Thursday, April 29, 2010

A Light Around the Corner?: Progress in the Dink Investigation

The AKP has submitted a proposal to parliament to open a parliamentary investigation into the murder of Hrant Dink. Prosecutors involved in the Cage Action Plan, part of the larger Ergenekon investigation, have said that the Dink investigation is going nowhere and does not include all of the suspects involved. The Dink case emerged once more into the public conscience earlier this month when former Intelligence Unit Chief Sabri Uzun testified in the case of journalist Nedim Sener, who stands accused of " "identifying officials on anti-terrorist duties as targets." Uzun's testimony verified that intellgence officers involved in the case hid vital information about the murder before it happened and falsified reports. For more on Uzun's testimony in the context of the Sener case, see Bianet's report. In other Dink-related news, the 2nd Magistrate Criminal Court in Trabzon still refuses to merge the case of eight intelligence officers charged with negligence with the case currenty underway in Istanbul. For more on the Dink case, see past posts.

UPDATE I (5/8) -- From Bianet:
The lawyers of the family of murdered Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink filed a criminal complaint against Istanbul Deputy Governor Mustafa Güran because he refused to hand them a copy of attachments of the report regarding the murder. Dink, then editor-in-chief of the Armenian Agos newspaper, was shot in front of his office in Istanbul on 19 January 2007.

Joint attorney Fethiye Çetin said that they applied to the Istanbul Public Chief Prosecution for an investigation related to allegations of "misconduct in office," requesting a trial eventually be launched.

The coming hearing in the murder case will be held on 10 May. On the same day, the "Friends of Hrant" will come together once more at the Beşiktaş Pier in Istanbul to call for justice.
UPDATE II (5/11) -- The tenth hearing of the Hrant Dink trial that took place yesterday included testimony from a secret witness who confirmed that Ogun Samast did not act alone, but was accompanied by Yasin and Osman Hayal. For the story from Today's Zaman, click here.

UPDATE III (5/17) -- The Istanbul Public Prosecutor's Office has rejected Dink lawyer Fethiye Cetin's application for a special prosecutor to look into what Dink's attorneys assert was an unquestionably wide-reaching and organized assassination operation.

Black Pink Triangle Saved from Court Case

Izmir's Sixth Court has refused to hear a case brought by a prosecutor against Izmir's Black Pink Triangle LGBT association. The judge declared that LGBT associations have the same right to exist as other associations, ruling that Black Pink Triangle cannot be closed for violating public morals. For background, see Feb. 14 post.

USCIRF Again Designates Turkey a "Country of Particular Concern"

The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has released its 2010 annual report on the state of religious freedom in countries throughout the world and Turkey has again been named a "Country of Particular Concern." Since the file on the USCIRF website appears to be somehow damaged, below are excerpts of reportage from Today's Zaman:
Turkey remains on the watch list this year also. It was designated for close monitoring for the first time in 2009. The fact that very little has changed in terms of restrictions imposed on people has resulted in it retaining its status as a violator country in the view of the USCIRF.

In addition to these 13 countries, designated the worst violators of religious freedoms around the world, the 2010 watch list includes Afghanistan, Belarus, Cuba, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Laos, Russia, Somalia, Tajikistan and Venezuela as well as Turkey with respect to “the nature and extent of violations of religious freedom engaged in or tolerated by the governments.” The panel’s report also criticized the current and former US administrations for doing little to make basic religious rights universal.

The commission was founded in 1998 by an act of Congress and has investigated conditions in what it calls “hot spots” where religious freedom is endangered.
Much of the USCIRF report will echo the U.S. Department of State's country report on international religious freedom in Turkey.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

More Trouble with Israel

Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu
AP Photo from Hurriyet Daily News

Batsheva Simon, reporting for the LA Times, writes:
The latest episode in the ongoing drama of Israeli-Turkish relations could be a partial arms embargo, according to Turkish media, quoting Jane's Defence Weekly. Now, say reports, SIBAT -- the body that handles foreign defense assistance and export procurement and contracts for Israel's defense ministry -- will review Turkish requests for buying defense systems case by case; Turkey has expressed interest in a number of systems, including guided anti-tank weapons and heavy infantry fighting vehicles, as well as electronic-warfare systems.

This further weakens the practical part of the alliance's strategic component, which already took a number of blows when Turkey dis-invited Israel from the joint military exercise Anatolian Eagle last year and also refused to allow the Israeli air force to deploy fighter jets in Turkey or use its airspace. Now, the press reports, Israel is looking for new long-range training options.

But they're still working to save the other aspects of bilateral relations. In the eighth Israel-Turkey Bilateral Economic Dialogue on Thursday, both sides expressed their strong support to further enhance bilateral trade and economic relations and called the business communities to "engage in active cooperation."

Meanwhile, many Israelis don't quite know what to make of the up-one-day, down-the-next ties with Turkey. Outraged over repeatedly harsh words for Israel from Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, many decided to boycott Turkey -- a tough principle to stick to, as Turkish clubs and resorts are a favorite for a close, affordable indulgence. Last month, Turkey launched a $2-million campaign to bring Israeli tourists back. Many did. But some workplaces didn't want to buy packages for Passover vacations. How would it look if we sold our patriotism for $99, they asked.

And Anastassia Tal has her own embargo. The 16-year-old model from Israel turned down a job offer from a Turkish jewelry company, saying (in Hebrew) that under no circumstances would she "be the 'face' of a Turkish company so long as their prime minister lashes out at Israel and its leaders in such a unilateral, humiliating manner." Tal said she was a proud Israeli and that money wasn't everything.
For the Today's Zaman story quoting Jane's Defence weekly, click here. In other Israel news, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu once more brought the issue of Israeli nuclear weapons to the table in an address to foreign ministers of NATO countries on Thursday. Davutoglu argues that NATO should consider disarmament alongside nuclear deterrence.

Two Turkish Soldiers Killed in Semdinli

More PKK violence, this time in Semdinli province in the far eastern province of Hakkari, has left two Turkish soldiers dead and another two critically wounded. Hurriyet Daily News reports that the military has started a large-scale operation in the area.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Violence Begets Violence

Following the attack on Ahmet Turk on April 12 as the former Kurdish DTP leader stood outside a courtoom in Samsun, two attacks have taken place on police officers. The first occurred in Samsun on Saturday, April 17, leaving two police officers dead. The Firat New Agency, which is close to the PKK, later reported that the People's Defense Forces (HPG) were responsible for the attack. Then, on Thursday, April 22, another attack on police officers occurred in Mardin, leaving one police officer dead an two others, another police officer and a civilian, seriously wounded. Turk condemned both attacks, though he initially said he did not think the PKK was behind them. He later told Aksiyon he thought the attacks on him and Energy Minister Taner Yildiz were the work of Ergenekon forces. In more fallout from the attack on Turk, Samsun Police Chief Muzaffer Erkan was removed from his post and appointed to a post in another department in Ankara following criticism that the Samsun police did not do enough to protect Turk. Hulusi Celik will replace Erkan.

Other violence in recent days included a landmine explosion yesterday in the town of Dereli in the Black Sea province of Giresun. One Turkish solider was killed, and two others seriously wounded. The device is thought to have been controlled by remote control.

The Hate Speech Debate

In the past two weeks following Hurriyet columnist Yilmaz Ozdil's seeming praise of the April 12 attack on Ahmet Turk, a lively debate emerged in the Turkish press about the value of a new law regulating hate speech in the Turkish press (for a short summary, see Today's Zaman columnist Fatma Disli Zibak). Some opinion leaders argue that Article 215 of the Turkish Penal Code (TCK), which criminalizes speech that "incites hatred and hostility amongst the public" is simply not enough. For instance, Today's Zaman columnist Yavuz Baydar argues that
Article 216 of the Penal Code, covering ‘inciting hatred’, must be more clearly formulated as to include racism and anti-Semitism. It must be rigorously implemented. But in order to avoid, court rulings, the media outlets must set a filter mechanism inside newsrooms.

. . . .

Columns that contain hate speech must be prevented from going to print or edited out. Each media outlet must internally ‘educate’ its reporters and editors on the subject. And, both ombudsmen and the press councils must pay attention to violations. Lastly, civil society must display vigilance and monitor the media on a daily basis and publicly complain or file for indictment.
At a conference held earlier this month by the Hrant Dink International Foundation, a study was unveiled that documented hate speech in the Turkish press among members of ethnic and religious minority groups. The study did not include other marginalized groups, such as women, LGBT people, or people with disabilities, nor did it cover all minority groups subject to hate speech or claim to do so. From Today's Zaman:
The study, which made public the results of the foundation’s study of the Turkish national press, looked into 24 newspapers with high levels of circulation, leaving aside their supplements.

The most targeted groups were Turkish citizens of Kurdish and Armenian origin. Greeks, Christians in general and Jews were also often the subjects of news stories or columns that contained hate speech.

The study considered bad language/defamation/insult; animosity/wartime discourse; exaggeration/ascribing/distortion; and stereotyping while examining the articles.

Three quarters of the hate speech identified by the researchers was found in columns; the rest was in news articles. The study examined newspapers published in August, September, October and November of last year.

While hate speech found its way easily to the pages of the H.O. Tercüman, Ortadoğu, Vakit, Yeniçağ, Sözcü and Türkiye dailies -- considered nationalist and conservative, and somewhat marginalized with their limited circulation -- it was also in the mainstream Hürriyet and Star dailies, although less so in the latter.
For more on the conference, see this Bianet report. For Baydar's op/ed on the subject in Today's Zaman, wherein the columnist also points a strong accusative finger at Hurriyet and the Dogan Media Group, click here.

For more on the lawsuit filed by the Diyarbakir Bar Association against Yilmaz Ozdil, see this Bianet report.

Further, it should be noted that Article 216 has been used against minority groups before. While a new law may well be needed, I am skeptical as to just how it would work and who all might be using it. For more on this point, see Jan. 24 post. Hate speech legislation is rarely easy, even with a well-functioning judiciary.

Unsafe Haven?: Standing Out in Kayseri

From Hurriyet Daily News via the Associated Press:
A trickle of gays and lesbians have made their way out of Iran — most through neighboring Turkey, which doesn't require Iranians to obtain a visa. Currently, 92 Iranian homosexuals have refugee status in the country, according to Saghi Ghahraman, director of the Toronto-based Iranian Queer Organization, which tracks homosexuals fleeing Iran.

Many are placed by the Turkish government in Kayseri and nearby towns, where they form a precarious community, overshadowed by a larger influx of thousands of Iranians fleeing the political crackdown since June's disputed presidential election. In this conservative region of Turkey, they try to lay low, fearing harassment as they wait in hopes of resettlement.

"Police here tell us to stay indoors when we report violence against us," said Roodabeh Parvaresh, a 32-year-old lesbian who has been in Turkey for over two years.

Parvaresh, a nurse, said even staff at a human rights organization that is supposed to care for refugees told her, "'Don't make a fuss, you're already enough in the public eye.' Why? Because I am lesbian."

Another lesbian, Hengameh, who refused to give her full name to avoid publicity, said she was severely beaten by two Turkish youths soon after arriving in the country a year ago.

Still, Turkey provides an escape from their lives in Iran, where homosexuals can face threats from every direction — from the state, from co-workers or security officials who harass them or try to blackmail them into sexual favors.
Though life may be better in Turkey than Iran, the choice of Kayseri for re-settlement, as I have written before, is a bit bizarre. Conspicuous in these small cities, Iranian gays and other refugees have been targeted by Iranian security forces. From my Feb. 13 post:
And, another aspect of discrimination against Iranian refugees that has come to my attention involves gay Iranian asylum seekers who the Turkish government has re-located in the conservative central Anatolian town of Kayseri, no doubt a bizarre choice. According to Hossein Alizadeh,
While in Turkey, the authorities insist that refugees can only stay in one of 30 designated small cities. These locations are assigned based on the asylum seeker’s nationality, gender, age, and reason for seeking asylum.

. . . .

In a society where job opportunities are rare and financial resources are limited, refugees usually encounter public hostility. But for LGBT refugees, the picture is particularly frightening. Gay people, especially in more conservative areas, are perceived to be moral degenerates who will destroy social cohesion and promote prostitution. In this context, many view gay refugees as the “bottom of the barrel”—the public (and unfortunately sometimes the authorities) see them as parasites who not only suck blood from their host’s body, but who will fatally damage this body if left unchecked. For this reason, some “concerned citizens,” and occasionally local law enforcement agents, take it upon themselves to continuously intimidate gay refugees to make their lives as unpleasant as possible.

For LGBT refugees in Turkey, this is the daily struggle they must contend with: away from family and friends, with painful memories of persecution and harassment in their native country, they are now unwelcome strangers, living in extreme poverty, isolation and hopelessness, waiting for what feels like an eternity to find out if any country on the planet will give them a chance to live like human beings.
Alizadeh also documents difficulties all refugees in Turkey face, and gives their total number at 18,000 (as of June 2009), and I assume this number includes only those who have filed applications with the UNHCR. I have no idea how many are Iranians, and the number has no doubt increased following this summer's unrest. See also Alizadeh's June 11, 2009 post and this story from Voice of America.
See also this report from Oram International.

Approximately 1,5000 Iranians have entered Turkey in transit to other locations since the turmoil in Iran last June. From an op/ed in Today's Zaman by Recep Korkut, a social worker with the Association for Solidarity with Asylum Seekers and Migrants (SGDD):
Some of them file petitions seeking asylum, while others try to obtain student visas in order to reach Western countries.
Iranian asylum-seekers cannot earn refugee status in Turkey due its geographical reservation to the 1951 Geneva Convention on the Status of Refugees, and therefore, they are subjected to the practice of being sent to third countries. Iranian refugees in Turkey are involved in some of the asylum and protection procedures conducted by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in cooperation with the Turkish authorities during their stay in Turkey. They have to fulfill certain criteria required for refugees so that they can be placed in third countries. Interviews with these asylum seekers are conducted, and those who cannot satisfy the basic refugee criteria -- fearing persecution due to his/her race, language, nationality, affiliation with a particular social group or political views or being afforded no protection by the country of citizenship -- are declined, and if the appeal process does not change this, they may be sent back to Iran.
According to Korkut, Iranians make up 22 percent of refugees in Turkey. His entire piece provides a brief history of Iranian refugees in Turkey, as well as a profile of who is seeking asylum and a brief portrait of the limited protection they receive in Turkey.

The Man Who Named His Daughter "Helin Kürdistan"

From Jenny White at Kamil Pasha:
The Kurdish Opening, again: The sound of one door, slamming.

A father who faced jail time for registering his newborn daughter’s name as “Helin Kürdistan” was acquitted on the charge by a Diyarbakır court (not enough evidence), only to be sentenced to nearly 10 years in prison for attending a demonstration.

Prosecutors had charged Şanlıurfa resident Ahmet Atış with “making propaganda for a terrorist organization” by naming his daughter Helin Kürdistan, but due to lack of evidence for the crime, the case was dismissed and the father acquitted. (Click here for my post on previous name games.)

BUT prosecutors managed to find what appears to be his face on a single photo of demonstrators at a demonstration held on April 4 on the occasion of the birthday of Abdullah Öcalan, the jailed leader of the outlawed Kurdish separatist group PKK.

For this, prosecutors charged Atış with “committing a crime in the name of a terrorist organization,” “behaving against the law for the purposes of gathering and demonstration marches” and “making propaganda for a terrorist organization”, for which they requested a sentence of 20 years.

Atış’s lawyer argued that there was no evidence of his client shouting illegal slogans or throwing stones at the police. (click here for the article)

The court sentenced Atış to eight years and four months in prison.
In another post, White documents attempts made by some Kurdish parents to give their children names using Kurdish letters that do not exist in Turkish -- letters that have beforebeen argued and thought illegal to use. Following a case in which a court acquitted Yasin Yetisgen for using the Kurdish letters 'w,' 'q' and 'x,' rejecting a prosecutor's argument that use of the letters is in violation of Article 222 of the Turkish Penal Code (TCK), it is unclear just what the law says on the letters and in the different contexts in which they are used.

Police Violence Once More in the Spotlight

From Hurriyet Daily News:
Human Rights Watch on Wednesday accused Turkey's security forces of excessive violence and making routine use of lethal force, urging Ankara to take tougher action against abuses.

The global watchdog warned in a statement that violent police conduct in a string of recent cases "should serve as a wake-up call for the government about the urgent need to do more to combat these abusive practices."

Highlighting three incidents since March, HRW said security forces shot and seriously wounded a reportedly unarmed man in western Turkey, beat a child in the Southeast and shot and killed a child near the Iranian border in an operation against traffickers.

The fact that policemen involved in two of the incidents were suspended from duty "is an important first step," HRW's Turkey researcher Emma Sinclair-Webb said.

"The key test is whether the investigation will result in those responsible being held to account," she said.

The government should "make clear that lethal force should be an absolute last resort to protect life, and not a routine means to catch a suspect," she said.

Turkey has come under mounting criticism in recent years over heavy-handed action by its security forces, after a notable decrease in complaints in the early 2000s.

Turkey began European Union membership talks in 2005 after a series of reforms that bettered its human rights record, including a marked decline in cases of abuse and torture by law enforcement officers.

But rights campaigners have decried a renewed rise in such cases since legal amendments in 2007, which, they say, gave police broad discretion to use force and encouraged arbitrary stops and searches.
For more on the 2007 amendments and police violence as a systemic problem, see Human Rights Watch's 2008 report and my Dec. 9, 2008 post. For more on the attack on the child in the southeast, see this post at Kamil Pasha.

Relatedly, the Turkey Human Rights Foundation (TIHV) has released a report documenting 12 alleged extra-judicial killings committed between January and March of this year. Bianet provides brief summaries of the cases, as well as three other suspected killings in April.

And, in a cry back to times when things were worse, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) recently issued a ruling in one of the worst cases of police impunity. The case goes back to 1999 and evidences problems that to some degree continue to this day.

Not a "Trivial" Matter

From Bianet:
"Women who have been exposed to violence for years call for help only as a last resort and ask to stay in women's shelters. Almost all of them come to us with serious fractures and physical and psychological injuries. Their lives were in danger several times".

With this explanation, Nebahat Akkoç from Ka-Mer, Zozan Özgökçe from the Van Women's Association and Harika Peker from the SELİS Women's Association reacted to a statement made by Oktay Taş, Provincial Manager of Social Services in Diyarbakır in south-eastern Turkey who said that "women apply for shelter for trivial reasons".

Ka-Mer is a Turkish women's group in Diyarbakır that finds shelter for and offers legal aid to women who have been threatened by their relatives. The SELİS Women's Association is active in the region of the Batman Municipality in the country's south-east.

Akkoç from Ka-Mer criticized that provinces make the places of shelter homes public. Peker from SELİS drew attention to problems experienced at provincial directorates for social service.

Özgökçe from the Van Women's Association underlined the fact that women are not only exposed to physical violence but become victims of economic, sexual and emotional violence as well. "Many women cannot talk about the violence they have experienced when they apply to us at first. The most severe traumata are forgotten and surface again years later".
For past posts on domestic violence, which is particularly bothersome in the southeast, click here.

I have seen nothing on where the Kurdish BDP stands on implementation problems of new domestic violence measures in affect throughout Turkey. Recently, the party has taken a stand against berdel marriages, a common custom among some of Turkey's Kurds that sometimes involves forced marriage.

"Southeast Anatolia Syndrome" Warrants Concern

In the wake of the attacks on Ahmet Turk and Taner Yildiz, Today's Zaman's Ayse Karabat recently took a look at PTSD as a social problem plaguing young men returning from military service in the heavily Kurdish southeast. Some mental health specialists have used the term "Southeast Anatolia Syndrome." From Karabat:
According to experts, forming support groups and legitimizing comments supporting the attack comes as no surprise; such a situation cannot be explained only by the outburst and madness of a young man. The main reason behind it is deeper, they say, adding that a social trauma has been affecting the country for many years.

Individual and Social Mental Health Association Chairman Selçuk Candansayar, a psychiatrist, underlined that over the past few decades -- ever since the first armed PKK attack -- the society has internalized violence as a method of deflecting anger. “Over the last 25 years, whoever was in power legitimized the use of violence as a way of showing anger. During all these years many wrong messages have been given to the society. One of those messages was ‘If you are really angry, you can resort to violence.’ Such a massage also leads to further violence,” Professor Candansayar told Sunday’s Zaman.

He added that presenting Çelik’s attack as an individual act will serve the interests of groups that benefit from violence. “Such a situation gives several messages, including that attacks draw attention and that it is legitimate to continue with them, and that it is normal to show one’s reaction through violence. Furthermore, it helps groups that make use of violence recruit new members,” he says.

Metin Bakkalcı from the Turkish Human Rights Foundation (TİHV) also points to the 25-year-long trauma resulting from the Kurdish problem, trauma that has turned into a phenomenon that is being transferred from one generation to the next. According to him, calculating only the number of soldiers who served in southeastern and eastern Anatolia is enough to get an idea of the scope of the trauma facing society.

“Just think, approximately 200,000 soldiers serve in areas involving armed conflict every year. This means there are at least 3 million people who have been directly affected by the situation. If you consider their families, the number is even bigger,” Bakkalcı said.

Bakkalcı has a point. A very rare study conducted in 1995 found that many young men in Turkey who completed tours of duty in the Southeast during their compulsory military service might have been afflicted with the Southeastern Anatolia Syndrome. The report notes that 25 percent of soldiers surveyed who are suspected of having the syndrome suffer from antisocial personality disorder in addition to other problems such as acute depression, schizophrenia, agoraphobia, social phobias, panic disorders and general anxiety.

One of the authors, Mehmet Sungur, in a previous interview with Sunday’s Zaman said not much progress has been made on the issue since a report titled “Common Features of [Posttraumatic Stress Disorder] PTSD Cases Amongst a Group of Military Staff Referred from the Southeast Region of Turkey” was first published in the Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy in 1995.

The Southeastern Anatolia Syndrome, like the Vietnam Syndrome, is in fact PTSD and is characterized by the typical psychological symptoms that emerge following a distressing event that is outside the range of usual human experience. Soldiers in southeastern Anatolia frequently encounter life-threatening conditions due to their clashes with the PKK.

Sezgin Tanrıkulu, a former chairman of the Diyarbakır Bar Association, pointed out that not only soldiers who served in predominantly Kurdish areas and their families but also many Kurds are victims of various traumas. He said 4,000 villages were evacuated, with those displaced having to cope with difficult living conditions in the cities. There were 17,000 extra-judicial killings whose perpetrators have yet to be found in addition to a couple of thousand people who remain missing.

“This trauma is really worrying because it is polarizing the society. This polarization did not materialize overnight but took many years to form. Anger and outrage have turned into violence as a method of expressing one’s self,” Tanrıkulu told Sunday’s Zaman.

He says even if a magical solution is found today, it will take many years to overcome the trauma. And in any case, he adds, effective programs to deal with the matter will have to be instituted.

Bakkalcı agrees, adding that implementing legal, social and economic measures to solve the Kurdish problem will not be sufficient. “Programs must be put in place to find a real solution to these social problems. And these programs should be developed not only by mental health workers but through a multidisciplinary approach,” Bakkalcı said, adding that the TİHV is working on such projects and will try to address problems faced by soldiers suffering from Southeastern Anatolia Syndrome, relatives of missing persons and families of those killed extra-judicially.

Candansayar also thinks society needs programs to overcome these traumas but notes that problems in traumatized societies can only be solved through the common efforts of both the groups that are angry and those that they are angry with. “Leaders should be able to show the society that violence is not the solution because they were the ones who made the public think violence was legitimate in the first place,” he said.
No doubt another obstacle to conflict resolution efforts . . .

In a case earlier this year, stories about the syndrome appeared in the Turkish press following the murder of a Kurdish man in an Ankara bar. The assailant was a police officer who allegedly suffered from psychological trauma following military service in the southeast.

The Struggle Over Hasankeyf

PHOTO from Today's Zaman

From Today's Zaman's Yonca Poyroz Dogan:
Hasankeyf, which is under threat of being submerged because of the construction of Ilısu Dam on the Tigris River, is the only place in the world that meets nine out of 10 criteria to be included on the UNESCO World Heritage List, according to respected scientists who recently gathered in the town, one of the oldest and continually inhabited places on earth.

“We have gathered reputable scientists to prove that Hasankeyf should be included on the UNESCO World Heritage List,” said Güven Eken, who heads the Nature Society (Doğa Derneği). In order to be included on the World Heritage List, sites must be of outstanding universal value and meet at least one out of 10 selection criteria. The Great Wall of China fulfills five criteria, while Egypt’s Memphis and its Necropolis -- the field of pyramids from Giza to Dahshur -- fulfill three and India’s Taj Mahal meets only one criterion.

The Nature Society’s efforts together with Atlas magazine led to the gathering of about 60,000 signatures from people in Turkey including celebrities such as superstar singers Tarkan and Sezen Aksu and writers Yaşar Kemak and Orhan Pamuk. Their signatures in support of protecting Hasankeyf will be sent to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who will have to decide whether the Culture and Tourism Ministry will make an application to UNESCO.

Representatives of the Nature Society, scientists and Tarkan met with Culture and Tourism Minister Ertuğrul Günay last April and introduced a report that explains in detail how Hasankeyf can be a candidate for the UNESCO World Heritage List.

Criticizing the government’s decisions to construct dams on sites that are protected by law, Eken said as those “illegal” projects start to be built, locals and the civil society would challenge them in court.

One promising decision was taken last week by the Council of State, which overturned previously given authority to the State Waterworks Authority (DSİ) in response to a court case filed by several civil society organizations.

“The Environment Ministry is guilty,” Eken said. “Even if the dam is completed, it will not be able to hold water according to the Council of State’s ruling.”

The decision also pleased the representatives of the Initiative to Keep Hasankeyf Alive. Recep Kavuş from the initiative said the Council of State’s ruling states that the DSİ cannot have authority over cultural values. The site was declared a natural conservation area in 1981.

March. On March 22 this year, 200 people planted approximately 60 trees close to the Tigris River under the slogan: “By planting trees in Hasankeyf and the Tigris Valley we sow hope and life.”

The initiative has also been struggling because there are many financial supporters for Ilısu Dam. Although they have had several campaigns demanding responses from the three Turkish banks that support the construction of the dam, they have not received a response, Kavuş said.

Prime Minister Erdoğan said in February that the construction of the dam and a hydroelectric power plant on the site would continue. He also said the consortium that has undertaken the project had found necessary financing after a group of European credit agencies last July withdrew their financial support for the project, asserting that it did not meet environmental standards for preservation of cultural heritage, and relocation criteria for moving the villagers.

Three Turkish banks, Akbank, Garanti and Halkbank, will provide $430 to $500 million toward the estimated $1.7 billion cost of the dam.

Turkish officials say the 1,200 megawatt dam will help reduce the country’s reliance on energy imports and eventually bring in money from tourism and fishing. Ilısu Dam is part of Turkey’s Southeast Anatolia Project (GAP) -- an economic development program for the country’s poor southeastern corner. The $32 billion project will build more than 20 dams and 19 hydroelectric plants to boost irrigated agriculture in the arid region.

Construction started in August 2006, and the dam will swallow up more than 80 villages and hamlets by the time of its planned completion in 2013.

One other challenge to the construction of the dam has been going on since 2006 at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).
The above story also describes in detail the ways in which Hasankeyf meets the UNESCO criteria to be considered a World Heritage site. In February, Prime Minister Erdogan again voiced support for plans to build the dam and a hydroelectric plant on the spot. With European backing for the project now out of the question, the government has turned to the Chinese to finance the project. See also this vivid description of Hasankeyf by Today's Zaman's Kursat Bayhan, which the prime minister has never visited.

For more on Ilisu, see posts of Dec. 20 and July 26.

Another Portrait of Abdullah Demirbas

Abdullah Demirbas, Mayor of Diyarbakir's Surici municipality

Writing for the Middle East Information Project's Middle East Report Online, Oxford University Professor Kerem Oktem produced an insightful profile last fall of Abdullah Demirbas, the BDP mayor of Diyarbakir's Surici municipality. From Oktem:
Abdullah Demirbaş is the mayor of Suriçi, a district of Diyarbakır. With more than 600,000 inhabitants, many of them war refugees, Diyarbakır is the political and cultural center of Turkey’s troubled southeastern provinces. The district comprises the entirety of the old walled city; hence its name in Turkish, Suriçi, which translates literally as intra muros.

Suriçi is the historical heart of Diyarbakır and the repository of its multicultural past, with once substantial Armenian, Syrian Orthodox and Jewish communities whose presence, if largely diminished, lasted well into the 1980s. Yet it is also a particularly disadvantaged part of the city, as it was a gateway for tens of thousands of refugees who lost their homes and livelihoods during the hottest years of armed conflict between the Turkish army and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in the 1990s

Today, the middle classes have all but left the old town. The vast majority of the district’s residents are recent immigrants from the countryside with few or no skills for the urban job market. Elderly women in particular speak only Kurdish, and the dirt-strewn alleyways resound with the rural dialects of Kurmanchi and Zazaki.

. . . .

The space for Kurdish politics in Turkey has always been constricted by an unsympathetic state and zealous judges who seek to ban every party that explicitly refers to Kurdish identity. The space is also contested by the more maximalist PKK and its supporters and by radical Islamist groupings such as the Kurdish Hizbullah. DTP mayors are often torn between the realities of urban politics in Turkey and the nationalist demands of the PKK. Myriads of court cases are brought against them, often by the Ministry of Interior, and the central state skimps on public services in their districts. Yet many also succeed in carving out spaces of resistance, where they establish and make visible a distinctly Kurdish and left-wing political discourse. Such is the case with the newly opened Mehmet Uzun Library, named after the leading Kurdish contemporary novelist. Abdullah Demirbaş and Osman Baydemir, mayor of metropolitan Diyarbakır, are two of the most prominent of these officials.

Demirbaş was also the first mayor to introduce Kurdish as a formal working language of the municipal administration, honoring the inhabitants who speak little or no Turkish. He had tourist brochures published in Kurdish, as well as in Armenian, Syriac and Arabic. Because of these bold steps, he was deposed after an Interior Ministry inquiry in 2008. He was, however, reelected in April 2009. The cases against him have not abated and once again, he faces removal from office, and even imprisonment for his project of “multilingual municipality services” and support for the advancement of Kurdish culture.
For the full piece, click here. For an earlier profile of Demirbas by Meline Toumani that ran in the New York Times in February 2008, click here.

Council of State Concludes Coefficient Dispute (For the Moment)

From Today's Zaman:
The Council of State rejected an appeal yesterday for the annulment of the Higher Education Board’s (YÖK) recent decision to change a system that uses a lower coefficient to calculate the university admission examination scores of graduates of vocational high schools.

The 8th Chamber of the Council of State, which had rejected YÖK’s previous attempts to end the lower coefficient system, this time ruled in favor of the latest change proposed by YÖK, which is supposed to make it difficult, but not impossible, for students to pursue an area of study that differs from their vocational training.

The coefficients previously employed were 0.3 and 0.5, putting vocational school graduates at a significant disadvantage when they tried to pursue other fields.

YÖK previously attempted to reduce the difference in the university entrance exam score coefficients used for regular and vocational high school graduates. After a series of decisions were blocked by the Council of State, YÖK decided on March 17 that the new coefficients would be 0.12 and 0.15 instead of the previously proposed 0.13 and 0.15. With the court’s decision, new coefficients will apply in this year’s university entrance exam.
For more background, see this more in-depth article from Today's Zaman's Sule Kulu. See also Feb. 10 post.

Chairwoman of EU-Turkey Civic Commision and Kurdish Expert Detained in Istanbul

Kariane Westrheim, Chairwoman of the EU-Turkey Civic Commission, was detained at the airport on Saturday. A Norwegian, Westrheim is also a professor at the University of Bergen, publishing work on Turkey's Kurds and the PKK terrorist organization.

Old Problems and New Possibilities

In preparation of Prime Minister Erdogan's visit to Greece, Turkish Foreign Ministry undersecretary Feridun Sinirlioglu is in Athens this week working out just how much progress can be made in bilateral relations between the two countries. Both NATO members, Greece and Turkey have for years spent huge sums of money on weapons, most of it going to Western weapons contractors. The sums are particularly burdensome for Greece, which has a small population and a GDP far below that of Turkey, prompting Greek citizens to pay a considerably larger amount in defense spending per capita than Turks. The financial crisis has presented an opportunity to reach a new stage in relations, and hopefully, scale back this spending. However, domestic problems and old prejudices in both countries and Turkey's lagging accession process play a spoiling role -- much to the benefit of weapons contractors. From Today's Zaman:

Greece, the country with the highest military expenditure to gross domestic product (GDP) ratio in Europe, has in a sense become a victim of its arms race with Turkey. In 2000 Turkey devoted $16.4 billion to its military spending, while that figure was $8.7 billion for Greece in the same year. In 2003 Turkey's military spending stood at $13.4 billion, compared to $8.5 million in Greece. Per capita defense spending in Turkey was around $164 on average in the 2000s, while this number never went below $709 in Greece.

Turkey's military spending gradually declined and fell to $11.6 billion in 2008, while Greece's military expenditures consistently increased, reaching $9.7 billion in the same year. Speaking about Greece's military spending and its connection to the financial crisis, International Crisis Group (ICG) Turkey analyst Hugh Pope said reports of large German sales of armaments to both Turkey and Greece illustrate a phenomenon -- which he says is most likely just coincidental -- that the German policy of excluding Turkey from the EU has contributed to tensions between Turkey and Greece, from which the German arms industry has then profited.

“Although the January trip to Turkey by German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle has done much to improve the climate, past statements by German politicians have left the impression that Germany opposes Turkey's EU membership, which frustrates Turkey and feeds tensions between Turkey and Greece,” Pope stressed.

An additional paradox is that Germany is also doing its best to help Greece emerge from the financial crisis as its partner in the EU, while one of the contributing reasons for that crisis is the fact that Greece's per capita military spending is higher than the average of NATO member countries. According to Pope, fear of Turkey is one of the main reasons why Greece spends large amounts on its military.

According to the Deutschlandfunk radio station, Greece buys 31 percent of its arms from Germany. This is a high figure considering that Greece ranks fifth among arms buyers in the world.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Heart of the Matter

Turks extend messages of mourning for the Armenian victims of the 1915 Ottoman massacres of an estimated 1.5 million people during a series of forced deportations. AFP Photo from Hurriyet Daily News

For the second time in his presidency, President Obama avoided using the word "genocide" in his Aprl 24 commemoration of the massacres and mass deportations of over one million Armenians living in Ottoman Anatolia in 1915. While some might take this as a victory for Turkey, such a reading is sadly mis-informed. The real victory for Turkey is that a debate is occurring in this country, the proportions of which are not appreciated to the degree that they should be in Western countries passing these resolutions.

While Obama eschewed the word "genocide" yesterday, a group of Turks went to Taksim Square to commemorate the massacres, marking the day with memorials to victims and messages of reconciliation, both with the past and with Armenians in the present. The message of the protest: "This is our pain. This is a miurning for all of us." Additionally, a group of Turkish intellectuals issued a statement reiterating their regret of the massacres, recognizing the pain of their Armenian brothers and sisters, and calling for solidarity between Turks and Armenians. Two years ago, the same group had organized a petition since circulated around Turkey apologizing for what Armenians themselves call "The Great Catastrophe," and though the petition did not mark the events with the legal label"genocide" (its signatories were largely not qualified in the fields of law and history to do so -- nor, importantly, are the politicians and lobbyists who work on this issue), the move was a risky one that was open to all of Turkish society -- an important fact, regardless of the number who signed. Additionally, hundreds of Turks continue to take great risks despite continued restrictions on the freedom of expression in order to write articles and discuss the massacres, opening up the debate and pushing it forward despite tremendous threats to themselves and their families (see Dec. 8, 2008 post). Let us also not forget the huge masses of people that came out onto the streets to honor Hrant Dink, carry signs blazoned with the memorable and still repeated phrase, "are are all Armenian." As the coverup of Dink's assassination continues, a large number of these supporters continue to protest the government's lacking investigation into Dink's murder, marking Jan. 19, the date of Dink's assassination, with as much importance in Turkey as April 24 (for this year's protests, see Jan. 23 post).

Talking about the grave sins of one's past is always the most difficult thing for people to do, and this is exactly what is happening in Turkey. Those who lobby on the Armenian question, whether Turks or Armenians, are but mere tools in the game. The real heroes, the true free-thinkers, are those on the Turkish and Armenian sides that have taken steps to question their own history, build cross-border contacts and connections, and step outside of themselves and the nationalist understandings of history they received as children to move their respective societies forward. While the politics of Washington is focused on which congressman supports what for whatever particular reason (almost all strategic, whether in terms of getting the vote of the Armenian diaspora or protecting/advancing bilateral ties with Turkey), the debate in Turkey is something more soulful, more inspiring, and without a doubt, important to watch and encourage. Protocols or no protocols, resolutions or no resolutions, I am confident this debate in Turkey will continue and advance over the coming years.

UPDATE I (4/27) -- Today's Zaman columnist Ihsan Dagi has a striking piece today on the issues I discussed in this post An excerpt:
For the last couple of years, a debate has been opened in Turkey. Conferences have been held, public gatherings have been organized and articles and commentaries have been published discussing different aspects of the Armenian massacre. Even the Turkish prime minster declared last May that “through fascistic approaches, we forced many to leave this country,” and he asked, “Did we do any good?”

As Turkey proceeds along the path of democratization, it has become common to debate Turkey’s past, including the Armenian question. An authoritarian regime with a monopoly on the interpretation of history and with its control of civil society does not allow free research and free debate. The past is presented in a way to legitimize the position of the established regime. This is fortunately changing. The democratization of Turkish politics and the liberation and diversification of civil society is allowing the emergence of plural ideas on the past including the Armenian massacre.

This process will certainly continue. But the critical point is that if debating 1915 is reduced to naming the events genocide, it may block the whole process. Such a strategy provokes Turkish nationalism, preventing the Turkish masses from being attentive to the thesis that contravenes the dominant view in the country. Thus to unlock the hearts and minds of the Turks at large necessitates abandoning the attitude of categorical accusation against the Turks over the 1915 events.

Of course the belief of Armenians should be respected, but they should also understand that the genocide claims make the reconciliation efforts between the Turks and Armenians almost impossible to attain. We can get out of the imprisonment of the past atrocities not by labeling but disclosing it. Calling it a genocide is the shortest way to close the debate. I think both societies should learn more about the time when disasters hit both the Armenians in Anatolia and the Turks in Anatolia and the Balkans. Thus the first thing to do is to let the sides share their stories without a language of accusation, to create empathy, understanding. This is possible.

UPDATE I (4/29) -- Another example of expanded debate in Turkey is the conference in Ankara that kicked off April 24. Katchdig Mouradian gives an account of it at
The conference, organized by the Ankara Freedom of Thought Initiative, was held under tight security measures. The hall where the conference was held was thoroughly searched in the mornings by policemen and security dogs, metal detectors were installed at the entrance of the hotel, and all members of the audience had to be cleared by the organizers before entering. Unlike the commemoration events in Istanbul, however, no counter-demonstrations were allowed to materialize.

The conference attracted around 200 attendees, mostly activists and intellectuals who support genocide recognition. Among the prominent names from Turkey at the conference were Ismail Besikci, Baskin Oran, Sevan Nishanian, Ragip Zarakolu, Temel Demirer and Sait Cetinoglu.

Besikci is the first in Turkey to write books about the Kurds “at a time when others did not even dare to use the ‘K’ word,” as one Turkish scholar put it. Besikci has spend years in Turkish prison for his writings. Oran is a professor of political science. He was one of the initiators of the apology campaign launched by Turkish intellectuals. Nishanian is a Turkish Armenian scholar who has authored several books and also writes for Agos. Zarakolu is a publisher who has been at the forefront of the struggle for Armenian Genocide recognition in Turkey with the books he has published over the years. Demirer is an author who has been prosecuted for his daring writings and speeches. Cetinoglu is a scholar and activist and one of the key organizers of the conference.

. . . .

was the first time that a conference on the Armenian Genocide that did not host any genocide deniers was held in Ankara. Moreover, the conference did not simply deal with the historical aspect of 1915. For the first time in Turkey, a substantial part of the proceedings of a conference was dedicated to topics such as confiscated Armenian property, reparations, and the challenges of moving forward and confronting the past in Turkey.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

The Military Service Debate

An upcoming meeting between Prime Minister Erdogan and Chief of General Staff Ilker Basbug could produce new measures that would allow more Turkish men to pay to significantly reduce their military service. At the moment, college graduates are required to serve six months in the armed forces while other men are required to serve 18 months. Turkish citizens who have worked outside the country for at least three years can do complete their military servide with only 21 days of basic training. To read more on past provisions that have allowed some Turkish men to shorten their military service, as well as some insight into the debate, see this story from Hurriyet Daily News' Isil Egrikavuk. Such measures have been implemented throughout the Turkish Republic, including after the 1999 Iamit earhtquake as a means of raising state revenue. However, the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) has argued that allowing some to shorten their term is implausible given a purported 2/3 shortage of men currently in service and the political/morale problems that could result given the TSK's operations against the PKK.

UPDATE I (4/25) -- Friday's meeting between Erdogan and Basbug resulted in no compromise agreement to allow for paid military service. From Hurriyet Daily News:

No deal was reached on the issue, as the written statement released after the meeting said the circumstances were not suitable for shortened military service by payment. At the same time, however, they did agree that the period of military service could be shortened in general.

Başbuğ and Erdoğan discussed new structural changes to fix the duration of military service to a period of 12 months and professionalize the forces to make the fight against terrorism more effective, according to Sunday media reports.

Professionalizing the military has been a Turkish Armed Forces, or TSK, objective since 2007.

There are three different types of military service under the current system; non-university graduates over the age of 20 complete 15 months of service as ordinary soldiers while university graduates join the forces for 12 months as higher-ranking reserve officers or six months as ordinary soldiers.

The planned amendments anticipate 12 months of military service for all male citizens.

UPDATE II (5/1) -- A recent survey of college students conducted by MetroPOLL found that "45 percent of university students said they did not want to see a change in compulsory military service, while 40.4 percent expressed a desire for the establishment of a professional army, which would allow them to avoid service in the military. Also of interest are Hurriyet Daily News columnist Joost Lagendijk's comments from his column of a few days ago.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Deadlock Official

Armenia's ruling coalition announced this morning that the protocols signed with Turkey are stalled, and that it is up to Turkey to take further action. Essentially, according to the Armenians, the ball is in Turkey's court. The announcement, coming just two days before President Obama will commemorate the large-scale massacre of Armenians under Ottoman rule in 1915, can be read as an attempt to up the ante in Washington. In its statement, the ruling coalition described Turkey's linkage of the Protocols' ratification with progress on Nagorno-Karabakh as unacceptable. For the full text of the statement, click here. Turkey, for its part, continues to insist that the Armenian constitutional court decision delivered last February also puts acceptable preconditions on the Protocols, hindering their full implementation (namely, on the point of the "historical commission"). From Prime Minister Erdogan's response to the Armenian statement, it does not look as if the statement will make Turkey budge, nor should it have been expected to -- probably owing more to a desire to influence Washington, than Turkey. Some speculated that the two sides had made progress at the nuclear summit in Washington last week, but clearly there is a long way to go. For background, see past posts.

UPDATE I (4/23) -- Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan addressed the Armenian public last night. Bianet has the summary. For the United States' response, click here.

UPDATE II (4/27) -- The International Crisis Group (ICG)'s Sabine Frazier has written an excellent short analysis of the stalled agreement. From the piece:
In spring 2009, Baku's leadership began to appeal not only to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan but also to the Turkish opposition to keep the border shut until its occupied territories were liberated. It threatened Turkey's preferential price for its Shah Deniz natural gas supplies and chances of greater volume to feed the planned Nabucco transit pipeline to Europe. In January of this year, for the first time, Azerbaijan provided significant amounts of gas to Russia. Popular mood against Turkey hardened in Baku, with official support and even puppets of Turkey's leaders being burned in some protests.

Turkish leaders decided that they could not ignore Azerbaijani pressure and with difficult negotiations going on concerning constitutional reform, they do not want to pick a fight over border opening with nationalists in the parliamentary opposition -- and within their own ruling party. Turkish Prime Minister Erdoğan made increasingly unambiguous statements that without progress on settling the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, the border would not open, even though this was the strategy applied by Ankara since 1993 with little conflict resolution effect.

In the past several months Turkey did succeed in contributing to reinvigorating efforts to solve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict under the aegis of the OSCE Minsk Group. Armenia and Azerbaijan are closer than ever to signing the agreement on basic principles that they have been considering since 2005. But they have not narrowed their differences on the final status of Nagorno-Karabakh. While there has been some movement on defining an “interim status” for the entity, Armenia insists that it should have the right to self determination including secession from Azerbaijan, while Azerbaijan says that its territorial integrity cannot be violated.

The Armenian government also did little over the past several months to reaffirm its commitment to difficult aspects of the protocols. Rather it tried to distance itself from the establishment of a committee on the historical dimension “including an impartial scientific examination of the historical records and archives.” For Armenians such a commission is generally perceived as a fundamental violation of their very national identity. They don't accept that “the genocide fact” can be discussed. Armenian President Serzh Sarksyan made this most clear in an April interview to Der Spiegel criticizing the idea of a historical commission as “calling into question the fact of the genocide perpetrated against our people.”

Both the Armenian and Turkish leadership comes out of the past months weakened. Armenian President Sarksyan has been heavily criticized by his opposition for making too many concessions to the Turkish side, believing that the border could open despite Azerbaijan's firm opposition and losing a realistic chance in 2009 that US President Barack Obama would state that he recognized the mass killings and deportations of Ottoman Armenians 1915 as genocide. The Armenian parliamentary decision is a victory for the more hard-line Armenian diaspora and a defeat of Armenian sovereign foreign policy making.

UPDATE I (4/23) -- The Global Post's Nichole Sobecki has an informative piece up on the Turkey-Armenia rapprochement, in which a variety of voices may be heard. The piece also has some striking photography of Van, where many Armenians used to reside before the deporations/massacres.

UPDATE II (4/27) -- Eurasia Daily Monitor analyst Vladimir Socor has put out an insightful piece criticizing the logic of the Obama Administration's approach to the Protocols. An excerpt:
Since April 2009, US President, Barack Obama’s administration has pressed for opening Turkey’s border with Armenia unconditionally Thus, the October 2009 Zurich protocols, strongly backed by the US, required Turkey to establish diplomatic relations with Armenia and open the mutual border “without preconditions.”

Washington’s policy seems driven primarily by domestic politics. The administration hopes to remove the annual drama of Armenian genocide recognition from the center-stage of US politics. It seeks its way out of the dilemma of losing Turkey versus any loss of the US Armenian vote. “Normalization” of Turkish-Armenian relations, centered on the re-opening of that border, was offered as a substitute for the unfulfilled electoral-campaign promises to recognize an Armenian genocide in Ottoman Turkey.

Washington’s normalization concept, however, has also turned out to be unfulfilled. Tilting sharply in Armenia’s favor at Azerbaijan’s expense, it backfired first in Azerbaijan and shortly afterward in Turkey. Instead of de-aligning Ankara from Baku, as seemed briefly possible, it led Turkey and Azerbaijan to close ranks against an unconditional “normalization” of Turkish-Armenian relations, prior to a first-stage withdrawal of Armenian troops from Azerbaijan.

The US initiative seemed unrelated to any regional strategy in the South Caucasus. It actually coincided with an overall reduction of US engagement in that region, downgrading the earlier goals of conflict-resolution and promotion of energy projects. Moreover, it risked splitting its strategic partner Azerbaijan from Turkey, compromising the basis for a subsequent return to an active US policy in the region.

. . . .

The logic of the administration’s initiative from 2009 to date has implied that Washington would “deliver” the re-opening of Turkey’s border with Armenia; while Turkey would in turn “deliver” Azerbaijan by opening the Turkish-Armenian border, without insisting on the withdrawal of Armenian troops from inner-Azeri territories. That conditionality is a long-established one in these negotiations. However, Washington currently insists that the two processes be separated and that Turkey opens that border unconditionally as per the October 2009 Zurich protocols.

Breaking that linkage would irreparably compromise the chances of a peaceful, stage-by-stage settlement of the Armenian-Azeri conflict. It would indefinitely prolong the Armenian military presence inside Azerbaijan, placing Russia in a commanding position to arbitrate the conflict, with unprecedented leverage on an Azerbaijan alienated from its strategic allies.
While Washington was surely not expecting such a strong response from Azerbaijan (see Jan. 24 post), it is now all the more clear that a rapprochement between Armenia and Turkey must involve Azerbaijan, taking into account the concerns and interests of all parties involved. While it is perhaps possible to criticize Turkey for placing preconditions on the Protocols, it is also possible to criticize the United States and Europe for not adequately taking into account the amount of pressure Azerbaijan is able to exert over Turkey. Turkey might well "deliver" Azerbaijan, but only if the Azeris are made part of the process. The Obama Administration's exclusion of Azerbaijan from the nuclear summit in Washington on April 12-13 marked a continuation of this oversight, and it is only hoped that the United States will amend its logic in the future.

UPDATE III (5/8) -- Yigal Schleifer gives another good account of the breakdown of the rapproachment at the Eurasianet website.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

BDP Continues to Resist Constitutional Reform

The BDP continues in its refusal to lend its support to the consitutional amendment package, insisting that the party will not be forced to choose between a weak reform package and the status quo. Instead of voting on the package, the BDP has made the decision to boycott the vote, joining the CHP in so doing. The move puts it in an untenable position, gaining the party leadership criticism both from within its own ranks and among some elements of Kurdish civil society. Imprisoned former PKK leader has said the BDP should not vote on the amendments until the Anti-Terrorism Law is lifted, and the BDP has maintained its position that it will not support the package until the government makes concessions on some of the reforms it is demanding, namely a lowering of the 10 percent threshold parties must attain in order to enter parliament, as well as amendments to the Anti-Terrorism Law (MGYK), the Turkish Penal Code (TCK), and provisions that would allow for a more equitable distribution of funds received by political parties from the Treasury. The party has also expressed demands that some of those arresed in the KCK operations be released. From Ayse Karabat at Today's Zaman:
Gülten Kışanak, the co-chairperson of the BDP, claimed while addressing her parliamentary group on Tuesday that with the constitutional reform package the public is being forced to either defend the status quo or to accept the amendments that do not respond to the democratic needs of the public. She also claimed that their constituents agree with them.

“There are efforts to mislead the public. There are claims that the voter base of the BDP is saying ‘yes’ to the constitutional amendments. These claims are trying to cheat our people, but our constituents are very well aware of what they need,” she said.

On the other hand, observers argue that the electorate in pro-Kurdish areas will have a tendency to say “yes” to the constitutional amendments when asked in a referendum. However, experts have underlined that if there is a call for a boycott from the terrorist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), then the grass roots might obey. At the beginning, the BDP gave conditional support to the constitutional amendments but then changed its position, especially after Abdullah Öcalan, the leader of the PKK, who is serving a life sentence on İmralı Island in the Marmara Sea, told his lawyers several times that the constitutional reform package is full of inconsistencies. He also urged the BDP to form a strong front against the constitutional amendments if the conditions raised by the BDP were not met.

In the same speech, Kışanak mentioned the children in conflict with the law who are facing long prison sentences and the more than 1,000 BDP members, including some mayors, who are currently under arrest. She said the government claims to be making these constitutional amendments for the sake of democracy but that it is impossible to believe in the sincerity of the government while these groups are still under arrest. Kışanak also said that the judiciary is under the control of the deep state now but that after the constitutional amendments are passed, it will be under the control of the government.

“The constitutional reform package is forcing the public to choose either the military coup constitution or the constitution of the AK Party, which is not doing anything for the various groups in society and the working class. We are not obliged to accept this. We will follow a third path,” she said.

Bengi Yıldız, the parliamentary group chairman of the BDP, explained their reasoning and said the package disregarded the demands of the working class and that this was why they would not be a party to it. “We will show the color of our vote by boycotting it. We will not say ‘no,’ but neither will we say ‘yes.’ We will follow a third path,” he said.

He added that from the beginning their door had been open to the government to discuss their suggestions, but their views had not been taken into consideration in Parliament’s Constitution Commission. “The package submitted to Parliament is the package of the [ruling Justice and Development Party] AK Party. We will not be dragged behind any party,” he said. At the beginning of the constitutional reform package discussions, the BDP declared that they were not against it but that some steps towards democratization needed to be taken first.
Polls have showed that the constitutional amendments are favored by over 60 percent of the population in the southeast, though public relations efforts by the BDP and organizations close to it may change those numbers in coming weeks should the party not come to a compromise with the government. There is also a diversity of opinion on the issue within the BDP, including former DTP leader Ahmet Turk.

UPDATE I (4/23) -- The amendment pertaining to the closure of political parties cleared parliament with 337 votes after gaining support from five members of the BDP (Perivan Buldan, Sebahat Tuncel, Ayla Akat Ata, Hamit Geylani, and Bengi Yıldız). The BDP deputies said the AKP had called them to vote, and said they would be willing to render their assistance again if a similar gesture was made.

UPDATE II (4/23) -- Referencing Ahmet Turk, Today's Zaman columnist Yavuz Baydar criticizes the BDP's boycott of the vote on the amendment package.
Türk told our colleague Hasan Cemal the other day: “Yes, the constitutional reform package is inadequate in many respects. But, it is a positive move given the current situation, and it is an improvement, though limited. Therefore, it should be supported. It is wrong for the Peace and Democracy Party to be in the same boat as the Republican People’s Party [CHP] and the Nationalist Movement Party [MHP].”

Given his decades of experience and knowledge on Kurdish voters’ behavior, he may be right. Surveys show an even higher rate of support (over 60-65 percent) for the package among Kurds than the general population. Acting on devotion to the jailed leader of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) rather than paying attention to the people in the street may not only be a strike against the party in the eyes of the latter but could also lead to a serious defeat in the next elections.

. . . .

Why does the party have this confrontational and seemingly irrational attitude? One explanation is to be sought in the contact between the Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the BDP before the package was taken into Parliament. The BDP leadership first demanded a brand new constitution and then switched to a set of conditions, such as lowering the election threshold from 10 percent, changes to the Counterterrorism Law and a release of the detained local Kurdish politicians in the “KCK [Kurdistan Communities Union] operations.” It has received no positive response from the AKP.

The main reason for the cold hand is tactical. The AKP leadership feels the heat of the anger that the “Kurdish initiative” has caused at the grassroots and party-base level and does not want to be seen in any sort of coordinated cooperation with BDP deputies in Parliament, despite the fact that at least some of their votes might be helpful. It would give an upper hand to the nationalists, it has argued. Instead, the AKP placed its trust on some “independents,” which turns the voting process into a razor’s edge.

Having understood the underlying reasons of AKP thinking, BDP deputies also play to their own “audience” by bringing up issues unrelated with the content of the package with an explosive rhetoric. This may be understood as part of Realpolitik and populism, but how it is perceived by a common Kurd is another matter. This is a source of justified concern for elderly politicians such as Türk. Were it up to him or his imaginary leadership, it would not be difficult to expect the BDP’s presence in the sessions and at least partial support for the package, enough to show the traditional voter of the party what the BDP stands for. In Türk’s mind, the BDP may not have won much on its conditions and demands as outlined above, but it would lose nothing if it “silently” supported the articles of the reform.

UPDATE III (4/27) -- There are indiciations that the BDP is softening in its opposition to the reform package, re-working its list of emands and seeking new consensus with the AKP. From Today's Zaman's Ayse Karabat:
Öcalan, in recent meetings with his lawyers, suggested that the BDP reconsider its position and give its conditional support to the reform package. Meanwhile there are ongoing negotiations between the government and the BDP on the issue. As a result of these negotiations, five BDP deputies voted for an article of the package regarding the closure of political parties. For the other articles of the package, the BDP is joining in the discussions in Parliament but boycotting the voting.

BDP Diyarbakır deputy Akın Birdal said, prior to the party’s Monday meeting in which the party’s position is expected to be reconsidered, that their demands are still on the table and they should be considered as part of the democratization process:

“It might take time to lower the election threshold but some changes in the TCK and anti-terror laws to bring the release of children and mayors who are under arrest can be easily done,” he said.

Security forces last year, in an operation allegedly against the urban branches of the PKK, arrested around 1,000 people, including several BDP mayors and pro-Kurdish politicians. There are many ongoing court cases involving children in southeastern and eastern Anatolia who participated in demonstrations and are facing trials as adults due to the TCK and the anti-terror law.

Birdal recalled that one of the most controversial articles of the reform package, regulating the structure of the Constitutional Court, passed with 331 votes, just one vote clear of the 330 required to pass.

“If the government really wants to finish the job it started, it should listen to us and should not see our demands as ‘concessions’ but as necessary steps for democratization,” he told Today’s Zaman.

The Trouble With Reality

From Hurriyet Daily News:

Turkey urged Iran on Tuesday to take steps to defuse international concerns over its nuclear program, emphasizing its willingness to mediate between Tehran and world powers.

Iran needs to show goodwill and commitment to the international community to reduce concerns over its nuclear program, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said in Tehran on Tuesday, adding that he had made some concrete proposals to the Iranians.

“We are continuing to work to stop unwanted developments that could hurt Iran, Turkey and our entire region. We are discussing new alternatives. We should work on reaching them together,” Davutoğlu told reporters at a joint press conference with his Iranian counterpart, Manouchehr Mottaki.

Davutoğlu arrived in Tehran late Monday and conducted high-level talks with Iranian officials Tuesday. He met with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani and Secretary-General Said Jalili of the National Security Council before departing for Serbia in the late afternoon.

“There are some new concrete proposals made by us. We have conveyed our thoughts to the Iranians and I can tell you that I observed a very good atmosphere and response here,” said Davutoğlu in Tehran. The foreign minister said he would engage more and discuss Iranian responses with Western nations.
The Tehran conference Davutoglu attended is largely viewed as an attempt to counter the summit the Obama Administration organized in Washington two weeks ago. Turkey attended both summits, and again, the question is as it has been before: Does Turkey have the diplomatic clout to pull off a deal and appease both the West and Iran, and if it does not, what will failure do to its "zero problems" with neighbors policy? Turkey is in deep diplomatic waters here, risking much at a time when tensions continue to rise regardless. The trouble with reality is that sometimes it requires hard choices, and Turkey's policy toward Iran at the moment is seen by many as a test of just where the country will go in the future. I think this is more than a bit of an overstatement, but there are plenty of fixed eyes on Ankara waiting to see if Turkey can prove itself a bridge here. For a skeptical response by U.S. State Department spokesman Philip Crowley, click here. For recent commentary on Turkey's posturing, including Turkey's position on Israel and and its nuclear program, see Yigal Schleifer's post from a few days ago.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The First Round Begins

The constitutional amendment package cleared a critical hurdle after an 18-hour session in which the CHP made multiple efforts to stall parliamentary debate on the amendments. From Hurriyet Daily News:

Parliament’s General Assembly was the scene of tactical battles until the early hours Tuesday morning, when the government’s constitutional reform package avoided rejection, receiving just three more than the minimum votes required to proceed.

The package received 333 votes, allowing Parliament to move forward and discuss its individual articles in more detail. Four votes that are thought to have come from independent deputies pushed the package over the 330-vote threshold.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said discussion on the proposed amendments would continue even if it takes a month, while Republican People’s Party, or CHP, chief Deniz Baykal leveled harsh criticism against the government.

The CHP’s insistent demands to take the roll and its attempts to introduce motions increased tension in the General Assembly and delayed the start of the session.

The ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, plans to discuss three articles of the package each day over the next nine days, except for the official holiday April 23, in order to finalize the parliamentary discussions.

The CHP, the Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP, and the Democratic Left Party, or DSP, did not participate in the voting process; the Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP, joined to vote against the package. Overall, 410 deputies voted on the package; 73 of them cast “no” votes, two abstained from voting and two left their votes blank.

Two articles of the amendments, concerning affirmative action for women and children and the protection of personal data and privacy, were adopted in the first day’s 18-hour marathon of discussions, with the first getting 336 votes and the second 337 votes.
The amendment process as laid out in the constitution, requires two rounds of voting and debate. For more on the process, see April 16 post.

UPDATE I (4/21) -- The CHP has announced that it has gained the support of the necessary 100 MPs needed to file for the constitutional amendments' annulment at the Constitutional Court. The support comes from seven independent MPs and six MPs from the DSP. From Today's Zaman:

The main opposition party is now planning to make three separate applications to the top court for the annulment of the planned amendments to the Constitution. The party will base its arguments for the first appeal on the alleged violation of parliamentary bylaws when the package was being voted in Parliament. The party does not have to gather the support of 110 deputies for such an appeal.

A tug-of-war among deputies over the violation of bylaws wasted five hours in Parliament on Monday, delaying the voting process. CHP deputies claimed that Parliament Speaker Mehmet Ali Şahin had violated parliamentary bylaws when opening the articles of the constitutional package to debate.

The CHP also plans to apply to the Constitutional Court if the ruling AK Party takes the planned amendments to a referendum. In such a case, the main opposition party will ask the top court for a stay on the referendum. Such a move may prevent the government from holding the expected referendum for several months, according to observers.

The CHP’s third appeal to the Constitutional Court against the constitutional amendments will target both the content and procedural grounds of the reform package. The party will argue that the amendments violate the principle of the separation of powers in Turkey. CHP members who are experts in law are now trying to decide when to file the petitions with the top court. Though the party is willing to apply to the Constitutional Court once the reform package is approved in Parliament, such a move faces the risk of rejection by the top court.

In the meantime, CHP parliamentary group deputy chairman Kemal Anadol complained on Tuesday about deputies casting their votes on the constitutional amendments publicly in Parliament and said his party would take the issue to the Constitutional Court. Deputies are supposed to use secret ballots on the amendments.

According to analysts, Turkey will be dragged into an atmosphere of chaos if the Constitutional Court decides on a stay for the referendum based on an appeal from the CHP. In such a case, the ruling AK Party will most probably play its final trump card and call for early parliamentary elections. The elections will also have a decisive impact on the referendum.

There is also the possibility of the Constitutional Court only nullifying certain articles of the constitutional reform package. For instance, the court may rule against the changes to the structure of the Constitutional Court and the HSYK.

On the other hand, if the court rejects the CHP’s expected appeals against the reform package, Turkey will hold a referendum on the constitutional amendments early in July.
For a summary of the amendments from Bianet (in two parts), click here and here.

UPDATE II (4/23) -- The amendment pertaining to the closure of political parties cleared parliament with 337 votes after gaining support from five members of the BDP (Perivan Buldan, Sebahat Tuncel, Ayla Akat Ata, Hamit Geylani, and Bengi Yıldız). The BDP deputies said the AKP had called them to vote, and said they would be willing to render their assistance again if a similar gesture was made.

UPDATE III (4/25) -- Amendments to four articles were passed yesterday, including amendments to a judicial body supervising the Military Supreme Council (YAS), which now has the exclusive authority to dismiss officers (this power has largely been used against suspected Islamists/Islamist-sympathizers; the amendment excludes YAS decisions that force military personnel to retire due to promotion procedures and the absence of tenure). From Hurriyet Daily News:

Other articles approved on Saturday included the article 13, which grants public servants the right to collective bargaining with regard to their financial and social rights as well as article 14, which grants the public the right to apply to courts over censure or warning punishments they face in their workplaces.

Another article passed in Parliament was the reform package’s 15th article, which says justice services and supervision of prosecutors with regard to their administrative duties will be carried out by Justice Ministry inspectors.
UPDATE IV (4/26) --The amendment pertaining to the restructuring of the Constitutional Court, the most controversial of the package, passed parliament by just one vote yesterday, raising concerns in the AKP. Other amendments passed on Sunday cleared the way for military officers to be tried in civilian courts and restricted the trial of civilians in military courts except in times of war.

Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin extended an offer to the CHP to separate the three most controversial articles of the package -- those on the Constitutional Court, the Supreme Council of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK), and the closure of political parties -- from the rest, allowing them to be voted on individually. In exchange, Ergin expects the CHP to drop its pledges to challenge the amendments at the Constitutional Court. The CHP strongly rejected the offer.

It will be interesting to see if a combination of the CHP's recalcitrance and the AKP's increasing anxiety might bring it into consensus with the BDP, the demands of which the AKP has been unwilling to meet. The BDP, along with the DSP (with which consensus is also possible, but even more unlikely) wants the 10 percent threshold parties must meet in national elections in order to enter parliament to be dropped. The party also wants more Treasury funding, and along with the CHP, has argued that the closure of political parties should be guided by the Venice criteria, which sanction closure only in cases in which the party has used or advocated violence. On the last point, the AKP has rejected arguments from bothe the CHP and the AKP, arguing that criteria for closing a party should take into account the unique circumstances of Turkey. Under the current article on politcal party closures, parties may be closed for "independence of the state, integrity of the state and the nation, national sovereignty, and democratic and secular principles." Under the Venice Commission's criteria, "Prohibition or enforced dissolution of political parties may only be justified in the case of parties which advocate the use of violence or use violence as a political means to overthrow the democratic constitutional order, thereby undermining the rights and freedoms guaranteed by the constitution. The fact alone that a party advocates a peaceful change of the Constitution should not be sufficient for its prohibition or dissolution."

Chairwoman of the Delegation to the EU-Turkey Joint Parliamentary Committee Helene Flautre comments in Today's Zaman about the value of the constitutional amendment package to Turkey's EU accession process, arguing that the package will democratize Turkish institutions despite the government's piecemeal approach.

UPDATE V (4/27) -- Monday saw four more amendments passed, including the article which empowers the Constitutional Court to try the General Staff, force commanders, and the Speaker of the Parliament in cases where these offials abuse their power (Article 148 of the constitution,a nd Article 19 of the amendment package). Amendments to the same article also allow individuals to petition the Constitutional Court once all other remedies have been sought, a crucial step given recent criticism from the European Court of Human Rights and the Council of Europe. From Hurriyet Daily News:

Along with Article 19, three other articles were passed in Monday’s session, including Article 20, which brings changes to Article 149 of the Constitution that regulates the working and judging procedures of the top court. Article 20 passed with 338 votes in favor and 70 against. In line with the change, the Constitutional Court will function as two separate departments.

Article 21 received 338 votes in favor and 70 against, while article 22 garnered 335 votes in favor and 70 against. Article 21 changes Article 156 of the Constitution, regulating the disciplinary procedures and personal rights of the military Supreme Court of Appeals. Article 22 concerns members of the supreme military administrative court.
UPDATE VI (4/29) -- The first round of voting ended today, preparing way for the second and new opportunities for compromise. The CHP remains firmly opposed to the package and has expressed optimism that the amendments pertaining to the Constitutional Court will fail in the second round, abrogating the need to go to the Constitutional Court for annulment. Hurriyet Daily News provides a recap of the past two weeks.