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Independent: Turks and Armenians in US fight over massacre memorial

Robert Fisk in San Francisco tells on the fight of Turks and Armenians in US over massacre memorial. Find below the whole article…

It is the largest cross in the United States, 103 feet tall, designed by the
architect George Kelham and dedicated to the US servicemen who died under
attack by German U-boats in the First World War. But in a dispute which only
Americans – perhaps only Californians – could devise, its future use or
destruction depends on another, even more terrible event in the 1914-1918
war: the destruction of one and a half million Armenians by Ottoman Turks in
the last century’s first “so-called” genocide.

Newspaper archives in San Francisco show that the cross was originally
erected in wood in Mount Davidson park – the highest point in the city- as a
memorial to the American seamen who died in the undeclared German U-boat war
of 1917, but that it was later dedicated to all US servicemen who died
fighting Germany in what was then called the Great War.

Kelham, an Art Deco architect, was invited to design the more permanent
memorial, which was inaugurated when President Franklin Roosevelt turned on
twelve 1,000-watt floodlights around the monument in 1934. In a United States
still appalled by First World War losses – and unencumbered by the
non-denominational ethics of present-day America – it was the centre of a
Christian prayer vigil each Easter sunrise.

Enter the Armenians of San Francisco, one of the most vociferous minority
groups in the city. As age and vandalism took its toll on Kelham’s cross,
they proposed to buy the structure, keep it open to the public, but
rededicate its meaning to the Christian Armenians slaughtered in 1915 by
Germany’s Turkish allies. Almost the entire Armenian population of Turkey was
massacred or driven into the northern Syrian desert to die of rape,
individual murder and famine by Ottoman Turkish gendarmes in what Winston
Churchill himself called a holocaust, an atrocity which helped to inspire
Hitler’s genocide of six million Jews.

But Turkey’s San Francisco residents and the local Turkish consul general-
faithfully following Turkey’s modern-day denial of the Armenian Holocaust-
objected. A so-called “Centre for Scholars in Historical Accuracy; Stanford
Chapter” – which, it turned out, had nothing to do with Stanford University –
claimed in a newspaper advertisement that an Armenian memorial would sow
discord in the city and become “a political advertisement to preach their
[Armenian] version of history which is roundly disputed among objective
scholars and historians.”

The ad, it turned out, was faxed to the San Francisco Chronicle by Aydan
Kutay, director of the Federation of Turkish American Associations in
California. Turks even circulated flyers to the local Chinese American
Democratic Club – in Chinese – warning them that the purchase of the cross by
Armenians could lead to “an historical dispute that happened in the past”.

This being San Francisco, there had already been a church-state dispute over
the cross in which a lawsuit rejected its presence on city land in 1990; the
American Civil Liberties Union had challenged the city’s right to maintain a
religious symbol on public land. At which point the city auctioned off the
site to a coalition of 24 Armenian groups – the Council of American Armenian
Organisations in Northern California – for a mere £19,000. “For most San
Franciscans, I don’t think the cross will have any different meaning than it
ever did,” an Armenian spokeswoman said. “But for Armenians, it’s how we will
remember the “so-called” genocide.” She spoke too soon. Atheists – or that, at least,is
how they describe themselves – have objected to the latest ruling.

“We recognise them as atheists who were in the original lawsuit,” the
spokeswoman said. “We always had suspicions that Turks were funding them. We
do now own the cross and so far we’ve won all the court cases. But these
people are committed to taking the case all the way to the Supreme Court if
necessary.”

The bones of one and a half million Armenians still lie in the Middle East
deserts; but their tragedy is set to be debated on the other side of the
world.

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