Tea, politics and tears mix in Turkey's capital

"I really have a hard time understanding the logic of losing their only Muslim friend," Bagis said. "Turkey was the only Muslim friend Israel had and they ruined it."

Israeli officials tell me privately that they're concerned about Turkey, where politics was once rigidly secular and is now described as pro-Islamic as Turkey rebuilds relationships with Middle Eastern nations.

So I asked Bagis about this.

"I respectfully disagree with your phrasing of my government as Islamic-toned," Bagis said. "We are a conservative democratic Muslim party, yes, but this is a Muslim country.

"And it is on your paper bills that the phrase 'In God We Trust' is inscribed, not mine. Your presidents complete all their speeches with the saying 'God bless America,'" not my leaders. Your politicians go to church every Sunday and they talk about God on a daily basis and we have seen in your election campaigns people reciting from the Bible or the Torah on a daily basis, and in Turkey we don't have that."

When we were finished, he asked me about Chicago, and Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

"We knew each other in Washington," Bagis said. "Please say hello to Rahm."

Things weren't so smooth in that other meeting in the building, where the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party demanded answers about the 34 villagers killed as suspected terrorists.

"They weren't terrorists," said a Kurdish political adviser. "They were only smugglers. Poor people selling alcohol and cigarettes."

In a warm room crowded with hundreds of BDP members, the party introduced the villagers of Uludere. The women wore black and held up pictures of their sons. They wept and the party faithful wept and gave them standing ovations.

"I sent my son to Turkish schools, so he could learn to be in this nation, and they killed him," she said. "We want justice. Where is the justice?"

The minority Kurds are expected to repeatedly invoke the massacre as a parliamentary commission works to draft a Turkish constitution dealing with minority rights.

Altan Tan, a member of Parliament who represents the Kurdish city of Diyarbakir — and who is on the constitution committee — said the deaths in Uludere wouldn't be forgotten as the constitution is debated.

"We are denied Kurdish education in our schools, and we want local government officials to be Kurds," said Tan. "And we want the truth to come out on Uludere."

Outside, I asked a parliamentary staff member and former journalist if there was enough tea for all the politics to come.

"There is always tea in Ankara," she said. "Would you care for some?"

jskass@tribune.com
CHICAGO

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