Letter to Georgetown University

The Reverend Leo O'Donovan
Georgetown University
Washington, D.C. 20057

Dear Reverend O'Donovan:

It is a sad reality that there still exist nations in the world today who fail to abide by fundamental principles of moral conduct, who violate and flaunt international laws and boundaries, and commit horrific crimes against humanity. It remains the duty and obligation of civilized nations to see to it that the most egregious of these crimes are stopped. At the very least, civilized nations should never act in a way which would condone, encourage or legitimize such behavior. Nor should leaders of such belligerent nations be bestowed with praise and adulation; for by doing so empowers them further and can only add to the magnitude of the tragedy. Yet the renowned institution of Georgetown University will be doing just that when it bestows upon the Turkish President, Suleyman Demirel, the honorary distinction of a President's Medal.

It may surprise many that Turkey, a nation which receives billions of dollars annually in U.S. aid so called loyal western ally, and a supposedly stable democracy could be guilty of such atrocities. One however need only to scratch the surface of the recent past to uncover a litany of international crimes and violations, including ethnic cleansing and genocide.

Turkey was built on the ruins of the oppressive Ottoman Empire and began its nationhood in the 1920's. One of the first acts of the new nation was the systematic annihilation of the Anatolian Greeks and Armenians. Unrepentant of its past crimes, revisio nists in the employ of the Turkish Government have been attempting to deny Turkish responsibility for the Greek Pontic and Armenian genocides, or alternatively, to deny their very occurrence.

As a result of the Turkish nation's failure to first recognize and then overcome its horrific past, Turkey has continued to perpetrate similar crimes through the decades up through the present ethnic cleansing campaign against the Kurdish people of easter n Turkey. What makes the Turkish nation's crimes against humanity so sinister in comparison with other human-rights violators is that these crimes are not isolated occurrences but rather part of a calculated, consistent, and coherent mode of behavior, ch anging little over time and remaining constant across regimes and even political systems.

Insights as to the current nature of a country can often be gleaned by an examination of its beginnings. The birth of the modern state of Turkey began when forces of the Young Turks under Kemal Ataturk, triumphant in the heartland of Asia Minor, reached the city of Smyrna in September 1922 and captured it from the Greek army which had already retreated concluding the Greco-Turkish War of the early 1920's. Upon overtaking the predominantly Greek city, the Turkish forces took sword and scimitar to the local population butchering thousands of Greeks and Armenians (tragically, Armenians who survived the 1915 genocide of 1.5 million). Then, in a horrific act, the conquering Turks set fire to the city killing tens of thousands more caught in the inferno.

Thousands more were trapped between fire and ocean and drowned in the bay while seeking to flee the flames of a fire whose intensity was so great that allied warships (with specific instructions not to intervene) had to pull back from the shore. In the aftermath of the destruction, so many corpses filled the bay that Allied commanders could not travel from ship to ship in their transport boats because their propellers were constantly becoming entangled in the human carnage. One officer remarked that it would be easier to just walk across the bodies. Finally, the city's Greek spiritual leader, Metropolitan Chrysostomos, had his eyes gouged out and was dragged through the streets alive, being dismembered piecemeal before having his throat cut by the victorious Turks. Thus the Turkish nation was born.

The Turkish nation continues to deny its most notable contribution to history having been the first people to have perpetrated a highly organized, systematic and widespread genocide of another. Over 1.5 million Armenians are estimated to have been exterminated by the Turks. As noted by historians of the period, "later tyrants were to mark well the indifference with which the world as a whole greeted the Armenian tragedy". The Armenian Genocide served as the prototype for a subsequent and more infamous holocaust; as Hitler remarked on the eve of the Second World War, "who still talks nowadays of the extermination of the Armenians?"

One could argue that that was a long time ago. However, recent events reflect a behavior essentially unchanged. As recent as the summer of 1974, the sovereign state of Cyprus was ruthlessly invaded by Turkey. Thousands were brutally murdered. The rape of the Greek population was so rampant, that the otherwise strict Greek Orthodox Church changed its doctrine and for the first time allowed women to obtain abortions. Despite international condemnation, sanctions and U.N. resolutions, Turkey continues to illegally occupy close to 40% of the island. Despite 21 years of pressure, our supposed ally and fellow NATO member has failed to comply with basic tenets of non-aggression despite its desire for Western approval. Even more disturbing than Turkey's failure to account for the 1,619 people still listed as missing who were last seen in Turkish hands (including 5 Americans) is Turkish-Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash's recent revelations that the missing had all been slaughtered after the Turkish Army had turned them over to Turkish paramilitary groups.

Embarking on a fact finding mission in August of 1995, U.S. Congressmen Hoke of Ohio and Bilirakis of Florida visited the island. This was the first time U.S. representatives were allowed to visit with Greek Cypriots who were somehow still surviving in the Turkish-occupied part of the island, their numbers having now dwindled to a mere 520 after an extensive ethnic cleansing campaign by the Turkish authorities. The Congressmen's findings for a peaceful resolution were not encouraging.

According to Hoke, "what disturbed me most was that [Denktash] characterized everything in a very extreme position in a way that does not invite negotiation, settlement and discussion" and found that the Greeks "lived in fear".

One need not even look back to the Cyprus tragedy to find evidence of ethnic cleansing at the hands of Turkey. This past year has witnessed the wholesale destruction of another peoples who had predated the Turks by millennia, the Kurds. The current regime has engaged on a new ethnic cleansing campaign in eastern Turkey following along the lines of its bloodied past. Reports of the systematic destruction of thousands of Kurdish villages by the Turkish military have surfaced in 1995. In a characteristic ally extremist pursuit of its goals, Turkey had again violated international boundaries by sending some 35,000 troops into Iraq to hunt down the Kurds. These atrocities, well-documented by human rights organizations, have brought some European condemnati on but very little response in the United States. Along with the Armenians in 1915, the Anatolian and Pontic Greeks in 1922, the pogroms against Constantinopolitan Greeks in 1955, and the Greek Cypriots in 1974, the Kurds have joined the unenviable list of victims of Turkish state-sponsored aggression.

Turkey's perennial justification for its aggression and crimes against humanity, "self-defense", is an excuse which rings particularly hollow considering that Turkey remains one of the most militarized and well armed nations on earth; unless of course "self-defense" is synonymous with self-survival of a morally bankrupt, authoritarian government which will stop at nothing to sustain itself against the rising voices of internal dissent.

A nation militarily strong can be morally weak. In such a nation, tolerance, free speech and true democratic principles are a threat. Only by oppressing its own population, be they minorities, dissidents or concerned citizens, and by exercising a careful, sophisticated public relations campaign for foreign and internal consumption, can such a corrupt regime survive. Upon losing its strategic importance as a buffer to the former Soviet Union, the Turkish Government now seeks new means of western approval and sustenance.

Turkey seeks to portray itself as a loyal partner, as shown by its marginal participation in the Gulf War and its insistence on the inclusion of Turkish soldiers as part of the peacekeeping force in Bosnia. Yet the irony of a nation helping to force Iraq to comply with U.N. resolutions, and Bosnian Serbs to comply with human rights directives, while it itself baldly violates both, further undermines our nation's moral legitimacy for wholeheartedly supporting such an international pariah. Our chronic fear of Islam has once again fueled our support for this decidedly undemocratic nation. Yet far from serving as a bulwark against Islamic fundamentalism, Turkey's oppressive domestic policies have actually encouraged it, as evidenced by the True Path party's recent victory in Turkey's national elections.

Turkey has spent tens of millions of dollars in order to portray itself as a democratic, European nation. It does not take much effort to realize that this portrayal is clearly a facade obscuring Turkey's fundamentally unchanged behavior. Turkey's dilem ma is that it cannot change if it is to exist in its present form, for it must have it both ways to survive. Having committed itself to a western agenda since the days of Ataturk, Turkey is dependent on western acceptance, aid and economic ties, yet at the same time Turkey cannot loosen its decidedly undemocratic grip on its increasingly disgruntled populace, lest it self-destruct from within.

Should we support a nation which desires European membership yet is constantly threatening force against its neighbors and has actually violated the territorial sovereignty of EU and NATO member Greece? Should we support a nation which clamors to extend its geopolitical influence through the use of its troops in U.N. peacekeeping missions yet fails to abide by international law or U.N. resolutions in its continued occupation of a once-free European nation? Is it consistent with our ideals to help legitimize a government that, while claiming to be democratic, engages in the imprisonment and torture of those brave enough to speak out against it? Should we support a nation which continues to deny its responsibility for one of the most horrific genocides of modern history? Is it morally acceptable to sustain or in any way legitimize a government that continues to perpetrate nothing less than the systematic, state-sponsored ethnic cleansing of an entire nation? Georgetown University will be answering all these in the affirmative should it proceed with its plan to honor the Turkish President, Suleyman Demirel with a President's Medal.

Very truly yours,

Dr. Basil N. Pallis


Dear Dr. Pallis:

Thank you for expressing your concern regarding Georgetown University's decision to award a President's Medal to President Suleyman Demirel of the Republic of Turkey.

Turkey is an important country at the vortex of a major regional area. Georgetown University has a long history of Turkish studies, including a campus in Alanya, Turkey. It is, in the view of the University, appropriate to honor the President of Turkey when he visits the United States and the campus.

Over the course of a public career that spans the post-war era, President Demirel has consistently worked to strengthen Turkish-American friendship and understanding, not only through strategic undertakings within the North Atlantic Treaty Organization but also through expanding programs of educational exchange. Perhaps the most vital sign of his presidency's efforts to relate to the values and principles cherished by Americans is the host of young scholars provided government support. Completing their doctorates in the United States, they can go on to fill the profesional ranks needed for the rapid democratization of the Turkish educational system.

I appreciate your efforts in taking the time to write and welcome your interest in higher education.

Sincerely yours,

Leo J. O'Donovan, S.J.

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