Thursday, February 08, 2007

Hrant Dink: the 1,500,001st victim of the Armenian Genocide

February 8, 2007

The Globe - by Galip Ozben

Hrant was portrayed by the Turkish State as an enemy of the Turkish nation thanks to the infamous clause 301, writes Globe analyst on Turkish affairs, Galip Ozben.

Ozben says that unlike the Kurdish case in the country- where it has been backed by its political and military struggle; the Armenian cause could only rely on international pressure on Turkey.

Hrant Dink's assassination outraged Turkey's democratic opposition and his funeral on 22 January turned into a mass protest with the participation of more than a hundred thousand people putting Istanbul's major roads to a total halt.

The murder investigation, on the other hand, has been shaking the foundations of the Turkish establishment, as a conspiracy relating elements of the Turkish state to the murder unfolds day by day with more shocking information. Under the circumstances, Premier Erdogan overtly admitted the existence of a 'deep state' and his statement heralded an intra-state struggle involving the purge of a number of top security personnel from the ranks of bureaucracy. The murderous semi-official gang however would not go without a bang: with the ultra-nationalist MHP raising its voice in support of the murderers, the whole affair seems to be turning into a counter-offensive by Turkish nationalism against pro-democracy forces in the country.

The nationalist reaction mainly grows in its condemnation of the slogans "We are all Hrant Dinks" and "We are all Armenians" expressed in Kurdish and Armenian languages in addition to Turkish at Hrant's funeral march. This was the first in Turkey's modern history, where despite international guarantees, the Armenian minority have been systematically degraded, silenced and persecuted. A consequence of these policies has been the constant decrease of Turkey's Armenian population since the 1920s from 300,000 to around 60,000 in the year 2006. In fact, Hrant Dink's assassination has been perceived by many as a major link in this chain of constant state persecution. In Hrant's radical democrat personality, the Armenian community of Turkey had found for the first time an internationally recognized representative, who courageously broke a ninety-year-long silence about the Armenian genocide and the constant denial, degradation and persecution that have been in effect ever since. Hrant also led the Armenian community to break their shell by correctly presenting the cause of his people as a major concern of the broader democratic movement in Turkey. Such dialogue had also served to break the nationalist prejudices of the many within Turkey's democratic opposition. For many Turks, the Armenian cause, which had been presented in school textbooks, 'scientific' works, official statements and consequently popular discourse as an exclusively foreign conspiracy, was gradually gaining legitimacy.

Hrant's March

In these circumstances, Hrant had become a natural target of hardline nationalists. And if one wing of hardline nationalism is political, the other is certainly judicial. The world is aware that authors Orhan Pamuk and Elif Shafak have been tried for the breach of the infamous clause 301 and acquitted. However, very few are aware that Hrant Dink and a number of Kurdish lawyers have been the only ones who were convicted by this clause to imprisonment. Obviously, belonging to an ethnicity other than Turkish was in itself "degrading Turkishness."

Hrant was thus portrayed by the Turkish State as an enemy of the Turkish nation thanks to the infamouse clause 301. He began to receive death threats and on one occasion he was threatened by Istanbul's vice governor. The threats, official and unofficial alike, had the same demand: "Stop talking or else you'll be silenced". Like many of us, Hrant already knew the scenario of what had happened in the 1990s to Vedat Aydin, Musa Anter and tens of Kurdish journalists and intellectuals. After courageously stating the cause of their people, their death penalties had to be executed for the sake of the survival of the Turkish order based on the denial of the Kurdish identity through political, economic and military coercion in addition to systematic policies of demographic engineering and cultural assimilation.

There certainly are limits to this resemblance: Firstly, the eliminated Kurdish intelligentsia was speaking on behalf of more than one third of Turkey's population, in comparison to no more than 60,000 Armenians, mainly concentrated in certain neighbourhoods of Istanbul. Secondly, the Kurdish intelligentsia's stance corresponded to the emergence of a strong Kurdish political and military challenge around the country in addition to the emergence of a de facto Kurdish entity in northern Iraq. The Armenian diaspora in Europe and the US, and the former Soviet republic of Armenia have no comparable effect over Turkish politics. In these circumstances, the only force to favour the Armenian cause has been the international pressure over Turkey, which has tangibly intensified in parallel to the Turkish prospect of membership to the European Union.

'Obscuring the Facts'

Such pressure, however, vindicates further the nationalist fantasies about fighting against foreign threats led by imaginary Armenian 'masterplan' of Turkey's disintegration. They spark further official and popular versions of nationalism, which have been united in a persistant chorus of denial of the historical events ever since their occurrence in the 19th and early 20th centuries that resulted in the violent elimination of the Armenian population of the Ottoman Empire. Following the French Parliament's October 2006 bill that criminalizes the denial of the Armenian genocide, the Turkish government issued a call for historians to form an international commission to study the event and offered to open its archives. This invitation, however, was made by the head of the official Turkish History Institute, Professor Yusuf Halacoglu, who had already stated that 'there was no genocide but some deaths from diseases and from the attacks on the Armenian deportation convoys by Kurdish bandits.' This statement shows no progress in the Turkish official discourse, which had been stated boldly in 1990 by Nuzhet Kandemir, the then Turkish Ambassador to the US, that the Armenian deaths were 'a result of a tragic civil war initiated by Armenian nationalists'.

In addition to the categoric denial, and the intensive domestic propaganda that it was in fact the Armenians who massacred the Turks, Turkish 'scientific' officials backed by a fistful of internationally degraded advisors, such as Professor Justin McCharty and Professor Norman Stone, have been working hard on contingency plans, in case they lost the battle of denial. In the Turkish media there has been growing mention that the deportation had nothing to do with the republic of Turkey, but it was an Ottoman Empire affair. There are others, relating the whole event to the orders of the CUP (Committee of Union and Progress) dictatorship, who were practically ruling the Empire at the time. There has also been growing mention of the Kurdish involvement in the Armenian genocide, which hopes to imply that it was not the Turks or the Turkish state but the Kurds who were responsible for the genocide. Some writers even hint at the German responsibility from the genocide because the Turkish military was under German command at the time. 'Many of the Turkish efforts', comments historian Taner Akcam, 'aimed to obscure the facts, rather than dispute a false charge.'

Internationally, Turkish government, diplomats and academics have been fighting hard to maintain their 'thesis' based on genocide denial. Turkey is known to have offered funding for academic programmes in universities such as Princeton and Georgetown. In 1998, UCLA's history department voted to reject a $1m offer to endow a programme in Turkish and Ottoman studies because it was conditional on denying the Armenian genocide. In August 2000, Turkey threatened Microsoft with serious reprisals unless all mention of the Armenian genocide was removed from an online encyclopaedia. According to Professor Colin Tatz, an Australian academic, "Turkey has used a mix of academic sophistication and diplomatic thuggery to put both memory and history in reverse gear".

Most of the thuggery against Turkish citizens is performed domestically, where any mention of the Armenian genocide is liable to punishment by the Turkish state, to lynch attempts by nationalist mobs, as has been observed in the recent trials of a number of writers including Orhan Pamuk, and to political assassination as in Hrant Dink's case. School textbooks and the media present the Armenian Genocide as a lie made up to degrade the Turkish nation. According to these 'sources', Turks were subjected to big massacres at the turn of the century until Ataturk emerged to save them from their enemies. However, as the psychiatric research on the mechanism of denial demonstrates, the actors engaged in denial are always deeply aware of the fact of the matter, and this knowledge surfaces from time to time as slips of tongue. This can be observed in the threat issued by the founder of modern Turkish racism, Nihal Atsiz, to Turkey's Kurds in the 1930s: "I advise the Kurds to find a place to go, for instance demand a country in Africa from the United Nations, and ask the Armenians about the consequences if they don't comply with this advice."

Similar outbursts can be observed in the contemporary rightwing discourse: "Let us be clear to the world's public: in the past we punished all the infamous half-casts, who, not content with profiting from our lands, attacked our possessions, the lives and honour of the Turks. We know that our forefathers were right, and if we were to face such threats again, we would not hesitate to do what is necessary" (Akit, 12 February 2001).

Note: Above are excerpts from the article. The full article appears here. Clarifications and comments by me are contained in {}. Deletions are marked by [...]. The bold emphasis is mine.



Post a Comment

<< Home