The following are translations of excerpts from the Turkish press.
ERDOĞAN: "WE ARE ALL FIRST-CLASS CITIZENS"
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan attended, for the first time, a ceremony in Istanbul's Halkalı district to mourn the Karbala tragedy that took place 1,370 years ago. Delivering a speech in the ceremony, Erdoğan said: "This is our mourning. We are all first-class citizens in this country."
Prime Minister Erdoğan said: "We have been feeling the pain of Karbala for 1,370 years. We have to feel that pain in our hearts. We remember Hussain whenever an innocent person is killed."
TURKEY'S MAIN OPPOSITION HEADS INTO MAKE-OR-BREAK CONVENTION
The main opposition's convention this weekend is poised to be one of the most important in its history, with key figures seeking to shape the party ahead of the 2011 general elections.
Delegates to the convention, to be held at the Ankara Arena in Turkey's capital, have as their most crucial task selecting a new 80-member party assembly for the Republican People's Party (CHP). Party leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu's main priority is to create a balanced list of assembly members that will include both new faces and members of the old guard – his own supporters and those close to the former party leadership.
Though Kılıçdaroğlu had previously said he would prefer to create the assembly through the more democratic "sheet list" approach, in which any delegate could seek a position on the assembly, the need to build a strong staff going into the general elections has pushed him to opt for a "bloc list" of 80 candidates that he selects.
The bloc list also allows Kılıçdaroğlu to make a cleaner break from the previous CHP leadership.
The current party assembly was largely shaped by former party chief Deniz Baykal and former Secretary-General Önder Sav.
Kılıçdaroğlu met with his provincial chairs Friday to ask for their input on the 80-person list. Chairs from Ankara, İzmir, Diyarbakır, Antalya, Rize and Edirne are among those who have already stated their support for a bloc list. While adding new names to the assembly, Kılıçdaroğlu will also increase the quotas for women and youth. The 20 percent quota for women will be increased to 30 percent, with an additional 15 percent reserved for young members, thus bringing the total for the two groups to almost half the assembly.
Baykal, who had been pushing for a sheet list, has backed down after party members started saying Kılıçdaroğlu should be given the chance to create his own team prior to the elections. If the list does not satisfy Baykal, there is a slim chance he could produce an alternate bloc list. Sav has meanwhile been lending his silent support to Kılıçdaroğlu's bloc list.
Though Kılıçdaroğlu's chance of getting his candidates approved by the convention delegates is seen as very high, his opponents within the party could potentially scratch names off the list to open up slots for other figures. Gürsel Tekin, a member of the Central Executive Board and a Kılıçdaroğlu supporter, is expected to be one of the main targets of such a move.
In a press conference Thursday, deputy leader Hurşit Güneş said the convention would not result in an internal war, while Tekin told the press that Kılıçdaroğlu would make significant statements during his speech at the convention.
In addition to the 1,242 party delegates, citizens are also invited to attend the convention at the 15,000-person-capacity arena. Expected guests include artists, writers, intellectuals and foreigners, including left-wing party representatives from Greece, Germany, Sweden, Morocco, Iraq, Austria, Bulgaria and England.
Kılıçdaroğlu's bloc list is expected to include Bihlun Tamaylıgil, Mehmet Ali Susam, Faik Öztrak, Gülsün Bilgehan, Gökhan Günaydın and Hakkı Süha Okay, as well as all the members of the Central Executive Board, who supported him during his showdown with Sav. The board includes Tekin, Süheyl Batum, Hurşit Güneş, Mesut Değer, İsa Gök, İzzet Çetin, Didem Engin, Umut Oran, Mehmet Ali Özpolat, Sencer Ayata, and Oğuz Oyan.
The new names predicted to make it onto the list include Sezgin Tanrıkulu, the former head of the Diyarbakır Lawyers' Society; retired ambassadors Uğur Ziyal and Faruk Loğolu; former Justice Minister Seyfi Oktay; Ercan Karakaş; female unionist Yaşar Seyman; former Foreign Minister Murat Karayalçın; Federation for the Disabled Chairman Turan İçli; Prof. Birgül Ayman Güler; Perihan Sarı from the Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions, or DİSK; Suna Şahin, the head of the Mavigöl Women's Association; energy expert Necdet Pamir; Dr. Muhammet Çakmak, a religious-studies lecturer at Fırat University; Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation head Markus Ürek, who is of Syriac heritage; businesswoman Sena Kaleli, the owner of Kamil Koç; and Adana Chamber of Industry head Ümit Özgümüş.
When the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) holds its convention Saturday at the Ankara Arena, the means by which the 1,242 delegates cast their votes to select the 80-person party assembly may be as important as the outcome. Can the rapidly transforming party deliver on its promise to become more internally democratic?
Currently, the party plans to go to the convention with a "bloc list" of candidates. In this approach, the party leader selects 80 names without any input from the delegates. Though delegates can scratch out a name and write down another, it is very hard for outside candidates to penetrate a bloc list. A candidate selected by the party leader can only be dropped from the list if more than half of the delegates agree to block him or her.
According to the party's internal regulations, a minimum of 248 delegate votes is necessary for a candidate to be selected for the assembly. Delegates also vote on a 20-member reserve list of additional names selected by the party chief. Candidates on the main list who do not get the minimum number of votes are dropped and replaced by the figures on the reserve list that have the highest number of votes.
Theoretically, any delegate could create a second bloc list to be voted on at the convention, and if one of those candidates receives more votes than the ones on the main list, he can join the party assembly. This, however, has never happened in the history of the party.
The alternate approach to selecting a party assembly involves going to the convention with a "sheet list" of delegates seeking election. Each would-be nominee needs to obtain the signatures of 10 percent (125 out of 1,242) of the delegates for a proposal sent to the "Divan Başkanlığı" (Presidential Council). The proposal must then be passed with at least 622 votes from delegates. The 80 candidates with the highest number of votes are selected for the assembly.
According to the party's internal regulations, the party leader gets to select 12 of the 80 assembly members. To do so, the chief names 18 candidates, which are winnowed down to 12 through delegates' votes.
ARMENIAN-AMERICANS SUE TURKEY OVER LAND
Three descendants of Armenians who lost their property in the collapse of the Ottoman Empire filed a lawsuit Wednesday against the Turkish government and two Turkish banks for restitution of more than $63 million for land that includes the strategic İncirlik Air Base used by the U.S. military.
The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles says ancestors of the litigants had their property confiscated in the alleged Armenian genocide. The families say they have deeds to the parcels.
Turkey firmly rejects claims that Armenian deaths between 1915 and 1919 constituted genocide, arguing instead that the deaths resulted from civil unrest that accompanied the collapse of the Ottoman Empire.
In the past, Turkey threatened to withhold access to the base when Congress considered recognizing the so-called genocide.
The lawsuit was filed by attorney Vartkes Yeghiayan, whose wife is one of the plaintiffs and claims to have documents showing that her ancestor, a wealthy Armenian landowner, was forced to flee Turkey with his family in 1915, leaving behind his home, farmland, store and insurance business.
The lawsuit was filed well after business hours in Ankara, the capital of Turkey, and efforts for immediate comment were not successful.
Yeghiayan has filed more than a dozen lawsuits related to this issue and won multimillion-dollar settlements against two major life insurance companies.
The current suit is different because it names the Turkish government and two of Turkey's largest and oldest banks rather than privately held corporations. Banks named in the suit are the Central Bank of the Republic of Turkey and T.C. Ziraat Bankası.
The lawsuit involves about 122.5 acres of property located in Turkey's Adana province with an estimated value of $63.9 million.
Attorney Michael Bazyler, a legal expert on genocide litigation and a professor at Chapman University, said the way was cleared for the lawsuit last week when the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed itself and said the heirs of Armenians killed in the Turkish Ottoman Empire can seek payment from companies that sold life insurance to their relatives.
The 44-page lawsuit sets out facts of how the properties were seized and how the ancestors of the litigants were "scattered throughout the world as refugees."
"During and after World War I, the families of each of the plaintiffs were forced to flee the Ottoman Turkish Empire – modern-day Turkey – leaving behind murdered family members and all of their movable and immovable property," the lawsuit says.
Explaining the nearly century-long delay in filing suit, it says, "It was impossible for plaintiffs' predecessors to seek compensation for their stolen property or focus on anything but rebuilding their lives."
The lawsuit said Turkey profited from the land, renting the air base to the U.S. for use as a vital hub supporting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and humanitarian missions throughout Europe, the Middle East and Central Asia.
Meanwhile, Armenians in Los Angeles will campaign against Kobe Bryant's sponsorship deal with Turkish Airlines and are urging him to drop it, the western U.S. chapter of the Armenian Youth Federation said.
Turkish Airlines announced that it signed Bryant, a guard for basketball's Los Angeles Lakers, to be a "global brand ambassador" on Tuesday as it seeks to publicize the start of direct flights from Istanbul to Los Angeles.
Armenian activists demand that the United States recognize the early 20th century killings of Armenians in Turkey as genocide.
California has 600,000 to 700,000 Armenian-Americans, "with the majority being in Southern California," Aram Hamparian, executive director of the Armenian National Committee of America, said in a telephone interview.
"That includes a lot of Lakers fans, and until now, a lot of Kobe fans as well," he said.
Los Angeles-born Armenian-American socialite and reality television star Kim Kardashian urged her more than 5.5 million followers on Twitter earlier this week to call on U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi to schedule a vote on House Resolution 252, which would recognize the Armenian deaths as genocide.
Bryant's teammate Lamar Odom is married to Kardashian's sister Khloe. The couple visited Istanbul earlier this year while Odom played for the gold medal-winning U.S. team at the 2010 FIBA world championships hosted by Turkey. Bryant was not part of the U.S. team. The Turkish squad finished second.
"Armenian-Americans hope that Kobe would balance what clearly looks to be a profitable business deal with a strong moral statement against Turkey's violations of human rights, including, of course, its ongoing denial of the Armenian Genocide," the Armenian Youth Federation said in a statement on its website.
Bryant should drop the endorsement or back the resolution, Hamparian said. "This is not simply a private firm," he said. "This is a firm that's majority owned by the Turkish government."
TURKEY'S 'SLEDGEHAMMER' PLOT HAS ITS DAY IN COURT
The alleged coup plot codenamed "Balyoz" (Sledgehammer) had its first day at court Thursday, a year after documents pertaining to the purported plan were first published by a Turkish daily.
The first hearing in the case concluded with the defendants making a plea to have the new judge in the case refused. The previous judge dealing with the case was reassigned Tuesday. The next hearing will be held Dec. 28.
Out of the 196 suspects, 186 appeared at the courtroom at Istanbul's Silivri Prison for the first hearing, including the alleged Sledgehammer mastermind, retired Gen. Çetin Doğan, the former commander of the first army of Turkish land forces.
Suspects Özden Örnek and İbrahim Fırtına, former top commanders of the Navy and Air Force, were also present in the courtroom.
All 196 suspects, who are free pending trial, face between 15 and 20 years in prison if convicted on charges of "attempting to topple the government by force," according to the indictment.
The first documents on Sledgehammer, featuring a number of sub-plans, were leaked to daily Taraf, a paper known for its anti-military stance. Nine sacks of more documents were confiscated last week from a concealed room at a navy base.
A roll call of suspects also revealed a mistake in the suspect list after gendarmerie Non-Commissioned Officer Recep Yavuz objected to the identification read after his name, saying it was not his title. Another suspect, Recep Yıldız, said the identification data belonged to him. Judge Ömer Diken said the mistake would be corrected and added that there was no case against Yavuz.
Opposition groups staged demonstrations in front of the courthouse, but dispersed without incident. The Free Thinking and Educational Rights Association (ÖZGÜR-DER) and a group of lawyers protested the suspects, saying they were against any military coups. Another group, identified as the İnegöl District Organization of the main opposition Republican People's Party, or CHP, protested the case against military members.
Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin made a statement Wednesday about Judge Ömer Diken only being assigned to the case 48 hours prior to the first hearing, saying the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors, or HSYK, chose to reassign former judge Zafer Başkurt based on a unanimous vote.
The minister also said the investigation had been ongoing for roughly a year and added that the inspection board had demanded the change only recently.
Başkurt's replacement with Diken prompted an argument among political and media circles with some calling it a tactic to gain time or a direct governmental manipulation of the judiciary while others said the claims against the reassigned judge showed he would not have been able to be impartial. Başkurt was the sole figure who took part in the trial of Ergenekon suspect Mehmet Haberal and did not get sued by him, as he was the only judge who voted in favor of his release.
Ergenekon is an alleged ultranationalist gang on trial for attempts to topple the government. Sledgehammer is an alleged military coup plot against the leading Justice and Development Party, or AKP, drafted in 2003. According to the Sledgehammer allegations, the military planned drastic measures to foment unrest in the country in order to remove the AKP from power. Those measures included bombing two major mosques in Istanbul, staging an assault on a military museum by people disguised as religious extremists and raising tension with Greece by attacking a Turkish plane and blaming it on the Aegean neighbor.
LITTLE TIME TO MEND FENCES WITH ISRAEL, WARNS TURKISH ENVOY
Turkey and Israel's window of opportunity to normalize ties created by Turkey's delivery of firefighting planes to Israel is closing fast, according to the retired Turkish ambassador who participated in the talks in Switzerland last week.
Both countries have become prisoners to the public opinion and the more time that passes since the fire diplomacy meetings in Geneva, the more it becomes difficult for both capitals to convince their publics to accept a deal, said former Ambassador Özdem Sanberk, who represents Turkey on the United Nations panel investigating the Israeli raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla that left nine Turks dead.
The fact that the two governments immediately grasped the opportunity created by the positive mood to mend fences that came as a result of Turkey's support in fighting deadly fires in Israel, known as fire diplomacy, shows that both countries have the political will to normalize relations, Sanberk told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review on Wednesday. Turkish Undersecretary of Foreign Affairs Feridun Sinirlioğlu flew to Geneva, while Israel sent its representative to the U.N. panel, Yosef Ciechanover, immediately after Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu phoned Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to thank Turkey for sending firefighting planes to help extinguish forest fires in Israel.
"I see a good will on the part of both governments to leave the crisis behind," said Sanberk. "The talks in Geneva were not between adversaries. It was not confrontational. We talked in full confidence on our interlocutors' genuine wish to find a solution."
Despite statements from political actors in Israel that offering an apology and compensation to the families of the victims, two preconditions that Turkey wants met before normalizing ties, are not on the agenda, Sanberk said Turkey negotiated nothing beyond the word "apology."
"We are the injured part. Nine Turks are dead. No one died from the Israeli side. For the first time Turkish citizens were killed by foreign military in a time of peace. Whatever the reasons, nothing can justify the killings," he said.
The two delegations agreed on the parameters of a solution in Geneva, yet the two governments have not yet given their consent to it, according to Sanberk. "The dialogue is still ongoing, but it is a race with time. Public support for a solution is weakening. The more time passes from the positive atmosphere created by the fire diplomacy the intensity to find a way out is decreasing. Both sides need to show the necessary leadership. Otherwise a historic opportunity will be missed and history will judge us," he said.
As to the process that goes on within the U.N., Sanberk said it was a very positive development that Israel decided for the first time in history to cooperate with a U.N. probe. However, despite the fact that Turkey had handed out its own report upon the call from the U.N. secretary-general, who initially wanted to release an interim report Wednesday, Israel still has not given its report. "We kept our word and gave our report on Sept. 1. Israel has our report. We are now expecting Israel to give us their report," he said, recalling that the panel has to finish its work by mid-February.
While talking about how the tension between Israel and Turkey has become a very complicated issue, Sanberk complained about the lack of interest from Arab countries. The embargo on the 1.5 million Palestinians living in Gaza, which is at the root of the flotilla crisis, is not just a problem between Turkey and Israel, argued the veteran diplomat. "Turkish citizens were just part of the initiative that was organized by citizens of several countries. But the majority were from Europe," said Sanberk, who expressed surprise that Arab countries and the Arab public opinion has not pushed harder for the momentum created by the flotilla crisis to ease the embargo on Gaza. "It should also be the duty of Arab countries to voice the plight of the Palestinians. Why is it that Arab countries are not doing anything to keep the issue alive in U.N. platforms?" he said.