As human rights advocates across the world commemorated on April 24 the 106th anniversary of the 1915 Armenian Genocide committed by Ottoman Turkey, a Turkish nationalist MP was threatening an Armenian MP with murder. Writes Uzay Bulut
On April 27, Umit Ozdag, an independent member of Turkey’s parliament and a professor of political science, retweeted a statement by Garo Paylan, who is an Armenian MP from the opposition Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP).
Ozdag referred to Talat Pasha (1874-1921), one of the primary architects of the Armenian Genocide, which resulted in the systematic extermination of around 1.5 million Armenians. He wrote on his Twitter account, threatening Paylan:
Imprudent, provocative guy. If you are not so pleased, go to hell. Talat Pasha did not drive out the patriotic Armenians, but those who shot them from behind like you do. When the time comes, you too will and must have a Talat Pasha experience.
At least 12,300 people “liked” Ozdag’s tweet as of May 2.
Talat Pasha was the Minister of the Interior of the Ottoman Empire and one of the authorities who assumed primary responsibility for the planning and implementation of the Armenian Genocide. Ozdag’s threatening tweet was in response to this statement by Paylan:
106 years later, we are [still] walking the streets named after Talat Pasha, the architect of the genocide. We teach our children in schools called Talat Pasha.
[Imagine] what kind of a Germany it would be if there were streets named after Hitler in Germany today and if children there studied at schools named after Hitler. That’s the Turkey we are living in today.
Paylan was referring to the fact that many streets, schools and other venues across Turkey are named after the government and military authorities who planned or implemented the Armenian Genocide.
Paylan responded to Ozdag on his Twitter:
The remnant of the mentality that exterminated my people says “we will do it again.” You shot us and did we not die? We did, but those who survived have never left the struggle for justice. They won’t quit after me [I am gone] either. The conscientious majority of this country have not left the [struggle] to fascists like you, and they will not do that.
Falsely claiming that Paylan has ties with groups such as the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), the Armenian Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenia (or ASALA, which operated in the 1970s and 80s), and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), Ozdag continued targeting Paylan with genocide denialist and racist slurs referring to Paylan’s blood:
A remnant of Dashnaks, an extension of ASALA, a supporter of the PKK. You killed hundreds of thousands of Turks, and shot our army from behind. The perpetrators were punished. Nobody touched the patriotic Armenians. But in your blood the Dashnak-ASALA-PKK virus is circulating. You are a ferocious enemy of the Turkish nation.
Turkey’s Human Rights Association (IHD) Co-Chair and lawyer Eren Keskin then called on prosecutors to open an investigation against Ozdag for his statements inciting violence:
We, as IHD’s Commission against Racism and Discrimination, will file a criminal complaint against Umit Ozdag. I wish a “true legist, prosecutor” would step up before we do, and open an investigation… Here is hoping.
As no public prosecutor has filed a complaint against Ozdag, Keskin took action and announced that the IHD filed a criminal complaint against Ozdag for “threatening” Paylan, “publicly provoking hatred and hostility” and “committing the crime of discrimination.”
However, it is very unlikely that Ozdag will be held accountable for his genocidal remarks, because his views are in line with those of the Turkish government. Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan himself said on April 26 that it was Armenians who committed massacres against “millions of defenceless civilians.”
“Millions of Turks and Kurds, all civilians, were massacred by Armenian gangs,” Erdogan falsely claimed. This allegation has been historically dismissed, but Erdogan continued the narrative. “Feeling unsatisfied, Armenian gangs did not refrain from massacring Greeks in the vicinity of Trabzon and Jewish citizens of the Ottoman State in Hakkari,” he added.
These words demonstrate the scope of the irrationality of historic revisionism in Turkey. The victims are rewritten as the perpetrators and the perpetrators are labeled as the victims. Left is right and right is left. Everything is upside down.
Historical facts, however, clearly demonstrate what happened during the genocide. Beside Armenians, Greeks, Assyrians, and other non-Muslims (such as Yazidis in Ottoman Turkey and Jews in Palestine before the establishment of the modern State of Israel) were targeted. It was a systematic attempt first by the Ottoman authorities and then by Turkish nationalist leaders to wipe out non-Muslims — particularly the indigenous Christians — from their ancient homeland. Honest historians agree on these historical realities. The International Association of Genocide Scholars, for instance, reported in 2007:
The Ottoman campaign against Christian minorities of the Empire between 1914 and 1923 constituted a genocide against Armenians, Assyrians, and Pontian and Anatolian Greeks.
Yet 106 years after the genocide, the victims’ descendants are still targeted by the Turkish government, the political elites and the media. Armenians were the group exposed to the most hate speech by the Turkish media in 2019, according to the Hate Speech and Discrimination Media Discourse annual report by the Hrant Dink Association.
“Hate speech leads to hate crimes and our country lives in a climate of hate,” Paylan told the news site Gazete Duvar. “The whole political sphere ignores hate speech. Hate crimes are becoming commonplace. 106 years ago, genocide also took place in such an atmosphere of hate.” Paylan emphasized that crimes which have remained unpunished will be repeated.
He continued: “Özdağ takes this courage from the [existent] climate of hate. I am not afraid of it. If they kill, we will die, but we will never leave this country to the fascists. I engage in politics knowing this… Armenians are constantly subjected to hate crimes and hate speech in Turkey, including the 6-7 September pogrom in Istanbul [in 1955],” Paylan said. “My father was subjected to the same hate speech. And I am subjected to hate speech as a member of the third generation… We have been living the Talat Pasha experience for 106 years.”
Over a century after the genocide, Turkey not only aggressively denies the genocide, but also falsely portrays Armenians as the perpetrators and threatens them with more murders. Meanwhile, the “Free World” stands idly by.
Uzay Bulut is a Turkish journalist formerly based in Ankara.