By Harut Sassounian
Despite the many violations of Armenian cultural and religious rights in Turkey, there are some Armenians in Istanbul who praise the Turkish regime and particularly its fascist President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
These few pro-Erdogan Armenians, who enjoy special privileges and access to high-ranking Turkish officials, represent themselves as protectors of the local Armenian community’s interests. But in reality, they have selfish motives. They either have personal business interests with corrupt Turkish leaders or seek to maintain their undeserved positions in Armenian community institutions. One such individual is Bedros Sirinoglu, Chairman of the Board of Sourp Prgich Armenian Hospital in Istanbul.
In a recent interview with journalist Pinar Isik Ardor of Forum USA, a Turkish American newspaper, Sirinoglu made several false statements about the Armenian community in Turkey and distorted the facts of the Armenian Genocide.
Sirinoglu’s words were “shocking,” according to Istanbul’s Nor Marmara Armenian newspaper. Sirinoglu told Forum USA that Armenians have never lived as comfortably as they have been during Erdogan’s leadership! He also made untrue statements about the Armenian Genocide, stating that “the events of 1915 were organized by outside powers intending to dismantle and overthrow the Ottoman Empire.”
Furthermore, Sirinoglu told Forum USA: “Before Erdogan’s time, we could not even paint or repair our churches. We could only do it when the state pretended not to notice such actions.” Sirinoglu repeatedly claimed he has done good deeds for the Armenian community in Turkey. Several years ago, he said he had requested a meeting with Erdogan which was immediately granted. He asked Erdogan to permit the placement of a cross on the dome of the Holy Cross Armenian Church in Akhtamar. He reportedly told Erdogan: “Just as you cannot have a mosque without a minaret, similarly you cannot have a church without a cross.” Sirinoglu claimed that “Erdogan had the cross placed overnight on the Akhtamar church.” If Sirinoglu was so influential, why didn’t he ask Erdogan to restore the status of the Akhtamar as a Armenian church instead of designating it a “museum,” allowing religious services to be performed only once a year! Sirinoglu also ignored the fact that Armenians and others worldwide, including the Armenian Patriarch of Istanbul, had demanded the placement of the cross on the dome of the church. Sirinoglu was not the only one to make such a request.
Calling them “fictional scenarios,” Sirinoglu contradicted the various Western reports that Armenian religious rights are restricted in Turkey. The 67-year-old Sirinoglu told the Turkish newspaper: “Since my childhood days Armenians have not had any problems.”
When the Turkish journalist reminded Sirinoglu that some Armenians are not pleased with his words, he responded: “If you don’t speak as they wish, they become hostile. I stand by the state. I do not betray my own country. I am an Armenian, but I am a Turkish compatriot. Our faith orders us to be faithful to the state. Our Bible preaches likewise.”
Sirinoglu’s most controversial remarks pertain to his misinterpretation of the Armenian Genocide. He stated that “he approaches with suspicion the [Armenian victims’] numbers used regarding 1915.” He added that “Armenians, Jews and Greeks were wealthy in that period, which is why there was enmity against them. Now the Armenian population is gradually decreasing. The birth rate is low. The death rate is high. There are also mixed marriages.”
When the Turkish journalist asked Sirinoglu if the Armenians, Greeks and Jews share the same point of view, Sirinolglu answered affirmatively and added: “We only disagree about the events of 1915. Greek Patriarch Bartholomew has a reserved and principled position, also regarding the government. The Jews also like the state, but they are also men of principle. They do not abandon their principles. The Jews living here do not betray Turkey, but they are tied to Israel.”
Finally, Sirinoglu responded to a question regarding the recent decrease in the value of the Turkish Lira. Repeating the same answer given by Erdogan, Sirinoglu blamed foreign powers for orchestrating “this game against the Turkish economy.”
This is not the first time that Sirinoglu has made such false statements on the Armenian Genocide. For example, after meeting with then Prime Minister Erdogan in 2010, he told the Turkish media that “1915 was nothing more than a feud between loving friends, instigated by third parties.” He went on to say that his “grandfather was among the victims, but so were many Turks.”
Back in 2010, Armenians in Istanbul launched a petition announcing that Sirinoglu is not their leader and does not represent the Armenian community. Angered by Sirinoglu’s statements, the petitioners stressed: “We live in a different Turkey,” not the Turkey described by Sirinoglu!