No Discrimination, Just Anatolian

A cool summer evening with moonlight reflecting on the sea and everything, a place on Turkish side of Aegean coast; it’s Ayvalik in my imagination, just across Lesbos Island…

A crowded table; blues and melancholy in the notes accompanying the humming of friends:

I made a toast to the opposite shore
‘Efe’ s* stood up to say cheers
I blew my love, friends have caught
They wailed for the fate.

(*Efe were the leaders of Turkish irregular soldiers and guerillas from the Aegean Region of Turkey. They are known by their contribution to Turkish Independence war.)

A quote from a magnificent song of Sezen Aksu, the undeniable icon of Turkish pop music; describes the emotions of homesickness of an Anatolian who went to Greece through exchange of population. In the early twentieth century; when the individuals of Anatolia passed through one of the darkest phases of their history with their lands occupied by allies, they rose up against their ill destiny and declared independence. Following the war, on 30 January 1923, the Governments of Greece and Turkey signed the “Convention on the Exchange of Greek and Turkish Populations” in Lausanne, Switzerland. Article 1 of the Convention states that “As from the 1st May, 1923, there shall take place a compulsory exchange of Turkish nationals of the Greek Orthodox religion established in Turkish territory, and of Greek nationals of the Moslem religion established in Greek territory.” Thus, excluding the Greek inhabitants of Istanbul (in the original document of the convention it was referred as Constantinople) and the Turkish inhabitants of Western Thrace (Article 2), the Greek Orthodox in Turkey and the Turks in Greece were exchanged and forced to leave their lands because of the circumstances of those periods. Longing stories have been inherited from both sides, like everyone who had to leave their land. Pontian Greeks, an ethnically Greek group who traditionally lived on the shores of the Black Sea and in the Pontic Mountains (North Anatolian Mountains) of northeastern Anatolia, were also included and sent to Greece as part of the Population Exchange Convention.

Is it racism?

After a long time, the Turkish public was launched once again with Pontian Greeks, but in a negative manner as it can get, much like an insult to the party being addressed. AKP (Justice and Development Party) Esenler Mayor Tevfik Göksu indicated that CHP Istanbul candidate Ekrem Imamoğlu, whose home city is Trabzon, was ‘Pontus,’ adding ‘It’s a massive game.’ Speaking at an iftar program in Istanbul in mid-May, Göksu said in his speech: “What does the Greek press say? Istanbul is a Greek winner. Wait a minute! Where does this friend come from? Where does the candidate for CHP come from? It’s a huge game.”

Meriç Senyüz from Independent Turkish spoke as the source of the accusations to Ioanna Kleftogianni, who was the journalist of the aforementioned news. Kleftogianni said that “The title was ‘One day, with the Black Sea man (from Pontus), which took the town from Erdoğan.’ The expression ‘Pontus’ is solely geographical. In the news, the Greek and/or Greek origin of Mr. Imamoglu was not even implied in the slightest word. In Greek, the Black Sea is’ efxinos pontos’ (Εύξεινος Πόντος ), so anyone born or living in that area is called Pontius in Greek. This is a geographical expression, not ethnic or religious. ” (quoted from Sputnik News Turkey)

Minister of the Interior Suleyman Soylu came to Trabzon for Eid Al Fitr events on June 4 and was protested at the airport by the people waiting for Istanbul candidate Ekrem Imamoglu from the CHP. In a declaration on the topic, Interior Minister Soylu said. “The group waiting for the CHP candidate was at the airport when I arrived. I was told by one of them to watch my step. I did not come here from the side of Selahattin Demirtaş (former co-chair of the pro-Kurdish party, who had been in prison for more than three years) I am watching my step. May God be my witness I did no wrong to my people.” Istanbul Stock Exchange Chairman and Turkey Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges (TOBB) Vice President Ali Kopuz commented on the protest as “The groups protesting Süleyman Soylu are Pontians looking like Muslims; like Ekrem,” he tweeted.

And, on top of all those above, President Erdogan took part in the Tarawih prayer organized by the Turkish Religious Affairs and Religious Foundation on the 566th anniversary of the conquest of Istanbul on June 1 at Istanbul Yenikapı meeting area. Erdogan talked after the prayer and spoke about the rerun elections to be held in the Mayorship of Istanbul on June 23, adding “This is Istanbul, this is not Constantinople, and there are those who want to see it like this. We have 22 days against those who want to see it as Constantinople. Within 22 days, we need to reach all our friends day and night to relay the facts.”

Inexplicable strategy, tactic or whatever

President Erdogan’s allies have launched a smear campaign against opposition candidate Istanbul mayorship, suggesting he is hiding a secret heritage of Greece. In latest days, as stated above, conspiracy theories have emerged on social media and have been repeated by AKP officials as part of what seems to be a racist effort to cast doubt on Ekrem Imamoglu’s lineage, as claimed to be ahead in the polls. The redo campaign approach, however, starting with the whining of “but they have stolen our votes” on groundless allegations was completely wrong, and Pontian discussions carried a level above in irrationality. It’s really hard to believe that the ruling party’s senior officials can’t see the Black Sea region’s individuals are personally taking these allegations. This strategy, tactics or whatever name they give it will not work for the advantage of AKP candidate Binali Yıldırım, and it is quite inexplicable as AKP is a stronghold in most of the region and people of the region known by their nationalistic tendencies.

Service break

On Eid Al Fitr’s first day, CHP candidate Ekrem Imamoğlu toured the Black Sea region beginning with Trabzon, and you might say it’s quite confusing to visit and rally in a completely distinct location for an Istanbul candidate. First of all, it was a nice move, indeed a service break. Istanbul is a city formed mostly from immigrants, with almost 10% of the inhabitants coming from the Black Sea area. Your links to your local origins, home town (mostly where your father was born) are very important; due to immigration and cultural trends, and regardless of the town you are enrolled as a voter, you belong to the local roots of your father. It is also important to note that people return to their hometown in Eids to visit their families and relatives. Therefore living in Istanbul and being an Istanbulite are completely distinct things, and as in the instance of Ekrem Imamoğlu, who initially came from Trabzon, it is quite normal to visit his home city among thousands of other people. Moreover, after all AKP’s Pontus allegations, visiting and rallying in Trabzon, Ekrem Imamoğlu indicates that he is not influenced by the ruling party’s abuse campaign. Yet he used and benefited for himself from the impacts of those allegations on individuals. It is not simple to obtain support from the Black Sea area, AKP’s stronghold for the most part, for a left-wing politician, but Ekrem Imamoğlu received support or at least silent consent through the unreasonable campaign of governing party.

Reasonable and silent majority

There is a reasonable and silent majority representing and following common sense among Turkish people. They understand from the core that the interest of Imamoglu was not due to an external force or the help of illegal constructions, but as the society’s response to the government that has ruled for the past 17 years. That intolerance of defeat after the election results of March 31 is seen and noted, as noted since AKP’s first electoral defeat in general elections in June 2015, when they lost the parliamentary majority for the first time. As in the 2015 redo election example, this time in Istanbul, AKP forced another rerun. It rolled up for a better solution in 2015, but this time it doesn’t seem like that.

The governing party has added this time the polarization discourse over Anatolian Greeks to the burden of the redo elections. Yet still, the silent majority of Turkish people has benefited from dark-period experiences and would like to live together in peace by embracing all its colors and differences on those fruitful lands of Anatolia; although they have inherited longing stories, they don’t want to seize the chance to share the same food, memory or a song.

As I’ve said, a crowded table at Ayvalik, right across Lesbos Island; blues and melancholy in the notes accompanying friends’ humming:

I placed moonlight to my wounds, as it was salt

Moon being the only witness

Laurel branch in one hand

Your love in other

My heart stayed in Aegean

For original please follow

#TurkishElections #Turkey #Pontian #Istanbul




Researcher, translator and definitely a daydreamer

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Almila İlhan

Almila İlhan

Researcher, translator and definitely a daydreamer

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