Friday, 28 October 2005

Armenian genocide: Turkey and Pamuk's historical facts

Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk has repeated his statement that "1 million Armenians and 30,000 Kurds were killed in Turkey" - the Armenians by the Ottoman Empire in the 1910s and the Kurds by the Republic of Turkey in the 1980s and 1990s - though he chose not to say "whether it should be called 'genocide' or 'mass murder'", arguing that that "has to be decided by experts".

Here, a Turk who has spoken out about atrocities committed against Ottoman citizens and against Turkish citizens has been charged with "insulting and weakening Turkish identity"; he should be lauded for defending and advocating for Turkish citizens who have been the victims of injustice.

It has been reported by Reuters that Armenian-Turkish journalist Hrant Dink has just been given a six-month suspended sentence for a similar offence, but some government figures have said that they expect the case against Pamuk to be dismissed. The facts that Dink received a suspended sentence and that Pamuk is likely to be left off is encouraging, even if it's only a political manoeuve, rather than a moral act, an acknowledgement of and state apology for ethnic cleansing and genocide.

Orhan Pamuk, who fled Turkey after he stated that the Ottoman Empire had committed mass murder in its killings of its Armenian citizens and that the Republic of Turkey had committed mass murder in its killings of its Kurdish citizens, insisted that: "I stand by my words. And even more, I stand by my right to say them".

As Maureen Freely pointed out in the Observer, "although most of the world acknowledges the genocide as historical fact, the official Turkish line has been that 'only' a few hundred thousand died during the internecine conflicts of the First World War".

The Turkish media considered Pamuk a "traitor" for accusing Turkey of genocide (though he made a point not to) and called for "civil society" to "silence" him; less-than-civil society made death threats and he went into hiding in exile.

Pamuk returned to Turkey in 2005, where he was charged with "public denigration of Turkish identity" for publicising the state's crimes in Switzerland. Pamuk said that "thirty thousand Kurds and a million Armenians were killed in these lands and nobody but me dares to talk about it"; the Republic of Turkey thinks that this breaks Article 301/1 of its penal code.

Article 301/1 orders that "a person who explicitly insults being a Turk, the Republic or Turkish Grand National Assembly, shall be imposed to a penalty of imprisonment for a term of six months to three years" and that "where insulting being a Turk is committed by a Turkish citizen in a foreign country, the penalty to be imposed shall be increased by one third". PEN - a worldwide writers' organisation - is campaigning on his behalf.

Tragically, this mockery of the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights, both of which Turkey has ratified, threatens to dash the hopes of both Pamuk and Turkey, as Turkey is keen to enter the European Union and Pamuk was a supporter of that project and of the project to achieve "European-style social democracy" in Turkey.

This trial threatens to realise the hopes of both Turkish nationalists and existing EU member states' nationalists, all of whom want Turkey kept out of European Union; furthermore, if that were achieved, it would be even more pleasing to Turkish nationalists, as, outside of EU law, they would be able to maintain their positions of power and continue their human rights violations.

Alongside Orhan Pamuk and Taner Akcam, Murat Belge, Halil Berktay and Yektan Turkyilmaz, other Turkish academics have started asking questions about the facts and interpretations of Turkish history. Optimistically, this expansion of challenges to the received opinions, to the official narrative, to the orthodox Turkish line could trigger acknowledgement of the human rights abuses by those who are already aware of the truth.

More optimistically, that, in turn, could trigger acceptance of those crimes by the public, who have been lied to consistently and persistently and who, understandably, find it difficult to recast their community's ancestors - and possibly their own family members - as not heroes, but villains, not protectors of the Turkish community, but persecutors of the Armenian community and as persecutors of the Kurdish community.

As Pamuk recognises, "we are confronted with an immense human tragedy and immense human suffering we did not learn about at school", which makes it "a fragile subject"; this is why he chooses not to use the word "genocide". If what happened is labelled a genocide, it casts those involved as people guilty of the worst crimes imaginable; some contend that the Turkish public would close its minds and refuse to consider such a possibility. Their plan is to generate questioning of and challenges to the official narrative and once that has been achieved, to guide that open-minded review of Turkish history towards a critical investigation into Turkish history.

The cliched aphorism says that "you can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make it drink"; however, that is precisely what we must do. Those in power in Turkey know exactly what happened; they have read the documents and they have seen the photographs and they have heard the testimonies. They need to be made to admit what the rest of the world knows; then, their citizens will be able to choose to believe in the truth of Turkish history, rather than being forced to accept a new orthodoxy, which would be no more democratic than the current official narrative and which would be no more successful than any propaganda campaign.

Maureen Freely relays that Orhan Pamuk considers that "the novelist's most important political act is the imaginative exploration of the 'other', the 'stranger', the 'enemy who resides in all our minds'", where he engages in politics by identifying - and enabling his readers to identify - with "the downtrodden and the marginalised".

Appropriately, his books have been burned by nationalists; this can only recommend them all the more.


  1. Did you see the pics of the Coptic nun who was recently stabbed in braod day light, by muslims??? Google it. They have no shame!

  2. I don't want to give that ignorant bigot a persecution complex by deleting their post - and blogger won't let me - but I think it's so rabid as to show it's ignorance and bigotry without my help.

    There's a point in the Bible about not eating pork, but no-one thinks Christians who do are hypocritical.

    There's another point about stoning to death farmers who plant wheat and barley in neighbouring fields, but no-one thinks Christians are barbaric or Christianity uncivilised.

    No true interpretation of the Qur'an could or would seek to uphold the immoral acts that commentator referred to.

    No true interpretation of the Bible would uphold stoning to death farmers who plant wheat and barley in neighbouring fields.

    They are some of the most peculiar points of convergence, when Islamic extremists and Islamophobes agree about the interpretation of the Qur'an and the Hadith.

    People are responsible for their own actions and not for others'; people are certainly not responsible for unrelated others' acts, whether they are associated by some alleged common identity or not.