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Nationalism Has Turkey’s Intellectuals On Edge


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Nationalism Has Turkey’s Intellectuals On Edge

February 16, 2007 from All Things Considered

MICHELE NORRIS, host : From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I’m Michele Norris.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host :

I’m Robert Siegel.

And here is a measure of the pressure that intellectuals in Turkey are living with. The Turkish government has provided prominent writers, academics and journalists with bodyguards. It’s a response to last month’s murder of a Turkish-Armenian journalist. That killing in broad daylight added to a broad climate of fear, which led this year’s Nobel laureate for literature, Orhan Pamuk, to leave the country.

As NPR’s Ivan Watson reports, the violence has polarized Turkish society ahead of presidential elections this spring.

IVAN WATSON : More than 100,000 people gathered last month for the funeral of Turkish-Armenian newspaper editor Hrant Dink. Condemnations of the murder poured from the Turkish government, the military and the media. It was a remarkable show of support for a man who had been sentenced to six months in jail for challenging the Turkish republic’s official denial of the disputed genocide of ethnic Armenians by Ottoman Turks in 1915.

The suspected killer, a 17-year-old boy named Ogun Samast, was captured near his hometown of Trabzon. A security camera filmed him moments after the murder running away from Dink’s body carrying a gun. But then Turkish TV broadcast this footage, which showed two policemen proudly posing with the arrested teenager and asking him to hold up a Turkish flag in front of the camera.

(Soundbite of Turkish TV broadcast)

WATSON : The video was widely perceived as evidence that at least some of the local authorities near Trabzon considered Samast a hero for his assassination of a dissident writer. In fact, Samast has since become an icon to some Turkish ultra-nationalist. His name has reportedly been chanted at soccer games and you can find his photo heroically presented along with patriotic music on Web sites supporting a Turkish fascist group, the Grey Wolves.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Man : (Singing foreign language)

WATSON : The Turkish government demoted the police officers who posed for photos alongside Samast. But that has done little to ease growing fears among leading Turkish intellectuals.

Ms. PERIHAN MADDEN (Turkish Writer) : Now all my colleagues are living with their bodyguards, which was assigned by the government.

Perihan Madden(ph) is one of the writers who was assigned a bodyguard in the wake of Hrant Dink’s death.

Ms. MADDEN : This is not like a big, nice, generous offer. This shows that we are being threatened. And if we are being threatened, this atmosphere is also has been created by this government.

WATSON : State prosecutors took Madden to court last summer for insulting the Turkish military in one of her columns. Many other writers have also recently been taken to court on similar charges of insulting Turkishness. That includes Turkey’s Nobel prize-winning author Orhan Pamuk.

Columnist Perihan Madden says Pamuk fled the country and moved to New York in the wake of Hrant Dink’s murder.

Ms. MADDEN : His bodyguards took him to the airport.

WATSON : It’s not just writers who are feeling threatened these days. Mehmed Ali Birand is a top anchorman at the Turkish TV network, Kanal D.

Mr. MEHMED ALI BIRAND (Anchorman, Kanal D) : Exactly I’m self-censoring and I don’t want to get into trouble. I don’t want to get shot. Unfortunately, there is this possibility. I’m afraid.

WATSON : Birand says he’s afraid of being targeted by Turkish fascists like the Grey Wolves. The tense political atmosphere today is a far cry from the spirit of optimism that prevailed just two years ago when Turkey was embarking on an ambitious reform program in starting negotiations to join the European Union. Parliament member Onur Oymen says loud opposition to Turkish membership from some European countries has helped fuel the surge in Turkish nationalism.

Mr. ONUR OYMEN (Turkish Parliament Member) : People displayed all over Turkey Turkish flags at their balconies, for instance. Hundreds of thousands of flags were displayed all of a sudden, reacting to such excessive, unacceptable accusations bashing of Turkey.

WATSON : The Turkish presidential election is just a few months away. Political analysts here say mainstream centrist political parties have increasingly adopted nationalist rhetoric as they compete for the growing nationalist vote. Given the climate, analysts here say it’s unlikely that the law is being used to persecute Turkish writers will be amended any time soon.

Dissident intellectuals say despite the presence of bodyguards, they expect they will continue to face political and legal pressure as long as they challenge Turkish taboos in print.

Ivan Watson, NPR News, Istanbul.

dimanche 18 février 2007,
Stéphane ©armenews.com


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