Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the presidential candidate of the Justice and Development Party (AK Party), who has been criticized recently for emphasizing the religious and ethnic backgrounds of his political rivals, has made potentially offensive remarks concerning people of Georgian and Armenian descent.
In televised remarks on Tuesday, Erdoğan repeated previous statements he had made about the backgrounds of Republican People's Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu and Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) leader and presidential candidate Selahattin Demirtaş. Erdoğan had earlier said, “Kılıçdaroğlu, you are an Alevi and I am Sunni. You should state this openly. Demirtaş, you are Zaza. Don't be worried about speaking out about this.” In response to a question posed during a joint broadcast of Star TV and NTV regarding the negative reaction these words have drawn, Erdoğan said: “Let all Turks in Turkey say they are Turks and all Kurds say they are Kurds. What is wrong with that? You wouldn't believe the things they have said about me. They have said I am Georgian. ...they have said even uglier things -- they have called me Armenian, but I am Turkish.”
Reactions to Erdoğan's words describing being Armenian as “uglier” than being Georgian has found rapid and angry backlash.
CHP deputy Hurşit Güneş filed a criminal complaint against Erdoğan on Wednesday. Güneş announced his plan to take legal action on his Twitter account, saying Erdoğan had violated Article 10 of the Constitution and Articles 122 and 216 of the Turkish Penal Code (TCK) against discrimination.
In remarks to show his reaction, Güneş said: “Look at this disgrace. Erdoğan said being Armenian is ugly on NTV. What a shame! Calling a person Armenian, even if it is untrue, is not 'ugly.' Seeing this as such is a low form of racism! Erdoğan doesn't hear what he says. If he becomes president, Turkey will not have only chosen a tyrant, but at the same time a racist.” He also appealed to Turkey's citizens of Armenian descent not to be offended. “His mind isn't in the right place,” he said, adding: “The world should know this [is a] racist person. He has defined the claim that he is Armenian as 'ugly' slander. His name is Tayyip Erdoğan.”
He also said Erdoğan's mentality was what caused the death of journalist Hrant Dink, who was assassinated by an ultra-nationalist teenager in 2007.
Shortly after announcing his intention on Twitter to file a criminal complaint, Hurşit Güneş went to the Ankara Courthouse and did so.
A group of Armenian public figures protested Erdoğan's remarks in a statement they issued on Wednesday, urging Erdoğan to leave them alone. Journalists Hayko Bağdat and Rober Koptaş are among the group of Armenians who claimed they always tried to silence racists among themselves despite repressive policies of assimiliation. They said they have never thought Turkishness was "bad", but the way the authorities imposed it on Armenians.
Meanwhile, the media was quick to point out that Erdoğan had identified himself as Gürcü (Georgian) during a visit to Georgia on Aug. 11, 2004. Erdoğan was quoted in the press as having said: “I am also Georgian. My family is [of Georgian origin]."
In comments about Erdoğan's remarks, CHP Deputy Chairman Aytun Çıray said the prime minister was exhibiting many dangerous, separatist, discriminatory, provocative and polarizing attitudes. “Looking at these as symptoms as a doctor, Erdoğan's symptoms match the 'Mad Leader Disease' described by Prof. James Toole.”
Hayko Bağdat, a Taraf columnist who is also of Armenian descent, said Erdoğan's words are racist and unacceptable and called on him to apologize. Bağdat told Today's Zaman: “As part of his election strategy, the prime minister has been mentioning the ethnicity and religious beliefs -- or disbeliefs -- of his rivals. He has said Kılıçdaroğlu is Alevi and that he should declare this so many times. The people attending boo [at the word Alevi]. It is clearly stated in the [United Nations'] Universal Declaration of Human Rights [UDHR] that nobody can be forced to declare his or her identity. What are we talking about then? What is wrong with Demirtaş being Zaza but still participating in Kurdish politics? What [Erdoğan does] is defined in the civilized world as racism. He is speaking out against claims that he is not a Turkish, that they are calling him Georgian, and saying 'excuse my saying [the word] Armenian]. ... The language he uses while he complains is racist. Secondly, why are you [Erdoğan] dealing with people's backgrounds if you are complaining about it? Thirdly, life has been become more difficult for all disadvantaged groups after these declarations of the prime minister. The lives of Armenians on the streets, in the neighborhoods, in the military and in universities are becoming more difficult. Whatever the purpose is, it is not worth it. I strongly condemn even thinking about [doing] this to gain one or two more points in the election. He should immediately apologize. He is opening up these segments to hatred. He doesn't have the right to grimace when mentioning the names of these social segments. The prime minister is playing a very dangerous game at a time when both our country and our region are like a tense fault line; [it is] a game too dangerous to play just for an election. The consequences will be very heavy for all of us.”
Laki Vingas, the elected representative of non-Muslim foundations at the Council of the General Assembly of the Directorate General for Foundations (VGM), tweeted: “The prime minister always says ‘excuse me saying' when he speaks of Greeks and Armenians. What is there to excuse, weren't we also made by the Creator?” His reference to 'the Creator' has been made by many others with regards to the Sufi phrase “I love the creation because of the Creator,” which is used often by Erdoğan.
In a column for the T24 website, journalist Hasan Cemal referred to the prime minister's statement as “racism at its purest.”
TV reporter Rüstem Batum wondered if any pro-AK Party writers of Armenian descent, such as Etyen Mahçupyan, would have anything to say about Erdoğan's remarks. He also tweeted: “I woke up an Armenian. I was Laz at lunch. I was Greek in the afternoon and Kurdish at dinner. I was still human when I went to bed,” in criticism of Erdoğan's perspective.
Erdoğan had made a similar statement on TV in 2011. Speaking to NTV on June 11, 2011, Erdoğan said: “They have said we are Jewish, Armenian and, excuse me saying this, but Rum [Greek].”
Alevi foundations condemn Erdoğan
In a related development, Alevi leaders on Wednesday said Alevi voters will not support Erdoğan. The Anadolu Alevi Bektaşi Federation harshly criticized Erdoğan -for discriminatory remarks he made about Alevi citizens in a rally held in İstanbul's Maltepe district on Aug. 3 as part of his election campaign, stating that Erdoğan will not enjoy support from Alevis due to his insulting and pejorative stance against the Alevi community in Turkey.
Releasing a statement on Tuesday, the group's executive branch said that Erdoğan has proven himself a master when it comes to discriminating against people.