Sunday, April 1, 2012

Mamoste Update


This picture taken from the 19 Ocak Kolektifi website
                Tonight is the goodbye party for my father-in-law’s sister. She came to Istanbul a month ago from Şırnak because she could not rest nor sleep nor drive from her head the image of her brother in jail. ‘I had so many nightmares,’ she said. So she came to see him for herself. We are sending her back now, but nothing has changed at Kandıra or anywhere else in Turkey. Erdoğan is allowing news channels to interview Kurds on the news again, but still shouting about how the operations against the ‘terrorists’ will continue and Turkey is appearing on news show after news show for having a record number of journalists in jail, all the while talking about how democratic it has become. How much has changed since Hrant Dink was vilified and killed? The worry of his family in the following pages is certainly something I witness on a daily basis with my in-laws.

When I first read this last chapter in the last chapter of Hrant Dink’s life, two things about it unsettled me.

One, was that a similar thing was happening to our family. As the book began to reveal in the last batch of narratives I translated, one sentence was pinched out of a series of essays, twisted, and used to launch a smear campaign that led to Hrant’s prosecution, villification, and eventual cold-blooded execution. When my father-in-law’s turn came in the endless round ups the government so disingenously calls the ‘KCK operations’, it was because of one line uttered during the course of a lecture at one of the Peace and Democracy Party’s Academies.  That line was,

 ‘We must organize our people and we must make sure that they are readied in a way that enables them to bring a people’s revolutionary war if necessary. If we believe that we can create a big explosion, we must not be afraid. We must see ourselves as a giant bomb.’

The explosion was a metaphor for political impact, the bomb for aggressive activism, but that didn’t matter to anyone. Taking it literally made the thousands of arrests and blackballing a righteous crusade, a safety precaution, and it stirred up the race anger of a society trained to be stirred up from elementary school. Thus, plucked out of context and spread through the media, it spawned the same sort of frightening calls for violence that Hrant’s did—From the paper Akşam ‘Terror Academies! The plans of the traitors have been decoded.  In oral lectures at their academies, the BDP teach young men how to be suicide bombers.’  From the Haberinvakti ‘Alarming details have surfaced about the founder of the Academies, Jew-blooded Büşra Ersanlı.’  Or in the Yeniçağ ‘Everyone knows the BDP=the PKK, and the PKK is in a state of war with the Turkish State.  Those who make war on the front must also establish security behind the lines.’ Calling Büşra Ersanlı a ‘Jew’ was key—it separated her from that saintly ‘Turkishness’. The same process was being followed as had been for Hrant—call them traitor, accuse them of being anything other than pure Turkish, and then, eliminate them.  For weeks, I had this sick feeling that that was exactly what the state planned for mamoste and all those arrested with him.
Rakip Zarakolu and Prof. Ersanlı--'accused' of being a Jew by the Yeniçağ

Which brings up the second point here that I found so unsettling. All the denials of the Armenian Genocide in Turkey suggest a people that know nothing about their past and simply cannot bring themselves to accept that their ancestors might have done something so heinous. What the whole process of Hrant’s murder suggests is that the machinery and mentality that spurred on the genocide has never been dismantled or even seen as wrong, but was just as ready to go into action in 2007 as it was in 1915.  Look, please, in the following translations, at how elements of the Turkish media manage to turn themselves into the victims—the endless playthings of the Great Powers who denigrate Turkishness --a precursor idea that also served as a justification of the mass killings of 1915. Notice also the careful way they quickly draw lines between Hrant and ‘the Turk’—nationalists go to his office to sing the National Anthem, ‘as if we were citizens of a different country,’ says Hrant’s friends who was there.  The words ‘secret internal enemies’—used also for the Armenians of 1915, or the Jews of the Third Reich--make a notable cameo, (and indeed appear in high school textbooks for the National Security class like the one I swiped from my last school—referring to Greeks, Armenians and Kurds). And then of course there is the way that the government used criminals and fringe groups to do their dirty work in both cases.  It is no hyperbole that Turkish historian Taner Akçam makes when he says that Hrant was the last victim of the genocide. 

Luckily, things have not taken a murderous turn for our captives, and the mainstream papers did not conduct the same sweeping smear campaign that they did against Hrant. Rags such as the Yeniçağ and Akşam do not so much form public opinion as confirm the fascism of their own cadre of readers.

Signs of a thaw (though far far too early to be optimistic) have arrived with the spring. There appears to be a flurry of political maneuvering around the Kurdish issue these days, which includes the KCK operations.  The US wants something from Turkey in regards to Iran and Syria and now suddenly Turkey is talking about signing a section of EU law that talks about the ‘local autonomy’ that Kurds have wanted for years, a policy that, until last week, could get you labeled a ‘splittist and a traitor that had to be stopped’ in papers such as the Akşam. Of course the Kurdish newspaper Özgür Gündem was shut down, then abruptly allowed to reopen. Everyone seems confused. Meanwhile, my wife’s family continues their visits to Kandıra prison week after week and things have gone stagnant—with the indictment of Ersanlı and Zarakolu, ours is surely soon to follow. They want 22 years for her for leading the KCK. What will they want for us?

The türkü Hrant discusses at the end of this installment comes from the Kurd poet Ahmet Arif—from a poem he wrote about being in prison. (Check out this page for some English examples—the translation here is my own, but—proudly—very close to the wonderful one on this website)

Haberin var mı taş duvar                
Demir kapı, kör pencere                  
Yastığım, ranzam, zincirim              
Uğruna ölümlere gidip geldiğim     
Zulamdaki mahzun resim               
Haberin var mı                                 
Görüşmecim, yeşil soğan göndermiş 
Karanfil kokuyor cıgaram                
Dağlarına bahar gelmiş memleketimin



Do you have news stone wall?

Iron door, blind window.

My pillow, my bunk, my chains.

The sad picture in my secret hiding place

For the sake of which I come and go to those deaths.

Do you have news?

My visitor brought green onions

My cigarette smells of cloves

They tell me spring has come to the mountains of my homeland



1 comment:

Gavin said...

"Mr. Gibbs is presently the most important and intrepid English-language writer wading in the murky swamps of modern Turkish politics." - Seemingly Inconsequential Member of the Human Race

"Mr. Gibbs is a goddamned thorn in my side." - Tayyip