Sometimes a vote can hang on one word

Sometimes a vote can hang on one word

Eric Black, Star Tribune
May 4, 2004

Massis Yeterian of Shorewood considers himself a conservative on most
issues.

In 2000, he voted for George W. Bush for president and contributed to
his campaign.

But he went to the John Kerry fundraiser Monday at the Minneapolis
Convention Center, contributing to the campaign of the liberal
Democrat who hopes to prevent Bush from serving a second term.

Why? Yeterian, a retired microbiologist, is a single-issue voter; at
least, just one issue comes immediately to his lips when he explains
his change of heart about Bush.

If you’re thinking it’s anything related to the war in Iraq, you’re
way off (although Yeterian was born and raised in Iraq before moving
to Minnesota in 1 949 to attend the College of St. Thomas).

Tax cuts? Jobs? The deficit? You’re still off, and by about a century.

Yeterian is an Armenian-American. At about the time Kerry’s plane
landed in Minnesota, Yeterian made his Kerry contribution far from the
main action, at a small gathering of Armenian-Americans for Kerry.

Several public policy issues are of special interest to
Armenian-Americans.

They care about U.S.-Armenian relations, especially because Armenia is
locked in a long struggle with its neighbor, Azerbaijan.

But they care passionately about the choice of a particular word to
describe the greatest tragedy in Armenian history — the death of more
than 1 million Armenians at the hands of the Ottoman Turks during and
after World War I.

The word is “genocide.”

As a candidate courting the Armenian vote in 2000, Bush sent a letter
to two Armenian supporters in which he called what happened to the
Armenians a “genocidal campaign.”

But as president, when issuing the traditional statement about the
deaths on the anniversary of the beginning of the killing, he referred
to it as “the great calamity of 1915.”

The Bush State Department has opposed Armenian efforts to get state
legislatures to adopt resolutions recognizing the Armenian genocide.

The hang-up is that Turkey, an important U.S. ally, rejects the word
“genocide” about as passionately as Armenians insist upon it.

But that excuse doesn’t fly with Yeterian, who said he felt that Bush
had made a commitment and broken it. “Once you break your word to me,
I cannot trust you again,” he said.

Two weeks ago, as the April 24 anniversary of the onset of the
slaughter approached, Kerry issued a statement declaring, “I join
Armenian-Americans and Armenians worldwide in mourning the victims of
the Armenian genocide, and I call on governments and people everywhere
to formally recognize this tragedy.” Armenian-Americans for Kerry has
scheduled 10 fundraisers across the country.

Minnesota, which according to the 2000 census is home to 1,154
citizens who claim Armenian ancestry, was the second. The roughly 60
people attending contributed about $20,000 to the Kerry campaign.

The census found 385,488 Americans who claim Armenian ancestry. The
number of them who will base their vote on the historical word choice
is unknown.

Yeterian grew up in Iraq because that’s where his parents fled to
escape the killing.

Eric Black is at [email protected]