Taking Grassroots Activism to the Next Level

Obama Fails to Recognize Armenian Genocide Citing Progress Between Armenia and Turkey

April 30th, 2009 by

By Daren Djirikian

In the weeks and months leading up to president Barack Obama’s proposed acknowledgement of the Armenian Genocide as such, Armenians around the world were hoping he would use his prior statements calling it a genocide that would once and for all state that the Ottoman Empire was responsible for the deaths of at least 1.5 million Armenians between 1915 and 1918. Obama’s record on the subject was consistent between the time he was a senator and on his presidential campaign. He even wrote a letter to Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice while he was a senator saying that America must speak the truth and call what happened starting 94 years ago in modern day Turkey a genocide. However, there were warning sings in the month of April that Obama might back of his previous forceful and lucid statements.

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Obama’s Visit to Turkey Strong Armenian and Political Support for Genocide Recognition

April 3rd, 2009 by

By Daren Djirikian

Remarks by Secretary of State Hilary Clinton in early March signaled President Barack Obama’s intent to speak before the Turkish Parliament leaders on April 5, 2009. The projected meeting comes at an important time for formal recognition of the Armenian Genocide by the United States. During Clinton’s visit to Turkey, she stated Obama’s visit would be to “emphasize the work the U.S. and Turkey must do on behalf of peace, prosperity, and progress.” Many diasporan and native Armenians view his trip to Turkey as a way for Obama to declare that he will formally recognize the Armenian Genocide which was perpetrated by the Ottoman Empire and led to at least 1.5 Armenian deaths. Obama’s track record is strong on the Armenian Genocide. He does not see it as a “question.” It is indeed fact.

Obama’s stance on the Armenian Genocide is clearly backed by at least two speeches he made as a senator and on his presidential campaign. In January 2008, presidential candidate Obama stated “The Armenian Genocide is not an allegation, a personal opinion, or a point of view, but rather a widely documented fact supported by an overwhelming body of evidence. America deserves a leader who speaks truthfully about the Armenian Genocide and responds forcefully to all genocides. I intend to be that president.” In a statement on relations between the United States and Armenia on January 19, 2009, President Obama said “As a senator, I strongly support passage of the Armenian Genocide Resolution (H.Res.106 and S.Res.106), and as President I will recognize the Armenian Genocide.” Read the rest of this entry »

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Prime Minister of Turkey Recep Erdogan Criticizes Petition

December 29th, 2008 by

By Daren Djirikian

“I haven’t committed any crime. Why should I apologize?” asked Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan in response to an online petition in which thousands of Turks apologized for the brutal killing of hundreds of thousands of Armenians by Ottoman Turks during World War I. Erdogan rejected the petition, stating further that an apology would actually have to come from the Ottoman perpetrators of the Armenian Genocide, who in truth are responsible for killing 1.5 million Armenians during World War I, and several thousands of Armenians before and after the war. Former Turkish ambassadors support rejecting the petition by declaring it against Turkey’s national interests.

Calling the killings the “Great Catastrophe,” more than 22,000 Turks, including journalists and academics have signed the petition on the Website www.ozurdiliyoruz.com. The petition states “I cannot accept the denial of the great catastrophe of 1915
that Ottoman Armenians were subjected to. I condemn this injustice and acting on my own behalf I share the feelings of pain of my Armenian brothers.” The petition flies in the face of official Turkish policy that denies the deaths of 1.5 million Armenians during the dying days of the Ottoman Empire as genocide. The Turkish state continues to assert that the murders were the result of civil uprisings during World War I, which continues to add to Turkey’s identity crisis as it moved from an empire to a republic. An ongoing impact of Turkish denial is that Turkey and Armenia do not have a diplomatic relationship. However, in order for justice to be served in the long run, Armenians and Turkish citizens alike must continue to speak out against Turkish denial of the Armenian genocide.

Theodore Bagosora, a former army official during the Rwandan genocide was sentenced to life imprisonment on Thursday, January 18 by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. Such a conviction can give hope to Armenians worldwide that Turkey may be held responsible for apologizing for the Armenian genocide and perhaps offering reparations to descendants of Armenians killed during the genocide.

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‘I Apologize’ Website Silenced; Will the International Community Speak Up?

December 20th, 2008 by

Cynics would have argued that it was only a matter of time until the Turkish Government or hackers (or Turkish Government supported hackers) would take down a website where over 13,000 Turkish scholars, journalists and citizens issued an apology for the “great catastrophe” committed against the Armenian people from 1915-1923.

And they were right.

On Thursday, www.ozerdiliyoruz.com — initiated by three scholars — Ahmet Insel, Baskin Oran and Cengiz Aktar — and journalist, Ali Bayramoglu, went off-line, first to return with the listing of signatories removed and then – not to return at all.

Sadly, given Turkey’s history of repression of free speech (just look at any of the annual reports issued by the U.S. State Department, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Reporters without Borders, etc. to read about the sad state of affairs) this was not a surprise.

Even before the “I Apologize” petition was placed online, reports of the effort sent some members of Turkey’s Parliament into a rampage. Today’s Zaman reported that Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) deputy for Erzurum Zeki Ertugay accused the signatories of being in “a state of hysteria,” while Behiç Çelik, a MHP deputy from Mersin, stated, “It is impossible to refer to these people as intellectuals. The so-called intellectuals trying to apologize to Armenians do not know the past. They don’t know history.”

Once the petition went online to allow Turkish citizenry of good conscience to sign, higher officials in Turkey went public slamming the effort – including Turkey’s PM Recep Tayip Erdogan and Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ali Babacan.

Alone in defending the free speech right of the petitioners was Turkey’s President Abdullah Gul – who considered the petition a public relations coup – to show the world that Turkey’s freedom of speech record has improved. Gul was immediately chastised for not denouncing the effort, with opponents accusing his mother of being of Armenian heritage and the Gul family threatening to sue the accusers of slander!

And what of the courageous folks who started the petition in the first place? And the 13,000 who added their names to the website? Who is going to stand up for them?

Now, to be clear, the petition was not perfect. The authors stopped short of properly characterizing the centrally planned and systematically executed campaign of deportations, starvation and murder of 1.5 million Armenians as ‘genocide.’ Nor did they give the full scope of the campaign, which ranged from 1915-1923.

But these intellectuals spoke out in an atmosphere where a website gets hacked and a journalist is shot dead in broad daylight for speaking about the Armenian Genocide.

This is where the United States and the international community need to be vocal – to speak the truth about the Armenian Genocide and give Turkey’s civil society some breathing room to help their country confront their genocidal past.

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In Lemkin’s Shadow: International Court Convicts Rwandan Genocide Perpetrators

December 18th, 2008 by

by Aleek Kahramanian 

On Thursday, December 18, the International Criminal Tribunal sentenced Theoneste Bagosora, Aloys Ntabakuze, and Anatole Nsengiyumva to life in prison for the Rwandan Genocide. As reported in the New York Times, the United Nations sentenced the officers to “life imprisonment for ‘genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.’” The 1994 Rwandan genocide left an estimated 800,000 people dead, and many more displaced and as refugees.

Not only has the recognition of the Rwandan Genocide been a struggle, but the prosecution of the leaders behind the Tutsi genocide has been long overdue. Punishing the perpetrators of these crimes against humanity is an integral component in preventing future atrocities. The fact that these masterminds of genocide have been able to live freely and continue their mission for so long is a stain on humanity.

Last week, the 60th anniversary commemoration of the United Nation’s Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide — the landmark law spearheaded by Raphael Lemkin — reiterated the moral imperative of punishing leaders who commit such crimes. The fact that the leaders of the Ottoman Turkish Empire went unpunished for the Armenian Genocide only paved the way for Hitler to execute his plans in Nazi Germany. And it has given the green light to successive Turkish governments deny the crimes of their predecessors, creating regional instability some 90 years after the fact.

Do we not celebrate great leaders for their good work? Shouldn’t there be an equal response to terrible leaders who commit such crimes? Today we saw a modicum of justice in the case of the Rwandan Genocide. Tomorrow – perhaps justice for the Armenian Genocide and the end to all genocides.

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Turkeys PM Slams Petition: “I find it unreasonable to apologize when there is no reason.”

December 17th, 2008 by

erdogan.jpgTurkish Prime Minister Recep Tayip Erdogan criticized a campaign apologizing for the “Great Catastrophe” committed against their Armenian citizenry in 1915.

“They might have committed such a crime themselves, as they are apologizing now. Republic of Turkey does not have such a concern. One can apologize if there is a crime necessitating such an apology. Neither my country, nor my nation has such concerns,” said Erdogan.

Erdogan, of course, is famous for a Washington, DC, National Press Club speech, delivered in November, 2007, where he not only denied the Armenian Genocide but claimed that Turkey’s Armenian citizenry was given “pocket money” (khashlukh) for their move to safer territories in 1915 — mass-deportations into the Syrian desert, which resulted in the death of 1.5 million Armenians. His complete speech can be viewed here.

The online petition, titled “I Apologize” was initiated by three scholars — Ahmet Insel, Baskin Oran and Cengiz Aktar — and journalist, Ali Bayramoglu, and currently has over 11,000 signatories. It has been the target of derision by former Turkish diplomats and a number of top Turkish Parliamentarians, claiming that the authors and cosigners are insulting “Turkishness.”

European Armenian Federation for Justice and Democracy Chairwoman Hilda Tchoboian has called on European Parliament officials to speak out in support of Turkey’s civil society leaders and their efforts to help the Turkish nation face its genocidal past.

Meanwhile, a Fresno Bee editorial today, once again, got it right.

It isn’t the official recognition of the genocide that Armenians have long sought — in fact, the apology doesn’t use the word “genocide.” But making the gesture comes at some risk to the signers — others have been prosecuted for similar statements, and Hrant Dink, an ethnic Armenian journalist, was killed in 2007 for expressing the truth.

And truth it is: Some 1.5 million Armenians were murdered in the waning years of World War I and thereafter, as the Ottoman Empire collapsed. The killings were planned and orchestrated, the 20th century’s first genocide. Armenians and others who value truth and justice have sought recognition of those crimes for years.

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www.ozurdiliyoruz.com vs. www.ozurdilemiyorum.net

December 16th, 2008 by

Signatories on a petition initiated by Turkish academics and journalists apologizing for the “Great Catastrophe” committed against the Armenians in 1915 passed the 8000 mark today and continues to grow. The petition, titled simply, “I Apologize” (www.ozurdiliyoruz.com) states:

“My conscience does not attempt that (we) remain insensitive toward and deny the Great Catastrophe that the Ottoman Armenians were subjected in 1915. I reject this injustice, share in the feelings and pain of my Armenian brothers, and apologize to them.”

The statement, while falling short of properly characterizing the brutal slaughter of 1.5 million Armenians by the Ottoman Turkish authorities from 1915-1923, shows progress in Turkey’s civil society efforts to encourage Turkish authorities to deal honestly and truthfully with its genocidal past.

So leave it to the blind-followers of Turkey’s multi-million dollar, international genocide denial campaign to launch the rival site – you guessed it – the “I Do Not Apologize” campaign (http://www.ozurdilemiyorum.net/).

Yes, these brave souls (just over 600 to date) have taken the bold step to refute the Armenian Genocide, using the same old tired refrains (“Allegations of Armenian genocide are racist and dishonest history. . .,” you get the idea.)  It is posted prominently on an Armenian Genocide denial page — Armenian Genocide Resource Center — the name twisted and coopted for the purposes of misleading innocent internet researchers and bloggers with genocide denial propoganda.

But just a few paragraphs in you realize that they have drunk the kool-aid. The Turkish Government kool-aid – a poison dispensed by mandate to schools throughout Turkey, by edict of the Education Ministry. They echo the calls by the 60 former diplomats, including many current Turkish parliamentary leaders, who reject Turkey’s civil society efforts to take on the taboo of the Armenian Genocide head on.

And so the speakers of truth and deniers of genocide go head to head. But, where will the U.S. and the international community come down? In support of academics risking their lives to eventually face the truth of the Armenian Genocide head on? Or in support of Turkish government hardliners hoping to quash even a mention of the atrocities.

Over 200 House members cosponsored Genocide legislation last year, adopted but House Foreign Affairs Committee, but blocked by a Bush Administration eager to kowtow to Turkey’s threats. President-elect Obama, on numerous occasions, pledged to properly recognize the Armenian Genocide. In support of an evolving genocide affirmation movement in Turkey, President-elect Obama, Senate Majority Leader Reid and Speaker Pelosi have a rare opportunity to speak out – in clear and unequivocal terms.

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Civil Society is Speaking, but is the Turkish Government Listening?

December 15th, 2008 by

by Aleek Kahramanian

The definition of an apology is straightforward:

“A written or spoken expression of one’s regret, remorse, or sorrow for having insulted, failed, injured, or wronged another.”

Everyone has apologized for a wrong doing to someone at one point or another in their lives. But an apology issued on December 15th by members of Turkey’s civil society, caused a lot of controversy.

According to the Associated Press, the apology, issued as an Internet petition which has gathered as many as 2,500 signatories, states :

“My conscience does not attempt that (we) remain insensitive toward and deny the Great Catastrophe that the Ottoman Armenians were subjected in 1915. I reject this injustice, share in the feelings and pain of my Armenian brothers, and apologize to them.”

For the record, it should be noted that the statement falls short from properly characterizing the centrally planned and systematically executed annihilation of 1.5 million Armenians from 1915-1923 as genocide. In fact, according to Hetq Online “Aytekin Yıldız, the coordinator of the Confrontation Association (Yüzleşme Derneği), pointed out that the Armenian community was already aware of the fact that there are many people in Turkey of conscience, and the important thing was not to declare what is already known. “It is a good starting point, but not enough. Firstly, what do they mean by ‘great disaster’? Let us name it; it is genocide. Secondly, the state has to apologize,” Yıldız stressed.”

Nevertheless, the effort, spearheaded by scholars Ahmet Insel, Baskin Oran and Cengiz Aktar and journalist Ali Bayramoglu, marks significant progress in Turkish civil society discussion of this issue. Not surprisingly we see similar calls from Armenia, with 300 intellectuals cosigning a public letter to President Gul, which noted that “modern Turkey bears ‘hereditary responsibility’ for what they consider a ‘monumental crime against humanity’ and calls on the Turkish President to finally recognize the Armenian Genocide.”

So, civil society appears to be making great strides in Turkey. But is the Turkish Government listening?

Early indications say no.

Hurriyet Daily News reported, today, that 60 retired ambassadors and diplomats condemned the Turkish scholars’ apology, noting.

“Such an incorrect and one-sided attempt would mean disrespecting our history and betraying our people who lost heir lives in the violent attacks of the terror organizations in the final days of the Ottoman Empire, as well as after, during, the formation of the Republic.”

Top Turkish Parliamentarians are also condemning the statement, calling it an insult to Turkish history. Devlet Bahceli, the leader of the Nationalist Action Party said: “No one has the right to insult our ancestors, to present them as criminals and to ask for an apology.”
Turkey’s civil society is finally catching up to what the international community has been saying all along. The Armenian Genocide, and in fact all genocides, must be recognized to prevent future such atrocities. Some 20 countries have recognized the Armenian Genocide. Forty-one of the fifty U.S. States have issued proclamations or passed resolutions recognizing the Armenian Genocide. President Reagan recognized the Armenian Genocide, only to have subsequent U.S. presidents succumb to Turkish government threats pending proper U.S. reaffirmation.

And now it is time for the U.S. and rest of the international community to make a decision. Stand with Turkish Government officials continuing a 93-year campaign of Genocide denial? Or support the voices of truth in Turkey, as they struggle toward Armenian Genocide recognition.

The right answer is obvious.

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Change we can believe in?

December 12th, 2008 by

by Aleek Kahramanian

Gul-Sarkisyan: real change or just another Turkish ruse?With 2008 coming to an end, it is only natural to look back and remember noteworthy events – Obama’s victory, eight Olympic gold medals for Michael Phelps in Beijing, a warming of Turkey – Armenia relations. Yes indeed, times are a-changing.

Or, are they?

Take the Turkey-Armenia case, for instance. This past September, Turkey’s president Abdullah Gul accepted an invitation from his Armenian counterpart Serzh Sargsyan to watch a soccer match between the two countries. It was a bold move for Armenia – a victim of genocide at the hands of Ottoman Turkish authorities from 1915-1923 and a Turkish government imposed blockade since 1993. Sargsyan’s invitation could bring about greater regional stability and peace – if the Turkish Government emerged as an honest negotiating partner.

And that’s a big if.

Immediately after Pres. Gul returned to Ankara, his Foreign Ministry team was fast at work issuing statements that, with this new “soccer diplomacy” in progress, countries worldwide should refrain from speaking about the Armenian Genocide – threatening that speaking the truth about this crime against humanity would somehow upset the delicate negotiations.

Just today, the Turkish Parliament “urged the parliaments of third party countries not to disrupt the process of rapprochement between Turkey and Armenia with efforts to recognize the 1915-dated events as “genocide”. “Politicians and parliaments cannot judge history, ” said Parliament Speaker Köksal Toptan.

And what about the vicious media attacks against a handful of Turkish scholars who issued an apology for the “great catastrophe” committed against the Armenians? And, Pres. Gul’s announced plans to pressure Israeli President Shimon Peres to enlist the support of U.S. Jewish groups against Armenian Genocide legislation – forcing the victims of Holocaust to become complicit in genocide denial?

So what’s really going?

Could it be that Team Turkey is simply concerned that real change in the United States – the election of a President committed to ending genocide in Darfur and calling for Armenian Genocide recognition – would further isolate Turkey in its genocide denial?

Or, perhaps Team Turkey, through the pretense of warmer ties with Armenia, seeks simply to cover up the fact that its European Union accession efforts are floundering due to an unwillingness to bring about real human rights reform, stop the cultural and economic repression of the Kurds, or end their occupation of Cyprus.

One thing is certain. After 93 years of Turkey’s genocide denial, it’s tough for international observers not to be cynical about Turkey’s commitment to truth and human rights.

And the Gul Administration’s actions since his much-hyped visit to Armenia just reinforces the point.

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The Palin Syndrome at the Rumi Forum

December 11th, 2008 by

by Aleek Kahramanian

Maverick, Maverick, Maverick, Maverick. . . . Did you get that?If we learned anything from the Republican VP nominee Sarah Palin’s big book of campaigning, it’s this. If you script yourself and repeat the same message over and over again, however ridiculous – some percentage of people are bound to believe you.

Today’s speaker at Washington DC’s pseudo-think tank, the Rumi Forum – Dr. Soner Cagaptay – clearly subscribed to the Palin doctrine. Call Turkey a “liberal democracy” often enough and the 40 or so attendees at the lecture titled “What Should President-elect Obama’s Priorities be for Turkey?” would buy in.

According to Cagaptay, who directs the Turkish Research Program at The Washington Institute,

“Turkey functions and behaves like a European country. Let’s elaborate on that, liberal European democracy that respects the traditions of liberal democracy which includes the idea of a secular government and a fully liberal society.”“This would mean that Obama would be 100% supportive of the idea of Turkey functioning as a democracy and 100% of Turkey functioning as a liberal democracy. By liberal, I mean, to use an analogy of full manual liberal in the sense of a country which promotes liberal values for all of its citizens and inhabitants and perhaps goes through a period of further democratic liberalization as with the EU reforms we saw from 1990-2004.”

Dr. Soner CagaptayGet it folks? Let’s say it together.

“Turkey is a liberal democracy.”

“Turkey is a liberal democracy.”

“Turkey is a liberal democracy.”

Convinced yet?

Well, the vast majority of European Parliament members don’t seem to be. They’ve been following Turkey’s political reform record as part of that country’s ongoing bid to join the E.U. and the accounts are dismal.

The draft report considered this week by the EP Foreign Affairs Committee, presented by Ria Oomen-Ruijten (European Popular Party, Conservative, Netherlands), expresses “concern to see in Turkey, for the third consecutive year, a continuous slowdown of the reform process” despite the strong mandate of the AKP government.

Oomen-Ruijten goes on to note that “freedom of expression and freedom of the press are still not fully protected in Turkey”, that the amendment to Article 301 of the Penal Code was not sufficient, as people continue to be prosecuted” and it is now calling for the repeal of this article. It regrets also “the frequent website bans, the extent of which draws Turkey away from standards of a democratic, pluralistic society”.

But maybe that’s just European bias.

What about human rights groups in the U.S. – surely they will back Cagaptay’s assertion that Turkey is a “liberal democracy”.

Not according to U.S.-based monitoring group Human Rights Watch, which has published a report critical of Turkey, documenting a rise in police violence that has gone unpunished. Following meetings with Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister Cemil Cicek, who is in charge of improving his country’s human rights record, HRW’s Director Kenneth Roth stated “it was not clear to me whether he [Cicek] was responsible for protecting human rights or violating them, because he brought an attitude that was utterly contemptuous of the concerns we are raising.”

All of this makes for a very nervous European Union, concerned about admitting a country that denies genocide, represses fundamental human rights and is taking little or no action to reform.

Perhaps the Rumi Forum should put Dr. Cagaptay’s message on YouTube and, with repetition, convince the Turkish nation of the benefits of actually becoming a “liberal democracy.”

Of course, that’s only if the Turkish authorities actually lift the ban on YouTube.

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