By Taniel Koushakjian
August 22, 2013
In the latest development of the Turkish government’s increasingly anti-Israel posture, this week Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayip Erdogan made the audacious claim that Israel was behind the Egyptian military’s ouster of Muslim Brotherhood President Mohamed Morsi. Speaking to a group of provincial governors of his AKP party, Erdogan reportedly stated: “What do they say in Egypt? Democracy is not at the ballot box. Who is behind it? Israel. We have in our hands documentation.”
This statement was quickly rebuffed by Israeli and U.S. government officials. In response to a reporter’s question specifically citing Erdogan’s comments, White House Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest said “We strongly condemn the statements that were made by Prime Minister Erdogan today.” “Suggesting that Israel is somehow responsible for recent events in Egypt is offensive, unsubstantiated and wrong,” Earnest stated.
According to the Jerusalem Post, “Erdogan’s rant was not worthy of a response, Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said Tuesday. ‘This is a statement well worth not commenting on.’”
Erdogan’s anti-Semitic statements have become a new normal for him and his Islamic AKP Party. A few weeks ago, Erdogan blamed the Turkish uprisings surrounding the Gezi Park protests as being motivated by the “interest rate lobby,” a reference widely interpreted to mean Israel.
While these statements may win him praise on the streets of the Arab World, Erdogan may be miscalculating the effect. “’Erdogan’s speech blaming Israel for the coup in Egypt pours cold water on the option of Israel cooperating with Turkey on the gas pipeline,” Gilad Alper, a senior analyst at Ramat-Gan, Israel-based Excellence Nessuah Brokerage Ltd. told Bloomberg News. With Turkey looking to import Israeli natural gas, it appears that Erdogan’s continued anti-Semitic statements jeopardize Turkey’s dream to becoming a major energy hub in the region.
Statements such as these also have an unfortunate effect on Turkish society. Anti-Americanism in Turkey is among the highest in world and has been for many years. The growing anti-Semitism and increasing Islamism in the Turkish government appear related.
However, Erdogan’s comments are not just confined to Israel and the Jewish people. A headline last month in Commentary Magazine read “Erdogan’s disdain extends from Jews to Blacks.” Author Michael Rubin states that “Criticizing Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the leader of the center-left and secular Republican Peoples Party (CHP), Erdoğan declared, “Kılıçdaroğlu is striving every bit he can to raise himself from the level of a black person to the level of a white man.”
Bloomberg’s Jeffrey Goldberg goes even further: “It’s time to call Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayip Erdogan what he is: a semi-unhinged bigot.”
Jewish-American and African-American members of the Congressional Turkish Caucus should be made aware of these statements and reconsider their support of a government and society that is increasingly at odds with U.S. interests and those of our allies Israel and Armenia.
This article originally appeared on the Armenian Assembly’s Blog.
US House Foreign Affairs Committee Passes Legislation Calling on Turkey to Re-open Halki Seminary, Chairwoman Ros-Lehtinen Calls on Turkey to End Occupation of Cyprus
By Taniel Koushakjian
FLArmenians Political Contributor
Miami, FL – Last month, the US House Foreign Affairs Committee passed H. Res. 506, legislation “calling on the Government of Turkey to facilitate the reopening of the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s Theological School of Halki without condition or further delay.” A symbolic measure similar to the Armenian Genocide resolution, H. Res. 506 (the Halki bill) is a non-binding, sense of the House resolution and has no legal or statutory effect. Florida Congressman, and member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Gus Bilirakis (R-FL), introduced the Halki bill. Bilirakis is the Co-Chair of the Congressional Hellenic Caucus, and a member of the Congressional Armenian Caucus and International Religious Freedom Caucus.
Founded in 1844, the Theological School of Halki served as the principal seminary for the Greek Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarchate until Turkish authorities forcibly closed the institution in 1971. “It is time that the Theological School at Halki is immediately reopened with no preconditions,” Congressman Bilirakis said. “What the Orthodox Christian community and all religious freedom watchdogs throughout the world are asking for is simply that Turkey abides by its constitution, which secures religious rights for all of its citizens and institutions,” stated Bilirakis.
In addition to Congressman Bilirakis, 35 Members of Congress cosponsored the bill, including House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), and Florida Representatives Mario Diaz-Bolart (R-FL), Frederica Wilson (D-FL), David Rivera (R-FL) and Allen West (R-FL). The next step in the legislative process is for H. Res. 506 to be scheduled for a vote on the House floor. There is no indication that the Halki bill will receive a vote by the full House at this time. However, given the upcoming Presidential election, it would not be surprising to see H. Res. 506 pass the House of Representatives before November.
Two weeks following committee passage of H. Res. 506, Chairwoman Ros-Lehtinen wrote a punishing Op-Ed in the Washington Times explicitly calling on Turkey to leave Cyprus in peace. In her opinion column, Ros-Lehtinen strongly condemned the “illegal military occupation of Cyprus by Turkish troops,” highlighting the “75 [United Nations Security Council] resolutions calling for Turkey to allow Greek Cypriots to return to their homes and to withdraw its troops from Cyprus.”
Turkey invaded the Mediterranean island in 1974, dividing it between the north and south, causing massive destruction of life, land and religious artifacts. The decades long presence of Turkish troops in Cyprus, which today number 40,000, in addition to Ankara’s promotion of mainland-Turkish emigration to the occupied territory, amount to Turkey’s “creeping annexation” of the island, according to Ros-Lehtinen.
Cyprus is a member of the European Union (EU), which Turkey aspires to join, with US support. Yet Turkey does not recognize the existence of the Cypriot Republic, a major obstacle in Turkey’s EU bid. In recent months, pressure has been mounting heavily on Turkey to end its illegal occupation and help bring about a peaceful reunification of the island, since Cyprus assumed the rotating EU Presidency on July 5.
As Ros-Lehtinen points out in her column, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s statements unequivocally illustrate Ankara’s annexation policy. While in Cyprus last year Erdogan told Turkish-Cypriots, “If you don’t want us to send people, you need to have more babies.” Also last year, Erdogan visited Germany; home to approximately 3 million ethnic Turks. In his address to the Turkish-German community Erdogan told his ethnic kin to integrate into German society, but to resist “assimilation,” irking German officials. Statements such as these do little to quell Western fears of the Turkish Prime Minister and his ruling Justice & Development Party’s growing neo-Ottomanism, which many view as an extension of the Ottoman Empire’s pan-Turanism policy. That policy led to the 1915 Armenian Genocide, where 1.5 million Armenians perished in a systematic effort by Ottoman Turks to cleans Anatolia of its ethnic Christian (Armenian, Greek and Assyrian) origins.
Chairwoman Ros-Lehtinen is a member of the Armenian Caucus, Hellenic Caucus & Turkish Caucus. As previously reported by FLArmenians, Chairwoman Ros-Lehtinen was instrumental in the successful passage of H. Res. 306, the Protection of Christian Heritage bill, by the full House of Representatives in December of last year. Ros-Lehtinen and Bilirakis are the only members on the Armenian Caucus from the Florida delegation, and the only members of the Florida delegation to cosponsor H. Res. 306.
In February, the American Hellenic Institute (AHI) held a screening of the one-hour documentary “Cyprus Still Divided: A US Foreign Policy Failure,” at the Archimedean Academy Amphitheater in Miami, Florida. Chairwoman Ros-Lehtinen offered the keynote address at this event and expressed strong support for Hellenic-American issues. Reflecting on her family’s experience fleeing the communist regime of Cuban dictator Fidel Castro, “I know…what is at stake if we in this country fail to support the Greek-Cypriots in their struggle,” Ros-Lehtinen said.
Whether Congressional leaders genuinely support efforts to protect international religious freedom in Turkey, especially in the face of growing persecution of Christian minorities and a culture of anti-Christian intimidation throughout the Middle East, remains to be seen in either US law or the execution of foreign policy. Although foreign relations is Constitutionally reserved to the Executive branch, Congress retains many tools at its disposal, such as the state department authorization act, national defense authorization act, foreign assistance appropriations measures, and the authorization of US military and defense company procurements, all of which have the ability to dramatically impact US policy in the region.