Chomsky on Trial in Turkey

From February 12 to 15 Noam Chomsky visited Turkey. Chomsky came to Turkey to defend his publisher Fatih Tas at Aram Publishing who has published Chomsky’s recent book, under the title, American Interventionism. (September 2001) A judge of the State Security Court in Istanbul, Bekir Rayif Aldemir, had charged that the book was “propagating separatism” and filed a case. Aldemir asked for a one year sentence for the publisher. The book is a collection of Chomsky’s lectures. The European Union and other states that claim to stand up for freedom of expression have said nothing about the trial.


The Court asked for the prison sentence for Fatih Tas under the Anti-Terror Law, Article 8, for “propagating against the indivisible unity of the country, nation, and State of the Republic of Turkey.” The prosecution was focused on the chapter titles “possibilities of Peace in the Middle East.” This chapter is a lecture given at the University of Toledo in Toledo, Ohio on March 4, 2001, entitled “Prospects for Peace in the Middle East.” It was The First Annual Maryse Mikhail Lecture.


Chomsky writes: “…The third is Turkey and the Kurds. Throughout the l990s, this place saw the most serious crimes against Human Rights, a still ongoing process…The Kurds were heavily oppressed throughout the modern history of the Turkish State, but this changed in l984. In l984, the Turkish government started a full on war against the Kurdish population in the southeast. And this continued.”


“In reality, it still continues…This, as it can be clearly seen, did not have anything to do with the Cold War. It resulted from a counter uprising. An ethnic cleansing with the death of thousands of people, emigration of two or three million and the destruction of approximately 3,500 villages…”


This case, as many others against writers and journalists in Turkey, was brought, even though, Turkey has joined a number of agreements protecting freedom of expression. These include the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. It was also noted by some observers that it is ironic that George W. Bush has declared Turkey to be the role model for Afghanistan and all Muslim Nations, in the light of such actions.


Chomsky arrived in Istanbul on February and held a conference at the Marmara Hotel the same evening. There was a large gathering of several hundred outside the hotel of people who could not get in to hear the talk. Chomsky also appeared on two national TV stations, CNN Turk and NTV that same evening. Chomsky had called the charges “a very severe attack on the most elementary human and civil rights” and called on the Turkish authorities to withdraw the charges.


The hearing was held on February 13, with Chomsky in attendance along with several other journalists, intellectuals and writers. At the hearing, the judges wilted under the public and international scrutiny and the charges were dismissed in short order. It quickly became clear that the government was embarrassed by the trial and the Court quickly buckled under the press and public reaction. Some wondered if the charges had been intended to sabotage Turkey’s efforts to join the European Union. The second party in the Government with Prime Minister Ecevit’s Democratic Left Party is the ultra-nationalist National Action Party led by Devlet Baceli. This party has strongly resisted amendments to the law, recently passed, allowing the lifting of some restrictions on criticizing the state and the government. But cases against journalists are still being tried in the court. Chomsky said: “I hope that the decision will be an important step for freedom of thought.”


In recent years, the press has opened up in the country and most issues are widely debated in the print press and on private TV stations. However, the Kurdish issue, the military and politics and the religious fundamentalist issue are more sensitive and journalists quite frequently find themselves hauled into court and serve prison sentences for what they write. In fact the laws restricting the freedom of the press are based on laws from Mussolini’s Italy in the l930s. There is extremely stiff resistance among the right wing and some circles of the military to liberalize these laws to coincide with European Union standards. In two recent amendment packages, some progress may have been made, depending upon how the court interprets the laws. Turkey’s current constitution was handed down from the military during the early l980s.


Chomsky gave a talk at Bilgi University on 13 February following the court hearing. He reiterated recent themes, most of which can be read in recent interviews published on line on ZNET. These involved the role of the US globally and the so-called “war against terrorism.” The following is a summary of some of the questions and answers at the presentation.


On terrorism, Chomsky pointed out the terrorism is not the weapon of the weak, as is frequently argued, but actually the weapon of the strong. “Terrorism, in doctrinal terms, as used by the US, refers to the terrorism they carry out against us.” When the US carries out terrorism against others it is not considered terrorism. Chomsky pointed out that there is a perfectly logical definition of terrorism. It is an official US definition of terrorism taken from a US army manual. This fair enough definition of terrorism defines terrorism as “the calculated use of violence or the threat of violence to attain political or religious ideological goals through intimidation, coercion, or instilling fear.” The problem is that this definition cannot be accepted because if it is accepted, all the wrong consequences follow. It becomes clear that the US is the world’s greatest terrorist. In fact, the definition of “Low Intensity Warfare” as carried out by the US is very close to the army definition. It is “just another name for terrorism. This is how the confusion arises and so international conferences are held where academicians engage in all kinds of tortured attempts to define terrorism so that terrorism directed at the US is terrorism where it is not terrorism when the guns are pointed in the opposite direction.


On the role of Turkey in the Middle East, the US strategy for Turkey, going back some fifty years ago, was a dual role. It was one of the states encircling the USSR and helped to protect the oil resources for the US. The US took over from the British. The British had ruled by force with the idea of an Arab facade of weak dependent states with the pretense of independence. The US took over and added the idea of “local cops on the beat,” in case the Arab monarchies got into trouble. Turkey was the most important of these cops. Other cops were Israel, Pakistan, Iran, and Turkey. These states would take care of whoever got out of control.


Since l984, the arms flow to the region, especially Turkey and Israel, has been way up. US military aid to Turkey in the single year l997 was greater than in the entire period from l950 to l983, during the Cold War period. The arms flows declined after the Kurdish uprising was repressed and Turkey is now second in the world to Columbia in US military aid.


Iraq has the second largest oil reserves in the world. The US is now considering a major attack on Iraq using the Turkish military as a mercenary army. Turkey would get access to Iraqi oil fields. Turkey has received several billion dollars of new loans from the UMF. This strategy is very risky and may not take place. This relationship with the US as a client state will continue as long as Turkey is loyal ally. Israel is using Turkish bases, such as Incirlik, and may make a nuclear attack on Iran from there.


On the role multinational corporations in the world, multinationals go back to the British East India Company, but in their modern form, they began after World War II. They grew up under the US Marshall Plan. They were then based mostly in the rich countries. Later they moved to the Third World. They want to maximize profits, so naturally they want the worst possible conditions for workers and no environmental protection. They have to rely on the state. A survey found that all 100 top corporations on the Fortune 500 list had relied upon the national state and twenty of them had been saved from bankruptcy by state intervention.


Most of what goes as international trade in the statistics is not trade at all but transfers between branches of corporations. Some two-thirds of so-called trade between the US and Mexico is not trade at all. Essentially there is a legal obligation to be a moral monster as the head of the corporation to maximize profits for the stock holders. The Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI) is an effort that was negotiated in secret. Everybody knew about it in the big corporations but it was kept secret from the public. On the other hand, it was widely discussed in the business press. The reason was that people would be angry if they heard about it. Due to the Internet, the scheme was leaked at the last minute. It reached activists around the world and the big governments backed off. The business press called this a disaster. Now there are attempts to sneak the agreement in secretly to maximize the freedoms of investors to basically do anything they want around the world. Since the population are opposed, it must be done in secret. Intellectuals usually play the role of making sure that no one hears about it. What happens with it depends on the people. The MNCs must behave this way. They really have no choice. As for the collapsed Enron, the corporation had some 1000 tax havens around the world. It means that poor people pay the taxes and the corporations escape. This could be stopped if the rich countries wanted to stop it, but they do not want to and this is happening on an astonishing scale.


In the l990s, it was said that everybody was supposed to invest in the emerging markets in Latin America and elsewhere. The US Department of Commerce issued reports in the mid l990s, the years of excitement. They found that about half of the investment was going to tax havens, such as Bermuda and other small Caribbean Islands. These were tax havens and allowed corporations to launder money. The states that subsidizes these corporations do nothing about these operations and do not tell the public.


Chomsky was asked if the US will remain an open society. He cited the book by Harry Kalvin, A Worthy Tradition. Actually the record in the US is very poor in times of crisis. The l960s were better than other periods. The type of laws that Turkey has are similar to laws against what is called “seditious libel” in the US. Criticizing or insulting the state. These were struck down by the Earl Warren Supreme Court in l964. The US has been more free comparatively than most other states. The new law in the US is called “The US Patriot Act.” One can recognize the spirit of the law by the title. This is like the types of laws Turkey has restricting criticism of the government. They will be used against people if the people allow them to be used. One has to defend freedom or one will live under these laws. The camps at Guantanimo Bay, Cuba, are a violation of International Law. Chomsky stated that he thought George W. Bush would love to make the US into a duplicate of Turkey but he didn’t think he would get by with it. He also said he didn’t think Turkey would get by with it. The US, since September 11, has imprisoned 1100 people without trial of access to a lawyer.


On the US military draft in the l960s. Chomsky pointed out that he was not opposed to the draft. If you were going to have an army, then it is better to have a civilian army than a paid mercenary army, like the US has now. That is very dangerous. The US realized that a draft was not a good idea, because they needed professional killers, and so they needed mercenaries to carry out counterinsurgency type of war. The US moved to counterinsurgency warfare in Vietnam to put down revolutions around the world. Colonialism also used mercenary armies.


A citizen army did not work in Vietnam. The Army started to fall apart. The Army was afraid the whole Army would fall apart, that it would collapse, due to the opposition to the war at home. Soldiers just refused to fight and began to kill their officers in fragging and so on. When you have a draft you have to have citizens and make them believe in the war. So the US ended the draft and went to a volunteer army. The poor volunteer and so you get a very dangerous mercenary army whose members have been trained and disciplined to kill. The sons and daughters of the wealthy and the educated classes do not go into the military in the US.


The US also realized that they needed to use high technology weaponry. The reason is not really that fewer people get killed. The real reason is that wars should not involve people because the people will not accept aggressive war. With high tech, one does not see what is happening. So civilian costs, the “collateral damages,” are hidden and that is one of the main reasons.


Turkey is regarded as a model of defending the world against terrorism, even though it has carried out some of the worst violations of human rights in the Southeast. That is normal. If you deprive people of rights, then you will guarantee that there will be terrorism.


On February 14, Chomsky flew to Diyarbakir. Chomsky had said it would be a test of Turkey’s freedoms to see if he is allowed to visit the area. In Diyarbakir, Chomsky called upon Turkey to change its policies toward the Kurds and grand them language and cultural rights and stop ignoring the peace overtures made by the Kurdish Workers Policy. He said that the use of one’s own language us simply a natural right. The former leader of the Kurdish Worker’s Party, Abdullah Ocalan, is in a Turkish prison on Imrali Island in the Marmara Sea and has been sentenced to death.


Chomsky’s visit to Turkey was timely and there was broad hope that his visit would contribute to liberalization of restrictions on freedom of expression in the country. But this was not at all clear, given the strengthening of right-wing forces in recent years and their disregard for reforms needed to coincide with European Union requirements. It could be a real victory if the court would start dismissing cases against writers, journalists and intellectuals, as Chomsky’s case was dismissed, but this requires greater vigilance by the people to demand the freedom of expression as well as international pressure.




Robert Fisk, “Turkey Targets Chomsky,” January 24, 2002, Counter Punch,


Laura Flanders, “Persona Noam grata,” Working for Change, January 25, 2001.


Robin Kurd, “Noam Chomsky Caught On Turkish Legal Net,” Middle East Online, Dec. 5, 2001.


Ryan E. Smith, “Turkey publisher cited for remarks by linguist at UT,” Toledo Blade, January 9, 2002,


Mark Thomas, “When a Turk can lose his liberty for publishing Chomsky…” New Statesman, December 17, 2001.


“Chomsky assails Turkey’s Kurdish Policy,” Turkish Daily News, Feb. 15, 2002, p. 4.


“Chomsky to attend publisher’s trial,” January 9, 2002, Index on Censorship.


“Conspiracy and Crisis: Turkey and teh Kurdish Question: From the Nineties to the Present Day,” January 22, 2002, Aram Publisher,


“Prevent the Imprisonment of Fatih Tas,” www.stopcensorship. org.


“Publisher of Chomsky’s book acquitted,” Turkish Daily News, Feb. 14, 2002.

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