Thursday, November 3, 2011

A Call to Free Zarakolu, Ersanli, and all other Peace Loving Citizens

November 3, 2011
With clashes between the Turkish Armed Forces and the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) on the rise and an earthquake in Van, which is one of the major cities in the volatile southeast, I sat down numerous times to write a blog focusing on the events. However, out of personal reasons, I opted to remain silent. In my past blogs I have written on the Kurdish question and my thoughts have not changed.

With the recent arrest of Ragip Zarakolu and Busra Ersanli I have decided to break my silence. In the last two years, there has been a clamping down on free thinkers who support Kurdish rights and the Peace and Democratic Party (BDP) which identifies with the plight of Kurds within the Turkish society (while most in the party are ethnic Kurds, they also have the support of leftist Turks). These arrests have targeted numerous politicians, journalists, academics, and activists accused of collaborating with the PKK’s civil branch, the KCK. However, no proof has been put forth linking them to the KCK; they simply are BDP supporters, a legitimate party within the Turkish parliament. What seems to unite many of those arrested are they are the ones pushing for a non-violent solution to the Kurdish question; they are far from terrorists, and certainly are those who chose not to “go to the hills” to fight but rather chose to work within the public sphere at reaching some compromise. I would go even as far to say that while they are painted as the enemies of the Turkish state, they are the opposite; who more than them in Turkey are working to save lives of Turkish citizens, regardless of which side of the battlefield they fall on. Put simply, if these people who serve the middle ground are arrested who will be able to bridge the growing gap between the warring sides?

For now it seems that the only ones that are really immune to the arrests are the BDP parliament members themselves due to political immunity granted to parliamentarians, some who were released from jail awaiting trial in order to enter the parliament. Otherwise, anyone who has even come close to the BDP’s headquarters seems to be under an imminent threat of arrest. While these arrests are not new, it seems that the ring of arrests is closing in on a more visible group. This week two names have hit the headlines; Professor of political science at Marmara University, Busra Ersanli, and publisher Ragip Zarakolu, whose son Deniz, a Phd student and lecturer at Bilgi University, has also been recently arrested. In his first letter from prison (where an accused person can wait months and years for a trial), Zarakolu writes the following “My arrest and the accusation of membership of an illegal organization are parts of a campaign aiming to intimidate all intellectuals and democrats of Turkey and particularly to deprive the Kurds of any support.” And, continues “During my interrogation, they did not ask any question about the organization of which I was accused of being a member. They questioned me only about the books that I wrote or edited for publication, the public meetings where I spoke or attended.”

As it stands now over 7000 people have been arrested and 3500 people have been held (see article). The AKP government can blame this on the judicial process as much as they would like, however, they can no longer hide under such a pretext. While Prime Minister Erdogan was given a “grace” period following the elections, this period is long over. With over 50% of the general vote going to his party, and an ambitious agenda to implement a new constitution, it is essential that the government take full responsibility of those arrested and immediately free those held who pose no threat to the general public, and to stop using claims of terrorism to silence pro-Kurdish activists. Lastly, while I have not remained oblivious of what is going on, I like many placed hopes in the future ratification of a new constitution, which I believe has the chance of leading Turkey to become a strong liberal democratic state (or how I stated it, the only real democracy in the Middle East), however, times is running out quickly and this unbearable situation needs immediate attention.

Below is the wording of petition which goes into more detail:

The international public has so far been oblivious to the so-called “KCK operations” carried out in Turkey by Prime Minister Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party for the past two years. Under the guise of “fighting terrorism,” the Erdogan government has been using the judiciary, the police, and the media to penalize all civic activism in support of rights demanded by Kurdish citizens in Turkey. The “KCK operations” in particular have been deployed to spread fear amongst activists, to silence public dissent, and to normalize the arbitrary arrest of citizens. Ironically, the Erdogan government’s suppression of dissent and of democratic politics has visibly intensified at a time when “Turkish democracy” is being hailed as a model for the Arab world.

Since 2009, as many as 7748 people have been taken under custody on the alleged grounds that they are associated with the KCK—an organization claimed to be the urban branch of the armed organization known as the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party)—while 3895 people have been arrested and imprisoned without even the prospect of a trial in the foreseeable future. Elected mayors, public intellectuals, members of civic associations, journalists, university students, researchers, academics, and activists have all been undergoing this heavy-handed treatment.

One of the latest victims of the Erdogan government’s assault on public dissent is Professor Busra Ersanli of Marmara University, a highly respected academic. Her only apparent “crime” is to have played an active role within BDP (Peace and Democracy Party), which has been struggling for the rights of Kurdish citizens in Turkey. The members of this party have been systematically targeted by counterterrorism units’ arbitrary arrests, even as the party currently holds seats in the parliament. Professor Ersanli was to attend a conference on “Controversial Issues in the History of the Turkish Republic” at Istanbul Bilgi University on 29 October 2011, but she was taken under custody on 28 October. On the same day, Ragıp Zarakolu—a founding member of the Human Rights Association and the former chair of the “Writers in Prison Committee” of the International PEN organization in Turkey—was also taken under custody within the framework of the “KCK operations.”

Earlier in October 2011, Ayse Berktay (Hacimirzaoglu)—a renowned translator, researcher, and global peace and justice activist—was taken by the police from her home in Istanbul five o’clock in the morning and subsequently arrested. She still remains imprisoned for the foreseeable future. Professor Busra Ersanli, Ragip Zarakolu, and Ayse Berktay are among thousands of people who have been imprisoned and silenced in the last two years.

Under such political conditions that are only getting worse, it has become an urgent task to unmask the arbitrary and authoritarian character of the Turkish government's handling of the Kurdish issue. We are calling on friends abroad to spread the news and to build international pressure, which has become especially crucial and urgent at this time when any citizen of Turkey could be targeted by the Erdogan government, the judiciary, and the police for engaging in political acts of solidarity with those detained under the “KCK operations.”

Peace can never be achieved under the current conditions of public fear, paranoia, and authoritarian politics. Please sign the petition below to put pressure on the Turkish government to immediately release all those who have been taken under custody as part of the “KCK operations” and to demand that Prime Minister Erdogan’s government make a sincere commitment to ending its suppression of civic efforts in support of rights demanded by Kurdish citizens in Turkey.