Turkish National Security Council's report on the Assyrians
Recently Turkey's National Security Council (Milli Güvenlik Kurulu - MGK) commissioned a report on the Assyrians. An article by journalist Sabahattin Onkibar appeared on 6 March 2000 in the fundamentalist Türkiye (Turkey) newspaper under the title, ‘MGK’ya Süryani Raporu’ (The Syriani report in the National State Security Council). The State Security Council is a mechanism through which the military keeps an eye on politicians. Strange though it may seem in the democratic world, in Turkey the military regard themselves as custodians of "democracy".
In the National Plan announced by the Turkish government on 19 March 2001, the need to retain the National Security Council has been argued. The National Plan is supposed to implement reforms, which will address Turkey's accession to the European Union. Apparently, Turkey wants to enter the European Union in her own terms: with the military in charge and the 'emergency rule' in South East Anatolia still in operation.
The National Security Council consists of equal numbers of military and ministers, presided over by the president of the republic. It functions as a supra-governmental authority. In just about every sphere, whether of ideology, politics or the economy, the policies of both the government and the opposition are determined and set in motion by the National Security Council. For this reason, it is imperative to analyse the report and determine the reasons propelling the Council to commission such a report.
It is said that the report is 14 pages long. Yet, only a short section of it was published. The parts of the report not published either contained more sensitive in nature information, or, only the part published contained any valuable information. The former is more likely than the latter. The published section of the report contained information that could be gathered by a simple search on the Internet. A cursory glance of the report would suggest that the Turkish National Intelligence Organisation (MIT) monitors Assyrian and other websites that publish information about Turkey.
The published section of the report lists a number of activities and organisations that perhaps are considered as anti-Turkish. Some of those are very odd. For example, it mentions that an Assyrian post primary school has opened in Sweden. Is this such a subversive activity that the National Security Council has to know? The 'Canadian Society for Syriac Studies' is also listed. Are Syriac studies endangering the security of the Turkish State?
Why was such report commissioned at all? The Assyrians pose no threat against the Turkish State. Indeed, they have never taken up arms or rebelled against the Turkish authorities. Throughout the Turkish republic period, they have struggled to survive under difficult conditions and endured harassment from their neighbours, from the authorities, the army and the traditional authorities (chieftains, village elders). Many were forced to leave Turkey to the point that their numbers have been reduced dramatically. Why is it then that the National Security Council is concerned with the Assyrians at all? The clue lies in the last paragraph of the article:
There are several points to make here. Firstly, while the Greeks, the Armenians and the Assyrians are mentioned by their proper ethnic identifications, the Kurds are not mentioned at all. They are reduced to being equated to PKK. PKK is in turn branded as a terrorist organisation. The conclusion that can be drawn is that "Kurds are terrorists". Secondly, the sub-text is that the ethnic groups (Greek, Armenians and Assyrians) who co-operate with them are also terrorists, or potential terrorists, even though not a single terrorist act has been listed in the report.
The co-operation between these ethnic groups is the reason why this report was commissioned. There is a degree of paranoia in this. Most of the activities reported are protest demonstrations organised within the legal framework of the host countries. There is not a single activity, which is covert or is illegal in the country in which they took place. However, the Assyrian genocide claims have obviously raised alarm bells in the higher ranks of the Turkish political and military establishment. Some of the activities that are listed relate to protest demonstrations on behalf of father Yusuf Akbulut. Akbulut, a priest of the Syriac Orthodox Church, had said, "[a]t that time it was not only the Armenians but also the Syrianis who were massacred on the grounds that they were Christians". Having to counteract Armenian and Hellenic genocide claims the Turkish authorities find themselves in a situation where they now have to negate Assyrian genocide claims as well.
To respond to these claims the Turkish State will obviously organise a plan of action. When the Armenian genocide started receiving world wide recognition - if not by governments yet, but by academics - in the 70s and 80s, the Turkish governments started pouring money into American academic institutions to pay for academics to “prove” that there was no Armenian genocide. Selective release of a few insignificant documents from the Ottoman archives to Turkish academics was another ploy to demonstrate that the genocide did not take place. Branding Armenians as terrorists, on the account of ASALA, was yet another emotive tool used by the successive Turkish governments, academics and the press.
The term “sözde soykirim” ("so-called genocide") - in Turkish is invariably used when referring to the Armenian genocide in the Turkish press and by politicians, academics and bureaucrats, as though using the term genocide without the addition of “so-called” would amount to an admittance on their part. The Turkish State has convinced itself that more or less, this policy of denial is the only path to follow.
However, since Dr. Gabriele Yonan’s book entitled Assyrian Genocide: a Forgotten Holocaust - originally published in German, then in Turkish and now about to be published in English - the Assyrian genocide has also emerged as yet another historical reality swept under the proverbial carpet. At the same time the Assyrian Diaspora has been able to organise, set up institutions, community organizations, political parties to lobby on their behalf and express their criticism of governments in the Middle East whose policies and practices coerced them into exile. As the diaspora is becoming more articulate, more efficient and more effective, it is able to pressure governments in the West to sensitise them as to this historical reality; Turkey finds itself in yet another quandary. Visibly, the report has been commissioned because Turkey feels under a metaphorical siege. The National Security Council ordered the report to get a clear picture of which organisations (partly named), who (also partly named) and where the Assyrians are active.
Here it should be mentioned that the publicity the Akbulut case attracted in Europe, is more than likely the determining factor in the decision of the National Security Council to discuss the Assyrians. Demonstrations have already taken place in Europe and Australia to protest against the Turkish government's handling of the Akbulut case; many European parliamentarians have attended his trial and even Akbulut and the Assyrians were mentioned in the European Union Parliament's sitting of 14 December 2000.
The accumulated affect of these activities is that Turkey has been put into a difficult situation. As the record of the Turkish State policies on the minorities show, the likely response will be a concerted attack on Assyrians abroad using the tool of misinformation and propaganda.
The published part of the report is a simple description of the current situation. Perhaps the most intriguing information lies in what plan of action is suggested by the experts in this field. It is reasonable to assume that the report will contain such a plan. It is unlikely that something new is going to be undertaken. The policy of denial will ensue and much more money will pour into western institutions, this time to deny Assyrian claims.
Part of the report states:
The reality of the exodus and the diminishing numbers of the Assyrians, the well documented cases of human rights abuses, the restriction of religious freedom of the Assyrians, the restrictions and prohibition in the use of the teaching of their language are treated as though they are fabrications. Even the most reactionary of the Turkish tabloids have reported on these injustices.
Once again, a government report is constructed to attack a minority rather than examine the reasons of their predicament and perhaps suggest remedies and rectify the errors of the past. Evidently, the path to decency is a difficult one. It is much easier to slander an ethnic group, perhaps allude to some sort of terrorist activity, pretend all their claims are precisely that, feign an amazement to the genocide claims, mislead your population by pointing out to a supposedly "unholy alliance" of Christian ethnic groups and PKK, and then allocate scarce resources to a new generation of denialists. The new Assyrian policy of the Turkish government will be no different from the policy on the Armenian question. It is business as usual, as far as Turkey is concerned.
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