11 October 2006

1114) Reproachful Turks in Europe


Last week I received a lot of e-mail from Turks living in various corners of Europe after my article entitled “Turkophobia.”

Almost all of them expressed concern about anti-Turkish movements on the rise recently in some European countries; and they want this subject to be written about more. . .

My mind got caught up on the language and style used in these letters. Disappointed, offended, reproachful, but equally angry and reactionary…

There is another matter that caught my attention. The authors of these e-mails are almost entirely third-generation Turks. In other words, they are individuals of Turkish origin born in European countries who carry citizenship of those countries, the descendants of immigrant families. But now they don’t see themselves belonging to those countries. At best, they feel rejected and they believe they have been done an injustice.

One Zaman reader from France wrote: “If they pass this genocide law, we should respond in the same way. If we memorialized France’s violations of human rights in Algeria, I wonder how they would feel. I wonder just how democratic the ones who are giving us lessons on democracy really are.”

Another reader wrote: “Your article opposing the genocide law had a big impact here, because you were tried under Article 301, on the Armenian issue in particular. This is the way it is in the eyes of the French. If we criticize what France has done, they won’t listen to us. But if you and writers like you criticize, they will listen to you. Please explain to the French what Turks feel.”

In addition to letters containing these kinds of requests, there were also those who are just angry. For example, one reader rebuked “well-off white-Turkish intellectuals,” including me.

“You held out an olive branch to the Armenians; either with good intentions or out of carelessness, I don’t know which. Here are the results… You are welcome to what you see. We have a saying: If you give them your hand, they’ll take your arm. If you give your hand to the Armenians, they will want your arm.”

It’s obvious that this reader is looking at the world and humanity from the perspective of “us” and “them.” He is generalizing. All Armenians are “them” and that makes them different from himself or the “us” group.

One letter used a style quite different from the others: “Actually, you talk about ARAF (ed. Purgatory); we are just like that… Neither here nor there… We have been living in limbo for years. When we go to Turkey, we are foreign; here we are in a no-win situation. Now they have imposed the genocide law. The treatment we get hurts a lot.”

The genocide law currently before the parliament in France is extremely worrisome. To begin with, this law is going to obstruct individuals’ most basic right: freedom of expression. It will use history as a political tool. Movements against Turkey will incite Turkish nationalism. The field of action for enlightened people will be curtailed, the arena will be left to those who are inspired by dialectics of patriotism, and unfortunately the possible bridges of friendship between Armenians and Turks will be worn away.

Within this framework, of course the Turks in Europe are right in showing a reaction. Of course the person who has been hurt will vocalize his pain and condemnations.

Nonetheless a very important crossroads awaits us and the Turks in Europe. Is the rising Turkophobia going to be answered with Turkish nationalism? Should reaction be answered by reaction and obstinacy with obstinacy? Should hardline nationalistic rhetoric be responded to with similar hardline nationalistic rhetoric? Is it better to become angry and turn our backs, or, believing in dialogue, using democratic platforms to make our voices heard.

If Turkey turns its back on Europe, who will benefit? What else will be gained from answering patriotism with patriotism other than buttering the bread of those who believe in the “clash of civilizations,” claims that Islam and Western democracies can’t live side by side?

Can we not develop another way that sincerely opposes the curtailment of freedom of expression in Turkey and in France? One that is ready to question every kind of hardline nationalistic dogma, that believes in human rights, and that doesn’t deviate from democracy?

Until now, whenever Turkey has developed ultra-nationalistic/emotional/ reactionary dialectics on this subject, it has lost many things in the international arena and in internal politics. We don’t have to make the same mistake. There is a crossroads in front of us.

October 10, 2006

October 15, 2006
Elif Şafak
A Dutch journalist asks: "You were tried in Turkey in accordance with Article 301 for statements made by an Armenian character in your novel. What do you think of the dismissal of Turkish candidates in Holland for not recognizing 'genocide'?"

“I am following it with concern,” I say. “I am concerned with what is happening in France and Holland. I hope they soon correct their mistakes. If we are for freedom of expression, there can't be any double standards. Freedom of expression is a universal value. If I am criticizing article 301 for limiting freedom of expression, I am also fully opposed to the genocide law France is trying to pass and the developments in Holland for the same reason. Such actions only benefit the extreme nationalists on both sides. It can only make them more radical. It will also tie the hands of those peaceful people trying to increase friendship and empathy between Armenians and Turks and make both sides better understand each other. It will demolish the bridges between the both sides. It can only cause damage.”

If the state or statesmen start writing a single version of history, while trying to quell alternative opinions, both freedom of expression will suffer and freedom to think. This is exactly what the French state is doing and it is very dangerous. Politicians cannot write history. There are serious consequences to politicians exploiting history to increase their votes.

In the book “Bastard of Istanbul,” I concentrated on the memories of Armenian and Turkish women, their stories and family secrets. I was interested in local, individual, micro-histories rather than huge debates and macro-histories. I wrote a novel with human beings, common suffering and values at the center. As a writer, my work involves stories of individuals. I collect forgotten stories. I always hope our stories never disappear. I want our voices and faces being protected against the ravages of time. I wrote a novel that fed on the Turkish and Armenian grandmothers' adventures. It traveled between “memory and memory loss” and showed the common characters of the two peoples, rather than their differences. It is fed by friendships rather than enmity. I am for every individual period of history being freely discussed anytime and anywhere. More importantly, I believe I need to defend the freedom of expression of those who don't think like me. While I believe the term “genocide” is deceptive and prefer not to use it, I believe neither those who say: “Yes. There was a genocide” in Turkey, nor those who say: “No. There was no genocide” in France should be banned or silenced. Readers, citizens and individuals need to freely listen to all opinions. They should decide on their own. Those who think otherwise either want to inspect what the people think or dismiss the people as inconsequential.

There is an increasing Turcophobia (Fear of Turks) in Europe. As Turkey moves closer to the European Union, those who are against this integration, both in Turkey and in Europe, have sharpened their reflexes.

There is a question Turkey needs to ask itself in the near future. “Do you want the Turkey we will leave to our children a place that's not frightened of different opinions, self confident, not wasteful of its potential or people, an EU member, democratic and dynamic country that shows to the entire world that Islam and Western democracy can coexist, or a country that is governed by fear, a victim of polarization, isolated, tense and aggressive?”

A similar question needs to be asked by Europeans. “Do we want to win over or lose Turkey?” Unfortunately, answers to these questions will determine the outcome the increasing fear of Islam and Turks gripping Europe. There are two visions Europe faces. One is multicultural and democratic and the other feeds on fears and prejudices. There are also two visions for Turkey.


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