What does Turkey’s State of Emergency mean for civilians? aka calm down

Turkey’s President Erdogan just declared a 3 month State of Emergency. So what does it actually mean? Key points/summary below. For a more detailed version, see the source here 

  1. The State of Emergency cannot exceed 6 months
  2. It can be extended by 4 months at a time, each time by approval of parliament
  3. Decrees (ie law) issued under state cannot be contested as unconstitutional by the Constitutional Court (to put another way the Constitutional Court cannot question constitutionality of decrees declared under State of Emergency – it is not a time of civilian rule so rules suspended).
  4. Martial law can be enacted during period of state of emergency (can also exist exclusively depending under which Article emergency invoked- Articles 119 or 120 – check again the link above)
  5. Fundamental rights may be partially/entirely suspended (which is almost identical to Article 15 of European Convention of Human Rights)
  6. Important: no one can be held guilty until so proven by court judgement (meaning there are protective civil liberty elements within the Constitutions Article 15)
  7. However under State of Emergency, fundamental rights are not under the control of the judiciary (ie, again there is a parliamentary check on this)
  8. There cannot be amendments made to law during a State of Emergency, these can only be made after end of the State of Emergency per regular parliamentary procedure (ie Parliament has to approve).

Interpretation: While on surface this may appear alarming there are robust checks under the State of Emergency to protect civil liberties. Also, there was a 15 year state of emergency between 1987-2002 in some parts of Turkey, so this has occurred in recent memory. The ‘shock’ comes from evaluating Turkish democratic standards with those of a developed Western liberal democracy and the freedoms that entails. Turkey is still considered a developing country in some respects, and it is not Western, but it is also not to be equated with various Middle Eastern regimes permeated by military or dynastic rule. Some angst comes from the panic that it will defer to the latter, particularly when considering Turkey has made resounding economic, democratic and human developed leaps in the past decade to distinguish itself from undemocratic, undeveloped regimes/areas. Concerns remain in other areas namely freedom of assembly, press and the economic slowdown not just from the past days but recent years.

What we do not yet know/questions:

  • Will there be curfews? We don’t know, it hasn’t been announced
  • Didn’t they sack all the judges? No, 2745 judges have been removed (as of 2013 there were over 12,000 judges in Turkey and incidentally more than half were women).
  • Are you scared? No, but concerned. These measures can be enacted during a natural disaster or economic crisis (Article 119) or during widespread acts of violence and serious deterioration of public order (Article 120). Concern comes from the status quo being living under a non state of emergency. The status quo would be to be living under regular civilian law. What it means beyond today’s announcement is uncertain. Follow me on Twitter for regular updates.
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Quick questions you might have about Turkey right now

1. What’s going on?  There was an attempted coup overnight on Friday 15 July by certain factions in the military. Turkey has had 3 successful military coups in the past, the last in 1980.

2. Who was behind it? A small group of military and airforce leaders. There has been a wide sweep of arrests, dismissal of judges as investigations continue.

3. What will happen to the coup perpetrators? We don’t know yet. As part of EU accession acquis (critera), Turkey dropped capital punishment in 2004. The Minister of Defence speaking to press said it would be up to Parliament to decide whether they would make any changes to reinstitute this.

4. Why didn’t the coup succeed?

i) Lack of popular support. Whereas in Egypt, hundreds of thousands of protesters came out night after night demanding the overthrow of Mubarak, this was not the case in Turkey. The events did seem to catch everyone off guard.

ii) Not enough soldiers. The people involved were a minor part of the military who did not seem able to take control effectively of key infrastructure (airports, ports, tv channels etc) or capture key leaders (although there was an unsuccessful raid in coastal Marmaris targeting where President Erdogan had been on holiday).

iii) Lack of opposition support. In the aftermath, all 4 major political parties came together with a joint statement condemning the coup, and reaffirming their belief in the democratic process.

Check also Ziya Meral’s short video.

5. What will happen to the 8 soldiers who have sought asylum in Greece? Turkey has requested their return, while various Greek sources have reported that their application will be considered. They were arrested on arrival for illegally entering Greece and jeopardising Greek relations with Turkey.

6. Who is this Gulen everyone keeps talking about? Fetullah Gulen is an influential preacher in self imposed exile in Pennsylvania. He was a one time ally of President Erdogan, and their relationship has since soured with Erdogan and others accusing him of attempting to set up a parallel state. He has been accused of being behind the coup but has has categorically denied thisThere have been many overtures for Gulen to be extradited. US Secretary of State Kerry has responded that they would welcome evidence demonstrating Gulen’s involvement.

7. Is Turkey safe? Everything is back to normal post coup in the sense that flights have returned to normal, traffic across the major bridges and ferries have resumed, people are getting on with their lives. However, Turkey has suffered a series of terrorist attacks both in major cities (Ankara, Istanbul) and in the south east over the past year. That being said, major western cities have faced similar assaults (Brussels, Nice, Paris) and the same caution and vigilance is encouraged. Turkey is suffering more than the others with a 45% drop in tourism this year and a 5% decline in the value of the lira. Resorts popular with tourists are safe and unaffected.

Leave any other questions in the comments below and I’ll answer them.

 

Why is Turkey reluctant to intervene against IS?

Why won’t Turkey intervene against Islamic State (IS). The answer is always more complex than apparent.

  1. Religion. Turkey is reluctant to participate in any operation that will result in the death of Muslims, itself being a Muslim majority country. Although this may not be said outright but deference made to treaties, a policy of non-intervention, neutrality, it also explains why the Turkish parliament sided with public opinion before the US led military invasion in Iraq in 2003 and did not participate. This is nothing new, and looking back to Turkey’s Ottoman history, any military operation involving attack against Muslims required justification (in other words the issuance of a religious edict (fatwa) which is what happened during Ottoman times to justify against (Shiite) Muslims, the Safavids.
  2. Infrastructure Turkey is already hosting over 800,000 Syrians who have fled across the border. To host refugees, countries need to be at a certain level of development. Turkey is still considered a developing country, which means that although it is providing for this guest population, it does require resource and commitment from elsewhere. Problems have already commenced in Turkey with local resentment of the population is some areas, and the presence of more Syrian beggars in population centres.
  3. The Kurdish issue. The majority of the population freeing Kobane, the border down which ISIS is pressing on, is Kurdish. One fifth of Turkey’s 75 million population is Kurdish. Turkey experienced a prolonged internal conflict with the internationally recognized terror organization, the PKK (Kurdistan workers party). The seeming recent reluctance to accept the fleeing Kobane population has been perceived as double standards and reluctance to open the doors to Kurds. This is what led to protests on the evening of 7th of October including a curfew in 5 Kurdish majority cities in south eastern Turkey: Diyarbakır, Batman, Muş, Siirt, Mardin and Van and resulting in 12 deaths.
  4. Internal security threat. ISIS recruitment is happening in Turkey’s capital according to this New York Times article. Could attacking ISIS therefore awaken internal sympathy towards them within Turkey?
  5. NATO Article 5. There are already coalition airstrikes taking place on Kobane, which as of Thursday 8 October, seems to have stymied the IS advance. However, should IS advance and attack Turkey, this would invoke NATO’s article 5; that an attack on one member state, is considered an attack on all, invoking article 5.
  6. Anti government sentiment. While the ruling AKP government led by now President Erdogan has increased its proportion of the vote in 4 subsequent elections, there is a sizeable population who are anti-government and anti-Erdogan. This was born out during the Gezi protests in May-June 2013, and a number of other instances which have given rise to anti government protest and expression. While this is not the most important issue of the lot, it does subject government behaviour to criticism, and lack of a unified public support to potential internal and external security threats.

Protests in Turkey: Utile or futile?

The oft quoted expression, ‘if you want to know where you are going look to your past,’ applies and points direction to what is happening in Turkey. Following the death of Ahmet Atakan, the Taksim solidarity group called for a gathering of remembrance, carnations in hand for the evening of Tuesday September 10th. Police closed Gezi Park, in anticipation of the large crowds, and presumably the stand off to come.

If we take a look at social movements, those which succeed are defined by a few things: a clear goal, leadership and organisation. Those that fail have diverse, even conflicting goals, lack of clear leadership and organisation. For those inclined to read up on this, see Comparative perspectives on social movements : political opportunities, mobilizing structures, and cultural framings.

When the protests began on May 31 earlier this year, they continued for a month with three clear demands: stop the removal of trees in Gezi park, ban the use of tear gas and hold to account the excessive use of police force. These demands have been iterated, but not really met. Trees are being cleared through Middle East Technical University in Ankara, which has drawn Gezi-like sit ins and police confrontations. Tear gas is still used while some police have been held to account via demotion and court proceedings. All this erupted again tonight in what a few commentators are calling a ‘return to resistance,’ in other words the continuation of the original Gezi protests which had simmered during July and August… Turkey’s holiday months.

I decided to do a little test on Twitter. I asked, “What is the objective of tonight’s protests in #Turkey? Sympathy for another death? Protest for the sake of protest? New demands?

The reaction this drew is indicative of the sentiment in Turkey. There were emotional responses, questions asking whether I was ignorant of the situation, and the other side of the coin, namely that for changes to occur, they don’t overnight particularly in the judicial system where proceedings are months long. That is of course, unless kangaroo courts count.

From various feedback, here is what seems to be todays protests sentiment:

1. Against the deforestation taking place at METU

2. Against police violence

3. Against actions in Syria (military intervention)

Although a simple question, responses showed there were no simple answers. That points to a failing by protests organisers and by extension those taking part – if the thousands who are taking part are not able to clearly answer what the point of the march is beyond resistance, by failing to state what the tangible outcome is, we return to the main question – what is the point of the protests? Yes, you can show solidarity en masse but these protests ended the same way others did. Dispersal of crowds via tear gas, building of barricades and property destruction. So what changes? What stays the same?

The positive thing is that from the responses gathered, demands can be measured and there are ways to achieve them. Yet without a clear strategy and effective leadership, will protests risk futility? One person replied that protests were for the death of Atakan, although reports on the autopsy in various Turkish media have cited his falling from high ground and sustaining internal injuries as the caused this and not a tear gas canister shot to the head. Another said protests would continue unless justice was served, with another person replying that was not a rational pretext as legal proceedings stretch into months.

By pitting one side against the other, dialogue, debate and clear steps forward fall through. The protestors become a labelled a group of troublemakers while anyone in authority is lumped as authoritarian. The cycles repeats. Police use force, protestors react, police use more force protestors react until fatigue wears down or heavier handed tactics disperse crowds. Issues remain unresolved and simmer, until the next spark, such as the death of a protestor, the clearing of trees or what is happening in Syria providing the next impetus to demonstrate.

Look for the grey area

Its difficult not to take sides on what’s going on in Turkey. For me, it’s not about picking the sides of protestors or politics. It’s about solutions, and for that to happen you don’t have to be aligned with one side or another. But you do have to listen to and understand both. I have plenty of friends who have taken part in the demonstrations in Ankara and Istanbul (including two media friends who were assaulted by police) and equally know those within the government as well as their supporters. Yet, I won’t take sides because for me, the most important area is the grey one. The grey area is the space between right and wrong, between yes and no which is going to lead to a solution. Picking sides merely prolongs the status quo, it also unnecessarily personalises the issue. Are you democrat or authoritarian? Are you Islamist or secularist?.. and so on. These are moot points which simply divides. This is why on Saturday (22 June), when protestors went with their carnations to Taksim, only again to be dispersed by water cannons and tear gas, I asked what is the objective of the protestors now, and why, if police want to end the confrontations, do they not just cordon off the square in the name of limiting disruption to public order? Rather than letting emotion prevail, lets look for some reason and rationality to move beyond sentiment and towards some tangible solutions.

Protests: Not Turkey-wide. Click to see larger version. Source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-22859959

In the meantime I collect information from people on the ground, monitor foreign press particularly and the narratives they give and offer my two cents especially because there is much misunderstanding and misinformation. One would be forgiven for thinking that protests encompassed all over Turkey, that it was too dangerous to travel there and that 70% of cancelled reservations and empty hotel rooms verified the seriousness of the situation. What was missing from much reporting was context. The protests in Istanbul and Ankara – the two largest cities with ongoing demonstrations, and the ones I am very familiar with were limited to just a number of streets. What was also absent on social media feeds during were counts: how many people were in the streets, versus, for instance the protests in Brazil where numbers have more reliably accompanied reporting. See Gabriel Elizondo for more. By broadcasting images showing crowds and clashes, without quantifying the situation it is very easy to think this was the general Turkish landscape. Turkey’s population is 76 million and Istanbul’s roads number 25,000km worth. The protests took place in under a 10km Istanbul radius. The BBC had a nice little map showing just limited the space was in the context of a city of 17 million people and yet I still receive regular messages and concerns of whether what is happening is throughout Turkey in its entirety. My primary news source since the second week of protests, has been Twitter – either media folks who are reliable, and my own contacts. Facebook is Turkey’s primary social media platform. Much organisation, action, and testimony has been collated there. When I see or read something, I can verify it quickly by getting in touch with whoever posted it, asking them where it came from and then for the original image. Reputation and reliability is not difficult to build (which is also why personal contacts and connections with communities is the at the heart of any citizen journalism efforts).

Image via @FatmaKilicaslan

Barricades in one of Istanbul’s well to do areas. Image via @FatmaKilicaslan

Still, it does get personal. When I see the streets I walked every day to and from work with barricades put up, when I see the windows and shutters of my neighbourhood grocer, bank, the cart of the simit (bread ring) seller smashed and graffitied, when the store owners I know are not able to open their doors or suffer while working because of the tear gas, when I see clouds of tear gas on the street I lived on, of course it gets personal. But blaming one side or the other without proposing a solution or understanding all sides won’t get you anywhere.

Where to start? The first thing for those outside of Turkey or not familiar with the context is to pay attention to how things are being reported: take away the emotive language, look for verified numbers, and also look at what both sides are saying. Then make your assessment.

1. What does emotive language look like?

Its anything that can’t be measured, for instance: massive, oppressive, accused, could do this or that. These should all be red flags.

2. Look for verified numbers

Go for reliable sources and even better see if a second source says the same thing. For instance “economic fallout” doesn’t tell you much but “a drop of 17% according to the tourism and hotels union” (with a date attached is even better). Anything else is just sloppy journalism and remember reporting is a process, there are editors, producers and entire chains of command until an article or report reaches the viewer. One Turkish newspaper didn’t stop to double-check whether a major political figure had actually died before sending a Twitter update out and if major media continue to make basic spelling and grammar mistakes, you should already be on the back foot when consuming news.

3. Look at both sides

Image via @BusraAkin

Image via @BusraAkin

It’s very easy to take sides on whats happening and dismiss the other.  Both sides have considerable numbers, both sides can paint the other as irrational, irrelevant and the one to be overcome. Now there are some  government representatives who have been explaining what has been happening in layman’s terms. Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and advisor to the Prime Minister Ibrahim Kalin are two. They contextualise events and compare to similar circumstances elsewhere. This gives perspective. Other government rhetoric, rather than grandstanding and accusing needs to acknowledge and keep things simple. Most of the world does not know about Turkey’s political, social or economic history. They only see the here and now. Making an issue accessible doesn’t just inform, it also brings understanding.

Image via @emresano

Image via @emresano

Blaming and restatement of grievances will win you support within your own circles, but won’t bring solutions nor will move democracy forward. Remember, democracy is not a static concept, it’s a continual work in progress and for it to work, it needs participation – by voting, or protesting, or being informed and being discerning. Its only by exploring that grey area with clear objectives and rational dialogue that progress stands any chance.

10 days and a year ago

10 years and a day ago, an intern for Al Jazeera was persuading me of the merits of jumping on a train to go to Washington that night. She was interning at the UN and Washington was to be the scene of more than a million people congregating to protest America’s planned invasion in Iraq. I had been listening to the Security Council proceedings and statements everyday and was surrounded by foreign (and American press). I had a very good idea of what was going on. The UN weapons inspectors Hans Blix and Mohamed El Baradei were saying Saddam Hussein was complying and that the inspectors needed more time, whereas the American representatives would say something that could only be described as crafted for prime time broadcast  – statements that were perhaps crafted to provoke and justify military action,  statements completely opposite to those of patience and negotiation called for. Historian Howard Zinn had said, “you can’t be neutral on a moving train” meaning if you don’t speak up against something, you too are complicit in it. So I rushed home after work, packed an overnight bag and within an hour was at Penn station taking a train to D.C.

I had lived in Canada in temperatures averaging -20C in the winters but that day in Washington, despite marching for hours in the sunshine I remember being cold, cold, cold. Our saving grace was the inspiring energy, diversity and the belief which had drawn people from all over the country (and world) to do one thing: stand in opposition to the invasion. I remember looking down on the mall in DC, to the left, to the right and seeing people stretching into the distance. This must have been what a million people looked like, and I wondered if major newspapers would downplay the turnout (they didn’t).

So 10 years on, what has changed? What has remained the same? The cries of weapons of mass destruction, the justifications of invading to bring peace and democracy all failed. Is Iraq a worse off place now that it was more than 10 years ago? That can be debated but the facts remain that over a million people have died, been maimed or uprooted. Suicide bombings have become a bitter mainstay of a post US led invasion of Iraq. Millions marched around the world that day in what was arguably the biggest show of global unity against violence but it failed to derail what those millions foresaw. Now with a Europe in economic crisis, with Arab countries in the throws of social upheavals and changes, with an America also economically hurt, was it all worth it? And if millions of people around the world cannot have their voices not just heard but listened to, what hope is there? Are we really better off today?

Over 800 protests were organised around the world, there must have been a million in DC alone