Council of Europe: Turkey at crossroads
Turkish Probe
May 27, 2001
by Gul Demir

The European Council Parliamentarians' Assembly (AKPA) held its Standing
Committee meeting at the Hilton Istanbul Hotel. Participating in the AKPA
meeting were well-known figures and Turkey experts like European Council
Parliamentarians' Assembly Committee Chairman Lord Russell Johnston,
Council of Europe (CE) General Secretary Walter Schwimmer from Austria,
Cyprus and Turkey Rapporteur of the Council of Europe Monitoring Committee
Andras Barsony (Hungary), Benno Zierer (Germany), and Legal Commission
member Erik Jurgens (The

The CE Monitoring Committee, which monitors if EU candidate countries
fulfill the criteria, came together with authorities in the Turkish capital
before the meeting. Besides Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit and Foreign
Affairs Minister Ismail Cem, they met Minister of Justice Hikmet Sami Turk
and representatives of the Constitutional Court and National Security
Council (MGK). They also contacted the patriarch of the Orthodox Church,
representatives of the Jewish Community, the Human Rights Association, EU
ambassadors and political parties including the People's Democracy Party

The subject of the AKPA meeting which coincided with the democratization
report of the Turkish Businessmen and Industrialists'Association (TUSIAD)
was the reforms expected from Turkey for EU membership. The procedure will
work in the following manner: AKPA member parliamentarians will submit
their reports to the AKPA Watch Committee and the Turkey report will be
discussed in Strasbourg, France on June 8.

Greek Consul General Panos Kalogeropoulos invited internationally reknown
authors of the Turkish press, businessmen Sarik Tara, Asaf Guneri (who has
played a key role in the development of Turco-Greek relations) Osman Kavala
and Besim Tibuk who is also a politician and academicians to a reception to
meet the Greek MPs participating in the Assembly meeting. The reception of
the Greek consulate general took place in a cordial atmosphere conducive to
the development of warmer relations. The openness on both sides over novel
views and creative solutions regarding Turco-Greek relations and Cyprus was
felt clearly. Greek deputies said the reflection of the friendship with
Turkey on the political platform strengthened peace. In the meantime,
meeting the New Democratic Party's Dora Bakoyanni whom the Turkish Daily
News interviewed years ago was an additional source of pleasure.

The Greek members of the Council of Europe expressed their views on a
number of issues from the prison question in Turkey to the death fasts,
from the recent dismissals in the media to the Radio Television Higher
Board bill. Their comments about the approach of the Turkish Daily News to
different issues and its reporting ethic, and the statement that they read
the newspaper regularly, were words that would make a journalist proud. It
was especially interesting that they stated the views of the Council of
Europe over Turkey clearly and without any reservation. The Greek
parliamentarians, who said they would abide by the decisions of the ECHR,
sbowed an attitude that squarely contradicted those of veteran Turkish
politicians. There is obviously no need to say how important these
developments are for Turkey's EU membership.

Turkish public wants real democracy

Council of Europe General Secretary Walter Schwimmer said they did not view
Turkey as a problematic country and noted the Council of Europe had aided
Turkey on human rights issues over the fifty years of its membership. He
said they regarded Turkey as a family member of the Council of Europe.
Turkey and Cyprus Rapporteur of the Council of Europe Andras Barsony
pointed out that Turkey is at a crossroads where it has to choose the
values of the CE or taking a different turn, which, he noted, would not be
reasonable for Turkey. Barsony said "When we look at human rights problems
or the economic crisis in Turkey, we must know that real democracy is
impossible without economic stability. This is why Turkish businessmen have
pressed for democratic reforms. A democratic setting improves the business
environment. We cannot be pessimistic about Turkey's future. The Turkish
public is very attached to democracy, it wants real democracy."

Lord Russell Johnston said the dominant groups in Turkey had two major
fears which were first, the threat of fundamentalist Islam acceding to
power on the back of secular forces, and second, separatism. He noted that
the CE was more concerned with people's aspirations, suggesting that
Turkish society needed to improve on this count. AKPA Chairman Johnston
said the CE regarded as a positive development that Turkey should have
adopted secularism and separated religious and political affairs, but
Turkey was slow to make progress with reforms.

Opinion regarding closure of political parties

Lord Russell Johnston emphasized two issues over the trial regarding the
closure of the Virtue Party (FP). He noted that Welfare Party (RP) applied
to the Strasbourg Court and said the CE received the impression that the
Consitutional Court in Turkey awaited the ruling for the RP before it
proceeded on to the second case. He said the European Parliamentarians'
Assembly was opposed to terrorism, religious impositions and believed in
secularism. He added the caveat that they did not think in parallel with
Turkey with regard to closing parties because of beliefs and policies.

Chairman of the European Parliamentarians' Assembly (AKPM) Lord Russell
Johnston said that the CE could not base its actions regarding party
closure on guess work. He said they looked mainly at the party program. "We
cannot base our determination over a party on other people's opinions. The
decision should be based on the concrete actions of the party and the
content of its program. The European Parliamentarians' Assembly believes
that some political speeches are exaggerated in Turkey." Regarding the
closure case of the FP, Schwimmer asked Turkey to wait for the EHRC's
ruling over RP's closure.

Which solution in Cyprus?

The European Council would like to see a compromise and the solution of
problems. Schwimmer said the Cyprus problem should be resolved as soon as
possible. Stating that "I don't predict that the European Union (EU) will
accept a divided Cyprus for membership," Lord Johnston recalled that the
ECHR condemned Turkey for human rights violations in Cyprus and stressed
that by refusing to heed the decisions of the Eruopean court, Turkey was
indirectly violating the Convention of Human Rights (CHR). "The decision
lies with Ankara, which is a member of the Council of Europe," said
Johnston. "This would be an indicator of respect for human rights. The
inability to heed the decision of the EHRC will impede Turkey's EU

Johnston said Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit was very experienced over Cyprus
and noted that the rigid attitude over a confederative solution continued.
Schwimmer noted that the European Council Parliamentarians' Assembly made a
very serious proposition for a state that encompassed two societies and two
regions. "We are ready to protect the rights of Turks and Greeks in Cyprus,
for they lived together on the island for years. A way must be found for
the coexistence of the societies."

Turkey at crossroads

Council of Europe Cyprus Rapporteur Andras Barsony explained his views on
the topic as follows: "There is a state which is recognized by no one but
Turkey. Turkey has to decide on a solution. If this status quo is not
recognized by the world and is recognized only by Turkey, Turkish
politicians must consider how long this state of affairs can continue. Or
they should consider the need for a historic compromise. Instead of having
an independent state only in Northern Cyprus, we need a decision that also
includes Greek Cypriots."

"Another factor is Turkey's bid for EU membership. How can we take this
application seriously if the ruling of the EHRC is not heeded? This is not
a restaurant menu. One cannot say I choose such and such. That is why it is
a crossroads for Turkey. You cannot always insist that you will not do
something when you are a family member."

Barsony's proposal for a possible solution in Cyprus is one that considers
the basic features of both societies, and the reactions of the local
population and civil society associations. "After long-lasting differences,
both sides have to contribute to peace on the island. For instance there
can be an agreement between the highest level authorities as soon as
tomorrow. If they are unable to explain this to people on both sides of the
Green Line, this will remain on paper only. The Council of Europe should
find a solution which comprises both of the populations and on which they
can agree.

"The second issue is security. Both sides should understand the need for an
international peacekeeping mission. Only this kind of peacekeeping mission
can ensure the future of both societies. Both sides lack confidence in each
other. There is need for an organization under an international umbrella
and the supervision of the United Nations. The demilitarization of the
island should be considered in the long term."

Death fasts should end

AKPA Chairman Johnston made an assessment regarding prisons: "I can say
that we also wanted the transition to F-type prisons but it was done with a
good amount of violence and in a wild manner. That is why some people died
and some were wounded in the process. This was not a good beginning."
Noting that he thought positively about three new bills regarding F-type
prisons, he said: "But as far as I understand, these laws are not being
implemented yet." He called on authorities to put them into effect as soon
as possible.

The Council of Europe will carefully watch if Turkey sticks with the prison
reform. Indicating that they hoped that the death fasts and hunger strikes
would thus end, Johnston said "People should not risk their lives with
these death fasts. We want to protect human rights at the same time that we
want to save human life. It is time for the death fasts to end." He added
they would visit F-type prisons to analyze the conditions and talk with

"There is a language called Kurdish"

AKPA chairman Johnston recalled the Council of Europe was celebrating 2001
as "The Year of Languages" and said that Turkey's attitude regarding
Kurdish contradicted this fact. Stating that "We are also in the position
of protecting the languages of minorities and of peoples," Johnston said,
"There is a language called Kurdish.

"Some politicians in Turkey say there is no language called Kurdish. There
are newspapers, and television and radio broadcasting. Language is a
person's most valuable possession. The mother tongue is the only way of
cultural and self-expression. I believe that the pressure in this area
reduces the chances of the Kurdish people forming an attachment to the
state, which acts roughly toward them.

"Usually people who are not separatist or Islamists are jailed for very
simple political arguments over very simple issues. The Council of Europe
supports the secular regime established by Ataturk, and in no way supports
terrorism. It supports the use of the mother tongue. We don't see Europe as
a cauldron of languages and religions. We believe in the plurality of
languages, religions and cultures. Turkish is part of Europe's linguistic
wealth, but the same holds true for Kurdish. As we support the right of
Turkic people in Macedonia and Kosovo to speak Turkish, we support the
right of Kurds in Turkey to speak Kurdish. This is Turkey's wealth. The
existence of diffferent languages and cultures and different traditions
will benefit the state. We do not see this as a threat to national unity
and territorial integrity. Turkey is composed of very different ethnic
groups, we have to admit it."

Barsony said while Japanese, Arabic and Chinese were taught in Turkish
schools, Kurdish was omitted and continued: "I believe this is ridiculous.
Let's say there are no Kurds, who then is the threat? If the Kurds are not
terrorists, then the terrorists are just terrorists. The first step of a
baby toward full humanity is the pronouncement of the word 'mother' in this
language as he learns to speak. How come a social group is told that 'you
cannot use your mother tongue'? This has nothing to do with political
activitism and terrorism. For instance, Abdullah Ocalan himself does not
speak Kurdish, he speaks Turkish.

Barsony said "Kurdish, the mother tongue of millions of people, cannot be
an element of threat. It is only a question of identity for people who use
this language. This language has to be used and exist in a democratic
society" and expressed hope to see positive developments over Kurdish this

Harsh criticism at AKPA meeting

During the AKPA meeting at the Istanbul Hilton Hotel, Council of Europe
member parliamentarians directed a number of questions to Turkish
parliamentarians. There were responses to criticisms. Armenian
parliamentarian Hovhannes Hovhansiyan said "Our people expect steps for the
implementation of peace and serenity. We were always opposed to terrorism.
Our constitution states that borders will not be changed. The genocide is
accepted all over the world. But you do not take steps in this direction."

Turkey's EU General Secretary Volkan Vural recalled that Armenian
authorities had told him "We don't want to look at the past, we want to
look at the future of our children." Vural said "Those who want peace and
serenity have to indicate this. They have to indicate that they did not
invade other territories."

AKPA Legal Commission member Erik Jurgens from the Netherlands irritated
Turkey's Minister of Justice Hikmet Sami Turk. Socialist deputy Jurgens
said "Turkey defines terrorism in a manner that does not cohere with
international standards. Turkey has a wrong definition of terrorism. The
defense of regional autonomy, which is not considered an offense in other
countries, is an offense in Turkey." Jurgens criticized Minister of Justice
Hikmet Sami Turk for using the word terrorism in a way that did not fit
with the standards of the Council of Europe.

Responding to Jurgens' criticism about HADEP members who disappeared under
custody or were arrested, Turk said it was not possible to amend
constitutional articles defining the unity of the state and secularism. The
arrested HADEP members were in prison because of "links to terrorist
organizations" and had been sentenced by independent Turkish courts.

In his response to Erik Jurgens at the AKPA meeting, Turk accused European
countries of causing the death fasts. Turk said the following: "The hunger
strikes are today led by some European countries. Your country included...
We know that the instructions for the hunger strikes come from Brussels and
Amsterdam." Minister Turk's response received reaction from some
parliamentarians, upon which AKPA Chairman Lord Russell Johnston
intervened. He may also have gotten confused on the number of deaths
resulting from the fasts, saying 18 instead of 22.

copyright 2001. reprinted with permission.