Friday, January 19, 2007

Article 301

Anyone, foreign or domestic, who writes or teaches in Turkey has probably been made at one time or another uncomfortably aware of the strictures laid down in the infamous Article 301 of the Turkish penal code. According to this statute:

"A person who insults Turkishness, the Republic, or the Turkish Parliament will be punished with imprisonment ranging from six months to three years."

Well, I can't imagine that the European Union Accession Committee is too thrilled about that! Now, as a non-Turk (and I hope everyone reading this is a non-Turk) you may be thinking, "Well, people living in Turkey probably have a clearer sense of just where the boundaries lie as regards this 'insulting Turkishness' business."

Uh huh.

The list of writers charged just last year with violations related to Article 301 is rather long and surprisingly varied. Article 301 was made use of last July to bring charges against Elif Şafak, a Turkish novelist living in Arizona. It wasn't so much that she "insulted Turkishness." Rather, one of her characters in the novel, The Bastard of Istanbul, uttered the words "Turkish Butchers," in fictional anger, no doubt, over the vexing "Armenian Question." (For anybody out there scrutinizing these lines through the lens of their own, less-than-fluent English, please note my use of the word "Question" in the prior sentence.) So apparently, even a fictional character may be guilty of this "crime" against Turkish identity.

You see how confusing it can be to live abroad. If only the poor girl had stayed in Turkey, rather than running off to America, where she somehow lost track of her "Turkish identity."

"Turkishness" (it's like a kind of essence) evidently doesn't travel well.

Article 301 was also used to bring charges against Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk. Pamuk gave a little interview to a Swiss newspaper in which he said some things about Turkish history that evidently are not standard fare in the Turkish high school curriculum.

Pamuk soon found himself facing the possibility of three-and-a-half years in prison. Get this, the penalties under Article 301 become more severe if you comment critically upon, sorry, "insult," Turkish identity or history outside of Turkey. "Airing dirty linen in public," I believe is the expression.

But things turned out OK for Pamuk, who was last year's Nobel Prize winner for literature. The charges were dropped on a technicality. Funny how that worked out, huh?

Except for the fact that he kept getting death threats and thus decamped to teach at Columbia University. You know you're in trouble when the northern reaches of Manhattan become your idea of a place to flee to in case of danger.

A lesser-known public figure, Hrant Dink, a Turkish-Armenian journalist and editor of Agos, a Turkish-Armenian newspaper, has had his own little brushes with Article 301.

According to an article by Cem Özdemir in the English-language edition of Der Spiegel, Dink has made several statements that were OK with the Turkish government. For example, he has supported a position of Turkish and Armenian reconciliation. In Özdemir's words, Dink has argued that, "The Armenian diaspora should surrender their hostility to the Turks, hitherto a defining element of Armenian identity."

Dink has also made some points that weren't so OK with the Turkish authorities, again, in Özdemir's words, by "confront[ing] the Turkish people with a history of which they either were ignorant, or had only learned about through distorted channels of propaganda. His arguments are persuasive, bringing to light what Turkey has irrevocably lost in their destruction and denial of Armenian life."

Let me reiterate, should anybody be scrutinizing these words through the lens of their own, less-than-fluent English, the quotation above was written by Cem Özdemir, not by me.

Cem Özdemir also comments in his Der Speigel article that Hrant Dink "is not short of adversaries. At the forefront are the Turkish Ultra-Nationalists, who would like to see him silenced sooner rather than later."

Well, apparently that is all too true, because Hrant Dink was shot to death this afternoon on the streets of Istanbul, as he exited the office of Agos, the newspaper which he edited.

Dink had repeatedly informed authorities of various threats against his life, but complained that they offered him no police protection. According to the Associated Press, "A colleague at Dink's newspaper, Aydin Engin, said Dink had attributed the threats to elements in the 'deep state,' a Turkish term that implies shadowy, deeply nationalist and powerful elements in the government."

For those who might be scrutinizing the lines above in their own, less-than-fluent English, the quotation is (let me remind you) taken from the Associated Press.

Well, at least Hrant Dink doesn't have to worry about Article 301 anymore.

Update One: Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, under whose regime Article 301 was adopted, has condemned the killing. According to the Prime Minister, "Once again, dark hands have chosen our country and spilled blood in Istanbul to achieve their dark goals.” He further vowed to track down the culprits, "no matter if they are Turkish or foreign."

A great many Turks will take comfort in the Prime Minister's words.

Source articles for the Update: The New York Times and The Telegraph UK

Update Two: A 17 year old suspect, Ogun Samast, has been arrested in this case. His image, captured on closed-circuit TV outside the Agos headquarters, had been broadcast throughout Turkey. Samast's father recognized his son from the videotape and notified the police. When captured, he is reported to have been riding on a bus back to his native Trabzon, on the Black Sea, and carrying the gun used in the murder. Authorities say he has confessed to the killing.

Samast is reported to have been involved in Turkish nationalist groups, and police say they will investigate any connections between this murder and the killing of an Italian priest in Trabzon last February. In both cases, the suspected shooters were under the age of 18, and some Turkish legal experts believe that minors are being recruited to commit such killings because, as juvenile defendants, they face less severe penalties.


Anonymous said...

Actually, I'm quite sure that the European Union Accession Committee would love to have similar laws in place that forbid dissenting from the EU (and no doubt soon will). I know that many if not most of the individual countries in the EU have laws forbidding all manner of speech that stands in opposition to what the government wishes you to think. Anyone remember David Irving, Nick Griffin, Ernst Zundel, Germar Rudolf, to name a few of Europes thought criminals? The European countries are in no position to criticize Turkey regarding the prosecution of dissent, if anything Turkey could pick up some pointers from them.

Theodore Breehn said...

I've held off asking you Turk specific questions as they might be a tad sensitive and you then come down like a ton of bricks.

Black Sea said...

Perhaps, rather than the EU crticizing Turkey, and Turkey criticizing the EU, both entities (I won't use the word "states") should take a more serious look at the extent to which, within their borders, free expression is restricted by legal statute.

I realize I sound like Voltaire, but one doesn't have to agree with everything David Irving or Hrandt Dink has said in order to defend their right to expression.

Furthermore, while David Irving was imprisoned in Austria, which was an outrage, he wasn't gunned down in the street.

Anonymous said...

I don't think you can compare Irving and Dink by suggesting they represent the same thing. Dink seems to have been gunned down by someone who thought that the Turkish government was not doing it's job defending the Turkish people and it seems that the Turkish people are just fine with it happening, if not outright pleased. Irving was imprisoned by the Austrian government, with pressure from other European governments. There was no clamoring from the Austrian people to imprison, much less gun down, David Irving, There was no credible threat to his life in Austria other than from the government. On second thought I think you can make a comparison between the cases by saying that in both cases the government would not heed the will of the people. At least the Turks had the balls to do something about it.

Black Sea said...

I'm not sure if the previous comment is a response to Anonymous Number One, or to my comment. In any event, I am not suggesting that both men represent the same thing in terms of a message or point of view.

They are, however, similar in that they both voiced opinions that were highly controversial within their homelands, and both fell afoul of what might be called "speech code" legislation.

I would dispute the assertion that the Turkish people are "just fine" with Dink being murdered. Thousands of Turks gathered, quite spontaneously, on Friday evening at the location of Dink's shooting,to protest the killing. There were vigils or memorial gatherings - I'm not sure what to call them - in Istanbul and Ankara (in heavy snowfall) and probably several other cities.

There are a lot of Turks, non Armenian Turks, who are saddened and disgusted by this killing. It is difficult to generalize about the attutudes of an entire nation.

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