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Turkey’s tests of conscience and rule of law

Wednesday 31 October 2007, by Sahin Alpay

I began school when power was for the first time transferred in a peaceful way in Turkey, without bloodshed.

- Published earlier this year during the electoral campaign hold in July, this “rope’s debate” based article is still relevant regarding the Turkish political context which led the country in the situation it is today on the verge of war. That’s the reason why TE decided to publish it today on its website.

So my generation is the same age as Turkey’s claim to the full establishment of the rule of law. My oldest political memories go back the Democrat Party (DP) election victory in 1950. As a member of this generation, which is strongly attached to the ideal of democratic government, I must say that events witnessed in Turkey recently pain me both in heart and mind. I was first shaken by “the rope” Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) chairman Devlet Bahçeli, chairman threw “to” Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan from a campaign podium, where he was delivering a speech: “You (Erdoğan) can find enough money to buy a ship for your son. Can’t you find a rope long enough to hang him [imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan]? Here, I give you a rope... Go and hang him!”

Later I was shaken equally by Prime Minister Erdoğan’s response: “If when it was yours to do you did not have a rope, if you were not able to find a rope, the nation would have been able to give you one, and this business would not have remained to this day...” These statements were exchanged as if the death penalty had not been lifted in most states of the world and almost in all democratic states with a handful of shameful exceptions including the US. As if the death penalty had not been taken off the books in not only members of the European Union but also the Council of Europe...
As if Turkey as a member of the Council of Europe since 1952, and a negotiating candidate for EU membership since 2005, had not abandoned the death penalty in practice since 1984, and judicially even in war time since 2002...
As if the chairman of the MHP was not a member of the very government that lifted the death penalty for good...
And, of course, what is most disturbing is that in the year 2007 there still exists in Turkey a political “leader” who believes he can increase the votes for his party by acting the role of a hangman in an election meeting, by ignoring the rule of law.

Equally painful were the experiences at the first session of the criminal trial of the suspected assassins of Hrant Dink, our invaluable colleague who dedicated his life to the cause of Turkish-Armenian reconciliation. My generation has witnessed too many assassinations, starting with the hangings of Prime Minister Adnan Menderes and his friends in 1961. No murder since then has been committed so openly, so almost-publicly as Hrant Dink’s.

No other assassination has been committed in the face of 17 alerts to police headquarters informing them of a murder plot. No other victim of a political murder was warned (threatened) by some members of the security forces to watch what he was saying or he might be attacked. In no other assassination have the perpetrators been treated as heroes by some members of the security forces... And no other person of great value who has become the victim of political murder, who spoke about his growing suspicion that there were plots to kill him, still refused to leave his home country...

No other victim of assassination was first subjected to the fanning of hatred and vilification, even by people carrying the title of lawyer... In no political murder case did the defense lawyer of the suspected killers insult the family members and friends of the victim call these people “a bunch of dogs,” and yelled at the lawyers of the victim’s family “Go to hell, you are all Armenians!”

Unless these so-called lawyers are kicked out of their profession and are sentenced to the punishment they deserve, unless all those responsible for the assassination are found and receive the punishment they deserve it will be impossible to talk about the rule of law in Turkey. Recently the terrible burning to death of 35 people in a hotel in Sivas by a fanatical crowd was commemorated with pain on its 14th anniversary. Is it not a painful expression of our national conscience that this same building continues as a hotel? Why doesn’t this building stand as a monument to warn us against the repetition of such horrors? Doesn’t the fact that all those responsible for that horrible event have still not been discovered and punished show just how far Turkey is from establishing the rule of law?

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Source : TDZ, 9/07/2007

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