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Türk attack raises questions about Turkey's 'martial politics'

ISTANBUL – Hürriyet Daily News | 4/19/2010 12:00:00 AM | IŞIL EĞRİKAVUK

The punch that left Kurdish politician Ahmet Türk with a broken nose last week raises questions regarding the martial nature of Turkey’s politics. While some say those fistfights are common in many countries’ politics, some say the tension shows signs of an overly politicized society

Attacks on two of Turkey’s top politicians recently have once again spotlighted the country’s “martial politics.”

From polarization in society to the exploitation of suppressed people, many reasons have been offered to explain away the violent incidents, with some even claiming that assaults on politicians are the norm in the region. Under the public debate, however, lingers the question of when Turkish politics will ever evolve into a civilized affair.

Headlines were made last week when Kurdish politician Ahmet Türk, the former leader of the disbanded Democratic Society Party, or DTP, suffered a broken nose when he was punched in the face by a 27-year-old man.

The event happened when Türk and other former DTP deputies were in Samsun, a province on the northern coast of Turkey, to follow a court case, which was to be held in another province yet was moved to Samsun for security precautions. The attacker, İsmail Çelik, said he was disturbed by comments from DTP deputy Sırrı Sakık and attacked Türk.

Yet, what happened to Türk was not the only recent attack. Two weeks ago, the leader of the Republican People’s Party, or CHP, Deniz Baykal was welcomed with a hail of stones and eggs as he arrived in Van, a province in eastern Turkey.

“This is a primitive approach,” said Deputy Prime Minister Cemil Çiçek, when asked about Türk’s case in a press conference. “Whether it is a politician or a citizen, those cases are all inappropriate. In the past, we have had such cases as well, and they have disgraced Turkey on international platforms.”

Although the attack on Türk has highlighted the subject of violence in politics once more, some commentators believe it is incorrect to link the attack on Türk with other events such as brawls in Parliament. They say the attack on Türk is more the result of lingering tension between Turks and Kurds. 

[HH] Past Punches

Indeed, punching, badgering, hitting and other types of aggressive attacks toward Turkish politicians have been common cases for decades. One of the most notorious incidents happened in 1975 when President Süleyman Demirel was punched in the face and had his nose broken by a “psychologically abnormal” man dressed in a lieutenant’s uniform.

In another well-known case in 1996, Mesut Yılmaz, the former leader of the Motherland Party, or ANAP, was punched in the face during a trip to Budapest. Yılmaz also came out of the incident with a broken nose. The attacker, Veysel Özerdem, said he punched Yılmaz for speaking out against Abdullah Çatlı, a convicted drug trafficker and alleged contract killer for the Counter-Guerrilla, a clandestine anti-communist operation.

“In all other countries such cases might happen,” said psychologist Aytekin Sır. “Look at what happened in Italy a few months ago, the same thing happened to [Prime Minister Silvio] Berlusconi. The latest two cases are the results of an overly politicized society,” he told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review.

“People are extremely sensitive about their ethnic identities, especially when it comes to the Turkish-Kurdish issue. They hear news about deaths everyday and they are looking for the guilty party,” he said. “But I also think these events are organized by those who will benefit from the chaos.”

Academic and politician Mümtaz Soysal agrees. “I think it was a huge mistake for the court case to be held in Samsun,” Soysal said, referring to the case Türk was observing. “There are a lot of nationalist people in the region who can easily fly off the handle. Choosing Samsun only poured oil on the flames,” he said.

[HH] Parliament fights

Türk and Baykal’s cases have been attacks by civilians on politicians, but fistfights are also common between politicians themselves. It was only two months ago when deputies from the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, and the Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP, entered into a fistfight inside Parliament, ending up with some deputies being hospitalized.

Some fights end up being more dangerous than just simply a punch in the face. Turkey’s Parliament has been center ring for numerous fights, some of which even ended up with beatings and death.

In his book, “When I Was a Deputy,” writer, journalist and politician Çetin Altan writes about an assault he suffered in Parliament in 1968. At the time, he was serving as a deputy from the Workers’ Party of Turkey, or TİP, the first socialist party in Turkey to win representation in Parliament.

“I had already received the news that the AP [Justice Party] deputies would attack me,” Altan wrote in his book, referring to the tension in Parliament between TİP and AP deputies. The attack was on Feb. 19, 1968. When Altan called Nâzım Hikmet, the Turkish poet who was exiled to Russia for his political beliefs, a “great poet,” he was attacked by a number of AP deputies.

“Jumping from their seats, the AP deputies came down on me in groups,” Altan wrote. “I fell in between the seats and put my head down. I thought it was all over.”

During the fight, Altan was rescued with the help of his friends, yet he lost half his vision in one of his eyes.

“This is proof that politicians can never see the realities. And they try to blind those who can,” Altan wrote.

Another incident happened nine years ago, on Jan. 31, 2001, whena True Path Party, or DYP, deputy from Şanlıurfa, Fevzi Şıhanlıoğlu, had a heart attack after being punched in the face and died as a result.

MHP İçel Deputy Cahit Tekelioğlu, who punched Şıhanlıoğlu, said he did not believe he caused the heart attack. “When I saw him, he had foam around his mouth, his heart attack had already started,” he said. However, the court did not accept this defense, as the incident was photographed, and Tekelioğlu was sentenced to three years in prison. However, he was released after just 13 months.

This was not the only argument in Parliament that ended in death. In 1989, DYP Siirt Deputy Abdülrezzak Ceylan was shot with a gun that belonged to another deputy. Ceylan was trying to break up a fight between other deputies, but it cost him his life.

[HH] Never ending?

Fist-fighting, swearing, attacking, lynching… Many Turks, both civilian and politician, seem to lose control when it comes to arguing with the other side. So will Turkey’s martial politics ever evolve into mature talks?

“I don’t think these cases are frequent. Plus, they aren’t specific to just Turkey,” said Soysal. “In the Balkans such things happen as well.”

Altan, however, said he thinks the reason for such tension is socio-economic problems. “As long as there is unemployment, oppression and the exploitation of people, the issue of public order cannot be resolved, either in Parliament or in society,” Altan told the Daily News. “When people feel oppressed, the response turns into aggression. They try to show their reaction by brute force.”

Sır thinks politicians need to become better at anger management. “Politicians hold power, but when they think they are not being obeyed or agreed with, they express it through anger,” he said.

Sır said he is concerned about the upcoming May Day celebrations.

“We don’t know how to control our anger,” he said. “I have serious concerns about what can happen that day among the crowd.”

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