Turkish Community in Buenos Aires
BUENOS AIRES - Turkish Daily News - 20-03-07
It is quite impressive to see a wall decoration in the biggest subway station of Buenos Aires that reads “Ve Lâ Gâlibe İllâ Allah - There is no other victorious than Allah” or to notice a İbn-i Rüşd, a very well known Muslim philosopher, memorial on one of the largest avenues of the city. Former president Carlos Menem, the son of Syrian settlers also unknown as the “El Turco” played a great role for the revival interest in Islamic culture in Argentina.
|Colegio ¡turco¡ Hércules en Buenos Aires
Although the number of the Ottoman immigrants whom Argentines call as “Los Turcos” is quite high the Turkish community in Buenos Aires is very small. Their number is not more than fifty and even that is generous. Apart from a general interest for Islam the Argentinean soccer players like Ortega, Delgado and Batistuta who play in the Turkish league re-inforce an interest for Turkey in specific. Even the Nike store in Buenos Aires has a special section for red and white Turkish jerseys.
In every book stores' window nowadays it is possible to see the posters of Orhan Pamuk. “It is one our best sellers” says one of the cashiers at Uspide Bookstore, one of the main bookstore chains in Buenos Aires.
The role of Argentina-Turkey Friendship Foundation (ATFF) is also enormous for such an interest. During the feast of the sacrifice last year ATFF distributed meat to the poor. “We sacrificed 750 sheep during our holy day and we would like to turn this into a tradition in Argentina” say ATFF members. Especially after 2001 economic crises there is still a large amount of people in Argentina who are in need.
Most of the Turks in Buenos Aires work for the ATFF. The foundation was initiated by Elniki Hayruz, a German descent Argentinean. Today the foundation runs a cultural center. They offer Turkish cooking classes, Turkish language classes and classes on Islam. Especially Turkish cooking classes attract many students as the first Turkish döner restaurant opened up in Buenos Aires last week.
The ATFF also supported opening up a school in Buenos Aires. Colegio Hercules is the first Argentinean-Turkish school. It was established in 2006. Today the school has 110 students. Colegio Hercules is one of the Turkish schools that are run by Fethullah Gülen - a former Islamic preacher, writer, and leader of the eponymous group alternatively called Gülen's movement, or Fethullahçı movement in Turkey.
His critics accuse him of undermining the secular nature of Turkish Republic and advocating the Islamization of society, while his supporters hail him as an open-minded Islamic scholar and claim he has been subject to a long-lasting hate campaign.
The movement runs several hundred schools, mostly in Turkey and Central Asia. In these schools children from different ethnicities and cultural backgrounds are educated by mainly Turkish educators. The financially very strong (estimated at $25 billion in 1999) movement owns - apart from their focus on schools - radio and TV stations, a news agency, a bank, several publishing houses, and newspapers (among them the very successful Zaman). The movement as a whole counts several hundred thousand members, making it one of the largest - maybe the largest - Islamic movement in Turkey.
“Colegio Hercules is a secular school,” the principal Mansur Ömercikoğlu says. Most schools in Argentina are run by churches. The education language in Colegio Hercules is in English and Spanish. Turkish is taught as an elective course. “The interest for the school is very high we do not have any space left for the next semester,” adds Ömercikoğlu.
The Turkish Embassy in Buenos Aires on the other hand is not very influential. It has been neglected by Ankara for several years. The diplomats who are about to retire were sent as a last stop to Argentina. Thus the political, social, cultural and economical relations did not develop very much. Turkey, for example, could only export $46 million worth of automotive replacement parts and import $300 million worth of petrochemicals and agriculture products. Finally when this year Argentina recognized the Armenian genocide the diplomatic relations between Buenos Aires and Ankara soured.
It is very unfortunate that Turkey who has historical ties with strong ethnic communities in Argentina could not use this opportunity to open up to Latin America. Now Colegio Hercules is trying to accomplish what the Turkish government has disregarded for so long.
Acceptance of Armenian Genocide - The Future of Turkey-Argentina Relations:
As I got more and more familiar with the country it shocked me to see the similarities between Turkey and Argentina. I asked Engin, a friend who has been living in the city for about three years: “Is it me or do you also think that there are so many similarities between Argentines and Turks?” He laughed and responded: “Argentines are like Turks without nerves! They never get mad at the traffic and never honk!” Argentina's Mediterranean heritage plays a great role in such resemblance Engin thinks.
Although two countries never had close ties due to geographical distance most of the time Argentina and Turkey acted together at the U.N. say diplomats. The Ottoman influence in Argentina due to immigration and shared interest of two peoples in soccer always promoted positive feelings towards each other. However, when Argentina recognized the “1915 events” as “genocide against Armenians” the diplomatic relations between Buenos Aires and Ankara came to a hold.
Turkey called its ambassador immediately to Ankara to re-evaluate the two countries' relations after the decision had been taken in the Argentinean Parliament in January.
Ankara decided to halt four economic initiatives until the Kirchner government acts on the decision and declares that as the government they do not agree with their own parliament. Since the relation between the President Nestor Kirchener and the Armenian lobby is very strong most think that what Turkey is expecting may never come true.
Nevertheless Ankara seems determinate to go with the four tiered plan. Accordingly Turkey first will stop going forward with the planned satellite technology procurement from Argentina. Second, Ankara will wait signing an agreement with Buenos Aires on importing liquefied natural gas that can be safely used in busses and cars. Argentina is in the top five using and exporting liquefied natural gas. Third, Turkey, concerned about Iran developing nuclear capacity, is in the race to strengthen her nuclear technology. There were serious plans to buy nuclear technology from Argentina; however, Ankara now looks at other directions for acquiring such capacity. Finally Turkey who started to import meat from abroad was in the process of talking to Argentina importing its world wide famous steaks. The Turkish officials say now Ankara will follow a “wait and see” strategy.
The presidential elections in Argentina will take place in October. The candidacy of the first lady Cristina Kirchner is a high possibility. If the first lady becomes the president then it is less likely that Buenos Aires government will try to find ways to reconcile with Ankara. Kirchner is known to have very good and strong relations with France who also recognized Armenian genocide.
Starting this April, on every April 24, the Armenian community in Argentina will have a public holiday to remember the lost ones. Most Turks who live in this southern hemisphere country think that Turkey is now paying the price for ignoring Latin America for so long. “If they could have kept its historical ties with the Ottoman immigrants this resolution would have never passed” many say.