The Kurdish Bomb and the Paperwork State

On Monday night, Turkey’s election board–comprised of judges who are in principle independent and in practice at least unpredictable–issued a ruling: A dozen independent candidates, most of them well-known Kurdish activists, would not be allowed to run for parliamentary seats in the coming general election.

The legal basis for the ruling was actually not incoherent on the face of it. Article 11 of Turkey’s election law says, “Those who have been sentenced to a prison term for one year or more, or any heavy prison term, cannot be elected as members of the Turkish Parliament.” Sounds reasonable enough.

But remember that Turkey’s own prime minister was convicted of “inciting religious hatred” in 1998, locked up, and thus subsequently deemed ineligible to run for parliament–leading to a ridiculous situation in which he led the AKP party to a landslide victory in 2002 but couldn’t assume the role of prime minister. This prompted the Turkish parliament to revise the constitution. It decided that conviction for “ideological crimes” could no longer be an obstacle to holding office.

(A quick remark: Anyone who thinks absurd bans on speech are a recent innovation in Turkey should consider that Erdoğan was convicted for having recited a poem–and no, it was not an “Islamist” poem, as often reported. The poet, Ziya Gökalp, figured prominently in the ideological development of Kemalist thought, and was a most unpleasant fascist, not an Islamist. In other words, as so often seems to happen here, the courts decided they had had quite enough of Erdoğan and found some vaguely-plausible-sounding crime with which to charge him. If Erdoğan is to be faulted–and he is–for not doing enough to change Turkey’s undemocratic culture, he cannot be faulted, at least not by anyone fair-minded, for having established this culture. He’s just playing the game as he’s been taught it. An excellent article about this here, by the way.) 

In any event, it seems the court’s ruling was not actually based on the previous convictions of these candidates, but upon their having failed to properly fill out the paperwork that would allow them to stand despite these convictions. And before you say, “Oh, come on,” let me promise you this: After five years of living in Turkey, I’d say this is completely plausible. Never reach for the conspiracy theory here before fulling exploring the paperwork-state theory, which explains more about Turkey than any other. 

That said, everyone knows that whatever the law might say on paper, if the political will is there, these candidates will be allowed to stand–and the idiocy of having failed to anticipate this crisis and properly reform the law, or at least to explain the laws on the books to candidates in a way that might allow them to navigate the paperwork successfully, is just beyond all reckoning.

Thus the language of the headlines: “Veto ‘Bomb.’” “Veto Quake.” Predictably, the announcement of the veto sparked–what’s the euphemism?–”major unrest.” The protests I saw yesterday looked peaceful if tense, but apparently they ended up in tear gas and Molotov cocktails down at the other end of the street. By all reports the protests in the southeast were not peaceful at all. It seems many were wounded and there are reports of fatalities. So, here’s where we stand with the AKP’s much-vaunted Kurdish opening: If anyone reckons it a triumph that protesters were chanting PKK slogans on the streets of Istanbul yesterday, all I can say is that I’d hate to see your idea of a failed policy.

The opposition CHP leader has called for an emergency session of parliament to find a solution to this problem, and I suspect all concerned do actually want a solution. Without one, it’s pretty clear where this is headed. Whether anyone can cooperate for the benefit of the nation in this poisonous pre-election atmosphere, though, I’m not sure. We’ll see. 

Meanwhile, my advice to Kurdish civil rights activists: You’ve got a lot of sympathy on this one, and you are actually in a very good position to capitalize upon it, but if so much as a single PKK bomb goes off, you’ll lose it faster than you can say “The world is busy with other things and will not even be curious to know what happened to you.” Be smart. Lose the freaks in the balaclavas with the Öcalan photos. Get yourselves lawyered up. Be patient.

And do more paperwork. You can’t fight that, it’s Turkey. 

  1. Kennedy Smith

     It’s Chinatown, Jake.

    So who controls the courts in Turkey?  Seems like they’re highly politicized on a nigh Wisconsonian scale.

  2. Claire Berlinski
    C
    Kennedy Smith:  It’s Chinatown, Jake.

    So who controls the courts in Turkey?  Seems like they’re highly politicized on a nigh Wisconsonian scale. · Apr 20 at 9:37am

    That would be one of the most interesting questions you could ask about Turkey. Everyone accuses the court of being “politicized”–and again we come back to the same problem: the constitution makes no sense and lacks legitimacy; the whole legal process is completely incomprehensible to ordinary people. The justice system is thus exceptionally vulnerable to the perception of “being politicized,” whether or not it is. In this case, obviously, I wouldn’t know what happened. 

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