Grew up Kurdish, forced to be Turkish, now called Armenian
By Pinar Tremblay
Oct. 11, 2015
Political prisoner Selman Gulbahce asked the judge for a translator in
Turkish court on Sept. 1. Gulbahce wanted to speak in Kurdish, his
mother tongue. However, the judge allegedly got very upset at the
request. Based on Gulbahce's writings after the court session, the
judge said, `There is no Kurd. You have been educated in this
country's schools. You are impudent, insolent. Leave my courtroom.'
And according to the reports, it did not end there. Justice Sevval
Akkas then turned to the gendarmerie soldiers in the courtroom and
said, `They are killing your comrades every day. They are killing the
police. As a woman, I am battling them, and you guys are just standing
there and watching. They are like the Armenians. If they are not
stopped in time, God knows what will happen.'
The alleged statement of Judge Akkas can be seen as part of a
spine-chilling trend in Turkey.
During the presidential election campaign of August 2014, then-Prime
Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, now president, said, `Let the Turk say
he is a Turk, and the Kurd say he is a Kurd in Turkey. What is wrong
with that? In the past, they spread rumors about me. They said I am a
Georgian. Excuse me, but they have said even uglier things. They have
called me Armenian.'
Erdogan's words caused an uproar, as Al-Monitor columnist Cengiz
Candar explained at the time. However, now we must ask why one would
be offended to be called an Armenian.
When the Kurdish-majority southern town of Cizre was under curfew in
September, the police taunted over loud speakers: `Armenians are proud
of you. You are all Armenians.'
In the Sur district of Diyarbakir, an Armenian Catholic Church was
targeted during another curfew in mid-September. The doors of the
church were broken and the signboard showing its establishment date
removed. Arat Karagozyan, chairman of the Mesopotamia Armenian
Association, told the media, `On the centennial of the Armenian
genocide, this is reminding us of the events of 1915 all over again.
These words, `You are all Armenians,' are also proof of the 1915
genocide. They are trying to portray Armenian as a bad thing. We are
In a rather mind-boggling tweet Sept. 7, presidential senior adviser
Burhan Kuzu wrote, referring to Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) members,
`The killed terrorists' bodies must be examined. It would be seen that
most of them are not circumcised. Wake up my Kurdish brother, wake up
already.' The pundits' and public's reaction to Kuzu's comments are
noteworthy. Most of them were sarcastic and below the belt. Yet, the
underlying idea was to differentiate the non-Muslims (as
uncircumcised) and identify them as terrorists. The tweet was
suggesting that PKK members are not Muslim, therefore, they are not
our brothers. But Kurds are Muslims, hence our brothers. Kuzu was
implying that Armenians, not Kurds, are the ones rebelling. And once
again, "Armenian" becomes a derogatory term to justify hatred and
Al-Monitor interviewed more than 10 Armenian and Kurdish politicians,
pundits and activists to understand how this trend of branding the
Kurds as Armenians is affecting society and what kind of repercussions
it may have in the near term. Why do Justice and Development Party
members and government employees employ such a hatred-filled rhetoric
during the heated election campaign?
Fethiye Cetin, a lawyer and friend of slain Armenian intellectual
Hrant Dink, who has also discovered her own hidden Armenian roots,
told Al-Monitor, `Ogun Samast [the convicted murderer of Hrant Dink]
shot Hrant, he screamed 'Die Armenian!' Yet he had never known another
Armenian in his life or met one before. In the court, Samast said,
'Had I known Dink had a family, had kids, I would not have killed
him.' That explains how the political system is producing disposable
lives. Armenian is one of those worthless lives on the list. The new
generations are being taught to see Armenians not as human, but [as]
an entity to be despised and destroyed, the worst enemy. And the
school curriculum adds fuel to the existing fires.'
Cetin's explanation matches the real-life experience of Hatice
Altinisik, a Kurdish Alevi, who is a member of the Central Executive
Council of the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP). She told
Al-Monitor, `For decades, the governments in Turkey tried to wipe
Anatolia of any traces of Armenian identity. Murders and forced
immigration were not sufficient. Names of towns, streets, even recipes
were altered. Their churches became mosques. They attempted to rewrite
history. Now, [they are] telling the people of Cizre, under curfew for
nine days, 'You are all Armenians.' This shows us the fabricated 'one
nation, one belief' has collapsed. They have failed to destroy the
Armenian ghosts of history.'
Indeed, Altinisik has experienced firsthand verbal attacks by Veil
Kucuk, a retired brigadier general, who is allegedly the founder of
Gendarmerie Intelligence and Counterterrorism (JITEM), a secret
anti-terror military unit. Kurds attribute several cruel acts of the
1990s to JITEM. Kucuk confronted Altinisik, calling her an `Armenian
whore, Armenian bitch.' Altinisik explained to Al-Monitor that she
would not let that get under her skin. She told him, `Better to be a
whore of any ethnicity, than a murderer like you.'
HDP Deputy Chairman Alp Altinors told Al-Monitor, `Since the 1990s,
the official rhetoric has attempted to distance the PKK from the
public by branding it as Armenian." It was common to hear slogans such
as `They are not circumcised,' `Armenian seed' and `ASALA [Armenian
Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenia] finished as the PKK
"What is new is, they used to say PKK members are Armenian, not
Kurdish, but now they are calling all Kurds in the region with a
blanket 'accusation' as Armenian,' Altinors said.
Aline Ozinian is a regional analyst for the Armenian Assembly of
America and an Armenian correspondent for AGOS, an Armenian daily
published in Turkey. She told Al-Monitor, `HDP's success showed that
efforts to brand the HDP just as the Kurdish party failed. So to curse
it now they had to find another label, and Armenian is the worse label
they found. But if we think about it, do Kurds have some Armenian
blood? Possibly. Just like the Turks. We know that many young
Armenians were left behind, and today we hear some of their stories as
secret Armenians.' Ozinian blames Turkey's dwindling Armenian
population on public reaction to officials' statements. It's bad
enough, she said, that the word Armenian is used as a slur, but it is
not even a crime to kill an Armenian in Turkey.
"That is why Armenian children are struggling so hard to hide their
identity,' she said.
Bedo Gesaratsi, an Armenian from Turkey, views the issue from an
interesting perspective. He told Al-Monitor, `Calling one an Armenian
is killing two birds with one stone nowadays. Anyone opposing the
state deserves the treatment Armenians once received. Also, equating
the Armenian identity with that of the PKK helps the government, since
they cannot punish all Kurds for being Kurdish, simply because they
cannot afford to alienate all Kurds.'
We see that the `They are Armenian' labeling is aimed at the pious
Kurds, to distance them from those who might be sympathizing with the
HDP and to attract ultranationalist (Nationalist Action Party) voters
by igniting fires of patriotism. That said, the longer-term effects of
these populist policies are rather scary. As tensions increase in
Turkey, identifying with any minority group (be it Kurd, Alevi, LGBT,
Shiite, non-Muslim, Greek, Armenian or another) becomes a source of
fear again, and people try to hide who they are.
As Mari Esgici, an Armenian from Diyarbakir who owns a tavern in
Istanbul, once said, `We were Armenians by birth, Kurdish while
growing up and Turkish as adults.' That sentence on its own should be
a source of deep concern for anyone living in Turkey.