Turkey is now Comedy Central

Being led into the courthouse

The trial, arguably the largest in the history of Turkey, began last week. They really haven’t even started yet though as they’re still reading out the 7,500 page indictment.  If they read 40 pages an hour and read continuously for eight hours a day, that’s 23.5 days just to read the indictment.  And the trial goes until 12 November—16 days from now.

Day after day the imprisoned Kurdish politicians and lawyers are brought into the courthouse.  Each is allowed to be accompanied by one family member.  There are also nearly 300 lawyers defending the accused.  Needless to say, the courthouse is packed.

The Kurds on trial are not allowed to defend themselves in Kurdish.  At rollcall, however, they say in Kurdish Ez li vir im.  Ez amade me. I am here.  I am ready.  Turkish law says that if the defendants know Turkish well enough, then they have to use Turkish in court.

Evin Cetin, a Kurdish jurist and politician from Sweden who is observing the trial says that ‘[p]reventing the defendants from speaking in their mother tongue is illegal according to international standards because this means preventing the defendants from defending themselves. It was the court’s duty to bring in interpreters and not depriving them of the right to speak Kurdish.’

She also believes that the defendants will stay in prison until after parliamentary elections in 2011, because Erdoğan’s AK Party wants to ‘weaken the Kurds and deprive the Kurdish front of its progressive and seasoned politicians.’

Osman Baydemir, Mayor of Diyarbakır, is also a defendant.  He is on trial for the charge of ‘terrorism’ and thinks that some defendants will ‘be released in order to please Europe but there will be more arrests too.’

Baydemir said on Wednesday of the trial: ‘If it is a crime to demand my culture, identity, language then yes I am a criminal.’

On top of this, TRT chose this week to launch the first-ever comedy show in Kurdish on the state-run TRT6 channel.  Cîran, Cîran, which translates as ‘Neighbour, Neighbour’ was announced with great fanfare and is about a few expatriate Kurdish families living in Istanbul.  There was a gala event at a posh hotel with government officials, media officials, and others to watch a preview of the show.

Selahattin Demirtaş, BDP co-chair, slammed TRT6 on Tuesday asking why Kurdish could be broadcast on the state-run channel but not used in a court of law.  Demirtaş said that this shows Erdoğan’s inconsistency in dealing with the Kurds. ‘If they are your brothers then let them speak their language. Erdoğan is always saying the parliament is the place to solve the problem then he should not treat Kurdish politicians like political hostages.’

So on the TV you have slapstick comedy (in Kurdish) and in Diyarbakır a farcical, politicised trial of Kurdish politicians and humanitarians (in Turkish).  Which is the comedy?

When Baydemir called for demands for Kurdish culture, identity, and language it is doubtful he was thinking of something as inane as Cîran, Cîran.

sources:

Fifth day of trial against Kurdish politicians started. ANF News Agency, 25 October 2010.

Baydemir: We want a regional parliament. Rojhelat, 27 October 2010.

Deniz, Mediya and Fatima Avci. Trial of Kurds Viewed as Touchstone of Turkish Democracy. Rudaw, 26 October 2010.

First Kurdish sit-com to kick off on the state-run TRT 6. World Bulletin, 23 October 2010.

Demirtas: PM is considering the defendants as political hostages. ANF News Agency, 26 October 2010.

Ahmet Türk and Aysel Tuğluk seek restoration of parliamentary seats

Aysel Tuğluk and Ahmet Türk

With the trial of 151 Kurdish politicians, lawyers, human rights activists, and others ongoing in Diyarbakır, Ahmet Türk and Aysel Tuğluk, former head and deputy, respectively, of the banned pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party (DTP), petitioned Parliament on Tuesday to demand the restoration of their membership in the legislature.

The Turkish Constitutional Court shut down the DTP in December 2009 and prohibited both Türk and Tuğluk from re-entering politics for five years.

So why are they petitioning to get reinstated in parliament?

It goes back to last month’s referendum on the constitution.  One article included in the amendment package—the 84th article of the Constitution—now states that deputies whose political party is closed down will be able to continue to participate in politics.  The court will not be able to dismiss them from their positions as parliamentary representatives.

Hasip Kaplan, Şırnak deputy of the BDP (Peace and Democracy Party), took the case of two dismissed representatives to the Parliament, asking that they be reinstated as parliamentary deputies.  He said that he thinks that ‘the return of their rights will strengthen democratic politics.’  The petition to reinstate Türk and Tuğluk was presented to Mehmet Ali Şahin, speaker of the parliament.

Burhan Kuzu

Hikmet Sami Türk, a former justice minister, agrees that the petitions of Türk and Tuğluk need to be accepted and that their membership in Parliament be restored. The parliamentary term for which the two former deputies were elected has not yet ended, and thus they need to re-obtain their titles as deputies, said the former justice minister.

The petition will now be sent to the Parliament’s Justice Commission for evaluation. AK Party deputy from Istanbul, Burhan Kuzu heads the commission and refused to comment on the submission of the petition.  Kuzu has also been tapped to begin drafting a new constitution for the country.

However, there will resistance to the request.  Constitutional law expert Ergun Özbudun, does not agree with Kaplan or others in favour of restoring their membership in parliament. He said newly passed laws could not be applied retroactively. ‘A law or a constitutional amendment cannot be applied to what happened in the past unless they indicate the contrary,’ he said.

Indeed, it would be surprising if the Justice Commission ruled in favour of the petition.

Sources:

Türk, Tuğluk seek to restore Parliament membership. Today’s Zaman, 27 October 2010.

BDP brings banned representatives’ case to Turkish Parliament. Hürriyet Daily News, 26 October 2010.

Press Statement from UK Delegation at Diyarbakir Trial

Press Statement from UK Delegation in Diyarbakir to observe the trial of 151 Kurdish political activists and human rights defenders:

We, as delegates from Britain of varying backgrounds and ethnicities welcome the opportunity that has been afforded to us to have firsthand insight into these historic trials. During our observations thus far we have had the opportunity of meeting and speaking with Mayors, Parliamentarians, Lawyers, Academics and many other interested parties. This has given us the opportunity to explore at firsthand the issues in these trials and have helped to shape our understanding of the actual meaning of these trials.

We had firsthand experience of being in the Courtroom with the 151 defendants and their 250 lawyers yesterday and today. We can confidently express our observations thus far in the following manner:

Conversations about tomatoes must be some secret code

Turkey, in its desire and aspiration to become a member of the European Union has not shown that it has progressed very much in terms of its treatment and approach to the Kurdish people, their politicians and the Kurdish question generally so as to pave a way forward for peaceful dialog and solution. We are confident in finding that these trials are politically motivated and are an attempt to suppress the political struggle of the Kurdish people through the judicial system.

The manner in which the evidence in the trials is exaggerated is clear from the sheer volume of the 7,500 page indictment and supporting evidence, consisting of over 13,000,000 pages.  In these pages there is no evidence of weapons or aggression in any kind directed at any of the defendants who stand trial. The only evidence obtained consists of intercept evidence of daily conversations and routine political propaganda or views and secret evidence by way of anonymous witnesses. Some conversations are in relation to the purchase of groceries i.e. tomatoes and in others the conversations are between family and friends. These conversations have found itself in the indictment as being secret codes. The fact that there is no evidence or suggestion of weaponry or aggression is in our view indicative of the will of the Kurdish people and politicians for a peaceful solution to the Kurdish issue, which we support and respect.

We find the manner in which the evidence was obtained and presented to the defence, which was some 15 months after the initial arrests on the 14th of April 2009, to be a concrete example of the unfairness of the trials thus far. A large proportion of the defendants are in custody, which has meant the defence has had very limited time to prepare the case for the trials in the 4 months since they received the evidence. We find this to be a breach of Article 6 of the ECHR.

The refusal to allow the defendants to express themselves in their mother tongue, Kurdish, is a denial of their basic human rights and is a breach of Article 6.

The real problem with this is that the charge is essentially a political one, whereby normal political activities such as lobbying, meetings and rallies are deemed to be criminal because it is said to be in support of a banned organisation, the PKK.

From what we have gathered, activities from elected representatives such as Mayors and general civil society organisations representatives organising events such as Women’s day celebrations on the 8th of March, Kurdish New Year festival, Nevroz, and campaigning for an environmental society, have been deemed criminal activities and placed within the indictment. Clearly, by any standards, activities such as those mentioned are completely lawful and innocent.

We have particular concern that 8 of the defendants are lawyers – 7 of which are in custody – and are indicted in this case simply for doing their job of defending their clients. In a modern society this is unacceptable.

At the very least, the fact that most of those in prison are leading members of a political party which had been successful at the last elections suggests that there is a straight forward electoral motive for the Turkish governing party the AKP, to support these prosecutions particularly as there is another election next year. If the Turkish government wishes to demonstrate that Turkey is a modern and democratic state it should urge the prosecution to release those in prison immediately.

At its worst it is a wholly political trial, to destroy or curb all activities and initiatives developed within the Kurdish population, and demolish its key institutions and vital civil society organisations.

Paradoxically, as Mr. Esber Yagmurdereli, a distinguished lawyer defending in this trial submitted to the Court yesterday, “…this case is brought by the public prosecutor, to prosecute the public…”

UK delegation: Mr. Jeremy Corbin MP, Mr. Hywel Williams MP, Mr. Ali Has – Lawyer/Spokes person of Peace Council Britain, Mr. Hugo Charlton – Barrister, Mrs. Margaret Ann Owen – Barrister/Human Rights Activist and Serife Semsedini – Human Rights Activist.

Source: Kurdish Aspect (graphics added by Kurdistan Commentary)

‘Kurdish Opening’ now closed; Peace Group on trial

What started out as a gesture of reconciliation has ended in the death of the Kurdish Opening.

In October of last year 26 refugees from Mexmur refugee camp and eight members of the PKK crossed into Turkey at the Habur gate.   The ‘Peace Group’ (Peace and Democratic Solution Group, or Koma Aştî û Çareseriya Demokratîk in Kurdish) as it became known was welcomed enthusiastically by thousands and thousands of well wishers in the area.  The returnees were not prosecuted by the authorities upon their return. Turkish PM Erdoğan said at the time, ‘Good things are happening in Turkey.  This is hope.’

Now, eight months later, all of the returnees, with the exception of four minors, are on trial.  All 30 have been charged with ‘making propaganda for a terrorist organisation’.  The eight PKK members face additional charges of ‘being a member of a terrorist organisation’, while the refugees from Mexmur face charges of ‘committing a crime in the name of a terrorist organization without being a member.’

The 30 are on trial in three groups at two separate Diyarbakır courts. Yesterday morning ten of them were arrested by the court for being a possible flight risk. Those from PKK face up to 20 years in prison.  The returnees from the refugee camp face up to 15 years each.

What has happened in the past eight months that completely reversed the direction of the so-called Kurdish Opening, or as it would later be dubbed, the Democratic Initiative?

The Turkish government has taken an increasingly hard-line approach towards the Kurds. At the same time, the PKK has increased its activities in the region causing further backlash from Ankara.

In November the government held a parliamentary debate on the initiative. Interior Minister Beşir Atalay announced to the parliament that he intended to permanently end the conflict with the PKK in an open-ended process that would end terrorism and raise Turkey’s level of democracy.  Head of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), Deniz Baykal accused Erdoğan of instituting a ‘plan to destroy and split Turkey.’ Then-leader of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), Devlet Bahçeli, said the AKP’s initiative was a ‘PKK initiative’ and charged that the government was negotiating and making deals with terrorists.

Ahmet Türk, former head of the now-banned DTP strongly criticised both the CHP and the MHP saying that they were ‘trying very hard to reverse the process because they have nothing to offer society apart from conflict, bloodshed and tears.’  He called their approach to the democratisation process racist, separatist, and dangerous.

The next month, December, saw the closure of the DTP and widespread arrests of local and national Kurdish politicians, activists, and students.  Those arrested were from the DTP and its successor, the BDP. Who can forget the now iconic photograph of BDP politicians lined up outside a courthouse in Diyarbakir in handcuffs? The purge lasted for months and more than 1,500 people were arrested.

Though there was intense opposition, Svante Cornell, a Swedish academic now at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, said that while the AKP had good intentions, the whole process ‘failed not mainly because of the opposition, but because it mismanaged the process, had unclear goals, and did not succeed in controlling the flow of information.’

In recent months the PKK has expanded its attacks on Turkish military targets.  Thirty-five soldiers have died.  Earlier this month PKK spokesperson Ahmed Danees told Reuters: ‘Two days ago, we started waging attacks against the Turkish army in response to their repeated military attacks against the party and political attacks facing Kurds in Turkey’.  He also announced that they decided to break the unilateral ceasefire that had been in place since April 2009.

Now, some say, the AKP may adopt a more nationalist rhetoric and harsher tactics in order not to lose votes to the rightwing MHP.  In fact on Tuesday Erdoğan launched into strong attacks against the BDP, the country’s pro-Kurdish party.  Said Erdoğan,  ‘…saying peace won’t bring peace. Those who are in direct or indirect contact with the PKK are accomplices to murder.’ This could be interpreted as a prelude to a possible ban of the party.  After all, the general election is just over a year away.

Under the Peace Watch Tent

Meanwhile, in Diyarbakır, demonstrations and meetings against the Peace Group members’ trials are continuing.  The Diyarbakır Initiative for Peace group, supported by the Human Rights Association (IHD), and Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) have organised gatherings in the Peace Watch Tent.  The tent serves as a centre for speeches and rallies. BDP parliamentarians, Green Party co-chair, chair and former chair of the Human Rights Association (IHD), members of Kurdish Writers Association, regional mayors and many NGO representatives are there showing their support for the returnees. The peace watch tent, erected in a nearby park, is decorated with banners reading, ‘Peace is on trial, bear witness.’

sources

10 arrested as trial begins in Turkey for Habur returnees. Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review, 17 June 2010.

Support for arrested peace delegates spreads.  DiHA/Dicle News Agency, 17 June 2010.

Jones, Dorian. Friction Between Turkey, Kurdish Rebels Increasing. VOA News, 17 June 2010

Head, Jonathan. PKK returnees on trial in Turkey. BBC, 17 June 2010.

Stephens, Philip. Turkey puts Kurd activists on trial. Financial Times, 18 June 2010.

PKK rebels say scrap ceasefire on Turkish forces. Reuters, 03 June 2010.

BDP takes arbitrary arrests of Kurdish politicians into EU Court. Rojhelat, 18 May 2010.

Dewleta Tirk ‘açilim’ a xwe qedand; Endamên Koma Aştiyê hatin girtin. HawarNet, 17 June 2010.

Hacaoğlu, Selcan. Attacks threaten unusual Turkish Outreach to Kurds. The Huffington Post, 16 June 2010.

Endamên Koma Aştiyê parêznameya hevpar dan. Firat News, 17 June 2010.

From Kurdistan Commentary:

PKK Peace Caravan, 21 October 2009.

AKP’s Kurdish Initiative, 15 November 2009.

Arrests of Peace Caravan Members, 11 January 2010.

Turkey’s Terrorist Bias. Part 1 (The State)

This is the first of two articles focusing on the bias in Turkey towards one militant group, Hamas, over another, the PKK.

The Turkish state and media have different, conflicting, attitudes towards the Kurdistan Workers party (PKK) and the Palestinian Hamas.

The famous quote “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter” holds true as much today as it always has, especially, and absurdly, within Turkey.

In recent years the Turkish state’s relations with Israel have seen a gradual decline since the ascendency to power of the Islamist rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP Turkish acronym) in 2004. Alongside this deterioration of relations has arisen a bias in Turkey, both from the state and the media, in their approach to dealing with two militant groups that most countries recognize as terrorist organizations.

Hamas on the one hand, opposed to the existence of Israel, has fought a bloody war with that country since the 1990s, whilst the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) has been fighting Turkey since 1984, initially demanding a separate state for Turkey’s Kurds, but later changing their demands, calling instead for cultural and political rights for Kurds.

Elections and legitimacy

The AKP has taken a critical approach towards Israel on the Palestinian issue, increasingly so since the 2009 Israeli offensive on Gaza, as highlighted in the very public spat between Turkish PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Israeli President Shimon Peres at the World Economic Forum in Davos last year. Relations between the two countries have become so bad that Erdogan has started lobbying for the recognition of Hamas as a legitimate representative of the Palestinian people despite that organizations refusal to recognize Israel’s right to exist. Erdogan’s argument is that Hamas won the Palestinian Authority (PA) 2006 parliamentary elections and has the right to represent the Palestinians.

“Hamas entered the elections as a political party. If the whole world had given them the chance of becoming a political player, maybe they would not be in a situation like this after the elections that they won. The world has not respected the political will of the Palestinian people.”

argued Erdogan in an interview with Newsweek in January 2009.

Further still, the situation has worsened with the recent Gaza flotilla incident where 9 Turkish nationals were killed by Israeli commandos. As a result Erdogan and the AKP have taken an even harsher tone towards Israel with reference to Hamas, putting Turkish-Israeli relations at an unprecedented low.

“I do not think that Hamas is a terrorist organization…They are Palestinians in resistance, fighting for their own land,”

Erdogan has said. On the deaths of 9 Turks during the Gaza flotilla raid by Israel, Erdogan has said:

“This action, totally contrary to the principles of international law, is inhumane state terrorism”.

Taking Erdogan’s logic on why Hamas should be recognized on the grounds of winning the 2006 elections, it is possible to see a double standard in his argument. During the 2009 Turkish local elections the pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party (DTP) put on a strong showing, gaining large support in the predominantly Kurdish areas of the country, only narrowly coming second to the AKP. Yet Erdogan and the AKP run government banned that party for being a “focal point of terrorism”, imprisoning dozens of its members and banning from politics for 5 years its top brass.

Erdogan had arrogantly hoped to win over most of the Kurdish areas after introducing cosmetic reforms, vowing that he would “take that castle” in reference to the largest Kurdish dominated city of Diyarbakir. AKP even went as far as to hand out free electronic appliances to Kurds to gain their votes. But once the DTP showed its strength, the state resorted to banning them. Incidentally the Kurds kept the castle with over 66% of the vote.

The DTP quickly reorganized under a new name, the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), and again the Turkish state, and in some cases, ordinary Turks, have been hard at work harassing, intimidating and imprisoning its members, as well as trying to outlaw the BDP.

What is interesting to note in this parallel is how Israel did not intervene to prevent Hamas taking part in the 2006 PA elections, leaving the Palestinians instead to choose their own representatives. However, Israel had set conditions for holding peace talks with the Palestinians. One of them being, understandably, that Hamas cease aggression towards Israel as well as recognize Israel’s right to exist; something that Hamas has yet to agree to. Meanwhile, Turkey has, to date, refused to accept the PKK as a key player in solving the Kurdish question and has moved to ban any pro-Kurdish political party that shows any sign of factoring the PKK into a Kurdish solution.

And all this is despite a number of unilateral ceasefires declared by the PKK since the 1990s which Turkey has ignored, instead favoring a ‘surrender or die’ approach towards the PKK. Considering this, one could say that Israel and the PKK would make realistic negotiating partners for peace, in comparison to Hamas and Turkey and their ‘all or nothing’ attitudes.

State terrorism

Equally absurd is Turkey’s critique of Israel’s reaction and use of force, by labeling it “state terrorism”. Not that Israel is not famous for using heavy handed force which is rightly questionable and worrying, i.e. Gaza offensive 2009. But the absurdity, again, lies in the reality of Turkish politics and state policies.

Turkey reacts with the charge of “state terrorism” at Israel for boarding a ship and subduing hostile crew members, leaving 9 dead. But what of the continued oppression of the Kurds? The most shocking policy that Turkey has pursued in recent years has been the imprisonment of children under anti-terror laws. Children of 14 and 15 years of age are being imprisoned for throwing stones at Turkish police and chanting slogans in support of the PKK, a crime under Turkish anti-terror laws. Yet Turkey complains about Israel shooting violent activists that support Hamas.

Furthermore, for the past 6 years Turkey has routinely shelled and bombed the Kurdistan region of Iraq where the PKK has bases, and has launched numerous ground offensives into Iraqi Kurdistan, the latest being in 2008. Ironically, Turkey has done this in part with the use of Israeli bought unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). The result has been loss of civilian life, property and livestock. Iraqi Kurds, in those areas bombed and raided, are now displaced in their own country, too afraid to return to their villages because of Turkish heavy handed tactics.

This obvious double standard and contradictory attitude of the Turkish state raises a number of questions, such as; What is it that distinguishes Hamas so fundamentally from the PKK that Erdogan and Turkey feel the need to champion them? What is it the PKK is not doing that Hamas is doing? Could it be the extremist hard-line approach of calling for the destruction of Israel? or maybe the firing of rockets on Israeli civilian areas?

Additionally, what constitutes “state terrorism” to the Turks? The killing of 9 people on a ship heading towards a naval blockade? is the imprisonment of children, 14 or 15 years old just for throwing stones and shouting slogans, not state terrorism? taking away someone’s childhood because of mere sticks and stones, as well as words? What about the constant bombardment of neighboring countries, killing civilians, with the excuse of fighting ‘terrorism’?

Despite all this, what one could call hypocrisy, Turkey maintains its hostile stance towards Israel whilst conveniently ignoring its own domestic issues. They champion one militant group, Hamas, yet deny engaging their own home grown one, the PKK.

Well they have not totally ignored the domestic issues in relation to the recent flotilla incident. Turkish intelligence services are now suggesting there could be a link between Israel and the PKK’s actions. Maybe someone should remind them who it was that helped capture the leader of the PKK for Turkey in 1999.

Comparing Kurds and Palestinians

I was surprised to notice on The American Conservative website a link to one of my blog postings in an article that defends Turkey.  It drew my attention to Paleocon blogger Daniel Larison’s (Eunomia) piece, ‘The Campaign to Vilify Turkey Has Begun’, which was blasting Wall Street Journal columnist Robert Pollock for his op-ed ‘Erdoğan and the Decline of the Turks.’ In his article, Larison linked to my blog posting ‘AKP’s Kurdish Initiative’ from last November.

Here’ an excerpt from Larison that deals specifically with the Kurds:

Over the last few days I have seen a few people trying to equate the current status of Palestinians in Gaza with that of the Kurds in Turkey. Apparently Pollock expects us not to know that the status of Kurds has improved significantly under the AKP government. Kurds have representation in the Turkish parliament. Kurds have been granted some language and other rights that they did not have in the “good old days” before the AKP took power, and last year’s “Kurdish initiative” was an attempt to expand on this. This AKP initiative encountered significant political resistance from the Republicans and the National Movement, which means that the one party attempting to address some Kurdish grievances is the one Pollock is attacking. Hurriyet was reporting as recently as Monday that the failure of the initiative was the reason for stepped-up PKK violence, including the attack in Iskenderun on Monday. Diyarbakir and Erzerum [sic] are not blockaded enclaves, and there are not over a million Kurds living in government-enforced poverty in the name of anti-terrorism. Can anyone seriously claim that Palestinians in Gaza are currently being treated the same as Kurds in Turkey?

Let’s break this down, shall we?  I have some issues with his analysis here.

He says that the ‘status of the Kurds has improved significantly under the AKP government’ and he gives some examples. ‘Significantly’, I believe, is an overstatement. First, he says, Kurds have representation in the Turkish parliament.  The AKP took power in 2002.  There were Kurdish parliamentarians long before that.  Under the AKP Kurdish parliamentarians have been harassed and arrested and interrogated.  The pro-Kurdish DTP was closed down in December of last year, which was followed by massive arrests of BDP politicians.  The BDP was the successor party to the DTP.  And remember, these are not true Kurdish political parties.  They are called ‘pro-Kurdish’ because the Turkish constitution does not allow political parties based on ethnic lines.

Next, Larison says, ‘Kurds have been granted some language and other rights that they did not have in the “good old days.”’ True.  Broadcasting in Kurdish has expanded.  However, there are still severe restrictions on broadcasting in languages other than Turkish.  The medium may be Kurdish, but the state keeps control of the message.  The use of Kurdish in the political sphere is taboo.  Public education in Kurdish is absolutely forbidden.  At least the Palestinians in Gaza are able to use Arabic freely, whereas in Turkey there was a policy of linguistic genocide against Kurdish.

Then Larison says that ‘there are not over a million Kurds living in government-enforced poverty.’ Well, how many Kurds have been displaced over the years?  Well over a million.  And some 3,500 Kurdish villages were razed to ensure the inhabitants could never return. In 2009, most were living on the edges of large urban centres, ‘having settled among the urban poor, but facing discrimination, acute social and economic marginalisation and limited access to housing, education and health care’ (Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre).

Mr Larison says that it ‘hasn’t taken long for the usual tactics of vilification normally reserved for authoritarian states to be applied in full force to Turkey.’ I would like to make two comments about this.  One, Turkey is somewhat of an authoritarian state.  And two, Turkey is often vilified; you just don’t hear it in the Western press so much.

In the 2008 Economist Democracy Index, which groups countries into four categories (Full democracies, Flawed democracies, Hybrid regimes, and Authoritarian regimes), Turkey is categorised as a ‘hybrid regime.’  Other countries in this group include Cambodia, Albania, Venezuela, and Russia. These are authoritarian regimes with democratic tendencies. Turkey’s penal codes, after all, were adopted from Fascist laws in Mussolini’s Italy in the late 1920s.

The Freedom House 2010 ‘Freedom in the World’ report has three simple categories for countries: Free, Partly Free, Not Free.  Turkey is in the ‘Partly Free’ category and marked as trending downward.  To wit, negative changes since the last report was issued.

Finally he asks if ‘anyone seriously claim that Palestinians in Gaza are currently being treated the same as Kurds in Turkey.’  The tactics may be different, but it is a systematic, state-endorsed, racist repression of a particular group of people.  Cultural genocide at its best.

BDP holds congress; Prosecutor’s office opens investigation

The BDP held its first congress on Monday in Ankara and elected Diyarbakır deputies Selahattin Demirtaş and Gülten Kışanak as the co-chairpersons of the party. The pro-Kurdish BDP (Barış ve Demokrasi Partisi/Peace and Democracy Party) was formed in 2008 and replaced the Democratic Society Party (DTP) when it was closed down in December of last year.

Yesterday, one day after congress, the Ankara Public Prosecutor’s Office launched an investigation into the BDP congress for alleged crimes of ‘turning people against the military,’ ‘contradicting the Political Parties Act’ and ‘praising crime and criminals.’ Or maybe the Prosecutor’s Office was upset because the Turkish national anthem was not played at the opening of the meeting?

Journalist Gültan Kışanak was born on 15 June 1961 in Elazığ. She graduated from Ege University Communication Facutly in Journalism and Public Relations. Kışanak worked for various newspapers as a journalist. She ran several projects as co-ordinator and consultant for the Bağlar Municipality Social Project in Diyarbakır in eastern Turkey. With an independent candidacy she was elected Diyarbakır MP on 22 July 2007 and joined the DTP group.

Turkey arrested almost 800 Kurdish politicians in the course of political operations throughout the last year. BDP Deputy Group Chairman Nuri Yaman has criticised the waves of arrests and said late last month, the ‘aim [of the AKP] is to eliminate the BDP staff, the elected mayors and the people’s free political will in order to make room for AKP politics.’ He compared the incidents with the military coup of 1980, saying that ‘the AKP government imposed another 12 September to the Kurds.’

The new investigation only strengthens Yaman’s argument.

In Kışanak’s speech to the congress, attended by some 2,000 delegates, Kışanak criticised the ruling AKP saying that ‘they have crippled rights and freedoms.’ She also said Abdullah Öcalan’s mission was important for peace.

Selahattin Demirtaş, a lawyer, was born on 10 April 1973 in Palu. He graduated from Law School at Ankara University and eventually became President of the Human Rights Association, Diyarbakır Branch. He is also member of the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey and the Turkish branch of Amnesty Internt'l. As his colleague Kışanak, Demirtaş was elected Diyarbakır MP as independent candidate in the elections on 22 July 2007 and joined the DTP group.

Demirtaş strongly pushed for linguistic and cultural civil disobedience. He asked Kurdish artists to produce works in Kurdish. He requested that teachers and doctors in predominantly Kurdish areas use Kurdish in the course of their jobs. He suggested university students should engage in stronger campaigns for education in Kurdish.

He also addressed parents whose sons are doing their military service or are in the mountains, saying ‘Don’t watch while your children are killed. To demand an end to this war is your right, before that of anyone else. Search for this right.’

The prosecutor will request records of the congress from security forces, but apparently the police department in Ankara could not get the needed court permission from the courts to record the session. In the past, events at congresses of successive pro-Kurdish political parties have all been recorded by police forces and the tapes were handed over to prosecutors to be used in cases opened against the parties.

The police department appealed the decision, but the upper court upheld the ruling. So police do not have recordings of the events inside the congress hall, but they recorded events outside the congress hall where another 2,000 people were chanting slogans and waving banners.

sources:

Turkey’s new pro-Kurdish party faces investigation, Hürriyet Daily News, 02 February 2010.

Belge, Burçin. Yaman from DTP: 800 Kurdish Politicians Arrested in One Year. BİA News Center, 27 January 2010

Korkut, Tolga. New Co-Chairs for Peace and Democracy Party. BİA News Center, 02 February 2010.

Public prosecutor launches investigation into pro-Kurdish BDP. Today’s Zaman, 02 February 2010.

Arrest warrants issued for Tuğluk, Türk, Demirtaş and Ayna

Ahmet Türk and Aysel Tuğluk

Turkish police are searching for former DTP deputies Aysel Tuğluk, Ahmet Türk, Selahattin Demirtaş and Emine Ayna after they failed to appear in court.  They staged a raid at the BDP headquarters in Ankara this morning looking for the four.  Officers left the premises after fifteen minutes without locating them.  The four face charges of promoting the PKK.

Charges against former DTP head, Ahmet Türk, stem from statements he made after a meeting with former members of the closed DTP, Democratic Society Party.

The investigation launched by the ‘Bureau on Media Crimes’ will be conducted in the context of charges pursuant to Article 215 ‘praising the crime and the criminal’, and Article 216 ‘inciting hatred and hostility’ of the Turkish penal codes.

Türk had announced at that meeting that ‘the intellectuals, authors, academics have presented a case for being in the parliamentary system. On Wednesday, Mr Öcalan met with his lawyers. We have been told that at this meeting Mr Öcalan expressed to his lawyers the need to stay in the Parliamentary system to continue their with fight.’

Former DTP deputy Aysel Tuğluk was sentenced in October of 2009 to 18 months in jail for ‘spreading the propaganda of a terrorist organisation’ in remarks favouring the PKK in a speech made at a rally in Diyarbakır in 2006.  In the speech, made before she was elected to parliament, Tuğluk praised a declaration signed by tens of thousands of Kurds upholding Öcalan as their leader.

Tuğluk faces several other charges and could receive up to a 50-year sentence if convicted of all charges.

Türk and Tuğluk were removed from Parliament and banned from participating in politics for the next five years by the Turkish Constitutional Court on 11 December 2009. But according to CNNTürk, as the verdict has not yet been published in the Official Gazette, the former deputies technically still enjoy immunity from prosecution and questioning.

Demirtaş and Ayna are still sitting deputies and therefore have immunity from prosecution.

The four members are refusing to make a deposition, saying that, as deputies, they had parliamentary immunity and therefore could not be judged.

The court, however, said the former DTP members were accused of being involved in separatist activities, which made it impossible for the deputies to exercise their right to immunity from prosecution under Article 14 of the Turkish Constitution.

This photograph of the 35 detainees, handcuffed, as they enter the court to give testimony, has caused outrage among many. Sezgin Tanrıkulu, former chairman of Diyarbakır Bar Association, says the handcuffing is illegal.

Commenting on the court decision Tuesday, Türk said, ‘The decision is against the law. We have not testified so far to highlight this illegal situation. We will go to the court and testify, when the time is right.  And we believe the decision for them [Demirtaş and Ayna] is against the law.’

News of the warrants for the four deputies comes on the heels of last week’s raids by the security forces around the country against the KCK, or Kurdish Democratic Council (Koma Civakên Kurdistan), an umbrella organisation which includes the PKK.  More than 80 former DTP members, mayors, and human rights activists were detained.  Many have been released, but the massive arrests have led to more outbreaks of violence in the streets. A Diyarbakır court is still holding 23 people in detention of the 35 detained on 24 December.

sources:

Turkish court orders Kurdish lawmakers to be forcibly brought to trial.  Hürriyet Daily News, 29 December 2009.

Ankara Republican Prosecutor opens an investigation on Ahmet Türk. Turkish Press.com, 22 December 2009.

Kurdish Politicians Kept in Detention.  Bianet, 28 December 2009.

Arrests in Turkey of Kurdish politicians and activists

Muharrem Erbey

In an early morning raid today, across 11 provinces, Turkish police arrested more than 40 individuals.  Most of those detained were Kurdish politician from the now-banned DTP, including mayors of Sur, Abdullah Demirbaş, and Siirt, Selim Sadak.  Also arrested were DTP provincial chairperson, Fırat Anlı, and Vice President of the Human Rights Association and President of the Diyarbakır branch of the HRA, Muharrem Erbey.

Below is a New Year’s message from Erbey sent out yesterday via e-mail.

(We’re celebrating the New Year with our belief in social peace)

Dear fellow human rights defenders,

23 December 2009

We’ve come to the final days of 2009.  At the start of every new year, accounting is done for the events that occurred in the previous year and promises are made regarding the coming one.  We hope that the serious questions regarding the exercise of fundamental rights and liberties are put to an end and that what has been experienced in Turkey in the fields of democracy and human rights in the last year won’t be experienced again.

In the year 2009, claims of torture and maltreatment, the security forces’ near beating to death of children and demonstrators in the streets and the killing of some, and crimes against humanity in prisons continued, as did serious obstructions in the laws regarding and implementation of the freedoms of thought, expression and association.  3 major operations were carried out against the Democratic Society Party (Demokratic Toplum Partisi – DTP) following the local elections held on 29 March.  More than 1,500 people were detained.  600 DTP activists have been held in custody for 8 months without knowing what they’re being charged with.

DTP became the 27th party to be closed in Turkey.  In the Progress Report regarding Turkey’s EU candidacy published on 13 October 2009, it’s stated that Turkey has made progress in economic competition, matters related to statistics and scientific research but that there have been very serious regression in the areas of democracy and human rights.   Children have continued to be tried and faced with sentences of between 10 and 25 years in prison for making the ‘V’ for victory sign with their fingers.  Discussing the Kurdish question in the Turkish Parliament as part of the ‘democratic opening’ was a considerably important step.  However it’s a step that’s been deprived of any implementation, as it hasn’t stopped the deaths of people and the blood of brothers and sisters continues to flow.

States are legitimized by the extent to which they comply with human rights.  The violations in Turkey are continuing.  However, we haven’t lost our dreams of or beliefs in social peace, the peaceful co-existence of Turks and Kurds in a spirit of brotherhood within a democratic Turkey, or of Turkey’s EU accession, and nor will we lose these.

As the Human Rights Association, for 22 years we’ve repeatedly gotten to the bottom of the truth in an independent and impartial way.

Our office was bombed in 1993.  We didn’t give up.

22 of our members have been killed.  We haven’t given up.

Our organization has been closed and its archives confiscated scores of times.  We haven’t given up.

About one thousand investigations and hundreds of lawsuits have been opened against the presidents of our branches.  We haven’t given up.

We’ve been threatened.  We haven’t given up.

We’re not going to give up.

We’re going to continue to follow and report on human rights violations and to share our findings with the public.  Both as an individual and in the name of the Human Rights Association I wish you all a happy new year in a spirit of peace.

With my respect,

Muharrem Erbey, Attorney at Law

Vice President of the Human Rights Association and President of the Diyarbakır branch of the HRA

DTP closure a colossal step backwards

Haşim Kılıç, President of the Constitutional Court, announces the closure of the DTP at a press conference on Friday

The Constitutional Court’s closure of the pro-Kurdish DTP highlights the flaws of the Turkish ‘democracy’ more than any recent event.  It is now apparent to the entire world that legal and constitutional standards in Turkey simply do not measure up to international democratic ideals.  The decision to ban the DTP marks a colossal step backwards for human rights, democratisation and Kurdish rights in the country.

Two months ago there was an air of optimism as Kurdish refugees from Mexmur and PKK fighters from the Qandils crossed back into Turkey.  The AKP’s Democratic Initiative was underway.  Last month the AKP announced details of the historic plan.  Kurds were hopeful, yet holding their breath.

But not everyone was happy.  Nationalists and conservatives in particular were demonstrably upset. The judiciary, staunch conservatives, believe that the Kurds and the Kurdish political movement represented by the DTP are a threat to the ‘indivisible integrity of the state’ because of their close ties to the PKK.  Such being the case, in their view, the party had to be disbanded to protect the state.

But at the same time, could this have been a strike against the AKP and its initiative to give more rights to the Kurds?  With the DTP effectively silenced in parliament, perhaps the court was thinking it could force new elections that would weaken the AKP’s power, thus damaging its chance to push through any pro-Kurdish reforms.

Ahmet Türk addresses a crowd in Ankara on Friday

With Kurdish political channels now shut down, despair has once again overtaken hope.  Said Ahmet Türk, former head of the now defunct DTP, late on Friday after the announcement of the closure was made, ‘Turkey is going through a painful period, and of course blocking democratic politics deepens the sense of hopelessness.’

Ahmet Türk along with Aysel Tuğluk have been removed from Parliament, but not the other 19 DTP members.  The choice for the remaining parliamentarians is to stay on and fight in Parliament, as Türk would like to see happen.  Emine Ayna, DTP deputy chair, on the other hand, seems to favour a complete withdrawal from Parliament.

Should the 19 stay, and if they are able to garner the support of one more parliamentarian, they could then form a parliamentary group with the Peace and Democracy Party (Barış ve Demokrasi Partisi), the BDP.  The BDP was formed in early 2008, just a few months after the indictment against the DTP was announced in November 2007.  Tomorrow’s party congress in Diyarbakır will help determine the fate of Kurdish politics in Turkey.

Protests in Batman

The DTP and its lawyers are also preparing to appeal the party’s closure at the Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights.  Meanwhile, clashes have erupted in Istanbul, Diyarbakır, Yüksekova, and other cities between Kurdish demonstrators and Turkish security police.   Protests in some areas have turned violent with protestors throwing Molotov cocktails.  In Istanbul police broke up clashes between demonstrators and local residents wielding clubs and knives.  There are reports of detentions, hospitalisations, and at least one death.

Turkish President Abdullah Gül said of the outbreaks of violence across the country, ‘Tension or clashes have no benefit for anyone. All problems can be solved by democratic and political measures.’ He also said that the Constitutional Court’s decision should be respected and that ‘the Turkish state is acting with good intentions.’

NPR: Turk-Kurd tensions flare

A story from today’s radio show on National Public Radio in the US. Discusses Turkey’s ‘Democratic Initiative’, the possible ban of the DTP, recent protests, language laws, human rights issues, etc. A good story (just over 5 minutes in length). And great to hear news about the Kurds on a major news outlet.

Listen to story: Turk-Kurd Tensions Flare

Mother-tongue education in Kurdish

Kurds demand education in Kurdish

Ahmet Türk of the DTP says the Turkish government needs to include education in Kurdish in its Democratic Initiative.  Without mother-tongue education, he says, there will be no solution to ongoing problems.  Kurds in Turkey have long sought public education in Kurdish, a language spoken by millions of people there.  Back in February Türk spoke Kurdish in parliament in recognition of International Mother Language Day to raise awareness of language disparity issues in Turkey.

Mother tongue education is the idea that a learner is taught the fundamental concepts of a topic in their first language (Kurdish).  The idea being that children absorb concepts easily in their own familiar languages and can gain a fundamental understanding of them.  But in a second language (Turkish) they simply become words that are learnt, but not absorbed. If children are to reach their full educational potential, it is extremely important that the grounding of these learners be made in their mother tongue.  Kurdish, not Turkish. Mother-tongue medium education, simply put, is formal education in the language you speak at home with your parents and siblings.

The most central of linguistic human rights is the right to mother-tongue medium education in state schools.  All state-run schools in Turkey, however, use only Turkish.  There is no Kurdish public education at all.  Many Kurdish children arrive on their first day of elementary and do not know any Turkish.

Ciwan, a six-year old Kurdish boy, in a Turkish classroom. LIFE: January 2003

Teaching through the medium of a dominant language, in this case Turkish, is subtractive.  That is, Turkish is learned, not in addition to, but rather at the expense of, the child’s mother tongue, Kurdish.  Subtractive education which replaces the children’s mother tongue is genocidal, according to the UN Genocide Convention definition of genocide.  The Turkish educational system is a direct agent in Kurdish cultural and linguistic genocide.  Yes, it is genocide.  It forcibly transfers children from their own cultural and linguistic group to another one.

Lack of mother-tongue education is not the only hurdle to education for Kurds in Turkey.

The lack of school buildings for primary education also contributes to the low rates of schooling. Most of the almost 6,000 primary schools in the Kurdish regions of SE Turkey are deficient in basic educational material and equipment.  There is also a shortage of educational instructors, which results in high student-teacher ratios.  Up to 90-100 students per qualified instructor in some areas.  The average in western Turkey is 19 students per teacher.

The major stumbling block to Kurdish educational rights, however, is the Turkish constitution.

The preamble of the Turkish constitution states:

…no protection shall be accorded to an activity contrary to Turkish national interests, the principle of the indivisibility of the existence of Turkey with its state and territory, Turkish historical and moral values or the nationalism, principles, reforms and modernism of Atatürk.

Articles 3 and 42 of the Constitution state that the official language of the state is Turkish and that no other language other than Turkish can be taught to Turkish citizens in any educational institution.

And the Turks mean any educational institution.  It doesn’t seem to matter if the educational institution is even in Turkey.  An example cited by Amir Hassanpour in his article ‘Kurdish Language Policy in Turkey’ talks about how the Turkish Embassy in Copenhagen tried to stop a Kurdish language training course for Kurdish teachers there by saying that ‘participants were still Turkish citizens and were thus not entitled to break Turkish law.’  To wit, being educated in Kurdish.

The CHP (People’s Republic Party) has stated flatly that education in the Kurdish language is one of their red lines not to be crossed.   CHP leader, Deniz Baykal feels that granting the right of education in languages other than Turkish would lead to division of the country.  And many in Turkey share his views.

from UNESCO: Mother tongue dilemma

Prime Minister Erdoğan has said that assimilation is a crime against humanity and that children should get educated in their native language.  Was he speaking about Kurdish children in Turkey?  No.  He was speaking about Turkish children living in Germany during his recent visit there.  And now Turkish children at schools in parts of Germany will receive an education in their mother tongue.  But apparently this multilingual approach to education is too controversial for Turkey.

According to Clair Thomas, an author of the recent report ‘The State of the World’s Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2009,’ policymakers often mistakenly believe that education in a home language will mean that children will never really master a national or majority language.

‘In fact the opposite is true,’ she said. ‘What we are really talking about is multilingual education, whereby children start speaking the language they speak at home, and other languages are gradually introduced over time.’

There’s a new film out which has the English title ‘On the Way to School’ that deals with some of these issues in the educational system in Turkey.  On the Way to School is a docu-drama style film about a Turkish teacher who is appointed by the government to go and teach in a remote Kurdish village where, he finds, the students don’t speak Turkish. In Turkish the title is ‘İki Dil, Bir Bavul’, which translates as ‘Two Languages, One Suitcase.’

sources:

Kurdish move not satisfactory, says DTP leader.  Hürriyet Daily News, 30 November 2009.

Çalişlar, Oral, Why would education in Kurdish separate Turkey? Hürriyet Daily News, 02 September 2009.

Rizvi, Haider. Mother Tongue absent in thousands of classrooms. IPS News, 16 July 2009.

Hava, Ergin. German schools to give Turks education in mother tongue.  Today’s Zaman, 27 November 2009.

The Kurdish “non-education” in southeast Turkey. Peyama Azadî, 26 June 2009

Skutnabb-Kangas, Tove. Working Session: Cultural Diversity and Linguistic Diversity, International P.E.N. Diyarbakır PEN Seminar on Cultural Diversity, Diyarbakir/Amed, 20-25 March 2005

Yavuz, Ercan. Education in Kurdish language seems unlikely in Turkey. Today’s Zaman, 28 July 2009

DTP to be “more sensitive”

dtp_pressconference

Ahmet Türk speaking at DTP press conference

In a press conference on Monday, Democratic Society Party (DTP) leader Ahmet Türk, said his party will act more sensitively when it comes to the return of PKK-affiliated groups.

He said though that the people who participated in celebrations wanted to celebrate peace but were misunderstood. He also urged all to use the “language of peace” instead of the “language of war.”

“It can only be the job of irresponsible politicians to describe a small step on the road to peace using inflammatory words such as winning, losing and surrendering,” Türk said.

Türk strongly criticised both the Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) saying that they “are trying very hard to reverse the process because they have nothing to offer society apart from conflict, bloodshed and tears.”  He called their approach to the democratisation process racist, separatist, and dangerous.

Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç said the government has no intention to give up on the solution process because it is Turkey’s “last chance” to solve the decades-old Kurdish problem.

“This process will continue and has to continue. No matter what its consequences and risks will be, we are intent on carrying out this initiative, which we have launched for the benefit of Turkey,” Arınç said.

He said they are anticipating more PKK groups in November.

 

source:

DTP promises more sensitivity with upcoming returnees. Today’s Zaman, 27 October 2009.

 

Return of PKK group from Europe postponed?

Erdoğan: "Let's take a break."

Erdoğan: "Let's take a break."

The return of a group of 15 PKK members had been planned for Wednesday, 28 October.  They were to fly to Istanbul from Germany.  PM Erdoğan has been quoted as saying, “Unwanted things happened despite the warnings given to the DTP. A crisis of confidence has emerged and return of the group from Germany has been postponed.”

Istanbul Province Governor Muammer Güler said today that their return to Istanbul on Wednesday was “out of question.”

sources:

Turk PM seeks halt return of Kurdish refugees. Reuters India, 24 October 2009.

Arrival Of Terrorist Pkk Members On October 28 Out Of Question. Haber Turk, 24 October 2009.

Turkish PM sees ‘crisis of confidence’ with Kurds. AFP on therawstory, 24 October 2009.