Bigotry embedded inside us and the demolition in Malatya
ORAL ÇALIŞLARI talked to Malatya Mayor Ahmet Şakır and European Union Minister Egemen Bağış after the sudden overnight demolition of the annexes of the Armenian cemetery in this eastern province on Friday.
Egemen Bağış was sad. He got my “I could not reach you” note. He said he had even sent a message, “I called you back; I could not reach you.” When I reviewed my missed calls, I saw it, he was right. He had called.
“There was a mistake that I guess was not ill-intentioned. They will correct it. I will personally monitor the process,” Bağış explained. He also admitted that he was anxious when he first heard of the incident, thinking, “How are we going to explain it?”
I talked to the Malatya mayor in the evening. “The demolition team went there just to knock down the guard’s cabin. They demolished all the annexes because of a communication failure. We, as the metropolitan municipality, will build the demolished prayer place and the cabin for washing the dead as soon as possible.”
It was five years ago that the Zirve Publishing House massacre happened. (Three Christians were brutally murdered in 2007.) The “potential” in the city was recognized by the “Ergenekonists.” Actually, we can talk about a build-up going way back to old dates. (In the 1970s, the city was turned upside down after its mayor, Hamid Fendoğlu, died after a bomb package exploded; an Alevi-Sunni conflict was provoked and one of the stones on the road leading to the Sept. 12, 1980, coup was paved in Malatya.)
We can say there is a thin line between conservatism and religious bigotry. This line is always open to political abuse; to masses being diverted into social conflicts. At the end of the 1970s, the Kahramanmaraş, Sivas, Çorum, Elazığ, Malatya and other incidents are bitter examples of this phenomenon.
In any case, both the general public and the religious segment of society have drawn some conclusions and lessons from what was experienced, and they continue to do so. Those circles that had to endure the pain of coups have started questioning how much the coup organizers and those who wanted to drive Turkey into internal chaos were given credit in the past. The more they question it, the better they can evaluate the incidents from a wider and unprejudiced angle.
On the other hand, it is obvious that it is not easy for anyone to get rid of old reflexes. We can say this about the latest demolition incident in Malatya: We are facing a serious situation that cannot be circumvented with the word “mistake.” Unless we fully acknowledge this fact, it will not be quite possible for us to overcome “mistakes.” In one way, the presence of an Armenian cemetery in Malatya and Armenians, though only a handful, struggling to exist are sources of hope. We can say that the number of those who share this stance is gradually increasing.
Indeed, “old reflexes” and “political-benefit hunters” are right in front of us as “the other side of the truth.” When I visited Malatya three weeks ago, I had heard that this new building built at the Armenian cemetery had sent some segments into action.
Some were collecting signatures and were trying to hit the Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) municipality in its soft underbelly by saying, “They are building a church here.” These circles who are masters at calculating the thin line between conservatism and “religious bigotry” had the intention of making life difficult for the municipality by saying “they are cooperating with the infidel.” We can say these circles, in a sense, have accomplished their goals. I don’t think the demolition was a coincidence. I am guessing that there was also a “build-up” behind those who had arrived at the venue for the demolition. We know and we see that the backward mentality against “the other” still has significant marks in our society.
We continue to come face to face with examples of all kinds of bigotry in Anatolia, in Istanbul, in daily life. It is another dramatic dimension of the picture that “religious conservatism” and “racist-nationalist bigotry” (these two streams that look as if they are far apart from each other) provoke each other. The “missionary activities” paranoia that the Ergenekonists resort to intensively is not only limited to them; it is a significant fact of my land.
This demolition is not a coincidence; it is not a surprise. This will probably be the main starting point of those who feel the need to analyze what is going on. The fact that the municipality has regretted the demolition and promised to make “compensations,” despite everything, can be seen as a consolation.
Oral Çalışlar is a columnist for daily Radikal in which this piece appeared on Feb 5. It was translated into English by the Daily News staff.