09.09.2005

Rene — TURKEY'S WAR WITH HISTORY

Topic(s): Armenian Genocide | Comments Off on Rene — TURKEY'S WAR WITH HISTORY

TURKEY’S WAR WITH HISTORY
Los Angeles Times, CA
Aug 8 2005
ORHAN PAMUK, ARGUABLY TURKEY’S most famous novelist, knew it was
risky to ask what had happened to hundreds of thousands of Armenians
killed during the era of the Ottoman Empire. But the threats didn’t
silence him.
Pamuk wondered out loud about the fate of Turkey’s Armenian community,
and the more recent killings of 30,000 Kurds in a war against armed
separatists that began in 1984, during a February interview with a
Swiss newspaper.
Seven months later, and one day before European Union ministers were
scheduled to discuss Turkey’s bid to join the union, a Turkish public
prosecutor charged Pamuk with insulting his country.
In Turkey, it is a crime to “denigrate” Turkish identity, punishable
by up to three years in prison. It is up to government authorities
to define the meaning of “denigration.” Pamuk is scheduled to go to
trial on Dec. 16.
The timing of Pamuk’s prosecution suggests a deliberate attempt by
conservatives within the Turkish government to derail the country’s
EU negotiations. It clearly violates the conditions set for Turkey’s
EU membership, such as guaranteeing free-speech rights.
In spite of a plethora of evidence gathered by Henry Morgenthau, the
U.S. ambassador in Constantinople from 1913 to 1916, that detailed
how the Turkish government engaged in the systematic annihilation
of Armenians, the Turks still refuse to admit culpability. Instead,
they argue that Armenians who collaborated with the invading Russian
forces were deported to Syria and that many of them died of exposure,
famine and disease on their journey.
Pamuk, whose book, “My Name Is Red,” has been translated into more
than 20 languages, and other Turkish intellectuals have called for
a public debate on their country’s past.
Last May, Turkish academics organized a conference in Istanbul on
the fate of Ottoman Armenians. Justice Minister Cemil Cicek postponed
the conference the day before it was supposed to open.
These skirmishes are part of a bigger battle between traditionalists
and those who favor European-style modernization.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan should order a halt to Pamuk’s
prosecution, and his government needs to foster more freedom of
expression and thought in Turkey. Striking arbitrary laws that give
the government the right to imprison “critics” of Turkey would be a
start. So would an open debate on the fate of the country’s Armenian
population in the early 20th century.