BDP MP Gültan Kisanak: ‘AKP knows Kurds have the potential to cause big trouble’

‘Of course I am angry’, says Member of Parliament Gültan Kisanak. We are sitting in a room in the Istanbul head office of her party, the Peace and Democracy Party, BDP. Outside, the smell of tear gas can still be vaguely detected. Yesterday afternoon, the BDP tried to organize a protest against the capture of PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan on 15 February 1999, and against the solitary confinement he’s been held in now for some nine months. Police effectively blocked people from protesting. Kisanak and her fellow MP Sebahat Tüncel kept the people who did manage to gather calm. Kisanak: ‘I feel responsible for keeping everything calm, so I have to keep my own anger under control.’

Gültan Kışanak talks to the press at yesterday's protest. By her side her colleague MP Sebahat Tüncel. (pic by me, click to enlarge)

Only about two hundred people made it to the protest on Istiklal Street. The group could only be reached by journalists: with a press card, the police let you through without any problem. The few hundred protesters came early enough not to be hindered by the police blockade. We – my assistant and I – hear from protesters that in many places around Istiklal and Taksim Square, people are trying to reach the protest. Identities are being checked, and people who look like they are coming to protest are not let through, people say. The protest in Istiklal remains peaceful.
In the closeby neighbourhood of Tarlabasi, where many Kurds live and where the Istanbul headquarters of the BDP are located, there appear to have been clashes with the police, as we smell (tear gas!) when we get to the area after the protest at Istiklal is over.

We see Gültan Kisanak and Sebahat Tüncel enter the building. We enter too, who knows who we can speak to. It’s busy inside, the BDP headquarters are like a community centre. Tea is being served, and a TV is tuned in to channel ‘Newroz’, where some glorification of Öcalan is going on. ‘Who do you want to talk to?’ my assistant asks. ‘Gültan Kisanak of course, if possible’, I reply. Two minutes later, the man responsible for press contacts appears. Fifteen minutes later, Kisanak comes into the room where we were told to wait.

She speaks softly at first. About how important the 15th of February is for the Kurdish movement, how they protest Öcalan’s detention every year, and about how they face difficulties with police on a daily basis. She says: ‘You saw how big the police presence was. Thousands of police, way more than there were people. I tell you, there would have been many more people if there hadn’t been so many police. And if the police had kept their distance, I’m sure it would have been a huge, peaceful and calm demonstration, and we would have released our press statement.’
I tell her I just saw some boys outside putting stones in their pockets. Is she sure she and her colleagues could have controlled the anger and prevented people from throwing stones? Kisanak: ‘Throwing stones usually only starts after the police start their violence. I have seen that so many times. But people have patience only up to a point. We are not always successful in keeping everybody under control.’ (And I have experienced both: some months ago in Diyarbakir the police started using teargas with no reason, and earlier in Istanbul a (very) few young men started throwing stones before the police took action.)

She doesn’t think the situation of Öcalan, who has not seen any of his family or lawyers since the spring of 2011, will change any time soon. ‘The AKP is even preparing a bill that makes it legal to keep detainees from having contact with their lawyers or family for up to six months’, she says. ‘It’s been on hold for a few weeks. I think they waited for today to be over, to not spark more anger among Kurds.’
‘The AKP’, says Kisanak, ‘knows that this situation will not lead to a solution. People are loyal to Öcalan, they will always support him. Sooner or later, the strategy of isolation has to be given up. Of course, we want it to happen soon.’

The sit in protest yesterday at Istiklal Street in Istanbul, against the imprisonment and solitary confinement of PKK leader Öcalan. Kışanak can be seen standing at the head of the protest. If you look closely. (pic by me, click to enlarge)

She mentions, among other things, the situation in the Middle East and North Africa as reasons why the Kurdish issue is again being treated by the government as a security issue. ‘The change came two, three years ago. The first few years that the AKP was in power, they needed to spread their influence over several state institutions. During that process, they couldn’t stir up too much trouble around the Kurdish issue. They needed time. Now they are strong and secure. Also, they extended some personal freedoms of the people. They hoped that would diminish the demands Kurds have as a people, but that didn’t happen. We will never give up our cultural and constitutional rights.’
The Arab Spring added another dimension, claims Kisanak: ‘There is fire there, everything changes. The Turkish government knows the Kurds have a potential to cause big trouble.’ Would you like to see that potential realised?, I ask. Kisanak: ‘The Arab Spring of the Kurds started already a long time ago. We protest almost every week, for a long time already. The reason the Arab Spring carried on is because of international dynamics: it suits what the international community wants. For the Kurds, that is different. On the contrary: the international community gives Turkey a role in managing the situation in the Middle East, so they feel the need to stay silent on the Kurdish issue.’

What is, in her opinion, the way out? ‘There is only one way out’, she answers without hesitation, also louder now. ‘We have to be insistent in demanding our rights’. How is the process towards a new constitution going? I ask. ‘Kisanak: ‘It’s a rather technical process at the moment, but it’s continuing.’ The BDP is part of the parliamentary commission that is working towards a new constitution, which must replace the one written by the military rulers after the 1980 coup. Kisanak says a really fresh constitution can contribute a lot to solving the Kurdish issue. ‘We basically need three things: equality for everybody, education in the mother tongue as basic right, and local autonomy.’
The door of the room opens slightly, and somebody whispers: ‘They have been set free!’ The man refers to the head of the BDP in Istanbul, who was detained this afternoon together with 22 protestors. “Good’, Kisanak smiles. She was talking to the police about that during the protest in Istiklal: she wanted them to be set free and allowed to join the protest. That didn’t happen, but at least now they are free again.

Gültan Kisanak needs to go, but I want to ask her one more question. What is needed for her personally to consider the Kurdish question solved? Besides policy changes, like a new constitution? She talks about nationalism and discrimination that need to be wiped out, and how the current strategy of the government feeds people’s anger, and nationalism on both sides. Then she says: ‘You know, when I was 19 (in 1980, FG), I was a student and I endured serious torture in jail. Later I experienced more injustice. Twenty six friends of mine have disappeared. Of course, I am angry. Besides a new constitution, I need an apology from the state.’

Too vague, too fast, too far from fact

The news in Turkey sometimes just doesn’t make sense. But as a foreign correspondent, you have to write about it anyway. Promptly. Usually you manage, but sometimes, I admit, you don’t. Like last week. The news was so utterly confusing, I couldn’t, as the Dutch saying goes, make chocolate of it.

I am talking about the news that started on Wednesday and came to a climax on Friday. On Wednesday, the special prosecutor in the KCK case – where mostly Kurdish politicians and journalists are being arrested for having links with the PKK – summoned Hakan Fidan, the head of Turkey’s intelligence organisation MIT, to testify. ‘Testify’ in Turkey usually means: as a suspect. The head of Turkish intelligence questioned for links with the PKK? Yes, he had those contacts, since in recent years the MIT talked to the PKK in the Norwegian capital Oslo. On government orders. So now those contacts were going to get Fidan in trouble?


Fidan refused to come to testify, and on Friday he was summoned again and arrest warrants were issued for four high-ranking (former) MIT employees, also in connection with the KCK case. The country was basically dumbfounded. What was happening here?

Nobody knew exactly. But I work for, among many other media, Dutch news agency ANP, and I knew this was such big news that I had to mail them about it. I hesitated though: what if they actually wanted the story, help! And of course they wanted it. I thought, I’ll just stick to the news, that’s the easiest, then I don’t have to get involved in speculation. So I wrote:

ISTANBUL (ANP) – The public prosecutor in Turkey has issued an arrest warrant on Friday for a number of senior employees of its own intelligence service, MIT. Four of them seem to be suspected of having ties with the Kurdish armed movement PKK.
The MIT up until last year was holding secret talks with the PKK on behalf of the Turkish state in the Norwegian capital Oslo.

But of course, I couldn’t send it in like that: articles are supposed to answer questions, not raise them. So I had to add something. A sentence starting with: In Turkey, speculations have started about what is behind the arrest warrants and the summoning of Fidan. But then what? Which rumour to take seriously, which one not?


The first rumour going around: Fethullah Gülen! The popular, and at the same time highly disputed and elusive Islamic preacher, a Turk residing in the USA, had always been on good terms with the AKP government of PM Erdogan, but over the last couple of months, some cracks appeared in the friendship, especially with Erdogan. Supposedly, that is, because everything about the Gülen movement is always totally vague. Was there a power struggle going on within the AKP between people close to Gülen and people less close to Gülen? Did Gülen want to obstruct Erdogan, and more particularly his strategy regarding the Kurdish issue?

This raises (at least) two new questions. One: which AKP strategy would that be then, because there seems to be only chaos in the handling of the Kurdish question these days. And two: what would be the Gülen alternative then? Does Gülen have a stance worked out for the handling of the Kurdish issue anyway? Does he have enough power – if any – in the judiciary to pull the strings this way? Yes, I know some things about Gülen are taken for granted by many in Turkey, like the ‘fact’ that Gülen has taken over the judiciary, but like I said: everything about Gülen and his followers is always totally vague, so in the end, it’s all speculation.

Violence only 

Another speculation is about a bitter struggle between doves and hawks within the AKP and within several state institutions. Hard line nationalists being fiercly against any talks with the ‘terrorists’ of the PKK, wanting to return to the violence-only strategy of the last few decades. Maybe even the remains of the “deep state”, which has been weakened since the AKP has been in power, showing they still have some influence within the judiciary. The top man of MIT, Hakan Fidan, was appointed by Erdogan personally. Hitting Fidan is hitting Erdogan.

And that’s only the two most basic speculations, omitting a lot of other interesting (possible) background scenarios. Add to that that I had to deliver my story quickly, and couldn’t exceed 1,500 characters – that’s the same as the first four paragraphs of this blog post. The audience: Dutch readers who have no particularly deep interest in or knowledge about Turkey.


Poor me. What followed were a few news articles within a couple of hours, with partly the same information but with in every version some new info (read: rumours) added. Call them updates. And they were written in the ‘we are not sure’ style: some people say…. who is supposedly…. with the alleged…. etc. Very, very unsatisfying. You cover the rumours, and you have to, because without them the news makes even less sense, but it’s all too vague, too fast, too far from the facts.

The MIT, Gülen, Erdogan and the deep state have kind of haunted me this weekend. How could I have covered this better? How could I have gotten more facts instead of rumours? But now, I have let it go. On Friday afternoon, this is how it was. Nothing I could do about it. Being a foreign correspondent in Turkey is sometimes just a near-impossible task.

Voices of violence

The verdict is there: RojTV, the Kurdish TVchannel broadcasting from Belgium with a Danish license, will not be closed. Good news! A victory for the freedom of speech. Having said that, I deeply wish for RojTV to disappear naturally, or at least to radically change.

I have the same wish for many Turkish TVchannels. They all glorify violence.

I don’t know if you’ve ever watched RojTV, but I have. I have friends in Diyarbakir and when I visit them, RojTV is the channel being watched. There are news broadcasts, nature and music programmes, the boring weather stuff, in short, just what you expect on a TV channel. All spiced up with some good old-fashioned PKK glorification. Groups of PKKfighters strolling through the mountains, images of guerillas who died in battle, historic footage of PKK leader Öcalan leading meetings, all accompanied by patriotic Kurdish music and flag waving.


I have to say I was kind of flabbergasted when I heard that a campaign on Twitter supporting RojTV has the slogan: ‘The voice of peace, RojTV’. They claim RojTV promotes peace, for example because it broadcasts in all languages spoken in the Kurdish regions of Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran: (several dialects of) Kurdish, Syriac, Arabic, Turkish, Persian, Armenian and English. That’s great, and I mean it, but does that make it a voice of peace? The armed struggle is glorified, and however you look at it, an armed struggle is not peaceful. Dot.

Then again, I’m also flabbergasted when I hear Turkish officials speak about why they find it so important to close down RojTV. It’s promoting terrorism, they say, spreading hatred, etc. I prefer not to use the label ‘terrorism’ because I believe it’s a political term, but yes, violence is being glorified. But if that is a problem, shall we then also close down a few Turkish channels? Look at any Turkish news channel when the army has wiped out some PKK camp, or when a soldier has died: the army’s violence is being glorified, the funerals of soldiers are over-dramatized and repeated again and again, accompanied by patriotic music and flag waving. Just like on RojTV, but with other music, and another flag.


Both RojTV and Turkish channels are voices of violence. Via satellite dishes, they reach millions of people in Turkey and its wider region and in Europe. They are a perfect reflection of what is going on in Turkey: a bitter, long-lasting conflict, causing loss of precious human lives on both sides. Both RojTV and Turkish channels are symptoms of these conflicts. If you criticize RojTV, you can’t refrain from criticizing Turkish media as well. If you forbid RojTV, than take Turkish channels off the air too.

But of course, closing TVstations down for what they broadcast is never a good idea. It violates the freedom of speech, one of the most basic human rights. The trick is to nullify the reason why they apparently feel the need to glorify violence. If the Kurdish question is solved through political means, I bet RojTV will change, and Turkish channels too. But the stations have a responsibility of their own too. They could actually contribute to peace. By reducing nationalism, but most of all by stopping the glorification of violence, the flag waving, the nationalism.

The licence of RojTv has not been withdrawn. I strongly agree with the judges’ decision. And I deeply hope RojTV has the courage to change.

Tweeting from court

This week a few important court cases were continuing in Turkey. In Istanbul there was a hearing in the case against the murderers of Hrant Dink (read some more here and here) and also the Balyoz case continued (read more here), in Diyarbakir the KCK trials continued (more info in the same article). In another Istanbul court room, the case against jailed journalists Ahmet Sik and Nedim Sener was starting. All important cases, in which the reliablility of the judicial system in Turkey is at stake. Unfortunately, I, and some others, got a bit distracted from the importance of these cases.

Let me explain. Journalism in Turkey is not always on the level you wish it would be. There is a lot of framing going on, nationalism is widespread, there is not much nuance in the news. So I am grateful to be following a lot of people on twitter that counterbalance the reporting on TV and in the papers. They tweet, like I very often do myself, from demonstrations or other events, they tweet articles that I wouldn’t easily find myself, they point out who to follow for certain events, etcetera. Some of them even tweet from court houses, which was of course ultra interesting this week.


Especially the case against Ahmet Sik and Nedim Sener got a lot of attention on twitter – of course, since many tweeting colleagues and friends of both journalists care about the case. I was so glad to find that one of these tweeps was in court tweeting in English: journalist and columnist Ece Temelkuran (follow her at @ETemelkuran). I followed her, thanked her at the end of her day for her great tweets, and that was it.
Imagine how flabbergasted I was when one day later I found out Ece was not in court at all, but hundreds of kilometers away, in Tunesia’s capital Tunis. This doesn’t mean she is a fraud or something, totally not, but it does mean that not all on twitter is what it seems like. Well, of course it isn’t, I’m not that naive of course, but even with people who tweet using their own name and are famous and successful in journalism, you can’t really be sure.

At first, I reacted somewhat over the top to her – my excuse is that I really felt deceived. Ece reacted quickly, explaining that some tweeps formed a group a few days before, and she was the one who would translate Turkish tweets to English. Now that’s twit-power, and I mean it! But: how could I know? The nature of twitter is that it’s fast and gone before you know it. Ece got many new followers that day, like me, who had no idea about the action plan of her and a few other tweeps. Maybe, I stated, it would have been wiser to now and then tweet that she was not actually *in* the courthouse, but translating tweets from others. That would have been a kind of reporting that would suit the nature of twitter. I think as a journalist you should be very aware of the nature of the medium you use, to use it to the max.

Judges nerves

Ece didn’t react to me anymore. And unfortunately, my tweets were picked up by others, and seem to have resulted in some campaign against Ece. That’s also twitter, or should I say: that’s also Turkey. Black and white, no nuance. I reject that deeply. I think it’s great Ece took the time and the effort to translate the over-interesting tweets of mainly @oemoral and @petite1ze for a big audience that doesn’t know (good enough) Turkish to read and fully understand all Turkish tweets. It is not only great, it is even important, because it contributed to a better understanding of what is going on in Turkey’s justice system. Twitter is even so important, that it got on the judges nerves and after some time tweeting from the court room was forbidden. (Ece kept tweeting, so I thought she was being brave to go against the judges order… Turns out the tweets she translated after the judges ban were written by tweeps in the court building but after some point not anymore in the court room).

Why I write such a long blog post about this? Isn’t the case of the jailed journalists more important than some twitter rant about it? It is, and that’s exactly the point I would like to make. I’d like to address that message to those who attack Ece now for reasons unclear to me. But I address it also to my colleagues twittering about important news issues. Be as open and clear as you can be. Always realize twitter is cursory, followers come and go all the time, not everybody always knows your whereabouts, not even when you’re famous. Twitter is becoming more and more important in spreading news from first hand, and let’s use that great freedom twitter offers to get news out as trustworthy as possible – that’s in the end what journalism is about, right? It will only strengthen the message you want to get through, being: Freedom for journalists!

Banned book of imprisoned journalist Şık published

This blog post was written by my intern Zehra Kaya. She also did all the research.

The banned book of the imprisoned journalist Ahmet Şık is available in Turkish book shops starting tomorrow, 1 December. The unpublished version of the book was put online last March, with the title “The army of the imam” but will be published now as ‘Who touches it, gets burned’. Because the book was considered a ‘terror document’, Şık was arrested in March. He is being suspected of involvement in Ergenekon, an organization that allegedly planned a coup against the AKP government.

‘I think I’m being followed’, Ahmet said to his friend and colleague Alper Turgut last January. They both attended the commemoration of journalist Metin Goktepe, who was killed by police in January 1996. Şık told his friend about the book he was writing. ‘I felt he was anxious and nervous’, says Turgut. ‘That is not so strange, because Ahmet wrote about a subject that you can hardly touch in Turkey because it is surrounded by fire.’

Police as instrument 

Alper Turgut, filmcritic for newspaper Cumhuriyet and board member of the Turkish union for journalists (TGS), and I are talking in a small bar in Istanbuls district of Kadiköy. He doesn’t care people around us are listening along. ‘Ahmet was investigating the infiltration of the Gülen movement in the police corps.’ Turgut calls the Gülen movement, that is lead by the preacher Fethullah Gülen and that has a lot of followers in Turkey, a ‘radical islamic movement’, and says: ‘I think it is a danger for democracy.’

‘I last talked to Ahmet when he was in Ankara for some interviews for his research’, says Irfan Aktan, a journalist at the magazine Express. ‘Ahmet didn’t keep his investigation a secret. He told me he found out that the police is used as an instrument for a new political order. De police chiefs who didn’t obey the Gülen movement, were fired, which was done in a way that was not legal’.

‘There were apparently people who didn’t like this investigation’, Aktan says. The prosecutor marked the book as “terror document” and publication was forbidden. According to Turgut the Gülen movement can not stand critics and it interferes ruthlessly when somebody gets in its way, which doesn’t actually fit islam, he says. The movement is supposedly a partner of the current government. That is supposedly also the reason the movement is powerful enough to interfere in a situation in which it is criticized. Turgut: ‘That’s the idea behind the title of the book. If you “touch” this movement, you will “burn’, meaning “get into trouble”.

Not a crime document 

Aktan says it’s never nice for a writer when his book is published online unedited. Ahmets friends, who believe in his innocence, considered it necessary to share the book and decided to put it online. Ahmet was said to have a few potential titles for the book, for example ‘The army of the imam’, and ‘Who touches it, gets burned’. His friends chose the first title, so society could see it was not a crime document. Turgut: ‘The current title “Who touches it, gets burned’, sounds more logic now’.

After Şık was arrested, 125 journalisten, activists and academicians came together to edit his book and to sign it as support for Şık. This was kept a secret until 16 November, when the book was presented at the book fair TÜYAP in Istanbul.

‘We were afraid when we published he book’, Turgut says. ‘The book is forbidden, so at the book fair it could have been confiscated, and it still can be. And we can be prosecuted. But we wanted to do this. Everybody was silent so somebody had to speak out.’ According to Turgut this matter doesn’t only concern Şık but the whole society: ‘The freedom of speech is at stake here’. Aktan says the country is heading towards dictatorship if civilians can not express their opinions.


Why is the book edited and published now, and not sooner after Şık got arrested? ‘We are in a more calm period now’, explains Turgut. ‘The content of the indictment against Şık is known now, and it’s clear that there is no problem at all with the book. It’s funny that he is charged with planning a coup by writing a book. Is he going to overthrow the government with his pen? The indictment is included in the book, so everybody can see there is nothing special in it.’

Aktan and Turgut think the book must be read to judge whether it is a terror document or not. Irfan Aktan: ‘According to the prosecutor it’s a terror document, but when we read it, we don’t get the slightest impression that’s what it is. To see how unfounded the charges against Şık are, we want people to be able to read it.’

The book is still banned in Turkey and the people who publish it now, can still be convicted because of it. Aktan: ‘But if that is the price of the freedom of expression, I am willing to pay it.’

The next hearing in the court case against Ahmet Şık is on 26 December in Istanbul.

Paper policies won’t help womens and childrens rights

‘Similar rulings will be out of the question from now on,’ said Minister of Justice Sadullah Ergin. He was talking about a verdict against 26 men who raped a 13 year old girl: the Supreme Court of Appeals upheld an earlier decision by a lower court to give only minimum punishments,  because the men claimed the girl approved of having sex. The Minister said the case was a few years old, and so old laws were applicable, and for new cases everything will be different.

Dream on. Of course, on paper things will be arranged just fine. But the problem is, the Turkish government has a tendency of leaning back after the paper policy is dealt with. It doesn’t take the next essential steps: implementing laws and policies, teaching professionals, and doing everything to change social mentality, including for example school programs, public awareness campaigns, teaching women their rights and opening and financing enough refuge houses. Investing in changing the very patriarchal structures in Turkish society.

How patriarchal Turkey is, was not only shown by this symbolic court verdict, but also by statistics: in the Global Gender Gap Index 2011, Turkey ranks 122 out of 135 countries. Turkey ranks among the ten worst performers in the economic participation and opportunity subindex. Women are just not visible as fully participating members of society. That has effects on every possible field in society.

In this court case, it struck me even more that some of the rapists were teachers – others were for example civil servants, soldiers, and a village head. A teacher raping a 13 year old is already totally appalling, but then having the nerve to defend yourself saying the girl ‘approved’, and then it gets even crazier: you can defend yourself this way in Turkey because there is actually a good chance a judge will believe you. On every level, this case shows that womens rights and childrens rights are worth hardly anything is this country.

Mind my words: the ‘reassuring’ words of the Minister of Justice will prove worthless. This will not be the last time a man gets away with raping a girl.

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.


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.


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.

A terrorist in parliament

The ‘oath crisis’ in parliament is still not over. Ever since both CHP and BDP refused to take the oath to be inaugurated in parliament, there is a lot of good will talk going on between different parties, but for now, it all leads totally nowhere. It’s been almost three weeks now, and no (for the outside world visible) concrete steps have been taken to solve the problem – or you would have to call opposition parties shaking hands and speaking positive words ‘concrete steps’. But by discussing the options, an intriguing question has come up: would it be possible a terrorist one day enters Turkish parliament?

One way to solve the problem, is to change the laws related to terrorism. One of the BDP MP’s can’t take his deserved seat in parliament because he was once convicted of ‘terror related crimes’, more precize ‘making propaganda for a terrorist organization’. Now if you would make it possible for people who have committed terror (related) crimes to enter parliament, would it one day open the way for the PKK-fighters to be elected? Could PKK-leader in the field Murat Karayilan be an MP, and, the biggest nightmare for many Turks, even jailed PKK-leader Abdullah Öcalan?


Thinking about this, my mind wandered off to a Turkey in which Karayilan and Öcalan would actually want to be candidate members of Turkish parliament. That would have to be a Turkey in which the Kurds finally have the cultural and political rights they deserve. In that Turkey, they apparently had a reason to lay down their arms. On the road towards that situation, they would at some point not be called ‘terrorists’ anymore, but ‘insurgents’, like also Cengiz Candar suggested in his recent report in which he proposes ways to solve the Kurdish issue and make PKK-fighters come down from the mountains.
Especially Öcalan would be seen as interlocutor, because whether you like it or not, he is seen as an important leader among part of the Kurds and shutting him out of any negotitation wouldn’t lead to a real solution. Anyway, the state has been talking to him for years already, although now it’s still to early for the state to openly confirm that.

But the actual discussion should, in my humble opinion, not be about persons. It was a dirty retoric trick of (now former) Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin to point out that in case of a legal change, also Ogun Samast (the murderer of Hrant Dink) would maybe one day be elected to be an MP. It muddies the waters of the discussion to talk about specific people. The basic rule should be that every Turkish citizen has and should keep the active and passive right to vote. Also if convicted, even if convicted for (crimes related to) terrorism. Okay, you can discuss when to convict somebody to have his passive right to vote taken from him, but that should be decided in an individual court case, not by general laws that are too much open to manipulative use, like now. And the instrument should be used extremely rare and only in extreme cases, since the passive and active right to vote are one of the most important basics of democracy.

Peaceful society

So, extreme cases, that would include Öcalan and Karayilan, right, since terrorism against the state is one of the most serious crimes? Well, that depends. If Turkey in the coming years manages to slowly change the term ‘terrorism’ into ‘insurgency’ and actually sees the connection between PKK violence and the Kurdish issue and seriously starts working on the issue, the perspective on the PKK and their members might change. There would actually be a chance the PKK lays down its arms, and transfer from terrorists via insurgents to active members of a peaceful society. If that includes (to try) to become an MP, would be up to them, and if so, to the voters.

And Ogun Samast? In today’s Turkey, I can imagine a party that would actually consider putting him on their candidates list. But in the Turkey I imagine, extreme nationalism has no ground anymore. Talking about the Kurdish issue and solving it, can’t be done without discussing nationalism, identity, discussing what it means to be a Turkish citizen and at the same time be a Kurd, a Greek, a Turk, an Armenian, an Arab, or any other ethnic group that lives on this soil. There would be unity in diversity, less polarisation, and no party would want a nationalist killer as their MP, and not enough citizens would vote for him to get a seat anyway. The Turkey I imagine would be a full democracy.

Quake or cleaning in Turkish football?

Now and then I publish guest blog posts on my site, written by Turkish journalists. The third guest blog post is written by Engin Baş. Engin worked as correspondent in Athens for several Turkish media and as a journalist for several (online versions of) papers, like Radikal, Hürriyet and Sabah. Now he is a freelance journalist. He is especially interested in soccer – not only the game, but also the politics.

This blog post is written by Engin Baş (see boxed text).

After gaining half of the votes of the Turkish voters and being elected for the third time in nine years as dominating party in parliament, everybody expected AKP to deal with Turkey’s most important issue, the Kurdish problem. But it seems they aim higher: soccer match fixing. It is one of the biggest prosecutions not only in Turkish football history but also one of the biggest cases opened by the prosecuters who also deal with the Ergenekon trials. Till now, Aziz Yıldırım (President of the current Champion Fenerbahçe), two Vice Presidents and 61 football related figures have been taken into custudy as a result of the match fixing inquiry.

Fenerbahçe is one of the biggest clubs in Turkey, also when it comes to number of supporters: 25 million. Considering football is a secret religion for Turks, Islamic rooted party AKP has a real battle this time even though they have taken 21 million votes and half of the countries’ approval not more than a month ago…

The operation is directed by the Special Autorized Prosecuters (SAP). According to Turkish laws, in order to involve the SAP, there has to be a well organized gang. That this is actually the case, is confirmed by the arrest of Olgun Peker. He is a ‘soul brother’ of Sedat Peker, who is a very known maffia leader and imprisoned also for being involved in Ergenekons armed structure. This update confirms the situation is fragile for Turkish soccer.

Erdoğan is Fenerbahçe fan

Such an operation cannot be done by normal officers in Turkey. If you are going to take the President of Fenerbahçe under custudy at 7am, it means you have to ask your superiors and he has to ask his. Aziz Yıldırım is not just a football figure in Turkey. He is one of the biggest construction entrepreneurs, who is making roads and buildings in countries like Afganistan, Pakinstan, etcetera. He also deals with arms bussiness and so on.

Therefore its easy to think that Prime Minister Erdogan knew and was well informed about the case. That he is not getting involved in the case nor demanding the SAP’s to slow down, means that match fixing has become institutionalized in Turkish football. Not only Erdogan, also people in the street have been complaining about the match fixing in Turkey. During the election campaign there have been protests in the city of Trabzon. That city’s team lost the league championship to Fenerbahçe. To give an example, this is all similar to opening an inquiry in Italy into Milan during Berlusconi’s term. When it comes to football, Erdoğan wants to be remembered not only as a Fenerbahçe fan.

More waves expected

It’s obvious that the events had an earthquake effect on football fans. But it seems it’s not over and there is more to come. It’s been told that in tapes some names of referees are mentioned. Ex Turkish football Federation President Mahmut Özgener will be very likely be called by SAPs also. The number of people arrested can be up to two hundred. As most of teams are camping abroad for new season now, it will be no suprise if the story gets even bigger when they return.

Four women’s lives per day

Anybody who thinks the increase in the killings of women will vanish as soon as the AKP is no longer governing Turkey, should really very quickly wake up. One, because that’s not going to happen any time soon (they will probably win the coming elections). Two, because it is a dangerous form of denial of the complexity and seriousness of the problem. If only it were that simple.

What’s the problem exactly? The number of women murdered in Turkey has seen a shocking increase. In the first seven months of 2009 (the most recent statistics) a total of 953 women were killed. In the whole of 2002, that number was 66, an increase of 1,400% since the AKP came to power. This is according to figures from the Ministry of Justice (which I haven’t seen myself, I must say, and I am curious about the development over a longer period of time, and to be honest about whether these stats are reliable).

Many Turks, especially those intensely against governing party AKP, immediately see the increase as the ultimate proof of the AKP’s lack of respect for women’s rights. These fundamentalist Muslims don’t care that women are being killed! See how they endanger secular principles, that have always included women’s rights?

Nowhere to go

How blind can you be, really? Of course, it is the government’s responsibility to do everything in its power to fight this horrible practice of killing women for (allegedly) being unfaithful, for staining the family honor, or for whatever reason you can think of for men becoming violent. And the AKP doesn’t do that.
To name just one example: according to the law, every city with at least 50,000 inhabitants should have a women’s shelter. In 2005 there were 9 of these shelters, now there are 26, and there are around 166 cities with a population bigger than 50,000. Women who need urgent protection have nowhere to go: they are either put on a waiting list, or have to find refuge via a local women’s organization, which do great work but lack money and resources. Most of them go back home, and a rising percentage of them end up on page 3 of the national papers as a deadly victim of domestic violence.

Yesterday, on International Women’s Day, there was a call for the AKP government to, for example, increase the penalty for killing a woman and for violence against women. Interestingly enough, the punishments have gone up significantly in 2005. Before that, a man being ‘provoked’ into killing a woman (for example because she broke the family honor) would be an extenuating circumstance. Now the highest sentence is life imprisonment. The law isn’t enforced well enough, many men do get away with low sentences and that problem needs to be addressed. But still, the punishments have gone up, although it hasn’t helped. That must tell us something.

It tells us that laws are not enough to fight a problem that is deeply rooted in Turkish society. Since the law was changed in 2005, the number of female suicides has dramatically risen: men didn’t want to risk going to jail for life, so they pressured their wives and daughters to kill themselves. Besides that, the murders have gone up. At least, I wonder if the suicides went down again and the killings up one or two years after 2005, when it became clear that the risk of being locked up for life wasn’t all that high in practice. (Anybody having statistics on that, please let me know).

Constrained modernism

The real problem is the very patriarchal society. Laws don’t change the fact that men rule society and women should just obey men, whether they are brothers, husbands or fathers. Think that’s a Muslim thing that the AKP introduced? Get real. Even Turks who are not pious Muslims suffer from these traditional beliefs. Even stronger: strict secularism and kemalism might confuse men even more.

According to their ideology, they should support women’s rights. Atatürk gave women an active and passive right to vote, Atatürk made school obligatory for girls, but these ideals never really made it to the heart of Turkish society. You can even wonder if they made it to the heart of Atatürk himself: he truly advanced women’s rights in laws, but, so it’s said, couldn’t deal very well with the (strong) women in his personal life. Turkish men who want to be modern suffer from the same thing: their constrained modernism just doesn’t match the traditional role they have and want to keep in society. Women are servants of their brothers, housekeepers to their fathers and husbands, cooks of their husbands and kids. Men have the physical, political and economic power. Don’t challenge that balance. Since talking about problems is another thing that’s not very much rooted here, breaking the balance easily leads to violence. And death.

So if it’s not the AKP that is solely responsible for the raise in murders on women, what is? Turkey didn’t become patriarchal overnight. I see a few changes that might shed a light on the issue, so let me elaborate on them a bit.

Scratching the foundations

Economy. The Turkish economy is growing, and it has been since it recovered from the deep economic crisis in 2001, so basically since the AKP came to power and further liberalised the economy. Poverty is one of the factors that increase the risk of domestic violence, so you would think that when the economy grows, domestic violence would go down. But economic growth doesn’t immediately lead to a decrease in unemployment, and unemployment is still high (just how high is hard to define.Officially it’s below 10% but official figures don’t mean much when it comes to employment in Turkey). Turkey’s economy continued to grow during the crisis, but still, many people lost their jobs or their wages were lowered.

Another factor is that the growth of the economy might have liberated women, especially in very traditional areas, like cities in the Anatolian hinterland that had a rapid economic growth over the last decade. Anatolian businessmen started to play an important economic role, and that might have changed the perspectives of their wives and daughters. They found themselves in a (slightly or much) better financial situation, more of them got the opportunity to get a better education, so in short they started strengthening, liberating themselves. Scratching the very foundations of patriarchal society. Breaking the balance, and by doing that, endangering their own lives.

Cry, scream or behave helplessly

Media. The number of dizi’s (soap operas) is exploding on Turkish TV. They attract mass audiences, nowadays reaching every corner of the country. The values in these series are, let me say it mildly, not very feminist. Women either cry, scream or behave helplessly (mostly all three), men lead the family or business with a strong and often violent hand. Nobody protests. Even the Minister of Family Affairs doesn’t reject the violence – she did publicly speak out against a passionate kiss in a soap opera though.

Besides that, there is the infamous Page 3 in most of the national newspapers. That’s where you find the family tragedies. That’s where papers nowadays have to choose which murder to publish stories about, and of course the most spectacular wins. Often, the way of reporting blames the victim, keeps the murderer anonymous and makes it seem totally normal to kill your wife for wanting a divorce, speaking to another man or even more harmless things. Some research was done on that, which you can read about here. Of course, I don’t recommend that no more stories be published on the murder of women. But a radical change in the way the problem is reported is essential. Media do have a responsibility here.

The AKP is not responsible for the increase in the killings of women. Rather, Turkey’s changing, rapidly developing and at the same time still so traditional society is. And that’s where the AKP comes in again. They have been governing the country since 2002 now and it looks like that’s not going to change soon, and it’s their responsibility to lead all these changes in the right channels.

A signal to society

The problem of violence against women has been neglected. The AKP makes a law, and then sits back. It’s the same with torture: the AKP changed some anti-torture laws for the better, and then thought the problem was solved. What happened? Torture increased again. Changing the law is only the beginning. Laws are a signal to society: this is accepted, this is not, these are the legal borders of behavior. After that, the implementation of laws should start.

Make sure the promised shelters are actually built, opened, equipped and financed. Educate boys and girls, men and women thoroughly about human rights. Create an atmosphere where violence is rejected and verbal problem-solving is promoted. Address people’s fears and needs in a rapidly changing society, set up employment projects, lessen the gap between rich and poor. Give the judiciary the means to enforce the law, order them to give the prosecution of (deadly) violence against women a high priority.

No government can change the traditional roles of men and women in society in a decade. Especially not in a country that is in such transition as Turkey is and that has so many urgent matters to deal with. But the AKP didn’t even begin to implement anything, and that attaches a heavy blame to them. There are lives at stake here. About four women’s lives per day.