- The Washington Times - Monday, September 19, 2005

Last Thursday in the House International Relations Committee, Rep. Dan Burton, Indiana Republican, opposed two resolutions dealing with the alleged Armenian genocide. “This thing happened almost 100 years ago, and we’re still beating on it 20 some years after I first got involved in the debate on the floor of the House,” he said. “We ought to get on with problems facing this country and the world today: terrorism, Katrina, and other things, instead of rehashing this thing over and over and over again at every anniversary of it.” Yet both resolutions passed, and once again, Turkey’s present and past “image problem” in the United States resurfaced.

In New York the next day, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan called the bills “completely political,” and Rep. Tom Lantos — California Democrat, the ranking Democrat at the committee — admitted as much. Mr. Lantos voted against a similar bill five years ago. This time, although he explained in detail that what had happened to the Armenian people is not technically genocide, he said he changed his position because Turkey refused to open its northern front to U.S. troops going into Iraq.

While committee Chairman Henry Hyde, Illinois Republican, said the alleged genocide was the work of the Ottoman Empire, which was and is distinct from the Republic of Turkey, Rep. Adam Schiff, Californian Democrat, the sponsor of both measures, wrote, “The resolution urges Turkey to go beyond recognition of genocide and reach a just resolution with the Armenian people.”

The efforts on behalf of these congressional resolutions are not solely about a duty to the past, but about demands from the present and the future of Turkey. The question, then, is what exactly makes a “just solution.” Armenian activists have over the years made their three goals clear: recognition of the genocide, reparations for the victims and return of the land.

If so, Gunay Evinch, a Turkish-American lawyer and Fulbright scholar, compares the matter of compensation and return of property to the Japanese-American relocations during World War II. In Korematsu vs. United States, the Supreme Court held that treating all Japanese Americans as a security threat and interning them was constitutional for national security purposes. Fifty years later, however, the Supreme Court reversed Korematsu (in Korematsu II), and held that U.S. authorities did not have sufficient information to justify such a relocation. But not only did the United States not return property to the wrongfully relocated and dispossessed, it also did not compensate them at the properties’ real value.

In the meantime, Mr. Schiff discussed the case of Turkey’s most popular novelist in the West, Orhan Pamuk. Mr. Pamuk has been charged with insulting Turkey’s national character and could be imprisoned for his comments on Turkey’s killing of Armenians and Kurds. “Thirty thousand Kurds and one million Armenians were killed in these lands and nobody but me dares to talk about it,” Mr. Pamuk was quoted as saying in an interview with a Swiss newspaper in February. Yet, Mr. Schiff forgot to mention that Mr. Pamuk is neither a historian nor an expert on the matter.

But in June, a Swiss prosecutor started investigating comments made by Yusuf Halacoglu, president of the Turkish Historical Society, who in a speech in the Swiss city of Winterthur last year denied the “genocide.” As denial of “Armenian genocide” is a crime according to Swiss law, Mr. Halacoglu also faces possible imprisonment. Both cases look equally disturbing and absurd.

Stanford Shaw, a lecturer at Ankara’s Bilkent University, called the accusation against Mr. Halacoglu a “violation of academic freedom and freedom of expression.” Mr. Shaw learned first-hand about the consequences of denying the “Armenian genocide” when a bomb exploded in front of his house in Los Angeles in 1977, and an Armenian terrorist group called for his assassination.

Congress forgets in these bills that the Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenia (ASALA) has killed more than 50 Turkish diplomats, and makes no mention of the Muslims killed during the Armenian revolt.

Clearly, Mr. Lantos made a bad judgment call last Thursday if his priority is the U.S. national interests. No one should forget the challenge of history to the Turkish Republic in the region and its geostrategic location in this very rough neighborhood. Iran is a serious matter in terms of world peace, and no country would be happy about a neighbor’s emerging nuclear power. The United States should also realize that this is not the time to send the message that Congress may allow Armenians to use the Diaspora to get what they want.

The people who believe that genocide occurred will believe it no matter what. This is not about recognizing whether there was an Armenian genocide; but this is about whether to seek compensation and land from Turkey.

One should no wonder why every U.S. administration opposes similar bills. But now, when the future of Iraq’s territorial integrity is unprecedented, does Congress really want to send Turks the message that it’s willing to divide up their country?

Tulin Daloglu is the Washington correspondent and columnist for Turkey’s Star TV and newspaper. A former BBC reporter, she writes occasionally for The Washington Times.

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