“You have seven days left” – Greeks, Turks and the diplomatic revolution of 1999


“As small states integrate themselves in a wider world, and even the larger learn how much they need their neighbours’ help to tackle the problems that face them all, the stringently patrolled and narrow-minded conception of history which they once nurtured and which gave them a kind of justification starts to look less plausible and less necessary. Other futures might require other pasts.”

Mark Mazower, Salonica – City of Ghosts

In an excellent little book published by Bilgi University in 2008, Samim Akgonul notes that in the 20th century Greece and Turkey “shared a significant ideal; that of the homogenous nation-state in which non-indigenous minorities would numerically and in terms of activity be kept at the lowest possible level.” The 20th century histories of Thessaloniki and Istanbul, two of Europe’s greatest cities, illustrate the enormous consequences of this ideal of homogenous nation-states.

Both cities have throughout history been defined by their diversity. At the beginning of the 20th century Thessaloniki was a majority non-Greek city, with large numbers of Jews and Turks. Istanbul was not only home to the Caliph, but also one of the largest centres of Christian (Greek and Armenian) culture in Europe.


The Turks of Thessaloniki were deeply affected by the Balkan wars and by the outcome of the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne, which forced them to abandon their homes. The Jews of Thessaloniki later fell victim to the most murderous ideology in the 20th century, National Socialism and German occupation.


The Greeks of Istanbul, though spared at first by the provisions of the Lausanne Treaty, were expelled later, in the 1950s and 1960s, also victims of an ideology which saw minorities above all as threats and diversity as a weakness. Today their community is threatened by extinction, as less than 300 young Greeks still go to minority schools in Istanbul.

As Istanbul prepares to become European Capital of Culture in 2010, and to celebrate its past and current diversity, expect to find a lot more about this tragic history on these pages. ESI is also preparing to publish a discussion paper on the situation of Christians in Istanbul very soon.

In January 2009, to highlight this issue, we also organised a film screening at Bilgi university. We showed three films: the ESI film on Istanbul; the ESI film on Thessaloniki; and the wonderful award-winning Greek film A touch of Spice.


Thanks to my Open Society fellowship we were also able to invite the film’s director, Thassos Boulmetis, to the event. Boulmetis was born in Istanbul; the film explains the story of his own family’s expulsion in 1964. Boulmetis had never been at a screening of his film in Turkey and told the audience, visibly moved, in a discussion that lasted past midnight in the big auditorium of the Santral Campus of Bilgi, that this was “the most important of all screenings for him.” 

A Touch of Spice and the history of tensions in relations between Greece and Turkey – and Greeks and Turks – are also at the heart of our film Alexander’s Shadow. Here is an excerpt on the difficult legacies:

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Thassos Boulmetis: “A touch of spice” I. © 2008 pre tv. All rights reserved.

At the same time, there has been dramatic change in recent years in Greek-Turkish relations, starting in 1999. For a gripping account of this diplomatic revolution, see also the following clip:

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Georgios Papandreou on the Greek-Turkish rapprochement in the 1990s. © 2008 pre tv. All rights reserved.

If you now want to see the whole film – in full, free of charge on the internet thanks to the Vienna based Erste Foundation – all you need to do is go here, and then choose either the German or English language version.  If you like it, make sure to tell others!

Beirut Place d’Etoile

It is my prefered routine upon arriving in a new, unknown city: First, drop all luggage at the hotel. Second, take a taxi to the nearest foreign language bookstore. Third, find a nice cafe in the city centre to read through the pile of new books on the country in question. Forth, go for a walk, get lost in the city, take a taxi to criss cross the town from one end to the next. Then meet people who live here from all walks of life.

This is how I ended up here: in the rebuilt downtown of Beirut, on the Place d’Etoile in an outdoor cafe, opposite the Lebanese Parliament. Before me a stack of books: “At home in Beirut – a practical guide to living in the Lebanese capital”, “Lebanese cinema”, “Paradise divided”, “Refik Hariri and the fate of Lebanon”, a few books on the history of Lebanon, two books on the Lebanese Hizbollah, and one collection of speeches by Hizbollah leader Nasrallah. In addition a map of Lebanon, a few policy papers by the Carnegie Middle East Centre and Oliver Roy’s “The Politics of Chaos in the Middle East.”

The weather is perfect to sit outside. The downtown is quiet: the only sounds one hears are the chattering of some neighbours on the other tables in the cafe – mixing Arabic, English and French words within every other sentence – and some children playing football under the bored glances of the soldiers near the clock tower. This peace is also due to the fact that cars are not allowed to enter this area. Guards with machine guns control everyone walking through checkpoints before one reaches the Place d’Etoile and the downtown area. There are numerous check points in the city still, soldiers standing in front of little wooden guard houses, like those outside royal palaces in EU capitals, painted in the Lebanese colours and boasting the cedar flag. On the way here I also saw two tanks alongside the road and numerous gaps in the architecture of the town, plus a few houses still riddled with bullet holes. However, considering that this downtown area was for almost 15 years the fought-over green line, dividing majority Muslim West Beirut from mainly Christian (Arab Christian and Armenian) East Beirut, there are few traces of the distant war. And the area around the parliament is full of glittery cafes, with outdoor tables and fancy restaurants next to a Christian church and, behind it, a new Ottoman style mosque.

I have come to Beirut to give a talk on Turkey’s Muslim Democrats at the Carnegie Middle East Centre; to do interviews to better understand Turkey’s new foreign policy in the Middle East; and to satisfy my basic curiosity about a country that has been in the news so often since my childhood, with reports of war and assassinations, that I have started to wonder how any peaceful life was possible here. I realise that this is also how people in the rest of the world might feel about the Balkans, an area which has superficially a lot in common with Lebanon: the Ottoman past, different Christian denominations living among Muslims, a tradition of outsiders interfering in domestic politics and a very bad international image. And as one Lebanese asks me, when I explain that I have worked for many years in the Balkans: “Why are people in the Balkans getting on so badly? Here, at least, tensions are at the political level, not on the level of the religious communities, which are getting on more or less well.”

It is an interesting shift in perspective. Of course, Lebanon’s reputation for instability even now is not undeserved. Only this year in May there was fighting between the Shiit Hizbullah and government forces in the very centre of Beirut. The last real war which saw the bombardment of Beirut took place in summer 2006 (when Israel attacked Lebanon in its struggle against Hizbullah). And the string of recent political assassinations, including that of Mr. Lebanon, long-time prime minister Rafik Hariri, in 2005, is worse than anything that one has recently seen anywhere in the Balkans.

So Lebanon is a perplexing case: a deeply imperfect example of a multicultural democracy. But a democracy it is, the most liberal place in the Arab world, and a true patchwork of ethnic and religious identities despite a 15 year horrendous civil war that only ended in 1990. As Paul Salem, director of the local Carnegie Centre, writes in a not yet published book “Lebanon’s quick return to normalcy is proof that failed states – even failed nations, in a sense – may be historically bound phenomena and that failed states, under certain conditions, can succeed again.” For somebody interested in how to manage ethnic and religious diversity in a small country this is indeed an extremely interesting case study.

The muezzin calls to prayer from the nearby mosque. I turn to the practical guide on living in Beirut to get a sense of what everyday life in the city is like. P. 52, security: “Beirut is a relatively safe place. Women walk around during the day dripping in gold jewelery and diamonds with little or no threat to their safety.” Page 40, Adapting to life: “There are few other places in the world where you will come across such a fascinating mix of cultural identities. It thrives on diversity.” Descriptions of different neighbourhoods: Hamra, the “busy shopping street close to the American University in Beirut”; Ashrafieh, a “European style inner city environment”; Rabieh, “luxurious apartments and villas nestled on the wooded slopes”; Khaled, a busy southern suburb where “rental prices are reasonable.” There is a 20 page section with activities for childen, and a long list of international schools. The first impression this guide gives is not of a city teetering on the edge of intercommunal tensions.

On the contrary: a few hours later I meet a friend, posted in Beirut as diplomat, who attempts to persuade me that this is the best possible city to live and to bring up one’s children. Learning that I am wondering wether to relocate eventually from Istanbul to Paris, he objects: why Paris? Why not Beirut? Better weather, good schools, a multilingual environment, a buzzling, endlessly interesting city full of entrepreneurial energy …

I am left baffled. This was not what I had expected to find here. And I think of those uninformed visitors who probably have the same experience coming to Tirana for the first time …

Then, scratching the surface a little, I turn to my other books. “All Lebanese films seemed to be about the Civil War in one way or another”, I read. Sectarianism continues to thrive, the author notes, and this has influenced all post-war Lebanese cinema, “consumed by a feeling of loss and emptiness, where violence lurks at every corner.” And the author continues: “suddenly I realized that Lebanese cinema’s obsession with the war was more than simply that. It was as if the cinema was warning us against the inevitability of what was to come.” And it came: 10 days in May 2008 saw the worst sectarian fighting since the Civil War: “those 10 days in May saw more than 80 people killed and 200 wounded, the takeover of most of Beirut by Hizbullah militants and their allies and street fighting between militiamen of different factions … a nightmarish reminder of the days of the Civil War, where a person’s sect could determine whether they lived or died.”

Yes, my diplomat friend would add later in the evening, there was one (slight) draw-back to settling in Beirut: one should expect that every year there might be a short security crisis, a few days when it is better not to leave the appartment with one’s family, and when armed people might roam around the streets and shot. But these crises would pass, and even then, all depended on where in the city one had one’s apartment.

Is this enduring instability simply a by-product of the complex communal organisation of Lebanese society, with 18 recognised religious communities, a history of tensions, and many weapons? Or is it above all the unfortunate product of wider conflicts in the neighbourhood, from Sunni-Shia tensions elsewhere to the rivalries between the US and Iran, Israel and Syria? I realise, perusing through the other literature, that even reading all the books on my table will not allow me to come to a tenative conclusion. But this is not my ambition, and it would be a foolish one to begin with.

Instead, I note some questions that I hope to find out more about.

  1. Given that the country is run along confessional lines, with all family matters settled by the religious courts of the 18 recognized denominations, how does this work in practice: and what does it mean in particular for women in this society?
  2. How does this economy actually function … in a society that is largely urban, with no raw materials, having received very little outside assistance for reconstruction following its own civil war? (one book notes that “Lebanon’s main asset is its educated, westernized and multilingual population.” Another notes the huge influence of the diaspora)
  3. What is the relationship between democracy and the confessional system, allocating positions, according to a complex key, to all 18 communities? What is the prize paid in terms of good governance of not having dared to have another census since the 1930s? How does this confessional system work on the level of local government, for instance in Beirut?
  4. Given the complex politics of this society, and the many outsiders who are tempted to try to shape it, what is really the influence of the European Union on events and local actors … if there is any? And then, my main question: what role is there for Turkey?

The first day in a new country is successful if it leaves one thoroughly baffled, with a string of articulated questions that relate to the burning issues one cares about most, and with a growing appetite to find out more. By the time I return to my hotel in the evening, this has turned into a very successful first day.

Taraf, the military and taking sides


Freedom of speech is a fundamental value in the European Union. It is also one of the basic Copenhagen criteria of human rights that Turkey continues to have problems with. However, recent months have seen many examples when, across the Turkish media scene, taboos were challenged and even the most powerful state institutions, such as the Turkish military, were critiziced.

Taraf, a young newspaper set up in late 2007, has been at the forefront of such open debates. On the case against the Ergenekon network. On the military. On the closure case against the governing AKP. And recently again in the context of the attack in South East Anatolia on a military post in Aktutun by the Kurdish terrorist PKK, which caused 17 deaths of Turkish soldiers.

A few days ago Taraf published on its frontpage a number of photos suggesting very serious problems and shortcomings in the context of this battle with the PKK. As one Turkish paper noted:

The images published by Taraf clearly showed figures approaching the area through the northern Iraqi border. Images from Oct. 3, taken from an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), show a group of individuals laying mines at around 9:35 a.m. local time, about three-and-a-half hours before the attack. The group gets larger in the following images as more and more of these individuals — who eventually attack the outpost — take their positions on hilltops in preparation for the attack. The UAV camera then switches to the Aktütün military outpost, where the attack occurred. The terrorist raid, which killed 17 young soldiers, was literally broadcast live on General Staff monitors. Taraf said this is concrete evidence that the security forces had been informed about every move made by the PKK terrorists. Taraf also claimed that the General Staff actually had intelligence about the plans for the attack one month before it occurred. On the day of the attack, live UAV images were transmitted for hours to the Electronic Systems Command of the General Staff, as well as to a monitor in the office of the deputy chief of general staff in the capital.

This was not the first time that Taraf raised uncomfortable questions about PKK attacks on military installations. In 2007 there had been an attack in Daglica in South East Anatolia which had then triggered an invastion of Northern Iraq:

In both the Aktütün and Dağlıca raids, there was evidence suggesting that military commands had intelligence about the plans of the terrorists to attack. The investigation into the Dağlıca attack, which took place in October 2007, revealed that the General Staff had been tipped off about the plan nine days ahead of the assault. According to Taraf’s reports and earlier allegations raised in the Aktütün raid, military units had been informed about the plans at least 10 days ahead of the incident.

The Taraf article led to a very strong warning against the paper and its journalists by the top military commanders. Flanked by four top generals, Chief of General Staff Gen. İlker Basbug attacked the media for publishing confidential information revealing that the army had known in advance about a deadly attack on a military outpost. This sparked an outcry that media freedoms were under attack:

In a rare appearance with commanders of the land and air forces, the gendarmerie and the education and doctrine unit, an angry Başbuğ said the military was taking legal action over the leak of reports on the attack of Oct. 3, which killed 17 soldiers. Liberal newspaper Taraf published classified aerial images on Tuesday showing outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) terrorists preparing for the attack hours before they hit the outpost with heavy weaponry.

“This is my last word: I invite everyone to be careful and to stand in the right position,” Başbuğ told a hastily arranged press conference in the northwestern province of Balıkesir, where he was attending a routine military ceremony. Journalists were flown to Balıkesir from Ankara on two planes, and the brief conference was broadcast live on television. “Those who present the actions of the separatist terrorist organization as successful acts are responsible for the blood that has been shed and will be shed.”

The reaction by Taraf and other journalists was equally strong: there would be no backing down from asking the military even uncomfortable questions:

The liberal daily Taraf, a target of accusations from the military after publishing leaked documents concerning a deadly attack on a military outpost earlier this month, vowed to continue publishing similar documents as long as they are reliable and urged the military to respond to critical questions raised by its reporting.

“Are Taraf’s reports, reprinted widely by other newspapers on Wednesday and showing that the army had known about the attack, true? Is it true that images transmitted from unmanned aerial vehicles were almost watched live at the General Staff headquarters? These are the questions to which the public is awaiting answers,” said Yasemin Çongar, deputy editor-in-chief of Taraf. She said a strongly worded statement about Taraf’s report on Tuesday, indirectly accusing the paper of praising the PKK’s actions, was “threatening” and appeared to be a “command” to the media on what to report.

“I don’t understand why democratic criticism is considered an attack. Gathering the top commanders and holding conferences to scare people like that will only upset everyone,” said Mehmet Altan, chief columnist for Star daily. “Everyone should do their job in the best way they can. We, however, have very serious indications that the job was not done in the optimal way.”

Yasemin Congar

I met Yasemin Congar as part of the research for the documentary on Istanbul in the Taraf offices in Kadikoy in July 2008. Following the interview I felt that this deserved to be shared in a longer version with a broader audience. It offers important insights into the workings of a daily paper that had become, in a very short period of time, one of the power brokers in Turkey during 2008. Turkey might have developed very differently in the past months without the journalism at Taraf.
GK: Why is your newspaper called „Taraf”?

YC: “Taraf” means “taking sides” and we do take sides. We believe in the objectivity of journalism, going to several sources about a story, checking and verifying all the facts in a story. But we do not believe in not taking sides when it comes to issues of human rights, democracy and basic freedoms in Turkey or in the world, or war and peace questions. So we do take the side of democracy and human rights. It is very much of an opinionated paper and we don’t hide that and wanted it to be reflected in our name as well. One other thing we take a side on is nationalism. We are not nationalist, we are internationalist and we are very clear about that.

GK: Who writes for Taraf?

YC: People like myself. I have been a journalist for about 25 years now and I worked for the “big” media in Turkey for many, many years, but I call myself a democrat and I always had a longing for an independent newspaper, independent of other business interests, independent of government, independent of religious groups – independent of all kinds of powers and centres of power.

One of our chief editors is a bestselling novelist of Turkey. Other people who work for us, mostly very young journalists, are all aware that Turkey needs a newspaper like Taraf. I don’t remember – certainly not in my lifetime – that there has been a paper that is really truly independent from business interests, from political interests, from the government the military and that is also courageous enough to criticize all those centres of power equally. Traditionally in the Turkish press institutions like the military, for example, have been a big taboo, you don’t criticize them, you don’t say anything against them.

GK: Last year, there was a magazine, Nokta, that tried to do something different, publishing leaked documents from the military about plans for a coup in 2004. In the end Nokta gave up and closed down. Is this experience, of tackling a taboo and then closing down – also in the back of the minds of people here?

YC: We have difficulties and we are aware of the risks for sure. Nokta is a good example. Nokta’s former chief editor is now a columnist for Taraf. Many of Nokta’s correspondents now work for Taraf. Nokta was not very lucky. There was a lot of pressure, financial pressure for a small institution and it had to close down. We have similar financial pressures. So we have to really be on our two feet and basically depend on the circulation and our sales. And it’s not easy. That’s why we are a very small paper. We have about 70 people on our staff. You and I are talking on the fourth floor of a bookstore now. That bookstore is owned by our publisher but it’s just one floor and editors are sharing rooms. So, we are cutting our expenses. We are trying to hopefully attract more advertising to support the paper. But there is also, of course, political pressure. We are here to use our legal rights to the end – legal rights that are defined in the press law of Turkey and in the constitution of Turkey, however backward it is and however undemocratic it is, still there are rights and freedoms there to be used to the end.

Yasemin Congar

What we don’t do is self-censorship – that is really the biggest impediment to good journalism in Turkey. Yes, there is pressure, yes, there are all these links and ties to different interest groups, but there is also the tradition of self-censorship. Because you do not want to hurt the government, you do not want to hurt the military, that person, that company, that businessman – you end up limiting what you write. You end up sitting on documents when there are leaks. You just have them in your drawer in your desk. That’s not what we do. If we get them, if we know that they reflect the truth, we will publish them, no matter what.

GK: Can you tell us something about how your circulation developed since November 2007 and to what extent this reflects an appetite among the public for what you are writing?

YC: When we first began, we were selling for one lira a copy, which is very expensive for the Turkish buyer. We didn’t sell much. There were days when we sold under 5 000 copies a day. These were really bad days. Then we brought the price down to 40 kuruş, it was a big drop. The first region in Turkey which appreciated this price change and the newspaper was the Southeast, the Kurdish region in Turkey. All of a sudden, we became the second highest selling newspaper in that region. That was also because of our coverage of the Kurdish region. Myself and other writers went to the region; we went to Northern Iraq, we interviewed the PKK, the people of the region.

Turkey is, of course, going through very interesting political times, our coverage of the closure case against the government, our coverage of the military operations in Iraq and within Turkey, our coverage of the Ergenekon-case – this case against a state-sponsored crime in Turkey – were appreciated. On average we sell about 60 000 to 65 000 copies daily. It is a good number. Hopefully by increasing the quality of the paper we can aim for 100 000 copies a day in 2009.

GK: One of the things that have built your reputation as a small paper is a series of revelations, internal documents, particularly about the military and the Ergenekon-investigation. What have been the most interesting internal documents you have published?

YC: We really published several. One of the very important things we published was the document about the Daglica raid in Turkey. Daglica is a small military garrison in the southeast of Turkey. There was an attack by PKK militants on that garrison last year. 12 Turkish soldiers were killed; eight were kidnapped by the PKK. As a result, Turkey started a cross-border operation into Northern Iraq. As a result of it there were nationalist rallies everywhere in Turkey and some anti-Kurdish demonstrations. It was also an event with a huge political impact in Turkey. The document we published showed that the Turkish military was informed about the raid in advance. It was a military document. There were clear indications that PKK was preparing an attack, that they were in the region, that there were vulnerabilities. That report was written nine days before the raid took place. We know what happened in those nine days. The commanders, all three of the garrison, were on leave – two of them were on longer leave. The commander who was not on leave went to a wedding celebration that night. The number of units was decreased. There were problems with ammunition and guns, which were reported, but nothing was done about it. There was a request for helicopters – nothing was done about it. The list is very long. So it proved to the Turkish people that that attack was in the making for a long time. The top brass of the Turkish military knew about it and they didn’t do what they were supposed to do or at least they could have done much more to prevent it.

This is important because, as I said before, Turkey is a country where criticism of the military is very rare and even the most justified criticism can be easily labelled as being anti-state, anti-military, anti-nation and so on. But we just brought out that document. And when we had it, when we knew it was authentic, it was coming from one source, we could verify it with another source and we had the official documents in our hands, we said we were going to go ahead and publish it. That was one. And I think that changed the way the Turkish people viewed the attack, the raid and perhaps the military a little bit.

We also published a story about a secret meeting between the deputy chief justice of the constitutional court and the commander of land forces in Turkey. This was of course very important because it was a secret meeting and a long meeting. It was at the military headquarters in Ankara and it was taking place at a time when there was the closure case against the AKP and all kinds of allegations that the closure case was also being manipulated by the military and other forces in Turkish bureaucracy, who want to get rid of the AKP government. So we did not know what these two gentlemen talked in that meeting but the fact that they met and they met secretively for such a long time at such a conjuncture was very important.

There was also one very important document which was entitled “The plan to shape the Turkish politics and society”. It was a very long plan and an action plan to go with it. It is called “Lahika” for short. That document shows that the Turkish military had plans to shape the Turkish way of thinking, to shape society and politics. It was clearly aiming at creating an opposition to the government. In it there were actions that were planned, such as using journalists, having continuous contacts with high-ranking judges, university professors and others. That document was also very much against the entire constitutional draft that was prepared by the government. We have a constitution that was ratified in 1982 during the military regime in Turkey. Although there have been some amendments, the essence of the document is still very much belonging to a military era. The government had a plan to change that, so they came up with their own constitutional draft. And then we learned from that document that the Turkish military made plans to defame, to badmouth that draft. It was showing us that the Turkish military was ready to have social contacts with society leaders, to organize civil society in certain organisations, to again organise defamation campaigns against writers and journalists and artist who were not sharing the same kind of ideology with the military using and sponsoring and financing other artists and writers and journalists.

Yasemin Congar

So, we were faced with a military, which was not doing its job, which is to defend this country against enemies or against threats, but which was very much occupied with social engineering and politics, which is not their job and which is illegal.

GK: What are the major sins in the eyes of the military of the AKP government?

YC: You read their documents and you see that they really think that AKP is a threat to Turkey, that AKP leaders and members are Islamists and that they would bring an Islamic way of life and an Iranian style-theocracy if they could and are using the governmental power, even the EU-membership process to pave the ground for such an Islamic revolution. They have this threat-perception. I don’t know if they really believe in it in their hearts and minds, but that’s what they use as an excuse or as a pretext for being still very much active in Turkish political life. My personal view is that the Turkish military, and parts of the Turkish civilian elite, want to grab as much power as they had in this country beginning in the 1920s. They still have this Kemalist ideology reflective of the 1930s way of thinking, which has not really evolved with the world and with society in Turkey.

In Turkey now we have a new class of people, a new business class, which is not only based in Istanbul or in Ankara and which doesn’t have anything to do with the state or government but they is very much independent, middle-class, very conservative, very religious in their way of life but also global thinkers and actors. They support the EU membership for example. They want to trade with the world and have been trading with the world without using Ankara or Istanbul as go-betweens. So it is a new, powerful class, an emerging middle-class, an emerging ruling class also and AKP represents them much better than any other party did in Turkish history. And this class is not the class which founded the country. This class is not the small, very elitist Kemalist bureaucrats who really have nothing to do with religion. They might call themselves Muslims but they don’t practice Islam and they don’t like Islam. They associate it with some kind of backward ideology or with the Middle East and they cannot see that Islam can also be Western and Islam can also be global and modern and new.

GK: How important have been the arrests in June, for the first time, of 4-star ex-generals for plotting coups?

YC: I think it’s a revolution. It really is because Turkey has had so many coups and coup-attempts and never have we tried a general for staging a coup or planning a coup. Those coups killed may people. Many people were executed. I would call it summary executions, done under military law with very, very short cases at military court. But never ever have we tried a general for that. There have been a few cases of fraud in the past in which some high-ranking military officers were taken to court and even convicted. But never for political activities. Now former 4-star generals are under arrest, in custody for setting up an organisation within the Turkish military that aimed to topple the civilian elected government and to reshape the society. They were at least allegedly ready to use means like killing people, political assassinations, working with terrorist organisations including PKK and some Islamic organisations in this country, having all this clandestine contacts with members of the civil society, artists, politicians, the media.

At least their plans sound very scary. We know that there have been murders in this country – prominent journalists, prominent judges, politicians had been murdered – and some of these cases have not been solved. And now we see the traces, the clues about a certain involvement of this organisation, which is now named Ergenekon, in all these murders and attacks and other kinds of activities. It is perhaps bigger than we now realize. It’s Turkey coming to terms of its own Stasi-type inner-state organisation, which has really gone out of control. There was a government within the government. There was a state within the state. And now we are trying to cleanse that out off the system and while we are doing it we are realizing that it’s not possible to do it if you don’t go after the military. Because the military was actually the institution that started Ergenekon and that very much controlled Ergenekon. Now, that step the prosecutor has taken by arresting those former 4-star generals I think is very courageous but also, very necessary if he wants to achieve any results.

Taraf cover

GK: Now, there was a prosecutor a few years ago that was trying something equally ambitious but who failed completely. Where does the courage of these prosecutors in your view come from? There are claims they are tools of the government. What’s their motivation?

YC: I have talked to them. They don’t sound like they are the tools of government. For one thing, I think they are more courageous than government leaders like Prime minister Erdoğan and others. Because I have talked to them all I know how they approach things. It is a sense of duty. It is a sense of responsibility. It’s the belief that they should really cleanse out the system, because they are also the representatives of the state and they want to be proud of what they do and what they are part of. It’s very much rotten and very much criminal at this point and they want to cleanse it outt. But also it’s just coincidence. The chief prosecutor in this case, Zekeriya Öz, ended up with this file in his hands as a result of a series of events, which were all coincidental. He didn’t know what he was getting. He didn’t know there was an Ergenekon. He wasn’t aware of certain documents within the state, within the government files about Ergenekon. All of a sudden, he started discovering the ties, the links, the people, the dialogues and all the money flow, the plans and schemes. With professional honesty and curiosity he started digging deeper and deeper. And now he knows it’s a colossal thing he ended up with. He knows the risks. There are threats against him and his family but he can’t simply get out of it. He does have some political support. I think, he has popular support and he realizes that – from at least certain parts of the media and from the people in general.

The government also has backed him, at least they haven’t told him to stop. And he says that even the top ranks of the military haven’t told him to stop. Some active generals encouraged him. He says Turkish intelligence encouraged him. But he also knows, within all these institutions there are arms of Ergenekon. There are people who would want to stop him, who would want to get him out of what he is doing. But he looks like a stubborn man. And he looks like he will keep doing what he is doing. Hopefully nobody will stop him.

GK: What you are describing is a Turkey in which almost every institution seems to be divided within the military, within the police, the gendarmerie. How confident are you that liberals will win?

Y.C.: It is true that almost every institution in Turkey has two different groups of people now. They have many different groups of people, but it looks like the society is very polarized and these two poles are trying to pull the country in different directions. But what this means politically is that in every institution there are people who say “Enough is enough. We need to change. We need to change the ways we do business.”

Let’s take the military. Some there say now: “Our job is to defend this country. Our job is to be the military in this country, not the politicans of the country or the civil society leaders of the country. We are not to lead the society. We are to obey orders given to us by a civilian, elected government. And then we will be a good military. If there is a threat, internal or external militarily, if there is a Kurdish incursion for example, then we will be successful. There are people who say that within the Turkish military now.

Then there are people who say “No no no, we are the founders of the country and we are the real rulers of the country. We will never give this up. We don’t trust the popular vote or the way the people think in the society. We have to basically shape it. Never never let it go free of our hands.” That kind of thinking is everywhere. This is in the judiciary, in the media.

At Taraf we define citizenship not as something much defined by the state, but defined by the rights and freedoms that come from being a citizen of Turkey. Not how one dresses, for example: “A good Turkish citizen doesn’t cover her head!” Or “A good Turkish citizen loves Atatürk.” There is no such definition of a good Turkish citizen except that a good Turkish citizen abides by the law, which should be a democratic law, and a good Turkish citizen pays his or her taxes. One side is for change, the other one is for the status quo, but even worse because the other one is going back to the 1930’s to which they look as our golden era.


GK: If one reads your paper and if one reads the Nokta diaries one gets the feeling of vast conspiracies. How surprising is it to somebody like you, who has been following this all the time, that so many different dots seem to be connected? Do you really believe that this investigation will lead to the end?

Y.C.: I hope so, I don’t know and it’s very difficult. Probably there will be always people and groups and little cells here and there, who will be still conspiring and plotting. But I think, by bringing out what the organisation was, what kind of thinking they had, what kind of plans they had, even if the prosecutor is unable to solve the murders, or unable to name all the names that were active in the organisation, I think, it will set up an example to many people in Turkey that being part of such an organisation is a crime and is punishable by law and no one is untouchable. If you are a four star general and if you were active in it, you will still be arrested, tried and if needed be convicted. I think it’s showing a very new and important thing to the Turkish people that everyone can be touched.

I don’t know if two or three years from now, when this operation is over, if we will be able to say “Okay, the state is all clean now.” Probably not.

GK: How important has the EU process and reforms associated with the last few years been to getting you to the stage where you are now, in terms of public debate, the investigations, the discovery of the dark chapters of the past?

Y.C.: The EU process is very important. I used to look at it as a locomotive of change for Turkey and it was for a while. This government, the Justice and Development Party government in its early years in 2002, 2003, 2004 really introduced reforms at a very fast pace and did a lot to achieve membership status, or candidacy status at the EU, and they did that.

But after achieving candidacy they stopped. First they slowed down, and then they almost came to a complete stop. That was the biggest mistake of this government. At the same time there were all these negative voices in the EU, narrow-minded politicians and opinion-makers who would be vocal about their opposition to Turkey’s membership.

Of course Turkey is not ready for it now. But even if Turkey is ready politically, economically someday, they would reject it because culturally Turkey is a Muslim country. Of course this resonated very badly with the Turkish people and Turkish politicians, even the reformers. And then, I think, EU started losing its soft power in Turkey. It was seen less as a locomotive, less as a fair player.

I still think that the EU process is very important for Turkey’s change. The split I tried to describe is also a split about the EU. If you talk to those nationalist, those Ergenekon symphatizers and Kemalists, you will discover that they are Anti-European. They love everything about Europe, “Oh, we love the European culture, oh we love German music and the French wine”, but when you go to the basics, how everyone should live, issues of multiculturalism, issues of freedoms, civilian control of the military and democratization and equal rights for everyone, you realize that they are not European at all. They don’t have this Western way of thinking. I think, if Turkey wants to keep changing, and wants to keep becoming a more liberal and democratic society, we need that symbol of the EU.

GK: Do you think that AK Party and the AK Party government has the courage to confront the deep state?

Y.C.: I’m not sure. They have been more courageous than any other government we had, that’s for sure. Prime Minister Erdogan said during his election campaign last year, that waging a “clean-hands” operation in Turkey, waging an operation like the Anti-Gladio operation in Italy was one of his major goals, and so far he kept his word. He did not stop the prosecutor from doing what he is doing, and all indications are that he has not discouraged anyone from going deeper and deeper into this investigation. But I don’t know if he has the courage to go to the end.

My fear is that there could be some closed-door negotiations, closed-door give-and-take. For perhaps saving his party and his political life, he might say, “Ok, we will just cover it up, we will stop here at the Ergenekon investigation”. But perhaps he won’t. I can’t be too confident about this, but I also know that he is a clever man and he has seen a lot, and I think, in his heart he must know that if he covers it up now, if he doesn’t go to the end now, sooner or later it will come back to hit him and people like him, who are reformers and who want change.

GK: You are an investigative journalist. Many people in Turkey believe a different conspiracy, a conspiracy of the government, a hidden agenda. Why is this belief so popular and what makes it credible?

Y.C.: I don’t find it credible. I don’t think the government has a hidden agenda. I should say, I don’t know if they have a hidden agenda. All I know is that they have been around for five-six years now, and they have been in government, they have had controlling numbers of the parliament. They could have done many things! If they really wanted to change the society toward a more Islamic kind of regime. They did not.

What they did was that they pursued EU membership. I don’t see that as a way to Iranian kind of theocracy! They pursued economic liberalization and they implemented IMF programs. They pursued good, very close contact with the US. They are political and economic liberalizers. I don’t find them democratic enough. I think democracy for them is still a new idea and they are trying to come to terms with it. But if they have a hidden agenda, they are hiding it very well. I think one should really judge them with what they do. We can all have our dreams and phantasies and secret agendas. But as long as they are that deep and that secret, it is okay!

GK: Why are there are so many educated Turks attracted to anti-democratic and authoritarian ways of thinking?

Y.C.: You have the answer in your question. They are educated Turks! They are educated Turks and they are very much used to an authoritarian way of thinking, because it’s the education we have! The education system in this country that we have all gone through is very much of a reflection of Kemalist ideology. I’m okay with Mustafa Kemal, with what he did. I like many of the things he did, and I think he was a very strong, very powerful leader in his time. He had minuses and pluses, he did some wonderful things and perhaps he did some not so wonderful things. But he was a great leader and founder of this country. But that was the 1930s!

Go around in Turkey. You will see his pictures everywhere, his words everywhere, his sculptures everywhere. So we made a cult out of that great leader. We turned him into some kind of a Lenin figure. There are all these limits to your thinking when you have to apply Kemalism to your day-to-day life. His six major rules such as “You have to be a statist, you have to be a nationalist, and you have to be a populist” there is no end to it. Why today should I be a nationalist? Why today should I be a statist?

Many educated people in this country still associate Modernism and Westernization and progress with what Mustafa Kemal said in the 1920s, 1930s. Because the education system does not teach us ways of alternative thinking. They don’t teach you to be individuals. They just teach you that “The state is our father, and the military is our leader”, and “Atatürk is our eternal leader”.

This is like North Korea. There are no countries in the world like this anymore. Perhaps some in the Middle East, but even they are changing. And Turkey is changing very rapidly, opening up, but we haven’t changed our education system yet. It is very difficult to get out of this way of thinking.

GK: One of the major claims against the government is that is has a conservative agenda on women, keeping them at home, keeping them out of the public space. A lot of women we met say they are indeed really afraid. What is your view on this? How is Turkey changing for women in the last ten years?

Y.C.: It’s changing for the better for women. As a women, who doesn’t practice Islam and who has been educated in the West, let me say: I’m not afraid at all. You are right that there are these accusations. However, the reality is just the opposite. It’s that powerful “elite”, that state elite, which wants to keep women out of public life. Because they have an image of an ideal woman, of a Republican woman who looks like me a little bit. Doesn’t cover her head, does not practice Islam, is modern, drinks wine and dance. Fine!

But we also have religious people in the society and they are the majority in Turkey. They want to practice Islam, and if they are women they want to cover their heads and they don’t want to eat pork or they don’t want to drink wine. Why is this a problem? These people still want to go out, these people still want to go to the university, and want to be active in business and social life. It’s the powerful elite who tell them “No, you can not go to the university if you cover your head! If you’re being yourself you cannot be active, stay at home!” The problem is, these women do not want to stay at home anymore.

It’s not because all of a sudden Turkey has become more muslim. No! Traditionally they would stay at home, they would not go out, they would not demand their right of equal participation in education and in business. But now they want to be a part of it, without changing how they look or what they believe in. That’s their basic right!

I was in central Anatolia recently, touring all those very conservative towns. I was amazed because the last time I did such a tour was about fifteen years ago. There was such a big change. I think the most important element of this change concerns the role of woman in society. They’re everywhere – go to Konya, go to Kayseri, go to other cities in Central Anatolia. You will see many covered women active in shops, selling, trading, going to school. They still can not go to the university or they use wigs to cover their heads to go and sit in the class – but they are everywhere. They go out with their husbands and boyfriends, they go to restaurants.

Fifteen years ago, I was in those cities, and you wouldn’t see as many women on the street. At night, you would see no women. Usually you wouldn’t see women walking by themselves, they were always in the company of men, and always like walking a few steps behind. Now, go and observe for yourself, you will see them around and you will see really demanding their right to participate.

I was in Kayseri, they invited me to this meeting at the Kayseri Chamber of Industry. It was the meeting of the women entrepreneurs of Kayseri and their board had nineteen woman on it. All in sectors like metal, tourism, banking, textile, construction, you name it. They were CEOs or highranking officers at different companies, all women. Some of them were very religious and covered, and some of them weren’t. But they all wanted to basically make money. Their problem was about business, about how they could trade with Europe, how they could trade with the Middle-East. They were already very secularized. Secularization is not becoming a-religious or losing your beliefs, secularization is being part of the social and economic life of the country with people who are not necessarily like you, who don’t necessarily share the same kind of beliefs or lifestyle as you. If they can participate in that socio-economic life, being who they are, they have become secular. And that’s what they want. They don’t want to become Iran, they want to become Germany!

GK: There are prosecutions against different writers. How much courage does it take today to break the rules?

Y.C.: Well, you have to take risks. First of all, if you attempt to break these taboos, there will be court cases against you. You will be called to testify at the prosecutor’s office many times which happens to all of us in journalism. And then, perhaps you will be convicted in some of these cases, and also, as in Hrant Dink’s case, your life might be in danger. So there are risks out there, but I think that also is changing. If we had this interview ten years ago, the Kurdish question was still a taboo. We were talking about it but we were not talking about it as openly as we are now. The Armenian Question was still a big big taboo, the word ‘genocide’ was not used as often and as freely as it is now. Still very few people would use it, but I and others use it and we basically get by using it. At least there is the discussion whether what happened in 1915 was a genocide or not in Turkey now. That’s positive. Again the military is always a taboo, but now we are criticizing it, we are discussing it. We can tell the military to get out of politics and to do its job, and yes, we might be tried for it, but still we are doing it. And self-censorship on these issues is a less and less powerful. That’s very important.

Süddeutsche Zeitung, Kai Strittmatter, “Denken heißt kämpfen” (22 October 2008)

The virtue of boldness – Meeting Perihan Magden

Perhihan Magden

Perihan Magden is one of Turkey’s most widely read young authors. Turkey’s Literature Nobel Price winner Orhan Pamuk called her “one of the most inventive and outspoken writers of our time.” She is also a regular columnist for daily Radikal, criticizing the military’s influence in politics and the militarization of Turkish society.

I visit Perihan Magden in her house in one of the most beautiful villages along the Bosporus.

GK: You wrote once that the relationship of Turks to their military is almost religious and that the basic problem of the Turks is a too strong attachment to the military. Why is this so?

PM: Turkey was founded by a general. Mustafa Kemal was a soldier and he was our saviour. The army is also supposed to be our saviour and protector forever and ever. I always use the term omnipotent for the Turkish army. You cannot question their powers. They have no accountability. No one can ask questions about their budgets. Their status is that of kings in the Middle Ages. The status of the army is a big problem of Turkey. It is our big obstacle on the path to real democracy. In elementary schools kids are brought up with this incredible Mustafa Kemal worship, which extends to worshiping the Turkish army.

GK: Few Turkish columnists discuss the army in the way you do. What motivates you?

PM: If you are a columnist you are critical of your country but you want good things for your country. I really want a good democracy, a European-quality democracy for my country. And what stops us? I use the term “hybrid” democracy because what separates us from a real democracy is the omnipotence of the army.

Just before I went on vacation I wrote an article saying that I do not have a religion. I am not an atheist, because I believe in God, sort of. But it became a scandal because I equalled religious fundamentalists with Kemalists. They are both religious; they are both fundamentalists. Sometimes I call Kemalists state fundamentalists. If you are fanatical, other fanatics disturb you. This is the chemistry of fanaticism.

Though some people would reach the same conclusion, they would not want to write about it because they would feel endangered. They would feel that it is not good for their careers, maybe even for their lives. The army is very strong and no one wants to challenge their power. (laughing) Maybe it comes from my psychological problems. A conflict with father figures.

GK: Why did you write your article about conscientious objection in 2005 and did you, before you wrote it, expect such a reaction?

PM: Not at all. Sometimes I feel like I’m a stupid person living in a fairytale. In fairytales people are so stupid that all sorts of things can happen to them. My situation in Turkey is a bit like that: I really cannot see the dangers in this society. I look at things normally and I see it as my normal right to write about issues. I see it as my perfectly natural right to write about conscientious objection – it is a human right, no one can question that.

Every human has a right not to kill. And if you are doing your military service in Turkey there is a big chance that you might be killing someone, because there is an ongoing war in the Southeast of Turkey since 30 years. Why should you go to that severe experience of murdering someone in your life? Everyone should have a right to say “no” to that. Defending conscientious objection, I thought, is perfectly normal.

Perhihan Magden

So I wrote this article. And the head of the army made a complaint to the prosecution. When the head of the army makes a complaint to a prosecutor in Turkey, of course the prosecutor opens the case. They never say “no”. But that my trial was also raided by fascists was something I did not expect at all. I realised that I was one of the targets in this country.

I saw this theatre of hate – which is an old punk group’s name – being performed for me and all the main actors of that group, which cursed me and threatened me in the court house’s corridor, are now in prison because of the Ergenekon process.

GK: So you suspect that your court case was part of a bigger plot because of all the people who were there in that courtroom?

PM: Of course. After Hrant Dink was murdered [in 2007] I was certain what was going on. They had raided four courts. They went to Orhan Pamuk’s court. They went to Elif Shafak’s court. They went to mine and to Hrant Dink’s. To Hrant Dink’s trail Veli Küçük showed up. Oktay Yildirim showed up at mine. He is the guy at whose house in Umraniye [on the Asian side of Istanbul] the weapons were found [by the police in summer 2007]. All the pieces of the puzzle fitted together after Hrant Dinks murder. Hrant was very down when Veli Küçük showed up at his trial. He said this was an ominous sign, a horrible sign. It was like an omen, like a Stephen King horror story. Everyone knows many things about Veli Kücük but he was always untouchable. No one was able to even interrogate him. These are suspicious facts that we have known for years. This is the funny thing about Turkey: people know things, they talk about things, journalists also know things but they will not write about them. Then why are you a journalist? Be a gossip lady, and sit at home and eat nuts and gossip.

GK: When did you first feel threatened?

PM: I felt very threatened at the trial, when I was mobbed. This is my country. I don’t want to feel threatened here. I love my country and I feel at home here, even though I hate it sometimes. I think it is my natural right to hate my country. You know, even in love relations, there is love and hate. It is my country and I would not want to be living feeling like a frightened little mouse. Then Hrant Dink was murdered and the State send me two bodyguards to protect me. Then I said: “Oh my God, I am really threatened.” Many people after Hrant Dink’s murder were so scared that they stopped talking, stopped writing until Ergenekon really blew up. Only then they felt safe to write again.

GK: In the specific case of the conscientious objector article you were not sentenced. There was a mobilisation in your favour – a lot of intellectuals came out for you, including Orhan Pamuk. But you kept being charged with other crimes. Why is that?

PM: I kept on writing. I did not lower my tone, I even increased it. Of course I’m going to write about these issues. It is my natural right as a columnist. In Europe it would be unthinkable to be in trouble for writing the things I write. I did not allow myself to be scared. Then I should have quit my job. That would be the honourable thing to do.

GK: How many cases are now in court against you?

PM: Around ten, eleven cases. And I have actually two imprisonment sentences against me, on probation. Both of these sentences are before the appeals court. So, it will take a while until this is resolved in the appeals court. If I get a third prison sentence, then the court should say that I should be sent to prison. We will see. But it takes so long. So you expect that the laws will change until then. Most of these cases are insult cases, like the case of Ismail Türüt and Ozan Arif, who made a video praising the murderers of Hrant Dink. The video was shown on YouTube. It was scandalous. The lyrics are scandalous. It was praising the murderers.

So, I wrote a harsh article … and they were insulted. They were so insulted that they took me to court. And the prosecutor immediately opened the case. Now it depends to the judge’s opinion. Where does strong criticism end and insult start? Where are the borders? These are metaphysical terms. For insulting someone nowhere else on earth would you be put into prison. Here I’m being threatened with prison for insulting Ismail Türüt’s and Ozan Arif’s sensibilities. And they praise the young murderer of Hrant Dink!

GK: You once wrote that the Turkish judiciary is like a lottery and that it is like torture …

PM: Yes. It is psychological torture.

GK: This has been ongoing for many years, once a month you go to the court: how do you cope?

PM: Sometimes I get very, very upset. I get crazy. I feel like: “Oh my God, they are persecuting me all the time. They are threatening me. They want to put me into prison. What is going to happen to me?” I try to study my cases and I try to find points for my lawyers. Then I hate myself in that state of mind. I do not want to be my own lawyer. It is a horrible thing to be.

I’m not a lawyer and I do not want to be in a position to defend myself against these ridiculous accusations. It is very much a lottery, because there are really nice judges and some decent prosecutors as well but they are exceptional. Sometimes if you are lucky in the gambling casino, you get one of the good ones. If you are unlucky, you get one of the Kemalist psychos. Then, saying for instance “Kemlist psycho”, I can be put into prison for insult if someone reports it to the court. So, it is like an endless thing for me, the more I talk …

Why should I be controlling my mouth? I am saying logical things. This “justice system” has nothing to do with justice anymore. It is a ridiculous lottery. If they feel like prosecuting you, they will prosecute you. If they feel like giving you a prison sentence, they will. If you have a nice and logical prosecutor and judge they will acquit you. It depends. Many are Kemalists who think that they are the owners of this society, that they are the headmasters and I am a naughty child who should be punished and who should shut up.

GK: You did not shut up, you kept on raising taboos, and then, suddenly, in the last few months, the people who have been threatening you were being arrested. What was your reaction when you first learned that Veli Küçük and the others were arrested?

PM: Of course I felt very, very happy. First of all, it is a personal relief to me that the ones who had mobbed my trial are in prison. I was calling them the deep state’s chosen actors and actresses. I was naming them in my articles. Now I feel relief, fairness and justice. I feel like the good will prevail. And I feel good for my country. This is like a detox for Turkey. It is like cleaning our intestines. The problem was killing us; it was wrapped around our neck. It was starting to suffocate us, this fascism and this deep state. Now it is like breathing more comfortably. It’s a nice thing for Turkey.

GK: You have been attacked in the media. How did this happen?

PM: I would write a normal article and then I was threatened by this Tercüman newspaper. They wrote “Curse this ugly woman!” and they put a picture of mine. For an article I wrote about benevolent, loving, nationalist Turkish kids in Turkish gymnasium who were putting needles to their fingers and dropping blood, so that from blood they made a flag and could send it to the head of our army, Yasar Büyükanit. And Yasar Büyükanit was very moved. He had tears in his eyes. He called the cameras and television crews. Whenever the military calls them they go, to make commercials for the military. When you watch the news I think one should put the banner “You have watched the military’s commercials”.

So Yasar Büyükanit is very moved and shows this flag made from the blood of Turkish kids in high school. I called this completely nationalistic and wrote that these kids should get treatment. So then this fascist, rightist newspaper decides that I’m a horrible woman and that Turks should threaten me, hate me even.

I think if they quoted it completely they would have seen: it was a beautiful article. It had a logic. Even their readers would have said: “Yes, this woman makes sense.” Instead they take some sentences and play with them. For two days they put me in their headline – they take my picture and say ugly words about me. This is not nice of course, in your own country to be a national target for writing that kids should not be thinking that they are natural born soldiers. But I think now there will be a serious shift with Ergenekon. I hope, hope, hope.

GK: How important is what’s going on now in the Ergenekon trail?

PM: It is not a revolution, I would call it a hopeful evolution – we will evolve to better things. It’s a big, great, beautiful chance of cleaning up our act. Now it is our time to clean our system from all these dark forces trying to run the country for us, killing people, making assassinations, making trouble – trying to control Turkey. So now it is time that we get rid of them.

I think we can never reach the bottom, because I think very important, probably very powerful figures from the army were involved. They made this a mystical thing: Who is the No. 1? And Samil Tayyar, the big Ergenekon reporter, writes: “I know it but I can only give the initials.” It’s hush, hush, hush. But if AKP now puts its act together and says “Now we feel the people deserve a constitution, which is not a military tailored one” our democracy would change. AKP are my only hope for the betterment of this country. This is tragic in a way, because they are religious people and a conservative rightist party, but they are my only hope for the betterment of this country. My biggest wish now is that they should go to referendum and ask the people of Turkey. They should ask: “Are you for a new constitution or not?”

GK: In your books there are many mysterious murders. Is this a reflection of growing up in Turkey?

PM: Probably, they have some political connotations but they have also psychological connotations. It might be that I have always felt unsafe. I think that’s a common denominator with the Turkish psyche – they feel unsafe. The next morning they will wake up and they do not know what might happen. A coup d’état, bombing, party closure… we always have been made to live with incredible unpredictability. We are not like Norwegians – their only worry would be if the milkman brought the milk. We have horrible political worries all the time. I think that makes us tense and insecure. I think that my mysterious murders could be a reflection of that.

GK: Your book “Two girls” describes on the one level a very universal story: a love affair, problems with the families… How is it an Istanbul Story? What makes it a Turkish story?

PM: Because the writer, myself, is from Istanbul it is an Istanbul story. I really mapped Istanbul in this novel. The addresses I gave everyone can find. It’s my Istanbul where I grew up, pieces from my youth.

Whenever I write a book, I want it to be universal because the human issues are the same all over. These teenage problems – when you are a teenager, you are like a snake changing your skin – it’s such a horrible period, everyone threatens you. I think all teenagers are naturally homeless because they live in their parent’s home but they do not belong there anymore. And they cannot move out. All these themes are very, very universal but in a way it is also very Turkish because these girls are living in a society, which is like a ticking bomb. I wanted to reflect that, especially for women, for girls. If you look at it in a Marxist way, women are always one class below men  working class men are above working class women. Women will always be lower. So I also wanted to show that there can be this class-stricken anger in some women, against mankind and against males in society. And Turkey is sometimes very male, a suffocating society for women. When you are a girl you are most vulnerable as a teenager. I just wanted to reflect that and I thought hat some women can really strike back. That’s my wish of course. I want people to strike back.

GK: The girls who appear in your book are, on the one hand, very European, cosmopolitan, listening to European music. But there is always this violence in the background. How Turkish is that? And is there a special frustration among young women in Turkey now?

PM: I think there should be! I say: “In this society you are suppressed for being pure, you are suppressed for being young, you are suppressed for being a woman – how come you are not angry?” So I take a girl, who is able to become angry and it is like my dream. I want this anger.

GK: Were you surprised by the big success of “Two girls” in Turkey?

PM: I was praying and wishing that it would become a bestseller because I wrote it for Turkish youth. I said: “I wish they read it so that they would be influenced.” If they read what Behiye reads – you know, her favourite authors are Herman Melville, Kafka – or l isten to the music she listens to. I wanted the young to read it very much

GK: Your characters are very unconventional…

PM: The girls?

GK: Yes. They are challenging conservatism. They fall in love. Is there also a reflection here of a more modern attitude in Turkey towards sex?

PM: Yes, definitely. But the girls are not unconventional. Most Turkish youth – especially in this huge, metropolitan, giant Istanbul – live like this. I got letters from girls in Anatolia who were lesbians. They sent me their pictures. This is a very gay society. But the book is not about a gay love affair, because what I wanted to say is that when you are a teenager, everyone is much, much more bisexual. You are open to everything. You are open to big passions; it can come from your sex or the opposite sex. I think this is very realistic and I think they are very typical Turkish girls.

GK: Speaking openly about this kind of relationship seems to be new. Were you attacked?

PM: No, not for this. The fascists don’t read novels. I was not attacked for that.

GK: When will you write your next novel?

PM: Soon. I want to start like at the beginning of the new year. In January I’ll clean my system and start writing a much, much more fun book, which won’t make me suffer.

101 on the Turkish deep state – Nokta (Istanbul)

Umit Kardas welcomes my colleague Ekrem and me in his office just off the main pedestrian street in the busy Beyoglu quarter of Istanbul.

The office is filled with books, a new version of the Turkish Penal Code, reformed in 2004, lies on the desk. Kardas smiles and offers us two glasses of Turkish tea. He is a mild-manner and very polite man. It is only when I begin to ask questions about the current political situation in Turkey that his smile disappears.

No wonder: Kardas knows more than most about anti-democratic attitudes within parts of the Turkish state administration.

Kardas served as a military judge during some of the worst periods in Turkey’s war against the PKK in South East Anatolia. There was a time, he noted, when most suspects brought to his courtroom bore signs of torture. He resigned. He has since turned into one of the best informed critics of official Turkish nationalism.

But has the situation regarding torture not changed fundamentally since the 1990s, I ask him?

“There is progress, yes, and there is less torture today. But this progress could be reversed if the general situation develops in the wrong way. Then there could even be a return to torture”

What would cause such a reversal?

“Turkey is not a country that has so far turned into a functioning democracy and the supremacy of the rule of law. A state based on the rule of law has not come into being. There is an ongoing struggle between the government and the Turkish armed forces. …

Now Turkey has come to a critical point. Either Turkey will stick with the status quo, close itself and turn into an anti-democratic, authoritarian country; or prodemocratic forces pushing for an opening of society, for a withdrawal of generals from politics, for an enlargement of civil liberties will prevail. Based on what I know I am a pessimist, but based on my desires I am an optimist.”

Umit Kardas

Umit Kardas

He goes on:

“The military is constantly interfering in politics, writing declarations, trying to influence politics. In a democratic country the government would send these generals into retirement. According to Turkish laws it is forbidden for members of the armed forces to interfere in politics.”

“Since 1980 the military has become used to exercising power which it now does not want to abandon. So on the one hand it acts like a political party, and on the other hand it does not run in elections, is not exposed to control and criticism but nevertheless is part of the government.”

“There is no change in mentality and basic structures. At least some things that one could not talk about in the past are now discussed openly. But this opening is not without risk as we see in the case of Nokta, or Semdinli.”

Nokta, Semdinli: for Kardas both of these events became symbols in recent years that forces of authoritarian nationalism have not yet been defeated in Turkey.


Semdinli is a place in the mainly Kurdish South East of the country near the border with Iraq and Iran.

On 9 November 2005 there was a bomb attack on a bookstore. One person died. The Van Third Criminal Court was later to decide that two noncommissioned officers were guilty of the crime. They were both captured on the spot by a furious crowd. On June 19 2006 the two noncommissioned officers, Ali Kaya and Özcan İldeniz, were found guilty and sentenced to serve 39 years and 10 days in prison.

Guns found in car in Semdinli

The court also noted that the group responsible could not have been set up or led by the noncommissioned officers and that they could not have carried out the act without the tacit approval, protection and involvement of more senior officers.

However, when Van Prosecutor Ferhat Sarıkaya implicated in his indictment (the current chief of general staff) General Yaşar Büyükanıt, together with some other top commanders, he found himself disbarred by a panel of judges set up by the Supreme Board of Judges and Public prosecutors. He lost both his job and his license as a lawyer.

Later the Semdinli case was transferred to a military court. This military court then released the two noncommissioned officers (NCOs) pending the outcome of the trial.

For more in the press go here:





In March 2007 the weekly magazine Nokta published an article about a confidential list by the Turkish military blacklisting journalists and press organs, a leaked report prepared by the Office of the Chief of General Staff categorizing journalists as “trustworthy” (pro military) and “untrustworthy” (anti military). While the military acknowledged the existence of such a list, they declared that the version published by Nokta was “only a draft”.

Later that same month Nokta published excerpts of a diary, alleged to have been written by admiral Özden Örnek, a former navy commander. The diary entries gave details of two plans for a military coup, discussed by the commanders of the army, navy and the air force, together with the gendarmerie chief, and aiming to overthrow the AK Party government in 2004.

Following these publications, the magazines’ offices were raided by the police in a three-day operation. Subsequently, the owner of the magazine discontinued its publication.

For Kardas both cases sent strong and negative messages to the Turkish public: the outcome of the Semdinli case discouraged prosecutors; “Who will dare to take on the military again in the near future?”, he wonders. And the outcome of the Nokta case discourages the press. There is a degree of self-censorship, he worries, and the taboos, what one reports on and what one remains silent about, have been reinforced.

It is a sombre picture of Turkish society, and a disheartening analysis of the balance of power between the forces struggling for control of the country that Kardas has to offer. And it feels strange to step out of the house where his office is into the bright sun on Istiklal street on such a bright spring day, to pass Gloria Jeans and Starbucks cafes and then to head for the bookshops in the centre of the city.

And yet, as long as there are people like Kardas liberalism and the European vision will remain alive in Turkey.

Kardas, in the meantime, returns to his job: preparing the defence of the former editor of Nokta, who showed courage when others did not, in a Turkish court.

101 on the Turkish deep state – Devlet

Three days ago I wrote about a series of strange and shocking events – murders, rumours of military coups and political conspiracies – that have made headlines in Turkey in the past three years. I listed these events as they came to my mind and as if they were unrelated. This impression of randomness could be seriously misleading, however.

In fact, reading Turkish newspapers and newly published books these days one enters the world of a multilayered thiller – Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose or Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code come to mind – in which every ominous event appears to be linked to the next. It is a world of secret patterns that are only revealed at the very end: a hidden plot that connects the murder of an Italian priest in a church in the Black Sea town of Trabzon in 2006, the attempted murder of a former PKK member in a mainly Kurdish city on the border with Iraq in 2005, the assassination of a high judge in a courtroom in the centre of Ankara in 2006 and the cold-blooded execution of Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink in the busy centre of modern Istanbul in 2007. Istanbul prosecutors currently seek to prove in an ongoing investigation that there is in fact a link between all these (and many more) crimes: a network of radical nationalist conspirators operating under the name Ergenekon. This in turn is linked to what Turks call derin devlet: the deep state.

What is Ergenekon? And what is derin devlet? Let us proceed cautiously from what is known before arriving at what is only suspected. In matters of conspiracies, it is best to treat carefully lest one gets lost in a fantasy world of multiple echoes and strange shadows.

First, devlet. When I arrived in Turkey a few years ago I was struck how often Turkish analysts would make a distinction between “the government” and “the state” in sentences such as “the state will not allow the government to do this” (for instance, use its sufficient parliamentary majority to elect a new president). I did not appreciate at the time the definition of devlet in the excellent book on Turkey (Crescent and Star, 2001) by former NYT correspondent Stephen Kinzer:

“The dictionary says it means “state”, but it also means something much uglier. Devlet is an omnipotent entity that stands above every citizen and every institution. Loyalty to it is held to be every Turk’s most fundamental obligation, and questioning it is considered treasonous. No one ever defines what devlet means; everyone is supposed to know. Its guardians are a self-perpetuating elite – the generals, police chiefs, prosecutors, judges, political bosses and press barons who decide what devlet demands of the citizenry. This elite has written many laws to help it do what it perceives as its duty, and when necessary it acts outside the law.” (p. 26)

The institutional foundation of devlet was (and is) the Turkish constitution of 1982. It was drafted under the supervision of the Turkish military that had taken power following a coup in 1980. The very first sentence of the preamble of the constitution spells out its underlying philosophy:

“In line with the concept of nationalism and the reforms and principles introduced by the founder of the Republic of Turkey, Atatürk, the immortal leader and the unrivalled hero, this Constitution, which affirms the eternal existence of the Turkish nation and motherland and the indivisible unity of the Turkish state …”

A few paragraphs further down the constitution spells out what this means:

“… no protection shall be accorded to an activity contrary to Turkish national interests, the principle of the indivisibility of the existence of Turkey with its state and territory, Turkish historical and moral values or the nationalism, principles, reforms and modernism of Atatürk …”

Ankara - Ataturk Mausoleum

Ankara – Ataturk Mausoleum

There were many other provisions, in the constitution and in other laws, that buttressed the military’s vision of the national interest in post-coup Turkey: the military-controlled National Security Council, acting as a shadow government, the Higher Education Board controlling universities, laws on political parties (that made it easy to dissolve them) and on associations and foundations (to control these). The outside world was viewed as full of enemies, plotting to bring Turkey down and always looking for and finding domestic traitors to work with. As Stephen Kinzer wrote in 2001:

“Writers, journalists and politicians who critizice the status quo are packed off to prison for what they say and write. Calls for religious freedom are considered subversive attacks on the secular order. Expressions of ethnic or cultural identity are banned for fear that they will trigger separatist movements and ultimately rip the country apart.” (p.12)

This repression was not hidden, however: it was the public face of the state. In fact, the architects of this system and its guardians were unapologetic about the necessity to protect devlet by limiting individual rights and democracy.

What, by contrast, is derin devlet? It is those elements of the state which went even further than the repressive laws already put in place to fight the enemies of devlet with illegal methods.

Again, some things are known about how this worked. There were hundreds of mystery killings in South East Anatolia in particular during the 1990s. A particularly radical group such as (Turkish, no link to the Lebanese organisation) Hizbullah was one of the instruments used. This became clear when hideouts used by Hizbullah, containing bodies of people kidnapped and turtored, were found across Turkey. As Kinzer put it, “the true lesson was even more sinister. Hizbullah had not been a band of outlaws but an arm of the Turkish state. Security agencies in southeastern provinces had made common cause with these terrorists. … Hizbullah thugs were turned loose to kidnap and kill their enemies in the knowledge that the police would not investigate them.” (p. 100)

Then there was the famous car accident in Susurluk in 1996: the people who died in the car crash, sitting in the same Mercedes, included a top-ranking police commander, who had been involved in counter-guerilla operations against the PKK; Abdullah Catli, one of the most famous gangsters in Turkey; and a pro-government Kurdish clan chief and parliamentarian. Evidence emerged that linked Catli to numerous crimes since the 1970s, and that showed that he had in fact been recruited by government security agents as an assassin.

However, even such discoveries did not change the culture of impunity in the security apparatus. Politicians who dared to confront the security apparatus did not get far in the late 90s, and nor did prosecutors. A parliamentary investigation, which led to a thick report in 1997, was prevented to question some key suspects, who could have shed light on events and links between state institutions and the underworld. One of these suspects who were not investigated further was Veli Kucuk, who had been a high level military officer in South East Anatolia allegedly in charge of a special and secret military unit and who had last spoken to Catli before the accident. Kucuk is today once again a central figure in the current Ergenekon investigation and was arrested in January 2008.

In fact, much has changed in Turkey since 2001: torture is no longer tolerated, the formal role of the military has been reduced, the Penal code and laws on associations have been reformed. Many more changes are expected and required, should Turkey’s EU accession process continue successfully. There have also been many changes to the constitution, and following the election victory of the AKP in the summer of 2007 work started on drafting a new constitution – with a new preamble – to turn away from the tradition of devlet embodied in the 1982 document.

And yet other things have not changed. There are still those within the system who believe that there is an immutable concept of nationalism that has to be protected, if need be by illegal instruments, against its enemies. Fast forward to 2006, 2007 and 2008 and it becomes clear that the challenge posed by both the surviving authoritarian state tradition and the threat of deep state structures remains serious. This was never more clear than this week in March

To be continued …

A Turkish weekend

After 10 days of travel and research in Bulgaria and Brussels the plane from Sofia arrives back in Istanbul early on Saturday morning.

It is a glorious early spring day, warm and sunny. At 9 in the morning, as the taxi goes from the airport in the west of the city along the Byzantine walls towards the Golden Horn this metropolis is at its most attractive. There is little traffic, only some early pedestrians in the parks that stretch long the Marmara Sea. We cross the Galata bridge and continue along one of the most beautiful stretches of coast anywhere in Europe: from Ortakoy, underneath the first Bosporus bridge, to the affluent “village” of Bebek and further to the huge Ottoman fortress of Rumeli Hisari. We pass the fortress, turn left, and I am at home.

Mecidiye Mosque, Ortakoy

Mecidiye Mosque, Ortakoy (Istanbul)

Urban vitality 

There is a game I have been playing for the last years upon every return to Istanbul after a trip abroad: to discover what has changed in the city this time. In fact, I do not remember ever having lived in a place – not post-war Sarajevo in 1996, not post-communist Chernivtsi in Ukraine in 1993, not transition Sofia in 1994 – where the feeling of witnessing constant change in the immediate physical environment has been as acute as in Istanbul today.

Today it is new, red road signs have been put up in all of Rumeli Hisari (and, I notice later, elsewhere in the city) during the past 10 days: quite elegant signs that indicate not only the names of streets that I have walked for years without knowing what they were called, but also the specific quarter (in this case Rumeli Hisari mahallesi) and the municipality (Sariyer). The signs have come accompanied by new red numbers pasted onto every house. Having struggled to find my way around the centre of Sofia, looking for non-existant street signs, only a day before makes me appreciate this change.

And it is not the only one that has transformed my mahalle: the reconstruction of the facade of a prominent old house in the main street leading up the hill from the Bosporus has also been completed. The enlargement of the pedestrian promenade along the water has also advanced. And these are just the changes I notice immediately upon arriving. It is this reality of small but continuous changes that conveys the sense of being in the most dynamic city in one of the most dynamic countries in Europe: a vitality and restlessness that does not cease to fascinate (one could make a long list of the large number of changes just in Rumeli Hisari in the past year).

Political crisis

Unfortunately, excitement and surprises in Turkey are today not restricted to urban improvement. There is a second aspect of life here that is no less constant: witnessing the twists and turns in an unending and often merciless power struggle that lies beneath the astonishing social and economic developments visible on the surface. It is almost a certainty that after a few days of absence reading a daily paper or visiting a Turkish website brings one face to face with the latest existential social crisis, atrocity, political turmoil or bitter confrontation, facts that often shock and surprise even the most seasoned observers of local politics.

To illustrate what I mean let me list only a few of the recent crises that have appeared like lighthing on a clear sky in recent years: the apprehension of two military men, caught planting a bomb in a bookshop in the town of Semdinli in late 2005. The murder of an Italian Catholic priest in his church in Trabzon. Protests preventing the holding of a conference discussing Armenians in the late Ottoman Empire in Istanbul. The assassination of a judge at the State Council in Ankara. The murder of Turkish Armenian journalist Hrant Dink in the centre of Istanbul. The killing of a group of missionaries in Malatya. A speech by (former) president Sezer warning that Turkey has never been in greater danger from turning fundamentalist. A dire warning by the Chief of Staff to the same effect. The removal of a prosecutor (in Van) who indicated that higher levels in the military might have been involved in the bombing in Semdinli. A violent demonstration in Diyarbakir, ending with young people killed in the streets by security forces. A terrorist attack by the PKK. Another terrorist attack. Media frenzy over an impending invasion of Northern Iraq. Airstrikes. An actual invasion of Northern Iraq. A frontpage story in March 2007, published in an Istanbul weekly (Nokta) how leading military officers were planning coups in 2004. The closing of that same weekly, never to reopen, a few days later, following pressure from the prosecutors. The opening of a trail against its editor. The threat of military intervention delivered through an email (the e-memorandum crisis) in April 2007. Mass demonstrations against the government. The sentencing of an academic who dared to question some aspect of the life of Ataturk. Trials of writers and journalists. The trial of Orhan Pamuk. The dissolution of a town council in South East Anatolia for using “languages other than Turkish” when providing services to citizens. The indictment of a Kurdish local politician. More indictments. A move to prohibit the DTP (Kurdish party) represented in the Grand National Assembly. The discover of a plot to kill the prime minister and his advisors in Ankara. The discovery of a large number of handgrandes in a house on the Asian side of Istanbul in summer 2007.

And finally, to top everything, the arrest of dozens of individuals who form an underground terrorist right-wing network in January 2008 and who appear to be linked to a large number of the incidents just listed … As I write this list I realise that I can easily do so from memory, without any real effort. I certainly have forgotten a range of smaller “existential crises”.

Every time one leaves Istanbul for a few days one thus returns to find the city that appears a bit richer, a bit more beautiful and yet also a city where the wildest political fiction is regularly surpassed by the reality of Turkey’s dark power struggles. Turkey is a bad country for those who do not want to believe in conspiracy theories. So this is a typical Bosporus weekend: walking along the water, drinking tea, looking at the rays of sun dancing on the small waves, enjoying a sense of peace and harmony, beauty and promise. And then turning to the papers and experiencing the opposite reaction: bewilderment.

Just consider the amazing turn politics took this weekend. On Friday evening (14 March) the Chief Public Prosecutor of the Supreme Court of Appeals, Abdurrahman Yalcinkaya, applied to the Constitutional Court to close the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), suggesting that it poses a threat to the secular order of the country. He calls for a ban on 71 of its leading members, including President Abdullah Gul and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, from politics for five years! Can this be true?

Turkish reactions

Most reactions in Turkey condemned the closure request. The daily Radikal titled on 15 March 2008: “It’s enough, anything else”, Taraf daily wrote: Put the Prosecutor on trail. On 17 March 2008 Sahin Alpay commented in Today’s Zaman: “The status quo fights back.” The Industrialist’s Association TUSIAD also criticised the motion: “In respect of Turkish democracy this trial is unacceptable.”

Instead of offering you my own analysis, let me quote a few of the local papers to share the full flavour of the local debate.

1. An article in Today’s Zaman:

“Left shocked by the lawsuit filed by the chief prosecutor of the Supreme Court of Appeals against the powerful ruling party late Friday, pundits in Ankara have already begun to ponder how this judicial coup attempt will end. According to the Turkish Constitution, there is no timeframe for the Constitutional Court to decide on a party closure file. But, in 1997, it took only eight months for the court to close the Welfare Party, the predecessor of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP). This shows that there is not much time for the political engineers in the capital to direct developments to their advantage.

But what is more important then the timeframe is the member composition of the Constitutional Court, which has closed 40 different political parties since its foundation in 1961. Fikret Bila, daily Milliyet’s columnist, underlined this reality in his column yesterday but also drew attention to the fact that the parties were banned because of either acting against the unitary regime of the Republic or being a focal point of anti-secular activities. The ban of two political parties has been asked for: The AKP and the Democratic Society Party (DTP), Bila said, pointing out that the predecessors of these two parties were also closed down by the top court on the same charges.

Another point is that the general composition of the top court has not changed in the last 10 years. Political observers argued that the majority of judges in the Constitutional Court were appointed by former President Ahmet Necdet Sezer, a staunch secularist who was elected as president when he was the head of the top court in 2000. Out of 11 judges, at least seven of them would vote for the closure of the AKP, these observers claimed. Apart from these predictions, the court’s ruling last year to annul the presidential elections in Parliament with the votes of nine judges shows that life will no longer be easy for the AKP. But the court will signal its possible ruling on the closure of the AKP through another decision on the annulment of the recently approved constitutional amendments package that lifts the headscarf ban in universities, a move that sparked harsh accusation against the government from the judiciary and the military. Observers in the capital argued that if the court annuls the constitutional amendment on the basis of secularism principle of the Republic that will also send a strong warning to the ruling party.

In the event of the AKP’s closure, the ruling party will not only lose its chairman and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan but also 41 seats in Parliament. The current government will collapse in the absence of its prime minister. But the AKP’s remaining 299 deputies could still form a new party, elect a chairman and of course the new prime minister of the country. Many observers argued that the party would face an in-house race for the party’s leadership but the new prime minister will be someone selected by Erdoğan himself. There are already names being mentioned in the capital for the leadership of the party such as Deputy Prime Minister Cemil Çiçek, Justice Minister Mehmet Ali Şahin, Foreign Minister Ali Babacan, Interior Minister Beşir Atalay, Parliament Speaker Köksal Toptan. Abdüllatif Şener who refused to participate in the July 22 general elections from the AKP ranks, is also seen a potential leader of the new party but Şener cannot be prime minister as he is not a lawmaker. Another possibility is that the country could face snap general elections as a result of the AKP’s closure depending on how long the file remains in court. The country will hold local elections next year in March, where general elections could also be held if the AKP’s possible successor decides to do so. The votes of 276 deputies suffice for calling a general election. Let them close us, we would get 50 percent of votes, Şahin told reporters in Antalya over the weekend. But there are more optimists among the AKP members. This time we’ll receive 70 percent of votes, said Bülent Arınç, an AKP heavyweight.”

2. An article by Fehmi Koru:

“We aren’t accustomed to having solely an “indictment,” written by the chief prosecutor of the Supreme Court of Appeals, without a process — a process of a military intervention, prepared and executed by masters of psychological warfare. In 1960, after the army takeover, the military rulers brought all the politicians who had served the country in the proceeding 10 years before a specially designed tribunal, whose handpicked members tried them for misdemeanors. President Celal Bayar was accused of embezzling a gift horse. No kidding. The panel of judges later found that the horse had been delivered to a zoo together with a hound, also the gift of an Afghan king. The chairman of the panel waved a piece of ladies’ underwear in the face of Prime Minister Adnan Menderes, accusing him of secret liaisons, but it was later discovered that the underwear had been planted by a friendly hand. Prime Minister Menderes was also accused by the same tribunal of fathering a child out of wedlock. In 1980, after the army intervened, the new military rulers opened up court cases against politicians and their parties. Soon afterwards they closed all the parties and banned the politicians from politics. Almost all the politicians were brought before special tribunals, and their miserable spectacle they presented during these trials gave away the reality that they had been subjected to harsh torture and mistreatment.

Mere indictment by a chief prosecutor for the closure of a political party is a new phenomenon in Turkish politics. No direct military intervention, no taking politicians prisoner, no sending political leaders to exile, not even any forcing of a government from power… Only an indictment written by the chief prosecutor… The chief prosecutor has obviously spent a lot of time on preparing the text of the indictment. The 162-page text is made up of accusations against Justice and Development Party (AK Party) politicians, including President Abdullah Gül, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and former Parliament Speaker Bülent Arınç. The chief prosecutor collected all the utterances of AK Party politicians — the utterances he felt were against the secular foundation of the state — going back to the time they were members of the now-banned Welfare Party (RP).”

3. A comment by Sahin Alpay:

chief prosecutor has asked the Constitutional Court to ban the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) for allegedly having become a center of activities threatening the secular regime. This move is surely a severe attack against democracy, the rule of law and stability in Turkey. It is a shame for the country. The accusations leveled against the AK Party are wholly unjustified and have no legal basis, only an ideological one. It seems that the self-appointed bureaucratic guardians of the state want to punish the AK Party for not only daring to elect Abdullah Gül, whose wife wears the headscarf, as president, but also for trying to lift the headscarf ban at university, which has long been the symbol of authoritarian secularism. One can only hope that the Constitutional Court rejects this provocation against democracy and that Parliament finally moves to adopt the necessary constitutional and legal amendments to bring regulations concerning political parties in line with liberal democratic norms.

The chief prosecutor had previously asked the Constitutional Court to ban the pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party (DTP) and now he is moving against the AK Party government, which received 47 percent of the national vote in last summer’s general election. These moves by the chief prosecutor indicate that the bureaucratic establishment in Turkey wants to uphold state policies adopted in the 1920s and 1930s under an authoritarian single-party regime. Those policies, drawn in line with the notion of modernity that prevailed in the founding period of the republic, essentially assigned the state the duty of secularizing society. This amounted to isolating society from the influence of Islam, which was regarded as the main source of the country’s backwardness. Identity policies adopted at the time were aimed at the forced assimilation of minority cultures into the majority culture.”

4. A comment by Bulent Kenes (columnist with Bugun and Today’s Zaman):

“Expecting this much from those who resorted to a midnight e-memorandum, those who provoked a certain segment of society to take to the streets while heaping all sorts of insults on the other segment, those who invented the problem of the “367 requirement” — at the cost of contravening the law — just to keep Sezer as president and those who tried to prevent the general elections by attempting to engage the country in a war in 2007 cannot be considered unreasonable. However, we are only human, and we are innately predisposed to looking at future possibilities optimistically, and we thought that this segment, however enraged it may be, would not dare to draw the country into a political turmoil and chaos it could not handle, thinking that they were on the same ship as us. But today what we understand from their efforts to have the ruling party shut down is that we have been a bit too optimistic.”

5. A comment by Yavuz Baydar (columnist with Sabah and Today’s Zaman):

“If the case is accepted, we shall have unprecedented case in world politics: The parties chosen by more than half of the voters will have faced an annulment of their political will, by the judiciary — the AK Party and Democratic Society Party (DTP), the latter earlier charged with separatist terror. Indictments question the legitimacy of some 360 seats of a total of 550 in Parliament. In other words, Turkey’s democracy is being led into a huge crisis with an unknown outcome.

In such a case the AK Party could, and should, take the lead: First, it should convene Parliament immediately and seek a consensus of urgent and comprehensive constitutional reform with revision also of the Political Parties Law. Second, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Foreign Minister Ali Babacan should immediately visit Brussels and meet with major EU leaders in order to declare a national plan for democratic reform and a clear-cut road map for the rest of the year. It should immediately amend Turkish Penal Code (TCK) Article 301 to show its commitment to the democratic project in accordance with the EU. It is up to Erdoğan to convince the wide democratic opinion of Turkey that the AK Party will return to policies of change on a broader basis.

The AK Party’s only chance to save democracy is to again widen its circle of domestic alliance, re-embracing alienated non-AK Party segments for further reform and pressure Turkey’s friends in the EU to raise the level of support for a stable future. From today serious things are at stake, and hidden efforts will have a backlash.”

6. A comment by Mustafa Akyol (Turkish Daily News):

“The 21st century tactic is to stage coups via not the military but the judiciary. As I noted in my piece dated Jan. 24 and titled “The Empire Strikes Back (Via Juristocracy),” now the bureaucratic empire in Ankara attacks the representatives of the people with legal decisions, not armed battalions. If you talk to them, they will proudly tell you that they are saving Turkey from Islamic fundamentalism. You have to be a secular fundamentalist – or hopelessly uninformed – to believe that. The AKP has proved to be a party committed to the democratization and liberalization of Turkey, a process which, naturally, includes the broadening of religious freedom But that democratization and liberalization is the very thing that the empire fears from. If you look at the “evidence” that the chief prosecutor presented to the Constitutional Court to blame the AKP, you will see how fake all this “Islamic fundamentalism” rhetoric is. The anti-secular “crimes” of AKP include:

  • Making a constitutional amendment in order to allow university students to wear the headscarf. (Maddeningly enough, this bill was accepted in Parliament with the votes of not just the AKP’s deputies but also those of the Nationalist Movement Party [MHP], and the pro-Kurdish Democratic Society party.)
  • Supplying free bus services for the student of the religious “imam-hatip” schools, which are nothing but state-sponsored modern high schools that teach some Islamic classes in addition to the standard secular education.
  • Naming a park in Ankara after the deceased leader of a Sufi order.
  • Not allowing the public display of a bikini advertisement.
  • Employing headscarved doctors in public hospitals.
  • Allowing one of the local administrators to issue a paper which has the criminal sentence, “May God have mercy on the souls of our colleagues who have passed away.” (The simple fact that he dared to mention God [“Allah” in Arabic and Turkish] in an official setting was considered as a crime.)

Yes, this is absolutely crazy. It is like defining the Republican Party in the United States as an “anti-secular threat” and asking for its closure based on facts such as that it has pro-life (anti-abortion) tendencies and that President Bush publicly said that his favorite philosopher is Jesus Christ. The heart of the matter is that Turkey’s self-styled secularism is a fiercely anti-religious ideology akin to that of Marxist-Leninist tyrannies. And the AKP has been trying to turn Turkey into a democracy. That’s the party’s real “crime.””

7. Finally, a comment by a former Turkish ambassador to Germany and deputy leader of the major opposition CHP, Onur Öymen :

“The AKP’s members cannot expunge their guilt by blaming the judiciary for their actions. Everyone needs to respect the judicial process from now on. Parties need to respect the law.”

The opposition CHP noted that decisions by the courts “have to be respected”. Deniz Baykal, the CHP chairperson said: “the indictment is a legal one. It was not prepared with political aims and hostility; and it does not reflect emotional reactions. It was prepared objectively and within the borders of laws and responsibility.”