Noah’s Phone: Updates on Freedom of Speech from Turkey

by    /  February 2, 2018  / Comments Off on Noah’s Phone: Updates on Freedom of Speech from Turkey

Imprisoned Turkish human rights activist Osman Kavala. Image via the author.

First: Last Minute

After various signs of warning by Erdoğan the Turkish army intervenes in northern Syria as a ‘self-protective measure’ against the PKK-related armed Kurdish formation in Afrin. Prior to the attack, Russia withdrew her forces to a safe area. The UN Security Council refrains from criticism; NATO says it is Turkey’s right to defend herself, including her borders; Trump says the move should be limited.

The critical voices against it are threatened by government supporters; more than twenty people who have tweeted in opposition have been detained.

The hegemonic political atmosphere is this: If you are a patriot, you are expected to support the military action against terrorists; if you say anything against the intervention, then you are a traitor, a terrorist. A clearly problematic situation in terms of freedom of speech.

  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.

Noah with a smartphone?

Turkey Radio TV, the official TV station of Turkey, which has been under the direct control of the AK Party government (or “Erdocracy,” as I call it) has recently caused one more scandal: Dr Yavuz Örnek, a teacher at Istanbul University on the Faculty of Naval Sciences, Dr Yavuz Örnek claimed that the Biblical Noah used a cell phone to communicate with his son. He also said that the technology in the time of the Old Testament was more advanced than it is today; Noah used nuclear energy for his ark. What’s more, he argued that Noah had not taken pairs of animals onto the ship, he had received genes from America! He added that he was speaking as a scientist on behalf of science. He was asked to show evidence -but his claim remains a sample of demagogy.

Dr. Örnek (His name means “example”–of what?!) caused more damage to the credibility of science and the few remaining scientific institutions in Turkey than any Islamofascist could have. Protests (on social media and in a few newspapers) arose, but, apparently, he still holds his title and position at the university.

Such claims on behalf of science cannot be related to freedom of speech; they constitute a direct misuse of that liberty. Noah’s phone is only one of the numerous “tragicomic” examples showing the unbelievably low and unacceptable academic situation to which Erdoğan’s AK Party has brought Turkey.

It is distressing to make an experienced guess: some viewers believed him. Some readers might say “So what?” But, please, try to imagine the “intellectual milieu” in which scientists and artists try to survive.

Good news, but in vain

The Turkish Constitutional Court recently decided that my friend Mehmet Altan, Professor of Economics and author of several books, and the author and columnist Şahin Alpay should not be kept in prison. (They are among 150 journalists imprisoned without a verdict.) A surprisingly autonomous move indeed. But the judges who keep them in jail soon claimed that the Constitutional Court had stepped out of its boundaries! So the good news has not meant much in practice –yet.

Forbidden words

The Washington Post (of December 15, 2017) was echoed in Turkey –as it was probably everywhere else: The Trump administration prohibited officials at the nation’s top public health agency from using a list of seven words or phrases: vulnerable, entitlement, diversity, transgender, fetus, evidence-based and science-based. The ban is related to the budget and supporting materials to be given to the Congress.

In Turkey, after the military coup of 1980, some words became dangerous: communist, Kurd, Kurdish. At present, it is evolution. For some, astonishingly, Turk has become a politically incorrect word; they prefer to say Türkiyeli (someone from Türkiye) arguing that the term is neutral, embracing Kurds and other ethnic groups. But for most citizens the word Turk still means a citizen of the Republic of Türkiye –no matter what the ethnic origin is.

Nationalisms provoke each other on a dynamic and slippery platform.

Trump’s decision makes news- and rescues Erdoğan

When Trump announced his decision about Jerusalem, which ironically means ‘City of Peace’, Erdoğan quickly protested against it, deviating the attention of a sufficient percentage of the public away from the Reza Zarrab case in the USA. It is alleged (or, by now, known) that a number of the leading members of AK Party (i.e. Erdoğan’s circle) collaborated with Reza Zarrab, the young businessman from Iran charged with massive misconduct regarding the trade blockade.

Former President under attack

Early this month Abdullah Gül, the former president of Türkiye Cumhuriyeti, mildly announced his opinion regarding human rights, politely stressing the need to set the journalists free. Co-founder of the AK Party more than fifteen years ago, Erdoğan was outraged, and this was followed by humiliating accusations against Gül. The ex-president Gül commented that he would go on sharing his views for the sake of democracy.

The situation has led me to write this:

A poem with self-censorship

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . ;
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . ?

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . ?
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . ?

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . ?
. . . . . . ? . . . . . . . ?

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . ?
. . . . . . ! . . . . . . . ?

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . !
. . . . . . . . . . . . . .?

. . . . . . . . . . . . . !
. . . . . . . . . . . . . !

. . . . . . ! . . . . . . !
. . . ! . . . ! . . . ! ! !

If one controls the media and the school curriculum, with a sufficient flow of money to enough key people, one can control almost everything. Until when? Until a socio-political reaction (with a proactive agenda and cooperation) becomes powerful enough to teach a lesson. Wishful thinking? Certainly. But how else can you endure under oppression without hope, which can help you to take concrete steps?

A joke with message

Two youngsters from the Netherlands recently prepared a cover for the Bible, making it look as if it were the Qur’an. Then they read certain parts to some people on the street, saying that the words were from the Qur’an. The excerpts were words of harsh punishments with blood, causing fear. The tested people found them violent, saying that the Bible was much more humane. They were shocked when they faced the reality: The words were from the Bible.

Osman Kavala

Accused of aiding a terrorist organization, the human rights activist and businessman Osman Kavala has been arrested for months. PEN Turkey Center attempted to visit him at Silivri Prison complex: Vice President Halil Ibrahim Özcan, who spent ten years in prison back in the 1980s, and lawyer, author and former parliamentarian Sırrı Özbek were denied a visit by the prison authorities. Here we see Özbek and Özcan in front of the Silivri Prison Complex:

The struggle for a peaceful democratic world goes 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.