State racism & hate speech and crime in Turkey: Our recommendations

Mis à jour : juin 15

Alexis Krikorian


"The racist and fascist approach that led to the death of George Floyd in the US city of Minneapolis as a result of torture has not only deeply saddened all of us, but it has also become one of the most painful manifestations of the unjust order we stand against across the world"


Two of four tweets made by Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on 28 May 2020, following the assassination of George Floyd by the American police.

Probably the most scathing answer came, still on Twitter, from "Black Socialists in America" on 29 May 2020: "Shut the fuck up, fascist". Two weeks later, the masks came off after Twitter announced the suspension (on 11 June) of more than 7,000 fake accounts linked to the AKP, Erdoğan's communications director, F. Altun, accusing Twitter of "supporting and promoting black propaganda by anti-Turkish entities [0]".

Anti-Armenian Racism and Police Violence

However, during the presidential election campaign of August 2014, then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, said, “In the past, they spread rumours about me. They said I am a Georgian. Excuse me, but they have said even uglier things. They have called me Armenian[1]!".

On 3 June 2015, during an election campaign speech in Bingöl, Erdoğan stated that the " Armenian lobby, homosexuals and those who believe in 'Alevism without Ali' – all these representatives of sedition are the HDP’s benefactors".

On 11 May 2020[2], Erdoğan again described the "Armenian and Greek lobbies" as "evil powers".

On the same day that Erdoğan made his fallacious and opportunistic statements about the death of George Floyd, the Hrant Dink Foundation reported receiving death threats[3]. A cross at the entrance of an Armenian church in the Kuzguncuk district of Istanbul was ripped off[4]. Three weeks earlier, a man tried to set fire to the door of another Armenian church in Istanbul[5].

When it comes to police violence, Turkey is in no position to teach the world a lesson. To give only one example, during the Gezi demonstrations in 2013, 11 people were killed on the demonstrators' side, including the young Berkin Elvan, who was barely 15 years old. Thousands were also injured and nine people were still missing at the end of June 2013[6].

Deeply rooted State racism

"Armenian bastards, we will send you all to hell"

"The new generations are being taught to see Armenians not as human beings, but as an entity to be despised and destroyed"

When the Turkish security forces razed part of the city of Cizre in September 2015[7] [8], they announced on a loudspeaker to the local Kurdish population: "Armenian bastards, we will send you all to hell[9]". On 27 February 2016, then Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu declared: "The Kurds are collaborating with the Russians like the Armenian gangs in the past[10]". Selahattin Demirtas, the former HDP leader imprisoned since November 2016, has himself often been 'accused' of being 'Armenian'[11]. For the Armenian Foreign Minister at the time, the remarks of the Turkish Prime Minister were an implicit recognition of the Armenian genocide. For HDP MP Garo Paylan, the Prime Minister used hate speech[12].

In Turkey we can really speak of state racism against non-Muslim and non-Sunni minorities, or assimilated minorities.

On 21 June 1934, Turkey adopted the Surname Law[13], which required non-Turks with pre-existing surnames to adopt new Turkish names. Names ending with "ian, of, ef, viç, is, dis, poulos, aki, zade, shvili, madumu, veled, bin" (names of Armenian, Russian, Greek, Albanian, Arabic, Georgian, Kurdish and other origins) could not be registered and had to be replaced by "-oğlu".

As revealed by the newspaper Agos in August 2013[14], citizens of Armenian origin are secretly coded by the Turkish state with the number "2", Greeks with the number "1" and Jews with "3". The secret coding system - in State registries - is said to have been in place since 1923, the year the Turkish Republic was founded. This illegal profiling based on ethnicity and religion is an unfair and discriminatory practice. As a result, members of non-Muslim minorities are excluded from certain positions in the public services, the police force, the army or the judiciary.

The following table alone reflects the impact of state racism on the composition of the resident population of Turkey over time, with the proportion of non-Muslims declining from almost 20% at the beginning of the 20th century to 0.1% today, with the share of non-Muslims continuing to decline between 2005 (the last year of the chart below) and today from 0.2 to 0.1%. (Note that the number of Armenians in 1914 is underestimated here, probably for political purposes, as some experts give the Armenian population of the Ottoman Empire in 1914 comprised between 2 and 3 million individuals[15]).

Muslim and non-Muslim population in Turkey, 1914–2005 (in thousands)[16]


The decline of the non-Muslim population is of course primarily due to the 1915 genocide. But not only: the decline in the share of non-Muslims has continued throughout the 20th century and may be related to the use by the authorities of methods such as: hate crimes and hate speech (in 2002, for example, elderly Armenian women were murdered, just as in 2012[17]), pogroms[18], forced evictions or displacements, or discriminatory social and economic practices such as the confiscation of property or the Varlik tax of 1942.

Extensive research by the Hrant Dink Foundation[19] has shown that in Istanbul alone of the 1328 properties held by the 53 Armenian foundations, the Turkish government confiscated 661.

The "Capital Tax" (Varlik Tax[20]) was a tax levied on the wealthy citizens of Turkey in 1942, with the stated aim of raising funds for the defense of the country in the event of a possible entry into World War II. Those who suffered most were the non-Muslims (Jews, Greeks, Armenians), who still controlled part of the economy. Armenians were the most heavily taxed. According to Klaus Kreiser[21], the aim of President Inönü was to expel the minorities that controlled the Turkish economy and to bring it under Turkish control.

Amount of taxes to be paid according to groups:

Armenians - 232%

Jews - 179%.

Greeks - 156

Muslims - 4.94%.

In January 2007, the journalist and unofficial leader of the Armenian community in Turkey, Hrant Dink, was assassinated in front of his newspaper Agos. His lawyer, Fethiye Çetin (who discovered her own hidden Armenian roots, an experience she recounted in My Grandmother: A memoir[22]"), said in an interview with the newspaper Al-Monitor in 2015[23]: "Ogun Samast [Hrant Dink's murderer] screamed when he shot Hrant Dink: 'Die, Armenian!' Yet he had never known or met another Armenian in his life. In court, Samast said, 'If I had known Dink had a family, children, I would not have killed him'. This explains how the political system is producing disposable lives. Armenian is one of those worthless lives on the list. The new generations are being taught to see Armenians not as human beings, but as an entity to be despised and destroyed, the worst enemy there is. And school curriculum adds fuel to existing fires".

In the same article, Hatice Altınışık (HDP) said:

"For decades, Turkish governments have tried to erase all traces of Armenian identity in Anatolia. Murder and forced immigration were not sufficient. Names of towns, streets and even recipes were altered. Their churches became mosques. They attempted to rewrite history. Now they are telling the people of Cizre, under curfew for nine days, "You are all Armenians". This shows us that the fabricated "one nation, one belief" has collapsed. They have failed to destroy the Armenian ghosts of history".

As a person of Armenian origin, I can testify that the official guide, during a visit to Dolmabahçe Palace in 2005, denied that the architect of the Palace was Balyan. According to him, it was the sultan himself. In 2014, during a visit to Ani, the capital of the Armenian Bagratid kingdom, I similarly noticed that the term "Armenian" did not appear anywhere in the tourist literature on site. Merchants who had commissioned the construction of churches are described as "rich", from the "Middle Ages", or as "Bagratid". Never once as "Armenian". My grandfather Krikor's village, Morenig, was renamed as "Çatalçeşme", etc.

The possibility of another Turkey

As human rights defenders, however, we know that there is another Turkey, an inclusive, non-racist, human rights-friendly Turkey that is willing to accept its past and move forward. It was seen en masse on the streets of Istanbul on 23 January 2007 at the public funeral of Hrant Dink, the largest funeral in Turkey since Atatürk's, with more than 100,000 people on the streets. The authorities, which initially wanted to ban the demonstration, were overwhelmed and had to let the procession march from Taxim Square to the Old City via Agos and Tarlabaşı Bvd. The crowd carried signs in Turkish, Kurdish and Armenian. Some of them said: "Killer Article 301", referring to the article of the penal code which had seen the conviction of Hrant Dink for violating "Turkishness". They shouted: "We are all Hrant Dink, we are all Armenians". This other Turkey also fought to obtain a worthy sentence for the young soldier of Armenian origin Sevag Balikci who was murdered on 24 May 2011, Armenian Remembrance Day. After years of proceedings and lenient verdicts, the accused Kıvanç Ağaoğlu, was recently sentenced to 16 years and 8 months in prison[24].

This vision of a plural Turkey, lucid about its past has, to this day, unfortunately little chance of being realized at the political level as nationalism and hyper nationalism seem to be the most shared value from the CHP to the MHP and passing through the Iyi party or the AKP.

The prevalence of hate speech

In February 2015, banners celebrating the genocide (opposite) were seen in several cities in Turkey. They read: "We are celebrating the 100th anniversary of the purification of Armenians in our country. We are proud of our glorious ancestors". Were the perpetrators prosecuted? Asking the question is to answer it, unfortunately. However, we should have a situation where the perpetrators of such hate speech are not only prosecuted, but also heavily condemned.

The Hrant Dink Foundation has been monitoring hate speech in Turkey since 2009. In the last period under review, we find that the three most targeted groups by hate speech are by order of importance: the Armenians, the Jews, and the Syrians. The appearance of the Syrians in this sad ranking reflects the reality of the presence of more than three million Syrian refugees on Turkish soil. In 2009, the Syrians were not at the top of the ranking, any more than the French, who were stigmatized for the inclusion of 24 April - Armenian Remembrance Day - in the official calendar of the French Republic. On the other hand, the group that consistently returns to the top of the list of hate speech in Turkey over the period under study (2009 - 2019) remains the same - with rare exceptions: the Armenians.


Source: Media watch on hate speech report (Jan.- April 2019). Hrant Dink Foundation.

From the lack of a legislative response to hate speeches

The legislative response to the prevalent phenomenon of hate speech and hate crimes in Turkey is completely deficient. The Penal Code, in its Article 301, protects the Turkish nation (after having protected "Turkishness"), while excluding historically stigmatized communities and sexual minorities from hate crime and hate speech legislation. The latter are therefore not protected by Turkish legislation, leading to the trivialization of hate-motivated violence against already marginalized communities due to their distinct ethnic and sexual identities.

The Turkish judiciary does not protect minorities from hate speech or hate crimes. On the contrary, it prefers to limit statements in favour of the protection of minorities, thus shamelessly restricting freedom of expression[25]. The judiciary focuses on criticism of the current or past governments. Law 5816 (which protects Atatürk's memory) has, for example, been used to block access to Facebook or YouTube on numerous occasions. The Internet Law (No. 5651 - Regulation of Publications on the Internet and Suppression of Crimes Committed by means of Such Publications) also restricts freedom of expression online. For example, Wikipedia was blocked in Turkey for nearly three years under Law 5651 because of an article on state terrorism in which Turkey was described as a sponsor of ISIS and Al-Qaeda[26]. Moreover, if a person calls another one "Armenian" or "Gypsy", these expressions can be interpreted as an insult[27]. One need only recall the declaration of Erdoğan in 2014 to see that this interpretation comes from the highest level of the State. In 2008, MP Aritman (CHP) "called" the then president Abdullah Gül "Armenian". Gül then filed a complaint and sought symbolic damages of 1 Turkish lira for false allegations and "public defamation of his position as a statesman[28]". A world upside down in which the person who "calls" another one "Armenian" is not prosecuted for hate speech, but for defamation! A world so self-confident that it allows itself to give lessons in racism to the rest of the world.

Logically enough, official statistics do not include information on hate crimes or hate speech[29].

Our recommendations for combating State racism:

- End the secret coding of minorities in State registries; Open up civil service positions that are forbidden to minorities;

- Repeal Article 301 of the Penal Code ("Insulting the Turkish nation");

- Repeal Law 5816 on the memory of Atatürk;

- Recognize the right to the truth of minorities living in Turkey;

- Return all confiscated property to minorities;

- Establish a system to collect and make public data on racist and homophobic violence; Give an independent body the power to investigate alleged misconduct by members of the police or other security forces, including ill-treatment of members of

vulnerable groups[30]; publish statistics on disciplinary measures and judicial investigations concerning law enforcement officials;

- Eliminate racism from schoolbooks.

Our recommendations for a legislative framework to effectively combat hate speech and hate crimes:

Turkish Penal Code:

- Amend the Turkish penal code to include ethnicity and sexual orientation in prohibited hate-motivated behaviour;

- Define hate crimes in the definitions' section of the penal code;

- Provide for aggravating circumstances in case of hate crimes or hate speech;

More specifically[31]:

- Include the grounds of ethnic origin, colour, language, citizenship, sexual orientation and gender identity among the prohibited grounds in Articles 122, 125 and 216 and all other provisions of the Penal Code aimed at combating racism and homo/transphobia;

- Abolish the restriction in Article 216 that there must be a threat to public order;

- Explicitly provide that racist and homo/transphobic motivation constitutes an aggravating circumstance for any ordinary offence.

Ratification of international treaties:

- Ratify Protocol No. 12 to the European Convention on Human Rights, which generally prohibits all forms of discrimination (including discrimination against national minorities);

- Ratify the Convention against Discrimination in Education[32];

- Ratify the Additional Protocol to the Convention on Cybercrime, concerning the criminalization of acts of a racist and xenophobic nature committed through computer systems;

- Recognize the individual complaint procedure provided for in article 14 of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.

Other:

- Give relevant NGOs the right to lodge complaints in the field of hate speech and hate crimes;

- Give independence to the Human Rights and Equality Authority and the institution of the Ombudsman.

- The media: independently establish self-regulatory mechanisms and draw up ethical charters;

- Parliament and government: adopt codes of conduct prohibiting hate speech and encourage political parties to do the same. These codes of conduct should provide for complaints mechanisms and adequate sanctions for breaches of the codes, including suspension from office and unambiguous condemnation of hate speech[33].

Notes:


[0] https://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2020/06/turkey-twitter-trolls-ankara-fury-erdogan-suspend-accounts.html

[1] https://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2015/10/turkey-armenian-kurds-minorities-forced-to-be-turkish.html#ixzz6OZPTlyig [2] https://ahvalnews.com/turkey-coronavirus/erdogan-announces-new-curfew-alongside-normalisation-stepshttps://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/minorities-in-turkey-tagged-by-race-codes-official-document-reveals-51849 [3] https://bianet.org/5/97/224960-hrant-dink-foundation-says-it-receives-death-threats. A few days later, faced with the minimization on the authorities's part, lawyer F. Çetin stated that this was not an isolated incident, far from it. [4] https://www.duvarenglish.com/domestic/2020/05/28/cross-ripped-off-from-armenian-church-in-istanbul/ [5] https://www.duvarenglish.com/domestic/2020/05/09/man-attempts-to-burn-istanbul-church-for-spread-of-coronavirus-in-turkey/ [6] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Casualties_of_the_Gezi_Park_protests#Deaths [7] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cizre_operation_(2015) [8] https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-36354742 [9] https://www.hrw.org/news/2015/12/22/turkey-mounting-security-operation-deaths [10] https://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/sites/almonitor/contents/articles/originals/2016/03/turkey-armenia-akp-insults-of-kurds-armenians.ac.html [11] Id. [12] Id. [13] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turkification [14] https://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/minorities-in-turkey-tagged-by-race-codes-official-document-reveals-51849

[15] https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Population_arm%C3%A9nienne_ottomane#:~:text=Un%20article%20de%20Wikip%C3%A9dia%2C%20l,%2C3%20millions%20d'Arm%C3%A9niens. [16] Icduygu, A., Toktas, S., & Soner, B. A. (2008). "The politics of population in a nation-building process: Emigration of non-Muslims from Turkey." Ethnic and Racial Studies, 31 (2). [17] https://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/murders-disturb-armenian-turks-38733 [18] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Istanbul_pogrom [19] https://armenianweekly.com/2012/12/06/2012-declaration-a-history-of-seized-armenian-properties-in-istanbul/ [20] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Varl%C4%B1k_Vergisi [21] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turkification [22] https://www.amazon.com/My-Grandmother-Memoir-Fethiye-Cetin/dp/1844671690 [23] https://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2015/10/turkey-armenian-kurds-minorities-forced-to-be-turkish.html#ixzz6OZPTlyig [24] https://bianet.org/5/116/218523-sevag-balikci-case-defendant-sentenced-to-prison-for-conscious-and-reckless-killing [25] https://hrantdink.org/attachments/article/304/Hate-Crimes-and-Hate-Speech.pdf [26] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Block_of_Wikipedia_in_Turkey [27] https://hrantdink.org/attachments/article/304/Hate-Crimes-and-Hate-Speech.pdf [28] https://www.hurriyet.com.tr/gundem/gul-files-suit-against-aritman-10624092 [29] https://hrantdink.org/attachments/article/304/Hate-Crimes-and-Hate-Speech.pdf [30] https://rm.coe.int/fifth-report-on-turkey/16808b5c81 [31] Id. [32] Article 5 stipulates that "Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms; it shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace... It is essential to recognize the right of members of national minorities to carry on their own educational activities, including the maintenance of schools and, depending on the educational policy of each State, the use or the teaching of their own language". [33] https://rm.coe.int/fifth-report-on-turkey/16808b5c81

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