“Turkish people” vs. “people of Turkey”

So my blog seems to be turning into a blog about Turkish blogger Mustafa Akyol. This is another post of his about a speech a Turkish general recently gave. In the speech, the general referred to “the people of Turkey” instead of the customary “Turkish people”. This seems like a minor semantic difference, but it has major implications, especially in a country as nationalist as Turkey. “Turkish people” implies an ethnicity, whereas “people of Turkey” is a much broader definition that encompasses Turkish citizens of minority ethnicities.

The speech created a controversy because Turkey likes to pretend that there are no ethnic minorities in Turkey (the fun example about there being no Kurds in Turkey, only “mountain Turks” comes to mind). Thus, the general’s speech implied that there was room for ethnic diversity in the modern Turkish state. Shocking!

Published in: on April 30, 2009 at 10:29 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Inching towards the g-word

This post by a Turkish blogger I’ve been following all semester comes closer to acknowledging the Armenian genocide than any other Turk I’ve read about. The post praises Obama’s use of the phrase meds yeghern to refer to the genocide. Meds yeghern means “Great Catastrophe” in Armenian and is the phrase Armenians use to describe the genocide. The blogger liked Obama’s use of the phrase because it doesn’t carry any legal baggage, but it doesn’t contradict Obama’s previously expressed view of the events of 1915 as genocide.

The blogger says that there is no reason for Obama to deny something he sees as a historical fact. This is quite a radical position in Turkey, even if the blogger goes on to say that Turks view an entirely different set of historical facts and that the Turkish interpretation of history is equally valid. Surprisingly, he recognizes that the Armenians’ pain is legitimate, although he also rehashes standard Turkish arguments that Armenian “terrorists” committed atrocities of at least an equal scale against Turks. Overall, I was incredibly surprised to see a Turkish blogger embrace the term meds yeghern. The refusal to use the word “genocide,” though, displays the power of the word. Even though it is basically a synonym for meds yeghern, it carries much more legal and moral weight in the international community.

Published in: on April 30, 2009 at 10:06 pm  Leave a Comment  
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‘New’ and ‘Old’ Media in Armenia

A sign of the influence bloggers can have on the public sphere, even on people who don’t read blogs:

This is a blog post, about a daily Armenian newspaper that wrote about (in Armenian), the views of an Armenian blogger (also in Armenian).

Clearly, the views of bloggers are making inroads into the Armenian public sphere if a ‘traditional’ media outlet is referencing them. It’s pretty incredible that the opinions of bloggers are being heard by people who don’t even have an internet connection. Also, considering all the debate about the impending death of the newspaper, it’s interesting to see sort of a symbiotic relationship between ‘new’ and ‘old’ media here. The blogger benefits by having his audience increased substantially, and the newspaper benefits by being able to publish new and interesting content. This sort of relationship, though, is probably uniquely suited to a developing country like Armenia where most people have limited internet access or none at all. In the U.S., almost everyone has access to the internet, so publishing a blogger’s views in a newspaper would be redundant.

Published in: on April 4, 2009 at 6:04 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Satirical take on Twitter

In case you’re not sick of all the discussion about Twitter we’ve had in class lately, here’s a short satirical video about “Flutter”. If Twitter is micro-blogging, Flutter is nano-blogging. Enjoy.

Published in: on April 2, 2009 at 3:38 pm  Leave a Comment  

‘Muslim’ doesn’t mean ‘anti-American’

Newsweek published an interesting article about a Guantanamo guard who converted to Islam. The guard, Terry Holdbrooks, recounts how after he converted, his fellow soldiers staged an “intervention,” which involved forming a circle around him and yelling, asking if he had become a traitor and to remember who’s side he was on. The experience of Capt. James Yee is also referenced. Yee was a Muslim military chaplain at Guantanamo who was arrested for among other things, “aiding the enemy”. All charges against Yee were eventually dropped. Both Yee and Holdbrooks accuse the military, particularly the command at Guantanamo, of making systematic attempts to vilify Islam.

This attitude is a major obstacle for America in the global war on terror. It’s been said over and over, but yet frequently forgotten, that only a tiny percentage of Muslims are extremists, and even fewer are terrorists. However, if the U.S. continues to paint all Muslims, even those who volunteer to serve honorably in the U.S. military, as ‘traitors’, it will only increase the number of extremists and terrorists. When the U.S. says that Islam is the enemy, then it creates millions of enemies that didn’t exist before. Instead of being ostracized, men like Holdbrooks and Yee could be valuable resources in understanding Islam and understanding what separates an ordinary Muslim from a terrorist.

Published in: on April 2, 2009 at 3:01 pm  Comments (3)  
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Language and Genocide

I came across this Turkish newspaper article that talks about the possibility of normalizing Turkey’s relations with Armenia. Throughout the article, the author refers to “allegations of genocide” “made by the diaspora” as an obstacle to normalization. Of course, it would be impossible to ever write about “genocide” in a Turkish newspaper, so the use of the word “allegations” isn’t surprising. What’s more interesting is that the writer makes a point of distinguishing between the citizens of Armenia and the Armenian diaspora, and goes on to blame most of the problems on the diaspora. My first reaction was that this was just a way to justify normalizing relations without having to acknowledge the genocide; Turkey effectively saying thatĀ  the problem’s not Armenia, just those deluded and annoying members of the diaspora. However, there is some validity here.

I’m sure that genocide recognition is something all Armenians would like to see. However, insistance on symbolic recognition of something that happened almost a century ago, while incredibly important, is a luxury of Armenians living in the U.S. and Europe. Armenians in Armenia have more pressing needs resulting from living in a developing country. If better economic relations with Turkey help alleviate some day-to-day concerns, then that might be more important to Armenians than diplomatic acknowledgement of the genocide.

Published in: on April 1, 2009 at 9:05 pm  Comments (1)  
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Mass Killings of Turkish Kurds

Especially considering my last post about the importance of calling attention to acts of genocide, I found this post by a Turkish blogger especially relevant. Apparently, bones have started turning up in Turkey from the mass killings of Kurds in the 1990s. The killings were carried out by the Gendarme Intelligence Service, or JITEM, which is widely believed to have been an arm of the Turkish military. However, the Turkish government now denies that the JITEM ever existed, despite accounts that it killed about 17,500 Kurds in the 1990s. These killings weren’t genocide, as the victims were not killed simply because they were Kurds, but because they had or were suspected of having ties to the PKK. Often, though, people were killed simply for having a relative in the PKK or for giving aide to PKK guerrillas (even though the guerrillas might have killed them if they refused).

Anyway, I can’t help but wonder if the complete lack of consequences for the Armenian genocide emboldened the Turkish government. If nothing happened when one million innocent Armenian men, women, and children were killed, then what was to stop the government from killing a few thousand men who did have ties (however nebulous) to the PKK? Definitely worth thinking about.

Published in: on March 26, 2009 at 8:54 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Recognizing “A Problem from Hell”

My Ethics and World Politics class is reading Samantha Power’s book “A Problem from Hell” about America’s reaction (or lack thereof) to genocide. It’s a fascinating read, but I was especially intrigued because the first few chapters deal with the Armenian genocide, which occurred before the word ‘genocide’ even existed. At the time, there was a large-scale and highly visible grass roots movement in Europe and America to provide aid to Armenian refugees. However, while this helped the few Armenians who survived, it did nothing to stop more from dying. States were the only entities with any power to actually stop the Turks from killing Armenians, and not a single government stepped in. The U.S. refused to even symbolically condemn Turkey’s actions. When World War I ended, none of the perpetrators of the genocide, from the officials who crafted the policy to the soldiers who carried it out, were punished or even condemned.

One passage that particularly stuck in my mind is when Power quotes Hitler as saying, “Who remembers the Armenians?” before the Holocaust even began. The Armenian genocide taught Hitler a clear lesson; not only would states look the other way while genocide was occurring, they would not seek justice or retribution afterwards. This lesson had far-reaching effects, not only for Hitler’s victims but for the victims of future tyrants, the Milosevics and Pol Pots of the world. I believe that even a superficial acknowledgement that a state is committing genocide (ideally but not necessarily combined with concrete actions to stop it) canĀ  have important consequences. At the very least, perpetrators of genocide would know that the world saw what they were doing and found it unacceptable and abhorrent.

This leads me to my current disgust over the U.S. government’s continued refusal, almost 100 years later, to recognize the Armenian genocide. Yes, I recognize that there are important geopolitical implications and that it is in the U.S.’s interests not to offend Turkey. Turkey is a key ally in a volatile region, a relatively secular and democratic state in the Middle East, etc, etc. Yet on a purely human level, I cannot help but feel that genocides will continue to occur until governments decide that there are more important things than “offending” allies.

Published in: on March 26, 2009 at 2:49 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Corrupt Professors

I’ve mostly been following corruption as it pertains to the media and politicians, but I found this post on an Armenian blog about corruption at Yerevan State University to be even more disturbing in many ways. According to the blog post, the majority of YSU professors accept bribes from students, and some even refuse to give passing grades without first recieving a bribe. American students often joke about bribing professors, but the jokes are only funny because academic integrity is so firmly established. It would be almost unthinkable for a professor to actually accept a bribe. The societal repercussions, especially in a developing country, of such widespread academic corruption are quite serious.

First of all, bribery completely undermines the value of a YSU degree, because a diploma doesn’t say anything about a student’s academic achievemnt but only the quality of grades he was able to buy. Additionally, it widens the gap between the haves and have nots. Students who are already more privileged can better afford their grades. Students with less financial resources have a difficult time completing their education if a bribe is required for even a passing grade. If Armenia is to advance as a society, academic corruption is a serious obstacle that must be addressed.

A side note on press intimidation: the blogger notes that YSU students recently protested by hanging poster-size photos of corrupt professors on a busy street. A reporter who covered the story was beaten.

Published in: on March 23, 2009 at 1:14 am  Leave a Comment  
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Media Censorship in Turkey

The U.S. State Department recently released a new Human Rights Report on Turkey, which was critical of the government’s curtailment of press freedoms. According to this Turkish blogger, Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan was not pleased with the criticism. However, he didn’t help his cause much when he immediately blamed the Turkish media for the State Department criticism. Apparently, it is the press’s fault Turkey is being criticized for excessive media restrictions, because the press misleads Western governments about the true nature of the Turkish government.

The blogger goes on to describe the contentious relationship between Erdogan and the Turkish press. Ironically, while there are severe media restrictions in Turkey, the press has been able to consistently disrespect the Prime Minister in subtle ways, for example by referring to him by his first name, a sign of disrespect in Turkey. Erdogan is not doing himself any favors, though, by blaming his poor record on press freedom on the press itself.

Published in: on March 6, 2009 at 3:45 pm  Leave a Comment  
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