Thousands Protest against Turkey?s Defense Minister Vecdi Gonul

BEVERLY HILLS–The Armenian Youth Federation (AYF) led a demonstration of over 4,000 Armenian Americans Friday outside the Beverly Hills Hotel during a speech given by Turkish Defense Minister Vecdi Gonul–a key figure in the Turkish state’s campaign to deny the Armenian genocide.

The Armenian National Committee of America – Western Region (ANCA-WR)–the AYF-Western Region–both dioceses of the Armenian church–all Armenian political parties–Armenian schools–high school and college Armenian Student Associations–the Hellenic association–and various other organizations participated in Friday’s protest.

The crowd of protesters marched peacefully and chanted in front of the Beverly Hills Hotel–where the Defense Minister spoke at a luncheon hosted by the Los Angeles World Affairs Council about "The Evolving Security Environment and Turkey’s Strategic Role in Eurasia." Among the thousands of participants in the protest were Congressman Brad Sherman (CA-27) and Burbank Board of Education President Paul Krekorian.

Before inviting Congressman Sherman to speak–ANCA-WR Board of Directors member Raffi Hamparian spoke of the US State Department’s failure to live up to American values. "At the same time that the US government is condemning Belarus for suppressing freedom of expression–the US State Department is preparing to fire our Ambassador to Armenia for simply telling the truth about the Armenian genocide," said Hamparian.

"It is not only those with Armenian heritage who demand that the truth be recognized. Friends of Turkey should demonstrate that Turkey accept the Armenian genocide," said Congressman Sherman in his remarks to the crowd. "Where will Turkey be among the family of nations if it does not recognize the truth? I will work in Congress every day until the historical truth of the Armenian genocide is recognized," he concluded.

Congressman Sherman also commented on Turkey’s failure to provide access to US military bases in Turkey and necessary passage over its land and air space during the invasion of Iraq three years ago. "The casualties stemming from today’s conflict in Iraq are–to some extent–a direct result of Turkey’s refusal to allow the US-led coalition to open a northern front," said Congressman Sherman.

In his remarks at the luncheon–the Defense Minister addressed the issue of Turkey’s actions during the run-up to the Iraq War. He directly contradicted the position of his American counterpart–Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld–who has repeatedly said on national television that Turkey’s refusal to allow US-led coalition forces to open a northern front has significantly contributed to the strength of the Iraqi insurgency. "Turkey has supported the US led war on Iraq from the beginning," said the Defense Minister.

He added that "Turkey promotes good neighborly relations." This assertion also stands in sharp contrast to the actions of the Turkish government–which–on one hand–blockades and seeks to isolate Armenia–and on the other–denies the Armenian genocide and continues to harvest the economic–demographic–and geopolitical fruits of the genocidal crime it committed against the Armenian nation nine decades ago.

"Defense Minister Gonul’s remarks are consistent with his government’s campaign to portray a rosy image of itself–despite the facts on the ground. Increasingly–however–the American public is seeing through these transparent efforts–and looking instead to Turkey’s actual conduct–such as its blockade of Armenia–abysmal human rights record–attempts to revise history–and–more broadly–its increasingly antagonistic relationship with the United States," said Hamparian after listening to the Defense Minister’s speech.

Defense Minister Vecdi Gonul’s visit to Southern California–home to the largest Armenian population in the US–came exactly one month prior to the 91st anniversary of the Armenian genocide on April 24th. California–which is one of 38 states to have recognized the Armenian genocide–last year adopted legislation permanently designating the week of April 24 as California’s week of remembrance of the Armenian genocide. The effort to enact legislation on the Armenian genocide was led by state legislators such as Senators Chuck Poochigian (R-Fresno) and Jackie Speier (D-San Francisco)–and signed into law by Governor Schwarzenegger in 2005. California has also adopted an education curriculum that includes teaching of the history of the Armenian genocide–and the Los Angeles Unified School District is among many public school systems in the state that continue to train its teachers on implementing a curriculum that teaches about this crime against humanity.

The Defense Minister’s visit also came at an especially sensitive time in US-Turkey relations. In recent weeks–"Valley of the Wolves," the most expensive film ever made in Turkey–prompted the US military to issue warnings to our troops stationed in Turkey due to the film’s severely anti-American and anti-Semitic nature. The film continues to remain a box office hit in theatres across Turkey and has been publicly praised by many Turkish leaders–including Prime Minster Erdogan. The popularity of "Valley of the Wolves" is not the only recent demonstration of anti-Semitic and anti-American sentiment in Turkey. Last year–Adolf Hilter’s "Mein Kampf" was a best-seller in the country.

The Defense Minister’s speech was repeatedly interrupted by chants coming from protesters demonstrating along Sunset Boulevard. Armenian Americans attending the luncheon–including Glendale Unified School District Board Member Greg Krikorian–called on the Defense Minister to acknowledge Turkey’s past.

However–Defense Minister Gonul said that "these are Armenian claims–and there is nothing to acknowledge." AYF Chairman Tro Tchekidjian stated at the conclusion of the protest that "We will never forget what happened in 1915–and we will persist in calling for recognition of the Armenian genocide until Turkey comes to terms with its past."

The Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) is the largest and most influential Armenian American grassroots political organization. Working in coordination with a network of offices–chapters–and supporters throughout the United States and affiliated organizations around the world–the ANCA actively advances the concerns of the Armenian American community on a broad range of issues.

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