Atatürk row in Westminster

POLICE were called in to break up the argument that raged in a Westminster parliamentary committee room after opposition figures hurled abuse at a panel discussing Turkish politics.

Erol Başarık, a Turkish opposition supporter, was ejected from the room by an officer after repeatedly attempting to interject in the proceedings. Members of the panel, which included journalists Amberin Zaman and Hilal Kaplan, were frequently heckled as they spoke.

“We saw every kind of abuse as Hilal Kaplan and I spoke,” Ms Zaman tweeted after the event. “Ergenekon is London is still alive” she wrote, referring to the shadowy ultra-nationalist organisation that is allegedly involved in plots to topple the Turkish government.

Ms Kaplan, the Yeni Şafak columnist who gave a talk on the Turkish modernisation process and the “cult of Ataturk”, argued that the Turkish parliament had a culture of authoritarianism that stemmed from its foundation under Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

In response to interruptions from members of the audience who objected to her characterisation of Ataturk as an oppressor who resorted to violence, she said: “I am able to express my views more freely in Turkey than here.” She said she had formed them after spending her university years studying the Kemalist ideology and speaking to its supporters in an attempt to understand it.

The meeting was held in the House of Commons


Amberin Zaman, who spoke about Turkish foreign policy with particular reference to Syria at the event, was also heckled by members of the audience. She said there were still steps Turkey needed to take in the fields of democracy and human rights, but that the governing AK Party had done more for democratic development than its predecessors. When she identified reducing the reduce the powers of the Turkish army as one of the government’s greatest achievements, she was shouted down by a group of Ataturk supporters chanting “Turkey’s army is democracy’s greatest security”.

One Ataturkist, İnci Saruhan, claimed Ms Zaman’s husband, a US diplomat who was previously posted in Armenia, was a spy working the CIA. Amberin Zaman dismissed the claims as absurd and challenged Ms Saruhan to provide evidence.

Ms Zaman is Turkey correspondent for The Economist and writes a column for the Haberturk daily.


During her talk, Ms Kaplan related the story of Gülsüm, a cow in the village of Kadıruşağı, near Malatya in eastern Turkey, who escaped from her owner and broke into the grounds of school, where she smashed an Ataturk bust displayed outside the school. Ministry of Education officials launched an investigation into the cow’s actions, Ms Kaplan said, adding that this demonstrated the levels of ludicrousness laws banning Ataturk’s defamation can reach.

Aykan Erdemir, a member of the Turkish parliament representing Bursa for the opposition Republican People’s Party, and his academic wife Nur was among those in the audience.

Originally published in Londra Gazete, 3 May 2012.