Sweeps and large-scale arrests of people accused of being members of the Union of Kurdistan Communities (KCK), a pro-Kurdish group that Turkish authorities accuse of being a front for the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), have become a commonplace event in Turkey over the last few years. But while the original targets of KCK-related arrests were mostly pro-Kurdish politicians, recent sweeps in the case have netted a wider assortment of suspects, including academics and writers (see this previous post).
In yet another round of mass arrests, Turkish authorities today detained what appear to be about 25 journalists, many of them working for pro-Kurdish media outlets, but apparantly also a well-known photographer who works for AFP. As the official Anadolu Agency put it, the raids were directed against the "press and propaganda" wing of the KCK. (More details via CNN, here.)
The arrests again raise the question of how Turkey's expansive terrorism laws are being used and if they're allowing the authorities to detain suspects for reasons that have very little to do with terrorism. Human Rights Watch's Turkey researcher, Emma Sinclair-Webb, raised this issue in an op-ed that ran in the Los Angeles Times yesterday. From her piece:
In a recent post, I took a look at the interesting story behind the presence of NATO nuclear bombs at Turkey's Incirlik airbase and how they fit into Ankara's strategic and security calculations. Those interested in diving deeper into the question of Turkey's nuclear policy might want to take a look at a new report released today by the Centre for Economics and Foreign Policy Studies (EDAM), an Istanbul-based think tank. The takes a comprehensive look at Turkey's nuclear policy, from its current plans to start producing nuclear energy to its position on regional non-proliferation.
From the paper's executive summary of Turkey's non proliferation and nuclear diplomacy policies:
History has shown that states willing to commit resources and time can overcome the technical obstacles and successfully develop first generation nuclear weapons. However, most nuclear-capable states have chosen to remain non-nuclear. The decision to pursue nuclear weapons is rooted in technical capability combined with decision maker intent. At the moment, policy makers worry that an Iranian nuclear weapon will force its neighbors to explore the nuclear option. The oft-repeated argument claims that an Iranian nuclear weapon will lead to a regional arms race. Turkey, along with Egypt and Saudi Arabia, are the countries most often cited as the countries most likely to develop indigenous nuclear capabilities to counter Iran.
While many countries in the world have been swept up in the growing Occupy movement, Turkey has remained Occupy-free. Until now, that is. As Hurriyet reports, a group of students at Istabul's Bogazici University have started their own Occupy-style sit in in order to protest rising prices and gentrification around their campus. The site of their occupation? A new Starbucks -- until recently a hair salon -- near the University. From Hurriyet's report:
For three days more than 50 students have been occupying a Boğaziçi University campus Starbucks to protest campus food prices. The occupation follows a student march protesting the same.
Students brought their own coffee, tea, sandwiches and even carpets to Starbucks. The staff at the coffee shop is still on duty and serving free coffee to customers, but not protesters, during the occupation.
“Our goal is to draw attention to the big picture, which is about our campus life. It is surrounded by expensive stores, and day by day we are turning into consumers,” Yıldız Tar, a student of the political sciences and international relations department, told the Hürriyet Daily News yesterday.
Students emphasized the low quality of university restaurants. “We feel obligated to go to fancy cafes, but it is not what we need. Starbucks is symbolic,” Tar said.
A rare cooperative effort by the major parties in Turkey's parliament to amend a new law on football/soccer match fixing has been met by an equally rare veto by the country's president, leading to a vocal debate about the law and the intentions behind the vetoed legislative actions. The background to the story, from Hurriyet:
President Gül’s veto on a law reducing penalties for match fixers has driven a wedge between himself and Parliament while also dividing MPs of ruling party
A heated debate over an ongoing rigging scandal has engulfed Turkish politics with rifts beginning to emerge between the president and Parliament and within the ruling party on a law reducing penalties for match fixers.
President Abdullah Gül yesterday accused Parliament of not sufficiently working on the bill and strongly defended his veto on the law, which would have negated an earlier regulation stipulating harsh punishments against those who corrupt Turkish football. “I have realized an imbalance between the crime and the punishment. I have also seen that this law negated the deterrent effect [in match fixing],” Gül told reporters yesterday on the sidelines of a ceremony held at the Presidency.
Egemen Bagis, Turkey's Minister for European Union Affairs, has a penchant for making unpredictable or surprising statements. On Nov. 30, during a talk in Brussels, Bagis dropped another bombshell: opponents of the Turkish government managed to surreptitiously record Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's bedroom conversations. From a Dogan News Agency report in Hurriyet:
Private conversations between Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his wife in their bedroom were secretly recorded, Turkish EU Minister Egemen Bağış has said.
“Unfortunately, even this country’s prime minister’s personal conversations with his spouse in their own bedroom have been recorded. This is not a simple affair that could be regarded as the freedom of press,” Bağış said at the European Union Press Club in Brussels on Nov. 30.
Speaking in relation to ongoing criticism about the arrest of journalists in Turkey, the minister said no one in the country had been arrested due to their journalistic activities and added that those currently in prison had been incarcerated for their ties to outlawed groups or other groups that sought to overthrow the government via illegal means.
The news should actually not be very surprising. Bugging, wiretapping and video surveillance have become an integral part of the Turkish political, legal and media landscape over the last few years. In fact, in a 2009 In a television interview, Erdogan said he was concerned about his phone being tapped. “What do you think? Of course,” Erdogan answered his interviewer.
“Therefore I watch what I say over the phone. I'm not comfortable speaking over the phone,” Erdogan told his interviewer on Turkey's private NTV news network.
With little advance warning, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan shook up Turkish politics by issuing today what could be seen as the first official apology for the horrifying events that took place in 1937 in the eastern province of Dersim (now Tunceli), in which some 14,000 local Alevi Kurds were killed by state forces.
These events and the state's involvement in them, though well known in Turkey, were hardly ever discussed openly until recent years. Mustafa Akyol, in a good Hurriyet Daily News column from today, gives some background on what happened in Dersim:
Dersim, a tribal province of Alevi Kurds, was a “lawless” region even under the Ottomans, who did not interfere in the affairs of the local communities unless they created big problems for the center. The Turkish Republic that was founded in 1923, however, had its own version of the “mission civilisatrice,” or the self-declared right to tame “uncivilized” peoples. Therefore, tension emerged in the 1930s between the tribes of the region and the government in Ankara, which wanted to impose “law and order,” including, of course, taxes.
Word has it that the first spark that lit the violence was the attempt of a Turkish officer to rape the beautiful wife of a local chieftain in March 1937. The chieftain killed the soldier, fled to the mountains to avoid the army backlash and burned a bridge that was recently built by the government for apparent military purposes. This incident was regarded by Ankara as the beginning of a rebellion. Large numbers of troops were deployed to the region, turning Dersim into a war zone.
When Turkish officials announced earlier this year that all internet users would soon be forced to sign up for a government-run filtering program (see this previous post), a loud outcry ensued, with protests and online campaigns forcing the government to reconfigure, though not completely abandon, its policy.
Today that new filtering policy is being put into effect. To get a sense of how the filtering program will actually work and what its intentions are, I sent a series of questions to Yaman Akdeniz, a professor of law at Istanbul's Bilgi University who is one of Turkey's foremost internet rights experts and advocates. Our email-based exchange is below:
1. How does the filtering system that was just started in Turkey differ
from the previously proposed -- and much criticized -- system?
It now becomes voluntary with two profiles. It was previously compulsory with four different profiles. There are some improvements but problems continue. The original Information and Communication Technologies Authority (BTK) decision was subjected to a legal challenge at the Council of State, which is the highest administrative court in Turkey. Subsequent to strong criticism of the proposed filtering system, and the pressure of the legal action, the Turkish authorities decided to modify their decision in August 2011.
Still, the Alternatif Bilişim Derneği (Alternative Information Technologies
Association), a Turkish NGO, challenged the August decision and lodged a legal challenge with the Council of State on 04 November 2011.
2. Turkish officials have said this new system is voluntary. Is that actually so?
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.