AVOID MUSLIM TURKEY
Blast strikes military convoy in Turkish capital; at least 28 killed
By Liz Sly and Brian Murphy
February 17, 2016
The Washington Post
— A bomb blast in the heart of the Turkish capital, Ankara, killed 28
people Wednesday, deepening a sense of crisis enveloping Turkey as it
grapples with wars on three fronts.
explosion appeared to have been caused by a car bomb that detonated as
a military bus paused at a traffic light in a central neighborhood that
houses the nation’s parliament and government headquarters, according
to Turkey’s official Anadolu news agency. In addition to the deaths, at
least 61 people were injured in the fireball that engulfed the bus and
ignited trees in a nearby park at the height of the evening rush hour.
was no immediate claim of responsibility for the blast, which came amid
increasing challenges from the civil war in neighboring Syria, Turkey’s
intensifying feud with Kurds and the rising threat posed by the Islamic
suicide bombing that killed 10 German tourists near the landmark Blue
Mosque in Istanbul in January, a double suicide attack that claimed
more than 100 lives at a peace rally in Ankara in October and another
that killed more than 30 Kurds in southern Turkey last summer were all
widely blamed on the Islamic State, although no group asserted
responsibility. The attacks followed Turkey’s agreement to join a
U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State and allow U.S. warplanes
to launch attacks on the militants from Turkish bases.
In this instance, however, Turkish authorities were swift to blame the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, the Kurdish nationalist movement that has been waging war against the Turkish state for most of the past 30 years. Turkey and the United States both designate the PKK as a terrorist organization. The Turkish military in recent months has been pursuing a fierce campaign against PKK fighters and sympathizers, turning many of the Kurdish-majority cities in southeastern Turkey into war zones.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan immediately canceled a state visit to Azerbaijan
and vowed retaliation, although he did not specify against whom.
Istanbul bomber entered Turkey as refugee from Syria
ISTANBUL | BY AYLA JEAN YACKLEY AND HUMEYRA PAMUK
January 13, 2015
Islamic State suicide bomber who killed 10 German tourists in the heart
of Istanbul's historic district entered Turkey as a refugee from Syria
and went undetected as he was not on any watch lists, Prime Minister
Ahmet Davutoglu said on Wednesday.
bomber, who blew himself up among groups of tourists on Tuesday near
the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia, the top sites in one of the world's
most visited cities, had registered with immigration authorities in the
city a week ago.
has kept an open border to refugees from Syria's civil war and is now
home to more than 2.2 million, the world's largest refugee population.
But its border has also been used by foreign fighters seeking to join
Islamic State or return from its ranks to commit atrocities abroad.
individual was not somebody under surveillance. He entered Turkey
normally, as a refugee, as someone looking for shelter," Davutoglu told
a news conference, adding he had been identified from fragments of his
skull, face and nails.
the attack his connections were unveiled. Among these links, apart from
Daesh, we have the suspicion that there could be certain powers using
Daesh," he said, using an Arabic name for Islamic State.
accuses Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and his allies including Iran
and Russia, of cooperating with Islamic State in the Syrian regime's
effort to destroy Syrian opposition forces.
which like Germany is a member of the U.S.-led coalition against
Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, has become a target for the radical
was hit by two major bombings last year blamed on the group, in the
town of Suruc near the Syrian border and in the capital Ankara, the
latter killing more than 100 people in the worst attack of its kind on
if Turkey planned retaliatory air strikes on Islamic State, Davutoglu
said Ankara would act at a time and in a manner that it saw fit. He
pointed out the Turkish military had hit Islamic State targets abroad
after the Suruc and Ankara attacks.
he said Russia's entry into the Syrian war was a complicating factor.
Turkish war planes have not flown in Syrian air space since Turkey shot
down a Russian fighter jet in late November, triggering a diplomatic
row with Moscow.
(the Russian air force) shouldn’t obstruct Turkey's fight against Daesh
... Right now unfortunately there is such a barrier," Davutoglu said.
"Certain countries are in an obstructive attitude in terms of Turkey’s
air bombardments. They should either destroy Daesh themselves or allow
us to do it."
TOUR GUIDE YELLED "RUN"
about a report in the Turkish media that the bomber had registered at
an immigration office in Istanbul a week ago, Interior Minister Efkan
Ala earlier confirmed that his fingerprints were on record with the
Haberturk newspaper published what it said was a CCTV image of the man,
named in some local media as Saudi-born Nabil Fadli, at an Istanbul
immigration office on Jan. 5. Turkish officials have said he was born
tourists and Turks paid their respects at the site of the attack early
on Wednesday. Scarves with the Bayern Munich soccer club emblem were
left along with carnations and roses at the scene, before Turkish
police sealed off the area.
Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere, visiting Istanbul, said there
were no indications Germans had been deliberately targeted and that he
saw no reason for people to change travel plans to Turkey. He said
Germany stood resolutely by Turkey's side in the fight against
the terrorists aimed to disturb, destroy or jeopardize cooperation
between partners, they achieved the opposite. Germany and Turkey are
becoming even closer," he said, adding there was no link to Germany's
role in the fight on terrorism.
praised the German group's Turkish guide who, according to the Hurriyet
newspaper, yelled "run" after seeing the bomber standing among the
tourists and pulling a pin on his explosives, enabling some of them to
Witnesses said the square was not packed at the time of the explosion, but that several groups of tourists were there.
didn't finish the tour, you know, the tour I had bought," said Jostein
Nielsen, a wounded Norwegian tourist, as he waited on a stretcher at
Istanbul airport, his left leg bandaged.
still have to go to the Blue Mosque and the old Turkish Bazaar ... We
have no hard feelings towards Turkey. We know there are some mad people
out there," he said.
Senior Western official: Links between Turkey and ISIS are now 'undeniable'
By Natasha Bertrand
July 28, 2015
(REUTERS/Umit Bektas) An ISIS fighter walks near a black flag belonging to the Islamic State as a Turkish army vehicle takes position near the Syrian town of Kobani, as pictured from the Turkish-Syrian border near the southeastern town of Suruc, Sanliurfa province, October 7, 2014.
A US-led raid on the compound housing the Islamic State's "chief financial officer" produced evidence that Turkish officials directly dealt with ranking ISIS members, Martin Chulov of the Guardian reported recently.
The officer killed in the raid, Islamic State official Abu Sayyaf, was responsible for directing the terror army's oil and gas operations in Syria. The Islamic State (aka ISIS, ISIL, or Daesh) earns up to $10 million a month selling oil on black markets.
and flash drives seized during the Sayyaf raid reportedly revealed
links "so clear" and "undeniable" between Turkey and ISIS "that they
could end up having profound policy implications for the relationship
between us and Ankara," senior Western official familiar with the
captured intelligence told the Guardian.
member Turkey has long been accused by experts, Kurds, and even Joe
Biden of enabling ISIS by turning a blind eye to the vast smuggling
networks of weapons and fighters during the ongoing Syrian war.
move by the ruling AKP party was apparently part of ongoing attempts to
trigger the downfall of Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime.
officially ended its loose border policy last year, but not before its
southern frontier became a transit point for cheap oil, weapons,
foreign fighters, and pillaged antiquities.
In November, a former ISIS member told Newsweek that the group was essentially given free rein by Turkey's army.
commanders told us to fear nothing at all because there was full
cooperation with the Turks," the fighter said. "ISIS saw the Turkish
army as its ally especially when it came to attacking the Kurds in
as the alleged arrangements progressed, Turkey allowed the group to
establish a major presence within the country — and created a huge
problem for itself.
longer this has persisted, the more difficult it has become for the
Turks to crack down [on ISIS] because there is the risk of a counter
strike, of blowback," Jonathan Schanzer, a former counterterrorism
analyst for the US Treasury Department, explained to Business Insider
have a lot of people now that are invested in the business of extremism
in Turkey," Schanzer added. "If you start to challenge that, it raises
significant questions of whether" the militants, their benefactors, and
other war profiteers would tolerate the crackdown."
Western diplomat, speaking to The Wall Street Journal in February,
expressed a similar sentiment: "Turkey is trapped now — it created a
monster and doesn’t know how to deal with it."
had begun to address the problem in earnest — arresting 500 suspected
extremists over the past six months as they crossed the border and
raiding the homes of others — when an ISIS-affiliated suicide bomber
killed 32 activists in Turkey's southeast on July 20.
Turks subsequently took to the streets to protest the government policies they felt had enabled the attack.
protesters' chants of "Murderous ISIL, collaborator AKP," Erdogan
finally agreed last Thursday to enter the US-led campaign against ISIS,
sending fighter jets into Syria and granting the US strategic use of a
key airbase in the southeast to launch airstrikes.
At the same time, Turkey began bombing Kurdish PKK shelters and storage facilities in northern Iraq, the AP reported, indicating that the AKP still sees Kurdish advances as a major — if not the biggest — threat, despite the Kurds' battlefield successes against ISIS in northern Syria.
isn’t an overhaul of their thinking," a Western official in Ankara told
the Guardian. "It’s more a reaction to what they’ve been confronted
with by the Americans and others. There is at least a recognition now
that ISIS isn’t leverage against Assad. They have to be dealt with.”
President Erdoğan joins Quran defamation case as plaintiff
Hürriyet Daily News, June 17, 2015
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has become involved as a plaintiff in a
case filed against a woman who allegedly “insulted the Quran” by
posting a photo on Twitter showing her foot standing on the Muslim holy
The defendant faces up to four years in prison.
With Erdoğan’s involvement in the case there are now 22 plaintiffs, including Ankara Mayor Melih Gökçek and former minister Egemen Bağış, who was one of the most prominent names embroiled in Turkey’s huge corruption probe launched in late 2013.
The woman did not attend the first court hearing in the case, which was held in Istanbul’s 58th Criminal Court of First Instance on June 17.
The indictment against the woman, prepared by the Istanbul Public Prosecutor’s Office, carried a penalty of up to four years in prison on charges of “incitement to hatred and enmity.”
President Erdoğan’s attorney, Ferah Yıldız, said the charge against the woman was clear and they demanded that she be punished.
“My client [Erdoğan] has been harmed by the crime,” Yıldız added.
The attorneys of other plaintiffs, including Bağış and Gökçek, also said their clients had been harmed by the crime.
The indictment said the defendant was required to serve from 1.5 to 4 years in prison for “inciting society to hatred and enmity by insulting Islam, the Quran and the Prophet Muhammad.”
The woman, who is being tried without arrest, will be brought to court by force for the next hearing due to her absence in the first hearing.
Turkey journalists face 4.5 years jail over Charlie Hebdo cartoon
08 April 2015
ISTANBUL (AFP) -
Turkish prosecutors on Wednesday called for two prominent journalists who featured Charlie Hebdo's cover with the image of the Prophet Mohammed in their columns to be jailed for four and a half years.
Istanbul's chief public prosecutor has charged Ceyda Karan and Hikmet Cetinkaya with "inciting public hatred" and "insulting religious values" by illustrating their columns with the cartoon, the Hurriyet daily reported.
The cartoon was a smaller version of the controversial front cover depicting the Prophet Mohammed that French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo printed in its first edition after the attack on its offices by Islamist gunmen in January that killed 12 people.
The cartoon angered Muslims all over the world and most media in overwhelmingly Muslim Turkey refrained from publishing it.
Turkish daily Cumhuriyet on January 14 had published a four-page Charlie Hebdo pull-out translated into Turkish marking the French satirical weekly's first issue since the attack.
The edition did not include the controversial front cover of the Prophet Mohammed but a smaller version of the cartoon was included twice inside the newspaper to illustrate columns on the subject by Karan and Cetinkaya.
Prosecutors had announced the day after the publication of the issue that they had opened an investigation into the two columnists.
The case, based on a 38-page indictment and complaints by 1,280 individuals, has now been submitted to the criminal court ahead of trial, Hurriyet said.
Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu had condemned the publication of cartoons of the Muslim prophet as an "open provocation", warning that Turkey would not tolerate insults against Mohammed.
There has been growing concern about the numbers of journalists currently facing legal proceedings in Turkey, many on accusations of insulting President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The Cumhuriyet daily, which sees itself as the voice of secular Turkey, is a vehement opponent of the Islamic-rooted authorities under Erdogan.
Women are not equal to men, Turkish president declares
The Associated Press
Published Monday, November 24, 2014 9:19AM EST
ANKARA, Turkey -- Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan set off a new controversy on Monday, declaring that women are not equal to men and accusing feminists of not understanding the special status that Islam attributes to mothers.
Addressing a meeting in Istanbul on women and justice, Erdogan said men and women are created differently, that women cannot be expected to undertake the same work as men, and that mothers enjoy a high position that only they can reach.
"You cannot put women and men on an equal footing," Erdogan said. "It is against nature. They were created differently. Their nature is different. Their constitution is different."
Erdogan added: "Motherhood is the highest position ... You cannot explain this to feminists. They don't accept motherhood. They have no such concern."
Lawyer and women's rights activist Hulya Gulbahar said Erdogan's comments were in violation of Turkey's constitution, Turkish laws and international conventions on gender equality and didn't help efforts to stem high incidences of violence against women in Turkey.
"Such comments by state officials which disregard equality between men and women play an important role in the rise of violence against women," Gulbahar said. "Such comments aim to make women's presence in public life -- from politics to arts, from science to sports -- debatable."
Erdogan, a devout Muslim, often courts controversy with divisive public comments. He has previously angered women's groups by stating that women should bear at least three children and by attempting to outlaw abortion and adultery.
He raised eyebrows this month by declaring that Muslims had discovered the Americas before Christopher Columbus.
Christians in Danger
July 8, 2010
National Review Online
Bishop Luigi Padovese, stabbed to death last month, is the latest victim of Turkey’s growing hostility to Christians.
For all the attention Turkey has gotten lately, very few Americans are aware that the Roman Catholic bishop serving as apostolic vicar of Anatolia was stabbed to death and decapitated last month by an assailant shouting, “Allahu Akbar! I have killed the great Satan!”
There are fewer than 60 Catholic priests in all of Turkey, and yet Bishop Luigi Padovese was the fifth of them to be shot or stabbed in the last four years, starting with the murder of Fr. Andrea Santoro in 2006, also by an assailant shouting, “Allahu Akbar!” (An Armenian journalist and three Protestants working at a Christian publishing house — one of them German, the other two Turkish converts — were also killed during this period.)
What’s going on? Why has traditionally secularist Turkey, with its minuscule Christian community (less than 0.2 percent of the population), lately become nearly as dangerous for Christians as neighboring Iraq? And why has this disturbing pattern of events so far escaped notice in the West?
In a nutshell, all these violent acts reflect a popular culture increasingly shaped by Turkish media accounts deliberately promoting hatred of Christians and Jews.
As it happens, Bishop Padovese was murdered on the same day (June 3) that the Wall Street Journal published an eye-opening report on how Turkey’s press and film industry have increasingly blurred the distinction between fact and fantasy, especially since the Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP) took power in 2002.
“To follow Turkish discourse in recent years has been to follow a national decline into madness.” That’s how Robert L. Pollock, editorial-features editor of the Journal, summed up the trajectory of the daily fare that shapes Turks’ attitudes toward the outside world — and toward non-Muslims in their midst. Indeed, much of what passes for fact in Turkish public discourse would be comical if not for the deadly consequences.
Take, for instance, the wildly popular 2006 film Valley of the Wolves, later serialized for television. An earlier Journal piece summing up the plot as “a cross between American Psycho in uniform and the Protocols of the Elders of Zion” hardly does it justice. The plot turns on blood-crazed American soldiers committing war crimes for fun and profit in Iraq. These include the harvesting of body parts from murdered Iraqi civilians on an industrial scale (overseen by a Jewish doctor, of course) for shipment in crates clearly labeled New York and Tel Aviv.
Valley of the Wolves is the most expensive and most commercially successful Turkish feature film ever. Worse yet, it comes with the endorsement of leading AKP figures, such as the speaker of the parliament (“absolutely magnificent”) and the mayor of Istanbul (“a great screenplay”). Mr. Pollock’s judgment? “It is no exaggeration to say that such anti-Semitic fare had not been played to mass audiences in Europe since the Third Reich.”
Unfortunately, this film — with its poisonous blood libel against Christians and Jews — falls well within what is now mainstream Turkish public discourse.
Consider only some of the wilder rumors given credence by the Turkish press — for example, how the United States intends to colonize the Middle East because of an impending asteroid strike on North America, or how the 2004 Asian tsunami was really caused by secret U.S. nuclear testing. The latter claim was so prevalent in the Turkish media that the U.S. ambassador at the time, Eric Edelman, actually organized a conference call with Turkish journalists to refute the calumny.
This is the overall context in which incendiary published accusations are made that Catholic priests, sometimes identified by name, are engaging in proselytism — that is, seeking to convert Muslims, often with cash payments. I happen to know just how implausible these claims are, based on my own experience as a Catholic seminarian living and working in the Middle East a decade ago. I found that pastors of the historic Middle Eastern churches almost always go out of their way to discourage prospective converts, rightly fearing agents provocateurs from the security services or Islamist groups. In the rare case where a conversion does occur, the person is generally baptized outside his home country, in a place where apostasy is not criminalized or barred by powerful social norms, such as preservation of family honor.
What local Christian clergy actually do is to tend shrinking flocks without seeking to add to their numbers. (These little congregations increasingly include migrants like the Filipina nurses and domestic workers who are ubiquitous throughout the Middle East.) Some also provide public goods such as education and health care for Muslims and Christians alike on a non-sectarian basis. Others serve the pastoral needs of pilgrims visiting places (like Turkey) where Christianity once flourished. Nearly all see themselves as silent witnesses for Gospel values in places where prudence now bars the Gospel’s open proclamation.
There are vanishingly few Christians and Jews in Turkey. So the numbers of non-Muslims in the country cannot begin to explain the mounting popular hostility — not simply toward Americans, Europeans, and Israelis, but toward Christians and Jews as such. Turkey’s population (roughly 77 million) is more than 99.8 percent Muslim, with its tiny Jewish and Christian populations (perhaps 25,000 and 150,000, respectively) looking like a rounding error. Yet more than two-thirds of all Turks (68 percent) expressed a negative view of Christians in the 2009 Pew Global Attitudes Survey, as opposed to the results in nearby Muslim-majority states with much larger Christian minorities, like Jordan (44 percent negative) and Egypt (49 percent). Hostility toward Jews, moreover, has spiked recently, with those self-identified as “very unfavorable” jumping from 32 percent in 2004 to 73 percent in 2009.
The short answer to the question why Christians keep getting attacked in Turkey is that ideas have consequences, with bad ones often leading to deadly consequences. In the current issue of Commentary, Michael Rubin offers a masterly step-by-step analysis of the way in which Turkey’s current Islamist rulers have systematically undermined and dismantled Atatürk’s secular legacy and have put in place an embryonic Islamist state. Ideas once expressed on the fringes of Turkish society have now become mainstream and respectable.
It is precisely this darkening climate of public opinion that provides the essential context for the spate of attacks against Catholic priests. Here it’s worth noting that, historically, Catholics were not regarded as enemies of modern Turkey in the way that Greeks and Armenians were. The Holy See was one of the first states to exchange ambassadors with the newly formed Turkish Republic in 1923; and one of its first ambassadors (from 1933 to 1944), still fondly remembered, was Angelo Roncalli, better known today as Blessed John XXIII.
So too is it a fact that Catholic clergy serving in trouble spots like Turkey have sometimes (though not always) enjoyed a certain immunity from violence or arbitrary arrest. That’s because the Vatican is widely perceived as a powerful entity that can command diplomatic and media attention (especially as compared to Christian evangelicals, who lack similar institutional support). That several Catholic priests have now been attacked in Turkey is a troubling new development that may reflect political Islam’s implacable hostility toward Pope Benedict XVI. Recall that what angered Islamists most about Benedict’s 2006 Regensburg lecture was not an injudicious quotation from a 14th-century Byzantine emperor. It was Benedict’s observation that while reason without faith leads to nihilism (Europe’s problem), faith without reason leads to fanaticism and violence (Islam’s problem).
But it’s also a fact that the killing of Catholic clerics in Muslim-majority states tends nowadays in the West to be passed over in silence or treated as business as usual. Imagine for a moment what would happen if — God forbid! — a very senior, foreign-born Muslim cleric were murdered in the U.S. in circumstances amounting to a hate crime. It is not difficult to imagine the likely aftermath: wall-to-wall media coverage, repeated international condemnations, and multiple presidential apologies.
In the case of Bishop Padovese, one close observer makes explicit the connection between pervasive media vilification and violence against Catholic clergy. Fr. Bernardo Cervellera, whose Asia News broke the story of the true facts surrounding the bishop’s murder, maintains that “there’s a campaign against Christian priests in Turkey. The government says it’s not true, the Turks say they don’t believe it, but it’s quite enough to watch television or read the newspapers to realize that indeed it is true.”
These facts — and their necessary implications — are a long way from the Islam-is-a-religion-of-peace happy talk peddled by both the Bush and Obama administrations. Little wonder that there’s practically no understanding in the U.S. that Turkey’s beleaguered religious minorities — and their co-religionists elsewhere in the region — serve as canaries in the coal mine, bellwethers for major policy shifts that our foreign-policy establishment is slow to grasp. Or indeed that the plight of these minorities mirrors, at least roughly, the state of U.S. interests and ideals in the region.
It wasn’t always the case that Americans paid no attention to the plight of Middle Eastern Christians. In the wake of World War I, the New York Times could safely assume a lively interest (and some Biblical literacy) among readers when editorializing in 1922 about the mass expulsion of ethnic Greek Christians from the new Turkish state: “Is this to be the end of the Christian minorities in Asia Minor — that land where, 13 centuries and more before the Turk came to rule, Paul had journeyed as a missionary through its length and breadth, and where the first ‘seven churches that are in Asia’ stood, to which the messages written in the Book of Revelation were sent?”
But that was then; and this is now.
—John F. Cullinan, a regular NRO contributor, writes frequently on international religious freedom and Middle Eastern Christianity.
Twelve officers charged over Turkey coup plot
By Daren Butler
ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Twelve senior Turkish military officers were charged on Wednesday over an alleged plot to topple a government that secularist hardliners fear is pursuing a hidden Islamist agenda.
Turkey's top military commanders, who have seen the army's role as ultimate guardian of secularism eroded under European Union-backed reforms, held an emergency meeting late on Tuesday and warned in a statement of a "serious situation."
With tensions hitting investors' confidence and feeding speculation that elections due next year could be brought forward, Prime Minster Tayyip Erdogan and President Abdullah Gul will meet Turkey's top military commander on Thursday, a government source said.
Turkish stocks closed down 3.4 percent and the lira weakened to a seven-month low against the dollar, while bond yields rose.
Adding to uncertainty, Turkey's chief prosecutor Abdurrahman Yalcinkaya said he was looking into statements made by deputies from the ruling AK Party, but had not reached the stage of opening a formal investigation against the party.
Yalcinkaya tried to have the party banned for anti-secular activities in 2008. Speculation that he could try again has prompted talk that the government could call a snap election.
The AK Party, first elected in 2002 in a landslide victory over older, established parties blighted by corruption and accusations of misrule, is also embroiled in a dispute with the judiciary -- another pillar of the orthodox establishment.
The military has ousted four governments of various political hues since 1960, although the army says the days of coups are now over.
While the chances of another coup are seen as remote, anxiety is growing over what the generals might do next and what strains the situation might put on the armed forces' leadership.
Turkey's NATO allies, particularly the United States, want the overwhelmingly Muslim nation to mature as a democracy.
Its prospects of entering the EU depend partly on ending the special status that made the arrest of military personnel, still less a former force commander, by civilian authorities inconceivable until recently.
Tensions were triggered by an unprecedented police swoop on Monday that detained around 50 serving and retired officers.
A court late on Wednesday ordered five officers, four of them retired and including former Rear Admiral Feyyaz Ogutcu, to be sent to jail pending trial. Another two were released.
The most senior detainees, retired Air Force Commander Ibrahim Firtina and ex-navy chief Ozden Ornek, are being held at police headquarters in Istanbul and are expected to be brought to the court for questioning on Thursday.
The other seven officers charged in the early hours of Wednesday consisted of four admirals, two retired and two serving, a retired brigadier-general and two retired colonels.
Pending a formal indictment, the detainees are accused of belonging to a terrorist group and of attempting to overthrow the government by force.
Six officers were released from custody on Tuesday after questioning. It was unclear if they would face charges.
The army leadership has said previously that probes into a series of alleged coup plots is hurting morale in the ranks.
In a characteristically veiled and brief statement on its web site on Tuesday, the General Staff said its top commanders had met to "assess the serious situation that has arisen."
"What do you mean? Are you going to carry out a coup?" said a headline in Taraf, a low-circulation newspaper that has broken several stories of alleged coup plots.
The current investigation into the so-called "Sledgehammer" plan, allegedly drawn up in 2003, was triggered by a report in Taraf last month. The military has said the plan was just a scenario drawn up for an army seminar.
Retired military officers are among around 200 people indicted over separate plots by a far-right group known as Ergenekon. Critics say that trial is being used to target political opponents, an accusation the government rejects.
Blood feuds and gun violence plague Turkey's southeast
May 5, 2009
By Daren Butler - Analysis
BILGE, Turkey (Reuters) - "I wish fire upon the houses of those who set the fire in my house," said 75-year-old Sultan Celebi. "They ruined us all. I want for them the biggest punishment that is possible."
Celebi's words, uttered after an armed attack on a village wedding robbed her of four children, three daughters-in-law and one grandchild, amply illustrated the depth and bitterness of bloodfeuds, clan rivalries and vendettas in largely Kurdish southeastern Turkey; an unending cycle of violence and revenge.
Forty-four people were killed on Monday in one of the worst attacks involving civilians in Turkey's modern history. The massacre, perpetrated by masked men with automatic rifles and hand grenades, must put pressure on Ankara to address the root-causes of instability in the region, long a hindrance to Turkey's European Union membership quest.
The mass killing was, according to local residents, the culmination of a long family feud.
Sixteen women, including the bride, and six children were killed in Monday's attack in Bilge, a village of a few hundred people in the Turkey's conservative heartland.
While the scale of Monday's killing has shocked this Muslim country of 70 million, experts say dozens are killed in rural Turkey every year in "blood for blood" vendettas passed from generations over land disputes, grazing rights or matters of family honour.
Experts say the problem, which is more acute in the Kurdish southeast, is aggravated by unequal land distribution, power struggles in a feudal-style clan system and a decision by the government to set up well-armed village militias against Kurdish rebels.
"The modern...republic (of Turkey) was supposed to create a nation of citizens, but it has betrayed its ideals in the southeast," said Dogu Ergil, an academic and expert on Kurds.
"This is a combination of tribalism, love for guns and tradition gone awfully wrong," Ergil told Reuters.
Local residents said the feud within the extended Celebi family in Bilge dated back to a land conflict in the mid-1990s.
The attack, which witnesses said was carried out by several gunmen, came after the father decided to marry off his daughter to a man in the nearby city of Diyarbakir, passing over a groom from one part of the quarrelling Celebi family.
There are some 60,000 state-sponsored village guards throughout Turkey's southeast, who fight alongside state security forces against Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) rebels. Critics say the region is awash with guns.
Gareth Jenkins, an Istanbul-based analyst, said village guards have used their weapons many times to settle blood feuds.
Human rights groups have long called on the government to disband the village guards, whom they say are an unaccountable force; but disbanding them is not that easy.
"There are entire villages in the southeast where being a village guard is the only way of subsistence. The economy of entire villages is dependent on these forces so it's a serious social-economic problem as well," Jenkins said.
Critics say the state encouraged tribal loyalties by creating a system of state patronage to counter the rising influence of the separatist PKK guerrillas in the 1980s.
"The government committed the grave mistake of creating peace and order by setting up a system of local notables and giving them weapons," Ergil said.
The massacre in Bilge, and the culture that lay at its roots, will likely add grist to the mill to those in Europe who say Turkey is too poor and too backward to join the bloc.
The government has said it has improved the rights of women, especially in the conservative southeast, where honour killings are common, but Brussels wants more to be done.
"We are feeling a great sorrow as a nation. Such a primitive cruelty that opened deep cuts in our conscience is inexplicable," President Abdullah Gul said in a statement.
"Everybody should think seriously about tradition, blood feuds and animosity standing before human life in this era we are living in. Individual and institutional efforts should be made not to allow this kind of incident to happen again."
On Tuesday, bulldozers were busy in Bilge digging out graves to bury the dead as women wailed nearby in the rain.
"This village is cursed," a 19-year man said." (Additional reporting by Thomas Grove and Paul de Bendern; Writing by Ibon Villelabeitia; Editing by Ralph Boulton)
Turkey's Turn From the West
By Soner Cagaptay
The Washington Post
Monday, February 2, 2009
Turkey is a special Muslim country. Of the more than 50 majority-Muslim nations, it is the only one that is a NATO ally, is in accession talks with the European Union, is a liberal democracy and has normal relations with Israel. Under its current government by the Justice and Development Party (AKP), however, Turkey is losing these special qualities. Liberal political trends are disappearing, E.U. accession talks have stalled, ties with anti-Western states such as Iran are improving and relations with Israel are deteriorating. On Thursday, for example, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan walked out of a panel at Davos, Switzerland, after chiding Israeli President Shimon Peres for "killing people." If Turkey fails in these areas or wavers in its commitment to transatlantic structures such as NATO, it cannot expect to be President Obama's favorite Muslim country.
Consider the domestic situation in Turkey and its effect on relations with the European Union. Although Turkey started accession talks, that train has come to a halt. French objections to Turkish membership slowed the process, but the impact of the AKP's slide from liberal values cannot be ignored. After six years of AKP rule, the people of Turkey are less free and less equal, as various news and other reports on media freedom and gender equality show. In April 2007, for instance, the AKP passed an Internet law that has led to a ban on YouTube, making Turkey the only European country to shut down access to the popular site. On the U.N. Development Program's gender-empowerment index, Turkey has slipped to 90th from 63rd in 2002, the year the AKP came to power, putting it behind even Saudi Arabia. It is difficult to take seriously the AKP's claim to be a liberal party when Saudi women are considered more politically, economically and socially empowered than Turkish women.
Then there is foreign policy. Take Turkey's status as a NATO ally of the United States: Ankara's rapprochement with Tehran has gone so far since 2002 that it is doubtful whether Turkey would side with the United States in dealing with the issue of a nuclear Iran. In December, Erdogan told a Washington crowd that "countries that oppose Iran's nuclear weapons should themselves not have nuclear weapons."
The AKP's commitment to U.S. positions is even weaker on other issues, including Hamas. During the recent Israeli operations in Gaza, Erdogan questioned the validity of Israel's U.N. seat while saying that he wants to represent Hamas on international platforms. Three days before moderate Arab allies of Washington, including Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, gathered on Jan. 19 in Kuwait to discuss an end to the Gaza conflict, Erdogan's officials met with Iran, Syria and Sudan in Qatar, effectively upstaging the moderates. Amazingly, Turkey is now taking a harder line on the Arab-Israeli conflict than even Saudi Arabia.
For years, Turkey has had normal relations with Israel, including strong military, tourist, and cultural and commercial ties. The Turks did not emphasize religion or ideology in their relationship with the Jewish state, so Israelis felt comfortable visiting, doing business and vacationing in Turkey. But Erdogan's recent anti-Israeli statements -- he even suggested that God would punish Israel -- have made normal relations a thing of the past. On Jan. 4, 200,000 Turks turned out in freezing rain in Istanbul to wish death to Israel; on Jan. 7, an Israeli girls' volleyball team was attacked by a Turkish audience chanting, "Muslim policemen, bring us the Jews, so we can slaughter them."
Emerging anti-Semitism also challenges Turkey's special status. Anti-Semitism is not hard-wired into Turkish society -- rather its seeds are being spread by the political leadership. Erdogan has pumped up such sentiments by suggesting Jewish culpability for the conflict in Gaza and alleging that Jewish-controlled media outlets were misrepresenting the facts. Moreover, on Jan. 6, while demanding remorse for Israel's Gaza operations, Erdogan said to Turkish Jews, "Did we not accept you in the Ottoman Empire?" Turkey's tiny, well-integrated Jewish community is being threatened: Jewish businesses are being boycotted, and instances of violence have been reported. These are shameful developments in a land that has provided a home for Jews since 1492, when the Ottomans opened their arms to Jewish people fleeing the Spanish Inquisition. The Ottoman sultans must be spinning in their graves.
The erosion of Turkey's liberalism under the AKP is alienating Turkey from the West. If Turkish foreign policy is based on solidarity with Islamist regimes or causes, Ankara cannot hope to be considered a serious NATO ally. Likewise, if the AKP discriminates against women, forgoes normal relations with Israel, curbs media freedoms or loses interest in joining Europe, it will hardly endear itself to the United States. And if Erdogan's AKP keeps serving a menu of illiberalism at home and religion in foreign policy, Turkey will no longer be special -- and that would be unfortunate.
Soner Cagaptay, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, is the author of "Islam Secularism and Nationalism in Modern Turkey: Who Is a Turk?"
Bombing kills 5 in Turkish resort town
Two foreigners among dead; new attack raises alarm in nation's tourism industry.
The Associated Press
Sunday, July 17, 2005
The attack - the second to hit a resort town in under a week - caused alarm in Turkey's lucrative tourist industry, which had expected to welcome more than 20 million visitors this year and take in some $19.5 billion, a 50 percent increase over revenues in 2004.
European mission unearths torture claims in
· Reports follow launch of EU membership talks
· Ankara dismisses findings as 'silly stories'
Helena Smith in Athens
Monday October 10, 2005
A European parliament delegation visiting Turkey to check on its progress in human rights has found "shocking" reports of murders and mutilations, a British MEP said yesterday. The findings, which come a week after Brussels launched membership talks with Turkey, highlight the scale of progress the predominantly Muslim country needs to make in its quest to join the European Union.
Richard Howitt, part of the mission by the parliament's seven-member human rights subcommittee, told the Guardian: "What we heard was shocking. There were accounts of soldiers cutting off people's ears and tearing out their eyes if they were thought to be Kurdish separatist sympathisers ... You can't hear these things without being emotionally affected."
The MEP, Labour's European foreign affairs spokesman and a champion of Turkey's EU accession, said the abuses had been corroborated by human rights organisations. A trip by the group to Turkey's Kurdish-dominated south-east had also confirmed allegations that security forces were reverting to tactics from "the bad old days", although statistics showed that instances of torture had fallen by around 13% since last year. Indiscriminate shootings, widespread extrajudicial killings, arbitrary arrests and instances of masked men raiding homes in the night were reported to have made a comeback.
"Our sources were very credible and the evidence was corroborated by all the different groups we spoke to," said the MEP. "They left me in no doubt of the veracity of the claims."
But Turkey's foreign ministry spokesman, Namik Tan, called the claims "silly stories". "They are purely fictitious. They have nothing to do with the truth. You won't find anyone who is credible in Turkey saying such things."
Mr Howitt said that in September alone 95 people had been arbitrarily arrested in Van, a town near Iran. Among them was Yusuf Hasar, a 19-year-old suspected Kurdish rebel sympathiser whose body was found last week after being arrested by police the previous day. The violations have coincided with an upsurge of violence in Turkey's troubled south-east. Armed clashes have intensified since rebels lifted a unilateral ceasefire in June last year.
The delegation, whose findings will form the basis of a report that will feed into Turkey's membership negotiations, was equally appalled by reports of violence against women and allegations of body organs being removed by security forces. Mazumber, a group representing the relatives of torture victims, told the MEPs that vital organs were routinely removed from the bodies of ethnic Kurds, presumably as part of the illicit trade in people trafficking.
Mr Howitt said it was essential the abuses be confronted before Ankara got into the nitty-gritty of the talks.
Since assuming power in 2002, Ankara's modernising Islamist government has won plaudits for overhauling the penal code, abolishing the death penalty, dismantling once-dreaded state security prisons and increasing cultural rights for ethnic minorities. But Turkish human rights defenders still speak of a pervasive "culture of violence" in the country's police, security and judicial forces.
EU to highlight Turkish torture issue
By Andrew Rettman
Turkey must stop torture, allow freedom of
worship and limit the powers of the military in the next two years if it is to
join the EU by 2015, according to a draft European Commission proposal seen by
the Financial Times.
The paper on "principles, priorities and conditions" of Turkish EU membership contains 150 short-term targets for Ankara and will be finalised later this month.
The draft says Ankara must have "zero tolerance" against torture, must "adopt a law comprehensively addressing all the difficulties faced by non-Muslim religious minorities and communities ...establish full parliamentary oversight of military and defence policy" and "ensure the independence of the judiciary".
The new document will be used to guide negotiations once they get fully under way in late 2006 or in 2007.
The EU has already begun screening Turkish legislation for compliance with European law in the field of science, culture and education after agreeing to start accession talks on 3 October.
The negotiating mandate is one of the toughest ever imposed on a candidate country, giving member states wide scope to use national vetos in closing any of the 35 chapters of the membership process.
The mandate also states the EU can suspend talks if it finds "a serious and persistent breach...of the principles of liberty, democracy, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms and the rule of law".
The issue of European values is set to come to the fore in the accession process
due to its strong impact on public opinion in both Europe and Turkey.
Earlier this month, French president Jacques Chirac caused a stir by saying the country will have to undergo a "major cultural revolution" in order to join the EU.
Reports indicate that public support for EU membership is waning in Turkey itself, while a Eurobarometer study in September showed that just 35 percent of Europeans back Turkish accession and 84 percent believe Turkey must "respect systematically human rights" to move ahead.
Turkey adopted a new penal code abolishing the death penalty in June this year and has been a signatory of the European Convention on Human Rights since 1954.
But international human rights organisations continue to ask painful questions about the country's European credentials.
The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg upheld a ruling in May that the Kurdish minority leader Abdullah Ocalan was denied a free trial.
Amnesty International and Reporters Without Borders are also worried about article 301 of the new penal code, which forbids insults against the "symbols of the state's sovereignty and the honour of its organs" and could be used to gag the press.
The trial in December of Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk over his open discussion of Turkey's Kurdish and Armenian massacres last century will thrust the European values debate into the spotlight as well.
BERLIN -- The European Union official overseeing Turkey's admission to the 25-nation bloc warned yesterday that Turkey's prosecution of a bestselling author for insulting ''Turkishness" could damage the country's chances of joining the EU.
''It is not Orhan Pamuk who will stand trial, but Turkey," EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn said in an unusually blunt statement released in Brussels. ''This is a litmus test of whether Turkey is seriously committed to freedom of expression and to reforms that enhance the rule of law."
Pamuk, 53, Turkey's best-known novelist, is expected to go on trial today for stating in a Swiss magazine interview what most historians regard as unassailable facts: That some 1 million Armenians were slaughtered by Turks in the 1915-1918 genocide and that thousands of ethnic Kurds have lost their lives in more recent civil strife in modern Turkey.
The case has stirred outrage across Europe, where there is deepening opposition to allowing Turkey -- whose population is largely Muslim and whose landmass lies almost entirely in Asia -- to join an economic and political confederation whose most basic membership requirement is a commitment to democracy and to such values as freedom of speech.
Membership is considered vital to Turkey's economic future. The admission process is expected to take years.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel is among the European leaders opposed to granting admission to Turkey, partly because of the country's poor human rights record and wavering attitudes toward democratic principles, including the idea that citizens have a right to criticize the government and national institutions.
Such activist organizations as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have criticized Turkey for bringing criminal charges against Pamuk and dozens of other writers and scholars for allegedly defaming ''Turkishness and Turkish national institutions," usually for making public remarks about historical events considered strictly taboo.
The cases, brought by prosecutors, come even as the government in Ankara has proclaimed a greater dedication to individual freedoms in its effort to join the European Union.
''From the world-renowned poet Nazin Hikmet in the 1930s to Orhan Pamuk today, Turkish judges have prosecuted and imprisoned the country's greatest writers," Holly Cartner, director for Europe and Central Asia for Human Rights Watch, said in a statement from Istanbul. ''A Turkish judge has to make a truly strong declaration to prove those days are over."
But prosecutors appeared determined to press ahead with a high-profile prosecution despite the international uproar -- and despite the warnings from Europe. Rehn's statements marked the first time that the EU has unequivocally linked Turkey's hopes for EU membership to an attack on free speech that has drawn criticism across the Western world.
''The trial of a novelist who expressed a nonviolent opinion casts a shadow over the accession negotiations between Turkey and the EU," said Rehn, who is Finnish. ''Considering the number of recent prosecutions, it appears that [Turkey's] new penal code does not provide sufficient protection for freedom of expression."
Pamuk, author of such highly praised bestsellers as ''Snow" and ''My Name is Red," has had his works translated into 30 languages.
At least 60 other Turkish writers, scholars, and publishers presently face charges under Turkey's recently revised ''Article 301," according to Amnesty International. Among other things, the modified penal code makes it a criminal offense to criticize ''Turkishness," national institutions, or the founder of the republic, Mustafa Kemal -- known as ''Ataturk."
If convicted, Pamuk faces up to three years behind bars, although most analysts believe it extremely unlikely he will be imprisoned if found guilty in Sisly Primary Court No. 2 in Istanbul. But a guilty verdict -- even one accompanied by a paltry fine -- would send a shocking message to European nations watching closely as Turkey strives to modernize both its political system and its economy.
''Pamuk's conviction or a postponement of his trial would signal a serious reverse to recent reforms in Turkey," Cartner said.
Charges were brought against Pamuk after he angered Turkish nationalists, fundamentalist Muslims, and many ordinary Turks by saying in a February interview with Switzerland's Das Magazin weekly that ''thirty thousand Kurds and one million Armenians were killed in these lands."
Although few historians doubt that hundreds of thousands of Armenians were killed in Turkey, discussion of the topic remains largely off-limits in Turkey and the government denies that such a genocide occurred. The taboo was lifted slightly this year when Istanbul's Bilgi University hosted a cautious conference on the ''Armenian question" -- a gathering that triggered angry protests.
''What happened to the Ottoman Armenians in 1915 was a major thing that was hidden from the Turkish nation -- it was a taboo," Pamuk told the BBC. ''But we have to be able to talk about the past."
Pamuk's other allusion was to the killing of thousands of ethnic Kurds during clashes between Turkish armed forces and Kurdish insurgents in the 1980s and 1990s. The exact numbers of casualties remain unclear, and many Turkish civilians also died at the hands of avowed Kurdish ''freedom fighters," but there is no doubt many innocent lives were lost.
Many Turks, however, believe that Pamuk insulted the nation.
''He overstepped the mark," nationalist organizer Kemal Kerincsiz told Turkish reporters. ''Orhan Pamuk should not have played with history, and with the sentiments of Turks."
Shooting kills priest in Turkey
An Italian Catholic priest has been shot dead outside his church in north-east Turkey.
Police in the Black Sea port of Trabzon said they were searching for a teenage boy seen fleeing from the scene of the attack on Sunday.
It was unclear if the shooting was connected to widespread Muslim outrage over cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad.
Turkish broadcaster NTV identified the priest as Andrea Santore and said he died from a single shot to the chest.
Turkey has seen regular protests in recent days over the Danish caricatures of Muhammad.
Leaders of the overwhelmingly Muslim country have condemned the pictures, but have also called for calm.
The Istanbul-based Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, who is the spiritual head of the world's Orthodox Christians, and other non-Muslim clerics in Turkey have also criticised the images.
Several Italian newspapers have reprinted the pictures, saying they are defending freedom of expression.
Turkey restricts viewing of "Brokeback Mountain"
Associated Press, THE JERUSALEM POST
Mar. 16, 2006
Turkey's Culture Ministry has restricted the viewing of the Oscar-winning gay romance "Brokeback Mountain" to viewers over the age of 18, saying that the movie violated public morals, a ministry official said Thursday.
The restriction reflects the sensitivities in overwhelmingly Muslim Turkey, where homosexuality is largely a taboo subject.
The movie ratings subcommittee of the Culture and Tourism Ministry restricted the viewing of "Brokeback Mountain" before its opening in Turkey next Friday, the ministry official said on condition of anonymity. Turkish officials cannot speak to the press without prior authorization. The subcommittee ruled that the movie would harm public morals, the official said.
Majority of Turks Oppose Hijab Ban, Back Gov't
IslamOnline.net & News Agencies
ANKARA — The majority of Turks are satisfied with the performance of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's government and are opposed to the official ban on hijab in public offices and universities, according to a poll published on Wednesday, June 14.
The poll, conducted by Isik and Sabanci universities in Istanbul, found that two thirds of the 1,846 people polled in more than 20 towns and cities support Erdogan's efforts to ease hijab ban on students and civil servants, Reuters reported.
The mainly Muslim country of 72 million has a strongly secular political tradition. In 1997, President Ahmet Necdet Sezer issued a decree banning hijab in state-run institutions, including schools and universities. Hijab-donned women were also banned from frequenting any social clubs affiliated to the military institution. Even veiled journalists have been repeatedly prevented from covering news conferences inside government institutions. Many in Turkey's military, academic and judicial establishment view this ban as a key pillar of Turkey's secular order. Islam sees hijab as an obligatory code of dress, not a religious symbol displaying one’s affiliations.
The poll, conducted in March and April, showed that the majority of Turks were more conservative on social and moral issues. Three fifths of those interviewed attributed failure in life to a lack of religious faith. Nearly a third said boys and girls should be taught in separate classes at school. They also opposed allowing their Muslim daughters to marrying non-Muslims. Nearly half of the respondents said tourists spoil Turkish morality and harm its culture. They voiced unease with the spectacle of naked or near-naked tourists soaking up the sun at Turkish resorts. Nearly a third of those polled expressed dissatisfaction with the democratic process in the country. More than half said they were happy with the government of the ruling Justice and Development party.
Turkey faces a general election by November 2007. Forty percent of those polled said they would prefer a military-led government and nearly a third expressed dissatisfaction with the democratic process. Turkey's powerful armed forces traditionally rank as the institution most respected by Turks. The military has ousted democratically elected governments four times in the past 50 years but has seen its powers trimmed by EU-backed reforms.
The poll also confirmed falling support for joining the 25-member euro club, down to 57 percent from 74 percent a few years ago. The European Union and Turkey officially kickstarted on Monday, June 12, the long-awaited accession talks, the most important cornerstone of membership process, after EU foreign ministers overcame last-minute objections from Cyprus. Turkey has been trying to join the European club since the 1960s.
By Tulin Daloglu
May 9, 2006
ANKARA, Turkey. -- "Let those wearing
headscarves go to Arabistan," Turkey's former president, Suleyman Demirel, said
recently. Yet when I arrived in Ankara's Esenboga international airport last
week, I thought for a second that no unveiled women remained in the capital of
this Muslim nation. Hundreds were returning from umrah — visiting the sacred
lands in Saudi Arabia. Some even had black hijab, showing only a glimpse of
their eyes. The baggage claim was chaos, and at the exit gate the passengers
were outnumbered by nearly twice as many loved ones waiting to pick them up.
Most of them wore a shalwar — a very loose pant, with a skirt on top of it. All
wore dark colors.
It would have been a moment of truth if Mr. Demirel could see these people
arriving in their homeland rather than leaving it. When Turkish President Recep
Tayyip Erdogan was elected almost four years ago, he didn't bring them from
Arabistan; he just encouraged them not to hide any longer. I would argue that
even the black hijab is not a threat to the secular republic. It is, after all,
just a piece of fabric. The problem is the mindset that puts women under the
The problem is uneducated people pushing and shoving while doing something
simple like passing through passport control and collecting their bags. The
problem is men ordering women around: "stay," "don't move anywhere," "pick that
luggage up and bring it here."
Mr. Demirel should be the last person to advise any Turkish nationals to go
anywhere but Turkey. As one of the longest-serving public officials, he should
question how he and the politicians of his generation let the secular republic
down, jeopardizing the aim of Westernizing the country. He should question how
the first lady of the first revolutionary Muslim nation in the region was
accustomed not to shake men's hands because it is not religiously "appropriate,"
but advised to break that rule in the course of her state duties.
Turkey's so-called secular and Western politicians did not prioritize either
the education or the rule of law as they should have. They let the economy down
and introduced corruption. And they are exactly the ones who allowed political
Islam to emerge and are responsible for the backward image of women wearing
hijab and headscarves in today's Turkey.
While Turkey had its domestic troubles, Europe exploited its
vulnerabilities. Before awakening to the presence of radical Muslim terrorists
and ideology, European policies helped feed and encourage political Islam in
Turkey. After September 11, French President Jacques Chirac defended secularism
by banning all religious symbols from public and government places. Previously,
France slammed the Turkish Republic by challenging a Turkish deputy who wanted
to be sworn in while wearing her headscarf. Leyla Sahin, a medical student who
was expelled from Istanbul University in 1998 because she insisted on wearing
the headscarf to class, lost her appeal — in the aftermath of horrendous
terrorist attacks on America — when the European Court of Human Rights ruled
that the state has a right to protect the public's interest and its secular
However, before September 11, Europeans viewed political Islam differently
than the Turkish Republic that was trying to challenge it. They have a
different, Christian history. But the Islamists challenged the secular nature of
the new republic from day one. "All these problems do occur because of different
interpretations of the principles of secularism," Turkish Parliament spokesman
Bulent Arinc said recently.
Evidently, Europe's former approach to Islamist groups is partly responsible
for the confusion. Otherwise, the Turkish Republic's stand on the issue before
September 11 seem to be in perfect alliance with Europe's decisions after
September 11. Europe should have known that political Islam, conducted in the
absence of women, has an ideology quite different than the freedoms they pretend
to defend in the name of human rights or freedom of religion.
Before September 11, Europe condemned Turkey by not respecting freedom of
religious expression. Before September 11, they never dared question the
responsibilities of the religious elites being open-minded to the standards of
today's and tomorrow's education. They did not question the content of some
so-called religious practices and culture. What's more, Turkey's so-called
secular former presidents and prime ministers should question why Turkish
emigrants have trouble adjusting to the European way of life, and why the
Indians, with their distinct culture and religion, face no similar negative
tension in foreign societies. India is a rising power, from its nuclear journey
to its competition with Silicon Valley.
Turkey, however, is wasting time trying to solve the controversy over "a
piece of fabric" on women's heads. With women making up just 4 percent of
parliament's membership, men evidently make the final decisions over their
Failing a miracle that would take this matter out of the political arena,
there is no hope that the issue will be solved in a peaceful manner soon. The
question is, will the increasingly veiled masses be able to change the spirit of
the secular republic?
Tulin Daloglu is the Washington correspondent and columnist for Turkey's Star TV and newspaper. A former BBC reporter, she writes occasionally for The Washington Times.
A tense time for a papal visit
Turkey, which doesn't recognize the Roman Catholic Church, is still rankled by Benedict's comments on Islam.
By Tracy Wilkinson, Times Staff Writer
November 25, 2006
'It's a kind of preemptive intolerance: Don't let it flourish because it might take over. Everyone is afraid of something.'— Mustafa Akyol - Writer and expert on interfaith relations, on why the vast majority of the Turkish people mistrust Christianity.
ISTANBUL, TURKEY — To reach Turkey's most important
Roman Catholic church, a visitor must scour a traffic-choked street to find the
metal doors, walk down a flight of stairs, cross a courtyard and finally step
into the consecrated basilica.
Inside the Holy Spirit Cathedral here, the lights remain low until a minute before evening Mass, and then reveal frescoed ceilings with gold-trimmed arches, 22 crystal chandeliers and blond-marble columns. On this night, 14 worshipers dot the pews.
In the Turkish capital, Ankara, the only Catholic church is even more discreet: It is marked simply by a French flag.
When Pope Benedict XVI travels to Turkey next week, he will be making his first trip to a predominantly Muslim country at a moment of diplomatic fragility.
He also will be traversing some of the most ancient and revered milestones of Christianity, in a land where Christianity is disappearing and where non-Muslim minorities complain of systemic discrimination, harassment and violence against them.
It is a complex agenda. The pope's main purpose is to meet with the Istanbul-based spiritual leader of the world's 250 million Eastern Orthodox Christians in a show of ecumenical solidarity. But he must also use the visit to attempt to repair the damage from comments he has made that cast Islam in a negative light.
Among Turkey's nearly 70 million Muslims, reaction to Benedict's visit ranges from disinterest to intense anger. A man opened fire early this month on the Italian Consulate in Istanbul, telling police later that he wanted to "strangle" the pope. A nationalist gang called the Gray Wolves is staging regular demonstrations protesting the pontiff's arrival.
Among the estimated 100,000 Christians who live in Turkey, there is hope that Benedict's presence will cast light on their difficulties.
The Roman Catholic Church is not legally recognized in Turkey. It functions largely attached to foreign embassies; its priests do not wear their collars in public.
Most Christians in Turkey are of the Armenian, Greek and other Orthodox denominations, and although most of these are recognized in the Turkish Constitution as minority communities, they face severe restrictions on property ownership and cannot build places of worship or run seminaries to train their clerics.
Such hardships make it almost impossible for Christians to sustain and expand their communities, advocates say. The Greek Orthodox, for example, have dwindled to no more than 3,000, just 2% of the community's size in the 1960s.
Fueled by a vitriolic, and growing, potion of nationalism and Islamic radicalism, spasms of violence have led to the killing of one priest this year, the beatings of two others and the burning of a Christian prayer center. Christian tombstones are often vandalized and property frequently confiscated by authorities.
Turkey has come under repeated criticism from Western human rights organizations and the Vatican for its failure to promote religious freedom. Turkey is an Islamic but secular country; in reality, this means that all religious activity, including mosques and imams, is controlled by the government.
"Obviously, more needs to be done to promote religious freedom for all denominations," Ali Bardakoglu, president of Turkey's powerful Religious Affairs Directorate, said in an interview. But he defended the government's treatment of minorities, contending that Christians and other non-Muslims do not face serious problems.
Bardakoglu was one of the most emphatic critics of Benedict after the pope delivered a speech in Regensburg, Germany, in September that denounced Islamic violence and quoted a medieval Byzantine emperor who disdained Islam and its prophet, Muhammad. Adding insult to injury, as far as many Turks were concerned, the emperor was defending Constantinople, cradle of Orthodox Christianity, against the Muslim conquest that gave the city its name today: Istanbul.
Bardakoglu said the pope was welcome in Turkey despite the speech, which touched off outrage throughout the Muslim world. And although he said he accepted Benedict's subsequent explanations, Bardakoglu did not appear completely appeased.
"It is unfortunate that there are circles within Western society that attempt to blacken the name of our religion and are infected with Islamophobia," he said. "The role of the Vatican and the pope should be to help fight stereotypes. Rather than open debate, they should be seeking to heal wounds."
In a remarkable gesture, the pope will meet with Bardakoglu, the country's top religious figure, at his ministry, a modern, imposing building on Ankara's outskirts, on the first day of his Turkey visit. Bardakoglu's directorate commands a huge budget and oversees all of Turkey's imams.
Originally, the Vatican expected Bardakoglu to call on the pope at the Vatican Embassy, as protocol would have dictated. But the Turks refused. After a series of negotiations, the pope agreed to go to Bardakoglu. "It is a gesture of goodwill," a senior Vatican official said.
The pope's controversial presence in Turkey represents a balancing act for the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, which regards itself a vital bridge between the West and East, a way for Westerners to deal with a modern and democratic Islam. But it also cannot appear too cozy with a pontiff who, in the view of many, is not fond of Muslims or Turks.
Erdogan is not scheduled to receive
Benedict, citing a previous commitment to attend a NATO summit in Latvia on
Tuesday and Wednesday. And there is no plan for the prime minister to see him
off when the pope departs Dec. 1.
Both the Vatican and Turkish officials said this was not a snub, but Erdogan told visiting reporters in Istanbul last month, "You can't expect me to arrange my timetable according to the pope."
The frictions are rooted in history. The Ottoman Empire, which ruled the region for more than six centuries, was relatively tolerant of Jews, Christians and other non-Muslims. But before and during World War I, Western powers collaborated with Christian and other minorities to bring down the Ottomans. In the carnage that followed, as many as 1.5 million Armenians were slaughtered, a similar number of ethnic Greeks expelled and 1 million Turks deported from Greece.
The 1923 Lausanne Treaty founded the Republic of Turkey and recognized minorities. But deep mistrust persists, and even today among ardent nationalists, Christians are seen as a potential fifth column.
"It's a kind of preemptive intolerance: Don't let it flourish because it might take over," said Mustafa Akyol, a writer and expert on interfaith relations. "Everyone is afraid of something."
Akyol, a Muslim, said he once wrote a column advocating that the museum of St. Sophia, or Aya Sofya, in Istanbul be returned to its original use, that of a church. The response was harsh: He was threatened and castigated as a "secret Greek." The pope is scheduled to visit St. Sophia, built in the 6th century as a Byzantine church and converted to a mosque in the 15th century by the Ottomans.
The mere rumor that the pope might say a prayer at the site has led to a bit of hysteria. Islamic newspaper Milli Gazete, in a front-page commentary last week, lashed out at the government for permitting the "Crusaders" to plan to bless the former church in a brazen attempt to "revive Byzantium."
For their part, Turkish officials have sought to minimize the pontiff's main mission on this trip: to worship alongside Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, head of the world's Orthodox Christians. The coming together of the two religious leaders is meant as a bridging of the 1,000-year-old rift between the two ancient branches of Christianity.
Such frictions notwithstanding, Turkey, compared with many Muslim countries, is relatively hospitable to non-Muslims. But its failure to make more progress on freedom-of-religion issues has been an important stumbling block in its years-long campaign to join the European Union.
It is EU pressure that has nudged Ankara along in easing some of the restrictions on minorities; for example, a Protestant group in Istanbul has for the first time been allowed to open a church.
"The EU reforms give people a sense of hope that there is light at the end of the tunnel," said Greek Orthodox Father Alexander Karloutsos. "It's been very dark here."
Turks near coup
By MARTIN WALKER
UPI Editor Emeritus
April 30, 2007
WASHINGTON, April 30 (UPI) -- Turkey is currently one of the most important hubs of the diplomatic universe. Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf flew in for the weekend for fence-mending talks with his neighbor, Afghan President Hamid Karzai. They might just be in time to witness a military coup.
The Turks have also been playing a crucial role in the discreet talks about a new dialogue between Iran and the United States, and last week hosted a meeting between the European Union's top diplomat, Javier Solana, and Ali Larijani, secretary of the Supreme National Security Council of Iran, underlining Turkey's growing diplomatic profile. Both Solana and Larijani made a point of praising Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul for his diplomacy and publicly welcomed his candidacy to become Turkey's new president.
And yet half a million Turks took to the streets Sunday to protest Gul's candidacy, just as 300,000 had been on the streets a week earlier to protest the prospect of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan becoming the next president.
Even more ominously, the Turkish military has signaled its own deep disapproval of either Erdogan or Gul getting the top job because, despite the overwhelming electoral mandate of their AK (Justice and Development) Party, the two politicians are moderate Islamists.
Gul's wife, Hayrunissa, wears a headscarf, a controversial symbol of her faith in a Turkey that was founded and run as a completely secular state. And the Turkish military, which has mounted three coups in the last 35 years, sees itself as the custodian of the country's secular constitution as laid down by the founder of modern Turkey, Kemal Ataturk.
"It is observed that some circles who have been carrying out endless efforts to disturb fundamental values of the Republic of Turkey, especially secularism, have escalated their efforts recently," said a formal statement from the Turkish military last week. "The problem that emerged in the presidential election process is focused on arguments over secularism. Turkish Armed Forces are concerned about the recent situation.
"It should not be forgotten that the Turkish Armed Forces are a party in those arguments, and absolute defender of secularism," the statement went on. "Also the Turkish Armed Forces (are) definitely opposed to those arguments and negative comments. It will display its attitude and action openly and clearly whenever it is necessary."
And yet Erdogan's government has been one of the most successful in modern Turkish history. The economy is booming. The EU has accepted Turkey as a candidate for membership and opened formal accession negotiations. Turkey, a veteran NATO member, has peacekeeping troops in Lebanon, has good relations with Iran and Israel and also with much of the Arab world, and in general has played a highly responsible role in the region.
All of this is now at risk in the growing row over the next presidency. Erdogan backed away from the post after seeing the scale of the opposition to him, and possibly recalling his own time in prison after what the military saw as an inflammatory Islamist speech. (He had quoted a poem that included the lines: "the minarets shall be our bayonets.") As a result, the internationally popular and very diplomatic Foreign Minister Gul became the presidential candidate, and the AK Party's dominance should easily ensure him the required 367 votes in the 550-seat parliament.
At least that was the case until the military spoke, until the secular
opposition parties boycotted a parliamentary vote that would have seen Gul
installed, and until the 500,000 pro-secular demonstrators took to the streets
Turkey is now in the throes of a full-blown political crisis, and a military coup cannot be ruled out.
"The president must be loyal to secular principles. If I am elected, I will act accordingly," Gul pledged at his nomination for the presidency.
The problem for secular Turks is that a Gul presidency would mean that the Islamists, however moderate and pro-democracy, would control the presidency, the government, the parliament and the judiciary -- appointed by the president. That would leave only the military as a bastion of traditional secular values.
"Turkey is secular and will remain secular," chanted the hundreds of thousands who protested in Istanbul Sunday. Significantly, they also chanted: "We want neither Sharia, nor a coup, but a fully democratic Turkey."
The opposition parties, and also the military, apparently want the country's Constitutional Court to intervene and call for new elections. The likelihood is that Erdogan and Gul would win another majority in Parliament, although possibly not enough to secure the two-thirds vote required to elect a president.
That could mean a compromise. But it would be a compromise secured through a threat of military intervention, casting a dark shadow over Turkey's democratic credentials and giving a strong boost to those in the EU who oppose Turkish entry. And that would leave Turkey with few places to turn but back to the Middle East and the Islamic world. The West is left with the unhappy choice of welcoming a moderate Islamist Turkey living under constant threat of military coup or losing one of its few friends in a dangerous neighborhood.
There is one other option, which could be even uglier. Some Turkish observers speculate that the military might drop its opposition to Gul's presidency if they are given the green light to crush the renewed threat of Kurdish nationalism and the prospect of a sovereign Kurdish state that could attract their own Kurdish minority. This would mean an invasion of northern Iraq, where the autonomous Kurdish provinces are one of the few success stories of modern Iraq. Of all three options, this could be the most dangerous.
Plotters seized as tension mounts in Turkey
(CNN-July 1, 2008) -- Political tensions rose Tuesday across Turkey as police seized two retired generals, a prominent journalist and others accused of plotting to overthrow the government and prosecutors undertook a court case to ban the Islamic-rooted ruling party.
The developments dramatize the sharp and serious political tensions between the country's Islamic-rooted ruling party -- the Justice and Development Party, or AKP -- and its outspoken critics from the nation's secularist establishment.
Since autumn, police have been arresting and jailing people accused of being part of Ergenekon, an alleged plot to overthrow the government. During the effort, there has been harassment of journalists, and news reports have said many people are being held without charge.
On Tuesday, police made 22 arrests in Ankara, Istanbul, Antalya and Trabzon, according to Turkey's semi-official Anadolu Agency, which said its information came from prosecutors. Three other people were being sought, the agency said.
Those seized include former generals Hursit Tolon and Sener Eruygur; Mustafa Balbay of the Cumhuriyet newspaper; Sinan Aygun, leader of the Ankara Trade Organization; and Ecument Ovali, a college professor. The newspaper said police conducted a search at its Ankara headquarters.
This came hours before a Turkish prosecutor presented evidence in a court case that would ban the AKP because of its alleged involvement in what prosecutors call anti-secularist activities, such as its failed support for toppling the ban on Muslim headscarf at universities.
Turkish secularists believe the AKP is intent on undermining the secular constitution and nature of the modern Turkish state and on intimidating political opposition. The popularly elected AKP believes the effort to disband the party is a political move and says it is promoting democracy and pursuing goals that would bring Turkey into the European Union.
This is the second time Cumhuriyet has been targeted with accusations of involvement in Ergenekon. In the spring, police briefly held the newspaper's editor, Ilhan Selcuk.
"We spoke with our lawyers after Balbay was taken away ... about these operations happening now as the chief prosecutor, Abdurrahman Yalcinkaya, started presenting his verbal explanations in the constitutional court," Arcayurek said.
"We don't know if this is a special treatment, or a coincidence. But I can say on behalf of everyone at Cumhuriyet newspaper, including editor in chief Ilhan Selcuk, we cannot be guilty of anything else but loving our country very much and protecting its rights. They cannot find anything else against us."
Turkey, a strong U.S. ally and NATO member, is a democratic state and has long been regarded as a bridge from Asia and Europe and from the West to the Muslim world.
Although it is a predominantly Muslim nation, Turkey has taken the trappings of religion out of public life, in accordance with the policies of Kemal Ataturk, the revered founder of the modern Turkish republic.
Ovali made reference to Ataturk when he spoke to reporters watching him being detained in Trabzon.
"I am being found guilty of loving Ataturk and the republic," he said.
Wolfgang Piccolo, an analyst for the Eurasia Group, said in a report Tuesday that the timing of the arrests and the high profile of those seized reflects the political nature of the Ergenekon probe.
"Coming a few hours before the first hearing in the closure case against the AKP, the arrests will further reinforce the already widely shared impression in Turkey that the operation is part of the power struggle between the AKP and the hard-line secularists, most notably the military," he said.
6 Die in Attack on U.S. Post in Turkey
New York Times
By ALAN COWELL and SEBNEM ARSU
July 10, 2008
PARIS — A group of unidentified gunmen opened fire on Turkish security guards outside the United States Consulate in Istanbul on Wednesday, the Turkish authorities said, and at least three police officers and three assailants were killed in a brief gun battle. Officials said that a fourth assailant escaped.
The late-morning attack was the first on a diplomatic mission in the city since 2003 when 62 people were killed in assaults on the British consulate, a bank and two synagogues. While the motives behind this attack were not immediately clear, Turkish officials described the gunmen as terrorists.
“Turkey struggles and will struggle against the mentalities that organize and stand behind these attacks until the very end,” President Abdullah Gul said in a statement. “Everyone, after all, has seen that nothing can be achieved through terror.”
In a televised news conference, Istanbul’s governor, Muammer Guler, said one of the police officers died at the scene and two others died of bullet wounds in a hospital. One of the officers was part of the consulate security detail, while the other two were traffic police officers. Another police officer and a tow-truck driver were also wounded.
“Three policemen were martyred and three attackers were killed,” Mr. Guler said. He added later that, while the authorities were waiting for final confirmation of the identity of the assailants, all three were believed to be Turkish citizens. Ross Wilson, the United States ambassador in Turkey, said that none of the dead or injured were Americans.
Later, the Turkish interior minister, Besir Atalay, said that two of the slain attackers had been traced through their fingerprints. Speaking to the Anatolian news agency, he identified them as Erkan Kargin, 26, from the eastern town of Bitlis, and Cinar Bulent. Both, he said, had records of petty crime.
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