Police escort the funeral of the murdered Turkish-
The arrest of a Kurdish politician for alleged criticism of Ankara’s position towards Kurds in Iraq has heightened fears that Kurdish migrants on Turkey’s Mediterranean coast could face a campaign of harassment and intimidation.
On Friday, police detained Hilmi Aydogdu, leader of the Democratic Society Party’s branch in the predominantly Kurdish city of Diyarbakir, and later charged him with inciting racial enmity and hatred.
Aydogdu’s statements came a week after a group of nationalists in Mersin, Turkey’s third biggest port, launched a campaign “to kick out Kurdish migrants from the city”, as reported by the Turkish daily Radikal on February 15.
Up to 40 per cent of Mersin’s population is Kurdish.
Turkey’s changing face
Saban Dayanan, a spokesperson for the Turkish Human Rights Association (IHD), believes the campaign launched in Mersin is part of a wider issue and appears to demonstrate the changing face of Turkey.
“The report in Radikal did not reflect the reality of Mersin,” he said. “The city is reacting to the increase in its migrant population. Turkey is changing because of the growing migrant population in inner cities.”
Dayanan says that the influx of migrants and their rapid population growth has put a strain on local economies and demands for housing, which has brought crime to inner cities, and created much of the recent tension.
Mersin’s free trade zone opened in 1986 attracting relatives of settled migrants to the city. In addition, thousands of Kurds fled their villages in the 1980s amid security concerns as the Turkish military was waging a war against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) at that time.
Cemil, a Turkish Kurd and Mersin resident, who did not want to give his surname, said his family moved to the city in the 1960s because life was difficult in the village.
“My parents moved to find an opportunity because they needed to make a living,” he said.
“These reports are worrying because we have never had a problem in Mersin like this before.”
Cultural and economic pressures
We are not happy with the cultural and economic changes in Mersin
Mersin’s population has increased 100 per cent in the past 20 years from approximately 70,000 in the 1960s to 700,000 today, according to Atahan Cukurova, secretary-general of the chamber of shipping in Mersin.
“We are not happy with the cultural and economic changes in Mersin. But we want to improve the level of education and skills in migrant families. There are plans to build new schools,” he says.
Professor Hasan Unal of the department of international relations at Bilkent University in Anakara agrees.
“Mersin has been exposed to a kind of aggressive migration, mostly from the surrounding areas,” he says.
An economic gateway to the predominantly Kurdish region, it is the natural choice for rural Kurds wanting to make it in the big city.
Unal argues that tensions have risen because a number of PKK cells were born out of the unemployed in the city: “The legal structures exist for organisations to form and it is a very strategic place [oil transit from Iraq]. The police are powerless in such situations.”
Dayanan also believes that Kurds are partly responsible for the rise in tensions.
“Kurds by tradition were farmers and a society that doesn’t like to educate themselves, much of their culture is passed on verbally, so they have never formed any opposition,” Dayanan says.
Nationalistic fervour rises
Turkish nationalists are emotional about the Kurdish issue. They blame many of the country’s economic problems on the expenditure of the military to fight the PKK. Many have lost children in the war.
With the presidential elections coming up in May and parliamentary elections expected in November, Ankara will have to tread carefully on all issues.
Dayanan said: “If this government is not careful, nationalism could be Turkey’s biggest problem in the future. This not an innocent national movement, it is a very violent one that rejects other social groups.”
Violence against voices of dissent was taken to a new level when Hrant Dink, an Armenian newspaper editor, was assassinated in January.
Questions have been raised in the Turkish media over the motivations behind Dink’s killing after a leaked CCTV video was broadcast by local TGRT television showing 17-year-old Ogun Samast, the suspected killer, posing like a hero with members of the security forces while holding a Turkish flag.
The “deep state”
The rise in nationalism, which has developed because of disillusionment over EU acceptance and Ankara’s concessions to the US over Iraq, is now being used by the “deep state” (a systematic structure) to halt democratisation, experts believe.
According to the Turkish media, it is believed that the “deep state” uses this rhetoric with unemployed youth to target dissident voices in Turkey.
Samast confessed to killing Dink because, he said: “I read on the internet that [Dink] said ‘I am from Turkey but Turkish blood is dirty’ and I decided to kill him … I do not regret this.”
Dink, who was known for his outspoken ways on the killing of millions of Armenians, was proud of his Turkish citizenship and Armenian heritage, and argued that his words were used to improve the difficult relations between the two countries.
Dink believed that there were darker forces at work in Turkey. He wrote the week before he was killed that “2007 would be the most difficult year yet” and that he “didn’t know what injustices I will see”.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish prime minister, acknowledged the existence of the “deep state” in a statement on January 27: “Such a formation has always existed. It did not originate in the Turkish republic period but has its roots in the Ottoman empire. We have to minimise, even eradicate, this formation.”
The deep state is believed to be made up of elements from the military, security and judicial establishments which function within a nationalist ideology.
The military is deeply entrenched in Turkey’s identity. Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, a soldier who rose through the ranks to fight off the invading forces during the first world war, established today’s modern republic in 1923 and was its first president.
Ataturk is hailed as a military hero in Turkey. His legacy is handed down through the education system. Elementary school students learn in Ataturk’s words that their first duty “is forever to preserve and to defend the Turkish independence and the Turkish republic”.
Erdogan’s statement is not the first from a prime minister to have acknowledged the existence of the deep state in Turkey. Bulent Ecevit, former Turkish prime minister, was the first leader to talk about the “counter guerilla” in 1978.
Ecevit explained that the “counter guerilla” is a military establishment outside the chain of command of the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK), an extra-state organisation within the state.
Dayanan believes that such structures do exist in Turkey and are very strong.
“These forces like the status quo and are triggering social movements to prevent change. Under the umbrella of nationalism this is a type of SS organisation.”
But Unal, disagrees with the theory of a deep state being active in Turkey.
Unal told Al Jazeera: “We have state institutions, but we don’t have state co-ordination like in the UK for example, it is fragmented in Turkey. The press has been irresponsible on these issues.”