The Hitler of our century, Boston Celtics basketball player Enes Kanter has said, is the president of his native Turkey. In response to Lebron James playing interference for China following Rockets general manager Daryl Morey tweeting support for Hong Kong’s protesters and their struggle for liberty, Kanter responded with his experience: his outspoken criticism of Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s human rights abuses has cost him his family and his safety. ‘FREEDOM IS NOT FREE,’ Kanter wrote on Twitter, also listing the consequences for his disobedience, including his father being jailed, Kanter’s attempted kidnapping, and having not seen or spoken to his family in five years. Him and his family became pariahs.
Kanter has said he refuses to be silenced and wants to continue bringing awareness to the Erdogan regime’s repression of speech and expression. Currently, Turkey is the largest jailor of journalists in the world and peaceful protesters have been prosecuted for crimes such as ‘spreading terrorist propaganda’ and ‘insulting the president.’ Kanter is one of many activists trying to attract attention to Turkey’s history of crimes against humanity, of which most of its victims have yet to receive justice or even recognition.
Last week, Kim Kardashian West made a visit to the region. Specifically, she visited Armenia, her country of heritage, where she was baptized alongside her children, and where they visited the Armenian Genocide Memorial. She tweeted, quite pointedly, that she couldn’t ‘believe with all of the photos from the massacres and published literature during this time that people still try to deny this ever happened. We will never forget that 1.5 million Armenians were murdered.’ Every year, if not for Kardashian West, would many Americans be aware that the Ottoman Empire had committed genocide against its Armenian population in 1915? Turkey has denied the genocide ever happened, and by leveraging its geostrategic and economic alliance (however strained), it effectively kept every American president since Ronald Reagan from recognizing the genocide as one at all.
It’s been time for justice for Turkey’s victims, but there is now an opportunity for President Trump, given the tension between the US and Turkey due to our newly imposed sanctions in response to their military campaign in northeast Syria, to formally recognize Turkey’s past and contemporary crimes. As we saw with the Turkish-backed forces wanton execution of civilians following its incursion into Syria last week, Turkey has yet to be held accountable for the past, subsequently repeating its crimes in the present.
The Armenian Assembly of America is pressuring lawmakers to consider Turkey’s genocidal policies of today and of 1915. ‘Turkey has continued the genocidal policies of the Ottoman Empire and has been openly supporting ISIS,’ a representative told me. ‘We witnessed Erdogan’s readiness to work with ISIS in 2014 when Turkey allowed ISIS militants to easily cross the Turkish-Syrian border and attack the Armenian village of Kessab in the Latakia region of Syria — all done with Turkey’s support.’
The Washington-based advocacy group champions recognition of the 1915 genocide, which is remembered annually on April 24. They found Turkey’s recent attacks against civilians to be all too familiar. ‘Erdogan stated earlier this year that he believed the deportations that led to the 1915 Armenian Genocide to be “reasonable”,’ the representative said. ‘He also considers the Republic of Turkey to be a continuation of the Ottoman Empire, which implemented the Armenian Genocide. Turkish authorities have never acknowledged their ancestors’ role in the Armenian Genocide, as the Germans have done, and are pursuing the same goals of land grabbing and ethnic cleansing in Syria.’
Armenia has been welcoming of Syrian refugees since the beginning of the conflict in 2011, and is preparing to accept more as thousands of people flee the Turkish offensive. Last week, Erdogan threatened to release 3.6 million Syrian refugees in Turkey to Europe if any EU country described the offensive as an ‘occupation.’ The Armenian Assembly of America is requesting that the US instead aid Armenia in their effort to provide a safe haven in the region to the minority populations fleeing Syria today, especially the descendants of the Christians who survived the genocide of 1915 only to find themselves experiencing ethnic cleansing by Turkey again.
The assembly is urging Congress to affirm the Armenian Genocide now that the circumstances have become not only overdue but especially ripe by adopting H. Res. 296. ‘The international community should not stand by and watch as Turkey once again subjects ethnic and religious minorities in Syria to horrific atrocities. It is our legacy to protect those whose lives are at risk and our responsibility to prevent atrocities from being committed.’
Enes Kanter shared with us the reality of Erdogan’s regime, reminding us of the fragility of freedom when the NBA expressed its cowardice in the face of China’s fascism. Kim Kardashian West has been a witness of the slaughter that the Ottoman Empire carried out a century ago, and that is denied by its perpetrator. The best time to acknowledge Turkey’s crimes was yesterday. The second best time is today.