WASHINGTON — US Ambassador to Turkey Francis Ricciardone, responding to a wave of grassroots outrage and growing Congressional concern, backed away fromhis most obvious and offensive misrepresentations about Turkey’s destruction of Christian churches, but sparked renewed controversy by artificially inflating the number of currently operating Christian houses of worship, and again using strained euphemisms to help Ankara escape responsibility for its crimes, reported the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA).
Following broad-based concerns expressed by Armenian-American community and religious leaders, Ricciardone amended his earlier response to Senate Foreign Relations Committee member Robert Menendez (D-NJ), in which he had argued, without any basis in fact, that a majority of Christian churches operating in the territory of present-day Turkey prior to 1915 were still functioning today.
In a correction obtained by the ANCA on August 22, Ricciardone took the “opportunity to clarify the record,” suggesting that of the 2,000 churches there before 1915, they are not all still functioning. He said, “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.”
“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 US values and interests in Turkey.”
Last week, in a strongly-worded letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, ANCA Chairman Ken Hachikian 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.