Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, for some time, has been mentioning reinstating capital punishment, especially related to terror crimes. We are used to the reaction that once the prime minister expresses an opinion, the Justice and Development Party (Ak Party) immediately embarks and meets the boss’ wish.
It was not easy for Turkey to abandon the death penalty. After huge fights we were able to upgrade ourselves to the level of civilized countries and were able to save ourselves from this inhuman practice.
Now, turning the clock backward will be much more difficult and destructive. We will use time and energy in vain. We will go back to the past.
Well, why does the prime minister raise the topic of capital punishment?
I don’t believe Erdoğan has uttered these words because he truly believes in them, because this stance does not fit with Erdoğan’s thoughts in the past.
Tayyip Erdoğan has signed the Cabinet decision in 2003 that approved the coming into force of the additional protocols that lift the death penalty except for in a state of war. Capital punishment in Turkey was totally abandoned in 2006 again with a motion from the Tayyip Erdoğan government. Why would the Erdoğan who was against the death penalty change his stance today?
I can think of two reasons:
Terror pressures the government extensively. The public is uncomfortable. The prime minister brings up the topic of the death penalty to satisfy his voters. Until the 2014 presidential elections, to be able collect nationalist votes, he is using the topic of the death penalty.
Otherwise, he is one of those persons who know very well that it is impossible to scare or bring to heel Öcalan or the PKK, or to stop terror this way. If my assumption is true, then we should ask this question: Isn’t it a very dangerous tactic to reinstate capital punishment?
Öcalan’s execution was debated in 1999. I remember that period very well because I was among those who opposed the execution.
The abolishment of capital punishment and Öcalan’s death penalty almost coincided. If you remember, the three-party coalition of Mesut Yılmaz-Bülent Ecevit-Devlet Bahçeli was in office. Turkey was enthusiastically introducing reform packages to be able to catch candidacy for the European Union.
Abolishing the death penalty was one of the conditions of candidacy and was approved because of that. If the death penalty had not been abandoned at that time, then the Ak Party would have had to abolish it in 2004.
Öcalan’s death penalty was being discussed before this decision. I can say this was one of the toughest decisions that the coalition government took.
There was no pressure from Washington or the EU. The state was worried for another reason. If Öcalan was executed, it was calculated that the southeast would rebel. The PKK
would separate and a huge and bloody domestic struggle would start, an assassination marathon and showing off were expected. Security forces warned that they would not be able to handle this situation.
We went through an extremely difficult period and the state, in a very appropriate decision, delayed the execution. In fact, shortly after that, capital punishment was abandoned all together.
Turkey was able to breathe again.
Capital punishment is not a deterrent for the PKK; on the contrary, it is an element of propaganda. They would not care about the loss of human life. On the contrary, they would not miss the incredible opportunity that either Öcalan or one of its guerillas is executed. They would declare them “heroes.”