ERDOGAN PLAYS TO BASE BY SLIGHTING ARMENIANS
Aug 7 2014
Author: Cengiz Candar
Posted August 7, 2014
Steven Cook, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations with
a reputation for expertise on Turkey and Egypt, wrote an article for
Politico Aug. 5 headlined, "What a Turkey! Has the Turkish leader
lost his head?" The article discussed the alleged anti-Semitism of
the Turkish prime minister, currently running for the presidency.
Cook's article begins, "If Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan
were an American politician, he would be an excellent candidate for
one of Chris Cillizza's 'Worst Week in Washington' features. First,
on Friday, July 19, a day after the State Department spokesperson
criticized him for his frequent invocation of the Nazis to describe
Israel's behavior, Erdogan asked, 'What do Americans know about
Hitler?' Given that almost 200,000 young Americans died fighting in
Europe during WWII, quite a lot, actually."
In the article, Cook refers to Richard Cohen's Washington Post column
about "Erdogan's 'Hitler fetish,'" in which Cohen questioned whether
Erdogan had lost his mind.
Cook gave his personal opinion of Erdogan, writing, "Having an
over-inflated sense of self comes with being a world leader, and he's
has been in the bubble for almost 12 years. And for all of Erdogan's
seeming public decomposition, there is actually a perfectly rational
and sane politician astutely advancing his agenda, which at the moment
is focused on becoming Turkey's next president. ... When it comes to
anti-Semitism, Erdogan is guilty as charged, but sadly so are large
numbers of Turks. It is true that Jews found refuge in Turkey during
the Inquisition and have lived and prospered there ever since, but
that does not mean that anti-Semitism is alien to Turkish culture."
Cook naturally couldn't have imagined that what Erdogan would go on
to say about Armenians would dwarf his remarks about Israel. On the
night of Aug. 5 in a joint transmission by NTV and Star TV, he was
reminded that in an election rally, main opposition leader Kemal
Kilicdaroglu had said that he is an Alevi, Kurdish presidential
candidate Selahattin Demirtas had announced that he is a Zaza and
that Erdogan himself had cited his Sunnism. Erdogan blurted a reaction
that instantly generated a passionate public debate in Turkey.
He 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. Excuse
me, but they have said even uglier things. They have called me
Armenian, but I am Turkish."
Turkish traditional and social media went wild next day with reports
of how on Aug. 11, 2003, in an official visit to neighboring Georgia,
Erdogan had said, "I am also a Georgian. Our family is a Georgian
family that emigrated from Batumi to Rize." Thus the source of the
allegation that he was Georgian was Erdogan himself. Clearly, he
did not find any ethnic identity other than Turkish healthy for his
electoral fortunes a few days before the vote.
But it was not his denial of Georgian origin that triggered the
passionate public debate. It was the way he phrased the Armenian
identity. His remark, "Excuse me, but they have said even uglier
things. They have called me Armenian," was taken as an example of
hate speech and an unjustifiable insult to the Armenian identity,
and the public erupted in exceptionally harsh reactions.
On Aug. 6, a group of well-known Turkish-Armenian intellectuals and
business people cynically calling themselves "Excuse us, Armenians"
issued an articulate statement that read, "For years we were forced to
shout out that we are Turkish. But we never found it ugly. We found
it wrong. We were upset being persistently told who we are. ... Did
we have any enemies of Turks, any racists among us? Of course we did,
as much as any other nation. But we didn't crown these racists."
The statement ends with the following lines that would break the heart
of any conscientious person: "As a people whose ancestry has been
pulverized, we continue to live quietly as a diaspora on our own land.
Stop baiting us, enjoy your life. Continue to live your life until
the day we Armenians, Greeks, Syriacs, Turks, Kurds, Circassians,
Georgians, Alevis, Christians, Jews and Muslims, with our brethren
who vote for you or not, prove that we can do better than you."
Among the 17 signatories were the names of late journalist Hrant
Dink's son Arat Dink, Agos editor-in-chief Rober Koptas and his close
associate Karin Karakasli, as well as well-known Armenian names such
as Anna Turay, Aris Nalci, Garo Paylan, Hayko Bagdat and Yetvart
Danzikyan, publishers and business people such as Ardasez Margosyan
and Nazar Buyum particularly stood out.
The unforgettable symbol of Armenian identity in Turkey, Hrant Dink,
was assassinated in 2007, and his funeral was at the time the greatest
mass demonstration ever in Istanbul. His weekly Agos newspaper carried
a photo of Erdogan on its Aug. 7 front page, accompanied by headline,
"May Allah Forgive You." The piece read, "So now this happened, too.
Presidential candidate Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan did not
find it enough to declare he is a Turk but also announced he is not
an Armenian, with a grimace of disgust.
"Perhaps all of us living in this country are very lucky. You never
get bored. There is always an opportunity to amuse ourselves with a
further beguiling diversion and our share of hatred narratives. ... Of
course, no ethnic identity is a cause of pride or shame by itself.
Such generalizations can only be the product of a racist mindset. We
know very well that in addition to the estimated 50,000 Armenians in
Turkey, there are thousands of people of Armenian ancestry living in
this land. Our small number and the need for many to remain secret
Armenians are the bitter heritage of the 1915 Armenian Genocide. What
we want to say it that there are so many other issues to ask for
Armenians' forgiveness. But there is no one apologizing or asking for
our forgiveness. To the contrary, the burden of discrimination gets
heavier by the day. When the prime minister finds being an Armenian
ugly -- excuse us -- some people are ready to don their white berets
[as ultranationalists] and threaten Agos with impunity. The holy Quran
says people were divided into nations and tribes so that they can get
to know each other. We wonder if the prime minister is aware of the
values he is trampling on with his remarks. What else is there to say,
except, may God forgive his transgressions."
Cook concluded his article, "Erdogan will leave nothing to chance.
"This is not to excuse Erdogan's recent Jew-baiting or an entire
previous year of intimidating his opponents, cowing the press,
restricting access to the Internet, purging the bureaucracy and
banning (unsuccessfully) social media. These are the tactics of a
tin-pot dictator, not a major NATO ally, but Erdogan does not care.
Behind the bluster and thuggish politics is an effort to secure the
domestic political arena. To the extent that this approach plays
well among voters in Kayseri, Trabzon and Erzurum, Erdogan will reap
"From afar, Erdogan certainly seems crazy, but he is more likely
crazy like a fox."
One can substitute "recent Armenian-insulting" for "recent Jew-baiting"
and Cook's judgment remains applicable.
Erdogan, in terms of domestic politics, as a political mastermind, can
be elected president but his alleged anti-Semitism and his insulting
remarks on the Armenian identity will haunt him all him all the
way, particularly in 2015, the 100th anniversary of what Armenian
communities all over the world remember and depict as a genocide.
Turkey, thanks to the "great master" and "strong leader's" unscrupulous
attitude and hate speech toward religious and ethnic minorities,
appears destined to suffer constant headaches in the international