Kunta Kinte, ‘Armenian Seed’, the Denial of Racism!


Friday, June 22, 2007, ISTANBUL – Turkish Daily News

Orhan Kemal Cengiz

If you asked a man in the street in Turkey what racism means, you would probably receive a vague answer and some random examples rather than a conceptual definition. These examples most probably would refer to other countries, like the United States and European countries, but not Turkey at all!

For us, racism is what the white man did to the black man. Racism is just an image for us haunting our memories from the film “Roots”. It is the picture of the white man who was whipping a black guy: “Say your name nigger”, “My name is Kunta Kinte”, “Your name is Toby boy”, until at last, after hours of lashing, Kunta Kinte gives in and says “my name is Toby sir!” This is the only form of racism we know.

I have never come across any Turkish person who considers himself a racist. However, racist remarks are just flying in the air in the daily conversations in this country. Our language is full of racist remarks. For example, Abdullah Öcalan, the leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party, is called an “Armenian seed” (Ermeni Dölü). If you consider how much Öcalan is hated in this country then you can imagine how “flattering” being an “Armenian seed” may be. “Jews are cowards!” “Arabs are back stabbing people”! Not to mention very offensive vocabulary about the Roma people!

I observe that Turkish people who use racist remarks either as apart of their ultranationalist identity or inadvertently, as a part of their protest against the “games of Imperialist” powers in this country, also have astrong sense of being a victim. They are Kunta Kintes, not the white guy who has the whip in his hand! All this anger and hate arises from this feeling ofbeing the victim – a victim of imperialism, a victim of conspiracies! Where does this distorted identity come from? We have never been colonized, never been captured, none of the Turkish states formed on this territory have been broken up by foreign forces ever! On the contrary, the Ottoman Empire once was the most powerful and feared political entity on the planet!

I do not want to explain at length or analyze the Turkish identity (not in this article at least) but would like to say that being the victim is so deeply rooted in our identities that we cannot consider ourselves as violators. For example, most Turks think we were stabbed in the back by theGreeks, Bulgarians, Romanians and others who declared their independence from the Ottoman Empire. It is very strange, is not it, that a nation that puts so much emphasis on its own independence is so angry with the Ottoman Empire’s ex-subjects for their separation from the Empire and for their declarations of independence.

I believe this feeling of ‘being a victim’ serves as a kind of block in our collective unconscious. It is a way of turning upside down some historical facts in this country. It is a way of not confronting what had happened to non-Muslim citizens of this country. “I am the victim, not the Armenian, or Greek, or Jew!” Today we still have this feeling and it is getting stronger. We are again the victims of the Western powers’ conspiracies against us! We are the Kunta Kintes of the modern times, surrounded by enemies and about to be victimized again by the white man! Are we really!?

Q&A How is the “hate speech” regulated by theTurkish Law?

As I explained in my previous articles for this column, we have a serious problem of “hate speech” in Turkey, especially directed toward minorities. We have an article in the Turkish Penal Code, which punishes incitement to hatred, Article 216 which replaced Article 312 of the former Penal Code. Article 216 reads as follows: (1) A person who openly incites groups of the population to breed enmity or hatred towards one another based on social class, race, religion, sect or regional difference in a manner, which might constitute a clear and imminent danger to public order shall be sentenced to imprisonment for a term of one to three years.

(2) A person who openly denigrates part of the population on grounds of social class, race, religion, sect, gender or regional differences shall be sentenced to imprisonment for a term of six months to one year.

(3) A person who openly denigrates the religious values of apart of the population shall be sentenced to imprisonment for a term of six months to one year in the case that the act is likely to disturb public peace.

I have never witnessed the application of this article to punish ‘hate speech’ directed against the minorities. Instead it has been systematically applied to punish those who claim that in Turkey there are minorities or different ‘peoples’ other than Turks. By saying this they are supposed to be ‘inciting hatred’ within the society! But I have never seen this article pressed by prosecutors against those who really incite hatred towards Protestants, Armenians, Greeks, Jews and others! We Turks are the only Kunta Kintes in the world!