By Burak Akinci, Agence France Presse
Hated by ultranationalist groups for their dissident views, liberal Turkish intellectuals have grown even more anxious due to increasing threats and hate mail following the murder of ethnic Armenian journalist Hrant Dink.
Speculation has been rife here that Orhan Pamuk, the winner of the 2006 Nobel Literature Prize, has fled the country over security concerns ever since he left for New York last month to teach at Columbia University, where he is a fellow. Pamuk has chosen to remain silent over his departure which came two weeks after Dink, 52, was gunned down outside the offices of his weekly newspaper in Istanbul by a 17-year-old suspected nationalist.
The novelist's close friends and publishers in Turkey deny claims that he has fled or gone into a temporary exile after receiving threats, similar to those sent to Dink before his killing. "He did not escape from Turkey, there was nothing extraordinary in his departure and he will be back," a close colleague said on condition of anonymity.
Dink had become a hate figure for describing as genocide the 1915-1917 massacres of Armenians under the Ottoman Empire and had been given a six-month suspended sentence under a controversial penal code article which penalizes insulting "Turkishness". Like Dink, Pamuk had also been tried under the same article for contesting the official state line on the World War I massacres which categorically denies they constituted genocide.
The case was dropped on a technicality but turned Pamuk into a "traitor" for ultra-nationalists. One of the eight men charged over Dink's murder warned Pamuk to watch out and "come to his senses" while he was being brought to court last month. Pamuk is among more than a dozen intellectuals and journalists who were assigned bodyguards not long after Dink's murder.
Another one is Baskin Oran, a professor of political sciences and author of a controversial government-sponsored report in 2004 which made radical recommendations to the government to improve the rights of the restive Kurdish community and non-Muslim minorities. The report was branded treasonous by nationalists, disowned by the government and led to Oran facing charges of insulting the Turkish judiciary of which he was acquitted.
Oran, who has been receiving threats since then, wrote in a recent newspaper column that there was a "culture of lynching" in Turkey and argued that the state had to protect its citizens without waiting for them to request protection. "Did I ask for protection? No. I do not demand it, it is the state's principal duty," said the academician who recently filed a complaint over the threats he received.
"The prosecutor summoned me and asked whether it would be possible for me to reconcile with those who threaten me. I said no," he wrote.
Erol Onderoglu, the representative in Istanbul of media rights watchdog Reporters Without Borders, said that police, already under fire for their handling of the Dink case, finally assigned protection to intellectuals so as not to face any more embarrassment. Turkish newspapers have accused police of receiving intelligence last year of a plot to kill Dink, but failing to act on it, while a video leaked to the media two weeks ago showed security forces posing with Dink's alleged assailant for "souvenir pictures" shortly after his capture.
"When police are able to put thousands of officers on duty at football matches, could they not also assign bodyguards to these intellectuals," said Onderoglu, who described the threats against intellectuals not as isolated acts but an organized campaign.
Since Dink's killing, a group of 10 non-governmental organizations have presented a proposal to amend the penal code article -- under which Dink was convicted -- in order to limit its scope and boost freedom of expression. Facing both presidential and general elections this year amid a rising wave of nationalism, the government has yet to give its view on the proposal to change the article.