Voters went to the polls April 16 to vote on a new draft constitution that would officially increase the powers of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The opponents of the bill including the Republican People’s Party (CHP), the main opposition party in Turkey’s parliament, have been trying to fight it in an environment where deviation from the point of view of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) is often labeled by the government and its media as “support of terrorism” or “treason.”
However, the CHP party is not and has never been a beacon of democracy either. A few days ago, Hüsnü Bozkurt, an MP of the CHP, which lists “laicism” (secularism) as one of its principles, said: “If the ‘yes’ vote comes out of the ballot box, we will chase you and your extended families and throw all of you into the sea.” He elaborated on the CHP-supporting Halk TV channel:
“Let’s say the result is ‘yes’. Let no one rejoice. We will start with Samsun again[where, according to the official Turkish historiography, the Turkish “war against imperialism” was started in 1919], then go to Amasya, Sivas [where meetings were held by Turkish nationalists as to how they should “save” Asia Minor in 1919] and to Ankara. And we will go to Inonu, Sakarya, and Dumlupinar [where Turks fought against the Greek military during 1920s] and chase you to Izmir and throw you and your entire extended families as well as all imperialists into the sea. If we do not do that, let our mothers’ milk not be halal to us.”
Bozkurt was referring to the Turkish genocidal act in which Turkish nationalists threw Greek and Armenian civilians of Izmir (then Smyrna) into the Aegean Sea in September 1922.
Turkish troops stormed Smyrna in Asia Minor, which at that time was a predominantly Christian city. While Allied warships looked on, Turkish forces engaged in pillage, rape and slaughter in the Greek and Armenian neighborhoods. They then set fire to the city and destroyed much of it, shifting the population ratio between Muslims and non-Muslims. Tens of thousands of Christians lost their lives and the rest were forced into exile.
A year later, in 1923, Turkish nationalists led by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, otherwise known as Kemalists, declared the independence of the Turkish republic in Ankara.
When the AKP government angrily reacted to Bozkurt’s words in which he threatened the “yes” voters, he attempted to clarify, speaking to a group of his party supporters in the city of Konya on April 10. Repeating his “Samsun-Amasya-Sivas-Inonu-Sakarya-Dumlupinar-Ankara-Izmir” formula, he emphasized that he is an educated man who knows what he is talking about.
“I wore the uniform of our military for 20 years. I slept at a tent during the Cyprus operation and worked as a doctor for 44 years in this country. I have sufficient intelligence to have received a degree in medicine and am aware of every single word I utter…Those who have set this trap for this nation should not rejoice…My words target imperialists and those who set this trap on the constitution and who want to divide my country.”
Bozkurt is not the only politician who openly takes pride in the actions perpetrated by Turkish forces in September 1922. An MP of the CHP, Deniz Baykal, who served as the president of the CHP from 1995 to 2010 and as a minister in several previous governments, also referred to the ethnic cleansing in 1922, saying:
“If ‘no’ comes out of the ballot box, we will rejoice as though we threw the enemy into the sea in Izmir in September 1922.”
In fact, “We have buried the Greeks in the sea” is a common and proudly used expression in Turkey, which has for decades been promoted by the Turkish state.
Apparently, the main difference between the Kemalist and Islamist Turkey is that Kemalists kept their oppression and extermination of human beings – Christians, Jews, Kurds, Yazidis, and Alevis, among others – inside the boundaries of Turkey whereas Islamists also threaten and target the West. However, the extermination by Kemalists of non-Muslim communities in Turkey seems to have paved the way for the rise of the Islamist AKP, currently ruling Turkey.
The violent war of ethnic cleansing against Christians of Izmir was completed in 1922 but the cultural genocide is still ongoing. On April 7, the Turkish newspaper Hurriyet published a news story titled: “Ruined Aegean houses going for premium prices.”
However, a more truthful title for the report would be “Ruined Greek houses in Smyrna emptied of its original inhabitants through genocide going for premium prices.”
The current population of the Greek-speaking Orthodox citizens of Turkey is only around 1,700. The decades of oppression and ethnic cleansing went on with the participation of much of the Turkish public – both secular and Islamist. The same Turks that are now the target of the fanatic Muslims were the ones that gladly stood by or actively participated in the oppression of Greeks, Armenians and Jews – with the creation of punitive laws, extrajudicial killings and outright slaughters.
Being part and parcel of what was done to Christians and Jews, the original inhabitants of Turkey, the so-called “secular” Turks themselves institutionalized the tactics and methods used today by the current Turkish government. The CHP as the founding party of Turkey – through its repressive and even genocidal policies and actions – is largely responsible for the lack of human rights in the country.
One would think that “secular” or “moderate” Muslim Turks – particularly those representing or supporting the CHP – would at least now learn lessons from the crimes they have committed, and express regret, guilt and shame for the illegality and injustice to non-Muslim communities. But they do not seem to be about that. Instead, they still publicly praise the massacres and declare that they are ready to throw other people into the sea. Is it any wonder why there has never been rule of law and democracy in Turkey?
Uzay Bulut is a Turkish journalist formerly based in Ankara. She is presently in Washington, D.C. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/uzayb