Sunday, May 30, 2010

More Reason Why Neighborhood Pressure Matters

Bogazici University and the Open Society Institute have released a study assessing intolerant attitudes in Turkey toward ethnic and religious minorities and LGBT people. The survey, released in report form as "The Otherization and Discrimination in Turkey
(in Turkish)" ("'Biz'lik, 'Oteki'lik, ve Ayrimcilik: Kamuoyundaki Algilar ve Egilimler"), was conducted between Feb. 15 and April 25, in 18 provinces with the participation of 1,811 interviewees. Hurriyet Daily News summarizes the results:

The most striking result of the survey concerns the question on “who deserves a restriction on their rights?” The answers given by the respondents indicated that the discriminatory tendencies and the level of tolerance have changed little in the last five years.

An astonishing 53 percent of participants strongly believed that the right to freely express a different sexual orientation should be restricted. Similarly, 37 percent of the people sampled denounced the right of believing in no religion, with 59 percent standing against atheists flaunting their lack of religion. Moreover, 28 percent denounced the right of non-Muslims to be open about their religious identity.

The results showed that 72 percent of the sample supported the idea that “those who have a different sexual orientation, like homosexuality, should be open about their sexual identities.”

According to the 2005 results of the survey, 58 percent said non-heterosexuals should not be equally free. The percentage of those who say the rights of those who have a different native language other than Turkish should be restricted is 19 percent, the same figure as the 2005 survey.

Those who say that all ethnicities, religions and sects should be secured by the Constitution make up 74 percent.

Some 36 percent of the interviewees said their primary identity was “being a citizen of Turkey,” whereas a 29 percent thought “having a Turkish national identity” was most important.

Meanwhile, 66 percent said they have no other ethnic culture and they are rooted completely in Turkish culture, while 20 percent said their ethnic culture and language were secondary to Turkish language and culture. Some 8 percent said their language or culture came before Turkish culture while 2 percent said they had absolutely no connection to Turkish culture and language.
59% of respondents in the survey said they did not feel any sort of neighborhood pressure. And, the rest?

Such surveys should boost concern about the arguments of "strong democrats," those who continue to stress democracy with little reference to rights protections and difference. See my March 26 post on the need for Turkey, and the AKP as the government in power leading up constitutional efforts, to come to a sophisticated of rights-based democracy. Until the "democrats" start talking about protecting everyone's rights, promoting difference and diversity in Turkish society, and adopt an open, articulate discourse that encompasses all of Turkish society, many Turks are likely to fear rule by the majority -- and, if the respondents in this poll hasd their say, for good reason. Leadership requires taking risks and promoting new understandings, most especially in conservative societies where difference is seen as something Other. The AKP has taken some positive steps in this direction, but how genuine, far-reaching, and reflective of an overall attitude appreciative of diversity is still very much in doubt. When combined with a general societal ambivalence toward liberalism and a lack of tolerance, many Turks' fear of rule by majority should be taken seriusly. Turkey might not end up like Iran, but it could certainly end up a more closed, oppresive society should majoritarian democracy continue to take a stronger place without attention to rights. For more on neighborhood pressure, see also Feb. 10 post.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Undermining International Justice

Alongside the United States, China, Russia, India, Indonesia, and Saudi Arabia, Amnesty International has specifically called on Turkey to join the International Criminal Court (ICC). Amnesty issued the statement in its annual "State of the World's Human Rights" report, which also documents the state of human rights in countries across the world. According to Amnesty's Secretary-General Claudio Cordone, "China, India, Indonesia, Russia, Turkey and the U.S. have stood aside from - if not deliberately undermined - international justice efforts." Turkey fell subject to harsh criticism from human rights activists last October when it extended an invitation to Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir to attend a meeting of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) in Istanbul (see Jan. 20 post).

For Amnesty's Turkey-specific report, click here.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Constitutional Court to Decide on CHP Petition

Constitutional Court President Hasim Kilic announced that the Constitutional Court will meet next Thursday to decide whether to hear the CHP's petition to annul the constitutional amendment package passed earlier this month. In the event the Constitutional Court decides to hear the appeal, Kilic said the a decision would be reached prior to the scheduled Sept. 12 referendum date. The CHP is appealing the amendments on both procedural and substantive grounds. In 2008, the Constitutional Court annulled a constitutional amendment on the headscarf on the grounds that it violated the first three unchangeable articles of Turkey's 1982 military constitution (see June 7, 2008 post).

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Roj-TV Subject to New Controversy in Denmark

Manouchehr Zonoozi, a former director of Roj-TV in Denmark, recently gave an interview to a Danish newspaper in which he spoke of the close links between Roj-TV and the PKK. Denmark's broadcasting of Roj-TV has long been a source of tension in Danish-Turkish relations, and the interview has opened up a controversial discussion within Denmark that is surely wlecome by the Turish government, which has long denounced the channel as nothing more than a broadcast arm of the PKK. Roj-TV is widely watched throughout Turkey by satellite despite it having no legal presence in Turkey. The Danish paper publishing the interview also published photos of Roj-TV officials at a PKK training camp, including one of Zanzooni alongside PKK commander Murat Karayilan. Zanzooni was the time said to be working for Roj-TV.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

A Story Told in Ladino

Centropa Student, a website designed to promote understanding of Jewish life in Central Europe, has produced a film in Ladino in which a Turkish Jew narrates her family's immigration from Spain to the Ottoman Empire. Ladino, a mix of Spanish and Hebrew, could once be heard widely in Jewish quarters of Istanbul. Thanks to Jenny White at Kamil Pasha for originally posting this.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Enter Kilicdaroglu: Toward a New CHP?

PHOTO from Hurriyet Daily News

Returned again from Diyarbakir, I spent yesterday in Kocaeli listening off-and-on again to the CHP's party congress on the radio. A civil servant who served for years as a public accountant, newly-elected CHP leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu made his name by becomng one of the CHP's most aggressive top party members when it came to attacking corruption scandals within the AKP. In his speech yesterday, Kilicdaroglu talked on corruption, as well as issues of poverty and unemployment. Though the party platform has changed little, Kilicdaroglu has replaced three-fourths of the CHP's Party Assembly's 80 members, removing many members close to now fallen Baykal and causing many to speculate that the CHP is in for big changes. This may well be wishful thinking, and only time will tell, but the exuberance in the leftist press is likely to keep Kilicdaroglu and talk of a "new CHP" in the news for the next week.

Other Turkey goings-on are falling a far distant second in the news cycle, all eyes instead focused on a constant stream of punditry as to just what the new leader means for Turkish politics and the CHP in coming 2011 parliamentary elections. Might the AKP be forced into a coalition with the CHP? And, might Turkey finally have a reasonably powerful social democratic presence in party politics, becoming more than the "party of no" that frustrated even the most entrenched AKP opponents during the Baykal years? The enthusiasm definitely evinces people's frustration with the CHP over the years and a yearning by many people for a strong alternative. Whether the CHP will live up to expectations is another question altogether, but at the moment, the sheer fact that so many seem hopeful that a renewed CHP might bring about change spells out just how much people have wanted change and just how deep the frustration with Baykal and the CHP's "party of no" politics has been in recent years.

For some past analysis on the CHP and Baykal's former iron-clad hold over the party, see my analysis following the CHP's 2008 party congress, as well as this broader take on the state of the Turkish left. The CHP's politics in recent years have indeed been so centered in being in the opposition, in addition to emphasizing Turkish nationalism over democratic socialism, that the party has often found itself facng condemnation from the Socialist International (for example, see July 25 post).

Kilicdaroglu's civil servant profile and calm manner (the latter, combined with a slight physical resemblence, has earned him comparisons to Ghandi) have been heralded by some as a positive development, perhaps leading to a more reasoned, less exhibitionist politics. Yet this same profile has also caused others to dismiss the new leader as potentially weak and inexperienced. Significantly, Kilicdaroglu hales from Tunceli, and a practicing Alevi, a religious minority group that has a long history of close ties to the CHP and had become increasingly critical of what some Alevis say is a Sunni Islamist bias in the AKP, the CHP's support for Kilicdaroglu might also have something to do with recent attempts within the party to broaden its support base and set it more apart from the ultra-nationalist MHP, which has gained votes in recent years largely at the expense of the CHP. Whereas the CHP under Baykal often seemed to resist AKP-led reform for the sheer sake of resistance, the MHP staked out a more pragmatic position, staunchly opposing reforms for minority rights and in the area of freedom of expression while forging alliances with the AKP on issues involving secularism, such as the AKP-MHP headscarf legislation in early 2008. In this way, the MHP has managed to win religious nationalists while the CHP has remained stagnate, its supporters increasingly frustrated with the party's intransigence and inner-party authoritarianism. Here is an excerpt from a piece I wrote back in February 2008:
Highly-criticized in liberal circles, comprised of those who seek an expansion of personal liberties, but yet are critical of AKP's pro-market, libertarian-type ideology, Baykal's CHP is frequently seen as a barrier to the entrance of a viable leftist politics. While AKP exists as the only pro-Europe party, the party's center-right, liberal democratic credentials remain unchallenged. AKP, perhaps best considered a center-right party akin to Germany's Christian Democrats, is thus the only party capable of courting pro-Europe liberals. Thus, the leftist constituency in Turkish politics is left without adequate representation, their social democratic values left unvoiced in AKP's center-right politics or lost completely thanks to CHP's unrelenting nationalism and demagoguery, a seemingly right-wing, conservative politics more in line with the proto-fascist MHP than with the social democratic parties of Europe.

So, what is CHP's relation to the left? In name, the oldest party in Turkey and the party of Atatürk, CHP underwent many transformations in its long and turbulent history. Following the rise of leftist politics in the 1960s, CHP became the manifestation of Turkey's mainstream left. Under the leadership of Bülent Ecevit in the late 1960s and 1970s, CHP espoused a social democratic politics built on a Kemalist foundation. In many ways, its politics mirrored that found in the emerging social democracies of Europe, and it even joined the Socialist International. While it is true that the party always held true to a rigid protection of the state's secular identity, it also promoted civil liberties, and under Ecevit's leadership, decried military interference in politics. However, following the 1980 coup and a complete re-working of the political left, CHP re-emerged weak alongside an array of other parties, all of which fell short of representing the leftism that had changed the face of Turkish politics in the two decades prior to the military's violent intervention.

. . . .

In so many ways, the demise of the Turkish left can be attributed to its' members own dogmatic prescriptions for the role of religion in society. The left's strict interpretations of secularism and conflation of the Islamist threat have proved a serious distraction for the advocacy of the social and economic reforms that typify leftist existence in other countries. As the sole inheritor of the left's legacy, CHP is a frightfully sad representation of its past history. Caught up in what it imagines as a virtual state of war against Turkey's internal and external enemies, the CHP and its secular elite are more likely to espouse Hobbes than Rousseau or Mill. Rather than protecting free speech, it must be stifled to preserve the integrity of a state facing threats from Islamists and Kurds. Rather than allowing for democracy, elected parties must be periodically closed because they might threaten the nationalist or secularist order. Rather than joining truly social democratic nations in Europe, EU accession must be held circumspect because it involves a surrendering of centralized state control, a re-negotiation of secularism, and countenance liberalism, for individuals vested with too much liberty might act contrary to state ideology and the carefully devised plans of the ruling elite.

Many liberals have left CHP, casting relucant votes for the center-right and vaguely Islamist AKP rather than continue to support the stumbling block Baykal and the CHP have thrown up in the way of Turkey's larger political development. How many of the many "floating voters" that cast ballots for AKP in 2002, and again in 2004 and 2007, were disgruntled leftists, fed up with Baykal and CHP authoritarianism? Other liberals have continued to support CHP, but not without due anguish. Still, yet another group, perhaps not liberal, per se, but frustrated with Baykal and the CHP status quo while equally afraid of AKP's economic liberalization schemes and "creeping conservatism," continue to support CHP rather than wed themselves to a more liberal vision of Turkish politics, a liberal ideology that if properly formulated, might coalesce the reasons for their resentment toward AKP with an incipient support for individual liberties and democratic pluralism.
Since I wrote this, disenfranchisement with the AKP among liberals and leftists has only continued to grow, oftentimes alongside fears of what many read here as the party's attempts to consolidate its hold on power -- the reason why many who would under other circumstances not be opposed to the judicial reform promised by the constitutional amendment package strongly opposed the AKP's efforts this spring, an opposition al the mroe heightened by the AKP's conducting of the Ergneekon investigation and seemignly self-interested attempts at self-preservation (for example, its exclusion of reform of the 10 percent threshold and failure to adopt the Venice Criteria for party closure in the reform package). Under these circumstances, a truly re-generated CHP has an even better chance of attracting voters than it did two years ago.

However, there are reasons for guarded skepticism as well. Kilicdaroglu would not likely have been elected had he too many radical changes in mind, and CHP Secretary-General Onder Sav will continue to play a powerful ahnd. Additionally, in drafting the list for the Party Assembly, it is clear plenty of compromises had to be made. Kilicdaroglu lauded Baykal as a great leader yesterday, and said little on the most controversial issues, like secularism and minority rights. Instead, he focused his criticism on the AKP, accusing it of using religion and ethnicity in politics to raise political tensions while offering little in terms of concrete solutions for Turkey's most pressing problems. On the Kurdish question, despite his Tunceli background (a province that is heavily Kurdish), Kilicaroglu, even more than the AKP, stressed the economic dimension of the problem with little discussion of cultural or expanded poltical rights for Kurds other than lowering the 10 percent threshold, a move that would indeed benefit the Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party. (On the other side of the equation, Kilicdaroglu twice broke with his party on minority issues: one, in issuing strong criticism of then-CHP deputy party leader Onur Oymen's incendiary remarks that Turkey's attack on Alevis in Dersim in 1938 was justified, and again, in hinting that the CHP might support for an amnesty for PKK fighters.) There is also concern that a mild-manned Kilicdaroglu, who has less experience as a politician than others within top CHP ranks, is up for the job of governing a party with so many strong personalities, many of whom will likely vying for power in Baykal's absence. There are also, most cynically, and on the far right, some opinion leaders who have characterized the Baykal scandal and Kilicdaroglu's subsequent election as a project of Ergenekon. (For mixed reactions in the Turkish press, click here.)

What the future holds is almost anyone's guess, but right now many are just simply enjoying the prospect of change. For more talk of Kilicdaroglu's election, see Milliyet columnist Hasan Cemal, who uses a comparison between former CHP leaders Bulent Ecevit and Baykal to delineate two different and divergent roads which the CHP under Kilicdaroglu might take. See also liberal Attilla Yayla's skeptical analysis, as well as Levent Koker's discussion within the context of the ongoing constitutional amendment process.

120 More Detained in Continued KCK Operations

The operations against alleged members of the Democratic Confederation of Kurdistan (KCK), described by some as the "urban wing" of the PKK, continue. From Bianet:

More than 120 people were taken into custody in the course of recent operations carried out by the police and the gendarmerie in the provinces of Tunceli, Elazığ, Malatya, Şanlıurfa and Batman in south-eastern Turkey, Sakarya in the north-west and Aydın and Denizli in western Anatolia. Apparently, the operations targeted the Democratic Confederation of Kurdistan (KCK), the umbrella organisation that includes the militant Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).

Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) deputy, Özdal Üçer, criticized the raids and said that most of the people taken into custody were young people. "The government wants to wipe out the Kurdish youth", Üçer argued.

Günlük newspaper informed that the number of people taken into custody during the past four days amounted to 124. The daily described the operation in its headline as "Code name: Hunting Kurds".

Upon the directive of the Malatya 3rd High Criminal Court, a total of 23 people were taken into custody in raids organized simultaneously in Tunceli and Elazığ. Raids in Tunceli were carried out in the Nazimiye district and several villages. Among the people arrested were Sudan Güven, employee at the BDP Women Parliament General Headquarters, Kurdish Azadiya Welat newspaper employee Nuri Yeşil, Erdi Kalay, İlknur Çalışkan, Tülay Demir, Ferhat Çongar, Rojda Çevik, Savaş Karakuş, Gökhan Gökmen and another six people whose names are not known.

A total of eight people were taken into custody in Elazığ, among them Serkan Demirel, reporter of the Dicle News Agency (DİHA), Ali Konar, Elazığ correspondent of the Azadiya Welat newspaper, and BDP executives. They are not allowed to talk to their lawyers during the first 24 hours in custody.

In the course of the raid of the Malatya Democratic Students Association (DÖDER), many issues of newspapers, magazines and books were confiscated. Students who came to the association in the meantime were checked for their criminal records.

Suruç City Council member Hülya Demir and Mehmet Beşaltı, Yusuf Yavuz, Servet Özberk and Yasemin Özberk were taken into custody in Şanlıurfa.

A considerable number of private homes were raided in the Oraklar Municipality of Aydin in the morning hours of 24 May. 15 people were taken into custody, among them BDP members and student Sait Kaya from the Adıyaman Besni Vocational School.

In a riot after a meeting in Batman on 23 May six people were detained. 18 people were taken into custody on 22 May in Kars in the course of raids on private homes, among them BDP executives. On 21 May, seven primary school students and 13 adults were taken into custody in the Beşiri district of Batman.

Pamukkale University students Sabir Yalın, Duygu Okur and Medeni Varol were taken into custody in Denizli on 20 May. While the Labour and Democracy Platform in Bodrum (southern Aegean coast) condemned the death of Şerzan Kurt, the police detained students Azat Öztürk and Ersin Karababa. Student Mustafa Karakaya and another student were taken into custody on 20 May in Erzincan (north-eastern Anatolia).

DİHA reporter Çağdaş Kaplan was released on Tuesday (24 May) by the Istanbul Beşiktaş prosecutor after he had been taken into custody by the Sakarya police together with another 19 people.
In other news, the BDP announced at the beginning of the week that it will begin to take the cases of those arrested during the operations to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). The BDP alleges that the period of detention and arrest is being used as a punishment, and that the time between the arrests and the trial is unnecessarily long and violates the right to a fair trial guaranteed under the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. The Diyarbakir Bar Association's Reyhan Yalcindag said the cases will be taken in groups based on the date of arrest.

So far, 1,584 people have been arrested in line with the operations. I am not sure how many more have been detained, and then later released.

166 1/2 Years in Prison for Kurdish Journalist

From Bianet:

Journalist Vedat Kurşun, former editorial manager of the Kurdish Azadiya Welat newspaper, was charged with "membership of the PKK organization" and "spreading propaganda for an illegal organization" by the 5th High Criminal Court of Diyarbakır (south-eastern Turkey). Kurşun received a prison sentence of 166 years and six months. The separatist PKK organization is listed as a terrorist organization in many countries.

With this decision, the court followed the demands expressed in the final submission of the prosecutor. In the hearing on 13 May, the court decreed to sentence Kurşun to 12 years and eight months, the upper limit for charges of "membership of an organization". He furthermore received a 103 counts' sentence according to article 7/2 of the Anti-Terror Law (TMY) on propaganda for an illegal organization.

In an announcement made by the Azadiya Welat daily, the decision was described as "illegal" and "politically" motivated. The newspaper urged rights institutions to react to the decision.
Reporters without Boarders (RSF), the Turkish Contemporary Journalists' Association (ÇGD), the Press Institute Association and the Journalists Union of Turkey (TGS) have all condemned the decision, which again, raises serious questins about freedoms of expression and thre press in relation to the Kurdish question. Continued sentences against journalists perceived to be pro-Kurdish natioanlist within the context of continued operations against alleged members of the Democratic Confederation of Kurdistan have seriously undermined the government's democratization efforts in the region. My recent visits to the region have revealed that there is little to no hope left for the initiative, even amidst moderates who at first praised the government's attempt as a positive first step toward resolving the conflict.

Azadiya Welat's editorial manager, Mehdi Tanrikulu, who is also facing charges in relation to his work for the paper, was released this week after one and a half months in detention after insisiting that he present his defense in Kurdish. He is facing the same charges as Kursun., as is Kurdish publisher Bedri Adanir. Adanir's charges come in part due to his publication of speeches made by Adullah Ocalan during the imprisoned former PKK leader's defense at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). Adanir had sought the approval of local authorities in Bursa before publishing the book, though the Interior Ministry had forbidden publication. Adanir's defense is scheduled for July 8.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Turkey in a Multipolar World

Last month, I wrote skeptically that Turkey might be risking too much in its efforts to secure an agreement with Iran over its nuclear program (see April 21 post). Though the future of the deal Brazil and Turkey brokered with Iran is far from certain, the ability of both to contradict the popular notion (especially in Washington) that a deal could only be reached under the pressure of sanctions is a true accomplishment that will boost recognition of both countries' emergent roles as diplomatic powers. The news last week that Brazilian President Luis Inácio Lula da Silva would be travelling to Tehran and that he might well be joined by Prime Minister Erdogan should the Iranians be serious about brokering a deal raised hopes for a deal, prompting contradictory reactions from Washington that can be interpreted any number of different ways. Announced on Monday, the deal (full text) will indubitably lend greater creedence to Turkey's efforts to pursue a dynamic role in rits onal and global politics, further breaking away from its Cold War role as a staunch ally of Wahsington. Taking a look at commonalities between Turkey and Brazil as aspirant powers, former New York Times Turkey correspondent Stephen Kinzer writes in The Guardian:
Turkey and Brazil, though half a world apart geographically, have much in common. Both are large countries that spent long years under military dominance, but have broken with that history and made decisive steps towards full democracy. Both are led by dynamic and ambitious leaders who have presided over remarkable economic booms. Both have already emerged as regional powers, but have grander ambitions to become world powers on the level of Russia, India and perhaps even China. Neither could fulfil those ambitions alone. Together, however, they form a partnership that holds tantalising possibilities.

No two countries have opened more new embassies around the world in the last couple of years than Turkey and Brazil. Senior Turkish diplomats return to Ankara once a year for a grand strategic conference, and at this year's meeting, held in January, Brazil's foreign minister, Celso Amorim, was among the main speakers.

Turkey and Brazil were once near-automatic supporters of Washington, but they have struck out on their own path. Distressed by what they saw as blundering American unilateralism that destabilised entire regions of the world, they have sought to defuse international confrontations and promote peaceful compromises instead. By felicitous coincidence, both are now nonpermanent members of the security council. This gave them special leverage over Iran. They have used it deftly.

During the cold war, the non-aligned movement tried to become a "third force" in world politics, but failed because it was too large and unwieldy. Turkey and Brazil are now emerging as the global force for compromise and dialogue that the non-aligned movement never was.
That said, the problems inherent in the deal, especially following Iran's announcement that it would continue to enrich uranium up to 20%, gives reason to think it might not work. Should the deal prove nothing more than a delaying tactic for Iran, the current ebullience surrounding the deal will surely diminish, as will to some degree the optimism of some that Turkey's foreign policy ambitions can play a constructive force in global politics.

The Angry Young

The BBC's Nicholas Birch takes an insightful a look at the role zealous youth play in the Kurdish conflict. An excerpt from his piece on
Many observers see the rise in urban violence as a sign both of the growing vacuum at the heart of the Kurdish nationalist movement, and the changing dynamics of the PKK's support base.

"In the old days, there was a clear chain of command," says one Yuksekova politician. "The PKK would tell the politicians 'the shops will be closed today' and the politicians would pass that on to the shopkeepers. Today, they both say 'don't close the shops down', but then some 18 year old claiming to be the right-hand man of a PKK commander comes along and countermands their orders."

Locals say the break-up in the PKK hierarchy began in 2005, when three separate PKK groups began to set up civilian support organizations in Hakkari Province. The PKK has always used civil 'militias' to spread its message and ensure a steady influx of provisions and money. After 2005, however, the rapid growth of militias, and the lack of a clear chain of command, led some members to use the PKK trademark to enrich themselves.

In 2008, two Yuksekova men were found dead, allegedly murdered by the PKK for running a protection racket under the guise of collecting for militias. Some locals say the group has since moved to professionalize what were once volunteer militia units, to avoid a repeat of the same problem.

"In the old days, rhetoric about the Kurdish struggle was enough to bring people onside," says Irfan Aktan, a Yuksekova-born reporter who writes widely about the Kurdish issue. "But war has left a whole generation in poverty. They have nothing to lose. Money is infinitely more important to these people than ideology."

A journalist based in Diyarbakir, Ahmet Sumbul sees no evidence that the PKK is professionalizing itself to ensure the loyalty of its supporters. But he agrees that urban violence is on the rise, and changing too. In the past, he says, protestors used to stone police stations and state offices. "Over the past five years, they have started throwing stones at everybody and everything. Small shopkeepers get the worst of it."

"The PKK can use these people, but they can't control them. It's just unfocussed anger. Kids no longer listen to their fathers. Kurds no longer listen to the mountains," Sumbul added.

It's a form of nihilism that one Yuksekova tradesman, who spoke on condition of anonymity, has experienced firsthand. Twice, he has been insulted for trying to stop teenagers from starting a fight with police. Once, a masked kid put a brick through his car windshield "because I had broken some curfew he had personally decided to call."
An alarming trend, one hopes the government is taking notes and realizes the problems involved here are not a matter of simple economics and unemployment, though both play crucial roles. A certain reading of Birch's piece might lead one to think that nihilism among low-SES Kurdish youth is the reason for this trend, but a visit to the region will open up a whole score of narratives and attitudes, most all based on anger against the Turkish state, that need to be seriously addressed.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Part of the Kurdish Initiative?

From Hurriyet Daily News:
The Interior Ministry may lawfully collect the monetary damages paid to fallen soldiers or their relatives from the families of dead terrorists under a recent court decision, CNNTürk reported on its website Friday.

According to the court’s ruling, the parents of a militant who is claimed to be a member of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, will pay damages to the Interior Ministry amounting to slightly more than 40,000 Turkish Liras.

The move follows calls to hold militants’ relatives accountable for the compensation paid by the ministry to the family of a soldier killed in a terrorist attack in the eastern province of Batman in 2006. “It is an injustice to hold us responsible; our child was of age,” the parents of one alleged militant said.

Police officer Erkan Serdar Salar and three alleged PKK militants, including Nebihe Altun and Mesut Erbey, all died in the armed battle. The Interior Ministry paid damages to the officer’s family, as is its practice.

Claiming that the ministry is losing money due to this practice, the Interior Ministry recently filed an unprecedented lawsuit against two of the PKK militants’ parents, ordering them to reimburse the government for the damages. Such a measure is technically against the law since the militant was of age and his parents were no longer his legal guardians.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Shooting of Kurdish Student Sparks Protests

Radikal reports that the violence that broke out between students at Dokuz Eylul University in Mugla last Tuesday and resulted in a police officer shooting a Kurdish student has sparked protests in Hakkari, where the student was from. The incident was initially reported to have started off as a confrontation between students over a girlfriend, but was later revealed to be ethnic in nature. Some papers also reported that the clash was between leftist and rightist students. The officer who shot the student has been arrested.

UPDATE I (5/19) -- Serzan Kurt, he student who was shot last Tuesday, has died. From Hurriyet Daily News: Ömer Kurt, Şerzan Kurt’s father, said to Fırat News Agency: “My son did not die with a stray bullet. The biggest reason for him being killed is him being Kurdish."

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Leaving the Past Behind: Re-setting Greek-Turkish Relations?

AFP Photo from The Guardian

Before Prime Minister Erdogan's arrival in Greece on Friday, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu called the prime minister's visit a "revolution" in Turkish-Greek relations. No doubt eager to use the visit as a means to demonstrate its "zero problems with neighbors" foreign policy, the Turkish government hyped the visit for weeks before with talk of disarming the Aegean and ensuring a new era of cooperation in which tension between the two neighbors would become a thing of the past.

Last month, Turkey and Greece signed five "confidence-building measures," including one that assured regular joint parliamentary meetings between them, the first of which resulted in 21 bilateral cooperation agreements signed Friday.

Coupled with Turkey's EU Chief Negotiator Egeman Bagis' call in March for both countries to reduce arms procurements, Erdogan's visit and April's confidence-building measures do indeed signal a will by some politicians in both countries for mutual cooperation between the two countries, but the fundamental problem of territorial disputes and continued aerial confrontations between the two countries' air forces, as well as different approaches to reconciliating Cyprus, will continue. For further explanation of these, see Hurriyet Daily News columnist Mehmet Ali Birand's column in which Birand excerpts snippets from an interview he conducted with Greek Prime Minister Georges Paprendreou.

In Athens, Erdogan reiterated Bagis' earlier call for arms reduction, as well as proposed that both countries file flight plans with NATO and with each other in effort to avoid dogfights over disputed airspace over the Aegean wherein Greek planes continue to fly with full payload, another issue Erdogan broached.

However, such moves seem difficult in Greece, where some Greek nationalist politicians have warned that Greece should not be duped into falling victim to what are sometimes characterized as Turkish tricks just because Greece's economy is in dire straights (in fair part, due to military spending efforts to keep up with Turkey -- see April 27 post).

It is also not clear whether there is such will on the Turkish side. On the morning of Erdogan's visit, the Turkish miitary flew six F-16s into disputed air space, resulting in mock dog fights with the Greek pilots. Bagis had told Greek television before the meeting that the continued dog fights were also a problem for the Turkish government, hinting that the military and the government are not necessarily on the same page.

The cooperation agreements signed pertained to areas ranging from immigration to tourism to technology and trade. One of the more important deals brokered pertains to Turkey's facilitation of the return of illegal immigrants who have re-located from Turkey to Greece, an issue that has long annoyed Greece. All in all, 10 Turkish cabinet ministers travelled with Erdogan to Athens to participate in the joint meeting, haled as a "high-level cooperation council."

Also along for the ride were an approximate 100 Turkish business people, key to Ankara and Athens stated goal of expanding bilateral trade and investment opportunities, likely to be the hardest immediate concrete result of the meeting.

UPDATE I (5/22) -- Greece has rejected Erdogan's proposal that Greek planes fly without payload when on patrol in the Aegean. Greek deputy Foreign Minister Dimitris Droutsas told Greek newspaper Imerissia, "Greek warplanes are armed because they are scrambled to face an unknown threat, because the Turkish side does not file flight plans to enter the Athens Flight Information Region."

Friday, May 14, 2010

CHP Files for Annulment

The CHP has filed its petition with the Constitutional Court to annul the constitutional amendments passed in parliament last week. From Hurriyet Daily News:
The Republican People’s Party, or CHP, applied to the Constitutional Court with 111 votes. Along with 97 CHP deputies, six Democratic Left Party, or DSP, deputies, seven independent deputies and former Prime Minister Mesut Yılmaz of the Democrat Party signed the CHP’s application.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, meanwhile, criticized the CHP on Friday for repeatedly applying to the top court to resolve the country’s political problems.

Speaking to the media after the application, CHP deputy Süha Hakkı Okay said the party’s objection to the package was both procedural and in terms of its essence.

In the petition, the party said the package was submitted to Parliament with procedural mistakes and that articles regarding the judiciary were contrary to the Constitution.

The petition listed the procedural and methodological mistakes first, saying the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP’s, proposal was actually a draft bill, not a parliamentary proposal. The party cited Erdoğan’s constant references to the word “draft bill” in its court application.

The CHP also said the AKP submitted the proposal to Parliament twice, thereby constituting a methodological mistake.

The AKP first submitted its package proposal with “stock signatures” the party had collected from all its deputies when they were first elected to Parliament in 2007. Because of the CHP’s objections, the AKP had to resubmit the proposal to Parliament by having all its deputies physically re-sign the new proposal in person.

Claiming further that the AKP had failed to obey the rule of secret voting in Parliament, the CHP attached alleged visual evidence of this procedural violation in its petition.

The opposition party further objected to the essence of the reform package, saying the articles, which envision a reorganization of the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors, or HSYK, and the Constitutional Court was against the Constitution and a threat to judicial independence.
The Supreme Election Board (YSK) has scheduled the referendum for Sept. 12. The date is controversial because the party had planned to use the day to re-open the Armenian church on Akdamar Island in Van for religious services for the first time in the history of the Turkish Republic, a move initially showcased to symbolize rapprochement with Armenia.

Nesrin Baytok in the Media

PHOTO from Milliyet

Frequently referred to as the "secretary" in media coverage and public discourse concerning the sex scandal that brought down CHP leader Deniz Baykal, Nesrin Baytok is a full-fledged parliamentarian and long-time meber of the CHP. The Turkish media's general treatment of Baytok and portrayal of Baykal as the "victim" in the sex scandal has garnered criticism from some Turks concerned that the incident could hinder Turkish women from entering politics and does a disservice to gender equality and the treatment of sex when it enters politics. From Hurriyet Daily News:
While the man involved in the scandal, Deniz Baykal, has become a hero-victim since resigning as leader of the Republican People’s Party, or CHP, the woman has been perceived as “the bad one,” according to activists. They said such discrimination is just because Baykal is a male, whereas parliamentary deputy Nesrin Baytok, alleged to be the woman in the video, is a female.

“We are strongly against the media’s treatment of the female deputy figure,” said Çiğdem Aydın, the chairwoman of the Association for Women’s Support and Education, or KADER.

Assuming a woman achieves such a high post by using her sexuality is neither just nor ethical, said Aydın, adding that she was very uncomfortable with the way the female figure has been treated in the media and in public debates.

“This wrong perception could ‘kill’ any future attempt by females to be involved in politics,” she said, adding that the prevalent attitude among the media, politicians and intellectuals is a stark indicator of how desperate the position of women in Turkish politics and society is.

The video in question, alleged to show Baykal and his then-secretary Baytok, was broadcast on the Internet on May 6 and led to Baykal’s resignation four days later. On the same day, Baytok made a brief statement to the press in which she said she would not resign, but did not offer any explanations. Since then, her only comments have been in an interview printed in the daily Akşam on Thursday, in which she said the video is part of a conspiracy and that her family has been very supportive.

“I’ve spent 20 years to come this far. I’m not giving up now,” she told the daily.

Among the critical voices against Baytok and her stance as a woman in politics, Sevilay Yükselir said the scandal was a kind of “reward” for Baytok.

Writing in her Friday column in the daily Sabah, Yükselir said Baytok was being paid back for not having allowed other potential politicians to take posts and for misusing her position.

Yükselir wrote the column in response to three female columnists in various newspapers who defended Baytok and said Baykal was not the only victim, but that Baytok was as well.

According to Pınar İlkkaracan, a human rights activist and psychologist, exploiting a female’s sexuality to humiliate her in public is common in Muslim societies. She also expressed concern for the way the woman’s figure was attacked so badly and that the male was brought to the center of attention.

“This was just because Baytok is a female and Baykal is a male,” she said.

İlkkaracan also said the discrimination by politicians, the media and intellectuals against the woman figure was more than evident. “We can easily notice how well-known people shared their sorrow with Baykal publicly, whereas Baytok was obliged to hide in silence due to the public offenses against her."

Ergenekon and the Press

In relation to his coverage of the Ergenekon investigation, Radikal journalist Ismail Saymaz faces 54 years in prison. From Bianet:
A total of six trials have been filed against Radikal newspaper reporter İsmail Saymaz on the grounds of his news about the interrogations of İlhan Cihaner, detained Chief Public Prosecutor of Erzincan (north-eastern Anatolia), and İbrahim Şahin, former Deputy Head of the Special Operations Department.

Both Cihaner and Şahin are part of the Eregekon investigation carried out in Erzurum. The clandestine ultra-national Ergenekon organisation, nested within the stated and the military, allegedly planned to create chaos in the country with murders and attacks and to overthrow the government.

The cases were opened on 8, 13, 15, 16 and 21 April at the 2nd Criminal Court of First Instance in Bakırköy, Istanbul. Journalist Saymaz is facing imprisonment of up to 54 years under charges of "attempting to influence a fair trial" and "violating the secrecy of an investigation" according to articles 285 and 288 respectively of the Turkish Criminal Code (TCK).

Saymaz will appear at court on 23 June related to the allegations based on the article entitled "What Prosecutor Cihaner was asked" published in Radikal newspaper on 18 February 2010. On 15 July, he will be at court for his news item "Assassination with a tick, coup of the tea vendors" from 12 February 2010; he is summoned to court for 21 July by reason of his articles "Cihaner: I do not know Çiçek, I did not see him - Ciçek: I do not know anybody in Erzincan" and "I do not know Çiçek, that is your set up" published on 20 February. For his article "Did you meet Dursun Çiçek?" from 22 February Saymaz will have to appear at court on 20 September.

Another reason for the prosecution of Saymaz was the article entitled "The most reckless state of Ergenekon is in Erzincan" related to the defence of former İliç Public Prosecutor Bayram Bozkurt which was sent to the Ministry of Justice. Bozkurt is tried at the Erzincan High Criminal Court under allegations of "misconduct in office".

Prosecutors Remzi Yaşar Kızılhan and Pircan Barut Emre prepared the indictments that make Saymaz a defendant. The journalist told bianet that another trial has been launched against him based on his article entitled "Is Berk the leader of the organization?" published on 1 March.

Saymaz, author of the book "The postmodern Jihad", concerned with the Erzurum-Erzincan connections of the Ergenekon investigation, received a letter from the Ministry of Justice about three weeks ago, in which he was asked to reveal his source.
If the government and the prosecutors involved in the Ergenekon investigation want to allay fears about the Ergenekon investigation and open up the process, going after journalists is certainly not the way to do it. See also the case of Milliyet journalist Nedim Sener, who is also on trial for his coverage of the Hrant Dink investigation.

The Gentrification of Tarlabasi

From Hurriyet Daily News:
Evictions and resettlement from municipal urban transformation projects are spreading from historical areas in Fatih to Beyoğlu’s infamous Tarlabaşı, where some renters and property owners are worried about what an expert is calling another gentrification process.

The “Tarlabaşı Renewal Project” started in the central Istanbul neighborhood on April 4, 2007, when its tender was given to Çalık Holding’s GAP Construction Company. Property owners said the tender was offered without their permission or consultation about the future of the buildings. Owners have formed the “Association for Solidarity with Tarlabaşı Property Owners and Renters.”

Ahmet Gün, head of the association, said he submitted a file to the European Court of Human Rights against the renewal project, saying it was a violation of the right to own property.
According to the Beyoglu municipality, those residents who do not accept an agreement with the investors leading the project will have their homes expropriated. See Jenny White's blog, Kamil Pasha, "for a litany of destruction and decay in mostly minority neighborhoods and professions."

Monday, May 10, 2010

Bye Bye, Baykal

AA Photo from Hurriyet Daily News

A sex scandal has caused long-time CHP leader Deniz Baykal to resign from power. Baykal has headed the CHP since 1992 (with a brief break in 1999, after which he returned to power 15 months later), and clung to power so tightly and in such good health that it is a common joke to think of him as sort of android who will never die or weaken. However, a tape capturing a most embarrasingly human moment in which Baykal is seen having sexual relations with a fellow CHP parliamentarian seems to have brought the seemingly impenetrable leader down -- at least for the moment. The sex tape was released on Friday, and Baykal has blamed the government, saying it is no surprise that the tape has emerged in the heat of the constitutional amendment process. The CHP's party congress is scheduled for May 22-23, and Baykal, who had expected to run, has said he will not. Baykal has long been blamed as the principal reason for intra-party authoritarianism within the CHP, and his resignation opens up the possibility to change the party, the social democratic credentials have long been in doubt (see past posts).

UPDATE I (5/11) -- From Hurriyet Daily News:
CHP deputy Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu is being tipped as a potential new leader in a different mold from the rest. Also known as “Ghandi Kemal,” Kılıçdaroğlu's star shined brightly during his candidacy for Istanbul mayor, where he raised the CHP's votes by five points over the previous election.

Reports said Kılıçdaroğlu's stance on the matter would become clearer in the next few days.

Other names mentioned include Samsun Deputy Haluk Koç, who has previously ran against Baykal, as well as former Social Democratic Populist Party, or SHP, leader Murat Karayalçın, who was the architect of the previous SHP and CHP unity.

Textile businessman Umut Oran, who ran against Baykal at the convention two years ago, and academic Süheyl Batum are other possible candidates.

And More Violence . . .

Two more Turkish soldiers were killed in two separate incidents of PKK-placed landmine explosions in Hakkari and Sirnak provinces.

UPDATE I (5/11) -- For Mother's Day, the southeastern NGO Peace Mothers staged a sit-in in Ankara. More than 100 protestors called for an end to the Turkish military's operations against the PKK. From Bianet:

On Mothers' Day (9 May), the Mothers for Peace started a sit-down strike in the centrally located Abdi İpekçi park in Ankara to convey their demand for peace and for an end of military operations. By fax they asked for an appointment with the General Staff Presidency. Spokeswomen Nedret Demir, Naciye İlke and Türkiye Bozkurt singed the fax and hope for a positive answer for the Mothers for Peace:

"We are here in Ankara for a two-day sit-down strike because of Mothers' Day. We say 'We do not want any more coffins, we want to hug our children'. The time has come for a democratic and political solution of the Kurdish question. We are here to convey our persistence for peace. A delegation of three people asked for an appointment for Tuesday, 11 May, or on any other suitable day, to communicate our thoughts. We think that the request of the mothers will be accepted, beyond all prejudice. We send our regards".

The BDP in Washington

The BDP has opened an office in Washington, a decision no doubt sparked by the United States' continued cooperation and backing of the AKP in relation to Turkey's Kurdish problem. Since 2007, the United States has loaned its support to Turkish efforts to eliminate the PKK inside northern Iraq through various air raids, offering up intelligence to support the Turkish military in such missions and helping to ease tensions between Turkey and the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) that arise during such operations. Pressured to some extent by increased diplomatic and trade ties between the Turkish government and the KRG, the BDP is likely hoping the office will at least give it a presence in Washington. On Tuesday, BDP leader Selahattin Demirtas and Ahmet Turk participated in a panel sponsored by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (moderated by Henri Barkey). Click here for Carnegie's briefing of the event, during which politicians explained the BDP's opposition to the constitutional package and Turk outlined three demands (an inclusive constitutional re-structuring of Turkish citizenship, cultural rights for all, and more administrative control for predominantly Kurdish municipalities). For more coverage of the office and the BDP delegation in Washington, see Hurriyet Daily News columnist Ilhan Tanir's comments.

A Prize for Three?

Just in time for Mother's Day . . .

From Today's Zaman:
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has once again expressed concern over the declining younger population in Turkey and suggested that his government may consider giving a “prize” to families that have at least three children.

The prime minister’s remarks came during a wedding ceremony in İstanbul on Saturday. He did not hint on what the prize might be.
According to Erdoğan, Turkey’s annual population growth rate should be at least 2.5 percent. “However, there is a mistake with our current situation. If we continue the existing trend, 2038 will mark disaster for us. Therefore, we should ameliorate our situation. Maybe we will implement a prize, who knows?” he said.

The prime minister made his first entreaty to Turkish women to give birth to at least three children in April 2008, in a statement that was met with both support and criticism.

“You know, my request is at least three children for each family. I never said three would be enough. I said I want every family to have at least three children. This country has generations that know the real direction of their country,” Erdoğan stated on Saturday. The prime minister complained that Turkey’s annual population growth rate is now around 1.5 percent.

“This figure should be over 2.5 percent. This would preserve the existing situation. Those countries that urged family planning or birth control in the past are expressing regret now and encourage their populations to have more children through financial incentives. However, the desired population increase does not occur. Here, we are warning you that there is a pending problem we are faced with. If we continue this way, our situation in 2038 will be worse. We should correct it,” Erdoğan added.
In March 2008, in commoration of International Women's Day, Prime Minister Erdogan instructed Turkish women to have at least three children, a move that earned him the scorn of many women's rights and equality groups. After the remarks, Gareth Jenkins took a critical look at Erdogan's democgraphy in relation to unemployment, though it seems the prime minister is still not buying the skepticism though Turkish unemployment/underemployment has grown even worse.

Bizarre Indeed

From Hurriyet Daily News:
The Republican People’s Party, or CHP, Secretary-General Önder Sav claimed Saturday that Şişli Mayor and Turkey Movement for Change Party, or TDH, leader Mustafa Sarıgül allegedly ordered the assassination of CHP leader Deniz Baykal.

Mustafa Sarıgül reacted fiercely to the claim on Sunday. “Önder Sav should take himself to a psychiatrist,” Sarıgül said in response to media questions.

Repercussions of the secret recording allegedly showing Baykal in a compromising position with a female parliamentary deputy continued to reverberate as the assassination allegations shook the country Saturday.

Sav said Sarıgül, a former CHP member, allegedly agreed to pay a hitman named Mithat Yılmaz $750,000 to shoot Baykal during a visit to Brussels on April 13. Sav said the Istanbul Police Department received a tipoff about the plan on April 15, on which he has based his allegations. Both the Governor's Office in Istanbul and the Police Department confirmed that they received such a tipoff, he said.

The plan, however, was allegedly called off a few hours before it was executed, according to the e-mail informing the Istanbul Police Department of the incident.

Istanbul Gov. Muammer Güler said the Police Department received the e-mail on April 15, two days after the alleged planned assassination, and they took all necessary measures for protection of the party leader. The file was transferred to Şişli Chief Public Prosecutor's Office where the investigation is ongoing, he said, adding that the e-mail involved no signature.

Interior Minister Beşir Atalay said the Istanbul governor made the necessary explanation and there was no new development on the issue.

Speaking to Kanal D on Saturday, Yılmaz said the allegations were untrue and they would file a criminal complaint for Sav.

Sarıgül denied his guilt in the matter, describing the allegations an “ugly slander.”

Responding to questions from the media on Sunday, Sarıgül called on Sav to take himself to a psychiatrist.

“We were expecting such a move from Baykal and his fellows, but not now. We expected such a thing when the TDH grow stronger. They are trying to mire the TDH, but we won’t let them,” Sarıgül said.

UPDATE I (5/12) -- Istanbul police detained Sarigul aide Osman Sevket Arslan yesterday. The man who informed the police of the supposed plot via email was also detained, claiming in interrogation that he had fabricated the entire affair.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

JITEM Cases Merged

From Today's Zaman:
The Diyarbakır 6th High Criminal Court ruled yesterday to combine two cases, one known as the “JİTEM case,” which has 11 defendants, and another case involving five defendants including Mahmut Yıldırım, better known to the public by the codename “Yeşil,” and Abdülkadir Aygan, a former member of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) who later became an informant for the Turkish government. Previously, the Diyarbakır 3rd High Criminal Court had ruled that it lacked jurisdiction over the JİTEM case, which involved several murders, bombings and acts of sabotage in the eastern provinces of Diyarbakır, Mardin, Batman and Şırnak.
For background on JITEM, see Jan. 29 post. See also Yigal Schleifer's reporting on JITEM from last August.

"Min Dit" Draws Audiences Throughout Turkey

The Global Post's Nichole Sobecki has a piece up on the well-received Kurdish-language film "Min Dit" that is worth a look. An excerpt:

“So much of the Turkish state has been built on lies; that there is only one people, only one language,” said Miraz Bezar, the director of “Min Dit," awarded with the jury’s special prize at the 2009 Antalya Golden Orange Film Festival. “This can be a small step in the right direction.”

“Min Dit” tells the story of the survival of three children after witnessing the murder of their parents at the hands of the JITEM, a clandestine unit of the Turkish gendarmerie charged with "intelligence gathering and counterterrorism."

Though told through the eyes of children, the film draws the audience back to one of the darkest chapters in this country’s history. Set in the southeast in the 1980s and '90s, the children struggle to cope with the violence that surrounds their lives, as Turkish security forces wage a dirty war against supporters, and suspected supporters, of the Kurdish Workers Party, or PKK.

“It was a real challenge to do this film because we never knew if it would make it through the censorship in Turkey,” Bezar said.

. . . .

The idea for the film came to him while still a student, but it was not until after graduating that he began to write. The film is a combined effort of Bezar and Evrim Alatas, a Kurdish journalist who worked in the southeast throughout the 1980s and '90s, and the wife of Bezar’s uncle. She died this spring, living just long enough to see the film’s release in Turkey.

Struck by cancer soon after the film was finished, Alatas’ health struggles were deeply entwined with the making of the film; her life provided a backbone of daring reportage.

“I think that through her stories she will still live on with this film for many people,” Bezar said.

With no backers, the film was financed through Bezar’s own savings and made possible by the support of his family. His mother sold their house, his uncle helped out where he could.

Despite some seemingly insurmountable hurdles, the young director remembers feeling that the film was somehow being protected: by god, or a sense of justice, or perhaps just his own unrelenting determination.

“Each time I felt like we were at the edge of the abyss some small thing would come and pull us back, a reminder of why it was so important to tell this story,” he said.

Bezar’s struggles are typical of Diyarbakir’s besieged filmmakers, where the city’s hottest young director hawks tea at a stand near the airport and its most respected auteur once worked as a garbage collector.

The film’s “actors” were chosen from the cities and villages where the story is set, their real life tragedies set in parallel to those they face in “Min Dit.” The role of an old, blind man with whom the children squat with in an abandoned Armenian church was filled when some villagers directed Bezar to a local graveyard a blind man frequented. He discovered the film’s 10-year-old heroine Gulistan at a local day school.
For more on "Min Dit," see Yigal Schliefer's post at Istanbul Calling. There you can access an earlier article Schleifer wrote on the fledgling Kurdish-language film industry.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

One Step Closer to Referendum

The constitutional amendment package cleared the second round of voting parliament yesterday, though it took a serious hit on Tuesday when the article pertaining to party closures failed to garner the necessary votes needed to take it to a referendum (for more on the article, click here). At least eight AKP deputies did not vote for the closure amendment, a move Prime Minister Erdogan claimed afterward as a victory for intra-party democracy (for a skeptical report on this claim and more on the closure vote, see Goksel Bozkurt's report in Hurriyet Daily News). Despite the AKP leadership's failure to pass the amendment on party closures, the other two controversial amendments -- pertaining to a restructuring of the Constitutional Court and the Supreme Council of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK) -- passed on Wednesday. The amendment package is now in President Gul's hands, who is expected to approve the package rather than send it back to parliament. Once the package is published in the Official Gazette, it is automatically submitted to referendum. The referendum can take place 60 days following publication in the Official Gazette, though the CHP is expected to challenge the legality of the referendum and the amendments themselves at the Constitutional Court, a move that could well change the timeline.

The "Bloodless Civil War"

PHOTO by Andres Gonzalez / The Wall Street Journal

From the Wall Street Journal's Marc Champion:

A bloodless civil war is splitting this pivotal Muslim nation on Europe's fringe, pitting the old secular establishment against the country's Islamic-leaning government and its supporters.

For mesmerized viewers, that showdown was crystallized earlier this year as TV channels played over and over a leaked video clip of one prosecutor arresting another one.

"We will take you with us," said a special terrorism prosecutor, lounging in an armchair across from his target.

"You can't do this, buddies. You don't know what you are doing," replied an astonished Ilhan Cihaner, one of Turkey's previously untouchable chief prosecutors.

Their clash in a remote outpost in eastern Turkey quickly spiraled upward into a battle between the country's top judges and political leaders over the right to define Turkey's future, a battle now coming to a head.

Turkey's parliament is voting on a slate of constitutional amendments drafted by the ruling party after Turkey's powerful judiciary took away the powers of the man who had arrested Mr. Cihaner.

Some of the amendments would rein in the judiciary, a bastion of opposition to the governing party, the moderately Islamic AKP.

To foes of the amendments, they are an AKP power grab. To supporters, they are an overdue fix to a constitution that was written after a military coup and long used by the judiciary and other entrenched powers to override the democratic process.

Alongside this fight is one in the courtrooms, where members of the longstanding power structure await trial for an array of alleged crimes aimed at destabilizing the government.

. . . .

Since its re-election with a big majority in 2007, the government has mounted an attack on the deep state. It is seeking to prosecute some 200 deep-state figures on charges that in some cases include murders and bombings, allegedly used to destabilize the government and falsely attributed to others. The name for this broad alleged deep-state conspiracy is "Ergenekon."

Mr. Cihaner, the arrrested prosecutor, is accused of being part of it.

Mr. Cihaner arrived in the eastern city of Erzincan in August 2007 with his wife, Muhteber, who wears her hair in dyed-blond ringlets. Most women wear headscarves in the remote city of 70,000, ringed by snow-capped mountains, and the head-to-toe chador is a common sight on the street.

The prosecutor, now 42 years old, hardly seems to fit the profile of a deep-state plotter. He had tackled rogue members of the deep state himself, in a 1999 investigation of military police, whom he suspected of summarily executing people during a brutal war with Kurdish separatists. Mr. Cihaner dug up bodies and matched weapons used in murders, according to a book about the intelligence wing of the military police and a 14-page letter Mr. Cihaner hand-wrote from jail in response to questions from The Wall Street Journal.

No one before him had even documented the existence of the secretive intelligence wing of the military police. His prosecutorial effort was lionized by liberals at the time. Higher-ups blocked it.

In Erzincan, Mr. Cihaner chose a different target. He began investigating unapproved schools teaching the Quran.

Turkey's secular laws say religion may be taught only in government-approved schools, and only to children over 12. Though unsanctioned religious education is widespread and rarely prosecuted, Mr. Cihaner says he saw it as his duty to prosecute the practice, because according to him and his lawyer, a conservative sect called the Ismailaga was sending children as young as 3 ½ to "madrassa-like" schools.

On Feb. 17, plainclothes police searched Mr. Cihaner's office and home. He was charged with planning to stash weapons in the homes of religious conservatives, with fabricating evidence, and with threatening witnesses. There followed Mr. Sanal's interrogation of his fellow prosecutor, a 6 1/2-hour grilling in which the two traded tightly mirrored accusations.

"Have you ever considered this was a plot that could trigger conflict between [security] institutions?" asked Mr. Sanal, according to a transcript seen by The Wall Street Journal.

"I ask the same question of you," said Mr. Cihaner. "The police, the Jandarmerie and even the [National Intelligence Agency] are fighting each other."

Whether Mr. Cihaner was just an assiduous prosecutor, as he says, or was gunning for the government and its Islamist supporters, prosecutors may face challenges in proving he was a member of terrorist organization. For instance, the core charge against him is that he planned to plant weapons on the religious orders, yet he had spent months arguing the groups were peaceful.

Mr. Cihaner stands accused of being part of the alleged broad plot by members of the deep state to hold onto power, even though several of his alleged co-conspirators are men he targeted in his 1999 probe of summary executions. That, Mr. Cihaner said in his letter from jail, is "insanity."

Hours after his arrest, Turkey's Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors, part of the secular establishment, struck back, stripping away the powers of the terrorist prosecutor who arrested Mr. Cihaner, Mr. Sanal, saying he exceeded his authority.

And then the government struck back at the Supreme Board's move: It produced a package of constitutional amendments, the core of them aimed at the entrenched judges.
For background, including my analysis from earlier this year, click here.

Where Are the Women?

The State Personnel Department released figures last week on women's employment in the bureacracy, and the numbers are dismal. From Today's Zaman:
According to latest figures, sixty-six of each 100 public servants are male. There are 2.330,909 permanent positions within the Turkish public institutions. Only 1.769,730 of these positions are occupied while the remaining 561,179 seats still wait new employees to be hired. The data shows the government should concentrate on hiring female workers in the first place in a move to maintain balance between the two gender groups. All undersecretaries in Turkish ministries are male. Out of 79 deputy undersecretaries, only 2 are female. Out of 96 director generals in Turkish ministries, 91 are male. All of the 175 governors in Turkey are male. Out of 450 deputy governors, 12 are female. Out of 8,284 high level bureaucrats, 7,713 are male while only 571 seats are taken by female public servants.

Out of 989 district governors, 19 are female. The public services in which the female workers outnumbered males were allied health personnel and legal advisers and lawyers. Of the 108,364 allied health personnel 99,564 are female while 1,576 out of 2,639 legal advisers and lawyers are female. Some 46 percent of all teachers, 40 percent of all academics and 31 percent of all doctors in Turkey are female.

The male domination does not change when it comes to State Economic Enterprises (KİTs). There is not a single female regional manager among the existing 22 while only 3 out of 63 vice general managers are females. Out of 172 heads of departments only 7 are female. Out of 800 vice managers in KİTs 186 are female while 5,275 of 16,445 civil servants, secretaries and cashiers in KİTs are female workers.
Today's Zaman attributes the low numbers to restriction on women wearing headscarves at universities, which, while a factor, does not explain anywhere near the whole picture here. For more on the lowly status of women in Turkish government positions, see March 8 post.

Wiseman Commission Rejects "Privileged Partnership"

Former President of Spain Felipe Gónzalez / AFP Photo from Hurriyet Daily News

The 12-member wise man commission French president Nikolas Sarkozy endeavored to setup in 2007 in part to frustrate Turkey's accession track has instead concluded that walking away from Turkey's accession process or talking "privileged partnership" at this stage is a betrayal that risks EU credibility. The commission was setup to assess where Europe should be in the year 2030, and among other things, included assessing enlargement and what Europe's borders might be. Chairing the commission, former Spanish president Felipe González argued that when the European Union concluded an accession partnership with Turkey, it made an agreement, and that Europe cannot backout of the agreement without seeking consent and a new understanding from Turkey without losing some of its credibility in the process. According to González, "If the European council believes it does not have sufficient margin for maneuver to complete negotiations with Turkey or any other country, something has to be agreed between both parties." The finding is a boost to accession advocates, and a slap in the face to Sarkozy, who is often cited here as the foremost European opponent of Turkish accession and with good reason. The commission concluded that Europe's borders should be based on shared values, and not on geography -- an argument Sarkozy has in the past, and continues, to reject.

In another victory for proponents of Turkish accession, an attempt by Christian Democrats in the European Parliament to insert the phrase "privileged partnership" into an important EU budget document was defeated by a coalition of Greens, Liberals, and Socialists this week.

UPDATE I (5/11) -- In a joint press conference with Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fule, Spanish Foreign Minister Ángel Moratinos vowed that Spain, currently holding the presidency of the European Union, would open up more negotiating chapters. Fule said the EU was working on opening up chapters on public procurement, social policy, employment and food security, in addition expressing that the EU may open chapters on energy, education, and culture. For background on where Turkey stands in terms of opening and closing chapters of the EU acquis (mainly behind thanks to the Cyprus stalemate), see Feb. 17 post.

Friday, May 7, 2010

TIHV & IHD Release Joint Report

The Turkish Human Rights Foundation (TIHV) and the Human Rights Association (IHD) have released a joint report chronicling a rise in violence and state repression despite the government's recent Kurdish initiative. From Today's Zaman's Ayse Karabat:
Mere discourse on a peaceful and democratic solution to the Kurdish question was enough to lead to a decrease in human rights violations last year, but the lack of concrete steps since then has resulted in an increase in violations in 2010, a joint report by the Human Rights Association (İHD) and the Turkish Human Rights Foundation (TİHV) has found.

“In the year 2009, the state officially recognized the Kurdish question, but since then the government has not taken constitutional or legal steps for a peaceful and democratic solution. As a result, in the year 2010 armed clashes resumed, although even the discourse on a solution in 2009 led to a decrease in the number of people who died in armed clashes,” the report indicates. According to human rights activists, statistics from the past several years show that concrete steps for the peaceful and democratic solution of the Kurdish question will lead to a marked decrease in violations of the right to life.

TİHV Chairwoman Şebnem Korur Fincancı said there are actors in Turkey who benefit from the atmosphere of clashes and tension and who are doing their best to prevent democratization.

“When there is a positive atmosphere, those forces create provocations in order to increase tension,” she told Today's Zaman. She also noted that the government talks about democratization and a peaceful solution while at the same time launching security operations in which many Kurdish politicians, including mayors, have been arrested.

“This makes us question the sincerity of the government regarding the democratization initiative,” she added, and underlined that pressure on human rights defenders is increasing, as some have been imprisoned and others, including herself, have court cases pending.
The report documents an increase in violations on freedom of expression, freedom of association, and freedom from torture. The report asserts that in 2009 police intervened in a total of 229 demonstrations, resulting in a total of six deaths, 356 injuries, 7,718 detentions, and 1,923 arrests. Ten cases were opened to close foundations, associations, and political parties. It also argues that impunity continues to exist for security forces who violate human rights, and urges Turkey to sign the additional protocol of the Convention Against Torture.

Attacks Kills Two Turkish Soldiers in Daglica

Yesterday morning a PKK attack on Turkish military positions near Daglica in Hakkari province resulted in the deaths of two Turkish soldiers. The Turkish military responded with attacks on PKK positions inside northern Iraq. According to the Turkish military, at least five PKK fighters died in ensuing clashes.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Out of Town

I will be in Diyarbakir until late Friday night, and so will be unable to post until Saturday. It promises to be a fairly busy week.

Problems Posting

Apparently some very web savvy hackers figured out how to hijack this blog. At any rate, I was prevented from publishing my posts for a few days and so previous entries are just now appearing. The RSS feed will probably take awhile to get straightened out as well. Apologies for the inconvenience, and hopefully things are now back to normal. Where these people come from I really have no idea.

Turkey's Trying Relationship with the ECHR

Though the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has played an important role in Turkey's democratization process, the Court has long grumbled that complaints from Turkey constitute too high a percentage of its total caseload. In 2009, the ECHR issued 1,625 judgements, of which 256 were against Turkey. In only nine of these cases was Turkey found not to have violated the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, which the ECHR aims to consistently uphold. As is the case with other member states party to the Convention, Turkish citizens may apply to the ECHR as a court of last resort once they have exhausted all remedies available in Turkey.

In 2004, Turkey legally recognized the supremacy of the Convention over its national laws. However, despite attempts to harmonize Turkish law and the judgements of Turkish courts with the Convention and ECHR case law, the number of complaints Turkish citizens file at the ECHR continues to increase. Out of the total number of complaints the ECHR receives, the growing number of which have resulted in the ECHR facing a serious backload, complants from Turkey comprise 11%. Only Russia, with more citizens, fares worse (complaints from Russian citizens comprise 28% of the caseload). Ukraine and Romania have also proved problematic (at 8% each).

In an effort to pressure all four states to take measures to stem the number of complaints coming from their citizens, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) has threatenened sanctions. The ECHR is asking Turkey to better ensure that its draft laws are consistent with the Convention, as well as requesting the Turkish parliament to adopt procedures for overseeing the implmentation of the ECHR's decisions. A significant number of the cases the ECHR receives mirror cases in which the Court has already ruled. There is also a significant problem when it comes to lower and appellate courts not properly applying ECHR case law. For an example of this, see Taraf journalist Orhan Miroglu's application the ECHR. Miroglu was convicted in 2007 for speaking Kurdish during an electoral campaign. Miroglu asserts that a ban on campaign rhetoric in Kurdish remains despite prior ECHR judgements stating that such rhetoric is protected under the Convention's clause protecting freedom of expression.

In spring 2011, Turkey will host a conference on ECHR reform that will pick up where February's conference in Interlaken left off.

As part of the constitutional amendment package, the government has drafted measures to allow individuals to file complaints at the Constitutional Court. If the amendment becomes law, some European jurists have expressed hopes that the number of Turkish cases might be reduced in future years.

And Yet Another . . .

From the Associated Press:
Members of an outlawed Kurdish group killed four Turkish soldiers and wounded seven others in eastern Turkey in the largest attack on troops in several months, authorities said Saturday.

The suspected terrorists attacked a remote military outpost with rocket-propelled grenades and automatic weapons in foggy weather late Friday, private CNNTürk and NTV televisions said. The commander of the outpost was killed along with three other soldiers, authorities said. Two of the seven wounded were in serious condition, according to media reports.

Turkish troops launched a manhunt but helicopter gunships remained grounded due to fog near the outpost, close to the town of Tunceli in the eastern Tunceli province, television reports said Saturday morning.

The attack followed a surge in violence by the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK. Another Turkish soldier was killed when he stepped on a mine believed to be planted by the terrorists near the town of Çukurca in the southeastern Hakkari province on Friday, authorities said.

More Than Bananas

For another piece from the Middle East Report Online on Turkey's Kurds, see Will Day's 2008 consideration of the politics of Kurdish poverty in the southeast. Day takes a look at purely economic solutions to the problems, as well as support for the AKP in the region. From Day:
The politics of that “problem,” as indicated by the discrepant displacement and unemployment figures, largely define what can and cannot be said in the poverty debates. For the Turkish state, in fact, poverty in the southeast is a condition prior to politics, strictly separated from questions of history, identity and culture. “The problem of citizens [here] is a humanitarian problem,” as Hüseyin Avni Mutlu, governor of Diyarbakır, told the mainstream newspaper Referans in January. Ankara appoints governors to oversee the southeastern provinces. “Cultural identity is not the basic problem. The agenda of the people is economic; the agenda is sustenance. Any other claims are political.” So long as the desires of the people of the southeast are rendered as a universal, biological need—sustenance—the state will recognize them. The governor dismisses questions about the historical and political origins of poverty as “the worst form of exploitation, human exploitation.”

It is a viewpoint that clashes somewhat with those of poor Kurdish youth, even those, like Mehmet, who have seen some benefit from the state’s solicitude since their own stint shining shoes and selling tissues. Mehmet’s elder brother received an interest-free loan from the governorate, one of a number of state-sponsored programs to encourage entrepreneurship, and set up a small kebab stand. He divides the profits between supporting his ailing parents and saving up for his imminent marriage. Mehmet works for free, but when he needs pocket money, his brother obliges.

Mehmet wakes up every morning at 5:30, buys fresh liver and meat for the stand, and heads to high school (having dropped out years before to work, he is now five years senior to his first-year classmates). After school, he runs the stand until midnight. Three days a week, he attends a training program, provided free of charge by the Diyarbakır Metropolitan Municipality, that will certify him to lay natural gas lines.

Mehmet’s understanding of Diyarbakır’s economy, nevertheless, is colored by a broader feeling of exclusion. “When we go west to find work, people hear our accent, or the police take one look at our ID cards [where one’s place of birth is listed] and they say, ‘He’s from the east, he’s a terrorist.’ When we stay here, there are no factories, no jobs, and we can’t get a decent education or score well on the national university exams because the state only sends the worst teachers here, and any talented teachers here escape to the west if they find the chance.”

That the present shape of poverty has a political history, and that the presence of poverty does not erase other claims—that one can be hungry and desire education in Kurdish, that one can hope for both a more equal distribution of wealth and a more equal distribution of dignity and life chances—captures, in condensed form, the kind of recognition advocated by the NGOs and municipal governments working in the southeast. These NGOs and municipalities are the new legal, public face of Kurdish politics, emerging from a series of political reforms in motion since the early 2000s. From their perspective, the separation of poverty from politics is equal to a denial of historical and social reality. “The problem,” stresses the mayor of Diyarbakır, Osman Baydemir, “is economic, social, cultural, political, legal and administrative. An integrative approach is essential to bringing improvement.” The politics of poverty extends even to word choice. The Turkish state favors the term yoksulluk (an abstract noun indicating an existing state or condition of “poor-ness”), while domestic NGOs and regional governments prefer yoksullaştırma (a verbal noun emphasizing action behind the state or condition described, and translatable as “causing to be poor,” or impoverishment).

For other local actors, recognizing more than basic human need in the southeast is not only essential to designing more effective poverty relief. Many NGOs and research groups working in the region hope that discussion of forced migration and its role in the production of the new urban poverty may also urge the state toward a deeper commitment to assisting in the rehabilitation of the regional economy. If the claims of the southeast can be associated with principles of the European Union and the UN—such as cultural rights and participatory local governance—they may acquire a stamp of legitimacy that pushes the state to reevaluate its reflexive equation of southeastern grievances with PKK demands.
Since 2008, the AKP and the military have considered granting some "cultural rights" to Kurds, though both parties are for more comfortable discussing the economic dimensions of the Kurdish question -- which are, no doubt, less controversial and more palatable to nationalist Turks. Some Turkish opinion leaders have harshly criticized purely economic-centered political solutions. From my look at the Kurdish question in January 2009, before the government announced its recent 'Kurdish opening' (documented here):
Instead of talking about political and cultural rights, Prime Minister Erdoğan is more keen to talk about economics. Turkish intellectual Ece Temelkuran has compared AKP policy in the southeast to giving out Islamist bananas, an attempt to perhaps bridge the development gap, but an approach that ultimately fails to address the demands of Kurds for the state to recognize their unique identity and standing in Turkish society. (For a similar argument, see Kerem Oktem, who assesses these Islamist bananas as tantamount to co-optation.) While some Turks far too often decry such a demand as separatism, other Turks and most Kurds see recognition as the foundation of basic human rights -- the right to address each other in their own language without state interference, to educate their children in the language of their grandmothers, to celebrate their culture in free assembly, and to enter politics as individuals with identities that might be both Kurdish and Turkish, and therefore, more difficult to negotiate than that of the average Turk. However, what Temelkuran identifies as "Islamist banana politics" and the politics that analyzes in his consideration of AKP policy, fall far short of meeting this demand. Nonetheless, AKP holds economic development and the creation of a state television channel as sufficient compromises, a secret battle plan to combat a war on terrorism that fails to extirpate the root of the problem. While AKP's realization of the need to develop the southeast is light years ahead of the thought asserted by other political parties, it still simply not enough, and as a result, likely to fail. Nonetheless, even when AKP's economic policies for the Kurdish southeast are highly dubious, they have often tacitly endorsed by some in the Western media (see the New York Times' treatment of GAP this March).

Islamist banana politics gained further legitimacy this fall when the government and military began working more closely together. As indicated by the recent resignations of former AKP deputy chair Dengir Mir Mehmet Firat, an ethnic Kurd, banana politics are likely to become even more entrenched as the government further eschews cultural and political rights . As Lale Sarııbrahımoğlu elucidates, his replacement, Abdulkadir Aksu, also Kurdish, "has been widely viewed as a reflection of the AK Party's shift in policy from one that supports the greater engagement of Kurds in the political process to one that has further narrowed the room for maneuver for Kurds to express their political opinions." Further signalling this new era of cooperation and consensus on the Kurdish issue, the military top brass, typically quite reticent on political approaches to the Kurdish problem, has publicly agreed with the prime minister that the solution is economic. While this is undeniably in-part the case -- and, despite the TSK's discussion of non-military solutions being a positive step -- the danger is that too exclusive a focus on the economy is incapable of leading to a comprehensive political solution, thereby risking failed policy, and likely more violence as a function of resulting frustration. Not only are banana politics not fair to Kurds, but they are not pragmatic.

Insidious defenses of banana politics cite AKP's decisions as made in agreement with Kurdish public opinion (though the polls are dubitable, and show only the slightest of majorities placing economic over cultural/political concerns), in addition to an exaggerated disconnect between Kurdish intellectuals/political leaders and the overwhelming majority of Kurds, who are overwhelmingly very poor people. The myopia of the banana defenders is on full display in arguing the last point since any amelioration of the living conditions of Kurds will likely raise consciousness of cultural repression, not diminish it. For examples of banana defenses, see Abdulhamit Bilici and Mümtaz'er Türköne. In one defense, Türköne argues,
"For [DTP], the victory of the AK Party, especially in Diyarbakır, will be a nightmare. If the AK Party wins in southeastern Anatolia, the Kurdish question will enter a new phase. The PKK and the DTP will not remain the sole powers designing pro-Kurdish politics. Pro-Kurdish politics will be ‘pluralized.’"
The AKP did not win in local elections, instead suffering heavy setbacks throughout the southeast. When the government announced plans to move forwrd with the 'Kurdish opening,' many observers thought the AKP and critical figures in the Turkish state had come around. However, with the initiative now stalled, it is clear that any such turn will not be wholesale, that reform on the cultural/minority rights front will come incrementally, and that these changes will, indubitably, be hard fought. While the future is not clear, two things are near certain: one, thinking like that expressed by Turkone in 2008 is and will not produce peace; and two, that the production of peace will not come in one sweep of reforms, but will necessarily be be process-oriented, multi-faceted, and require the engagement of all parties with stakes in the issues involved in the conflict. No one is going away anytime soon.