Sun, Sept 05, 2010 | The Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center
Vice president’s mention of “slaughter of Armenians” sparks
diplomatic incident between Iran and Turkey
A vice president’s mention of the slaughter of the Armenian people in World War I has sparked a diplomatic incident between Iran and Turkey this week. Speaking at a conference titled “Iran—Bridge to Victory” held in Tehran last week, Hamid Baqa’i, one of Ahmadinejad’s vice presidents and chief of the Cultural Heritage and Tourism Organization, said that in 1915 the Ottoman Empire had committed a “massacre” against the Armenians (Fars, August 28). The subject of the conference at which Baqa’i spoke was developments in Iran during World War II surrounding its demand for compensation for the damage it incurred as a result of the allied forces’ invasion in 1941.
It wasn’t long before the vice president’s statement was extensively covered on Turkish media, sparking a heated controversy. The Turkish government demanded explanations from the government of Iran about Baqa’i’s statement. In a telephone conversation held by Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki with his Turkish counterpart, Ahmet Davutoglu, Mottaki stressed that Tehran’s stance on the events which took place in the Ottoman Empire in 1915 remained unchanged. The Iranian embassy in Ankara also rushed to release a statement saying that the vice president had been misquoted on the media, and that he simply intended to address an issue that still has an influence on Turkish-Armenian relations rather than express his own personal opinion on it.
Baqa’i, who has recently been appointed by the president as his special envoy for Asian affairs, was also forced to explain his statement. In an interview to Fars News Agency, the vice president said that his speech at the conference had been meant to address the historic debate between Turkey and Armenia rather than express any personal opinion or commentary on that issue. According to Baqa’i, he simply intended to use the events of 1915 as an example showing that historic issues may affect relations between countries even one hundred years later. He claimed that his statement was misrepresented by some of the media in an attempt to damage his reputation. (Fars, August 28)
Ahmadinejad’s political critics did not take long to take advantage of the diplomatic incident to once again slam the president and his associates. Tehran Emrouz, a daily affiliated with Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, the mayor of Tehran and the president’s political opponent, criticized Baqa’i’s statement, claiming that if he were an experienced diplomat, as one could expect from a person appointed by the president to be his envoy on Asian affairs, the diplomatic incident with Turkey could have been prevented. The vice president’s statement, the daily said, jeopardizes the efforts mounted by Iran to improve its relations with Turkey, a country which, for the past several months, has been one of Iran’s main supporters on the nuclear issue, and which refuses to give in to American pressure to join the sanctions against it. The daily called on Baqa’i to exercise more caution with his statements and positions, particularly now that he has been appointed the president’s special envoy.
Javad Mansouri, Iran’s former ambassador to China and Pakistan and the foreign minister’s advisor in the government of reformist president Mohammad Khatami, also addressed Baqa’i’s statement, taking advantage of it to strongly criticize the president’s decision to appoint some of the people close to him as his special envoys for Middle Eastern, Asian, Caspian Sea, and Afghanistan affairs. Mansouri claimed that the appointment of inexperienced individuals as the president’s envoys in the world is unjustified and illogical, and that it compromises the status of Iran’s Foreign Ministry and diplomatic network in the world. Baqa’i’s statement, Mansouri said, exemplifies the negative impact of such appointments on Iran and its status (Mehr, August 29).
As part of the president’s latest appointments, his controversial office chief, Rahim Masha’i, was appointed as Ahmadinejad’s special envoy for Middle Eastern affairs.