February 7, 2011 - 19:57 AMT
PanARMENIAN.Net - With the June general elections approaching, Turkish political parties are offering deputy nominations to leading figures in the Armenian community, which has not been represented in parliament since the 1960s.
"[My running] is kind of a challenge. I want people to stick to their promises," says Arev Cebeci, a candidate from the main opposition.
Seven members of Istanbul’s Armenian community are seeking parliamentary deputy posts, holding out the promise that the June general elections may see the group represented in parliament for the first time in five decades.
“I am an Armenian, but I am also a part of the whole. If I join parliament, of course I will bring my community’s problems to the fore. But I would like to represent the whole [country] as well,” Arev Cebeci, who has thrown his hat into the ring as a candidate from the main opposition Republican People’s Party, or CHP, stated.
A total of seven Armenian candidates are currently seeking parliamentary posts; six have been offered nominations by political parties, while one is likely to join the chase as an independent deputy nominee.
According to Cebeci, the Armenian community in Turkey has typically shied away from politics due to painful events in its past. “We have always been scared by our families,” he said. “They did not want us to be at the forefront. We have always led low-profile lives.”
The murder of Armenian-Turkish journalist and daily Agos Editor-in-Chief Hrant Dink in 2007 was a turning point, Cebeci said. “In the aftermath of the killing, a group of Armenians become more silent, believing that if you speak out, you die. Others, in large numbers, have begun to claim their rights.”
The election of Armenian-Turkish candidates to parliament would be the first since the 1960s, according to Ayhan Aktar, a professor at Istanbul Bilgi University who is known for his research on minorities in Turkey. Noting that members of minority groups were not allowed to become civil servants in the Turkish Republic until 1937, Aktar said: “In the Civil Code dated 1926, the most important qualification for a civil servant candidate was to be of Turkish descent. Therefore, with this law, non-Muslims were clearly denied from civil service. The relevant article was amended in 1946 to include all ‘citizens of the Republic of Turkey.’”
With Turkey still pursuing European Union membership, the country’s Armenian community sees an opportunity to voice its concerns and find solutions to them, Cebeci said. “Our community, unfortunately, is not even aware of its rights granted in the Lausanne Treaty,” he said. “They have adopted a stance of ‘let sleeping dogs lie.’ But I think this is very wrong.”
The Lausanne Treaty of 1923 defined three legally established minorities in Turkey: Greeks, Armenians and Jews. This definition was made at the behest of Western powers and obligated the new Turkish Republic to acknowledge the special status of these groups, Hurriyet Daily News reported.