< Turkishness

Transcript

Friday, November 24, 2006

BOB GARFIELD:
This is On the Media. I'm Bob Garfield.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:
And I'm Brooke Gladstone. Two weeks ago, the European Union released its long awaited preliminary report on Turkey's progress in qualifying for EU membership. It was not encouraging. Turkey was found wanting in its treatment of minorities, marginalization of Kurds in the southeast, perceived intransigence over a 30 year standoff between Turks and Greeks in Cypress, the interference by the military in civil affairs, and, most notoriously at the moment, continued curbs on free speech.

That issue raised worldwide condemnation with the prosecution of Nobel Prize winning novelist Orhan Pamuk. A year ago, after a Swiss newspaper quoted him criticizing the code of silence over Turkey's responsibility for the Armenian genocide in World War II, Pamuk was charged under Article 301 of the Turkish penal code, with, quote, "insulting Turkishness."

Those charges were dropped on a technicality, but Pamuk is far from the only victim of Article 301. Last week, Bob was in Istanbul and came back with this report.
[FERRYBOAT HORN]
BOB GARFIELD [IN TURKEY]:
This is the ferryboat crossing the Bosphorus from Asia to Europe. See what I mean? A metaphor.
BOB GARFIELD:
It's a metaphor for the curiosity of being in two places at the same time and the formidable strait to be crossed towards harbor on the Western side. Turkey faces many navigational obstacles, not the least among them, Article 301.

Enacted in 2005, it was aimed to mollify European skeptics by replacing even more rigid laws that had resulted in wholesale jailing of dissidents and writers for decades. But 301 is so broad and so vague -- it's a crime, for instance, to disparage Turkishness -- that it has been used by nationalists indiscriminately to punish critics of the government and of the society itself.
EUGENE SCHOULGIN:
It's more than 1,000 individuals who have been put before court.
BOB GARFIELD:
Eugene Schoulgin, a Norwegian novelist, works in Istanbul for International PEN, a non governmental organization that closely monitors threats to free expression.
EUGENE SCHOULGIN:
We are thinking about names like Orhan Pamuk, like Elif Shafak, some other names. Ragip Zarakolu is one of those who have been sentenced. You have publishers and writers who have up to 20, 40, 50 cases against them.
BOB GARFIELD:
The first of these was publisher Ragip Zarakolu, who ran afoul of 301 by publishing the diary of an Armenian doctor who, in his role as a Turkish officer, witnessed his own forces annihilate the city of Smyrna in 1922. Eighty three years later, those observations were deemed an affront to national dignity.
RAGIP ZARAKOLU
I was accused in defaming Turkish army and Turkishness. You can accuse everybody to defaming Turkishness. It's strange definition of a crime.
BOB GARFIELD:
He's getting accustomed to the strangeness, however. Unintimidated by the censors, he's been prosecuted 35 times for treading on Turkey's sacred taboos.
RAGIP ZARAKOLU
So it was like Armenian taboo, Kurdish taboo, minority rights taboo. Also, the impunity of the state.
BOB GARFIELD:
The impunity of the state, which embraces not just the elected government but the judiciary, the bureaucracy and especially the military, is a particular trap, because it can easily criminalize the most basic sort of journalistic criticism.

Ismet Berkan is the editor of the moderately leftist daily, Radikal. I asked him to tell me his story.
ISMET BERKAN
Which one, because I'm [LAUGHS] prosecuted many times. Yeah. [LAUGHS] The last time I was accused to insulting the Turkishness, three big universities in Turkey tried to make a seminar on the "Armenian issue."
BOB GARFIELD:
The Armenian issue. He refers to the ultimate taboo, the murder and deportation of up to a million Armenians by Ottoman Turk forces and their proxies during World War I. The courts ordered the symposium canceled, and when Berkan criticized the decision, he was prosecuted.

You might wonder, in a country trying to integrate with Europe, how that can be. The answer is complicated. A big factor is the heavy hand of the military, which has staged three coups since 1960 and an essentially invisible ongoing coup over the past decade.

The constant threat of takeover severely limits the options of the moderate Islamic government and imposes a sort of shrugging reticence among the people. International PEN's Eugene Schoulgin.
EUGENE SCHOULGIN:
The silent majority is so silent. It's very difficult to really interpret what they think, but they are used to keep their mouth shut.
BOB GARFIELD:
Turks for centuries were ruled by sultans, Fealty, as one businessman put it to me, is in our DNA. And it is that lingering connection to the bygone empire that is being exploited by allies of the military wishing to drive a wedge between Turkey and Europe.

Joel Campagna is senior coordinator of the Middle East for the Committee to Protect Journalists.
JOEL CAMPAGNA:
Nationalist forces who are against Turkey's membership in the European Union and who see that as a threat to Turkish independence and national identity have essentially tried to use the judiciary as a way to embarrass the government and to make it look bad in terms of its attempts at membership in the European Union.
BOB GARFIELD:
Europe's increasing impatience with Turkey, in turn, is used to fan popular resentment in a former empire now reduced to the role of supplicant -- in other words, sabotage, not only of negotiations with Europe but of free expression itself. Joel Campagna.
JOEL CAMPAGNA:
Self censorship is one result. I think these types of prosecutions, even if they are prison sentences that are suspended and the journalist or writer is not forced to serve those sentences, I think they do, at the same time, send a strong signal to potential critics, and I think that's troubling.
ORAL CALISLAR:
Always we journalists must be careful.
BOB GARFIELD:
Oral Calislar is a columnist for the daily Cumhuriyet. He's been jailed twice for a total of three years, and he's careful not to ask for further trouble. For instance, he will never refer to the Armenian issue as a genocide.
ORAL CALISLAR:
Because if you use these words, the people don't want to listen you. So many years, there are not any hard case against me, because when you learn how to write, because we lived under the coups d'etats, under the military systems so many years, we learned.

But I can say openly I can write what I want. But sometimes I use some way. [LAUGHS]
BOB GARFIELD:
Byzantine.
ORAL CALISLAR:
Yes. [LAUGHS]
BOB GARFIELD:
But the problem with 301 is that caution is not enough, because the most innocuous reporting can get you in big trouble. Calislar's wife Ipek awaits trial for an anecdote in a biography of the wife of Kemal Ataturk, founder of the Turkish Republic.

She recounted an incident from the twenties when Ataturk had to sneak out of the presidential palace clad in a woman's chadar to escape assassins. This was deemed an insult to Ataturk's memory, and she faces four and a half years in prison.

As nutty and reactionary as that may sound though, even among journalists, there is an ambivalence about Article 301. Oktay Eksi is a columnist for Hurriyet, and chairman of the Turkish Press Council. He lobbied against 301 when it was being drafted, but now doesn't necessarily believe it should be repealed.
OKTAY EKSI:
That's true. We wish it to be amended rather than abolishment. For instance, in the article, it says that Turkishness is a value that cannot be attacked or insulted. We say that this is a very vague definition. Instead, for instance, we claim that it should be Turkish nation.
BOB GARFIELD:
Trying to parse the difference between insulting Turkishness and insulting the Turkish nation is like navigating the linguistic Bosphorus. It reminds you of the unique place Turkey holds astride the borders and values of East and West.

The country is at a crossroads, yes, but stroll any one of Istanbul's colorful bazaars -- this place has always been a crossroads, hasn't it?
[BAZAAR HUBBUB]
The Egyptian Bazaar has been a free market for 400 years -- alas, more for spices and textiles than ideas.
[SHOUTING/BAZAAR AMBIANCE]
Yes, Turkey is clearly leaning westward, and, yes, progress has been made. Ten years ago, according to the Reporters Committee, Turkey imprisoned more journalists than any country in the world -- today, in spite of 301, only a handful.

Still, the strait has not fully been crossed. On December 15th, the European Union wants to see evidence from Turkey that it has progressed on a checklist of mainly human rights issues. On that same day, publisher Ragip Zarakolu will be in court to explain why a century old diary of a Turkish massacre isn't a crime against the modern state. If he fails, he'll go to jail.