To be honest, I find group meetings with diplomats quite boring because they always entail one-way communication. You speak and they listen. After a while it gets increasingly boring having this one-way communication. This Wednesday it happened again. I went to the residence of the US ambassador to attend a lunch, during which Ambassador Francis J. Ricciardone met with some human rights advocates. He listened to us very carefully, and I guess he enjoyed it a lot. While each of our perspectives was quite interesting for the ambassador, we could not get his perspectives on and impressions of various subjects. This was not unique to this occasion, of course; it is a natural part of these kinds of meetings.
Therefore, I like one-on-one meetings with diplomats in that we can exchange ideas and our perspectives on various matters. The title, from a journalistic perspective, is not promising because it would be really interesting to get to know what the US ambassador thinks on some matters in Turkey, rather than what we told him. However, once again, I listened to my fellow human rights defenders during this meeting, and some of my observations have just been heightened. I will not go into the details of the meeting, but I would like to share my general observations with you. Not all human rights defenders fit into this category; neither do all participants in the meeting fit this type, but there is a general and prevailing tendency amongst human right defenders in Turkey: They only talk about negative things. Human rights defenders, of course, always need to play the role of devil’s advocate and have to raise the nastiest issues to the attention of those in power, while the rest of society pretends that everything is going well.
However, there are some inherent dangers in this role, especially when you exaggerate it. When you focus on the negative aspects too much, you may lose track and risk being unjust. If, for example, you talk about today’s Turkey as if things are same as they were 10 years ago or even as if they are worse today, you basically are not telling the truth. Today’s Turkey is not heaven; there are still very serious human rights problems, from freedom of expression to police brutality. However, just 10 years ago this was a country where there was widespread and systematic torture in every corner. People were being kidnapped in broad daylight by members of JİTEM, and their dead bodies were being thrown away in the streets. And all sorts of terrible things were happening which are not happening today. Do we not have to mention this improvement if we really want to have a better world? Can we contribute to the human rights struggle by pretending all these positive things have not happened at all? I once again thought about all of these things during this meeting. However, there was something that made me smile during the meeting. The ambassador asked what we thought about the last human rights report by the US State Department on Turkey. While some participants were giving their evaluations of it, others preferred to shed light on the US’s ambivalent attitude toward human rights issues. The question these participants asked was if one can take seriously a human rights report from a state which has a hegemonic role in the world and which is serious human rights violator itself. I hope Mr. Ricciardone will also take these messages to Washington, D.C., along with our critical words about Turkey’s own human rights records. On this occasion I wish Mr. Ambassador a successful term in Turkey. I also hope to hear his observations about Turkey one day.