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February 05, 2012, Sunday

Intolerance record of the week in Turkey

Last week was so terrible in terms of witnessing intolerant attitudes from the government and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. So many alarming and concerning developments happened one after another.


Erdoğan has taken up his old habit of suing journalists for their alleged defamatory remarks once again. We learned Erdoğan has brought some court cases against two writers from the Taraf daily. One was Ahmet Altan, editor-in-chief of Taraf, for an article he wrote about the Uludere massacre in which he criticized Erdoğan very harshly. Erdoğan brought one civil and one criminal case against writer Perihan Mağden as well. Ironically, Erdoğan’s cases target Perihan Mağden’s criticism of Erdoğan’s intolerant behavior and the compensation cases he had brought against her before. These are alarming developments if you consider that Erdoğan after the elections had left behind his habit of suing journalists. He had dropped all cases he brought against journalists as a goodwill gesture on his part, but once again, we are returning to the old days.

Not only has he brought cases against journalists, but he also engaged in quite nonsensical and unsophisticated discussion with novelist Paul Auster, who said that he will not come to Turkey because of journalists jailed here. If you ask me, Auster was ill-informed about the situation in Turkey; however, Erdoğan’s remarks have just justified Auster’s erroneous assessment about Turkish democracy. Erdoğan called Auster “ignorant” for choosing to visit Israel while criticizing the limits on free press in Turkey. This nonsensical debate between Erdoğan and Auster was continuing while I was writing this article. Auster’s final remarks were as follows:  “All countries are flawed and beset by myriad problems, Mr. Prime Minister, including my United States, including your Turkey.” We are all curious now if Erdoğan will continue his quarrel with Auster, one of my most favorite novelists by the way.

The Malatya Municipality has just demolished structures that were constructed in the Armenian cemetery with funds collected by the Armenian community. Local Armenians stated they built these structures by getting prior permission from authorities, and they could not understand why the municipality destroyed them. The municipality neither gave any explanation nor warned Armenians about their intention to demolish these structures.

I am seriously concerned about the attitude of the Malatya Municipality. Most probably this is “local” retaliation against the French bill. Intolerance always operates like this. When your prime minister reacts strongly to something, then local authorities take a cue from it and act accordingly. And when local authorities do something, locals also get a message from their actions and act accordingly. This is quite dangerous. I call on the government to investigate the demolition of the structures in the Malatya Armenian cemetery, which seems to me quite arbitrary and illegal.

My final bad news is about missionary paranoia, which has popped up once again. I heard that the Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet) decided to combat missionary activities “in Turkey and abroad.” To be honest, I did not understand this “abroad” part at all. What are they planning to do? Last time this missionary paranoia was raised, it created terrible consequences, leading up to the Malatya massacre in which three missionaries were killed. I also want to call on the government to investigate the policies of the Diyanet with regard to missionaries and members of other religions. They do not have any right to spread intolerance about people from other religions while they get their salaries from the taxes collected from citizens of this country, who are Muslim, Christian, Jewish and so on.

Well, as I said, last week was exceptionally bad in terms of witnessing different expressions of intolerance. I hope this is not an indication of a trend but rather a few separate incidents coming simultaneously.

Finally, a terrible, manipulative article was published in the UK’s Guardian newspaper. Penned by a Turkish journalist and bearing the title “Turkish journalists are very frightened -- but we must fight this intimidation,” the article presented the last photo of Hrant Dink, lying on the street. The article was so terrible, portraying Turkey as a first-class dictatorship in which journalists are imprisoned for what they write day in and day out. And unfortunately, Hrant Dink was also abused and exploited for this incredibly poor analysis of Turkey, which even gives the impression he was killed by this government.

I strongly recommend to Erdoğan that he read this “analytical” piece in the Guardian to see how some shortcomings of Turkish democracy are presented in the Western media, allowing him to ponder how he has contributed to this surrealist picture of Turkey by suing journalists for defamation.

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