Introduction to law for Turks 101

Introduction to law for Turks 101

Belgin Akaltan -
Introduction to law for Turks 101

A cultural center was inaugurated at Istanbul’s Beylikdüzü district in the name of Özgecan Aslan, whose murderer was murdered in prison earlier this week. AA photo

Turkish people, all-inclusive, from the very top to the deep bottom, lack a basic knowledge of human rights.

We have a view that some people are worthy of human rights, while others are not. 

Moreover, we lack the basic knowledge of law, rule of law and how a modern justice system works. Turks do not know how to drive properly and Turkish men think they are the best in bed, but the latter two are not our discussion this week. 

In Turkey you would hear, more than often, the phrase, “You should hang a few of them in Taksim Square, and then that would be the end of the problem...”  A considerable majority of Turks believe that public hanging of criminals would reduce the repetition of the crime. Because our education system tells us to accept the views of our elders and not to question it to any further extent, this belief is handed down from one generation to the next.   

Well, capital punishment is the cure for nothing and the crime rate in a society where capital punishment is applied is not significantly different from another one where it is not. Our parliament outdid itself and abolished capital punishment in 2002; a surprising move pretty much ahead of the society. This is one very rare moment that I was proud of our parliament. The other one was when it rejected assisting U.S. troops invading Iraq in 2003 – as if the latter means anything today. Nevertheless, I am still proud of those two parliamentary decisions.  

On the other hand, we have other practical means of exerting capital punishment in our society. We kill people in a very convenient style in traffic accidents, in domestic violence, in forced suicides and in workplace accidents. We used to have extrajudicial executions, unresolved murders, deaths through police brutality and civilian deaths in armed clashes, but these do not happen so recurrently these days under this government. 

So taking the law into your own hands in Turkey is not a rare practice, like the shooting and killing in prison of the murderer of university student Özgecan Aslan. The convicted killer, Ahmet Suphi Altındöken, was gunned down together with his accomplice/father Necmittin Altındöken. The murderer died; the father survived. Nobody in Turkey really felt sorry for the guy, only maybe his mother, who was in tears when she could not find a cemetery which would allow her to bury her son. 

Where should I start? People serving time in prison are under the protection of the state. If they are killed, injured, abused, attacked or mistreated, this is the state’s responsibility no matter who the person is. We should all try hard not to create a “Midnight Express, 2016 version.” 

It does not matter whether or not the majority of society is still in the medieval age in terms of understanding law. But, during this period of humanity, “blood for blood, an eye for an eye” is not acceptable. 

Another recent incident was the funeral of a suicide bomber. Some deputies visited the family to pay their condolences, causing all hell to break loose. Another basic principle of law which is repeatedly forgotten in Turkey is that crime and punishment are individual responsibilities. 

You cannot punish the family of the criminal, no matter how huge the crime. Visiting the family for condolences is not a crime. It is not treason. It is not a violation of human rights. The family is not the criminal. 

Just like you are not responsible for the crime your brother or your sister committed, or your son or daughter; the suicide bomber’s family is innocent, whether you like it or not.

I remember the words of Rakel Dink, the wife of slain Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink, when she spoke at her husband’s funeral. She said we should be questioning the darkness that creates murderers from once innocent babies. 

I don’t know about the suicide bomber, but there are some clues about how Özgecan’s murderer grew up in darkness. His mother said it was the father who made him that way. She escaped the extreme domestic violence years ago and left her family. The father beat the hell out of the child. When the child grew up, he started battering himself. The murderer’s wife said, “I damn the day I married him.” She took her children, left the house and divorced him right away after the Özgecan murder.

Then there is another detail which I believe sheds more light on “the darkness.” That minibus route in the Mediterranean province of Mersin was a notorious one; passengers filed complaint after complaint about the arbitrariness and abusiveness of the drivers; other university students were harassed. An elderly woman was beaten and thrown out of a minibus, it was reported. When these kinds of attacks were “tolerated,” then the darkness thickened, encouraging the harassers and murderers. There was some kind of an “accepted harassment” not dealt with properly by the police and the university administration, an “accepted machoism, male violence” on that minibus route which led to the horrible murder of Özgecan.