Friday, 23 March 2007


When has any publisher ever tried to avoid publicity for his book?

Stand by for a quotation to take your breath away. It's from a
letter from my Istanbul publishers, who are chickening out of
publishing the Turkish-language edition of my book The Great
War for Civilisation. The reason, of course, is a chapter
entitled "The First Holocaust", which records the genocide of
one and a half million Armenians by Nthe Ottoman Turks in 1915,
a crime against humanity that even Lord Blair of Kut al-Amara
tried to hide by initially refusing to invite Armenian survivors
to his Holocaust Day in London.

It is, I hasten to add, only one chapter in my book about the
Middle East, but the fears of my Turkish friends were being
expressed even before the Armenian-Turkish journalist Hrant Dink
was so cruelly murdered outside his Istanbul office in January.
And when you read the following, from their message to my London
publishers Harper Collins, remember it is written by the citizen
of a country that seriouslywishes to enter the European Community.
Since I do not speak Turkish, I am in no position to criticise
the occasional lapses in Mr Osman's otherwise excellent English.

"We would like to denote that the political situation in Turkey
concerning several issues such as Armenian and Kurdish Problems,
Cyprus issue, European Union etc do not improve, conversely
getting worser and worser due to the escalating nationalist
upheaval that has reached its apex with the Nobel Prize of Orhan
Pamuk and the political disagreements with the EU. Most probably,
this political atmosphere will be effective until the coming
presidency elections of April 2007... Therefore we would like to
undertake the publication quietly, which means there will be no
press campaign for Mr Fisk's book. Thus, our request from [for]
Mr Fisk is to show his support to us if any trial [is] ...
held against his book. We hope that Mr Fisk and Harper Collins
can understand our reservations."

Well indeedydoody, I can. Here is a publisher in a country
negotiating for EU membership for whom Armenian history, the
Kurds, Cyprus(unmentioned in my book) - even Turkey's bid to
join the EU, for heaven's sake - is reason enough to try to
sneak my book out in silence. When in the history of bookselling,
I ask myself, has any publisher tried to avoid publicity for his
book? Well, I can give you an example. When Taner Akcam's
magnificent A Shameful Act: The Armenian Genocide and the
Question of Turkish Responsibility was first published in
Turkish -it uses Ottoman Turkish state documents and contemporary
Turkish statements to prove that the genocide was a terrifying
historical fact - the Turkish historian experienced an almost
identical reaction. His work was published "quietly" in Turkey-
and without a single book review.

Now I'm not entirely unsympathetic with my Turkish publishers.
It is one thing for me to rage and roar about their pusillanimity.
But I live in Beirut, not in Istanbul. And after Hrant Dink's foul
murder, I'm in no position to lecture my colleagues in Turkey to
stand up to the racism that killed Dink.

While I'm sipping my morning coffee on the Beirut Corniche,
Mr Osman could be assaulted in the former capital of the Ottoman
empire. But there's a problem nonetheless.

Some months earlier, my Turkish publishers said that their lawyers
thought that the notorious Law 301 would be brought against them -
it is used to punish writers for being "unTurkish" - in which case
they wanted to know if I, as a foreigner (who cannot be charged under
301), would apply to the court to stand trial with them. I wrote that
I would be honoured to stand in a Turkish court and talk about the
genocide. Now, it seems, my Turkish publishers want to bring my
book out like illicit pornography - but still have me standing with
them in the dock if right-wing lawyers bring charges under 301!

I understand, as they write in their own letter, that they do not want
to have to take political sides in the "nonsensical collision between
nationalists and neo-liberals", but I fear that the roots of this
problem go deeper than this. The sinister photograph of the Turkish
police guards standing proudly next to Dink's alleged murderer after
his arrest shows just what we are up against here. Yet still our own
Western reporters won't come clean about the Ottoman empire's foul
actions in 1915. When, for example, Reuters sent a reporter, Gareth
Jones, off to the Turkish city of Trabzon - where Dink's supposed
killer lived - he quoted the city's governor as saying that Dink's
murder was related to "social problems linked to fast urbanisation".
A "strong gun culture and the fiery character of the people" might
be to blame.

Ho hum. I wonder why Reuters didn't mention a much more direct
and terrible link between Trabzon and the Armenians. For in 1915,
the Turkish authorities of the city herded thousands of Armenian
women and children on to boats, set off into the Black Sea - the
details are contained in an original Ottoman document unearthed by
Akcam - "and thrown off to drown". Historians may like to know that
the man in charge of these murder boats was called Niyazi Effendi.

No doubt he had a "fiery character".

Yet still this denial goes on. The Associated Press this week ran
a story from Ankara in which its reporter, Selcan Hacaoglu,
repeated the same old mantra about there being a "bitter dispute"
between Armenia and Turkey over the 1915 slaughter, in which
Turkey "vehemently denies that the killings were genocide". When
will the Associated Press wake up and cut this cowardly nonsense
from its reports? Would the AP insert in all its references to the
equally real and horrific murder of six million European Jews that
right-wing Holocaust negationists "vehemently deny" that there
was a genocide? No, they would not.

But real history will win. Last October, according to local
newspaper reports, villagers of Kuru in eastern Turkey were digging
a grave for one of their relatives when they came across a cave
containing the skulls and bones of around 40 people - almost
certainly the remains of 150 Armenians from the town of Oguz who
were murdered in Kuru on 14 June 1915. The local Turkish
gendarmerie turned up to examine the cave last year, sealed its
entrance and ordered villagers not to speak of what they found. But
there are hundreds of other Kurus in Turkey and their bones, too,
will return to haunt us all. Publishing books "quietly" will not save us.

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