BY HARUT SASSOUNIAN
Each passing day brings new revelations of the Obama administration’s shameful schemes to cover up Turkish misconduct.
The latest scandal involves the State Department’s covert attempt to alter the contents of a report by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), condemning the Turkish government’s violations of the religious rights of Christian minorities. USCIRF is an independent bipartisan federal agency established by the U.S. Congress to make “recommendations unburdened by foreign policy considerations other than the defense of religious freedom,” according to a Commission member.
The Commission issued a lengthy report on March 20, outlining in great detail “the Turkish government’s systematic and egregious limitations on the freedom of religion or belief that affect all religious communities in Turkey, and particularly threaten the country’s non-Muslim religious minorities.”
The report recommended that the U.S. government designate Turkey as one of the world’s 16 worst violators of religious freedom, along with Burma, China, Egypt, Eritrea, Iran, Iraq, Nigeria, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Vietnam.
The Commission’s recommendation sharply downgraded Turkey’s status from a previous “watch” list country to the black list of 16 “Countries of Particular Concern” (CPC).
As expected, Turkish officials resorted to their usual disparaging tactics, rejecting the Commission’s findings. Far more troubling were the insidious actions of turkophiles in the State Department. Nina Shea, one of the nine USCIRF commissioners, wrote an alarming article revealing how the Obama administration quietly pressured the commission to soften its condemnation of Turkey.
Ms. Shea disclosed to the National Review, a major national publication, that Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights Michael Posner had forced one of the commissioners to change his position in Turkey’s favor, after being tipped off by another commissioner, an Obama appointee, that the Commission had voted 5-4 to black list Turkey in its annual report. By then, the report had been issued and it was too late to alter the Commission’s recommendation, designating Turkey as a major violator of religious freedom. As required, the report was submitted to Pres. Obama, Secretary of State Clinton, and Congressional leaders.
It was later revealed that Don Argue, President of Northwest University in Kirkland, Washington, was the Commissioner who was pressured into changing his mind on Turkey. Ironically, two days after this report was issued, the terms of service of Shea, Argue and three other commissioners ended.
The Turkish Foreign Ministry, reacting sharply to the Commission’s critical designation of Turkey, declared the report to be “null and void.” Turkey’s Ambassador to Washington, Namik Tan, described the report as “politically motivated.” The Commission’s chairman, Leonard Leo, shrugged off the Turkish protestations. “I don’t really care what the [Turkish] Foreign Minister thinks, because the report is not for him, it’s for the State Department,” Leo told the Turkish Zaman newspaper.
Regrettably, a State Dept. spokesperson persisted in covering up Turkey’s abusive record when he told EurasiaNet.org: “the Department does not support Turkey’s CPC designation, although it believes the country needs to do more to expand religious freedom.”
The Commission’s report included a long list of grave charges, accusing the Turkish government of:
— imposing “burdensome regulations,” denying “full legal status to religious groups, [and] violating the religious freedom rights of all religious communities.”
— interfering with “minority religious communities’ affairs; societal discrimination and occasional violence against religious minorities; limitations on religious dress; and anti-Semitism in Turkish society and media.”
— denying “non-Muslim communities the rights to train clergy, offer religious education, and own and maintain places of worship.”
— continuing longstanding policies that “threaten the survivability and viability of minority religious communities in Turkey.”
— restricting the religious freedom of “the Greek, Armenian, and Syriac Orthodox Churches, the Roman Catholic and protestant Churches, and the Jewish community as well as for the majority Sunni Muslim community and the country’s largest minority, the Alevis.”
The report described in great detail the restrictions imposed on the Armenian community, including the Turkish government’s prohibition of training new clergy, and its interference “in the selection process of the Armenian Patriarchate’s religious leadership.”
The Commission recommended that the U.S. government urge Turkey to “abolish Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code which restricts the freedom of thought and expression and negatively affects the freedom of religion or belief.” The report also acknowledged that “even starting a discussion on genocide of Christians that occurred 100 years ago is a criminal offense in Turkey.”
Ironically, after meeting with Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan in South Korea on March 26, Pres. Obama told the media: “I congratulated the Prime Minister on the efforts that he has made within Turkey to protect religious minorities!” It is shameful that unscrupulous U.S. officials are treating a federal agency’s painstaking research and solid recommendations with such contempt!