Last week, the chief prosecutor in Ankara launched an investigation into a public apology campaign that now has more than 26,000 signatures. Those who signed it apologize individually for what they call the "Great Catastrophe" that took place in 1915, during which hundreds of thousands of Armenian subjects of the Ottoman Empire were deported or massacred and their properties confiscated.
The investigation was launched on the request of six people from Ankara, who demanded that the campaigners be punished on the grounds of publicly "denigrating the Turkish nation," based on the "revised" Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code (TCK). Their "logic" is as follows: "What their conscience does not accept as denial is what the world claims to be genocide. Accusing the ‘great Turkish nation’ as genocidal amounts to demeaning that very nation."
Under "normal" circumstances, the prosecutor would be expected to throw such a ridiculous request into the waste basket and ignore it. Now, we face a possible case that raises some questions: If the Ministry of Justice gives a go-ahead (as the revised article requires), who will be indicted? Those who initiated the campaign or the 26,000 people who signed it? If the latter is chosen, where will those thousands be tried? In a stadium?
You are again in Kafka-land.
Meanwhile, a couple of days before the investigation, there was another rather remarkable development in Eskisehir, not far from Ankara. Niyazi Çapa, chairman of the Federation of Osmangazi Culture Associations, called a news conference with some members and friends. Wearing local outfits, they posed for pictures. In those pictures, you see people holding placards on which the following slogans were written: "No Armenians and Jews are allowed through this door" and "It is free for dogs to enter." Çapa proudly declared, "We have now shown that dogs are more valuable than them."
A couple of weeks ago, Canan Aritman, a deputy of the "social democratic" Republican People’s Party (CHP) entered the very same ground. Furious over President Abdullah Gül’s reaction to the public apology campaign as an "example of free speech," she had alleged that one of Gül’s grandparents was actually Armenian.
Justice and Development Party (AK Party) deputy Zeyid Aslan said the following about Jews when commenting on Gaza: "Those who begged for mercy before humankind for the suppression they suffered have now become barbarians. If history repeats itself tomorrow, with what face will they come and beg for mercy?"
These three examples are the most spectacular incidents that emerged recently. If one goes through the press in Turkey, one would easily find cases of racism and hate speech, particularly in response to the deplorable carnage and suffering in Gaza. These are the cases in which there is no longer a distinction between criticizing and condemning Israel’s acts and placing Jews on the firing line.
Racism and hate speech is — albeit rather vaguely — defined and criminalized in the TCK. Article 216 exists for the prosecutors to act upon. But it is treated as a frozen article that nobody cares or thinks about.
I hope to be mistaken, but I am afraid I have not seen any acts by the judiciary to start preventing the new rise of public racism and hatred, even though the three examples I have mentioned clearly fall into that category.
The absence of legal moves certainly encourages those who want to provoke violence. As is well known, the ongoing carnage in Gaza feeds the rage here in Turkey, where the reactions are most loudly articulated. The absence of prosecution also leads to a situation where the citizens (of Jewish, Armenian and other origins) no longer feel protected. The fear is remarkably visible within the Jewish community in Istanbul.
Ignorant or sensational or insensitive, the Turkish press has only paid attention to this part of the ugly reality that creeps into the Turkish psyche, often seeing racism and ethnic/religious hatred as legitimate. But Ankara must be made aware of the potential of the danger this poses. Who will warn the government, the judiciary? I have no answers but deep concern.(Zaman, Yavuz Baydar, January 28, 2009)