Yavuz Aydın and sinister pairing

On 18 February, 2020, at the 12th Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy, there was a plenary address from Yavuz Aydin. He was a Judge in Turkey till the attempted Coup d’État in July 2016, when he was one of tens of thousands of victims of a purge by the Erdoğan administration.

I remember little of detail about that attempted coup, its news having been rather buried under the British reaction to the result of the EU referendum a couple of weeks earlier. Nevertheless I do recall – cynic that I am – how it seemed after its failure to have had for Erdogan the markings of what students of politics call a ‘beneficial crisis’.

At this moment Turkey is heavily in the headlines, as it attempts to help huge numbers of migrants pour into Europe via Greece. So let’s see if we can learn something more about the Turkish government, if only from a source that may have a jaded view of it.

I am also interested to see how a senior and experienced jurist puts his case in a foreign language.

What a gentle, audience-friendly, opening! The slightly shy smile and soft tone are exactly what are needed to generate audience empathy. It may be his genuine natural self, though I wonder whether he looked and sounded like that when sentencing convicted felons.

The way he lays out his story of the mass purge is beautiful. He makes his narrative clearer than the finest crystal. I am impressed. And then at around the seven minute mark everything changes.

He admits it: he says that he’d intended to make this all about himself, but now there were more important matters to cover. The silken narrative gives way to a stumbled, fumbled, rather garbled description of children being drowned trying to cross the sea to freedom in Europe.

The interesting thing is that though this is now rather messy, it is not a jot less compelling. It confirms what I often say to my trainees that passion is worth buckets of technique. It is a very fine address indeed.

But I have a personal conundrum.

Probably because I spend my life helping people express themselves, I have an interest in something called ‘idiom pairs’. These are pairs of words, often clichés, that colloquially are joined at the hip. At root they come in two distinct categories –

  • Antonyms: words that are opposites – e.g. “high and low”
  • Synonyms: words that essentially mean the same – e.g. “bright and shiny”

But often overlooked is a mysterious third category, and this concerns pairs of words that are perceived absolutely to belong together but often actually don’t. For example, “rich and famous”. We all know of many famous people who are definitely not rich, and rich people who shun publicity; and yet that idiom pair is rooted deep in our culture. It is trying to consider why that interests saddos like me. So where am I leading with this?

Aydin repeatedly rattles off a pair of words, obviously translated literally from the idiom of his own language – “judges and prosecutors”. Not “judges and lawyers”, but “judges and prosecutors” suggesting that they are two sides of the same coin. For one brought up in a culture of adversarial, supposedly impartial justice and innocent-till-proved-guilty I find that faintly sinister.

But that’s just me.

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