Elif Şafak

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Turkish Daily News
Sept 25 2005

Istanbul conference on Ottoman Armenians
Sunday, September 25, 2005

Opinion by Elif ŞAFAK

On May 23, 2005, I arrived in Istanbul from Berlin to participate in an event that was going to happen for the first time in Turkey: A conference on the Ottoman Armenians. Having thus arrived at Istanbul airport, I grabbed my bags and hailed the first cab waiting in line.

`Look at this mess! Traitors!' remarked the cab driver as soon as we took off. He was listening to national radio and when he realized I had no idea what he was talking about he turned the volume up. All of a sudden a fuming voice thundered inside the cab that belonged to Cemil Çiçek, Turkey's justice minister. He was delivering a speech about the upcoming conference. I flinched in my seat as I heard him declare that such a malevolent gathering could not possibly be permitted since it was tantamount to "treason." Then he added: `These so-called intellectuals are stabbing our nation in the back. If only I had the authority to prosecute them I would do so without any hesitation whatsoever. I urge the Turkish nation to watch the conference proceedings closely...'

`Could you please turn that thing down,' I asked the cabdriver when I could muster my courage and voice. `Actually, why don't you turn it off completely? The minister is talking nonsense.'

The driver, a young, hefty man with astute eyes looked at me in the rear view mirror from which a glittering Turkish flag, a miniature Koran and the picture of his baby boy were dangling side by side. His face was marred with incredulity and disappointment. `How would you know? You just walked off the plane?'

`I know because I am one of those traitors he just mentioned,' I heard myself mutter, as if that needed to be revealed. A deep silence ensued in the cab as we inched our way through the snaky side streets of one of the most beautiful cities in the world. For more than 10 minutes we did not exchange a single word. I sat there uncomfortably fearing being kicked out of the cab with my suitcases.

Finally, at a red light, he said to me: `You guys are playing with fire. What you are doing is detrimental to the interests of the Turkish state. If you accomplish this meeting it will mean you accept the Armenians' allegations of genocide. Is that what you want? You guys are educated th