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ARMENIAN CATHOGIGOS AND TURKEY

Ömer Engin LÜTEM, Retired Ambassador
29 June 2006 - ?KSAREN
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!á½p="justify">The visit of Armenian Cathogigos (Patriarch) Karekin II to Turkey in response to the invitation of Greek Patriarch Bartholomew resulted in some incidents.  The first of these was the protestation of Karekin II by a Turkish group. Some Armenian newspapers perceived this protest as disrespectful; however, today, such protests are accepted as a normal outcome of democracy. As laws permit such protests, every body can be protested by anyone, anywhere, anytime. One of the individuals, who have been protested the most, is President George Bush. Seen in this perspective, protestation of the Cathogigos is quite normal by those who refused the genocide allegations as well as occupation of Karabagh by Armenia.

} more important case was the words of Karekin II regarding the so-called Armenian genocide. As the Information Service of Armenian Church states, at a press conference on June 25, in response to a question posed by a Turkish journalist, Karekin II said that  “the Armenian genocide is a reality that happened and can never be an item for debate”.  In responding another question on the normalization of relations between Armenia and Turkey he said that Turkey should come to terms with its past and should recognize the Armenian genocide. As a response to a third question on the convening of a conference to discuss the event that had taken place in Anatolia during World War I, he said that  it  shall be possible to welcome similar initiatives if they are intended to present the actuality of the genocide to Turkish society”.

Before commenting on this issue more, it should be stated that the Cathogigos came to Turkey for religious purposes; therefore he should have not touched upon political issues, or should have used a softer tune, taking into account the sensitiveness of the Turkish public opinion for genocide allegations. However, he put his views forward uncompromisingly, as if he was willing to teach something. In doing so he abused the right to freedom of speech. This incident would surely be considered in his future visits to Turkey.

The words of Karekin II, which argued that the so-called Armenian genocide was a reality and not an item for debate sound like a dogma. As long as there are some 70 million people refusing these allegations together with the possible support of the Islamic countries to Turkey on this matter, Karekin II’s words has no meaning other than demagogy.
 
Cathogigos’ comments on the normalization of the relations between Turkey and Armenia as well as Turkish prior recognition of “genocide” contradict with the position of the Armenian governments who has never been put this condition forward for the normalization of relations, rather they always declared that there were no preconditions for normalization. It is impossible that the Cathogigos was unaware of these declarations; therefore, his comments on that matter were aimed to affect the Armenian public opinion.

Why did the Cathogigos speak so harshly? The answer of this question should be searched in the rivalry between two patriarchates. After World War II, in order to protect the Diaspora Armenians from the Etchmiadzin Patriarchate, which was under control of Soviet Union, with the consent of big powers including the United States another Patriarchate was established in Antilias, Lebanon. After the independence of Armenia, although this Patriarchate should have been abrogated, this was never realized and there emerged a rivalry between these two Patriarchates. Antilias Patriarchate has been controlled by Dashnaks, therefore it defends the views of Dashnaks and criticized Turkey unmannerly for its non-recognition of the genocide allegations. However, Etchmiadzin Patriarchate left this issue to the Armenian governments and only commented on each April 24, the so-called anniversary of the genocide. Now, it can be understood that Karekin II tried to increase his leverage in this rivalry by criticizing Turkey for  non-recognition of Armenian genocide allegations.

As for the reactions of the Turkish official posts towards these comments, according to Armenian press, a Turkish diplomat said: "We expect that the Armenians, in their turn, look at their history instead of politically manipulating their status as victims and instead of brainwashing their own people with falsified history, should listen to our advice and have the courage to sit on table to see what has happened and what has not."

 The Chairman of the Turkish Religious Affairs did not meet Karekin II, but  the Governor of Istanbul did. As the visit of Karekin II was not official, the Governor was not obliged to receive Armenian Cathogigos according to protocol rules but he might receive him for courtesy. So he did.  However the aforementioned speeches of Karekin II made this courtesy unnecessary. 

It’s obvious that the visit of Karekin II has not contributed to the normalization of Turkish Armenian relations, on the contrary it rather added a new point of contention to the existing problems.

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