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Turkish President Orders Minority Leaders to Sign a Propaganda Letter

It has been the long-standing practice of the Turkish government to pressure the leaders of minority religious groups in Turkey to issue public statements in defense of Turkish policies and war efforts or to condemn Armenian Genocide resolutions adopted by various foreign countries.
The leaders of the Armenian, Assyrian, Greek and Jewish communities are used to this practice and have willingly complied with the Turkish demands knowing that not doing so can only spell trouble for them personally and for their respective communities.
In the past, such orders were given to the minority leaders in a more delicate manner. For example, a Turkish official would either call or visit the Armenian Patriarch in Istanbul and discreetly suggest that it may be a good idea for him to issue a public announcement on some political issue. Naturally, the previous Patriarchs have never refused such suggestions which are more like orders from the Turkish government. The only difference between the reactions of different Patriarchs has been to somewhat soften or harden the language of their announcements.
What we are experiencing now is completely different. The autocratic government of Pres. Recep Tayyip Erdogan has become so tyrannical that last week it sent a letter to the four minority religious leaders in Turkey asking that they sign it and send it back to the President’s Communication Office. All four immediately complied.
The minor surprise was that a week before Pres. Erdogan sent a letter to the minority religious leaders, the Armenian Patriarchate of Turkey issued an announcement basically supporting the sentiments expressed in Erdogan’s subsequent letter. The Patriarch should not be blamed neither for writing his own propaganda letter in advance nor signing the government’s dictated letter. After all, the Patriarch knows what is expected of him and made his announcement without waiting for official orders.
The issue in this case is the Turkish military’s recent invasion of Northern Syria which resulted in the deaths of scores of Turkish soldiers. The Armenian Patriarchate issued the following statement:
“The attack in Idlib [Syria], resulting in the martyrdom of 33 heroic Turkish soldiers, caused a great shock in our country. Wholeheartedly sharing the pain of our nation, we seek God’s mercy for the martyrs. Our heroic army is the guarantor of our state’s existence. To all the members of the army who have lost their comrades-in-arms we urge endurance. We also continue to pray that peace may reign in the world and particularly in our region. In the name of the Armenian Patriarchate of Turkey, the Religious Council, and all members of the community, we would like to share with the public our belief that it will be possible to overcome this difficult process in an atmosphere of unity and solidarity.”
The Patriarchate subsequently signed the more propagandist letter drafted by the office of Pres. Erdogan. Here are excerpts from that two-page letter:
However, not all Turkish citizens support their government’s invasion of Syria. Cumhuriyet newspaper wrote a scathing article accusing Pres. Erdogan of pressuring the minorities.
Toma Chelik, a member of the Turkish Parliament representing HDP, Kurdish-affiliated party, sent a letter to the Vice President of Turkey, asking the following questions:
At a time when thousands of innocent citizens of Turkey and dozens of journalists have been thrown in jail by the Erdogan regime, anyone who does not obey the diktats of Erdogan risks incarceration. While Pres. Erdogan is unable to come to an agreement with Western Europe, the United States and Russia on the conflict with Syria, it is much easier for him to take his frustration and revenge on innocent people within Turkey.
Harut Sassounian California Courier Editor

Armenian Weekly

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