‘Surge of racism in Turkey is caused by impunity, inaction and official doctrine’

Meral Çıldır, a member of the IHD Commission Against Racism and Discrimination, said that the increase in racism in Turkey is not only the result of the official ideology but also a result of impunity and lack of reaction.

The murder of a Kurdish family in Konya, the assassination of Syrian refugees fleeing the war in Ankara Altındağ, lynchings, and the identification questioning in the areas hit by forest fires... Racist acts are growing more widespread in Turkey; they spread from one group to another and target everyone who is not themselves. Meral Çıldır, a member of the Human Rights Association (IHD) Commission Against Racism and Discrimination, evaluated the alarming scenario from Konya to Ankara Altındağ to the ANF, emphasizing that the surge of racism in Turkey is caused by impunity and inaction as much as official doctrine.


Çıldır stated that racist attacks in Turkey did not begin in Konya or Altındağ, but that there has been apparent racism and discrimination for a very long time. She drew attention to the increase of these attacks, particularly against Kurds, by recalling that people in Sakarya, Istanbul, and Kaş were slaughtered because they spoke Kurdish and that seasonal agricultural labourers were continually subjected to bigotry and prejudice. Çıldır stated that the attacks were not seen, particularly by people who identify themselves as dissidents, and that the racist murders in several regions led to the murder of a Kurdish family in Konya because they were not seen and not a voice was raised loud enough. Recalling that both the government and the main opposition wanted to cover up the attack with explanations such as " personal hostility," "conflict between two families," Çıldır pointed out that these remarks normalized such attacks rather than defining the problem itself.


Çıldır stated that racist attacks on Syrians are not new in Turkey, and a large-scale incident happened in Ankara Altındağ because the matter had not been addressed and there had been no reaction before. According to her, the primary problem is the ongoing unresponsiveness and normalization of these attacks.

Çıldır stated that the government's lack of a meaningful immigration strategy set the stage for these attacks, emphasizing that the government has never acted transparently on this subject. She pointed out that the government promotes the impression that it assists the Syrians fleeing the war while a considerable quantity of money is flowing from the United Nations and the European Union for immigrants. “However, this money is not spent on immigration, and immigrants in Turkey have been granted an unclear status as 'guests’. People stayed silent at first because they assumed those who came were guests and would go once the conflict was done. When it was discovered that this was not the case, and when the conditions of the economic crisis were added to it, the idea that refugees and immigrants were receiving a lot of help was established, and they were burdened as if they were criminals. The money that comes for them, however, is not spent on them. On the contrary, they are all working for very little money and illegally.”


Noting that the main opposition's rhetoric, in particular, encouraged this bigotry, Çıldır recalled CHP Bolu Mayor Tanju Özcan's declaration, "I will hike the water bill and solid waste tax of foreign people ten times," to which neither his own party nor CHP local administrations responded. Çıldır noted that they, as the Commission, filed a criminal complaint against Özcan, emphasizing that receiving support rather than reaction is vital in demonstrating the seriousness of the matter.

Noting that the fundamental cause of these racist acts is not simply government doctrine, but also the impunity and lack of responsiveness that exists, Çıldır stated, "It begins with early childhood education, the operation of the legislation, and the manner in which the country is administered. This line is then followed by the rhetoric of the government and the opposition. Worst of all, this propaganda continues to be backed by the grassroots. Because the base understands that in the face of racial insults, they will not respond in any way, will not be penalized, will not be alienated, and will not be reprimanded in society. He is aware that the official philosophy is identical to his own. This was plainly demonstrated in the case of Bolu where Mayor Özcan's bigoted and discriminatory action was backed by 80 per cent of the city's residents.”


Çıldır added that there has never been a huge protest against racism in Turkey despite all of these attacks, and that there is no true anti-racist movement in Turkey: "We did not go out on the street, we did not stand guard in front of the Syrians' houses in Altındağ, we did not go to Konya by the thousands."

Claiming that the democrats and opposition groups merely issued words of denunciation behind closed doors, she continued, “Yes, there was a social media backlash. A few political parties, such as the HDP, have responded, but this is insufficient. This is not a problem that should be smoothed over with a press release or criticism. Democracy forces and opposition parties must work together to find a solution. Racism has long existed in this region. Armenians, Greeks, Syriacs, Jews, Christians, Kurds, and Alevis have all been targeted in the past. A Cemevi (Alevi house of prayer) was recently attacked, and before that, the walls of a church were desecrated. Aside from the lack of a response to the attacks, the lack of a hate crime statute exacerbates racism.”


According to Çıldır, it is extremely difficult to fight racism in a society where racist speech is not even recognized as a racist speech. She stated that as a commission, they do various research and arrange conferences to improve public awareness, but they do not receive the necessary attention. She said that such discriminating messages can be employed by anybody, from academics to artists, and added, "Racism has grown so embedded in this geography that it is very difficult to break it. This is true both in our current and distant history. There is no penalty for a professor or a mayor making racist words. I've been losing faith in this recently. We are not even 10% of the people that oppose racism. To avoid this, a section of parliament must band together and put pressure on a law to be passed."


Çıldır stated that racial tactics, statements, and attacks should all be punished, emphasizing the importance of the judiciary. Recalling that the deceased family in Konya had previously been attacked, but the attackers had been released, Çıldır stated, "A criminal consequence is obviously necessary here. The pending cases must be supported by bar associations which are not involved in this matter. In fact, there are just a handful of bar groups that have condemned the racist attack in Konya. As a result, there is no agreement in this regard. In such circumstances, hundreds of lawyers should be involved, and bar groups should issue statements. ”

Çıldır stated that unless a substantial solution is found and the cause-effects are not spoken correctly, a new one will be added to these attacks every day, pointing out that these discussions will always be incomplete without opposing the war policies, and the target will always be in the wrong direction. She emphasized that action must be taken immediately to stop this hazardous trend, and that the language used by the government and the main opposition should alter, and that democratic forces and opposition parties should work together to find a solution.