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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Bloggers’ perceptions of Armenian exchange rates

As I was checking the blogs that I regularly follow this morning, I immediately noticed that both the Armenian blogs I follow had posted items about the sudden sharp increase in the exchange rate between the U.S. dollar and the Armenian dram. As of today, 1 USD is now worth 380 AMD, up 20% from yesterday’s exchange rate of 1 USD/308 AMD. The immediate effects of this are high levels of inflation in Armenia.

The post on The Armenian Observer blog pretty much stuck to the facts and made reasonable speculations about what this would mean for Armenians in the future, along with a not terribly excessive tone of righteous indignation.

The post on The Yerevan Journal blog, on the other hand took the opportunity to espouse a conspiracy theory about the timing of the exchange rate change. On March 1, there was a huge rally in Yerevan to commemorate the one-year anniversary of violent protests in the capital in which several citizens died. The blogger reported the street opinion that “they” had intentionally waited until after the rally to change the exchange rate in order to avoid trouble from angry citizens. Who “they” are and what their motives are, besides the ambiguous “to make a killing” is not explained.

The two different responses to what is obviously a very important event in the lives of ordinary Armenians got me thinking about the relative freedom the internet provides to bloggers, for better and for worse. In countries like Armenia, where censorship is a significant obstacle to media freedom, the internet allows bloggers the opportunity to report stories and perspectives that might not otherwise be hear. They also allow any angry citizen with a conspiracy theory to publish his thoughts to the world. Even this may not be entirely negative, though. As is the case with The Yerevan Journal, there probably are at least a fair number of Armenians who feel like the exchange rate increase was some kind of conspiracy. The validity of the argument itself isn’t as important as the fact that it has at least some credence amongst Armenians.

Published in: on March 3, 2009 at 5:12 pm  Comments (1)  
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The status of Kurdish in Turkey

Recently, a Turkish member of parliament, Ahmet Turk, caused a huge controversy by speaking a few words of Kurdish during a parliamentary session to celebrate “International Mother Tongue Day”. It is illegal in Turkey to speak any language other than Turkish in an official governmental capacity, so Turks actions were illegal. Despite the obvious problems with freedom of expression in this issue, the news is not all bad.

In 1994, several MPs were arrested for attempting to take their oaths of office in Kurdish. By contrast, it appears that no disciplinary action will be taken against Turk. So while the law banning other languages is still on the books, at least enforcement is not as stringent as it once was. The government TV station airing the session of parliament was immediately cut, though, as soon as Turk started speaking Kurdish. While the government is perhaps no longer as willing to arrest people right and left in order to silence them, it still has a vested interest in attempting to control the message its citizens hear. In this case, language itself is the message, and according to the government the only language that “real” Turks speak is Turkish.

This is an interesting take on the topic by a Turkish blogger. He is sympathetic to the plight of Turkish Kurds, but also wary of any elements of Kurdish nationalism.

Published in: on March 2, 2009 at 12:11 am  Leave a Comment  
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