From Gezi to Kurdish peace bid, 2013 a year of turbulence for Turkey

From Gezi to Kurdish peace bid, 2013 a year of turbulence for Turkey

From Gezi to Kurdish peace bid, 2013 a year of turbulence for Turkey

Gezi Park protests, which erupted locally but quickly spread across Turkey, dominated the agenda in 2013. DAILY NEWS photo, Emrah GÜREL

From a peace bid in the East to a Park riot in the West and a fresh “deep” crisis, the year 2013 has been a turbulent year for Turkey. 

The year started with a peace process to end the decades-old Kurdish problem, heated up with Gezi Park protests that have rocked the nations and ended with a conflict between the government and “Cemaat.” 

It was Dec. 28, 2012, when Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan made public that intelligence agents were meeting with jailed leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) Abdullah Öcalan, exposing a “resolution/peace” process aimed at ending the three-decade long conflict between Turkey’s security forces and the PKK in order to hopefully pave the way for the resolution of the century-old Kurdish issue. 

The road was rocky, however, as seen on Jan. 9, 2013, when Sakine Cansız, 55, a founding member of the PKK; Fidan Doğan, 32, a spokeswoman for the organization in France and Europe; and a trainee named Leyla Saylemez, 25, were assassinated in Paris. The killings sent a shockwave through Europe’s Kurdish community. On Jan. 17, tens of thousands of people participated in a grand funeral ceremony held in Diyarbakır, predominantly Kurdish-populated southeastern Anatolia province which has a symbolic importance for Kurds, for the three women. Despite worries of possible provocations and sabotage that would turn the ceremony into a violent protest, such fears did not materialize during the peaceful gathering, during which the women’s coffins were covered with the flags of the PKK.


Jailed PKK leader's ceasefire call was delivered on
March 21 during the massive Nevruz celebrations
in Diyarbakır. DAILy NEWS photo, Selahattin

A remarkable chapter in the peace process started on March 21, when Öcalan’s call on the PKK for a cease-fire were delivered by Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) deputies Sırrı Süreyya Önder and Pervin Buldan during Nevruz celebrations in Diyarbakır. Önder and Buldan were among the BDP deputies that made visits to İmralı prison to conduct talks with Öcalan. 

Similar scenes happened later in the year. On Nov. 16, Iraq’s Regional Kurdistan Government (KRG) leader Massoud Barzani paid his first visit to southeastern Turkey in two decades in a show of support for Erdoğan called on Turkey’s Kurds to back the flagging peace process with Ankara. Thousands gathered to hear Barzani and Erdoğan speak, opening a day of ceremonies including a performance by Kurdish poet and singer Şivan Perwer, who had fled Turkey in the 1970s, and a wedding of 400 couples. In his speech, Erdoğan used the term “Iraqi Kurdistan” for the first time. Yet, even such an assertive move didn’t convince the BDP executives who maintained that the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) leader was solely aiming at tempt Turkey’s Kurds away from their party in the run-up to the local elections in March 2014.

Turmoil hits the urban west

In the middle of the year, the Gezi Park dominated the agenda. Environmentalist concerns acted as a catalyst for the massive anti-government Gezi Park protests at the end of May. A group of activists from Taksim Solidarity, a civil-society group that had voiced criticism over redevelopment plans for Taksim Square, gathered in Istanbul’s Gezi Park after bulldozers came to the area to cut down trees in the park. However, a heavy-handed police crackdown on what was initially a small and a peaceful sit-in turned the protest into nationwide anti-government rallies. It was early May 31, when police launched a violent dawn operation against occupying protesters in Gezi and dispersed a few hundred protesters from the park with tear gas and water cannon while burning their tents. The protests then spread across Turkey and continued for nearly two months. 

Nearly 7,500 people have been injured, according to the Turkish Doctors’ Union (TTB), while six protesters were killed and a police officer also lost his life in last summer’s protests.

Verdicts handed in coup cases

There were dramatic turning points in two coup plot cases, Ergenekon and Balyoz. On Aug. 5, an Istanbul court handed down severe punishments on 275 suspects, including a life sentence for former Chief of General Staff Gen. İlker Başbuğ. Other high-profile military and civilian suspects such as retired generals Hurşit Tolon, Veli Küçük and Şener Eruygur as well as journalists Tuncay Özkan and Mustafa Balbay also received long prison sentences. 

Republican People’s Party’s (CHP) Zonguldak deputy Mehmet Haberal, was released from prison on time served, and went on to take his Parliamentary oath, two years after he was elected as a lawmaker, on Oct. 2. 

A renowned surgeon and former rector of the private Başkent University, Haberal was one of the highest profile civilian suspects of the Ergenekon case. At the final hearing of the Ergenekon trial, Haberal was first given 12-and-a-half years on charges related to a coup attempt, but was released by the court in consideration of time served. 

CHP would also welcome the release Balbay from prison five years after being arrested. 

On Oct. 9, the Supreme Court of Appeals approved the convictions of 237 suspects in the “Balyoz” (Sledgehammer) coup-plot case, including former First Army Gen. Çetin Doğan, former Air Force Gen. Halil İbrahim Fırtına, opposition Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) deputy and former general Engin Alan, former Navy Adm. Özden Örnek and other high-ranking retired generals.
The much-anticipated final verdict announced by the Ninth Criminal Chamber of the Supreme Court of Appeals was widely regarded as the precursor for other controversial coup cases into plots like Ergenekon and the Feb. 28 process.

Despite Balbay’s release, two Diyarbakır courts refused on Dec. 16 to release four deputies of the BDP and an independent lawmaker. 

The CHP, which celebrated the release of Deputy Mustafa Balbay after more than four years in jail following a Constitutional Court ruling, joined the BDP in criticizing the court ruling. Calling the court “partial,” CHP Deputy Chair Sezgin Tanrıkulu argued that the ruling had “once more harmed the will of the Parliament and the people.”

Conflict between AKP and Gülen
amid test prep school row and graft scandal

That was not the final political polemic of the year, however. It was Dec. 17, 2013, when Turkey witnessed the detention of dozens of suspects including sons of ministers, a state-owned bank manager and a mayor, which eventually forced Erdoğan to carry out a Cabinet reshuffle amid a public -- so to speak “transparent” -- fight with the U.S.-based Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen movement, dubbed “Cemaat.” 

Both Erdoğan and his supporters and Gülen and his followers have competed with each other in upping the stakes. The first accused the second, who are particularly influential in the police and judiciary, of orchestrating the corruption probe against Erdoğan’s allies. The Gülenist side labeled the accusation as “heinous slander,” while not hiding its unease with the Erdoğan government which it said had started to drift away from the path of reform and democracy since the 2011 parliamentary elections.

It was Dec. 29, when Erdoğan vowed he would survive the corruption crisis, saying those seeking to topple him would fail just like the mass anti-government protests last summer. 

“They said ‘Gezi’ and smashed windows. Now they say ‘corruption’ and smash windows. These conspiracies will not succeed,” Erdoğan said. “Their concern is not corruption, law or justice. Their only concern is damaging this nation’s power.” 

Also on Dec. 29, a senior AKP official was quoted as saying that Turkey could change laws to allow the re-trial of hundreds of military officers who were convicted of plotting to overthrow Erdoğan’s government.

In remarks to Turkish daily Hürriyet, AKP Deputy Parliamentary Group Chair Mustafa Elitaş said Turkey could change laws to allow the retrial of hundreds of military officers who were convicted of plotting to overthrow Erdoğan’s government.

“We will, if necessary, make new legal arrangements to stop people’s unjust treatment,” said Elitaş, in a reference to the convicted military officers. “We have paved the way for retrials by making successive regulations on the law. But the judiciary has the authority in this issue [of starting retrials],” he said, signaling a green light for retrials in the Ergenekon and Balyoz cases, duly ending a turbulent year with another controversy.

New Constitution talks stalled 

ANKARA - Hürriyet Daily News

A parliamentary panel tasked to draft the country’s first civilian Constitution was officially dissolved Dec. 25 after nearly two years of futile work. 

The current 1982 Constitution in effect is a legacy of the Sept. 12, 1980 coup. It replaced the Constitution of 1961, which also was drafted following a military coup.

The dissolution of the Parliament’s Constitution Conciliation Committee came as the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) members failed to attend three consecutive meetings of the panel, breaching internal regulations. 

The AKP announced they would no longer attend the meetings after Parliamentary Speaker Cemil Çiçek declared the panel had failed to produce the blueprint within the given timeline and therefore there was no need for the continuation of its work. 

The Republican People’s Party (CHP), the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) criticized the speaker and recalled he had no such authority. The panel’s oppositional members attended the scheduled meetings of the panel after Çiçek and the AKP left the table, announcing Dec. 25 that the commission had been dissolved because of the ruling party’s absence for three meetings. 

The panel was established after the 2011 elections with the task of completing the writing process by the end of 2012. But although its mandate was extended twice, it could only agree on 60 articles out of nearly 150 of the proposed articles.