Turkish human rights activist Ragip Zarakolu is often referred to as Don Quixote fighting against the denial of the Armenian Genocide; he started publishing books and openly speaking out on the issue still in the 1990s, but says that not much has changed since then – Turkey continues its “indecent policy”.
“They continue poisoning the new generation with misinformation. The Armenians generously extended a hand, but the Turkish authorities failed us, since Turkey keeps bowing to Azerbaijan’s whims. Karabakh is not Turkey’s concern, and if Turkey insists that it is, it only proves that Turkey is carrying on with its pan-Turkic ideology and policy”, Zarakolu told ArmeniaNow and reprimands his own country:
“Turkey should be the last country to talk about the Karabakh issue, the people of Artsakh were only defending themselves. Or should they have allowed to be massacred as well?!” he exclaims.
The founding director of the Belge publishing house, 63-year-old fighter for human rights, is one of the rare individuals in Turkey to whom the Armenian Genocide, the Kurdish issue are a matter of justice and dignity rather than a dangerous but easy way of becoming known.
In 1990 Zarakolu’s late wife Ayse Nur Zarakolu, who was facing a lawsuit for translating and publishing French writer Yves Ternon’s book titled Armenians, history of a genocide or The Armenian Taboo, said in court:
“It is not a crime to speak about the Genocide; rather, not admitting and denying it is the gravest crime.”
For these words she was sentenced to two years in prison, and this wasn’t a single case: in years that followed the spouses were repeatedly condemned and punished, but they never stopped believing that the policy of denial has to be fought against.
“If we didn’t believe we wouldn’t have published. I think the Genocide is not the past, but rather the future, the present day, and if we didn’t speak about it the same would have been committed against the Kurdish people.”
Zarakolu’s Begle publishing house founded in 1977 was the only one to start translating into Turkish and publishing pieces of literature, such as Franz Werfel’s Forty Days of Musa Dagh, Verzhine Svazlian’s Armenian Genocide and Collective Memory, professor Vahagn Tatrian’s The Armenian Genocide (in the chronicles of the triple alliance’s state archives), United States Ambassador to Ottoman Turkey Henry Morgentau’s memories, Peter Balakian’s Black Dog of Fate, and George Jerjian’s The Truth will Set Us Free; for the latter Zarakolu was again prosecuted in 2008 but, luckily, this time his punishment was limited to paying a penalty.
Despite the fact that bookstores take 50 percent of the income from the sales of those publications because of the potential risk of assault by nationalists Zarakolu, nonetheless, says that’s not important: “We are not pursuing profit, our main goal is to raise awareness in the society, so it doesn’t matter how much we have to pay for it.”
“The books have certainly made a difference; right from the beginning we named the 1915 events by their proper legal term – genocide. Without using this word we couldn’t have touched people’s minds, there are not many today who understand the truth, but at least there are some, and that has caused a split in the society, which, as time goes by, will eventually force the state from the bottom up to admit the genocide,” he says.
Zarakolu has been interested in ethnic minority issues since early age, when his mother said while telling about the Armenians who lived in her birthplace - Sebastia [city in Western Armenia, modern-day Turkey]: “We cried inside, the Armenians cried outside”.
“When I was at school I, too, received the kind of nationalistic education that is still taught in Turkey, but heard and learned completely different things in my family,” he recalls.
Zarakolu is upset with the continued practice of not only basing school education on the policy of denial, but also presenting Armenians as enemies: “The Turkish people does not know either its history or its country, since Turkish history in school textbooks covers the period after 1923 (the creation of the Turkish Republic), when Armenians were not massacred anymore,” he says.
The human rights activist believes that if Turkish people are taught that “everything they have – the palaces, the Turkish theatre building, various architectural monuments – were created by Armenians, a question would naturally arise: and what happened to those Armenians?”
“They simply have to be prepared to give the true answer to that question,” he says with strong belief that the answer to that question would become the beginning of Turkey’s modern history.
“Admitting the genocide would save Turkey; those in Turkey believe it would be humiliation, but no, on the contrary – admitting once faults and asking for forgiveness is greatness and something that any person or a state has to do,” says Zarakolu. Many people who know him are worried about his safety; however he himself is convinced that nothing threatens his life, apart from a prison cell.
“I face a lot of persecution, but they won’t kill me since after Dink’s case they don’t want to create new heroes; they realized that it has a greater converse effect,” he says and re-states his point with a smile.
“I am not Armenian by blood, but until Turkey admits committing the genocide I am an Armenian, until Kurds are granted freedom I am a Kurd, I am a universal human being to whom the establishment of human rights comes before nationalities.”
Gayane Abrahamyan spent a month in Istanbul, Turkey, reporting from there with the support of the Global Political Trends Center (GPoT) and Internews Armenia
Sunday, 28 August 2011
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Rant Number 453 25 August 2011
‘It is neither the French Revolution nor the Watts riots. It is more like Lord of the Flies’ writes Sion Simon in Newsweek about the recent riots. Events that delighted eminent world statesmen like Muammar Gaddafi and Bashar Assad. Justifiably so. PM ‘Bland Dave’ Cameron and his sad-faced, non-gay Foreign Secretary Will Hague proudly promote their democracy as a model for Arabs to imitate. Yet, patently this much vaunted system isn’t working. If it did, why would so many British youth burn down and loot ‘their own communities’, as the cliché goes? Something is rotten in the state of Ukania.
I wonder whether Mr Simon has read William Golding’s masterpiece. The novel’s young boys stranded on a desert island do not come from the same ethic groups and social strata as the hooded youths that terrorised England two weeks ago. They are dainty public school children, white-skinned and pink-faced, whose affluent parents annually paid thousands of pounds to give them an expensive private education. Even the posh, quaint way in which they speak betrays their privileged background. Compare them with the rough, inarticulate and mostly etiolated youths who have wreaked havoc in English cities. Like comparing apples and pears. It grieves the priest to say so but, no, they are not the same kind of children.
Nor will, pace Mr Simon, boredom do. The boredom of kids on school holidays with nothing to do. Boredom is perhaps the proof that existence is meaningless, as Schopenhauer believed. It is not, however, either a sufficient
or a necessary cause for mass rioting. First, today booze, drugs, TV, computers, mobile phones, spectator sports and general shagging take care of boredom – those things occupy most people’s lives pretty massively – no need to get bored anymore. Second, I have myself known bored youths who would have never dreamt of destroying the Asian shop next door. Sorry, boredom does not fit.
‘Teenage nihilism’ is another phrase ex-MP Simon trots out. Nihilism. One of those words that linger on men’s tongues, generating almost an inward glow – like a pint of Lager - or something like that. I myself confess to a weakness for the word – I read philosophy, after all. But nihilism just sounds the right thing to say. That does not mean people understand what they are saying. Nihilism comes from the Latin wordnihil – nothing. So a nihilist should be someone who revels in or upholds nothing. That seems potently philosophical. But the rioters were not fanatical students of Heidegger. They did not pursue das Nichts. They were after something. Namely the stuff of the shops they looted. The rioters sought not nothing but things. Even Mr Simon writes of ‘shopping riots’. Shopping, whatever it may mean, is not about nothing. It is about something. Of course, a fussy soul might point out that the good old name for ‘shopping riots’ is stealing, robbing and plundering. Never mind. The point is that highfalutin words like nihilism, while perhaps impressing some readers of Newsweek, contribute nil to explaining the hell too many kids unleashed on British cities.
How did it start? With the killing by the police of a black man in Tottenham. The police first claimed he had shot at them first. It was not true. They failed to liaise properly with the local people, to explain their actions. A race riot followed. As rioting spread to other areas and cities, it lost its racial element. Whites, blacks and in-betweeners all joined in the happy ‘shopping’ spree – a truly multiethnic, mass criminal undertaking. Does that call for celebration? Perhaps. Meanwhile the cops just looked on, fearful of stirring up racism. The mob ruled.
Yes, it was serious. So serious the BBC felt morally obliged to arrange an emergency session of that apotheosis of political correctness,Question Time. Too boring to watch in full. (Did it cause anyone to riot, I wonder?) I just got a glimpse of the ludicrous, moon-faced John Sentamu, the stunt-pulling Ugandan who is supposed to be Archbishop of York. He bleated pious platitudes and vigorously refused to blame anyone, rioters and police alike. Don’t know why, but watching clowns like Sentamu makes me feel very warm towards atheism, may Christ forgive me.
Who, what is to blame? Have a go. Your pet cause will of course reflect your own predilections, your fads and ideology. Fatherless kids, broken families, unemployment, government cuts (they haven’t even started yet!), deprivation, stupidity, racism, bad schools, or a melange of all of them. A witches’ brew all right. But...is there anything missing?
Let’s go back to the Lord of the Flies. What does it mean? Who is this Lord? Easy. Baal=Lord. Flies need no explanation. But thinks now of Beelzebub. In the Gospels he is the prince of the devils, the very Devil himself!
Baal az-Zhubab. Arab speakers will know azzubab means flies. Beelzebub was the contemptuous name the Hebrews gave to a pagan deity. ‘Lord of Filth’ they rightly termed him. And out of the Lord of Filth only filth can come.
So, maybe Mr Simon was not far off the mark. The Devil is the author of mischief on God’s earth. Golding’s novel is meant to be a parable or allegory about original sin, about the potential for evil lying dormant inside every child of Adam and Eve. Does Beelzebub’s finger explain the riots, then?
Yes, in a way. But blaming the Devil isn’t good enough. It should never result in exculpation of the rioters. If every sinner said ‘the Devil made me do it’ and felt thereby absolved of his sin, it would make nonsense of human freedom and responsibility. Neither bad nor good angels are the authors of human actions. Human beings alone are.
Remedies? The Church should be the great healer, of course, but, to be quite brutal, Anglicanism is a failed church – it cannot even heal itself. The Catholic Church could do it – maybe. The State? It is impotent, bankrupt in retreat. What’s left? Islam? Quite possible. Maybe that is Ukania’s future, who knows?
Personally, I wonder about the Sikhs. The brave turbaned guys armed themselves with sticks and swords, and scared the muggers off.
Hmmm...how does one join the Sikhs, I wonder?