Sunday, July 29, 2007

The Election, the AK Party, the CH-MH-P and the independents

With two days to go to the election, personal notes on the general view

With not even three months passed since the 27 April military memorandum, it would be no doubt unrealistic to genuinely expect anything to come from this election. As long as the military guardianship over democracy in Turkey is not removed, can elections go any further than being toys of the ‘game of politics’ serving to keep us occupied?

The stage of the game of politics has been narrowing for years. Reforms made according to the Copenhagen Criteria in line with the EU negotiation process, many of which remained on paper, an economy surrendered to the IMF’s programs, a social life organized by a coarse elite, a democratic system turned over to the fatal balance of internal and external sensitivities and red lines and the Kurdish problem...

A populist tradition of opposition based on lies, which endlessly speaks out about some of these issues to fire illegitimate blows at the ruling party but continues to apply the same policies when they come to power...

Let’s not mince our words. Since none of the issues which have left Turkey mired in political crisis have been solved and since they have only been shelved for a while, it is impossible for the elections to be a cure for so many troubles like a magic wand.

The AK Party

Public opinion polls show that the AK Party (Justice and Development Party) will repeat its success in the 2002 general, and that it might in fact surpass by a few points the 34 % vote it gained then. This success, gained despite the all-out assault of all other parties will mean a lot for AK Party supporters.

Following a probable election success, first the presidency test, and then a widespread test of ‘becoming civilian’ awaits the AK Party. It will no doubt be a significant acquisition in the name of the normalization of the political field if the party passes these tests with determined steps and does not show an inclination towards the discourse of the nationalist-militarist flank.

The AK Party does not look like it will renounce its liberal policies which disregard the rights of workers and salary paid employees we mentioned above. The party will continue to follow a two-way strategy, and protect the interests of capital on the macro scale, and focus on ‘helping the poor’ campaigns of regional administrations to keep warm ties with the poor on a micro scale. This means that the left-socialist opposition will have an important duty in making visible the deficiencies of this strategy.

We see that the mind of the AK Party isn’t that clear in the field of democratic openings they are so ambitious about, when we reconsider the fact that they haven’t taken a single step to remove the headscarf ban, they haven’t changed Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Law, they stood by and watched as the gang who carried out the Hrant Dink murder was described as ‘a group of friends’ by a police chief, and also the law which increased the powers of the police which was rushed through parliament immediately after the announcement of the decision for elections and the official terror experienced in Istanbul on 1 May 2007.

Since I have called this ‘personal notes’ at the beginning of the article, let us conclude our section about the AK Party with a personal reproach/complaint. The writer of these lines, who, for being one of the speakers at the ‘Armenian Conference’ in 2005, was accused, along with 40 other academicians, of ‘treachery’ and ‘stabbing the homeland in the back’ by the minister of justice Cemil Çiçek and who, from then on was sentenced to live in constant disquietude since having managed with this academic presentation to ‘successfully’ fast-track his name on to traitors lists making the rounds on the Internet, will forever approach the AK Party, who has failed to discharge ‘patriotism-meters’ like Çiçek, and its claims to democracy, with suspicion.


Despite its huge efforts to benefit from the polarization strategy it has adopted to combat the AK Parti, the CHP (Republican Peoples' Party), under the leadership of Deniz Baykal, continues to fail to increase its votes.

Deniz Baykal has constantly sewn seeds of separatism and antagonism by creating traitor bogeymen for this end. He glorified nationalism which attempted to lynch those seeking their rights in the streets, he hampered the reforms for non-muslim foundations, and he belted the drums that called the coupists to duty with great appetite.

The CHP thus tried to hide its political incompetence and the fact that it was detached from the problems of the majority of the population and to gain power against the AK Party, but at the point we are, this strategy has mostly given rise to the general establishment of racism, discrimination, violence and militarism in the centre of politics.

This dark track which the CHP has widened with great effort will see the real owner of the sphere, the MHP (Nationalist Action Party), blaze through, with no obstacles in its way whatsoever. We may see that the vote of the MHP, which was 18 % in the 1999 elections and 8 % in the 2002 elections reach 20 % on Sunday night.

The sum of the votes of the DSP and the CHP in the 1999 elections was 31 %. If the CHP gets less than this percentage on 22 July, this may mean it has effectively come to the end of its political life. The route the urban middle and urban classes loyal to the line CHP will take will be of vital importance in terms of Turkey’s future.

The Independents

On 1 June 2007 we had defended the idea that the independent candidates could be an important step in passing beyond the unjust election threshold and that an opposition group formed in Parliament by the coming together of the Kurdish movement, prevented from representation in Parliament for years, and democratic leftwing circles could be an important centre of attraction with the criticism it would target at the regime.

What was more significant here, in our view, was not ‘sending’ the representatives of libertarians, socialists and the oppressed to Parliament, but to open a network of connections which could organize opposition in the congested political arena and to open a new political field with the post-election period in mind.

The rupture experienced as early as the candidate determination stage with the DTP (Democratic Society Party) which formed the mass basis of the independent candidates project greatly jeopardized Baskın Oran’s chances. The candidacy of Ufuk Uras in the 1st electoral precinct caused cracks within his party the ÖDP (Freedom and Solidarity Party), which was another serious problem.

As a result, the success of independent candidates in the elections will be significant for the Kurds who have not been represented in Parliament for years, but we have to acknowledge that leftist-socialist circles did not fair positively in this process. A strategy focusing on getting 65 thousand votes in Istanbul to be elected instead of struggle and fundamental organization, may be doomed to disperse completely in the event of failure at the ballot-box.

A great number of volunteers have put in a huge amount of hard work for weeks both for Baskın Oran’s and for Ufuk Uras’s campaigns. It is impossible to disregard this hard work and not respect those involved. Despite all negativities as a sign of respect to this dissident stance, I will support independent candidates within the spirit of civil disobedience and cast my vote in Samatya for Baskın Oran.

June 20, 2007

Hangman’s rope and intellectual consistency

For days, we have been debating the hangman’s rope that the leader of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) Devlet Bahçeli threw to the crowds in a party demonstration. It was a chilling reaction that Bahçeli gave to Prime Minister Erdoğan’s accusation that MHP was responsible for not executing PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan who was caught and brought to Turkey when MHP was part of the governing coalition.

Let me note in passing that the only good that came from Bahçeli’s cheap spaghetti-western show was to present the real face of the gray wolves and to demonstrate how mainstream media was wrong for broadcasting at every opportunity that MHP, despite its bloody past, was tamed and had moved closer to the center of the political spectrum.

That capital punishment, abolished in Turkey in 2002, can still be open to debate is startling for most of us. Actually the level of the arguments shows that the current situation is mostly a territorial fight. The conclusion which concerns us most in this fight is this: Among the players on the Turkish political scene, nobody has openly declared that they are against capital punishment in principle or criticized the enmity-strengthening essence of the current bickering.

Since one of the main principles of law is that laws and punishments are universally applicable to everyone, those who use the “Hang Öcalan!” slogan as a vote gathering bait in election demonstrations are calling and crying for capital punishment.

Even the media pens that underline the impropriety of the Erdoğan-Bahçeli bickering approach the issue from the perspective of “Would hanging or not hanging Öcalan serve the national interest better?” Since the subject is Öcalan, nobody talks of convict rights.

Milliyet columnist Taha Akyol began his column on July 3, Tuesday by stating: “Would hanging Öcalan frighten terror and make it recede? Or would it escalate? This is very important. This issue is not something for provoking mob psychology in public demonstrations but one that should be discussed in sang-froid, with all the available data by committees of experts.”

We understand from the column that if a conclusion in ‘sang-froid’ is reached that applying capital punishment would be useful, Akyol would support the decision. That is, Akyol is not against capital punishment in principle.

Those who look warmly upon Abdullah Öcalan’s execution under certain conditions include not just capital punishment supporters like Akyol. For example İsmet Berkan in his column in Radikal on July 4 emphasizes that the Kurdish issue is distinct from the terrorism issue and that it is the Kurdish issue that needs resolution and says:

“But the issue cannot be resolved through Öcalan’s execution, if it could, although I am against capital punishment, I too would support his execution.”

Confusing, is it not? Is it not necessary for those against capital punishment to defend their positions regardless of Abdullah Öcalan’s identity? Or is it too much of a luxury to expect this kind of intellectual consistency in Turkey’s gray and murky political climate?

Translated by Deniz Akkuş
June 6, 2007

Dark Glasses

Think, for a moment, of the Susurluk trials, Şemdinli, political party closures, murders committed by unknown perpetrators. Reflect on patriotic gang organizations that have been uncovered in recent days, the general who had bombs placed left and right so that ‘some officials would smarten up’, the murders of Priest Santoro and Hrant Dink, the savageries of Maraş, Sivas and Malatya...

It seems that in all these issues, that are important in determining what kind of a country Turkey will become, on what sort of principles it will exist, public opinion is always formed around the separation between ‘us’ and the ‘other’. Patriots vs. non-patriots, nationalists vs. those with roots outside, Turks vs. enemies of Turks, army supporters vs. army opposers, those that love their state vs. enemies of the state...

As long as this is the prime determinant and the level to look out on the world and deliberate issues, it is obviously not possible to reach any healthy conclusion. Since those in positions in judiciary or work in law enforcement are not beamed from outer space, but are a product of this society’s values, traumas, mental laziness etc., the sentencing of actions that stray outside the law can be done through the glasses of us/others.

The policemen who pose for heroic posters with the murder suspect, the investigator who did not find sufficient cause to open an investigation against these policemen, the police director who said “the planners of the murder are not a terrorist organization but a group of friends,” the lawyer who said “All of you have Armenian passports, get out of the country,” to the Dink family and their lawyers in front of the court building, all of these are under the influence of this mind warping that has severed all ties to reality.

This warp in perceptions results in the murderer transformed into a hero, and idolized for his brutality and savagery, the murdered transformed into an enemy, demonized for having been brutalized and victimized.

Is it necessary to say that this does not portend a bright future for the society of Turkey?

Translated by Deniz Akkuş
June 6, 2007

Must be present

We must be present on July 2 for the first hearing of the Hrant Dink murder trial, in front of the Istanbul Criminal Court, located in the old State Security Court (DGM) building in Beşiktaş.

We must be present to state that we are aware of our responsibility towards a life that was lost on January 19, 2007, towards unfinished business, towards a life cut in half, towards the pure symbol that he left behind.

We must be present to say that we are closely following the tracks of the murderers, of the instigators, of the directors, of those that permitted it to happen, that we are keeping track of the process and its results.

We must be present even if we are left paralyzed, even if we cannot raise our voices due to our surprise or fear, to let them know that we have been following every item of progress with our owlish eyes used to the dark for the past six and a half months.

We must be present to remind everyone that we have not forgotten that Hrant Dink had been summoned to the Istanbul Governorship on February 24, 2004 and had been threatened by some people in front of a vice governor.

We must be present to draw attention to the fact that the chief of security who happened to declare within 48 hours of the murder that the murderer did not have any ties to an organization, and the police who posed for heroic posters together with the murder suspect continue to be employed.

We must be present to declare the participation in crime of the government that did not change Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code which led to Hrant Dink being charged with “denigrating Turkishness” as well as many authors, publishers, magazines and newspapers being brought to trial and of CHP, led by Deniz Baykal who shooed off NGO’s suggesting changes in Article 301.

We must be present to declare that we live, and that as we live, Hrant Dink lives with us and multiplies with us.

We must be present to mend our broken hopes to form a new life and a new country.

We must be present to take the first steps in laying the bricks of a new society, to show that we have started getting together to face hardships.

We must be present to feel the security of being shoulder to shoulder with those that say “We are all Hrant” against those that say “You are all traitors”.

More importantly, we must be present to demand the naked truth, to demand the only thing that holds a society together, that is, to demand justice.

On July 2, in front of Istanbul Criminal Court in Beşiktaş, the old DGM building.

Translated by Deniz Akkuş
June 29, 2007

“Neither wrong, nor alone!”

On Sunday, July 1, as part of the 15. Gay Pride Week, the Gay Pride Parade of lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transvestites and transsexuals will take place in Istanbul, Beyoğlu. During the parade, which will include numerous foreign and local guests, attention will be drawn to the problems faced by homosexuals.

There are varied pressures and injustices homosexuals face as a discriminated group in all classifications of society, whether these classifications be vertical or horizontal (class, ethnic, sexual, regional). In recent years, their associations are being closed down by regional governors as “against Turkish family values and ethics”. Security forces have made it a systematic practice to use violence against homosexuals in their workplaces, in entertainment venues, even at their residences.

Gay associations see this parade as an important step in establishing basic human rights and democratic participation for lesbians, bisexuals, transvestites and transsexuals.

In liberal circles, when one talks about minorities or groups that are discriminated against because of their identity, homosexuals are being included for some time. But when it comes to taking a political stance, homosexuals of Turkey have been left alone with their problems up to now. This parade where the slogan “neither wrong, nor alone” will be used, might be an important starting point for a shared struggle.

Translated by Deniz Akkuş
Photograph by Sarkis Baharoğlu

June 29, 2007

Cell Phone!

A few weeks ago when I was watching the award ceremony after the basketball league finals, an image I saw rankled about in my brain for days.

Basketball players from Fenerbahçe are about to receive their championship cup, surrounded by hundreds of fans. The arena is ebullient. As the cameras turn towards the spectators, you can see that almost all of the cheering fans have their phones out, trying to capture the moment when their team captain raises the cup. They are trying to live the excitement and the happiness while at the same time trying to record it.

A few days afterwards I see another image in one of the newspapers. This time it is not a moment of happiness at the focus of the lens, but a murder. When Hamas, the governing party in Palestine starts bloody events in the Gaza strip upon fears that Fatah is about to mount a coup d’etat backed by the US and Israel, a Hamas crowd lynches a Fatah leader. The battered corpse is dragged through the streets. Tens of people, some of which are probably eyewitnesses or participants in the murder, gather around pieces of the body and are “snapping pictures” with their phones.

Cell phones are used above all to record the moments we live. Not a day passes without seeing a cell phone recording of a social event, an accident, a murder broadcast on TV or published in a newspaper.

This is a new value set, one in which a visual of life creates more impact than the life itself, where living a moment is less meaningful than having recorded it.

Although this creates a positive move towards democratization of knowledge, the wheels of this world do not turn completely without a bias.

This new value set also implies a world where every kind of evil, every image of blood, murder, rape is marketed and normalized.

An example: A few days ago newspapers published photos of E.Y., a judge at the Bağcılar Court beating his wife on the street. The judge had committed suicide when his wife refused to forgive him.

What was interesting was that the photos of the beating had been taken a month ago but were just being published by newspapers, after the judge’s death. The judge had used his influence to prevent the pictures from being published. The images were recorded, they had “news value” but had not been published.

Translated by Deniz Akkuş
June 29, 2007

A Fathers´ Day Dream

“Aha, so you are here, as well…”
“Yes, I am. I felt like seeing my father, and you.”
“Visitors flooded the whole day. I expected my family already, but I did not expect such a crowd of visitors…”
“So, thanks to your visitors, everyone here is now happy, what do you think?”
“Which one was your father?”
“That one over there. On the edge of the road that goes up. Next to the fountain.”
“Ah, the one who plays backgammon so well. We always compete, it is so enjoyable. But he drinks a lot!”
“He does. He always used to.”
“So, how is your life? I have already been reading the newspaper. So tell me more.”
“What can I tell you? Those you do not know are already unknown for me. After you left, we lost all our sanity, which I doubt had existed before. .”
“My God, I do not understand this! Whoever comes here today tells exactly the same things. Can´t one of you give me some good news?”
“I would, if there were any.”
“When are you going to have a baby?”
“Haven´t you been satisfied? You already have two grandchildren!”
“Two grandchildren are not enough. I also told my children not to stop.”
“You are in a good mood. The prizes made you feel better, I suppose.”
“I am grateful for those, but they are not enough.”
“Why not?”
“Koçaryan gave the prize in Armenia, didn´t he? So our president should give another one.”
“Look at you! He did not even come to the funeral. Do you expect him to give you a prize?”
“He will, I am sure he will. Could you expect that much of people to farewell me in the funeral?”
“No, I couldn´t. I was appalled.”
“So, you see.”
“Ok, that´s great. I have to leave now.”
“Ok, come and visit me again. I want you to bring me good news. And don´t forget what I told you about having children.”
“OK; OK… I won´t...”

Translated by Ahu Sıla Bayer
June 22, 2007

A Tree with Deep Roots: Surmelian

He was born in 1905 in Trabzon. He took shelter among his neighbors when the disastrous days had come and his family joined the big parade. He stayed in orphanages in Erivan, Nor Bayazıd, Karakilise and Batum. In the period of armistice, he received education in Armaş- Izmit and then in Getronagan, Istanbul. When all the orphans in the city were sent abroad in 1922, he happened to go to the USA. He was the son of a pharmacist but wanted to study agriculture.

Having lost all his loved ones in the Great Disaster and having found himself in the New World after a series of personal catastrophes, this lad normally chose to study especially agriculture. Why he had decided to master in that filed is best told by him in his poetry.

I planted that tree as a cross for my dead ones

Wherever he had traveled, Levon Zaven Surmelian always had the pain of his beloved country in his heart. With the purpose of transforming the stony Armenian land into a green field and of creating his own paradise on those lands, he had to become a good expert in agriculture. He received the title of professor of agriculture in Los Angeles, a city full of other Armenian sharing the same history. Those Armenians worked hard to recreate an equivalent for Sivas, Maraş, and Antep on a foreign land. He visited Armenia for a few times but did not have the opportunity to live there. He could not make his dream of working on that barren land to make it a rich and prosperous one with a plow and hook in his hand.

Surmelian started to get his writings and poetry in Armenian published and received praise from renowned Hagop Oşagan. In guidance of his godfather poet Vahan Tekeyan, he launched a writing career in poetry. The reason why he wrote in English was his desire to Express whatever has happened in his homeland and the maltreatment against his people. His autobiographical book I Ask You, Ladies and Gentlemen was published in 1945.
The renowned writer William Saroyan described the book as the real life story of a generation “who succeeded to survive in a way that turns their enemies mad (...), who had their world destroyed but stubbornly kept on living, and as an effort to “fix ruined lives”.

In the book I Ask You, Ladies and Gentlemen, Surmelian told the story of his life in Trabzon before 1915, his family, his father´s pharmacist´s, his neighbors, Turkish play mates, the death parade that his family went to, how Greek families tried to survive taking shelter in his house, his experiences in different orphanages around Caucasia, his magic-like experiences in Istanbul and finally his travel to the United States…

He did not lose his good intentions and childish vision even while writing about the most violent and disastrous events. He managed to create a universal tragedy out of the lives of his brothers and friends, whom Saroyan defined by saying, “If we are to categorize them under a certain nation, they would be belonging to the nation of children”. He had the same hopeful and compassionate style of writing when he told his happy childhood days in Trabzon, his search for happiness on unknown paths, and the painful feeling of deficiency he had in orphanages.
Just like the walnut tree told in the poem by Nazım Hikmet, another poet who has craved his homeland so passionately, he expressed his feelings in an infinite variety of expressions:

Under the Armenian sun
with large green leaves
I am a tree
my feet are strong
just like snakes
they swirl across the crosses on holy lands
and with my arms up against the wind
I erect myself just like Jesus
on top of the mountain.

Translated by Ahu Sıla Bayer

June 22, 2007

Unknown Perpetrators (!)

You are tracked down and registered while wandering down dark corridors, without knowing where they lead and which lost soul you might encounter. You want to participate in what goes on, to take possession of the pen that has written your dark fate, or, at the very least, you want to disappear like those other souls. But you are nothing but a spectator.

It is in vain that you try to break free of the manacles shackled to your legs by the government that observes every breath you take with their cameras, with their police, with their informers. It is in vain that you try to break free of the cells you are jailed in, of the cells you jail yourself, of your identities, of the hills you ascend to separate yourself from the hordes. They will follow you. The souls buried in tar-black sorrows are waiting for the touch of a compassionate hand, of the caressing murmur of sweet words. The consciences scabbed over with the burden of suffering, of forgetting, of not caring sink to the stone floor like lead weights while hopes glimmer faintly beyond the horizon.
The ´Unknown Perpetrators´ performance given by The Bare Feet Company on June 10 in garajistanbul (concept by Mihran Tomasyan) invited us to remember our lost people and to converse from our hearts with their pictures hung in emptiness.
Hanging from dark floating balloons were pictures of hundreds of people who had fallen victim to murders by ´unknown perpetrators´, who had lost their lives to terror, or had become targets of unchecked violence by the regime. It seemed as if they were waiting for us to release them to the sky so their souls could finally rest in peace.
So many were there that day... Uğur Kaymaz who died by 13 bullets at the age of 12, Metin Göktepe whom we were asked to believe died from falling off of a 1,5 meter wall, Ahmet Kaya who was exiled from the country and died away from his homeland because he declared he was going to sing in Kurdish, Ruhi Su who died because the authorities would not grant him a passport although he had to travel abroad for treatment, Hasan Ocak who disappeared in custody one day and was never heard from again, Hasret Gültekin who died in flames and smoke in Sivas, Güldünya Tören who was killed by her family´s decision after getting raped and pregnant by a relative, Sabahattin Ali who was killed by a MİT (National Investigation Agency) agent on the Bulgarian border as he was leaving the country... They were all there.
Others were also there, those whose faces seem familiar but whose names we don´t know, those who have a mother, a father, a sibling or a lover who continues to cry silently for them, in an apartment somewhere in the country to this day. As they grew around us with their hopeful and innocent faces, we were lost in thought, bent under the weight of all the losses: Look at all the people we have lost...

Translated by Deniz Akkuş
June 15, 2007

Fires fed by Crisis

"Together with its nation, with the Turkish Armed Forces and with all its security forces, the Republic of Turkey will decisively wage its rightful war on the divisive terror that is targeting its unity and indivisible integrity until the last terrorist disappears."

"Until the last terrorist disappears..." These words do not belong to a child that believes the world consists of computer games and thinks that winning a war involves taking out enemies one by one with his joystick, but to President Sezer.
We live and observe that for years the Kurds´ demand for rights and the poverty of the Eastern and Southeastern Anatolia have been treated only within the framework of security and internal threats by the state. The mentality which suppresses the civil society´s demand for democracy and human rights and does not move one step forward in forming a culture of common living does not abstain from raising the level of violence whenever it gets into difficulties.
Those that have swept the problem under the rug with their discourse on unity and integrity instead of building an inclusive and pluralist political regime have committed the greatest crime by passively allowing divisiveness to take root in society over the years. Currently, the division in society has entered a dangerous path where every Kurd is regarded as an enemy and terrorist. Obviously the Kurdish politicians who cannot establish politics independent of Abdullah Ocalan are also responsible for today´s situation. But we should not forget that the state apparatus programmed to violently suppress every demand for rights does not leave a lot of room for democratic expression.
The crisis in the country is turning into a hungry fire which grows by consuming everything it encounters. The opposition of the regime to the AKP government has led to a fire that took advantage of the presidential election chaos for inviting a coup. This fire has grown since and now, with the aid of warmongers, is trying to find an opportunity to jump out of the country.
More than ever, it is now necessary to advocate a civil freedom perspective that aims to affect the results of the polls on July 22 and does not refrain from speaking aloud against the current problems.
From the moment you get your ticket and walk into the darkness through the doors, you are aware that you face a small representation of the world we live in, clothed in dark colors.

An excerpt
Military life consists of someone having authority over someone else. What is worse is that everyone has too much authority. A sergeant can make life hell for privates just because he feels like it. A lieutenant can do the same to a corporal, a captain to a lieutenant, a major to a captain and so forth. Everyone is sure of their authority and used to misusing it. Here is a simple example: We come back from training and are dead tired. Then, all of a sudden, they ask us to sing a march. We can barely carry ourselves upright. The result is a feebly sung march. As punishment they immediately make us go back and undergo one more hour of training. On the way back, the order to sing is repeated, we sing together vigorously.

I now ask you, what the meaning of all this is? Nothing! It is simply that the commander is mad with the extent of his authority! No one will blame him, to the contrary he will get commended for being tough.

Erich Maria Remarque, Nothing New on the Western Front (1929)

Translated by Deniz Akkuş
June 15, 2007

A Play: Ashura

Directed by Mustafa and Övül Avkıran, Ashura is a kind of play/performance offering condolence to the cultures lost on the lands of Anatolia. This one-hour stage performance combines theatre and music, through songs sung in various languages. Ashura is a painful tale of how souls get barren in time.

Human beings of bone and flesh, no different than you and I, have their destiny shaped by forced migration, pressure and genocides, one moment, they land on the edge of water, a moment later they find themselves on top of a mountain, like migrating birds. They go on singing their songs despite everything, but unavoidably, their voices sound bitterer every time they sing.
I don’t have much space, so I will just mention a couple of critical points about this striking performance.
In order to emphasize the main dramatic tension in the play, which is gradual decrease, the ratio of the languages spoken in the country to the total population for the period of 1927-65 according to census data is reflected onto the backdrop. Although the numbers serve a function for the main idea of the play, one cannot stop thinking that it would be better to stress the story itself, and the theatrical and performative expression while reflecting the tragedies of the past.
The second point of criticism is for the subtitles of the songs. Although they are sung in many different languages, only the Turkish translations are reflected on the screen. With today’s technology, it would not be so difficult to have Armenian, Assyrian, Greek, Ladino and Kurdish lyrics in addition to Turkish translations. I think it is our right to expect the presence of such a detail from a performance that defends living together in harmony (symbolized by the dish ashura).
Translated by Ahu Sıla Bayer
June 8, 2007

Eren Keskin is our conscience

Last week, Eren Keskin, former president of the İstanbul branch of the Human Rights Association appeared in court. She was accused of violating article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code. The accusation was based on her article on the murder of Hrant Dink. Keskin is being tried for saying that what killed Hrant Dink was the “Teşkilat-ı Mahsusa (the Intelligence Agency of the late Ottoman Empire, considered the ideological ancestor of the present day secret political-violence organisations)” mentality in her article published in BirGün on 26 January. She is accused of having “Publicly insulted the military establishment of the state, by means of publication.”
In her article, Eren Keskin criticised the sytem that taught its citizens a history based on lies, that either silenced those who sought the truth or turned them into self-censoring individuals and raised a call to transform the flood of people at Hrant’s funeral to a civil movement. The final sentences of the article read:
“I want to be hopeful! For we owe this to our dead.”
This is not the first case against Eren Keskin, and as she does not show any signs of “rehabilitation” we fear it will not be the last. She has been tried and sentenced several times. In 2002, in a conference titled “Women’s Rights= Human Rights” organised by the Federation of Alevi Associations in Germany, Keskin talked about sexual torture carried out by the state. This infuriated journalist Fatih Altaylı, who reacted using the following words in his radio programme:
“Eren Keskin has slandered people saying soldiers sexually harass women in Turkey, they carry out virginity tests even on married women just to torture them... I will be damned if I do not sexually harass this Eren Keskin as soon as I see her next...”
Upon these words the court sentenced Altaylı to pay compensation to Eren Keskin, while the Media Council issued him a mere “warning”. Altaylı continues to work as a “journalist.”
We know that in Turkey no serious legal measures are taken against those who direct verbal or physical attacks at human rights advocates and forces of opposition ­ – particularly if the target is a woman. Repression against Eren Keskin continues in the form of threats via e-mail, telephone and physical threats. In 2006, Keskin was sentenced to 10 months for violating article 301 in a speech she made at the above mentioned meeting and her jail sentence was converted to a fine of 6 thousand YTL . She refused to pay this fine and was subjected to a lynching campaign supported by newspaper ads given by nationalist circles in this process.
Eren Keskin continues her path as a brave woman who has devoted more than 20 years of her life to the defense of oppressed groups, oppressed and tortured people, bracing all sorts of danger, threats and harassment for this sake. In this land of people who think involvement in politics is about some sort of tug of war, we cannot but wish that there were a larger number of intellectuals like her who take Edward Said’s phrase, “The intellectual does not solve crises, s/he creates them” as their motto.
Translated by Ayşe Berktay
June 8, 2007

“Even worse than Armenian militants!”

Türker Alkan who writes for the newspaper Radikal is upset with İbrahim Solmaz, an ex-general director of the İmam-Hatip Mezunları ve Mensupları Derneği (alumni association of the vocational high schools which raises imams) (June 5), reason being that during the alumni day event at the Antalya İmam-Hatip Lisesi, Solmaz made a speech where he said that drug abuse and moral collapse are rife in normal schools, whereas one does not see this sort of thing in the İHLs. In his criticism of Solmaz, Türker Alkan rightly reasons that such words only worsen the polarisation in society and that being defamatory of a certain fraction can have grave consequences.*
Be that as it may, the heading reads, “Even worse than Armenian militants!”
Alkan says, “I find the director’s characterisation of a great part of the Turkish people as prostitutes and junkies offensive. I cannot understand why a person would feel such enmity toward their own nation. Even Armenian militants had not gone that far.”
For whatever peculiar reason, the same Alkan who touches on worsening the polarisation in society and defamation of a certain fraction bringing grave consequences, sees no wrong in using a description such as “Armenian militants.”
Does writer and academician Türker Alkan not know what purpose his comparison serves, that discrimination and racism find their body through such stereotyping, and that inserting such references as “Armenian/Turkish/Kurdish militant” constitute hate speech? Unfortunately this is the basic reality of Turkish politics: When elephants grapple, the grass gets trampled.

In his column, Alkan quotes Solmaz as saying, “Prostitution and drug abuse are rife in all schools except for the IHL,” and then proceeds to use variants of these words, such as “prostitute” and “junkie.” Solmaz’ words on the IHL Alumni Association are as such: “Unfortunately, drug abuse and moral collapse rise at an increasing rate in other schools, whereas in IHLs, such incidents are at negligibly low levels.” It is possible that Alkan’s wording is based on certain websites and newspapers which distorted the statements in question.

Translated by Filiz Toprak
June 8, 2007

Hand in hand: Hope and crisis

As the regime heads towards a crisis, politics has tied its hopes to the early election as if it were their savior. Yet the ballot box does not possess the power to eliminate a crisis caused by military guardianship. It is obviously not realistic to expect much from an election where roles attributed to political parties on how they cope with crises will be the voting criteria instead of party programs and social projects.
In spite of it all, is there still hope?
According to some reports in daily newspapers, various democratic powers, parties and NGO’s are getting together in some cities, working for a common goal: taking part in the elections with independent candidates. The time is limited, the goal is challenging.
According to a survey by Dr. Hakan Güneş of Istanbul University, a good strategy could result in up to 37 independent candidates being elected members of parliament. Most of these MP’s will obviously be candidates of the DTP, from cities where there is a dense Kurdish population.
This may be an important opportunity for representatives of social democrats, libertarians, socialists, and suppressed minorities coming together in the parliament under the leadership of the Kurdish movement, which for years has been deterred from representation in the parliament by means of numerous obstacles.
We may project that a group of thirty to forty parliamentarians may play an important role in the parliament, creating a center of attraction directing significant criticism to the existing system. It is our heartfelt wish that this opportunity should not be wasted; that with a genuine consensus on the right names and taking into account the post-election period, with a wise strategy, what seems to be a big challenge at this moment comes true.
Translated by Çağlayan Erendağ
June 1, 2007

A radical demand: Democracy!

We are going through difficult times when those who are not fundamentalist, who practice common sense and remain reasonable are pushed to the outer edges of society and find themselves alone. The simplest, most accepted suggestions are enough to make some people hopping mad with agitation.

Defending democracy, holding a democratic stance against what`s happening puts people on a rocky and difficult path. A demand for those who carry weapons to stay away from the political arena has been marginalized in a supposedly democratic country - does this not demonstrate how the world of thought has turned upside down, how values have been irrevocably damaged?
Let`s look at some concrete examples.
Approximately a month and a half ago, the central Istanbul offices of the weekly Nokta were raided following a complaint from the military, and all the computers at the magazine`s office were searched with a fine comb for a full week. The news magazine`s owner gave in under pressure and had to declare that Nokta would no longer be published. Most of the media did not address the issue and political figures remained silent since it was well known that Nokta had an editorial viewpoint that the Armed Forces did not approved of.
We know that from time to time there are problems with the democratic process in many developed countries, but to claim that a country where the freedom of the press can be trodded upon to this degree is democratic is possible only through an extreme form of optimism that severes all ties with reality. What is worse is that under the current military guardianship regime, defending loudly that what happened to Nokta is anti-democratic can be enough to warrant concern over your own safety.
Last week, in the Guesthouse column of Agos, Doğan Gürpınar wrote: "There is no `choice` for political ethics with regards to the Memorandum. What is at stake is a non-personal principle and what should be defended is `politics.`" To defend this viewpoint that has completely left the minds of people in countries whose democracies do not resemble ours can put you in an extremist position in Turkey. You can find yourself trying to explain to your friends why being against a military intervention does not necessarily mean supporting the current party in power, and even more painfully, you can be shocked to see that your words fall on deaf ears.
In countries where sacred values of a certain ethnic origin are not on the national curriculum, you can say that nationalism is evil, that it divides people into synthetic groups and sets them violently onto one another; you can defend a political line that is anti-nationalist. Here, to do the same, you need to accept such labels as "treacherous" and "separatist." You also need to remember that one day you may have to leave your country, or you may fall to the ground with bullets in the back of your head.
In this environment, it may be problematic to even state that your ethnic origin is Kurdish, Greek, Armenian or Assyrian. The powers that `correct` the public decided one night to declare that "everybody who is against the `Happy he is who declares he is a Turk` philosophy is an enemy of the Turkish Republic and will remain as such."
The longing we feel for the days where the only measure for supporting any idea will be the scales of our intellect and conscience grows every day.
Translated by Deniz Akkuş
June 1, 2007

“Armenian, no matter who”?

As the polls on July 22 elections draw closer, the question repeated in the run-up to every election is being asked once again: Can an Armenian be elected to parliament? As you know, during the Republican era, Armenians such as Berç Türker, Mıgırdiç Şellefyan and Dr. Zakar Tarver had been elected to parliament. Although it seems unlikely at present, the majority believe it would be a positive step to have an Armenian member of parliament.

Obviously it is an important step forward for the concept of citizenship to have parties from different sections of the political spectrum to be open to people from every section of society and to have citizens from the minority communities with differing ideologies to participate in politics among the ranks of various parties. For one moment let’s assume that one of the deerskin seats of the parliament is occupied by an Armenian after July 22. First of all one should concede that it is the identity of the parliament member that counts, rather than his/her ethnic identity. Do we really have the luxury of saying “let there be an Armenian in parliament, no matter who”?

An Armenian who gets elected to the parliament for any party will, without doubt, be perceived as the “spokesperson of the Turkish Armenian community” by the public. This perception will overlook that different political views exist among Armenians. Are not the views and priorities of a candidate more important than him/her being Armenian by chance?

The problems and questions from the viewpoint of the Armenian community are mostly clear. What is the candidate’s view of nationalism? What does s/he think about the injustices non-muslim foundations face, the racist expressions in school textbooks? What reaction will s/he have when on April 23 children from all over the world sing songs in their native languages but Armenian poetry cannot be read in Armenian schools? Will s/he have a few words to say to Bayram Meral, a CHP member of parliament, who openly discriminates against Armenians during parliament sessions and went on and on about “Agop’s property”? Most importantly, will the candidate be able to stand up against his own party and show the political courage and foresight necessary to criticize party decisions in the face of problems and be present as a supporter of democracy and human rights in parliament rather than a showcase token?

Verkin Arıoba, who has been mentioned as a candidate for Istanbul from the AKP, once accosted Orhan Pamuk during a dinner and accused the author of “putting on a show to sell books” when Pamuk was on trial after being charged under article 301 for his interview to a Swedish newspaper and was being assaulted by nationalists on his way to court. It is the natural right for people like Arıoba, or Levon Panos Dabağyan and Keğam Karabetyan from the nationalist platform to engage in politics in accordance with their viewpoints and there are no barriers to them becoming prominent on their chosen platforms. But it would be a great mistake to present them as representatives of the Armenian community in any election.

Perhaps the problem lies with the internal dynamics of the Armenian community which still does not have a fully functioning democratic process and has been programmed throughout centuries to not say anything about the state of affairs in the country or in the world. But it should not be forgotten that this is a direct result of official pressures that have kept Armenians from being politicized, from claiming their freedom of speech, from talking about the injustices they have suffered.

Translated by Deniz Akkuş

May 25, 2007

Another wound

The ruling pronounced on May 21 2007 for the case of truck driver Ahmet Kaymaz and his 12 year old son Uğur Kaymaz, killed by the police special forces in front of their home in Kızıltepe, Mardin on November 21 2004 for engaging in “armed assault on security forces”, rubs salt into the deep wound in the public conscience. Four policemen had been found not guilty on charges of possible misuse of the right to use arms for security enforcement. The ruling states that the Kaymazes fired thirteen rounds at the police and the police fulfilled their duty by returning fire.
But the Human Rights Association team who went to Kızıltepe directly after the event had reported that “the examination of the autopsy report on Uğur Kaymaz shows that his right and left hands have 4, his back has 9 bullet wounds for a total of 13 bullets and that 9 of these are from bullets fired at close range (less than 50 cm)... Ahmet Kaymaz’s autopsy shows 2 bullet wounds on his thigh and left hand, 4 bullet wounds on his chest, 2 on his back for a total of 8 wounds and all 8 are from bullets fired at close range... The possibility is high that the bullets were not fired from different directions but from the same direction, the different entry points occuring from the positions the bodies took after the first bullets found their mark.”

It seems that, like many other wounds, the killing of little Uğur who left behind only a photo in his blue school uniform, with slippers on his feet and his father Ahmet will continue to seep blood slowly in our collective conscience.

Translated by Deniz Akkuş
May 25, 2007

Leave alone Bosphorus University and BÜFK!

The Bosphorus University Folklore Club (BÜFK), which has carried out avantgarde work aiming to study different cultures and to promote their dances and music, was openly pinpointed as a target last week when a performance they conducted at the university was criticized aggressively by the media.

In an environment rife with political tension, the threat of a coup d’état, and war in Northern Iraq, it is no coincidence that a freedom-loving university and a student community standing for a peaceful co-existence with others are being served up in a provocative fashion to the masses ready to be provoked.

This attack on a university that decided, though it was none of their business, to hold a conference on the Turkish-Armenian problem and gave an honorary Ph.D to an author like Orhan Pamuk whose treason to the motherland has been registered by the Nobel Academy and on a club that embraced, besides Turkish, those muted languages such as Kirmanji, Zaza, Greek, Romany and Armenian, shows us perhaps that the dirty waters of the dark tunnels we are passing through have now swelled up to our throats.

It is time to support Bosphorus University, one of the few institutions where freedom of thought exists in the country, and a troupe which has flourished in Bosphorus University’s 130 year old oasis.

Translated by Deniz Akkuş

May 25, 2007

Democrats onto themselves

The injust and anti-democratic 10% threshold for parliamentary elections which the ECHR approved for reasons of “political stability” sends parties to seek new strategies. Among these, the Democratic Turkey Party (DTP) announced during its Diyarbakır meeting the decision to nominate independent candidates. The purpose was to overcome the risk of not making it into parliament and prevent the waste of votes in provinces where Kurds are the majority. As it is known, in Turkey, the votes given to parties which do not make it into parliament are shared between those parties which get the remaining votes and do make it into parliament, thus aggravating the injustice in representation.

The day following DTP’s Diyarbakır meeting, the parliament made a constitutional amendment that stipulates that the names of independent candidates will be included on the same ballot paper as the political party. Thus, independent candidates will from now on not have separate ballot papers but their names will be on the same paper with other parties – in much smaller print, of course.

It is evident that this will cause problems for those votes in the southeastern provinces where the literacy rate is low. Those opinions which see the move as “the regime protecting itself” depart from this fact.

How interesting that the AKP (the ruling Justice and Development Party), which has been rendered the target of a military memo and protests, finds itself playing the role of guardian of the regime where the issue of the “threat” of Kurds being represented in parliament is concerned. Would there be any use in reminding the AKP, the ruling party which is second to only DTP in terms of potential votes in the southeast, that being the target of coups or memos does not make them democratic, that being democratic requires a stance which is quite different from opportunism?

Translated by Filiz Toprak

May 18, 2007

On poverty

How quickly we have grown used to the urban poor and poverty itself. Beggars positioned at certain corners and overpasses, vendors in rags selling paper handkerchiefs, little children who wipe car windscreens with dirty rags in all sorts of weather… The slum districts which are scattered across the city which have no place on our personal maps… The poverty which we pretend not to see, the image of which is already erased by the time we turn our faces the other way…

The medium- to high-income groups, whom the advertising business labels “A-B,” prefer to live a life oblivious to the poor. One sees everyday the ads for compounds (or should we call them ghettos?) designed to urge a class-hike and which promise a new life style. The issue of poverty, which is at such proportions that it was a topic of discussion at a session of the National Security Council, is no longer on the agenda given it is understood that it will not spark a political movement. It has no news value, much less an audience. As such, the urban population is comfortable in ignoring the villager who has no land to tend to and no money in their pockets or the sorry Kurds who have had to crowd into the cities because their villages have been evacuated.

Poverty for most of us is merely a matter of law and order. We are all in fear of theft, purse-snatching, etc. We are so afraid that, rather than searching for the root of the problem, we seek solace in our most important defence mechanisms: labels. “Oh those Kurds, and those Gypsies!” This is the origin of racism uncurtailed.

Little do we know that the steel doors, high ghetto walls, or labels we hide behind can do nothing to protect us from the danger on the streets.

Turkey is among countries with the greatest gap in income distribution. 20% of the population, in the lowest-income group, has a 5% share of national income, with the upper 20% gathering 50% of national income. The poverty line for a family of four is 2000 YTL. The same family has to spend 900 YTL on food and shelter, but the minimum wage is 403 YTL and the lowest pension is only 543 YTL. It is estimated that approximately 55% of the population has to live below the poverty line.

Today, poverty is within the area of interest of a handful of leftists, syndicalists, and academicians. The economy politics the IMF is notorious for has long ago discluded the human being, which for economic science constitutes the most basic element of analysis. Today we have grown accustomed to paying private hospitals when in dire need, in this country where the social security system is on course to liquidation. We cannot have anything in common with those who have to wait months to get operated on or with those who have to drag themselves from door to door without getting properly examined.

Poverty is one of the greatest taboos of our overtaxed, short-sighted politics. By this I do not mean catch-phrases such as “two keys in 500 days” which some inept politicians use in their campaigns to mesmerize the masses but rather the socio-politics, a discourse above parties which aims to improve income distribution, feed and clothe the poor, and provide social security to the employed and unemployed alike. In these days in which we have entered the election zone by force of military boot stomps, shall we go out, with a lantern in broad daylight, just like Diogenes, looking for a honest political party that will indeed develop a social politics in this country, which according to its constitution is a “social” state?

“Pssst, little girl!”

A few days ago, a tea garden in Moda with a view over the sea

Three elderly ladies are sipping their tea or coffee, whichever one they felt like drinking, and chatting in gaiety. One of the ladies has stretched her legs and put her feet onto a vacant seat and put a newspaper under her feet so that they do not get dirty. The good old wind appears, blows the newspaper away and puts it onto the cliff descending over the sea a few meters from where they are seated. In the meantime, a gypsy girl is begging for money in the one-meter wide space between the cliff and the garden fence.

The lady whose newspaper blows away, cries out to the gypsy girl, when she approaches them:

“Pssst, young girl! Look over! Give me that newspaper!”

The little girl looks at her, approaches them shyly, takes the newspaper just near the cliff with hesitation and gives it to the lady in a surprised manner. With the emcouragement of having been sked to help, she eagerly repeats her refrain:

“My sister! In the name of God, will you please.... “

The lady does not even listen to a word:

“Get out of here! Get the hell out! I shall not see you around. Aren’t you ashamed of begging?”


It is necessary to think about the situation of these people whom we only demand to serve us, do our errands, and whom we refuse to form any further bonds with. It is necessary to think on poverty.

Translated by Ahu Sıla Bayer
Photograph by Ayşegül Oğuz

May 18, 2007

A Lifetime Exile to Istanbul

He said, “Help me, doctor!”, “Please rid me quick of this tonsillitis trouble. I need to get back home to my village.”

In fact, he had never wanted to leave his village. If only he had been free to do so, he would never have gone to Istanbul for years, and wouldn’t have bat an eyelid. Every year he used to teach at the village school from the 15th of October to the 15th of April and then began cultivating the land wearing his white, loose farm clothes, and sandals on his feet. He preferred this routine which gave him the chance to meditate and write, to life in the city. He had managed to harmonize his boundless interest in literature with village life; an interest he gained at schools he attended in Istanbul; at the Ecole Française, at Getronagan, and especially at Robert College.

And there he was, after a trip starting from his village on the banks of the Euphrates, heading toward Trabzon, reaching the capital after a ship journey, and setting foot to the baker’s in Beşiktaş where he worked as an apprentice as a child, for the first time in seven years. The journey took eleven days, it was November. Two months ago, his wife Voğıda gave birth to a boy on the day of the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross; and the baby boy was baptized as Haço. He thought of nothing but his village, he had left, saying “I will stay no more than two days and will be home in twenty-twenty five days at most, so don’t you worry”.

Once more, he damned the day he caught tonsillitis, a result of his insistence to stay too long in one of the “kıpçik”s, a name given to the little lagoons in the rocks. In another place the illness might have been tolerated, but in his hometown, no one would bear entering winter with tonsillitis. If ignored, those tiny tonsils would even bring the boldest tough men down and before you know it, you would be bedridden.

When Doctor Uncuyan, whom he visited after seeing the ads in the newspaper for “painless tonsillectomy”, told him that the operation was over, he was on cloud nine. The operation had run smoothly. He thanked the doctor a thousand times, paid the operation fee of twenty kuruş. The doctor’s surgery was in Bahçekapı, close to Sanasaryan Han. How long would it take to run to catch the boat departing from Galata anyhow? As he was about to reach the port, he began to run faster, without apologizing to people he was bumping into. However, he was late. They said, “It has been twenty five minutes since the boat left. It must have reached Büyükdere by now.”

This is the story of how this villager of Armıdan was helplessly stuck in Istanbul on that November day.

Since the next boat was a week later, he went back to his father’s shop selling cattle feed in Üsküdar. During those days when he wandered around aimlessly, town criers began to announce that the government was calling up men for conscription. He was twenty eight then and was immediately enlisted. Since he had worked as a baker, he was appointed to the task of delivering bread to the military troops on the Anatolian side. While he worked ceaselessly in the army, he could think of nothing but his family. Then the news started to come in that Armenians were being forced to migrate from all corners of Anatolia. After May, he received no further news about what had happened to his family, his wife, grandfather, mother, and four children. His family may have drowned in the wild waters of the Euphrates, or maybe the sands of Der Zor had sucked them in.

Hagop Demirciyan, also known as Hagop Mıntzuri, led a life similar to one of his most favored long walks. This long walk lasted until 1978. He was unable to leave Istanbul, a city he adopted as his land of exile. He got married once more and he had children again. He sold cattle-feed, he worked as a baker and a clerk. He never stopped writing. He brought to life the memories of his lost country, engraved into the depths of his mind; he told the story of the people of his homeland, no matter where they came from. He became one of the most remarkable literary figures of 20th century Armenian literature with his books and writings published in papers. As for what happened to his family, he told their story, too, so briefly, so silently; only towards the end of his life.

Translated by Ahu Sıla Bayer

May 11, 2007

Voice of the countryside: Tlgadintsi

Hovhannes Tlgadintsi (Harutyunyan) served for 28 years as director of the Getronagan school, from the time he founded it as a 27 year old teacher in 1887 until his death in 1915 in the Great Calamity. Although he was one of the brilliant authors of his time, he never put being an educator into a secondary role. Perhaps more than his articles and books, he prided himself on the students he raised. The school that he established in competition with the American College in Harput and watched grow over the years was one of the best in Anatolia, together with Sanasaryan in Erzurum.

Tlgadintsi was born in the village of Tilgadin, south of Harput (1860) and learned to read at his village school. When he lost his father at an early age, his mother sent him to the Simpadyan school in Harput. He inhaled, word for word, the literary works published in Istanbul newspapers and wrote short stories and poems in imitation. He was talented and it did not take him too long to find his own voice and style. His success at being published in the two important newspapers of his day, in Masis and Arevelk (East) spurred him on. These two newspapers, especially Arevelk, were supporting a more socially conscious, more realist line than the romantic movement dominant in Armenian literature up to that time. Tlgadintsi who spent his entire life in the countryside, among the Armenian peasantry, continued in the footsteps of Father Migirdic Hirimyan and Hirimyan’s student Karekin Sirvantzdiyants who established the countryside literary movement and was perhaps the author who most improved and deepened this movement.

As a theme, he always took various aspects of village life. From his pen, issued forth exciting ups and downs; at times a delicate sorrow but most often humor and satire. He talked of ethical pressures that drowned women, decrepit customs, ineptitude of religious officials, emptiness of the education given in village schools, young women sent from Harput to America to be married to a man they had just seen in a single photograph. He was always concerned with the problems of his people, especially with social injustices. He pointed out reasons for the backwardness of the village populations and the terrible results of this situation. Like all Armenian authors sensitive to social problems during the Abdulhamid period, he was scrutinized and harrassed. Being a school director who continued to write in the midst of problems was enough to draw the anger of political powers. After the massacres of 1894-96, he did not withhold from describing the squalor and misery of widows and orphans with a sharp observing eye and a bold pen. In 1903, without any concrete accusations, he was jailed for nine months.

A number of Tlgadintsi’s students became writers themselves. The most famous is Rupen Zartaryan of Sivas who was arrested along with other intellectuals in Istanbul on 24 April 1915, and later killed. He influenced Penyamin Nurigyan, Vahe Hayg, Vahan Totovents, Hamasdegh (Hampartzum Gelenyan), each of whom were to emerge later as important literary figures in Armenian literature. This great teacher and author who said in the 1500th anniversary celebrations of the invention of the Armenian alphabet that “We can be sure that we will never die, never cease to exist since we have Armenian letters and literature”, managed to hide away at a Muslim friend’s house when the massacre and deportation days began in Harput in 1915, but he was caught soon. During this time, his wife and seven children were sent on the road to Der Zor. Tlgadintsi was murdered on the outskirts of Harput in July and there were no survivors left from his family.

April 13, 2007

An excerpt

After settling in America, whoever wishes for a fiancee from Harput sends a hefty sum – enough to cover travel and engagement expenses – to his parents, or if they are not alive, to a relative and asks them to find one of the fresh virgins of the country and bring her immediately, or, if they are not able to come themselves, to send that fresh young fish under the care of someone. A girl to his specifications or more than his specifications is soon found. For, if a suitable bride-to-be is not to be found in this house, there is bound to be two or three behind that door, there. On display in the hamams, churches, orphanages, there are thousands of girls who resemble blooming lilies of the valley and would come to resemble withered poppies soon. (...) When the day of bargaining arrives, the woman on the male side, the mother or relative, will engage in such charlatan behavior to assure a favorable outcome that their sweet tongues can talk even a snake out of its hiding hole. Ah, the pupil of their eye is a lord over there, earns so many dollars a week, many rich girls are pursuing him but he rejects all and is adamant in wanting a girl from his country. When the mother or relative hands over the photograph of their precious one to the girl’s guardians, she is sure to mention the age: past 28, but not quite 29. A young man built like a bull, the apple of his boss’s eye.

Hovhannes Tlgadintsi, “The Child in the Picture”, 1905

Realist literature from the capital to the countryside

The Realist movement, that was shaped by the social and political events that surrounded the ‘Armenian reality’ in the last quarter of the 19th century, grew to maturity among the columns of the Istanbul published Arevelk (East) newspaper and gave a new direction to Armenian literature. The chaos, insecurity and economic difficulties that reigned in the Anatolian provinces where large numbers of Armenians lived, had caused many Armenian villagers to leave their homes and to migrate to the capital in search of their daily bread. The tensions between Istanbul Armenians and this rural population whose men lived alone in flophouses and took the meanest jobs as porters, garbage collectors, water sellers and whose women worked in the houses of the rich as maids, nannies and even prostitutes was the propelling force for this new literature. In this generation of writers that questioned social exploitations and injustices and methods of resistance against them, Arpiar Arpiaryan who founded Arevelk, Krikor Zohrab who passed judgement on the ethical two-facedness of the Armenian bourgeoisie, Melkon Gürciyan who described the lives of the rural migrants in Istanbul, Zabel Asadur who pointed out women’s issues, Dikran Gamsaragan, Levon Pashalyan, Yervant Sirmakeshanliyan who wrote about the humble lives of the lower classes, are most noteworthy. This movement which grew in Istanbul followed a parallel line of development to the countryside literature movement which described life in the rural areas, headed by Migirdic Hirimyan, a priest.

April 13, 2007

Bereft of a rope ladder in bottomless pits

Cemil Çiçek, the Minister of Justice who had accused the organizers and participants of the Ottoman Armenians Conference that was to take place at Bosphorus University in May 2005 of “being traitors” and “backstabbing the motherland” is still in office. What’s more, he is the highest authority over the units conducting the investigation of Hrant Dink’s murder.

Deniz Baykal, who is the leader of the Republican People’s Party and also the party of fiükrü Elekdağ, the owner of the proposal stating “let us deport the 70,000 citizens of the Armenian Republic!” when the genocide denial law of the French parliament was under discussion being, of Bayram Meral who during the parliamentary discussions on the Law on Foundations claimed “You’ve put the nation aside and deal with Agop’s business,” visits the Dink family and the Patriarchate to offer his condolences.

The wreath sent by President Ahmet Necdet Sezer, who interpreted minority foundations as foreign foundations and therefore vetoed the Foundations Law, is at the church courtyard.

The chief of police who interpreted the lynching attempt against a group protesting the dispatch of soldiers to Lebanon as the “reaction of the citizen” makes a public statement, though he is not authorized to speak, claiming that “the murder is not linked to an organization.”

The individuals who once gathered in front of AGOS to scream “love it or leave it,” “we might suddenly appear one night” celebrate their victory on their web sites and soil the wall of Surp Takavor Church in Kadıköy...

TRT, the state television that kept broadcasting one program after another under the heading “The Lie of the Armenian Genocide,” to blatantly claim without a single iota of embarrassment that these racist programs were dedicated to Turkish-Armenian friendship, is covering the funeral live. The newspapers that considered drawing a urinating dog on the photograph of the Gomidas monument in Paris a masterpiece are immersed in deep grief.

The “real” citizens who, after a few kids in Mersin showed disrespect toward the Turkish flag, seized their flags upon some signal sent from “above,” and put the “false citizens” in their place are probably lost in daydreams watching whatever gossip show.

And the list goes on. Those who take their own shallow world view as the only scale of one’s love for the homeland, those who instantly proclaim anyone different from them or not one of them traitors to the country, those politicians and opinion leaders who pull all kinds of tricks to ensure Article 301 of the Turkish Criminal Code remains unchanged... Let us cite more tangible and contemporaneous examples: those who insinuate that the Hrant Dink murder had just reasons, that Hrant had gone too far; those who explain the murder with conspiracy theories and even an “Armenian plot”; those who cannot desist dragging in the assasination of Talat Pasha and the ASALA terror; those who quickly reduce the incident to a discussion of freedom of thought, and even more pathetically, to the tackiness of a conspiracy undertaken to stain Turkey’s prestige, while refraining from the statement that Hrant was killed because he was Armenian and because he struggled to enable the incidents of 1915 to be freely discussed; those who, in order to be able to love him, feel obliged to emphasize that Hrant was patriotic, that he was in disagreement with the diaspora or that he was left alone within his own community...


The most saddening aspect of this sorrowful incident is that with Hrant our hopes for change have also been buried deep down into the earth... However hard you struggle, however much you toil, to realize that there is not even the slightest political platform necessary to discuss the past and establish the future makes one feel that the values one believed in and fought for were nothing but sandcastles, and that all the changes we thought transpired in the last decade were actually illusions, and that we had all along been walking blindfolded on a minefield.

The absence of Hrant whose place in our hearts was much bigger than his bleeding, lifeless body, reminds one most of Ümit Yaşar Oğuzcan’s verses:

You have left me bereft of a rope ladder in bottomless pits,
You have let me be without a sail in the middle of the seas,
You have ruined my faith so much,
That you have left me bereft of myself; left me bereft of you.

January 26, 2007

One funeral, one hundred thousand Hrants

Almost out of spite to the darkness enveloping us within, it is a bright and sunny morning. The ferry setting out from Kadıköy follows its usual route saluting the Maiden Tower. We are trying to keep our minds weary from the huge blow received busy by people watching.

This time we find ourselves trying to guesses which of these passengers are headed in the same direction with us, to send Hrant Dink off. Definitely not this youngster reading the mag- azine extra of the newspaper in his hand; probably that couple reading the lines under Hrant’s picture in the Radikal newspaper snuggled together; also maybe this man with the sorrowful look in his dark eyes; and others sipping their teas and coffees and having a smoke? Who knows...

We take the Beşiktaş-Harbiye fill-up taxicab to Valikonağı. The usual rush, din and turmoil are gone with the banning of the vehicle traffic. We walk in unhurried steps; we are in no rush anyway. We are amazed at the playfulness of the sun since we expect the weather to be, in the words of one poet, to be “as heavy as a bullet.” Hrant must have loved the perfect weather, but our hearts cannot help “but wail away loud and clear.” And if it weren’t, to top it all, for this woman from the textile factory who from afar accompanied the “duduk” playing the tune of “Sari Gyalin” with her singing...

We turn the corner of the street where the assassin was captured by the camera, and reach AGOS. The entrance of the Sebat apartment building has transformed into a small square thanks to the selfless efforts of a group of Armenian youth from different neighbourhoods of Istanbul. As Ertan Tekin blows his ‘duduk’ and as the crowds silently shed their tears, the condolence visits to the headquarters of the newspaper continue.

The funeral hearse decorated with flowers appears at the entrance of the newspaper at exactly 10 a.m. During the wait of approximately an hour the grief of the crowd slowly reaches its peak. As the Armenian tunes heard in the background mix up with the darkest depths of sorrow taking the crowds to far away lands and rise up to the sky, a growing hum announces to those waiting that a huge crowd is gathering on the Osmanbey side. The organizing committee implores the crowd once again, in accordance with Hrant’s will, to not shout out slogans and to maintain the silence. The sombre atmosphere in the square confirms that this will indeed shall be observed throughout the day.

Rakel Dink’s address, her call out to her “beloved” in the deepest of sorrows, especially her words “no matter how old the assassin may be, 17 or 27, whoever he may be, I know that he was once a baby. Nothing can be accomplished before questioning the darkness that creates an assassin from a baby my brothers and sisters!” fires the already torn hearts with the tenderness of a mother on the one hand and make thou-sands weep altogether on the other. Rakel Dink, while experiencing the deepest of sorrows, thus sets the emotional color of the atmosphere with her address: pain, mourn-ing, fortitude, dignity, yet most of all love...

A flood of human bodies starts to flow behind the hearse carring Hrant’s lifeless body. Unhurried steps, teary eyes, bowed heads, and mournful music coming from deep behind. Tens of thou-sands of people, young and old, men and women, carrying cards with signs in their hands reading “Amenk›s Hay enk!”, “Em hemû Hrantın!” or “Hepimiz Hrant’ız!” (We are all Hrants!). The head of the cortege, that is the funeral hearse and Dink’s family, departs from the procession in front of the Divan Hotel; their destination is the Kumkap› Surp Asdvadzadzin Patriarchate Church. Memory is playing tricks here, as we just happen to remember that the Surp Agop cemetery and the Surp Krikor Lusavoriç church happen to be located in place of today’s Divan Hotel. This land was “taken over by the State” in 1931 following a “court decision” in which the Istanbul Municipality was one of the parties; it was legally expropriated in 1945 and the Divan Hotel was later constructed in 1958 in place of the church. If the church had managed to survive, we would have been hearing the sound of bells today honouring Hrant Dink’s body as it passed before it. We can hear no such bells and silently proceed on our walk.

“We were so deeply ashamed”

Seeing friends, acquaintances in the crowd gives one a bitter happiness. Shameful nods of acknowledgement, feelings communicated through a single glance… We all know that those which could not be said are far more those which could be; that words are insufficient to express our anger, horror, shock, bewilderment and despair. We notice our friend Zafer from within the crowd and salute him: “I cannot look you in the face!” he says and keeps on walking in grief. After a while, another of our friends, Duygu will tell us with teary eyes: “We are so deeply ashamed, Rober.” As the people with conscience feel the deepest of grief, those cowards with hearts of stone discuss, on websites, who the next victims is going to be. Some things never change.

As we pass through the Tarlabaşı, Tepebaşı, Unkapan› roads that have been closed to vehicle traffic for the funeral procession, the crowds that have accumulated on the sides standing applaud the procession and wave at us. One cannot help but think “did we have to wait for Hrant to be assassinated to reach this point?” Who were those people who did not hear, see or know anything and who stood there saluting the constantly elevated rows of flags as Armenians were presented as targets on television, and newspapers columns each and every day, as the AGOS news-paper and Hrant received threats and was rough handled by being prosecuted from Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code? Or is it that even though Hrant’s assassination is regarded by many as a step in the fight for democracy in Turkey, does it represent for others, especially for the Armenians, “the beginning of the end”?.. After all, this is still a country where a lot of people, a grocer for instance, can still say, “Come on, why all this grief in the wake of this one man? There are so many patriots who love their land. Of course one of them was going to commit this deed....”

Sorrow at the Church

When we reach Kumkap›, we see that most of the crowd is kept at a distance from the church. The police set barricades to prevent people from entering it. The explanation given is that the church is already full and that those who have been waiting cannot be able to gain entrance. Yet, we can see that entry is still allowed from another direction. Unfortu- nately, many people including the staff of AGOS, Hrant Dink’s closest friends, even the members of his extended family are forced to turn back from the church without even getting close to it. As we stumble inside during the turmoil, thanks to the AGOS staff tags we carry on our collars, we notice that the church is even a little quieter than, let us say, on a regular Easter day. The places reserved by the Patriarchate for the protocol and probably the desire to display a more modern, more civilized, more organized Outlook have apparently removed the Armenian community of İstanbul along with the family of Dink who are the real owners the body to outside the church.

This unpleasant situation does not prevent those who were able to get inside the church to abandon themselves to the sound of the hymns sung by the excellent choir and the accompanying organ. In his sermon, Patriarch Mesrob II highlights Hrant Dink’s humanitarian characteristics, his love of his country and the need to eliminate the anti-Armenian wave that has been generated. After the funeral ceremony, Hrant rises upon the shoulders of the community to be buried in the family plot at the Balıklı Armenian Cemetery.

Leaving behind questions, worries, nightmares, good deeds, a void that can never be filled and hundreds of thousands of people teary eyed...

January 26, 2007