When I was a child, I read “The Forty Days at Musa Dagh” by Franz Werfel, a fictionalized account of actual events, which told the story of how the Turks persecuted and killed Armenians in 1915.
From that time on, I was on the side of the Armenians and against the Turks.
This was back in the days before the word "genocide" had entered our vocabulary. To this day, I still believe the Turks killed 1.5 million Armenians because of tribalism and their hatred of Christians. In 1915, during World War I, the Ottoman Empire was on the side of the German Empire, then led by Kaiser Wilhelm II.
At its high point, the Ottoman Empire stretched from Greece to Egypt and everything in between, including Syria, Iraq, Jordan, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, and the coastal strip of North Africa.
When I was in Congress from 1969 through 1977, I joined with Ben Rosenthal, D-N.Y., who is now deceased, John Brademas, D-Ind., and Paul Sarbanes, D-Md., as one of those supporting the Rosenthal amendment which called on Congress to cut off military aid to Turkey unless it removed its invading army from Cyprus.
A coup in Cyprus had endangered the Turkish minority on that island and precipitated the Turkish invasion and the establishment of a Turkish controlled area in the north of the island.
Let me digress for a moment and relate a short anecdote which appears in my book, “Politics.” “When the Rosenthal amendment was ratified by the House, Rosenthal, Brademas, Sarbanes and I were invited by the Greek Patriarch of North and South America, Archbishop Iakovos, now deceased, to his birthday party held in Manhattan and attended by more than a thousand guests at which Paul Sarbanes and John Brademas were to be honored.
Well, the star was Rosenthal.
When he came in, the place erupted. You had a thousand Greeks in there. It would be like a thousand Jews on something involving Israel of momentous importance to them. The Rosenthal Amendment had carried at that point, and I’ve never seen such a response for the size of the group. It was wonderful. And Rosenthal made one of the best speeches I’ve ever heard.
It was a very short one. He said, "I was wondering what I would say here tonight, and I thought I’d tell you a story. You’re probably not going to appreciate it in the way that it’s meant, but I’m going to tell you anyway."
He went on: "I had lunch with my mother, who lives in New York, today; and she asked me what I was doing tonight, so I said, ‘I’m going to a dinner, Mama, that will honor two of my friends in Congress, John Brademas and Paul Sarbanes. And, you know, Mama, they’re probably the two smartest men in Congress.’ My mother said, ‘Are they Jewish?’ and I said, ‘No, Mama, they’re not Jewish — they’re Greek.’ My mother said, ‘Are you sure they’re not Jewish?’ I thought a moment and then I said to my mother, ‘Mama, I think they’re half Jewish.’ And then he said to this crowd, holding out his hands, ‘Tonight I’m half Greek.’" And the place erupted in cheers and applause.
I think it’s the best story I’ve ever heard for an audience of that kind. It was wonderful, just wonderful.
Now back to the present. Last week, the House Foreign Affairs Committee led by Chairman Tom Lantos, voted 27-21 to denounce the slaughter of the Armenians in 1915 as an act of genocide by the Turks. The Turks have always taken the position that the killing of Armenians on their eastern border — their border with Russia, then on the side of the allies in World War I — occurred because, they alleged, the Armenians sided with the Russians, thereby committing treason against the country in which they lived, the Ottoman Empire.
In support of their defense against committing an act of genocide, they point to the fact that Armenians living in Constantinople, then capital of the Ottoman Empire, were not killed.
The Turks now in a newly created country — formed in 1917 — led by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk who secularized a then theocratic Islamic remnant of the Ottoman Empire, wanting to establish a new Turkey that included all minorities to be equally treated in a democratic state, made it illegal to disparage the new state.
The Turkish government, enraged at the action of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, has threatened retaliation if the Congress, both House and Senate, passes a final resolution. The retaliation threatened is to close the port in Turkey which permits the entry of 30 percent of all U.S. fuel used for military vehicles in Iraq and the closure of the Turkish airport through which a large part of U.S. military supplies are airlifted for use in Iraq.
On my Bloomberg radio program on WBBR 1130 AM on the dial, I gave my position on the issue and entered into a dialogue with a young man who identified himself as Armenian. I said that while I still believed what the Turks did in 1915 was an act of genocide, I would not have voted for the resolution, because it endangers the security of American troops and simply provides the Armenians with a political victory and nothing else. Therefore, it is not worth the danger the congressional action will cause to American troops.
While we did not get into it in this discussion, I have on other occasions stated my support for using American troops to defend the people of Darfur in the Sudan from suffering genocide which is occurring today. I also mentioned on the program that during my tenure as a congressman, I did not sufficiently appreciate how valued an American ally the Turks had become. I regretted my failure to appreciate their positive role as our ally, particularly at a time when Greece was hostile to both the U.S. and Israel, while Turkey was friendly and supportive to both the U.S. and Israel.
My listener was surprised, he said, at my position on the resolution. I replied that the paramount duty of all Americans is to safeguard the well-being of American troops in Iraq. That comes before all other considerations in my judgment. He responded that he did not believe they would be endangered.
I disagree and don’t think we should chance it.
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