“…they said even uglier things: They called me an Armenian!” Erdogan says of his opposition.
ISTANBUL (Agence France Presse)—Turkish Prime Minister — and presidential hopeful — Recep Tayyip Erdogan sparked an outcry Wednesday after using what critics said was a racist slur against Armenians in a television interview.
During a live interview on the private NTV channel late Tuesday, Erdogan complained that the opposition was carrying out a smear campaign against him by claiming that he was from another ethnic origin.
“They called me a Georgian. Pardon me for saying this, but they said even uglier things: They called me an Armenian!” Erdogan said.
“As far as I have learned from my father and grandfather, I am a Turk,” he added.
His comment that it was ugly to be called an Armenian drew anger on social media, further inflaming tensions days ahead of Sunday’s presidential election where Erdogan is hot favorite to become head of state.
“Excuse me, but please go and become the president of another country,” wrote prominent Turkish-Armenian columnist Hayko Bagdat in an angry response to Erdogan.
Melda Onur, a lawmaker from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), asked: “Is there any ethnic group who could escape Erdogan’s hate speech?”
Critics accused Erdogan of playing the sectarian and the ethnic card in the run-up to the presidential elections.
“Is it ugly to be an Armenian or is it a shame? Please explain now!” demanded Nevsin Mengu, an anchorwoman at the private CNN-Turk television.
Turkey’s Armenian minority — the remnants of a much greater community that lived during the Ottoman Empire — numbers around 70,000 people, most of them living in Istanbul.
They often complain of being considered second-class citizens in a country where “Armenian” is often considered a curse.