Armenian infighting may be at root of attacks on Turks

In the halls of St. James Apostolic Church, half a dozen Armenian ''survivors'' meet. Their ''testimonies'' to a hushed audience seek to pass on to future generations emotional recollections of forced marches and killings that began 68 years ago.

''We will have our revenge - not to kill, but to build and to build again. We will show the Turks we are a civilized people,'' said the Rev. Papken Maksoudian.

His recollections of his father's having hidden him in a well to save him from Turks seem a long way from recent headlines of Armenian terrorist violence. But the contrast between his words of peace and the bullets aimed at Turkish diplomats in Europe and the United States demonstrates the complex and shifting divisions among the 5.7 million Armenians scattered throughout the world.

Ross Vartian, executive director of the Washington-based Armenian Assembly, says there is a ''growing politicization'' of Armenian communities. ''There are increasing splits over how to deal with Turkey's denial that there ever was a World War I genocide of Armenians,'' he says.

The latest wave of terrorist violence seems tied in with a factional split over tactics among youthful militant Armenian activists, largely from the Middle East. The appearance in Syria of the Armenian Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenia (ASALA) also seems to be a factor. Before the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982, ASALA was based in Beirut, where some members are believed to have studied the terrorist tactics of the Palestine Liberation Organization.

In the last 10 years Armenian terrorists have killed 28 Turkish diplomats or family members, according to a Turkish Embassy spokesman in Washington. Another 28 non-Turks, including two Americans, have been killed during such attacks, he adds.

But the attacks this summer have pointed to tactical shifts within the militant Armenian camp. These incidents include the July 27 suicide bombing of the Turkish ambassador's residence in Madrid in which five terrorists and two others died; the July 15 bomb blast at a Turkish Airlines check-in at Paris's Orly Airport in which seven people died and more than 50 were wounded; and the July 14 shooting death of a Turkish diplomat in Brussels.

ASALA claimed responsibility for the Paris and Brussels incidents; a group calling itself the Armenian Revolutionary Army took responsibility for the Lisbon bombing.

In recent months the ASALA has split on the question of terrorist tactics, according to Edward Boghosian, editor of the Armenian Reporter, an ''independent'' Armenian newspaper in New York City. Mr. Boghosian says one side favors terrorism aimed at Turks alone, so as to prevent a backlash against the Armenian nationalist cause. The other, he says, favors grabbing the spotlight with less discriminating terrorism.

Boghosian suggests the more extreme wing may have mounted the recent attacks, in part to embarrass more moderate opponents.

The latest attacks broadly coincided with a conference of the Armenian World Congress in Lausanne, Switzerland. The aim of this group is to build a worldwide movement that would transcend political and religious splits among Armenians.

It appears that the 200 Armenians who attended the five-day conference included some of the Middle Eastern activists who broke with advocates of indiscriminate terrorism.

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