Secretary Clinton offers written assurance to the ANCA that the U.S. government is pressing the Turkish government to restore confiscated properties
WASHINGTON—The Armenian National Committee of America has welcomed Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s first-ever public assertion that the U.S. government is actively pressing the highest levels of the Turkish government to restore confiscated properties to religious communities.
Secretary Clinton’s acknowledgment of Washington’s pressure on Ankara came in a written response to an August 15, 2011 ANCA letter in which the organization’s national chairman, Ken Hachikian, shared with her the Armenian American community’s objections to U.S. Ambassador to Turkey Francis Ricciardone’s serious mischaracterization regarding the number of Christian churches that escaped Ottoman and, later, Republican Turkey’s campaigns of genocide, ethnic cleansing, and cultural destruction.
Secretary Clinton, in her response, stated: “We continue to stress the importance we attach to religious freedom in Turkey with Turkish leaders. We also continue to raise our concerns regarding the restoration of previously confiscated properties to religious communities with Turkish authorities at the highest levels. In this regard, we will be following closely the implementation of the Government of Turkey’s August 27 decree to return all confiscated immovable property belonging to 162 officially recognized non-Muslim religious community foundations in Turkey.”
The letter from Secretary Clinton, coming less than two months after the near-unanimous July 20th vote by the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee calling on the State Department to pressure Turkey to return stolen Christian churches, reflects the growing momentum of the “return of churches” movement among Armenian Americans, other Christian groups persecuted by Turkey, and, more broadly, by advocates of religious freedom. The controversy over Ambassador Ricciardone’s mistaken response, which was viewed widely as a bid to appease Ankara, delayed his confirmation by the U.S. Senate until October 4.
In the ANCA’s response to Secretary Clinton’s letter, Hachikian noted that: “We welcome your commitment to the restoration by Turkey of all confiscated religious properties, and look forward to your leadership in producing concrete results in support of our nation’s policy on this matter. Your powerful words – stated in no uncertain terms – provide reassurance that we, as Americans, are on the side of justice on this issue of fundamental fairness and religious freedom.” He added that: “The Armenian American community will stand in solidarity with you – as will all concerned Americans – as you pursue this matter with the Turkish government in the months to come. We respectfully ask you, Madam Secretary, to stay firm in this diplomacy. We ask, as well, that you appropriately dismiss superficial and token acts by the Turkish government, including isolated restorations and conversions of churches into museums, designed to distract attention from the pressing need for Ankara’s acceptance of a comprehensive resolution of the vast theft and destruction of religious properties.”
Hachikian also reviewed for Secretary Clinton the Armenian American community’s profound disappointment over the legacy of U.S. complicity in Turkey’s campaign to block a truthful and just resolution of the Armenian Genocide, stating: “Our diplomatic record shows that American leaders have repeatedly caved in to Turkish government pressure, effectively allowing the most extremist and intolerant domestic constituencies within Turkish society to dictate American policy on the Armenian Genocide and other vital issues concerning justice, religious freedom, and human rights. Our ill-advised appeasement of such irrational and hateful views continues to undermine the small, but growing, element of civil society within Turkey that has shown tremendous courage in demanding that their government speak truthfully about the Armenian Genocide and behave justly with the Armenian people.”
The ANCA concluded its letter with its traditional request that Secretary Clinton hold a meeting with the broad-based collective leadership of the Armenian American community.
Visit the ANCA Web site for additional information on this subject.