Sunday, 8 March 2009

News from Turkey

March 2 2009

A Turkish court annulled Monday a ruling that dismissed demands for
the criminal prosecution of individuals who initiated an Internet
campaign to issue a public apology to Armenians, broadcaster NTV
reported. (UPDATED)

The prosecutors' office in Ankara in January had ruled against demands
for the criminal prosecution of around 200 Turkish intellectuals who
launched a website issuing an apology to Armenians regarding the 1915
incidents, which had also called for people to sign on in support.

There has been no need for criminal prosecution on the legal grounds
that opposing opinions are also protected under freedom of thought
in democratic societies, the prosecutors' office said in its ruling
after completing its investigation regarding a petition calling for
the organizers of the apology campaign to be charged with "insulting
the Turkish nation openly" under Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code

The High Criminal Court in the Sincan district of the Turkish
capital of Ankara annulled the prosecutors' office ruling on Monday,
broadcaster NTV said.

Armenia, with the backing of the diaspora, claims up to 1.5 million
of their kin were slaughtered in orchestrated killings in 1915.Turkey
rejects the claims saying that 300,000 Armenians, along with at least
as many Turks, died in civil strife that emerged when Armenians took
up arms, backed by Russia, for independence in eastern Anatolia.

The issue remains unsolved as Armenia drags its feet on accepting
Turkey's proposal to form an independent commission to investigate
the claims.
02.03.2009 23:17 GMT+04:00

/PanARMENIAN.Net/ A father is suing the Turkish Education Ministry for
forcing his 11-year-old daughter to watch a "racist" and "disturbing"
film countering claims that Ottoman Turks committed genocide against
Armenians in 1915 with graphic allegations of Armenian atrocities
against Turks, The Times reports.

"My daughter was very disturbed and frightened by the documentary
and kept asking me if the Armenians had cut us up," said Serdar Kaya,
an ethnic Turkish doctor, who is suing the ministry and the child's
school for inciting racial hatred.

"There are many mass graves, bones and skulls in the DVD. They have
interviewed old granddads who inspire confidence and compassion. When
they say things like 'They cut off his head' and 'They used it
instead of firewood', that is bound to stay with the children,"
Serdar Degirmencioglu, a psychologist, told when news first broke
that the documentary was being shown to primary school children -
including ethnic Armenian Turks.

As it is mentioned in the article "The Education Ministry says that
it has stopped the distribution of the documentary, Sari Gelin
(Blonde Bride), named after an Armenian folk song. But it has
apparently not recalled it and critics say that it remains part of
the curriculum. Some MPs are bringing up the case in Parliament. The
education union Egitim-Sen has condemned the film, and the History
Foundation has dismissed it as baseless propaganda."
March 3 2009

Turkey warned that a legislation that would recognize the Armenian
claims regarding the 1915 incidents could harm Turkey-U.S. relations
as well as the normalization process between Ankara and Yerevan.

"Such a development would effect Turkey-U.S. relations. It may harm the
ongoing process between Azerbaijan and Armenia. It hits Turkey-Armenia
relations as well," Babacan told Aksam daily late on Sunday en route to
Egypt, where he attended an international donors' conference on Gaza.

Armenian lobby organizations have increased theirs efforts to
have their claims regarding the 1915 incidents recognized in the
U.S. Congress. During the election campaign, President Barack Obama
had pledged to recognize the Armenian claims.

"I am not mentioning a threatening rhetoric. I do not like this at
all. We are talking to them (Americans) honestly," Babacan was quoted
as saying by Aksam on Tuesday.

He said Turkey and Armenia, which target full normalization, have
never been this close to resolving the problems between them since
1915, adding that the countries should not miss this chance.

Turkey and Armenia have no diplomatic relations and their border
has been closed for more than a decade, as Armenia presses the
international community with the backing of the diaspora to admit
the so-called "genocide" claims instead of accepting Turkey's call
to investigate the allegations, and over Armenia's invasion of 20
percent territory of Azerbaijan.

A warmer period began in relations when Turkish President Abdullah
Gul paid a landmark visit to Yerevan in September to watch a World
Cup qualifying football match between the two countries. Both have
been holding contacts at the ministerial level since.

Babacan said a Turkish delegation has been holding talks with the
U.S. officials in Washington and will continue their meetings in
the coming weeks, adding the issue would also be discussed when
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visits Turkey on March 7.
Financial Times
Fresh push on 'genocide' law threatens ties with Turkey
By Daniel Dombey in Washington and Delphine Strauss in,Ankara
Published: March 6 2009 02:00 | Last updated: March 6 2009 02:00

The US Congress is renewing a push on legislation that Turkey has warned
could devastate Washington's ties with one of its staunchest Nato allies.

Sponsors of a resolution branding the Ottoman empire's 1915-1923
massacres of Armenians as genocide have begun gathering backers for
the measure, which has long been supported by Barack Obama, US president.
Ankara, which has frequently warned that the legislation could endanger both
Turkish-US and Turkish-Armenian relations, halted an attempt to pass the
legislation in 2007 after calling into question US use of its Incirlik airbase.

Mr Obama is confronted with a choice between breaking a campaign pledge
or risking long-standing defence ties with a strategic ally.
Ali Babacan, Turkish foreign minister, said this week that Ankara would take
a "positive" approach if Washington asked for help in its exit from Iraq. The US
also wants more assistance from Turkey in Afghanistan. A Turkish delegation is
in Washington to hammer home the message that the genocide resolution is
"unacceptable" and would inflame public opinion.

Turkey's leaders are expected to raise the issue with Hillary Clinton, US
secretary of state, when she visits Ankara tomorrow. They are likely to argue
that passing the resolution would also derail a drive to mend relations between
Turkey and Armenia, including moves to open the border.
Mr Babacan says settlement is closer than at any point since 1915.
Members of Congress say US frustration with recent Turkish behaviour raises
the chances of the resolution going through. In particular, the denunciation by
Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey's prime minister, of Israel's Gaza offensive has
angered Jewish and pro-Israel groups that supported Turkey behind the scenes
in 2007.

Mr Obama promised during his election campaign "to recognise the Armenian
genocide" were he to become president - a step that would have more impact
than the House of Representatives' resolution. Samantha Power, one of Mr Obama's
closest foreign policy advisers and author of a book on genocide, also supports
such recognition.

A key moment will come on April 24, the official day of remembrance, which in
previous years has seen former presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush refer
respectively to "the deportations and massacres" and the "annihilation" of 1.5m

But congressional backers of the resolution say they will formally introduce it before
then. "I don't think it serves our interests well to be complicit in Turkish denial of
something that is historical fact," said Adam Schiff, a Democratic member of the
House and one of the measure's chief sponsors.

Turkey denies systematic killings, and maintains thousands of Turks also died
during the violent disintegration of the Ottoman empire.The US state department has
always fought the resolution, fearing its impact on relations with Turkey.

Discussing the 1915 massacres is no longer the taboo it once was in Turkey, but the
"G-word", as Turkish diplomats refer to it, still provokes official outrage and a visceral
reaction from nationalists.

A foreign ministry spokesman said Turkey expected "third parties" to avoid making
talks with Armenia more difficult, but added: "There are no assurances in life."
Mark Stephen Kirk, a Republican backer of the resolution who denounces the use of
millions of dollars of Turkish "taxpayers' money" for "foreign lobbyists" fighting the
measure, says the Incirlik base is less important now that the Obama administration
plans to keep up to 50,000 troops in Iraq until the end of 2011.

But the administration says Incirlik is still significant for operations in Iraq - while
acknowledging it has yet to make up its mind on the genocide resolution.
"Incirlik airbase has all the time been an important transit hub," says a senior state
department official. But his comments on the genocide resolution were much more
cautious than the Bush administration's admonitions against it.
By Ayse Gunaysu
March 5 2009

It was March 8, 2005 when BBC News reported how Turkey renamed
"divisive" animal names on the ground that they were "contrary to
Turkish unity." The report said that Turkey "is changing the names of
three animals found on its territory to remove references to Kurdistan
or Armenia. ... The red fox, known as Vulpes Vulpes Kurdistanica,
will now be known as Vulpes Vulpes; wild sheep called Ovis Armeniana
becomes Ovis Orientalis Anatolicus; and roe deer known as Capreolus
Capreolus Armenus becomes Capreolus Cuprelus Capreolus. The ministry
said the old names were contrary to Turkish unity. 'Unfortunately
there are many other species in Turkey which were named this way
with ill intentions. This ill intent is so obvious that even species
only found in our country were given names against Turkey's unity,'
a ministry statement quoted by Reuters news agency said. Some Turkish
officials say the names are being used to argue that Armenians or
Kurds had lived in the areas where the animals were found."

This is the reality of Turkey, mentioned in the 2005 Minority Rights
Report of the Human Rights Association (IHD) Istanbul Branch to give
an idea about the background of minority rights in the country. In
the March 1, 2009 issue of the daily Taraf, Ayse Hur refers to this
episode, fantastically mocking such endeavours and reminding us that
the names were given by the International Commission on Zoolgical
Nomenclature (ICZN) and that any change in this respect was subject
to strict rules and procedures.

The change of "subversive" animal names is a striking evidence of
the fact that official formulations of Turkey's age-old, untouchable
"national interests"--the way with which they are promoted and the
attempts to fulfill these "interests" at all costs--are so vulgar that
despite the aggression displayed and the fearful threats made, they
are very easy to refute. However, the general public's intellectual
capabilities are deliberately suppressed generation after generation by
a mechanism so powerful that the people who make it possible for the
rulers to rule don't even notice the vulgarity of the arguments made
and the way they are being implemented. But this is changing, too. With
more and more people feeling the need to be better informed masses
are slowly but steadily ceasing to be a monolithic body of supporters.

The degree of coarseness in communicating the official Turkish thesis
was such that the decision makers of this field had apparently decided
to "refine" it a bit. As such, the "Sari Gelin," when it was first
publicized, had been promoted as an "objective," "unbiased," and
"scientific" documentary featuring arguments from "both sides" and
aiming at a "solution." The language used in promoting the documentary
indeed differed from that of the vulgar discourse the Turkish public
had been used to. During the research phase, the manner in which the
initial contacts were made with the prospective interviewees was also
in line with this new strategy. It was for this reason that some, who
would otherwise not even think of taking part in such a documentary,
accepted to be interviewed by the production team and later saw that
their statements were censored, distorted, or taken out of context.

However, on the documentary's official website
( which is also in English, it is proudly
declared that unlike the Armenian side, this documentary includes the
views of the "opponents" as well. The truth is that, contrary to the
producers' claims that they would be telling the audience the "true
story" of what they deemed were Armenian allegations, the documentary
depicts Armenians as those responsible for the "tragedy."

Military telling what to teach students

It is explained on the website that the research phase for the project
had started in 1999 and it lasted four years, followed by eight months
of shooting and four months of editing.

This calendar coincides with the great counter-attack launched
by Turkey against "Armenian allegations." In 2002, a Coordinating
Committee was set up by the council of ministers for the "Fight Against
Unfounded Genocide Allegations" to be chaired by Devlet Bahceli,
the leader of the ultra-nationalist National Movement Party and the
then-vice premier. The committee, which included a department head
from the General Staff as well, decided that the official Turkish
thesis against these "allegations" should be integrated into school
textbooks and the curriculum. The decision was introduced by Bahceli
on May 1, 2002. "To ensure that young people are informed about the
past, present, and future of unfounded allegations of genocide we've
taken the decision to include this subject in classroom textbooks
starting from the 2002-03 school year," he declared. On April 14,
2003, a circular was issued to all schools demanding that, in line
with the above-mentioned decision, conferences should be held at
schools to inform the children of the "realities" of the period,
and how the allegations made by Armenians, Greeks, and Assyrians are
unfounded. The circular also instructed schools to organize essay
contests on the same topic.

The IHD Istanbul Branch immediately started to circulate, online and
by fax, a protest letter to the minister to withdraw the circular
and put an end to the policy. Shortly after, the association brought
legal action at the Council of State demanding that the circular be
cancelled as it constituted a gross violation of not only international
conventions signed by Turkey, but also the Turkish Constitution and
other national legislation prohibiting discrimination. The Council
of State rejected the case on the grounds that the IHD was not the
party to suffer as a result of the ministry's circular.

Growing public reaction against hatred

The background of the question, as can be clearly seen, indicates that
"Sari Gelin" and its use as an indoctrination tool is part of a state
policy--and looking at the big picture, there is nothing new about
it. However, looking more closely, one can see small changes. First,
there is an effort to make the propaganda seem more "objective"
by including the comments of the "opponents." More important is the
fact that the Turkish establishment is growing more responsive to
criticisms raised within the country.

When news broke out that the "Sari Gelin" documentary was being
shown to students at primary schools, the Turkish Armenian
community was the quickest to protest and take action,
issuing an open letter to the Prime Minister which appeared
on Feb. 11, 2009 on the Turkish Armenian website Hye-Tert
( "Given
the way in which the said documentary brings up the issue, it
would definitely fuel hatred and animosity and thereby raise the
already existing anti-Armenian sentiments in society, by instigating
violent and discriminatory rhetoric instead of providing insight
into historical facts," the letter said. This was covered by several
mainstream dailies.

Then came the protests from the other sectors of society. The
History Foundation released a press statement urging the ministry "to
immediately abandon this incorrect and dangerous practice." Describing
such practices as "at the first place, pedagogically incorrect,"
the statement goes on to indicate that "dragging education into
discussions of popular politics which are defiant event for adults,
and considering primary education as a tool of indoctrination are
indicators of a totalitarian regime which have long been outdated by
contemporary education mindset."

The Hrant Dink Foundation brought legal action at the Istanbul
Administrative Court, demanding that the screening of the film be
immediately stopped. ""Ruptured bodies, shattered bones, piles of
skulls, mass graves shown in the movie would gravely harm the mental
and psychological well-being of children. Frightening discourses
included in the documentary like quoting old people saying Armenians
burned and decapitated Turks, would result in further moral violence
on non-Muslim children," said the foundation's lawyer, Fethiye Cetin.

The IHD Istanbul Branch organized a protest in front of the post office
in Galatasary Square, sending letters to the ministry urging an end to
policies that instill hatred in the minds of the younger generations.

Dr. Serdar Kaya, the father of a fifth-grade student, filed a criminal
complaint with the Uskudar public prosecutor's office. "On February
13, my daughter was shown the documentary 'SarĂ„± Gelin' at her school
without my knowledge or permission. My daughter was extremely disturbed
and frightened by the film and she asked me questions like 'Did the
Armenians slaughter us?' ... The fact that my daughter was shown
such a documentary which disturbs her psychologically and instills
feelings of hatred by the school to which I entrusted my daughter is
a direct attack on her rights and my rights as her parent."

A joint press conference was held by the Peace Initiative (of Turkey),
representatives from Armenian foundation schools, the Helsinki Citizens
Assembly, the History Foundation, the Social Democracy Foundation,
and the International Hrant Dink Foundation. The joint press statement
they released declared that "Sari Gelin" was not a documentary but
vulgar propaganda, which was not only biased and aggressive but also
openly racist and provocative. The statement also called for the
punishment of those who were responsible for this crime.

Halis Erdogan, a Kurdish deputy from the Democratic Turkey Party,
asked in the parliament whether or not those who ordered the screening
of the documentary would be tried for violating Article 216 of the
Turkish Penal Code, which bans any act that would provoke people
against others with different religious or ethnic origins.

Hundreds of articles appeared in the press, and TV channels covered
the protests. CNN Turk, one of the most reputable news channels
in Turkey, interviewed Dilara Kahyaoglu, a history teacher and a
History Foundation volunteer who for years worked on the question
of discrimination in school textbooks with the director of the
film, Ismail Umac, who in turn argued that the documentary was an
objective production aimed at promoting scientific knowledge about
this controversial subject matter. Kahyaoglu refuted this assertion
by saying that despite its scientific rhetoric, the film was clearly
propaganda which could by no means be used as an educational tool
in schools. Kahyaoglu was very impressive and sounded indisputably
credible, unlike Umac who failed to provide any sound "scientific"
or "unbiased" arguments.

In the midst of these protests and wide media coverage, the Ministry
of National Education declared that it would stop the "distribution
of the documentary to the schools," noting that the documentary was
intended for teachers as a "supplementary educational material" and
not for students, and that "they also heard" that the documentary was
"in some cases" used "outside its intended purpose." The ministry
also declared that contrary to "allegations," the General Staff had
nothing to do with the documentary.

The learning points

Turkey's leaders are becoming more and more susceptible to public
protests and bold attempts to change things. They are more responsive
to the reactions they are receiving. They feel the need to make a
move in some way or another. At least, they can no longer ignore the
voices raised. It is seemingly paradoxical that this is a result of
increasing contacts with the outside world, which raises the standards
in every field. It will be the combined effect of international and
local dynamics that will change things in Turkey. As regards the
Turkish public's perception of the Armenian "question," the contacts
between the Armenian Diaspora and the Turkish audience will, I believe,
play an important part in raising awareness in Turkey. More and more,
Armenian scholars and historians from all over the world are visiting
Turkey, meeting Turkish intellectuals and human rights activists, and
appearing in the Turkish media. Apart from those they meet in person,
Turkish newspaper readers see their photographs, look at their faces,
and read what they say--in a way, get to know them. What's more, we
have now reached a time when an Armenian scholar and writer will be
teaching in a university in Istanbul as a visiting professor, which
means Turkish students will listen to and learn from a diasporan

Such contact is crucial in getting to know and understand one
another. This is an important catalyst for change. We need
contact. More contact.

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