By Amira Hass Tags

Published 01:38 18.10.10
Latest update 01:38 18.10.10

Here's what a Turkish musician enjoys: identifying with conscientious
objectors and demanding the judicial system put him on trial. And he
is not alone - 80,000 citizens have done the same over the past 10
years, flooding the system.

Turkey for beginners is filled with endless surprises. One,
which you won't find in the travel guides, is well-known citizens'
participation in acts of civil disobedience. These are people who do
not allow their respectable status to deter them from being brought to
trial for violating the law (alongside Kurds, Armenians and left-wing
activists). Isn't it inevitable that a law meant to suppress will be
violated? Is this not a civic duty when the law perpetuates privileges?

The daring of these citizens obviously has to be weighed against
the fact that Turkey is (still) interested in joining the European
Union and therefore takes the EU's positions into account. Sometimes
those who defy the regime petition the European Court of Human Rights
against the Turkish authorities. Submitting such a petition, however,
did not protect the Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink. He was
murdered in January 2007 - after enduring a defamation campaign,
receiving threats and being tried for "insulting Turkishness."

Turkish citizens have found unique ways to deal with the regime's

Photo by: AP

A month ago, the European court ruled that the Turkish authorities had
not done enough to protect his life and that their investigation into
his murder had not been serious. The court ordered the government to
pay the murdered man's family a fine (which was then donated to an
organization that promotes equal opportunities in education).

On the evening of Friday, October 8, a small demonstration
disturbed the shoppers and partygoers on Istanbul's Istiklal
Avenue. An acquaintance who was accompanying me explained that the
demonstration's organizers - a coalition of left-wing groups - were
demanding the release from jail of all terminally ill prisoners. This
now-regular demonstration was launched in the wake of what happened
to Guler Zere, a woman of Kurdish origin sentenced 15 years ago to
34 years' imprisonment due to her activities on behalf of a small
left-wing organization. In November 2009, following a public campaign
that included a petition to the European court, she was pardoned by
Turkish President Abdullah Gul. Zere died in May of this year.

Another demonstration had taken place on Istiklal a short while earlier
that Friday. Women's organizations protested the acquittal of a group
of men charged with the rape of a 12-year-old girl. The reason for the
acquittal? The sex had been consensual. The following day, yet another
demonstration was held there - the regular weekly demonstration of
"Saturday mothers," women demanding that those responsible for the
disappearance (or murder) of dozens of Kurdish activists be brought
to trial.

A variety of clauses in Turkish law restrict freedom of expression,
and could have been employed to suppress these demonstrations. The
fact that they are not being used could perhaps be connected to an
initiative that dates back 15 years.

'And that was fun'

In 1995, the Turkish writer Yasar Kemal was tried in the state security
tribunal for an article he'd published in the German newspaper Der
Spiegel. Immediately after that, 1,080 Turkish citizens added their
names to the list of publishers of a book that included 10 texts
which had been banned from publication, including one written by
Kemal. Representatives of these "publishers" then reported to the
security court's prosecutor in the tribunal, saying they'd committed
a crime. The "publishers" formed a long line outside the prosecutor's
office, demanding they be taken to court. They succeeded and cases
were opened against 185 of them.

"And that was fun," says the musician Sanar Yurdatapan, who initiated
the protest. (Yurdatapan himself served a two-month prison sentence
after publicly repeating the refusal statement of an imprisoned
conscientious objector.)

For every banned text whose writer was imprisoned, Yurdatapan enlisted
the aid of hundreds of partners to publish the same forbidden words
for a second time - secular citizens, Muslims, writers, actors, people
of Turkish and Kurdish and Armenian descent. The signatories would
then appear at the prosecutor's office and report their crime. Over
the course of a decade, some 80,000 people added their names to the
publication of 48 "forbidden" booklets and seven "forbidden" books, and
demanded they be put on trial. One can only imagine the confusion and
anger within the swamped legal system that eventually became blocked.

The prosecution has since ceased indicting people in such cases. Those
who were suspected of violating the law but were never prosecuted,
appealed and asked that the law be upheld. The appeals authorities
informed them that the prosecution had the right not to indict. Now
that the system has invented ways to circumvent the protesters,
Yurdatapan and his colleagues are working on new ways to challenge

A week ago, the seventh symposium on "The Initiative for Freedom
of Expression," founded by Yurdatapan, was held in Istanbul. Eleven
journalists who had been tried for news items they'd published shared
their experiences. Among them was Nedim Sener, who published a book
about an investigation he carried out into Dink's murder.

Tried but not jailed

According to the Turkish BIA organization for freedom of the press, 323
people were tried in 2009 on various charges related to restrictions
on freedom of expression, 123 of them journalists. Today, however, even
if they are found guilty, the authorities take care not to jail them.

The American linguist Noam Chomsky, who was also invited to the
conference, listened to all the other speakers for two days. During
his lecture, which closed the symposium, he voiced a great deal of
criticism about Turkish governments, including the present one. He
spoke about how American aid to Turkey was being used to fund the
bloody repression of the Kurds and stated that the more a people's
demands for rights are repressed, the more it triggers violent actions.

A considerable part of Chomsky's lecture was devoted to providing
exact details on human rights violations in Turkey. He also mentioned
the trial expected to open today - of 151 Kurdish political activists
accused of membership in a terrorist organization.

But neither his criticism, which had been expected, nor the subversive
forum in which it was delivered, led the Turkish Interior Ministry
to prevent him from entering the country.

From: A. Papazian