by Uzay Bulut
Insulting other nations on TV might not be a method of boosting one's presidential election campaign in most countries, but in Turkey, this method seems to work, at least for Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
When he was asked of his earlier discriminatory statements during a live interview, five days before the August 10 presidential elections, Erdogan said:
"One of them came and said I was a Georgian. Then another came up and, I beg your pardon, called me uglier things, saying I was Armenian."
This was not the first time that Erdogan openly insulted another nation in a public statement.
On June 10, 2011, he said in an interview on national TV: "There are many books, more than 30 written about us, calling us Jewish, Armenian, excuse my language, Rum [a term used for Greek in Turkey]."
Those statements alone should be enough to show the insincerity of the reforms that Erdogan or his Justice and Development Party government has conducted concerning the national conflicts in which Turkey is involved, mainly the Cyprus issue, relations with Armenia and the recognition -- or denial -- of the Armenian Genocide.
But Erdogan is hardly the only political figure in Turkey who, without reserve, has insulted other nations.
On November 10, 2013, on the 75th anniversary of Ataturk's death, Muharrem Ince, deputy chairman of the Republican People's Party, the main Turkish opposition party, said: "If there had been no Ataturk, your names would not have been Ahmet, Hasan, or Huseyin. Your names would have been Yorgo or Dimitri."
In response, Yorgo Demir, one of the very few Greeks who have remained in Istanbul and who works at Galata Greek School Foundation, said: "Ironically, the Dimitris and Yorgos, who had always existed in the lands Ince mentions, were either assimilated after being forced to adopt names like Hasan and Huseyin -- especially in the Pontus region -- when their lives fell in danger during the foundation phase of the Turkish republic, or were slain and wiped off these lands. That was no different from the atrocities against the Armenians in Anatolia and the Jews in Thrace."
Both Ince and Demir were right. The names of many people in Asia Minor would still be Dimitri or Yorgo today if Ince's party, the Republican People's Party, had not exposed the Greeks to genocide, forced conversions, or assimilation.
According to a report by Jeff Benvenuto and John Lim at the Center for the Study of Genocide and Human Rights of Rutgers University: "Pontian and Anatolian Greeks were victims of a broader Turkish genocidal project aimed at all Christian minorities in the Ottoman Empire. A total of more than 3.5 million Greeks, Armenians, and Assyrians were killed under the successive regimes of the Young Turks and of Mustafa Kemal [Ataturk] from roughly 1914 to 1923. Of this, as many as 1.5 million Greeks may have died. The end of the genocide marked a profound rupture in the long Greek historical presence on the Asia Minor."
A total of 22 countries and 42 U.S. states have adopted resolutions acknowledging the Armenian Genocide as a bona fide historical event. In addition, the International Association of Genocide Scholars has passed a resolution affirming that the 1914-1923 campaign against Ottoman Greeks constituted genocide, alongside the genocides of other groups -- namely the Armenians and Assyrians.
But in Turkey, history textbooks and the mainstream media do not utter a single word about the destruction of historic Hellenic and Armenian communities in Asia Minor, and the fact that genocide in the early 20th century claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of Ottoman Greeks remains untold.
Due to the assimilationist policies of the Turkish state, several languages once spoken by the inhabitants of Asia Minor have become extinct or endangered, according to UNESCO's Atlas of the World's Languages in Danger. Judezmo, for example, which was originally spoken in the former territories of the Ottoman Empire, has become a severely endangered language. Western Armenian and Pontic Greek have become definitely endangered. And Cappadocian Greek has become an extinct language.
But that is fine. What if many people in Turkey were still called Dimitri or Yorgo today? What if the current prime minister of Turkey was a Jew, an "ugly Armenian" or -- excuse my language -- a Greek? So let us not make a very big deal out of those physical and cultural genocides.
As Chris Crutcher puts it, "Racist thought and action says far more about the person they come from than the person they are directed at."
So the more tragic question is why Erdogan and Ince feel superior to Armenians, Greeks or Jews, the indigenous peoples of Asia Minor and Thrace, and proudly express their hateful thoughts even 90 years after the establishment of the Turkish republic.
This discriminatory mentality did not just begin to prevail under Justice and Development Party rule, of course. It is the result of unending propaganda designed by the Turkish state and imposed on its people for 90 years.
Through the official education system and mainstream media, the people in Turkey have been indoctrinated to believe in a Turkish version of history, which is deliberately distorted in accordance with the official ideology of the state. From when Turkish people commence school, they are exposed to the Turkish state propaganda -- an imaginative and untrue version of history.
When people in Turkey are asked about fundamental issues in the history of the Ottoman Empire and Turkish republic, the following answers are likely:
What happened in the 1915 Armenian genocide?
"It was a period of war and a necessary deportation of Armenians that had to be conducted to stop the reciprocal conflicts between Turks and Armenians."
What happened to the Greeks in Asia Minor, Pontos, and Eastern Thrace in the 1912-1923 genocide?
"Was there ever such a genocide? It was a period of war. People die in war times. The world attacked our country during this period. So we fought back. And how many Greeks lived here back then, by the way? No so many, I suppose."
What happened in the 1934 anti-Jewish pogroms in Eastern Thrace?
"Did Jews ever live in Thrace? I thought the region has always been predominantly Turkish and Muslim."
What happened in the 1974 Turkish occupation of Cyprus?
"It was not an occupation. It was a peace operation that Turkey carried out to protect Turkish Cypriots from killings at the hands of Greek Cypriots. Moreover, the northern part of the island has always been historically Turkish soil."
Why does the whole world call it an illegal invasion and occupation?
"Because they hate us. They always have a hidden agenda against our country."
As a result of this unimaginable propaganda that Turkish people are regularly fed, discrimination, hate speech and racism have become routine practices publicly carried out even by the head of the government and other parliamentarians. This is one of the most extensive, long-standing and systematic propaganda campaigns ever conducted in world history, and it has produced tragic results.
According to a survey conducted in January 2014 by the Istanbul-based Konda Reserch Company, 67 percent of respondents believe that "the Turkish nation is superior to other nations in all respects."
According to another report based on the results of a survey titled "Nationalism in Turkey and in the world," conducted by Professor Ersin Kalaycioglu of Sabanci University and Professor Ali Carkoglu of Koc University, a large majority of Turkish people think there is nothing in their history that they should be ashamed of.
The view that theirs is a model nation and an example to the world is much more common in Turkey than it is in other countries, the report added.
"It seems that Turkey has a xenophobic, autarchic and nationalistic culture which could be summed up with the common Turkish saying: 'There is no friend of Turks but Turks themselves,'" according to the survey, based on interviews conducted with Turkish citizens above the age of 18 in 64 cities.
About 63 percent of respondents agreed that one should support one's country even if it does wrong, and 71 percent thought Turkey was a better country than most, according to the report.
"Next year will be the anniversary of 1915 [the Armenian Genocide]. Turkish people do not tend to do historical research on this issue. In a country that does not get ashamed and has a very high level of self-confidence, people tend to say that they are a better country than others. It seems that people do not critically evaluate history," Professor Ali Carkoglu said.
It is certain that genocides, massacres and atrocities have been committed throughout history in every corner of the world, but what makes Turkey unique is its "talent" for denying them.
This mentality is what made a prime minister call another a nation "ugly" on national TV and helped guarantee his success in the presidential election.
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