Turkish-Armenian deputy targeted after draft bill for genocide recognition

Armenian opposition deputy Garo Paylan submitted a proposal for Turkey’s parliament to recognise the events of 1915 as the Armenian Genocide, which he said had been denied for 107 years.

The proposal prepared by Paylan, member of the pro-Kurdish left-wing Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), would recognise the death of some 1.5 million Armenians and other Christian peoples of Anatolia as a genocide, identify state officials responsible for the deaths, removing the names of perpetrators from public spaces and buildings, and allowing descendants of victims to obtain Turkish citizenship, Armenian-Turkish newspaper Agos reported on Friday.

“The Great Calamity of the Armenian people must be spoken about where it belongs, in the parliament of Turkey. It must be named and justice must be served,” Paylan said in the proposal’s comments.

“If this can be done, it will no longer matter what presidents and parliaments of other countries say on this issue,” Paylan said. “The Armenian Genocide happened on these lands, and justice can only be tone on these lands, in Turkey.”

Paylan’s words rang similar to those of Armenian journalist Hrant Dink, who was murdered in front of the Agos offices in 2007 after Dink expressing his views on the matter led to a defamation lawsuit and public backlash against the editor-in-chief. Dink had also called for reconciliation in Turkey, saying it was the only way to heal.

The Armenian community holds memorials on April 24, when in 1915 the first order was signed under Ottoman rule to exile more than 2,200 Armenian intellectuals and community leaders. By the end of the following May, the mass exile of Ottoman Armenians went into full effect.

“Public spaces throughout Turkey have been named after Talat Pasha, the chief perpetrator of the genocide, in a bid to support denialist policies, whereas state officials who paid a price for standing against exiles and massacres such as Lice Governor Hüseyin Nesimi, Kütahya Governor Ali Faik Bey, Konya Governor Celal Bey, Boğazlıyan Mufti Mehmet Hüsnü Efendi were erased from society’s memory,” Paylan said in the proposal.

Parliamentary Speaker Mustafa Şentop, from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), said Paylan’s proposal went against parliament’s bylaws as he sent the proposal back without consideration, state broadcaster TRT Haber reported on Saturday.

“Submitting such a proposal could be made possible with support from a daring outside of Turkey,” Şentop said on Sunday, speaking at the Foreing Ministry’s cemetery for diplomats killed on duty. “The proposal had to be rejected. Such behaviour is provocation.”

AKP Spokesman Ömer Çelik condemned Paylan and said his proposal was immoral.

“We reject the proposal by a person who works under Turkey’s Grand National Assembly and holds the title of deputy based on claims lacking historical or legal support regarding events that transpired in the Ottoman State in 1915,” Çelik said in a tweet.

“This proposal is also an attempt to sabotage the normalisation process between Turkey and Armenia that Azerbaijan supports,” Çelik said, calling on Paylan to “apologise to the hallowed Turkish nation”.

Centre-right opposition Good Party’s chairwoman Meral Akşener said the proposal “attempted to lower our nation’s head”.

Current and former deputies from the ruling AKP, its alliance partner far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), and opposition Democrat Party (DP) also issued messages of condemnation against Paylan.

“The reaction to (Paylan’s proposal) shows what critical levels political culture in Turkey has receded to,” Ahval Editor-in-Chief Yavuz Baydar said.

“Çelik must explain when submitting a draft bill proposal was made a crime,” Baydar said, adding that the strength of the reaction from opposition parties “creates serious questions on how democratic they are, how much they respect freedom of expression and right to pass laws”.

Meanwhile, the Istanbul Governorate banned a memorial organised by the April 24 Commemoration Platform, a group of activists focusing on genocide recognition, that was scheduled to be held on Sunday evening, Agos reported.

The group has been holding memorials since 2010, with the exception of 2020 and 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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