Karen S. Kim
GLENDALE -- On Jan. 27, 1973, the Turkish consul general and consul in
Los Angeles walked into Santa Barbara’s Baltimore Hotel expecting to
accept a gift to Turkey from 79-year-old Gurgen Yanikian.
Instead, Yanikian, an Armenian Genocide survivor, opened fire, killing
both diplomats as they walked through the hotel doors. Yanikian was
sentenced to life in prison. He was paroled in December 1984 and died
Yanikian’s crime marked the first incident in a series of
assassinations by Armenian terrorists in the 1970s and 1980s that
eliminated a number of Turkish diplomats.
The wave of political violence that ensued is at least partly to blame
for the U.S. government’s gradual departure from recognition of the
Armenian Genocide, according to some Turkish and Armenian officials.
“The acts of political violence and terrorism [contributed] to a
reaction and reluctance to take a position on the issue,” said Rouben
Adalian, director of the Armenian National Institute in Washington D.C.
“But the fact of the matter is that the standing relationship with the
United States and Turkey had become such a strong alliance that the U.S.
had become reluctant to revisit history that contradicted the position
Turkey wanted to take.”
An estimated 1.5 million Armenians were massacred by Ottoman Empire
forces in 1915, during World War I. Local Armenians on Wednesday will
commemorate the 87th anniversary of the atrocities.
Turkish officials contend the killings were politically and militarily
motivated and did not constitute a genocide, and the United States today
does not officially recognize it as such.
Most scholars say the U.S. government visibly stepped away from
recognizing the genocide in the 1970s.
Aykut Berk, consul general of Turkey in Los Angeles, said the Armenian
terrorists were to blame.
“How can you sympathize with an Armenian killing a Turk for what
happened 90 years ago?” said Berk, who is escorted at all times by
bodyguards provided by the U.S. State Department. “There is no
justification for any terrorism. If you buckle under the pressure of
terrorism, then we don’t live in a civilized world anymore.”
But Adalian said there was more to the U.S. decision to move away from
genocide recognition in the 1970s.
Political ties between Turkey and the United States became critically
important at that time because of the Cold War.
Turkey in 1952 joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, an
alliance designed to safeguard members from attacks by the Soviet Union.
Shortly afterward, the U.S. government established military bases in
Turkey that are still in use.
“Turkey was the only NATO member state that actually bordered the
Soviet Union,” Adalian said. “Turkey was the closest to Russia and
literally represented the front line of the NATO defense.”
U.S. military forces use Turkish bases today to survey happenings in
Iraq, Adalian said.
The United States’ apparent position against recognizing the genocide
became clearer in 1982, when a U.S. State Department report on the
Armenian terrorists began calling the 1915 massacres an “alleged
genocide,” Adalian said.
“We ended up in a situation where [U.S.] government officials’
policies became reflective of the Turkish interpretation of historical
events,” Adalian said. “The United States was unwilling to put its ally
in an uncomfortable position over an issue that, at the time, seemed
The city will provide shuttle service to and from the Glendale Civic
Auditorium on Wednesday for its Armenian Genocide commemoration event
between 5:30 and 9 p.m. The shuttle will transport participants from St.
Mary’s Armenian Apostolic Church, 500 S. Central Ave. to the auditorium,
1401 N. Verdugo Road between 5 and 9 p.m.