"Genocide" or "massacres"?: After US committee vote, Turks are angry

San Francisco Chronicle, CA
Oct 12 2007

"Genocide" or "massacres"?: After U.S. congressional-committee vote,
Turks are angry

On Wednesday, the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Foreign
Affairs approved a non-binding resolution recognizing as "genocide"
the mass killings of Armenians by Ottoman-Turkish forces in 1915.
Now, the approved resolution will move on to the full House, where a
vote is expected to take place by mid-November. Many Armenians in
Armenia, as well as Armenian emigrants or the descendants of Armenian
emigrants who are now living in other countries (known as the
"Armenian Diaspora"), have welcomed the news. Turkey’s government and
many Turks have expressed outrage at the American lawmakers’ symbolic
gesture – which could have serious political repercussions.

Republican Representative Dan Burton, from Indiana, a member of the
House committee that approved the resolution, said during the heated
debate leading up to the vote: "We’re talking about stiffing the one
ally [Turkey] that is helping us over there [meaning in Iraq]. It
just doesn’t make any sense." The audience in the committee’s hearing
room "included Turkish officials and elderly survivors of the
massacres." (Reuters)


Armin T. Wegner Photo Collection, Armenian National Institute,
Washington DC

A photo from circa 1915-1916 showing, according to the Armenian
National Institute, "skulls, in various stages of decomposition, of
Armenian deportees, some of whom may have been burned to death."
Location: The Syrian region of the now-defunct Ottoman Empire.

» Background: The Web site of the Armenian embassy in Washington
states: "The most horrific massacre took place in April 1915 during
World War I, when the Turks ordered the deportation of the Armenian
population to the deserts of Syria and Mesopotamia. According to the
majority of historians, between 600,000 and 1.5 million Armenians
were murdered or died of starvation. The Armenian massacre is
considered the first genocide in the 20th century. Turkey denies that
a genocide took place and claims that a much smaller number died in a
civil war."

The Web site of Armenia’s foreign ministry posts this information:
"The fact of the Armenian Genocide by the Ottoman government has been
documented, recognized, and affirmed in the form of media and
eyewitness reports, laws, resolutions, and statements by many states
and international organizations. The complete catalog of all
documents categorizing the 1915 wholesale massacre of the Armenian
population in Ottoman Empire as a premeditated and thoroughly
executed act of genocide, is extensive." The site lists dozens of
resolutions, laws and declarations that have been approved or issued
by governments around the world recognizing the Ottoman Turks’ mass
killings of Armenians in 1915 and designating those events as
"genocide" – as the official Armenian position views them, too.

Osman Orsal/Reuters

In Istanbul on Wednesday of this week, the day of the House
committee’s vote, protesters marched in anger against the proposed
resolution designating the Ottoman Turks’ actions nearly a century
ago as "genocide"


» More background: In light of this week’s controversial House
Committee on Foreign Affairs resolution vote, the BBC prepared a news
report explaining that the term "genocide," when used to refer to the
actions of the Ottoman Turks against the Armenians, is often placed
in what are known as ironic quotes (suggesting that a writer is
distancing himself or herself from accepting the real or implied
meaning of the term; such quotes are the equivalent of the adjective
"so-called") because "[w]hether or not the deaths of hundreds of
thousands of Armenians during World War I amounted to genocide is a
matter for heated debate. Many Western historians believe it falls
into the category of genocide. Some countries have declared that a
genocide took place, but others have resisted calls to do so."

The BBC notes: "During World War I, as the Ottoman Turkish empire
fought Russian forces, some of the Armenian minority in eastern
Anatolia sided with the Russians. Turkey took reprisals. But
historians argue over the extent to which Turkish policy towards
Armenians during that period was motivated by wartime conditions. On
24 April 1915[,] Turkey rounded up and killed hundreds of Armenian
community leaders. In May 1915, the Armenian minority, two or three
million strong, was forcefully deported and marched from the
Anatolian borders towards Syria and Mesopotamia (now Iraq). Many died
en route and numerous eyewitnesses reported massacres by Turkish
forces. Atrocities against Armenians continued until the Ottoman
empire collapsed after the war….Armenians say 1.5 million of their
people were killed during World War I, either through systematic
massacres or through starvation. They allege that a deliberate
genocide was carried out by the Ottoman Turkish empire." By contrast,
Turkey, as a matter of official government policy, "says there was no
genocide." Turkey "acknowledges that many Armenians died, but says
many Turks died too, and that massacres were committed on both sides
as a result of inter-ethnic violence and the wider world war. Turkey
estimates the number of Armenian dead to be 300,000."

» AZG Armenian Daily reports, in reaction to Wednesday’s
congressional-committee vote: "Taking into consideration Turkey’s
capabilities and rich financial resources, the support of the U.S.
government and George [W.] Bush personally, Armenia must be proud
having achieved adoption of the resolution." AZG cites Arpi
Vardanian, from the Armenian Association of Armenia, who observed
"that…Armenian organizations should…always keep an eye on the
activities of the Turkish lobby [in the U.S.] and expressed hope that
the authorities of Turkey will prove sensible enough not to start a
campaign against the Armenians of Turkey." Vardanian noted that the
American congressional committee’s "adoption of the resolution may
have both positive and negative influence on…relations between
Armenia and Turkey. She said that it may encourage other states to
recognize the Armenian Genocide officially."


Osman Orsal/Reuters

A Turkish protester in Istanbul on Wednesday: His government’s
official policy is that the Ottoman Turks didn’t do it


» Turkish President Abdullah Gül denounced the U.S. congressional
committee’s approval of the resolution as "unacceptable." Gül said
the committee’s action "has no validity [or] respectability for the
Turkish people. Unfortunately, some politicians in the United States
ignored appeals for common sense and once again moved to sacrifice
big issues to petty games of domestic politics." In Ankara, Turkey’s
capital, protesters marched to the U.S. embassy to express their
anger about the committee’s decision. Before the House committee
members voted on the proposed genocide-designating measure, George W.
Bush said: "This resolution is not the right response to these
historic mass killings, and its passage would do great harm to our
relations with a key ally in NATO [Turkey] and in the global war on
terror." (Turkish Daily News)

At that time, however, Bush did not indicate what, in his estimation,
the "right" response to the historical events he cited should be.

» Commentator Mehmet Kalyoncu, writing in Today’s Zaman, observed:
"For Turks[,] the answer to ‘Why do they hate us?’ may not
necessarily be that Armenians are inherently hostile to Turks, which
is certainly quite unlikely given the ongoing dialog between
non-fanatical Turks and Armenians, but that ‘those who hate us’ have
no ability to sympathize with Turks because their mental image of
Turkey and Turks is associated with nothing but the massacres they
heard of one way or another." About the measure the U.S.
congressional committee was considering, Kalyoncu wrote: "[E]ven if
passing the genocide resolution in the U.S. Congress would satisfy
the collective ego of the [Armenian] diaspora and for a short period
of time relieve Congress members of the Armenian lobby’s ceaseless
pressure, it will have disastrous impact on not only American-Turkish
relations but also on Armenian-Turkish relations too. The impact on
the former is highly likely to be enduring, because the Turkish
public opinion is that the U.S. Congress has nothing to do with the
so-called genocide issue and is further politicizing it by bringing
to the vote."

» Max Boot is a national-security expert at the U.S.-based think
tank, the Council on Foreign Relations. Writing in Commentary, the
American, neoconservative magazine, he notes that the Turkish
government is "furious" over the outcome of this week’s
congressional-committee vote. About the "old and vexing" matter of
the 1915 mass killings of the Armenians, he notes: "The Turks…are
absurdly worked up about a mere piece of paper condemning actions
taken not by the current government of Turkey or by its immediate
predecessors but by another entity entirely – the Ottoman Empire,
which ceased to exist in 1922 when it was replaced by a new Turkish
state headed by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk….Therefore, the current
government in Ankara could very easily say: Yes, there were terrible
acts committed by the Ottoman Empire in its waning days and we regret
and disavow them. Now we want to work cooperatively with Armenians
living in Armenia itself and in the Diaspora, and as a humanitarian
gesture make some restitution where appropriate. That would cost
Turkey little and gain it much international support. But it does not
seem emotionally possible given how high feelings run in Turkey over
this issue."



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