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March 04, 2003

Reality Check On Turkey

Chris Hitchens reminds everyone that Turkey is an ally we might not want to have. Despite its status as an democracy of Muslims, rather than an Islamic democracy, to my eye it resembles the post-World War II autocracies of Greece & Spain more than a liberal nation-state. But the key against their inclusion in the collective of civilized nations is their denial of the Armenian genocide. I don't not think that the Turks are obligated to apologize en masse for an act committed by a very different government and polity (the Young Turks I believe)-and I find the argument that the Armenians were rebellious and seditious plausible-but denying that a mass slaughter occurred of the ancient community of Armenians in eastern Anatolia systematically organized by the Turkish government of the day seems empirically indefensable [1]. Denial is the first stage on the way to liberalism-but they have a long way to go.

Hitchens also has some good stuff on their denial of the existance of Kurds-until recently termed "Mountain Turks."

[1] The Armenian "millet" was probably not particularly loyal to the Muslim Turkish state at this point in history, and wanted its independence just like the Greeks and south Slavic peoples. On the other hand, the mass slaughter that occurred seems disproportionate a response. Nevertheless, the past is the past, but a denial of the past means that we can never forgive & forget.

Posted by razib at 12:27 PM




Forgiveness? The Turks dont need forgiveness from Anyone except the Armenians. And they will never get it because they dont believe they deserve to be forgiven for thier activites. Notice how when ever a culture ethnically cleanses another they do it with good conscience?

Posted by: ShakeyKane at March 4, 2003 05:33 PM


Turkey has all sorts of the usual Middle Eastern ethnic problems that could erupt, so it was perfectly sensible of the Parliament to vote to stay out of a war that threatens to stick a hot poker in those old wounds.

Posted by: Steve Sailer at March 5, 2003 12:07 AM


I don't think that acknowledging the Armenian genocide is so critical. The people of the middle east suffer from an excessive awareness of past grievances, not a deficit. Better to encourage them to look to the future. Hitchens does make some other good points though - especially on the matter of Cyprus and the current all-around sellout of the Kurds (once again). Of course the Kurds themselves I would consider a backward people (based on their treatment of their women, among other things), so it seems there is no good side to be on here. Once again I am reminded why I would just as soon abandon all our military entanglements in the area.

Posted by: bbartlog at March 5, 2003 08:38 AM


Hitchens is so aggressively emotional / partisan / something in his writings that I find it very hard to take him seriously. His article on Turkey is far from being the best on the topic.

I agree that thin-skinned Turkish nationalism is seriously annoying, but I can understand the basis. Turkey is a lot like France. I don't mean in its anti-clerical nationalism (though that is true) but rather in its creation of the nation. The French government created Frenchmen by wiping out non-French languages (and occasionally expelling 'unassimlable' Protestants). Apart from Corsica, France succeeded magnificently. By 1950, France was French.

Turkey also started off with many non-Turks. Some were expelled (greeks), some made into turks (circassians), some, sadly, killed (Armenians). The one non-Turk minority left are the Kurds. If this was 1750, Turkey could complete its' french-style national project.

For Turkey to become truly Turkish. it has to expel, kill, or 'convert' the Kurds.

But it isn't 1750, and international norms no longer permit that kind of behaviour. Turkey, like the rest of the world, has to learn to live with diversity, multiculturalism, and even federalism. It's much more complicated the assimilation, explusion, or genocide, but it's more humane.

Posted by: Ikram Saeed at March 5, 2003 08:58 AM


The Armenian genocide occurred up to 1915, almost 90 years ago under the Ottoman Empire, which collapsed and disintegrated after WWI and was replaced in Turkey by a modern secular Turkish nation. The story is obviously more complicated than that but there has to be some statute of limitations on collective guilt.

Hitchens is, and always has been, a self-publicizing bomb-thrower. I liked his stuff on Kissinger and Ma Theresa, but even the Kissinger stuff used way too many anti-Semitic cliches. Now that Hitchens is throwing bombs from the other side, I don't like him at all of course , but he's very fluent and people on the other side like him fine now.

There aren't a lot of candidates for the model predominantly-Muslim modern democratic state. I don't think that we should be too eager to remove names from that very short list. The analogy with Greece, Spain, and Portugal is pretty good, but none of them was kicked out of Nato and they all did improve.

Posted by: zizka at March 5, 2003 09:28 AM


remember, i'm not saying they have to be apologetic or even guilty. the turks deny the empirical fact that it happened. a noble lie is a hard thing to build liberalism on in my opinion....

i think that the american liberal state has benefited from acknowledging its own shortcomings and atrocities in the past. we try harder to treat ALL americans as equals now that we are aware of the injustices of the past (granted, i think the injustices of the past have now become tools for sectarian politics-and this i object too).

Posted by: razib at March 5, 2003 11:15 AM


Cats and dogs together. I agree with Ikram and Zizka. Perhaps my motivations are different, but on the subject of Hitchens we are on the same page.

He's a great entertainer, though.

Posted by: Diana at March 6, 2003 08:21 AM


Razib, I may be on shaky ground here but I think that Turkey *has* acknowledged the fact that the massacre occurred. It disclaims responsibility, saying that the atrocities happened during a totally different period of history; it's like blaming the Holocaust on post-WWII Germany.

Also, as Hitchens delicately says, most of the actual killing was done by Kurdish troops. But they are willing to offer an empty apology, so they are good and the Turks are evil Turks.

Posted by: Diana at March 6, 2003 08:26 AM


Diane, an old American/Israeli friend of mine asked my opinion of a passage from Hitchens' book on Kissinger which seemed to trot out the old anti-Semitic cliches. I read it, checked around, and assured him that Hitchen indeed did dabble in anti-Semitism, holocaust denial, etc.

This was shortly before 9/11. Then Hitchens came out with his "Islamofascist" / "objective pro-terrorist" stuff, which my friend quoted to me. I had to remind him that it was the same guy.

Posted by: zizka at March 6, 2003 03:52 PM