[email protected]

March 27, 2011, Sunday

Whose model is it anyway?

Diplomacy was never Muammar Gaddafi’s strong suit. Even as he was trying to sweet-talk Ankara the other day out of joining an allied military alliance, the Great Leader could not refrain from trying to slip in the knife.

In an interview nearly three weeks ago for Turkish state-owned television, the colonel accused the West of double and even triple standards in trying to impose a no-fly zone in Libyan airspace. “The Turkish Army has been fighting the Kurds for years. Why is Turkish airspace not closed? Neither the US nor Europe have made any decision to that effect. Why?” he demanded to know.

This is not the first or even the most embarrassing occasion in which the Kurdish question has been asked. It what might possibly be the only memorable thing he ever said, former Turkish Prime Minister Mesut Yılmaz described Turkey’s road to Brussels and EU accession as having to go through Diyarbakır. As Turkey holds itself up as a model for the democratic aspirations of the MENA region, it is aware that it, too, has its problems to solve.

It now seems as if Diyarbakır’s Station Square may be taking a leaf from Cairo’s Tahrir Square. Turkey’s Kurdish nationalists have now outlined a strategy of civil disobedience as a way of succeeding where the land mine and the bullet have failed. Denying the legitimacy of authority can be devastatingly effective, although one assumes it will not lead to the same sort of Tripoli-Benghazi divide. The government can only curse itself for having dithered over its Kurdish initiative for so long. As Cem Boyner, a former president of the Turkish Industrialists and Businessmen’s Association (TÜSİAD), put it the other day, how could the government have secret talks with Abdullah Öcalan, a man convicted of violent insurrection, and yet be unable to hold a civilized dialogue with democratically elected Kurdish nationalist deputies?

* * *

As I write this column, news is drifting in of a police raid on a publishing house as part of the continuing investigations of the Ergenekon conspiracy. İthaki Publishers were due to publish “The Imam’s Army,” an account (highly critical, one assumes) of the Fethullah Gülen religious movement by Ahmet Şık, a journalist who is now in prison on remand, charged with being part of that same conspiracy. The reports suggest that a hard copy of the manuscript was seized and that electronic versions of the same, somehow destroyed.

We have already seen evidence that the Turkish public is beginning to lose faith in the confidence in the Ergenekon enquiry. The Ankara-based MetroPOLL organization, on which the government itself sometimes relies, reports that over half (50.1 percent) of those it surveyed believe such a conspiracy exists. Yet only 31.9 percent believe that it is being conducted in a fair manner. Some 46 percent believe it is being conducted unfairly, and 52.3 percent do not believe that the investigation will strengthen Turkish democracy. This latest operation ordered by the Ergenekon prosecutor, if confirmed, will only strengthen such skepticism.

Publishing a book is no crime. It was not all that long ago that “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” was a best seller in Turkey -- an infamous if somewhat aged hoax purporting to describe a Jewish plot to achieve global domination. Şık is a journalist who enjoys the respect of many of his peers. One cannot imagine that his book was any less fair than the freely available anti-Semitic tome whose republication in Turkish could have no other motive than to stir up hate. Indeed, members of the Gülen movement, many of who support this newspaper as well, must feel cheated that they are unable to read the criticisms leveled against them and denied the opportunity to respond. In a democratic Turkey, they should be the ones clamoring the loudest for Mr. Şık to be released and his book made freely available.

Similarly, there is a lively discussion of the integrity of the Gülen movement in the WikiLeaks documents now being published in the Taraf newspaper. Surely that, too, needs to be more widely reported and discussed alongside the other leaked revelations. If someone is talking about you behind your back (and that someone is the US State Department), surely you would want to know.

In the meantime, the Ergenekon prosecutor should ask himself whether his inquiry has not taken a wrong turn. If the answer is yes, he might consider having himself assigned to another case.

Previous articles of the columnist