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.

Hillel Neuer stirs it

In March 2007 the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC) was treated to a speech from the Executive Director of United Nations Watch. News reports subsequently called it a “stunning rebuke”. Council President Luis Alfonso de Alba called it “inadmissible”.

UN Watch has a stated mission, “to monitor the performance of the United Nations by the yardstick of its own Charter”, and regularly draws attention to the HRC being peopled largely by representatives of countries with lamentable human rights records.  Its Executive Director is Hillel Neuer. Considering this speech stirred a hornets’ nest perhaps we should watch it.

He’s not sitting on any fences, is he!

That is a blunt and brutal anaphora at 0:39 – “its response has been …”

My aversion to speakers reading speeches is well known, but I can understand when someone reads a speech like this. For posterity there will be a publishable transcript, and if you are pronouncing something as controversial as this you want to ensure that what is published is accurate to the letter. What safer way than personally to supply the transcript, having read from it?

I am curious as to what happens off camera at 2:46. For a few seconds Neuer becomes slightly distracted, and you can see his eyes following activity of some sort.

He finishes at 3:10, and Council President Luis Alfonso de Alba begins speaking. It seems that (again off camera) Neuer, is either already packing up to leave or perhaps someone else is speaking to him, because de Alba has to repeat that he shall not be thanking him for his statement. He goes on to censure him for his tone, his terminology, and his lack of deference. Interestingly, he does not refute a word of what Neuer has said. Could it be irrefutable?

With all the respect that de Alba clearly considers himself and his council to be entitled, his pronouncement puts me in mind of the short speech with which Dogberry closes Act 4, scene 2 of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing. It’s the one that begins,

“Dost thou not suspect my place? Dost thou not suspect my years?”

In 2017, Neuer stirred it again in the same place. Perhaps we should look at that speech soon.