MOURADIAN: ‘MEMLEKETINE HOSGELDIN’: DISPATCHES FROM TURKEY (PART II)
By: Khatchig Mouradian
Fri, Mar 19 2010
"So what will I do tomorrow? If necessary, I will tell them ‘come on,
back to your country’…
I will do it. Why? They are not my citizens.
I am not obliged to keep them in my country.
Those actions [genocide resolutions] unfortunately have a negative
impact on our sincere attitudes."
-Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan
ANKARA, Turkey-"Memleketine hosgeldin" (roughly, "welcome to your
country"). That’s what a Turkish journalist said to me in a message
upon learning of my arrival to Turkey on March 17. Knowing her,
she was not simply extending a welcome note.
Which brings me to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s
threat to deport Armenians from Turkey. Not all Armenians, mind you.
The "good Armenians" get to stay. Only the citizens of Armenia,
the "poor Armenians" working in Turkey, would be deported. (Erdogan
has put their number at 100,000, but it is considerably less than
that-and that’s not a secret. A Turkish newspaper editor I talked to
today said their number does not exceed 15,000).
As I, among others, have argued elsewhere:
Turkish diplomats and commentators do not view Armenians as a single
monolithic block, but as three supposedly homogeneous blocks. The
Armenians living in Turkey (mainly in Istanbul) comprise the first
group. These are, mostly, the descendants of the thousands of Armenians
living in Istanbul during the genocide who were spared deportations
and killings, because they lived in a metropolitan city, right under
the nose of Western embassies, consulates, and missionaries. These
Armenians today cannot even commemorate the genocide. In Turkey, these
Armenians are regarded as "our Armenians" or the "good Armenians,"
as long as they do not speak out about the genocide and the continued
discrimination they face. A prominent Turkish-Armenian journalist,
Hrant Dink, was assassinated in 2007 because he was an outspoken
critic of the Turkish establishment and called for the recognition
of the suffering of the Armenians. The citizens of Armenia, the
second group, are, according to the dominant rhetoric in Turkey, the
"neighbors" [the "poor Armenians"] who are under difficult economic
conditions and do not mind forgetting the past and moving on, if
the Armenian Diaspora leaves them alone. The Diaspora Armenians,
the third group, are the "bad Armenians." They are Turkey’s sworn
enemies. They level accusations of genocide against Turks and try to
undermine Turkey. These three stereotypes essentially describe the
perception of most Turks. There is absolute ignorance and disregard
to the plight of the genocide survivors and their descendants who
were scattered around the world and rebuilt their communities after
living in camps and in abject poverty, facing the threat of disease and
death years after the genocide. In discussions in Turkey, the Diaspora
Armenians-the descendants of genocide victims and survivors-need to be
isolated and ignored. This is yet another example of official Turkey’s
reluctance to face the past and address the roots of the problem.
Erdogan’s threat is, of course, empty. It would be a huge scandal to
deport Armenians from Turkey, and would constitute a chilling reminder
of what is referred to by the Turkish state as the "deportations" of
Armenians almost a century ago (although the threat itself was enough
to evoke such thoughts). But why make such a threat if it can’t be
executed and reminds everyone of late-Ottoman history with a shudder?
Is this a failed effort to brandish Turkey’s "benevolence" like a
gun internationally? Or is politics, here too, local?
Several commentators I talked to here think it is the latter. Erdogan,
they say, was talking to the street: To those who would love to hear a
discourse of "Let us teach those Armenians a lesson." One commentator
noted, "I have not seen any other politician who does so much good
for this country and causes so much damage at the same time!"
The deportation threat is front-page news here in Turkey, and was the
topic of conversation among many people I talked to-or overheard on
the street. There is a joke going around in Ankara that the Turkish
Foreign Ministry-which is currently trying to calm the international
and local outcry-should in fact be called the Ministry of Damage
Control because of the work it has to engage in every now and then,
when Erdogan makes such statements.
Although in private, it was clear that those who do not subscribe
to racist agendas found Erdogan’s threat unnecessary at the least,
there were also many who publicly criticized Erdogan. There was at
least one small demonstration against the anti-Armenian rhetoric by
Erdogan and others. It was reported that the chairman of Turkey’s Human
Rights Association, Ozturk Turkdogan, said: "These remarks could lead
some people to think that to expel people is a 2010 version of forced
migration. This mentality is far from human rights-oriented thinking.
People have the right to work, and this is universal. There are many
Turkish workers all over the world; does it mean that Turkey will
accept their expulsion when there is an international problem?
Secondly, these remarks are discriminatory; there are many workers
in Turkey of different nationalities."
It was in this atmosphere that, on March 18, our delegation met
with the vice-chairman of the main opposition party in Turkey, the
Republican People’s Party (CHP), and the vice chairman of the ruling
Justice and Development Party (AK Party) Reha Denemec. The protocols
and the Armenian Genocide Resolution figured prominently during both
meetings. We will publish a report on these meetings on March 19.