- The Washington Times - Monday, April 9, 2007

One would assume that the question of whether what happened between Turks and Armenians during World War I constitutes “genocide” is not an important issue in American politics or the American consciousness. Yet for Turkish Americans, it remains a constant source of anxiety and fear of discrimination or reprisals if they express a different point of view. Generations later, even in this country that celebrates freedom of speech and debate, they feel that publicly discussing the issue will engender more hate.

“I can still remember my friends’ parents saying, ‘What are we going to do if our daughter marries a Turk?’ ” said Angelina Kara. Born in Istanbul to a French father and a Turkish mother, Angelina, 30, was raised as a Christian, married a Muslim Turk, and lives in California. “These parents never thought while raising their children in Istanbul that [the children] might eventually one day at least date a Muslim Turk. They threatened to cut their children off if they did.”

“Non-Muslim communities live within their own circles in Turkey,” Angelina said. “They marry within their own religion. Frankly, they feel superior to the Muslim Turks … I remember visiting my Armenian friends. They were not encouraged to make friends with the Turks. They made friends with other Armenian kids going to the Sunday school at church. During the summer, they were usually sent abroad to their relatives or worked with their fathers.”

Angelina’s is a unique perspective on Turkish social norms. Not all non-Muslim Turkish families distance themselves from Muslim Turks, but she notes that a significant number prefers to live in a separate world. Angelina and her husband, Tolga, seem to deal with their worlds by celebrating their ethnic and religious differences. Yet she worries that in Turkey, the distance between the two will ultimately jeopardize the country.

In California, this young Turkish American couple sees firsthand the hard work of the Armenian American lobby for a non-binding congressional resolution that would declare the mass killings of Armenians on Turkish soil “genocide.” But there is another side. Tolga remembers his grandmother: “Until she died five years ago, she wept for her father. She used to tell stories about World War I, and how the Armenians raided their home in Erzincan late at night and took her father and uncle. Days later, they found her uncle’s body dismembered on the side of a small stream. They never found her father.”

Tolga says that until he moved to California, he’d accepted the past as a tragedy of war. But his experience in the United States has opened his eyes to how deeply Armenians hate Turks: “One day I saw a young man staring at me in a bad way. I did not understand it, and thought I was being too sensitive. A few days later, I ran into him again, and he stared at me in the same way — this time pointing his finger. I asked him what his problem was, and he kept pointing — so I called the police. He was an Armenian, but [because there was no physical altercation] what he was doing was merely an exercise of free speech.”

Turkey does not have a great record on free speech — but that has been changing. Over the last several years, academic conferences and television programs have publicly debated the Armenian accusations. The United States, however, has been less favorable toward such public conversations. Last year, the University of Southern California cancelled a conference titled “Turkish-Armenian Relations: The Turkish Perspective.” A press release from the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) read, “The ANCA-WR, working with USC Armenian student groups, Alumni and school supporters, was able to demonstrate to USC officials the misguided and sinister nature of this panel which led to its cancellation.”

A few years ago, Armenian students at USC protested the annual Turkish Night organized by the USC Turkish Student Association. The USC Daily Trojan reported that “the dance was shut down for safety,” and that a party-goer who requested anonymity out of concern for his safety called the protesters “hostile-looking and intimidating.”

Recently, a concert at Brown University titled “The Armenian Composers of the Ottoman Period,” in which two Armenian and two Turkish musicians were to perform, was cancelled. Its aim was to bring together Turks and Armenians through music, but the Armenians who agreed to participate faced tremendous pressure to keep their distance from the Turks.

Many Turkish Americans fear the Armenian American community’s power in the United States. They don’t understand why no doubt exists about what happened between Armenians and Turks. They wonder why no one remembers the murdered Turkish diplomats by Armenian terrorists or numerous silenced academicians. They feel that the “genocide” claims feed an industry — influential Armenian committees, non-governmental organizations and academics promoting their “truth” — attached to politics. They understand that politicians need to get elected and must satisfy their constituents’ needs. But they also demand an environment free of intimidation and fear.

Tulin Daloglu is a free-lance writer.

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