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Panelist's View

Turkey's Trouble With Minorities

Ali Ettefagh - The murder of Hrant Dink in Istanbul by right-wing extremists may well shatter Turkey's chances of joining the European Union.

The killing of the 53-year-old Armenian journalist and the publisher of a newspaper for the Armenian community merely intended to open honest discussion about what Winston Churchill called the first Holocaust of the 20th Century. In late 1970s, the civil war that ended in a coup was triggered by a very similar murder of a respected leftist journalist, Abdi Ipekci, by the rightwing "Gray Wolves" nationalists. Back in 2000, a highly visible Jewish industrialist and philanthropist was murdered in Istanbul but the matter was stifled as economic crises overshadowed the matter.

Hran Dink (and 12 other Turkish journalists currently in prison) was convicted of insulting the ethnic fabric and the "Turkishness" of the nation, a criminal offence under section 301 of the Turkish Criminal Code. This is a highly subjective law in Turkey and a topic at the core of objections by the European Union which insists on fair treatment of ethnic minorities. The French parliament has demanded Turkey face its past conduct in respect to the systematic killings of Armenians back in 1915.

Turkey is certainly in a tough fix: Its EU negotiations are frozen in their tracks. It has a number of prickly issues and disagreements to overcome with the EU including the issues of human rights, recognition of ethnic minorities and the resolution of its no-win position in Cyprus. Concurrently, it worries about the future of an Iraqi Kurdistan and its own Kurdish population, some one-third of its citizens. It has a young population base and close to 100% of its GDP in national debt. Its private sector continues to bet on a one-way road of entry into EU as it incurs higher levels of debt. With a civil war on its border, the Turkish government openly supports and arms the Turkomen minorities in Kirkuk. And it has other interests in Bosnia and hostile postures towards Armenia and Serbia.

The sum of such components can further complicate issues in a region that is revisiting its religious and ethnic roots, dating back to the times of the Ottoman Empire and the pre-revolutionary Russia. Turkey must deal with these ghosts in a frank and transparent manner just as all other secular countries in Europe have done.

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Comments (33)

Alex, SLC, USA:

"Turkey has a looooooong way to go before reaching the standards of Europe on tolerance and human rights. This is just one example." This comment from a German user is a good example of latte-liberal, European self-righteousness. Europe's racism against the Turks is thinly veiled (look at the visa requirements for Turks to visit the Netherlands), and a people who sheltered Jews from Europe during both the inquisition and the holocaust certainly don't need a lecture on 'tolerance' from the home of imperialism, slave trading and nazism and communism. In Spain, people watch bulls being speared to death for fun. In Turkey, they don't even euthanize stray animals, but vaccinate and fix them and then let them go. In my travels in Europe, I was given many cold shoulders in many countries (certainly not all of them, but many), but the Turks took care of me better than anyone. (And they rarely complain about the 5 or so million of their people who died and were ethnically cleansed during the last part of the Ottoman Empire.)

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Gul just said 'Our relatives (so called Turkomen) are being killed in Kirkuk.'

Wonder where I have heard that before? Oh yes Cyprus. When will we see the birth of the Turkish Republic of Northern Iraq? to match the 'Turkish republic of Northern Cyprus?'

The hypocrisy of both the US and Turkey makes one violently ill.

Apo Torosyan:



I have read the comments with interest, especially those from Turkey. I am troubled by the tendency of Turks to STILL dissociate Turkey from the Ottoman actions. The reason is that when it is convenient, Turks recall the Ottoman Empire with fondness.

There is much to commend the Ottomans, but they also had the tradition of periodic massacres against their Christian subjects. It was a means of keeping their subjects in line. This culminated in the events of 1895-1923 when Turkey's Christian population was largely eliminated. But this tradition continued into the 1960's: There were two rounds of pogroms which saw the virtual elimination of the Greek Orthodox in Turkey, as late as 1965.

Sadly, Turks have a tradition of intolerance towards the non-Turks that was evident in Ottoman times, but continues to this day. It is applied towards the Kurds, certainly, but also the Christians in Turkey. I do not believe that it is necessarily based on religion (witness the attitude towards Kurds), but all minorities, be they Greeks, Armenians, Assyrians, Kurds, et.al., suffer in Turkey. Nor is it limited to Turkey: witness that Greek Cypriots are excluded from the occupied territories whereas Muslim Cypriots (from the occupied areas) even run for office in the Republic of Cyprus.

That is what makes Turks' refusal to acknowledge the genocide commited against the Christians 100 years ago so troubling. Apparently Turks have not changed their attitudes, and harbor the same desires that led to the massacres.

It is something that Turks must resolve, especially if Turkey is to join the EU. Turks must remember that Turkey is asking to join the EU, not the other way around. But even without the EU, I believe that it will benefit Turks to cleanse themselves of this attitude.

Mr. Right:

Turkey must face reality. That also means complying with every criteria that the EU has set for candidates. No short cuts, no excuses. Turks must remember that they are the ones that want to join a club and they must accept all club rules.

Greco-Roman Wrestler:

Dear Funny,
I know this because I have seen it and experienced it when two of my Armenian friends had babies in Turkey and they could not choose the biblical names they wanted. I also know three other people that took Turkish citizenship and they had to change their names to Turkish ones. It is a requirement by Turkish laws.


Greco-Roman Wrestler, you know its complete nonsence. Its a big lie, there is no law dealing with names. I wonder how you came up with that.

Greco-Roman Wrestler:

Until 3 years ago, every Turkish national was obliged to declare his/her religion and it was to be written on their national ID cards. This was changed to passify EU regulations.

To this day, any one that takes up Turkish nationality, or and religious minorities in Turkey such as Armenians, must take up Turkish names. So, no names like Arthur, James, William, Gregor or other biblical names are allowed. Kurds cannot choose their own historical names.

But....in the EU it possible for a German to name their children Jean or Pierre or a Frenchman to name his child Wolfgang. No need for the state to approve or disapprove.


It's time Turkey and the US stopped making excuses for Turkey. The EU should afford Turkey the same respect Turkey affords its minorities. That is those who havent been cleansed or killed. Turkey calling the EU a christian club is the heighth of hypocrisy. Turkey is now claiming the rights to 'protect' Turkomen in Kurdistan. Sounds like Cyprus all over again. What will the world do this time I wonder? Or is ethnic cleansing morally relative?


As an Armenian myself this was very painful to hear. I think if Turkey wants to get any where they have to lose this intense nationialism and pride in itself, it's a great thing but only to a certain degree. Nationialism like this has brought nothing but trouble to the world around us, Germany being a great example. And they should follow present example rather than its past. And for the person that said Armenian terrorists killed Turkish diplomats I say one mans enemy is another mans hero, these are the same diplomats that lock people behind bars for expressing their mind and this time they have gone a step further.


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Dr. Jonathan Levy:

The Turks are neither Arabs nor Europeans, their antipathies towards Orthodox Christians on the one hand and non Turkish Muslims is well known. Turkey has been quietly pursuing a policy of Pan Turkism which has no room for non Turks. I fear for secular Turks who look to Europe, they may soon meet the same fate as the Anatolian Greeks and Armenians.


To those of you who are claiming that a holocaust may not have occurred, I will tell you that not only Armenian christians but also Aramaen and Syrian Orthodox christians were also murdered systematically in 1915 by the turks. My grandparents lost most of their family and left to Lebanon to survive. Turkey should be ashamed of itself for not owning up to this and its arrogance and self-denial is obvious not only in this forum but by the intrasigence of many of its diplomats, its laws against criticism of "turskishness" and frankly many personal conversations from turkish expatriates and nationals. I hope this heinous murder causes the Turkish nation to pause and reflect and admit to its past so that it can move on. The victims and their families will not anybody ever forget what happened, neither the forced marches of the men nor the rape of the women and the utter massacres that occurred.


I think people who are basically from Turkey but not a TURK and oppose to government policies should be brave enough not to disguise their idendities with fake names to post messages here. These people know who they are.. First be brave to post your real name and then say what you are gonna say regardless it is totally bull.


I condemn this and any murder but I also must note the eagerness of the world media to point any wrongdoings in Turkey and other Muslim countries, another example the murder of a catholic priest (which had nothing to do with caricatures) or the recent plane hijack . These things unfortunately happen all over the world, a government can't control every individual in it country, and therefore lines can not be drawn between this murder and the accession to the EU. I'm a Turk and I'm against my countries entry to EU. We should rather work with nations who are close to us ethnically and culturally.


Firstly I condemn the murder of Hrant Dink as a Turk. I didn't share his opinions but I respected him. He was definitly a good man. On the other hand no one has the right to accuse the Turks and Turkish State for his murder.
Please just remember past 30 years. While hundreds of Turkish diplomats had been killed by Armenian terrorists, even 1 Armenian was not killed during that period in Turkey. They even had no faced a bad behaviour by the Turks. Turks and Turkish Governments have always been friendly to Armenian in Turkey now. And thousands of Turks strongly condemned the murder of him on the streets carrying his pictures.

I'm sure the murderer is mentally ill.

Bob M:

The idea that someone could be assassinated for writing about history or publishing opinions is so foreign to me. Theo Van Gogh, Farag Foda Lounès Matoub, Necip Hablemitoglu the list is very long and very sad. EU aside, when is Turkey going to get beyond tribalism. The two worlds it straddles is the 21st century and the stone age.

Derya T:

The Christian west should be very happy of the murder of Hrant Dink. Now they will even use his dead body to boost the racisim in Christian west over the Turks. And here in Turkey, the Turks and Armenians will cry for the murder of Hrant Dink with honesty and sorrow, shoulder to shoulder again.

The Christian West,that always cries out alligator tears for the Kurds, Armenians etc. the so called suprressed minorities of Turkey, have you met even one Turkish-Kurd or Turkish-Armenian? They are sick of your imperial aims and that you try to use these people and create tension in our beloved country and people. If you really care for people and human rights, speak up for Iraq at the moment in which a genocide is really being carried out, take a look at the Aborigins, American Indians, Africans, African Americans, South Americans, Bosnians, Azeris, and Turks that the Christian Nations has carried upon a real genocide!

Ibrahim Yusuf:

Problem is the lack of historical knowledge by westerners about Turkey (for that matter about anyone!). Title of this article proves my point. Obviously the author has no idea about the etnic mix of Turkish people nor knows anything about the Ottoman Empire where every kind of etnic group (from Polish to Africans) lived together for hundreds of years. Such ignorance is a sure sign of a decline (read Ottoman history).

Murat Simav(From Turkey):

Yeah Reader, you're right. The only one to know the past exactly was Hrant Dink(RIP). Since he is dead now, the hard rock history will be a mystery. Thanks to incredibly intelligent MHP types and the Gray Wolves!...
And you said There is no conspiracy except from inside Turkey. I am not sure as you are where is the conspiracy coming from, but probably its from inside Turkey as you said, but its still a conspiracy.
For your information I haven't seen anybody who does not laugh(okay, smile) when he/she hears "a Turk is worth a 1000 worlds".

And Dan ;
1)Right, suppressing(or trying to suppress, at the cost of our lives) terrorist Kurds who call themselves PKK is something we do.

2)Turkish Republic was found in 1923 and that's after 1915. Who should admit what? What is more, historians are not sure weather or not there was a holocoast(some say there was, some say there was not), how can you be so sure.


There is no conspiracy here....Hrant Dink has been warned before by MHP types and the Gray Wolves....there is no shortage of them in Turkey. There is no conspiracy except from inside Turkey, people that do not want to see the past to be opened, the ones that are raised to believe that a Turks is worth a 1000 worlds.

It is time to face reality and face the music, even if it is hard rock!

Dan, Buffalo:

Considering that they still won't admit the holocost of the Armenians, and still supress the Kurds, why should they be allowed to join the rest of the world. Capitalism, probably, since the same things are true of China, with their annexation of Tibet,

Murat Simav(From Turkey):

I too think that Turkey has a long way to go before reaching the standards of Europe on tolerance and human rights. But I also think that this traitorous and disgraceful "murder" has/may have nothing to do with it.
First of all how do you know the crime was committed by right-wing extremists. And even it proves it is, what does this tell?In my opinion this also has nothing to do with intolerance. Because nobody is that stupid to think that this will do any good to anybody. As you may noticed, I seek a conspiracy here.

Mina, Hamburg:

Turkey has a looooooong way to go before reaching the standards of Europe on tolerance and human rights. This is just one example.

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