Mar 02 2018

Turkish genealogy data rouses interest, suspicion

The Turkish government’s opening of its population registers might have attracted enormous interest from members of the public wishing to find out about their ancestry, but also poses questions about the motives behind the decision to make the database public, according to the Independent newspaper.

Turkish interest in the unexpected opening of population registers in February, on an online genealogy database, was so intense the system crashed within hours, as over 4 million Turks sought access. Many discovered they had Armenian, Greek or Jewish ancestors.

In Turkey, which has for decades denied claims of genocide relating to the fate of its once large Armenian population in the First World War, the identity of citizens is a matter of national security. This is why the data contained within the population registry was, until now, a state secret. Indeed, according to the prevailing view in Turkey, the majority of its citizens have an untainted ethnic identity.

So, although Turks’ private discussions about their ancestry have been rather more nuanced than the official view, the government’s decision to make the genealogy database public still came as a surprise.

Some have expressed suspicion about the government’s motives, linking them for example to a story reported in 2003 by the Armenian newspaper Agos. This alleged the Turkish government, was secretly coding minorities: Greeks with a 1, Armenians 2, Jews 3. The newspaper’s editor at the time, Hrant Dink was assassinated in 2007.

A journalist, Serdar Korucu, recalled how the director of the Turkish Historical Society threatened minorities in 2007.

“Don’t make me angry. I have a list of converts I can reveal down to their streets and homes,” he is alleged to have said.