Turkey After Chomsky’s Visit

On 2 November 2001, a lawsuit was brought against the book titled “American Interventionism” which is a compilation of various articles of Prof. Noam Chomsky, with accusations of “propaganda against the indivisible unity of country, nation and State of Republic of Turkey.” Chomsky visited Turkey between 12-14 of January 2002 to attend the court as the writer of the book and to attend various conferences and interviews. This visit is of course an extremely important event and coincided with a period that the state of Turkey is escalating the anti-democratic repressive acts by US support in the aftermath of September, the 11th , while at the same time the government is claming that it is doing its best in the route towards democratization for its admittance to European Union (EU).

However the reason for Chomsky’s visit was an indication of how serious the repression is in Turkey on freedom of speech in general and on discussing the Kurdish problem in particular. The international solidarity campaign against the prosecution of Aram Publishing House supported by hundreds of intellectuals showed that the problem gained international recognition. On top of these solidarity acts, the European Parliament involvement in the lawsuit, asking Aram Publishing House if it requires international observers to the court, increased the tension on the side of the Turkish State.

Before the visit, the mainstream media was writing that the lawsuit was a big strategic mistake and it ruined the prestige of Turkey. Hurriyet, the leading newspaper of the mainstream media was assessing the oncoming visit as: “We have been so embarrassed in the eyes of the whole world.” (24th Jan 2002) If one considers the current legislation and official policies, the repression on freedom of speech and lawsuits against publishers and authors resulting in heavy verdicts are common phenomena, and these repressive acts are conceived as “internal affairs.” However, the author of the book being Chomsky made the issue international in this case, and the mainstream media was criticizing the mistake made by the prosecuting attorney just because of that reason, not because of the violation of the universal human right of freedom of statement.

Just by chance, Chomsky’s visit coincided with the “Meeting of Civilizations” organized by the Turkish Foreign Ministry. “Meeting of Civilizations” seems to be an antithesis to the “Clash of Civilizations”. But the result of the meeting was not brilliant. There were plenty of reasons for Turkey being conceived by other states as the “Trojan Horse” of USA, and because of that conception the meeting was not trustworthy, and ended in a huge uncertainty without any positive outcome. However it has been used to shadow Chomsky’s visit to prevent it from becoming the first item in the agenda. In addition, Ýt is not easy to understand the importance of the international solidarity campaign against the repression on the freedom of speech in Turkey, because the campaign was simply neglected by the mainstream media.

The tactic of marginalization has been adopted by the mainstream media to prevent Chomsky’s visit to become an important issue. Of course there were examples of provocative counter-campaigning. In the Star mainstream daily newspaper, Huseyin Kacar was writing in a commentary that “Chomsky spoke like Apo” and “he even overtook Apo,” or “Chomsky, who spoke with the language of Abdullah Ocalan, the head of the bloody terror organization.” But one should admit that such provocative attempts were secondary and the main attitude was to survive the disaster with little damage.

As a variant of the marginalization tactic, it was said that he is not someone who should be exaggerated so much. Serdar Turgut, in his commentary in Hurriyet on 30th of January was treating Chomsky as being an old naughty man who hates his country so much up to the point that he loses his rationality. He was winding up his article saying that “There is now no concern for Chomsky, who once was a big man of struggle but is now a tragic figure, to come here and stay as long as he wants, because now he is quite unimportant.” It is not a coincidence that Ertugrul Ozkok, the general director of the daily newspaper Hurriyet was repeating the same opinions. The message to the reader was clear: “We are not marginalizing Chomsky, he is already marginal. “

Only a small proportion of the mainstream media workers, acting inside the borders drawn for them, tried to annihilate the tactic of marginalization. However, they were reluctant on emphasizing the subject of the lawsuit, which is “separatism.” Finally the managers of the mainstream media won and what a world-renowned intellectual like Chomsky was saying was prohibited from reaching the reader. The establishment did not want everybody to hear what he was saying about the world affairs and what’s going on in Turkey in particular. If what he was saying was reflected in the media explicitly and uncensored, there would be enough evidence against him to be a permanent attendee of the State Security Court. However it was unbearable for the state when he mentioned “autonomous Kurdistan” in Diyarbakir, and an investigation has been launched by the State Security Court.

The charges against the Publishing House has been dropped in the first session of the lawsuit, and this reflects the desire to send Chomsky back home without any problem, and this attitude resulted in some involuntary concessions on the side of the State. For example, he was using some critical expressions like “ethnic cleansing” and “unofficial capital of Kurds, Diyarbakir,” which could not be accepted by the state, the verdict which dropped all charges of separatism brought against Fatih Tas, the owner of the publishing house, is a gain on behalf of freedom of statement. By using this lawsuit as an example, lawyers will be able to claim that the expressions that criticize the policies of Turkish State applied against Kurds can not be counted as offense.

As a result, the repressive system that is used to suffocate the dissident intellectuals of Turkish nationality until they are tamed, could not adopt a similar attitude against Chomsky. Chomsky’s being a US citizen was not the only reason. His revolutionary work in the field of linguistics caused him to take his place among the most influential intellectuals of the previous century. Considering his political activities, one can compare him with a scientist like Bertrand Russell. One should also emphasize that he lost nothing from his activity in the new century. This can be understood from his determination during the press points and the extraordinary performance he was exhibiting during his visit. To sentence his writings means to instigate a global activism, and the Turkish state that is claiming that the internal repression is against terrorism, could not dare that.

Dissidents know very well that it is not an easy thing to play in the field of mainstream media. The outcome is seldom satisfactory and they usually fall into one of various traps. The Istanbul part of Chomsky’s visit was very convenient for someone to be harassed by the mainstream media. It consists of an incredible helter-skelter, and dissident circles could only penetrate into this program in just a few instances. It was not also very meaningful for the dissident circles to queue for an interview with Chomsky. The main problem was the inability of the dissident circles to make a program of their own by working together. If we put the Diyarbakir part of the visit aside, Aram also is sharing the responsibility. Aram, although lately, realized that the organization committee is attributing so much importance to mainstream media, however it could not change the way things are going on.

One should admit that the organization committee in Istanbul was facing a serious problem. The management of the mainstream media was obeying the order to “Marginalize.” The attitude of the mainstream media was consistent. What Chomsky says about US-Turkey relations, about human rights violations in Turkey, about PKK, the Kurdish Problem, education in mother’s tongue is not easy to swallow. The most frightening thing for the official circles was Chomsky’s will to go to Diyarbakir where he describes as the unofficial capital of the Kurds. More frightening was the involvement of Diyarbakir Democracy Platform, which consists of 32 NGOs. There, Chomsky is relieved from the siege of mainstream media, he mixed with the people on the street, made some observations and exchange of ideas in a more relaxed tempo. There were no reasons there for the dissident circles to feel excluded.

One should admit that Chomsky’s Turkey visit was successful and boosted the morale for the dissidents struggling for freedom. The team which controlled the Istanbul part of the visit was consisting of some Turkish intellectuals like Ragýp Duran and Þanar Yurdatapan. They contributed to the marginalization of the people who want to make an alternative program. They wanted and tried to extend their control to Diyarbakir. This is an indication of serious problem which deserves to be dwelled on and important lessons to be drawn.
The attitude of pretending to ‘keep on struggling’ in the shadow of someone like Chomsky and to exploit the energy of him to stay active is the product of the feeling of powerlessness and petrified psychology of defeatism. This attitude implies ethical problems and it liquidates the alternative and constructive initiatives. On the other hand, overcoming this negative attitude depends firstly on the ability of the institutions and initiatives to criticize themselves regarding their ineffectiveness, and secondly their enthusiasm to come together under umbrella organizations.

Considering the difference between the Istanbul and Diyarbakir parts of the visit, and assessing which one is more constructive for democratic opposition, it is not very difficult to draw some instructive conclusions. If this is not done, one can not help observing Chomsky with a naïve admiration and conceive him as an intellectual messiah. However, if we understood his libertarian political posture correctly, we should be sure that Chomsky would respond this attitude with a smile implying criticism.

Ömer F. Kurhan / Editor of Aram Publishing House


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