Monthly Archives: April 2013

After Boston: The Good, the Bad, the Disturbing


24 April 2013

Last week on Monday, 15 April, two explosions at the Boston Marathon killed three people (including an 8-year-old boy) and injured more than 250. On 18 April, Thursday, the suspected bombers shot a police officer and wounded another. The police killed one of the suspects. The other one was apprehended on Friday night.

The attacks in Boston showed the good, the bad, and the disturbing sides of post-9/11 America. Especially the bad and the disturbing bits offer useful lessons.

The Good

The marathon runners and the people of Boston: many individuals rushed to the scene of the bombings on Monday to help the injured. And so many Bostonians donated blood that the American Red Cross had to turn away new donors because there was enough blood for the victims.

The calmness of political leaders and law enforcement agencies: from President Barack Obama to Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick and from Speaker of the House John Boehner to Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, political leaders kept their cool and convinced people that they had things under control.

Law enforcement agencies – federal, state, and local – also did their job well. Although it took three full days to identify the suspects, that was better than catching the wrong people and letting the culprits escape.

The Bad

The media circus: on 17 April, CNN reported that police sources had told the network that one of the suspects, “a dark-skinned male,” was in custody. Not only was the tip false, it was completely fabricated. A senior CNN anchor blamed “part of the mistake” on the authorities – an excuse worse than the infraction. The comedian Jon Stewart was hardly being unfair when he called CNN the “human centipede of news.” (If you don’t get that reference, click here.)

Law enforcement agencies’ and political leaders’ overreaction: after the shootings on Thursday night, law enforcement agencies – with several thousand officers – conducted a manhunt around Boston. The entire area was virtually locked down to find a single suspect who, it turned out, was hiding in a boat all along. It’s not easy to see things clearly in the fog of war. But shutting down a metropolitan area of 4.5 million people to catch a 19-year-old seemed a little exaggerated.

The problem with this overreaction negatively affected the public in nearby cities as well. I live in New Haven, Connecticut, and the streets of Elm City looked semi-abandoned for much of Friday afternoon. Especially the Yale campus looked like a ghost town.

The Disturbing

The likes of Erik Rush, run-of-the-mill Islamophobes, and the countless idiots who harassed people because they “look terrorist”: Immediately after the Monday bombing, Fox News commentator Erik Rush posted a tweet to solve the problem of terrorism: “Let’s kill all Muslims.” When people criticized those outrageous words, Mr. Rush defended his “sarcasm” and called one of his detractors an “idiot.”

The level of intelligence (!) displayed in Mr. Rush’s “sarcasm” and CNN’s “reporting” was part of a bigger problem. A student from Saudi Arabia, who was seen fleeing the scene of the bombings (because who runs away from an explosion?), was first declared a “suspect,” then “a person of interest,” and finally, a “witness.” Others cast suspicious glances on Sunil Tripathi, a 22-year-old Indian American man, who’s been gone missing since mid-March. Cause for suspicion? He wore t-shirts depicting the revolutionary Che Guevara. (Never mind that Guevara, a communist, has become one of the greatest capitalist icons of all times.)

The Future

Benjamin Franklin had warned how people who sacrifice liberty for security deserve neither. I always thought we didn’t quite make that trade-off after 9/11. The Friday lockdown in Boston, however, showed how we still haven’t learned the proper response to terrorism.

A good place to start would be to re-think the “no-fly” and “terrorist-watch” lists with hundreds of thousands of names. Law enforcement agencies have to find better ways of finding people who deserve to be on those lists. Russian security services allegedly warned the FBI about one of the Boston suspects but he never got on any “watch list.” If these lists become so full that we can’t manage them, we will have a hard time catching the real threats to public safety.

We also need to find better ways to help immigrants to integrate to American society (one of the suspects allegedly once said “I don’t have a single American, I don’t understand them”). We also need to do something about the ease with which people get firearms in this country.

But we also need to understand that there will always be deranged individuals – immigrant or native – who will find a way to hurt the innocent – with or without a gun. Therefore, in situations like these, we need to learn to keep our cool. If we lose our heads, compromise on our values, and display fear and hatred rather than calm and love toward our fellow humans, our next experience with a Boston-like attack is going to be worse and even more disturbing.

Boston Bombing

Barın Kayaoğlu is a Ph.D. candidate in history at the University of Virginia and a predoctoral fellow in International Security Studies at Yale University. He welcomes all comments, questions, and exchanges. To contact him, click here.

You can also follow him on Twitter (@barinkayaoglu) and Facebook (BarınKayaoğ


Is Turkey Really Ready For Peace?


5 April 2013

[Yazının Türkçesi için buraya tıklayın]

What word that belongs to yesterday
Is gone, my dear, with yesterday
The time to say new things is today

In my previous post, I had explained why I was pessimistic about Turkey despite the positive aura borne out of PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan’s Nowruz message. In a nutshell, I argued that given Öcalan’s and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s past statements and actions praising violence, a tough path awaited Turkey.

Another reason why I’m pessimistic is because even though a majority of Turkey’s citizens want violence to end, I don’t think they’re ready to face the requirements of a resolution, a real peace.

Before going into the resolution, it’s useful to diagnose the problem.

The problem is violence itself. For 30 years, handing Kalashnikov rifles over to Kurdish kids to fight G-3-holding Turkish kids has neither improved the lot of Turkish Kurds nor eliminated the risk seccesion for Turkey. On the contrary, violence bred a vicious circle: every dead militant, soldier, policeman, or civilian alienated Turks and Kurds from each other. Every death flamed more hatred among those left behind.

As such, the first thing to do is to end violence, to put down the guns. This truthism, however, brings us to a point that PKK sympathizers will not like: it is the PKK that has to cease its activities, not the state. It is also the PKK that has to lay down its guns, not the state. After all, states throughout the world have to maintain national security and public order irrespective of whether they are dealing with militant groups or not. Thus, PKK has to go beyond its peaceful Nowruz rhetoric and actually renounce violence.

In order to persuade PKK militants to give up on violence, the Turkish state and the AKP government have a very important duty. I’m not talking about another law for “amnesty, regret, returning home,” half-hearted measures from the 1990s and early 2000s that failed to stop the bloodshed. Nor am I talking about the so-called “wise men committee” that was recently announced. What Turkey needs is a mechanism similar to South Africa’s post-apartheid Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

This commission should comprise experts on conflict analysis and resolution (not just flashy names that would make the public feel good) and should be responsible with listening to the testimonies of PKK members and record their statements. More important, when feasible, the commission should find a way to bring PKK militants together with the victims of their attacks or their surviving family members. That way, the commission would give perpetrators and victims a change to apologize and forgive.

Turkey’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission would not only handle the cases of PKK militants but also government agents who committed crimes (especially those involved in extrajudicial killings, kidnappings, and torture) during operations against the militant group. Just as in the case of militants, these agents would also be encouraged to meet with their victims or their surviving kin for mutual apology and forgiveness.

I am aware that many people would find this idea of a commission unacceptable and that it would not bring back the dead. I am not naive and certainly not stupid. At the beginning of this post, I expressly pointed out the possibility that few people in Turkey would accept this idea.

But if we don’t want the 40 thousand people we’ve lost in the last 30 years to turn into 400 thousand or 4 million in the next three decades, we all need to draw lessons from our mistakes. Only if we can forgive ourselves and “the others” can real peace come to Turkey.

Are we ready to forgive ourselves? I’m not sure about that.

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 (BarınKayaoğ


Türkiye Gerçekten Barışa Hazır Mı?


5 Nisan 2013

[For the English version, click here]

Dünle beraber gitti cancağızım
Ne kadar söz varsa düne ait
Şimdi yeni şeyler söylemek lazım

Son yazımda PKK lideri Abdullah Öcalan’ın Nevruz mesajı sonrasında oluşan olumlu havaya rağmen neden kötümser olduğumu anlatmıştım. Yazının özeti şuydu: Öcalan’ın ve Başbakan Erdoğan’ın geçmişte şiddeti öven sözleri ve hareketleri göz önüne alındığında, Türkiye’yi tahmin edilenden çok daha zorlu bir süreç bekliyor.

Kötümser olmamın bir diğer sebebi de Türkiye’de vatandaşların çoğunun şiddetin sona ermesini istemesine rağmen çözüme – yani gerçek barışın tesisi için gerekli olanlara – hazır olmadıklarını düşünmem.

Çözümü tartışmadan önce sorunun ne olduğunu kısaca ortaya koymakta yarar var.

Sorun şiddetin kendisi. Bir grup çocuğun eline Kalaşnikov verip G-3 tutan çocuklarla çarpıştırmak son 30 yılda ne Kürtlerin koşullarını iyileştirdi, ne de Türkiye’nin bölünme riskini azalttı. Tam tersine, şiddet ortamı fasit bir daire yarattı: ölen her militan, asker, polis ve sivil, Türkleri ve Kürtleri “ötekileştirdi.” Her ölüm, geride kalanların nefretini körüklendi.

Bu yüzden ilk yapılması gereken şey şiddeti son erdirmek, silahları susturmak. Bu da bizi PKK’ya sempati duyanların hoşuna gitmeyeceği noktaya getiriyor: eylemlerini sona erdirmesi gereken taraf devlet değil, PKK. Silah bırakması gereken taraf yine devlet değil, örgüt. Zira her ülkede olduğu gibi Türkiye’de de – militan örgütler var olsa da olmasa da – devletin kolluk kuvvetleri ulusal güvenliği ve asayişi sağlamakla yükümlüler. Dolayısıyla, PKK’nın Nevruz’da söylenenlerin de ötesine geçerek şiddeti tamamen reddettiğini açıklaması gerekiyor.

Örgüt üyelerinin şiddetten vazgeçmeleri için devletin ve AKP hükümetinin üzerine düşen çok önemli bir görev var. Bu da Meclis’ten “af, pişmanlık, eve dönüş, vs.” kanunu çıkarmak ya da “akiller” grubu oluşturmak değil. Gerekli olan, Güney Afrika’da ırk ayrımı (apartheid) sona erdikten sonra kurulan Gerçek ve Uzlaşma Komisyonu (Truth and Reconciliation Commission) gibi bir mekanizmanın oluşturulması.

“Flaş” isimlerden değil, çatışma analizi ve çözümü alanlarında uzmanlaşmış kişilerden oluşacak komisyonun görevi şu çerçeve mantık içinde yürümeli: şiddet eylemlerine katılmış PKK üyelerini dinlemek ve söylediklerini kayda almak ve daha önemlisi, koşullar elverdiğinde örgüt üyelerini eylemlerinin kurbanlarıyla ve aileleriyle yüzleşmelerini sağlamak. Komisyon, bu sayede eylemcilerin kurbanlarından ve ailelerinden özür dilemelerini teşvik edecek bir “affetme-af edilme” dinamiği yaratır.

“Gerçek ve uzlaşma” komisyonu sadece örgüt militanlarının değil, PKK’yla mücadele sırasında yargısız infaz, adam kaçırma ve işkence gibi gayrikanuni eylemlere karışmış devlet görevlilerini de kapsamalı. Ve tıpkı PKK militanları gibi bu kişilerin de uygun olduğunda eylemlerinin kurbanlarıyla ve aileleriyle yüzleşmelerini sağlayarak karşılıklı bir af dileme ve affetme hali yaratılmalı.

Bu komisyon fikrinin birçok insan için kabul edilemez olduğunun ve yitirdiğimiz canları geri getirmeyeceğini gayet iyi biliyorum. Saftirik değilim, aptal hiç değil. Bu öneriyi Türkiye’de çok az insanın kabul edeceğini yazımın başında söylemiştim.

Fakat son 30 yılda yitirdiğimiz 40 bin insanın sonraki 30 yılda 400 bine veya 4 milyona çıkmasını istemiyorsak yaptığımız hatalardan hepimizin ders çıkarması gerekiyor. Ancak kendimizi ve “ötekini” affedebilirsek Türkiye’ye gerçek anlamda barış gelebilir.

Peki kendimizi affetmeye hazır mıyız? İşte bundan emin değilim.

Barın Kayaoğlu, Virginia Üniversitesi Tarih Bölümü’nde doktora adayıdır ve her türlü yoruma, soruya ve fikir alışverişine açıktır. Kendisiyle bağlantıya geçmek için buraya tıklayın.

Ayrıca kendisini Twitter’dan (@barinkayaoglu) ve Facebook’tan (BarınKayaoğ da takip edebilirsiniz.