Terror and Silence

by    /  April 9, 2018  / 1 Comment

Professor Mehmet Altan. Image via the International Press Institute.

“Would you like to be tried the way you try others?” my friend Mehmet Altan, Professor of Economics, columnist and author of several books, asked the court, before he was sentenced to life-imprisonment.

Dear Earthmate,

It is easy (and in most cases fair) to criticize Erdoğan’s government if you are outside Turkey. It is wrong to be silent about the violence by some organizations, including the peaceful-looking Gülenist movement and the PKK.

  1. Wor(l)ds in Danger, a column by Tarik Günersel
  2. Life is words in action, literature is action in words.
  3. Humans are about to destroy their spaceship Earth. Some of them are aware of this and they try to change the course of events. Will they succeed? Will more humans be alarmed and do something?
  4. Literature is vital and translators are messengers of world peace.
  5. Though I shall focus on the literary scene in Turkey and its problems regarding freedom of expression, I shall not omit the other parts of our planet. Today local is global and vice versa.
  6. Tarik Günersel
  7. Poet, playwright, actor, and director Tarık Günersel worked at Istanbul City Theater as a dramaturg.
  8. His works include Breaths of Infinity (a mosaic of poems) and My 300th Birthday Speech (short stories). His Becoming consists of his aphorisms and various ideas from world wisdom.
  9. His plays include Billennium, Nero and Agrippina, Sociology of Shit, Threat and Virtually Yours. He has written four libretti for the composer Selman Ada: Ali Baba & 40, Blue Dot, Forbidden Love, and Another Planet. His translations into Turkish include works by Arthur Miller, Samuel Beckett, Vaclav Havel and Savyon Liebrecht. His presentation of World Poetry Day to PEN International in 1997 led to its adoption by UNESCO. As the former president of PEN Turkey Center he was elected to PEN International Board in Tokyo from 2010 to 2012. In 2013 he initiated the Earth Civilization Project with the collaboration of several intellectuals from around the planet.

On International Mother Language Day, PEN International, on whose board I was honored to serve during 2010-12, sent a message globally focusing on the limitations on the right of Kurdish people to use and promote their own language and culture. Here is an excerpt:

“Since 1 January 2017, pursuant to a decision by the Turkish Press and Advertisement Council, ‘all font and text except advertisement on any print press must be in Turkish. Towards the end of the previous decade, President (then PM) Erdoğan loosened some of these restrictions, but the repression of the Kurdish population has come back in full force since the breakdown of the peace process between the Turkish authorities and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in July 2015.”

The PKK re-started violence after the parliamentary election in June 2015, hoping that the Kurdish citizens of Turkey would (uprise) revolt. That did not happen. The PKK oppressed many Kurds in Sur and other districts in Diyarbakır. The Kurdish people found themselves under crossfire and left those districts. One of the leading Kurdish intellectuals is Orhan Miroğlu, an AK Party member in Parliament, whose 880-page book, “Yeni Yüzyıl, Kürtler ve Bağımsızlık,” (The New Century, Kurds and Independence) should be translated -into English at least. He is threatened by the PKK because of his critical attitude against the PKK.

A portion of the book reads:
“Renewed violence after the end of the ceasefire has seen thousands killed and wounded. Scores of historical sites and buildings have moreover been destroyed. The Sur district in Diyarbakir, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, has been the site of some of the fiercest fighting and entire neighbourhoods have been demolished. Some government-appointed authorities, who have partially replaced democratically elected mayors and officials in Kurdish-majority municipalities, have taken down cultural monuments throughout the region. For instance, in the city of Bazid the statue of the prominent classic Kurdish writer Ehmedê Xanî was removed.”

Terrible, indeed.

It is wrong the think that the Kurds in Turkey are represented by a single political party (HDP) or an armed organization. In western Turkey, most of them vote for Erdoğan’s AK Party or CHP, and some socialist parties. Besides, there are 3 million Kurdish-Turkish marriages with children. I voted for the HDP in June 2015, but when the PKK said all 13% of the votes meant supporting the PKK, I was angry. The PKK mistakenly believed they had sufficient support.

Another excerpt from Orhan Miroğlu’s work:
“Meanwhile, the Turkish (I prefer to say the AK Party, as they refrain from using the word “Turkish” ) authorities have taken to persecuting those who call for peace. For instance, criminal proceedings have been instituted against Academics for Peace, a diverse group who signed a declaration calling for peace in Turkey’s south-east in January 2016, and who are facing terrorism-related charges as a consequence. Recently, after the central council of the Turkish Medical Association issued a short statement to express its opposition to the on-going military operations by the Turkish army in a Kurdish-majority area in northern Syria, senior council members were arrested and accused of propagandizing for terrorist organizations.”

PEN International then invited concerned writers and other concerned people to send messages to the AK Party authorities, including the following demands:

1) Demanding the immediate and unconditional release Nedim Türfent and Zehra Doğan, and all others who are imprisoned solely for having exercised their right to freedom of expression;
2) Calling on Turkey to lift the state of emergency;
3) Calling on Turkish authorities to respect the right of Kurdish people to use and promote their own language and culture and to study in their mother tongue;
4) Calling for an end to the repression of Kurdish culture and heritage and instead to promote Kurdish language and linguistic rights;
5) Calling on Turkish authorities to permit the re-opening of Kurdish language media outlets;
6) Calling for an end to the persecution of those who call for peace in the conflict between the Turkish authorities and the Kurdish population both within and outside of Turkey.

Some Western governments, organizations and members of the media understandably criticize Erdoğan and his government from the point of view of democratic values; but they fail to make a significant impact if they continue to keep silent about the Islamist Gülenist movement (FETÖ – Fetullah Terrorist Organization) and the PKK. They should refrain from romanticising terrorist movements and organizations even when they are against oppressive government. If “the West” keeps failing to criticize the Gülenist movement and the PKK, Turkey can only move farther away from the West.

If the well-meaning institutions in the West consult their colleagues in Turkey, they can prepare better statements.

“You are not welcome in Algeria!”

… says the internationally respected Algerian novelist Kamel Daoud in his open letter to Erdoğan, prior to his visit. Daoud drew attention to the Ottoman times and the present injustice in Turkey. The right-wing government in Turkey between 1950-1960 sided with France against the independence of Algeria. Had he not passed away in 1938, Atatürk would have supported Algeria’s independence. Many Algerian patriots wore Atatürk’s picture.

Life-Imprisonment for Writers and Journalists

Professor of Economics, Mehmet Altan has been a humorous friend of mine for 30 years. I wrote comments supporting his books. He has been in prison for 1.5 years, and he has recently been sentenced to life imprisonment. He has always been against coups –of all sorts. One of his books is entitled “The Economics of Coups” – d’Etat.

He supported the AK Party government, hoping for democratization. Disillusioned, he started to criticize Erdoğan and his party. He was fired from Daily Star. He was still teaching at Istanbul University.

The police found a one dollar bill in his home, which was claimed to be a sign of his relationship to the Gülenist movement. Strange, but what isn’t? It seems to be true that the Gülenist organization used one dollar bills as identity cards. I admit that I had a one dollar bill in my wallet, too; I really do not remember what I did with it; I may have thrown it away in fear.

But my friend Mehmet Altan refused to show any sign of fear, knowing that he had no conspiracy or atachment with any secret organization. He was sure of himself, naturally. He and his elder brother Ahmet Altan, novelist and editor-in-chief of Daily Taraf, were on a TV show months before the pro-Gülen coup attempt in July 2016. They both were in distress about the situation in Turkey. So they cautioned the government. That was the reason both were accused of a “subliminal message” in favour of a coup d’etat and sentenced to life in prison.

I admit that I was shocked by Taraf’s mode of anti-militarism. Many innocent people, some of them soldiers from all ranks, suffered in prison for six years. Some of them died in prison.

As for the journalist Ms. Nazlı Ilıcak, who was also sentenced with the brothers, she has been a conservative anti-communist since my youth –at least 40 years, which is a negative stand from my point of view, and I could hardly consider her a democrat; but, come on!

About the Author

Poet, playwright, actor, and director Tarık Günersel worked at Istanbul City Theater as a dramaturg. His works include Breaths of Infinity (a mosaic of poems) and My 300th Birthday Speech (short stories). His Becoming consists of his aphorisms and various ideas from world wisdom. His plays include Billennium, Nero and Agrippina, Sociology of Shit, Threat and Virtually Yours. He has written four libretti for the composer Selman Ada: Ali Baba & 40, Blue Dot, Forbidden Love, and Another Planet. His translations into Turkish include works by Arthur Miller, Samuel Beckett, Vaclav Havel and Savyon Liebrecht. His presentation of World Poetry Day to PEN International in 1997 led to its adoption by UNESCO. As the former president of PEN Turkey Center he was elected to PEN International Board in Tokyo from 2010 to 2012. In 2013 he initiated the Earth Civilization Project with the collaboration of several intellectuals from around the planet.

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Fearless, Ink.