Archive for November 13, 2014

By Kamrul Khan (AFP)

October 29, 2014

A Bangladesh court on Wednesday sentenced to death the leader of the country’s largest Islamist party for war crimes, a long-awaited verdict that triggered violent protests by his supporters.

The war crimes tribunal found Motiur Rahman Nizami, head of the Jamaat-e-Islami party, guilty of mass murder, rape and looting during Bangladesh’s war of independence against Pakistan in 1971.

Head judge Enayetur Rahim sentenced Nizami to “hang by the neck until his death” for orchestrating the killing of doctors, intellectuals and others during the conflict as head of a ruthless militia.

“It’s a historic verdict,” chief prosecutor Haider Ali told reporters outside the packed and heavily guarded court in Dhaka.

Ali said Nizami, Jamaat’s leader since 2000 and a minister in a former Jamaat-allied government, led the notorious Al-Badr militia “which took part in many heinous crimes”.

Security was tightened across Bangladesh before the ruling after similar judgments against several of Nizami’s senior lieutenants plunged the country into one of its worst crises last year.

Jamaat supporters took to the streets in cities and towns to protest against the latest sentence, clashing with police and border guards, but it was quiet in the capital.

Around 1,000 Jamaat activists hurled small bombs at officers who fired rubber bullets and tear gas in response in the northwestern town of Shibganj, police inspector Abdus Sabur Khan told AFP, adding that about a dozen people were injured.

Police also fired rubber bullets and tear gas in the northeastern city of Sylhet to disperse demonstrators, while smaller clashes and protests were reported in more than a dozen other towns and cities.

Jamaat, more than a dozen of whose leaders are being tried for war crimes, called a three-day nationwide strike starting Thursday, saying it was “stunned” by the verdict.

Junior home minister Asaduzzaman Khan said “all sorts of security measures” had been taken across Bangladesh including the deployment of extra police, amid fears the sentence could unleash a new round of bloodletting.

Tens of thousands of Jamaat supporters fought with police and more than 500 people died in the earlier unrest and in subsequent political violence ahead of disputed polls in January.

– Death hit list –

Nizami at the time of the war was leader of the Islami Chhatra Sangha, what was then the student wing of Jamaat. Prosecutors say he turned it into the Al-Badr pro-Pakistani militia which killed professors, writers, doctors and journalists.

The aim was to make the fledgling nation an “intellectual cripple”, prosecutor Mohammad Ali said before the verdict.

“When it was clear Pakistan was losing the war, as the chief commander of Al-Badr he ordered a ‘hit list’ based on which top intellectuals were abducted and killed,” he said.

Nizami is already on death row after being sentenced to hang in January for trafficking weapons and trying to ship them to a rebel group in northeast India.

Nizami’s defense lawyer vowed to appeal the sentence in the Supreme Court, saying his client was being pursued as part of a government witch-hunt against its opponents.

“It’s an unacceptable judgment. The court ruled beyond its jurisdiction. There was no evidence that anyone saw him killing,” lawyer Tajul Islam said.

Law minister Syed Anisul Haque said “the government is satisfied” with the sentence, and he would push to have Nizami’s likely appeal hearing heard quickly.

Since it was established by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s government in 2010, the International Crimes Tribunal has sentenced around a dozen opposition leaders for war crimes.

Rights groups have criticized the trials, saying they fall short of international standards and lack any international oversight.

The secular government maintains the trials are needed to heal the wounds of the conflict, which it says left three million people dead.

Independent researchers estimate that between 300,000 and 500,000 people died in the 1971 war.

November 13, 2014

BAKU, Azerbaijan (AP) — The armed forces of Azerbaijan shot down and destroyed an Armenian military helicopter in the Nagorno-Karabakh region on Wednesday, the defense ministries of both countries said.

The incident threatened to set off another cycle of violence between the two South Caucasus neighbors over Nagorno-Karabakh, which is part of Azerbaijan but along with some surrounding territory has been under the control of Armenian soldiers and local Armenian forces since a 1994 cease-fire.

“This is an unprecedented escalation, and the consequences for the Azerbaijani side will be painful,” Armenian Defense Ministry spokesman Artsrun Ovannisian told The Associated Press. Azerbaijan said its forces shot down the Russian-made Mi-24 helicopter gunship after it tried to attack its positions.

Nagorno-Karabakh said the helicopter belonged to its armed forces and was on a training flight near the cease-fire line. All three crew members on board were killed, a high-ranking officer with the Nagorno-Karabakh forces told the AP. The officer was speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release the information.

There have been sporadic clashes in the two decades since the cease-fire ended a six-year war, but tensions rose sharply over the summer and 19 soldiers were killed in multiple confrontations. Last month, the leaders of Azerbaijan and Armenia met in Paris with French President Francois Hollande in an effort to ease tensions. But years of diplomatic efforts under the auspices of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe have made little visible progress in resolving the dispute.

The Armenian Foreign Ministry denounced the Azerbaijani action as a “criminal provocation.” ”The Azerbaijani side is grossly violating the commitments on the peaceful resolution of the conflict reached during the recent summits,” it said in a statement.

The U.S. State Department denounced the incident as well. “Today’s events are yet another reminder of the need to redouble efforts on a peaceful resolution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, including reducing tensions and respecting the cease-fire,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters.

AP Diplomatic Writer Matthew Lee contributed to this report from Washington and Associated Press writer Avet Demourian in Yerevan, Armenia, contributed to this report.

Monday, 10 November 2014
Turkey’s Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu criticized on Sunday the Turkish opposition for its silence over Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad’s war crimes, Anadolu news agency reported.
Davutoğlu, who is also the head of the Turkey’s Justice and Development Party, was speaking in front a gathering of his party’s supporters in Ankara.
Criticizing Turkey’s main opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu, head of the Republican People’s Party, Anadolu quoted the prime minister as saying that when Al-Assad killed the Syrian people using chemical weapons and Scud missiles, Kilicdaroglu remained silent.
Davutoğlu continued his verbal attack by pointing out that when the attack against Kobani happened, Kilicdaroglu suddenly said “We have to interfere,” even though he does not even know where it is located on the map. Davutoğlu described him of losing “just balance,” in his mind, what helps us to differentiate between the oppressed and oppressor.
Kilicdaroglu suggested that the Turkish parliament should issue a separate mandate for Turkish military action in Kobani. “Are we going to issue a separate mandate for each province or district? It’s such a ridiculous proposal,” Davutoğlu remarked.
The prime minister also criticized the opposition Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), whose leader Salahuddin Damirtash and most members are Kurds.
According to Davutoğlu, the BDP leader has not said a word regarding Al-Assad’s killing of Syrians over the last four years. Giving an example, he said that when the Syrian Kurds invaded the village of Al-Hasakah and reportedly caused a massacre, Damirtash did not comment because he belongs to the same ideology. However, when Kobani was attacked, suddenly he raised his voice.
The prime minister said that his party came to power in Turkey to care for all humans.
He stressed that they take a stance against the oppressor, whoever he is and whatever his faith, as well as stand beside the oppressed no matter what. “The party is entrusted to protect the human with its soul, mind and descendants,” he said.
Source: Middle East Monitor.

November 08, 2014

SURUC, Turkey (AP) — It was an easy decision to make. Barely out of school, Perwin Mustafa Dihap wanted to follow in the footsteps of three of her older siblings and go to war. Before long, she was on the front line in the Kurdish Syrian city of Kobani, her hometown on the Turkish border besieged on three sides by extremists from the Islamic State group.

Just two months later, the 19-year-old lay dying in a hospital across the border in Turkey, wounded in an Oct. 6 mortar attack on her position in the city. The doctor told her family the young woman’s chances were slim, despite her surviving a five-hour operation. Yet Dihap still held out hope.

“We went to the hospital … and I asked her how she was doing, and she said: ‘Don’t worry about me. If I get better, I will go back to fight again,'” said her 34-year-old brother, Kemal Mustafa Dihap.

But she didn’t get better. As her condition deteriorated, doctors transferred her to two other hospitals in larger Turkish towns in an effort to save her. In the last two days, she was too weak to speak. Dihap died in the early hours of Nov. 5.

“Even though she was really young, she was really brave and strong,” her brother said, swallowing hard to keep his emotions in check as he stood outside the morgue in the Turkish border town of Suruc.

He, his mother and his siblings waited to accompany his little sister’s coffin to the nearby cemetery where many of the Kurds who die fighting in Kobani are being buried. The framed photographs they carried showed a fresh-faced young woman in uniform, a wisp of her brown hair crossing her forehead, the ghost of a smile on her lips.

Dihap, the youngest of originally 12 children, was buried alongside Emina Mahmoud, believed to be 22, during a joint funeral. Like many Kurds killed in Kobani, Mahmoud’s family had not been traced in time for the ceremony.

The two were among hundreds of women fighting in the Women’s Protection Units, or YPJ. Kurdish women have fought alongside men for decades in a guerrilla war seeking an independent Kurdistan that would encompass parts of Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran.

After six months of basic training, Dihap was initially assigned to the police force, said her mother, Fatma Isa Dihap. But the girl insisted she wanted to be in the thick of battle. Their town had come under an intense assault by IS fighters in mid-September, with the extremists taking over parts of the city in fierce battles with Kurdish fighters. A U.S.-led coalition is now carrying out airstrikes against IS positions in and around Kobani.

About 200,000 people have fled into neighboring Turkey, which borders the north side of Kobani. It was Dihap’s mother who took her to join up. Two of her other children were already fighters: a son in the battle for Kobani and a daughter fighting in the Syrian region of Afrin, near Aleppo.

“I took her to the comrades and told them: ‘I present my daughter to Kurdistan,'” she said. It was a sacrifice she was prepared to bear despite already having buried three of her children, explained her son Kemal. One of her sons was killed in 1996 fighting in the Kurdish guerrilla war, another was killed in a car crash and a third accidentally drowned.

“I am happy and I am proud of my daughter; she is the martyr of Kurdistan and Kobani,” said Dihap as she prepared to bury her youngest child. Cheering defiantly and ululating for her daughter outside the morgue and at the cemetery, the mother finally broke down when the coffin arrived at the gravesite.

“Perwin!” she cried, as her daughter’s shrouded body was lifted out of her wooden coffin and placed in her grave.

Mohammed Rasool in Suruc, Turkey, contributed.

07 November 2014 Friday

Turkey’s biggest international book fair will start in Istanbul on Saturday.

The Tuyap Fair in Beylikduzu will run with the theme of ‘100 years of Turkish cinema.’

This year, the 33rd International Istanbul Book Fair will witness over 850 publishers from all over the world, plus panels, seminars and workshops among a total of 270 activities.

As the fair commemorates the centennial of Turkish cinema, this year’s honorary writer will be author and movie critic Atilla Dorsay.

The state of Hungary will be the honorary ‘guest’ of the event which will host prominent Hungarian writers such as Peter Esterhazy, Laszlo Darvas and Dora Csanyi.

The book fair also will bring together 40 foreign writers and scriptwriters such as Polish author Janusz Glowacki, movie critic and history writer Philip Kemp and novelist Tess Gerritsen.

Colombian writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez and his works will be commemorated at an event organized by the Embassy of Colombia in Ankara on November 15.

The fair can be visited between 10.00 a.m. to 7.00 p.m. every day until November 16. As in previous years, the fair will be free for students and teachers, while the entrance for other visitors will be 5 Turkish Lira.

Source: World Bulletin.


07 November 2014 Friday

The already-close ties between Turkey and Turkmenistan will continue to flourish, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday.

Speaking to the press before starting face-to-face talks with his Turkmen counterpart, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, Erdogan drew attention to the number of important projects Turkish construction companies are carrying out in Turkmenistan.

He added that relations will also develop in trade, culture and tourism.

Erdogan was welcomed by Berdimuhamedow with an official ceremony on Friday. Turkmenistan is the first Central Asian country Erdogan has visited as president.

“Turkey and Turkmenistan have common stances for establishing global peace and prosperity,” Berdimuhamedow said, mentioning that the economic ties between the two countries enrich historic fraternity between Turkish and Turkmen nations.

The two nations also enjoy strong relations in terms of trade and investment, with about 600 Turkish companies registered in the country with more than $34 billion in contract work.

The trade volume between the two countries reached $2.6 billion in 2013.

Energy trade between Turkmenistan and Turkey also has great potential as the former holds some 10 to 12 percent of proven natural gas reserves in the world.

Turkey could have an important role in delivering Turkmen gas into the European market, if the country were to begin gas exports to Turkey.

Source: World Bulletin.


07 November 2014 Friday

Pro-Palestinian activists chanted slogans and raised flags following Friday prayers in Istanbul as part of nationwide protests over an Israeli security forces raid on the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem.

Around 1,000 protesters gathered in the yard of Istanbul’s Fatih Mosque, condemning what they called “Zionist aggression on the holy temple.”

Israeli security forces had raided the Jerusalem mosque and fired tear gas canisters and rubber bullets Wednesday following clashes with Palestinian protesters. The mosque is located on a site holy to both Jews and Muslims in the divided city.

Addressing the crowd, Turkish newspaper columnist Abdurrahman Dilipak described the Israeli forces’ actions as “violent, crazy and hazardous.”

Tension was already high in East Jerusalem due to the closure of the Al-Aqsa compound to Palestinians after an extremist rabbi, who had called for the compound to be liberated from “Islamic occupation,” was shot and wounded.

Palestinians were further outraged as Israeli police shot dead a Palestinian man who was claimed to have been been a suspect in the shooting.

Wednesday’s raid was first since 1967, when the Israeli army occupied the city.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan described the incursion as “barbaric.”

For Muslims, Al-Aqsa represents the world’s third holiest site. Jews refer to the area as the ‘Temple Mount,’ claiming it was the site of two Jewish temples in ancient times.

Demonstrations against the incursion also took place in many other Turkish provinces led by NGOs and activist groups in solidarity with Palestine.

Source: World Bulletin.


07 November 2014 Friday

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan condemned Israel on Friday for storming the third holiest site in Islam, the al-Aqsa mosque, in Jerusalem recently.

He made the remarks during his official visit to Turkmenistan.

Erdogan termed the Israeli attack “unforgivable” and said the mosque belonged not just to the Palestinians, but the entire Muslim world.

Israeli security forces and a large number of Jewish settlers had stormed the mosque Wednesday. Eyewitnesses at the time said the security personnel shot rubber bullets at worshipers and students which left scores injured.

The violence came in the aftermath of calls made by several extremist Jewish groups to storm the mosque when Rabbi Yehuda Glick was attacked a week ago.

Al-Aqsa represents Islam’s third holiest site, while Jews refer to the same area as the Temple Mount, which they consider as the site of two ancient Jewish temples.

Source: World Bulletin.


06 November 2014 Thursday

A three-day event began in Istanbul on Thursday to mark the 100th anniversary of women’s involvement in the country’s universities – at a time when more women work in academia here than in the U.S. or U.K.

The ‘Times Higher Education Report 2013’ says that Turkey’s academic representation of women at universities is 47.5 percent; this number falls to 35.9 percent for the United States and 34.6 percent for the U.K.

In Turkey, over 56,000 women are currently working in different levels of academia, compared to more than 76,700 men.

This is according to the organizers of today’s symposium, which claims that representation is just the first step to equality.

Curator of the Women’s Museum Istanbul, Meral Akkent says: “Equality cannot be provided only with representation. It is also important where these women academics are represented.

“The statistics panel in our exhibition (as part of the symposium) points out at which academic levels women are not represented,” she adds.

When asked what progress Turkish women have made in universities after 100 years, Akkent quotes the memoirs of a male student from the last century.

“When Inas Darulfunun (the Girl’s University of the Ottoman Empire) was closed due to the economic crisis after the First World War and when co-ed education had started, some of the male professors had openly proclaimed that they did not take the girl students seriously, a boy called Macit Gokberk from those classes recalls,” she says.

However, although the country became one of the last nations to allow women to take institutionalized university courses, in 1914, the TES report’s gender equality rates show that Turkey has not become ‘not the least.’

The first Muslim girls’ university, Inas Darulfunun, was established in 1914 in Istanbul with departments for literature, mathematics and science.

U.S. women were allowed to register in universities in 1833. The U.K. followed suit 16 years later.

Inas Darulfunun offered courses in Istanbul’s Beyazit district, taught by the same teachers but at different times and separately from male students.

Before then, girls had to wait for many years to be taught in institutionalized schools or universities.

The Ottoman education system had used the ‘madrasa’ system until 1838.

After this period, the Ottomans switched to the Westernized model, where all parts of the education system were separated into certain institutions. Primary schools called ‘iptidaiyah’, and ‘rushtiyah’, meaning secondary schools, were established in 1839 but again teaching boys only, says Professor Ali Arslan, head of the History Department of Istanbul University.

In 1845, the idea of building the ‘Darulfunun’ for males, the first institutionalized university of the Ottoman period – today’s Istanbul University – came about, but would be not realized for another 24 years.

However in 1858, the first rustiyahs were opened for girls, who came from co-ed primary schools and had now the chance to gain a secondary school diploma, but still none were able to attend a high school or university, Arslan notes.

The situation started to change when Darulfunun was permanently opened by the Ottoman Emperor Abdulhamit II in 1900, and when high schools for girls were opened too.

‘Darulmuallimat’, which opened in 1870 to teach girls at high-school level to become teachers for the lower girls schools, was quite active, with 20 graduates in its first year – the first female officials in Turkish education history, Arslan says.

Towards the end of 1920 and the beginning of 1921, co-ed education was legalized by the Ottoman Empire.

“Inas Darulfunun is actually a symbol school of higher education for girls. It is the biggest step of the Committee of Union and Progress took directly for the sake of girls’ education, which became the model for countries where girls were not allowed to get a university education,” Professor Arslan says.

“There was a huge gap between the number of entering students and graduating ones as the education was quite heavy in Inas Darulfunun.

“When considering this, a married woman’s chance of attending courses and graduating was low. Therefore, the regulations of the university did not allow married women to enter,” Arslan says.

One hundred years later, and organized by Sabanci University Gender and Women’s Studies Forum and Women’s Museum Istanbul, today’s symposium will address this milestone anniversary of Turkish women at university with international discussions on further developing policies on providing gender equality.

An exhibition as part of the symposium will also be held at Consulate General of Greece in Istanbul until December 21, introducing Turkish women activists who contributed to women’s education throughout the foundation of Inas Darulfunun.

Source: World Bulletin.


Pinar Tremblay

September 16, 2014

On Sept. 7, a group of conservative women and men brought together by a nongovernmental organization called Ozgur-Der (Freedom Association) held a protest at Sarachane Park in Istanbul. Some of the protesters were as young as 13 and almost all women wore headscarves. Their quest: freedom to wear the headscarf at any school level. Their slogans read: “New Turkey with old and constraining laws,” “Why can’t I attend whichever school I prefer?” “Children are ours, not the state’s” and “Right to wear a headscarf now and everywhere.”

The headscarf has been a sore, highly politicized subject in Turkish politics for the last two decades. Hijabis — the women who prefer to wear the headscarf — suffered years of discrimination in higher education and government employment. The Justice and Development Party (AKP) has campaigned intensively since its establishment in 2001 against any ban that would limit Islamic freedoms, and the hijab was at the top of the list. In October 2013, a new law allowed women to wear the headscarf anywhere, except for certain professions with a uniform, such as police officers, soldiers or judges. It was a major accomplishment for hijabis. For the rest of the country, it was assumed that the headscarf would no longer divide the Turkish electorate.

Before the headscarf freedom law, in November 2012, another regulation allowed public school students some freedom of dress. Previously, all students from the first through the 12th grade had to wear a uniform; the November 2012 regulation eliminated this requirement for all public schools. In terms of allowing head coverings, the regulation was less far-reaching, suggesting that girls be allowed to cover their heads only at religious Imam Hatip high schools and during elective Quran classes. This angered many conservatives who felt the regulation did not go far enough in allowing the use of the headscarf. Ozgur-Der’s statement, read by its director Ridvan Kaya, was particularly harsh. Kaya said, “We warn the AKP and the Ministry of Education not to take steps against our beliefs and identity, including bans and coercive regulations in the name of expanding freedoms in this or that area. Our beliefs and identity are non-negotiable. Freedom of religion is a bleeding wound of this country.”

Kaya made a crucial point: “Partial solutions will not resolve issues related to freedom.”

Public schools are allowed to determine their own appropriate dress codes. Most parents at the protest complained that their daughters are told to go to Imam Hatip schools if they prefer to wear the headscarf. The students are left at the mercy of the school administrators. If the administrator chooses not to protest, the girls can cover their heads. If the administrator enforces a strict “no hijab” policy, the girls either have to find a new school or remove their headscarf. This ambiguity leads to further victimization on both sides. In some cases, administrators who enforce these ambiguous rules are punished as well. For example, in March 2011, three administrators had asked a student to remove her headscarf to take the university entrance exam. The girl removed her headscarf but later sued the administrators, and the courts decided the administrators had abused their power. The sentence was five months’ jail time.

Can a secular country allow public school students to wear religious symbols and observe their religious values? In France, headscarves have been banned in public schools since 2004. Can the Turkish Ministry of Education exempt a Jewish student from attending class during the Yom Kippur holiday? Can students be allowed to wear a cross, Star of David, takke or kippah? Observant Muslims believe a girl reaching puberty must wear the hijab.

Seyma, a 15-year-old tenth-grader, told Al-Monitor, “I attend a private school. My mother is a hijabi but not my older sister. Once the hijab was legal and some of our teachers wore it, I wanted to wear it. I wear a hijab in the colors of my school uniform. In my school the policy against hijab is ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell.’” Seyma’s mother, Ayse Akturk, told Al-Monitor, “After Seyma wore the headscarf, everyone thought I forced her. I had not forced her older sister. Why would I force Seyma? There is no coercion in Islam. We are respectful of personal differences.”

Both Seyma and her mother are well aware that the situation is difficult. Seyma’s older sister, Sena, told Al-Monitor, “I went to a public high school. There were only a few hijabis. They would have to remove their headscarf before entering the school. Even after October 2013, when the bans were lifted for teachers, students were told they could not attend the classes with a headscarf.”

Allowing minors to wear hijab is a tricky issue, and the government has chosen a gradual approach in which the public will be eased into having hijabis in elementary and high schools. Secular parties choose to ignore the issue, because it’s a lose-lose situation for them. If they oppose the right of minors to wear the headscarf, they will be labeled as the enemy of Islam and against personal freedoms. In 2010, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the chairman of the Republican People’s Party, said, “The headscarf may not be allowed for elementary or high school students. There are certain dress codes we all have to obey, just like a parliamentarian cannot attend a session in the parliament without a tie. We all must abide.” His words were used in conservative neighborhoods during political campaigns since 2010 to convince these voters that if it were not for the AKP, hijabis would not be welcome in public life.

However, if secular parties support the hijab for minors, they will alienate their own base. There is strong fear that minors from secular families — being more susceptible to school or peer pressure — will be coerced or convinced to wear the hijab. After all, conservative Muslim demands do not end there. There have already been requests for gender segregation for classes, complaints about girls and boys using the same stairs and cafeterias from the conservative sectors of society. On Sept. 15, Education Minister Nabi Avci made headlines with his attempt to clarify the confusion of whether Islamic worship is now a requirement in schools. Naci said, “Not all schools are required to have worship areas, just the ones that have a demand for a worship area are allowed to have it.”

The issue of the hijab for minors may not be present in the daily rhetoric of any political party. But the public debate is intense and continuous. One can find hundreds of comments on online public forums and over social media. Conservative media outlets frequently report about young victims of discrimination over the hijab, keeping the issue alive for these communities. These outlets complain that pro-AKP newspapers deliberately choose to ignore the suffering of these young girls.

Ambiguous democratization packages — the AKP’s most prized accomplishments — are indeed causing suffering for both the Islamic and the secular segments of society. The AKP has failed to guarantee freedom for everyone, handing out rights as rewards to certain sectors of society. The Turkish public is now brought to a juncture where it will decide if religious rights are more important than other human rights, and if so, which religion’s rights are the most important. While an Alevi 15-year-old is coerced into attending religion classes, her Sunni classmate is forced to remove her headscarf. Who benefits from their suffering?

Source: al-Monitor.