Dallas March 26, 2013 – It has been less than a week since President Obama called Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan from Israel in order to play match-maker and patch up Turkish-Israeli relations by insisting that Israel issue an apology for the Mavi Marmara incident. In 2010, Israeli security forces killed nine Turks when they faced opposition while boarding a vessel that was allegedly bringing aid to the Palestinians and had telegraphed its intention to break the Israeli blockade.
Before that, Secretary of State John Kerry was in Ankara to meet with Erdoğan about Syria, but found himself scolding the Turkish Prime Minister’s remarks calling Zionism a “crime against humanity” on par with fascism and anti-Semitism.
The fact that the President of the United States and the US Secretary of State are both baby-sitting a colicky relationship between Israel and Turkey and taking turn changing diapers in the process is not a sign of progress in the region, but it is a sign of US priorities.
More importantly, these two incidents are indications of the paradigm shift taking place in Turkey. No amount of urging the two sides to kiss and make up will be able to alter the underlying worldviews that have strained relations between Turkey and Israel.
Instead of leaning on Netanyahu for an apology or scolding Erdogan for his views of Zionism, the US should be calling out the Turkish government for its failure to guarantee basic human rights in its own country. It should be pressuring the AKP for fundamental reforms that go beyond window-dressing. Secretary of State Kerry should have been talking with Erdoğan about imprisoned journalists, academicians and military officers and gross violations of due process.
The latest indication of the downward spiral of individual liberties and the rule of law in Turkey was the statement released by the Istanbul Bar Association in February declaring its intention to fight institutionalized injustice. It started when charges were brought against the President of the Istanbul Bar Ümit Kocasakal and the board of directors because of criticisms they leveled against the Turkish judiciary for denying the rights of defendants in the Sledgehammer case. Ten men are on trial for pointing out errors in the judicial process, in other words for doing their job as lawyers!
This is the current state of affairs in Turkey. Criticism of the ruling party or its lackeys can land you in prison, since the so-called “justice system” is increasingly used to punish ideological nonconformity. The Istanbul Bar Association felt so strongly about the threat to fundamental human rights that it has proclaimed a “struggle” against tyranny. The statement in its entirety is given below.
“Under the pretense of progressive democracy, the President of the Istanbul Bar and the members of the Board of Directors are being threatened with prison in the most recent blow dealt to the people’s freedom to defend their rights.
After the campaign to discredit lawyers, who are the representatives of social justice, now they are aiming to take down the bar associations. If this ‘organized’ force can be silenced, they hope that lawyers will be left defenseless and the people will be too demoralized to demand justice. We will not fall into that trap.
We will continue to fight for the independence of the judiciary, which was first besieged and then surrendered.
If we have to pay a price, we proclaim once again that we are ready to pay this price with our honor. Our freedom and our resolute determination not to submit has, for 135 years, bestowed honor upon our bar association. For 135 years, we have refused to bow to oppression. For 135 years, we have refused to do homage to tyranny. As the keepers of paths of justice, we have been martyrs on our democratic struggle against would-be dictators, we have been imprisoned, we have been tortured, but for 135 years we have not compromised when it comes to freedom and independence.
We are lawyers. We will not bend; we will not break. We represent justice against tyranny. We will not surrender to tyrants. Now, we are throwing down the gauntlet. We are calling an extraordinary meeting of the Istanbul Bar Association as a “celebration of justice against tyranny”. Anyone interested in how lawyers deal with ‘oppression’ will witness the fight for rights waged by those who defeat tyranny with the dignity of justice.
Now is the time for us to talk “justice” and we mean right now!”
The question for the reader is simple. What drives the largest bar association in Turkey to issue such a public statement against its own government? What oppression and injustice have they witnessed that would lead to such a rash action? And why is our government interested only in patching up Turkish relations with Israel and turning a blind eye as democratic institutions are destroyed and our NATO ally is pushed further and further towards corruption?
You can let the Secretary of State know what you are thinking here.
Luke Montgomery, author of A Deceit To Die For, lived in the Middle East for over a decade. He holds an MA in Linguistics, speaks fluent Turkish and writes on foreign policy, religion and culture. You can follow his work at www.lukemontgomery.net, or find him on Twitter at @LookingFor_Luke and on Facebook.
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