Armenians, Yazidi, Roma in Turkey's diverse new parliament

AFP , Thursday 11 Jun 2015

Turkish Parliament (Photo: Reuters)

The new Turkish parliament will show greater diversity than before, with three Armenians elected from three different parties and also representatives from other minority ethnic or religious backgrounds.

Their presence is a hugely important step in Turkey, where non-Muslim minorities have long complained their voice has not been heard.

Three Turkish Armenians -- Selina Dogan from the secular Republican People's Party (CHP), Garo Paylan from the pro-Kurdish People's Democratic Party (HDP) and Markar Eseyan from the Islamic-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP) -- won seats in the 550-seat parliament in Sunday's election.

In the new legislature, only the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) will not have a Turkish Armenian MP among its ranks.

Meanwhile Ozcan Purcu of the CHP will be the first ever MP from Turkey's millions-strong Roma population.

The HDP's Feleknas Uca and Ali Atalan from the Yazidi community were also elected while the party's Erol Dora, a Syriac Christian, will serve a second term.

The parliament will also have a significantly larger female contingent, with 96 women MPs and raising the female representation to 17 percent from 14 percent in the 2011-2015 parliament.

New Turkish Armenian MP Selina Dogan, a lawyer, said she went into politics in the hope of seeing a transformation in society.

"I grew up in a social democrat family. I was never far from politics but believe now is the right time," she told AFP.

"I will represent not only the Armenians," she said. "Sunni Muslim women can also feel 'the other' in this country if they do not wear headscarves."

The presence of three Armenians in the new chamber has huge symbolism in the 100th anniversary year of the massacres and deportations of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire which Yerevan sees as genocide, a term bitterly contested by Turkey.

Before the events of 1915, there were some two million Armenians living on the territory of the Ottoman Empire.

But in modern Turkey the community has shrunk to just 60,000 Turkish Armenians, mostly living in Istanbul their family histories shadowed by 1915 but also trying to forge lives in modern Turkey.

Tens of thousands of people from ex-Soviet Armenia have also migrated to Turkey for work, many of them illegally.

The community is small but its historic importance is being increasingly highlighted in Istanbul, where Armenians have their own schools and places of worship.

"Our grandmothers carried heavy burden as women without husbands," said Dogan in reference to the events of 1915.

Dogan said she would work to improve dialogue between neighbours Turkey and Armenia and to stop the two societies seeing each other as enemies.

Feleknas Uca, a Yazidi, who served two terms from 1999 to 2009 as a German MEP in the European Parliament, stood for the HDP which has sought to expand its support beyond its Kurdish base.

She lauded the party as "a project of peace."

"In Turkey there is one system based on one nation, one language, one land and one religion. We say more religions, more languages, more nations," she told AFP in the Kurdish majority city of Diyarbakir in the southeast.

Another new face, from the Kurdish minority, will be Dilek Ocalan of the HDP, 28, niece of jailed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Ocalan who led a separatist insurgency for decades.

The HDP, which won over 13 percent of the vote, has called for a multi-cultural Turkey in an appeal to secular left-wing Turks of any ethnicity.

Ziya Pir, a nephew of a PKK co-founder, also won a seat in the parliament for the party.

"Kemal Pir was my uncle, one of the PKK co-founders who died in the early 1980s on the 57th day of hunger strike in a prison 200 metres away from here," Pir told AFP in the HDP's office in Diyarbakir.

"I don't have an organic or ideological bond with the PKK," he emphasised.

Kurds are Turkey's largest minority making up around 20 percent of the 76 million population.

The new parliament will also have representatives of traditional religious Turkish society.

One of them is the HDP's Nimetullah Erdogmus, former mufti of Diyarbakir who worked for Turkey's top religious authority Diyanet for 30 years.

"I am responsible not only for the members of my religion but even before them, I am responsible for guaranteeing the freedom of all faiths," he said.

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