In Letter to U.S. Secretary of State, Archbishop Khajag Barsamian Responds to Amb. Ricciardone’s Statement on the Status of Churches in Turkey

What follows is the text of a letter sent by Archbishop Khajag Barsamian, Primate of the Diocese of the Armenian Church of America (Eastern), to United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, regarding assertions made by Ambassador Francis Ricciardone, President Barack Obama’s recess appointment to serve as U.S. Ambassador to Turkey.

In an official written statement addressing an inquiry from New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez, regarding the present operational status of “the more than 2,000 Christian churches functioning prior to 1915 on the territory of present-day Turkey,” Amb. Ricciardone asserted: “Most of the Christian churches functioning prior to 1915 are still operating as churches. Some churches of significance operate as museums. The remaining have fallen into disrepair or were converted to mosques for lack of use.”

The full text of Archbishop Barsamian’s letter to Secretary Clinton, in response to the above assertion, appears below.

* * *

Dear Madame Secretary:

My kind greetings and blessings you, as you continue your service to our nation. As Primate of the Eastern Diocese of the Armenian Church of America, I write regarding the statements made by Ambassador Francis Ricciardone, President Obama’s appointment as U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Turkey, during his confirmation hearing.

Please know that we have been generally supportive of the efforts of the U.S. government to promote a more normal relationship between the republics of Turkey and Armenia. Likewise, we greatly respect and appreciate the productive role you personally have played in such initiatives.

With those efforts in mind, it is difficult to understand Ambassador Ricciardone’s assertions about the status of historic Armenian churches, and other Christian churches, in Turkey. The loss of these many hundreds of churches, their neglect and outright destruction, and the conversion of many of our sanctuaries into mosques, is a matter of intense pain to Armenians: an ongoing reminder of the loss of life and the destruction that we suffered as a result of the 1915 Genocide.

Ambassador Ricciardone deeply offended Armenian-Americans with his remarks, opening sensitive wounds and potentially setting back the gradual process of healing. In all charity, perhaps the Ambassador is simply unaware of certain facts. But mastery of the history of a country, its dark as well as bright chapters, is essential to serving the United States effectively and diplomatically in this important and complex region.

Again, it is our general support for your efforts, Madame Secretary, as well as our desire to see genuine progress made to benefit the entire region, that prompts this letter to you. I am confident that you will give these thoughts all due consideration, as you make decisions about the vital role America plays in Turkey, in Armenia, and throughout the world.

Madame Secretary, you have our great respect and support in all your undertakings. May our Lord strengthen and guide you in your service to our beloved country.

With prayers,

Archbishop Khajag Barsamian

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