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Global Armenian campaign finally stings Turkish public

Sunday, March 6, 2005

The increasing public awareness follows silence pervading both the Turkish state and the public for a period of several decades, during which Armenians managed to get backing to their claims of genocide from several national parliaments

FATMA DEMÝRELLÝ

ANKARA – Turkish Daily News

Columnists have been getting increasingly interested in the mounting Armenian allegations that their nation was subject to a genocide at the hands of the late Ottoman Empire; lawmakers in Parliament are drafting strategies to counter European pressure to “face truths” about Turkey’s past; and Turkish scholars are trying to engage Armenian counterparts in a scientific debate on what happened in eastern Anatolia in 1915. The momentum emerging at all levels of society is a sign that the Turkish public is finally waking up to feel the rage of a decades-old campaign, launched by the powerful Armenian diaspora all across Europe and other continents in the world, blaming Turks for what Armenians called the “first genocide of the 20th century.”

The seemingly raising public awareness follows silence pervading both the Turkish state and the public for a period of several decades, during which Armenian diaspora managed to get backing to its claims of genocide from several national parliaments. And it is apparently stimulated by the approaching 90th anniversary of the alleged genocide, which Armenians claim killed 1.5 million Armenians living in eastern Anatolia at the beginning of the last century. The anniversary is an event for which Armenians are trying to get the highest ever international publicity.

Armenians are planning conferences, commemoration ceremonies across the globe and push more strongly for parliamentary resolutions in different national and regional assemblies acknowledging that the “genocide” did take place.

Two German conservative parties, which are highly critical of Turkey’s bid to join the EU, presented last month a parliamentary motion calling for Turkey to examine its role in the killing of Armenians in 1915, although they avoided to use the term “genocide.”

What is more scary, particularly this year, is possible undesired developments in the U.S. Congress. Attempts to get the alleged genocide recognized in Congress, has so far been blocked by U.S. administrations that have been highly unwilling to harm ties with long-time ally Turkey. This year, however, ties between Turkey and the United States are marred by an exceptionally sharp dispute over Iraq and some observers feel the Bush administration may not see enough reason to block a severe attempt this year, which is sure to be pushed by pro-Armenian congressmen more strongly than ever.

At state level, however, nobody wants to think that this could be possible. One official commented that the U.S. administration was wise enough to see that punishing Turkey for its refusal to cooperate militarily in Iraq and for rising anti-Americanism would be something with very serious spill-over effects that could damage the ties more badly than one could ever imagine.

At the heart of the serious effects that the official was referring to lies a very deep resentment that accusations of “genocide” could create tension in the Turkish public. After all, such a charge, which virtually all Turks see unimaginable, is an insult to the national pride.

Debate vs. monologue:

In addition to focusing on the Armenian campaign and possible impacts on the modern-day Turkey, the ongoing Turkish debate is also interested in what happened in 1915 and in a largely untold version of history.

But what was a more pressing need was to express a feeling of deep disappointment with seeing Turkish backers of Armenian claims. Orhan Pamuk, the renowned Turkish novelist highly credited internationally recently caused an uproar among media commentators, saying in an interview with a British newspaper that one million Armenians were killed.

“You say what they want to hear, and precisely what they want to hear,” said Ertuðrul Özkök, leading Hürriyet columnist, in a recent article quoting Pamuk. “You present your rightfully-acquired intellectual power to the service of an unjust rival.”

But this debate was what one official felt proud of. “You have a real debate about what happened in 1915 only in Turkey. Elsewhere, what you have is a monologue where even Armenians with different views are not allowed to speak out,” he said.

Counter strategy and the pressing need to respond:

The official reaction in Turkey towards the Armenian allegations has been largely silent but highly defensive towards any third country move in support of the Armenian charges. Turkey has threatened to severe ties with many countries whose parliaments recognized the alleged genocide and sent strong-worded condemnations to capitals concerned after resolutions recognizing the alleged genocide were passed.

The strong reaction has been subject to criticisms and some observers have warned against the effects of fiery responses directed at parliaments and governments of the countries concerned. And despite the strong rhetoric of condemnation, say critics, a Turkish policy of responding to charges is simply lacking.

Armenian diaspora campaign has targeted, in the words of the same official, the most easily accessible group in a democratic society, that is politicians. Armenian efforts have produced dozens of parliamentary resolutions recognizing the alleged genocide but achievements in legal and scientific spheres are virtually non-existent.

Last month, Armenian scholars called off an Austrian-Turkish-Armenian initiative committing Turkish and Armenian historians to exchange documents. Turkish History Institution (TTK) head Yusuf Halaçoðlu, who headed Turkish efforts for the initiative, declared in a briefing last week to Turkish parliamentarians that his institution having gone through some 50,000 documents found no evidence supporting Armenian claims.

In legal areas, Armenian charities suing a New York Life Insurance Company to get $3 billion in compensation for victims of the alleged genocide had to agree to an out-of-court settlement under which the company paid $20 million for the plaintiffs. The payment was for 2,300 policies issued by the company to Armenians before 1915 that were never paid and $2 million in administrative costs.

But the public campaign at the hands of skilled and well-funded nongovernmental organizations has been influential enough to cover up solid failures, partly due to silence on the part of Turkish counterparts.

Now, the growing Armenian campaign in the run up to April 24, which renowned columnist Mehmet Ali Birand has likened to “tsunami waves coming onto our shores,” may push Turkey’s nongovernmental society to break it silence and respond.

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