Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has created political controversy with a statement he made in a speech on 23 May.
Hitting back at critics, who accuse his government of inviting foreign investments in a predominantly Kurdish area in the border of Syria and Turkey, Mr Erdogan said:
“Over many years, suspicions toward foreigners existed in this country.
“This mind set has seemingly not changed.
“They have chased members of various ethnic groups out of this country.
“Have we won? We should think about this.
“Actually, this was a result of a fascist mentality.”
Erdogan’s statement was received with mixed feelings in Turkey with a large number of prominent journalists congratulating him for his brave remarks while the Opposition parties attacked him.
Research Fellow at the Centre of Dialogue at La Trobe University, Dr Michalis Michael, welcomed Mr Erdogan’s stance when talking to Neos Kosmos English Edition (NKEE): “This is a landmark statement by the Prime Minister of Turkey on a very contentious and controversial issue that dogged Kemalist Turkey and its relationships with it’s neighbours.”
Dr Michael suggested that Mr Erdogan is aiming to capture the attention of audiences in the European Union. Turkey’s treatment of minorities is a stumbling block to Turkey joining the ranks of EU.
Opposition leader of the Republican People’s Party, Deniz Baykal criticising the Prime Minister, said: “We do not understand what the Prime Minister meant. In order to seek sympathy from the west, he occasionally makes such remarks, which offend many within the country.
“Erdogan does not respect the nation. We are not afraid to face our mistakes.
“However, the first priority of the prime minister is to defend this nation’s interests.
“For instance, he has not mentioned the problems of Turks whose citizenship was denied by Greek governments.”
Lecturer in Turkish Language and Culture at the Australian National University, , Dr Mehdi Ilhan, was cautious in his approach to Mr Erdogan’s remarks.
“I actually don’t know what he refers to; is he referring to the population exchange between Greece and Turkey or is he referring to some other thing because I actually don’t know. He should have made an explanation but he hasn’t,” Dr Ilhan said.
Irrespective of the approach taken by Mr Erdogan, many questions arise according to Dr Michaels such as: “What is Mr Erdogan’s statement is signalling? “Where is this [statement] going to lead us? Is there going to be restitution? Is there going to be acknowledgement? How is this injustice to these people and to their descendants going to be rectified?”
Dr Michael adds, “We’re a very long way from that but that’s a very good step.”
Sami Cohen, the influential columnist from the Turkish newspaper Milliyet wrote: “For the first time you have a Prime Minister who wishes to accept that mistakes were made in the treatment of religious minorities.
“This is a historical event. But, it remains to be seen if the rhetoric will be followed by actions. Especially for the Greeks of Turkey who have serious problems.”
The persistent issue arising whenever Turkish, American and European officials meet is the opening of the Halki Orthodox seminary.