Monday, June 11, 2012

A case for Turkey's special courts

Suzanne Geske is the widow of Tilman Ekkehart Geske, who was brutally murdered, along with two other missionaries, in the city of Malatya on April 18, 2007, where he was a prominent religious activist working at Zirve Publishing House. Speaking to the Taraf daily yesterday, she remarked: “I am happy about the second indictment. I have actually never lost hope. We have always known that Emre Günaydın and his accomplices, who conducted this murder, were used. Our constant demand has been that the names of the instigators be exposed. With this indictment it was done. We do not want the young ones to be used like this any more. Our only wish and aim is justice.” The horrendous Malatya slaying followed the assassination of our colleague, journalist Hrant Dink. Erdal Doğan, who was the lawyer in both cases, was later to focus predominantly on the Malatya incident, because, as he recently explained to me in detail, “The answers to all the subversive deep state network activities, be it Ergenekon or Sledgehammer or others, lie there.” The Taraf daily quoted the words of Doğan yesterday: “Hrant Dink was murdered as part of a plan that included the victims of the Zirve Publishing House. But in the Dink case we witnessed how the indictment was limited to only two killers, with a lot of effort spent to do so. Now it is giving us hope that the instigators and organizers will be added. Furthermore, the new indictment shows that there is a link between the Zirve slayings and the murders of Dink and Father Santoro [in Trabzon].” What is new in the second indictment is that retired General Hurşit Tolon, active as 1st Army Commander in Istanbul when the crimes took place, stands now accused as a primary suspect in the Malatya case. Of course, the hope of Geske and other victims’ families are that there will be substantial evidence added to the case. Doğan makes a very strong point in his claim about the pivotal role of the case in shedding light on deep state-led crimes between 2006 and 2007. The achievement of persuading the special court to dig deeper was not only the result of the persistence of the victims’ lawyers, such as Doğan, but also the efforts of special prosecutors such as Zekeriya Öz. It demanded bravery, in a time where all the important cases showed “systematic retreat” or “watering down” due to procedural errors and massive propaganda, assisted by some media figures. The Malatya case is certainly a powerful argument for those who warn the government that if the wings of the special courts and their special prosecutors are clipped the process of transitional justice risks being thrown into the waste basket, and may even lead to a severe backlash to democratization. Indeed, the escalating tension around the expected changes to the Code on Criminal Procedure (CMK) requires attention and care. What will those changes be, and how far will the government go to curtail the powers of these courts? It is true that opponents of the special courts’ extensive powers have gained some ground after prosecutors in the so-called National Intelligence Organization (MIT) case behaved like elephants in a glasshouse; rather than acting in secrecy to interrogate MIT chief Hakan Fidan and other figures, they chose to challenge the prime minister on vital political decisions (such as secret talks with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party [PKK]) thus exceeding (and abusing) its jurisdiction. Furthermore, there are lucid arguments that the special courts have created chaos through the cases of Ahmet Şık and Nedim Şener. The way the Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK) operations, which are linked with the MIT row, have been led also raises very serious questions as to why special courts do not focus only on the top of the KCK pyramid, rather than casting the net into deep waters where a Kurd not showing some sympathy for the PKK is very hard to find. But procedural wrongdoing should not be used as a general argument for the abolishment of the special courts. Such a reflexive act could (and seems to) lead to a return to the old system where the judiciary was not authorized to inquire into criminal acts in the bureaucracy. It may lead back to the culture of impunity, the gangrene of the republic. As was correctly pointed out by Abdullah Bozkurt in an analysis published in this paper yesterday, “There is simply no demand from the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) on lifting or restricting the powers of these special courts.” Nor is there a demand from the EU Commission. So, what is to be done? First, common sense must prevail. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who acts like a one-man government, as the recent examples of the abortion debate and CMK demonstrate, must delegate powers more to his ministries instead of imposing a personal agenda triggered by emotion. True, he was right to be angry over the MİT case, but special courts must be handled with care, because they operate as a Turkish form of transitional justice and are much needed. Indeed, they demand reform, but only with the aim of speeding up trials and doing away with the practice of detaining people in jail as suspects for far too long. 2012-06-10

Saturday, June 09, 2012

CHP’s roadmap: new option for consensus

Can it be said that the Republican Peoples’ Party (CHP) at the most unexpected time came to Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s rescue? Not that Turkey’s prime minister would reject an extended hand on the toughest issue he faces, but certainly what Kılıçdaroğlu, his main opponent, offered in terms of a “roadmap for a Kurdish solution” was a relief for him, long under the strain of an open wound called Uludere. “Parliament -- it is where the solution must come from -- nowhere else,” Sezgin Tanrıkulu, vice chairman of the CHP and the architect behind the roadmap told me. He was confident that the CHP’s proposal has large public backing, but was less sure whether or not it would lead to a rapid process. Turkey’s political ground is very volatile at the moment and the behavioral patterns of the actors unpredictable. Tanrıkulu is right. As a (Kurdish) lawyer, experienced in human rights over the years and in leftist politics, he knows more than many others the true nature of the problem and where it leads Turkey, if left unresolved. The CHP’s surprise move comes as timely as it can be: With the demise of military tutelage and the decline of the once mighty National Security Council (MGK), the issue was left on a trial-by-error basis by the Justice and Development Party (AKP), left alone despite its clear majority. Such an issue needs the backing of at least two, or better three, parties present in Parliament. If so, the solution will be in sight. Yet, at this stage, many are asking themselves, why the CHP came with such a bewildering offer, and why now? There may be some explanations, which may make sense, if taken in a package. First, it has been clear that the leadership of the party had been rather adrift, aimless and toothless for some time. It could only be visible through shouting matches against Erdoğan, but now it seems to have understood that it simply had run out of ammunition. Constructive and pro-active politics are on the agenda, temporarily or permanently. Second, Kılıçdaroğlu may (have been persuaded to) feel that this is the right time to steer the main course of the party towards a “humane left,” as the big congress approaches (in mid July). I am told that 65 (of 81) of its conventions in the provinces are now complete, all ending in favor of Kılıçdaroğlu’s leadership. The “roadmap” therefore has an important meaning to test (the nerves of) his ultra-Kemalist adversaries so that a liquidation of the party’s remaining nomenklatura may leave the scene to a milder version of center-left and modernists. Third, one may sound a bit far-fetched but judging by the possible consequences, may have some point: Observing Erdoğan’s “shift” towards a blend of the “nationalist conservative” block -- by appeasing the traditional voter base of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) -- the CHP might be acting on the intuition that the ground is shifting beneath it -- facing marginalization and hardship in a polarized atmosphere. It may have realized that it will have a very weak impact on the new constitution if it so continues, and therefore moves to squeeze Erdoğan to choose between itself (also the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) at a later stage) and the MHP. The CHP’s “roadmap” is the most substantial step in politics since the Kurdish Opening and 2010 referendum. By reaching out, the party not only reverts 180 degrees from a hard-line, denialist Kurdish policy but also registers a bold public commitment to a solution. From now on, there is no way back to old, useless rhetoric, a party official told me. What’s next? The MHP was quick to reject it altogether, so it leaves us with the three parties. Their total percentage is 70+ percent, and the number of deputies totals almost 500 (of 550). In a best case scenario based on the presumption that the commission(s) have three parties working together, this means a strong consensus. Even a joint AKP-CHP effort would be a great political achievement. Given, of course, that both party leaders rebuild trust with each other, and the CHP can start acting as the intermediary between the AKP and the Kurdish political movement’s elected party -- the BDP. But the holder of the key is still the same. It is Erdoğan, who stands there as the popular statesman who will have to make grand choices: either a continuous shift towards a massive nationalist-conservative block (no solution) or a return to the loosely defined, reform and democracy block, as it was in 2000-2005. Soon enough we will be able to see whether all the moves related to the CHP proposal are all either tactical or strategic. 2012-06-07