By Emma Ross-Thomas, Reuters
Fear has engulfed Turkey's intelligentsia since the murder of Turkish-Armenian editor Hrant Dink. Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk has cancelled a book tour and more than a dozen other writers have been assigned bodyguards.
Attacks against writers in Turkey are not new. More than 50 journalists have been killed since the 1970s but Dink was the first since 1999, the year Turkey became a candidate to join the European Union and embarked on major human rights reforms.
"There's deep disappointment among intellectuals, that we're back to square one," said leftist columnist Cengiz Candar who had a bodyguard for 10 years but no longer. "There's an uneasiness... Your lifestyle changes when you have a bodyguard," he told Reuters.
Dink was shot outside his newspaper office in Istanbul last month by a teenager apparently inspired by ultra- nationalist ideas. He had angered nationalists with his writings on the mass killing of Armenians in Turkey in 1915. One of seven men charged in the case warned Pamuk to watch out as he was hauled into court. Pamuk has now called off a planned trip to Germany. Like Dink, Pamuk has faced trial for his views on the Armenian issue.
Though Turkey is much more politically stable than in the volatile 1970s or 1990s, writers and activists fear a rising tide of nationalism ahead of presidential and general elections this year that is partly fuelled by disillusion with the EU. They want the government to scrap a controversial law that makes it a crime to insult Turkish identity. Article 301 has been used against Pamuk, Dink and many others.
The writers say the law makes them a target for nationalist violence, even though few are ever convicted under it. Some, like Dink, say they have received death threats from ultra-nationalist websites.
An official at the Istanbul governor's office said 18 people have been given bodyguards since Dink's death. Sara Whyatt, a program director at PEN, the global association that fights for writers' interests, says what makes Turkey particularly unusual is the number of fiction writers who are targeted.
Novelist Elif Shafak faced trial under article 301 for comments on Armenians and Turks made by one of her fictional characters. Both Shafak and Pamuk have bodyguards.
Turkey's government strongly condemned Dink's murder and vowed to bring the culprits to justice. But it has resisted calls, including from the EU, to scrap 301 and said insulting national identity is a crime in other European countries too. This attitude risks emboldening militant nationalists ready to use violence against perceived enemies, analysts say.
"There is a congenial atmosphere that condones and exalts their actions. They believe they are doing something positive for their country," said Ankara University's Dogu Ergil.
Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has said the government may amend the article but is very reluctant to abolish it.
"Because of the election, the government is not acting as vigorously as expected. Erdogan ... is backtracking on 301. We feel his heart is not in it," said leading Turkish commentator Mehmet Ali Birand, who also has a bodyguard. "The tension will increase until the presidential election, then the mood will change," he predicted.
Turkey's parliament elects a new president in May.
(Photolur photo: Orhan Pamuk.)