Sassounian: Three Questions Turkey’s Ambassador Would Not Answer

Turkey’s ambassador to the United States, Namik Tan, spoke at the University of Southern California’s Center on Public Diplomacy on Feb. 16. His topic was: “Public Diplomacy: The Turkish Experience.”

The Turkish ambassador assumed his post in Washington last February, but shortly after his arrival was recalled to Ankara when the House Foreign Affairs Committee adopted a resolution acknowledging the Armenian Genocide.

Tan is no stranger to Washington, where he served as the embassy’s counselor from 1991-95 and first counselor from 1997-2001. During his long diplomatic career, he also was ambassador to Israel, second secretary at the Turkish Embassy in Russia, and deputy undersecretary at the Foreign Ministry in Ankara.

During his first visit to Los Angeles this month, the smooth-talking ambassador managed to meet with Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, speak to the World Affairs Council, and hold meetings with the American Jewish Committee, Turkish community leaders, and the Editorial Board of the Los Angeles Times.

Prior to his arrival, the Association of Turkish-Americans of Southern California had posted a note on its website, urging local Turks to attend the ambassador’s public appearances and “show visible support…especially in the face of usual anticipated detractors.”

Running the risk of being labeled “a detractor,” I decided to attend the ambassador’s talk, which ironically was held at USC’s Ronald Tutor Campus Center—named after its Armenian benefactor, the son of Al Tutor (Varjabedian), a genocide survivor. I made my way through scores of U.S. Secret Service agents, campus security, and Turkish bodyguards who almost outnumbered the guests at the event. Even more surprising was the fact that there were only a handful of Armenians and Turks among the attendees, which consisted mostly of USC students and professors.

Tan, who spoke in fluent English for half an hour, presented his country in the best possible light. Since he had not addressed Armenian issues, I decided to pose the following interrelated questions:

The Turkish government recently renovated a couple of Armenian churches. There were thousands of Armenian churches and monasteries throughout Turkey before the genocide, most of which were converted into mosques, warehouses, and stables, and many were destroyed. Isn’t it time for the Turkish government to turn over these Armenian churches to the Armenian Patriarchate of Istanbul? Also, after Armenians were deported and killed, they left behind their houses, lands, and belongings. Isn’t it time for the Turkish government to return these properties to the heirs of their original Armenian owners? Finally, regarding the Armenian Genocide issue, President Obama declared in his statement of last April 24: “95 years ago, 1.5 million Armenians were massacred or marched to death in the final days of the Ottoman Empire.” If you say that is not true, wouldn’t you be calling the president of the United States a liar?

Here is Tan’s response:

“This hate should end. We should put it behind as early as possible. That’s why we are trying to reach out to our Armenian friends and we have signed the [Armenia-Turkey] protocols. In these protocols, one of the suggestions that we put is that we want an independent historical inquiry commission which will include representatives from every country—from U.S., France, and whichever country you like. They will study those claims and we will see the decision all together. But history cannot be legislated. This is not the way that history could be judged. So, I think this has created a lot of ill feelings in our societies. Armenians have given a lot of contribution to our social life historically. Therefore we need to continue such kind of engagements, but this hate should be stopped.”

I politely reminded Tan that he had not answered my questions. He responded by saying: “That is my answer.” He probably was not prepared to face such politically sensitive questions. By sidestepping my queries, he left a negative impression on his audience, despite his highly skilled diplomatic credentials.

At the program’s conclusion, Tan walked over, shook my hand, and thanked me for my questions. I told him that his assessment was inaccurate, as the Armenian issue had nothing to do with “hatred.” I explained that a great crime was committed by Turkey against the Armenian nation and that Armenians are not blinded by “hatred,” but are simply demanding “justice.” The ambassador turned around and walked away with a mysterious smile on his face.

Even though Tan avoided answering my questions, our public exchange had the beneficial effect of exposing the university audience, the ambassador, and his entourage to the just demands of the Armenian people for the crimes committed by Turkey. Indeed, it is also imperative to challenge Turkish officials at every opportunity, so that neither they nor their audience will be able to ignore Armenian grievances.


Harut Sassounian

California Courier Editor
Harut Sassounian is the publisher of The California Courier, a weekly newspaper based in Glendale, Calif. He is the president of the Armenia Artsakh Fund, a non-profit organization that has donated to Armenia and Artsakh $917 million of humanitarian aid, mostly medicines, since 1989 (including its predecessor, the United Armenian Fund). He has been decorated by the presidents of Armenia and Artsakh and the heads of the Armenian Apostolic and Catholic churches. He is also the recipient of the Ellis Island Medal of Honor.


  1. Excellent, Harut, let them face the music! Also interesting that he thanked you for the questions. As a private person he possbily realizes that the QUESTION will never go away as long as Turkey plays the role of the unrepentant and recalcitrant boy. The audience will remember and if this kind of questioning – from those of us who want Turkey to go into its black spots and make repairs and apologies – is repeated a thousand times, it becomes one of the important vehicles for justice.

  2. Dear Mr. Sassounian, I am certainly proud of you.  What you did is what all Armenians should do especially the leaders.  You have proven again that you are truly one of Diaspora Armenian leaders.

  3. Dear Mr. Sassounian. The questions which you asked should have been posed by Serge Sargsyan to President Gul or Prime Minister Erdogan of Turkey two years ago.
    We Armenians have no hatred towards Turkish people. We would like to have friendly relations with the Turkish people, provided that it is based on justice and not by sweeping the Genocide issue under the rug or by denying our national rights.
    I am afraid that the stance of the Turkish government will not change anytime soon, as long as Turkey presents strategic value for NATO. We Armenians have to be patient and move forward diligently.

  4. I would like to know why USC Armenian students did not show up in large numbers and leaflet, picket, and crowd into the auditorium to challenge this genocide-denier. 

    Where were the other hundreds of thousands of other Armenians in the area?

    Must Harut Sassounian always be a one-man army, or can someone out there help the man?

  5. Ambassador Tan left you an opening and you didn’t follow up. Just what contributions have Armenians contibuted to Turkish social life? We all know what the Turkish “contribution” to our social life was.

  6.  I admire Mr. Sassunian. But he was very lucky that he was given an opporunity to tell the ambassador publicly that he hadn’t answered his question. On similar occasions, once the Turkish official or his friends have expressed themselves in more or less comparable ways, the conferences have been brutally brought to an end, so that no one could insist.  I wonder if Mr Harut Sassunian  HAD to shake hands with a man whose job it is to cover up the planned destruction of the Christians and their heritage on their ancestral lands,  a man who defends the confiscation of their goods and the exploitation thereof by himself and his fellow countrymen – returning the churches to the Patriarchate, you must be kidding? – , and who obviously tried to treat him as a fool in public because he is an Armenian, ie a second class person to his eyes even  in America. If you ask, say, your teacher  “What time is it?” and the answer you get is  “Yellow”, how do you interpret this? The ambassador probably thanked him for his questions because he was thus given an opportunity not only to go on with the denial, this time by ignoring the issue at hand, and to serve up the usual crap about the protocols – that Turkey is not respecting – , but on top of everything else, he took advantage of the questions to blame the Armenians themselves! Always  “Blame the victim”  For when he mentions “hate”, it is needless to specify that he is accusing Armenians of hating the perpetrators and their accomplices, and he  is not refering at all to the real haters, those who claim “they must finish the job”,  like the what happened in Ani last October with his government’s authorisation, to the Sari Gelin DVDs shown to Turkish kids  or to his PM’s objection to an innocent monument dedicated to Turkish-Armenian friendship. H. Sassunian is doing a wonderful job. If shaking hands with a walking statue of Turkish denial  is part of the mission, while there are now dozens of really fantastic, generous, brave and honest Turkish citizens like Ragip Zarakolu and Taner Akçam etc.  with whom it is both an honor and a pleasure to do so,  I don’t envy him ! But admire him for his courage. Go on, Mr Sassunian.

  7. Mr Jamgochian wishes THE TURKISH AMBASSADOR had explained in more detail what he meant with the Armenians’ contribution to Turkish social life – for which they were thanked by being exterminated. The descendents of the dead, who are also the descendents of the Armenian artists, arcthitects, lawyers, journalists, physicians, goldsmiths, and also the distant relatives of the girls who were forced to contribute their genes after they were “married” by Turkish males, know very well what that contribution has been – and as Mr Jamgochian says, they know all too well what Turkey’s contribution to their lives has been, and still is : the very answer of the Ambassador is proof of it : What is ours is ours, and what is yours is ours too… 

  8. Too bad my post was yet again censored and deleted. But that’s okay. I’ll simply post a much shorter version (which hopefully, will appease the editorial board).

    First of all, no one of you have ever mentioned (and may never do so) the mass atrocities that dashnak Armenians committed upon hundreds of thousands of Moslems and non-Moslems. Since none of you dare go down that road (you all know what it would mean to do so), you all simply ignore it, then accuse Turks and Turkic people of doing this and/or that to Armenians. You ALWAYS try to have things your way only! But that’s not reality, and will not stand up to ultimate global muster.

    Secondly, Mr. Sassunian admits the cordiality of the Turkish ambassador to him. Compare that with the same parameters, BUT with the situation reversed. Would the Armenian ambassador be as classy and cordial to a Turk asking the same questions? Or would he be rude, vulgar and run off (like so many other Armenian politicians or academics [who even go as far as calling campus security instead of responding to a posed question])? Many a Turk or Turkic individual has discovered what really occurs when one tries to ask a question to one!  

  9. Turks started the cycle of violence when they started murdering unarmed, defenseless Armenian civilians, including women & children, and people too old to wield a cane, much less a weapon. I am sure Turks (and Azeris) would prefer that Armenians never take up arms, and never fight back: sorry, we have given enough blood to the Red Crescent.

    Armenian self defense forces, including Dashnak formations, killed Turkish invaders, and murderers who had massacred or were planning to massacre Armenians.
    Nobody invited Turks or Tartars to the Armenian highlands. Your ancestors invaded about 1000 years ago from Mongolian steppes and Altai mountain regions, killing, destroying, burning, looting, raping, massacring everything in their path.

    Thank God there were enough Armenians with sense enough not to be disarmed and marched into the slaughterhouses. If it weren’t for them, there would no Armenians left in the world at all.

  10. Robert:

    Would you be so kind to enlighten this son of genocide survivors by giving some examples of  Armenian atrocities against Moslems and non Moslems? I assure you that I will peruse your reply with an open mind.  

  11. All Robert does on these pages is moaning that his posts were censored and deleted… When he’s confronted with a demand to support his arguments (so to speak), he hides in a typically Turkish manner…

  12. Let the facts speak for themselves:


    — At the beginning of World War One, Christians still made up 20 percent of the population. However in May 1915, Ottoman commanders began mass deportation of Armenians from eastern Turkey thinking they might assist Russian invaders.

    — Thousands were marched from the Anatolian borders toward Syria and Mesopotamia (now Iraq) and Armenians say some 1.5 million died either in massacres or from starvation or deprivation as they were marched through the desert. There are some 70,000 Armenians left in Turkey. Turkey says large numbers of both Christian Armenians and Muslim Turks were killed during the violent and chaotic break-up of the Ottoman Empire. The number of Christians has now fallen to around 100,000 in a total population of more than 70 million.

    That means that 1.4% of Turkish citizens are christian.  

  13. Mr. Sassounian would have made a dead monkey meat out of Tan, and Tan knew that.
    This would be an excellent opportunity for Mr. Sassounian to write an open letter in
    Bothe Los Angels Times and the Zaman Turk news paper to have Tan and he Mr. Sassounian
    For a live TV debate about the Questions that Mr. Sassounian had asked.

  14. Mr:  Jamgochian:
    Good post: however, I object to your usage of several phrases:
    Re: Ottoman commanders began mass deportation of Armenians from eastern Turkey thinking they might assist Russian invaders.”
    Surely you are not serious: the plan to exterminate Armenians predated any so-called threat from Russian quote ‘invaders’.
    On April 24, 1915, 250 Armenian intellectuals and community leaders were arrested in Constantinople, then murdered: take a look a map; how far would you say Constantinople is from the Armenian/Russian border with Ottoman Turkey in 1915 ?
    The ostensible ‘threat’ was just a cover to hide the horrific Genocide Turks were planning to implement.
    Re: “Russian Invaders”
    You got it backwards: the Turks were the invaders; Orthodox Christian Russians were helping Christian Armenians fight off Turkish invaders, and save them from annihilation. It would have succeeded too, since combined Russian+Armenian forces had the Ottoman Turks on the run. Unfortunately, when Bolcheviks came to power, they withdrew Russian forces from the Caucasian fronts.
    Re:  “… Armenians say …”
    Really ? I thought it was all those international sources, archival records, and such: maybe Armenians made up that number – what do you think ?
    Like I said; except for some (inadvertent ?) Turkish propaganda, a great post.

  15. Avery;

    My last post is sourced from the Catholic Church

    You must also remember that prior to 1915, the Russian Army had penetrated as far as Erzerum and Armenians looked to them as their salvation. Every time that the Russian Armies withdrew, thousands of Armenians followed them in retreat. It’s natural that the Turks would consider the Armenians as 5th columnists. What other choices did the Armenians have? Was it to wait for the next slaughter?  

  16. Darwin:

    thanks for the link: I checked it. I don’t know what the position of the Catholic Church is vis-a-vis the AG. However, the phraseology in the link does not inspire confidence.
    Just the same, the phrase ‘Armenians say’ is a code-phrase designed to question the authenticity of the subject matter or figure.

    As to what the Turks naturally or unnaturally felt or considered: since when do we care what a criminal, a murderer considers or doesn’t. All that peripheral discussion has one purpose and one purpose only: the justify or ameliorate  their crimes; nothing doing.

    I ask again, what does the arrest and murder of 250 of our best and the brightest 100s of miles from where the Russian/Armenian troops were have anything to do with any Turkish ‘considerations’. 

    And finally: Ottoman Turks’ presence in Western Armenia was and is unlawful detainer. Armenians with their Russian allies could not have ‘invaded’ Western Armenia. How do you invade your own home ?

    to dear Harout Sassounian, our -like I always do-OUR  EX-OFFICIO SPOKESMAN !!!!
    As to all other comments above,I respect them all and wish to request all to be tolerant of not only each other´s comments and viewpoints  but also people  such as Robert, mehmet  or others.  Next;-
    1.We  must first  of all press IN CONJUNCTION WITH GENOCIDE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT ..OUR   D  E M A N D/CLAIM   (through  Armenian Bar  Association) FOR  BLOOD MOINEY.
    gaytzag  palandjian

  18. Robert;

    Send me your email and I will converse with you personally. You have my name, I don’t have yours.

  19. Can’t help but notice that although Turks use English language, the words have different meaning to them and this is a story in itself but wish to keep it short.
    The Turkish  minister uses the word HATE when he knows full well that his government does not really help deliberately undertake to transform his people view as to how to treat their minorities.  Although in the States, Turks take advantage of the free speech amendment, in France, the famous designer Galiano is now facing the actual crime of “HATE SPEECH” and he will go unpunished.

  20. @ Alain: John Galiano is not Turkish. And in France’s jurisprudence, there are now some situations which should not make happy the peoples who share your views on Turks and Armenians.

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