News of the week

I went to the Netherlands for a week, and even though I always intend to keep reading the Turkish papers online, I never really manage to do it: when you’re out of the country, somehow the news doesn’t get through your skull very well. Now that I am back, I’m catching up on the news and again I realize why I always have these good intentions: there is really never a dull moment in Turkey, and not being on top of the news makes you miss interesting developments. In the meantime, i was also waiting for some personal news – but more about that later.

Last Sunday, for example, there was a big protest by the Alevi minority for equal religious rights. One of the main issues was the compulsory religious lessons that every child has to take in school. The European Court for Human Rights ruled that Alevi children cannot be forced to join in these lessons which teach the state Sunni version of Islam, but Turkey has not yet abided by the ruling. The AKP government has been talking a lot about giving Alevis equal religious rights and recently President Gül visited the province of Tunceli where the majority of the population is Alevi, but so far it’s all just symbolic and nothing has changed.

On Monday, the Sudanese President al-Bashir cancelled a trip to Turkey. He was not invited by Ankara but by the Organisations of the Islamic Conference, and there was of course a lot of fuss about a head of state wanted for crimes against humanity being able to visit Turkey unhindered. The most stunning quote though came from Prime Minister Erdogan, commenting on the mass killings in Darfur, which he doesn’t consider genocide because ‘no Muslim could perpetrate a genocide’. Smart remark.

Tuesday, there were physical fights in parliament because the governing party AKP wanted to debate their Kurdish initiative. Members of the AKP and the nationalist MHP couldn’t restrain themselves after tensions rose about the date the AKP planned to have the debate: November 10th is the date on which Atatürk died in 1938, and on that day every year commemorations are held all over the country. The opposition found it unthinkable to discuss the Kurdish issue on the day the man who unified modern Turkey died, since they consider the Kurdish initiative a betrayal of Atatürk which will divide the nation.

On Wednesday colonel Dursun Çiçek was arrested. He was interrogated and brought to court because he is allegedly involved in a secret plan to destroy the AKP and the religious Gülen movement. Çiçek’s signature was found on a document in which the plans were laid out. After months of discussion about whether it was really his signature or a forgery, the criminal investigation bureau concluded it was indeed Çiçek’s signature. A few days later his arrest, Çiçek was released again.

The big news on Thursday was about wire tapping: 56 judges and prosecutors were wiretapped as part of the investigation into Ergenekon. The government says it was all done by the book and with the official approval of judges. The opposition says judges are not willing to refuse a request for wire tapping, since the government can influence and thus ruin their careers.

On Friday, the government revealed part of the Kurdish initiative in parliament. To me, one of the most important steps is that there will be an independent body that will investigate torture claims against security forces. It is not possible to go forward without dealing with the past, so it is essential to have such a commission. I wonder if in the end the existence of Jitem will be admitted too, and the crimes committed punished – read more about that in my article on the subject. I didn’t see any plan to investigate crimes on both sides though: shouldn’t the crimes of the PKK be thoroughly investigated too? A partial investigation has already taken place, but the whole history of violence over the last 25 years should be investigated in detail: who killed who when, who was responsible and who should be punished?

On Saturday, I finally got the personal news I was waiting for: my sister delivered her third child. On Friday, at almost the same time as my plane took off from Amsterdam for Istanbul, she gave birth after a pregnancy of 41 weeks. I planned to see the new niece the week I was in Holland, but I learned that babies couldn’t care less about the plans of adults! News, it’s always unexpected, even when planned.

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