Ausgabe 29/2007

Turkey's Powerful Prime Minister Who Can Challenge Erdogan?


Part 3: The Role of the Deep Government

More than 100 mourners attended Geske's funeral at the "Cemetery of the Infidels." But not a single representative of the government in Ankara, not even the mayor of Malatya, was there. The message, clearly, was that the Turkish government had nothing to do with the bloodbath at the Zirve Publishing House.

Senel Karatas disputes this. Carefully made up and wearing a tight, strapless top, Karatas, who heads the Society of Human Rights in Malatya, says: "The murder of Tilman Geske followed the same pattern as the murder of journalist Hrant Dink and priest Andrea Santoro. I am 100 percent convinced that the deep government was behind this."

"Derin devlet," the deep government, is a Turkish expression for anything that cannot happen without the approval of the state and may not happen with the approval of the state. It is a synonym for a network of dark forces consisting of former and current members of the administration, the military, the judiciary and the intelligence services, who redirect the course of events in the country, employing violence, if necessary, the minute they believe such action is warranted.

The trail of derin devlet has repeatedly led to Malatya. Mehmet Ali Agca, the would-be assassin of the pope, was born there and, in the late 1970s, was a member of a guerilla organization supported by the state. The popular independent mayor of Malatya, Hamid Fendoglu, was killed in a bomb attack in 1978, at a time when the government was involved in campaigns to combat a growing leftist movement. The goal of the attack was apparently to scapegoat the traditionally leftist-oriented Alevis, and the plan succeeded.

The city's non-Alevi residents directed their fury against Alevi houses and apartments, transforming a political battle into what appeared to be a religious conflict. Thousands of Alevis left the city, an exodus that is being repeated by members of the Armenian minority. The birthplace of Hrant Dink, the democracy and human rights activist murdered in January 2007, stands like a memorial today in Malatya's old Armenian neighborhood. "The lions attack a herd, and then they isolate a single animal and attack," Dink said the day before he died.

Today Malatya is "one of the three centers of radical Islamic fundamentalism in Turkey," says Ibrahim Göçmen, one of the city's most prominent journalists. In the 2002 parliamentary election, the AKP captured five of the seven seats representing the city, and it plans to improve on that performance this Sunday. The seeds of xenophobia, violence and political repression that the deep state has been sowing for years appear to have sprouted, and religious extremists are now reaping the harvest.

What makes Erdogan's system so powerful are the weaknesses of his opponents. They seek to lay the blame for their country's excesses on whoever they can: the "reactionaries" (Islamists), the "separatists" (Kurds), the Americans and the EU. The only place they do not apportion blame is precisely where the flames of these excesses are being fanned in the most cold-blooded manner: in the belly of the state.

"Europe and the USA" are to blame for the inroads fundamentalists are making in Turkey, says Fatih Hilmioglue, a respected physician and the dean of 17,000 students at the University of Malatya. "They accept Turkish extremists and do nothing against their subversive activities."

Only a literal interpretation of the principles of Ataturk, whose likeness hangs in three versions on the walls of his office, is sufficient to fight the Islamist threat, says Hilmioglu. This is why Hilmioglu will no longer tolerate headscarves on university grounds in the future. "These people know no restraint," he says. "They'll start with the universities, and then they'll move on to schools and government offices. In the end we'll have Shariah here."

The most fanatical and powerful campaign event Turkey has seen in years is taking place in Cizre, in the country's Kurdish southeast. Close to 100,000 people have flooded the streets, men dressed in the checkered Kefiye or wearing linen cloth draped over their heads, women wearing the black carsaf and emitting loud screeches, lining the street to the north to see the candidates pass by. Behind dusty car windows and wearing mirrored sunglasses, they hold up their index and middle fingers in the victory sign, relishing the crowd's attention like pop stars. They are the independent Kurdish candidates for a seat in the Turkish parliament in Ankara.

It appears to be their day. But appearances are deceptive. The crowd shouts: "We are with you, Öcalan, with our blood, our lives." "On the mountains and on the plains, the PKK is everywhere," they chant. "The PKK is the people, and the people are here." Suddenly it seems as if this were the day of the banned Kurdish Workers' Party, the PKK, and its chairman, Abdullah Öcalan, who has been in prison for the past eight years. But this too is deceptive.

The crowd parts for an open flatbed truck surrounded by fanatical mourners, men and women wearing every imaginable color and traditional outfit of this Kurdish region. On the bed of the truck is a light brown coffin carrying the body of Orhan Dogan, the Kurdish lawyer, human rights activist and politician. Released in 2004 after spending 10 years in Turkish prisons for allegedly collaborating with the PKK, Dogan died on June 29, 2007 from the complications of a heart attack.

As an attorney, Dogan went to the European Court of Justice to argue the case of a group of farmers in the town of Yesilyurt who, in 1989, were forced by Turkish soldiers to stuff excrement into each other's mouths. The trial ended with the court handing down a judgment against the Turkish state. Dogan survived the 1992 massacre at the Nevroz Festival in Cizre, when the military slaughtered more than 100 residents of the city, as well as several attempts on his life. It is because of this history that Dogan's funeral is such a harrowing and unsettling demonstration of unbroken Kurdish resistance.

One of the mourners is Mehmet Öcalan, the brother of the PKK leader and one of the few people who has been allowed to visit Abdullah Öcalan at a prison on the island of Imrali, where he is serving a life sentence. PKK veteran Seydi Firat, a guerilla leader in the border region with Iraq from 1981 to 1999 and now a member of a "peace initiative," is also there. Firat says: "I used to stand up there, on the top of Mount Cudi, and look down on this city. Now I'm looking up at the mountain from here." He doesn't elaborate on whether he welcomes this change of perspective.

And then there is Bahros Galali, an envoy of the PUK, the Kurdish party of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani. Galali says that he is not concerned about the large numbers of Turkish troops that have been deployed to the region surrounding Cizre or about the threat of a Turkish invasion of northern Iraq to fight PKK units hiding out there. "We have seen many tanks in our lives," he says. "We are not afraid."

The signs are not good. Since the beginning of the year, both the PKK and the Turkish army have claimed more than 100 of their respective enemies' lives. Once again, the Kurds find themselves fighting for their rights on two fronts. The first is the region in Iraq's Kandil Mountains where the PKK guerillas are holed up, and the second is at the party's headquarters, where officials hope that up to 30 independent Kurdish delegates will gain seats in parliament this Sunday, circumventing the 10-percent threshold written into Turkish law.

"This prime minister, Erdogan, has also said: The Kurdish problem is my problem, and I will solve it; and, like others before him, he too has failed," Orhan Dogan said shortly before his death. His words seem especially significant now, in the stifling late evening heat, as his body slides into a grave at the Cizre cemetery, and even the "Öcalan" chants fall silent for a moment.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan


© DER SPIEGEL 29/2007
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