Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Turkey’s Armenian Patriarch, Mesrob II, visits Washington

First published in the September 22, 2007 Armenian Reporter
by Emil Sanamyan

Georgetown University cancels Patriarch’s address amid controversy

WASHINGTON – The Armenian Patriarch of Turkey Mesrob II was in Washington this week on the invitation of an entity believed to be close to the Turkish government. The visit came as anticipation for congressional action on a resolution affirming the Armenian Genocide is beginning to build yet again.

Turkey opposes the resolution. The Patriarch’s visit reportedly involved no meetings with Armenian-American organizations or visits to area churches. Shortly before the visit, Mesrob II made remarks critical of the resolution, which is currently backed by a majority of the members of the House of Representatives. As part of the visit, he spoke at a closed-door policy forum at the Brookings Institution, offered a brief eulogy during a traditional Muslim iftar dinner held on the premises of the U.S. Congress, and was due to speak at Georgetown University.

That presentation, titled “The Impasse between Turks and Armenians Must Be Broken,” planned for September 20, was postponed indefinitely, officially “for logistical reasons.”

Visit organizers
The Patriarch’s Washington trip was organized by the Rumi Forum, a nongovernmental organization established by pious Turks in the United States and named after the 13th-century Persian poet and Sufi mystic Jalal ad-Din ar-Rumi. Its stated goal is to promote interfaith dialogue and cooperation. It also sponsored the iftar dinner and co-sponsored the would-be Georgetown University lecture.

The forum is seen as a brainchild of an influential Turkish preacher, Fethullah Gulen, who is in turn described as a key supporter of the present government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey.

Under previous Turkish governments, Mr. Gulen was persecuted for allegedly undermining secular-military rule and had relocated to the United States in 1998. He was acquitted by Turkish courts only in 2006, three years after the victory of Mr. Erdogan party in the elections.

Event cancellation
While the Rumi Forum would not speculate as to why Georgetown University cancelled Mesrob II’s talk (and efforts by the Reporter to interview His Beatitude were not successful), Turkish journalists in attendance at the iftar dinner pointed to the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA).

Asked by the Reporter for comment, ANCA executive director Aram Hamparian confirmed that the university was contacted, but denied that any pressure was applied. “We shared with Georgetown University our view that it fell far beneath their ethical standards to be used as a platform for the Turkish government’s denial of the Armenian Genocide,” said Mr. Hamparian.

In a September 19 news release, the ANCA cited one of the principal sponsors of the Genocide resolution, Rep. Adam Schiff (D.-Calif.) as saying, “It should come as no surprise . . . that the Bishop of the Armenian community in Turkey, who states that he is under daily threat, cannot speak about the genocide or support any efforts to recognize the genocide including those efforts in our country.”

A controversial interview
In a September 17 interview with the Turkish daily Zaman (which is published by Mr. Gulen’s followers), Mesrob II described the resolution as “negative” and “disruptive” to the Armenian community of Turkey and relations between Turkey and Armenia. He further suggested that the Armenian Diaspora groups backing the resolution “don’t care about our relations here.”

Turkish officials have threatened to retaliate against both the United States and Armenia if Congress passes the resolution. Tens of thousands of Armenians still living in Turkey, including the Patriarch, have been regularly threatened with violence. The community’s most prominent voice, journalist Hrant Dink was assassinated last January.

While Mr. Dink’s confessed murders are currently on trial, security officials believed to be involved in the crime have not been prosecuted. Mesrob II told Zaman that he wanted “the real perpetrators behind this crime to be found. Otherwise justice won’t be served."

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