Friday, March 12, 2010

Voting process unfair at best – By Ardalan Hardi

As I have done in the two previous Iraqi elections, I flew from Denver to San Diego to cast my vote. A month before the election date, I called a friend of mine that I visit while I am in San Diego to see if he knew where the voting location would be and whether anything had changed regarding voter requirements. He was not aware of any changes, but thought voting would be in the same location as the last time.

In previous elections all we had to provide was an American passport showing our original place of birth which verified we were from Iraq and we could cast our vote. To my surprise, when I went to vote this year, the electoral commission representatives refused to let me participate. They told me that in addition to my US passport I would also need to show an official Iraqi document proving the province of my birth. I tried to argue that I have been in the US since 1976 and a US citizen since the early 80s. I have lived in this country for over 30 years and do not have any official Iraqi documents, I stressed that I had voted in the last two elections and the passport I had provided in the past was sufficient documentation. My plea fell on deaf ears. I asked to talk to the person in charge, and the tall, slim, gentlemen in charge of the voting process seemed eager to help me. His name was Shakir Hansih was the polling station manager, I pointed to the stamps on my passport that clearly show I have visited Kurdistan on many different occasions. I explained the only reason I would go back so many times was to visit my family. At first he agreed, and I was elated. I then waited in a line for approximately a quarter of an hour then he came back and told me that I could not vote. He offered no explanation of what made him change his mind. I told him I thought it was absolutely ridiculous to expect me to still have an Iraqi document after 34 years in exile. Very courteously, he apologized, and said there was nothing he could do for me.

I find it ironic that I live in a country were the citizens are encouraged to vote. In fact the US government and many nonprofit organizations go to extreme measures to advertise on Radio and TV so Americans can have a better turn out on Election Day while some Iraqis go to a great deal of personal expense and then are deprived of the most elementary form of freedom - the right to vote.

I still did not give up. I waited while a few Kurdish friends pleaded my case but all was to no avail. Interestingly, my friend noticed that most of the people in charge of the voting stations were Sunni Arabs and all of them were wearing the old Batth flag on their collar. The other thing he noticed was that it appeared the only people being held back from voting were Kurds. It seemed like everyone else had no problem.

My friend, who has been a KDP supporter all of his life, noticed my profound disappointment and said I should not worry, and that he would give me his vote. He knew that I was a supporter of the Gorran List. I didn’t think he was serious. But he came out of the voting booth and pulled out his cell phone to show me a picture of the ballot to prove he voted for Gorran. I was shocked
and proud that he is my friend.

After I got back to Denver, another friend of mine who was with us during the whole voting fiasco called and said that an Arab friend she worked with told her many Sunni Arabs had the same problem and did not have the proper papers, but they still got to vote and most of them were instructed to vote as though they are from Kirkuk even though they were born in the different part of Iraq.

One other point that needs to be made is at the voting station in El Cajon, which is northeast of San Diego, 65 people were hired by the electoral commission to assist with the voting process, and only four of them were Kurds. Out of the four, not one of them was assigned the position of verifying the legitimacy of paper work. So much for checks and balances…... The Kurds were assigned the job of directing people to the queue.

Coming back from California I realized:

  1. KRG representatives in the US did a poor job of informing their constituencies about the documentation requirements needed to vote in this election. I am sure they probably tried, but whatever they did obviously did not work. They did not do a good job of getting the word out. As a result of their mishandling this critical information, I, along with many other Kurds did not get to vote. I also blame myself for not researching the facts more thoroughly before hand. As the old saying goes “God gives every bird it's food, but He does not throw it into its nest”.

  2. It appears some attempts were made to manipulate the voting process especially when it came to Kirkuk. It seemed discrimination played a role in who had the right to vote or not.

  3. Iraq will probably never be the secular Democratic country that the US government expects it to be. Iraqis will most likely vote along the Religious and Ethnic lines until the mistrust that exists among the different factions dissipates and the education levels are raised.

Albeit I am very disappointed in being denied the right to vote, I am still hopeful that the system will gradually improve. Thanks to President Bush I am very pleased that we Kurds, Arabs and Turks, whether Shiite, Sunni or Christian, have the opportunity to vote. It is my hope that by the next election more fair voting practices are in place to allow all Iraqis the privilege of casting their long awaited votes.

In closing, I would like to thank my friend for his wisdom, graciousness, warm hospitality and camaraderie. He reminded me of a long forgotten quote,
“Many people will walk in and out of your life, but only true friends will leave footprints in your heart”.

The one thing I hope all of my countrymen will take heed to is, if our assumption is correct, that whichever political party is in office is working to promote our cause, then it is ultimately more important that our vote is cast rather than who our vote is cast for.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Maliki’s Overt Message to the Kurdish Leaders - By Ardalan Hardi

Abdul Amir Zaidi is the Major General that Iraqi Premier Maliki has appointed as the head of the Arab-led army division in Kirkuk.

I spoke with Aref Qurbani, who is the editor of theKurdish newspaper Aso and also a native of Kirkuk, to get some facts on General Zaidi. Mr. Qurbani said, “the General was a former officer in the Baath party and after the Anfal campaign (Kurdish genocide), the ring that was build around the city of Kirkuk to prevent anyone from entering or exiting the city was enforced by Zaidi.”

In 1996 to 1998 Zaidi headed the 15th brigade of the 1st division of the Iraqi Army and was stationed by Saddam, in the Kurdish towns of Redar and Daraman during Saddam's reign.

Many Kurds believe that Zaidi was directly involved in the Anfal campaign and the disappearance of many innocent Kurdish families.
After the liberation of Iraq, Zaidi was arrested by US forces for having association with the Baath insurgency, but later released.

Now Prime Minister Maliki, of the new democratic Iraq, has sent this former Baath member back to Kirkuk knowing it will create fear among the Kruds.

One has to wonder why Maliki would make such a flagrant move, sending Zaidi to Kirkuk when he is fully aware of the animosity and threat it brings to the Kurdish citizens. Is there no other General in the Iraqi army with a less hideous and controversial background that is qualified to do the job?

By sending Zaidi to a disputed area, such as Kirkuk, Maliki is trying to force the Kurdish leaders to compromise with regard to Article 140. In my opinion, this is an overt message from Maliki to the Kurdish leaders, that should they refuse to compromise on Kirkuk, Maliki will not hesitate to join forces with the Baath party in opposition to the Kurds.

It is unfortunate that Maliki has to use someone with such tyrannical and tainted background like Zaidi to force political hands on the negotiating table.

You would think Maliki who has seen the brutality of the former regime forced upon his own people would know better than to regress to the tyrannical ways of the past.

If Maliki is truly interested in solving the issues in Kirkuk peacefully, let him push for implementing Article 140 of the Constitution of Iraq, which states that after measures are taken to reverse the Arabization policy employed by the Saddam Hussein administration during the Anfal Campaign, a referendum should be held to determine if Kirkuk will stay with the central government or return to KRG.

Assigning a former Baath general to Kirkuk raises more dubiety from the Kurdish people and deepens the chasm that already exists between Kurdish leadership and Prime Minster Maliki .

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Lessons From a Kurdish Poet - By Ardalan Hardi

Psychiatrists agree that the first few years of our lives are by far the most important. These years determine what kind of life we will lead in the future and our outlook towards the world.
Recalling on my childhood experiences, I have many cherished memories of my father and how he; educated, cared and taught us many lessons about life. Many of those lessons guide my simple life to this day. Today marks two years since he departed from this world . On the second anniversry of his passing, I can’t help but think of him and the stories he told . He had a great gift of storytelling and an uncanny memory for exceptional tales. Some stories he had read and some he had made up.

My Dad, Ahmed Hardi, was a very well respected Kurdish poet from Sulaymania Sothern Kurdistan (northern Iraq). Dedicated to the Kurdish cause he decided to leave the city and he joined the Kurdish uprising lead by Mala Mustafa Barzani in the late 1960’s.

We settled in a village called Awakurte that was under the control of the Kurdish Peshmarga forces at the time. My dad rented a room from one of the Village farmers we came to know as Mam Ali. Awakurte was on the border of Eastern Kurdistan north east of Sulaymania, before Saddam leveled it to the ground during his Anfal campaign. The village was nestled in the stunning colorful Zagros Mountains overlooking the clear cold gushing Qamishli River that defines the Iran-Iraq border . The landscapes were deemed the acme of beauty. With its stunning, unmatched, breathtaking views this little village seemed millions of miles away from the rest of civilization. The inhabitants in this simple yet devoted Kurdish village were mostly small farmers.

On summer nights everyone would sleep under the moonlight. As a kid I would lay in bed looking at the bright sparkling stars pondering many thoughts. I often wondered if people from the other side of the world saw the same stars as I did. I wondered if there was a ceiling to the sky that could be touched by man and what lies beyond that ceiling? Filled with curiosity, my childhood imagination would take me to distant places of a utopian world of what could be. The sound of crickets, the howling of the distant dogs, the soothing echoes of mountain streams and the whispering leaves of the walnut trees as they were ruffled by the cool breeze in the tranquil moonlight created a poetic melody that could have only been musical tones from God. I would gradually fall asleep to these sounds only to visit another world, the untroubled kingdom of dreams.

Many times at dawn we would wake up to the roaring engines of Iraqi planes bombing Kurdish villages. In panic, my mom would rush us all down to a dug up underground cellar for protection. For a few brief moments those dreams and imaginations of the previous night would be cracked.
Winters in Kurdistan were long and harsh. Fluffy white snow would dress Awakurte like a beautiful bride waiting for spring to begin a new life all over again. From a distance the only sign of life in Awakurte was the streams of smoke that rose from the chimneys. On those cold winter nights our only contact with the outside world was dad’s shortwave, battery-operated radio that he used to listen to the BBC or Radio Europe. Every night there was a battle between dad and the radio antennas. Dad was fighting for better reception and the antennas refused to surrender. Frequently the stubborn antennas would get the best of Dad and in frustration he would set the Radio aside near his pillow where his cotton filled mattress lay. This was also where he slept. He would get up and start pacing the little room only to try again a few minutes later, then the combat would start all over again. The struggle against the antennas would go on until the news hour had passed.

We all lived and slept in one room that was built out of mud. The walls were 3 ft wide. The single metal black door was covered with blankets, hung like curtains to keep the cold out. The door was leading to the balcony that led to 4 steps which took you to the outhouse another 20 feet away. As a kid who came from the city that had plumbing and electricity, this was difficult to get used to.

But there was one thing we all looked forward to in those bitter winter nights and that was Dad’s stories. After dinner, we all huddled ourselves around the wood burning stove that was in the middle of the room that Mom kept going to keep us warm while we eagerly waited for Dad to tell us one of his stories.

One of the stories that has wedged in my mind since child hood was the story of “This too shall pass. The story went like this: A long time ago there lived a King who had a Minister that he firmly relied on and trusted with confidence. One day The King started to question his own judgment of his most trusted Minister so he decided to test the Minister’s loyalty.

To test the Minster’s devotion the King took the Minster and granted him even more power to command and control where he could have easily removed the King from power. But the Minister stayed devoted at all times to the King and the idea of taking the throne never crossed his mind. Then the King took him from all of that prominence and power and accused him of treason, ridiculed him in public and locked the Minister up in prison. The King then planted spies in the minister's cell to see what he had to say, but the minister never once uttered an unfavorable word about the King.

The King finally called for his trusted adviser the minster and said “I gave you all the powers of a King where you could have easily taken over the throne, but you did not. Then I punished you for no reason, ridiculed and imprisoned you, but you remained loyal”. I want to know how this is possible, asked the king?

“Well my King” said the Minister. When I was a teenager my dad sent for me while lying on his death bed and wanted to talk to me about his will. At first, I thought to myself, "my Dad has nothing", We were very poor what could he offer me? But then I thought he is my father no matter what and I went to see him. He said “Son I have nothing to leave for you except this ring”. He pulled this ring off his finger and handed it to me. Inside the gold ring a statement was engraved that read “this too shall pass”. Then my dad looked at me and said “if you ever come to point in your life were you feel alone, disheartened and nothing goes right for you and you think of taking your own life just remember never to give up because “This too shall pass”. He continued, “if you ever succeed and make it to the top where you have all the powers that this world has to offer remember never ever forget where you came from and those you have left behind because,"this too shall pass”. So you see sir, no matter what you gave me or did to me all I had to do is look at the ring that my father has left me to overcome my personal ambitions and depressions. All I had to do is to look at the ring and realize “this too shall pass”.

Every night was a different message from my Dad. Whether it was the story about courageous escape under difficult conditions by of Mustafa Barzani after the collapse of Mahabad Republic, where he and 500 of the Peshmarga fought the armies of Iran, Iraq and Turkey until they reached the former Soviet Union where they became refugees or the story of the bravery of Kaway Asngar were Zahak's rule lasts for a thousand years during which two young men are sacrificed daily to provide their brains to the serpents to alleviate the pain that Zahak felt. Until one day, Kawa, an iron worker whom the king had sacrificed all his twelve sons for the Gods walked up to the Kings palace with his ax and freed the people from the unjust and tyranny. And the story of Abraham Lincoln, a self educated man from a poor family born in a log cabin in the slave state of Kentucky became the President of the United States and abolished slavery ,or the story of a friend and half that taught us what true friendship is all about.

We did not know it at the time but all those late night stories in Awakurte taught us children lessons for the rest of our lives. Whether it was Kurdish history through Mala Mustafa’s bravery, respecting others rights through Lincoln’s "all men are created equal", bravery through Kaway Asngar or patience through "this too shall pass" or conquering and facing ones fear through Uncle Chwanar a children story told of a man that was afraid of darkness. They all were teachings from a great man preparing us for life with all of its ups and downs, brilliant and radiant beauty and sometimes atrocious cruelty.

As a child, I loved my Dad for the stories he told us kids, now that I am much older I love him even more for his profound wisdom and the lessons he taught me through the significances of those stories on how to lead my life as a decent human being.

Today, I live happily in one of the greatest countries in the world, America, with all the gadgets that world has to offer at my finger tips but none of these toys are equal to one of those nights in Awakurte and Dad’s stories.

I am sure he is up there in heaven surrounded by angels telling stories of Kurdish misfortunes, building a case for Kurdish independence.

I wonder if he has persuaded God yet, that Kurds too deserve a state of their own.
Not a day goes by when I do not think of you.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Is Jalal Talabani one of the few? - By Ardalan Hardi

There are very few great leaders in this world that have voluntarily vacated their post for the good of their people. Very few have risen to this legendary status in world history. Great leaders have inspired us to follow their patriotic examples. George Washington, the first President of United States is one of those exemplary leaders. After holding the Continental Army together through eight hard years of war, at war's end he took affront at the notion he should be King; and after two terms as President, he gracefully stepped aside.

Washington manifested himself as the exemplar of republican virtue in America. He was a man with great personal integrity, and a deeply held sense of duty, honor and patriotism. He rejected nepotism and cronyism. One of Washington’s greatest achievements, in terms of republican values, was refraining from taking more power than was due.

Is Jalal Talabani one of the few?

With the precipitous decline in the relationship between Nawshirwan Mustafa and the PUK’s Politburo, the PUK is put into an almost impossible position in securing the future of the organization. The consequence of this war of words between Mala Backtyar and Arsalan Bayiz on one side, and Nawshirwan Mustafa on the other, could jeopardize the future of PUK as a united political organization. It could also derail the current Kurdish achievements within Iraq and the Middle East.

The current internal turmoil within the PUK could put the two opposing political ideologies within PUK (the reformist and those against it) on a possible collision course toward another useless internal war and political division that would most definitely be against the national interest of Kurdistan.

While it is easy to maintain order within the ranks of PUK as long as President Talabani is in office, it will not be easy to maintain order should something happen to Talabani. Neither the PUK nor its leadership can be held together without Talabani’s presence. This fact is very well understood by the PUK leadership and all those who are close to the situation in Kurdistan.

At this critical juncture in the history of Kurdistan, this imminent danger could cause a major catastrophe not just for PUK but also for the Kurdish nation if not addressed. The only person that can simmer this boiling pot and secure PUK unity is president Talabani. The PUK’s survival determines President Talabani’s legacy. Therefore, it is of utmost importance that the President addresses the issues that have been looming over PUK.

In the interest of Kurdish citizens, peace and the stability in Kurdistan, President Talabani needs to bring all parties to the dialogue table and work out their differences. For the sake of our nation, he should persue a real democratic reform. An election should be held for his successor.

What ever the outcome, Talibani should stand behind the newly elected Secretary General 100%. By supporting the new secretary general, he will not only set a democratic standard for others to follow but he will also leave a legacy unprecedented in Kurdish history.

PUK has achieved many great milestones under President Talabani’s reign. Now Talabani has an opportunity that no other Kurdish leader before him ever had. He can voluntarily leave his post as the secretary general of PUK to ensure the preservation of the unity of the PUK and join the few legendary leaders like George Washington.

The question is, “is Talabani capable of refraining from taking more power than is due?” That remains to be seen.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Birth Pains of an Independent Press

It was only eight years ago that Iraqi Kurdistan saw the birth of its first independent newspaper, Hawlati. Despite numerous obstacles, the paper has managed to survive and thrive. Asos Hardi, who was part of the team that launched Hawlati, looks back at how the independent press in Iraqi Kurdistan came about.

Arab Press - By Asos Hardi

Throughout its existence, the Kurdish press has been one of revolution and resistance. The division of Kurdistan into different states, and the denial of the Kurdish identity by these states, forced all free voices that called for freedom and equality to either go underground and turn to covert resistance, or emigrate. The first Kurdish newspaper was created in Cairo in 1898 by a group of politicians that fled from the oppression of the Ottoman regime.

It is well known that resistance militancy imposes its own conditions on the press, turning it into a tool of revolution and liberation which aims primarily at contributing effectively to mobilizing all energies of the revolution and to guide the various segments of society towards the adoption of the militant resistance discourse. This was also the direction of the "free press" in Kurdistan during the years of resistance and armed struggle.

In Iraqi Kurdistan, the popular uprising in 1991 and the liberation of a large part of the country from dictatorship was a real turning point for journalism, and the Iraqi Kurdish people in general. Since that date, Iraqi Kurdistan has become a de facto free region, governed by Kurdish parties (from here on Iraqi Kurdistan is referred to as Kurdistan).

At this time, the need for an enthusiastic and revolutionary discourse ceased to be a mandatory practice, and the birth of the press as we know it today turned into a necessity required by the transformation of the political and social situation of the Kurdish community. The objective conditions were quite helpful to this respect - in theory at least. We should, however, acknowledge that it was not an easy birth.

The Kurdish political movement was originally multilateral, containing different ideological and political currents ranging from the Marxist left to the nationalistic and Islamic right. However, Kurdish political parties failed to establish a system that would regulate political work in Kurdistan and guarantee the continuation of political pluralism and the peaceful transfer of power. The relative stability of the security situation collapsed soon, and the different political parties began fighting one another. That fight started in 1993 and reached its peak in 1994 when the two major parties, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) became involved, pushing the Kurdish administration into two separate entities in 1996, which is still the situation today.

It would, however, be unfair to neglect the economic aspect and not mention the deteriorated economic situation of Kurdistan in those difficult years. Kurdistan was suffering from a multilateral economic embargo. As a part of Iraq, it was placed under international embargo after the first Gulf war, and in addition to that under the siege imposed by the Iraqi regime and the neighbouring countries that were seeking the collapse of the Kurdish situation politically and economically. It was difficult - if not impossible - to think of a free press in those circumstances. How could free press arise amid the harsh conditions of the fighting and economic stagnation?
That situation persisted until 1996, when Iraq accepted the UN Security Council resolution No. 986, known as "Oil for Food". The resolution became a clear turning point in economic and political terms: it played a prominent role in improving the economic situation, and also created some movement on the Iraqi market.

The second positive change came in 1998, when American mediation managed to put an end to the fighting inside Kurdistan, and the warring parties signed a peace agreement in Washington.
Due to the above mentioned, the idea of creating an independent newspaper was put off until 2000, that is to say following the relatively large change in the political and economic conditions of Kurdistan. That was when a young publisher and the manager of his firm had an idea. Both had been running a small printing press in the city of Sulaymaniyah (called Randge Print), and had long supported young writers by printing and publishing their works. They also helped disseminate voices and opinions that criticised the political and administrative situation in Kurdistan. The two entrepreneurs decided to talk about their idea with a limited number of young writers (including the author of these lines) by mid-2000. We were convinced by the idea and decided to start working on it.

The beginning was very difficult. Tension between the two major Kurdish political parties was still dominant in the political situation, and they used to look askance at every new project that did not come from their traditional supporters, seeing it as a seditious plot, woven by the rival party. We had to work with care and caution and move in small, but continued, steps. We did not believe in "revolutionary and immediate" change, as the common expression goes. We were well aware of the seriousness of the situation, yet believed that we had a margin of freedom which we had to use in a rational way so that we could secure and try to expand as much as possible.
We decided, as a first step, to try our best to dissipate the suspicions and the fears of the two political parties, seeking for the newspaper a name that was far from all sensitivities and ideological allusions, and making our financial reports public. We chose the Kurdish name "Hawlati", meaning "Citizen", and adopted transparency as a method by publishing our financial reports in full every three months on the pages of our newspaper, so that our financial sources were clear to all.

Without going into too much detail, I think it is necessary to give a brief explanation of the difficulties that we faced then, and still face to some extent:

Subjective difficulties:

1) As I indicated earlier, the biggest dilemma we faced was that we were not professional journalists, which were a rarity in Kurdistan. We were simply people brought together by their conviction of the need to create a free newspaper, an independent source of information and a free platform for the dissemination of different views points. We tried to learn by reading books on journalism, and our own mistakes, many times, turned out as our best teacher. Whenever a foreign journalist visited us, we used to ask for his or her own experience in order to learn from it.

2) Believing in the principle that states: "there is no independence without economic independence", we decided from the outset neither to accept nor ask for any financial assistance from any political party or official source. However, a few months after launching our newspaper, we faced a financial crisis. We then started to address readers and members of the Kurdish community living abroad seeking their help. Fortunately enough, a large portion of readers responded favourably, and a substantial number of those living outside the country decided to provide us with financial assistance each month. We carried on with that help during almost one year, until we reached a stage where we could rely on the revenues of the newspaper, and cease to receive financial assistance.

As for the difficulties that we faced in the journalistic work, I may well summarize them in the following points:

Firstly, the laws and the judicial system. These were, and still are, a big problem for us. On one hand, there is the Publications Act introduced by the former regime with the sole aim to suppress freedoms, and nothing else. On the other hand, we cannot say that the judiciary is fully independent in Kurdistan. The interference of the executive authority and the ruling political parties is quite visible at times.

Secondly, the prevailing political mentality. It is known that the intellectual roots of the Kurdish political parties, as is the case in the Middle East in general, stem from totalitarian ideologies: Marxist nationalism or Islamic, as in recent decades. It is true that the slogans and the political trends have changed a lot, but the remnants of that old mentality still prevail among some. The logic of "with me or against me" remains strong for certain people.

Thirdly, there is a problem related to the culture of society. Although the Kurdish community is more open in comparison to the surrounding communities, it is still a conservative society that does not easily accept the trespassing of cultural taboos. It is not easy for the press to talk about social and intellectual issues that are considered sensitive, such as sex, women, religion, etc.
Last but not least, the difficulty to access information sources was, and continues to be, one of the biggest obstacles to the journalistic work in Kurdistan. Information normally lies with the authorities, which monopolize and prevent the publication of what they deem harmful to their interests.

In short, we have faced various difficulties. We were targeted by accusations bordering the limit of treason, and sometimes subjected to the abuse of existing laws and even convicted. Some of our colleagues have been victims of physical violence and arbitrary imprisonment. There were occasions when all partisan media outlets (newspapers, radio and television) were used to tarnish our reputation and steer public opinion against us, etc. Despite all that, we have been able to stay in the race and put up with all the pressures and constraints. Therefore, I am not pessimistic. The fact that Hawlati's has continued to exist to this day, and through the recent birth of the daily Owinh (Mirror), the second independent newspaper in Kurdistan and for which I work now, is an evidence of the margin of freedom to which I referred earlier, as well as an opportunity to move on towards building an open society. The Kurdish authority, despite all the critical comments we might hold against it, has duly assumed the existence of independent newspapers which sometimes targets it sometimes with pungent criticism. That is not to say that we live in a paradise of democracy and freedom of expression. There is still a lot of work ahead to leave dictatorship and totalitarian rule behind, and to build a democratic, open society.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

3 Kurdish teenagers could stand trial for singing rebel song in US

The Associated Press

ANKARA, Turkey: A lawyer says three Kurdish teenagers could stand trial for allegedly singing a Kurdish rebel song under rebel flags during a music festival in the United States in October.
Defense lawyer Baran Pamuk says the teenagers were part of a 15-member chorus that allegedly sang a song called "Enemy" during a tour of San Diego, Los Angeles and San Francisco. He says an indictment demands their prosecution on charges of spreading the separatist propaganda of the rebel Kurdistan Workers' Party, which is fighting the Turkish state.
Pamuk said Tuesday a court will decide whether to hear the case. The three are aged between 16 and 17.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Turkish secularism breaches democracy - By Dr. Kirmanj Gundi

In its simplest form, secularism can be defined as an ideology, which separates religion from the state affairs. It guarantees the right to be free from religious rule and teaching. It is not against religion, but independent of it. Secularism doesn’t necessarily mean democracy, albeit it can be used as a step toward modernization, and establishing democratic institutions in which equality and equity is fairly observed within the social, political and economic context.

In 1846, for the first time, the British writer George Jacob Holyoake introduced the term “secularism” as a notion of “free thought,” to serve as a “frame of social contemplation.” Later, in his article, Secular Ethics, published in 1896, Holyoake defined secularism as follows:

Secularism is a code of duty pertaining to this life, founded on considerations purely human, and intended mainly for those who find theology indefinite or inadequate, unreliable or unbelievable. Its essential principles are three: 1) The improvement of this life by material means, 2) That science is available providence of men, and 3) That it is good to do good. Whether there be other good or not, the good of the present life is good, and it is good to seek that good.

Basic characteristics of secularism are premised on a conceit of “goodness” where common human beings are granted equal opportunity to develop. Nonetheless, under many secular regimes including Turkey, secularism is perpetuated at the expense of basic democratic principles. Turkey as an Islamic country governed by radical secularism whose guardian is military institution and is against every religious accoutrement.

When Turkey’s parliament lifted the ban of “headscarf” to give women in Turkey an opportunity to exercise their God-given right and wear it if they so desired, the military and radical secularists attempted to vitiate the AKP government and accused President Gul and Prime Minister Ordagan of undermining the Turkish secularism. Giving back the right to citizens to exercise their natural rights is not a breach of secularism, but a modus operandi of a plural and multicultural democracy. It is true that secularism would be enervated if religious indoctrinations were embodied in the Constitution. But similarly, a rigid refusal to allow citizens the right to freely express their cultural and religious beliefs in public, as long as that expression of their beliefs does not violate the freedom of others, transforms ‘secularism’ into “radical secularism,” which creates a culture of intolerance. The legislative body that has denounced the headscarf ban has not meant to change the Turkish Constitution from secular to a theocratic system, but rather to encourage the democratization of Turkish society.

The recent action by the Turkish chief prosecutor against the AKP and current government to ban them from politics is another reminder to the world about how gravely the Turkish justice system is deficient of true justice and therefore lacks moral authority.

The Islamo-phobia that the Turkish Generals have created and used as a vindication to maintain their influence on the political decision-making process and excoriate liberal democracy is a breach of every democratic principle and can only weaken democratic elements. This prevents Turkey from achieving its dream of becoming a respected member of the European Union. For Turkey to embrace its goals, it must not only be seen as a secular state, but also accepted as a democratic nation who respects democratic practices. Only then can Turkish secularism complement a democratic society.

Democracy as a political philosophy is premised on the freedom of speech, freedom of the press, rule of law, freedom of religion, and civil control of the military. It is founded on pluralism and majority rule with the respect to the minority rights. Therefore, for Turkey to grow into a civil society, it must respect human rights, grant genuine civil liberties, and hold its citizens equal before the law.

Turkish radical secularists can no longer claim that they enjoy popular support by “pinning democratic labels upon themselves.” They must allow citizens of Turkey to exercise their democratic prerogatives. To do so, they need to overcome the narrow and exclusionary idea of “Turkishness,” and accept Turkey as a state with citizens, not “Turks,” but citizens from a mosaic of diverse backgrounds and beliefs, which are a legitimate part of the region’s history and its future – one that is made culturally rich and dynamic by virtue of a plural society. Turkey needs to reform its social, political and economic policies across the nation in order to prosper. It cannot live in peace with itself unless it recognizes its own multi-ethnic identity, and its ambition of becoming part of Europe can only remain a distant dream. Turkey must pull itself out of the cycle of fear and hate in order to have a more internal tranquility and better future with its neighbors.

Dr. Kirmanj Gundi is a professor at Department of Educational Administration and Leadership at Tennessee State University in Nashville, Tennessee.
References (2008). Agnosticism/Atheism, Secularism 101: Religion, Society, and Politics.

Holyoake, George J. (1896). Secular Ethics. Publication English Secularism.

Miller, Lisa (2008). In Defense of Secularism.
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