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Turkey's Role in War Gives Hope to Armenians

April 24, 2003|Michael Krikorian | Times Staff Writer

Turkey's refusal to allow United States troops to be based there during the Iraq war has renewed hope among Armenian Americans that the Bush administration will formally recognize the 1915 Armenian genocide.

Armenian Americans, who today commemorate the 88th anniversary of the genocide, have asked for decades that the U.S. officially acknowledge that more than 1 million Armenians were killed by the Turkish Ottoman government during World War I.

A congressional letter calling on the president to properly acknowledge the genocide in his statement of remembrance today is backed by 167 of the 435 members of the House of Representatives, according to Armenian American organizations.

Thousands from Los Angeles' Armenian American community, which numbers more than 300,000, are expected to join a commemorative march today on the streets of East Hollywood.

"I think the biggest difference this year is Turkey's behavior," said Ross Vartian, executive director of the Armenian Assembly of America, a lobbying group based in Washington, D.C. "When the Turks rejected the American request to allow troops, there were people in Congress who were critical of Turkey for the first time."

Armenian Americans have long contended that the genocide has not been formally recognized by the U.S. because of Washington's close ties with Turkey, a NATO ally.

Turkey does not accept responsibility for the genocide. Although a spokesman for the Turkish Consulate in Los Angeles conceded that there were "suffering and tragedy" during World War I, he said it was the result of fighting on both sides.

"There was never any government action by the Ottoman Empire to destroy the Armenian nation," he said. "During the war, people died on both sides."

The consulate spokesman, who asked that his name not be used, said that Turkey's decision to deny access to the foreign troops in the war with Iraq should not be viewed in any way as a reason to support the Armenian genocide resolution.

"From the outset, Turkey has been a member of the coalition and has been with the United States," said the spokesman.

But Armenian American organizations say Turkey's refusal has invigorated efforts to get the genocide resolution passed.

"We've seen an increase of activism across the country due largely in part to Turkey's unwillingness to support the United States-led war in Iraq," said Matthew Ash, deputy director of the Armenian Assembly.

An Armenian diplomat who asked that his name not be printed said he was pleased with the Turkish government's decision to deny access to coalition troops.

"I think everyone now knows the Turks' true colors," he said. "They are all about money, not friendship."

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