Wednesday, 7 March 2007

Turkey youtube ban

[Updated on the 9th of January 2007]

Turkey has lifted the ban on youtube.

[Original post below.]

Turkey has just banned its citizens, residents and visitors from accessing youtube. If you try to visit the site from within Turkey's borders, you will see only:
Bu siteye erişim mahkeme kararıyla engellenmiştir !... sitesine erişim İstanbul 1. Sulh Ceza Mahkemesi'nin 2007/384 sayı ve 06.03.2007 tarihli kararı gereği engellenmiştir.

Access to site has been suspended in accordance with decision no: 2007/384 dated 06.03.2007 of Istanbul First Criminal Peace Court.
The New York Times, Business Week, Forbes, the BBC, Time and the Guardian discussed it first. Both Forbes and the Guardian's initial notes are reprints of the Associated Press (AP)'s news that "Τurkey pulls plug on YouTube over Ataturk 'insults'":
A Turkish court today ordered access to YouTube to be blocked because of videos allegedly insulting the founder of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

Paul Doany, head of Turk Telekom, Turkey's largest telecommunications provider, said his company had enforced the ban immediately.

"We are not in the position of saying that what YouTube did was an insult, that it was right or wrong," Mr Doany said in remarks to the state-run Anatolia news agency. "A court decision was proposed to us, and we are doing what that court decision says."....

Mr Doany said Turk Telekom would allow access to the popular video-sharing site again if the court decision were rescinded. Access from Turkey may be possible through other service providers, he said.

Over the past week, Turkish media publicised what some called a "virtual war" between Greeks and Turks on YouTube, with people from each side posting videos to belittle and berate the other.
According to Hürriyet, "YouTube got the message".

Tom Zeller Jr.'s article in the New York Times concluded that:
Readers might recall that the move seems to make sense in Turkey, where it is illegal to "insult Turkishness" under a controversial law.
This seems more than a little unfair, confusing the state of Turkey with the community in Turkey; it makes sense to Turkey, to the state. (It's an error repeated in most of the comments.)
It is the same decree under which the Turkish writer Hrant Dink was convicted last year - and it may well have contributed, critics have charged, to the hostile atmosphere that prompted a youthful gunman to take his life in January.
Business Week's article by Benjamin Harvey had a conclusion irrelevant to Turkey and Turkishness, which observed that:
It's not the first time YouTube has been banned. The Australian state of Victoria recently banned it from government schools in a crackdown on cyber-bullying after a gang of male students videotaped their assault on a 17-year-old girl on the outskirts of Melbourne.
The Australian state of Victoria banned youtube to prevent access to videos condoning and promoting bullying and violence; the state of Turkey didn't ban youtube because the Greek videos about Ataturk were homophobic.

Turkey banned youtube to prevent access to videos that threatened its national narrative (and only in a really pathetic sense that makes its banning as embarrassing as it is shameful).

From Holland to Kurdistan's Vladimir van Wilgenburg kindly pointed me to Fatih Atik's 5th of March article in Zaman, "Turkey to block separatist web sites" (which I remembered from Mizgin's post on Rasti about censorship and its reference to Alberto Redi's piece on "Article 301 for the internet"):
Prompted by a recent spate of Internet-related crimes, members of the Parliament's Justice Subcommittee debated banning Web sites that publish materials countering the "indivisible unity of the Turkish state" and agreed to include separatist crimes in a draft prepared to prevent child pornography and Internet crimes.

The committee pointed at the growing number of separatist crimes perpetrated over the Internet and underlined the necessity to deal with the issue in a separate a law, though it was already included in the Turkish Penal Code. However, the committee left the final decision to the upper-committee.

The committee consisting of officials from the Justice Ministry, academics and lawmakers noted the negative effects of separatist propaganda on children and the young, and agreed to block all separatist Web sites, particularly those affiliated with the terror network the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). The draft stipulates a court verdict within 24 hours to shut down or block access to any website that publishes separatist materials....

The Turkish Telecommunications Board meanwhile claimed new regulations would not cause censorship but rather counter Internet crimes.
Rasti's Mizgin dealt with it succinctly:
As with all law in Turkey, the key lies in interpretation. What is "Turkishness?" What is "denigration" and how does it apply to "Turkishness," the state, the parliament, the military, or any of the other sacred cows of the TC? How do those definitions and interpretations square with another stipulation of Article 301, which says: "Expressions of thought intended to criticize shall not constitute a crime"? What is criticism? What are the criteria for proving intention? In Turkey, everything can be interpreted as "denigration" of the state, and usually is.
Yesterday, Mizgin wrote more about state censorship in Turkey and, when she [not he, as I previously wrote] noted that Turkish nationalists hack and disrupt Kurdish material on youtube, she brought out something I'd laughed about earlier with a Serbian friend.

[It's rather embarrassing that I managed to forget to use gender-neutral terms twice in one paragraph and that just before a post on feminism and International Women's Day... At least it shows how strong the habit of using generic masculine personal pronouns is. I should have pretended that it was a deliberate mistake.]

Because of the ban on youtube in Turkey, the Turkish nationalists can't get on youtube, either to engage in a homophobic slanging match with their Greek friends or to harrass their Kurdish neighbours.

[Corrected and updated on the 9th of March 2007.]

I also forgot to mention that Turkey's killing (at least) two birds with one stone. As long as this continues, people in Turkey can't watch videos like Taner Akcam's "a shameful act", another of his lectures on the Armenian Genocide, available in five parts (I; II; III; IV; V, although those five didn't seem to work properly for me even before the ban), or those of Eric Weitz and others... but Turkey's ban on youtube does go on. Turkey has now lifted the ban.

One interesting point this raises is that Turkey blocked access to some material that "insulted Turkishness", but not to other material, like the above-mentioned works of Taner Akcam. I'm sure there's a bigger, better point to be made about how the state controls the community, but at the moment I can't formulate it.

Why does the state deny access to a site when it contains homophobic material insulting Mustafa Kemal Ataturk*, founder of the Turkish state, but allow access to Taner Akcam, who recognises the Armenian Genocide? (For a book-and-history review, see Elizabeth Kolbert's "dead reckoning: the Armenian Genocide and the politics of silence" from the 6th of November 2006 copy of the New Yorker.)

Is it "simply" because Taner Akcam confounds Turkish nationalists by grounding his history in Ataturk's own judgement that it was "a shameful act"? (Rory Finnin's review of Akcam's book of the same name and Akcam's comments on the review give the context of Ataturk's statement.) It's certainly not out of "principle".

Perhaps it's because, in suppressing the Turkish nationalists' retaliations as well as protesting the Greek nationalists' speech, the Turkish state could pretend to be balanced and reasonable. Perhaps it's because if they banned youtube whenever there were material on it that recognised the Armenian Genocide, they would have to ban it permanently, or at least until youtube gave in and removed those videos as well. Maybe Turkey didn't want to challenge youtube's broadcasts of videos recognising the Armenian Genocide in case it refused to take them down.

I presume that it's a strange position for youtube to be in; it couldn't do anything apart from remove the videos - and with some cause, given their homophobia - but their petitioner, the Turkish state, didn't petition them about the homophobia per se. Indeed, the Turkish state clearly accepted the homophobic ideology that those insulting Ataturk did, because it didn't petition youtube that the videos were homophobic, or historically inaccurate, but insulting.

I don't know what youtube would do if Turkey did petition it to remove Taner Akcam et al's videos. Maybe it chose to remove the Ataturk videos because they were homophobic or historically inaccurate and that happened to coincide with the Turkish state's objections; maybe it would find another such coincidence to excuse removing Armenian Genocide videos. As Mizgin said of watching the videos of Taner Akcam, "Better hurry, though, before YouTube suffers a campaign of intimidation and yanks 'em."

* I use the unwieldy phrase "homophobic material insulting Mustafa Kemal Ataturk" because the insulters and the insulted find accusations of homosexuality (and bisexuality, etc.) demeaning, insulting, not because claims of homosexuality, bisexuality, etc. are insults in and of themselves.

For example, historians assert that Alexander (Alexander the Great, Alexander III of Macedonia, etc.) was bisexual**, but they don't consider it demeaning, so they're not being homophobic or insulting him or "his" nation (whichever one that may be); however, some people who consider Alexander their ancestor are homophobic and do consider it an insult.

** The very idea of heterosexual, homosexual and bisexual identities is recent. At the time, there was no conception of "a straight person" or "a gay person" or anything else for Alexander to be. As Marilyn B. Skinner (2001) noted, referencing David M. Halperin's (1990) work,
"sexual preference", insofar as it can even be said to have existed in antiquity, was a prerogative of citizen males alone, with physical and economic exploitation of members of both sexes its inescapable corollary. Antiquity is, according to this analysis, a highly unsatisfactory model for the present.
Halperin, D M. 1990: One hundred years of homosexuality and other essays on Greek love. London: Routledge.
Skinner, M B. 2001: "Zeus and Leda: The sexuality wars in contemporary Classical scholarship". Scaife, R, (Ed.). Diotima: Materials for the Study of Women and Gender in the Ancient World. University of Arizona. Available at:

1 comment:

  1. FYI: Mizgîn is not a "he."


    Happy Women's Day.