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February 12, 2013, Tuesday

What is wrong and right in criticisms against American ambassador

When it comes to human rights violations, I believe that everyone has the right to criticize anyone who violates universally accepted norms. If someone beats his wife, he cannot hide behind the sacredness of the family unit against those trying to stop him. Likewise, if a state tortures its citizens or violates their fundamental rights, it cannot silence criticism from abroad by saying that it is a sovereign country. This is where sovereignty cannot be used as an excuse.

For these reasons, I do not agree with the many Turks who angrily criticized Francis Ricciardone, the US ambassador to Turkey, for his remarks on some ongoing cases in Turkey. They say that Ricciardone went too far and violated Turkey's sovereignty by criticizing the so-called violations of the accused's rights in the Ergenekon and Balyoz cases in which those who attempted a military coup are being tried. I do not have any respect for this sovereignty argument when it comes to human rights violations. Therefore, I do not place any value on any criticisms against the ambassador stemming from this sovereignty argument, which can only be used by those who themselves do not value human rights that much. So let's put them aside.

However, I am one of those who sharply criticized the ambassador before the media for his remarks about the ongoing coup cases in Turkey. My criticisms are based on some other principles: If you are arguing for human rights, then you need to be consistent; you need to use the same standards for others and for yourselves. If your criticisms do not have these elements, then your arguments cannot be useful, helpful, inspirational or anything else that can positively contribute to the situation on the ground.

The most terrible and gravest human rights violations in Turkey occurred immediately after military interventions. Thousands upon thousands of people were tortured, women were raped during detention, there were mass trials in which there was no respect for any rights of the accused, political parties were closed down, the media were silenced and so on. In short, the darkest nightmares descended on Turkey after each military coup took place. It is very unfortunate that, when these coups happened, the US gave the green light to the military juntas in Turkey.

If you say that the US's past mistakes do not bind the ambassador personally, look at his record. When the Feb. 28, 1997 so-called postmodern military coup took place, Ricciardone was working at the very same US Embassy at which he is the ambassador today. The 1997 coup was not a bloody one but the military forced the legitimately elected government to step down and dominated the entire political arena after that. So many people lost their jobs, were forced to leave the country and so on. We do not remember any criticisms being uttered by Ricciardone back then or by the embassy against this military intervention which turned so many lives in Turkey into living hell.

An ambassador who did not criticize military coups and the mass human rights violations that were their result is now criticizing the court trials in which the masterminds of the planned military coups are being tried.

And this ambassador is a citizen of a country which places the utmost importance on civilian oversight of the military. I recommend that the ambassador visit the Pentagon, in which a permanent exhibit is proudly displayed on one of the walls, illustrating how the military was taken under the control of civilians. Do our fellow American friends not think that Turkey also deserves to be a country in which the military receives orders from civilians and not the other way around?

Yes, it is true that like in so many other cases, human rights violations unfortunately took place during the Ergenekon and Sledgehammer cases and we should all criticize them. But if you want your criticisms against these cases to be taken seriously, you should also demonstrate that you have little sympathy for the endless victims of military coups in Turkey -- if you, of course, do not value soldiers over civilians when it comes to their rights.

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