A Concordance of Events: Further Reflections on Turkey and the EU

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As another Summit has come and gone, and EU leaders continue to grapple with the issue of Turkey’s accession to the European Union, I want to focus on two related events that took place simultaneously in Turkey and Cyprus, towards the end of last week.

a. On the night of Thursday Dec. 10th, a very professional gang entered the main Nicosia cemetery, managed to disable the electricity generating system in the grounds of the cemetery and the surrounding area, lifted a 250kg tombstone over the grave of Cyprus’ ex-president Tassos Papadopoulos, dug up the coffin and stole/kidnapped his remains. This unprecedented operation in the heart of the capital of a EU members state took place on the eve of the first anniversary of the former President’s death.

Papadopoulos was president from 2003 to 2008 and he was in charge when the Cypriot people voted with a huge majority of 75% against the Annan Plan.  The Annan Plan was a United Nations proposal to settle the Cyprus dispute of the divided island nation of Cyprus and the Turkish occupation. It was named in recognition of the then United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who largely devised the proposal in conjunction with Didier Pfirter.

b. Earlier during the same Thursday Dec 10th, Turkey’s Supreme Constitutional Court voted unanimously 11-0 to ban the pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party .The court found that the party had promoted Kurdish separatism issued a ruling to close down the party permanently and exclude 37 party members from politics for five years. The Democratic Society Party was the 25th political party closed down in Turkey since 1962. The DSP had been closed 5 times before and had each time to reform, reconstitute and rename itself and find a new leader in order to satisfy the Couirt’s requirements.

“The court’s decision to ban yet another party shows just how urgently constitutional reform is needed to guarantee political participation in Turkey,” said Emma Sinclair-Webb, Turkey researcher at Human Rights Watch.  “The Democratic Society Party is the latest victim of laws that do not conform with international human rights standards.”

Ahmet Türk, co-chair of the party and a member of parliament, and Aysel Tu?luk, another member of parliament, are among the 37 party members excluded from politics for five years. Both will lose their parliamentary seats. The party will also be stripped of its assets by the Treasury.

On Friday Dec 11th Kurdish demonstrators opposing the Court’s verdict clashed in the streets of Istanbul and Izmir with Turkish nationalist groups under the direction of the infamous Grey Wolves group. Earlier that day, 7 soldiers and a group of Kurdish rebels were killed in clashes in occupied Kurdistan.

The court’s full verdict, setting out its reasoning for the closing and bans on party members, has not yet been made available. However, the statement announcing the verdict by the president of the constitutional court, Ha?im K?l?ç, implied that the court had found no distinction between the Democratic Society Party and the outlawed armed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). He stated: “Nowhere in the world does a political party embroiled in terrorism and violence deserves the right to either freedom of expression or freedom of association.”

The chief prosecutor of Turkey’s Court of Cassation issued the indictment on November 16, 2007, calling for the party to be closed and the case had been pending before the Constitutional Court.  The indictment contends that the party has links with the PKK.

The bulk of the evidence cited in the indictment consists of speeches and statements by members of parliament, mayors, and party officials. However, these statements do not openly promote or praise violence. The verdict comes at a time when the Justice and Development Party government has expressed a commitment to introduce reforms to uphold the rights of Kurds in Turkey. On November 13, 2009, the government held a parliamentary debate in which it committed itself to efforts to extend the fundamental rights and freedoms of all groups in Turkey through what it termed a “democratic opening up.”

“Banning the Democratic Society Party is a blow to efforts to resolve the Kurdish issue and ensure minority rights in Turkey,” Sinclair-Webb said. “As a matter of urgency, the government should revise the constitution and Law on Political Parties, so that this kind of ban won’t be possible in the future,” said Sinclair-Webb.

In July 2008, the ruling Justice and Development Party narrowly escaped being closed down itself by the same Constitutional Court. The party was accused of having engaged in anti-secular activities, supposedly evidence of a longer-term intention to set up an Islamic state.

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My argument is that these two events, supposedly unrelated but taking place on the very same day, during the period EU leaders were discussing Turkey’s accession to the European Union, are intricately linked and carry a clear message from the ruling Turkish elites to the outside world.

The desecration of the tomb of the former Cypriot President and the theft of his remains, carried out in an extremely professional manner, is a direct assault on the history of the Greek Cypriot people and their memory of their leader who fronted the opposition to the Annan Plan. It is a clear message of what is likely to happen to them and their political leadership if they dare oppose the new versions of that Plan being cooked at the moment by the Atlantic axis. There are rumours that a new and slightly revised version of the Plan will be imposed on a second referendum towards the end of the first quarter of the New Year. An action such as this one reminds many Greeks of the desecration of graves in Istanbul during the 1955 pogroms that frightened the Greek minority reducing it from 400,000 plus people to just over 2,000 today.

The Constitutional Court’s decision, on the other hand, is a reflection of the irredentist anti-Kurdish position of sections of the ruling elite – an answer to Prime Minister Erdogan’s inability, during his recent visit to Washington, to get help from Obama “to solve the Kurdish problem”. The secularist/kemalist dominant elite’s plan is to annihilate the Kurdish resistance, marginalize its political leadership while sending large number of Kurds as colonials to the occupied part of Cyprus.

These two events are Turkey’s response to the EU accession debate. As such they should be studied carefully and their political message understood in its right context.

Michael Youlton is writing in a personal capacity. This article is a follow-up to his Turkey and the EU article published in ILR last week.

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2 Responses

  1. Johan

    December 18, 2009 10:41 pm

    Methinks there is much reason in Youlton’s writing!

    I can only hope that EU-politicians show half the reason Mr. Youlton displays in his article.
    We, EU-citizens, risk a lot with Turkey becoming member or even getting a priviliged partnership!

    Johan

  2. Anderson C.

    January 20, 2010 10:02 pm

    How rude! Every place I guess there are propaganda, nationalist, parties and other opposition that voiced out their call and hope for their purpose and means. But in this case, the nationalist parties have been so out of control. The grave is indeed a very sacred place. They must have give respect out of it to think that that was the remains of the former President of the country. Though people were facing a very sensitive issue, cautious actions should also be exercised.