Archive for the ‘Kurdistan’ Category

Turkey: Kurdish politicians charged over Abdullah Ocalan appeal

Turkey has charged more than one 100 Kurdish politicians for demanding better conditions for the imprisoned ex-rebel leader, Abdullah Ocalan.

Prosecutors said the demand, which the 98 former mayors and eight other politicians signed two years ago, constituted terrorist propaganda.

They could face up to 20 years in jail.

Tension has grown since Kurdish politicians declared autonomy in the south-east last month and PKK rebels killed 13 Turkish soldiers in clashes.

Abdullah Ocalan has been serving a life sentence in a prison on an island near Istanbul.

He was originally sentenced to death in 1999, but that sentence was commuted to life imprisonment three years later.

A court in the capital, Ankara, announced on Wednesday that the Kurdish politicians would be tried in the south-eastern city of Diyarbakir.

Another 152 Kurdish politicians are already on trial in the city for alleged ties to the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party).

Any expression of support for the rebels, however mild, can be construed as a criminal offence in Turkey, the BBC’s Jonathan Head reports from Istanbul.

Tone changes

Among the latest batch of Kurdish politicians being charged are some who have done no more than call for improved living conditions for Ocalan, he notes.

But the sheer number now on trial – including respected community leaders – is a source of anger in much of the Kurdish south-east, our correspondent says.

The announcement of more trials came just 24 hours after a popular Kurdish politician elected to parliament last month was given a two-year sentence on similar charges.

Another elected MP was barred from taking his seat because of an outstanding sentence.

Kurdish leaders say the mass trials make a mockery of the government’s claim that it wants to find a peaceful solution to the conflict in the south-east, which has claimed more than 40,000 lives.

But the recent upsurge of PKK armed activity seems to have hardened the government’s attitude, and there is no longer any talk of possible negotiations with Ocalan, our correspondent adds.

BBC

Turkey

3 August 2011

Jailed journalists write for freedom in Turkey

Dozens of Turkish journalists writing for the Tutuklu Gazete newspaper have very personal reasons to be concerned about media freedom in their EU-candidate country. They are all in jail.

From prison cells across Turkey, they contributed articles to a special edition protesting against restrictions on freedom of expression, which have drawn criticism from the United States and Europe.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton voiced concern about the issue on a visit to Istanbul this month, saying it was not in Turkey’s interest to be “cracking down”.

A report by the Council of Europe, an intergovernmental pan-European human rights body, has called for urgent measures to address a “particularly worrying” situation for media freedom.

Writing from jail in the south-eastern city of Diyarbakir, Kurdish newspaper editor Vedat Kursun says it is particularly tough for journalists who write about a 27-year-old Kurdish separatist insurgency in which more 40,000 people have died.

“Journalists in this country have been put in a situation where they virtually can’t practice their profession. They always feel the cold breath of the authorities on their neck,” he wrote in Tutuklu Gazete, published as a free supplement in leftist Turkish newspapers on Sunday.

Kursun was sentenced to 166 years in jail for membership of the militant Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), viewed by the U.S. and EU as a terrorist group. He, like other journalists, says he was only convicted for articles in his newspaper.

Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan rejects such an argument, saying journalists are not in jail because of what they wrote. They are generally prosecuted under widely implemented laws against membership of terrorist groups or spreading their propaganda.

Since coming to power in 2002, Erdogan’s government has earned praised internationally for political reforms aimed at bringing Turkey in line with European Union political norms, and for liberalising an economy that now ranks among the fastest-growing in the world.

However, the ruling AK Party, which polled 50 percent of the vote to win a third term in power in parliamentary elections in June, also faces accusations of trying to tame the media and smother opposition to its power.

Turkey has fallen to 138th out of 178 countries reviewed for the World Press Freedom Index by Reporters without Borders, a media freedom pressure group, from 101st in 2007 due to the proliferation of lawsuits.

OTTOMAN ABOLITION OF CENSORSHIP

Tutuklu Gazete’s publication date of July 24 was symbolic. It marked the anniversary of the official abolition of censorship in the Ottoman Empire under Sultan Abdul Hamid II at the time of the Young Turks revolution in 1908.

“Resistance to Censorship,” the newspaper proclaimed in a front-page headline above a picture of people protesting against media restrictions at a demonstration attended by thousands in Istanbul earlier this year.

The Turkish Journalists Union (TGS), which organised the project, says the paper is part of a year-old campaign to secure the release of 70 jailed journalists and prompt changes in the anti-terrorism laws.

“If journalists are prosecuted on charges of being terrorists due to their professional activities, it means there must be a mistake in those laws and they must be changed,”  says TGS Chairman Ercan Ipekci.

“We hope public opinion will be influenced by these articles and that this wave of public opinion will hit parliament and that it will make the necessary changes in the laws,” he said.

The organisers wrote to all the jailed journalists about the project and published articles from 39 of them. For now, there are no plans for further editions of the paper.

COUP PLOT ALLEGATIONS

While charges of links to the PKK predominate in the prosecution of reporters, some of the journalists in jail are among hundreds of people detained over a series of alleged coup plots against Erdogan’s government.

Among them is the Kanalturk television channel founder Tuncay Ozkan, who has been in jail since September 2008 charged with seeking to overthrow the government in a trial which is still continuing. He says his opposition to the ruling AK Party is the reason for his prosecution.

“I was jailed for conducting my profession without compromise, for exercising my right to freedom of thought and dissidence,” Ozkan said in an article written from Silivri prison, near Istanbul in northwest Turkey.

TGS says journalists are the subjects of some 4,000 investigations. Many of those are for articles about the alleged anti-government plots of the shadowy “Ergenekon” network since the investigation was launched four years ago. Some 2,000 cases have been opened against reporters.

Well-known journalist Ahmet Slk was detained earlier this year. The co-author of a book about Ergenekon, Slk faces a jail sentence of up to four years on a charge of “violating the secrecy of an investigation”.

Turkey has long faced criticism from campaigners over its human rights record. Writers including Nobel prize winner Orhan Pamuk and slain Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink were prosecuted under laws restricting freedom of expression.

A Reporters Without Borders report in June called on Turkish authorities to boost the status of journalistic principles in the law to counterbalance the protection of legal confidentiality, state security and personal privacy.

“A legislative straitjacket continues to stifle journalists,” the report said.

“Reporting of some topics is still routinely punished by the courts. Journalists are arrested and tried for doing their job or expressing an opinion,” it said.

Daren Butler

July 28, 2011

Reuters

Iran Revolutionary Guard Invades Iraq

Units of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard have crossed the border into Iraq. Their mission – to attack, disable and destroy military bases belonging to PEJAK, a Kurdish militant group. Accusing PEJAK of being a terrorist organization, Tehran has taken it upon themselves to do what the US backed Iraqi regime refuses to do – crack down on armed militants on the Iraqi side of the Iranian border.

The Kurds have been fighting for their independence and sovereignty since their nation of Kurdistan was officially taken away by the League of Nations back in 1925. Coerced into fighting on the side of the neighboring Ottoman Turks during World War 1, the Kurds found themselves on the losing side of peace negotiations. Their country was split four ways between Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria.

For decades, Kurdish fighters have fought pitched battles against all four governments in an attempt to regain their country. In 1988, Iraqi forces launched one of the worst chemical weapons attacks in history against their own Kurdish citizens. 5,000 were killed while 10,000 were injured and thousands more would die later from their wounds.

As recently as 2009, Iranian troops clashed with Kurdish freedom fighters along the same Iraqi border. In that engagement, Kurdish fighters had gained the upper hand until helicopter gun ships reinforced Iranian infantry. Clashes between the Kurds and Iran’s Revolutionary Guard are common and can last for days. Such is the case this week.

The pro-Kurdish group SupportKurds.org has been reporting the action in detail since the second day. The group announced they were receiving first hand accounts of the fighting from multiple eye witnesses. News has been slow to trickle out of the desolate region of northeast Iraq.

According to a report published in Whiteout Press, Kurdish rebels claim they’ve killed 120 Iranian soldiers including 2 high-ranking officers. PEJAK spokesmen put their own casualties at a mere 7 killed with 4 wounded over the three days of fighting. SupportKurds.org also announced, “Today, the Iranian Army continued bombarding the areas of Suni, Ali Rese, Dole Koke, Sehit Ayhan, Sehit Harun and high mountains in the surrounding areas of Zele.  Eye-witnesses say the Iranian army is preparing to continue their attacks.”

The Iranian News Agency is telling a somewhat different story. “Three bases in Iraqi territory were providing assistance to the terrorists. All the bases have fallen into the hands of our forces” AP reports Revolutionary Guard Colonel Delavar Ranjbarzadeh as saying. He went on to say that the Kurds had suffered, “a heavy and historic defeat.”

While the results of the past three days of fighting are in dispute, one thing that is agreed upon by both sides is that the fighting will continue. Iranian spokesmen report the presence of 5,000 troops on and along the Iraqi border, many of which are involved in the fighting. It is not known how long Tehran intends to occupy the Kurdish territory inside Iraq. Kurdish rebels will continue to try and repulse the invaders while Baghdad appears to be staying out of the conflict.

Mark Wachtler

Independent Examiner

July 21, 2011

“A book is not a bomb”

Reporters Without Borders urged the Turkish government today to prove it supports the media freedom it proclaimed during the recent election campaign.

The appeal came in a report called “Media and justice in Turkey – mistrust and repression” after recent fact-finding visits by the worldwide media freedom organisation to investigate the hounding and prosecution of journalists by the country’s police and courts.

Despite significant advances in freedom of expression, journalists are still arrested and tried for doing their job or expressing an opinion, their documents seized and their sources tracked down, the report said. Journalistic principles are still poorly guaranteed by law while a wide range of legislation continues to prevent many topics being reported.

The few guarantees that do exist are too often swept away by the judiciary’s repressive habits and paranoia. Journalists have also been victims of the sharp political polarisation during the election campaign and the present fierce struggle for control of all state institutions.

“On Saturday, investigative journalists Ahmet Sik and Nedim Sener will have been in prison for 100 days. Major demonstrations to support them are planned, showing that media freedom is not just an election slogan. Turkish civil society is protesting as never before that these violations of freedom are very serious. The protests call for an immediate response from the government,” Reporters Without Borders said.

“The authorities are politically responsible for the judiciary’s hounding of journalists. This undermines the government’s claim to be a regional democratic model. The authorities therefore need to start a frank and open dialogue with journalists and with the country’s international partners.”

At a press conference in Istanbul on 19 April, Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Jean-François Julliard pointed to a number of taboos for which journalists are being prosecuted if they violate them. Unfortunately, this has continued, with plenty of examples in just the past two weeks.

The longstanding taboo of discussing and reporting on the armed forces has eased but the judiciary and police are still out of bounds for journalists, especially as these institutions are both judges and interested parties.

Reporting of legal matters is thus the main cause of prosecution of journalists, based on the Penal Code’s article 285 (legal confidentiality) and 288 (trying to influence the result of a trial). Journalists Nedim Sener and Hasan Cakkalkurt (of Milliyet) and Aysegül Usta (of Hürriyet) appeared before the second chamber of the magistrates court in Bakirköy (Istanbul) on 2 June for “violating legal confidentiality.” It is the ninth trial for Sener, who has been in prison since 3 March in connection with the wide-ranging Ergenekon case.

Criticism of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government is tolerated less and less, as shown by the trial of Ahmet Altan, director of the daily Taraf, that began on 9 June. He faces two years and eight months in prison for “offending the person of the prime minister” after criticising him in two articles in January for ordering the destruction of an unfinished statue symbolising the rapprochement between Turkey and Armenia. He described Erdogan as “a shallow person.”

The Kurdish issue is still the hardest one for journalists to tackle because of the judiciary’s repressive reliance on the outdated Anti-Terror Law and repressive articles of the Penal Code.

The country’s only Kurdish-language daily, Azadiya Welat, was suspended again (for the ninth time) on 13 June for 15 days and all copies ordered seized for supposedly printing “propaganda for a terrorist organisation.”

The paper’s former editor, Vedat Kursun, was sentenced on appeal to 10 and a half years in prison for this offence on 9 June. He has been imprisoned in Diyarbakir for the past two and a half years and had been sentenced by a lower court to 166 years in jail.

Ercan Atay, of the paper Batman Gazetesi, was sentenced to 37 days in prison on 7 June for quoting in an article a statement by a member of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). This was described by the court as “praising a criminal” and resembles many cases cited in the present report.

Reporters Without Borders calls on the Turkish judiciary to study urgently the lists of imprisoned journalists complied by the Freedom for Journalists platform (GÖP) and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and release immediately and unconditionally all those only jailed for doing their job. Reporters Without Borders has identified at least five such cases and there are undoubtedly many more but the secrecy of the judiciary makes it hard to identify them.

The Anti-Terror Law and the repressive articles of the Penal Code must be abolished or thoroughly revised to comply with international agreements ratified by Turkey that guarantee freedom of expression. The judiciary must change its attitude to the media, stop lumping together journalists and “terrorists” and allow the media to regulate itself more.

“Turkey is at a crossroads,” Reporters Without Borders said. “Progress towards democracy over the past decade has been impressive but is incomplete and fragile. The latest attacks on journalists show that a return to the past is possible at any moment. The ruling JDP/AKP’s easy election victory should reassure the country’s leaders and show them they have nothing to fear from allowing freedom of expression. The government must now prove it is still determined to carry out the democratic reforms demanded by Turks.”

Reporters Without Borders

21 June 2011

New Hope For Turkey’s Kurds – Analysis

The surprise of Turkey’s parliamentary elections was not that the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) effectively won its third term of single-party rule by sweeping 49.89 percent of the national vote. The most unexpected, under-reported and encouraging aspect of this election was the 5.9 percent of national votes won by the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP). These votes, augmented by the independent candidates supported by the BDP, secure the party an unprecedented 36 seats in parliament. This ensures the Kurds a say in the drafting of a civilian constitution which holds the potential of changing the very conception of Turkey’s national identity.

Drafting a civilian constitution to replace one rooted in the 1980 military coup is the most urgent task of the new parliament. Most Western commentary has focused on the risk that Prime Minister Erdogan might use the constitutional revisions to undermine secularism. But in fact a new constitution could consolidate Turkish democracy and also finally afford basic rights to the Kurds, the country’s largest and most politically active minority group. The current Turkish constitution is based on a Kemalist notion of Turkish national identity, which is homogeneous and leaves no room for ethnic and religious difference. Kurds, who have been essentially considered second-class citizens since the founding of the Turkish Republic, reject the Kemalist ethno-centric definition of Turkish citizenship and demand a more inclusive understanding that recognizes Kurdish identity.

Turkey

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in his first speech after the elections, promised that the new civilian constitution will embrace all of Turkey’s ethnic and religious groups. The new parliamentary makeup provides the opportunity to make it so. In Sunday’s elections, the AKP fell just short of a parliamentary majority necessary to unilaterally amend the constitution without support from other parties. This means that the AKP will have to cooperate with the other parties on drafting and ratifying a new constitution. The ultra-nationalist Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), Kemalist Republican People’s Party (CHP), and pro-Kurdish BDP will have to come together to define a new understanding of citizenship that challenges the rigid Kemalist notion and adopt a liberal stance that acknowledges Turkey’s ethnic, linguistic, religious, and cultural diversity. It is not clear whether a liberal consensus among these ideologically disparate parties will be possible. Since the MHP and the BDP are on opposite ends of the political spectrum on the issue of national identity, the AKP and the CHP will have to lead the process of building consensus.

Both the AKP and the CHP addressed the Kurdish question in their election manifestos, but define the issue as a matter of individual, rather than collective rights. This distinction is particularly observable in the context of the Kurdish language, a flashpoint in the debate on Kurdish rights and a key theme of the Kurd’s political agenda. The AKP and CHP support Kurdish demands to speak their language but oppose Kurdish being the second official language of Turkey. For Kurds, demanding the right to speak Kurdish is an important first step toward the articulation of Kurdish identity but not sufficient to guarantee the survival of the Kurdish culture on the whole. Kurdish demands for education or public services in Kurdish are part of their claim for the survival of Kurdish cultural practices and denying the collective dimension of the Kurdish question will intensify the political and ethnic isolation of the Kurds.

The BDP will play an important role in communicating Kurdish demands and shaping the new parliament’s approach to the problem. With 36 parliamentarians headed to Ankara, the Kurds have a clear mandate to work toward a solution within a democratic framework. But they will not settle for a few cosmetic changes that disregard the collective nature of the issue; they want more than to be able to speak Kurdish which is already a de facto component of public life in the Kurdish majority parts of the country. People speak Kurdish in their daily interactions, in courtrooms and in public institutions. They want these practices to become their constitutional rights and ensure the survival of their culture.

Turkish democracy is at a critical juncture and the AKP has a golden opportunity to undo decades of assimilationist policies, military coups, party closures and build the basis of a multicultural democracy. For that to happen, the AKP and the CHP have to drop their nationalist rhetoric they used throughout their election campaigns and offer a liberal alternative to the ultra nationalist MHP and the BDP. Turkey can only lead with a stronger democracy in a region where the call for freedom, equality and democracy is stronger than ever

Gonul Tol is the Director for the Center for Turkish Studies at the Middle East Institute.

This article originally appeared in Foreign Policy online on June 15, 2011

Sherko Bekes: Three Poems

Stormtide

The tide said to the fisherman:

There are many reasons

why my waves are in a rage.

The most important is

that I am for the freedom of the fish

and against

the net

Statue

The day will come

When all the lamps in this world

will rebel

and refuse to light up anymore,

because ever since they have existed

their eyes have been shining

above the heads of thousands of statues

in this world,

but not a single statue

has been erected

for Edison.

Seeds

We were millions

we were old trees

newly growing plants

and seeds.

From the helmet of Ankara

they came at dawn

they uprooted us

they took us away

far away.

On the way the heads of

many old trees drooped

many new plants died in the cold

many seeds were trampled under foot

lost and forgotten

We grew thin like the summer river

we diminished like flocks of birds

towards the time of autumn

we diminished to mere thousands

We had seeds

carried back by the wind

they reached the thirsty mountains again

they hid inside rock clefts

the first rain

the second rain

the third rain

they grew again

Now again we are a forest

we are millions

we are seeds

plants

and old trees

the old helmet died!

And now you the new helmet

why have you put the head of the spear

under your chin?

Can you finish us off?

But I know

and you know

as long as there is a seed

for the rain and the wind

this forest will never end?

Sherko Bekes, son of Faiq Bekes, is one of the most famous Kurdish poets. Sherko was born in 1940 in Sulaymania in Southern Kurdistan. He was educated in Sulaymania and Bagdad and published his first collection of poems there in 1968.

His poems reflect his close association with the Kurdish liberation movement, which he joined in 1965, working in the movement’s radio station – the Voice of Kurdistan. During the period 1984 – 1987, he lived with the Kurdish peshmergas.

Sherko Bekes left his homeland because of political pressure from the Iraqi regime in 1986. From 1987 to 1992, he lived in exile in Sweden. In 1992, he returns to Iraqi Kurdistan.

RAHA – September 2003

World Independent Writers’ Home: As the mind has no boundaries, the RAHA concept does not have frontiers and is opposed to information and cultural control by global communication entities whether media conglomerates, states or local governments, or religions.

Kurds to go from jail to Turkish parliament

Nine members of Turkey’s new parliament will come from prison, where they are awaiting trial over coup plots and links to Kurdish rebels.

They were all fielded by the opposition in what was seen as a move of defiance against the authorities for launching several controversial probes that have seen hundreds of people, among them intellectual and Kurdish activists, land in court in recent years.

They are now expected to be released to join parliament, but will still face trial.

Popular journalist Mustafa Balbay and academic Mehmet Haberal were elected as candidates of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) in Sunday’s parliamentary polls,www.ekurd.netwhile retired general Engin Alan won a seat on the ticket of the second largest opposition force, the Nationalist Action Party.

They are on trial as part of sprawling investigations into alleged plots to destabilize and overthrow the Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP), which won a third straight term in power in Sunday’s polls with almost 50 percent of the vote, according to unofficial results.

The probes, hailed initially as a long-belated move to rein in the intrusive army, have come under fire for having degenerated into a government-backed campaign to bully critics.

Two other suspects – jurist Ilhan Cihaner and businessman Sinan Aygun – who spent stints in jail but were later released — also won seats on the CHP ticket.

Poised to win their freedom are also six Kurdish activists, jailed as part of a probe into separatist Kurdish rebels fighting Ankara since 1984.

Among them is Hatip Dicle, a prominent Kurdish figure who served briefly as a lawmaker in the early 1990s.

In 2007 a jailed Kurdish activist Sebahat Tuncel elected to Turkey’s legislature, who is backed by pro-Kurdish DTP party was released to take a seat at Turkish parliament.

The six are among 36 people elected with the support of the Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party, which fielded its candidates as independents to go round a 10-percent national threshold that parties need to pass to enter parliament.

Since it was established in 1984, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party PKK has been fighting the Turkish state, which still denies the constitutional existence of Kurds, to establish a Kurdish state in the south east of the country.

But now its aim is the creation an autonomous region and more cultural rights for ethnic Kurds who constitute the greatest minority in Turkey, numbering more than 20 million. A large Turkey’s Kurdish community openly sympathise with the Kurdish PKK rebels.

PKK’s demands included releasing PKK detainees, lifting the ban on education in Kurdish, paving the way for an autonomous democrat Kurdish system within Turkey, reducing pressure on the detained PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan, stopping military action against the Kurdish party and recomposing the Turkish constitution.

Turkey refuses to recognize its Kurdish population as a distinct minority. It has allowed some cultural rights such as limited broadcasts in the Kurdish language and private Kurdish language courses with the prodding of the European Union, but Kurdish politicians say the measures fall short of their expectations.

The PKK is considered a ‘terrorist’ organization by Ankara, U.S., the PKK continues to be on the blacklist list in EU despite court ruling which overturned a decision to place the Kurdish rebel group PKK and its political wing on the European Union’s terror list.

Ekurd.net

June 13, 2011