ANKARA: Turkey-Israel Damage Control


Today’s Zaman

Turkey, Israel in bid to contain damage after ADL move
Turkish officials voiced "deep disappointment" on Thursday over an
influential US Jewish group’s labeling of the World War I killing of
Anatolian Armenians as genocide, stressing that calling the 1915
incidents genocide has neither historical nor legal grounds.

Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoðan expressed concern over the
Anti-Defamation League’s move during a phone conversation with his
Israeli counterpart, Shimon Peres, Israeli officials said. Erdoðan
stressed the "futility" of the organization’s decision to call the
events as genocide in the conversation and Peres responded saying that
Israel’s well known position on the issue of genocide claims has not
changed. The Israeli prime minister also said Israel attached great
importance to relations with Turkey and promised to "advocate Turkey’s
position on the issue in the US."

Separately, Foreign Minister Abdullah Gül voiced Ankara’s uneasiness
and disappointment with the ADL move during a meeting with Israel’s
outgoing ambassador to Turkey, Pinhas Aviv, who paid a visit to the
minister at his office at ministry headquarters on Thursday. Turkish
diplomats warned that the ADL statement might have negative impacts on
Turkish-Israeli as well as on Turkey-US relations.

The New York-based Anti-Defamation League earlier this week reversed
its longtime policy by calling the World War I killing of Anatolian
Armenians genocide — a change that comes days after the ADL fired a
regional director for taking the same position. ADL Director Abraham
Foxman’s statement that the killings of Armenians by Muslim Turks
"were indeed tantamount to genocide" came after weeks of controversy
in which critics questioned whether an organization dedicated to
remembering Holocaust victims could remain credible without
acknowledging the Armenian killings as genocide.

Israeli news reports said yesterday that Turkish Ambassador Namýk Tan
was cutting short his holiday in Turkey to return to Israel and
express Turkey’s concerns over the ADL decision to Israeli officials.
But Foreign Ministry officials denied the reports, saying Tan was due
to return to work since his vacation ended.

Armenians claim up to 1.5 million of their kinsmen died in a
systematic genocide campaign by Ottoman Turks around the time of World
War I, but Ankara categorically rejects the label, saying that both
Armenians and Turks died in civil strife during World War I when the
Armenians took up arms for independence in eastern Anatolia and sided
with Russian troops invading the crumbling Ottoman Empire.

Late on Wednesday, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Levent Bilman said in
a statement that there was no "consensus" among scientists and
historians that events of World War I constituted genocide, contrary
to the ADL’s conviction that there is. "Moreover, it is Turkey who has
asked Armenia to establish a joint commission and reveal the
historical realities. No positive response has yet been made to this
offer. The ADL’s attempt to rewrite history via a decision it made is
constituting a contradiction and its justification cannot be
understood," Bilman said, referring to the fact that Turkish Prime
Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoðan sent a letter to Armenian President
Robert Kocharian in 2005, inviting him to establish a joint commission
of historians and experts from both Turkey and Armenia to study the
events of 1915 in the archives of Turkey, Armenia and other relevant
countries around the world.

Bilman recalled that the decision announced by ADL Director Foxman
also emphasized that they "continue to firmly believe that a
Congressional resolution on such matters is a counterproductive
diversion and will not foster reconciliation between Turks and
Armenians and may put at risk the Turkish Jewish community and the
important multilateral relationship between Turkey, Israel and the
United States."

"On the other hand, the Jewish community in our country is a part of
our society and there isn’t any particularity that they should fear of
concerning developments related to the Armenian allegations," Bilman
said. "We consider this statement, which also constitutes fairness to
the unique position of the Holocaust in the history as well as to
memories of its [Holocaust’s] victims, as a misfortune and expect it
be corrected," he concluded.

Meanwhile in Washington, the US administration made clear that its
policy on the Armenian issue remained unchanged. "Our policy remains.
It’s clear. We mourn the victims of the tragic events of 1915 and call
on Turks and Armenians to come to terms with the past through candid
and heartfelt dialogue. We oppose attempts to make political
determinations on the terminology of this tragedy," Gonzalo R.
Gallegos, director of the Office of Press Relations at the State
Department, told reporters on Wednesday.

Ankara doesn’t exclude the probability of pressure on the ADL from
certain US Congress members. Two separate resolutions are pending in
the US Senate and House of Representatives urging the administration
to recognize the killings as genocide. Turkey has warned that passage
of the resolutions in the US Congress would seriously harm relations
with Washington and impair cooperation in Iraq and Afghanistan. The US
administration has said it is opposed to the resolution, but the
congressional process is an independent one. In his message on April
24, which Armenians claim marks the anniversary of the beginning of a
systematic genocide campaign at the hands of the late Ottoman Empire,
US President George W. Bush adhered to the administration policy of
not referring to the incident as genocide.