Poetry in Erdogan’s Turkey: Jihad in, Satire out

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On March 8, the Turkish Minister of Finance Naci Agbal read verses from a poem titled Amentu (“I believe”) by Ismet Ozel. The verses recall the Turkish -Greek war in 1920s in Anatolia and refer to the Greeks as kafirs (infidels).

“The adhan (call to prayer) is no longer heard. The cross has been erected on minibars (mosque pulpit),

The kafir Greek has flown his flag on mosques, on everywhere

Then come, my brother, join our hands altogether

Let’s explode the bombs and silence the [church] bells everywhere.”

While the finance minister of Turkey, a country that fancies itself as a candidate for EU membership, read these verses during his speech at Turkey’s parliament, the Turkish prime minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, met with his Greek colleague, Alexis Tsipras, in Izmir and told him, “Let’s remove the word ‘war’ from our relations.”

Apparently, the poem which openly calls for “exploding the bombs and silencing the [church] bells everywhere” is perfectly fine according to Turkish-Islamic standards. No state authority or prosecutor has demanded the minister be brought to account for reading it.

At the same time, the satirical, obscene poem read by the German comedian, Jan Bohmermann, which was critical of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, however, put the Turkish government in an extreme state of rage.

On March 31, Bohmermann “offered to illustrate impermissible ‘abusive criticism,’ saying, ‘You’re not allowed to do this,’ and read the poem on German TV. Besides its crude sexual references, the piece accused Erdogan of repressing minorities and mistreating Kurds and Christians,” reported Reuters.

If there were a normal government in Turkey ruled by somewhat democratic people, the poem by the German artist would never be a matter of such a frantic debate.

Some people would just laugh at it, others would be disturbed. Some would think it was an intriguing example of artistic expression; others would think it was done in poor taste. Wise ones in Turkey would probably try to learn lessons from it: “Why is that artist criticizing or even mocking us like that? Maybe we are at fault and we should change our ways.” All in all, the poem would probably be in the news for a few days, and then be mostly forgotten.

But above all, the artist would never be exposed to any criminal prosecution for reading a poem that contained profanity but that did not call for violence in any way, shape or form.

The Turkish government authorities could have as well ignored the poem and focused on the real problems of the country – including why the perpetrators who sell Yazidi women in the southeastern province of Gaziantep, Turkey were recently acquitted of any crime.

In December, 2015, the German NDR and SWR TV channels produced footage documenting the slave trade being conducted by the Islamic State (ISIS) through a liaison office in the province of Gaziantep in Turkey, near the border with Syria.

On April 17, 2016, the Turkish newspaper Hurriyet reported that the Gaziantep police department had raided the said office and found $310,000, many foreign (non-Turkish) passports and 1,768 pages of Arabic receipts that demonstrate the transfer of millions of dollars between Turkey and Syria.

Six people were brought to court for their involvement in crimes including “being members of an armed terrorist organization.” But the complainant, the Gaziantep Bar Association, was not even invited to attend the hearings that lasted for only 16 days.

“We learnt the ruling accidentally. The court made the decision of acquittal without looking into the documents found by police,” said Bektas Sarkli, the head of the Gaziantep Bar Association, adding that they will go for an appeal.

Apparently, in Turkey, selling Yazidi women and children is not a very big deal. The real “crime,” according to the Turkish government, is the poem of Bohmermann.

Numan Kurtulmus, the deputy Prime Minister of Turkey, and the spokesperson of the government, called the poem a “serious crime against humanity.”

The comedian, who now stands accused of “insulting a foreign leader,” a crime in Germany, could face jail time for reciting a satirical poem on German television. The “sensitive” Turkish government prefers to prosecute those who recite “offensive” poems, but not the ISIS members who sell Yazidi women and children.

Erdogan, too, made a complaint against Bohmermann as a private person on charges of “being insulted by the poem.”

Ironically, in 1999, Erdogan, then mayor of Istanbul, spent four months in jail after a conviction for religious incitement through a poem he publicly read. The poem by the pan-Turkic author Ziya Gokalp (1876 – 1924) had an overtly violent message:

“The mosques are our barracks, the domes our helmets, the minarets our bayonets and the faithful our soldiers.”

In July, 2011, Erdogan, who was then prime minister, read the same verses at Turkey’s parliament.

In May, 2015, at a public opening ceremony in the province of Siirt, President Erdogan read the poem once more (see video below) – this time together with his supporters.

The poem openly called for jihad – but according to the Islamic ideology, if violence will bring about the Islamization of the victims or their descendants, it is not criminal.

Many Islamists do not see jihad as a crime. For their scriptures openly command them “to chop off heads and fingers and kill infidels wherever they may be hiding.”

Historically and today, the expansionist Islamist raids against non-Muslim peoples are accompanied by mass murders, mass rapes, sex slavery, forced conversions, looting, plundering, mass deportations and so on.

Hence, what the rest of the world would describe as “genocide,” “massacre,” “terrorism” or “ethnic cleansing,” many Islamists describe as “righteous” ways of spreading Islam and of liberating “infidel” lands as well as a good deed (halal) that will open the “doors of Heaven.”

The problem in general seems to be that according to the Islamist mindset, anything inside Islamic scriptures or sharia law such as beating, raping, throat-slitting, beheading, crucifying or selling women as sex slaves is acceptable and not a crime.

But anything outside sharia such as Christmas, a satirical poem, a cartoon of Mohammad and free speech is a crime and must be dealt with by the full force of the law.

The key point is to see the enormous differences between the Islamist ideology — which aims for supremacism, global caliphate and death to or subjugation of non-Muslims — and Western civilization, which protects and even encourages intellectual dissent, free expression and human freedom.

Under German law, prosecutions for insulting a foreign leader can only take place with the express permission of the German government. Although there are currently attempts to pass a bill to abolish the law before Bohmermann’s case can come to court, the Merkel government decided to allow the prosecution to take place.

Sadly, Germany chose to disregard this gigantic civilizational difference and has taken a noxious step to kneeling down to the stealthy threats of Islamists.


Uzay Bulut is a Turkish journalist formerly based in Ankara. She is presently in Washington, D.C. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/uzayb


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Uzay Bulut

Uzay Bulut is a Turkish journalist formerly based in Ankara. She is presently in Washington, D.C.