Ece Temelkuran on Turkey’s minority issues

There’s a fascinating and wide-ranging interview with Turkish journalist Ece Temelkuran on the New Left Project‘s website. Temelkuran has written extensively on Turkey’s issues with minorities and a lot on her book about Armenia. A few choice excerpts follow.

On the Armenian issue in Turkey today:

There is huge propaganda in the schools against Armenians, but it’s not only that. It’s on the street, it’s everywhere. ‘Armenian’ is a curse word in Turkish, still. And when you ask people about Armenians, you get this blank expression. It’s like you’ve entered the wrong password and their brain just stops, and the password is ‘Armenian’. They go blank. Especially in south-east Turkey, when you see an Armenian church and ask about it people will say ‘oh, it’s prehistoric’, although it dates back only to 1915. And when you insist on this question – ‘this is an Armenian church’, ‘where are the Armenians?’, etc. – if they don’t get angry with you they will say, ‘oh, the Armenians are gone. They are gone.’ And if you ask, ‘where did they go?’ ‘They went over the bridge’. And beyond that, it’s blank again. In Istanbul there are many Armenian buildings and you don’t really see them or think about them.

On Kurds and Armenians:

Well, when it comes to the Armenians the Kurds were also the perpetrators once. Today, politically, they have accepted their responsibility, while the state hasn’t yet. The BDP, a Kurdish party, offered such a declaration, acknowledging that ‘our ancestors did such and such to Armenians, and we apologise for that’. More broadly, for the time being, there is this undercurrent among people in Turkey, and it’s also true for Kurds, where people are looking back to try and discover their roots. And having Armenian roots became kind of ‘hip’. Now and then I hear people saying, ‘you know what? My grandmother had no relatives, so we might be Armenian’, or ‘I remember my grandfather talking in a weird language, so we might be Armenian too’. Especially after the death of Hrant [Dink, a prominent Turkish-Armenian journalist gunned down in 2007 by a Turkish nationalist], becoming Armenian started to be ‘cool’, and I think this represents another role for Turkish people – they don’t want to be the ‘perpetrators’ after Hrant’s death, because that killing touched their hearts, so they want to move to the ‘victim’ side by having Armenian roots.

On coming from the oppressor’s side:

Writing the book was intellectually challenging as well, because there was this ontological security issue. Although I don’t represent anyone but me, I was coming from the ‘side’ of the perpetrator, and I was telling the story of the oppressed. So do I have the right to do that? How should I do that? During my time in Oxford Bernhard Schlink, the writer of The Reader – he’s a German jurist and an author – was there giving seminars on collective memory and collective guilt, and I joined one of them. He was talking about his guilt, and his generation’s guilt, over the Holocaust. After a while, following the speech, a Palestinian Oxford student asked him what he thought about the ‘Holocaust industry’, and he said ‘there is no such thing’. I asked a question, ‘what do you think about the fact that a nation is building up its hostile foreign policy on your feeling of guilt?’ He said, ‘I don’t want to talk about it’ – no, he said ‘I cannot talk about it, because I am German.’ So that was a great example of this phenomenon where if you’re coming from the perpetrator’s side you’re obliged to shut up and not talk about it. And I don’t think that’s correct – we should talk about it.

That’s probably enough excerpts. Read the whole interview here.

I think the issues surrounding minorities in Turkey are, to a certain extent, unique because of the intensity of Turkish nationalism. Nationalism plays a bigger role in social consciousness here than it does in any other country I’ve been to, possibly with the exception of Israel. Chauvinism exists everywhere (we all know how common it is in the U.S.) but in relatively new nation-states like Turkey (and Israel) it is more pronounced, more public and more vehement.


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Filed under Human Rights, Turkey

The first from Istanbul

After months of (sort of) planning and anticipating, Helen and I have finally arrived and begun settling ourselves in Istanbul. We’ve got a small but pleasant apartment in a hip and rapidly gentrifying neighborhood, not unlike so many of our friends living in New York. The difference is that we have a balcony from which we can watch tankers and ferries glide along the Bosphorus. We’re still getting our bearings in Istanbul, learning how to get around, picking up basic phrases getting familiar with the sights and sounds and smells of Turkey’s largest city.

This seems like an appropriate time to resume my blogging endeavors and to, yet again, attempt to make the upkeep of this blog a regular habit. I’ll start by trying to explain why I’m here. Over the past few months as people asked me why Helen and I were moving to Istanbul of all places, I would often just reply with “Why not?” But there are actual reasons we decided to come to a totally new place where neither of us speak the language (yet) or have any experience.

I’ll admit off the bat that part of why we chose Istanbul is because the city seems fabulous. The weather and the food appeal to us. There is an endless supply of nice restaurants and pleasant bars and places to sit and look at the water. And there’s nothing wrong with moving to a place because it seems like a nice place to live.

There are, of course, more substantial reasons why we chose Istanbul. For Helen, an artist, the city has a large and growing arts community that is innovative and important. The neighborhood where we are now living is teeming with galleries and we’re about a quarter mile from a world-class modern art museum.

But why did I want to move here? As a journalist, I think that Turkey is an important place to be, in many ways much more important than Egypt, where I was living and working last year. This is actually the real point I wanted to make with this blog post, though I’ve kind of buried the lead now.

As the U.S. declines and other countries rise, the world is becoming ever more multipolar. This isn’t a secret and it’s not some kind of out there theory, it’s just what’s happening. For better or worse (I think for better), the United States can no longer be the sole important country in the world and other capitals will have to pick up the slack. Turkey, because of its size, its economy, its geography, is picking up a lot of this slack. I think it will be interesting to see the reconfiguring international order from this vantage point.

So there you have it. A re-inaugural blog post outlining what we’re doing here. I hope you’ll be able to follow along as I blog about my and Helen’s life together on the shores of the Bosphorus and Turkish politics, along with plenty of other stuff about food and Egypt and folk music and everything else.


Photo from my flickr account.


Filed under Life Abroad, Personal Stuff, Turkey, Welcomes

For dinner? World domination

For some reason I find it really heartwarming that Bill and Hillary Clinton have exactly the same inane convesrations as Helen and I.

Politico runs the transcript from an interview Secretary Clinton did with some talk show hosts in Australia:

QUESTION: It all requires excellent patience, great negotiation skills. Your husband also possesses those qualities. When you two can’t agree on what to get for takeaway dinner, who wins out in that type of negotiation?

SECRETARY CLINTON: We practice different models of negotiation around important issues like that.


SECRETARY CLINTON: Because if I were to say to him, as I have on many occasions, “What shall we have for dinner tonight?” If he says to me, “Oh, I don’t care; you choose,” I know that’s a really bad answer, because then I’m stuck with the responsibility.


SECRETARY CLINTON: So I will come back and I’ll say, “All right. Well, so how do you feel about Chinese — ”

QUESTION: Oh, good.

SECRETARY CLINTON: “ — or Mexican or Italian?” And if he says a second time, “I really, really don’t care,” then I will go choose. Now, contrarily, if he says to me, “What do you want for dinner tonight,” I will say, “What do you want?” Then he’ll go, “Well, I was thinking of maybe picking up some Thai.” And if I’m in a good humor, I’ll say, “That’s fine.” But if I am feeling not enthusiastic about Thai, I’ll say, “Well, maybe we should consider something else.” And he’ll say, “Well, then you choose.” (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Do you ever eat before midnight? (Laughter.)

SECRETARY CLINTON: We are very late eaters. Yes, we do. I mean, this could go on — this goes on for some time.

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Filed under American Politics, Personal Stuff

The emperor travels

Maybe it’s gauche to attribute the unending stream of virulence toward Barack Obama to racism. But that hasn’t stopped Jimmy Carter and it certainly won’t stop me.

The latest–and maybe stupidest–to be taken up by the right wing is that Obama’s trip to East Asia is a boondoggle that will cost $200 million per day. Ignore that we spend about $200 million a day on the war in Afghanistan (though no one ever mentions that). But this is the case being peddled by Republicans and right-wing pundits this week. While I watched Sean Hannity last night, some moron started spewing numbers about Obama traveling with an entourage of 3,000 people and renting out every room in the Taj Mahal hotel. Blah blah blah blah.

What’s this have to do with race? I think that the ultimate aim of this meme is to convey an image of Barack Obama as an Oriental despot traveling through the dusty streets of India and Indonesia on the back of an elephant, trailed by a team of eunuchs who clip his toenails. It’s a attempt to link the fiscal conservative current to the Obama-as-Muslim current. That it has absolutely no basis in fact isn’t stopping anyone. Emperor Akbar Obama. Be scared.

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Filed under American Politics, Diplomacy

A view of the Nile NASA’s International Space Station. I feel like you can almost see Cairo’s traffic.

(Via Grinding.)

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Filed under Egypt

The enemy of my enemy is my…

The U.S. State Department announced yesterday that it has designated the Iranian Baluch group Jundullah a terrorist organization. This makes a lot of sense considering that Jundullah is known for suicide bombings, beheadings and other hallmarks of many of the other radical groups the U.S. designates as terrorists. The Baluch separatist group might even have ties to al Qaeda.

The State Department release said:

Since its inception in 2003, Jundallah has engaged in numerous attacks resulting in the death and maiming of scores of Iranian civilians and government officials, primarily in Iran’s Sistan va Balochistan province. Jundallah uses a variety of terrorist tactics, including suicide bombings, ambushes, kidnappings and targeted assassinations. In May 2009, Jundallah attacked the crowded Shiite Amir al-Mo’menin mosque in Zahedan, destroying the mosque and killing and wounding numerous worshipers. An October 2009 bomb attack which killed more than 40 people was reportedly the deadliest terrorist attack in Iran since the 1980s. Following the February 2010 capture by Iranian authorities of Jundallah’s ex-leader, Abdul Malik Rigi, the group selected a new leader, al-Hajj Mohammed Dhahir Baluch, and confirmed its commitment to continue its terrorist activities. In July 2010, Jundallah attacked the Grand Mosque in Zahedan, killing approximately 30 and injuring hundreds.

What the State Department doesn’t mention, however, is that it’s commonly believed that the CIA supports Jundullah’s activities in an attempt to destabilize the Iranian government. Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist Seymour Hersh reported in the New Yorker in July 2008 that Jundullah (and other domestic Iranian rebel groups) receive funding and support from Langley.

Maybe the Obama administration has cut back on its predecessor’s covert programs like support for Iranian terrorist group. Politico cites an unnamed Washington-based Iran expert saying that the designation of Jundullah as a terrorist group shows that “one bureaucratic fight in favor of engagement was won.” It’s a place to start.

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Filed under Diplomacy, Iran, Terrorism

A sickening feeling, indeed

While much of the world talks about the Republicans elected last night, one of the Republicans elected in 2000 is dropping some stunning revelations. Apparently, even President George W. Bush knew that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, according to reports based on leaks of his memoir, which is due to be released next week.

The former president writes that he has “a sickening feeling” when he thinks about the absence of WMDs in Iraq, which makes his joking about the topic in 2004 all the stranger. None of this is to say that Bush regrets the war. The early reports on the memoir say that he defends the decision to invade Iraq and continues to believe that Iraqis are better off in post-Saddam Iraq. Some of the evidence that came out in the recent WikiLeaks dump, however, suggests that that might be a tough sell to Iraqis.

Bush also defends the decision to waterboard suspected 9/11 mastermind Khaled Sheikh Mohammed. The president’s response when asked if Mohammed should undergo this so-called enhanced interrogation technique? “Damn right.”

It will be interesting to see what else Bush’s new memoir reveals about the inner workings of his Oval Office (and brain).

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Filed under Iraq