Promoting Injustice


The Majalla Magazine
Dec 18 2012

Turkey’s promotion policy raises eyebrows.

Terfi [ter-FIH], noun. promotion

It looked as though the Turkish government might be turning the corner,
putting aside its authoritarian instincts and breathing new life into
its European Union bid. First, parliament began debating a law that
would block promotion for judges whose rulings have been condemned by
the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). Then, less than a fortnight
ago, on 5 December, deputies gathered to witness the swearing in of
the country’s first ever ombudsman, a post that is now a requirement
of European Union candidate countries.

But the great day was overshadowed by controversy over the identity
of the man parliament chose to do the job. It wasn’t so much the fact
that Mehmet Nihat Omeroglu– a former Supreme Appeals Court judge–felt
the need to specify on his CV that he neither drinks nor smokes.

Smoking is Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s pet hate and drinking,
well, drinking goes without saying. It wasn’t even the fact that the
prime minister was witness at his son’s wedding last year, nor that
his son, a manager at the publicly-owned Turkish Airlines, has been
rapidly promoted since tying the knot.

The cause of the controversy was the fact that Mr Omeroglu was
part of the Supreme Appeals Court committee that in 2006 found
the Armenian-Turkish journalist and editor Hrant Dink guilty of
“insulting Turkishness.” Dink had been prosecuted for a phrase
he wrote in a February 2004 article about the need to “replace the
poisonous blood associated with Turks with fresh blood associated with
Armenia.” It was clear from the most cursory reading that no insult to
“Turkishness” was intended. Dink was addressing the Armenian diaspora,
not Turks. “Move on”, he was saying. “The Turkish state will not budge
on the genocide. Concentrate on the future.” And that was what the
prosecutor to the Supreme Appeals Court told the judges in his advice:
“Let Dink go.” But the judgement took place against a backdrop of
nationalist hysteria, with ultra-nationalist crowds baying racist
slogans outside Dink’s offices in Istanbul, and prominent journalists
and civilian and military officials jollying along the lynch mob.

Twenty-three judges, one of them Mr Omeroglu, ignored the expert
reports and found Dink guilty. Dink took his case to the ECHR, which
condemned Turkey in 2010, but by then Dink was dead, murdered in broad
daylight by an 18-year old nationalist who had read about the case.

Faced with a barrage of criticism from Turkey’s severely depleted
opposition press since his appointment, Mr Omeroglu has remained as
cool as a cucumber. “We did a routine job on the file”, he told a
reporter from the Turkish daily Radikal. “I knew about Hrant Dink
from… the media, but I wasn’t even aware that the name on the
file was Hrant Dink. In fact, it wasn’t. It was written Fırat Dink
(a reference to a Turkified version of his name that Dink adopted in
the 1970s to avoid trouble with the authorities). We passed judgement
on the file according to our consciences.”

Ignoring the implications of the last sentence, the statement is simply
not credible, for all sorts of reasons. Dink is a very rare surname
in Turkey. Even if it was not, with ultra-nationalist mobs picketing
the courts where Dink arrived to give evidence, and prominent media
figures and civilian and military officials getting in on the action,
everybody in the country knew about the case against him.

Furthermore, as Dink’s former lawyer and the former Supreme Appeals
Court prosecutor (who was demoted to a position in the provinces,
by the way, not long after the Dink case) have both pointed out, the
files the Supreme Appeals Court judges received contained both names.

And then there is the fact that in a separate statement, Mr Omeroglu
assured reporters that he had read all eight sections of the long
article by Dink that ended in the phrase he was prosecuted for. Dink
always signed his articles Hrant, not Fırat.

But Mr Omeroglu’s most hostile words came after an opposition deputy
proposed taking the issue of his appointment to the European Court of
Human Rights. “This is an insult not to my person, but to the Turkish
state and government,” he said. “What sort of a deputy is this? This
attempt to blacken the name of the Turkish state in this fashion is
deeply upsetting. Don’t tar our state with this sort of complaint.

This would be to incriminate not me personally but the state itself. I
am nothing but an employee of the Turkish state, working honorably,
carrying out what the laws require.” Five mentions of the state
in six sentences: not bad from a man charged with representing the
public interest.

Nicholas Birch Nicholas Birch lived in Istanbul, Turkey, from 2002 to
2009, working as a freelancer. His work – mainly from Turkey and Iraq
– appeared in a range of publications, including the Washington Post,
Time Magazine, The Guardian and the Times Literary Supplement. Birch
was a stringer for the Wall Street Journal and The London Times until
the end of 2009. He now lives in London.