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Since the beginning of the 1990s, two issues have dominated Turkey’s political agenda: the place of a substantial ethnic Kurdish minority, estimated at between 10-20 percent of the population, and the proper role of Islam in an overwhelmingly Muslim though officially secular country.

Since 1984, southeastern Turkey has been the scene of serious fighting between government security forces and the PKK (Workers’ Party of Kurdistan, “Partia Karkaren Kurdistan”), a militant armed Kurdish group whose explicit claims range from complete independence to regional autonomy within Turkey. The conflict, which reached a peak between 1992-1995, has been characterized by severe human rights abuses by both the security forces and the PKK. The government intensified a counterinsurgency campaign against the PKK, forcibly evacuating and burning rural villages. The majority of the more than 2,500 villages and hamlets depopulated in the region since 1984 are believed to be the result of this campaign. In 1991, an Anti-Terror Law was passed which, among other things, resulted in the repression of non-violent expression—especially concerning debate on the Kurdish issue—and the imprisonment of writers and intellectuals. By 1992, the conflict in the southeast entered a new spiral. Torture and deaths in detention increased, as did disappearances under mysterious circumstances. A wave of so-called “actor unknown murders” believed linked to or tolerated by security forces struck Kurdish nationalist intellectuals and journalists and also suspected PKK members, with the number of such deaths rising to 1,288 between 1992 and 1995.

For its part, the PKK is also guilty of severe human rights abuses, intimidating and murdering those who stand in its way. The PKK assassinated individuals suspected of “cooperating with the state,” such as teachers, civil servants, and former PKK members. Between 1992-1995, the PKK is believed to have committed at least 768 politically-motivated assassinations. In addition, it launched attacks against villages that had joined the government civil-defense “village guard” program, killing village guards and their families alike in large-scale massacres.

There were some attempts, not entirely unsuccessful, to adopt a more liberal policy regarding ethnic Kurds. In 1991, Mr. Turgat Özal, the president, succeeded in abolishing Law. No. 2932 forbidding the use of Kurdish and also broke down the taboo about discussing the Kurdish issue in public debate. That effort, combined with the introduction of private television, spawned a raucous and largely unlimited debate on the Kurdish question that lasted through 1993. InNovember 1991, Mr. Suleyman Demirel, now president and then the newly-elected prime minister from the center-right True Path Party (DYP), spoke about acknowledging the “Kurdish reality.” Although Turkey softened the Anti-Terror Law in 1995 and eased some restrictive articles of the constitution the same year, further attempts at liberalization regarding the Kurdish question fell victim to the escalating violence described above. In September 1995, the coalition government between the DYP and the center-left Republican People’s Party (CHP), which had been in power since the October 1991 parliamentary elections, collapsed. New elections were held in December 1995. To the shock of many, the Islamist Welfare Party (RP) received a thin plurality with 21.4 percent of the vote.2 After the short-lived failure of an interim government, the Welfare Party formed a coalition government with the center-right DYP in July 1996.

The Welfare Party’s leader, Mr. Necmettin Erbakan, who had served as Deputy Prime Minister in three earlier coalition governments in the 1970s, became prime minister. The Erbakan government quickly abandoned the hazily-defined, purportedly Islam-based “Just Order” reform program on which it had campaigned. Nevertheless, it infuriated the powerful military and other sectors of the secular establishment through its attempt to legalize certain aspects of Islam at odds with Turkey’s constitution, such as allowing female civil servants to wear head scarves, and by its efforts to improve ties with states such as Libya and Iran. The military establishment, further upset by the Welfare Party’s attempt to pack the bureaucracy with its supporters and of intemperate statements by some party leaders, declared “fundamentalism” Turkey’s number one threat. In February 1997, the military dominated National Security Council (MGK) presented Mr. Erbakan with an eighteen-point program to rein in Islamist activity, including closing the first form of state supported “_mam-Hatip” religious schools. The government promised to implement the program, but did little. On June 11, 1997, the General Staff headquarters issued a statement threatening that “weapons would be used if necessary in the struggle against fundamentalism.” One week later, Mr. Erbakan resigned. In February 1998, after a trial in the Constitutional Court, the Welfare Party was closed and several of its leaders, including Mr. Erbakan, were barred from politics for five years.3

Following the resignation of Mr. Erbakan, a weak coalition government was formed by Mesut Y1lmaz, leader of the center-right Motherland Party, in July 1997. Mr Y1lmaz in turn lost a vote of confidence in December 1998, and was replaced as Prime Minister by Bülent Ecevit, head of a small center-left party.4 The conflict in southeastern Turkey continues, although at a much reduced level from its 1992-1995 peak. The military still considers “fundamentalism” Turkey’s number one threat and has pressured the government on several occassions to take a harder line against political Islam. Early elections are scheduled for April 1999.

The military’s intense reaction to political Islam must be understood as a legacy of Kemalism, the loose set of modernizing principles based on a homogenous, monoethnic Turkish identity and secular Westernization that is still recognized as Turkey’s official creed. The constitution declares that it is guided by “...the concept of nationalism set forth by the Founder of the Republic of Turkey, the eternal leader and unrivaled hero Atatürk, and by the revolution and fundamental principles introduced by him....”5 The so-called “Six Arrows of Kemalism” were adopted as the official state ideology in 1931 and made part of the constitution in 1937. They have been adopted in some form in all subsequent constitutions. The “Six Arrows” included fealty to the following principles: republicanism; secularism; nationalism; populism; statism, and reformism.6 In its harshest application of the 1930s and 1940s, Kemalism brooked no difference or dissent, whether based on ethnicity, social class, or religion: “total cohesion and unity among all the groups who made up the people [was required] and there was no room for a conflict of interest among them.”7

The principles of Kemalism as reflected in society, however, have been in flux for quite some time, at least since the adoption of multi-party democracy in 1946. Kemalism means different things to different people, and its interpretation can be manipulated for political necessity or altered to reflect changing conditions. Furthermore, the situation is complicated by the fact that Kemalism was never codified into a rigid set of rules.8

Religion remains one of the most contested areas. While the secular identity of Turkey, i.e. a non-Sharia state ruled by civil law, has never been seriously contested by the vast majority of the population, the exact definition of “secularism” is hotly debated. Despite strict prohibitions, nearly all the center-right parties have appealed to and flirted with—and continue to do so—religious feelings and piousness. Article 87 of the Political Parties Law, however, prohibits “the exploitation of religion and things considered religiously sacred.” After the 1980 coup, even the military embraced religion as a hoped for antidote against leftist “tendencies” among the youth of Turkey. Under Article 24 of the 1982 constitution, the staunchly secular military introduced mandatory religious instruction for primary and middle-school students.9 Even the number of _mam-Hatip religious schools, which the military successfully sought to reduce with the passage of an eight-year education bill in 1997, increased from 258 to 350 during the period of military rule, which lasted from 1980 to 1983.10

The concept of “nationalism,” which, in its most virulent form, denied the very existence of Kurds and other non-Turkish minorities, has softened and Turkishofficials now acknowledge their presence.11 Turkey’s politicians, however, have been unable or unwilling to anchor this recognition in law.

Although under increasing criticism, the idea of an omnipotent, centralized state that transcends the individual is still very much alive in Turkey.12 The “state” is usually construed to include the bureaucracy, the military, the police, the judiciary, the courts, and the government. Before it was amended in 1995, the preamble to the 1982 constitution even spoke of a “sacred State” (kutsal Devlet).

Public officials and politicians regularly invoke the “state” to defend their actions or justify restrictive policies. In a recent case in Manisa in which ten teenagers were convicted of membership in an armed group based almost exclusively on testimony taken under torture, a journalist complained that,

How was this verdict given? It was given solely by taking police assertions (iddialar1) as a basis. If we continue the process of taking police assertions as evidence, we are going to experience a lot more “Manisas” in this country. When we accept the state as a sacred body and put those who work for it in a special category, we will not be able to liberate ourselves from these injustices.13

Facing the loss of his parliamentary immunity for his alleged involvement in the Susurluk scandal, Mehmet A_ar, a former police official and interior minster, defended himself by stating that, “I have committed myself to the state and to the nation, not to the parliament.”14 His co-defendant, the ethnic Kurdish parliamentarian Sedat Bucak, announced that he was, “A statist to the end.”15 A policeman on trial for the murder of a suspect during interrogation asserted that, “If you convict us, you will have convicted the state.”16

In a more general sense, the omnipotent, “sacred” state concept obstructs the free flow of information and hinders transparency. State bodies often view non-state actors as disruptive competitors. One commentator noted that, “Indeed the military and (at least until quite recently) the civilian bureaucracy have traditionally seen themselves as the guardians of the state and the protectors of public interest. Consequently, they have viewed with suspicion all particularistic interests and political parties that represented them.”17

Armed conflict in the southeast has heightened consciousness of the state and its territorial integrity. Under international law, every state has the right to defend its territory from both foreign and domestic attack, and Turkey certainly has faced a legitimate security threat from the PKK. States do not, however, enjoy the right to use any means they deem necessary to combat such threats, but must conduct themselves within the framework of international humanitarian and human rights law. Turkey has often failed in establishing that delicate balance between fighting a legitimate security threat and protecting individual rights, including the right to free expression as protected under Article 10 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights.

Turkey’s inability to balance the right of free expression with the exigencies of protecting territorial integrity has roots in the country’s Ottoman past, when foreign powers—either directly or by supporting local minorities—whittledaway Ottoman lands. A 1997 indictment to close a pro-Kurdish party reflects this fear of dismemberment, which often views any reform or concession as the first step toward ruin:

There is no doubt that there are different groups of people based on religion, race, language, and confession in many countries. Extending minority rights to all these groups could put the nation and national unity in danger. Demands for recognition of cultural identity based on affirming difference, have a tendency of separating from the whole over time. 18

Even a recent Turkish parliamentary report on migration faced charges of “separatism” because it reportedly called for removing obstacles to private education, television, and radio broadcasts in Kurdish.19

2 In 1991, in an election alliance with another party, the Welfare Party received 16.4 percent of the vote; in 1987, running alone, it garnered around 7 percent. In 1977, the previous election it contested before 1987, its predecessor, the National Salvation Party (MSP), received around 8.3 percent of the vote. 3 The Welfare Party reconstituted itself as the Virtue Party (Fazilet), the largest party in parliament. 4 The other two partners include the center-left Democratic Left Party (DSP) of Mr. Bulent Ecevit and the splinter Democratic Turkey Party (DTP) of Mr. Husammettin Cindoruk. 5 Unofficial preamble translation. Article 2 of the constitution pronounces Turkey, a “democratic, secular, and social state governed by the rule of law....loyal to the nationalism of Atatürk...”, while Article 4 declares that Article 2 “cannot be amended nor can its amendment be put forward.” Article 4 also prohibits amending or suggesting the amendment of Article 1 (“The Form of the State”) and Article 3 (“The Characteristics of the Republic”). 6 The term _nk1lapç1l1k has been translated both as “reformism” and “revolutionism.” Erich J. Zürcher, Turkey: A Modern History (London: I.B. Tauris, 1993), pp. 189-90. Statism referred to state ownership of major industries. 7 Feroz Ahmad, The Making of Modern Turkey (London: Routledge, 1993), p. 79. This concept is still held by many. Dr. Turgay Yücel, an advisor with the Justice Ministry, told Human Rights Watch that, “Turkish people don’t have classes. This is the thing that our Western friends miss.” Interview, Ankara, September 1997. 8 Zürcher, p. 189. 9 Article 24.4 states that, “Religious and moral education and instruction will be conducted under the supervision and control of the state. Religious culture and moral instruction will be among the mandatory courses taught in primary and middle-level educational institutions....” The implementation of mandatory, Hanefi Sunni-based instruction caused consternation among Turkey’s Alevi population which practice a heterodox, syncretic form of Shiism. 10 Ahmad, p. 219. 11 In September 1995, President Demirel, for example, announced that, “I consider everyone a Turk who chooses to call himself a Turk. Together with this, if an individual demands to call himself a Kurd, I consider this person a Kurd, but as a Turkish citizen, because [he is] as a part of the Turks.” Reprinted in Kemal Kirisçi and Gareth Winrow, Kürt Sorunu: Kökeni ve Gelismi (Istanbul: Tarih Vakf1 Yurt Yay1nlar1, April 1997), p. 217. The work originally appeared in English as The Kurdish Question and Turkey: An Example of Trans-State Ethnic Conflict. For more information on nationalism and ethnic identity see, “Restrictions on the Use of the Kurdish Language.” 12 A 1995 study commissioned by the Turkish Industrialists and Businessmens’ Association ( TUSIAD), for example, called for the reform of traditional Turkish state structures. The report drew the following juxtapositions between the present state of affairs and what TUSIAD termed “an optimal state:” sacred state vs. individual-centered state; closed, secret state vs. open/transparent state; and an authoritarian state vs. a liberal state. See TUSIAD, "Optimal State," (Optimal Devlet), Istanbul, September 1995, pp. 17 & 27. 13 Zeliha Midilii, “Neye dayanarak bu çocuklar1 mahkum ettiniz?” (“What were these kids convicted on?”), Milliyet, Istanbul (Internet edition), January 18, 1997. The case became known as the “Manisa case,” the city where the ten were arrested. 14 "Kendimi, devlete ve millete emanet ettim,” Hürriyet, Istanbul (Internet Edition), December 12, 1997. The Susurluk scandal, named after a town in western Turkey, involves the use by security forces of ultra nationalist gunmen to commit extrajudicial killings and other criminal acts. For more information, see section, “Violence Against Journalists.” 15 "Yarg1lanacaklar” (“They will be put on trial”), Türkiye, Istanbul, (Internet Edition), December 12, 1997. Mr. Bucak’s exact words were, “Sonuna kadar devletçiyim.” 16 "Güvenli Tek Yer Vali Konutu” (“The only safe place is the governor’s house”), Radikal, Istanbul, (Internet Edition), April 23, 1998. He and several other suspects were found guilty and sentenced to 5.5 years of imprisonment. 17 Özbüdün, page 137. 18 The indictment seeks to close the Democratic Mass Party (DKP). Ironically, the party’s charter recognizes the territorial integrity of Turkey and pledges to uphold it. T.C. Cumhuriyet Bassavc1l1_1, Iddianame, (Republic of Turkey, Republic Head Prosecutors Office), Indictment SP.91 Hz.1997/138. 19 "Göç raporu bölücülük suçlamas1,” (“Charges of Separatism against Migration Report”), Milliyet (Internet edition), January 26, 1998.

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