Month: January 2016

Turkey is turning into a paranoid one-party state

Erdogan one party state

This is a cross-post from the Spectator.

President Erdogan’s increasingly tyrannical regime is suppressing the truth about its war on the Kurds

Turkey is less and less a democracy, more and more a paranoid one-party state. If you don’t believe that, look at what happens to those who draw attention to the government’s failures and crimes. The editors of Cumhuriyet, a centre-left broadsheet, have been delivering their editorials from jail since November. A statement issued this month by the Izmir Society of Journalists claimed that 31 journalists were in prison while 234 were in legal limbo awaiting trial. Over the course of last year, they added, 15 television channels had been closed and 56 journalists refused accreditation.

Recently, a woman identifying herself as a teacher phoned in to a popular television talk show and asked the presenter, Beyazıt Öztürk, if he was aware of the terrible violence in the predominately Kurdish parts of southern and south-eastern Turkey. ‘Please, don’t let people die, don’t let children die, don’t make mothers grieve,’ she pleaded.

The next day, the TV channel — part of a group under intense pressure from the Turkish government — had to issue a grovelling apology for having aired this cry for help. ‘Doğan TV and Channel D have stood by the state from the first day to the present day,’ it read. Öztürk even delivered a personal apology on the day’s main news bulletin. But that wasn’t enough. He is now being investigated on charges of ‘making propaganda for a terrorist organisation’, and it is unclear whether his show will continue.

It’s not just journalists, either: a business group, Koza İpek, was taken into state administration and its media assets butchered on the grounds of ‘financing terrorism’ through a closeness to one of the government’s political rivals.

Why do President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the political party he co-founded, the Justice and Development party (AK party), need to suppress free speech? The AK party was swept back into single-party power in the second general election of last year with 49.5 per cent of the vote. It is now in a position where it can do almost anything it wants with Turkey. Yet it lacks the supermajority needed to change the constitution. This is problematic, because Erdoğan is now campaigning to abolish the position of prime minister and consolidate his power as president — a move he recently regretted comparing to Hitler’s Germany.

The AK party is still 13 MPs short of being able to bring the issue to a referendum, and the three opposition parties in parliament have all tasted enough AK party power to know that it is not in their interests to strike a deal. To achieve Erdoğan’s wish, the AK party must now knock the Peoples’ Democratic party (HDP) — a coalition of Kurdish and leftist groups with 59 MPs — out of parliament, and that means controlling the narrative about the ongoing war in Turkey’s southeast.

So far, the government appears to be succeeding in defining how ordinary Turks see the violence between the state and the loosely HDP-linked Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which broke out again in July after years of peace talks. Those wanting to find out the facts often have to triangulate between highly unreliable Turkish pro–government news and equally unreliable, but less accessible, reporting from the Kurdish-movement press. Perhaps the most trustworthy figures are provided by the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey, which says that 1.37 million people have been affected by the government’s 24-hour-a-day curfews, which have been enforced since the violence restarted, and 162 civilians have been killed in the past five months.

Erdoğan now insists that Turkey will never again hold talks with any faction of the Kurdish separatist movement. ‘That work has finished,’ he has said. Prime minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, meanwhile, told a crowd outside AK party headquarters that the PKK were ‘trying to make young people the enemies of schools, of mosques and of the [holy] book… We’re up against a barbarian organisation.’

Yet the AK party is ambivalent in the way it deals with a more obviously barbarian movement, Isis. The government arrests on a whim Kurdish or Kurdish-sympathetic politicians for being ‘terrorist sympathisers’, but is curiously tolerant when dealing with actual Islamist terrorists. In the wake of an Isis suicide bombing in Ankara in October, for instance, Davutoğlu urged restraint: ‘If there’s a sleeper cell somewhere, you cannot simply round them all up and put them somewhere, hoping no one will notice. We have to behave in accordance with the law.’

Few AK party supporters hanker after the Isis way of life. Many in the party’s ranks belong to Sufi-influenced sects, which would earn them a death sentence were they to stray over the border. And the AK party could hardly ignore the bombings attributed to Isis last year in Diyarbakır, Suruç and Ankara — or the killing of 11 tourists in another bombing three weeks ago in Istanbul.

Rather than taking the dry puritanism of Wahhabism as a model, the AK party prefers the aesthetic of a new Ottoman era, an attempt to recast the most glorious days of that empire to fit their brand of political Islamism. If this approach were to be encapsulated in a slogan, ‘Making Turkey Great Again’ would not be too far off. It seeks to underline the strength of the Turkish nation, the public role of Islam, and the importance of strong leadership — and that’s where President Erdoğan comes in.

In his push for near-absolute power and his construction of a palace around three times the size of Versailles, including a bunker with direct access to police CCTV cameras, Erdoğan is clearly suffering some form of megalomania. He is neurotic about the threats facing his government, and increasingly paranoid about disloyalty within his party. He has started to replace mainstream activists with advisers who — judging by their public proclamations, at least — spend much of their time worrying about conspiracies involving sinister international financiers or telepathy. Perhaps Erdoğan’s accidental comparison of himself to the Führer was a Freudian slip.

How Turkey risks becoming a dictatorial, rogue and failed state

Erdogan-dictator (1)

This is a guest post by Mustafa Bezad Fatmi

Think of a country where a woman is demonised merely for saying “children should not die”. Think of country where academicians are labelled as traitors, and even detained, just for urging the government to bring about a political solution to an ongoing military conflict. Imagine a country where hospitals and educational institutions are closed simply because they belong to the opponents of the ruling party. Imagine a country where in university departments like political science and international relations, political theories that are not in line with those of the government are hardly discussed. Think of a country where high school students are expelled because of their parents’ affiliation to a social movement which is critical of the government. And also think of a country where the president of the republic cites Hitler’s Germany as a model for what he wants in his own country.

These are the facts not of a Cold War era pariah state but of a 21st century permanent member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), a crucial ally of the United States and a country hoping to integrate into the European Union (EU) – Turkey.

Turkey’s problems are alarming and seemingly intractable. However, all the aforementioned facts, despite being deplorable, are not the real problems Turkey is facing today; they are merely the symptoms of a chronic and grave crisis. The crisis is real and at the very heart of Turkish democracy. The country risks becoming a dictatorial, rogue and a failed state, if it has already not become so.

And these problems are extremely difficult to deal with in the country as the majority of the Turkish population don’t consider them as problems – at least the last general elections suggested so. One wonders why people would support demonising someone who calls for peace, jailing of academicians, closing of schools and hospitals, restrictions on freedom of thought and speech, arbitrary expulsion of students from public schools, and so on.

True, no one in his/her right mind would endorse such acts in normal circumstances but in extraordinary circumstances many would and do endorse them. In extraordinary war-like situations many would buy the government’s argument of the need for such actions.

And if you believe the current political dispensation in Ankara, many Turkish citizens, in collaboration with unspecified international players, have declared war on the Turkish state. These citizens include many prominent journalists, highly qualified academicians, experienced lawyers and judges and also some very talented high school and university students.

What puts them at “war” with the government is their critical stance and unwillingness to toe the government’s line on every issue.

According to the government, these people are traitors who want to oust it by undemocratic means, seize control of the Turkish state and divide the country. All these claims, despite being backed by no real evidence, have been effectively disseminated among the uncritical masses through a large network of media outlets that serve not as a check on the government but as a mouthpiece of the ruling party.

It must be noted that almost 90 per cent of the mainstream Turkish media is directly or indirectly controlled by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).

It is true that in an electoral democracy, the majority rules and its choices must be respected. But nevertheless, given the clichéd fact that Hitler too was a democratically elected leader provides a valid ground for a qualified criticism of electoral democracy – especially when his despotic model of governance continues to inspire a leader in the 21st century (Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan).

Silence of the international community

It is interesting to see that Turkey, despite all its faults, remains a crucial ally of both the US and EU. Last year in November, the EU reached a deal with Turkey in which the later was provided with $3.2 billion. This deal was to curb the flow of refugees from the Middle East to Europe as many of them transit through Turkey.

The EU also promised closer ties with Turkey as part of this deal. Meanwhile, the US also continues to disregard the egregious violations of human rights and democracy in Turkey in return for access to an airbase in the southern part of the country. Since July 2015, Turkey is allowing the US to use its Incirlik airbase to bomb the so-called Islamic State (ISIS).

Unfortunately, the EU and US’ need of Turkey to deal with the chaotic refugee crisis in Europe and the menace of the ISIS have trumped all the democratic values they are supposed to promote in Turkey.

There are two hypothetical circumstances in which the despicable state of Turkish democracy may improve. First that there is a change in the leadership of the country and a pro-democracy and reformist government comes into power.

Second that the EU and the US manoeuvre to influence change in policymaking in Ankara which they are certainly capable of doing given Turkey’s willingness to join the EU and its permanent membership of the NATO.

But unfortunately, both of these possibilities are highly unlikely to become realities under the present circumstances. The leadership of the country is not going to change as Turkey has recently concluded both of its important elections (presidential and general elections) and the next elections in the country are not due until 2019.

And the EU and the US cannot be expected to anger the Turkish government by interfering in its internal affairs until the refugee crisis and the ISIS problem is properly dealt with.

The days ahead are not pleasant for Turkey. What remains to be seen is how worse the situation in the country becomes before there is any sign of improvement.

Turkey at a crossroads as Erdoğan bulldozes his way to lasting legacy

This is a cross-post from the Guardian.

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan waves to crowds during a rally to commemorate the anniversary of Istanbul’s conquest by Ottoman Turks 562 years ago.

The rolling hills by the Black Sea, 90 minutes north-west of Istanbul, have long been prized for their dense forest and pristine lakes. Now the water buffalo that graced this landscape and supplied the city with much of its dairy produce are vanishing from what Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the president of Turkey, has turned into one of the world’s biggest building sites.About 2.5m trees are being cleared from an area of 6,000 hectares (15,000 acres). The lorries are bumper to bumper, 24 hours a day. The locals can barely sleep, nor cross the street for the noise and the traffic. “The forests are gone, the villages are gone, the livestock is gone,” says Cemalettin Gün, a farmer. Prominent among the tens of thousands of election posters covering Istanbul is the explanation for the construction frenzy. “We are building the world’s biggest airport,” boast the posters of the governing Justice and Development party, or AKP, that Erdoğan created and turned into the most formidable political machine in the country’s history.

Erdoğan loves gargantuan, world-beating projects – a huge election poster of himself and the prime minister, Ahmet Davutoğlu, entered the Guinness Book of Records last week as the biggest ever, anywhere. And he seems to like felling trees. Less than a year ago in Ankara he moved into a new presidential palace of pharaonic proportions, worthy of Nicolae Ceaușescu or Saddam Hussein. It outstrips Washington’s White House by a factor of 30. The staff include five experts, who check Erdoğan’s food for poisoning or contamination. The Ankara palace also required a major exercise in forest clearance. Turkish courts, most recently last week, repeatedly ruled the building illegal. “Let them try to knock it down. I’m moving in anyway,” the president responded.

When Turkey goes to the polls on, in what is shaping up to be an epic and fateful election, Erdoğan and his legacy will be the main, if not the only, issue on voters’ minds. “It’s what he calls the new Turkey,” says Cengiz Çandar, a leading political analyst. “This is about his legacy and he’s very ambitious. He needs a strong presidency. He’s also very uneasy about corruption allegations and needs safeguards. Some fear it might be Turkey’s last election – before a dictatorship.

The reason for such worries is that Erdoğan has turned the ballot into a kind of referendum on his one-man drive to rewrite the country’s constitution, abolish parliamentarianism and install a powerful new executive presidency occupied by himself. Paradoxically, he is not even running for election. As head of state since last August, following a three-term, 12-year premiership, he is supposed to be non-partisan, above the political fray. Instead he is pounding the country, speaking himself hoarse. During a recent campaign week, he notched up 44 hours on loyalist national television.

“Erdoğan has proven since 1994 – when he was mayor of Istanbul – that he can reach any goal he sets himself,” says Metin Yüksel, the deputy editor of Sabah, a daily newspaper and AKP mouthpiece. “No opposition has been able to stop him. Turkish voters like a leader.”

The main question in the election is whether Turkish voters will opt not so much to stop Erdoğan as to clip his wings and deny him, for now, his big plans for systemic change, entrenching his own power. Since his 2002 landslide thrust Turkey into a new era that started with great promise and in recent years, by general consensus, has degenerated into whimsy and authoritarianism, Erdoğan has led the AKP to three election victories, increasing its vote every time and securing comfortable absolute majorities in the 550-seat parliament in Ankara.

Constitutional grapple

To change the system, the AKP needs a two-thirds, or 367-seat, majority enabling it to rewrite the constitution. Failing that – and it looks highly improbable – it needs a three-fifths, or 330-seat, majority, which would allow it to call a plebiscite on constitutional revision. That, too, is unlikely, according to the opinion polls. But there is general agreement that the party is the slickest, most organised political machine Turkey has ever seen. All bets are off. The AKP owns the bureaucracy, controls the media, has returned the army to barracks and marginalised the military, traditional arbiters of Turkish politics. Erdoğan used his final term as prime minister to curb the independence of the key institutions of state – the constitutional court, the parliament, the central bank, the prosecution and judiciary services.

Turkish court rejects Erdogan’s complaint against opposition leader calling him ‘thief’

This is a cross-post from RT News.

A local Turkish court has dismissed Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s appeal against an opposition party leader, Kemal Kilicdaroglu. The Turkish president filed two lawsuits this week, seeking damages after Kilicdaroglu called him a “thief”.

Erdogan’s lawyers have been seeking 200,000 Turkish lire ($66,000) in damages, saying this was an “attack on his personal rights.” On Thursday, Ankara 7th Civil Court of First Instance dropped the case.

“Politics should not be turned into such environment. They are setting a bad example for our children,” Judge Leyla Kundakçı said after announcing her ruling, Hurriyet newspaper reported. “But the rulings of the European Court of Human Rights are obvious.”

Two years ago, Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu slammed Erdogan, who was the prime minister then, as “thief” and “prime thief”.

“A prime thief, a thief cannot be prime minister,” Kilicdaroglu said in February 2014.

“The attack, which directly targeted his personal rights, is heavy and unfair. ‘Prime thief’ and ‘thief’ are concrete criminal charges that cannot be accepted within freedom of expression and the right to political criticism,” Erdogan’s lawyers said, as quoted by Hurriyet.

Turkey's President Tayyip Erdogan. © Kayhan Ozer / Presidential Palace Press Office

The opposition party leader’s defense insisted that Kilicdaroglu was only voicing his opinion, referring to the government corruption scandal, during which probes were launched against 53 suspects.

Among the people involved in the 2013 Turkish corruption scandal were former ministers’ children, businessmen and even an Iranian gold trader married to a Turkish pop star. They were accused of bribery, fraud, money-laundering and gold-for-gas deals with Iran. The suspects were said to be a part of a network of corruption which could be traced to Erdogan’s inner circle. As a result, several ministers resigned, hundreds of police officers were fired. Erdogan denied any corruption charges and said they were an attack on him ahead of the general election.

On Monday, Erdogan’s team filed another complaint against Kilicdaroglu, this time seeking 100,000 Turkish lire ($32,000) over the CHP leader labeling the president “a dictator.”

The previous week, Kilicdaroglu called the Turkish president “a dictator” just one day after Erdogan urged prosecutors to investigate academics who signed a declaration criticizing military action in the country’s mainly Kurdish southeast. Twenty-seven of the signatories were briefly detained.

“Academics who express their opinions have been detained one by one on instructions given by a so-called dictator… You may not agree with the content of the declaration. We also have issues with it, we also have our disagreements. But why limit freedom of speech?” said Kilicdaroglu.

Insulting the president is considered a crime in Turkey and the punishment for it can be as much as four years in jail.

The biggest opposition party in Turkey, with 134 seats in the 550-member Turkish parliament, the CHP, has been led by Kilicdaroglu since May 2010.

Erdogan’s European lobby group UETD-UK holds political conference in a British school!

Erdogan Dictator

It is abundantly clear to anybody following political events in Turkey over the past few years that Erdogan’s government continues to silence free speech, restrict freedom of expression and abuse the rule of law.   This has resulted in journalists being arrested, media channels being closed down and judges jailed.   The dictatorial tendencies of Erdogan and his AK Party grow more and more every day.  It is somewhat worrying then to learn that Erdogan’s lobby group in the UK, Union of European Turkish Democrats (UETD-UK), held a political conference at a British school in 2014.

British schools are not supposed to allow the promotion of partisan political views on their premises, yet the Petchey Academy (Hackney) allowed UETD-UK to hold a conference which heavily promoted biased political views.  The subject of the conference was: “History of military coups and 28th February Post-modern Coup, recent Gezi Park Protests and 17-25 December graft probe”.   The rationale for the conference was described as follows:

“As Turkish citizens who reside in Britain, who love their country and nation, we stand up against any sort of tutelage, to protect our Prime Minister and our Government and the will of the public”

Later the Facebook page of UETD-UK announced an additional aim of the conference:

“to protect our “World Leader” Recep Tayyip Erdogan”

The phrase “world leader” to describe Erdogan is used on pro-AKP TV channels around the clock (around 80 percent of the Turkish media are now under the control and influence of AKP).   Far from being seen as a world leader, nearly a half of the Turkish population do not support him and even less do outside of Turkey.  One of the keynote speaker’s at the conference was Metin Külünk: AK Party Foreign Relations Deputy Chair and Istanbul MP.  In his speech he made it clear that AKP did not want to share power with any other party and anybody opposing it would in fact be opposing Turkey itself!

Interestingly, the leader of UETD-UK Mutallip Unleur, is also a Director of Oak Free School Trust.  His group attempted to set up two free schools in 2013 but we understand that applications for both were rejected by the Department for Education.  He is also a Trustee of Nida Trust which describes itself as an educational charity.  Perhaps he is now using his connections in education to further his personal political agenda?

Our main concern is whether it is appropriate for a British school to be leasing its premises to political groups who are spreading heavily biased political views.  We will be raising this with the Department for Education and asking them what due diligence schools are required to carry out before they lease their premises to political groups such as UETD-UK.  We will also be asking whether Petchey Academy, on this occasion, failed in its duty to stop the promotion of partisan political views.  We’ll keep you updated!

 

 

Noam Chomsky slams Turkey’s Erdogan for arresting Academics, supporting Extremism

This is a cross-post from Informed Comment.

Chomsky on Erdogan

Michael Weaver of the Guardian reports retired MIT linguist Noam Chomsky’s reply to a personal attack by Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan.

Erdogan criticized Chomsky and other international scholars who signed a petition against the Turkish government’s current vendetta against Kurdish-Turkish citizens in the country’s southeast. Erdogan demanded that Chomsky come to southeast Turkey to see the terrorism committed by the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) with his own eyes, implying that Chomsky and other signatories of the petition are mere armchair scholars.

Chomsky replied via an email to The Guardian:

“Turkey blamed Isis [for the attack on Istanbul], which Erdoğan has been aiding in many ways, while also supporting the al-Nusra Front, which is hardly different. He then launched a tirade against those who condemn his crimes against Kurds – who happen to be the main ground force opposing Isis in both Syria and Iraq. Is there any need for further comment?”

Chomsky points out that the Turkish air force has bombed the Syrian Kurds of the YPG, who are distantly linked to the PKK. They are post-Marxists with an anarchist bent– i.e. their ideology is close to Chomsky’s own. Those Syrian Kurds have been the most effective fighters against Daesh (ISIS, ISIL). So for Turkey to attempt to weaken the Syrian Kurds inevitably helps Daesh.

PKK fighters have also helped against Daesh in Iraq. Turkey has also been bombing them. But the PKK has killed dozens of Turkish troops and police in eastern Anatolia since Erdogan broke off the peace talks last summer.

Erdogan’s government is supporting the Syrian Army of Conquest, a Saudi-backed Salafi movement of rebels against the government of Bashar al-Assad in Syria. One component of the Army of Conquest is the Nusra Front or al-Qaeda in Syria. So Chomsky is reminding Erdogan that, iimplicitly, his government backs al-Qaeda while bombing Kurds who are the best hope for a victory over Daesh.

I doubt if Erdogan’s government is helping Daesh. But it is clear that Turkish and American armaments have been leaking from “vetted” groups to al-Qaeda and Daesh. And, there isn’t much evidence of Erdogan having taken Daesh very seriously– the Turkish air force has flown a hundred times more missions against the PKK than against Daesh.

The dispute began when over a thousand academics in Turkey and abroad signed a petition directed at Erdogan and his prime minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, saying they would not be party to the crimes committed against innocent Kurdish-Turkish villagers in the country’s southeast, who were being harmed and even starved by arbitrary curfews. The letter said:

“As academics and researchers of this country, we will not be a party to this crime!

“The Turkish state has effectively condemned its citizens in Sur, Silvan, Nusaybin, Cizre, Silopi, and many other towns and neighborhoods in the Kurdish provinces to hunger through its use of curfews that have been ongoing for weeks. It has attacked these settlements with heavy weapons and equipment that would only be mobilized in wartime. As a result, the right to life, liberty, and security, and in particular the prohibition of torture and ill-treatment protected by the constitution and international conventions have been violated.

This deliberate and planned massacre is in serious violation of Turkey’s own laws and international treaties to which Turkey is a party. These actions are in serious violation of international law.

We demand the state to abandon its deliberate massacre and deportation of Kurdish and other peoples in the region. We also demand the state to lift the curfew, punish those who are responsible for human rights violations, and compensate those citizens who have experienced material and psychological damage. For this purpose we demand that independent national and international observers to be given access to the region and that they be allowed to monitor and report on the incidents.

We demand the government to prepare the conditions for negotiations and create a road map that would lead to a lasting peace which includes the demands of the Kurdish political movement. We demand inclusion of independent observers from broad sections of society in these negotiations. We also declare our willingness to volunteer as observers. We oppose suppression of any kind of the opposition.

We, as academics and researchers working on and/or in Turkey, declare that we will not be a party to this massacre by remaining silent and demand an immediate end to the violence perpetrated by the state. We will continue advocacy with political parties, the parliament, and international public opinion until our demands are met”

The Turkish state responded heavy-handedly, arresting nearly two dozen academics on charges of signing the petition, most of whom were released after questioning. The petition does not support the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), a designated terrorist organization, but rather supports the human rights of Turkish citizens of the southeast. But Erdogan and his partisans accused the petitioners of supporting terrorism. It is a ridiculous charge, similar to the tactics of the Likud Party of Israel, which equates opposition to Occupation and oppression of Palestinians with support for terrorism.

The Committee on Academic Freedom of the Middle East Studies Association of North America wrote a letter to the Turkish governmentprotesting these moves:

“Dear Prime Minister Davutoğlu:

We write on behalf of the Middle East Studies Association (MESA) of North America and its Committee on Academic Freedom to express our serious concern over reports that the Higher Education Council (Yüksek Öğretim Kurulu, or YÖK) had an emergency meeting to commence an investigation against scholars who signed a petition for peace in the Kurdish regions of the country (“Peace Petition”). YÖK officials are reportedly treating this petition as pro-PKK “terrorist propaganda” that falls outside of the protections of academic freedom. Further, there are reports that YÖK plans to convene university rectors to take additional action against signatories at their universities. These actions by YÖK represent a violation of academic freedom and are consistent with broader efforts on the part of the state to punish critics of state policies.

MESA was founded in 1966 to promote scholarship and teaching on the Middle East and North Africa. The preeminent organization in the field, the Association publishes the International Journal of Middle East Studies and has nearly 3000 members worldwide. MESA is committed to ensuring academic freedom and freedom of expression, both within the region and in connection with the study of the region in North America and elsewhere.

The government’s actions against the Peace Petition signatories are distressing for at least three reasons. First, investigating the signatories after President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan criticized the campaign in a public address, calling the signatories “traitors,” suggests that YÖK’s actions are inappropriately politicized. As we noted in our letter sent on January 7, 2016, the government has enhanced YÖK’s regulatory authorities in ways that are inimical to university autonomy. In this environment, it is hardly surprising that universities are proactively taking punitive measures in anticipation of your government’s actions. Within a day of President Erdoğan’s speech and the announcement of the YÖK investigation several universities initiated punitive measures against their faculty. Assistant Professor Hülya Doğan at Bartın University is reportedly under investigation by her university for being a signatory of the petition. Likewise Sivas Cumhuriyet University has reportedly launched an investigation against Professor Ali Çeliksöz for having signed the petition. Associate Professor Latife Akyüz has been suspended by Düzce University administration, and a criminal investigation has been opened against her for “terrorism propaganda”—all for being a signatory of the petition. The rector of Abdullah Gül University in Kayseri, has reportedly demanded the resignation of Professor Bülent Tanju solely on the grounds that he is a signatory of the Peace Petition. The local prosecutor in Kayseri, taking note of the rector’s action, has also initiated a criminal investigation against Professor Tanju under Articles 216 and 301 of the Penal Code. The mere act of signing the Peace Petition has left Professor Tanju facing possible charges for “inflaming hatred and hostility among peoples” and “denigration of the Turkish nation” under these penal provisions. Lecturer Ümran Roda Suvağcı from Hakkari University has been taken into custody for having signed the petition. Further disciplinary investigations have reportedly been initiated by the rectors of four universities—Samsun Ondokuz Mayıs University, Antalya Akdeniz University, Abant Izzet Baysal University, and Ankara Hacettepe University—against members of their faculties who are signatories. Many more universities are likely to follow suit, amounting to a wave of punitive actions against academics solely on the grounds that they have criticized the government’s policies in the southeastern provinces. In a university system in which rectors are appointed by the state and YÖK is free to initiate politicized investigations of academics, the actions being taken against signatories of the Peace Petition are a stark reminder that restrictions on academic freedom have become a matter of state policy in Turkey.

Second, among the signatories of the petition are scholars whose research is on the Kurds, other minorities, politics, history, and other related fields. That is, their scholarly work is related to the concerns raised in the text of the petition. By treating the Peace Petition as treasonous and launching an investigation of signatories, the government is effectively interfering with the ability of these academics to conduct their research. President Erdoğan suggests that the petition calls for foreigners to intervene to correct the situation in Turkey. In fact, the petition called for national and international independent observers to monitor the situation in the Kurdish region. This is not a call for foreign intervention, but rather an invitation to engage in the kind of independent observation that is the hallmark of both human rights monitoring and academic research. To investigate and criminalize a petition in which scholars call for independent observers to monitor areas under siege and curfew where civilian deaths have been reported is to strike at the heart of the academic enterprise—the ability to conduct independent research.

Finally, since the general elections in 2011, this is our twentieth letter calling upon your government to protect academic freedom in Turkey. Unfortunately, more often than not these letters have identified instances in which members of your government have used their authority to silence critics within Turkish academic circles by branding them terrorists or traitors for engaging in academic research or exercising their right to free speech to call for peaceful political change. Equally, these cases have often arisen in the context of academics’ conducting research or publishing findings critical of your government’s policies with respect to Kurdish citizens or the Kurdish regions of the country. The politicization of regulatory powers over higher education to punish dissent and silence critics of your government’s policies on various issues, including Kurdish rights, represents a serious violation of academic freedom, freedom of speech and freedom of assembly, and has cast a long shadow over the democratic credentials of your government.

As a member state of the Council of Europe and a signatory of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, Turkey is required to protect freedom of thought, expression and assembly. Turkey is also a signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the Final Act of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), all of which protect the rights to freedom of expression and association, which are at the heart of academic freedom. These rights are also enshrined in articles 25-27 of the Turkish Constitution. We urge your government to take all necessary steps to ensure that these rights are protected.

We respectfully ask that your government take immediate steps to ensure that YÖK drop any investigation of or action against the signatories of the Peace Petition and that any actions—including university, YÖK or criminal investigations or charges—against Professors Bülent Tanju, Hülya Doğan, Latife Akyüz, Ümran Roda Suvağcı and others be reversed. As of this writing reports are emerging about additional disciplinary investigations as well as an independent criminal investigation launched by the Istanbul Public Prosecution Office against all the signatories under Article 301 of the Penal Code and Article 7 of Anti-terror Law alleging “terrorist organization propaganda”; we respectfully demand that any such investigations also be dropped. Against a backdrop of mounting international condemnation of the erosion of democratic rights and freedoms under your administration, taking steps to protect academic freedom and the right to education would be an important step to address concerns about human rights in Turkey.

Thank you for your attention to this matter. We look forward to your positive response.

Yours sincerely,

Beth Baron
MESA President
Professor, City University of New York

Amy W. Newhall
MESA Executive Director
Associate Professor, University of Arizona ”

Turkish court rejects Erdogan’s complaint against opposition leader calling him ‘thief’

This is a cross-post from RT.

More bad news for Erdogan:

A local Turkish court has dismissed Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s appeal against an opposition party leader, Kemal Kilicdaroglu. The Turkish president filed two lawsuits this week, seeking damages after Kilicdaroglu called him a “thief”.

Erdogan’s lawyers have been seeking 200,000 Turkish lire ($66,000) in damages, saying this was an “attack on his personal rights.” On Thursday, Ankara 7th Civil Court of First Instance dropped the case.

“Politics should not be turned into such environment. They are setting a bad example for our children,” Judge Leyla Kundakçı said after announcing her ruling, Hurriyet newspaper reported. “But the rulings of the European Court of Human Rights are obvious.”

Two years ago, Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu slammed Erdogan, who was the prime minister then, as “thief” and “prime thief”.

“A prime thief, a thief cannot be prime minister,” Kilicdaroglu said in February 2014.

“The attack, which directly targeted his personal rights, is heavy and unfair. ‘Prime thief’ and ‘thief’ are concrete criminal charges that cannot be accepted within freedom of expression and the right to political criticism,” Erdogan’s lawyers said, as quoted by Hurriyet.

The opposition party leader’s defense insisted that Kilicdaroglu was only voicing his opinion, referring to the government corruption scandal, during which probes were launched against 53 suspects.

Among the people involved in the 2013 Turkish corruption scandal were former ministers’ children, businessmen and even an Iranian gold trader married to a Turkish pop star. They were accused of bribery, fraud, money-laundering and gold-for-gas deals with Iran. The suspects were said to be a part of a network of corruption which could be traced to Erdogan’s inner circle. As a result, several ministers resigned, hundreds of police officers were fired. Erdogan denied any corruption charges and said they were an attack on him ahead of the general election.

On Monday, Erdogan’s team filed another complaint against Kilicdaroglu, this time seeking 100,000 Turkish lire ($32,000) over the CHP leader labeling the president “a dictator.”

The previous week, Kilicdaroglu called the Turkish president “a dictator” just one day after Erdogan urged prosecutors to investigate academics who signed a declaration criticizing military action in the country’s mainly Kurdish southeast. Twenty-seven of the signatories were briefly detained.

“Academics who express their opinions have been detained one by one on instructions given by a so-called dictator… You may not agree with the content of the declaration. We also have issues with it, we also have our disagreements. But why limit freedom of speech?” said Kilicdaroglu.

Insulting the president is considered a crime in Turkey and the punishment for it can be as much as four years in jail.

The biggest opposition party in Turkey, with 134 seats in the 550-member Turkish parliament, the CHP, has been led by Kilicdaroglu since May 2010.

 

Erdogan makes Turkey’s worst nightmares come true

Erdogan worst

This is a cross-post from Sputnik News.com

Turkey is in a state of shock trying to overcome all the misfortunes that have befallen the country because of its authoritarian ruler, German newspaper Die Tageszeitung wrote.

On the one hand, Turkey is witnessing a war between government forces and the Kurds, on the other — the country faces a serious threat of Islamist terrorism, the article said.

All this is happening against the background of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan trying to “transform” the state in his own way and force everyone in the country to be faithful and obedient to his policies, the newspaper wrote.

Erdogan did his best to consolidate his power: the government has weakened the Kurdish political movement, criminalized the opposition and deprived people of the right to express their opinions. New security laws went on to restrict the right of demonstration, enabling the police to open fire on activists who demonstrate “aggressive” behavior, even in cases when it did not came to a direct attack.

The situation concerning freedom of speech, which Erdogan so “highly appreciates,” worsens every day. Turkey has blocked numerous websites and sent to prison a number of journalists, accusing them of espionage.
The fact that the EU has turned a blind eye to massive human rights violations because it awaits Turkish assistance in resolving the immigration crisis only worsens the situation in the country and unties Erdogan’s hands.

Turkey’s President Calls Hitler’s Germany Example Of Effective Government

This is a cross-post from the World Post.
Erdogan wants to change the Turkish constitution to turn the ceremonial role of president into that of a chief executive.

ISTANBUL, Jan 1 (Reuters) – Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, who is pushing for executive powers, cites Hitler’s Germany as an example of an effective presidential system, in comments broadcast by Turkish media on Friday.

Erdogan wants to change the Turkish constitution to turn the ceremonial role of president into that of a chief executive, a Turkish version of the system in the United States, France or Russia.

Asked on his return from a visit to Saudi Arabia late on Thursday whether an executive presidential system was possible while maintaining the unitary structure of the state, he said: “There are already examples in the world. You can see it when you look at Hitler’s Germany.

“There are later examples in various other countries,” he told reporters, according to a recording broadcast by the Dogan news agency.

The ruling AK Party, founded by Erdogan, has put a new constitution at the heart of its agenda after winning back a majority in a November parliamentary election.

It agreed with the main opposition CHP on Wednesday to revive efforts to forge a new constitution.

Opposition parties agree on the need to change the constitution, drawn up after a 1980 coup and still bearing the stamp of its military authors, but do not back the presidential system envisaged by Erdogan, fearing it will consolidate too much power in the hands of an authoritarian leader.

Obama Warns Erdogan Over ISIS Oil Smuggling

Obama warns Erdogan

This is a cross-post which originally appeared at German Economic News. Translated from the German by Nils Hansen

The US government increases the pressure on Turkey: Within a few days, two official US government representatives have confirmed that IS brings its oil to the global markets via Turkey. Russia presented evidence of this a number of days ago.

The Islamic State terror militia (IS) is, according to Adam Szubin, responsible for the fight against terrorism financing as Acting Under Secretary in the US Treasury, already made more than US$ 500 million through the black market for oil.

As Reuters reports, Szubin said on Thursday in London that a part also came across the border into Turkey. IS oil trade would have a volume of US$ 40 million per month. The commodity would be sold in large quantities to the government of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.

Already before, US State Department spokesman John Kirby had said that revenue from oil sales was an important source of financing for IS and that IS would smuggle a part of its oil through Turkey. Kirby was quoted by the newspaper Today Zaman, which belongs to the empire of Pennsylvania based preacher Fetullah Gülen.

The chief editor of the newspaper had stepped down only a few days ago, because he could not bear any longer the government pressure on its newspaper. Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who used to be a close ally of Gülen, accuses him today of being in the service of the CIA, and uses extreme force against the Gülen media and other institutions of the movement. Most recently the closure of hospitals has been announced.

Neither Kirby nor Szubin wanted to go as far as accusing the government in Ankara directly of financing terrorism. However, even so it is an unambiguous warning to Erdogan: The Russians want to bring Turkey’s involvement in terror financing to the UN.

The US government seems to be interested in building up a position where it does not cover any longer Turkey’s doings. This would also be a message to the US military and the secret services, having so far covered all Turkish activities without reservation. Yet apparently Obama’s government has an interest in working together with the Russians in the region.