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Cumhuriyet ("The Republic") is a Turkish-language daily newspaper founded in 1924 and headquartered in Istanbul. In 2015, the center-left paper was awarded the Freedom of Press Prize by NGO Reporters Without Borders for its stand against the government's mounting pressure.
Death-penalty supporters and makeshift gallows in Istanbul
Mine Söğüt

Who Stands To Gain If Turkey Restores Death Penalty

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan recently said he favored restoring the death penalty. It would bring back an ugly face of Turkey, both politically and morally.

ISTANBUL — Right-wing Prime Minister Adnan Menderes and his cabinet members Fatin Rüştü Zorlu and Hasan Polatkan were executed after the military coup of May 27, 1960. Regrets and tragedy followed.

After the military memorandum of March 12, 1971, the Turkish Parliament voted for left-wing prisoners Deniz Gezmiş, Yusuf Aslan and Hüseyin İnan to be executions alongside the chants of "three from us, three from you." Scandal and tragedy continued.

A total of 50 people, including a 17-year-old, were executed after the military coup of Sept. 12, 1980. Shame and tragedy. Tragedy and shame.

Turkish authorities have been using the death penalty as a political tool of intimidation for a long time, from the independence tribunals at the modern founding of the country to the military courts. However, our country stopped the practice of executions after 1984 and removed the death penalty from its laws in 2004.

A judiciary that asks "an eye for an eye" does not improve the people but makes them more savage.

Last week, amid national outrage over the murder of a woman by her ex-husband, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he favored restoring the death penalty.

Those who were born after 1984 in Turkey have grown up in a country in which people are not executed — and not really knowing much about the 712 people (including 15 women) who have been executed in the history of the republic. People have learned how the death penalty runs counter to human rights, public conscience and ethics. They know it does not prevent crimes and, most importantly, that the death penalty offers both governments and loved ones of victims a dangerous kind of authority, by rationalizing revenge.

President Erdogan recently threatened to reinstate death penalty in the country — Photo: Xinhua/ZUMA

Currently some are trying to cover up these concrete facts. They try to popularize the death penalty by favoring American law over the European. A child was raped; a woman was murdered; a military coup was attempted: There is always someone ready to cry "death penalty!" Others try to rationalize some kind of public benefit of capital punishment.

But what drops when the death penalty is used is not the crime rate, but the rate of a nation's civilization. A judiciary that asks "an eye for an eye" does not improve the people but makes them more savage. Only certain politicians benefit from the death penalty. On one hand, they glamorize the feeling of revenge and exploit the sensitivities of the people; on the other hand, they have a powerful judicial card against their political opponents.

This country loses its collective mind.

In his book The Human Rights Problem in Turkey, Bülent Tanör noted that the average number of executions in the years of the civil governments rule in Turkey was 2, while during the military regime years the average was 13.5. This alone is enough reason to never mention the death penalty in a country like Turkey, which has a deeply problematic judiciary and government.

This country loses its collective mind after any kind of political turmoil and then historically regrets afterward having executed people. Turkey came to its senses, in a way, years ago and abolished the death penalty. And now that death penalty campaigners propagandize it at every chance they get, it means the country is running low on sanity.

Especially in these days of injustice when the powerful decide what is a crime and what is not; and especially with a president whose conscience favors the death penalty.

Time to change the country's current insensitivity to ordinary people?
Yakup Kepenek

Turkey, Time For A Truly Democratic Constitution

Ekrem Imamoglu's victory in the recent rerun election in Istanbul was a breath of fresh air for Turkish democracy. But to really recover lost ground, the country needs a new set of rules, writes Yakup Kepenek.


ISTANBUL — It has now been nine years since a new regime was initiated with the constitutional law change of Sept. 12, 2010, and every day since, Turkey has been struggling to earn back its freedom. For a swift recovery, it's now time for certain basic laws of the constitution to be revisited.

The presidential regime, also known as the Presidential Government System (PGS), was fully implemented last year. However, the regime has de facto been in place for the past nine years after the constitutional amendment of 2010. In the end, what we're left with is a system that limits our rights and freedom. It is a system that does not even have a budget that is mandated by legislation.

Our political system is a toy for elected officials, dependent on one person and ineffective public institutions, with foreign policy drowning in Syria and people chosen as leaders for their personal ties rather than talents. The government is corrupt, and the economy is defined by inefficiency, unemployment and inflation.

It should be a constitutional obligation for candidates to be chosen by the people.

A new contemporary constitution is needed that can bring together 150 years of democratic experience and the latest developments of rights and freedoms based on a parliamentary process. The new constitution should include a legislature based on sovereignty that truly comes from the nation, a fully independent and impartial judiciary, and separation of powers from the executive branch.

For this new regime to be reborn in a healthy way, certain things must happen first. Let's briefly summarize them. Turkey's biggest weakness right now is the increasing disenchantment with political participation over the past five years. True democracy is driven by voting. Today, the process of identifying candidates, who are chosen by sitting political leaders, should be opened up to the public. If democracy is going to flourish, it should be a constitutional obligation for candidates to be chosen by the people. If this is not applied, the real voter will remain the party leader.

Voting in Istanbul — Photo: Lupa Mi±O/SOPA Images/ZUMA

The other day when President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was detailing the job description of his aides, he quipped: "It's as if they're my soldiers." It was a revealing explanation indeed.

Thousands of years ago, on these lands, the Phrygia Kingdom had an ancient version of the kind of constitutions we use today. In Phrygia, every province had an equal number of representatives. Today Turkey has 81 provinces. If every province voted with two senators, in the end there would be a parliament made up of 162 senators. If this number is unnecessarily inflated and subtracted from the number of 600 deputies, there would be 438 deputies to be distributed to the provinces according to the size of the population, which is more than enough for that branch of the legislature.

To strengthen the country's politics with integrity, honesty and virtue means beginning with the guarantee of complete press freedom, labor rights, open political participation and equality before the law. In a narrower sense, the financing of politics and the salary of the office holders should be based on clear constitutional rules in order to avoid politics being a financial prize.

It's not up to you to talk about our salaries.

The current regime's attitude toward public finances must be reversed. The government's wasteful spending undermines democratic rule. The public procurement system has turned into an illicit source of income for too many. For the political system to lose its morals over money matters, for budgeting to be left up to the president, shows that the regime is a monetary black hole that only a new constitution can fix.

Just last week, members of the newly formed Presidency High Advisory Board increased their salaries by 40% in their first meeting. This is a rather blatant example of the current insensitivity of politics to ordinary people. Bulent Arinc, a member of the board, responded to the uproar by saying: "It's not up to you to talk about our salaries." This clearly summarizes the Erdogan regime's attitude about public finances.

Still, to make lasting change, we need a new constitution that values freedom of thought and defends equal citizenship and social peace as core principles of the nation.

Imamoglu supporters in Istanbul on June 21
Emre Kongar

Istanbul's Opposition Mayor And Hopes For Turkish Democracy

For the first time in 25 years, the party of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will not be running Turkey's biggest city. With his​ landmark victory in Sunday's election rerun, Ekrem Imamoglu will be the new mayor of Istanbul, with significance that reaches well beyond the city's 15 million residents. Imamoglu, who won easily 54% to 45%, had already narrowly beaten the ruling party's candidate, former Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim. But Erdogan's Justice and Development Party, AKP, challenged the election for alleged voting irregularities. The voided vote put into question the very standing of Turkish democracy and whether Erdogan's party, which has governed Turkey since 2002, would accept any major defeat at the polls.


ISTANBUL — In a country where the president can restrict basic rights and shows no respect to freedom, where the model of "One-Person Leadership" exists, the question hangs in the balance: Can Turkish democracy be rebuilt from the nation's biggest city?

This is the ultimate "test" in front of Republican People's Party's (CHP) leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu and the incoming Istanbul mayor Ekrem Imamoglu. They will enter this test alongside the mayors of Ankara and Izmir, also from allies opposed to Turkey's ruling national party AKP. I, for one, believe their chances are pretty high. Democracy is a communal project, including all classes of society:

For democracy to be built and function properly, we need free people, free working-class organizations. Democracy, from an individual perspective, is an ongoing education and game of knowledge. We need people who will show the same amount of respect for rights and freedoms of others as they do for their own.

Is what we've seen a sign that the country is set to embrace democracy?

Democracy, as an ideology and an idea, sees everyone as equals. But this equality is also crucial to it functioning well.

Turkey, from a societal, individual and an intellectual angle, is considered to be "underdeveloped" or a "developing country," in terms of politics, economics and culture. It is certainly a country, but it's another thing to be a well functioning democracy.

But now, is what we've seen in elections in three major cities in Turkey a sign that the country is set to embrace democracy?

Ekrem Imamoglu addressing supporters in Istanbul on June 21 — Photo: Kemal Aslan/Depo Photos/ZUMA

Ataturk and his friends, after winning the Turkish War of Independence, brought a new leadership, that was hard to adopt, with a new economic and political structure. This ultimately would lead to the current state we are faced with today.

The so-called "democracy" of Turkey's ruling party, with its illegal and illegitimate approach to voting, has turned into a "One-Person Leadership." In Istanbul, the biggest city of all, is it possible to create a genuinely democratic leadership? Ekrem Imamoglu, this is your test!

Istanbul, Izmir and Ankara stand together.

After the clear signs of democracy in Izmir and Ankara in March, last Sunday's results in Istanbul" show a real "National Resistance" that proves we are tilting toward democracy. Looking at the results of these three major Turkish cities, we can say that the voters are against an unlawful and unjust "One-Person Leadership."

If the people of Istanbul had been left alone, Imamoglu would not have had a high chance of passing this greater test. But Istanbul, Izmir and Ankara stand together. The "National Resistance" is real and we have to embrace democracy. For those who promote backwards thinking in our country, beware! And may the battle to rebuild democracy in Turkey begin.

Ballot boxes in Istanbul on March 31
Baris Doster

Why The Stakes Are So High For Erdogan In Istanbul

Turkey's president first burst on the scene in 1994 when he was elected mayor of Istanbul. Now, his party tries to hold the city.

ISTANBUL — It has been 10 days since the municipal elections. There are still many objections to the vote counts nationwide from the ruling coalition of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) and their ally, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP). The battle for the city of Istanbul being the biggest point of content, the vote of March 31 may turn into a point of contention for our nation's politics, sociology and history.

Procedures and institutions exist with the authority to deal with election results, questionable ballots, mistakes in records and objections from candidates. Yet, the prolonged waiting and debate on conventional and social media is increasing the tension. It appears clear that the objections of the government bloc are more likely to be accepted by the authorities than those of opposition parties. The uneven and unfair conditions we witnessed during the campaign continue after it's over.

Yet the true importance of this election goes beyond who will run the cities. This election showed that the opposition can defeat the government if they work hard and protect the ballots during counting. Ankara and Istanbul, the two largest cities of Turkey, have changed hands after 25 years, since the Felicity Party (or RP, of which the AKP splintered from) won in both cities in 1994.

AKP founders called themselves "a municipality movement."

Let us also not forget that the government itself has set the mood for the municipal election, saying they were as important as general elections. AKP has presented the election as a matter of survival for the country. They used all the unfair advantages of holding power and did everything possible to ensure victory. Naturally, a defeat under these conditions is far more troubling and demoralizing than losing a regular municipal election — and reactions from the government front show that. Likewise, the opposition has seen a huge boost in morale. If the AKP had not made this municipal elections a kind of nationwide referendum, the blowback of the results would not have arrived.

Erdogan election poster in Istanbul — Photo: Tanya Talaga/ZUMA

It is not the close margin between the mayoral candidates that puts Istanbul in the center of the post-election disputes. Beyond the historical, political and cultural importance, beyond its huge share of the Turkish economy, industrial production and tourism, Istanbul is strategically crucial for the political future of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his party.

Turkey was introduced to Erdoğan when he has won the mayorship of Istanbul as the RP candidate in 1994. Many of the people with whom he founded the AKP in 2001 are his colleagues from the Istanbul municipality era. It was no coincidence that many AKP founders back then called themselves "a municipality movement," and this helps explain why they are objecting to the election results with such vigor, even calling for the city of Istanbul to be required to hold a re-vote.

The current post-election experience in Turkey is a reminder both of how important elections are for a democracy, but also how insufficient they become without justice, equality and rule of law.

Istanbul on March 30
Örsan K. Öymen

Dare Not Steal The Opposition Victory In Istanbul Elections

Turkey's politics has been shaken up after President Erdogan's ruling AKP lost major cities in nationwide municipal elections. Results in the biggest city hang in the balance.


ISTANBUL — The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) suffered a significant hit in the March 31 municipal elections. The leading opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) held onto important cities such as Izmir, Edirne and Tekirdağ, while winning back power in Istanbul, Ankara, Antalya and other key races. Turkey's capital and biggest cities are back under CHP rule after decades of AKP leadership.

The AKP still won 44% of the votes nationwide, the largest tally of any party. Their ally, the nationalist Movement Party (MHP), increased the number of municipalities they govern by just 7% because of the alliance, as AKP and MHP had agreed not to run against each other. Their alliance took 51% of the votes nationwide.

Therefore, it is not possible to talk about an absolute victory for the CHP and their ally, the Good Party (IYI), despite the politically oppressive climate and economic crisis. The CHP had 30% of the overall vote, an increase of about 5%. Moreover, polls show that CHP voters went to the ballots not because of but in spite of their leader Kemal Kiliçdaroğlu. And it should be noted that Kiliçdaroğlu​ will again be mistaken if he takes last weekend's results as a victory, and forgets that he has lost 10 elections and referendums in the last ten years. Otherwise, the CHP will again be destined for a monumental disaster at the 2023 general elections, on the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Republic of Turkey. A change of leadership in the CHP before 2023 is essential. For the newly elected CHP mayors, the hard work starts now, and national elections in four years will largely be riding on their success.

The manipulation will be recorded as a black mark on Turkey's electoral history.

In the wake of the vote count, it is unacceptable that the AKP is trying to pressure the High Election Council, the ultimate authority on elections, into manipulating the results. AKP's Istanbul candidate Binali Yildirim declared his victory on the night of the election while the votes were still being counted, and the difference between him and CHP's Ekrem Imamoğlu was very close.

The state run Anatolia Agency stopped the data flow when the gap between Yildirim​ and Imamoğlu was closed. After the YSK declared that Imamoğlu came first in the race, Yildirim​ said: "There are 31,136 ballot boxes. If one vote is filled in incorrectly in each ballot box, this equals 31,136 votes, which is more than the difference." Then, the AKP started a power grab operation over the YSK by demanding recounts of invalid votes not only in Istanbul, but in other locations as well. This YSK's manipulation will be recorded as a black mark on Turkey's electoral history.

There were hundreds of thousands of invalid votes cast in this election, as there were in the past ones. Which invalid votes are being recounted at which ballots by the YSK and according to what procedure? The AKP and YSK are playing with fire. It is unavoidable that a major countrywide reaction will be sparked if the AKP steals Istanbul from the CHP.

Poster of Turkey's President Erdogan in Istanbul
Deniz Yıldırım

Turkey's Local Elections Test The Very Limits Of Democracy

With no other elections set for the coming years and the AKP party's increasing use of bully tactics, Turkey's local poll is a last chance to send a true political message.


ISTANBUL — The March 31 municipal elections are the last time voters in Turkey will go to the polls for the next four years — making these elections far more relevant than others for increasingly less important local governments. This vote is an opportunity to send a message to the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) about their policy of anti-politics and their attempt to portray themselves as the only legitimate source of politics. Should there be politics in Turkey outside of the AKP? This is what we will vote for in the short term.

Just look at the government's political strategy for the elections: a war of words based on slander, lies, baseless accusations and insults. Where does this lead? People end up distancing themselves from politics, they become less eager to follow what is going on — what can also be called anti-politics. It is not just the opposition voters who are tired of listening to the same broken record; fatigue affects also those who support the ruling party. Just look at the decline in the ratings and circulation of pro-government media or at the ratings of president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's TV appearances. The gap between the government's agenda and people's actual problems keeps growing.

The government is polarizing people for the elections, true. But this goes beyond the election period. The ultimate goal is to alienate people from politics, to make them avoid politics completely.

This is done by portraying members of the opposition as enemies of the country or maybe just as "terrorists." Sometimes, threatening the leading mayoral candidate in Ankara that he would be impeached even if he won is the way. Another move is threatening an opposition leader with prison. The president would even target famous journalists for this cause, as he did with anchorman Fatih Portakal by saying: "If you do not know your place, this nation will hit you in the back of your neck."

Such a move towards anti-politics is a warning sign on the path to dictatorship.

Why would a government want to do this? Because the one-man rule it has established where Erdoğan decides everything about the country will seem natural as the people alienate themselves from politics more and more. The new status quo will not be questioned. People distancing themselves from politics and one person monopolizing the show complete each other. They know that.

At the same time, people's real problems will not be discussed, alternative policies will not be created. Turkey is diving head first into an economic crisis. Unemployment has risen and now affects 4.3 million people, according to recent statistics. The economy is shrinking. Social inequality is deepening.

Also, threats and fearmongering will become the official way for politics. Can a country ruled like this be called a democracy? Such a move towards anti-politics is a warning sign on the path to dictatorship. This is nothing like the western democracies' issue of political apathy.

The problem does not end with the ruling administration. If you talk to young people, they say the parties they vote for are not involved in their lives. They do not see room for themselves in politics. They are correct. Opposition parties are trying to imitate the AKP in terms of rhetoric, programs and cadres and this is another factor that diminishes variety and the quality of political discussion. Opposition policies and politicians are old. Their cadres do not change, being one with the status quo. This is not good, either.

Our main problem is political rivalry being transformed into animosity to the point that being in the opposition becomes a crime. The idea that the government will not give up power even if they lost the elections is becoming common knowledge within society. In this environment, if you wonder what the biggest threat Turkey is facing, my answer is anti-politics.

Police and protestors gather at Gezi park
Örsan K. Öymen

Gezi Case: Turkey Must Reject Conspiracy Theory As Justice

The indictments filed against prominent liberal figures after the 2013 Gezi park protests show the government doesn't care about defending the constitution.


ISTANBUL — The current round of indictments prepared by Turkish prosecutors regarding the "Gezi Events' of 2013 shows that the time for judicial scandals and slanderous conspiracy theories are far from over. The criminal charges filed against businesspeople, artists and journalists — including such prominent names as Osman Kavala, Mehmet Ali Alabora and Can Dündar —reminds us of other troubling episodes from the past such as "Ergenekon" and "Sledgehammer." It proves that the methods of the Fethullah Gülen movement (which dominated Turkey's judiciary from 2008-2013 ) has since been fully adopted by the ruling Justice and Development Party — even if their onetime alliance with Gülen's movement is long over.

Journalist Can Dündar speaking during press conference — Photo: Arne Immanuel BäNsch/DPA/ZUMA

The indictment in question is built on a completely false paradigm: identifying the right to assembly and protest as a crime despite the plain fact that Article 34 of the Turkish Constitution grants that very right. Millions of people had attended these protests in and around Istanbul's Gezi park, according to numbers provided by the Interior Ministry. Police records show a very small percentage of those in attendance committed vandalism or threw stones at police. The "Gezi" was a legal and peaceful protest, by no means a violent movement to overthrow the government. On the contrary, the security forces were the perpetrators of violence, causing multiple deaths and thousands of injuries of peaceful demonstrators.

The aim is to minimize the reaction from the leftist front.

The indictment turns a blind eye to these basic facts, twists historical events and attempts to create fictional criminals through lies and slander. It is a particularly sinister approach. Although millions of people from different ideologies attended these protests, the indictment focuses on the people who identify as "liberals." The aim of this action is to minimize the reaction from the leftist front, especially from supporters of the main opposition, the Republican People's Party (CHP). By doing so, prosecutors aim to criminalize "Gezi" as a "liberal" criminal action. However, the "liberals' were a minor group at the protests, which would not have spread across the whole country without the involvement of CHP voters.

The indictment is thus built around Osman Kavala, who is not close to the CHP, the Atatürk revolutions or the left. People who identify as leftists or Atatürk-inspired patriots should not fall into this trap, even if they are political rivals of the liberals. The Communist Party of Turkey made the right call after the indictment was announced, declaring that they stand by their participation at the "Gezi" events. The CHP and other leftist groups should follow their example, and publicly reaffirm the constitutional right to participate in such protests.

Erdogan poster in Bursa, Turkey
Stuart Richardson

Erdogan's Global Witch Hunt, With A Little Help From Interpol


Even as the European Union has wavered on whether to let Turkey into its exclusive grouping, Ankara has flexed its muscles within the bloc. It has done so by using a shared tool and resource to fight crime: Interpol.

Last Saturday, Spanish authorities arrested author Dogan Akhanli after Turkey issued an Interpol arrest warrant — a so-called "red notice" — for the writer, a German citizen of Turkish origin. Ankara has not publicly stated its motive for the arrest but Akhanli, a critic of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has previously infuriated officials for his work on the Armenian genocide, a massacre that Turkey has sought to downplay.

Just weeks before Akhanli's arrest, Ankara had issued another "red notice" to Interpol, again in Spain, for Hamza Yalcin, a 59-year-old Swedish-Turkish journalist. Both writers are now being held in Spain, as the courts there decide whether they should grant Turkey's request for extradition.

Since the failed coup attempt on July 15 last year, Turkey has cracked down on officials, teachers, journalists and virtually anyone suspected of dissent in the country. But now it's also reaching far beyond its borders, emboldened by its status as a crucial player in the ongoing fight against terror group ISIS and amid an unprecedented migration crisis. In addition to the international Interpol warrants, Erdogan has been urging voters to boycott Chancellor Angela Merkel's party, among other groups, in upcoming elections in Germany, as video footage released by Turkish media outlet Cumhuriyet shows. "All of these parties are Turkey's enemy," he declared in the clip.

A condemnation with no action may reflect an implicit tolerance for his remarks.

His statements quickly drew Germany's ire. "We will not be dictated here by anyone, including President Erdogan," retorted Merkel, according to a report published in the German newspaper Die Welt. "We refuse to tolerate any kind of interference in the forming of our opinions."

Is her response enough? A condemnation with no action may reflect an implicit tolerance for his remarks. If Europe won't threaten Erdogan with sanctions and punitive measures, the Turkish president certainly won't stop using international organizations for his global witch hunt.