Friday, April 24, 2009

24 April 2009

220 Armenian Intellectuals Exiled in 1915 Commemorated

24 April 2009

On 24 April 1915, over 200 Armenian intellectuals were exiled and then killed. The Human Rights Association commemorated this loss to Armenian, Ottoman and Turkish society.

The Human Rights Association’s (İHD) Committee against Racism and Discrimination commemorated 24 April 1915, the day that Armenians worldwide recognise as the beginning of the forced exile of Armenians from the Ottoman Empire, with an event in the Tobacco Depot in Istanbul.

On that day, 139 Armenian intellectuals were arrested in Istanbul and forcibly taken to Çankırı and Ayaş in central Anatolia. They were then killed.

A loss for all of society, then and today

Lawyer Eren Keskin spoke at the event entitled “24 April 1915 and Armenian Intellectuals: They were arrested, they were evicted, they did not even get a grave stone.”

She said that the death of these intellectuals represented a loss not only for the Armenian language, culture, thought and science world, but also for the Ottoman society of the time and for “the world of all of us today.”

An exhibition displayed stories and pictures from a book entitled “Memory of 11 April”, written by Teotig in 1919 and dealing with the deaths of the intellectuals.

Music eliminating borders

The commemorative event started with a concert of the Kardeş Türküler folk group which performed songs in Armenian, Kurdish, Suryani, Arabic and Turkish.

The group members said that they had fulfilled a wish of murdered Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink in December, when they had organised a tour in Armenia together with the Turkey-based Armenian choir Sayat Nova.

“We saw that the Ararat mountain embraces Yerevan just as much as it does Ağrı province.”

Keskin said, “We, who believed what we were told, and who stayed quiet even if we did not believe it…we are all guilty.”

Stories of lives cut short

Publisher Ragıp Zarakol and members of the Bosphorus Performance Arts Society (BGST) theatre department read life stories and poems of and by Rupen Sevag, Siamanto (Atom Yerjeyan), Taniel Varujan, Teotig (Teotoros Lapçinyan) and Krikor Zohrab, all of them killed in 1915.

Around 100 people attended the event, among them Hrant Dink’s widow Rakel Dink and his brother Orhan Dink, journalist Sarkis Saropyan, academic Ayşe Gül Altınay and lawyer and IHD branch head Gülseren Yoleri.

After Zarakol recounted the life of Armenian musician Gomidas, Keskin ended the commemoration with a quote from the musician:

“It was spring, but here it was snowing.”

Istanbul - BİA News Center

Monday, April 20, 2009

Turkey: Confessions of a "Dirty War"

Abdulkadir Aygan is a man with no life and no future, and his youth was spent as an assistant in Hell. He only stays alive, it seems, in order to bear witness. The first of two articles below comes from Le Monde, and I bear responsibility for the translation and its inadequacies. The second appeared first in Taraf, a Turkish newspaper, and it subsequently appeared in English translation at Welcome to the world of JITEM and the people it employs.

Turkey: the ghosts of a "dirty war."

Guillaume Perrier & Olivier Truc, Le Monde, 13 April 2009

A recluse in a village "somewhere in the south of Sweden," Abdulkadir Aygan lives under the protection of the Swedish secret services. And for good reason: this refugee makes Turkey tremble with each of his revelations. Formerly a member of the Kurdish PKK rebels, he was "turned" by the Turkish Army in the 1990s. He then collaborated with JITEM, a secret unit of the gendarmerie [Turkey's rural military police force -ed.] charged with carrying on the anti-terrorist struggle. For six years he took part in crimes perpetrated in the southeast of Turkey, at the height of the "dirty war" conducted by the army against Kurdish rebels and a population accused of supporting them. Abdulkadir Aygan left Turkey in 2003. Today, he speaks.

"I was hired as an antiterrorist functionary in September 1991, registry number J27299," he says, in his Swedish home. With compelling detail, he reviews the torture sessions and summary executions of militants, suspected of supporting the Kurdish cause, of which he was a witness. Hundreds of unexplained murders and abductions were committed in southeast Turkey between 1987 and 2001. "There are close to 1500 known people who disappeared," estimates Sezgin Tanrikulu, a human-rights lawyer in Diyarbakir, "5000 including unexplained murders."

In Turkey, the testimony of Abdulkadir Aygan has revived the inquiry concerning these disappearances, and has raised hope among the victims' families. The body of Murat Aslan, a young man of 25 who vanished in 1994, was recovered ten years later, burned and buried beside a road. "We arrested him at a cafe, after someone denounced him to us, and led him to the local office of JITEM," Aygan remembers. "A corporal who was an expert in torture hung him from the ceiling by his hands, with weights on his feet. He beat him. He was kept three or four days without food. Me, I evaluated the information he gave." According to Abdulkadir Aygan, Murat Aslan was finally sent to Silopi [a town on the Iraqi border], then led to the banks of the Tigris. "He was blindfolded and handcuffed. The junior officer, Yuksel Ugur, shot him, and Cindi Saluci doused him with gasoline and set him on fire. It was thanks to my testimony that his body could be recovered for his family and identified through a DNA test."

The repentant gendarmerie officer also describes "death wells," as they've been called by the Turkish press: pits on the property of Botas, the state petroleum pipeline company, in which seven bodies were thrown in 1994 after having been dissolved in acid or burned. He also states that three trade unionists, arrested the same year and taken by agents to Abdukerim Kirca, the director of JITEM in Diyarbakir, were taken to Silvan [a town north of Diyarbakir] and killed by the latter official with a bullet to the head. "We take what he says very seriously," explains Nuseviran Elci, an activist in Silopi [and president of the Silopi Bar Association]. "After verification, everything that Aygan says turns out to be correct."

The ex-member of JITEM is far from having given up all his secrets. He says that he fears for his life, in Sweden, where he has received threats: Turkey is demanding his extradition to be tried for the murder of Kurdish writer Musa Anter in 1992. "I'm ready to be judged wherever or whenever, but not in Turkey," he responds. "That demand is made in order to silence me."

Since March 9, investigation into the disappearances has taken on a new dimension. On the request of attorneys who base their demands on Aygan's statements, Turkish justice has finally ordered excavations around Silopi, the last town before the Iraqi frontier, and in the region of Diyarbakir. The "death wells," situated close to the principal military barracks of Silopi, and on the property of Botas, have been explored. Like graveyards in many villages, here tens of bone fragments, a green glove, knotted cords, fragments of clothing, a human skull have been discovered.

The trauma, still living, from the crimes committed in the region has resurfaced as a result of the excavations. "People here have known about these crimes for years," says Elci the attorney. From the kebab seller in the central square to the local chief of the AKP, party of prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, all have lost a close relative. Even in Silopi, population 15,000, at least 300 people have been taken away and disappeared.

Ahmet vanished one morning in 1998 after leaving his home. "He was a photographer, married, and father of three children. We never saw him again," says his father, Enver, with tears in his eyes. After the disappearance, the old man remembers having been interrogated by an official of JITEM. "I've thought of nothing else for six years," he says. "Bring back the body of my son." A while ago, having seen television pictures of men digging in the earth for evidence, Enver pushed open the door of the local Human Rights Association: "I thought that, with this Ergenekon affair that is so prominent now, they might have new information."

Tongues have been loosened since the launch, in 2007, of an inquiry into the Ergenekon network, a shadowy military-nationalist power planted within the Turkish state and suspected of having fomented coups and assassinations. Since October 2008, 86 persons - military officers, academicians, journalists, politicians, and mafiosi - have been charged before a special tribunal in Istanbul, with having formed a plot, presumably against the government. Since July, 56 other suspects have been hauled into court. Tens of others could follow.

The existence of the Ergenekon network is not a surprise: Turks have spoken for years about the "Deep State" to describe this ultranationalist network. Dismembered by waves of arrests, the network could pierce the mystery surrounding some of the darkest affairs of recent Turkish history, such as the assassination of Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink...or the toll taken by JITEM in the Southeast. "The founders of Ergenekon were also members of JITEM," Abdulkadir Aygan emphasizes. "Sometimes Ergenekon also used mafia chiefs to carry out its missions. For example, against business owners who they were told to assassinate. One part of the victims in the Southeast was killed by JITEM, but also by other services of the police, the gendarmerie, or the army, and even by the MHP, the far-right nationalist party."

"More than 80 families of the disappeared have broken the silence since December," estimates Nusirevan Elci, who, each week, sees new dossiers arrive. "The Ergenekon investigation has made new witnesses come forth, and it should be concentrated in the southeast: it would recover many actors in this history." To the surprise of inhabitants, numerous high-ranking military officers who were posted in the region during the disappearances, between 1987 and 2001, have been arrested these last weeks: Major Arif Dogan, called "the angel of death," or former general Levent Ersoz, famed for his cruelty.

On March 23, it was Colonel Cemal Temizoz who was questioned. The former chief of JITEM in Cizre, he has been named by suspects as the commander of many abductions. His name brings chills to attorney Elci: "People turned from their path to avoid having to face him." No one dares any longer to take the path which traverses the little roadside village of Kustepe. Empty of its inhabitants and surveyed by three "village guardians," Kurdish militia members supplied by the army, it could be equally shelter or charnel house. The investigators discovered here a large number of bones. "Horse bones, nothing more," grunts one of the village guards, armed with a Kalashnikov and drawing a zero in the air.

"At that time, fear kept us from talking. We risked being killed in our turn," explains Salih Teybogan, a peasant of Silopi. His brother, who worked at the frontier post, was taken while entering his house, and his car was found burned, "two hundred meters from Botas." Several months later, three bodies were retrieved from a well, under an old restaurant, now derelict. "We are going to do DNA tests," says Salih Teybogan. "Things are changing. When I understand that they are going to open the graves, I am coming to reclaim my rights."

The "death wells" affair perhaps sounds the end of impunity for these crimes, perpetrated until very recently. In Istanbul and Diyarbakir, the Saturday Mothers - the Turkish equivalent of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires - have resumed their weekly demonstrations demanding the return of their disappeared children. "Now, we have to have a real truth and reconciliation commission," believes the lawyer Sezgin Tanrikulu. "The problem is, the old members of JITEM are still there, in the bosom of the army."

Colonel Abdulkerim Kirca, named by Abdulkadir Aygan as killer of at least a dozen Kurds during the 1990s, was found with a bullet in his head in January, before he could be interrogated. Officially, it was a suicide. At his funeral, all the upper crust of the headquarters staff was in attendance.


A Chilling Account of JITEM Murders

Abdülkadir Aygan, a former PKK member who then worked for the clandestine JITEM gendarmerie organisation for nine years, now lives in Sweden. Taraf reporter Neşe Düzel talked to him there.

ND: How many years did you stay with the PKK?

AA: I was with the PKK from 1975 to 1985. My connection to the PKK started when I was a high school student in Adana and continued when I left school in 1977.

Did you go up the mountains?

In Turkey I did not, but I stayed in all the PKK camps in Northern Iraq, what is called Southern Kurdistan. I was working as a messenger and guide. I carried important messages from and to a PKK leader called Duran Kalkan and the leaders of other camps. I also took provisions to the camps from villages and guided groups from one camp to another. I guided the group that came to Turkey from the Mahzun Korkmaz camp and carried out the attack in Şemdinli Eruh in 1984, I brought them to the Turkish border. They entered Turkey and attacked.

This was the PKK’s first attack. How did you then join JITEM (Gendarmerie Anti-Terrorism Intelligence)?

I left the PKK in 1985 because I had had enough of the executions within the organisation. The last drop for me was an attack on a hamlet. No one was going to be left alive. I had done the reconnaissance for the attack. One day before the attack I fled from the PKK and told the villagers about the plan. When the villagers saw me with my guerrilla clothes and gun, they called the gendarmerie (security force attached to the army which polices rural areas). They came to the village with a military helicopter and took me.

I will ask you later why you left the PKK. You said that you were fed up with the executions. Did the PKK not look for you later, did they not try to punish you? You informed on them.

I informed on them. I was questioned for 50 days in Siirt, and I wrote a 17-page statement. The superiors in Ankara said, “He has been in the organisation for such a long time, he has got a past. 17 pages is not enough.” The questioning officer told me to write more, so I wrote around 130 pages. In 1977, I was responsible for the military wing of the PKK in Nizip…

At that time you allegedly killed six young nationalists. Did you write about those murders?

No. I did not write about the murders I committed against those we called fascists in Nizip. I wrote about the PKK camps I had stayed at abroad and about the PKK militants I knew. I did not write about any villagers who gave us food. During questioning, they showed me the written statement of Sabri Ok, a high-ranking leader they had caught previously. He had explained everything anyway. Later, Sabri Ok became PKK officer for prisons. They claimed that he had carried out a self-criticism later. But what he wrote in his statement was no different from what an informant would write. The difference to me was that he did not apply for informant status. I did, and I benefited from the Remorse Law. I was taken to Diyarbakır prison.

How did you protect yourself from the PKK members in Diyarbakır prison?

I went to the informants’ cell. They held those who gave themselves up and turned informant in a different place, not among the PKK members. That’s why it was not dangerous inside. Outside is dangerous.

How did you join JITEM?

Because of the Remorse Law I stayed in prison a third of my 15-year sentence. In 1990, I was released. They immediately took me to the military, because I had deserted to Southern Cyprus during my military service in Cyprus. They sent me to Kars to complete my military service in a tank unit. One day a soldier in the battalion said, “Colonel Arif Doğan called on the phone for you. He will call again.”

Arif Doğan is one of the prime suspects in the Ergenekon trial, currently in detention, is he not? Bombs and guns were found at his home and office.

Yes. Up to then, I had never heard of Arif Doğan, and I still have never met him face to face. I only talked on the phone. He was the Diyarbakır JITEM head. He called me again. He told me that Cem Ersever was with him and had recommended me to him. I had met Major Cem Ersever at the Siirt Regiment when I was questioned. I had chatted to him. He was a person who knew a lot about the PKK.

How many years did you work for JITEM?

Nine years. It was 1990…They said, as if they were doing me a favour, “you are doing your military service in Kars, but your family is in Osmaniye. If you want, we can have you brought to Diyarbakır, closer to your family, and you can do your military service in the gendarmerie.” I agreed. At that time there was no mention of JITEM. […]

How did you interpret this special interest from a commander?

I thought that Cem Ersever wanted me in order to make use of my experience. First they took me from Kars to the Privates Education Regiment in Silvan, where they brought other informants too, Ali Ozansoy, Hüseyin Tilki, Ali Timurtaş, Hayrettin Toka…Then they sent us to JITEM in Diyarbakır, but we did not know it was JITEM. We thought we were going to do our military service under the command of the Diyarbakır Gendarmerie for Public Security. We were five, six people…We thought that we were supposed to wear civilian clothes because of our special status, our experience with the organisation, but…

At that time, who was Diyarbakır JITEM commander? Arif Doğan?

No, he had gone, and Cem Ersever had taken his place. His deputy was Aytekin Özen. It was Ersever who told us that we had come to JITEM. “This is JITEM. You will be under my command, wear plain clothes. When you collect intelligence and go on operations, you will wear arms for your own protection.” Just think, the other soldiers had G3 rifles, we were given guns.

How long did you work for JITEM?

It started when I was a soldier in 1990. When I finished my military service, I continued with JITEM as a civil servant until 1999. First they planned to employ us as terrorism experts, then as expert sergeants. But then they turned us into civil servants.

I don’t understand…

They applied Law No 657 on Civil Servants and really made us civil servants. We were officially intelligence officers. The same laws applied to us as to a post office employee, and we had been turned into civil servants working for the military. We had pay slips, taxes, and the right to compensation and a pension. We got a wage, just as a noncommissioned officer, or a JITEM commander got a wage. For instance, I had a look at the pension fund website on the Internet, under the name Aziz Turan…If I work another fifteen years, I can retire.

Your name was changed to Aziz Turan, and Abdülkadir Aygan was registered to have died in combat, is that right?

Yes. My criminal record was also cleaned.

How many activities did you take part in when you worked for JITEM?

They called them “operations. For instance, a criminal was identified. Normally what happens? The security forces catch this person on demand of the prosecution and the prosecution takes that person to court. The person, depending on the crime, goes to prison or not. But JITEM operations were not like that. There were local agents and informants among the people. They told JITEM about those providing the PKK with provisions or having contact with the organisation. Then JITEM did its job.

What does “do its job” mean in JITEM speak? Killing?

“Doing its job” means “illegally taking a person to JITEM, questioning them, killing them and getting rid of the bodies by burning or burying them.” The importance of the operation depended on the importance of the person to be killed. The JITEM commander sometimes informed the Gendarmerie Public Security Gendarmerie Command, and they sometimes informed the Emergency State Governor’s Office, and sometimes they were not informed.

During your time at JITEM, how many people did you take and kill like that? Did you commit unsolved murders?

If you ask me how many of these events I witnessed, around 30…Not all JITEM commanders were the same. Some ordered these kind of things, some did not. Some only asked for intelligence reports and the organisation of informant and agent networks. Also, I had a lot of duties in JITEM.

Such as?

I interpreted when our commanders met with Barzani and Talabani (then the Iraqi Kurdish leaders of the Kurdistan Democratic Party and the Kurdistan Patriots’ Union). At one point I picked up the Iraqi Kurdish Peshmergas wounded in clashes with the PKK and brought them to the airport to be taken to Turkish military hospitals. I translated documents that came into the hands of JITEM into Turkish. I cracked codes. That is why I did not take part in all JITEM operations. But from what I have heard and seen, I would claim that 80 percent of the unsolved murders and crimes in the region were carried out by JITEM.

There is talk of 18-20 thousand murders without known assailant.

I think that is an exaggeration.

How many people do you think were killed by JITEM?

I can only guess in Diyarbakir, not in other provinces like Elazığ, Van, Mardin, Batman… They also had JITEM. During the ten years I was in Diyarbakır, there might have been 600 to 700…but this is a guess.

As a JITEM employee, did you kill anyone?

I do not want to answer this question.

During the time you worked for JITEM, there was a peak in murders without known assailants. How many murders did you witness?

Yes, this was the time with the most murders. They started in 1993 and continued until 1997, until the Susurluk event. Especially in those four years, there were many murders.

Who was Diyarbakır JITEM commander at that time?

JITEM commander was Abdülkerim Kırca, and Diyarbakır JITEM team commander was Zahit Engin. I personally witnessed around 30 operations during that time. But there are hundreds of operations and murders during that time that I did not take part in or witness. Our group carried out around 30 to 40. And then there were the ones that the Diyarbakir team did under the command of Zahit Engin.

Did all JITEM operations end in death?

They all did. I will tell you an interesting story. There was a young man called İhsan Haran, he was said to be a PKK member. His family had migrated to Diyarbakır from an emptied village in Lice. […] He was taken to JITEM and questioned. Then he was taken in the direction of Silvan, and he was left on a piece of land, with a bullet in his head. Later I heard from commander Abdülkerim Kırca that he did not die from that bullet. He walked to Batman and went to hospital. He then reported what had happened. The Batman team was informed, and they told the Diyarbakır team.


They called Kırca on the phone and told him. He said, “Okay, take him to your team immediately, wait. We are coming.” Kırca told me this himself.

Why would a commander tell you this?

He was accusing the ones carrying out the first execution of having botched the job. He said, “The idiots did not kill him. The guy went to the city and to hospital. We went again and completed the job.” Abdülkerim Kırca took some staff with him to Batman, and they took the young man to the plot of land again and killed him. […]

Did you witness this young man’s killing?

I witnessed the first execution. Kemal Ümlük and expert sergeant Yüksel Uğur were there. They took him behind a heap of earth and killed him at night. I did not see who killed him. He was questioned at JITEM and then taken to the plot of land by car.

Why was he killed?

Because he was supposed to be a PKK member…In the Diyarbakır area JITEM generally got its information about the PKK from informer Serpil Toprak. She also worked for JITEM as a civil servant. For instance, it was she who made JITEM take a young man called Mehemt Salim Dönen and his uncle from Silvan. She saw them at a military hospital. The young man was undergoing his medical examination prior to starting his military service and had come with his ncle. Serpil told me that we should call the commander and tell him. Kırca was having dental treatment at Dicle University hospital. We called him. “Do the necessary and take him. I’m coming.” We went to the military hospital by car and took the young man and his uncle to JITEM. The commander came from the dentist’s and started the questioning.

How were they killed?

The uncle had no connections, but we also took him so that he could not report anything. Uncle and nephew were strangled at JITEM and thrown out on the Silvan road.

Did commander Abdülkerim Kırca strangle them?

No, he gave the command. Sometimes when there was questioning with torture, the commander stayed in the room, sometimes he went to his own room and had a drink. These murders were always carried out at night, and torture was carried out after work hours in the evening, when the regular soldiers had gone back to their ward. There were ordinary soldiers working as tea makers, post officers for JITEM during the day. […] There were other military units and institutions in the area. They were not supposed to hear the sound from the torture. […]

How many people from JITEM stayed behind for a night shift for torture and executions?

Depending on the job, four to five people.

How and by how many people were the victims strangled?

With a strangling wire or a cable, sometimes a strong TV cable. Either two or three people strangled them. Torture lasted one or two nights. They were not killed immediately. So that they would not die without making a statement, they were given a slice of bread.

The young man who was killed with his uncle, had he not left the PKK?

Seeing as he was going to the military, he had left the PKK, because a PKK member does not go to the army. Especially not someone who had a higher position…But even if they had left the PKK, they were killed by JITEM. For example, there was a young university student called Servet Aslan. He had a girlfriend called Fatma from Mersin. There was no accusation made about the girl, she was not involved. Following a statement by civil servant informant Serpil, these two university students were taken in after being found walking hand-in-hand in Diyarbakir city. The young man had never gone to the mountains, and he had his girlfriend with him.

What does that mean?

They were in love and they were leading a normal life. A PKK militant would never walk through Diyarbakır city hand-in-hand with a girlfriend. But although the young man cried and said he was not with the PKK…

They were also killed?

Yes, they were also killed…There was a Sergeant Major called Mehmet Çapur. Kırca gave the command. The young couple were taken in the direction of Sivas. They were killed and thrown at the roadside. They were questioned and tortured for two days before. Abdülkerim Kırca himself tortured that girl.

Where is the informant Serpil Toprak now?

She was transferred to Erzurum, where she continued as a civil servant and also completed her nursing education which she had interrupted before. JITEM organised her college registration. We heard that she married a lecturer there.

When you took people outside of the city to kill them, did you put them in the boot of the car?

Sometimes we took them in the backseat, between two members of staff. Sometimes we took them covered in a coat, as if they were ill.

How far out of the city did you go to kill them?

For example, İdris Yıldırım was taken from Silopi (a district in Şırnak) and taken to Elazığ, 150 km away. The reason was that the JITEM employee responsible for his capture lived in Silopi and feared suspicions. He was killed far away in order to protect a JITEM informant. His body was burnt so that no one would identify him.

Who did you work with at JITEM?

From 1990 I worked for Cem Ersever and his deputy Aytekin Özen for about two years. When they left, Cahit Aydin and his deputy Nurettin Ata took their places. Then Abdülkerim Kırca came. I worked with him the longest. Normally each commander stayed two years, but he stayed three, four years. I also worked with Ali Yıldız and Cemal Temizöz.

Did you only witness what Abdülkerim Kırca did? What did the others do?

The most murders happened during Kırca’s time. There were some during Cem Ersever’s time, but not so many. For example, the next commander, Ali Yıldız, acted politically. He never said in front of informants, “Take this person in.” He acted as if there was only normal intelligence reporting. But the Diyarbakır JITEM team led by Zahit Engin was under his command, and they constantly took people to JITEM, questioned them and killed them. We saw and heard about this. People were screaming in the cells and later disappeared. There was a waste container behind the building. We saw how Şehmuz Çavuş or others from the team took the clothes and personal belongings of people there and burnt them. (ND/EÜ)

* This interview was published in Taraf newspaper on 27 January 2009. The headline was changed by bianet.

Taraf newspaper - İstanbul

29 January 2009, Thursday


Thursday, April 9, 2009

The Baby in the Iron Womb

One treads carefully in the Turkish presence. Turkey is no joke.
--Jan Morris

It's a tough audience, the Turkish parliament. Say the wrong thing and you'll quickly discover the disadvantages of growing a mustache. The above photograph was taken 21 December 2008 after a Kurdish deputy of the Democratic Society Party (DTP) got up and told his fellow MPs that it was high time for Turkey to face up to the Armenian Genocide of 1915. As a Kurd, of course, he had his motives for this deliberate provocation: he knew that until the Turks confronted the truth about 1915, they would never recognize reality about the Kurds. It was a gutsy move. He, his DTP party colleagues, and millions of other people are still waiting for something other than a fist in the face.

On April 6, in Ankara, Barack Obama faced the same uncertainties. You could see it on the videos: the tiniest dent in that iron assurance we have come to expect of him. Perhaps it was because Michelle, his partner in world conquest, had left him to be with their daughters back home. In any case, he seemed slightly hesitant as he spoke to the Turkish parliament. "Who are these people?" one can almost hear him thinking; or, perhaps he was mesmerized by the sight of all those mustaches. This was not an easy crowd, nothing like those cheerful Europeans in Prague and London, delirious at having found a U.S. President who actually seemed to have a brain in his head. Most of Obama's Ankara speech, said reports, was greeted with silence.

But, to begin with a generalization, it was as good a speech as one could expect, given the occasion. In it nuance, nonsense, diplomacy, and willful disregard of reality found equal expression. Someone from the military-industrial-diplomatic complex worked hard on this text, and it showed.

First, the nonsense. Those who take a jaundiced view of Turkish nationalism can find plenty of it in Obama's words. He began his speech with the usual--a homage to Ataturk, the Republic's founder--by referring to the morning's signal event, the requisite wreath-laying at Fred's tomb. Here his restraint was admirable. At no point did Obama point out the absurdity of a free and quasi-democratic people, a NATO member and EU-aspirant, bowing and scraping before a personality cult that rivals that of Kim il-Sung.

Obama then moved on to the main event: friendly persuasion and flattery. There were references to Turkey's democracy, a dubious concept, as well as to the friendship between our two peoples--which really is a lie, since I doubt that more than five Americans out of a hundred could find Turkey on a map. (Hell, they can't even find their own country!) Here the message was, Let's Cooperate. The two nations, he said, were working together for peace and prosperity, as was appropriate. Obama affirmed U.S. support for Turkey's EU candidacy. (Which he can do because he knows that France and Germany will have the guts to tell them No.) Cliches like Resolute Ally, Responsible Partner, and Bridges Over the Bosphorus were given the requisite airing. Two Turkish basketball players were duly noted. Obama praised the Turks for their progress (non-existent) on penal code reform, as well as for their establishment (scorned by most Kurds) of a TV station broadcasting in Kurdish. This is where it began to get interesting:
These achievements have created new laws that must be implemented, and a momentum that should be sustained. For democracies cannot be static: they must move forward.
In other words, We know that you've passed a few laws. But you have to make them work; otherwise it's just an empty form. (Which is the game, Turkey-watchers know, that the Turks have always played.)
Freedom of religion and expression lead to a strong and vibrant civil society that only strengthens the state, which is why steps like reopening the Halki Seminary will send such an important signal inside Turkey and beyond. An enduring commitment to the rule of law is the only way to achieve the security that comes from justice for all people. Robust minority rights let societies benefit from the full measure of contributions from all citizens.
Note: "a strong and vibrant civil society that only strengthens the state." This is the toughest sell of all, the idea that the freedoms Turkish officials fear so greatly could actually strengthen their beloved, all-important Turkish State. This is the heart of the matter. And the Halki Seminary? It's an interesting gambit, a reference to a long-closed seminary near Istanbul which the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate desperately needs to have reopened if it is going to sustain itself in its ancient home. If you really become a democracy, Obama is arguing, you become stronger. And upholding minority rights is the key.
I say this as the President of a country that not too long ago made it hard for someone who looks like me to vote. But it is precisely that capacity to change that enriches our countries. Every challenge that we face is more easily met if we tend to our own democratic foundation.
Note: "that enriches our countries"; using the language of inclusion to cajole the listeners into going along. Obama then moved on to admission of past American sins, like slavery, in order to slide into that most treacherous of quicksands, the Turkish treatment of Armenians.
Human endeavor is by its nature imperfect. History, unresolved, can be a heavy weight. Each country must work through its past. And reckoning with the past can help us seize a better future. I know there are strong views in this chamber about the terrible events of 1915. While there has been a good deal of commentary about my views, this is really about how the Turkish and Armenian people deal with the past. And the best way forward for the Turkish and Armenian people is a process that works through the past in a way that is honest, open and constructive.
No one, I submit, is ever going to make a more diplomatic, nuanced statement about this subject. With this Obama and his speechwriters have slipped through a narrow opening indeed. If the "full and frank exchange of views" of diplomatic doublespeak were taken literally, a visitor might have said, "Grow up, people, and stop being afraid. Yes, the murderers of a million Armenians were your ancestors, but the ordinary Turks who worked to save their Armenian neighbors were also your ancestors, as were the army units which refused to participate, and the Ottoman generals and officials who refused to go along. Ataturk himself called it a 'shameful act.' So what is your problem?" Obama would never have said such a thing, but for what he did say he deserves credit.

So for the Greek patriarchate and the Armenian Genocide, two touchy subjects, we can give Obama decent marks. He went on to make a statement which was, for America's tone-deaf news media, a big deal: "[T]he United States is not at war with Islam." And he made a pitch for Turkey's cooperation in Iraq and Afghanistan. But for Turkey's biggest problem, the Kurds, Obama was as silent as a Turk at Easter. True, he had declared himself in favor of "robust minority rights." But in a Turkey defined by the Lausanne Treaty of 1923, "minority" does not apply to the Kurds. Unlike Jews, Greeks, and Armenians, 15 million Kurds do not have official "minority" status in Turkey. They are full-fledged citizens, indigenous residents of Anatolia for thousands of years, who have a culture and language that has never been recognized by the Turkish Republic.

In a short meeting with Ahmet Turk, vice-chairman of the DTP and the "grand old man" of Kurdish politics in Turkey, Obama expressed "sympathy" for the Kurds but said what he had to say, that violence was not a solution for the Kurdish problem. As he said this, Turkey's Kurdish provinces were still reeling from the latest outbreaks of police violence, which left two Kurds dead and a Kurdish female deputy of the DTP injured after being beaten by the state's "security forces." Despite these almost daily reports, it is still official U.S. policy that the PKK, which has made repeated offers of negotiation, is a "terrorist group"; and the Turkish government, which rarely sees a head that doesn't deserve beating or an F-16 that isn't worth buying, is a beacon for democracy in the Middle East.

So nothing really has changed. Obama's speech made some intriguing gambits, and the symbolism of meeting with Kurdish MPs, a group that has been shunned up to now, will no doubt resonate; but without straight talk and an abandonment of the lavish armaments contracts that are the true core of Turkish-American relations, nothing ever will change. Like a baby in an iron womb, Turkish democracy has gestated for decades without hope of accouchement. Turkey's governance has always had one goal: to maintain the state and its power. And the pattern continues. For the sake of the all-important State, political parties have been closed, papers shut down, reporters imprisoned, YouTube prohibited, websites darkened, letters of the alphabet proscribed, and thought crimes punished. While murderers of liberals and ethnic minorities, caught red-handed, go unpunished, people who speak the simplest truths are arraigned and convicted within weeks. Inquiries into the most blatant thuggery drag on, without resolution, for years. Judges render verdicts that defy common sense, then retire to drink tea out of tulip-shaped glasses.

And so it goes.