ISTANBUL — Hürriyet Daily News
Those who resist Turkey's "serious" human rights violations are carrying on their fight and often endure "severe punishment," Noam Chomsky said Saturday in Istanbul.
Chomsky — a world-renowned linguist and professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology — Richard Falk and other academics, intellectuals and journalists met this weekend at Istanbul Bilgi University for the 7th annual "Gathering in Istanbul for Freedom of Expression."
In his opening remarks to the conference, Chomsky lent his support to the “long, unending struggle for rights,” reminding audience members that human rights "have been won, almost never granted from above.”
“There have been substantial gains in recent years since I came 10 years ago," he said regarding the state of human rights in Turkey. Chomsky went on to compare some of the challenges to freedom of expression in the United States and Turkey.
“When it comes to Turkey, the immediate tasks are far more challenging and difficult, but there also are some compensating factors which should be kept in mind,” Chomsky said. “Turkey has its share of extremely serious human rights violations, including crimes ... but Turkey also has a remarkable tradition of resistance to these crimes that includes first and foremost the victims who refuse to submit and continue to struggle for their rights with courage and dedication that can only inspire humility among the people who enjoy privilege and security.”
Chomsky celebrated the vibrant society that exists in Turkey and that continues to fight for freedom of expression despite powerful opposition.
“Beyond that, and in this respect, Turkey has an unusual and, I believe unique, place in the world. These struggles are joined by leading writers, artists, journalists, publishers and others, who not only protest state crimes, but go far beyond ... risking, sometimes enduring severe punishment," Chomsky said. "There’s nothing like that in the West."
Chomksy also commented indirectly on Turkey’s European Union accession process, suggesting that Turkey in fact has a better record on the defense of freedom of speech than some European countries.
“When I visit Europe and I hear self-righteous charges that Turkey is not yet fit to join the enlightened company of the European Union, I often feel and in fact say that it may be the other way around, particularly with regards to the defense of freedom of speech, a record of which Turkey should be proud and from which it can move forward and from which we can all learn a great deal,” Chomsky said.
One audience member at the conference asked Chomsky of which specific achievements in the realm of freedom of speech Turkey ought to be proud, a question that was greeted by laughter from the audience.
Chomsky cited the organizer of this year’s conference, Şanar Yurdatapan, as one example of an individual who has fought for freedom of expression in Turkey. Chomsky also cited his own participation in a court case a couple years ago that took place in Turkey after the publication of one of his works had prompted judicial proceedings.
A large portion of Saturday’s morning session was devoted to remembering the life and fate of journalist Hrant Dink, a Turkish-Armenian journalist who was the editor of the bilingual weekly Agos. Dink was assassinated in 2007, allegedly by ultra-nationalists, after he challenged the Turkish state’s interpretation of how Armenians were treated by the nascent Turkish state during the breakup of the Ottoman Empire.
Tuba Çandar, a journalist and close friend of Dink who has been writing a book about his life, told the audience how she has approached Dink’s life.
“I was there and saw his dead body in front of Agos. I called on him to get up from that sidewalk and talk to us,” Çandar said, referring to her approach to writing Dink’s story. “[Dink] contributed to all aspects of democracy."
Journalists from other countries, including Ukraine, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Russia, spoke at the conference on Saturday, expressing their pessimism regarding the ability of people to express, disseminate, exchange and debate ideas in their respective countries because of authoritarian governments.
Much of the rest of the conference was devoted to leftist theoretical dialogue, deconstructing nationalism and capitalism, and lamenting “neo-fascism” and “neo-liberal authoritarianism.”