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 Turkey's Armenian dilemma

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Localisation : Washington D.C.
Date d'inscription : 28/05/2005

MessageTurkey's Armenian dilemma

Turkey's Armenian dilemma
Turkey did not always deny the mass killing of Armenians. As the US House of Representatives prepares to vote on recognising the 1915 massacres as genocide, journalist and historian Bruce Clark looks at how and why Turkish attitudes have changed over the past 90 years.

"The more foreign parliaments insist that our forebears committed crimes against humanity, the less likely anybody in Turkey is to face up to the hardest moments in history."

That, roughly speaking, is the message being delivered by Turkey's hard-pressed intelligentsia as the legislators in one country after another vote for resolutions which insist that the killing of hundreds of thousands of Ottoman Armenians in 1915 amounted to genocide.

"Will the adoption [of a resolution] help to inform the Turkish public... on the great tragedy which befell the Ottoman Armenians?

"No, it can hardly be expected to... broaden the debate on the history of the Ottoman Empire's final period."

So writes Sahin Alpay, a liberal-minded Turkish academic, in a recent column in Zaman newspaper.

What such appeals reflect, of course, is an elementary fact of human psychology: the phenomenon of individual and collective defensiveness.

When people feel completely secure, and among friends, they can be very frank about misdeeds which they, or people close to them, have committed.

But hackles will go up again as soon as they become insecure, because they feel their accusers are acting in bad faith, or that accepting their accusations will have bad consequences.

On the defensive

In recent years, liberal Turkish scholars have expressed the hope that membership, or even prospective membership of the European Union, will give the country enough confidence to discuss the Armenian tragedy without threatening those who use the "g-word" with prosecution.

Sceptics may retort that in recent years, things have been moving in the opposite direction: the revised Turkish penal code and its preamble, adopted in 2005, make even more explicit the principle that people may be prosecuted if they "insult Turkishness" - a crime which, as the preamble makes clear, includes the assertion that the Ottoman Armenians suffered genocide.

It is certainly true that Turkish defensiveness - the sort of defensiveness which can treat open discussion as verging on treachery - has been running high since the 1960s when the Armenians round the world began lobbying for an explicit acceptance, by governments and parliaments, that their people suffered genocide in 1915.

A campaign of violence launched by Armenian militants in the 1970s, who mainly attacked Turkish diplomatic targets and claimed over 50 lives, raised hackles even higher.

All that raises a question: has there ever been a moment, since the events of 1915, when the Turkish authorities might, conceivably, have acknowledged or even freely discussed the view that almost every Armenian regards as self-evident: the view that in addition to relocating the entire ethnic Armenian population of eastern Anatolia, the "Committee of Union and Progress" (CUP) which wielded effective power in the Ottoman empire also gave secret orders to make sure that as few as possible of the deportees survived the experience?

In fact, there was such a moment: the immediate aftermath of World War I.

Tried and executed

At that time the Ottoman government was intact but dependent for its survival on the good graces of the victorious British Empire.

The sultan's regime was desperately trying to distance itself from the actions of the CUP, the "state within a state" which in 1915 had masterminded the deportation of hundreds of thousands of Armenians - and is alleged to have given secret "extermination" orders at the same time.

During the early months of 1919, few people in Anatolia publicly doubted that Armenians had suffered atrocities that were egregious even by the standards of a terrible war.

The sultan and his foreign minister were at pains to reassure the British of their determination to punish the perpetrators of these atrocities, and they held four big and revealing trials whose proceedings were published in the government gazette.

In April 1919 a local governor, Mehmed Kemal, was found guilty and hanged for the mass killing of Armenians in the Ankara district.

But the climate shifted rapidly after May 1919, when Greek troops were authorised by the victorious Entente powers to occupy the Aegean port of Izmir and, in another part of Anatolia, Mustafa Kemal - later known as Ataturk - began his campaign to make the Turks masters in their own land.

Nationalist feeling

Turkish rage over the Greek landing lent fuel to the Kemalist cause, and discredited the Ottoman government.

With every passing month, the British government's leverage over the Ottoman authorities waned, and so did British enthusiasm for the conduct of war crimes trials.

In 1921, the British government made a pragmatic deal to release a group of Turkish prisoners it had been holding in Malta on suspicion (among other things) of crimes against the Armenians.

They were freed in exchange for Britons being held by the Turks.

In Turkish lore, this release is held up as proof that no serious evidence against the captives existed.

What it certainly proves is that British zeal for investigating the past was waning, even as the Kemalist cause gained strength and the British-influenced Ottoman regime faded into oblivion.

In any case, the officially cherished version of the Turkish state's beginnings now insists since the empire's British adversaries and occupiers were the main promoters of war crimes trials, those trials themselves must have been worthless or malicious.

A new state

But in the midst of all this nationalist discourse, something rather important is often obscured, and there are just a few Turkish historians who dare to point this out.

The atrocities against the Armenians were committed by an Ottoman government, albeit a shadowy sub-section of that government.

There is no logical reason why a new republican administration, established in October 1923 in an act of revolutionary defiance of Ottoman power, should consider itself responsible for things done under the previous regime.

In fact, when the nationalist movement was founded in 1919, the climate of revulsion over the sufferings of the Armenians was so general that even the neo-nationalists were keen to distinguish themselves from the CUP.

Some see significance in the fact that the nationalist movement chose to rally round an army officer, Mustafa Kemal, who had never been anywhere near the places where the Armenians met their fate.

The very fact that the Turkish republic bears no formal responsibility for eliminating the Armenian presence in eastern Anatolia (for the simple reason that the republic did not exist when the atrocities occurred) has given some Turkish historians a flicker of hope: one day, the leaders of the republic will be able to face up to history's toughest questions about the Armenians, without feeling that to do so would undermine the very existence of their state.

Fatma Muge Gocek, a Turkish-born sociologist who now works as professor in America, has said there are - or will be - three phases in her country's attitude to the fate of the Armenians: a spirit of "investigation" in the final Ottoman years, a spirit of defensiveness under the Turkish republic, and a new, post-nationalist attitude to history that will prevail if and when Turkey secures a places in Europe.

That makes perfect psychological sense, even if the immediate prospects for a move from phase two to phase three do not look very bright.

Bruce Clark is international news editor of the Economist newspaper.
Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2007/02/27 07:24:25 GMT


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Turkey's Armenian dilemma :: Commentaires

Q&A: Armenian 'genocide'
Message le Jeu 11 Oct - 13:16 par mihou
Q&A: Armenian 'genocide'
A US congressional committee has approved a bill recognising as genocide the mass killings of Armenians by Ottoman Turks in 1915-1923.

The move has infuriated Turkey and delighted Armenians.

The White House said it was very disappointed by the non-binding vote.

Why put "genocide" in inverted commas?

Whether 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.

What happened?

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.

What do Armenians say?

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.

What does Turkey say?

It says there was no genocide.

It 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.

What is genocide?

Article Two of the UN Convention on Genocide of December 1948 describes genocide as carrying out acts intended "to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group".

What do others say?

Argentina, Belgium, Canada, France, Italy, Russia and Uruguay are among more than 20 countries which have formally recognised genocide against the Armenians.

The UK, US and Israel are among those that use different terminology.

Why does the row continue?

Armenians are one of the world's most dispersed peoples. While in Armenia, Genocide Memorial Day is commemorated across the country, it is the diaspora that has lobbied for recognition from the outside world. The killings are regarded as the seminal event of modern Armenian history, and one that binds the diaspora together.

In Turkey, the penal code makes calling "for the recognition of the Armenian genocide" illegal. Writers and translators have been prosecuted for attempting to stimulate debate on the subject.

Turkey has condemned countries that recognise the Armenian genocide, and was furious when the French parliament passed a bill in 2006 outlawing denial of it. Turkey suspended military ties with France in retaliation.

The European Union has said that Turkish acceptance of the Armenian genocide is not a condition for Turkey's entry into the bloc.
Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2007/10/11 07:34:39 GMT

1st Session
H. RES. 106
Calling upon the President to ensure that the foreign policy of the United States reflects appropriate understanding and sensitivity concerning issues related to human rights, ethnic cleansing, and genocide documented in the United States record relating to the Armenian Genocide , and for other purposes.
January 30, 2007
Mr. SCHIFF (for himself, Mr. RADANOVICH, Mr. PALLONE, Mr. KNOLLENBERG, Mr. SHERMAN, and Mr. MCCOTTER) submitted the following resolution; which was referred to the Committee on Foreign Affairs
Calling upon the President to ensure that the foreign policy of the United States reflects appropriate understanding and sensitivity concerning issues related to human rights, ethnic cleansing, and genocide documented in the United States record relating to the Armenian Genocide , and for other purposes.
This resolution may be cited as the `Affirmation of the United States Record on the Armenian Genocide Resolution'.
The House of Representatives finds the following:
(1) The Armenian Genocide was conceived and carried out by the Ottoman Empire from 1915 to 1923, resulting in the deportation of nearly 2,000,000 Armenians, of whom 1,500,000 men, women, and children were killed, 500,000 survivors were expelled from their homes, and which succeeded in the elimination of the over 2,500-year presence of Armenians in their historic homeland.
(2) On May 24, 1915, the Allied Powers, England, France, and Russia, jointly issued a statement explicitly charging for the first time ever another government of committing `a crime against humanity'.
(3) This joint statement stated `the Allied Governments announce publicly to the Sublime Porte that they will hold personally responsible for these crimes all members of the Ottoman Government, as well as those of their agents who are implicated in such massacres'.
(4) The post-World War I Turkish Government indicted the top leaders involved in the `organization and execution' of the Armenian Genocide and in the `massacre and destruction of the Armenians'.
(5) In a series of courts-martial, officials of the Young Turk Regime were tried and convicted, as charged, for organizing and executing massacres against the Armenian people.
(6) The chief organizers of the Armenian Genocide , Minister of War Enver, Minister of the Interior Talaat, and Minister of the Navy Jemal were all condemned to death for their crimes, however, the verdicts of the courts were not enforced.
(7) The Armenian Genocide and these domestic judicial failures are documented with overwhelming evidence in the national archives of Austria, France, Germany, Great Britain, Russia, the United States, the Vatican and many other countries, and this vast body of evidence attests to the same facts, the same events, and the same consequences.
(Cool The United States National Archives and Record Administration holds extensive and thorough documentation on the Armenian Genocide , especially in its holdings under Record Group 59 of the United States Department of State, files 867.00 and 867.40, which are open and widely available to the public and interested institutions.
(9) The Honorable Henry Morgenthau, United States Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire from 1913 to 1916, organized and led protests by officials of many countries, among them the allies of the Ottoman Empire, against the Armenian Genocide .
(10) Ambassador Morgenthau explicitly described to the United States Department of State the policy of the Government of the Ottoman Empire as `a campaign of race extermination,' and was instructed on July 16, 1915, by United States Secretary of State Robert Lansing that the `Department approves your procedure . . . to stop Armenian persecution'.
(11) Senate Concurrent Resolution 12 of February 9, 1916, resolved that `the President of the United States be respectfully asked to designate a day on which the citizens of this country may give expression to their sympathy by contributing funds now being raised for the relief of the Armenians', who at the time were enduring `starvation, disease, and untold suffering'.
(12) President Woodrow Wilson concurred and also encouraged the formation of the organization known as Near East Relief, chartered by an Act of Congress, which contributed some $116,000,000 from 1915 to 1930 to aid Armenian Genocide survivors, including 132,000 orphans who became foster children of the American people.
(13) Senate Resolution 359, dated May 11, 1920, stated in part, `the testimony adduced at the hearings conducted by the sub-committee of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations have clearly established the truth of the
reported massacres and other atrocities from which the Armenian people have suffered'.
(14) The resolution followed the April 13, 1920, report to the Senate of the American Military Mission to Armenia led by General James Harbord, that stated `[m]utilation, violation, torture, and death have left their haunting memories in a hundred beautiful Armenian valleys, and the traveler in that region is seldom free from the evidence of this most colossal crime of all the ages'.
(15) As displayed in the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Adolf Hitler, on ordering his military commanders to attack Poland without provocation in 1939, dismissed objections by saying `[w]ho, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?' and thus set the stage for the Holocaust.
(16) Raphael Lemkin, who coined the term `genocide' in 1944, and who was the earliest proponent of the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide , invoked the Armenian case as a definitive example of genocide in the 20th century.
(17) The first resolution on genocide adopted by the United Nations at Lemkin's urging, the December 11, 1946, United Nations General Assembly Resolution 96(1) and the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide itself recognized the Armenian Genocide as the type of crime the United Nations intended to prevent and punish by codifying existing standards.
(18) In 1948, the United Nations War Crimes Commission invoked the Armenian Genocide `precisely . . . one of the types of acts which the modern term `crimes against humanity' is intended to cover' as a precedent for the Nuremberg tribunals.
(19) The Commission stated that `[t]he provisions of Article 230 of the Peace Treaty of Sevres were obviously intended to cover, in conformity with the Allied note of 1915 . . ., offenses which had been committed on Turkish territory against persons of Turkish citizenship, though of Armenian or Greek race. This article constitutes therefore a precedent for Article 6c and 5c of the Nuremberg and Tokyo Charters, and offers an example of one of the categories of `crimes against humanity' as understood by these enactments'.
(20) House Joint Resolution 148, adopted on April 8, 1975, resolved: `[t]hat April 24, 1975, is hereby designated as `National Day of Remembrance of Man's Inhumanity to Man', and the President of the United States is authorized and requested to issue a proclamation calling upon the people of the United States to observe such day as a day of remembrance for all the victims of genocide , especially those of Armenian ancestry . . .'.
(21) President Ronald Reagan in proclamation number 4838, dated April 22, 1981, stated in part `like the genocide of the Armenians before it, and the genocide of the Cambodians, which followed it--and like too many other
persecutions of too many other people--the lessons of the Holocaust must never be forgotten'.
(22) House Joint Resolution 247, adopted on September 10, 1984, resolved: `[t]hat April 24, 1985, is hereby designated as `National Day of Remembrance of Man's Inhumanity to Man', and the President of the United States is authorized and requested to issue a proclamation calling upon the people of the United States to observe such day as a day of remembrance for all the victims of genocide , especially the one and one-half million people of Armenian ancestry . . .'.
(23) In August 1985, after extensive study and deliberation, the United Nations SubCommission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities voted 14 to 1 to accept a report entitled `Study of the Question of the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide ,' which stated `[t]he Nazi aberration has unfortunately not been the only case of genocide in the 20th century. Among other examples which can be cited as qualifying are . . . the Ottoman massacre of Armenians in 1915-1916'.
(24) This report also explained that `[a]t least 1,000,000, and possibly well over half of the Armenian population, are reliably estimated to have been killed or death marched by independent authorities and eye-witnesses. This is corroborated by reports in United States, German and British archives and of contemporary diplomats in the Ottoman Empire, including those of its ally Germany.'.
(25) The United States Holocaust Memorial Council, an independent Federal agency, unanimously resolved on April 30, 1981, that the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum would include the Armenian Genocide in the Museum and has since done so.
(26) Reviewing an aberrant 1982 expres​sion(later retracted) by the United States Department of State asserting that the facts of the Armenian Genocide may be ambiguous, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia in 1993, after a review of documents pertaining to the policy record of the United States, noted that the assertion on ambiguity in the United States record about the Armenian Genocide `contradicted longstanding United States policy and was eventually retracted'.
(27) On June 5, 1996, the House of Representatives adopted an amendment to House Bill 3540 (the Foreign Operations, Export Financing, and Related Programs Appropriations Act, 1997) to reduce aid to Turkey by $3,000,000 (an estimate of its payment of lobbying fees in the United States) until the Turkish Government acknowledged the Armenian Genocide and took steps to honor the memory of its victims.
(28) President William Jefferson Clinton, on April 24, 1998, stated: `This year, as in the past, we join with Armenian-Americans throughout the nation in commemorating one of the saddest chapters in the history of this century, the deportations and massacres of a million and a half Armenians in the Ottoman Empire in the years 1915-1923.'.
(29) President George W. Bush, on April 24, 2004, stated: `On this day, we pause in remembrance of one of the most horrible tragedies of the 20th century, the annihilation of as many as 1,500,000 Armenians through forced exile and murder at the end of the Ottoman Empire.'.
(30) Despite the international recognition and affirmation of the Armenian Genocide , the failure of the domestic and international authorities to punish those responsible for the Armenian Genocide is a reason why similar genocides have recurred and may recur in the future, and that a just resolution will help prevent future genocides.
The House of Representatives--
(1) calls upon the President to ensure that the foreign policy of the United States reflects appropriate understanding and sensitivity concerning issues related to human rights, ethnic cleansing, and genocide documented in the United States record relating to the Armenian Genocide and the consequences of the failure to realize a just resolution; and
(2) calls upon the President in the President's annual message commemorating the Armenian Genocide issued on or about April 24, to accurately characterize the systematic and deliberate annihilation of 1,500,000 Armenians as genocide and to recall the proud history of United States intervention in opposition to the Armenian Genocide .
The Armenian debate
Message le Ven 12 Oct - 8:41 par mihou
The Armenian debate
The following countries have passed, at varying levels of legislature, motions to declare the 1915-17 mass killings in Armenia as "genocide":

Chile passed a Senate Resolution in 2007.

Argentina passed a law in 2006.

Lithuania passed an Assembly Resolution in 2005.

Slovakia passed a National Assembly Resolution in 2004.

Canada passed a House of Commons Resolution in 2004.

Switzerland passed a National Council Resolution in 2003.

France passed a law in 2001.

Greece passed a Parliament Resolution in 1996 establishing a day of the commemoration of the genocide.

European Parliament passed a Parliament Resolution in 1987.

Cyprus passed a House of Representatives Resolution in 1982.

Source: National Academy of Science of the Republic of Armenia, The Armenian Genocide Museum-Institute
Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2007/10/11 14:58:05 GMT

Armenian sway over US lawmakers
Message le Ven 12 Oct - 8:42 par mihou
Armenian sway over US lawmakers
By Laura Smith-Spark
BBC News, Washington

Despite a direct appeal by US President George W Bush, lawmakers in the US have backed a description of the mass killings of Armenians by Ottoman Turks after 1915 as genocide.

The resolution, passed by the House of Representatives' Foreign Affairs committee, was written by Democrat Adam Schiff, whose California district is home to the US's largest ethnic-Armenian community.

Across the country, Armenian-Americans have been lobbying politicians, and publicising their view of the massacres as genocide - a suggestion the Turkish government and most Turks furiously reject.

Historians are also divided on whether this was a case of genocide.

Given that Armenians represent only about 1.5m of America's 300m population, what has won them such influence over the US Congress - and perhaps the nation's foreign policy?

Organised lobby

Part of the answer lies in the organisation and determination of the Armenian-American lobby groups, says Dr Svante Cornell, of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute at Johns Hopkins University.


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The Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) and the Armenian Assembly of America (AAA) are among the most powerful.

Another factor is that the Armenian-American community is largely concentrated in important states such as California, Michigan and Massachusetts, Dr Cornell said.

"You have basically a number of places where the Armenian issue is very important in local politics - especially for anybody wanting to get elected in California," he said.

"The Turkish lobby is much less organised and much less rooted in an electorate than the Armenian lobby."

'Sobering' choice

Of course, the vote - both for and against - was also based on representatives' competing sets of principles.

Opening the debate, Tom Lantos, the committee's Democrat chairman, acknowledged that the resolution posed a "sobering" choice.

"We have to weigh the desire to express our solidarity with the Armenian people... against the risk that it could cause young men and women in the uniform of the United States armed services to pay an even heavier price than they are currently paying," he said.

Divisions within the committee ultimately crossed party lines, with eight Democrats voting against the measure and eight Republicans voting for it.

Opponents of the resolution argue it could endanger US national security and that now is not the time to have the debate.

Supporters draw a parallel between the mass killing of Armenians and what is happening in the Darfur region of Sudan today - and say the US must speak now if it is to maintain credibility on human rights.

Dr Rouben Adalian, of the Armenian National Institute in Washington, told the BBC's World Today: "In a world where genocide continues to occur, there is something to be said about acknowledging past genocides as a way of preventing others."

'Close-knit community'

For Bryan Ardouny, executive director of the AAA, the passage of the resolution "was a historic step forward" in ending what he calls the "denial campaign" of the Turkish government.

We have a very vibrant, passionate, educated constituency that feels very strongly and passionately about this
Bryan Ardouny,
Armenian Assembly of America

"We very much appreciate the support of the whole Armenian community around the country but also the members of Congress who stood their ground and voted yes for the resolution," he said.

The AAA has worked very closely with the sponsors and co-sponsors of the resolution, he said, as well as talking to members of Congress from both parties about the issue.

The close-knit Armenian-American diaspora has also been at work educating other communities and writing to politicians, Mr Ardouny said.

"The response has been great in terms of activism throughout the entire Armenian-American community," he said.

"One of the consequences of the genocide was that Armenians came to the US. My grandparents were genocide survivors - they came to this country, they got an education, they became part of the American fabric.

"We have a very vibrant, passionate, educated constituency that feels very strongly and passionately about this and the fact it's still being denied - this is something that's painful."

'Heavy blow'

Some people argue that it is not the place of legislators to decide history - especially on an issue as fiercely contested as this one.

A decision by Turkey to recall its ambassador for consultations may be just the first in a series of steps as it considers future US-Turkish relations.

Turkish President Abdullah Gul criticised some US politicians as having "sought to sacrifice big problems for small domestic political games" in pursuing the resolution's passage.

Dr Cornell saw it as a "strategic reality that this will deal a very heavy blow to US policy in the Middle East and with regard to Iraq".

The US has already lost much support among the Turkish people in recent years, he said.

The resolution is expected to come to the full House before the session adjourns on 16 November.

Back in 2000, a similar resolution failed when it was withdrawn from the floor of the Republican-controlled House at the urging of then President Bill Clinton, who said it could put at risk American lives and further inflame tensions in the Middle East.

Seven years later, it remains to be seen whether the Democrat-controlled House will heed the warnings of Mr Bush.
Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2007/10/12 10:22:59 GMT

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