George Aslan, a Syriac deputy from the Peoples’ Equality and Democracy Party (DEM), has faced hostile remarks from the far right for using his mother tongue to wish people a happy Christmas during a speech in parliament.
“Our official language is Turkish, you have to speak Turkish here!” he was told by Lütfü Türkkan, a deputy from the nationalist Good (İYİ) Party.
“We have not come here from another planet,” Aslan said in response. “We have been inhabitants of this land for 12,000 years. Why can’t you admit that?”
Deputy speaker Sırrı Süreyya Önder, who was chairing the session, pointed out that the Quran was recited in its original Arabic to commemorate an MP who passed away last week and that no one had reacted to it.
The Turkish Republic is a nation-state whose constitution holds that every citizen self-identifies as a Turk.
The use of minority languages has traditionally been heavily restricted, except for those of the Armenians and Greeks, who were granted official minority status under the Treaty of Lausanne that laid out the foundations of the republic in 1923.
Along with Kurds, who constitute the country’s largest minority, Syriacs have been denied full enjoyment of their language and culture.