On April 9, a group of Turks and Azeris in Stockholm organized an anti-Armenian demonstration in the Sergel’s Square, the city’s central public square, to protest what they called “the Armenian invasion of Azeri lands” – something that is non-existent.
What did actually happen was that on April 2, the army of Azerbaijan attacked Nagorno-Karabagh Republic (NKR or Artsakh), a historically Armenian land for 5,000 years.
The aggression of Azeri military forces caused heavy casualties on both sides – including the 12-year-old Vaghinag Grigoryan. Elderly residents of Artsakh were brutally killed. Several were wounded.
As is usually the case, the historical and current facts about the national conflicts involving Turkey or Turkic republics – and this time the conflict between Azerbaijan and Artsakh — were totally turned upside down at the rally.
But what is even more alarming is that Barbaros Leylani, the vice president of the Federation of Swedish Turkish Labor Associations, delivered an extremely hateful speech in which he referred to “Armenian dogs.”
“The Turk is waking up,” Leylani said. “Armenian dogs, watch out! Death to Armenian dogs! Death! Death!”
The audience repeated “Death” every time Leylani said the word.
“There is a hadith: ‘Love for one’s homeland stems from faith.’ Those who have faith love their homeland. Homelands cannot be divided. The Turkish world will get united. I am saying this here out loud. It is high time the Turkic republics got united.
“Please come together in such rallies,” Leylani appealed to the audience. “Let’s show Sweden, Scandinavia and Europe what a Turk is.
“We do not like blood. But we shed blood. We do shed blood if necessary.”
Leylani openly incited people to ethnic and religious hatred and violence. Whether Swedish officials and prosecutors will turn a blind eye to such a blatant call for a bloodshed remains to be seen.
Leylani later issued a statement on the website of the federation:
“The speech I delivered has caused some misunderstandings and has been used by some malevolent people in the wrong direction,” he said. “Due to the fact that there was a time lag, and that I was caught unprepared, I acted in an emotional way and got excited, so I experienced a slip of the tongue.
“I have nothing against peaceful Armenians. I just aimed to deliver a speech critical of those who kill children, and women, I mean, civilians. Also, I wanted to criticize the regime of Armenia that has recently opened its arms to the terrorist organization PKK. But I was misunderstood.
“I apologize to the members of our Federation and the Turkish nation for my speech.”
Leylani added he resigned from his post “in order for the Federation not to be harmed.”
When Leylani uttered those hate-filled remarks against Armenians, he actually imported a very unfortunate “Turkish tradition” to Sweden.
Hate speech against Armenians is so commonplace in Turkey. Even the word “Armenian” is used as a swearword by many people.
Armenians are frequently called “Armenian sperm,” “Armenian semen,” “Armenian dogs,” or “dirty Armenians,” among other things – not only by ordinary citizens, but also by many officials of the country.
In August, 2014, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, then Prime Minister, for instance, complained that people had questioned his ethnic background.
“I was called a Georgian. I apologize for this, but they even said something much uglier: They called me an Armenian,” Erdogan said during an interview with NTV, and then went on to clarify his nationhood: “I’m a Turk.”
Hate speech against non-Turks or non-Muslims is widespread in the Turkish media, as well.
The Hrant Dink Foundation, named after the slain Armenian journalist Hrant Dink, has since 2009 issued reports about the hate speech in the media. The reports have revealed that the ethnic and religious groups that have been exposed to the most intense hate speech have remained the same: Jews, Armenians and Christians.
In the report of the year 2014, for instance, 32 different national, religious and ethnic identities were found to be subject to hate speech. Of all the news items and pieces analyzed by the foundation, 50.4 percent appeared to have used hate speech against Jews and Armenians. Twenty-one percent targeted Greeks, 18 percent targeted Kurds and 10 percent Syrian refugees – with impunity.
Although hate speech against Armenians was widespread in Turkey even before Erdogan and his Islamist AKP party came to power, it has continued unabated.
Everyone – including government and military officials – seem free to engage in this type of speech. Bringing those who engage in hate speech or even threaten people for their ethnic and religious roots to account is one of the rarest phenomena in Turkey.
As Europe contemplates the inclusion of Turkey into the European Union as well as tackling the enormous job of integrating the millions of refugees now in its borders, it is important that such racist and ethnic-related hate speech does not go unchallenged – or unpunished.
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