Financial Times leader today.
Death in Istanbul
Published : January 25 2007 02:00 | Last updated : January 25 2007 02:00
The assassination last Friday of Hrant Dink, the editor of a bilingual Armenian-Turkish newspaper, called forth a howl of outrage on the streets of Istanbul, as 100,000 mourners at his funeral cried "we are all Armenians" or "we are all Hrant Dink". A teenager who admits to the crime and has ties to Turkey’s violent ultranationalist fringe has been caught. What Turkey now needs, especially if it is to remain a credible candidate for membership of the European Union, is a ruthless examination of the poisonous backdrop to this killing. Mr Dink’s murderer did not emerge from nowhere.
The impasse in Turkey’s EU accession talks has whipped up xenophobia. Brussels says that despite major reforms to entrench human, democratic and minority rights, Ankara has not done enough to protect freedom of expression or subordinate the army to civilian control. Turkey’s neo-Islamist government says the Europeans are acting in bad faith, raising the bar to entry ever higher to pander to anti-Muslim prejudice, particularly in France, Germany and Austria.
Both are right. But there are, nevertheless, rightly unalterable membership criteria. No country with a penal code that makes it a crime to "denigrate Turkishness" (Article 301) will meet them. European membership is also inconceivable while Turkey refuses to face up to the mass murders of Armenians as the Ottoman empire crumbled during the first world war.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the prime minister, has called for reputable historians to establish the truth, confident this would place the killings within a conflict in which millions of Turks also perished as western powers dismembered Ottoman territory.
Yet for generations there has been nothing but silence or denial. Rare conferences to discuss these terrible events have been cancelled after pressure from the army-dominated nationalist establishment. Turkey closed its borders with Armenia in 1993.
Critically, nationalist cabals have used Article 301 to silence writers and intellectuals who have dared to raise the Armenian tragedy and ask whether it was centrally directed genocide. Mr Dink himself was given a suspended jail sentence and Orhan Pamuk, the Nobel prize-winning novelist was also dragged to court (where yesterday he was publicly threatened by a well-known extremist who prosecutors say provided the gun that killed Mr Dink).
Mr Erdogan has reacted forcibly to the murder and made gestures of reconciliation towards the Armenians. It is unrealistic to expect more ahead of fiercely contested elections this year.
But Turkey must demonstrate its commitment to free speech by repealing Article 301, not only a mechanism for exacerbating ultranationalism but evidently an incitement to murder too. Once the elections are over, Turks and Armenians need to move towards a public reckoning with history.
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