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Turkish Military Shells Northern Iraq & Amasses 60,000 Troops on Border as U.S.-Turkey Relations Deteriorate over House Vote on Armenian Genocide

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Turkey’s top general warned this weekend that U.S.-Turkey relations would “never be the same again” if the United States House votes to declare the World War I-era mass killings of 1.5 million Armenians a genocide. Despite President Bush’s plea, the House Foreign Affairs Committee voted 27-21 Wednesday to call the killing of Armenians by Ottoman Turks “systematic,” “deliberate” and amounting to “genocide.” [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: The Turkish military has stepped up attacks against what it says are Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, bases in northern Iraq. The shelling comes just ahead of a vote in the Turkish parliament on a bill authorizing a ground invasion against Kurdish fighters in Iraq. The military has reportedly amassed 60,000 troops along its border with Iraq. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice urged Turkey to refrain from any major military operation, but Washington’s influence over Turkey appears to be waning.

Turkey’s top general warned this weekend U.S.-Turkey relations will “never be the same again” if the U.S. House of Representatives votes to declare the World War I-era mass killings of 1.5 million Armenians a genocide. Despite President Bush’s plea, the House Foreign Affairs Committee voted 27-21 Wednesday to call the killing of Armenians by Ottoman Turks “systematic,” “deliberate” and amounting to “genocide.” Turkey recalled its ambassador to Washington last week.

U.S. Undersecretary of Defense Eric Edelman visited Ankara Saturday in an attempt to improve worsening ties. He apologized for the House committee vote on behalf of the Bush administration.

ERIC EDELMAN: […] at the action that was taken by the House Foreign Affairs Committee in voting H.R. 106, the resolution that came out of committee, they asked us to convey to our Turkish colleagues the determination of the administration to continue to oppose this resolution and to try and prevent its passage. We had a good and constructive discussion in which our colleagues expressed the disappointment and the hurt of both the government of Turkey and the Turkish public.

AMY GOODMAN: For the Bush administration, the stakes of alienating Turkey are high. Turkey is a major cargo hub for U.S. and allied military forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. About 70 percent of U.S. air cargo and one-third of the fuel headed for Iraq goes through Turkey.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates, speaking in London Thursday, highlighted the close relationship between Turkey and the U.S.

ROBERT GATES: I think we all recognize there were mass murders 95 years ago, 1915. The problem that we have is that this is clearly a very sensitive subject for one of our closest allies and an ally that is incredibly important to the United States in terms of our operations in Iraq.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined right now by two guests who have been closely following these issues. Zanku Armenian is on the board of directors of the Armenian National Committee of America, joining us from Los Angeles, California. And Arman Artuc is the editor of a webzine for Armenians in Turkey. He joins us here in the firehouse studio in New York. We welcome you both to Democracy Now!

Zanku Armenian, let’s begin with you. What happened in 1915?

ZANKU ARMENIAN: In 1915, the Ottoman Turkish government began a policy — implementing a policy of mass extermination and deportations in order to solve what they viewed as the Armenian problem in the eastern provinces of Turkey under the cover of World War I, and 1.5 million Armenians were exterminated in that process, as they were killed, raped, and driven and deported south through the Syrian deserts.

AMY GOODMAN: And what has been the acknowledgment of this by the Turkish government since that time? We’re talking about, well, almost a century later.

ZANKU ARMENIAN: Well, Amy, that’s a good question, because that’s exactly what makes it a current issue. The successive Turkish governments and the Republic of Turkey, separate from the Ottoman Turkish government, have, instead of coming to terms with this history, acknowledging this history, have instead chosen to spend millions of dollars with public relations firms and lobbying firms in a desperate attempt to deny that this part of history, their history, ever happened. And it’s unfortunate because that is what has held Turkey back through the decades, and increasingly they have become isolated on this issue, because there are dozens of countries, including eight countries in Europe, who have acknowledged the facts of this history, including the United States’s records that show that this is a documented fact. And, unfortunately, Turkey continues, instead, to spend its effort and energy in a desperate denial campaign.

AMY GOODMAN: Why is the House voting now? What was the spark for the Foreign Relations Committee?

ZANKU ARMENIAN: Well, there has been a growing demand within the country, a grassroots effort throughout the country, to ask the United States Congress to reaffirm our record on the genocide, which is very clear, and also calling upon the president to make sure that our foreign policy reflects the appropriate sensitivity towards human rights and issues having to do with genocide. And so, part of the purpose of this resolution is to acknowledge the past history and acknowledge the important role that the United States has played in this issue, as well as kind of realigning our foreign policy into a more credible position, as opposed to pandering to the Turkish government’s denial campaign and actually facilitating that. We should be playing a leadership role as a country with our values, American values of democracy and human rights, and encouraging the Turkish government to say that your policy of denial is really a false — is not in the interest of the Turkish people in the long run.

AMY GOODMAN: The official Turkish position also highlights the number of Turks who were killed after 1915. This is what the recalled Turkish ambassador to the United States, Nabi Sensoy, said last week.

NABI SENSOY: People think that it is only the Armenian who perished during the events of 1915. They keep forgetting that hundreds of thousands of Turks also perished during the same events in the hands of the Armenians. And if you look at this resolution, you will see that this is a very one-sided resolution. It makes no mention of the pains of the Turkish side or the deaths of the Turks, as well.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to turn right now to our second guest in studio; we’re joined by Arman Artuc, who is the editor of the online Armenian website How do you pronounce it?


AMY GOODMAN: And what does that mean?

ARMAN ARTUC: Well, it’s, you know, the Armenian words Armenian and newspaper, so it’s Armenian newspaper.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you believe there was a genocide in 1915? And you, yourself, are Armenian.

ARMAN ARTUC: Yeah, well, I mean, my belief, on one part, however, I’m — being a Turkish citizen, you cannot basically, you know, in a lawful fashion acknowledge the genocide. And so, as it happened to the murdered journalist Hrant Dink just recently, who was prosecuted about this, and the charges were dropped after his murder. However, his son, who reprinted his father’s acknowledgment of the genocide in the newspaper Agos, was just convicted, actually the day after the bill passed the Foreign Affairs Committee, from the Article 301 of the Turkish Criminal Law, which says “insulting Turkishness.” It’s a very broad and actually vague term used for that particular article. So even if, you know, personally speaking, I recognize the Armenian genocide, it will be unlawful for me to say that it was a genocide.


ARMAN ARTUC: Because of this law. So they can persecute me in the same manner.

AMY GOODMAN: Why is it such a threat to Turkey today, almost a hundred years later?

ARMAN ARTUC: I think we have to understand how polarized Turkey is on different issues, not just on the Armenian issue, so this polarization just recently actually was, you know, in place, especially regarding to the Islam and the secularism and how the country should, you know, find its own path, etc., which then was, you know, say, salted and peppered with what had happened in the Kurdish region recently. And on top of all this, now we have this bill that’s passing through the, first, Foreign Affairs Committee and now coming to the House. So these all are polarizing issues for Turkey, so the country is divided in different terms.

Yet there are some intellectuals in Turkey which now recognize —- intellectuals and scholars, I should say, that recognize the Armenian genocide and what had happened to the Armenians at the time. However, there are actually two issues. One is the ethical issue, where we can actually say that the Turkish governments and all the Turkish governments in the republic in Europe basically do not recognize what had happened to the Armenians at the time. There is a constant denial of the murders and the killings and the deaths at the time, what had happened in 1915. Leave apart the word “genocide” for a second; Turkey did not recognize this piece yet. So I think -—

AMY GOODMAN: Did not recognize…?

ARMAN ARTUC: The murders, the perpetrations of 1915. So I think we still have a long way in Turkey to come to a point where Turkey actually recognizes the genocide. Yet, there are different reactions from Turkey, and I think we’ll see — I mean, this is not the first bill that was introduced in the House. There was one seven or eight years ago, and there are others in different countries all over the world.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain what happened seven or eight years ago.

ARMAN ARTUC: Well, actually, there was a similar bill that came to the — was coming to the House, but then Dennis Hastert, I think, was just — at the last moment did not bring it to the House. Well, there are different conspiracies about what had actually happened. The official line goes in Turkey that Bill Clinton at the time gave him a phone call, and then after that they never brought it to the House, with similar concerns that Turkey is biggest ally of U.S., military issues, I think other financial issues, etc.

AMY GOODMAN: So Bill Clinton took the same role as President Bush.

ARMAN ARTUC: Exactly, exactly. That was what had happened in, you know, 2000 or 2001.

AMY GOODMAN: And Dennis Hastert, at the time head of the House of Representatives?


AMY GOODMAN: There’s a controversy about his involvement with or the influence of Turkish interests on him.

ARMAN ARTUC: Well, controversy or conspiracy or something. I don’t want to call it anything, because I don’t think anyone actually knows the details about it fully, to full extent.

But, well, you know, I can talk about how — the reactions in Turkey for this issue, the most recent bill, and I can say that Turkey will react this way, where you see, you know, like they hold the ambassador back, and then they threaten, you know, taking some other military action, etc. However, if you think about it in the long run, it’s only, you know — I mean, I, myself, am not a big believer of such bills in the parliaments of these countries or other countries other than Turkey. However, at the same time we should understand that in the long run these bills are the ones that’s actually forcing Turkey to act on this Armenian issue, because it was through these bills that the government, that the current government, is taking some measures.

Well, there’s one interesting measure, which I can’t — I’m not in the same position with it. However, you know, they are just coming up with new positions, like the recent one where the head of the current Turkish government, Prime Minister Erdogan, just basically offered committees from both sides to create a committee of historians from both sides — Armenia and Turkey — to discuss this issue. Yet there had been 90 years, there had been lots of works on this issue, and I think, you know, the rest of the world actually knows what had happened. So this was a desperate attempt. However, it was an attempt, and I think that’s interesting.

AMY GOODMAN: What is the response of the Turkish people? I mean, I remember when Hrant Dink was gunned down in front of his offices, the Armenian Turkish newspaper editor. The people wore T-shirts that said, “We Are All Hrant Dink,” not just Armenian.

ARMAN ARTUC: Yeah. Well, they weren’t just Armenians. You’re right. Actually, there were like 50,000 — some people claimed it was 100,000 — people that marched that day after the murder of Hrant Dink. And I think the Armenian community in Istanbul welcomed this. However, just, you know, after the aftermath of the killing, we saw that the photographs of the murder, shot with the security forces at the time, was in all the media, in all the newspapers. And right after that, especially after these recent killings by the Kurdish, well, militant guerrilla group, the Kurdish Laborers Party — the slogan on the T-shirts was at the time, “We Are All Hrant” — now they are actually using it in a way, “We Are All Mehmet,” where Mehmet is this, you know, like it’s the John Doe of Turkey, that, you know, people are trying to sort of create this reaction to those people who marched at the time of Hrant Dink’s murder, saying that, “Well, you guys just marched for this Armenian journalist who insulted Turkishness, but now we are having all these deaths. Our soldiers are dying, and you guys are not doing anything at all.”

AMY GOODMAN: Zanku Armenian, what about the Turkish parliament voting to authorize an invasion of northern Iraq? What does this mean?

ZANKU ARMENIAN: Well, it’s very unfortunate that Turkey would behave this way, because, you know, as the general said today, claiming that the United States, you know, is behaving in a way that is not a good way in terms of being a responsible ally, a good ally, well, I would turn that back around: why is the Turkish government behaving more radically, as almost like a radical Islamic state, versus being the NATO ally that it purports to be? Part of this is also creating a fait accompli on the ground. Turkey wants to create these sorts of tensions in order to — almost as if throwing a temper tantrum in reaction to a bill, such as the House resolution, which is in essence just an expression, a sense of Congress. It is a nonbinding resolution. It does not force the president to do anything specific other than calling upon the president to make sure that our foreign policy reflects the appropriate sensitivity toward these issues of genocide. And unfortunately, the Turkish government, through these actions, is also, in essence, trying to blackmail the United States into curtailing our own freedom of speech on this issue. Why is the United States Congress not going to be allowed to speak about this issue? Why is the Turkish government trying to export Article 301 into the United States by putting a gag order on our Congress to express its sense, its opinion, on this issue?

AMY GOODMAN: How significant is Turkey for the U.S. war with Iraq and Afghanistan?

ZANKU ARMENIAN: Well, Turkey, as a NATO ally, does have an important role to play in making sure that there is stability in the region. But I guess a question I would ask is, how much of an — you know, what kind of a responsible ally does this sort of thing, where it would try to invade the northern part of Iraq, which is the only stable part of Iraq at the current time, and trying to create more fronts for our forces in Iraq? This is not the behavior we should expect from an ally of the United States.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you both for being with us: Zanku Armenian, on the board of directors of the Armenian National Committee of America, co-founder and co-chair of Armenian American Democratic Leadership Council; and Arman Artuc, an Armenian from Turkey, is the editor of an Armenian website.

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