Sunday, July 29, 2007

“Armenian, no matter who”?

As the polls on July 22 elections draw closer, the question repeated in the run-up to every election is being asked once again: Can an Armenian be elected to parliament? As you know, during the Republican era, Armenians such as Berç Türker, Mıgırdiç Şellefyan and Dr. Zakar Tarver had been elected to parliament. Although it seems unlikely at present, the majority believe it would be a positive step to have an Armenian member of parliament.

Obviously it is an important step forward for the concept of citizenship to have parties from different sections of the political spectrum to be open to people from every section of society and to have citizens from the minority communities with differing ideologies to participate in politics among the ranks of various parties. For one moment let’s assume that one of the deerskin seats of the parliament is occupied by an Armenian after July 22. First of all one should concede that it is the identity of the parliament member that counts, rather than his/her ethnic identity. Do we really have the luxury of saying “let there be an Armenian in parliament, no matter who”?

An Armenian who gets elected to the parliament for any party will, without doubt, be perceived as the “spokesperson of the Turkish Armenian community” by the public. This perception will overlook that different political views exist among Armenians. Are not the views and priorities of a candidate more important than him/her being Armenian by chance?

The problems and questions from the viewpoint of the Armenian community are mostly clear. What is the candidate’s view of nationalism? What does s/he think about the injustices non-muslim foundations face, the racist expressions in school textbooks? What reaction will s/he have when on April 23 children from all over the world sing songs in their native languages but Armenian poetry cannot be read in Armenian schools? Will s/he have a few words to say to Bayram Meral, a CHP member of parliament, who openly discriminates against Armenians during parliament sessions and went on and on about “Agop’s property”? Most importantly, will the candidate be able to stand up against his own party and show the political courage and foresight necessary to criticize party decisions in the face of problems and be present as a supporter of democracy and human rights in parliament rather than a showcase token?

Verkin Arıoba, who has been mentioned as a candidate for Istanbul from the AKP, once accosted Orhan Pamuk during a dinner and accused the author of “putting on a show to sell books” when Pamuk was on trial after being charged under article 301 for his interview to a Swedish newspaper and was being assaulted by nationalists on his way to court. It is the natural right for people like Arıoba, or Levon Panos Dabağyan and Keğam Karabetyan from the nationalist platform to engage in politics in accordance with their viewpoints and there are no barriers to them becoming prominent on their chosen platforms. But it would be a great mistake to present them as representatives of the Armenian community in any election.

Perhaps the problem lies with the internal dynamics of the Armenian community which still does not have a fully functioning democratic process and has been programmed throughout centuries to not say anything about the state of affairs in the country or in the world. But it should not be forgotten that this is a direct result of official pressures that have kept Armenians from being politicized, from claiming their freedom of speech, from talking about the injustices they have suffered.

Translated by Deniz Akkuş

May 25, 2007

No comments: