FIRST THEY ARRESTED THE POETS ...

Author:Gorvett, Jon
 
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The mosques are our barracks, the domes our helmets, the minarets our bayonets and the faithful our soldiers.

Ziya Gvkalp, Turkish poet.

On 21 April, a State Security Court (DGM) in the city of Diyarbakir in south-eastern Turkey found the quoting of these lines from a traditional Turkish poem grounds for imposing a 10 month jail sentence. A curious enough decision, but when added to the fact that the person convicted was the mayor of Turkey's largest city and a leading light in Turkey's largest political party, the court's ruling became an instant headline grabber both in Turkey and abroad.

Mayor Tayyip Erdogan, elected to Istanbul's top job in 1994, was convicted of inciting hatred with these words, used in a speech last December in the south-eastern town of Siirt. Pending appeal the mayor is still free, but should the higher courts uphold the Diyarbakir decision Erdogan will be dismissed from his mayoral duties, imprisoned and forbidden from ever standing for public office again.

The sentence comes as part of a growing pressure on Turkey's Islamists. Last January the courts banned the pro-Islamist Welfare Party (RP), which had, until the previous June, been the senior partner in the country's coalition government.

Erdogan was a leading member of the RP, with his success in winning Istanbul for the party one of the main blocks on which they were able to build their electoral success at the general elections of 1995. Following the banning of the RP, a replacement party was established -- the Virtue Party (FP) -- of which Erdogan had been widely tipped as a future leader.

The State Security Courts, which have no jury and are presided over by three judges -- one of whom is a military officer -- have been busy elsewhere too. The mayor of Kayseri, Sukru Karatepe, began a five month prison sentence a few days after Erdogan was found guilty in Diyarbakir -- again on grounds of provoking hatred in a speech that was allegedly against the secular Turkish Republic's founder, Kemal Ataturk. At the same time, an Ankara court sentenced Islamist former MP, Hasan Mezarci, to one and a half years in jail for a 1994 speech which suggested Ataturk had been born illegitimate.

The mayor of Ankara, an Islamist like Erdogan, is also now the subject of 79 separate investigations alleging abuse of his position, and the leader of the old RP, Necmettin Erbakan, is to stand trial in June on charges of insulting the judiciary.

Concurrent with these prosecutions of...

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