ISTANBUL — One of the three ethnic Armenians elected to Turkey’s new parliament has reportedly pledged to challenge Ankara’s long-standing denial of the 1915 Armenian genocide in the Ottoman Empire.
In an interview with the Ermenihaber.am news website published on Wednesday, Garo Paylan also suggested Turkish recognition of the genocide is critical for the normalization of Turkey’s relations with Armenia.
Paylan, 42, won a parliament seat on the ticket of the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) widely credited with the ruling AK Party’s worse-than-expected showing in Sunday’s election. The HDP is the only major Turkish party to have recognized the Armenian Genocide.
Paylan stated to Agos daily that the HDP’s victory had come as a result of 4 years of hard work, and said, “We founded the HDP in 2011. During the 2-year foundation period, all identities and all democratic groups came together. Our party includes all identities, and we stand for equality. We are also aware that this has not been tried in politics in Turkey before. Ours is a discourse of radical democracy with no ifs and buts.”
Paylan, who has previously run an Armenian school in Istanbul, said he will fight against “denialist policies” both as an HDP deputy and in his personal capacity. “The Armenian genocide happened here but it is often viewed in the context of Armenia-Turkey relations,” he told the Turkish-language publication based in Yerevan. “Armenia-Turkey relations form only a part but not the basis of this issue.”
It will be extremely difficult, Paylan went on, to normalize those relations until the Turkish society comes to terms with the country’s bloody past. “First and foremost, the crime of genocide must be acknowledged in Turkey, Armenian identity should be resolved and animosity towards Armenia should end,” he said.
Therefore, he said, Armenia and its worldwide Diaspora should focus on Turkey in their decades-long pursuit of greater international recognition of the genocide. “I call on all Armenian parties to wage that struggle here,” he said. “Every Armenian coming to Turkey has an impact.”
The two other ethnic Armenian members of Turkey’s newly elected parliament are Markar Esayan of the ruling AKP and Selina Dogan of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP).
Paylan described Dogan as a “close friend” with whom he is ready to cooperate in the parliament. But he was far more skeptical about Esayan, a journalist with the pro-government newspaper “Yeni Safak,” citing the latter’s staunch support for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government.
“It’s not having 3 Armenian MPs in Parliament matters, it’s what they will say and do. My party will stand out with its policy based on equality. The AKP also has Kurdish MPs but we have not witnessed an egalitarian approach from them. All the other parties need to show more effort on this matter. It was this discourse that brought us success, I wish other parties can see that so that politics in Turkey can change.” Paylan said to Agos.
Paylan, who has also engaged in entrepreneurial activity in the past, described the 2007 assassination of Turkish-Armenian editor Hrant Dink as the catalyst for his civic and political activities. Dink was one of the first members of Turkey’s small Armenian community to openly speak about the 1915 genocide and call for its recognition by the Turkish state.
“In Turkey, saying that ‘I am Armenian’ is a kind of political statement,” Paylan told Ermenihaber.am. “If you are interested in Armenians, if you are interested in your own identity, it means that you are also interested in politics.”