Turkey has trouble facing up to its past

Hanim Tosun last saw her husband Fehmi in 1995 as he was being dragged into a car outside their home by men in civilian clothes who she is convinced were government agents.
Foto: AP
Hanim Tosun’s husband allegedly disappeared under police custody and she last saw him in 1995 as suspected state agents in civilian clothes dragged him into a car outside their home.
His disappearance is among hundreds of old allegations of state-linked abductions and murders in a country that – even as it seeks entry into Europe’s club of democracies – seems unable or unwilling to fully confront its history of authoritarianism.
Turkey abductions murders disappearance history authoritarian government

The culprits in these cases will probably never be identified. Back then, investigations were few and convictions fewer, and now there is little appetite to delve into the ugly past.

Turkey has curbed the worst excesses of its security forces, with the help of Western-style reforms and a drop in combat with Kurdish rebels and other militants. But authorities still deny official involvement in 1990s-era „disappearances“ or summary executions of Kurds and leftists allegedly taken into government custody – who are estimated to number 800 by one Turkish rights group.
Some families of the disappeared still are pursuing the cases, but they are a minority since challenging the Turkish state can lead to prosecution and jail time.
„This cause will never end for me,“ said Hanim Tosun, whose husband had spent three years in prison for links to the Kurdish rebel group PKK before his abduction. „If this is a state run by the rule of law, then they should return the body.“
Last month, she attended a forum on the missing held by the Human Rights Association, a Turkish nongovernment organization. Tosun belonged to the Saturday Mothers, a group that gathered weekly holding up photos of the missing in protests similar to those held by relatives of those who vanished in the so-called Dirty War in Argentina in the 1970s and ’80s.
The Turkish group ended rallies in 1999 after a police crackdown. The demonstrators, who were sometimes arrested, claimed the publicity contributed to a virtual end to such disappearances.
The European Union says Turkey, which has a history of military coups, must improve its human rights record if it wants to be a member. Progress has been notable if uneven. Turkey is torn between the reformist push for transparency and an entrenched tendency to override the rights of individuals who are seen as threats to the state.
Elements of this conflict are evident in Turkey’s current political divide, in which the top court, a bastion of the secular elite, is considering whether to ban the Islam-oriented ruling party, which has a strong majority in parliament. Both sides in the dispute claim to be champions of the democratic ideals enshrined in the constitution, itself the byproduct of a 1980 military coup.
Two actors painted in blue enact a scene of a abduction in front of the European Parliament in Belgium. Amnesty International was organizing the action to mark the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture.

The U.S. State Department said in March that there were no reports of „politically motivated disappearances“ in Turkey last year, but cited other problems including torture and some instances of unlawful killings by security forces. The European Commission has said „legislative safeguards“ were improving Turkey’s human rights situation, citing a „downward trend“ in torture cases. „Impunity remains an area of concern,“ a European report said. „There is a lack of prompt, impartial and independent investigations into allegations of human rights violations by members of security forces.“

Turkey has said state-sponsored abuses were not systematic at the height of the guerrilla war in the 1990s, despite evidence of atrocities by both sides. Officials suggested that some who disappeared did so by choice as members of underground groups and that others perished in internal conflicts between rival rebel factions.
„Authorities are doing everything they can to find people who were reported missing by their families,“ a senior Interior Ministry official said on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the media.
In some cases, the government has agreed to pay settlements and acknowledged inadequate inquiries. Families that took these deals had mixed feelings, pleased with winning a concession but aware that the government considered the cases closed to deeper inquiry.
The family of Fehmi Tosun went to the European Court of Human Rights, whose decisions are binding on Turkey. The court withdrew from the case after Turkey agreed to pay Euro 40,000 in a so-called friendly settlement.
Tosun was grabbed around 7 p.m. on Oct. 19, 1995, and his wife provided the license plate of the car to police. She was alerted to the abduction by one of her children, and cited witnesses as saying the kidnappers had walkie talkies.
„I went out to the balcony and saw their shadows,“ Hanim Tosun said. „Then I saw a white car. My husband was being dragged into it. He raised his head and called for help, saying that they were kidnapping him and going to kill him. … He was trying not to get in the car. One of the men had a gun. My son ran downstairs. I did the same too, but I was slower.“
The family of Hasan Ocak, a leftist with alleged links to illegal groups, last spoke to him on March 21, 1995, when he telephoned to say he would bring fish home for dinner. His body, with signs of torture, was found in a cemetery two months later.
Ocak disappeared during a period of deadly clashes between police and protesters in Istanbul. Detainees later said they had seen him at the anti-terrorist branch of the security forces in the city. Ocak had previously been detained and tortured, according to his family.
In 2004, Europe’s human rights court said Ocak’s family should be paid Euro 25,000 because Turkey had failed to adequately investigate his death, but added it could not conclude that the state had killed him. Like Tosun’s family, Ocak’s family took the money, but still argued that justice still had not been achieved.
„What we wanted was prosecution of those who were really responsible,“ said Ocak’s sister, Maside. She said the ruling amounted to a political „gesture“ to a candidate for EU membership.
„It is fortunate that we have a grave to visit because other people don’t even have that,“ said Maside.
Associated Press writers C. Onur Ant in Istanbul and Selcan Hacaoglu in Ankara contributed to this report.__._,_.___

Turkish Embassy in Washington DC Launches Podcast Series

Turkish Embassy Podcast Series features Insights on Turkey from Leading Policy Makers, Analysts and DiplomatsThe podcast featuring Minister Babacan’s Atlantic Council address offers an insightful overview of Turkey’s diplomatic efforts in the Middle East, as well as updates on Turkey’s E.U. accession bid, and its relationship with the key traditional and emerging players in the global arena.

At the ATC conference, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, General Brent Scowcroft (Chairman of the American Turkish Council), Mehmet Simsek (Turkey’s Minister of State for Economic Affairs), and Ferit Sahenk (Chairman of the Turkish-U.S. Business Council), shared their thoughts on the nature and evolution of the bilateral relationship and on current economic and political circumstances that affect it.
To download the podcast, please visit Turkish Embassy Web Site


Turkish scholar fired for Nazi comparison

From: Aytac Karatas <[email protected] yahoo.com>
Subject: [BAYOT] Almanya: Dr Faruk Sen kurdugu Essen Turkiye Arastirmalar Merkezinden Atildi!

Published: 06/27/2008

A prominent Turkish scholar was fired for comparing the suffering of Turks in Europe today to that of Jews in Nazi Germany.

Faruk Sen, who headed the Center for Turkish Studies in Essen, Germany, since it was founded 23 years ago, said he would fight the dismissal in court. The institute’s board of directors decided to fire him after learning of Sen’s comments through a report in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. Sen’s essay titled, “Europe’s New Jews,” was published May 19 in the Turkish paper Referans.

“Even though our people, who have been living in Central and Western Europe for 47 years now, have generated 125,000 businesses that bring in a total sales of 45 billion Euro, they suffer discrimination and exclusion just as the Jews did — though to a different degree and with different outward appearances, ” Sen wrote.

The article had been addressed to Turkish businessman Ishak Alaton, who is Jewish, after Alaton was verbally attacked following a TV interview in Turkey in which he complained about anti-Semitism.

Apparently trying to comfort Alaton, Sen wrote, “Don’t be sad about anti-Semitic tendencies of some groups in Turkey. We, the Turkish people and new Jews of Europe, support you.”

The scholar later said he regretted using such “unsophisticated” and “unacceptable” words to express solidarity. Speaking from Istanbul, Sen told the German daily Tageszeitung that the decision to fire him was an overreaction, and had taken him by surprise.

He said he never expected “an article that I wrote in Turkey out of solidarity with a Jewish businessman and with minorities in Turkey would be taken so far out of context in Germany.”

BAYOT condemns the management of ZfT

PRESS RELEASE – For immediate release
BAYOT (West European Organization for Higher Eduacated Turks) condemns the management of Stiftung Zentrum fur Turkeistudien (Foundation of Centrum for Turkish Studies) for firing Dr. Faruk Sen for expressing his democratic views.
Dr Faruk Sen, the founder of the foundation located at Essen, Germany has been sacked on June 27, 2008 for expressing his opinions about the situation of the Turkish minority in Western Europe and comparing it to the exclusion and sufferings of the Jews in an article published in a Turkish newspaper ‘Referans’.
In the article later also published by Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung under the title ‘Europe’s New Jews’, Sen reported “although our people, who have been living in Central and Western Europe for 47 years now, have generated 125,000 businesses that bring in a total revenue of 45 billion Euro, they suffer discrimination and exclusion just as the Jews did — though to a different degree and with different outward appearances” .

The article had been addressed to a Turkish businessman of Jewish backgound, Ishak Alaton who was verbally attacked and complained about anti-Semitism. Sen wrote:  “Don’t be sorry about the anti-Semitic tendencies of some groups in Turkey. We, the Turkish people and new Jews of Europe, support you.”
Faruk Sen who was the head of the Center for Turkish Studies in Essen, Germanyfor 23 years, said he would fight the dismissal in court.
BAYOT Duisburg condems this undemocratic action of the management which brings back the sad memories of intolerance and the attacks of free expression in academia in recent history of Germany. BAYOT Duisburg sees this action as a sad sign of management efforts to use the Centrum to control the Turkish community in Germany, rather than to help improve the German Turkish dialogue.

Talk, Talk, Talk, Talk To Iran

June 25, 2008
by Faiz Shakir,


Despite growing international pressure, including three Chapter 7 U.N. Security Council resolutions — the last of which was adopted in April of this year — Iran continues to move forward with its nuclear program. Iranian government officials have repeatedly said that they will not agree to suspend uranium enrichment, which they insist is their right. Though Tehran “maintains the program is exclusively for electricity-producing purposes,” the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported in May that Iran was “still withholding critical information that could determine whether it is trying to make nuclear weapons.” The U.S. National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran last December concluded that Iran had “halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003,” but the United States and its international partners continue to “accuse Iran of using its nuclear program as a cover for weapons development.”

THE DIPLOMACY: The latest package of incentives was presented to Iran during a recent visit to Tehran by EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana and “gives Tehran the opportunity to develop alternate light water reactors, trade and other incentives, in return for dropping the enrichment.” However, the countries represented “alongside Mr Solana were Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China. Nobody from the US.” There are also disincentives to match the incentives for Iran. On Monday, EU states agreed to impose new sanctions prohibiting Iran’s largest bank from operating in Europe” and adding to the list of banned individuals and organizations. With the Iranian economy in tatters, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is politically weakened, and defiance on the nuclear issue represents a way for Ahmadinejad to maintain his political relevancy. Former diplomat Peter Galbraith wrote that, “from the inception of Iran’s nuclear program, prestige and the desire for recognition have been motivating factors,” and he “has made uranium enrichment the centerpiece of his administration and the embodiment of Iranian nationalism.” Ahmadinejad has thus far “successfully used the threat of war to suppress dissent and divert attention from domestic woes.”
UNHELPFUL RHETORIC: The release of the NIE on Iran last December effectively removed the short-term prospect of military action against Iran. But the last few months have seen a renewed effort on the part of pro-war conservative extremists to lay the groundwork for what they see as an inevitable armed conflict. Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol recently suggested that President Bush might consider bombing Iran, depending on the outcome of the U.S. presidential election. Former U.S ambassador to the U .N. John Bolton also said a U.S. military strike against Iran “is really the most prudent thing to do.” IAEA Director General Mohamed El-Baradei warned in an interview last week, “I don’t believe that what I see in Iran today is a current, grave and urgent danger. If a military strike is carried out against Iran…it would make me unable to continue my work.” In a recent panel discussion, former ambassador James Dobbins suggested that threats force against Iran were unproductive and that the United States should “get busy with the job of diplomacy.”

RECOGNIZING NEED FOR DIRECT DIPLOMACY: In May, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates stated, “We need to figure out a way to develop some leverage…and then sit down and talk with them [Iran].” Recently retired CentCom chief, Admiral William Fallon, took “public positions favoring diplomacy over force in Iran,” suggesting “a navy-to-navy relationship with Iran as a way to begin a sustained dialogue with the country.” A new report from the United States Institute of Peace asserted that “Iran’s goals appear to be largely defensive: to achieve strategic depth and safeguard its system against foreign intervention, to have a major say in regional decisions, and to prevent or minimize actions that might run counter to Iranian interests.” The report also concluded that “it is hard to envision” any kind of lasting peace in the region “without a reduction in tensions between the United States and Iran.” Citing recent polling evidence, National Security Network policy director Ilan Goldenberg wrote that “diplomatic engagement with Iran…is the consensus position” among Americans. In what could represent a significant policy shift that accords with this consensus, yesterday the Associated Press reported that the Bush administration is considering “opening a U.S. interests section in Tehran,” the first U.S. diplomatic outpost in Iran in nearly thirty years.