Schwarzenegger and Bush Embroiled in Armenian Genocide Debate
One angered the Turks and the other the Armenians. Here’s the Governor:
A Turkish group uniting hundreds of businesses and organizations demanded Tuesday that Arnold Schwarzenegger’s movies be banned from Turkish television to protest the California governor’s use of the term genocide to describe the massacre of Armenians by Turks during World War I.
Schwarzenegger, a former actor best known for his role in “The Terminator,” declared April 24 a “Day of Remembrance of the Armenian Genocide.” California has one of the largest populations of diaspora Armenians.
An umbrella organization grouping some 300 Ankara-based associations, unions and businesses and led by the Ankara Chamber of Commerce said it launched a petition to have the governor’s films banned in Turkey.
“We condemn and protest movie star Arnold Schwarzenegger, who declared April 24 a day to commemorate the Armenian genocide and accused Turks of genocide by acting under the influence of the Armenian lobby, and without researching historical truths,” read a statement from Sinan Aygun, head of Ankara Chamber of Commerce.
Meanwhile, President Bush offended the other side by avoiding the politically sensitive word:
Bush Remembers Armenian “Great Calamity” (Armenia Liberty)
[The Armenian National Committee of America] was quick to deplore BushÃ¢€™s statement. Ã¢€œUnfortunately, this statement is a fresh attempt to help the government of Turkey continue its shameful policy of denying the crime against humanity,Ã¢€ said the ANCA executive director, Aram Hamparian.
Actually, Bush finessed the issue much more than this group acknowledged. Note the following section of the article:
President George W. Bush again stopped short of calling the mass killings and deportations of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire a genocide on Sunday, using instead an Armenian equivalent of the politically sensitive term resented by modern-day Turkey. He also effectively endorsed an independent study that concluded that the massacres which began 90 years ago did constitute a genocide.
Ã¢€œOn Armenian Remembrance Day, we remember the forced exile and mass killings of as many as 1.5 million Armenians during the last days of the Ottoman Empire,Ã¢€ Bush said in his annual April 24 message to Americans of Armenian descent. Ã¢€œThis terrible event is what many Armenian people have come to call the Ã¢€˜Great CalamityÃ¢€™.
Ã¢€œI join my fellow Americans and Armenian people around the world in expressing my deepest condolences for this horrible loss of life. Today, as we commemorate the 90th anniversary of this human tragedy and reflect on the suffering of the Armenian people, we also look toward a promising future for an independent Armenian state.Ã¢€
The Ã¢€œGreat CalamityÃ¢€ was translated as Ã¢€œMets YeghernÃ¢€ in the Armenian-language version of the message released by the U.S. embassy in Yerevan. The Armenians use this term only with regard to the 1915-1918 slaughter of their kinsmen.
Bush thus followed the example of the late Pope John Paul II who appealed to God to heed Ã¢€œthe call of the dead from the depths of the Mets YeghernÃ¢€ during a historic visit to Armenia in September 2001. The delicate wording was aimed at placating Turkey. But the pontiff set the record straight the next day by describing the mass killings as a genocide in a joint statement with the head of the Armenian Apostolic Church.
Bush avoided using the term despite persistent calls by the influential Armenian-American community backed by more than 200 members of the U.S. Congress. But he did mention a study conducted by a New York-based human rights organization at the request of the U.S.-backed Turkish-Armenian Reconciliation Commission (TARC) two years ago.
See also the full text of his statement.
We should remember that Bush has a different audience than Schwarzenegger. While the president must deal with Turkey on the international stage, the governor has the luxury of catering to an influential subgroup (Glendale, a suburb in Los Angeles County, has the largest Armenian population outside of Armenia). And, given that Bush is generally forcible about highlighting “the Great Calamity,” his verbal sidestep does not, from where I stand, rise to the level of being outrageous.
Substantively, though, I’m much closer to Schwarzenegger — and, as history buffs might recall, Ronald Reagan:
In a 1981 proclamation designating April 26 through May 3 annual Day of Remembrance, President Reagan was quoted, “Like the genocide of the Armenians before it, and the genocide of the Cambodians which followed it and like too many other such persecutions of too many other peoples the lessons of the Holocaust must never be forgotten.”