The atrocities that were committed against minorities during the incumbency of the secular leftist Republican People's Party (CHP) are difficult to see in the rest of Turkish history. Even though Mustafa Kemal Atatürk is presented as the founder of secular Turkey by Western-oriented circles, the secular regime that was established by Atatürk ignored minority rights that were bestowed by the Treaty of Lausanne.
For example, one of the greatest violations of Jewish minority rights during Atatürk's presidency were the 1934 Thrace pogroms. The secular Republic deliberately turned a blind eye to these incidents by not protecting its Jewish citizens.
One of the most severe blows against minorities happened under the leadership of Ismet Inönü, Atatürk's closest crony. Within an application called "the capital tax," practiced between 1942 and 1944, taxpayers were classified into four separate lists: the M list for Muslims, G list for non-Muslims, E list for foreigners and D list for converts through which a large number of minority members were forced to pay unfair taxes. The most serious of all oppressions occurred when a total of 1,229 non-Muslim citizens who objected to the capital tax application were sent to a labor camp in Erzurum's Askale district.
During the two-day Istanbul pogrom, which is also known as the September events, mob attacks were committed against Istanbul's Greek minority from Sept. 6 to Sept. 7, 1955, which were to intimidate minority group.
Due to the compulsory population exchange between Turkish Greeks and Greek Turks, the Greek population gradually decreased, and their property was confiscated.
Several years after the 1960 military coup, Turkey entered a period in which no considerable minority population remained as the secular state's oppressive policies of assimilation were achieved.
The Democrat Party (DP) and minorities
Despite all their mistakes and deficiencies, the DP and the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) are two exceptions in terms of their similar positive standpoint on minorities.
During the DP's term, regulations regarding minority schools were made in accordance with articles 37-45 of the Treaty of Lausanne. Minority schools' service records, which were lost due to fire or invasion, were reissued in June 1950.
On May 27, 1955, minority schools' teacher salaries were increased. Thus, these teachers who received a lower salary than their counterparts at Turkish schools until then were provided with the same workers' rights.
The status of the Halki Seminary (the historic Greek theological school) was improved and turned into an institution of higher education. Furthermore, the Langa Private Greek Minority Elementary School was opened with the DP's approval in 1952.
Remarkable progress was made in relations with the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, Armenian Patriarchate and the leader of the Jewish community.
On June 6, 1952, Adnan Menderes was the first and only Turkish prime minister to visit the patriarchate.
The election of leaders from the Armenian, Greek and Jewish minorities was upheld as required by the Treaty of Lausanne.
Minorities during the AK Party
I must say that the AK Party's term in power has been full of innovations and reforms that are reminiscent of the improvements made during the DP governance.
Reparations to minority associations have been made with a compensation package of $2.5 billion (TL 5.5 billion) paid to them. Moreover, minority schools and newspapers have been financially supported. The Armenian Cathedral of the Holy Cross on Akdamar Island and Sümela Monastery have been reopened for services. Recep Tayyip Erdogan offered unprecedented condolences to Armenians for the 1915 incidents.
These are only a few developments among many others that have been achieved by the AK Party.
Despite all its mistakes and deficiencies, all actions of this rightist religious government are significant steps taken to make up for the wrongdoings of the secularist leftist CHP Therefore, it goes without saying that prejudice against rightist and religious sections in Turkey should be revised from this point of view as well.
About the author
Hilal Kaplan is a journalist and columnist. Kaplan is also board member of TRT, the national public broadcaster of Turkey.