Turkish Minister's Words Generate
Cheap Applause at Armenian Banquet
By Harut Sassounian
Publisher, The California Courier
The Armenians of Turkey live under such repressive conditions that they not
only have to tolerate the intimidation that they are subjected to on a daily
basis, but are forced to show gratitude and respect to the government
officials who are harassing them!
What happened last Friday during the celebration of the 50th anniversary of
the Holy Cross High School, a well-known Armenian educational institution in
Istanbul, can only be described as shameful and bizarre, even though it may
be considered routine and normal by Turkish standards.
A large number of the school's alumni had flown to Istanbul from around the
world to attend these celebrations. Among the guests at the banquet were
former Holy Cross students Archbishop Khajag Barsamian, the Primate of the
Eastern Diocese of the Armenian Church of America, and Bishop Viken
Aykazian, the Diocesan Legate in Washington, D.C. The biggest surprise of
the evening, however, was the presence of Education Minister Huseyin Celik
who, just 3 months ago, had issued a directive ordering all high school
students in Turkey, including those in Armenian schools, to write essays
falsifying the facts of the Armenian Genocide. Furthermore, in a highly
ironic twist, the Education Minister had come to honor an institution that
is currently in danger of being shut down by the Turkish Treasury. The
government is suing the school, claiming that it has illegally operated as a
charitable institution for 50 years. Ironically, the government itself had
accorded that status to the school so many years ago!
Even though the organizers of the banquet had sent an invitation to the
Minister, no one had expected him to show up. This is the first time that a
Turkish Minister has attended an Armenian school banquet. It is noteworthy
that someone had tipped off the Turkish media about the Minister's visit.
Several Turkish TV stations had set up their cameras in the hall prior to
the Minister's arrival to cover his remarks. It is highly probable that the
Minister wanted his visit and remarks at an Armenian school banquet
publicized in order to show that Turkish officials care about the welfare of
the minorities in their country and that Turkey is making good progress in
its efforts to join the European Union.
In his lengthy remarks, which were frequently interrupted by applause, the
Minister was effusive in his praise for the Armenian community. He called
the Holy Cross one of the "valuable" schools of Turkey. He emphasized the
importance of democracy and the rights of ethnic minorities. He singled out
the special role played by Armenians in the formation of Turkish culture
during the Ottoman Empire, particularly in the fields of music and
architecture. He was cheered loudly when he boasted that the government of
the ruling AK Party would never allow the minorities in Turkey to experience
any difficulties or have their rights violated.
As if these ridiculous statements were not enough to challenge the credulity
of his listeners, the Minister shamelessly told the gathered guests that he
is aware that some Armenians in Turkey were discomforted by the decree he
had signed ordering all school children to write essays falsifying the
Armenian Genocide. He said: "the target of the directive was neither the
local Armenian community nor those Diaspora Armenians who harbored feelings
of friendship for Turkey." He then added, "what a sham, there are Armenians
in the Diaspora who believe they will gain something by continuing to dredge
up old issues." He was warmly applauded when he said: "now is the time to
forget the old, harsh days and create new coalitions."
The fact that the Armenians attending the banquet felt compelled to applau
such deceptive and insulting remarks indicates how intimidated they still
are by Turkish authorities 85 years after the Genocide! Only two of the
Armenian speakers dared to make polite and indirect references to the
threatened closure of their 50-year-old school. However, they were careful
to express their confidence that the government would sooner or later make
the right decision.
It is highly doubtful that Minister Celik succeeded in fooling either his
Armenian audience or the international community. His remarks confirm that
despite all the sugarcoated words of Turkish officials about reforms they
have promised to undertake in order to comply with the requirements of the
European Union, Turkey remains the same old wolf in sheep's clothing!
The Minister is dead wrong in saying that only some anti-Turkish Diaspora
Armenians have complained about his decree. Dozens of European human rights
organizations and members of U.S. Congress condemned his decision. There
were even articles in the Turkish press ridiculing his directive.
Ironically, the Minister's decree would inadvertently help bring about the
recognition of the Armenian Genocide rather than its denial. Millions of
Turkish students, who until now had never heard of the Armenian Genocide,
will become aware of it in the course of writing their essays. Even though
the education ministry has pre-assigned Turkish denialist books for the
students' research, they may still come across, particularly on the
Internet, information that would contradict the propaganda spewed by the
Turkish state on the Armenian Genocide.