How many more Turkish diplomats will be killed by fanatical murderers from Armenian terrorist groups? The question has a raw answer: as many as the terrorists think they can put away without getting caught.
Since 1973, twenty-seven Turkish diplomats and members of their families have been killed. Armenian underground killers take responsibility, saying they are avenging the deaths of 1.5 million Armenians said to have occurred between 1915 and 1923 at the hands of the Ottoman Turkish government.
The most recent slaying of a diplomat was in Brussels in mid-July, followed the next day by a bomb explosion in Paris in which seven people were killed and 56 wounded while waiting to board a Turkish Airlines flight to Istanbul. Last Wednesday in Lisbon, the wife of a Turkish official was slain in a suicide attack in which five Armenian terrorists died by their own violence. Four Turkish diplomats have been killed in the United States. In May 1982, Orhan Gunduz, an honorary consul general who had run a small business in a Boston suburb for 20 years, was gunned to death while driving home from his store.
Despite the large death toll and despite the pledges of Armenian terrorists to send it higher, few displays of concern, much less supportive indignation, have been offered to the Turks. By contrast, would public opinion be as unstirred if 25 British diplomats had been killed by IRA gunmen, or if the 25 were Jewish diplomats slain by Palestinian hit squads?
Turkish victimization can remain a minor issue because, first, Americans look at the headlines about the latest killings and conclude that an ancient, inscrutable and unstoppable feud goes on. The Turks and Armenians are blood enemies, we think--if we think about the issue at all. In choosing sides, we go against the Turks. Images of murderous sultans wielding thick-ended sabers remain. The stereotype of the savage Turk, backed up by menacing Young Turks, persists. Then, too, they are Moslem, dismissable as the infidels of Western history.
To move beyond this intellectual laziness is to discover that the Turks deserve not only more sympathy for what they are suffering at the hands of Armenian killers, but also more support in their efforts to explain their position.
The talk of "genocide" that the Armenian terrorists throw around after they kill another Turkish diplomat was echoed in Congress in late April in observance of Armenian Martyrs Day. Nearly 40 members of the House made statements about the era of "modern genocide" that the Turks supposedly brought on in the alleged killing of 1.5 million Armenians. Liberals and conservatives were united in their certitude about the number and that the Turks had actually committed the systematic extermination that is genocide. Several members attacked the current Turkish government, demanding that it confess its guilt.
This onrush of congressional concern for Armenians went too far. Among independent historians and scholars, the events of 70 years ago, as World War I began, are not as black and white as the congressional friends of Armenians made them out to be. One of these historians is Justin McCarthy, a professor of Middle Eastern history and demographer at the University of Louisville. He is on neither the Turkish nor the Armenian side. He sides with whatever truth emerges from reliable research.
McCarthy states that the 1.5 million figure is inaccurate: "After the war, Armenian sources said that approximately 600,000 Armenians had died, and this figure is much closer to the truth. Turks were indeed killing Armenians in 1915. But Armenians were also killing Turks, and indeed (in the war) many more Turks died than Armenians. Most who died on both sides died more of starvation and disease than from bullets."
McCarthy, a former Peace Corps volunteer in Turkey and the author of "Muslims and Minorities," says that no documentation has ever been found to prove that a policy to exterminate Armenians existed. "Everyone in this period around World War I was to some extent guilty and some extent persecuted: Turks, Armenians, Kurds, Russians." Last month on public television, McCarthy stated that, from his research, he found that about "600,000 Armenians died, 2.2 million Muslims died . . . This was a horrible time for everyone."
None of this diminishes either the culture of Armenia nor the large contributions of Armenians to American life. It suggests only that perspective is needed in this complicated and, at times, dimly lit issue.
The current Turkish government is trapped in a double bind. Its diplomats live in fear of gunmen and its officials are frustrated in explaining a period of history that few in the West care to study. A false impression has been created that Turkey is stonewalling the facts of the past by not admitting that genocide occurred. In fact, it didn't. Even if historians agreed about the genocide, today's Turkish government has no political or philosophical ties to the old Ottoman Empire.
For a start, fair-minded historical analysis is needed. That won't stop the terrorists, but it will help to expose the full irrationality of their cause.