Capitol Hill protest spotlights anti-Armenian hate crimes in Turkey

Armenian American youth – their mouths symbolically covered with red tape – held a silent protest yesterday, calling on Congress to reject Turkey’s gag-rule on U.S. affirmation of the Armenian Genocide, citing the recent ethnically-motivated attacks against elderly Armenian women in Istanbul as the latest example of the dangerous atmosphere created by Ankara’s denials and ongoing demonization of Armenians.

The demonstration, held in front of the Dirksen Senate Office Building, was organized by Armenian Student Association (ASA) members from the across the U.S. along with the Washington, DC “Ani” chapter of the Armenian Youth Federation (AYF) Ani chapter and other local youth, to coincide with the nationwide “Stain of Denial” campus protests organized by the All-ASA and supported by the AYF and ARF Shant Student organizations.

“It was of great importance to make our voices heard and educate the American society about the existing anti-Armenian sentiment in Turkey, which carries its legacy from the Armenian Genocide of 1915,” explained BloomfieldCollege honors student, Armen Sahakyan, an organizer of the event.  “We, as the Armenian youth, will keep our Cause alive for as long as our demands aren’t met by the denialist Turkish government.”

UCLA ASA Public Relations Director Knarik Gasparyan, who co-organized the event, explained that the effort attracted Armenian and non-Armenian youth alike, many in WashingtonDC for Capitol Hill internships or semester programs through their colleges and universities.  “I want to highlight the fact that many non-Armenian students participated in today’s protest, standing in solidarity with us and supporting our efforts to shed light on the horrific hate crimes and human rights violations in Turkey,” explained Gasparyan. “This once again comes to prove that the cause we fight for and the recognition of the Genocide is not simply an Armenian issue, but of concern to all humanity.”

Protesters carried photos and spotlighted four widely publicized attacks against elderly Armenian women, one fatal, which have taken place over the past two months, in the historically Armenian-inhabited neighborhood of Samatya, in central Istanbul.  On Dec. 28, an 85-year-old Armenian woman was repeatedly stabbed and killed in her home, with assailants carving a cross on her chest. Other attacks include the Nov. 2012 beating of an 87-year-old Armenian woman, and a failed attempt to abduct an elderly Armenian woman on Jan. 6. According to Turkish news outlet, Bianet, the latest incident took place on Jan. 22, when 83-year-old Sultan Aykar was attacked and repeatedly kicked until neighbors heard her screams and rushed to assist her.  Aykar lost sight in one eye because of the brutal beating.

The beatings sparked a sharp response from Amnesty International earlier this week, which called on “Turkish authorities to carry out a prompt, thorough and impartial investigation into the series of attacks on elderly Armenian women in Istanbul.”  The January 28th statement stressed that “Hate crimes constitute a serious form of discrimination… It is regrettable that Turkish legislation does not foresee any legislative and policy measures ensuring that hate motives are systematically and thoroughly investigated and duly taken into account in the prosecution and sentencing.”

Questions regarding a government cover-up of the attacks abound, as Turkish authorities attempt to downplay the crimes.  “The incident was inspired by robbery, there were no racial motives.  Be sure we will find the perpetrators.  Good night,” tweeted Istanbul Governor Huseyin Avni Mutlu to his 100,000 followers.  This and similar statements prompted Amnesty International to express “concern at public statements made by the authorities discounting the possibility of a racist motivation to the attacks.”  Meanwhile, the Turkish Human Rights Association stated categorically that “the attacks were carried out with racist motives,” according to a January 28th Economist article, “Turkey’s Armenians: The Ghosts of 1915,” referencing the legacy of the Armenian Genocide and its denial.

AYF Washington “Ani” Chapter chairwoman Narineh Abrahamian explained, “People around the world must understand that these brutal anti-Armenian attacks are the modern day manifestation of the very type of intolerance that led to the Armenian Genocide. Over the past two months in Turkey, four innocent elderly Armenian women were assaulted, and in one case, brutally murdered. This is a significant example of hate that is fostered by the Turkish government’s continued campaign of Genocide denial.”

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