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Calling history into question

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

shortly afterward.


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

awfully remote.”


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.