Assaulting Armenians in Turkey: This Time It's Old Ladies

01/31/2013 02:12 pm ET | Updated Apr 02, 2013

There are few things more deleterious to human peace and mutual understanding than knee-jerk reactionary nationalism or ethnic generalizations. That being said, I have been shocked by the attacks in the past few weeks that have been perpetrated in the Samatya neighborhood of Istanbul on elderly Armenian women, one of them as she was on her way to church. Is this the increasingly tolerant Turkey that we keep reading about in the press and in white papers at conferences around the world? Granted, this may be the work of one isolated crazed killer; its effects are nonetheless chilling.

Although the Turkish police has apparently sent countless plainclothes officers to parole the Samatya area, not enough has been done to decry these cowardly attacks or to publicize them in the Turkish press -- the Armenian-Turkish publication Agos notwithstanding. What kind of a coward attacks eighty- and ninety-year-old women on their way to church, stabbing them to death in one case and beating another senseless in the other? Coming as this does on the heels of the sixth anniversary of Turkish-Amenian journalist and human rights activist Hrant Dink's assassination in front of Agos headquarters, these attacks are particularly alarming. And given the history of subjugation and persecution that Christians faced during the Ottoman Empire and the upcoming 100th memorial of the Armenian genocide of 1915 -- which also saw the annihilation of Turkey's Assyrians and Pontic Greek populations -- these aggressions are particularly shameless. The Armenian community of Istanbul, called Bolsahays in Armenian, are understandably alarmed and cowed. As a result they have stayed largely silent about these latest attacks on their community.

But they shouldn't stay silent. The Bolsahays must not let the forces of xenophobia and hatred win out. They should form neighborhood watches and escort their elderly to and from market and church if necessary. Along with the equally persecuted Alevi and Kurdish minorities, they must make their voices heard as much as they can in official and unofficial Turkish channels and become agents of change. Easy to say, writing from the safety of the Upper West Side, some might snicker. But the alternative is to appear defenseless and to invite more attacks.

I happen to be a great fan of Turkish culture and the Turkish language, and a true lover of Istanbul, once one of the world's great cosmopolitan cities. My Turkish friends always encourage me to visit, to spend time, even to come back and live in Turkey as my ancestors once did. But I need more than just these righteous few and their welcome encouragement in order to believe that there exists a safe haven in Turkey for people such as myself, descendants of Armenian genocide victims deported form their homes in Shabin-Karahisar and Adiyaman and a myriad of other villages into the Syrian desert. I need -- the entire world needs -- for Turks to rise up en masse and say enough! No more violence against our Christian, Kurdish or Alevi minorities. We need the Turkish government to come clean and make reparations for 1915 and we need their ongoing campaign of hatred -- in Turkish schoolbooks and on TV and in the written press -- to end, once and for all. Then Turkey can claim its rightful place as a great country and become cosmopolitan and tolerant, one fully cognizant of the fact that it is a country -- like the United States -- in fact made up of a mosaic of interwoven and beautifully different yet similar ethnicities and religions. It has been almost 100 years since the Armenians of Anatolia disappeared into a haze of brutal pillage and destruction. Turkey can transform itself from a denialist state into a beacon of hope for the Middle East, but it must start now and act quickly. There can be no more dithering. Time is of the essence.