Waitresses are beaten up, one woman is pulled out of the restaurant by her hair and dragged into a police car. She is held captive for six hours and raped. Police brutality? No, a gang that dressed up as police officers and parked in front of the restaurant in a car with police lights. The first thing the ‘police’ did as they entered the restaurant was ask the customers for their identification. Nobody asked the ‘police’ to show their identity first, nobody decided to call the real police when the violence got out of hand. It just shows, say the experts, how little faith people have in the police force. Asking the real police to identify themselves can cause trouble and even lead to violence, so people are reluctant to ask. And worse still, there were probably people in the restaurant who thought the thugs were really policemen. In short, the Turkish police have an image problem.
The government calls on civilians not to hesitate to ask police for their identification, and says it’s working on a police ID that cannot be falsified. Another problem: it costs only about 85 ytl (about 45 euros) to buy a fake police uniform. A uniform that cannot be faked is as impossible as a police ID that cannot be faked, of course. So in the end it’s the real police force that has to solve the problem. If they show irreproachable behaviour, the public will call emergency number 115 immediately if they see a policeman misbehaving, because a police officer who disregards the rules must be a villain! But that will take some time, because the behaviour of real police is not really improving, as was reported this week by Human Rights Watch. In police stations and prisons, mistreatment and torture is becoming less common, but police action is getting more violent on the streets, for example. Or in restaurants. Oh, sorry, no, they were impostors.
Maybe, just maybe, something positive might come out of the sexual abuse case that has attracted a lot of attention lately. It involves the rape of a 14 year old girl by Hüseyin Üzmez, a columnist of a national daily newspaper. He was arrested a few months ago but was released from prison recently because of some stupid report, which claimed the girl was not physically or mentally hurt by the rape.
Of course there was protest against the report, and demonstrations have been held urging judges to put the guy back in prison. But the judge has now said that the report was made by experts and that the suspect will remain free until the trial.
How can something like this have a positive outcome? Well, members of parliament have now proposed to raise the sentence for rape of a minor. As well, the publicity surrounding the case has made public debate of the issues more open. And the girl? I can only hope that she gets proper help and that she will not suffer long-term trauma. It would help if Mr. Üzmez is convicted and spends some time behind bars.
Tomorrow will be the second day of the Ergenekon trial, the case against dozens of people who tried to undermine the state and government (about whom I have already written). Monday, the first day, there was total chaos in the court room. Not enough space for the accused, family, lawyers and journalists, too much noise for anybody to make themselves heard. I wonder if the court has found a way to avoid a repetition tomorrow.
Members of the Ergenekon gang are suspected of trying to create chaos in the country and prepare the public for a military coup to overthrow the AKP government. Some suggest there were even ties between Ergenekon and terrorist organisation PKK. There is still no proof of that, but while Ergenekon is out of action for the time being, the PKK is still quite capable of wreaking havoc. A recent attack on a military outpost resulted in the death of seventeen soldiers, and now rumours have started about PKK leader Öcalan being mistreated in prison, leading to riots in the streets of big Kurdish cities like Diyarbakir and Van. Already one protestor has been shot dead by police. It will not be easy to calm people down. Not only the rumour about Öcalan makes people angry, but that was just the spark needed for people to express their frustrations about the fact that nothing much has changed in the region since the AKP won the elections and didn’t live up to their beautiful promises for the Kurdish region. And now also a verdict in the closure case against pro-Kurdish party DTP is expected any day. If they are closed down – and chances are that they will be – protest in the southeast will grow.
Finding solutions for chaos in the court room should not be too difficult. The chaos in the country however…. I wonder when serious efforts will start to deal with that.
Usually when a number of soldiers die in the fight against the PKK, you see more flags on the street over the following days. Not this time. Seventeen soldiers died last weekend in the southeast of the country, but even though the national grief is no less than any other time, now there’s a lot of criticism of the army. Last year, the army got permission for cross border operations into northern Iraq and quite a few heavy air strikes and ground attacks followed. The army got a lot of support, even more so because they said they really hit the PKK hard. So how come this weekend a group of 350 PKK fighters could attack an army post in a heavily secured area not even in northern Iraq but in Turkey itself? One of the things that amazes people is how easily for example the PKK guys managed to stay invisible to the thermal cameras the Turkish army uses to detect movement: by simply wearing wet raincoats. The PKK is still the main killer as far as the Turkish public is concerned, but they also wonder more and more if the army is doing its job well enough to prevent its own men from getting killed.
Istanbul is an amazingly big city, and the district of Güngören is far away from where I live. That’s why I didn’t hear anything about the bombing until I got an email about it, about half an hour after it happened. I heard explosions last night, many even, but I had learned not to pay too much attention to the sound any more: in summer, there is at least one big loud fireworks show over the Bosporus every night, sometimes even two or three. When I had just moved to the city and heard the bangs for the first time, I was concerned and went outside to see if I could find where the sounds came from. Getting closer to the Bosporus, I saw the brightly coloured and beautiful explosions in the air and smiled. It took a few nights before I got used to it. I enjoyed the fireworks when by chance I saw them, but that’s it. Now I have learned once again that explosions in Istanbul are not always just part of the life of a vibrant big city. Sometimes, explosions do kill.