BY HARUT SASSOUNIAN
Not satisfied with its neo-Ottoman policies of regional domination, Turkey has decided to extend its influence far and wide, to the four corners of the globe.
While making inroads into the Islamic world by pretending to sympathize with Palestinian suffering, Turkey has alienated Israel, its long-standing political and military partner, and its NATO allies.
Encouraged by his much publicized recent visit to Iran with Brazil’s President, and anxious to counter growing recognition of the Armenian Genocide by South American countries, Prime Minister Erdogan embarked last week on his first trip to Argentina, Brazil and Chile.
In paving the way for that visit, Turkey’s Ambassador in Argentina had worked diligently with local officials to allow Erdogan, accompanied by seven ministers and 300 businessmen, to inaugurate the installation of Kemal Ataturk’s bust in a major Buenos Aires park.
In response to the Turkish Ambassador’s lobbying efforts, the local Armenian community launched a counter-attack, placing paid announcements in two major newspapers and asking Buenos Aires City officials not to honor Ataturk, blaming him for continuing the genocide initiated by the previous Young Turk regime. Armenians also objected to Erdogan’s visit, accusing him of heading a denialist government.
Buenos Aires officials responded positively to Armenian concerns, because of long-standing cordial ties with the local community. Moreover, in recent years, the city government had published two textbooks on the Armenian Genocide, which are used in city schools. Importantly, these books include references to Ataturk’s role in continuing the genocidal activities of his predecessors.
Ultimately, what caused the collapse of the Turkish scheme was the discovery that Turkey’s Ambassador had attempted to deceive Buenos Aires City officials. He had falsely claimed that he was merely requesting permission to replace Ataturk’s bust, which had been supposedly missing for several years. The Ambassador had asked for a prompt decision from city officials in order to have Ataturk’s bust unveiled during Prime Minister’s visit to Argentina on May 31.
Upon review of the Turkish Ambassador’s demands, Buenos Aires officials discovered that there had never been a bust of Ataturk in that park. The missing bust actually was that of a well-known Egyptian human rights activist. Argentina’s large Arab community was extremely unhappy learning that the Turkish Ambassador, using false pretenses, was trying to replace their beloved hero’s missing bust with that of Ataturk.
Turkey’s envoy must have intentionally misrepresented the facts, knowing full well that city officials would not agree to pass a law allowing the installation of Ataturk’s bust. The Ambassador tried to trick them by requesting a permit simply to replace the “missing” bust.
When Erdogan found out that there would not be an installation of Ataturk’s bust, he asked Argentina’s President Cristina Kirchner to overrule city officials. However, Kirchner explained that she was not empowered to take such action, because Buenos Aires had an autonomous government and any attempt to interfere in local matters would violate Argentina’s democratic constitution.
Despite the fact that Erdogan is an Islamist and not an Ataturk admirer, he had no choice but to defend “the honor” of Turkey’s revered founder and national hero. Otherwise, the Prime Minister would have come under severe attack back home from Turkish nationalists and the powerful military. Recent polls show that his party (AKP), for the first time since coming to power, has fallen slightly behind the opposition Kemalist Party (CHP), which could spell trouble for the Prime Minister in next year’s parliamentary elections. Under these circumstances, Erdogan was forced to cancel his much-touted trip to Argentina, after visiting Brazil. Not surprisingly, the Turkish foreign ministry angrily denounced the Armenian community of Argentina for undermining Prime Minister’s critical visit.
This is the first time that the Prime Minister of Turkey has been forced to cancel an overseas trip due to the vigilance of an Armenian community. Argentinean-Armenians must be commended for their effective activism. Armenian communities worldwide should follow their footsteps by taking legally appropriate actions to cause cancellation of visits by Turkish officials, annulment of military and commercial contracts, and disruption of diplomatic relations with Turkey, including the recall of its ambassadors.
Turkey’s leaders should be constantly reminded of the massive crimes committed by their predecessors. As long as the Turkish government does not acknowledge the Armenian Genocide and make appropriate amends, it should be made to pay a heavy political and economic price for years to come!