Not Another ‘Je Suis’ Article

Special for the Armenian Weekly

The attack on the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo last month prompted millions of French citizens and people from around the world to celebrate the slain journalists as martyrs of freedom of speech. We have seen similar waves of reactions in Turkey, Armenia, and the Armenian Diaspora every January since 2007, when editor/journalist Hrant Dink was assassinated in daylight on his newspaper’s doorstep in central Istanbul by Turkish nationalists.

Although in both cases the victim(s) pushed the boundaries of free speech, the circumstances were different in essence. Charlie Hebdo has never made an effort to be considerate of any religious, political, or other sensitivities. Hebdo’s humor is creative and challenging, but also provocative and offensive. Dink, on the other hand, made every effort to engage in dialogue with his readers while writing about the Armenian Genocide and human rights issues in Turkey. He was careful to not antagonize the public. In other words, the French newspaper’s understanding of free speech could be considered a luxury compared to the suppressed minority voice that Dink and his newspaper Agos represented.

The journalists of Charlie Hebdo were massacred by Islamist fundamentalists, who were later killed in clashes with the police. They were condemned and denounced by the French public, including by wide segments of the Muslim communities in Europe, which rejected their radical ideology. In comparison, Dink’s assassin was lionized by the Turkish police; the masterminds behind the plot remained unpunished; and the ensuing investigation and trials have turned into a circus.

Impunity and injustice in Turkey have led to numerous other infringements against the media. Several journalists and columnists have either been jailed or fired from their newspapers for being critical of government policies and the ideology of the ruling Islamist Justice and Development (AK) Party. The latest example is the imprisonment of Istanbul-born Armenian writer and intellectual Sevan Nisanyan.

Sevan Nisanyan
Sevan Nisanyan

Nisanyan is an eccentric and provocative figure. He is known for his tough stance against the Turkish government and his sharp criticism towards Turkish nationalists and conservatives. He is the author of more than a dozen books, including The Wrong Republic, criticizing Kemalism and the foundations of modern Turkey; Index Anatolicus, about the original names of places in Turkey; The Etymological Dictionary of Modern Turkish; and Master, Can I Criticize God and the Prophet.

Nisanyan is also famous for the “Nisanyan Houses.” After settling in Sirince, a former Greek village in the Aegean hills of western Turkey, he renovated ruined historic houses using traditional materials and building techniques, and converted them into highly acclaimed boutique hotels. He also constructed the Mathematics Village near Sirince with his friend Ali Nesin, as well as the Theatrical School and the Nisanyan Memorial Library. However, Nisanyan often ignored bureaucratic hurdles and defied local authorities who wanted to hinder his work.

In September 2012, in response to reactions to the film “Innocence of Islam” in countries with a Muslim majority, Nisanyan wrote in his blog that “Mocking an Arab leader who centuries ago claimed to have contacted God and made political, financial, and sexual benefits out of this is not a crime of hatred. It is an almost kindergarten-level case of what we call freedom of expression.”

In May 2013, he was charged with insulting the Prophet Mohammed, which comes with a prison sentence of 1.5 years. The charges were soon dropped, but Nisanyan’s words brought about an increase in harassment and threats, which eventually landed him in jail in early 2014. Even though the official pretext of his 6.5-year jail sentence was the illegal construction in Sirince, there is no doubt in Turkey that the real reasons are his offensive comments about the Prophet Mohammed. Pro-government newspapers ran headlines declaring, “He got what he deserved” and “This is what happens when you insult our prophet.”

Nisanyan’s jail sentence could be increased by more than two-dozen years, considering he is still facing similar charges in 12 other cases. He has been transported from one prison to another since his sentencing, each time placed in worse conditions. In an interview with CivilNet before going to prison, Nisanyan stressed that his crime was being Armenian.

In a recent interview from prison, a pale and thinner Nisanyan said, “Maybe there is a price for going into too many personal and political fights, and I am paying for them.”

Yet, Dink’s peaceful conduct and attempts to find a common language didn’t save his life in the end. Unfortunately, it was only after his death that we began to see a shift in Turkey. While Armenians in Turkey were still thinking “One life is too much,” another shock came when Armenian conscript Sevag Balikci was killed by a fellow soldier while serving in the Turkish Army—on April 24, 2011, the 96th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide.

While we can cry out and use hashtags claiming “We are all Hrant” or “We are all Sevag,” none of it will bring them back, nor will it stop more abuses against Armenians, minorities, human rights, and free speech in Turkey. Nisanyan is struggling against those who took away his freedom and the lives of many others. We must stand by him.

While we can cry out and use hashtags claiming “We are all Hrant” or “We are all Sevag,” none of it will bring them back, nor will it stop more abuses against Armenians, minorities, human rights, and free speech in Turkey. Nisanyan is struggling against those who took away his freedom and the lives of many others. We must stand by him.

I am not Sevan Nisanyan, and I do not desire to be in his shoes. But I want Nisanyan to be free, as he has always been, to say what others are afraid to say.

avatar

Harout Ekmanian

Harout Ekmanian worked as a journalist with the Arab, Armenian, and Western media for years prior to the beginning of the Syrian conflict. He studied law at the University of Aleppo and was a fellow at the Institute for the Study of Human Rights of Columbia University in 2015. Ekmanian has worked in media and development in Armenia in various capacities at the Civilitas Foundation and Investigative Journalists of Armenia (HETQ). He speaks Armenian, Arabic, English, and Turkish fluently, as well as some French and Spanish. He contributes regularly to the Armenian Weekly.

13 Comments

  1. Long live nissanyan there should be a fund established to raise money to hire strong lawers likeAmal Clooney and pay for judicial expenses to free sinanyan

  2. A gross distortion of facts, particularly the killing of the soldier, which was a disagreement between two soldiers. The other soldier was a Kurd. Another minority rrace, unjustly treated in Turkey according to you. And certainly not a defender of the Turkish flag.

  3. This is what you get when you waste your time trying to do something positive for a nation which has only brought pain for us. It might sound harsh but he is paying for being Armenian in a country that does not want Armenians, even the ones which do something positive for it! He could have left that country for Armenia or some other place and enjoyed his life.

  4. “Sirince, a former Greek village in the Aegean hills of western Turkey”, I wonder if the Armenian Weekly uses a similar style when mentioning US cities, e.g., a former Navajo city, a former Apache city etc. Greeks are an integral part of Western Anatolia no question about that but I don’t see how bringing up the fact that the city of Sirince used to be a Greek city adds anything to your story. If anything, it distracts your readers from your main points, and makes your Turkish readers like myself question whether the Armenian weekly has issues with the current Turkish presence in Western Anatolia.

    • {“ I wonder if the Armenian Weekly uses a similar style when mentioning US cities, e.g., a former Navajo city, a former Apache city etc.”}

      Wonder no more, Uyguroglu.
      Lots and lots of place names in US are from their Native American origins. Unlike invadonomad Turks, Americans do not attempt to erase any traces of indigenous peoples of North America.

      You can review the list below in your spare time.
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_place_names_in_the_United_States_of_Native_American_origin

      {“ Turkish readers like myself question whether the Armenian weekly has issues with the current Turkish presence in Western Anatolia”}

      I can’t speak for AW, but I personally have lots of issues with Turks from East and Central Asia living on the lands of others, after exterminating them, forcibly Islamizing and Turkifying them, attempting to erase all traces of indigenous peoples of Asia Minor, by changing place names and stealing everything that belonged and belongs to those indigenous peoples: lands, properties, gold, jewelry, children, genes, art, cuisine, song, dance,…everything.
      We need to keep reminding Uyguroglu Turks that they are uninvited foreigners on those lands.
      Yeah, I have lots of issues with Turks committing Genocide of Armenians, Assyrians, and Pontic Greeks – and denying it.

      btw: do you also wonder why the leaders of your country have been engaged in a worldwide campaign to not only deny the Armenian Genocide for a 100 years, but also actively interfere with its acceptance by other countries and entities ?

    • I don’t wonder why the leaders of Turkey are engaged in genocide denial campaigns. I already know the answer to that: They are hateful people like you are.

      You think you have the authority to tell people whether they belong to the land that they were born in. I am sorry that my very existence in my homeland is a problem for you. Here is to hoping that you and people who think similar to you will never get a chance to act upon your unfounded hateful ideas.

      ps. I had to partake in many dumb internet conversations before but this brought it to a whole new level when you accused me of stealing genes. I do not know how that is even possible but please don’t bother to explain.

  5. Hello. Great article !

    As a Turkish person, I am so saddened by the continual denial in Turkey of the genocide. I am also saddened by the increasing overall oppression in recent years in Turkey. Turkey is gradually turning into a semi-dictatorial, police state; with Islamisation increasing its presence in many sectors of state and society.

    The future (at least the near future) of Turkey doesn’t look good, especially if AKP wins the general elections again this June.

  6. (T // February 15, 2015 at 1:56 am //)

    In the entire article discussing a very serious subject, the persecution by Turks of a man because he is Armenian (Sevan Nisanyan), and the murder by Turks of a man because he was Armenian (Hrant Dink), you decided to comment on one sentence, this: {“Nisanyan is also famous for the “Nisanyan Houses.” After settling in Sirince, a former Greek village in the Aegean hills of western Turkey,..”}.

    You object to it, because it says “former Greek village”.
    And the reason you object to it is because you don’t want people to know that it was in fact a Greek village, before Turks wiped out the former inhabitants, Greeks.
    Don’t blame your leaders: you yourself is engaged in erasing any traces of the indigenous inhabitants: SOP for invadonomad denialist Turks.

    The fact that you would pose a ‘highly intelligent’ question to AW about Navajo and Apache clearly shows who in this internet conversation is dumb.
    Since you have access to the web, it would be just as easy for you to lookup American place names as it was for me.
    I understand you being a Turk born in Turkey are a challenged product of the Turkish MisEducation Establishment.
    But, like I said: if I can access the web, so can you.

    {“ a whole new level when you accused me of stealing genes.”}

    Where in my post did I accuse you, ‘T’, personally, of stealing genes ?
    Go back and read it again.
    I addressed my comments to:
    “Uyguroglu”.
    “invadonomad Turks”
    “lots of issues with Turks living on the lands of others… stealing…genes…” (Turks, as in plural)

    If you took that last sentence personally, then maybe you are feeling guilty about something, Turk ?

    {“ I do not know how that is even possible but please don’t bother to explain.”}

    It’s no bother: I will gladly explain. We are here to help.
    The way you (plural) steal genes is you murder the parents of the little Armenian girl, abduct her, ‘marry her’ (rape a child), and forcibly attach the nomadic Uyguroglar genes to the unwilling host, who happens to have sedentary, civilized Armenian genes going back at least 5,000 years.
    The way you (plural) steal genes is you abduct all the beautiful young Armenian women, rape them, and forcibly attach your (plural) nomadic Uyguroglar genes to the unwilling host, who happens to have sedentary, civilized Armenian genes going back at least 5,000 years.
    That’s how you steal the genes of someone who does not want to willingly share it with you (plural), Uyguroglar Turks (plural).

    • This concludes our correspondence which was very illuminating. I wish I had the time to learn more about civilized sedentary Armenian genes and nomadic Uygur genes from you. (Uygurs were sedentary peoples btw but that’s not my point here)

      I guess the take-away message here for Turks reading this post is that:

      It is frustrating to not be able to find support to fight against the injustice at home.
      It is even more frustrating to deal with the borderline eugenics fascist arguments from the diaspora.

      Still, without getting discouraged, we need to work toward a more just society at home.

      Freedom to Sevan Nisanyan! Justice for Hrant!

    • And, by the way, T. The phrase “Greeks are an integral part of Western Anatolia” is a typically and narrowly Turkish, i.e. toponymically- and historically distortive expression. When there was the Christian Byzantine Empire, there were no Turkic tribes in sight. Therefore, to say that Greeks were “an integral part” of their own state formation is a misnomer, at best. Absurd might be a more appropriate adjective. Greeks were a forming and not an “integral” part of the lands, which Turks came to rename, in their best distortionist traditions, as “Western Anatolia”. Just like they now call the six Armenian provinces “Eastern Anatolia”. You know why you’re doing this, right? Because you KNOW that the lands were never originally yours…

  7. Wrong, T. Uyghurs were a nomadic tribe from the Altai Mountains in Mongolia competing with rivals in Central Asia, Sino-Tibetan empires to the east, and Indo-European powers from the west. After the collapse of the Uyghur Khaganate in the 9th century AD, Uyghurs settled from Mongolia to the Tarim Basin located in northwest China’s Xinjiang region. Just like the Turks–originally nomadic Seljuks and Mongols–settled in Asia Minor, Armenia, and Cappadocia in the 11th century AD, the lands that never historically belonged to them. Avery is correct in noticing that in the article discussing the persecution by Turks of a man because he is Armenian, you only commented on a sentence that retrieves shameful history of the Turks, that is, wiping out sedentary inhabitants and resettling on their lands. It is this statement of truth that made you uncomfortable. “Borderline eugenics fascist arguments” have nothing to do with stating the historical truth, that is, Turks are not indigenous in the lands they currently live on. Whatever you do and however you rename the toponyms and distort the history, facts are a stubborn thing.

  8. Not that surprising that simple facts are mingled once more here, turned upside down one more time by the various commenters als. Birader Sevan is NOT in jail because he is Armenian. He is NOT in jail because he is an agitator. He is NOT in jail because of what he thinks, says and writes. He is in jail simply because he wantonly broke the law and built where he was not allowed in this case. He knew it was illegal, he was warned, but still went on. Of course, it is ironic if you have ever saw what a mess zonings are in Turkish cities. I admire his intellect, what he has done for the country and his bravery, but being a professional agitator does have consequences. Anywhere.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


*