Key U.S. Air Base in Turkey Sits on Property Stolen From Armenians During the Genocide

The following article was previously published by The Fresno Bee. See the original for the embedded links.


U.S. Air Force personnel walk past an entry at Incirlik Air Base in Turkey.
[Staff Sgt. Rebecca A. Woodrow, U.S. Air Force]

Key U.S. air base in Turkey sits on property stolen from Armenians during the genocide

by David Boyajian

Suppose the U.S. built and operated a military base in Germany on property confiscated from Jews during the Holocaust. America, Jewish Americans, Germany, and Israel would have reached a principled resolution years ago.

Now consider Incirlik (EEN-jeer-leek) Air Base in Turkey. American taxpayers and the Army Corps of Engineers built it 67 years ago. Its 3,320 acres are home to the U.S. Air Force’s 39th Air Base Wing, B-61 nuclear weapons, thousands of American military personnel, and American businesses.

Turkey stole many of those acres from Christian Armenian families during the 1915-23 Armenian Genocide. Relatives of such Armenian families fled to the U.S. and settled in cities like Fresno.

Yet the U.S. State Department has habitually shielded Turkey from accountability in this and related instances.

The air base knows its past, though. In 2007, then base commander, Col. Murrell Stinnette, held a “Town Hall meeting [on Congress’s] Armenian Genocide Resolution.” The base encourages visits to Levonkla, a nearby 12th century Armenian castle.

Turkey committed genocide against 1.5 million Armenians and seized nearly everything they owned in cities and towns such as Incirlik: homes, businesses, ancient churches and monasteries, farms, schools, personal property, valuables, antiquities, and bank accounts.

In Los Angeles Federal Court in 2010, Americans Alex Bakalian, Anais Haroutunian, and Rita Mahdessian sued Turkey, its Central Bank, and Ziraat Bank for confiscating their relatives’ Incirlik property (122 acres) during the genocide.

The plaintiffs sought over $65 million based on the land’s market value, plus a portion of Incirlik rent that Turkey had collected from the U.S. as of 2010.

Days earlier, the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals had upheld California Law 354.4. Modeled after California’s Holocaust claims statutes, the law extended through 2016 the period during which Turkey could be sued.

In 2019, however, the same court decided against the plaintiffs: the lawsuit was “time-barred” due to statute of limitations guidelines.

Similar lawsuits have yielded mixed results.

Many Armenians bought life insurance from New York Life, AXA France, and Germany’s Victoria Versicherung AG before the genocide. But the companies shamefully avoided paying surviving family members. In 2004-5, NY Life and AXA France settled out of court for $40 million.

The German firm evaded responsibility even though Germany — Turkey’s WWI ally — facilitated the Genocide.

In 2006, Armenian Americans sued Germany’s Deutsche and Dresdner banks. Each had seized Armenian accounts and assets post-Genocide. These institutions, too, dodged accountability.

Congress, particularly the House’s bipartisan, 126-member Armenian Caucus, could help the foregoing cases with legislation similar to the California law, but which courts couldn’t override.

Recall that Congress recognized the Armenian Genocide in 2019 with near unanimity.

Congress has often facilitated recovery of property stolen during the Holocaust, including $1.25 billion in Jewish assets appropriated by Swiss banks.

American relations with Turkey have deteriorated due to President Erdogan’s 17-year record of bellicose conduct against the U.S., NATO, and Israel.

Turkey’s internal repression, corruption, support for ISIS, threats against Greece, Cyprus, and Armenia, far-fetched claims over Mediterranean Sea resources, aggressive neo-Ottoman/pan-Turkic policies, purchase of Russian S-400 missiles, and threats over Incirlik haven’t helped relations.

In 2016, demonstrators burned American flags and demanded that the U.S. leave the base. In 2017 and 2019, Turkey threatened to cut off American access to Incirlik.

In 2018, Turkish lawyers wanted to raid the base and arrest U.S. Air Force officers.

Alarmed and appalled, the U.S. has explored moving some Incirlik assets to Greece.

The U.S. could use the Armenian American Incirlik facts to achieve additional leverage over Turkey while also gaining a measure of justice. Resolute diplomacy would be required.

American companies such as Starbucks and Colorado-based Vectrus Systems Corp., as well as the University of Maryland Global Campus, are air base tenants. They must be informed that they occupy stolen property.

Incirlik’s restless ghosts may yet rise to obtain redress and advance American interests and values.

David Boyajian is an Armenian-American freelance journalist. Many of his articles are archived at www.armeniapedia.org/wiki/David_Boyajian.

For his previous essays at Gates of Vienna, see the David Boyajian Archives.

3 thoughts on “Key U.S. Air Base in Turkey Sits on Property Stolen From Armenians During the Genocide

  1. Years ago when I was in the USAF pre 9-11, Incirlik was one of the handful of OCONUS bases I could PCS to since I maintained nukes and there were nukes there.

    Post 9-11 and during the initial invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, I transferred from the USAF into the Army. I remember shortly after the invasion of Iraq began, there was a very strong movement here in the US to formally recognize the Armenian Genocide and the Ottoman (and by extension Turkey’s) role in this. At the time, we needed Turkish support and acquiescence for logistics and to give a veneer of respectability to the invasion of yet another muslim inhabited country. The recognition was shelved at the time but after I left the military and after the election of the goat molester of Ankara, Turkish belligerence and intransigent behavior led to serious talk about relocating those nukes from Turkish soil. I don’t know what ever came of it, but it is the height of foolishness if they yet remain there. It isn’t likely that the Turks would be able to actually use them, but they don’t have to in order to cause the US all kinds of trouble and embarrassment if they decided to roll their military in there and occupy the base.

    BTW, years ago I transited through Incirlik on my way back stateside from TDY in Kyrgyzstan; a location that their president at the behest of Putin wisely gave us the boot before we were able to turn it into another Afghanistan or Ukraine. I remember Incirlik’s location was very beautiful and it was seen as a very plum assignment; at least within my AFSC. I wasn’t aware of its connection with the Armenian Genocide.

  2. There are victims who are officially worthy of respect and compassion and other victims whose suffering is considered not that important. There are still other victims who are officially considered villains.

    In fact, there is a hierarchy in victimhood (that can change over time).

    For example, Jews have been at the top of that hierarchy for decades. Their suffering has been recognised and respected, their persecutors have been condemned, they even received some financial compensation. A huge amount of books, films, songs and theatre plays have been written about Holocaust. Children at school learn about it, there is a lot of academic research into it, politicians often find it expedient to voice their sympathy and compassion for them.

    However, with the increasing islamisation of Europe their position is less sure than it used to be. The woke crowd of Europe now have to find a balance between their abhorrence of anti-Semitism and their fear of islamophobia, which proves a very tough balancing act, as the two communities hate the guts of each other.

    Armenians are at a lower rung in the hierarchy. Their suffering is recognised, but is found less exciting, so you will find far fewer books, museums or films dedicated it and it occupies a much more modest place in textbooks.

    Serbs, who have suffered enormously in both World Wars and continue to suffer in Kosovo at the hands of Albanian nationalists are even less lucky. There is not just no sympathy with their suffering, they are shamelessly demonised by the mainstream media.

    And the most curious case is that of Kurds. In the two American wars against Saddam, Iraqi Kurds were very much advertised as victims of a brutal nationalist regime. Turkish Kurds, also maltreated by a brutal nationlist regime, were, however, rarely mentioned by the Western mainstream media and almost never by Western political leaders, for the obvious reason that at the time Turkey was a valuable ally in Washington’s war against Saddam (and in Washington’s struggle against Iranian ayatollahs). Now that Erdogan is no longer a friend of the US and its European satellites, Turkey’s Kurds may become more popular. However, there are so many Turks in Europe, that European elites might be afraid of making them angry.

    In our humane modern world it is often profitable to be a victim. But if you decide to become one, be careful what sort of victim you will be. If you make the wrong choice, you can get contempt and hatred instead of sympathy and lavish compensations.

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