05/25/2009, 00.00
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Erdogan attacks the past, labels Kemalist ethnic cleansing Fascist

by NAT da Polis
In a clear reference to the Greek and Armenian minorities, the premier attacks blind nationalism that does not want to question the past. Appreciation for Erdogan’s words from the Greeks, Armenians and western diplomats. Now everyone wants facts to follow words.

Istanbul (AsiaNews) –Turkey’s Prime Minister Tayyp Erdogan has dealt what is being described as a “historic” blow to the kemalist establishment describing their “cleansing of minorities” during Turkey’s foundation as “fascist”.  Currently there is a law in act in the country that forbids any attack on the Nation, rendering all historic verification into the Greek and Armenian genocide no-go areas.

On May 23rd last, during a party congress in Düzce, western turkey, the premier reacted to criticism from opposition parties about an Israeli tender for a mine clearing operation along the Turkey-Syria border.

“This is the Fascist mentality and behaviour of the past” said Erdogan, underlining the importance of foreign investment in Turkey.  “It is easy to say – he added – that we are loosing our Turkish identity, because the foreign investment in our country involves nations which profess a different religion to ours”.

 “For many years – he continued – various facts took place in this country to the detriment of ethnic minorities who lived here.  They were ethnically cleansed because they had a different ethnic cultural identity.  The time has arrived for us to question ourselves about why this happened and what we have learned from all of this.  There has been no analysis of this right up until now”.

 “In reality – he concluded – this behaviour is the result of a fascist conception.  We have also fallen into this grave error”.

Erdogan’s declaration follows six months after those by Defence Minister Mehmet Vecdi Gonul. On November 10th last, the anniversary of the death of Atatürk, he underlined that Turkey’s foundation came at the cost of the systematic persecution of minorities and the subsequent expropriation of their economic resources, from which the current Turkish business class was born.  Gonul also added: “Of course, with a large Greek and Armenian presence across Turkish territory, Turkey would not have its current national identity”.

This last sentence provoked strong indignation among minorities and the International community.

What remains a fact however is that with Erdogan’s declaration, press in Turkey is beginning to talk about “historical self-criticism”.

The newspaper Apogevmatini, of Istanbul’s Greek minority – also a victim of ethnic cleansing - Mihalis Vassilaidis writes “it is a day of celebration for all of us”.

Ridvan Akar, of Vatan, has often written about the methods of persecution used on Christian minorities during the foundation of modern Turkey in 1923.  He comments: “Minority rights as well as those of religious foundations are a structural problem within the Turkish state.  Of course Erdogan has taken a step forward with this declaration. But the sincerity of his words will depend on facts to back them up such as the restitution of rights to those who have been expelled, the return of confiscated properties, or compensation”.

Not even Patriarch Bartholomew I misses the opportunity to remind those who will listen: “Finally it must be understood that we are not a minority, but citizens of this nation and as such we must be treated”.

Lakis Vigas, a member of the community representative assembly at the General Directorate for Foundations told AsiaNews: “We hope that this important declaration by the prime minister is also taken on board by the public administration”.

Erdogan’s declaration has also reawakened the interest of diplomatic circles who hope for a real break through in drawing Ankara closer to the EU.  But this too will have to wait for facts to back up the words.

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