“Let’s See What Happens Next” in Turkey

BARIN KAYAOĞLU

14 February 2012

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I sentence you to...life on trial!

Recently, Turkey boasted a Chief of General Staff as a member of Ergenekon – a far-right nationalist network of military officers, policemen, academics, and journalists – who allegedly planned to overthrow the AKP government in 2005-07. Now, the country’s spy chief, Hakan Fidan, the Undersecretary of the National Intelligence Organization (Milli İstihbarat Teşkilatı – MİT), is alleged to be a member of KCK, the political wing of the Kurdish group PKK, which is designated as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States, and the European Union.

If this legal mishmash had occurred in another country, Turks would be laughing themselves to the floor. Unfortunately, it’s all very serious, very sad, and very real.

The current trend of legal absurdity really began when 34 Turkish Kurds, four of whom were PKK members, came back to Turkey from Camp Mahmur in Northern Iraq in October 2009. The 34 were part of a few thousand Turkish Kurds who had taken refuge in Northern Iraq during the intense fighting between Turkish government forces and the PKK in the mid-1990s.

The return of the “Mahmur group” turned into a circus at once. Public prosecutors questioned the four PKK activists at Habur border crossing. Even though the activists expressly said that they never regretted being PKK members, the prosecutors decided not to press charges against them because they “expressed regret” under a law that pardons PKK members who have not engaged in violence and “express regret” upon their return.

Meanwhile, tens of thousands of PKK sympathizers showed up at the border gate and treated the Mahmur folks as if they had won Turkey’s Super League. At first, the state and the AKP government tried to downplay the commotion. But as public backlash built up, state prosecutors initiated legal proceedings against the Mahmur 34. Frustrated and unwilling to spend time in jail, a majority of them went back to Northern Iraq.

The episode is indicative of the cluelessness that has become the Turkish legal system. The arrest of hundreds of politicians, journalists, policeman, and soldiers for being part of KCK, Ergenekon, and affiliated groups is another example of the state of (in)justice in Turkey. Especially puzzling is the arrest of the journalist Nedim Şener for being a member of Ergenekon. Mr. Şener had uncovered Ergenekon’s connection to the murder of the Armenian Turkish journalist Hrant Dink in 2007. Also puzzling is the case of police chief Hanefi Avcı, who has been in prison since 2010 for allegedly leading a leftist terror group called “Revolutionary Headquarters” (Devrimci Karargah). Mr. Avcı had spent years of his career chasing leftist groups.

Ergenekon, KCK, and related cases have been pending since 2007 and have not resulted in convictions or acquittals. Hundreds of people have been away from their families since forever. That is unacceptable even by Turkish standards.

So what does the title of this post have to do with all that? Well, it actually comes from one of the most famous short stories by Turkish political satirist Aziz Nesin.

Once upon a time, a rich sheik settled in Istanbul. Soon, he fell in love and married the beautiful yet very gullible daughter of a religious family. One day, the man came home from work and asked his wife how her day went. The girl related:

–          I went to the movie theater. Even though the hall was empty, a man sat right next to me.

Curious, the sheik commented: “let’s see what happens next.” The wife continued:

–          The movie ended, I left the cinema. But the man kept following me.

“Let’s see what happens next,” the sheik repeated.

–          Well the man not only followed me to the apartment – he also let himself in.

–          Let’s see what happens next.

Then the girl revealed how it all ended:

–          Well, nothing happened. He and I ended up playing that funny game that you and I play every night.

The sheik, perfectly aware of his poor wife’s naiveté, left the matter at that. It’s better, he thought, to let bygones be bygones.

Those who wonder what will happen to Turkey are similar to the poor husband who kept asking “let’s see what happens next.” It’s obvious which way Turkey is headed. The question is, who is going to put a stop to it and how.

Barın Kayaoğlu is a Ph.D. candidate in history at The University of Virginia. He welcomes all comments, questions, and exchanges. To contact him, click here.

You can also follow him on Twitter (@barinkayaoglu) and Facebook (BarınKayaoğlu.com).

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