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Past As Prologue: Why The Centenial Of Genocides In Turkey Is Relevant Today

By on September 13, 2014
Endy Zemenides

Endy Zemenides

2015 will mark 100 years since genocidal policies against Turkey’s Christians – Armenians, Assyrians, Greeks – began.  Beginning under the Ottomans and continuing through the birth of the Republic of Turkey, millions of Christians were killed in Turkey’s genocides.  Turkey’s government and its lobby in D.C. are already organizing against efforts to commemorate and denounce these genocides.  Turkey’s apologists in policy making circles – and even in our own community – continue to caution us all not to risk “better” relations with Turkey by remembering historic grievances.

Every time I hear these words of caution, I barely contain myself from screaming “Wake up!”  Coming to terms with the Armenian, Assyrian and Greek genocides is not merely a matter of settling historic grievances.  It is the first step towards preventing a wider clash of civilizations and providing a vision of a future where we all – Greeks, Armenians, and Turks or Christians, Muslims and Jews – can live together respectfully and peacefully.

Two very powerful emotions – hope and desperation – have allowed us to fall into a sort of trap.  Early promises during the reign of Erdogan in Turkey led us to believe that a better fate awaited the Ecumenical Patriarchate and Christians in Turkey.  It may have taken a decade, but the mask is off.   Those of us who were incredulous over the lack of progress on religious freedom in Turkey were given lectures about how long the road to religious freedom is and how we should appreciate incremental progress.  What has unfolded before us is not incremental progress, but – in basketball terminology – a series of head fakes.  The oppression of religious minorities has once again become (as it has throughout history) the “canary in the coal mine.”  Now that the oppression in Turkey has been extended, even Turkey’s tradition apologists are taking notice.  It was very amusing to watch Senator John McCain – who never spoke up for the Ecumenical Patriarchate or against Turkey’s oppression of Christians – rake the latest nominee for Ambassador of Turkey over the coals about treatment of journalists and bans on Twitter in Turkey.  Did you really not see this day coming Senator?

And now we have ISIS.  I will skip discussing Turkey’s role in arming and enabling ISIS, lest I be accused of being merely anti-Turkish.  But Christians in the greater Middle East face another genocide (or at the very least, ethnic cleansing).  The fate of Christians in Iraq – 2 million in the 1990’s to 200,000 and falling today – is the most visible problem.  With ISIS openly declaring war on Iraqi Christians and massacring them in Syria, with the Muslim Brotherhood targeting Coptic Christians in Egypt during its time in power, with Turkey holding confiscated Christian churches (and lobbying against Congressional legislation calling for their return), with Erdogan working on the provocation of converting Hagia Sophia into a mosque, why are we not more vocal?

We live in a country that was established by those seeking religious freedom, and we are a religious minority whose mother church is a victim of religious oppression.  We have an obligation to speak up for the protection of all religious minorities, but specifically of these Christian minorities.  The region in which civilization as we know it began is gripped with an especially virulent form of hate, one that threatens to wipe Christianity out in its historic homeland.

No more soft commitments to religious freedom.  The wiping out of Christians in the greater Middle East began in Turkey, and it has progressed of late both with inaction (failing to open Halki, failure to return churches) and action (support of ISIS, the Muslim Brotherhood) in Turkey.  History will judge us harshly if we let this moment pass without doing more to protect these minorities.

A simple – and common sense – step forward: return confiscated Christian churches in Turkey and occupied Cyprus.  These are historic churches, and symbols that Christians and Muslims can live and worship side by side.  No one has yet explained to me why this shouldn’t be done, and despite legislation calling for this (H.R. 4347) passing the House Foreign Affairs Committee with strong bi-partisan support, House leadership has not yet scheduled a vote by the full House of Representatives.  Call Speaker Boehner and Leader McCarthy, and do your part to end a century full of genocides against Christians: http://hellenicleaders.com/CallCongress

About Endy Zemenides

Endy Zemenides is the Executive Director of the Hellenic American Leadership Council (HALC), a national advocacy organization for the Greek American community. To learn more about HALC, visit www.hellenicleaders.com