Power struggle, or: off the shelf

On Thursday, daily Taraf revealed a document from a National Security Council (NSC) meeting at which it was decided that the movement led by the influential Islamic preacher Fethullah Gülen should be finished off. The signature of Prime Minister Erdogan is on the document, which dates back to August 2004.  A long time ago, you would say, so is it actually still relevant today?

Representatives of the government, like Erdogan’s advisor Yalçın Akdoğan and Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arinc, have admitted immediately after Taraf’s scoop that such a document exists, but claim that the government never took any action on it. It was just an ‘advice’ from the NSC, a monthly meeting at which representatives of the army and the government discuss current affairs.

Fethullah Gülen
Fethullah Gülen

I don’t find that hard to believe. Turkey was quite a different country in 2004 than it is today. Erdogan’s AKP had been in power for only two years, and was not as firmly in the saddle as it is now. The party was deeply distrusted by the army because of its Islamic  roots, and the AKP had to take that into account: the days of military coups, with or without tanks in the streets, was not yet over at the time.

In 2003, the National Security Council, established after the military coup of 1961, was reformed. The authority of the NSC had been expanded after the 1980 coup, and till 2003 the government had to follow up on the ‘recommendations’ it gave. The balance between military and civil representatives in the NSC (five members from the military: the Chief of General Staff, and the commanders of the air forces, land forces, navy and gendarmerie, and five from the government: the president, the prime minister, and the ministers of internal affairs, foreign affairs and defence) had only been a balance in numbers. And in 2004, Necdet Sezer was president of Turkey, a man of the old guard, who opposed the AKP just as fiercely as the army did.

Huge election victory

Since 2003, the government doesn’t have to follow the NSC ‘recommendations’ anymore. And it’s very likely that this specific recommendation was not carried out, because the relations between the AKP and Gülen were still very good at the time. The followers of Gülen helped deliver the AKP a huge election victory in 2002, after the party was established in 2001. The AKP’s economic policies helped the businessmen in Anatolian cities who voted for the AKP. The Gülen movement, in which education plays an important role, got the opportunity to open private schools, both for regular education as for private prep schools for, amongst others, the university entrance exam. And slowly the ‘Gülenci’s’ were rewarded for their loyalty by getting increasingly important posts in the bureaucracy.

The document with Erdogan's signature, source: daily Taraf
The document with Erdogan’s signature, source: daily Taraf

In the summer of 2011, the AKP dealt an important blow to the military power, which is now largely (but certainly not fully) under civilian control, and the army is now lead by a man loyal to the AKP. That, along with the closure case against the AKP that the party survived, made the AKP free, or, more precisely, confident. Very confident. We all know by now what that lead to: Prime Minister Erdogan is increasingly authoritarian and tries to dictate his conservative values to society, either by law or by publicly scandalizing people with a different lifestyle.

Tremendous changes between the time of Erdogan’s signature on the NSC document in 2004, and now. Old powers have been marginalized, and that has given space to a new power struggle: between the AKP and the Gülen movement. It first started to surface in February 2012, when Gülen followers in the judiciary tried to incriminate the leader of the national intelligence service, Hakan Fidan (an Erdogan confidant) by connecting him to the banned Kurdish organisation KCK. Ever since, relations between the AKP and Gülen have deteriorated.

Education is crucial

The latest low is a fierce discussion about the prep schools that the Gülenci’s had opened all over the country in the last decade: the AKP wants to close them down. Prime Minister Erdogan says attending the prep schools shouldn’t be necessary to be successful in the university entrance exam, but the Gülenci’s see the attempt to close their schools as a direct attack on their movement. Education is crucial to them: there they educate their young followers, there they keep them inside the movement by housing them in their own student accommodation, and there they make them ready for the highest  possible positions in society.

The power struggle between the AKP and the Gülen movement seems to have everything to do with the presidential elections scheduled for August 2014. Although not announced officially, nobody doubts Erdogan wants to run for the position. The other less certain but still anticipated candidate is the incumbent President Gül (who was present in the NSC meeting in 2004 as Minister of Foreign Affairs). The latter has, as is widely assumed, always been closer to the Gülen movement than Erdogan. If Erdogan breaks the movement, he may lower Gül’s chances for presidency.

Erdogan may have had no reason to follow up on the National Security Council’s recommendation in 2004. But it looks like he never forgot about it, and has now taken it off the shelf.

Boots, and other questions

How can you find two complete pairs of boots in the Mediterranean Sea, belonging to two missing soldiers who were in a plane that was shot down, and for the rest find nothing of the soldiers or the plane? Impossible, right? Yet Turkey did it. I just don’t believe it and the claim makes me doubt Turkey’s version of the events last Friday, when their jet that was shot by Syria.

The story of the boots, who were reportedly shown on a photograph to opposition leaders yesterday, is not the first reason to doubt Turkey’s version of what happened. Foreign Minister Davutoglu was interviewed by stat-run TV channel TRT Sunday morning. Well, interview is not the accurate word. Davutoglu was there to explain what happened according to Turkey, not to answer critical questions.

Borders

So, one of the important questions that remained and until now remains unanswered, is: if this was, as Turkey claims, a test and training mission, why was it carried out so close to the Syrian border in a time that tension around Syria is already high? Turkey has borders it violates all the time without getting into trouble, like the Greek and the Iraqi border, so why not test there?

Another one: if the plane was shot down above international waters, how come Turkey is searching for the pilots and parts of the plane in Syrian waters?

And then the two pairs of boots came up. The whole story just rambles. Of course, in situations like these not all intelligence is shared with the media and the public, but if you raise these kind of questions without answering them, how reliable are you? What kind of extra intelligence is Turkey sharing with its allies in NATO and with other countries that were consulted, that might make these blanks vanish?

Clean up the mess 

Turkey admits that the plane violated Syrian air space. If it was shot in Syrian airspace, which Turkey denies, then the shooting down was still unusual to say the least, but clearly not an ‘attack’ as mentioned in the North Atlantic Treaty, as you can read here (published on Saturday, before FM Davutoglu spoke on TRT). Then, if it was an attack, which could be if it was flying over international waters, would it justify a military NATO respons? No – the article makes sense when it explains not all attacks are equal: it would only worsen the situation. A military respons would mean war with Syria, and later NATO would have to clean up the mess. They’re not going to do that over a single incident.

So, no war. That’s the good news, of course. Tomorrow we are going to find out what Turkey will do, after it has talked with NATO, also scheduled for tomorrow. But what are the options? I can’t really figure it out. Even sanctions against Syria are impossible, since Turkey imposed those already months ago because of Assad’s brutal suppression of the uprising in his country. A strong condemnation? A demand to bring the perpetrators to justice? That’s hardly going to make Assad tremble or even blink. Turkey has used strong words, but it seems it won’t be able to act accordingly.

Mother’s Day

Esra wants to take me to the local shop. I’m not sure why, but she insists and takes me by the hand. In the shop I want to buy her and her sister a notebook because they want to practice their writing all the time. But she doesn’t like it. She wants a gold coloured necklace. I refuse to buy it; I say I’m not sure if her mother would agree. We leave the shop, and then she whispers: ‘It was for Mother’s Day’. So we return to the shop and get the necklace.

I am spending some time in Gülyazi, the village in the district of Uludere where, at the end of December, 34 civilians were bombed by the Turkish army. I am staying with a family that lives in a group of four, five houses. I stay in a room in Esra’s mother’s house. The massacre made her a widow at age 28, and she is now alone with five children between five and ten years old. She explains her situation very simply: ‘Before it was bad, now it is worse’.

Her husband made a living from all sorts of day jobs: herding sheep and goats, working in construction, and sometimes he went right across the Iraqi border, some six kilometres from here, to smuggle sugar, diesel and tea. Now that he is no longer alive, she has no income. Like all the families of the victims, she refused the compensation the state offered them. The family helps out, but her sister-in-law also has no man to provide for her: he was sentenced to four years in prison for ‘aiding terrorists’ and has two more years to go.

The poverty is striking. The house has no running water – luckily the creek nearby offers crystal-clear drinking water. There are carpets and cushions, a television that I think doesn’t work, very basic food, there is nothing in the house that is not necessary. There are no beds, the kids just get a blanket when they get tired and lay down on the carpet or on a cushion. The main electricity plug is burned and out of use. Underneath the TV is a picture of Esra’s father – it’s covered with a cloth so they are not confronted with the loss all the time.

As I write this, the evening before Mother’s day, Esra is wrapping her present for her mother in a piece of white paper and writes a sweet message on it. But the present is not a necklace. Halfway on the way back home from the shop, Esra changed her mind. She ran back and returned with a set of vegetable peelers and a pair of socks. Practical thinking. I do so hope it will bring a smile to Esra’s mother’s sad face.

Uludere two weeks later – a sweep up

On 28 December 35 civilians died in an air strike of the Turkish army. The victims came from the villages of Gülyazi and Ortasu, in the district Uludere in the southeastern province of Sirnak.

In two weeks time, I wrote seven stories about it. Some of them are based on what I saw and heard in Gülyazi, where I went a few days after the massacre. The articles were written partly for media I work for, partly for this website. I sweep them together here, to give you an idea of what happened, in chronological order.

For news agency ANP:
‘Turkish TV can’t cover the news’

For this website:
Uludere investigation, or: the potholes in our minds

For news agency ANP:
Uludere victim’s families don’t want compensation

For this website:
The village guards of Uludere
He went for a computer
Who saved the governor?

For youth paper 7Days:
Kids in southeast Turkey: smuggling to survive

On 10 January, Turkish NGO’s Insan Haklari Dernegi (Human Rights Association) and Mazlum-Der published a report about the Uludere massacre. They did not get access to any of the authorities. They published a list of questions that urgently need answers, and state that the UN and the Council of Europe should investigate what happened.

This will never happen. Ever since Turkey’s war of independence, that lead to the founding of the Turkish Republic in 1923, Turkey has a deep rooted suspicion against any foreign interference. The government will never allow anybody from outside dig into its affairs. Especially not when it has no intention of the truth ever coming out, like in this case. Already very soon certain documents concerning the massacre were labelled ‘classified’ – with which the covering up began.

My conclusion: the truth about Uludere will never be known, and those responsible will never be punished.

The village guards of Uludere

This week, I went to Gülyazi, one of the villages in the Uludere district where 35 citizens were killed by the Turkish air force. I talked to families of the victims, and to young smugglers. I’d like to share my findings on two subjects in blog posts: village guards, and smuggling as a totally normal part of life.

Read more on the village guards below, and click here for the blog post about smuggling.

 

Most of the victims of the Uludere killings belonged to the same extended family, with the surname Encü. Soon it was claimed that they were a ‘kurucu family’, meaning there were supposedly several korucu, or ‘village guards’, in the family.

Village guards are Kurdish villagers employed and armed by the state, who help the state in the fight against the PKK. The system was introduced in the eighties, after the PKK started its violent campaign in 1984. The state thought it was a good idea to have auxiliary forces who knew the landscape, the people and the language of the area.

Often people were forced to become village guards. They were given a ‘choice’: either you become a village guard, or we burn your house and kick you out of the village. Many people refused and left their village, some were killed for refusing, and others gave in and started working for the state. There are many village guards. To give you an idea: Gülyazi has 500 to 600 inhabitants (and 25 of the victims came from here, so that’s about 5% of the population), and with about 6000 people in surrounding villages, they share one muhtar, a state-employed village head. In this area of 6000 people, there are 27 village guards, so every village has a few.

Traitors

The PKK considers the village guards traitors and has killed several of them, and you still hear of village guards becoming victims of PKK attacks. The korucu are often involved in all kinds of illegal activities, from extrajudicial killings to disappearances and drug trafficking. The whole system got severely out of hand and is under debate – read some more about that in a previous blog post.

That the Encü family was known for being village guards puzzled me while watching and reading the news about the Uludere killings. The funeral for the 35 victims was huge, and hundreds of people came from all over the region to attend it. The anger and pain among Kurds is immense. I somehow couldn’t reconcile that with some of the victims being korucu family members. I thought the korucu families were somewhat outside the rest of the Kurdish community, that they were even seen by some as traitors, but now I saw a very different picture.

Labels

I talked about it with the victims’ families, including some members of the Encü family. They said that when such a tragedy hits the community, it’s not important if you are a village guard or not. The community just comes together. But they also suggested it’s not considered an important matter anyway if you are from a korucu family or not. Everybody struggles to make a living, and being a korucu is one way. So I asked if it is possible to be a village guard and at the same time in your heart be a PKK supporter. I didn’t really get an answer. Or, to be more precise: the answer was that these kinds of labels have nothing to do with the everyday realities of life in a village near the south-eastern border. ‘We are all Kurds’, one man said, ‘and the truth is: no Kurd wants to kill another Kurd’.

That didn’t satisfy me. There must be more to it. More than I could figure out in just two days. I will return to Uludere a few times in the near future and try to find out more, also about other questions and matters I am curious about. In the meantime, if you have any knowledge to share on this subject, the comment section is open! 

Uludere investigation, or: the potholes in our minds

Intense days it have been, totally taken up by the news around the killing of 35 civilians by the Turkish air forces. Chilling details, like: 28 of the 35 deceased had the same last name, and 17 of 35 were under the age of 18. The group of smugglers always took the same route, one of the survivors told an investigation team of two NGO’s who were on the spot quickly. The gendarme and police knew it, and tolerated it. Smuggling has been a way of income in the region for generations long. Even more so since the war between the state and the PKK broke out in the eighties, and agriculture and cattle breeding was no longer possible because big parts of the region were declared a security zone.

What keeps stuck in my mind these days, are the predictable reactions from all sides. The media, for example. I was surprised to hear TV stations in Turkey are directly instructed by Ankara about how to cover the news (read my story about that here), but for the rest, I have not been surprised. After the AKP came with a statement, the news could be covered by TV, but still, they have to be very careful who to get in front of the microphone and which footage to broadcast and which not.

Smuggling routes

The papers don’t need too much instruction, I’m afraid. The civilians were bombed Wednesday late at night, on Thursday early morning the news was spreading, so the first papers to report about it were published on Friday. Time enough to cover the story from different angles, you would think. But no, unfortunately the majority of papers didn’t make an effort to go beyond the official statements. No paper for example mentioned the pre-report that was published on Thursday by two NGO’s, in which it became clear that the police and gendarme knew about the smuggling, that the smuggling routes were known by everybody. This at least raises questions about the intelligence that was used before the attack, but in none of the articles, this was mentioned. Some quoted one of the survivors from the same report, but the factual findings of the NGO’s were not published.

Some papers didn’t even choose the 35 civilians deaths to be the main story. One of Turkey’s biggest papers, Hürriyet, decided not to change their plans for the front story: a happy coverage of a container village in earthquake city Ercis, sponsored by Hürriyet. Self promotion on a day where tragedy should have been reported as the main news. Milliyet, also big, chose as main news the veto that President Gül used against a parliament decision to raise the pensions for mp’s. A corner of the front page was saved for the killings in Uludere.

Terrorists

In general, the reporting of Turkish media didn’t make Turkish people loose one night of sleep over this. If you don’t search yourself for news from different angles, you could go to sleep without your truths being shaken. Yes, 35 civilians were killed by the Turkish air force, but, there are all these buts. But: they were smugglers, what were they doing there anyway right by the Iraqi border, and but: there are PKK camps in the border region so ‘collateral damage’ is inevitable.

And when the footage and pictures of the funeral of the deceased were released, for many Turks all pieces of the puzzle fell into place: there were flags in red-yellow-green on the coffins – Kurdish colours, but by most Turks considered PKK-colours. Also, a portrait of Öcalan could be seen. See, many people immeditaly think, they are all terrorists! No paper takes the trouble to go and really talk to the villagers. Why do you cover your coffins with these flags? What do these colours mean to you? Why do you show Öcalan portraits? Tell us, about your daily life. Tell us, how the still unsolved Kurdish question and the still ongoing war between the army and the PKK affects your lives.

On pro-PKK side, the reactions were just as predictable. In short: the state planned to kill these civilians and it’s part of the ethnic cleansing of the Kurdish people. Some prefer the word ‘genocide’. ‘Erdogan mass murderer’, slogans like that.

Basic convictions

The automatic reactions on both sides, remind me of a pothole in the street. There is water in the pothole, and the weight of water and sand slowly slowly makes the pothole bigger and deeper. The bigger and deeper the pothole gets, the more water will flow into it, just for gravity reasons. People have a pothole in their mind, with their basic convictions in it. When a new idea comes to their mind, the chance that it flows into the pothole is big, just like water flows in the easiest direction. The more ideas flow into the pothole in the mind, the bigger the pothole becomes, and the more difficult it becomes to think outside the pothole. It’s a circle.

A circle that can be broken, but you have to make an effort for it, and sometimes you need outside help. Somebody has to force you somehow to think outside the pothole. Now I’m afraid no investigation into the killings that is carried out by any party in Turkey will be able to reach this. If the army and/or the state research the killings, many Kurds will not trust the outcome, even if the investigation is done properly. When IHD and Mazlum-Der, the two NGO’s that made the pre-report, do the investigation, many Turks will not buy it, because especially IHD is seen by many as PKK-supporters. Everybody will let the results easily glide into their own potholes. No truths are questioned, and that’s it. Which will not satisfy anybody, and for sure not bring a solution to the conflict any closer.

New borderline

That is why an investigation by an independent body is important. IHD and Mazlum-Der propose the Human Rights Commission of the UN should come to investigate. As soon as possible, before any evidence can be destroyed. I hope the state gives permission for that. It is the only party that could force people to think outside their pothole. Such an investigation wouldn’t allow people to just disregard the outcomes if they don’t suit their truths. It will also show a new borderline into two different groups: those who are able and willing to think beyond their own truths and force themselves to prevent new ideas to flow into the pothole in their minds, and those who don’t. In other words: those who are willing to really work towards peace, and those who don’t.

Apology by decree

What’s it worth, this apology that Prime Minister Erdogan made yesterday for the Dersim massacres? He said it, he actually said that he apologizes on the state’s behalf for what happened in 1937 and 1938. A novelty in Turkish politics. But at the same time it is not a novelty at all. It is not the first time people’s pains are being used for playing political games. And it’s not the first time Erdogan just states or decides something, without first taking his proposal to parliament or conduct a nation wide debate about it. He rules by decree, and this is an example of it.

A political game? Of course it is. Erdogan just wanted to put opposition leader Kilicdaroglu on the spot. Kilicdaroglu has his roots in Dersim, family members of his were murdered, and the whole Dersim debate going on these days was started by a CHP MP from Dersim who stated that the massacres were a planned attack, and that Atatürk, President at the time, ordered it. Heavy discussions in the CHP: many MP’s attacked their Dersim colleague for his words: the CHP is Atatürks party who was ruling the country as the only permitted party, and criticizing what happened in Dersim touches the roots of their political history.
The discussions and allegations between Kilicdaroglu and Erdogan were going on for some days already, and Erdogan also heavily attacked Kilicdaroglu in his speech in which he apologized. What a shameful behaviour, to make politics over the pain of thousands of people. How must it feel for people from Dersim to be used like this for the Prime Ministers gain?

Legitimate action

Besides all this, ruling by decree is not worthy of a democracy. Not when it comes to any policy field, but especially not when it comes to deeply black pages of Turkey’s history like the Dersim massacres. For a wholehearted apology, first a careful, sincere debate is needed about what exactly happened, why it happened and why an apology would be in order.
This apology of Erdogan came totally out of the blue. Until the day before yesterday, the state version of what happened in Dersim was that there was an uprising going on in the province, that threatened the still young republic, and this uprising was legitimately cracked down. If this was the case, why would an apology be needed? It must be weird also for Turks, who have learned the state history in schools. Why is our Prime Minister apologizing for a legitimate action?

Apologizing out of the blue is not a way to confront the past. Confronting the past is throwing all historical taboos overboard and discuss the matter from every angle. With everybody whom it concerns. Open archives, put responsibility where it belongs, listen to people’s stories, acknowledge pain. Then an apology can follow – by the President, since he represents the state, and not by the Prime Minister, who represents the government.

Silenced

The danger of this apology is not only that it will not bring any relief to the survivors of Dersim and the families of the ones who didn’t survive, but also that it blocks the road to real reconciliation. The apology is already done, so why now start debating the whole issue? Why acknowledge pains, why researching in detail what happened? I fear the day that the survivors and the families of the deceased are being silenced because Erdogan apologized already and they are being asked what more they could possibly want.

So no, I won’t praise Erdogan in any way for his apology. It’s sad to say, but it came too early.

The paralysing message of the Balyoz case

‘I’m going to convince you in half an hour’s time that the whole Balyoz case is fake’. I had an interview today with Celal Ülgen, the lawyer for eight suspects in the Balyoz case (Balyoz is an alleged coup plot). Some of the suspects he is defending are ‘big fish’ who had high military positions, like Cetin Dogan and Dursun Cicek. Ülgen opened files on his computer and showed me why he is sure evidence in the Balyoz case has been doctored. So, did he succeed? Am I convinced now?

Not a very exciting question, is it, whether I’m convinced or not? I’m just a journalist, and whether I’m convinced or not is totally irrelevant to the case. The important question is if, at some point, Celal Ülgen and his lawyer colleagues will be able to convince the judges in the Balyoz case of their claim that evidence was fabricated. But when I put that to Celal Ülgen, he tells me he has lost all faith in the judicial system in Turkey. It’s a conspiracy, he says. A huge conspiracy, with the United States as the main actor. Turkish judges are part of it, so he has no expectations whatsoever that they are looking for justice in this case.

Mentality

I always get sceptical when people start talking about world-wide conspiracies. They are impossible to verify and impossible to invalidate. So that part, I just put aside. It’s the plain evidence that counts, the documents that are on the table, verifiable. And from the things that Celal Ülgen showed me, it sure appears like part of the evidence has been doctored. Still, I don’t become convinced the whole Balyoz case is fake just because some evidence seems to be fabricated. That would be too easy.

It’s not hard for me to imagine some suspects are being framed, even more so since Celal Ülgen showed me what he knows. But on the other hand, it’s also not very hard for me to imagine a group of high ranking military personnel had plans to stage a coup against the AKP government. The army doesn’t only abhor the AKP government, but also has a history of staging coups. All military personnel are brought up with the notion that staging coups every now and then is okay to protect the Kemalist state. When I put that to Ülgen, he merely said that many people feel that way and that’s why it’s even harder to convince people the whole case is fake. Again, that’s just too easy. The fact that Turkey has had several coups since 1960 and that that mentality has been very much alive up until at least a few years ago, can’t be disregarded just like that.

Paralysing

For me, it’s not relevant whether I’m convinced or not. I’m being honest when I say that I’m not even sure if I’m convinced or not. There are people who strongly believe the Balyoz coup plans really exist, and if I talk to them I’m sure they have a convincing story as well. But still, the time that Celal Ülgen generously gave me was not in vain for him. I will write about the way many people are losing faith these days in the Turkish judicial system. Not only the suspects and lawyers in the Balyoz case have no faith whatsoever in prosecutors and judges, but other segments of society, like Kurdish politicians, also feel very unjustly treated.

Celal Ülgen told me one of his hopes for his clients are the foreign media. That’s why he talked to me and gave me so much of his time. If more people in Europe know about what’s going on, the pressure from Europe on Turkey might increase, which might be good for the people he defends. The headline of the story I hope to publish in a few weeks won’t be ‘Coup evidence in Turkey fabricated’. I’m in no position to pass judgement on that. The point is: evidence can be fabricated, it happens all the time all over the world. But as a suspect, you must be able to count on it that a judge is independent and that you can only be convicted when the evidence against you is clear and sufficient. If you can’t, if huge groups of people can’t, the system has a serious problem. That’s what is now happening in Turkey. And that is an even more paralysing message than evidence being doctored.

My British colleague Alex Christie Miller went to the court house in Silivri, that was especially built for the Balyoz trials. Read his findings on his website Turkey Etcetera.

Baby soldiers, human beings

In some countries, you have child soldiers, but in Turkey, there are baby soldiers. In fact, every Turk, the myth says, is born as a soldier. Children say that every day in their pledge to the flag before they enter school: besides saying they are Turks, honest and hard working, they state they were born a soldier. To become a grown-up Turk, every man has to act in accordance with that fact of birth and fulfil his military service. No exceptions allowed. Is a gynaecologist going to help bring about change?

The lawyer for a group of people who are being prosecuted for supporting conscious objector Enver Aydemir, asked the court to allow a gynaecologist to speak as an expert witness. If the court allows it, the gynaecologist will speak out about how Turks are born: as babies, or as soldiers. An important matter in the case. The defendants are being prosecuted for a press statement they released to support Enver Aydemir, in which they wrote that ‘everybody is born as a baby, nobody is born as a soldier’. That’s a violation of the law that prohibits ‘alienating the public from military service’, decided the prosecutor.

Secular army

Enver Aydemir has been in and out of prison since 2007, when he refused to do his military service. He’s free now, but his legal agony is not over yet: he has to appear before a higher court and could be jailed again. He says as an obedient Muslim he can not serve in a secular army. According to European treaties that Turkey is party to, his right to refuse military service based on religious or conscious objections, must be recognised.

His case was supported by a ruling of the European Court of Human Rights earlier this summer, in the case of Armenian citizen Vahan Bayatyan. The latter refused to do his military service,  arguing it’s against his religious beliefs as a Jehova’s Witness. The ECHR ruled last year that Armenia is guilty of violating the European Convention on Human Rights on freedom of thought, conscience and religion – the first time the court convicted a country for a violation of that freedom in the context of conscientious objection. This summer the court ruled that the Armenian state has to pay him €20,000 for damages, costs and expenses for the time he spent in jail.

The ruling of last year is important for Turkey too. Turks don’t always like to admit it, but not all Turks believe they were born as soldiers, and the country has about 300 conscious objectors. If Turkey took the ruling in the Bayatyan case seriously, they would change the law and make it possible for people not to do their military service and opt for an alternative civilian service. The unfortunate thing about rulings of the ECHR though, is that there is no way you can force a country to obey them. It’s a moral obligation, and as you can read for example here, Turkey doesn’t really have a tendency to take this moral obligation seriously.

Human beings

I hope the gynaecologist will be accepted as an expert witness in the case about the supporters of Enver Aydemir. And that the supporters will not be convicted of ‘alienating the public from military service’. It might help to broaden the freedom of speech, and thus the possibilities to share the reasons why you could choose not to do your military service. To make people aware of the fact that, according to treaties that Turkey is a signatory to, you have the right to object based on your conscious or religion.

It might in the long run help to get rid of the myth that every Turk is born a soldier – I have always found that an appalling thought, and I often think about it when I see Turkish baby boys or my neighbourhood boys playing on the street. They are not soldiers. They are not destined to be ready to die for their country. They are human beings. Their conscious is one of the things that make them human, and they must be able to act according to it when it tells them not to take up arms and learn to kill.

Caught in the middle

Shocking news this morning: a pregnant woman and her six year old daughter were killed in the Southeastern province of Batman. Many Turkish media were quick to say it was the PKK who did it, Kurdish Firat news agency reported, on witnesses account, that mother and daughter were killed by police bullets. A big TV-station sought the truth in the middle: they reported the civilians were killed when they were caught in the middle of a heavy fight going on between the PKK and the army.

Only a thorough research can answer from which direction the bullets came. But at a certain level, maybe it’s not so important. However you look at it, the awfull truth is the same in every war: civilians are caught in the middle and are the real victims. Collateral damage.

I don’t think in this war civilians are the first target of both the army and the PKK. They both (nowadays) in the first place aim at eachother. That doesn’t count for another group, the TAK (Kurdistan Freedom Falcons), that for example claimed responsibility for the bomb last week in Ankara and a bomb on a beach earlier this summer in Antalya. The members of TAK officially seperated from the PKK and formed their own group, even though many people consider them just a branch of the PKK. Anyway, they specifically aim at civilians and deliberately kill them.

The Turkish government starts working today on proloning the permission the army has to carry out cross border operations on PKK targets in North-Iraq. There are rumours that ground troops are being built up in the border provinces Hakkari and Sirnak, ready to start a ground offensive against PKK-camps across the border. In this era of increased violence, both decisions will be supported by the majority of Turks. I wish it was the other way around. That violence would make people more aware of how bad violence is, and how normal civilians are always the real victims. That this would be a time for both sides to halt violence, in stead of increasing it any further.