By Harut Sassounian
Publisher, The California Courier
The Republican and Democratic Parties will be holding their conventions later this month to select Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton respectively as their presidential nominees.
For loyal party members, the choice is very clear: vote for your party’s candidate. Yet, millions of other voters have a more difficult task in making up their minds. Unhappy with both major parties, some are contemplating to vote for an independent candidate, while others are considering to sit out the election altogether.
Armenian-American voters are also uncertain about their choice. In Mrs. Clinton’s case, many are highly disappointed at her failure to acknowledge the Armenian Genocide when she was Secretary of State, calling it “a matter of historical debate,” despite her multiple promises to recognize the Genocide as U.S. Senator and presidential candidate eight years ago.
Trump is also a puzzle for most Armenian-Americans. Those who are willing to ignore his controversial positions and base their vote purely on Armenian issues are not sure whether he is, in his own words, “friend or foe,” since Trump, a businessman, does not have a public record on most political issues, including Armenian ones.
It would be ideal to have a face to face meeting with the Republican candidate to find out first hand where he stands on issues of interest to Armenians. However, in the absence of such an opportunity, voters have to rely on few brief remarks he recently made on Turkey.
Last December, Trump criticized Turkey’s support for Islamist terrorists. He told Breitbart News Daily: “Turkey looks like they’re on the side of ISIS, more or less based on the oil.” He went on to say that he had a conflict of interest when talking about Turkey because of the Trump Towers in Istanbul. Although he does not own the building, he lends his name to the Turkish owners of the hotel and receives a lucrative branding fee. He has a similar arrangement with Trump International Hotel & Tower in Baku, Azerbaijan. Not to damage his business relationship, Trump quickly asserted in his interview: “I’ve gotten to know Turkey very well; they’re amazing people, they’re incredible people, they have a strong leader.”
Despite Trump’s kind words about Erdogan, the Turkish President attacked him two weeks ago, accusing him of being anti-Muslim and calling for the immediate removal of Trump’s name from the Istanbul Tower! Erdogan told a large group of Turkish businessmen that Trump “has no tolerance for Muslims living in the United States; and on top of that, they used a brand in Istanbul with his name. The ones who put that brand on their building should immediately remove it.” Erdogan also stated that he regretted attending the inauguration of Trump Towers in 2012 when he was Prime Minister: “I also made a mistake and opened the [Trump Towers].” The Turkish owner of the hotel announced that he was evaluating his business ties with Trump.
Bulent Kural, manager of the Trump Shopping Mall in Istanbul, was also critical of Trump: “We regret and condemn Trump’s discriminatory remarks. Such statements bear no value and are products of a mind that does not understand Islam, a peace religion. Our reaction has been directly expressed to the Trump family. We are reviewing the legal dimension of our relation with the Trump brand.”
The Republican candidate made another unscripted comment about Turkey during a speech in Denver on July 1. As he was naming several countries that are militarily defended at U.S. expense, someone from the audience shouted, “Turkey!” Trump interrupted his remarks and asked that man if he was a “friend or foe.” The Republican candidate then added: “And Turkey, by the way, should be fighting ISIS. I hope to see Turkey go out and fight ISIS, because ISIS has in a certain sense taken very serious advantages of Turkey. And they could wipe ISIS out by themselves. I would love to see that.”
It remains to be seen if Pres. Erdogan would escalate his budding feud with Donald Trump by insisting on the removal of the latter’s name from the Istanbul Towers. Not surprisingly, Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev has so far ignored Trump’s negative comments on Islam, preferring to protect his own business interests in the Baku Trump Tower!