ANKARA: US Envoy In Turkey Faces Armenian Pressure Over Church Remar


Today’s Zaman

Aug 23, 2011

Armenian clerics and US Armenian groups have been stepping up pressure
on the US ambassador to Turkey after the diplomat said most of the
Christian churches functioning prior to 1915 are still operating as
churches in Turkey.

In a written response to questions submitted to him by US Senator
Robert Menendez earlier this month, Francis Ricciardone said a majority
of Christian churches operating in the territory of present-day Turkey
prior to 1915 are still functioning today, drawing strong reactions
from Armenian groups in the US.

Last week, in a strongly worded letter to Secretary of State Hillary
Clinton, Ken Hachikian, the chairman of influential US-based Armenian
diaspora organization the Armenian National Committee of America
(ANCA), demanded a retraction, correction and apology for Ambassador
Ricciardone’s statement covering-up Ottoman and Republican Turkey’s
systematic destruction of thousands of Christian churches.

“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,” stated Hachikian in
his August 15th letter. “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.”

The ANCA also encouraged “concerned citizens to contact Secretary
Clinton via the State Department Comment Line to offer their views
regarding Ambassador Ricciardone’s misstatements.”

Faced with pressure, the US envoy on Monday partially backtracked
on his earlier remarks. “With your permission, I would appreciate
the opportunity to clarify the record. The corrected text should
read as follows. Most of the Christian churches functioning prior
to 1915 are no longer operating as churches. Christian community
contacts in Turkey report that a total of 200-250 churches that
date to 1915 and before offer Christian worship services at least
once a year. Many churches do not offer services every week due to
insufficient clergy or local Christian populations. Some churches
of significance operate as museums, others have been converted into
mosques or put to other uses. Still others have fallen into disrepair
or may have been totally destroyed,” ANCA quoted him as saying in a
correction, apparently addressing Senator Menendez.

But the Armenian groups in the US say this is not enough and accuse him
of artificially inflating the number of currently operating Christian
houses of worship in Turkey.

“It took Ambassador Ricciardone, with the help of his many State
Department colleagues, over a week to submit in writing a patently
false misrepresentation about the destruction of Christian churches
in Turkey, and another 10 days and a full wave of Senate and citizen
pressure for him to finally take half a step back from the most
offensive and obviously incorrect aspects of his response,” said ANCA
Executive Director Aram Hamparian.

“He just keeps digging himself into a deeper hole as an apologist
for Ankara. His use of false figures and euphemisms to try to twist
his way out of his misrepresentation – while somehow still trying to
stick to Turkey’s genocide denial narrative – clearly confirms that
Ambassador Ricciardone is not the right representative of U.S. values
and interests in Turkey.”

Archbishop Oshagan Choloyan, Archbishop Moushegh Mardirossian and
Archbishop Khajag Barsamian each also issued powerfully worded
spiritual messages in response to the ambassador’s statement. In an
Aug. 15th statement, Archbishop Choloyan stressed that the ambassador’s
assertion was “so blatantly false that it cannot remain unchallenged.”

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