Istanbul Armenians Document Violations of Minority Rights in Turkey

Harut Sassounian

BY HARUT SASSOUNIAN

Two recent documents from Istanbul shed new light on violations of minority rights in Turkey. The authors of these reports make cautious, yet accurate assessments of the problems facing the Armenian, Greek and Jewish communities.

The first document, dated February 2011, is titled: “Report on non-Muslim Minorities.” It is written by three well-known Istanbul Armenians: Krikor Doshemeciyan, Yervant Ozuzun, and Murat Bebiroglu.

The authors’ stated aim is to seek solutions to the problems of minority populations in Turkey, at a time when the government is planning to revise the constitution to bolster its chances of joining the European Union. Even though the writers do not indicate as to whether their report has been submitted to Turkish officials, the authorities undoubtedly are aware of its contents. It has been posted in Turkish on the Istanbul-based hyetert.com website. The main points of the report are presented below in translation:

The authors trace the difficulties facing the non-Muslim minorities to the establishment of the Republic of Turkey in 1923 as a monolithic, homogeneous state based on a single culture and religion. This policy had serious consequences for the minorities, forcing them to flee or be assimilated.

The non-Muslim minorities were viewed either as foreigners or internal enemies of the state. One cannot find a single policeman or officer who is a member of a minority group. The 1934 displacement of the Jews of Thrace, the exorbitant 1942 Wealth Tax on minorities, and the large-scale attacks on Greeks in Istanbul on Sept. 6-7, 1955, resulted in the impoverishment of these communities and the devastation of their culture. Such discriminatory policies and brutal attacks led to a significant decrease in Turkey’s minority population from 350,000 in 1927 to 80,000 today, while the number of Turks increased six-fold.

The writers point out that the Turkish government has recently returned a few of the properties belonging to minority institutions that were confiscated starting in 1974. Due to contradictions and shortcomings in the new law on minority foundations, the returned properties can not be put to good use, because none of the communities are allowed to repair them.

The government has further violated Articles 41 and 42 of the 1923 Lausanne Treaty which obligated Turkey to provide funding and facilities to non-Muslim minorities for educational, religious, and charitable purposes, and to protect their religious establishments. Beyond the Lausanne Treaty, several provisions of UN conventions and the European Convention on Human Rights are continuously violated by the Turkish government.

One of the most serious problems facing these minorities is the Turkish government’s non-recognition of the Armenian Patriarchate and the Jewish Rabbinate as legal entities. The Greek Patriarchate was finally recognized as a legal entity last year.

Another problem is the government’s appointment of Turkish Vice Principals to oversee minority schools which causes deep mistrust. The preparation of new teachers and clergymen has also become impossible due to the closing down of religious seminaries by the Turkish state. The writers of the report request that clergymen be allowed to teach religion in minority schools, as they had done previously.

In conclusion, the authors urge the Turkish authorities to take into account all of the foregoing legal issues when drafting a “democratic and modern” constitution.

The second document is an interview conducted by Agounk Center’s Meline Anoumyan with Archbishop Aram Ateshian, Vicar General of the Armenian Patriarchate of Istanbul, as the Patriarchate is preparing to celebrate its 550th anniversary. According to Abp. Ateshian, 67,000 Armenians live in Istanbul, while another 3,000 reside in the country’s interior — 500 in Ankara, 300 in Iskenderoun, 70 in Sepastia, 50 in Malatia, and 20 families in Kharpert. In addition, the Vicar General revealed that there are 100,000 Armenians in Turkey who fear disclosing their true identity. This figure does not include the undocumented workers from Armenia who are not allowed to get married and whose children cannot be baptized by the Patriarchate due to their illegal status.

Abp. Ateshian is pleased that a few of the confiscated properties have been returned to Armenian foundations in recent years. He disclosed that there are 44 functioning Armenian Apostolic churches in Turkey — 37 in Istanbul, 3 in Iskenderoun, 2 in Dickranagerd, 1 in Mardin, and 1 in Gessaria. In addition, there are 12 Armenian schools associated with the Patriarchate, and Armenian Catholics have 3 schools and 10 churches. A total of 3,000 Armenian Catholics and 1,000 Armenian Protestants live in Turkey.

It is encouraging that after nine decades Armenian religious and lay leaders in Istanbul have mustered enough courage to raise their voices in defense of their violated civil rights!

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7 Comments

  1. Fuad KAVUR said:

    I do not agree that minorities, be it Greek, Jewish or Armenian have been or are at a disadvaantage anymore than any minority group have been in the so called Western “civilised” countries. Indeed, if anthything, in my own personal experience, I often have found all minorities in Turkey- Jews, Greeks or Armenians are now well integrated and think themselves as Turks, albeit Christian Turks.

    If one compared what other minorities suffered living in Christian lands, the “plight” of Turkish minorities would seem relatively small- Think of Jews under Nazism. Indeed, in 1933 it was Kemal Ataturk who took in rowes of Jewish artists, scientists, academics, doctors- on the run from Hitler’s Germany, which in turne benefitted the newly formed Turkish republic.

    What the Russians did to Jews- constant Pogroms is yet another example of a Christian nation persecuting minorities. And what about the plight of the negroes in America, or in their own country- in South Africa where they were not allowed even to travel on the same buses as the whites.

    In conclusion, it is a fact of life that minorities have never had it easy in any country in the world. But they have suffered more under Christians- Negroes in America, in South Africa- and all that is not Ancient history either. I remember negroes not being admitted to universities in USA. Turks never barred Jews, Armenians or Greeks from participating in social life of the country.

    Finally, I will admit, neither events of 6/7 September were finest hours of Turkish history. However, if it is any comfort to those who critisize Turks as a sport, the man who was responsible for events of 6/7 September, was later hanged by the Turks themselves.

    • manooshag said:

      But so many have recognized there crimes, and have moved forward… yet a turkey’s leaderships are still of the Ottoman mode – non Muslims are abused- a turkey unable honestly to acknowledge all the Turkish Genocides of the Greeks, Syrians, Assyrians, Armenians – unable to admit their crimes against innocent victims and to steal cultures and more – all that a turkey claims as if these belong ?historically? to a turkey.
      Manooshag

    • Levent said:

      I’m also a Turk and have completely other experience than yours. I have many Jewish, Greek and Armenian friends, and none of them feels himself or herself as a “Turk”. And that’s quite understandable, while the Turkish state considers the non-Muslim minorities in Turkey as “foreigners” or their extensions and therefore they are seen as potential political risk at all levels. Today “missioners” (Christian believers) considered as a “provocation” and the greatest threat to Islam in Turkey.
      It’s a wise approach of all apologists of racism that they compare the situation at home with extreme examples from other countries and try to legitimate the racist and discriminatory practices. Especially non-Muslim Turkish citizens face a harsh discrimination in their daily life from schools to work places in Turkey. For instance in several incidents it’s been unrevealed that the army has some conspiracy lists (potential risk groups) of minorities. If several failed coup d’etat attempts of the army officers were successful, these lists would have been used for deportations and isolations.
      If you want to see any record of the discrimination, look at the civil servants or the members of the parliament. There is no single member of high ranked civil servant, any general in the army or any MP from non-Muslim minorities in Turkey.
      Discriminatory attitudes are deeply rooted in Turkish culture and society, and manifest itself in long-standing patterns of exclusion and segregation and the prevalence of negative stereotypes. Turkey is still among the few European countries which has no particular legislation on “racial” and ethnic discrimination and hate crimes. Turkey is also among the few countries which gather no official statistical data on racial discrimination and hate crimes in Europe. It does not have a special official body to combat such crimes either.
      The Turkish Constitution does not refer to minorities or cultural identities. There is no legislative framework for minorities or victims of hate crimes in Turkey, either directly through laws granting rights or indirectly through an anti-discrimination law.

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  3. Armenian said:

    Sounds interesting! Where can we get a copy of these documents? Is it possible that it can be e-mailed to us?

  4. Fred said:

    Dear Fuad. If you can look at GOD in the eye and say you have done nothing wrong. That you are still doing nothing wrong. Then you are OK. It is not us you have to explain. We can not judge you or your people. We are not Godly and will avenge for all that was done wrong to us, when the time is right we will be able to look at GOD in the eye and say why we avenged our deads.

  5. Fuad Kavur said:

    Since I am not a believer, yours is a moot point.

    However, I do remember Armenians proudly claiming credit for the assassination of some 11 Turkish ambassadors and 45 Turkish diplomats in the last fifty years- during peace time. My two paternal uncles were top ambassadors with the Turkish Foreign Ministry and I am proud to be a member of this family. As a film maker, one day, I might well be the target of an Armenian revenge mission, but I will not change my opinions because of your threats of avenge.

    At least, I do not sign my letters as “Fred”….. , .

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