Second-Class Citizens in a ‘Democratic’ Country


By Edmond Y. Azadian

As the current Islamic administration tries to dismantle Ataturk’s legacy, much dirt is being unearthed in Turkey.

The fallout from that ideological warfare has been benefitting the minorities, albeit, inadvertently.

Recently a document has surfaced revealing the racist nature of Turkey’s successive administrations following the establishment of the Turkish Republic by Ataturk in 1923. The official document, prepared by the Istanbul Provincial Education Directorate, states that Turkey’s population administration system has been recording citizens who have Armenian, Jewish or Anatolian Greek origins with secret “race codes.” For example, citizens of Armenian origin are coded with the number 2, while Greeks were given the code of 1, and Jews, 3.

An official from the Population Administration has told Radikal newspaper that the practice was being conducted “to allow minority groups use of their rights stemming from the Lausanne Treaty.” This official Turkish explanation very much resembles the justification efforts by Turkish authorities — until today — that during World War I, the government was so concerned with the safety of the Armenian minority that it deported members of that group to “safer zones,” meaning the Der Zor desert, where, of course, they perished.

Armenians did not have to wait for this document to surface to find out that they were treated as second-class citizens.

But as the taboos are being broken (though not removed), politicians have begun to question these tactics and the treatment of minorities: Altan Tan, a member of parliament from the Peace and Democratic Party, has stated that “for a long time those allegations had been circulating, but they were denied by the authorities.”

Tan urged Interior Minister Muammer Guler to make a statement on the issue. “If there is such a thing going on, it is a major disaster. The state illegally profiling its own citizens based on ethnicity and religion, and doing this secretly, is a big catastrophe,” Tan said.

Even after the Genocide, the remaining Armenians in Turkey experienced the brunt of this discriminatory racist policy. One expression of that policy was the “wealth tax” (varlik vergisi), which was levied on Armenians, Jews and Greeks in the 1940s; those who were unable to pay the exorbitant taxes were sent to labor camps to perish.

Another policy which exists to this day is the appointment of Turkish assistant principals at Armenian schools. The community is free to hire an Armenian principal, but the power resides in the hands of the assistant principal, who must be an ethnic Turk. In reality, Turks serving in that capacity are the official government spies, placed there to enforce restrictive government policies and to report to higher-ups if any Armenian history is being taught secretly in those schools. That is why young people graduating from Armenian schools and emigrating to the West are dumbfounded to discover there is such a thing called Armenian history.

The Kurds do not have any race codes because they had been designated for assimilation. Beginning with Ataturk, who perpetrated the Dersim pogroms against the Kurds, successive administrations have been trying to convince the Kurds that there is no distinct ethnic group known as Kurd; that the Kurds better consider themselves as “mountain Turks.” Despite all atrocities and persecutions, no Kurd was ever convinced to be anything but a Kurd.

The Kurdish minority — which accounts for one third of Turkey’s population — is on the verge of emancipation. The establishment of Iraqi Kurdistan has fueled aspirations of the Kurds throughout the region and especially in Turkey. It looks like in the bloodbath of  the civil war in Syria, another autonomous region for Kurds is shaping up.

Painfully aware of the writing on the wall, Prime Minister Reçep Tayyip Erdogan is engaged in a guessing game with the Kurds. He has already cut a deal with the jailed leader of the Kurds, Abdullah Oçalan, to move the Kurdish guerillas out of Turkish territory. The Kurds have accomplished their side of the deal and are waiting impatiently for the government’s move: knowing Mr. Erdogan’s duplicity he will either offer some cosmetic changes in the status of the Kurds or, holding the unarmed population hostage, he will resort back to his old habit of trying to impose a military solution to the Kurdish issue.

Without a question the Armenian community in Turkey is breathing easier. Sixteen percent of confiscated community assets are promised to be returned to the community. Newspapers like Agos are writing freely about democracy which will benefit all the citizens of the country.

But Armenians are very cautious based on their historic experiences. Once burnt, twice shy. The years 1909-1914 brought a period of hope and expression of cultural freedom to all minorities in the Ottoman Empire, only to be followed by the Genocide.

Later, during the 1950s and 60s, when Adnan Menderes was democratically elected as prime minister (1950-1960), the dictatorial instincts of the authorities were tamed. The Armenians, along with other minorities, engaged in some freedoms. A representative of the Armenian community — Mugurditch Shellefian — was even elected to the parliament.

But then the 1960 military coup sent Menderes to the gallows, along with all the liberties that he had brought. Minorities again experienced the brunt of the repression.

The last coup was staged by Kenan Evren in 1980 and the constitution promulgated by his military regime in 1982 is still enforced in Turkey.

During Evren’s iron-fisted rule (1980-1989), Turkey’s minorities experienced the worst period of repression.

At age 96 that tyrant is still alive in Turkey and very recently boasted that after the military coup his hands did not shake when he signed the death warrants of 35 politicians and said he would repeat his act again at any time.

Recent documents also surfaced in which this bloodthirsty despot justified the murder of 1.5 million Armenians as a “necessary” and “legal” act.

Even the minister of defense in Erdogan’s previous cabinet had asked the rhetorical question if Turkey would have enjoyed its present vast territory if it had not deported its minorities. And yet the West embraces Turkey as a “model democracy” for the Islamic world.

The Paris-based Reporters without Borders has referred to Turkey as “the world’s biggest prison for reporters” and ranked it 154th out of 179 countries, behind Iraq and Russia, in its 2013 ranking of the world press index.

Turkey continues to be a minefield for the Armenians. They cannot breath freely, despite current illusive trends. They know they have to be cautious, as long as those bloodhounds are around and live freely in the country.

They realize their race code 2 is still in force and they know they are second-class citizens.