A long road ahead for Turkey

In Turkey, which is trying to gain entry into the European Union, people are still being killed in the battle for basic rights – for the right to determine their own national identity, for the right to disagree with the predominant mentality. On Friday, the journalist and editor Hrant Dink, an ethnic Armenian, was shot dead outside his newspaper’s offices in Istanbul, becoming the latest casualty in this war. In Turkey, people are prosecuted and sometimes murdered because they are of an ethnic group or religion that others do not like. And the law, specifically Article 301 of the penal code, sends people to prison for their ideas when these ideas are taken as «an insult to Turkish identity.» Sometimes this law provides the twisted justification for those who turn convictions into death sentences. In 2005, Dink had been sentenced to six months in prison because he had spoken of the «pure blood that will replace the poisoned blood of the Turks.» He explained that by this he meant that the Armenians would find the strength to overcome the Turks’ absolute hatred of them. He had asked, also, «Why do they want me to shout out that I am a Turk, when I am not? I am an Armenian.» This stance is sacrilege to nationalists, in a country where Kemal Ataturk’s declaration «Happy is he who calls himself a Turk» is reproduced even on mountainsides (using whitewashed rocks). Dink’s prosecution and conviction (with a suspended sentence) confirmed in the eyes of those who want such confirmation that he was an enemy of the Turks. Dink was a target of those who are waging war against Turkish society’s progress, of those who are hostile to the Ecumenical Patriarchate and oppose the warming of Greek-Turkish ties, who deny the sins of Turkey’s past and the problems of the present. And though the government quickly condemned Dink’s murder and the prime minister expressed satisfaction that a suspect had quickly been arrested, there is no doubt that Dink had annoyed enough people in the state machinery to jeopardize his life. He had complained recently that though he received countless threats to his life the authorities did nothing to protect him. He was murdered at a time when Turkey is trying to put the prejudices of the past behind it so that it can join the European Union someday. And the truth is that it has made great progress. One need only consider Abdullah Ocalan, the leader of Turkey’s Kurdish rebellion, who is in prison and not in a grave. The reason is that, in order to live up to EU principles, Turkey has stopped carrying out death sentences. (In contrast, the United States and the government that Washington supports in Iraq have not shown similar sensitivity.) But despite all the changes that the government is trying to achieve, and the dilemma that the military leadership faces in trying to look westward while not relinquishing control of civic affairs, Turkish society is deeply wounded and problematic. So much so that it cannot rid itself of the ridiculous Article 301. The authorities prefer to allow Turkey to be an international laughing stock with prosecutions against writers, academics and journalists – allowing a climate of division to continue rather than creating conditions for one of tolerance and progress. Hrant Dink’s murder illustrates just how much is at stake for the people who dare to raise their voices against the forces that would like to see Turkey stuck in the myth of a monolithic nation capable of subjecting all others – within and outside its borders – to its own will. If the gunmen, who have claimed so many lives in the past decades, are a minority, they certainly do not feel as isolated as they should when a great part of the establishment’s strategic thinking is based on Turkish intransigence in the face of demands for greater tolerance for minorities. After his conviction, Dink had told Reuters: «I may pay the price now, but Turkish democracy will benefit. I hope.» Now he has paid the highest price. The bullets that brought him down also wounded Turkey’s hopes for better days. The battle for the country’s future looks like it will be difficult. And though there will always be brave people who want to change things for the better, the outcome still looks uncertain.

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