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SEMİH İDİZ > Erdoğan wants an eye for an eye

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The abolition of capital punishment in 2002 - just prior to the Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) first election victory - was one of the greatest steps taken by Turkey in its efforts to reach European judicial standards. The fact that it was abolished after the head of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), Abdullah Öcalan, was captured and brought to Turkey, where he was tried and sentenced to death, added to the significance of this development.

Needless to say, a significant portion of the population clamored for Öcalan to be executed in the name of what the Americans clinically call “closure.” While its grass roots demanded Öcalan be hanged, even the ultranationalist National Movement Party (MHP) - a coalition partner of the Ecevit government at the time - accepted the abolition of the death penalty because Turkey’s EU perspective demanded this. Many ultranationalists still hold this against the party.

However, no capital punishment had been carried out in Turkey since 1984 anyway. Among the reasons for this was the fact that while many death sentences were handed out after the 1980 military coup, executing someone from the left or the right - the two factions whose bloody struggle had precipitated the coup in the first place - would have laid the seeds for future political unrest.

Sentences prior to 1984 under civilian rule were carried out with the endorsement of Parliament, and such an endorsement was simply not forthcoming after the return of civilian rule to the country in 1983. In the end, capital punishment was officially abolished in Turkey, even in times of war.

This was indeed a step in the direction of the “advanced democracy” that Prime Minister Erdoğan had claimed to be carrying this country towards. Now, however, we see the same Erdoğan, whose democratic credentials are increasingly under scrutiny, becoming a key advocate for a return of the death penalty.

During a recent party retreat he told AKP members that opinion polls indicated overwhelming support for capital punishment. He was not referring to demands for the death sentence every time a young girl is killed in an “honor killing,” or when deadly violence is meted out against women by men in this country.

With the government’s failure to solve the Kurdish question, and the related increase in PKK terrorism, the question of whether Öcalan’s death sentence should be carried out is what is driving Erdoğan’s populist quest today. He repeated the need for the death sentence again last week, during a visit to the Sultanate of Brunei. Asked about this issue during a press conference, he did not refrain from demagoguery by pointing to the case of Anders Breivik in Norway.

Erdoğan expressed his amazement that a killer of 77 people only received 21 years in prison, giving short shrift of any suggestion that Anders Breivik would be kept behind bars one way or another for the rest of his life.
Responding to that suggestion, Erdoğan said the following: “How am I to believe this? Today the death penalty has been abolished in Europe. But has it been abolished in America, in Japan, in China? This means that there are times when the death penalty is justified.”

I recall Margaret Thatcher, during my university years in Ireland, saying much the same, at a time when IRA terrorism was at its peak. Whatever the case may be in the U.S. or Japan, the British valued their advanced democracy in the end and even Thatcher’s husband Denis came out against the death penalty.

The real test of whether Turkey is truly becoming a country of “advance democracy” will be whether it
can resist the regression that Erdoğan in increasingly representing on a host of issues, starting from freedom of expression and now covering the question of capital punishment.

What increasingly appears to be in the ascendant, as far as he is concerned, is not a commitment to “advanced democracy,” but a vindictive intolerance to opposition and a reactionary “eye for an eye” outlook. It is worth noting that this is happening just as Erdoğan shows more and more that he wants to become an unchecked president with exceptional powers.

November/13/2012

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Oz_ man

11/14/2012 6:17:44 AM

American what is your point? Erdogan was stating a fact that is nothing new. There is widespread support for the death penalty against Ocalan. Do you agree or not? Simple as that!

B Medic

11/14/2012 12:19:49 AM

@mara. You are wrong about Norway in WW2. Norway was occupied by Germany during the war. More than 10 000 Norwegians were killed by the nazis and 80 000 people fled the country. You probably think about Sweden who was neutral during the war. (FYI Sweden is the Northern European country famous for the 70s disco group ABBA and Volvo cars, not Switzerland with the high mountains, watches and chocolate in Central Europe)

american american

11/13/2012 7:28:08 PM

yes oz, he wasn't prime minister then. he also wasn't prime minister when the death penalty was abolished or when ocalan was captured, so he should let it go and 'let it be for the best'. he could have changed the law (as he is wanting to do now), so that they could have been prosecuted fully. as for being elected, bush was and we all know what he did was golden and rose scented and the turks just love him for it.

Thessalonian

11/13/2012 6:45:09 PM

Mara. you wrote regarding Norway's "civilized" status, "They sat on the sidelines while WWII took place?" I am afraid Turkey also belongs in the category of nations which unfortunately opted to stay neutral during WWII while the war raged against fascist Italy and Nazi Germany. Regards

Oz_man .

11/13/2012 5:08:47 PM

Hakan how many elections has the PM won? Why can't his opponents win elections? Do they not put their names before the same ballots as Erdogan?

Red Tail

11/13/2012 4:50:23 PM

Mara. Yes, TODAY, Norway is the most civilized country in the world. But of course if you want to go back 100 years in history and still expect a country which has not done anything wrong, good luck. Further, you claim that Norway was on the side line? WRONG FACTS. Norway was invaded by Germany. It is a small country which could not resist much, but they were not at the side line. As for you wish to kill people, well, I find it barbaric. Ideas popular 1000 years ago, but today only savages do it

Oz_man .

11/13/2012 4:32:47 PM

Red Tail Norway should be held accountable for giving 21 years for the death off 77 people enough said. American the PM was not in charge when the events in Sivas took place. It is even alleged it was carried out by Ergenekon. Stella Western nations and civilized nations do use the death penalty namely USA and Japan. Recep could you explain how the death penalty could be used against the PM and his children. This is a silly comment.

Hakan Salci

11/13/2012 4:16:42 PM

As I have said many times, 'Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely'; we do not have a PM in Turkey, or a parliamentary system for that matter, not whilst an ego-centric, obsessed man in the form of Erdogan sits at the throne. Everything, and I mean almost everything, goes through him before anyone, even from the AKP, dares to make a decision or set the national agenda. Wake up everyone and smell the coffee; a civilian dictatorship has been established in Turkey with worst to come. May God help us.

mara mcglothin

11/13/2012 3:36:02 PM

RED TAIL Norway civilized? They sat on the sidelines while WWII took place? I have no problem with the death penalty when the crime can be proven beyond a shadow of a doubt. And Brevnik should have gotten 22 yrs for every person he killed at the least! BUT Doesn't the PM have a bit too much hatred in his heart for a religious man? RECEP OZEL Spot on! I am also not confident in Turkey having the death penalty. Instead of lawsuits we would hear "off with their head!" more often to besure

Recep Ozel

11/13/2012 12:16:49 PM

An 'eye for an eye' or a 'life for a fingernail'? He wants revenge against everyone from the last 1000 years that could have at one point opposed his ideology... Our PM has so much hatred inside of him, he has no right to talk about democracy, and does not realise the proposed death penalty law could one day be used against him and his children...
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