May 4, 2015

Hatred-inciting discourses and the debate on ‘genocide and crime against humanity’

Erhan Başyurt

Speaking to reporters on April 29 during his return from an official visit to Kuwait, President Erdoğan made these much-debated remarks:
“Those belonging to this organization [Hizmet movement], from top to bottom, should certainly pay a price. They will either respect state authority or WILL PERISH.”
This statement was not the first of its kind.

During his premiership he had also made such harsh remarks as; “We will root them out,” “There is not even water to drink for them,” “We will fight them by any means, even if this requires a witch hunt.”

Cabinet members and top figures of the AKP have repeated these remarks of Erdoğan in different tones.

Numerous unutterable remarks intended to incite hatred and target a specific group had been previously made about members of Hizmet movement (“assassin,” traitor,” “spy,” “virus,” “leech”) and Venerable Fethullah Gülen (“false prophet,” “bogus scholar”).

Naturally, all these statements have not remained unfulfilled but were accompanied by decisions of the executive power and practices of bureaucracy.

Profiling and unlawful purges in the public sector have ensued. Hundreds of thousands of public employees have faced unjust treatment for allegedly belonging to a certain group. Thousands of youths have been barred from entering public service for the same reason.

Plots based on “slanders and lies” have been put into action. Perception operations were launched one after another. People’s freedoms have been restrained through systematic and pervasive practices.

The principle of “equality before the law” and “the right to a fair trial” were violated through special courts considered as “targeting the group” (Hizmet members) and appointments that are against the principle of “natural judge.”

Humanitarian aid organizations were charged with being a “terrorist organization.” Management control of a finance company was “temporarily” taken over.

Systematic pressures, particularly tax audits, were unleashed on businessmen affiliated with the same civil society movement. They were excluded from public tenders and there were efforts to block their business activities that are their legal right.

For the last two years, people have been “lynched” through successive “fabricated and defamatory news stories” published almost on a daily basis by government-controlled media groups. Conspiratorial files were thus supplied with materials.

“Partisan journalists”, who target people holding a certain view by saying “their media outlets should be seized,” “their property should be confiscated”, were employed.

People were intimidated and forced to move away from the targeted group, volunteers sharing same views and beliefs were pressured to leave.

As witnessed in Antalya, Quranic courses were closed. Associations that give scholarships to students were raided, as seen in Ankara, Manisa and Çanakkale.

There emerged security bureaucrats who surpassed those during the Feb. 28 period by claiming, “Donating a sacrificial animal, giving scholarships, or giving donations is a terrorist crime.”

So much so that, they even tried to thwart a book reading competition called “Everyone is Reading Him”, meant to promote the Prophet Mohammed’s life.

There were efforts to close down schools at home and abroad just because they are affiliated with the targeted group, with “denounciatory” diplomatic tours being launched.

Public lands given and public buildings leased to these schools through legal procedures were taken back on illegal grounds.

Media outlets considered close to the targeted group were oppressed. Member of these media outlets were barred from entering public institutions through an arbitrary “accreditation” system and denied public advertising.

Some private enterprises have joined this discrimination campaign by openly announcing that they would not serve members of a certain group, reminiscent of notorious “Niggers not allowed” signs.

It’s possible to extend the list for pages.

Even the stories of those oppressed and persecuted just for belonging to the group in question would fill volumes.


There is not the shadow of a doubt that all of these practices, which have been implemented since the first statements were made nearly two years ago, are conducted from a single center in a “planned” and “systematic” manner. For actions to be taken, special courts to be established, operations to be launched, impending detentions, purges from the public service, and pressures on institutions are all disclosed months before they occur, either by officials or “AK Trolls.”

Statements like the following had been made with the related names being identified, well before the events took place: “We will enter their lair,” “As soon as the bill on Criminal Courts of Peace is approved, thousands of cases will be opened,” “They will be suspended from duty,” “They will be purged,” “They will be arrested.”

There has been an interesting debate recently over these practices and hate speech. İbrahim Kaboğlu, a professor of constitutional law, says “Such radical statements and threats definitely constitute a hate crime.” Another professor of law, Sami Karahan, makes much more interesting and even frightening remarks.

Prof. Karahan argues that the statements and practices “may even be regarded as an act of genocide and can be prosecuted at The Hague [by International Criminal Court]” as per Article 6 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.

Article 76 of the Turkish Penal Code (TCK) wholly adopted Article 6 of the Rome Statute that is cited by Prof. Karahan.

According to that article:
“The commission of any of the following acts against the members of any national, ethnic, racial, RELIGIOUS or other group with intent to destroy it in whole OR IN PART through the execution of a plan shall constitute GENOCIDE.”
Below are two of the acts considered as crimes by that article:

– Causing serious bodily or MENTAL harm to members of the group.

– Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part.

There are serious concrete evidence and findings pointing to committing of these two acts in a systematic and widespread manner through the political will.


Again, Article 77 of the TCK wholly adopted Article 7 of the Rome Statute, which defines Crimes against Humanity.

Both the Rome Statute and the TCK recognize an attack or PERSECUTION against any civilian population also as a crime against humanity.

While an intention to “kill in a planned and systematic manner” is looked for when deciding about genocide, “widespread or systematic attack against any civilian population or a certain group” is considered as crime against humanity.

No limitation period applies to these offences.

Article 115 of the TCK, which applies to the crime of “Preventing the use of freedom of belief, thought and conviction”, makes it a criminal offense to “Prevent – with the USE OF FORCE OR THREAT or in any unlawful manner – the individual or collective execution of the requirement of a religious belief or exercise of a religious practice or ceremony; and intervene in an individual’s preferences concerning his/her life style and emanating from his/her BELIEF, THOUGHT OR CONVICTIONS or force the individual to change such preferences.”

Article 122 of the TCK, which applies to “discriminatory behavior” (and hate crimes) recognizes it as a crime to “Prevent activities in four areas on grounds of language, race, color, gender, disability, POLITICAL IDEAS, PHILOSOPHICAL BELIEFS, or for being adherents of different religions and sects.”

The four acts enumerated as constituting a hate crime are as follows:
– Prevention of the sale, transfer or rental of a movable or immovable property offered for public use, to a person.

– Preventing a person from accessing or benefiting from public services.

– Prevention of employment of a person.

– Preventing a person from carrying out ordinary economic activity.
Also Assoc. Prof. Mahmut Akpınar covers in detail statements and practices, numerous examples of which we have recently witnessed, in his book titled “Hate Speech and Politics” and published by Ufuk Yayınları.

In conclusion, Turkey is passing through an extraordinary period in which everyone becomes a “reasonable suspect.” Measures that restrict freedoms and turn Turkey into “intelligence state” hit all of us.

Even those journalists posting tweets or expressing non-violent views are tried at a High Criminal Court.

There is no doubt, however, that amid this bleak outlook particularly the members of Hizmet Movement are targeted through a separate “psychological operation and smear campaign” and “suffer” much more.

Put differently, retreats from democracy are concealed by “targeting Hizmet movement” but legislation and measures restricting freedoms apply to all dissidents.

For this reason, the newly arising debate “Is it genocide, a crime against humanity, or hate speech?” over discourses and practices is a belated yet useful one.

This debate will pave the way for a better understanding of the extent of victimization faced by all dissident groups in general and members of the “targeted group” in particular, and for healing the wounds inflicted on victims and the system alike through law.

Published on BGNNews, 04 May 2015, Monday