There is no excuse for violence in Turkey

28 Sep

I put some pieces here. They are about Turkey’s political and economic problems. They assert that price of economic growth is paid by the poor. Efforts of writing a new constitution draws scepticism from ethnic Kurdish political groups. They claim that Turkish government prefers violence over dialogue and democracy for the ethnic Kurdish problem. Turkish government is accused of chosing special police forces over the army to fight Kurdish separatists.  It is also noted that efforts to  settle Kurdish problem within a democratic approach is opposed by the Turkish nationalists and they are gaining power  whenever government attempts to talk about democracy and dialogue.

I think if there is a massive work to be done to transform the culture of violence into a progressive democracy and dialogue culture in our world. Turkey will especially benefit from this and strengthen its economic growth with deeper and advanced democracy in all aspects of life in Turkey.

It it starts with the ruling party AKP. They can easily prove their intentions are sincere by removing any complaints about unfair practices in the entrance examinations and interviews of public employees. They can eliminate the practice of interviews and any practice which is open to suspect.

They must open all public resources to public competition. All jobs, all biddings, all fundings and all assignments must be clearly open to public scrutiny and be fully competitive. They get full support from people. They must stop any practice open to partisanship and corruption. They must open all political and economic decisions to full democratic participation. I think this is how Turkey wins the hearts of people.


Turkey’s soaring economy squeezes out its urban poor

Istanbul slums are razed to make way for high-end developments.

Nichole SobeckiJuly 27, 2011 07:26

A bulldozer destroys a house in the neighborhood of Sulukule, in Istanbul on May 13, 2008. Like Sulukule, the neighborhood of Tarlabasi is also slated for urban renewal. (Mustafa Ozer/AFP/Getty Images)

ISTANBUL, Turkey — For the second time, Zemine Demir is fighting for her home.

“We were forced from our village and came here,” said Demir, an animated, Kurdish woman with eyeliner smudged beneath tired eyes. “Now we are being kicked out again.”

Forced evictions of dozens of low-income families from the heart of Istanbul is part of an ongoing “urban transformation” project that has been criticized by Amnesty International for violating international law and the resident’s rights.

“Such forced evictions are prohibited under international law,” said Andrew Gardner, a researcher on Amnesty International’s Turkey Team. “There has been no meaningful dialogue with the residents, no explanation of their rights, and no offer of realistic compensation.”

“It’s not acceptable to make people homeless to create space for high value housing,” he said.

The ambitious venture aims to clear the way for upscale hotels, a glossy shopping center and office lofts. But the project is taking place in Tarlabasi, one of Istanbul’s most notorious slums. A densely populated maze of narrow streets that wind between crumbling Levantine buildings, Tarlabasi lies just downhill from the commercial and cultural heart of Istanbul. And it’s one of the last remaining spaces in the city’s center where the urban poor can afford to live.

(GlobalPost in Dhaka: The rise of the megacities)

Citing the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which Turkey ratified in 2003, Amnesty International has demanded a halt to the evictions and an investigation into their procedures. Meanwhile, the pace of evictions continues unabated. Already more than half of those living in the project area have left their homes.

Demir was just eleven when her village was burned by Turkish security forces who have battled Kurdish separatists off and on since the 1980s.

Her brother, accused of aiding “the terrorists,” was strung up by his feet for a week. Pieces of his hand were cut off and he remains handicapped. Her older sister was stripped naked — allegedly “to check for the marks of rifle straps” — and molested. Other family members were forced to lie naked in the middle of the village street as a truck ran over their limbs.

With nowhere else to go, they came to Istanbul in 1992 and settled, like so many others, in Tarlabasi. Zemine and her father sold water and tissues on the street, eventually saving the just over $5,000 needed to buy the flat they now share.

Zemine’s brother works in a local textile workshop where he makes minimum wage, barely enough to support his eight-member household.

Location is key to affordable housing. The alternative housing being offered to residents of Tarblabasi is a two-hour bus ride away and more expensive than many residents can afford.

(GlobalPost in Turkey: Syrian refugees pour across Turkish border)

“Because transportation to and fro is so expensive, it’s not only denying them affordable housing but also their right to work,” Gardner said.

“We’ll just have to pitch a tent,” said Demir’s husband, Zazgin Ozmen, laughing. Turning suddenly somber, he shrugged: “We really have nowhere else to go.”

With tensions increasingly high between Turks and Kurds, Demir and her family worry about how they would be accepted were they to leave their community in Tarlabasi, where more than half the residents are ethnic Kurds.

Three Turkish soldiers were killed in the southeastern province of Mardin last weekend in an ambush blamed on Kurdish nationalists, while in Istanbul police detained some 70 people following days of inter-communal violence.

“At least they chase the Turks from here too,” said Demir’s sister Sabrha, with a raised eyebrow. Of course, impartial injustice is not the answer either group is looking for.

Ahmet Yazici, a timid, older man who left his home in Turkey’s Black Sea region 40 years ago is also facing eviction.

Yazici owns four buildings in Tarlabasi — all within the limits of the project area. In 2008 he began a court case against the city asking for adequate compensation for the loss of his property. To date the case has been postponed seven times.

“They should give us our rights,” he said, resigned that he would probably have to leave or be thrown out by the police.

“This is Turkey,” said his nephew Osman cynically.

(GlobalPost in Istanbul: Turkey’s Kurds step up demands for reform)

Tarlabasi is one of multiple projects like this one taking place across Istanbul, as well as other Turkish cities, leading Gardner to deem the situation “a wide-spread violation of the right to housing.”

Just last year a similar project took place in Sulukule, the most ancient Roma neighborhood in the world. Hundreds of people were relocated to Tasoluk, 40 kilometers away from the city. Within six months more than half of those who had relocated had left Tasoluk, unable to afford their debts or to find work so far from their community.

It’s not that change is not needed. The buildings in Tarlabasi are largely rundown, and often overcrowded and unsanitary. Crime has long been a problem here. But the issue, activists say, is that the method the municipality has employed in these evictions has made urban transformation synonymous with homelessness and dislocation.

“Why they choose this way of doing it?” asked Constanze Letsch, an anthropologist studying Tarlibasi as part of her doctorate thesis through the European University Viadrina Frankfurt and co-founder of a popular blog on Tarlabasi. “One answer: money.”

After a sharp contraction in 2009, Turkey’s economy recorded the third-fastest rate of growth in the G20 last year. Not a single Turkish bank failed in the financial crisis. And flying on the wings of rising economic prosperity is a boom in the housing sector, making property in areas like Tarlabasi all the more lucrative.

But here’s the crux.

“The project they’re planning is going to be a high-security, high-end gated community that lands like a UFO in a slum,” said Letsch, painting a picture of the very poor living wall to wall with the very rich, and the serious security measures that will be taken to protect the new development from “the riff raff” outside.

“Is that really the type of city you want to live in? Because they are creating this city right now.”



Amid Middle East protests, stakes are high as Turkey confronts Kurds

Turkey’s democratic credentials called into question as unrest grows among Kurds.

Nichole SobeckiAugust 18, 2011 06:14


Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan gestures as he speaks during a conference in Istanbul on Aug. 17, 2011. (Mustafa Ozer/AFP/Getty Images)

ISTANBUL, Turkey — The upheavals of the Arab Spring have led many to cast their eyes toward Turkey, where a movement of moderate Islamists, shored up by an economic boom, have shown that faith can be reconciled, however imperfectly, with democracy.

Breaking News from GlobalPost: Turkish jets bomb PKK bases in northern Iraq

But while Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan flashes his party’s democratic credentials and encourages regional counterparts to heed the voice of their people, at home he is facing growing unrest, and demands for reform, from the country’s minority Kurdish population.

“A Turkey that cannot solve its Kurdish problem cannot be a real democratic model for anyone else,” said Henri Barkey, a professor of international relations and an expert on Turkey at Lehigh University.

Barkey calls the Kurdish question the single most important problem facing Turkey today, and this summer has made clear just how high the stakes are.

GlobalPost in Istanbul: Ahead of elections, Turkey’s Kurds demand reform

On city streets across the country’s southeast, young Kurds clash regularly with the police, the force of their stones returned by water cannons. Fighting between the army and the outlawed Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK), meanwhile, continues to escalate — more than 100 lives have already been lost in clashes this year. Eight more Turkish soldiers were killed on Wednesday when their military convoy struck explosives believed to have been place by the PKK.

On the political front, many Kurds are losing faith in the promise repeatedly made by Erdogan that a resolution to the conflict would be found and reforms ensuring equality enacted.

“It seems quite clear that all of this is heading towards increased polarization, ethnic antagonism and violence,” said Fadi Hakura, a Turkey specialist at the Royal Institute for International Affairs in London. “Should this current escalation continue it could lead to a mass mobilization of Kurdish nationalists against the government.”

A separatist campaign launched by PKK rebels has been raging since 1984. Three decades of conflict has left more than 40,000 dead, most of them Kurds.

Slow, incremental changes have occurred, mostly under the Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP). The prime minister made headlines in 2009 for concessions like initiating the first national Kurdish-language television station and allowing Kurdish to be taught in private universities. National elections this summer gave Kurdish-backed candidates record gains.

The cheers, however, were short-lived. The mainly Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP, boycotted Parliament after the vote because an elected legislator, due to a prior conviction, had his seat taken away by the election board and given to the AKP.

GlobalPost in Istanbul: Has Turkey taken an authoritarian turn?

Five other Kurdish-backed candidates who won their seat from prison were refused release. Then came the declaration of regional autonomy by a Kurdish umbrella organization that brings together some 850 Kurdish politicians and other notables.

Add to the mix increased bitterness and a growing social divide and it’s a volatile cocktail.

After a deadly PKK ambush killed 13 soldiers in July, protests erupted against the rebel group. For almost a week the streets of Istanbul’s Zeytinburnu were the scene of clashes between supporters and opponents of the PKK. The night after the attack, renowned Kurdish singer Aynur Dogan was booed off the stage for singing in Kurdish at the city’s annual Jazz Festival.

“I think the whole country is reaching this point of hysteria,” said Alp Biricik, a Turkish student who attended the concert.

Erdogan himself has assumed a more hawkish stance lately, announcing plans to strengthen Turkey’s special-operations forces within the police. Some worry that such a move could signal a return to the excesses of the past, when more than 3,000 Kurdish villages were forcibly evacuated and thousands were imprisoned, murdered or disappeared.

“If we look at the government’s rhetoric, it seems reminiscent of the 1990s, returning to security rather than moving toward peaceful coexistence,” Hakura said.

Others see the move as a response to more recent events.

GlobalPost in Istanbul: Turkey’s poor loses out to its soaring economy

“War against the PKK is a raison d’etre for the military,” Barkey said. “This is another way for Erdogan to take as much leverage away from the military as possible.”

The mass resignation of Turkey’s military leadership on July 29 was confirmation of an ongoing shift in power away from the once omnipotent military and into the hands of the civilian authorities.

Much hangs on plans to rewrite the country’s constitution. Drafted in 1982 after a military coup it has long been seen as a straightjacket to transformation in Turkey. For the Kurds, a new constitution represents a chance to secure more political, social and cultural rights, and to feel represented as full-fledged citizens of the republic.

“You have to think of this as a process, it won’t happen overnight” Barkey said. “But what exists now doesn’t fit 21st century Turkey, it’s the most important bulwark against real change.”

It’s a long way from 1982 though, and influence over this next chapter has swung into Erdogan’s hands.

“The policy initiative over the Kurdish issue now sits firmly with the government, not the military,” Hakura said. “And so does the responsibility.”


Ahead of elections, Turkey’s Kurds step up demands for reform

Using campaign of civil disobedience, reminiscent of Tunisia and Egypt, Kurds in Turkey seek more rights.

Nichole SobeckiJune 9, 2011 06:42


A Kurdish supporter of the Labor, Freedom and Democracy Platform flashes a peace sign during an election rally in Istanbul on June 5, 2011. (Bulent Kilic/AFP/Getty Images)

ISTANBUL, Turkey — While Turkey’s prime minister has echoed the calls for change sweeping across the region, his critics say his tolerance for dissent applies only to those beyond Turkey’s borders — and not to his own Kurdish population.

“There is no longer a Kurdish question in this country,” he recently told a rally in the eastern city of Mus.

A few days later, rebels from the Kurdistan Workers’ Party attacked a campaign bus belonging to the prime minister’s political party, killing one policeman and injuring another — raising a number of questions about the country’s Kurds — who have long been marginalized by the government and who have recently stepped up their demands for equal rights.

With general elections on June 12 fast approach, the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) has begun, against the backdrop of the Arab revolutions, a sustained campaign of civil disobedience.

“Peace tents” have been erected and sit-in protests organized. Kurdish Muslims have rejected mosques staffed by state-appointed imams in favor of Kurdish-language prayers in parks and public areas. And Sebahat Tuncel, a leading lawmaker who is supported by the BDP, made headlines after slapping a policeman at a protest in the southeastern province of Sirnak.

She described the movement as a way to test Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party, known as the AKP, and “the sincerity of their promises to find a solution to the Kurdish problem.”

“Unfortunately,” she concluded after a long pause, “the sincerity is in serious doubt.”

Adding a sense of urgency to the Kurdish agenda is a plan by Erdogan and his party — which is expected to easily win a third term.  The AKP’s primary concern is to rewrite the country’s constitution, which was drafted in 1982 in the wake of a military coup.

How the new constitution is drafted, and in particular how it redefines citizenship, is important to Turkey’s 14 million Kurds, who have long fought for their language and identity to be recognized.

“Turkey needs a constitution that protects the citizens from the state, not like now where it defends the state against the individual,” Tuncel said.

This is where it becomes a numbers game. Of the 550 seats at stake in Turkey’s national assembly, the ruling party must retain 330 of its 334 seats if constitutional amendments are to remain subject to a popular vote. If it wins 367 seats, the constitution can be changed unilaterally, without a referendum.

In 2009, Erdogan launched much-heralded reforms for the Kurdish community, establishing a 24-hour Kurdish TV station and Kurdish language departments at universities. But greater changes were stymied by nationalist anger and lingering bitterness over those killed during the many years of conflict.

While Erdogan and his ruling party, the AKP, have done more than many of its predecessors, the BDP — the minority Peace and Democracy Party — has built a strong campaign drawing on the frustration of the Kurdish community, gaining votes in an area where the AKP had once been strong.

Though small in numbers compared to what the AKP expects, the BDP could win as many as 30 — potentially critical — seats on June 12.

Analysts argue that part of why the AKP has tried to shift attention away from the Kurdish issue is to attract votes from the far-right Nationalist Action Party (MHP).

“They’re trying to cast a wide enough net that they can bring in the votes they need for the constitution,” said Henri Barkey, a Lehigh University professor and Carnegie Endowment for International Peace scholar. “The idea being that if the MHP fails, those seats will go to the AKP.”

Walking that tightrope, however, won’t be easy. A speech by Erdogan at a campaign rally in the mostly Kurdish city of Diyarbakir on June 1 emphasized the shared suffering both he and the Kurds have faced under Turkey’s former secularist leaders.

“Your brother [Erdogan] was jailed for only reciting a poem,” Erdogan said, referring to the time in the early 1990s when, as mayor of Istanbul, he was imprisoned by the secular government for reading a poem that had Islamic undertones. “I know what the status quo made my Kurdish brothers live through. I come from within this struggle. I know policies of dismissal, I know denial.”

But such sympathetic words are unlikely to appease the Kurdish population, which is seeking the release of BDP prisoners, amnesty for PKK fighters and the right to educate their children in Kurdish.

The Kurdish rebels have threatened to respond with force if those demands are not met. Already, after a six-month lull, violence is again rising. About 42 soldiers, rebels and civilians have been killed since the rebels announced an end to a unilateral cease-fire on Feb. 28.

Last month, the jailed leader of the PKK, Abdullah Ocalan, issued an ultimatum that unless talks begin over greater Kurdish rights within three days of the general election, the fighting will become even fiercer.

“A calamity is just around the corner. I am not pessimistic, I only possess the sensibility that emanates from intuition and foresight,” said Aysel Tugluk, another BDP-supported parliamentary candidate. “Once again we are at a crossroads. Everyone who is concerned about the Kurdish issue should know that we are moving towards ground zero, and fast.”





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