On Sunday in Taksim Square in Istanbul, there was a large demonstration organised by various NGOs, syndicates, and political parties and supported by the Turkish government. The vision was that tens of thousands of Turks would commemorate the anniversary of the Khojaly massacre, committed against Azerbaijanis by Armenian armed forces in Nagorno-Karabagh in 1992.
The reality turned out to be somewhat different.
The memorial became a charged nationalist occasion, not only emphasising Turkish and Azerbaijani identity, but also displaying hatred and racism towards Armenians and those Turkish citizens, mostly left-wing intellectuals, who have been discussing the Armenian genocide/massacre of the early 20th century.
As Turkish, Azerbaijani and other Turkic states’ flags were waved, the protesters, overflowing from Istanbul's main square, chanted slogans such as “We will not forget Khojaly” and “one nation, two states, justice to Khojaly”.
The turn against Armenians and those Turks who dared speak about "genocide" came over the memory of the killing of Hrant Dink in 2007, a Turkish citizen of Armenian decent writing for the bilingual newspaper Agos about the topic. In previous protests, Turks have chanted, "We are all Hrant, we are all Armenians."
On Sunday, the demonstrators' cry was “You are all Armenians, you are all bastards”, “Where are little Hrants?” as well as “If you are Armenians, then you shall account for the Khojaly!”.
"You are all Armenians. You are all bastards."
Some even went further and threatened opponents with conquest and death. For instance, the Nationalist Turkey Party’s banner asserted, “Today in Taksim, tomorrow in Erevan [the Armenian capital]. We might come suddenly in a night”. (In 1974, a popular song, just before the Turkish invasion of Cyprus, had the lyric, "One night suddenly, I might come.") Another banner showed a Turkish map: “not enough for us!”
Where are the little Hrants?
"Today in Taksim, Tomorrow in Erevan. One night suddenly, we might come."
Both the Minister of Interior, Idris Naim Sahin, and Istanbul's Mayor Huseyin Avni Mutlu gave legitimacy to the occasion through this presence. Sahin said:
On the 10th of April, 1994, our deceased President Turgut Ozal was in this square for the pain and independence of our Bosnian brothers. He pointed out the goal that the 21st century shall be the Turks’ to us. The Prime Minister of our government that is managing the 21st century’s Turkey both inside and outside, successfully, with its wisdom and with the power and love coming from its nation, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, will make this century of Turkey and the Turkish world God willing.
Turkish nation is the guarantee of peace, love and humanitarian values on earth.
[The Khojaly massacre] thought us once that we have no friends than us. Today, we learned that the only friend of the Turkish nation is again itself! No one or no incitement can detract us from this fact!
There has been many gross meetings in Taksim. However, it has never been a stage for such a courageous, honoured, determined, peaceful and brotherly meeting. I salute you! Welcome, shall you unity be everlasting!
So, far from rejecting the virulent nationalism --- one drawing strength from the potentially-violent response to Armenians and those Turks with unacceptable views on the "genocide" --- the Erdoğan Government welcomed it. While this may a tactical calculation for domestic support, it still raises the question: To what degree do the Prime Minister and his Cabinet share the views of those who warn that "they might come suddenly in the night"?
"We are all Khojaly"