Friday, July 16, 2010

The dubious case of Col. Çiçek

Well, we all know Turkey is a puzzle. But, if it is translated correctly, I think the “reading” by American Ambassador James Jeffrey of the spectacular trials on conspiracies and threats (under the symbolic umbrella called Ergenekon) against a fragile democracy is correct.
In an interview with the Hürriyet daily Jeffrey expresses confidence in general and says: “On one hand, there is evidence which make people think that [Ergenekon] is not a fantasy, and which causes legitimate concern. On the other, the release of a lot of people gives trust in the rule of law, and that the rights of innocent people and even potential criminals are also under protection. There is also increasing evidence which signals that some fire exists beyond the smoke. This is a complicated case. But at the same time there is a common understanding that the tenets of Turkey’s political system will not be shattered by this, and that the country is overcoming these complicated issues through maturity.”

Yet, as the old adage goes, “The intrigue of the Ottoman is endless.” Therefore, the suggestion that the focus should be on the Ergenekon type cases and in particular the curious case of Col. Dursun Çiçek is timely and proper. Recent developments seem puzzling but indicative of the major game now being staged.

Chief of General Staff Gen. İlker Başbuğ is in a sour mood these days. It would be unfair if we merely blamed the escalating campaign of violence by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) for his mood. He and the entire top brass are more concerned than before as the critical August meeting, during which institutional appointments are made, approaches. Başbuğ was consistent in complaints that he had to be “kept busy” because of accusations, claims, investigations and trials “my officers” were subjected to. He mentioned that some 30-40 mid and high-ranking officers on duty were indicted in various cases and, although some of them were released or cleared, the institution’s profile was clearly harmed.

The problem ahead is whether or not Article 65 of the Law on TSK Staff will be implemented, and, if so, to what extent. The article makes it clear that if an officer is the subject of a trial, s/he cannot be promoted. When you have so many officers “from colonel upwards” allegedly involved in “organized crime” under a political disguise, there is indeed enough reason to be sour.

In this context, the case of Col. Çiçek comes to the fore. In what seems to be a hasty act, the office of military prosecutors made it clear, through a surprising indictment, that Çiçek is the sole person responsible for the document called the “chaos plan” to weaken the Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the Gülen movement through social unrest and violence -- and he should be sentenced to six years in prison for “dereliction of duty.” With the indictment, prepared upon the instructions of the top commander, military prosecutors admit the document and Çiçek’s signature are genuine. But, they allege, the text was written without the knowledge of any superior and with the intention of revenge (for not being promoted).

But the surprise is elsewhere: The indictment says, since it is a “personal note” of some kind, it cannot be treated as “coup plan”; and all officers and top bureaucratic figures (such as prosecutor İlhan Cihaner) now on trial in civilian courts for “attempting to overthrow the constitutional order and the government” are “victims” of Çiçek’s “solo act.” The evidence presented to the civilian court lists the names of officers in rank and order as “the ones under whose knowledge the plan has been written.” They include the current commander of the 1st Army and six other top ranking unit commanders within the high command.

At first glimpse, it may look as if Col. Çiçek has been chosen as a “scapegoat,” to be sacrificed for the sake of saving the others and for not “rocking the boat” too much at the critical August meeting of the army.

It may be a deceiving sight. Çiçek has not protested, and his children display a deep caution not to “talk straight.” And once you start questioning “How come there is no attempt to link and ensure cooperation between the two dossiers on the same allegation of ‘crime’?” the picture becomes clear.

The military indictment, limited by its “disciplinary crime” part, boldly enters the territory of civilian courts and, in an apparent attempt to narrow down its jurisdiction, it allows itself the freedom of interpreting the “chaos” document as a “personal note,” and declares on a very dubious ground (by sheer deduction rather than evidence) the other “suspects” as Çiçek’s chosen victims.

What we can most probably expect from now on is chaos between the two courts. Çiçek might be hopeful in ensuring a swift trial in the military court and its appeals, and even if he is sentenced for “abuse of power” for six years, he will in practice be free. Meanwhile, both Çiçek and the other “suspects” can now also be given a free hand to apply to civilian courts, saying that its indictment is baseless and should be dropped. In this way, both the “scapegoat” and “victims” may find a “way out.”

Therefore, the dubious case of Col. Çiçek needs thorough attention and pure, legal analysis because it gives the strong impression of being an “efficient tool” for the sworn enemies of democracy in the struggle of civilian control over the military on one side and the rule of law on the other.

Friday, July 09, 2010

A disputable, but smart move

After deliberations which lasted almost 10 hours, Turkey’s Constitutional Court on Wednesday signed, sealed and delivered another historic decision which, although in part disputable, shines with its caution to not cause severe damage for the fragile democracy.
The reform package, as prepared by the Justice and Development Party (AKP), had become a subject for appeal to the top court by the main opposition party, the Republican People’s Party (CHP), which had two-part demand: rejection of the entire package (and the referendum) on grounds of procedural “wrongdoing,” or the rejection of seven articles which specifically had to do with the reform of the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK) and the Constitutional Court itself.

The verdict came as a surprise.

First, the top court disagreed -- in a unanimous vote -- with the CHP and rejected its demand on procedural wrongdoing, finding that holding the referendum was appropriate.

Second, in a majority vote, the court entered deliberations on the portion of the changes on reforming the bodies of the high judiciary (HSYK and Constitutional Court) on the “essence” of the changes. As a result, the wording in some articles about selecting justices for those bodies was changed, instead of rejecting them altogether. This means that the top court, despite claims that it violated the very Constitution (Article 148) it serves under, for the third time is behaving like a legislative body -- taking upon the duty that is given to Parliament -- and interfering with the “content” of a major constitutional amendment. Previously, it had seen itself as entitled to do so -- to protests by prominent experts and the Venice Commission -- by arguing that it is highly proper to judge amendments to the first four unchangeable articles of the Constitution: It happened when it found that a three-fifths quorum was necessary to convene Parliament for discussing and voting on constitutional changes and when it delivered its verdict on the closure case against the AKP.

Needless to say, this goes against the unchangeable tenets of democracy, where the roles of the three powers are separate and well defined. The top court acted again, to use a metaphor, as a driving course teacher, pulling brakes and grabbing the steering wheel, treating Parliament like a person without a license and reaffirming the tutelary regime.

That said, the question is: What about the current verdict? It is apparent that the top court, under strain, chose a “third path” which made no side entirely happy. The referendum will be held, but adjustments were designed by the court. It can be said that the package went through the appeals process with minimal damage. That the leadership of the AKP was very cautious in its reaction to the verdict means that it sees clearly that the reformist nature of the package is still intact. There is reason to agree: Seen as a whole, a “yes” to the referendum will bring Turkey several steps closer to a full-fledged democracy, help speed up further reform processes and make it more difficult to stage a return to the paradigms of “old Turkey” (unless by way of a coup d’état).

If the AKP is discontented with the repeated role of the top court in acting like a legislative body, the disappointment both by the CHP and representatives of the conservative high judiciary was much more vocal. CHP leaders did not think the verdict met their expectations (based on at least a partial rejection of the package) at all. Voices from the HSYK and the Judges and Prosecutors Association (YARSAV) were clearly bitter, with some declaring that the “battle is not over.”

Unless it changes its course radically, the AKP seems to think it can live with the way the package will go to the people’s vote. That it emerged from the top court’s scrutiny with slight bruises may mean that the AKP may postpone its intention to go to early elections in the autumn.

This will have to do with the awkward position Wednesday’s verdict puts the CHP in. Earlier, the top figures of the main opposition had declared that they would vote yes for the package if the disputed articles were rejected. How should they act now, given that the high court did not fully deliver what they had asked for? If the CHP decides to say “no” to the referendum, the AKP may emerge victorious with the claim that the entire “yes” segment belongs to it. Additionally, the CHP may look even more undemocratic than before, raising the speculation that nothing has changed in its post-Baykal period -- and perhaps nothing will.

The same dilemma will also apply to powerful organizations like the Turkish Industrialists and Businessmen’s Association (TÜSİAD), the Confederation of Revolutionary Workers’ Unions (DİSK), the Turkish Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges (TOBB) and some segments of academia, which had been critical of points in the package.

Now that they have been partially revised, what will these players do? Interesting, indeed.

It seems that the Constitutional Court refused to be part of further polarization, and with that it shuffled the civic responsibility over to political, social and economic actors. Politics in Turkey always have mysterious ways.

Monday, July 05, 2010

Trench politics

The biggest story in yesterday’s Turkish newspapers seemed to be the “format” of the visit Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the Republican People’s Party’s (CHP) new leader, paid to army trenches in the southeastern corner of the country. Did he stand up tall, or kneel down? Did he look determined to finish off the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) or not? How was he treated by the commanders and soldiers?
And so on and so forth.
Some papers published two photos together; one taken directly after the attack at the border post -- with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan kneeling together with the top commanders -- and a standing Kılıçdaroğlu, almost hidden behind a high wall of sandbags.

The CHP leader’s visit had other types of symbolism, again noticed and exposed by the same papers: He was invited by Gen. İlker Başbuğ, the chief of General Staff, to visit the trenches, but later -- to his expressed surprise -- he was on the journey assisted by the Land Forces commander, Gen. Işık Koşaner, and the commander of the 2nd Army, Gen. Necdet Özel. Now, this was a sort of military troika: The current top commander asks his successor and his successor’s successor as chief of General Staff in the coming four years or so to accompany a fresh political alternative. Should we pay attention to that? Naturally (we all know where most of the officer corps’ sympathies lie), but not too much.

The forest of symbolism somewhat blinded an important aspect (perhaps another symbolism) of Kılıçdaroğlu’s instant visit. He chose to be flown to the military side of the conflict rather than meeting the people, the natives, the Kurds, with whom he has many things in common. He did pay a visit to a village, but the one chosen was known for its armed fight with the PKK. One can only imagine how a common Kurd would react to such a format and choice of symbols. Kurds are good at that.

Meanwhile, I was attending a meeting in İstanbul which brought together some creme de la creme members of Italian and Turkish businesses, joined by a large group of European colleagues. There, I bumped into Gülsüm Bilgehan, a highly respected and dignified figure of the “new CHP” under Kılıçdaroğlu. Now at the top layers of the party, she truly signaled hope and change in the attitudes of the main opposition, in particular those towards accession negotiations to the EU. Responding to chief EU negotiator Egemen Bağış, she underlined the common points of her party’s EU strategy with the Justice and Development Party (AKP) rather than its differences. When she concluded her intervention with the point that “we all want the membership because of our children and grandchildren in a world of peace and prosperity,” a wave of applause filled the room.

Now, this was a clear deviation from the line drawn by Baykal devotees like Onur Öymen, who, if he were present, would easily turn an event like this into a sour shouting match.

At the moment, the CHP is -- as we have seen from these two examples -- raising more questions than presenting answers. Clearly the party is much keener than its previous leadership to convey to the foreign observers a political line formed by hope rather than bitterness and obstinacy, but when it comes to the crucial details of a holistic vision and strategy in the major issues, it seems adrift. Much of it has to do with the slow motion tectonic shifts taking place at the moment on the top level. Kılıçdaroğlu is still uncertain of how much room to maneuver he has, in the thick and complicated structures remaining after Baykal.

The recent example of stepping back and forth came when he declared -- albeit in very vague terms -- that he would solve the headscarf issue. The same day he backpedalled, saying he did not say anything about the headscarf in universities, and that there were court decisions about it. He showed that he would be too keen on not scaring some solid parts of the party and the staunchly conservative-secular segments of the electorate.

It was like sticking one’s head up and then ducking again in the trenches. It is even more unclear where the CHP will stand on the Kurdish issue. The visit to the “Kurdish frontier,” taking photos with the soldiers and neglecting to meet the dismayed residents, may at the moment look like a safe choice. After all, what the CHP is waiting for, more than any other actor in politics, is to see what the top court will have to say about a constitutional reform package it objected to.

That its attitude goes against the expectations of the considerable part of the EU does not seem to concern Kılıçdaroğlu (who could discontinue the Baykal line and rescind the petition filed with the Constitutional Court), who hopes that an annulment -- in whole or in part -- of the package will open the doors wide open for his party to rise as an alternative from the autumn on. Until then, it is safer hiding behind the sandbags, avoiding any “real” visibility on issues such as the Kurdish problem or the one concerning the headscarf.


The reports on the military units firing at and killing two shepherds -- apparently collecting thyme -- whom they suspected to be Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) militants, in the highlands of Hatay, came as yet more salt rubbed into the huge wound inflicted by terror.
The event followed an apparent disagreement between the government and the top command on allowing freedom of movement on the plateaus and roads that lead to them. Immediate suspicion was raised in yesterday’s columns on whether the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) was putting stumbling blocks before the delicate process of solution.
The incident in Hatay, as well as many others before it, such as the PKK attacks in Reşadiye and Tokat and the recent ones in Hakkari and Elazığ, need thorough civilian examination. That the Interior Ministry launched an inquiry on Hatay (at the inspector level) is definitely not enough; Parliament must be much more vigorous on moving in and subjecting these bloody events to commission-level inquiry. This should happen even if the Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) deputies drag their feet. On the issue, the government looks like someone running from house to house, extinguishing fires as they pop up. Since the priority is silencing the guns and bombs, the question is where the cooperation and agreement between the army and the civilian executive branch is at the moment. And another question linked to this one is whether the drug-smuggling lobby (and its alleged ties within the security apparatus) is part of those who do not want to see an end to the bloody conflict. A report published by daily Radikal on Monday tells us about an increase in heroin trafficking, which has more than doubled in the past three years, from Afghanistan through Iran and provinces like Hakkari, Van and Ağrı.

But there is much more than this, and it is hard to predict what the government’s moves to extinguish the fire will be. The recent call to duty of NATO in the fight against the PKK (in Iraqi Kurdistan) by the prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, may not be a very good idea at all, particularly because the US wants to end the military presence in that country, and the objection of Baghdad -- as well as NATO itself -- is a given. The only option for NATO interference would be if Iran (for example) had started an invasion -- and nothing else.

The government is also considering limiting the access of lawyers to jailed Abdullah Öcalan on the island of Imralı, in order to stop him from sending instructions and “political orders” to his movement. This may, too, backfire. A wiser move would be to allow access as before but intervene whenever the conversation shifts from legal and private matters to open political messages. The authorities should have a right to intervene if those “orders” are in favor of violence, and it should even be possible to prosecute the lawyers who act as carriers of them.

The unease with the violence in the mainly Kurdish provinces is actually mixed with feelings of disappointment and resolve (in traditional Kurdish demands for cultural recognition and administrative reform). The communiqué signed and declared by some 100 NGOs and professional organizations in Diyarbakır over the weekend was changed at the last minute into a double call to Ankara and the PKK to simultaneously declare a cease-fire. This means, very clearly, that the domination of the PKK is a remaining fact in the discourse and that it should be seen as a serious factor for Ankara. Blaming the common Kurds and foreign powers is an old habit and will not work. There is reason, once more, to reaffirm the unchangeable equation in which the chicken and egg puzzle is solved: Without a proper, bold constitutional and administrative reform, it will be very difficult to solve the Kurdish issue. Selahattin Demirtaş, leader of the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), reiterated in an interview yesterday that if the government changes the constitutional articles which define Turkish as the “official language,” lifts the ban (Article 42) on education in the mother tongue and conducts administrative reforms (to establish a more autonomous provincial system) then “90 percent of the Kurdish problem will be solved.” Time and strategy have proven it will not be that easy for the Justice and Development Party (AKP). What the past 10 months of process has shown is that “the de-facto alliance of the powerful elements within the judiciary and the military,” sworn to pacify this government into total immobility, has been instrumental in moving the conflict ahead. The screws are being tightened around the constitutional reform package, which may at best be watered down by the top court, and the escalation of violence between the PKK and the army strengthens the latter’s position vis-a-vis the government, which have had (fading) hopes of appointing democratic, reform-friendly generals in top posts at the critical meeting in August.

The fight is for the speed of the democratization, and the intensity will remain high.

Dalaras is in ‘Poli’ -- at last!

“At last,” was one of his first remarks to a wild, cheering crowd at İstanbul’s traditional summer concert venue on a pleasant Saturday evening. George Dalaras, or simply Yorgos, as we all know and call him, was surprised and moved when he finally faced his devout followers and admirers.
One could say “everybody” was there: prominent Turkish musicians; young fans; members of high society; intellectuals; Kurdish dissidents; diplomats; politicians such as Egemen Bağış, Turkey’s chief EU negotiator; and Turks from Greece’s Western Thrace region.
The concert ended years of vicious campaigning against this wonderful singer, the “golden voice of sorrow and hope” in this part of the world -- certainly a musician of the highest caliber, of world class, placed among Sting, Caetano Veloso, Pino Daniele, Salif Keita and Youssou N’Dour.

His hope was to play in Turkey, where, like many Greeks, he has his roots. His grandparents came from the vicinity of İzmir -- then Smyrna -- and the roots of his music are certainly inseparable from the Aegean folk tradition.

Deeply engaged in politics, and highly suspicious of Turkey’s painful struggle to shake off its military tutelage, Dalaras previously struggled with the dilemma of appearing here, whereas many of his colleagues, including Haris Alexiou, Eleftheria Arvanitaki, Vassilis Saleas, Savina Yannatou, Mikis Theodorakis, etc., visited Turkey’s venues, to great welcome. He chose to stay away, even when joint “friendship projects” between renowned Greek and Turkish musicians developed.

Not long ago, his mood changed. It was the post “earthquake policy” era, when Greece came closer to Turkey, which became more visible with its struggle for change and reform. But, when he felt ready, Turkish nationalists blocked it. Let us read what Wikipedia tells us about the sad incident three years ago:

“Dalaras had been scheduled to perform a concert on the closing night of the second International Orthodox Youth Conference held in İstanbul from July 11 to 15, 2007. The event, organized by the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, had drawn the ire of the Turkish press and Turkish nationalist politicians who filed complaints to the İstanbul Governor’s Office to revoke the license for the concert it had issued, and the concert was abruptly cancelled by the Turkish authorities of the İstanbul Governor’s Office on the grounds that the country’s Archaeological Service did not permit the use of the planned venue, the 15th-century Rumeli Hisarı castle. The site had previously been used for international theater festivals and for an international dance festival, until its use was prohibited by the Archaeological Service. The last-minute cancellation of the concert attracted strong media coverage and criticism in neighboring Greece.”

The campaign to block his appearance was led by an ultranationalist and influential opinion writer who was with the Hürriyet daily at the time, and it was primarily Dalaras himself who felt disappointed, as well as his fans. The cancellation was indeed a scandal.

Those times are now over. When I met him after almost three hours of music, performed in its perfection with a 15-man band, his relief and joy were visible. As he watched the Golden Horn from the restaurant we were in, he agreed with me that it was indeed a “new beginning.” We talked at length about politics and the ordeal Turkey has been going through and agreed to be hopeful about the future. I was struck by his profound reading and analysis of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and where Turkey is actually heading. I conveyed to him my expectations about what artists like him can do to change the mindset of Greeks about Turks from negative to positive.

How Dalaras feels and acts about Turkey counts. He is a national hero, a cultural landmark, a symbol of freedom, pride and celebration. My sense of hope of seeing him here, at last, in Turkey stemmed from the fact that an artist of enormous popularity like him can move mountains, in order to set his people into the correct mood. Today, many Greeks are fearful of Turkey and of Turks. They perceive their eastern neighbor as a threat and dread the possibility of seeing their islands in the Aegean Sea invaded. Many Greek politicians -- excluding George Papandreou -- thrive on that fear; the Greek media feed those sentiments constantly.

The more Dalaras notices that these fears are unfounded, that today’s Turks are overwhelmingly globalist, that they share the same values on democracy and freedom, his domestic message and his choices of going further with artistic projects with Turkish musicians, the easier it will be to change his countrymen’s perceptions and concerns.

He knows the value of living in a democracy. He strikes a chord with his Turkish and Kurdish colleagues, who like him had to go through censorship and suppression to sing freely. On a magic Saturday night, when this fantastic musician shared some of his vast repertoire (coming from 70 or so records that mark his career), with enormous concentration and devotion, his personal history connected with that of his father (Loukas Daralas, a rembetiko musician) and his ancestors. It was a closure for him as many Turks, some with tears in their eyes, felt, again, how much Turkey lost when it lost its Greeks and other ethnicities in the last century due to the foolish, inhumane policies of many of its politicians.