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Spiralling towards a regional catastrophe by Onnik Krikorian "If Turkey's Warlords asassinate the hope for the peaceful solution that we legislator's represent, the road is open for Kurds to switch massively to the camp of violence and Islamic fundamentalism. And if the Kurds, next door to Iran's Islamic revolutionaries, switch, then all Turkey will follow suit. And woe on us all." Leyla Zana, Imprisoned Kurdish MP and Sakharov Peace Prize Winner Turkey easily lives up to its own promotion of being enviably unique in its meeting of east and west, but it is also a country that is deeply schizophrenic and confused. At the centre of this confusion is the legacy of one man; a figure that is treated internally with a higher reverance than even that afforded to Allah - Mustafa Kemal Ataturk and his dream of an ethnically homogenous secular republic that may well prove to be the reason for the country's future disintegration. Whilst still pursuing its interests in the former Soviet Union and the Middle East, Turkey has constantly stumbled in its application for membership of the European Union because of its poor record on human rights and its inability to tolerate alternative religious and political opinions. In sympathy for its position, it has also stumbled because of an almost racist European fear of Islam. Ironically, in Turkey itself there is an even stronger fear of Islam amongst the very guardians of the republic - the military. As this this article is written, Refah - the pro-Islamist Welfare Party - is facing action against it in the constitutional court in Ankara. The chief prosecutor argues that Refah threatens the Republic by promoting Islamic fundamentalism and by seeking to forge closer links in the Islamic world - links deemed detrimental to Turkey's interests and in contravention to the legacy of Ataturk. Significantly, Refah is the largest party in the Turkish Parliament, and in the last elections won a very well publicised more than twenty percent of the vote. Less well publicised was the fact that many of those who voted for Refah were Kurds. The current action against Refah illustrates the weakness of Turkey's claims to be a democracy equal to those it seeks to join in Europe, and clearly exposes the fact that it is the military runs Turkey and not the Turkish parliament. Ironically, it may also prove that the military is the biggest danger to the republic's existence and the longevity of Ataturk's dream. In an article in the english newspaper The Guardian on 12 November 1997, Ilnur Cevik, editor-in-chief of the influential Turkish Daily News, was quoted as saying: "I would be very suprised if Refah emerges victorious [in the court case] because the powers behind the scenes are determined to close it down." It was also the Turkish Daily News that during the summer published an editorial advising that if Turkey's controlling elite saw the popularity of Refah as a danger then the national threshold figure necessary for election must be lowered so that parties such as the pro-Kurdish People's Democracy Party (HADEP) may gain representation and split Refah's vote. To be elected to the Turkish parliament a party needs to gain more than ten per cent of the vote nationally, and it is this threshold figure that has proved the stumbling block for HADEP, just as it had for its predecessors HEP and DEP. To date over ninety-two of its members have been murdered and its leadership imprisoned, and gaining just five percent of the national vote in the December 1995 elections, it has been denied political representation. Thus, many Kurds instead voted for Refah, hoping for an opportunity to represent their interests through an alternative political party. That belief proved to be well-founded - Refah indeed did very well. What was unexpected, however, was that the Turkish military went immediately on record during Refah's brief inclusion as part of the government coalition stating that it was an even more dangerous threat to the republic than the guerillas of the outlawed Kurdistan Worker's Party (PKK) fighting a separatist war in the country's southeast. Little is the military aware of the confessional in their statement, that in their paranoid response to a perceived danger - the fear of Kurdish political representation - against HADEP - they had caused the ensuing migration of Kurdish votes and contributed to the creation of this newer, greater threat themselves. If only they had listened to the warnings of those voices that were instead silenced - voices like Leyla Zana's. Offering Kurdish aspirations an alternative to the armed struggle and campaigning for a peaceful solution to the troubles in the southeast, Leyla Zana was stripped of her parliamentary immunity on 2 March 1994. The state prosecutor alleged treason and demanded the death penalty but she was instead sentenced to fifteen years in prison for promoting 'separatism' and for alleged links to the PKK. Nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by Norway in 1995, and recipient of the Sakharov Peace Prize whilst serving her sentence, two weeks ago the Washington Post ran an editorial criticising her continued incarceration at the same time as a US congressional campaign for her release gained momentum. Outside Capitol Hill, a hunger strike by prominent US human rights activists, including the President of the US-based Human Rights Alliance and Congressman's wife, Katheryn Porter, continues. With international opposition to her imprisonment yielding no positive results from the Turkish government, voters who had originally supported Leyla Zana and the other convicted Kurdish MPs may have instead decided to vote for Refah. And if Refah does indeed share the same fate as those pro-Kurdish parties that have been shut down - which may well have given Refah some of their support - who will these voters turn to next? Leyla Zana's successor, Selma Tanrikulu, presently stands accused of membership of the PKK at the State Security Court in Diyarbakir. As HADEP's candidate for the city, she was elected to the Turkish parliament in the December 1995 elections but fell victim to the national threshold figure. Forced into politics after the murder of her husband, allegedly by a state-backed contra-guerilla death squad, she was warned off from pursuing her quest to expose her husband's murderers by the state prosecutor. In the indictment against her, largely based around the statements of ex-PKK 'confessors', not only does she stand accused of membership of the PKK, but it is also implied that her husband was responsible for that involvement. Presumedly it is no coincidence that the European Court of Human Rights is currently examining his case, and that Tanrikulu's trial also serves to discredit her husband's in Strasbourg. Tanrikulu denies the charges against her and claims that the signed confession that has been put before the court is falsified. She also alledges that she is being tortured whilst awaiting trial, and even the court records note that she appears in ill-health. With the parallel and extreme actions against a representative of HADEP and against Refah, the armed sruggle of the PKK can only gain more momentum, if, with all political avenues closed, it becomes recognised as the only option left. Alarmingly, even if the Kurds do not succeed in their struggle for autonomy, the sheer numbers that may now join the struggle, if only through their support, will deepen the crisis that exists in Turkey and destabilize not only the republic, but all of its neighbours, sending shockwaves into Europe and Russia. Unless the military realises that the ideals and values that they seek to protect were contemporary to 1923 but are outdated with the world as it is today, Turkey will remain in a vicious circle of cause and effect which may spiral down into a regional catastrophe. In order to avert this crisis, the military must realise that Turkey is like any other country, with individual groups within its borders that have individual needs and aspirations, and that must be afforded representation. -------------------------------------------------------------------- Onnik Krikorian is a journalist and communications consultant in London. He has travelled to Turkey to cover stories on media censorship and human rights abuses for 'The Scotsman on Saturday' and 'The Journalist' magazines. [In January 1998 a spread of photographs from the Kurdish region of Turkey will be published in 'New Internationalist'. He is also developing a new media communications strategy and incorporating his photographs into a web site for the independent Kurdish Human Rights Project.]