BY GAREN YEGPARIAN
Since the beginning of this century there has been turmoil in Turkey. You may be snickering, thinking when has there NOT been turmoil in Turkey. But this type of turmoil is in addition to the standard-Turkish-government-issue murder and mayhem that is the almost century-long history of that country.
The turmoil of interest is the kind of social and political ruckus caused by glimmers of human awakening that give rise to hope that for the first time since Turks’ arrival on the far-west-Asian scene, humanity and civilization might actually take hold in Turkish government/ruling circles.
Perhaps the most obvious example is the loosening up and democratization in Turkish society and polity in the first years of this century, ushered in by the rise to power of current Turkish President Erdogan’s AKP. It was/is an Islamicist party, the sort that seems to house the initial hopes of many Moslem countries for reform. It came in on something of an anti-corruption urge in Turkish society. Things like the Armenian Genocide could finally be discussed along with other formerly taboo topics. But we now see that the Erdogan/AKP opening was a false alarm. Erdogan has become a reincarnation of the Ataturkist, Young Turk, and Ottoman rulers of yore.
Despite the ever-tightening noose on Turkey’s humanization that Erdogan and his minions have become, the underlying ferment that enabled the opening earlier this century is still present. We read about people like Elif Safak (her “The Bastard of Istanbul” [“Baba ve Pic/Peej” in the original Turkish] is a must read for Armenians) being targeted for persecution for her writings. Novelist Ahmet Altan, who, in jail for life, is working on the untitled final, Genocide-themed, volume of his Ottoman Quartet series. These are proof that an instinct for decency and justice (for Armenians and others) has not been squelched.
On May 30, 2018, Turkey’s Constitutional Court ruled that use of the term “Armenian Genocide” was within the bounds of an individual’s right to free speech. It also said that using the term wasn’t meant to publicly insult the Turkish nation. So, the ruling was a mixed bag. You can say Genocide, but only because it doesn’t insult Turkishness.
On May 22, 2019, the court ruled that disallowing the Armenian Patriarchal elections to proceed was an infringement of religious freedom. It found that these elections could be held not only because of the death or resignation of a patriarch but also for “various reasons,” without specifications. Those “various reasons” sound suspiciously like a back-door left open for Turkish governmental intrusion. Again, a mixed bag.
Yet these decisions should be seen in light of cases such as Victor Bedoian’s in the early 2000s. He tried over the course of seven years to operate a hotel in Van. Regional authorities thwarted him, illegally, and when the case got to Constitutional Court, those judges silenced his lawyer and threw out the case in less than a minute, disregarding Turkish property laws. So, there’s progress
Finally, we have the (second) election of Ekrem Imamoğlu, the CHP (Ataturk’s party) candidate for mayor of Constantinople whose original election in March was thwarted through Erdoğan’s machinations. But the people of Bolis rallied on June 23rd and gave Imamoglu their support in a rerun election in which 10,560,963 people could vote, 8,925,166 ballots were cast of which 8,746,566 were valid. Imamoglu got 4,742,082 votes while Binali Yıldırım (the AKP candidate) 3,936,068. That’s an almost 9% margin of 806,014 votes, with a little over 58,000 votes going to minor candidates. This rejection of Erdogan’s candidate also suggests that people in Turkey, at least in urban areas, are looking for something better.
What are we, as Armenians, to do in all this? Let’s engage with those in Turkey who are the standard bearers of decency and humanity. We can do this through our compatriots still struggling under Turkish misrule, who, despite all obstacles have succeeded in electing Armenians to parliament. Let’s support their efforts and in so doing, advance our justice driven agenda.