Monday, 15 July

Turkish Filmmaker - Erdogan No Friend of Istanbul-Armenians

Sırrı Süreyya Önder, the acclaimed 49 year-old Turkish film director, writer and journalist, is running as a non-aligned candidate in Turkey's June parliamentary elections. He is being backed by the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP).

Onder told me that he first got involved in politics at the age of 14.

A devout socialist like his father, Onder was involved in demonstrations protesting the December 1978 Kahramanmaraş (Marash) massacres of leftist Alevis that left over 700 dead. The incident was of key importance in the Turkish government's decision to declare martial law, and the eventual military coup in 1980.

After the coup, he was imprisoned for 12 long years. After his release, Onder wrote a column for the Turkish newspaper Radikal. He was dismissed after getting involved in politics and now writes for a Kurdish paper.

"I'm from Adiyaman and was born on Kurdish soil. But I always stress that I am a Turk. I greatly value the thirty years struggle for the recognition of Kurdish identity and peace and for the identity of all other peoples. It is necessary for harmony amongst various cultures," says Onder. "The third issue is the class struggle for equality. This is the reason for my entry into politics."

When I asked Onder how he was viewed by other Turks, he smiled and said, "Just like you guessed I would. Here in Turkey, if you are a socialist, you aren't much different that a Kurd or Armenians. Turkish policy must finally come to grips with this fact."

When speaking about Armenian matters, the film director freely uses the term "genocide". He signed the petition launched by certain Turkish intellectuals asking for Armenian forgiveness.

While Onder has always received threats for his outspoken political views, they have increased in the run-up to the parliamentary elections.

He is running for a parliamentary seat representing a district of Istanbul that includes Sisli, Kum Kapi, Bakirkoy and other neighborhoods by the sea; populated by Kurds, Armenians and various left-leaning citizens.

Turning to Armenian issues, Onder says that Ankara is executing a double-faced policy of neglect.

"The minorities have certain rights under the Treaty of Lausanne. But when the government is told to defend those rights they say 'these are our citizens'. When you say, 'Fine, so defend their rights as citizens', the reply is, 'No, there is the Lausanne Treaty'."

The candidate says his chances of winning are good and that he expects to pick up many Armenian votes.

"The richness of Adiyaman today is a result of the wealth left behind after the Armenians were exterminated. I realized this as a young man and have always fought against those who benefited as a result of such injustices," he told me.

He went on to say that the Armenians of Adiyaman traditionally served as 'godfathers" for young Muslim boys being circumcised. This, he noted, was a sign of friendship between the two religious communities.

Onder also recounted the joint efforts of the two communities resulting in the renovation of the Adiyaman Armenian church in the 1990s and halting the destruction of the Armenian cemetery.

During my stay in Istanbul, many Armenians told me that many of their rights have been restored during the years since 2002, when Prime Minister Erdogan's AKP has been in power.

Onder, however, believes that it's a false view. He says that while Erdogan did make some minor cosmetic changes after Armenians, Kurds and leftists came out to protest the murder of Hrant Dink, it was Erdogan himself who threatened to expel 100,000 Armenians from Turkey.

Erdogan also launched the recent campaign to demolish the Kars "Friendship Statue".

Onder told me that Erdogan's campaign rhetoric is directed against Armenia and that the prime minister's suggestion that the 1915 Genocide issue be "left to historians" is "the world's biggest fascist move".

"After all this, how can one believe in the sincerity of Erdogan?" he asked rhetorically.


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