Trials and Reformulations
Jan. 7, 2021
“We are following with concern” might be the theme of the year as Turkey’s Foreign Ministry put it in regards to the tumult in Washington. It’s a time to “maintain restraint” and overcome crises “in a mature manner”, the ministry advised, warning Turkish citizens in the US to avoid crowded areas. And so we kick off the new year with everything upside down, or right-side up depending on how you look at it.
In Turkey, 2021 will be a year of “democratic and economic reforms” as Pres. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said in a Dec. 26 speech. It will be a year in which Ankara seeks to restore ties with the US and hopes the European Union will overcome its “strategic blindness” per the Turkish leader’s year-end note. Yet the challenges ahead are wide and varied as Covid-19, economic fragility and broader rule of law concerns remain prescient in the country, if not worldwide.
Turkish philanthropist Osman Kavala is still behind bars despite repeated calls for his release by the European Court of Human Rights. The same goes for Selahattin Demirtaş, former co-chair of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), with party member Leyla Güven arrested once again last month.
Exiled journalist Can Dündar was also sentenced in absentia and pressure continues on independent Turkish media, most visibly with abrupt closure of Olay TV 26 days after it launched operations. And let’s not forget the multistep roll out of Turkey’s social media law.
So what can we expect of promised reforms in 2021? It appears monetary policies are changing to much fanfare from international investors, helping the Turkish lira regain some of its losses in 2020. For the rest, we’ll have to keep watching, with concern of course, as Erdoğan said in a Dec. 27 speech, “We are not carrying out democratic reforms because anyone forced us to, but because our people deserve them.”
7-day breakdown: Master of puppets
The year kicked off with a bang in Turkey in the form of the Jan. 1 appointment by presidential decree of a long-time ruling party member Melih Bulu to head Boğaziçi University, one of the nation’s top schools. Boğaziçi students and faculty, joined by others, have since been protesting Bulu’s appointment as an infringement on academic independence by state officials.
The move runs counter to standard election procedures in Turkish universities, as Bulu was not a faculty member at Boğaziçi at time of his appointment. This comes in addition to accusations Bulu plagiarized some of his academic research, which he denied as “lies.” As demonstrations continue in various locations, some protesting students have been detained by security forces in home raids that left more than a few doors in shambles.
Responding to criticism of the raids, Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu said Wednesday “the Turkish police did the right thing.” Meanwhile, İstanbul Mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu tweeted in support of protesters and the European Parliament’s rapporteur for Turkey, Nacho Sánchez Amor, condemned developments on in his feed, writing: “It seems Turkish authorities can only deal with criticism through crackdown.”
Boğaziçi students, on the other hand, are blasting Metallica songs during on-campus protests, after Bulu said he liked the band in an apparent attempt to get hip with the youngins.
Tighter oversight of society than a corset
The Turkish parliament on Dec. 27 adopted a law which human rights activists warned threatened civil society in a damning statement by seven organizations, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. The law gives authorities greater oversight of foundations and associations, but critics say it could curtail NGOs’ activities and their freedoms.
The Interior Ministry will also be allowed to appoint trustees to NGOs’ boards. In response to criticism, ruling party MP Yılmaz Tunç defended the bill, saying it would not violate the freedom to set up associations.
The Interior Ministry can now also stop organizations’ activities via terror-related charges while online donations will be regulated. “It is unclear how the proposed measures will be limited to curbing the activities of groups with material connection to armed groups and will not be used widely against other organizations,” HRW said.
A country on pins and needles
As 2020 came to an end, Turkey’s daily Covid-19 death toll was still over 200 with a record high of 259 on Dec. 23. The daily death rates have since been falling, with 191 recorded Wednesday. Daily infection rates are still high but down from previous weeks to 13,830 confirmed cases Wednesday. Turkey on Dec. 28 stepped up the rules on international passengers who must now have a negative PCR test result 72 hours before their flight.
Ankara also suspended flights from the UK to Turkey on Jan. 2 after finding 15 people had a highly contagious strain first identified in Britain. Still, there was hope after Ankara signed a deal last month with BioNTech for 4.5 million doses of their vaccine with the option to increase this to 30 million, while China’s Sinovac vaccine arrived in Turkey on Dec. 30. Turkey says the Chinese vaccine has an efficacy rate of 91.25 percent, much higher than a clinical trial’s results in Brazil.
This comes as online classes posed new challenges for schools during test season. One university in Ankara reflected on the best way to ensure students did not cheat in online exams: by sending its 11,000 students mirrors so teachers can see around them.
One year later: Where is Gülistan Doku?
There was a week as 2020 ended when the stark reality of femicides in Turkey was laid bare, especially after the reports on how four women were killed on Dec. 29. One of those women was Aylin Sözer, an academic, whose murderer also tried to burn her body, according to Turkish media. Her death reminded us to be careful of how perpetrators are described. In Sözer’s case, it was reported the killer was an ex-partner, but this was not confirmed.
Then the trial resumed Monday into the murder of Pınar Gültekin, killed in July. Hers is another case where there were reports of a romantic relationship between Gültekin and the suspect, but her family denied this. Her father, Sıddık Gültekin, told the court Monday he wanted another judge: “I do not believe a fair ruling will be given in this trial.” And all this after the father said a CHP lawmaker pressured him to “leave the suspect’s family alone.”
Many in Turkey also asked Tuesday: Where is Gülistan Doku? The university student has been missing for over a year with the family not letting up on the pressure to get answers.
Making up for lost parties of 2020
You miss parties. We miss parties. Now we have many new parties, though not those ones. After Ahmet Davutoğlu’s Gelecek and Ali Babacan’s DEVA, some other old faces have reappeared with new parties. Former CHP İstanbul district mayor Mustafa Sarıgül on Dec. 17 revealed his party’s name: Türkiye Değişim Partisi, meaning Party for Change in Turkey. All this after ex-presidential candidate Muharrem İnce confirmed he would set up a new party, too.
Last month, the Kürt Demokrat Partisi, meaning Kurdish Democratic Party, led by Reşit Akıncı said it applied to the Interior Ministry to establish itself, though the ministry said there was no formal application by a party with this name. CHP’s leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu told T24 the government was “trying to divide” the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party by creating the KDP.
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