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ANKARA: Raising The Bar

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  • ANKARA: Raising The Bar


    Today's Zaman, Turkey
    Sept 19 2013


    Democratization packages were hotly anticipated events when change
    was still in the air, too many years ago.

    These days, it is harder to invest much hope in a reform package whose
    introduction has been delayed many times, when every day politicians
    display attitudes and make statements in sharp contrast with the aims
    their policies are meant to pursue.

    When the series of reforms is finally unveiled, it will no doubt
    include a few positive measures. But one can't escape feeling that
    the government is taking these steps not because it believes Turkey
    needs a more democratic environment, but rather because it is forced
    to do something -- as little as possible -- to keep the struggling
    Kurdish peace process alive.

    As this newspaper pointed out only recently, three years after the
    2010 referendum, the legislation has yet to be brought in line with
    the amendments adopted, a fact that points to the government's flagging
    enthusiasm for the process of democratization. It is as if Turkey had
    gone back to the 1990s, when reforms were seen by the state largely as
    a necessary evil -- needed at the time because of EU accession hopes,
    which provides little pull factor today -- rather than as a means to
    transform the country and improve the lives of its citizens.

    Certainly, when sifting through the daily news, there is precious
    little to suggest that the current government has achieved the radical
    shift in mentality it had promised, one that would put the needs and
    rights of individuals, rather than the state, at the center of the
    rulers' concerns.

    This government scored some major achievements in its early years, but
    lately it has measured progress mainly in the amount of cement poured.

    The authorities were proud that the Caglayan "justice palace,"
    inaugurated a couple of years ago, was the largest in Europe, but
    they've done little to improve the quality of the judicial decisions
    delivered in this imposing building.

    After six long years awaiting justice, Hrant Dink's family and friends
    appear so convinced that the truth will not emerge, in the absence
    of political will, that they have chosen not to attend the retrial of
    defendants involved in the murder of the Turkish-Armenian journalist
    in January 2007. Their disillusion is shared by all those who were
    encouraged by the outpouring of public support that followed Dink's
    shocking assassination.

    The fate of this particular case is only one indicator that Turkey's
    rulers have opted to maintain the status quo. Most projects recently
    unveiled by the government involve superlatives -- the biggest mosque,
    the biggest airport, the biggest court -- but ambitions about the
    exterior are not always matched by a similar attention to the content.

    How about aiming instead to develop the best judicial system in
    Europe or just trying to avoid being top of the list of countries
    most often condemned by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR)
    for their flawed judicial decisions and human rights violations?

    Time and time again, the state is protected while little respect is
    shown for the rights of individuals. Investigations launched against
    police officers accused of using excessive force during the Gezi
    protests resulted in disciplinary measures taken against 43 officers
    but the penalty -- loss of seniority benefits for six to 16 months
    -- can hardly be seen as a deterrent, especially when compared to
    the government's harsh attitude toward protesters. And what about
    the policeman in Mersin who thought it amusing to encourage children
    playing in the street to hit each other? When they didn't comply, he
    hit one so severely that the 8-year-old child had to be hospitalized
    with internal injuries. We can only hope that the officer will get
    more than a slap on the wrist for such unconscionable behavior.

    Can the government still pull a surprise out of its hat, with
    significant changes such as education in Kurdish, a major softening of
    the anti-terror legislation, a lowering of the 10 percent electoral
    threshold and the reopening of the Halki seminary? Nothing would be
    more welcome. Based on recent experience, however, such a positive
    leap forward appears unlikely.

    From: Emil Lazarian | Ararat NewsPress