Commentary: An Explosive Book

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By Edmond Y. Azadian

Turkey was the “sick man” of Europe throughout the 19th century. That sickness transformed over time and changed character with succeeding regime changes in Turkey: Ottoman, Ittihadist, Republican and today Islamist. But Turkish society remained sick and that is the main reason that the country is agonizing at the gates of Europe, its destiny hanging in the air.

It is one thing when the victims of the “sick man” identify the nature of that sickness but it is completely something else when the Turks themselves realize the source of the sickness as they try to seek remedies for the ailment.

It is this kind of realization — actually a revelation — that is brought to light by a prominent Turkish author and activist Erol Özkoray in a book in French titled Turquie: Le Putsh Permanent, published recently by the Chobanian Institute, soon to be translated into English by the Armenian Rights Council of America.

The Chobanian Institute was founded in Paris, by Jean Varoujan Sirapian, the former chairman of the ADL Chapter in Paris, on the 50th anniversary of Arshag Chobanian’s death and on the eve of European Union/Turkey negotiations. Ever since, the institute has published several scholarly volumes; it has developed contacts with senators and parliament members and above all, it has supplied scholarly documents to the French Parliamentarians working towards the passage of the Armenian Genocide resolution in that body.

Ashag Chobanian was a one-man committee for the Armenian cause in France. He single-handedly exposed to the European leaders the plight of the Armenian people in the Ottoman Empire before the Genocide and its rights afterwards. He enlisted prominent French thinkers in favor of the Armenian cause, such as Anatole France, Jean Jaures and others.

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Chobanian also understood that before pleading — or along with pleading — for the plight of the Armenians, he had to extol the cultural achievements of his people, in order to underline the fact that murder in Ottoman Empire was not being committed against a primitive race, but a nation of remarkable cultural achievements. For many Westerners, Armenians, Kurds and Jews in the Ottoman Empire were inferior races, therefore their extermination did not diminish the human civilization. Figures subscribing to this view included the French orientalist writer Pierre Lothy and the American Admiral Mark Bristol; the latter portrayed all Armenians, Kurds, Cherkezes and others as snakes in a bag poisoning each other.

Chobanian went against that tide. He countered that trend, writing essays in French publications about Armenian history. He translated medieval Armenian poetry into French to win the admiration of the French literary elite.

Today, Sirapian emulates Chobanian’s mission, almost singlehandedly, mostly receiving support from French, Kurdish, Turkish human rights activists and statesmen.

Among the many scholarly books and magazines, the Chobanian Institute has released Erol Özkoray’s book in which the author is delving into self-analysis as a Turk to define, diagnose and, if possible, heal the ills of his nation, the Turkish society. To state that Özkoray is paying lip service to the Armenians would be far from the truth. Living a politically-active life in France, contributing to prestigious French publications such as Le Monde, he delves into an introspection of the political psyche of Turkey to realize that the country has been on the wrong path and that the European Union has gradually realized how deeply antidemocracy is rooted in Turkey’s political system.

Turkey became a candidate for membership of the European Union in 1999, but in those last 11 years, its human rights record remains abominable, believes Özkoray, because there is a duality in the Executive Branch. People elect their representatives to legislative and executive branches, but the actual rulers are the military and as the recent Ergenekon investigations have revealed, there is a “deep state” in action, which defines and executes the country’s policies.

Since 1980, the country has been under military control, after Gen. Kenan Evren otherthrew the elected government and in 1982 drafted and promulgated a constitution, basically transferring power into the hands of the military, never mind popular elections, which amount to a political charade. The National Security Council remains the ruling junta in the country, deposing any elected official at will, should that official overstep the “red line,” like it happened to Necmettin Erbakan in recent years.

Özkoray even goes back in history, to the very founding of the Turkish Republic in 1923 by Ataturk, who supposedly established a lay governing system, eliminating the role of the clergy, reforming the language and even setting dress codes. Özkoray finds that when the present Republic of Turkey was being founded, democracy, as we know it, was not popular. There were dictators all around: Horthy in Hungary, Pilsudski in Poland, Metaxas in Greece, Franco in Spain and Salazar in Portugal. There were also three totalitarian regimes devising the law in Europe: Musolini in Italy, Stalin in the USSR and Hitler in Germany. Therefore, Ataturk founded Turkey in the spirit of fascism, which by an expert Pierre Milza is called a “fascism of the left” and which another specialist, Maurice Duverger, calls a “benevolent despotism.”

The author also takes issue with Ataturk’s population engineering, which portrayed the population of Turkey as 99 percent Turk and Sunni, regardless of the 15 million Kurds and 22 million Alevis. Greeks, Armenians and Jews were pushed to the margins, their destinies to be defined whimsically by the Treaty of Lausanne of 1923. A process of forced homogenation of population was executed. [Gen. Kenan Evren is compared to the bloody ruler of Chile, General Pinochet. Indeed, as recently as a year ago, the Turkish general came out of retirement to announce that “his hands did not tremble in signing the death warrants of politicians, and that he would do the same today, if he had to.”]

Now that Erdogan’s new constitution won the right to bring the Putschists to justice, we have to wait and see — the proof of the pudding will be in its eating.

Özkoray enumerates seven attempted coup d’etats between 2002 and 2009 against the Kurds, Alevis, Armenians, Islamists, Socialists, liberals and the partisans of the European Union. All these groups are considered “internal enemies” by the military and they constitute 50 million people out of 72 million total population, meaning 70 percent are on the watch list of “enemies.”

To justify its grip on power, the military triggers artificial crises; the occupation of Cyprus, the sovereignty over the Aegean islands, the Turkish minority in Greece, the status of the ecumenical Greek Patriarch in Istanbul, etc.

From time to time, the civilian government makes some overtures on different issues, but the problems are never solved because the National Security Council has set guidelines establishing taboos on the following issues: to contain the Kurdish population, to avoid fragmentation of the country; never compromise on the Cyprus problem; preserve the government’s lay status untouchable; fight against the Orthodox Church in the country and never accept the use of the term “genocide.”

These are the political parameters within which any civilian government has to operate, hiding the “deep state” in the background.

The system set up by the military is such that the individual is crushed under the perceived interest of the state. This perception is promoted systematically by the Dogan group, which own several influential newspapers and TV stations.

Since the establishment of the military rule, 2,330,000 people have been arrested and tortured.

Under the systematic brain washing, people are programmed to think in a pattern, which will never lead to democracy.

Thus, Özkoray gives certain amazing statistics, which are very indicative insights, into the system which can never correct itself and adhere to democratic rule: only 11 percent of Turks believe that freedom of expression is important; 73 percent don’t trust strangers, they are xenophobic; 74 percent believe in the rule of the military; 55 percent refuse to have Jews as their neighbors and 90 percent are happy that they are Turks.

This last statistic justifies Ataturk’s racist motto, which is posted everywhere in Turkey: “Happy is he who says he is a Turk.”

With the recent Erdogan victory approving the new constitution, the Islamist government believes that a new dawn is breaking in Turkey and that democracy is on the March.

But those who read Özkoray’s book are convinced that in its present set-up, its restless minorities, internal contradictions between Islamists and Kemalists, the country is a ticking time bomb waiting to explode at any moment.

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