Belgian-Turkish deputy expelled from party over ‘genocide denial’

Belgian-Turkish deputy expelled from party over ‘genocide denial’

Güven Özalp - BRUSSELS
Belgian-Turkish deputy expelled from party over ‘genocide denial’

Mahinur Özdemir

A Belgian deputy of Turkish origin has been expelled from her party for refusing to call the 1915 killings of Ottoman Armenians as “genocide.”

Humanist Democratic Centre (cdH) said in a statement on May 29 that Mahinur Özdemir, the youngest and first Islamic headscarf-wearing member of Brussels Regional Parliament, was expelled from the party for acting against the party’s “deontological” by laws, which recognizes the killings as genocide.

According to sources speaking to daily Hürriyet, one of the reasons for the decision was a recent footage of a Belgian television network which showed Özdemir while trying to avoid a journalist when asked about how she described the 1915 killings. 

cdH Chairman Benoit Lutgen had previously announced that “all genocide deniers” in the party would be immediately expelled.

Armenia says up to 1.5 million Ottoman Armenians were killed in a genocide starting in 1915. Turkey denies that the deaths amounted to genocide, saying the death toll of Armenians killed during mass deportations has been inflated and that those killed in 1915 and 1916 were victims of general unrest during World War I, when Turkish troops were fighting Russian forces.

Before her expulsion from the party, Özdemir, now an independent deputy, had also boycotted a moment of silence in the parliament to mark the 1915 killings, stressing that there was no court decision on the validity of the Armenian claims. 

"My expulsion has become a black stain in cdH's and Belgian democracy's history. I stand behind my views on this issue. I'm standing strong and I'm never giving up my freedom of speech," she said in a statement.

Turkish community condemns decision

On May 30, Turkish community members gathered outside the cHD's party office in Brussels to protest the decision.

Süleyman Çelik, chairman of the Union of European Turkish Democrats, described the decision as "embrassing," according to Anadolu Agency. "No pressure, intimidation, threat and expulsion can prevent freedom of thought," he told reporters.

"The expulsion is not only a heavy blow against Mahinur Özdemir, but also against hundreds of thousands of [Turkish] Belgian citizens who share her views and who express their thoughts freely," he added, condemning the party.
During a rally event called "Listen to me also", around 3,000 Turkish nationals had gathered in Brussels last week and protested the notion that parliamentarians from various countries, rather than historians, have voted to determine what is or what is not a genocide.