A bizarre rally took place in Istanbul last weekend. The declared purpose was to commemorate the 20th anniversary the Khojaly Massacre, the most tragic episode from the Azeri-Armenian war of 1988-1994. Some 600 Azeri civilians, including many children and even babies, were ruthlessly slaughtered by Armenian forces in the village of Khojaly, leaving behind a painful memory.
In other words, it was only right for thousands of Turks to gather in the Taksim Square, the heart of Istanbul, to show that they still remembered the victims of Khojaly. It was also right for them to express solidarity with hundreds of thousands of Azeri refugees, whose homes have been under Armenian occupation since 1992.
But it was not right to turn the rally into an ugly outburst of hatred against Armenians, which happened to be the case.
In fact, the problem was evident even in the posters posted all around Istanbul in the week before the rally. These big signs invited people to Taksim not only to remember the victims of Khojaly, but also “say no to the Armenian lie.” And the “Armenian lie” was nothing other than the way the Armenians define the Great Catastrophe of 1915: genocide.
In other words, the fact that some Armenians slaughtered Azeris in 1992 was implied as evidence that no Turk (and Kurd) had slaughtered any Armenian in 1915. (Who said chauvinists are sensible?)
Even worse themes appeared at the rally. Some of the protestors carried a sign which bluntly read, “You are all Armenians, you are all bastards.” Clearly, this was a response to the anti-fascist Turks who marched with the slogan, “We are all Armenians,” at the funeral of Hrant Dink.
Worse, a group of ultra-right wing youngsters put on white berets, implicitly giving the message, “We are all Ogün Samasts.” (Ogün Samast was the 17-year-old assassin of Hrant Dink, and the white beret he wore during the murder has become nationally notorious). Some of these militants wanted to march towards the offices of Agos, the Armenian daily whose editor was none other than Hrant Dink, but, luckily, were blocked by the police.
In short, Turkish fascism of the crudest sort co-opted the Khojaly rally.
But here is the worst part: The interior minister of the Justice and Development (AKP) government, İdris Naim Şahin, also joined the rally. He gave an inane speech about how the 21st century will supposedly be a “Turkish century,” and, most crucially, he said nothing to the fascists around him whose posters insulted all Armenians by calling them “bastards.”
To his credit, foreign minister Ahmet Davutoğlu later criticized those posters, calling them, at least, “unacceptable.” But if Davutoğlu represents the bright side of the AKP, İdris Naim Şahin represents a darker side, which has been apparent in many scandalous comments he has made in the past year. (And appointing this gentleman, who has zero clue about democracy and freedom, to his cabinet is one of the greatest mistakes of Prime Minister Erdoğan.)
The AKP, apparently, is following a policy of covering all bases, i.e., appealing to all possible voters including the far-right. This is understandable to a degree, but not to the degree that İdris Naim Şahin represents. A more civilized and pluralist Turkish nationalism is possible, and that is what Turkey needs to hear from the AKP.
Footnote: Kudos to the members of the French Constitutional Council for repelling President Sarkozy’s attack on freedom of speech. They have proven that “liberté” is not dead in France.