In just a few days, Dutch historian Tayfun Balcik, programme coordinator at The Hague Peace Project, a non-governmental organisation, will count articles by or about Muslims in four mainstream Dutch media for the last time. Since 1 November, he has counted and registered on a daily basis, building a database showing how often the word ‘terrorism’ is used in combination with ‘Muslim’, and how Muslim women are represented.
“One group is systematically framed negatively in Dutch media, and that’s problematic”, Balcik said.
‘Stay on the fucking bus.’ Zo begon ik eens een lezing tijdens een journalistiek symposium in Amsterdam. Volgens mij schrok een deel van het publiek een beetje: wat zegt ze nu?! Dus die had ik meteen weer wakker, zo aan het eind van de middag na een reeks andere sprekers. Stay on the fucking bus, een beter advies is er niet voor zelfstandig werkende creatieven. Mijn bus, die zette eind 2011, begin 2012 koers naar Koerdistan. Dus daar ben ik nu, na ruim een jaar Nederland, weer terug.
Dit is mijn derde column voor Frontaal Naakt sinds ik onlangs besloot er met regelmaat te gaan publiceren. In deze column leest u waarom! Lees verder op Frontaal Naakt.
Opinion piece about the restored diplomatic ties between Turkey and the Netherlands. Published in Dutch daily De Volkskrant, 23 July 2018. Underneath is the Dutch version. The English one is here: Turkey and the Netherlands’ converging ideologies.
De diplomatieke relaties tussen Nederland en Turkije zijn hersteld, zo bleek vrijdag uit een gezamenlijke verklaring van de ministers van buitenlandse zaken van Nederland en Turkije. Wat er niet werd bijgezegd, is dat de regeringen van beide landen ideologisch steeds meer op één lijn zitten, aldus journalist Fréderike Geerdink.
MAKHMUR, Iraq ― Diversity is what defined the land that is now Nineveh Province and its capital city, Mosul, for thousands of years. Like other parts of the Middle East, it is historically multi-ethnic and multi-religious. While many of those who now fight hard to kick the so-called Islamic State out of Mosul pay lip service to the beauty of this cultural richness, their proposals for governance of the region after ISIS are merely scenarios for more ethnic and religious strife. A more logical solution, put into practice already in northern Syria, is hardly ever discussed.
ISTANBUL – The Turkish parliament has passed a law that permits the use of Kurdish in court houses. The right to defend oneself in one’s mother tongue is an important demand of the Kurdish political movement.
The law was approved after an emotional debate. Some opposition MP’s claim the use of any other language than Turkish in courts will break the unity of the country.
Kurdish MP’s on the other hand think the law doesn’t go far enough: only in certain parts of a court case will the use of other languages than Turkish will be permitted, and the accused has to pay for a translator himself. For those reasons the law also doesn’t meet EU standards.
The Turkish government says it is determined to solve the Kurdish question in the country. This law is part of that process.
In Turkey hundreds of political court cases against Kurds are in stalemate because the use of Kurdish has been totally forbidden up until now.
Nearly two weeks after the car bomb in Gaziantep, locals share mixed views of the “city of peace” and tolerance.
The shattered pavement, local shop owners say, was repaired the day after a car bomb exploded on Koruturk Street in central Gaziantep on August 20th, leaving 10 dead and nearly 70 wounded. But not everything could be fixed so quickly: some windows are still broken and a few buildings are still being restored.
“The bomb,” said Imran Akar, “brought us closer together.” Akar, a Kurd from the southeast province of Siirt, works in a flower shop on Koruturk Street with his colleague Bayran Kanbur, a Turk. As they prepared a yellow flower bouquet, the two said that they feel no animosity toward each other because of the bombing.
“Many different groups live in this city. We go to the same mosques, we live in the same neighbourhoods, we greet each other on the street. We are all religious and religion forbids discrimination,” Akar told SES Türkiye.
“Of course,” added Kanbur, “politicians fight over who is responsible for the bomb and try to gain from it, but we just don’t play along with their games.” Preferring to not talk much more about the bombing, Kanbur said the two colleagues may have different opinions about who did it and why. That could lead to arguments and we don’t want that.”
While Akar and Kanbur refrain from discussing what could tear them apart, in a street located around the corner from the provincial BDP office that was torched after the bombing by a mob of Turkish nationalists, a group of neighbours speak in Kurdish.
Among them is Sabiha, 52, whose brother is in jail. “He was caught with seven explosives in his car,” Sabiha said, refusing to give her last name and preferring to talk inside her home.
“The neighbours shouldn’t hear me. We are all Kurds here, but some of them are assimilated and I’m not sure if I can trust them,” she said inside her home. Her brother was sentenced to a long prison sentence six years ago, she said.
“As far as we know, he acted on his own. He has never talked about what he intended to do.” The only thing she knows is that what her brother did is “günah,” a sin. “Just like the bombing here two weeks ago, Allah doesn’t allow it.”
Gaziantep is referred to as a tolerant city, or even a “city of peace,” because it has never been confronted with terrorist attacks before. But it is not only that explains Orhan Kemal Cengiz, a lawyer and human rights activist.
“In Gaziantep several groups live together. But there is no serious tension between the groups like you see in other cities where the Kurdish population has grown due to immigration, like in Mersin or Izmir. In those cities, you have not only Kurdish immigrants, but also many nationalist Turks, and it can be explosive if these two come together,” Cengiz told SES Türkiye.
“The people behind the bomb, whoever they were, want direct confrontations between Kurds and Turks. Luckily that didn’t happen in Gaziantep. The city kept its calm,” Cengiz added.
In Gaziantep, the nationalist MHP is not among the biggest parties, neither is the other end of the political spectrum, the pro-Kurdish BDP. Many Kurds vote for the AKP, or CHP if they are Alevi.
But to call Gaziantep a ‘city of peace’ because of that is a step too far, according to Cengiz. “I don’t think there is such a city in all of Turkey. This country had so many conflicts in its history and none of them have been faced. That needs to be done before you can speak of real peace.”
Underneath the surface
Hasan Yilmaz, 32, couldn’t agree more. He works for a bank, but in his free time he writes about the news as a citizen journalist on his own Tumblr-page. He felt a need to write about the city where he was born and raised: “I read in the papers about the tolerance in Gaziantep, but I don’t recognise my city with that description,” he told SES Türkiye
“On the outside,” Yilmaz said, “there is no trouble, but underneath the surface there is. Kurds are being discriminated against. They are underpaid, excluded, and cursed. The biggest complaint is that the Kurdish immigrants ‘ruined the city,’ I know, I am a Turk, I hear it around me all the time.”
Yilmaz also referred to the Armenians and Jews that lived in the city until the 1920’s and 1970s, but who were forced out or left due to rising pressure against minorities in the whole of Turkey. “So if you ask me if Gaziantep, city of peace, will change because of the bomb blast, I say it never was a city of peace to begin with.”
In the north-west of Turkey at least a hundred people tried to lynch a Kurdish family. Eighteen people were wounded,, according to reports in Turkish media on Tuesday.
The incident occurred in the province of Sakarya, east of Istanbul. The Kurdish family had come from south-eastern Diyarbakir to earn money in the hazelnut harvesting season. According to reports a small group attacked the Kurds, and claimed ‘these Kurds try to kill us’. More people joined the beating, until at least a hundred people had joined the assault. The family said they would return to Diyarbakir and forget about the harvest.
It’s not clear whether the attempted lynching was connected with increasing tensions between Kurds and Turks after the bombing in the southern city of Gaziantep last week. Nine civilians were killed in that blast. The investigation into who is responsible for the attack is ongoing, but many people are accusing the violent Kurdish movement, the PKK.
Lynchings of minority groups are not unusual in Turkey. Apart from Kurds, gays, transsexuals, alevis and Armenians also often become victims.
Read this related article, published in a monthly magazine in the Netherlands, about hate crimes in Turkey.
“Abdullah Gül has no right to speak”, I hear all the time as a reaction to President Gül resisting the ideology of Dutch politician Geert Wilders, which discriminates against people and marginalises them. That’s because Gül has a problem handling minorities in his own country, the argument goes. Kurds and Christians in general and Armenians in particular are mentioned as examples. True. But let us not forget an important difference: Gül’s country is actually making progress when it comes to handling minorities, while the Netherlands are, under Wilders’ leadership, going backwards.
The problem that Turkey has with its minorities is solidly anchored in the pillars of the republic. One of the most important of those is: we are all Turks. So Kurds were named ‘mountain Turks’, Armenians and Greeks could officially exist as minorities but were in fact forced to assimilate or leave the country, Roma became society’s outcasts.
Since the AKP, the party President Gül hails from – he is non-party in his role as President – has been in power, the pillars of the republic are being questioned. As well, the truth that everybody in the country is a Turk is not as sacred as before. Mountain Turks have become Kurds, Armenians dare to be more visible than ever before, century-old churches are being renovated with state money and sometimes services are held which attract believers from all over the world.
It’s all not enough, and the AKP cannot keep leaning on the successes that have been realised over the last decade. It’s about time for new steps in the democratisation process. But silencing President Gül by pointing out the position of minorities in Turkey when he criticizes Wilders denies the development Turkey is going through.
And it denies the direction the Netherlands is taking. Under Wilders’ leadership whole communities are being placed outside society, because they are supposedly not Dutch enough, or are not respecting our ‘values’, or have a religion that threatens us. Why were the Kurds forced to assimilate? Because they were supposedly threatening the unity of the country, and because they were considered too primitive for the new, modern Turkey. Why were the Christians suppressed for decades? Because they were seen as threat to Turkey’s sovereignty.
That is just how in the Netherlands these days foreigners and Muslims are seen. They should become pure Dutchmen. The multicultural society has been abandoned, and government policies are more and more adjusted to the idea that we all have to be Dutch. In short, the Netherlands are going in the direction where Turkey is coming from. A scary direction, painfully illustrated by Turkey’s history.
ISTANBUL – The controversial shampoo ad with Adolf Hitler in the leading role will immediately be taken off the air in Turkey, the head of the advertising agency that produced it announced on Tuesday.
The company is stopping the campaign because it caused great anger in Turkey’s Jewish community of about twenty thousand people. Hitler praised the shampoo as suitable for ‘real men’. Some people want the advertising agency and the shampoo producer to be prosecuted for spreading hate.
An alliance of 46 organisations in Turkey has started a campaign against hate crimes. ‘Victims hardly ever lodge a complaint, if they live to tell their story.’
Istanbul – The woman who was abused by a taxi driver, punched in the face and kicked out of the taxi, just because she was Armenian: that is not just an attack on that woman, but on the whole community she is a part of. Just as the whole Kurdish community is victimized when a man is lynched by a group of nationalists because he wants to hear a Kurdish song in a night club. Justas all trans-sexuals are victims when two of them are killed on the street. Crimes of hatred: in Turkey a campaign has started to fight them legally.
Hate crimes occur regularly in Turkey, but they don’t always make it to the news. Only if you start following certain organisations and websites will you come across one shocking incident after the other. Murder, lynching, fire-bombing: every month a few serious examples can be found. Main victims: Roma, Kurds, homo- and trans-sexuals, but also Christians and Alevi, a liberal path in Islam.
Broken index finger
Because many Turks have no knowledge of these hate crimes, the Association for Social Change, an alliance of 46 organisations, has started a long term campaign against hate crimes and is making as much noise as possible about every incident. On the internet you can even vote for the ‘hate crime of the month’. The case of the taxi driver who assaulted the Armenian woman was the winner in October. In December the race was between the Kurd who was lynched and an incident in the maternity ward of a hospital: a Kurdish woman was hit while in labour and her index finger was broken by a nurse, because she was a ‘dirty Kurd’. ‘Joke’, was the response from the hospital when the woman and her husband demanded an explanation some weeks later.
Zenne Very popular in Turkish cinemas these days: Zenne, (slang for ‘male belly dancer’). The film is about student Ahmet Yildiz, who was killed in Istanbul in 2008 by his father because of his homosexuality. The film about this hate crime has cranked up the discussion about homophobia in Turkey.
The goal of the campaign is to introduce strong laws against hate crimes. The current law doesn’t oblige judges to punish a crime more harshly when it is based on hate against a certain group in society.
An example is the murder of the Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink in 2007: the killer, a young nationalist, was convicted of the murder, but the hatred of Armenians that was behind it was not taken into account. Legislation is also of symbolic importance, says Levent Sensever, general secretary of the Association for Social Change: ‘The state has to give the signal that hate against certain groups in society is not tolerated’.
Ulas Karan, lecture in law at Bilgi University in Istanbul, goes one step further: ‘Making hatred an issue in the penal code can help to bring people together. You can put measures in the law that only apply in the case of a hate crime. For example, you can force perpetrators to start a dialogue with the group to which the victim belongs. In that way, a law can help to punish and to reconcile.’
The Turkish penal code does have legislation against spreading hatred: article 216. Ironically enough that article is being used to silence dissident voices. Especially Kurdish politicians and journalists are being convicted of it, for example when they demand more rights for Kurds or if they file reports about PKK fighters. ‘A typical example of vague legislation’, says Sensever. ‘The law can be interpreted in many ways, so you can use it to convict whoever you want.’ The article is a ‘sister’ of the infamous article 301, that makes ‘insulting Turkishness’ a punishable offense. Sensever: ‘Such laws are being used to curtail freedom of speech. What we want is that real crimes, like murder and assault, are punished more severely when they are committed out of hate.’
Almost all EU countries have legislation against hate crimes. The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OCSE) tries to get legislation against hate crimes established in the whole of Europe. To that end the OCSE cooperates intensively with local groups, including in Turkey with the Association for Social Change.
A team of lawyers
How difficult the subject is becomes clear from the progress reports of the OCSE: governments hardly ever make data available, often because the data don’t exist. And in Turkey there are hardly any statistics: crimes that don’t exist officially cannot of course be registered. Levent Sensever: The judiciary too is blind to it. A Turkish judge can, outside the law and on his own initiative, give a harsher sentence when a crime is committed out of hate, but this happens very rarely. Prosecutors are not informed, nor are the police, and victims don’t report the crime, if they live to tell it.’
For many years, NGO’s haven’t been working with the Turkish government, but nowadays some dialogue is going on – for example about a new constitution, which could also contribute to decreasing discrimination. That gives the Association for Social Change some hope. As well, the discussion of the Kurdish question is heated, since Kurds are the main victims of hate crimes.
The Association doesn’t detect any political will to introduce new legislation. ‘It’s too early for that’, says Sensever. ‘At the moment, we are working hard to get statistics with which we can convince politicians of the need to legislate. We collect data from all kinds of pressure groups. They know very well what is happening to people in their communities.’ When the time is right, a draft law will be prepared, says Sensever. A team of lawyers from several organisations is working on that already. Levent Sensever, in a hopeful vein: ‘It would be wonderful if legislation is introduced in three, four years.’