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Turkey’s parliament backs new constitution

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Turkey’s parliament has given preliminary approval to a new constitution which will increase the powers of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The parliament approved the two final sections of the 18-article new constitution 15 January after a marathon week of debating that began on 9 January and included sessions that often lasted late into the night.

The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) mustered the necessary 330 or more votes – a three-fifths majority – needed for the adoption of the constitutional change and sending it to a referendum for final approval. The constitution plan will now go to a second reading in the Ankara parliament expected to start on 18 January where the 18 articles will again be debated one by one.

The proposed changes, which will create an executive presidency for the first time in modern Turkey, are controversial and far-reaching. The president will have the power to appoint and fire ministers, while the post of prime minister will be abolished for the first time in Turkey’s history. Instead, there will a vice president, or possibly several.

The debates have been fractious and last week saw some of the worst fighting seen in the parliament in years with punches thrown, deputies bloodied and one lawmaker even claiming to have been bitten in the leg. To secure its necessary majority, the AKP has relied on the support of the rightwing Nationalist Movement Party, the fourth largest in the legislature.

Critics are quick to claim it amounts to a power grab by President Erdogan. But the president says the changed system will resemble those in France and the United States. The new constitution will allow the president to appoint and dismiss ministers, and it will abolish the post of prime minister for the first time in Turkey’s history. Instead there will be at least one vice-president.

The pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) boycotted the vote. Several of their MPs have been jailed on charges of supporting Kurdish militants, which, the HDP says, makes the vote controversial as they have no right to participate.

Debates over the constitution changes have been heated. Last week a fight broke out in parliament after the AKP clashed with Republican’s People Party (CHP) members when an MP tried to film a voting session during a debate. The CHP, the biggest opposition party, opposing the changes, is being used by anti-Islamic forces from the West to try and derail the ruling AKP government’s reforms.

The constitutional amendments will give the president more scope for declaring an emergency. President Erdogan, 62, came to power in 2002, a year after the AKP’s formation. He spent 11 years as Turkey’s prime minister before becoming, in 2014, the country’s first directly-elected president – a supposedly ceremonial role. Not since the days of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the father of the modern Turkish Republic, has any figure dominated the country for as long Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The president’s grip on power was seriously challenged by an attempted coup on 15 July. Yet he was back less than 12 hours later, some say in an even stronger position than before. And he had out-maneuvered the plotters. Turkey has been in a state of emergency since a failed coup in July. The status was extended after a series of attacks on the country, including a mass shooting in an Istanbul nightclub on New Year’s Eve.

As Premier and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has brought Turkey years of economic growth, but to his critics, seeking to destabilize the former Ottoman Empire so that it would appear to be a part of weakened Mideast and deny it the status of being an European nation, he is an autocratic leader intolerant of dissent who harshly silences anyone who opposes him. And dissenters range from plotters and their supporters, a 16-year-old arrested for insulting the president to a former Miss Turkey who got into trouble for sharing a poem critical of the Turkish president.

Last year’s failed coup claimed at least 240 lives and, according to officials, also came close to killing Erdogan, who had been staying at the Aegean holiday resort of Marmaris. Within hours, he appeared on national TV and rallied supporters in Istanbul, declaring he was the “chief commander”. But the strain on the president was clear, when he sobbed openly while giving a speech at the funeral of a close friend, shot with his son by soldiers during the attempted coup.

All ant-Islamic nations seek Turkey to undo Islamist ideology and adopt the system of “open politics” and deformed culture and civilization of the West and the rest. .They say President Erdogan is known to harbour ambitions of creating an executive presidency, to regain some of the powers he relinquished when his tenure as prime minister ended in 2014.

While the ruling AK Party enjoys a fierce and loyal support among Turkey’s conservative, Muslim base, his silencing of critics after the coup has caused alarm in anti-Islamic media abroad. Turkish journalists who oppose the islamist government have been investigated and put on trial, foreign journalists working against the government have been harassed and deported.

Critics have accused Erdogan of using the judiciary to silence political opponents who seek to destabilize the Islamist nation, and there have been many allegations of trumped-up charges. But his supporters applauded President Erdogan for taking on previously untouchable establishment figures that saw themselves as guardians of the state created by Ataturk. Erdogan also unleashed the power of the state to crush mass protests in Istanbul in June 2013, focused on Gezi Park, a green area earmarked for a huge building project. The protests spread to other cities, swelled by many secularist Turks suspicious of the AKP’s Islamist leanings. A major corruption scandal battered his government in December 2013, involving numerous arrests, including the sons of three cabinet ministers. Later it turned out to be an opposition tactic to discredit the ruling party and Erdogan.

And Erdogan’s strong (‘authoritarian’) approach is not confined to Turkey’s borders. A German satirist is under investigation in his home country for offending the Turkish president on TV. In June 2015 the AKP suffered a dip in the polls and failed to form a coalition. But the party swept back to power in November with 49% of the vote, in elections overshadowed by the end of a ceasefire with the Kurdish militant PKK.

Parliamentary elections and presidential ballots will be held simultaneously, with the draft giving 3 November 2019 as the poll date.

Erdogan’s rise to power

Born in 1954, Recep Tayyip Erdogan grew up the son of a coastguard, on Turkey’s Black Sea coast. When he was 13, his father decided to move to Istanbul, hoping to give his five children a better upbringing. As a teenager, the young Erdogan sold lemonade and sesame buns on the streets of Istanbul’s rougher districts to earn extra cash. He attended an Islamic school before obtaining a degree in management from Istanbul’s Marmara University – and playing professional football.

In the decades before the AKP’s rise to power, the military intervened in politics four times to curb Islamist influence. And Recep Tayyip Erdogan has for years embraced Islamist-rooted politics. When he became mayor of Istanbul in 1994 he stood as candidate for the pro-Islamist Welfare Party. He went to jail for four months in 1999 for religious incitement after he publicly read a nationalist poem including the lines: “The mosques are our barracks, the domes our helmets, the minarets our bayonets and the faithful our soldiers.”

When he became prime minister in 2002 as head of the AKP, he asserted civilian supremacy over the army. In 2013 he triumphed over the military elite when senior officers were among a large group of people convicted of plotting to overthrow him in what was known as the “Ergenekon” case. Those convictions were later quashed.

Erdogan raged against “plotters” based outside Turkey, condemning supporters of cleric Fethullah Gulen, a former ally turned rival in self-imposed exile in the US. He also lashed out against social media, vowing to “wipe out” Twitter. Erdogan has denied wanting to impose Islamic values, saying he is committed to secularism. But he supports Turks’ right to express their religious beliefs more openly. He opposes efforts to discredit Islam and Islamist government in Europe. Turks love him for what he is and how much he loves his country. That message goes down particularly well in rural and small-town Anatolia – the AKP’s traditional heartland. Some supporters nicknamed him “Sultan” – harking back to the Ottoman Empire.

In October 2013 Turkey lifted rules banning women from wearing headscarves in the country’s state institutions – with the exception of the judiciary, military and police – ending a decades-old restriction. European nations condemn this. Critics also pointed to Erdogan’s failed bid to criminalize adultery, and his attempts to introduce “alcohol-free zones”, as evidence of his alleged Islamist intentions.

Erdogan’s political opponents saw a lavish new presidential palace only as a symbol of his alleged authoritarian tendencies. Perched on a hill on the outskirts of Ankara, the 1,000-room Ak Saray (White Palace) is bigger than the White House or the Kremlin and ended up costing even more than the original £385m ($615m) price tag.

Erdogan owes much of his political success in the past decade to economic stability, with an average annual growth rate of 4.5%. Turkey has developed into a manufacturing and export powerhouse. The AKP government kept inflation under control – no mean feat, as there were years in the 1990s when it soared above 100%. But in 2014 the economy began flagging – growth fell to 2.9% and unemployment rose above 10%.

Turkey has been increasingly playing a positive role as Islamic leader globally. On the international stage President Erdogan has bitterly condemned Israel – previously a strong ally of Turkey – over its ill-treatment of the Palestinians as Zionist policy to eliminate them from Palestine lands. Turkey sent an aidship “Marmara” to breach the Israeli blockades at Gaza strip where Israeli military keeps killing the Palestinians, including children. .Israel pursues expansionist fascist policies to clear the lands for proliferation of illegal settlements in Palestine territories. Both Israel and Egypt cause severe problems for the Gaza Palestinians by maintaining terror blockades around.

Although there is now a rapprochement, the policy not only galvanized his Islamic base, but also made Erdogan a hugely popular leader across the world, particularly in Middle East. He has backed Syria’s opposition in its fight against autocratic Bashar al-Assad’s government in Damascus. He has also supported the freedom struggle of Kashmiris and condemned killings of Kashmiris by occupation forces under Israeli supervision.

Erdogan’s tentative peace overtures to the Kurds in south-eastern Turkey soured when he refused to help Syrian Kurds battling Islamic State militants just across the border.

Turkey, like Saudi Arabia, is a strong candidate for UN veto status, but it has pressed for its so far as the UNSC is not seriously thinking of increasing the strength of veto members on UN. Veto has harmed genuine interests of many nations like Palestine but nations like Israel have benefited greatly from it.

Erdogan’s important dates

1994-1998 – Mayor of Istanbul, until military officers made power grab

1998 – Welfare Party banned, Erdogan jailed for four months for inciting religious hatred

Aug 2001 – Founds Islamist-rooted AKP (Justice and Development Party) with ally Abdullah Gul

2002-2003 – AKP wins solid majority in parliamentary election, Erdogan appointed prime minister

Aug 2014 – Becomes president after first-ever direct elections for head of state

July 2016 – Survives attempted coup by factions within the military

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Justice delayed is justice denied. I lost my family to Iran Regime’s barbarity

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Mohammad Shafaei’s family- The toddler in his mother’s arm is Mohammad Shafaei

On May 4, over 1,100 families of the victims of the 1988 massacre in Iran wrote a letter to the international community. We called on the United Nations and European and American governments to take immediate action in preventing the regime from further destruction of their loved ones’ graves.

I was one of the signatories. I have lost six of my relatives to the regime’s cruelty. I was seven years old when my parents were arrested for their democratic ideals and activism.

My father, Dr. Morteza Shafaei, was a well-respected and popular physician in Isfahan. He was admired by people because he was extremely compassionate and giving to others. He was brutally executed by the regime in 1981 simply because he sought a democratic future for his family and his compatriots. The mullahs also killed my mother, two brothers, Majid (only 16) and Javad, and one of my sisters, Maryam, along with her husband.

By the age of 8, I had lost my entire family, save for one sister, as a result of the regime’s executions and crimes against humanity.

Mohammad Shafaei

The 1988 massacre stands as one of the most horrendous crimes against humanity after World War II. In the summer of that year, based on a religious decree issued by Khomeini, then-Supreme Leader of the theocratic regime in Iran, tens of thousands of political prisoners were liquidated. Most of the victims belonged to the principal democratic opposition movement Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK).

It is believed that the regime massacred at least 30,000 political dissidents that year in the span of a few months. This much was confirmed by the designated heir to the regime’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Hossein-Ali Montazeri both in his published memoires and leaked audiotape in 2016, in which he condemned the ongoing crime against humanity in August 1988 during a meeting with high-ranking regime officials.

Those officials continue to serve the regime today in high-ranking positions. Ebrahim Raisi, for example, who was a member of the “death committees” in charge of rounding up and killing the political prisoners, is currently occupying the highly sensitive post of the Judiciary Chief. He is expected to announce his candidacy to run for President during the June election. After the June 2009 uprising, he said, “Moharebeh (waging war on God) is sometimes an organization, like the hypocrites (MEK). Anyone who helps the MEK in any way and under any circumstances, because it is an organized movement, the title of Moharebeh applies.” According the Islamic Punishment Act, the punishment for Moharebeh is death.

For years, the clerical regime has been systematically and gradually destroying the graves of the victims of the 1988 massacre in Tehran and other cities. As the world learns more about the killings and the international outrage grows, Tehran’s mullahs are scrambling to clear all traces of their crimes against humanity.

Most of us have forgotten where exactly our loved ones are buried, many of them in mass graves. The campaign for justice for victims of 1988 has gained greater prominence and broader scope. International human rights organizations and experts have described the massacre as a crime against humanity and called for holding the perpetrators of this heinous crime to account.

Paranoid of the repercussions of international scrutiny into this horrific atrocity, the Iranian regime has embarked on erasing the traces of the evidence on the massacre by destroying the mass graves where they are buried. The regime has tried to destroy the mass graves of massacred political prisoners in Tehran’s Khavaran Cemetery in the latest attempt. Previously, it destroyed or damaged the mass graves of the 1988 victims in Ahvaz, Tabriz, Mashhad, and elsewhere.

These actions constitute the collective torture of thousands of survivors and families of martyrs. It is another manifest case of crime against humanity.  

The UN and international human rights organizations must prevent the regime from destroying the mass graves, eliminating the evidence of their crime, and inflicting psychological torture upon thousands of families of the victims throughout Iran. 

Moreover, the Iranian public and all human rights defenders expect the United Nations, particularly the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michele Bachelet, to launch an international commission of inquiry to investigate the massacre of political prisoners and summon the perpetrators of this heinous crime before the International Court of Justice.

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Can Biden Bring Peace to the Middle East?

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Joe Biden
Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz

As the fierce fighting between Israel and the Palestinians rages on, the Biden administration’s Middle East policy has been criticized for its relatively aloof, “stand back” approach that has resulted in the absence of any pressure on Israel to re-think its harsh mistreatment of the Palestinians, vividly demonstrated in the recent police attack at al-Aqsa mosque and the attempted eviction of Palestinians from their homes in East Jerusalem, viewed by the Palestinians as part of Israel’s “ethnic cleansing.”

Consequently, a UN Security Council draft resolution on the crisis has been reportedly held up by US, which has prioritized the familiar narrative of “Israel’s right to self-defense” ad nauseam, without the benefit any nuances that would reveal any fresh thinking on the problem on the part of the Biden administration.  As in the past, the new crisis in Israel-Palestinian relations has sharpened the loyalties and alliances, in effect binding the US government closer to its Middle East ally under the rainstorm of Palestinian rocket attacks, highlighting Israel’s security vulnerabilities in today’s missile age.  Determined to crush the Palestinian resistance, the mighty Israeli army has been pulverizing Gaza while, simultaneously, declaring state of emergency in the Arab sections of Israel, as if there is a military solution to an inherently political problem.  What Israel may gain from its current military campaign is, by all indications, bound to be elusive of a perpetual peace and will likely sow the seed of the next chapter in the ‘intractable’ conflict in the future.  

Both sides are in violation of the international humanitarian laws that forbid the indiscriminate targeting of civilian population and, no matter how justified the Palestinian grievances, they too need to abide by international law and consider the alternative Gandhian path of non-violent resistance, notwithstanding the colossal power of Israeli army.

As the editors of Israel’s liberal paper, Haaretz, have rightly pointed out, the problem is the Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is highly unpopular, unable to form a government, afflicted with a corruption case, and who has been appeasing the extremist elements in Israeli politics who have no qualm about the illegal expropriation of Palestinian lands.  Israeli politics for its own sake needs to move to the center, otherwise the Israeli society as a whole will suffer, as more and more educated Israelis will leave the country, Israel’s recent gains through the Abrahams accord with the conservative Arab states will be essentially wiped out, as these states will need to cater to the rising tide of anti-Israel sentiments at home or face serious legitimation problems, and Israel’s regional rivals led by Iran will continue to harvest from the present crisis.

Unfortunately, there does not seem to be any political will in Washington to spur a political shift in Israel that would secure better results in terms of the elusive Middle East peace and both President Biden and the Democratic Party establishment are concerned that their Republican opponents will seize on any tangible US pressure applied on Israel.  In other words, domestic US priorities will continue for the foreseeable future to hamper a much-needed corrective Washington influence on an ally that receives 4 billion dollar military aid annually and, yet, is unwilling to allow the White House to have any input on its handling of the Palestinians at home and the West Bank and Gaza.  

But, assuming for a moment that the Biden administration would somehow muster the will to stand up to Netanyahu and pressure him to cease its massive attacks on Gaza, then such a bold move would need to be coordinated with a deep Arab outreach that would, simultaneously, persuade the Palestinian groups led by Hamas and Islamic Jihad to go along with a US-initiated cease-fire, followed by related efforts at UN and regional level to bring about the groundwork for a more enduring peace, such as by holding a new international peace conference, similar to the Oslo process.  

At the moment, of course, this is wishful thinking and the protagonists of both sides in this terrible conflict are more focused on scoring against each other than to partake in a meaningful peace process.  In other words, an important prerequisite for peace, that is the inclination for peaceful resolution of the conflict instead of resorting to arms, is clearly missing and can and should be brought about by, first and foremost, a capable US leadership, sadly hitherto missing.

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Israel-Palestine Conflict Enters into Dangerous Zone

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Palestinians react as Israeli police fire a stun grenade during clashes at Damascus Gate on Laylat al-Qadr during the holy month of Ramadan, in Jerusalem's Old City, May 9, 2021. /Reuters

Since the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in mid-April 2021, tension has escalated, with frequent clashes between police and Palestinians. The threatened eviction of some Palestinian families in East Jerusalem has also caused rising anger. But when Israeli security forces entered and attacked the unarmed Muslim worshipers, damaged the property, and humiliated the families, the situation turned into conflict.

Since the irrational and illogical creation of the Jewish State in the middle of the Muslim World, the tension started and emerged into few full-fledged armed conflicts and wars like; 1948–49, 1956, 1967, 1973, 1982, and 2006 wars/ conflicts. Tensions are often high between Israel and Palestinians living in East Jerusalem, Gaza, and the West Bank. Gaza is ruled by a Palestinian group called Hamas, which has fought Israel many times. Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank complain that they’re suffering because of Zionists’ expansionist actions. Israel’s severe violations of human rights and extreme atrocities against Palestinians left Palestinians with no option other than protest and agitate. But Israel suppresses them and uses all dirty tricks to keep them silent.

It is worth mentioning that the United Nations Security Council has passed several resolutions to settle the Israel-Palestine issue peacefully. But Israel has not implemented either of them and kept using force to push them out and settle Jews in their land.

The State of Israel has been enjoying undue supported by the US, irrespective of who is president, but all of them support Israel unconditionally. Israel is the most favored nation of the US and the largest beneficiary of American aid, assistance, and support.

Ex-President Donald Trump helped Israel establish diplomatic relations with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan, and Morocco. Donald Trump favored Netanyahu, dramatically moved the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. His daughter and son-in-law were the facilitators for his support to Israel.

Till last news, at least 56 Palestinians have died under an array of aerial bombardments of the Gaza Strip. Five Israelis were killed too. Rockets, bullets, and rocks are flying around Israel and the Palestinian territories with catastrophic intensity in the latest wave of violence that periodically marks the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Palestinian protesters run for cover from tear gas fired by Israeli security forces amid clashes at Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque compound on May 10, 2021, ahead of a planned march to commemorate Israel’s takeover of Jerusalem in 1967 Six-Day War.  Security forces have set on fire the centuries-old holy Mosque. Serious communal violence has broken out within Israel between Arab citizens and Jews. Fires were lit, a synagogue burned, a Muslim cemetery trashed, police cars set aflame, and an Arab-Israeli man killed. The mayor of Lod termed it a “civil war.”

The ferocity of the fast-escalating conflict might be extremely dangerous as Israel uses hi-tech, advanced, lethal weapons. A week ago, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seemed close to losing power after the climax of four inconclusive elections. The outbreak of hostilities has allowed him the opportunity to make his latest appearance as a tough guy and ended coalition talks by rival politicians. He might politicize the conflict in his favor.

There is a severe danger of spreading this conflict to a large-scale war, which might engulf the regional countries. There already exists tension among Israel and few regional powers. The recent Israeli attacks on Russian bases in Syrian may also widen the conflict.

Any war in the middle-East will have dire consequences globally. It is appealed to the UN and all peace-loving nations and individuals to speed up all-out efforts to stop the conflict at this initial stage and avert further bloodshed. It is demanded that the Israel-Palestine issue must be settled according to the resolutions passed by UNSC. Wish immediate peace, sustainable peace, and permanent peace in the Middle East and globally.

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