Armenians say US failed them

Victims of one of the worst crimes of our age.

January 26, 2003
Source: BBC News (London)

By Fergal Keane

President Bush is counting his allies in Europe and the Middle East in preparation for conflict in Iraq. One of the key US allies is Turkey.

But the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of Armenians in 1915 - some estimates run to more than a million - still troubles America's diplomatic relations with Turkey.

Armenian communities have long pressed America to recognise the slaughter in Ottoman Turkey as genocide.

But the Turks have always denied genocide and the scale of killing.

Turkey says the deaths were the consequence of civil war.

America regards Turkey as being strategically vital in any potential conflict with Iraq.

The Western allies will need Turkish bases from which to launch air and land strikes.

Turkish politicians have consistently urged America not to recognise the Armenian claims.

The Armenians feel they have been failed by President Bush, and President Clinton before him, in not already branding the slaughter as genocide - as they both had pledged to do.

'Systematic extermination'

The Armenians were victims of one of the worst crimes of our age.

Militant nationalists, who ruled Ottoman Turkey at the time, had long regarded the Armenians as a treacherous minority.

As the Ottoman Turks prepared for entry to the First World War, they started the deportation of the Armenians from their traditional lands.
Thriving Armenian communities vanished. Those who made it to America were the lucky few.

But many thousands were either left to starve in the mountains or, as Professor Halil Bergtai explained, "They fell victim to systematic extermination by vengeful tribes acting as government agents."

The Armenians have always maintained these actions were a calculated genocide.

However, former Turkish MP, Tayyibe Gulek rejects the accusations, saying: "Accusing people of genocide, of wanting to eradicate a whole group of people simply because of who they are, is absolutely incorrect, inaccurate and we feel very insulted."

American warnings

Turkey has never denied forcing the Armenians out but says this did not amount to genocide.
Filed away in the Ottoman archives is an extraordinary document.

Signed in 1915 by the government's cabinet, it is an official order for the deportation of all Armenians.

Men, women and children were all classified as the enemy and were to be driven out.

The American Ambassador in Constantinople at the time, Henry Morgenthau, urgently contacted the Secretary of State in Washington.

He wrote: "Deportation of and excesses against peaceful Armenians is increasing, and from harrowing reports of eye witnesses it appears that a campaign of race extermination is in progress under a pretext of reprisal against rebellion".
It is clear that America was made aware of the extent of the atrocities at an early stage.

Presidents' dilemma

Just prior to the American presidential elections in 2000, President Clinton shocked the majority of Congress.

He asked the Speaker of the House to withdraw a bill that would have recognised the Armenian slaughter as "genocide".

His reason was for "grave national security and concerns, endangering American lives".

But, Turkish Ambassador, Solmaz Unaydin said: "I think it was President Clinton's very good foresight, appreciation and evaluation of Turkey's position in the region, and the value they attach to our 'friendship and collaboration' as a Nato ally."

Now, with war looming against Iraq, President Bush needs Turkey even more than his predecessor.
This has meant breaking a pledge he made to the Armenian community.

In the run-up to the presidential elections, President Bush stated: "The Armenians were subjected to a genocidal campaign...if elected president, I would ensure our nation properly recognises the tragic suffering of the Armenian people".

Bedros Gezoulin is a 96-year-old survivor of the slaughter who vividly remembers the massacres and starvation.

He said: "After I die, I will be finished. But I will wait for that day. I will wait till I die to hear them say: 'yes we have done it'." But with President Bush dependent on Turkish support the survivors may be waiting for a long time.

Correspondent: Armenia - The Betrayed, was broadcast on Sunday, 26 January, 2003 on BBC Two at 1915 GMT.

Reporting from Turkey for Correspondent