Turkey: who wants to shut up Taner Akçam?
For this Turkish scholar, a more democratic society cannot arise in his country until the whole truth about the Armenian Genocide has been accepted
By Ursula GAUTHIER
Despite the bad mood of the army, which is having a hard time digesting the election of the former Islamist Abdullah Gül as head of state, the new Turkish government, conservative and pro-European, took office a week ago, saluted by business circles. Will it be able to reassure those who worry about an Islamification of power and society? Will it succeed in neutralizing the fanatic ultranationalist cells of “Turkishness”? That’s another story.
The disturbing misadventure of Taner Akçam, a Turkish historian and sociologist settled in the United States, shows that there is much to do. A professor at the University of Minnesota Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, Akçam is the author of serious and recognized works on the Armenian Genocide. He is accustomed to the indignant reactions that each of his volumes arouses in Turkish nationalist circles. But ever since the appearance of his latest book, at the end of 2006 (1), his lectures and book tours have become the occasion for angry “patriots” to shout threatening insults. Invited to New York University, he needed police intervention to escape from a mob led by fanatics proclaiming themselves “the sons of Alpaslan Turkes” (founder of the fascist organization better known as the Gray Wolves). His lectures on American campuses must now take place under police protection.
The peak of these disturbing scenes was reached in February 2007, during a trip to Montreal at the invitation of McGill University: Akçam was detained at the airport for four hours, accused of membership in a radical leftist terrorist organization that was implicated in the assassination of NATO personnel during the 1980s. The proof offered by the Canadian police: an article about Akçam in Wikipedia, the “free encyclopedia” of the Web, where malevolent hands transformed his student activism—leafleting and postering—into national security threats. That day, it took the intervention of the dean of the university to free Akçam. But he was cordially advised not to leave American soil. “If I go to Turkey, I risk suffering the fate of my friend Hrant Dink,” he sighs. “The Turkish streets are full of maniacs who are ordered to intimidate us—or to take us down. They belong to killer gangs led by retired military and extremist police officers, as was revealed in the investigation of Hrant’s assassins.” This is the “Deep State,” as it is called in Turkey, where the underworld rubs elbows with the secret services in a nationalist fervor shorn of scruples.
Akçam hopes the new government will abolish Article 301 of the Constitution, which punishes “threats to Turkishness” and legitimizes calls for the murder of the “guilty.” Far from worrying him, the election of Abdullah Gül, from this perspective, looks promising: “The Islamist government arrested about a hundred killers; it is figuring out how Turkey can get rid of its military Constitution. Erdogan and Gul’s AK Party is, in effect, our only hope of democratization.” Provided that the Islamists, until now the adversaries of the military, do not someday seal an alliance with the still-omnipresent “Deep State”…
(1) A Shameful Act: The Armenian Genocide and the Question of Turkish Responsibility, Metropolitan Books 2006. French translation to appear at the end of 2007.
Le Nouvel Observateur