11 July 2017 11:13

Linguist Necmiye Alpay: Demand for justice grabs Turkey in the heart

Linguist-author Necmiye Alpay: Justice March expresses the political issues and the injustice and inequality in the country.


Serpil İLGÜN

Linguist-author Necmiye Alpay was arrested last August and released four months later together with the author Aslı Erdoğan on charges of being a member of an armed terror organisation, disrupting the unity of the state and conducting terror propaganda for being on the editorial board of a pro-Kurdish newspaper Ozgur Gundem.
Due to the state of emergency which was declared after the 15 July coup attempt, practices of “arrest on made up charges” are still continuing. 
Another example of this was the arrest of the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) representative Enis Berberoglu recently which prompted its leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu to start a 450 km march from Ankara to Istanbul demanding “justice”. This March received the support of many sections of society as the feeling of injustice reached greater levels following mass arrests, dismissals in the public sector and the closure of many oppositional media outlets.
On the 15th day of the “March for Justice” (which will end in the Maltepe region of Istanbul where Berberoglu is being imprisoned with a big rally), we spoke with Necmiye Alpay, who is also one of the founders of the Peace Assembly and Peace Foundation.
She began with saying that throughout the history of the Republic unlawful practices have upset the judiciary system of the country, where we see these practices of the state remain unpunished and a big number of people being arrested unjustly. She believes this is a manifestation of the panic on the part of the ruling party caused by a feeling of uncertainty of its place. Despite the fact that the society is against coups the government couldn’t overcome the trauma of the15 July coup attempt. As a result, fundamental principles such as judicial safeguards, rule of law, freedom of the press and of expression are all disregarded.

Q - We have been going through a period of violations of justice, law and equality and living their dire consequences since the June 2015 elections - when the ruling AK party lost its share of the vote substantially and the pro-Kurdish HDP increased its, which prompted the government to have early elections five months later. In the last 2-3 years, we have seen a great many examples of how the practices of justice and legality were changed in line with the needs of the ruling party and the conjectural situation. Prominent legal experts define this as a period of unlawfulness, lack of legality and of constitutionality...

I agree that the elections in June set a milestone in terms of law and lawlessness. In these elections, the ruling AKP could not form a majority government for the first time. This result led them to stick their decisions/ policies more to the measure of “number of votes”. For instance, they considered the efforts towards resolving the Kurdish question were costing them votes and backtracked from it.
With the latest constitutional referendum on 16 April, they have brought a one man-one party system, and the parliament was made unfunctional. However, in the referendum half of the voters rejected these changes. And this could get bigger. I believe the society now has the power to reject these changes and that more than half is expressing their desire for democracy.

Q - Following the June elections the CHP has been criticised for not trying to prevent the ruling AKP at important junctures such as going back to the war (against the Kurds), lifting the immunities for members of parliament (which made it possible for the pro-Kurdish HDP representatives to be arrested) and the constitutional referendum. Some people criticise the CHP for initiating the “March for Justice” only after the arrest of its representative, Enis Berberoğlu, remind them their sins in the past, and say that it is a belated step with no use. How do you see these discussions and the meaning and timing of this march?

This society has huge problems. We have experienced many tragic incidents and it looks like we will see more. This is also because the situation is all negative in the Middle East. But in many respects, I have great sympathy with this march Kılıçdaroğlu initiated.
First of all, he didn’t launch this march in the name of his party or as a party leader with a flag or a banner of his party. He took out to the road with one slogan: “Justice”. I find this very clever. It is something nobody can object to. With this word “Justice” he grabs the country in the heart. Because it expresses the fundamental problem that Turkey faces today: all political problems, the inequality in our society, and the injustices against the Kurds. Because wherever you turn to you see injustice in society. 
Even if this march doesn’t bring any fundamental changes or is left unfinished, I believe it would still make a great contribution in terms of drawing attention to the basic problem of society. And one cannot come up with a front opposing justice against this march.

Q- Could this march also transform the CHP?

Yes, that is also possible. This party has an opposing dual character. It is the founding party of the Republic. Such parties become conservative after the revolution and begin to resort to the police force to stand strong. On the other hand, it is affiliated to Socialist International. If it wasn’t its social democratic character it would have died down. Of course, these are very belated steps. It should have taken a different stance much earlier in demanding justice or in insisting on a peaceful solution to Kurdish question for example. I believe it is not the leader who makes a movement but strong cadres, and the CHP has such politicians within it. But one of its biggest mistakes is its unprincipled manner to become a mass party. And I hope it has realised this mistake.

Q - The March for Justice will finish on Sunday, 9th July, in front of the Maltepe Prison in Istanbul, where Berberoglu is being held, with a mass rally. What happens then? Kılıçdaroğlu says “the fight for justice will go on” but didn’t explain how and using which methods. What could be done for the march to hit its target?

In my opinion, if the power of this march (the support it received from wide sections created this power) gives the jurists/ legal experts the message “be independent, we are behind you”, and if it can put a new draft constitution on the top of the list for the 2019 election, then it will have fulfilled its objective. For this to happen, we need to put forward our demands in the framework of the new constitution.


Q- It is said that this march livened up the 49 per cent who said “no” to the constitutional referendum and brought them together even more. Looking at the variety of people who supported the march, can we say that it has gone beyond the 49 per cent?

That should be right. Though we cannot say that “political affiliations have been overcome in terms of uniting around the 49 per cent” but we see the first steps of this. There are new formations such as Unity for Democracy and Citizens’ Initiative. The CHP will not dissolve itself, of course, because of these platforms, but everybody feels the need to act in a unified fashion around a platform. For the first time in its history, the CHP diverged from its past practice rightly and went on the march. Therefore, if the aim is put forward as a new constitution and a democratic Turkey, this could unite much more than the 49 per cent.


Q- How do you see the government’s approach to this march? Initially, they ignored the march, then they tried to criminalise it. Could this affect the support for the march?

The government has been using the “terror” blame for some time, especially after the 15 July coup attempt. It was the same approach in Kurdish question. They did the same to us with the Ozgur Gundem newspaper. Once you defended the freedom of the press in that context you are automatically linked with the armed organisation. They do this because there are issues they cannot deal with. It is the same in the Kurdish question or the FETO (Fethullah Gulen terror organisation) issue: once they are stuck, they use force and try to smash everyone. 
We know that in the past few years, the ruling AKP has been trying to eradicate the opposition by labelling them as “terrorist”. It is a convenient instrument. They used to label everyone as a communist in the past, and now as a terrorist. This is a fascistic approach.


Q- What do you think about HDP’s approach to the march? Initially, they wanted self-criticism from CHP, then they said they could join the march if it went on, as far as Edirne (where HDP representative and co-chair Selahattin Demirtas is imprisoned)... It looks like they will join somehow, but there are concerns as to the reaction of the crowds towards the pro-Kurdish HDP.

I cannot agree with the precondition of “self-criticism”. It is not the time for that. In fact, it was not the official statement of the party demanding self-criticism from the CHP [because of their nationalist attitude towards Kurdish issues] but still a bad idea no matter who voices it. They are right to suggest Edirne as many HDP people are in prison, but it should not be as a precondition for their participation. 
However, it is important that Kılıçdaroğlu said: “we are also marching for them”. This way they form a connection but it must be a stronger one.
CHP’s stance has been very problematic. We can say that the paranoia of Turkey being divided [because of the Kurdish issue] has been creating a bigger internal problem for the CHP than the AKP. They probably feel obliged to have such concerns as they are the founding party of the Republic. But maybe they now understand that if we are to bring about a unified and good society which includes the resolution of the Kurdish question, all legal avenues, from political parties to the media or to municipalities, must be wide open. Otherwise, under these circumstances where nobody can express themselves, Kurdish question will gradually go and is even going, because of the situation in the Middle East, into an impasse.


Q- To support the hunger strike of Nuriye Gulmen and Semih Ozakca, two of the dismissed academics and teachers, 111 intellectuals called the government to act on this and reinstate them but the Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu labelled this initiative as “supporting the terrorists”. How do you see AKP’s harsh approach to this issue?

It is because this issue goes beyond those two people. Their demand to be reinstated hasn’t been met because it would present an example to all those thousands of people who have been dismissed. They may have also expected them to stop the hunger strike at some point. There are other methods of struggle. Academics who are dismissed found alternative solidarity academies and give lessons in the parks on the streets for instance. On the other hand, the government imprison those people who want justice and go back to their work and label them as terrorists. They continue to do this although all accusations are found to be wrong and baseless. This is cruel and inhumane, and it only lead to new participations in the hunger strikes.