20 March 2014 by MELTEM Naz Kaso, İstanbul (Today’s Zaman)
Despite March 21 being both the UN-designated International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination and the start of the Nevruz festival, which marks the first day of spring and has been celebrated by people from diverse ethnic communities and religious backgrounds for thousands of years, some prominent voices in Turkey have used the occasion to tell Today’s Zaman that discrimination is increasing against those who do not practice Sunni Islam or identify as ethnic Turks.
Aren, a Christian of Armenian heritage in his 30s, says that on one occasion, when he was exercising at the gym, some people opened windows soon after he started running and said that “the room had started to smell like an Armenian.” Another man of Aren’s age referred to a dumbbell as being “as heavy as an unbeliever’s dead body.” He tells Today’s Zaman that this is far from being the most severe incident he has experienced in Turkey in terms of discrimination due to his ethnicity and religion. He could well be right. Other prominent incidents of racial and religious discrimination — such as the murder of Hrant Dink, a Turkish-Armenian journalist who was killed outside his office, and three Christians who were brutally murdered at the Zirve publishing house in Malatya — reveal that intolerance can be deadly.
On paper, Turkey has taken significant steps to fight against discrimination. After the long-running public debates over the implementation of a “democracy package” — an initiative to extend rights to Turkey’s disadvantaged minorities — hate crime entered the Turkish statute books for the first time in December 2013. Hate and prejudice crimes are defined as “crimes committed against someone or some group based on their language, race, nationality, skin color, gender, disability, political views, philosophical beliefs or religion.” Yet, unlike the preferred definition of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), it lacks criteria based on ethnicity and sexual orientation. In addition, the largest ethnic minority in Turkey, the Kurds, are not specifically included in the regulation.
The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) issued a public declaration in January 2014 to draw attention to these gaps in Turkey’s hate crime legislation. So far, no subsequent changes have taken place.
Erdal Doğan, one of the lawyers representing the plaintiffs in the Zirve murder case, thinks that the problem of ethnic and racial discrimination is deeply rooted in Turkey and will not be resolved soon. “Since the founding of the Turkish Republic, our country had been built according to the concept of ‘oneness.’ To ‘Turkify’ everyone, governments normalized hate speech and did not recognize ethnic or religious differences,” Doğan tells Today’s Zaman. According to the lawyer, the goal of such policies was to label as an enemy all those who were not Sunni Muslim Turks.
Tagged Hrant Dink, Nevrus festival, Zirve murder case, ethnic and racial discrimination