Since the establishment of the Republic, the minority issue has been a hotly-debated topic in Turkish political discourse especially with regards to key theme like the Halki Seminary. In this article, I will try to address the important events with regards to minority history in Turkey.
Lausanne Peace Treaty and minorities
The Lausanne Peace Treaty signed in 1923 is the first and most critical agreement that regulated the rights of minorities. The international standard regulation of minority rights in the 1920s only recognized racial, linguistic and religious minority status as fundamental features. The Lausanne Peace Treaty narrowed the definition of the term “minority” and only non-Muslims were granted minority rights according to the minority regime of the Republic.
Based on article 42 of the Treaty, the Turkish government took measures to resolve issues of family law or personal status and the state became responsible for the protection of synagogues, churches, cemeteries and other religious and cultural institutions. In Article 44, it is stated that these provisions are under the guarantee of the League of Nations (Oran, 2004).
The population exchange between Greece and Turkey came to the fore with the Lausanne Peace Treaty. With the ratification of the Peace Treaty, millions of people were displaced as a result of the agreement. It is known that during the exchange, the Orthodox Greeks in Turkey and the Muslims living in Greece were exchanged. This population change was carried out on the basis of religion. Those subject to the population exchange have lost their previous citizenship and acquired the citizenship of the country in which they would be settled. It is known that the Greeks living in Istanbul and the Muslims in Western Thrace were exempted from the exchange.
It is known that after the Second World War, Turkey’s economic conditions deteriorated considerably. Wealth Tax No. 4305 came into effect on November 12, 1942, with the idea of introducing a new tax in order to relieve the economy. Wealth Tax has been a controversial issue in Turkish political life for a long time, because it was seen as a “one-party regime’s oppression” against the rights and freedoms of minorities. The reflection of the Wealth Tax was mostly seen in Istanbul, where it constituted more than half of the non-Muslim tax liability.
Events of 6-7 September
On September 6, 1955, Turkish state radio announced that there was a bomb attack at the house in Thessaloniki, where Atatürk was born, and this news was announced in two different editions of the Istanbul Ekspres newspaper. On the same day, a public demonstration was held in Taksim Square by various student associations and the Turkish Cypriot Association. After this demonstration, groups stoned the windows of non-Muslim businesses. The groups that looted houses and shops belonging to non-Muslims carried Turkish flags and photographs of Atatürk and Celal Bayar.
According to Dilek Güven (2017), what happened on September 6-7, 1955, took place too systematically and regularly to be explained by a simple provocation. It can be said that this event played an important role in the loss of legitimacy of the government and the realization of the 1960 military coup.
Article 10 of the 1982 Constitution adopts the principle of “equality before the law” regardless of gender, religion, political opinion, race, language, color, or other similar issues.