Geopolitics

Death Of An Armenian Editor, Crimes Of Turkish History

Seven years after the assassination of Turkish-Armenian editor Hrant Dink, silence remains on the crime of incitement to murder - just like last century's Armenian Genocide.

In Istanbul for the 98th anniversary of the 1915 mass killing of Armenians
In Istanbul for the 98th anniversary of the 1915 mass killing of Armenians
Ahmet Insel

-OpEd-

ISTANBUL – Last Sunday was the seventh anniversary of the assassination of Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink.

For seven years, the "coalition of silence" reigns, blocking the revelation and prosecution of those responsible for the atmosphere that led to the death of the so-called “treacherous Armenian.” These forces guided and encouraged the murderer, and praised the act he carried out, and continue to do so seven years later.

Those who pushed a 17-year-old to commit this murder, knowing he would get a reduced sentence, have been touched by nobody. The court voiced its powerlessness. Those within the state structure who knew such a murder was in the works got promoted; one even became a cabinet member.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has recently removed the chief of police who failed to prevent a corruption probe regarding his close circle, crossed his name, but awarded those who were responsible for allowing the murder of Hrant Dink. The conservative coalition of power in vicious conflict today was in harmony when it came to prosecute the triggerman, and to not confront the rest.

Dink was 52 when he was gunned down in 2007 by a teenager (Wikipedia)

The prime minister who does not hesitate one second to shake down the police and judiciary to defend himself, the government, his AKP party's administration holds on to a hypocritical silence to not to reveal the power organization behind the murder of the Armenian newspaper editor.

Poison gas

The murder of Hrant was not an isolated event. The killing of Sevag Balikci while serving in the military in 2011 in the Batman province by a “stray bullet” from his friend's rifle on April 24; the anniversary of the great massacre the Armenians were exposed to in 1915 and after, the great crime, the Genocide was not an isolated event either. Nor were the slayings of the Italian Priest Andrea Santoro and the employees of the Zirve Publishing House in Malatya. All of these acts are a manifestation of the same mentality. Even if they were not ordered from somewhere specific, they are acts fueled by the same poison gas the ruling powers have released in this society's atmosphere for centuries.

The criminals are the ones who use this poison gas of nationalism for its own ends; and for its secular version ultranationalism, the Muslim-Turk chauvinism that has sought to create a 99% Muslim society – and yet are not satisfied with that, and pray onward for a 100% Muslim Turkey. This is the foundational crime of the Republic of Turkey. The murder of Hrant is a link in the chain of these massacres, murders, rapes, confiscations, pillages and organized violations of rights.

And on forgiveness?

Of course, it is not easy to face such a great crime, especially if the individuals who forged the founding links in this criminal chain have long since died. Moreover, if the guilty parties have inherited an entire society that is in partnership with the crime. The title of French criminal lawyer Antoine Garapon"s 2002 book describes the situation between Turkey and the Armenians: “Crimes That Can Be Neither Punished, Nor Forgiven.”

Armenians marched by Turkish soldiers, 1915 (Wikipedia)

In his book, Garapon states that the Nuremberg and Tokyo trials were firsts, and it became even harder at the end of the 1990's to hide behind national sovereignty to avoid prosecution for crimes against humanity. He says it is a meaningful coincidence that the NATO planes started bombing Serbia to stop the mass murder in Kosovo on March 24, 1999 was the day the British House of Lords decided to eliminate the immunity of Chile's bloody dictator General Augusto Pinochet.

That day 15 years ago is the symbolic moment when the traditional right of sovereignty, by both judicial and militaristic means, could no longer stand in the way of the fight against such crimes. This was followed by the first international crime investigation against a sitting head of state and the start of the trial of Slobodan Milosevic on October 12, 2001. The International Criminal Court was founded in 2002, authorized to prosecute crimes against humanity within its jurisdiction.

The aim of the court is to answer the mass murders in the name of humanity. Because, more often than not, either the legal system of the countries where these crimes are committed is unsuitable to try them, or the criminals have the power to challenge the law.

In fact, these are crimes the penal law are often unfamiliar with; ones committed, encouraged or assisted by a political decision from a ruling administration. Garapon states these crimes are committed by making a part of the society, mostly a big part, partners in crime with the support of the rule of law. And so it is not possible to pursue these crimes with the traditional penal law methods – and gets even more complicated if they were committed during a state of war.

Time to speak

The Allies of World War I have jointly declared the ethnic cleansing committed against the Armenians by the Ottomans was “a crime against humanity and civilization” on May 24, 1915. The concept of crimes against humanity was first mentioned in relation to this event.

A great national alliance in Turkey has been at work since then to leave this great crime undefined and the partners in crime unprosecuted; if we do not count the parentheses opened and shortly closed during the 1919 trials. There is a great coalition of silence and cooperation formed to deny the great crime committed against the Armenians; to leave it undebated, forgotten.

This is the seventh anniversary of the slaying of Hrant. In a few months, it will be the 99th anniversary of the act that eliminated the Armenians from these lands. Call it anything we want: crime against humanity, Genocide, the great crime, the great disaster, the great sin; we are talking about the same enormous crime in the end.

Is it not time for today's Republic of Turkey to declare its deep sorrow for such a crime, and apologize to all Armenians after 100 years of silence?

And let us not forget: this great crime is not just a legacy of the past. The same crimes are being committed today, right here. The ones who defend the offenders are together keeping their silence alive. We will not be a part of this by staying silent ourselves. For Hrant, for justice.

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Green

Ecological Angst In India, A Mining Dumpsite As Neighbor

Local villagers in western India have been forced to live with a mining waste site on the edge of town. What happens when you wake up one day and the giant mound of industrial waste has imploded?

The mining dumpsite is situated just outside of the Badi village in the coastal state of Gujarat

Sukanya Shantha

BADI — Last week, when the men and women from the Bharwad community in this small village in western India stepped out for their daily work to herd livestock, they were greeted with a strange sight.

The 20-meter-high small hill that had formed at the open-cast mining dumpsite had suddenly sunk. Unsure of the reason behind the sudden caving-in, they immediately informed other villagers. In no time, word had traveled far, even drawing the attention of environment specialists and activists from outside town.

This mining dumpsite situated less than 500 meters outside of the Badi village in the coastal state of Gujarat has been a matter of serious concern ever since the Gujarat Power Corporation Limited began lignite mining work here in early 2017. The power plant is run by the Power Gujarat State Electricity Corporation Limited, which was previously known as the Bhavnagar Energy Company Ltd.

Vasudev Gohil, a 43-year-old resident of Badi village says that though the dumping site is technically situated outside the village, locals must pass the area on a daily basis.


"We are constantly on tenterhooks and looking for danger signs," he says. Indeed, their state of alert is how the sudden change in the shape of the dumpsite was noticed in the first place.

Can you trust environmental officials?

For someone visiting the place for the first time, the changes may not stand out. "But we have lived all our lives here, we know every little detail of this village. And when a 150-meter-long stretch cave-in by over 25-30 feet, the change can't be overlooked," Gohil adds.

This is not the first time that the dumpsite has worried local residents. Last November, a large part of the flattened part of the dumpsite had developed deep cracks and several flat areas had suddenly got elevated. While the officials had attributed this significant elevation to the high pressure of water in the upper strata of soil in the region, environment experts had pointed to seismic activities. The change is evident even today, nearly a year since it happened.

It could have sunk because of the rain.

After the recent incident, when the villagers raised an alarm and sent a written complaint to the regional Gujarat Pollution Control Board, an official visit to the site was arranged, along with the district administration and the mining department.

The regional pollution board officer Bhavnagar, A.G. Oza, insists the changes "aren't worrisome" and attributes it to the weather.

"The area received heavy rain this time. It is possible that the soil could have sunk in because of the rain," he tells The Wire. The Board, he says, along with the mining department, is now trying to assess if the caving-in had any impact on the ground surface.

"We visited the site as soon as a complaint was made. Samples have already been sent to the laboratory and we will have a clear idea only once the reports are made available," Oza adds.

Women from the Surkha village have to travel several kilometers to find potable water

Sukanya Shantha/The Wire

A questionable claim

That the dumpsite had sunk in was noticeable for at least three days between October 1 and 3, but Rohit Prajapati of an environmental watchdog group Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti, noted that it was not the first time.

"This is the third time in four years that something so strange is happening. It is a disaster in the making and the authorities ought to examine the root cause of the problem," Prajapati says, adding that the department has repeatedly failed to properly address the issue.

He also contests the GPCB's claim that excess rain could lead to something so drastic. "Then why was similar impact not seen on other dumping sites in the region? One cannot arrive at conclusions for geological changes without a deeper study of them," he says. "It can have deadly implications."

Living in pollution

The villagers have also accused the GPCB of overlooking their complaint of water pollution which has rendered a large part of the land, most importantly, the gauchar or grazing land, useless.

"In the absence of a wall or a barrier, the pollutant has freely mixed with the water bodies here and has slowly started polluting both our soil and water," complains 23- year-old Nikul Kantharia.

He says ever since the mining project took off in the region, he, like most other villagers has been forced to take his livestock farther away to graze. "Nothing grows on the grazing land anymore and the grass closer to the dumpsite makes our cattle ill," Kantharia claims.

The mining work should have been stopped long ago

Prajapati and Bharat Jambucha, a well-known environmental activist and proponent of organic farming from the region, both point to blatant violations of environmental laws in the execution of mining work, with at least 12 violations cited by local officials. "But nothing happened after that. Mining work has continued without any hassles," Jambucha says. Among some glaring violations include the absence of a boundary wall around the dumping site and proper disposal of mining effluents.

The mining work has also continued without a most basic requirement – effluent treatment plant and sewage treatment plant at the mining site, Prajapati points out. "The mining work should have been stopped long ago. And the company should have been levied a heavy fine. But no such thing happened," he adds.

In some villages, the groundwater level has depleted over the past few years and villagers attribute it to the mining project. Women from Surkha village travel several kilometers outside for potable water. "This is new. Until five years ago, we had some water in the village and did not have to lug water every day," says Shilaben Kantharia.

The mine has affected the landscape around the villages

Sukanya Shantha/The Wire

Resisting lignite mining

The lignite mining project has a long history of resistance. Agricultural land, along with grazing land were acquired from the cluster of 12 adjoining villages in the coastal Ghogha taluka between 1994 and 1997. The locals estimate that villagers here lost anything between 40-100% of their land to the project. "We were paid a standard Rs 40,000 per bigha," Narendra, a local photographer, says.

The money, Narendra says, felt decent in 1994 but for those who had been dependent on this land, the years to come proved very challenging. "Several villagers have now taken a small patch of land in the neighboring villages on lease and are cultivating cotton and groundnut there," Narendra says.

They were dependent on others' land for work.

Bharat Jambucha says things get further complicated for the communities which were historically landless. "Most families belonging to the Dalit or other marginalized populations in the region never owned any land. They were dependent on others' land for work. Once villagers lost their land to the project, the landless were pushed out of the village," he adds. His organization, Prakrutik Kheti Juth, has been at the forefront, fighting for the rights of the villages affected in the lignite mining project.

In 2017, when the mining project finally took off, villagers from across 12 villages protested. The demonstration was disrupted after police used force and beat many protesters. More than 350 of them were booked for rioting.

The villagers, however, did not give up. Protests and hunger strikes have continued from time to time. A few villagers even sent a letter to the President of India threatening that they would commit suicide if the government did not return their land.

"We let them have our land for over 20 years," says Gohil.

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