Kurdish Leader’s Remarks Renew Fears Among Turkey’s Minorities

AL MONITOR – 21.3.2013 – Notes from the Imrali meeting between PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan and a visiting delegation of the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party [BDP] that were published by daily Milliyet have been much debated and will continue to hold our attention in the months to come. Although Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan has long been considered a friend of Turkey’s non-Muslim minorities, his recent remarks directed at Armenians, Jews and Greeks have disturbed these groups, reports Asli Aydintasbas.

There was, however, a point in the notes that escaped the attention of the public that needs to be corrected by the BDP and Ocalan. According to the notes recorded by the BDP delegation, Ocalan perceives the external elements he describes as “the Armenian lobby” as a force that historically does not want peace in Anatolia. Ocalan, in his first meeting with Ahmet Turk and Ayla Akat, had talked at length about the Armenian lobby. This time he said: “The Armenian lobby is powerful. They want to dominate the agenda of 2015.”

Ocalan, in his second Imrali meeting, described the marginalization of the Kurds during the creation of the Turkish Republic as a consequence of the efforts of the “Israeli lobby, the Armenians and the Greeks, who had decided that their success would depend on marginalizing the Kurds. This is an ongoing, thousand-year tradition.”

At another point, the Imrali talks take on a tone about the minorities we are used to hearing from our nationalist circles: “After the Islamization of Anatolia, there has been Christian anger that has lasted a thousand years. Greeks, Armenians and Jews claim rights to Anatolia. They don’t want to give up their gains under the pretext of secularism and nationalism.”

Did he really say all of this or were they misunderstood in the rush to record the meeting’s notes? At a time when we want to use “peaceful language,”  shouldn’t that language also apply to different segments of the society beyond Turkish-Kurdish brotherhood?

BDP’s opening to Armenians

The fact of the matter is, efforts by the BDP and Kurdish political circles to reconcile with Armenian culture over the past few years has been admirable. The renovation of the Armenian church in Diyarbakir, an initiative of the Sur municipality to put up Armenian signboards, the BDP’s participation in honoring the memory of slain Armenian journalist Hrant Dink, and Turk’s remarks about the 1915 events are good examples. As a gesture to the ancient peoples of the region, the BDP nominated an Assyrian to parliament in the last elections. These were signs that the Kurds were including other ethnic groups in their questioning of official history.

But now Ocalan’s words seem to have disturbed the minorities, first and foremost the Armenians. Wouldn’t such words [if correctly reported], coming from a name like Ocalan, who influences large masses, further inflame the society’s already intolerant attitude toward non-Muslim minorities?

The concept of pure citizen

Non-Muslim minorities — whose numbers have dwindled to less than 100,000 [3,000 Greeks, 20,000 Jews, 60,000 Armenians] — lived through tough times in the history of the republic. The concept of “pure citizens,” which was introduced after the establishment of the republic, legitimized discrimination against not only the Kurds but also the Armenians, Greeks and Jews. This is evident in the [anti-Greek] riots on Sept. 6 and 7 in Istanbul and Askale, the expulsion of Jews and Armenians from public service in the 1920s and 1930s, and restrictions on communal foundations.

Can we really distinguish between the status of Kurdish villages emptied by the decision of the National Security Council in the 1990s and the status of Gokceada, which was systematically cleansed of Greeks by campaign action starting in the 1930s, also through a decision by the National Security Council?

The perception of internal threat

Minorities have breathed easily for some time during  the process of attempting to join the European Union and reforms made in recent years. They are no longer considered a threat by the state. Foundation properties have been returned, minority representatives are welcomed to meet with the state, and their leaders have become indispensable parts of stately iftar feasts.

The PKK leader’s remarks remind us of the mindset that again sees a few Greeks, Armenians and Jews as “internal threats.”

Read more: http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/culture/2013/03/minorities-ocalan-remarks.html#ixzz2OConUE7i