WATERTOWN–Mass.–World-renowned dissident intellectual Noam Chomsky–speaking at an Armenian community forum on June 7–analyzed and condemned repressive Turkish–Israeli–and US policies in "West-Central Asia," likening them to the thuggish tactics of gangsters using force to maintain control.
Professor Chomsky made his commen’s during a public forum organized by the Armenian National Committee (ANC) of Eastern Massachusetts. Titled "US Policy in West-Central Asia–Freedom of Speech–and the Kurds in Turkey," the event was held on June 7–at the Armenian Cultural and Educational Center–in Watertown–and was attended by some 200 Armenian and non-Armenian supporters and activists.
Prof. Chomsky was introduced by Armenian Weekly editor Jason Sohigian–on behalf of the ANC of Eastern Massachusetts. Taking the opportunity to address a mostly non-Armenian audience–Sohigian provided historical background on the host organization–the ANC–as well as the ARF.
THE AXIS OF EVIL
Prof. Chomsky began his talk with an overview of the region and the role of the US there. He discussed the "axis of evil" recently described by President Bush as including Iraq–Iran–and North Korea. He noted that the term was inappropriate because these countries "cannot possibly be considered an ‘axis,’" in that two of them were recently at war with each other and have nothing to do with the third.
He therefore explored why these countries were selected as leading enemies. Chomsky said North Korea was chosen because it is not Muslim–so that current actions by the US wouldn’t be portrayed as a war against Islam.
In describing Iran–Chomsky began by stating that "Iran bears directly on Armenia because of their alliance in opposition to most other states of the region." He noted that the goal of reformists in Iran was to integrate the country in the global system–but this was rejected by the US. He also said that the oil industry would like to exploit the oil reserves and take advantage of more practical pipeline routes–but this is being blocked by US policies.
Chomsky noted that this was one of the few cases where state policy is in conflict with domestic economic interests–which usually shape policy. He also noted that the policy has been pursued by successive administrations with broad congressional support–and the support of Israel and Turkey–but not Europe.
He explained that this was part of an effort in diplomacy to "maintain credibility," so that if a country "steps out of line–they will be punished," in order to make them an example for others. He also cited the bombing of Serbia–and the policy toward Cuba as other examples. "Iran broke the rules in 1979 when it removed itself from the US-dominated system–violated orders–and followed an independent course," he stated.
Chomsky highlighted the diverging views of the US military and civilian leadership on whether the US should invade Iraq–citing the opposition in the military to an attack on Iraq. The reasons cited for an invasion are Saddam Hussein’s development of weapons of mass destruction–and the use of chemical weapons against his people. "While the reasons are valid," said Chomsky–"they are ‘transparently irrelevant’ and are a tribute of the obedience of the educated classes."
Chomsky noted that while the indictment was correct–it ignores that Hussein did these things "with our support–which continued long past the worst crimes" he committed. He noted that the US and England continued to provide Hussein with dual-use technology for the development of weapons of mass destruction in the 1980s–although he was more dangerous during that period.
Chomsky cited the real reasons for an invasion of Iraq–including the fact that it has the second-largest oil reserves in the world after Saudi Arabia–and the US would not allow such reserves to be out of their control or allow privileged access to it by rivals. He also discussed the problem of regional attitudes–or the Arab opposition to an attack on a Muslim country–and the problem of regime replacement. He explained the US interest in keeping Iran isolated and maintaining control over Iraq’s Kurdish population in the north–which is considered a threat by Turkey.
Chomsky discussed other meanings of the phrase "axis of evil" as used in international discourse. He noted that the Egyptian newspaper Al Ahram called the US–Turkey–and Israel the true axis of evil. "In Bush’s example–there is evil–but in the other case–there is an actual axis," said Chomsky–adding that there’s plenty of evil to go around.
Turning his attention to Turkey–Chomsky acknowledged that Turkey has been a US ally since the end of World War II–has a powerful military force–was valuable for its proximity to the Soviet Union–and was the recipient of a large flow of arms from the US–which is "the measure of how close an alliance is."
"During the Clinton years–the flow of arms was four times higher as during the entire Cold War period," revealed Chomsky. "In 1997 alone–Clinton sent more arms to Turkey than during the entire Cold War period combined." The flow was so extreme that Turkey was the leader for the transfer of US arms–aside from Israel and Egypt.
"This flow of arms had nothing to do with the Cold War–and took place after the Cold War was winding down and ended–and increased after the Cold War through the late 1990s," said Chomsky. He noted–however–that these were the years that the Turkish operations against the Kurds were taking place. "It began in 1994–atrocities escalated in the mid-1990s–and the flow of arms increased along with them. This is straightforward ‘state terror,’ a term borrowed from the [Turkish] Minister of Human Rights in 1994–when two million were driven from homes in southeast."
According to Chomsky–Kurdish human rights groups in Diyarbekir estimate that by now over three million refugees have been created by the attacks. He said it was very easy to find accounts of these "barbaric atrocities" in human rights reports–and that it is estimated that 50,000 Kurds have been killed.
Chomsky called it "state terror" and even some of the worst "international terrorism" seen in the 1990s. He said that US support came not only through arms but also in the ideological realm–through silence: "Keep it all under wraps–because if people here find out about it–they are not going to permit it," adding that an important task of the educated sector of society is to go along and make sure that people don’t know anything about what is going on. "It is extremely important not to let people know that they are participating in some of the worst atrocities of the time." He explained that this approach has been carried out very successfully in the US–as almost nobody knows about what was going on in Turkey. Chomsky noted that this was all going on at the same time as everyone was praising "our commitment to principles of human rights" in the late 1990s. He explained that the US and England were unwilling to tolerate atrocities near the border of NATO in Kosovo–but that worse atrocities were tolerated inside the borders of NATO. Chomsky described it as "a tribute to the discipline and submissiveness of the educated sector," and as "another kind of contribution to the atrocities."
Chomsky admitted that it was not completely true that nothing was said about state terror in Turkey. He said there is some discussion of it–but that Turkey "is lauded" for it. He pointed out that the annual State Department report on terrorism in 1999 singled out Turkey for its "positive experiences in countering terror." He also indicated that this assessment was considered perfectly reasonable when reported on the front page of the New York Times. In Fletcher Forum–US Ambassador to Turkey Robert Pearson recently credited Turkey for its "positive accomplishment in countering terror" and said "the US can have no better ally in countering terrorism because of Turkey’s achievemen’s in countering terror." Pearson also said–"It is no surprise that Turkey should be in the lead in joining the war against terror." Chomsky reminded the audience that Turkey was the first country to offer troops to the US after Sept. 11. He added that Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit declared that it was–as Chomsky put it–"in gratitude for proving arms for the enormous state terror operation he was conducting."
Chomsky said that Turkey has been selected by the US and England to fight the war against terrorism. He also pointed out that operations such as those carried out by Turkey in the southeast are always called "counter-terror." He reminded the audience that Nazi propaganda also claimed that the Nazis were protecting their populations from a terrorist threat–a reference to the various anti-Nazi resistance movemen’s.
Discussing the US-Israel relationship–Chomsky stated that since 1967–"Israel has virtually become a US military base–and a significant one. It is a small country–but it has a huge military. Its air force–tank force–and advanced technology are greater than any in NATO aside from US." He said that it was essentially an offshore US military base–and that it performs other tasks as well throughout the world.
Chomsky indicated that a major geopolitical outcome of the US war in Afghanistan was the establishment of a major US military base in Central Asia–and also in the Republic of Georgia. He said this is important for the natural resources there–but more for access to the Gulf region.
Chomsky noted that 12 percent of the Israeli air and tank force are now in eastern Turkey–and that they are probably operating in northern Iraq and moving toward the Iranian border. He cited this as being part of the growing conflict with the "axis of evil," and against the local alliance of Iran and Armenia.
He explained that Turkey relies heavily on the domestic Israeli lobby in Washington for its support. Chomsky said Turkey has received $30 billion from the World Bank and the IMF in the last year alone–and that this aid depends on the pressure of the US government and the Jewish lobby in favor of Turkey. He also added that this alliance is being extended to include Azerbaijan because of the 30 million Azeris living in northern Iran–which the US would likely want dismembered as a state.
Chomsky also discussed the conflicts taking place over the control of Caspian energy resources–with Turkish–Israeli–and US forces backing Azerbaijan. "Small Armenia is caught up in the middle of all of this," he noted.
Chomsky noted that Russia was certainly able to assess the balance of forces in the region and so is behaving accordingly–at least for the moment. He described that balance as being Iran and Armenia on one side–and the US–Israel–Turkey–and Azerbaijan on the other side. He also explained that most of the conflict concerns pipeline routes from the Caspian avoiding Iran–a route that the energy companies prefer because it is more economical–and without Russia having any control–meaning that they would go through Georgia.
TRIAL IN TURKEY
Chomsky told the gathering that he was in Turkey in February for a political trial. He said because a series of his essays on US policy in the Middle East were translated into Turkish–the publisher was being charged in a military court. He noted that the essays included a few sentences taken from standard human rights reports on Turkish repression of the Kurds–which was the basis of the trial. He said that because of the television cameras from everywhere–except the US–the charges were dropped immediately because there was too much attention.
Chomsky said he was optimistic because of the courage of people in Turkey struggling against legislation restricting free expression and repressing ethnic identity. He noted that these activists have a lot of support–and that they are engaged in constant civil disobedience–which includes the publication of banned writings. He said what he saw was nothing like civil disobedience in the US–particularly because of the danger of imprisonment in Turkey.
He stressed that they are constantly facing up to the danger. "If they get support from the outside–they can win," he claimed.
After the trial–Chomsky visited the southeastern part of Turkey–which he described as "a dungeon." He cited examples of severe repression–including the arrest of the head of a local human rights commission for using the Kurdish spelling for the word referring to New Year’s celebrations. He said people are sentenced for playing Kurdish music or wearing the colors of the Kurdish flag. He told of his surprise when during a press conference in Turkey he was presented with a Kurdish-English dictionary–which is banned–with an inscription about the desire to speak in their mother tongue.
"While this may not seem like an extreme demand–it is enough for torture and imprisonment–destroying people and villages," Chomsky commented.
He also recalled that he was taken to see the remains of an Armenian church in Diyarbekir. He said there was not much left to it–that it was just ruins with no roof and pieces falling off. He was able to meet the caretaker of the church–an elderly man–and he learned that there was supposed to be a small Armenian community–but that no one talks much about it.
"That’s what’s left of this major center–another monument to Turkey’s positive experiences in countering terror," commented Chomsky.
Prof. Chomsky concluded by acknowledging the courage of the people in southeastern Turkey–and not just the intellectuals in Istanbul. He noted that it was impressive that people continue to struggle under those conditions–and said there is no excuse for inaction from people in places where they are free and don’t face this kind of repression.
BACKGROUND ON THE ANC
In his introduction of Prof. Chomsky–Weekly editor Jason Sohigian provided historical background on the host organization–the ANC–as well as the ARF. He noted that the aims of the ARF–as defined in 1919–include the establishment of a free–independent–and united Armenia.
Sohigian explained that Armenia was "caught in the crossroads of conflicting Empires," and that "the Armenian people faced conquest and persecution up to and through the creation of the Ottoman Empire." He described the founding of the ARF–in 1890–to organize the Armenian people to struggle for reforms in the Ottoman Empire. He noted that "by 1915–these idealists were betrayed by Turkish chauvinism–resulting in the Genocide."
Sohigian provided an overview of the role of the ARF in the First Republic of Armenia–which surrendered to the Soviets in 1920 as a result of the threat of invasion by Turkey. He described the persecution of the ARF by the Soviets and the development of a Diaspora of Armenians who were exiled after the Genocide. He explained Stalin’s policies of dividing the ethnic groups of the Soviet Union–redrawing the South Caucasus so that parts of Soviet-controlled ancient Armenia were placed under the jurisdiction of Georgia and Azerbaijan. Sohigian also discussed the threat of assimilation to the Armenian people and the legacy of the Genocide and its ongoing denial.
Sohigian discussed the revival of the Karabakh national liberation movement in the late 1980s. He explained the referendums held for self-determination and the violent response of the Azeris to these aspirations. Sohigian discussed the existence of Afghani mercenaries fighting against the Armenians of Karabakh–the attention paid to human rights issues in the region by groups such as the Sakharov Foundation–and the increasing role that oil geopolitics has come to play in the region. After Armenian independence in 1991–Sohigian explained–the ARF renewed its presence in Armenia.
Sohigian also warned of the threat posed to Armenia as a result of the "war on terrorism" and the shifting balance of power in the region–a balance endangered by the waiver–following Sept. 11–of Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act–which had denied US aid to Azerbaijan because of its illegal blockade of Armenia.
Sohigian described the worldwide network of ANCs–which urge their respective governmen’s to assist the landlocked Republic of Armenia and fight against Genocide denial.
He described the role of the ARF press–including the Hairenik–which has been publishing since 1899–and the Armenian Weekly–both of which publish frequent action alerts from the ANC on human rights issues such as the persecution of the Kurds by Turkey.
Sohigian explained that back in 1990 Prof. Chomsky had written that he hoped to address the Armenian Genocide issue and human rights violations being committed against the Kurds in future research. Sohigian noted this was now possible–and that Prof. Chomsky’s recent visit to Turkey–including Diyarbekir–was the incentive for holding this Public Forum with the ANC to discuss his experiences and observations.