As­sas­si­na­tion link em­bar­rasses Turk­ish city; na­tion­al­ism nur­tures vi­o­lence

The Washington Times Weekly - - World - By Ni­cholas Birch

TRAB­ZON, Turkey — Few were sur­prised in this Black Sea coast city when a lo­cal youth con­fessed over the Jan. 20-21 week­end to the shoot­ing death of Turk­ish-Ar­me­nian jour­nal­ist Hrant Dink, the latest in­ci­dent to darken Turkey’s in­ter­na­tional rep­u­ta­tion.

“I bet that’s the work of a lo­cal man” was the in­stant re­ac­tion to news of Mr. Dint’s death in the mind of Mehmet Akcelep, a city coun­cilor who has grown used to see­ing his home­town in the news for the wrong rea­sons.

It was here, last Fe­bru­ary, that a 16-year-old boy fa­tally shot an Ital­ian priest in the lo­cal Catholic church. It was also here, in May 2005, that four stu­dents dis­tribut­ing leaflets about prison con­di­tions nar­rowly es­caped death at the hands of a 2,000-strong lynch mob.

Mr. Akcelep did not have to wait long to see his fears jus­ti­fied. Ar­rested on Jan. 20 on an overnight train, 17-year-old high school dropout and ama­teur soc­cer player Ogun Sa­mast turned out to be from Pelitli, a sub­urb of Trab­zon.

“I said my prayers and then I shot [Mr. Dink],” Ogun re­port­edly told in­ter­roga­tors. “I feel no re­morse. He said Turk­ish blood was dirty blood.”

Na­tion­al­ism al­ways has been a fun­da­men­tal in­gre­di­ent of Turk­ish so­ci­ety. As a po­lit­i­cal move­ment, it has tra­di­tion­ally been strong­est in the towns south of the 13,000-footh­igh moun­tains di­vid­ing Trab­zon from the bleak Ana­to­lian in­te­rior.

Now, Trab­zon has be­come a lead­ing cen­ter of mil­i­tant Turk­ish na­tion­al­ism, and lo­cals said the phe­nom­e­non could spi­ral out of con­trol.

“What you have here is a head- less mon­ster, a nurs­ery for po­ten­tial as­sas­sins,” said Omer Faruk Al­tun­tas, a lawyer and lo­cal head of a small left-wing party.

“You may not like its poli­cies, but at least the MHP con­trols its fol­low­ers,” agreed Mehmet Akcelep, re­fer­ring to Turkey’s big­gest ex­treme na­tion­al­ist party, the Na­tional Move­ment Party. “But Sa­mast and hun­dreds of oth­ers like him aren’t party peo­ple; they’re free par­ti­cles.”

Lo­cals say the sources of what one Turk­ish com­men­ta­tor has la­beled “ba­nal fas­cism” in Trab­zon are par­tially eco­nomic. Sur­round­ing vil­lages used to be pros­per­ous; then the hazel­nut mar­ket col­lapsed and farm­ers fled to the city in the tens of thou­sands.

Ogun’s dis­trict of Pelitli is made up of for­mer vil­lagers forced out of their homes by floods and land­slides. Youth un­em­ploy­ment is high and most teenagers while away their time in one of two In­ter­net cafes, or play­ing soc­cer.

Those deep-seated griev­ances have been stoked by the be­lief that Trab­zon has suf­fered more than its share of ca­su­al­ties in Turkey’s 25-year war against Kur­dish sep­a­ratists.

The May 2005 mob at­tack on four stu­dents oc­curred in an at­mos­phere of na­tional hys­te­ria trig­gered­byanat­tempt­byt­woKur­dish teenagers to burn the Turk­ish flag. Turkey’s top gen­eral called the flag­burn­ers “so-called cit­i­zens.”

Crit­ics of de­vel­op­ments in Trab­zon blame all lo­cal au­thor­i­ties, but re­serve their harsh­est words for the press.

“Three or four times, they’ve pretty much in­vited peo­ple to take out their guns and start shoot­ing,” said re­tired teacher Nuri Topal. The lynch mob formed af­ter lo­cal television sta­tions ran news flashes say­ing the stu­dents were sep­a­ratists.

In most Ana­to­lian towns, few peo­ple watch lo­cal television or read lo­cal news­pa­pers. In Trab­zon, both are im­mensely pop­u­lar and in­flu­en­tial, mainly be­cause of the town’s ob­ses­sive re­la­tion­ship with soc­cer.

The only non-Is­tan­bul club ever to win Turkey’s soc­cer league, Trab­zon­spor is a cen­tral part of the city’s iden­tity. The club has long been ru­mored to be close to lo­cal mafia groups en­riched by Trab­zon’s key po­si­tion in Black Sea hu­man-traf­fick­ing net­works. Many think its in­flu­ence on lo­cal so­ci­ety is neg­a­tive, too.

“Trab­zon­spor and its sup­port­ers as­so­ci­a­tions have be­come a semiof­fi­cial chan­nel for na­tion­al­ist thought,” said lo­cal hu­man rights ac­tivist Gul­tekin Yuce­san.

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