Professor Baskın Oran may be a first time candidate but determined to defend the rights of those who have been ignored or alienated – the Kurds, the Alevis, the gypsies, the gays among others. The first-time candidate is adamant about being a powerful voice in Parliament but expresses himself surprised at how many people are now supporting his campaign

GÜL DEMİR and NIKI GAMM
ISTANBUL – Turkish Daily News

  An academic who postponed retirement to stand for a seat in Parliament, Baskın Oran has begun to capture the interest of the public in Istanbul as the national elections approach. Oran was catapulted to nationwide attention this year when he was accused of insulting Turkishness under controversial Article 301 that covers freedom of speech and expression. Until then Oran was not particularly well-known outside academic circles although he has published extensively on minorities, nationalism, foreign policy and globalization. He taught political science at Ankara University where he earned his credentials by being dismissed three times following the 1980 military coup. In short he had a normal academic career that one would expect of a leftist. Intellectuals who were left-leaning have embraced him completely and even more so after he formally declared his candidacy.

  Oran is running as an independent. The Constitution stipulates that parties must get 10 percent of all votes to get representation in Parliament. The goal of this regulation is to encourage the development of a stable government and a two-party system but it does not take into account the small political parties that might get less than 10 percent of the vote. These parties are barred from Parliament. However, this time some parties, and in particular the pro-Kurdish Democratic Social Party (DTP), decided they would encourage and support independents for whom there is no barrage limit. Their sympathies are known and which political party supports them. All in all an interesting concept and we will see how it works at election time.
  The DTP, a pro-Kurdish leftist party, has put its weight behind independent candidates and initially supported Oran. However, it then decided it would be better to support its own chairman in Istanbul. In Oran’s case the years of lecturing on political science in the university and the many books and articles he has written tell in his favor. His interest in minority groups led him to chair the Prime Ministry’s Minority and Cultural Rights Sub-Committee and its Human Rights Advisory Council. He prepared its report on minorities that turned out to be quite controversial, relating out briefly the history of the term “minority” in the Ottoman Empire and how this definition affected Turkey’s relations with the outside world and especially the European Union. He proposed that the Turkish Constitution be rewritten on the basis of freedom, plurality and democracy for those who wanted to speak their own language and preserve their own culture.
A powerful voice, a citizen’s duty:

  The suggestion that he run for Parliament came as a shock to him and his wife since they were planning on retiring to Bodrum where he would write books. It turned their lives upside down when he finally decided to run because he still sees himself as an academic rather than a politician. He has found however that his wife is one of his greatest supporters and offers him good advice on everything from clothing to voice tone. An attractive blonde, she is usually at his side during rallies and marches.

  The first-time candidate is adamant about being a powerful voice in Parliament but expresses himself surprised at how many people are now supporting his campaign. He also says he is going this not out of intellectual bravery but because he believes it is a citizen’s duty. Referring to the independent candidates in the upcoming election, Oran attributes the fact that people have become more willing to run and to speak out to the effect of the changes made to harmonize Turkish legislation with that of the EU.

  Suddenly Baskın Oran has become one of the new names catching people’s attention in a field where the same people run over and over again and get elected over and over again, where people keep their holds on the party they represent even after they have been defeated several times. The reference is to the Republic People’s Party (CHP) In the west if a political party keeps losing, its leader resigns, but not in Turkey.
  People actually are tired of listening to people who have no real answers to offer and they are doubtful about voting for the Justice and Development Party (AKP) that has been in power with a comfortable majority since the last election in 2002. When asked why he had not joined any political parties, he openly said that he couldn’t work with any of the parties in Parliament or with any of the current party chairman. He pointed out that the people don’t choose the candidates, the party chairman does.

  Oran knows the prison and court system from his own experience but it has not damped down his sense of humor. A video on his life is filled with quiet humor. Academic career must be good for public speaking. Knows how to catch and hold people’s attention. If you can keep a class of young 20s something interested, you can keep a crowd of interested people at attention.

  This man with short gray hair, gray beard and moustache and glasses has given a different air to the election in Istanbul Second District: Beyoğlu, Beşiktaş, Alibeyköy and Sarıyer. His people fan out from a small office in Beyoğlu and have a small stand on İstiklal Street outside the Benetton store where they hand out pamphlets. But he has also embraced the Internet with zest and his website includes everything from a video biography and the more traditional curriculum vitae, his schedule, what the media has said about him, selections from his writings including the “Minority Report” and matters of interest.
  
What others think:
  Oran has the support of writer, Yaşar Kemal, who has already said that he will vote for him, noting that in previous elections he did not really have a good answer but now he felt he did. Author Adalet Ağaoğlu is not only going to vote for Oran but she is busy recruiting others to vote for him as well.
  Writer Mehmed Uzun of Kurdish origin tells of how very happy he is to know that the Kurds can participate in the election through independent candidates. He went on to describe Oran and Mehmet Ufuk Uras as the voice of Turkey.
  Emine Uşaklıgıl is a member of the Baskin Oran electoral campaign. He sees Oran’s getting into Parliament as an opportunity for Turkey. “He is intent on protecting human rights, rule of law and democracy and developing these. Oran is preparing to be the voice of all of us in Parliament.” She stresses, however, that he needs money for his campaign and, of course, votes.
  David Tonge is the managing director of IBS Research & Consultancy and a former Financial Times journalist. He says of Oran: “His scientific output is impressive for its range and for his willingness to lift the veil on those awkward corners of modern Turkish history, the use and abuse of nationalism in state building in Turkey, the treatment of minorities in Turkey and their property, the Kurds, and what he calls the two taboos, Cyprus and the ‘Last Taboo,’ the problems of Turkish public opinion on the ‘Armenian Issue.’”

  Regarding Oran’s candidacy, Radikal writer Neşe Düzel says that it is a protest against today’s political structures because in his own words he sees himself as “a spokesman for those who have been alienated, rejected, restricted, silenced, pained, had their self-confidence destroyed, or been threatened by the paranoia that Turkey will be broken up as by the Treaty of Sevres. Alevis, Kurds, minorities, gypsies, women, the young, girls who cannot enter universities with head scarves, workers, those not represented by unions, unemployed, homosexuals, transvestites, the starving, the handicapped, environmentalists. All these seek to raise their voice through e-mail groups and meetings. It is important that their voices are heard in the Assembly.”
  So if Baskın Oran wins a seat in Parliament this month, the public can certainly be sure that he will bring fresh life to that August governing body.

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