For the last ninety-two years, the Turkish authorities have been denying that the events that occurred in Anatolia in 1915 constitute a genocide against the Armenians.
First the Ottomans denied it, and then the Turkish republic under Mustafa Kemal Atatürk and his successors took the same line: there was no genocide. There may have been some excesses, and several thousand people got killed, but that was because a few Armenian provocateurs instigated a rebellion during a time of war. The Turks did what they had to do.
We’ve written about the Armenian Genocide several times. The political battle over the official recognition of it has been waged almost since the last of the Armenian corpses were buried in their mass graves. There are extensive eyewitness accounts, many of them by non-Turks and non-Armenians, mostly American aid workers who were present in Anatolia before the United States joined the war against the Central Powers.
Turkey’s German allies sent their observations of the events back to headquarters in Berlin: how’s that for a reliable source? Here’s a quote from the files of the German Foreign Office: “The final result must be the extermination of the Armenian race.”
In the ensuing decades much of the eyewitness material was recorded on audio and film. The last living eyewitness account I read was an interview in 2005 with a very old Armenian woman living in Israel. She had been a small child in 1915, and both her parents had been killed before her eyes.
But to the Turks all of these peoples are liars and exaggerators, and the attempts to designate the unfortunate affair as a genocide is the work of Turkey’s longtime enemies.
The political issues over the Armenian Genocide intensified after 1945, when Turkey became a member of NATO, home to an importqant US Air Force base, and a stalwart ally in the struggle against the Soviet Union. The genocide was relegated to the sidelines, an annoying trifle to be swept under the rug and forgotten in the interest of pragmatic statecraft.
The USSR is no more, and the Cold War exigencies are gone, but the impulse to suppress discussion of the Armenian Genocide has never died. And now the administration of George W. Bush joins the ranks of the holocaust deniers. According to the AP:
Turkey, Bush work to block House resolution on Armenian genocide
Turkish and American officials have been pressing lawmakers to reject in a vote next week a measure that would declare the World War I-era killings of Armenians a genocide.
On Friday, the issue reached the highest levels as U.S. President George W. Bush and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan talked by telephone about their opposition to the legislation, which is to go before the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee on Wednesday.
Armenian supporters of the measure, who seem to have enough votes to get approval by both the committee and the full House, have also been mustering a grass-roots campaign among the large diaspora community in the United States to make sure that a successful committee vote leads to consideration by the full House.
One interest group, the Armenian National Committee of America, has engaged about 100,000 supporters to call lawmakers about the issue, according to Executive Director Aram Hamparian.
Similar measures have been debated in Congress for decades. But well-organized Armenian groups have repeatedly been thwarted by concerns about damaging relations with Turkey, an important NATO ally that has made its opposition clear.
Lawmakers say that this time, the belief that the resolution has a chance to pass a vote by the full House has both Turkey and Armenian groups pulling all stops to influence the members of the committee.
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“The lobbying has been most intense that I have ever seen it,” said the bill’s sponsor, Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff.
The dispute involves the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Armenians during the waning years of the Ottoman Empire. Armenian advocates, backed by many historians, contend the Armenians died in an organized genocide. The Turks say the Armenians were victims of widespread chaos and governmental breakdown as the 600-year-old empire collapsed in the years before Turkey was born in 1923.
Though the largely symbolic measure would have no binding effect on U.S. foreign policy, it could nonetheless damage an already strained relationship with Turkey.
And why is our relationship with Turkey strained? What have we done to offend them?
Is it strained because of that nasty little business in the run-up to the Iraq War in 2003, when the Turks denied the United States permission to enter northern Iraq via Turkey?
That little bit of diplomatic hanky-panky caused a logistical nightmare for the US military, lengthened the war, generated numerous additional American casualties, and allowed thousands of Baathists, criminals, and terrorists — who otherwise would have been interdicted by a northern front — to escape.
That’s Turkey, “an important ally in the war against terror, and a friend of freedom”.
In Turkey’s defense, it has to be said that the diplomatic disaster in 2003 was a piece of European mischief. The French and the Germans dangled the prospect of EU membership in front of Turkey in return for the Turks’ betraying the Americans. This was pure Gallic cynicism on the part of Chirac, who never had any real intention of letting Turkey into the EU. But all is fair in love, war, and sticking it to the USA.
However, it’s the Turks’ fault that they fell for the ploy. They made their bed, and now they should have to lie in it, but we won’t let them. For some reason they remain a “staunch ally”.
The French, indifferent to such niceties, have no such compunctions:
After France voted last year to make denial of Armenian genocide a crime, the Turkish government ended military ties.
Many in the U.S. fear that a public backlash in Turkey could lead to restrictions on crucial supply routes through Turkey to Iraq and Afghanistan and the closure of Incirlik, a strategic air base in Turkey used by the United States. Lawmakers have been hearing arguments from both sides about those concerns.
I’m no military expert, but don’t we have strategic air bases now in Iraq and Afghanistan? What would happen if we call the Turks’ bluff and told them to stuff it? Who has more to lose by the closure of Incirlik, us or them?
The Turks are playing the same card the Arabs do, and pulling the old protection-racket technique: Do as we say, or you’ll get more terrorism.
According to one congressional aide, Turkey’s military chief, Gen. Yasar Buyukanit, has been calling lawmakers to argue that a vote will boost support for Islamists in Turkey. The aide spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.
Foggy Bottom has long been known for squishiness on the issue of the Armenian Genocide. But now the White House has finally come out in the open with the same line:
The Bush Administration has been telling lawmakers that the resolution, if passed, would harm U.S. security interests.
I’m willing to accept this idea provisionally. But somebody tell me: besides Incirlik, what “interests” are realistically likely to be threatened by official recognition? Which of Turkey’s threats are of real significance, and how likely are they to carry them out if their bluff is called?
Gordon Johndroe, a White House spokesman said Friday that Bush believes the Armenian episode ranks among the greatest tragedies of the 20th century, but the determination whether the events constitute a genocide should be a matter for historical inquiry, not legislation.
I’ve got news for the smart set in the White House: the Armenian disaster of 1915 has been a matter of historical inquiry. Historians have studied it extensively for decades, and — outside of Turkey — have overwhelmingly concluded that a genocide was deliberately committed. But that’s not good enough, is it?
And to put the icing on the cake, Mr. Bush is ready to cut deals with Satan herself:
White House staff have also spoken with aides to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi with hope that she will stop the measure from coming to a vote.
“The Administration has reached out to the speaker’s office and made our position clear,”he said. “We’ll see what happens.”
Now that’s a marriage made in heaven… or somewhere.
Hat tip: Exile.