ANKARA (Combined Sources)–Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan continued his government’s denial of the ongoing genocide in Darfur on Sunday, questioning International Criminal Court (ICC) charges against Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir on grounds that “no Muslim could perpetrate a genocide,” the Turkish Today’s Zaman newspaper reported Monday.
Nearly half a million people have been slaughtered and nearly 3 million more forced from their homes since the government in Khartoum launched its genocide in February 2003. The Sudanese government denies it is committing genocide.
The ICC indicted al-Bashir in March on seven counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, but stopped short of including a charge of genocide. Turkey is among the few countries to have not yet ratified the Rome Statute, which requires compliance with ICC rulings.
According to the Turkish Prime Minister, Bashir may have mismanaged the situation, but the international warrant for his arrest is a mistake.
Turkey has been facing heavy criticism for agreeing to host al-Bashir at a summit of the Organization for Islamic Conference (OIC) scheduled to take place in Istanbul on Monday.
“It’s not possible for a Muslim to commit genocide,” he said. “That’s why we are comfortable [with the visit of al-Bashir].”
But on Sunday, the Sudanese president told his Turkish counterpart, Abdullah Gul, that he would not attend the OIC meeting in Istanbul on Monday, the Sudanese state-run Suna news agency said.
The cancellation came after the European Union put pressure on host Turkey to either stop al-Bashir from attending the economic summit or arrest him upon arrival for the sake of the ongoing membership talks.
The European Union reiterated its position on al-Bashir to Turkey through a diplomatic note, which asked the Turkish government to align its policies with that of the 27-member bloc. Turkey responded harshly to the EU, saying al-Bashir was not arriving in Istanbul for a bilateral visit and that the invitation was made by the OIC.
According to diplomatic sources, there was an active diplomatic discussion in Ankara, Brussels and Washington over the weekend concerning al-Bashir’s visit. While Brussels and Washington pressed Turkey to cancel the visit, Ankara tried to keep a lid on reactions from the EU and the United States.
U.S. State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said, “It was really up to the government of Turkey” whether to allow the indicted president to attend a meeting of the OIC. Kelly also said Washington’s purpose was not to criticize Turkey but that it would expect Turkey to raise “Darfur issues” if it holds meetings with al-Bashir. But like Turkey, the United States also has yet to sign the Rome Statute.
International human rights organizations also urged Turkey to arrest al-Bashir if he arrives in Istanbul.
Erdogan on Sunday was responding to the worldwide criticism over the controversial visit by the Sudanese leader, defending his government’s support for Al-Bashir.
If there was such a thing [genocide], we could talk about it face to face with President Bashir,” said Erdogan, whose government itself denies the genocide of Armenian committed by Ottoman Turkey in 1915-1923.
“Those world leaders who criticize us, have they ever visited Darfur? Their information is solely based on what the rapporteurs are reporting. These kinds of moves will not contribute to world peace,” Erdogan said Sunday in an address to members of his party.
“We are aware of the fact that there are those who want to corner Turkey through al-Bashir’s visit. These people should know well our sensitivities about human rights violations,” Erdogan said. “I went to Darfur myself. I want to ask: How many of these worlds leaders paid a visit to Sudan, to Darfur?”
“I went there to see it with my own eyes,” he reiterated, stressing that he did not observe that genocide was being committed during his visit.
Erdogan went on to suggest that the Jews of Israel are the only genocidal group in the Middle East.
The Turkish Premier has very publicly accused Israel of widespread war crimes and even genocidal intentions in the Gaza Strip and other Palestinian-controlled areas, severely straining relations between the two nations, which were previously regional allies.
“Gaza and Darfur should not be confused with each other. Fifteen-hundred people were killed in Gaza. If there was something like this in Darfur, we would follow that to the end as well,” Erdogan said.