Turkish Prime Minister urges generals to sue columnist

Turkish Prime Minister urges generals to sue columnist

ANKARA - Hürriyet Daily News
Turkish Prime Minister urges generals to sue columnist

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks during a news conference after his meeting with Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti at Villa Madama in Rome May 8, 2012. REUTERS photo

Standing firm by the army in its recent row with critics, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has called on Turkey’s generals to sue columnist Bekir Coşkun over a controversial article in which he likened the soldiers to tamed dogs.

“That person [Coşkun] is unfortunately dripping filth from his pen. In my opinion, the generals should defend their rights on legal ground. They have been insulted,” Erdoğan said late Tuesday as he arrived from a trip to Italy and Slovenia.

Coşkun, a columnist for the Cumhuriyet daily and an avowed government opponent, penned a controversial article last month, which was widely seen as being among the reasons prompting the General Staff to issue a strong statement condemning “provocations” targeting the army. Coşkun wrote an imaginary dialogue between a wolf and a tamed dog called “Pasha” – a popular dog name and the Ottoman-era word for general. The chubby Pasha boasts about his comfortable life in the hut, but says that one must accept to wear a leash and obey their owner in return for the bones and cushions. Erdoğan denounced the article as a reflection of the fury among opponents over the military’s failure to carry out a coup against the government.

“Such insults should not be tolerated by the people who occupy those ranks. They must not be left unanswered. The response they [the General Staff] gave was actually quite polite,” Erdoğan said, even arguing that the use of the word “pasha” evoked Atatürk.

Erdoğan also lashed out also at main opposition leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, who had previously criticized Chief of General Staff Necdet Özel for intolerance to criticism and urged him to “know his place.”

‘One religion’ retracted
In further comments, Erdoğan retracted his much-criticized description of “one religion” as an indispensible principle for Turkey, saying that it was an unintentional mistake. “It was a slip of the tongue and the criticism is justified. I said ‘one religion’ instead of ‘one homeland.’ One should not draw different conclusions from that remark. I’m correcting it now,” he said.

Erdoğan made the controversial remarks in two separate speeches at the weekend as part of comments on the Kurdish conflict, sparking doubts over his commitment to a secular Turkey. Addressing Kurds, he said he had never advocated one language for Turkey but “one state, one flag and one religion.”

The prime minister also insisted that the idea of a presidential system for Turkey should be debated, but said he did not see such an overhaul as a must. “We need to discuss everything without any worries. Who will make the decision in the end of the day? Our people. Efforts for a new constitution are under way at the moment. A presidential or semi-presidential system will be discussed as part of these efforts. Whether it becomes a part of the new constitution is another question,” he said.