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01 April 2008

2409) Turks Need A Calmer Approach To Counter Armenian Claims by Justin Paul

The crucial point that many Turkish lobbyists miss is that you need to invoke calmer argumentation when your viewpoint is the less accepted one

We are a few weeks away from the date the Armenian Diaspora chooses to commemorate their interpretation of the events of 1915 as "genocide." This marks an especially strident peak of tension in a geo-political relationship that is already a poisoned chalice. The Armenian side's commemoration will likely be the same as it always is. But the Turkish camp should take the moral high-ground and begin to change their tactics. . . . . It is very understandable that Turks and Turkish-Americans feel cornered by the often aggressive tactics of the Armenian lobby, including recent demonstrations featuring disgusting imagery of a mock lynching of a Turkish imam. However, this is no excuse to respond in a manner that is frequently disingenuous. The use of the Pinocchio imagery at demonstrations in New York last year was beyond reprehensible. Let us keep in mind that the Turkish narrative that those demonstrators were seeking to uphold maintains that a substantial inter-communal conflict did take place with many deaths on both sides. The Pinocchio imagery seems to indicate that those demonstrating felt that 1915 with all its bloodshed was a giant cartoon. Any objective third party to walk by that day would likely see such a tactic as desperate.

Stop the Pinocchio imagery:

Strident and over-the-top reactions to the Armenian narrative are not going to engender support from neutrals. It is true that most Americans are disinterested in this whole affair, we would probably be barely aware of what happened in our own country in 1915 had it not been for World War I. But for those Americans with knowledge of history, and who are interested in exploring both sides of a complex equation, there needs to be an effective and reasonable response to the Armenian lobby's political and historical assertions.The major tactic that seems to be in favor with Ankara and Turkish American groups is the “shotgun” method. This is a term we use on certain types of law school exams that means listing as many arguments as possible without much concern for which are the best arguments. This is generally not the best way to do well in legal education, nor is it a charm offensive that is reaping the Turkish side many supporters. An example of this is the site tallarmeniantale.com, which, while done by a lay person, has been championed by some Turkish lobbyists as a resource. The overall design of the site has become slightly less of an aesthetic blight over the years, but its content is jumbled, disorganized and often intellectually misleading. This site launches ad-hominem attacks on Turkish intellectuals closer to the Armenian side, such as disparaging Fatma Muge Gokcek about her weight. It also portrays Armenians as arch Nazis on the basis of one particular collaborator, conveniently forgetting that many more Armenians died fighting Nazism. The site basically strays far and away from any noble defense of the Ottoman Muslims who lost their lives in World War I and enters a realm of vicious anti-Armenian diatribe. Its intellectual companionship would be such conspiracy oriented rags like the Protocols of Elders of Zion, as you would leave this site thinking the Armenian Lobby pretty much controls the United States and is one hateful cabal.

Stop ad-hominem attacks:

The Assembly of Turkish American Associations (ATAA) has also engaged in some misrepresentations, especially when they listed ASALA terrorism as going on to the present day. Thanks to the efforts of Turkish Special Forces and Israel, ASALA is gone. The ATAA is a very solid and well-organized lobbying group that has done a lot for Turkish Americans and it behooves its otherwise solid reputation not to print such stories. Turkey has every right to mention ASALA and mourn the diplomats killed by those terrorists, but it should not be conflated with 1915. Similarly, intellectual honesty was dealt another blow when Taner Akçam was compared to Osama Bin Laden in some signs at Turkish demonstrations. Invoking Akçam's leftist past is indeed a valid point one can make when assessing potential bias he may have. But to say he is the same as the arch terrorist responsible for killing 3,000 Americans is pretty insulting. Would Turks like it if Abdullah Öcalan's murderous legacy were cheapened to score points by comparing him to some obscure American group, like ecological vandals? Yet another failed attempt to make a noble defense is Sarı Gelin, a popular Turkish documentary on the topic. It makes numerous false claims, including the “facts” that Armenian terrorists are buried under their 1915 memorial in Yerevan and that Armenians have co-opted a major university in California, which has in fact not been co-opted and is actually an insignificant community college. It has good material too, but that gets lost in its jumbled and oftentimes stridently tribal message.There also needs to be complete cessation of the tendency to conflate 1915 with dreadful Khojaly Massacre. The Karabakh question is completely separate from the historical question of 1915, and must be solved in a political manner, one that would ideally recognize Azerbaijan's territorial integrity. But Khojaly doesn't prove or disprove anything related to 1915. Then there have been the outlandish signs at Turkish demonstrations which allege that Armenian killed 3 million Turks and Azeris. Turks have accused Armenians of inflating numbers and there is some history, such as that of Justin McCarthy, which supports that viewpoint. But why is a lobby arguing that the Armenians inflate numbers going to turn around and do the same thing?

The crucial point that many Turkish lobbyists miss here is that you need to invoke calmer argumentation when your viewpoint is the less accepted one. It may not be fair that the Armenian narrative is in the ascendancy, but that matters little. When one viewpoint is entrenched, shrill and defensive argumentation that smacks of desperation and all-out defamation of the original accusing party makes people shut down. The Turkish side has numerous historians of both foreign and Turkish extraction whose viewpoint is valuable in offering a counterpoint to the better-known Armenian narrative. They should be relied on more heavily without the invective nonsense about Armenians being arch Nazis and being hateful to the core, and Pinocchio must go to the scrap heap of shallow argumentation. It is very possible to win American hearts and minds on this issue. When my Turkish friends ask me the question “who remembers the Ottoman Muslims,” I entirely empathize. But those dead Ottoman Muslims' memories are not being enhanced nor elevated in the Western conscious by the intellectually disorganized and shrill lobbying campaign currently being run against the Armenian allegations.


Justin Paul is a JD Candidate at the William Mitchell College of Law in Saint Paul, Minnesota, USA
© 2005 TDN, Dogan Daily News Inc.
April 1, 2008