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Turkey slides towards authoritarian rule as commission approves plan to increase powers for President Erdogan

Proposed constitutional changes will be debated in parliament and possibly go to a referendum before becoming law

A parliamentary commission has approved constitutional reforms that would substantially increase the powers of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

International observers have raised alarm over the prospect of executive powers for Turkey’s increasingly authoritarian leader after tens of thousands of arrests following an attempted coup in July.

The constitutional changes would give the President executive power over Turkish law, allowing him to form a government independently of parliament and appoint his own aides, ministers and deputies, while abolishing the post of Prime Minister.

The draft bill also permits the President to maintain ties with a political party, which is banned under the current constitution to maintain the principle of impartiality, while limiting leaders to two terms in office.

The commission approved the draft changes in a marathon 17-hour session that finished on Friday morning, sending 18 new articles for the constitution to a parliamentary vote.

Its decision followed 10 days of tense debate between the committee’s ruling party and main opposition members.

Parliamentary debate on the bill is due to begin in January, with a referendum to follow in spring if it garners the support of at least 330 deputies in the 550-seat assembly.

If more than two thirds of members approve, the changes will be directly passed into law, but the prospect is considered unlikely as Mr Erdogan’s party holds only 317 seats.

His ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) wants the backing of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) opposition to see the plan through parliament.

Mr Erdogan has rebuffed criticism of widespread purges in the Turkish military, civil service, government, education and media, while attacking reports on the alleged torture and abuse of detainees.

His administration has blamed the coup attempt on the Hizmet movement headed by exiled cleric Fethullah Gülen and claimed those arrested have links to the group, but it has denied involvement and critics accuse Mr Erdogan of attempts to stamp out all opposition.

Opponents fear the proposed reforms would allow the Turkish president, who already exercises unprecedented influence on his party and government, to move further towards authoritarian rule.

Mr Erdogan, 62, came to power in 2002 and spent 11 years as prime minister before becoming the country’s first directly-elected president in August 2014.

He has since turned the supposedly ceremonial role into a powerful platform by drawing on his unrivalled popularity and has long been harbouring ambitions to move Turkey from a parliamentary to presidential system, and regain some of the powers he relinquished.

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch are among the groups to have raised concern over Mr Erdogan’s increasingly authoritarian style, while the UN cautioned that crackdowns following the coup may violate international law.

Wide ranging restrictions on freedom of speech, assembly and association could continue indefinitely under Turkey’s state of emergency, which the president would have executive power to extend under the new law.

“Turkey’s trajectory is toward authoritarianism and the dismantling of all checks on the power of its leaders,” warned Emma Sinclair-Webb, a senior Turkey researcher at Human Rights Watch.

The proposed law would also lower the minimum age of parliamentary candidates from 25 to 18 and increase the number of MPs from 550 to 600 to reflect Turkey’s growing population.

General elections would be held every five years, instead of the current four, with the next round held in November 2019.

A poll conducted by the MAK consultancy found 55 per cent of Turks supported the constitutional changes and would vote “yes” in the possible referendum.

Another 29 per cent said they would vote against the proposals and 16 per cent abstained from giving their view, Daily Sabah reported.


Reina atrocity shows how deeply Islamic fanaticism has taken hold in Turkey

My country has been in the grip of intolerance – hopes that Turkey could be a model for the Muslim world have died

Last year was one of incessant tension and sorrow for Turkey. A series of deadly terror attacks left the entire country fearful, traumatised. There were public funerals in almost every town, but even grief can’t unite a society as polarised as ours.

As a nation we now spend more time talking about death than about the joys of life. “Will it be after a football match? Or maybe when I am returning home from work? When will I become a number?” wrote one person on Twitter, reflecting the sentiments of millions of citizens. “Don’t be sad that you couldn’t win the lottery,” said another on social media. “If you are alive, it means you’ve won the biggest lottery in Turkey.”

The victims of terrorism are called “martyrs” while the names of urban landmarks are changing, slowly, into Martyrdom Hill or Martyrdom Street. Ministers greet police officers, wishing them to sacrifice themselves for the nation.

“God willing, you shall be martyrs too,” says the minister of urbanisation, Mehmet Özhaseki.

The government is trying to cover its incompetence in both foreign and domestic policy with the language of jingoism and patriotism. Those who question the official line are labelled “betrayers” and “pawns of western powers”. Young people are told that we are a country surrounded by water on three sides and enemies on all four. As paranoia, distrust and fear intensify, the culture of coexistence dissolves.

With such a gloomy year behind us, no wonder many Turks were looking forward to celebrating the arrival of 2017 as a sign of hope and renewal. It was this sliver of optimism that had brought together hundreds in Istanbul’s famous nightclub Reina on New Year’s Eve. It was a mixed group of Turks and foreigners, the kind of diversity that Islamic fanatics hate.

The Isis attack, in which 39 people were massacred, took place in a country where the seeds are sown for fanaticism, bigotry and authoritarianism. The rift between the secularists and the religious has grown. In a Friday sermon broadcast to more than 80,000 mosques across the country, Diyanet, the religious affairs directorate, called New Year celebrations “illegitimate”.

For weeks prior to New Year’s Eve, ultra-nationalist and Islamist groups had been distributing flyers on the streets saying “Muslims do not celebrate Christian festivals”. An extremist group in the city of Aydin staged a protest play full of hate speech against Christians, in which one of their own who was dressed as Santa Claus was chased and had a gun held to his head.

There were billboards in big cities this year with a scary-looking Santa smoking cannabis. “Christmas is a blow to our Muslimhood,” read the slogan. In the city of Van another billboard read: “Did you ever see a Christian celebrating Eid al-Adha? Why are we celebrating their festivals?”

Meanwhile, a group of students at Istanbul Technical University gathered to hold up signs that said: “Do not be tempted by Satan. Do not celebrate New Year”; “There is no Christmas in Islam”; “In Muslim lands people are trying to keep alive, in their lands it is all about festivities”. The same group then produced an inflatable Santa Claus, which they first circumcised and then stabbed multiple times.

It is of course ironic that St Nicholas, who is vilified by Turkish extremists today as the basis of the Santa Claus legend, was originally from Patara, on Turkey’s Mediterranean coast, and was until recently a source of national pride.

Last year poor Santa was politicised and demonised like never before. The Islamist newspaper Milat published a column mocking Santa, claiming the red of his robe was dyed in the blood of the people of Aleppo, and that Santa brought gifts to children in the west while bringing bombs and death to children in Aleppo.

And the hate speech did not wither even after the horrific act of cruelty in Reina. Islamist commentators appeared on TV to say: “We are against New Year. We are against drinking alcohol and celebrations. Whoever wants to blow up whatever place may do so.”

What is puzzling is how, in a country where anyone who writes anything critical about the government can be instantly sued , and possibly even arrested and put on trial, such religious or nationalist hatemongers rarely have action taken against them – although the government has just announced that 347 social media users who posted comments in support of terror attacks are to be investigated.

Such is the atmosphere of intimidation that a prominent journalist, Ahmet Sik, predicted weeks ago that Islamists might target New Year celebrations. Today Sik is in prison, punished for his outspokenness, alongside more than 140 Turkish journalists and intellectuals.

The country is at a critical juncture – or perhaps beyond it. Because of the sad loss of democracy within its borders and the repeated mistakes of its AKP government in Syria, because of the turbulence of the Middle East and the changing world scene, our big cities have become a new front for terrorists.

Once we thought Turkey would be a shining role model for the Muslim world; now we are worried that our country may in fact be following some of its worst examples.

Elif Shafak is a Turkish writer whose novels include The Bastard of Istanbul

– (Guardian Service)


For Greece and Turkey, an Old Rivalry Flares

ATHENS — Eight Turkish military officers who may or may not have been involved in the attempted coup against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan last July are now at the center of a tense standoff between Greece and Turkey. At a time when Greece’s economy is still in limbo and Turks are caught between an increasingly authoritarian government and a surge in terrorist attacks, neither country can afford such a distraction. Yet the two neighbors find themselves at odds once again.

The men — two majors, four captains and two noncommissioned officers — turned up in the northern Greek town of Alexandroupolis in a military helicopter the day after the attempted coup. They have claimed that they were not knowingly involved in the rebellion — that they followed orders but were not aware a coup was in progress — but fled to escape persecution, asking for political asylum.

The government in Athens, one of the first to condemn the coup attempt while it was developing, was flustered.

On the day the men turned up in Greece, Turkey’s foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, spoke by telephone with his Greek counterpart, Nikos Kotzias, and demanded their extradition. On Twitter, he wrote that Mr. Kotzias told him “that eight traitors who fled to Greece will be returned to Turkey as soon as possible.” The Greek Foreign Ministry said the asylum request would be examined on the basis of “the provisions of Greek and international law,” but “it will be borne very seriously in mind that the arrested parties stand accused in their country of violating constitutional legality and attempting to overthrow democracy.”

Since then, the officers have become a touchstone by which many Greeks are testing the independence of their own judiciary and their country’s democratic principles. Those Greeks feel that even if the eight were involved in trying to topple a legitimate government, they should not be sent back to face a judicial system that, they fear, cannot guarantee fair trials. For the Turkish government, however, the eight are traitors, and their flight to Greece was in itself a provocation.

Greece and Turkey have been rivals for centuries. In 1453, the Ottoman Turks conquered Constantinople, taking over the center of the Eastern Orthodox world and subjugating the Greeks to their rule for nearly 400 years. The Greek state was established after a war of independence that began in 1821, and over the next 100 years the two nations clashed repeatedly as Greece tried to liberate fellow Greeks still under Ottoman rule. After Turkish forces routed a Greek army in Asia Minor in 1922, the Lausanne Treaty established the borders of the Republic of Turkey. An exchange of populations ended over two millenniums of a Greek presence in Asia Minor. The two NATO members again nearly went to war in 1974, when Turkey invaded Cyprus, and also in 1987 and 1996 over disputed territory and rights in the Aegean Sea.

Turkish military planes and ships continually test Greece’s sovereignty in the Aegean, with frequent flights over islets that Turkey claims were not ceded to Greece in treaties. Lately, the pressure has increased. Mr. Cavusoglu recently declared that a pair of islets — called Imia — are “Turkish soil,” while an opposition party leader claimed that Greece occupied 18 islands in the Aegean. Athens responded angrily to both claims. Mr. Erdogan has even taken to questioning the Lausanne Treaty itself, threatening to disrupt the agreement that settled the two countries’ common border.

Meanwhile, negotiations under United Nations auspices to end the Turkish occupation of part of Cyprus and reunite Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots on the independent island are at a crucial phase. A conference starting in Geneva on Jan. 12, which will include Greek and Turkish delegations, will depend very much on good will from Ankara for a breakthrough in one of the world’s most intractable conflicts.

Equally important, Turkey can control the flow of refugees and migrants toward the European Union through Greece. An agreement whereby the European Union will expedite Turkey’s accession while the latter will keep migrants from leaving for Europe is looking increasingly fragile. Ankara’s persecution of lawyers, judges, academics, journalists, opposition politicians and others is one of the main causes of friction with the European Union and human rights organizations. Greece, a member of the European Union and already struggling with more immigrants than it can handle, now has to balance respect for asylum seekers with the possible fallout from an angry Turkey.

Some 300 lawyers and 3,000 judges were arrested or detained in Turkey after the failed coup, according to the Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe (C.C.B.E.), which represents more than one million lawyers in 45 countries. “Human rights and rule of law have been severely undermined by way of 11 decree laws enacted under the state of emergency legislation,” it said in a statement on Dec. 12. “Hundreds of civil society organizations have been shut down, with many being detained incommunicado, a wide censorship on media has been put in place, thousands of public servants (including judges and prosecutors) have been removed from office and arrested. Against this background, lawyers are facing overwhelming obstacles in defending their clients.”

The head of Turkey’s bar association, Metin Feyzioglu, put it bluntly in a statement distributed by the C.C.B.E.: “The governmental decrees of the state of emergency are directly targeting the right to defense and the legal profession. The actual targets are the fundamental rights and freedoms of the citizens which are being defended by lawyers,” he said. “Our citizens no longer trust the judiciary. The judiciary is no longer the guarantee of the country.”

This is what alarms Greek intellectuals, lawyers, human rights activists and members of the public. To them it is inconceivable that their judiciary and government could reject the supplicants, sending them to face the risk of harsh treatment and an unfair trial — perhaps even death, if Mr. Erdogan carries out his threat to reinstate the death penalty. A recent poll found that 60 percent of Greeks were opposed to upholding Turkey’s extradition request. On the other hand, Greek officials are aware that Turkey holds the key to many serious issues between the countries.

Kostis Papaioannou, who was secretary general for human rights at the Justice Ministry until November (resigning after a cabinet reshuffle), noted that no one could question the Turkish government’s right to protect legality. But regarding the eight, he added: “We are not interested in the level of their involvement in the attempted coup, our sole concern is their fate if they find themselves in the hands of the Turkish authorities. Greek judges are called on to rule on the basis of their conscience and not according to unspecified appeals regarding national interests.”

The story so far underlines the extent of the anxiety that the eight asylum seekers have provoked. A council of Appeals Court judges, in two separate sessions with different judges, ruled that Turkey’s extradition request for five should be rejected, while the same court, with other judges, decided that three should be sent back. The difference prompted suspicions of political pressure on the judges. The Supreme Court will now hear the cases on Jan. 10, 11 and 13, and Justice Minister Stavros Kontonis could have the final say if the government chooses to override the court’s ruling. On Tuesday, Mr. Kontonis rejected activists’ claims of government intervention in the issue.

People have always crossed the Aegean in search of asylum. Even Themistocles, the great Athenian leader whose strategy and tactics defeated an invading Persian army in the fifth century B.C., found refuge in Asia Minor, then ruled by Persia, when his fellow citizens turned against him. For the Greek government, it might have been easier if the asylum seekers were intellectuals or artists, not alleged conspirators against a legitimate government. But it is in respecting the rights of all — regardless of who they are — that democracies must measure themselves.

Nikos Konstandaras, the managing editor and a columnist at the newspaper Kathimerini, is a contributing opinion writer.


New York Times uses anonymous bylines in Turkey

Turkey currently ranks 151st out of 180 countries in the Reporters Without Borders ranking of press freedom around the world

The New York Times appears to have stopped naming its reporters in Turkey following the Istanbul nightclub attack.

A story about the New Year's Day massacre featured the byline "An Employee of the New York Times" in place of a reporter's name.

A number of other articles filed from the country were similarly bylined.

It comes after a series of reports about journalists being arrested in the country, along with judges, military personnel and teachers.

In many cases authorities have claimed those detained are linked to terrorism or an attempted coup in the country last year.

On New Year's Eve, the Wall Street Journal said its reporter Dion Nissenbaum had been detained by Turkish authorities for two-and-a-half days without access to a lawyer, before being released.

Ebru Umar, a columnist for the Dutch Metro newspaper, was detained for questioning after allegedly insulting Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in April.

The Committee to Protect Journalists, an American non-profit group, said that as 2016 drew to a close, police detained 45 former employees of the state outlet Turkish Radio and a court formally arrested 29 of them.

Turkey currently ranks 151st out of 180 countries in Reporters Without Borders' ranking of press freedom around the world.

The country's government regularly bans in-country coverage of terror attacks and other events.

In November courts ordered a blackout on reporting the arrests of nine staff members at the Cumhuriyet newspaper, including the editor.

It is unclear what prompted the bylines in the Times and the revered newspaper had not responded to a request for comment from The Independent at the time of publication.

The decision nonetheless prompted debate among media experts.

Conservative pundit Michelle Malkin claimed the move was the "byline version of pixelating Mohammed".

But Politico magazine editor Blake Hounsell said: "It’s the byline version of not getting someone killed or arrested."


This artice is a few weeks old, but interesting:

Truth is a lost game in Turkey. Don’t let the same thing happen to you

We in Turkey found, as you in Europe and the US are now finding, that the new truth-building process does not require facts. But we learned it too late

Another (unexpectedly interesting) article:

Clues suggest Istanbul nightclub gunman may be a Uighur

Revealing nom de guerre and Isis propensity to use Turkic-speaking groups point towards potential background of Club Reina attacker

Other articles:

Secular citizens of Turkey have never felt so alone

Turkey extends state of emergency by three months

Cafeteria manager jailed for insulting Turkish president, lawyer says – Şenol Buran, who runs canteen at opposition Cumhuriyet newspaper in Istanbul, detained after police raid (the cafeteria manager said he would refuse to serve the president tea if he ever visited the establishment)

Wall Street Journal reporter was held for three days in Turkey, paper says

"They throw you into a hole": celebrated Turkish novelist reveals detention ordeal (she is still on trial)

New effort to free war crimes judge held in Turkey

Turkey jails two security officials for life in first ruling over coup attempt

Source: ONTD_Political

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