BY HARUT SASSOUNIAN
In their excessive zeal to showcase the "great" relationship between the governmen’s of Turkey and the United States–President George Bush and visiting Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit turned their remarks at the White House last week into a comedy of errors.
The two leaders were grasping at straws in trying to come up with new ways of promoting the mutual interests of the two countries. Their contrived efforts became the laughing stock of newspapers in Turkey and the United States.
This is how the Los Angeles Times reported their embarrassing appearance: "With the Turkish prime minister at his side–President Bush announced in the Oval office on Wednesday that he is lifting a ban on Americans traveling to Turkey. There was only one problem. There never was a ban on travel to Turkey."
Here are the exact words exchanged between Pres. Bush and Prime Minister Ecevit at this meeting:
Bush: "Today–I’m informing the prime minister that we’re lifting the travel ban on Turkey."
Ecevit interrupted the president with a big smile on his face–saying: "Oh that’s wonderful."
Bush continued: "So that our citizens can feel comfortable going to that wonderful country to visit–and to enjoy the rich history of one of our valued allies and friends."
Ecevit had arrived here with a long shopping list of deman’s from the United States. Trying to exploit the fact that he is about to send a small contingent of Turkish soldiers to Afghanistan – long after the shooting is over – Ecevit expected to receive from the US higher quotas on the importation of Turkish textiles and steel–forgiveness of Turkey’s multi-billion dollar debts–and more American investmen’s.
Facing the embarrassing prospect of returning home empty-handed–having come to the US with such high expectations–Ecevit eagerly capitalized on Bush’s bogus offer of lifting an imaginary ban on travel to Turkey.
He joyfully told reporters after the press conference: "We have just got the news from the president that the ban on tourism to Turkey is to be lifted. So we will be very happy to see a great number of tourists from the United States."
What Bush was mistakenly referring to was a "travel sheet" issued by the State Department last year advising Americans to be careful while traveling in Turkey. The note–the mildest of a four-tier system that provides information to American tourists going overseas–stated that "since the 1970’s–urban and rural acts of terrorism throughout Turkey have caused loss of life and injury to government officials and civilians–including some foreign tourists." It is not clear whether Ecevit was being deceived by Bush’s phony announcement or was he knowingly and happily going along with the "good news" in order to be able to take some political mileage back home by reporting a successful trip to Washington.
Other Turkish and American officials were not as eager to misrepresent the facts. A spokesman for the Turkish Embassy in Washington–who requested anonymity–told the Los Angeles Times: "There is no travel ban. But I’m not in a position to clarify." A State Department official–who also did not want his name disclosed–said: "I don’t know what the president had in mind–but whatever he said–I’m right behind him."
It is noteworthy that both spokesmen chose not to have their names disclosed–even though they were careful not to embarrass their respective leaders by exposing their bogus announcemen’s!
Ecevit Changes Tune After Returning To Turkey
During his visit to the US–Prime Minister Ecevit sought to impress Pres. Bush by making the token gesture of restoring the granting of visas on the border to Armenian citizens wishing to visit Turkey. Yet once he returned home–the prime minister felt free to make some harsh statemen’s on Armenia.
Ecevit told the Turkish press in Ankara that Bush thanked him for facilitating visas for Armenian tourists. Bush asked the prime minister if he was contemplating any other measures to improve Turkish-Armenian relations. Ecevit said he told Bush that he won’t take any other steps until Armenia complies with the following four conditions:
1. Armenia must stop embarrassing Turkey by putting an end to its "allegations" of the Genocide;
2. Karabakh must be returned to Azerbaijan;
3. Azeri refugees should be allowed to return to their homes in Karabakh;
4. Armenia must open a corridor between Nakhichevan and Azerbaijan.
The Turkish government has for years rejected Armenia’s repeated offers to establish diplomatic relations with no pre-conditions. It is ironic that the Turks and not the Armenia’s are the ones placing conditions on establishing relations. Imagine how the world would react if the German government announced that Germany would not deal with Israel until it agreed to put an end to its "allegations" of the Holocaust!