ANCA Calls For Apology From Ricciardone

US Ambassador to Turkey Francis Ricciardone

Demands retraction, correction and apology for statement covering-up Ottoman and Republican Turkey’s systematic destruction of thousands of Christian Churches

WASHINGTON—The Armenian National Committee of America Monday called for an apology from U.S. Ambassador to Turkey Francis Ricciardone over his recent written response to a Senate inquiry falsely claiming that “most of the Christian churches functioning prior to 1915 are still operating as churches.”

The August 15th letter from ANCA Chairman Ken Hachikian to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reviewed the facts surrounding the Ambassador’s offensive and inaccurate comment whitewashing the vast destruction of Christian holy sites, noting that the Ambassador’s remarks reflect “his eagerness to embrace the government of Turkey’s false and hateful genocide denial narrative, at lengths beyond even the Administration’s longstanding and shameful complicity in Turkey’s denials of the Armenian Genocide.” The exchange between Sen. Menendez and Amb. Ricciardone reads as follows:

Sen. Menendez: “To the best of your knowledge, approximately how many of the more than 2,000 Christian churches functioning prior to 1915 on the territory of present-day Turkey are still operating today as churches?”

Amb. Ricciardone: “Most of the Christian churches functioning prior to 1915 are still operating as churches. Some churches of significance operate as museums. The remaining have fallen into disrepair or were converted to mosques for lack of use.”

The ANCA letter (full text provided below) specifically calls for three actions: 1) An official statement by Ambassador Ricciardone and the Department of State retracting his response; 2) A full and formal correction affirming that the vast majority of Christian churches on the territory of present-day Turkey were desecrated, destroyed or stolen by the Ottoman and Republican Turkish governments, and that any surviving churches and all religious properties should be returned to their rightful Armenian, Greek, Assyrian, Syriac, Pontian and other Christian church and lay ownerships, and; 3) An apology from Ambassador Ricciardone.

Church Leaders Offer Strong Defense of Armenian Church Rights
Archbishop Moushegh Mardirossian and Archbishop Oshagan Choloyan, Prelates of the Armenian Apostolic Church of America Western and Eastern United States, respectively, have each issued powerfully worded spiritual messages in response to Ambassador Ricciardone’s statement.

In an August 15th statement, Archbishop Choloyan stressed that the Ambassador’s assertion was “so blatantly false that it cannot remain unchallenged.” Setting the record straight, he noted that: “The facts are quite clear. From the massacres of Armenians in 1895-96 and the Armenian Genocide in 1915, to the decades following the establishment of the Turkish republic, Christian houses of worship were systematically destroyed or confiscated. My own church’s hierarchal see, the Armenian Catholicosate of Cilicia, was a victim of this process, and today is exiled in Lebanon. The archives of the Catholicosate contain hundreds of original deeds and other documentation of churches and church owned property that were confiscated.”

Archbishop Mardirossian concurred, stating, “The presence of an Ambassador in Ankara who is unaware of or uninterested in the truth and the consequences of the Ottoman and Republican Turkish government’s genocide of Armenians, Assyrians, Syriacs, Greeks and other Christians materially undermines U.S. interests, compromises American values, and weakens international efforts to defend religious freedom for peoples of all faiths. Sadly, but unmistakably, with this hateful and hurtful statement, Ambassador Ricciardone has demonstrated that he is not the right candidate to effectively and responsibly represent the United States in Turkey.”

Read Archishop Moushegh Mardirossian’s statement.
Read Archishop Oshagan Choloyan’s complete statement.

To alert the Secretary of State about your concerns regarding Ambassador Ricciardone’s statements please leave a brief recorded message on the State Department’s comment line at (202) 647-6575. (Press option #1)

Whitewashing Religious Freedom Abuses in Turkey
Ambassador Ricciardone’s response to Senator Menendez fits into a pattern of statements glossing over well-documented and far-reaching religious freedom abuses in Turkey.

Earlier this year, during his July confirmation hearing, in response to Delaware Senator Chris Coons’ question as to what steps he had taken to promote religious freedom in Turkey, Amb. Ricciardone offered this evasive answer: “…very interestingly, they [the Turkish Government] follow our debates about personal freedom and religious freedom and they say ‘Here is how you can understand this, American Ambassador. In your country, you have in recent years made a distinction between freedom of religion and the concept of freedom from religion. For too long in our modern republic we focused on preventing the intrusion of religion in our national life and political life. We are quite comfortable to be observant Muslims, please don’t call us Islamists, by the way,’ they tell us, ‘but to the extent someone is praying as a Christian or a Jew, it really doesn’t bother us at all – why should it? It’s no threat to the state, on the contrary, we are rather proud of our diversity and we happy to have them do it. As to their property issues, let us take a fresh look at this and make sure they get justice.’”

This assessment is sharply at odds with reports by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), which raised the following alarm in its 2011 report: “The Turkish government continues to impose serious limitations on freedom of religion or belief, thereby threatening the continued vitality and survival of minority religious communities in Turkey.”

Earlier this summer, the House Foreign Affairs Committee, concerned about Turkey’s discrimination against its Christian minority, voted 43-1 in favor of an amendment to the State Department Authorization Bill calling on Turkey to allow prayer at Christian holy sites and return Christian churches to their “rightful owners.” Additional information regarding the repression of Christian minorities in Turkey.

Reservations about the Ambassador Ricciardone’s willingness to accept the Turkish government’s talking points on religious tolerance at face value echo concerns expressed last fall by then Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS), who, during the last session of Congress, placed a hold on Ambassador Ricciardone’s nomination to serve as U.S. Ambassador to Turkey. In an August 16, 2010, letter to Secretary Clinton, Sen. Brownback voiced disapproval of Ricciardone’s tenure as U.S. Ambassador to Egypt, noting, among other things, that “he quickly adopted the positions and arguments of his Egyptian diplomatic counterparts.”

In the wake of Senator Brownback’s hold, President Obama circumvented Senate objections by issuing a “recess appointment” of Amb. Ricciardone. The Senate must approve his nomination in the upcoming months, if Ambassador Ricciardone is to continue to serve in Turkey for more than one year, of the usual three-year ambassadorial term. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will likely take up his nomination upon their return from the August Congressional recess.

Below is the complete text of ANCA’s letter to Secretary Clinton:
 
Dear Secretary Clinton,
 
I am writing to share with you our profound reservations regarding the testimony and track record of Francis Ricciardone, our nation’s Ambassador to the Republic of Turkey.

We have been troubled by his eagerness to embrace the government of Turkey’s false and hateful genocide denial narrative, at lengths beyond even the Administration’s longstanding and shameful complicity in Turkey’s denials of the Armenian Genocide.  His verbal and written responses to questions during his Senate confirmation process, regarding the Armenian Genocide and other issues, ranged from evasive to deeply offensive.  We draw your attention, in particular, to his factually incorrect and insulting written response to Question for the Record #2 submitted by Senator Robert Menendez (8/2/2011) during the Foreign Relations Committee’s consideration of his nomination.

The full exchange, which clearly disqualifies Ambassador Ricciardone as a diplomat who can serve effectively in Ankara, reads as follows:

Sen. Menendez: “To the best of your knowledge, approximately how many of the more than 2,000 Christian churches functioning prior to 1915 on the territory of present-day Turkey are still operating today as churches?”

Amb. Ricciardone: “Most of the Christian churches functioning prior to 1915 are still operating as churches. Some churches of significance operate as museums. The remaining have fallen into disrepair or were converted to mosques for lack of use.”
 
The Ambassador’s response, it must be stressed, was not verbal, but in writing, submitted after, we assume, careful review by the Ambassador and by a range of relevant senior officials with access to the full resources and historical record of the Department of State. 

On behalf of all those who cherish religious freedom and the value the integrity of our nation’s defense of human rights, we respectfully request 1) an official statement by Ambassador Ricciardone and the Department of State retracting his response to QFR #2 from Senator Menendez; 2) a full and formal correction affirming that the vast majority of Christian churches on the territory of present-day Turkey were desecrated, destroyed or stolen by the Ottoman and Republican Turkish governments, and that any surviving churches and all religious properties should be returned to their rightful Armenian, Greek, Assyrian, Syriac, Pontian and other Christian church and lay ownerships, and; 3) an apology from Ambassador Ricciardone.

I want to thank you for your attention to this pressing concern, and also to restate our desire to meet with you personally, as per your invitation of January of 2010, as part of a broad-based consultation with the leadership of the Armenian American community. 

Sincerely,
[signed]
Kenneth V. Hachikian
Chairman

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8 Comments

  1. Hatchik said:

    No apology. Just reject Riccardione and send him into retirement at a Turkish rest home somewhere in the slums of Istanbul.

  2. Christo said:

    Another useless and waste of the Armenian communities time. As if the ANCA thinks that anyone is going to read or listen to these messages? What a waste of time.

  3. stephan said:

    We should not only call for an apology, but ask him to resign, or call for his recall to Washington,where he belongs.

  4. Papken Hartunian said:

    Thank you ANCA! You have regained my support! We need to fight for our national intertests around the globe! Armenians should not feel as orphans!

  5. Samvel Jeshmaridian, PhD said:

    Thank You, State Secretary Hillary Clinton. Good for You!

  6. manooshag said:

    Mr. Ricciardone, If you had researched you shall have read…
    “Genocide is not only killing, is not only plunder, is not only rape;
    It is the condemnation to death under unimaginably inhuman
    conditions, and being made to witness that condemnation.
    Without food, dying of starvation, were huddled masses of dying
    and dead – mixed with discarded ragged clothing, refuse and
    human excrement – impossible to pick out one portion and
    describe it as a living person. Carts, looking for corpses – containing
    10 to 12 human bodies – emaciated… violated.

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