Facebook might have bid farewell to 2014 with its message “It’s been a great year. Thanks for being a part of it!”, but it was a year with a lot of negatives, and very few positives for Turkey.
Ankara published a condolence message to Armenians on the 100th anniversary of the Genocide, but the emphasis was on “shared pain”, it did not use the word Genocide. The truck drivers and consulate workers of Turkey who were kidnapped by ISIS returned, but the organization also known as Islamic State destroyed the Genocide Monument in Deir-ez-Zor, invaded the Sinjar region home to Ezidis, and attacked Kobane. There were actions on the streets again, and in the Kobane protests more than 40 people died. Burak Can Karamanoğlu died in clashes that followed the funeral of Berkin Elvan, who was murdered by police with a gas canister, and the former Prime Minister Erdoğan provoked the booing of Elvan’s mourning mother at one of his political rallies. There were a few releases from prison that induced hope, however the release of some perpetrators created fear, and some cases remained shrouded in mystery. The meeting of the Pope and the Ecumenical Patriarch produced messages of unity and love, yet Turkey suffered one pain after the other, as many stood by as mining disasters, workplace murders, and the enforced placement of Syrians in camps took place, anti-Semitism spilled out into the streets, and men continued to murder women as authorities looked on. In other words, 2014 wasn’t “a great year” at all.
Historical discovery in İznik, where the church was first converted into a museum, then to a mosque
The Church of Hagia Sophia in Nicaea, or modern-day İznik, once hosted, in the year 787, the Second Council of Nicaea, or the seventh of the first seven ecumenical councils, and was a museum since 1935, however, on 6 November 2011, it was converted into a mosque. It was in the same city that one of the “Top 10 Discoveries of 2014” named by the Archaeological Institute of America was made. This sunken Byzantine basilica that lays 20 metres from the coastline at a depth of 1,5-2 metres was built 1600 years ago, in honour of Saint Neophytos.
Some released, some imprisoned because of their ‘eyes and eye-brows’
The first important case of the year in terms of judicial decisions was the “rights’ infringement” rulings of the Constitutional Court regarding BDP [the Peace and Democracy Party] members of parliament detained as charged in the KCK [Kurdistan Group of Communities] case. First Gülser Yıldırım and İbrahim Ayhan, and later Selma Irmak, Faysal Sarıyıldız and independent Van member of parliament Kemal Aktaş were released. The final person to be released in this context was, on June 28, the former DEP Member of Parliament Hatip Dicle, whose membership of parliament had been cancelled and whose certificate of election had instead been handed to Oya Eronat from the ruling AKP.
However, imprisonments featured at least as widely as releases on the agenda of 2014. One incident that sparked particular debate was the verdict for Rezan Zuğurli, who was elected mayor of Diyarbakır’s Lice district from the BDP at the March 30 local elections. Zuğurli was given a sentence of 4 years and 2 months on the basis of an expert’s report that stated that “her eye-brows, eyes, and upper parts of her eyes, her nose, the part between her nose and upper lip, and the structure of her lips and cheekbones resembled those of a protestor”.
In 2014, the balance did not change in the case of Pınar Selek, the sociologist and feminist who had so far been acquitted three times in the Spice Bazaar explosion case that began in 1998, where she had been sentenced to life imprisonment. On December 19, 2014, Pınar Selek was acquitted for the fourth time. However, the prosecutor, in an unprecedented move, once again appealed the decision.
Ağar gives statement in ‘enforced disappearance’ case
The former Interior Minister Mehmet Ağar who is accused in two separate cases regarding enforced disappearances and murders committed in the 1990s, gave statements in the cases regarding the murder in 1993 of Abdulmecit Baskın, the Altındağ Registry Office Head in Ankara, and 18 enforced disappearance and murder cases committed in the 1990s. The Ankara 1. Heavy Penal Court ruled for the release of former Special Force Officer Ayhan Çarkın, who was the only suspect held for trial in the case where there are 19 suspects, and for all suspects including Ağar to be held exempt from hearings.
Verdict of non-prosecution in the Uludere massacre: The army ‘did its job’
In the criminal investigation into the killing of 34 people, 17 of them children, from the Gülyazı (Bujeh) and Ortasu (Roboski) villages of the Uludere (Qileban) district of Şırnak province, who were returning from the other side of the Iraq border, by the bombing of war planes of the Turkish Armed Forces, a military court decided not to follow charges, issuing a verdict of “nolle prosequi”, or non-prosecution. The military prosecutor stated that the “army personnel had performed their duty within orders and the framework of the decisions of Parliament and Cabinet”.
First ex-Head of General Staff to be imprisoned released
The first military personnel who had served as the Head of the General Staff to be imprisoned after being tried at a civilian court in the history of the Republic of Turkey, the retired four-star General İlker Başbuğ, who had been sentenced to life imprisonment in the Ergenekon case, was released on March 7 from the Silivri Prison where he had served 2 years and 2 months of his sentence. His release was based on the ruling of the Constitutional Court that stated, “his rights regarding personal freedom and security were breached”.
Release for ‘elder brother’ Erhan Tuncel and Zirve murders perpetrators
Law no. 6526, issued on March 6, abolished Specially Authorized Courts entirely, and also reduced the maximum period of detention in cases of organized crime to five years. The decision led to a controversial period of releases. First, Erhan Tuncel, jailed pending trial, within the scope of the murder case of Agos Editor-in-Chief Hrant Dink, was released. This was followed two days later by the release of Emre Günaydın, Cuma Özdemir, Hamit Çeker, Salih Gürler and Abuzer Yıldırım, jailed pending trial as perpetrators in the Zirve Publishing House murders.
The heartrending march of a father
A photograph taken on February 6 chilled Turkey to the marrow: When heavy snow fall blocked roads to the Çeli hamlet of Yalınca village in the Gürpınar District of Van Province, help could not reach the 1,5 year old Muharrem Taş. His father then carried the lifeless body of his son for 16 kilometres in a sack to the village. The Ministry of Health stated that disciplinary penalties were given to those responsible.
A child died, PM Erdoğan had the grieving mother booed at a political rally
A month later, the death of another child caused uproar. 15-year old Berkin Elvan had been injured by a police pepper gas canister during the Gezi Park protests, and had been in a coma for 269 days when he passed away. A funeral ceremony was held on March 12 for Elvan at the Okmeydanı Cemevi, and he was buried in Feriköy Cemetery with the attendance of a great crowd. In the protests that followed, 22-year old Burak Can Karamanoğlu was killed in an armed confrontation between two groups. Karamanoğlu was interred in the Karaaağaç village of the Alucra District of Giresun Province on March 14. The same day, the former Prime Minister Erdoğan held a political rally in Gaziantep, and criticized Berkin Elvan’s mother Gülsüm Elvan. Erdoğan said, “It is very interesting, his mother says, ‘The Prime Minister murdered my child’. I know about love for a child, but I don’t understand why you lay carnations and metal balls on your child’s grave. Why was she placing those metal balls on his grave? What is the message you are trying to give?” which led to the crowd booing Berkin Elvan’s mother.
Twitter ‘eradicated’ for 13 days
On March 20, at a speech in Bursa, Erdoğan now had twitter in his sights: “Twitter and what not, we will eradicate them all”, he said, and the next day, access to twitter was blocked by the Telecommunication Directorate. While Prime Minister Erdoğan supported the decision, President Abdullah Gül disagreed, and stated via twitter, “It is unacceptable to completely block social media platforms”. On April 2, the Constitutional Court, responding to individual appeals, ruled that “freedom of expression had been breached”. A day later, the Information and Communication Technologies Authority lifted the block. 13 days later, users accessed twitter via the usual channels.
When tape recordings end up on YouTube…
Another social media ban targeted YouTube. When tape recordings of a security meeting on Syria held in Ankara was broadcast on March 27 on YouTube, the Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office ruled for a media blackout on related news. This was followed by the blocking of YouTube by the Telecommunication Directorate.
Condolence message of ‘shared pain’ from Ankara
Like every year, Ankara was involved in intense preparations regarding its policy on the “Armenian Genocide” before April 24. On April 15, Prime Minister Erdoğan, in his meeting with John Boehner, the Speaker of the US House of Representatives, stated “1915 should not be allowed to negatively affect bilateral relations”. The surprising move from Ankara, however, came a day before the Genocide commemoration, on April 23, the National Sovereignty day. The statement from the Prime Minister’s office, published in 9 languages read, “We wish that the Armenians who lost their lives in the context of the early 20th century rest in peace, and we convey our condolences to their grandchildren." The Patriarchate of Turkey’s Armenians “accepted the offer of condolence with love”. The USA welcomed the statement and described Erdoğan’s message as “historical”, and the European Commission also expressed approval. However, there were also those who found the emphasis on “shared pain” and the failure to openly mention the Genocide as a great deficiency. Serzh Sargsyan, President of Armenia, stated that he did not consider Ankara’s historical announcement to be satisfactory. French President Hollande also commented, saying, “They are words that are needed to be heard. But it is still not enough.”
Syrians faced discrimination, driven into camps
Social violence frequently erupted across Turkey in 2014, and Syrians were often the target. The events that featured most widely in the media were the neighbourhood brawl in Hacılar, Ankara, on May 8, and the tension in Antep on August 11. Syrians were targeted, attacked, and their homes and workplaces were stoned, and were often forced to leave cities and driven into camps. In fact, on December 23, the Antalya Governor’s Office officially notified 1500 Syrians “to leave the city” without any prior tension.
A group that assembled in July in Kahramanmaraş, held an action titled “We do not want Syrians” and then damaged workplaces and vehicles belonging to Syrians.
Mining disasters ‘commonplace’ according to Ankara
Turkey suffered its worst mining disaster ever on May 13. In the Eymez area of the Soma District of Manisa Province, at a coalmine that belongs to the Soma Coal Enterprise, a fire broke out at 15:10, trapping hundreds of miners. 301 miners lost their lives, 485 miners were evacuated. Speaking to the press a day after the disaster, Prime Minister Erdoğan said, “These are commonplace events. They are known as workplace accidents” and went on to compare the disaster to mining disasters that happened across the world in the late 19th and early 20th century.
‘Workplace murders’ continued
Workers lost their lives in other incidents as well. On September 8, at the Torunlar construction site in Şişli, Istanbul, a faulty elevator collapsed, leading to the death of 10 workers. 4 of the 6 suspects referred to the court were arrested. On October 31, the traffic accident of a bus carrying workers to an apple harvest in the Yalvaç District of Isparta Province led to the death of 17 workers, and 28 workers were injured.
Emergency State declared in Istanbul for May Day
Taksim Square in Istanbul was again closed off for May Day celebrations. The police attacked groups that wanted to march to the square, and 142 people were detained, while 90 people were injured. The police also attacked the demonstration in Kızılay, Ankara, and detained 141 people. On the first anniversary of the Gezi Resistance, the police again blocked access to Taksim Square and attacked protestors.
Pope meets Ecumenical Patriarch in Istanbul
On the 50th anniversary of the meeting in 1964 in Jerusalem of Pope Paul VI and Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras, the first of its kind since the split between the Catholic and Orthodox worlds in 1054, a message of unity was conveyed. Pope Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomeos met in Jerusalem in May, and at the Vatican in June. The Pope then visited Istanbul on 29-30 November and met with the Ecumenical Patriarch. Their solidarity sent out a significant message for the unity of the churches.
Turkey’s silent policy on ISIS
ISIS emerged as a significant threat on Ankara’s agenda in June. ISIS took Mosul, kidnapped 32 truck drivers, and on June 11, raided the Consulate of Turkey. The organization declared itself a caliphate on June 30, and named itself “Islamic State”. Although the truck drivers were released 23 days later on July 3, it was not until September 20 until the consulate staff was released. Although Ankara had initially pointed to the hostages as its reason to not implement a hard-line policy against ISIS, not much changed after the hostage crisis was resolved. News reports on Turkey’s frequent support to ISIS, and of oil trade, continue to appear in the domestic and international press.
“Who gave ISIS the idea to demolish the Genocide monument?”
As claims of intimacy between Ankara and ISIS continued to surface, ISIS demolished the Genocide Monument in Deir ez-Zor on September 21. This attack led many to think: Who gave ISIS the idea to demolish the Genocide Monument?
Sinjar and Kobane
As Turkey observed developments along its border, ISIS continued to expand both in Syria and Iraq. On August 3, ISIS invaded Sinjar, an area in the Mosul province mainly inhabited by Ezidis. Thousands of Ezidis took to the mountains to save their lives. Their men were murdered, and their women were kidnapped to be sold as slaves in Mosul. The majority of Ezidis took shelter with their relatives in the eastern parts of Iraqi Kurdistan and in Turkey.
On September 18, the new target of ISIS was Kobane, referred to as “Ayn al-Arab”. When Turkey closed its border to Kurds in the area, tensions rose. Two days later, the people of Kobane were permitted entry.
The progress of the ISIS siege of Kobane in early October caused uproar across Turkey. The October 6-7 actions that began with the call of the HDP [The People’s Democracy Party] spread across the country, and at least 40 people died. One of the most controversial statements made during the events was that of the newly elected President Erdoğan, made in Gaziantep: “Ayn el-Arab, also known as Kobane, has fallen, or is about to fall.”
Israel’s military operation on Palestine, Jews become target of anti-Semitism in Turkey
Another war in the Middle East had repercussions in Turkey. On July 7 Israel initiated an air operation, and on July 17 a ground operation on Palestine, leading to the deaths of 2,145 people on the Palestinian side, and 67 people on the Israeli side. Actions were organized in Turkey in front of Israeli consulates and synagogues. On July 18, the Foreign Ministry of Israel asked its consulate staff and their families to leave Turkey.
Netherlands ‘partially’ liable for Srebrenica Genocide
A Hague court ruled that the Netherlands was partly liable for the deaths of residents in the Srebrenica Genocide, where Serbian and Bosnian Serb forces killed more than 8,000 Bosnian men and boys. Srebrenica had been invaded on 11 July 1995 by Serbian forces led by General Ratko Mladic while the city was under UN protection, and 300 residents were forced off UN property into the arms of their Serbian assassins.
‘Women should not laugh out loud”
Controversial statements made by high-ranking AKP officials had until now included those on “abortion” and “the number of children each family should have”, and “laughter” was added to the list in 2014. On July 28, Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç, speaking at a religious holiday ceremony in Bursa, presented his views on morality: “Chastity is of supreme importance. It is not merely a woman’s name, it is also her adornment, and for men, too. A woman should know the difference between what is private and what is not. A woman should not laugh out loud in public, and should not seek to seduce with her actions.”
Supporter group Çarşı charged with attempt to carry out coup
Court cases related to the Gezi Park Protests, described by Erdoğan as “an attempt to carry out a coup” continued. On September 11, the indictment demanding aggravated life imprisonment for 35 members of the Çarşı supporter group of the football club Beşiktaş for “attempting to overthrow the Government of the Republic of Turkey by force and violence, or to partially or wholly prevent the Government from fulfilling its duties” was accepted. At the first hearing held on December 16, the judge asked suspect Cem Yakışkan, “Did you attempt to carry out a coup?” to which he replied, “If we had such powers, we would ensure Beşiktaş wins the championship”.
Erdoğan’s outburst of ‘confidence’: Muslims discovered Cuba
President Erdoğan, had already stated “self-confidence had to receive a boost during education” when on November 14, at the Summit of Latin American Muslim Religious Leaders, he said: “300 years before Christopher Columbus, in 1178, Muslim mariners discovered America”. Erdoğan also had a request: “In his memoirs, Christopher Columbus mentions a mosque on a hill in Cuba. Today, I would like my Cuban friends to assist in us building such a mosque that would suit that hill.”
Public officials finally questioned as “suspects” in Dink investigation
On July 17, the Constitutional Court ruled on the individual appeal of the Dink family, issuing a verdict of “violation” stating that “an effective investigation had not been carried out”. The verdict of non-prosecution regarding 9 public officials claimed to be involved in the Hrant Dink murder was lifted. Within the scope of the investigation, the prosecutor questioned Sabri Uzun, former Police Headquarters Intelligence Department Director, Ramazan Akyürek, former Intelligence Department Director, Ali Fuat Yılmazer, former Intelligence Department Directorate Branch C Director, Ahmet İlhan Güler, former Istanbul Intelligence Branch Director, Ergun Güngör, former Istanbul Deputy Governor, Celalettin Cerrah, former Istanbul Police Chief, Reşat Altay, former Trabzon Police Chief and Faruk Sarı, former Trabzon Intelligence Branch Director, as “suspects” in the case.
All that money returned with interest
The investigations into the events of 17-25 December were on the agenda throughout the year. Barış Güler, the son of Interior Minister Muammer Güler, and businessman Rıza Sarraf, among the 14 who were arrested on December 21, 2013, were released on February 28. On October 17, a verdict of non-prosecution was declared for the December 17 investigation. And on December 23, all the money that was seized during the initial investigation was returned with interest.