Monday, February 22, 2010

One Year Later after the Israeli Elections: Yes, it is that Bad.

One year has passed since the Israeli elections, when Benjamin Netanyahu so swiftly took the Knesset from the hands of Tzipi Livni, and it is safe to say that the present government has failed radically on a few fronts: Gilad Shalit, the peace process, and perhaps most of all, allowing Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon to continue to serve.

Until now, I have not written much about the Israeli soldier who has been held hostage in Gaza since June 2006. Yet, I think of him constantly and I am thankful for all those who have worked to keep his memory alive. No war has been able to get him released and Hamas refuses to allow international organizations access to visit him. Last year, on September 30th, Hamas released a video clip in exchange for 20 Palestinian women prisoners. This tape set off a wave of excitement and it seemed that in no time he would be returned home; but to no avail. A deal, proposing an exchange of 1000 Palestinian prisoners for him, fail through, despite the hard work of the German negotiator. I for one will not forget Gilad and will continue to demand that both sides adhere to international laws concerning the holding of enemy combatants and civilians.

As for the peace process, one can only ask what peace process. The current government has its eye on Iran, while diverting the attention of the real challenge: a comprehensive peace agreement with the Palestinians which would lead them to an independent state. For me to call out FREE PALESTINE now would simply fall on deaf ears (simply since this has turned into somewhat of a cliché and it seems farther away than ever). However, I have to say it. The occupation has gone on for 42 years, and Israel has no time to waste. For years, we, in the leftist camp, would declare the need for a state out of some humanistic reasoning; now Israel does not have that option. Simply, demographics are at work and if Israel is not careful a Jewish state will seem like something of the past. On this topic, I promise to write more during the upcoming months. What is clear to me more than ever is that to continue to place blame on the “right wing” and “settlers” will get us nowhere since real change has not taken place due to the fickleness of the political center, and not as a result of the political maneuvering of the right.

Lastly, on the diplomatic front, the Foreign Minister has been quite a surprise. Avigdor Lieberman, the one who almost all love to hate, has met an enormous number of foreign ministers and seems to be working much more than the average Israeli politician. However, as long as Danny Ayalon remains his deputy he really need not worry; Ayalon has stolen the show and takes the prize as the most incompetent and damaging figure Israel has encountered in years. Whether it was the public humiliating of the Turkish Ambassador, the snubbing of US congressmen due to their trip-affiliation with the American Jewish pro-peace camp organization J Street, or the almost bragging about the alleged Mossad assassination of the Hamas member in Dubai, Ayalon has proven time and time again that he is unfit for the job –or any public position for that matter. The damage he has caused is immeasurable and it is about time that he goes home.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Turkey’s Forgotten Children: The Story of a 15-year old Girl named Berivan

Often it is easier to ignore a situation than to write about it. Today’s entry is especially disturbing since it is about children who have become entangled in a political struggle, and as a result, have ended up with hefty prison terms. Further, outside of human rights organizations, it seems as most people, including Turkish citizens themselves, are unaware of the huge injustice which is taking place. Until now, my blog has focused mostly on analysis. However, this piece goes beyond analysis and I hope it will join forces with others who are working for a more just Turkey. There is no doubt that great steps have been taken; but how a country over a three-year span can try almost 3000 minors for political crimes simply seems incomprehensible.*

Last year, Prime Minister Erdogan setoff on an ambitious ‘Kurdish initiative,’ which I have highlighted in some of my past posts. This was basically an extension of the AKP’s policy which began in 2002 and was set towards relaxing strict policies placed on the Kurdish population. Almost immediately the banned Kurdish language was allowed to enter the public sphere. Overnight, bars and clubs which use to be closed down for having Kurdish music were now the spot to hang out with an extremely happy Kurdish population proudly singing in their mother tongue. A few years back, the official Turkish television(TRT) started a Kurdish language station, and more recently universities have started contemplating teaching Kurdish (as a foreign language). Tangible progress has been made. After the last elections, the DTP (Kurdish) party formed a coalition in the parliament and during the last year the AKP, together with the DTP, worked together on a Kurdish initiative; basically, a program set to find a political solution to ending the conflict, in place of a military one. Things were moving forward. However, following the constitutional court’s official closure of the DTP, and with the party leaders publicly expressing their allegiance to outlawed and imprisoned Abdullah Ocalan, the initiative has all but been suspended.

It is in this context, I am writing the following piece. Right before I left Turkey for New York, I read an article in the daily Sabah, about a 15 year old girl who was arrested for throwing rocks at police in protest and chanting pro-PKK slogans. The next day it made headlines in Taraf , and its editor, Ahmet Altan, dedicated a column to the topic, in addition to two news article, which appeared the same day (January 28, 2010). The girl’s name is Berivan. She was arrested in the Southeastern city of Batman and is currently held in the Diyarbakir prison. She received a total of 13.5 years in jail, but due to her age it was cut down to 7.9 years. Taraf provides a quote from Berivan, where she claims her innocence, stating:

I am 15 years old and I have entered prison for the first time. I constantly cry here, and I am unable to get use to it. I want to be together with my family. It is so painful. I want to get out of here and go to school. I have nothing to do with politics. I am waiting for you (someone) to do something about this.”

Following this, Berivan’s mother addresses an important point asking “was she charged with murder? Even people charged with murder do not receive such sentences…,” and adds that “I have not been able to see my daughter’s face for three months and I pleading for them just to leave my daughter alone..”

In addition to Taraf and Sabah, I also came across articles on the topic in the alternative news site, Bianet. Stating different statistics, it appears that in the last three years almost 3000 minors have been tried under the anti-Terrorist act; with most of the sentences ranging from 6-24 years.* In 2009, almost 1300 children were detained or sentenced in the South-Eastern part of the Turkey. However, due to the mass-migration of Kurds to the western part of Turkey in the 1990’s, similar problems have been imported to Istanbul, Mersin, and Adana. While I have not found statistics relating to Istanbul, Adana’s record of child imprisonment seems particularly alarming according to another article in Bianet, which expands also on the troubling conditions they face once in prison.**

For the time being, changes to the anti-Terrorist orders concerning children are held up in the Turkish parliament, and once –or if- passed, such children will be tried in special courts for minors. However, it is important to remember that it was the AKP that originally made these matters worse when in 2006 the Law on Terrorism was amended allowing minors 15-18 to be tried as adults. Lastly, it has been made clear that the amendments in the parliament will not serve as a solution to all the cases; especially for the children sentenced to 90 months or more. Importantly, last year Turkey was penalized by the European Human Rights Court for sentencing a 14-year old for belonging to an illegal organization.

The children being held simply have fallen victim to the decades old struggle between the Kurdish Southeast and the Turkish state/authorities. To claim rock throwing is equal to terrorism is absurd, and to sentence children, who are clearly living a civilian life, for belonging to a “terrorist organization,” is even more so; not to mention the inflated sentences. And, what does the future hold for all of these children who will spend years behind bars. Does anyone believe that this will serve as a reconciling point and that upon their release they will become better Turkish citizens. Not many words need to be added. The tragedy of the story stands on its own.

*This is a correction from the original blog posted. **Once I receive exact statistics of the exact number being serving time, I will publish them.

Taraf’s Ahmet Altan’s article:

Taraf’s article about Berivan

The other link entitled “Üç bin çoçuk TMK mağduru (28-01-10), I was not able to locate online.
Below are three articles for Bianet (in English), which I also consulted: