Thursday, May 05, 2005
-----------------------Staring at the Sun
After all is said and done, looks like one of the best things to come out of Istanbul film fest is Pelin Esmer's doc, Oyun (Play). Not one of those fancy Errol Morrissy productions, but Esmer is able to handle and shape the strength of her subject. blurb: A group of village women are coaxed into forming a theater troupe and ambivalence morphs into ego battling. Gender-bending hilarity mucks up an already gender-bended locale; the women do all the muscle work by day and gleefully play their drunk and lazy wife-beating husbands by night. A lot of wise choices prevent this from being the usual oh-poor-them tearjerker--like when feminine subtlety clumsily begins to creep into their hardened routine and gives rise to the occasional stumble. The rather awfulness of the doc preceding it might have something to with my impressions, but I'm betting against it.
Dementia and Schism
Wow, what a shitty couple of months of politics. It often helps to hear people like Mehmet Altan say that they didn't think they'd be alive to see the amount of progress that's been made in the last few years. The only solid good news these days seems to be Kemal Dervis going to the UNDP.
Now that the leader of the Nationalist Party (MHP) has spoken out against extremism ("instead of guns, buy laptops"), the position of the far right party is quickly becoming indistinguishable from the supposed center left CHP oppostion. Add to that the recent resignations from the AKP, mostly due to those who think the party isn't looking out for the national interest ("selling out Cyprus" etc), thus causing the party to adopt nationalist tones, and you have a big blob of status quo with the adjective "progressive" wiped off the entire political landscape. Mehmet Ali Birand calls the Nationalist Party leader a "forward-thinking statesman", and tries to drag him to the center:
I would like to remind all that Bahçeli had previously shown his stature as a statesman while the MHP was a coalition partner in the MHP-Motherland Party (ANAP)-Democratic Left Party (DSP) coalition. If he had not neutralized the extremes in his party and had not put the interests of the country over party politics, Turkey would never have been able to pass the necessary EU harmonization laws. Permission for Kurdish education and broadcasting and the annulment of capital punishment would never have happened. If Bahçeli had wanted to, he would have called the nationalists to the streets, influencing Parliament into not passing the packages. The MHP leader is carefully executing his policies without straying from party principles. He is thinking of long-term objectives while concentrating on the moment. This way he is saving the MHP from turning into a marginal group that derives its power from street violence. The MHP is gradually becoming a party that is in harmony with the system and capable of representing the government during EU negotiations instead of being perceived as a feared party with an extremist agenda.
I would think though that the Nationalist Party is rather redundant when you have an actively political military. After all, the reason why Bahceli didn't speak out loudly has a lot to do with why the military didn't speak out loudly. Who needs the MHP when the military is much more effective in bringing people to the street? Then again it has its use when news (In Turkish) comes out that Turkes (the nationalist party leader in the early ninties) met with Petrossian and actually considered placing a wreath at the genocide memorial in Yerevan. One would pity the man who had to accuse a nationalist party of treason.
The lack of immediate criticism for the military when it spoke out against the attempted flag burning is hardly surprising. It took the mob attacks in Trabzon (when leftists handing out pamphlets were mistaken for flag burning operatives) for people to get their shit together. Hasan Cemal was one of the few who attacked the notion that the flag waving hysteria was an act of genuine protest, noting that there was silence for two days after the attempted flag burning in Mersin. Only when the military came out with its verbal assault ("so-called citizens" etc) did people take to the streets brandishing their nationalist credentials. One protest parade was even flanked by military jets. The sad thing is that there wasn't nearly this much shit going on after the November bombings in Istanbul in 2003, with or without flags. And that was where 60 people lost their lives. The primary aim of the terrorists there wasn't to split the country apart, though that's the point...There is still more outrage directed at the threat of ideogical weakening (flag burning) than the loss of innocent life. After all, life is cheap and plentiful. Following the military all the politicians scrambled to the mics to say the same thing. Baykal defended the pissing contest: "If the government doesn't talk, the people will." Well I prefer people talk rather than have them try lynching people, which is exactly what happened when the military and government did talk. Who afterwards appeals for calm? The military, obviously. Such words of wisdom are to be expected. After all, this is the establishment that makes a claim to that saintly arena often referred to as "above politics." The AKP had performed the closest thing to a practical joke a few months ago when it gave the military head an award usually given to politicians, he turned it down (I'm not a politician--Ozkok, no shit?--AKP). Then there are those who hold the EU directly or indirectly responsible for this current rise in nationalism, both Turkish and Kurdish, and who conveniently do not hold the military accountable for its recent role. There are those who attacked the public intellectuals who spoke out against the flag waving hysteria, asking them why they didn't speak loudly against those who waved Abdullah Ocalan flags. The notion, "with power comes responsibility" seems to be a foreign concept. It's simple, really. Ocalan isn't running the country, and those who wave his flag are currently not involved in directing policy.
The reaction to Pamuk's politics is another case in point. When the heat began to rise, mainstream intellectuals either did nothing or tried to provide rational or balanced criticisms against Pamuk when public opinion was far passed that point. I was watching Woody Allen's rather hilarious The Front a few weeks ago on CNBC, and I switched to news on NTV (same owner) at the commercial break where they were reporting the decision of a small town near Isparta to destroy all of Orhan Pamuk's books in its bookstores and libraries. Either it was one of the most disturbing coincidences in recent memory, or an ingeniously well-timed hook by NTV. The mayor of Isparta said the individual who gave the order was "out of his league," but this didn't stop Isparta itself from later issuing an order to remove Orhan Pamuk's books from bookstores because "they weren't selling well". The horde of attacks against Pamuk that took place in mainstream newspapers went uncontested in weeks prior, and Hasan Cemal again (In Turkish) attacked his more than comfortable collegues. Ayse Ozgun in the Turkish Daily News, whose writing is often tabloidish and lacking of content and who often reminds people how her family was harrassed by Armenians in California (sparkling credentials for objectivity, no doubt) went with a character assasination piece in February:
He wants the whole world to know all the bad things about Turkey. He wants to tell the world how horrible Turkey and the Turkish people are. That is his one and only message. He gets this message out through his books and speeches. He must write those words with drooling pleasure at his keyboard. [And if you don't feel like arguing with his politics, which is after all why she started to write this piece, just attack his writing]...Mind you, I and a whole bunch of my friends went and bought every book he wrote only to give up after a few chapters because he is so slow, boring, monotonous and repetitious. [ adjectives appear not to be Ozgun's forte] As for being nominated for the Nobel Prize for Literature, I think he has tough competition. He'll get it if Michael Moore doesn't get it first. You see, what with his humor and human touch, Moore deserves it more.
She often complains Pamuk is giving ammunition to anti-Turkey EU reps, though now the anti-Turkish wing can rightfully point to her, a so-called progressive educated columnist, to show how public self-criticism is lambasted with fervent immaturity and empty accusations even in such (ahem) esteemed circles. Even though Yusuf Kanli and Dogu Ergil are the more objective mouthpieces in the rag, Ozgun's thoughts are unfortunately in tune with the majority of the educated population. When Elif Safak quietly attacked nationalist historians, the Turkish Daily News had to run a correction: "Due to an editing error, Elif Safak's article last Sunday titled "When silences speak" mistakenly included the term "allegedly" when the author directly referred to the atrocities in the past. The term "allegedly" was not used by the author. We apologize." Those goddamn writers and their directness. They should do their job and write shit that no one understands.
One of the reasons things may change (besides the Crusade for Sanity led by the likes of Mehmet Altan) is this apparent tendency of those mainstream talking heads who deride Pamuk of praising prominent Turkish Armenians like Hrant Dink (spokesman for the Turkish Armenian community) and Etyen Mahcupyan (writer for Zaman). Part of the reason for the praise is because these two tend to piss off the Armenian Diaspora frequently by having good things to say about Turkey and criticizing Armenia for not opening its own archives. But if you listen to what Mahcupyan actually says, he doesn't shy away from the heat of the genocide issue. On the other hand, he also rejects the notion that the intent went beyond a small group of people. Mahcupyan's point: if we put them all in one basket, we're basically inviting the other side to do the same. Strenuously defending Talat Pasha prevents us from praising Cemal Pasha who objected to his and his collegues's decisions. He thinks there hasn't been an in-depth study here of the intent of the major players. If it was truly a relocation that got fucked up, one question that comes up is why did the empire quickly sell the property it had seized. According to him, an up-and-coming Turkish historian is currently doing a dissertation on certain documents in the Ministry. One of them is a telegraph to Syria in 1913 where Talat Pasha wrote that he was planning to send the Muslims fleeing from the Balkans to Der Zor. Apparently the response from Syria is: If you send them here, they will die. On the other hand, you could look at what Gunduz Aktan says: "Turkey has never accepted the allegation that the Ottomans had massacred the Armenians. This is because those members of the security forces that abused the Armenians and the bandits that massacred the Armenians were court martialled and sentenced." What? So If US security forces are convicted regarding certain acts then the US should not accept allegations that are encompassed in the convictions? Aktan tries to be careful by saying security forces did the abusing, and only bandits did the killing. Some are not as careful. The curious reasoning seems to be: since the low level was convicted of certain acts, we don't have to accept the allegations. I think the allegations he's trying to refer to are the allegations of the intent of the upper echelon, chain of command etc.; it's a very poor way of going about it.
What has the new "diplomatic attack" exposed? If anything, the weakness of our line of reasoning. In a rush to produce something, Erdogan insisted that Western countries should remove The British Blue Book as a reference when dealing with this issue ("propaganda written by biased individuals"). Well....If you happend to go to the English site of the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, under the topic Armenian Allegations, there's a 40 page document called "10 Answers to 10 Questions." On Page 17 and 18 (besides all the other things that raise eyebrows) we use The British Book as a reference to support our own point of view. Given that you've long held the view that the book is a bunch of lies, this is not a good idea. I would have thought going on a diplomatic attack would entail checking your website for any inconsistencies. Guess not.
The academics have themselves said in polls that they have little trust in most of the democratic institutions in the country including the police, but trust the military more than any other outfit. Well then none of these people have the right to ask for entry into the EU; asking the Europeans to have faith in the institutions you yourself have no faith in is retarded.