World Bulletin / News Desk
Turkey witnessed top court's controversial rulings that disappointed everyone believing in "rule of law", including ban on headscarf and AKP closure case during 2008.
The investigation "Ergenekon", the constitutional amendment freeing headscarf in universities, the closure case against the ruling Justice & Development (AK) Party, the ground operation of Turkish Armed Forces into north of Iraq, and President Abdullah Gul's visit to Armenia were the highlights of the year 2008 in Turkey.
The investigation, launched by the explosives seized in an operation in Umraniye neighborhood of Istanbul, was named "Ergenekon" in 2008 and a lawsuit was filed regarding the case.
A criminal court in Istanbul began trying 86 suspects, 46 of whom were in prison, in the "Ergenekon terrorist organization" case on October 20. Among the suspects were retired general Veli Kucuk, Labor Party chairman Dogu Perincek, Cumhuriyet daily's editor-in-chief Ilhan Selcuk, and Professor Kemal Alemdaroglu, the former president of Istanbul University.
Retired general Sener Eruygur, the chairman of the Kemalist Thought Association; retired general Hursit Tolon; journalist Tuncay Ozkan; and Sinan Aygun, the chairman of the Ankara Chamber of Commerce; were detained within the scope of the investigation, but were later released.
The prosecutor has not prepared an indictment regarding Eruygur, Tolon, Aygun and Ozkan yet. Retired general Eruygur was released from prison due to his health problems.
Controversial verdict on headscarf
Turkish Constitutional Court failed to free headscarf at universities by the ruling that disappointed everyone, who want Turkey to make some progress in religious freedom.
Top court annulled the amendment that would had brought "limited freedom" to women wearing headscarf.
In the Spanish capital of Madrid in January 2008, Erdogan said that headscarf was not a political symbol and that all political parties in Turkey had women members wearing headscarves.
"Even if it is a political symbol, can you ban political symbols or can you say that wearing a symbol is a crime?" Erdogan asked.
"Girls in the United States or Europe can go to universities wearing headscarves, but we have such a problem in country where 99 percent of the population is Muslim. I believe that we will overcome this problem," he also said.
Then, Devlet Bahceli, the chairman of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), announced that his party would help solve the issue on legal basis and without causing political and social tension.
The parliament passed the amendment bill on February 9, and changed article 10 (equality before law) and 42 (right and duty of training and education) of the Constitution, and President Abdullah Gul ratified it.
Turkey's two secularist opposition parties --Republican People's Party (CHP) and Democratic Left Party (DSP)-- appealed the constitutional amendment on February 27, asking the judges to either cancel the amendments or declare them null and void, and halt their execution until the case was concluded.
The high court annulled the amendment on May 5.
Another controversial case in Turkey in 2008, EU condemned, was the lawsuit Supreme Court of Appeals chief prosecutor filed to close the ruling AK Party. Chief prosecutor Abdurrahman Yalcinkaya filed a lawsuit on March 14, demanding that the Constitutional Court should shut down the AK Party on charges that "the party had become a focal point of anti-secular acts."
In his indictment, Yalcinkaya demanded that 71 people, including President Gul and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, should be banned from politics for five years.
The top court could not reach the qualified majority sought in closure cases, which was votes in favor of seven members. Six members voted for closure of the party, and five others voted against it.
On July 30, the Constitutional Court only decided to deprive the party of half of the state (monetary) assistance it received in 2008.
Also in 2008, the Turkish Armed Forces continued its fight against PKK without interruption and staged a ground operation, backed by air forces, in the north of Iraq under severe winter conditions.
The Turkish troops killed at least 240 PKK miltants, and destroyed PKK shelters in the operation launched on February 21 and concluded on February 29. 27 Turkish soldiers died in the operation staged against PKK in Zap-Sivi, Avasin-Basyan and Hakurk regions in the north of Iraq.
PKK staged an attack on a gendarmery outpost in Aktutun hamlet of Semdinli town in the southeastern province of Hakkari on October 3. 17 Turkish soldiers died in the attack, whereas Turkish troops killed 23 militants in the clash.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan heard about the clash when he was visiting Turkmenistan, cancelled the rest of his trip, and returned to Turkey. Turkey took a number of measures after the extraordinary meeting of the Higher Board of Counter-Terrorism. Turkey is still discussing a new structure expected to be set up under the auspices of the Interior Ministry to combat PKK violence.
17 people and an unborn baby died in two blasts that occurred one after the other in Gungoren neighborhood of Istanbul in July. Another bomb attack took place in the southeastern province of Diyarbakir, and targeted a military vehicle on January 3. It killed seven people, including six students and wounded 68 others.
An armed attack was staged outside the U.S. Consulate General in Istanbul on July 9, killing three police officers. Three suspects were also killed in the attack.
Another highlight of 2008 was the visit of President Abdullah Gul to Armenia. Gul accepted Armenian President Serzh Sargsian's invitation to watch a World Cup qualifier between Turkey and Armenia in Yerevan, and visited that country.
Abdullatif Sener, a member of the Central Decision & Executive Board of the AK Party, resigned from his post and the party. Also, AK Party deputy chairmen Dengir Mir Mehmet Firat and Saban Disli resigned from their posts in the AK Party. Abdulkadir Aksu, an AK Party MP from Istanbul, replaced Firat.
Deniz Baykal was re-elected the chairman of the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) in the regular convention of the party.
Numan Kurtulmus became the chairman of the Felicity Party (SP), Salih Uzun was elected the chairman of the Motherland Party and Suleyman Soylu became the chairman of the Democrat Party (DP).
Nurettin Demirtas, the chairman of pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party (DTP) who was arrested on charges that he got a false report to pave his way from compulsory military service, was tried and joined the army. Demirtas resigned from his post in the party, and Ahmet Turk became the new chairman of the party.
The Supreme Court of Appeals Criminal Department upheld the verdict of a criminal court in Ankara to send former prime minister Necmettin Erbakan, who was also the last chairman of the banned Welfare Party (RP), to two years and four months in prison in the "lost trillion" case on charges of "forgery in special documents." The Ankara court also ruled that Erbakan should serve the imprisonment at home. President Abdullah Gul later annulled the imprisonment verdict due to Erbakan's health problems.
Gen. Yasar Buyukanit resigned as the chief of General Staff as of August 30, 2008 and was replaced by Gen. Ilker Basbug, who was the Land Forces Commander. Gen. Isik Kosaner became the new Land Forces Commander, and Gen. Avni Atila Isik became the Gendarmery General Commander.
Hasan Gerceker was elected the new chief judge of the Supreme Court of Appeals, and Mustafa Birden became the new chairman of the Council of State.
Some arrangements that were put into practice this year had a direct impact on daily life.
-Turkish Parliament adopted a bill enlarging scope of smoking ban. Under the law enacted on May 19, 2008 people are forbidden to smoke even in open areas in schools and courses.
People are also forbidden to smoke in restaurants, cafes, and beer houses. Enterprises who fail to abide by their obligations will be fined to pay 500 YTL and 5,000 YTL.
Commenting on smoking ban, Turkish Parliament Speaker Koksal Toptan said, "whoever smokes in the parliament, I will personally fine him."
Starting as of April 1, 2008 drivers have been preparing fact-finding reports and photographing vehicles who got involved in accidents.
Allegations as regards to the case "Deniz Feneri e.V", heard in Germany were high on the agenda for a long time. Ankara Public Prosecutor's Office launched an investigation into the case after a criminal complaint was made. Prosecutor's Office wanted Germany to send decision, information and documents about the case to Turkey.
Some NGOs decided to celebrate Labor Day at Taksim Square this year. However, Istanbul Governor's Office did not permit the celebrations. Council of Ministers decided to celebrate Labor Day as "Labor and Solidarity Day".