Armenian Patriarch of Turkey in U.S. On Turkish Propaganda Tour Once Again
During his highly controversial first visit in April, the Patriarch participated in a conference organized by a Turkish group at the Southern Methodist University, in Dallas, Texas. The conference was titled, "Turkish-Armenian Question: What to do Now?"
Despite intensive efforts by various Armenian-American groups to persuade the Patriarch not to speak at that conference, he went ahead with his speaking engagement. All other Armenian invitees, for one reason or another, refused to take part. The concern was that the Turks would use the conference as a ploy to convince the outside world that Armenians and Turks were "reconciling" with each other, and therefore, there was no need to pressure Turkey into genocide recognition.
Archbishop Khajag Barsamian, the Primate of the Armenian Church of America (Eastern Diocese), was so incensed by the Patriarch’s planned participation that he wrote to University officials objecting to its sponsorship of this politically tendentious and one sided "Armenian-Turkish dialogue." The University complied with the Primate’s request and withdrew its support from the conference. Archbishop Barsamian rightly pointed out that Patriarch Mutafyan "has a very limited ability to freely express his true thoughts and concerns because of oppressive Turkish free-speech laws." The Primate aptly described the Patriarch as "a virtual ‘prisoner of conscience’ of the Turkish government."
Interestingly, the Patriarch repeated word for word in Dallas what he had said a year earlier during a similar conference held at Erciyes University in Kayseri , Turkey . The April 2006 conference was entitled: "The Art of Living Together in Ottoman Society: The Example of Turkish-Armenian Relations." Patriarch Mutafyan will most probably repeat the same remarks during his talk on September 20, at the Georgetown University in Washington , D.C. The sponsors of both the April and September conferences are affiliated with the Islamic Fethullah Gulen group.
To gain an advance insight into what the Patriarch might say this week, here are some excerpts of his previously delivered talks in Kayseri and Dallas which consist of some straight talk mixed with words meant to appease Turkish officials.
"It is certainly not possible to idealize every phase in the history of Ottoman-Armenian relations and to say that Armenians never had any problems. Being Christians, the Armenians of the Ottoman Empire were never first class citizens. And they certainly did suffer discrimination. However, we know that the first acquaintance between Turks and Armenians dates back to at least 1300 years ago…. In this long history of commercial and political interactions between neighbors, there are relatively few instances where we observe exchanges of physical violence," the Patriarch said.
He then went on to say that "especially towards the end of the 19th century there was an increase in tension in relations, whether responsibility for this was due to the Ottoman government, or the German, American, French, British and especially Russian governments, Armenian political parties, or even the Armenian Patriarchs of Istanbul of that period, who discharged their obligations under the surveillance of the Temporal Affairs Council that then consisted of Armenian secularists in Turkey. Even if the various parties were not all equally responsible, it is not a moral approach in view of the painful after-effects for any one of them to deny any accountability in the development of these events, or to place all the responsibility on the other parties."
After several Turkish propagandists delivered their talks at the Dallas conference, the Armenian Patriarch responded by making the following statement outside of his written text: "Did some Armenian political parties promote armed rebellion in the Armenian community? They did. In some areas, did armed Armenian gangs work together with the Russian army? They did. But the Government of the Committee for Union and Progress, being in charge of the country, is chiefly responsible for the painful events that occurred and the great suffering that was endured. If you do not hold the government in charge of the behavior of the country as responsible for that behavior, then whom will you hold responsible? Instead of eliminating in their local areas the armed Armenian factions who were in rebellion, the Government of the Committee for Union and Progress sent all Armenians in the Ottoman Empire on a sort of death march to the Syrian Desert ; it sentenced them to death. Therefore this party is chiefly culpable for the 1915 events."
A day before his Georgetown speech this week, the Armenian Patriarch is invited to participate at the 2nd Congressional Interfaith and Intercultural Ramadan Iftar Dinner on Capitol Hill, where he will speak along with several other clergymen from various faiths.
There has been some speculation as to who arranged for the Armenian Patriarch to come to Washington , D.C. , shortly before the anticipated vote in the House of Representatives on the Armenian Genocide resolution and less than a month before the Pontifical visit of His Holiness Karekin II to the nation’s capital? Many see the sinister hand of the Turkish government orchestrating the Patriarch’s speaking engagements, using the connections of high-powered lobbying firms hired by Ankara.
This writer has repeatedly urged the Armenian Patriarch to stay away from involvement in political matters and instead tend to the spiritual needs of his flock. He must at all cost resist the pressures exerted upon him by Turkish officials, in order not to allow them to use him as a propaganda tool serving Turkey's denialist agenda.
In the meantime, Armenian religious and secular leaders have an obligation to point out that the Patriarch does not speak for the Armenian Church and that his political statements are made under Turkish pressure and do not reflect his true views on the Armenian Genocide.