Turkish Armenians fearful after ultranationalist protests in Istanbul

Istanbul’s Armenian community is becoming increasingly fearful for their safety after a series of ultranationalist protests in Armenian areas, France 24 reported on Thursday.

A day after fighting broke out between Azeri forces and Armenian separatists in the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region on Sept. 27, Turkish ultranationalists rallying in support of Azerbaijan drove in a convoy to Istanbul’s Kumkapı neighbourhood, where the Armenian Patriarchate is located, the French news network said, citing eye witness accounts. The area is also home to Armenian immigrants.

The convoy waved Azerbaijani flags and honked their horns in what appeared to be an act of intimidation, Armenian journalist Rober Koptaş said on Twitter on Sept. 28. He called the protests “very dangerous”.

Garo Paylan, a deputy from the opposition People’s Democratic Party (HDP), called the demonstration a “provocation”, according to Turkish news website Duvar.

Following the incident, another convoy of ultranationalists drove down Halaskargazi Avenue on Oct. 6, France 24 said. The street connects the central Istanbul areas of Şişli, where a large Armenian cemetery is located, and Taksim Square. The nearby Kurtuluş neighbourhood straddles the north end of Halaskargazi Avenue and is known as an area populated by many people from Turkey’s small Armenian community.

Pro-government Turkish newspaper Yeni Şafak reported that the protest was organised by Turkish aid agency Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH). The IHH are alleged to have close ties to the Turkish government and security services.

Although it is uncertain whether this protest specifically targeted an area known to have a significant Armenian community, many Armenians believe that it was a provocative act, in the context of wider animosity between Turkey and Armenia, France 24 said.

Asia Times spoke to one Turkish-Armenian resident of the area who said she was “ready to flee with just a jumper over my pyjamas” when the demonstration passed through the area. Another Turkish-Armenian in Istanbul said his family was in the process of leaving Turkey for good.

Tensions in the area remain high, and local news site Şişli Gazetesi reported on Friday that police had been called over a suspicious bag left outside a bank on Halaskargazi Avenue, which was detonated by a police bomb squad.

Hate speech against Armenians in Turkey has been a continuing issue affecting the community. A Lebanese Armenian living in Istanbul told France 24 he was concerned about his safety in the current political climate.

A 2019 study published by the Hrant Dink Foundation underlined that Armenians are the minority group most likely to be targeted with hate speech in Turkey.