- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 3, 2007

NICOSIA, Cyprus — The bullet that killed a Turkish-Armenian newspaper editor last month has put Turkey and its legal system before a world jury.

Hrant Dink, editor of the Agos weekly, died because an unemployed 17-year-old boy, Ogun Samast, claimed the editor had insulted “Turkishness,” a concept that enshrines as sacrosanct the country’s identity, state institutions and its army.

Critics of the concept are treated as criminals under Article 301 of Turkey’s criminal code. Prominent writers, including Nobel Prize winner Orhan Pamuk, have been tried under the article.

The young assassin apparently acted according to the principles of patriotism instilled in him and in millions of others. His victim was a critic of some of the acts protected by a system he judged to be unjust and was a member of the Armenian minority all but extinct in Turkey.

Turkish liberals, international human rights organizations and European editorial writers demand a change in Article 301, which, if retained in its current form, is likely to keep Turkey out of the European Union. Turkey’s EU membership negotiations are now stalled.

EU entry at risk

At Mr. Dink’s funeral under the gray January sky of Istanbul, mourners carried placards denouncing the “301 Killer.”

In Strasbourg, France, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, an advisory body, formally asked for changes in Turkey’s criminal code, saying it “judicially limits freedom of expression and validates legal and other attacks against journalists.”

Under the pressure of Mr. Dink’s assassination, liberals hope for evolution in Turkish attitudes and laws, but rising nationalism across the country and the issues involved in parliamentary and presidential elections this year appear to preclude a change in the foreseeable future.

The country has become steeped in chauvinism, with schoolchildren reciting one of the favorite slogans of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, founder of the Turkish Republic: “Lucky is he who can say, ‘I am a Turk,’ ” and troops on parade roar, “One Turk is worth the whole world.”

Although Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan promised to submit a review of Article 301 to parliament, his absence at the funeral that drew about 100,000 mourners was seen as less than encouraging.

“Evidently, the prime minister is unwilling to lose nationalist votes,” commented the daily Kathimerini in Athens.

Disagreement punished

Headlines across Europe expressed shock, concern and the problem of a country that has yet to conform to European concepts of morality and politics but protects its system from criticism and punishes those who disagree.

There were no clear-cut answers after two weeks of soul-searching and analysis, with most analysts concluding that Turkey has been wounded. It is aware of the extent of the problem but cannot easily come to grips with the implications of Mr. Dink’s slaying.

According to the assessment of one Western embassy, the killing shows a “dangerous conflict, which pervades state and society in Turkey.”

“The bullets that brought Dink down also wounded Turkey’s hopes for better days,” said Greek political commentator Nikos Konstandaras. “The battle for the country’s future looks difficult.”

On the island of Cyprus, where Turkish guns imposed the security of the Turkish-Cypriot minority, the English-language Cyprus Mail described the situation in Turkey as “pathological nationalism nurtured by the state, by its worship of the founding father, its obsession with the flag, its violent sensitivity to anyone who insults the nation.”

Ataturk’s mixed legacy

In Western Europe, analysts generally agree that Turkish nationalism has been nourished by political credos and myths rooted in the ideology of Ataturk, who founded the republic in the 1920s on the ruins of the Ottoman Empire.

“Dark nationalist forces rise in Turkey” was the headline in Kathimerini, the Athens daily.

Thus, nearly 70 years after the death of Ataturk, his effort to instill national awareness and pride in the population has stumbled over unsolved issues that include:

• The demand of Turkey’s Kurdish minority for recognition of its language and culture, which has led to a stubborn guerrilla war that so far has claimed 38,000 lives and devastated entire villages.

• The slaughter of an estimated 1.5 million Armenians during World War I and a forced march across the desert sands to Syria, a massacre whose extent Turkey refuses to acknowledge to this day.

• The dominant role of the Turkish army, self-imposed guardian of Ataturk’s heritage and of the country’s republican system.

• Turkey’s military presence in the north of the independent island of Cyprus, where a separate state under Turkey’s protection has been established.

Kurds denied self-rule

Occasional explanations offered by Turkish officials over the years have shown little intention for significant compromise or an admission of wrongdoing.

Thus the demands of the Kurds, particularly for some form of ethnic autonomy, are seen as dynamite under the foundations of the republic. The Armenian massacres of 300,000 victims — according to the official version — were caused by the role of the Armenians as a “fifth column” aiding Russia in its war against Turkey.

The Turkish military presence in Cyprus is essential, Turkish officials say, to guarantee the safety of the Turkish-Cypriot minority on the divided island.

While Turkey has found some international sympathy for its stand on Cyprus, its refusal to admit the nature and extent of the Armenian massacres has caused diplomatic clashes, problems and condemnation from Western governments.

Unlike Germany’s atonement for Nazi crimes, particularly the Holocaust, Turkey has shown no such inclination on the Armenian issue and has shrugged off all international appeals to acknowledge the 90-year-old atrocities. Today, an estimated 60,000 Armenians live in Turkey — most of them in Istanbul — the remnant of 2 million at the start of World War I.

France raises pressure

One of the latest examples of foreign pressure on Turkey was the adoption last October by the lower house of the French parliament of a draft law calling for up to one year in jail and a heavy fine for anyone who denies that the massacre of Armenians was genocide.

Ankara denounced the bill as a “heavy blow” to bilateral relations, but no economic sanctions followed. However, the Turkish army announced it was “freezing” military contacts with France. Both countries are NATO members, though France is not part of the alliance’s military structure.

Although, under European Union pressure, Turkey has taken considerable steps toward reducing the military’s political role, the army remains the country’s most respected institution, though some critics call it “a political lobby with heavy weapons.”

It is generally assumed in Turkey that political chaos or any form of internal turmoil would cause military intervention, as it did three times in the 20th century. In every case, the army purged the political establishment and returned to barracks when it judged that the country’s stability was no longer threatened.

Turkey’s ambition to join the EU is not new. The concept of “moving westward” originated with Ataturk, who introduced by fiat an ambitious program for the country’s “Westernization.” While not denying Ataturk’s achievements, some historians say the reforms were superficial, without significant effects on the national mentality.

Though a penchant for Islamic fundamentalism is increasingly felt across Turkey, particularly in light of its EU membership application, little is being said of Ataturk’s attack on the religion he thought to be the main obstacle to Turkey’s European aspirations.

He abolished the Muslim Caliphate — the reign of successors to the prophet Muhammad — banned the teaching of religion in schools and the wearing of the fez, the red tapering man’s felt hat once considered to be the Turkish national headgear. He also changed Turkey’s Arabic alphabet to the Latin form and freed women from purdah — their seclusion from most male contact.

The banning of the fez, replaced by European caps and hats, had more than a superficial implication: the brimless fez allowed Muslims to touch the ground with their heads while praying, while hats symbolized the non-Muslim West.

Ataturk’s reforms profoundly affected the Turkish army, which has become their main defender. Typical was the case of Maj. Fethi Gurcan, one of the authors of the failed 1962 military putsch, sentenced to death after a three-month trial, who declared:

“Ataturk is dead, but he has not ceased to exist. I shall now die, but Ataturk’s ideals, through my death, will acquire yet higher value.”

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