Murder and paranoia in Turkey
January 25, 2007
THERE WAS a huge turnout in Istanbul Tuesday for the funeral of the assassinated journalist Hrant Dink. Mourners held up placards saying, "We are all Armenians" and "We are all Hrant Dink." It was a heartening display of support for values that the slain editor of the bilingual paper Agos defended at the cost of his life : free speech, acknowledgment of the 1915 genocide of Armenians in Turkey , and reconciliation between Turks and the 60,000 Armenians who remain in Turkey .
Encouraging as that affirmation of tolerance and pluralism may be, Dink’s murder and his funeral illuminate a dangerous conflict that pervades state and society in Turkey .
Speaking at the slain editor’s graveside, the Armenian Patriarch Mesrob II said : "We continue to hope that the Turks will recognize that Armenians are Turkish citizens who have been living on this soil for millennia and are neither foreigners nor potential enemies." What is shocking about this plea for understanding is that it needed to be made. The patriarch’s hope for Turkish acceptance of Armenians as full citizens who can be loyal to Turkey reflects a deeply rooted confusion about something called Turkish identity.
Dink was killed by a 17-year-old who had been given a gun and told to carry out the murder by an ultra nationalist from his home town who had served 10 months in prison for bombing a McDonald’s . The assassin told police he had seen something on the Internet alleging that Dink had said, "Turkish blood is dirty." This was an allusion to the Armenian-Turkish editor’s conviction under an odious law that makes it a crime to insult Turkish identity.
For the people who marched in Dink’s funeral cortege, there is a clear connection between the nationalist paranoia that produced such a law and the murder of writers and intellectuals who are branded as disloyal. That nationalism has been nourished on political myths that are rooted in the ideology propounded by the founder of the post-Ottoman Turkish state, Kemal Ataturk.
Turkey ’s military and security services — what some Turkish liberals call a "deep state" that acts independently of elected governments — have interpreted Kemalism in a way that defines cultural and linguistic autonomy for Kurds and other minorities as a rebellious challenge to the ideal of Turkishness. The secular ideology derived from Kemalism has been equally intolerant of outward shows of religious piety, prohibiting women and girls from wearing head carves in school.
To gain entry to the European Union, Turkey ’s political leaders will have to conduct a broad educational campaign, uprooting myths about the mass murder of Armenians and the military’s dirty war against the Kurds. Before Turks can take on a new European identity, they will have to redefine what it means to be Turkish.
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