Below we reproduce an article written by Desmond Fernandes, which was presented to the Hrant Dink Commemoration event in Parliament, 18 January 2012. The event was sponsored by Baroness Randerson and organized by Solidarity with Prisoners of Conscience in Turkey and the Forum for Stateless Nations and ‘Other’ Minorities:
Has Anything Changed in Turkey?: From Hrant Dink in 2007 to Ragip Zarakolu, 2012 -The targeting of the “Other” in Turkey – By Desmond Fernandes.[i]
As we come to mark the 5th anniversary of Hrant Dink’s assassination, it becomes important to recognize that the “Other” continues to be targeted in Turkey: The right to life, protection from the state, to associate freely, express oneself and assert one’s cultural, religious and political identity remains under threat, just as it did at the time of Hrant Dink’s assassination.
In some respects, the targeting of the “Other” has intensified, despite the rhetoric of so-called “Kurdish opening” by the Justice and Development Party (AKP) ruling government and moves to draft a new constitution.
As Charlie Pottins has observed:
Hrant Dink often spoke and wrote about the problems of democratisation in Turkey, defending other authors [and writers] … who came under criticism and prosecution for their opinions … Dink hoped his questioning would pave the way for peace between the two [indeed, all] peoples:
“If I write about the [Armenian] genocide, [he noted], it angers the Turkish generals. I want to write and ask how we can change this historical conflict intopeace. They don’t know how to solve the Armenian problem” [i.e. in a democratic, non-violent, non-repressive manner]. Active in various democratic platforms and civil society organisations, Hrant Dink emphasised the need for democratisation in Turkey and focused on the issues of free speech, minority rights, civic rights and issues pertaining to the Armenian community in Turkey…
[Targeted under Article 301, Hrant had stated of the targeting of Armenians]: “Of course I’m saying it’s a genocide, because its consequences show it to be true and label it so. We see that people who had lived on this soil for 4,000 years were exterminated by these events”.[ii]
Unfortunately, since that statement by Hrant, little has changed concerning the Turkish government’s stance on the Armenian genocide. Genocide denial persists and there have been few, if any, significant improvements in terms of free speech, minority rights, civic rights and issues pertaining to the targeting of the ‘Other’. Concerning restrictions on free speech and freedom of expression, journalists, students, trade unionists, academics, members of the public opposed to government and state policies, lawyers, poets, artists, singers, members of opposition parties and particularly the ‘pro-Kurdish’ party, the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), have all been targeted.
Those active in various democratic platforms and civil society organisations are being detained and subjected to various forms of targeting, not least by the ‘anti-terror’ squads. Anything perceived to be critical of government positions can now constitute a ‘terrorist’ offence. As the Turkish Interior Minister recently warned:
How are they [i.e. the ‘Other’] supporting terrorism? Maybe by reflecting it in their paintings. They write poems and reflect it in their poems. They write daily articles and columns about it. Not content with that, they are trying to demoralize the soldiers and police who fight against terrorism by making them the subjects of their artworks.[iii]
Indeed, he suggested that “there was no distinction between legal Kurdish politicians and terrorists and claimed that artistic activities could constitute terrorism”.[iv]
Writing from his prison cell, having recently been detained in one of the many raids happening almost daily in the country now,[v] Ragip Zarakolu, the director of Belge Publishing House, Honorary Board member of the Human Rights Association (IHD), the Chair of Turkey’s Publishers Association Freedom to Publish Committee,[vi] and the recipient of Turkey’s Journalist’s Society’s Press Freedom Prize in 2007 (alongside the late Hrant Dink and Gulcin Cayligil), noted the way that people who have a conscience, and voice concerns about what they see/have learnt and/or witnessed, are subject to ‘anti-terror’ targeting:
“If conscience now serves as a justification for unfair arrests in this country, the gravity of the point we have reached makes itself felt once more. If lies pass as the truth, and denials have replaced apologies, then everything is rotten”.[vii]
Indeed, with the ruling of the Istanbul 14th High Criminal Court yesterday, which only charged one person with life imprisonment for the assassination of Hrant Dink and two others for 12 years, and absurdly saw no “deep state” role in his murder (all three men, along with 16 other defendants, were acquitted of the charge of being members of a criminal organisation):
Dink family’s lawyer, Fethiye Çetin, slammed the ruling, saying it meant that a “state tradition of political murders” was deliberately left intact because it did not deal with accusations of state involvement in the 2007 murder.
“They made fun of us throughout the five-year trial process. We did not know they saved the biggest joke to the very end … This ruling means a tradition was left untouched. The state tradition of political murders. The tradition of state discriminating against some of its citizens and turning them into enemies”, she said.[viii]
The group, Hrant’s Friends, which includes his widow Rakel, made the following statement:
The ruling is the state’s decision. The ones who decided to take Hrant from us five years ago – the security forces, gendarmerie, intelligence, judiciary, media, government, opposition – will once again make a decision in the courthouse. They will say that the murder is the job of two or three hitmen. They will try to hide in their dark world. But we know them”.[ix]
Even as Turkey continues to be touted as a “model democracy” by deep political forces and governing elites in the US,[x] UK and many NATO countries, the targeting of the “Other” continues in intensified mode. As Ozgur Gundem, the newspaper, recently noted over its targeting alongside ‘Others’:
On 20 December, 49 journalists and media workers were taken into custody within the context of the so-called KCK (Kurdish Communities Union) operation. Thirty seven journalists have been remanded in custody. The raids and arrests that have been committed towards our newspaper, Dicle News Agency (DİHA), Gün Printing House, Etik News Agency and Democratic Modernity magazine are the summit of the “intellectual and political genocide” policy coordinated by the political government, Fethullah Gülen’s movement followers, the Police, and the Judiciary institutions, which is publicly confessed by Besir Atalay. The “air vessel” of the Kurdish people and the democratic public is the Kurdish media, and now with this attack, Kurdish people and the democratic public are left breathless and it is aimed to … drown [it]. We are working under an undeclared “coup d’état” situation … [The] Turkish Republic has become a police state …
Everybody should raise their voice to defend the rights of the people against the attacks of the police state … The military forces that are under the government’s command, are actually carrying out a bloody massacre through air strikes over the hills of Amed [Diyarbakir]. The attack towards the ‘free press’ aims to hide the war crimes of the Turkish army.[xi] The government has been attacking everything that is Kurdish. The state declared war on the entire Kurdish public that wants to live freely with its own identity and language, including those with and without weapons, those belonging to PKK and not …The Turkish government is not aware that it is actually undermining its own colonialist goal when it is destroying people that support the policy of living together … The AKP needs to understand that the possibility of ways of peace, living and wanting to live under the same roof is actually being destroyed by the continuous war of 30 years … It is now targeting peaceful civilian actors …
We are calling all the media and all the actors of the democratic field: Don’t be silent. Since you have been silent, the government, Fethullah Gülen’s movement followers, the police, and the judicial authorities are talking to us with the language of fascists and attacking with their methods. Do not be an accomplice! Because, this fire will burn you too![xii]
On 13th January, the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) made the following appeal:
It is a well-known fact that nearly 5000 Kurdish politicians including 6 parliamentarians, 27 mayors, dozens of members of city council and executive members of BDP (the Peace and Democracy Party) have been arrested … Police operations are continuing since 14 April 2009. These coordinated operations are transformed to political genocide against Kurds … The police operations have been widened to Kurdish lawyers and journalists. 41 lawyers have been held in prison since 25/11/2011. Following this another police operation was launched against Kurdish journalists … 36 journalists have been held in prison along with the lawyers. In total more than 70 Kurdish journalists have been in prison since April 2009.
It is abundantly clear that these police operations against Kurds are being orchestrated by the AKP Government. All the police raids were launched immediately after Prime Minister Erdoğan made inflammatory speeches attacking Kurdish politicians. In particular, after the last amendments to the judicial system under the name of “judicial reforms”, judges and prosecutors have followed the lead of the AKP Government. Despite the fact that this has been heavily criticized by numerous observers, the AKP Government has increased its pressure step by step against media executives. In fact the majority of media organizations in Turkey are now under the control of AKP Government.[xiii]
We have experienced this new reality in connection with the Uludere Massacre of 28 December 2011 when 35 Kurdish villagers [i.e. civilians, many of them children] were killed by the Turkish F-16 bombardment even though the true identity of the victims had been confirmed by border security units before the bombardment took place. The AKP Government is continuing to shield those responsible for the massacre. Furthermore, the government is preventing any detailed news appearing on TV or in the newspapers about the Uludere Massacre …
New police operation[s] ha[ve also] been launched against the Peace and Democracy Party and civil society organisations such as the Human Rights Association (IHD), the Trade Union of Public Workers (KESK) … It is not only Kurdish politicians, but also Turkish democrats, lawyers, journalists, thousands of students and civil society organization members who are now jailed without any legitimate basis by the AKP Government. It is especially the Anti-Terror Law, Turkish Criminal Code and Law of Criminal Procedure that allow prosecutors to arrest Kurds and opposition activists without bringing forward any evidence …
Delivering speeches on the theme of Kurdish Identity and attending legitimate open meetings are defined as terrorist actions by the Turkish judicial system … The AKP Government is trying to criminalize the BDP and its members by these arrests. Nevertheless, the AKP Government continues to receive very strong support from member states of the European Union and the United States.[xiv]
This scandalous situation should be challenged and reversed. It should also be emphasized that many ‘Others’ are being targeted throughout Turkey. According to the worldwide writers association PEN, Turkish authorities have arrested up to 1,000 scholars, writers, publishers and rights advocates alone during a two-year crackdown. The Human Rights Association (İHD), the Education and Science Workers’ [and teachers] Union (Eğitim-Sen) and the Health and Social Service Workers Union (SES), amongst others have been targeted. “According to a report prepared by the Progressive Lawyers’ Association of Turkey, there are around 500 university students who are currently under arrest and charged with terrorism. Evidence? Public prosecutors’ indictments are full of symptoms of terrorism: [peacefully] participating in May Day celebrations, protesting the government[‘s policies] on various occasions, and, worst of all, keeping the books of Lenin, Stalin, and Che Guevara at home”.[xv]
In November 2011, “police forces raided the houses of more than 40 members of [the Progressive Lawyers’] association and the court said it suspected that 33 of its lawyers might be infected with terrorism. They were arrested. The International Association of Democratic Lawyers and the European Association of Lawyers for Democracy and World Human Rights condemned their arrests. It was the biggest wave of arrests of lawyers in the history of the Republic of Turkey. Even in the years of military coups, in 1971 and 1980, we didn’t face anything comparable”, notes Mubarakby Eren Buğlalılar.[xvi]
Furthermore, “8,190 people are under arrest [under] allegation[s] of ‘terrorism’ according to data released on November 31 by the Ministry of Justice. According to th[is] data, even children are easily accused for being involved in ‘terrorism’ under the Turkish Criminal Code (TMK), legislated by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) administration”.[xvii] “’There is no press day to celebrate and there is no Day of Journalists worthy to be commemorated any more’, the steering board of the Contemporary Journalists Association (ÇGD) announced on 10 January 2012, the Day of Working Journalists …’The month of January was nothing else but obliterating [ie covering up] the murders of [journalists] Uğur Mumcu, Metin Göktepe and Hrant Dink, their murderers and the instigators in the deepness of the state’, the journalists’ organization stated”.[xviii]
According to Mehmet Bozgeyik, the General Secretary of EGITIM SEN (the teachers’ trade union):
Any opposition which does not share the AKP’s viewpoint or acts in line with their political programme are considered enemies and are targeted by the AKP. Elected officials, university lecturers, journalists, political party representatives, NGO representatives, lawyers, youth, non-AKP municipalities, in short all opposition forces, are now falling within the AKP’s target …
Our houses, telephones, organisations, publishing and political party offices, unions, and even our private lives, are now under the surveillance of the cemaat-controlled police.
We want to state clearly and issue a strong warning that this is the way to fascism. The aim is to create a society silent and [silenced] into subservience. The organised democratic forces including members of the union movement are facing an unprecedented wave of attacks and pressure. The fascist tendencies at work in the country are now being institutionalised. These tendencies are led from the centre and according to a specific programme.[xix]
Martin Dolzer, the author of a key 2010 Report of the Human Rights Delegation from Brussels, Berlin, North Rhine-Westphalia and Hamburg (based on a visit between 15 October-25 October 2010 by lawyers, human rights observers, an MEP, a member of the German Bundestag, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and the Land Parliament of North Rhine-Westphalia) confirms that:
Furthermore, the systematic harassment and rape of women by the security forces is a major problem in small towns … Generally, it is evident that … the Turkish government has been resorting to a worrying degree to methods that involve the criminalisation of functioning local political structures, the detention of politicians and activists who have an impact on international public opinion or, in the provinces that are increasingly affected by military operations, even attacks on the right to life.
Anyone associated with human, cultural, political and ‘minority’ rights protection work, alongside work exposing the anti-democratic policies and practices of the state as it applies to prisons, the ‘disappeared’ and the targeting of political prisoners, mass graves and the neoliberal framework (even within the educational sphere) faces targeting under the anti-terror laws, in the name of catch-all “anti-KCK [Kurdistan Communities Union] operations”. Even Kemal Aydin, Executive of the Association for Solidarity and Support of Relatives of Disappeared People (YAKAY-DER), for example, was taken into custody after a raid on 4 October 2011.
The Turkish government, moreover, continues to engage in Armenian, Assyrian, Syriac, Greek, Greek Cypriot, Kurdish and ‘Other’ genocide denialism even as ‘minorities’ continue to face discrimination and targeting of various kinds. As the distinguished academic Tove Skutnabb-Kangas, amongst many others clarifies, Turkey still remains in breach of at least two articles of the UN Genocide Convention.[xx] Chemical weapons continue to be used by the state against targeted ‘Others’ and war crimes continue to be perpetrated. The report by a Human Rights Delegation from Hamburg and Stuttgart (based upon a 21-day Human Rights Delegation visit in September 2011) concluded that “the number of war crimes committed by the Turkish military has risen sharply again since 2009. These crimes include torture and the mutilation of dead guerrillas, extra-judicial executions of civilians and captured guerrillas, and the use of chemical weapons … Since the parliamentary elections of June 2011, the Erdoğan Government has been seeking a ‘Tamil solution’ to the Kurdish question, and is implementing a modified form of this … The fact that the Turkish Government describes peace endeavours by the Kurdish side and commitment to human rights as terror represents a barrier to any political solution … The detention of two [of our] delegation members clearly shows that the raising of human rights violations is not tolerated under the AKP Government … The AKP is evidently keen to do all it can to prevent this kind of publicity and anything that might foster the possibility of peace talks … [Even] in Istanbul, people speak of a radical gentrification programme in the city areas around Taksim Square. For at least three years now the Kurdish population, along with Sinti and Roma, have been systematically driven out of these areas. Mafia-style methods are routinely used in this exercise”.[xxi]
For Janet Levy: “Discriminatory practices against minorities continue unabated. Full political participation, equal rights and freedom of expression and religion are curtailed” by the government. “The denial of the well-documented historical truth and the memorializing of its murderers perpetuate[s] the crime of genocide and is an affront to its victims, families and survivors. The descendants of the Armenian, Assyrian and Greek victims deserve nothing less than full recognition of this atrocity and a full apology by the Turkish government” (Levy, American Thinker, August 2011).
Many “representatives of Turkey’s various minority communities have”, indeed, “expressed skepticism regarding ongoing efforts to draft a new constitution for the country. ‘Considering the current political conditions in Turkey, I do not believe the new constitution will be an egalitarian one that embraces all sections of society,” [said] Arev Cebeci, a Turkish-Armenian …. Turgut Alaca, the president of Turkey’s Mesopotamia Culture and Solidarity Association (Mezo-Der), a Syriac association, also rebuffed claims about the new constitution’s benefits, [saying]: “We cannot make use of our rights, either as normal citizens or as members of a minority. We cannot teach our language to our children. Who are we? And what will change with the new constitution, I would like to ask? … The current constitution states that all citizens of the Turkish Republic are equal, but that is not what we see in practice”.[xxii]
[i] Desmond Fernandes is a former Senior Lecturer in Human Geography at De Montfort University, UK. He specializes in Genocide Studies, the criminalisation of communities and issues relating to militarisation and securitization of societies. He has published widely on these issues.
[ii] Pottins, C. (2011) ‘Remembering a Murdered Editor’, Random Pottins, 9 January 2011 (Accessed at: http://randompottins.blogspot.com/2011/01/hrant-dink-murdered-four-years-ago-in.html).
[iv] Hürriyet Daily News (2011) ‘Interior minister under fire over terror charges’, Hürriyet Daily News, 28 December, 2011 (Accessed at: http://www.info-turk.be/401.htm#people).
[v] On Friday 28 October 2011, Info-Turk confirms that “a large-scale manhunt in Istanbul against Kurdish and human rights activists” took place in which Ragip Zarakolu (director of Belge Publishing House and Chair of the Publishers Association’s Freedom to Publish Committee of Turkey) and Professor Busra Ersanli (Faculty of Economic and Administrative Sciences, Marmara University, a constitutional analyst and a member of the Peace and Democracy Party’s/BDP’s intra-party constitutional commission) were detained. In his first letter from prison, sent through his lawyer Özcan Kiliç, Ragip has stated that: “My arrest and the accusation of membership of an illegal organization are parts of a campaign aiming to intimidate all intellectuals and democrats of Turkey and particularly to deprive the Kurds of any support”. The International Publishers Association is also concerned that Ragıp Zarakolu’s imprisonment, alongside several other writers and intellectuals like Professor Büşra Ersanlı, is in violation of Turkey’s obligations under Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). Indeed, under the guise of ‘anti-terrorism’ initiatives, no one is safe any longer. The Turkish Prime Minister’s warning to those protesting against Zarakolu’s and Ersanlı’s detention merely highlights the extent to which matters have reached crisis point. As European Federation of Journalists President, Arne König, clarifies: “The arrest of a journalist and well-known intellectual under the pretext of terroristic activities is clearly arbitrary and abusive … It shows how eager the government is to muzzle any critical voice by using anti-democratic methods”.
[vi] As the Director of Belge, Ragip has published key path-breaking books on the Armenian, Assyrian-Syriac, Greek, Kurdish and ‘Other’ genocides and the nature of Turkish state terror. He is the recipient of Turkey’s Journalist’s Society’s (2007) Press Freedom Prize, the International Association of Genocide Scholar’s (2007) Award for Outstanding Contributions to the Battle Against Deniers of the Armenian Genocide and All Denials of Genocides, the International Publishers Association’s (2008) Freedom to Publish Prize and the Hakop Meghapart Medal of Honour Lifetime Achievement Award (2011) from the Armenian Human Rights Association. He is currently a nominee for the Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders.
[vii] Ziflioğlu, V. (2011) ‘Zarakolu to be reunited with son behind bars’, Hürriyet Daily News(Accessed at: http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/zarakolu-to-be-reunited-with-son-behind-bars.aspx?pageID=238&nID=10402&NewsCatID=339).
[viii] Today’s Zaman (2012) ‘Suspect gets life in Dink Murder Case, Court sees No Deep State Role’, Today’s Zaman, 17 January 2012 (Accessed at: http://www.todayszaman.com/news-268795-suspect-gets-life-in-dink-murder-case-court-sees-no-deep-state-role.html).
[ix] Today’s Zaman (2012) ‘Suspect gets life in Dink Murder Case, Court sees No Deep State Role’, Today’s Zaman, 17 January 2012 (Accessed at: http://www.todayszaman.com/news-268795-suspect-gets-life-in-dink-murder-case-court-sees-no-deep-state-role.html).
[x] The European Union-Turkey Civic Commission (EUTCC) notes that: “Morton Abramowitz, the former US ambassador to Turkey from 1989 to 1991, recently published an article in The National Interest (27.12.11) praising Turkish Prime Minister Recip Tayyip Erdogan as ‘the world’s most dynamic and impressive Muslim leader’ … Indeed, Ambassador Abramowitz even praises Erdogan for being ‘the voice of the oppressed’ … Pardon us, but there are many who would strongly disagree with this assessment” (EUTCC, ‘EUTCC response to article by Morton Abramowitz – Year of Erdogan’, EUTCC, 9 January 2012. Accessed at: http://www.rojhelat.info/english/perspectives/1961-eutcc-response-to-article-by-morton-abramowitz-year-of-erdogan).
[xi] A report by the Human Rights Delegation from Hamburg and Stuttgart recently concluded that “the number of war crimes committed by the Turkish military has risen sharply again since 2009. These crimes include torture and the mutilation of dead guerrillas, extra-judicial executions of civilians and captured guerrillas, and the use of chemical weapons … We condemn in the strongest terms the repeated and targeted killing of civilians and BDP officials by Turkish security forces”. Other human rights reports have arrived at similar conclusions, even as the British, German, French and US governments have continued to extend diplomatic and even military/psychological warfare oriented support to the Turkish state in its highly questionable ‘anti-terrorism’ drives.
[xii] Özgür Gündem (2012)‘This fire will burn you as well’. Translated by ANF, ANF, 6 January 2012 (Accessed at: http://www.info-turk.be/401.htm#people).
[xiii] Several Turkish journalist organisations have concluded that the repressive atmosphere has intensified since the Prime Minister’s meeting with national media owners and executives on 21 October 2011, in which he “urged journalists to show restraint in their coverage of the conflict” (reported by Info-Turk, 30 October). Following government pressure, on 24 October, five leading Turkish state agencies issued a communique which, disturbingly for freedom of expression advocates, announced that: “Common principles have been adopted concerning the coverage of terrorist incidents”. These included sweeping agreements to engage in censorship of news and to “comply with the publication bans issued by the competent authorities” (reported byInfo-Turk, 30 October). For Reporters Without Borders: “Minimising the scale of human losses or choosing not to report certain operations will just increase mistrust of the media. Complete and objective coverage of developments in eastern Turkey is an essential precondition for reaching a peaceful solution to the Kurdish issue” (reported by Info-Turk, 30 October).
[xiv] Demirtas, S. and Kisanak, G. (2012) ‘Appeal from BDP to International Public Opinion’, Info Turk, 13 January 2012 (Accessed at: http://www.info-turk.be/401.htm#people).
[xv] Buğlalılar, M. E. (2012) ‘The Epidemic of Terrorism’, 31 December 31, 2011 (Accessed at:mrzine.monthlyreview.org <http://mrzine.monthlyreview.org> ; http://www.info-turk.be/401.htm#people).
[xvi] Buğlalılar, M. E. (2012) ‘The Epidemic of Terrorism’, 31 December 31, 2011 (Accessed at:mrzine.monthlyreview.org <http://mrzine.monthlyreview.org> ; http://www.info-turk.be/401.htm#people).
[xvii] DIHA (2012) ‘Eight thousand 190 people under arrest for “terrorism”’, DIHA, 13 January 2012 (Accessed at: http://www.diclehaber.com/2/22/1/viewNews/289864 <http://www.diclehaber.com/2/22/1/viewNews/289864>).
[xviii] DIHA (2012) ‘Nothing to celebrate for press members in Turkey’, DIHA, 13 January 2012.
[xix] Quoted in Peace in Kurdistan (2011) ‘Mass arrests of trade unionists in Turkey’, PIK, 4 December 2011.
[xx] Tove Skutnabb-Kangas’ 10 October 2010 presentation at the Frankfurt Book Fair, ‘Kurdish as a mother tongue: No linguistic human rights, and linguistic genocide in education’, clarifies that “Kurdish is not allowed to be used as the medium of education (the language of teaching, Unterrichtssprache) in any [public] school in Turkey … Subtractive submersion education with Turkish as the teaching language for Kurds (and other minorities) is the main educational problem … Education offered to Kurdish children in Turkey is [also] specifically guilty of genocide according to the following two definitions: Article II(e): ‘forcibly transferring children of the group to another group’; and Article II(b): ‘causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group’. Our conclusion is also that subtractive education [of this kind] fulfills legally the criteria for a crime against humanity. This should be tried in courts”.
[xxi] Report of a Human Rights Delegation from Hamburg and Stuttgart – By Britta Eder, Gül Güzel and Martin Dolzer
[xxii] Ziflioglu, V., Hürriyet Daily News, 8 November 2011.