With Congress out of session and President Obama out of town, Washington was quiet over the holidays. Not so in Turkey, where significant events took place, including the arrest of journalists and teenagers, armed clashes between Kurds and Islamists and worrisome government pronouncements on basic civil rights. A rundown of major events is below.
- One police officer was killed and another injured in an attack by a female suicide bomber on January 6. The attack took place near popular tourist site Sultanahmet Square. The bomber has reportedly been identified as a member of the Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front (DHKP-C), an outlawed far-left group in Turkey.
- The attack comes less than a week after a DHKP-C member was arrested for a failed grenade attack on police near Dolmabahçe Palace in Istanbul, another popular tourist site which also houses a prime ministerial office.
- On December 14, Ekrem Dumanlı, editor-in-chief of the newspaper Zaman, Hidayet Karaca, the general manager of Samanyolu TV, along with approximately 30 other journalists, scriptwriters, media personnel and a number of police officers were detained in a series of pre-dawn raids by the police.
- The arrests are a consequence of the conflict between the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and their former allies in the Gülen Movement, whom President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan now accuses of seeking to create a “parallel state” in Turkey that aims to overthrow his administration.
- Those arrested were accused of attempting to overthrow the government and seize power, of establishing an illegal gang, faking documents and restricting people’s freedom. They were detained under provisions created by a recent package of reforms lowering the standard required for arrest from “strong suspicion” and “substantial evidence” to “reasonable suspicion.”
- Dumanlı was eventually ordered released, while many others remain imprisoned.
Freedom of Speech
- On December 25, Turkish police arrested a 16-year-old high school student in the city of Konya on charges of insulting President Erdoğan. At a ceremony commemorating a Turkish military officer killed by Islamists in 1930, the student read a statement defending secularism while criticizing both the ruling AKP government and Erdoğan personally over corruption allegations, as a crowd surrounding him chanted “everywhere is bribery, everywhere is corruption.” Turkey’s penal code forbids insulting the president.
- On January 2, police arrested a university student after he allegedly insulted President Erdoğan while drunkenly arguing with police in a hospital in Duziçi.
- A protestor, who held up a New York Times cartoon depicting President Erdoğan slicing meat from a vertical spit emblazoned with a Turkish flag with the word “DEMOCRACY” on it, is facing charges of insulting the Turkish flag, which could carry a prison sentence of three years.
- On January 5, the parliamentary commission that was established to look into claims of corruption against four former cabinet ministers voted against referring those ministers to a top court for trial amidst allegations of the government placing heavy pressure on ruling party members of the commission. Nine out of 14 members of the commission were representatives of the AKP.
- The Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK) suspended four prosecutors who conducted the December 17, 2013 corruption investigations and placed them under investigation for malpractice, asserting that they “damaged the dignity of their offices through inappropriate acts and behavior.”
- Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal made a surprise visit to Turkey. On December 27, he appeared hand-in-hand with Prime Minister Davutoğlu at an AKP congress, where he declared, “God is with you and with us on the path to victory. A democratic, developed and stable Turkey is a source of power for all Muslims.”
- A U.S. State Department spokesman said, “We continue to raise our concerns about the relationship between Hamas and Turkey with senior Turkish officials, particularly after learning about Khaled Mashaal’s recent visit there.”
- Armed clashes on December 27 between members of the Patriotic Revolutionist Youth Movement (YDG-H) – an affiliate of the terrorist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) – and Hüda-Par, a Kurdish Sunni Islamist party also known as Turkish Hizbullah (which has no affiliation with Lebanon’s Hezbollah), left three people dead in the southeastern town of Cizre.
- The leader of Hüda-Par, speaking to a pro-government daily, accused the U.S. Consul General to Adana of instigating the clashes, saying that violence occurs whenever he visits Turkey’s southeast.
- Acting as a witness at a wedding ceremony, President Erdoğan delivered a speech in which he described birth control as “treason to the country,” urging Turks to have at least three children, and he blamed contraception advocates for hindering the country’s growth.
- Health Minister Mehmet Müezzinoğlu declared that motherhood is a career, advising mothers to focus on motherhood rather than paying attention to other careers. Defending his remarks, he later added that, “procrastinating and pushing [aside] motherhood is wrong” and that there is “proper age to give birth.”
- On December 8, President Erdoğan promised to introduce compulsory classes in Ottoman Turkish into the national school curriculum, regardless of public objections.
- The government announced its intention to open Turkish imam-hatip (imam and preacher) schools, which focus on a curriculum with theological lessons, abroad for Turkish expatriates.