Title

Religious Freedom in Turkey

Tuesday, April 12, 2005
2200 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
United States
Official Transcript: 
Members: 
Name: 
Hon. Chris Smith
Title Text: 
Co-Chairman
Body: 
Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe
Statement: 
Witnesses: 
Name: 
Merve Kavakci
Title: 
Former Member
Body: 
Turkish Grand National Assembly
Name: 
Rev. Fr. Vertanes Kalayjian
Body: 
Armenian Orthodox Church
Name: 
Van Krikorian
Body: 
Turkish-Armenian Reconciliation Commission
Name: 
Barry Jacobs
Body: 
American Jewish Committee
Name: 
Jeff King
Title: 
President
Body: 
International Christian Concern
Statement: 

Helsinki Commission Staff Advisor, Elizabeth Pryor, presented an opportunity for discussion on the situation faced by Muslims, Protestants, members of the Armenian Orthodox Church, and the Jewish community in the Republic of Turkey. Numerous injustices that occurred in spite of significant steps taken by the government to improve conditions for the enjoyment of religious liberty were addressed.

Witnesses testifying at the hearing – including Marve Kavakci, Former Member of the Turkish Grand National Assembly; Rev. Fr. Vertanes Kalayjian, Pastor of St. Mary Armenian Apostolic Church and Representative of the Eastern Diocese of the Armenian Apostolic Church of America; Van Krikorian, Founding Member of the Turkish-Armenian Reconciliation Commission; Jeff King, President of the International Christian Concern; and Barry Jacobs, Director of Strategic Studies for the Office of Government and International Affairs  American Jewish Committee – presented testimonies regarding personal experiences with religious injustice in an effort to encourage Congress to urge Turkish officials to adhere to principles of religious freedoms.

Relevant countries: 
Leadership: 
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  • It's Time to Hold the Azerbaijan Regime Accountable

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Employees of Meydan TV, whose founder reported receiving a high-level threat during the European Games, have been barred from leaving Azerbaijan, repeatedly questioned at the prosecutor's office, and detained without cause. Their families have also faced pressure. Two brothers of editor Gunel Movlud are currently being held on bogus drug charges. Most tragically, in August, Rasim Aliyev, a journalist and chairman of the Institute for Reporters' Freedom and Safety, died after he was severely beaten by attackers. Although the assault was reportedly connected to a criticism Aliyev made of a soccer player on Facebook, Aliyev had previously experienced threats against his life. The attack was one of hundreds against Azerbaijan's journalists in the past decade, including at least two other murders. Quiet diplomacy from the United States and the European Union has failed to reverse Azerbaijan's relentless pursuit of critics and civil society groups. The State Department called Leyla Yunus' release earlier this month a "welcome" development and a "positive step." Meanwhile, the deputy chairman of the opposition Popular Front Party, was arrested the day before, and the treason trial of dissident journalist Rauf Mirqadirov is still underway. But perhaps President Aliyev's luck is running out. In November, in an unprecedented step, the Organization for Security and Co-Operation in Europe's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, its Parliamentary Assembly, and the European Parliament all canceled monitoring missions to Azerbaijan to protest the irregularity of the country's parliamentary elections. Last month, Thorbjørn Jagland, secretary general of the Council of Europe, made a bold move of his own, announcing an inquiry into Azerbaijan's implementation of the European Convention on Human Rights. And on the same day, U.S. Congressman Chris Smith, chairman of the Helsinki Commission, introduced the Azerbaijan Democracy Act and held a hearing on the case of Khadija Ismayilova, one of the few journalists in Azerbaijan who dared to report on corruption among the country's ruling elite. Ismayilova was arrested last year and is now serving a seven and a half-year prison sentence. Ismayilova has kept up the pressure on her country even from behind bars. On the eve of the European Games, with the help of Sport for Rights, a coalition of international press freedom groups that recently published a report on Azerbaijan's human rights record, she managed to get a letter out of jail to The New York Times. "The truth is that Azerbaijan is in the midst of a human rights crisis. Things have never been worse," she wrote, urging the international community: "Do not let the government of Azerbaijan distract your attention from its record of corruption and abuse." Maybe now the world is ready to listen.

  • Helsinki Commission Chair Acts to End Human Rights Violations in Azerbaijan

    WASHINGTON—Following years of systematic efforts by the Government of Azerbaijan to eliminate the voices of independent journalists, opposition politicians, and civil society groups, Helsinki Commission Chair Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04) today introduced H.R. 4264, the Azerbaijan Democracy Act of 2015, a landmark bill that will deny U.S. visas to senior members of the Azerbaijani government. “We recognize that there are important national security and economic ties that exist between our two countries, but the United States can no longer remain blind to the appalling human rights violations that are taking place in Azerbaijan,” said Rep. Smith. “Journalists and activists are routinely arrested and imprisoned; opposition politicians are in jail and elections are not free and fair; human rights lawyers have been harassed and disbarred; and religious freedom is under attack.  The Azerbaijan Democracy Act demonstrates that the United States takes human rights and fundamental freedoms seriously, and that we will not compromise when faced by a government that represses the political opposition, the media, and religious minorities.” In addition to denying U.S. visas to senior leaders of the Government of Azerbaijan, those who derive significant financial benefit from business dealings with senior leadership, and members of the security or judicial branches, the Azerbaijan Democracy Act also expresses the sense of Congress that financial penalties should be considered. Sanctions could be lifted when the Azerbaijani government shows substantial progress toward releasing political prisoners, ending its harassment of civil society, and holding free and fair elections. “It is unacceptable that senior members of the Azerbaijani government are free to visit the United States while courageous women and men like investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova, attorney Intigam Aliyev, opposition politician Ilgar Mammadov, and activist Anar Mammadli are locked away in prisons with inadequate access to legal or even medical assistance,” Rep. Smith said. “If they can pay the price for standing up for human rights, the least we can do is to stand with them.” Rep. Smith is a long-standing advocate for human rights in Azerbaijan. Following the introduction of today’s legislation he will chair a 2PM hearing to examine Azerbaijan’s persecution of Ms. Ismayilova, who was sentenced to 7.5 years in prison in early September.

  • U.S. Bill Seeks Sanctions On Azerbaijani Officials For 'Appalling' Rights Record

    A U.S. lawmaker has introduced legislation that would deny U.S. visas to senior Azerbaijani officials due to what he calls Baku's "appalling human rights violations." U.S. Representative Chris Smith (Republican-New Jersey) introduced the bill, titled the Azerbaijan Democracy Act of 2015, in the House of Representatives on December 16. "The human rights situation has seriously deteriorated in Azerbaijan, causing damage to its relations with the United States and other countries, and has damaged its own society by imprisoning or exiling some of its best and brightest citizens," Smith told a hearing of Congress's Helsinki Commission held in conjunction with the announcement of the legislation.

  • Bipartisan Congressional Delegation Represents US at OSCE Parliamentary Assembly; Also Visits Ukraine, Czech Republic

    Forty years after the signing of the Helsinki Final Act established the precursor to today’s Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), five members of the Helsinki Commission and four other members of Congress traveled to the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Annual Session in Helsinki to demonstrate the U.S. commitment to confronting Russian aggression in Ukraine and elsewhere. Led by Commission Co-Chairman Senator Roger F. Wicker (MS), the bicameral, bipartisan delegation organized by the Helsinki Commission included Commission Chairman Representative Chris Smith (NJ- 04); House Commissioners Robert B. Aderholt (AL-04), Steve Cohen (TN-09) and Alan Grayson (FL-09); and Representatives Gwen Moore (WI-04), Michael Fitzpatrick (PA-08), Richard Hudson (NC-08) and Ruben Gallego (AZ-07). Before attending the Annual Session from July 5 to 7, several members of the delegation also visited Ukraine and the Czech Republic. A central concern to the delegation throughout the trip was Russia’s restrictions on democracy at home and aggression in Ukraine, along with Russia’s threat to European security.

  • Foreign Fighters: The Escalating Threat of ISIL in Central Asia

    This hearing focused on ISIL and their wave of violence that has swept brutally through northern Iraq and across Syria- many of those who took part in the offensive were foreign fighters. The hearing looked into the Nations Security Council recent estimation that at least 25,000 foreign terrorist fighters from more than 100 countries have joined ranks with this brutal terrorist organization. The hearing explores key economic and social factors to determine what may be incentivising international fighters to join such a brutal group. Also the Commissioners and witness examined measures in which the U.S. government and OSCE member states can take to contain ISIL, including counteracting radicalization of potential foreign fighters, inhibiting the travel of recruits and volunteers to the Middle East, disrupting financial support to fighters and their families and preventing their return to their home countries.

  • Rep. Smith Chairs Helsinki Commission Hearing on Armenian Genocide

    WASHINGTON—At a hearing convened today by the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, Chairman Chris Smith (NJ-04) and other lawmakers examined denialism of the Armenian Genocide by the Government of Turkey and the decades-long effort to seek accountability.  “The Armenian genocide is the only genocide of the 20th century in which a nation that was decimated by genocide has been subject to the ongoing outrage of a massive campaign of genocide denial, openly sustained by state authority,” said Smith, who called today’s hearing and chaired Congress’s first-ever hearing on the Armenian Genocide in 2000. “Sadly, the Turkish government has driven this campaign of denial, and has done so over a course of decades.” Smith continued, “I must respond to President Obama. On Tuesday his aides met with Armenian leaders and made it clear that once again he will not recognize the Armenian genocide. This is in direct contradiction to the promises he made before becoming president—and in order to become president.  “While a candidate, in 2008 the President made passionate statements in support of genocide recognition… these are beautiful words which echo hollowly today,” Smith said. “The president’s abandonment of this commitment is unconscionable and cynical. With Germany and the EU lining up to do the right thing, our government needs to do likewise. Sadly, after the President’s powerful promise, he is following, not leading – or rather, we are not even following.” Witnesses testifying at the hearing focused on the sustained campaign of the Turkish government to deny the Armenian genocide and its impact on Armenian-Turkish relations and foreign policy in the region. “Turkey’s denialism of its past and making it an essential part of its foreign policy is not simply a moral abomination; it represents a threat to democracy, stability and security, not only in Turkey but in the region too,” testified Dr. Taner Akçam, a Turkish scholar who holds the chair in Armenian Genocide Studies at Clark University. “The refusal [of the U.S.] to recognize past injustices is fundamentally undemocratic and contributes to the destabilization of Turkey and the region. How can the United States, which prides itself on its exceptionalism in supporting liberal values and human rights at home and across the world, justify a position at odds with its own democratic values?” “Far too often, over the past several decades, under Turkey's arm-twisting here in Washington, DC, official discussions of the Armenian Genocide were framed in denialist terms, on the basis of Ankara's artificially contrived ‘debate’ about whether there was an Armenian Genocide,” said Kenneth Hachikian, chairman of the Armenian National Committee of America. “Turkey's denial of truth and justice for the Armenian Genocide remains the central issue between Turks and Armenians, the one that must be openly acknowledged, honestly discussed, and fairly resolved for there to be real, sustained progress in relations between these two nations.”  “How did denial start and how did it last as long as it has?  The answer is simple—successive Turkish governments have used the issue to instill fear, promote racism, distract their population from the truth, and avoid progress,” said Van Krikorian, co-chairman of the board of trustees of the Armenian Assembly of America. “Having re-written their own history, they are now afraid to tell the truth as they will lose votes and risk power. Tragically, this pattern has found accomplices, as Turkish leaders have openly threatened countries which do not deny the Armenian Genocide.  Those who bend to bullying continue to be bullied. Those who do not, show honor and backbone.” Additional witnesses who testified at the hearing, “A Century of Denial: Armenian Genocide and the Ongoing Quest for Justice,” included Dr. Elizabeth H. Prodromou, visiting associate professor of conflict resolution at Tufts University’s Fletcher School, and Mrs. Karine Shnorhokian, representative of the Genocide Education Project.

  • A Century of Denial: The Armenian Genocide and the Ongoing Quest for Justice

    At this hearing, Chairman Chris Smith and other lawmakers examined denialism of the Armenian Genocide by the Government of Turkey and the decades-long effort to seek accountability. The hearing also provided an opportunity to assess potential countercurrents in Turkish society that could move the Government of Turkey toward recognition, and explore what the United States and other countries can do to help bring about recognition and eventually, reconciliation. Witnesses testifying at the hearing focused on the sustained campaign of the Turkish government to deny the Armenian genocide and its impact on Armenian-Turkish relations and foreign policy in the region. Turkey’s denialism of its past and making it an essential part of its foreign policy was identified as a threat to democracy, stability, and security in the entire region.

  • Smith: U.S. Must End Its Denial of Armenian Genocide

    Genocide is the most terrible crime a people can undergo, or another people can commit. It must never be forgotten. To forget it would be to dull our consciences and diminish our own humanity. It must never be denied, but fully acknowledged. Otherwise, any meaningful attempt at reconciliation will be thwarted. Brookdale College, the Center for Holocaust, Human Rights, and Genocide Education (Chhange), and everyone who contributed to making exhibits the center unveiled April 12 a reality, has performed a great service to our community, not only to Armenian-Americans, but to everyone, including those who deny the genocide. They are opening paths to the truth, and therefore to a better future. In September 2000, I had put together and chaired a hearing on the Armenian genocide and legislation to finally put the United States on record officially acknowledging it. It was a four-hour hearing, the first hearing the House of Representatives ever held on it. The testimony I heard that day, and accounts of the atrocities I have read in the articles and books over the years, have shocked me deeply. A related resolution on the genocide, H. Res. 398 — vigorously opposed by the Clinton administration — never got a vote. But just as shocking then is what we still see today: a completely political and callous campaign to deny the Armenian genocide. In 1915, there were about 2 million Armenians living in what was then the Ottoman Empire. They were living in a region that they inhabited for 2,500 years. By 1923, well over 90 percent of these Armenians had disappeared. Most of them, as many as 1.5 million were dead. The remainder had been forced into exile. There is no lack of historical record. In fact, we only have to listen to the words of the U.S. Ambassador to Turkey at the time, Henry Morgenthau, who called it a "campaign of race extermination." We only have to listen to the British, French, and Russian governments who said the Young Turks committed a "crime against humanity," the first time in history that charge was ever made by one state against another. And we only have to listen to the government of Turkey itself, which tried and convicted a number of high-ranking Young Turk officials for their role in what the Turkish government's indictment called, "the massacre and destruction of the Armenians." When the term genocide was invented in 1944 to describe the systematic destruction of an entire people, its author Raphael Lemkin explained the term by saying it was "the sort of thing Hitler did to the Jews and the Turks did to the Armenians." The campaign to deny this genocide, often driven by the Turkish government, is repulsive. It is a slap in the face to Armenians everywhere. It is this denial that keeps the Armenian genocide a burning issue and prevents much needed healing of old wounds. Armenians are unfortunately not alone in suffering the hurt and pain that stems from the denial of truth. The international community failed the victims of the Holocaust, China, the Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Bosnia, DRC, Darfur and Syria, to name a few. That means that we here in the United States, and that means not only the Congress but also the president, have the responsibility to speak truthfully and to speak boldly about the past in order to secure our future. We must write and speak the truth so that generations to come will not repeat the mistakes of the past. Only 20 nations around the world have recognized the Armenian genocide. That includes Canada as well as eleven EU countries including France, Germany Italy, Sweden, Belgium, the Netherlands, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, Greece and Cypress. Conspicuously absent from the list of nations that have officially recognized it is the United States. For my part, I am preparing to chair a congressional hearing on April 23 — the day before Armenian Remembrance Day (April 24) — which this year marks the 100th anniversary of the genocide. When political leaders fail to lead or denounce violence, the void is not only demoralizing to the victims but silence actually enables the wrongdoing. Silence by elected officials in particular conveys approval — or at least acquiescence —and can contribute to a climate of fear and a sense of vulnerability. History has taught us that silence is not an option. We must do more. Chris Smith is a Republican congressman representing New Jersey's 4th District, which includes portions of Mercer, Monmouth and Ocean counties.

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