Report: Armenian-Americans Worry Mehmet Oz Could Mainstream Genocide Denial

Mehmet Oz takes part in a forum for Republican candidates for U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania
AP/Matt Rourke

Members of the Armenian-American community told NBC News in a report published Tuesday that if Turkish talk show host Mehmet Oz is elected to the Senate, his election could grant Ankara a powerful ally across the planet in its campaign to deny the Armenian genocide.

Oz, a dual U.S. and Turkish citizen who is running for Senate as a Republican in Pennsylvania, has not explicitly asserted that he believes the Armenian genocide was, in fact, a genocide. In a statement on NBC News, a spokesperson asserted that Oz is opposed to genocide in general but did not explicitly refer to the events of 1915 as the “Armenian genocide.”

The Ottoman empire executed what most historians outside of the sphere of influence of the Turkish government consider the world’s first modern genocide that year, massacring an estimated 1.5 million of the world’s 2 million Armenians — or about 75 percent of the population. Ottoman leaders also conducted genocide campaigns against other Christian ethnic groups in what is now modern Turkey, including the Assyrian and Greek peoples.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has condemned all attempts to recognize the Armenian genocide as such and has called it the “most reasonable action” Ottoman leaders could have taken at the time.

“The relocation of the Armenian gangs and their supporters, who massacred the Muslim people, including women and children, in eastern Anatolia, was the most reasonable action that could be taken in such a period,” Erdoğan declared in 2019. “The doors of our archives are wide open to all seeking the truth.”

“Turkey has never committed any civilian massacre in its history and it never will. Our religion and culture would never allow to do it,” Erdoğan alleged in October 2019.

A Turkish professor under the auspices of the Erdoğan regime speculated in 2015, the 100th anniversary of the genocide, that the Armenians committed genocide against themselves.

“After Biden recognized it [the Armenian genocide], finally, after all these years of efforts, we’re really concerned about Oz, because we know the power of Turkish lobbying and Turkish interests in U.S. politics,” Harut Sassounian of the United Armenian Fund told NBC News. “Dr. Oz has been on TV for years, he’s a well-known person, he’s a celebrity, and Armenians everywhere know he’s of Turkish origin. So it’s caught the eye of Armenians in all 50 states.”

In the publication Armenian Weekly, Sassounian has accused Oz of poorly handling Armenian issues. He claimed in an article following Oz’s announcement that he was running for Senate that the Turkish doctor walked out of remarks Sassounian was making at an event they both attended.

“In 2008, when I was being awarded the Ellis Island Medal of Honor in New York, Dr. Oz was also one of the recipients of that medal,” Sassounian wrote. “During the official ceremony, in my acceptance speech, the minute I said that I was a descendant of survivors of the Armenian Genocide, Dr. Oz got up from his chair and left the hall. To be fair to him, this could have been a mere coincidence.”

Sassounian also noted accusations against Oz that he was part of what Armenians dubbed a “master plan” to combat memorials of the genocide organized for the 100th anniversary in 2015. Armenians claimed the Assembly of Turkish American Associations (ATAA) had recruited Oz to engage in pro-Turkish activism to diminish the impact of genocide memorial events.

“For the better part of the last 100 years, we have been trying to wrestle the memory of the Armenian genocide out of Turkey’s grip,” Aram Hamparian, the executive director of the Armenian National Committee of America, told NBC News in Tuesday’s report. “So when somebody is running for office who is close to the leader of that country, who has served in the military of that country — that’s a three-alarm fire.”

Oz, known popularly in America as a health celebrity, has openly boasted of his work in the Turkish military, which was a requirement for obtaining Turkish citizenship. The Turkish government also proudly advertises his service to the country.

Oz also appeared to have some ties to President Erdoğan, an avowed Islamist who has used his power to erase the modern secular history and the Christian history of Turkey — including allowing Islamic prayers in the Hagia Sophia, one of Christianity’s most important landmarks, and imprisoning Americans for crimes such as “Christianization.” Erdoğan has gone so far as to criticize the founder of the Republic of Turkey and architect of the Armenian genocide, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, which apparently is a crime in Turkey for anyone but the president.

Oz has appeared smiling in photos with Erdoğan, and his wife Emine, and has appeared alongside Erdoğan government officials at public events. He has made no substantive criticisms of Erdoğan’s mass crackdowns on religious minorities, the press, or political dissidents. Oz has also appeared in Turkish state media propaganda following a 2018 visit to refugee camps in Syria. The state-run Anadolu news agency claimed at the time that Oz believed the Erdoğan regime was “the only solution” for children affected by the Syrian civil war to “survive.”

Oz has said that he does not “really have a relationship with the leadership there [in Turkey].”

“No one in this community will ever vote for Dr. Oz,” Mark Momjian, the former chair of the Armenian Center at Columbia University, concluded in remarks to NBC. “We are convinced that he is part of a denial campaign when it comes to the Armenian genocide.”

An Oz campaign spokesperson, Brittany Yanick, offered the most comprehensive remarks regarding Oz’s stance on the genocide available so far. The note carefully avoided using the phrase “Armenian genocide.”

“Dr. Mehmet Oz opposes genocide and the murder of innocent people in all forms. … The evils of World War I should be commemorated,” the statement read. “Dr. Oz looks forward to those important discussions, as well as helping the three million people of Armenia today.”

Armenians are far from the only group concerned about Oz’s relationship with the Turkish government. Longtime Turkish dissident and newly minted American citizen Enes Kanter Freedom, a professional basketball player who has used his platform to champion human rights in authoritarian countries, accused Oz of being a “foreign agent” working for Erdoğan.

Last week, Kanter Freedom pointedly asked about Oz’s take on the Armenian genocide.

Kanter is ethnically Turkish and part of the Muslim movement known as Hizmet, led by Erdoğan opponent Fethullah Gülen. Erdoğan’s regime blames Gülen for the failed coup in Turkey in 2016, despite not offering any evidence to support this claim, and has asked multiple American presidential administrations to extradite Gülen, to no avail.

Gülen lives in Pennsylvania.

Oz told the Washington Post in February that he did not support extraditing Gülen and did not believe any evidence supports allegations tying him to the failed coup.

April 24th will mark the 107th anniversary of the Armenian genocide.

Follow Frances Martel on Facebook and Twitter.


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