KURDISH, Armenian, and Christian groups have warned that legislation signed as one of the last acts of the outgoing Trump administration gives Turkey the green light to continue “cultural genocide” against the country’s minorities.

KURDISH, Armenian, and Christian groups have warned that legislation signed as one of the last acts of the outgoing Trump administration gives Turkey the green light to continue “cultural genocide” against the country’s minorities.

In what has been described as a disastrous last minute move, the US signed a bilateral US-Turkey Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) granting Turkey legal rights over the religious and cultural heritage of all indigenous people and minorities.

What appears on face value to be an innocuous agreement between the two nations, it in fact enables Ankara to carry out the wholescale destruction of the cultural heritage of Armenians, Greeks, Assyrians, Chaldeans, Syriacs, Arameans, Maronites, Jews and Kurds.

It comes a year after a request made by the Turkish government to introduce a Cultural Property Agreement which aims at preventing imports of virtually all art originating in their territory, spanning all periods in history from the prehistoric up to the modern era.

The final text of the MoU has not yet been made public. But In effect it makes Turkey the legal owner of the rich and diverse cultural heritage of the country’s minorities, which has led to warnings that it will lead to an intensification of cultural genocide by the Turkish state.

“Turkey wants a complete destruction of the Kurdish heritage by all means,” Kurdistan National Congress (KNK) spokesman Osman Ismail told ANF.

He warned that the MoU makes Turkey the legal owner of Kurdish sites and will enable it to destroy them with impunity.

“The gifting of legal rights to claim vast religious and cultural heritage of the region’s indigenous peoples and minorities by the Trump administration to Turkey is devastating and disastrous for all the minorities, especially the Kurds.

“We have seen over the years the continuous destruction of heritage sites by Turkey. This was when Turkey even did not have the legal rights on the sites,” he said, warning that the change in status would legalise the eradication of Kurdish culture and history.

Turkey has frequently politicised attacks on Kurdish memorials, statues and other parts of its historical memory. This intensified most notably during military operations in the largely Kurdish city of Diyarbakir in 2015, following a breakdown in peace talks between the government and the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).

Whole swathes of the city’s history including  Roman-era basalt walls encircling historic houses, churches, synagogues and mosque was destroyed just weeks after it was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site in July 2015.

The attacks and subsequent silence from UNESCO and other world bodies led to the resignation of Turkey’s ambassador to the cultural agency, renowned author, filmmaker and composer Zulfu Livaneli who warned of “the destruction of history.”

Some 90 percent of Sur’s historical buildings were bulldozed as an act of revenge for the Kurdish resistance and as a warning ahead of elections that were contested by the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) for the first time.

“The Kurdish regions, especially in Diyarbakir, stretches back millennia, with traces of dozens of civilisations and a much-lauded legacy of pluralism. Jews, Muslims and Christians, Persians, Arabs, Armenians and Turks have all made their mark in the Kurdish region.

“Yet, Turkey’s military moves in with tanks, urban assault vehicles and waves of troops to root out the young Kurdish people without any disregard for the destruction to the heritage sites,” Mr  Ismailexplained.

More recently the Turkish state submerged the ancient city of Hasankeyf destroying more than 12,000 years of history to make way for the controversial Ilisu Dam project.

Hasankeyf has been described as “a unique natural open-air museum of uninterrupted human settlement embedded in the Tigris Valley, with traces of 20 cultures who have woven its history.”

Its flooding displaced some 100,000 mainly Kurdish people from the city and around 200 surrounding villages. The signing of the MoU will make it easier for Turkey to conduct similar acts of cultural vandalism.

Armenian National Committee of America (Anca) President Aram Hamparyan described the MoU as “a reckless and irresponsible move” which ignored the warnings of the diaspora groups representing Turkey’s minority communities.

The Trump-administration is “well aware that Turkey has openly, unapologetically, and systematically spent the past two centuries destroying minorities, desecrating their holy sites, and erasing even their memory from the landscape of their ancient, indigenous homelands,” he said.

In Defense of Christians President Toufic Baaklin warned that the MoU amounted to “the shameful stamp of American approval on the destruction of Christian cultural heritage in Turkey.”

Dr. Elizabeth Prodromou, who served on the US Commission on International Religious Freedom from 2004-2012 described it as “a surreal moment” warning that “well-documented and extensive evidence by cultural heritage experts leaves no doubt that the state of Turkey is the single greatest threat to that country’s cultural heritage.”

She said that the agreement enables Turkey to weaponise cultural heritage policy which she said has been used for a century “as a cudgel to erase the country’s vulnerable religious minorities, including Greek, Armenian, and Assyrian Christians, and Jews.”

But diaspora communities in America are hoping they can work with the new administration of President Joe Biden to ensure that Turkey does not hide behind the MoU in order to commit “memoricide” against its minority communities.”

Whether this will prove successful remains to be seen with incoming Secretary of State Antony Blinken sayng this week that Turkey remains a key strategic partner for the US.

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