Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Turkish Elections: Kurds and Others

The Justice and Development Party, headed by Recep Tayyip Erdogan, won a third parliamentary term in elections held on 12 June 2011. The western media has reported widely on the election outcomes, mainly focusing on the charismatic personality of Prime Minister Erdogan and the success of his reform agenda. What has been missing in the reporting on the outcome of the Turkish elections is the success of independent candidates under the umbrella organisation, Peace and Democracy Party (BDP).  

In particular, l want to focus on two very interesting candidates that stood as independent BDP candidates. The first of these is, Ertugrul Kurkcu. Kurkcu is a well   known socialist activist, writer and journalist. But more importantly he has almost a pop star status with a large section of the Turkish population, in particular university students. Kurkcu is also identified with the 1960s student leftist movement, Dev-Genc. He witnessed the killing of his comrades in Kizildere, 30 March 1972. He only survived  by hiding in a hay stack. This historical event is documented by Professor Richard J Aldrich at Warwick University, UK,  in his book:  GCHQ - The Uncensored Story of Britain's Most Secret  Intelligence Agency.   Kurkcu was sentenced to death by the Martial Law Court but served 14 years in prison before being released in March 1986. 

In the June 2011 elections Kurkcu successfully won a seat in Parliament. His campaign galvanised thousands of supporters from across the country but in particular in Mersin where he stood as a candidate. Mersin is on the Mediterranean coast of Southern Turkey and made up of thousands of displaced Kurdish families. It also has a strong Alevi population. Kurkcu and his supporters were able to galvanise the  dispossessed workers and their families. He led a very open campaign concerning ethnic and religious rights, workers empowerment and an end to Turkey's dirty war against the Kurds. The electorate has invested enormous energy and hope in candidates like  Kurkcu: they are looking for tangible outcomes concerning Kurdish and Alevi rights as well workers and women's rights. 

The second candidate l want to focus on is Ferhat Tunc who was  an independent candidate under the BDP umbrella. Ferhat Tunc is a popular musician from a Kurdish Alevi background. His family roots are from Tunceli, Eastern Turkey. The population of Tunceli is Alevi Kurdish and is widely known for supporting socialist organisations. From this brief overview one would expect that Tunc would have won a parliamentary seat. However, he was defeated and the Republican People's Party was able to win the seats in this province. I believe Tunc and his supporters highly underestimated the power of Kurdish Alevi tribes who have a long history of alliance with the Republican People's Party. Whilst this political party has betrayed Kurds and Alevis and rarely supported their demands for cultural and ethnic recognition it nevertheless was able to capture  the majority of Tunceli's votes. The power of the tribes in Tunceli was not appropriately factored into the campaign. One does not need to be an anthropologist to detect this, you only need to look at the images of the masses gathered at  Tunc's election campaign meetings: young people, mainly men hardly any elders present amongst the crowd. The tribes of Tunceli had also declared their loyalty to the Republican People's Party. 

Despite the failure of Tunc's campaing overall the BDP was immensely successful in having 36 independent candidates elected.  Their victory is of historical significance and represents the importance the Turkish people have placed on the issues that the BDP candidates rallied around. While it is hard to predict how these candidates will fair in Turkey's dynamic political environment one can only emulate Hegel- he was terribly pessimistic about the path of the French Revolution but he never stopped toasting his glass to the revolutionaries on 14 July, the famous day of the storming of the Bastille.  Whilst l don't live in Turkey and have limited connections to the country l however do intend to follow Hegel's example and toast the 12 June BDP revolutionaries, especially Ertugrul Kurkcu!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Geoffrey Robertson: Mistakes the Mladic trial needs to avoid

The capture of Ratko Mladic is a signal moment in the delivery of the Nuremberg legacy that political and military leaders must eventually pay for their crimes against humanity.
He could – and should – have been taken into custody between 1996 and his disappearance in 2002, but diplomats then did not trust international justice: "The capture of Karadzic and Mladic," said a Nato spokesman, "is not worth the blood of one Nato soldier". Today, with Karadzic on trial, General Gotovina (Croatia's fugitive general) convicted, the verdict on Charles Taylor imminent and Colonel Gaddafi under indictment, there is more confidence that Nemesis will strike those who mass murder their own – and other – people.
While the Mladic trial will be an opportunity to see justice done, it must be seen to be done rather better than it was in the case of Slobodan Milosevic, who died before he could present any defence to a prosecution case that had lasted an intolerable three years. The expense and delay in The Hague contrasts starkly with justice at Nuremberg, where a convincing verdict on 23 Nazi leaders was rendered within 12 months. There are greater obligations now to disclose evidence and afford time, facilities and appeal-rights for defendants, but there is a problem with prosecutors and judges who think they have a duty to write history rather than to adjudicate specific allegations. They seriously overload their indictments – Milosevic, for example, was charged with responsibility for three separate wars spanning 10 years, when he could have been convicted simply and expeditiously for the ethnic cleansing of Kosovo.
The Mladic indictment charges genocide (difficult to prove and open to endless technical legal arguments) and numerous war crimes throughout the Balkan conflict. It should be replaced by just one charge, the crime against humanity constituted by his command responsibility for ordering the worst war crime since the Japanese death marches of POWs at the end of the Second World War, namely the slaughter of more than 7,000 prisoners of war – the Muslim men and boys killed at Srebrenica.
Limiting the trial in this way will enable some justice to be done before the inevitable claims of illness, old age and unfitness to stand trial. These are already being voiced by his lawyers in Belgrade, but the EU must insist that they be decided only in The Hague, after independent and carefully scrutinised medical examination. We have had too many international criminals escape justice for bogus medical reasons – remember Pinochet waving his stick happily after he landed in Chile, courtesy of Jack Straw's mistaken assessment that he was unfit to stand trial? Remember the convenient escape several years ago of Megrahi, the Lockerbie bomber, when a credulous Scottish justice minister was led to believe by doctors that he would die within three months?
Focus on this war crime will discomfort those who might have prevented it – especially the UN which refused to authorise the air strikes that would have stopped Mladic's advance, and the Dutch government which insisted on vetoing them to protect its cowardly battalion which was meant to be protecting the town but which immediately surrendered to Mladic and handed over to him the thousands of Muslims who had sought refuge in the UN compound. The moral nadir of UN/Nato "peacekeeping" where there is no peace to keep is the photograph of Mladic blowing his cigar smoke in the face of the spineless Dutch colonel while in the background those his battalion should have protected were taken off to the killing fields.
Nothing should detract from Mladic's command responsibility and he must not be indulged by a court which bent over backwards to help Milosevic at a time when international justice was under attack – especially from the Bush regime, which in a fit of puerility approved the "Bomb The Hague" Bill allowing the US president to use force to free any American under indictment there. If Mladic insists on defending himself, and then seeks to disrupt proceedings, he should have a capable team of lawyers imposed upon him, whether he likes it or not.
As to Serbia, it has some more atoning to do before EU membership can be assured. Karl Jaspers pointed out that the German people did not bear collective criminal guilt for Hitler, but they did bear collective political responsibility. So it remains the Serbian government's duty not only to send Mladic quickly to The Hague but to investigate and prosecute those who have harboured him. It has a particular duty, wrongly dodged by Hague prosecutors, to clean out the Serb orthodox church, whose priests blessed the death squads at Srebrenica. Without their blessing, I believe that some soldiers would have disobeyed their orders to shoot defenceless, hog-tied, men and boys. It is widely known that the church has harboured Hague fugitives in its monasteries and has been deeply implicit with the murderous aspects of Serb nationalism.
Some of Mladic's victims are upset that he has been free for 16 years, but his life on the run has been increasingly miserable. They should be grateful that the Serb police captured him alive instead of executing him summarily as the US did with Bin Laden. He will now appear as a reduced and demystified figure in The Hague dock – an inhumane serial killer rather than a hero. They should remember and take heart from the fact that the wheels of international justice grind slowly but they grind exceedingly small.
Geoffrey Robertson QC is author of 'Crimes against Humanity: The Struggle for Global Justice' (Penguin) and a former UN war crimes judge