Extracts from a commentary by Ahmet Altan in ‘Yeni Yuzyil’
July 22, 1996
I read a declaration of our Minister of Culture in the paper ‘Hurriyet’ the day before yesterday. He said that “our people like Kirkpinar fighting. [note: Kirkpinar is the place where annual wrestling tournaments are held] They don’t like opera and ballet; hand to hand fighting, that is part of the daily culture of our people!”
Goodness, he’s quite right, the good fellow. We have a society in which we identify with wrestlers, smeared with oil from head to foot, who grab one another brutally by the neck or waist to throw the other down on the grass, a society that enjoys these brutal punch-ups but doesn’t like opera or ballet.
That, no doubt, is why the Minister of the Interior declared that he had “a little surprise for the week” – that week, the mothers of the “disappeared” prisoners were not beaten up by the police! Because, indeed, the fact that old women were not beaten up by the police is a surprising thing in this country.
So, we have in this land a society that likes wrestlers, dripping with oil, that values brutal punch-ups, that from time to time, to give everyone a surprise, omits to beat up old women, that detests opera and ballet, that doesn’t read the papers and is indifferent to poetry.
I confess I sometimes wonder whether “we’re proud of brutal punch-ups and wrestlers, we excel in punch-ups and they form part of our social life”. And our Minister of the Interior will announce to the world the good news: “This week we have a surprise for you – we won’t beat up old women.” Our people will point out as “our most reliable institution” an army that has carried out three coups d’etat. After summary executions, as they transport the bleeding copses of their victims, our police shoot in the air to congratulate themselves on their deeds and the crowds will dance folk dances to joyously celebrate these police exploits.
I have the impression that if we were to disappear from the scene it will not be because of the economy or of politics but because of our strange punch-up culture. Because I really don’t think that, in the present state of world evolution, such a culture can survive.
We, the intellectuals of this country, have just finished the chapter of the last 70 years with a defeat. And this society has just won the most unhappy victory in its history – against its poets and its intellectuals. A victory that unfortunately will cost it dearly.