ANKARA: Turkey’S Minorities Laud Efforts To Mend Decades-Old Trouble


Daily Sabah, Turkey
Feb 13 2015


Meeting with PM Davutoglu at a dinner, representatives of non-Muslim
minority communities thanked the government for its efforts in
meeting their demands, including return of 1,014 properties to
minority foundations

Minorities in Turkey have suffered from decades of apathy from the
state, but now their case has been taken up by the ruling party,
which has assured minorities that they will be treated as a primary
component of Turkey instead of “visitors” or “foreigners.” Prime
Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said that the rights of minorities will be
given back not as a “favor,” but as part of the government’s duty.

Davutoglu met with representatives from minority groups and
nongovernmental organizations on a special occasion held in the
Ankara Palace Hotel on Wednesday. During the meeting, discussions
were held concerning the problems that minorities experience and
possible solutions. Davutoglu addressed the participants saying that
the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government has shaken
off the discriminatory attitude toward minorities by putting into
practice policies like the returning of confiscated properties, the
assigning of bureaucrats of Armenian origin and bringing life back
to their places of worship.

The government has opened a new page into dealing with minorities
residing in the country in a bid to invigorate democracy. The
government has been exerting major efforts to normalize the conditions
for minorities by giving back their rights and doing away with the
discrimination which they have long faced. As a first step, Turkey
adopted the policy of returning properties to minorities. Within the
context of reforms toward different faith groups in Turkey, 1,014
confiscated foundation properties have been returned and more have
been promised. During the meeting, almost every one of the properties
waiting to be returned to the minorities was discussed individually.

Davutoglu reportedly took notes of their concerns as the discussions
were held.

Speaking to Daily Sabah, Armenian journalist Markar Esayan said:
“There is a shift of mentality toward non-Muslims in Turkey,” noting
that opinion leaders and representatives of minorities have welcomed
the change in mindset.

Minorities in Turkey who have lived in the country since its beginning,
have previously faced difficulties securing their most basic needs
of security, having a place to live and freedom to practice their
religion. Now the needs and problems of these groups that have
long-suffered from isolation in the place they call home, are finally
being addressed.

Branding the steps that the government is taking as “leaps,” Esayan
said there has been massive progress over the last 13 years regarding
minorities’ quality of life, institutional problems and personal
rights and freedoms.

“What really counts is the message delivered by Prime Minister
Davutoglu. It revealed how a mentality that once saw some sections
as a threat to the state and in this way, they became the ‘other,’
has changed.”

He underscored that the mindset that sees minorities as part of the
entire nation instead of treating them as “visitors” means a lot
to them.

“There are no ‘others’ any more, you are not visitors, you are not
foreigners, you are part of a 5,000-year-old Anatolian culture, we
grant your rights not as a favor, but as part of our duty, is what
they wish to hear,” Esayan said.

Touching also upon the article by Fethullah Gulen published in The
New York Times, which was highly critical of the government, claiming
that minorities in Turkey were facing a crackdown, Esayan said:
“What he says in his article is a blatant and operational lie. It is
an apparent attempt by the Gulen Movement to engender an image that
Turkey is going through a democracy crisis.”

Underlining that Wednesday’s meeting was attended by roughly 50
representatives and opinion leaders, which he said constitute almost
the entire community, Esayan said they all expressed appreciation for
the government for its efforts in easing their lives and giving back
their rights.

Citing Davutoglu, Esayan also said Davutoglu did not even want to
use the term “minority,” and rather wanted to see the whole nation
as part of the same culture, which they mold together.

Davutoglu touched upon the 1915 incidents saying that they have adopted
a new, more humane and just perspective while analyzing the events,
Esayan said. He continued that Davutoglu deemed President Recep Tayyip
Erdogan’s message of condolence to Armenians a remarkable move.

Erdogan made attempts to thaw tensions between the two countries by
issuing a message ahead of the 99th year commemoration of the 1915
incidents last year. In an unprecedented move, then Prime Minister
Erdogan extended condolences to the grandchildren of Armenians who
lost their lives in the 1915 events.

Ara Kocunyan also underlined the significance of Davutoglu opening up
the concerns of minorities to discussion and an exchange of thoughts.

Kocunyan said: “I have been quite satisfied by the talks we had during
dinner. The new Turkey renews itself. There is always a way to go
after each blessing and maturity. The new breath to be brought to
minorities means a lot as part of our efforts for progress. We will
continue to see the manifestations of this positive movement.”

Tatyos Bebek, an Armenian representative of a nongovernmental
organization, also elaborated on what the discussions covered. He
said they had been told that minorities would be under the assurance
of the government from now on and that they would be considered a
primary component of Turkey.

An Armenian lawyer, Simon Cekem, also said compared to previous
governments, the AK Party has progressed much in the sphere of
improving minorities’ lives and removing discrimination against them.

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