By Uzay Bulut Turkish journalist and Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Gatestone Institute.
During a coronavirus briefing on May 4, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan used a most derogatory phrase “the leftovers of the sword”.
“We do not allow terrorist leftovers of the sword in our country,” he said, “to attempt to carry out [terrorist] activities. Their number has decreased a lot but they still exist.”
“Leftover of the sword” (kılıç artığı in Turkish) is a commonly used insult in Turkey that often refers to the survivors of the Christian massacres that mainly targeted Armenians, Greeks and Assyrians in the Ottoman Empire and its successor, Turkey.
As the head of state, Erdoğan using the phrase publicly is alarming on many levels. The phrase not only insults the victims and the survivors of the massacres but also endangers the safety of Turkey’s dwindling Christian community, who are often exposed to pressures that include physical attacks.
In protest, Garo Paylan, an Armenian MP in Turkey’s parliament, wrote on Facebook:
“In his hateful speech last night, Erdoğan once again used the phrase ‘leftover of the sword.’
“‘Leftover of the sword’ was invented to refer to orphans like my grandmother who survived the  Armenian genocide. Every time we hear that phrase, it makes our wounds bleed.”
Other Armenian activists and writers on social media also criticized Erdoğan. Journalist Aline Ozinian wrote:
“For those who don’t know ‘terrorist leftover of the sword’ means Armenian ‘terrorists’ who survived the genocide and could not be butchered via the sword. What does ‘terrorist’ mean? Well, it changes daily: It could be a journalist, a civil society representative, a writer, a doctor or a mother of a beautiful child.”
“They do not want those who held the swords,” she continued, “but the grandchildren of the survivors of a people and culture that were slaughtered by the sword to be ashamed.”
The columnist Ohannes Kılıçdağı wrote:
“Think about a country that actively uses a phrase like ‘leftover of the sword’ in the political culture and language. It is used by the highest authorities. But the same authorities of the same country claim that ‘there is no massacre in our history’. If there is not, then where does this phrase come from? Who does it refer to?”
The crimes that Turkey attempts to hide by blaming the victims are actually well-documented historical facts. In 2019, for instance, historians Professor Benny Morris and Dror Ze’evi published a book, The Thirty-Year Genocide: Turkey’s Destruction of Its Christian Minorities, 1894–1924, describing “the giant massacres perpetrated by the Ottoman Empire, and then the Turkish Republic, against their Christian minorities.” According to their research:
“Between 1894 and 1924, three waves of violence swept across Anatolia, targeting the region’s Christian minorities, who had previously accounted for 20 percent of the population. By 1924, the Armenians, Assyrians, and Greeks had been reduced to 2 percent”.
During the genocide, the perpetrators’ annihilationist policies included “premeditated mass killing, homicidal deportation, forced conversion, mass rape, and brutal abduction. And one thing more was a constant: the rallying cry of jihad.”
Like the Christians, the Alevi community too is targeted in Turkey for being “leftovers of the sword”. Erdoğan’s ally, Devlet Bahçeli, the head of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), for instance, called the journalist Abdülkadir Selvi “a leftover of the sword” in 2017 to refer to his alleged Alevi roots. Pro-government journalist Ahmet Taşgetiren then described the phrase as follows:
“You wipe out an entity (a society, a religious community, an army) that you view as ‘the enemy’. What is left is a group of people who have survived the swords and surrendered to you. Those are the leftovers of the sword.”
Selvi then tried to explain why he is not a “leftover of the sword’:
“I would like to remind Bahçeli: My grandfather, Osman, was a son of the homeland that ran from one frontline to the other and was taken prisoner in the Ottoman-Russian war. I’m a grandchild of Oghuz Turks; my ancestors, Hasan and Hüseyin, became martyrs in Yemen. This honor is enough for me.”
Selvi’s explanation once again demonstrates that having Christian, Alevi or any other non-Muslim roots is seen as an insult or a disgraceful offense by many in Turkey. Instead of explaining why calling someone “a leftover of the sword” is unacceptable, Selvi tried to prove his “purebred” Turkish origins and Sunni Muslim faith.
“Today, less than half a percent of Turkey’s population is Christian — the result of a history throughout which Turks persecuted the region’s indigenous Christians,” wrote historian Dr. Vasileios Meichanetsidis.
“Many Turks still proudly endorse this history, with no attempt to face it honestly, or secure respect for the victims. In fact, they falsely label the victims as perpetrators, praise the criminals and insult the memory of the victims and their descendants.”
The use of “leftovers of the sword,” therefore, does not represent a denial of massacres or genocides. On the contrary, it declares the pride of the perpetrators. It means: “Yes, we slaughtered Christians and other non-Muslims because they deserved it!”
Uzay Bulut, a Turkish journalist, is a Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Gatestone Institute.