ANKARA: The fall from building solidarity to cheap commercialization

Today’s Zaman, Turkey
Jan 18 2009

`Hepimiz’: The fall from building solidarity to cheap commercialization

The ridiculous headline "Hepimiz Keviniz" (We are all Kevin),
broadcast by Star news on the announcement and arrival of Kevin
Costner as the figurehead of Turkish Airlines’ (THY) new first-class
service, has been viewed as a gross and thoughtless misappropriation
of a serious slogan chosen by Turks to express their sympathy for
persecuted people both nationally and internationally.

The phrase "Hepimiz" (All of us) was made popular after the
assassination of journalist Hrant Dink in January 2007. Dink was a
talented writer, and as an Armenian with great faith in the Turkish
people, he spent his life working to create an environment of
tolerance and love that would accept him and others like him who did
not fit into the state’s narrow definition of "Turkishness." When his
murderer, Ogün Samast, a 16-year-old, ran from the scene
shouting "I have killed the gavur [foreigner or non-Muslim]," the
nation responded with an outburst of shame. The streets were flooded
with people and signs all defiantly proclaiming the same message,
"Hepimiz Hrant’ız, hepimiz Ermeniyiz" (We are all Hrant, we are
all Armenian).

Since then, the slogan has become a byword for grassroots movements
defending human rights, free speech, equality, feminism and
anti-racism. In 2008 when Italian peace activist Pippa Bacca was
murdered while hitchhiking across Turkey in a symbolic bridal gown,
her death was commemorated by those who mourned the abuse of her
innocence and hope and by women’s groups protesting her rape and
murder with the words "Hepimiz Pippa’yız." The slogan made its
first appearance of 2009 at the opening night party of the film "The
Queen at the Factory." Hande Yener, the oft-touted Madonna of Turkish
pop, stars in the film, which revolves around a brother’s inability to
accept his sister’s homosexuality; she started the party by announcing
"Hepimiz Gay’iz." The most recent example of the use of this phrase
was in response to the savage attacks on Gaza, which have prompted
marches in Turkey under the banner "Hepimiz Filistinliyiz" (We are all

When it first arrived, the slogan was all encompassing; it seemed on a
par with John F. Kennedy’s "Ich bin ein Berliner" or the French
response to Sept. 11, "Nous sommes tous Americains." After generations
of widespread distrust and dislike between Turks and Armenians, some
felt it was an important watershed in the language and symbolism
between the two ethnic groups, something that Dink himself would have
applauded. Indeed the phrase did start with that spirit of
anti-racism. The man who made the first black and white sign and was
responsible for running the headline on the front page of the widely
read Nokta news magazine, journalist Alaz Kuseyri, was inspired by
something he had seen two weeks earlier. At a soccer match in
Ä°stanbul, he watched fans of BeÅ?iktaÅ? player
Pascal Nouma hang signs around the stadium that said "Hepimiz
zenciyiz" (We are all black).

The Hepimiz movement is a small but encouraging sign in a country that
has no specialized national body to combat racism and few NGOs to fill
that gap. According to conservatives, there is no race problem —
there are only economic, political or social problems. Liberals think
differently, and recent legislation put in place under the watchful
eye of the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI)
is a step in the right direction.

School textbooks are being evaluated to remove negative views of some
minority groups, especially Armenians. Judges and prosecutors have
since 2003 undergone special training on the European Convention on
Human Rights. The criminal code adopted in 2004 calls for a jail
sentence of up to one year for anyone who discriminates on the grounds
of language, race, color or religion in the area of employment or
access to public services. There have been modifications to the
notorious Associations Act, which banned organizations based on the
assertion of differences whether they be of class, race, language or
religion. The same act now prohibits associations whose purpose is to
"create forms of discrimination on the grounds of race, religion, sect
or region"; however, it still maintains the oppressive ban on those
who "create minorities on these grounds and destroy the unitary
structure of the Republic of Turkey." But how is one to truly
differentiate between an organization that claims a minority exists
and one whose purpose is to create a minority?

Optimists, like Dink, like to believe that the citizens of modern
Turkey are the inheritors of the multiethnic, multicultural and
multilingual rainbow that was the Ottoman Empire. They think that each
separate ethnic group can be a tributary flowing into the broad fluid
stream of Turkish consciousness, but this seems unlikely in the short
to medium term. Only weeks after Dink’s death, the "Hepimiz" that
surrounded his murder became divided; once the initial shock had
passed, it seemed most people were happy to be Hrant but not happy to
be Armenian. The head of the right-wing Nationalist Movement Party
(MHP) echoed many thoughts when, after Dink’s funeral, he said: "What
does that mean? We are all Turks, we are all Mehmets [Turkish

In the 2005 ECRI report on Turkey, the most common complaint was that
while Turkey talked the talk (i.e., made the legislation), she failed
to walk the walk. Though the report recognized that "changing
attitudes is a much slower process than changing the law," it
specifically commented that there had been delays in implementing
reforms and that administrative and judicial authorities often
deliberately expressed an attitude contrary to new anti-discriminatory
provisions. Television stations such as Star, instead of belittling a
hopeful idea of unity by appending it to a Hollywood has-been, would
do well to promote it and the multicultural ideas that lie behind
it. Turkey’s future mental and political health depends on new
definitions of inclusiveness, and Hepimiz is as good a start as any.

18 January 2009, Sunday