Monday, December 22, 2008

A Turkish Mea Culpa?

A group of Turkish academics and intellectuals have launched an online campaign that allows Turks to sign on to an apology for the "great catastrophe" that the Armenians suffered during World War I. The apology, now signed by more than 15,000, studiously avoids the "G" word, but it is being seen as another important step in making the Armenian issue less of a taboo in Turkey.

The tight social, political and legal limits that control the discussion of the Armenian issue in Turkey have slowly been expanding over the last few years, although frequently it has felt like a one step forward, two steps back kind of dynamic. This was painfully evident in the case of murdered Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink, whose insistent efforts to normalize the issue earned him three bullets in the back of his head.

The Armenian issue also seems to have a way of exposing an intolerant streak in Turkish society. A group of retired ambassadors, who are issuing their own counter-petition, have called the signers of the apology campaign "traitors." Canan Aritman, a member of parliament with the secularist Republican People's Party (CHP), has upped the ante: after Turkish president Abdullah Gul refused to criticize the online apology, saying the signers had a right to post it, Aritman accused the president of being -- heaven forbid -- an "Armenian." "Investigate the ethnic origin of the president's mother and you will see," she said.

Gul quickly responded, saying all Turkish citizens are equal, no matter what their background. Just to be safe, though, he also added that both his mother and father come from families that have been Muslim and Turkish for "centuries." Good to know. (UPDATE -- Gul is now suing Aritman, for the symbolic sum of 1 lira, claiming a "heavy assault" on his "personal and family values, honor and reputation.") 

There have been calls for the CHP to censure Aritman. So far, the party has not done that. The MP, meanwhile, remains unapologetic. "If I had seen [Gul], I would have thrown a shoe at him," she was quoted as saying after her initial remarks were criticized. 

As an antidote to Aritman's mind-numbing blather, read Sahin Alpay's thoughtful piece in Today's Zaman about why he decided to sign the online apology.

1 comment:

Richard said...

The Armenians use the term Մեծ Եղեռն (Medz Yeghern, or "Great Calamity") for the genocide. Presumably this is why the petition calls it the Great Catastrophe.

It's as if the word Shoah ('Calamity') were used instead of the 'Holocaust' to describe the destruction of the Jews during WW2.