Turks divided about Yunus’ faith

ISTANBUL – Turks don’t seem to be unanimous in their opinion about the faith of 9 year old Yunus, who was placed in the foster care of a Dutch lesbian couple after Dutch authorities took him away from his abusive Dutch-Turkish parents. The matter already overshadows a visit of the Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan to the Netherlands this week. Erdogan accused Holland of ‘assimilation’, the Dutch government considers his remarks an inappropriate interference in domestic affairs. Some Turks seem to mainly worry about the separation of the family, while others are bothered by the fact the foster parents are lesbians.

The whole matter doesn’t seem to be a huge item in Turkey. Many people don’t know the story, or only heard about it vaguely and want to know more before they form an opinion.

Bus driver Tüncay Özmen (48, father of three children) wonders if enough has been done to stop the violence in Yunus’ family, but strongly condemns it: ‘In Turkey a child can be taken from such a family too. It will be placed in a home and the state will take care of it until it is eighteen years old.’

That Yunus was placed in the care of a lesbian couple doesn’t particularly bother him: ‘That’s not the biggest problem, as long as that family is safe. But the main point is, I think, that a child should grow up with its own mother and father. Your own family can’t be replaced.’

Hüseyin Üyar (43), who works as a customs officer, has heard about Yunus on TV. ‘The violence is of course the worst. The Dutch state has the right to take a child away from such a family, definitely. But what I don’t understand is that he is placed in a family with sick parents.  That’s off the frying pan into the fire, isn’t it? Homosexuality is a disease; you shouldn’t do that to a child.’

Filiz Keskin (33 year old receptionist) overhears the conversation and inquires what it’s about. ‘I totally agree’, she says. ‘Homosexuality is horrible. Aren’t there any other families? Turks, other foreigners, Dutch? That would be way better.’

Ferhat (21, student and gay himself) doesn’t know the Yunus-story, but gets excited when he hears about it. ‘So the Dutch state places an abused child in the foster care of a lesbian couple? Amazing that that is possible. In the Netherlands gays can also get married, isn’t that so? What a country! I like it. I mean, this way a child learns to have a broader outlook than his own culture, and I suppose this family will teach him some respect towards women too. Very good. I hope Yunus will be happy.’

Doubts about report on Uludere massacre

ISTANBUL – A commission in the Turkish parliament has finalized its report on the Uludere massacre, in which 34 civilians were killed at the end of 2011. According to the report the bombing of civilians was unintentional, and it was caused by communication flaws between civilian and military authorities. Nobody is guilty, according to the report.

Three of the four parties represented in the commission don’t accept the outcome and will publish their own reports. The commission has eight members: five from governing party AKP and one from each opposition party, CHP, BDP and MHP.

Secret

In the bombing at the end of 2011 34 civilians were killed at the Turkish-Iraqi border. They were smuggling petrol and food. There are not many other ways to make a living in the region, partly because of the conflict between the Kurdish armed group the PKK and the Turkish state. Governing party AKP has always said the incident was an accident and that the smugglers were mistaken for PKK fighters. The report states that the incident must be seen as a result of the ‘intense terrorist threat’ in the region, where the PKK has camps.

Several members of the commission have serious doubts about the outcome of the investigation. They didn’t get the chance to speak to the people responsible and had no mandate to force people to talk. Several important military documents were stamped ‘secret’ before the commission could look into them, and the chair of the commission, an AKP MP, complained about that.

Underage

The members of the commission have watched the footage of unmanned patrol planes that spotted the group of 38 smugglers in the border area. According to commission members of the BDP and the CHP the footage shows very clearly that the group are no PKK fighters. Ertugrul Kürkcü, MP for the pro-Kurdish BDP to ANP news agency: ‘You clearly see that it’s not a trained military group, and also the images in which goods are loaded from trucks onto donkeys are clear. When the F16’s approach, you don’t see the group separating and hiding, as guerillas would do, but rather huddling together because they are scared’.  Nineteen of the 34 victims were minors.

Kürkcü says his party will present its own report next week, and that also the social-democrat CHP and the ultra-nationalist MHP will publish their own versions.

The report leaves many questions unanswered. That can hinder the peace process between the state and the PKK, who are talking to try to find a solution to the almost 30 year old armed conflict in Turkey.

High Turkish honour for Dutch politician

ANKARA – Dutch politician René van der Linden received a high Turkish honour from the Turkish President Abdullah Gül on Thursday. The ChristianDemocrat is now a member of the Order of the Republic, the highest honour for non heads of state.

Van der Linden (l) right after receiving the honour.
Van der Linden (l) right after receiving the honour.

Van der Linden (69) received the honour for his years of efforts to improve relations between the Netherlands (and Europe) and Turkey. As President of the parliamentary assembly of the Council of Europe and also inside his own party the CDA he always pleaded the case of Turkey’s EU membership.
He also played an important role in the celebrations of 400 years of diplomatic relations between the Netherlands and Turkey, in 2012. During many visits to Turkey, Van der Linden built up a personal friendship with President Gül.

During the presentation in the presidential palace in the Turkish capital of Ankara President Gül praised Van der Linden’s efforts for democracy: ‘He opposed any artificial divisions over such criteria as religion, language, race and culture.’ Several Turkish ministers attended the ceremony.

Van der Linden is the third person to receive the Order of the Republic. Van der Linden said at the reception following the ceremony: ‘If you want to contribute to building relations with a country, personal connections are very important. Then you can also give criticism without it being perceived as criticism. Receiving this honour is very emotional for me. Turkey is part of my life.’

Kurdish permitted in Turkish courts

ISTANBUL – The Turkish parliament has passed a law that permits the use of Kurdish in court houses. The right to defend oneself  in one’s mother tongue is an important demand of the Kurdish political movement.

The law was approved after an emotional debate. Some opposition MP’s claim the use of any other language than Turkish in courts will break the unity of the country.

Kurdish MP’s on the other hand think the law doesn’t go far enough: only in certain parts of a court case will the use of other languages than Turkish will be permitted, and the accused has to pay for a translator himself. For those reasons the law also doesn’t meet EU standards.

The Turkish government says it is determined to solve the Kurdish question in the country. This law is part of that process.

In Turkey hundreds of political court cases against Kurds are in stalemate because the use of Kurdish has been totally forbidden up until now.

Sneijder to Galatasaray ‘transfer of the century’

ISTANBUL – It’s the ‘transfer of the century’, according to the big Turkish sports paper Fanatik. Competitor FotoMac brings the news too and adds that ‘it’s not a joke but reality’ and that Sneijder is ‘very excited’.

SNEİJDER
SNEİJDER

Many normal newspapers also report the transfer of the Dutch star player to the Istanbul club Galatasaray on their front pages. The biggest Turkish TVchannel NTV blew a passing remark by Sneijder that he ‘loves big games and wants to play against Besiktas’ out of proportion: ‘Sneijders’ first statement is for Besiktas!’ Besiktas, together with Galatasaray and Fenerbahce at the top of Turkish soccer, is second in the competition, Galatasaray is in the leading position.

When the news broke on Sunday, Sneijder immediately became the most debated subject among Turkish twitter users, with the ‘hashtag’ WelcomeToGalatasarayWesleySnijder. And on Monday morning ‘Sneijder’ is still the most popular subject on the micro blogging site.

Sweet messages

Besides the news about Sneijder himself, his spouse Yolanthe also makes it into the papers. She wrote in Turkish on twitter: ‘Thanks for your sweet messages!’ which turned out to be enough for a news article, of course with picture.

Sports paper Fanatik will make it a Sneijder week. The front page promises a Wesley Sneijder poster on Tuesday, and on Wednesday and Thursday a picture album in two takes. They start by showing Sneijders’ Galatasaray shirt, which they claim ‘is ready!’.

Good friend

Galatasaray is doing well in the Turkish competition: they lead the list with 33 points from 18 games. Sneijder, captain of the Dutch national team, undoubtedly has been in touch about his transfer to Galatasaray with his good friend Dirk Kuijt, deputy captain, who signed a contract with Fenerbahce last year. That club is doing less well, even though Kuijt often scores: they are currently in fourth place.

Wesley Sneijder will come to Istanbul on Monday afternoon to sign his contract. At 15.30, writes FotoMac. There will no doubt be a huge group of fans waiting to welcome him at the airport.

PKK founder buried in Turkey

TUNCELI – PKK founder Sakine Cansiz has been buried in the eastern Turkish city of Tunceli. At least five thousand people from Turkey and Europe attended the ceremony, along with members of her family who live in Rotterdam.

The ceremony was Alevi, an Islamic path that is important in the province. An Alevi leader called on Alevi organisations to support early peace talks. Recently, the Turkish government has been talking to Abdullah Öcalan, leader of the PKK.

Kurdish politician Aysel Tugluk called for peace in a long, emotional speech. Others recalled other ‘fighters’ who had their origins in Tunceli province. Tunceli was called Dersim until the nineteen thirties, and was renamed as part of a campaign to forcibly ‘Turkify’ the province. The massacre in 1937 and 1938, in which the army brutally suppressed an uprising, still regularly causes controversies in Turkish politics.

The coffin containing  Sakine Cansiz’ body was carried to the graveyard by women, among them Aysel Tugluk.

Tens of thousands say goodbye to PKK founder

DIYARBAKIR – In the Turkish city of Diyarbakir tens of thousands of people said goodbye to PKKfounder Sakine Cansiz and two other Kurdish female activists, who were murdered in Paris last week. Her family members who live in Rotterdam were also present. The ceremony was emotional and passed without any incidents.

On Wednesday night the bodies arrived at the airport of Diyarbakir, the biggest city in the predominantly Kurdish southeast of Turkey. Thousands of people came to the airport and accompanied the women to a hospital mortuary. Slogans were shouted and candles were burned, and many people tried to touch the ambulances carrying the bodies. This gathering also passed without any incidents.

Cruel torture

At the massive ceremony in Diyarbakir the women’s coffins were at the front of a big square. There were speeches by several Kurdish politicians. They praised the women for their contribution to the Kurdish struggle and called for peace.

Sakine Cansiz founded the PKK in 1978 with leader Abdullah Öcalan and a group of others. In the nineteen eighties and nineties, she spent twelve years in the notorious prison of Diyarbakir, which was known for its cruel tortures. After her release she fought from the mountains on Turkey’s south-eastern border. For the last couple of years she worked for the organisation in Europe.

Rotterdam family

Sebahat Tuncel, MP for the Kurdish party BDP, praised Cansiz for her struggle for Kurdish and women’s rights. ‘The thousands of people who are here today support that struggle’, she told ANP news agency. ‘Europe has to understand that: the people support the PKK.’

The funeral of Cansiz will be held on Thursday in the province of Tunceli, north of Diyarbakir, where she grew up. The other two women will be buried in Mersin and Elbistan.

Part of Sakine Cansiz’ family lives in the Dutch city of Rotterdam. Sakine celebrated New Year’s Eve with them in Rotterdam. Sakine’s niece Tijda Cansiz (20, student) remembers the evening as a nice time with the family. ‘My aunt was a strong, positive, happy woman’, she said. ‘I am very proud of her, and her independence and strength are definitely an inspiration for me.’

Former Turkish army chief in custody

ISTANBUL – On Thursday morning the former chief of general staff Ismail Hakki Karadayi was taken into custody in Turkey’s largest city, Istanbul. He is suspected of involvement in the so-called ‘post-modern coup’ of February 1997, in which the army forced the government to step down.

Karadayi was chief of general staff between 1994 and 1998. During his term, in 1996, Turkey got an Islamist head of government for the first time in its history, namely Necmettin Erbakan. The army, at the time still strong in its role as the ultimate defender of the Turkish form of secularism, feared too much religious influence in politics, and forced Erbakan to go. Because the army showed its power without tanks, the event went into history as the ‘post-modern coup’.

Last year several other high ranking former officers were arrested in connection with the same case. Among them was the second in command after Karadayi, Cevik Bir. He is still in jail. Karadayi is being transported from Istanbul to Ankara now, where he will be interrogated.

‘Saint Nicolas must return to Turkey’

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.

Adana increases in importance in Syria politics

ISTANBUL – The Dutch Patriots, which might be stationed in Turkey as soon as early in the new year to protect Turkey against artillery fire from over the Syrian border, will probably be stationed near the city of Adana. Adana is Turkey’s fifth biggest city, some hundred kilometres from the Syrian border. Foreign military presence is not unusual there: since the nineteen fifties it has had an important American air base.

The city has 1.5 million citizens and is modern, located close to the Mediterranean Sea and is an important economic centre. Besides that, the region around Adana is known as one of the most fertile places on earth: on a large scale, fruits, vegetables and products like cotton are being grown.

The city grew rapidly in the nineteen nineties. The war between the armed Kurdish group the PKK and the state was at it fiercest at the time, hundreds of Kurdish villages were burned down in the Kurdish southeast of the country and many Kurds fled to the city.

In general, Kurds in Turkey don’t support the strong anti-Assad politics of the governing AK Party. They believe PM Erdogan is mainly arming himself against the Kurdish population of Syria, which lives right across part of the border and which managed to build a certain degree of independence over the last couple of months. The Free Syrian Army doesn’t no say in Kurdish territory. The Democratic Union Party, the Syrian equivalent of the PKK, pulls the strings.

In Adana, Reuters news agency reported earlier this year, there is a secret  centre where Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar collect intelligence and refer it to the Free Syrian Army. Whether that centre is located at the American base close to the city is not clear.

When the Dutch Patriots come to Adana, the city will again play a bigger role in Turkish and international Syrian policies. Even though the Kurds denounce Turkey’s politics concerning Syria, and many Turks, especially in border areas, don’t support it either, any increased tensions or protests are not expected in the city when the Patriots arrive.

Dutch military personnel should prepare for a hot summer. In July and August Adana is one of the hottest cities in Turkey: the temperature easily rises to 43- 44 degrees Celcius. Many Adana citizens leave the city and go to summer houses in the cooler mountains, north of the city.