20 September 2006

1026) 301: The 'bastard' of Turkey

The Turkish Parliament convened yesterday after summer recess -- for a second time this year -- to legislate a set of reforms required for Turkey's European Union process. The government, eager to get the so-called ninth reform package legislated before the end of the month -- so that the European Commission makes a note of the development in its scheduled annual progress report on this country toward EU membership -- ordered its deputies to be present in Parliament. The opposition was in Parliament as well. . .

What was missing? A proposal for the inclusion of the amendment or abolition of the controversial Turkish Penal Code (TCK) Article 301, which regulates penalties for insulting “Turkishness.”

Although with the European Commission deciding to change its diary and postponing the release of the progress report to Nov. 8 has provided some additional time for Turkey, still it was good that the government has respected its pledge to the EU that it would recall Parliament from recess and get the reform package legislated by the end of this month.

In no way are we attempting to belittle the contents of this ninth reform package. The improvements in the Foundations Law and others will definitely serve this country and its people in overcoming many anti-democratic chains and primitive implementations resulting from the past obsession of considering some of our people a potential threat just because they belonged to a different religion or an ethnic background other than that of the majority of our people.

It will definitely be a great development for our country to legislate an Ombudsman Law. Creating legal background empowering the Auditors' Office to inspect military spending will have a revolutionary effect towards the establishment of a more transparent state administration in Turkey. It will as well be a great step forward towards eradicating corruption while at the same time bringing military expenses under civilian control.

The Halki Seminary (Heybeliada theological school) has been a pain in the neck for all Turkish administrations ever since it was closed in accordance with the integrity of the primary and secondary education principle. It is a fact that we have to find an acceptable formula that will allow the seminary to be reopened and raise Christian men of religion for the churches of this country while trying to avoid falling into the trap of those hoping to see the revival of Islamic madrasses. This problem, hopefully, will be resolved as well.

From the statements of Justice Minister Cemil Cicek and other top executives of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) administration, we unfortunately understand that the contentious Article 301 of the TCK will remain intact and that they have no intention of suggesting its annulment or abolition all together.

According to Cicek and AKP officials, the TCK was just amended and it would be like a joke to make an amendment in Article 301 in such a short period. They believe we need some more time to see the outcome of the practice under that contentious article before thinking of amending it again.

We simply disagree. Apart from the difficulties scores of intellectuals have been facing in court because of that article, one TDN writer, Burak Bekdil, was sentenced to 16 months (deferred, thank God) behind bars and another one, Elif Safak, will be facing the court this week.

Bekdil was sentenced because of an article in which he criticized the judicial system of this country, while Safak, a celebrated novelist, will be going on trial not because of something she wrote in the TDN but because of a conversation between two characters in her new book -- “The Bastard of Istanbul” -- during which there is a reference to the massacre of Armenians in the first quarter of last century in eastern Anatolia.

Indeed, reading remarks of the justice minister and the top AKP officials, one may think that the controversial article has become the “bastard of Turkey” because even those who fathered it into law are trying to ignore it as well as the problems it has been creating for freedom of thought in this country.

Not only intellectuals but the Turkish Industrialists and Businessmen's Association (TUSIAD) appealed to the government yesterday to realize that amendment of Article 301 is of great importance for Turkey's EU accession process.

Still, we want to maintain our optimism that at one point during parliamentary debates the AKP majority will remember the “bastard” they fathered and bring a resolution of this problem in a manner demonstrating to Europe the democratic credentials of this country as well as its commitment to free speech.

September 20, 2006

TDN editorial by Yusuf KANLI
© 2005 Dogan Daily News Inc.


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