Topic(s): Armenian Genocide | Comments Off on Rene — FIVE COLUMNISTS FACE UP TO 10 YEARS IN PRISON

2 Articles on Turkey’s continued efforts at silencing its own voices of dissent:
Reporters without borders, France
Dec. 7, 2005
Reporters Without Borders today criticised Turkey’s prosecution of
five journalists, who face prison sentences of between 6 months and
10 years, as “further diminishing” the country’s freedom of expression
at a time when it is hoping to join the European Union.
The prosecutor-general announced on 3 December he would prosecute
the five – well-known columnists Ismet Berkan, Murat Belge, Erol
Katircioglu and Haluk Sahin of the centre-left paper Radikal and Hasan
Cemal of the centrist daily Milliyet – for criticising the Istanbul
administrative court’s ban on a university conference in September
about the Armenian question.
The threatened punishment was “totally out of proportion” to the
offence, the worldwide press freedom organisation said. “Turkey refuses
to allow its journalists to criticise its own institutions. We note
that the European Court of Human Rights only yesterday condemned Turkey
for jailing a member of the Party for Democracy and Peace (DBT) “.
“The prosecution of these prominent liberal commentators shows that
legal action against journalists has become harsher since the new
criminal code came into force on 1 June,” it said.
The journalists, who all work for the large media group Dogan, are
due to appear before an Istanbul magistrates’ court on 7 February
next year to answer a complaint by the Union of Jurists, a Turkish
pro-nationalist association of lawyers.
Four of them are being prosecuted under article 301 of the code
(also being used in the current trial of the well-known writer
Orhan Pamuk) about insulting Turkish identity or “Turkishness”
or state institutions (paragraph 1). The article’s paragraph
2 penalises publicly insulting the government, judiciary, army
or police. Previously the government had simply used article 125
(“insults by the press”) against journalists.
Turkish-Armenian writer Hrant Dink was given a suspended six-month
prison sentence on 7 October for “insulting Turkish identity”. Writer
and journalist Emin Karaca was sentenced on 13 September to 5 months
in prison and fined â~B¬560 under article 301 (2).
by Mark Mordue
The Australian
December 3, 2005 Saturday All-round Review Edition
Imagine Tim Winton or Peter Carey being on trial for commenting on
the stolen generations. That would be the Australian parallel of a
case due to start in Turkey this month, writes Mark Mordue
‘I READ a book one day and my whole life was changed.” So go the
opening words to Orhan Pamuk’s 1994 novel The New Life. Words good
enough to run as a billboard campaign to promote what became the
fastest selling novel published in Turkey.
Like so much of Pamuk’s work, the words bled into reality, blurring the
lines between the author, his labyrinthine novels and the dangerously
politicised world in which he finds himself today.
On December 16, Pamuk is due to stand trial in Istanbul, charged
under article 301/1 of the Turkish penal code with “insulting the
Turkish state”. He faces an additional sentence for making these
alleged insults outside the country. If convicted, he faces up to
three years in jail. The charges arise from a February 6 interview
published in Swiss newspaper Tages Anzeiger, in which Pamuk said:
“Thirty thousand Kurds and a million Armenians were killed in these
lands and nobody dares talk about it but me.”
He was referring to the brutal war against Kurdish separatists
in southeast Turkey since 1985 (in cessation with the capture of
rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan in 1999) and the slaughter of Armenians
(who sided with invading Russian forces) during World War I that many
regard as the first genocide of the 20th century. When Pamuk’s comments
were relayed back home through the Turkish press, he received death
threats and there were calls for his books to be burned. One website
asked who would be the one to exterminate him.
A literary heavyweight most often compared with Jorge Luis Borges
and Fyodor Dostoevsky, Pamuk enjoys the kind of blockbuster status in
Turkey we associate with a Dan Brown in the West. His book releases
are treated with all the fanfare of a Hollywood blockbuster and to
be merely sighted with his latest work is a form of cultural cachet.
His trial could be paralleled in Australia only if Peter Carey or
Tim Winton were hauled up before the courts for daring to speak up
about the stolen generations.
Cynics in Turkey argue that Pamuk is more bought than read, but that
does not lessen his abilities as a writer or his growing significance
at home and abroad. Comparisons with 20th-century postmodern tricksters
and epic 19th-century geniuses alike suggest the implicit truth that
he writes books that appeal to the heart as much as the mind.
For all the postmodern allusions, Pamuk is as much indebted to sufi
mysticism and traditional folktales as architecture and reportage
(he studied to be a painter, then an architect, then a journalist) and
the tradition of the European novel. American writer John Updike hit
a chord when he observed that Pamuk “in his dispassionate intelligence
and arabesques of introspection suggests Proust”.
The New Life, his fifth novel, is a contemporary fable in which
an Istanbul student journeys through the shadowlands of Anatolian
(outback) Turkey to dissolve like a character into the strange and
disturbing novel that has possessed him. Pamuk’s concerns then were
much as they have always been: the nature of identity and culture
in a civilisation torn between East and West; how the intellectual
influence of the enlightenment can coexist within the weave of Islam’s
artistic history; and why Turkey has, as he calls it, “two souls”,
and if this is a bad or a good thing or something more. In a country
that has spent the best part of the past 100 years wavering between
the ballot box and military domination, these are not questions to
be asked without a little risk.
Pamuk’s seventh and most recent novel, Snow (2004), amplified these
themes in the story of a poet and would-be journalist caught in
a Turkish border town in a snowstorm. The protagonist, Ka, finds
himself pushed and pulled between right-wing extremists and Islamic
fanatics as a coup takes place. A mere pawn in their game — and at
heart an apolitical creature more absorbed in his troubled love life,
metaphysical questions of identity and a resurgent burst in his writing
abilities that he guiltily enjoys amid the chaos — Ka moves through
this world as if he were in a dream.
We learn about Ka through the narration of a nameless friend who is
attempting to piece together what happened and how it was that he
ended his days in exile in Germany. In that old game of art mirrors
life, a game Pamuk plays more fatally than most, we are about to see
how premonitory and real his writing is.
For many reasons, not the least of which is his extraordinary
popularity, Pamuk has been increasingly if reluctantly drawn into
Turkey’s political affairs since the mid-1990s. He was the first
writer from a Muslim country to criticise the fatwa against Salman
Rushdie. No lightly taken action when your home is opposite a mosque
and your enemies are many. His outspokenness on the so-called Armenian
question can be only partly explained by his 13-year marriage to Aylin
Turegin, a historian of Russian descent (whom he divorced in 2001;
they have one teenage daughter, Ruya). An equally strong supporter
of environmental and women’s issues, both of which get short shrift
in Turkey, Pamuk has an almost brazen reputation for speaking his
mind. It is something of a joke that when asked a question, Pamuk
gives an answer.
A long-time critic of the conduct of the war against the Kurdish
minority, he went so far as to agree to sell a Kurdish newspaper on
the streets of Istanbul when its offices were bombed in 1994. His
refusal of state honours in 1999 and comparisons he made between the
government of the day and the White House of the Vietnam era did not
endear him to authorities.
He was also annoyed that the ensuing row distracted attention from his
latest novel, My Name is Red. Its translation in 2001 would cement
his reputation internationally and win him the IMPAC Dublin prize
for literature.
Pamuk’s looming trial is doing little to help Turkey’s bid to join the
European Union, which is strongly opposed by the French. Fears about
“the Islamicisation of Europe” are finding convenient marriage with
more high-handed concerns over Turkey’s record on human rights and
freedom of speech.
Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, who began his career as
an Islamic fundamentalist, now promotes himself as the leader of
a moderate coalition. As his reforming Government tries to jump
through the EU hoops, Erdogan attempts to appease extremist groups
at home. Reports that right-wing nationalists, through their control
of the military, may attempt a coup give some sense of the delicacy
of that balancing act.
And so we see in Turkey a schizophrenia. Despite much-touted moves
to improve freedom of speech, more than 50 writers, journalists and
editors are on trial for transgressions against the state, according
to the Sydney PEN literary lobby group.
The Pamuk case, then, is far from unique. But given his international
stature, the trial indicates brinkmanship of a darker kind as competing
forces — remarkably similar to those in Snow — attempt to damage
Turkey’s chances of entry into the EU and the liberalising energies
this may encourage.
That Pamuk’s stature might protect him from prosecution matters less
than the manipulation of his public conscience as a crucible for ill
will and political destabilisation.
Pamuk would hate being used to poison the EU process for Turkey. Though
neither he nor his publisher has been permitted to discuss the matter
until the trial, a recent flurry of activity saw him interviewed on
CNN Turkey as well as by German magazine Der Spiegel.
Though he refused to back away from his words, Pamuk did attempt to
refine them by pointing out he had never used the explosive word
genocide that made so many Turks feel he was a traitor to their
national image.permitted or encouraged whatever his own views.
Yet it would be naive to regard Pamuk as a pro-Western voice. One
senses throughout his novels ambivalence, even anger, towards the West
that is broadly political and deeply personal. In an essay titled The
Anger of the Damned for The New York Review of Books on November 15,
2001, he argued against what he called “the artificial tension that
some quarters are trying to generate between East and West or Islam
and Christian civilisation.”
It reflected as much about the motivation for writing Snow as any
commentary he was making on September 11. In the essay, Pamuk spoke
of how television and the media had revealed the grotesque gaps
in lifestyle between these worlds and what that realisation does
to people.
“The Western world is scarcely aware of this overwhelming feeling of
humiliation that is experienced by most of the world’s population;
it is a feeling that people have to try to overcome without losing
their common sense and without being seduced by terrorists, extreme
nationalists or fundamentalists.
“This is the grim, troubled private sphere that neither magical realist
novels that endow poverty and foolishness with charm nor the exoticism
of popular travel literature manages to fathom. And it is while living
within this private sphere that most people in the world today are
afflicted by spiritual misery.” This same misery condemned him as a
young man to what he calls “a second-class existence”, his talent all
but banished to the fringes of the world, experiences he details at
melancholy and angry length in his recent maze-like memoir Istanbul,
Memories of a City.
The delay in announcing the Nobel Prize for Literature this year was
said to be because Pamuk, at just 53, was poised to win. Behind closed
doors there was a deadlocked argument centred on his relative youth
and concerns about making a politically charged decision. In the end,
the Nobel went to 75-year-old British playwright Harold Pinter. Even
so, you can be sure the name Orhan Pamuk is not about to be forgotten
any time soon.