Turkish Foreign Minister calls Gaza an “open prison”

Speaking at Harvard on Tuesday, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu called Gaza an “open prison” and stated, “Enough is enough.”

The criticism of Israel’s blockade on Gaza came during a q&a session following the Turkish official’s speech at the Harvard Kennedy School. Freedom Forward thanked Mr. Davutoğlu for his government’s support of humanitarian aid activists who challenged Israel’s blockade by sea.

During the q&a session, Freedom Forward asked what future Turkish foreign policy would be regarding Gaza.  Mr. Davutoğlu’s response was blunt and to the point:

Today in Gaza, 1.5 million people are living in an open prison. I saw the bodies of children from Gaza after the attacks of Israel in December 2008, using phosphoric bombs [in] a place where people are living in a concentrated manner and you are attacking from the air. It is unacceptable. We can not be silent to this tragedy.

As part of an extended response, Mr. Ahmet Davutoğlu went on to add:

Palestinians are a people of dignity. They have the full right to live in their own country with full sovereignty based on 1967 territory, including Eastern Jerusalem. This is the international norm.

The comments came at the end of a speech outlining the broad themes of current Turkish foreign policy. On the topic of Israeli settlements on Palestinian land, Mr. Davutoğlu stated, “Jewish settlements [themselves] are illegal. How can we talk on the extension of [the] moratorium or extension of Jewish settlements?”

Contrast that with Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren’s twisted defense of renewed settlement construction, as quoted in The New York Times:

It is a read-my-lips moment. This establishes credibility, not just for the Israelis but for the Palestinians. Establishing that the man [Netanyahu] is true to his word is going to be a very important asset going forward.

While Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu “establishes credibility” by building more settlements on Palestinian land, U.S. taxpayers continue to be forced to fund an Israeli government whose behavior is not in line with American values.

Returning to the Turkish Foreign Minister’s speech, not all the talk was about Israel and Palestine. One questioner diplomatically brought up the matter of the Armenian Genocide, which the Ottoman Empire — Turkey’s predecessor — was responsible for. During and after World War I, it is estimated that between 1 and 1.5 million Armenians were killed by the Ottoman Empire. Modern Turkey has consistently denied or avoided acknowledging that a genocide took place.

Demonstrating that the Turkish government is still resistant to acknowledging this tragic past, Mr. Davutoğlu updated past Turkish denials with a new diplomatic twist:

What we want is a just memory. Turkish-Armenian relations [are] relations of 1000 years, not 100 years. 1000 years. For centuries, they lived together. And until mid-19th century, you cannot see any Turkish-Armenian conflict. We should sit and share this history. if somebody says genocide … we are ready to discuss. But don’t close the doors. Don’t accuse.

While this statement goes further than past government denials, it still treats the Armenian Genocide as a matter for polite discussion or debate. Turkey’s position on Palestinian freedom clearly deserves public support. But the Turkish government has much further to go in addressing its own human rights issues.

For those of us who are committed to advancing freedom, the task remains the same. We must not lose sight of Turkey’s own human rights challenges, even as we continue to support the government’s bold stand for an end to Palestinian suffering.

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