Saturday, October 13, 2007

The Armenian Genocide

Bruce McQuain, on the extermination of 1.5 million (out of a population of two million) Armenians during World War I:

I've heard some lame reasoning before but this ranks right up there as some of the worst:
With tensions rising between the United States and Turkey over a resolution that labels the World War I-era massacre of Armenians by Turkish forces "genocide," many are asking why the House is debating the resolution now.

It was 90 years ago this massacre happened. The government and most likely every person associated with it are dead.

Turkey is a vital NATO ally.

So someone, anyone, tell me why, if, as Democrats argue, it is so important that we rebuild our image abroad, that we attack and impugn the honor of an important ally?


Yes. Let's start with language. The murder of 1.5 million Armenians was not a "massacre." It was genocide.

Next, I think Bruce is a bit confused. When Democrats and liberals argue that the United States needs to rebuild its image abroad, they are using "image" to refer to America's reputation as a beacon of democracy and freedom, and as a defender of global human rights. They are not using the word "image" to refer to America's more recent image as a country that gives hypocritical lip service to human rights while arming and supporting savage dictatorships as long as said dictatorships support U.S. policies. That being the case, the Bush administration's vehement opposition to a congressional resolution calling the Armenian genocide a genocide is not likely to be successful in rebuilding our image abroad.

But of course that is not why Pres. Bush opposes any acknowledgment that the Armenian genocide was genocide. This is why:
Turkey, a NATO member, has been a key U.S. ally in the Middle East and a conduit for sending supplies into Iraq.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Wednesday that good relations with Turkey are vital because 70 percent of the air cargo sent to U.S. forces in Iraq and 30 percent of the fuel consumed by those forces fly through Turkey.

U.S. commanders "believe clearly that access to airfields and roads and so on, in Turkey, would very much be put at risk if this resolution passes and the Turks react as strongly as we believe they will," Gates said.

Bagis said no French planes have flown through Turkish airspace since a French Parliament committee passed a similar resolution last year.

He said the response to the U.S. might not be the same, but warned if the full House passes it that "we will do something, and I can promise you it won't be pleasant."

I understand that there is a good faith argument to be made against the timing of the current resolution. I know that opposing the resolution does not necessarily equate to denying that genocide is the correct word for what happened to the Armenian people 90 years ago, as Jane Harman demonstrated in this Los Angeles Times op-ed [emphasis mine]:
As one whose own family was decimated by the Holocaust, I respond very personally to charges that I would deny the existence of savage acts of inhumanity against a group of people because of ethnic, religious or racial differences -- be they Jews, Darfurians, Rwandans or Armenians.

Yet that's exactly what I was accused of last week after I sent a letter to Rep. Tom Lantos, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, urging him to withdrawHR 106, which I had co-sponsored earlier in the year. Some Armenian Americans, whose passion I appreciate, have misinterpreted my determination that the time is not right to vote on such a resolution as "denial" of the Armenian genocide. Nothing could be further from the truth.

No question: The debate raging in Washington over the Armenian genocide resolution is personal. Similar resolutions have passed the House twice -- in 1975 and 1984 -- and we are poised to pass another before Thanksgiving. Whether it will be brought to a vote in the Senate remains unclear.

I originally co-sponsored the resolution because I was convinced that the terrible crime against the Armenian people should be recognized and condemned. But after a visit in February to Turkey, where I met with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Armenian Orthodox patriarch and colleagues of murdered Turkish Armenian journalist Hrant Dink, I became convinced that passing this resolution again at this time would isolate and embarrass a courageous and moderate Islamic government in perhaps the most volatile region in the world.

So I agree with eight former secretaries of State -- including Los Angeles' own Warren Christopher -- who said that passing the resolution "could endanger our national security interests in the region, including our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, and damage efforts to promote reconciliation between Turkey and Armenia."

Timing matters. I asked a leader in California's Armenian American community just days ago why the resolution was being pushed now. "They didn't ask me," he said. It wasn't his call, and he probably would not have pushed it.

So what is the endgame? I would hope that, regardless of the outcome of the vote, Turkey and Armenia will work toward reconciliation and normalization of relations.

About 70,000 Armenians live in Turkey, and Turkey continues to admit more. Yet Article 301 of Turkey's Constitution prohibits insulting "Turkishness" -- a disturbing provision that has been used to punish Armenians in Turkey who insist the genocide took place. Surely an act of reconciliation would be to embrace the Armenian population in Turkey and repeal Article 301.

Further, Turkey and Armenia have held recent talks about normalizing relations. They share mutual interests in trade, especially in the energy sector. Now is a good time to engage.

And, of course, there is the need for stability in the region. Turkey shares a border with Iraq, and the need for its continued restraint with the Kurds and for its leadership in promoting stability and resolving the Israel-Palestine issue is obvious. Armenia can help.

In a democracy, groups have the right to protest, and surely I respect the right of California's large Armenian community (and the L.A. Times' editorial board) to disagree with my position on the timing of yet a third congressional vote on the genocide. But once that vote occurs, that fabulously talented community can usefully channel its passion and energy into productive next steps toward reconciliation.

Condemning horror is important. But moving through the anger and psychic hurt to positive action is true emancipation.

My family (on my father's side) was decimated by the Holocaust, too. I believe Harman when she says she is not an apologist for genocide. It's clear that she isn't, because throughout the op-ed, she explicitly uses the word "genocide" when she is referring to the crime committed against the Armenian people. I also agree with Nancy Pelosi when she says there is never a good time for this resolution, and it has been brought up many times before now.

But I bristle, and take personal offense, as the child of Nazi Holocaust survivors, at the ignorant dismissiveness of people like Bruce McQuain, who writes [emphasis on the word "massacre" is mine]:
It was 90 years ago this massacre happened. The government and most likely every person associated with it are dead.

Now there is an apologist for genocide -- which is not the same as a massacre. Bruce thinks there is a statute of limitations on acknowledging genocide. He is wrong. And the Armenian genocide must be formally and explicitly identified as such, precisely because it happened so long ago. From literally the moment of its birth as an independent modern nation, Turkey has refused to acknowledge what was done to the Armenians living in the land that now bears that name. The denial of the crime of genocide for so many years -- and the legitimacy given to that denial by the entire Western world -- are crimes in and of themselves. For almost a century, Turkey has pretended that the deliberate extermination of an entire people did not happen. And we -- the West, Europe, the United States -- went along with that pretense.

That is shameful, and it has created an injustice that the Armenian people have lived with and suffered in addition to the memories of the atrocities themselves. Even this is not the worst of it, however. The worst of it is that the crime of the denial of the Armenian genocide, on top of the original crime of the genocide itself, almost certainly paved the way for the next genocide, which was much worse in sheer scale -- in fact, it is probably the worst single example of man's inhumanity to man in all of human history. That is the one that decimated my family.

"I have issued the command — and I'll have anybody who utters but one word of criticism executed by a firing squad — that our war aim does not consist in reaching certain lines, but in the physical destruction of the enemy. Accordingly, I have placed my death-head formations in readiness — for the present only in the East — with orders to them to send to death mercilessly and without compassion, men, women, and children of Polish derivation and language. Only thus shall we gain the living space (Lebensraum) which we need. Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?"


Joan said...

Hi There!

"...[A] courageous and moderate Islamic governemnt..."? What the hell has Jane Harman been smoking? Did she forget the recent slaughter of the Kurds by the Turks? Is Hamran stupid or does she agree with Bush that keeping Turkey open for the United States military is more important than human rights?

Take Care

Kathy said...

Actually, I think she thinks that Turkey might clean up its human rights record, treat the Kurds better, and reconcile with the Armenians if no one speaks the word "genocide." I don't know if that makes her stupid, but it certainly makes her wrong. Reconciliation between nations and peoples over wrongs as massive as the Turkish genocide against the Armenians cannot happen if no one wants to call the wrong by its proper name.

libhom said...

Jane Harman is full of it. Anyone who opposes the resolution is deliberately endorsing the Armenian genocide, no ifs, no ands, no buts, and no excuses.

Harman is bought and paid for by war profiteers who want to continue the occupation of Iraq indefinitely. She would rather endorse the Armenian genocide than take any action which would bring the illegal and unAmerican war in Iraq to a close.

Jane Harman is a right-wing extremist Republican posing as a Democrat. She is unfit to hold public office.