A planned reception in Fresno for a food and agriculture delegation visiting from Turkey has been canceled after complaints from members of the area’s influential Armenian community.
The group of 25 people from 14 Turkish food companies in the West Mediterranean Exporters Association was originally to visit Fresno on Tuesday as part of a three-day swing through California.
The Fresno itinerary was to include meetings and an industry reception with the Fresno Chamber of Commerce, the Fresno Economic Development Corporation and the Fresno County Farm Bureau, according to Trelodex, a Turkish trade-consulting firm that is organizing the trip.
On Thursday, however, the chamber, EDC, Farm Bureau and state Sen. Andreas Borgeas issued a joint statement with Berj Apkarian, Armenia’s honorary consul in Fresno, announcing they were canceling Tuesday’s event “out of respect to our community.”
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The California tour includes stops at the Fancy Food Show in San Francisco on Monday and visits with wholesalers, produce markets and supermarkets in Los Angeles on Wednesday.
News of the reception in Fresno reportedly sparked objections and complaints by Armenian-Americans in Fresno, including calls to Apkarian’s honorary consulate office in Fresno.
The root of the tension between Fresno’s Armenian community and Turkey is the Armenian Genocide, the systematic killing of as many as 1.5 million Armenians by Turkey’s Ottoman Empire over several years beginning in 1915.
For the oldest members of the Armenian diaspora in Fresno and the San Joaquin Valley, the wounds and memories of the genocide are particularly acute, as it was their parents and grandparents who lived through the systematic deportations and killings in their historic homeland.
The Turkish government has steadfastly denied the genocide.
But the cancellation of the Fresno event also comes at a sensitive time in U.S. relations with Turkey. On Thursday, Turkey’s foreign minister says his country’s planned military offensive in Syria against Kurdish fighters aligned with the U.S. against Islamic State forces does not depend on whether America pulls its troops from the region.
Turkey considers the Syrian Kurds as an offshoot of outlawed Kurdish rebels inside Turkey. Earlier this week, Turkish leaders rejected demands by U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton that they protect the Syrian Kurdish fighters before the American military leaves the country.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavosoglu said in a TV interview that Turkey would take the necessary steps to thwart threats from the fighters “whether (U.S. forces) withdraw or don’t withdraw.”
President Donald Trump abruptly announced last month that he intended to pull U.S. troops from Syria, but in intervening weeks there have been mixed signals from the administration about how quickly that withdrawal could be accomplished. The president’s announcement also triggered fears that he was abandoning the Kurds who have aided U.S. efforts to battle the Islamic State.