For the last few years, Turkish authorities have increasingly been turning their attention towards curtailing the growth of the Kurdish Communities Union (KCK), an umbrella organization that brings together several groups working towards promoting a kind of cultural and political autonomy for Turkey's Kurds. As part of that effort, hundreds (some claim thousands) of Kurdish politicians and activists have been arrested in police sweeps across Turkey, accused of being linked to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). In what is a troubling development, police yesterday arrested another large group of activists, among them a respected professor of law who was working with the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) on constitutional reform and a well-known publisher, both of whom have now been jailed pending trial. From Today's Zaman
An İstanbul court on Tuesday arrested 44 suspects, including Professor Büşra Ersanlı and publisher Ragıp Zarakolu, on terrorism charges as part of an investigation into the Kurdish Communities Union (KCK), an umbrella group that allegedly encompasses the terrorist Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) and its affiliated organizations.
Ersanlı and Zarakolu were taken to the Beşiktaş Courthouse on Monday along with 48 others who were detained on Friday by the İstanbul Police Department's counterterrorism unit.
Ersanlı, a member of the Peace and Democracy Party's (BDP) Party Council and Constitutional Commission, Belge Publishing House representative Zarakolu and 48 others were interrogated by a prosecutor following a medical examination. The prosecutor referred 47 of them to court late on Monday, requesting their arrest and accusing the suspects of establishing a terrorist organization, leading a terrorist organization and being members of a terrorist organization.
Although Turks have shown an incredible level of unity in the wake of Sunday's devastating 7.2-magnitude earthquake in the east's Lake Van region, it was probably inevitable that politics would soon start working their way into the story, especially since the the quake's epicenter was also right in the heart of a predominantly Kurdish area.
Many of the municipalities in the area, for example, are run by the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), which in the last few years has been engaged in a bitter fight with the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) to win votes in Turkey's mostly-Kurdish southeast. The fight appears to be continuing. Speaking in parliament yesterday, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, while admitting that the government failed to properly deliver aid and relief in the first 24 hours after the earthquake, also took a dig at the BDP. From a report in Today's Zaman:
[Erdogan] also criticized the lack of coordination in aid distribution in spite of large amounts of supplies being sent to the disaster area. “The İstanbul Municipality can reach out to Van, the municipalities of Bursa, Ankara and Erzurum can reach out to Van, but the municipalities in that region fail to reach out to an area that is right next to them,” in apparent criticism of Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) municipalities. “Those who are able to organize people to throw stones at police and soldiers, vandalizing the streets, throwing Molotov cocktails, you see, are nowhere to be seen in the hour of disaster.”
The toll from Sunday's 7.2 magnitude earthquake in eastern Turkey's Lake Van region continues to rise, with officials now saying that at least 432 people died in the quake and over 1,300 were injured. In addition, more than 2,200 buildings were destroyed in the quake.
As the frantic search for survivors continues, there have been a few reports of miraculous rescues, including one of a two-week old baby. From an AP report:
A 2-week-old baby girl, her mother and grandmother were pulled alive from the rubble of an apartment building in a dramatic rescue Tuesday, 48 hours after a 7.2-magnitude earthquake toppled some 2,000 buildings in eastern Turkey.
Television footage showed a rescuer in an orange jumpsuit squeezing into the hulk of crushed concrete and metal to free the baby. The infant, named Azra Karaduman, was wrapped in a blanket and handed over to a medic amid a scrum of media and applauding emergency workers....
....The baby's mother, Semiha, and grandmother, Gulsaadet, were huddled together, with the baby clinging to her mother's shoulder when rescuers found them, emergency worker Kadir Direk said. There was a bakery at the ground floor of the building, which may have kept them warm, he said.
The baby was in good health but was flown to a hospital in Ankara, the state-run Anatolia news agency reported. Hours after she was freed, the two others were pulled from the large, half-flattened building and rushed to ambulances as onlookers clapped and cheered. The mother had been semiconscious, but woke up when rescuers arrived, Direk said.
"Bringing them out is such happiness. I wouldn't be happier if they gave me tons of money," said rescuer Oytun Gulpinar.
While relief efforts are continuing in the Van region of eastern Turkey, where a 7.2 magnitude earthquake struck yesterday, there are reports of those efforts being hindered by a lack of equipments and medical supplies. From the Hurriyet Daily News, which has a reporter in the region:
Search-and-rescue personnel working in the Van earthquake zone have decried their “primitive” working conditions and lack of technical equipment as they try and reach survivors from the eastern province’s devastating temblor.
"We are working with primitive tools, we have no equipment," one rescuer told the Hürriyet Daily News.
Emergency personnel said they heard cries for help coming from under a collapsed building this morning and started to work on the wreckage to reach the survivors. The cries had stopped at around noon, they said, adding that they had to dig out the dead bodies of quake victims.
"We can't get to survivors fast enough," one rescue team member said.
The spirit among rescuers is noticeably low, and some members could only weep in frustration at the situation.
There is a device to find people under rubble, rescuers said, but added that they only had one of the devices in the district of Erciş, which was worst hit by the Oct. 23 quake.
"We yell into collapsed buildings, asking if anybody is there," a rescue team member said.
Turkish officials have confirmed that close to 300 people have been killed in the quake and more than 1,300 injured, although it is expected that because of the number of people trapped in the rubble those figures will rise.
The Hurriyet Daily News has an interesting article up about the long-awaited opening of a Kurdish language program at Artuklu University in southeast Turkey's Mardin. The program, for which 21 students have registered, is the first of its kind to be offered at a Turkish university. From the article:
After years of efforts, a number of rejections and strong debates, Turkey’s first undergraduate-level Kurdish language and literature department is welcoming students for its first class today in the southeastern province Mardin’s Artuklu University.
The beginning of the first undergraduate-level Kurdish program, which many consider a positive development, comes at a time of recent tension over discussions on Turkey’s new constitution, which are about to commence between the ruling and oppositional parties, including the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), which is primarily focused on the Kurdish issue.
While tension among the delegates is expected to rise especially on the first three articles, which discuss “the characteristics of the Republic,” an academic move to officially integrate Kurdish culture into Turkey’s education system is already regarded as a sign of development.
“When we established the School of Eastern Languages, I had planned to set up a Kurdish Language and Literature Department and kept re-applying to YÖK [Higher Education Board]. This city is the center of upper Mesopotamia, and Kurdish [culture] is a major part of this,” Artuklu University Rector Serdar Bedii Omay said.
One of the recently-stated goals of Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), which won its third term this summer, is to tackle the problem of childhood obesity in the country. Action has actually already been taken on that front, with a directive being issued a few months ago ordering schools to stop selling junk food and unhealthy snacks on their premises.
But now it looks like the government's plan to slim down Turkey's students is being thwarted by entrepreneurial shopkeepers located near schools, who have started selling contraband food to hungry students. From a report in Hurriyet:
The Ministry of Health and Education’s plan to combat obesity in schools is thwarted by outside vendors, who have begun to sell the prohibited items in their shops.
Some bookshops, located outside of the schools have now turned into cafes and begun to sell sandwiches, hamburgers,energy drinks and fried foods.Although the selling of such foods is prohibited in school canteens, there is no regulation to inspect vendors, who sell unhealthy foods outside of the school areas.
he joint efforts of the ministries of Health and Education to combat obesity by banning the sale of unhealthy foods in school canteens have been thwarted by many outside vendors who have now begun to sell the prohibited foods.
“We now grill even meatballs, rather than cooking them in oil. All the products we sell, such as meatballs, fruit juices and ayran [a Turkish drink made of salty yogurt] are guaranteed by the Turkish Standards Institution. Students, however, are buying products sold outside the school without any restraints, thinking they are cheap. Vendors within the vicinity of the school also need to be inspected,” said Mustafa Işık, a canteen operator at the Atatürk Elementary School in Istanbul’s Halkalı district.
The International Crisis Group has issued a new report that looks in detail at the failure of Turkey's "Kurdish opening," an initiative launched a few years ago that was meant to help solve the decades-old Kurdish problem, and that offers some very practical suggestions for how Turkey and the Kurds can move forward. From the report's summary:
A surge in violence has dashed plans for a negotiated end to the 27-year-old Kurdistan Workers’ Party (Partiya Karkerên Kurdistan, PKK) insurgency. Since Turkey’s elections in mid-June, clashes have killed more than 110 people, country-wide ethnic friction has hardened opinion, and the government has started bombing PKK bases and talking about an imminent ground offensive in northern Iraq. The PKK must immediately end its new wave of terrorist and insurgent attacks, and the Turkish authorities must control the escalation with the aim to halt all violence. A hot war and militaristic tactics did not solve the Kurdish problem in the 1990s and will not now. A solution can only lie in advancing the constitutional, language and legal reforms of the past decade that have gone part way to giving Turkish Kurds equal rights. Given the recent violence, returning to a positive dynamic requires a substantial strategic leap of imagination from both sides. Neither should allow itself to be swept away by armed conflict that has already killed more than 30,000 since 1984.
The statistics are fairly jarring: according to official Turkish government records, the murder rate of women in Turkey jumped by 1400 percent between 2002 and 2009, going from 66 to 953. Some of this rise can probably be attributed to better record keeping and a greater awareness regarding violence against women, but the numbers are still causing concern among women's rights advocates in Turkey. From Bianet:
This development made the headlines in the Turkish Press on Thursday (15 September). The figures are based on data issued by lawyer Aydeniz Alisbah Tuskan, Co-ordinator of the Istanbul Bar Association Centre for Women's Rights. The data revealed an additional startling dimension of the problem: 85 percent of about 2000 annually registered divorce applications in Istanbul are based on violence.
About 300 women applied to the Istanbul Bar Association for protection during the past year. Other applications were concerned with alimony, child custody or family residence for example.
According to lawyer Tuskan, the reason for this explosion in the number of applications based on violence is the fact that women do not endure violence as they used to do in the past.
Full article here. A recent Human Rights Watch report about domestic violence in Turkey can be found here.
Over the last few years, Turkey has increasingly become a migration route for people from Asia and Africa who are trying to make it to the west. Many of these irregular migrants end up stuck in Turkey, particularly in Istanbul, stuck in a kind of limbo, unable to move onwards, unwilling to return to their politically and economically ravaged home countries. The National, a newspaper based in the United Arab Emirates, has an interesting article up that takes a look at one part of Istanbul that has been dubbed "Somalia Street" because of the number of African migrants, many of the Somali, now living there. From the article:
When the muezzin's call for the dhuhr prayer rang out from the Katip Kasim Mosque in a rundown neighbourhood of Istanbul this week, dozens of men arrived. But it was no ordinary crowd that gathered midday in the mosque: about half of the men were Africans.
"Istanbul's Mogadishu" is the name Turkish newspapers call the area around the mosque in the Yenikapi district close to the Sea of Marmara on the European side of the Turkish metropolis. The street in front of the 17th-century mosque, Katip Kasim Camii Sokak, has been dubbed "Somalia Street", because the neighbourhood has become home for migrants from across Africa, many of whom do not have Turkish residence permits and face expulsion if arrested by the police.
Some have been here for years.
"I want to go to the United States," said Ali, 39, from Senegal, who only gave his first name. Like other Africans in the neighbourhood, he declined to be photographed because of fear of the police. Ali said he had come to Istanbul two years before and was earning money by selling perfume on the street in upscale and tourist parts of Istanbul.
"It is hard," he said. "But I live together with friends, so it becomes a little easier."
As recently reported on Eurasianet's Kebabistan blog, Istanbul municipal authorities have recently instituted a crackdown on outdoor seating in the city's Beyoglu district, known for its bustling bars and cafes. The street fight now seems to be escalating, with city inspectors confiscating the instruments of musicians playing in Beyoglu's streets and some 20 people being detained in a recent police raid after they refused to stop drinking in a makeshift outdoor space.
The Hurriyet Daily News has an interesting article up looking at the some of the underlying problems of the battle to control Beyoglu's outdoor life. From the article:
If Istanbul were a sky, there is little doubt that its famous Beyoğlu district would be a rainbow thanks to the diversity of colors existing side by side. Walking along the district’s iconic İstiklal Avenue, one can see a number of surreal juxtapositions that would rarely be seen elsewhere, such as a Santa Clause trying to coax people into a kebab restaurant or people angrily protesting cheek and jowl with a group of musicians.
But Beyoğlu’s technicolor landscape is slowly losing its vividness due to recent conflicts between Beyoğlu Municipality, area residents and business owners over the use of public space and noise coming from street musicians....
....Korhan Gümüş, from The Human Settlements Association, or HSA, a nongovernmental organization in Beyoğlu that focuses on issues related to local governance, said state officials in Turkey were not aware of how to use the public spaces.
“The use of public space also requires a cultural plan,” Gümüş told the Daily News. “İstiklal Avenue is an area that is especially like Turkey’s window abroad. There are opera singers there and there are traditional musicians; the municipality can control this by limiting the decibels. Taking away instruments is just despotism,” he said.