Monday, January 19, 2009

"We Are All Hrant Dink"

Today marks the two-year anniversary of journalist Hrant Dink's death. Nationalist thugs shot down Dink outside his house, and after their arrest, appeared in posed photographs with smiling police. Police and security forces were involved in Dink's death, but so far only two gendarmerie officers have been put on trial. Charges widened this past December when the Trabzon Chief Prosecutor's Office launched a preliminary investigation into Ali Öz, former Trabzon Gendarme Regiment Commander. Speculation exists that the Ergenekon gang executed the assassination, though details -- as with other charges against the group -- are murky, and obscured by politics.

In Hürriyet, Dink's lawyer, Fethiye Çetin, recounts Dink's fear a few days before his death. Bianet offers a summary of trial proceedings thus far. Memorial demonstrations will occur throughout Turkey.

Worth re-posting on this occasion are Ece Temelkuran's reflections on Dink's death, excerpted from a column she wrote in the Guardian last January.
Recently, a couple of high school students sliced their fingers and made themselves bleed on purpose. They used their blood to paint a Turkish flag. It wasn't a small one, either. They framed the picture and sent it to the chief of military. He cried when he received the "bloody mail"; and reporters were there to witness and report about the sacred flag.

The story of the bleeding didn't end there, though. A few days ago, a conservative and nationalist newspaper (Tercüman) decided to print the picture of the flag drawn with children's blood. And so the blood multiplied as the circulation of the newspaper increased.

If this doesn't seem strange at first, a bit of perspective soon allows you to see the apocalyptic scenery here, which resembles Bosch's paintings of hell. And you realise that the apocalypse started when our friend the Armenian journalist Hrant Dink was shot. He was shot a year ago this week, and a Hollywood-like series of events ensued. People who were touched by the horrible incident were on streets, thousands of them shouting the slogan: "We are all Armenian, We are all Hrant Dink." The slogan touched the weakest link in Turkish nationalism and a counter-slogan by the established writers and prominent opinion leaders was brought to the public stage: "We are all Turks!"

The fever of McCarthyism, as we all know, is the most contagious fever of all and the Turkish public was contaminated overwhelmingly. Soon after this, and just before the elections, the protest demonstrations against the ruling party AKP's Islamisation policies - called "mild Islam" - were combined with this nationalist uprising under the name of "flag meetings". All of a sudden, things got out of control and the streets were full of young rednecks calling to account anyone who didn't hang flags from their balconies. One night Istanbul's Kurdish districts almost reached boiling point, as young men gathered in front of buildings and shouted for Kurdish people to come out. While the media didn't do anything to praise these scenes, it still - with the exception of a few columnists who dared to speak of their concern about the nationalist atmosphere - approved the driving force behind them. Things got so serious that I remember how one night, during a political meeting of intellectuals in Istanbul, we talked about establishing an emergency network so that if something should happen to one of us the others would find out about it.

After a little while we understood what this contrived crisis was about. The army, together with AKP, decided to carry out a big campaign against PKK. The war began. The news bulletins immediately took on the appearance of Fox TV during the Iraq invasion. "We" was the subject, "cleaning" was the verb and the targeted object was always "them", as if Kurds don't live in Turkey. As if the militants of PKK who are bombed don't have relatives in the Kurdish part of Turkey. But who would dare to ask such questions when the streets were strewn with flags and the nationalist gangs were made out to be the "legitimate" ones?

The war - or, as they call it, the "operation" - is still going on: a hygenic war where you see only the rifles, bombs and thermal camera footage broadcast on the TV news, accompanied by a primitive militaristic commentary. Not forgetting, of course, the footage of martyrs' coffins with sad music playing in the background, as if this whole thing is not happening to us but is part of some Middle Eastern version of Saving Private Ryan. But the film that began with the shooting of Hrant and the nationalist uprising that followed brought us to where we are now. Schoolchildren, probably with their parents' and teachers' consent, send their blood to the chief of the army in a glittering frame.

This is the apocalypse of Turkey. The apocalypse in which most of us cannot dare to say that blood only stains a flag.

And if the Turkish flag needed to be a deeper shade of red, Hrant's blood was more than enough. My dear friend was writing his last article 52 weeks ago, saying that his heart was a "timid pigeon" waiting for bad things to happen. Now, after his death, we have all stepped into an era where I can say: "They shoot the pigeons, don't they."

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