Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Talking Turkey: Amendments, Abolitions, Autonomy

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Talking Turkey: Amendments, Abolitions, Autonomy

Article excerpt

Talking Turkey: Amendments, Abolitions, Autonomy

By James Dorsey

Turkey has liberalized its military-era constitution, easing the way for its customs union with the European Union. Nonetheless, to be sealed finally, the deal may still require improvement in Ankara's human rights record.

Moreover, Prime Minister Tansu Ciller's unexpected victory in the Turkish parliament in getting the constitution amended has ironically fueled speculation that Turkey may go to the polls prior to the scheduled election in the fall of 1996. Although Ciller denies that she is contemplating an early election, analysts say two scenarios are realistic:

One is organization of by-elections to be held no later than Oct. 20 for 22 vacant parliament seats. Analysts caution, however, that such by-elections may be difficult to organize if parliament only returns from recess on Oct. 1. By-elections can't be held after Oct. 20 because the constitution bans such polling within one year of general elections.

Under the alternative scenario, Ciller could call for a surprise general election in November to exploit both positive economic indicators and her possible success in salvaging the customs union.

Despite the danger that election politics would wreak havoc on public finances, Ciller is likely to assure the international financial community that she will emerge from general elections stronger than ever, and therefore be able to press ahead more effectively with privatization and structural reform of the economy.

Which way Ciller decides to go is likely to be influenced by whether the constitutional amendments are sufficient to persuade the European Parliament that Turkey is well on its way to adopting the standards of the European Convention on Human Rights. The amendments expanding political participation and lifting some restrictions on unions are part of a democratization program Prime Minister Ciller unveiled over one year ago.

That program was in response to a threat by the European Parliament to reject the customs union due to take effect on Jan. 1 if Turkey has not democratized by that time. For her part, Ciller again is warning Europe that Islamic fundamentalists will gain influence in Turkey if the EU keeps postponing the customs union.

"Turkey's integration into the West will make the values of modern civilization and their development irreversible," Ciller says. "But Europe must not isolate us, or else the danger arises that ideologues who exploit the Turkish people's religious sentiment will win ground. The impairment or non-realization of the customs union would serve the interests of religious fundamentalists. The European Parliament should consider this."

Ciller-backed amendments to the Turkish constitution are, nonetheless, but one step in the direction of the European Parliament's demands for democratization. Turkey has yet to move on a host of other issues, including the lifting of restrictions on freedom of expression.

Abolishing Article 8

With the Turkish parliament going into recess, the assembly will only discuss the crucial issue of abolishing Article 8 of the anti-terrorism law when it returns on Oct. 1, according to Murat Ersavci, Mrs. Ciller's spokesman. Article 8 has been invoked against people who argue for broader Kurdish political and cultural rights.

Scores of writers and others are in jail for publishing books about modern Kurdish history, criticizing alleged human rights abuses in the mainly Kurdish southeast or expressing Kurdish nationalist sentiments.

Hard-liners in the parliament--and within Ciller's own True Path Party (DYP)--reject changing Article 8, arguing it would only encourage the 11-year Kurdish guerrilla war for independence or autonomy in southeast Turkey.

As a result, European parliamentarians could refuse to endorse the customs union, arguing that Turkey has yet to meet fully their demands for democratization, which also include an end to torture in police interrogations and recognition of Kurdish rights. …

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