FIGHT AGAINST TERROR
Governments under then-Prime Minister Erdogan showed determinacy since the early times of their rise to power to solve the so-called Kurdish question, which in time boiled down to a mere PKK problem after the advent of groundbreaking democratic developments. True, the Kurds were subject to a systematic persecution by the Kemalist state intelligentsia since the foundation of the republic; in this sense, there certainly was a Kurdish question. But once governments under Erdogan started to remove the obstacles to Kurds’ expressing their identity and opinions freely, what remained could no more be considered a “Kurdish question.”
The concretization of the peace process between the government and the PKK dates back to 2010. Chief of Turkish Intelligence Agency (MIT) Hakan Fidan met senior PKK members in the city of Oslo to initiate the process. In 2012, a Gulenist prosecutor invited Fidan for interrogation vis-à-vis the Oslo meetings. It was highly likely that Hakan Fidan would be arrested if he went to interrogation and the process would either suddenly collapse or at least be inflicted a heavy blow. Fidan went on to hold talks with Abdullah Ocalan, the jailed leader of the PKK. A ceasefire was announced in April 2013 and lasted until July 2015.
Throughout the two-and-a-half-year ceasefire, PKK commanders and deputies of the pro-PKK Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) threatened to end the ceasefire several times. It was finally broken by the PKK which demanded a new ceasefire after two months and after another two months declared once again that the ceasefire, which had already ended unilaterally four months ago, is over. But the government, which started putting into practice democratization packages long ago, continued to introduce more developments. Some of these democratic developments regarding the Kurds could be listed as follows:
The 51-year-old state of emergency in the southeast of Turkey was lifted; an institute for the study of Kurdology was established for the first time in the history of the Turkish Republic; citizenships were returned to Kurds who, in the past, were denationalized; the Kurdish version of the state-run TV channel TRT (The Turkish Radio and Television Corporation), TRT Kurdi, was established; private schools were allowed to adopt Kurdish as their main education language; Kurdish translations were added to traffic signs in southeastern Turkey; citizens were allowed to speak Kurdish in courts even if they could speak Turkish; and so on. These were literally groundbreaking developments in a country where Kurds were even afraid of uttering that they are ethnically Kurd, not Turk, a few years ago.
HDP deputies responded to these efforts by threatening the state with the PKK, declaring they rely on the PKK’s Syrian branches – because they knew that overtly mentioning the PKK itself would be just too much – and attending the funerals of PKK militants. Incidentally, the PKK is not only on Turkey’s terror list but also on that of the US, the EU and NATO. So what they did was openly praising and helping universally recognized terror attacks and terrorists. But it was not possible to subject them to legal proceedings because of their immunity. Then, in a crucial move, the parliament decided to strip 138 deputies of their immunity, 53 of which belonged to the HDP, 27 of which to the AK Party, 51 of which to the CHP and 9 of which to the MHP.
Nevertheless, the fundamental milestone in Turkey’s fight against terror was the July 15 coup attempt by FETO in 2016. From that point onwards, the government decided to root out not only FETO members but all supporters of terrorism occupying offices in the state. More than 10 HDP deputies, including the co-chairs Selahattin Demirtaş and Figen Yüksekdağ, were charged with terror-related crimes and are now in jail. The international media’s reaction to the arrest of HDP deputies was not difficult to anticipate: “HDP deputies were arrested because of growing authoritarianism.” And what about their relations with the PKK? Of course went unmentioned.
THE JULY 15 COUP ATTEMPT
The jailing of HDP deputies was only one part of the struggle that took place in the aftermath of the July 15 coup attempt. The real challenge was still to destroy FETO, a colossal structure that contrived to infiltrate most of state institutions for more than 30 years. But the magnitude of the damage FETO was capable of inflicting on Turkey could be fully comprehended only with an unprecedented incident like the July 15 failed coup.
Such an incident as the July 15 might indeed have never happened even in world history: A sovereign state’s own jets bombed its own national assembly and police headquarters; its own soldiers killed their own people, precisely whose lives they were entitled to protect, leaving 249 dead and attempted to assassinate their own president together with his entire family. One might be tempted call it an invasion from within.
But the July 15 was not only unique in its excessive forms of violence (firing armor-piercing bullets on citizens from above with a helicopter, crushing people’s bodies and cars with tanks, etc). It was as much an unprecedented resistance too as it was an invasion. People from various ideological outlooks and social groups took to the streets and stopped putschist soldiers and tanks. Those who were on the street on the night of July 15 later told that they took to the streets because they felt that their country was being hacked by an illegitimate cult (FETO).
Turkish politicians and people had no qualms about who was behind that botched coup. All evidence pointed at FETO, or Fetullahist Terror Organization, led by US-based Fetullah Gülen. All political parties having seats in the Grand National Assembly of Turkey agreed that FETO plotted the coup attempt. A huge rally, perhaps the largest in the history of Turkey, was organized in İstanbul in August where millions attended and all political leaders except the HDP’s co-chairs delivered speeches. This nearly absolute public opinion in Turkey, however, seemed to have no effect on the EU and the US. They insisted from the beginning that the evidence provided by Turkey was not enough to prove that FETO plotted the coup.
But their “suspicions,” in turn, failed to make an impact on Turkey’s determination to eliminate FETO from the state as well. The government listed some objective criteria to tell who belongs to FETO, such as using ByLock, an encrypted chat application dedicated to and used solely by FETO members, and investing money in Bank Asya, FETO’s now extinct bank. To have continued engaging in such FETO activities after 17 December 2013 – the date that is widely seen in Turkey as the first public attempt of FETO to overthrow the democratically elected government by way of abusing the power it gathered in the judiciary – was declared to be a crime.
Most importantly, a state of emergency was declared after the coup was thwarted. But this state of emergency was altogether different from the former ones in terms of both context and logic. States of emergency in Turkey in the past were declared after coup attempts succeeded, in order to prevent people from resisting the coup to defend their primary democratic right to elect their own government. But for the first time this state of emergency was declared after a coup was aborted in order to prevent the putchists from further harming the state, the people and democracy. This essential difference could also be observed through the fact that the current state of emergency, extended for the sixth time in January 2018, has not interrupted the course of daily life whereas in the past curfews were imposed.
Turkey’s reaction to the July 15 coup attempt only buttressed the international media’s discourse of authoritarianism. Around 150,000 people were suspended from government jobs and 50,000 were imprisoned on grounds that they were FETO members. Although the numbers were not extraordinary given the decades-long infiltration and the monstrous structure of FETO, they could not be any more perfect for alleging that “Turkey arrests anyone whom it regards as critical,” tries to “silence dissent” (a catchphrase regularly employed in news on Turkey). The common message of the articles and news stories on Turkey was mostly that these suspensions or arrests were totally arbitrary. The image being drawn repeatedly was that Turkey was not a country of rule of law and that legal processes were chaotic.
However, there certainly were mechanisms of appeal by which thousands of people were returned to their jobs. Towards the end of 2016 more than 18,000 people out of 86,000 regained their jobs through decrees having the force of law (DHFL). “Commission for Inspecting the State of Emergency Proceedings” was established to prevent misidentification of innocent people as belonging to FETO. The Commission considers all objections to rulings of DHFL, including the objections of those whose cases were previously rejected by courts. Those who would be unhappy with the commission’s decision on their case still have the opportunity to appeal against the decision. Furthermore, even those who were once denied appeal by courts are also able to litigate the Commission’s decisions again. Yet another option is individual application to the Constitutional Court, for which, however, one needs to have exhausted all possible legal ways, including going through the Commission.
This is how the legal system in Turkey works in a nutshell, but it is almost impossible to encounter such vital information in the international media. What one so frequently finds, instead, is a repetitive discourse on “Turkey’s slide into authoritarianism” – yet another catchphrase supposed to sum Turkey up.