Turkey and its contradictions
Turkey is indeed a land of contradictions and surprises. Prime Minister Erdoğan’s apology for the atrocities committed in Dersim, today’s Tunceli, in the 1930s against Kurds of mostly Alevi origin by the Turkish Armed Forces is a case in point. This development stands out even more since Turks are not wired to automatically apologize.
This apology, apart from anything else, should also open the way for further freedom of expression given that such a taboo subject has now been broached. There are developments, however, that point to the opposite.
While Erdoğan was issuing his “historic apology,” the trial of two prominent journalists, Nedim Şener and Ahmet Şık, kicked off in Istanbul, placing another dark cloud over freedom of expression and independent journalism in Turkey. The facts pertaining to the Şener-Şık case are well recorded in Hürriyet Daily News, so there is no need to repeat them here.
Suffice it to say domestic and international groups monitoring the freedom of press are not convinced these two journalists have done anything other than their jobs. Neither does the indictment against them hold water.
Coming back to the “Dersim apology,” one cannot help but be cynical. One cannot help wondering if the whole subject of Dersim would have come up were it not spurred by the ideological fighting between the Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its nemesis, the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP).
I agree with the argument that Erdoğan would not have come to this “enlightened” position on Dersim if he were not driven by a desire to get at the “Kemalist CHP,” which had absolute power in the 1930s when the slaughter took place. If Erdoğan’s intentions were indeed pure, then he and his AKP should also start looking objectively at the events of 1915 involving the Armenians, for example.
It is interesting, of course, that Parliament Speaker Cemil Çiçek should have said recently that Turkey has no problem facing up to its past and the events of 1915 were best left for scholars to unfold.
This, however, is the same Çiçek who in 2005 as justice minister told Parliament the organizers of a conference at Bosphorus University on Armenians were “backstabbers.” It is not clear, therefore, if Mr. Çiçek, who is of a nationalist rather than Islamist bent, has changed for the better or was merely engaged in politicking.
Whatever the reason, it is still good that Prime Minister Erdoğan has lifted the shroud on an ugly episode of Turkish history that could not be talked about objectively until recently. There are, of course, other ugly episodes that have to be looked at, and not just that of 1915.
The public still does not have the full story of the crimes committed by military officials, after the three coups that happened in the name of “saving Turkey from sedition.” There are dark moments that have to do with the Kurds, Alevis, Greeks, Assyrians and others.
It remains to be seen, therefore, if there is a real facing up to historical facts or if, in the end, it is all politics of the “switch-on-switch-off-as-required” variety. One is inclined to think the latter, but given this is a country of glaring contradictions and unexpected surprises it is still best to leave the door open to all possibilities.