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Power and Powerlessness of Intellectuals in Turkey: The Debate on ‘Turkishness’ and the Murder of Hrant Dink Georg F. Simet Abstract Hrant Dink, Armenian, author and chief editor of the magazine Agos was murdered on 19 January 2007 in Istanbul. This tragic incident is taken to reflect the complex circumstances of his murder and the ambivalent role of the intellectuals in the Turkish society. Novelists as Orhan Pamuk and Elif afak stimulated the debate on the genocide of Armenians in 2005. Touching this old wound they opened a controversial discussion on Turkish history and the understanding of Turkishness in Turkish public opinion. In consequence, Pamuk and afak - as about 60 authors and publishers in total - were blamed for ‘public denigration of Turkish identity’ under article 301 of the penal code. Pamuk, today, is still one of the most disliked persons by ordinary nationalists. The Dink case shows that, on the one hand, the intellectuals have the power to name different, opposite perspectives and encourage people to express their individuality. On the other hand, the initiation of change provokes these who want to prevent changes at all. Opposing intellectuals are not in power and so they cannot hinder the people in power to use and misuse its possibilities to fight back.
***** 1. Hrant Dink: A Brief Biography and Socio-political Appreciation Hrant Dink was born on 15 September 1954 in Malatya. In the age of seven, the marriage of his parents broke down and Dink was sent to Istanbul, where he was grown up in an Armenian orphanage. He met his wife Rakel in a summer camp in Tuzla that was set up and functioned as a meeting centre for the Armenian youth. Hrant and Rakel married in 1977 and managed the youth camp until 1979 when the land was confiscated. This was justified by the claim that the Armenian Church bought the land illegally.
The event left a lasting impression on Dink: ‘This moment I became aware of what it means to be an Armenian in Turkey. I decided to fight for my identity.’In 1994 Dink started to write articles, first for the Marmara Armenian newspaper. Two years later he founded his own weekly newspaper, ‘Agos,’ which means ‘ploughed furrow.’ Agos is Turkey’s first 34 Power and Powerlessness of Intellectuals in Turkey and only bilingual newspaper, published in Turkish and Armenian. In total, Dink wrote 19 columns for Agos.
Several times, Dink was tried for ‘insulting’ and/or ‘denigrate’ Turkishness’ by reference to Article 301 of the Penal Code. The first time he was accused for his statements in a conference held in Urfa in 2002. He said:
‘I was not a Turk but from Turkey and an Armenian.’2 For these words Dink was sentenced to six months in prison (suspended for good behaviour).3 This was the first final judgment from the Turkish highest judicial authority on interpretation of Article 301 of the new Criminal Code. Last of all, on 12 July 2006, he was again given a half year suspended prison sentence in connection with some, primarily the following two columns in Agos published in February 2004.
On 6 February 2004 Dink published an article about Sabiha Gken saying that she is an Armenian by birth. This threw the whole of Turkey into commotion, as Gken - born in Bursa on 21 March 1913; and died in Ankara on 22 March 2001 - is an adopted daughter of Mustafa Kemal Atatrk, the first girl student of the Turkish Civil Aviation School and Turkey’s first female combat pilot. The statement that this lady, adopted by Atatrk, the ‘father of all Turks’, an aviation pioneer and hero could be an Armenian was shocking.
Nevertheless, the bone of contention was Dinks suggestion, written in Agos on 13 February 2004: To ‘replace the poisoned blood associated with the Turk, with fresh blood associated with Armenia.’In his last article, published in Agos on 10 January 2007, Dink documents the blatant failure of large parts of the Turkish judiciary, which sentenced him.5 A few days later he wrote: ‘For me, 2007 is likely to be a hard year.’On Friday, 19 January he was gunned down in front of his office in a city street in ili, a vibrant downtown neighbourhood of Istanbul, at p.m., in the middle of the day. His murderer, a 17-year-old man he had never met, was heard to shout ‘I have killed the infidel’.2. The Term ‘Turkishness’ as a Life-Threatening Stumbling Block Dink was killed by the national jurisdiction rather than a single young man. A cartoon of Sever Selvi shows this in a paradigmatic way. The number 301 is written in red against a black backdrop. Inside the number ‘0,’ Dink’s face appears like a trophy released for discharge.The murder of Hrant Dink did and does not keep the public prosecutors from prosecution.9 Their power is based on the term ‘Turkishness.’ Blent Algan comments rightly: ‘Many definitions can be found for ‘nation,’ ‘Turkish Nation,’ and ‘Turkishness.’ Vagueness is the common character for all.’10 In because of its vagueness, Article 301 is a Georg F. Simet powerful, adaptable weapon in the hands of the supreme prosecutors and judges for fighting against all who express different opinions.
For the most part, two movements are opposing each other in modern Turkey. On the one hand, the national movement, that built the country, claims to be not only the most but the only party, which guarantees the continuation of the nation. Its values are homogeneity and a more or less quasi-militarily order. Homogeneity is defined for them by Atatrk’s principle to build one, coherent Turkish nation, a principle, which culminates in the credo ‘Ne mutlu Trkm diyene’ (How happy is he who can say ‘I am a Turk’). All beliefs, behaviour and acting have to be subordinated to this sentence. On the other hand, there are intellectuals who refuse to subordinate themselves of whatever reasons.
Nevertheless, all social and political controversies are still been led under the question what Turkishness means, a dispute which is been led by the nationalists not least judicially. Intellectuals from the non-’nationalist’ side counter more creatively. So, Extramcadele (Extrastruggle) published a poster which shows the face of the murdered Dink titled ‘Ne l ‘Ermeniyim’diyen’ (How dead is he who says ‘I am an Armenian’).
3. Elif afak’s Novel ‘Baba ve Pi’ One out of about 60 intellectuals who were accused of insulting Turkish national identity11 is Elif afak, ‘Turkey’s most famous female writer’.12 Her case is remarkable, as it was the first time that Article 301 had been used against a work of fiction.13 Although a public prosecutor in Istanbul dismissed the charges in June 2006, a high criminal court overruled the lower court decision a few weeks later, paving the way for a new trial.Nevertheless, the nationalistic stubborn prosecutors failed. The judges acquitted afak on 21 September 2006 soon after the trial opened, citing a lack of evidence.In ‘Baba ve Pi’ (literally translated ‘Father and Bastard’), afak’s sixth novel, the enmeshment of Turkish and Armenian relationships is reflected from both, the Armenian and Turkish sides. Thanks to the accusation, ‘The Bastard of Istanbul’ - as the book is titled in the English edition - ‘has officially gone from ‘novel’ to ‘cultural touchstone.’’16 It became a best seller in Turkey.The most objected excerpt from the book is the following sentence spoken by Armanoush Tchakhmakhchian, one of main protagonists (who, by the way, are all female):
I’m the grandchild of genocide survivors who lost all their relatives at the hands of Turkish butchers in 1915, but I myself have been brainwashed to deny the genocide because I was raised by some Turk named Mustafa!36 Power and Powerlessness of Intellectuals in Turkey This little sentence is very insightful, as it contains first of all two important words. The first is the term genocide. The Turkish state tried and still tries very hard to prevent even other states (as France) for naming the massacres of Armenians in 1915 (in the context of the war of the Young Turks against Russia) ‘genocide.’20 So, the use of this term marks the breach of a national taboo. The second word the prosecutors complained about is the designation of Turkish soldiers as ‘Turkish butchers.’ This as well marks a breach of a national taboo. It is the military, which built modern Turkey. So, Turkish soldiers can’t be bad. In the book ‘u Clgn Trkler’ (‘Those Mad Turks’) by Turgut zakman, published in April 2005 which achieved 292 editions by March 2006, the Turkish War of Independence is seen as ‘a holy war’.21 (The same belongs to the battles against PKK. In all reports of the Turkish press, the roles of the good, the soldiers, and the bad, the terrorists, are a priori defined). Last but not least, the third breach of taboo is that the protagonist Armanoush, an Armenian, was raised by ‘some Turk named Mustafa’. She doesn’t know, but the readers know, that the protagonist Mustafa is a rapist.
The clue of the novel is that the Armenian Armanoush travels from the diaspora in the USA to Turkey, the homeland of the genocide, and becomes a friend of Asya, the Turkish bastard.
4. Orhan Pamuk’s Lawsuit and His Novel ‘Kar’ The most famous intellectual who was accused for having ‘offended the Turkish identity’ was Orhan Pamuk. His offence was that he said in an interview in ‘Das Magazin,’ a weekly supplement to a number of Swiss daily newspapers that ‘we Turks are responsible for the death of 30 thousand Kurds and a million Armenians and no-one in Turkey dares speak about it, except me’.The interview was conducted on 6 February 2005. At that time, Pamuk had published seven novels and was already a famous writer. His statements and all what he was doing in public were therefore monitored with close attention. Since the announcement of the Nobel Prize in Literature on 12 October 2006, Pamuk evoked an even larger degree of publicity.
However, this does not mean that the Turkish people are proud of Pamuk. On the day of the announcement, the daily newspaper ‘Hrriyet’ (‘freedom’) headlined: ‘An Armenian shadow falls on Nobel.’23 According to survey results published in ‘Milliyet’ (‘nationality’) on 4 December 2006, only 20.9% take the view that Pamuk received the prize rightly.From this perspective, the lawsuit against Pamuk, ‘the lost son’, was and is watched most thoroughly. Although the case has been rejected on January 2006, the Supreme Court of Appeals overturned the decision on May 2009.In opposite to his statement in ‘Das Magazin,’ his novels do not reflect politically charged ethnic themes as the Armenian or Kurdish conflict.
Georg F. Simet Although the plot of his seventh novel ‘Kar,’ published in 2002 (English translation, ‘Snow,’ published in 2004) is set in Kars, none of his protagonists is either Armenian or Kurdish. This is amazing, as Kars is a city close to the border to Armenia with Armenian and Kurdish influences. In this respect, there is a certain discrepancy between Pamuk’s political statements in public and his literary work.
The personal of Pamuk’s novels is always and exclusively Turkish.
A debate with Armenians does not take place.
Turkey’s intellectuals concentrate primarily on individual freedom rights, not on ethnic rights. Dink’s demand that Turkey has to ‘put an end to coercive assimilation of all minorities’ remains a task for the future.5. ‘Derin Devlet’ - The ‘Deep State’ and Its Basis of Power The complaints against Dink, afak and Pamuk were almost exclusively presented by Kemal Kerinsiz. This lawyer founded the ‘Great Union of Jurists’, which he heads. Kerinsiz and his association represent, as Ionnis N. Grigoriadis states, ‘a new wave of nationalist mobilization against liberal intellectuals and minorities.’27 The legal battle is fought out between these two parties. At least in the legal area, the non-nationalistic intellectuals were bolstered up. On 26 January 2008 Kerinsiz was arrested in simultaneous police raids against the Ergenekon gang.28 The nationalistic movement came under suspicion of conspiracy.