Friday, December 23, 2005


"The absurd is the essential concept and the first truth." ~ Albert Camus.

I'm used to reading about human rights violations in Turkey. I'm used to the fact that people are prosecuted and imprisoned for speaking the truth, or for speaking Kurdish, or for using "forbidden letters." I'm used to these things, even though I despise them, because I know that this is what passes for normal in Turkey.

Today, though, I read something that I had to read a couple of times because it is, in a certain way, ridiculous. Ridiculous, disappointing, absurd. . . in other words, it is another example of what passes for normal, from the Washington Post:

Even before the bloody head of a sheep turned up on the brewery doorstep, the makers of Roj beer had reason to suspect their light, malty lager might not be to everyone's taste.

There was the hate mail, a virulent torrent of insults invoking mothers, sisters, dogs, blood and "dreamers like you."

There was the knock on the door of the brewer's Istanbul representative, who was taken from his house one evening in late September by Turkish security officers and interrogated till dawn.

Did you get that? This is about beer. . . Kurdish beer and the reactions to it in Turkey. Not only do human rights activists, Kurdish politicians, Turkish and Kurdish writers and journalists and others have to worry about the knock on the door in the middle of the night, but now brewers of Kurdish beer need to worry:

"My life is in danger, I think," said the company's managing director, N. Keske, so spooked by threats he asked that his full name not be published. "This is your last warning," read the note under the sheep's head.

The article mentions estimates of Turkey's Kurdish population as between 10 to 15 million, but it could be as high as 20 million, the point being that this would be the target population for Roj Beer's marketing efforts. Simply by labeling the beer as "Kurdish," you might win over a hefty chunk of that 15 to 20 million member market. What's the problem in that, especially in a country that tries to convince everyone else that it has a modern, free market economy? Well, one reason could be that Efes Beer, a Turkish beer, has 70% of the market wrapped up. That lock on the beer-drinking consumer in Turkey is proposed as a possible reason for the hold up on Roj Beer's import application process. Can anyone say, "monopoly?"

As the article discusses, there is a lot more at stake with the possible marketing of Roj Beer in Turkey. It has social dimensions. It puts the whole question of Kurdish existence and Kurdish identity right in your hands. You'd be able to read it right on the label and flash back on all the decades of official denial, the whole bloody business of the 1980s and 90s, as well as the current, rising tension over questions of identity and sub-identity.

Can anyone believe these comments:

"I wouldn't advise it," said Filiz Telli, who was sharing a Turkish brew with a co-worker in an Istanbul bar. "And I think a lot of people think like me."

Telli testified to the view that the "Kurdish problem" had moved from the military sphere to the social. The fighting that leveled thousands of villages in Turkey's overwhelmingly Kurdish southeast set off a migration to the cities of the west and north, where Kurds are often viewed as outsiders.

"To say the least, if we were to dress up . . . and go to an environment where the Kurds are, we would feel uncomfortable," said Telli, curling a lip.

"And whatever sector, they just jump in, regardless of whether they know the job," said Senay Badem, her friend.

"It's not only in Istanbul," Telli added. "Go to any nice place and they're either running it or managing it or working there."

These statements illustrate the ultimate absurdity: The victims deserve oppression because without it, they would take over the entire country and, in doing so, would create an environment in which the oppressor would feel "uncomfortable."

The attitude reflected above proves that the comment of the professor from Bilgi University, that there is a definite move of the conflict into the social arena, is true. But I do not agree with him that the potential social confrontation is more frightening than oppressive government. Instead, it is oppressive government that has fostered the social confrontation. The rising nationalist sentiment in Turkey is, in good part, the result of an educational system that has, since the foundation of the Republic, reinforced Kemalism. The educational system has been the crucible in which social confrontation has been produced.

This system has led to a rise in anti-Americanism, antisemitism and, with the latest nationalist calls for the prosecution of the head of the EU-Turkey Joint Parliamentary Committee, I believe anti-Europeanism is next.

There are those organizations in Turkey that have been battling Kemalism in education and curricula, such as Egitim-Sen, the Turkish Academy of Sciences and the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey, among others. See Bianet's education page for more information, especially the article, "Turk-Soldier-Muslim": The Ideal Student.

"As a businessperson, I wouldn't sell it. I see risk," said Ahmet Er, who runs the Vera bar in central Istanbul. "Because there's a situation behind it."

I don't believe that Roj Beer purposely intends political consequences from its product, but there is very definitely a situation behind anything Kurdish in Turkey. Of course, that situation was created by the official ideology of an oppressive government and was supported by the global community. Until that ideology is destroyed, and the minds of the people are liberated from it, there will continue to be an absurd situation that passes for normal.


Vladimir said...

Thanks for your comments and analysis. I didn't even know about this article of Washingtonpost.

Philip said...

["And whatever sector, they just jump in, regardless of whether they know the job," said Senay Badem, her friend.

"It's not only in Istanbul," Telli added. "Go to any nice place and they're either running it or managing it or working there."]

I see good things in these bigoted comments, paradoxically enough. They are the exact same type of comments that lazy, non-competitive people everywhere make about motivated, upwardly-mobile minorities: Jews (in many countries), ethnic Chinese (in Malaysia and Indonesia) Indians (in East Africa), Armenians (in many countries)...

This in no way diminshes the appalling chauvinism demonstrated by the "brotherly Turks" who made these comments.

Mizgîn said...

No problem, Vladimir.

I understand what you're saying Philip. I remain somewhat shocked by the comments though. . . probably because I do not feel comfortable when I am in western Turkey.

You may have noticed in the article that Gray Wolves compile lists of Kurds living there by address, which is not something that makes for a feeling of comfort.

Philip said...

The gathering of addresses to according to ethnic background was of course a feature of Nazi Germany and Rwanda's Hutu brownshirts, the "Interahamwe." Neither of which is a positive omen, not for Turks nor Kurds.