Saturday, December 10, 2005


Idiocy Masquerading As...Idiocy

As we were defeating the PKK, we were wary of offending our Kurdish brethren, so we refrained from criticizing the Kurds. We refrained from saying how primitive the tribal structure and the status of women in their culture. We did not try to prevent the politically motivated population growth. We said, �This entire homeland is yours.� We concealed our knowledge that their myths about their �glorious history� were a fabrication. In the end they have mustered the audacity to claim that they are one of the two founding groups of this state.

And now we want our togetherness to continue on the basis of this falsehood.

To the victor go the spoils...Get this--we botched this whole Kurdish integration mess because we...killed them with kindness! Gunduz Aktan, our esteemed former ambassador, is on dangerously retarded ground...

Yes, it's true the State didn't criticise the Kurds enough, this might have something to do with the fact that it was occassionally busy supporting religious fundamentalist outfits in order to fight the PKK. And then one has the audacity to claim that their tribal structure and treatment of women is somehow unique when the state was supporting those who dabbled in the virtues of honor killings. One can hardly begin to decrypt the vileness that is contained in the phrase "We did not try to prevent the politically motivated population growth." What did you have in mind? A Modest Proposal? In here lies the belief that the Kurds are going to multiply in droves and take over the entire country while the country lies helpless as its hands are mercilessy tied behind its back by...democracy. Who, after all, needs the PKK when you can get it on, all night long? Democracy for Gunduz Aktan is so fragile and pathetic that sheer population growth is going to make Turks slaves to those redneck myth-fabricating Kurds he hates so much (and whose redneckness and tribal customs don't seem to prevent them from being so wonderfully Machiavellian). Way to go, retard.

On a related note, there's an amusing anecdote from the days of Demirel's presidency...Demirel is on a tour of the southeast, stopping at a village to give a speech, he says to the villagers that have gathered around him: "You know, one of the main problems in Turkey is population...we have to be careful of controlling it. Everyone should be careful about having families that are not too big..." Then suddenly, a forlorn looking villager speaks up from the crowd: "Sir, we had one source of entertainment in our lives, and you're robbing us of that too..."

Fusion Paranoia

"There was a continuing contrast between the violence with which he would sometimes state his political opinions and his private gentleness and sensitivity."
--John Judis on Michael Kelly

"If you happen to maintain that the ban on the headscarf needs to be lifted, they fire back, 'Article one!' If you happen to vouch for minority rights, they retort, 'Article two!' If you are a resolute believer in Turkey's European Union accession and support the implementation of the necessary reforms fully and immediately, you are accused of 'Article three'" --Elif Safak

"Being burned for a witch by English brutes is not calculated to bring out the best in anyone."
--Harold Bloom on Shakespeare's Joan of Arc

A couple of weeks ago the Torque, referring to Hasan Cemal's criticism of a top general, wrote:

"What is more noteworthy is the courage...with which a Turkish secular columnist with impeccable republican credentials would take on one of the most powerful figures in the whole country.

The closer Turkey gets to a full-membership of the European Union, we will probably see more deviations from the norm in terms of the established delicate balance between the Turkish press and the most revered institutions of the Republic."

Perhaps, but the question remains whether the process is taking five steps forward and three steps back, or three steps forward and five steps back. Hasan Cemal recently was charged, along with four other journalists (İsmet Berkan, Murat Belge, Haluk Şahin, Erol Katırcıoğlu), for "insulting the judiciary system" with his attack on a court ban on the Armenian Conference that was supposed take place at Bogazici University (the conference was consequently moved to Bilgi University). The punishment for the offense is a range between 6 months to 3 years, though the the likelihood may be a "suspended sentence" that was given to Hrant Dink, who plans to appeal to higher court. Their names are added to the list that includes Orhan Pamuk and Ibrahim Kaboglu (responsible for the report on "Minority Rights" commissioned by the government).

Of course, many among the journalist elite would disagree with the Torque about Cemal being an "establishmentarian" or a journalist with "impeccable republican creditentials." He is a polarizing figure because his main target in his columns are usually those (including a large segment of the journalist elite) who are more closely associated with having "impeccable republican creditentials," and who Hasan Cemal agressively attacks for adamently embracing status quo policies that have had a long-standing history of failure. The reason why he is a rather trustable critic on such people is because he spent 11 years as the editor of Cumhuriyet, which is the main source of "secularist republican intellectuals." In this way his career history resembles that of the late Michael Kelly (and also unavoidably, Christopher Hitchens) who climbed to the top of various left-leaning publications and was accused of betraying the cause. In fact, now Cemal has a new book out called "Cumhuriyet'i Cok Sevmistim" that is a collection of his notes that he took during that period.

Those who don't like him had referred to him (and still do) as a "closet right winger," because of his strong support of foreign investment and economic liberalism, and his criticism of the law banning those who wear head-scarfs from the university. However, "right-wing" with derogative connotations of being indifferent to human rights and being a nationalist is not applied to him because those traits are abundant in the people or stances he chooses to target. He once wrote a column called "What's National Interest?" (In Turkish) deriding many of those failed policies that were committed in the name of. He's a secular democrat who goes after those who are willing to sacrifice democracy in name of secularism, who are willing to sacrifice democracy in hopes of preserving territorial integritiy--sacrifices which end up sabotaging rather than ensuring the survival of secularism and territorial integrity.

His new book has created a controversy now because it contains many dirty bits regarding the renowned securist republican journalists during that time. By "dirty," I'm referring to these people's actual stances that were not reflected clearly in their columns. And even those who are ideologically alligned with Cemal have been taken back by the detail of his notes--bits including conversations in elevators and overheard conversations in next door cubicles--and his keeping a diary of such experiences. Mehmet Barlas said Cemal should have confronted those people instead of letting what bothered him simmer inside. Of course, had Cemal been more confrontational, his days at Cumhuriyet might have been numbered--especially during the the eighties and beginning of the ninties when his was editor. One of his main targets is Ilhan Selcuk, who he accuses of being a military coup supporter and enemy to democracy, even though he says Selcuk deceptively never comes out and admits it in his columns. Cemal's stay at Cumhuriyet ended when Selcuk boycotted the paper and took 80,000 among the 120,000 readers with him. The stand-off came to an end with Cemal leaving the paper and Selcuk retaining his position. Cemal was recently asked about the standoff in an interview.

Q: ...What happened at that time?
Hasan Cemal: When I took over as editor, our numbers were around the 50s and 60s. During my time and towards the end of my term it was up to 120-130, this was despite the disasterous economy...When Ilhan Selcuk withdrew, the readership dropped to 40--
Q: Doesn't that mean the public supported Ilhan Selcuk?
Hasan Cemal: No, I don't think so. Why? Because our entire readership didn't desert us. If all the readership was behind Ilhan Selcuk then one would expect the numbers to assume the 120 mark after I had left and he had come back. The numbers never reached that level, and thirteen years later, it's still at the 60 mark...which I think indicates some of the readership left with me...Ilhan Selcuk was adamently opposed to opening the paper to capital. And then what does he turn around and do? He opens it to both Sabah's owner and Karamehmet have a stake in it.
Q: You accuse Cumuriyet of being a military paper, is there such a thing?
Hasan Cemal: If you take a look at it, you will see a string of generals who, as soon as they retired, were taken into Cumhuriyet's Board. [Lists names...] These were generals, and everyone knew where they stood politically, so you tell me.

Some of the attacks he received after he left the paper he notes in his book. Ali Sirman hilariously wrote in 1991, "Cemal Pasha sunk the Ottoman Empire, and now his grandson Hasan Cemal is sinking the Turkish Republic. Kemalizm is dead, now there's Cemalizm." Many people knew before the book came out where Hasan Cemal stood, but what created the controversy was that his book was matching names to those objectionable ideological stances, and some of them had passed away, making his criticisms seem disrespectful to certain observers. (On a sidenote, if anyone wants to respect my death, please slander me in death as you would in life.) The harsh words that Hasan Cemal reserves for Ilhan Selcuk didn't prevent him from remarking in a recent interview: "If there were anyone there who I looked up to as an elder brother, it was Ilhan Selcuk."His problems with Ilhan Selcuk, he claims, are on purely ideological grounds. I kind of think it's counterproductive to withold criticism of someone simply because of personal respect. If one is writing columns about how this country should be directed, then the ideal situation would occur if his suggestions were incorporated into policy. I think the reason why Hasan Cemal's columns often exhibit outrage is because he takes what someone says and posits what would happen if his suggestions were to become government policy, even though his target may be innocent in so far as being unaware of the calamitous consequences of his suggestions. Such "innocence" is why others refrain from being similarly outraged, but without such outrage, little stands in the way of of those careless suggestions being absorbed into policy. Many have asked why Ilhan Selcuk was the one who received the brunt of Cemal's attack. In a Tv8 interview with Haluk Sahin, ironically another journalist that was charged recently, Cemal said although he and Ugur Mumcu disagreed on economic matters such as the privatisation of TV channels (Cemal for, Mumcu against), they often saw eye to eye on the democratisation of politics--both in favor of a multi-party system. And despite the sympathy for communism amongst the intelligentsia at the time, Mumcu would often come out in his columns and declare that Stalin was as much steeped in blood as Hitler. According to Cemal, unlike Mumcu, Selcuk was a silent advocate of a single party system and a blatant Stalin apologist.

Hasan Cemal was also among the ones that took notice of the left merging with the right-wing nationalists as result of the Iraq War. This "fusion paranoia" as Michael Kelly called it, probably happened more explicitly in Turkey than it did in the States. The Turkish Left felt betrayed by the Kurds, who had sided with the Americans. One could just as easily say that the Turkish Left abandoned the Kurds in their fight against Saddam because their politics could no longer afford it. Whether there is a friendship such a movment wouldn't sacrifice in order to avoid allying itself with the US remains to be seen. Thus, when you take the sympathy for other ethnicities out of the Turkish Left, there really isn't anything left that distinguishes it from the nationalist Right. Both become committed to protecting "Turkishness" against the onslaught of Western imperialism (EU, the US etc), all the while refusing to contemplate at what cost. Of course, the irony with Cemal is that when he attacked those who waved blind slogans, he would often use harsh simple descriptions in order to attract people to the grave threat someone's thinking posed. In fact, he probably lamented that such loose use made it more difficult for people to realize when someone was in fact a "fascist".

At the root of intellectual enlightenment lies a mind that questions, that critiques,
that doesn't trap one with slogans, a mind that doesn't become a prisoner to cliches...
But it's too late for you to realize it after this hour...
Your work now is not with the democrats, but with the Turkish Milosevics...
Your intellectual enlightenment is facism!
Your Kemalizm is fascism!
Your nationalism is fascism!
Yes, this is how it is Ilhan Selcuk...

--From "Cumuriyet'i Cok Sevmistim"

The late lovesick poet Attilla Ilhan, who passed away recently, was one of those fusionists. Known as "the gentleman's nationalist" with a strong physical presence of a wise old man with his large glasses, chubby cheeks, and forward facing beret, he used the softer term for nationalist-- "ulusalci" instead of "milliyetci" (which is more often associated with fascism)-- to describe himself. One of the things he would say often was "10% of the people in this country are traitors." Of course, what made this amusing was that Attilla Ilhan went to jail in his youth for treasonous behavior (reading a poem by the exiled Nazim Hikmet), and also fled to Paris several times because of anti-communism hysteria. He also had attacked the nationalist movement when it worked to remove traces of the rich Ottoman language from the new Turkish Republic's vocabulary. One would think someone with that kind of history would be uneasy about throwing accusations of treason around. Attila Ilhan's version of Ataturk was Ataturk as Marxist, he believed that what Ataturk had in mind was not the Western model but the Russian one. Publishing such a thesis in a magazine during the fifties caused said magazine to be shut down by the state, and Atilla Ilhan soon left for Paris. In one of the interviews before his death, he spent an hour railing against imperialism and then when asked about Cyprus said: "We should never leave it. The US goes into all those countries without consent, why should we hold ourselves back?" But even if he wanted to be remembered for his political ideas rather than his poetry, I'd prefer to remember him with the latter. If you want to have a bone-chilling experience, there's few things better than listening to Attilla Ilhan ramble through his poems with that deep weary voice.

If the Glove Don't Fit, You Must Acquit

One of the better opinionated programs on TV these days is the Emre Kongar and Mehmet Barlas head-to-head gambit on NTV. Unlike some of the American broadcasts that remove the mediator and turn the deal into the political equivalent of baywatch mud-wrestling, this format in Turkish with these two works pretty well. It does so because of three main reasons: 1) It's 23 minutes long, commercial free 2) Their personal politics are the same, that is, they are both of the secular socially liberal persuasion. 3) The lack of a mediator also allows them to establish their own line of attack, leaving less wiggle room for sloppy arguments that the mediator annoyingly lets pass (many Turkish journalists in this sense are unfamiliar with grilling a guest). The latter feature goes to Barlas' advantage, who often listens to Kongar with an ironic smile and constructs Swiftian hypotheticals from his points. What they differ wildly on is how they perceive certain events, and what should be done about them. Kongar is the more predictable old-guard secularist, whereas Barlas on many key issues is more of a dynamic progressive closer to Hasan Cemal and Mehmet Altan. People who are in half-comas where they seem partially awake are said to have less of a chance of recovering from a coma than people who seem completely unconscious. Barlas seems to point to this with respect to certain aspects of Turkish are some back-and-forths that have taken place recently or in the past (These are not transcripts):

Barlas: If the national identity/ethnic identity issue continues as will all end badly. I think we should look at what Abdullah Gul was able to do the other day--he was able to bring the US Ambassador to Iraq together with some of the Sunni leaders in Iraq and say "Turkey wants all the different people of Iraq to participate in the new Iraq, be they Sunni, Shiite, Kurd, Turkmen etc" This is my solution: You have all these parties in Turkey outside the parliament, including DEHAP [Kurdish party], because of the 10% vote barrier. What the government needs to do right now is drop the parliament representation threshold from 10% to somewhere around 3%, so that all various groups and identities can be represented in parliament. And then using this parliament, they must amend the consititution and come to agreement on what kind of national identity that they want....This is what is necessary.
Kongar: I agree with you about the parliament, but I disagree with your solution. We don't need a new national identity, what Ataturk gave us is enough--he said, "Anyone who lives within these borders, Turks, Kurds, Alevi etc are citizens of this country."... Your solution will turn Turkey into Iraq.
Barlas: The problem is that some of major problems we had 80 years ago, we still have now. If there is anything that indicates that we need a new approach, this is it.


Barlas: ...on a military scale its no contest. You have a handful of PKK guys against what is a supremely dominant Turkish military force.
Kongar: Come on, it is a civil war--there's coffins of soldiers coming in everyday.
Barlas: Yes. And it takes a handful of people to kill those soldiers, especially today...cherry-picking the odd army vehicle with remote controlled roadside bombs--
Kongar: Which they got from? The US goes into Iraq, Talabani becomes president, and all of a sudden the PKK has new weapons. Since when did they have remote controlled roadside bombs?
Barlas: Sure. But if you keep on throwing threats their way (to Barzani, Talabani), why should they care about stopping what's going on here when they're busy over there....But anyway, do you honestly believe that, from a military standpoint, the PKK can achieve its objectives?
Kongar: No, of course not...
Barlas: Well, then...the important thing is that they shouldn't gain recruits, and that requires a political solution and the military should not dictate what that political solution is, as you should know--since our history is dotted with them--the danger of a military coup becomes much more real...In all established western democracies there is civilian control of the military, otherwise....
Kongar: Come on, British cops shot some poor guy--
Barlas: Right, and who held the press conference?
Kongar: What? What do you mean?
Barlas: I'm saying, in England the police commissioner took responsibility, didn't he? And who, may I ask, appoints the police commisioner? A politician elected by the people. Not a military tribunal with no civilian accountability.
Kongar: Abu Ghraib?
Barlas: What about it? There is a process of public accountability that could take place. Before you start pointing in that direction tell me this: How many military coups took place in the history of United States?
Kongar: .....

: It's a political symbol...There wasn't always this many women wearing headscarves, why do you think it happened all of a sudden?
Barlas: If you look at the dates, it took place during the time period when there was a mass migration from villages to cities.
Kongar: Yes, but the way they wear their headscarves now is not how they wear them in the village. Now they wrap it tightly around their necks. Why? Because some guy came and made it a political symbol, they don't wear it for religious reasons. Or rather the religion was hijacked by politics.
Barlas: Are you telling me that if they wore their headscarves "like they did in the village" you wouldn't have a problem with it?
Kongar: Yes.
Barlas: You know what's going to happen right? You're going to say, "wear it like this," and all the women wearing it like that are still going to be supporting the AKP--and then you're going to claim that "wearing it like that" is a political symbol and that those who are wearing it are disingenous and are not really wearing it for religious reasons. The problem is you have no criteria for separating the ones that "really believe" from the ones who are doing it for political's Middle Ages thinking--you prosecute based on's called a witchhunt, actually. Denying a girl of her college education because of it is unacceptable.
Kongar: Behind those girls is a mentality that wishes to usher in a new era of Sheria law. How can you deny it, with all these alcohol bannings that are taking place.
Barlas: What I'm saying is your solution is no solution at all. The truth is that religious conservatism climbed during all those secularist coalition governments--they did nothing to curb it, they even pandered to it, as you know. The State supported religious extermism in the eighties in the East in hopes that it would help combat the PKK. After that they deny girls wearing headscarves education. That's a good solution...
Kongar: That state support was wrong, two wrongs don't make a right.
Barlas: [Laughs] Funny, that was my point. The state helped these girls get indoctrinated with these ideas, and then on top of that they ignore their responsibility borne out of wrongful action and ban them from the university. You can't wish the problem away by ignoring a large segment of the population.
Kongar: These guys got a mandate with only thirty-some percent support of the public, this is not a majority.
Barlas: Funny, I didn't hear the previous coalition government complaining that they got to into power with minority rule, and I'm sure you didn't mind because they shared your general ideology. This is the fault of the system that every party that comes into power takes advantage of--this does not in anyway show how the opposition parties are somehow less opportunistic and more ethical than the ruling AKP.
Kongar: ...says the AKP's biggest fan.
Barlas: [Laughs] The point is, the AKP is running our government now and I'd rather hope and push it to do right rather than hope it does wrong simply because I'm suspicious of their motives....If you don't trust them, fine...But I have a criteria with which they can gain my trust. I can say if I don't trust you, you can gain my trust by doing this and that--as opposed to: "I won't trust you, and there's nothing you can do to about it." It's like the story about Temel's flight on a plane...He's flying in a commerical airplane and all of a sudden there is an explosion and it catches on fire and takes a a nose-dive. Everybody is screaming and crying, but Temel gets annoyed and turns to the sobbing lady next to him, "What are you crying for, it's not your daddy's plane, is it?!" .... same thing. When the AKP government does something wrong, there's all these people that say, "What're you crying for, it's not like it's your daddy's party..." They'd rather get them out of power than admit temporary defeat and work with them to acheive something...
Kongar: [Laughs]

Harry Pinter and the Globlet of Other Retarded Puns, Analogies, and What Have You

[--written before Pinter's Nobel speech]

Harold Pinter isn't a complete stranger to Turkish current events...He came here with Arthur Miller in 1985 to protest against the jailing of Turkish writers and political dissidents, and in doing so played a hand in speeding up their release. There are very few around today who feel that protest at that time was unjustified, since many people across the entire political spectrum were affected. So now these people feel they have to distinguish between such justfiable protest and what they see as petty and aggravating comments by Orhan Pamuk. The difference that they settled on was, "Hey, at least Pinter trashed other countries and not just his own." Nice. One is henceforth a "respectable activist," the other is a "whiny opportunist". Of course what was swept under the carpert after the Nobel declaration was the small detail of Harold Pinter being ferverently pro-Kurdish, at one time at least. There is an amusingly prescient quote from an archived piece Harold Pinter wrote in 1999:

I'd like to finish here by reading something which I think is a remarkable piece of prose by Dario Fo, which he actually wrote quite recently and submitted to the Turkish press.

'Kurdistan lives. It burns in the mind of every single person of the 35 million people who were robbed of their identity and made into refugees in Turkey, Iraq and Europe. It is burning and living in the fires of Newroz and in jails where 12,000 political prisoners are buried in isolation cells. It lives in the memory of those who disappeared and in the scars of those who disappeared and in the scars of those who were tortured. It is burning and living in the mountains of the popular resistance, called terrorism by the western world.'

I know why he got the Nobel Prize.

Pretty hilarious, actually. Pinter himself protested the arrest of Ocalan in February of 1999 outside the Turkish embassy, he refused to label Ocalan a "thug" even though he off-handedly admitted worse:

The PKK had certainly killed, and has also committed atrocities, but the overwhelming number of these 30,000 deaths, not to mention widespread mutilation and rape, are the responsibility of the Turkish military.

How the Turkish military's responsibility acquits Ocalan of comitting atrocities is one for books I guess. I somehow doubt Pinter is still as energetic for the Kurdish cause after the Kurds, very sensibly and to his abject horror probably, took the American's side in the Iraq War-- Pinter's new target these days. This poem, entitled Democracy, from 2003, looks like it was written for them:

There's no escape.
The big pricks are out.
They'll fuck everything in sight.
Watch your back.

Of course, now I know why he got the Nobel Prize (no doubt now I have quadrupled my chances of getting a Nobel, this is one chain letter with a proven kickback record).


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