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Interview with Ibrahim Kurtulus, Staten island Turkish Community Activist

Escalating tensions between Russia and Turkey have spread to the Caucasus a ready, a volatile region where both powers have long contested each other's influence.

In Russia, policymakers are doubling down on their alliance with Armenia at the expense of Turkey.

Turkey has come down firmly on Azerbaijan's side in the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh. On November 26,2015  — two days after the Russian plane went down — Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu rattled his saber in the dispute. "Turkey will do everything possible to liberate the occupied territories of Azerbaijan.

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If things develop into a proxy war in the Caucasus, this is something very serious and something very scary.

- How do you evaluate Russia's immediate reaction of bringing the Armenian issue on parliament agenda following the tension with Turkey?

This has been a thorn in the side of the relationship between the two countries ever since Russian President Vladimir Putin traveled to Armenia earlier this year, on the 100th anniversary of the so called genocide. That was in April 2015, when Turkish authorities froze diplomatic co-operation because they were unhappy at Russia's recognition of the so called genocide.

The feud between Turkey and Russia  reignites the Armenian Question in Russia as it is using this issue as a stick to hurt Turkey on the International front.

It has been years since   Russia has recognized the supposed genocide... much to its shame, for having helped the real genocide of that period, the Armenians' extermination policies against Turks and Muslims. Russia is hurting from the downing of its plane...we were not very happy when Syria had shot down the Turkish jet, so it's not like they don't have reason to be out for blood... and since Russia can't declare war on a NATO ally, they are going to look to take revenge  in  any petty way they can.

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- What would you say about the similar experience with Israel?  

 Bearing in mind that Turkey was the first Muslim country to recognize the State of Israel.

Turks  and Jews have a time tested and honored relationship that dates back to 1492. The strong traditional historical and cultural ties existing between the Turkish and Jewish people have been a reference point always when relations have become  strained.

Turkey and the State of Israel have had strand relations since Israel killed 9 Turkish Citizen on the Mavi Marmara. The simple fact is that an Israel that is increasingly isolated in the world could not risk losing more of Turkey by using the  Armenian issue against Turkey.

Israeli Nobel Peace Prize winner Shimon Peres :  “We reject attempts to create a similarity between the Holocaust and the Armenian allegations. Nothing similar to the Holocaust occurred. It is a tragedy what the Armenians went through, but not genocide.”

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Should  Israel  be  looking to consider whether the Armenian matter is  genocide in their parliament,  could be interpreted  that  If that Israel is also out for revenge.

Alon Liel, a former senior Israeli diplomat who knows Turkey well, was quoted by the Financial Times  saying that Israel needs Turkey more today than Turkey needs Israel.

 Even the New Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, December 2014, reversed  his  stand on recognition of the  so called Armenian genocide.

The ups and downs  of relations  between the two countries, may  reflect    disappointment or anger, but all these have to be settled in a diplomatic way and in line with rules of courtesy.  There is a history of relations between Turkey and Israel and it shouldn't be easily discarded by distorting history.  As the region falls more and more into uncertainty. Turkey and  Israel's place in the Middle East is increasingly challenged, and  both  will need to look  for reinforcement  by cooperation..

I also feel very strongly that Turkish and Israeli relations may be entering into a new phase after a stagnant period. Here, it is significant to mention that Turkish and Jewish civil society organizations have played a significant role in the smoothing of both positions.  Looking at the region these days the common threats and mutual economic interests may change the fate of Turkish-Israeli relations as I still feel that both will become the axis of stability on the region for the 21st century that is why I don't feel the event of 1915 will be on the floor of Israeli Parliament.

- How did the ECHR decision affect the stance of international community on Armenian allegations?

Abstract:  On October 15, 2015, Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR or "the Court") delivered its  judgment  in the case of Perincek v. Switzerland ,application no. 27510/08 ( "the verdict" .)   By a majority, 17 judges held that there had been a violation of Article 10 (freedom of expression) of the European Convention on Human Rights, perpetrated by Switzerland.  By its criminal conviction of a Turkish politician (Perincek) for publicly expressing his views on Swiss soil, regarding the "Turkish-Armenian Conflict.  There are no more appeals or higher courts.  It was the finial line in a court of law where both sides were  cross examined.  Grand Chamber judgments are final.   The fact that came out  was that Switzerland violated the right to freedom of speech, of an individual , just because he disagreed with the widely held opinion on a controversial and , much-debated subject.

The ruling is nothing less than a spectacular legal victory for Dr. Perincek , NATO ally of the Republic of Turkey, and Turks around the world as the outcome is truly a game-changer for  freedom of speech, and  not  supportive of  individual minds that have been made up with the so called genocide narrative .  Regrardless ,it certainly will not have an effect upon  the Armenian Hate Machine and its puppet Diaspora  in continuing  to distort the minds of the innocent,.

The  Armenian diplomats  will continue running a campaign of diplomatic terror against the Republic of Turkey  and the attacks  on the existence  of the  Republic of Turkey will still be main goal of the Armenian  Diaspora as  the  so called genocide issue has become a  weapon in the international campaign to de-legitimize the Turkish state and the Turkish people serving as a  smear campaign across the world against Turkey.

Since the genocide is politically motivated and used as an ATM machine per say to raise Hate Money against the Republic of Turkey , that decision will not make any difference with the ongoing dishonesty or if Turkey went to the  European Court.

As a matter of fact Mrs. Clooney felt that the ECHR decision was a victory for her side. She stressed  the importance of seven of the judges feeling the genocide was a clear historical reality. This is why Turkey  would need to think very carefully before bringing this  case before a European court.

- Can we say that it neutralized the negativity of Pope Francis' statements on the 1915 incidents?

Pope Francis became the first Roman Pontiff in history to issue the infamous word "genocide" in union with the European Parliament when referring to the events  of 1915.

 We should convey that personalities ('leaders') are not historians a or a Judges ; in addition religious offices are not places through which hatred and animosity  should be fueled by unfounded allegations.

 We should also convey  that the Pope’s  comments  was discriminatory because Francis only mentioned the pain of Christians, not Muslims or other religious groups that were  caught in a civil war within  World War I.(Most likely through ignorance;again,the Pope is not a historian.)

We should also remind our friends or ones who find themselves in the middle  of this ongoing debate that  the  Israeli Government declared that  Armenians can't be compared to the Jewish or any other genocide.

We can continue to ask how you can be so sure that it was genocide. Plus we should remind what Hrant Dink said:  “There is no meaning in a state or government recognizing the issue under pressure from the outside. Because those who need to see the truth are not states but peoples. … States have no conscience, but societies and peoples do.” So we need to continue to build relationship between people on a one on one basis.

 We can  also convey that  the  UN rejects Pope Francis  Armenian 'genocide' definition  and  General Ban Ki-moon deems the 1915 Armenia genocide as an "atrocity crime" and does not follow Pope Francis's labeling of the incidents as "the first genocide of the 20th century."

Pope Francis's remarks have not been backed by other Western circles, which have opted to refrain from taking sides in the highly politicized matter to avoid triggering tensions that could cripple efforts to ameliorate already sour relations between Turkey and Armenia.

Plus the Pope made his declaration by just taking the word of what everyone has come to believe, thanks to the well-established power of one-sided propaganda; but because the Pope is seen as a moral force, the ECHR decision will not affect the perceived greater validity of the Pope's statement.  Not only will the negativity not be neutralized, it won't be affected in any way.

Also a series of incidents proved the difference of outlook to be not merely personal but fundamental and what the world needs now is facts on truth and honesty, not selective morality.

- What is the level of relations between Turkish and Armenian communities in  the US?

I'd think it's not as bad as before, but still pretty bad.

Armenian and Turkish communities to this day still subscribe to competing and irreconcilable narratives. So both sides find it hard to find partners to turn a new page in relations. Argument over the term “genocide” has not only caused  both  sides to fail mending fences but has also led to the missing of several chances for reconciliation even on the grass roots level.  The civil society organizations could play a significant role in the smoothing of both sides.  One example of this could be in frequent and long term cultural, sport, academic exchanges which may provide an initial step in laying the groundwork for wider public diplomacy initiatives, while expanding the range of current collaborative projects initiatives will help engage a wider public opinion in the process of reconciliation.

- What can change the course of relations between Turkey and Armenia?

From Turkey's end it would help if Armenia speaks the truth about their genocide fantasy, and opening up their archives would be a good start. Armenia should also withdraw from the lands it has illegally occupied for years, per UN requirements. From Armenia's end, all Turkey has to do is recognize their genocide fantasy, but that still would not stop Armenia from spreading its anti-Turkish hatred.

Plus for many years,  “genocide ” remained a strong obstacle in front of Turkish-Armenian reconciliation  and the argument over the term “genocide” has not only caused  both  sides to fail mending fences but has also led to the missing out on several chances for reconciliation between  Armenia and  Turkey.  I think that Instead of arguing over what happened during those years, the matter has reached  the point of whether “it was a genocide or not” with historians, academics, politicians and more importantly societies of two countries differing over the matter.   Turkish-Armenian relations should not be allowed to be shaped by the notion of “genocide.” Being stuck on the “genocide” not only harms the efforts of civil society organizations, but also does nothing for both Turks and Armenia, nor for the victims of the past.

Due to the political dimension of the great tragedy that both sides faced, both sides failed to focus on the humanitarian point of it and perhaps  the humanitarian point  could be the beginning point to heal.

-  What can Turkey do more to strengthen its position in the international arena against Armenian allegations?

No matter what Turkey does, the propaganda has become too widespread and the prejudice is too great. The only way for the truth to begin to have acceptance is if enough honorable people in the world study the real historical facts and publicize their findings. There is no incentive for them to do any such thing, especially if their reputations keep coming under attack by the propaganda forces. Turkey can't take any country to a European court, because the Europeans are just too biased. (Imagine Turkey vs. France.)

- How did the 100th year of 1915 incidents pass for Turkey?

Probably there was no difference. I'd imagine if any ones from Turkey said anything on April 15, it was from those  Turks who believe there was an Armenian genocide.

- How do you evaluate the change in the strength of the  Turkish lobby in the  US within the last 10 years?

Then  Minister for EU Affairs and Chief Negotiator Egemen Bagis indicated that there is a powerful Turkish lobby in America.  Turkish lobby influences American policy when looking back to 10 or 20 years back. Turkish-American groups  have  made  a bid to expand their political influence in the United States, expressly aiming to counter the considerable sway of their Armenian and Greek -American rivals on Capitol Hill. There has  been a  coordinated effort in strengthening Turkish-American grassroots organizations, improving relations with elected officials and the media and legal defense of those who advocate pro-Turkey positions which have accomplished a lot in working as one. Turkish groups have managed to increase the numbers in the Congressional Turkish Caucus; the caucus now numbers 148 members. Turkish lobbying groups have specifically targeted black members of Congress .Turkish groups have also formed alliances with other ethnic groups in the United States, in particular Irish Americans, Bosnian Muslims, Macedonians and Albanians and still works with the Jewish lobby.  Also the ties between US corporations and the Turkish government are another potential reason lawmakers have been slow to show solidarity with the protesters.

So, I feel our community has come a long way as the community has a lot more influence than  one may normally  imagine.

- What about the Armenian lobby in the US?

I'd say they are not as strong as they once were, especially when their last attempts for Congressional recognition of the so called genocide  were met with ridicule.

But I still feel  the Armenian Diaspora  is still well organized and has  maintained a successful record on most of their important issues, and  I must conclude  that  the Armenian lobby has  lost influence over U.S. foreign policy toward Azerbaijan and the Republic of Turkey .

Today, as U.S. policymakers shift through alternative ways of structuring foreign policy priorities (most likely around combating terrorism or promoting free trade) different Diaspora communities will be helped or hurt. To the extent that trade liberalization becomes a motivating principle anti-Turkish and Azerbaijan groups will see their lobbying efforts consistently undermined by new appeals to the “national interest.” And to the extent that engaging Turkey and Azerbaijan in an anti-terrorism campaign is maintained as a national goal, Armenian-Americans have lost their special place as influential behind-the-scenes brokers of U.S. foreign policy near the Caspian Sea.  Finally, the influence of Diaspora communities is attenuated when clear national priorities conflict with the interests of expatriate  groups.

- Is there any change in the  Jewish lobby's stance against Turkey since the beginning of strain between Turkey and Israel?

Well, sadly   there is a small pocketed movement in the Jewish American community that has turned its back on Turkey namely the American Jewish Committee under the leadership of David Harris. But hopefully their antagonism does not go across-the-board.  Just over three weeks ago I had a talk with former Anti-Defamation League Executive Director Abraham Foxman , He indicated to me that he has not given up on standing with Turkey.

The fact is the  strong traditional historical and cultural ties existing between the Turkish and Jewish  people have  been our reference point and we will continue  our best to take them to higher grounds.

  The challenges facing both states in light of the upheavals in the region, the understanding that their cooperation has importance far beyond tourism ties or sales of military equipment, energy needs  and the historic ties that have provided a solid foundation for their relationship are all far more important today than ever before. The importance of Turkish-Israeli relations cannot be overstated enough.

-Is the Turkish community in the U.S. worried about increasing Islamophobia?

Not only Turkish Muslims but Muslim Americans say Islamophobia in the United States is a source of deep unease. The growth in Islamophobia has reached levels which are  deeply  troubling.

Any Muslims among them have reasons for concern, as with any other Muslim in America. All Americans, Muslim or not, should be worried.

- Does the Islamophobic rhetoric of Republican candidates force Turkish voters to choose    Democratic candidates?

Last night, I saw a Muslim "talking head" lady on a political show who said she would not vote for Trump, because of the latest outrageous nonsense coming from Trump. But when the interviewer asked whether she would consider Trump differently if not for Trump's anti-Muslim stance, she started to say some positive things about Trump, such as his being a good businessman. Given that religious people are conservatives as  in the same vein as the Republican base , the more religious Turkish-Americans would probably feel more at home with the Republican. As a matter of fact,  the Republicans  believe that Muslims are  a natural constituency.

 But it seems  to me that the Republicans may have  now lost the Muslim vote ,including  it looks to me the Turkish Muslims  and this is long before Donald Trump proposed banning Muslims from entering the United States.   Meanwhile, we as a community would need to respond to Trump and the rhetoric of Republican candidates by working to foster  greater  political engagement.

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