Member of Parliament Garo Paylan hinted that the government of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has not only failed to do enough to prevent hate speech, but actually has been instrumental in spreading it. Pictured: Garo Paylan. (Image source: Armenian National Committee of America video screenshot)
Billboards with images of blood-splattered crosses and Stars of David that began to appear in October on bus stops in central Turkey were removed recently, after eliciting an explosive response from a concerned opposition parliamentarian and a complaint by the country’s main human rights organization.
The disturbing images on the billboards — created by the Islamist Anadolu Youth Association and the National Youth Foundation, affiliated with Islamist Felicity Party — were accompanied by the Qur’anic verse, 5:51:
“O believers, take not Jews and Christians as friends; they are friends of each other. Whoso of you makes them his friends is one of them. God guides not the people of the evildoers.” (Arberry translation)
“Ey iman edenler! Yahudileri ve Hristiyanları dost edinmeyin. Onlar birbirlerinin dostudurlar ve sizden kim onları dost edinirse, O’da onlardandır. Allah zalimler topluluğunu doğru yola eriştirmez.”
In a motion submitted to the Interior Ministry, Garo Paylan, a Member of Parliament from the opposition Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) questioned how such posters could have been displayed or approved by the Konya Municipality. Paylan also hinted that the government of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has not only failed utterly to do enough to prevent hate speech but actually has been instrumental in spreading it.
Simultaneously, the Committee against Racism and Discrimination of Turkey’s Human Rights Association lodged a criminal complaint against the mayor of Konya and the Islamist groups that prepared the posters.
Meanwhile, although the billboards have been taken down, the Interior Ministry has yet to respond to Paylan’s parliamentary questions.
The anti-Semitic and anti-Christian billboards are among many public expressions of hate speech in Turkey, particularly in the media. According to a study conducted by the Hrant Dink Foundation, in 2018, there were 4,839 editorials and news stories targeting national, ethnic and religious groups. Chief among those targeted were Jews and Armenians. The verbal attacks on those groups appear to have concrete consequences.
On October 6, for instance, Turkish media reported that a Turkish court acquitted the Interior Ministry and Malatya governorate as “faultless” in the Zirve Publishing House case in the city of Malatya in which three Christians — German citizen Tilmann Geske and Turkish citizens Necati Aydın and Uğur Yüksel — were brutally murdered in a raid by five Muslims on April 18, 2007.
The Malatya administrative court had stated in 2015 that the victims were murdered “for being Christian and publishing books about their faith” and that the killings aimed at “destroying the freedom to believe in a different religion and spread that religion”. The court held the Interior Ministry and Malatya governorate responsible and fined both institutions a total of 900,000 lira ($158,000) for non-pecuniary damages. According to the new ruling, the families of the victims are now required to repay with interest the compensation they received.
Additionally, in September, excavations began in a former Armenian and Jewish area of the city of Kahramanmaraş, with the approval of Turkish authorities, in search of what are believed to be buried treasures. This kind of “treasure-hunting” in former Christian and Jewish areas — such as in and around houses of worship and cemeteries — often causes damage and destroys cultural and religious edifices and artifacts.
Many developments also show that hate speech and pressures against non-Muslim places of worship in Turkey are not just a political or governmental issue; they are also societal issues. According to a November report, for instance, an unnamed person from the southeastern city of Diyarbakir filed a petition to Turkey’s parliament demanding the closure of the churches there. The complainant claimed that “protestant churches and associations were carrying out missionary activities.” The petition was accepted by the petition committee of the parliament for evaluation; the committee then sought advice from several state institutions about the matter. The state institutions responded by explaining the conditions and the process for allowing new places of worship to be opened and by giving the number of existing churches and synagogues in the country.
The alarming thing is the applicant’s demand was not criticized by the parliament’s committee. It was evaluated and responded to as if it were a normal request.
Perhaps when U.S. President Donald J. Trump meets with Erdoğan in the White House this week, he might ask, as did MP Paylan: What kinds of activities does your government carry out to prevent hate speech?
Sezen Şahin is based in Europe.