Thursday, April 07, 2011

Big Changes Open Politics to Turkish Minorities

Markus Urek was 15 when his Syriac Christian family grew so fearful for the lives of their children in Turkey that they sent them abroad.

Syriac Christians have lived in southeastern Anatolia for almost two millennia, but over the past decades they have dwindled to a tiny minority in the Turkish republic, their numbers reduced by poverty, persecution and the war fought between Kurdish rebels and the Turkish Army on their ancestral homeland.

Mr. Urek spent years shuttling between Germany, Turkey and the United States to complete his education before returning to settle in Ankara last year.

Now he is running for Parliament. “If I am elected, I will be the first Syriac deputy in the history of this country — not only in the Turkish Republic, but the Ottoman Empire as well,” Mr. Urek, 33, said in an interview. “Turkish democracy has improved. That’s why I have the courage to try.”

Just eight years ago, such a run for office would have been unthinkable, Mr. Urek said. “Every Syriac knew it was impossible to be in Parliament, that’s why no one tried.” Now, he said, “I think I have a chance.”

Mr. Urek, a devout Christian, is hoping for a place on the ticket of the Islam-rooted Justice and Development Party, or AKP, Turkey’s governing party, which he credits for much of the country’s political progress.

Turkey is preparing for a general election on June 12, and though little suspense surrounds the outcome, the campaign reflects just how radically this society has transformed itself in the past decade by widening individual, religious and ethnic rights under Turkey’s bid to join the European Union.


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