US Commission Highlights Damage Caused By Turkey’s Genocide Denial

WASHINGTON–In a sign of the growing isolation faced by opponents of the Armenian Genocide Resolution, the U.S Commission on International Religious Freedom–a governmental body formed by Congress–has reported that Turkey’s continued refusal to recognize the Armenian Genocide remains a source of controversy in Turkey’s relations with the United States, reported the Armenian National Committee of America. The Commission communicated its views on this subject as part of the annual report it submitted last week to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on religious freedom around the world. "We are gratified both by the Commission’s clear recognition of the Armenian Genocide as well as by the fact that its members have addressed the ongoing costs associated with Turkey’s denial of this crime against humanity," said ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian. "We also appreciate the Commission’s documentation of the Hrant DiNagorno Karabakh assassination and the other forms of violence and official intimidation inflicted by the Turkish government against Armenia’s and other Christian communities." The US Commission on International Religious Freedom was created by the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 to monitor the status of freedom of thought, conscience, and religion or belief abroad, as defined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and related international instrumen’s, and to give independent policy recommendations to the President, the Secretary of State, and the Congress. It is a government entity created by Congress, and funded entirely by the federal government. Its staff members are government employees. The White House and Congressional leadership appoint the Commissioners. The specific text dealing with Turkey’s denials reads as follows: "During the Commission’s visit, the issue of the Armenian genocide was not raised by any interlocutors, but the continued refusal of the Turkish government to recognize the event continues to be a source of controversy in Turkey’s relations with other western countries, including the United States." The report also devoted considerable attention to the brutal murder of Armenian Journalist Hrant Dink who was killed in Istanbul after being prosecuted under Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code for speaking openly about the Armenian Genocide. Relevant excerpts from the report are provided below: * […] the Commission also encountered restrictions on religious freedom in Turkey, including for the majority Sunni Muslim community and minority Muslim Alevis; for the "Lausanne minorities," that is, the Greek and Armenian Orthodox and Jews; and for other Christian minorities, including Assyrian Orthodox, Roman Catholics, and Protestants. (Page 9) * […] The consequences of some of Turkey’s state policies toward religion have been particularly detrimental for religious minorities. These include the Greek, Armenian, and Syrian Orthodox communities, the Roman and Syriac Catholics, and the Jewish community, who together making up around 1 percent of the population, and the Alevis, a syncretic sect of Islam representing Turkey’s largest religious minority. (Page 17-18) * The January 2007 murder of Hrant Dink, a Turkish citizen and respected journalist of Armenian ethnicity, is just one example of the persistence of this extreme nationalism. Mr. Dink, with whom the Commission met on its visit to Turkey, had been convicted under Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code for "insulting" the Turkish state because of his use of the term "Armenian genocide" in his public remarks and written publications. His conviction was converted to a suspended sentence following EU and other international pressure. Dink told members of the Commission that he continued to receive numerous death threats in the face of his discussion of issues of religious and political freedom considered by the Turkish government to be controversial. Prime Minister Erdogan quickly condemned the murder and the alleged perpetrator was promptly arrested. In addition, at a public meeting in New York in February 2007, Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul stated that the government had plans to amend Article 301. During the Commission’s visit, the issue of the Armenian genocide was not raised by any interlocutors, but the continued refusal of the Turkish government to recognize the event continues to be a source of controversy in Turkey’s relations with other western countries, including the United States. (Page 17-18) * The problems for the Christian minorities stem in part from the fact that most of them are, in addition to religious minorities, members of ethnic minorities also, and have thus faced some suspicion from the majority community with regard to their loyalty as Turkish citizens; indeed, in many instances, they are not fully accepted as Turkish citizens. At meetings with political party leaders and some Turkish think-tank representatives, the term "foreigner" was used to describe Christian minorities, particularly members of the Greek and Armenian Orthodox communities. Since the Turkish state has not officially recognized the existence of ethnic minorities inside the country, these groups are referred to and dealt with only as religious minorities, though not as legal entities. When the Commission met with members of these groups, all of them stressed their loyalty to the Turkish republic, the fact that they had proudly served in the Turkish military, and their chagrin at still not being treated as equal citizens of Turkey. It is this de facto status as "foreigners"–because they are Muslims and/or not ethnic Turks-that is behind so many of the problems that members of these communities face with regard to property rights, education, and, in some instances, physical security. (Page 20) * The "Lausanne minorities," the Greek Orthodox, the Armenian Orthodox, and the Jewish community, may operate primary and secondary schools for children under the supervision of the Ministry of Education. However, such schools are required to appoint a Muslim as deputy principal; reportedly, these deputies often have more authority than their nominal supervisors. In addition, regulations on the non-Muslim schools changed in the 1980s, making it more difficult for non-Muslim children to register and attend these schools. School registration now must be carried out in the presence of inspectors from the Ministry of National Education, who reportedly check to ensure that the child’s father is in fact from the relevant minority community. (Page 21) * Over the previous five decades, the state has, using convoluted regulations and undemocratic laws, confiscated hundreds of religious minority properties, primarily those belonging to the Greek Orthodox community, although Armenian Orthodox, Catholics, and Jews also reported such expropriations. The state has also closed their seminaries, denying these communities the right to train clergy. In 1936, the government required all foundations (including those that supported religious activities) to declare their sources of income; in 1974, at the time of the Cyprus invasion, the Turkish High Court of Appeals ruled that minority foundations had no right to acquire properties other than those listed in those 1936 declarations. Particularly since that time, the government has seized control of hundreds of properties acquired after 1936; religious minority foundations that are recognized by the state can acquire property, but previously appropriated property cannot be reclaimed. In many cases, the government has prevented the Orthodox from using a particular property and then expropriated it-with the justification that it is not being utilized. There is also no right to appeal these government actions. (Page 23) * Despite the constitutional protection for religious freedom, other of the problems described in this report remain. These problems include: the absence of full legal recognition for religious minorities, including Alevis; Greek, Armenian, and Syrian Orthodox; Roman and Syriac Catholics; Protestants; and Jews. (Page 27) The full text of the report is available at: http://www.uscirf.gov

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