A Syrian refugee MP in Turkey?
The report, headlined “The refugee parliamentary candidate with 30,000 signatures,” could only find itself a tiny spot in Turkey’s hecticnews environment when it was published in daily newspaper Karar on May 2.
Some 50,000 Syrians are reportedly cooperating to come up with a parliamentary nominee, organizing a petition in the Yayladağı and Antakya districts of the southern province of Hatay as well as in the nearby province of Osmaniye.
The group has collected 5,000 signatures to nominate Samir Hafez, former head of the Syrian Turkmen Council, for the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). The group aims to collect 30,000 signatures and has informed the Turkish Presidency of its aim.
“It is not important whether it is me or someone else [who is nominated]. What is important is that these people, like all other minorities, need a quota [in parliament to be represented]. Perhaps 120,000 to 130,000 people will be given Turkish citizenship soon. And this number may rise,” Hafez said.
He also spoke about problems in the fields of education, healthcare and citizenship.
Turkey, through the state authorities and various NGOs, has put on a legendary performance so far, helping more than 3.5 million refugees. We can say that we have passed a test as a society: Rejections and individual criticisms have all stayed relatively low-key in contrast to society’s overall impressive hospitality.
What about the dream of Syrian refugees - or, as Hafez put it, the Syrian minority - getting seats in parliament?
Turkey really is a mosaic of minority groups, a barrel of differences that we all roll around in. Pomaks, Circassians, Kurds, Yazidis, Roma, Armenians, Syriacs, Yazidis, Jews… From time to time one of these groups is focused on before being forgotten until the next speech.
Let me quote an excerpt from a Hürriyet report published in 2013: “There are around 500,000 Shiite Jaafaris, 90,000 Armenian Orthodox (of whom around 60,000 are Turkish citizens and around 30,000 are undocumented migrants), 25,000 Catholics (most of whom recently migrated from Africa and the Philippines), 22,000 Jews, 20,000 Syriac Orthodox, 15,000 Russian Orthodox (with residency permits), 10,000 Bahais, 5,000 Yazidis, 5,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses, 7,000 Protestants, 3,000 Iraqi Chaldeans and around 2,500 Greek Orthodox.”
Catholic and Gregorian Armenians, Yazidis and Syriacs have all previously gotten seats in parliament under the umbrella of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP). Roma people have got a voice in parliament through main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) deputy Özcan Purçu.
It has been some 20 years since Cefi Kamhi, the last Jewish lawmaker, left parliament. The last Greek Orthodox lawmaker Kaludi Laskari served as a lawmaker for just 10 months in 1961 in the first parliament set up after the 1960 military coup.
When minorities become the majority
Turkey’s notorious 10 percent election threshold on entering parliament is a barrier that even certain “majorities” cannot cross. And those who do cross that barrier to take seats in parliament often serve as little more than pawns when it comes to “macro matters” presented to them by party leaders and governments.
If Hafez does end up managing to get a seat in the Turkish Parliament, it will be of utmost importance that he not only speaks for Syrians but also becomes the voice of Iraqi, Afghan and other refugees in this country.
Good luck, Mr. Hafez. What else can I say?