International criticism of Turkey’s repressive and often brutal policies towards its Kurdish and non-Turk minorities has just become a criminal offence under new anti-terrorism legislation. On February 13, Faith Tas of the Aram Publishing House will face charges of ‘incitement to violence’ for printing American Interventionsim, a Noam Chomsky lecture-cum-essay criticizing Turkey’s razing of Kurdish villages and outlawing of the Kurdish language.
According to The Independent’s Robert Fisk, “Noam Chomsky, one of America’s greatest philosophers and linguists, has become the target of Turkey’s chief of ‘terrorism prosecution'” for stating that “the Kurds have been miserably oppressed throughout the whole history of the modern Turkish state … In 1984, the Turkish government launched a major war in the south-east against the Kurdish population … The end result was pretty awesome: tens of thousands of people killed, two to three million refugees, massive ethnic cleansing with some 3,500 villages destroyed” (The Independent, January 24, 2002).
The same week that charges were brought against Tas, Turkish “authorities imprisoned 17 students as a crackdown continued against Kurds demanding the right to study their own language” (Amberin Zaman, Los Angeles Times, January 23, 2002)
One Kurdish-speaking student told the Los Angeles Times that he “was stripped naked and beaten by security forces until I signed a confession saying that I had been acting under orders from the PKK.” All for speaking Kurdish.
Turkey’s repression follows fast on the heels of the bemusing, if not entirely saddening, cultural row which broke out with Saudi Arabia last week. At first glance, it appears that the crux of the matter is a centuries-old fortress built by the Ottoman Turks overlooking Mecca.
Turkish officials lambasted Saudi clerical authorities for the alleged demolishing of the al-Ajyad castle on Bulbul mountain overlooking Mecca’s holiest shrines. The fort, built in 1780, was part and parcel of the Ottoman infiltration of Arabia, North Africa, and parts of Europe.
“The destruction of the al-Ajyad fort, part of the common cultural heritage of humanity, is an act equivalent to the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddha statues in Afghanistan,” bemoaned the Turkish Hurriyet newspaper.
So enraged was Turkish national pride that effigies and portraits of King Fahd were burned in demonstrations in Turkish cities. According to the Turkish Anadolu news agency, “The head of the Religious Affairs Directorate, Mehmet Nuri Yilmaz, said it was impossible to cancel arrangements made for the hajj next month, but it might be possible to stop personal pilgrimages during the rest of the year”.
The Saudis defended their action by citing the swelling number of pilgrims year after year and the need for expanding housing and medical facilities for them. Each year, more than 2 million pilgrims cluster around Mecca to perform one of the five pillars of Islam, the Hajj.
“By protesting against the kingdom’s decision to demolish a dilapidated structure to further expand the facilities in the holy city, Turkey has once again proved its ambivalent approach to anything that has got to do with Islam and Muslims,” retorted the English-language Riyadh Daily.
Nevertheless, Turkish Culture Minister Istemihan Talay called the Saudi actions a “cultural massacre” and said it was akin to the “thinking of the Taliban”.
This would all be rather reasonable if not for the undeniable fact that Turkey is perhaps the greatest aggressor and proponent of genocidal and ethnic cleansing in the Middle East and Central Asia. However, the post-September global arena has given many former rogues, zealots and terrorists (see Sharon, India, Iran, Zimbabwe, Philippines, etc.) the political clout to denounce everyone else as either military or cultural terrorists.
Yesterday’s demons are today’s papal stewards.
Much of the way Turkey has treated its former territories (stretching from North Africa and Eastern Europe into Central Asia) can be construed from Turkey’s Minister of Justice, Mahmud Esad Bozkurt, in 1930: “The Turk is the only master in his country. Those who are not pure Turks have one right in this country: The right to be servants, the right to be slaves”.
This ideology served as the stepping stone for Turkish atrocities throughout the lands they pillaged and plundered. Briefly;
1894 – Sultan Abdul Hamit’s policy of genocide against the Armenians continued well into the early 1930s despite appeals and intervention by U.S. President Woodrow Wilson in 1918. Wilson’s declaration of self-determination for all populations under Turkish oppression does little for the Armenians. Europe’s first great genocide in Bitlis, Erzerum, Marsovan, Kharpert, Diyarbekir, Mardin, Adana, Talas-Caesarea, and Konia goes largely unnoticed to this day. More than 1.5 million Armenians are slaughtered.
1909 é Arab revolt against Turkish oppression is suppressed in Yemen. Thousands die.
1915 é A bloody year for Christian Assyrian populations in Iraq and Iran. Turkish troops raze 70 villages in Urmia (Northwestern Iran), killing more than 25,000 Assyrian men, women and children.
1917 é Turkish administrators facilitate the starving deaths of 144,000 Arabs in the Levant. Lebanon and Syria are forced to give up on aspirations for independence from Turkey.
Which brings us to the Kurdish equation. There are currently more than 12 million Kurds in Turkey who are not recognized as belonging to an ethnic minority. Turkish policies simply do not account for a Kurdish ‘ethnicity’ or culture. Kurds are not allowed to speak their own language of Kurdish nor are they allowed to operate their own schools. Cultural icons have been all but erased from Kurdish history; Kurdish song, dance, and folklore are strictly forbidden. Merely stating that a person is Kurdish is a capital offence.
Genocidal practices have not changed much for Turkey. The Kurds today suffer what the Arabs, Armenians, Greeks and Slavs suffered under Turkottoman brutality. These peoples were not allowed to speak their own languages. They were forcibly kept out of schools in order to maintain and intellectual superiority for the ruling Turkish governors. Only Turks could hold high office and, as the ruling class, were not required to pay taxes. The occupied peoples were slated for farming and labor and considered second-class citizens.
Turkey has for the past twenty years pursued full integration into the E.U. but failed miserably due to its human rights records.
In 1995, Turkish Deputy Chief of Staff, General Ahmet Corekci, criticized human rights organizations: “We’ll finish terrorism but we are being held back by democracy and human rights”. Israel’s Ariel Sharon, anyone?
The next time the Turks speak of another’s ‘cultural massacre’, one ought to remind them to shut up.
Firas Al-Atraqchi is a Muslim Canadian journalist living on the Pacific Coast.