Earlier this month, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu brought up an intriguing issue about Mimar Sinan, the 16th-century chief architect of the Ottoman Empire, whose ethnic roots have long been the subject of debate. In an infamous episode in the 1930s, the great master’s skull was exhumed from his grave for measurements intended to prove he was Turkish. Davutoglu said the skull had gone missing and he had ordered an investigation to hunt it down.
During its 14-year rule, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) has often brought up similar cases of racist and fascist action from the early years of the modern Turkish republic. Though the party’s motives remain controversial, many saw the debates as an opportunity to face up to the dark pages of the nation’s recent history. The debates, however, have proved to be just fleeting rhetoric with no real consequences. In 2011, for instance, the AKP brought up the mass killings of Alevis in Dersim in the late 1930s, and then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan even issued an apology on behalf of the state. The move, however, yielded nothing tangible for the country’s Alevis, many of whom say discrimination against them has, in fact, increased under the AKP.