Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan recently held a rally at the airport in the northern Turkish city of Trabzon. During his speech, the crowd started chanting: “Armenian bastards cannot deter us.” Erdogan did not warn or condemn the crowd as they repeated their ugly slogans.
Garo Paylan, an Armenian MP from the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), launched a criminal complaint through his lawyer, Levent Piskin, against those who organized the rally on October 15 and those who shouted the slogan for “public incitement to hatred and hostility towards and denigration of the Armenian people.”
“The fact that Erdogan stayed silent and did not stop the slogans has facilitated the targeting of Armenians,” said the petition, which continued: “Paylan has seriously been impacted by these slogans and has been exposed to threats and insults by people encouraged by the slogans.”
Paylan said that Erdogan, Suleyman Soylu (the Turkish minister of interior), and Veysel Eroglu (the minister of forestry and water affairs) were present at the rally, “as eyewitnesses” to the incident.
Turkey not only still aggressively denies the 1915 Armenian genocide, but also continues to insult the survivors of the genocide for their Armenian identity. And this tradition dates back to the founding phase of the Turkish Republic in 1923.
Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder and first president of Turkey, declared on March 16, 1923, in a speech to the Adana Turkish Merchant Society:
“The Armenians have no right whatsoever in this beautiful country. Your country is yours, it belongs to Turks. This country was Turkish in history; therefore it is Turkish and it shall live on as Turkish to eternity. … Armenians and so forth have no rights whatsoever here. These bountiful lands are deeply and genuinely the homeland of the Turk.”
This denialist, discriminatory, and degrading policy regarding Armenians is still alive and well in Turkey.
Erdogan himself, during an interview broadcast on Turkish TV in 2014, referred to Armenians as “ugly.”
The Clarion Project reported that since August of last year, military curfews have been imposed on several predominantly Kurdish towns in southeastern Turkey. “While Turkish security forces destroyed the town of Cizre in September, 2015, they announced on a loudspeaker to the local Kurdish population: ‘Armenians are proud of you; you are all Armenians. You are Armenian bastards.’
“The Human Rights Association of Turkey (IHD) also reported that the police announced to the Kurds of Cizre that they were ‘Armenian sperms.’
“None of the police officers or soldiers responsible for these announcements has been brought to account, apparently because they acted in accordance with the official line of the Turkish regime.”
Denial of Armenian Genocide: An “Intellectual” Endeavor in Turkey
In Turkey, anti-Armenian sentiments, and the denial of the Armenian genocide, have a long history among state and military authorities, Islamic and secular political figures, media representatives, academics, and writers.
The award-winning, well-known Turkish novelist Ayse Kulin, for example, commented on the Armenian genocide during a debate program on CNN Turk in 2014: “It was a relocation incident,” said Kulin. “It was an incident experienced during a war. It is hard to call what happened in a war ‘a genocide.’ We did not start slaughtering them without a reason – like what was done to the Jews [in the Holocaust].”
Following her comments, an online petition titled “We want Ayse Kulin to be ashamed” was launched by a group of activists in Turkey, who called for a boycott of her books.
“Very close to centennial of the Armenian Genocide,” said the petition, “it is regrettable that such an irreverent style came from the mouth of a writer, Ayşe Kulin. In an interview with the media, in a very relaxed way, Kulin, by saying ‘we did not butcher the Armenians without a reason’, emphasized that they had the right to butcher a nation. We strongly condemn Ayse Kulin and protest her books and invite all people with common sense also not to read her books.”
Hate Speech against Armenians in Turkish Media
The International Hrant Dink Foundation, named after the Armenian journalist Hrant Dink killed in 2007, in Istanbul, published a comprehensive report titled “Hate Crimes and Hate Speech” in 2010. In the report, researchers scanned Turkish newspapers for hate speech against ethnic and religious communities.
“At the end of the study covering a whole year,” said the report, “it was identified that the hate speech in Turkey mostly targets the Kurds and the Armenians.”
According to the report, the religious and ethnic groups that were targeted by hate speech after Armenians and Kurds were Rums (Turkish Greeks), Christians, and Jews. Arabs, Serbs, the Roma, Assyrians and Africans were also targeted, expanding the range.
“When scanning the newspapers,” added the report, “we started with some key words rather than following a chronological order. Some words were used more frequently compared to others. For example, in all the stories where the word ‘Armenian’ was used, hate speech could be seen.”
Anti-Armenian sentiment, or Armenophobia, appears to be a widespread characteristic of the Turkish media, politics, and culture. Not only the denial, but also the whitewashing, excusing of, and even taking pride in the Armenian genocide is commonplace, including in Turkish schools.
Armenian migration from Turkey escalating
“This year,” said journalist Miran Manukyan, who works for the Turkish-Armenian weekly newspaper Agos, “some people wrote racist graffiti such as, ‘Torment the Armenians’ on the walls of two Armenian schools in Istanbul. The Istanbul police directorate handled the situation, and an investigation has also been opened but there has been no progress yet.”
Moreover, the recent terror threats of the Islamic State (ISIS) are making life even more difficult for the Armenians in Turkey.
“The only apparent precaution most people have been able to take is to stay away from crowds,” said Manukyan. “In the face of terror attacks and chaotic environment, many people in Turkey think about leaving the country which is the precaution many Armenians in Turkey are also thinking of taking.”
Indeed, the number of people leaving Turkey and settling in other countries is rising day by day. “Those who are not Turkish and Muslim are more serious about leaving and migration,” according to the newspaper Agos.
An Armenian citizen of Turkey, who has recently moved to Europe, told Agos:
“Our primary reason was that we wanted our child to live in more civilized conditions. Turkey hasn’t been peaceful at least for 5 generations. Turkey cannot manage to reach to ‘the level of contemporary civilizations’ and it seems that it won’t in the next 30 years.
“Thinking that no place can be worse than Turkey, you choose to go anywhere else in order to have the life you deserve. I know many families who decided to leave Turkey and started to do something for it. The ones who had the opportunity left Turkey and the ones who cannot leave continue to live in Turkey, thinking what they would do in such an environment.”
Turkey, the very nation whose ancestors committed a genocide against Armenians in 1915 by killing or forcibly deporting 1.5 million Armenians from their ancestral lands, still continually and proudly insults the remaining Armenians.
The current population of the Armenian community in Turkey is about 60,000. Many Armenians are reportedly thinking of leaving Turkey in order to escape the hatred and aggression they suffer in the country–such hatred that even genocide has not been able to subdue.