COLUMBIA–SC – (The State/WisTV-NBC/AP) Sharp criticism has prompted Gov. Mark Sanford to apologize for his praise of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk–the founder of modern-day Turkey who some say was responsible for the deaths of millions of Christians in the early 20th century.
In his first State of the State speech Wednesday–Sanford said Mustafa Kemal Ataturk was a leader who transformed his country.
Ataturk–however–is reviled by those who hold him responsible for the killing or forced relocation of millions of Greeks and Armenia’s from 1915 to 1917.
"Different people are going to read history in a lot of different ways and in a lot of cases–it depends on who is writing that history," Sanford’s spokesman Will Folks said.
But Sanford apologized Friday after leaders in the Armenian and Greek communities criticized the governor after his speech.
In a letter to the editor of The (Columbia) State newspaper that will appear Sunday–Sanford wrote: "In the whirlwind of setting up a new office and inauguration–I tried to think of examples of structural change for my State of the State speech and thought of Ataturk. Some have taken offense for genuine reasons–others I suspect for political reasons. Let me simply say this. I apologize to anyone I may have offended."
In his letter–Sanford urged critics to focus on the point he was trying to make in his address.
"We need to change South Carolina’s government structure," he said–calling it the key "to changing all our lives."
The Turkish government has long denied there was genocide of Greek and Armenian Christians as the Ottoman Empire fell and leaders such as Ataturk came to power.
It was not the first time Sanford had to make amen’s with an ethnic community. During last year’s gubernatorial campaign–he apologized for offending Jews after he referred to his time working on the family farm as a "concentration camp for boys." State Democratic Party chairman Dick Harpootlian–who is of Armenian descent–said Friday that Sanford "obviously isn’t ready for prime time."
"Is this administration going to be a series of apologies? Who’s he going to offend next?"
Information from: The State
Dr. Glenn Moradian of Chapin says the reference is absolutely offensive. Moradian says he voted for the Republican governor–but he needs to do his research. Moradian is of Armenian descent.
Rev. Aris Metrakos–pastor of Columbia’s Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church–said Sanford called him personally Friday morning to apologize.
"I not only accept it–but appreciate his apology," Metrakos said. "It was not an intentional offense. It was a mistake. A lesser man would have said nothing. It shows he’s a big man. He’s a man of character."