Turkish President of European Council Should be Barred from Armenia

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By Harut Sassounian
Publisher, The California Courier
May 20, 2010

Mevlut Cavusoglu, the Turkish President of PACE (Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe), offended his hosts by refusing to lay a wreath at the Armenian Genocide Monument during his visit to Yerevan last week.

When the Armenian media questioned him about his refusal, Cavusoglu lied by saying that his predecessors had not done so either. Armenian journalists corrected him by pointing out that his predecessors had in fact visited the Genocide Monument. After getting caught, he changed his tune and confessed that it was his personal decision not to visit the Monument and asked that Armenians respect his wishes.

Why should Armenians respect a genocide denier and a liar? Although a founder of the ruling Justice and Development Party and member of the Turkish Parliament, Cavusoglu was not visiting Armenia as a Turkish official, but as President of PACE. It is regrettable that earlier this year Armenia’s delegates to PACE were not successful in blocking his election to the Presidency of this influential European institution.

The real issue is not Cavusoglu’s ethnic background. No one should be disqualified from any post due to his or her ethnicity. The objections are based on his long-standing opposition to Armenian issues, including denials of the Armenian Genocide and support for Azerbaijan in the Artsakh conflict.

Upon learning that Cavusoglu would not visit the Genocide Memorial -- a standard protocol for all high-ranking dignitaries visiting Yerevan -- the Armenian government decided to downgrade the status of his visit from "official" to that of a "working" one. Needless to say, this was just a slap on the wrist, given the gravity of his offense. Regrettably, Armenian officials did not issue a single word of criticism or condemnation. They should have taken a harsher measure against Cavusoglu and cancelled his trip to Yerevan. By not enforcing the country’s long established protocol, Armenian officials are simply encouraging future visiting dignitaries not to respect the memory of Armenian Genocide victims.

A bad precedent was already set in September 2008, when Pres. Gul was invited to Yerevan. I wrote a column then urging Armenian authorities to ask the Turkish President to lay a wreath at the Genocide Monument. Unfortunately, no such request was made of Pres. Gul, and he was more than happy to sidestep the issue!

I must commend the Armenian Revolutionary Federation for refusing to meet with Cavusoglu during his Yerevan visit, because of his disrespect for Armenian Genocide victims. His visit was also condemned by the local Student Union of the Hnchag Party.

Unfortunately, officials of an opposition party met Cavusoglu in Yerevan to pursue their own agenda, asking him -- a Turk -- to condemn the Armenian government’s human rights record. Meanwhile, pro-government parties met Cavusoglu to familiarize him with Armenia’s position on major regional issues, as if he would be willing to change his views on the Armenian Genocide, Artsakh and Armenian-Turkish relations.

Regardless of his own and his government’s denialist position on the Armenian Genocide, Cavusoglu should not be excused for not having visited the Genocide Monument. Even Ambassadors of countries that do not formally acknowledge the Armenian Genocide take part in the solemn procession on April 24 and lay a wreath at the Genocide Monument.

By refusing to follow protocol, Cavusoglu not only insulted the Armenian nation, but also violated the long-standing recognition of the Armenian Genocide by the European Parliament.

In the end, by his words and deeds, the Turkish diplomat managed to embarrass himself and undermine his own credibility as a political figure unworthy of representing a prominent European institution and its values.

To avoid similar scandals in the future, Armenian officials must contact foreign dignitaries in advance of their planned visits and impress upon them the importance of respecting Armenia’s established protocol on laying a wreath at the Genocide Monument. Should they refuse, their visit should be promptly canceled. Can anyone imagine a foreign dignitary visiting Jerusalem and refusing to lay a wreath at the Yad Vashem memorial for Holocaust victims? He or she would not be allowed to set foot in Israel again. The Armenian government should take a similar stand vis-à-vis the Armenian Genocide Memorial!

At the end of his first visit to Armenia, Cavusoglu announced that he would be back in Yerevan in October. I hope Armenian officials do not let him into the country, unless he is prepared to respect Armenia’s established protocols for all foreign dignitaries.

If Armenian officials do not insist on applying their own rules and regulations, foreign dignitaries would have no reason to comply!