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November 14, 2012, Wednesday

Death penalty debate and questions

It was in the year 2006, I think, when the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) launched a policy that largely dispensed with the Turkish state’s red lines regarding the Cyprus issue.

 The Rauf Denktaş-led deadlock policy was being jettisoned and Ankara was giving open support to the liberal and pro-settlement Mehmet Ali Talat government. Likewise, the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (KKTC) and Turkey were changing their posturing concerning the Annan plan and leaving the Greek Cypriots alone in the “naysayer” role. The European Union did a big injustice by not properly rewarding the Turkish side’s change of attitude. But I digress.

As the matter was being discussed by certain “experts” at a TV channel from the “neo-nationalist” perspective, the channel urged its audience to send their messages to the program in an answer to a question that fit the program’s mindset. The question was: “‘Yes’ or ‘No’ to a solution brokered at all costs in Cyprus?”

The wording of the question betrayed which answer was actually intended. Which sane Turkish citizen would say “yes” to a solution brokered at all costs in Cyprus? Indeed, the answers revealed an overwhelming majority of “no’s” as expected. The results of this live poll were presented as proof that the Turkish public is against a solution and the Annan plan in Cyprus.

It was clear that the overwhelming majority of answers would be “yes” if the question had been rephrased as: “Do you support a solution process that would satisfy both sides in Cyprus?” But at that time, there was a fierce sentiment against all policies put forth by the AK Party in all areas. Cyprus was one of the disputes on which the Turkish tutelary system was doting. It was clear that the deep state was deriving its power from this problem and leveraging politics, the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) and expenditures via it.

The people of Turkey are very experienced in this regard; such questioning was employed by subversive soldiers and civilians in order to legitimize past coups. For instance, to justify the coup of 1980, they would say, “Should we just sit and watch brothers kill each other?” Indeed, if you ask the question in this manner and impose the worst method as the solution, then the answer you will get is obvious. No one would want brothers to kill each other.

A new discourse on the death penalty has been brought to the agenda by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, implying its connections to Abdullah Öcalan and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) issue. However, when Parliament abolished the death penalty for all crimes except war crimes in August 2002, 47 out of 53 deputies of the AK Party voted “yes.” At that time, Erdoğan, who had been banned from politics, had described the move to abolish the death penalty as a “great success.” And it was the AK Party which had pioneered the move to abolish the death penalty in 2006. I personally don’t remember the general public being unhappy with the abolition of the death penalty at that time. This is because this is already a sine qua non of the Council of Europe (CoE) and a basic requirement for our EU membership bid. The Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union forbids us from reintroducing the death penalty. Of course, we may opt out of the EU bid to introduce the death penalty.

Now, how should we chose the wording of the question we would ask the public? To what extent can we rely on the case of Anders Behring Breivik? By bringing this matter to the agenda resorting to the sentiments of the families of soldiers killed by terrorists and giving the impression that those terrorists are not sentenced to life in prison in solitary confinement and with no possibility of parole, isn’t the government imposing the answer it wants on the public? Where the world is heading in regards to the death penalty is obvious and given the fact that many debates have been held in the past about this matter, aren’t the cases of Russia and China sufficiently humiliating for us? The death penalty is not implemented in every US state, and this form of punishment is perceived as a black mark on the US democracy because it is implemented in some of its states.

I hope this is just a temporary populist maneuver.

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