Monday, April 16, 2007
Keep An Eye on Turkey
Visitors to this blog may notice that I have an inordinate concern with Turkey. Despite many frustrations, I do have a genuine fondness for the place. Turkey is unique and not particularly representative of any place other than itself, much less the Islamic world. Western culture intersects with that of Islam in Turkey more so than anywhere else in the Middle East. The resulting dynamics are fascinating, and Turkey's journey holds clues for the evolving relationship between East and West.
First the bad news, here. The Turkish nationalism and xenophobia that colors all discourse concerning the Armenian "issue" continues apace. I have commented on all this before here, here, here, here, and here. The New York Times reports on an interesting recent development at the U.N. A scheduled exhibit on the Rwandan genocide at the U.N. has been blocked by Turkey. Apparently one sentence on one of the panels makes a passing reference to the mass murder of the Armenians. Because of this, Turkey applied pressure to squelch the exhibit. The offending sentence is as follows:
“Following World War I, during which one million Armenians were murdered in Turkey, Polish lawyer Raphael Lemkin urged the League of Nations to recognize crimes of barbarity as international crimes.” The exhibit’s organizer agreed to drop the phrase “in Turkey,” but U.N. leadership, with their backbones of mush, caved in anyway. The Times wisely observes that "It’s odd that Turkey’s leaders have not figured out by now that every time they try to censor discussion of the Armenian genocide, they only bring wider attention to the subject and link today’s democratic Turkey with the now distant crime." Exactly so. Robert Fisk, longtime Beruit correspondent for The Independent, and author of The Great War for Civilization (with it's long chapter on the Armenian genocide), spoke to this last October, here.
Now for the good news, here, where 300,000 demonstrators fill the streets of Ankara. Why? To protest the creeping Islamization of Turkey. “We don’t want to become another Iran, another Afghanistan,” said Hanife Sahin, a retired nurse, stooping under the red tent formed by a Turkish flag that ran like a river over the crowd. The remarkable thing about the protest was that it was not inspired by any dramatic move by the Turkish government. Rather, it was triggered by a general unease about Islamic trends in the country; seemingly little things such as new religion textbooks in the schools, postal employees taking off on Fridays, more women wearing head scarves, etc. A gaggle of high school girls ticked off the reasons they did not want the party and its leader, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to take the presidency. More women are wearing head scarves, said Ecem Karanfil, a 17-year-old in a T-shirt and jeans. “We want to feel comfortable dressing the way we want,” she said.
A small thing had caught Ms. Sahin’s attention. A government official had recently suggested increasing the number of letters in the Turkish alphabet to 32 to allow the language to better accommodate Arabic sounds. “I’ve done pretty well with 29 so far,” she said, smiling.
Good coverage and photos of the rally can also be found, here.
Despite some headlines suggesting otherwise, Turkey is a long way from abandoning its 84-year path of secularization.
Surprisingly, a similiar demonstration took place in Pakistan, of all places. Here.