The Center for Constitutional Transitions (CCT) turned its focus to Turkey in a May 8 symposium. Turkish lawmakers are in the process of redrafting that country’s constitution, aiming to produce a document based on the “will of the people.” Cecelia Goetz Professor of Law Sujit Choudhry, who is CCT's director, moderated the program, which featured three panelists: Ümit Cizre, of Sehir University in Istanbul; Menderes Çınar, of Baskent University in Ankara; and Dilek Kurban, who is with the Istanbul-based Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation (TESEV). TESEV co-sponsored the symposium, which was titled “Turkey’s Constitutional Transition – Institutional Reform, Regime Change and a Bill of Rights – Are They Possible?”

Each panelist gave a brief presentation. Cizre voiced doubts about recent efforts to curb the role the military has played in governing Turkey. She said that, while many perceive that the current government has firmly established the primacy of civilian rule, the military still operates as an independent force, elements of the political class benefit from and perpetuate militarism, and she sees signs that “even the ruling party is afflicted with this particular disease.”

Çınar raised different concerns about the ruling party – the Justice and Development Party (JDP) – saying its role in redrafting the country’s charter was too dominant. In general, he said, there is no real debate in the political class on the current constitution making. “I think there is a sense of powerlessness and surrender to JDP,” by the opposition parties, he said.

Kurban addressed the volatile issue of the rights of Turkey’s Kurds. In particular, she pointed out a major tension “between the promise to make an entirely new constitution on the basis of the will of the people” and undertaking that effort “within the framework of the current constitution, which deems the will of some people unconstitutional from the outset.” Under the prevailing principle of “territorial unity”, she explained, it is a criminal act to advocate for minority rights or regional autonomy, or even for political parties to claim that minorities exist or use minority languages in their communications.

Watch the full video of the event (1 h 33 min):

Posted May 11, 2012