Washington, D.C. – The Armenian Assembly of America considers the recent rhetoric of Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan as both a fresh admission of the Armenian Genocide and an early warning sign of immediate threats to Armenians, Greeks, Christians, Kurds, as well as other minorities in the region. We call on the United States government and its NATO allies, and all other concerned governments to counteract these threats and safeguard innocent lives. President Erdoğan’s actions trigger the activation of the United Nations Genocide Convention, of which Turkey is a signatory party, and obligations to prevent another genocide.
During a May 4, 2020 briefing on COVID-19, Erdoğan proclaimed: “We do not allow terrorist leftovers of the sword in our country.” The term “leftover of the sword” has been utilized pejoratively by Turkish authorities during the past century to stigmatize its Armenian, Assyrian and Greek populations. During the Armenian Genocide, over 1.5 million Armenians were victims as Turkey not only eliminated its Christian Armenian population but also its Greek, Assyrian, Chaldean, Syriac, and other nations in the Ottoman Turkish Empire. The United States Congress passed resolutions in 2019 reaffirming policies to avoid the repetition of genocide. History teaches that, especially in emergency situations, leaders’ dog-whistle calls to racism lead to tragic consequences and we are seeing that history repeats itself in the current pandemic crisis, with President Erdoğan clearly trying to divert attention from his country’s real problems.
President Erdoğan’s inflammatory language and actions are contributing to the elevation of tensions in Turkish society and inciting some of his countrymen to commit hate crimes towards Armenians and Armenian properties in Turkey, the latest of which occurred on May 8, 2020, when St. Mary Armenian Church in Istanbul’s Bakırköy neighborhood was vandalized during an attempted burning of the church. The apprehended suspect stated that his motive to burn down the church was predicated on the false notion that Armenians “caused the coronavirus – the plague.” While it is encouraging that the deputy police chief of Istanbul reached out to the Armenian Patriarchate of Istanbul to “express sadness” and that a suspect has been detained, the preemption of such hate incidents significantly hinges on Turkish authorities refraining from airing provocative declarations targeting minority populations. Minority groups in countries outside of Turkey, including in Syria and Nagorno-Karabakh, also feel threatened by such statements.
We thank all governments and groups monitoring these threats. Updates will be issued as the situation develops.