Sassounian: The Unmasking of Turkish Ambassador Namik Tan

I received a revealing message last week from Benjamin Yafet, a Turkish-Jew who immigrated to the United States in 1976. He is a retired professor and high-tech entrepreneur in Arizona.

Yafet disclosed that in recent years he has been transformed from a staunch supporter of Turkey to an anti-Turkey crusader. He explained that he was “disgusted” with Turkey when Hitler’s Mein Kampf became a bestseller in that country. Since then, he has had “1,001 reasons” for being totally “fed up” with Turkey’s hypocritical policies. In fact, he was so disgusted that he informed Ankara that he was renouncing his Turkish citizenship.

In his e-mail, Yafet enclosed a 1998 New York Times editorial titled, “Turkey’s Destructive Generals.” The editorial harshly criticized the generals for imprisoning Recep Tayyip Erdogan, then the mayor of Istanbul, and currently the prime minister of Turkey. Mayor Erdogan was forced out of office for reciting an Islamic poem. The Times’ editors were displeased with “Turkey’s politically meddlesome” and autocratic generals who muzzled free speech, closed down Islamic schools, and arrested businessmen who financed Islamist politicians.

As a loyal supporter of Turkey, Yafet sent a scathing letter to the Times, defending the draconian measures taken by the military junta against the Islamic Welfare (Refah) Party, the predecessor of Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP).

Yafet then mailed a copy of that letter to the Turkish Embassy in Washington, proudly notifying them of his “good work” on behalf of his native land. Within days, he received a letter of appreciation from Namik Tan, then “Counselor and Embassy Spokesperson,” and now ambassador of Turkey to the United States. Counselor Tan praised Yafet, stating that his “rebuttal was an astute, lucid, and rational argument, which handled the issues with profound insight and understanding, and corresponded, in many aspects, to how we also approach the subject.”

A close reading of Yafet’s letter to the Times reveals why Tan offered such lavish praise. Likening Erdogan’s ideology to that of the Nazis, Yafet had accused the political party of “preaching the end of democracy itself,” aiming “to replace it by an Islamic theocracy.” He went on to explain that “a careful reading of the party program does exhibit an agenda that is a carbon copy of the reactionary Iranian Ayatollah’s ideology. A direct application of the party doctrines would deprive Turkish women of their hardly acquired civil rights and they would first lose their right of NOT wearing the chador (veil). The Welfare Party was totalitarian in essence, racist, and anti-Semitic in philosophy, and anti-democratic by definition. This list does not even include the worldwide implication of the foreign policy they wanted to impose on Turkey.”

In concluding his letter, Yafet warned that the Islamic party would withdraw Turkey from NATO, close down U.S. bases, threaten Israel, side with Libya, Iran, and Sudan, and support Hamas and Hezbollah. Yafet went as far as to ask the Times’ editors to apologize to the Turkish generals.

In his e-mail to this author last week, Yafet found it ironic that the same Namik Tan who had thanked him for his anti-Erdogan letter back in 1998 is now representing an Islamist government that he so passionately despised only a dozen years ago.

It is truly amazing that the Turkish government would send to Washington in 2010 an ambassador who had opposed Erdogan’s Islamist party and supported the generals who had imprisoned him. While it is understandable that Erdogan himself may have not been aware of Tan’s 1998 letter, it is highly unlikely that his superiors at the Foreign Ministry were unaware of his pro-military and anti-democratic views. After all, Tan has been a career diplomat since 1982 and served as deputy undersecretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Ankara prior to his ambassadorial assignment in Washington.

It remains to be seen how the prime minister will react to the unmasking of Ambassador Tan. Erdogan may decide to castigate Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu for appointing an ambassador with such anti-Islamist views to represent the AKP government in the United States.

Indeed, Tan may face the same premature exit from Washington as his predecessor, Nabi Sensoy, who was forced out in 2009 after an argument with Davutoglu.

Harut Sassounian

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 one billion dollars 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. Between the lines here you could read that the only constant is Yafet’s support of Israel. His support of Turkey (his native land) simply depends on whether or not Turkey’s interests align with his own.

    Honestly, I wouldn’t want to alienate our good friend Yafet (even though it is clear that he’d throw us all to the dogs if need be) so let’s just be grateful for his revelation of these facts (similar to which we have a lot of and they always fall on deaf ears anyway).
    Thank you Benjamin.

  2. I read the Armenian Weekly almost every day, mostly because almost all the articles are about Turkey and there is also a difference perspective you cannot see in any other media.

    But the problem of Armenian Weekly is, they are not looking for a solution or reconciliation. All the articles are about despising and demonizing Turkey and Turkish people with heavily biased views. If the English-language Armenian media is like this, I can’t even imagine the Armenian-language media.

    So what is the purpose of this article? Why is it here? 

    I see that you are not a commercially motivated website so what are you trying to do? 

  3. Mert, this one statement alone shows your Anti-Armenian bias (well, Anti-AW bias, but one flows from the other): All the articles are about despising and demonizing Turkey and Turkish people with heavily biased views’  (emphasis mine)

    First:  not ‘all’  articles @AW are about Turks or Turkey. Most are about Armenia, Armenian Disapora, and Armenians.

    Second: Turks and Turkey have had a catastrophic effect on the Armenian nation, and still do: naturally, Turkish issues that affect Armenia and Armenians will be covered in an online publications whose name is ArmenianWeekly.

    Third: provide 3 examples of articles @AW that in your opinion are about ‘despising and demonizing Turkey and Turkish  people’. 

    If you fail to do so, make sure you post an apology to @AW.

  4. Dear Garrek :
    It is true that my attitude towards Turkey has changed and I am not hiding it. Let’s say that it took me some time to discover the REAL Turkey, learn about the Armenian Genocide, learn about the legitimate battle of the Kurds, etc. I also understand that countries do have permanant interests and not permanant friends, but my problem with the (majority of ) the Turks and Turkey goes deeper than that. And I am a person and not a country and I do not know how to assure you that “I will not throw you to the dogs”. For almost 9 years now, I have been constantly “anti-Turkish”, working to align the positions of the Jewish and Armenan lobbies, explain to the world that the PKK is no more “terrorist” than the PLO, etc. Time will show my constancy and in the meantime I hope to gain your trust, despite my past “sins”.

  5. I thought about the comment I left last night and felt remorse for presenting my opinion in such negative and pessimistic light. Glad to get a chance to set things straight again.
    Also very glad to here that you are sincere and acknowledging of your past position.
    Unfortunately, people passionate about politics and social issues do a lot of damage out of zeal before they’ve had a chance to observe things the way they are closest representative of reality. Passionate readers whether Turkish, Azeri, Jewish, Armenian or etc need to focus on gathering info and observing before they become activists/active and take sides.
    And beyond all this, the truth seems not to matter anyway. Leverage matters, power and money matter, international politics matter, the degree to which one would allow themselves to get violent matters, truth doesn’t.
    We Armenians aren’t perfect either, I would be remiss if I didn’t add. But no matter how bad we didn’t deserve an attempt to be wiped out of existence and denial of this to today only makes matters worse.
    My grandmothers 11 siblings including one girl and their father were burned alive in a barn according to eyewitness accounts of my great grandfather who escaped at age 5 with one older sister from Dsithankov near the Ani region in current Turkey. Those people lost, were my wealth. I’ve been robbed of a large extended family and in any other civilized situation the perpetrators would have been punished but alas….

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