BY KHATCHIG MOURADIAN
“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.