by Gordon Taylor | 3/09/2008 03:50:00 PM

Turkey Renames "Foreign" Animals

Mar 4, 2005

ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkey has renamed some animal species, saying foreign scientists opposed to its territorial integrity had chosen their former names with ill intent, the Environment Ministry has said.

A sheep species previously known as Ovis Armeniana was renamed Ovis Orientalis Anatolicus. A species of red fox (found in the country's Kurdish area) was renamed as Vulpes Vulpes rather than Vulpes Vulpes Kurdistanica.

"Unfortunately there are many other species in Turkey which were named this way with ill intentions. This ill intent is so obvious that even species only found in our country were given names against Turkey's unity," the statement said.

This is the Turkish Nationalist reality: foreigners, enemies all, putting offensive Latin names on animals--animals!--in a subtle, insidious effort to divide and rule the fatherland. You have to be taught to believe in this kind of thing. Carefully taught. From year to year, actually. And if it has to be drummed in your dear little ear, well, so much the better. In fact, nationalist paranoia can be considered an integral part of Turkish educational policy. A Peace Corps friend, while teaching on the Black Sea coast of Turkey in the 1960s, once made the mistake of correcting students' test papers during a school assembly called to commemorate the life of Ataturk. He may as well have urinated on Fred's tomb, such was the horror and outrage that ensued. Only after the most delicate negotiations was he allowed to stay in the country. Such stories are not the exception in Turkey: they are the norm.

And yet, let us repeat again, this is a nation that thinks it should join the EU. In fact, economically speaking, it has a chance. Since Turkey opened up, under the presidency of Turgut Ozal beginning in the 1980s, the country has made enormous strides in all areas of commerce. It is now a genuine economic power. But politically? "Ossification" is here the operative word; ossification, as in the formation of bone, the calcification of soft tissue, especially in the brain. Nowhere is this more visible than in the execution of Turkey's war against the PKK.

First, some good news. In the eastern city of Van, the Oramar Eight are free, having been released, pending their eventual trial, on Saturday February 2. "Oramar Eight" is my Crusading Liberal coinage (as in, "Free the Oramar Eight!") for the unfortunate Turkish soldiers who, having surived a PKK attack on 21 October 2007 in the mountain village of Daglica (Oramar), found themselves marched off into Iraq by the guerrillas, held in caves for a month, repatriated, then imprisoned by their own army for, among other things, having "deserted to a foreign country." These young men, all but one of whom are draftees, sat for 3 1/2 months in a military prison before their case's first hearing on 2 February 2008. During this time their parents remained desolate and angry, having received no words of comfort from the Army either during their sons' captivity or their imprisonment. Meanwhile, the case was sealed under an official news blackout. Now, suddenly, the clouds have opened an inch, and the question is, Why were these boys charged in the first place? The answer seems obvious: they were deliberately frightened as an example to others. Their major offense: being alive; not getting themselves killed on October 20. This sorry episode illustrates perfectly the ethos which has always governed the Turkish Army and, thus, the State itself. It says: the Turkish State has no real friends. Everyone, at home and abroad, is either an enemy or a potential enemy, and the only possible loyalty is that which has been purchased by the relentless application of threats and punishment. These boys did not prove to be adequate enemies of the State's enemies; therefore, they themselves became enemies.

At the other end of the country, there's better news. In Istanbul the government has cracked down on a right-wing gang whose members include a retired army general as well as various lawyers, journalists, organized-crime figures, and active members of the military. There was even a representative from something called "The Turkish Orthodox Patriarchate," which is in reality an ultra-right fringe group originally founded by a family of renegade Greeks. These people called their organization Ergenekon, after a mythical land in Central Asia from which, according to legend, sprung the progenitors of the Turkish race. The gang has been implicated in murder and terrorist attacks, several of which were made to look as if they were Islamist in origin. Mustafa Akyol, writing in the Turkish Daily News, wrote, "One of their prominent members, retired colonel Fikri Karadag, is reported to have gone mad with the fact the Education Minister, Hüseyin Çelik of the AKP [Justice and Development, the ruling party] cabinet, is a man whose mother is Kurdish and whose father is Arab." If--and it's a big if--the government vigorously pursues the case against these men, it could deal a major blow to right-wing terrorism in Turkey. But if, as many believe, the state is only rounding up these men to impress the outside world, after which it will let them go on a technicality and allow other, similar gangs to proliferate, it will show once again that nothing has really changed in Turkey. Turkish commentators say "wait and see," so that's what we'll have to do. The Ergenekon gang's most famous leader, a retired General named Veli Kucuk, is a well-known figure on the extreme right. Before Hrant Dink's murder (January 2007) he threatened the victim over the telephone some half a dozen times. (Threatening phone calls are evidently legal in Turkey, because nothing was done to stop him.) The gang is also implicated in other murders. We must not forget that Hrant Dink, an Armenian journalist, was only the latest in a long, dismal string of assassinations aimed at journalists and intellectuals, virtually all of whom were of Turkish Muslim origin.

Like most racists, Kucuk looks nothing like the person of his fantasies. Real Central Asian Turks look like Mongols. Veli Kucuk looks like what he is: a central Anatolian, very much like all the other peoples of the eastern Mediterranean, including the Greeks. The General, in other words, is a pure-blood Central Asian Turk the way that Goebbels was a blonde Aryan. Like other extremist fantasies (Mussolini's Roman warriors, Hitler's Valhallan gods, the NRA's modern self-reliant frontiersmen) the image collapses under the simplest of scrutiny. In fact, he is the son of an Anatolian village farmer. As such he represents the strengths and pathologies of the Turkish Officer Corps, its equality of opportunity coupled with systemic brainwashing and fanaticism.

Just before the Ergenekon gang's arrest, Turkey witnessed another happy event: the visit of a Greek Premier, Constantine Karamanlis, for the first time in 49 years. Of the many points of disagreement between two countries, not one was addressed or resolved. On the other hand, nothing happened, which was itself a triumph. Everyone seemed happy that the visit had come off at all, with no ugly nationalist demos to mar the occasion. One of the most depressing aspects of the Turkish scene during the last fifty years has been the virtual disappearance of the Greek population (called Rum by the Turks; Romios by the Greeks) in Istanbul after the pogroms of 1955. They've now dwindled to some 2,000 people, most of whom are old. (The Armenians, by contrast, are almost flourishing, with a population of 50,000 [est.] and active schools for their children.) The Turkish Daily News, in several articles published before Karamanlis's arrival, noted a number of young Greeks who have emigrated from their homeland and made careers in Istanbul. Annual trade has risen from virtually nothing a few years ago to over $2 billion now. In short, individual human beings have moved ahead even as their governments remain stuck in place.

But it is the recent war in northern Iraq that now dominates the headlines. In considering it, we should admit the universal truth; that no one really "wins" a war. Yet it is the case that in war one side may lose less than another. In the eight days of Turkey's recent fight against the PKK guerrillas, it seems obvious that the PKK lost a lot less than did the Turkish Army (known by its Turkish initials, the TSK). I'm not referring just to the number of casualties, though that is an important indicator. The TSK claims that they lost 24 soldiers. The PKK claims they lost 9, and they have posted the pictures of those "martyrs" online. The PKK claims they killed approx. 125 TSK soldiers; the TSK claims over 200 PKK "terrorists" killed. Neither side, in reality, has any way of proving that they killed that many. However, the PKK has published an accounting of the weapons and materiel garnered in the operation, as well as photographs and video of the Cobra helicopter which they shot down, and that accounting is impressive: multiple weapons, large numbers of day and night binoculars, personal equipment, ammunition, etc. Moreover, they are in exactly the same position they were before the operation, and in fact are inducting new recruits, as this item from their website shows. Equally disturbing to the Turks must be this story, in which a guerrilla, code-named Rubar Andok, writes, "This operation showed many things, among them the Turkish soldiers' cowardice, their lack of experience, and their willingness to run away from the battle." He says that by the end of the second day of the invasion, the TSK forces were basically surrounded, and by the final day, with the Turks in retreat, it was like "a holiday." In another PR coup for the guerrillas, a Washington Post story, just published, complete with photos and video, shows them in a better light than ever before. The Jamestown Foundation, certainly no friend to terrorism, has stated, as nearly as they ever will, that the PKK got the better of the encounter. In fact, their correspondent even states the obvious; that negotiations would be a better way for the Turks to go.

America's Centcom commander, Admiral William Fallon, concluded much the same thing. The reaction from Turkish commentators: the Americans must be mad. Turkey's Ambassador to Washington, Faruk Logoglu, soothingly told the readers of Today's Zaman that all was well, huge gains had been made against the PKK, and no one should worry. Cengiz Candar, in the Turkish Daily News, concurred. Only the far right nationalists were really angry, and they were offended because the Army had ended the operation too soon, at the direction of--shame!--the Americans. Among Turkey's self-muzzled press, such deep denial ruled the day. Their attitude: the TSK has told us that they killed hundreds of terrorists. Obviously they are correct. The PKK is a terrorist organization; government policy says so. Therefore, we do not negotiate with terrorists. All of this is explained by Mizgin, who has assembled several posts so damning that even the Turkish General Staff is reading them.

Among the Kurds, however, something far different is going on. In the east, the west, and the south of Turkey, they are marching and in fact have been on the march since before the TSK started bombing Iraq late in 2007. "Edi Bes'e!" is the slogan: "It is Enough!" Scores of demonstrations in every city and town of the east, and including Istanbul, Izmir, and Ankara, have rocked the country. Demonstrators have been run over by police panzers and beaten to death. March 8, International Women's Day, saw an unprecedented outpouring of anger from women who are sick of the war and want to stop it. And is the PKK unpopular among the Kurds? Not really. Scenes from the funeral of one guerrilla who died in the fighting showed a huge turnout. This was in Adana, biggest city in the south of Turkey and the home of Incirlik Air Base, where American fighters are based. "Thousands" of people showed up on this day and made a pilgrimage to the traditional "taziye cadiri," or "condolence tent," set up for the parents of Aydin Isik, a PKK fighter who died in the recent invasion. "He died a martyr for the Kurds and Kurdistan," said his mother, Perihan Isik. And on it goes.

The solution is obvious, yet no one chooses to see it. The President of Iraq, a Kurd named Jelal Talabani, has just made his first official visit to Turkey. During the visit he drank the same Kool-Aid as everyone else. At Fred's tomb he (a secular socialist) laid a wreath and prayed that Allah would bless Ataturk (an atheist) in heaven. As for the PKK, he said, their presence in northern Iraq would no longer be tolerated. As everyone knows, Jelal Talabani, George Bush, and the commanders of the TSK have no way of making the PKK leave. As Talabani, now grown immensely fat after his days as a guerrilla fighter, waddled back onto his official plane, those Kurds who weren't laughing were calling him a toady and a traitor.

And the Americans? Hell, we invented Kool-Aid. On 2 February 2008, in Ankara, the U.S. Ambassador to Turkey, Ross Wilson, stated that the Turkish air strikes had had a "genuine effect" on the PKK. (Note that on February 21 the PKK met the invading Turks with all their forces intact.) But "dropping bombs won't deal with this problem completely," Wilson added, though he carefully avoided the term "political solution." Using such a phrase would not do for a diplomat; its frankness would involve too steep a climb into the dizzying heights of rational discourse. "Political solution" would imply that the Turks might talk with Kurdish politicians and the PKK, or otherwise treat them as ordinary persons might. The solution, Wilson said, is "something for the Turkish government to decide." This is a finely tuned way of saying, "We know they're crazy. But they buy a lot of bombs, planes, and helicopters from us, and we're not going to stop them." For the fact is, the Turkish Army is prepared to make war forever, and no one in the civilian government is in any position to tell them otherwise.

On March 1, the day after the Turkish withdrawal from northern Iraq, the PKK proposed peace talks with the Turkish government, with officials from the Kurdish Regional Government of Iraq as intermediaries. Nechirvan Barzani, one of their leaders, has accepted the role of intermediary if the Turks approve. The Turks did not deign to respond. As Dana ("What's the Cuban Missile Crisis?") Perino chirped: "I don't know. Maybe they [the Turks] talk to terrorists. I know we don't!"

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Blogger Ahistoricality on 3/09/2008 9:34 PM:

It's fairly clear that Turkey's government and Turkish society have fascistic tendencies. What I can't tell from your writings is whether it's a new development, a continuation of Ataturk's nation-building, or something which has been growing for a while.

It's interestingly secular, though as you note, there are clearly ties to Islam as a cultural practice....

Thought-provoking, to be sure.


Blogger Mizgîn on 3/09/2008 10:46 PM:

Back in March 2006, 14 guerrillas were killed by the regime. As usual, tens of thousands poured out for the funerals of the two or three guerrillas who came from the Kurdish capital, Amed (Diyarbakir). As usual, the crowd was provoked by the TSK and police.

The crowd fought back, and that was the beginning of the Amed Serhildan of 2006, which spread throughout Turkish-occupied Kurdistan. A number of people were killed and over 200 Kurdish children were rounded up and tortured in Amed alone (Erdogan told the country that Kurdish women and children were legitimate targets of security forces).

This kind of stuff always happens at guerrilla funerals.

As for the recent invasion, some of us could not be happier with the results. But, then, Zap has always been Turkey's graveyard.

Ahistoricality, the Turkish Republic's foundational ideology is fascist. You should check David McDowall's Modern History of the Kurds for more, and Ahmet Kahraman's new book, Uprising, Suppression, Retribution: The Kurdish Struggle in Turkey in the Twentieth Century.

That last is available through


Blogger Gordon Taylor on 3/10/2008 2:00 AM:


One could discuss Turkey's fascist tendencies all night long. There are plenty of them to be sure, and thoughtful people can disagree about their importance. What's going on, as I see it, is an extreme experiment in nation-building, rather like a high-pressure annealing furnace whose operators simply do not know how (a) to turn it off or (b) let it burn itself out. And yes, these fascist corporate-state tendencies certainly are the result of a process that has been going on since the founding of the Republic in 1923. But--and it's a big BUT--this is a highly complex society that is evolving in a million different directions. The citizens of Turkey are remarkable people, and in spite of official brainwashing and repression they continue to express themselves creatively in all kinds of ways. To me it's truly an amazing scene, and I find it endlessly fascinating in spite of the stupidity that so often passes for governance. (Kind of like...but I'm sure you can fill in the blank for yourself.)

Some explanation of Mizgin's comment:
1) Amed is just another version of Amida, the original Roman name for the city of Diyarbakir.
2) "Diyarbakir" itself is an official Turkish corruption of the older name, Diarbekir, when it was named after an Arab tribe. Ataturk changed it because "bakir" is Turkish for copper, which is mined nearby.
3)Diyarbakir has always had a large Kurdish population, but only recently have they become so predominant. Before the Great War the city was a kaleidoscope of nationalities: Arabs, Turks, Greeks, Chaldean Christians, Armenians, Jews, Yezidis, as well as Kurds. There was even, according to one source (buried somewhere in my files) a small tribe of sun worshippers, left-overs from an ancient Mesopotamian sect. There still are Armenians in Diyarbakir, but they don't advertise themselves.
4) The "Zap" that Mizgin refers to is that district which abuts the river Zab on the east: a land of rocky spires, narrow canyons choked with vegetation, and rushing streams: ideal for guerilla hiding places. The Zab is Zap Suyu in Turkish, Rubar-i-Zai in Kurdish, Zab al-Kabir in Arabic, and Zava to the Aramaic-speaking Jews and Nestorian Christians who used to inhabit the area. Note that "rubar" means river in Kurdish. Like "peder" (father) and "birader" (brother) this would, I believe, be an indicator of its Iranian and Indo-European roots as a language. But others know far more about this than I.


Anonymous Anonymous on 3/11/2008 3:15 PM:

So there was never a 'Kurdistan', apart from a "Kurdistan" province in the Osman empire empire and don't you forget that Ocalan praised Ataturk several times. Before you start ranting about Talabani.


Blogger Mizgîn on 3/11/2008 10:23 PM:

There never was a Turkey either . . . until 1923.

And let's see, who helped create that Turkey? Who fought so that Turkey would exist? And then who was betrayed by the Turkish fascists?

Praise of Ataturk should be reserved for his ideas of an autonomous Kurdistan within Turkey and of the equality of Kurds within the Turkish state and when we remember Apo's words, this is what we remember. It's no different than what DTP argues today, but I guess you missed some of Aysel Tugluk's arguments from last June:

Apo is the one who reminded Kurds in Turkey of what it is to be Kurd . . . after the long silence that followed the Dersim massacre. This is why Apo continues to be honored.

And what of Talabani? What has he done for Kurds? Do you think there will be an independent South Kurdistan? Do you think it will separate from Baghdad? What has Talabani said about independence?

Talabani was offered a "working" visit, not an "official" visit--because, after all, he's supposed to be a Kurd--on the day TSK invaded South Kurdistan, Sakharov Prize winner Leyla Zana managed to shame him for a week, but at the first moment after TSK's humiliating defeat, he runs to Ankara (no doubt to assuage the wounded pride of the Pashas, as the visit to Anitkabir shows).

Now DTP parliamentarians, one by one, are condemning Talabani for his utter servility, docility, and lack of honor.

Not only is this toad the secretary-general of the PUK, he's also the president of occupied Iraq and he had the freedom to reject the invitation.

In August 2006, a democratic solution was offered by PKK to the Turkish state that preserved Turkey's borders. Why hasn't either Barzani or Talabani pushed that solution with both the Turks and the Americans? Why is the insistence on "dialog" between Turkey, Iraq, and the US, and not on dialog between Turkey and the Kurds of Turkey?

Talabani has betrayed his own people in South Kurdistan--which is fine, if they want to put up with it. However, Talabani does not represent the 20 million Kurds in Turkey. Never has; never will.


Anonymous Anonymous on 3/12/2008 8:01 AM:

"It is vital that we own all the martyrs who expended their efforts in the creation of the Republic [of Turkey] and in its defence as our own, to remember its creator [Ataturk] in gratitude and respect, and to salute its flag with pride.” (Declaration Ocalan)

Who decided to make Kurds mountain Turks? Despite that he 'saved' Kurdish identity. Your so-called holy apo is praising Ataturk and calling Kurdish uprisings 'imperialism', 'feudal' and the 'Southern Kurdish' state a danger to Turkish democracy. He praises Ataturk for destroying the Kurdish uprisings and says it's all the fault of the backward Kurds! He calls the 'Dersim' uprising primitive and feudal..

He calls your nationalism primitive! You are clearly brainwashed Mizgin....And Barzani/Talabani isn't any better then Ocalan, working together with Iran, Iraq, Syria, Turkey and fighting civil wars against each other.

Every Kurdish leader lacks honour and especially yours! You only support the PKK, because there is no other Kurdish political group that is strong enough to make a difference. Amd it's doubtfull PKK will achieve anything with a leader like Ocalan.


Blogger Hevallo on 3/18/2008 12:24 PM:

Qazi, do you think the profound struggle of the Kurdish people are reduced to the 'leaders'? I think you place far too much importance on 'leaders'. That being said, the PKK, yes, under the leadership of Abdullah Ocalan, did halt the assimilation policies of the Turkish regime. Whatever, you, or anyone may say, the Kurdish people have put their trust in the PKK and with out them there would almost certainly be only 'Mountain Turks' in Turkey.

I think you need to always place any remarks that Kurdish leaders make into the context in which they were saying them. I'm sure that in their minds they are intending to act in a tactical way that pushes the Kurdish struggle forwards.

I'm glad that you do recognise that the PKK is the only party strong enough to make a difference. I would add that not only is it strong enough to make a difference, but it has made an enormous difference to the recognition of the Kurdish identity, an identity that you clearly are proud of.

Please show a little more respect to the honour of the thousands of Kurdish martyrs that have died for Kurdish Freedom even if you have no respect for your 'leaders'.


Anonymous Anonymous on 3/24/2008 8:45 AM:

I place to much importance on leaders? Look to the DTP and the PKK, with their "biji Apo' campaign and self-critism sessions in Qandil, etc.

There is only one context for Ocalan's comments: That he doesn't know what he is saying. I advise you to read Xani Xulam's comments again.

Don't ask for respect. You sound like a religious mullah. Kurds don't have a choice. They don't have any options. This world is fucked up.