LA Times, Transcript of ATAA meeting,0,1996113.story
From the Los Angeles Times

A partial transcript the Assembly of Turkish American Associations’ meeting with The Times editorial board.
April 2, 2008

Leaders of an umbrella group for Turkish-American groups stopped by The Times recently to discuss the debate over the Armenian genocide, Turkey's membership in the European Union and quashing Kurdish separatism in northern Iraq. Below are highlights from that meeting.

Armenian genocide

Tim Cavanaugh: The L.A. Times is on record as supporting the term genocide to describe whatever it is that happened in the early part of the 20th century. We'd be interested in hearing your views on that.

Nurten Ural, president, Assembly of Turkish American Associations: Sure. Well, as far as the events of 1915, of course we do not like to call it a genocide because it was not a genocide. We do agree that many Armenians died at that time; we feel very bad about that, but many if not more Turks and Muslims died at the time. It was a time of war, and in war, people die. But we really think Turkey's position on this is — Turkey has opened its archives, and they say, let's get all the historians, open up all the archives, let them dive into the archives, research what really happened, and everybody will accept whatever happened.

What we don't like is having the politicians make history or set history when they're not that knowledgeable about history. If the historian part doesn't work, let's take it to court — have the international court get historians or whatever to see what happened in those days. As Turkish Americans, we're very strong on this, that, you know, as far as the fact, let's find out what the real facts are instead of what we want them to be or what others want them to be …

Cavanaugh: What kind of discussions do you have with Armenian groups, Armenian-American groups in particular?

Ural: Well, we try to have discussions … We invite them always to debates; in fact, some of my best friends are Armenians. Secretly, they come to us; openly, publicly, they refuse to come to us … To us, we have the same culture as the Armenians: We have the same music, we have the same foods — we should get along … We need to get this out into the open, we need to get past it, we need to go on.

The thing that personally … upsets me about this whole thing is teaching children hatred. In this time in the world, we don't need that. We need to teach them peace and to get along with each other.

Cavanaugh: They can come in and make their own case … but just as a question: What you hear from Armenian groups is, you know, when you say debate, the response to that is, "Well, we don't ask Jewish groups to come in and debate German groups about whether the Holocaust happened. And why should we be subject to that … sort of self justification?"

Ural: It has been proven that the Holocaust happened; it has not been proven that the genocide has happened …

Ahmet Atahan, president , Association of Turkish Americans of Southern California: If you're talking in the streets [to] an Anatolian-born Armenian or American-born Armenian, their views reflect, I think, a little bit different than the political side of the whole issue. So when you say Armenians, yes, we do talk with Armenians. Yes, we do work with them, we live with them, we entertain ourselves with them. But when it comes to the political angle, some sectors [are] driving the whole issue. It's different than the common Armenian that's really thinking in a different wavelength …

Cavanaugh: We had the Armenian prime minister in a few months back, and he suggested … we're talking about Armenian Americans, right? Because … the prime minister's discussed the idea that this is something that gets people exercised more in the diaspora than it does in Armenia itself …

Allison Block, advocacy director, ATAA: There's no question about that. In fact, there are more [Armenians] living outside of Armenia than in Armenia proper. In fact, Armenia proper is suffering incredibly because of this. As you are aware, the border between Turkey and Armenia is closed right now. It was closed for obviously a different issue, but such political tension has caused Turkey to keep the border shut … Should this issue be brought to Congress and decided upon in Congress, that indeed the United States recognizes this is genocide, I think you'll find that the border will stay shut and Armenia itself as a country will suffer even more. Turkish businesspeople and Armenian businesspeople are already trying to find ways to cooperate because … there is no question that this is a diaspora issue …

Cavanaugh: How does this impact you guys as Turkish Americans? These are international issues that are for other people to settle, so where do you come into this?

Ural: Personally, my niece came from school crying — well, my brother had to go get her from school — when an eight-year-old girl tells my niece, "Your grandfather killed by grandfather," and my niece has no idea what they're talking about … That is what we don't like to see, when our children [are] attacked in school for no reason whatsoever, for a reason that they're not even aware of … That should not be encourage by parents; that should not be taught by parents …

Cavanaugh: Is this formed to some degree by the fact that the United States at the time was among the few patrons the Armenians had? … Is that something that sort of structurally works against you guys, that there is this long history of sympathy?

Block: I wouldn't necessarily say that's a factor.

Atahan: There's a couple details there … Don't label the whole thing 1915 events, because when you look at history, you have to look at … a much wider time period to see the real reasons and kind of why things happened … because there are events after 1915 that Armenians don't talk about that [are] actually against them …

You cannot just look at a narrow time frame. When you look at … the end of the 18th century, you'll also see that there are a lot of religious missions and activities. So when you look at the American point of view, there [are] some religious-influenced events that show sympathy …

Ural: Also, events such as the Armenians taking and being allies with the Russians fighting against the Turks. Like I said, it's a time of war; that's why many of them died, just as well as Turks did. There's a lot of complications … It's not just a thing saying, you know, Turks killed Armenians and it's a genocide.

Atahan: Forget old times, come to today. When you look at Iraq today, there are a number of deaths, a number of people dislocated and everything. When you look at it, so does that mean, a few years down the road people can easily say, "Americans caused the big loss in Iraq, so that was a genocide"? Or, you look at it in a more logical way … and you look at the reasons and say … "This is a war time, this is what happened …" But if you put the emotions on the table, and don't look at the realistic end of it, of course the picture's going to be totally different …

Cavanaugh: Why would [Armenian Americans] push the issue?

Ural: Land. Money.

Atahan: Not just land … but also, if you're able to get an 18-year-old kid today have certain feelings because he's an Armenian. So you lose that hatred as a tool to keep an identity, you use it for other purposes, and you need to keep on going for financial gain [and] for other purposes. But is that the reality? Who knows — that's a different issue. With Turks, it was overcome. We had losses; bury it, get over it …

I had my relatives die. My grandparents and family, the whole village vanished. But I don't feel hatred for anybody because of it. It was a war time, it happened, period. My life is different


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