Monthly Archives: April 2010

The thrills of reform…

The words ‘constitutional amendment package’ don’t exactly set the pulse racing.

But whilst the reform bill currently grinding through the Turkish parliament doesn’t have the pyrotechnics of, say, the Sledgehammer investigation, make no mistake: it’s the show to watch for people interested in Turkey’s future.

I was hoping to post some helpful comments from the Turkish media showing each side of this deeply polarised debate, but over the past few weeks, the columns have been advancing so deep into a thicket of legal jargon and technicalities that they are now out of sight of all but the most intrepid followers.

So instead I’ll attempt my own explanation.

“They’ve gone to war,” is how one fellow journo described to me the actions of the ruling Islamic-influenced AK Party, led by prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in tabling the amendment package last month.

The enemy is the country’s secular establishment, in particular its main bastion: the powerful judiciary.

It’s not the first time they’ve locked horns. In 2008, the AKP narrowly avoided being shut down by the country’s highest panel of judges after the chief prosecutor brought a closure case against it on the grounds that it was attempting to undermine the secular nature of the state.

The AKP, elected with a whopping 47% of the popular vote, avoided the attempt to abolish it from politics by a single judge’s vote.

Unsurprisingly, the current reform package seeks to curb the judges’ power to ban political parties, and break the autonomy of the country’s top court by introducing a higher proportion of political appointees.

Depending on which side of the fence you’re on (and I offer no opinion), these amendments are either a stride towards greater democracy, justice and EU membership, or a cynical power grab by a government with a hidden agenda of Islamification.

The fear of some observers is that rather than merely eliminating the power of the judiciary in politics, the AKP will go further by effectively placing the judiciary under its own control through the political appointment of judges.

So what’s going to happen now? Sometime in mid May, a final vote will take place in the Turkish parliament, after which the reforms are almost certain to be put to a referendum. The poll would probably be held in July or August.

However there have been dark hints from among the government’s opponents that an attempt may be launched in the courts to annul the reform package before it can be ratified, or even another bid to ban the AKP.

This piece on Ragan Updegraff’s excellent Turkish affairs blog gives the full lowdown.


Hotting up

Summer’s not here yet, but the unfortunate owner of these will be wanting to replace them soon.
Most mornings the sun here tricks you into thinking you can leave home coatless, only to send you shivering back again 100 metres from the doorstep. But it’s slowly tiring of the joke.
Second post and already writing about the weather! Sorry, had to put something with the picture.

The hardest word

The international press gave some play over the weekend to Obama’s speech marking the 95th anniversary of the mass killings of Armenians in the dying years of the Ottoman Empire.

Coverage focused mainly on his failure, for the second year, to honour a pledge made prior to his election to describe the massacres and forced deportations as ‘genocide’.

What received less attention were the signs that within Turkey itself a more honest appraisal of these events is emerging.

For the first time, hundreds of Turks broke a near century-old taboo by demonstrating publicly for a greater recognition of the tragedy at three places around Istanbul.

I spoke to Turkish newspaper columnist Mustafa Akyol, who writes for Star and Hurriyet Daily News, and was offered an insight into how attitudes towards the events are changing in Turkey:

“We’re now able to discuss this far more freely than five or six years ago. If someone had stood up then and said the word ‘genocide’, they could have ended up with a prison sentence or a fine.

“Until very recently the people who contested the official view were only a small group of secular liberals and they were seen by the nationalist establishment as snobbish and not part of the Turkish value system.

“Now there’s a new dimension and commentators with conservative Islamic credentials have also started to question the official narrative, and this is very important.

“A new ground is being found with a more critical attitude to the official rhetoric…

“I think that the issue should be discussed in Turkey not by forcing Turks to admit genocide but by encouraging them to understand what really happened.”

There were many contributions within the Turkish media over the weekend seeking to further this end, of which Akyol’s moving piece in the English-language Hurriyet Daily News was one. You can read it here.