Monday, January 12, 2009

October 2007: House Resolution 106

On Wednesday October 10th, the United States House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee voted 27-21 to send House Resolution 106 to the full House for a vote. This kind of thing happens all the time. Bills and resolutions are crafted, debated, and voted on in committee every day. This is the business of legislation. It is what our elected officials do.

Yet, this resolution, this HR 106, was significant to me, significant to Armenians in the United States, more so than any other under consideration this year and maybe even this century. It is the Resolution entitled: Affirmation of the United States Record on the Armenian Genocide Resolution.

The passing of this Resolution, only through committee mind you, made National and International News. The government of Turkey went all out to defeat HR 106 in the Foreign Affairs Committee. They had spent millions on PR firms, one of which employed former Congressman and Presidential hopeful, Dick Gephardt. President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice spoke out publicly against it. These two, members of the Joint Chiefs, and Turkish officials, personally called Congressmen on the Foreign Affairs Committee to defeat this Resolution. It passed anyway.

Normally, I would have addressed this issue in my April letter. This month is a true exception. The issue was huge for any and all Armenians that remotely pay heed to our heritage. C-Span was running non-stop in our house that Wednesday and Thursday of that week. There were Op-Ed pieces in all the major newspapers both pro and con. The internet was abuzz with articles informing us and others beseeching us to call congressmen to thank those that supported HR 106 and to encourage them to stay the course given the extreme pressure to either drop this Resolution or to vote against it if it ever comes to a vote.

Actually, this year is exceptional beginning with the assassination of Hrant Dink back in January and the opening of the Holy Cross Church on the Island of Aghtamar in Lake Van in March. Both of these events were subjects of my April letter. I had no choice but to write about this latest issue in this letter.

So, what is this Resolution about? HR 106, Affirmation of the United
States Record on the Armenian Genocide Resolution, states that:
The House of Representatives--
(1) calls upon the President to ensure that the foreign policy of the United States reflects appropriate understanding and sensitivity concerning issues related to human rights, ethnic cleansing, and genocide documented in the United States record relating to the Armenian Genocide and the consequences of the failure to realize a just resolution; and
(2) calls upon the President in the President's annual message commemorating the Armenian Genocide issued on or about April 24, to accurately characterize the systematic and deliberate annihilation of 1,500,000 Armenians as genocide and to recall the proud history of United States intervention in opposition to the Armenian Genocide.

It is worth reading the entire text of the Resolution. The findings provide the underpinning and facts, acknowledged by those that wrote and sponsored the resolution, as to why this resolution is important. Included in these Findings include:

1. Acknowledgement that the leaders of the time, Talaat – Minister of the Interior, Enver – Minister of War, and Jemal – Minister of the Navy, were all convicted of war crimes for what happened

2. Two million Armenians were deported resulting in the death of one and half million.

3. This crime, this deportation, is in fact Genocide and characterized as such by
Rafael Lemkin who coined the term in 1944.

4. Noted the efforts of the Honorable Henry Morganthau, then Ambassador from the US to Turkey, to acknowledge this crime and his efforts to get the US and other
Western Governments to stop it.

5. There are thirty such points in all that really summarize the issue and justification for why the US needs to recognize what happened as a Genocide.
There is certainly a frustration with Armenians to the support that our Executive Branch gave to our ally Turkey. Turkey did recall, symbolically, their Ambassador to the US. That was predicted. They did the same to France when they passed a similar resolution.

Worse, however, is the gun Turkey put to the US head. Before the Foreign Relations Committee vote, there were reports that the Turks were considering invading Northern Iraq to deal with Kurdish insurgents into Turkey. Southeastern Turkey is heavily Kurdish. Kurds have been persecuted. Their language and culture have been repressed. They have over the past thirty or so years become revolutionary. The PKK is the party (think PLO) fighting for Kurdish rights and self-determination within or independent of Turkey. Of late, they have taken refuge in and use Northern Iraq as their base of operations. This area of Iraq, oil rich, is essentially a Kurdish run part of Iraq, a Kurdish autonomous region within Iraq. The Turks are afraid that if this region becomes a separate country, the Kurds in Southeastern Turkey would want to join them.

Upon HR 106 passing through the Foreign Relations Commmittee, the Turkish Parliament immediately debated and passed a their own resolution granting permission for the Armed Forces to invade Iraq. Unbelieveable.

As I write this letter, the news regarding Turkey has certainly moved away from anything Armenian related. It is now about the Turkish Army fighting the Kurds in southeastern Turkey.

As I type this paragraph, it is Sunday evening, October 28th. I am in Atlanta watching the fourth game of the World Series. I looked up Turkey in Google News. The first article that popped up was from the Guardian Unlimited entitled: Turkey Kills 20 Kurdish rebels as hope fades for a peaceful solution.

Iraq has sent a delegation to Ankara to no avail. Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari has accused Turkey of not seeking a peaceful solution. Massoud Barzani, leader of the Iraqi Kurds, has stated that "It was obvious that Turkey decided even before the delegation arrived that they would not accept any kind of peaceful solution." There is no mention of anything related to Armenians or HR 106 in any of these articles. It is a win-win for the Turkish Government. HR 106 is out of the news, the passage of it certainly diminished, and they are on the move to solve their Kurdish problem. Mike Keefe, of the Denver Post, captured this very well in his October 18th cartoon at the top of this posting. (Thank you Mike Keefe for your permission to post this cartoon!)

What baffles me is why the Turkish Government is so paranoid about this issue? They pay millions for lobbyists to fight against the use of the G-word and to fight Resolutions like HR 106 in the United States and other countries.

As I have stated before, I would think Turkey should recognize what happened as the crime it is and reach an agreement with the Republic of Armenia, their neighbor. It would be cheaper in the long run and would enhance their reputation in the international community. They could make some trade concessions and maybe even guarantee the sovereignty of Armenia. I think they would not even have to give up any lands though the return of the ancient city of Ani which borders Armenia would certainly help seal the deal. I still think they could invite Armenians back to live in cities we once called home in Eastern Turkey. It would be a magnanimous gesture and I am almost certain very few would even consider taking them up on it.

I have read articles that talk about the Turkish psyche. There seems to be a national paranoia that the west wants to carve up what was left of the Ottoman Empire. They view this genocide issue as part of that on-going fight with the west.

By admitting to the crimes of ninety years ago by a previous regime would end all of this and allow both countries to move on. They missed the golden opportunity to do just this when Armenia first secured their independence with the fall of the Soviet Union in 1990.
I got an e-mail as part of the Armenian listserv administered by Professor Muge Gocek of the University of Michigan. This listing was an article from the Zaman Today, entitled The Armenian Psyche: Trans-Generational Transmission by Dogu Ergil. Ergil’s main premise was that without closure, the victimized generation “transfers these unfinished psychological tasks to future generations.” The tasks are to get resolution, to get closure.

…it seems seeking peace of mind and a diplomatic peace with Turkey by the Armenians -- especially those living in the diaspora, who have little connection
with the needs of citizens of the Republic of Armenia -- will not be that easy until and unless the mourning process is healthily concluded. Of course there is plenty to be done by the Turks to put the minds and souls of the Armenians to rest by re-evaluating their common past. This has to be done not by the politicians but rather by the people who are in direct contact, trying to connect their futures.
Closure: Issa Boulos is a well known oud player and composer in Chicago. He has organized a University of Chicago based ensemble of professional and amateur musicians and singers that perform music of the Middle East. They meet once a week to practice and give several concerts a year. I would love to be part of such a group but for the fact that they practice at such an inconvenient time, mid-week late afternoon. I just cannot make the rehearsals.

Two weeks ago, Issa sent out an e-mail announcing the formation of a Turkish Classical and Folk Ensemble, Turk Sanat Musiki Sevenler Dernegi, that practices every Thursday evening from 8:30 – 10:30 pm. This sounds much more doable. I inquired further and actually talked to a Ms. Meltam Tunar on the phone.

Meltam was quite pleasant. We realized that we both loved the music and she was excited to meet anyone that shared this passion. I noticed her last name, Tunar, and commented that it is the same last name of the famous Turk-Gypsy clarinet virtuoso and composer, Şukru Tunar. She responded, “you are knowledgeable of this music. No, I am not related to Şukru, but you will be amazed to know that my father’s name is Şukru.” I thought that was pretty cool.
I was really thinking about joining their group. It would have been fun. It would have been a good meld of our cultures. It would have been a re-uniting of cultures that overlap more than either side wants to admit.

Then I asked her what this TACA building is where the rehearsals would be held. She told me it was the Turkish American Cultural Alliance Building in Chicago. OK… where else should such a group meet. I would have preferred a neutral building but OK.

Meltam told me that Saturday, November 10th would be their first concert. The Turkish Counsul would preside over the event which is to commemorate the birthday of Kemal Attaturk, the founder of the Republic of Turkey. This last bit of information, simply took the wind out of my sails. There was no way I could participate in such a thing, no matter how much the I loved the music.

I took a poll of several of my Armenian friends and family. Everyone said something to the equivalent, “Gee whiz, I don’t know how you could perform at such an event. You just can’t.” I even asked my musician friends. These are buddies that love Turkish-Armenian music so much that if they could make a decent living at it, would play full time. Even these guys grimaced, slowly shook their heads, and in low voices muttered “you just can’t do that… you can’t.” I knew that. I felt that. I will pass on what sounds like it should have been enjoyable and perhaps enriching experience.

That is the problem with this Genocide issue between Armenians and Turks. There is no closure. I would like to see a time where I could feel comfortable joining such a group. I am not talking reparations. I am talking about resolution to our history where the peoples can meet and celebrate the joint culture without all of this hanging over our heads and making such experiences uncomfortable. I do not see it happening soon. Pity.

In the October 29th USA Today, there was an article about a concert in that took place Sunday, October 28th in the Zion Presbyterian Church in Columbia, Tennessee. 83 year old, Andrew Frierson an opera singer with the New York Civic Opera gave was the performer. Frierson is black. Frierson’s grandfather and great-grandfather were slaves owned by one Thomas J. Frierson who owned the Maury Farm outside of Columbia. The concert was the idea of Elizabeth Queener, the great-great-grandaughter of Thomas J. Frierson.

For this concert, the black part of the audience, many named Frierson, sat on the main floor where the whites would sit back in the days of slavery. The white audience sat in the balcony where the slaves had been relegated. This symbolic gesture was to pay tribute to the descendents of slaves their ancestors had once owned. It was a symbol of closure.
Andrew Frierson said, “Slavery is a part of all our history. We must understand and acknowledge where we came from in order to move forward.” Pete Frierson, another black attendee said, “it’s good that we’ve gotten to the point in this country that we can talk and communicate to one another.”

This concert in Tennessee is part of the process of closure. It is the result of other acts of recognition and closure. That is what Armenians and Turks need.

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