Aside

The AKP vs. Gülen Movement Conflict and its crippling blow on the Rule of Law

It would appear that Turkey is coming apart at the seams. On December 17, a landmark probe into government corruption, bribery and tender rigging was launched by public prosecutor Zekeriya Öz. The investigation was initiated through the arrest of many high profile individuals including the sons of three ministers from the Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the head of HALKBANK. Since then, three cabinet ministers have resigned, seven AKP MPs have stepped down in protest of the way the AKP have handled the investigation, a number of local AKP municipal cabinets have collectively resigned and over 2500 police officers and many prosecutors have been re-assigned to different posts by the government in an effort to contain the damage caused by the ongoing investigations.

In connection to the current upheaval, the AKP’s implementation of a number of speedy legislations (a last ditch effort damaging democratic principles) that aim to undermine the independence of the Judiciary has brought the courts (judiciary) and the government (executive) into opposition. Currently, the AKP are pushing for a re-structuring of the HSYK – Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors – that will in effect tie the chain of command within the judiciary to the Ministry of Justice. In short, the very principle of a separation of powers, the division of responsibility and power into different branches of state is being completely shattered. Arguably, this is the most dangerous development given that the public trust in the independence of the judiciary has been perilously damaged.

Having said that, lack of trust in the independence of the courts – in the sense that major trials have always been ideologically driven and not based on an uncovering of facts – and the perceived injustice of the justice system in Turkey is not a new phenomenon. There are many, including myself, that do not believe in the fairness of the Ergenekon and Sledgehammer trials or the KCK trials to make note of only a few.

However, when taking note of the authoritarian impulses of the AKP, the amount of power that the party has consolidated over the past 12 years and the successful way in which forces in opposition are effectively marginalised on a continuous basis, a number of questions arise. For example, how is it that the AKP are on the ropes? Who is strong or bold enough to attempt an attack against the AKP? If the public prosecutors are ideologically driven, what is their motive and why this sudden change in their stance against the governing AKP?

At this point, it is the Gülen Movement that takes centre stage. Without going into much detail as I only aim to set the scene in this post, the Gülen Movement is a religious and social movement that takes its name from its leader Fethullah Gülen Hoca, a Turkish Islamic Scholar and preacher. The movement has been around since the 1960s and has weathered the stormy seas of Turkish politics for over 50 years, growing in stature where parties that were proponents of political Islam have fallen over and over again. The movement was initially aided by the line of parties associated with political Islam and its central figure Necmettin Erbakan. As the movement gained strength, it distanced itself from this trajectory of parties and found support from traditional conservative centre- right parties. With the arrival of the AKP on the scene in 2002, the Gülen Movement seems to have reached its zenith in terms of its influence in Turkish politics. After all, the Gülen Cemaat became a partner of AKP in ruling the country until 2012.

The Gülen Movement is able to influence Turkish Politics due to its successful infiltration of the Turkish state institutions. Thousands of members of the Cemaat have penetrated state institutions ranging from the judiciary, the police force and other security agencies, educational institutions, civil administrative offices and boards. Whilst this trend has taken place over the best part of 40 years, such advances were intensified under the consent and support of the AKP. If the claim sounds too far fetched, keep on reading as I shall do my best to provide the findings of a number of studies that detail the way in which the Gülen Movement has been systemically increasing its presence within state institutions.

Coming back full circle to events that concern us today, the lengthy political partnership between AKP – Gülen seems to have collapsed. This is most likely a result of disagreement over power sharing and political vision. As a central agent within state institutions, the Cemaat were able to document the dealings of the government. Now that the relationship has turned sour, the movement has decided to undisclose evidence of corruption and bribery on the part of AKP deputies and closely associated businessmen as a way of undermining AKP’s power.

It is also unclear how objective the prosecutors are, whether some are in fact members of the Cemaat and follow instructions from the organisation, and whether the corruption case will in fact go ahead in a just manner guided only by the rule of law. Unsurprisingly the AKP have referred to the Cemaat as a ‘parallel state’ structure within the state that must be stamped out. It is by falling on this reasoning that the legislative changes which undermine the independence of the judiciary are being carried out.

Due to the complicated and heterogeneous nature of the current political crisis, I thought it best to provide a brief summary of the depressing state of affairs by situating the main actors, institutions and concerns within context. In following articles, I will provide more detail on specific aspects/ issues like; background on the Gulen Movement; the state of the Judiciary and concerns with regards to the balance of power; potential impact on upcoming elections; AKP’s reaction to the corruption graft, and so on.

Personal opinions of political figures is a balancing act gone wrong: AKP conservative remarks exacerbates encroachments on freedom of lifestyles in Turkey

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This article details a current example where statements made by leading AKP figures have raised concerns over the state’s interference in individual life choices.  

More generally though, the question of whether political figures are entitled to acts of freedom of speech – in terms of voicing personal opinions- is a more difficult question to answer. Whilst from a fundamental rights perspective I might be inclined to argue in favour, the reality is that the conservative remarks constantly posed by AKP officials result in the preferential treatment of certain ways of life, namely those that match a conservative lifestyle in line with Islamic teachings. They are hardly benign words of wisdom since they can lead to neighbourhood pressure and conformist behaviour. Therefore, on matters of individual choice, it is immensely irresponsible for people like the Prime Minister and Ministers of the whole nation to make positive remarks on the personal living habits of certain citizens at the expense of others.

Latest example:  objection to mixed-sex student accommodation

During a closed door meeting with AKP deputies on November 3rd, PM Erdogan condemned female and male students’ living under one roof, vowing to take measures against such instances. The argument was made over the province of Denizli where the PM has instructed the Denizli governor to “investigate” the matter.

Whilst some AKP figures like Bülent Arınç -Erdoğan’s Deputy PM- or Yalçın Akdoğan – chief advisor –  have made statements that try to cover up what was said in an attempt to salvage what has turned into a massive criticism of the AKP, Erdoğan has kept up his polarising and authoritarian  style, insisting upon regulating the living spaces of unmarried mix sex students. Out of all places, whilst on a state visit to Finland, Erdoğan explained that the government was already on a mission to “segregate” girls’ and boys’ buildings in dormitories operated by the state, adding that this segregation had already been completed in around three quarters of all dorms. The most striking parts of his speech reads, “It’s not clear what is going on in these places. They are all mixed up, anything can happen. As a conservative democratic government, we have to intervene as this is against our principles. In these places, there is intelligence received by our security forces, the police department and the governorates. Acting upon this intelligence, our governors are intervening in these situations.

Highlighting the absurdity of these charges and that such anxieties emanate from religious sensitivities, Interior Minister Güler has argued that many of these apartments harbour terror and other illegal activities, such as prostitution.. Hence, in line with Erdoğan’s recommendation to enact laws to interfere in private lives, the issue is simplistically being portrayed as one of security… I would also like to highlight that currently, under Anti-Terror laws and the Turkish Penal Code, there are around 2,800 incarcerated students. If legislated, all that this law will do is to increase that number.

Right now, Turkey is a country very close to local elections (2014) followed by Presidential elections and National Elections in quick succession. In this climate, PM Erdoğan has decided that his personal rulership in Turkey is conditioned on polarising the population, homogenising the opinions of a certain collective opinion and commanding their allegience. The 50% vote gained in the 2011 elections doesn’t really benefit anyone because it has allowed Erdoğan to see politics as a 50%-50% game. As long as he has his 50%, the rest is a medley of voters that are trivialised. This is precisely why the Gezi Demonstrations were completely misunderstood and abused by what I can only describe as AKP hubris. Anyway, the point is that Erdoğan’s rhetoric is getting harder by the day.

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This weeks cover of Penguin – a weekly comics magazine

On the issue of personal opinion

The AKP assures us that the party does not intervene in the life choices of ordinary citizens. This statement is made over and over again. Only days before this latest blunder, Erdoğan said, “There is certainly no polarization in Turkey and… no interference in people’s lifestyles [by the government]”.   The problem is, the AKP continuously falls back on arguments of legality, stating for example that there is no law inhibiting mix-sex unmarried citizens to live under the same roofs as consenting adults. At the same time, both Erdoğan and other critically influential AKP politicians make personal remarks on a daily basis that have dire repercussions.

For example, Hüseyin Çelik was interviewed last night where he spoke on the recent issue. On the one side, he reiterated that a state governed by the rule of law is bound to the principle of legality not legitimacy, meaning that only illegal practices were quashed by the state. On the other, Çelik made 5 statements in a single interview where he confessed his personal conviction as a Muslim did not allow him to permit his adult daughter to live with another male, or that he personally did not condone atheism, or other organised religions. Çelik defends himself and the AKP by saying that no one is holding a gun to citizens’ heads and telling them how to behave.

The question though is, isn’t legal interventions an intervention regardless? Within the AKP rhetoric, there is a deliberate lack of a nuanced understanding on manufacturing consent and obedience. The party doesn’t shy from admitting that it wants to “raise a conservative, religious generation”, but denies societal engineering through public statements like the case in hand. Similarly, practices that are seen to be morally superior (a pious youth) are encouraged through the catering of optional religious classes whilst culturally local customs – like alcohol consumption- that are deemed morally bankrupt are restricted and contained.

To drive the point home, lets not forget that a TV host was fired because in Çelik’s ‘personal opinion’, which he chose to voice on television , the TV host’s dress was showing too much flesh. So how are TV anchors who want to keep their jobs likely to dress from now on?

Similarly, there have been numerous reports that show certain administrations or individual citizens  have taken Erdoğan’s statements on the current issue as an edict. For example, two students renting a flat in a residential building in Üskudar have been singled out by residents of the building. A note that read “there are boy-girl residents in the building that live together. This type of behaviour is not appropriate in this building. When you see such people, denounce them to the police” was placed at the entrance. On an administrative level, Adana’s governor Hüseyin Avni Coş described Erdoğan’s statements as a ‘standing order’ and stated that “taking the necessary precautions for our children, our legacy to the future, to grow up in accord with our national and cultural heritage and with our moral values is our constitutional duty.”

During the ‘post-modern coup’ period around 1997-98, the military forced the Refah (political Islamist party) led coalition to step down. The images that are engrained in our collective memory from that period is of police conducting raids to houses linked to the cemaat and religious organisations, manufacturing negative publicity and placing pressure on segments of society that were pious.

I don’t want to sound cynical but last week we were talking of the right of women MPs to enter parliament with headscarves. Something that I fully stand for and always have, as do most people nowadays in Turkey. On this issue, there is no divide over conservative or non-conservative thought. More like, the political bulwark, the dominant discourse favours religious emancipation. But today, Erdoğan, Hüseyin Çelik and other AKP leaders are discussing whether it is ok for men and women to live under the same roof. They state that it is anthitethical to their conservative democratic ethos. On the one side, the AKP are pushing for equality in the public realm for one collective identity, whilst interfering into freedoms deep in individual’s private sphere.

People are free to live with whom they choose, and to have sex with whom they choose. The proposal to introduce law enforcement into the most sacred and personal of spaces, people’s homes, because a conservative government is distressed that young and unmarried kids might be having sex, falling in love and interacting in ways their parent’s generation did not is indefensible.

School Principles to be removed for not punishing students in support of the Gezi Demonstrations

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Inspectors from Ankara’s Provincial Directorate for National Education have recently completed their report on the Gezi Park demonstrations.

46 school principles and vice-principles are to be removed from their posts for “not penalising students who took part in the Gezi Protests” and “overlooking students taking part in the protests”. The Directorate said that it would consult with the local offices before it passed judgement. Realistically though, this means that it is a done deal.

It should be reminded that the Metropolitan Education Office had started investigations into hundreds of teachers for abetting or overlooking students who took part in the protests, in Ankara as well as elsewhere. During the investigations the police had reportedly shown Police recorded footage to teachers/principles and asked if any of the protesters were students at their institution. Moreover, student/teacher social network feeds were also analysed.

Now that the sentences for principles have been given, a similar process is underway to skim out teachers who have been in support of protests or uncooperative with the authorities in terms of the Gezi Protests.

The Directorate of Education would have us believe that the probe was launched at the request of students’ parents. Such a statement is shameless in its extent of insulting one’s intellect. These investigations are not isolated to institutions of education. Similar investigations were carried out in TRT (national TV/Radio Broadcast) or against civil servants in the Judiciary. Over 70 journalists have been fired, public celebrities like actors have been targeted, an imam who refuted the AKP’s claims was fired.. Even doctors were targeted whilst the hippocratic oath was overruled in the zealous attempts at deligitimising the protests. The list goes on…

Is Ankara’s ODTÜ becoming Istanbul’s Gezi: “Everywhere is ODTU, everywhere is resistance!

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The international media has turned its gazing eye away from Turkey after the street battles ignited over the demolition of Gezi Park gradually died out. Since late August however, the proposed construction of a motorway in Ankara that runs roughly parallel to the ODTÜ (Middle East Technical University) campus – partially through its forests – and two residential neighbourhoods has provoked similar reactions from communities not only in Ankara, but also worried citizens in other urban centres including but not limited to Istanbul and Izmir.

The resemblance between what happened in Gezi Park and what is now happening in Ankara is worryingly close. On this note, EU’s envoy to Turkey has also voiced concerns that “some people have not learned their lessons”.

It is important to stress that the Gezi Park demonstrations garnered its initial support due to the illegal nature of the construction. Constructions in the Park had started before a legal warrant had been obtained. Similarly, the motorway project that runs through two neighbourhoods and a forest within ODTÜ grounds that constitutes an environmental protection site can not go ahead before the Environmental Protection Council and the Archeological Preservation Council provide a report to the Ministry, the Council of State approve the construction, and the legal appeals are finalised by the courts. Although this process has not been finalised, the construction work is well under way amidst strong opposition.

In both cases, it is the attitude of the authorities, their complete disregard for formal and legally binding ways of conduct, their vitriolic disapproval of reasonable dissent that is causing such deep resentment. In short, the local municipalities are acting as if they are above the law.

Brief background on the motorway project and resistance against it: 

For many years now, Ankara’s Governor Melih Gökçek has commented on occasion about his desire to construct a road through the ODTÜ campus. This plan was finally announced and it became clear that the Ankara municipality would be constructing a motorway that runs along the ODTU university campus and actually through the 100. Yıl and Çiğdem neighbourhoods. This project was announced in mid/late August and immediately provoked dissent from the residents of the two neighbourhoods affected and students of ODTÜ university.

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In response to the motorway project, residents of the neighbourhoods and ODTÜ students started holding protests in late August. Right next to the ongoing construction site, tents were erected and protest were organised by the 100. Yıl Initiative, the Çayyolu Üç Fidan Park Forum and the Anıtpark Forum, mainly constituting ODTÜ students.

The protests have intensified since Sept. 6. The police’s repeated interventions into protests with water cannons and tear gas has also stirred supporting protests across the country over the past few weeks. On the other hand, students and activists have been resisting the police, often using fireworks in response to tear gas.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pjvOc0iTwk4

Its worth pointing out that the motorway construction is a separate issue to the proposed construction of another road that actually cuts right across (East-West) ODTÜ grounds. The motorway project is one that builds a road between Anadolu Boulevard and the Konya Highway on the North-East corner of the campus. 

The road project was given the go-ahead by the university’s administration despite ODTÜ’s forest being a declared “SİT” area, meaning that it is a protected site where construction is forbidden, following a Ministry of Culture ruling in 1995. However, the university had no alternative in the matter since the road has been a part of the zonal planning documents that go back over 20 years and are binding.

ODTÜ said the ministry notified the university about the modified redevelopment plan on Oct. 11 and the university administration told authorities not to act to implement the plan because ODTÜ had some reservations about the modified plan. ODTÜ said they had one month to object to the proposed plan and Ankara Metropolitan Municipality officials assured the university that they would not act before receiving the university’s objections.

Police and construction workers raid ODTU campus and uproot 3000 trees over night

Although such assurances were given, road construction teams and heavy duty machines entered the ODTÜ campus around 10 p.m. on the night of Oct. 18, the last day of the Feast of Sacrifice. Around 3000 trees were hacked down by construction workers under the protection of police whilst the sudden start of the road construction triggered a protest as demonstrators gathered via social media calls. Although officials claim that 600 pine trees were repotted elsewhere, it doesn’t take a botanist to deduce that such statements are a last ditch attempt at saving face.

Police resorted to the usual tear gas treatment to disperse protesting groups. Clashes went on until the early hours of the morning where the whole campus was engulfed in tear gas, including areas which hold student halls of residence. (link in Turkish)

In response to the violation of ODTÜ campus, the Rector’s office has published a statement which details exactly how the Ankara Metropolitan Municipality have disregarded the rule of law and state that they are pressing charges.

The construction work within the ODTÜ campus started on October 18th, but parts of the road that are outside university grounds have been ongoing since late August.

On October 21, a group of students and residents who opposed the uprooting of trees went and repotted saplings where the road was being constructed. In response to the protests, the construction worker thugs attacked the protesters. Police were late on the scene..

Shortly after, our beloved PM Erdoğan took centre stage stating that “we would even demolish a mosque to build a road…Everything can be sacrificed for roads, because roads are civilisation. But those who are not civilised do not know the roads’ value. In our values, roads do not recognise any obstacle.” 

Resons for opposition

In a written statement, (link in turkish) the inhabitants of 100. Yıl and Çiğden stressed their opposition to the project. The road that is being built is an 8 lane highway that is expected to carry 40,000 vehicles daily. Of this road, 4km runs directly through the neighbourhoods of 100. Yıl and Çiğdem. The residents are rightfully worried of air and noise pollution. They demand that the potential damages such a motorway would have on their health to be researched before the construction gets underway.

Secondly, the statement makes specific objection to the pontifical attitude of the municipality. The municipal authority sees a city plagued by traffic congestion. Their solution is the construction of a new road. Their way of actualising the project however is deeply flawed. Not only is the municipality not consulting those who will be most affected by the construction, they are also acting out of accordance with the due-process-of-law: the construction has not waited for the approval from councils or for the legal appeals to be heard. In terms of entering ODTÜ by force, the Rector’s Office has stated that the forced entry into private property is also a breach of their rights.

Apart from the grievances of the residents, the ODTÜ foot of the project has caused opposition from the university due to environmental concerns. ODTÜ’s leafy campus is one of the greenest areas of Ankara and has become an oasis of trees in recent years, after a construction boom in the surrounding area that also increased the traffic volume. The road project requires the destruction of around 3,000 trees, not to mention that about 400m of the proposed road comprises an environmental protection site (SİT), which holds precedence over zoning plans for infrastructure constructions. In short, the 1995 decision declaring the forests a protected site overrules the 1994 zonal planning documents which draw planning for a road through the forest. This is legally binding under laws 2863 and 5226.

Symbolically, what drives the attitude of the authorities home is their choice in uprooting the trees and starting its construction works in the dead of night only hours after the national holiday had technically ended. The fact that ODTÜ were not informed of the plan to enter their property for construction work is also seen to be in bad faith.

Melih Gökçek: Master Provocateur

The tension between the authorities and the communities are greatly exacerbated at every turn due to the provocative attitude of the municipality and governor Melih Gökçek in specific. For example, Gökçek had targeted academics at ODTÜ stating, “200 trees will be relocated. Some agitators are goading the masses. According to the incriminating evidence given to us, these agitators are Prof. Ali Gökmen from ODTÜ’s Department of Chemistry and his wife”.

To give another example, the morning after the midnight dozer raid into ODTÜ property, Gökçek wrote on his twitter account: “Last night our friends surprised me as well. They managed to open the ODTU road in one night. May it bring good fortune to Ankara…”

Just to contextualise -should I say de-contextualise- what this action amounts to, this is a succinct metaphor that I found circulating on the issue:

“Consider that the city of Boston decided to build a highway running right through the MIT Campus. And consider that, instead of waiting for the legal procedures to finalise and appeals to be resolved etc., they attack the MIT campus in the middle of the night on Christmas day with an army of heavy construction machinery and workers, along with hundreds of police officers dressed in riot gear, gassing and beating anybody protesting their actions all over the MIT campus, students, professors, ordinary citizens, all the same.  This is exactly what is happening at the Middle Eastern Technical University, Turkey’s top university.”

Turkish Court refers to “alleged Gezi Protest”

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In the second Gezi Park court case underway in Mersin, 52 defendants are being tried for taking part in 2 protest marches on the 20th and 30th of June. The indictment was written by a prosecuting attorney by the name of Cihat Gezmen.

Gezmen’s report states that the defendants were “allegedly protesting against the Taksim Gezi Park construction works”. In other words, the official indictment does not even concede the actuality of a disenchanted body of citizens resisting against state oppression.

Whats more, one protester’s (Osman Yılmaz) statements directed at the police during the protests where he said “this is our constitutional right. Allow for us to walk to Peace Square so the people’s anger can be vented. On such a day, we don’t want hateful images in Mersin” were recorded as criminal evidence against him.

Another protester’s (Ali Sesal) tweets were judged in the light of “summons via Facebook and Twitter for an illegal protest”.

The defendants are being tried for; contesting the Law on Demonstrations and Public Meetings (Law 2911); damaging public property; insulting public servants; resisting the police and taking part in a public meeting with weapons.

Excuse my cynicism (not that I’m refuting the possibility of the presence of those with weapons) but in the context of the Gezi protests, the courts have been treating gas masks and constructions helmets as weapons.

What bothers me most is the way in which the term ‘allegedly’ (sözde) creeps into official indictments which holds long lasting effects in terms of delegitimising certain existing actualities.

Only in an allegedly legitimate mandate and an alleged democracy can words like “right to public assembly is a constitutional right” be registered and used against a citizen as criminal evidence…

The curtain finally rises: PM Erdoğan announces the long awaited ‘Democracy Package’

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DERYA LAWRENCE 3 October 2013

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The package contains important but limited improvements. What it leaves out, however, may be its most significant feature, alongside the presentation.

In a press statement made on September 30, PM Erdoğan disclosed the long awaited package of reforms addressing democratic concerns. Discussions on which areas of democratic governance would be strengthened via the package and which issues might be left out has occupied the domestic agenda for quite some time.

To facilitate meaningful democratic reforms that allow for democratic reflexes to grow roots, it is not enough to amend a bunch of laws that are current practise in democratic governance. Internalising its underlying ethos is as important as the formal changes.

Unfortunately, reading between the lines and contextualising issues that are included/excluded, the timing of the package, and the way in which the package was drafted and launched highlights once again that although ‘deepening democracy’ has always been an important part of the AKP’s pragmatist political campaign, the AKP’s paternal instincts and its fondness for authoritarian governance remain as strong as ever.

Who is the democratic package intended for?

In general, the proposed amendments show that the guiding mindset in the writing of the package has been preoccupied with the Kurdish Peace Process. To bring readers up to date, in the last round of peace talks between the government and the PKK (March 21), the action plan was drafted as a ‘three tier process’.

In the first instance, the PKK were expected to withdraw from Turkish territories. Secondly, a process of democratisation where the Turkish state would concede much required fundamental rights and freedoms vis-a-vis the nation’s Kurdish population would be implemented via legal amendments. The third and final step would be a normalisation of relations.

Recently, the peace talks were branded as a dead end street due to frustrations on both sides. While the government criticised the PKK for not sticking to its end of the bargain, PKK withdrawal brought things to a halt on September 9 on the basis that the government was dragging its feet in implementing democratic reforms. The agreed deadline for the reform package was indeed September 1. The construction and fortification of military outposts in hostile eastern provinces in June was another issue that the PKK saw as a betrayal on the part of the government.

Hence, the package announced on Monday is primarily an attempt to pull back on track a derailed peace process and a statement on the part of the government that it is committed to the peace accords.

Furthermore, the protests that raged throughout the summer months across Turkey – reports state that protests were held in 79 cities out of 81 – were embraced by a multitude of identities encapsulating Alevis, Anti-Capitalist Muslims, Armenians, Kurds, Nationalists, Seculars and LGBT activists alike, with the overarching demand of more democracy and more freedom. As such, this democratic package should also be seen as a response to the demands of the Gezi Movement. In short, the unveiling of this democratic package was unavoidable on both counts: prolonging its announcement any longer would have amounted to political suicide.

General reception, benefits and shortcomings

Undoubtedly, there will be those who find the package satisfactory. Deputy PM Bülent Arınç is of the opinion that ‘75%’ of the population is satisfied. It must also be stated that any expansion of democratic avenues is a beneficial development and there are many provisions in the package that expand on democratic governance in areas of political rights and fundamental rights and freedoms.

The amendment that lifts the ban on headscarves in all public institutions apart for the army, police and judiciary is a positive democratic reform. The creation of a cultural institute and language courses for Roma Communities is a very progressive step, even if it is only a beginning. The re-instatement of the Mor Gabriel Monastery to the Assyrian Community is another example of a positive step taken to safeguard the human rights of minorities.

However, the BDP (Kurdish political party) have already stated that the democracy package is inadequate in terms of the expansion of rights and freedoms for Kurds. As far as they are concerned, the proposed changes are mere breadcrumbs and don’t tackle root problems.

Education in the mother tongue, reduced to private schools only, is not a large enough step forward, given that the AKP had already allowed for private language schools to teach Kurdish through legal amendments in 2002.

More importantly, although part of the package allows villages, though not districts or provinces, to   be re-named with their Kurdish names, and Kurds will be able to procure ID cards with more accurate spelling of their proper names, the ongoing insistence on a highly centralised political system turns a deaf ear to Kurdish demands for local governance. Essentially the centralist, controlling mindset of Turkish rule remains intact. And of course the largest shortcoming for the Kurdish cause has been the lack of reform of a Turkish Penal Code that has put thousands of Kurdish activists behind bars (the KCK trials).

Similarly, through discussions on social network sites, it would appear that the sections of Turkish society who were active during the Gezi Demonstrations and who have also been calling for an expansion of individual rights and freedom, are equally dissatisfied.

During his long preamble, Erdoğan states that “The attitude that turns a deaf ear to the needs, demands and cries of citizens, but which absorbs them without trace is gone. There is no longer a government that exerts authority in public, or one that turns public spaces into a living hell against citizens who don’t act according the government’s definition of correctness”. This statement could also be turned on its head to describe the reception of some of the AKP’s conservative policies among the public eg. issues around alcohol restrictions and abortion rights – key provocations behind the recent waves of protests.

The package includes only a miniscule amendment to the law that regulates freedom of assembly and an extra hour for protests if and when permission for the protest has been granted in the first place…

At face value, the provisions that strengthen the protection of individual life-styles and discrimination from hate speech are also positive but they contain hidden dangers. Hate speech should never be allowed, but if the amendment is used as a legal platform to punish undesired criticisms, then freedom of expression will suffer even more. I highlight this as a danger because recently, there have been a number of cases where individuals have been persecuted for hate speech under the rubric of desecrating religious values. On the other hand, life-styles that are deemed ‘inappropriate’ by individuals with hardline religious beliefs are openly discussed as such on state channels and private channels alike, without triggering a response from the courts. In particular there was no mention of hate speech and crimes against members of the LGBT community.

One of the largest shortcomings of the package is in relation to a lack of provisions that relate to the demands of the Alevi (Shiite) community towards claiming the same rights as other citizens. The Alevis demand the right to have their spaces of prayer (Cemevi) officially recognised. They also reject compulsory courses on religion (exclusively Sunni), administered by the exclusively Sunni Directorate of Religious Affairs. There was no movement on any of these points. The only amendment in relation to the Alevi Community was the thoroughly cosmetic change in the name of one University, this after all the bragging about naming the third bridge in Istanbul after an ancestor who massacred Alevis.

There are a very lengthy list of issues that were not included in this ‘democracy package’. To mention just a few of the most pressing concerns voiced in recent days;

–  The issue of the ‘Special Authority Courts’ was ignored.

–  No amnesty was given to political prisoners that include political activists, journalists and MPs and long detention periods were not responded to.

–  Obstacles to the democratisation of politics inherent in the Turkish Penal Code, the Anti-Terror Law or the Law on Police Duties and Powers were not addressed.

–  Limitations placed on local governance mechanisms which are part of international accords were not lifted.

–  Although the Assyrian Church reclaimed the Mor Gabrial Monastery, the Ecumenical Orthodox Church and the Halki Seminary were left out.

Democracy designed behind closed doors

PM Erdoğan’s press conference intended to unveil this democracy package lasted 67 minutes, of which 44 were targeted against the opposition party, the ‘non-democrats’ and any potential future criticisms against the package.

Not only were journalists not allowed to ask questions, but journalists who the government sees as critical to its party were not even invited. This in its own way is as important an indicator to the true health of democracy in Turkey: the presentation of the package is as important as the contents.

The message one gets is that however much Turkey democratises, the choice of areas selected for democratisation is at the mercy of Prime Minister Erdoğan. After all, another criticism levelled against the preparation of the package was the lack of consultation with different parts of society, which received a dismissal en passant from Erdoğan – pre-emptively – who said during his speech that from, “ those afraid of change, innovation and high standards” he only expected “denigration along the lines of the ‘mountain having given birth to a molehill’”. The PM also made it clear that he wasn’t seeking the backing of the opposition. On the contrary, he once again deliberately placed the CHP in the crosshairs.

In short, the package falls short of addressing the central demands of the Kurds and Alevis and is therefore unlikely to reduce tensions and create the conditions for societal peace. Similarly, by not tackling the underlying illiberal and undemocratic governance traditions, those who have been demonstrating against the government with clear and explicit demands, are not likely to be impressed either.

Not all is bad though. I think it is important not to underestimate the fact that this is the first time a reform package has been published without the pressure of outside forces. The meaning and significance of this is great because it throws the spotlight on a deep-rooted societal demand for democratic reform which is not going to go away.

Where Turkish politics meets football: AKP’s offside goal against ‘Çarşı’

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DERYA LAWRENCE 28 September 2013

The derby match between Besiktas and Galatasaray that was played in Istanbul was abandoned at the 90+2nd minute after an eruption of violence resulted in a pitch invasion. Foreign papers and local news reports alike have concentrated their coverage on the presence of violence without really probing the consequences or the underlying reasons why this event took place in the first place. Conveniently, we have also stopped questioning issues surrounding the AKP’s recent conduct or the ‘democracy package’ that the AKP have been promising to announce for the past 3 weeks.

Right after the game, the social media – including comments from AKP deputies and associates -was riddled with attacks against ‘ÇARŞI’, the fan group of the Beşiktaş football club. Thus, it is evident that ÇARŞI are being painted as the culprits of the pitch invasion and violence of the Sunday game. However, since Beşiktaş will now be banned from having supporters present at its games, the ‘losing side’ of the incident is also ÇARŞI and the wider Beşiktaş fan base, a clear contradiction in terms.

To highlight the inadequacies in this account of events, that a bunch of Beşiktaş supporters got frustrated by a player being booked and raided the pitch, you have to appreciate something of the climate in which the football season has kicked off, and in particular, ÇARŞI’s centrality in the protest movement against the AKP throughout the summer months in Turkey.

The recent politicisation of sports in Turkey

In the post-Gezi Park occupation climate, Turkey has truly become a police state. Independent of any argument for or against the need for a police presence and their conduct, their sheer presence and encroachment on daily life in urban Istanbul is a simple fact of life. There are tens of police vans and thousands of riot police stationed 24/7 in central locations around Istanbul. Moreover, they conduct bag searches at will and end up tear gassing up and down residential neighborhoods more often than not.

PM Erdoğan had announced that a series of measures would be taken to prevent stadiums and university campuses from becoming major protest venues as the football season and the academic year was about to begin. In relation to politics and sport, a series of statements were made that announced measures such as; the outlawing of political chants at stadiums; the replacement of private security officers with policemen; breathalyser testing; profiling etc..

Following the crackdown on Gezi Park and the dispersal of demonstrators, as a public space where citizens congregate, football stadiums have indeed become spaces where citizens voiced their support for the Gezi demonstrations and their protest against the AKP regime. The chant “Everywhere is Taksim, everywhere is resistance” was echoed in all first week Turkish league fixtures in late August. To a lesser degree, these chants are still ongoing.

I say to a lesser degree because prior to the start of the season, the Interior Minister warned that politically motivated chants were illegal at football games, giving an indication as to what those bold enough to raise their voices in opposition to the AKP publicly could expect. At another point, in the context of politically motivated chants at stadiums, the Minister of Sports stated that Turkey had been combating terrorism for 30 odd years and that they would not shy away now. These examples go to show the government’s preference for using the stick and treating its own frustrated citizens as terrorists. Very fitting when considering all along the issue has been a lack of democratic governance.

The conservative clampdown of the AKP with regards to alcohol restrictions were also initiated in September, including breathalyser tests at football stadiums that result in the barring of supporters who are ‘found guilty’ of being over the alcohol limit. A new electronic ticketing system has also been introduced at stadiums which involves the monitoring and profiling of football fans. In sum, football has been a pain to watch (live and on screen) with the ridiculous number of police present at all matches since the beginning of the 2013-2014 league and all the invasive measures taken to ‘depoliticise’ football.

Most games have created some sort of newsworthy headline one way or another. Either through LigTV’s – the TV provider of the Turkish League – complicit support of the AKP government by muting the voice of fans at the stadium chanting against the government, or through reports that highlight the tension amongst supporters that were in support/opposition of the AKP.

All in all, the AKP are indeed to blame for bringing politics into football through measures that they  have taken to profile supporters, crack down on the opposition and marginalise opposition groups. This latest incident at the derby game and the scapegoating of ÇARŞI is precisely an attempt at punishing a body that has been vocal against the AKP. 

ÇARŞI and the derby game 

The Beşiktaş’s supporter group ‘ÇARŞI’ was one of the most vocal bodies to have stood up in support of the Gezi protests and the whole movement against the AKP from the beginning. Needless to say, the authorities have been eager to contain ÇARŞI. This was already highlighted through the arrest of numerous ÇARŞI members in the very first waves when the ‘mastermind’ culprits behind the Gezi movement were being ‘unearthed’ in the witch-hunt that started in June.

I wasn’t at the football game on Sunday. I wasn’t even in Istanbul. However, testimonies from people who were at the stadium and reports from the media highlight very clearly the unique conditions at the game on Sunday. Although security at stadiums have been upped due to a general increase in police presence at public places, only 500 policemen and 1500 private security guards were commissioned for the derby game. In the run up to the game, newspapers reported on a national record high attendance for the game where over 77,000 tickets were sold.

In comparison, at another derby on August 18 between Galatasaray and Fenerbahçe (played in Kayseri), 2000 policemen and 1000 security officers were commissioned. I’m not trying to defend high levels of police at stadiums as the way to tackle any problem, but I do find it puzzling that the authorities would commission less police for a vastly larger crowd which has been known to be the most vocal critic of the government.

Moreover, whereas the police had taken over the responsibility for physical searches and screenings for football fans entering the stadium in the afore-mentioned derby game in mid-August, searches for the derby on Sunday were lax to say the least. Many first hand accounts mention the surprising lack of any real body searches that have accompanied other league games this season.

Then there was the recent creation of an alternative Beşiktaş supporter group called ‘1453’ (the year Istanbul was conquered – very neo-Ottoman). Mehmet Baransu from Taraf Newspaper elaborates on traces on the internet that highlight links between AKP’s youth organisations and this new 1453 Beşiktaş group. Moreover, on his Facebook page, one of the AKP’s youth leaders is careless enough to boast how he got free tickets for the game and was personally one of the first to invade the pitch.

So what does this all mean? 

On the one hand, a police force that has been extensively used at sports events were withdrawn or ‘under-represented’ for the most packed game in Turkish football history. On the other, free tickets were given to members of an alternative Beşiktaş supporter group that was formed in opposition specifically in relation to ÇARŞI’s Anti-AKP stance. This group was seated right in front of the pitch and were one of the first groups onto the pitch.

What is most important is the apparent link between the AKP and ‘1453’, which suggests that the AKP had a hand in attempts at placing a wedge amongst Beşiktaş supporters. Regardless of ‘1453’, ÇARŞI or any organised group, a football game where over 80,000 people were present was cancelled because there was an invasion of the pitch by men hurling plastic seats and wielding lethal weapons. (Add to the mix the fact that local elections are coming up and that the campaign is well under way with transportation promotion adverts on every billboard)

Beşiktaş will now be banned from playing in front of its supporters, meaning no more anti-AKP chants. As far as the AKP are concerned, this is a positive outcome. There is an upcoming fixture where Beşiktaş play Rize Spor in Erdoğan’s hometown. Then there is of course the Istanbul games in Kasımpaşa. Whichever way you look at it , this looks like bending the rules of the game to say the least, and it may still have to be counted as an ‘offside goal’.

Ismail Er’s Facebook messages:

Ismail Er tweets

ismail er

The screenshot taken from a dialogue on Facebook between Ismail Er, his brother Murat Er and a third person (Caner Çelik) confirms the claims that the Beşiktaş group called ‘1453’ were behind the pitch invasion and that Ismail Er was part of the first group that ignited the pitch invasion.
The dialogue reads as follows:
“Caner Celik: Did you go onto the pitch as well Ismail?”
“Ismail Er: Yes I did brother but I left soon after. Either way it was our stand that went onto the pitch first”
“Murat Er: Our 1453 lads hit the pitch strong. Çarşı didn’t understand what hit them. Now we are on the scene :))”
“Ismail Er: Exactly brother”.
The second screenshot has a profile photograph taken from the AKP’s website that shows Ismail Er as the AKP’s Küçükçekmece (in Istanbul) district youth organisation president. Moreover, a photo taken in front of an AKP campaigning bus confirms his affiliation. Through statements made on Facebook, Ismail Er states that he got the match tickets for free (they were handed out to him) and that he invaded the pitch with a weapon.
The underlined texts are  involuntary confessions made by Ismail Er as to his involvement in the pitch invasion. The texts read as follows;
“Ismail Er: I went onto the pitch with Donner Kebab blades”
“Ismail Er: The tickets were free, what could we do”
Whereas the first facebook correspondence confirms the involvement of ‘1453’ group members in the pitch invasion, the second correspondences and Ismail Er’s credentials highlight an apparent link between the AKP and 1453. The fact that an AKP youth leader is in posession of free tickets to a game and is one of the first people to invade the pitch are the strongest indicators

Ministry of Environment and City Planning bans studio flats

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The Ministry of Environment and City Planning have revised the standards regulating building constructions. The new regulation that was published in the Official Gazette of the Turkish Republic on September 8 has illegalised the construction of studio (1+0) flats. Amongst other things, the regulation states minimum requirements with regards the dimensions of individual rooms to be built within flats. As such, building contractors are now forced to build separate spaces for bedrooms and living rooms.

In July, Istanbul’s Pendik municipality had banned the construction of 1+1 flats for “not appealing to families and damaging neighbourly relations”. Whilst these regulations might seem innocent at first glance, they are yet another way in which the AKP insist on societal engineering and encroach on specific lifestyles.

This legislation has followed on the heels of governmental criticisms against ‘bachelor lifestyles’ and complaints that small flats are against the fabric of family values. The government’s increasing interference in citizens’s lifestyles was a central trigger for the Gezi Protests and exemplified by the abortion debate and the new law restricting the sale of alcohol. The regulation of living spaces is yet another locus which highlights the conservative AKP’s disregard for cultural difference.

Daily Newspaper Yeni Şafak caught fabricating Noam Chomsky Interview

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Noam Chomsky declaring his solidarity with the anti-AKP protests in Turkey

On August 26, Yeni Safak published an email interview conducted by reporter Burcu Bulut with Noam Chomsky. On Friday, Chomsky published the contents of the email interview with questions and answers on his personal website, revelaling the stark difference between Chomsky’s published text and the interview published in Yeni Şafak.

Bulut reproached the initial criticisms levelled against her, complaining of being the target of a smear campaign. Later, Yeni Safak released a statement admitting to plagiarism in “three sentences”: “We saw a mass resistance, made up of Morsi supporters, which moved with a longing of democracy,” “The tragedy of Asma, the massacred daughter of senior Muslim Brotherhood politician Mohammad al-Beltagy, cannot be forgotten” and “Lebanon and Tunisia are also at the cannon’s end”. Thorough the statement, Yeni Safak nevertheless insisted that the criticisms leveled against the paper were ideologically driven.

According to the Newspaper’s version of events, an email with 23-24 questions were sent to Chomsky. He gave short answers that would not suffice for a first page piece at the paper. So, a second set of questions were sent to Chomsky which don’t appear in the transcript published by himself. Reporter Bulut is claiming that ChomsKy must have forgotten about the second set of Q&As…

In reality, it is clear that not only did the paper mistranslate Chomsky to change the meaning of what he was saying to suit the ideological message the paper wanted to give, but half the stuff that Chomsky allegedly said did not exist in the first place!

The grammar of the second set of questions and answers (from the transcript published by Yeni Safak) are so appalling that it is embarrassing the newspaper would actually expect people to believe those words were written by Chomsky, let alone anyone. It is blatant that an online translator was used to translate a text from Turkish to English. The original is often unintelligible and includes a Turkish idiom that was translated into English literally.

So Chomsky allegedly says, “This complexity in the Middle East, do you think the Western states flapping because of this chaos? Contrary to what happens when everything that milk port, enters the work order, then begins to bustle in the West. I’ve seen the plans works. We’re going through a difficult period.”

Beyond the issue of grammar, the interview itself is riddled with conspiracy theories about the military coup in Egypt and the current developments in the Middle East. It is pro- Turkish foreign policy through and through…

To give one example, Chomsky said, “Erdogan harshly condemned the coup and voiced strong support for the Muslim Brotherhood. And in Syria has been supporting the highly fragmented and complex rebel opposition. In both cases I think more nuanced approaches are appropriate.” Yeni Safak translated this as, “Turkey stood by the oppressed  not the oppressor. Turkey has suffered from dictatorships, coups and single man rule. The response of Turkey [to Egypt] as a country that has lost countless lives for similar reasons is understandable.” 

In another part of the interview, Chomsky allegedly said Turkey is a powerful country and that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is a charismatic leader. He reportedly added that Turkey is the only nation in the Middle East that connects the West and the East. “It is a good mediator as well as a Muslim and deeply democratic country,” Chomsky reportedly said.

Make no mistake that this Chomsky interview incident is a scandal added to a long list of examples that go well beyond ‘journalistic irresponsibility’. Newspapers in Turkey have either become the mouth piece of the AKP government publishing lies and fake interviews as a part of the propaganda machine or sources of non-factual anti-AKP rebuttals based on ideological positions.

I’d like to remind that another pro-government newspaper had published a fake Amampour (CNN Anchor) intervirew where she had allegedly admitted to covering the Gezi protests in Turkey “on behalf of business interests that wanted to hurt the country’s economy.”

In short, the political polarisation in Turkey has reduced the quality of journalism so far down the drain that the number of articles which live up to international standards is close to zero.

Turkey: the ‘Intelligence State’

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110620131610335083625_4This piece is about the way in which the AKP government, through its use of the National Intelligence Unit (MIT) and the Police Intelligence unit has turned profiling into a standardised practice that has gone as far as becoming contractualised through the signing of protocols.

I will start with the article that was published in Taraf Daily Newspaper on the 10th June which reported that the MIT have been busy illegally collecting data about Turkish citizens and profiling them on databases. According to the article, MIT forced the Turkish Postal Services (PTT), the Education Ministry, Turkish Airlines (THY), the Social Security Institution (SGK) and the Banking Regulation and Supervision Agency (BDDK) to sign protocols on sharing information of individuals who ‘make use of the services’ of these institutions, which experts and jurists have said is a violation of individual freedoms and the right to privacy.

Never mind that, government is working on a quick fix: a new law will grant the MIT special powers to legally keep tabs on everyone who goes to school in Turkey, anyone who has a bank account, or anyone who uses the postal service to name only 3 institutions.

A couple of days later, Mehmet Baransu, the same journalist from Taraf revealed that the profiling carried out by MIT had also been keeping tabs on the political leanings of big businessmen (eg. whether they vote AKP or not). Reason being, when it came to giving out tenders for large public contracts, it was made sure that the public procurements were given to businessmen that voted for the AKP. Thus, we gain an insight into the ugliest face of cronyism.

CHP MP Sezgin Tanrıkulu submitted a question to the Turkish Parliament, making an official request for an answer to the claims raised by the article which was never made. To make matters worse, although the claims were not denied, the courts made it illegal for media sources to report on the alleged MIT reports to the government.

On the 19th of June, the AKP past yet another law that legalises the profiling of medical patients. Through the new system called ‘Health Net’, the Ministry of Health is collecting all sorts of personal information including drinking habits, birth control habits of women and whether they have had abortions etc. On this note, it is also worth mentioning the scandal that came up in May which shows the Ministry of Health have been profiling women who have been having abortions and calling them at their homes to ask their husbands if they knew that their wives were having abortions.

Just to highlight the absurd levels to which this profiling can reach, a bunch of people who protested Erdoğan during the 2010 World Basketball Championship that was hosted in Turkey were deciphered at great length: The authorities used the camera recordings to find out the seat numbers which were used to locate the credit card details that were used to buy tickets online for those seats…

Within the context of the Gezi Protest, as one would expect, protesters are being profiled in as many ways as it is possible. Here are some examples:

– Hospitals in Ankara and Istanbul have been sent separate forms during the protests so that patients that were injured during the protests could be profiled . 

– Ministry of National Education has written a letter to school administrations requesting them to investigate and pass over the names of teachers and other staff that have been taking part in the Gezi Protests or who have been sympathetic to the cause. When news of this came out, CHP MP Dilek Akagün Yılmaz submitted a question to parliament, declaring a reply from the Minister of Education. Her request was blocked by the National Assembly Leadership’s Office on bogus grounds that the question was too long and too personal. In short, the opposition in parliament are not even allowed to do their job, which is to check on the AKP. The message is clear: no one can question the AKP. Thus, we gain an insight into the broken parliamentary system. 

– A columnist writes about how her assistant was not allowed on a graduate program at Marmara University (state university) because of protest pictures posted on her facebook account. (She was told by the university). 

– Football fans have been central during the Gezi Protests and still are. Bearing this in mind, it is no surprise that the AKP have lit a fire under the Turkish Football Federation. Newspapers today report that a new system is being introduced at football stadiums where entrance will be made through e-tickets which will record the personal details of supporters…

Funny… People talk of dark storm clouds gathering over Turkey. Doesn’t anybody see that it is already raining?!