The Week in Turkish Politics, 26 October 2011

The political agenda of Turkey should be constitutional talks and foreign policy-in that order. All four parties represented in the Grand Assembly express their desire for a brand-new and modern constitution, a yearning echoed throughout the society.  As Syria slips ever closer to civil war, instability may also prevail inIraq, when the US forces depart in 2012.  Around the island of Cyprus, TRNC and the Greek Cypriote Administration are engaged in a dangerous struggle for drilling rights, as peace talks are bogged down.  The Turkish nation deserves to know where her leaders stand on these issues.

Yet, fate has decided that the Van earthquake and the military campaign against PKK take precedence. The Van earthquake which has resulted in the deaths of 460 citizens and 1,200 hundred injured exposed the deepening ethnic rifts in the society, as well as the shameful lack of preparation by a government of a country where tremors are the rule rather than exception.

A lively and very pernicious debate has taken root in the social media among ethnicist Turks and Kurds, respectively.  Turks are asking each other whether they should help a province that is largely inhabited by Kurds, while Kurds are asking whether they should accept aid from an “alien government”.   For a nation that had historically prided in its ability to accommodate many ethnicities and cultures at its bosom, this is unprecedented.  Thanks to AKP’s misguided policies on terror and unkept promises to Kurds, we have become a nation divided. It is instructive that CHP, nationalist MHP and Kurdish ethnicist BDP condemned this debate, while AKP stood silent.  Several victims testified on live TV shows that they were refused aid and help with the burial of their relatives on accent they didn’t vote for AKP.  There are rampant rumors that state aid is being prioritized to districts that voted for AKP, rather than BDP. (See Can Dündar, Milliyet “YETER”)[1] We are in no position to verify any of these allegations, but any responsible government should account for its actions to the satisfaction of the society. Sadly, this will not be the case.  Regular readers of this column will soon get used to the word “impunity” as the most commonly used adjective following the word AKP.

The ineptitude of the government to deliver much needed basic aid materials to the region such as tents, heaters, clothing etc. was demonstrated by the scenes of aid convoys being looted during live TV broadcasts, as the government idly stands by. It is fair to ask how AKP is so sensitive to plight of Moslems suffering under the Israeli embargo in Gaza Strip, while it fails to deliver aid to its citizens in need. Why poor students are prosecuted so swiftly and mercilessly for throwing eggs on AKP members but no one remembers that this is the country of law order when it comes to looters?  Answers?  Once again, remember “impunity”.

A bigger fault of the AKP govern is its ten years of inaction in the face of known earthquake threats.  95% of the country lies on active faultiness, yet AKP is yet to enforce several emergency plans unveiled with great fanfare.  It refuses to punish violators of zoning codes and building standards, because these activities create rent for AKP mayors.  CHP claims that the mayor of Erciş, the epicenter of the quake has been one of culprits of rent seeking and has been rewarded for his benign neglect by being elected as an AKP deputy.

CHP members also questioned how the more than US$50 million of quake taxes collected to this date have been spent. The tax, initiated under the former Ecevit administration had been originally earmarked for quake-related expenditures.  After AKP took over, the proceeds had accrued to the general budget and had not been accounted for. Finally, three newspapers, Yenicag, Aydinlik and Ortadoğu claim that the National Earthquake Council had been abolished because its chairman was a CHP member. Im-pu-nity.

The Turkish army pressed on against PKK terror camps inside Turkey and in northern Iraq, during which reportedly more than 300 militants had been killed.  We take no particular joy in trotting “headcounts” and instead question exactly what the objective of the campaign is.  The government fails to provide an answer, but a reporter in daily Taraf; Mr Emre Uslu[2] claimed that the campaign aims at teaching PKK a lesson and forcing the leaders back to the negotiating table. Eventually, opines Mr Uslu, the terms of a peace may contain general amnesty and a pardon for Ocalan.

Strangely, the plan doesn’t encompass negotiations with the legitimate representatives of Kurdish ethicists, BDP.  While it is true that unless PKK declares a cease-fire and withdraws from Turkey, constitutional talks would be hard to make progress in, it doesn’t necessarily follow that the suffering of the Kurds will lessen substantially when it does so. AKP claims that most of their problems will be addressed in the new constitution.  But, this is not true.  As CHP chairman Kilicdaroglu, MP Tanrikulu and others pointed out, most can be solved through new legislation, which CHP promised to approve in the general floor.

For instance, Kurds’ demand for fair representation, i.e. the lowering of the 10% election hurdle, can be handled by amending the Electoral Law.  Their second and probably more important complaint that arrests and detentions are used to harass Kurdish activist can be resolved by amending Articles 6 to 8 of the Anti-Terror Law, which was also pointed out by the  EU Progress Report, as well. One hopes that once the Van earthquake is forgotten, (and forgotten it will be; most of the victims will never get full monetary compensation for their losses),Turkeycan re-focus and democratization and alleviate some of the pain felt by Kurds without waiting for the constitution.


[1] Can Dündar is a respected journalist who has visited Ercis and reported these allegations in his daily column.  The column can be reached through the link:    http://gundem.milliyet.com.tr/yeter-/gundem/gundemyazardetay/26.10.2011/1455179/default.htm

[2] As is the case with 2 more reporters of ultra-liberal Taraf, Mr Uslu is a former member of the police force, and has a surprisingly good track record of anticipating formal government announcements on security matters.

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