Turkey: Country Profile

Turkey has a more numerous population, some 82 million, than Germany and is an economic power-house with political ambitions reaching through the Caucasus (Azerbaijan) and into Central Asia (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan) and ever closer ties with the 5½ million Tatars in Russia and with the Crimean Tatars, all speaking Turkic languages.

However, at one stage Turkey almost disappeared: when the Ottoman Empire was defeated in World War I the territory of modern Turkey was deeply penetrated by the Greek army. The Greeks almost reached Ankara until defeated by an army led by Mustafa Kemal in the 21-day Battle of Sakarya (August 23 – September 13, 1921).

The Treaty of Lausanne of 24 July 1923 led to the international recognition of the sovereignty of the newly formed "Republic of Turkey" as the continuing state of the Ottoman Empire, and the republic was officially proclaimed on 29 October 1923 in Ankara, the country's new capital.

Kemal was given the title Ataturk, Father of the Turks, in 1934. The new Turkey was based on two features of the French revolutionary model, in particular a strict secularism and separation of state and religion, and a refusal to recognise minorities.

From 1923 the Kurds, now about 18% of the population, were not only not recognised but references to Kurds and the Kurdish language itself were systematically suppressed. In 1923 the only political party was the Republican Peoples Party (CHP). The last single-party elections were held in 1943.

Turkey became member of the Council of Europe on 9 August 1949, and ratified the European Convention on Human Rights in 1954. The ECHR immediately became part of Turkish law. One-party rule ended in 1950, when the opposition Democratic Party won with 408 seats; the RPP won only 98.

In the 2011 elections, in which 27 political parties competed, the Islamist Justice and Development Party (AK Party) won 327 seats, while the CHP won 135. But in the intervening period there were military coups in 1960, 1971, and 1980.

Turkey intervened militarily on Cyprus in 1974 and is the only state to recognise the "Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus".

1974 also saw the foundation of Haldane’s sister organisation in Turkey, Çağdaş Hukukçular Derneği (CHD), the Progressive Lawyers Association. CHD has a proud history of representing Marxist-Leninist revolutionaries, and other left-wing activists, as well as Kurds.

A separatist insurgency begun in 1984 by the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) - now known as the Kurdistan People's Congress or Kongra-Gel (KGK) - has dominated the Turkish military's attention and claimed more than 30,000 lives. After the capture of the group's leader in 1999, the insurgents largely withdrew from Turkey mainly to northern Iraq. In 2004, KGK announced an end to its ceasefire and attacks attributed to the KGK increased.

 As of December 2011, the European Court of Human Rights had found against Turkey 2,404 times, since 1959, the year Turkey recognised the right of individual application. This makes Turkey the most frequently convicted state of the 47 Council of Europe states, followed by Italy and Russia.

Both Haldane and CHD are active members of the European Lawyers for Democracy and Human Rights (ELDH).

In February 2009 Haldane published “Conditions of Detention in Turkey: Blocking Admission to the EU”, the report of a mission to Turkey carried out on 4-8 February 2008 with the assistance of CHD.

In September 2013 Haldane participated in a CHD seminar in Istanbul, “Being a Revolutionary Lawyer”.

On 17 May 2014 the German member association of ELDH, VDJ, awarded the Hans Litten Prize to Selçuk Kozağaçlı, CHD’s President, recently released after a year in custody following his arrest in January 2013. Münip Ermiş, CHD Vice President, also spoke on “The Right to Resistance - the Role of Progressive Lawyers”.

Turkey - Human Rights – matters of current concern

There have been important recent political developments in Turkey, for example the opening of talks in 2013 with Abdullah Ocalan, the leader of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party [PKK] and an accompanying ceasefire.

Whilst it is hoped that fruitful negotiations surrounding the long-standing Kurdish conflict will also improve the situation for all ethnic and religious minority groups in Turkey, serious concerns remain about the Turkish state’s human rights record.

Of central importance is the scope and application of the Turkish Anti-Terror Law which has seen many judgments against Turkey recorded by the European Court of Human Rights.

The Anti-Terror Law is vast in scope, capturing any act aimed at changing the ‘characteristics’ of the Turkish Republic or its ‘political, legal, social, secular and economic system’.

Although there have been reforms relating to the publishing or reporting of statements made by illegal organisations and the narrowing of the scope of what constitutes the making of ‘terrorist propaganda’, the widespread prosecution of individuals on charges of membership of armed organisations, for activities amounting to non-violent political association continues.

The use of the specially designed ‘F-type’ prisons in Turkey, characterised by physical and social isolation, are routinely criticised by human rights organisations within and without Turkey. 

Thousands of individuals, including journalists, elected mayors, students, lawyers and political activists have been incarcerated prior to trial in the last few years, an example being the charging of 44 journalists and media workers, primarily of Kurdish origin over allegations of links to the Union of Kurdistan Communities, a body linked to the PKK.

In February 2013, 167 members of the Turkish Confederation of Public Workers’ Unions (‘KESK’) were charged for their alleged relationship with a revolutionary group that had claimed responsibility for an attack on the US embassy in Ankara several weeks previously.

Another mass trial concerns 502 teachers in Ankara for involvement in protests surrounding changes to education and labour law for public servants. International observers from within labour movements have attended hearings and which are continuing.

The latter highlights concerns about the State’s response to anti-government protests, for example during the Taksim Gezi Park protests in Istanbul and elsewhere in Turkey in 2013.

The Istanbul protests saw the police use water cannon and rubber bullets as well as tear gas canisters being fired directly and unlawfully at protestors, leading to many serious head injuries and in some cases the loss of sight.

Six people were killed during the demonstrations and a seventh, 14 year old Berkin Elvan who was hit by a canister died from his injuries in March 2014, sparking further demonstrations and attendant use of water cannon and tear gas by the police.

May Day demonstrations in 2014 were also met with similar responses and the widely reported suppression of the use of social media raises further concern.

The issue of State impunity also remains of significant concern, notwithstanding reforms to the statute of limitations for the prosecution of torture. The unlawful killing by State perpetrators still however remains subject to a 20 years time limit, providing major hurdles to redress for abuses which occurred in the turmoil of the early 1990s.


Trial of 22 lawyers, 11 and 12 November 2014, Istanbul

(Messages of support to the CHD, of international observers)

Further trial of 46 lawyers (date to be confirmed).

Raising of the human rights issues general, and the said trials specifically with MEPs and to the question of Turkey’s relationship with/potential membership of the EU.