WASHINGTON — In its final hours, the Trump Administration signed a disastrous bilateral U.S.-Turkey Memorandum of Understanding granting Turkey legal rights over the vast religious-cultural heritage of the region’s indigenous peoples and other minority populations, reported the Armenian National Committee of America.
The agreement comes in response to a request by the Government of Turkey, submitted over a year ago — a move strongly opposed by the ANCA, Hellenic American Leadership Council, and In Defense of Christians (IDC) and a host of cultural rights and museum groups including the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD), the Committee for Cultural Policy (CCP), the Global Heritage Alliance (GHA), and the International Association of Professional Numismatists (IAPN), among others.
“The Trump Administration — in its final hours — gifted Turkey the legal rights to claim the vast religious and cultural heritage of the region’s indigenous peoples and minority populations – among them Armenians, Greeks, Assyrians, Chaldeans, Syriacs, Arameans, Maronites, Jews and Kurds,” said ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian. “This reckless and irresponsible move was done over the protests of the ANCA, the Hellenic American Leadership Council, and In Defense of Christians by an Administration well aware that Turkey has openly, unapologetically, and systematically spent the past two centuries destroying minorities, desecrating their holy sites, and erasing even their memory from the landscape of their ancient, indigenous homelands.”
Hellenic American Leadership Council Executive Director Endy Zemenides concurred. “In his confirmation hearing for Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken correctly identified Turkey as a ‘so-called strategic partner’ of the United States. The fact that the present State Department ignored both the divergence in strategic interest and, most importantly, democratic values and signed a cultural agreement with a Turkey that has demonstrated the intent to wipe out its Christian minorities and their heritage is a travesty. Those that participated in the signing of this agreement are potentially complicit in the continuation of Turkey’s oppression of its Christians. We will work with the incoming Secretary and Administration to ensure that this agreement is indeed effectuated in such a way that actually protects Christian heritage in Turkey,“ stated Zemenides.
IDC President Toufic Baaklini explained, “This MOU is a shameful stamp of American approval on the destruction of Christian cultural heritage in Turkey. We will work with the incoming Biden Administration to ensure U.S. policy towards Turkey will be much stronger moving forward.”
Dr. Elizabeth Prodromou, who served on the US Commission on International Religious Freedom from 2004-2012 and lectures at Tufts University Fletcher School, called the agreement “a surreal moment in U.S. foreign policy.” Prodromou explained, “well-documented and extensive evidence by cultural heritage experts leaves no doubt that the state of Turkey is the single greatest threat to that country’s cultural heritage. The Trump Administration has now put the United States in the position of enabler to Turkey’s weaponization of cultural heritage policy, used for a century as a cudgel to erase the country’s vulnerable religious minorities, including Greek, Armenian, and Assyrian Christians, and Jews. The incoming Biden administration will face one more challenge in trying to restore U.S. leadership in the protection of human rights and religious freedom, as Washington tries to ensure that Turkey does not hide beyond the MOU in order to commit ‘memoricide’ against its Christian and Jewish minority communities.”