By Aline Ozinian - Caucasus
A series of attacks on elderly Armenians in Istanbul has left human rights activists fearful of an upsurge of xenophobia in Turkey.
The latest victim was Sultan Aykar, an 80-year-old who lost an eye when she was attacked.
"If her neighbours hadn't come to her aid, my grandmother would be dead now," Aykar's granddaughter Karin Etik said by phone from Istanbul. "She had blood in her mouth, and she was so scared that she couldn't speak."
It was only the latest in a series of attacks targeting Armenians. At the end of December, an 85-year-old woman called Maritsa Küçük was murdered, in the same Istanbul neighbourhood, Samatya.
Samatya where the attacks have taken place, has traditionally had a large community of Armenians, who have enjoyed good relations with Turkish and Kurdish residents over many decades.
The Turkish press initially ignored the assaults, but concerns began to grow in the international media and among human rights groups.
A January 27 demonstration in Samatya was attended by Turkish and Kurdish members of parliament, as well as representatives of women's rights organisations. Participants held up banners saying, "Don't hurt my Armenian neighbour".
"They want to scare the Armenians, to remind them that they will not die of old age in their beds," said Ayşe Günaysu, a member of anti-racism committee of the Human Rights Association of Turkey. "The fact that the police are describing these fascist assaults as robberies only helps to encourage fascism. They are attempting to ethnically cleanse Samatya. We mustn't forget the fact that the Armenian genocide is still denied in this country, and these events are a result of this denial."
Turkish police have treated the attacks as ordinary crimes, perhaps the work of drug addicts who share the common belief that Armenians tend to be wealthier than others.
"We need to be prudent when we discuss these attacks. I would like to wait before speaking," Mustafa Demir, mayor of Fatih district, which includes Samatya, told Hurriyet Daily News. "All these attacks have involved theft as well, so it seems there's little chance that these are nationalist crimes, if you look into the details."
Others disagree, and suspect a more sinister motive.
"I have no doubt that these events are hate crimes. They need to be looked at against the background of attacks on Greeks and other Christians," Orhan Kemil Cengiz, a journalist for the Radikal and Today's Zaman newspapers, said. "I think that by creating fear among Christians, someone is trying to recreate the chaotic atmosphere that dominated Turkey prior to the murder of Hrant Dink,"
Hrant Dink was an ethnic Armenian journalist murdered in 2007 by a young Turkish nationalist, apparently because of Dink's comments criticising Ankara's refusal to recognise the early 20th-century killings of Armenians as genocide . Public outrage at this murder led to a wave of dismissals from Turkey's security services, but analysts say extreme nationalism is again spreading , encouraged by rogue elements within the state.
"Such incidents are the result of deep-laid plans and have deep roots. The Turkish government must solve these crimes not only to save the lives of individual Armenians, but to strengthen its own authority," Berat Bekir Özipek, a political analyst with the Liberal Thinking Association and a journalist for the Star newspaper, said.
Aline Ozinian is a PhD student in Yerevan.
The article is published by the Institute for War and Peace Reporting (iwpr.net)