A conversation with the deputy prime minister

A conversation with the deputy prime minister

Last week in northern Iraq I had the chance to observe Kurdish politicians’ position vis-à-vis the peace process in Turkey. This week I will visit Diyarbakır to attend the Newroz (the traditional spring festival) celebration and test the pulse of the people and politicians in the southeast of Turkey.

Between these two visits, I wanted to find out where the peace process stands prior to the local elections to be held in two weeks. Deputy Prime Minister Beşir Atalay who is considered the designer of the ongoing peace process, answered my questions.

At the start of our conversation, he emphasized that the government attaches greatest importance to the peace process and that it will continue on any account. A regulation on disarmament is on the way.

The Justice and Development Party (AKP) recently passed a law that reduces the maximum period of detention to five years. This has paved the way for the release of many prominent suspects in the Ergenekon coup plot case. Five suspects of the Zirve Publishing House massacre who had murdered three employees of a Bible publishing house in 2007, have also been released. Erhan Tuncel, one of the key suspects in the murder of Hrant Dink, a Turkish-Armenian journalist killed in 2007, is another released suspect.

Atalay said he was very sorry about the release of the suspects of the Zirve massacre and Hrant Dink’s murder. He accused the judiciary for not having completing these cases in under five years. Saying that the AKP is not going to take any legal action vis-à-vis this situation, he urged the judiciary to give its verdicts more quickly.

He accused the judiciary of also having combined about 20 different cases, including the Zirve massacre and the Hrant Dink files, with the Ergenekon case. This has caused delays in the verdicts and the emergent mess. He added that 150-200 more suspects were going to be released yet underlined that this situation does not nullify the importance of the Ergenekon case and the existence of the body called Ergenekon.

Atalay argues that the harsh struggle between the AKP and the Gülen Movement (“Cemaat”) will end right after the elections on March 30 since they will determine the winner of the ongoing struggle. The AKP could then start legal proceedings against the Cemaat. He did not comment on whether the government would issue a red notice for Fethullah Gülen, the leader of the movement, as Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan recently claimed on a TV show.

He also emphasized that they would accelerate the EU accession process, democratization and peace process in order to change the current atmosphere. The AKP is also preparing a new package for Alevis and the secular circles who feel excluded by the current government.

According to Atalay, the result of the local elections will greatly affect the upcoming general and presidential elections. He expects the AKP’s vote share will not fall below 45 percent in the local elections and about 49 percent in the general elections.

Our last topic was the Gezi protests. He underlined that the government did not approve of the police force used in the first three days of the protests which triggered the following chaos.