The Week in Turkish Politics, 13 November 2011

Prof Büsra Ersanlı’s Arrest Creates Shockwaves in the Global Media

We have reported in our last note to this website that famed academicians and human rights activist was arrested on charges of aiding terror.

” The callousness of the judiciary was on display once again, when courts ordered the arrest of BDP member of the constitutional committee Professor Büşra Ersanli and publisher Ragip Zarakolu[1]. Prof Ersanli who had been tortured by the military after the 12th of March 1972 semi-coup is a prominent civil rights activist.  Publisher Zarakoglu, who made his fame by publishing dissidents’ books, is also no stranger to torture.  Neither is Kurdish. Neither has even been involved in violence of any form.  When asked about the reasons for their detention, Interior Minister İdris Naim Şahin said “She was lecturing students on how to riot against the state ” .

Since than, PM Erdogan also labeled her a terrorist sympathizer.  But, AKP’s “friend of court” outrage notwithstanding, her arrest doesn’t sit well with the intellectuals of the country.  The following is an article written by

Mr. Erkam Tufan Aytav, the secretary-general of the Medialog Platform of the Journalists and Writers Foundation to usually pro-AKP and conservative ZAMAN[2]:

“At the beginning of November, Ersanlı was taken from her summer residence to a police station in Datça, a town in the province of Muğla. The charge against her is membership in a terror organization. However, from what I understand, she was so charged because she gave lectures at an academy of politics belonging to the KCK. According to a media report: “It was detected that Professor Dr. Emine Büşra Ersanlı, who was arrested during an operation, gave lectures at this so-called academy. The office of prosecutor found out that Ersanlı had lectured on social sexism, which was included in the curriculum for training the executives of the KCK. Ersanlı gave these lectures at these academies of politics in İstanbul and Van.”

We do not know the actual dimensions of this matter yet. However, we can observe that some media outlets, including those that argue they uphold Islamic sensitivities, claim she actually did commit grave crimes. These crimes are so grave and she is involved in everything having to do with the KCK.

Let us take a look at her crime: Her sister is the ex-wife of Doğu Perinçek.

The Yeni Akit report says: “It is a known fact that Fatma Sığlı Evren, the elder sister of Büşra Ersanlı, is the ex-wife of Doğu Perinçek, who is currently in custody for acting as an administrator of Ergenekon [a clandestine organization that allegedly planned to overthrow the government].” Well, this is what is called real journalism, which investigates the true nature of the relationships. Gentlemen! Nobody could be accused because of her or his familial ties. But this is what the media in doing, and it seems that it will keep doing it.

And her ex-husband is a Jew. Boo to this as well. Yes, true; her ex-husband, Professor Dr. Cem Behar, is a Jew and a citizen of the Republic of Turkey who once taught at Bosporus University. He is an invaluable scholar. He is known for his expertise and competence in the fields of Ottoman and Turkish classical music. He is an intellectual who has written columns for the Zaman newspaper on cultural affairs. Take a look at this mindset that she is guilty because her ex-husband is a Jew.

Another paper published a report based on a notebook in the possession of the police that was written by Ersanlı. And this is called agile journalism.

Let’s take a look at the content of the document that was composed of notes allegedly taken by Ersanlı. “Autonomy cannot be attained unilaterally, but statehood can. The fear of a partition is still alive; a national identity has been formed; 40,000 people ascended to the mountains. The pro-Kurdish movement has acquired legitimate grounds in Turkey. We are ahead of the state in tactical warfare. Asking the BDP to relinquish armed violence shows the weakness of the AKP [ruling Justice and Development Party]. Not asking for a state does not mean that we do not want to govern.”

I do not see any element of crime in these statements. As a political scientist, she says autonomy cannot be achieved unilaterally and that the fear of a partition is still alive. All this is what a professor of political science would say.”

The story was than picked up by Voice of America[3]:

“Concerns are growing over academic freedom in Turkey following the arrest of a well-known university professor under the country’s anti-terror laws.  The government argues that it is facing a growing threat from the PKK rebel group, which is fighting for greater Kurdish rights.

Academics at Istanbul’s elite Bosphorus University protested against the arrest of fellow Professor Busra Ersanli, under the country’s anti terror laws.

Ersanli, was acting as an advisor to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, the country’s main legal Kurdish party, on constitutional reform.

Now, she is languishing in a maximum security prison awaiting trial on charges of supporting the Kurdish rebel group, the PKK.  If convicted she faces up to 20 years in jail.

Her detention is part of a new worrying trend claims Professor Ayfer Bartu of Bosphorus University. He says the crackdown has already taken its toll on academic freedom,

“There is a lot of self censorship that is going at the universities,” said Bartu. “A graduate university from our department detained , and couple of students from other departments were also detained. Some people are worried now because of the research they are doing, because it now becoming so easy to mark people. They are creating this reality that anyone who even talks about the Kurdish issue, is actually a supporter of the PKK, it didn’t use to be like that.”

Prosecutors claim that the detentions are a necessary part of their battle against what they portray as a terrorist conspiracy hatched by the Democratic Society Congress, or KCK. The government asserts the group acts as the urban wing of the PKK.

Human rights groups say over 5,000 people have been detained and arrested, including Kurdish mayors, trade unionists, human rights workers as well as academics and students as part of the KCK investigation.

Critics say the investigation has little to do with fighting terrorism.

Richard Howitt member of the European Parliament’s committee on Turkey and foreign affairs has been following many of the cases.

“…7,500 pages on the indictment list, but not one mention of any weapon or any violence seems to suggest it’s a series of political trials against Kurdish activists, that what they say maybe true,” said Howitt.

But the sweeping anti terror laws are also being used against student protesters. Last year, three students who held a up a banner calling for free university education during a rally for the prime minister, were accused of being members of a far left terrorist group and held in a maximum security jail for 17 months until the charges were finally dropped.

At Istanbul’s University campus, there is growing fear among politically active students. Police officers now freely roam this campus, as they do all others in the country. This comes after the government reinstated the right of the police to do so – something that had been originally introduced by the country’s military rulers in the 1980’s. This student, who asked not to be named, is worried.

“We are afraid of police forces on students, now I don’t want to talk on mobile phones with my friends for the political subjects,” said the student. “Because somebody can hear me. So all these developments make young people afraid.”

Observers say there is now increasing concern that the on-going anti-terrorism crackdown maybe more about silencing criticism than any war on terrorism.”

Let’s see what the government says to defend the judiciary:  “But Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan recently dismissed the growing criticism and strongly defended the latest arrests.

“What is the KCK? Who is behind it? They are defending the KCK without seriously researching these things, he said. “Those arrested speak of revolution. Revolutions are made with guns. The prosecutors conducted a wiretap and caught this. Everything will come to light once the indictment is drawn up.”

This is exactly what HAS BEEN going on since the infamous Ergenekon-cum-Sledgehammer witch hunts started. The cases have been on trial for over four years, and we HAVE SEEN the indictments.  They are thousands of pages of unrelated secret phone trapping records.  We are willing to believe that the military personnel under arrest and undergoing trail may have been involved in coup-plotting, although the evidence put up by prosecutors so far—largely  digital copies of coup plans, none signed or authenticated so far and statements of “secret witnesses”, who had in turn been offered pardons.

Turkan Saylan

However, what had perhaps started as an honest effort to purge coup-loving officers turned into one of the gravest cases of human rights violations, when the prosecutors searched the house of  Dr Turkan Saylan, and essentially dismantled her NGO  “Society for The Advancement  of Contemporary Living” which was set up to grant scholarships to underprivileged girls seeking higher education.  The trials are still on-going and donations to her NGO have dropped substantially.  More than 10 thousands high school and college age girls who had to study away from home were made to easy pray to shady religious charities who offer free lodging and food in return for—well, just for their soul.

Do you want to know who Prof Saylan[4] is:

“Born in Istanbul in 1935, Saylan graduated from Istanbul University School of Medicine in 1963 and specialized in Venereal Diseases and Dermatology. She was appointed Associate Professor in 1972 and Professor in 1977 at Istanbul University from where she retired in December 2002.

Prof. Dr. Saylan concentrated her work on leprosy in 1976 and founded the Society for the Struggle Against Leprosy (SSAL) the same year. She also initiated the establishment of the Foundation for the Struggle Against Leprosy (FSAL) in 1976. She was also a founding member of the International Leprosy Union (ILU).

Saylan earned an internationally reputation for her wide ranging medical, educational and social work on leprosy. In 1986 she received the International Gandhi Prize, presented to her in India.

In 1989, Professor Saylan founded the CYDD in Istanbul together with a group of colleagues. She had been the president of CYDD since its establishment.

The CYDD is involved in many educational projects including building schools, dormitories, rehabilitation and cultural centers, publication and donation of books, donation of musical instruments, organization of panels and conferences and providing scholarships to students at all levels. The number of only the primary and secondary education students who receive scholarships exceeded 16 thousand.”

Do you want to know the end of this story?

“Professor Turkan Saylan, president of the Association for Support of Contemporary Living (CYDD), passed away on Monday at the age of 74.

Saylan was receiving cancer treatment at the Istanbul University Hospital”- within six months of her being charged as an accomplice to Ergenekon terror gang.

Now, answer yourselves the following questions.  Are these just isolated cases of “justice gone wrong” or could

  • Over 500 hundred suspects tried in detention in Ergenekon and Sledgehammer cases
  • Over 100 journalists
  • Over 5,000 alleged KCK members be mostly innocent, made into examples by AKP to intimidate and terrorize  the rest of the society into silence  and submission?
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