Some statements are so blatantly false and malicious that it’s often not worth dignifying them with a response or refutation—unless they’re from the ambassador of the world superpower regarding a country that itself stands as a regional powerhouse.
U.S. Ambassador to Turkey Francis J. Ricciardone’s response to a question posed by Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) this week is a case in point. Menendez asked, “To the best of your knowledge, approximately how many of the more than 2,000 Christian churches functioning prior to 1915 on the territory of present-day Turkey are still operating today as churches?” Ricciardone responded, “Most of the Christian churches functioning prior to 1915 are still operating as churches.”
Let’s look at some numbers. Right before the genocide in 1915, there were upwards of 3,000 Armenian, Greek, and Assyrian churches in Ottoman territories that are today part of Turkey. Maghakia Ormanian, who was the Armenian patriarch in Istanbul from 1896 to 1908, listed more than 2,000 churches in his monumental book The Church of Armenia. The Armenian Weekly recently published a list of Armenian churches by town, based on Turkish and Armenian Patriarchate sources.
Today, only a few dozen churches operate in Turkey, which include only 34 Armenian churches, mostly in Istanbul.
If we dismiss utter ignorance as an explanation, the alternative is not very flattering: It is covering up the crimes of the genocides of the Christians in Ottoman Turkey and their continued dispossession in the Republic of Turkey in the decades following its establishment—and that, with a strain of blatant denial that no Turkish diplomat would adopt.
It runs counter to the very definition of a diplomat to make profoundly insulting comments. But in the ones that have been made by diplomats throughout history, Ricciardone’s is a serious contender for the cake. Not only is his statement utterly false, it constitutes an affront to the memory and legacy of millions of Christians who perished in Ottoman Turkey in the first two decades of the 20th century.
Ricciardone was initially sent to Ankara by President Obama on a “recess” appointment because his approval by the Senate was blocked over concerns that, in his previous Cairo posting, he had quickly adopted the positions and arguments of his Egyptian diplomatic counterparts. He has shown, once again, that he is far too eager to please his hosts, at the cost of U.S. interests and American values. By his own actions, he has disqualified himself from this post. The president should immediately withdraw this failed nomination. Should the Ricciardone nomination proceed, the U.S. Senate should block its confirmation.