The idle ramblings of a Jack of some trades, Master of none

May 18, 2010

Parochial Hatreds

If people who have lived amongst each other for centuries can scarcely abide each other, what hope is there for more recent admixtures? The Turks and Kurds and Armenians have cohabited for at least a millennium, and to this day they are suspicious of and condescending to their neighbours. An excellent example comes from Christopher de Bellaigue's recent exploration of eastern Turkey titled Rebel Land: Among Turkey's Forgotten Peoples, where he mentions Ismail Besikci, one of those rare Turks who actually was a Kurdophile, and who wrote a series of sociological treatises about eastern Turkey and its people that led to his imprisonment for well nigh on fifteen years. Besikci's crime was to discuss the Kurds as a people distinct from the Turks, with their own traditions and language. To a government adhering to the fierce 'one land, one people, all equal' ideology inherited from Kemalism, this was treason.
Part of the trouble, of course, is that many Turks' stated commitment to equality and integration is a fiction. These Turks are the first to concede, through unguarded expressions of superiority, the existence of a regrettable subspecies, the Kurds. Once, as Besikci sat in the office of a publisher in Istanbul, 'a translator entered, a woman charged with translating a novel from the English. The action takes place in Spain. There is a Turkish character, the sort of character who incarnates all that is bad about human nature. Theft, fraud, drug smuggling, murder, prostitution; he's involved in the lot. "He's guilty of every bad thing under the sun. He's a very bad man. I thought at length about this," the translator said, "and I decided to turn the word 'Turk' into 'Kurd', because I couldn't impute to a Turk so much ill." '


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