Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Kenan Evren. in lieu of an obituary

I was in Turkey during Kenan Evren's violent and excessively repressive coup. I was very young and, coming from a neighbouring country that had experienced its own brutal dictatorship, I was shocked by the indiscriminate brutality of the takeover of power. The extreme violence of the coup cannot be justified by the argument, however true, that it gave an end to widespread social unrest and violent conflict. 

Indeed, it should not be forgotten that Evren institutionalised state violence, treated human life as expendable, penalized not only actual engagement in the violence that had marked Turkey's urban landscapes, but also what he and his accomplices deemed to be 'subversive thinking'. Turkey's moderate left was decimated as the ire of the regime was directed more towards them than the Right. The military junta allowed and enhanced the use of demeaning practices such as vengeful systematic torture, 'virginity' tests against 'suspect' women devised to hurt, shame and humiliate, if they were lucky not to be counted among those who lost their lives during the coup and its long aftermath. Brutality and brutalization became normalized in the name of the regime's version of the national interest.A piece in the Guardian suggests that the majority of Turks welcomed the coup, relieved that it brought an end to the vicious circle of extremist violence that had rendered the streets of Turkey into no go areas. There is a grain of truth in that as armed extremist organizations had entered a vicious cycle of urban warfare. However, that is part of the story, a partial truth as Clifford and Marcus would have said. I, instead, saw a society plunged in utter fear, forced to kneel and defer to Evren's vicious, paternalistic impulses. Evren and his accomplices cultivated the myth of salvation they brought to a society that turned tolerance into fratricide. And they, of course expected, or rather demanded this recognition to be redeemed through deference and gratitude. But, normality is something very different from what he brought to Turkey, different from seeing the army in the streets for years, guarding squares, streets, police stations, from having every movement of yours scrutinized by frightened soldiers inculcated with mistrust of any assertion of difference in the public spaces of which they became confused custodians. For the regime, normality did definitely not include what the poor urban workers living in the gecekondular of the rapidly expanding cities of Turkey saw as the prospect of a decent life as the generals sought to silence with extreme prejudice any voice that demanded living wages and social justice. The blueprint of the generals did not stop at the quelling of violence, not even at a slightly longer stabilization period. It involved a massive 'rebooting' of Turkish society, a complex mixture of systematic and systemic violence with persistent social engineering that was intended to culminate in a conservative and apolitical society happy with a tutelary democracy policed by a vengeful and impatient military and its allies in the judiciary and the rest of the state mechanism. 

The Constitution he and his accomplices penned and 'approved' by a modest 92% of the electorate, eliminated the few freedoms that had survived the previous coup in 1971. The president (Evren himself) gained the right to dissolve the Assembly and enact laws by decree. Article 14 limited the freedom of individuals and organizations, and prohibits the political struggle based on class, language, race.
The somber toll of salvation? Within the first months of the coup, at least 650,000 arrests, 1.683 million people put under surveillance, 7,000 death penalty demands, 517 executions, 50 hangings, 98,400 people sentenced for membership of an illegal organization, 388,000 people had their travel documents cancelled, 30,000 people were forced to go into exile, 171 people died as a result of torture, 937 films were censored, 14,000 people were stripped off their citizenship, 299 people died in prison, 400 journalists were sentenced to a total of four thousand years in prison. 1,680,000 people blacklisted, 230,000 people tried at martial courts: 23,700 foundations closed down and 644 foundations were placed under investigation, 146 suspicious deaths, 16 shot to death while attempting to flee, 74 killed in street clashes, 73 regime opponents who allegedly died of natural causes, 43 alleged suicides, civil servants who faced legal action: 7,245, teachers who faced legal action: 3,854, security force members who faced legal action: 988, academics who faced legal action: 120, judges and prosecutors who faced legal action: 47, sacked public officials: 4,891

Kenan Evren will always be remembered by me as the incarnation of hubris, as a tiny insecure human being who believed that his military uniform made him stand taller than others, and think he could play God at the expense of the hundreds of thousands, even millions, of lives that he ruined (records indicate that in the immediate aftermath of the coup 700,000 found themselves in the regime's jails - we still do not know the exact death toll or the indirect victims of this monumental unleashing of state violence, the mothers, the fathers, the wives, the husbands, the children that were left without their loved ones.

Although I do not believe in heaven or hell (apart from the ones we build during our lives on earth) I am tempted to indulge into imagining how a vicious God (probably the one he thought he had become) would create a hell for him.
Kenan Evren you will not be missed; we do not need self appointed saviours, thank you very much.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Cyprus: Perhaps the last chance to end the division

The Nicosia buffer zone. A wound in the midst of Cyprus
Saying that the story of Cyprus is a story of missed opportunities may be a cliché but could not be truer today. 

The rejection of the Annan plan by the Greek-Cypriot electorate back in  2004 undoubtedly damaged the cause of the reunification of the island. The election of Dimitris Christofias to the presidency of the republic in 2008 came too late as Mehmet Ali Talat was facing elections two years later. Both leaders had to face internal challenges. For a start, mending the wounds that the bitter 'anti Annan plan' campaign in the south had inflicted upon the cause of a united Cyprus required time and determination, both of which were in short supply. Talat had to counter the criticisms of an ascendant pro-independence National Unity Party and its leader Derviş Eroğlu who by 2009 was cohabiting with him as prime minister and in 2010 moved to the presidency of the TRNC. Christofias, despite his pro-reunification reflexes, had co-presided over a vehement 'no' campaign during the Papadopoulos years that had badly bruised the forces that could support his rapprochement initiative. He decided to tread carefully and slowly against accusations of recklessness and did not manage to make up the lost ground during his negotiations with Talat. Once Eroğlu succeded him, Christofias realized there was no point in pursuing talks that would leave him vulnerable in the republic and might cost him his reelection prospects - a reelection that at the end of the day slipped away from his grasp as he had to withdraw in the midst of a public outcry over scandals and corruption. By 2012 most commentators had declared the process that had effectively stalled at least a year earlier a failure with the UN Secretary General's special envoy, Alexander Downer, washing his hands
As a divorce seemed to be the most likely outcome by the end of 2013, Turkey's foreign minister met in Athens with his Greek counterpart to discuss Cyprus just before visiting Northern Cyprus for talks with the Turkish Cypriot leadership. The reasons were many: An embattled Turkish government facing corruption accusations just as it had thought it had put behind it the early summer urban protests needed the boost of opening a new chapter in its EU accession negotiations which have implicitly been linked with Turkey's constructive role in the Cyprus issue. The US concurred that such a development would restore the credibility of the AKP government and would contribute to regional stability at a very tense time. And, of course, the new president of the republic had been elected on a pro-unification ticket.

Although the public statements Davutoğlu and Turkish Cypriot officials made during his Cyprus visit suggested that the Turkish and Turkish Cypriot positions were entrenched, seasoned observers could read between the lines; it was obvious that Turkey was pushing for more flexibility on the part of the Turkish Cypriots. 

In the South, president Anastasiades has been trying to overcome the intransigence of opponents of any rapprochement with the North who are still influential in Greek Cypriot politics - including his party's government partners ΔΗΚΟ, especially at a time when domestic economic problems have been at the top of the challenges his administration was facing. In addition, aware of the obstructionist tactics of his potential interlocutor were the intercommunal negotiations to resume, Anastasiades echoed Ban Ki-moon's 2011 reservations and insisted that there was no point to resume dialogue for the sake of dialogue and demanded that the two sides agree on a joint communiqué that set the rules of the game. Although for many this was seen as an unnecessary technicality, it is a significant prerequisite for a process that is running out of steam. The international community is experiencing fatigue and might look for alternative solutions should this round of negotiations meets an impasse. Syria just over 100km to the east has been attracting more attention and is likely to be the focal point of international diplomacy as the conflict unfolds and the humanitarian crisis deepens. A further failure after the Annan plan rejection and the inconclusive Christofias-Talat/Eroğlu process would send the unambiguous message that the parties to the process do not have faith in the prospect of a common future. It seems that the disputed communiqué (leaked below) will be agreed on as the shuttle diplomacy of the UN and US and the tacit support of Turkey indicate. Agreeing on it may well be the last chance Cyprus has. I hope the leaders will rise to the circumstances and will take it.

Draft communiqué  

1. The status quo is unacceptable and its prolongation will have negative consequences for the Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots. The leaders affirmed that a settlement would have a positive impact on the entire region, while first and foremost benefiting Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots, respecting democratic principles, human rights and fundamental freedoms as well as each other’s distinct identity and integrity and ensuring their common future in a united Cyprus within the European Union.

2. The leaders expressed their determination to resume structured negotiations in a results-oriented manner. All unresolved core issues will be on the table and will be discussed interdependently. The leaders will aim to reach a settlement as soon as possible and hold separate simultaneous referenda thereafter.

3. The settlement will be based on a bi-communal, bi-zonal federation with political equality as set out in the relevant Security Council Resolutions and the High Level Agreements. The united Cyprus, as a member of the United Nations and of the European Union, shall have a single, international legal personality and a single sovereignty which is defined as the sovereignty which is enjoyed by all members States of the United Nations, under the UN Charter and which emanates equally from Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots. There will be a single united Cyprus citizenship, regulated by federal law. All citizens of the United Cyprus shall also be citizens of either the Greek-Cypriot constituent state or the Turkish-Cypriot constituent state. This status shall be internal and shall complement and not substitute in any way the united Cyprus citizenship.
The powers of the federal government and like matters that are clearly incidental to its specified powers, will be assigned by the constitution. The Federal constitution will also provide for the residual powers to be exercised by the constituent states. The constituent states will exercise fully and irrevocably all their powers free from encroachment by the federal government. The federal laws will not encroach upon constituent state laws within the constituent states’ area of competences and the constituent states’ laws will not encroach upon the federal laws within the federal government’s competences. Any dispute in respect thereof will be adjudicated finally by the Federal Supreme Court. Neither side may claim authority or jurisdiction over the other.

4. The united Cyprus federation shall result from the settlement following the settlement’s approval by separate simultaneous referenda. The Federal constitution shall prescribe that the united Cyprus federation shall be composed of two constituent states of equal status. The bi-zonal, bi-communal nature of the federation and the principles upon which the EU is founded will be safeguarded and respected throughout the island. The Federal constitution shall be the supreme law of the land and will be binding on all the federation’s authorities and on the constituent states. Union in whole or in part with any other country or any form of partition or secession or any other unilateral change to the state of affairs will be prohibited.

5. The negotiations are based on the principle that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.

6. The appointed representatives are fully empowered to discuss any issue at any time and should enjoy parallel access to all stakeholders and interested parties in the process, as needed. The leaders of the two communities will meet as often as needed. They retain the ultimate decision-making power. Only an agreement freely reached by the leaders may be put to separate simultaneous referenda. Any kind of arbitration is excluded.

7. The sides will seek to create a positive atmosphere to ensure the talks succeed. They commit to avoiding blame games or other negative public comments on the negotiations. They also commit to efforts to implement confidence building measures that will provide dynamic impetus to the prospect for a united Cyprus.