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15.4.15

AKP's stance on Armenians worries Christians

Fehim Taştekin
Translated by Timur Göksel
 
Early in its rule, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government raised expectations that Turkey was willing to face its past. But now, as the 100th anniversary of Armenian genocide approaches, the government, let alone facing up to the past, has indulged in a frenzy of casting shadows on the genocide observances and moved Turkey’s traditional Gallipoli celebrations, normally held March 18, to April 22-24.
How do Christians in Turkey and the Middle East judge the AKP government’s course of action?
The effect of Turkey’s refusal to confront the historic tragedy on relations with countries that received the Armenians is not usually discussed. The much-vaunted Turkish model had lost some of its glitter because of Turkey’s reluctance to take steps to face the past and develop solutions to the questions of its own Christian minorities.
Sure, the AKP's initial attempts to normalize with Armenia melted some of the frost with the region's Christians. But when — in the course of Arab uprisings — Christians were targeted by radical groups supported by Turkey, that positive atmosphere was shattered. With Christians once again forced to abandon their homes in Iraq and Syria, their co-religionists in Turkey began to dread a return to their fearful days.

"The AKP government is a major disappointment"
When I asked a Christian entrepreneur from Aleppo trying to make a new start in Istanbul his views about Turkey before and after the Arab Spring, he said, ‘’For us, the AKP government is a major disappointment. Just as Syrian Christians were beginning to feel sympathy for Turkey before the Arab Spring, Turkey did everything possible to turn this sympathy into animosity. Your officials actually worked hard to make Christians remember their old grievances. Believe me, we don’t trust them. We don’t know what is going to happen to us."
Syrian Armenian author Hrach Kalsahakian told Al-Monitor, “Since the Arab Spring, life has been tough for Christians. Their numbers have dwindled even more in Syria and Iraq. Sure, Muslims are feeling the pain also. The Syria situation is enormously complicated. AKP policies have not helped in solving these problems. The Turkish government did not prevent extremist fighters from entering the peaceful Armenian town of Kassab. These extremists could not have entered Syria with their guns unless the AKP government allowed them.”

"Christians were delighted" — at first
Journalist-producer Harout Ekmanian, who left Aleppo and moved to the Armenian capital, Yerevan, explained how the Christian attitude toward the AKP has changed: ”At the beginning, like other groups in the Middle East, the Christians were also delighted. But after the Arab Spring, the AKP government exposed its sectarian-religious colors and forgot about its aspiration for regional peace. With the AKP government’s overt and direct support of the Muslim Brotherhood and other fanatical Islamic movements, Christians were marginalized.”
Can Turkey inspire its neighbors without first accounting for the past?
“Never," Ekmanian replied. "Following the political and social upheavals in the Middle East, Turkey adopted a sectarian and provocative approach and revived historic negativities. This shows how halfway measures and flimsy displays of goodwill are not enough to establish lasting good relations. In the Middle East to build dependable, good neighborliness one needs to face the past, recognize it and bear its physical, social, political and financial consequences.”

Armenians worried again 
Journalist Serdar Korucu said the AKP government first promised a new era for Christian minorities in Turkey and secured the support of the Istanbul Greek Orthodox Patriarchate. But then there was a reversion to an old Turkish pattern, and the reopening of the Theological School of Halki at Heybeliada was disallowed.
Korucu drew a disturbing picture of the Armenian community for Al-Monitor: “Armenians, because of their painful past, are fluttering like pigeons. History has taught Armenians that on this soil steps forward may easily be followed by steps backward. At the beginning of the 20th century, Armenians were the most ardent supporters of the revolutionary Committee of Union and Progress [CUP]. They paid for it with the Adana massacre of 1909 engineered by partisans of the sultan.(*) Six years later Armenians became the targets of the CUP genocide. Armenians lived through similar steps backward in the 2000s also. Although there have been some positive steps in restoring properties of religious foundations, there are many issues that shake Armenian confidence, such as the claims that the forces that attacked Kassab were supported by Ankara, the targeting of the ancient church of Deir ez-Zor by the [Islamic State] said to be supported by Turkey and changing the date of the Gallipoli observances to overshadow the Armenian genocide anniversary.”
In short, Turkey has been unable to develop a new approach to the Armenian tragedy. Rekindling the pains of the past, and adding to them, have been Armenian journalist Hrant Dink's murder (still unsolved after eight years), the use of Turkish territory by jihadist groups that captured the Armenian town of Kassab last year, Ankara still ignoring Christians' basic demands, neglecting to act on the normalization with Armenia because of Turkey’s demand that Armenia evacuate Nagorno-Karabakh and the conviction of many that jihadists in Syria who have been targeting Christian communities are supported by Turkey.

"Al-Monitor," April 14, 2015 (www.al-monitor.com)
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(*) The Adana massacre had also the complicity of partisans of the CUP ("Armeniaca").

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