Armed with a Turkish version of what happened to Armenians early in the 20th century under Ottoman rule, five members of the Turkish Grand National Assembly came to Washington to lobby Congress this week against passage of a proposed House resolution endorsing charges of genocide by Turkish soldiers against Armenian civilians.
This is the first time the Turkish parliament takes such an
initiative. It is an all-party national delegation because we realized
that what is in the making may have a very undesirable effect,
warned Mehmet Ali Irtemcelik in an interview.
Armenians have for years charged that Turkish soldiers slaughtered 1.5
million men, women and children gathered in churches and along roads
as they fled across eastern Turkey between 1915 and 1923. The Ottoman
Empire became Turkey in 1923. Ross Vartian, executive director of the
Armenian Assembly of America, a political action group, said the House
vote would be for
America's continued moral leadership in the new
Irtemcelik and his colleagues retort that Armenians also killed Turkish troops at the time, when the Ottoman Empire was under siege from Russia as well as other armies on other fronts during World War I.
There is an effort to categorize tragic events toward the end of
the Ottoman Empire as genocide, which means a state must have taken a
decision to exterminate a group of people systematically, said
Irtemcelik, a former human rights minister and now a legislator from
Istanbul for the Motherland Party. He stressed there is no
documentation that a decision to commit genocide was ever made, even
when reminded of first-person accounts from Armenian survivors.
A colleague, Temel Karamollaoglu, said a couple hundred thousand Turks
were killed by Armenians. Others in the delegation said this has never
been an issue because Turks want to
bury and forget the past.
Yes, yes, massacres happened on both sides. When things get out of
control, these things happen, Irtemcelik conceded.
United States had been occupied on three different fronts and certain
people from different ethnic origin were responsible for subversive
activities in the rear of your armies, what kind of decision would you
have made? You might have decided on genocide or emptied that region
and relocated those people. What happened was the alternative to
genocide, he said of the cleansing of eastern Turkey of its
When prodded about whether the relocation was forced by Turkish
soldiers, he replied:
Yes, of course. The delegation displayed
books including accounts of rebel soldiers led by an Armenian general
shooting Ottoman soldiers in the back.
There was an uprising in the eastern part of Turkey. People living
there became enemies. There was killing on both sides. It was
instigated by the Armenians, Karamollaoglu insisted. He said
Armenian officers had started a rebellion and began collaborating
actively with the Russian army, so the Ottoman government made the
decision to relocate those living in eastern Anatolia to the southern
part of the empire in Syria.
A good number of Ottoman Armenians reached Syria, and not a single
Armenian in other parts of Turkey was hurt, interjected Tayyibe
If you had grown up in Turkey, you would have heard our
stories. This resolution is digging up things we did not do. This
country, the United States, which we have been loyal to, has called on
us to help during the Gulf War, the crisis in Kosovo, and now they do
this to us..
My grandfather was in the Ottoman army, and I refuse to believe he
was involved in something like this, press counselor Namik Tan
This is not part of our past.
The five Turkish legislators are scheduled to return home today. The House resolution, which was voted out of committee Tuesday, calls on the president to formally recognize the deaths as the Armenian genocide.