By Ferruh Demirmen, Ph.D.
Years of Turkish apathy and passivity, combined with Armenian aggressiveness and Western prejudice, took their toll earlier this year when the Texas House of Representatives voted to recognize Armenian “genocide.” It happened on May 19, 2017, and the Turkish side was at a disadvantage all along.
Groundwork by Armenian lobby
Texas, the second largest U.S. state, had long been a coveted target for the Armenian lobby in the U.S. Until 2015, all efforts to have Armenian “genocide” recognized by Texas had failled. In 2015, on the centennial of the 1915 events in Ottoman Anatolia, the lobby’s California-based Western arm, ANCA-WR (Armenian National Committe of America – Western Region) set its eyes on Texas for the recognition of Armenian “genocide.” Tours involving Armenian activists at town-hall meetings were arranged, State elected officials were individually visited, and the Dallas, Austin and Houston chapters of ANCA-WR were established. Visits to Armenian churches were part of the activities.
Equally significantly, in 2016 the lobby supported State Representative Scott Sanford, who is also the Executive Pastor of a Baptist church in Texas. At a gala organized by ANCA-Dallas in April 2016, Representative Sanford was awarded “Advocate for Justice Award” for his “strong dedication to raising awareness about the Armenian Genocide.” In response, Rep. Sanford outlined his plan of action for official recognition of Armenian “genocide” by the Texas legislature.
It was a quid-pro-quo arrangement, and Christian solidarity no doubt entered the equation.
There were few other Texas politicians supporting Armenians at the gala, and a letter from U.S. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, who had previously called for recognition of “Armenian, Assyrian and other Christians,” was read. ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian talked as well, advocating “genocide “recognition and briefing the audience on Congressional efforts to isolate Azerbaijan. He condemned the killing of “Christian Armenians” by ISIS. (Notice the adjective “Christian.” Also no mention of other victims!).
One wonders whether the Texas politicians present at the gala knew of the fact that a predecessor of Hamparian, former ANCA president Mourad Topalian, was convicted in 2011 on charges of illegally storing explosives and owning machine guns. Topalian served almost 3 years in federal prison. He was a guest of honor at a gala held in 2015 by ANCA-WR in California.
As soon as the 2017 biennial legislative session for the Texas House of Representatives began, Rep. Sanford fulfilled his promise, and on January 26, 2017, introduced Texas HR-191, a resolution recognizing Armenian “genocide.”
A one-page statement claimed that during World War I the Ottoman Empire had began a “systematic campaign to eradicate its Armenian population,” that on April 24, 1915, the government had arrested several hundred Armenian intellectuals, who were later “executed,” that the Armenian population had been herded through the “Syrian desert to concentration camps,” that through 1923 as many as “1.5 million Armenians,” had perished, that the event is considered genocide by most historians, and that world must never forget the suffering of the Armenian people. Reference was made to then-American Ambassador Henry Morgenthau.
It was the well-versed Armenian version of history.
Lack of impartiality
For processing, HR-191 was assigned to the Trade & Intergovernmental Affairs Committee (TIAC), which called for a public hearing at the State Capitol in Austin on April 24.
The choice of April 24 for the public hearing, a date considered symbolic for the Armenian allegations, was the first sign that TIAC was pro-Armenian in its outlook.
The hearing was closely coordinated with ANCA-WR and Rep. Sanford, and while the Armenian side had long known about the hearing, the Turkish side knew of the meeting less than a week in advance.
With very short notice, only 6 persons from the Turkish side (5 from Houston and one from Dallas) could attend the hearing in Austin. In contrast, a large crowd from the Armenian side was present. Also present, as an “observor,” was Rep. Sanford.
Four persons from the Turkish side (including this author) signed up to give testimony, two of the testimonies being very short. In contrast, 21 persons from the Armenian side signed up to give testimony. Before the hearing started, it was known exactly how many speakers there would be from each side. With the Committee Chairman allowing equal time to each speaker, the Armenian side ended up having 5 times more chance to present its case than the Turkish side.
Thus the Armenian side dominated not only in terms of “presence” in the hearing room, but also in the testimonies given.
During the testimonies the Turkish side objected that it was given a short notice for the hearing, to which the Committee Chairman responded the one-week notice was standard practice. The Turkish side wondered why Rep. Sanford, while not a member of the Committee, was invited to attend. The Committee Chairman responded that he invited Rep. Sanford because the latter was his friend, and he respected him.
The Turkish side also noted that the scheduling of the public hearing on April 24 compromised the impartiality of the committee. There was no response to this comment.
The questions asked by the Committee members during the testimonies left no doubt that they were sympathetic toward the Armenian allegations. When this author tried to show a panel showing the photographs of Turkish diplomats assasinated by Armenian terrorists, he was told his time is over.
It is not known what evidence the Armenian side provided to the Texas politicians to buttress their genocide allegations. During the April 24 hearing, however, the Armenian side had plenty of opportunity to give oral arguments to support its case. ANCA-WR had aggresively lobbied for the passage of HR-191, and hundreds of letters were e-mailed to state legislators. Many more phone calls were made by the Armenian community.
The first speaker at the hearing, who identified himself as being affilated with ANCA-WR, began his testimony by citing the infamous – and fictitious - “Hitler quote.” Among those who testified for the Armenian side were representatives from the Texas Holocaust and Genocide Commission, and Houston’s Holocaust Museum.
The Turkish side, including several grassroots organizations, rebutted the Armenian allegations through e-mails and orally during the testimonies. Evidence provided included, but not limited to, the Armenian uprising, collusion with the invading Russian army, the Muslim sufferings and casualties, the Kachaznuni manifesto, the Malta Tribunal, Ambassador Morgenthau’s extreme bias, the League of Nations report, General J.G. Harbord and Admiral Mark L. Bristol reports, the 1948 UN Convention, the rulings of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) and France’s Constitutional Council, impropriety of Texas legislators to intervene in matters affecting U.S. foreign policy, the damage the bill could do to trade relations between Texas and Turkey, the divisive aspect of the resolution, and not the least, the fact that the resolution is defamatory toward Texas residents of Turkish heritage.
After the public hearing, TIAC approved HR-191 unanimously and sent it to the House floor for voting. By this time there were 46 representatives who had already endorsed the motion. On May 19, the House, having 150 members, voted to adopt the motion, making the Lone Star State the 46th U.S. state to recognize Armenian “genocide.” Eight members were absent, and 5 including the Speaker abstained from voting. (ANCA website called it “unanimous” approval).
It was a feat masterminded by ANCA-WR and endorsed by the Texas House of Representatives. While the resolution has no legal force, for all practical purposes, and for the public at large, it was a declaration finding Ottoman Turks guilty of a heinous crime.
It can safely be concluded that the Texas politicians that voted to adopt HR-191 were either astonishingly ignorant or didn’t care about the historical truth, while being in breach of a UN convention, mindless of European court rulings, and at the same time impinging on the right of the federal govenment on matters related to foreign policy.
The highly detailed documentary evidenceprovided by the Turkish side, assuming it was read at all, didn’t make any difference for the politicians.
That the party, declared “guilty” by fiat, was denied its due-process rights, did not matter.
On display was an example of what this author has termed the “Armenian Settled History Syndrome”: The proclivity in the West, the media and politicians included, to accept Armenian allegations as facts without entertaining opposing or contervailing arguments. http://www.turkishnews.com/en/content/2015/02/10/armenian-settled-history-syndrome-an-affliction-that-runs-deep-in-the-media/
Although an objective criterion is missing, there seems little doubt that the Turkish response, at least at the grassroots level, to HR-191 was feeble. It is not the numbers (populations of residents of Turkish and Armenian origin in Texas, roughly 15,000, are similar), but the level of interest. Turks are no match to Armenians on activism on the “genocide” issue – a situation that is deeply rooted in the Turkish educational system, reflecting the “peace at home, peace abroad” dictum of the republic founded by Kemal Atatürk.
Given the unending offensive from the Armenian Diaspora, also supported by Yerevan, the dictum has outlived its usefulness in relation to the Turkish-Armenian relations, and the Turkish side has only itself to blame for its lethargy and passivity.
In this context it is particularly telling that ATA-Houston, an association formed to represent the Turkish-American community in Houston – a city with a population of 2.3 million - didn’t bother to oppose HR-191. The happy-hour-conscious association, founded in 1979, was not interested in the Armenian issue – a posture that transpired within the past 2 years, it must be added.
But the Turkish side also suffered a disadvantage which it could not help: the built-in prejudice, rooted in history and religion. In a sense, the cards were set against the Turkish side on HR-191. What made the Texas outcome particularly distateful for the Turkish side was the lack of impartiality on the part of the committee (TIAC) that handled the proposed bill before it went to the House floor for voting.
On the subject of prejudice, Professor Justin McCarthy’s incisive work, “The Turk in America: The Creation of an Enduring Prejudice,” (2010), comes to mind. Thanks to Christian missionaries, the villification of Ottoman Turks in America in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries – and an anti-Muslim sentiment in general – still resonate in the minds of many in our time, amounting to a hidden form of discrimination.
Paranthetically, it should also be added that the Texas voting roughly corresponded with negative media reports in the U.S. about the Turkish government in connection with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s visit to Washington D.C. on May 16, 2017. Whether the negative publicity, related to Erdoğan’s security detail, affected the HR-191 voting, is unknown.
In all, the Texas politicians should now ask: What did Texas gain from this resolution? Any claim that it was about valuing human life, is a farce. Separate from the claim of grotesquely exaggerated 1.5 million Armenian losses during the 1915 relocation, the souls of some 520,000 Muslim civilians that were brutally murdered by armed Armenian bands during those tumultuous times cry out for recognition as well. History cannot be reduced to campaign-driven declarations that cater to religious and ethnic prejudices.