Thursday, January 28, 2010

Postmodernity and the Arc of Turkish Identity

Ferhat Kentel, Professor at Istanbul Sehir University / PHOTO from the Balkans Project

The Balkans Project recently featured a fascinating interview with Ferhat Kentel, a sociologist at Istanbul Sehir University. Working on the construction of Turkish national identity, Kentel is examining one of the most controversial and heuristic themes in Turkish politics -- in many ways, a theme that defines, and most certainly pervades, every aspect of political discourse, be it Turkey's efforts to come to terms with its minorities (Muslim and non-Muslim), its attempts to reconcile Islam and the Turkish naton-state, its ongoing EU accession process, its confrontration with ultra-nationalist elements like Ergenekon, its international relations, etc. I have provided excerpts in this post, though I most definitely recommend reading though the whole interview.
This new situation is not just about the disappearance of the old Turkish national identity. Someone can feel that he or she is Kurdish, another Turkish, another Moslem, and these all together. All are negotiating identities. Turkishness is a negotiation as well. It becomes a crisis situation for the integration and unity of this society. I am working on this polarization between the early national construction and the new emerging complex identities and trying to find if there is a possibility of a new language, another way of speaking about this society.

I’m not just focusing on identity, but also people’s relationship with everyday life. Everyday life is the humus that lies beneath these identities. These different identities emerge from everyday life.

What does it mean to be a Turk today? The most prominent aspect of this established modern identity is a defensive one. When it emerged at the end of the Ottoman Empire, Turkishness was new. It was promoted in the name of a modernizing subject, in the name of enlightenment. It was connected to the creation of a new modern nation-state, to Ataturk, to Kemalism, to secularism, to the flag. To be Turkish was to be something modern. But today, it is more and more defensive. It refers to an older time. For that reason, it is more and more aggressive against the new voices.
Kentel goes onto discuss the origins of Turkish national identity, and the haven Muslims in the Balkans found here in the face of Christian racism and European nationalism following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. As Kentel notes, these Turks are the most keen to identify themselves as Kemalists, and eager to embrace Turkey as a newfound home, largely left their old identities behind for something new and modern. In the epigram of his epilogue to Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945, Tony Judt quotes Ernest Renan:
Forgetting, I would even go so far to say historical error, is a crucial factor in the creation of a nation; thus the progress of historical studies is often a danger for national identity . . . The essence of a nation is that all individuals have many things in common, and also that they have forgotten many things.
Turks, like other European nations, have forgotten many things. At the same time, what awaited those immigrants was a refuge from the discrimination, suffering, and war they had known in the past; in Turkey, they found a new home. Kentel's analysis of ultranationalists is different: not having immigrated from the Balkans, they were often left outside of the Kemalist project. According to Kentel, ultranationalists generally look to the Caucasus and Asia for their roots, often pointing to Central Anatolia as the origin of Turkish identity. Yet, I have met plenty of people who share both perspectives, often the products of mixed marriages between Balkan and Anatolian Turks, merely all the more proving Kentel's argument of the negotiation, multiplicity, and inherent complexity underlying Turkish national identity.

Kentel also explores the lack of understanding between Turks and Turkish minority groups, who are all too routinely bifurcated from one another in the literature into the oversimplified categories of "majority" and "minority." One need only to look at Hrant Dink to see how reality is far more complicated. Dink, proud of his Armenian heritage, never rejected his "Turkishness," but rather understood it differenty; sadly, it was this "different" understanding that led to his murder by people who adopted a defensive understanding of what it meant to be Turkish, and in turn, conspired to kill Dink. Similar kinds of negotiation and multiplicity also hold true for Kurds, Alevis, Greeks, Circassians, Laz, Roma, all of these groups and the diverse individuals in them approaching what it means to be Turkish differently. Many of the identities overlap, and few break down into the nice, neat categories in which they are often placed. Yet, for those Turks who did leave so much of their history behind, the issue of settling these multiple identities and the insistence that they be recognized is difficult. Kentel explains:
These Balkan-origin Turks are also the most reticent on the Kurdish issue. It seems to be a psychological dimension: These Turks left behind their traditional sense of belonging, so they cannot accept another people claiming their original identity. “We gave up ours,” they say, “why can’t you give up yours?” I hear this even from the Uyghur-origin people who came to Turkey during the last decades. “We were oppressed by the Chinese state,” they say. “We came to Turkey and this state protected us. We cannot betray this state. How can you Kurds do what you are doing?” Of course, the Kurds were not migrants to this country. Nor were the Armenians. They are autochthonous peoples of the Anatolian territories.
Holding the traditional/pre-modern construction of Turkish national identity in opposition to the modern, Atatürkist understanding, Kentel highlights the conflicts and convergences between the two. Though Kentel does dwell too much on Ottomanism in his analysis, I think it too is probably worth examining in the mix, conflicting and converging with the other two in all sorts of ways relevant to political identity. And when religion is added into the mix, identity becomes all the more complicated, pushing and pulling with all of these other elements in what I have described elsewhere in this blog as a kaleidoscopic fashion, shifting and turning to suit the situation at hand or whatever the mood of the moment may be. Identity not being something intractable and constant, but rather adaptable and changing, Turks may well be all the richer for the multi-dimensional complexity of their specific identity(ies) despite the difficulties in its negotiation.

And, yet, though Turks have long negotiated these identities, and too often with a good bit of phobic defensiveness, the increased travel and business between countries (which Kentel assesses as weakening the defensive posture of Turkish nationalism -- see my post, "Article 301: An Imperialist Discourse," on the Sevres syndrome), the rise of political Islam, and European discourses about a postnational, multicultural Europe have all drastically pushed that negotiation into a new realm. I perhaps too optimistically evaluate the role of Europe, but the former two have certainly had a tremendous impact on just what observers of Turkish politics are seeing. Yet, as Kentel describes, this "opening" is not unqualified.
There are two contradictory tendencies, each one feeding and reinforcing the other. As we open up, the fear inside becomes more intense. Imagine all the people living under this ideology that says that we are alone, that we are superior, but that everyone fears us. What do you with the burden of this ideology? The opening of frontiers – in the world at large and in our minds – radicalizes the Turkish defensive identity. We are now living in the middle of this clash.

What I mean by a new Turkish identity is not just a global, liberal, or cosmopolitan identity. It is more complex. Part of this new identity is the overcoming of the ruptures of Kemalism. Kemalism required a rupture with the Ottoman era that defined it as an ancien regime. It involved a rupture around borders. It created a Turkishness on this territory with Arabs, Kurds, and others, but this required a rupture with the Arabs of Arabia, the Kurds of other countries and so on. Today it is not necessary for a nation-state to isolate itself this way. Our task is to reconstruct the bridges with all those populations and histories with which we have ruptured.

This new identity is looking for new words, new definitions.
As Barrington Moore described the transition to democracy as wrought with discord and violence, so perhaps is the journey to new, more open, more complex cultural identities. Much has been made of the rise of ultranatonalism in Turkey in recent years, the street protests and ethnic clashes that have erupted on the streets of Turkey's cities with an unwielding, defensive sort of hatred (see Ece Temelkuran n the Guardian, 2007); yet, is this perhaps a sign that things are getting better, that Turkey is moving forward in some sort of cultural transition of which we have yet to see the arc?

Provocatively, Kentel lays out a possible journey, eschewing cosmpolitianism, liberalism, and racist traditionalism for something far more intriguing -- and perhaps, liberating.
So we can make a three-fold distinction. The first is cosmopolitanism or the loss of specific Turkishness. The second is the concentration, redefinition, and reshaping of Turkishness in a more racist way. And the third is an open-ended alternative: we don’t know where we are going but there is another way. This third situation, the creation of new meanings, is the revolutionary tendency.

This new identity, if we summarize, is made also by linking to the past. It doesn’t involve returning to the past but, rather, struggling against the ruptures of history, against the categorizations of old/new, rational/irrational and so on, and against all the modernist constructions created by these categories.
Examining the construction of Turkish identity as affected by a series of historical ruptures, Kentel goes onto explore how Islam is bringing to light the ruptures of Kemalism.
Right now society is caught midway between Islam and modernity. Or, rather, there is no distinction between Islam and modernity as it was defined by modernist approaches. When you listen to some Islamic actors who focus on the authenticity of the Islamic message, they say that the majority of Muslims are lost now, that they have become almost like Protestants, that they only think about symbols of wealth, that they have lost the original message of the religion. But other, modernist voices inside the Islamic universe say that, no, the religion is not frozen in the 7th century, that Moslems as individuals must adapt to the new situation. This is a more liberal, maybe “Protestant” Islam, more individualized. They don’t forget that they are Moslem. They are still good believers. “I am essentially a businessman,” this kind of believer will say. “But five times a day I pray and then it is finished. My practice of Moslemhood doesn’t take more than one hour a day.” There is no difference with people who do gymnastics for one hour a day or do Indian meditation. This person’s identity is that of a businessman first.

So, they are not just Moslems, but they have a class position too. The Moslem businessmen’s union and the labor union of Moslem workers do not necessarily share the same communitarian Moslemhood. They are in conflict. The bourgeois Moslems say, “We are all Moslems, so accept your salary.” But the workers say, “No, we are not all Moslem brothers. You are rich and we are poor!”

There was a declaration recently launched by three Moslem women. “We are not free yet,” they said, referring to the liberalization of headscarves for a couple months before the constitutional court forbad them again. During this period, they said, “We will not be free until the Armenians, the Kurds, the Alevis are free too. We will not be free until the rights of shipyard workers are recognized.” They are very Moslem. They wear headscarves. They dream of living in an Islamic society in which Islam is recognized totally. But in their minds there are other possibilities for how to live with others. If someone doesn’t want to wear a headscarf, she is free to do so. This is something new. This is not the traditional Islam or the Islam of Kemalism. This third version has links with the new Turkish identity, which in turn has links to the past. They are important actors for this new Turkishness. Their Turkishness is not defensive. It is not racial. They are Turkish because they live in Turkey.

Turkey can be perceived as a model or a laboratory for the whole world.
Just what that model will be or laboratory yield remains to be seen, but it truly is incredible, not to mention intellectually humbling, to be the midst of it.

Squaring Off on Constitutional Amendments

The AKP is working on a new package of 22 constitutional amendments it might well put before Parliament in the next month. The package was drafted by the Parliamentary Constitutional Commission, headed by MP (AKP) Burhan Kuzu. The amendments have not been made public, and so it is unclear exactly what the AKP is planning on putting forward. On January 10, Kuzu had said that the AKP would not been seeking amendments to the constitution or to the election law, which stipulates that parties must receive at least ten percent of the total vote to enter parliament. I am not sure what changed, but so be it.

The last time Turkey's 1982 coup constitution was reformed was in 2004, when a number of amendments were passed in line with the Copenhagen political criteria for Turkey's accession into the European Union. Since the CHP and MHP have opposed the package, the AKP has threatened to send the amendments to referendum.

The CHP has promised to resist any attempt, vowing to apply to the Constitutional Court for the annulment of any amendment passed regardless of its content. The AKP has used the CHP's opposition as a reason not to bring new constitutional amendments forward.

Under Article 175 of the constitution, amendments can either be passed by a 2/3 majority of Parliament or by a popular referendum. In the second scenario, the amendments must pass the Parliament by a 3/5 majority and then be approved by a simple majority vote in the referendum. Additionally, it is possible that the amendment must be held by the Constitutional Court as not contravening the first four articles of the Turkish constitution, though there is significant legal debate on this point. The Court has a history of broadly interpreting these articles, which are in themselves vague and useful weapons for anti-reform forces.

In a new development, the MHP has expressed its willingness to work with the AKP on the amendments in order to prevent a referendum. This, in turn, is reported to have led the AKP to forestall introducing the amendment package to Parliament, instead sending it to the MHP for their input. The MHP is likely looking to avoid having the 2011 parliamentary election turn into a referendum on constitutional amendments, which would polarize the vote between the AKP and the CHP and leave little room for it to maneuver.

For a not very clear accounting of constitutional amendments passed in 2001 and 2004, see the EU Secretariat General for EU Affairs' summation of the reform process up to 2007. In August 2007, the AKP had promised to introduce a new constitution to replace the 1982 coup constitution. However, despite a committee being formed and a constitution drafted, it eventually fell victim to the turbulence that followed the headscarf reform and the AKP closure case.

Food for thought: during the closure case the European Stability Initiative called on the AKP to move forward with the new constitution by putting it to referendum. Of course, if the AKP did this, the Constitutional Court, as it is, would be dissolved. Additionally, Article 4, which forbids any amendment to the constitution that violates the first four articles, would go out the window. The result would be no less than a political revolution, and I am not really sure what would happen. The AKP has expressed no such plans, and though the idea of a new constitution lingers, it is nowhere close to being placed on the agenda.

Human Rights Watch Releases Turkey Report

Human Rights Watch (HRW) recently released its World Report, a country-by-country survey of the status of human rights across the world. While HRW praises the Turkish government's recent Kurdish initiative, it notes problems in Turkish courts' treating of PKK supporters the same as armed militants under Turkey's Anti-Terrorism Law. Specifically, the report mentions the number of children who have been tried under the Law. HRW also criticizes the ease of bringing charges against supporters of Kurdish rights by claiming they are members of the PKK.

Torture, detention, killings by security forces, and prison conditions remain par for the course, as does impunity (including Hrant Dink's assasination) and restrictions on the freedom of expression. Of particular concern for HRW is the Court of Cassation's unwillingness to apply the European Convention on Human Right and Fundamental Freedoms in its case law, which continues to result in Turkish citizens submitting more petitions to the Court than the citizens of any other state in the Council of Europe.

On Europe, HRW continues to see Turkey's bid for European membership as "the most important international actor with the potential to foster respect for human rights in Turkey."

The report does laud the military courts law the government passed in June, but which was just last week overturned by the Constitutional Court.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Israeli Intelligence Charges Erdogan with Anti-Semitism

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan /
PHOTO by Alessandra Benededeti/Corbis

An intellegence report authored by the Israeli Foreign Ministry's Center for Political Research levels accusations that Prime Minister Erdogan is an anti-Semite, has turned a blind eye to rising anti-Semitism in Turkey despite evidence of its rising fervor, and often uses anti-Semitic remarks in his populist politics. The report alleges that despite Erdogan's public condemnations of anti-Semitism, the prime minister "incites and encourages" anti-Semitism by making low-brow remarks designed to appeal to the lowest common denominator of Turkish political society. From Hürriyet:

A government official said Tuesday the seven-page report accuses Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of inflaming Turkish public opinion against Israel with his repeated allegations that Israel committed war crimes during its Gaza offensive last winter, according to a report by The Associated Press. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the report is confidential.

He said the report also acknowledged Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon seriously offended Turkey's ambassador when he summoned the diplomat to protest a Turkish TV show that portrayed Israeli intelligence agents as cruel. Still, it said that the incident made clear that Turkey "reached the outer limits of the Israeli government's patience."

The report came as Turkey stated Tuesday that it would pursue its determination against anti-Semitism, racism, xenophobia and discrimination with its belief in mutual understanding, tolerance, freedom, security and democracy.

. . . .

In Israel, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Ayalon, both of Yisrael Beiteinu, are the leaders of the government's aggressive anti-Turkey faction, while Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Industry Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, both of Labor, head the conciliatory, pro-Turkey faction.

The report was written by the Center for Political Research, which performs the ministry's in-house intelligence analysis, and has already been distributed to Israeli embassies and consulates abroad. It was submitted to the key seven cabinet ministers a few days ago, Israel’s Haaretz reported.

Regarding Ayalon's humiliation of Ambassador Oğuz Çelikkol, the report said that while this seriously offended the Turks for many years to come, “at the same time, the manner in which senior Turkish officials, including Erdoğan, ended the crisis may indicate that Turkey recognizes that it entered the red-line zone and [reached] the outer limits of the Israeli government's patience, and that this was liable to lead to it losing Israel, which would damage Turkey's international legitimacy."

But most of the report focuses on the Turkish prime minister, who it considers the main source of the current friction. “In our estimate, ever since his party took power, Erdoğan has conducted an ongoing process of ... fashioning a negative view of Israel in Turkish public opinion,” via endless talk of Palestinian suffering, repeatedly accusing Israel of war crimes and even “anti-Semitic expressions and incitement,” it said.

Though in international forums Erdoğan always stresses that anti-Semitism is “a crime against humanity," the report continued, in reality, he “indirectly incites and encourages” anti-Semitism in Turkey. "For Erdoğan and some of those around him," it explained, "there is no distinction between 'Israeli' and 'Jewish,' and therefore, [their] anti-Israel fervor and criticism became anti-Jewish."

One result, according to the report, is articles in the Turkish press questioning whether Turkish Jews are loyal to their country – something that could endanger Turkey's Jewish community.

In some cases, it added, Erdoğan simply does not understand the anti-Semitic nature of his remarks – such as "Jews are good with money," which "he sees as a compliment."
While charges of anti-Semitism levelled by Israeli leaders against those critical of Israel are quite common, some of those made by the report have also been echoed in the Turkish liberal press and among intellectuals. While accusing Erdogan of anti-Semitism is quite bold, it does seem that the prime minister has a bizarre understanding of Judaism and Israel. Yigal Schleifer gives one illuminating example from last January when Erdogan alluded to an obscure Jewish saxophonist and anti-Semite named Gilad Atzmon. For more on the AKP response to the wave of anti-Semitism that struck Turkey following Israeli war crimes in Gaza, see Emrullah Uslu's analysis from last January. Also see post-Gaza post from last February, in addition to my post on some Washington neoconservatives' targeting of Turkey and some of the pieces of the puzzle its exponents conveniently leave out.

CLARIFICATION (1/27) -- The analysis from Emrullah Uslu that I linked here contains a factual error. Uslu cites Article 312 as a speech law in Turkey's penal code that has traditionally been used to punish hate speech. While this was the case prior to April 2005, in September 2004 Turkey adopted a new penal code. This penal code basically replaced Article 312 (offense and incitement to religious or racial hatred) with Article 216 (inciting hatred or hostility). I had missed this, and thanks to Bulent for pointing it out.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Making Sense of Sledgehammer

Chief of General Staff Ilker Basbug / PHOTO from AFP

On Wednesday, yet another alleged coup plot was revealed by Taraf, this one centering on alleged plans by some military officers to create a level of chaos in Turkey conducive to a military coup. Code-named "Operation Sledgehammer" (Balyoz, in Turkish), the 2003 plan centers on creating a level of national chaos conducive to facilitating a military takeover. From Hürriyet:
. . . measures included bombing two major mosques in Istanbul, an assault on a military museum by people disguised as fundamentalists and the raising of tension with Greece through the usual dogfights between the fighter planes of the two countries over the Aegean Sea. The allegations even include shooting down a Turkish plane and blaming it on Greece.

Newspapers and talk shows on TV gave almost blanket coverage to the Sledgehammer affair, with the reporting and views generally split along the familiar lines of the pro-government media and mainstream media. The former saw the latest revelations as proof of a nefarious military while mainstream news outlets focused on the General Staff’s explanation that the reports were constructed entirely on "scenario exercises." Many also questioned the timing of the revelations, which coincided with a Constitutional Court ruling on civil vs. military judicial jurisdiction.

Taraf wrote that they have over 5,000 pages of printed documents, CDs and voice recordings as proof. They delivered copies of the mentioned documents to the Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office after a criminal complaint was filed on the allegations by a group of intellectuals from the platform of “70 million steps against a coup,” a coalition of various political parties and nongovernmental organizations. Taraf yesterday made a call to the General Staff, which said records of such “scenarios” are destroyed after four years, and told the General Staff the paper can send the documents to them also if requested.
The Hürriyet story goes on to explain the Turkish press' reaction to the story, including its polarization as evinced by the differences between newspapers' editorial lines. Indeed, it seems everyone either believes in the coup story or thinks it total hogwash. Joost Lagendijk takes a different position, writing in a Hürriyet op/ed that what matters is not so much whether the story is true or not, but that the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) did not carry it out. Assuming the story is true, Lagendijk points out the fact it went nowhere points to "a split in the TSK between, on the one hand, generals who still believe it is their task to kick out democratically elected politicians when they feel they have to do so and, on the other hand, generals who think those days are over." Lagendijk proceeds by asking,
If that is true, why do the anti-coup officers not speak out clearly in public against their plotting colleagues? Because they don’t want to harm the public perception of the military? I am convinced that, by not doing so, they harm that same image much, much more.
Peer group exposure should be one part of the new, post Sledgehammer scenario for a democratic Turkey.
While the Turkish media and politicians obsess about the validity of Sledgehammer, the real pressure should be on the military to stop playing defensive and move forward. By doing so, they have the opportunity to eschew the chaotic, often lunatic discourse, and actually move Turkey in the right direction.

Lagendijk, making another critical point in his second recommendation, suggests
a government initiative for a total overhaul of the present, totally outdated National Security Strategy, which still focuses on internal threats such as Islamic fundamentalism and Kurdish separatism. The time has come for elected politicians, after having seriously considered the advice from the military, to spell out what according to them are the real dangers facing Turkey now and in the foreseeable future. That would include (possible) external threats such as al-Qaeda or a nuclear armed Iran, which should be dealt with by a modern, professional military.
If only these were the things Turkey was talking about. Sadly, they are not -- and, yes, for that, it seems the military plays a role by at least enabling the controversy over Sledgehammer to continue. If I am wrong, and the TSK is indeed still controlled by dark, sinister forces secretly plotting to blowup airliners, then Turkey is in seriously dire circumstances.

Sledgehammer comes on the heals of other alleged coup plots to be made public since the now defunct newspaper Nokta revealed Golden Maiden (Sarıkız, in Turkish) in 2007. In March 2009, the second indictment of the Ergenekon investigation revealed the details of three more coup plans in addition to the first (Moonlight, Ayışığı in Turkish; Sea Sparkle, Yakamoz in Turkish; and Glove, in Turkish Eldiven). In June 2009, Taraf reported on a plan to weaken Islamic reactionaries, allegedly drafted by Colonol Dursun Cicek in the Army's psychological warfare unit. The alleged plan targeted the AKP and the Gulen movement. This past November, Taraf reported on the Cage Operation Plan (Kafes, in Turkish), which the Naval Forces command allegedly designed to wreak havoc by targeting non-Muslim minorities.

For more on the Ergenekon investigation, which continues unabated, see this timeline from Liam Hardy at American Anatolian Viewpoint. For a critical, yet quite comprehesive view, see Gareth Jenkins' July 2009 report, "Between Fact and Fantasy: Turkey's Ergenekon Investigation."

UPDATE I (1/25) -- The TSK's Chief of General Staff Gen. Ilker Basbug lambasted the accusations waved at it by Taraf, saying patience of the Armed Forces was limited. See also Today's Zaman's interview with Taraf's deputy editor-in-chief Yasemin Congar, in which she dismisses the military's claim that Sledgehammer was but a scenario taken out of context by Taraf.

UPDATE II (2/2) -- 27 of the 36 journalists laid out to be arrested in Balykoz have filed a criminal complaint.

Court Says No to Civilian Courts

The other big story in civil-military relations last week occurred Thursday when the Constitutional Court struck down an amendment to the Constitution allowing military officers to be tried in civilian courts for crimes involving threats to national security, constitutional violations, the organization of armed groups, and attempts to topple the government in peace time. The Court ruled the amendment to the Code on Criminal Procedure infringed on Article 145 of the Constitution. As Hürriyet reports, the law leaves cases involving military officers prosecuted in the Ergenekon investigation and various coup plans in legally murky waters. The AKP passed the reform in June, after which the CHP applied to the Court for its annulment.

As part of Turkey's accession process, the European Union has long reiterated Turkey try military officers in civilian courts for civilian crimes. The AKP is set to announce its plans to pass amendments to the constitution next month.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Things Fall Apart

Armenian Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian and Turkish Foreign Minister Davutoglu in Zurich in October. PHOTO from Hürriyet

As the chances for ratification of two protocols signed between Turkey and Armenia crumble, the future of the rapprochement between Turkey and Armenia looks quite dim. The protocols were signed it Zurich in October, where both countries agreed to normalize diplomatic and bilateral relations, including opening the border and setting up numerous subcommissions, the most important of which would look at the "historical dimensions" betweent the two countries. However, Turkey has since made Turkish ratification contingent upon resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict despite making it clear in Zurich that ratification of the protocols would not be contingent on settling the rather intractable conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Prime Minister Erdogan has also stated that Armenia should remove its troops from the 13 percent of the territory it occupies inside Azerbaijan before borders are opened.


Turkey's position changed as its relations with Azerbaijan grew increasingly endangered after Zurich. Azerbaijan fears Turkey will sell it out on Nagorno-Karabakh, and opposes any Turkish rapprochement with Armenia before the conflict between it and Armenia is resolved. Armenians in the Karabakh region of Azerbaijan revolted in 1993 with the assistance of Armenia, shortly after which Armenia essentially occupied. Following Armenia's invasion, Ankara broke off diplomatic relations with Yerevan and sealed the border. In addition to Armenia's campaign for genocide recognition, Nagorno-Karabakh has long been at the heart of tensions between it and Turkey.

Tensions with Azerbaijan had been high since the Turkey-Armenia rapprochement commenced in fall 2008, reaching a boiling point soon Zurich when President Gul appeared alongside Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan at a football game in Bursa. For public relations purposes, Turkish fans were prevented from entering the stadium with Azeri flags to protest the recent accords. Images of Turkish soldiers confiscating the flags in a none too delicate manner were aired on Azeri television, and a diplomatic splat soon blew up between Turkey and Azerbaijan, long considered "two states, but one nation." Soon after, Azerbaijan removad Turkish flags at a monument honoring Turkish soldiers who had died in Azerbaijan's 1918 independence war. In addition to fears surrounding Nagorno-Karabakh, Azerbaijan resents the price it receives for the natural gas sold to Turkey. The two countries remain in protracted negotiations over the issue.

The Turks are not without fears of their own. They fear increased ties between Russia and Azerbaijan, which include a recently signed major energy agreement providing or the sale of Azeri gas to Russia. Turkey needs Azeri gas in order to complete its plans for the Nabucco pipeline, and the more gas sold to Russia means the less gas for Turkey. Even worse would be a pipelines connecting Azeri gas to Russian supply routes, which Azerbaijan has used well to help terrify Turkey into submission. Russia has not proved instrumental to the peace process to the extent that it has done little to quell these fears, signing the energy accord in the heat of Turkey-Azerbaijan tensions.

All of this has led Turkey to look for the fastest exit route. Having introduced the Protcols to Parliament, Erdogan has declared his part done. Though Turkey stated at Zurich it could not guarantee ratification, the new conditions make it virtually impossible. Also important to note, Erdogan's ruling AKP controls a majority that could easily pave the way for ratification should the government be so

Fighting Over History

At the same time, Turkey and Armenia have very different visions of what a historical commission would look like: the Turks see it as an opportunity to open up discussion on the killing and insert more context into a debate of historical events that for many Armenians is shortly and simply understood as a state-planned campaign to exterminate them; meanwhile, the Armenians envision the commission as discussing relations post-1915. Concerns that discussion in such a commission would compromise the Armenian government's campaign for international recognition of the 1915 killings as genocide -- and, just as importantly, that of the Armenian diaspora -- have led to massive nationalist opposition in Armenia -- in which President Sargsyan's ruling party is less well-positioned than his Turkish counterpart. The nationalist opposition to the protocols has been tremendous, and drawn protests from the diaspora cross the world, most significantly in the United States.

Also disputed is the Turkish-Armenian border, premised on the 1921 Treaty of Kars. Armenian nationalists do not accept and bitterly resent the treaty, which was signed under pressure from the Russian government; the Armenian government, for its part, has never explicitly recognized the border.

Decision Time in Armenia

Turkey's exit strategy came on Jan. 13 when Armenia's Constitutional Court heard a challenge to the constitutionality of the protocols. While the Court affirmed them as legal, it seemed to place two important conditions on their implementation. The first of these involved the historical commission, which the Court ruled must not contradict Armenia's Declaration of Independence, which states that Armenia remain committed to its international genocide recognition campaign. The second involves a part of the Court's opinion that declares relations between the two countries must remain solely bilateral and not involve a third party. This would rule out Turkey's post-agreement demand that Nagorno-Karabakh be made part of the process.

Turkish nationalist opposition turned the court decision into political fodder. Soon after the Constitutional Court decision, the Turkish Ministry issued a statement declaring the conditions it establishes unacceptable. Perhaps more damaging is the Foreign Ministry's declaration of its sincerity as opposed to that of Armenia, Erdogan declaring that Turkey did not put the Protocols before its Constitutional Court. However, Erdogan clearly ignored that the Armenian government in power was not responsible for the constitutional challenge. Turkey, on the other hand, had said the protocols would not be conditional on Nagorno-Karabakh.

As of now, the future of the protocols appear dead in the water. Turkish experts have talked about trying to get Russia to pressure the Armenians, but as the International Crisis Group's Sabine Frazier lays out, the ball seems in Turkey's court. Should Armenia play its cards right, it could still pass the Protocols regardless of the conditions placed on them by its Constitutional Court. Since no specifics on the historical commission were ever determined and Nagorno-Karabakh intentionally not addressed, it will be hard for Turkey to cry foul, instead looking like the recalcitrant one at the end of the day. Such an appearance would make Turkey the diplomatic loser of a peace process some international observers could well say Turkish leaders were never serious about to begin with. Given that Turkey's problems with Azerbaijan are significant, and not unforeseeable, the real question seems to be why the Turkish government even initiated the process.

For a wonderful analysis of the issues at the heart of the Turkey-Armenia rapprochement, including the benefits for both countries, see the Balkans Project's excellent October interview with Nigar Goksel. Goksel also had an excellent interview with the Armenian Reporter in June where she elucidates conflict resoluton efforts at the societal level. For a more comprehensive history of the conflcit as it stood before the August and October agreements, see also the International Crisis Group's April 2009 briefing of Turkey-Armenia relations. And, not to overwhelm with links, but for a commentary by a Turk who is supportive of the process, but critical of Erdogan's charges of Armenian insincerity, see Milliyet columnist Semih Idiz's recent column.

UPDATE I (1/27) -- Responding to the Armenian Constitutional Court's decision, U.S Assistant Secretary of State for Europe and Eurasian Affairs Philip Gordon averred that the Court's decision does not place conditions on the Protocols as asserted by Prime Minister Erdogan and the Turkish Foreign Ministry. In a clarification of Gordon's remarks, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs Philip J. Crowley echoed Gordon's remarks, confirming they were on the record and that the United States views the Court's decision as an advancement of Armenia's ratification of the Protocols, which will now be submitted to the Armenian Parliament for a vote.

Facebook's Kurdish Opening

From Bianet:
The social networking site Facebook can now also be accessed by using the Kurdish language. After a campaign initiated by users of the website, the site administrators added Kurdish to list of available languages. Only a part of the application can be used in Kurdish as a start. The range of applications accessible by Kurdish can only be expanded if there is sufficient demand by the users.

An estimated 3,000,000 Kurdish people out of a total of 17,000,000 people in Turkey use Facebook on a daily basis. Under the section of "applications" on the main page of the site the user has the option to choose between 108 different languages including Kurdish.

There's Still No Free Speech In Turkey, and It's Still a Bad Thing . . .

Adnan Oktar, the prominent social conservative and creationist, has filed multiple court cases to shit down websites, including, most famously, that of Richard Dawkins.

The Turkish government's laws allowing for Internet censorship are despised by many across a wide spectrum of society. Unlike Turkey's many speech codes, including the infamous Article 301, which rarely draw much public scorn other than from human rights groups, Internet censorship via IP-blocking of sites deemed inappropriate is seen as a particularly troublesome violation of freedom. Many Turks often have varying opinions on what speech should be banned -- yours, not mine; and speech that seems, for whatever reason, unduly insulting (and, of course, the idea of what is "insulting" varies). Yet, Internet laws are the most widely condemened state imposed limits on freedom of expression.

The lack of freedom to surf has also drawn quite a great deal of condemnation from human rights monitors. Monday involved yet another, this last emanating from from Milos Haraszti, the OSCE's media freedom monitor. According to Haraszti, over 3,700 websites have been blocked for "arbitrary and political reasons." In 2008, head of the Telecommunications Board Tayfun Aracer put the number of sites banned since November 23, 2007, at 1,112. Haraszti called on Turkey to reform its Internet law, which was passed as Law No. 5651 in May 2007. The law directs the state-run Telecommunications Board to block access to websites that are obscene, encourage suicide, or promote or facilitate prostition, gambling, the use of narcotics, and the sexual exploitation of children.

While these reasons might seem relatively narrow in scope, the law also directs the Board to block sites that violate other Turkish laws, including the broadly applied anti-terrorism law and Turkey's speech codes (in the Penal Code), e.g. insulting the Turkish nation, the Turkish republic, or Turkish governmnent/state institutions (Article 301), inciting hatred or hostility among the population (Article 216), slander (Article 267), influencing the judiciary during an ongoing court case (Article 277), influencing an ongoing investigation (Article 285), preventing a fair trial (Article 288), discouraging indivduals to serve in the military (Article 318), and engaging in acts that run counter to fundamental national interests (Article 305). In November 2007, the state initiated a telephone hotline and website to report offenses

Additionally, under Article 24 on the Civil Code, individuals can apply for access to be blocked to a website they think is "an infringement on their personal rights." This had led numerous indviduals, from religious conservatives like Adnan Oktar, the anti-Darwin cult figure, to nationalists, like members of the Ataturkist Thought Association, to apply to courts to shut down sites on any number of grounds. Courts have the right to order the Telecommunications Board to block access to a website during an investigation or trial following the receipt of a complaint.

The European Union called on Turkey in it 2009 progress report to amend the Internet law, and numerous cases have begun to appear before the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). A party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), Turkey's routine practice of proscribing websites deemed offensive to any number of parties has only increased the level of criticism the government receives at home and abroad, as well as injured its position in the EU accession process. Many of the civil society projects in Turkey receiving EU funding are related to the freedom of expression. For an account of the Internet restrictions, see Freedom House's Freedom on the Net report.

Sites that have been banned include YouTube, GoogleGroups, WordPress, and Blogspot (which you are on now). For more on the Internet law, see Google's efforts to navigate Turkey's vast array of speech codes (a near Herculean task) (Dec. 8, 2008), as well as this analysis from Gareth Jenkins (Oct. 4, 2008). See also this post authored in 2008 when Turkey moved to amend Article 301, though proesecutions continue and the change was largely regarded as cosmetic.

Also recommended in CyberRights, a site setup by activists Kerem Altıparmak and Yaman Akdeniz to publicize violations of Internet freedom.

The YouTube ban was taken to the ECHR this past December. From Bianet:
The Internet Technology Association (INETD) applied to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), objecting to the decision to block in Turkey. Access has been banned to the global video sharing site for 19 months now since 5 May 2008.

INETD president Mustafa Akgül announced that INETD filed the complaint "on behalf of the ones harmed by the ban and on behalf of the entire country". Akgül claimed that the ban is "against the law and contrary to the public interest".
Akgul's petition alleges violations of the right to free expression, the right to a fair trial, and the right to assembly and association.

UPDATE I (1/27) -- Left out of the litany of speech-related offenses in Turkey's Penal Code is Article 125, which makes it illegal to insult the honor and dignity of someone. Article 125 was used as the basis of the criminal complaint against Yeni Asya cartoonist Ibrahim Ozdabak when he seemingly depicted Supreme Court of Appeals Chief Prosecutor Abdurrahman Yalcinkaya as a hooting owl during the closure case against the AKP in 2008.

UPDATE II (2/20) -- The Intitative Against Crime of Thought has published its annual report, "Freedom of Thought 2009" (in Turkish). The report, in book form, documents 36 cases of imprisoned journalists, as well as prominent and not-so-prominent cases of individuals who fell scrutiny to Turkey's many codes hindering freedom of expression in Turkey, including those in the Turkish Penal Code and the Anti-Terrorism Law. The review includes cases against Osman Baydemir, Aysel Tuğluk, Leyla Zana, Ragıp Zarakolu, Nedim Şener, Nedim Gürsel, Erol Karaaslan, Ahmet Karayay, İbrahim Kaboğlu, Baskın Oran, as well as cases of censorship and the DTP closure clase.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Three Years After

A crowd of around 3,000 people gathered on Tuesday to commemorate the third anniversary of the murder of Hrant Dink, the prominent Turkish Armenian journalist who was slain outside his home by an ultranationalist youth in cooperation with a larger group of ultranationalists speculated to have links to local and national security forces. The Dink murder is speculated to have ties to deep state elements currently being investigated as part of the rather unwieldly and broadly encompassing Ergenekon investigaton. Dink's assassination and the possibility of a wide-reaching coverup have become a rallying cry for progressive reformers. At the end of the commemoration, demonstrators replaced a Sisli street sign reading reading "Ergenekon" with another, re-naming the street for Hrant Dink

The photo posted here is of Dink's assasin, Ogun Samast, and the officers who arrested him. This photo and similar video footage, along with withheld and disappeared evidence and documents like this one proving that security forces iknew about the assassination plot before it took place, have all given reason to think that Dink's assassination involved a large number of people, some perhaps deep within the state structure. The Dink murder trial is still underway, hampered by a variety of difficulties, including the harassment of Dink's family, supporters, and attorneys. Last July, the Prime Ministry Inspection Board released its report of an investigation into security forces' potential neglect/involvement in the Dink assassination. Though critics claimed the Ministry watered it down, the report does indicate that security officials had reason to think the assassination was impending. Much has been made of whether evidence was properly shared with police in Istanbul, and whether officials of the Istanbul Intelligence Unit were also involved.

20 suspects in addition to Samast are also on trial, but in different courts, including eight gendarmerie officers on trial in Trabzon for negligence. Dink's supporters want the trials merged and a comprehensive investigation into all possible elements involved in the murder, arguing that their own future security is also at stake as long as responsible parties enjoy impunity for their crimes. In July, a court in Istanbul ruled against a petition that an investigation be opened into the role of Istanbul Police Chief Celalettin Cerrah and seven other officers, one of many examples cited of officials' refusal to conduct a proper investigation. Friends of Hrant, an organization of Dink's supporters, this week issued a statement reiterating its demands. Lawyers have applied again to the European Court of Human Rights on the grounds that Dink's right to life was violated by the state's failure to protect him, as well as other rights that have been violated in the course of the investigation and trials.

For more on Dink's murder and its aftermath, see this excellent 2009 documentary, "For Hrant, For Justice," by Umit Kivanc. (Thanks to Jenny White and Bulent, who posts on this blog as well.)

UPDATE I (1/27) -- In a speech commemorating Hrant Dink, Canadian journalist and human rights activist Naomi Klein used the podium to argue the government of Turkey gives Israel a public relations weapon when it violates the rights of Kurds and Armenians while at the same time criticizing Israel. A strong critic of Israel, Klein lauded Prime Minister Erdogan's denunciations of Israeli war crimes, but noted what she considers the hypocrisy of the Turkish government's position. Hürriyet ran a piece covering the speech, though I doubt it got more attention outside of the English-language press.

UPDATE II (2/8) -- The investigation launched by the Interior Ministry at the behest of the Prime Ministry Inspection Board has cleared 19 police officers working in the National Police department's intelligence unit and the Trabzon local police. The Prime Ministry Inspection Board prompted the investigation at the petition of Dink's wife.

Collective Labor Agreements Empower Women in the Southeast

From Bianet:
A public employee of the Diyarbakır Yenişehir Municipality had to pay half of his salary to his wife because of resorting to violence within his family. The wife of cleaning personnel member L.A. had applied to the Yenişehir Municipality in the south-eastern city of Diyarbakır, claiming that her husband resorted to violence. After an investigation into the matter municipality officials confirmed the claim. According to article 93/a of the Collective Labour Agreement (TİS), "An employee who applies force to his/her spouse is to pay half of his/her salary to the spouse", thus L.A. paid half of his TL 500 (approx. € 230) wage to his wife.

Even though this application against violence imposed within the family might be perceived as a novelty, in fact collective labour agreements of numerous municipalities include similar regulations.

Municipal and Local Authority Trade Union (Tüm Bel-Sen) General President Vicdan Baykara pointed out that at least 40 municipalities in Turkey signed collective labour agreements that include the corrensponding clause for personnel resorting to violence in the family. Baykara emphasized, "The important part is the implementation. Women mayors are usually more sensitive about applications to protect women's rights".

"The collective labour agreement signed by us embraces further regulations in favour of women. The Women's Worls Labour Day on 8 March is recognized as a holiday for the female staff and the women's quota of municipality personnel is set at 50 percent. These are just a few examples", Baykara explained.

"We design our agreements according to the needs of our local staff. Therefore, the articles included in the agreement are not random but can be implemented specifically. It provides both rights of and responsibility for the employees. The important issue is the implementation, of course. The female mayors play an important role in this. The awareness for social gender rises with female mayors", Baykara indicated.
The first I ever heard of such agreements was back in July, when Abdullah Demirtas, mayor of Diyarbakir's Sur municipality, put into effect a collective labor agreement for Sur with the cooperation of a local union for municipal workers. The concept seems novel, and might well deliver results in a region where domestic violence runs high and accountability low. Any more information on these agreements is more than appreciated.

Cake Can Not Be Had and Eaten

Prime Minister Erdogan, addressing a press conference at the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) headquarters in Jeddah this past Wednesday, affirmed Turkey's European vocation while declaring that “Turkey will not lean to either left or right and will not leave its values and principles during its continuous negotiations to join the European Union.”

However, in November, many EU officials were left to wonder just what those principles when Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir was due to attend an OIC meeting in Istanbul. The decision raised the ire of plenty of internationally-conscious Turks with whom I spoke at the time, many of them AKP supporters, and several of whom generally approve of Erdogan. I post this now because I did not have a chance to before, and because Erdogan's praise of the OIC renews the issues' relevance.

The OIC has consistently supported al-Bashir, widely recognized as responsible for crimes against humanity committed in Sudan's Darfur region. (For an example of this support, see this statement fom the OIC to the UN Human Rights Council in 2006, in which the OIC called on the Council "to reflect and respect the views of the Sudanese Government which is cooperating with the human rights machinery" -- this despite the fact that there is plenty of evidence to more than suggest that al-Bashir was not only complicit in crimes against humanity, but may have acted in a planning capacity.) Muslims make up the vast majority of those targeted by paramilitary groups receiving assistance from the Sudanese government. The International Criminal Court (ICC) issued a warrant for al-Bashir's arrest in March.

While the AKP's foreign policy has unequivocally condemned crimes committed by Israel in its invasion of Gaza last January, it has been less keen to raise human rights concerns in regard to Sudan (not to menton Iran). Last March it was widely expected that Turkey would use its temporary seat at the UN Security Council to try to defer the ICC's warrant. This move was followed up in November by plans for the Sudanese leader's visit to represent Sudan at the OIC meeting. While the European Union did not publicly question Turkey's flirtations with intervening on the war criminal's behalf at the Security Council, the OIC meeting proved a different story. Then, the EU made clear to Turkey that it did not approve of Bashir's invitation or its friendly relations with the war criminal. Click here for the story from Hürriyet, and for an international perspective, see this piece from the UAE's the National.

Particularly noteworthy at the time was President Gül's condemnation of EU intervention in Turkish foreign affairs. President Gül has been seen as more Euro-friendly than other AKP leaders, but expressed strong disappoval of "EU meddling." While the AKP's position was that the OIC meeting was not a bilateral meeting between Turkey and Sudan, and that Bashir, as the head of state of a member country, could not feasibly be dis-invited, AKP leaders did not and have not since questioned the OIC's continued support of the war criminal. Most likely under pressure from Turkey, al-Bashir eventually declined the invitation.

However, soon after, Erdogan not only expressed his belief that al-Bashir is innocent of war crimes in Darfur, but said that Muslims could not commit genocide and that crimes in Israel were greater. For a reaction of Erdogan's comments at the time, see Joost Lagendijk's thoughtful column in Hürriyet. Lagendijk is former chair of the EU Parliamentary Committee with Turkey and a long-time supporter of Turkey's EU accession. See also Seth Friedman's column in The Guardian.

Turkey's new foreign policy is said to be centered around creating good relations with all of its neighbors, but eventually, troublesome decisions about human rights will come about. While Erdogan may visit the OIC and express support for it and a vocation for Europe, eventually Turkey will have to deal with where it stands in relation to human rights and realize that those principles -- not exclusively European by any means -- require it to condemn crimes against humanity. Are they not also Turkey's principles? Just as importantly, if they are, these human rights principles call Turkey to use its increasing power and influence for their advancement, including within the OIC. There is nothing inherently inconsistent about Turkey's membership in both institutions, but there will continue to be a nauseating element to the president and prime minister's statements until Turkey makes it clear what its principles are, and just what it will do to uphold them.


And, as a germane aside, around the same time Erdogan made these comments, he said Turkey would reconsider signing the Rome Statute establishing the ICC if it were to be amended to include terrorism a crime under its jurisdiction. Shortly after, the Dutch proposed an amendment doing just this. The proposal will be formally made at the ICC's review conference in Kampala next June. For some background on this, in Rome, states parties discussed adding terrorism and drug trafficking as crimes justicable under the Court's jurisdiction, but decided not to. There has also been discussion of making pre-emptive war a crime under the Statute as well. Any amendment must be approved by 2/3 of States Parties to the Statute.

In 2004, Erdogan promised to sign the Rome Statute and push for ratification. The Justice and Foreign Ministries assembled a working group while the Foreign Ministry began drawing up plans for ratification following the prime minister's 2004 promise. However, officials in the Justice Ministry ended up opposed (see previous posts). There has been a great deal of mis-information about the ICC by opposition in the Turkish media, including that the Court may try Turkish soldiers involved in the 1974 invasion of Cyprus. (The Court has no jurisdiction over crimes predating its establishmnet in July 2002.) Turkey's signature and ratification are squarely in the hands of the government, which again, expressed in its August 2008 National Program for the Adoption of the Acquis (NPAA) that it planned to join the ICC, which the EU has long called on Turkey to do. Whether it happens, like Turkey's EU membership, is another thing entirely.

Bianet Third Quarter Media Monitoring Report Released

Bianet has released its third quarter media monitoring report for 2009, which counts a total of 190 prosecutions, 74 of which involved journalists. According to Bianet, 80 of those cases involved the freedom of expression. The report does not cover all of these cases, but does give give summaries of a good number of the cases.

Al-Qa'ida Arrests in Turkey

From the Associated Press:
Turkish police launched a nationwide crackdown on suspected militants linked to the al-Qaida terror network on Friday, rounding up 120 people in simultaneous pre-dawn raids, the state-run Anatolia news agency reported.

It was not clear if Friday's raids in 16 provinces in this NATO member and western ally country would amount to a major blow to homegrown Islamic militants.

Yeni Safak newspaper this week reported that Turkish police had recently seized video recordings of alleged Turkish al-Qaida militants in Taliban camps in Afghanistan, as well as alleged plans for attacks on Turkish soldiers in Kabul and on police in Turkey. It did not cite a source for the report.

Turkey, NATO's sole Muslim member, took over the rotating command of the NATO peacekeeping operation in Kabul in November and doubled its number of troops to around 1,750. Turkey has also said it is ready to serve as an exit route for U.S. troops' withdrawal from Iraq.

Friday's crackdown follows another raid on suspected militants in the cities Ankara and Adana last week in which police rounded up and interrogated some 40 people and reportedly seized documents detailing al-Qaida activities. Twenty-five of them were charged with membership in a terrorist organization while the rest were released.

Those detained Friday's raids include a faculty member of the Yuzunci Yil University in the eastern city of Van, who is suspected of recruiting students at the campus and other people through the Internet and of sending them to Afghanistan for training, Anatolia reported, citing unnamed police officials. The suspect was identified by his initials M.E.Y. only.

Anatolia said other suspects included some local leaders, university students, and people believed to be spreading al-Qaida propaganda.
Four bombs attacks carried out in Istanbul in November 2003 killed 57 people, injuring over 700 others, most of them Turkish Muslims. The first two bombs targeted two Jewish synagogues, and the second two, carried out five days later, targeted the British Consulate and HSBC bank. The three gunmen who attacked the U.S. consulate in July 2008 were also thought to have connections to al-Qa'ida, though much less direct. That attack killed three Turkish police officers charged with guarding the consulate. Two alleged al-Qa'ida members were eventually charged in connection with that attack.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Syria's Kurdish Problem Raises Questions for Turkey's Kurds

MAP from

According to a November report issued by Human Rights Watch, an estimated 10 percent of Syria's population of approximately 20 million people are Kurds. While some sources place the number much lower, Kurds constitute a significant minority in Syria and in recent years have met with forms of repression similar to those faced by Kurds in Turkey, Iraq, and Iran have faced. Long remiss to post HRW's most recent synopsis of Syria's own Kurdish problem, it goes without saying that Kurdish issues the region over are interlinked. This is increasingly the case in a globalized world where borders matter even less, but has always tended to be the case despite the historical narratives of these four states. With Iraq's autonomous Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) growing in power and influence, Kurds elsewhere in the region are all the more likely to at least demand basic minority rights long denied to them by the states in which they were placed after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire at the end of the First World War.

Below are excepts of the report's summary, aptly titled "Group Denial: Repression of Kurdish Political and Cultural Rights in Syria":
In March 2004, Syria’s Kurds held large-scale demonstrations, some violent, in a number of towns and villages throughout northern Syria, to protest their treatment by the Syrian authorities—the first time they had held such massive demonstrations in the country. While the protests occurred as an immediate response to the shooting by security forces of Kurdish soccer fans engaged in a fight with Arab supporters of a rival team, they were driven by long-simmering Kurdish grievances about discrimination against their community and repression of their political and cultural rights. The scale of the mobilization alarmed the Syrian authorities, who reacted with lethal force to quell the protests. In the final tally, at least 36 people were killed, most of them Kurds, and over 160 people were injured. The security services detained more than 2,000 Kurds (many were later amnestied), with widespread reports of torture and ill-treatment of the detainees.

The March 2004 events constituted a major turning point in relations between Syria’s Kurds and the authorities. Long marginalized and discriminated against by successive Syrian governments that promoted Arab nationalism, Syria’s Kurds have traditionally been a divided and relatively quiescent group (especially compared to Kurds in Iraq and Turkey). Syria’s Kurds make up an estimated 10 percent of the population and live primarily in the northern and eastern regions of the country.

The protests in 2004, which many Syrian Kurds refer to as their intifada (uprising), as well as developments in Iraqi Kurdistan, gave them increased confidence to push for greater enjoyment of rights and greater autonomy in Syria. This newfound assertiveness worried Syria’s leadership, already nervous about Kurdish autonomy in Iraq and increasingly isolated internationally. The authorities responded by announcing that they would no longer tolerate any Kurdish gathering or political activity. Kurds nevertheless continued to assert themselves by organizing events celebrating their Kurdish identity and protesting anti-Kurdish policies of the government.

In the more than five years since March 2004, Syria has maintained a harsh policy of increased repression against its Kurdish minority. This repression is part of the Syrian government’s broader suppression of any form of political dissent by any of the country’s citizens, but it also presents certain distinguishing features such as the repression of cultural gatherings because the government perceives Kurdish identity as a threat, as well as the sheer number of Kurdish arrests. A September 2008 presidential decree that places stricter state regulation on selling and buying property in certain border areas mostly impacts Kurds and is perceived as directed against them.
For the full report, click here.

Kurds in Turkey have long been more mobilized than Syrian Kurds when it comes to demanding space from the state. While these demands do not necessarily include secession, they do include the protection afforded by individual rights to speech, association, religion, etc., as well as protections for Kurds as a group, including rights to use the Kurdish language, receive education in the Kurdish language, celebrate Kurdish holidays and cultural events, etc. They often also include demands for decentralization, equating to more control over regional and local issues that affect Kurds, and which Kurds are often in the best position to legislate, implement, and administrate. Kurds in Iran and Syria demand similar rights, though in the case of the latter, as the HRW summary notes, political mobilization has been late in coming and fueled by what is no doubt a matrix of factors, including the KRG. Syria, like Turkey, should take this into account, realizing that the only way to prevent demands for secession is to accomodate Kurdish rights to self-determination in some scheme short of full statehood, meaning affording the Kurds rights protections and some degree of limited autonomy. Additionally, though the emergence of a well-organized, clearly articulated, cross-national movement demanding a unified Kurdish state and capable of mobilizing people across religious and ideological lines is unlikely to happen anytime in the near future, as long as Kurds in the KRG are getting what they want -- while Kurds in Turkey, Iran, and Syria are not -- all three states are likely to experience increased demands for secession. Though a seeming majority of Turks already think this is the goal of most Kurdish activists, this is not and has not been the case; however, as Kurds mobilize in Syria and other places, it might well be.

Also, worth mentioning is Turkey's recent rapprochement with Syria. Though the two states had long been at odds, they have recently implemented an agreement whereby citizens of either country holding valid passports may cross the border and stay for 90 days without needing a visa. More importantly, in 2005 Syrian President Bashir al-Assad has recognized Turkey's claim to Hatay, which was incorporated into Turkey in 1939 following the collapse of the short-lived Republic of Hatay, as well as supported Turkey in its 2007 invasion of Iraq over international denunciations of its illegality. Syria stopped supporting the PKK in 1998, and then in 1999 Ocalan was captured and the PKK declared a ceasefire. Meanwhile, for its part, Turkey has helped bring Syria in from the diplomatic cold, Prime Minister Erdogan recently calling Syrians "brothers" and sponsoring mediations between Syria and Israel. Turkey's recent condemnations of Israel, including Erdogan's Nasser-like walkout at Davos and the Turkish government's postponement of a military operation in November, have certainly brought the Syrians closer to the Turks. But, how will this alliance affect the Kurds in Syria?

While articles from pro-government press, like this one from Today's Zaman, portray the growing relationship between Syria and Turkey as a positive development for Kurds in Syria -- pointing to reported Syrian plans to eventually give citizenship rights to stateless Kurds, count its Kurdish population, and accomodate minority rights -- only time will tell. If Turkey's Kurdish opening succeeds in legitimately accomodating demands for minority rights, representation, and devolution, the successful accomodation of any of these demands becoming doubtful by the day, it is possible that Turkey could have a positive impact in Syria; however, even should Syria give all of its resident Kurds citizenship rights, as Turkey has given its resident Kurds, sans some realization of these groups as national minorities with distinct identities, little will be accomplished. It is worth noting that though Syria denied Kurds "citizenship status," Syrian Kurds were much less violent than Turkish Kurds, all of which which enjoyed full citizenship rights as long as they assimilated themselves into the Turkish state. Syria did not pursue assimilation to the same extent, though long repressing political and cultural rights. Perhaps the best lesson Syria can learn from Turkey is that heightened repression of its Kurdish minority, "stateless" or not, will likely bear out serious consequences. For Turkey's part, its desire for peace with and in Syria does well indeed involve how successful it is in solving its own problems with Kurds, which, in the end, is a test not just for the government, but for the Turkish political system as a whole.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Israel and Turkey: The Week in Review

A snapshot from Israeli television of the berated Ambassador Celikkol. Celikkol is seated much lower than his Israeli counterparts, and with no Turkish flag on the table, as would be typical in most diplomatic proceedings of this kind. PHOTO from the BBC

Though I have not been posting on the most recent diplomatic spat between Turkey and Israel, there is no doubt that it is the story of the week. I would direct you to Yigal Schleifer's excellent reporting on a series of events that started with an indignant prime minister Erdogan criticizing Israel during a joint meeting with Lebanese foreign minister Saad al-Hariri and ended with Israel issuing two apologies to the Turkish government after its deputy foreign minister, Danny Ayalon, humiliated Turkish Ambassador to Israel Oguz Celikkol during a demarche. Ayalon summoned Celikkol to rebuke him over a scene of the popular Turkish television show, Kurtlar Vadisi ("Valley of the Wolves"), that negatively depicted Israeli soldiers. Unlike "Ayrilik," the television miniseries that prompted Israeli diplomatic protests two months ago, "Kurtlar Vadisi" is made by a private television company and aired on a private channel. ("Ayrilik" was run on government television.) Though Prime Minister Erdogan has accepted Ayalon's apology, the incident reveals a great deal about extreme nationalist Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman's policy toward Turkey. Ayalon's apology came at the behest of Israeli President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has been largely supportive of Lieberman's more aggressive approach.

For his part, Erdogan has been quite critical of Israel since its invasion of Gaza, which Turkey was not informed about despite its impact on negotiations it was mediating at the time between Israel and Syria. Erdogan has shown no sign of letting up on Israel until things move forward in the Occupied Territories, seeming particularly keen not to apply Turkey's "zero problems with neighbors" policy to Israel. Israel seems to have been late in realizing the extent of Turkey's anger over Gaza. While Turkey's response to Israeli human rights violations, Gaza, and its illegal settlement of the Occupied Territories might be justified and in order, it is no doubt seemingly all the more difficult for the Turkish government to defend this diplomatic posture in Washington and elsewhere when it has done little to protest Iranian human rights violations and nuclear ambitions, not to mention adopting a rather friendly position toward Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir.

UPDATE I (1/21) -- The Jerusalem Post reports that the head of the Israeli Military Intelligence Directorate Maj. Gen. Amos Yadlin reported to the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee that Turkey was moving away from the West and Israel and toward "radical Islam." The paper quotes Yadlin as saying, "In the past, Turkey had ambitions of becoming closer to the West, beyond its acceptance into NATO," Yadlin said. "They wanted to be part of the European market, and they thought that relations with Israel would help them advance in the American market. But then they received a cold shoulder from the Europeans and did not achieve what they wanted. In light of that, they changed their policies and are currently drawing away from secularism and going in a more radical direction. There are still joint strategic interests shared by Turkey and Israel, but it is not the same strategic proximity that they once shared." In the course of his comments, Yadlin used Turkey's rapprochement with Syria as evidence for its strategic departure, citing the former emnity between the two countries as key to Turkey's willingness to maintain good relations with Israel.

Yadlin's address comes days after Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak visited Ankara, a trip that had been scheduled prior to the Ayalon affair.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Turkey Maintains 3,3 Freedom House Rating

Turkey has maintained its 3, 3 Freedom House rating. Freedom House is a United States-based non-governmental organization that monitors democracy and human rights across the world. Freedom in the World, Freedom House's annual survey of the state of civil and political rights around the world, measures respect for political rights and civil liberties on a 1-7 scale. Turkey scored a 3 on both counts. The report uses incident data to calculate these ratings, and did note a decline of freedom in Turkey for the past calendar year. For Freedom House's 2010 report, Freedom in the World 2010: Global Erosion of Freedom, click here. For its 2009 country report on Turkey, click here. (The full 2010 survey, including country reports, will not be available until the late spring.)

Children and the Weapons of War

Another child was killed after finding an undetonated explosive device. Bianet reports that "eleven people, nine of them children, were killed by military explosives in 2008, 16 people were injured, 13 of them children. In 2009, two children and one adult were killed, seven children and 3 adults were injured." Another child was killed by an explosive found near the same gendarmerie station in Bingol province.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Allegations of Discrimination in Distribution of EU Aid

Radio Sweden reports on allegations that European aid is not reaching the regions and groups for which it is intended. Anne Ludvigsson, head of the Swedish support committee for human rights in Turkey and Swedish MP from the Social Democratic Party, argues the EU should place more pressure on Turkey to support human rights and ensure that Turkish bureacrats are fairly distributing funds. Ludvigsson has attempted to highlight the problem, which many argue is a result of discrimnation. The Radio Sweden story also quotes Levent Korkut, head of the Civil Society Development Center (STGM), which the EU setup to assist NGOs receive funds. According to Korkut, discrimnation is a critical factor in all Turkish affairs, adding that discrimination is based not just on ethnicity and religion, but also disability, sexual orientation, and gender. Muhsin Altun, director of the Central Finance and Contrats Unit, tells Swedish Radio that there is indeed disproportionality in the direction of EU funds between the east and west of Turkey, but points out that NGOs and cooperatives are less plentiful and often lack the technical know-how to apply for the funding. Ludvigsson's part of the interview appears at the end of the story, and features her dismissal of EU bureacrats' claims that the money is being adequately monitored and distributed. Ludvigsson apparently brought a mayor from Turkey's southeast to Sweden to comment on how his region is no longer receiving monies, though the story does not go into when funds stopped, why, and where exactly the mayor was from. Ludvigsson advocates bringing more Turkish politicians to the Swedish parliament to discuss EU funding.

The European Union distributes funding to Turkey under a variety of instruments, most important of which is the Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance. EU funding of minority-based groups is the topic of my Fulbright research, and I am most glad to finally see a story at least broaching it.

In related news, the European Information Center in Istanbul opens today.

Multiplicity and Elif Shafak

A little less than a month ago I attended a talk Elif Shafak gave in which she alluded to the potential for holding multiple identities. For those who are not familiar with Shafak's work, Andrew Finkel has presented a fairly solid glimpse of someone whose refusal to be easily categorized makes any endeavor to profile Herculean. Though Shafak spoke in Turkish, which I am still very much at the incipient stages of coming to grasp, I was able, most surprisingly, to at least catch the broad outlines of her talk. Shafak's English, in which she also publishes, is like embarking on a long journey in which her use of language leads the way. It is not so much that her plots are secondary, but that they are at one with her language, making the latter not just a vehicle for telling her story, but in many ways the very story itself. Describing English as more mathematical than Turkish, I can only imagine what Shafak must be like in her mother tongue. That said, a critical pillar of her speech, and her work in general, is her conviction that identity should be characterized by a certain multiplicity and adaptive capacity. As Finkel quotes Shafak,
"You have to move beyond categories of good and bad. People are multi-layered and you can’t judge them by blocks and association.”
Yet, as Shafak laments, categorization is strongly rooted in Turkish society, a phenomenon in which she seems to hope to complicate in both her literature and her politics.

Additionally, Shafak's talk gave me reason to look back at a study exploring political idenity among Turkish youth, some of the results of which were released this past September. The study, carried out by NYU professor of applied psychology Selcuk Sirin, found political identity for Turkish youth is not so singular, settled, or intractable -- all phenomena which Shafak would be likely to celebrate. Qantara's Jan Felix Engelhardt interviewed Sirin in September. For more on the study, including some of Sirin's results, as well as a bit of analysis, see Jenny White's Sept. 15 post.

For a penetrating article by Shafak on Ask, her most recent book, and writing in multiple languages, see this March article from Zaman (in Turkish). One of Shafak's most prominent crusades is to heighten the vocabulary employed by Turkish youth -- no doubt perhaps useful in describing poitical attitudes that, at least according to Sirin's study, are becoming increasingly complex.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Criminal Appeals Court Rules Armenian Apology Cannot Constitute 301 Crime

A court of criminal appeals has ruled that organizers of the petition apologizing for the Armenian genocide (drafted in Dec. 2008) cannot be tried under Article 301. In Jan. 2009, six Ankara residents launched a criminal complaint alleging the violation constituted an insult to the "Turkish nation," still considered illegal under the auspices of the infamous article in Turkey's criminal code and despite cosmetic revisions made in April 2008. Click here for the article from Bianet. Click here for background on the 301 case and here for background on the petition in the context of intellectuals and activists tried since the 301 reform. For more information Article 301 generally, see past posts.

Under the reformed 301 Law, the Ministry of Justice, specifically the Directorate General of Criminal Affairs, must approve a criminal complaint before it becomes a case. My knowledge of Turkish criminal procedure lacking, I am assuming this happened with the petition organizers since the complaint ended up before the Sincan 1st High Criminal Court. It was at this stage, I believe, that the Ankara prosecutor's office decided to file the order of nolle prosequi, effectively dropping the case. However, the court in Sincan refused to drop the case, leading the Ankara procesutor's office to appeal to the case to the Court of Appeals 9th Criminal Office, which issued the ruling released this week. If I am wrong, I would most appreciate it if someone correct me.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Patriarchate and Ankara

PHOTO by Yigal Schleifer/Istanbul Calling

Just before Christmas, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew created an international furor when he gave an interview to American broadcasting network CBS's "60 Minutes" news program. In the interview, Bartholomew says he prefers to stay in Istanbul despite being sometimes crucified. When asked if he felt crucified, Bartholomew responded he sometimes did. (See Yigal Schleifer's Dec. 22 post). The AKP government quickly rushed to criticize the Patriarch for his remarks. Yet, plenty of Turks defended the Patriarch, citing continued government inaction to push for critical religious and minority rights reforms. (For example, see Mehmet Ali Birand's column in Hürriyet. For a defense of the AKP's criticism of Bartholemew and the slow rate of progress in terms of advancing rights for the Greek minority, see Orhan Kemal Cengiz's column in Today's Zaman.)

Minority rights reforms involving the Greek minority are critical to Turkey's EU accession process, especially if support from Greece and Cyprus is to be won. However, instead of pushing for reform, the government has instead made promises without providing timelines or showing serious intent of delivering, oftentimes simultaneously insisting that Greeks are equal citizens and/or pointing its fingers to Greece's abuse of its Turkish Muslim minority, as if two wrongs make a right. For an example of the former, see the remarks of the head of Turkey's Religious Affairs Directorate, or Diyanet, Ali Bardakoglu; for the latter, see Prime Minister Erdogan's comments this week. Unlike Turkey, Greece did not have to satisfy the Copenhagen political criteria (developed in 1993) before its accession into the European Union in 1981. That said, minority rights reforms for the Greek community, a legally recognized minority vested with rights under the Treaty of Lausanne, are highly controversial. In March 2008, when the AKP passed modest reforms to Turkey's Law on Foundations, which governed many religious organizations, the reforms faced fierce nationalist opposition from both the CHP and the MHP. Little concrete work has been done since, and with the EU reform process stalled, the AKP government going as perhaps as far as it wants to go at the moment, it is unlikely much will change in the future. Continued problems with its Greek minority continue to get attention in the United states as well -- for example, see Senator Cardin's recent resolution on reopening Halki.

For more information on the Greek religious minority, including its legal standing under Lausanne, see the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom's 2009 annual report. From the report:
When Turkey was founded in 1923, there were approximately 200,000 Greek Orthodox Christians in the country. In 1955, by which time the number had fallen to 100,000, pogroms targeted the Greek Orthodox community, resulting in destruction of private and commercial properties, desecration of religious sites, and killings. As a result of these pogroms and other difficulties, the Greek Orthodox Christian community has fallen to its current low level, which the State Department reports to be no more than 3,000. Although the Ecumenical Patriarch of the Greek Orthodox community in Turkey has been under Ottoman Turkish jurisdiction since 1453, the Turkish government today still does not recognize the Greek Ecumenical Patriarchate as a legal entity. Moreover, the Turkish government also refuses to acknowledge the Patriarch's Ecumenical status, recognizing only his role as head of the Greek Orthodox community in Turkey. Although Prime Minister Erdogan reportedly stated in parliament in January 2008 that the issue of Patriarch Bartholomew's title as "Ecumenical" is an "internal" one for the Patriarchate and that the state should not interfere, the Turkish government still does not officially recognize the Patriarch's Ecumenical status. The Turkish government also maintains that only Turkish citizens can be candidates for the position of Ecumenical Patriarch and for hierarchs in the Church's Holy Synod.

In 1971, the government's nationalization of institutions of higher education included the Orthodox Theological School of Halki on the island of Heybeli, thereby depriving the Greek Orthodox community of its only educational institution for its leadership in Turkey. Furthermore, in November 1998, the school's Board of Trustees was dismissed by the General Authority for Public Institutions. Due to the factors mentioned above and because of the continuing expropriation of income-generating properties from Greek Orthodox private citizens, the very survival of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Greek Orthodox community in Turkey is at risk.

In the summer of 2008, the European Court of Human Rights ruled unanimously in a case brought by the Greek Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarchate that Turkey was in violation of Article 1 of Protocol No. 1 (protection of property) of the European Convention on Human Rights. The case concerned an orphanage on the Turkish island of Buyukada owned by the Ecumenical Patriarchate. The Turkish government has yet to implement the court's ruling.
See also the EU progress reports and human rights reports linked under the "Key Documents" section of this site.