Turks investigate U prof

A visiting professor is charged with insulting Turkishness after writing book.

Conrad Wilson

More than 90 years after the Armenian genocide, University professor Taner Akçam is in the middle of a controversial debate that recently turned deadly.

The murder of Hrant Dink, a prominent Armenian newspaper editor in Turkey, sent shockwaves around the world. It especially hit home for Akçam, a visiting professor in the University’s Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies.

Akçam has been accused of insulting Turkishness because of his outspoken position on the existence of the Armenian genocide and his recently published book, “A Shameful Act.” Now he faces similar accusations as Dink, which contributed to the journalist’s death on Jan. 19.

“He was shot on the street in front of his newspaper,” Akçam said. “He was murdered.”

Armenian editor Dink and Turkish columnist Akçam both faced scrutiny for their positions on the Armenian/Turkish issue.

Subsequently, the men have been investigated under a Turkish law that is often associated with speaking against the government for committing genocide.

“We both had one objective: Ö to stop the discrimination against minorities in Turkey, to end the distortion in Turkish history and to change the perversion of what it means to be Turkish,” Akçam said.

Though Dink was outspoken about the crimes against the Armenian people, Akçam said Dink never used the word “genocide.”

“Any time (Dink) was asked if genocide took place or not, he always cracked a smile,” Akçam said. “He didn’t place a lot of importance on the term. He would always say, ‘I know what happened to my people.’ “

Only once, during an interview with Reuters in 2006, did Dink use the word genocide.

“He hesitated to use it in Turkish context, because he told me, ‘Taner, when I use this term, it creates a certain tension, animosity, and my message cannot go though. That’s why I’m not using (it) and, because for me, the important thing is my message goes through.'”

Shortly after Dink’s interview, the Turkish government filed a criminal complaint against him.

In August 2006, Akçam wrote an article in support of Dink’s position. The Turkish government then filed a criminal complaint against Akçam.

“I wrote for everyone reading this article to participate in this crime that Hrant is accused of,” Akçam said.

He attended Dink’s funeral in Istanbul on Jan. 23.

Human rights groups Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have called for the repealing of Article 301, the law Akçam is charged with breaking, citing that it poses a direct threat to freedom of expression.

Turkishness “is not defined in the law, so the judges and the nationalists have a very vague definition of this term and they are attacking the individuals,” Akçam said.

The Middle East Studies Association of North America wrote a letter to the Prime Minister of Turkey, claiming that scholars and public intellectuals writing about the Armenian/Turkish issue “operate in an atmosphere of increased intimidation.” The organization specifically cites Dink’s death and Akçam’s safety.

University of Louisville professor Justin McCarthy sits at the other side of the spectrum.

McCarthy said he believes the Armenian/Turkish issue was a mutual clash in which both sides were well-armed and responsible for deaths.

He contests that the deportation of Armenians was a relocation strategy of the Turkish government, similar to the internment of Japanese-Americans in 1942 by the United States, but, he said, with much better reason.

McCarthy said there is a historical bias against the Turkish people who were simply acting in a justified manner against the Armenians.

With a background in demography, McCarthy said the numbers of Armenians killed during this time has been inflated. He places the deaths at 600,000 instead of the 1 million to 1.5 million that are generally accepted.

McCarthy said he believes the Armenian people are held as “higher specimens” over the Turks.

In the past, he said, the Armenians have killed some 30 Turkish diplomats. But, “how many of them got a picture on the front page of The New York Times?”

William Jones, an expert on Turkey with Amnesty International, said Article 301 has led to corruption in the country.

“What has happened in Turkey is that the Article 301 has become a favorite piece of the penal code that’s being used by right-wing nationalists to bring cases against people.”

Along with Dink and Akçam, other prominent scholars such as Orhan Pamuk, who recently won the Nobel Prize in literature, have been charged under Article 301.

“Amnesty (International) has been calling for the abolishment for Article 301 for some time,” Jones said.

Dink’s assassination shows similarities to other murders in the past year, Akçam said.

“Behind all these activities, there is always a retired army officer or a group of army officers, and there is a pattern with all these assassinations and attacks.”

Jones acknowledged an extremist movement, but he said no one knows if this group exists.

“Dink became a target through these people who were using 301 against him,” he said. “It got his name in the press.”

The Daily contacted the Turkish Embassy in Washington, but it was unavailable for comment.

Akçam’s book, “A Shameful Act,” recounts the Turkish government’s involvement in the Armenian genocide and was recently nominated for a Minnesota Book Award.