‘Racism Doesn’t Exist in Turkey’

A member of parliament for one of the main political parties in Turkey (the only one of Armenian descent and a member of one of the parties that oppose the incumbent party) has stated,

‘“We used to account for 40 percent [of the country’s population]. Now we are barely one out of a 1,000. It seems likely that something happened to us. I define this as a genocide,” [Garo] Paylan said on Jan. 13 during deliberations on proposed changes to the country’s constitution.’

I’ve had many conversations with students in Istanbul (I teach English to adults) who have said that racism didn’t exist in Turkey, that the Turkish people loved everyone. I still remember a 53-year-old named Deniz who claimed that ‘there was no such thing as racial discrimination in Turkey’.

I would like to say that racism exists every country in the world. Turkey is no exception.

Sometimes, as I walk in the streets of Istanbul, locals have said, ‘Ching Chong, Ching Chong’ or ‘Ching, Ching, Ching’. I spoke to a Korean girl once who said that she wore a miniskirt once (miniskirts are a fashion trend in South Korea, so much so that one was ‘out’ if one didn’t wear one) and some young men followed her and said, ‘Ching, Ching, Ching’. She said she knew I would understand her because I was of East Asian descent.

Once I walked on the coast in busiest part of the Asian side of Istanbul and a group of teenage boys saw me and one of the said, ‘Cin!’ (pronounced ‘Cheen’) which meant ‘China’ and he spat on the ground. Occasionally, I walk on the streets on Istanbul and when someone sees me, the person spits on the ground.

Sometimes, groups of young men and/or women would yell at me because of my East Asian appearance.

If Turkey weren’t a racist country, then these individuals wouldn’t have said or done these things.

There is a synagogue next to my apartment building, gated shut and permanently locked. There are old and abandoned churches and synagogues everywhere in Turkey. Often, I’m told that they are just historical structures.

Since I was in high school, I’ve known about the Armenian Genocide. My hometown, Boston, has a significant Armenian population, with an Armenian Genocide Museum included. I am not convinced that the Armenians are lying as almost every Turkish person I’ve spoken to has insisted.

Garo Paylan has recently said ‘explained to Turkey based news Dihaber that he was attempting to draw lessons from the past since four main diversities — Armenians, Greeks, Assyrians, and Jews — were lost during World War I. “I mentioned that if we make same mistakes, we may live with same pains,” Paylan told Dihaber.’

It’s an ‘insult’ to the Turkish nation to mention the word ‘genocide’. Why? What is insulting about this word?

I’ve met some Turkish people who have said that they ‘hated Armenians’ for mentioning the unfortunate event that befall them during World War I. I feel that a large population of Turkish people must stop being in denial of their country having no racism. More than a million lives were lost on Turkish soil in the early 20th century due to nationalist ideals.

There is a lot of national pride in Turkey; it’s strongly felt by all of the flags that are seen hanging in front of storefronts, restaurants, from apartment windows, on the ferries on the Bosphorous. It’s absolutely okay to have nationalist feelings. It’s not okay to allow nationalist feelings inflate a sense of denial that the people of a country aren’t perfect, that they feel no hatred, no prejudice toward people not perceived to be like them.

It’s against the law to mention the word ‘genocide’ in Turkey.

I’m not convinced that many people have voluntarily left Turkey, that large communities of people have left homes that their ancestors lived in for generations, that they would just spontaneously leave their livelihoods, all they ever knew.

Turkey is nearly 100% Muslim today. What has made large numbers of religious minorities leave at once?

Every Turkish citizen’s passport includes the religion [Islam] on it. Every Turkish person I have met has insisted that Turkey was a Muslim country, with many saying that to be Turkish was to be Muslim.

Before 1453, Turkey had a strong Christian influence; its culture was very much influenced by Christianity. I’m not convinced that in 1453 when Fatih Sultan Mehmet conquered Istanbul and converted it to Islam that every single person in Istanbul suddenly became Muslim and that everyone has been Muslim ever since.

No one can speak for every single person in a country — the Turkish people included.

I don’t understand why the Turkish people are sensitive to talking about Christian minorities (particularly the Armenians) and the Jews and Assyrians, and racism in general.

There is an ongoing battle between the Turkish government and the large Kurdish minority. There must be acknowledgement and discussion on how people not perceived as ‘Turkish’ in Turkey are treated.

What does the evasion of speaking of the racial and ethnic injustice that people face (or faced) in Turkey accomplish?

To brainwash a people to believe that they aren’t racist, that it isn’t possible does a great disservice to the people who aren’t perceived as being ‘one of the people’.

What is with the anger, the glares that appear when the Armenian genocide is mentioned?

Isn’t it fair at all to acknowledge that more than a million human beings died from unnatural causes? Can they at least be acknowledged instead of ignored entirely, not mentioned at all in history books?

Can people be informed that racism does exist in their country? Why aren’t the schools teaching their students about racist injustice toward minority groups in the past and present?

(quotes by Garo Paylan come from the Armenian Weekly on January 18th, 2017)


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Deborah Kristina

Author of ‘A Girl All Alone Somewhere in the World’, ‘Confessions and Thoughts of a Girl in Turkey’, ‘From Just a Girl Grown Up in America’. (Amazon.com)