BUENOS AIRES, Argentina—On May 31, the ANC of South America, a body of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF), issued a statement welcoming Buenos Aires officials’ decision to block the unveiling of Ataturk’s bust in the capital. The statement came on the heels of the cancellation of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s trip to Buenos Aires, after Argentina’s Armenian community protested the planned unveiling of Ataturk’s bust.
The statement highlighed the continuities between the genocidal Young Turk government of 1915 and the Turkish Republic established by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, noting that the policy of Armenian Genocide denial “was born with Ataturk and is continued today by Prime Minister Erdogan’s government.” The unveiling of Ataturk’s bust in Buenos Aires is an insult not only to the Armenian community in Argentina, but to all Argentinians, the ANC of Argentina noted.
“The responsibility for the cancellation of the Turkish delegation’s visit falls squarely on Prime Minister Erdogan’s shoulders,” underlined the ANC of South America.
According to reports from Argentina’s “Armenia” newspaper, Turkish diplomats in Argentina had stepped up genocide denial efforts following the successful passage of a 2007 law that condemned the Armenian Genocide. Using the so-called “historical commission” envisioned in the Turkey-Armenia Protocols, the Turkish Ambassador to Argentina Hayri Hayet Yalav had launched an extensive public relations campaign, coinciding with the 95th anniversary of this crime, inviting Argentinean public officials on trips to Turkey and promoting closer Turkish-Argentinian cultural relations.
The Turkish embassy had quietly approached Buenos Aires officials to sidestep local laws requiring public notice and hearings regarding the installation of statues on public property, securing an agreement to replace an existing statue of an Egyptian human rights activist with that of Ataturk. The plan was uncovered by the ANC of South America just one week prior to the official installation of Ataturk’s bust. Within days, a joint Argentina-Armenian Community effort was launched—including letters to the editor and a public statement in major local newspapers—resulting in a May 28th meeting with Buenos Aires city Minister of Parks Diego Santili. The latter rescinded the decision.
An angry Prime Minister Erdogan pressured Argentina President Kirchner to overturn the Buenos Aires decision to no avail. Erdogan cancelled his trip to Argentina along with his trip to Chile the following day.
An interesting side note: The “Armenia” newspaper reports that Turkish Embassy officials had extended invitations to the Ataturk statue unveiling to Argentina Armenians with Turkish passports, threatening them to attend the ceremony or face difficulty in renewing their travel documents.