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Yet More ‘Insulting to Turkishness’ Nonsense

[Originally published in Hurriyet Daily News] Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code has become notorious for good reasons. It used to penalize “insulting Turkishness,” which is a very vague term that could be interpreted as loosely as the judiciary wanted. Thus, many liberals who criticized the dark side of the establishment, or some dark episodes in Turkish history, were put on trial, and some were sentenced. For worse, after being found guilty of “insulting Turkishness,” Armenian-Turkish journalist Hrant Dink was assassinated by a young fascist. In 2008, following widespread criticism, the government played with the wording of the article, and introduced the need for permission of the Justice Ministry to file a case. Since then, the number of Article 301 cases dramatically declined, and many thought the issue was solved. Kütahyalı and Muğlalı Well, not really. Just two weeks ago, another 301 case came out. This time, it is the allegedly quintessential institution of “Turkishness” that felt insulted: the Turkish military. The chief of staff, apparently, did not like what Rasim Ozan Kütahyalı, a young, vocal and liberal columnist for daily Taraf, has written about them. Hence they asked for the permission of the justice ministry to put him on trial. One piece of Kütahyalı that the chief of staff found insulting was titled, “You are not a statesman Gen Başbuğ, you are a state employee.” It argued that the chief of staff is not an elected statesman who can make independent decisions, and that he is rather a “state employee” whose job is to take orders from the elected government. How that can amount to an insult is beyond me. The minister of justice felt the same way, too, apparently, so the chief of staff’s appeal was declined. But Kütahyalı was not so lucky with regards to another piece of his, titled “You are either despicable or stupid.” These were indeed strong words to use against the military, or anyone else, but let’s see why they were used. The topic of the piece was a military garrison in the Özalp district of the southeastern city of Van. In 2004, the garrison there was officially named after Mustafa Muğlalı, a deceased general. Many people in the region and the media protested then, and have continued to protest since. Why? Because general Muğlalı, who served in the 1940s in the same district as the gendarmerie commander, ordered the massacre of 33 Kurdish villagers. The poor men were arrested in July 1943 for smuggling animals over the Iranian border and the court had released them for a lack of evidence. But the hawkish Gen. Muğlalı ordered their re-arrest. He then had them taken to an empty field in the countryside and had them shot dead. He also ordered a document to be prepared saying the victims were “shot when trying to escape.” Quite tellingly, nobody touched this mass-murdering general for years. That was the time that Turkey was under the single-party dictatorship of the all-militarist Republican People’s Party, or CHP. Nobody could dare question the crimes of the regime. Things started to change in 1946, when an opposition party, the Democrat Party, or DP, led by Adnan Menderes, was allowed to compete. The DP joined the parliament that year, and began to question some of the wrongdoings of the regime, including the “Muğlalı Affair.” Thanks to this political pressure, Muğlalı was taken to court. But only after the DP came to power in April 1950, at the first free and fair elections of the Republic, Muğlalı was found guilty: He was sentenced for 20 years in prison. Next year, at the age of 71, he died in jail. Other generals felt for the man, and started to despise the DP government, which they also disliked for not being secularist enough. Here were the early seeds of the military coup of 1960, by which the generals would attack the DP, imprison all its senior members, and execute Prime Minister Menderes and two of his ministers. The 33 bullets Meanwhile, the “Muğlalı Affair” found its way to public consciousness. Kurdish poet Ahmed Arif wrote “The 33 Bullets,” a poem referring to the 33 victims of the tragic event. In the minds of the Kurdish citizens, the name Muğlalı became a symbol of all the suffering they went through under republican militarism. And, in 2004, when a Turkish government was following the footsteps of the DP, and trying to win the hearts and minds of its Kurdish citizens, the name Mustafa Muğlalı became controversial once again. For, as I said, it was given by the Turkish military to the garrison which is exactly in the same area where the infamous “33 bullets” were shot. One doesn’t need to be a rocket scientist to understand that such a move will be found offensive, threatening, and provocative by Turkey’s Kurdish citizens. That’s why, apparently, Rasim Ozan Kütahyalı, an advocate of Kurdish rights, thought that this was a “despicable” and “stupid” thing to do. If you tend to agree, and if you happen to be a Turkish citizen, I would not suggest saying it out loud. For you might face trial for “insulting the military” as well. We, unfortunately, are not living in a fully free country yet.
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