ISTANBUL (Combined Sources)–A group of more than 40 Turkish-Armenia’s, in an open letter to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, have voiced their grievances about remarks from Turkish Defense Minister Vecdi Gonul that defended the deportation of Greeks and Armenia’s from Anatolia at the beginning of the last century, describing his commen’s as "praising ethnic cleansing and crime."
Gonul, in a speech given on November 10 at an event commemorating the anniversary of the death of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in the Turkish Embassy in Brussels, claimed that if Greeks and Armenia’s were still living in the country, Turkey would not be the same nation-state it is today. He also alleged that Armenia is supporting the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
"If there were Greeks in the Aegean and Armenia’s in most places in Turkey today, would it be the same nation-state? I don’t know with which words I can explain the importance of the population exchange, but if you look at the former state of affairs, its importance will become very clear," Gonul said.
The Lausanne Treaty, signed in 1923, called for a population exchange between the Greek Orthodox citizens of the young Turkish Republic and the Muslim citizens of Greece, which resulted in the displacement of approximately 2 million people.
The Armenian population that was in Turkey before the establishment of Turkish Republic was either exterminated or brutally deported between 1915-1923.
Claiming that the Armenia’s are supporting the PKK, Gonul said "we cannot deny the contribution of those who consider themselves the victims of this ‘nation-building,’ especially the forced emigration, to the struggle in the southeastern Anatolia," he said.
The group, in their open letter published on a Web site, stated that Gonul’s remarks contradict the Turkish Constitution, which says that anyone bound to the Turkish Republic by the citizenship is called a Turk.
"It is very difficult to understand, if we are talking about a Turkish nation, why the Armenia’s and Greeks [non-Muslims] cannot be a part of this nation, when Kurds, Arabs and Albanians [Muslims] can be? To what extent does this mentality, which underlines that religious unity is required in order to be a nation, fit in with the contemporary state of law?" the letter asked.
The letter said that the changes made by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) toward democratization were considered by intellectuals to be "positive," but that the rivals of the AK Party claimed these changes are just a disingenuous effort to get the financial support of the European Union.
"The reaction of the AK party to Gonul’s scandalous remarks will be a very good indicator of the sincerity of the policies [of AK Party]," claimed the letter signed also by prominent Turkish intellectuals and authors such as Taner Akcam.
%u091 Greek foreign ministry spokesman, GeorgeKoumoutsakos, on Wednesday commented on the eyebrow-raising commen’s positing that the eradication of Greek and Armenian communities in Turkey was imperative in the process of the establishment of a modern Turkish nation-state. "The statemen’s made by the Turkish defense minister are unfortunate, to say the least."
"Such statemen’s are characterized by an unacceptable and dangerous reasoning that should have been left back in the dark past, where it belongs," he added, stressing that clarifications made "a posteriori" are not enough to change the initial negative impressions and the emotions they caused."
Turkish Intellectuals React
By the time Gonul made a public statement claiming that his words were ‘misunderstood,’ Turkish experts had already begun reacting to his racist remarks.
"A nation-building process is a homogeneity project and was what all the world’s countries were trying to do at that time. He didn’t bring attention to this fact, instead he presented the issue as if the population exchange was a desirable and positive thing," Soli Ozel, political science professor at Bilgi University told the Hurriyet Daily News & Economic Review. "He was expected to say that after 80 years the move has resulted in social and cultural impoverishment for Turkey.”
Professor Baskin Oran’said the displacement of Greeks and Armenia’s from Anatolia delayed Turkey’s industrialization, economically speaking, by at least 50 years and the ethnic and religious cleanups eliminated Turkey’s pluralism, politically speaking.