Interview: Ayşenur Kölgesiz – Life in Istanbul has changed after the ISIS attacks

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We have first met Ayşenur Kölgesiz at the 1st “Global Human Rights Forums” conference where she applied as a participant and were thrilled when she applied again for the 2nd conference, this time for the possition of the speaker. Her topic is a burning issue in the whole East Europe – Referendum in Turkey. Ayşenur, as a young lawyer from Istanbul, explained the changes in Turkish constitutional system after the referendum and consequences that referendum will bring to the Europe. In an interview that follows we talked about the consequences of a ISIS attacks on everyday life in Turkey, about referendum and a violations of human rights in this country.

You had the opportunity to get to know Belgrade better since you were our guest at both conferences. What are your experiences and how much is  Belgrade different from Istanbul?
– First of all, thank you for giving me the opportunity to join both conferences, I’ve had really great experiences,  met brilliant people from all over the World and had an opportunity to talk about life, human rights, problems and solutions that we can also create and be part of it. Moreover, we had great Belgrade guides with us and we had an opportunity to see Belgrade in a local based. If I talk about differences between Belgrade and İstanbul, of course both cities have a bit of cultural similarity because of the historical based. For example some historical buildings or food, coffee and etc. On the other hand, when it comes to everyday life I can say that two cities are totally different from each other, in my opinion İstanbul is more bigger than Belgrade and that causes more crowd and more diversity. 3-4 days was not enough to determine for all differences, but I can say that life in Belgrade is more calmer than İstanbul.

Anywhere can be targeted by terror attacks. Turkey, especially İstanbul is one of the important place between Europe and Middle East. It is almost unpredictable what is going to happen for the next time.

Istanbul was targeted by several terrorist attacks. Did the life in Istanbul change after the attacks? Do people feel safe?
– In the year of 2016, at least 30 terror attacks happened only in İstanbul, fortunately I’ve never been a witness of any of them but of course the life in İstanbul has changed. For example,people avoided to go places where they doubted of any terror attack and most of the popular places were not as crowded as they used to be. I mostly did not suggest to my foreign friends to visit İstanbul for a while. It is such a shame because İstanbul is an interesting city to visit. In the year of 2017, number of terror attacks have decreased and I can gladly say that people feel more safe than last year but of course nobody can guarantee anything for the future. Anywhere can be targeted by terror attacks. Turkey, especially İstanbul is one of the important place between Europe and Middle East. It is almost unpredictable what is going to happen for the next time.

What are the procedures the state has taken to prevent future attacks?
– I will answer that question under two main topics. First of all is how citizens percieve the warnings on streets and also on the news. At the beginning, the number of the police on public places increased and identity controls were more often than before. After several attacks that took place at the places like İstiklal Avenue, Taksim Square or Beşiktaş, which are the most important centers in İstanbul, police was replaced by soldiers and you could see too many soldiers walking by the streets. Regarding the television, there are always news about some arrested ISIS or PKK member or detection of a new assasiation plan by any terror group.
Secondly, a lot of law amendments had issued on fighting against terrorism, Since last summer, Turkey is under state of emergency and in my opinion government has stronger preventive measures about terror attacks than last year because now government has the power of making new statuary decrees easily and mostly they used that power to arrest people from FETÖ terror organisation.

© 2017 ph: vladimir opsenica

When it comes to human rights, Turkey seems to be slightly down. A few years ago Istanbul held the biggest gay pride in a Muslim country but this year the participants were attacked by the police. How are you commenting on this?
– Istanbul is a cosmopolitan city and LGBT community want to live as easy as in any other European country. I think that attack happened 2 years ago. Pride has began as usual, everyone was happy and colorful and after few hours police came for no reason and started tearing gas and water cannons. That is a big lack of protecting of human rights. The another problem for LGBT people is that most of the conservative people does not agree that they should have any rights in society. In that time, Pride was taking place during Ramazan at summer. That was a trigger for conservative people to attack Pride and also a main reason for brutal force of the police.  This is a really big violation of human rights and I hope one day people will understand each other and live in peace.

whether the coup attempt was dangerous for entity of Republic of Turkey, legal and administrative sanctions which AKP changed in the leadership of Erdoğan after the coup was more dangerous.

President Erdogan is often described in the Western media as a dictator since the country is in a constant state of emergency. How do you comment on this and whether human rights in Turkey are endangered by his arbitrariness?
– Turkey is in the state of emergency since 2016 and government already announced that it will not change until 2019 elections.  In the aftermath, the government jailed thousands of soldiers and embarked on a wholesale purge of public officials, police, teachers, judges and prosecutors. Most of those jailed, dismissed, or suspended were accused of being followers of the US-based cleric Fethullah Gülen. The government, with the support of main opposition parties, accuses the Gülen movement of masterminding the coup and labels it as a terrorist organization. However, the crackdown also extended to the pro-Kurdish opposition party, with two leaders and other MPs arrested and placed in pretrial detention, along with many of its elected mayors, denying millions of voters their elected representatives. In my opinion, whether the coup attempt was dangerous for entity of Republic of Turkey, legal and administrative sanctions which AKP changed in the leadership of Erdoğan after the coup was more dangerous. Furthermore, in the meantime, with a big help of state of emergency AKP still wipes out oppositions one by one.  If people can not raise their voices easily on their own or by the opposition parties which they voted for, that causes big violation of human rights and democracy.

You’re a lawyer. From the legal side, what does referendum actually mean and how much power will be concentrated in Erdogan’s hands?
– The main changes that really effects the regime of Republic of Turkey are: The President becomes the head of the executive, as well as the head of state and retain ties to political party;  He or she will be given sweeping new powers to appoint ministers, prepare the budget, choose the majority of seniors, judges and enact certain laws by decree; The President alone will be able to announce a state of emergency and dismiss parliament; Parliament will lose its right to scrutinise ministers or purpose an esquire. However, it will be able to begin impeachment proceedings or investigate the president with a majority vote by MPs.
This four changes will be the most stronger ones for the regime and we will see what does referendum actually means after 2019 elections. From my point of view, with referendum President has much power that he/she needs to have and I do not believe that Turkey can handle this kind of regime.

© 2017 ph: vladimir opsenica

What will change in Turkey after the referendum?
– The main idea of 2017 Referendum is transforming Turkey from parliamentary system to an executive presidency. The first expected change is the annulment of the impartiality clause, which prevents the president from being a member of a political party. When the changes are made to the constitution, President Erdogan is expected to become a member of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). 

What will change in relations with EU?
– Turkey’s over half a century long European Union (EU) process is the most important  modernization  project  after  the proclamation of the Republic of Turkey, as President  Erdoğan  has indicated. On the other hand, after the results, at his balcony speech, Erdoğan declared the “victory of everyone who said yes and no”. But in the next he promised to reinstate the death penalty, which would end any hopes that Turkey will join the European Union. Moreover, there are a lot of EU members that has already issued political crisis with Turkey and Erdoğan. The international community has already warned Turkey about the need for fair implementation of the new measures. For example, the Council of Europe cautioned leaders to “consider the next steps carefully” and encouraged respect for judicial independence. Similarly, the European Union noted the reforms would be assessed in light of Turkey’s obligations as an EU candidate country and called on leaders to “seek the broadest possible national consensus in their implementation.”

A lot of AKP voters vote for this party because of Erdogan and his charisma.

Turkey is clearly divided, only 51% of voters supported the referendum. What is the structure of the voters? Which social groups support the president, and which the opposition?
– This is really complicated question. AKP is a party that established in 2001 and came to power in 2002 through democratic elections. Since 2001, AKP always had the islamic idea based upon its sole and they had always moved with their conservative point of view.  While Islamist parties have existed in Turkey since the 1970s (and of course the secular state (and military) was concerned about this), the secularists felt much more political pressure by the Islamists in the 1990s. Until then, the Islamists either had a poorer electoral showing, or they were quickly shut down by secular forces in Turkey. However, the newer manifestation of the early Islamist parties sent shockwaves to the secularists in government, like when the Welfare Party won local elections in Istanbul and Ankara in 1994 and also won the largest bloc in parliamentary elections in 1995, putting an Islamist-led coalition in charge of the entire country.  Besides AKP’s conservative idea, at the very beginning of its established, AKP also gain power from liberal part of voters because of its economic sanctions. So now, after almost 15 years, we can not say there is only few support groups or classify that groups in categories as only young/old or educated/ uneducated people etc.

However, some assumptions can be drawn about the caracteristics of the majority of voters who support the leading party?
– It is certain that most of the people who supports Erdoğan and AKP are truly believe in him and they believe that stability in politics is very important for the country. They are watching the TV Channels guided by the government and they just shut their eyes to any bad things and see Erdoğan as a hero. AKP voters are definitely less nationalist in the sense that they value religion over ethnicity. However, most of Turkish people are nationalists to the core, it’s just that AKP voters tend to identify themselves as a muslim FIRST and a Turk SECOND. A lot of AKP voters vote for this party because of Erdogan and his charisma. Also AKP has a lot of Kurdish voters. Especially sunni Kurds who are religious seem to vote for this party.

Are the results expected?
– Yes and no. Erdoğan and AKP expected to win the elections with at least 60%, so 51% was suprising for them and the result of Referendum was little bit bittersweet for the supporters. They expected high results from the big cities like İstanbul and Ankara, but the result there was – NO. That means AKP actually lost most of its power in general based.

Interviewed by Nemanja Marinović

 

The 3rd Global Human Rights Forum will be held in Belgrade 26-28 October 2017
The call for applicants and speakers is open.

The 3d Global Human Rights Forum