. PHOTO from Istanbul Calling

A recent poll has found that AKP is facing a considerable lack of support given public perception of its association with Israel. Despite Prime Minister Erdogan's invectives of last week, many Turks -- still very much incensed at the deteriorating human rights tragedy in Gaza -- see AKP as wavering in its position toward Israel, many demanding that Ankara take bold steps to make its disgust known and perhaps exert a modicum of pressure on the Israelis. However, diplomatic action taken against Israel risk good relations that are very much essential to Turkey maintaining its diplomatic clout in the region -- premised on the fact that Turkey has good relations with all countries. Even more problematic is that relations with Washington are likely to be worsened should Turkey decide to strengthen its condemnation of Israel.

With local elections coming up, and AKP already facing the prospect of losses due to competition in what has become an increasingly fragmented race, the party might well lose power to parties who have taken stronger positions against Israel. Troubling is that many of these parties constitute the extreme religious right in Turkey, their platforms anathema to the moderation for which AKP has so been lauded. In a poll by ANKA News Agency, the Felicity Party (SP -- Saadet Partisi) has increased its share of the vote to over 8 percent. More on Erdogan's tightrope from Yigal Schleifer:
With Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) facing local elections this March, the government’s relations with Israel could be a liability. Placards are appearing at protests showing Erdogan and Olmert shaking hands and accusing the AKP of "collaborating" with Israel.

Erdogan may also find himself walking a tightrope when it comes to distancing Turkey from Israel. Ankara has long depended on Israel to act as a conduit to the Washington and to American Jewish organizations, who have frequently acted as a kind of surrogate lobby for Turkey in Washington. In the past, Jewish organizations have been instrumental in helping Turkey block efforts to introduce resolutions in Congress recognizing the Armenian genocide of 1915.

"There is real anger with Erdogan on Capital Hill and among people who follow Turkey in Washington," says a Washington-based consultant who closely monitors Turkish affairs. "Nobody is threatening anything right now, or knows if there are going to be repercussions, but this is going to have an effect."

Adds the consultant: "There is a sense that Erdogan’s used up a lot of good will."
However, to turn the other side of the coin, the United States is using up much of its good will, too. Yesterday, President Olmert boastfully declared that his call to President Bush was responsible for the United States' singular abstention from the Security's Council's otherwise unanimous resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire. The action is likely to anger Turks (and, not just religious conservatives!), making Erdogan's position all the more untenable domestically.

In terms of relations with the United States and Israel, right-wing politicians in America and Israel will no doubt come down hard on Turkey, especially AKP (for an example, see the Likud-sympathetic Jerusalem Post, Jan. 5). These critics are unlikely to be sympathetic to AKP's domestic political concerns, and as Juan Cole observes, might just be able to stick around and cause more harm.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is scheduled to meet with Erdogan on Friday. In effort to show its solidarity with Gazans, AKP Education Minister Huseyin Celik ordered a minute of silence in schools.

And, on another note, Schleifer intimated earlier this month that the Gaza conflict should lead Turkey to re-think its own policies toward its Kurdish minority. A recent decision by Israel to ban two Arab political parties -- both of which claim to represent a significant sector of Israel's Arab minority population of approximately 1.2 million people -- should make Turkish policy makers think twice about banning DTP. Also, for Turkey to consider is its opposition to an international treaty banning the use of cluster bombs. The bombs -- which, left unexploded, detonate like land mines long after conflict has concluded -- have been used in the Israeli operations, alongside white phosphorus gas.

On Saturday, I closed my post on Gaza with a note about anti-Semitism. Below is a video documenting protests in Tel Aviv by PeaceNow, an Israeli peace group. PeaceNow advocates Israel's withdrawal from the occupied territories, and has called repeatedly for a ceasefire and an end to the Israeli operations in Gaza.

UPDATE 1/14 -- The Spanish newspaper El Mundo is reporting that Hamas is prepared to conclude a short-term ceasefire on the condition -- among others -- that Turkey be the guarantor of any peacekeeping force. Hamas also indicated it is ready to consent to international monitors, and listed their deployment among conditions for the ceasefire. The Syrian faction of Hamas has been the most recalcitrant in negotiations, arguing that any short-term ceasefire should be conditional on Israel giving up something in return.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Taraf's Demir and Press Freedom

Taraf has not been shy about challenging the military or the government. This headline reads: "His General's Prime Minister." PHOTO from the National

Adnan Demir, the manager and representative to the owner of the liberal newspaper Taraf, faces a 5-year prison term for allegedly violating Article 336 of the Turkish Penal Code (TCK). Article 336 criminalizes the disclosure of classified information, and is one of many articles of the TCK under which press freedom/freedom of expression is limited. The conflcit between national security and press freedom is normal in constitutional democracy, but the criminal case against Taraf exemplifies what is not at all a healthy treatment of this dialectic in Turkish politics. Rather, the case against Demir is representative of substantial restrictions on press freedom (see Bianet Media Monitoring Report, Dec. 1).

Demir's case results from Taraf's reports that the military had prior knowledge of the deadly PKK attack on Turkish soldiers in
Aktükün this October. Taraf's stories included reports and images said to be gendarmerie intelligence, and enraged Chief of General Staff Gen. İlker Başbuğ. Başbuğ called a press conference in which he denounced the allegations, and declared Taraf to have blood on its hands.

Taraf's writers have been subject to similar allegations in the past, including numerous political and legal attacks that ensued following its coverage of a related incident
Daglica, as a result of which the paper fell under similar attacks by the TSK. In June, perhaps prematurely, the paper ran a story alleging the TSK of plotting a coup in 2007. Indeed, given the paper's history of provoking the military establishment, it is amazing the paper has managed to stay open. In April 2007, the military was instrumental in shutting down Nokta, whose offices were raided and editor arrested after the paper published diaries of a military officer involved in efforts to overthrow the AKP-government. The "coup diaries" were published at the height of the crisis surrounding Abdullah Gül's election to the presidency.

In an excellent article by freelance writer
Suzy Hansen in the National, Hansen discusses Taraf's niche.
In the often unreliable world of Turkish newspapers, Taraf distinguished itself by asking ugly questions: about the military’s performance against the militant separatists of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and about the army’s dominant role in Turkish politics; about the prime minister’s commitment to human rights; and of course, about Ergenekon. The prelude to true democratic reform, the paper seemed to insist, was a truly open and free platform for spirited debate.

“Taraf has probably enormously contributed to Turkey’s relative democratisation over the past year,” said Halil Berktay, a Turkish public intellectual and professor of history at Sabanci University who contributes a column to Taraf twice a week. “It has been like a flash of lightning.”

Taraf owes its boldness to a luxury that is increasingly rare – and not just in Turkey: an independent owner who does not interfere with the work of his editors. Taraf’s founder Basar Arslan, a 40-year-old bookstore owner and publisher, wasn’t particularly active in politics before launching Taraf, and he still shies away from the public eye. (He did not respond to questions for this story.) But according to his editors, he had always wanted to own a newspaper – and he called up a few of his friends to recruit them to produce a small daily that represented their liberal views, what he envisioned as “a very prestigious, independent paper,” according to Yasemin Congar, an editor, who added: “Now he loves it.”

But at first they thought he was crazy. Three heavyweights signed on anyway: the bestselling novelist and columnist Ahmet Altan, and two veteran journalists, Congar and Alev Er.

In Turkey, a large segment of the mainstream media is controlled by one man, Aydin Dogan, who owns the popular papers Hurriyet, Milliyet, and Radikal, as well as TV stations and various other business concerns. Hurriyet and Milliyet are more nationalist; Radikal more liberal. “We have seen an increasing cartelisation of the press and much more organic links between the press and political factions,” said Berktay. “It’s the Turkish version of the Berlusconi phenomenon. In fact, if Dogan came to power it would be a very precise parallel.”

Zaman, another heavy-hitting popular paper backed by followers of the Islamic leader Fethullah Gulen, is an exquisitely designed broadsheet catering to religious conservatives, and is largely supportive of AKP. (They boast one of the highest circulations, according to one source, at around 650,000; Hurriyet sells about 550,000 copies, Milliyet 200,000 and Radikal only 40,000). A fifth major paper, Sabah, was recently sold to a holding firm, Calik, seen as close to AKP. Cumhuriyet, a small, text-heavy, serious paper, serves the old-guard secular elite. And there are many, many others – too many to characterise – but few of them bucked the status quo with the same intellectual gravitas as Taraf.

Language tips off a paper’s readership: Zaman, more religious, will employ Arabic words; Cumhuriyet, a nationalist paper, will use as much Turkish as the language allows. You could divide how people vote roughly according to the newspapers they read – AKP die-hards might read Zaman, secularists prefer Hurriyet and Cumhuriyet. Leftists favour Radikal, which boasts some of the country’s best liberal columnists, though some have decamped – along with their readers – to Taraf.

Taraf eschews the paeans to the Turkish state typical of the other papers and hews to an antinationalist line. Yasemin Congar pointed out that even on national holidays, when all the other papers drape their front pages with red flags and photos of Turkey’s founder-hero Ataturk, Taraf abstains from patriotic displays. “It’s slightly irreverent in tone,” said Jenny White, a professor of anthropology at Boston University who has written many books on Turkey and lives on-and-off in Istanbul. “In a framework where counter-discourse can get you hauled into court or worse, humour and wit may be the only ‘safe’ forms.” “I’m amazed it hasn’t been shut down,” she added.

Instead, Taraf has continued to grow. “Taraf managed to reach a circulation which went over 90,000 at one point, but also managed to get a permanent readership of between 50-60,000,” Congar said. “At the beginning what looked realistic to me was 35,000 at most. We now have a readership which is not only leftists and urban youth, or only conservatives or liberals, or only the Kurds or Turks, but all of these people. There is a good segment of religious conservatives in our readership which was a surprise because we’re not religious or conservative.”
Hansen discusses Taraf's pressing coverage of Ergenekon, the AKP closure case, and the Daglica and Aktukun affairs. Hansen also mention's Taraf's criticism of the AKP-government: the sluggish pace of adopting pro-EU reform, its recalcitrance toward resolving the Kurdish question, and its increased nationalist political posturing. Most insightful is her valuation of the paper in a climate of fear -- in which "Memories of military coups and the steady creep of a violent neo-nationalism make ordinary Turks scared to do or say the wrong thing, and paranoid about ulterior motives."

As Bianet's media monitoring report concludes, restrictions on the freedom of expression in Turkey continue, and the blame for several can be placed squarely at the feet of the government. In November, Erdogan withdrew the acceditation of journalists who had been critical of his involvement in the Deniz Feneri scandal. Erdogan also sought to influence press coverage by telling his constituents not to buy critical newspapers (see TDZ, Nov. 26; see also Andrew Finkel, TDZ, Nov. 30). These actions and others indicate the government's proclivity to treat opposition press differently, and though Taraf will inevitably keep on swinging, such discrimination does not bode well for Demir and the paper's future.