Turkey’s Parliament Reshaped by Minority Deputies, Creating Hope


Karabet Garo Paylan

Karabet Garo Paylan

ISTANBUL (Today’s Zaman) —  The Armenian community in Turkey has not been directly represented in Parliament since 1964, when Berc Sahak Turan’s term in the then-Turkish Senate ended. For the first time in 51 years, Armenian deputies will represent Turkey’s most fragile minority group. More interestingly, three of the four parties that will be represented in Parliament will have an Armenian deputy, according to the unofficial final results of the election.

Talking to Sunday’s Zaman, Pakrat Estukyan, a prominent journalist with Agos weekly, Turkey’s leading newspaper for the Armenian community, said that “[The high number of Armenian deputies] will surely have a positive effect on our community. It is precious [for us] in terms of morale, first of all; we will see in time whether their [the deputies’] actions will also have positive impact [on our community].”

Karabet Garo Paylan, who was elected as a deputy for the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) representing İstanbul, is an important Armenian figure with a background in serving Armenian civil society. Paylan, who on the board of  Yeşilköy Armenian Grammar School, took an active role in saving the historic Camp Armen Armenian orphanage from destruction in mid-May. The orphanage would have been destroyed as part of a construction plan to build luxury villas.

Estukyan commented on Paylan’s previous active role in the Armenian community, saying, “Paylan has contributed to the community in many ways, especially in the fields of education, to an extent that he was embraced by society.” Estukyan added that he has a high opinion of Paylan’s role in helping the Armenian community under the HDP’s leadership.

Turkish-Armenian deputy Selina Dogan will be representing İstanbul’s second region for the Republican People’s Party (CHP). Dogan, who has a legal background, said in an interview with the ANKA news agency in April that besides being Armenian and being enthusiastic about representing her community, she also hopes to bring up issues of gender inequality in Parliament.

Even from the Justice and Development Party (AK Party), officials from which were previously recorded using derogatory language regarding Armenians, there is an important Armenian deputy: Markar Esayan. Having been a journalist in a pro-government daily, Esayan, however, has been criticized by an Armenian foundation for using events related to his community for promoting the AK Party.

Özcan Purçu, elected as an İzmir deputy for the CHP, is the first-ever deputy to represent the Roma community. The Roma community in Turkey, which is estimated as having a population of 300,000 according to a survey conducted in 2006 by the Konda research company, is strongly motivated to protect their traditions.

Chairman of Izmir Roma Community Social Cooperation and Solidarity Association Abdullah Cistir shared his opinions about the first-ever deputy to represent his community with Sunday’s Zaman. Cistir said: “I found this symbolic. Only one deputy is not enough for the Roma community [but] we will [surely] follow our deputy’s activities [in Parliament] and those who support such activities.” Cistir also mentioned the importance of increasing the number of Roma community representatives in local administrations where the community has a dense population.

Another deputy hoping to represent minorities is Feleknas Uca, who is Yezidi. Uca, who was elected as an HDP deputy to represent Diyarbakır province, was born in Germany and was a member of the European Parliament from 1999 to 2009. Uca is expected to voice in Parliament her community’s problems, both in Turkey and around the world, along with her colleague Ali Atalan, who will also be an HDP deputy from Batman province. The Yezidi community is a religious minority that is largely located in Iraq but that has an important extension in Turkey. The Yezidis received international attention after conditions in Iraq worsened in 2013, causing many Yezidis to abandon their homes and seek refuge in Turkey.

Another important ethnic minority in Turkey is the Circassians, whose numbers reportedly total 400,000, according to Konda’s survey. Though candidates Neslin Gümüş, Cumhur Atay and Metin Kılıç, all of Circassian origin, were not elected, there is still an important figure from the CHP who can represent this community. Murat Özçelik, who served as CHP deputy chairman in the last legislative term, will be representing the Circassian community as well as his İstanbul constituency for the upcoming legislative term.

There are also a large number of deputies who have roots in the Balkans. More than a million immigrants from the Balkans live in Turkey. Among the important figures who will be ready to represent Balkan Turkish communities is Mehmet Müezzinoğlu, the last minister of health. Having emigrated from Bulgaria himself, Müezzinoğlu is an important representative of Bulgarian Turks in Parliament.