Monday, December 12, 2005

Freedom of Expression

The Turkish tyranny is trying Orhan Pamuk for his politically-incorrect views on the Armenian genocide.

Mr. Pamuk, writing in The New Yorker, finds such antipathy to free expression not just in Turkey, but all around the world (including in India). Progress has brought the developing world a defensive rancor -- seeking to bulldoze free voices into submission. The new Right's borrowing of the stalinist-leftist idea of speech suppression is reprehensible -- true nationalists should stay clear of this.

Here is Mr. Pamuk in his very important essay:

In recent years, we have witnessed the astounding economic rise of India and China, and in both these countries we have also seen the rapid expansion of the middle class, though I do not think we shall truly understand the people who have been part of this transformation until we have seen their private lives reflected in novels. Whatever you call these new elites -- the non-Western bourgeoisie or the enriched bureaucracy -- they, like the Westernizing elites in my own country, feel compelled to follow two separate and seemingly incompatible lines of action in order to legitimatize their newly acquired wealth and power. First, they must justify the rapid rise in their fortunes by assuming the idiom and the attitudes of the West; having created a demand for such knowledge, they then take it upon themselves to tutor their countrymen. When the people berate them for ignoring tradition, they respond by brandishing a virulent and intolerant nationalism. The disputes that a Flaubert-like outside observer might call bizarreries may simply be the clashes between these political and economic programs and the cultural aspirations they engender. On the one hand, there is the rush to join the global economy; on the other, the angry nationalism that sees true democracy and freedom of thought as Western inventions.

V. S. Naipaul was one of the first writers to describe the private lives of the ruthless, murderous non-Western ruling elites of the post-colonial era. Last May, in Korea, when I met the great Japanese writer Kenzaburo Oe, I heard that he, too, had been attacked by nationalist extremists after stating that the ugly crimes committed by his country's armies during the invasions of Korea and China should be openly discussed in Tokyo. The intolerance shown by the Russian state toward the Chechens and other minorities and civil-rights groups, the attacks on freedom of expression by Hindu nationalists in India, and China's discreet ethnic cleansing of the Uighurs all are nourished by the same contradictions.


froginthewell said...

I hear ( I am not well versed in this issue at all ) that it was not just armenians perishing in Turkey but quite a few Turks were killed in the rest of Europe. This issue is never raised. Unfortunately for westerners only the murder of fellow-westerners and women amount to murder.

And I doubt if the so-called "the non-Western bourgeoisie or the enriched bureaucracy" have anything to do with nationalism. Most of the recently rich just don't seem to care about such issues.

doubtinggaurav said...

Ironically Mr V. S. Naipaul supports demolition of Babri Masjid.

I am one of those "Hindu Nationalist", but I didn't know that I was rich, thanks for informing me.


Jaffna said...

Come on Frog-in-the-well, there is no comparison between the ethnic cleansing of Turks in the Balkans during World War 1 and the wholesale Armenian genocide. An entire nation of 1.5 million had been murdered in one of the most shameless episodes in modern history.

But interestingly, the Armenian republic is keen that Turkey joins the EU - Europe then becomes its neighbor while Turkey would be less beligerent - or so it hopes.

froginthewell said...

What I heard ( from a lecture here , I don't know much more ) is that the most reliable source of information about the Armenian population of that time is the Turkish census before the alleged genocide, and according to this there were lesser than 1.5 million Armenians in Turkey to begin with ( I forget the number quoted ). Moreover most of the deaths were caused by the stressful journey that the evacuated Armenians had to make. Please see the summary of the position of the Turkish government and intellectuals in wikipedia.

One should also consider the fact that Turkey atleast made an attempt to formally try those involved in the massacre ( again, I only heard this; don't know how authentic it is ). I am not sure the imperialist powers ever did such things in their colonies.

Now I am not saying all the things I am quoting are correct but I am pained at the western tendency to look at only one aspect of it.

Also please see the controversy regarding Mr. Pamuk mentioned in wikipedia. Possibly this is a case of third-worldish-country writers trying to get fame by slamming their own culture.

Jaffna said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Jaffna said...


Thanks for the info. Useful. I have no comment on Pamuk since I would need to read him first before I pass judgement on him.

But turning to the issue of genocide, the figure of 1.5 million dead is the conservative one. Armenian estimates give it at 3 million. This is not confined to those killed between 1914 and 1919 alone. It includes those killed in organized campaigns in the late 1800s as well. Yes, there is a Turkish version of events but it stands disputed.

The Armenians rose up in revolt like the Greeks, Bulgarians, Macedonians, Serbs etc in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The Ottoman empire was crumbling due to the rebellion of its largely Christian subject nations. The Arab revolt came later i.e. in the early 1900s. In each instance, West Europe (and Russia) helped the "subject nations" in order to expedite the dismemberment of the Ottoman empire. The Armenian genocide needs to be contextualized in this background. However it does not justify the sordid episode. And the numbers can not be deflated by twist of argument the way dishonest "intellectuals" in Ankara might attempt to do so.

The Wikipedia article is balanced (i.e. giving almost equal prominance to the Turkish interpretation) to the extent that it does disservice to the victims. It would dare not cover the holocaust in similar fashion (i.e. giving a revisionist perspective in addition to the standard perspective taught in universities).

I am surprised that you mention that many Armenians died due to the "stressful journey" that the "evacuated" Armenians had to make. Come on! This still counts as murder. Many Jews perished in transit enroute to the concentration camps in World War 1 (as opposed to the firing squad or gas chamber) and their numbers are quite rightly included as holocaust victims. The fact remains that a vibrant Armenian community no longer exists within Anatolia, vast swathes of which were predominantly Armenian in ethnicity. It was only the Armenians who lived under the Russian empire (the present Republic) who still survive.

The Turks and Greeks agreed to a mutual exchange of populations around the 1920s. Much of what is Turkey today (i.e. Istanbul, Konya and Izmir) had large Greek populations. The Kurds have had a bad deal until recently. Let's not even mention the issue of Cyprus and Turkey's role there.

I think that Turkey better own up to its pathetic record - of course as you point out acknowledging western imperialism's not so benign role either.

froginthewell said...

I agree. Thanks and regards.


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