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Rıza Türmen

’Laws in dispute with children’

30 Mayıs 2009
Violence against children is applied not only in this particular prison but everywhere. The "Children and Official Violence" panel held at Bilgi University on May 12 discussed the matter. The panel revealed in the conclusion that the number of children who died of violence by police and soldiers rose to 328. Images of the children beaten by gun strokes on April 23 and a 14-year-old kid who drowned while trying to escape from the police are still fresh. It was a different way of celebrating Children’s Day on April 23.

The Human Rights Society released a report titled "Children in Conflict with the Law -2008." While reading, one considers that a title like "Laws in Conflict with Children" sounds better.

According to the figures, in the period 2006-2007 total number of children members of armed organizations or number of children in trial for the Counter Terrorism Law, or TMK, is 1,572. Problems are stemming from the laws. (Previously the age limit cited in the law was 15.) Therefore, children below 18 should be put on trial in juvenile court. But the law still suggests trying children between 15 and 18 in the High Criminal Court, just like adults. Besides, Article 13 of the TMK states that no postponement or conversion to some other punitive sanctions is allowed for children at the age 15-18. In other words, the amendment in the Penal Code recognizing juniors below 18 as children is not contained in the TMK. Such disaccord needs to be removed immediately by amending the TMK.

Children throwing stones are tried according to Article 314 of the Penal Code. That is to say they are put before the judge for being members to armed gangs. And the penalty for the crime is 5-10 years in prison. Even if one third of the total time is reduced due to the age limitation, a child is kept in prison for 5-6 years just because of throwing stones. Is this not hurting the feeling of justice? What if a stone-throwing child is released after serving five years becomes an adult using weapon?

There are quite important differences between Turkish legal system and international law when it comes to children. The mentality in Turkish laws and implementations is to punish a child who commits crime. But international law seeks to protect the child and support his development by various measures. Therefore, for children a different legal system and different conditions for limiting freedom are applied. Police, prosecutor and prison staffs who are involved in juvenile delinquency are experts who have special training.

For instance, Article 37 of the United Nations Children’s Rights Convention states that every child who is subject to penal sanctions should be treated considering all his needs. Article 40 asks states to form special posts, institutions and laws for children. The U.N. Resolutions (Beijing Resolutions) determine minimums for children’s trials and requests that trials be held without arrests. The document foresees trial under arrest should be the last option. But in Turkey, children are kept under arrest for months.



Rıza Türmen is a former judge at the European Court of Human Rights and a columnist for daily Milliyet in which this piece appeared on Friday. It was translated into English by the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review's staff
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Why is May 17 important?

19 Mayıs 2009
Every group has fought individually in order to gain their rights: African-Americans, women, minorities and homosexuals. But human rights are basic right for every single human being. And they shouldn’t be negated for having contradictory thoughts or lifestyles.

Public viewpoint

Apparently discrimination of sexual orientation is continuing full speed in Turkey. A football referee of 14 years lost his job after his sexuality was revealed.

On the other side, a well-known columnist says: "The majority of those who killed civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan were homosexuals."

The public perception on this subject is: homosexual are against nature, they are unnatural. Homosexuals are not normal like we are. Therefore, it is OK for them to have fewer rights. It is OK to sack them, to beat them or to insult them.

The rights of homosexuals may be summarized as follows:

a) Homosexuals are equal in law; they have equal rights to fight against violence.

b) Homosexuals shouldn’t be discriminated for having a job, a house or education.

c) They should have the right to make their personal preferences in choosing their life partners. In many Western countries, homosexual marriages are allowed.

The European Court of Human Rights, or ECHR, has adopted so many decisions regarding the rights of homosexuals. In the case of Smith and Grady vs.

Britain about the dismissal of two homosexuals from the British naval forces, the ECHR decided that sexual preference was part of one’s private life. Any interference violated the article about protection of private life cited in the European Human Rights Convention.

Besides, prejudice of heterosexual majority against homosexual minority may be considered in the frame of the article about torture and ill-treatment.

The Dudgeon vs. Britain, Norris vs. Ireland, Modinos vs. South Cyprus cases are all about banning homosexuals from having their national rights. In all, the court reached the verdict that national laws breach the private life section of the European Human Rights Convention.

The said countries paid compensation and amended relevant laws. The court’s definition of private life is to have an identity and to have rights to develop personality and to have personal ties.

In the Baczkowski and others vs. Poland (2007) case, a nongovernmental organization was not allowed to hold a demonstration in Warsaw, seeking for equal treatment of homosexuals.

The ECHR, in this case, ruled that the freedom of the organization and the Convention’s article banning discrimination were being violated.

Purposes and suggestions

International Anti-Homophobia Day has been observed since May 17, 1992. The World Health Organization excluded homosexuality from its "list of diseases." The purpose of May 17 is to organize activities in protest of sexual discrimination and to ask people to respect homosexuals.

The Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Thomas Hammerberg points out that people in Europe are still being subject to discrimination due to their sexual preference.

However, homophobic attitudes won’t disappear automatically, says Hammerberg, legal and other measures, among which considering discourses against homosexuality as a crime, should be taken.

Turkey, as a member of the Council of Europe, should show sensitivity in the subject and take measures to stop hostility towards homosexuals and sexual discrimination.


Rıza Türmen is a former judge at the European Court of Human Rights, or ECHR, and a columnist for the daily Milliyet in which this piece appeared yesterday.
It was translated into English by the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review's staff.
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Sevgi’s engagement night

9 Mayıs 2009
As a society we like violence. It is part of our daily lives. We are trying to solve our problems by violence. But we cannot solve them because violence gives birth to new problems. We see repercussions at all levels, in any kind of relationship. Violence is everywhere from one-on-one relationships to families or against women, children and animals; or in sports activities and traffic. Not only individuals but the state also resorts to violence. Torture and ill-treatment cannot be prevented in Turkey.

The Ergenekon detentions taking place before dawn, the release of detainees only after days of interrogations or keeping them inside for years, or intervention in private lives, searches turning private properties and offices into battle fields. If all this is not violence, then what is it?

Two sides of violence

We have seen the utmost example of violence in Mardin’s Bilge Village at a house preparing for the engagement ceremony of a young couple. We saw violence in the cold-blooded murder of 44 people. The incident urges us to ponder about two sides of violence: how could man commit such violent murder? And why is there such a serious culture of violence in society?

Violence in Turkey begins in the family. In a report by the Amnesty International on violence in Turkey, a woman from the southeastern city of Diyarbakır says: "We usually live in fear. We are afraid of our fathers, brothers and husbands because we are exposed to violence. We don’t want to be exchanged, get married with someone who we have never seen.

We don’t want to be presented like a gift box or remain uneducated, or be forced into marriage at very early ages and we don’t want to live in fear all the time."

In addition to that, not having education, urban sprawl, poverty, living in hardship and in shanty houses; and not keeping with modernization are encouraging violence.

Is this about rage and despair?

People are in possession of guns, licensed or not licensed. And that is another factor contributing to violence. We, as a society, are becoming armed. Automatic weapons are causing the east to resort to violence, allowing quick and sudden deaths. You don’t have to face your victims or have contact with them. You can just pull the trigger of a Kalashnikov.

Individual and spiritual reasons why one resorts to violence and aggression are very complex. The Freudian approach sees this as a motive. But others are that one resorts to violence in order to have control over the public or destroy objects including himself. Psychiatrists must have a lot to say about the massacre that took place in Mardin.

But I think rage and despair lies behind this mass murder. Newspapers claim the main reason is jealousy. One of the guests, Abdülkadir Çelebi, said: "We wanted Sevgi Çelebi to get married to one of the members of our family. But her family rejected the proposal and wanted her to be married to someone from another family, with whom we are enemies."

Jealousy is a common reason for violent acts. Anger at being rejected and despair transform into violence.

We see examples everywhere in the world. But the massacre in Mardin has some other thing. Not only were the bride-to-be, Sevgi Çelebi, and her fiancŽ, Habib Arı, punished but also the entire Çelebi Family because Sevgi’s body belongs to her family not herself.

Her family decides with whom she can marry. So the entire family is being punished. Sevgi has nothing in it.

The murderer perhaps thought that Sevgi really loved him and that they couldn’t get married because of Sevgi’s family. Or perhaps Sevgi was really in love with her relative who killed her. None is important. Sevgi’s family decided whom she could marry. Sevgi’s will is not an issue. The massacre in Mardin consists of tragedy rings; tragedies of Sevgi, children who lost their parents and of the victims. In fact this is the tragedy of the entire Turkish society.



Rıza Türmen is a former judge at the European Court of Human Rights, or ECHR, and a columnist for the daily Milliyet in which this piece appeared on Friday. It was translated into English by the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review's staff.
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Soft power

28 Nisan 2009
Harvard University Professor Joseph Nye pointed out a new type of power in the 1990s called "soft power." Soft power doesn’t apply pressure methods of hard power. Soft power is formed by the culture of a society; the internal and external politics of a state based on moral values, human rights, democracy and state of law; and absorption of all these by a society and state. For this reason, that particular society and state may be attractive for others. And such a power of attraction allows a state to convince others and allows it to control others without applying hard power.

Soft power has gained importance through technological developments, globalization and the information age. Information and communication are transformed into a power source. So for a state it has become unavoidable to consider soft power while regulating internal and foreign policies. The system of values, human rights, democracy and state of law implementations shaping a society are the most important elements of soft power. If the culture of a society includes universal values, its having an influence over other states is more likely.

Culture and art are another source of soft power. France is one of the states that better knows this. The French culture, literature, philosophy, cuisine, wine and cheese are the key source of soft power, which is one of the most effective tools of French diplomacy.

Foreign politics is important in terms of the creation and use of soft power. Diplomacy is a soft power tool that states usually apply to influence public opinion. We saw a successful example of this during U.S. President Barack Obama’s Turkey trip. Another country successful in affecting public opinion is Norway. It is a small, remote European country with a population of 5 million and not an EU member. However, Norway successfully conveys a message to the world public opinion: "Norway is the peace force in the world." In the Middle East, in Sri Lanka and in Colombia, remarkable Norwegian efforts of mediation support this message.

Turkey tries to do the same. Plus its geopolitical situation is quite convenient for exerting similar efforts. However, Turkey, being different from Norway, makes this in a rather noisy way. Norway, on the other hand, conducts calm diplomacy and never takes the stage to say, "I am a broker." Turkey was successful in the Syrian-Israeli talks as a mediator. But the unexpected moves in Davos and the Rasmussen incident added value inside, though harmed the country’s image outside. Soft power dislikes hard moves. Turkey faces a public opinion issue in Europe even if it is willing to become an EU member. The negative image of Turkey in Europe should be changed. So it is better to think thoroughly about the methods of improving soft power. Information communication is a key source of soft power. Visual or written information about a society or a state in media affect public opinion. But even the best marketing methods cannot sell a defected product.

Marketing a country where torture somehow cannot be prevented, human rights are restricted arbitrarily, illegal eavesdropping is at issue, the accused kept in prison for years, media is pressured, children’s rights remain unprotected, and women are the victims of honor killing must have been really difficult. Turkey has authors, like Orhan Pamuk, or composers, like Fazıl Say, who add value to universal culture. These are very critical source of soft power. But unfortunately, Pamuk and Say are not enough to eliminate drawbacks of Turkey in the areas of democracy, human rights and the state of law.

Rıza Türmen is a columnist for daily Milliyet in which this piece appeared yesterday. It was translated into English by the Daily News staff.
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Identity debates

25 Nisan 2009
Başbuğ described nationalism as every citizen is a "Turk" who gathers around a supra, or common, identity without any race or religious discrimination; this is a citizen of the Republic of Turkey.

At some other point, Başbuğ elaborated the relationship between supra and sub identities. He said in modern democratic societies, secondary cultural identity characteristics other than supra/common identity may be expressed and exercised. The important thing is that, he added, the secondary identities should not be prioritized over the supra/common identity and not be transformed into a sovereign identity. Identity issues are of importance today. Identity is something subjective. It is a notion that distinguishes the subject from other subjects. So the concept is based on "I and the other" distinction.

The "I" can only exist with the "other." And today identities are taken up with cultures. There are some people who want to see identities as an unchangeable part of cultures.

But in the globalization era, identities vary. Globalization allows nations to build cross-border ties. Through airplanes, telephones, computers, televisions and cinema, individuals get in touch with other cultures, break apart from the values system of the narrow community they live in. So they prefer to see themselves as independent subjects and decide their own identities.

Multi-identity is possible. Or an identity may be integrated with some other identity or be assimilated. Even natural ethnic identities are not important anymore. Therefore identities shouldn’t be confined in shallow forms. People should be free when it comes to identities. Hierarchy such as supra-identity or sub-identity shouldn’t be.

But instead, I believe the republic should gain a democratic quality in a way to allow recognition of different individual identities and cohabitation of such identities. Gen. Başbuğ didn’t refuse such an approach either, for he said that the understanding of the modern nation-state and liberal democracy does not block individual freedoms. On the contrary, they spread individual cultural freedoms.

Individual identity gains importance when the individual has contacts with other individuals in a society and when societal ties get stronger because a formation of an individual identity needs recognition by other individuals. Therefore individual identity transforms into an identity built around common values.

Importance of individualization
Republic and democracy are not contradictory but complementary notions. We should exert efforts to bring the republic to the higher level of democratization. Above all, liberal values such as human rights and law states should be well absorbed and implemented. We still see dramatic flaws in the subject. Besides, we should be able to form a pluralist, multicultural society that accepts and recognizes differences in harmony.

In the meantime, we should raise active fellow citizens who try to shape-up society to participate in social life and who have critical thinking. But the precondition for all these is that Turkish people should leave the notion of living in communities but be able to individualize and to become a subject. I believe the element to keep people together in Turkey is not identity but the commitment to a democratic constitutional order.

Rıza Türmen is a former judge at the European Court of Human Rights and a columnist for the daily Milliyet, in which this piece appeared Friday. It was translated into English by the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review's staff.
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Waves of arrests and police searches

21 Nisan 2009
The administrators of the association, which was established to provide education to the children of financially disabled, are under arrest.

They all are very respectable and successful scientists who dedicated their lives to education. Society is thankful to them, but they are being treated like "suspects" in the Ergenekon case

On the other hand, patients of Başkent University President Mehmet Haberal, who is among the Ergenekon detainees and is a medical doctor, are hopelessly waiting in the hospital. If he is able to do organ transplants, they will all survive.

A beautiful small girl keeps asking, "I want to get well and go back to school. He had promised me, why is he not coming?"

Search warrant should be clear
The European Court of Human Rights mandates tight search standards. First of all, a search warrant should clearly state all documents and items that could be confiscated and solid evidence and information based on reasonable doubt should be clearly noted. Search and confiscation should be in parallel with the desired result. For instance, items not used for criminal intent cannot be confiscated.

If the person who is subjected to a police search is not accused of anything, police should be more careful during the search and confiscation process. The reason for the search and incidents raising reasonable doubt should be stated in detail in the warrant. The European court’s criteria are binding over national laws, according to Article 90 of the Constitution.

But what do we see in the search warrant issued by the 13th High Criminal Court? For once, we see in the search warrant a statement, "In the light of interrogations, it has been understood clearly that the following acts were committed," which is not in accord with the "innocent until proven guilty" principle.

The document ends with another statement, "Search and confiscation of the evidence to be found in relation with the Ergenekon armed terror organization are needed," following the claims in the indictment being stated.

But the "thought" is not enough. Solid incident and information is needed to prove the thought. Besides, the search warrant was issued for "collecting evidence." But police officers are collecting everything and dumping them into a sack to take back to the office without considering if the findings are evidence. For instance, "The Speech" by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk and concert tickets for a Suna Kan recital are evidence for what kind of a crime?

The Law of Criminal Procedure, or CMK, seeks two conditions for detention: The first is that it should be necessary for the sake of the interrogation. In other words, look to see if it is possible to achieve this without limiting individual freedom. The second is the existence of signs that the person committed such crime. The European court first examines if the detention is in line with national laws and then looks if national laws and implementations are in accord with the court’s criteria.

Both the CMK and the European court seek some certain amount of solid evidence based on reasonable doubt for the arrest. The European court applies the reasonable doubt criterion to see if it is convincing enough and if prosecutors have adequate objective information and incidents that the crime is really committed.

Detention for interrogation is both against national laws and the European court criteria.

What reasonable doubt?
It is difficult to say that all of the above are met in the 12th wave of Ergenekon arrests. For instance, for what kind of a reasonable doubt and solid evidence the three-day detention of Tijen Mergen or Ferhat Şenatalar was based on?

The biggest threat for a state is the violation of individual rights and freedoms for arbitrary reasons and the public’s irresponsiveness and common understanding "this happens to all." We should not allow this.

* Rıza Türmen is a columnist for daily Milliyet in which this piece was published yesterday. It was translated into English by the Daily News staff.
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NATO Summit and Turkey

7 Nisan 2009
It was the first meeting that the newly elected President of the United States Barack Obama came together with the European leaders. The summit also give leaders a chance to talk about closing down the U.S. Guantanamo base, correcting the mistakes of the Bush period, Obama’s adopting a multi-dimensional foreign policy approach, the United States and Europe’s joining forces on the ground of values and strengthened NATO-Atlantic ties. On the other side, France announced determination to play an effective role inside the alliance and to come back to its military wing.

The key subject of the summit was Afghanistan. After Obama announced sending 21,000 additional forces to Afghanistan, he expected NATO countries’ significant contributions. But their military didn’t meet expectations. NATO members rather preferred to send personnel for training local forces and money. And the content of Turkey’s contributions is not clear yet.

A remarkable development leaving its mark on the summit was Turkey’s objection to Rasmussen’s being the new NATO secretary-general. Turkey was right to object. It will be difficult for a politician who is seen as an enemy by the Islamic world to become effective in tasks related to a Muslim country, Afghanistan, as NATO’s most critical issue.

In the mean time, EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn’s unexpected statement revealed an unnecessary Nordic solidarity in the summit. Rehn said Turkey’s objections about the cartoon incident are not in accord with freedom of expression; therefore will make it difficult for Turkey to become an EU member.

Rehn seems unaware of the European Court of Human Rights, or ECHR’s, verdicts in the cases of the Wingrove vs. Britain, Otto Preminger Institute vs. Austria and Ismet Arslan vs. Turkey. If he had read the decisions in these cases, Rehn would’ve seen that the ECHR agrees that banning visual and written statements that hurt religious feelings is in line with the European Human Rights Convention.

The objection could’ve been comprehensive

Although Turkey’s attitude in the meeting is right in principal, it may be criticized in two points: Turkey could have more support in Europe if it hadn’t limited its objections to Rasmussen’s appointment as the new NATO secretary-general with his stance in the cartoon incident and the Roj TV only, and if it had added Rasmussen’s coalition with the xenophobic and extreme rightist Danish People’s Party to implement almost racist policies that are against immigrants and are not cherishing any moral values.

In addition to that, it is also worth questioning how appropriate Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s whole-heartedly expressing his negative views about Rasmussen’s being NATO secretary-general. Such statements limit maneuverability in similar meetings. Besides if the shared views contradict with the result, public opinion may have an impression that the result is a failure. And none of the parties seeking political agreement can be in absolute accord. In fact, Rasmussen said the Roj TV issue will be examined and if the channel’s affiliation with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, is proven, it would be shut down. We’ll see in time if this means Turkey’s requests are agreed or not.

There were, however, more distinguished candidates than Rasmussen. For instance, Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Store could’ve made more successful secretary general than Rasmussen for his personal qualities, past experiences, and international experience. Besides, Store’s view on Turkey is more balanced. Since Norway is not an EU member, it was unfortunately deprived of sending a better secretary-general to the Alliance.

We’ll see if NATO appointed a secretary-general who perfectly fits with its objective to make a new start.
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Celebrating Darwin’s birthday

17 Mart 2009
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, or UNESCO, announced 2009 as the "Darwin Year" due to British evolutionary biologist Charles Darwin’s bicentennial birthday. Over 20,000 articles about his views have been published around the world.

Darwin in his book titled "On The Origin of Species" claims that all living species including humans come from a common tree of life and are subject to evolution. He gives solid proof. The view is that natural selection is the motor force of evolution. Different organisms pass their differences to the next generation by inheritance.

The weakest one living in the same environment of limited food sources disappears. Strong organisms survive if they are able to adapt to the situation. In time, the inheritance of different qualities gives birth to new species.

Development through evolution

Darwin builds his viewpoint on sustainable development. A critical outcome of these views is the explanation of human nature and behaviors through evolution, disposing of remarks like, "We act in certain ways because we were created as such." The progress revealed that humans have the capability to learn and that social factors are relatively more important than educational and cultural inheritance.

As Darwin’s views are being discussed around the world due to his 200th birthday, what is going on in Turkey?

The country’s No. 1 scientific research institution, TUBITAK, dedicated an issue of the Bilim ve Teknik Dergisi (Science and Technical magazine) to Darwin. His picture appeared on the cover of the magazine.

But Turkish readers couldn’t read the articles inside. In the publication phase, the cover was changed, articles were eliminated and the editor-in-chief was removed from office. Due to heavy public criticism, TUBITAK announced in a statement five days later that this was not censorship but an administrative disruption. On the other hand, the editor-in-chief, Dr. Çiğdem Atakuman, claimed the magazine was censored because Darwin is a controversial issue in Turkey.

The fact is that Darwin’s views are kept away from the public and students in Turkey. His views are not included in textbooks with the exception of a few references. And teachers who want to teach Darwin are punished. According to a Gallup poll, the theory of evolution is least accepted in Turkey among Western countries. Fifty-two percent of Turkish people believe the theory is wrong and 25 percent think it is accurate. The rest are undecided (The Economist, Feb. 7, 2009).

The discussions over Darwin in Turkey call to mind the medieval period: scientific facts versus religious dogmas. The modern world was born out of questioning religious authority and views.

Descartes, Galileo, Copernicus and Newton’s theses and discoveries turned religious dogmas upside down. The age of the world, its protection against the sun, modern physical laws and the evolution of human and animal species cleared the way for critical minds. Darwin should be discussed in this perspective.

Ties with laicism broken

All of these show that the view that the modernity adopted by the government and the pro-government in Turkey can go hand-in-hand with Islam is not accurate considering today’s practices. What they are attempting to achieve today is social engineering, a radical transformation of society.

For this reason, on one side, state-of-the-art technology is being applied today; ties are being broken with the culture of laicism on the other.

Therefore, they are attempting to show that there is no connection between modernity and laicism and that modernity can live together with religion. Resistance to this is suppressed by a violation of fundamental rights and freedoms.

The aim is the Islamization of modernity, not the creation of a modern society. The healthiest way to keep modernity and religion together is the principle of laicism. The solution should be sought in a modern, universal understanding of laicism. Only then can Turkey join in Darwin’s birthday celebrations.



Rıza Türmen is a former judge at the European Court of Human Rights, or ECHR and a columnist for the daily Milliyet in which this piece appeared yesterday. It was translated into English by the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review's staff
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