Ambassador Talks Turkey on Kurds, Armenians

| May 08, 2008
Ambassador Sensoy is greeted by a Rotarian.
Ambassador Sensoy is greeted by a Rotarian.
- jb

Members of the Memphis Rotary Club heard some unexpectedly tough talk on Thursday from Nabi Sensoy, ambassador to the United States from Turkey, this year's Memphis in May honoree. Though most of his 30-minute luncheon address to Rotarians at the Convention Center was devoted to the polite bromides expected on such an occasion (example: "I'm looking forward to 'walking in Memphis'"), Sensoy minced no words when it came to several specific problem areas.

The Rotarians learned of Turkey's frustration in its so far unsuccessful efforts to be accepted into the European Economic Union as a fully fledged member - a failure that Sensoy attributed to various "pretexts" - including political misconceptions on the part of other Europeans about the fact that Turkey's population is "99 percent" Muslim.

"But we are a democratic and secular state, not a Muslim state, and in that part of the world it is hard to find another country with both democratic and secular traditions," said Sensoy, who insisted that Turkey, a growing economic power and "a part of the Western world," belonged to almost every trans-European organization of importance, including NATO, for which it served as a "southeast bastion."

Asked about Iraq, with which Turkey shares a border, Sensoy described the "main tenets" of his country's attitudes as these: "We would like to see an Iraq which could preserve its independence, its territorial integrity, and its national unity, a country that is at peace with itself and at peace with its neighbors."

Growing more specific, Sensoy talked of Turkey's concerns about incursions into its national territory from partisans of the PKK, a militant organization representing an independence movement for ethnic Kurds, who control most of Iraq's northern areas and who constitute a sizeable minority in Turkey just across the border.

The PKK's "hit-and-run attacks" in Turkey had caused some 35,00 deaths in the last two and half decades, Sensoy said. "It is by far the dirtiest terrorist organization in the world, and it has entrenched itself in northern Iraq." He lamented, "We are second to none in our kindness toward the Kurds, but so far they have not shown their appreciation very much."

Consequently, Sensoy warned, Turkey reserved the right to launch its own attacks across the Iraq border. "There have been some raids," he acknowledged, pausing before going on: "Against the PKK, nobody else."

In the course of a brief interview after his address, Sensoy touched on another difficult issue - the demand by ethnic Armenians that Turkey be condemned for what they maintain was an officially sanctioned massacre of the country's Armenian minority in the years after World War I. A resolution to that effect, supported by U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi among others, was brought before Congress during the last year but failed of passage.

Sensoy expressed gratitude to both President Bush and the congressional majority for combining to defeat the measure, which, he said without specifiying, would have had "disastrous consequences" for relations between the United States and Turkey. Some members of Congress, including 9th District U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen of Memphis, had cautioned at the time that Turkey was indispensable to the maintenance of supply routes to the American military mission in Iraq.

"He has traveled in our country," Sensoy noted of Cohen, whom he described as "a great representative of the people of the United States of America."

Comments (4)

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I very much enjoyed this report of the Turkish Ambassador's remarks in Memphis. His comments reflect at least some of the complexities that are within and surrounding Turkey today. One of the major external influences on Turkey comes from their pending acceptance into the EU, the EU's pressure for reforms from Turkey before acceptance and the halting steps toward reform -- such as the recent legislative changes in freedom of expression Turkey has passed in hopes they will be satisfactory for EU membership. It appears the EU can and should continue to press Turkey for real reforms in this area as well as many others. Possibly in exchange for the current Turkish government (AKP) continuing to move in the direction of the reforms the EU wants, the EU appears to be mounting a vigorous defense of the AKP as it fights for its political life against the charges the Turkish Prosecutor has brought against them that can -- as has happened to other Muslim-leaning parties before -- result in the AKP being banned as a political party and its leaders removal from power. The secularists supporting these charges fear and distrust the AKP's controversial moves -- such as their recent removal of the ban against women wearing headscarves in Turkish universities -- that favor Muslim practices in public institutions. At the same time the governing AKP has been concentrating a tremendous amount of diplomatic effort in cultivating diplomatic and trade relationships with a number of diverse countries in their part of the world that don't relate well to each other, thus positioning themselves in a rather unique position to act as a diplomatic or back-channel communication link between Iran, the U.S., Iraq, Israel, Syria, or the Palestinians, as well as many others. As a result, just last week Israel asked Turkey to carry their offer to withdraw from the Golan Heights to Syria. Turkey is a facinating nation of growing influence at the cultural crossroads of the world. Joe2Irish

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Posted by Joseph K. Brunty on 05/09/2008 at 1:27 AM

The reason that Turkey is "99 percent Muslim" is that the Young Turks exterminated most of the Christian people (in excess of two million people) that populated Anatolia. The glorious, celebrated Turks annexed these Christians' land, then exterminated them. Let the MIM pep rally for "the most anti-American country in the world" (Pew Foundation, 2007) continue. By honoring Turkey, Memphis is an unwitting accomplice in aiding a neocon ally with an atrocious human rights record. Try saying anything about (Pontian, Armenian) genocide in Turkey and see how long you stay out of jail. Nice even-handed reporting, Mr. Baker.

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Posted by geraldo rivers on 05/09/2008 at 6:02 PM

Mr. Baker, here is more on Mr. Sensoy's "Secular Democracy": "Consider the facts: Turkey ranked dead last in all the most important categories on the (Pew) survey, something which indicates the depth of anti-American sentiment. Most tellingly, Turks have the lowest favorability for both America and its citizens (9% and 13%). Moreover, Turkey tied with the Palestinian Authority for the lowest percentage of citizens who think the US is fair in its Middle East policies, a paltry 2%. Another disturbing sign for US policymakers is the fact that Turkey, an active partner in Afghanistan and a crucial transportation hub for Iraq, has the second-lowest level of support for the US-led war on terror (9%) of all nations surveyed. It does not stop at US foreign policy. Turkey had the highest percentage of respondents who disliked American ideas about democracy (81%) and even the way that Americans do business (83%)." -Jerusalem Post, 7-14-07

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Posted by geraldo rivers on 05/09/2008 at 11:45 PM

Mr. Baker, here are some more interesting topics you might explore: 1. How Steve Cohen is soft on genocide. 2. The unholy nexus of ADL/AIPAC/Turkey 3. How the "most anti-American country in the world" was chosen to be MIM honoree. 4. Sibel Edmonds 5. Assassination of Hrant Dink 6. Prosecution of Orhan Pamuk under article 301 7. How human rights violations in Turkey will preclude its entrance into EU, but not its entrance into MIM. 8. How Turkey vetoed a U.S. human rights bill by threatening harm to US troops if measure passed. 9.Turkey's persecution of Taner Akcam 10.The affront to the Orthodox Christian community in Memphis by this hideous choice. 11. The popularity of The Valley of the Wolves. 12. Rumsfeld on Turkey: "Given the level of the insurgency today, two years later, clearly, if we had been able to get the Fourth Infantry Division in from the north through Turkey, more of the Iraqi Saddam Hussein Baathist regime would have been captured or killed," he said on "Fox News Sunday."

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Posted by geraldo rivers on 05/10/2008 at 10:42 AM
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