Letters: Human rights are still an issue in Turkey

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Sir: If Christians coexisted peacefully with Ottoman Turks as you so confidently claim on your front page ("So what have the Turks ever done for us?", 1 October), then I wonder why all the Christian people of the Balkans bothered to rebel and fight numerous wars of liberation in the 19th and early 20th century.

I would also like to point out the following things the Turks have done for "us" this century:

* Committed genocide against Armenians, which they continue to refuse to discuss.

*Slaughtered, raped and expelled the thriving Greek populations of Izmir/Smyrni in 1922, and Istanbul/Constantinople in 1954.

* Invaded Cyprus in 1974, killing thousands, creating 200,000 refugees in mass ethnic cleansing, and refusing to help grieving families learn the fate of 1,500 missing, while still illegally occupying more than a third of an EU member state against UN resolutions.

* Waged a massive campaign to deny Kurds in the Southeast their existence, let alone right to autonomy, using methods ranging from razing entire villages and displacing populations, abducting the Kurdish leader Ocalan in Africa and imprisoning him and imprisoning elected MPs for speaking in Kurdish.

None of the above means Turkey should be rejected forever, but at the very least they should come to terms with their past, and correct the ongoing human rights and occupation issues.



Sir: Under the Ottoman Empire, according to your report , Christians, Jews and Muslims co-existed in peace and prosperity.

You fail to mention that Christians and Jews had the subordinate status of dhimmis forced upon them: they had to buy protection from their Muslim rulers by paying the jizya tax, which unlike the Muslim zakat was not voluntary, they had to adopt a submissive posture in the presence of Muslims, they were not allowed to repair their places of worship or proselytise, their men were not allowed to marry Muslim women, though Muslim men were allowed to marry Christian or Jewish women, and their houses and dress had to be modest in comparison with that of Muslims.

A weakened Ottoman Empire did abolish the jizya in 1856 under pressure from European nations, but observers continued to remark the downtrodden status of non-Muslims, and European pressure was not sufficient to prevent the Ottoman massacres of Lebanese Christians in 1840-60, and of Armenian Christians in 1894-6 and in 1915-17.

The myth of a tolerant Ottoman empire dates to the 19th century and was a European creation, designed to prevent Russia from expanding southwards under the pretext of protecting the Christian subjects of the Ottoman Empire.



Sir: The Independent is to be saluted for illuminating Turkey's indispensable partnership with Europe, that has become even more imperative in the aftermath of the brutish atrocities that have gripped nations in our century.

We are living through a period not only dominated by turbulent social and political upheaval and deep apprehension, but also marred by the human proclivity for violence and treachery. Turkey is a beacon of Islamic tolerance in close proximity to many of the festering conflict spots in the Middle East, the Balkans and the Caucasus. And as Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan put it: "A Europe that will include Turkey will not be a Christian club but the only venue where civilizations meet through a historic compromise."



Sir: Your front page list of excellent reasons why Turkey should be accepted into the European fold could have emphasised more strongly that is is precisely because it is a Muslim state that it should join.

Those of us that have been involved in community partnerships (twinnings) between communities in the UK and Muslim countries in the developing world have been introduced to a faith and culture which in many ways has caused us to reflect on our own impoverished society as well as giving us the opportunity to bring people of different faiths together within our own society for greater social cohesion.

Properly applied this could be a vital outcome to the embracing of Turkey within the European Union.



Sir: Anyone familiar with Turkey will find it hard to recognize the country portrayed in your well intentioned but misleading front page feature (1 October) with its images of "Ottoman luxury".

Modern Turkey has a youthful, enterprising and well-educated population with a stable currency and healthy economic growth. There has been a spectacular expansion of higher education (with over 70 universities), and Turkish-trained scientists and other professionals are already working in many countries of the EU.

Turkey has a secular, democratic constitution with high voter turnout in national elections. If you visit its modern art galleries, theatres and concert halls or browse in the bookshops, you will find a dynamic mixture of western and middle eastern cultures.

Strategically, the country could hardly be more important, not least because of the new 1,000-mile oil pipeline from Caspian Sea, which runs through Turkey to the Mediterranean. But the country is proud of its independence, reflected in the refusal of the Turkish parliament to support the invasion of Iraq.

Turkey is expanding its trade with its neighbours, including the Turkic states of the former Soviet Union. One might ask whether the heirs to the tolerant Ottomans would really benefit from closer ties with xenophobic descendants of the British Empire and the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy.




Nuclear power debate reopened

Sir: I feel strangely optimistic now that the Government has reopened the debate on the use of nuclear power (reports, 28 and 29 September).

The main obstacle to the continued increase in our use of wind power is the widespread local opposition in many of the proposed areas of construction, on aesthetic grounds. But such opposition would surely fade if the choice was between a back-yard full of radioactive waste or a few white propellers.

It might also encourage us all to lobby the Government to enforce stricter, less wasteful planning guidelines on new homes and offices. The less power we use, the weaker the argument for such a terrifying prospect as a radioactive future.



Why we thank Walter Wolfgang

Sir: We should all be grateful to Walter Wolfgang (30 September) for reminding us that there is a generation of Europeans, living witnesses, who can remind us of the slow slide to totalitarianism. But with each day they get frailer and fewer in number; and meanwhile the threat becomes greater.

It is all very well thinking that we may recognize totalitarian tendencies, but is that really the case? As Mr Wolfgang demonstrated, these don't come in easily recognizable packages. The largest source of dictatorial edicts, actually, is from the EU, where "directives" (Directif was the word Hitler used) multiply like duck-weed and are in danger of smothering the pond and killing the fish.

As law heaps on law, we are not so much subject to crazed individuals but to an apparatus. Under the weight of so much regulation the citizen becomes very small and the state very large. What was demonstrated at Brighton was that the apparatus falls strongest on the weakest.



Sir: May I, through your Letters Page, thank Walter Wolfgang for saying what I, and thousands like me, hope we would have said had we been there; may I also thank him for his powerful and utterly reasonable piece (30 September). We have indeed been "lied to about the war", and we need as many people as possible to dare "to speak the truth".

The furore that followed Mr Wolfgang's comment should not overshadow this, although, as Matthew Norman says in his article, it does "encapsulate everything that is so poisonous, demented, dangerous and plain daft" about Mr Blair's Labour Party. Mr Wolfgang has been very patient; I gave up my membership of nearly 40 years some time ago.



Pheasant shooting should be banned

Sir: The pheasant shooting season started on Saturday 1 October. Every year 35 million pheasants are factory farmed to be shot for fun in the UK. Their beaks are burnt off and they are fitted with freakish masks, beak clips and plastic "specs" in a vain attempt to stop self-mutilation and aggression in their tiny cages.

On release, a "beater" scares the birds into the sky where they are shot for fun. Many shot birds land on the ground to die in agony from their wounds. Fewer than half of the purpose-bred birds end up being eaten and dead birds may be left to rot in specially dug pits.

Holland has banned the intensive breeding of pheasants, surely it is time that we followed suit?



The Government's reduction of barristers' fees is unfair and wrong

Sir: Bridget Prentice's letter (23 September) is misleading. Young barrister's fees in the Crown Court are being cut. Counsel's fees when a defendant pleads guilty will be reduced for both prosecuting and defending barristers.

The cuts are variable, but I calculate they will amount to about 15 per cent for a typical case where the plea is at an early stage, and up to 25 per cent when a defendant pleads guilty on the day of trial. The most junior barristers will suffer the most because they will be sent to cover the cases which pay the least. Even young barristers undertake trials for longer than 10 days, where fees are also being cut. While the Government has been freezing pay, and now cutting it, barristers' overheads have soared.

Lord Carter's review is to "consider the means by which to deliver the Government's vision, set out in A Fairer Deal for Legal Aid". That document sets out the Government's commitment to the reduction of fees paid to barristers in criminal cases. Lord Carter's terms of reference require him to produce the review and resulting plan "in agreement with the Secretary of State and Lord Chancellor". This is the same Secretary of State and Lord Chancellor who has already cut fees, and whose stated intention is to reduce them even more. Lord Carter may well make recommendations on legal aid early next year. But even if he recommends any increase in fees, there is no guarantee that the Government will implement them.

It is not "irresponsible" or "wrong" for self-employed and independent barristers to attempt to protect their livelihood by temporarily declining work. It seems the height of responsibility to decide that the fee is too low to allow for proper preparation of a serious case.

There is certainly nothing unethical in deciding not to conduct the same work for reduced pay. It is the only option open. Indeed, by the minister's logic, the irresponsibility, the wrong and the unfairness lies at the Government's door in cutting fees while Lord Carter's review is still under way.



Sinful king

Sir: Why would anyone want to claim King David as their own, Jewish or otherwise ("King David and the Jewish identity"; letter, 28 September)? This is the man who "cut them [the Ammonites] with saws, and with harrows of iron, and with axes" (1 Chronicles 20:3); and " invaded the Geshurites, and the Gezrites, and the Amalekites ... and left neither man nor woman alive" (1 Samuel 27.8).

Not to mention securing the death of Uriah the Hittite simply in order to marry his widow, Bathsheba, among other sinful deeds.



Simple spelling

Sir: Since so many people seem to be advocating a simpler method of spelling English words (letters, 17 and 29 September), it seems the best solution would be to let the youth of today, who seem to be the ones struggling with the complexities of English, introduce their own understandable word designs.

I'm sure everyone will be only too happy to adopt Gr8, 2morrow and L8, and to finally replace the "th" sound, which seems to prove so difficult, with the much more user- friendly "f'" in words (somefing, nuffing and youf).

Alternatively, we can stop pandering to the lowest common denominator and let our great language develop at its own pace.



Sir: Dr John Coleman is right in claiming that English spelling changes to reflect pronunciation (letter, 29 September), but sometimes it is the other way round.

For example, Shrewsbury is now often pronounced as it is spelt (rather than Shrowsbury), and the same is true of Oxford's river Cherwell (rather than Charwell). But I have yet to hear anyone recommend, let alone say, Thames (rather than Temz) or London (rather than Lund'n).



Changing addresses

Sir: Frustrating as record-setting postal delays are, it must be even more upsetting to find one's towns moved into another country entirely, as the occupied Palestinians know all too well ("Snail Mail"; Letters, 29 September.) Bethlehem is to Israel as Canterbury would be to Germany, had things worked out differently in the 1940s.



Unjust voting system

Sir:I am glad that Patricia Hewitt still sees the need for electoral reform (Opinion, 28 September). Nevertheless, it is not the case that the present voting system "feels unfair" but that it is unfair, that is, a matter not merely of perception but of injustice. On a fair voting system it is unlikely that Patricia Hewitt would still be a Secretary of State.

More to the point, Tony Blair would not be Prime Minister and, even more to the point, the British Army would not be in Iraq.