23.05.2019 Author: Henry Kamens

Scare Tactics in Turkish-American Geopolitical Game: Conjuring up Armenian Ghosts


One story that has received little attention is that of an Armenian genocide survivor and killer of two Turkish Diplomats in the US in 1973. Gurgen Yanikiyan, age 77 lured two diplomats into a hotel room in the US State of California and shot them dead (and to be sure)—he finished them off with head shots for good measure.

I have written many stories on Turkey over the years and not all positive. However, Turkey is right in having condemned the recent re-burial of the remains of an Armenian genocide survivor – who murdered the two Turkish officials in Los Angeles in 1973 — in the Armenian capital of Yerevan.

With this in mind, and considering the nexus of Turkey and its proximity to Syria Iran and Iraq, history is speaking to a modern audience. It is not what is in the MSM that is most revealing but stories that are deeply rooted in history and strong emotions.

Glorifying a Ghost

The timing of the burial is highly-suspect, and considering relations between Turkey and the US. Glorifying a ghost of the past, especially at a critical time, is done in poor taste.  It would not even be outside the bounds of modern day political games that a foreign intelligence service, and not one which is in close proximity to the territory of Turkey is involved, so to complicate the Turkish position in not wanting the US to start a war with Iran.

The remains of Gourgen Yanikian, who inspired the founding of the Armenian Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenia (ASALA), have been moved from the US to Armenia. The remains have been buried at Yerablur Pantheon (Military Cemetery) in Yerevan.

“We [the Turkish government] condemn in the strongest terms the burial of the remains located in Los Angeles of the Armenian terrorist Gurgen Yanikiyan, who martyred Mehmet Baydar, Consul General, and Bahadır Demir, Consul, in Los Angeles on 27 January 1973, to the Military Cemetery in Yerevan with a ceremony on 5 May 2019,” Turkey’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

This event gives an opportunity to look at the timing and the possible motivation. As I recently wrote one Armenian friend who has written an article on the man, albeit several years ago: “I would like to write an article about him from the perspective of how he could be more dangerous to Turkey dead than alive.”

In death, Yanikian became a symbol to many Armenians of their resentment toward the Turkish government for refusing to acknowledge the Armenian genocide. Upon Yanikian’s death, one of his attorneys, Bill Paparian, said that he “is now a piece of Armenian history.”

I personally think his history is more interesting than The Promise, a movie about the Armenian Genocide and the documented crimes of the Young Turks. However, I want to know more and what were his real motivations, and who even stood behind him. It hard to say in retrospect but current affairs can give us some insight.

Your suspicions can be mine too!

As described on an Armenian historic blog site, “The figure of Gurgen or Garegin Yanikian is truly significant in the history of transnational Armenian terrorism and the entire Armenian nationalist movement, since it can be considered the ideological inspirer of the revival of the terrorist activities of Armenian nationalists in the last quarter of the twentieth century.”

The legacy of Armenian violence of the 1970s and 1980s perpetrated mostly by two groups (calling themselves ASALA and JCAG – the Armenian Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenia and the Justice Commandoes of the Armenian Genocide) are rather embarrassing for many Armenians today. It’s not something people like to talk about openly. One segment of the Armenian population glorifies their actions. Every year, for example, the legacy of the “Lisbon Five” is celebrated.

These were five very young men – barely twenty or so, each of them – who went and attacked the Turkish embassy in Lisbon, back in 1980-something, the early ’80s. They ended up killing themselves in the process. That is shameful and a shame. Those boys could have lived their lives and done far more for their nation than give in to the kind of frustration that boiled over through genocide recognition agitation and, significantly, the Lebanese Civil War.

When the movement for Karabakh and Armenian independence began, many of the ASALA and JCAG members found themselves in Yerevan and on the front lines – efforts that were far worthier, in my opinion. The more nationalist attitude would render them all heroes, regardless of circumstances. These are sensitive and somewhat unclear points.

I am not sure if Yanikian or others “could be more dangerous to Turkey dead than alive”. Using his memory to mobilise the population? Inspiring others to violence? None of that sounds encouraging.

Turkish fact checking sources, most likely linked to the government, claim that a total of 110 attacks in 38 cities in 21 countries were launched under the ASALA and assisted via the coordination of other terror groups, including the PKK. At least 42 Turkish diplomats and four foreign nationals were killed; at least 15 Turks and 66 foreign nationals were wounded.

US and foreign intelligence services, including those of European countries have well documented the actions of rightwing Armenian terrorist groups over the years, even referring to them in various open sourced CIA reports.

Often foreign governments, including fellow NATO members, have turned a blind eye as these attacks were against Turkish targets, although a few European and US facilities have also been targeted. Deals have been made over the years to allow the terrorists to pursue Turkish targets in European countries as long as they did not attack local ones.

Operation Nemesis

Revenge is best served up cold. History is reveling and even the actions of Yanikian, leaves much to be researched. Take for instance, Eric Bogosian, in his book, “Operation Nemesis: The Assassination Plot that Avenged the Armenian Genocide,”

In 1921, a tightly knit band of killers set out to avenge the deaths of almost one million victims of the Armenian Genocide. They were a humble bunch: an accountant, a life insurance salesman, a newspaper editor, an engineering student, and a diplomat. Together they formed one of the most effective assassination squads in history. They named their operation Nemesis, after the Greek goddess of retribution.

Bogosian gives the first full account of a secret plot by assassins. He describes how the assassins were survivors, men defined by the massive tragedy that had devastated their people. With operatives on three continents, the Nemesis team killed six major Turkish leaders in Berlin, Constantinople, Tbilisi, and Rome, only to disband and suddenly disappear. The story of this secret operation has never been fully told, until now.

Terrorist and a Hero

Comparatively Yanikian was both a terrorist and a hero—and he followed in their footsteps. I daresay it’s still a painful, at times embarrassing, topic, but surely the fact that it got a reaction from official Ankara is revealing.

The Turkish government was very dismissive of any Armenian claims – until the violence spree in the 70s. The secret meeting in Zurich between Turkish foreign ministry officials and Armenian Diaspora leaders would not have taken place.

But where does this leave us today, as to the timing, and if there is a nexus to a BIGGER picture of things. Naturally Armenia serves the interests of other countries, even competing interests, and good relations with Turkey is not in the cards. This is especially true since there has never a Nuremberg process for the 1 and ½ million genocide victims—and likely will never be a full accounting in the ledger of truth and guilt: justice, truth and the value of every single human being.

It is like making a BIG deal over Civil War monuments in the US, only for the sake of modern day political games, often expediency. Even Azeri heroes were hung by the British in the Marneuli region of Georgia in what is now the Republic of Georgia over one hundred years ago. One stature was taken down and replaced with Georgian ones. The fighting over a monument in 100 years on is not by happenstance, and there are many such examples throughout history.

As was the case of Operation Nemesis, there was involvement of British intelligence in the organizing of the killings. Perhaps it is better not to know history at times; it reveals what may transpire in the not-too-distant future.

I want to believe that the timing of the reburied Gurgen Yanikiyan is by sheer happenstance and no insidious purpose was intended. However, that would be a bit naïve. A deeper and more sinister message is being sent. The US and its allies have at their disposal the means to punish Turkey should it try to interfere in its plans for Iran and the region.

It is apparent that Turkey may soon become even a greater nemesis for the US and its policy in the region, now that the regime change in Syria is not going to plan, and in light of the updated battle plans for Iran. It is highly speculative but it might be necessary to demonize Turkey for short term US policy and corporate interests—and use terrorist assets, both dead and alive, for geopolitical gain.

Henry Kamens, columnist, expert on Central Asia and Caucasus, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.