Doğa Ulaş Eralp
When the Nobel Prize committee decided to grant its literature prize to Peter Handke, citing the 77-year old Austrian’s unique emotional and nostalgic existentialist prose, Turkey, along with several Western Balkan states voiced its outright condemnation of the Nobel Committee’s decision. Peter Handke is a genocide denier. Since the early 1990s, Handke has openly sided with the Milosevic-led Serbian government. Later, he denied that the 1995 Srebenica genocide ever took place and opposed NATO’s intervention in Kosovo. After Slobodan Milosevic died, Handke delivered an emotional speech at his funeral. Peter Handke’s mother was a Slovene who committed suicide. The writer was left to grow up with German stepdad to whom he never felt attached. It is said that Handke projected his desire to reclaim his Slavic heritage through his brand of romantic existentialism and unconditional defense of Milosevic’s brutal policies and denial of the Srebrenica genocide.
Handke’s views are an insult not only to the direct survivors of the Bosnian and Kosovo wars but also to millions of Muslims in the Western Balkans and their descendants who have suffered waves of genocidal attacks since 1878 Russo-Turkish war. Turkey, as a country built on the back of Muslim refugees who had to flee en masse from the Balkans to Anatolia, defended the memories of the thousands of civilians that were killed by the ultra-nationalist Serb paramilitary forces, called the Chetniks. Turkey’s position to boycott the Nobel Prize Ceremony was righteous. Yet righteousness carries little sway in every day politics.
Whilst defending victims of the Bosnian genocide, Ankara has repeatedly rebuked calls for the recognition of the Armenian genocide. This dual narrative undermines Turkey’s advocacy for victims of the Bosnian genocide. Ankara repeats what it accuses Western governments of doing – politically exploiting the suffering of victims.
Remaining silent on certain issues is a political choice. Turkey’s blatant silence on China’s repression of the Uighur people, or its unconditional defense of the now-deposed Sudanese despot Omar Al-Bashir despite allegations on a genocide carried out in the Darfur are political choices. Likewise Ankara’s condemnation on the ISIS genocide perpetrated against Yazidi women in Northern Iraq was rather flimsy. Again, though it has been vocal regarding the plight of Rohingya people in Burma, it has remained silent about the that of the Chechens living in the Russian Federation.
Regardless of their ethno-religious identities, what genocide survivors need is the recognition of the fate they have endured, not the romantic glorification of it by some of their political allies. Turkey is a case in point in that regard. Failing to uphold this responsibility leaves one incredible in the advocacy of certain victims. Thus, while Turkey’s position regarding Peter Handke’s Nobel Prize was righteous, the plea of Bosnian victims for the recognition of the genocide they have suffered may fall on deaf ears.