Interview Eren Keskin

"The Turkish Military Has Too Much Power"

The Kurdish-born attorney Eren Keskin has been awarded the "Theodor Haecker Prize for Civic Courage and Political Integrity." In an interview with Petra Tabeling, she speaks about human rights and the Turkish military

Does Turkey fulfill the criteria for acceptance into the EU in your opinion?

Eren Keskin, photo: &copy www.aachener-friedenspreis.de
Eren Keskin received the Aachen Peace Award in 2004 "for her courageous efforts and activities for human rights."

​​Eren Keskin: The European Union is first and foremost a community of nations. And of course it would be important for Turkey to be accepted into this community, simply because in Europe an older, more stable democracy exists. Although I would like to note here that enough human rights violations are certainly committed in Europe as well. I personally do not believe that Turkey will be accepted into the European Union. And this is not only because of human rights violations committed in Turkey.

What then?

Keskin: We all know the current attitude to immigration policy in the European countries, especially after 9/11. Naturally, they see the danger of so many Muslims becoming potential immigrants. At the moment, Turkey is not yet ready for the EU. For one thing, because the military has too much power.

Let me put it this way, the military in Turkey is not only an armed power – it is also an industrial power. The military runs 38 different businesses: banks, insurance companies, hotels, factories. It is always dangerous when so much power is vested in one entity.

The Turkish government under Minister President Erdogan has banned torture and abolished capital punishment. In your experience, to what extent have human rights violations now shifted to other areas in Turkey?

Keskin: That's just the problem: the real power in this country is not in the hands of the Minister President, nor any other civilian party, but all power instead emanates from the military, and the military exerts enormous pressure on the parties.

Written law and reality are two different things. Torture is prohibited, and yet it still exists. The death penalty has been abolished, but people are still being murdered in the streets. For the past eight years, I have been defending women who were subject to sexual torture and rape while in prison.

In recent years, sexual torture, along with torture of any kind, is done in such a way that it leaves few visible traces. The old torture methods are still in use. There are frequent abductions. Someone is dragged into a car, his eyes are bound, and he is taken away. There are no records, it is all unofficial, and therefore this person is unable to prove anything later.

Are there talks going on these days between government representatives and your human rights organization, "Insan Haklari Dernegi", of which you are vice president?

Keskin: That's the problem. We meet and discuss things, but often we are only exchanging empty words, because the real problem is the military. At the international level, however, our discussions are bearing fruit. The international organizations obtain the information for their reports from us.

You won the Aachen Peace Award last year, and now you were honored in Esslingen with the Theodor Haecker Prize for Civic Courage and Political Integrity. How important is the German public for you?

Keskin: This is probably due to the fact that so many people there are of Turkish and Kurdish origin. However, Kurdish press offices in Germany have recently been closed down, because the Turkish government demanded that the Germans do so. When it comes to the human rights organizations, we have much stronger ties with Germany than with other countries. Amnesty International in Germany is like a sister organization for us. I don't expect anything from the other countries.

The Turkish government has already made some concessions to Kurdish culture. How do you rate these?

Keskin: That is a very difficult question. The Minister President said that there is a Kurd problem. The next day, the Army Chief of Staff declared that there is a terrorist problem, not a Kurd problem. This is where it all starts and all ends – with the militarization of Turkey. The military wants to hold onto its concept of the enemy at all costs. Only when this concept has been shattered will it be possible to solve problems.

What is the significance of the current headscarf debate in Turkey?

Keskin: This is also an instance of how the military exercises its power. In Turkey we are living a false secularism. The government was chosen from the standpoint that they would lift the headscarf ban, but they are unable to because the military is against it and because the Islamic faith is part of its image of the enemy. If you ask me personally, I don't condone forcing a woman to wear a headscarf, nor do I condone forcing her to go without.

What has the human rights organization "Insan Haklari Dernegi" been able to achieve since its founding in the 1980s?

Keskin: The human rights organization has first of all made it known throughout the world that critical thinking is not approved of in Turkey. In addition, we report on how Kurds are oppressed in Kurdistan and about the problem of the militarization of Turkey. And this is our goal, to motivate people to discuss these things and thus make them public.

How dangerous is it for you to speak publicly about these issues? You have been imprisoned several times, and now a death threat has been proclaimed against you.

Keskin: I speak in Turkey about the same things I am saying here. I get death threats, written ones, by e-mail, on the telephone, but you have to take that in stride. We have just learned to live with it and by now we've even developed a kind of gallows humor about it. You learn to live with the danger, that's just the way it is.

Interview: Petra Tabeling

© Qantara.de 2005

Translation from German: Jennifer Taylor-Gaida

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