Analysis: Why Armenia Genocide recognition remains a tough sell
An interactive art project called “iwitness,” telling the story of survivors of the Armenian genocide of 1915, was unveiled in Grand Park in downtown Los Angeles on Saturday afternoon.(Michael Robinson Chávez / Los Angeles Times)
Doves are released during a march to the Turkish Consulate in Los Angeles on April 24 to mark the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide.(Patrick T. Fallon / For The Times)
Deborah Henderson waves flags as vehicles pass on the 101 Freeway in Hollywood as thousands march April 24 to mark the 100th anniversary of Armenian genocide.(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)
Thousands gather in Hollywood at the beginning of a six-mile march on April 24 to mark the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide.(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)
Thousands of people march towards the Turkish consulate in Los Angeles as ethnic Armenians worldwide are marking the 100th anniversary of a genocide at the hands of Ottoman Turks that claimed the lives of about 1.2 million Armenians from 1915 to 1918.(Patrick T. Fallon / For the Times)
Shannon Blanck, right, chants as thousands march west on Sunset Blvd. at the beginning of a six mile march marking 100th anniversary of Armenian Genocide by Ottoman Turkish government.(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)
David Kazarian, 13, is surrounded by a crowd as they stand at the beginning of a six-mile march in Hollywood to mark the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide on April 24.(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)
People wearing gags gather in central Moscow to mark the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide.(Dmitry Serebryakov / AFP/Getty Images)
An Armenian holds a placard with a sign reading 1915, the year of mass killings of Armenians by Ottoman Turks on a city street in Yerevan, Armenia.(Sergei Grits / Associated Press)
People lay flowers at a memorial to Armenians killed by the Ottoman Turks, as they mark the centenary of the mass killings, in Yerevan, Armenia.(Sergei Grits / Associated Press)
Armenian youth hold images from the Armenian genocide during a demonstration in Jerusalem in front of the Turkish consulate to commemorate the 100th anniversary.(Oded Balilty / Associated Press)
Armenians attend a memorial Mass at Saint James Church in Jerusalem to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the 1915 Armenian genocide.(Oded Balilty / Associated Press)
Thousands of Lebanese of Armenian descent, holding banners and a giant Armenian flag, march in Antelias, north of Beirut to mark the 100th anniversary of the mass killings of Armenians by Ottoman Turks around the time of World War I.(Bilal Hussein / Associated Press)
Armenian people attend a rally in Moscow to mark the 100th anniversary of the mass killings of Armenians under the Ottoman Empire.(Maxim Shipenkov / EPA)
Armenian people light candles at the Temple complex of the Armenian Apostolic Church in Moscow as they attend a commemoration ceremony for Armenians who lost their lives during mass killings under the Ottoman Empire.(Yuri Kochetkov / EPA)
Lebanese Armenians march with flags and placards on the Antelias highway, north of Beirut to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the mass killings of Armenians under the Ottoman Empire in 1915. Armenia says an estimated 1.5 million people were killed by Ottoman forces in what it calls a genocide.(Joseph Eid / AFP/Getty Images)
When parties in the Austrian Parliament last week signed a declaration calling the slaughter of Armenians by the Ottoman Turks that began in 1915 a genocide, the Republic of Turkey issued a statement saying it would leave “permanent stains on Turkish-Austrian friendship” and recalled its ambassador from Vienna.
When Pope Francis urged the international community earlier this month to recognize the atrocities as “the first genocide of the 20th century,” Turkey declared his statements “null and void” in a statement and recalled its ambassador to the Vatican.
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) told Times Community News it’s typical for Turkey to “vent” and make threats whenever a nation acknowledges the World War I-era slaughter as a genocide, but “it hasn’t ended the relationship with any of them.” Schiff, who has made similar unsuccessful moves in the past, sponsored a resolution introduced last month in the House of Representatives to have the United States officially recognize the mass killing of 1.5 million Armenians a genocide.
Turkish officials did not respond to requests for comment. However, according to a page on Turkey’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs website addressing the controversy, country representatives state the Armenian deaths were due to the effects of “inter-communal conflict” and international war during a time when 2.5 million Muslims also perished.
The Armenians took arms against the Ottoman government and were relocated due to their political aims, not their ethnicity or religion — Armenians are largely Christian, while Islam was the empire’s official religion — according to the page, which outlines “facts and issues” from the Turkish perspective.
However, more than 20 nations have recognized the Armenian deaths as the result of a genocide. The list includes France, Germany, Canada and Russia, according to a list maintained by the Armenian National Institute, but not Israel or the United Kingdom.
President Ronald Reagan referred to the “genocide of the Armenians” in an April 1981 proclamation about the Holocaust in Nazi Germany. In 1975 and 1984, the House of Representatives passed resolutions declaring April 24 a day of remembrance for victims of all genocide, but particularly the 1915 genocide in Turkey. Neither resolution passed in the Senate.
Despite the lack of recent recognition at the federal level, more than 40 states, including California, have recognized the Ottoman Turks’ actions as a genocide, according to the Armenian National Institute’s list, as do many municipalities, including at least 10 communities in California, beginning with Fresno in 1975.
Local cities that have issued proclamations recognizing the Armenian Genocide include Burbank, Glendale, Los Angeles and West Hollywood.
Several more recent efforts to recognize the Armenian Genocide at the federal level have failed. President Clinton’s administration opposed a resolution in 2000 as having potentially negative impacts on U.S. interests in the Balkans and Middle East. The Bush administration opposed a similar measure Schiff introduced in 2007, arguing it would hamper the war on terror.
Relations with Turkey, a NATO ally, were cited in the White House’s official defense of the decision announced earlier this week that President Barack Obama would not use the term “genocide” in his commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the atrocities. Obama had called the atrocities genocide while on the campaign trail and had promised to do so in office, but he has not.
According to filings with the Department of Justice, Turkey has spent millions of dollars lobbying U.S. officials over the past several years, including specific efforts to convince them that “to convey the seriousness of the genocide issue and the potential threat it poses” to U.S.-Turkish relations.
A recent contract between the Republic of Turkey and Gephardt Group Government Affairs, a lobbyist group founded by former House Majority Leader Dick Gephardt, was filed last August, showing the law firm Greenberg Taurig LLP would be paid more than $26,000 a month through the end of 2014 to “educate and re-educate” U.S. officials about Turkey’s “strong friendship.”
In 2007, Turkey paid one lobbyist for hundreds of faxes and dozens of phone calls to elected and appointed officials warning them about the possible impact of passing Schiff’s proposed resolution recognizing the Armenian Genocide. That same year, the lobby group also made campaign contributions to U.S. politicians on Turkey’s behalf.
Schiff, who has been pushing for U.S. recognition of the genocide for many years, said there are always excuses cited for why each year is not the right time for recognition — whether it’s to prevent the loss of Turkey’s cooperation in the war in Iraq, to ensure access to a strategically important air base in Turkey or to avoid disrupting Turkey’s plans at reconciliation with Armenia.
Each new excuse arises when resolutions calling for recognition of the genocide are on the table, he said, but “disappears immediately thereafter.”
Taner Akcam, a professor of history specializing in the Armenian Genocide at Clark University in Massachusetts, said it’s not just an issue of the term “genocide” but Turkey’s denials that a crime was even committed against the Armenians, whether or not it meets the definition of genocide.
He said U.S. recognition would have two significant effects — first it would pressure Turkey to change its policy of denial, and second it would open the doors to potential claims for restitution similar to those sought by survivors of the Holocaust perpetrated by the Nazis.
Akcam, who is from Turkey, said Ankara could recall its ambassadors for a few months, but “so what?” That would only further isolate them, he said, a posture he feels the country cannot maintain.
“They cannot continue to deny a historic fact,” Akcam said. “I personally think Turkey does not have much leverage.”
Schiff said the denials have become part of the Turkish “psyche,” and admission of their crimes would be “devastating” to them. But, he said, this is the year to finally recognize the genocide after the U.S. has “carried their water for decades.”
Akcam, however, questioned whether U.S. officials may see more political advantage in avoiding the recognition. He said it’s a “golden bullet” — something they can only fire once, or they can hang onto it, flashing it around to motivate Turkey’s continued “friendship.”
In a statement earlier this week, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu offered condolences to the descendants of the Armenian victims and said it is important to face the past with honesty. However, he avoided the term “genocide” and called it “morally and legally problematic” to “[lay] all blame” on Turkey and to “reduc[e] everything to one word.”
Garland reports for Times Community News.
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