22 Haziran 2009
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan not only cancelled his trip to Greece because of "high blood pressure problems" but declared as well during the weekend that he and his party would not play the role of the "aggrieved"; would not act in a "stubborn" manner regarding the latest "document" allegations but would "stand tall" against all anti-democratic developments.
I wish good health to the prime minister. It was great seeing his photographs playing with his grandchild and marking the "Fathers’ Day" on Sunday. It was good that he took some time off from politics and spent with his family. Playing with his grandchild may not just help Erdoğan’s psychology, but rather than seeing an angry, frustrated, stubborn Erdoğan image, seeing a fatherly figure playing affectionately with his grandchild may help improve the national psychology so depressed among many other reasons with the "tangentially passing" economic crisis; political-judicial polarization between the secularist and Islamist poles and most lately the alleged "military" plot to stop the advance of the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, and the Islamist Fethullan Gülen brotherhood organization. Contrary to what the prime minister said over the weekend, however, it was with the successful staging of the film "Aggrieved", scripted and co-produced by the Erdoğan, Abdullah Gül and Bülent Arınç Company that over the past seven years not only the AKP rule in the country managed to be sustained but at the same time apart from the parliamentary majority and the seat of government some other prominent "castles" of the secular and democratic republic, such as the key bureaucratic and judicial positions and the presidency, could have been taken over by political Islam.
The plot of the "Aggrieved" film is the propaganda that the AKP ideology was wanted by the nation but despite the expressed national political will there were some anti-democratic elements in the country not only rejecting "a Muslim government, Muslim bureaucrats or a Muslim president" in this predominantly Muslim country, but trying to smash the AKP and thus political Islam at every opportunity. The establishment and rise, as well as its success to escape from road accidents only with some minor bruises are all successful results of the expert performance of the "Aggrieved" film. Naturally, there are some sub-plots, like how to create a "green" capital; how to counter siphoning of millions of Euros from the Islamist Lighthouse e.V. charity fund; the alleged Ergenekon probe and trial; how to "cut to size" the powerful military; "discovery" of a photocopy document that might help put behind bars some active officers and curtail potential military opposition to "AKP reforms" to make Turkey a "more Islamist country"; polarization in the nation as well as in the media and of course in the labor, businessmen groups, NGOs and elsewhere.
Culture of the aggrievedIf after seven years of governance with an overwhelming parliamentary majority and with a domesticated parliamentary opposition like the Republican People’s Party, or CHP, of Deniz Baykal still trying to play the role of "aggrieved" and with the help of that role trying to stage a battle with the modern, secular, democratic republic, is there anything abnormal for some people fearing from a "secret agenda" or a "secret plan" being implemented in salami style?
Despite the legendary Ergenekon performance of some collaborators of the AKP (not only in the media but in the state establishment as well) it is a fact that "tangentially passing" economic crisis, skyrocketing unemployment, collapsing businesses, and of course skillful corruption and misuse of office performance at both local and central administration levels are just some of the factors that have brought the AKP into a state of political fatigue, as demonstrated in the March local polls. This political fatigue may as well be the underlying reason behind the AKP jumping on the alleged "military coup plot" photocopy "document" despite the awareness that the high probability that the alleged "document" could be proven a fake.
20 Haziran 2009
The Turkish Human Rights Foundation, or TİHV, has released a new report documenting the great strides Turkey has achieved since the law covering the "duty" and "powers" of the police was "reformed." According to the report, the new "shoot to kill" law has made Turkey a more "secure" place to live. If some "cannot" manage to stay alive in this "high-security country," could that be a failure of the police? I used an extensive summary of the report provided by the "independent communications network" Bianet on its Web site, www.bianet.org, and checked the facts over the phone.
The report alleges that over the past two years, a total of 13 Turks died at detention houses, while 40 people were fatally shot by bullets fired from police guns. In other words, a total of 53 people lost their lives to alleged police violence. Confrontations during police raids on residences were said to have wounded an additional 53 people.
Naturally, as the TİHV report highlights as well, under international norms, police have the right to use weapons only when there is a close and serious threat either to the life of the officer or the life of other people. However, with the June 2007 "reform" made to the law on the duties and powers of the police, the powers of the police force were expanded so "liberally," and these powers so liberally applied, that there are widespread claims of Turkey turning into the Wild West.
Besides the 13 deaths that occurred under detention, the 40 deaths by police bullets and the 53 people wounded, there are claims of 416 cases of torture and mistreatment by police during the past two years. These cases includes 230 accusations of brutal beating, 57 of insulting, 47 of gassing, 34 of threats, 11 of the use of cold or pressurized water, five of death threats, three of keeping detainees in cold and dark places, two of depriving them of food and water, two of rape with truncheons, two of forcing people stay motionless on their knees, two of forcing people to wait naked and several of insulting verbal attacks. The list continues.
According to the TİHV report, what is even more painful is the unfortunate fact that 168 of those alleged cases of torture and mistreatment by police did indeed happen on the streets, while 109 cases happened in detention houses.
"It is being understood from these data, examined together with the individual case stories, that the security forces, while trying to stop people or conducting a search, asking for identity cards or in taking preemptive measures to prevent a crime, in the transportation vehicles or during detention have been frequently applying excessive and disproportional force, engaged in acts of torture and ill-treatment," the foundation underscores in its report.
Over the past two years, the report says, a total of 331 "incidents" happened in 47 provinces. Consequently, a total of 1,605 people were deprived of their various rights, which were thus violated by the police, the report alleges.
The foundation’s report also underscores that the violation of individuals’ rights since the changes were made in the law on the duties and powers of the police in June 2007 demonstrates that those violations were not "exceptional," but indeed were "systematic" and widespread throughout the country.
Why was the law on the duties and powers of the police amended? The police were complaining that their powers had been curtailed due to the European Union reforms and that their fight against crime had thus been compromised. "We are working day and night, capturing thieves, but after the EU reforms, courts are releasing the thieves," top police officers complained at the time. "We cannot fight crime with this law."
So they were given more power. Perhaps they were given excessive power and the law was turned into "shoot to kill" legislation. What was the end result? Common crimes still continue to increase, as do complaints of excessive and disproportionate use of force by police, and allegations of police killings.
Will the government reconsider after this latest report whether it was a mistake to make the "reform" to the police law in 2007? If not, how many more people need to be killed for such a reassessment to be made?
19 Haziran 2009
Is the alleged "document" claimed to have been prepared by a colonel serving at the military headquarters and which reported to have outlined an action plan against the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, and the Islamist Fethullah Gülen brotherhood organization authentic, or a work of fiction aimed at eroding the military’s image, or worse, aimed at disrupting relations between the government and the military? If it is an authentic document and if it was written within the command chain, Turkey is of course facing a very serious situation. In such a case the document is proof of the continued coup aspirations in the military. If it is an authentic document but written without the order or even knowledge of the top commanders, then the situation is even worse as we may think of a group of coup plotters in the military acting separate from the chain of command. If it is a forged document, we may either think it is a product of the so-called "F-type" (that is Gülen group supporters) organization within the police force with the aim and intention of hurting the prestige of the military and thus expand the Ergenekon probe in a manner to cover some officers on duty. Or, it could be the work of the so-called Ergenekon group itself to bring within the scope of the ongoing Ergenekon trial and probe some active officers and thus convert the case into a totally unmanageable dimension. If it is a work of the F-type organization in the police force, then we may easily conclude that the already known tensions between the military and the F-type organization in the police are taking on dimensions of a severe animosity. A very nasty situation indeed. On the other hand if this "document" is forged by the outside-prison-elements of the alleged "Ergenekon organization" then perhaps even those of us who are very skeptical about the Ergenekon probe and trial and who consider all that happened as a campaign of political Islam against secular, patriotic, nationalist elements perhaps should make a reassessment.
Reading an article on the Odatv.com news portal written by Mehmet Ali Güller, a friend of mine posted me six questions outlining suspicions of the timing of the publication of the explosive "action plan" in the Taraf newspaper last week.
1- If lawyers of Ergenekon suspects were for the most part eventually turned into suspects themselves and placed behind bars by the Ergenekon prosecutors, was it logical at all for former military lawyer Serdar Öztürk, who was the advocate of Ergenekon suspect Colonel Levent Göktaş until he himself was implicated and placed behind bars, to keep such a document in his office? Did he not know that his office and residence might be searched?
2- How did it happen that Öztürk’s office was searched when he left the city for a four-day trip to Antalya? If his telephones call were being monitored, police intelligence knew that he would be traveling to Antalya. Is it normal for police to raid Öztürk’s office when he was away and find the alleged document in a drawer? Was it planted?
3- If under existing laws a document related to the prosecutors’ investigation must have been kept secret, how did it come about that it was sent to the Taraf newspaper (like the publication in Taraf newspaper of the alleged sketch of the Court of Appeals claimed to have been found at the Labor Party headquarters but which eventually was proven to be false and the Taraf newspaper was sentenced to pay compensation). Have the prosecutors launched at least an investigation into how that "document" was sent to Taraf?
4- Is it not interesting that the alleged "document" eventually turned out to be a photocopy? Is it normal to consider a photocopy an original of a document and classify it as a credible evidence of any sort?
5- At a time when secret documents are somehow being serviced out of the military command, can any commander with some brains order such an action plan against the ruling party be prepared?
6- If the action plan was prepared without order and knowledge of the top commanders, can anyone with brains provide that action plan or allow it be provided to the defense advocate of one of the suspects of the Ergenekon trial?
And, one last final question; is there a correlation between the timing of the publication in Taraf of this explosive "document" with the August promotions in the military?
18 Haziran 2009
Men and women of many governments, all in navy blue, black or brown costumes. White, black and yellow men and women with very serious looks on their faces. Men in air force uniforms from many countries.
Men and women of industry and an army of public relations experts trying to promote products of the industry.
Top company executives meeting over lunch and dinner with top government executives in bid to convince them, "If you want peace, be prepared for war. É With our chopper, fighter, missile or whatever you will earn precious deterrence that will guard your security."
And, journalists from all over the world in "action outfits," most of them defense industry experts, some of them embedded in the teams of defense industry companies.
This is show business but very serious show business. All these people have flocked to Paris for the past many days for the 48th International Air Show at le Bourget, one of the biggest air shows of the world. Paris hotels, as well as hotels in suburban towns, are all fully booked, and though it might be no news for Istanbulites who are fighting with traffic every day, due to increased traffic because of the air show, the already unbearable traffic in this one of the most beautiful cities of the world has come to an almost standstill.
Thus, being so close to Paris and not being able to stroll in the beautiful city for some time Ğ except a dinner at the famous Fointaine Gaillon restaurant owned by a living cinema industry legend Gerard Depardiou Ğ was itself a manifestation of the success of the air show that attracted over 600 leading defense industry and avionics companies and several thousands of "decision maker" or "industrialists" guests, apart an army of journalists.
As for Turkey, it was unfortunate not to see any senior Defense Ministry executives or Air Force generals around, except Defense Industry Undersecretary Murad Bayar and his team, who on the sidelines of the air show met behind closed doors, for obvious reasons, with both the AugustaWestland and Sikorsky companies, ahead of the scheduled July 1 meeting of the high defense group under the chairmanship of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
At that meeting, Turkey is expected to finally announce which of these two short-listed companies will be given the contract of the 109 "public sector general purpose helicopter" tender.
So far it appears that AugustaWestland, the company which already successfully continuing the attack helicopter program of the Turkish military, has the upper hand with its co-production in Turkey, know-how transfer pledge and third-country export permission, while Sikorsky, for obvious reasons, has the political upper hand besides the sympathy of some top generals of the Turkish military for American companies.
Indeed, that sympathy of some Air Force generals have so far prevented Turkey joining the Eurofighter program as the fifth partner, though if some programs are not undertaken without further delay, in the not so distant future, there apparently will be a serious air defense deficiency with the already 40-45-year-old F-4 phantom planes becoming obsolete. Turkey has so far agreed to be part of the Joint Strike Fighter program, but the JSF is a strike fighter, as is defined so, and will not meet Turkey’s probable gap in air-to-air defense systems.
Now, Turkey has yet another option to consider joining the Eurofighter program as the current partner countries and companies have started preparations for Tranch 3 program. What we hear lately indicates that Turkey has started developing some interest in the Eurofighter program, which like the copter deal with AugustaWestland and unlike some alternate offers, offers Turkey to be a partner in the project, technology transfer and production of some key components in Turkey. Besides, winning Italy as a strategic partner in Europe will best serve Turkey’s national interests while at the same time our country will eradicate a potential deficiency in its air defense systems.
Of course, though our prime minister still pretends as if the global crisis will pass Turkey tangentially, in this time of crisis, what to spend and where to spend must have been a very difficult decision to make.
17 Haziran 2009
A four-page document that was allegedly found during a police raid of a retired military lawyer’s office has created thunderstorms in Turkish politics since it was published in a newspaper last Friday. The document purportedly outlined an action plan compiled by a colonel that aimed at stopping the ruling Justice and Development Party, or the AKP, and the influential Fethullah Gülen Islamist brotherhood organization from "destroying Turkey’s secular order and replacing it with an Islamist state." First, the Military Prosecutor’s Office banned all broadcasts and publications related to the document, and then launched an investigation into the allegations. After almost three days of lull on the issue, the military announced Monday in a statement posted on its Web site that:
"In line with the evidence we received in the investigation, we have concluded that no units of the General Staff have prepared the alleged document." When that statement was not found by the ruling party and the media as a clear enough denial or confirmation of the existence of such a military action plan, the military, just hours later, posted on its Web site a second statement, saying that military prosecutors were seeking to obtain the original copy of the document for forensic examination to reach "a definite conclusion on whether it is forged or real."
The statement also stressed that the military "cannot keep within its system any personnel whose actions and opinions are not compatible with democracy and the principles of a state governed by the rule of law. The important thing is that the military prosecutors find out whether the referred document is authentic or not as soon as possible. If it is proven that the document is genuine, we are confident that the culprits will be punished through the judicial authorities." The statement said if the document proved to be bogus, the military would make every effort to uncover the individual and goal behind the preparation of the document.
Opposing camps once again
As has become a tradition over the past few years, the country immediately became polarized in its assessment of the development. One group undermined the military’s statements Ğ and a declaration by the accused colonel’s lawyer that his client never wrote such an action plan Ğ and started saying that the military should not have been expected to confirm the plot it was planning to stage anyhow and that the government should urgently dismiss from the Armed Forces those officers who were caught "red handed." According to this group, military prosecutors cannot adequately investigate the military probing a crime allegedly committed by some military officers, and the issue should be referred to the Ergenekon prosecutors who are already probing an alleged coup attempt. Another group totally ignored the possibility that such an action plan might have been written by some officers and came up with the allegation that the Turkish military was once again faced with a very serious smearing campaign aimed at ruining the military’s prestige among the people. This second group was of the opinion that neither the AKP nor the Gülen brotherhood organization, but rather the military, was the subject of a very serious plot.
Irrespective of which thesis is correct, it must be obvious to everyone that a very serious situation exists. If there is a plot against the AKP and the Gülen movement, and if that plot was written as alleged, only last April, perhaps it is in the best interest of everyone in this country to wake up and realize that the coup threat that we believed no longer exists in Turkey, perhaps still does exist. Thus, it is in the best national interest to investigate the claims thoroughly and bring to justice as soon as possible those engaged in such heinous adventures.
However, if there was no such plot and, indeed, there is a systematic smear campaign aimed at destroying the prestige of the military among the Turkish people and making it subservient to political pressures, then Turkey’s national interest requires that clarification be brought on who launched such a campaign and why, as well as the timing of the effort.
Due to the publication ban, we cannot go into specifics about the alleged action plan, but our impression is that it is genuine, though Ğ rather than the work of a military group within the chain of command Ğ it might be the work of an individual officer or group of officers. Still, for the good of the country, this issue must be probed in great detail and speed, and without losing much time, a definitive answer must be given as to whether or not it is genuine and what measures are being planned to be taken accordingly. This issue cannot wait for long. It is too delicate.
16 Haziran 2009
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated Sunday that his country is prepared to recognize a two-state settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian problem, provided Palestinians recognize Israel "as the nation of the Jewish people" and agree to demilitarize "completely." Though a marked parting from his hard-line opposition to the idea of a Palestinian state, the conditions attached will likely doom the offer to remain "Bibi’s joke." If Netanyahu’s offer cannot be enhanced further, it can offer no help to American President Barack Obama’s efforts to get the deadlocked Middle East peace drive back on track.
Probably, the Israeli prime minister, also known as "Bibi," was correct to a great extent in his assessment that "No one in Israel wants war," but no one among the Palestinian people Ğ not those living in refugee camps since they were forced by Israelis from their homes in 1948 and 1949, nor those in the present Palestinian territories or somewhere else in the Middle East, nor members of the diaspora as far away as Latin America Ğ wants war either.
Yet opposition to war does not mean Palestinians will agree to give away their inalienable rights, including the right to return, to accept Jerusalem becoming the "eternal capital of the Jewish state" or agree to the creation of a Palestinian state on whatever land is offered to them by Bibi’s government. Nor does it mean that they will accept having no defensive capabilities while neighboring Israel continues to possess every possible military capability, including weapons of mass destruction.
Bibi offered to open talks with Palestinians without "any preconditions" Ğ provided the Palestinians agree to the conditions he listed before any such talks could get underway. According to Bibi, talks would start without any preconditions, should Palestinians agree that in a two-state resolution, the Palestinian state would not only be deprived of any defensive capabilities, but also of control of its own airspace. In addition, the Jewish state would be guaranteed that there would be no way of smuggling weapons into the Palestinian territories.
More? Yes, indeed, Bibi had some further demands from the Palestinians. While he pledged not to have any new Jewish settlements on occupied Palestinian lands, and, in a way, responded to a demand made to that end by Obama, the Israeli leader at the same time said the settlers were not "enemies of peace" and did not budge from his position of backing "natural growth" in existing settlements.
Could any Palestinian consider such a statement as anything promising?
Moreover, the Israeli leader also refused the right of return of refugees, which has been a key demand of Palestinians in any peace effort thus far. "The Palestinian refugee problem must be resolved outside the borders of the state of Israel," he said. "Any demand to resettle refugees within Israel undermines Israel as a state for the Jewish people."
Just a beginning
Irrespective how short it fell in meeting expectations, and despite accusations from Palestinian spokesmen that Bibi’s remarks did not contribute to the cause of peace, but indeed sabotaged peace plans, the Israeli leader’s giving up his long-time opposition and accepting the notion of a two-state settlement, though with conditions attached, cannot be brushed aside all together either.
Indeed, we might be in the initial phase of a new process, the success of which will determine how much further Bibi might go in his offer. Could he, for example, agree to share Jerusalem between the Israelis and the Palestinians, a fundamental demand of the Palestinian people, who would, like the Jews, like to have a state with Jerusalem as its capital? Or could he expand the "no new settlements" approach to initially include a ban on expanding the current settlements and the eventual dismantling of at least some of the Jewish settlements on occupied Palestinian land?
Bibi was right in demanding that Palestinians must recognize the Israeli state. He was right in stressing that the future Palestinian state and Israel should develop peaceful, neighborly relations. But how healthy could such "peaceful, neighborly relations" be between a demilitarized Palestinian state and an Israeli state armed to its teeth with every sophisticated weapons system? Could the Palestinians agree to a life at the mercy of their neighbor Israel? If Bibi were a Palestinian, would he agree to such a life?
15 Haziran 2009
From time to time I have been stressing in this column that because of various factors including its geopolitical location, size, a diverse population of over 70 million people, and of course not so good governance, Turkey has a huge list of serious problems. The most pressing and indeed important one of these problems is obviously education.
On Sunday hundreds of thousands of young Turks sat in examination halls for several hours in a bid to qualify for university education. The previous Saturday, several hundred thousand younger Turks sweated at a country-wide examination in hope of getting admitted to either the “Science” or “Anatolian” high schools, believed to be offering a higher level of education. In order to win a place at a university, or at one of either the Science or Anatolian high schools, parents spend lofty amounts on certain private courses, and starting as early as the age of 10 many Turkish kids spend years in between their schools and those courses and prepare for those two or three-hour long “life determining” examinations.
It is the constitutional duty of the state to provide education opportunities to all Turkish children without discrimination. The constitution as well underlines an equality of all citizens. The reality unfortunately does not correspond with what’s written in the constitution.
Firstly, Turkey is such a "social state" and state schools are offering such high level of education that parents have to spend lofty amounts on private courses to get their kids into Science or Anatolian high schools and later to universities. Secondly, if even a better secondary education depends on how much parents can spend on private courses and if most Turks are waging an uphill battle for survival and cannot afford such courses, how can this country have "equal opportunity in education" as dictated by its constitution?
The lack of adequate funds allocated to education or the absence of a proper education policy and long-term planning on the one hand and a very young population, more than the combined population of many small members of the European Union, waiting for an education opportunity at the doors of Turkish universities is definitely a serious problem. Or, the existence of millions of children and the need to provide them at least a proper primary education is no easy challenge for any government. Education woes are indeed the mother of all problems.
13 Haziran 2009
Turkey and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus enjoy a peculiar web of relations. Not only Turkey is the Motherland for Turkish Cypriots, which under her rights as one of the three guarantor powers, together with Greece and Britain, of the 1960 partnership republic on the island she went to the rescue of the Turkish Cypriot people in the aftermath of the 15 July 1974 Athens-engineered coup by Greek Cypriot supporters of union with Greece; or has been maintaining thousands of troops there to protect Turkish Cypriot security since 1974; or is the sole country that recognizes northern Cyprus but also Turkey is a net contributor to both the budget and development projects undertaken in northern Cyprus considered by most mainland Turks as the "Kinderland" that has to be supported by all means. Ever since the 1960 partnership republic collapsed in December 1963 and the Turkish Cypriot partners in the bi-communal Cyprus Republic were kicked out of the joint administration and the Cyprus Republic was converted into a solely Greek Cypriot administered state, Turkish Cypriots have been living on the support from Turkey. Even after the 1983 proclamation of independence, which is not internationally recognized, the Turkish Cypriot state could not become self sufficient. It could also be argued that Ankara never wanted to allow the development of a self sufficient economy in northern Cyprus due to its concern of losing its leverage on the Turkish Cypriot administration. But, in reality, because of the high walls of international political, economic and even cultural isolation the Turkish Cypriot people have been subjected to, even if Ankara wanted them to, it would be very difficult to develop a self sufficient economy in northern Cyprus without seriously hurting Turkey’s European Union membership aspirations and other major foreign policy objectives.
Particularly since the AKP government came to power in Turkey in 2003 and introduced a strong "pro-settlement" resolve, the focus of Ankara on northern Cyprus shifted from improving the well-being of the Turkish Cypriot people to supporting pro-settlement elements among the Turkish Cypriot people.
In 2007 a new process was launched though there was no change in attitudes in southern Cyprus. The election of Demetris Christofias as Greek Cypriot leader was a kiss if life to the stillborn process. Still, with false hopes of "settlement by this yearend" 2008 passed. With only a few months left to the end of 2009, now same melancholic melody is played by Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat, who despite the slow pace of the talks and the apparent continued intransigence of Christofias to establish a new partnership state on the basis of political equality of the two founding states, apparently still believes that there could be a settlement and a referendum on the settlement plan by the April 2010 end of his presidency.
It takes two to tango
It was odd to see last April, when Turkish Cypriots voted Talat’s socialists out of office and brought back the nationalists of Dr. Derviş Eroğlu. That both Turkish President Abdullah Gül and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan reluctantly celebrated Eroğlu’s victory but stressed firmly their commitment to support President Talat and the settlement talks and underlined that they expected the new government support the process as well, as if Eroğlu was against a settlement. Naturally, every political party might have a different settlement perception but by and large everyone in northern Cyprus concedes that the status quo is not sustainable. Yet, is it not obvious that for any deal on Cyprus there has to be a pro-settlement will of the Greek Cypriot side as well? As is said, it takes two to tango.
For the past two days Eroğlu has been in Ankara for his first-ever official trip since coming to power again. Obviously, he demanded Ankara increase its financial assistance to northern Cyprus. But, he received here a very strong message that his administration should not only be an obstacle to the current talks-process but indeed should as well be very supportive of the efforts of President Talat. For increased assistance, on the other hand, he was told that Ankara would be willing to extend every possible support provided he was ready to launch a comprehensive austerity package and a structural reform process in the Turkish Cypriot state. "No more fish, we will teach you how to fish" he was apparently told.
But, does Ankara really want Turkish Cypriots to learn how to fish?