Wortels in Suriname? Hans Middelkoop (55), geboren in Genève en getogen in het Drentse gehucht Veeningen, raakte niet op slag begeesterd door zijn familiegeschiedenis toen hij veertien jaar geleden van een oudtante hoorde dat zijn moeders voorouders overzee hadden vertoefd. Het was zijn vrouw Alexandra Wondel (52), geboren in Suriname en getogen in Groningen, die zich een paar jaar later vastbeet in de familiegeschiedenis. Zij ontdekte dat hun beider voorouders op dezelfde paden liepen en woonden aan de oevers van de Suriname-rivier – de een als tot slaaf gemaakte, de ander als slavenhouder.
DERSIM/TUNCELI – ‘Our heart cries blood’, laments Kurdish politician Aysel Tugluk into the microphone. With long sustained tones she speaks to the thousands of people attending the funeral of Sakine Cansiz, one of the founders of the armed Kurdish movement, the PKK. Cansiz was murdered in Paris two weeks ago.
Shortly after Tugluk is one of the women who carries the coffin, covered in a PKK flag, to the graveyard. The procession goes from the cemevi (the Alevi house of worship) through the small city centre and then to Sakine’s last resting place, just outside the town. The route through the snowy mountain landscape is magical.
A day earlier, Thursday last week, tens of thousands of Kurds said goodbye to Sakine Cansiz and the two other female activists who were assassinated in Paris, Fidan Dogan and Leyla Söylemez. That gathering in the biggest city in the Kurdish southeast of Turkey, Diyarbakir, was not just a communal mourning but also a protest against the ongoing lack of a political solution to the Kurdish question. A cry for peace.
The funeral on Cansiz’ home ground,which she left as a young woman in the seventies to fight for her people, is also political. But it is in primarily a modest goodbye to a woman who meant a lot for the Kurdish struggle and for the freedom of Kurdish women. Or, as Selahattin Demirtas, Kurdish MP, expressed it in Diyarbakir: ‘There used to be not even a place for women of this land at the dinner table. But that we are here now, is also thanks to the struggle of Kurdish women for their people’.
Leyla Atac (37) walks along in the cortege. She was, just like Sakine Cansiz, born and raised in what the Kurds still call Dersim – the Kurdish name of the city that was replaced with Tunceli as part of the ‘Turkification process’ in the nineteen thirties. She calls the funeral the most important event in the city for years: ‘Sakine is my idol. She resisted, as a Kurd and as a woman.’ She joins in shouting the slogan of the day: Jin, Jiyan, Azadî! Woman, Life, Freedom!
The Parisian police have arrested two men in connection with the murders and released one of them. Who is behind the murder remains speculation. The early peace talks between the Turkish government and the imprisoned PKK leader Öcalan don’t seem to be affected by the triple murder. In her speech, Aysel Tugluk has a message for the killers: ‘Know that you can never stop our struggle for freedom’.
ISTANBUL – The remains of Saint Nicolas must be brought back to Turkey, according to Navzat Cevik, archaeology professor at the Turkish Akdeniz University, as reported by Turkish press agency Anadolu. The professor claims to know that would also be the wish of the saint himself.
Saint Nicolas is currently buried in the Italian province of Bari, after being, according to Cevik, illegally taken from Turkey in 1087. Saint Nicolas lived in Myra in SouthernTurkey, now called Demre. The saint has a church there, where many mainly Russian tourists visit. It is there that the saint should rest for ever.
Archeologist Cevik added that Saint Nicolas is also an important figure for Muslims. ‘He tried to spread Christianity, and Christianity is a religion sent by God as well’, he told Anadolu.
As far as is known, the Vatican, to which Cevik made his appeal, has not yet responded.
ISTANBUL – Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent (1494-1566) spent thirty years of his life on a horse, stated the Turkish PM Erdogan. But in the highly popular TV soap ‘Muhtesem Yüzyil’, ‘The Magnificent Century’, he is mainly focused on the feminine beauty in the harem. A distortion of historical facts, according to the Prime Minister, and that’s why the series has to end. A law to indeed ban the series is ready to be sent to parliament.
In the new law it will be forbidden to ‘show historical events and figures that are highly esteemed by society in a way that humiliates, belittles or distorts them or doesn’t reflect their reality’. The party of PM Erdogan, the AKP, expects that the soap series will vanish from TV in 2013. The Magnificent Century started in January 2011, and immediately caused strong negative reactions. Still, the series is a major hit.
The AKP claims it’s not the rejection of The Magnificent Century by Erdogan that has lead to the new law, but the huge amount of complaints about the series that were sent to both the party and media watchdog RTÜK.
The debate about censorship is being heated up again by the bill, also because earlier this week the channel that broadcasts the animation series The Simpsons was fined by RTÜK for blasphemy.
ISTANBUL – The investigation into the death of the Turkish President Turgut Özal, who died of a heart attack in 1993, continues. The head of the judicial forensic service, Haluk Ince, said that on Friday at a press conference. He denied earlier reports in the media that the ‘rat poison’ strycchine was found on the remains of Özal.
Ince said ‘some findings’ were done, but that it was too early to draw any conclusions about the cause of death. The remains of the President were excavated last month at the order of the public prosecutor. Offically Özal died of a heart attack, but there have always been suspicions about murder. At the time there were speculations already and blood samples were lost even before they could be investigated. Also Özals wife and son have always claimed the President didn’t die a natural death.
The Turkish daily Bugün reported on Friday, based on the first results of the autopsy, that the ‘rat poison’ strycchine was used. The forensic lab, another paper claimed, supposedly called the Minister of Justice to tell him that the amount of the poison found was not enough to be sure it caused the death of the President.
In the early nineteen-ninetees the President was negotiating with Abdullah Öcalan, leader of the armed Kurdish group the PKK, to find a political solution to the Kurdish question. That was controversial. In those days, the war between the Turkish army and the PKK was getting harsher.
He’s being looked at as he turns into the street, leaning on his hand cart laden with sunflower seeds. Bandage around his head, unsteady on his feet. He coughs. The people in the street laugh. Damn, there he is again!
Diyarbakir, capital of the Kurds, south-eastern Turkey. Don’t ask what year it is, it could be 1992, 1995,or even 1998. For newspaper boy, or more precisely newspaper man, Yakut Yilmaz, the years are totally interchangeable. The number of times he takes out his hand cart and hides his real merchandise under a pile of sunflower seeds, uncountable. Sometimes he hits the road with a head injury, sometimes with damaged arms or legs, for years even with only half his teeth. For him only one thing counts: deliver the paper to whoever wants to read it.
Tuesday 20 December 2011.
‘Ah, there you are. Come, let me open the door, and then we can start the investigation.’ It’s not a daily routine that an army of policemen gathers in front of the office of Özgür Gündem in Ankara. Nevertheless, editor in chief Hüseyin Aykol isn’t surprised at all: from the paper’s very beginning in May 1992, nineteen years ago, there hasn’t been a quiet moment. Court cases, fines, journalists and distributors arrested, murders, bombs even. So a search of the editorial office – what can he do?
The policemen obviously expected something other than a cooperative editor in chief. After the policeman in charge has checked Aykol’s identity, the editor in chief gets handed the keys to the new lock. It has just been installed, replacing the old one broken when the anonymous-looking steel door was forced open.
Behind that steel door on the first floor in the right-hand back corner Ozgür Gündem’s Ankara editorial office is situated. Editor in chief Aykol works alone there: the central office is in Istanbul. To the left of the hallway a bigger space: the office of Dicle Haber Ajans, DIHA in short, a Kurdish news agency named after the Dicle, the river Tigris in English. Their room too is being searched, and their books, papers and computers are being taken away.
Nine of his journalists are in custody
In the meantime, the phone starts to ring again and again. Izmir is calling, Diyarbakir, Istanbul, Urfa. Aykol hears that all over the country in the early morning journalists of Kurdish media are being dragged from their beds, and offices and houses are being searched. While Aykol sees the equipment he needs to publish tomorrow’s paper disappear off to the police station, he hears that part of his team is no longer available: nine of his journalists are in custody. They work for the daily paper and for some magazines of the same publisher.
A total of 44 journalists are taken into custody that day. Most of them work for DIHA, Özgür Gündem (Free Agenda) and the only Kurdish language paper in Turkey, Azadiya Welat (Free Country), others for smaller Kurdish media. Among the arrested are also a few people of the distribution agency used by Kurdish media.
They were detained as part of the so-called ‘KCK operation’. KCK is the union of communities in Kurdistan, an umbrella organisation of Kurdish organizations in Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria. PKK leader Öcalan, who is serving a life sentence on the prison island of Imrali, leads the KCK, and Murat Karayilan, PKK commander in the mountains on the Turkey-Iraq border, is on the board. Since 2009 thousands of politically active Kurds have been detained for ‘being a member of an illegal organization’. Among them mayors and civil servants of municipalities that are governed by the BDP, students, academics and human rights activists. The journalists allegedly formed the ‘press group’ of the KCK.
Why did you attend that press conference?
There is no evidence against the thousands of KCK suspects. Indictments are full of (illegally) wiretapped phone conversations the subject of which might be the time a meeting starts and who determines its agenda, or somebody not being able to come because of illness, or that somebody will have to bring some food to the meeting. All secret language, according to the prosecutor, in which ‘tomatoes’ are really ‘explosives’. As well, books found at the suspects’ homes or offices are used as evidence.
Legal activities are brought forward as evidence of ‘membership of the KCK’, the reports of interrogations show. Why did you visit wounded protesters in the hospital? Why did you attend that press conference? Why did you shout that slogan?
By both those involved as well as independent international and Turkish human rights organizations the KCK trials are considered some of the biggest show trials in Turkish history.
Saturday, 3 December 1994.
The fire is almost out. This time, thinks Aykol as he approaches the Istanbul editorial office of Özgür Gündem on foot and sees the smoke coming out of the building, they have succeeded. Our work will stop. The paper survived arrests, killings, publication bans and fines, but bombs, let off simultaneously at the offices in Ankara and Istanbul, that is too much for the resilience of the paper. He walks around numb among the curious crowd gathered to watch the flames. He doesn’t recognize anybody he knows. Aykol is, just like anybody else, kept at a distance.
The magazine Hedef (Goal), owned by the same publisher as Özgür Ülke, is being printed that same day, 3 December 1994. If he’s quick, he suddenly thinks, he can get the news about the bombing of Özgür Ülke into it before it’s printed. After that’s being done, he doesn’t know what to do. A few hours later his colleague Gültan Kisanak finds him. She gives Aykol an address on the phone: ‘get there, we are setting up the paper’.
The afternoon passes in a sort of blur. Without thinking almost. They work hard. And the next day, there is a paper. A paper of four pages. The leading banner: This fire will burn you too! The report:
Our newspaper, which the most authoritative representatives of the state targeted and sought any excuse to close down, was one of the most important items on the agenda of the National Security Council gathered on Wednesday. The things that were said during this meeting where the decision was taken to close down our newspaper appeared in the press without mentioning the name of our newspaper. National Security Council’s decision as to what was to happen to our newspaper had become apparent 3 days later and Ozgur Ulke was bombed.
It’s indescribable what Aykol feels when he sees that paper on sale at the kiosk.
Saturday, 3 December 1994.
Yakut Yilmaz lets himself down onto the red tiled pavement, right in front of the distribution office of Özgür Ülke in Diyarbakir. His legs can no longer carry him. It’s icy cold this early December morning but he doesn’t feel it. He is crying. The paper. The paper has been bombed. One question keeps running through his mind in a panic: how on earth are people going to find out the truth now?
To him, the truth is Özgür Gündem. The paper, which has had fourteen different names over the years because of publication bans and fines and is now being published again under its original name, started in 1992 as the first one to report on the Kurdish issue. Kurds officially don’t exist in Turkey, their language is forbidden, like any expression of Kurdish culture. In the Turkish media nationalism reigns supreme, problems in the south-east of the country, mainly inhabited by Kurds (‘mountain Turks’), don’t get any attention.
With division, you won’t win the war
The coming into existence of papers like Özgür Gündem and several weekly and monthly magazines of the same publisher, is directly connected to the establishment of the PKK in 1978 and the first attack by the group in 1984. The PKK was a Marxist-based separatist group in those days. The goal was to be reached with violence, but also with a growing Kurdish conscience. The last Kurdish uprising in Turkey was in 1938 in the province of Dersim and was brutally suppressed, the assimilation of the Kurdish people is in full swing and many Kurds are not even aware of their identity, let alone of the marginal position of their segment of society.
The PKK is changing that. The organisation doesn’t hide in its training and base camps in Syria and Lebanon, but sends representatives to Kurdish regions to win support and recruit new fighters. In that way it manages to get into the veins of Kurdish society – and become the leading Kurdish power. Whoever wants to turn the newly won Kurdish identity into, for example, political or journalistic action, can do that only with implicit support of the PKK. Division among Kurds is forbidden. With division, you won’t win the war.
And the war is intense. The state approaches the violence of the PKK purely as a terrorism problem – a Kurdish issue after all doesn’t exist. It’s hard against hard. And not only between the PKK and the Turkish army. The army burns down hundreds of Kurdish villages, forests and agricultural lands in an effort to rob the PKK of its hide-outs -and supply points. The villagers can choose: leave, or become ‘village guards’, in other words help fight the PKK with arms supplied by the state.
Özgür Gündem reports from the Kurdish perspective
A stream of refugees to the cities – Diyarbakir, Istanbul, Adana, Izmir – starts. The Yakut family flees from the hamlet of Kulboga to Baglar, a district in the heart of Diyarbakir. Within a few years Baglar becomes over-populated, the unemployment and poverty are overwhelming.
Anyone who is politically active in those years and supports the PKK or is suspected of supporting it, will inevitably end up in trouble. Jitem, the secret death squads of the army, carries out hundreds of extra-judicial executions and dump the bodies in wells, rivers and valleys. Thousands of Kurds are being locked up – the prison of Diyarbakir, where the torture is so severe it often leads to death – is one of the most notorious in the world. The PKK is killing too: it doesn’t only fire on military targets, but also civilian ones and gets rid of opponents within its own ranks.
Özgür Gündem reports these matters from the Kurdish perspective. From the PKK perspective. The PKK doesn’t directly interfere with the content of the newspaper, but the paper always gives consideration to its message. And very directly too: if the PKK has something to share with the world, then they deliver their statements to the paper and like-minded magazines, which often publish them in their entirety.
So the term ‘mouthpiece for the PKK’, as Kurdish media are often described by the Turkish state, is somewhat justified. At the same time the term reduces the papers to nothing more than that. Unfairly, because Özgür Gündem surely engages journalism, brings news and backgrounds that can’t be read anywhere else and gives the Kurds the voice they never had in Turkey.
If only he had been healthy
For Yilmaz, Özgür Gündem is the truth. But it’s not only for that reason that he keeps on distributing the paper. They can arrest and torture him hundreds of times, but they can’t stop him. And if he is in pain, if he has an attack of epilepsy, worsened by the beatings, occurs and he just falls down on the street, if he doesn’t succeed in escaping from the police in the small backstreets of his city and he is flogged again, he thinks of the fighters in the mountains. He reads about them in the paper. They are having a hard time. He isn’t.
If only he could have joined the PKK. If only he had been healthy. Then they wouldn’t have rejected him when he stepped forward to fight. A PKK fighter with epilepsy, he knows it can never be, but still… They urged him to keep supporting the Kurdish struggle in the city. He takes that task seriously and won’t disavow it under any circumstances.
One of the PKK fighters he often thinks of is his brother and fellow newspaper distributor, Nihat. He swapped his job in the city for a life as a guerrilla in the mountains, just like nine other young men from the Yakut family.
Mevlude quarelled with her sons sometimes. Nihat, her oldest, distributed papers and dragged his younger brother Yilmaz along with him. What was wrong with Yilmaz’ job at a leather company? Why did he, an epileptic, have to deliver newspapers too? More often than not they came home damaged, if they came home at all, but rather spent the night in a police cell. And what were the piles of newspapers doing in her house? What were they doing that was apparently bothering the police so much that they entered the house by force every now and then, turned everything upside down and banged her sons with their heads against the wall until they bled?
Nihat has told her about what’s in the paper. She can’t read herself, especially not Turkish, since she speaks only Kurdish. The backgrounds, the history, the uprising, the politics, she doesn’t really understand. But Nihat convinced her that he is doing it all for the freedom of their people. That he will continue doing that and that nobody, not even his mother, can change his mind.
So now Mevlude supports her sons. When they leave the house in the morning to distribute the papers, she throws water after them. It protects them against misfortune.
Yilmaz is still alive. There have been a few close shaves. The police threatened so often to kill him if he didn’t stop distributing the paper, but they didn’t succeed.
Also in March 2006 Yilmaz had a narrow escape. There are clashes lasting for days between the police and the inhabitants of Baglar. It’s one of the areas where Yilmaz distributes papers, and clashes or no clashes, he delivers them. He gets arrested and his family only sees him again four days later, when he faces a judge. He is in a worse state than ever before. His jaw is broken and dislocated, his head is bleeding, there is blood coming out of his ear. His clothes are drenched in blood.
Yilmaz is set free. Mevlude and her sons take him to hospital. When he has recovered enough, they take him home. She feeds him with yoghurt and crushed biscuits.
Nihat is dead. They only heard ten months after he lost his life in a battle with the army, in November 1998. His remains were never buried, just left in the mountains. Another eight members of the Yakut family who joined the PKK didn’t survive. Of them, only Hikmet and Ihsan have an official final resting place. The tenth Yakut that fought with the PKK, Beyazit, was arrested and is serving a long prison sentence.
10 September 2012.
Nine months after the mass arrests, the trial against 44 Kurdish journalists starts. The biggest trial against press freedom in the history of the Turkish republic.
For Hüseyin Aykol, December 1994 and December 2011 are indissolubly connected to each other: both the bombs and the trial are meant to silence the Kurdish press. In the bombing one colleague died, but over the years 76 people working for the paper either as a journalist or distributor were murdered. Özgür Gündem had many publication bans, the last in March this year. Also the millions of liras of fines sometimes forced the paper to close down temporarily.
To ‘eliminate’ Özgür Ülke
The ones that tried to silence him and his colleagues are still the same. At the end of November 1994 it was Prime Minister Tansu Ciller who signed the document of the National Security Council to ‘eliminate’ Özgür Ülke, in the wording of the eventually revealed document. And now, in 2012, it was Prime Minister Erdogan who admitted to having a deal with the judiciary to silence politically active Kurds: ‘If you deal with them judicially, we will do what’s necessary in parliament’.
But they are not successful. Also on 12 December 2011, the day after nine Özgür Gündem journalists were taken into custody and computers and other stuff were seized, the paper was back on the newsstands. Just like on 4 December 1994, the morning after the bomb. Other independent papers put their equipment at Özgür Gündem’s disposal and in no time they made a paper. A paper of, just like then, four pages.
‘Hey, Yilmaz, are you there again?’ Yilmaz’ colleagues call out when he arrives at work. ‘You don’t have to come in to work, you know that don’t you?’ They get him a chair, he’s so unstable on his feet that they can hardly bare to look at him. Yilmaz smiles, and says: ‘It’s my job. I take that seriously, you know that.’ His dentures and his badly healed jaw make it hard to understand him these days. He drinks the tea his colleagues give him.
‘It’s good to see you here’, says colleague Tahsin. ‘Just as it was good in the old days to see you come around the corner again with your hand cart with its secret stash of papers. But please, take a rest, you deserve it’.
But Yilmaz is unstoppable. When he finishes his tea, he gets up. He walks to the depot of the parks and gardens department of the Diyarbakir municipality, gets a watering can, fills it with water and sprinkles the lawn. His colleagues are watching from a distance, shake their heads and smile.
He owes it to his people
Delivering papers was no longer possible. Oh it was sweet to be able to distribute them openly after in 2002 the state of emergency was lifted in the whole of Southeast Turkey and distributing the paper was no longer illegal. But his epileptic attacks have become so serious that it would be irresponsible to carry on. What if he had a seizure outside his own neighbourhood, where people may not know him and wouldn’t know what to do? His colleagues at the parks department know exactly what to do, they keep an eye on him.
Yilmaz’ job basically only exists on paper. The Diyarbakir municipality, for many years governed by pro-Kurdish party BDP, has a special programme for people who became disabled while contributing to the Kurdish struggle. Yilmaz was eligible. The parks and gardens department hired him. He doesn’t really have to show up, and his illness and handicaps also hardly allow him to. But Yilmaz comes in on the days he feels well enough. He waters the flowers and picks the weeds. He owes it to his people. That’s how he feels.
For this article use was also made of these two books: * Ape Musa’nin kücük generalleri (The little generals of Ape Musa), by Nihat Hikmet Senol, Aram publishers, 2008. * Susturulamayanlar (The ones that can’t be silenced), by Hüseyin Aykol, Aram publishers, 2012.
Nearly two weeks after the car bomb in Gaziantep, locals share mixed views of the “city of peace” and tolerance.
The shattered pavement, local shop owners say, was repaired the day after a car bomb exploded on Koruturk Street in central Gaziantep on August 20th, leaving 10 dead and nearly 70 wounded. But not everything could be fixed so quickly: some windows are still broken and a few buildings are still being restored.
“The bomb,” said Imran Akar, “brought us closer together.” Akar, a Kurd from the southeast province of Siirt, works in a flower shop on Koruturk Street with his colleague Bayran Kanbur, a Turk. As they prepared a yellow flower bouquet, the two said that they feel no animosity toward each other because of the bombing.
“Many different groups live in this city. We go to the same mosques, we live in the same neighbourhoods, we greet each other on the street. We are all religious and religion forbids discrimination,” Akar told SES Türkiye.
“Of course,” added Kanbur, “politicians fight over who is responsible for the bomb and try to gain from it, but we just don’t play along with their games.” Preferring to not talk much more about the bombing, Kanbur said the two colleagues may have different opinions about who did it and why. That could lead to arguments and we don’t want that.”
While Akar and Kanbur refrain from discussing what could tear them apart, in a street located around the corner from the provincial BDP office that was torched after the bombing by a mob of Turkish nationalists, a group of neighbours speak in Kurdish.
Among them is Sabiha, 52, whose brother is in jail. “He was caught with seven explosives in his car,” Sabiha said, refusing to give her last name and preferring to talk inside her home.
“The neighbours shouldn’t hear me. We are all Kurds here, but some of them are assimilated and I’m not sure if I can trust them,” she said inside her home. Her brother was sentenced to a long prison sentence six years ago, she said.
“As far as we know, he acted on his own. He has never talked about what he intended to do.” The only thing she knows is that what her brother did is “günah,” a sin. “Just like the bombing here two weeks ago, Allah doesn’t allow it.”
Gaziantep is referred to as a tolerant city, or even a “city of peace,” because it has never been confronted with terrorist attacks before. But it is not only that explains Orhan Kemal Cengiz, a lawyer and human rights activist.
“In Gaziantep several groups live together. But there is no serious tension between the groups like you see in other cities where the Kurdish population has grown due to immigration, like in Mersin or Izmir. In those cities, you have not only Kurdish immigrants, but also many nationalist Turks, and it can be explosive if these two come together,” Cengiz told SES Türkiye.
“The people behind the bomb, whoever they were, want direct confrontations between Kurds and Turks. Luckily that didn’t happen in Gaziantep. The city kept its calm,” Cengiz added.
In Gaziantep, the nationalist MHP is not among the biggest parties, neither is the other end of the political spectrum, the pro-Kurdish BDP. Many Kurds vote for the AKP, or CHP if they are Alevi.
But to call Gaziantep a ‘city of peace’ because of that is a step too far, according to Cengiz. “I don’t think there is such a city in all of Turkey. This country had so many conflicts in its history and none of them have been faced. That needs to be done before you can speak of real peace.”
Underneath the surface
Hasan Yilmaz, 32, couldn’t agree more. He works for a bank, but in his free time he writes about the news as a citizen journalist on his own Tumblr-page. He felt a need to write about the city where he was born and raised: “I read in the papers about the tolerance in Gaziantep, but I don’t recognise my city with that description,” he told SES Türkiye
“On the outside,” Yilmaz said, “there is no trouble, but underneath the surface there is. Kurds are being discriminated against. They are underpaid, excluded, and cursed. The biggest complaint is that the Kurdish immigrants ‘ruined the city,’ I know, I am a Turk, I hear it around me all the time.”
Yilmaz also referred to the Armenians and Jews that lived in the city until the 1920’s and 1970s, but who were forced out or left due to rising pressure against minorities in the whole of Turkey. “So if you ask me if Gaziantep, city of peace, will change because of the bomb blast, I say it never was a city of peace to begin with.”
Is the famous Turkish musician Arif Sag just a hot headed Turk who just can’t deal with the fact that he needs to follow certain rules to enter the Netherlands? Or is his frustration about the treatment he got from the border control at Amsterdam Schiphol airport justified, and part of a bigger problem, namely the illegal way Turks are hindered from travelling to the EU? The latter.
Arif Sag, who had all his paperwork in order and entered the Netherlands a few days earlier without any problem, had an invitation to come to the Netherlands: he was going to give a concert as part of the celebrations of 400 years diplomatic ties between Turkey and the Netherlands. Officially we are supposed to find that worth a party, but in practice it doesn’t look like we take our friendship with the Turks very seriously. In this case that lead to personal frustration, but in general it has been angering the Turks for years already – and with good reason.
Against the treaty
With good reason? It’s just European rules that require Turks to have a visa to travel to Europe, isn’t it? Well, no, it isn’t, and that’s the big misunderstanding here: a 1963 treaty between the then EEC and Turkey requires both sides to refrain from introducing any restrictions on freedom to receive and provide services. That includes trade, but also for example study, tourism, and cultural exchanges. At the time the Netherlands was one of the eleven European countries that had no visa requirements for Turks who wanted to come to the Netherlands. All restrictions that form the current policy were introduced after the treaty. So they are against the treaty, and thus illegal.
In the last couple of years, several European judges have confirmed with their rulings that the visa restrictions for Turks are not legal. Dutch judges too. But no European country has since had the decency to turn those judicial rulings into legally binding policies. Meanwhile, Europe in general and the Netherlands especially do not pass up any opportunity to lecture the rest of the world, including Turkey, about the importance of the rule of law.
Something else contributes to the frustration of the Turks. Civilians of five Balkan states are permitted to travel to the EU without visa, and none of these countries is negotiating on EU membership. For Moldavia and Ukraine the so called ‘visa liberalization process’ has started: both countries having no chance for EU membership in the near (or distant) future. For Turkey, not even the liberalization process has started yet, even though Turkey has been negotiating for EU membership since 2005. Europe didn’t dare to go further than a ‘dialogue about visa, mobilisation and migration’, which in fact means nothing. In the meantime, the Turks have taken significant steps to meet European standards, like introducing biometric passports.
And this all out of fear. Fear to displease the voting masses. Fear that large numbers of Turks will flood the Netherlands. That fear is unfounded. Yes, many illegal immigrants cross the Turkish-Greek border, but those are not Turks but mainly Afghans, Ethiopians and Pakistanis. Besides, Turkey is doing well economically, and it’s utterly arrogant to assume that thousands and thousands of Turks would want to change their own country for the increasingly xenophobic Europe. Research also shows that this flood will not come (apart from on the tourist level, which will help the European economy!) and statistics show that, on the contrary, more Europeans nowadays seek their economic fortune in Turkey.
If the Netherlands really wants to reaffirm the friendship with Turkey after 400 years of diplomatic ties, than it should get rid of the illegal visa restrictions as soon as possible.
ISTANBUL – A concert of the Turkish singer Arif Sag was cancelled last weekend because of the strict visa restrictions on nonEU citizens arriving in the Netherlands. Sag was questioned at length at Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport and was made to wait so long that he no longer wanted to enter the country and took the first plane back to Istanbul. Turkish papers, among others Radikal, write about a ‘scandulous treatment’ by the Netherlands.
Spicy detail is that the concert, organized by Kulsan cultural foundation, was to take place as part of the celebrations of 400 years of diplomatic ties between Turkey and the Netherlands. A few days earlier Sag passed through Schiphol for a rehearsal without any problems.
The strict procedures for visiting Europe have been angering Turks for years now.
“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.