Updated: Jun 23, 2021
(HDP Party) – On January 14, Garo Paylan, an ethnically Armenian Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) Member of Parliament (MP) for Istanbul, delivered a speech at the Parliament during the discussion on Constitutional amendments. In his speech Mr. Paylan stressed the importance of pluralism when making constitutions, citing examples from the late Ottoman period. Stating that chaos begins when pluralism at the Parliament disappears, he said: “A period of 10 years of chaos started and during that period, between 1913-1923, we lost four peoples: Armenians, Greeks, Assyrians, and Jews. They were deported amidst large-scale massacres and genocides.” Upon this sentence, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) and Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) MPs verbally assaulted Mr. Paylan for using the word “genocide” and forced him to apologize. As the tension grew, AKP, MHP, and the Republic People’s Party (CHP) MPs voted to suspend Mr. Paylan’s right to attend plenary session for 3 days.
In order to fulfill their parliamentary mandates, MPs should have the right to express their ideas without any fear and intimidation. This suspension is in clear violation of freedom of expression that simultaneously delineates the limits of “acceptable” speech at the Turkish parliament. This antidemocratic practice also gives insight into the character of Constitutional amendments under debate and the presidential system that Erdoğan-AKP regime is so eager to establish.
Please find below parts of Mr. Paylan’s speech that resulted in his suspension.
“Whenever full authority is given to one single person and all institutions are made dysfunctional, nations collapse. This is the story of many centuries. In Turkey’s history, a similar situation can be observed. Whenever institutions get stronger, our country starts to find peace. Whenever dictatorships or military coups take hold, our country gets poorer.
"'When your children and grand children will call you to account, you won’t be able to look them in the eyes.' We are passing through a historic period; we are making a big mistake. You are insisting on making this mistake. You won’t be able to account for our actions when your children call you to account: they will ask, 'Dad, grandfather, did you vote for this contemptible constitutional amendment?' And you won’t be able to look at them in the eyes. Please, prevent this before it’s too late. We must draw lessons from history.
"Some would praise the Ottoman period while others would curse it. There was a system of nations during the Ottoman era. [There was] a state with a pluralistic structure, in the zeitgeist of that moment… Especially during the disintegration period, the dreams of freedom from Europe wrapped up Anatolia. The remaining subjects struggled for this. This pursuit spread the feeling that 'there is need for a parliament in the Ottoman state.' And finally, the first parliament was constituted in 1876.
"'In the Ottoman Parliament, 40 percent of those who wrote the constitution were Christians.' 109 people wrote the first constitution; 69 among them were Muslims and 40 were Christians. The same proportion as the Ottoman population… Today, we are as few as one in a thousand. Back in those days, there was such an impressive pluralism and representation. Krikor Odyan is one of those who wrote the constitution. A pluralistic constitution; every person could find himself/herself in it. Abdülhamit became the Sultan on the back of the claim that he would establish this parliament, but a year later he used the Ottoman-Russian war as an excuse to abolish it. 30 years of despotism followed.
"Every tyranny comes to an end. Those you value feel like they have won, but those you ignore either fall into silence or they revolt. Thus in 1908, the Second Constitutional Era came into play, a pluralist constitution was consolidated. Later, the junta led by Talat and Enven eviscerated this constitution, and as Mehmet Parsak said, the junta came to power claiming they were 'establishing the Turk’s Constitution.' They disabled the parliament and plurality. A period of 10 years of chaos started and during that period, between 1913-1923, we lost four peoples: Armenians, Greeks, Assyrians and Jews. They were deported amidst large-scale massacres and genocides. I call it genocide, you can call it whatever you want. Once we were 40% of the population, now we are as few as one in a thousand. Doubtless, something terrible happened to us. I call it genocide, you can call it whatever you want. Let’s name it together and move on. The Armenian people know what happened to them. I know what happened to my ancestors, to my grandfather. I am one of the 'leftovers of the sword' ('kılıç artığı') as you call it, declared null and void, reduced to one in a thousand. Let’s draw lessons from the past and not develop calamities out of it. You name it and let’s confront it together."