Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Interview with Mamoste Part 2

Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth

            Here is the long delayed second part to the interview with my father-in-law, Kemal Seven (Mamoste) from the Özgür Gündem newspaper—translated into English.

I started this right after my journey to the South and I couldn’t help but notice the connections between the South and the Kurds—first and foremost the 20,000 strong Kurdish community we visited in Nashville (more on that later), but also the Civil Rights movement where an entire race of people threw off the chains of a century of oppressive politics.

 I mailed a postcard to Mamoste that I picked up while I was at the Civil Rights Institute in Birmingham, Alabama. On the front was a picture of Reverend Shuttlesworth, the preacher of the 16th Street Baptist Church. He was instrumental in the legendary Freedom Rides—the bus trips across country by mixed white and black opponents of segregation.  The busses were attacked in Anniston (another Alabama town) and Birmingham, the activists beaten nearly to death. (The institute shows a rather nauseating film of the battered and pulpy face of one young white activist after the Anniston beatings)  Many bus companies refused to let them ride out of fear. Shuttlesworth’s moral support was instrumental in their continuation and success.

Protesters were met with tear gas and tanks—like the protesters of  Diyarbakır. In the museum I saw a police tank like the ones that patrol the streets of Southeast Turkey. Apparently they were used profusely by Birmingham’s mayor. The infamous Children’s March—when unarmed child protesters were attacked with German shepherds and fire hoses galvanized the whole nation.

And then the terrorism.

Whites bombed Shuttlesworth’s home and his church for daring to speak out against segregation. The church bombing killed four little girls. Show trials and kangaroo courts ensued—the last of the terrorist bombers was only tried in 2001.  Looking at Turkey’s kangaroo courts today, the struggle on the streets, the violence, one cannot help but be reminded a little at least of the South, of the United States at that time.

Ah, and just what are those kangaroo courts up to these days?

Journalist Ece Temelkuran wrote rather eloquently in a recent article in Al Akhbar English about the Silivri Prison in Istanbul working hard to add new cells. Clearly they are looking forward to more guests. Our aunt is visiting from Şırnak at the moment and says new prisons are under construction there as well. As the CHP’s Kılıçdaroğlu says, the country is becoming an open air prison.

Temelkuran also writes about Turkey’s journalists being driven out of work when they dare to criticize the government. She herself was fired from Haber Türk. Most recently Nuray Mert was let go by the Milliyet newspaper, who couldn’t take the government pressure any longer (Mert was widely known for drawing attention to the state’s increasingly autocratic bent).

I found it curious that Mamoste referred to the ‘Sultanate’ in his interview. It seemed a throwback in an age when you have a wide variety of dictatorial examples to draw from (everyone in America causes everyone else ‘Hitler’ for example) But I think the term is more than mere name-calling—he’s bringing attention to something the Republic denies, a continuity with the dictatorial, old world Sultans who came before, a connection which Kemalists claim was forever obliterated by their hero. But how could there NOT be a continuity? You cannot sever centuries of history from your country’s soul.

Before I get to the second part of Mamoste’s interview, take a gander at what Mark Twain had to write on his visit to Istanbul in Innocents Abroad during his travels after the Civil War in the final connection I will draw between mamoste and the South. This was published over one hundred and forty years ago—when Sultan Abdul Aziz the First was in power, a relatively progressive time with the Tazminat Reforms struggling to modernize the creaking Empire. Tell me what’s different. Tell me that Mamoste’s reference to the Sultanate is not still germaine today.

‘There is one paper published here in the English language--The Levant Herald--and there are generally a number of Greek and a few French papers rising and falling, struggling up and falling again. Newspapers are not popular with the Sultan's Government. They do not understand journalism. The proverb says, "The unknown is always great." To the court, the newspaper is a mysterious and rascally institution. They know what a pestilence is, because they have one occasionally that thins the people out at the rate of two thousand a day, and they regard a newspaper as a mild form of pestilence. When it goes astray, they suppress it--pounce upon it without warning, and throttle it. When it don't go astray for a long time, they get suspicious and throttle it anyhow, because they think it is hatching deviltry. Imagine the Grand Vizier in solemn council with the magnates of the realm, spelling his way through the hated newspaper, and finally delivering his profound decision: "This thing means mischief --it is too darkly, too suspiciously inoffensive--suppress it! Warn the publisher that we can not have this sort of thing: put the editor in prison!"

The newspaper business has its inconveniences in Constantinople. Two Greek papers and one French one were suppressed here within a few days of each other. No victories of the Cretans are allowed to be printed. From time to time the Grand Vizier sends a notice to the various editors that the Cretan insurrection is entirely suppressed, and although that editor knows better, he still has to print the notice. The Levant Herald is too fond of speaking praisefully of Americans to be popular with the Sultan, who does not relish our sympathy with the Cretans, and therefore that paper has to be particularly circumspect in order to keep out of trouble. Once the editor, forgetting the official notice in his paper that the Cretans were crushed out, printed a letter of a very different tenor, from the American Consul in Crete, and was fined two hundred and fifty dollars for it. Shortly he printed another from the same source and was imprisoned three months for his pains. I think I could get the assistant editorship of the Levant Herald, but I am going to try to worry along without it.’   

Part 2—Interview with Kemal Seven, Özgür Gündem.  February 1st, 2012

What is the response to the arrests of academicians like Professor Büşra Ersanlı on the justification that they were giving lessons at the academies?

Our academies, which are legal as far as they are lawful, have become the focus of interest in the world of knowledge, opening their doors to people of knowledge like Professor Ersanlı.  As we proceed, our intellectuals, writers, and scientists will have a positive influence and the door will be opened to an increase in both the participants and in the respect our academies command among the public. The result? The strengthening of our push toward an alternative education, an alternative politics, an alternative system which unsettles those who want to maintain the status quo.

With that in mind, what is the significance of the reaction shown by the academic world against this?

Sadly, the organizational level of our civil society is not effective enough to transform itself into a source of democratic pressure. Even under the existing conditions, however, the efforts on behalf of Professors Ersanlı and Zarakolu are reason enough for positive reactions. The press conferences, media activities, and marches organized by supporters from the faculty, from different foundations and other sectors is a positive sign. A group of professors have even given symbolic lessons at the academies in the name of not keeping silent. We are very grateful to them. We want that similar reactions and support through different actions continue to grow without delay. In order that we do not fall into the helplessness of that German priest who did not speak up against the policies of Hitler, every sensitive person must take their place in the organized struggle. Lovers of democracy, good-hearted academics like Professor Bursanlı are not easy to come by.

How must the academies go on in light of these operations?

I have full faith that a new and different model for living, of Kurdish origin, will be found soon--one that will warm us and light our way in this darkest and coldest of nights. Neither the global capitalist powers, who every day make the world more and more unlivable, nor those segments given to  betrayal and hypocrisy will make us give up our ideology which binds us by the heart and which we see as the salvation of humanity. Democratic Autonomy will enable the majority of society--a revolutionary, free, equal and ecologic society--to understand and take command of their lives to such a degree that it will open a new path to humanity. Our political academies, which are our hope for this utopia, must now reach a wider segment of society in a more planned, conscious, organized, decisive, and all-embracing way. With our strengthened teaching staff and new mechanisms, we must continue to widen our efforts, never forgetting our mission to become centers of knowledge and enlightenment for the people.

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