An ultra-right group mainly active in the social media has been targeting Armenian agencies, schools, churches, foundations and individuals in Turkey as part of an anti-Armenian hate campaign.
Reactions by social media users have mounted over provocative tweets from the chairman of a group that calls itself the International Association to Fight Unfounded Armenian Allegations (ASİM-DER). He has recently been actively targeting Armenians and Turkish-Armenian institutions on Twitter, claiming that these groups are part of a conspiracy supported by the Armenian diaspora against Turkey.
ASİM-DER Chairman Göksel Gülbey has been tweeting the names of Turkish-Armenian schools, churches and foundations, which civil society members say is tantamount to turning them into targets for ultra-nationalists in a country where prominent figures of Armenian descent as well as Christians involved in missionary activities have become targets of violence. The 2007 killings of three Bible publishers in Malatya, the 2007 murder of Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink and the 2006 murder of an Italian priest in Trabzon are some of the painful examples of the ultra-nationalist threat.
The group, founded in 2002, has been actively holding conferences and organizing events to promote its cause, with its chairman saying they had provisional and regional branches as well as a few chapters located abroad. But it came under the national media spotlight earlier this week, mostly due to the recent tweets.
According to Taraf columnist Markar Esayan, the campaign is part of a larger plan to create an anti-minority atmosphere. Esayan, in remarks to Today's Zaman, recalled Turkey's past experiences with the demonization of Turkish Armenians and said, “These Turkish-Armenian schools [whose addresses have been tweeted by Gülbey] were established under the control of the Ministry of Education. I have also studied in one of these schools and worked as a supervisor afterwards. On the one hand, too much importance shouldn't be attached to such campaigns, but on the other hand, those responsible [for provocative claims] should be held accountable for their claims,” he said, adding that prosecutors should act.
Rober Koptaş, editor-in-chief of the Turkish-Armenian weekly Agos, also asserted that ASİM-DER's presence is the product of a deeper and darker mentality than mere nationalism. Koptaş said: “Gülbey argues that the existence of Armenian institutions is proof of Turkey's freedom and tolerance. So, according to [Gülbey], the activities of Armenian institutions in Turkey are not acceptable as they pursue ‘demonic' goals. … This approach, which associates the Armenian ethnicity directly with hostility and malignity, is a threat to our national peace.”
Koptaş also noted that illegal structures nested within the state hierarchy in Turkey -- referred to as the “deep state” -- frequently resort to anti-minority campaigns to create chaos and achieve their shady goals. The involvement of such groups was also evident in the trial regarding Dink's murder. After a lengthy process, the court found that the killer and one man who was found guilty of inciting the shooter to undertake the murder had acted alone, although a large body of evidence indicated an organized-crime link. The judge who heard the case later told the media that he was also certain that the two hadn't acted alone, but accused the prosecution of failing to prove it properly.
“Turkey cannot afford a new wave of hostility against its Armenian citizens,” warned Koptaş.
ASİM-DER Chairman Gülbey denied the claims that his organization was “targeting” any groups. He said the lists he tweeted consisted of publicly disclosed address data about Turkish-Armenian institutions, saying there are too many in Turkey. “When we said in a press statement that there are 57 foundations, 21 schools and 15 associations, we were accused of lying and exaggerating numbers.” He said they had to share the names and address information to refute these claims.
In response to a question on whether he would feel responsible if an assault occurred on any of the organizations he publicly tweeted about, Gülbey didn't directly respond, but said he wondered if any Armenian organizations would be upset if he was attacked by an Armenian radical.
He also said they were “concerned” that these groups were associated with the Armenian diaspora, admitting that his group's statements were only “allegations” with no solid proof.
Several rights groups are preparing to file a criminal complaint against ASİM-DER with prosecutors this week.