Strasbourg, 07.05.2015 – On her return from a fact-finding visit to Istanbul, Şanlıurfa and Ankara from 30 April to 4 May 2015, Josette Durrieu (France, SOC), PACE rapporteur on post-monitoring dialogue with Turkey, spoke about the latest developments in the country.
“During my three-day visit to Şanlıurfa, in south-eastern Turkey, I was able to see for myself the exemplary solidarity of the Turkish people: in just one week in September 2014, the population of the district of Suruç tripled with the arrival of 200,000 refugees from Ayn al-Arab (Kobani) fleeing the fighting in Syria under the onslaught of the IS. The inhabitants of the Suruç and Şanlıurfa region, and indeed the whole of Turkey, are teaching us a lesson in unparalleled support for others. The Suruç camp, recently opened by AFAD (*), can accommodate up to 35,000 refugees (it is currently housing 24,000); this is a further demonstration of Turkey’s extraordinary efforts to deal with the arrival of more than two million refugees over the last four years. This camp is a showcase in terms of organisation (it is divided into sectors with elected people in charge) and equipment (classrooms, computers, sewing facilities and hairdressers). My visit to a second refugee camp told a different story: this one, run directly by the municipality of Suruç, was completely lacking in facilities (no water, school closed). The reality of what remains today of the town of Kobani, to which we had access, is staggering. It is a town that has been completely destroyed to which 60,000 refugees have returned, attempting to survive among the ruins and in the surrounding villages. It is therefore absolutely urgent that the humanitarian aid which is blocked in Turkey and is intended for these populations in desperate need can reach them.
It is in this troubled geopolitical context that Turkey is pursuing its process of transformation. The parliamentary elections of 7 June 2015 could change the political landscape, depending on the political choices made by Turkish voters for the future of their country.
A process to solve the Kurdish issue was initiated by the government and Kurdish representatives in 2013, resulting in a joint press conference on 28 February 2015 held by the Turkish government and representatives of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), reflecting the will of both sides to pursue discussions based on a ten-point road map. As the elections draw near, I note a pause in this process. A solution to the Kurdish issue was at the heart of my discussions with the leading players in this process, in particular Deputy Prime Minister Yalçın Akdoğan and the HDP member of the National Assembly, Sırrı Süreyya Önder (who regularly visits Abdullah Öcalan on the island of Imrali), the stakeholders in the current discussions; the results of the parliamentary elections, and whether or not the HDP will manage to cross the 10 per cent electoral threshold – which the Parliamentary Assembly has been urging be lowered since 2004 – will be crucial for the continuation of the discussions. I hope that all the relevant players will resume dialogue as soon as possible, in particular in the anticipated discussions on reform of the constitution which the Assembly has been calling for since 2004, which should focus on redefining citizenship, individual rights, devolution and the balance between government and the opposition. Such an approach could also help ensure the success of a process to solve the Kurdish question which the population currently supports. It will be up to the political leaders from all parties to rise to this historic challenge and provide appropriate responses to the legitimate aspirations for peace expressed by the vast majority of their fellow citizens.
It is to be hoped that a phase of stabilisation in the country will commence after the parliamentary elections. For the time being, following the high-profile Ergenekon and Balyoz trials, both of which collapsed, I note that the fight against the Gülen movement, now listed as a “terrorist organisation” by the state, is stepping up a gear. The hunt for so-called “parallel” structures which the state wishes to eliminate in the judiciary and the police has been intensified. Today it is resulting in further arrests of prosecutors, judges and police officers following questionable procedures which give rise to fears of summary justice or indeed of a new purge within the country. At the same time, there are serious concerns about the interpretation and implementation of restrictive security laws, passed in 2015 (concerning the Internet and internal security). The increased use of criminal proceedings for defamation of the President of the Republic, and the pressure – particularly economic – brought to bear on the media, help foster a climate of mistrust and have the effect of restricting still further free and critical expression. I spoke about this with the Istanbul Attorney General, the Ministers of Justice and Internal Affairs and the President of the Constitutional Court. Yet Turkish society aspires to preserve the new areas of freedom it has acquired and to protect the democratic openings and advances made in the last decade, as confirmed to me by the authorities of the religious minorities I met in Istanbul.
As a founder member of the Council of Europe and soon to be a major contributor of the Organisation, it is up to Turkey to master these new democratic challenges, and in particular preserve and develop individual freedoms. There is a fear that these freedoms could be called into question unless appropriate political will is shown.”
(*) AFAD: The Disaster and Emergency Management Authority, which reports to the Prime Minister.