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Between Unreality & Change? - The Trial of Orhan Pamuk - by Doctor Harry Hagopian

"If the law supposes that," said Mr Bumble, squeezing his hat emphatically in both hands, "the law is a ass - a idiot." Oliver Twist (chapter 51), by Charles Dickens

Since I wrote A Test Case for the European Union? (27 December 2005), the Turkish State prosecutors dropped the two criminal charges levelled against Orhan Pamuk that he had 'insulted Turkey's armed forces' (on 29 December 2005) and that he had insulted "Turkishness" according to Article 301 [1-4] of the Penal Code (on 23 January 2006).

This is encouraging news indeed, since it vindicates the colossal amount of work by many Europeans supporting this conclusion in favour of freedom of speech. However, Pamuk's EU-unfriendly drama in his native homeland over the past year does not expire with him. There is still a further twist in this incongruous tragedy: the nationalist Lawyers Unity Group who stood behind his indictment have launched an investigation into comments made by Joost Lagendijk, MEP, on whether he too violated Turkey's gag rules whilst attending Pamuk's hearing in Istanbul last month as part of an EU delegation. Lagendijk (who was quoted in my previous article) is Chair of the Delegation to EU-Turkey Joint Parliamentary Committee, and Member and Coordinator of the Committee on Foreign Affairs. In theory, he too could stand accused of 'insulting Turkey's armed forces' after allegedly saying that unless the Kurds in Turkey engage in dialogue with the government, they risk strengthening the army, which in turn justifies its importance by fighting them.

The insistence of the Turkish prosecutors [until today] to maintain the criminal charge against Pamuk was in itself a flawed juridical stance. It highlighted the dogmatic - and increasingly obsolescent - ideology of those Turkish nationalists who are fighting tooth and nail against any real liberalisation within the Turkish republic that could weaken their position and consequently undermine their hold on power. But the notion of instituting a similar charge against Lagendijk (a foreign national, and Member of the European Parliament) represents an attempt to up the ante by triggering the extra-territorial jurisdiction of the said Article. Turkey's legal obfuscations, and its ambivalence over the causal nexus between law and fact, constitute a telling indication of its tug-of-war between reform and status quo . It is quite simple: Turkey should repeal those EU-incompatible laws since the question now is whether it accepts that reforms [conducive to possible accession to the EU] are more important than the distress that might be caused to its old guard.

However, instituting such a criminal investigation against Lagendijk is also evidence of a lack of understanding of EU-friendly conventions, jurisprudence, democratic norms and Eurocentric culture. To those nationalist lawyers, any recognition of the Armenian Genocide, let alone any concession toward Kurdish separatism or the emergence of a moderate political Islam, represent three mortal threats to their existence. Equally unsettling is that the charges brought against Pamuk, and possibly against Lagendijk, are also targeting around sixty other writers and journalists who do not enjoy Pamuk's public profile and are therefore more vulnerable to the legal manoeuvres of a coterie of Turkish lawyers and bureaucrats. Their cases, I would argue strongly, merit equal attention, equal follow-up and equal advocacy.

However, equally revealing should be the response of the EU Commission toward Turkey. Would the Commission overlook such arrant violations, and in the process further alienate European citizens from their own institutions within this worryingly unaccountable trans-European juggernaut? Would the Commission don its blinkers because of a facile and sophomoric concept that being pro-Turkish is the shortest way to prove that the EU is being inclusive of Islam?

Orhan Pamuk's indictment was largely initiated by his statement on the Armenian Genocide. What troubles me in this Turkish jingoistic attitude, therefore, is the wanton denial of the facts of this tragedy. When talking to Turks, one comes across four different cross-sections. A large cross-section is characterised by a woeful ignorance of the truth beyond the sanitised pages of Turkish history. Another is plagued by fear - an understandable one - of raising this issue in Turkey. A third holds a belief that bygones should remain bygones after ninety years despite the painful loss of over one million Armenian lives during 1915-1923. A final cross-section - aggressive and insulting against those who disagree with them - claws back with expostulations, denials, counter-arguments, falsifications, untruths or counter-attacks.

How could Turkish PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan's government remain credible with its denial of the Armenian Genocide in view of the assertions by international scholars, historians and experts in the field of genocide such as Yehuda Bauer, Frank Chalk, Yisrael Charny, Helen Fein, Kurt Jonassohn, Ben Kiernan, Robert J Lifton, Deborah Lipstadt, Eric Markusen, Robert Melosn, RJ Rummel, Robert Smith, Donald Bloxham, Mark Levene and Own Dudley Edwards?

Are we stuck in a swamp of indelible untruths? With its posturing, and its use of the law to transmute facts, is Turkey not proving that Mr Bumble was right? In fact, is it not caught up between unreality and change?

© hbv-H @ 23 January 2006

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