12 July 2007

1810) Touting History

We’ve all experienced it, but only recently did I learn that there is a special word for it in Turkish.

“Hanutçuluk” refers to that special pestering that traders mete out to tourists wandering past their shops -- the totally resistible invitation to buy a carpet, see a leather jacket or eat shish kebab that often follows in the wake of an innocuous request to know the time or find out where you are from. Hanutçus are touts who drag customers into shops in exchange for a commission. . .

The practice is a scourge, according to the sub-provincial governor of Bodrum, one of Turkey’s busiest tourist centers. “In high season, tourists can’t even walk the streets,” said the official, Abdullah Kalkan, in front of an audience of the town’s local businesspeople last March. It’s actually a criminal offense but one which, he confessed, the law is powerless to suppress despite having issued 50,000 euros worth of fines and ordering 30 prime offenders to close shop altogether. Quoted in “Kolayidare” a Web zine for Turkish bureaucrats, he calls hanutçuluk “the enemy of tourism.”

Alas, the Bodrum sub-provincial governor’s office has itself discovered ways of discouraging tourism or, at the very least, sending visitors away not just with sunburn but a sour taste in their mouths. Hanging in Bodrum airport, with official endorsement of the sub-provincial governor’s office, are posters warning departing tourists not of touts but the false claims of the Armenian lobby. One poster consists of an old black and white photo of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, seated with his wife’s dogs at his feet. Beside it is a photo that has been doctored. The dog has been replaced with the corpse of an emaciated Armenian child -- with the legend “The Face of Denial.”

This bizarre bit of digital editing, according to the poster, is the work of some committee in California in a pamphlet advertising a rally to call for the recognition of the fate of the Ottoman Armenian population as genocide. That these people were forced to resort to so crude a fiction to make their case is proof that the genocide is itself a falsehood, the poster says.

You can imagine Mr. and Mrs. Nuclear Tourist Family wandering through Bodrum airport with their little ones clutching plastic buckets and spades. Whereas they might have approached the ticket counter with the regret and nostalgia of a holiday coming to an end, one look at the dead baby will send them running for their plane. In another terminal there is yet a second poster of an Armenian claim -- a reproduction of a painting of a pile of skulls which proves to be from the Franco-Prussian War of 1871 and not 1915. As an advertisement for Turkey it is on a level with the ads that some bright minister commissioned after a PKK bombing to restore confidence in the country’s tourism. These ran (and I paraphrase) “Come to Turkey and you probably won’t die.” “We didn’t cut these heads off, someone else did” is just not good advertising copy.

At the very least the posters are a false syllogism that even the most sunstroke-addled tourist will recognize. “Some Armenians in California are guilty of facile propaganda” = “Anything any Armenian says is propaganda” = “The disappearance of the Armenians of Anatolia is an illusion created by Photoshop.” Yet the posters contain an even more reckless assumption. “There are those in the Armenian diaspora who would make their case with disrespect for the founder of the Turkish republic” = “We, as public servants in Turkey funded at the taxpayers’ expense, should shout back in an even more hysterical tone.”

The history of the Armenian community at the end of the Ottoman Empire is too important an issue to be conducted through a deliberately shocking poster campaign. By all means the administrator of a region that attracts hundreds of thousands of tourists should clear the streets of obnoxious touts. He should not be out there trying to drag those same hapless tourists into an historical polemic. The posters should come down.

Andrew Finkel a.finkel@todayszaman.com

Readers' Comment:

Dear All
In reference to Mr. Finkel's article posted by you as above, I quote below the reply of Holdwater, which is self explanatory. However, as a Turkish reader knowing the backstage, I should like to add the following personal remarks:

1- Mr. Finkel should have known and written the origin of the word "HANUT". This is an Armenian word and habit exercised for a long time, as a commission from one shop keeper to another for conducting the buyers and appraisal of prices. He should have also known that most prominent carpet dealers round the world are Armenians and there is nothing wrong with this habit of shop keepers solidarity. If Mr. Finkel would have taken some cruise ships, he would have seen that the tour operators guide the tourists only into shops, which appear on the daily bulletins, with maps. So, why would the cruise line recommend ONLY shops A and B and not C? Don't the shop keepers know, which cruise line is in the harbor ?

After WWII when Americans got to learn the Middle East, they were making fun and object the habit of "bakshih" or "tip" !

And what is the status now ? In USA, the name has changed to "gratuity" and you are “asked to pay not less than 10%” or better 15%, whilst in Turkey, "any amount" you leave with the waiter is "welcome with thanks". So, what ethics or habits we speak Sir ?

2- I yet hope to read some day, some article, in which Mr. Finkel is not sarcastic about the country he prefers to live in and make a living! If it is too adverse such as the flags disturbing his sight pleasure, he would write it, in some British paper. Anything against Turks and Turkey sells good! Sir, did you ever drive in USA to see that many houses and even cars have American flags up ? During WWI, "almost all churches in Britain were decorated with flags"? Would you like to have several book excerpts on that Flago-mania for Armenia period? They are just too many Sir, and you have to roll up the sleeves and read before you write.

3- While the sights of referred posters in an airport may not appeal to tourists (and none objected so far in writing, and you are not a tourist Sir) it is still an effort of solid defense, against the “slanders and falsifications on this subject”. Sir, you should have had at least the frankness to acknowledge that this "FORGERY was done in a reputed University such as UCLA" where the names of the imposter speakers are clearly seen. You have not criticized this shameless “forgery of scholarship under the heading " 'FACE of DENIAL, DOES NOT LIE'. Sir, let us put aside the fake politeness and speak of ethics as DECENT HUMAN BEINGS! Sir, the POSTER you refer IS AN INCREDIBLE LIE, and regretfully you shared and endorsed it ! The BODRUM township, who supported several seminars on the Armenian polemic, ( which you never attended) , has used their own “freedom of expression” ! Why did it bother you ? Was any of "your tax money" spent ? And what about if you are wrong in this prejudice as well, and I tell you that the POSTERS WERE PRINTED FOR FREE AS A BODRUM TOWNSHIP SOLIDARITY? Sir, you were wrong again, being so much superficial.

If you are too busy to learn the truth before you write, please do not abuse the hospitality of this country and people, shown to you as we usually do to all guests. You should have known by now the Turkish proverb: “A guest chews what he gets, and not what he expects” !

Sukru S. Aya

From: Hold Water
Sent: Tuesday, July 17, 2007 9:49 AM
To: a.finkel
Cc: editor
Subject: "Touting History" and Respecting History

Dear Mr. Finkel,
Regarding "Touting History": you are not without a point for getting upset over anti-genocide posters that might prove upsetting for departing and happy-go-lucky tourists. (And you certainly have a good point if another poster sent the absurd message, "Come to Turkey and you probably won’t die.")

Yet the other side of this coin is that if there is one thing the Turks have historically proven themselves to be extremely incompetent about, it's public relations. This is the chief reason why those influential ethnic groups with axes to grind have been allowed to present their version of Turkish history near-exclusively, in the Western nations they have settled in.

Therefore, if there's a virtual blackout on Turkish truth in these nations, thanks in no small part to the immense prejudice against them, then I feel the Turks have a perfect right to sneak in their "propaganda" any way they can do so. Let these Western tourists, potentially brainwashed in their nations on omnipresent Armenian propaganda, have a taste of the other side of the story. If some are going to be spooked and run for their planes, as you have speculated, let them; they are about to embark on

their journey back home in any event. There will be others, the fair and objective among them, who may have their eyes opened a little. Thus the positive in this scenario far outweighs the negative.

As almost always regarding anti-Turkish attacks, the Turk-haters ACT and the Turks REACT. The two posters you have cited are Armenian creations; if they are "deliberately shocking," I don't see why you are blaming the Turks who are merely defending themselves. Why has the thought of criticizing the Armenians, in this example, not occurred to you? After all, if they did not come up with these awful manipulations in the first place, these posters would have never gone up on the airport walls.

I can see even by your wording that this reverse side of the matter is one you seem reluctant to consider; regarding the Ataturk poster, you've written: "This bizarre bit of digital editing, according to the poster, is the work of some committee in California..." You could have easily conducted very minimal research to see if the claim had merit. Yet you prefer to go the route of creating doubt (perhaps inadvertently) with your "according to the poster" phrase.

(Although I do agree with your implication that the poster's claim that the fiction in itself presents proof of the genocide's falseness is a pretty dumb one.)

Regarding your "false" syllogism (“Some Armenians in California are guilty of facile propaganda” = “Anything any Armenian says is propaganda” = “The disappearance of the Armenians of Anatolia is an illusion created by Photoshop”), I don't know; for one, the posters' intention is not to get into historical facts in detail, but merely to point out that too many Armenians follow an "end justifies the means" philosophy when it comes to their genocide, and are perfectly willing to sacrifice the truth. This is a valid point to make, if you have ever allowed yourself to make an objective study of the matter. And I thought you were being much too sarcastic with your outcome; if too many Armenians are prone to produce deceitful propaganda, could they not also be lying about their genocide? That syllogism actually can be very much on the mark.

Perhaps your real point is that the so-called Armenian genocide is a historical reality, and that there really was a systematic extermination plan directed against them by Ottoman Turks. If so, then the honorable soul within you has much homework to conduct.

"The history of the Armenian community at the end of the Ottoman Empire is too important an issue to be conducted through a deliberately shocking poster campaign," you've added. So what do you suggest? Books? Seminars? Similar scholarly venues? Those would certainly be the preferred routes, but you know as well as I often one's attention must first be grabbed in order for interest to develop to look into a matter (that is not of direct concern to a Westerner).

The real point is, if the Armenian genocide matter is a politicized lie (as the Armenians themselves demonstrated, stressing their belligerence against the Ottomans and their alliance with the Entente Powers, immediately after the war's end; when that strategy did not bring results, they just as quickly switched to their preferred role of victimhood), and if the prejudiced world refuses to listen, then how does this fabrication get turned around? Instead of discouraging the puny and all-too-ineffective attempts of the Turks to defend the historical truth and their national honor, you need to dispatch with any of your own potential prejudices and seriously, impartially look into the goings-on. Your resultant outrage regarding the viciousness of Armenian propaganda, along with your duty to tell the truth should then persuade you to roll up your sleeves, and add your own voice to the proceedings.


P.S.: "Touting History" was my first introduction to your work, but travelling to the todayszaman.com site, I read as well your "Playing Armenia" article. (http://www.todayszaman.com/tz-web/yazarDetay.do?haberno=115778)You're in favor of opening the borders; and you may be right, there would likely be political advantages for Turkey to do so ("Turkey would be in a better position to neutralize the past if it could normalize the present"), but you neglect one important consideration. Armenia acted as a terrible aggressor, backed by one billion dollars in Russian military aid and some token Russian manpower, along with millions in U.S. taxpayer money, appropriating 16% of Azeri territory, along with chasing away some 800,000 Azeris from their homes. In 1992, Armenia committed massacres not far from what occurred in Srebrenica; and yet, Armenia has completely gotten away with her crimes, in the eyes of the partial West. Whatever other advantages Turkey may gain from opening the border, be they political or financial, I think there is much more to be said for the matter of "principle."

And once again, you provide a mild clue regarding where you stand on the "genocide," by encouraging this kind of move to "neutralize the past." The most honest way for neutralization is to present the truth. If you are on the wrong side of this debate, as I suspect you are, I would suggest you take a look at, for one, Dr. Guenter Lewy's extremely scholarly study, "The Armenian Massacres in Ottoman Turkey: A Disputed Genocide." (He truly bent over backwards to be fair to the Armenians, even giving credence to tainted sources, such as the missionaries.)

The Sounds It Makes
There are plenty of mysteries in the current election campaign, but at least I managed to solve one of them. Let me explain.

Wandering down the quay side in the Üsküdar district of Istanbul is like listening to the cacophony of a symphony by Charles Ives. This is one of the city’s busiest transport hubs, and all the political parties have set out their stalls trying to woo the voters as they go to and from work. The loudspeakers are at full volume. The stirring, martial grunts of the Nationalist Movement Party’s (MHP) march easily out-thump the weedy strains of the Republican People’s Party’s (CHP) anthem. Suddenly, the huge Justice and Development Party’s (AK Party) bus lurches into view, booming out its message like a big bass drum. It is followed by a little mini-bus decked with Felicity Party (SP) posters that squeak out the message that all woes are the fault of the IMF, the US and Israel. It disappears into the traffic almost like a lost child in a department store trying to find its mother.

Then the oddest sound of all:

“Una mattina mi son svegliato,
o bella, ciao! bella, ciao! bella, ciao, ciao, ciao!”

Which political party was it, I wondered, which tried to increase its votes with the Italian partisan song -- a sweet sound and one with an oh-so-very different resonance from the base-line of the hip-hop, right-wing, reactionary-rap pounding from the speakers of the Young Party (GP) next door? It seemed a little bit too cosmopolitan for the Workers’ Party (IP), and besides they are playing lefty folksongs down the block.

It turned out to be the independent candidate Ufuk Uras who, along with Baskin Oran in the electoral district across the Bosporus and others scattered throughout the country, is trying to relax the stranglehold of the political parties. “Why ‘Bella Ciao’?” I asked a woman manning the campaign desk. “We are international socialists,” she replied, but I heard her muttering ironically as I left that they were going to have to attract a few Turkish voters as well if they were going to get anywhere at all on polling day.

That evening I listened to a different sort of syncopation at a fun concert at the Istanbul International Jazz Festival with Spike Lee introducing music from his films. The breathy tones of Terence Blanchard’s trumpet loomed emotionally over stills from “Bamboozled” and “When the Levies Broke.” At one point they showed an actual excerpt from “Malcolm X” where schoolchildren along with Nelson Mandela explained the dignity which a man who stood up for his identity helped bestow upon their lives. The audience rippled their applause.

Even on a perfect Istanbul night there is no escape from politics. “Hang on,” I thought. “Here is a crowd -- not a headscarf to their name -- capable of showing empathy with a black American revolutionary culture of social justice, but reportedly unable to show the same sort of understanding for the aspirations of the people who live in the hinterland from Üsküdar.” And could the Turkish underclass go off to a bandstand in America or Italy and touch the emotions of that audience with music as memorable as “Bella Ciao”?

I took a dolmus home -- or rather a freelance taxi who stuffed the back seat with passengers traveling in the same direction. It turned out to be the jolliest moment of the day. I am not exactly petite, and the man sitting next to me was twice my size. Given the forced intimacy, the carload had an animated conversation. One of the passengers had come back for the summer from Switzerland, where he had been working for 27 years. And he voted, we discovered, on his way through immigration. For whom? The Bella Ciao faction it turned out -- Ufuk Uras’s Freedom and Democracy Party since independents aren’t listed on the airport ballot. The driver had never heard of Ufuk Uras but he did know some French, and a bit of Armenian and Greek (”no English” he apologized to me), from his Istanbul youth. We drove into the night, discussing whether East is West or home is best.

I looked at my emails before I went to bed and discovered that a column I had written some time ago had attracted a flurry of excitement from Turkish Americans that I had been politically incorrect in a column I wrote about Armenia. One accused me of despising the country which fed me. “How very wrong he is,” I thought as I fell asleep. “I love the sounds it makes.”
Andrew Finkel a.finkel@todayszaman.com


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