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Göksel Bozkurt

Are the winds of change blowing for Kurdish policy?

21 Mart 2009

The ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, is neither ignoring the need forÊa solution to the Kurdish issue nor are theyÊopenly talking about it. These developments led to questions whether or not the Kurdish policy is being modified?

Are Kurds being involved in a new process? What will be their new road map? What do theÊprominent DTP officials thinkÊabout it? These are the questions of many in the country.

"During the Nevruz celebrations, we are going to emphasize that neither the armed conflict nor the denial of existence of the problem will bring a solution. This is democratic autonomy that will lead us to a solution. This will be our slogan," Selahattin Demirtaş, the parliamentary group deputy leader of the DTP said while explaining his party’s position. In a sense, it’s a sort of "enough is enough, stop the bloodshed" call by the DTPÉ It may not be a new one but when considering its timing with Talabani’s claims, it gives the impression that it could turn into an achievable policy.

Yes but what does the DTP’s democratic autonomy mean? Actually it’s nothing new since it has been transformed from the "democratic confederalism" proposal of Abdullah Öcalan, imprisoned chieftain of the PKK. "The democratic autonomy refers to the legal binds of the different communities with the system in the state they belong to. It helps to assure the ethnic and national communities to get their fundamental democratic rights," explain Kurdish intellectuals. To make it clear, they underline that they don’t want the separation of the country, or bring a federal or a confederate structure. Furthermore, they note that they are not against the Turkish flag and insist that they want to live together in this country. Coupling election developments with a recent statement by President Abdullah Gül who said "there will be some surprises vis a vis the Kurdish problem," one can conclude that after March 29, we could find replies to the question of a policy change.


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The ’border’ card vs ’genocide’

14 Mart 2009
A parliamentary delegation visited the United States on March 2 and 6. Turkish Parliament Foreign Affairs Commission President Murat Mercan went with Suat Kınıklıoğlu and Nursuna Memecan of the governing Justice and Development Party, or AKP, Şükrü Elekdağ of the Republican People’s Party, or CHP, and Mithat Melen of the Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP, to make contact with American officials. The Turkish parliamentarians met the House Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia Chairman Gary Ackerman, U.S. Congress Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe Co-Chair Alcee Hastings, the House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Howard Berman and representatives of Jewish organizations. Officials discussed the Armenian issue in particular.

The AKP members of the Turkish delegation dwelled on two key issues. First, they asked President Barack Obama not to utter the "genocide" word in his speech April 24. Second, Turkish parliamentarians asked the refusal of the Armenian Genocide Bill at the House. The AKP deputies in return used the "border gate" as a trump card. They briefly made the following remarks: "Approval of this bill or the utterance of the word ’genocide’ in Mr. President’s speech will harm Turkish-Armenian relations that have been blossomed recently. We are planning to open the border gate between Turkey and Armenia. This move will be blocked otherwise."

Such remarks by AKP officials in the delegation disturbed CHP and MHP delegates. The CHP and MHP officials disagreed with the AKP officials. However, the AKP delegates kept sending similar messages during the visit.

The second item on the agenda for the Turkish parliamentarians was U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq. The United States wants to gradually pull out from Iraq via Turkish land that they see as a "secure line." The Turkish Armed Forces, or TSK, however, stands against "armed passing." The AKP delegates openly addressed this issue to American officials that they remained in contact. Turkey’s sensitivities were addressed as follows: "We are against the armed passing because the unlawful Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) may seize weapons. We cannot stand even a single set of night-vision goggles to be obtained by the PKK. We are very sensitive in this subject."

After hearing out the Turkish parliamentarians, American officials said U.S. troops should leave Iraq with their equipments and for security reasons an unarmed passing is impossible. "We note your sensitivities however," said U.S. officials. On April 24, we’ll see if mutual sensitivities will be cared for. We’ll also see if the "border gate" trump card was effective against the word "genocide."

’Quit smoking, buy a house instead’

According to the Law on Preventing Tobacco Harm, smoking was banned in public buildings, including corridors, as well as in any education, health, trade, social, cultural, sports, entertainment facilities in May of 2008. As of May 19, 2009, smoking will be banned in restaurants, bars, cafes and coffee houses. It will be difficult for heavy smokers. Parliament Health Commission Chairman Cevdet Erdöl is trying to help smokers quit by making a suggestion "Don’t smoke, buy a house."

"If a person smoking a pack of cigarettes a day saves the money he spends on smoking, he can buy a house by paying 100 Turkish Liras monthly to TOKİ. But just for pleasure. His house is going up in smoke, so to speak." The offer is quite attractive. I wonder how many smokers will quit. That Chairman Erdöl cannot guarantee.

Finding a mutual foe

They are two different ends of political factions. They get up at 5 in the morning, get trimmed, wear ties and begin to work. They are involved in domestic issues as well as world issues. They keep in touch with people. Both are over 80. One is the former President Süleyman Demirel and the other is the former Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan. The most important quality they had in common was the fight between them during the "post-modern" Feb. 28 coup. And today, they unite in a struggle to lift up the opposition against AKP.
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Constitution’s fate unclear

7 Mart 2009

The atmosphere in the ruling party is this: "The military totally changes the Constitution by coup d’Žtats, why can’t Parliament change it through consensus, and as those elected by the will of people?"

This state of spirit urges the AKP to seek a comprehensive amendment in the Constitution. Erdoğan announced that the first thing to do following the polls was to seek constitutional change. When a student asked "when will we be rid of this constitution of coup?" he said: "in April." Then Erdoğan added that the AKP wanted Parliament Speaker Köksal Toptan’s involvement in this. Toptan had previously made an attempt and met leaders of the other political parties; however, failed to bring about the formation of a "Constitutional Conciliation Commission." Can Erdoğan and his team be successful this time with the constitutional change attempt?

The answer is in the March 29 elections and is directly linked to the AKP’s vote margin because the AKP formed the government in 2002 with 34 percent of the vote but did not have the courage to make comprehensive modifications to the Constitution. They did not even take any steps to bring the freedom to wear headscarves in university but did call for "patience" from the grassroots. Winning the 2007 general elections with 47 percent of the vote, the AKP took more courageous steps and made a board of academics prepare a "civilian Constitution."

Backed by the Nationalist Movement Party the AKP rolled up its sleeves for a regulation on the headscarf ban. But the closure case of the party ended this ambitious attempt. An AKP election victory of 47 percent or higher will stimulate the AKP to make changes to the Constitution.

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Ankara poll on Erdoğan’s desk

28 Şubat 2009

The results give an answer to which mayoral candidate in Ankara win what percentage of votes. The interesting thing is that the AKP asked for this poll to be made, not its rival parties or candidates. For this reason, the AKP is "anxious."

According to the poll’s results, the AKP mayoral candidate Melih Gökçek is around 43 percent. His closest rival is the Republican People’s Party, or CHP, candidate Murat Karayalçın, who has 36 percent of votes. The "successful" mayor of Beypazarı and the National Movement Party, or MHP, candidate, Mansur Yavaş, stands at around 13 percent.

In order to make healthy evaluations on figures, it is better to look at the 2004 election results. Gökçek of the AKP was elected mayor by 55 percent of the votes in Ankara. Yılmaz Ateş of the CHP received 12 percent, Karayalçın of the Socialist People’s Party, or SHP, won 20 percent. The total of CHP-SHP votes reached about to 32 percent. Hamit Homriş of the MHP remained around 10 percent.

The last opinion poll by the AKP and the figures of 2004 reveal quite interesting data. Gökçek lost eight points since then and has regressed to 43 percent.

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Cabinet revision unavoidable!

21 Şubat 2009

Unakıtan will probably not be here during the local elections. And what he’ll do after the March 29 elections will be decided by his doctor and family. The Finance Ministry requires a high beat. Will Unakıtan’s health allow this? Even if he is healthy enough, will the Unakıtan family, known for strong family ties, allow him to go back to active politics and the ministry seat? These questions are being asked inside the AKP and the government, too. What will Erdoğan do then? Will he wait for the return of Unakıtan? Or will he appoint a new finance minister on the eve of the local polls?

Unakıtan is out of surgery and the recovery period will start soon. He will stay in a hotel near the hospital together with his family and will be kept under control for over a month. Erdoğan calls him "brother" and he is among those Mr. Prime Minister trusts. So whatever Unakıtan says it will be done. I mean if he is in good condition Unakıtan will go back to the office, otherwise he will resign. For this reason, Erdoğan will wait for a while and the revision in the Cabinet will be taken care of after the elections.

A thorough revision postponed by Erdoğan during the AKP’s closure case will then be unavoidable. The election results will determine the dimension of changes. If the AKP remains below the 47 percent that it’d gained in the last polls, the Cabinet members will pay the price. And then a radical change in the Council of Ministers will most likely be the case because Erdoğan is not a leader who is fond of changing team members.

Latest rumor on UnakıtanThe latest rumor is about Unakıtan. If the key name Unakıtan wants, he may be assigned to a less demanding seat such as deputy prime ministry. Now, this is the question, if Unakıtan steps down, who could be his replacement? The AKP Istanbul Deputy Alattin Büyükkaya, the AKP Parliamentary Group Acting Chair Mustafa Elitaş, Sivas Deputy Mustafa Açıkalın and the AKP deputy leader Bülent Gedikli as well as the AKP Group Acting Chair Nurettin Canikli are among candidates.

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PM wants ’1,000 women’ picks

14 Şubat 2009

Among 65 municipalities, only Ayşe Bahar Çebi was nominated in Ordu. They have no other female nominees in thousands of counties and villages. Sibel Çarmıklı in Beşiktaş, Istanbul; Filiz Ulusoy in Kalecik, Ankara, Işıl Zeliha Gençoğlu in Nilüfer, Bursa and Ayşe Güney in Mahmudiye, Eskişehir are possible names.

The AKP Women’s Branch Head Fatma Şahin is disturbed the most by this picture of "women have no name." So she took the stage this week behind closed doors and fiercely criticized the male dominant AKP parliamentary group for the number of female AKP deputies being barely around 30 although the party has 338 seats. The number of female candidates in thousands of counties is less than ten. Şahin lashed out at the male AKP deputies:

"Mr. prime minister you are giving the utmost support to women. I thank you for that. But these [male deputies] have shattered us into pieces. They crossed out females in the candidate lists. So we were not able to nominate females as much as we do. We as the women’s branch showed reaction but couldn’t make it."

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’Silent’ rebel within CHP ranks

7 Şubat 2009

The CHP trying to divert the group’s attention from the governing Justice and Development Party, or AKP, to themselves is inviting women in black-chadors to the party as members and promising for Koran courses. Apparently, all these are approved by the CHP Leader Deniz Baykal. But how all these are being evaluated in the party grassroots or in the party’s general board? What do the CHP deputies say about such openings?

The pulse among the CHP members is not as good as it is in the upper administration levels. Forget about giving support to the new opening, a group of CHP deputies even disagree with Baykal and the party administration. In order to steal away the votes of Islamic circles, which are thought to have been directed to the AKP, the CHP seems to forget the slogan "We are losing laicism" and that causes a great deal of concerns among the CHP members. Reactions are rising behind the closed doors but none is being shared with the public. The opponents inside term these reactions "silent rebel" and justify the silence as "not to harm the party on the eve of the elections."

A CHP representative I ran across in Parliament, I should add that he is an opponent, says, "Until yesterday we were screaming the place down like ’we are losing laicism, Koran courses are out of hand’É The black-chador and now Koran courses moves yet we have pushed aside the fight for laicism against anti-laics. The CHP should give up on similar conjuncture moves..."

Examples are plenty but at this point it’s beneficial to hear out CHP Konya Deputy Atilla Kart, who is also a member of the Constitutional Commission. Kart implicitly criticizes the party administration. The problem stems from that Koran courses are not offered by the Religious Affairs Directorate and they are not in the frame of the Article 24 in the Constitution either, according to Kart. What he means, "Koran courses should no longer be controlled by religion sheikhs or communities. They should be controlled by the stateÉ."

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Phone taps for blackmailing?

31 Ocak 2009

With that, Turkey has focused on to phone tapping again. The court’s ruling, in a way, is stripping off the authority to monitor phone calls from the prime minister’s control. All right but who will then control the monitoring? Or let me rephrase the question better: Is it possible to keep phone tapping under control?

It seems that it is possible to prevent the legal ones but this is not possible for illegal monitoring because even Transportation Minister Binali Yıldırım says: "Individuals who do not want to be eavesdropped should not make phone calls."

At this point, a Parliamentary Eavesdropping Investigation committee member and the Republican People’s Party, or CHP, Adana deputy, Tacidar Seyhan, who is at the same time an expert in information technologies, says: "You gave me a radio I will assemble tapping equipment for you."

Seyhan asserts that some "civilian teams" that are formed outside official security forces of the country monitor phones for blackmail purposes. Ten mobile monitoring devices worth 20,000 euros to be used for this very same purpose were confiscated at the last minute in Istanbul Customs recently, reminds Seyhan saying that many devices not confiscated are being used by "civilians."

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