by Gordon Taylor | 12/31/2007 02:15:00 AM
The following article was published in Le Monde on December 27. It seemed to me, when I read it, that it needed to be seen by a lot more people, especially in the United States. Americans are famous for knowing little of the world, and our scattershot, drive-by media do nothing to correct the situation. Turkey, we are told, is a very important country, a great customer for our weapons merchants, and a "bridge between Europe and Asia." They are alleged to be a democracy, and Western in outlook. But I have yet to see an article in the American press which fully portrays the mad chauvinist police-state reality of modern Turkey. The following article by Guillaume Perrier begins to do that. Begins. Much more could be added, reams of material so damning to the Turkish state that the very rocks would cry out in despair. But the point which needs to be made is this: Turkey is not, cannot, will not be a truly viable candidate for membership in the EU as long as its government continues in its present form. And there is no power, domestic or foreign, that can change that government in any substantial way for the foreseeable future. Turkey is what it is: a nation where the politicians pretend to govern and armed bullies pretend to let them, a land where the average liberal has more courage than a thousand Americans. Those like me who cherish their memories of this land need to start speaking out. The years of diplomacy and forbearance, of hope for democratic change, have left us with ruined villages, imprisoned journalists, and good people murdered while their killers are congratulated by the police. With that kind of record we may as well try truth.

[Following article translated by Gordon Taylor, who is responsible for all errors herein. All material in brackets [] added by the translator.]

Separatist Paranoia in Turkey

Guillaume Perrier
Le Monde
27 December 2007

“Happy is he who calls himself a Turk,” proclaims the national slogan, first enunciated by Mustafa Kemal [Ataturk]. But in Turkey who really has access to this “happiness”?

Officially, it’s everybody in the land, without reference to race or creed. Yet in fact, members of religious minorities and certain ethnic categories remain second-class citizens. Remnants of Christian populations (Greeks, Armenians, or Syriacs), 15 million Kurds, and 10 million Muslim Alevis are regularly stigmatized. A part of the population continues to be perceived as a menace to national unity, eighty-four years after the foundation of the Republic. For in the collective mind, the “happiness of being a Turk” refers not to a territorial idea but to an ethnic definition based on race.

The repeated judicial harassment, the agression, indeed the murders committed against “internal enemies”, the “non-Turks”, bear witness to a climate of fear. [In 2007]First Italian priest Andrea Santoro, then Armenian journalist Hrant Dink were assassinated. In Malatya three evangelical Christian missionaries had their throats cut. More recently, on December 16, another Italian priest, Father Adriano Francini, was stabbed and critically wounded in Izmir. Furthermore, galvanized by the government’s anti-PKK campaign, groups of the extreme right have launched punitive expeditions targeting Kurds in Istanbul and Bursa. A series of racist crimes, by young indoctrinated ultranationalists, have been committed in the name of Turkish blood. And not for the first time in the country’s history. In 1955, for example, in the middle of the Cyprus crisis, rumor of an assault on the childhood home of Ataturk, in Thessaloniki, unleashed the “pogroms of September 6”. In Istanbul, businesses owned by Orthodox Greeks, also by Jews and Armenians, were sacked by the mob.

It was on the basis of such distorted ideas that Hrant Dink was made a target: first by the nationalist press, then by the judiciary, and last by a 17-year-old killer, Ogun Samast. What followed is typical: the inquest was never permitted to find out who was in charge of the operation. Accomplices highly placed in the state apparatus remained out of focus. Even worse, Samast has become a popular hero. Football stadiums have displayed his name. The police in charge of his arrest posed with him, the Turkish flag in their hands. [note: see below] And the day of his arraignment, the accused arrived in a military vehicle adorned with a favorite slogan of Turkish neo-fascists: “Ya sev ya terket!”--“Love it or Leave it!”

This kind of racist violence comes back each time Turkey is in the midst of an identity crisis. Growing rapidly since 2001, the local economy has embraced globalization. In 2004 Ankara began the long and painful negotiations for admission to the EU, a sudden shift which involves a loss of bearings and a challenge to [their need for separateness and autonomy.]

Conservative Kemalists, headed by the army, put on the brakes when faced with the democratic reforms and historical introspection required by this new environment. In the nationalist imagination, today’s western powers are the imperialist forces of yesterday. The same people who brought the Ottoman Empire to its knees have the same secret plans and are plotting together to divide the nation, with the aid of minorities. The borders of Turkey are threatened by Kurdish, Greek, or Armenian separatism. In fact, the PKK, whose bases in Iraqi Kurdistan have been attacked by the Turkish army, have abandoned secessionist ambitions since 1999, and Turkey is an established regional power whose borders are no longer contested. But paranoia serves as the cement. Trauma remains deeply anchored in Turkey’s collective memory.

A Change of Paradigm

Political scientist Baskin Oran [Ankara University] calls this obsession with territorial integrity the “Sevres syndrome,” after the treaty of 1920 which called for the dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire. It’s interesting nevertheless to see the groups which believe this in times of crisis: in Malatya, before the murderers’ trial, the local press led a campaign against the victims, [my emphasis – G.T.] accusing the evangelists of supporting PKK terrorism. The same accusation regularly strikes Armenians or “Zionists”.

For the Kurds, the majority of whom are Sunni, the argument is over cultural, linguistic, and political rights. The freedoms of Muslim Alevis also appear on the Brussels list. The adherents of this mystic and liberal branch of Islam are denied public financing for their public places of worship, the cemevis, even though Sunni mosques and imams are subsidized by the State. And Alevi educators must offer the obligatory religious courses, where only Sunni Islam is taught, a disparity comdemned by the European Court of Human Rights.

These minority communities are marginalised when compared with a (supposedly) uniform core idea, a standard almost mythical: Turk, Muslim, and Sunni. Turkey however is a crucible, a mosaic of refugee peoples from the Balkans, the Caucasus, and Central Asia, mingled and melted together. Official ideology is always used to erase the differences.

Only the Kurds are unaffected by this assimilation. Ethnic tallies, taken in every census, have not been made public since 1965. And cultural purification concerns first names as well as gastronomy, the names of animal species or architecture. Scholarly programs boast about the history of the Huns, ethnic ancestors of the Turks. But they say not a word of the Anatolian cultures which existed before. Hrant Dink hoped, as does his friend Baskin Oran, that Turkey changes its paradigm, that it proclaims “Happy is he who says he is ‘Turkiyeli’”[i.e., from Turkey], and no longer “Turk.”

Guillaume Perrier
Article paru dans l'édition du 28.12.07

[translator's note: Orhan Kemal Cengiz, writing in the Turkish Daily News, describes the scene as he saw it on television: "Then our camera captures another scene in a completely different environment. A coffee house in the bus terminal in Samsun.[a city on the Black Sea -- g.t.] Ogun Samast, the murderer of Hrant Dink, is in the tiny police station in the bus terminal, he is about to be transferred somewhere else. There is hectic activity in the police station. Gendarmerie and police officers are in a queue, they are in competition, and they want to get a good pose with Samast, who holds a Turkish flag in his outstretched hand! Later on we learnt that the flag he was holding was in his pocket when he fired into the neck of Dink from behind, and it was given to him by one of the conspirators. Anyway, police and gendarmerie officers are satisfied because they were able to take a photo with Samast, the killer of the "Armenian".




Blogger Unknown on 12/31/2007 12:03 PM:

There seems to be a great deal of cultural parallel between the Kurds and the Basques, in that they both have extreme loyalty to their cultural independence.

Also I was struck by the comment that the Kurds are generally Sunnis. Is this true also of the Kurds in Iraque? Do the Iraqui Kurds identify themselves first as Kurds and Sunnis second? And if the Shiite majority in Iraque begin further expulsion of the Sunnis from their present territory, would the Kurds intervene or protect only their Kurdish area? Can anyone offer an educated opinion on this?



Blogger Gordon Taylor on 12/31/2007 5:03 PM:

Hi Jim,

Yes, the Basque comparison to the Kurds has been drawn before. And yes, the Kurds are generally Sunni. I don't believe that their "branch" of Islam is of particular importance to them, in the big picture. And they certainly don't care about a Sunni-Shia conflict among the Arabs.

To learn more about the Kurds, just Google "Martin van Bruinessen". He's at the Univ. of Utrecht in the Netherlands, and he knows more about the Kurds than any man alive. Lots of articles are available at his website.


Anonymous Anonymous on 1/01/2008 1:52 AM:

It is a very good article!However, you should look at the issue of the greek muslim minority in pontus. it is estimated that 600.000 greeks muslims exists in Turkey. i have to remind u that the region of alexandretta was autonomous during rhe lausanne treaty so greeks orthodox did go to greece but rather stay there.


Blogger Gordon Taylor on 1/01/2008 1:33 PM:

First of all, I want to acknowledge your distinguished name--or pseudonym. The name of the last Greek emperor of Constantinople makes for an interesting leader on an email.

I'm well aware that there are Greek-speaking Muslims in Turkey, but the 600,000 figure seems a bit high to me. The best-known of these groups, dubbed "Aegean Turks" by Mary Lee Settle, lives on that sea, and is especially prominent in the town of Bodrum (ancient Halicarnassus). They came there during the population exchanges which happened after 1923. [The Orthodox Greeks who came from Bodrum went to Crete, where they founded Nea Halikarnasos.]

The Pontic Greeks, which you refer to, are less well-known. They are indigenous to the area near Trabzon, around the villages of Of and Macka. They have a reputation for extreme conservatism in their religion. I am not aware of any disaffection among the Muslim Greeks of Pontus, though perhaps you have other information.