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Middle East Politics as Video Game; Death of an Armenian Journalist Raises Strong Feelings in Turkey

Aired January 26, 2007 - 14:30:00   ET


FIONNUALA SWEENEY, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Fionnuala Sweeney in London. Welcome to CNN's INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, where we examine how the media are covering the big stories.
This week, funeral in Istanbul. Tens of thousands turn out to mourn murdered journalist Hrant Dink amid renewed fears over the freedom of the press.

"Iraq in Fragments", an evocative new documentary is nominated for an Oscar. We speak to the director.

And navigating the streets of Jerusalem, as a reporter in a video game. We discuss its role in training journalists.

And we begin this week with the fallout from the death of Turkish Armenian journalist Hrant Dink in Istanbul.

As mourners gathered in huge numbers the government pledged a fairer investigation, suggesting the murder plot stretched beyond the man accused of pulling the trigger. Dink said the mass killing of Armenians in the first World War amounted to genocide, a claim supported by some countries, but denied by Ankara.

His death has reignited the debate over ultra nationalism and created a climate of fear among some sections of the media in Turkey. This, as concerns remain over state sponsored reporting restrictions in a country that's negotiating to join the European Union.

Article 301 in the penal code makes it a crime to insult Turkey's reputation. Well, let's get the thoughts now of CNN Turk political consultant Yalin Ernip, a former Turkish ambassador. He joins us from Istanbul. And from New York state, Professor Peter Balakian, the author of bestseller, "Burning Tigress: The Armenian Genocide and America's Response." And here in London, the journalist Maureen Freely, who was a friend of Hrant Dink.

First of all, let me go to Istanbul. What has been the reaction among the media in Turkey in general? Has there been a unified response or a mixed response?

YALIN ERNIP, CNN TURK POLITICAL CONSULTANT: Well, there is a unified response, of course. Condemnation. It was a traumatic event. And people were shocked. People who knew Hrant Dink, a decent, rational man. Sad this is all over.

SWEENEY: Well, let me turn to Maureen Freely. Now you were a friend of the murdered journalist. What is your view on that? What had he, first of all, been trying to achieve?

MAUREEN FREELY, JOURNALIST: He had been trying to open up the discussion of the Armenian genocide in Turkey with a view to reconciling the Turks, all Turks of all ethnic backgrounds with the past.

He was also opening up bridges between Turks, Armenian Turks, Turkish Turks, and the Armenian Diaspora scholars abroad. He was somebody who built bridges person by person, dialogue by dialogue. And I think he could have done a lot more if we'd been able to keep him alive.

SWEENEY: Who are his enemies?

FREELY: His most dangerous enemies have no names and they have no faces. And I'm not qualified to say who they are. But the - what we were seeing in the press every day for the past two years would be in, you know, attacks against him, particularly in the new (INAUDIBLE), but also in a lot of other newspapers. The national press, the nationalist media, if you like.

And they portrayed him in the articles and also in the many prosecutions, the many 301 prosecutions, they portrayed him as a traitor. When he was, you know, he was always a Turk who claimed - who was telling us all the time that he loved Turkey. He was an Armenian and a person of Turkey.

And they lied about him, day in, day out.

SWEENEY: Indeed, he had said in an interview with Reuters about a year or so ago that he would not leave Turkey. He would rather stay there, even if it resulted in his death.

Let me turn to you, Professor Peter Balakian. What do you think his murder says about the states of Turkey and indeed specifically the Turkish media?

PETER BALAKIAN, COLGATE UNIVERSITY: Well, I think that the tragedy, of course, is that Mr. Denkowitz (ph) was demonized as an enemy of the state. And what he was really trying to bring to a broader Turkish culture was the idea that self-critique is important, that a democracy must have self criticism in order to be a genuine one.

I'm concerned, of course, that the concept of the Armenian genocide is falsified in Turkey, that it is denied. And I think it's important that the Turkish world come to understand more fully that the Armenian genocide is not controversial outside of Turkey, that it is corroborated by the consensus of the international association of genocide scholars. This is the largest body of scholars of genocide all over the world. And these are people from different countries and ethnic groups, hundreds of them.

And I think it's important that the Turkish press understand that it's not Armenians who conceived of the idea that what happened to the Armenian people in 1915 was genocide.

The term was first used by Rafael Lemkin, the man who coined and invented the concept of genocide. And he used the term `Armenian genocide' on American national television in January of 1949.

And I think the news from the outside is important for the Turkish media to do more of the work it needs to do.

SWEENEY: Yalin Ernip, let me ask you in Istanbul. Why is the issue of what took place in Armenia so sensitive for the authorities?

ERNIP: Yes, it has been very sensitive. My position has been very unique from the very beginning. I've always said that first, tens and thousands of Armenians have been killed. And perhaps equal number of Turks have been killed.

But it is not for me or for any person to define what it was. I think Turkey should go to the United Nations, ask the United Nations to set up a commission, like the Darfur Commission, to look into the events of 1914 and '15 and define the tragedy as to what it was.

SWEENEY: Now why is it so sensitive for the authorities?

ERNIP: Well, let me just finish. Because according to the genocide convention, it's only an international tribunal that can decide about it. That is why I'm not pronouncing as to what I think about it, because I'm not a tribunal.

Now it has been sensitive, because many Turks would tell you that an equal number of Turks have been killed by Armenians. Now we have not lived in that era, but that it was a fratricide, a mutual fratricide.

The second aspect is many Turks think that if you are accused of genocide, a whole nation is accused, which is wrong. But as to what the tragic events of 1914, '15 mean, and they are certainly tragic, only an international tribunal should decide about it, and define what it was.

SWEENEY: Maureen Freely?

FREELY: I'd like to say that it's always very important for people abroad to understand the end of the Ottoman Empire in context, because many terrible things went on.

However, the official history that the school children are taught, that it didn't really happen, or that this larger charge of genocide is invented by the Armenian Diaspora, that is actually privately contradicted in Turkey all the time.

Everything I know about the events of 1915, I learned as a child in Istanbul from people speaking behind closed doors. And what France was trying to do is bring that conversation out from behind closed doors, and have it happen in the public domain, so that we can accept what happened, and move on to reconciliation.

SWEENEY: And to what extent, (INAUDIBLE), does that conversation behind closed doors take place in the open in 2007 in the Turkish media, for example?

ERNIP: I think it should. I think it should. I think we should discuss it. In a democracy, nothing should be taboo. I think it should be discussed. And it started to be discussed.

FREELY: I agree with our colleague in Istanbul that in a democracy, everything should be discussed. However, we must remember that everything cannot be discussed in Turkey. And since the introduction of Article 301 and up to 20 other laws that curb freedom of expression, it is not just against the law to discuss openly questions of history. It is life threatening.

SWEENEY: Clearly, Professor Balakian.


SWEENEY: .let me ask you.


SWEENEY: Do you think Hrant Dink's stuff is going to in any way change the situation in Turkey in terms of either opening up the conversation or easing in any way press freedoms there?

BALAKIAN: Well, you know, I - my deep hope is that penal code Article 301 will be dissolved because it is demonizing and making outlaws Turkey's best and brightest. And this is destroying any chance for evolution and growth and genuine democracy.

SWEENEY: Yalin Ernip in Istanbul?

ERNIP: Yes, I think Hrant Dink's murder will help removal of either Article 301, or its radical change, so that it will not be used as an instrument of repression.

SWEENEY: All right, I'm afraid we'll have to leave it there. Yalin Ernip, in Istanbul. My thanks to you, also Professor Peter Balakian in New York state. And here in the studio, Maureen Freely.

Now up next on INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, the unique vision of Iraq. The director of an Oscar nominated documentary tells us what it was like to make it. Stay with us.


SWEENEY: Welcome back. It took two years to film. All the words are in Arabic. And it's just been nominated for an Oscar.

"Iraq in Fragments" has three parts. One following a Sunni child in Baghdad, one focusing on Kurds in the north, and one providing a glimpse of Shi'ite militia activity in the south, such as this raid on alcohol centers at a market.


JAMES LONGELY, DIRECTOR, "IRAQ IN FRAGMENTS": After months and months of trying to film under the Saddam regime, it was - for me as a film maker, it was a great relief, actually, to be in a situation of no government, a kind of anarchic situation.

Although I realized for the country maybe, that would not be so wonderful. For me as a film maker, suddenly I was treated to whatever I wanted.

You know, I was looking for human stories, stories that I thought would be multi layered in a cinematic way, not only in the traditional documentary mode of conveying information and facts and that kind of thing, but would have - would be open to interpretation on more than one level.

And so, for example, the first chapter in the film, this young boy and his boss, I mean, it's a story about him, which you could extrapolate more broadly onto the society about the, you know, the plight of children being caught between, you know, the desire to go to school, the need to make money for their families in many cases.

Right now I think in Iraq, the literacy - the number - the percentage of children going to school is vastly reduced from what it was before. I think now it's something around 30, 35 percent of school aged children are actually attending school.

SWEENEY: You edited the film along religious and ethnic lines. Was that a decision you had taken at the outset of filming the movie? Or was it something that came to you as you went to the editor in the cutting room?

LONGELY: No, this division of Iraq along the lines of Shi'ia, Sunni and Kurd was something that was not really on my mind when I set out to make this film. And you know, I also don't agree with the idea that it would be a good solution for Iraq to be divided in that way.

My film happens to be about a Sunni, you know, Sunni characters in Baghdad and the Shi'ia movement of Muqtada al Sadr in the south, and also about a Kurdish family in the north. But that's more an extension of just the way I was moving around the country and trying to choose kind of a diversity of subjects, rather than a statement that I was trying to make at the time of, you know, this is how the country is going to break down.

SWEENEY: And nearly two years after you finished filming in Iraq, do you think it would at all possible to film there now, given the situation?

LONGELY: I certainly don't believe that I could make the film that I made now. There are places in Iraq where you can still work as a film maker, as an independent journalist without a big security contingent to move along with you.

Northern Iraq, the Kurdish areas, are safe enough, I believe to work now even. But where I was filming in Baghdad and in the south, the way that I was moving around the country, that kind of freedom that journalists enjoyed during those first year, year and a half after the invasion where there was still a very definite distinction being made between who is a civilian and who is an armed combatant in that country, that distinction is still being respected by most people.

And now, I think that, you know, most journalists would agree, Iraq has become the most dangerous country in the world for journalists to work and certainly not a place where as an independent journalist, as a film maker, where you would go back to the same location again and again, that that would be a wise thing to do.

I mean, it's really become untenable to work there.

SWEENEY: All right, James, thank you very much. We have to leave it there. We're almost out of time.


SWEENEY: Up next on INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, covering the Middle East conflict as a computer game character. We'll discuss its effectiveness. Stay with us.


SWEENEY: Welcome back.

It's a game about training journalists for the rigors of covering war zones. But can an interactive video game for the public really address the issues involved?

Well, the designers of Global Conflict's Palestine gave me an exclusive look.


SWEENEY (voice-over): At first glance, the standard role playing videogame. Perhaps their location is Jerusalem. And your character is a journalist facing ethical dilemmas.

SIMON EGENFEIDT-NIELSEN, SERIOUS GAMES: The reason why we made this game was basically to try and take a new approach to trend issues. It seems like a lot of times, you're, you know, quickly flashing by a CNN newspaper, something else. And these games give you a chance to dig a bit deeper. And hopefully also catch some people that might not really take a big interest in trend issues.

SWEENEY: So the journalist is meeting his editor.

EGENFEIDT-NIELSEN: Yes, Algeri (ph), the first conversation with the editor. And each (INAUDIBLE) is basically about you writing a story.

You can choose from three different angles. And the angle you choose will kind of control what quotes you should get.


EGENFEIDT-NIELSEN: So - and I basically have the Israeli newspaper Datz (ph), the Palestinian newspaper Akutz (ph), and the European newspaper "The Independent."

SWEENEY: And you choose whichever newspaper you want to write for?

EGENFEIDT-NIELSEN: Yes. We'll try to go for the Israeli here. And then they're saying what Jeraks (ph) is interested in. So it's interesting the story about the way in which IDF protects the Israeli citizens against terrorism.

SWEENEY: This is actually quite a typical situation. You - the soldier is saying now I can feel it. Something's happening. There must have gotten a hold of that terrorist. See, here he comes.

And the journalist has a choice of either two questions. Isn't it kind of odd to call him a terrorist like that without any proof? Or he can ask how do you guys know he's a terrorist?

And depending on which answer you give, it will predetermine the response.


SWEENEY: .of the Israeli army soldier.

EGENFEIDT-NIELSEN: And also, actually, if you build up trust up `til now, he might also be more forgiving. So you can actually get further with the critical questions than if you had been critical already at the start.

SWEENEY: OK. So I say how do you guys know he's a terrorist? Yes. And the answer is from the Israeli soldier, "I don't know. I just listen to the commander. He always has control of things. He says we have good and reliable information."

And then I can either say, "I think the commander's being a little rough with that guy. How can you guys even be sure he's done anything," which is sure to get a reaction oftentimes. Or I can say, "I can see that the commander is giving that terrorist what he deserves." And again, depending on which answer I go for.


SWEENEY: .that will predetermine how far I get with this raid.

And this - is there a possibility I can be kicked out of the raid all together and sent back home?

EGENFEIDT-NIELSEN: Not at this point, but you will lose out of - you may lose out of information.

SWEENEY: Other missions tackle issues, such as checkpoints and settlements. And designers insist they have researched and taken a balanced approach to the Middle East conflict. The region will be able to make up its own mind when the game releases weeks from now.


SWEENEY: Well for more on this, I'm joined by Adrian Monk, a former executive at ITN and Sky News. He's now head of journalism at Britain's City University.

Your impressions of this game?

ADRIAN MONK, CITY UNIVERSITY: I think it's an interesting effort to get kids interested in understanding an issue like the Middle East. But I think what it is, is it's quite a slow way of involving them.

You know, kids are used to shoot `em ups. This is a chat `em up. You know, a lot of on screen talking. And so, I think they're going to struggle with the excitement of actually engaging with the issue.

SWEENEY: What is the difficulty in trying to put a game like this out into the public domain?

MONK: If you just look at the kind of issues broadcasters and media organizations have in reporting the Middle East conflict, huge, huge accusations of bias from both sides at the conflict.

And to actually say there are two sides in the conflict is again to completely, kind of, underestimate the dimensions of opinion that exist on this.

So you're really looking at quite a simplistic portrayal of how the conflict works. A pro-Israeli, a pro Palestinian, or a neutral stance on a conflict. Well, there's an enormous range of gray in between every one of those positions. And broadcasters know it. And some broadcasters or media organizations find themselves caught in the crossfire literally.

SWEENEY: Even the title, "Global Conflicts: Palestine," I mean, Israel has a huge problem with the West Bank and Gaza being called Palestine.

MONK: Absolutely. And you know, the place it sense it in, which is Jerusalem, is again not perhaps a place you might look to understand the conflict that's going on. It's a very distinct environment. And actually, not somewhere where you see the conflict really in all its detail.

SWEENEY: Well, it's also an evolutionary process. It's very difficult to keep games up to the moment. And is it something that you see evolving in the next year, as interactive games actually becoming more of a game, but an educational tool?

MONK: Well, I certainly think that they'll be more involved in actually engaging with conflicts. You look, for example, at a new game that's coming out very soon also, which is called "Peacemaker." That's a strategy game that's attempting to put people in the place of a Middle Eastern politician. And the aim of the game is to kind of broker peace, if you like, and to understand some of the pressures on decision makers.

And we know that when, you know, military figures are trained, they use a lot of role playing, a lot of scenarios, a lot of war gaming. And that's traditionally part of that kind of approach.

So it is useful, but it's a useful as the information going into it. So if you have very good information going into these scenarios, you're going to get quite a good result.

If you have quite limited and quite basic information going in, you're going to get a bit of a disappointing result.

SWEENEY: All right, we have to leave it there. Adrian Monk, thank you very much indeed.

That is all for this edition of INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS. Tune in again next time for another look at how the media are handling the big issues.

I'm Fionnuala Sweeney. Thanks for joining us.



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