- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 22, 2011

‘THAT IS MY ANSWER’

Turkish Ambassador Namik Tandodged tough questions from an Armenian-American journalist who pressed him on the destruction of churches in Turkey and the Armenian “genocide” in World War I.

On a visit to Los Angeles last week, Mr. Tan delivered a polite, diplomatic answer that avoided directly addressing questions from Harut Sassounian, publisher of the California Courier, the oldest English-language Armenian-American newspaper in the United States.

“I politely reminded Ambassador Tan that he had not answered my questions,” Mr. Sassounian wrote.

“He responded by saying: ‘That is my answer.’”

After Mr. Tan’s speech at the University of Southern California, Mr. Sassounian asked him a series of pointed questions, including:

• “The Turkish government recently renovated a couple of Armenian churches. There were thousands of Armenian churches and monasteries throughout Turkey before the genocide, most of which were converted into mosques, warehouses and stables, and many were destroyed.

“Isn’t it time for the Turkish government to turn over these Armenian churches to the Armenian Patriarchate of Istanbul?”

• “Also, after Armenians were deported and killed, they left behind their houses, lands and belongings. Isn’t [it] time for the Turkish government to return these properties to the heirs of their original Armenian owners?”

• Mr. Sassounian reminded Mr. Tan that President Obama, on Armenian Genocide Day last year, referred to the “1.5 million Armenians [who] were massacred or marched to death in the final days of the Ottoman Empire.”

“If you say that is not true, wouldn’t you be calling the president of the United States a liar?” he asked the ambassador.

The Turkish government is highly sensitive to claims that Turks deliberately killed Armenians in a genocide beginning in 1915. No U.S. president has officially referred to the conflict as genocide, although Mr. Obama, as a presidential candidate, promised to recognize the Armenian genocide if he was elected.

When the House Foreign Affairs Committee passed an “Armenian Genocide” resolution last year, Turkey recalled Mr. Tan for several months in a diplomatic protest.

Mr. Tan answered Mr. Sassounian’s questions with a lengthy response, calling for an end to “hate” and repeating his government’s proposal for an “independent historical inquiry commission” to investigate the killings under the Ottoman Turkish Empire.

He also referred to recent protocols signed by the Turkish and Armenian governments to establish better relations.

“This hate should end. We should put it behind as early as possible,” Mr. Tan said.

“That’s why we are trying to reach out to our Armenian friends, and we have signed the [Armenia-Turkey] protocols. In these protocols, one of the suggestions that we put is that we want an independent historical inquiry commission which will include representatives from every country - from U.S., France and whichever country you like.

“They will study those claims, and we will see the decision all together. But history cannot be legislated. This is not the way that history could be judged. So, I think this has created a lot of ill feelings in our societies.”

“Armenians have given a lot of contribution to our social life historically,” he said. “Therefore, we need to continue such kind of engagements, but this hate should be stopped.”

• Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297 or e-mail jmorrison@washington times.com.

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