Interior Ministry says no hate speech or crimes against Turkish Armenians occurred during Azerbaijan-Armenia clashes

Turkey’s Ministry of Interior said no attacks or hate speech targeting Turkey’s Armenian community occurred during last year’s clashes between Azerbaijan and Armenia over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh, in response to questions from the Parliamentary Committee for Investigating Human Rights Violations.

According to the Mezopotamya news agency, the inquiry was made by a sub-committee that was working on the “Report on the rights violations that occurred during the tensions and clashes that started after Armenia’s attack on Azerbaijan and on the well-being of Armenian citizens of Turkey.”

“According to information and documents received from the Turkish National Police and Gendarmerie Command, no attacks or incidents that could cause anxiety among Turkey’s Armenian community or that could cause material damage to Armenian places of worship happened,” the ministry’s response said. “[N]o messages were found that included hate speech.”

Clashes between Armenia and Azerbaijan in the southern Caucasus triggered a new wave of anti-Armenian sentiment in Turkey last year, which was exploited and fueled by ultranationalist elements and increased the pressure on its Armenian citizens. A group of Turks and Azeris were allowed to stage protests in front of the Armenian Patriarchate in İstanbul on September 27. Protesters waved Azerbaijani and Turkish flags and chanted slogans in a convoy of cars on the patriarchate’s street in Kumkapı.

Speaking to the sub-committee, Yetvart Danzikyan, editor-in-chief of the Agos weekly newspaper, published in both Turkish and Armenian, said Armenians living in Turkey began to feel anxious after the start of the clashes in September. “[T]he most important reason behind this was the news stories and commentaries that appeared in the media,” Danzikyan added. “[T]he demonstrations in Kumkapı and Şişli [in front of the site where journalist Hrant Dink was assassinated] increased the level of anxiety.”

Patriarch of Turkey’s Armenians Şahak Maşalyan claimed the tension felt by Turkish Armenians was entirely psychological. He said Armenians do not have any problems with specific people but that there is a certain “noise” about them in Turkey. “Even though there are no threats to peace in the society except for some provocations, negative language hurts Turkey’s Armenians, demoralizes them and causes nervousness in people,” Maşalyan said.

In its conclusion the report said the hate speech against Armenians that is frequently witnessed in the media caused serious distress within the community. “Even though the legislation to prevent that exists, more diligence and sensitivity are required in its implementation,” the sub-committee said.

In their dissenting opinion, Servet Ünsal and Mahmut Tanal from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) said they were saddened by the targeting of the Armenian citizens of Turkey during the clashes and defined the hate speech against Armenians as provocation.

Several attacks have targeted the Armenian community in İstanbul in the past year. In May a man had attempted to set fire to the gate of the Dznunt Surp Asdvadzadzni Church in Bakırköy. Three weeks later, a crucifix from the gate of the Armenian Surp Krikor Lusaroviç Church in Kuzguncuk, on the Asian side of İstanbul, was ripped down. A threatening letter was also sent to the Hrant Dink Foundation, which was established in 2007 following the assassination of Hrant Dink, the founder of the Agos weekly.

In August some of the graves in an Armenian cemetery in the Sincan district of Ankara were desecrated.

A hate speech report by the Hrant Dink Foundation, titled “Hate Speech and Discriminatory Discourse in Media 2019 Report,” revealed that Armenians, Syrian refugees and Greeks were at the top of the list of groups targeted with hate speech by the Turkish media in 2019.

According to the report Armenians were the most targeted group in 2019 with 803 hate speech items. They were portrayed as enemies and associated with violence, terrorism and massacres in the context of the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict.

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