Hate speech targeting Armenians in Turkey on the rise, warns opposition lawmaker

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HDP deputy Garo Paylan

Incidents of hate speech and war propaganda targeting the Armenian minority in Turkey have been increasing amid the recent Azerbaijani-Armenian clashes over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh, an opposition lawmaker warned again on Wednesday.

Garo Paylan, a member of parliament of Armenian descent from Turkey’s pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), warned against hate speech and war propaganda, which he thinks are intentionally being escalated in the country by the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government.

The deputy’s latest warning came after the state-run Anadolu news agency (AA) on Wednesday published an interview with an academic who said, “Armenians, deceived by imperialist states, have committed massacres throughout history.”

“The state-run news agency is using this kind of hate speech. Bad! You [the AKP] are [provoking] the public by using hate speech against the Armenian people. Stop the hate speech!” Paylan tweeted on Wednesday.

Following reactions to the interview with Professor Erol Kürkçüoğlu, head of the Turkey-Armenia Relations Research Center at Atatürk University, AA changed its headline of “Forces of Armenia have massacred throughout history”; however, the statement remained in the text.

Last week Paylan was targeted in a public statement published by the Center for Eurasian Strategic Studies (ASAM), a nationalist think tank, in newspaper ads. The Armenian-Turkish lawmaker was accused of treason by ASAM.

“Paylan shamelessly blamed Azerbaijan and Turkey and openly backed Armenia. The Turkish nation will never forgive those who try to create false perceptions against the Turkish government,” the October 2 statement said.

ASAM referred to claims that Turkey was sending arms and jihadists from northern Syria to Azerbaijan amid fighting over the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh.

In response to ASAM, Paylan published a press release vowing that he would “continue to support peace initiatives in the Caucasus and will not be cowed by intimidation tactics.”

Paylan added that he had filed a criminal complaint against the people behind the hateful ads.

“It is crystal clear that some powers have mobilized to silence me. And as an Armenian from Turkey, I know very well the meaning of the recent attacks. Regardless of these intimidation tactics, I will never refrain from taking on my responsibility in the effort to stop wars,” the HDP deputy said in reference to Hrant Dink, an assassinated Armenian journalist who had been threatened many times before his murder. 

Dink, editor-in-chief of the Agos newspaper, was murdered in front of paper’s offices on January 19, 2007 when a similar nationalist rhetoric in the country was on the rise. The perpetrator was a nationalist youngster with reported links to the then-alleged Ergenekon terrorist organization.

“I hereby declare that should anything happen to me … the government, ASAM and similar opaque organizations must be held accountable,” Paylan said in his statement.

In response to social media users’ messages of support for peace as well as for his stance, Paylan thanked them and reiterated that he would continue his peace efforts.

“I knew I was not alone. But I am very happy to see that in fact we are many. I am grateful to everyone who has provided support during the last few days. I’ll continue to fight for peace — and to stop wars!” Paylan tweeted on Wednesday.

In the early days of the Azerbaijan-Armenian clashes in September, the lawmaker had also called on the AKP to “put an end to the politics of hate” after an “AKP provocation to allow for a demonstration on the street where the Armenian Patriarchate is located.”

“I call on the government to take the necessary measures for our patriarchate and [Armenian] institutions. The result of hate speech is hate crime,” the deputy said at the time.

Interestingly, the state-run AA itself had previously reported Paylan’s call for peace between Azerbaijan and Armenia months before the recent clashes.

“Let’s not seek heroism through history. Let’s seek peace through history. Let’s struggle to make peace between the Azerbaijani and Armenian nations,” Paylan was quoted by AA as saying in February.

At the time, on the occasion of the 28th anniversary of the Khojaly massacre where hundreds of Azerbaijanis were killed, allegedly by Armenian forces, Paylan urged the AKP to form a “justice and reality commission” related to “disasters” between the two countries. The deputy was referring to the early 20th century killing of an estimated 1.5 million Armenians by the Ottoman Empire between 1915 and 1923.

The official Turkish stance views the brutal process not as genocide but as massacres, referring to the difficult times during World War I when the then-Ottoman Empire was falling apart. However, a total of 31 countries and many international scholars recognize the incidents as genocide.

According to a report by the Hrant Dink Foundation, Armenians were the most targeted minority group in terms of hate speech in Turkish media last year. Titled “Media Watch on Hate Speech,” the report said Armenians were targeted 803 times, out of 5,515 incidents of hate speech in local and national media, in 2019. Syrian refugees, Greeks, and Jews follow with 760, 754, and 676 instances, respectively.

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