Thursday, November 25, 2010

RTUK Fines CNN Türk for "Ne Oluyor"

From Bianet:
The Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK) imposed a monetary fine of TL 286,160 (approx. € 143,000) to the Turkish news channel CNN Türk because of the program "What's going on" ('Ne Oluyor'). The program touched upon topics regarding the Kurdish question such as democratic autonomy, calls for a ceasefire and education in the mother tongue.

The ideas conveyed in the broadcast on 10 August were seen as a breach of the broadcasting standards as defined in Article 4 of Law No. 3984 on the Establishment of Radio and Television Enterprises and Their Broadcasts, namely as a violation of the "compliance with the supremacy of the law".

The decision, taken by RTÜK on 10 October, was communicated to the public just recently. Council member Taha Yücel opposed the ruling. He reminded the fact that people with different ideas expressed their thoughts, "Even if the statements on subject would be disturbing, they should be evaluated within the scope of freedom of expression. Moreover, the guests of the program controversially discussed the diverse opinions expressed by the participants. Assessing the program as a whole, there is no reason for punishment", Yücel stated.

The sanction was based on the statements of Osman Özçelik, deputy of the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP).

Özçelik had said in the program, "The members of a war with low intensity are called guerrilla. I do not think that terms like terrorist et cetera are correct. They are wearing uniforms, they belong to a certain hierarchy and they have a logo. With a logo and the uniform they are a guerrilla alliance. They have to be named correctly, no matter if you agree with that or not. This is a political movement [referring to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party PKK]. It is a political party, a political party with military force. The name is the Kurdistan Workers Party and it is a political movement."
It is easy for RTUK to fine programming it finds objectionable, and a proposed media law, expected to be passed in the coming year, will make it even easier.

Friday, November 12, 2010

United States Issues Religious Freedom Report

The United States Department has issued its annual International Religious Freedom Report. For DRL's report on Turkey, click here.

Though many accusations might be leveled at the United States for not taking a consistent position on democracy and human rights issues, a difficult task for any country, the State Department's reports on human rights and religious freedom are refreshingly objective.

Issued by the State Department's Bureau for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, the reports are issued independent of the State Department's other policy making arms. For a bit on how, why, and the history behind these reports, click here.

Friday, November 5, 2010

And the Unrest Comes . . .

From Hurriyet Daily News:
When Bayram Altun, deputy head of the shuttered pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party, or DTP, began to read a defense statement in Kurdish, the head judge had his microphone turned off. “The defendant is making his defense in an unknown language,” he reportedly said.

Following this eruption, defendant Ramazan Morkoç also reportedly addressed the court in Kurdish, and then in Turkish. “You cannot insult the language of a people,” he said. The head judge moved to expel Morkoç from the courtroom, sparking protests from the other defendants who asked to be expelled from courtroom collectively.

When the judge decided to remove all the defendants from the courtroom the defense lawyers objected. Lawyer Tahir Elçi said the suspects’ request to defend themselves in Kurdish is not a political request but a legal request. Elçi said calling Kurdish an “unknown language” would have heavy political consequences.
See Oct. 21 post. This will only get bigger . . .

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

"Protesting as a Terrorist Offense"

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has released a stirring report documenting Turkey's restrictions on the rights to protest and freedom of association. Under Turkey's stiff Anti-Terrorism Law, it is illegal to attend demonstrations said to be sponsored or held in support of a terrorist organization. However, in recent years, Turkish courts have been applying a provision in the Turkish Penal Code making it illegal to be a member of a terrorist organization to convict protestors. The mere act of protesting -- or, to be more specific, to be seen as protesting in response by the PKK to do so -- can land one in prison. As HRW documents, both the Anti-Terrorism Law and the Turkish Penal Code are broadly and arbitrarily applied, and frequently result in Kurdish citizens serving long prison sentences for doing little more than attending a protest. From the report's summary:
Turkey’s Kurdish citizens have frequently protested publicly to express frustrations with the government’s policies towards their culture, status, and rights, and, in recent years, the imprisonment of Abdullah Öcalan, the PKK leader. For instance, on July 14, 2008, and from October 18 to 21, 2008, protests were held in various cities in Turkey against Öcalan’s prison conditions and alleged ill-treatment. Protests are also held every year on February 15, the day in 1999 that Turkish authorities captured Öcalan in Kenya and brought him to Turkey. The festival of Newroz/Nevruz (Kurdish and Turkish spellings in common usage in Turkey), the Kurdish New Year, on March 21, often elicits demonstrations as well as cultural celebrations. Protests took place prior to Turkey’s March 29, 2009 municipal elections. There are also fairly frequent localized protests in cities throughout southeast Turkey and in mainly Kurdish-populated districts of cities such as Adana. These typically involve groups of youths and children, who shout pro-Öcalan and PKK slogans, burn tires in the street, and respond to police orders to disperse by throwing stones.

In the past, courts in Turkey convicted these protestors under laws governing public order or of “making propaganda for a terrorist organization” (Article 7/2, Anti-Terror Law). Yet in recent years, criminal justice officials have deemed Kurdish protestors demonstrating against Turkey’s policies towards the Kurds to be “committing crimes on behalf of the PKK without being a member of that organization” (Article 220/6, Turkish Penal Code). As a result, they are prosecuted as if they were actually fighting the government as armed “members” of the PKK (Article 314/2, Turkish Penal Code). These serious charges, on top of more usual charges under the Law on Demonstrations and Public Assemblies, could result in sentences of 28 years in prison, or more, if there are repeated offenses. To date, the majority of adults convicted under these laws have received prison terms of between seven and 15 years. Prior to a July 2010 legal amendment, child protestors typically received prison sentences of between four and five years, though in 2010, at least several children were sentenced to seven-and-a-half years in prison.

Law enforcement authorities and the courts allege that the PKK and its representatives are organizing the demonstrations as part of a wider policy to promote civil unrest, and even uprising, among Kurds in towns and cities throughout Turkey. By way of evidence the government and courts point to the PKK’s decrees issued at various congresses, and the fact that senior PKK representatives use sympathetic media outlets to issue “appeals” to the Kurdish population to take to the streets in protest. Hence, the template for individual indictments includes an abstract overview of PKK history and policies, followed by a statement of the alleged specific criminal activities of the defendant. In none of the cases examined by Human Rights Watch had prosecutors submitted evidence to establish that the individual defendant either heard the PKK’s “appeal” or had been directly instructed or motivated by the PKK to participate in the demonstration, much less that the individual had any other specific link with the PKK or committed a crime under its orders.

The Turkish courts consider it no obstacle to conviction that the prosecution has failed to provide evidence of the defendant’s specific intent to support or aid the illegal activities of the PKK. The General Penal Board of the Court of Cassation has held that it is sufficient to show that sympathetic media outlets broadcast the PKK’s “appeals”—speeches by the PKK leadership calling on the Kurdish population to protest or raise their voices on various issues. Then the defendant, by joining the demonstration, is assumed to have acted directly under PKK orders. Yet even at extremely local demonstrations not announced in the media beforehand, protestors are routinely charged with acting under the orders of the PKK. In some cases, courts have held that the PKK’s “appeal” to participate in demonstrations is a continuous generic one, and therefore a specific instance of appeal to the population need not be proved.

This legal framework makes no distinction between an armed PKK combatant and a civilian demonstrator. In fact, demonstrators may be punished more harshly, because while combatants who turn themselves in may receive partial amnesty under the “Effective Repentance” provision in the Turkish Penal Code, there is no such provision to reduce the sentences of peaceful demonstrators who have never taken up arms. As a result, peaceful demonstrators with no clear PKK affiliation may be punished more harshly than PKK members who have actually served as guerrilla fighters.
Useful is the report's elaboration of how Turkish courts apply the Anti-Terrorism Law in conjunction with Article 314 of the Turkish Penal Code in order to secure protestors prison sentences that are certainly in disproportion to the offense, especially when it can be argued that the offenders are peaceably demonstrating. In one case, an illiterate mother of six was sentenced to seven years in prison for holding a sign with a message that read "the road to peace lies through Ocalan."

YouTube Ban Lifted

From Hurriyet Daily News:
Turkey’s longstanding ban on YouTube, the world’s largest and most popular video-sharing website, was lifted Saturday by an Ankara court following the removal of controversial videos from the service.

“Turkey is a country run by laws and everyone has to obey the law,” said Transportation Minister Binali Yıldırım, who oversees Internet-related issues. “Finally the managers of the website [YouTube] decided to move in this direction and realized there is no other way than following [Turkey’s] laws.”

Public access to the website was banned by a court decision nearly two and a half years ago over videos insulting Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the modern Turkish Republic, something that is illegal in Turkey. Removal of the videos cleared the way for Turkish users to reaccess the website legally, Yıldırım said.
Yildirim is not telling the whole story, though. Google on numerous occasions approached the Turkish government about taking down offensive videos rather than having the Turkish government apply a wholesale ban of the website (see this post from 2008!). Also in the mix are allegations Yildirim and the Turkish government have made that YouTube and other Google provided services are violating Turkish law in that Google is not properly paying tax. What has changed here?

For more on Turkey's draconian Internet law, no doubt one of the most unpopular, if not the most unpopular law, on Turkey's books, click here. If I were the CHP, I would make an issue of it.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

KCK Defendants Request Defense in Kurdish

DHA Photo from Hurriyet Daily News

The KCK trial against 151 suspect that got underway October 10 continued yesterday with Kurdish defendants asking for the right to defend themselves in Kurdish. The official national language in Turkey is Turkish, and courtroom procedures do not commonly allow defense in other languages. From Hurriyet Daily News:
The court, which has denied the defendants’ request to offer their defense in Kurdish, has also denied a demand the indictment not be read because it would take too long and prolong the period under which the accused would remain detained. The prosecution continued to read the approximately 900 page summary of the 7,578 page indictment.

Including supplement dossiers the indictment is over 130,000 pages long.

Defense lawyers stated police officers running the investigation into their clients were in the room and objected to the court, saying their presence would affect the fairness of the trial.

The Association of Human Rights and Solidarity for Oppressed Peoples, or MAZLUM-DER, announced they would file a criminal complaint against the court on the grounds that it has denied the suspects the right to offer a defense in their mother tongue.
There is obviously a political note the defendants are sounding by requesting they be allowed to defend themselves in Kurdish, but once again, denying the right only stokes tensions further with little gain for the peace process.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Art Gallery in Tophane Attacked

From Hurriyet Daily News:
A group numbering dozens attacked the opening of several art galleries on Tuesday night, putting at least five people in the hospital with injuries from pepper spray, broken bottles, batons and knives. The hospitalized included one Polish and one German citizen. The attack was first believed to have been in response to art pieces on exhibit because Galeri Non had an exhibition by the collective Ekstramücadele (Ekstrastruggle) that featured content on the taboos of Islam and Atatürk both. However, witnesses at the scene who spoke right after the incident and the following morning confirmed that the scuffle broke out due to alcohol consumption in the streets.

After the incident, neighborhood residents claimed gala visitors had been harassing and disturbing other people in the street. One person also said the gallery owners had been told previously that their guests were disturbing neighborhood residents. More comments from locals in the media on Wednesday focused on them being disturbed by not only the art galleries but also the apart hotels and alcohol-serving restaurants that have multiplied in the neighborhood in recent years. As well, locals said they were disturbed by people drinking in the streets due to the smoking ban. However, the restaurants and hotels are also perceived to have a negative effect on morals, according to various comments offered to the media or stated on the Internet.
The attack took place in Tophane, a gentrifying neighborhood in Beyoglu that is home to newly renovated art galleries and restaurants in addition to traditional (men-only) tea houses and residences of migrants who moved into neighborhood from more conservative Anatolia in the past 30 years. Tophane, like much of the rest of Beyoglu, is home to a hodgepodge of residents from diverse backgrounds who hold several different viewpoints. No one is sure how organized the attack was or what the motivation, but it has led many to claim the incident should be viewed in terms of the neighborhood's ongoing gentrification and the inevitable clashes of values and basic attitudes that have accompanied the neighborhood's transformation.

Though Tophane is viewed as a conservative neighborhood -- and after this attack, will likely be viewed as an even more conservative neighborhood (Islamic fundamentalist?) -- it is likely the the gentrification process will continue. The question is whether the neighborhoods residents can learn to live with each other in a spirit of tolerance and respect for difference. Sure, the art-going crowd should watch their volume and perhaps not go onto the streets with glasses of wine in mid-daylight if it is offensive to the neighbors, but surely violence is not a solution and might there not be some give and take on both sides? All of a sudden that does not seem a question for Tophane alone . . .

Democracy and difference is hard to be sure.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Holy Cross Church Opens Without a Cross

AA Photo from Hurriyet Daily News

The first mass in 95 years was held at the Surp Hac (Holy Cross) Armenian church on Van's Akdamar Island yesterday despite a controversy this week about the cross that church officials wanted to place atop. The church was first opened as a museum two years ago following a Turkish government funded restoration, after which a Turkish flag was placed at its top. Culture Minister Ertegrul Gunay announced in April that the church would be open for prayer once a year.

In expectation of the first mass, the Turkish Armenian Patriachate built a 100-kilogram church, which it had planned to place atop the church with the help of for experts from Armenia. However, municipal authorities objected to the cross, arguing that church officials did not have proper permission from the Van Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Given that the church has been open for two years and that the government had plenty of time to address the issue, the cross controversy evinces the difficulties that remain in both Turkey's reconciliation with its Armenian minority, as well as its relations with Armenia and the Armenian diaspora.

All the same, Aris Nalci, an editor at the Armenian newspaper Agos, told journalist Yigal Schleifer that the cross controversy should not overshadow the significance of the mass. From Schleifer, writing for Eurasianet:
“This is a very important step for this city and the people living in the city,” said Nalci, who came early to Van to help publish a special edition newspaper in Armenian called “Van Time,” the first Armenian-language newspaper to be printed in the city since 1915.

“Five years ago, you couldn’t imagine that a newspaper in Armenian would be published in Van. Previously people here would tell me not to say that I’m Armenian. Now people here are proud to say they have an Armenian friend,” he recounted.

“This is a big opportunity. It’s a big step for the Van people,” Nalci added.
After heralding the open as a major accomplishment in Turkey-Armenia relations, why the Turkish government did not take a stronger position on the cross remains to be seen. High-ranking government officials did not attend the ceremony, though the government has said that the mass will not be the only one to be held at Akdamar.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Victory for Hrant at the European Court

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has found Turkey to have violated numerous human rights both before and after the assassination of Turkish Armenian journalist Hrant Dink. Dink was assassinated in January 2007 and the investigation that has followed has been tainted by a series of cover-ups and serious judicial mishandling. (For background, click here).

The Court found Turkey to have failed to protect Dink's right to life and freedom of expression, as well as to have fallen short of its obligations to provide for an effective investigation of his murder. In the weeks, months, and years after Dink's murder, numerous high-ranking state security officials and police have been implicated as either falling far short of their duties to protect Dink, at best, and at worst, actively conspiring with Dink's murderers.

During its defense at the ECHR, Turkey argued that Dink did not fear for his life or else would have asked for private police protection. A recent book by journalist Nedim Sener, who this year escaped criminal charges brought against him in relation to a book he published revealing details of the Dink murder and subsequent cover-up, alleges that security officials warned Dink of threats to his life before the assassination. Security officials have denied such knowledge.

The Turkish Foreign Ministry has said it will not appeal the court's decision. It is yet to be seen whether Turkey will provide for a remedy to its previous failure to effectively investigate Dink's assassination.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Drama in Saadet Continues

The rift in the Felicity Party (Saadet Partisi -- SP) (see July 13 post) grew deeper this week after Necemettin Erbakan, the party's honorary leader and a veteran figure in Turkish Islamist politics, failed after attempting to challenge the results of the July congress. During the congress, SP leader Numan Kurtulmus succeeded in blocking the nomination of Erbakan favorites (many of them relatives) to the party's central executive board.

Erbakan has renounced speculations that he is planning to form a new party, and the challenge further raised tensions in the SP, the Islamic right challenger to the AKP.

Some analysts have speculated that the AKP's strong position on Israel and links to groups like the IHH, the Islamic charity behind the Gaza flotilla affair, were an attempt to out-do the SP's efforts to get votes among Islamist voters by playing the populist card on Israel. For more on this point, see my recent piece in The Jerusalem Post.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Informing the Turkish Public?

A Turkish Jewish association in Israel is attempting to present the Israeli side of the recent rift in relations between Jerusalem and Ankara. From Hurriyet Daily News:
A website from the group, HASTÜRK, at, has been online since July 20 and is attempting to provide news from the Israeli press and official statements made by the Israeli government in the Turkish language.

Rafael Sadi, a spokesman for the organization, said he hoped the initiative would serve the friendship between both countries.

"This idea grew almost 10 years ago due to the anti-Israel attitude in the Turkish press in the wake of the second intifada of 2000. As a Turk and Israeli who was born in Turkey and has been living in Israel for 10 years, that concerned me a lot," Sadi told the Hürriyet Daily News.

"Turkish society has become anti-Israeli within 10 years’ time," he said.

Explaining the main objective of the project, Sadi said: "As people who live in Israel, who speak Turkish and who know Israel very well, it is us who can better explain Israel to Turkish society. It is only us who can understand how deep is the impact and the harm dealt by inaccurate news.”

He said the website would post stories from the Israeli press and Israeli Foreign Ministry statements in Turkish.

"That will be an interesting service for Turkish people who want to see the reality," according to Sadi. "The whole matter is to provide Turkish readers with accurate news without disseminating any hostility and without distorting the facts."

There are almost 100,000 Turkish Jews in Israel and the union has almost 3,000 members.
Turkish press reports and opinion pieces in the wake of the Gaza flotilla incident were indeed quite strong, and some newspapers did run rather sensational headlines. At the same time, anti-Israel sentiments did not simply arise in Turkey in the past ten years with the intifada or the election of the AKP, though it has surely intensified under the party and with increasing international criticism of Israel's policy toward Gaza. For more context here, see my recent article in the Jerusalem Post.

Though most Jews of Turkish descent re-located to Istanbul at various times following the foundation of the Turkish republic, there are approximately 23,000 Turkish Jews in Turkey, most residing in Istanbul.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

YouTube Ban Final?

From Bianet:
The Ankara 13th Criminal Court of First Instance dismissed the appeal filed against the decision of the Ankara 1st Magistrate Criminal Court regarding the access ban to 44 IP addresses that provided access to the global video sharing site YouTube.

The appeal had been filed by the Internet Technology Association (INTED). According to the nationwide Radikal daily, the decision finalized the ban imposed on YouTube two years ago.

About 2,000 people had met at Istanbul's centrally located Taksim square on Saturday (17 July) and walked down the popular Istiklal Avenue to protest internet censorship in Turkey. The demonstration was seen as a signal for more protests to come.

. . . .

While the access ban was reasoned with videos insulting the memory of Atatürk, Transport Minister Binali Yıldırm in particular announced on different occasions that YouTube as a company did not pay its part on advertising revenues. He furthermore pointed out that YouTube had not opened a representation in Turkey and that access to the site was banned because this was a breach of Turkish law.
The YouTube ban is facilitated by a 2007 Internet law allowing the government's Telecommunications Directorate and Turkish courts to restrict access to websites that violate Turkish law, here namely a law that violates the insult of Ataturk. The Turkish government has recently claimed that YouTube is in violation of Turkish laws pertaining to internet commerce.

For background, see July 1 post.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Protecting Turkey's Soy

PHOTO from Radikal

Prosecutors have filed a case against Turkish actress Sevda Demirel after she became pregnant upon using an American sperm donor.

On March 6, the Turkish Health Ministry effectively made it a criminal offense for women to use a foreign sperm or egg donor to conceive a child using artificial insemination (see March 21 post). The law is premised in protecting Turkey's soy, or patrilineal bloodline.

Demirel is not the first Turkish actress to use a foreign sperm donor and attract this kind of attention, but she is indeed the first to be prosecuted under the new law. To add to the controversy, Demirel used an African American sperm donor.

For my analysis on the law, click here. Also, see Jenny White's commentary at Kamil Pasha.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Erbakan Moves Defeated in Saadet Congress

An internal rift inside the Saadet Party (SP) came to the forefront during the party's congress this past Sunday. Necmettin Erbakan, a veteran figure in Turkish Islamist politics and former prime minister of the Refah Party (RP), which was effectively removed from politics in Turkey's 1997 post-modern coup (also known as the Feb. 28 process), attempted to introduce a party list comprised of supporters and relatives. The list was rejected by another wing in the SP led by party leader Numan Kurtulmus.

The rift in the party, and its future, is significant in that the SP stood to gain from the Israeli rad on the Gaza flotilla. The IHH, the Turkish Islamist charity behind the Mavi Marmara, has strong connections to the SP, though it also seems to have worked with the AKP. The IHH thanked both parties before setting off on what turned out to be a dramatic collision course with Israeli security forces.

According to one analyst with whom I talked, the AKP might well have loaned support to the flotilla, or at least stood by and let the Mavi Marmara sail, in an attempt to outstage the SP, not thinking that Israel would respond in the way it did. Now that tensions are high, the AKP most surely has to pay mind to the SP and other factions on the Islamist right, which in the absence of strong action from the AKP and with the continued presence of the Israeli-Palestinian issue on the Turkish political agenda, could garner a significant (though still small) number of votes from AKP supporters. Though the SP is highly unlikely to reach the 10 percent threshold, every percentage point matters for the AKP now that it is under increased pressure from a re-juvenated CHP.

In this environment, signs of problems in the SP, including an old and apparently contentious Erbakan, are surely positives for the party. Here is a report of the congress from Today's Zaman:
Even though there was only one candidate, a quarrel erupted during the congress for the party's new Central Executive Board (MYK). Delegates who support Erbakan and those behind current leader Kurtulmuş fought over the party administration list. During the party congress, Kurtulmuş presented his "white list" for the party's MYK. However, Erbakan presented another list, titled the "green list," for the MYK.

Erbakan wanted to include his daughter Elif Erbakan, his son Fatih Erbakan, his son-in-law Mehmet Altınöz, Orhan Altınöz -- the older brother of his son-in-law -- and Ayşenur Tekdal, who is the daughter of Ahmet Tekdal, a die-hard supporter of Erbakan, and one of the party's elders. Kurtulmuş was listed as the leader on the green list.

Kurtulmuş and his followers refused to be listed or a part of the green list. The fight began at this point, and Erbakan asked his supporters to leave the congress. The crisis erupted when Kurtulmuş, who got angry over Erbakan including close friends and family members, announced that he withdrew from Erbakan’s “green list.” Kurtulmuş included only one person on his own list who was on Erbakan’s list, Recai Kutan. Erbakan’s supporters later began leaving the meeting, calling on everyone who loves Erbakan not to cast a vote. The voting session began in the wake of these disputes, and despite everything, Kurtulmuş was re-elected during the third round with 310 votes. Kurtulmuş was elected to the leadership during the 2008 congress with the support of 924 of 946 delegates.

Although Kurtulmuş emerged as victor and was re-elected, the fact that he was able to be re-elected only during the third round is a sign that a tough period has begun within the party since Kurtulmuş was able to get the support of only 310 out of 1,250 delegates. Only 634 delegates cast a vote since Erbakan’s supporters had left the congress. The resignation of many delegates is expected soon.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

The Ancestry of Mimar Sinar

The ancestry of Mimar Sinan, the famous architect responsible for building numerous mosques throughout 16th-century Ottoman Turkey [including Sultanahmet ("The Blue Mosque") and Suleymaniye in Istanbul], has long been subject to debate. The architect is said to have been Greek and Armenian while some Turkish nationalists have long insisted in his pure Turkish patrilineage. It was no doubt this insistence that led zealous Turks to dig up his grave in the 1930s and remove his skull from the rest of his remains in order to finally prove his "Turkishness." From Hurriyet Daily News:
According to Professor Selçuk Mülayim from Marmara University, the corpse of Mimar Sinan, best known for the 16th-century Süleymaniye Mosque in Istanbul, was taken from its modest tomb next to that building Aug. 1, 1935, in order to measure the famed architect’s skull.

Documents show that the team, headed by Turkish Historical Society Director Hasan Cemil Çambel, society member Şevket Aziz Kansu and historian Afet İnan, conducted the excavation in an hour, Mülayim told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review recently.

“The purpose was to prove he was an ethnic Turk,” the professor said. “Kansu took measurements with compasses and other tools and from these measurements it was decided that he was an ethnic Turk.”

At the time of the team’s foray into the tomb, there was a rising appreciation of Mimar Sinan in Europe, where people were increasingly claiming that the great architect could not have been Turkish, Mülayim said. “The excavation was an answer to these claims.”

To this day, few members of the Turkish public know that the man hailed as the greatest of Ottoman architects was actually a Muslim convert of Armenian origin.

Following the excavation of Sinan’s tomb, the Turkish Historical Society team took its findings to Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the Turkish Republic. “He refused to look at the results, saying, ‘Instead of measuring his skull, make a statue of the architect,’” Mülayim said.

The idea that Sinan’s skull is missing from his tomb is not a new one, but one that many experts have avoided repeating in public.
For more on the construction of Turkish identity, click here. Though Turkey has come a long way, defensive notions of "Turkishness" are still at the heart of much of the country's identity politics.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

No Budging on YouTube

The Turkish government is maintaining its position on YouTube, defending its ban of the video-sharing site by stating that Google, which owns YouTube, should and must be treated as any other entity in Turkey. Turkey's Ministry of Trade, which regulates telecommunications here, is claiming YouTube owes Turkey back taxes, a claim Google disputes (for past post, click here).

Access to YouTube and other websites in Turkey has been restricted since 2007 when the government pushed through a law giving broad powers to courts and the Telecommunications Directorate to regulate the Internet. For more on this law and other websites that have been blocked as a result of its application, see Jan. 24 post.

Under the Internet law, either the Telecommunications Directorate or courts have the right to block internet sites that contain content in explicit violation of Turkish law (pertaining to Turkey's many laws against obscenity, morals, slander, insult, etc.).

Meanwhile, an internet rights group, the Internet Technologies Association, has filed suit against the ban, claiming the government is violating Turkish law and the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. Similar suits are already on file at the European Court of Human Rights, which has yet to issue a ruling on the law.

From Bianet:
During a speech delivered at the award ceremony of the "IT 500" survey carried out by the Interpromedia Research Service, Yıldırım said, "YouTube is treated just like any other ordinary person".

As reported by the news channel CNN Türk, Yıldırm stated that "shortcuts have already become a tradition" in Turkey. He continued, "This is a global brand, blah blah blah... 'Sir, how can you stick up to this huge company'. If you believe in universal law and if you respect the sovereignty of the countries, you have to stick to the country's rules regardless of who you are dealing with. A citizen from the country 'X' does not have priority in country 'Y'. This conception is incompatible with democracy and modernity".

"Unfortunately, there are people in our country defending this issue on behalf of modernity. That hurts. Everybody is obliged to abide by the law of this country. Nobody has priority. This can be a willing representative or a passionate advocator, it does not concern us".

"We say, 'go ahead, if you do business in this country, you will be treated before the law just as any other ordinary person in the Turkish Republic. We are not concerned with anybody's freedom regarding internet commerce. Turkey is a state of law. Everybody should be tied to the force of law".

Minister Yıldırım indicated that informatics and legislation do not get on well with each other. He argued that informatics is an area that ruins memorization, abolishes conservatism and creates a change of attitude. Legislation on the other hand pursued to keep everything under control, he said.
Yildirim's rather political assessment about the conflict between "legislation" and "infomatics" most surely gives internet rights and free speech activists cause to worry, and indeed seems to hint that the current dispute with Google centers on much more than just back taxes.

UPDATE I (7/5) -- An Ankara court has rejected the Internet Technoogy Association's appeal disputing one of the many various bans Turkish courts have put into effect against YouTube while at the same time adding 44 alternative IP addresses being used to access the site to the existing order. See Bianet for the report. Nicki Sobecki also has a report on the most recent Internet squabble in The Guardian.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

The Headscarf and Women's Employment

The Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation (TESEV) has released a new study authored by Dilek Cindoglu and Ebru Ilhan documenting discrimation faced by female employees wearing the headscarf. Bianet gives a summary of the results:

* According to research conducted by KONDA and MetroPOLL in 2008, 71-72 percent of all women cover their head, while only eleven percent of female university graduates wear headscarves. A study by World Bank and the State Planning Organization revealed that these women's participation in labour dropped from 50 percent in 1998 to 35 percent in 2006.

* The two working areas in which women are represented the most are as unpaid family workers in agriculture and as trained professionals.

* The women wearing headscarves at university are not a homogenous group. Religious affiliations of these women differ as well as their level of political interest, adoption and level of traditional values, the level of individual religiosity and their economic and social capital.

* The headscarf ban is the most basic field of conflict for young professionally trained women with headscarves.

* Wearing a headscarf at work is part of these professional women's religiosity and individuality. They are respected by their colleagues and especially by men in lower positions. The headscarf makes them feel safer on the street and at work.

* When women wearing headscarves have to include a photograph in their CV, they are more likely to face difficulty related to salary policies or when they are made redundant. They hear things such as "It is anyway a blessing to work here" or "You do not have to financially support a family", respectively.

* Employers want women wearing headscarves to be 'invisible'. They should either be 'invisible', take off their headscarf or should not publicly represent the company. This means that they are not participating in meeting with clients or in training courses and that they are kept away from work related to state offices.

* Employers focus on traditional patriarchal patterns thinking that even though the woman is working, she does not actually have to support the family. This way, employment of women wearing headscarves is being marginalized.

* Women wearing a headscarf in business perceive that they experience discrimination and obstructions almost entirely by reason of their "headscarf".

See also this report from Hurriyet Daily News that includes pieces of an interview with Cindoglu.
The headscarf has long been seen as an obstacle to women's employment, though camps on both sides of the issue face the issue differently. Pro-headscarf advocates argue that limitations on headscarved women entering university poses a serious hindrance to their position in higher-level unemployment, and that once out of university, women continue to face discrimination, and often, outright ridicule. Proponents of restrictions on headscarves, including some women's rights groups, argue the headscarf is a function of conservative, patriarchal attitudes, and that frequently it is the attitudes of headscarved women's families, most importantly, their husbands, that keep them out of the workplace.

This study very much disputes this notion in documenting cases where women choose to work, and in many cases, where their employment is necessary to the livelihood of their family.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Sarigul Throws In Support for the CHP

DHA Photo from Hurriyet Daily News

On Tuesday, Sisli mayor and leader of the Turkey Movement for Change (THD) Mustafa Sarigul announced a cancellation of his plans to form a new poitical party in Turkey. Instead, Sarigul said the change taking place within the CHP was hopeful and seemed to hint that Kilicdaroglu's election obviated the need for a new leftist political party. Sarigul was expelled from the CHP in 2006 following a fiercely contested bid for the party's leadership.

For more on Sarigul and the TDH, see Feb. 9 post.

Keeping Daughters (and Sons) In School

A recent report put out by the Education Reform Initative takes a look at the nubmer of children who either do not go to school or do not go onto receive a seconday education. As expected, the document confirms that the percentage of girls not in school is much higher than that of boys, though the number not attending seconday school is quite high for both groups. Bianet summarizes the report's findings:
* In the age group of 15-19-year-olds, 26 percent of the boys and 50 percent of the girls neither are going to school nor to work. In international comparison, this ratio amounts to 8, respectively 9 percent in other OECD countries.

* Access to secondary education is dependent on significant regional disparities. 78 percent of the 14-17-year-olds are enrolled in high school in the Southern Marmara region, whereas this ratio reaches a mere 44 percent only in the South-East of the country.

* Also the parents' education level is an important influence: 17 percent of daughters of illiterate fathers and 94 percent of the daughters of university graduates go to a secondary school.

* 15 percent of all male high school students enrolled in the academic year of 2008/2009 dropped out of school. The proportion rises to 23 percent at vocational schools.

* A total of 360,000 students dropped out of high school in 2008/2009. Considering the number of school days, more than 2,000 students dropped out of school every day.

* In 2009, the per capita expenditure for secondary education amounted to TL 2,273 (€ 1,136), the figure for vocational and technical schools lay at TL 2,937 (€ 1,558) per student. For 2010, the budget is planned at TL 2,051 and TL 2,188 respectively. The reduction stems from increasing secondary education to four years and trying to make it more prevalent without allocating sufficient resources.

* Per capita expenditures for students significantly vary among different provinces: Public spending on secondary education per student in 2009 amounted to TL 1,379 (€ 690) in Istanbul and TL 3,508 (€ 1,754) in Amasya (northern Anatolia).

* In comparison to the previous year, 175,000 more children benefited from pre-school education in 2010. Three out of five 20-72-month-old children were enrolled.
Many families do not simply refuse to send their daughters or sons to schools because they see it as unnecessary, but because the children's labor is viewed as necessary for the family's sustenance. Too often, I suspect it is the daughters that make the biggest sacrifice in this regard. Interesting here also are the regional disparites in terms of the total amount spent on each student.

For a video from a campaign the Turkish daily Milliyet recently did to encourage families to send their daughters to school, click here.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Where is the BDP -- A New Initative or More Combative Politics?

Former DTP leader Ahmet Turk

Last week Prime Minister Erdogan made his strongest statement yet against the the Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), accusing the party of supporting the PKK: "Saying peace won’t bring peace. Those who are in direct or indirect contact with the PKK are accomplices to murder."

Erdogan's remarks draw a strong response from BDP leader Selahattin Demirtas, who accuses the prime minister for essentially calling for the closing of the BDP. At the same time, in the face of heightening violence and statements from some BDP officials warning of even more violence should the government give into PKK demands and negotiate (see Emine Ayna's remarks early this month), the BDP might well find itself in an even more difficult position to forge a credible place for itself in the Turkish political scene.

Though it can be argued that the BDP gaining an amount of credibility sufficient enough to be effective outside of strong Kurdish nationalist circles is but a pipe dream, there is little doubt that the party is playing with fire. Though the AKP made little effort to support the BDP's predecessor, the Democracy and Society Party (DTP), in its over two-year closure ordeal, during which time the AKP also faced closure, gaining the wrath of the AKP and other Turkish opposition parties might well alienate the Kurdish nationalist party in the eyes of softer nationalists and more moderate Kurdish forces within the Turkish political scene. Just as importantly, such rhetoric and continued refusal to deal sensitively with PKK violence also risks the party losing European support.

In parliamentary debate following yesterday's bombing, BDP Co-Chair Gultan Kisanak argued that the government's Kurdish initiative led to the recent escalation, agreeing with MHP leaders in so doing.While the government did fail to take very concrete steps in moving forward with the initiative it proposed last summer and has done little since to elaborate on the details, to make such statements without acknowledging that the move was significant and praiseworthy, at least in its rhetoric, risks further alienation of the BDP, especially in the midst of rising PKK violence.

Yet, other voices in the BDP have staked out less aggressive positions. As the struggles within the BDP over whether to endorse the government's constitutional package reveal, the party is not without out its divisions, some monolith controlled by the PKK/KCK. Ufak Uras, along with other moderate actors, is organizing a workshop in Istanbul this weekened that would bring together Turkish and Kurdish political actors to discuss new solutions to the conflict outside the framework of violence in which the conflict is descending. Uras, who joined the BDP after DTP's closure and the expulsion of its former leaders Ahmet Turk and Aysel Tugluk so that the party could form a group in parliament, has publicly said that the PKK should lay down its arms (a position the former independent deputy maintained).

In an interview with Milliyet today, Ahmet Turk gave the first indicator of such a new initiative In the interview, Turk criticizes the government's initiative, but also blames the Kurdish politicians for failing to put forward workable solutions. Turk calls for dialogue as opposed to violence, and argues that violence only complicates a solution. The interview is a signal that an attempt is being made to organize the more moderate/independent elements of the Kurdish political milieu, a move that would pressure both the government and the PKK. At a press conference today, Uras echoed Turk, as well as called on the PKK to lay down its arms and declare a ceasefire. According to Uras, Turk, long a more dovish figure in Kurdish politics, has the potential to play a 'Mandela-type' role in the conflict, and some Kurdish civil society leaders agree. From Hurriyet Daily News:
Speaking to the Daily News about the possible role of such an initiative, former Diyarbakır Bar Association Chairman and lawyer Sezgin Tanrıkulu said it was wrong to only blame the current and former governments for the escalating violence.

“Kurdish politicians, political parties and NGOs have also an important responsibility in the solution of the problem. Such a civilian move can be effective and successful,” Tanrıkulu said. “All [other] opportunities have been used up anyway. This initiative is important because there are no other initiatives other than these independent initiatives, and democratic ways are wanted as a solution. I think such initiatives will be welcomed within the military.”

According to Tanrıkulu, the violent and military methods used in the past kept Kurdish politicians from getting involved.

“Kurdish politicians need to pressure both the organization [the PKK] and the Turkish government to stop using methods involving weapons,” he said.

Şah İsmail Bedirhanoğlu, chairman of the Southeastern Anatolia Businessmen’s Association, or GÜNSİAD, said that Türk is an important figure, and that the initiative’s success depends on who is involved.

“Türk is an important politician with good sense who uses the language of peace. I think Türk’s personality and his possible step will also be considered important by the government, the military and the PKK,” Bedirhanoğlu said. “I hope such a move will be successful. We support this initiative.
Bedirhanoglu and Tanrikulu represent more moderate forces within Kurdish society/politics, and they are far from alone in advocating for this middle path. However, just how much political space such an initiative has in the midst of ongoing violence is hard to say. The Turkish government continues to promote the idea that there is little hope for the BDP to broker peace independent of the PKK, and leaked details concerning the ongoing KCK operations have been used by government officials and some opinion leaders to enforce this idea. (For example, see evidence leaked from the case that BDP Osman Baydemir had to seek permission from the PKK/KCK before appearing on a television news show.)

Also on the BDP front . . .

From Bianet:

The deputy chair of the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), Bengi Yıldız, called on civilians to make use of their right to conscientious objection and to refuse military service.

Yıldız made a press release in the course of a demonstration in Batman (south-east) on Sunday (20 June). Though the demonstration was hindered by the police, Yıldız said, "There is no need to declare martial law and a state of emergency. We are right in the middle of martial law just now because our country entered a state of serious violence and war".
Discouraging military service is a crime under Turkey's Penal Code, and will likely result in Yildiz' prosecution.

The Aftermath -- Martial Law Coming Anytme Soon?

Responding to yesterday's attack on a military convoy in Istanbul's Halkali district, MHP leader Devlet Bahceli has called to designate the predominantly Kurdish southeast an emergency rule region (OHAL), a move that would essentially ring martial law to the region. Bahceli's proposal is unlikely to garner much support, though it does speak to the level of animosity and polarization that has emerged in the wake of increased PKK violence.

Bahceli issued the call during his party's parliamentary group meeting yesterday just a few hours after leading his party in boycotting a vote on a long-coming measure to amend the Anti-Terrorism Law so that Kurdish childred aged 15-18 will no longer be tried as adults.

At Monday's security summit, no mention was made to OHAL, and Chief of General Staff Ilker Basbug firmly rejected the possibility of imposing OHAL in a speech he gave Monday -- less than 24 hours before yesterday's bombing. However, with the National Security Council (MGK) set to meet tomorrow to discuss the security situation in the region, top government and military officials are now saying all options are on the table.

Parts of the southeast were first placed under martial law (provided for by the 1982 non-civilian Turkish constitution) in 1987, which did not disappear from the region until 2002. Much of the day-to-day violence during what some have coined the "dirty war" in the southeast occurred in conjunction with security measures taken under the auspices of OHAL, and the isolation of the region from the rest of Turkey under OHAL's unique governerning/security schemes is largely attributed to worsening the region's alienation from the rest of Turkey and contributing to a sense of victimization.

Other than OHAL, which despite Bahceli's hawkish rhetorical utterings is still a far possibility, the MGK will discuss the short and medium-term security solutions proposed in Monday's summit, namely the restructuring of military/security forces (including their greater professionalization) and increased coordination/cooperation with the United States and the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG). From Hurriyet Daily News:
In line with the results of Monday’s state summit, the system of intelligence gathering and how this information is coordinated among security institutions will also be reviewed at the MGK meeting. Hakan Fidan, the new head of the National Intelligence Organization, or MİT, will brief the council about these efforts.

In the operational dimension, the MGK will review the results of recent cross-border operations into northern Iraq, where the training camps of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, are located. The military plans to carry out more cross-border operations as needed.

The council will also discuss potential measures to stop the further spread of terrorist activities to urban and tourist areas ahead of the beginning of the tourism season.

. . . .

Discussions at Thursday’s MGK meeting will also address the foreign connections of the PKK and will likely focus on Massoud Barzani, the head of the Regional Kurdish Administration in northern Iraq, who some have accused of doing too little to contain the outlawed group. During his landmark visit to Turley in early June, Barzani refrained from acknowledging the PKK as a terrorist organization but pledged his full support to Turkish officials in their fight against terror.

Though Barzani issued a condemnation of Saturday’s deadly attack, some Turkish officials are still far from being satisfied with his level of support.

Turkish officials are also planning to hold more meetings with the United States to review the countries’ current cooperation on intelligence sharing. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s meeting next week with President Barack Obama is expected to focus on the joint fight against terrorism.

In its meeting, the MGK will likely emphasize the need for societal unity in the fight against terror and call for the participation of all political parties, nongovernmental organizations and the media.
More as it happens . . .

In other news, police have detained 27 suspects thought to be involved in yesterday's bombing.

UPDATE I (6/27) -- For some thoughts from security experts and civil society/opinion leaders on imposing OHAL, see this short news feature from Today's Zaman.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

PKK Terror Strikes Istanbul

PHOTO from Radikal

An attack on a military bus in Istanbul's Halkali district killed four Turkish soldiers and the daughter of another. Eleven others were wounded.

The Kurdistan Freedom Falcons (TAK) have claimed responsibility for the bombing. The same group was responsible for a series of bombing on tourist resorts in Marmaris in 2006. Its exact relationship with the PKK is unknown, though Turkish security forces maintain it merely operates as a front for the PKK, committing the more atrocious and alarming attacks for which the PKK does not want to claim credit. For more on TAK, click see Aug. 25, 2008 post following speculation that the group was responsible for the 2008 bombing in Istanbul's Gungoren district.

An excerpt of coverage from Hurriyet Daily News:

The TAK statement said the group bombed the military bus because Turkey is “planning a massacre of the Kurdish people” and has adopted “a concept of aggression” against convicted PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan.

The shuttle bus was the last in a three-vehicle convoy carrying military personnel who live in lodgings in Halkalı. The blast caused damage to the first two vehicles as well.

The driver of the attacked bus, Neşet Yeni, said he had been on the job for six months, working as a subcontractor for the Turuncu Turizm Company, which operates the buses. “There were 30 or 35 people on the bus. I brought out 10 injured people,” he said. “The commander of the vehicle opened fire a couple of times and called for help.”

Chief of General Staff Gen. İlker Başbuğ came to the scene of the attack after visiting the wounded soldiers in the hospital. The top general also met Gen. Hasan Iğsız, commander of the First Army, at the airport upon his arrival in Istanbul.

An eyewitness told broadcaster NTV that he heard a blast while he was in his house and rushed out to the street. “I saw a man running away after the blast. I also saw a man carrying a wounded girl and helped him,” the eyewitness said.

Buse Sarıyağ, 17, the youngest victim of Tuesday’s attack, is the daughter of soldier Ünal Sarıyağ, who was slightly injured. The teenager had been riding on the bus to attend the military’s private course for preparing high school students for the university entrance exam. Her younger sibling was on the bus as well.

Soldiers Bekir Çelik, Çağlar Bölük, Uğur Ekir and Duran Bayram also died in the bomb attack.

Monday, June 21, 2010

New Security Measures?

At a security summit called by President Gul in response to the attacks over the weekend, government and military officials announced that "short and medium-term solutions," in contrast to "daily and temporary solutions," would be found in order to address perceived intelligence failures.

A statement after the meeting announced that military and intelligence personnel in the southeast will be restructured and that greater effots will be made to attain inteligence from the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) and the United States. Importantly, sweeping security measures associated with a declaration of a state of emergency (OHAL) in the southeast were not brought up, and firmly rejected by Chief of General Staff Ilker Basbug, who did not attend the summit, but addressed the violence and the military response in a speech delivered in Canakkale.

Prime Minister Erdogan, Defense Minister Vecdi Gonul and Interior Minister Besir Atalay, as well as senior military commanders and the head of the intelligence agency, participated in the meeting. From Hurriyet Daily News:
The threefold anti-terror strategy announced Monday will see Turkey review current operations, intensify cooperation with neighboring countries and work to boost the nation’s morale while psychologically weakening terrorist groups.

The government’s announcement, however, was not met with full support from opposition parties, which called such “daily and temporary measures” insufficient to stop the bloodshed.

“The fight against terror was widely assessed and in light of recent developments, additional short- and mid-term measures were decided to be taken,” read a written statement issued following a security summit chaired Monday by President Abdullah Gül with the participation of top civil and military officials, including the heads of the intelligence service and the newly established civilian anti-terror unit.

Twelve troops died over the weekend in clashes with the PKK, largely as a result of the outlawed group’s assault on a military outpost in the Şemdinli district of Hakkari province. Forty-six Turkish troops have been killed in the last two months, prompting renewed concerns about the threat the PKK poses to the country.

Participants in the summit agreed to review the intelligence-gathering operations and structure of the military personnel serving in the country’s Southeast, where the PKK is very active. This decision was seen as an acknowledgement that security officials are aware of the lack of information on the moves of terrorist groups, though the military and the National Intelligence Organization, or MİT, have denied allegations of the existence of such gaps.

The military has also been criticized for sending new recruits to a region where the fight against the PKK, which is listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and the European Union, requires more expertise. Military experts suggested deploying only the best troops to the region and strengthening the military outposts in the area

The second part of the new strategy calls for intensifying coordination with neighboring countries and others related to the fight against the PKK, a change that is likely to bring more talks with Iraq and especially Massoud Barzani, the head of the Regional Kurdish Administration in northern Iraq. During his landmark visit to Turkey in early June, Barzani was given strong evidence and information on the PKK’s moves in his region. Though some progress has been observed, Turkish diplomats said they are still far from satisfied with Barzani’s support for anti-terrorism efforts.

The subject is also expected to be part of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s likely meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama during the G-20 summit in Toronto on June 26 and 27. “The joint fight against terror will be on our agenda if this meeting is set,” a diplomat told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review on Monday.

Before relations soured following Israel’s attack on a Gazi-bound aid flotilla, Turkey received crucial support from Israel in its fight against the PKK and the Turkish military still uses Israeli-made drones to provide intelligence about the terrorist group.

The third part of the strategy calls for a solid psychological “war” to keep up the nation’s morale without giving courage to the terrorists through press headlines. “The media should be more sensitive in informing the public opinion,” the statement issued Monday said.

According to government sources, the meeting Monday will be followed by others to review the state of the fight against the PKK, and will be accompanied by meetings with opposition parties to try and secure the entire country’s support.
Among those critical of the military response is AKP parliament speaker Mehmet Ali Sahin, who said over the weekend that the parliament had a responsibility to exercise review over the military and that he was waiting for an adequate explanation of what happened at Hakkari.

After the summit, Gul also met with opposition leaders. CHP leader Kemal Kilicaroglu repeated his calls for economic solutions to the conflict, again eschewing any discussion of Kurdish demands on the cultural/minority rights front, while MHP leader Devlet Bahceli used the attacks to call for total annihilation for the PKK.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Semdinli Attack to Raise Specter of Violence

A PKK attack in Semdinli (Hakkari) killed 11 Turkish soldiers yesterday, the largest death toll to be inflicted in a single attack. Another soldier was killed today in another attack in Palu (Elazig). In the wake of the attacks, some Turkish politicians began calling for new military/security measures, the most reactionary of them arguing for a return to martial law in the southeast. Turkish television is reporting that President Gul has called for a security summit to be held tomorrow.

As PKK attacks on Turkish soldiers continue to increase in the southeast (see Kurdish Timeline), the chance of success for the the kind of political solutions and roadmaps for peace discussed last year look increasingly bleak. PKK attacks on Turkish soldiers, mostly conscripts, only augment popular support for military action, making whatever will the government had for finding a political solution weaker and more difficult to put into action.

At a funeral service for the soldiers held today , Prime Minister Erdogan strongly denounced the PKK , declaring that PKK fighters will “melt in their own darkness, dry up in their own swamps, drown in their own blood.” Meanwhile, AKP opposition figures held the AKP's initaitives toward the Kurds responsible for escalating the violence.

Anger with the PKK also provides an opportunity for Turkish politicians to score points with strong populist-minded rhetorical denunciations of the terrorist group. Such an environment also strengthens the PKK in a political sense, which benefits from a militarization of the conflict since more moderate voices are squeezed out. The PKK wants to engage in dialogue with the government on its own terms (now centered on demands for "regional autonomy"), and though the government is now less likely to do so, the organization can now claim that the moderates have failed and the organization was correct in arguing that the Turkish state is intent "to eliminate" the Kurdish political movement.

Saturday's attack prompted additional Turkish military operations into northern Iraq. KRG news sources are reporting that a young girl died in the Turkish bombing.

UPDATE I (6/21) -- In contrast to Erdogan's sweeping comments yesterday that PKK members wil "drown in their own blood," EU Chief Negotiator Egeman Bagis made a surprising statement addressing the deaths of the 12 PKK militants who are reported to have died in retaliatory attacks. From Hurriyet Daily News:
State Minister Egemen Bağış has said he shares the grief of the families of both soldiers and terrorists who died during military clashes with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK.

“Unfortunately, eight of our soldiers were martyred today in the morning hours. We have [also] learned that 12 of our youth, who were born and grew up on this land, lost their lives during the shootout. Fire has fallen upon 20 homes, and I share the grief of the 20 families,” Bağış, who is also Turkey’s chief EU negotiator, said Saturday at a meeting at the Van Chamber of Industry and Commerce of Van.

The total body count in the weekend attacks by the PKK, listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and the European Union, was 20 at the time Bağış spoke.

Reminded Sunday by daily Milliyet reporter Mehveş Ehvin that government officials do not regularly say these things, and asked whether he is worried about the reactions such comments might receive during these sensitive times, Bağış responded: “We have not said [these things] for 30 years. What has happened?”

Friday, June 18, 2010

Greek Orphanage Returns Minority Real Estates to Spotlight

The Greek Orthodox orphanage now in disrepair at Buyukada is Europe's iggest remaining wooden building. PHOTO by Hasan Altinisk / Hurriyet Daily News

A European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) decision ordering the Turkish government to return an abandoned orphanage and its grounds back to the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate after it was seized in 1995 has again brought attention to the issue of real estate owned by religious minorities in Turkey. From Hurriyet Daily News:
The 112-year-old orphanage, Europe’s biggest remaining wooden building, was built in 1898 as a hotel and casino on the largest of Istanbul’s Princes’ Islands, then purchased by a prominent Greek family that donated it to the patriarchate for use as an orphanage.

“The orphanage was opened in 1903 by Sultan Abdülhamid and remained so for a long time,” Osman Doğru, a law professor at Marmara University, told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review. “Yet in 1964, it was emptied for security reasons and then left to its destiny.” For almost 30 years, the building simply rotted away. In 1995, Turkey’s General Directorate of Foundations took over ownership – and the court cases began.

“The decision to transfer the orphanage building’s ownership to the foundations directorate was based on the claim that the Greek Patriarchate didn’t do any maintenance work on it. However, it was the Turkish state that didn’t allow any restorations during that period,” said Kezban Hatemi, a lawyer for the patriarchate.

“Such a transfer is legally very problematic, and this case is not the only one,” Hatemi told the Daily News. “Since the 1960s, there have been many violations to the rights of properties owned by minority foundations.”

According to a 2009 report by the Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation, or TESEV, there are approximately 1,000 “immovable properties,” essentially land parcels and buildings, in the country that originally belonged to Greek foundations but were confiscated by the Turkish state.

Foundations administered by other minority groups have been affected as well; some 30 properties belonging to Armenian foundations have likewise been seized, an issue that Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink tried to raise awareness about before his assassination in 2007.

“In 1936, the Turkish government asked all minority foundations to declare their properties. Yet, in 1975, the Supreme Court of Appeals decided that minority foundations do not have the right to hold any property and ordered all properties gained after 1936 to be returned,” Dink once said. “Yet these immovable properties weren’t returned to their [original] donators either, because they were already dead. So many of these properties were transferred to the General Directorate of Foundations.”

According to law professor Doğru, the case of the Büuükada Orphanage was complicated by the fact that the patriarchate claimed the building in 1936, when the government asked minority foundations to report their holdings. “However, the Supreme Court of Appeals found a very creative solution to the issue and said the building was actually claimed by the orphanage foundation, not the patriarchate itself, so they could transfer it to the General Directorate of Foundations,” he said.

After the building was confiscated in 1995, the Fener Greek Patriarchate applied to have the court decision cancelled. When this application was rejected, the patriarchate took the issue to the European Court of Human Rights.

“Minority foundations in Turkey did not have any property problems until the mid-1960s,” said patriarchate lawyer Hatemi. “But this situation completely changed when the Cyprus crisis started during that period. Only then were the declarations of 1936 remembered and minority foundations were used as a tool to gain power over Greece.”
The issue of minority foundations and the property they own is legally complicated and a bit too thorny to adequately get into in a blog post, but the 2009 TESEV report alluded here is an excellent source for further information. The report, "The Story of an Alien(ation): Real Estate Ownership Problems of Non-Muslim Communities and Foundations in Turkey," is authored by Dilek Kurban and Kezban Hatemi.

In spring 2008, the Turkish parliament passed major reforms of Turkey's Foundations Law, under which both the Greek and Armenian minorities are governed, though the reforms are largely argued to have not gone far enough in addressing such issues as real estate.

For more on how minority foundations are governed in Turkey, see also Today's Zaman columnist Orhan Kemal Cengiz's two-part op/ed series. In the first part, Cengiz lays out the history of minority foundations, while turning his attention in the second part to the 2008 reforms -- which the CHP, in one of its more overtly nationalist overtures, opposed -- and the current climate for further reform.

Ergenekon Releases

Key suspects were released in two different Ergenekon cases on Friday. In the first, retired Gen. Cetin Dogan, the former commander of the First Army, and 13 other suspects, including one other retired general, were released after having been detained since February. Dogan and company are charged in relation to "Operation Sledgehammer" (see past posts). In the second, Erzincan Chief Prosecutor Ilhan Cihaner, also picked up in Feruary's wave of Ergenekon arrests, was released alongside nine other suspects. Hurriyet Daily News gives an accounting on Cihaner's trial here. See also past posts.

UPDATE I(6/22) -- Twelve more suspects in the "Sledgehammer" case were released today. From Hurriyet Daily News:
In its justification of its release decisions, the court said both the manner of the suspects during the investigation and the fact that the evidence has already been collected – leaving no possibility that it might be destroyed, hidden or changed – were taken into consideration. The court said there is no strong suspicion that the suspects would try to influence witnesses or victims in the case, nor that they would present a flight risk.
See also this coverage from Bianet, as well as Hurriyet Daily News' recounting of interviews Cihaner gave to Cumhuriyet and and Milliyet upon his release in which the prosecutor defends his decision not to cooperate with Ergenekon investigator Osman Sanal.

Turkey, Iran, the Arab Street (And the Other Reality)

A recent op/ed in the New York Times penned by Elliot Hen-Tov and Bernard Haykel examines Turkey's rising regional role in the Sunni Middle East, arguing that Turkey's gaining popularity is largely Iran's loss. From the piece:

Since Israel’s deadly raid on the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara last month, it’s been assumed that Iran would be the major beneficiary of the wave of global anti-Israeli sentiment. But things seem to be playing out much differently: Iran paradoxically stands to lose much influence as Turkey assumes a surprising new role as the modern, democratic and internationally respected nation willing to take on Israel and oppose America.

While many Americans may feel betrayed by the behavior of their longtime allies in Ankara, Washington actually stands to gain indirectly if a newly muscular Turkey can adopt a leadership role in the Sunni Arab world, which has been eagerly looking for a better advocate of its causes than Shiite, authoritarian Iran or the inept and flaccid Arab regimes of the Persian Gulf.

. . . .

While most in the West seem to have overlooked this dynamic, Tehran has not. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad used a regional summit meeting in Istanbul this month to deliver an inflammatory anti-Israel speech, yet it went virtually unnoticed among the chorus of international condemnations of Israel’s act. On June 12 Iran dispatched its own aid flotilla bound for Gaza, and offered to provide an escort by its Revolutionary Guards for other ships breaking the blockade.

Yet Hamas publicly rejected Iran’s escort proposal, and a new poll by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research found that 43 percent of Palestinians ranked Turkey as their No. 1 foreign supporter, as opposed to just 6 percent for Iran.

Turkey has a strong hand here. Many leading Arab intellectuals have fretted over being caught between Iran’s revolutionary Shiism and Saudi Arabia’s austere and politically ineffectual Wahhabism. They now hope that a more liberal and enlightened Turkish Sunni Islam — reminiscent of past Ottoman glory — can lead the Arab world out of its mire.

You can get a sense of just how attractive Turkey’s leadership is among the Arab masses by reading the flood of recent negative articles about Ankara in the government-owned newspapers of the Arab states. This coverage impugns Mr. Erdogan’s motives, claiming he is latching on to the Palestinian issue because he is weak domestically, and dismisses Turkey’s ability to bring leadership to this quintessential “Arab cause.” They reek of panic over a new rival.
As much talk has been made in recent years of the rising power of Iran and a Shi'a Middle East, Ankara's new position, thanks to its increasing coziness with Hamas and the anti-Israel rhetoric, is indeed interesting to say the least. However, there is another side to the equation. As Turkey seeks to expand its regional role and, in search of new markets, its trade ties with the Middle East, popularity in the Arab World also seems a double-edged sword. Authoritarian governmentmes in the Middle East alarmed at Turkey's rising regional role, might well be less likely to cooperate with Ankara in the future. After all, the leaders of these governments are the real holders of power, not those on the Arab street now enamored with Erdogan. Will Arab governments tolerate a new Nasser, especially if he is Turkish?

Aydemir Continues to Fight for Conscientious Objection

The case of conscientious objector Enver Aydemir has become a rallying cry for activists pushing Turkey to recognize a right to conscientious objection from military service. Of the 47 countries in the Council of Europe, Turkey joins Belarus and Azerbaijan as the only three countries that do not recognize conscientious objectors.

This week an Ankara court heard the cases of 19 supporters of Aydemir currently on trial under a variety of charges related to a demonstration they held on Jan. 6 in which the group issued a press release. Among the charges were alleged violations of Article 315 of the Turkish Penal Code (TCK), making it illegal to discourage or alienate the public from military service. The charge is often brought against conscientious objector and those who defend them. Two of the 19 charged in Ankara were convicted under the provision.

After claiming conscientious objector status in 2007, Aydemir was detained and held for three months in prison as a deserter. After giving a speech in Istanbul this December at the Covention of the Platform of Conscientious Objection for Peace, Aydemir was detained and arrested once more and subject to another three months in a military prison.

Following this second detention period, Aydemir was jailed once more when he was taken back to his military unit and refused to wear a uniform. Released from an Eskisehir prison on June 9, the Turkish military issued an "incapability report," stating that Aydemir was unable to serve due to a social personality disorder.

In a press release issued in association with the Human Rights Association in Istanbul, Aydemir and his attorneys argued that Turkey's failure to recognize the legal validity of Aydemir's conscientious objector status constituted a violation of international law.

Despite the European Union raising the issue with Turkey in accession negotiations, the Copenhagen Criteria does not address the subject and Turkey has not signed relevant international law creating such a right. However, in 2006, in the case of Osman Murat Ulke, the European Court of Human Rights did find that the way Turkey punishes conscientious objectors by basically stripping citizenship rights constutes a violation of the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.

For other cases of conscientious objector status, including the EU position on the issue, see past posts.

UPDATE I (6/27) -- On Saturday, Sendogan Yazici became the 121st Turk to claim conscientious objector status. From Hurriyet Daily News:
In a press conference in front of the Turkish Radio and Television’s Istanbul Radio building on Saturday, Yazıcı, supported by the “Conscientious Objection Platform for Peace,” said he was refusing to touch a weapon so as to “contribute to a peaceful world for my children.”

Yazıcı, a 36-year-old with two children, said he was aware of the consequences of his action, but was happy to be a part of the conscientious objection movement.

Addressing journalists after Yazıcı, Ezgi Aydın, a member of the platform, said the recent military operations in the southeast are making families and the youth worried about their future.

“Conscientious objection is a right,” she said. “We call on everyone to claim their rights. Use your free will not to kill or be killed – do not spill your brothers’ blood.”
It will be interesting to see if increased dangers in the southeast (and other parts of the country), as well as opposition to the state's response to the recent upsurge in PKK violence, make claiming conscientious objector status a more frequent phenomenon and just how the Kurdish conflict might transform the issue, for better or worse.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Makhmour Returnees Arrested at Diyarbakir Trial

Ten members of the group of eight PKK memers and 26 residents of the Makhmour refugee camp who crossed at Habur in October were arrested today in Diyarbakir. Today's arrests took place in a trial against 16 of the returnees (the eight PKK members and eight of the 26 civilian returnees). Members of the group have faced charges from multiple directions and on multiple different grounds. From Hurriyet Daily News:
All the returnees, with the exception of four minors, are standing trial in three groups at two separate courts in the eastern city of Diyarbakır.

The hearing Thursday included 16 people, 10 of whom were arrested by the court on grounds that they pose a flight risk. The remaining six will be on trial without arrest.

The charges against the group were brought in two separate indictments regarding the festivities that welcomed them back to Turkey and the statements they gave at various times and locations afterward. The group reportedly re-entered Turkey in response to a call from convicted PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan and was welcomed at the Habur gate with ceremonies that sparked unrest in other parts of the country.

The PKK has been listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and the European Union.

The eight PKK members in the group are on trial for “being a member of a terrorist organization” and “making propaganda for a terrorist organization” and each face 20 years in prison. The returnees from Makhmour, who each face a potential 15 years in jail, are being charged with “committing a crime in the name of a terrorist organization without being a member” and “making propaganda for a terrorist organization.” A total of 25 lawyers are defending the group.

The court informed the suspects that separate indictments had been prepared for each of them and merged before the trial, then asked for their defense. Suspect Mustafa Ayhan said group members would offer a joint defense and read the text.
For background on the returnees, see May 2 post.

UPDATE I (6/24) -- After some of those standing trial failed to attend a second hearing, the court issued an order declaring that the charged will be brought to the court by force if necessary.

Making Way for President Erdogan? . . .

The parliament's constitutional commission has given the greenlight to a bill that would allow a sitting prime minister to run for president without resigning her or his position in parliament. As Prime Minister Erdogan has expressed interest in running for the post at the end of President Gul's term, the law is widely regarded asn effort to secure the prime minister's position as a potential candidate.

In 2007, following the political crisis that ensured in relation to the election of Gul, the constitution was amended to faciliate the popular election of the president. Before, the president had been elected in parliament. Under the current constitution, the president is elected for a five-year term (though it took some time to sort out whether the term would e four or five years) with the right to serve two consecutive terms. President Gul's term will end in 2012.

In April, Erdogan caused further alarm in some circles when he discussed the virtues of installing a presidential system in Turkey along the lines of the American system. The prime minister said that a presidential system might better resolve ongoing conflicts about the separation of powers in Turkey's constitutional system, but skeptics quickly jumped on the statement as evidence of Erdogan's intentions to consolidate his own power once elected president.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

"Cage Plan" Hearings Get Under Way

PHOTO by Emrah Gürel/Hurriyet Daily News

With eyes focused on Turkey-Israel relations, Turkey's recent vote on Iranian sanctions, and increased PKK violence, the Ergenekon investigation continues onward, as do the trials it has brought in its wake. Among these are of the 33 suspects charged with participating the Cage Action Plan, the mysterious designs of which the Turkish daily Taraf revealed last November. The first hearing for the Cage suspects got underway in Istanbul yesterday.

According to Taraf and a susequent investigation, active and retired military staff plotted to commit mass acts of violence against Turkey's non-Muslim communities in a premeditated effort to cause enough chaos and discontent with the AKP government to force it out of power. These acts of violence allegedly included the assassination of Hrant Dink, as well as the murders of three Christian missionaries working at Zirve publishing house in Malatya and Catholic priest Andrea Santoro in Trabzon. The group is thought to have also been hatching further actions.

At yesterday's hearing, the 12th High Criminal Court in Istanbul granted the Turkish-Armenian Agos newspaper, of which Dink had been the editor, joint plaintiff status, allowing Dink lawyers to participate in the hearings. Fethiye Cetin, who has long advocated on behalf of the Dink family and the Hrant Dink Foundation to bring the shadowy operation surrounding Dink's murder to light, argued that the alleged conspirators had long waged a campaign of intimidation against the paper and was responsible for Dink's murder. Two separate trials involving Dink's murder ae currently ongoing, and have been plagued with problems and continued coverups.

The defendants denied the allegations, arguing the document laying out the plan is a hoax. They had requested to e tried in military court, stating that the civilian court in which the case is being tried had no jurisdiction. The court denied their request while granting that of Agos. For an account of the hearing, see this report from Bianet.

The Cage suspects face 7 to 15 years in prison for being memers of an armed terrorist organization.

For more on the Cage Action Plan, see Jan. 25 post.

UPDATE I (6/18) -- The second hearing took place yesterday at which alleged "Cage Plan" ring leader retired Vice Admiral Ahmet Feyyaz Ögütçü gave his defense, dismissing the charges against him as based on a series of fabrications and hoaxes that are part of a conspiracy designed to weaken the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK). For an account of the hearing, see this report from Bianet. A third hearing is taking place today.