Last week, Turkish denialist circles tried to create a major scandal out of Georgetown University’s cancellation of a planned speech by the Patriarch of Istanbul, Mesrob II, titled "The Impasse between Turks and Armenia’s Must be Broken."
Turkish officials, journalists and some "liberal" Turkish and Armenian scholars (who believe in reconciliation without justice), joined the chorus of condemnation. They criticized Georgetown for curtailing the Patriarch’s "freedom of expression" and accused Armenia’s of pressuring the University to cancel his speech.
The facts are otherwise. In my last week’s column, I raised the alarm that Patriarch Mutafyan was being dispatched by Ankara on a political mission to Washington, on the eve of the anticipated vote in the House of Representatives on the Armenian Genocide. My column did not call for the cancellation of the Patriarch’s remarks. It simply criticized the Turkish government for trying to use him as a propaganda tool to deny the Armenian Genocide. The column also took the Patriarch to task for meddling in political matters and not resisting the devious stratagems of the Turkish government. Finally, I urged Armenian religious and secular leaders to speak out against the abuse of the Patriarch’s spiritual authority. The Turkish Cumhuriyet newspaper published several excerpts from that column before his speech was canceled.
The Armenian National Committee of America also did not call for the cancellation of the Patriarch’s speech. It sent a letter to all Members of Congress alerting them of the Turkish government various attempts, including the dispatching of the Patriarch to Washington to undermine the passage of the Armenian Genocide resolution.
ANCA told Members of Congress: "The Turkish government has resorted to a series of increasingly strident-even desperate-measures. Amid these efforts by Ankara comes a visit to Washington this week, by His Beatitude Patriarch Mesrob II;. It is truly shameful that Turkey has resorted to using naked coercion–cynically taking advantage of the concern of Patriarch Mesrob for the safety of his flock–In a last ditch bid to block the adoption of the Armenian Genocide Resolution."
Finally, it was reported that several unknown individuals contacted Georgetown and complained that the University was about to provide a platform to an individual–the Patriarch–who was not at liberty to speak his honest mind and was coerced to make denialist statemen’s. Those who made such calls to the University have the perfect right in a free society to express their opinions on this issue. Not doing so would be curtailing their right to free speech!
Contrary to these accusations, Georgetown did not curtail the Patriarch’s freedom of speech which had been already curtailed by the Turkish government long before his arrival in Washington. The University simply did not want to become an accomplice to genocide denial by providing a stage to the unwitting spokesman of a repressive and denialist regime. In fact, if a German citizen wanted to come to the United States in order to deliver a speech denying the Jewish Holocaust, the U.S. government would not even have granted that person a visa to enter the United States.
To make matters worse for himself, the Patriarch, for some unknown reason, decided to give a lengthy interview to Today’s Zaman, shortly before his scheduled visit to the United States. In that controversial interview, not surprisingly, but sadly, the Patriarch defended the Turkish government’s efforts to cover up the Genocide and expressed his clear opposition to the Congressional resolution on the Armenian Genocide. He also claimed, falsely, that he has had no contacts with Diaspora Armenia’s!
After this scandalous trip to the U.S., which ended up in an embarrassing cancellation, one would hope that both the Turkish government and the Patriarch would draw some important conclusions.
Turkish officials, having miserably failed in their attempt to use the Armenian Patriarch as their propaganda tool in order to hinder the passage of the Genocide resolution, would hopefully now leave him alone to deal exclusively with the spiritual needs of the Armenian community in Turkey.
While the Patriarch may not be able to escape the pressures of the regime at home, the long and oppressive arm of Turkey must not be allowed to reach far beyond its borders into the halls of Georgetown University–one of the most prestigious institutions of higher learning in the Free World.
Finally, the Patriarch himself should finally realize that getting involved in political matters would cause serious problems not only for himself but also for his long-suffering community. It may behoove the Patriarch to take a long vacation in order to think things over and escape temporarily from the all too frequent Turkish threats to his life!