BY HARUT SASSOUNIAN
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan made an embarrassing appearance before the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) last month.
Erdogan was invited to the podium after lavish praise by Mevlut Cavusoglu, who was acting more like a Turkish lobbyist than President of PACE. Cavusoglu is a founding member of the ruling AKP party and member of the Turkish Parliament.
In his lengthy speech, the Prime Minister shamelessly lectured European Parliamentarians about democracy and freedom. Given his country’s dismal human rights record, Erdogan should have not raised such issues! Claiming that Turkey’s accession was “vital to the European Union,” he described as “foolish” those who opposed Turkey’s EU membership “for populist or artificial reasons.”
Making a series of dubious and inflated claims about his government’s accomplishments, Erdogan asserted that: “Turkey has achieved historic reforms, especially in the area of democratization…. The government has also worked to lift restrictions on freedom. Freedoms have been strengthened in the last decade, and many issues are now discussed freely that could not have been discussed a decade ago. There is zero tolerance of torture, and barriers to freedom of expression have been removed. Some have alleged that there are restrictions on freedom of expression, but this is wrong…. The press is free, and freely criticizes anyone and everyone…. In Turkey, 26 journalists have been detained or arrested, because they are criminals, not because they are journalists.” These incredible words are uttered by a Prime Minister who does not hesitate to sue newspapers simply for publishing a cartoon likeness of him!
When Erdogan finished his speech, Cavusoglu shielded him from further embarrassment by allowing only a handful of Parliamentarians to ask 30-second questions.
Erdogan was displeased when Swiss Parliamentarian Andreas Gross reminded him about “the dark side of Turkish history,” asking him why Nobel Laureate Orhan Pamuk was being persecuted for exercising his right to free speech.
In response to Parliamentarian Anne Brasseur’s (Luxembourg) question about censorship in Turkey, Erdogan claimed that the Turkish “judiciary is independent and is entitled to conduct its investigations as it saw fit.”
Armen Rustamyan, Chairman of the Armenian Parliament’s Foreign Relations Committee, asked Erdogan what was the point of signing the Armenia-Turkey Protocols, if Turkey is not going to open its border with Armenia until the Karabagh (Artsakh) conflict is resolved?
The Prime Minister responded that Turkey could not let Armenia “usurp the rights of Azerbaijan” and would indeed keep the border closed until the Karabagh issue is resolved. Erdogan then made a series of outlandish statements. He inadvertently reminded his European audience of the Turkish deportations of Armenians during the 1915 genocide by stating that even though Turkey could, it would not deport the 40,000 undocumented Armenian workers! He also complained that Armenia is not sufficiently pressuring its Diaspora. The Prime Minister seems to have forgotten that millions of Turks living illegally in Europe could also be deported! Erdogan carefully avoided responding to Rustamyan’s question about his personal order to dismantle the “Armenian-Turkish Friendship Statue” in Kars!
The most embarrassing part of the PACE meeting was Erdogan’s rude answer to French Parliamentarian Muriel Marland-Militello who asked about the protection of religious minorities in Turkey. Erdogan insulted the lady by point out that in the Turkish language an ignorant person is described as someone from France, which she clearly happens to be! He invited her to Turkey, so she could learn about his country. To Erdogan’s chagrin, Marland-Militello turned out to know much more about Turkey’s minorities than the Prime Minister himself. As she disclosed during a subsequent press conference, Marland-Militello is a descendant of an Armenian family that had escaped from Turkey during the genocide! Erdogan also falsely claimed that the Armenian Holy Cross Church on Akhtamar Island is “now open for worship.” The fact is that the Turkish government converted the church into a state museum, allowing Divine Liturgy to be performed there only once.
Another member of PACE, Naira Zohrabyan, having been blocked by Cavusoglu from asking a question, chased Erdogan down the corridor after the session and pushed her way past his bodyguards to hand him a photo album of murdered Armenian children during the genocide.
While the Prime Minister may easily impress his devout followers at home, he completely embarrassed himself during his appearance at PACE in Strasbourg. In view of his blatantly deceptive statements, one would hope that Erdogan would appear more frequently in front of European audiences so he could help convince them that Turkey does not belong in Europe!