Hrant Dink shot dead

Hrant Dink, an Armenian-Turkish journalist who won fame and notoriety for challenging Turkish nationalism, was shot dead in Istanbul yesterday.

If you’re not following events in Turkey closely, you might not have heard of Hrant Dink. Briefly: he was an ethnic Armenian but born and raised in Turkey. The genocide didn’t kill or expel all of Turkey’s Armenians, quite; there are still about 50,000 of them, mostly living in or around Istanbul. Dink was the editor of the Armenian community’s newspaper, Agos, and also its most prominent public intellectual.

Dink got into trouble with Turkish authorities for two things: he insisted on the reality of the Armenian Genocide, and he openly discussed the ambiguous position of ethnic and religious minorities in the Turkish state. Dink wrote about how, as a boy, he had to sing the Turkish national anthem every day in school: “I am a Turk, I am hard working and honest… happy is he who calls himself a Turk… great is our race.” It made him think, he wrote: who am I? If not a Turk, then what?

“As a child, I didn’t know what it meant to be Turkish or Armenian. At Armenian boarding school in Istanbul, I recited the Turkish credo every morning, but I was also told I should preserve my Armenian identity. I never came across my own name in school books – only Turkish names. As an adolescent, I heard the word ‘Armenian’ used as a swearword. As a Turkish citizen, I saw high-court decisions that referred to Armenians as ‘foreigners living in Turkey’. The Armenian orphanage that I worked so hard to establish was confiscated by the state.”

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Some Facts On Turkey And Avian Flu

As everyone keeps saying, the important thing in circumstances like these is not to panic. But the best defence against panic is information, and after that knowledge. So here goes:

1/. The flu virus was actually first detected in the laboratories of the Turkish Agriculture Ministry on December 9 2005, despite the fact that a ministry statement on the same day denied the existence of the disease in Turkey. So when I implicitly questioned the Turkish Health Ministry version in this post on 2 January it seems I was right to be sceptical.

2/. Nearly 100 people are currently receiving treatment in suspected bird flu cases across Turkey. Since there have only been 142 confirmed cases across the globe since the H5N1 strain was first identified in 2003, the New York Times is undoubtedly right to suggest that the flu is spreading faster than expected.

3/. Elizabeth Rosenthal of the NYT is however not quite right when she says that “the Ankara cases have the most alarming implications because….. it is a relatively well-off area, where it is not the norm for humans and animals to live under one roof. ” This is a misunderstanding, since on the outskirts of Istanbul there is a large Kurdish migrant population, which basically lives in shanty towns, and in shanty towns people often keep their own hens:

Five of eight chickens owned by Ramazan and Muhittin Mentes, living in a shanty house in Ikitelli, Istanbul, reportedly died one by one after the New Year. Members of the Mentes family who ate the remaining three sick birds last Tuesday were taken by ambulance to hospital after neighbors notified officials. Members of the Mentes family immigrated to Istanbul from the Baykan district of Siirt, a southeastern Turkish province, two years ago, and have been earning a living selling lemons in the street markets.

There is a blurring of boundaries here, since many of the people affected may simply live outside the formal limits of Istanbul. However, according to this article:

The Governor of Istanbul has announced quarantine measures will be applied in the areas of Istanbul within a three kilometer radius of regions where poultry samples tested positive to bird flu.

4/ The shanty-town structure is important, since it means the bird/human interface is much larger, and thus the possibility of transmission much greater. The speed of the spread may thus not be a function of virus mutation, but rather of the high ratio of birds to humans in some areas.

There is still no evidence whatever of human/human transmission, although obviously the more human cases there are, the higher the possibility of this ocurring. The most important objective, IMHO, should be to eliminate this outbreak before a more normal human flu strain arrives, since this would provide the ideal host for the kind of mutation that none of us want to see happen.

Turkey Under More Scrutiny

The EU’s tug of war with Turkey over human rights continues. This weekend attention has been focused on an academic conference held at Istanbul Bilgi University to discuss issues arising from and surrounding the massacre of Armenians which took place following the collapse of the Ottoman empire.

The most surprising thing in fact may have been that the conference was held at all. As the Chronicle of Higher Education Reports:
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Two on Turkey

With Turkish accession one of the most important issues facing the European Union, people interested in the question could do much worse than read these two recent, and reasonably short, books that focus on the country: Crescent and Star, by Stephen Kinzer, and The Turks Today, by Andrew Mango. Both illustrate and explain contemporary Turkey, and both have accession as a theme throughout their books.
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Istanbul, again

More bombers struck in Istanbul, killing the British Consul General and, at present reports, 25 others, with more than 450 injured.

Will there be more bombings in Istanbul?

Turkey already withstood suicide attacks by the PKK during that group’s campaign for Kurdish independence, and later after the capture of PKK leader Ocalan. Political and criminal bombings are also all too common in the country’s recent history.

Still, Istanbul is a vulnerable hinge between east and west. Turkey’s borders with the heartlands of jihad are porous. Home-grown Islamists may be more likely to take up arms, now that a government with Islamist roots is energetically pursuing Turkey’s European vocation.

Turkey is a living refutation of the fundamentalists’ belief that the only Islam is a medieval vision of Islam. Every step that Turkey takes along the path of modernity, democracy and liberality is a step away from superstition, fanatacism and mayhem.

Though the hardest work will have to be done by the Turks themselves, Europe should do all it can to help. Now more than ever.