The latest report on the state of progress in negotiations on Turkey’s EU accession allows a welcome escape from the atmosphere of polarisation in Turkey, and gives us a measure of the progress our country has made. Indeed, while one can read that “the mass graves discovered in the east of the country have not been sufficiently investigated”, we cannot help but rejoice at the end of this nightmare we experienced during the 1990s [in the eastern regions with a Kurdish majority]. At the time, people were being killed every day and their bodies dumped in the street.
While the European Commission is pleased that the “activities in Turkey marking the anniversary of the Armenian genocide [on April 24] could take place peacefully and unhindered”, one recalls that not so long ago, in 2005, a academic debate on the Armenian question held in Istanbul caused significant tensions.
The issues addressed in this report are no longer the same issues as 10 or 20 years ago. And so, in the chapter on torture, the report mentions the excessive use of force and tear gas, and also that the systematic use of torture is no longer used. In writing this I obviously do not want to minimise the problems that still come up today in this area.
With this in mind – and this too does not figure in the European Commission’s report – human rights organisations cite many cases of rapes of young women in police stations during the events of Gezi. Six of our young people are dead, and all of this happened during and after the events of Gezi.
Excessive police force
[[Gezi comes up throughout this report]], which mentions the “protests in Gezi“ 14 times. In recalling the excessive use of force by the police, the limitations on freedom of expression imposed on social networks as well as the warnings from the Turkish media authority to the TV channels broadcasting images of events from Taksim Square, the report of the Commission necessarily comes back to what happened around Gezi Park.
The Commission refers in this context to the self-censorship of the media and the dismissal or resignations forced upon journalists who had criticised the government for its handling of the crisis. We must therefore hope that the government of the Party of Justice and Development [the AKP party, Islamic-conservative, in power in Ankara] will read this report calmly and that it will encouraged it to practice a form of self-criticism.
This report also shows what has remained unchanged in our country during the last 20 or 30 years. In particular, with respect to non-Muslims [Armenian, Greeks, Jews] which, as the Commission reminds us, still have no legal personality, which prevents collectives from these communities from owning property, from carrying out collections of money, or from hiring religious leaders that do not have Turkish nationality.
Basis for discussion
The refusal to let the Orthodox Patriarch of Constantinople use his title “Ecumenical” and the refusal to permit the opening of the Institute of Orthodox Theology in Halki (Istanbul) [closed since 1971] are other examples of what definitely has not changed in Turkey.
One can also note in the Commission’s report the inadequacies of the Turkish judicial system concerning the capacity of prosecutors, the absence of an appeals court, or the very limited access of defence lawyers to the files on the defendants. The report does, however, mention some progress in this area, including the significant drop in the number of people held in prison.
The report therefore creates an auspicious environment for people who want to see beyond the image of a polarised Turkey imposed by those who believe that the country is necessarily an “advanced democracy” or a “fascist regime”, so preventing any genuine analysis. We must hope, therefore, under these circumstances, that this report can be debated calmly by Turkish public opinion in the days ahead.