Irvine Mayor Farrah Khan apologized to the Armenian community Thursday night after a video surfaced earlier in the week of her speaking with a prominent Armenian genocide denier.
But the apology came just over 24 hours after Khan dismissed the complaints against her as a political attack – and over a month after one public commenter began pointing out their connection during his three minutes to speak to the dais at council meetings.
Khan, who’s up for reelection this year, did not respond to requests for comment Friday morning.
The Armenian genocide took place during World War I in the Ottoman Empire, with the Turkish government killing between 664,000 and 1.2 million Armenian people in “massacres and individual killings, or from systematic ill treatment, exposure, and starvation,” according to the US Holocaust Memorial Museum’s website.
Ergun Kirlikovali, a former President of the Assembly of Turkish American Associations, has repeatedly denied that the Armenian genocide took place, including multiple times on his Twitter page over the last week, which he called it a “long discredited political claim.”
His public stance against the genocide’s existence stretches back to at least 1987, when he spoke to the California State Senate Education Committee claiming that Turkish and Armenian people lived together in “peaceful coexistence for 600 years,” until near the end of the 20th century.
“You would be laughing at some of these stories,” Kirkliovali said about claims of the genocide. “The people are gullible, they take it.”
Khan and Kirlikovali have been photographed together at a series of events over her time in office, including one Twitter post where she thanked him for hosting a holiday party and for “always mak(ing) me feel like I’m with family.”
While Voice of OC was not able to locate the tweet in question where Khan posted about Kirlikovali feeling like family, when she was shown photos of the tweets at an Irvine City Council meeting last month she did not deny their authenticity.
But tensions boiled over in the Armenian community after a video surfaced from November 2020, showing Khan meeting with Kirlikovali and LA Turkish Consul General Can Oguz.
In the clip, one of the attendees offered Khan a box of Turkish delights, at which point Kirlikovali joked that if any Armenian people were to see the candy that she could eat them and they would vanish, which Khan followed up by saying she’d be sure to eat the candy in front of Armenian people.
But others thought Kirlikovali’s comments were aimed at Armenian people and not the candy.
To view the full clip which was posted by Beyaz Gazete, a Turkish news outlet, click here.
The Armenian National Committee of America’s Orange County branch reposted the video last Tuesday, adding subtitles, calling it “unacceptable and (the video’s) contents hurtful.”
On Wednesday evening, Khan released a statement on her personal Twitter page calling the video “proof that my political opponents will do whatever it takes.”
“This video purposefully mistranslates a conversation about candy through fake captioning to create this despicable attempt at distorting my views,” Khan wrote. “My record of calling out racism, acts of hate, and making it easier for victims of hate to report crimes stands on its own.”
To view the statement and her recorded response, click here.
Kirlikovali didn’t back down after Khan’s first video, posting multiple invitations on the Committee’s Twitter page inviting for people to debate him over the genocide’s existence in the comments.
“Lies, slanders, deceiving, falsifying, threats, harassment, bullying, terrorism, screaming, begging. Have I covered all Armenian traits?” Kirlikovali posted. “Oh yeah, and backstabbing and assassinating. Have I said fraud?”
While Kirlikovali’s Tweet is no longer posted in that thread, there is a note from Twitter where it was in the thread that a tweet was removed for violating the site’s content rules.
After that, the Committee sent out a statement calling on their supporters to “take action against this hate speech and hold Mayor Khan accountable.”
Following that post, Khan sent out a second video message, this time from her mayoral account, saying she had “learned a lot and wanted to offer this apology.”
“I apologize to the Armenian community for things that were said, that were felt. My intentions were never to hurt the community,” Khan said in the video. “My door is open to learn more and build on the trust we need to move forward.”
Khan said she knows the genocide happened, and committed to “cut all ties with those who deny the Armenian genocide.”
However, Khan’s statement didn’t address her relationship with Kirlikovali.
Eric Neshanian, a frequent critic of Khan’s, has spoken out at multiple city council meetings and in emails to the city criticizing Khan’s ties to Kirlikovali, including photos of Twitter posts that showed Khan at multiple events with Kirlikovali, including a meeting of her Mayor’s Advisory Council.
While Voice of OC could not find those posts since Khan’s page only holds Twitter posts back to April 2021, she hasn’t publicly disputed those photos displayed by Neshanian during city council meetings.
Following Neshanian’s February 22 public comments that included photos from Khan’s Twitter page, Khan offered a short statement from the dais.
“Mr. Neshanian is an Islamaphobe who feels ok to attack me and no other elected officials. Other elected officials at the same events, meeting the same people are never targeted. That’s sad, and that’s embarrassing,” Khan said.
Many of the comments under her recent apology video still called for her to resign, pointing to her earlier statement of it being a political attack as evidence she only backtracked after pressure.
Noah Biesiada is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact him at email@example.com or on Twitter @NBiesiada.