Tuesday, January 23, 2007
This is Progress
The assassination of Hrant Dink has apparently jolted the Turkish nation. The outrage and the consequent national dialogue over this senseless killing exposes both the absurdity of their entrenched Armenian Genocide denial, as well as the infamous Penal Law #301. The funeral story, here.
Many who gathered held red carnations distributed by the local mayor’s office, or waved circular black and white placards reading “We are all Hrant Dink” in Turkish on one side and in Armenian on the other.
Other signs in the crowd read “Abolish 301,” a reference to the article of the Turkish penal law making it a crime to insult the state or Turkishness. Scores of intellectuals, including Mr. Dink and the Nobel Prize winner Orhan Pamuk, have been prosecuted under the article because of lawsuits brought by nationalists.
Tugrul Eryilmaz, 60, the features editor of the daily newspaper Radikal, was moved by the emotion and sweep of the march.
“Someone should have done this long ago,” he said. “We should have all reacted like this to Article 301, and to the killing of that priest in Trabzon. Well, better now than never.” (emphasis mine)
Another account, here, offers guarded optimism that this tragedy might help thaw relations between Turkey and Armenia.
Despite the fact that the Armenian-Turkish border has been sealed since 1993 and diplomatic relations severed, Armenia is sending a deputy foreign minister, Arman Kirakossian, to the funeral, and the archbishop of the Armenian Church of America, Khajag Barsamian, also accepted the government’s invitation to the ceremony.
Earlier, the Armenian defense minister, Serzh Sarkisyan, called for improved relations so that Armenia could “establish ties with Turkey with no preconditions,” the Turkish news channel NTV reported.
High-level Turkish government officials are expected to attend the funeral.
Turkey and Armenia have long been at odds over Turkey’s refusal to use the term “genocide” to describe the deaths of Armenians beginning in 1915. Many scholars and most Western governments say more than a million Armenians were killed in a campaign they describe as genocide. Turkey calls the loss of life a consequence of a war in which both sides suffered casualties, and has suggested that a group of envoys from each country analyze the history. Armenia has expressed a willingness to participate but insists that the border must first be reopened to trade.
Urban, cosmopolitan Istanbul has not always been particularly representative of Turkey in general. For that reason, it is encouraging to gauge reactions in other parts of the nation.
Most Armenian Turks live in Istanbul, the diverse and cosmopolitan center of Turkey. But the antinationalist demonstrations that followed Mr. Dink’s killing also surfaced in places as diverse as Izmir, the Aegean coastal city that is Turkey’s third largest, and in Sanliurfa and Hatay, which are close to Turkey’s eastern border with Syria.
“Public opinion in both countries, weary of the years-long conflict, had reached a point of explosion,” said Kaan Soyak, a director of the Turkish-Armenian Business Development Commission, the only bilateral trade council of Turkish and Armenian executives. “That’s what lies behind the massive outpouring for Mr. Dink.”
And finally, this may at last be the catalyst for the repeal of Penal Law #301, which makes it a crime to insult "Turkishness." By and large, the enforcement of the law is directed at those writers and intellectuals who have spoken the truth of the Armenian genocide.
Mr. Dink was a staunch defender of free speech and like other intellectuals was prosecuted for insulting “Turkishness” and sentenced to six months in jail, though his term was suspended.
Bulent Arinc, the parliamentary chairman from the ruling Justice and Development Party, said he would back efforts to abolish the measure under which Mr. Dink was prosecuted, known as Article 301.
“It can be discussed to totally abolish or completely revise the Article 301,” Mr. Arinc said, adding that members of Parliament “are open to this.”
I have been inclined towards pessimism with recent trends in Turkey. If what I read here is true, then real change may be in the offing: positive developments that could impact Armenia, the persecuted Greek Orthodox of Istanbul, and perhaps even the Cyprus question. We'll see.