Turkey Uncensored: Post-Coup Purge Reaches Armenians

By Monday, August 8, 2016

Following the failed coup of July 15, the Turkish government has begun a brutal crackdown on people who it claims have ties with the movement of Fethullah Gulen, an Islamic cleric living in Pennsylvania whom the government accuses of organizing the attempted coup.

This scale of arrests and governmental pressures might be new to Muslim Turks, but Armenians – the victims of Turkish racism for all seasons – are being targeted again.

The newspaper Agos covered the latest rights abuses against Armenians:

Armenian trainer fired under the cover of “Fethullah Terrorist Organization”

As part of the purge that was started after the coup attempt, Ari Hergel, who was working as a guitar teacher in the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality Art and Vocational Training Courses, has been fired from his job.

Hergel said that he was informed about the issue via a phone message on July 22.

“In the message they sent me, it was written that I have some kind of a relation with Fethullah Gulen,” Hergel said, “however, I couldn’t find out what are the grounds of this assumption. There is no information or document indicating such a relationship.”

Hergel added that many other people have been fired for the same reason: “When I went to get the original copy of the notice, I came across many coworkers who have received the same notice,” he said. “People were trying to explain themselves and writing petitions.”

Armenian doctor’s fertility center closed down as part of state of emergency

The Istanbul Fertility Center, founded and directed by the Armenian surgeon Aret Kamar, was seized and closed down on July 25. The reason was the center’s alleged support to the “Gulenist terrorist organization.”

Kamar said that he is an Armenian and Christian and has nothing to do with Gulen:

“We have absolutely no connection with that organization,” he said. “However, since our center is closed down by the decision of cabinet, we cannot take any legal action.

“Our center was closed down due to a single report from the intelligence service. They confiscated the properties and medical equipment. They left nothing. They took the cash in the center. They did all this without any investigation. They came on Saturday morning and completed the process by midnight.”

The center had been operating for 11 years and treated an average of 200 patients per day, Kamar said. “They took confidential records of 40,000 patients and this was the saddest part. They don’t have the right. Also, they transferred the embryos to Koc University.”

Armenian with French nationality deported due to speaking Turkish

Richard Demirci, a businessman who has been conducting trade between Turkey and France for years, was detained and then deported on July 31 for “speaking Turkish even though he is Armenian.”

Demirci was born in Turkey’s Siirt Province in the Sason region, part of the historical Armenian Highland.

Agos reported, “Speaking to the police during the ID check at Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport, Richard Demirci said that he was an Armenian from France and he ended up being deported. Police officers asked, ‘You speak Turkish. How come you are not Turkish?’

“As a result of the dialog between Demirci and the police officers, Demirci was kept in the airport and then taken to the Foreigners’ Department in Kumkapı.”

Demirci has been prohibited from entering Turkey due to an exclusion order.

Murad Mihci, an activist with the Armenian Nor Zartonk Association in Turkey, said that Demirci was exposed to verbal attacks and insults while in detention. “They insulted him for being Armenian and accused him of working for the PKK [Kurdistan Workers’ Party]. He will be brought to court for having ties with a ‘terrorist organization.’”

Armenian journalist taken to police station and had his passport seized

Hayko Bağdat, an Armenian journalist born in Turkey, had his passport seized by Turkish police after he arrived from Greece at the Istanbul airport on Aug. 6. Bağdat announced the incident on his Twitter account, writing, “My passport has been seized and I have been taken to the police station upon entering the airport. There is no ruling for detention. So, for a while, do not tell me to ‘go speak in another country,’ for it is now impossible.”

It is said that many other journalists will also be exposed to the same treatment. Bağdat the online newspaper Diken, “For what other journalists have such rulings been given, who will be detained or whose passports will be seized? This is not just my problem only. It is said that such decisions have been made for thousands of journalists.”

Wealth Tax: How Non-Muslims of Anatolia Were Eliminated from the Economy

The current population of Turkey is about 80 million, but Christians and Jews only compromise 0.2 percent of it. And this unnatural decline of population took place not only as a result of mass slaughters and forced expulsions, but also as a result of several economic pressures against the country’s non-Muslim citizens.

The current rights violations against Armenian workers, employers or businesses − including unjust dismissals, arrests and seizures of properties − are reminiscent of what the non-Muslim communities in Turkey went through during the period of “the Wealth Tax Law.”

On Nov. 11, 1942, the government of the non-Islamist Republican People’s Party (CHP), led by the then-prime minister Sukru Saracoglu, enacted the Wealth Tax Law.

The stated aim, wrote scholar Basak Ince, “was to tax previously untaxed commercial wealth and to rein in the inflationary spiral of World War II. However, the underlying reason was the elimination of minorities from the economy, and the replacement of the non-Muslim bourgeoisie by its Turkish counterpart.”

The Wealth Tax Law divided the taxpayers in four groups, as per their religious backgrounds:

  1. Muslims
  2. Non-Muslims
  3. Converts (“donme”), i.e. members of a Sabbatean sect of Jewish converts to Islam
  4. Foreign nationals

Only 4.94 percent of Turkish Muslims had to pay the Wealth Tax. The Armenians were the most heavily taxed.

Turkish researcher Ridvan Akar, who wrote a book about the injustices of the Wealth Tax Law, referred to the wealth tax as “economic genocide against minorities.”

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“The way in which the law was applied was scandalous,” wrote Ince, an assistant professor of political science. “Converts paid about twice as much as Muslims, while non-Muslims ended up paying up to 10 times as much. In addition, non-Muslims were required to pay their taxes in cash within 15 days; as a result, they had to sell their businesses or property to Muslim businessmen at low prices to cover the bill. The law was also applied to the many poor non-Muslims (numbering 26,000), such as drivers, workers and even beggars, whereas their Muslim counterparts were not obliged to pay any tax.”

Those who could not pay the taxes were sent to labor camps or deported, or their properties were seized by the government.

The labor camp was at Askale, near Erzurum, which the author the author Sidney Nowill described as “an area cooler than Moscow in the winter.” The tax debtors were put to work breaking stones, but the tragedy did not end there.

“Out of 40,000 tax debtors,” Ince wrote, “about 5,000 were sent to these camps, and all of these were members of non-Muslim communities. Unfortunately, 21 people died in these camps and the government usurped their wealth and sold it to Turkish Muslims at low prices.”

The government also confiscated the property of the tax debtors’ close relatives, even if the persons had been sent into labor service.

In her book “Turkey, the Jews, and the Holocaust,” historian Corry Guttstadt wrote about the financial and psychological ruin the Wealth Tax inflicted on the non-Muslim citizens of Turkey:

“People who were unable to pay were granted a two-week extension on request, but interest was charged for this period. Many families were forced to sell their shops and businesses, their houses, even their carpets, furniture, and other household articles, to raise the tax money. Some people committed suicide in despair. The extraordinary tax was also levied on foreign Jews, and if they were in no position to pay, their property was confiscated down to the beds and cupboards.

“Although the law stipulated that people over 55 years old were exempt from labor service, 75- and 80-year-old men and even sick people were dragged to the train station and deported.”

Then-prime minister Saracoglu said, referring to the Wealth Tax Law, “This way, we’ll break the foreigners’ tight grip over our market and put Turkish money into the hands of Turks.”


The Economic, Political and Cultural Consequences

According to Ince, “The Wealth Tax is a key link in the Turkification chain. Due to the law, most non-Muslim merchants sold their properties and vanished from the markets. The lasting damage ensured that many wary members of minorities did not want to invest in Turkey, or else they emigrated after this period.

“Most non-Muslims simply left. In 1938-40, approximately 30,000 Jewish citizens left Turkey. The Wealth Tax once more demonstrated that being Muslim constituted a significant part of the definition of citizenship in Turkey.”

The Wealth Tax was repealed in March 1944, under the pressure of criticism from Britain and the United States.

Seventy-one years later, on Dec. 27, 2015, Sezgin Tanrikulu, an MP from the CHP, presented a proposal to Turkey’s parliament, which stated that “the right to Turkish citizenship should be granted to all of the people and their relatives up to fourth degree who have been exposed to deportation, forced immigration or who have been stripped of their citizenship inside the geography that constitutes the current territories of the Turkish Republic, from Oct. 29, 1914, when the First World War started – up to today.”

The proposal was intended for the victims and descendants of the 1915 Armenian genocide, the “Citizen Speak Turkish” Campaign of 1930s, 1934 anti-Jewish pogrom in eastern Thrace, the 1941-1942 conscription of “the twenty classes” (an attempt to conscript all male non-Muslim populations, including the elderly and mentally ill, during World War II), the Wealth Tax, the anti-Greek pogrom of Sept. 6-7, 1955 in Istanbul, the forced expulsion of Greeks in 1964, and the Kurdish citizens who have been victimized by the war in Turkish Kurdistan, euphemistically referred to as southeastern Turkey.

This might be a well-intentioned, humanitarian proposal, but how could the victims or their descendants return to their historic lands when the regime there still oppresses minority members in a systematic manner?

A government representative has also made a similar call to the non-Muslim victims of the Turkish regime. At the opening ceremony of the Edirne Synagogue on March 26, 2015, Bulent Arinc, then-deputy prime minister, called out to the citizens of Turkey who have had to flee Turkey: “If you want to come here – if you want to live in Turkey – there are 78 million people who would welcome you with open arms.”

With open arms? Such as by seizing their passports or businesses, arresting and deporting them, or unjustly firing them from their jobs? Or by even murdering them? Like the private Sevag Balikci, an Armenian citizen of Turkey who was shot to death during his compulsory military service in the Turkish army on April 24, 2011, the 96th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide.

Why should Armenians, Greeks, Assyrians, Jews, Kurds and other natives of Anatolia return when the only thing that awaits them on their ancient homeland is discrimination by a hostile government and public on a daily basis?

The pre-AKP period of Turkey is widely praised by many analysts in the West who claim that Turkey was a democratic, secular country where minority groups were not repressed. Nothing could be further from the truth.

It was the so-called “secular” CHP, for example, that imposed this “jizya – kafir (infidel) tax” on Turkey’s non-Muslim citizens.

Until the AK Party came to power in 2002, nearly all non-Muslim citizens of Turkey had either been slaughtered, deported or had to flee Turkey for their lives.

Millions of non-Muslims and non-Turks have been punished and victimized by the Turkish regime for the reason of being non-Muslim and non-Turkish. Even if they were fully assimilated, they were never considered equal citizens.

Since the establishment of the country in 1923, the founders and ideologues of Turkey have propagated a chauvinistic and racist mindset that revealed itself through the slogan “Turkey is exclusively for the Turks.” All succeeding governments have consciously attempted to make this slogan a reality, turning the lives of minorities into hell on earth. The current discriminatory policies of the ruling AK Party government against non-Muslims are just a continuation of this xenophobic mentality.

Uzay Bulut

Uzay Bulut is a Turkish journalist and political analyst formerly based in Ankara. She graduated from Istanbul’s Bogazici University in 2007 with a BA in Translation and Interpreting Studies. She holds a master’s degree in Media and Cultural Studies at Ankara’s Middle East Technical University. Her writings have appeared in a variety of publications including Gatestone Institute, the Clarion Project, the Armenian Weekly, PJ Media, CBN News, the Algemeiner, the Kurdish newspaper Rudaw, International Business Times UK and the Voice of America. She has also contributed to several Israeli media outlets including the Jerusalem Post, Arutz Sheva (Israel National News), Israel Hayom and Jerusalem Online. Bulut’s journalistic work focuses mainly on Turkey’s ethnic and religious minorities, anti-Semitism, political Islam and the history of Turkey. She is currently based in Washington, D.C.