Is it a crime to be an Armenian?

Is it a crime to be an Armenian?

The suggestion that the phrase “bumped off” should be used instead of “rendered ineffective” to refer to Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) terrorists who are killed has caused several reactions. It was Erzurum deputy Muhyettin Aksak of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) who made the suggestion at his party’s bayram greetings sessions last Tuesday in the eastern province of Erzurum.

But Aksak made other problematic statements during the same session. He also said, after demanding that “PKK members and our Kurdish brothers should not be ranked equally”: “We must separate our Kurdish brothers from them. When we look at them [the PKK], they are nothing more than [brainwashed people], or children of Armenian apostates, or cowards who have infiltrated our country from Syria or Iran.”

Codes of social culture
A deputy serving his second term in Parliament, representing the ruling party, used the attribution “children of Armenian apostates” as an open insult, contemptuously.

Let’s admit that using the fact that one is of Armenian origin in a defamatory is one of those reflexes yet to be overcome in the cognitive codes of a very wide segment of Turkey’s social culture.

This may also come up frequently in the press. The most recent outstanding example of Armenian origins being used as an insult was in the campaign of defamation daily Yeni Şafak writer Ali Bayramoğlu was subjected to last June.

An article appearing on the website, which acts as the website of the fundamentalist daily Vakit, claimed that Bayramoğlu had Armenian origins, and that therefore he was “acting with the incentive of his real [hidden] identity” regarding Kurdish and Armenian matters.

‘If you are a Jew, you are already guilty’

The people targeted by this behavior are not only Armenians. It is general, and it is directed at all minorities, at Greeks and especially at Jews.

Because this is the case, when Professor Büşra Ersanlı was arrested last year in connection with the operation against the KCK, daily Vakit was able to assess the fact that her ex-husband Professor Cem Behar was a Jew as one of the negative factors leading to her arrest.

Similar examples may strike you frequently in daily life in our country, which our statesmen boast of as a land of tolerance. The issue is that such behavior is not regarded as a problem morally in social scenarios – again for a wide segment.

It is one of the most disgraceful facets of racism that people who should be acknowledged as equal citizens both under human measurements and at a formal level are looked down on because of their ethnic identities, or their identities are used as insults.

The need for a hate crime law
These kinds of behaviors are known as “hate crimes” in the civilized world now, and have serious consequences. Hate crimes are actions where a person or a group is attacked verbally or physically because of their identity or group membership, and they have different outcomes than other categories of crime.

The difference is because in hate crimes when a person is insulted because of their social belonging or identity, victimization is not limited to the targeted person. The “multiplier effect” of the hate feature of the crime makes everyone who belongs to that group feel attacked.

For example, when a deputy insults the PKK as “children of Armenian apostates,” then every Armenian living in Turkey feels insulted. When Professor Ersanlı’s having had a Jewish husband is cited as a reason for her arrest, then every Jew living in this country is belittled.

These examples, which we come across frequently, create a very pessimistic picture of how much distance we need to cover in the fight against hate crimes and racism in Turkey. If a law on hate crimes had been enacted in Turkey, then the perpetrators of the examples cited above would probably have met with serious consequences. If no law is in the horizon yet, at least it would be appropriate for the ruling party to make a gesture to reassure Armenian citizens living in this country that it does not acknowledge the words of its Erzurum deputy, especially right after the Ramadan Feast, when we frequently emphasize the value of fraternity.

*Sedat Ergin is a columnist for daily Hürriyet, in which this piece was published on Aug. 24. It was translated into English by the Daily News staff.