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Western Press Review: Turkey, Russia, Natural Disasters Compel Press Commentary

Prague, 31 January 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Our Western press survey today picks up a flurry of opinion essays in the Turkish Daily News, Turkey's only English-language daily, on the touchiest question in Turkish international political life: Armenian genocide.


Writer Mehmet Ali Birand says to his fellow Turks: "Let us put deceiving ourselves aside for a moment and lend our ears to some facts about the Armenian claims [that the Ottoman Empire's killings of hundreds of thousands of Armenians in 1915 amounted to genocide]." Birand writes: "International public opinion is that Turks massacred the Armenians; [that] somewhere between 700,000 and 3 million people were massacred, neither because of a civil war nor to suppress the powers of external bodies against the Ottoman Empire, the common view [being] that Armenians were just cut to pieces."

Ilnur Cevik writes that when French President Jacques Chirac signed a bill yesterday recognizing the 1915 event as genocide, he chose to declare for Armenians at the cost of Turkish friendship. Rather than retreat into pouting and hurt feelings, the writer says, Turks ought to seek and accept the verdict of impartial outsiders. Cevik says: "The historic facts have to be acknowledged by a commission of international independent historians, and we should be prepared to accept their verdict. Once that is done we can then effectively counter all claims. [Without this] we will lose both energy and friends in the international arena."

A third commentator in the Turkish Daily News uses a different debating tactic. Orhan Kilercioglu writes: "France and other countries seem to have forgotten the genocides and inhumane activities actually carried out in their very own history. [Our] advice to these counties is that they be more engaged in their own disgraces. [Turkey] is in no need of your advice."


Britain's Financial Times devotes two editorials to issues that are highly sensitive in Russia. An editorial on Chechnya says approvingly that Russian President Vladimir Putin seems to be changing his tactics there. The editorial says: "Sixteen months after [Putin] ordered tough military action against Chechen rebels -- a stance that helped propel him into the Kremlin -- there are tentative signs of a change of tack by federal authorities. Rather than relying wholly on military might, Mr. Putin has signaled that he wants to rebuild a civilian administration in Chechnya."

It will be a difficult, expensive and massive job, the editorial says. The newspaper says: "Nor does the situation yet appear stable enough for Russia to be sanguine about ending its anti-terrorist operations by 15 May, the date set by Mr. Putin. [So] the promise of a resolution in Chechnya still seems far away."


The newspaper's other editorial on Russia -- under the headline, "Russian Roulette" -- urges the International Monetary Fund to go slowly in betting any more money on Russia in the form of loans. The newspaper says: "The relationship between Russia and the multilateral institutions has been an unhappy one. For all the billions of dollars poured in, Russia ended the 1990s with a lower level of output than it had at the start of the decade."

The editorial says that Russia does not at this point deserve IMF support. It says: "An IMF program amounts, in practice, to an official endorsement of the government. But given Russia's record, its willingness to stick by a program is far from assured. The IMF should be under no illusions. Agreeing to a program with Russia means putting its own reputation at substantial risk."


A writer for the British Guardian newspaper, Isabel Hilton, writes that her own investigation in Chile exposes ex-dictator Augusto Pinochet's unavoidable guilt in multiple murders during his reign. She says that Pinochet's pending trial in his own country can restore Chile's faith in its institutions.

One case she recounts was of 76 slayings of prisoners in the north of Chile in October 1973. She writes that when a special commission led by Pinochet friend and follower General Arellano Starck arrived, the prisoners were taken out and executed. Hilton says that Pinochet now admits that this may have occurred, but she says that he has placed the blame squarely on the local military commander (and not himself).

She goes on: "He really should not have ventured this final, cowardly lie. His remarks provoked a furious response from General Joaquin Lagos, who was in [local] command." Hilton writes that Lagos protested the killings. The writer says: "The murders, of course, were crimes under the law [and] had Arellano acted without an order from Pinochet, it [would have been] Pinochet's clear duty under military law to court martial him. Instead, [the president] promoted Arellano."


Considering the earthquake that struck India last weekend, the Boston Globe places blame on human error -- not for the event of the tremor itself but for much of its devastation. The Globe says: "The quake struck in a region not known for seismic activity. But several facts point to human error. Chief among them is the widespread disregard of building codes that are lax and out of date in the first place." The editorial says: "Pleas of ignorance about the dangers are not to be trusted. Impressive among the buildings that survived were industrial [structures] built to standards designed to protect them and the investments they represented."

The newspaper concludes on an ominous note: "The problems become more lethal as populations rise and millions crowd densely in cities. India is only the latest chapter, not the final one."


The Times, London, looks northeastward rather than southeastward and describes another natural disaster, borrowing its headline, "The Bleak Midwinter," from an Anglican Christmas hymn. The Times says: "Any European shivering through a cold snap has only to look at Mongolia to see what terrors winter can hold. For Mongolians, scattered over the steppes, a way of life little changed over the centuries is threatened with extinction."

The editorial says: "This is the second consecutive winter of disaster and follows two summer droughts. The cold spells ruination for a nomadic people, whose yak, horses, sheep and goats outnumber human beings by three to one. The livestock provide Mongolians with food, transport, shelter, fuel and income, but now the carcasses cover the steppes."

The Times laments: "An elemental battle for survival will determine whether a way of life can continue. The world would be poorer if it succumbed."