Protesters oppose hosting of Turkish Deputy Prime Minister at LA World Affairs Council Event
LOS ANGELES—On Monday, October 21, hundreds of Armenians gathered at the Intercontinental Hotel to protest a presentation by Turkish Deputy Prime Minister, Ali Babacan. The protest was organized by the Armenian Youth Federation Western Region and the Unified Young Armenians.
Hosted by the Los Angeles World Affairs Council, the event was a means for the government of Turkey to present its economic and foreign policy, including the US-Turkey business relations and the future of economic investment in the region. Community members marched along the busy Los Angeles street during the evening’s rush hour traffic, voicing their concern and frustration over the LAWAC’s hosting of the genocidal Turkish government, given its continued track record of human rights violations.
“The fact that a representative from the government of Turkey was given a platform in L.A., from which to spread false propaganda about all the ways in which Turkey is a shining example of democracy, and in order to win the hearts and dollars of potential investors, is a complete outrage,” said AYF Executive Director, Stepan Keshishian. “As American citizens who value freedom of speech and expression, ethnic and religious freedom, and the protection of basic human rights, we cannot allow economic interests to overpower our values and beliefs. The government of Turkey does not respect and uphold the values that we regard as inviolable and fundamental to American society, and the democratic world must awaken to the policy of intolerance that guides their foreign and economic interests,” Keshishian added.
While the protest was in full force, the dinner-presentation commenced in the Grand Ballroom, where LAWAC President, Terry McCarthy, opened the evening with a tasteless joke about there being hundreds of people outside who apparently thought they would get to see Kobe Bryant (Bryant formerly held an advertising deal with Turkish airlines). McCarthy then introduced Ali Babacan, who addressed his dinner audience with a speech on Turkish foreign and economic policy.
Following the speech, the participants were granted a brief Question & Answer session with the Deputy Prime Minister. All questioners hinted at corruption and disregard for human rights within Turkey. Babacan was asked whether he feels that businesses investing in Turkey should worry about collateral damage on their public image as a result of Turkey’s human rights abuses, including its crackdown on peaceful protesters at Gezi Park—which is built on the grounds of a confiscated Armenian cemetery—having the highest number of jailed journalists in the world, its support for genocidal regimes, such as Sudan, its imprisonment of Kurdish children, its illegal occupation of Northern Cyprus, and its continued active denial of the Armenian genocide. Babacan responded that he did not know how to answer because there were too many issues brought up. He then touched upon the Gezi Park protests, stating that ‘Turkish police overreacted in their reaction to the peaceful protestors, but they did what was needed to be done.’ On the topic of the Armenian Genocide he stated that there needs to be a historical commission established in order to examine whether or not the death of 1.5 million people, the displacement of countless others, and the appropriation of vast amounts of businesses, properties, and wealth could possibly constitute a genocide.
In closing, Terry McCarthy stated, “we have speakers from all spectrums of contentious issues and as a non-partisan organization, we don’t endorse the viewpoints of the speakers we host.” However, the AYF and UYA are outraged by the LAWAC’s blatant disregard for the interests of the community; implying that the Armenian Genocide is a viewpoint is akin to hosting a denier of the Jewish Holocaust. “The Turkish officials and their paid mouthpieces must clearly understand that until the Government of Turkey accepts its responsibility for the Armenian Genocide and makes appropriate moral, financial and territorial restitution, a progressive and enlightened Los Angeles can not welcome them” stated Aroutin Hartounian, President of the UYA. We, as Diaspora and as American’s, stand in firm opposition to entertaining and developing relations with representatives of a government that, since its inception, has systematically disregarded and violated these basic liberties.