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:

An academic conference on Turkey’s controversial “Armenian question” took place over the weekend in Istanbul, despite legal maneuvering by Turkish nationalists that had threatened to prevent it. The conference was originally to have taken place in May, but was postponed at the last minute under pressure from government officials.

The meeting was rescheduled for this past weekend at Bogaziçi, University, also known in English as Bosphorus University, but was once again postponed on the eve of its opening, this time because of a legal challenge that questioned its scientific validity and the qualifications of its participants. The challengers also said it was inappropriate for Bogaziçi, a public university, to be the venue for such a gathering, which they said contravened its mission.

The decision to ban the conference in the first place was taken by Turkish judges and was – according to EUPolitix – attacked as a “deplorable provocation” by the European Commission. Another surprising detail: this condemnation by the EU Commission was simply an echo of earlier statements by the Turkish government, which has also condemned the decision. Turkish foreign minister Abdullah Gul is reported as saying that the ruling was a move by internal opponents to domestic reforms required by the EU.

Those inside and outside the country who want to obstruct us as we go towards October 3 are making their last efforts. There is no one better than us when it comes to harming ourselves”

As the Financial Times notes:

The two incidents suggest how criminal justice and judicial systems steeped in decades of nationalist ideology, reinforced by an authoritarian constitution, can betray a reforming government’s best intentions. They did little to enhance Turkey’s democratic credentials a few days before it begins the formal EU accession process. The attempt to silence the conference will have been noted in France, which opposes Turkey’s EU membership and is home to Europe’s largest Armenian diaspora community.

Joost Lagendijk, chairman of the Turkey delegation at the European parliament, says the ban on the conference demonstrated the inadequacy of the new penal code. Some legal experts claim the court in which the judge sat had no authority to hear such a case. Turgut Tarhanli, director of the Human Rights Law Research Center at Istanbul Bilgi University, says the judge who ordered the ban did not allow the organisers – two Istanbul universities – to mount a defence, a clearly unconstitutional act.

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About Edward Hugh

Edward 'the bonobo is a Catalan economist of British extraction. After being born, brought-up and educated in the United Kingdom, Edward subsequently settled in Barcelona where he has now lived for over 15 years. As a consequence Edward considers himself to be "Catalan by adoption". He has also to some extent been "adopted by Catalonia", since throughout the current economic crisis he has been a constant voice on TV, radio and in the press arguing in favor of the need for some kind of internal devaluation if Spain wants to stay inside the Euro. By inclination he is a macro economist, but his obsession with trying to understand the economic impact of demographic changes has often taken him far from home, off and away from the more tranquil and placid pastures of the dismal science, into the bracken and thicket of demography, anthropology, biology, sociology and systems theory. All of which has lead him to ask himself whether Thomas Wolfe was not in fact right when he asserted that the fact of the matter is "you can never go home again".

7 thoughts on “Turkey Under More Scrutiny

  1. Just to clarify: the conference /did/ take place.

    The FT article was a little fuzzy on some details. It also has a couple of odd factoids (“fascist-era constitution”? Turkey never had a fascist government) that make me wonder just how well informed the journalist is.

    There’s a surprising lot of bad journalism about Turkey. I remember an article in the Guardian where the reporter expressed surprise that there were bicycle racks there. Turks can ride bicycles, who knew?

    Anyhow, thanks for the update. I’d love to see a report on the proceedings of that conference! Anyone?

    Doug M.

  2. “Turkey never had a fascist government”

    No, well quite. I think this is simply an example of the loose use of the term fascist to cover any authoritarian military regime you don’t like. My guess is he is referring to the military coup of the 80s. The old constitution was adopted in 1982:


    By this token the Greece of the Colonels was also ‘fascist era’.

  3. Was Attaturk government that different from early Mussolini? And BTW Greece had a fascist period, which did not align with Hitler IRC.


  4. “There’s a surprising lot of bad journalism about Turkey.”

    I could hardly agree more Mr. Muir! Something which has always infuriated me is the paucity of reports in the American and European media on Turkey’s genocidal war against the northern Kurds, or for that matter anything on Turkey’s ongoing efforts to erase the memory of the Armenian Holocaust (which EU and US tax money helps support no less). Coverage of Turkey’s illegal occupation of northern Cyprus is also either nonexistant or totally false.

    In all my years I’ve rarely seen one hard-hitting (i.e. non-travelogue puff piece) report on Turkey. We desperately need better journalism here in the West vis-a-vis Turkey.

  5. I think you ban make a good case that Kemalism was basically fascism lite. It has many of the same features as Italian fascism:

    cult of personality of the leader – this still survives today. Ataturk is basically the benevolent god of the state of Turkey. His bust is in every school, his portrait is on every wall, and his house is a pilgrimage site for worshippers.

    extreme nationalism – Turkish nationalism is intense and was deliberately fostered by the state to draw a clean break with the Ottoman past. The language was reengineered to make it more “Turkish”, and we don’t really need to go deeply into the intense Kemalist hostility to minority ethnic groups in Turkey, which has seen the Christian ones killed and expelled, and the Muslim ones merely killed and ethnically cleansed to different parts of the country.

    corporatist, autarkist economics – strong feature in all fascist and proto-fascist government and definitely present in Turkey.

    There are too many similarities for it to be an accident. There was definitely meme-passing going around.

  6. Except that the word fascist long ago lost usefulness when it became shorthand for “writer thinks this government evil.”

    Interwar Europe had a whole bunch of extremely nationalist, corporatist, autarkist authoritarian governments. In fact, it’s probably easier to count the interwar European governments that weren’t described by those adjectives than the ones that were.

    For the bigger picture, the relevant question for interwar authoritarian governments is probably “Invaded neighbors? Y/N” as the question “Repressed minorities Y/N” is answered Y in every case that comes to mind. Degrees varied of course.

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