In an Armenian Activist, Turkey’s Purge Victims Find a Friend, a Braveheart and a Passionate Defender

Turkey’s rapidly shifting political complexion upends century-old public perceptions among and about communities. An Armenian activist emerges as a hero for Turkey’s forgotten purge victims after her heroic battle for their cause.

Activist Natali Avazyan.

As political authorities unleashed the demons of a repressive regime in the aftermath of an ill-fated coup attempt in 2016, to defend purge victims was to risk one’s professional job, security and even freedom.

Only a few people came out to defy the threat of imprisonment and social ostracization when they, with all available means at their disposal, displayed unyielding support for people who were dismissed by blanket decrees during the emergency rule and who were condemned into a protracted social death.

Natali Avazyan, with her large following on Twitter, was and is one of them. A Turkish citizen of Armenian origin, Avazyan did what many Turks or Kurds failed to do — she rose to the occasion to unflinchingly support the cause of purge victims during the most repressive episodes of the post-coup clampdown, which, even three years after the coup and one year after the end of the emergency rule, shows no signs of winding down.

She heroically embraced the cause of KHK people, a term particularly attributed to sacked public workers. As an emerging customary practice, good deeds and good people never go unpunished in contemporary Turkey. Being a Samaritan to extend your hand to a group of purged people is strictly prohibited by unwritten laws and customary practices inherently embedded in the government’s opaque management style that came to characterize the abiding arbitrariness in legal and political affairs in the post-coup era.

Avazyan, the mother of more than 700 imprisoned babies, the friend of 50,000 or so unjustly jailed government critics and the defender of all kinds of oppressed, was detained by police on Tuesday. Earlier in the day, she informed the public on Twitter about the police raid and search at home.

What prompted her detention was a tweet about Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu’s father. Avazyan, to the chagrin of the foreign minister, revealed a detail about his father’s murky past. But when she used a nickname invoked by people to refer to Cavusoglu’s father, that landed her in troubled territory.

Her detention sparked outrage among opposition lawmakers, with Omer Faruk Gergerlioglu expressing his indignation over the arrest of the activist by authorities due to a tweet.

Biologically, Avazyan never became a mother. But sociologically speaking, she has become the mother of a generation of babies, who grow in Turkey’s prisons. The plight of imprisoned babies constitutes a reigning symbol of the post-coup persecution and its unfathomable depth. This issue is treated as no more than an insignificant footnote in media. It is even lost among an ocean of tragedies that took a banality of their own and that no longer commands attention from the public except for people like Natali Avazyan.

Before she was taken by police from her home, she vowed to raise the issue of babies as much as she can once she is released from the custody. Her passionate defense of purge victims at most critical moments when everybody complacently looked the other way endeared her to a large segment of people. A Twitter hashtag was soon formed to mount public pressure on authorities to release the activist.

Avazyan’s individual efforts once again amplify a simple fact that fighting for justice has no bounds, no ethnic or ideological boundaries, and has no religion. It is a universal form of resistance that transcends all kinds of divisions, uniting people in the hour of peril and need. Avazyan, whose ancestors had gone through a terrible ordeal in 1915, did not rejoice when a large segment of people within bureaucracy and society faced wrenching repression on a fathomless scale. She simply rushed to the help of victims with all means in her possession.

Before anything else, she possesses a good heart, boundless compassion and an abiding determination. She also has altruism and benevolence that she extends to people with any political persuasion or social affiliation without any regard for a possible legal backlash. It is this fearlessness and defiance that landed her in custody. And it would also get her out, especially after Turks and Kurds united on social media in a rare moment to demand her release.

And it did. After a strong display of solidarity, Avazyan has been released on the condition of judicial oversight and regular inspection at a police station.

New York-based writer. Politics, culture, literary criticism, art, and technology. American political affairs, Turkey, MidEast, and beyond. Twitter: @abyasun

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