It’s time for hate crime law

It’s time for hate crime law

Taksim Square in downtown Istanbul is a place where numerous important events have taken place, leaving their mark on Turkish history. The history of this square is pretty much the recent history of Turkey.

And a racist stain was added to the history of this square last Sunday that will not be very easy to erase. 

Slogans blessing murder

A rally that was organized with a just and legitimate demand, the protest of the massacre committed by Armenian soldiers 20 years ago on Azeri soil in Karabakh at Khojaly and the commemoration of those who died in the attack, unfortunately turned into an organization dominated by racism and hate speech. 

Banners that were held during the demonstration reading “You are all Armenians; you are all bastards” or “[The fact that] those who cannot approach this atrocity with humanitarian consciousness are all Armenians is because of their bestialities” reflected a mentality instigating hate. 

Just as thought-provoking was that some demonstrators in the rally were able to chant slogans such as “We are all Ogün Samast” (the convicted murderer of Armenian-Turkish journalist Hrant Dink) and “Grey wolves [the political symbol of extreme nationalists] are here, where are the Hrants?” These slogans contain a context that openly embraced, blessed and encouraged a murder. 

These voices and images that have reached all of Turkey from Taksim Square should be sufficient warning to show the need to raise awareness in society against hate speech and the need to fight this discourse at every turn. 

Hate speech laws in the West 

The first dimension of the problem – let’s accept it – is that hate speech has not been encoded strongly enough in our social culture as a major shame, as a major fault at the moral and conscience levels. A serious awareness effort is needed in this field. 

Fighting hate speech and hate crimes also has a crucial significance for social peace. The reason for this is the fact that the targeted individual in a hate crime is attacked because of his or her identity. Thus, whoever regards himself/herself as part of that identity actually becomes a target/victim. For example, if a person is beaten because he is Armenian or if he is humiliated because he is Alevi, the effect of the act is not limited to the individual targeted. With a multiplier effect, everybody who defines himself or herself as belonging to that identity experiences victimhood. 

It is not enough just to raise awareness to fight this problem. At the same time, hate crimes should also be subject to strong legal measures. As a matter of fact, the Turkish Penal Code has such articles (126 and 220) that cover “Public insults to a segment of society based on social class, race, religion, sect, gender or regional difference,” but despite that, these articles that partially correspond to hate crimes are not processed effectively in our legal system. 

The solution for Turkey now is to issue a special law on hate speech and hate crimes. Hate crimes, in their evolution in universal law in the past 20 years, have both been stated as an obligation in international pacts, and numerous Western countries have added these obligations to their national law through the passage of special laws.

Obligation to European court

Other than that, this topic has gone beyond being a preference for Turkey. In its verdict in 2010 when the European Court of Human Rights convicted Turkey in the Hrant Dink murder, a major mission was given to the Justice and Development Party (Ak Parti) government on the subject of hate crimes. 

Look at what articles 121 and 122 of the verdict say, in a summary: 

“Sanctioning hate speech based on ethnic or religious origins is a pressing social need and is a necessity in a democratic society ... [This] is among the state’s [Turkey’s] obligations derived from international pacts, especially from decisions of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe…”
Because Turkey is obliged to implement the European court’s decisions, it has to put into practice this article of the decision. But the fact that there is no obligation mentioned on this topic in the government’s Action Plan on the implementation of the Hrant Dink verdict dated Sept. 23, 2011 and submitted to the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers is worth noticing. 

A huge mission falls to civil society on this matter. In this respect, the Hate Crimes Law Campaign Platform initiative, formed by 60 nongovernmental organizations that range from Alevi federations to Christian groups, from gay associations to the Handicapped Foundation, representing segments who are generally subject to discrimination, deserves absolute support. 

One can join the campaign at or

Sedat Ergin is a columnist for daily Hürriyet in which this piece was published on March 2. It was translated into English by the Daily News staff.