A trade discussion between California business leaders, the state’s Lieutenant Governor, and Turkish business leaders is off following reports that two participants were vehement deniers of the 1915 Armenian Genocide, reports the San Joaquin Valley Sun.
The event, organized by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce as part of its U.S.-Turkish Business Council, was set to feature a keynote address from Lt. Governor Eleni Kounalakis and a presentation from the state’s economic development department before a panel discussion.
Also on the agenda were Turkish Chamber official Ayhan Zeytinoğlu and Turkish Orange County businessman Ergun Kirlikovali.
Zeytinoğlu and Kirlikovali had issued multiple statements denying the 1915 slaughter of 1.5 million ethnic Armenians by the Ottoman Empire as a genocide, a moniker recently recognized by President Joe Biden and the U.S. Congress.
Kounalakis’ attendance was striking, as she – along with Gov. Gavin Newsom and most members of California’s State Legislature – have strongly backed recognition efforts for the Armenian Genocide.
In a statement on Friday, Kounalakis’ spokeswoman said that the state’s second-in-command, along with California GO-Biz officials, and all other California business leaders participating on the panel had withdrawn from the event, forcing a cancellation.
Kounalakis said participation ran counter to the state’s values relative to human rights issues.
“I was deeply disturbed to hear that the upcoming U.S.-Turkish Business Council meeting would feature panelists who are Armenian Genocide deniers,” said Kounalakis. “Now and always, California stands strong on the side of truth and justice for this still-unpunished crime.”
Despite the en masse withdrawal of participants, the U.S. Chamber has yet to remove the event listing from its website as of Friday night.
Ayhan Zeytinoğlu is the vice president of Turkey’s Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges (the Turkish equivalent of a national chamber of commerce), was set to serve as Turkey’s leading participant in the event.
Ergun Kirlikovali is an Orange County resident, previously served as the president of the Assembly of Turkish American Associations, a national federation of American-based Turkish cultural associations.
Kirlikovali and Zeytinoğlu have each issued multiple statements denying the Armenian Genocide, a review of their public comments by The Sun found.
In late April, as President Joe Biden formally recognized the Armenian Genocide for the first time since a 1981 address by Ronald Reagan, Kirlikovali shared a website filled with content denying the 1915 mass killing of an estimated 1.5 million Armenians in the Ottoman Empire.
Meanwhile, Zeytinoğlu issued a plain and stern condemnation of Biden’s declaration on April 24, saying Turks rejected the term.
The Turkish business official also issued a striking condemnation of Israel amid an uptick in hostilities between Hamas and the Jewish state.