[Originally published in Turkish Daily News]
As you would have known, “insulting Turkishness” has long been a criminal offence in the Turkish Republic. But this lovely republic, which is so eager to uphold the honor of Turkish identity, hardly cares about other groups. “Armenianness” or “Greekness,” if you will, has often been humiliated by officials and the civil likeminded. And so has Kurdishness. This ethnic identity, to which 12 to 15 percent of Turkish citizens subscribe, has been not just banned but, also, repeatedly insulted by the official ideology. The Kurdish people were denigrated as “a bunch of tribes,” their language was defined as “primitive,” and their history was mocked. The only good Kurd, in this mindset, was the Turkified one.
Erdoğan’s Kurdish cabal
Recently, we started to hope that things began to change. EU-inspired reforms expanded Kurdish rights and curbed the iron hand of the state. But, apparently, change is not that easy in Turkey. And old habits die very hard.
A decision that the High Court of Appeals (aka “Yargıtay”) gave this week was a wake up call. By deciding that calling the Kurds “internal enemies” did not constitute any offence, the High Court practically blessed the insulting of Kurdishness.
Here is the story. About almost five years ago, a marginal newspaper called Habertürk published an opinion piece by an Uğur İpekçi. In the piece, signed by “Uğur İpekçi,” this time the paranoia was directed toward the Kurds. And the substance was the prominent advisors of Prime Minister Erdoğan, such as Cüneyt Zapsu, Ömer Çelik and Egemen Bağış. These Justice and Development Party (AKP) grandees were not just bad guys, according to the writer, but also ethnically untrustworthy. “Is it an accident that all the advisors to Prime Minister Erdoğan are Kurds,” Mr. so-called İpekçi was asking curiously. “Turkey is looking for it internal enemies in the wrong place; it needs to look to the very top.”
After this piece, which was an obvious act of hate speech, Mr. Zapsu went to an Istanbul court and filed a case of torts. At the end of 2004, the court turned the case down, saying “the piece was rather a criticism.” Mr. Zapsu’s lawyers took the matters to the High Court of Appeals and, two years later, a chamber of that body surprisingly found Mr. Zapsu’s demand rightful and concluded that he should be paid compensation. But lo and behold! Soon, a higher chamber of the High Court of Appeals took the matter at hand and, once again, decided that the piece in question was just “criticism,” not hate speech.
The Daily Taraf’s headline on Wednesday summarized the meaning of the verdict: “The High Court of Appeals approves anti-Kurdism.”
Know Thy Enemy
This week, two other incidents pointed to the same problem. First, a prosecutor in the city of Bolu turned down an appeal by Selahattin Demirtaş, who is a member of the Parliament from Diyarbakır on the ticket of the pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party (DTP). What alienated Mr. Demirtaş was a piece that had appeared in Bolu Express, a local and, apparently, very furious paper. Under the title, “Turk, this is your enemy,” a writer who used the initials I. E. had listed several DTP members and said the following about them:
“The exalted Turkish nation, here is your enemy. Unless they denounce the PKK as a terrorist and traitor organization, these ‘civil’ elements will always be enemies of Turks and they will well be the targets of civilian patriots. Instead of chasing the terrorist on mountains, what is needed is to cleanse some of these microbes, and say: ‘One from us, five from you, OK?’ There, of course, will be good patriots who will do that… It is time to cut these gangrened elements from the body.”
This is, of course, not just insane, but also outright criminal. The writer was implicitly inviting “good patriots” to kill Kurdish politicians, for they sympathize with the outlawed PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party). This is a call for not just murders, but also — God forbid — an ethic civil war.
Yet, the prosecutor in Bolu thought that the piece was just fine!
You can, perhaps, think that this is because law enforcement is too lax in Turkey. Oh, no, it isn’t. The forces of the Turkish Republic are actually quite vigilant. They just showed this, again this week, in Yüksekova, a predominantly Kurdish town near the South East border. The mayor of the town had put up a big sign that read, “May the Ramadan Bayram of Yüksekova be blessed.” But there was a problem: The sentence was in Kurdish. (“Cejna Remezane Li We Piroz Be Şaredariya Geveri”) That’s why the police first called the mayor to tell him to take it down. When he said no, they took it down.
The Heart of The Problem
So, here is the summary: In this country, you cannot say “Happy Bayram” in Kurdish. But you can say “cleanse the Kurdish microbes” in Turkish.
All this, once again, brings us to the heart of our problem: The Turkish Republic exists in order to protect its ideology, not its citizens. The only good citizens are those who fit into the official ideology.
Ah, what a not-so-wonderful world…