Turkey Turns Down Offer of Armenian Aid

Editor’s Note: The following report appeared in the August 24 issue of the Los Angeles Times. We are reprinting the report in its entirety for our readers information and to tell our readers about the incident of refusal–by the Turkish government–of help offered by Armenia.

BY RICHARD BOUDREAUX

From the Los Angeles Times

ISTANBUL–Turkey–Hours after Turkey’s massive earthquake last week–the government of Armenia readied a team of 100 disaster specialists and loaded 10 trucks with rescue and relief supplies for the stricken zone less than a day’s drive away.

Aside from proximity–Armenia offered expertise gained from its own disaster in December 1988–when a magnitude 6.9 quake killed 25,000 people. The Rapid Deployment Unit–subsequently formed by the Armenian Emergency Situations Directorate–has saved the lives of quake victims in Iran and China. But as more than 2,000 relief workers converged on Turkey from 51 countries–Armenia’s elite rescuers waited for a go-ahead. And waited. Then on Saturday–Turkey informed Armenia that it had plenty of help already and did not need more.

The real reason for the snub–not stated openly but widely understood in both countries–is Turkey’s unwillingness to move toward normal diplomatic and trade relations with its eastern neighbor.

While Turkey has welcomed blood donations–rescue teams and other quake aid from rival Greece–Armenia is a different story. Turkish-Armenian relations remain poisoned by the massacres of Armenia’s by the Ottoman government in 1915 and the more recent conflict between Armenia’s and Turkey’s ethnic cousins in Azerbaijan.

Armenian officials said Monday that Turkey’s decision frustrated a humanitarian impulse and wasted a chance to improve relations. Armenian officials said the aid offer still stood.

"Grief has no borders," said Ara Papyan–Armenia’s Foreign Ministry spokesman. "We know quite well what it means for you when the entire world wants to help you."

A Turkish official said Armenia’s offer went first to Turkey’s Foreign Ministry–which urged Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit to accept it. But the official said Ecevit failed to persuade the Nationalist Action Party–the most militantly nationalist of the three parties in his ruling coalition. Hard-line nationalists in each country have stood in the way of rapprochement. Armenian nationalists have waged a worldwide campaign aimed at forcing Turkey to admit that the Ottoman rulers committed genocide in 1915; successive Turkish leaders have refused to do so. In the 1970s–the dispute became so intense that Armenian gunmen began killing Turkish diplomats. Since 1993–Turkey has closed its border with Armenia–joining Azerbaijan in a blockade aimed at crippling Armenia economically until it returns territory seized from Azerbaijan in fighting over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh enclave.

News of the spurned Armenian rescue aid added to public outrage here over the Turkish government’s tardy–disjointed response to the magnitude 7.4 quake–which killed more than 14,000 people.

"The foreigners have helped us more than the Turkish state has," said Hasan Askin–a resident of Golcuk whose home was destroyed by the quake and who now lives in a tent city. "For a politician to exclude the Armenia’s was immoral. We need help; it doesn’t matter where it comes from." Stung by such criticism in recent days–the government has begun to mount a more energetic relief effort and to speak more confidently of its abilities. Health Minister Osman Durmus–a member of the militant government faction that vetoed the Armenian aid–said that Turkish hospitals can handle all the injured and that foreign medical teams–such as those that arrived Monday aboard a US Navy ship–were no longer needed.

Several Turkish newspapers called Monday for Durmus’ resignation. "Enough–Shut Up and Go," Radikal told him in a front-page headline. In fact–nearly all of the more than 43,000 people injured in the quake have received medical treatment; the 3,000 US Marines and sailors aboard the amphibious assault ship Kearsarge came too late to help them. US Ambassador Mark Parris said the vessel will be useful in other ways. Its 26 helicopters will ferry tons of aid to areas where roads have been damaged–and its portable purification units will generate tens of thousands of gallons of drinking water a day.

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