Insulting Turkishness

by wjw on August 9, 2006

You’ve been reading here about the up side of Turkey. The wonderful sights, the culture, the hospitality.

So here’s an article on the flip side. Not content with last year’s aborted prosecution of the author Orhan Pamuk, Turkish fascists have chosen another target, Elif Shafak, whose The Bastard of Istanbul won the Best Novel award from the Turkish Writers’ Association. Her novel, a huge bestseller, has been charged with “insulting Turkishness.”

“Insulting Turkishness” is punishable by imprisonment of up to three years, with a third added if the insult was committed in a foreign country. This in a country that has ratified the European Convention on Human Rights and the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Both writers mentioned in their fiction what the entire world knows: that the Turkish government deliberately killed millions of Armenians, and tens of thousands of Kurds, during the First World War. (The Turkish government, by the way, admits all this, though they dispute the word “genocide.” You say “potayto,” I say “gunned down many and starved the rest.”)

So are the prosecutions of Turkey’s most popular writers, whose works have already been read by legions of Turks, aimed at preventing Turks from knowing the dark deeds committed by their ancestors?

No, because the Turks know all that. It’s not a secret.

I reckon the prosecutions are aimed at keeping Turkey out of the European Union. The attempt to enter the Union compelled the Turks to recognize international standards of human rights, to turn down the heat on their domestic war on insurrectionary Kurds, and to sing sweet reason on issues such as Cyprus, where their current policy is far more reasonable than that of, say, the Greek Cypriots.

Stalwart right-wing Turks want a free hand in Cyprus and against the region’s uppity Kurds, and the prosecutions of prominent international literary personalities (not to mention a score of local journalists) are a way of causing so much anguish and embarrassment that the EU will reject Turkey and leave it to its bad old habits.

I would say something like, “In solidarity with our literary siblings, let us all insult Turkishness together,” except that I happen to like Turkishness. It’s just shithead Turkish politicians I despise.

Patricia Mathews August 9, 2006 at 3:00 pm

You had a redundancy in your last sentence. Nationalist politicians and the adjective modifying them as so often one and the same it does almost seem redundant to use the adjective.

dubjay August 10, 2006 at 7:20 pm

I have to say, it takes a special kind of mind to think: “I’m going to deliberately engage in acts that will make my country a paraiah to civilized nations, so that our neighbors will be too mortally embarrassed to have anything to do with us, and then we can do whatever we want without thought for the consequences.”

Oh wait. That’s us!

S.M. Stirling August 10, 2006 at 10:34 pm

Good article.

OTOH, bloody-mindedness can have positive results. Pre-1914 Turkey was an absolute mess of irredentists and terrorist movements and massacres and counter-massacres between a round dozen groups, all of which hated each other.

You can see why Attaturk and his followers were determined to simplify things. “Better a terrible end than endless terror,” as the saying goes.

The horrific “population exchange” between Greece and Turkey after WWI and the Graeco-Turkish war that followed caused lots of suffering and death, but Greece and Turkey haven’t fought since.

For that matter, before Crete was annexed to Greece in the late 19th century, it had about the same ethnic balance as Cyprus does now — Cyprus was preserved in amber by the British annexation.

Crete is now all-Greek and has been since about 1900, and there hasn’t been any ethnic conflict there since.

About 1/3 of Turks are descendents of people expelled by the Greeks and the various other newly-independent Balkan countries in the 1814-1914 period. It’s precisely in the places where that _didn’t_ happen (Bosnia, for example) that there have been running sores since.

Cyprus, where Greeks and Turks continued to live in village-by-village mixture, has seen unending problems — at least until the Turkish invasion of 1974, after which all the Greeks went south and the Turks went north and a barbed-wire fence separated them.

Since then they’ve glowered at each other and made noises, but there hasn’t been the endless knifing-shooting-bomb-in-the-baby-carriage stuff.

Likewise, 12-14 million Germans were deported from eastern Europe in 1945-50 (and about a million killed), which also meant a lot of suffering. OTOH, it probably contributed a great deal to the defanging of irredentist nationalism.

Patricia Mathews August 16, 2006 at 2:26 pm

A particular case to deal with – from Ellen Kushner’s blog.

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