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Turks Falsely Claim Armenians Would Welcome Turkish Troops in Lebanon

By Harut Sassounian
Publisher, The California Courier

Turkish officials fabricated a news story last week in order to create
the false impression that their soldiers would be warmly welcome in
Lebanon, even by the local Armenian community!

The widely circulated Turkish newspaper Hurriyet published a front-page
story on August 18 claiming that the only Armenian Minister in the
Lebanese Cabinet had agreed to the stationing of Turkish troops in
Lebanon. The story, written by Hurriyet’s Chief Editor Ertugrul Ozkok,
carried the following sensational title: "Even the Armenian Minister
wants us in Lebanon."

Ozkok published the dramatic details of the dinner that was given in
Beirut last week by Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora in honor of
the Foreign Ministers of France, Pakistan, Malaysia and Turkey. In
attendance were also 9 Lebanese Ministers, including Jean Oghassapian,
the Minister of Administrative Reforms.

According Ozkok’s article, when Turkey’s Foreign Minister Abdullah 
asked Prime Minister Siniora how the Lebanese people would react to the
presence of Turkish soldiers in their country, Siniora responded to the
great surprise of everyone at the dinner table: “Even the Armenian
Minister in our Cabinet wants the Turkish soldiers to come.” Ozkok 
that Siniora then called over Minister Oghassapian from an adjacent
table and “holding his arm,” asked him: “You also want the Turkish
soldiers to come, don’t you?” The Armenian Minister reportedly
replied: “Yes, we want them.” Ozkok reported that Turkish officials
present at the dinner were utterly surprised “especially since only 
same morning, the Lebanon-based Tashnak Party had issued a 
announcing its opposition to stationing Turkish troops in Lebanon. 
gleefully concluded: “Clearly the Armenian Minister and the Tashnak
declaration were at odds.” Gul reportedly told the Turkish journalists
at the
dinner that Ankara was “not taking seriously” the efforts of the
Armenian lobby in the U.S. to prevent Turkish soldiers from entering

Stretching the truth even further, Ozkok reported that the Shiite
Speaker of the Lebanese Parliament, Nebih Berri, told “Gul at the
dinner: ‘I speak in the name of the Shiites in Lebanon. We want from 
hearts that the Turkish soldiers participate in the peacekeeping 

The Turkish press is notorious for publishing untrue and distorted
reports. However, in this case, it appears that Mr. Ozkok, a
distinguished journalist and a prominent media executive, may have been
used by Turkish officials to disseminate a fabricated story. Ozkok, who
was in Istanbul during last week’s dinner in Beirut, was fed this
fictitious news by Turkish Foreign Ministry officials.

In order to verify what really took place at that dinner, I contacted
Minister Oghassapian and spoke with him last Sunday. He was absolutely
shocked to hear what Hurriyet had reported. He said that just about
every item in that article was false! He said he did not walk over to
the table where the Lebanese Prime Minister and the Turkish Foreign
Minister were sitting and did not exchange any words with either one of
them that night. He did not discuss with anyone the possible
participation of Turkish troops in the peacekeeping force. He also said
that the Speaker of the Parliament Nebih Berri was not present at the
dinner at all. Furthermore, Minister Oghassapian said to this writer
that in separate meetings with Prime Minister Siniora, he had told him
of the strong opposition of the Armenian community to the stationing of
Turkish troops in Lebanon.

It is clear that the Turkish Foreign Ministry, by fabricating this news
report, is trying to create the false public perception that Turkish
soldiers would be warmly welcome in Lebanon. This point was made more
obvious in another Hurriyet story which reported that Gul was told
during his visit to Lebanon: “All sides are waiting for the friendly
Turkish soldiers” to take part in the peacekeeping force. The second
Turkish intent in falsifying this report seems to be to split the
Armenian community into two camps: for and against having Turkish 
in Lebanon.

Fortunately, this Turkish lie did not last very long. After I spoke 
Minister Oghassapian, he issued a formal statement that was published 
the Aug. 22 issue of Zartonk, the organ of the Ramgavar Party in
Lebanon. He described the words attributed to him by Hurriyet as
“imaginary and not corresponding to reality.” He said that in private
conversations with Prime Minister Siniora, he had indicated his
reservations regarding the presence of Turkish troops in Lebanon. He
concluded his published statement by drawing everyone’s attention to 
standard practice of the Turkish media to distort the news.

Here is an update about the flurry of developments that have taken 
since this writer first suggested earlier this month that Turkish 
should not be stationed in Lebanon:
-- All three Armenian political parties issued statements rejecting the
participation of Turkish troops in the international peacekeeping force
in Lebanon. The spiritual leaders of the three Armenian denominations 
Lebanon (Orthodox, Catholic and Evangelical) issued a similar joint
-- An ARF delegation met with various Lebanese leaders as well as the
Ambassadors of Russia, Japan, Great Britain, China, Italy, Iran and
Egypt to impress upon them the unacceptability of Turkish troops in
Lebanon. The Armenian delegation told the Lebanese Prime Minister that
it would not accept even a single Turkish soldier on Lebanese soil!
-- The Armenian National Committee of America sent a letter to Pres.
Bush objecting to the participation of Turkish troops in Lebanon. A
similar statement was issued by the ANC office in Europe.
-- The American Hellenic Institute wrote a letter to Pres. Bush 
the inclusion of Turkish soldiers in the peacekeeping force.
-- The Foreign Minister of Armenia, Vartan Oskanian, announced on 
21 that the Lebanese government should have the right to choose which
country’s troops it wants on its soil. Regrettably, he did not offer a
small contingent of troops to Lebanon, while Armenians are taking part
in the international force in Iraq and Kosovo!
-- The President of Lebanon Emile Lahoud announced that countries that
have a strategic alliance with Israel, a clear reference to Turkey,
should not send troops to Lebanon, because they would not be
non-partisan. It is to be noted that Israel rejected the participation
of Malaysia, Indonesia and Bangladesh, on the ground that they have no
diplomatic relations with Tel Aviv, even though their troops would not
be stationed in Israel. Lebanon then has even more of a right to reject
the Turkish troops which would be stationed on its territory.
-- According to the Lebanese Al Nahar newspaper, Hezbollah would not
accept the presence of Turkish troops in South Lebanon and considers
them to be proxies for the United States and Israel. An early sign of a
possible clash between the Sunni Turks and the Shia Hezbollah forces
came last week when four Turkish reporters were detained by Hezbollah.
After confiscating their films, the reporters were released.
-- The Prime Minister and the Defense Minister of Israel both warmly
welcomed the stationing of Turkish troops in Lebanon!
-- Various American neo-con analysts supported the participation of the
Turkish troops in Lebanon stating that this would enhance Turkey’s
prestige in the Middle East and increase its chances of joining the
European Union.
-- Turkish leaders are dragging their feet in making a final commitment
of troops for Lebanon. Analysts believe that the Turks are trying to
maximize the concessions they could milk from the West for their
eventual participation. They also announced that the Turkish Parliament
must first approve such a commitment. This is the same scenario that 
Turks orchestrated on the eve of deciding whether or not to allow
American troops to invade Iraq via Turkey. The Turkish leaders also
stated that their troops would only engage in humanitarian and
reconstruction efforts, not combat activities, thus contradicting UN’s
announced intention of dispatching a robust military force. Maybe the
Red Cross should replace the Turkish troops. It is better equipped to 
relief work!
-- Onur Oymen, one of the leaders of CHP, the main opposition party in
Turkey, said his group is against sending Turkish troops to “an
uncertain adventure in Lebanon.” In addition, a group of Turkish peace
activists held a protest in Adana last Saturday. They said that Ankara
had allowed the U.S. to use the Incirlik Airbase to supply bombs and
ammunition to Israel. Meanwhile, a group of Turkish intellectuals
started a petition against sending Turkish troops to Lebanon.
-- Robert Fisk, the prominent correspondent of the British newspaper,
The Independent, warned that if the Turkish army is sent to Lebanon,
“count the days – or hours – to the first attack upon it.”

Turkey would save itself a lot of embarrassment if it would simply
announce its own decision not to send troops to Lebanon, before being
rejected by the Lebanese, particularly the Hezbollah!

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