Saturday, February 03, 2007

A nation in denial

Saturday, February 03, 2007
National Post
By Robert Fulford,

When Orhan Pamuk won the Nobel Prize for literature in October, not everyone in Turkey was pleased. A lawyer who had helped bring charges of "insulting Turkishness" against Pamuk in 2005 claimed the author won the Nobel not for his books but because he had taken the side of those who believe that in 1915 a Turkish campaign of genocide killed more than a million Armenians. "As a Turkish citizen I am ashamed," he said -- not ashamed of the genocide but of Pamuk. A nationalist poet said that people who know literature would never place Pamuk first among prominent Turkish writers. Last, maybe.

Pamuk's enemies reflect what Turks (even the prime minister) call "the Deep State," a shadowy network of judges, police, army officers, bureaucrats and crime bosses, all of whom claim to defend Turkey's honour. They argue, with the hysterical ferocity of people who no longer believe their own lies, that the genocide story was invented by Turkey's enemies.

The Deep State's opinions may eventually be drowned by more convincing arguments; but for now it's too powerful to be ignored. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a relatively moderate leader, wants to make Turkey respectable enough for full membership in the European Union. While worrying about rebellious Kurds and Islamic radicals (Turkey is 99.8% Muslim), Erdogan apparently decided that unfairly prosecuting a few writers wasn't too high a price for appeasing his county's irascible nationalists. How could he know the size of Pamuk's foreign reputation? How could he have anticipated, disaster of disasters, the Nobel?

The Deep State stands behind Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code, created to maintain public ignorance by making criticism of Turkey a crime. Article 301 was the basis of charges, eventually dismissed, against Pamuk. It was also behind the charge of insulting Turkishness brought in 2005 against Hrant Dink, a journalist who belonged to Turkey's small Armenian minority. He was convicted but given a six-months suspended sentence. In nationalist eyes, that certified him as an enemy.

Apparently as a result, he was shot to death on Jan. 19. As he lay on the sidewalk, the murderer ran away, shouting, "I have killed an Armenian!" Police see a conspiracy. They have arrested seven men, including the alleged shooter -- who, after his arrest, was allowed to pose for pictures with a Turkish flag.

A persistent critic of Turkish law, Dink disliked the national anthem's line, "smile upon my heroic race," and criticized the schools for requiring children, whatever their ethnicity, to swear: "I am Turkish, I am righteous." And he discussed the genocide.

In 1996, Dink founded a Turkish- Armenian weekly, AGOS, to create understanding between the two communities. He achieved a small circulation, just 6,000 subscribers, but made a large reputation. While Armenian in background, he supported Turkey's application for full status in the EU and believed in its future as a democracy.

A crowd of 100,000 attended his funeral in Istanbul. At The Hague 1,000 people gathered in front of the Dutch Parliament

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.

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