BY UZAY BULUT
Racist attacks against the bilingual Armenian weekly newspaper, Agos, as well as against Armenian schools, are increasingly widespread in Turkey.
On April 24 of last year—the Centennial of the Armenian Genocide—a black wreath was hung on the front door of the office of the newspaper Agos together with a sign stating that, “One night, we might come to visit you unexpectedly.” Agos filed a criminal complaint against this threat.
Those accused of having threatened were tried on November 18. The chairman of the Nationalist Turkish Party of Istanbul, Bilal Gokceyurt, and the chairman of the “Turan Organization,” Ercan Ucar, were acquitted on the grounds that there was no evidence of an actual crime.
Speaking during the hearing, the newspaper’s editor Yetvart Danzikyan said: “They had hung up a black wreath while the office was closed. We found it in the morning. Then, we saw that they released a video about their action called, ‘One night, we might come to visit you unexpectedly.’ We filed a criminal complaint. There had been similar actions when Hrant Dink was working in Agos. You know what happened to Hrant Dink. We therefore considered this action to be a threat.”
Hrant Dink, the then editor-in-chief of the Agos, was murdered in 2007 in front of the office of his newspaper in Istanbul. He had received numerous death threats from Turkish nationalists and was prosecuted three times for “denigrating Turkishness” in his writings and remarks about the Armenian Genocide.
The Turkey Branch of Reporters without Borders (RSF) made a statement via Twitter on the court ruling: “That the threat against the newspaper Agos goes unpunished is dire and encourages similar attacks.”
Some have recently written racist graffiti on the Armenian Bomonti Mihitaryan High School. “One night, we will be in Karabakh unexpectedly,” read the graffiti, referring to Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (Artsakh), a historically Armenian land.
Armenian schools are regularly targeted by Turkish nationalist groups. Racist remarks were also written on the Surp Hac Tibrevank High School and the Kalfayan Armenian School in Istanbul in the last four months. The perpetrators have not yet been found. In one incident, the graffiti read: “Torture Armenians.”
“Threats against Armenians in Turkey are of many kinds,” Murad Mihci, an Istanbul-based activist with the Armenian Nor Zartonk Association, said.
“Racist graffiti on Armenian schools is only one aspect of aggression against Armenians. There is much more to it. For example, fewer people are getting married in churches in Turkey because they are scared that a terror attack could happen during the wedding ceremony. Many Armenians are planning to leave Turkey like they did in 1950’s and 1980’s in large numbers,” Mihci added.
In September, Sezgin Tanrikulu, a Member of Parliament from the Republican People’s Party (CHP), submitted a motion about the racist graffiti on Armenian schools in Istanbul to the Turkish parliament, requesting Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim to answer it. The motion is stillunanswered.
Meanwhile, the editorial board of Agos has recently published an article about verbal attacks against Armenian schools:
“Such racist writings have been going on for the last year. Not only has there been no legal enforcement against the perpetrators who engage in hate-speech, but they cannot even be identified… It is not hard to guess what kind of impact such writings have on the children who go to these schools and their parents. But the perpetrators just get away with it.”
Hate-speech is a widespread phenomenon in Turkey that targets all religious and ethnic minorities. Armenians are one of the main victims but, they are not the only ones.
According to the latest report by “The Media Watch on Hate Speech Project,” which monitors Turkish local and national newspapers, the group most commonly exposed to hate speech in Turkey from January to April 2015 were the Armenians, with 103 news items.
Jews represented the second largest group targeted with 75 items, followed by Christians (in general) as the third with 73. They were followed by hate-speech against the British (21 items), Syrians (16 items), non-Muslims (14 items), Kurds (13 items), Anatolian Greeks (12 items), and atheists (11 items).
In another report, Media Watch concluded: “The fact that certain groups remain targeted for an extended period of time through great number of news items not only shows the vulnerability of these groups to hate speech, but also presents deep seated and persistent efforts to insult these groups. That these groups consist of people, beliefs, and ethnic groups living together in this part of the world enhances potential risks of hate speech and its particular role in preparing the ground for hate crimes.”
According to the Armenian National Institute, during the Armenian Genocide, “Up to a million and a half Armenians perished at the hands of Ottoman and Turkish military and paramilitary forces and through atrocities intentionally inflicted to eliminate the Armenian demographic presence in Turkey… In the process, the population of historic Armenia at the eastern extremity of Anatolia was wiped off the map. With their disappearance, an ancient people which had inhabited the Armenian highlands for three thousand years lost its historic homeland and was forced into exile and a new diaspora. The surviving refugees spread around the world and eventually settled in some two dozen countries on all continents of the globe.”
Despite much evidence to the contrary, Turkey still claims that the mass murders and forced deportations of Armenians in 1915 did not constitute genocide.
The current population of Armenians in Turkey is about 60,000. Even when there is today a tiny Armenian minority left in the country, Turkey continually threatens and insults its Armenian population, turning a blind eye to and even encouraging more attacks against Armenians.
A century after the genocide, the Armenians of Turkey are still under attack… and the attacks still go unpunished.
This op-ed was originally published in The Armenian Weekly on December 5, 2016.