Tim Cavanaugh: The L.A. Times is on record as supporting the term genocide to describe whatever it is that happened in the early part of the 20th century. We'd be interested in hearing your views on that.
Nurten Ural, president, Assembly of Turkish American Associations: Sure. Well, as far as the events of 1915, of course we do not like to call it a genocide because it was not a genocide. We do agree that many Armenians died at that time; we feel very bad about that, but many if not more Turks and Muslims died at the time. It was a time of war, and in war, people die. But we really think Turkey's position on this is Turkey has opened its archives, and they say, let's get all the historians, open up all the archives, let them dive into the archives, research what really happened, and everybody will accept whatever happened.
What we don't like is having the politicians make history or set history when they're not that knowledgeable about history. If the historian part doesn't work, let's take it to court have the international court get historians or whatever to see what happened in those days. As Turkish Americans, we're very strong on this, that, you know, as far as the fact, let's find out what the real facts are instead of what we want them to be or what others want them to be
Cavanaugh: What kind of discussions do you have with Armenian groups, Armenian-American groups in particular?
Ural: Well, we try to have discussions We invite them always to debates; in fact, some of my best friends are Armenians. Secretly, they come to us; openly, publicly, they refuse to come to us To us, we have the same culture as the Armenians: We have the same music, we have the same foods we should get along We need to get this out into the open, we need to get past it, we need to go on.
The thing that personally upsets me about this whole thing is teaching children hatred. In this time in the world, we don't need that. We need to teach them peace and to get along with each other.
Cavanaugh: They can come in and make their own case but just as a question: What you hear from Armenian groups is, you know, when you say debate, the response to that is, "Well, we don't ask Jewish groups to come in and debate German groups about whether the Holocaust happened. And why should we be subject to that sort of self justification?"
Ural: It has been proven that the Holocaust happened; it has not been proven that the genocide has happened
Ahmet Atahan, president , Association of Turkish Americans of Southern California: If you're talking in the streets [to] an Anatolian-born Armenian or American-born Armenian, their views reflect, I think, a little bit different than the political side of the whole issue. So when you say Armenians, yes, we do talk with Armenians. Yes, we do work with them, we live with them, we entertain ourselves with them. But when it comes to the political angle, some sectors [are] driving the whole issue. It's different than the common Armenian that's really thinking in a different wavelength
Cavanaugh: We had the Armenian prime minister in a few months back, and he suggested we're talking about Armenian Americans, right? Because the prime minister's discussed the idea that this is something that gets people exercised more in the diaspora than it does in Armenia itself
Allison Block, advocacy director, ATAA: There's no question about that. In fact, there are more [Armenians] living outside of Armenia than in Armenia proper. In fact, Armenia proper is suffering incredibly because of this. As you are aware, the border between Turkey and Armenia is closed right now. It was closed for obviously a different issue, but such political tension has caused Turkey to keep the border shut Should this issue be brought to Congress and decided upon in Congress, that indeed the United States recognizes this is genocide, I think you'll find that the border will stay shut and Armenia itself as a country will suffer even more. Turkish businesspeople and Armenian businesspeople are already trying to find ways to cooperate because there is no question that this is a diaspora issue
Cavanaugh: How does this impact you guys as Turkish Americans? These are international issues that are for other people to settle, so where do you come into this?
Ural: Personally, my niece came from school crying well, my brother had to go get her from school when an eight-year-old girl tells my niece, "Your grandfather killed by grandfather," and my niece has no idea what they're talking about That is what we don't like to see, when our children [are] attacked in school for no reason whatsoever, for a reason that they're not even aware of That should not be encourage by parents; that should not be taught by parents
Cavanaugh: Is this formed to some degree by the fact that the United States at the time was among the few patrons the Armenians had? Is that something that sort of structurally works against you guys, that there is this long history of sympathy?
Block: I wouldn't necessarily say that's a factor.
Atahan: There's a couple details there Don't label the whole thing 1915 events, because when you look at history, you have to look at a much wider time period to see the real reasons and kind of why things happened because there are events after 1915 that Armenians don't talk about that [are] actually against them
You cannot just look at a narrow timeframe. When you look at the end of the 18th century, you'll also see that there are a lot of religious missions and activities. So when you look at the American point of view, there [are] some religious-influenced events that show sympathy