Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan last Thursday made four important changes in his Cabinet and replaced the ministers of culture, health national education and interior with new names.
Omer Celik, known to be close to the prime minister, replaced Ertugrul Gunay of leftist background as the minister of culture. Minister of Health Recep Akdag handed over to Mehmet Muezzinoglu and Nabi Avci, a respected conservative intellectual took over as the minister of national education. Finally, Erdogan replaced the controversial Minister of Interior Idris Naim Sahin with a parliament member from Mardin and the former governor of Istanbul, Muammer Guler.
It's widely believed that Erdogan made the Cabinet changes keeping in mind the need for success in a probable referendum this year on a constitutional amendment to install an executive presidential system and the local elections that will follow in March 2014.
All the replaced ministers were worn-out names. Some of the disputes of the health minister with doctors and the education minister with teachers had generated much angry reaction. But among the four ministers, none was as jaded and battered as Sahin.
After the June 12, 2011, elections that AKP won with 50% of the vote, Sahin was appointed interior minister. He quickly adopted approaches compatible with his last name that in Turkish literally means “falcon-hawk” and figuratively “tough-predator.” He became the willing practitioner of tough policies Erdogan government adopted against the Kurdish movement following the elections.
Although his main target appeared to the Kurdish movement’s central illegal organization Union of Kurdish Communities [KCK-Koma Ciwaken Kurdistan], his ardent support of the “KCK operations” actually inflicted the worst damage on legal Kurdish political entity, Peace and Democracy Party [BDP].
BDP Co-Chairman Selahattin Demirtas says among nearly 8,000 people imprisoned on charges of being KCK members, 5,000 are BDP workers and activists. We are also told that among the KCK detainees there are about 190 elected mayors and municipal councilors.
Sahin prodded the police to take brutal and disproportional action against any opposition street demonstration. Police brutality against demonstrators, primarily their use of pepper gas, had never been so widespread.
As much as his practices, Sahin also became notorious with his offensive language against the leftist and Kurdish opposition. “An environment that nourishes from Zoroasterism to pork meat, from this or that nation and brotherhood, excuse me for saying so but homosexuality, from immorality to inhumanity,” was one of his better known quotes [Dec. 26, 2011].
His remarks about 34 young Kurdish smugglers from Turkey killed by bombing of Turkish warplanes on Dec. 31, 2011, on Turkey-Iraq border caused much public indignation: ‘’If they had been captured alive, they would have been tried for smuggling. That is a region under the control of separatist terror organization, the KCK. These 34 people are simple extra players in this incident. It is not an incident that requires an apology. Those young people should not have been there.”
He did not want to acknowledge the existence of a Kurdish issue: ‘’They keep repeating the issue, the issue. What issue? Is that an issue of highways? Or is it a song? Is it piece of clothing? Is it an issue of hospitals? I keep searching but can’t find an issue.” [November 2011]
It seems that those happiest with Sahin’s removal are the Kurds. Pervin Buldan, deputy chair of the BDP parliamentary group, said: "Idris Naim Sahin is the worst calamity, curse that can be inflicted on this country. We are counting our blessings of being saved from him. May Allah spare us from seeing Sahin’s face."
Sahin was known as a close associate of Erdogan. But it was also clear that, with his rigid Cold War mentality that shapes his thinking and mentality, he could never be the man to support Erdogan’s policies of "disarming the PKK through negotiations."
Whoever replaces Sahin, who has made himself an icon of loathing by a large segment of the population with his practices and statements, it will mean a positive image change for the government.
An interior minister who remains aloof from tough and malignant attitudes at a time when the government is meeting with Ocalan will facilitate the work of the government. This is how we have to assess the appointment of Muammer Guler to replace Sahin,
Guler, a former bureaucrat, was born in 1949 in historical Mardin in the heavily Kurdish southeast region. He was the governor of Istanbul [2003-10] and was elected to parliament from Mardin in 2011 elections.
It's widely said that with his administrative skills and astute politics during his term as the governor and then in the parliament he has gained the confidence of Erdogan.
That he was born in Turkey’s Kurdish region and that he represents that region in the parliament are features that could ease Erdogan’s tasks in the new period.
His first message was of moderation: “We will fly peace doves in the southeast. We will continue to work for happiness, security and welfare of everyone.”
BDP parliamentarian Pervin Buldan explained her expectations from Guler: “He will have to acquit himself well in this process. We want a process without gas, bombs and interventions.”