Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Taner Akcam, Robert Fisk, - Armenian Genocide

Taner Akcam at Columbia University on his book "A SHAMEFUL ACT"

part 1

part 2

part 3

part 4

part 5

part 6

part 7

part 8

part 9

part 10

part 11

part 12

I was told by the person who shot this video that during this talk there were people from the Turkish Embassy, photographing people as they went into the talk, and if you listen to the question and answer section you can hear the staged "provocative" questions, which reveal and absurd lack of logic and wind up being simply an embarrasment: for instance one young woman asked "If the Turks committed genocide, why are there still Armenians living in Istanbul, and they are living there happily!" The Turkish government aggressively monitors all intellecutal and academic talks, they send representatives to photograph participants, write down the remarks of people, try and find out their names, harrass and intimidate them. At a preious talk at a New York University, Taner Akcam was actually roughed up as assailants rushed the stage. The aggressiveness on behalf of the Turkish government shows a kind of desperation to control the terms of the historical narrative.

Below is a video of Robert Fisk speaking about his book THE GREAT WAR FOR CIVILIZATION which inclueds a chapter about the Armenian genocide. In his account he discovers a mass grave of Armenians in Syria, where they'd been driven by the Turks. He discovers it after interviewing and old Armenian woman who remembers seeing her mother and sister being dragged away to be killed.

Delia juxtaposed with Turkish Fascism

So many people have died in this war to claim their Kurdish identity, mostly young people. I've heard it said that when youth leave the village to join the PKK their parents mourn them as if dead on the day they go to the mountains, not later. In Diyarbekir I became wary of asking people if they had children because too many times I was silently given a photo (taken out of a wallet, saved on a cellphone) of a young man or woman who was killed as a guerilla.) A friend once told me that everyone who sat around him in school had later gone to the guerillas. None of them have survived. Sometimes he comes across their pictures on the HPG website which catalogs the lives sacrificed. "This was one of my friends" he will say.

Before I ever went to Turkey I studied Turkish with a young Turkish college student. He was very kind, very polite and helpful. One day he asked me where I would go in Turkey and I told him Diyarbakir. He was utterly baffeled by this. Why would I ever want to go there? I asked him if he'd ever been there and he said no, he'd traveled all over Europe but he saw no reason to go to one of the most "backwards" places in Turkey. I told him I was planning to write something about the Kurdish issue so I needed to go where there were a lot of Kurds. I didn't say the word that can be like a nuclear bomb for a Turk - KURDISTAN, but suddenly it was as if his eyes rolled back in in their sockets and his head spun around three times. A kind of Linda Blair moment. He became a different person completely, full of rage and possesed by a fury he was trying to contain: "Let me draw you a map." he said-- and he began to draw with violent strokes, a map of Turkey. Then he shaded in the eastern area of the map (ie, Kurdistan) and when he spoke, his voice had a tone of bottled hysteria. "There are people living here, poor people in their villages, who are ignorant and backwards. They are easily brainwashed. The PKK have come to these people and brainwashed them. It's like they're infected. There is nothing that can be done for them except cleaning. They need to be cleaned. All these villages need to be cleaned." I didn't argue, I didn't say anything. Really there was nothing to say. It was my first encounter with Turkish fascism. After that day, I got some tapes and continued studying Turkish by myself.

The real brainwashing of course, has happened to the Turkish people who have their own victimhood drummed into them from the day they are born. Everyone wants to tear Turkey apart. Ataturk saved us. The Turks never killed the Armenians, actually it was the Armenians who killed us Turks. On and on. There is no rational argument that is not countered with "we are the greater victims." This is the mentality that has led to incidents like the "Blood Flag"

A group of students in the province of Kırşehir, 150 kilometers east of Ankara, painted a Turkish flag with their blood and sent it to the Chief of General Staff in remembrance of the 13 soldiers who were killed by the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) terrorists on Nov. 21 last year.

Reports said 21 students, 10 of whom were girls, met on Nov. 18, cut their fingers and painted the flag in protest against terrorism. They then framed it before sending it to Chief of General Staff Gen. Yaşar Büyükanıt.

The students also sent a letter to the Office of the Chief of Staff, noting their commitment to the country and their willingness to serve in the military.

Büyükanıt, speaking at a television rally organized to support those who fought against terrorism, mentioned the flag sent by the students and showed it to the audience. �This flag was done by a group of students with their own blood. We are a great nation,� he said.

I first read about this in Gordon Taylor's blog on Progressive Historians This blood flag incident requires no commnet. Yes, I agree, the Turkish people are victims too, because they become alienated from the the truth of their own country, from their own history. And they too are forced to sacrifice their young in a war to deny the culture and identity that should be embraced as a treasure of the country, not as a threat. I can't think of anything more "backwards" than the destruction of a place like Hasankeyf. So few Turkish people have ever been to this amazing place, or any of the other amazing cultural and archeological sites in Turkey so they aren't invested in these places as part of their own history and identity.

I am constantly being asked by Turks "What are you doing? Why are you doing this? Have you ever been to Turkey? Have you ever been to the East? Why can't you be objective? Why are you taking the side of the Kurds or the Armenians? Why don't you worry about the crimes of your own country. And I always say that one of the crimes of my own country is the support it gives Turkey, in weapons, in so called "intelligence", and in its enabling Turkey to maintain its nationalist illusions. Because of my own country's actions I have a responsibility to communicate what I've seen in Turkey. There is no taking a side. One just has to juxtapose these voices and these actions. On one hand you have a general, happy that children have made a flag out of their own blood, on the other you have a man who creates a dictionary in his own language and is then sent to prison.

Too many Turkish people, unfortunately, have no understanding of the level of oppression in Kurdistan. I've heard Turks tell me that Kurds in Turkey are free to speak their language, in fact they have Kurdish radio, Kurdish tv "Many channels!" One man said, "Maybe Kurds, they have more rights than I do." This is all a big lie. Kurdish broadcasting is very limited to 15 minutes a day (at most 45) of only music and the most innane commentary. No childrens programs are allowed. No one is allowed to take even a private course in Kurdish unless they have graduated through the entire Turkish educational system. I've heard Turks say "If they want to better themselves, they learn Turkish." But why can't they learn to write in their own mother tongue? What is the harm in that? The Turkish state has made a language it's enemy. How can a language be an enemy? In the city of "Tunceli" (Actually the place is Dersim, but the Turks renamed it after they slaughtered 100 thousand Kurdish Alevi's there in 1937-38.) the civilian population is less than the population of military and police. There's a tank, armored transport or jandarma station on every hill and mountain. How does it feel to live with guns always pointed at your head, is this "more rights than I have?" This is the oppression that drives people to the mountains.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Musa Anter's Memoirs

I have been able to read very little of Musa Anter's writing because so little of it is translated into English, however there are three web pages with excerpts from his memoirs that reveal this gentle, intelligent man and his observations of both a lost world and the formation of a new brutal regime. This man had a remarkable life and tragic death. His mother, although iliterate, became the Mayor of their village near Mardin, and he became a witness to many pivotal events in the formation of the new Repbulic of Turkey. A "Republic" which based it's existence on the denial of history and the presence of many cultures that lived within it's boundries.

This is from excerpt 1. Link to the full excerpt is here.

He was shot dead in 1992. Musa Anter was killed by gunshots on 20 September 1992 in Diyarbakir, where he was attending a festival, organised by the local council, to which he had been invited. Orhan Miroglu, a friend who was accompanying him, was seriously wounded. The police found 13 cartridges at the scene of the shooting. An autopsy carried out on the day of death showed that Musa Anter had been hit by five bullets and had died as a result of his injuries.

He was shot dead in 1992. Musa Anter was killed by gunshots on 20 September 1992 in Diyarbakir, where he was attending a festival, organised by the local council, to which he had been invited. Orhan Miroglu, a friend who was accompanying him, was seriously wounded. The police found 13 cartridges at the scene of the shooting. An autopsy carried out on the day of death showed that Musa Anter had been hit by five bullets and had died as a result of his injuries.

The village I lived in was called Zivenge which in Kurdish means "winter place". This was no sports and leisure area the like of which people from rich nations frequent. The caves were where the flocks were kept in the winter. There are many places in my country named Zivenge, but each takes its tribe's name as well. So ours would be called Zivenge Tamika, while others were called Zivenge Habizbinya, Zivenge Bohtan etc. There have always been some people from the caves who were interested in education. The famous Kurd, Mele Ehmede Cizri's literature was translated from Kurdish into Arabic by Mele Ehmede Zivinge. He later became a religious leader for the Syrian town of Kamisli. For 7,000 years our caves were known as Zivinge but now without consulting the inhabitants the brutal government, just as if they were naming a cat or a dog, renamed our caves Eski-Magara (Old cave ). So after 65 years I suddenly became a resident of Old-caves. It is interesting to reflect that when Bulgaria allegedly started changing Turkish names to Bulgarian there was an uproar as being against human rights. I wonder if the Bulgarians learnt this trick from the Turks? It was not just the caves that changed names, but again without asking the Kurdish inhabitants, village were given Turkish names as were cities, so that, Diyaribakir became Diyarbakir, Elaziz- Elazig, Dersim-Tunceli and Samrah became Mazidagi etc. Some cities were allowed to keep their original names but Turkish names were added to these. I do not know why but they forgot to change the name of Mardin city, I suppose they could have called it Poor Mardin! The village of Old-cave is situated in the middle of the plain where the mountains of Tur Abdin meet the plain which stretches to Iraq and Syrian. It consisted of 20 houses and this area had been inhabited by humans through four geological ages..

Some parts of the caves are natural while others are man made. There is no drinking water but rain water which is collected in tanks for use. An attempt was made to pipe water from Stelile (new name Akarsu) but it was unsuccessful. Even as a child I can remember whenever the water ran out, people going to neighbouring villages to collect water at standpipes. The village's income comes somehow from an agriculture sans water. Lentils, wheat, chick peas and barley are grown. Some land grows hairy cucumber. melon. water melon, but one of the most important crops is Soya-bean (gene and oil from this plant is used for lighting as it has been for centuries. Our village has very big caves, making it suitable for cattle breeding. There are no strangers in the village. Our farm was the village. When the Ottomans first came our village was registered in my great grandfather's name Antere Mihoteze. Since then the family has grown and divided between our relatives. The village is 25 km north-west of the town of Nusaybin. There.are signs that this area once had vineyards but today you would not be able to find a single grapevine. There are still 8 barrels for squeezing grapes and the discovery of so much broken pottery around indicates that wine was made here even before Islam. After the arrival of Islam, people changed to making heavy syrup (grape juice boiled to a sugary solid grapemolasses) Other people living here who were not families were allowed any land that we had no use for. These people would work for us and take orders from us and would also give us one tenth of whatever they produced. It was all done in an agreeable and happy way. When the tractor arrived everything began to change, with people becoming more selfish and leaving the area. We called the people who worked for us neighbours. Our neighbours went to the towns and cities to work and found suffering there, but because they are still our friends whenever we meet we hug and talk about the good old days. My experiences with my family and our life together helped me be successful at school and that was perhaps the reason I wanted to become a writer; my family were small landowners. Traditionally a landowner's income is like a family charity and my father and mother, like their ancestors, carried on this tradition. We used to have an area with a room just like an hotel. Whoever came to visit the village stayed in this room free of charge. As well as visitors, troubadours or religious people would call regularly and were provided for. Some of these visitors played traditional Kurdish music on traditional instruments and also told stories, while the religious singers would have their own special instruments to accompany their singing. They would also sing the classical songs of Kurdish poets. I now know that these songs were taken from the poetry of Melaye Cizire and Feqiye Teyran. These songs told of the brutal treatment and the genocide that the Ottoman and later on the Republic (Turkey) inflicted on the Kurds. They told of the 1925 Sheikh Said uprising and of the women losing their husbands, children and possessions. People came from the towns of Lice, Kulp, Dicle and the city of Diyarbakir to take refuge in our caves. My mother and the other villagers fed them. Amongst the refugees was an old women called Xeco who had lost her husband, two sons and two son-in-laws in the Sheikh Said uprising. 65 years later I can still hear her tell her story with a voice full of bitterness and choking with tears. It left a lasting impression.

Excerpt 2 describes the effect of the ban on the Kurdish language on ordinary people around Mardin.

To help you understand the situation, I will give you another example of the difficulties arising from the prohibition of speaking Kurdish.

The villagers used to take wood to the city to sell. They transported it by donkey. They would sell the firewood for about 5060 kurus (pennies). If the donkey and the saddle was in good condition, they could sell it for 5-6 lira. To make the donkey go while riding it, a Kurd would say 'Co'. Villagers speaking nothing but Kurdish when they arrived at the city would say 'Co' and the soldiers would stop them and fine them on the spot for speaking Kurdish. Unable to speak Turkish, the Kurdish villager would attempt to explain to the soldiers in Kurdish and thus the fine built up and up.

A relative of my mothers was set up by the soldiers and in order to pay the fine he sold his firewood and donkey. He received five Turkish lira for them but his fine was 12 lira so he was beaten up and put in a cell for two days. Three and a half months later. when the tax collectors came to our village, they demanded the remaining seven lira outstanding on the fine. If he did not pay up, they would seize his house and belongings. My uncle managed to pay the fine by selling some of his sheep. Such incidents were part of our ordinary, normal daily life. If records of fines had been kept in Mardin city, it would be possible to find many such cases as this. I have many memories of those five years. But the one that really impressed me was this: In our school were the sons of Eliye Ehmed tribal leaders called Ehmed and Senanik. In 1932 in Omeriyan town, there had been an incident and a squad of soldiers arrived in the town from Diyarbakir city. They had been sent on a clean up operation against the Kurds. Most of the men of the village ran away to the mountains. Eli agha, his two brothers and 14 men were confronted by the soldiers in Tuxip mountain. The soldiers opened fire and at the end of the conflict had killed and wounded the Kurds. The soldiers then proceeded (regardless oi whether they were dead or alive) to chop off the Kurds' heads leaving the bodies.

The story goes that when Ehmede Drei was arrested and then his head was chopped off, he managed to run a short distance without his head!

The soldiers put all seventeen heads into a bag and proceeded to display them to the people as if they were melons. The heads were finally taken to Stelile (Akarsu) where a priest (imam) washed all the heads and put the landowner with his two brothers into one bag and the rest of the 14 heads in another bag and buried them in the graveyard next to our garden.

The third installlment is here. This is a description of Musa Anter's murder taken from the web page of the Netherlands Institute for Human Rights:

He was shot dead in 1992. Musa Anter was killed by gunshots on 20 September 1992 in Diyarbakir, where he was attending a festival, organised by the local council, to which he had been invited. Orhan Miroglu, a friend who was accompanying him, was seriously wounded. The police found 13 cartridges at the scene of the shooting. An autopsy carried out on the day of death showed that Musa Anter had been hit by five bullets and had died as a result of his injuries.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

The Musa Anter Peace Train

I came across this video on youtube but later discovered it's orginal source (link below). It was made ten years ago but it's still relevant today. It documents the journey of the Musa Anter Peace Train.

A quote from Joseph Cooper's web site :

In the summer of 1997 I went along to a planning meeting held by a group of activists and politicians planning to visit southeast Turkey. I was invited to document the journey. This video of the journey of a group of politicians and peace activists who gathered from around the world to meet in Brussels.

From Brussels the peace train delegates intended to travel to Diyarbakir in southeast Turkey to attend a cultural festival to celebrate International Anti-War day on September 1st 1997. An estimated crowd of 200,000 people were expected to greet the peace train delegates in Diyarbakir.

However, the “Peace Train” delegates encountered a series of obstructions and were finally stopped by a blockade of armoured cars 40 kilometres short of their destination.

Produced by Joseph Cooper and commissioned for broadcast by Med TV, a London based satellite TV Channel. 47

The Peace Train was named in memory of Musa Anter, the Kurdish author and journalist who was born in Mardin in 1918 and killed by the Turkish death squad in Diyarbekir in September of 1992. Musa Anter published a play in Kurdish in 1965-- it had been written while he was in jail. He also created a Kurdish- Turkish dictionary, as well as writing his memoirs he wrote for the Kurdish newspaper Ozgur Gundem, Yeni Ulke, and Welat.He was influential to many other Kurdish writers including Mehmet Uzun.

Here is also a personal account of the "Peace Train" journey by William Clark. I'll quote a couple of sections- the whole peice is really worth reading.

I think most people were sleeping when we came into Kurdistan. High Mountains were to the left and right of us with a low mist filling the desert ground of the valley. Higher and higher into the mountains and about eight in the morning we were stopped at a military check point at Gazi Antep2, near the Syrian border. Previously we had heard of deportations from Diyarbakir including Musa Anter's widow and daughter, several HADEP party members and our 'special guests'. They had also stopped us entering Ankara and driven away the people who had gathered to meet us, so there was no telling how things would go: from here on in we were in the Emergency Zone, under Martial Law. At the checkpoint, the soldiers start to take off one of the 'Musa Anter Peace Train' banners and set fire to it in front of all our cameras and all of us, obviously in an effort to get some kind of reaction thus 'justifying' some bloodshed. Eventually after they have had their fun they let us proceed.
As the people along the way, in greater and greater numbers, wave us on with peace signs; we could also on occasion see them being harassed by the police. At about ten thirty we are escorted into a large and notorious military compound at Urfa and more or less held under arrest. The organisers and MPs and so forth start to negotiate with the Army while the rest of us wander around the compound trying to find shade from the radioactive sun. It is beginning to look like a dead end, but I arrange a bet with Francis D' Souza of 1,000,000 Turkish Lira that we get to Diyarbakir, just for the sheer hell of it. A few moments previously Francis told Joe she was going to find out if we were free to go out of the compound by slowly walking out the main entrance and seeing what happened. He agreed to film her. No sooner had she set one foot in the open space when the click of machine guns signalled that this was a bad move and she quickly turned back. Inadvertently Paul and I began talking to one of the Turkish soldiers, a huge guy obviously in Special forces or something: he is armed with about ten fragmentation grenades, a powerful machine gun with a grenade launcher attached. I notice a little Turkish flag on the butt of his automatic hand gun--nice to see a bit of individualism flourishing, but it turns out to be quite common. He looks down at us and quietly asks us why we have come to Turkey: "Why not Bosnia or Palestine or..." "Ireland," I interject. "Yes Ireland" he murmurs, "why don't you go there?" "I've been" I reply. "All we want is peace" Paul tells him, and gradually the conversation tails off. It is a bit tricky talking to man who is equipped to annihilate all of us without breaking into a sweat.

By the end of his journey, after a brilliant description of the mayhem that ensued when the Turkish police attacked the group for having a press conference, violently beating and arresting many people, Clark writes:

As tears well up in your eyes there is a fleeting moment when, if you are as short sighted as I am, the tears make a lens and you can see with perfect clarity, but it is difficult to speak. Looking through tears and emotion--compassion--one sees clearly: but only perhaps if the eyes you meet can feel; feel what you feel and see. The Turkish authorities, the National Security Council, the small group of men who run the country have lost all humanity, and I mean all. With the Mothers of the Disappeared they profess willingness to look them in the eye and still brutalise them. The sacrifice the Mothers of the Disappeared make and will make this Saturday is for peace.
Is the struggle for peace in Kurdistan about land? The possession of land? The Kurds are not a possessive people. Astonishingly they bear no enmity towards their Brothers the Turks--this is not a sectarian struggle. They are not separatists either: how could they become separate from Turkey which has only existed in its present 'unchangable' form since the 1920s.
I have in my pocket some little stones, stolen from the road to Diyarbakir, which mean something to me, but I have given most of them away. Will the Turkish NSC prevail? As Ramos Horta5 said: "The Kurdistan region is one of the most important in the world with possibly the largest oil reserves in the world...but empires built on armies and oppression will not prevail."
One point on the Peace Train. The accusation was made in the Turkish press that the Peace Train was a front for the PKK, and a tactic to cause redeployment of large numbers of armed forces, while the PKK regrouped. This does not stand up to any analysis. If the NSC knew this, why did they then so enthusiastically and overwhelmingly fall for it. Am I smarter than the head of Turkish Intelligence? Seven buses of minor political activists, teachers, students, MPs and (it must be said) a few idiots somehow needed, what--20,000, 30,000 police, Jandarma, army, secret police, special forces, tank crews, riot police etc.--to follow, obstruct, intimidate, arrest, brutalise and attack them? And they do this to avoid bad publicity; they arrest MPs and Ambassadors of a European delegation as a sign of good faith towards their prospective joining of the European Union? This is one simple lunacy amongst many and one cannot help feeling that Turkey needs new leadership. The Kurds seem to me to be asking for little more than I brought back in my pocket--a handful of stony arid land, they probably don't even want the oil.
Peace in Kurdistan is far off. It may require a solution for the whole Middle-East. Ramos Horta described Kurdistan as "possibly the most strategic region in the world."

Ramos Horta, by the way, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1996, was a founder of the Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor (FRETILIN), served as the exiled spokesman for the East Timorese resistance during the years of the Indonesian occupation of East Timor (1975 to 1999). He is the second President of East Timor since independence from Indonesia, taking office on 20 May 2007. In February of this year he was was shot but survived the attempted assasination.