Marissa Kucuk was a little old Armenian lady who lived on her own in Samatya, a picturesque neighbourhood of Istanbul where Christians and Muslims used to rub along peacefully. On December 28th Ms Kucuk, 85, was found dead in her apartment. She had been stabbed, repeatedly. Relatives said a crucifix was carved onto her naked corpse.
Last week, a masked assailant attacked another elderly Armenian as she was entering her apartment. He punched her in the head. When she fell to the ground he began kicking her. “My mother’s mouth was filled with blood…the neighbours came to the rescue when she screamed for help and the man fled,” Maryam Yelegen, told AGOS, a Turkish Armenian weekly.
The attack marks the fifth in the past two months against elderly Armenian women (one has lost an eye). All of the attacks took place in Samatya, which is home to some 8,000 Armenians and the seat of the Armenian Orthodox Patriarchate. Opinion remains divided as to whether these are organised hate crimes targeting non-Muslims or just random theft. Istanbul’s governor, Huseyin Avni Mutlu, insists that it was the latter. “The incident was inspired by robbery, there were no racial motives. Be sure we will find the perpetrators. Good night,” he tweeted to some 100,000 followers.
Phew. Well that's alright then. Good night.
But not everyone's convinced (I think that carved crucifix might be a bit of a giveaway).
Turkey’s Human Rights Association remains unswayed. “The attacks were carried out with racist motives,” it concluded in a report that was published last week.
Either way, the attacks have dredged up memories of the mass slaughter of about a million Ottoman Armenians in 1915. “The attacks highlight the unbearable heaviness of being Armenian in Turkey,” says Khatchig Mouradian an Armenian activist and academic who lost ancestors in the killings.
Academic opinion worldwide tilts towards the view that these constituted genocide. Turkey refutes this saying the majority died of illness and hunger during forced deportations to the Syrian desert.
No, Turkey doesn't refute this. To refute means to prove false. Turkey is in denial of this. Turkey makes feeble attampts to rebut this. Turkey goes into a huff about offending Turkishness whenever someone mentions this. But it happened. And, as Marissa Kucuk and others will bear silent witness, the same hatreds are still festering away today.
There are, though, a few encouraging signs:
A small but vocal group of Turkish historians now openly talk about genocide. Bookstores have entire shelves devoted to the topic. Tens of thousands of illegal migrants from the neighbouring Republic of Armenia with which Turkey has no official ties work in Istanbul, as the authorities look the other way. “Reconciliation” projects between Turks and Armenians have become so commonplace that hawks on both sides no longer blink.
Yet the message from the government is somewhat mixed. Mehmet Nihat Omeroglu, the controversial judge who upheld a conviction of Mr Dink for “insulting Turkishness” [that's Hrant Dink, the outspoken Armenian journalist who was murdered in 2007 by a nationalist youth in Istanbul], was recently sworn in by the parliament as the head of the newly created ombudsman institution. The case was widely publicised and helped to whip up nationalist fervour against Mr Dink. Mr Omeroğlu apparently has no regrets. “We made our decision on this case on the basis of our conscience,” the ombudsman told Radikal, a liberal daily.