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Viewing cable 04ISTANBUL374, FUROR OVER ATATURK'S DAUGHTER'S ARMENIAN ANCESTRY EXPOSES TURKISH RACISM

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
04ISTANBUL374 2004-03-10 12:55 2011-04-07 10:00 UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY Consulate Istanbul
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 ISTANBUL 000374 
 
SIPDIS 
 
SENSITIVE 
 
E.O. 12958: N/A 
TAGS: PGOV PREL TU
SUBJECT: FUROR OVER ATATURK'S DAUGHTER'S ARMENIAN ANCESTRY EXPOSES TURKISH RACISM 
 
 
1. (sbu) Summary: Recent claims reported in two Turkish 
newspapers that the late Sabiha Gokcen -- Ataturk's adopted 
daughter and Turkey's first female pilot -- was Armenian have 
exposed an ugly streak of racism in Turkish society.  The 
reports led a number of prominent figures to make racist 
remarks "defending" Gokcen, which in turn prompted criticism 
from more open-minded columnists.  Perhaps the most alarming 
result, however, has been an intensely personal campaign by 
die-hard nationalists against the editor of the Armenian 
weekly newspaper that first broke the story.  End Summary. 
 
 
2. (u) On February 21, the Hurriyet daily newspaper reprinted 
a claim that had been published two weeks earlier in the 
Armenian weekly newspaper AGOS to the effect that Sabiha 
Gokcen, the adopted daughter of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk and 
Turkey's first female pilot, was of Armenian descent.  The 
claim, based on genealogical research by one of Gokcen's 
descendants, is not considered particularly new or noteworthy 
among Armenian circles.  Nevertheless, its widespread 
circulation in Hurriyet prompted many prominent figures to 
make racist and insulting remarks: 
 
 
-- Hurriyet columnist Emin Colasan wrote two editorials last 
week on the subject.  Colasan asks why such claims were put 
forward when it is obvious that "dead people can't defend 
themselves" against such "slander and lies." 
 
 
-- The Turkish Air Association (founded by Ataturk to promote 
the Turkish Air Force) released a statement describing the 
"completely fabricated and unfounded" reports "not merely as 
an insult to Gokcen, but also as an insult to Ataturk." 
 
 
-- The Turkish General Staff (TGS) issued a statement 
criticizing the reports regarding Gokcen's ethnic origin as 
an "unfounded and unfair campaign against Ataturk 
nationalism" and "a claim that abuses national values and 
feelings." 
 
 
(Note: In contrast to the TGS statement, Aegean Army 
Commander General Hurshit Tolon earlier commented that if 
Gokcen was Armenian, it is important proof of the "greatness" 
of Turkish nationalism and Ataturk's vision.  "It means" he 
said, "that Ataturk understood many years ago that ethnic 
origin has no importance in a globalizing world."  End Note). 
 
 
3. (u) Others, including columnists Oktay Eksi (Hurriyet) and 
Sahin Alpay (Zaman), criticized the racist tone of these 
responses.  Alpay put his finger on the crux of the 
controversy in his February 28 column. "Because Turkish 
identity has been defined... as "those who adopt Turkish 
culture, share Islamic beliefs, and speak Turkish," anybody 
falling outside this definition was not considered part of 
national society.  While these politics may have been 
unavoidable during the republic's formation, in today's 
circumstances they represent a threat to Turkey's national 
unity and territorial integrity... In order to achieve the 
ideal of a modern, free, and democratic Turkey, we need to 
accept that no matter their language or religion, everyone 
with citizenship and a bond of devotion to the Turkish 
Republic is a Turk." 
 
 
4. (sbu) More worrying than this exchange is the fact that 
the publication of these claims has led die-hard nationalist 
members of the Istanbul branch of the Nationalist Action 
Party-affiliated "ideological hearths" to launch a personal 
campaign attacking Hrant Dink, the editor of AGOS.  While 
Dink has not been specifically criticized for publishing the 
story on Gokcen, the publicity it generated prompted some 
nationalists to use a previous Dink editorial to label him as 
a "traitor."  (Note: In the article in question, Dink urges 
Armenians to put aside their poisonous obsession with Turks 
and the "genocide" and to focus instead on Armenia and 
develop a positive Armenian identity.  He is accused of 
labeling Turks as "poisonous."  End Note).  This campaign has 
so far included hostile phone calls to Dink and a February 26 
demonstration outside the AGOS offices by 40 or so 
aggressive, taunting protesters.  Clearly distraught and 
upset by the attacks, Dink confessed to poloff that he has 
even considered abandoning the newspaper. 
 
 
5. (sbu) Comment: These developments spotlight the racism 
underlying Turkish nationalism.  The outrage by Turkey's 
secular establishment also reflects its hyper-sensitivity to 
any perceived attacks on Kemalist ideology.  We can expect 
that any attempt to debate establishment-imposed notions of 
secularism or the meaning of Turkishness will continue to 
bring out sentiments incompatible with Turkey's professed 
adherence to universal norms or EU standards. 
ARNETT