On May 28, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited the predominantly Kurdish city of Diyarbak?r and delivered a public speech in which he targeted Kurds requesting official recognition and the right to self-rule, calling them “atheists” and “Zoroastrians.”
In an attempt to appeal to Islamist sentiment, Erdogan claimed that Kurdish militants had burnt down schools and mosques, stating, “They are atheists, they are Zoroastrians. They are useless. They have not and are not acting with our values.”
This was not the first time Erdogan targeted non-Muslims in his public speeches.
In February, 2014, in the city of Balikesir, Erdogan, then prime minister, referred to the students of the Middle East University in Ankara, as “atheists” and “terrorists.” The students had protested the construction of the “1071 Manzikert Boulevard,” to which the police responded with gas bombs and pressurized water.
“On Monday, we opened the boulevard built by our metropolitan municipality of Ankara,” said Erdogan. “Despite whom? Despite those leftists! Despite those atheists! They are atheists! They are terrorists!”
The Battle of Manzikert was fought in 1071 in Anatolia between the Byzantine Empire and the Seljuq Turks, which marked the beginning of the Islamic invasion of Anatolia. The defeat of the Byzantine army and the capture of the Emperor Romanos IV Diogenes paved the way for the gradual Turkification and Islamization of Anatolia and Armenia.
Erdogan bashed the university students in his own unique way: “What is the name of the boulevard? Manzikert 1071. One of them was wearing Byzantine clothes. Alp Arslan [the Sultan of the Seljuq Empire] fought against Byzantium. So he [the student] put himself in the position of Byzantium. Shame on you!”
Apparently, Erdogan knows the easy and certain way of getting votes from much of Turkish public: Target any non-Muslim community – Jews, Christians, atheists, Alevis, Zoroastrians, you name it – and get the votes of millions of people, those who might not even know anything about the said religions or people but whose overall hatred for the “infidel” would be enough to make them enjoy the hate-filled slurs.
In May 2015, in the predominantly Kurdish city of Batman, Erdogan once again publicly targeted the secular, pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) – for “having nothing to do with Islam.”
“They say they will abolish Diyanet [Turkey’s Presidency of Religious Affairs]. They have nothing to do with religion. The Diyanet that they say they will abolish has published the Kurdish translation of the Koran.
“They [the HDP party] go to extremes by saying that Jerusalem belongs to Jews. They have nothing whatsoever with Islam. Jerusalem is the most important Kaaba [sacred site] of Muslims; it is where we found life.
“We have documents that in the mountains, they [the PKK] give education of the Zoroastrian religion.”
Despite the hateful stigma of Erdogan regarding Zoroastrianism, it is an ancient faith of peace, ethics and wisdom. Basic tenets of Zoroastrians include: “Humata, ‘Good Thoughts’, Hukhata, ‘Good Words’, and Havarashta, ‘Good Deeds’.
“These three principles are included in many Zoroastrian prayers, and children commit themselves to abide by them at their initiation ceremony, marking their responsible entry into the faith as practicing Zoroastrians. They are the moral code by which a Zoroastrian lives.”
Sadly, this ancient, peaceful religion has become one of the greatest victims of Islamic jihad.
Before Iran (formerly called Persia) was invaded by Muslim armies in the 7th century, Zoroastrianism was the major religion there. Founded by the Prophet Zoroaster, Zoroastrianism was the state religion of several Persian empires.
Muslims should actually feel guilt and shame in the face of the enormous damage and destruction they have brought to the Zoroastrian people, but the Islamist ideology seems to erase even the most humane emotions of its followers.
Another social disease commonplace in Turkey is “atheophobia” – fear or hatred of atheism or atheists.
The 2015 Freedom of Thought Report by the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) puts Turkey in the category of countries which expose their citizens who identify as atheists or non-religious to “severe discrimination.”
“Freedom of expression is theoretically protected by the current constitution, but is increasingly not respected in practice,” said the report. “Identifying [as an] ‘atheist’ prompts insults, threats, discrimination.”
In 2015, for instance, members of the Turkish Atheism Association (Ateizm Derne?i), spoke up about receiving death threats and hate mail, and how “atheist” is used as an insult or equated with “Satanism” or “terrorism.”
“The term ‘atheist’ is used as a harsh insult – one of the harshest in the country,” said Morgan Romano, vice-president of the Turkish Atheism Association, at the group’s first public conference in Germany.
“Furthermore, atheists are commonly and publicly discriminated against and are subjects of public and private hate speech in Yeni Turkiye [the New Turkey] all the time.”
Given the Islamic roots of hatred for infidels, it seems that the Atheism Association is engaged in an extremely grueling business in Turkey: trying to promote understanding, tolerance and liberty in a sociologically Islamic society.
“Any person who openly disrespects the religious belief of a group is punished with imprisonment from six months to one year if such act causes potential risk for public peace,” says article 216 of the Turkish penal code.
But this “blasphemy law” seems to be in action only to punish non-Muslims or former Muslims or anyone who speaks critically about Islam. Bringing to account those who insult or even threaten non-Muslims is not very much included within the scope of this law.
The current constitution of Turkey lists secularism as one of the fundamental characteristics of the republic. The written law, which is not even put into practice effectively, is something; but promoting secularism as well as religious freedom and tolerance – through various means including public education and media – is another. And Turkey seems to fail terribly in the latter.
Uzay Bulut is a Turkish journalist formerly based in Ankara. She is presently in Washington, D.C. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/uzayb