WASHINGTON – Pennsylvania Senate hopeful Mehmet Oz has faced a barrage of questions and criticism from key Republican opponents over his initial refusal to renounce dual Turkish citizenship.
Oz was satisfied and said he would give up official relations with Turkey.
But prominent leaders of a minority argue that his ties to Turkey require greater scrutiny as Oz, the famous doctor, has won the endorsement of the former President. Donald Trump, compete in the crowded Senate race.
Allies have dismissed questions about Oz’s Turkish heritage as racist and as dog whistles. But some Armenian-American leaders say Oz has failed to adequately answer questions about the Empire’s more than 100-year-old dispute over the early 20th-century mass deportation and massacre of Armenians. Ottoman rule, considered genocide, a description that Turkey strongly disputes.
“No one in this community is going to vote for Dr. Oz,” said Mark Momjian, a prominent Philadelphia attorney and former president of the Center for Armenia at Columbia University. “We believe he is part of a denial campaign when it comes to the Armenian genocide.”
The root of their opposition to Oz is Turkey’s insistence that what happened in World War I was not genocide. It asserted that the death toll had been increased and that the dead were victims of the civil war.
It is not uncommon for foreign policy disputes to join the political races of the United States – for example, questions about China and Hong Kong or about Israel and the Palestinian territories have become a fixture. determined in US elections – but the race is emerging as the most striking example of Old World warfare being transferred to American politics.
Momjian, who said all four of his grandparents were born in Turkey, said the problem was not about Oz’s ethnicity but rather his lack of public recognition that Turkey committed genocide.
“We have what our president calls a real-time genocide in Ukraine,” Momjian said. “There’s a US senator who denies the truth of the Armenian genocide so it’s very concerning to anyone who cares about human rights.”
‘Reminiscent of profanity’
Oz, who was born in Ohio to Turkish parents and holds dual U.S.-Turkish citizenship, faced criticism from his opponents in the May 17 primaries. 5 of the Republican Party and other about whether he hasdouble loyalty“To Turkey.
Oz dismissed the question as “reminiscent of past taunts about Catholics and Jews”, noting that President John F. Kennedy has faced unfounded accusations that he would be secretly loyal to the pope, while Jewish politicians were sometimes subjected to the same questions. about Israel.
To Armenian Americans, Oz was a prominent Turkish-American who, throughout his long public career, seemed uncomfortable condemning an act of atrocism as important to them as Holocaust for the Jews.
“For the past 100 years, we have been trying to erase the memory of the Armenian genocide from the Turkish grip,” said Aram Hamparian, executive director of the American Armenian National Commission. “So when someone is running for office close to the leader of that country, who has served in the military of that country – it was a three-alarm fire. ”
It took a century for the US government to officially recognize it Genocide in Armenia – a brutality Turkey has long denied despite scholarly consensus and official recognition from more than 30 countries.
Now, Armenian Americans worry that the Turkish campaign to deny the massacre of 800,000 to 1 million Armenians during World War I will have a powerful champion in the US government if Oz joins the Senate. .
Asked about Oz’s views, campaign spokeswoman Brittany Yanick said in a statement: “Dr. Mehmet Oz opposes genocide and the killing of innocents in all its forms.
“The evils of World War I should be remembered,” continued Yanick. “Dr. Oz looks forward to those important discussions, as well as the help of three million Armenians today.”
His campaign response did not use the word “genocide in Armenia.”
‘This is a personal matter’
While episode called the Armenian Genocide unknown to most Americans, the systematic extermination of its Christian minorities beginning in 1915 by the Ottoman Empire paved the way for the establishment of a nationalist Turkish state. number.
The murders inspired the coining of the word “genocide“and the industrial scale has set a precedent.” After all, who is speaking today about the extermination of the Armenians? “Adolf Hitler” speak his generals before the Nazis invaded Poland.
Turkey has long suppressed internal discussion of the events and retaliated diplomatically against other countries that recognize them — more than 30 cases now — despite ample evidence and consensus of most scholars.
US Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire at the time warning superiors in Washington that “a campaign of racial extermination is underway”, but Washington has long avoided calling the event a “genocide”, as Turkey has made it clear that doing so would risk losing their support.
For example, former President Barack Obama promised he would recognize genocide during his campaign but hindered while he was in office. His UN Ambassador, Samantha Power, who wrote an influential book on genocide before she entered government, tweeted“I deeply regret that during our time in office, we in the Obama administration did not recognize the genocide committed by the Armenians.”
It was not until 2019 that the House and Senate passed it Determined recognized the episode as genocide after previous attempts were unsuccessful. And President Joe Biden became First President of the United States of America to officially recognize mass murders as genocide just last year.
“After Biden realized that, finally, after all these years of effort, we really cared about Oz, because we knew the power of Turkish lobbying and Turkish interests. in American politics,” said the founder of the Armenian Unity Fund, Harut Sassounian, publisher of an Armenian newspaper in Glendale, California, called “Little Armenia.”
“Dr. Oz has been on TV for many years, he is a celebrity, he is a celebrity and Armenians everywhere know he is of Turkish descent. So it caught the eye of Armenians in all 50 states,” Sassounian said.
Sassounian and Oz are both get an award honoring successful immigrants in 2008. At the ceremony, Sassounian introduced himself and began to say something about how his ancestors who were killed a century ago would be amazed. like when he saw them there, but Oz “responded by shaking his head vigorously as if he were disapproving,” Sassounian said.
Oz’s campaign did not respond to a specific question about the incident.
Karine Shamlian, co-chair of Pennsylvania’s Armenian National Committee, said many in the community think Oz’s candidacy poses little threat to Trump’s endorsement, because his campaign appears to be is exploding.
“We have Armenians who are Republicans, Armenians who are Democrats, but when it comes to things affecting the Armenian community and the Armenian community, we gather regardless of party,” she said. any politics. “We feel that this Senate seat is in danger of being controlled by a foreign government, quite honestly.”
However, Marta Batmansian, an Armenian-American real estate investor and former adjunct professor of Middle Eastern studies, defended Oz.
“The events of the Ottoman Turks were appalling. I believe that relations between the Turks and the Armenians have improved. Dr Mehmet Oz believes in the equality of all human beings and I respect his desire to help the people of Armenia today,” Batmasian said in a comment relayed by Oz’s campaign.
Oz, the son of immigrants, has said that his upbringing was symbolic of the American Dream.
He will be the first Muslim elected to the Senate. He grew up secular, played soccer and married a Christian woman, raising their children according to that faith.
He served in the Turkish army while studying medicine for just 60 days to meet the minimum requirement to retain Turkish citizenship, according to a op-ed he writes, and he says he continues to keep his Turkish passport to care for his ailing mother there.
There seems to be never been a senator with dual citizenshipand U.S. government employees often have to revoke any foreign citizenship in order to obtain security clearances.
Critics have called attention to Oz’s interact with people and organizations with ties to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who has been branded a dictator, and critics such as Turkish-American NBA star Enes Kanter Freedom have accused Oz when he became a “foreign agent” for Erdoğan.
But for Shamlian, the co-chair of the Armenian community in Pennsylvania, it’s not about politics. Shamlian recounts that her grandmother was telling stories about her experience during the genocide until her death just three years ago at the age of 109.
“For me, this is personal,” he said.