Thursday, October 05, 2006

EU-Turkey & the Armenian Genocide-Part II

Written by Dr Harry Hagopian
Tuesday, 25 October 2005
(Previous) Audere est Facere!
Calls on Turkey to recognise the Armenian Genocide;
considers this recognition to be a pre-requisite for
accession to the European Union; European Parliament
Resolution (28 September 2005).

II. But what about the Armenian Genocide in the
overall context of EU-Turkey dossier?

Image There have been quite a few developments within
Turkey that have highlighted the inherent paradoxes of
the Turkish mindset on this human rights issue. There
has also been a tug-of-war between progressives and
reactionaries on the one hand, and between the small
minority of Turks openly addressing the issue of the
genocide and an ignorant or fearful majority who
maintain the denial that has typified Turkey for the
past 90 years.

One of the most prominent issues in the past few
months that highlights Turkey's non-EU credentials to
date as much as its paranoia about the Armenian
Genocide, is the case of Orhan Pamuk, one of Turkey's
most acclaimed contemporary writers. On 1st September,
a district prosecutor indicted Pamuk under Article
301(1) of the Turkish penal code for having 'blatantly
belittled Turkishness" by his "denigrating" remarks.
Pamuk's crime was to have given an interview in the
Swiss Tages Anzeiger newspaper on 6th February
stating that Turkey was responsible for the deaths of
1 million Armenians and 30,000 Kurds during WWI but
that nobody within the country dared speak about this
genocide. If convicted at his trial that starts on
16th December, Pamuk could well face up to three years
in gaol. Article 301/1 of the Turkish penal code
states that 'a person who explicitly insults being a
Turk, the Republic or Turkish Grand National Assembly,
shall be sentenced to a penalty of imprisonment for a
term of six months to three years … Where insulting
being a Turk is committed by a Turkish citizen in a
foreign country, the penalty shall be increased by one

This case came almost at the same time as that of
Hrant Dink, editor of the bilingual Agos magazine who
received a suspended six-month sentence in Istanbul on
7th October for writing a column that allegedly
insulted Turkey, and for telling an audience in 2002
that he was not a Turk but an Armenian of Turkey.
According to PEN International, fifty writers,
journalists and publishers currently face trials in
Turkey. The International Publishers' Association, in
its deposition to the UN, has also described the
revised Turkish penal code as being 'deeply flawed'.
It is questionable how a country such as Turkey that
has ratified both the UN International Covenant on
Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the European
Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) could flout the
fundamental freedom of expression and continue to
enforce a penal code that is contrary to such
universal and EU-friendly principles. No wonder
therefore that Fethiye Cetin, Dink's lawyer, averred
that the ruling against her client showed how little
had changed under Turkey's new criminal code, despite
international and internal pressures.

With those Turkish manoeuvres, Orhan Pamuk and Hrant
Dink have joined a long list of cognoscenti and
literati such as Kemal Tahir and Fakir Baykurt who
have been muzzled by the state for expressing their
viewpoints. Numerous international bodies, such as the
Commissioners of the US Helsinki Commission, have sent
letters to the Turkish Prime Minister calling upon him
to authorise the dropping of charges against the
writer. In an Opinion in the Turkish Daily News, Semih
Ydyz wrote critically, "Anti-EU forces that are using
the legal system to bound people like Orhan Pamuk and
Hrant Dink may believe they are doing a great service
to the country. They don't realise, however, that they
are doing the opposite ... They are exposing the
outmoded system of thought for what it is and forcing
progressive Turks to rally around principles like
respect for freedom of thought".

This Turkish imbedded sense of nationalism, dissimilar
to patriotism, was manifested again in the deferrals
of an international conference entitled Ottoman
Armenians in the Period of the Collapse of the Empire:
Issues of Scientific Responsibility and Democracy.
Many people, from the Turkish Minister of Justice to a
lawyer from one of the districts of Istanbul, tried
twice to cancel this conference. However, it finally
took place at Bilgi University in Istanbul on 24th
September. As the Economist wrote in an article
entitled Too soon for Turkish delight on 29th
September, "For Turks who want a European future,
there was a dollop of hope last weekend, when brave
historians managed to hold a conference in Istanbul to
discuss the fate of the Ottoman Armenians. It was the
first time Turkish pundits were permitted to challenge
publicly the official line, holding that the mass
deportation of Armenians in 1915 did not amount to a
conspiracy to kill them. As participants read out
letters between the 'Young Turks' then ruling the
empire, a rapt audience was left with no doubt that
hundreds of thousands of Armenians were deliberately
slain". In the words of Halil Berktay, coordinator of
the history department at Sabançi University and
participant at the conference, 'This is a country of
more than 70 million, with a strong nationalist past;
there are strong forces opposed to the European Union,
to democracy and opening up'. Berktay added that 'the
question of what happened in 1915-1916 is not a
mystery, it's not like we know just 5 percent, so the
question is not finding more evidence. The question is
liberating scholarship from the nationalist taboos …'

Fatma Muge Goçek, a sociologist at the University of
Michigan and advisor to the conference, said that
'Turkey has to confront its history, and the fact of
the violence of 1915 and 1916, and lack of
accountability, sanctioned more [state] violence'.
Equally, Elif Shafak, a social scientist and renowned
novelist whose works include The Flea Palace and who
recently captured the cultural voices of Turkey in
Street of the Cauldron Makers (Kazançi Yokushu),
published an editorial in the Washington Post on 25th
September entitled In Istanbul, a Crack in the Wall of
Denial. She wrote, "I also got to know other Turks who
were making a similar intellectual journey. Obviously
there is still a powerful segment of Turkish society
that completely rejects the charge that Armenians were
purposely exterminated. Some even go so far as to
claim that it was Armenians who killed Turks, and so
there is nothing to apologise for. These nationalist
hardliners include many of our government officials,
bureaucrats, diplomats and newspaper columnists. They
dominate Turkey's public image - but theirs is only
one position held by Turkish citizens, and it is not
even the most common one. The prevailing attitude of
ordinary people toward the 'Armenian question' is not
one of conscious denial; rather it is collective
ignorance. These Turks feel little need to question
the past as long as it does not affect their daily
lives". Shafak concluded her editorial about the
conference, "Whatever happens with the conference, I
believe one thing remains true: Through the collective
efforts of academics, journalists, writers and media
correspondents, 1915 is being opened to discussion in
my homeland [Turkey] as never before. The process is
not an easy one and will disturb many vested
interests. I know how hard it is - most children from
diplomatic families, confronting negative images of
Turkey abroad, develop a sort of defensive
nationalism, and it's especially true among those of
us who lived through the years of Armenian terrorism.
But I also know that the journey from denial to
recognition is one that can be made".

As Begle, another Turkish historian and a contemporary
of Selim Beligir, opined much along the same lines
during the conference in Istanbul, "The younger
generation in Turkey knows nothing about the events in
the early 20th century and the reason is the
educational system. [] The Armenian Question is one of
the darkest pages of our history, and naturally no one
wants to admit it. People who want to revisit and
discuss the problem gave gathered in this university".
Another speaker at the conference, historian Fikret
Adanir, stated outright that the killings constituted
genocide whilst Cengiz Candar, a prominent columnist
for the Bugun newspaper in Turkey wrote, "The
judiciary is one of the most reactionary and backward
institutions in Turkey, and the illegal [court]
verdict reflects the inherent problems. [] But the
fact that we are discussing this is ample evidence to
be optimistic". (To be continued 26/10/05)

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