Monday, March 23, 2009

Folk song propaganda 

I don't mean to make a big issue of the Armenian genocide recognition bill -- posting twice in a year is normally enough -- but over the weekend someone emailed me a BBC article indicating that the Turkish government has escalated the debate with the release of a movie titled Sari Gelin, or Blonde Bride.

Sari Gelin, or "Blonde Bride", was commissioned by the Turkish General Staff and distributed in recent months by the education ministry.

It is an attempt to counter what Turkey calls "baseless" claims that Ottoman Turks committed genocide against the Armenians in 1915.

The DVD was sent to all elementary schools with a note instructing teachers to show it to pupils and report back.

At the school of Mr Kaya's daughter, children as young as six had to watch.

"This film is not fit for adults, let alone children," he says.

"They're promoting discrimination, branding certain people as 'others' and teaching children to do the same. My daughter will not be part of this enmity."

Mr Kaya has applied to the courts to sue Education Minister Huseyin Celik, arguing the film incites ethnic hatred against Armenians.

There are around 50,000 Turkish-Armenians left in Turkey, mostly in Istanbul.

In a statement last month, the ministry said it had stopped distributing the film and claimed it was never intended for children.

But teachers are still receiving official reminders to screen it.

Sari Gelin is an old tale, which probably has Azerbaijani or Turkic roots, of intermarriage between a Turkish Muslim man and a Christian, blonde Armenian woman.* There are various versions of the story. (As a side note, it's also a folk song, performed here by an Armenian man on the duduk in the pre-Christian temple at Garni, if my eyes are right. There are Turkish performances as well.) It ends badly for the couple, in some versions the boy dies and in others the girl does. We can guess how it turns out here:

"The word Armenian is used very many times and always negatively," says Ayse Gul Altinay, a board member of the Hrant Dink Foundation.

She has good reason for concern.

Two years ago, Hrant Dink - a prominent Turkish-Armenian writer - was shot and killed by a teenager, who saw him as an enemy of the state.

So, the foundation created in his memory has also applied to the courts to get Sari Gelin withdrawn from schools.

"Showing young people a film with graphic scenes of violence, that repeats over and again that the Armenians stabbed the Turks in the back, and killed innocent women and babies and civilians is very dangerous," Ms Altinay says.

"We worry it will create more hatred."

The subtitle of the movie is "Armenian issue" which is how most Turkish denial literature presents the question. The cover also says it's "the true story". Without getting into a debate over the historical record, I think it's fair to say this video represents an escalation of official Turkish efforts to dispute that record. (It's gone on less officially for a very long time.) And this happens at a time when Turkey's admission to the EU is under great scrutiny, and while it shows some signs of willingness to open trade and cultural links with Armenia.

None of this would I expect to lead the Obama Administration to cancel its planned visit to Turkey. It's more likely to inflame than change if the Administration did so. But it would be welcomed if, during his visit to what is, after all, a forum on dialogue between the West and the Muslim world, President Obama called for an end to ethnic tensions among all the people in the Middle East and made mention of both the Kurds and Armenians.

*--While you'd struggle to find a blonde Armenian these days, that's because of the amount of intermarriage that occurred in the 1400 years or so up to the latter 19th C . Armenians were originally an Aryan tribe.