Government's reform package hit by criticism

Opposition parties strongly criticized the new democratization package announced by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, while Turkey's non-Muslim communities have mainly expressed disappointment

Government's reform package hit by criticism

World Bulletin/News Desk

The main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) strongly criticized the new democratization package announced by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. According to CHP İzmir deputy Ayman Guler, the package is a serious blow to the nationalist-secular Turkish Republic. “Nationalist-secular Turkey has been destroyed, and religious-ethnic divisions are to be enshrined in the Turkish Penal Code [TCK],” Guler maintained, while CHP Vice President Gursel Tekin expressed his deep dissatisfaction with the package, saying it falls far from people's expectations.

Sabahat Akkiraz, a CHP İstanbul deputy, has criticized the government for not granting Alevis the rights of other citizens, as Alevis and cemevis are not mentioned in the package. “The government is trying to make fools of Alevis by only changing the name of a university to Hacıbektas,” she said.

In a press release, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) stated that the party's comments will be delivered following an evaluation meeting, while the CHP leader, Kemal Kılıcdaroglu, is to deliver his remarks about the package on Oct. 1.

For Ufuk Uras, a founder of the Greens and the Left Party of the Future (YSGP), the package is the first step towards peace. “At least these points should be discussed freely. It is necessary to continue forward to the next step. The [electoral] threshold is an important issue. It is a good development to bring alternatives to the current election threshold. It is important to focus on the merit of the threshold, not who will benefit and who will be harmed,” said Uras.

Atilla Sandıklı, the president of the Wise Men Center for Strategic Studies (BİLGESAM), is in favor of the package. “I am support every democracy package that lifts the barriers to freedoms,” he said. Though noting that the package is an important step, Sandıklı doesn't think that the package is as comprehensive as previously declared. “It is disappointing for me that Alawite citizens' expectations were not fulfilled,” he said. A security expert, Sandıklı is concerned that this may pose a security threat for Turkey. “If the necessary measures are not taken, this might pose a threat to security,” he warned.

Evaluating the package, Ahmet Tasgetiren, an opinion leader in the Bugun daily, described the package as an important step. However, he underlined that the contents of the package were not sufficient. “It is possible to say that Alevi citizens are not included in this package. The government faced challenges at this point, I suppose,” said Tasgetiren, adding that the prime minister's 40-minute speech before unveiling the details must have been an attempt to face criticisms beforehand. Regarding the amendments to the electoral threshold, Tasgetiren noted that the government has taken a serious step..

Disappointed non-Muslim communities

Turkey's non-Muslim communities have mainly expressed disappointment at the government's democratization package announced on Monday, although the package also includes some positive points. The democratization package makes no mention of the Greek Orthodox seminary on Heybeliada, which the government has been considering reopening, a demand long pursued by Turkey's Greek community. The Greek Patriarchate is an institution under the protection of international law as guaranteed by the Treaty of Lausanne. It has long complained about the status of the Halki Seminary as well as other property issues in Turkey. Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I has repeatedly said that the reopening of the seminary is of vital importance to the survival of the Greek Orthodox clergy. Established in 1844 on the island of Heybeliada off İstanbul, Halki Seminary was closed in 1971 under a law that placed religious and military training under state control.

But the package openly does say that all the legal obstacles in the way of the Mor Gabriel Monastery, a Syriac Monastery in Midyat, Mardin, whose ownership has been in dispute since 2005, being given to the Syriac community will be removed. The package also includes provisions that introduce harsh punishments for crimes committed against the members of an ethnic or religious minority.

But members of non-Muslim groups say they would have liked to see more and profounder changes in the package. Editor-in-Chief of the Syriac language Sabro newspaper Tuma celik told Today's Zaman: “This attitude of ‘returning' Mor Gabriel, as if it ever belonged to the state, is wrong. The land [on which Mor Gabriel is situated] already belonged to the [Syriac] foundation. They just did the right thing.”

He also said international pressure on the government was high regarding the fate of Mor Gabriel. “We were going to get it back anyway. It should have come earlier. Minorities are seen as secondary communities, so they weren't considered in the package.” He said, however, it is positive that provisions that will introduce punishment for discrimination on the basis of religion are being introduced.

However, celik said the democratization package only seeks to alleviate international reaction, and it is not a solid step toward real democratization. “It is not a package that is based on a fundamental desire to democratize. It was drafted with the concern of decreasing international pressure.”

Laki Vingas, the elected representative of non-Muslim foundations at the Council of the General Assembly of the Directorate General for Foundations (VGM) and a member of the Greek Orthodox community, said: “The returning of Mor Gabriel Monastery land is important, but the seminary issue was delayed to a later time. The minority issue could have been more actively dealt with. The inclusion of hate crimes is a positive development. There are positive aspects but also there are important steps missing. It is the government's responsibility to remedy these.” He said that the seminary issue would be left hanging, adding that he has been skeptical about the reopening of the school for a long time. Many expected the package to include a provision that would allow the reopening of the school.

Kuryakos Ergun, chairman of the Foundation of the Mor Gabriel Monastery, said the Syriac community of Mardin was very happy about the decision. “This decision has caused us great happiness,” he said. He recalled that the status of Mor Gabriel had been the subject of a series of court proceedings, including at international courts. “That the prime minister personally stated that our demands will be met has shown that we are nearing a solution,” Ergun said. He also thanked those civil society organizations and media outlets that kept the issue alive and on the government's agenda. “We hope that the democratization package will be implemented soon,” Ergun said.

Yetvart Danzikyan, a Radikal columnist, said the package was a disappointment for minorities. “The package in its entirety is positive, but there is nothing about Alevis, and Kurdish as the language of education is only allowed in private schools. The failure to reopen the seminary has caused disappointment not only among the Greek community, but all minority groups.”

Metropolitan of Bursa Elpidophoros Lambriniadis was brutally honest in his comments. “We are hugely disappointed,” he said, regarding the exclusion of the Halki Seminary from the package. “We were really hopeful [as the Greek Patriarchate]. This is not what we were expecting from the government.” He said the Greek community will continue to express this demand.

Güncelleme Tarihi: 30 Eylül 2013, 23:47

Muhammed Öylek