Dr. Mehmet Oz (photo doctoroz.com)

Armenians Must Mobilize Against Dr. Oz

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Let us put aside the matter of whether cardiovascular surgeon Dr. Mehmet Cengiz Oz promoted questionable medical products and information on his television show, or his ideology in the context of American politics for a moment. For Armenian Americans, his potential ascent to the US Senate in Pennsylvania may set back the effects of US recognition of the Armenian Genocide and even US policy towards Armenia. He is in a very tight race in the Republican primary, which appears set for a recount. If he wins the primary, he may again face a close race against his Democratic rival John Fetterman, giving Armenians a chance to have a significant impact on this race.

Oz has never acknowledged the facts of the Armenian Genocide and till the present has avoided using the word genocide in reference to this tragedy. His campaign officials follow his lead. Most recently, when asked about his position on this topic in April, his spokesperson Brittany Yanick merely declared that he opposed genocide and the murder of innocent people in general, and concluded: “The evils of World War I should be commemorated. Dr. Oz looks forward to those important discussions, as well as helping the three million people of Armenia today.” 

The Mirror-Spectator contacted the Oz campaign via email for further clarification but received no answer.

In addition to his evasion of a clear position on the Armenian Genocide, Dr. Oz’s ties with the Republic of Turkey provide addition grounds for concern. Former US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, admittedly campaigning in favor of David McCormick, Oz’s opponent in the Pennsylvania Republican primary, declared that Oz’s candidacy presents “national security concerns.” 

At the most basic level, although born in the United States, Oz retains Turkish citizenship as well as American. He carried out military service in the Turkish army for two months in the early 1980s while in medical school — the same army that has supported Azerbaijan in attacking Armenia and Artsakh and has engaged in countless campaigns against Kurds both in and outside Turkey. No US senator has ever kept dual citizenship, which can raise questions about political allegiances. 

Oz even voted in a 2018 Turkish election. In early May, former US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo observed that Oz had “time and energy to vote in a Turkish election but not in an American election” [a June 2018 Republican primary]. 

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In response to public pressure, Oz initially declared to the press that he would forego certain security clearances if elected senator in order to keep his Turkish citizenship, which he claimed was necessary to care for his ill mother. As the controversy continued, Oz finally agreed to relinquish Turkish citizenship if elected before being sworn into office, but questions remain about his connections with the current Turkish government, both political and personal.  

Personal and Political Connections

Oz has had many interactions with organizations and individuals close to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. One that is worrisome for Armenians is his appearance as a “special guest” at a fundraiser in 2019 for the Turkish American National Steering Committee (TASC). This committee is co-chaired by a registered agent of the Turkish government, Gunay Evinch, who also held positions in the Assembly of Turkish American Associations. Evinch has termed the Armenian Genocide the “Armenian revolt” in a 2005 article where he repeated the Turkish government’s line that deaths occurred on both “sides” and that more study is needed through a legal inquiry. In 2021, he criticized President Joe Biden’s characterization of the events as genocide, and was quoted on “politically motivated genocide claims,” noting only that the measures taken by the Ottoman government against Armenian rebels led to deportations and a tragic loss of lives.

Oz declared however to Josh Rogin, a Washington Post columnist, in February that he did not know Evinch and their only contact was to appear together on stage at the aforementioned fundraiser. 

Oz has been photographed with Erdogan at least on two occasions, but the extent of their relationship remains unclear. His campaign spokesperson claimed that he voted against Erdogan for a more secularist rival in the 2018 election mentioned above, and at a January 2022 campaign event, Oz purportedly said he “would be the harshest critic of Erdogan.” He added at that occasion: “The country that I respected when I was growing up – Turkey, the country my father left – was a secular country where there was no significant Islamic rule elements, period. And it was not a dictatorship.”

After his connection with Erdogan and the ruling party in Turkey was repeatedly questioned during his Senate race, Oz told Washington Post columnist Rogin in February that he was not concerned whether Erdogan liked his political positions. National Basketball Association player Enes Kanter Freedom, a supporter of Turkish religious leader-in- exile Fethullah Gülen, told Rogin: “People need to understand that Dr. Oz is in Erdogan’s pocket. And whatever Erdogan wants, that’s what Dr. Oz is going to do.” 

Perhaps to counter such statements and prove his political independence, Oz declared to Rogin about Gülen, whom Erdogan’s government sees as an archenemy and wants to extradite to Turkey from his home in the Pennsylvanian Poconos: “Gulen cannot be touched. There are no credible allegations that he was involved in the coup. He will stay in Pennsylvania.” 

Business and Religion Are Politics Too

What is clear is that Oz has business connections at a high level with the Turkish state. In 2011, he was elected to the High Advisory Council of the World Turkish Business Council (DTİK), the international business arm of Turkey’s Foreign Economic Relations Board (DEİK). In 2014, DEİK was taken over by the Turkish government and placed under the control of the Ministry of the Economy, but Oz continued to participate in DEİK functions as late as September 2019 (the aforementioned TASC event).

Oz has done advertising campaigns for Turkish Airlines, a little less than 50 percent of which is owned by the Turkish government. The Armenian National Committee of America argues that this qualifies Oz as a foreign agent and urged the US Justice Department to open an investigation into this.

According to his financial disclosures from this April, Oz owns several hundred thousand dollars’ worth of real estate property in Turkey, including a building he has leased to the Turkish Ministry of Education for free. 

Furthermore, even the mosque Oz attends in New Jersey is connected with the Turkish government, as it is under the control of the latter’s Directorate of Religious Affairs.   

Questions Remain, But One Thing Is Clear

Much appears unclear about Oz’s connections with the current Turkish government and businesses which are connected to the latter. What is clear is that Oz has not and will not use the term Armenian Genocide. The combination of these questions plus the latter should be enough to mobilize Armenian Americans against Oz’s attempt to attain a powerful political position.

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