Eighteen Kurds wounded in attempted lynching

In the north-west of Turkey at least a hundred people tried to lynch a Kurdish family. Eighteen people were wounded,, according to reports in Turkish media on Tuesday.

The incident occurred in the province of Sakarya, east of Istanbul. The Kurdish family had come from south-eastern Diyarbakir to earn money in the hazelnut harvesting season. According to reports a small group attacked the Kurds, and claimed ‘these Kurds try to kill us’. More people joined the beating, until at least a hundred people had joined the assault. The family said they would return to Diyarbakir and forget about the harvest.

It’s not clear whether the attempted lynching was connected  with increasing tensions between Kurds and Turks after the bombing in the southern city of Gaziantep last week. Nine civilians were killed in that blast. The investigation into who is responsible for the attack is ongoing, but many people are accusing the violent Kurdish movement, the PKK.

Lynchings of minority groups are not unusual in Turkey. Apart from Kurds, gays, transsexuals, alevis and Armenians also often become victims.

Read this related article, published in a monthly magazine in the Netherlands, about hate crimes in Turkey. 

The Netherlands go where Turkey is coming from

“Abdullah Gül has no right to speak”, I hear all the time as a reaction to President Gül resisting the ideology of Dutch politician Geert Wilders, which discriminates against people and marginalises them. That’s because Gül has a problem handling minorities in his own country, the argument goes. Kurds and Christians in general and Armenians in particular are mentioned as examples. True. But let us not forget an important difference: Gül’s country is actually making progress when it comes to handling minorities, while the Netherlands are, under Wilders’ leadership, going backwards.

The problem that Turkey has with its minorities is solidly anchored in the pillars of the republic. One of the most important of those is: we are all Turks. So Kurds were named ‘mountain Turks’, Armenians and Greeks could officially exist as minorities but were in fact forced to assimilate or leave the country, Roma became society’s outcasts.

Since the AKP, the party President Gül hails from – he is non-party in his role as President – has been in power, the pillars of the republic are being questioned. As well, the truth that everybody in the country is a Turk is not as sacred as before. Mountain Turks have become Kurds, Armenians dare to be more visible than ever before, century-old churches are being renovated with state money and sometimes services are held which attract believers from all over the world.

It’s all not enough, and the AKP cannot keep leaning on the successes that have been realised over the last decade. It’s about time for new steps in the democratisation process. But silencing President Gül by pointing out the position of minorities in Turkey when he criticizes Wilders denies the development Turkey is going through.

And it denies the direction the Netherlands is taking. Under Wilders’ leadership whole communities are being placed outside society, because they are supposedly not Dutch enough, or are not respecting our ‘values’, or have a religion that threatens us. Why were the Kurds forced to assimilate? Because they were supposedly threatening the unity of the country, and because they were considered too primitive for the new, modern Turkey. Why were the Christians suppressed for decades? Because they were seen as threat to Turkey’s sovereignty.

That is just how in the Netherlands these days foreigners and Muslims are seen. They should become pure Dutchmen. The multicultural society has been abandoned, and government policies are more and more adjusted to the idea that we all have to be Dutch. In short, the Netherlands are going in the direction where Turkey is coming from. A scary direction, painfully illustrated by Turkey’s history.

 

 

Hate crime of the month: Kurd lynched

An alliance of 46 organisations in Turkey has started a campaign against hate crimes. ‘Victims hardly ever lodge a complaint, if they live to tell their story.’

Istanbul – The woman who was abused by a taxi driver, punched in the face and kicked out of the taxi, just because she was Armenian: that is not just an attack on that woman, but on the whole community she is a part of. Just as the whole Kurdish community is victimized when a man is lynched by a group of nationalists because he wants to hear a Kurdish song in a night club. Justas all trans-sexuals are victims when two of them are killed on the street. Crimes of hatred: in Turkey a campaign has started to fight them legally.

Hate crimes occur regularly in Turkey, but they don’t always make it to the news. Only if you start following certain organisations and websites will you come across one shocking incident after the other. Murder, lynching, fire-bombing: every month a few serious examples can be found. Main victims: Roma, Kurds, homo- and trans-sexuals, but also Christians and Alevi, a liberal path in Islam.

Broken index finger

Because many Turks have no knowledge of these hate crimes, the Association for Social Change, an alliance of 46 organisations, has started a long term campaign against hate crimes and is making as much noise as possible about every incident. On the internet you can even vote for the ‘hate crime of the month’. The case of the taxi driver who assaulted the Armenian woman was the winner in October. In December the race was between the Kurd who was lynched and an incident in the maternity ward of a hospital: a Kurdish woman was hit while in labour and her index finger was broken by a nurse, because she was a ‘dirty Kurd’. ‘Joke’, was the response from the hospital when the woman and her husband demanded an explanation some weeks later.

Zenne
Very popular in Turkish cinemas these days: Zenne, (slang for ‘male belly dancer’). The film is about student Ahmet Yildiz, who was killed in Istanbul in 2008 by his father because of his homosexuality. The film about this hate crime has cranked up the discussion about homophobia in Turkey.

The goal of the campaign is to introduce strong laws against hate crimes. The current law doesn’t oblige judges to punish a crime more harshly when it is based on hate against a certain group in society.
An example is the murder of the Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink in 2007: the killer, a young nationalist, was convicted of the murder, but the hatred of Armenians that was behind it was not taken into account. Legislation is also of symbolic importance, says Levent Sensever, general secretary of the Association for Social Change: ‘The state has to give the signal that hate against certain groups in society is not tolerated’.

Ulas Karan, lecture in law at Bilgi University in Istanbul, goes one step further: ‘Making hatred an issue in the penal code can help to bring people together. You can put measures in the law that only apply in the case of a hate crime. For example, you can force perpetrators to start a dialogue with the group to which the victim belongs. In that way, a law can help to punish and to reconcile.’

Insulting Turkishness

The Turkish penal code does have legislation against spreading hatred: article 216. Ironically enough that article is being used to silence dissident voices. Especially Kurdish politicians and journalists are being convicted of it, for example when they demand more rights for Kurds or if they file reports about PKK fighters. ‘A typical example of vague legislation’, says Sensever. ‘The law can be interpreted in many ways, so you can use it to convict whoever you want.’ The article is a ‘sister’ of the infamous article 301, that makes ‘insulting Turkishness’ a punishable offense. Sensever: ‘Such laws are being used to curtail freedom of speech. What we want is that real crimes, like murder and assault, are punished more severely when they are committed out of hate.’

Almost all EU countries have legislation against hate crimes. The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OCSE) tries to get legislation against hate crimes established in the whole of Europe. To that end the OCSE cooperates intensively with local groups, including in Turkey with the Association for Social Change.

A team of lawyers

How difficult the subject is becomes clear from the progress reports of the OCSE: governments hardly ever make data available, often because the data don’t exist. And in Turkey there are hardly any statistics: crimes that don’t exist officially cannot of course be registered. Levent Sensever: The judiciary too is blind to it. A Turkish judge can, outside the law and on his own initiative, give a harsher sentence when a crime is committed out of hate, but this happens very rarely. Prosecutors are not informed, nor are the police, and victims don’t report the crime, if they live to tell it.’
For many years, NGO’s haven’t been working with the Turkish government, but nowadays some dialogue is going on – for example about a new constitution, which could also contribute to decreasing discrimination. That gives the Association for Social Change some hope. As well, the discussion of the Kurdish question is heated, since Kurds are the main victims of hate crimes.

The Association doesn’t detect any political will to introduce new legislation. ‘It’s too early for that’, says Sensever. ‘At the moment, we are working hard to get statistics with which we can convince politicians of the need to legislate. We collect data from all kinds of pressure groups. They know very well what is happening to people in their communities.’ When the time is right, a draft law will be prepared, says Sensever. A team of lawyers from several organisations is working on that already. Levent Sensever, in a hopeful vein: ‘It would be wonderful if legislation is introduced in three, four years.’

Here you can read a blog post about the film Zenne – see boxed text.

Massive commemoration of murdered journalist

ISTANBUL – In a march in the Turkish metropolis Istanbul, about forty thousand people commemorated the Armenian-Turkish journalist Hrant Dink, who was assassinated exactly five years ago on Thursday. There was a lot of anger about the verdict of the judge last Tuesday, when he classified the murder as an act of individuals, rather than as an organized crime of people with ties with the state. People cried out for justice.

Rakel Dink, the widow of Hrant, walked at the front of the march from the central Taksim square to the office of Agos, the Turkish and Armenian language paper of which Dink was editor in chief. The main protest slogan hadn’t changed in five years: ‘We are all Hrant Dink, we are all Armenian’. But another slogan was added; ‘Murder state, you will have to take responsibility!’

The verdict of the judge is problematic for several reasons. In the five years since the murder it became clear that those who ordered the murder had ties with people within, for example, the police apparatus, and that several people in responsible positions were informed about the murder forehand but didn’t take action to prevent it. The legal process, however, was so effectively frustrated by them and by state institutions that these ties couldn’t be legally proved. This reduced the faith in the justice system of the Dink family and of many Turks to a minimum.

Several government representatives and even president Gül have asked for patience from the public, because the legal means to convict the perpetrators are not yet exhausted. An appeal is indeed possible, but there is a chance that it will lead to the freedom of Yasin Hayal, the one perpetrator who was sentenced to life imprisonment on Tuesday: for a non-organized crime the remand can not exceed five years.

Life imprisonment for ordering Dink murder

ISTANBUL – A Turkish ultranationalist has been sentenced to life imprisonment on Tuesday for ordering the murder of Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink. Yasin Hayal and nineteen others were however cleared of terrorism charges.

Dink was assassinated in front of the office of his newspaper in Istanbul on 19 January 2007. He was controversial among nationalist Turks, because he called the mass killings of Armenians in the First World War ‘genocide’.

There is great bewilderment and anger among the Dink family and their lawyers. The murder is now classified as an act by individuals, while it is commonly believed that behind it was Ergenekon, a shadowy gang of bureaucrats and military personnel that is classed as terrorist and connected to the state. Fethiye Cetin, one of the lawyers for the Dink family, said in a statement: ‘This ruling means a tradition was left untouched: the state tradition of political murders.’

The murderer, who was 17 years old when he shot Dink, was sentenced to 23 years imprisonment last year.

‘Dink murder impossible in present-day Turkey’

ISTANBUL – Almost five years on there is still a lot that is not clear about the shadowy network that ordered the murder of Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink. However a start has been made in dealing with the ‘deep state’, the ‘state within the state’ that is widely held responsible for the killing. Thursday marks five years since Dink was shot by a young nationalist.

Today such a murder is no longer possible in Turkey, according to prominent human rights activist and lawyer Orhan Kemal Cengiz. ‘I’m sure of that. The atmosphere has changed since the probe into Ergenekon started’.

Ergenekon is a gang of highly placed people inside the state apparatus that defends the state by any means, and protects itself against prosecution. The ‘deep state’ is responsible for dozens of murders.
The murder on Hrant Dink, on 19 January 2007, was one of the last Ergenekon killings. In April 2007 three employees of a Christian publishing house were murdered in the city of Malatya, most likely also by Ergenekon. Cengiz: ‘That was the last Ergenekon murder. After that the investigation into the deep state started and since then actually some murders have been prevented.’

Constantly frustrated

The connections between Ergenekon and the perpetrators of the Dink murder were never confirmed. The trial against the suspects has been constantly frustrated by the deep state, which still has a lot of influence behind the scenes. Documents have disappeared or were held back and key figures were never called to testify or otherwise held to account.

Tuesday was the last hearing in the court case. After five years some judicial procedures can not be prolonged. Cengiz: ‘It is a great pity that the case has come to a premature closure. It would be good for the fight against the deep state if all the structures and responsible people behind it were brought out into the open.’

The case can continue if the prosecutor finds new evidence. But he is not known for trying his very best to get to the truth. Cengiz: ‘Ergenekon is also suspected of planning a coup, and the prosecutor is concentrating on that, not on the murders Ergenekon committed.’

Cengiz was threatened himself by the deep state some years ago. Is he still afraid? Cengiz: ‘I’ve never been afraid. There was a real danger, but I don’t feel that anymore.’

French bill doesn’t help genocide debate in Turkey

ISTANBUL – In Turkey it is feared that the bill passed today in France making it illegal to deny the Armenian genocide of 1915 will damage the level of debate on the topic in Turkey. The debate had been slowly making progress over the last couple of years. Calling the Armenian genocide ‘genocide’ no longer leads to a conviction by a judge.

Discussion of the Armenian genocide exploded this week in Turkey, but some people believe it is a pity that it was caused by the French law. Lawyer and human rights activist Orhan Kemal Cengiz, who has often written about the events in 1915 and who is not afraid to use the word ‘genocide’, wrote: ‘I am not the only one who brings these subjects to the attention of the Turkish audience. How do you think this French bill affects all those discussions? The answer is simple: It will just kill them.’ (Read the full column here, in English.)

Nationalism

The fear is that nationalists will take over the debate, that the French law will stir up nationalism and hinder an open debate about the genocide. The majority of Armenians in Turkey are fiercely against the French law. Orhan Dink, brother of the murdered Armenian-Turkish journalist Hrant Dink, talked to the media and said the law limits freedom of expression. Dink: ‘This pain should not be left in the hands of people in politics. I call on those who share my pain; they should be against this legislation, be against this human rights violation.’

There is no law in Turkey that explicitly forbids calling the genocide ‘genocide’. Before, the infamous article 301 of the Turkish penal code was used, which forbids ‘insulting Turkishness’. That law was amended in 2008 under pressure from the European Union. Ever since, the prosecutor has been unable to start a 301case on his own, but needs the permission of the Minister of Justice.

Prison

The number of 301 cases decreased significantly, and since then nobody has been prosecuted for using the word ‘genocide’. The last one that was convicted of using it is the son of Hrant Dink, Arat. He was given a suspended one year term in prison in 2007, a few months after the murder of his father.

Forces behind Hrant Dink’s murder remain unpunished

ISTANBUL – The conviction of Ogun Samast, murderer of Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink (photo), and his sentencing to almost 23 years in jail doesn’t mean the case is over. The background to the murder remains a mystery, and important persons involved remain unpunished.

Soon after the murder in January 2007, suspicion arose that there were dark powers behind it. Dink had spoken out about the Armenian genocide and advocated debate and reconciliation between Armenians and Turks. He was hated for that by Turkish nationalists.

The instigators of the murder were, according to many, to be found in those circles. Besides which, it turned out that high level state officials knew about the plans to kill Dink, but nobody took action to prevent it. The judidical investigation however focused mainly on the young assassin.

The Armenian community in Turkey soon lost all faith in a thorough investigation that would lead to all responsible persons being convicted. Again and again shocking news about the case  Keer op keer kwam schokkend nieuws over de zaak naar buiten, waaronder foto’s waarbij politieagenten met Samast als held op de foto gingen, met de Turkse vlag als achtergrond. De vrees bestaat dat met de veroordeling van Samast de zaak als gesloten beschouwd zal worden.

The judge sentenced Ogun samast to 22 years and ten months imprisonment. Be will probably be free after twelve years: the time on remand is taken off the sentence, and he is eligible for release after having completed two thirds of his punishment.

Turkey: in the tracks of the soldiers

COMMEMORATION – Commemorate a war and fallen soldiers? In Turkey they go a bit further than two minutes of silence. Turkish scouts, for example, re-live the ice-cold conditions endured by their soldiers in the eastern mountains of the country. Fatih (16), high in the mountains in the snow: ‘The soldiers really had a tough time.’

In Turkey it’s not about the commemoration of soldiers from the Second World War, like in our country, because Turkey didn’t take part in that war. But the country did fight in the First World War (1914-1918), and an important battle close to the city or Erzurum in eastern Turkey is always commemorated in December and January.
Turkey was not yet the country it is now. At the time the Ottoman Empire still existed, you could call it Turkey’s predecessor. The Ottoman army fought against (amongst others) the Russians in what is now eastern Turkey.

During one battle, which lasted from December 1914 to January 1915 and which the Ottomans lost, tens of thousands of soldiers died, many of them because they were ill prepared for the cold and snow in the mountains. In several places in the eastern provinces of Erzurum and Kars there are mass graves of soldiers, and one of these is the destination for 45 scouts. They walk to the grave starting from an almost abandoned mountain village, and the night before and after they sleep in the snow in a tent.

No good equipment

Elif (18) says she came along to the camp to experience history. ‘We learn about it at school, but that’s only information from a book. Here we can try to feel a little bit what the soldiers felt, to show our respect.’

That’s difficult, she immediately admits. Because the soldiers didn’t have proper clothes and blankets and in those days the area was covered with a thick layer of snow, while the scouts now do have good equipment and there is only a thin layer of snow this year.
But for Fatih (16) especially, that huge difference makes the experience so important: ‘I slept a little bit in the tent last night, but I was so cold! Especially then you think of how hard it must have been for the soldiers: it was colder then, and they had nothing.’

In the morning the group heads for the mass grave, about one and a half hour’s walk from the abandoned mountain village where they made their camp. They walk in a neat line behind a Turkish flag and a scouting flag. They don’t speak during the walk.
As they get higher, the snow gets thicker, and the sun shines brightly. Sun glasses are obligatory, or black charcoal streaks underneath the eyes, because they block the harmful reflections of the sun. At the grave the group gets a history lesson, they are silent for two minutes and sing the national anthem. Then they walk back, also in silence.

Turkish folk songs

At night, when everybody groups together by the heater in an abandoned house, the experiences of a hundred years ago are talked through. What can you learn from it? It’s mainly about staying warm, helping each other, weighing risks. That’s also why sun glasses or charcoal was obligatory: in difficult circumstances you should avoid every unnecessary risk. It’s also forbidden to group around the heater with a few people, because then you block the heat reaching the rest of the group. After the ‘lesson’ songs are sung. Turkish folk songs. A perfect way to stay warm!

‘I found it all very impressive’, says Elif, when the weekend is almost over. ‘Our ancestors fought for us then, and it’s good to keep that memory alive.’

The Battle of Sarikamiş
The battle that the scouts commemorate is known as the Battle of Sarikamiş. Armies of the Ottoman Empire and the Russian Empire  fought each other. The Russians were largely supported by the Armenians, a people that lived in the region in both Empires. After the battle was won by the Russians, the suspicion against the Armenians in the Ottoman Empire increased. Eventually the leaders of the Ottoman Empire deported and killed a large part of the Armenian community. In those days an estimated one million Armenians lost their lives. These events are known in many countries as ‘the Armenian genocide’. The Battle of Sarikamiş is seen as an important lead-up to this ‘genocide’.
Turkey thinks differently about what happened. The events can’t be called ‘genocide’, because they say the Ottomans didn’t have the intention to exterminate the whole of the Armenian people. The discussion is still a source of a lot of conflict. From time to time the tensions rise between Armenia and Turkey, and also between Turkey on one side and the United States and several European countries on the other about recognition of the ‘genocide’.

Turkish Armenians want election of Patriarch

ISTANBUL – Representatives of the Armenian community in Turkey have initiated a court case against the Turkish state to enforce elections for a new Patriarch, according to several Turkish newspapers on Thursday.

The court case is bringing to a climax a battle that started in 2008, when it became clear that Patriarch Mesrop II was no longer able to perform his duties due to dementia. The Ministry of Internal Affairs appointed a substitute Patriarch,very much against the will of the Armenians themselves. They want tohold elections to appoint a new spiritual leader in accordance with existing laws.

The position of ‘substitute patriarch’ doesn’t even exist, as a spokesperson for the Armenian Apostolic community is reported as saying in English language paper Hürriyet Daily News. ‘The ministry invented that position so they could appoint somebody of their choice.’

With the court case, the community wants to make elections still possible. A second court case must nullify the appointment of the ‘substitute patriarch’.