Kurdish issues in the latest HRW World Report

hrw2013reportThis year’s Human Rights Watch World Report details events around the world from 2012. The report assessed progress on human rights during the 2012 year in more than 90 countries.

Kurdistan Commentary has selected issues relating to the Kurds from this massive 665-page report and posted them below. Turkey continues to garner to bulk of the Kurdish-related news in the HRW report, as it has in years past. In the Syria section there is no mention of the Kurds at all. That chapter is focused on abuses taking place in the ongoing civil war in Syria, with no reference to Kurdish regions. The Iran chapter contains minimal information and the Kurdistan section of the Iraq chapter focuses, as in previous HRW World Reports, on freedom of expression and female genital mutilation.

Excerpts below.

Turkey

Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) government maintained economic growth in 2012 despite a slowdown, and a strong focus on developing a leading regional role, but failed to take convincing steps to address the country’s worsening domestic human rights record and democratic deficit. Prosecutors and courts continued to use terrorism laws to prosecute and prolong incarceration of thousands of Kurdish political activists, human rights defenders, students, journalists, and trade unionists. Free speech and media remained restricted, and there were ongoing serious violations of fair trial rights.

Cross-party parliamentary work on a new constitution to uphold the rule of law and fundamental rights continued, although it was unclear at this writing whether the government and opposition would reach a consensus on key issues such as minority rights, fundamental freedoms, and definition of citizenship.

In March, parliament passed legislation to establish a National Human Rights Institution, and in June, an ombudsman institution to examine complaints against public officials at every level. Human rights groups criticized government control of appointments to the national institution’s board and its failure to meet the test of independence from the government that United Nations guidelines recommend.

With the AKP condoning the mass incarceration of Kurdish activists, and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) escalating attacks, 2012 saw a spiraling descent into violence with armed clashes resulting in hundreds of deaths of soldiers and PKK members, significantly higher than recent years. Throughout 2012, the PKK kidnapped security personnel and civilians, including local politicians, one parliamentarian, and teachers, releasing them periodically. A suspected PKK attack in Gaziantep in August left nine civilians dead, including four children. The non-resolution of the Kurdish issue remained the single greatest obstacle to progress on human rights in Turkey.

Freedom of Expression, Association, and Assembly

While there is open debate in Turkey, government policies, laws and the administration of justice continue to lag behind international standards. The government has yet to carry out a comprehensive review of all existing laws that restrict freedom of expression, although a draft reform package was expected in late 2012 at this writing.

The so-called third judicial reform package came into force in July 2012. It ends short-term bans of newspapers and journals, which the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has criticized as censorship. The law suspends investigations, prosecutions, and convictions of speech-related offenses carrying a maximum sentence of five years that were committed before December 31, 2011, provided the offense is not repeated within three years. Critics fear the threat of reinstatement will continue to muzzle debate.

Thousands charged with alleged terrorism offenses remained in prison throughout their trials. Most of those in prison are Kurdish activists and officials of the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) standing trial for alleged links to the Union of Kurdistan Communities (KCK/TM), a body connected with the PKK, and in general the ongoing clampdown on the BDP and Kurdish political activism intensified in 2012 with repeated waves of mass arrests and prolonged imprisonment. The trial of 44 Journalists and media workers (31 in detention) began in Istanbul in September. They are among the many journalists, students, lawyers, trade unionists, and human rights defenders imprisoned and prosecuted for association with the KCK.

There was little progress in the main Diyarbakır KCK trial of 175 defendants. The 108 defendants who have been in custody for up to three-and-a half-years include Human Rights Association Diyarbakir branch head Muharrem Erbey, six serving local BDP mayors, several local BDP council members, and five elected BDP parliamentarians.

The July reform package also introduced and encouraged alternatives to remand imprisonment pending trial. But there were no indications that courts apply this to those already held in prolonged prison detention under terrorism charges. Statistics from the Ministry of Justice from May, the most recent data available, indicated that 8,995 of the 125,000-strong prison population were charged with terrorism offenses, and that half of the 8,995 were awaiting an initial verdict.

Combating Impunity

Great obstacles remain in securing justice for victims of abuses by police, military, and state officials.

In December 2011, a Turkish airforce aerial bombardment killed 34 Kurdish villagers, many of them young people and children, near Uludere, close to the Iraqi-Kurdistan border, as they crossed back into Turkey with smuggled goods. Concerns that there had been an official cover-up were fuelled by repeated statements by the prime minister rejecting calls by media, opposition parties, and families of victims for a full explanation of the incident, lack of a public inquiry, and a protracted criminal investigation that had not concluded at this writing.

Key International Actors

Turkey’s European Union accession negotiations remained stalled. The election of France’s President François Hollande helped to improve French-Turkish relations. In October, the European Commission in its annual progress report voiced strong criticism in most areas relating to human rights, emphasizing the importance of work on a new constitution, and stressing “the Kurdish issue remains a key challenge for Turkey’s democracy.”

The United States government remains an important influence on Turkey, sharing military intelligence on PKK movements in northern Iraq.

In January, a groundbreaking report by the Council of Europe (CoE) commissioner for human rights focused on “long-term, systemic problems in the administration of justice,” and its negative impact on human rights.

In its October review of Turkey, the UN Human Rights Committee recommended reforms including amending the National Human Rights Institution law, introducing comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation, and addressing the vagueness of the definition of terrorism in law and prolonged pretrial detention.

Iran

Death Penalty

In 2011 authorities carried out more than 600 executions, second only to China, according to Amnesty International. Crimes punishable by death include murder, rape, trafficking and possessing drugs, armed robbery, espionage, sodomy, adultery, and apostasy.

Authorities have executed at least 30 people since January 2010 on the charge of moharebeh (“enmity against God”) or “sowing corruption on earth” for their alleged ties to armed groups. As of September 2012, at least 28 Kurdish prisoners were awaiting execution on national security charges, including moharebeh.

Treatment of Minorities

The government restricted cultural and political activities among the country’s Azeri, Kurdish, Arab, and Baluch minorities.

Iraq

In April, Iraq’s parliament passed a law criminalizing human trafficking, but has yet to effectively implement it. The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) has not taken steps to implement a 2011 law banning female genital mutilation (FGM).

Freedom of Assembly

Security forces continued to respond to peaceful protests with intimidation, threats, violence, and arrests of protesters. On February 17, hundreds of security forces of the KRG surrounded a peaceful demonstration in Sulaimaniya’s Sara Square. Dozens of men in civilian clothing attacked protesters and made many arrests.

Freedom of Expression

The environment for journalists remained oppressive in 2012. The Iraqi parliament was at this writing considering a number of laws restricting the media and freedom of expression and assembly, including the draft Law on the Freedom of Expression of Opinion, Assembly, and Peaceful Demonstration, and a draft law regulating the organization of political parties that punishes expression “violating public morals” and conveying “immoral messages.” In September, the Federal Supreme Court denied a petition by a local press freedom organization to repeal the Journalists Protection Law on the basis that it fails to offer meaningful protection to journalists and restricts access to information.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) ranked Iraq at the top of its 2012 Impunity Index, which focuses on unsolved journalist murders, and reported that there have been no convictions for murders of journalists since 2003. Iraqi authorities made no arrests for the murder of Hadi al-Mahdi, a journalist critical of the government, killed in September 2011. Another journalist, Zardasht Osman, was abducted and murdered after publishing a satirical article about KRG president Massoud Barzani in 2010. The KRG never released details of the investigation into his death.

Women’s and Girls’ Rights

In June 2011, the KRG parliament passed the Family Violence Bill, which includes provisions criminalizing forced and child marriages; abuse of girls and women; and a total ban on FGM. Implementation of the law is poor, and dozens of girls and practitioners said that they had either undergone or performed FGM since the law was passed. The authorities took no measures to investigate these cases.

To see the entire 665-page report, go to the World Report 2013 page on the HRW website.

Turkey’s Kurdish Impasse: The View from Diyarbakır

The International Crisis Group (ICG) has published a new report, Turkey’s Kurdish Impasse: The View from Diyarbakır. ICG’s summary of the report and recommendations are below. To view the full report, download it here.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY AND RECOMMENDATIONS

turkey-30nov12.ashxAs Turkey’s biggest Kurdish-majority city and province, Diyarbakır is critical to any examination of the country’s Kurdish problem and of the insurgent PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party). The armed conflict has deteriorated in the past year and a half to its worst level in over a decade, with increased political friction and violence leading to the deaths of at least 870 people since June 2011. While as many Kurds live in western Turkey, particularly in Istanbul, as in the south east, grievances that underlie support within Kurdish communities for the PKK’s armed struggle are more clearly on display in predominantly Kurdish areas like Diyarbakır: perceived and real discrimination in the local government and economy, alienation from central authorities, anger at mass arrests of political representatives and frustration at the bans on the use of Kur­dish in education and public life. Yet Diyarbakır still offers hope for those who want to live together, if Ankara acts firmly to address these grievances and ensure equality and justice for all.

Across the political spectrum, among Kurds and Turks, rich and poor, Islamic and secular in Diyarbakır, there is a shared desire for a clear government strategy to resolve the chronic issues of Turkey’s Kurdish problem. Official recognition of Kurdish identity and the right to education and justice in mother languages is a priority. The city’s Kurds want fairer political representation, decentralisation and an end to all forms of discrimination in the laws and constitution. They also demand legal reform to end mass arrests and lengthy pre-trial detentions of non-violent activists on terrorism charges.

Control of Diyarbakır is contested on many levels. The state wants to stay in charge, channelling its influence through the Ankara-appointed governor and control over budget, policing, education, health and infrastructure development. The municipality, in the hands of legal pro-PKK parties since 1999, most recently the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), is gathering more power against considerable obstacles. The Justice and Development Party (AKP) that rules nationally has ushered in a more progressive approach to police, but this has not ended confrontations and defused local hostility. Turkey as a whole, and Kurdish-speaking cities like Diyarbakır in particular, need a coherent, informed debate on decentralisation and a strategy to implement it.

The current government has done more than any previous one to permit Kurdish language use in Diyarbakır and elsewhere, but most Kurds want nothing less than a com­mit­ment to education in their mother language. The government’s initiative on optional Kurdish lessons should be fully supported as a stepping-stone in a structured plan to achieve declaration of that goal as a right.

Once Turkey’s third best off economic centre, Diyarbakır and its surrounding province have fallen to 63rd place at last measurement. Investment has long been low due to violence, flawed government policies and PKK sabotage, kidnappings, terrorist attacks and extortion. But residents show their faith in the city’s future through their investment, particularly in marble quarries and the booming real estate sector. Diyarbakır’s location at a regional historic crossroads still makes it an important hub for elements of the service sector, such as courier businesses and hospitals. Thousand-year-old monuments could make it a tourist magnet.

Fighting between the security forces and the PKK, mostly in the south east, is rising. While Diyarbakır has mostly been spared the worst of the recent violence, the civilian population and local politics are nonetheless increasingly stressed and polarised by events. The AKP is losing its appeal, and the BDP, while uncontested as the strongest political force in the city, has yet to prove its political maturity and ability to be more than a front for an increasingly violent PKK. The moderately Islamic Gülen movement is trying to offer another way, and as a negotiated settlement seems less likely, Kurdish Islamic groups are boosting their already substantial influence.

Yet, voices from Diyarbakır insist that common ground exists, as it does throughout the rest of Turkey. Crisis Group, in two previous reports in 2011 and 2012, recommended that the government announce a clear strategy to resolve the conflict, focusing in the first instance on justice and equal rights for Kurds. It suggested that the government work pro-actively with Kurdish representatives on four lines of reform: mother-language rights for Turkey’s Kurds; reducing the threshold for election to the national parliament to 5 per cent from 10 per cent; a new decentralisation strategy; and stripping all discrimination from the constitution and laws. Once these steps have been taken, it could then move to detailed talks on disarmament and demobilisation with the PKK. In short, both sides need to exercise true leadership, by eschewing violence, committing to dialogue and achieving the Kurds’ legitimate aspirations through Turkey’s existing legal structures, especially in the parliamentary commission working on a new constitution.

This companion report additionally offers recommendations specifically for urgent action by the government and legal leadership of the Kurdish movement in Diyarbakır to strengthen Kurds’ trust in the state by working to resolve pressing local problems and to ensure the long-term development of the city and province.

RECOMMENDATIONS

To the Turkish Government and Diyarbakır community leaders, including the Kurdish movement’s legal leadership:

To establish mutual trust between Turks and Kurds

1.  The Turkish government should pass and implement legal reforms to allow the use of mother languages in trials, shorten pre-trial detentions and ensure that Kurdish and other suspects are taken into custody in a humane manner. It should encourage local police to continue improving engagement with the Diyarbakır community and end use of excessive force, even in response to unauthorised public meetings and demonstrations.

2.  Community and Kurdish movement leaders should comply with procedures on public meetings and dem­on­stra­tions; renounce all PKK violence; and continue civil society efforts, such as the recently established “Dialogue and Contact Group”.

To guarantee use of mother languages in education and public life

3.  The Turkish government should complete the implementation of optional Kurdish classes in the 2012-2013 academic year transparently; define a timeline for full education in mother languages wherever there is sufficient demand; continue to prepare teachers and curriculums for this transition; allow local elected officials to change relevant laws and regulations so as to restore or give Kurdish names to local places; and relax the ban on the use of Kurdish in public services.

4.  Community and Kurdish movement leaders should acknowledge the government’s positive steps in these areas, and stop boycotts of optional Kurdish classes.

To ensure a fair debate and eventual consensus on decentralisation

5.  The Turkish government should lead a debate in Diyarbakır, as well as nationwide, about municipal governance and decentralisation.

6.  Local government leaders should cooperate and meet with central government representatives who visit the province and clearly express their commitment to achieving Kurds’ democratic demands legally.

To assist Diyarbakır’s economic, social and cultural development

7.  The Turkish government should ensure that Diyarbakır receives a fair share of public funds, particularly for education, international airport facilities, railway connections and industrial zones, equivalent to that of comparable cities elsewhere in Turkey; and pro-actively promote domestic tourism to this and other historic cities in the south east.

8.  Community leaders should reach out to Turkish mainstream opinion to help overcome prejudices about the Kurdish-speaking south east through the exchange of business delegations, school trips and professional conferences.

Istanbul/Diyarbakır/Brussels, 30 November 2012

Solidarity with Hunger Strikers: Urgent Call from BDP

03/11/2012

URGENT CALL TO INTERNATIONAL PUBLIC OPINION FOR SOLIDARITY WITH HUNGER STRIKERS

Today, it has been 53 days since Kurdish political prisoners in the Turkish prisons began indefinite hunger strikes on September 12, 2012. At this moment, health status of prisoners on hunger strike is severely impaired and came to a very critical stage. This announcement is prepared in order to inform international public opinion that we are extremely concerned that loss of life may be imminent and ask your solidarity to prevent it.

On September 12, 2012; 64 Kurdish political prisoners have started an indefinite and irreversible hunger strike in 7 Prisons in Turkey.

On 22 September 2012, ten days later 79 more prisoners joined the hunger strike. With new participants these numbers have been continuously increasing. According to joint research of Human Rights Association, Progressive Lawyers Association and Law & Human Rights Commission of Peace and Democracy Party, at least 654 Kurdish political prisoners and convicts in prisons are on an indefinite and irreversible hunger strike in 66 prisons. Imprisoned members of parliament, Mr. Faysal Sarıyıldız, Ms. Gülser Yıldırım and Ms. Selma Irmak and Mayor of Derik, Ms. Çağlar Demirel are also participating to the indefinite hunger strike.

Specifically, the health status of 154 political prisoners that began the hunger strike with the first two groups is severely impaired and their life is under extreme danger and at great vital risk.

In a press release to the public, political prisoners on a hunger strike have made two specific demands and stated that they will not reverse their decision unless their demands are meet. These demands are:

1- The right to education and legal defense in mother tongue.

2- Ending the isolation of Mr. Abdullah Öcalan in Imrali prison in order to creating the conditions for dialogue and negotiation.

According to the above mentioned demands, reason of the hunger strike is not for individual interest or awful conditions of the prisons in Turkey. Political prisoners believe that their existence in prisons is directly related with the conflicts between the Turkish Government and Kurdish political movement. Therefore, the prisoners and arrested politicians are considering themselves as “prisoner of war” or POW. The existing judicial system, the anti-terror law that amended in 2006 and security oriented governing are created a total war against Kurds’ fundamental rights. Freedom of speech, right to demonstration and demanding collective rights of the people perceived as “terrorist activity” by the prosecutors and the government as well. The existing Anti-terror law allows prosecutors to arrest everyone without concrete evidence. Therefore, more than 8000 Kurdish politicians, journalists, advocates, trade unionists and NGO members have been in prisons for many years without any verdict by judges. Many of the participants of the hunger strike are victims of the existing law system. Their legal defenses in mother tongue are not provided due to the monist mentality. This situation is one of the reasons of the hunger strike.

Unfortunately, AKP Government has not any sensitivity or attention to the ongoing hunger strike. Prime Minister Erdoğan clearly lied when he was in Germany. According to Erdoğan, only one prisoner is continuing to the hunger strike. At the same time Minister of Justice announced that 683 prisoners and arrested people are in hunger strike. It is very tragic that, the Prime Minister and the Minister of Justice are not from different countries. But their speeches are totally different. Unfortunately, PM Erdoğan is not focusing on solving the issue. The main approach of the government is disinforming the hunger strike.

On the other hand, while the people who protest the government because of its insensitivity, AKP Government and its police forces are continuing arrest BDP members and protestors. Yesterday, 97 students were taken custody during the protests in order to prevent democratic opposition. Today, 20 people from BDP, press and NGOs are take in custody by the police raids in Mersin. We believe that, the reason of the ongoing arrests is to prevent solidarity with the hunger strikers.

Therefore, we as BDP, call government to stop accusing BDP or hunger strikers. Government must respect to the Kurdish prisoners demands. The demands are fundamental rights of humanity. Therefore, PM Erdoğan must end this meaningless obstinacy. In case of insist to this negative manner, AKP Government will be main responsible of the closing tragedy.

No time to wait! Everyone from the earth should react to the AKP Government’s totalitarian approach on Kurdish People and their fundamental rights. No state or power can prevent a human’s freedom of speech or defense in mother tongue in democratic countries. No one should live without collective identity in their home country.

BDP urgently calls to government, international public opinion and institutions to prevent losing lives in prisons.

FOREIGN AFFAIRS COMMISSION OF PEACE AND DEMOCRACY PARTY

 

ANNEX 1:

Events on Hunger Strikes

1. Prisoners who are on indefinite hunger strike since September 12 in Siirt E Type Closed Prison have learned aggravate health problems. İHD (HRA) lawyers Roja Arslan and Yavuz Çelepkolu who met with the prisoners on hunger strike in prison, said hunger-striking prisoners does not accept liquid.

2. Rıza Turan who is in Siirt E Type Prison has loss of sight and also director of prison didn’t deliver blanket which is given to him by his family.

3. Eleven women prisoners who are started the hunger strike in Diyarbakır E Type Prison some findings on their health status; weakness, vomiting, and extreme sensitivity to sound and noise, irregular blood pressure, excessive weight loss and nose bleeds

4. Four prisoners who are in Şakran T type Prison No 4 were single cells and a place to sleep, clothes, pen and paper to tell their status are not given.

5. Although Berivan Elter who is in hunger strike has health report, a new report was taken and she pick up from Ankara to Diyarbakır ( round trip 36 hours)

6. B1 Vitamin is not given any prisoners in Adana F type Prison

Will botched airstrike lead to regional policy changes?

Will botched airstrike lead to regional policy changes?
by Christian Sinclair

In late December 2011 Turkish military forces bombed a group of Kurdish civilians along the Iraq-Turkey border, killing 34 of the 38 in the group. Eighteen of the 34 who died in the attack were teenagers. The group came from the villages of Gülyazı (Bujeh) and Ortasu (Roboski) in the Uludere district of Sirnak and the attack has now been dubbed the “Roboski massacre” or the “Uludere massacre.” Ankara said it mistook the group for PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party) fighters.

Suddenly, five months after the airstrike against these Kurdish civilians, there is intense media coverage of the Roboski massacre. Previously, there had been precious little coverage outside of Kurdish media circles of what is the largest civilian death toll in Turkey’s decades old campaign against the PKK. So why now? Why the coverage?

click for larger image

The 38-person caravan was en route back to Turkey after a trip across the border for fuel, cigarettes, sugar, and other items typically smuggled over the desolate, rugged mountain terrain in this region. As the group came within 50 meters of the border, the sky lit up with bombs dropped from F-16s in a raid lasting 40 minutes. When it was over, 34 charred bodies were left on the snowy mountain trails. The tragic loss of life sparked protests across Turkey but prompted only half-hearted, inconclusive investigations. Amnesty International says it has “doubts about whether [the investigation] is thorough and impartial and will be effective in identifying what happened and those responsible.” Even with international agencies investigating and protests across Europe, there was still very little coverage of the attack in the mainstream Western press.

Last Wednesday, however, the Wall Street Journal injected new life into the story by reporting that a U.S. drone was involved in passing along the intel to the Turkish military about suspicious activity along its border that night in December. Now many Turkish and Western media outlets are covering the story, albeit with competing narratives about who saw what first. It seems that the media interest now comes from the drones, Washington-Ankara relations, and who saw the caravan first, rather than the fact that Turkey, a member of NATO, killed almost three dozen of its own citizens in a questionable air raid.

In Ankara there is what is called a Combined Intelligence Fusion Cell where U.S. and Turkish personnel sit side by side to watch drone feeds in real time. That night, according to U.S. military officials, a predator “was on an eight-hour patrol along the Iraqi-Turkish border when its American controllers spotted the convoy walking toward the Turkish border.” That information was then passed along to the Turkish military, who then directed the Americans to move the drone out of the area.

But Turkey is insisting that there was no U.S. intelligence provided or that the action taken was based on Turkish intelligence. Turkish President Abdullah Gül said before flying to the U.S. for the NATO Summit in Chicago, that  “[i]f the [Turkish] government, concerned authorities, the General Staff make a statement, we all should trust that.” He added that he does not “think it is not right to make such useless polemics.” Turkish Prime Minister Erdoğan said the Uludere operation was “action from footage provided by our aircraft not by U.S. predators” and that particular region “was an area of terrorism.” It seems then with this blanket pronouncement that since Ankara had deemed it “an area of terrorism” then it should not be held responsible for what they have called an “administrative accident.”

This is troubling and the U.S. and other NATO partners need to understand the lens through which Turkey views any shared intelligence. A former senior U.S. military official told WSJ he and fellow officers were sometimes troubled by Turkish standards for selecting targets in their long-running battle with the PKK.

There are other, perhaps more troubling, theories about the WSJ report. In a very “creative” spin on the report, Turkish PM Erdoğan said late last week that he thought it “may be part of a project to undermine the Barack Obama administration as the U.S. presidential election approaches” and his take on this report is that it “is meant to make life difficult for the current [U.S.] government.”

The political opposition in Turkey has been quick to criticize Erdoğan and his party. Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, head of the opposition CHP (Republican People’s Party), says he has “difficulty understanding this government’s mentality. This government failed in the Uludere case. It murdered 34 citizens.” Deputy CHP Chair, Sezgin Tanrikulu, says that the “reason why the government is keeping quiet now is that it wants to avoid political responsibility.”

Truck carrying bodies of Roboski massacre victims

Mayor Fehmi Yaman in Uludere charged that the attack was part of a series of government efforts to intimidate the local population and called it deliberate. “The orders for this attack came from the very top level and they will do everything to protect themselves,” said Yaman. Families of the victims said that the “Turkish army knew very well that the villagers, who are poor and uneducated, have used the route to smuggle for generations” and they could not have mistaken them for PKK militants.

Etyen Mahçupyan, columnist for Today’s Zaman, wrote in January that soldiers knew the caravan was coming, stopped them to gather them all in one spot, and then the soldiers “lit a flare to illuminate the region and allow warplanes to savagely shell the region and tear the smugglers’ bodies to pieces.” In fact, says Mahçupyan, it is “very hard to justify the argument that this incident was really an accident; there are a whole host of signs that suggest the massacre was deliberate.”

The questions surrounding this attack on innocent civilians should be raising alarm bells in Washington and elsewhere. U.S.-Turkish military cooperation is in need of review to better control how Ankara uses the information is receives from its American counterparts. There should also be a review of military aid to Ankara and strict controls on its use. Pentagon Press Secretary George Little said he wouldn’t “comment on intelligence-sharing with our Turkish allies” and instead remarked that the U.S. has “an enduring relationship with Turkey.” Perhaps someone at the NATO Summit in Chicago should take the opportunity to raise the issue with President Gül and lay out plans of how this relationship will endure.

In the end, we can only hope that the coverage continues, for whatever the reasons, and that the 34 Kurdish victims of this botched airstrike become a catalyst for policy change in the region. If that happens, their unfortunate deaths won’t be for naught.

(follow Christian Sinclair on Twitter: @sinclair_c)

And the 2012 Der Steiger award goes to…

Protesters in Bochum, 17 March 2012

Well, not Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdoğan. Close to 30,000 protesters flooded the streets of Bochum yesterday in a pre-planned rally to criticise the decision to honour the Turkish Prime Minister with this year’s Der Steiger award. Protesters were local Alevi, Kurdish and Armenians, who oppose the ruling AK Party’s policies in Turkey. Der Steiger is awarded in various categories and Erdoğan was to have received it for humanity and tolerance.

One leading German conservative had criticised the decision to award a prize for tolerance to Erdoğan, citing what he called a lack of press freedom and the ‘suppressing’ of religious and ethnic minorities in Turkey. Alexander Dobrindt, general secretary of the Christian Social Union (CSU), which is part of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s centre-right coalition government, said it would be more appropriate to award Erdoğan a prize for intolerance.

One news source said organisers of the German prize decided against honouring Erdoğan in light of the protests and criticism. However, the official Der Steiger website only says that Erdoğan cancelled the trip to Germany due to the deaths of Turkish soldiers in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan. Award organisers, according to the German news agency DPA, said they changed their mind because Erdoğan was not travelling to the award ceremony in Germany.

Tilman Zülch, President of the Society for Threatened Peoples International sent an open letter several days ago to the Mayor of Bochum in which he urged Mayor Scholz to reconsider this decision. He wrote:

To accord Erdoğan this honor although he is responsible for massive human rights violations in Turkey is not only a slap in the face for the victims of arbitrary imprisonment and torture in Turkey, it also tarnishes the reputation of this award.

There has been a steady wave of arrests in Turkey since 2009, primarily targeting Kurdish journalists, politicians, human rights activists and opposition members. There are currently 103 journalists, 13 members and leaders of the Turkish human rights organization IHD, 52 leaders of the KESK trade union, and thousands of members of the democratic Kurdish party, BDP, awaiting trial. In spite of the complete lack of evidence, they are accused either of belonging to the banned Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK) or of denigrating the Turkish people.

The anti-terror law provides the Turkish government with a foundation for massive restrictions on freedom of the press. Pro-Kurdish statements made in public, including those made at peaceful demonstrations organized by the opposition party, are frequently the entire basis for arrests.

In recent days it has also come to light that from 2006 to 2010, more than 4000 Kurdish youths were sentenced. These twelve- to seventeen-year-olds were accused of expressing pro-Kurdish sentiments or throwing stones at a demonstration. The children who have been released describe torture and abuses. Thousands of children and youths, however, are still being held as “terrorists” in Turkish prisons. They are often without protection of any kind, at the mercy of judicial authorities and adult fellow prisoners. The authorities have been aware of this situation since 2011, but have done nothing.

In spite of Erdoğan’s announced intention to continue emphatically advocating for equal rights and for the protection of everyone living in Turkey regardless of ethnicity, Muslim and Yazidi Kurds as well as Christian Assyro-Aramaeans still suffer direct and indirect discrimination, persecution and violence.

The Steiger Award should be an acknowledgment of extraordinary service and dedication. It sends a signal, and confers recognition. A government leader who uses an anti-terror law to legitimize grave human rights abuses should not be encouraged to continue running roughshod over the basic rights of citizens in the country he governs.

36 seats in Parliament. Now what?

Labour, Freedom and Democracy Block

It has been a week since the 12 June elections in Turkey. The dust is settling and a clearer picture is emerging of what’s in store for the new parliament once the next legislative session begins around 01 October. High on the agenda is the drafting of a new, civilian constitution. The current constitution, put into effect in 1982 on the heels of the 1980 military coup, is based on a Kemalist notion of Turkish national identity, which is homogeneous and leaves no room for ethnic and religious difference. It is a ‘straightjacket’ on Turkish democracy, limiting the rights of individuals and privileging the state at the expense of the citizen.

The swearing in ceremony for MPs in the 550-seat Grand National Assembly of Turkey (Turkish Parliament, or simply Meclis in Turkish) will be 24 June. The day before the swearing-in, a newly formed commission from the pro-Kurdish Labour, Democracy and Freedom Block (in Kurdish, Bloka Ked, Azadî û Demokrasî, or KAD), which won 36 seats, will issue a declaration. The statement will clarify the KAD-Block’s standing in the parliament, the way, methods and strategies to be followed for a solution to problems. The KAD-Block was created and supported by the BDP, the Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party.

On Sunday evening last, as results were still coming in, Turkish PM Erdoğan said that the nation had not only given his party a mandate to govern, but to draft a new constitution: ‘The people gave us a message to build the new constitution through consensus and negotiation.’ He said that the AKP would discuss the new constitution with opposition parties and parties outside of parliament, in ‘all-encompassing’ negotiations.

With their 36 seats, the KAD-Block will play an important role in any future constitutional debate, and the Kurdish question looks set to move to the top of the political agenda. Said Sebahat Tuncel, Kurdish MP from Istanbul in a recent op-ed piece in the New York Times, Erdoğan ‘now faces a major domestic challenge,’ referring to the writing up a new, inclusive constitution. She also said that the 36-MP strong block ‘will be the most effective check on the AKP’s destructive policy’ of repressing the Kurds.

However, some are expressing caution regarding the KAD-Block’s calls for specific demands. Taha Akyol, for example, a political analyst with CNNTürk and Milliyet newspaper, said that while the BDP has become ‘a force that cannot be ignored’ it ‘must know the limits of its demands.’ While Akyol is a Turkish nationalist, this will certainly be an issue in the constitutional negotiations, as the AKP is not going to want to be seen as caving in to Kurdish demands. After all, Erdoğan ran a very nationalist campaign to garner MHP (far-right, nationalist party) votes. But, after the election, Erdoğan apologised to his rivals for his actions and language during the campaigns. Erdoğan’s words were probably meant more to take votes from the MHP party to keep them from reaching the 10% election threshold. But still, it will be hard now to backpedal.

Ahmet Türk, newly elected KAD MP from Mêrdîn said that the ‘new constitution must be based on democratic autonomy, which must be a topic in the open for discussion and we will work towards this. If these demands are ignored by the state, the people will create their own method to establish the system they are aiming for.’

Leyla Zana speaks in Diyarbakır

Leyla Zana, elected from Diyarbakır, speaking in Kurdish to an audience of tens of thousands at a rally last Monday said, ‘The Kurds will be a partner of this state.’ While the logical assumption is that MPs elected from the pro-Kurdish KAD Block will be partners (the AKP needs partners), it is not clear to what extent Kurds will be included in the process of re-writing the country’s constitution.

Murat Yetkin, writing for Hürriyet Daily News, says the ‘CHP (centre-left, People’s Republican Party) is always a safer partner for the AKP for major political projects like amending or rewriting the constitution, in order to secure a consensus acceptable for a wider base in society. The BDP, which is focused more on Kurdish rights, might be an easier partner for Erdoğan at first sight, but such a partnership, which might exclude both the CHP and the MHP, might cause new fault lines in Turkey’s political arena. It may cast a shadow, says Yetkin, over the new constitution, creating doubts whether the government sort of bargained for the presidential system in return for group – not individual – rights for Kurds.’

Some of the conditions the Kurds will expect in any new constitution, says KAD MP-elect Hasip Kaplan from southeastern province of Şırnak, are the implementation of democratic autonomy, the use of mother tongues and the granting of constitutional citizenship.’ He also said that it should contain ‘expansion of freedom of thought in its largest sense.’

These are ‘demands’ that may be outside of the ‘limits’ referred to by Akyol. But what then is left? How can the Kurds accept anything less than full equality as Kurdish citizens of the Turkish Republic? In a meeting of Turkish intellectuals, journalists and lawyers earlier last week, Osman Can, one of the lawyers present, called on political parties to abandon what they earlier termed ‘red lines’ and said parties must decide to talk without preconditions. One of the ‘reddest’ of lines is that of mother-tongue education in Kurdish. It is a flashpoint in the debate on Kurdish rights and a key theme of the Kurd’s political agenda. Abandoning red lines may be easier said than done.

Nabi Avcı, a newly elected AKP deputy from Eskişehir and former senior media advisor to Erdoğan, said at a meeting with members of the foreign press that the ‘Kurdish issue’ is also on the government’s agenda ‘not as a problem but as a broader issue.’ He also said that ‘it is not right to highlight any priorities at the moment.’

Some of these comments may not bode well for Kurdish expectations. Ahmet Türk says that ‘the election results mean that the Kurdish people are united and our demands are going to be on the national agenda. If not, there will be more pain and more problems in the future’ and that if their ‘demands are ignored by the state, the people will create their own method to establish the system they are aiming for.’

The threat of ‘more pain and more problems in the future’ that Türk mentioned is real, according to the deputy head of the ruling AKP in Diyarbakır, Mohammed Akar. He says that if there is disappointment, the whole idea of integration will end. Separation and conflict will come to the fore. Akar added that ‘the danger that is lying ahead is a nightmare.’

The AKP may have received the largest percentage of popular votes at 49.95%, but the fact is that in 2002 they had 363 seats in the Meclis, in 2007 they had 341 seats, and now, in 2011, the AKP will seat only 326 parliamentarians. From 2007 to 2011, the overall percentage of votes increased by 3.3%, but their percentage of seats in the Meclis will decline by 4.5%.

Erdoğan’s AKP had been vying for a 2/3’s super majority (367 seats), which would have allowed it to rewrite the constitution single-handedly with no input from any other parties. A 3/5’s majority (330 seats) would have offered the AKP the option of drafting a new constitution on its own and then submitting it to a public referendum. They are only four seats from a 3/5’s majority and could try and look for defectors to make up the gap.

click to enlarge

However, the Kurds are the ones who are really gaining ground. In 2007 they captured 20 seats in parliament. This time round the pro-Kurdish KAD-Block managed to get 6.85% of the national vote, which resulted in 36 of its candidates getting elected. Not all of them are Kurdish, which was a strategy the BDP had to broaden its support base. And 11 of the 36 are women. A list of the 36 and election percentages can be found here.

In an attempt to draw support from religious voters, an alliance was formed with two other pro-Kurdish parties—the Participatory Democracy Party (KADEP) and the Rights and Freedoms Party (HAK-PAR). Former KADEP leader Şerafettin Elçi was picked as a candidate in Diyarbakır.

Political Science at Istanbul University, Dr Nuray Mert, noted that this was ‘a very successful outcome for the Block but it goes unnoticed that the Block didn’t participate in the elections as a political party. Therefore, the elections already began unfair[ly].’

In Diyarbakır, seven KAD-Block candidates got 429,000 votes and won six seats, whereas the AKP received five seats with only 231,000 votes. Without the 10 percent threshold, says Henri Barkey, KAD-Block candidates would have probably gotten as many as 50 seats. In other words, BDP is stronger than the number of seats it will control in the new parliament.

The Kurdish political group may be stronger than the number of seats, but for now they have to work with their strength in parliament. A change in the 10% election threshold will also be a necessary component in any new constitution to ensure more inclusivity in the future.

For now there is a major battle ahead as political camps scramble to put together their bargaining points and prepare for October. It will be interesting to see too what happens between now and the opening of that new, legislative session.

Since the election, the Turkish government has shut down Kurdish media outlets and has continued its arrest waves of Kurdish politicians. More than 100 have been detained in the past week alone. In spite of this, a PKK ceasefire has been extended to see what will happen with reforms and constitutional change. If the repressive methods continue and Erdoğan fails to take an historic step in partnering with the Kurds in the drafting of the new constitution, all hell will break loose.

Speaking of the failure of the AKP to garner its wished-for super-majority and rewrite the constitution by itself, former US Ambassador to Turkey, Ross Wilson, said that ‘[g]iven concerns about Erdoğan’s megalomania and authoritarian tendencies that have gained traction in Turkey in recent months, the outcome is good for Turkish democracy.’ Let’s hope it is good too for Kurdish aspirations.

Zana says government fears a solution

Leyla Zana in Silvan

Thousands of Kurds were in the streets today protesting against the ongoing military and political operations carried out by police and army. Close to 900 people have been detained since Turkey’s Supreme Election Board (YSK) barred a group of parliamentary candidates from running in the upcoming election. The YSK reversed its decision a few days later.

Leyla Zana, independent candidate for parliament, spoke to a huge crowd in her hometown of Silvan. Zana is running as a candidate from Diyarbakır in the ‘Labour, Democracy and Freedom’ bloc, an umbrella group for independent candidates in the 12 June general elections. Many are supported by the BDP.

Said Zana to the crowd, ‘This country is witnessing very dark forces trying all they can to prevent the Kurdish Question from being solved. These forces do not want peace, do not want this question to be resolved. Indeed they fear a solution.’

Zana also said of Turkish PM Erdoğan, ‘You are not bigger than these people.’

Twenty years ago Zana used Kurdish in parliament while taking the oath of office. She was later stripped of her parliamentary immunity and sent to prison on terrorism charges, where she remained behind bars for ten years (1994-2004). While in prison, she was awarded the European Parliament’s human rights prize for her efforts to advance Kurdish minority rights. The European Court of Human Rights later ruled that Turkey had violated Zana’s right to freedom of expression and ordered the government to pay her compensation.

Leyla Zana turns 50 on Tuesday.

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