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.