Ender Canyildiz, 41 years of age, died in Ankara aa the result of an intermittant hunger strike of 180 days, despite the efforts of the doctors to try and reanimate him. The hunger strike by Turkish prisoners and their families continues accompanied by a deafening silence on the part of the Turkish authorities and the European Union.
Turkey has already beatenits own death roll record for this kind of movement: in 1996, 12 detqainees had died from a hunger strike to expose the conditions of their detention which itself beat the record of 10 Irishmen who died in a comparable movement in Northern Ireland in 1981.
The Human Rights defence organisations, both Turkish and foreign, are pressing the Turkish government to open a dialogue and have appealed to the European Union. But nearly a month after the first death, on 21 March, the trial of strength continues.
Representatives of the Ministries of Justice, Health and the Interior met in Ankara on 16 April to discuss the question without any concrete result. The Turkish press shows little interest in the affair, obsessed as they are by the serious economic crisis the country is going through.
This crisis also prevents any chance of popular support for the strikers, generally members of extreme left organisations – the Turkish are more preoccupied by the struggle to survive than to be concerned by the survival of the detainees, most of whom have been sentenced on charges of "terrorism".
The liberal daily Radikal nevertheless headlined its front page on 17 April "Stop the nightmare! 13 dead on hunger strike " . The Minister for Tourism, Erkan Mumcu, also told his colleagues that he was worried that the strike adversely affect the revenues from Tourism, on which Turkey counts to offset the effects of its crisis, marked by a sharp devaluation of the Turkish lire against the dollar.
Some Turks are demonstrating abroad to attack the slow death of the strikers, particularly in France and Switzerland. On 17 April about twenty Turks occupied the Swedish Chamber of Commerce in Dusseldorf (Seden is currently Presiding the E.U.). In Geneva, about forty extreme left Kurds and Turks forced their way into the building of the UN Human Rights Commission. As for the European Union, which made an improvement in the conditions of detention a condition of opening negotiations for Turkey’s membership, the Swedish Presidency has remained silent since its appeal for negotiations after the first death a month ago.
At the time of the 10th death, on 13 April, France had expressed the hope that a solution should be "rapidly found". "Finally, we were more critical of Turkey’s Human Rights record before accepting it as a candidate, in December 1999, than since " acknowledged a European diplomat off the record. Turkey has, nevertheless, committed itself to improving prison conditions in its "national programme", which defines its priorities for membership. It thus asserts that the system of imprisonment in cells, that it is gradually building to replace those with large dormitories, which are the cause of the hunger strikes, conforms to European standards. The detainees, their families and the Human Rights defence organisations, for their part, only see them as a form of isolation that would facilitate ill treatment and desocialisation, and demand modifications, in particular regarding the time spent by detainees outside their cells. It is the only basis of discussion possible with the authorities, who totally exclude any retreat or abandoning of prisons with cells.
The Swedish-Kurdish writer, Mehmet Uzun, charged by the Turkish courts with helping a terrorist organisation on the basis of one of his novels, had his case dismissed on 4 April. The Istanbul State Security Court also, on 5 April, dismissed the case against his publisher, Hasan Oztoprak, of the Gendas publishing house, accused of separatist propaganda on the basis of an essay by the writer entitled "The Blossoming of the Pomegranite Tree ". In this case, Mr. Uzun was merely summoned as a witness, his editor running the risk of a 3 year sentence.
The N°4 Istanbul State Security Court ruled that proof of the alleged crime contained in the novel "Bright as Love, Dark as Death " – the alleged apologia for the separatist struggle waged by the Kurdish revolt until 1999 – was not "established beyond doubt". It ordered that copies of the book, which had been seized before they could be put on sale, be released.
"I am very pleased " declared Mehmet Uzun as he left the court. "I hope that this verdict will be a step towards free use of the Kurdish language, freedom of expression in general and also for a writer’s freedom to write whatever he wants ". According to the writer, who publishes his work in both Kurdish and Turkish, it was also proof of a "laudable effort by Turkey to seek to join the European Union ".
Amongst the many great names in Turkish literature who were present at the trial to support Mr. Uzun, was Yachar Kemal who expressed the hope never again to suffer "the harassment and shame of seeing works siezed or writers put on trial ".
Mr. Uzun had recieved the support of Nobel prizewinners Nadine Gordimer, Elie Ziesel and Gunter Grass, who had signed a petition also signed all the members of the Swedish and Danish Literary Academies.
Turkey still refuses to authorise teaching or television broadcasting in Kurdish as the European Union, which it wants to join, requires.
On 10 April, Turkey was found guilty, by the European Human Rights Court in Strasbourg, of violation of the right to life following the suspicious death of a young 22 year old Kurd in 1994, while being interrogated in a police station at Uluyol (Turkish Kurdistan).
Mahmut Tanli, son of a Kurdish farmer living in the village of Ortulu, had been taken into detention by gendarmes on 27 June 1994. The next day the family was advised that the young man had died of a heart attack, the official autopsy declaring that his body bore no signs of violence. However, according to his own family, his body bore signs of blows and bruises.
The European Court ruled that the hasty autopsy had "no scientific value whatever" and, in any case, did not justify the conclusion that the victim had died from natural causes. According to the European judges, the Turkish government is incontestably responsible for the death of this young man, who was in good health at the time of his arrest and had completed his period of military service a year earlier without the slightest medical problem. The government had failed in its obligation to provide an explanation of the death by carrying out the necessary post-mortem examinations: the heart had never been dissected, the organs had neither been removed nor weighed, no photograph had been taken, the assertion of an embolism had neither been correctly described nor analysed. The Istanbul forensic medical institute, which carried out a second examination of the body on 12 June 1995, had not been able to find any proof of torture owing to the body's state of decomposition. Three police officers implicated in the case had been acquitted.
The European Court ruled that the petitioner, the victim's father, had suffered from a violation of his right to effective recourse to the courts. On the other hand it rejected his pleas regarding violation of the ban on torture, of the right to freedom and safety, and the banning of discrimination.
The Strasbourg judges awarded 10,000 pounds sterling to the father in moral damages, and to the widow and son of the sum of 38,750 pounds for material damages and 20,000 pounds for moral damages (i.e. a total of 110,900 euros).
Just two months before the Iranian Presidential Elections, due 8 June, the regime’s "hard liners" have decided to strike those close to President Khatami, whose term of office is drawing to a close but who has, so far, refused to confirm if he will be standing for a second term till the last day for registering candidates, officially 6 May.
Thus on 7 April, the day of the Iranian political new year, forty two members and sympathisers of the Movement for the Liberation of Iran (MLI), the liberal opposition, also known as the "nationalist clergy" were called in for questioning. the MLI, founded in 1961 but more or less tolerated for the last twenty-two years and which was more and more declaring its support for Mr. Khatemi, was simply banned in March 2001. Amongst the people taken in for questioning were such well known public figures as Abolfazi Bazargan and Mohammad Hossein Baniassadi, respectively nephew and son-in-law of Mehdi Bazargan, founder of the MLI and former Prime Minister of the Islamic Republic, eighty year olds like Hachem Sabaghian, former Minister of the Interior, Ahmad Sadr Haj-Seyed Javadi, former Minister of Justice, Mohammad Tavassoli, former Mayor of Teheran and Khosro Mansourian, an influential member of the MLI. Over 60 intellectuals, accused of wanting "to overthrow the regime " and "to collaborate with counter-revolutionary groups " have thus been arrested in the course of a few weeks. The "Revolutionary Courts", the favourite weapon of the conservatives, only decided to release on bail six of them, including Mr. Javadi, who is 84 years old. The conservatives have been playing at closing down newspapers. taking intellectuals and writers in for questioning, Over fifteen newspapers and periodicals were closed down last year, four more have recently received a warning – generally a prelude to banning.
This decapitation of the "nationalist clergy" can be explained in various ways. Some, like the conservative leading light Amir Mohebian, state that "the system wants to reduce the political scene to two movements (reformers and conservatives)". Others maintain that it is a way of testing President Khatami. If he comes to their defence, he will come into direct conflict with the conservatives and the rest of the regime and if he does nothing he will lose the respect of a part of his electorate. The President simply deplored this offensive and Mr. Ali Yunesi, Minister for Intellegence Services, was cross examined on 10 April by the Parliamentary Commission on National Security and Foreign Affairs. The Minister declared he had not given any orders for these arrests nor had he taken any part in these round ups and that, to the best of his knowledge, there was not the slightest proof to support the charges against them. Remarks that clearly show disagreements between the "moderates" and the "hard liners" within the conservative camp itself.
Even if Mr. Karim Lahiji, President of the Iranian Leqague for Human Rights, who lives in exile in Paris, talks of a "creeping coup d’état " against President Khatami, some others, such as Bernard Hourcade, Research Director of Iranian studies at the CNRS have not failed to point out that the President himself is part of the establishment’s inner circle, whose sole object is to save the Islamic Republic by up dating it. Thus few observers doubt that Mr. Khatami will stand for a second term. He was elected in 1997 with over 70% of the votes cast – but many in the reform camp criticise he for not having started any substantial reforms during his four years in office.
A figurehead of the "mollaharchie with a human face ", Mr. Khatami is contributing to the gradual rehabilitation of the Islamic Republic’s image abroad. Consequently the conservatives, who hold the institutional means of controling him and holding him in check regard him as the lesser evil – and even as useful to the regime to the extent that he offers the supporters of change a closely supervised Islamic alternative. Since the Iranian political system offers no possibility for democratcs to stand as candidates unless endorsed by the clergy, those Iranian who aspire to change and to democracy have hardly any alternative to supporting Mr. Khatami – abstaining.
In this context, there can be little doubt that Mr. Khatami will stand and be elected President of the Republic for a fresh term.
Thousands of angry small shopkeepers spontaneously demonstrated on 4 April in Ankara, to demand the resignation of the government, while lorry drivers blocked a highway in the South in protest at the economic crisis that has hit hard.
Shortly before a heavily endebted small shopkeeper had thrown his cash register at the Prime Minister as he came out of his office without, however, hitting him
The Ankara demonstrations covered some 3,000 to 5,000 shopkeepers and their assistants from the Siteler quarter, in which the furniture industry is centered. "The government must resign! ", "The shopkeepers are ruined " shouted the protesters, shaking their fists.
The riot police, equipped with armoured cars and sub-machine guns stopped the crowd before it reached the centre of Ankara and Mr. Ecevit’s office. According to witnesses, the police beat up several people with their truncheons, while the demonstrators threw coins and bricks at the police and the President of the Ankara Chamber of Commerce, who arrived on the scene to try and act as mediator.
At Mersin, on the Mediterranean coast, lorry drivers blocked a motorway to protest at the increase in fuel prices. The demonstrators agreed to disperse calmly after talking to the riot police.
On 11 April, again in Ankara, very violent clashes occurred between the riot police and the demonstrators, resulting in over a hundred injured – 48 police and 67 demonstrators – and 30 other demonstrators were taken in for questioning. The demonstrators threwstones and scrap metal at the police who reciprocated with water cannons, tear gas and shots fired into the air.
"Down with the government! ", "No to poverty and corruption! ", or "Turkey, open your eyes! " shouted the demonstrators – 70,000 people answered the call of the Ankara Chamber of Commerce. In Izmir, 40,000 demonstrated for the government's resignation and 50,000 more in Mersin. There were also marches at Gaziantep and Mersin. The demonstrations attacked administration buildings, cars and shops and threw stones and bricks at the security forces. 202 people were injured, including a dozen journalists and 137 police. About a hundred were arrested.
Mr. Ecevit replied that he would not resign, though he did not exclude the possibility of a government reshuffle. "I think that, at the moment, the search for a new government could open the way to a governmental crisis. That is why I am staying, and will continue to stay in office " he said speaking to his party's Parliamentary Group. Questioned about a reshuffle he replied "That is a question to discuss between the coalition leaders " (of the three-party government).
The crisis has unleashed a galloping inflation and a wave of sackings that affects half a million people.
The Turkish Ministry of the Interior has published a guide for the benefit of the Turkish National Television (TRT) on the language to be used when reporting on the Kurdish question.
The informative note addressed to the General Manager of TRT specifies: "Our broadcasts abroad are seen as representing the voice of the Turkish Republic. Thus it is important that these broadcasts be aligned on our objectives and national policies. Consequently, it is necessary to take (this note) into consideration when preparing programmes in the context of psychological operations ." "It is necessary to ensure that the media do not provide information liable to negatively affect our anti-terrorist operations... The fact that terrorist activity has ended does not mean that the terrorist danger has disappeared. Thus the media organs should continue to support and show interest in the fight against terrorism and broadcast programmes pointing a moral and motivating the people " the note continues. "At a time when terrorist activity is in abeyance, the media should use every opportunity to encourage the groups that placed themselves in the State's camp, to assure them that they are receiving the attention needed and that the State will always support them " it adds. Here are some of the terms to be found on the Ministry's list:
• THE ASSESSMENT OF HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS IN KURDISTAN FOR FEBRUARY AND MARCH 2001. On 2 April, the Diyarbekir section of the Turkish Association for Human Rights (IHD) made public its assessment of the violations of Human Rights in the Kurdish regions for the months of February and March 2001. The figures are as follows:
|Number of deaths in the course of fighting||12|
|Number of "unsolved" murders and summary executions||13|
|Number of people taken into detention||286|
|Numbers tortured or ill treated||141|
|Number of "disappearences"||3|
|Number of arrests||54|
|Number of attempted kidnappings||2|
|Number of newspapers closed down||2|
|Number of newspapers forbidden distribution in the State of Emergency Region (OHAL)||17|
|Number of violations of freedom of opinion||6|
|Number of homes burnt down||2|
• RACIST DEMONSTRATIONS AT SUSURLUK AGAINST THE KURDISH COMMUNITY. The town of Susurluk, brought into the limelight by the scandal that brought to light the collusion between the Turkish mafia, police and political world, has again come to the forefront. Seven people were wounded, on 10 April, during violent incidents against the Kurds after the murder of a little girl of 11. allegedly by a suspect fro, the Kurdish province of Diyarbekir.
On the evening of 7 April, some 5,000 people, and again 7,000 on 8 April, gathered in the main street of Susurluk shouting slogans like "Death to the Kurds " or "Down with the PKK " before partly burning down the restaurant in which worked Recep Ipek, suspected or having murdered little Afsar Sila Caldiran.
The police had taken major security measures in the town after the body of the little victim was discovered, on 7 April, in the basement of the suspect's house. The latter is a former voluntary "village protector" (pro-government militia against the Kurdish rebels) who had been sacked after being involved in highly illegal affairs.
Seven people, including four police officers, were injured in the violent clashes that broke out. The suspect's house, and two shops belonging to Kurds, were burned down by the demonstrators. The Kurds, who had ended up in the region after being expelled from their villages by the Turkish Army, were forced to leave the town.
In addition to pictures of the police, the press identified Umit Cankci, local leader of the National Action Party (MHP -- neo-fascist) as one of the leaders of the riots.
• A TURKISH HOSPITAL REFUSES TO TREAT A KURDISH WOMAN PARIENT BECAUSE SHE COULDN’T SPEAK TURKISH. According to the Turkish daily Hurriyet of 15 April, Mekiye Polat, a young Kurdish woman suffering from hearing defectswas refused treatment at the Ankara public hostpital solely because she could not speak Turkish. The patient only spoke Kurdish and the doctor refused any examination, even if the husband were to act interpreter. Questioned on this matter, Dr. Ilker Töral declared: "to determine the hearing definciency of a patient, she has to be put to a test that contains about a hundred words in Turkish. If the test is conducted through an interpreter, its reliability is poor. One can use interpreters for children, but it is very rare with adults. It is preferable that doctor and patient speak the same language ."
Questioned by the press, Yasar Okuyan, Turkish Minister of Labour and Social Affairs, declared, in a communiqué that a legal investigation had been started against Dr. Ilker Töral on the matter. There is thus to be no investigating the matter of treatment methods and of the refusal of treatment, or of incomplete treatment, for non-Turkish speakers in public hospitals. Some have not failed to point out that, a few months before the Turkish media nad authorities had not hesitated to protest vehimently when a German doctor refused to treat a Turkish patient in Germany on the grounds that the patient didn’t speak German.
• BULENT ECEVIT RE-ELECTED TO THE HEAD OF HIS PARTY WHILE HIS SOLE ADVERSARY WAS INSULTED, ILL-TREATED AND GAGGED DURING HIS PARTY’S CONGRESS. On 29 April, Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit was handosely re-elected to the Presidency of his party (the "Democratic Left" Party – DSP) by its congress, unsurprisingly beating his only rival, despite calls for change. The aging, 76 year old, leadersecured 963 votes out of 1084 valid votes, while his raval, Mrs. Sema Piskinsut, only secured 86.
The Prime Minister welcomed a Congress which, he said, took place in "peace and calm " stating that Turkey "more than ever needed a party like the DSP ". he made no reference to the incidents during which his rival, former Chairperson of the Parliamentary Human Rights Commission, Mrs. Sema Piskinsut, together with her son, were manhandled by the Prime Minister’s supporters, who were opposed to her even standing.
Television broadcasts showed her being protected by her body guards and rescued from the assaults of her adversaries. Before leaving the scene she regretted the "attacks on democracy " to which she had been subjected. Also deprived of her right to speak from the platform to present her programme, Mrs. Poskinsut, who was the first woman to stand as candidate for leadership of this party, was forced to withdraw her list of candidates for the Party’s management and disciplinary committees. The unlucky, 49 year old candidate was not given a chance – despite (or because of?) her past record as head of the Parliamentary Commission for Human Rights for three years, in which she acquired a reputation for courage by her surprise visits to police stations to reveal and denounce the practice of torture.
The DSP was founded in 1985 by ther present Prime Minister’s wife, Rahsan Ecevit at a time when her husband was banned from politics by the military rulers of the time. Its performance at this congress shows it is still true to its tradition of a strongly centralised organisation, tightly controlled by the officiating leader – as are the country’s other political organisations. In the speach outlining his programme, the Prime Minister stressed the importance, for a Turkey ravaged by an unprecedented financial crisis, of maintaining the present three party coalition in office. "A change of government would compromise our effort toput the economy back on the rails. We are waging an intense economic battle and we will win it " declared Mr. Ecevit.
He thus, indirectly answereed the insistant calls for him to end a 44 year long career at the head of the State and of his party, founded in 1985, out of the former Republican People’s Party (CHP). He has shown, on the contrary that he is determined to continue, stigmatising those who consider that the DSP is not an "honourable " organisation, and stating that he has "proved that the DSP is magnificent, consciencious and determined ".
• SMEARED BY CORRUPTION SCANDALS, THE TURKISH MINISTER FOR FUEL AND POWER HAS RESIGNED. On 27 April, the Turkish Prime Minister, Bülent Ecevit, announced that he had accepted the resignation of his Minister of Fuel and Power, who has been involved in a corruption scandal. Cumhur Ersumer, who had offered his resignation the day before, is affect by a corruption scandal that has sullied the top echelons of the electricity sector and some investors in it who are accused of having falsified public tenders and taken bribes. The Minister is suspected of having personally weighed in on some tenders.
Before the press, the resigning Minister nevertheless rebutted the accusations against him, accusing the condemned civil servants of organising a cabal against him. Cumhur Ersumer is one of the leaders of the Motherland Party (ANAP), one of the three coalition partners in the Turkish government. His departure was welcomed in business circles and by the political caste, although Deputy Prime Mesit Minister, Yilmaz had done all he could to save his head, even going so far as to accused the Turkish gendarmerie in the case. After the announcement of the Minister’s resignation, the Istanbul Stock Exchange rose sharply, ending the day with a 13.5% increase.
The European Union and the United States, as well as international lenders, had demanded that Ankara struggle a little more seriously against corruption, and at the highest level. Last year, the Turkish police had worked on this, but observers fear that those implicated are only minor officials and not the high ranking political leaders who really pull the strings.
• THE INTERNATIONAL MONETARY FUND AND THE WORLD BANK GIVE TURKEY 10 BILLION DOLLARS. The IMF and World Bank have again flown to Turkey’s rescue by granting it a supplementary aid of 10 billion dollars to face up to its economic difficulties. In announcing this aid on 27 April, the General Manager of the IMF, Horst Koehler stated that "there is a strong probability that Turkey’s programme will work, but no absolute certainty ".
The international financial organisation has, it is true, already burnt its fingers here. A first support plan, totalling over 11 billion dollars, including an emergency help of 7 billion, decided last December was not enough to prevent Turkey plunging into an deeper grisis. "The details of the plan are yet to be finalised " specified Horst Koehler. According to initial information, the IMF will contribute $8.5 billion and the World Bank $1.5 billion.
It is not yet clear whether other countries will contribute directly. The U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, Paul O’Neill stated that he considered the IMF’s aid "appropriate " but gave no indication as to whether the U.S. would make a supplementary contribution.
To secure this fresh financial support, the Turkish Minister of the Ecomony, Kemal Dervis, had presented a fresh reform programme mid-April, which aims at checking the financial crisis that has ravaged the country for over five months. Priorities of this rehabilitation plan: the reform of the banking system (the debts of the public banks are more than 2$ of the national revenue) and an acceleration of privatisation. For the rest, Kamal Dervis has undertaken to reduce public expenditure by 9% this year, but excludes having recourse to new taxes, banking on an increase in the Gross Domestic Product of 5% in 2002, after a drop this year, limited to 3% "thanks to exports and tourism ".
• NINE PKK FIGHTERS AND FIVE TURKISH SOLDIERS KILLED AT BINGOL . Nine fighters of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and five Turkish soldiers were killed in Bingöl province in the course of an operation by Turkish forces. The soldiers were killed by treading on landmines.
The PKK announced the end of its guerrilla activity in September 1999, after 15 years of an armed struggle that had caused some 36,500 deaths. But this truce has never been accepted by the Turkish Army, that describes it as "a terrorist tactic ".
• AT A TIME OF ECONOMIC AND FINANCIAL CRISIS, THE TURKISH ARMED FORCES LAUNCH A $ 400 MILLION INVITATION TO TENDER. According to the Turkish daily Milliyet of 3 April, despite the economic and financial crisis that is hitting all sectors in Turkey, the Turkish General Staff is getting ready to launch a public Invitation to Tender for the co-production, in Turkey, of 300 military electronic systems for fitting to all its helicopters – a contract worth $ 400 million.
While inflation is again rising appreciably in Turkey, where shop proces have risen by 6.1% compareed with February, when the Turkish lire was devalued against the dollar, the Turkish Armed Forces, by way of a sacrifice, has limited itself to declaring that the project to buy tanks and warships will be postponed till next year, while advancing its project for producing helicopter gunships (ATAK).
• READ IN THE TURKISH PRESS: "MAKING A SHOW OF DEATH…". In his column of 20 April, Bekir Coskun, editorial writer on the Turkish daily Hurriyet , denounced the inactivity and silence of the Turkish authorities in the face of the hunger strike taking place in the Turkish prisons. Here are extensive extracts from this article:
"You probably watched their "return to life " project (…) In the last few days, at the time I’m writing this article, the number of people to have succumbed in the hunger strike (…) is 14. In six monthe the number of dead – killed – totals 45.
At any moment another death is announced. One cannot remain insensitive to this – we would panic if it was a matter of birds starting to fall in this way in our garden. But those in authority don’t give a damn. It is only a few bodies … Their feelings are blind, their emotions are deaf, their consciences silent.
Have you heard about such a "return to life" project? All the people whose lives they calim to want to save are dying.
You well know: All those who were jailed for robbery, misfortune or murder, classed "victims of destiny" have been freed. On the other hand "the victims of the system", that is the political prisoners remain in prison.
No one knows what is going on in the new type F prisons. Only every day ther is another death. Just the cold notification of death.
The detainees were placed in separate cells, it is no longer true to affirm that "they are being led to their deaths by the organisation".
What force, what deadlock, what pressure is pushing these young people to accept death in the flower of their youth? Ridvan Bulak, a Member of Parliament for the party in office, is the only one to show any reaction and says that "we are just spectators". What is going on then?
The liberation of murderers, robbers who have agressed hundreds of people was not a sufficient sign of silliness – now they are so stupid that they don’t know how to protect the detainees who are under their comtrol …
Detainees also have rights.
In a country where the law is collapsing, justice is disappearing, legal tragedies are enacted outside, in a country where men in full health, faced with Justice lose their heads, we cannot know what goes on inside prisons.
But the foresight of those who put forward the "return to life project" and who have provoked the deaths of all those whose lives they said they wanted to save is obvious,
All those who have a spark on conscience (…) want an end to these murders – that’s all (…)