BY HARUT SASSOUNIAN
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan made insulting statements on the Armenian Genocide during his visit to Washington on December 6-8. Rather than hosting him in the White House, Pres. Obama should have declared him “persona non grata” — an undesirable person!
Would Pres. Obama have welcomed Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to the White House and sang his praises, given his revisionist views on the Holocaust? Inviting Erdogan to the U.S. is even more offensive, akin to receiving a German leader who denies the Holocaust!
Erdogan made a series of outrageous remarks and denialist statements during five public appearances in Washington: At PBS, the Willard Hotel, the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced and International Studies, SETA-DC Turkish think tank, and the German Marshall Fund.
During his December 8, hour-long PBS TV interview by Charlie Rose, Erdogan brought up the Armenian issue by claiming that his government had recently restored “an Armenian Church” in Van, without disclosing that the Holy Cross Church on Akhtamar Island in Lake Van was reopened not as a house of worship, but as a cultural site to attract tourists! Indeed, the Turkish authorities refused to allow a cross to be placed on the Church’s dome!
Erdogan’s boastful comments led Charlie Rose to raise the Armenian Genocide issue in a passive manner by asking: “What is necessary in order to — what more evidence does history need with respect to the genocide?”
The question threw Erdogan into a rage, making him spew hateful statements about the Armenian Genocide: “I can say very clearly that we do not accept genocide. This is completely a lie. I invite people to prove it…. Something like this is really not possible, and there is no truth to it.” These are the shameful words of the same man who claimed there was no genocide in Darfur, since he saw no trace of such a crime during his visit to Sudan!
When asked by Charlie Rose if Pres. Obama had brought up the Armenian Genocide issue during the White House meeting, Erdogan said yes, adding that it was in the context of normalizing relations with Armenia: “It was Turkey that initiated the normalization process. It was Turkey that took upon itself the risk. We believe in ourselves. What we would like to see is for this normalization process to go forward. And in that it’s important that we go into that and the Karabagh issue between Azerbaijan and Armenia be resolved. There is an occupation. We have to solve that problem. …And if the positive developments that we would like to see do not come about, then I do not believe that our parliament will have a positive result as a result of its deliberations.”
During his appearance at the Johns Hopkins University, Erdogan proudly claimed that his “ancestors have never committed genocide.” The real issue is not whether his grandparents participated in the Armenian Genocide, since there was no shortage of Turks who did. What’s more important is that the Prime Minster has chosen to become an accomplice to these heinous crimes by participating in their cover up!
Despite all the diplomatic pleasantries exchanged between Erdogan and Obama, there were indications that the two leaders had a tense meeting. According to media reports confirmed by White House sources, Pres. Obama bluntly told Erdogan that if the Turkish Parliament did not ratify the Armenia-Turkey Protocols in a timely manner, the U.S. Congress could well adopt a resolution on the Armenian Genocide.
The two leaders also clashed over their divergent views on several key issues: Turkey’s unwillingness to send more troops to Afghanistan, refusal to support a recent IAEA resolution to censure Iran’s nuclear program, the signing of a multi-billion dollar energy contract with Iran in defiance of U.S. sanctions, worsening ties with Israel, continued occupation of Northern Cyprus, and manifest disregard of minority rights in Turkey.
In the midst of Erdogan’s crucial visit, Turkey’s Ambassador to Washington Nabi Sensoy tendered his resignation unexpectedly, after an argument with Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu over the logistics of the White House meeting. This scandalous development must have been highly embarrassing for the Prime Minister!
Upon returning to Turkey, Erdogan faced a major political crisis and bloody clashes in the streets of Kurdish populated cities, triggered by the Constitutional Court’s banning of the Kurdish Democratic Society Party (DTP). The court expelled two DTP members from Parliament, while 19 others resigned in protest.
It is a shame that Armenia’s leaders, rather than repudiating Erdogan’s offensive statements on the Armenian Genocide, continued to talk about normalizing relations with Turkey! Armenian Americans were equally negligent, failing to express their outrage. Erdogan should have been confronted in Washington with massive protests and demonstrations! Sadly, silence makes genocide denial an acceptable practice!