From the Ambassador’s Journal
The current controversy about the ban on Shrimad Bhagavad-Gita in the city of Tomsk, Siberia (Russia) by the prosecutor who branded it as 'extremist' literature and its reversal by a Judge on 28 December, brought to my mind a similar ban in Turkey in 1970s.
The case against the ban by Hindus in Russia in the city court has been going on since June. The Indian government intervened diplomatically with the embassy in Moscow taking up the matter with the Russian government and Indian External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna speaking to Russian Ambassador Alexander Kadakin in New Delhi on 27 December.
During the author’s posting at Ankara, Turkey ( in 1969-73) one day the media suddenly splashed the news that the government of Turkey had banned Gita, Upanishads, a few other Indian religious books ,apart from Rabindranath Tagore’s Geetanjali and some of his other writings. This came as unpleasant surprise to the Indian Embassy then headed by Ambassador KR Narayanan, later to become the president of the Indian Republic.
Naturally there was anger and furor in India with questions raised in the Parliament and the media going ballistic like after the recent banning of the Gita in Siberia.
Of course the ambassador took up the matter at the highest level, but first I went over to see Kaya Toperi, minister and deputy spokesman at the Turkish ministry of foreign affairs dealing with such matters .Kaya, who was counselor in the Turkish Embassy in New Delhi was recently posted back home .We had known each other well, since I was undersecretary dealing with west and south Europe including Turkey.
After a cup of Turkish coffee, I jokingly asked Kaya that I had read Gita and Upanishads many times in translations and had not been able to fully comprehend its various interpretations and meanings .I was interested in meeting the gentleman, who had read Gita, understood it and then decided to ban it . Kaya, who was aware of the furor in India, laughed and explained that his ministry and censor regularly receive bundles of books to be reviewed for ban, from time to time.
After the 1971 military’ half coup followed by crackdown on extremist students in Ankara, Upanishads, Gita, Geetanjali and other Indian books were found along with writings of Karl Marx, Engels and Lenin in leftists den and were sent to departments including foreign ministry in a big bundle .Since no one went through them, and reminders were piling up, the whole lot was returned without any examination for the ban. The censors recommended ban to the Prime Ministry and the whole bundle beginning with Communist writings and including Indian spiritual books and Tagore’s writings was banned at a cabinet meeting, which only could take such decisions.
The ban was lifted at the next cabinet meeting in a month or so.
Most Turkish friends were very embarrassed by the ban, since there was a section of Indology in Ankara university .There were Turkish students and scholars of Indian philosophy and literature, with an Indian teacher of Sanskrit and Hindi at the Ankara University.
Although after the Bolshevik revolution in Czarist Russia ( an inveterate enemy of the Ottoman empire ) , Socialist Moscow sent financial and military aid to Kemal Ataturk for Turkey’s War of Independence against the European Imperialist powers led by Great Britain , which he accepted but he did not allow Communism to take roots in the republic . Communist party remains banned in Turkey even now. Ankara joined NATO was a strategic necessity to counter Moscow’s territorial claims on Turkey after WWII.
But the student and academic community in Turkey, situated at the cross roads of ideas from Europe and West and central Asia and Africa acquires diverse and vibrant ideologies and beliefs and are passionate about them. So there has always been vibrant leftist and communist student community which regularly agitated against the US and its policies during the Cold War. The Political Science department of Ankara university has produced Turkey’s top civil servants as well as many of its political leaders including Abdullah Ocalan, now imprisoned chief of the Kurdistan Workers' Party aka PKK (Kurdish: Partiya Karkerên Kurdistan ) fighting for autonomy and cultural rights for Kurds since 1984, which is Communist and Kurdish nationalistic in its ideology.
Thus the leftist intellectuals and students in Ankara and elsewhere in Turkey, apart from Karl Marx and Mao also studied the Naxalbari movement of Charu Majumdar and Kanu Sanyal whose posters were found in student dormitories. They were also interested in Indian and other philosophies and literature.
It is pertinent to recall that Tagore’s writings were very popular in Turkey. In fact , late Bulent Ecevit , then head of the Republican peoples’ party (RPP) , established by the republic’s founder and father , Kemal Ataturk ,and later prime minster a few times had translated not only many poems of Tagore’s Geetanjali but even had learnt Bengali and Sanskrit to better understand Gita .More on Turkish-Hindustani.
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