- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 5, 2000

Defending Turkey

Metin Ergun, a member of the Turkish parliament, is convinced American domestic politics is at the root of a resolution that would blame the old Ottoman Empire for the "genocide" of Armenians.

He complained yesterday that the measure is a national insult to his country, even though the resolution says the modern Turkish state is not responsible for the killing of 1.5 million Armenians from 1915 to 1923.

"For Rogan to keep his seat, this is an attempt to leave a dark, ugly stain on my country," he said, referring to Rep. James E. Rogan.

The California Republican, a co-sponsor of the resolution, is in a difficult re-election race in a district that has about 30,000 Armenian-American voters.

A staffer in Mr. Rogan's office dismissed talk of politics.

"This is not political. This is a matter of principle," the staffer said. "He would simply like the world to acknowledge the Armenian genocide."

Political or not, the resolution has sent shock waves through the Turkish government. It has drawn opposition from the Clinton administration and former secretaries of defense, military commanders, national security advisers and one CIA director. They worry the measure would damage U.S.-Turkish relations.

Turkish Ambassador Baki Ilkin has written to all House members to warn them that Turkey would consider adoption of the measure as an "unfriendly act."

Turkey is so determined to defeat the resolution that it sent its first parliamentary delegation representing all political parties to Washington to lobby against it.

Mr. Ergun, a member of that delegation and an authority on Turkish history, insisted there is no evidence that the Ottoman Empire deliberately attempted to exterminate its Armenian population.

Like other opponents of the resolution and many historians, he admits that Armenians were killed in an armed conflict with Ottoman Turks and during a forced relocation of the Armenian population in eastern Turkey. He disputes the number, placing it in the hundreds of thousands, and notes that millions of Turks were also killed in the conflict.

"If they found one single proof, we would accept it," he said, referring to Armenian-American associations that have lobbied for years for passage of such a resolution.

The measure passed the House International Relations Committee 24-11 Tuesday and is expected to be considered by the full House as early as next week.

Rep. George P. Radanovich, who authored the resolution, said, "It is imperative that we, the United States, affirm our record on the Armenian genocide to pay tribute to those who lost their lives and their families, as well as to prevent future horrors of this kind."

Mr. Radanovich, also a California Republican, insisted the resolution is not aimed at contemporary Turkey.

"Turkey is not called upon to act in this resolution, and I continue to reject Turkey's presumption that it can impose its views regarding our response to the Armenian genocide," he said.

Mehmet Ali Irtemcelik, the leader of the five-member Turkish delegation, testified before the committee in a vain attempt to halt the resolution.

Speaking at the Turkish Embassy with the rest of the delegation yesterday, he complained of the committee's attempt to "legislate history on the claims of hearsay."

"Armenians and Turks both perished. There were atrocities on both sides," he said. "There was no decision to exterminate the Armenians."

Tayyibe Gulek of the Democratic Left party said she was told by one member of Congress that the resolution is really about domestic politics.

"I resent being told not to take it the wrong way," she said.

"They are desperate to get this passed before the election. What's the rush? You've waited 85 years."

Embassy attacked

The U.S. Embassy in Syria came under attack yesterday by about 1,000 university students protesting the deaths of Palestinians in clashes with Israeli security forces.

They threw stones, bags of trash and tree branches and one protester climbed onto the roof of the embassy in an attempt to steal the U.S. flag.

"He was partially successful in lowering it before police and embassy security detained him," an embassy spokesman told the Associated Press.

No one at the embassy was injured.

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