Trouble in Turkey

by Jillian Kay Melchior

The bad news continues out of Turkey, just days after a suicide bombing at the American Embassy in Ankara. Writing for Doublethink, my friend Elisha Maldonado notes some disturbing recent developments:

Turkey’s latest offense involves an Istanbul court’s Jan. 21 decision ordering the pre-trial detention of nine human rights lawyers who have largely focused on human rights cases involving police violence, according to Human Rights Watch, or HRW. . . .

But what is particularly laughable — if one can be permitted to find the absurd in people getting arrested for nothing and everything — is that in the same week the pre-trial detention of the human rights advocates came to light, so did Turkey’s plan to use human rights law to get back ancient relics housed in Western museums.

Usually splintered on the very touchy subject on how to dole out the rights of humans, Turkey has found a united front among lawyers, civil society and government to file a lawsuit with the Strasbourg, France-based European Court of Human Rights, or ECHR, to get back their goods, Turkish journalist Ceylan Yeginsu reported for the International Business Times.

“Turkey will most likely put a unique spin on Article 1 of the First Protocol of the European Convention of Human Rights, filing suit against the British Museum on the grounds that ‘every natural or legal person is entitled to the peaceful enjoyment of his possessions,’” Yeginsu said.

So, basically, the Turkish government has a right to the peaceful enjoyment of possessions, but Turkish people do not have the right to personal freedoms. This “unique spin” gives the impression that Turkey values objects above its own people.

Oft criticized for not appreciating enough the importance of these historical artifacts they now want back, Turkey claims to have learned how to appreciate and care for its cultural heritage. Too bad the same can’t really be said for its people, who perhaps are a greater testament of its culture. They are, after all, the ones creating the future’s relics.

What happens in Turkey matters, and not only for the sake of Turkey’s citizens, either. Like Indonesia, Turkey has a large Muslim population and a thriving Islamic culture — yet it also lays claim to democracy. To the extent that it succeeds in preserving the political freedoms of its citizens, Turkey is an example to the Arab world. That makes recent news all the more disappointing.

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