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October 08, 2008, Wednesday

Steps and measures under ‘ostrich politics’

Should we believe that there will be some unexpected measures by the government in the aftermath of the bloody attack against the Aktütün military outpost? Yesterday, it was confirmed that the two missing soldiers were dead.If quantity means something, in terms of casualties, we should certainly see some measures. What we do not know is the extent of any “civilian” steps here. Perhaps we should not expect any either.

It is a given, first of all, that tomorrow Parliament will extend the powers of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government to provide clearance for cross-border military operations for another year. But, this is only a minor part of the debate.

Ankara is stuck in ostrich politics. Even the carefully worded address by Prime Minister Erdoğan to AKP deputies yesterday does not help change the already entrenched view. Take into consideration the speech by the current top commander, Gen. Ilker Başbuğ, at his inauguration ceremony more than a month ago, implying prospective military resistance to the sort of reform attempts that he claims would undermine the “unitary nature of the republic,” adding to the present state of emotions amongst the deputies. There you have yet another prospect for a continued impasse, furthering the “paralysis of creative solutions.”

Tomorrow, a key meeting will take place in Ankara. When the Higher Counterterrorism Board (TYMK) gathers, reports say, a set of security and legal measures will be on the table. There will have to be a constructive debate on more focused, unified and well-coordinated “pre-emptive intelligence gathering,” as Şahin signaled.

And, if we are to believe the Minister of Justice Mehmet Ali Şahin, the AKP will step back “neither from liberties nor from security.” Zaman reported yesterday that the AKP drew its lines that could not be crossed and that there will be no return to extending the powers of the local military command or emergency rule.

All this is good news because the tension in the region has remained unchanged, it’s probably even risen, for some time and any “retreat” from “civilian control” will make the situation immediately worse, simply by serving the Kurdistan Workers’ Party’s (PKK) interests. Erdoğan should, and I do hope he already does, rely on his extremely experienced, “liberal” undersecretary in his office, Efgan Ala, for good advice. It is at such times that people like Ala act with an expanded mandate to keep things in control.

But, returning to Şahin’s remarks, I see some unclear points which he did not want to elaborate upon in his press conference. In a fresh report presented to him, Şahin mentioned that the top command and the gendarmerie demanded “extended powers,” elaborating further through five points, and there was agreement on two of them. I understand that these are areas where the military wants enhanced powers of searches of individuals and vehicles given even to regular army units. The details are unknown but if these powers are extended beyond the police and gendarmerie, it may mean a de facto return to some sort of emergency rule.

But, what makes the traditional ostrich politics so visible is that, unless you combine security measures with politics and with civilian dialogue, you will be stuck at the same spot, lying to yourself. Lies have been exposed. Former top commander Yaşar Büyükanıt declared last year that there was now total surveillance of PKK fighters, and that everything was visible to the military. That was make believe. For a long time, the Turkish public has been subjected to robot talk, such as “The PKK’s backbone has been severely broken and it is in its final stages of extinction,” and this is simply a lie.

Part of the truth that helped defeat these lies was revealed last summer, when we gathered at the Abant Platform in Bolu to discuss the Kurdish problem. In a session broadcast directly on national, private TV, a human rights activist based in Hakkari, Rojbin Tugan, told us in a heartrending tone that Kurdish youth were on a daily basis leaving school gymnasiums in the region to voluntarily join the PKK. She begged, almost in tears, the politicians (some of them present at the meeting) to look at the human and cultural side of the problem. “What do we, do you, give these young Kurds? Nothing, just nothing,” she said. Her message was very clear. Every bloody attack and its retaliation, the daily violence and mistrust, abuses and humiliations were simply serving to completely alienate the Kurds from Turkey. “You are losing them, you are losing us,” Tugan cried.

In times like these, the endurance and boldness of politics are tested. Back then, to the very first question, are we to expect any comprehensive steps from the AKP? my answer is no. I shall react with no surprise if some half measures limited to security policy are declared, combined with some further robot talk and threats to Iraq. The AKP still seems unchanged in its determination that it will sweep the region by gained votes in the March 2009 elections. This means, do nothing. I am not sure if it is good for Turkey’s future.

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