BY AYSE GUNAYSU
The Turkish state recently made a simultaneously liberal and fascistic move on the same subject: the “Armenian issue.” The result was a perfect example of what makes Turkey the setting of the grotesque co-existence of liberalism and a fascistic mindset. First came the decision by the Turkish Ministry of Justice confirming that the recognition of the Armenian Genocide should not constitute an offense in Turkey. Then the Ministry of Foreign Affairs declared Hrant Dink a provocateur and a user of hate speech in the article that led to his sentencing and, ultimately, to his assassination. The Turkish establishment thereby confirmed that it endorses the court ruling that found Dink guilty, and that he deserved—at least, knowingly headed to—his death.
Now let’s take a closer look at these two incidents.
Arat Dink and Sarkis Seropyan were sentenced to prison for Hrant Dink’s words—“of course I say that this is a genocide”—in an interview with Reuters, which was republished in the June 21, 2006 issue of the weekly Agos newspaper. Upon Hrant Dink’s assassination, the case against him was dropped but that against Arat Dink (the managing editor of Agos, and the son of Hrant Dink) and Sarkis Seropyan (the publisher of Agos) continued. On Oct. 11, 2007, the Sisli Criminal Court sentenced the defendants to one-year imprisonment. The reasoning that accompanied the court ruling read: “The court has concluded that Arat Dink and Sarkis Seropyan published news that claimed the Turkish nation was guilty of genocide and therefore they are given punishment in consideration of their personalities and the characteristics of their actions” (emphasis mine). The penalty was postponed because the two had no criminal record.
The court ruling was based on Article 301 of the Turkish Criminal Code, which penalizes “insulting the Turkish People, Republic of Turkey and Governmental Institutions and Bodies.” The two appealed the decision. Upon an amendment to the law in May 2008, investigation and prosecution under Article 301 were made subject to the permission of the Ministry of Justice.
On July 23, 2010, the newspapers wrote that the Ministry of Justice had refused to give permission for the prosecution, stating that “freedom of expression shall be applied not only to favorable news and thoughts that are harmless or considered irrelevant, but also to comments and ideas that disturb the state or part of the society. This is a requirement of democratic order and pluralism and the basis of the right to criticize. As criticism is not necessarily an expression of praise, it can be harsh, hurtful or injurious. Therefore, the statements in this case remain within the boundaries of ‘criticism.’”
Traditionally, one wouldn’t expect this from the Turkish state. But the ruling AK Party likes liberal rhetoric and underlining principles of pluralism and democracy, although in practice it has contradicted this discourse in many instances.
However, what was interesting about this story was the minimal press coverage it received, both in the news and commentary pieces. The ministry’s decision did not trigger a heated debate in the media. But now that the threat of prosecution no longer prevails, the ball is in the court of the Turkish public and intellectuals when it comes to the issue of referring to the extermination of the Ottoman Armenians and Assyrians in 1915-16. Now we will see where the real pressure comes from: the government/state apparatus, or the racist/nationalist spirit deeply rooted in the Turkish society. When I say racist/nationalist spirit, I don’t only mean the ultra-nationalists or the strong Kemalist current (the children of the victorious “anti-imperialist” republic), but also the followers of the Turkish-Islamic synthesis who constitute the backbone—and the founding spirit—of the AKP movement.
Then, on Aug. 16, the newspapers reported on the Turkish Foreign Ministry’s “defense”—submitted to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR)—for the case brought by the Dink family. The ECHR had combined the case brought by Hrant Dink against the Turkish court ruling that found him guilty of “denigrating Turkishness” under Article 301 of Turkish Penal Code, with the action brought by the Dink family against the Turkish government for not taking the necessary measures to prevent Hrant Dink’s assassination. In the course of the legal case, the ECHR had asked the Turkish government’s defense in connection with the Dink family’s assertions.
The defense prepared by the lawyers of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was shocking, utterly scandalous, and insolent. “Dink insulted Turkishness. He used hate speech. Such articles provoke people and constitute a delictum publicum,” it claimed. Furthermore, the defense drew a parallel between Dink and a neo-Nazi leader Michael Kuhnen. “The ECHR has found orderly a previous ruling in Germany against a Nazi organization member who defended National Socialism in his article. In a democratic society, similar articles (like the one Hrant wrote) are for instigating people and harming public security and order. There is a decision of recommendation by the European Council of Ministers on ‘prevention of hatred remarks.’ The government is in the opinion that sufficient and critical justifications are made against interruption of Dink’s freedom. In the Dink case, there was urgent social need for criminal procedure.”
During the first few days following this news about the defense, many awaited the possible response from the public, going through the pages of newspapers looking for comments on the issue. On Aug. 18, at the end of his column in the daily Taraf, Etyen Mahcupyan wrote: “Many readers ask why I didn’t write anything on Turkey’s defense to the ECHR. Perhaps my answer to that question should be made known: If I were a Turk, if I were affiliated to the same identity with those who killed Hrant, I would refuse to share this shame and would write on the subject. But I am not [a Turk] and this responsibility lies with ‘you’ not me.”
The next day, the initiative called “Hrant’s Friends” released a statement condemning the defense. “The defense presented by the Republic of Turkey at the ECHR is unacceptable. Being the victims, witnesses, and watchdogs of the Hrant Dink assassination case and as the citizens of this country, we request the immediate withdrawal of the defense conveyed to the ECHR, and demand the launching of an urgent investigation on those who had prepared and approved it. We demand the government and all state institutions included in this defense to make a statement, and that the state of the Republic of Turkey and its government immediately, and without any delay, apologize to the Dink family as well as all those that are watchdogs of this case,” read the statement.
Writers such as Yildirim Turker in the daily Radikal, Orhan Kemal Cengiz in Zaman, and several others attacked the government, bitterly condemning what the Foreign Ministry had done.
In the meantime, the Turkish government was in a state of panic. Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said he “felt burdened” and obliged to defend freedom of expression. “I cannot accept that as an intellectual or as a minister,” Davutoglu told a group of journalists accompanying him on his visit to Kahramanmaras. However, he said, the defense could not be withdrawn, “but the state could settle with the victim’s family.”
In turn, President Abdullah Gul, answering journalists’ questions on his way to Azerbaijan, accepted the state’s responsibility in Hrant Dink’s death. “Hrant Dink was killed because the necessary measures were not taken,” he said.
Dink family’s response came soon. As regards the minister’s reference to a possible settlement with the Dink family, Hosrof Dink, the brother of Hrant Dink, said that there could be no settlement as long as Article 301 continues to exist. “The article’s abolishment is a struggle of honor, since my brother was condemned because of it,” said. “Hrant wanted to go to the European Court to show the injustice of the sentence he received and to explain that he was not an enemy of Turkey. It was the last thing he did before he was murdered. As long as Article 301 is used to sentence people, it would be as though my brother is still lying on the sidewalk that he was shot on.” Recalling Gul’s comment that the state had its share of neglect in the assassination, Dink said, “We expect the president to mobilize the State Supervisory Board, which directly reports to him.”
Then the news agencies reported on Gul’s invitation to Hosrof Dink for a meeting at the presidential office. After the meeting, Hosrof Dink, declining the journalists’ requests for a statement, only said: “We discussed private issues. We shared pain and grief.”
On the other hand, the daily Taraf, in an effort to mitigate the fury against the government, wrote that the Foreign Ministry deeply regretted the wording of the defense. According to Taraf, an anonymous spokesperson from the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs said, “The loss of Hrant Dink, editor-in-chief of Agos weekly, led to a profound sorrow in our country. The Turkish justice has been investigating all aspects of the killing with determination.” He underlined that there were some baseless and distorted accusations in several newspapers in the last two days about the defense. “It is totally inappropriate to claim that the Turkish government tried to find extenuating circumstances for the accused and used expressions in its defense keeping Dink responsible for his killing.” He honored Dink as “one of the most precious intellectuals raised in Turkey,” adding, “It is impossible to even think about justification of such a heinous assassination. Any implication that the Turkish government was trying to justify the murder is totally unacceptable.” The defense, he said, was drawn up “on the basis of mere legal and technical elements… It is both wrongful and unfair to come to some political consequences about the killing of Dink on the basis of the defense. The loss of Dink led to a profound sorrow in our country and the government condemned the killing in the harshest way possible. It is our only solace that the suspect was detained and brought to justice shortly after the killing. The Turkish justice has been investigating all aspects of the killing with determination.”
It was these efforts of circumventing criticisms that Arat Dink, the son of Hrant Dink, rebuffed and fiercely dismissed, in an article titled “The state has remained true itself,” which he sent to Taraf. He begins the article by saying that “the similarity between the state and the killers is not limited to the similarity displayed in the defense. The similarity [manifested in the defense] is not the reason but the result of the similarity between the two [the state and the killers]. Moreover, the relation between these two is not one of mere similarity, but one of being identical.”
He went on to sarcastically rebuff the excuses that the AKP government lacks the real power, that it is unable to control the actual state apparatus, and that it is helpless in the face of the “deep state.”
This is a time when, on the eve of the referendum on the proposed amendments to the Constitution, many leftists are reluctantly supporting the AKP’s campaign in favor of the amendments, in the hope that such moves will open the way to democratization. Therefore this debate is very critical for the government’s prospective victory in the referendum. Hence, the government is doing its best to broaden the base of the left-wing, half-hearted supporters of the AKP’s so-called “democratization steps,” with Prime Minister Erdogan frequently referring to the atrocities of the military rule in the 1980’s, mourning those who suffered, and reading poems written by victims of the fascist regime with eyes filled with tears, swearing that the amendments are for democracy, pluralism, and human rights, and that they are the only remedy for Turkey’s problems.
Arat Dink’s “open letter” refused to buy the government’s excuses for failing to control the operations of the “real” or “deep” state. His last words in the letter—which are more like a cry of “I can’t take this anymore”—will be my last words, too:
“Words are all we have. But they have set their eyes on our words as well. We are asked not to name the state ‘the killer.’ All right then, [how about calling it a] serial killer?” (Daily Taraf, Aug. 20, 2010)