Experts Raise Concern Over State Department Deal with Turkey Over Religious, Cultural Heritage

This article was originally published by The Pappas Post on 4 August 2020. The original article can be found here.

By Gregory Pappas

Dr. Elizabeth Prodromou, a global expert on geopolitics and religion, has raised alarm bells over the potential signing of a memorandum of understanding between the government of Turkey and the U.S. State Department that would allow Turkey to have full control over cultural and religious heritage inside its country.

The move would allow the Turkish government to effectively “own” the cultural heritage of dozens of cultures and religions— ancient Greek, Byzantine and Jewish, among others — many of which predate the arrival of Turkic tribes into Anatolia.

Prodromou spoke to Thanos Davelis on the Hellenic American Leadership Council’s daily podcast, “The Greek Current” and called the proposed agreement an opportunity for Turkey to “ethnically cleanse” its history of any non-Turkish cultural and historical reference, dating back more than 12,000 years.

She slammed the U.S. State Department for even considering the Turkish request.

“It is preposterous that the US State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs is seriously considering a Memorandum of Understanding on Cultural Property with the Republic of Turkey, given that the Turkish state has been the single greatest threat to the protection of the cultural heritage of the country’s diverse religious and ethnic communities, given Ankara’s disregard for its UNESCO obligations in the recent decision to revert the Hagia Sophia to a mosque, and in light of Turkey’s demonstrated record of pillaging, and trafficking the cultural heritage of the country’s vulnerable religious and ethnic communities,” Prodromou told The Pappas Post in exclusive comments.

Prodromou is a faculty member at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, where she directs the Initiative on Religion, Law, and Diplomacy.  She is also a Co-President of Religions for Peace International, and she served as Vice Chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (2004-2012).

Prodromou is also leading a coalition initiative by In Defense of Christians (IDC), the Hellenic American Leadership Council (HALC) and the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) to counter Turkey’s targeting of Christian cultural heritage.

In comments exclusive to The Pappas Post, the leaders of the three groups cautioned against the United States entering into the memorandum of understanding with Turkey.

“There are millions of Americans–Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants–who descend from the Christian communities that were victims of genocide by the Ottoman Empire at the beginning of the 20th century. This MOU, if signed, would create a barrier between these Americans and sacred objects such as bibles, icons, and relics from their ancestral lands,” said Steven Howard, the National Outreach Director of IDC.

Aram Hamparian, the Executive Director of ANCA, added: “With this MOU, Erdogan is looking for an official American stamp of approval on Turkey’s century-long appropriation, expropriation, and outright destruction of indigenous Christian culture–deepening US complicity in Ankara’s ongoing consolidation of its genocidal crimes.”

According to HALC Executive Director Endy Zemenides: “Turkey’s shameful conversions of the Chora Church and then Hagia Sophia proves that it cannot be credibly argued that Turkey would safeguard the cultural and religious heritage of its religious minorities — heritage that happens to be central to the religious practice of millions of Christian Americans as well.  The fact that the State Department continues this process in light of demonstrable bad faith on the part of the Erdogan regime is inexcusable.  The process under which this MOU is being considered must be made transparent and must ensure that Turkey cannot commit further outrages against cultural heritage.”

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