Turkey's on-again-off-again "Kurdish initiative" -- a democratization and reform effort introduced in 2009 that was intended to help solve the decades-old Kurdish issue -- has taken another unexpected turn with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's recent announcement that his government would soon allow for the teaching of Kurdish as an elective course in public schools. Up until now, the teaching of the language in public schools had been banned. Reports the Wall Street Journal:
Mr. Erdogan said Tuesday that elective Kurdish language classes could be introduced in Turkish schools “if a sufficient number of pupils gather” to request Kurdish language instruction.
“Kurdish can be taken as an elective class; it can be taught and be learned. This is a historical step. This way, our citizens with different mother tongues can develop their languages according to their needs and demand,” Mr. Erdogan said, speaking to his party’s lawmakers. He added that necessary legal framework already exists in Turkey to allow this.
Kurdish teaching has been banned so far in Turkish schools, despite the country’s millions of Kurds, some of whom only speak different Kurdish dialects. Children in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast provinces are taught in Turkish starting in first grade, whether they know Turkish or not.
Talk about changing the subject. For the last few weeks, Turkey had been consumed by a heated debate over last December's Uludere incident, in which 34 Kurdish smugglers were killed near the Iraqi border after the Turkish military mistakenly thought them to be Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) militants. Questions about the slow pace of the investigation into the incident, new allegations about the role that intelligence provided by American drones played in the attack, and some truly unfortunate remarks by Turkey's Interior Minister all threatened to turn the months-old incident into a major headache for the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).
After a Turkish military attack last December left 34 Kurds from a village called Uludere -- mistakenly thought to be Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) militants -- dead, Ankara hoped to put the matter to rest by paying the victims' families compensation and promising an investigation into the incident. But in recent days a raging debate over the incident and its aftermath has been reignited in Turkey.
As mentioned in a previous post, the renewed discussion about the Uludere (Roboski in Kurdish) incident was set off by a recent Wall Street Journal article, which focused on how intelligence provided by American unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV's) might have factored into the attack, in which Turkish warplanes and artillery targeted a group of smugglers coming across the border from Iraq. But the response of officials from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) to the WSJ article, which implied that the Turkish military made have not done enough to follow up on the original intelligence provided by the American drones, has only deepened the debate.
Defending the military's actions in the botched attack, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the the armed forces did what they needed to do and followed up on the American intelligence with their own drone surveillance. From the Hurriyet Daily News:
"That region is a terror region,” he told reporters accompanying him on a trip to Pakistan.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's recent statements that his country is united by "one religion" have caused quite a stir, drawing criticism both inside and outside Turkey. Erdogan made the comment in reference to the Kurdish issue in two recent speeches, saying what he advocates for is "one nation, one state, one flag and one religion." (A classic nationalist refrain heard in Turkey, mostly meant as a rebuke to Kurds, is that the country has "one flag, one nation, one language.")
Facing mounting criticism of Erdogan's remarks, Huseyin Celik, a deputy chairman of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), said they were a "slip of the tongue":
Çelik suggested that Erdoğan might have intended to emphasize the common religion of Islam that Turks and Kurds share, in the face of “attempts by Turkish and Kurdish chauvinists to trace their origins to Shamanism and Zoroastrianism.” The prime minister “may have meant to say that a common faith is one of the main reasons that no ethnic strife has erupted in this country despite all the efforts of Turkish and Kurdish chauvinists,” he said.
Even Erdogan, a proud politician not prone to admitting his own mistakes, said he slipped up, meaning to say "one homeland" rather than "one religion." In a column in yesterday's Today's Zaman, analyst Lale Kemal takes a look at why Erdogan's "slip of the tongue" struck such an off note:
Being a doctor in Turkey carries with it a certain amount of prestige. But, increasingly, the job is also proving to be one that comes with a high level of danger. The last month has seen a string of violent attacks against doctors and health professionals in Turkey, from the murder of a doctor by the 17-year-old relative of a patient of his who died to attacks against ambulance crews that were accused of arriving late. Things have gotten so bad that Turkish doctors went on a nationwide strike earlier this month to protest the violence they are facing, while the Health and Justice ministries have been forced to step into action and come up with a plan to protect the country's medical workers.So what's behind this upsurge in violence against doctors? Some suggest that because of a recent expansion of universal health coverage in Turkey, the country is now facing a severe shortage of doctors, resulting in poorer care and more angry patients and relatives. Some doctors, on the other hand, believe that they are the victims of government rhetoric that they say portrays them as lazy elitists. Reports the Financial Times:
If there's one thing everyone in Turkey's deeply divided political scene can agree on, it's that the country desperately needs a new constitution to replace the current one, written in 1982 by the generals who led a coup two years earlier. Although that constitution has been amended several times, it remains a woefully inadequate and undemocratic document, one that is completely out of touch with Turkey's current realities. Here's how law professors Serap Yazici and Mustafa Erdogan describe it in a 2011 report they wrote for the Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation (TESEV):
The 1982 Constitution was not only anti-democratic in terms of the method it was made, it also did not fit the ideal of a democratic and pluralist-liberalist society in terms of its content. Indeed, with characteristics such as its official ideology, its hierarchical model that renders the society subject to the state, its unionist-uniformist structure that sees differences and diversity illegitimate and its sacrificing freedom for authority, the 1982 Constitution is far from the standards of today’s democracies, and goes against the structure and needs of the society in Turkey.
The annual report of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), released this week, contained some fairly bad news for Turkey. The commission, a bipartisan federal watchdog that monitors religious freedom around the world, this year put Turkey on its list of "countries of particular concern" (CPC). That puts the NATO member, European-Union aspirant and stalwart NATO ally in the company of repressive countries such as Burma, Iran, Saudi Arabia, North Korea, and Uzbekistan, a "who's who of dictatorships and closed societies," as one report put it. “It’s no coincidence that many of the nations we recommend to be designated as CPCs are among the most dangerous and destabilizing places on earth,” USCIRF Chair Leonard Leo said in a statement. “Nations that trample upon basic rights, including freedom of religion, provide fertile ground for poverty and insecurity, war and terror, and violent, radical movements and activities.”
Needless to say, Turkish officials were not pleased with the USCIRF's downgrade (Turkey was previously on the commission's less damning "watch list"). Reports the Washington Post:
Turkey’s ambassador in Washington decried the decision.
“Any unbiased eye will immediately realize that that’s not where Turkey belongs in the USCIRF annual report,” said Ambassador Namik Tan.
In an unexpected move, a Turkish judge today released pending trial Nedim Sener and Ahmet Sik, two high-profile journalists who had been detained for over a year on charges that they were part of a plot to topple the government.
The arrest and jailing of the two respected journalists had brought Turkey's record on press freedom under increasing scrutiny. For example, Sener and Sik's surprise release -- along with two other journalists who were in jail -- came only days after the New Yorker took a look at the subject of media freedom (or the lack of it) in Turkey, first in a long article and then in a followup blog post by the story's author, Dexter Filkins. In his post, which notes that Turkey has the highest number of journalists jailed in the world, Filkins writes: "Measuring strictly in terms of imprisonments, Turkey—a longtime American ally, member of NATO, and showcase Muslim democracy—appears to be the most repressive country in the world." Clearly, this is not the way Ankara would like the world to think of Turkey. For the government of the Justice and Development Party (AKP), which has worked hard to present itself as a force for reform and democratization, the release of Sener and Sik appears to be an important step in rescuing its image.
Ahead of tomorrow's International Women's Day, a Turkish NGO is shining a light on Turkey's persistent gender gap problem. The group, the Association for Education and Supporting Women Candidates (KADER), conducts an annual survey that looks at the number of women in high places in Turkey, with the results usually fairly dismal. This year's study is no different, as Today's Zaman reports:
“For five years the situation has not changed. We are tired of reporting the same statistics each year. We are concerned,” said Çiğdem Aydın, representing KA.DER. The reason for their outrage was explained in the statistics they have compiled. In a nationwide campaign prior to the June 12 elections last year, they asked for 50 percent representation in Parliament, but the percentage of women who entered Parliament remained at only 14.2 percent. This is a small increase from 9.1 percent female lawmakers in Parliament in 2007. Moreover, out of 26 ministers in Turkey's cabinet there is only one woman, Family and Social Policy Minister Fatma Şahin.
In other administrative public offices, the situation is also bleak: Only 26 female mayors out of 2,924; 65 village heads out of 34,210; one female governor out of 81; five female rectors out of 103 and 21 female ambassadors out of 185. There are no female undersecretaries and no female members at the Supreme Court of Appeals, Court of Accounts or the Banking Regulation and Supervision Agency.
“What do we have in Turkey?” KA.DER representatives asked again. “Violence against women, exploitation of female labor and bodies, female poverty, female unemployment, child brides and girls who are not sent to school.”
Rather than as an investment opportunity, Turkey's currency used to best known for the number of zeros that could be found on lira bills, with the most common denomination note being 1,000,000. Even today, some seven years after the government introduced a "new" lira that did away with all the zeroes, it's not hard to find Turkish shopkeepers who occasionally still give prices in the millions.
Today's lira is a different beast. Turkey, having tamed the hyperinflation that created all those zeros in the first place, now has one of the world's fastest-growing economies and a currency that has earned some respect and, as of today, a new symbol to help it distinguish itself globally. From a report in Today's Zaman:
The Central Bank of Turkey unveiled a currency sign for Turkish lira, reflecting the government's ambitions to further strengthen the lira as a global currency and to boost the country's standing as a major international actor.
The symbol is a double-crossed "L," shaped like an anchor. The anchor shape hopes to convey that the currency is a "safe harbor" while the upward facing lines represent its rising prestige, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said at a ceremony at the Central Bank unveiling the symbol.