“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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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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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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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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Turkish-Armenian communication in the blogosphere

This is an interesting post by a Turkish blogger written as an open letter to the global Armenian community. The comments are where things get really fascinating, as there are many in-depth and insightful comments by both Turks and Armenians.


I’ve been searching for evidence of interaction between Turks and Armenians on the internet (preferably interaction that goes beyond angry rants) and have had a tough time fining anything. Compounding the difficulty is the fact that many Turkish bloggers have temporarily stopped posting as a form of protest against an increased crackdown on blogs by the Turkish government, so this post is especially encouraging.

The post itself as well as the comments also bring up some interesting notions of identity, especially with regards to nationalism. Turkish and Armenian narratives are discussed, along with how the Armenian genocide fits into both these narratives in vastly different ways. One of the reasons it is so difficult for Turkey and Armenia (as well as individual citizens of those countries) to reconcile is that each country has very distinct and established narratives about what happened in 1915, and every citizen is indoctrinated into his country’s respective narrative from birth. The accuracy of the narrative is not what’s important, but rather the fact that the narrative is so firmly entrenched in notions of national identity.

Published in: on February 12, 2009 at 4:00 am  Leave a Comment  
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Basic Turkey/Armenia background

This article provides a very brief overview of the historical and current tensions between Turkey and Armenia (http://uk.reuters.com/article/latestCrisis/idUKLT593745).

DAVOS, Switzerland, Jan 29 (Reuters) – Talks between Turkey and Armenia could yield a roadmap for relations between the two countries if Yerevan shows a ‘sincere’ attitude, Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said on Thursday.

Turkey and Armenia have no formal diplomatic relations but officials from the two sides have expressed hopes of restoring full diplomatic relations as a result of recent tentative discussions between the two sides.

“If Armenia displays a sincere behaviour in the low-level work, after our talks last night, today’s talks may somehow set out a roadmap,” Erdogan said in Davos in comments to reporters broadcast on Turkish television channels.

Foreign Minister Ali Babacan has held talks at the World Economic Forum with his Armenian counterpart Edward Nalbandian and Erdogan was set to hold talks with Armenian President Serzh Sarksyan on Thursday evening.

Relations between the two countries have been haunted by the killing of Armenians by Ottoman Turks during World War One, which ex-Soviet Armenia says amounted to genocide. Ankara denies there was genocide.

Turkey closed its border with Armenia in 1993 in a show of solidarity with Azerbaijan, a Turkic-speaking ally which was fighting Armenian-backed separatists over the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh.

“Armenia should show the necessary understanding,” Erdogan said.

“On the subject of Nagorno-Karabakh, we can never leave Azerbaijan on its own. Our subject is linked to Azerbaijan,” he added.

For full coverage, blogs and TV from Davos go to www.reuters.com/davos (Writing by Daren Butler)

I’ve done some extremely preliminary research about the extent to which ordinary Turks and Armenians communicate using new media. I’ve not yet found much evidence of communication between bloggers or between commenters on blogs, but there is a degree of communication amongst Facebook users. There is a Facebook group called “Peace For Armenia and Turkey” that currently has about 1,400 members and some fairly lively discussion boards. Group members appear to be mostly Turks and Armenians, or members of those countries’ diasporas. Of course, there is another group called “Recognize Armenia as the Liar” with about 1,100 members. Memers are mostly Turkish or of Turkish descent, and all are dedicated to denying that the Armenian genocide occurred. On the other side is a group called simply “Armenia” (about 2,700 members) that is dedicated to getting offical recognition of the genocide.

I definitely plan on doing more research and following more blogs, so hopefully I’ll be able to find more evidence of communication and dialogue between Turks and Armenians who use the relative freedom of the internet as a tool for discussion. Although I have no evidence to back this up, I would imagine that the internet would be incredibly useful, especially given the restrictions on ordinary media in both countries.

Published in: on January 29, 2009 at 5:36 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Turkish and Armenian blogs

I’m tentatively thinking about following bloggers in both Turkey and Armenia. The two countries have, to say the least, an antagonistic history I think it will be interesting to see the political perspectives of bloggers living in Turkey vs. bloggers living in Armenia. The two blogs I am following for the moment (although I hope to add more) are Yerevan Journal and Turkish Diary. Despite the two countries’ differences, they face similar obstacles to press freedom
For example, in Turkey “insulting Turkishness” is a serious but vaguely defined crime, and is often used to punish those who acknowledge the Armenian genocide. However, intimidation is also a problem in Armenia and comes from both the government and local thugs. The author of Yerevan Journal refers to a “certain oligarch” who frequently uses threats and intimidation. It is telling that even though this man’s identity is probably widely known to anyone living in Yerevan, the blogger will not name him.
I have initially gravitated towards this subject because I’ve lived my whole life in Fresno, CA which has a large Armenian community. There is actually a part of downtown referred to as “Armenia Town” and you can minor in Armenian studies at Fresno State. William Saroyan (the Armenian-American author and playwright) is a local hero with tons of things named after him. Basically, I’ve always been exposed to Armenian culture and viewpoints, but never to Turkish ones. So, I’d like to educate myself about both countries by researching the viewpoints of ordinary bloggers.

Published in: on January 28, 2009 at 8:42 pm  Comments (1)  
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