Saturday, July 29, 2006

Freedom - Exactly What Is It?

Arther C. Withernee, Correspondent for WEMW
Report 29 July 2006

Writer Perihan Mağden has recently been acquitted of "trying to deter Turkish citizens from military service". She had written an article defending the right of concientious objectors against mandatory military service. A judge concluded her not guilty of a crime against the state since her words could only be characterised as "harsh criticism."

Currently best selling Turkish author Elif Şafak is also facing legal action for "insulting Turkishness" with her novel Bab ve Piç (Father and Bastard). She faces up to 3 years in prison under Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code. She will probably be found not guilty because the EU would view such a charge as incompatible with EU membership. However, it again illustrates the mind set prevailing in Turkey, though one must be aware the complaint is being sought by ultra-nationalist lawyer Kemal Kerinçsiz. The same lawyer is charging novelist Orhan Pamuk of a crime against the state. Pamuk is said to have accused the Turkish nation of genocide following an interview with a Swiss newspaper last year in which he is quoted as saying "30,000 Kurds and 1,000,000 Armenians were killed on these lands and nobody but me dares talk about it."

It does seem apparent that many died on Turkish soil around the time of the 1st World War, but it also seems apparent that Armenia has been successful in lobbying her claims and accusations against Turkey while the Turks are yet again left lagging behind in the the tactical field of public relations. Turkey denies state involvement of an organised genocide but admits large numbers of Armenians died of starvation and disease during the period in question.

On top of this your WEMW correspondent also noticed this week that in the eastern Turkish province of Van, the local district municipality has implemented segregated swimming and picnic areas around Lake Van for women. This is the home region of Education Minister Hüseyin Çelik who is pro-imam hatip religious schooling. Apparently 7m high barriers were erected at the request of several women seeking a private and segregated area. Van is known as a particularly conservative province with alleged fundamentalist Islamic orders enjoying the support of a local public majority. Of course, Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan is an ex-imam hatip student and also supports the reintroduction of Islamic religious teaching within schools. Atatürk established a secular system seperating state education and politics from religion. What Atatürk would make of today's events one can only imagine and how traditional conservative Turkey can be incorporated into the EU's policy of democratic freedom of expression one can only ponder, wait and see; and I haven't even mentioned the matter of honour killings yet - the mind boggles!

Is the AKP government's only interest in EU membership the implication that it will reduce the power of the military and, therefore, lesson the strength of the secular constitution's guarantors? Nah, that's just conspiracy theory none sense - isn't it?! Indeed, is one man's freedom of expression another's fear?

Among the most significant developments in Turkey this week, may well be the acquisition of TV channel TGRT by News International boss Rupert Murdoch and Atlantic Records boss Ahmet Ergegun. Mr. Ertegun once contacted NPP to lend congratulations for Ned Pamphilon's paintings, so we at WEMW keenly watch and await further developments in this part of the modern world.