INTELLECTUALS PRESS GOVERNMENT TO ACT, NOT TALK ON REFORMS

Today's Zaman
March 3 2008
Turkey

A group of more than a hundred prominent members from Turkey's
intellectual elite, including academics, journalists and artists on
Saturday signed a declaration calling on the government to walk the
walk in the promise of accelerating the country's efforts to become
a full member of the European Union.

"Turkey may have drifted away from its EU objectives. There has been a
slowdown in reforms," Beril Dedeoðlu, a professor of political science
and one of the signatories of the declaration, told Today's Zaman
on Sunday. "There have been expectations on the part of the Turkish
society for more reforms, but the government does not seem to be
inclined to meet these expectations." The declaration came as Turkey's
liberals, who have been mostly supportive of the ruling Justice and
Development Party (AK Party) since it first came to power in 2002,
are getting increasingly vocal in their calls for the government to
step up reforms.

They say the AK Party has lost its reform desire and want action to
back government pledges that 2008 will the "the EU year."

"I do expect to see concrete steps from the government regarding
the EU after this declaration," said Tarhan Erdem, a pollster who
correctly predicted the amount of votes the AK Party would get in
this summer's election and another signatory of the declaration,
said. "It would be wrong to say I do not have such an expectation. It
is the job of the government to achieve this improvement," he said.

The intellectuals' declaration conveying their disquiet about the
stalled reform process was addressed to the AK Party. It read:
"You no longer have any excuses not to cling on with all your might
to the EU project that you have been neglecting in the past three
years. If the year 2008 is to be the year of the EU [for Turkey],
we do not expect promises from you but concrete steps."

Earlier in January, Foreign Minister and Chief Negotiator on EU
accession Ali Babacan said 2008 would be the "year of the EU" in
Turkey, responding to increasing criticism in the recent few months
over perceived interruptions to the country's progress towards full
EU membership.

The declaration emphasized that Turkey's membership would be the
guarantee of Turkey's secular democracy and stability.

In addition, the intellectuals told the government, "We expect to see
implementations that will prove that your understanding of freedom is
not limited to freedom for the headscarf only; that you protect all
rights and freedoms as necessitated by being a pluralist democracy and
that you are not seeing these [rights and freedoms] as an instrument to
reach certain targets, but as an end in and of itself; that you have no
intention to compromise on secularism; and that you have no intention
to steer Turkey away from the West and the international community."

The intellectuals called on the government to stop viewing the European
Union as a matter of foreign policy. The declaration read, "The EU is
a restructuring process that regulates every area of social life. It
is a major domestic policy issue. It should not be a priority item
on the agenda for the year of 2008 only, but for every year until
Turkey becomes a member."

The declaration also warned the government about the damage caused
to freedom of speech by the Turkish Penal Code (TCK) Article 301,
a provision that criminalizes denigrating Turkishness, under which
criticism of official state ideology by writers and journalists has
often been interpreted as an offense by overzealously nationalistic
judges and prosecutors.

"Political reforms should be implemented at a rapid rate and
obstacles standing in the way of freedom of expression should be
removed. Provisions such as 301 that have become symbols of shame
should be gotten rid of. We, the undersigned, call on the government
to act. There can be no explanation by a government that was brought to
power by wide public support and one that has a majority in Parliament
in not fulfilling its promises.

If you really have adopted EU membership as a target, as you say,
it is the right time to prove this. Keep your promise and make year
2008 and each year after that the year of the EU."

In addition to a large number of well-known liberal journalists,
academics or writers in Turkey, such as Cengiz Aktar, Eser Karakaþ,
Ragýp Duran and Fuat Keyman, a number of public figures outside
journalism and the academy, such as slain ethnic Armenian editor
Hrant Dink's widow Rafel Dink, folk singer Yavuz Bingol and actress
Serra Yýlmaz were among the signatories.

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From: Emil Lazarian | Ararat NewsPress