Turkish Prime Minister — and presidential hopeful — Recep Tayyip Erdoğan sparked an outcry on Wednesday, August 6, 2014 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, Erdoğan 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!” Erdoğan 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 Erdoğan 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 Erdoğan.
Melda Onur, a lawmaker from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), asked: “Is there any ethnic group who could escape Erdoğan’s hate speech?”
Critics accused Erdoğan 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.
CHP deputy Hurşit Güneş filed a criminal complaint against Erdoğan on the same day. Güneş announced his plan to take legal action on his Twitter account, saying Erdoğan had violated Article 10 of the Constitution and Articles 122 and 216 of the Turkish Penal Code (TCK) against discrimination.
In remarks to show his reaction, Güneş said: “Look at this disgrace. Erdoğan said being Armenian is ugly on NTV. What a shame! Calling a person Armenian, even if it is untrue, is not “ugly.” Seeing this as such is a low form of racism! Erdoğan doesn’t hear what he says. If he becomes president, Turkey will not have only chosen a tyrant, but at the same time a racist.” He also appealed to Turkey’s citizens of Armenian descent not to be offended. “His mind isn’t in the right place,” he said, adding: “The world should know this is a racist person. He has defined the claim that he is Armenian as ‘ugly’ slander. His name is Tayyip Erdoğan.”
He also said Erdoğan’s mentality was what caused the death of journalist Hrant Dink, who was assassinated by an ultra-nationalist teenager in 2007.
Shortly after announcing his intention on Twitter to file a criminal complaint, Hurşit Güneş went to the Ankara Courthouse and did so.
Turkey Congressional Caucus Warns Erdoğan on Harsh Rhetoric
The Congressional Caucus on US-Turkey Relations and Turkish Americans (Turkey Caucus) has warned Prime Minister Erdoğan in a letter that his recent rhetoric is increasingly damaging Turkish-American relations and that it is becoming harder to defend Turkey’s interests in Washington.
In a sharply worded letter, Democrats and Republicans who’ve led House efforts to advance US-Turkish relations warned Erdoğan last week about what they considered to be his anti-Semitic comments. They told him that he risked damaging ties between the US and Turkey.
The Turkey Caucus is a bipartisan platform in which members of the US Congress focus on US-Turkish relations and issues that concern Turkish-Americans. It was established by Rep. Robert Wexler, a Democrat from Florida, Rep. Ed Whitfield, a Republican from Kentucky, and Republican Congresswoman Kay Granger of Texas in March of 2001.
Turkey has been among the most outspoken critics of Israel recently for its military operations in Gaza. Erdoğan has accused the Jewish state of “barbarism surpassing Hitler.”
“Remarks you have made recently have been widely viewed as anti-Semitic and are most definitely anti-Israel,” the House letter to Erdoğan states, adding that these remarks have made it harder to “communicate in a positive way about Turkey.”
Erdoğan’s comparison of Israel to Nazi Germany is “historically inaccurate and provocative,” the lawmakers write in the July 29 letter. They lament that Turkey had at one time contributed to peace efforts in the Middle East, while the prime minister’s recent comments “do nothing to end the violence, but rather could serve to instigate further hatred.”
Speaking at a rally on Sunday in Istanbul, Erdoğan once again harshly criticized Israel for its attacks on Gaza and said, “Israel is seeking the same thing Hitler did, to create a pure race.” Then he said that he had received a letter recently from the Turkey Caucus.
“They think they are threatening me. They will receive the same kind of answer,” Erdoğan said.
The letter bears the signatures of all four caucus co-chairs: Whitfield, Rep. Virginia Foxx, a Republican from North Carolina, and Democratic Congressmen Steve Cohen of Tennessee and Gerry Connolly of Virginia. Some members of the Turkey Caucus expressed surprise that Erdoğan had mentioned the letter publicly.
Erdoğan’s remarks targeting Israel have recently attracted heavy criticism from the US. Department of State officials have cautioned Erdoğan not to use “inflammatory” or “offensive” language about Israel, adding that Erdoğan’s remarks only damage Turkey’s international standing. Erdoğan shot back that no one has the right to tell him what to say.
Amid growing concerns over Erdoğan’s condemnation of Israel, the American Jewish Congress (AJC) recently asked Erdoğan to return an award given to him in 2004.
“Attempts to depict Prime Minister Erdoğan’s legitimate criticism of the Israeli government’s attacks on civilians as expressions of anti-Semitism are an obvious distortion,” said the Turkish ambassador to the US, Serdar Kılıç, in a response to AJC President Jack Rosen. The letter also said that Erdoğan would gladly return the award.
Agence France Press, August 6, 2014
"Today's Zaman," August 5 and 7, 2014