Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Mass Protest in Hopa

PHOTO from Radikal

An election rally for Prime Minister Erdgoan in the Black sea town of Hopa (Artvin) near the border with Georgia resulted in mass protests today. Though the town was relatively calm during Erdogan's speech, the situation intensified later as the prime minister's convoy was leaving Hopa. Protestors threw stones at the convoy, seriously injuring a bodyguard. Police used teargas to breakup the protestors and fired shots in the air, which led to the death of demonstrator Metin Lokumcu (he had a heart attack).

According to news reports, protests spread to Ankara later in the day at word of Lokumcu's death. When protestors attempted to try to leave a black wreath at the Prime Ministry, police intervened. Clashes broke out that involved more teargas, more water cannons, and more detentions (around 60).

UPDATE I (6/2) -- For an English-language account of the protests from Bianet, click here. Bianet reports 54 people were detained in Ankara, four of whom were formally arrested. Protests also broke out in Istanbul and Izmir.

Return of the Mavi Marmara

PHOTO from Hurriyet Daily News

Thousands gathered in Taksim Square last night on the eve of the one-year anniversary of Israel's raid of the Turkish-flagged Mavi Marmara in which Israeli commandos eight Turkish citizens and one American of Turkish descent.

Yesterday morning, the International Relief Foundation (IHH) held a press conference announcing the organization is continuing to move forward with plans for 15 ships carrying 1,500 activists from 38 countries to sail to Gaza at the end of June. The Mavi Marmara is expected to be at the front-and-center.

Diplomatic relations also heated up around the one-year anniversary as Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said Turkey would retaliate should Israel once more carry out military operations on the ships. According to Israeli press reports, the Israel Defense Forces are mobilizing to meet the flotilla, though is focusing on counter-riot strategies. Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said the flotilla will not be permitted to land in Gaza and that force will be used when and where necessary.

The United States is attempting to break the impasse, though Turkish government officials are have maintained their argument that they do not have the legal power to intervene to stop a Turkish NGO from carrying out such a mission.

In the meantime, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has extended the working period for the UN Panel of Inquiry currently investigating last year's raid.

UPDATE I (6/2) -- Hurriyet reports (in Turkish) the United States is planning to submit a proposal to Turkey by which Turkey would block IHH's flotilla plans in exchange for making Turkey the place of upcoming Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

UPDATE II (6/6) --  Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has publicly called on the IHH to delay plans to send a flotilla to Gaza. The IHH rejected the foreign minister's request, arguing that the flotilla was necessary to providing Gazans with much needed aid and asserting sovereignty over their ports. The government is arguing that the IHH should wait to see what happens in the wake of the Rafah border crossing being opened (it is opened for civilian crossings, but not for aid supplies) and plans to install a new Palestinian unity government.

Grey Wolf Attacks on BDP Politicians

Ultra-nationalist youth attacked two people distributing waivers for Labor, Democracy, and Freedom Block candidate Emrullah Bingul in Izmit, a town just outside Istanbul (and where I spent my first year in Turkey). The attackers were reported to be Grey Wolves, a fascist youth organization connected to the ultra-nationalist MHP. The attack took place at a mosque near the main municipal building where supporters of the BDP and the Labor Party (EMEP) were distributing campaign material.

The previous day, the convoy of candidate Levent Tuzel, a member of the same party block, was attacked in Istanbul, also reportedly by Grey Wolves.

The Grey Wolves have a nasty past. Linked to numerous attacks on leftists since the 1970s, including assassinations and wholesale massacres of Turks who deviate from their Turkish-Sunni chauvinist idealism, the youth groups are still around and attack vulnerable targets when tensions are high.

In the wake of a massive sex scandal, the MHP is still hovering at around 10% in public opinion polls, the threshold parties must meet in order to enter parliament. If the the MHP falls under this threshold, ultra-nationalism, a force in Turkey that has been on the decline in recent years (though there were huge outbursts in 2007) will no longer be represented in parliament. However, there is legitimate fear that the party, which has renounced violence, might become more reactionary should this come to fruition.

For a bit more about the ultra-nationalist right, see this early post from 2008. An excerpt:
Although the early [MHP] was not particularly successful in electoral politics, it gained notoriety when it founded its youth organization, the Hearths of the Ideal (Ülkü Ocakları). Members of the group began to call themselves the "Grey Wolves" ("Bozkurtlar") and the group soon took on a paramilitary dimension when it opened camps to train members to engage in violent acts against the Turkish left. The enemy of the time was not Islamist, but communist, and the Grey Wolves became an increasing threat to those who it saw as opposed to their Sunni Muslim-Turkish identity. By the late 1970s, political violence against the left was rife and reveals itself most violently in the slaughter of Alevis that took place in Kahramanmaraş in December 1978 when well over 100 Alevis were murdered in a pogrom organized by the Grey Wolves. The Grey Wolves had two reasons to hate the Alevis: first, they practice a heterodox form of Shi'a Islam that was at odds with their Sunni bigotry, and second, the Alevis were generally aligned with the left. It is also likely that the group was responsible for the May Day violence of 1977 in which 39 people lost their lives when unknown gunmen opened fire on leftist protesters and operated with the cooperation of some sectors of the Turkish Armed Forces as part of the theorized "deep state" (see Jan. 25 post).

Violent acts were also engaged in on the part of the extreme left, but did not compare to the prolific heinousness of the Grey Wolves. Indeed, the violence of both groups attributed to the political instability that the military coup of 1980 claimed as justification for their political intervention. After the military seized control in September of that year, it closed down all political parties, began work on a new constitution, and arrested and tortured several people it claimed to be trouble-makers. Those arrested included Türkeş and members of the Grey Wolves, but the principal aim of the military was to end what it saw as an emerging threat coming from the radical Turkish left (a view it had in common with the Grey Wolves). As in Iran in the 1970s, several leftists were detained for indefinite periods of time in political prisons and subjected to tortured. Interestingly, there is evidence that implicates United States-CIA involvement in the coup and that puts these events in the Cold War context in which they occurred.

It is interesting to think of how exogenous the events at Akdeniz seems in the stalemate of the current political climate. The factors for this stalemate are twofold: first, the moderation of the radical right to a degree that it is now able to represent itself in the form of an establishment party; second, the demise of the Turkish left to such a degree that its policies now seem more in line with the far right than with its own history (see Feb. 12 post).

To explain the first factor, it is necessary to understand the development of MHP in the post-coup years. In many ways, the 1980 coup tamed it and with its reconstitution in 1983, MHP began to move past its involvement in paramilitary activities and at the same time seek a greater role in electoral politics. With the death of Türkeş in 1997, Bahçeli further moderated the party's positions while also seeking to expand its base by appealing to pious Muslim voters with strong natioanlist leanings. The party became declared its opposition to the türban ban at universities and argued that türban-wearing women should be able to work in government. In 1999, the party won 18 percent of the vote thanks to this more religious platform and promises to execute Abdullah Öcalan.

Some have attributed the rise of MHP as symptomatic of an increase in nationalist feeling in recent years, but others have pointed to the party's success as rooted in the turbulent political situation in which Turkey found itself when the old center-right parties weakened in the closing years of the 1990s. Worthy of examination is Bülent Aras and Gökcen Bacık's 2000 article, "The Rise of the Nationalist Action Party and Turkish Politics" in Nationalism and Ethnic Politics (Vol. 6:2, pp. 48-64), in which the authors argue the latter.
Given that MHP's meeting the 10% threshold is the big question for the upcoming June 12 elections, I thought it might be useful to link back to this so readers can get more of a sense of the party's origins and just where it stands in the Turkish political landscape.

Monday, May 30, 2011

The Impact of Turkish Culture in Iraq

Much has been written in both the foreign and Turkish press about the impact of Turkish television serials, particularly soap operas (dizi) in the Arab world. However, in Iraq, the interest in Turkish television series has resulted in an interest in Turkish literature and language for a growing number of students. From Hurriyet Daily News:
“The ever-developing relations between [Iraq and Turkey] and Turkish soap operas on Iraq TV have triggered this new trend. Students are eager to learn Turkish, while families also want their children to learn Turkish,” Professor Talib al-Qurayshi, the head of the Iraq University Foreign Languages Department, recently told Anatolia news agency.

When Turkish Literature and Language Department head Ziyad Tariq Abduljabbar took over his new department’s management in 2008, there were only 60 students but there are now 730 undergraduate students, 17 post-graduate students and three PhD students in the program.

Speaking about the links between Turkish soap operas and the country’s literature, Nilüfer Narlı, a sociologist at Bahçeşehir University, said Turkey had increased its “soft power” in the Middle East and Balkan countries.

“As the circulation of soap operas in the international arena has increased, learning Turkish language and culture have become very important in the Arab and Balkan countries. This is what we call ‘soft power,’ within the context of the culture industry,” she said.

Of course, there are other reasons for the increased interest in Turkish in Iraq, especially economic ones, said al-Qurayshi. “Growing investment and business opportunities draw people to learn Turkish in Iraq. Students are concerned about their future and the current investments have triggered the education in Turkish.”
According to a TESEV survey conducted last year, 78% of respondents throughout the region had watched a Turkish television series. It is good to see that this interest in soap operas is feeding into other aspects of Turkish culture . . .

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Struggling to Make Sense of It All

As Turkey grapples to deal with all that is going on in the Arab Middle East these days, the Turkish media is having an equally difficult time keeping up. The following piece from the Foreign Policy Research Institute comes thanks to a post of Jenny White at Kamil Pasha. An excerpt:
Not surprisingly, the media plays an important role in both reflecting and influencing public opinion in Turkey. Since the outbreak of the first protests in Tunisia, Turkish media coverage of the Arab Awakening has portrayed a confused but ambitious picture of Turkey’s role regarding an intervention in Libya. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu’s “zero problem (with neighbors) policy” and Turkey’s role model status for democratizing Middle Eastern countries have contributed to an optimistic and ambitious domestic environment. However, the pace of developments in the Middle East, which required swift responses from Turkey and the West, unfolded more rapidly than Turkey had expected, causing confusion in Turkish government and foreign policy circles, as well as in public opinion. This is particularly evident when examining some of the most popular newspapers in Turkey—Hürriyet, Milliyet, Zaman, Taraf, Radikal, and Haber Türk—and their portrayal of the Western intervention in Libya.

The Turkish media in general, and columnists and commentators in particular, are primarily concerned about Turkish foreign policy direction and an appropriate Turkish response regarding the recent events in the Middle East. [4] Pleased with Erdoğan’s responses to the uprisings in Tunisia and especially in Egypt, many columnists supported Turkey’s initial criticism of the Western intervention—regardless of their general attitude towards the government and its policies. However, while several columnists lost interest, others ceased opposing the intervention once Turkey began participating in it. They, then, shied away from criticizing government policies, which presented a complete reversal of its position vis-à-vis the intervention within a few days. So, the media’s initial criticism of the Western intervention in Libya—like that of the Turkish government—appears to have been rooted in opposing France’s leadership of the operation. [5]

However, the majority in the Turkish media—namely the Islamists, leftists, and nationalists, continue to oppose any Western involvement in the Middle East. This unifying position among various opposing blocs in Turkey reflects a general suspicion of Western intentions in the Middle East. This theme features prominently in the government’s own discourse, especially with the approaching elections on June 13, 2011. Moreover, the West is perceived as monolithic in Turkey; only rarely are distinctions made between the U.S. and the European powers. Rarer still are the policies of the European powers evaluated individually. News of America’s $25 million of financial aid to the opposition in Libya, [6] the death of more than 800 Libyans fleeing Gaddafi’s crackdown, [7] and NATO’s “indifference” [8] to the growing number of people dying or trying to escape has caused increasing suspicion in the media. [9] Coverage and analyses also usually focused on this type of headline grabbing news.

The Turkish media primarily covers the Western politicians and Western media rather than Arab leaders and Arab media. While most are suspicious of Western intentions in the region, it appears, the Turkish media remain disinterested in the details of this complex situation.
This disinterest is particularly troubling given Turkey's increased role in the region and frequent references to it as a model for the Middle East, something that Turks (and myself) are still having trouble getting their heads around, especially in light of the AKP's increasing illiberal attitudes.

As I have written here before, though Turkey's role in the Middle East has been expanding in recent years, few Turks think of their country as a heavy hitter in the region and fewer still no much about the complexities. Since the foundation of the Turkish Republic, the Turkish foreign policy establishment has generally aimed to keep Turkey out of the complex scene of Middle East politics, allying itself firmly with the United States and NATO.

Turkish news is still largely "Arab light" despite the AKP's recent efforts to build new relationships and pursue markets in the Arab world. This was more or less acceptable when the status quo was what it was before the Arab spring, a stagnate scene of disparate authoritarian regimes that provided the kind of stability that loaned Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu's "zero problems" with neighbors policy some kind of working feasibility. Turkey could approach its relations with each country bilaterally without so much having to worry with the larger regional picture other than Israel, which was seemingly excluded from the "zero problems" equation to begin with. However, given the emergence of the post-Arab spring and the likelihood that Turkey will continue to play a leading role in the region, better coverage of Arab politics and the complexities therein is most certainly welcome.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Bomb Explodes in Etiler

DHA PHOTO from Milliyet

A bomb exploded in Etiler, an up-scale neighborhood in Istanbul, this morning has injured eight people.

According to news reports, the blog was mounted on a bicycle and might have targeted police given that there is a police training school nearby. It is not clear at this time who or what organization is behind the bomb.

The bomb was the first in a long time to target citizens. The normal PKK has typically avoided hitting citizen targets, though the Kurdistan Freedom Falcons (TAK), a radical and much more violent PKK-offshoot, has been known to target civilians with regularity. Various leftist groups have also been associated with such attacks.

Syrian Opposition Meeting in Antalya

PHOTO from Hurriyet

News is breaking that Syrian opposition leaders are planning to meet in Antalya next week. According to Hurriyet, the meeting is scheduled for May 31 to June 2 at the five-star Falez Hotel. Ammar Qurabi, president of the exiled Syrian National Organization for Human Rights, has confirmed the meeting will draw together numerous members of the opposition from across different factions.

Turkey's role in organizing the meeting is unclear, though there is no word from the government or in the Turkish press that the government is doing anything other than allowing the meeting to take place. Travel to and from Syria to Turkey became visa-free in 2009.

In April, MUSIAD, the Islamist-affiliated Independent Industrialist's and Businessmen's Association, organized a conference of the Muslim Brotherhood in Istanbul. This meeting will apparently include more parties than just the Brotherhood.

An interesting tidbit (if true) from the hardline Debka website has also appeared. According to Debka, Turkey has taken is taking serious steps to distance itself from Assad.
1. The following message was posted to Damascus on Tuesday, May 24: Turkey is not a member of the European Union and is therefore not bound by its sanctions it has imposed freezing Assad's assets and barring him and his regime heads from travelling. Nonetheless, the Syrian ruler is advised not to try and test its intentions by trying to visit Turkey.
2. Assad's repression of the uprising in the Kurdish regions of northern Syria is causing ferment among the Kurds of southern Turkey. Unless it is stopped forthwith, Ankara will take overt action against the Syrian ruler.
3. Erdogan has discontinued his almost daily phone conversations with Assad. In any case, his advice to the Syrian ruler on how to overcome the uprising against him was never heeded.

Our sources report that he also ordered the Hakan Fidan, chief of Turkish MIT intelligence service, to stop traveling to Damascus with updates on Syrian opposition activities. Assad has thus lost his key source of information about what the opposition is up to.
My understanding is that this information should be treated with a grain of salt, and according to official Turkish government reports, Erdogan is still in regular contact with Assad.

More as it happens . . .

UPDATE I (5/26) -- Joshua Landis of Syria Comment has a few more details on the meeting, as well as some history of the MUSIAD meeting from April and its potential to seriously irritate Assad's Syria.

UPDATE II (5/27) -- More on the opposition meeting from Joshua Landis's blog can be found here. Still not much in the Turkish press . . .

An Opportunity for Citizen Journalism

Erkan Saka, whose English-language blog I feature in the blogroll ("Turkey in the Media") to the right, is leading a group of Bilgi University students in a social media project aimed to collect information garnered by citizen journalists monitoring the June 12 elections. From Hurriyet Daily News:
The website, http://secim2011.crowdmap.com, is a Turkish version of the Ushahidi website which uses the concept of crowdsourcing via multiple channels, including SMS, email, Twitter and the Internet, to provide citizens with a platform to upload their own instant media independently of mainstream networks.

“Our website allows the public to reach [campaign] reports in the easiest way,” media and communications student Metin Özer recently told the Hürriyet Daily News Economic Review.

Regarding recent protests in Taksim Square against plans to increase filters against the Internet, Erkan Saka, an academic at the university's Media and Communication Systems Department, told the Daily News that because no political parties were front and center during the demonstrations, it suggested that citizens were now experiencing a period of real activism and that such anti-censorship movements provided an example of mass collaboration.

“Turkish websites have become a refuge where hate speech or censorship is often protested [as evidenced by the] thousands who gathered in Taksim Square [earlier in May to demand a free Internet],” Saka said, adding that the group had launched the project not simply due to the protest but also because the website could be useful in promoting more productive uses of information technology.

Emphasizing the importance of the website, Özer said the project was a mission to support local journalism. The mainstream media collects its news from the wires, but it takes too long to format the information and post it for the public, he added.

“[The] purpose was to develop a collective mind through social media,” Saka said.
Saka has been active in the mass protests that have taken place throughout Turkey in reaction to Turkey's plans to introduce an Internet filtering and profile system set to launch Aug. 22. The protests in the Taksim Square and other places throughout the country evince the mass protest the government's plans have sparked.

However, what is needed in addition to the "real activism" of which Saka speaks is organization. The CHP has taken an active role in protesting the government's plan as well, and while there are a limited number of NGOs working on Internet freedom issues, in particular Bilgi University professor Yaman Akdeniz's Cyber-Rights.org and Bianet, which is challenging Turkey's already restrictive Internet law at the European Court of Human Rights, what is lacking are well-funded, well-organized civil society groups that are able to viably connect the protestors with the state.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Gul Urges Hamas to Recognize Israel

In reaction to Obama's Thursday speech on Mideast policy, President Gul has given an interview to the Wall Street Journal lauding Obama's seeming call for a two-state solution based on 1967 borders while calling on Hamas to recognize Israel. From Alternet:
Turkey's President Abdullah Gul has urged the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas to recognise Israel's right to exist, the Wall Street Journal reported on Saturday.

In an interview a day after U.S. President Barack Obama delivered a speech on the Middle East, Gul also hailed Obama's reference to creating a Palestinian state based on Israel's pre-1967 borders as "a very important step".

Turkey has regarded Hamas as a key factor in the Middle East peace process since it won Palestinian elections in 2006.

Gul said President Obama "has a point" when he said in his speech that Israel could not be expected to negotiate with a body that does not recognise Israel's right to exist.

Asked if he was willing to press Hamas on that issue, Gul said, "I already advised them."

In a meeting with Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal in Ankara in 2006, Gul said he told Meshaal, "you have to be rational" about recognising Israel's right to exist.

Gul said he believed Hamas was ready to recognise Israel in its pre-1967 borders but wants that to happen simultaneously with Israel's recognition of a Palestinian state.
The AKP government has had friendly relations with Hamas since 2006 when a five-member delegation led by Meshaal first visited Ankara. Since that time the AKP government has been committed to improving relations between Hamas and the international community, a policy that has won the party few friends in Israel and in certain Washington policy circles. For background on the AKP government's relations with Hamas, see June 10 post.

Obama's speech aired live on Turkish state television Thursday night at a time when most Turks are still very much trying to figuring out their own country's position in the post-Arab spring Middle East.

Ankara is expected to facilitate negotiations between Hamas and Fatah next week.

Friday, May 20, 2011

The Prime Minister's Curious Obsession with Inonu

Commemorations of the Dersim rebellion were held in the city (now known as Tunceli) on Wednesday. The Tunceli Cultural Association and Dersim Associations Federation organized the demonstrations. DHA PHOTO from Hurriyet Daily News

In an election rally in the southeastern city of Van, Prime Minister Erdogan once again took the opportunity to assail the CHP for its role in the massacre of thousands of Alevi Kurds in the fall of 1937/spring of 1938. Curiously, Erdogan focused his scorn on then-CHP leader Ismet Inonu, who was not president at the time (an error repeated here in Today's Zaman (also repeated in Zaman) -- in fact, Inonu, after a political fallout with Ataturk, resigned in fall 1937). Obviously the CHP, the oldest party in Turkey and the party of Ataturk, has undergone numerous transformations since 1938.

This Wednesday marked the annual commemoration of the Dersim massacre, an oft-overlooked event in Turkish history that has received increasing attention in the Turkish media in recent years as Turks begin to discover and constructively discuss the darker side of the republic's formative years.

The attempt by Erdogan to associate the CHP with Dersim is not the first. He made the same remarks last August while campaigning for Kurdish votes for the September referendum (see here, in Turkish).

Just as significant to the prime minister's remarks in Van was the religious tone of his speech, calling on Turks and Kurds to unite as Muslims and accusing the pro-Kurdish BDP of creating dangerous divisions. Particularly disturbing, and completely fallacious, the prime minister, speaking in Siirt, another southeastern town, accused the BDP of fostering Zoroastrianism. I would like to know more about the roots of this accusation (is there some Turkish/Kurdish cultural significance? where did this come from?), and so if anyone has any information, please send it onward.

In March, BDP leader Selahattin Demirtas warned Kurds from speaking openly at mosques, hinting that imams appointed by the Turkish Directorate of Religious Affairs, or Diyanet, might be spies for the state (a dangerous intimation given that the PKK was killing imams in the dirty war in the 1990s). Also curiously, the BDP, which is well-known for its neo-Marxist, secular views (not Zoroastrianism!!), has made efforts this election cycle to compete with the AKP for religious votes. From Hurriyet Daily News:
Erdoğan said the course in solving the Kurdish issue has been changed since 2002, as they have ceased to ignore the existence of the problem. Outlining five documents issued by İnönü in the late 1940s that prohibited the use of Kurdish and ordered the confiscation of books written in the language. “Dear residents of Van! When you were suffering this pain here in Van, we were suffering the same pains in Istanbul. This period of denial has lasted until we came to power.”

The police and gendarmerie have taken extraordinary security measures in the city in order to prevent a potential dispute between the ruling and pro-Kurdish party fans. However tight security measures in the eastern province of Van ahead of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s election rally Friday did not dissuade protesters from taking to the streets for a mass prayer.

Despite a crackdown resembling the days when the region was under a state of emergency, some 5,000 members and supporters of the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP, gathered outside to hold their midday prayers at a park instead of in a mosque.

Imams in Turkey are selected and assigned by the state. The BDP has charged the government with using religion as a political tool.

Hundreds of police officers silently joined in the act of civil disobedience, held just hours before Erdoğan was set to arrive. The thousands of people who showed up for the prayer dispersed silently, without a trace of slogans or banners.

“They used to say the religion of Kurds is Zerdust, not Islam. Who said that? The man in İmralı and those who follow him,” Erdoğan said Thursday at a campaign event in Siirt, referring to the imprisoned leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK.

“What do they do now? They say, ‘You cannot pray behind the state’s imam; gather elsewhere.’ The Friday prayer is about being together. They try such things to break our togetherness,” the prime minister said.
Time will tell if the AKP will have any success maintaining its strong base of more religiously-inclined voters in the southeast. Kurds are indeed more conservative, especially outside the major cities, and the AKP fared well in 2007 parliamentary elections, capturing as much as half the vote even in the Kurdish nationalist stronghold of Diyarbakir. However, those victories were diminished in March 2009 local elections, and the BDP's new efforts to woo these voters from the AKP and shed its perceived strict secularist credentials could allow the Kurdish nationalist party to make serious inroads this time around.

As to Dersim, CHP leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu, engaged in similar electioneering efforts, has asked for a state-led commission of inquiry into what happened. Kilicdarolgu is himself Alevi, and his comments follow a remarked turn for the CHP. Last year, after denouncing fellow CHP party member Onur Oymen for insulting remarks Oymen made justifying the Dersim massacres, Kilicdaroglu was forced to back-down. However, Baykal's resignation as party leader and Kilicdarolgu's recent ascendancy to the party's top leadership position (in particular, his defeat of former Secretary-General Onder Sav, who was close to Baykal), have drastically changed CHP's role in the political scene.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Caught on Tape...Sex Scandal Hits the MHP

As violence boils over in the southeast, the MHP, Turkey's third largest party, finds itself in the midst of a major sex scandal. For over a week, a mysterious website has been threatening to release sex tapes unless MHP leader Devlet Bahceli resigns. The MHP had until yesterday to meet the demands or have the website release the names of the party members who were caught on film.As promised, the website released names and tapes. Among the MHP members "caught" are three deputies, as well as the party's secretary-general.

In addition to video that has been released (nothing too explicit), there is audiotape. The tape is probably more damning than the video, featuring MHP politicians saying particularly dirty things to prostitutes. The tapes are getting wide play in the Turkish press.

Crazy things tend to happen in elections, but in Turkey the level of "craziness" is particularly high. Just one year ago former CHP leader Deniz Baykal was forced to resign his long-held top position in the chief opposition party following the release of a sex tape documenting what Baykal likely now considers a rather unfortunate affair with a female deputy within his party. The tape was released a few months before last year's constitutional referendum. Like the CHP scandal, the forces behind this new wave of videotapes is not known.

The MHP is accusing the ruling AKP of being behind the tapes. The footage was apparently taken in a house the party used for illicit liaisons with women who were most likely prostitutes. The house seems to have been under surveillance for a long period of time.

The MHP is hovering just above 10% in public opinion polls -- the same percentage the party needs to capture to be able to enter parliament.  The AKP has the most to gain should the MHP fall under the 10% mark since it would be rewarded the majority of the seats the MHP does not pick up according to Turkey's rather unhealthy D'Hondt system of proportional representation. For more on how this works, click here. At stake for the AKP is the ability to unilaterally put through a new constitution. The party needs 330 seats (3/5 of the parliament's 550 seats) to craft amendments to submit to popular referendum (as was the case with the recent constitutional changes passed Sept. 12) and 367 seats to push through amendments without the referendum requirement(2/3 of the 550 seats).

Last year, the ultra-nationalist MHP staked its political future on opposing the AKP's referendum and grand-standing on the Kurdish issue. Despite the government's failed "Kurdish opening" and the wave of PKK terrorist violence that was raging at the time, the MHP failed to get many of its voters out. Now that the AKP seems to have taken a more nationalist turn, Prime Minister Erdogan recently declaring "one nation, one language, one flag," the MHP is having difficulties winning over its usual constituency. The sex tape scandal will further injure its chances of remaining a major player in Turkish politics.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Averting Another Flotilla Crisis

The Turkish NGO Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief (IHH) is preparing another flotilla campaign involving vessels sailing from multiple European countries, including the Mavi Marmara, which will once again sail from Turkey. The vessels are set to sail after the Turkish elections on June 12.

Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Philip Gordon has said the United States is urging Turkey not to allow the IHH to send another flotilla. In testimony to the U.S. Senate before Congress yesterday, Gordon said, “In the year since the last flotilla episode, Israel has changed the humanitarian regime for Gaza [and] made it very clear that there are alternative ways to get humanitarian assistance to Gaza. We have been very clear with the Turkish government that that’s the case.”

The Turkish government, as before, has said that Turkey is in no position to prevent lawfully registered NGOs from setting sail for Gaza. The IHH is accepting applications for the campaign, heavily advertising in Turkey and throughout Europe.

For more on the IHH and last year's flotilla incident, click here. For my feature in the Jerusalem Post analyzing Turkey-Israel relations in the wake of the flotilla, click here.

Is AKP Nationalism a Mistake?

In recent weeks, the AKP has taken an increasingly nationalist tone. As AKP puts its effort into winning votes from the constituency of the ultra-nationalist MHP, it risks not only a massive electoral loss in Turkey's Kurdish southeast but stoking Kurdish counter-nationalist sentiments. The violence, which should be read as a backlash against the AKP, is already at a level the ruling party has yet to see and risks getting worse.

Milliyet columnist Semih Idiz argues that the AKP is playing with fire. As large scale protests continue throughout the southeast in response to allegations that the Turkish military, which is in theory now under the command of the AKP civilian government, abandoned the bodies of 12 PKK militants, the prime minister continues to play the nationalist card.

Since the failed Kurdish opening, Erdogan has taken the position that there are "good Kurds" and "bad Kurds," and that it is the latter who are at the heart of the unrest. At the same time, he has seemingly drawn back from previous government initiatives to provide the Kurds with more cultural rights and is instead focusing on "eliminating" the "bad Kurds," which many in the region see the AKP as doing by way of the KCK operations, which began after the AKP suffered electoral losses in the 2009 local elections.

Pandering to nationalist sentiment makes sense from one angle. In recent public opinion polls, the MHP is hovering at the 10% threshold required for political parties to enter parliament and the party will likely fare even worse given the sex scandal in which it is now deeply entangled. If the AKP can shut the MHP out parliament, it will be that much closer to the super majority required to enact a new constitution unilaterally and without going to referendum.

While some AKP apologists have made claims that the military action not to return the bodies to their families (a claim that is still confusing and largely unsubstantiated) is the result of a deep state conspiracy aimed at undermining the AKP before elections (a frequently convenient, oft-used excuse), the AKP is doing little to step back from its nationalist posturing. From Idiz:
How Erdoğan can stand up, in the face of what is actually happening, and claim that “Turkey’s Kurdish problem is over” is a mystery. He appears to be telling us that all the protests we see by the Kurds, the position that the BDP is taking in this respect, and the intense public debate about this issue represent something other than the Kurdish problem.

Even the highly respect columnist Hasan Cemal, who is known for supporting the AKP and also for his outspoken stance on issues like the Kurdish issue, is admitting that Erdoğan’s playing of the nationalist card to undermine the MHP has crossed a line. Erdoğan is relying on the fact that the MHP’s nationalist strongholds all voted “yes” for the AKP’s package of constitutional amendments in last September’s referendum.

That happened despite the fact that MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli argued against the constitutional changes by maintaining that Erdoğan was betraying the country and actively dividing it with his Kurdish initiative. Under normal circumstances, this allegation should have made MHP supporters vote against the constitutional amendments. But it did not, thus encouraging Erdoğan to switch from a position of empathy with the Kurds to pandering to the nationalists.

. . . .

There are also those, Cemal being one of them, who argue that if the Turkish army is under the orders of the elected government, as the AKP claims it is when it serves its interests to do so, then Erdoğan should step in and prevent the military from engaging in operations that merely make a bad situation worse. In the meantime there are regional developments that stand to aggravate the issue further.

Ankara has of course normalized ties with the Kurds of northern Iraq, and as belated as this was, it is nevertheless a good development contributing to regional stability. Developments in Syria, however, have energized the Kurdish movement in that country and it is not clear how this situation will affect Turkey’s Kurdish problem.

The bottom line here is that there appears to be little political wisdom in Erdoğan’s current approach to the problem, which in fact smacks of political opportunism aimed at the nationalist vote, rather than a consideration of the welfare of the whole of Turkey. But what he is achieving in doing this is stoking up Kurdish nationalism and contributing to a further division of the country.
While the party won over many Kurdish skeptics in 2005 when Erdogan delivered a landmark speech painting Turkey as a multi-ethnic, multi-religious country, a speech that eschewed nationalism and began to move understanding "Turkishness" as something other than an ethnic or even national identity, those votes are mostly gone. Given the crisis in Syria and that the AKP is likely to lose a huge number of Kurdish voters in the southeast, what is happening in the southeast right now is particularly dangerous.

The June elections will be a showdown between the AKP and the PKK-affiliated BDP, and at the moment, neither side is taking a nonviolent, accommodationist position. Unless something changes, just what will come of this cannot possibly be good.

More Internet Unrest

PHOTO by Emrah Guler / Hurriyet Daily News

Multiple progressive Turkish websites are being attacked just three days following large-scale protests of the Turkish government's plan to pass broadly restrictive measure on Internet use. From RSF:
Several websites that backed anti-censorship demonstrations held on 15 May have been intermittently inaccessible since then because of Distributed Denial of Service attacks. The targets include the site of the left-wing daily Birgün, the news site haber.sol.org.tr and the media freedom website Bianet.

“We are going to carry on publishing under alternative addresses in case we should become the subject of similar attacks in the future,” Bianet announced today after being inaccessible for eight hours yesterday. “If this should occur, the alternative address will be published on Twitter and via other channels.”
For the announcement from Bianet, click here.

In other Internet freedom-related news, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has asked the Turkish government to reconsider its plan to institute new regulations on the Internet, which are currently scheduled to go into effect on Aug. 22. The OSCE has also offered its assistance in helping Turkey draft an internet law that will respect freedom of expression. The Turksih government is also taking heat from the European Commission.
In a letter to Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, or OSCE’s, representative on media freedom expressed concern about the Turkish government’s plans to introduce mandatory content filtering for all Internet users.

“This regulation would limit the right of individuals to access information they want and impose regulation of Internet content by the authorities,” OSCE representative Dunja Mijatovic wrote, adding that Internet users must have the freedom to make independent decisions about the use of content filters.

“If enforced, this regulation would contravene OSCE and international standards on free flow of information.” Mijatovic added.

Turkey also received international criticism from the European Commission, with a spokeswoman for Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fule telling reporters Tuesday that the body is closely following developments regarding the filtering of online access in Turkey and other restrictions on the Internet.

She also expressed the European Commission’s uneasiness about Turkey’s blocking access to Internet sites frequently and disproportionately in terms of content and time, the Anatolia news agency reported.
The CHP is also taking advantage of the opportunity to challenge the government issue, utilizing its youth branches to capture support for the party before the upcoming elections on June 12.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Ahmet Şık and Ertuğrul Mavioğlu Cleared in One Case

Though Ahmet Şık remains under arrest for alleged, but highly questionable, links to the shadowy Ergenekon gang (see here), an Istanbul court recently acquitted him in a case involving other charges related to a book the journalist wrote with Ertugrul Mavioglu concerning the Ergenekon investigation. From Hurriyet Daily News:
The decision came after the second hearing of the case involving accusations of violation of investigation secrecy based on a two-volume book called “40 Katır 40 Satır: Kontrgerilla ve Ergenekon’u Anlama Rehberi” (Between a Rock and a Hard Place: The Guide to Understanding Counter-guerilla and Ergenekon) and “40 Katır 40 Satır: Ergenekon’da Kim Kimdir?” (Between a Rock and a Hard Place: Who is Who in Ergenekon).

The defense first presented their plea to the court said the accusations involving another Ergenekon suspect Hasan Ataman Yıldırım claims. The lawyers said the subject of the case is irrelevant as an another case has already been filed against the journalists. The two-volume book was published in 2010 and the case was filed immediately afterward with the justification of “violation of secrecy” in the Ergenekon investigation.

Both Şık and Mavioğlu expressed in their defense, “cases are filed against every news story, book regarding Ergenekon,” Şık said their book was not sourced by leaks from police or prosecutor as some journalists said, but careful inspection of open sources. “Our sources do not include CIA, the prime minister or the chief of general staff either,” Mavioğlu added.

Regarding Şık’s lack of presence at the first hearing, the lawyers argued that there is no sufficient explanation given by the officials of the prison during their testimony. The prison where he is being held said in their written statement they did not have enough vehicles for transportation to the Kadıköy courthouse on April 14.

Şık has been under arrest in the scope of the ongoing Ergenekon case since March 6 and was taken to the court between high security measurements taken by the police and gendarmerie as the protests was being held out of the courthouse. The crowd including the press members and Republican People Party, or CHP, party members chanted, “Ahmet will get out of the prison and write again,” and, “There can be no bomb made by a poem or book, prime minister”

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan previously compared Şık’s book draft called “İmamın Ordusu” (The Imam’s Army) to a bomb. The slogan referred to both Erdoğan’s remarks, while reminding the prime minister of the time he served in prison for reading a poem before he was elected to his office.

Journalist Ruşen Çakır, who read a press statement in front of the courthouse, said 68 journalists are behind bars in a country.
For additional reportage from Bianet, click here. The counter to Prime Minister Erdogan's remarks refers to the case brought against the prime minister after he read a famous Islamic poem about mosques becoming minarets. Erdogan's reading of the poem resulted in a temporary ban from politics, after which the AKP rose as Turkey's only significant liberal party. Now the AKP's commitment to liberalism is under serious question.

This is a victory for Şık, who, in this case, was charged with revealing state secrets for publishing a piece in which all the information was public. However, the larger case brought against him in March looms ahead and the journalist remains under arrest.

DIHA Journalist Ersin Celik Sent to Prison

From Bianet:
Imprisonment of ten months was the verdict for journalist Ersin Çelik on the grounds of a news item about the death of Dicle University student Aydın Erdem. In his article, Çelik had put forward that Erdem died from police bullets when he attended a demonstration in 2009.

The student had actually joined a protest march for people who lost their lives because they were shot by the police and was then gunned down himself. Çelik, reporter for the Dicle News Agency (DİHA) at the time, was tried because he named the alleged perpetrators in his article.

It was reported on Friday (13 May) that the Diyarbakır 6th High Criminal Court handed down a ten-month prison sentence to the journalists on charges of "disclosing the identity of a public official on anti-terror duties".

Çelik was not able to attend the hearing because he is currently being detained in the scope of another trial. He was represented by his lawyer Servet Özen.
Erdem was killed in the mass protests that consumed the southeast in December 2009. In September, charges were brought against Erdem's father for inscribing a martyr's prayer on his son's headstone. The Diyarbakir Chief Prosecutor's Office accused Erdem's father with "praising a crime and a criminal" under Article 215 of the Turkish Penal Code. I am not sure if the charges were dropped. Remember, in Turkey, charges are easily brought by zealous prosecutors looking to make and/or score political points. In Celik's case, those charges have resulted in a prison sentence.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Detentions and Arrests Spike in the Southeast

Newroz demonstrations in Diyarbakir / PHOTO from Efe

The number of detentions and arrests in Turkey's mostly Kurdish southeast has drastically increased in the past month. The spike follows the BDP's "democratic solutions" campaign launched in March, as well as the mass unrest two weeks ago following the Election Board's attempt to bar some candidates from the pro-Kurdish BDP party from running in parliamentary elections. The number of people detained and arrested in conjunction with the government's ongoign operations against the KCK is also part of the equation. From Bianet:
A total of 2506 people were taken into police custody in Turkey between 24 March and 11 May 2011. Operations that resulted in the arrest of more than 400 people were carried out between the Newroz celebrations (end of March) and 1 May demonstrations.

According to the Dicle News Agency (DİHA), an estimated 2506 people were taken into police custody for political reasons in the course of police operations that started after the Newroz festivals and peaked with the veto decision of the Supreme Election Board (YSK) on 18 April. Hundreds of people were arrested. Only within the past five days, 155 people were taken into custody and 53 people were arrested.

According to data compiled by DİHA from the news the agency obtained, more than 2000 people were taken into custody between 24 March and 29 April, a period of six weeks. On 29 April, the last day of this wave of operations, at least 66 people were taken into custody in seven different cities.

According to figures announced by the Human Rights Association (İHD), 831 people, 189 of whom were children, were taken into police custody after the veto decision of the YSK between 19 and 29 April. The YSK had decided to bar twelve independent candidates from the general elections, a decision that was partly reversed later on. During the same period of time, two people were killed by the police and 308 people were injured during demonstrations.

* At least 177 people were taken into police custody in the scope of operations carried out between 29 April and 5 May.

* On Friday 6 May, 163 people were taken into police custody in Kurdish provinces and Hatay/Dörtyol, Bodrum and Adana, 19 of whom were arrested. On 7 May, another 24 arrests and an additional eleven people were registered.

* This rate increased further between 7 and 11 May. Throughout five days, 155 people were taken into custody and 53 were arrested. On 9 May, seven university students were arrested, among them one DİHA reporter. On 10 May, 34 people were taken into police custody, three of them are alleged members of the 'Group Comment' organization.

* Police operations were conducted in Hakkari, Mardin, Şırnak, Diyarbakır, Siirt, Van, Urfa, Söke, Erzurum and Malatya between 7 and 11 May.
Detentions and arrests are different in Turkey. Polce have the right to detain suspects for up to 24 hours, and a judge may extend this time to 48 hours, excluding the time it takes to transport detainees from different facilities. During this time, a detainee is entitled to the right to an attorney.

However, under the Anti-Terrorism Law, in cases where a suspect is thought to be linked to a terrorist organization no such right is afforded. In the southeast, this is the case in the vast majority of detentions. In most of these cases, detainees are not allowed to see an attorney until after the detention period is over, allowing police to freely interrogate people without an attorney "getting in the way." According to human rights groups, it is during this time that torture and other forms of ill-treatment is most likely to occur.

According to Serkan Akbas, a lawyer with the Diyarbakir Bar Association,  most detentions and arrests are based on photographs of people attending this or that event or meeting with people thought to be associated with the KCK or PKK. This has long been the case, though I assume the situation has gotten only worse. A mere photograph and a vendetta can land a person in serious trouble.

Detentions also routinely follow demonstrations and clashes with police, such as have been occurring in relation to the "peace tents" the BDP has setup in relation to the "democratic solutions" campaign.

Those arrested during protests can face more jail time than actual militants who decide to surrender. Under a limited amnesty law, militants receive a maximum of six year and three months in prison. Meanwhile, protestors can face between seven and 15 years in prison. For more on this, see Human Right Watch's November report on protesting as a criminal offense.

Further, arrests, even if based on the shoddiest of evidence, can land one in prison for months. According to the Minister of Justice, the average length of time between arrest and a trial verdict was 580 days. The problem of prolonged periods of arrest is indubitably a violation of the right to an expedient trial guaranteed under the European Convention of Human Rights. In the wake of the Ergenekon and Sledgehammer investigations, yhe practice has been criticized by the Turkish Bar Associations' Union. Bilgi Univeristy law professor Idil Elveris writes about the issue here.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

A Bloody Weekend, A Riotous Week

PHOTO from Radikal

Predominantly Kurdish cities throughout the southeast are in an uproar this week after clashes with PKK fighters attempting cross the border from northern Iraq resulted in the death of 12 militants. PKK news sources claim five Turkish soldiers were killed in retaliation. Major fighting has been taking place on the border since the Turkish military launched a large-scale operations on Thursday.

According to news reports, three of the bodies were not collected by the Turkish Armed Forces and returned to their families, as is usually the practice. In an effort to retrieve the bodies, a group of approximately people marched from Sirnak province over the Iraqi border, where they got into a confrontation with the Turkish military. The conflict was defused by local officials, after which the military retrieved the bodies to in the end return them to relatives.

Just one month before elections, Kurdish AKP deputy Galip Ensarioglu accused the powers-that-be of using the clashes as a means to stoke ultra-nationalist sentiment and keep the MHP above the 10% threshold. The AKP is attempting to win voters from MHP's usual constituency in an effort to have the part fall below the threshold, the occurrence of which would help secure an AKP super-majority.

UPDATE I (5/17) -- Bianet reports that 47 people were detained on Sunday night in Hakkari (like Sirnak, also on the border with Iraq) after protests there. There were also wide-scale protests in Diyarbakir and Istanbul. In Istanbul, 1,000 people assembled outside Galatasary Lisesi on Istiklal. Bianet also reports that Turkish military officers today fired upon a high school in Cizre, a town in Sirnak, after students began to protest and shout pro-PKK slogans.

Radikal reports that Sirnak governor Vahdettin Ozkan requested Gen. Mustafa Bakici to collect the bodies, but that the general refused on the grounds that the people should "experience the power of the state." There are also allegations that the Turkish military insensitively called BDP offices and told them to come pick up the bodies of the militants. None of this has been confirmed. BDP deputy Gulten Kisanak conveys her narrative of what happened here. It all seems like an incredibly confusing incident with plenty of politics on both sides.

Prime Minister Erdogan is set to hold an election rally in Siirt on Thursday.

"Don't Touch My Internet!"

Tens of thousands of protestors took to the street yesterday to protest the government's plans to further regulate the Internet. (For more on the new regulations, click here). From Bianet, which has challenged the new regulations in a case to be heard by the Council of State:
Hundreds of thousands of Turkish internet users took the streets in 31 Turkish provinces on Sunday (15 May) to demonstrate against the "Draft Bill on Rules and Procedures of the Safety of Internet Use" that was approved by the Council of Information Technologies and Telecommunication (BTK) in the end of February.

The participants of the protest action got organized via Facebook and Twitter. They walked along Istiklal Avenue all the way from Taksim Square to the Tünel district. Many groups joined the demonstration, among them also political parties, the Linux Users Association, the LGBTT initiative LambdaIstanbul, the 'Hands off the Internet' Initiative and websites like Kaldıraç, İnci Dictionary, Ekşi Dictionary, bobiler.org, Uykusuz, and the Ulusağ dictionary.
Labor unions also joined the protests.

Friday, May 13, 2011

CHP Supports Devolution in the Southeast Ahead of Elections

The CHP has announced four main planks to solving the Kurdish problem: devolution, Kurdish language education, lowering of the current 10% threshold parties must attain to enter parliament, and the establishment of truth commission-like institution to investigate crimes committed during the 1990s. The devolution proposal is the most racial of these given Turkey's long history of unitary government. The CHP is arguing that Turkey should fully implement the European Administrations Local Autonomy Condition to which Turkey has currently attached reservations. From Hurriyet Daily News:
CHP deputy leader Sezgin Tanrıkulu said the Kurdish problem could be solved within the unitary structure of Turkey by empowering local administrations with the full implementation of the European Local Administrations Autonomy Condition.

Tanrıkulu revealed the democratization targets of CHP in a meeting to a group of journalists in Istanbul. CHP has proposals for four main democratization issues in Turkey in its election statement, Tanrıkulu said.

“Turkey is one of the countries that has signed the European Local Administrations Autonomy Condition, however Turkey has attached annotation for seven of its articles. We want these annotations removed. If these annotations are removed, then there would be no question of democratic autonomy for the Kurdish people, the whole issue can be solved within the unitary structure of Turkey,” said Tanrıkulu.

The CHP is also in favor of having everybody to learn their mother tongue in the school, said Tanrıkulu. “Not only should our Kurdish citizens, but everybody in Turkey should have the chance to learn their mother tongue at the school, if they want to. The most important thing is accepting this as a fundamental right,” said Tanrıkulu.

“We will overcome the obstacles that lie before our Kurdish citizens to live their identity freely by establishing a pluralist and libertarian democracy,” said Tanrıkulu.

Reducing the election threshold is another proposal of CHP in its “democratization targets.”

“CHP has already proposed that the Parliament reduce the threshold from 10 percent to 7 percent last year, however as our leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu said, it could be even reduced to 5 percent or less. Reducing or lifting the threshold in whole, is essential for the reflection of people’s will to the Parliament,” Tanrıkulu said.

Regarding the discussions on implementation of the presidential system in Turkey, Tanrıkulu said, “These discussions cannot go any further than being a fantasy.”

The fourth main proposal of the CHP in its democratization package is “creating a research commission for inquiry of unsolved murders.” “There should a research commission in international standards in order to enlighten the unsolved murders in Turkey,” said Tanrıkulu.

Tanrıkulu said the CHP wants a new libertarian constitution that would secure every aspect of the human rights issues, including the civil, political, social, economical, cultural rights for everyone. “However in order to reach these targets that the CHP drew for democratization, we don’t need a new constitution, we can make these changes even without a new constitution,” said Tanrıkulu.
There is still no reference here to removing the ethnic chauvinism in Turkey's current understanding of Turkish citizenship, which addresses all Turkish citizens as belonging to the "Turkish nation." Amending the constitution in this regard has long been a key demand for Kurds.

However, there is no doubt the CHP is giving the AKP a run for its money in meeting long-held demands of Kurds. Local autonomy for Kurdish municipalities has become a big issue since last summer, and the CHP's willingness to address the issue is big news.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Turkish Newspaper to Have Pages in Kurdish

The Turkish daily Radikal will begin publishing some of the pages its weekly magazine supplement in Kurdish. Content includes a feature on Kurdish broadcasting and excerpts from a new novel by a Kurdish author. The first edition will premiere in time for the Diyarbakir Book Fair, which I had the pleasure of attending last year.

Progress on the Domestic Violence Front

Turkey has signed a new Council of Europe convention to prevent and combat violence against women. As documented by a report released by Human Rights Watch earlier this month, Turkey has been plagued by domestic violence over the years thanks in part to problems implementing existing law. Turkey pushed very hard for the Convention to be opened for signatures at the Council's recent ministerial meeting. From Hurriyet Daily News:
Reaching a consensus proved difficult as many countries expressed resistance to the far-reaching provisions of the convention, but Turkey adopted a negotiation position based on international standards, Acar told the Hürriyet Daily News in an interview.

“We did not hide behind any cultural, economic or political pretexts and we resisted those who wanted to water down the stipulations,” she added.

The convention is revolutionary in the sense that it accepts violence against women as a human-rights violation, according to Acar. “This is very important, because violence against women will no longer be seen as a social problem. This will strengthen women’s demands for access to judicial recourse as well as protection,” she said.

Also important is the fact that the convention has endorsed a wide-ranging definition of “violence,” Acar added.

“Violence is not only physical. It can be economic or psychological; stalking is, for instance, a type of violence,” she said. The convention also includes violence against immigrant women, a measure that was resisted by some countries.

The convention covers what are called “the 4 Ps”: prevention, protection, prosecution and policy.

“The fourth P is especially important for Turkey, since we lack an integrated policy on gender equality. This convention will be known as the Istanbul convention and that way Turkey will be known as a country championing the cause of combating violence against women,” Acar told the Daily News.

“Just as we endorsed a zero-tolerance policy on preventing torture, we need to endorse zero tolerance on violence against women. In this sense, this convention will be a new driving force for Turkish domestic efforts,” she said. “Because we really need a mentality change, especially as far as implementation is concerned. All the judges, prosecutors, police and health officials will have to be trained. And for that Turkey needs to ratify the convention as soon as possible to set a good example as well.”
And more from Bianet:
Some 20 to 25 percent of women across the European region suffer physical or sexual violence at some point in their lives, according to the explanatory memorandum accompanying the Convention.

The convention is the first legally binding instrument in the region that creates a comprehensive legal framework to combat violence against women through prevention, protection, prosecution, and victim support. It defines and criminalizes multiple forms of violence against women: physical, sexual and psychological violence, as well as forced marriage and female genital mutilation. The treaty also establishes an international group of independent experts to monitor its implementation at the national level.

The Convention addresses gaps in domestic violence legislation and implementation, such as weak laws, bad implementation of protection laws, lack of coordination, lack of access to justice, low funding for domestic violence responses, lack of shelters, and lack of prevention measures.

To implement the convention, countries will establish hotlines, shelters, medical and forensic services, counseling, as well as legal aid.
Progress at the top to be sure, but real change, of course, will be shown from below and Turkey's willingness and effectiveness to ensure that police officers and other state agents responsible for protecting women follow legal guidelines.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Torn Between Worlds

Hranuysh Hagopyan, Armenia’s diaspora minister, walks with acting Patriarch Aram Atesyan after an award ceremony in Istanbul on Sunday.  PHOTO by Hasan Altinisik / Hurriyet Daily News

A group of Turkish Armenians were recently honored in Istanbul in a ceremony involving Archbishop Aram Atesyan, and significantly, Armenia's minister responsible for dealing with the Armenian diaspora, Hranuysh Hagopyan. Many Turkish Armenian intellectuals, newspaper, and some of the honorees questioned whether the presence of the diaspora minister was desirable. From Hurriyet Daily News:
“I would prefer not to have a diaspora minister in Turkey,” author Mıgırdıç Margosyan told the Hürriyet Daily News before receiving his gold medal from Armenian minister Hranuysh Hagopyan.

“I’ve been living on the land that [we have] been living on for thousands of years. I am not in the diaspora. This is a terrible irony,” Margosyan said. The writer also directed his criticism toward the Turkish government, saying the lack of a Turkish state official at the ceremony was disappointing.

. . . .

After attending the Global Summit of Women in Istanbul, Hagopyan handed out medals to 15 Turkish Armenians, including Margosyan, composers Garo Mafyan and Cenk Taşkan and Alis Manukyan, the first Armenian female vocalist in Turkey’s State Opera and Ballet.

“We are living in the lands where we have to live. And we continue to pay our debt to these lands,” Mafyan, who is arguably the best-known popular music composer, told the Daily News. He added that he is ready to do everything he can to make sure dialogue continues between Turkey and Armenia.

“It is [still] very important to receive an award from Armenia for contributing to Turkish popular music,” he said.
Turks of Armenian descent or Turkish Armenians or Armenian Turks or however one would group them are a population of at least 60 million people. Most belong to the Armenian Orthodox Church, which has a Turkish Patriarchate in Istanbul apart from Yerevan. Some Turkish Armenians are Catholics, and there are yet others of Armenian descent that do not enjoy minority status under Turkish law and whose numbers are not counted in official government numbers. This "hidden" Armenian minority, consists of people, sometimes referred to as crypto-Armenians, who converted to Islam in the latter half of the nineteenth-century and early part of the twentieth-century when Armenians began to face sharp discrimination, and eventually, Ottoman state-engineered ethnic cleansing.

Under the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne, Armenians, along with Greek Orthodox Christians and Jews, enjoy "minority status" based on religion. The status granted these minorities rights certain rights vis-a-vis the new republican Turkish state, and essentially granted two separate legal regimes: one for ordinary Turkish citizens, and another for the minorities granted status under the Treaty of Lausanne. (Syriac Christians, Alevis, Caferis, as well as ethnic groups, such as the Kurds, were denied such rights.)

However, some Armenians, Greeks, and Jews complain of being treated as second-class citizens. These minorities are still sometimes accused of collaborating with foreign enemies, and even in the context of receiving EU accession monies designed to protect and promote minority rights, face criticism from some nationalist circles for seeking to undermine the Turkish state.Armenians, in particular, have long faced suspicion of being linked to Armenian terrorist groups and secretly desiring the dissolution of the Turkish state, which many Turks are taught has two main enemies: the external enemies of imperial Europe, and the internal enemies, i.e. minorities who see the disintegration of the country. To make matters worse, Turkish Armenians often get caught in the middle of Turkey's politics with Armenia and other countries, such as when Prime Minister Erdogan responded to a genocide resolution in Sweden by threatening to expel Armenian immigrants in radio interview last March. (This is not to say that the poor Armenian immigrants were not more caught.)

At the same time, Armenians also face criticism from Armenians in Armenia, as well as from the sizable Armenian diaspora. As a result, Turkish Armenians are torn between Turkish citizenship, their relation to the diaspora, of which they are not a part since, unlike even the vast majority of Armenians living in Armenia, they did not immigrate. The vast majority of Turkey's Armenian population are the descendents of Armenians who migrated to cosmopolitan Istanbul following the hard times of the 1890s and onward under the Ottoman Empire (and before 1915), and so escaped the massacres at the end of the Ottoman Empire and the mass dislocation into Syria, the Soviet Union, and scores of other countries that followed.

Vahe Sarukhanyan, writing for Heqt Online, has an interesting piece up discussing Istanbul Armenians as the "Diaspora's Outsiders." An excerpt:
Sociologist [Arus] Yumul says that for the worldwide Armenian diaspora, the Istanbul-Armenian community is akin to a "lost lamb", an "outsider". She says that other Armenians have taken them to task for being non-active in Armenian affairs and for cow-towing to the government in Ankara. Yumul says she agrees with these assessments when it comes to the Ottoman period, but that after Turkish independence Armenians not only didn’t get involved in Armenian politics but also Turkish affairs. It was kind of a survival strategy she noted.

Yumul added that the community is slowly integrating into the larger Turkish society and that mixed marriages are paving the way.

"At one time Armenian parents resisted but this too has faded. The next generation will be more like a hybrid, free to chose whether they are Armenian, Turk..."

She was quick to add that this doesn’t mean that Armenians will disappear in Turkey.

However, the use of Armenian as a daily language of communication is also on the decline; the number of Armenians who can’t speak the mother tongue is growing. Parents send their kids to Armenian elementary schools but afterwards many go to private or foreign high schools so that they won’t have problems with the Turkish language in college.

The 1990s were a turning point for the community in many ways. Armenians, like the other minority communities, began to voice their concerns, speak about the discrimination they faced, and even raise the taboo subject of the 1915 Armenian Genocide

Twenty years ago, all this was unthinkable. What the next twenty will bring for the community remains a big question mark.
More evidence that Lausanne is outdated, and that its continued legal character is becoming more and more anachronistic as Turkey opens up . . .

On another note, Kadir Has University has announced plans to start teaching courses in Armenian. The classes are offered in the context of improving regional relations with Armenia.

For more on the Treaty of Lausanne's lasting impact in Turkish politics, see my post from 2008, "Article 301: An Anti-Imperialist Discourse." For the treaty's misused application in relation to the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate, see this past post. For more on Turkey's Armenian minority, click here.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Attack on the Prime Minister's Convoy

DHA Photo from Hurriyet Daily News

Prime Minister Erdogan's convoy was attacked yesterday while traveling through Kastamonu. One police officer died during a firefight that ensued with the assailants. The police in Kastamonu are blaming the PKK. The prime minister was not traveling with the convoy, and it appears that the attackers did not necessarily know the police-protected convoy belonged to the prime minister.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

"He Loves You, He Beats You"

Human Rights Watch has released a report on domestic violence, a problem that has been gaining increased attention in recent years. As HRW reports, police too often neglect their responsibilities to protect women against violence, which has led to a plethora of stories of women who ended up dead despite their efforts to seek police protection. Following a June 2009 decision of the European Court of Human Rights, it is a state obligation to protect women when they report such violence. As HRW's report documents, problems with implementation of the ruling continue. From the report's summary:
“It always happened at night,” Hamiyet M. told Human Rights Watch. For 24 long years, Hamiyet’s husband had abused her by severely beating her and raping her almost daily. When she finally summoned the courage to go to police in her town in eastern Turkey, they sent her home, twice. The beatings continued, in one instance proving so severe she wound up in hospital where she spoke with a police officer for a third time. Yet again, she received neither sympathy nor help. “Are we supposed to deal with you all the time?” the officer scolded.

Some 42 percent of all women older than 15 in Turkey and 47 percent of women living in the country’s rural areas—approximately eleven million women in total—have experienced physical or sexual violence at the hands of a husband or partner at some point in their lives, according to a 2009 survey conducted by a leading Turkish university.

Female domestic violence survivors, lawyers, and local experts on family violence interviewed for this report described husbands and family members inflicting brutal and long-lasting violence on women and girls that in some cases lasted for decades, affecting several generations of women. Researchers documented women and girls as young as 14 being raped; stabbed; kicked in the abdomen when pregnant; beaten with hammers, sticks, branches, and hoses to the point of broken bones and fractured skulls; locked up with dogs or other animals; starved; shot with a stun gun; injected with poison; pushed off a roof; and subjected to severe psychological violence. The violence occurred in all areas where researchers conducted interviews, and across income and education levels.

In recent years Turkey has taken important legislative steps towards addressing violence against women. But despite these impressive advances, most notably Law 4320 on the Protection of the Family (“Law 4320” or “protection law”), remaining gaps in the law and failures of implementation make the protection system unpredictable at best, and at times downright dangerous. Furthermore, this legislative process is undermined by the government’s failure to better prevent abuse in the first place, change discriminatory attitudes, and effectively address the barriers that deter women and girls from reporting abuse and accessing protection.

This report focuses on the civil remedies available in Turkey to survivors of domestic violence. These options—which aim to provide immediate protection from harm, create space for a victim to decide her course of action, and prevent an abuser hampering criminal or divorce proceedings with intimidation or threats—take two main forms. The first is physical protection in shelters, the second is civil protection orders—emergency measures intended to stop further abuse, which is common in domestic violence cases, including instructions to an abuser to stay away from the house and refrain from violence against the victim.

The research found that implementation of Law 4320 regularly falls short because enforcement officers, judges, and prosecutors neglect their duties, often due to lack of expertise or will to deal with cases of violence against women and girls in a manner that is effective and sensitive to the needs and human rights of victims. Women who do report family violence to police risk being turned away, and face poor enforcement of protection orders: indeed, some women have been murdered after obtaining a protection order against their killer. Shelters are lacking, and those that do exist often exclude certain groups of women, restrict movement and communications, and are vulnerable to security breaches. Environments in which women are supposed to report violence—particularly police stations and family courts—often lack the private space necessary to do so. In addition, differing understandings of the law—specifically, the scope of eligibility for protection orders—undermine its effectiveness and can exclude the most vulnerable victims of domestic violence.
Implementing Law 4320 was supposed to be a priority of the Ministry of Women and Family. Last March Selma Aliye Kavaf, who heads the ministry, said many women who reported abuse were not properly protected because the police to whom they reported did not in turn report to the Ministry, and so proper procedures were not followed. As far as I can tell, little progress has been made here. Further, under Turkish law, each municipality with a population of over 50,000 people is supposed to have a women's shelter, though this is still far from the case (see this post from last March). For news coverage of the report from Hurriyet Daily News, click here.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Pressure on Municipalities Extends Beyond BDP

Izmir Mayor Aziz Kocaoğlu addresses thousands of people who came together in central İzmir Monday to protest the recent police raid on the municipality. DHA photo from Hurriyet Daily News

From Hurriyet Daily News:
Approximately 50 employees of municipalities in the Aegean provinces of İzmir’s Metropolitan and Karabağlar municipalities as well as Aydın’s Kuşadası Municipality, including high-ranking officials, were detained Monday morning on corruption allegations that included interfering with public tenders.

The move came after a report prepared by the Court of Accounts, indicating corruption claims worth 40 million Turkish Liras in the İzmir Metropolitan Municipality.

While the police search continued on Tuesday, some 10 people were released after investigation. The probe surrounding 34 İzmir Municipality officials still continues.

“It is a politically oriented move aiming to disperse a fear of empire not only in the İzmir and Aydın but also among overall CHP-run municipalities in the country prior to the elections,” former Health Ministry undersecretary Aytun Çıray, who is also the CHP’s deputy candidate for İzmir, told the Hürriyet Daily News.

. . . .

The ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, members, meanwhile, emphasized the role of judiciary in the move. Deputy Prime Minister Cemil Çiçek on Tuesday said what happened in İzmir was a result of the court decision and the investigation carried out by İzmir Public Prosecutor Office could not be associated with the ruling government.
The AKP has announced that capture Izmir in the June parliamentary elections is a major goal for the party. Izmir, long seen as haven of trendy swimsuit-wearing, fish-eating "white Turks," has long been a CHP stronghold. The CHP has denounced the raids as political. Izmir mayor Aziz Kocaoglu has called for the release of those municipal officials detained in the raid.