ANKARA—Ankara Mayor Melih Gökçek made provocative remarks concerning Kurds, Armenians and atheists on his Twitter page on Tuesday, reports Today’s Zaman.
The mayor shared three consecutive tweets about Kurds, religion, and Armenians. He first shared a video from the Cihan news agency containing old footage of Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) members entertaining other PKK members with a comedy skit poking fun at salat (Islamic ritualistic prayer). Alongside the video, the mayor commented: “It’s these types of PKK [members] that don’t want a peace process or an end to war. They are the enemies of Islam. Here is proof.”
He continued in another tweet, “Peace to the Kurds in the east who are putting their lives on the line for the nation and solidarity and for Islam.” In his next tweet, Gökçek continued, “But there are those posing as Kurds but are actually Armenian atheists… (By the way, I absolve our Armenian brothers and sisters that are citizens of their nation.)” The mayor later deleted two of the controversial tweets (keeping the one with the video), though Twitter users were quick to respond with comments.
What the mayor is referring to are “hidden” Armenians who were often forcefully Islamified and Kurdified among Kurds in the Dersim mountains to avoid continued persecution during the Genocide of Armenians in 1915. There are Armenians among Alevi and Turkish communities as well.
Hayko Bağdat, an Armenian columnist for the Taraf daily, tweeted back to the mayor, “Which category do I fall under, boss?” Later, Today’s Zaman spoke over the phone with Bağdat, asking him about his views on the matter, and he explained: “This is plain racism. It’s prejudice on many levels. It’s not just against one demographic of people but against several: Armenians, Kurds, atheists. It is hate speech, and if this [Turkey] were a civil country then he [Gökçek] would be removed from his position for these remarks. But these types of remarks have become commonplace with [Justice and Development Party] AK Party politicians; we see it in the president.”
In August, a similar incident involving racist comments came from President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan just two weeks before the presidential elections. During a television broadcast on Star TV and NTV, President Erdoğan said: “Let all Turks in Turkey say they are Turks and all Kurds say they are Kurds. What is wrong with that? You wouldn’t believe the things they have said about me. They have said I am Georgian … they have said even uglier things — they have called me Armenian, but I am Turkish.” Criticisms were raised about Erdoğan’s assertion that being Armenian is “ugly.”
The mayor’s Twitter account continuously draws public attention, as Gökçek is known to tweet on many topics regardless of their relevance to his political responsibilities. He has over 2 million followers.