Thursday, January 29, 2009

Valley of the Fools

The Independent’s Nicholas Birch has an article today about Turkey’s latest political/media scandal: the on-air admission by actor Atilla Olgac that he killed ten Greek Cypriots – including a POW whose hands were tied behind his back – during the 1974 Turkish invasion of the island.

Olgac is one of the stars of the hit television series “Valley of the Wolves,” which tells the story of a group of gangsters led by Polat Alemdar, a patriotic undercover intelligence officer who infiltrates the mafia but starts operating in the murky zone where the interests of unsavory elements of the state and of organized crime meet. It's as if special agent Jack Bauer of the hit show "24" took over Tony Soprano's gang, but instead of engaging in protection rackets started bumping off enemies of the state. The violent show was even yanked off the air at one point for fear that it would stoke nationalist sentiments in Turkey to dangerous levels. (For more on the influential show, take a look at this article I wrote about it for the Christian Science Monitor in 2007.)

Olgac, known as the “tough wolf,” clearly has been spending too much time on the set. "The commander told me to kill on his orders," Olgac said during a recent tv interview. "The first kid I shot was a 19-year-old prisoner. His hands were tied behind his back. When I pointed my gun at him, he spat in my face. I shot him in the forehead." It was more of a macho boast than a confession.

Olgac quickly retracted his story, saying it was only a “scenario” that he was developing and trying out on the television audience. It was a nice try to kill the story, but things will likely not end there for him. As Birch writes:
“Ali Cakir, the Istanbul prosecutor, opened an investigation yesterday into the case, citing the Third Geneva Convention, related to the treatment of prisoners of war. Should evidence of wrongdoing emerge, the dossier will be sent to the International Criminal Court in The Hague, the prosecutor said. Mr Olgac would be the first Turk to face international justice for war crimes, if indicted.”
Olgac’s story brings new attention to the issue of the estimated 2,000 missing persons in Cyprus, victims of the violence of the 1960’s and 70’s that ended up splitting the island. As noted in an earlier post and in a story I recently wrote for the Monitor, the Committee on Missing Persons in Cyprus (CMP) – a Greek and Turkish Cypriot project to find the remains of the missing – is one of the few successful joint projects on the island.

Despite the project’s success in locating some of the missing, a complaint I heard from some of the people involved with the CMP is that Turkey has been less than forthcoming with whatever information it may have about any of the missing. That may change: After Olgac’s confession, Cyprus filed a case with the European Court of Human Rights demanding Turkey provide details of what it knows about the fate of those who disappeared.

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