Killing sparks ‘Turkishness’ row

Killing sparks ‘Turkishness’ row
By Sarah Rainsford

BBC News, Istanbul

2007/02/09 13:35:26 GMT

Since Hrant Dink was shot, Murat Belge has not left home alone.

There are armed police on 24-hour watch outside his house and a
plain-clothes detective by his side at all times.

Like Hrant Dink, Murat Belge was put on trial last year for insulting
Turkishness. Now he has been given protection by the state.

"Everyone is in danger. This is getting very savage," the journalist
and academic believes. "All around there are similar groups aching
to murder someone for their country. It is shocking."

Turkish-Armenian newspaper editor Hrant Dink was shot dead on 19
January and a teenage nationalist has been charged with the murder.

Dink had spoken out about the mass killing of Armenians by Turks in
the early 20th Century.

New proposal

Demands for the repeal or reform of the law used against Dink –
known as Article 301 – have been growing here since tens of thousands
flooded the streets for his funeral. Many people carried signs that
read "Murderer: 301".

Now a group representing some of Turkey’s most powerful civic groups
and trade unions has come up with a proposal on how to change the law.

"In its current form Article 301 is very vague and open to
interpretation," explained Davut Okutcu, one author of the proposal
presented in Istanbul on Thursday.

"We have formulated this demand because we believe there is a need
for change. Now we expect the government to evaluate it."

The proposal specifies a tighter definition of "Turkishness" in the
law and replaces the term "insult" with "debase and deride". It also
suggests that a judge must prove intent, as well as a "clear and
imminent danger," and reduces the maximum sentence from three years
in prison to two.

Changes ‘not enough’

"How the article should be worded is the job of the government. What
we want to stress are the main items that should be incorporated in any
change," another of the report’s authors, Pekin Baran, told the BBC.

He admitted that the draft proposal was a compromise solution
reflecting the divisions in Turkish society.

People see those who want to change the law as supporters of the West
Barbaros Devecioglu NTV radio producer

"These criteria are the platform on which we could all find common
ground," he said.

But two groups walked out of the discussions and they and others have
already criticised the suggested changes as too timid.

"The murder of Hrant Dink showed that minimal changes to the wording
of the law are not enough," said Gencay Gursoy, head of the Doctors’
Union, which refused to endorse the proposal.

"The crowds at Hrant Dink’s funeral were an expression of democratic
opinion here.

Those people want Article 301 dissolved or changed very radically. It
was partly responsible for his murder," he insisted.

Government cautious

The government has said it would consider making changes to Article

"We are open to suggestions," Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan
repeated recently.

"We can work on making changes," he said, and stressed that he had
requested concrete proposals from civil society groups last November.

But there is no sign the government is ready to abolish the law
altogether, especially in an election year when all parties are
competing for the nationalist vote.

It seems there is good reason for the politicians to be wary.

When Article 301 was discussed on a phone-in show on NTV radio last
week most callers did not want any change to the law at all.

Political upheaval

"This law protects Turkey and Turkishness. Who does it harm? Not me,
or other patriots," Recep shouted. "The people who want this law
removed have a problem with Turkey."

"Most people in Turkey see any change to Article 301 as an attack,
as an act of aggression against the Republic," explained producer
Barbaros Devecioglu. He has noticed an increasingly nationalistic
tone to calls in recent months.

"People see those who want to change the law as supporters of the
West. They are cynical about the demand, and what lies behind it,"
he said.

The EU has long called for changes in Article 301, arguing that the law
places severe restrictions on free speech in Turkey. Some 50 writers
have been brought to trial here, including Nobel-prize winner Orhan
Pamuk, though most cases have eventually been dismissed by the judge.

Since Hrant Dink was killed, the calls for change inside the country
have grown louder.

"We should not forget that Turkish society has proved it is capable
of substantial reforms in the last five years or so," Pekin Baran
argued, though he believes abolishing 301 is unrealistic in the
current climate.

"I don’t think we are witnessing the end of the reform process. We
are going through a very difficult point which is exacerbated by the
fact we have two elections this year. But we are a democratic society."

The authors of the new-look 301 will now submit their proposal to
the government, as requested.

"They threw the ball to civil society and we have thrown it back.

This will put pressure on the government. They will have to work with
it," said Davut Okutcu.

"Whether they are strong enough to make a decision in an election year,
we’ll have to see."

From: Emil Lazarian | Ararat NewsPress

Emil Lazarian

“I should like to see any power of the world destroy this race, this small tribe of unimportant people, whose wars have all been fought and lost, whose structures have crumbled, literature is unread, music is unheard, and prayers are no more answered. Go ahead, destroy Armenia . See if you can do it. Send them into the desert without bread or water. Burn their homes and churches. Then see if they will not laugh, sing and pray again. For when two of them meet anywhere in the world, see if they will not create a New Armenia.” - WS