Raffi Bedrosyan

Intolerance toward ‘The Other’ in Turkey

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By Raffi Bedrosyan

Just when one thinks the level of hatred and intolerance in Turkey toward minorities cannot get any worse, something shocking happens which surpasses even the worst incidents of the past.

Aysel Tugluk, formerly a human rights activist, is a member of parliament for the province of Van in Turkey from the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP). Along with the two co-leaders of the party and 11 other fellow deputies, she was arrested and kept in jail, without any trial, since December 2016 based on charges of “supporting a terrorist organization.”

Her 78-year-old mother, Hatun Tugluk, of Alevi descent and originally from Dersim, passed away last week. As per her will, she was to be buried in an Ankara cemetery. The jail authorities relented to release Aysel Tugluk temporarily so that she can attend her mother’s funeral and burial. Just as her mother’s coffin was lowered into the grave, a group of 30 fanatical ultranationalists showed up with a tractor, chanting slogans such as: “These are Turkish lands, these are not Armenian lands,” “This is not an Armenian cemetery,” “Burial of Alevis, Armenians and Kurds not allowed here,” “Seeds of Armenians not allowed in a Turkish cemetery,” and more ominously, “If you don’t remove this coffin, we will shred it to pieces.”

Soon the mob increased to 100 people, who started throwing stones at the mourners, including Aysel Tugluk. Although there were a large number of policemen present, they just watched the mob without interfering. In fact, several attackers seemed to know the policemen and addressed them with their names. At the end, Aysel Tugluk had no choice but to remove her mother’s coffin from the grave, and decided to have her transported to Dersim for burial there. The jail authorities refused to allow Aysel to travel to Dersim as the funeral permission was only for Ankara. So, while Aysel’s mother’s body travelled to Dersim, Aysel went back into jail.

The level of intolerance and hatred displayed during this incident is revolting. It is a generally accepted fact that any living person defined as ‘the Other’, that is, a non-Turk, non-Sunni Muslim, will be subject to discrimination, insults and even physical attacks in Turkey, but this incident showed that the dosage of attacks has now reached dead people. There is no question that the attack was organized and planned, with the mob arriving just in time equipped with a tractor and prepared slogans, and obviously condoned by the state or deep state. The governor of Ankara minimized the incident as a provocation by a few drunken persons. The Minister of Interior posed with one of the attackers, both smiling, after the incident. All attackers were released after questioning.  

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In 1915, the main ‘Other’ was the Armenians, who were almost wiped out with the genocide, resulting in huge transfer of wealth, lands and property to the government, as well as government sanctioned plunderers and attackers. The fanatics who attacked Hatun Tugluk’s grave, shouting “This is not an Armenian cemetery,” obviously do not remember that the entire Turkish lands had become a graveyard for the Armenians one hundred years ago. Unknown Armenian grave sites have long disappeared, and the known ones are still deliberately being destroyed, such as the one in Lake Van where toilets and changing cabins were recently installed over the Armenian cemetery. Hunting for treasures in Armenian graveyards is still rampant, with even websites created deciphering Armenian alphabet and signs for potentially rich findings in the graves.

After eliminating the main ‘Other’, the Greeks, in the Pontus and Aegean regions in the early 1920’s, it was the turn of the Istanbul Greek ‘Other’ in 1955 to be attacked, again on a September night. Ultranationalist mobs attacked the houses, shops and churches of the Greek minority in Istanbul, as revenge for the alleged bombing of Kemal Ataturk’s house museum in Thessaloniki, Greece. All 73 Greek churches in Istanbul were burnt, more than 5000 properties demolished, hundreds of Greeks murdered, several hundred Greek women raped, and two Greek priests forcibly circumcised. Greek cemeteries were also attacked and newly buried bodies removed in search of gold teeth. Years later, it was revealed that it was Turkish government intelligence forces themselves who planted the bomb at Kemal Ataturk’s house, organized and transported the attacking mobs in trucks, as well as supplied them with wooden clubs, all one standard size. The majority of the Greek ‘Other’ just left Turkey after this incident.

So now, the main ‘Other’ left in Turkey are the Kurds and the Alevis. However, one hundred years of brainwashing preached in schools and mosques still keeps the hatred alive against the Armenians. Therefore, attacks or insults on Kurds and Alevis must also include the swear word ‘Armenian’. When government forces fought against the Kurdish militants in Diyarbakir for the past two years, they wrote on the walls of bombed out buildings or taunted the Kurds with loudspeakers “Armenian bastards, seeds of Armenians.” Perhaps Hatun Tugluk from Dersim did have Armenian roots, perhaps not. But that is not the issue, as long as the ultranationalists can direct their hatred of the Armenian to include all the remaining ‘Others’.

For a few years, until two years ago, the Turkish government had preached respect for democracy and human rights, tolerance and equality for minorities and all ‘Others’, promoting peace and ending the war with the Kurds. The phrase “Turkey for Turks” was almost replaced with “Turkey for all citizens” for a few short years. But now, Turkey can be defined as ‘Turkey for Turks who support President Erdogan’. Hrant Dink once said: “Yes, we have our eyes on these lands, but not to take them away. We want these lands so that we can be buried under them.” It seems that even that cannot be tolerated by the Turks for ‘the Others’.  

 

(Raffi Bedrosyan is a civil engineer and concert pianist, living in Toronto, Canada. He has donated concert and CD proceedings to infrastructure projects in Armenia and Karabakh, in which he has also participated as an engineer. He helped organize the reconstruction of the Surp Giragos Diyarbakir/Dikranagerd Church and the first Armenian reclamation of church properties in Anatolia after 1915. He gave the first piano concert in the church since 1915.)