By Areg Galstyan
The American Thinker
Last month, a report on how Donald Trump’s administration should build a political dialogue with Turkey was published at the website of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. The authors of this work are James F. Jeffrey, the former U.S. ambassador to Turkey during the presidency of George W. Bush (2008-2010), and Soner Cagaptay, the director of the Turkish Research Program at The Washington Institute. Recommendations of the authors cover a wide range of geopolitical issues that the United States and Turkey should solve by joining their efforts.
It is noteworthy that Mr. Jeffrey and Mr. Cagaptay mark the necessity for Trump’s administration to guarantee non-recognition of the Armenian Genocide as an important condition for restoration of trust between the U.S. and Turkey. In particular, the authors write: “Separately, the United States can quietly guarantee Turkey that the Armenian Genocide resolution in Congress will not pass. This has always been critical in the relationship and most Turks care deeply about the issue.” There is no doubt that the authors aim not only to influence on the development of the foreign policy of the new administration for Turkey, but also to remind that the Armenian question can have a negative impact on bilateral relations.
Certainly, the representatives of the pro-Turkish lobby groups can develop their own recommendations for the foreign relations between Washington and Ankara. This is a normal practice of lobbying. However, the authors, speaking about the need to block the recognition of the Armenian Genocide, make a number of serious mistakes. First, this question is an internal affair of the United States. We must not forget that the requirement to recognize the historical events of 1915-1923 in the Ottoman Empire comes from the millions of citizens of America and is purely humanitarian. American Armenians do not require official Washington to take any steps against Turkey.
On the other hand, the representatives of U.S.-Armenian relations have always stressed that the recognition of the Armenian Genocide by the United States and Turkey will be a good signal and will allow the establishment of Armenian-Turkish dialogue in the future. Unfortunately, the Turkish authorities turned the Armenian issue into an instrument of political blackmail and intimidation.
Secondly, it is an incorrect recommendation to the U.S. president to influence Congress to prevent the passage of the resolution on the Genocide. This is not just interference in the internal affairs of a sovereign country, but also a call for the executive power to put pressure on the legislators, which cannot but arouse the indignation of American citizens.
Concerning the Armenian issue, I would like to give an alternative view to the next administration. During the Cold War, Turkey was considered one of the most important strategic allies in the bilateral format and in the framework of NATO. On the basis of pragmatic considerations, the White House and the leaders of both parties in Congress believed that an open discussion of the Armenian issue could cause a negative reaction from Turkey. The situation changed in 1974, when Turkey sent troops to the territory of Cyprus. In response to this act of aggression, Congress declared an arms embargo on Turkey. A series of further events led to a serious cooling of U.S.-Turkish relations. Then Washington did not prevent the adoption of Resolution No. 148 on the “Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Inhuman Crimes.” According to the adopted resolution, the 24th of April was officially proclaimed the day of remembrance of victims of the Armenian Genocide. Thus, the United States at that time became the only country in the world whose president officially addressed to the Armenian people on every 24th of April.
In 1978, the U.S. president, Jimmy Carter, used the term “genocide” for the first time in his statement to describe the events of 1915-1923 in the Ottoman Empire. Carter noted that, while preparing for the meeting with the Armenian community, he spent a lot of time in Roosevelt’s room and carefully studied the documents related to the Armenians’ history. The president said he was impressed by the force of will and talent of Armenian people and that as the U.S. citizens, Armenians made an enormous contribution to the development of the country. Carter said that not many people knew that a few years prior to 1915, a deliberate effort was taken to destroy the Armenian people. At the end of his speech, he stated that the Armenian Genocide was one of the greatest tragedies that ever befell any group of people, and no trial similar to Nuremberg was conducted over the criminals.
In the very first year of his presidency, Ronald Reagan demonstrated support for the Armenian-American community in the international recognition of the Armenian Genocide. In his proclamation No. 4838 on April 22 in 1981, Reagan remarked that the United States was aware of the fact and understood that the criminal government that had committed inhuman acts of genocide had to acknowledge its past and repent for it. Reagan said there was an eternal debt of all mankind toward those who had experienced these horrors. He urged the international community to remember that the lessons of the Holocaust, as well as of the Armenian Genocide, the ensuing genocide of the Cambodians, and numerous persecutions against other nations, could never be forgotten.
On the 11th of April in 1985, the Republican majority leader – Senator Robert Dole – introduced Resolution No. 247 on the “Day of Memory of the Armenian Genocide in the Ottoman Empire” to Congress. The hearing in the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the House of Representatives was successful, and Speaker Tip O’Neill put the resolution on a general vote. Turkey threatened that in case of adoption, it would refuse to buy eleven U.S. Boeing aircraft for the benefit of aircraft of the European consortium Airbus Industries. Moreover, Turkey claimed that it would cease to prolong the Defense and Economic Cooperation Agreement.
President Reagan assured Turkey’s Prime Minister Ozal that the administration was committed to maintaining a high level of appropriations for Turkey. The U.S. president was referring to the majority in Congress held by Democrats, whom he could not influence. Regardless of quite logical explanations given by the White House, the Turkish side did not conceal its irritation. Ankara stated again that it would prepare for the revision of the U.S.-Turkish agreement on military and economic cooperation. America, which at that time was going through a period of difficult relations with Greece, was close to losing access to its military bases in Turkey. It was for that reason that the U.S.’s Secretary of State Schulz arrived to the negotiations on the extension of the agreement in Ankara.
Trying to prevent the recognition of the Armenian Genocide, the pro-Turkish lobbies were interfering in the electoral process. Thus, Ankara and its lobbyists campaigned against Mike Dukakis – an ethnic Greek who was the candidate of the Democratic Party in the presidential elections of 1988. They also opposed George Deukmejian, an ethnic Armenian and the governor of California, who was considered by George Bush, Sr. for the post of the U.S. vice president. During their election campaigns, presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama talked about the need to tell the truth about the Armenian Genocide at the highest level. However, being in the Oval Office, they broke their promises for fear of spoiling relations with Turkey. These examples from history show that the Turkish authorities and the pro-Turkish lobbyists have always used intimidation tactics when it comes to the Armenian issue. Donald Trump poses himself as a leader who will protect the interests of America and Americans. In this case, the new president and his administration should not allow Turkey to interfere in the internal affairs of the United States.
Moreover, Turkey’s statements that adoption of a resolution recognizing the Armenian Genocide may harm relations with the U.S. are greatly exaggerated. Nowadays, the laws on the Armenian Genocide have been adopted in more than twenty countries around the world, including Russia, France, and Germany. Did Russia’s recognition of the Armenian Genocide have an impact on its bilateral relations with Turkey? No. Official Ankara has traditionally protested and threatened with deterioration in relations. However, in reality, we are witnessing active development of Russian-Turkish ties in the political, economic, trade, tourism, and energy sectors. There was a similar scenario regarding Turkish-French relations after Paris officially recognized the Armenian Genocide. By the way, France and Germany, being Turkey’s NATO allies, take their own domestic political decisions without fear of Ankara’s threats.
In this regard, the new administration should clearly express its position on the Armenian issue and should not be afraid of threats from Turkey and its lobbyists. Anyway, President Trump has two ways to solve this issue. He can continue the policy of denying the Armenian Genocide (as Bush and Obama did), or he can choose a different path and become the president who had enough courage to restore historical justice. I hope Trump will choose the path of Ronald Reagan instead of the one of Barack Obama.
This article originally appeared in The American Thinker.
Areg Galstyan, Ph.D., is a regular contributor to The National Interest, Forbes, and The Hill and the head of the “American Studies” Research Centre. You can follow him on Twitter @Galstran_Areg.
Congressman Gus Bilirakis Pledges to Bring Armenia Closer to Greece, Cyprus, and Israel as New Armenian Caucus Vice Chair
By Taniel Koushakjian
FLArmenians Managing Editor
Congressman Gus Bilirakis (R-FL) has been named Vice Chair of the Congressional Caucus on Armenian Issues. In addition to playing an active role in the Armenian Caucus, notably efforts to secure Turkey’s return of confiscated Christian Armenian, Greek, and Assyrian religious property and U.S. reaffirmation of the Armenian Genocide, Rep. Bilirakis also serves as the Co-Chair of the Congressional Caucus on Hellenic Issues, and as Co-Chair of the Congressional Hellenic-Israel Caucus, among others.
“I look forward to working with like-minded House colleagues in the Congressional Caucus on Armenian Issues to continue and grow the Caucus’ focus on issues of concern to the Armenian American community,” Congressman Bilirakis told FLArmenians.com. “I have long admired the tenacity and strong will of the Armenian people who have thrived despite enduring a history of suffering under repressive regimes. I am especially gratified to be a part of the Caucus as we come upon the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide – a horrific massacre of over 1.5 million innocent Armenian men, women, and children. I intend to work diligently so that the Caucus can pass a resolution that expresses a sense of Congress that is meaningful and effective.
“Finally, as Co-Chair of the Congressional Caucus on Hellenic Affairs and Founder and Co-Chair of the Congressional Hellenic-Israel Alliance, I am eager to help incorporate Armenia into the broader discussion of energy and security issues with Greece, Cyprus, and Israel. The Caucus has a long history of bi-partisan cooperation which I look forward to continuing as we take on new challenges in the years ahead.”
Congressman Gus M. Bilirakis is a Republican from Palm Harbor, representing Florida’s 12th Congressional District, which includes all of Pasco and northern parts of Pinellas and Hillsborough counties. He was first elected to Congress on November 7, 2006, and is currently serving his fourth term in the United States House of Representatives.
As a young boy, Gus learned the importance of public service from his father, Michael Bilirakis, who represented Florida’s Ninth Congressional District from 1983 to 2006. The elder Bilirakis also instilled in his son a pride in the family’s Greek heritage, which Gus proudly carries into his career today.
Bilirakis sits on the House Energy and Commerce Committee and is the Vice Chair of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee.
Fifty-two years ago, as Soviet cosmonauts and U.S. astronauts were first venturing into space, another space program was also taking off—in Lebanon.
By Sheldon Chad
Saudi Aramco World
Yes, in the early 1960’s, the country of 1.8 million people, one-quarter the size of Switzerland, was launching research rockets that reached altitudes high enough to get the attention of the Cold War superpowers.
But the Lebanese program was more about attitude than altitude: Neither a government nor a military effort, this was a science club project founded by a first-year college instructor and his undergraduate students. And while post-Sputnik amateur rocketry was on the rise, mostly in the U.S., no amateurs anywhere won more public acclaim than the ones in Lebanon.
But that is forgotten history now, says Manoug Manougian, now 77 and a mathematics professor at the University of South Florida in Tampa. He leads me into a conference room where he has set out on a table file boxes filled with half-century-old newspapers, photographs and 16mm film reels.
“When I decided to leave, no one was interested to take care of all this,” says Manougian. “But I felt, even at that point, that it was a part of Lebanese history.”
Born in the Old City of Jerusalem, Manougian won a scholarship to the University of Texas, and he graduated in 1960 with a major in math. Right away, Haigazian College in Beirut was glad to offer him a job teaching both math and physics. The college also made him the faculty advisor for the science club, which Manougian reoriented by putting up a recruitment sign that asked, “Do you want to be part of the Haigazian College Rocket Society?”
He did this, he explains, because even as a boy, he loved the idea of rockets. He recalls taking penknife in hand and carving into his desk images of rocket ships flying to the moon. “It’s the kind of thing that stays with you,” Manougian says.
John Markarian, former head of the college, now 95, recalls thinking it was “a rather harmless student activity. What a wonderful thing it was.” The first rocket, he says, “was the size of a pencil.”
Six students signed up, and in November 1960, the Haigazian College Rocket Society (HCRS) was born. “It is not a matter of just putting propellant in the tube and lighting it,” says Manougian. Former HCRS member Garo Basmadjian explains that at the time, “we didn’t have much knowledge, so we looked at ways to increase the thrust of the rocket by using certain chemicals.” After dismissing gunpowder, they settled on sulfur and zinc powders. Then they would pile into Manougian’s aging Oldsmobile and head to the family farm of fellow student Hrair Kelechian, in the mountains, where they would try to get their aluminum tubes to do, well, anything.
“We had a lot of failures, really,” says Basmadjian.
But soon enough “it did fly some distance,” Manougian adds.
The HCRS began using a pine-forested mountain northeast of Beirut to shoot off the “tiny baby rockets,” as Manougian calls them, each no longer than half a meter (19″).
As they experimented, the rockets grew larger. By April 1961, two months after the first manned Soviet orbital mission, the college’s entire student body of 200 drove up for the launch of a rocket that was more than a meter long (40″).
The launch tube aimed the rocket across an unpopulated valley, but at ignition, Manougian recalls, the thrust pushed the “very primitive” launcher backward, in the opposite direction, and instead of arcing up across the valley, the rocket blazed up the mountain behind the students.
“We had no idea what lay in that direction,” says Manougian. To investigate, the students started climbing, and on arrival at the Greek Orthodox Church on the peak, they came on puzzled priests staring at the remains of the rocket, which had impacted the earth just short of the church’s great oaken doors. Manougian calculated that, even with the unplanned launch angle, considering thrust and landing point, the rocket had reached an altitude of about a kilometer (3300′), and he adds the bold claim that this was the first modern rocket launched in the Middle East.
The next day, Manougian got a call from Lieutenant Youssef Wehbe of the Lebanese military. He cautioned that the hcrs couldn’t just go up any old mountainside and shoot off rockets. They could, however, do it as much as they wished under controlled conditions at the military’s artillery range on Mt. Sannine. Wehbe, also in his 20’s, was a ballistics expert, and he was more than intrigued. “Our first success,” says Manougian, came there at Mt. Sannine, where the rocket they demonstrated for Wehbe soared 2.3 kilometers (7400′) into the air.
Newspapers got wind of the launches, and they reported that the “Cedar 2C” (named for the symbol of Lebanon) had reached 14.5 kilometers (47,500′). “Obviously, that’s not yet the moon distance of 365,000 kilometers. But the Lebanese aren’t after that, they’re after technique,” stated the report.
Under Wehbe’s supervision, HCRS developed two-stage and then three-stage rockets, each bigger than the last and soaring higher and farther.
In the papers, the rocket men were portrayed as both brawny and brainy, and they were the talk of Lebanon. A fan club of prominent Lebanese—mostly women—formed the Comité d’encouragement du Groupe Haigazian. In the photos and films of the launches, one can see generals deferring to college kids in HCRS hardhats and eagerly posing in the press photos with them. Even Lebanese president Fuad Chehab invited Manougian and his students to the palace for a photo op.
“We were just having fun and doing something we all wanted to do,” says Basmadjian. “When the president came into the picture and gave us some money, it took off.”
“We were members of a scientific society. We felt good about it,” says Simon Aprahamian, another former student. “But it didn’t feel like what the us or ussr were doing. It’s a small country, Lebanon. People felt, ‘This is something happening in our country. Let’s get involved.’”
Launches now drew hundreds of spectators to the site overlooking the Mediterranean Sea at Dbayea, north of Beirut, and Haigazian itself became known as “Rocket College.” As the HCRS was now the country’s pride, its name changed to the Lebanese Rocket Society (LRS).
Lebanese weren’t the only ones watching. Both superpowers, according to Manougian, had “cultural attachés” observing the launches, and he believes they did more than that. “My papers were always out of place on my desk,” he says, and he recalls once leaving a note: “My filing cabinet I am leaving open. I have nothing to hide. But please don’t mess up my desk!”
One night in 1962, Manougian was taken in the back of a limousine to a factory in the heart of downtown Beirut. There, he was introduced to Shaykh Sabah bin Salim Al-Sabah of Kuwait, who offered to fund Manougian’s experiments generously if he moved them to Kuwait. Manougian hesitated, recalling the commitment he made to himself when he accepted the post at Haigazian: “Don’t stay too long. You only have a bachelor’s degree.” More than a private lab, Manougian wanted to get back to Texas to get his master’s.
Before Manougian left for Texas, however, he sat down with Wehbe to plan two launches for Lebanese Independence Day, November 21, in both 1963 and 1964. The rockets would be called Cedar 3 and Cedar 4, and each would have three stages.
They would dwarf what went before in both size and strength: seven meters (22′) long, weighing in at 1270 kilograms (2800 lbs) and capable of rising an estimated 325 kilometers (200 mi) and covering a range of nearly 1000 kilometers (about 620 mi), the rockets would generate some 23,000 kilograms (50,000 lbs) of thrust to hit a top speed of 9000 kilometers per hour (5500 mph). From the nose cone, a recording of the Lebanese national anthem would be broadcast.
On November 21, 1963, a model of Cedar 3 was paraded through Beirut’s streets to great applause. The cover of the souvenir booklet shows a rocket overflying the city. For Cedar 4, Lebanon issued commemorative postage stamps showing the rocket leaving Earth’s atmosphere. On launch day, 15,000 people showed up, along with generals and even the president.
The newspapers reported with national pride that the rockets flew into “space” and landed on the far side of Cyprus. The altitudes that were published varied from 145 to 200 kilometers (90–125 mi). The actual figures, however, are likely more modest. “That was totally wishful,” says Ed Hart, the Haigazian physics professor who took over as faculty advisor to the LRS. “It never came close. We kept our mouths shut [because] it was not a student matter anymore. It had become a social, society kind of matter.”
For Manougian, Wehbe told him that according to calculations, the rockets achieved their aims. Hart, whose specialty is science education, brings it back to empirical achievement: “We were teaching students a great deal, and that is what we came for: the mystery and structure of forces.”
In 1964, master’s degree in hand, Manougian returned to Lebanon, and again collaborated with Wehbe on a few more launches. By then, world powers were interested: France supplied the rocket fuel; the U.S. invited Wehbe to Cape Canaveral.
Cedar 8 was the last LRS rocket. Launched in 1966, it was a two-stage, 5.7-meter (18′) rocket with a range of 110 kilometers (68 mi)—a long way from the pencil-sized rockets of five years earlier. “We were launching in the evening, and we put lights on top of the second stage to be able to witness the separation. There were no hitches. It took off beautifully, the separation was fairly obvious, nothing exploded and it landed at the time it was supposed to land. To me that was a perfect launch,” says Manougian, still in awe 50 years on.
By 1966 Manougian grew concerned about the extent of military involvement. “I’d accomplished what I’d come there to accomplish. It was time for me to get my doctoral degree and do what I love most, which was teaching,” he says. He left in August, and the Lebanese Rocket Society was no more.
But under military auspices, a last Lebanese rocket, Cedar 10, flew in 1967. According to Manougian, Wehbe told him that French president Charles de Gaulle soon pressured President Chehab to shut down the rocket project for geopolitical reasons.
Decades of political turbulence followed, and the story of the LRS lay hidden away in Manougian’s boxes.
Two years ago, science and engineering students at the University of South Florida approached Manougian to set up a rocket society. “My students did this 50 years ago,” he replied, adding, “What can you do now that’s innovative?” That’s how he became faculty advisor of the Society of Aeronautics and Rocketry (SOAR), which is exploring rockets powered by electromagnetism and nano-materials. As in Beirut, he says, “the important thing is not the rocket. It is the scientific venture.”
“Soar” is an apt metaphor for all involved. With the HCRS/LRS rocket projects, Lebanon punched well above its weight. Wehbe retired as a brigadier general. Manougian went on to win teaching awards, and he is loved by his students now as then. Many of the LRS students, and others inspired by them, went on to excel in scientific pursuits.
“Most of us come from very humble beginnings. But we had some brains and we studied hard,” says Basmadjian.
“Did that experience help with regard to making new inventions?” asks another former student, Hampar Karageozian, who later studied at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and founded several ophthalmological drug companies. “Yes, it did. Because it completely changed my attitude. The attitude that we could say that nothing is impossible, we really have to think about things, we really have to try things. And it might work!”
Sheldon Chad (email@example.com) is an award-winning screenwriter and journalist for print and radio. From his home in Montreal, he travels widely in the Middle East, West Africa, Russia and East Asia. He will be reporting from Chad for his next story for Saudi Aramco World.
This story originally appeared on page 18 of the May/June 2013 Print Edition of Saudi Aramco World.