Noam Chomsky, one of America’s greatest philosophers and linguists, has become the target of Turkey’s chief of “terrorism prosecution”.
Scarcely two months after the European Union praised Turkey for passing new laws protecting freedom of expression, the authorities in Ankara are using anti -terrorism legislation to prosecute Mr Chomsky’s Turkish publisher.
Fatih Tas of the Aram Publishing House faces a year in prison for daring to print American Interventionism, a collection of Mr Chomsky’s recent essays including harsh criticism of Turkey’s treatment of its Kurdish minority. Mr Chomsky, a linguistics professor at MIT, is planning to fly to Turkey for Mr Tas’s first court appearance on 13 February and has already written to the offices of the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, pointing out that amendments to Turkish law were supposed to have provided greater freedom of expression, not less.
Mr Chomsky plans to visit the Turkish city of Diyarbakir to meet Kurdish “activists” and it will be a test of Turkey’s freedoms to see if he is allowed to visit the area.
In one of his essays, originally a university lecture, he says that “the Kurds have been miserably oppressed throughout the whole history of the modern Turkish state … In 1984, the Turkish government launched a major war in the south-east against the Kurdish population … The end result was pretty awesome: tens of thousands of people killed, two to three million refugees, massive ethnic cleansing with some 3,500 villages destroyed.”
This, according to the Turks, constitutes an incitement to violence. Mr Chomsky has been suitably outraged, regarding the trial as part of a much broader wave of repression directed against Kurds appealing for greater use of the Kurdish language. Bekir Rayif Aldemyr, Turkey’s chief prosecutor, claims that the Chomsky essay “propagates separatism”.
A spiky, inexhaustible academic of Jewish origin who has been an inveterate critic of Israel and especially of the United States, Mr Chomsky’s condemnation of Turkey’s treatment of the Kurds –and of the vast arms shipments made to Turkey by the United States –was bound to enrage Ankara.
Mr Chomsky describes the prosecution as “a very severe attack on the most elementary human and civil rights”. The EU, so impressed by those changes in Turkish law last November, has remained silent.