Half-hearted Condolences

Monthly Review, VA
Jan 28 2007

Half-hearted Condolences

by Kenan Erçel

Hard to tell which is more upsetting: Hrant Dink’s "unsurprisingly
shocking" murder, or the hypocrisies uttered by government officials
in his wake.

Once words of condolences and condemnation are quickly dispensed with
— in a monotone reminiscent of a computerized voice telling a caller
that "the number you have dialed is not in service" — the topic
invariably turns toward the pending vote on the Armenian Genocide
resolution in the US Senate. As if the real tragedy is not the
murder of Dink, but its inopportune timing! Evidently, those who
couldn’t bring themselves to celebrate Orhan Pamuk’s Nobel prize
cannot bring themselves, for the very same reasons, to grieve Dink’s

This is much like the evasiveness of the royal family in the days
following Lady Di’s passing. But even in her foot-dragging, Queen
Elizabeth was a good deal more sincere than our Turkish officials;
Her Majesty appeared before the cameras only after the mounting
protests of her "subjects," and even then, patently reluctant,
unwilling. She was more like Putin in that regard. It took Putin
three days and insistent questioning by the foreign press to make a
public statement about Anna Politkovskaya, who was shot dead on
October 7, 2006 in the elevator of her building, no doubt in
retaliation for her outspokenness on the atrocities committed by the
Kremlin in Chechnya. And yet, even in his chilling blankness toward
the demise of Hrant Dink’s Russian counterpart, Putin was more honest
than his Turkish counterpart.

On the Turkish front, in contrast, words of sympathies and sorrow
galore, but the only genuine sentiment is the deep concern that the
repercussions of the event will jeopardize national interests abroad.
These are crocodile tears — like the ones that welled up in
Türkeş’s eyes back in the day, while reciting Nazım

Government officials are not alone in their half-hearted condolences.
The media pundits, who have always echoed their master’s voice, are
whistling the same tune. On a radio broadcast of CNN-Turk, veteran
journalist Oktay Ekşi repeated almost verbatim his Prime
Minister’s comments, making a point of noting, of course, that the
murder of his "peer" might play into the hands of the Armenian lobby.
Beginning his column with the exclamatory outburst "No, this can’t
be happening," the columnist and sports commentator, Hıncal
Uluç, reveals a couple of sentences later what is really rending his
heart: "From those striving to stir trouble in Turkey to those
seeking support for their Armenian thesis, there are so many out
there hoping to benefit from this death."

"Condolences," only short of finding Dink himself at fault for
putting the Republic of Turkey on the spot! I wish this were
hyperbole, but it is not. Remember the accusations of "provocation"
levelled at Aziz Nesin in the aftermath of the Madımak inferno,
which he had barely survived.2

So nauseating is the hypocrisy oozing out of these half-hearted
condolences that the frankness of those who openly shout out "good
riddance!" is almost preferable in comparison. Which is worse,
really: the audacity of the gunman shouting out threats in the
courtroom against the human rights activist Akın Birdal, while
being tried for taking multiple rounds of point-blank shots at Birdal
in his office, or the two-facedness of the powers that be who
prosecute the monsters of their own making? Had he also survived the
attempt on his life, wouldn’t Dink have been seeking justice from the
very authorities who had sentenced him to 6 months in prison for
denigrating Turkishness? Such is the sorry state of affairs in

We know from his latest writings and interviews that this last
punishment he was meted out under the infamous article 301 of the
Turkish penal code had devastated Hrant Dink. Even as bottomless an
optimism as his seemed depleted. Dink was taken to court for using
the phrase "venomous Turkish blood," by which he meant, the long
held, almost visceral animosity the Armenians harbor against Turks —
a hatred, he believed, Armenians should get out of their systems for
the sake of dialogue and reconciliation. Dink was calling Turkish
blood venomous only in the same sense that I called his murder "good
riddance" above, i.e., he wasn’t. But the court insisted on taking
the metaphor literally and out of context and found him guilty all
the same, despite the expert opinion of a commission of three
professors to the contrary. And we are supposed to believe that
those who made his life a Kafkaesque nightmare are now grieving Hrant
Dink’s death?

That being said, it wouldn’t be fair to chalk up all the faults to
the government officials and their high-fidelity echoes in the media.
For the onus of the tragic end that Dink met is on all of us who
didn’t help outnumber Kerinçsiz and his gang in front of the court
houses when it really mattered. I wish we could muster our
organizational skills for something other than funeral processions,
our resourcefulnness for something other than commemoration. Had
only one person for every thousand reader of Pamuk in Turkey, had
only a fraction of the masses at Dink’s funeral, showed solidarity
with the prosecuted/persecuted during their trials, maybe today. . .

Now the most poetic lines, the most poignant observations are of no
avail. And when he wrote "the pigeon-like timidity of my soul,"
Hrant Dink didn’t leave us much to say. And no, our sorrow, our pain
is not half-hearted, but most of us sound repentant these days.

1 The leader of the far-right, nationalistic party, MHP, and its
militant offshoot, "Grey Wolves," the late Alparslan Türkeş is
known to have quoted at a MHP congress from Nazım Hikmet, a
world-famous Turkish poet, who remained a committed communist all his
life and died in Russia in exile ("Hero or Traitor? Jon Gorvett
Reports from Istanbul on Celebrations to Mark the Birth of Nazim
Hikmet 100 Years Ago," 1 April 2002).

2 On July 2, 1993, a mob of furious fundamentalists laid siege to a
hotel (Madımak) in Sivas where the participants of the Pir
Sultan Abdal Culture Festival were staying, including Aziz Nesin, one
of the most published authors of Turkey. Nesin and his company were
targeted for Nesin’s Turkish translation of Salman Rushdie’s Satanic
Verses. As the security forces watched on, the mob set the hotel on
fire, as a result of which 37 people — mostly Allevite, leftist
poets, singers, performers — died ("Madimak Tragedy Commemorated on
13th Year," 14 September 2006).

Kenan Erçel, a Turkish citizen, is a graduate student in economics at
the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. He is also a member of the
editorial collective of the journal Rethinking Marxism.


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