Wednesday, October 10, 2007

On the Armenia Resolution

The House Foreign Relations Committee just passed a resolution labeling as "genocide" the WWI Turkish killing of Armenians. The vote was 27-21 (if anyone has the vote breakdown, I'd be obliged). Such resolutions have passed House committees before, but never made it to the full body for a vote. That looks to change this time, as Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has a large Armenian-American constituency and is thus strongly committed to getting it passed.

Publius offers the standard, mature view (taken by every living Secretary of State, incidentally), that this is not the right time. Turkey is one of our closet Muslim allies. Moreover, unlike quotation mark "allies" like Saudi Arabia, it is a bona fide liberal, democratic Islamic state. It also is one of the few Muslim states to recognize and have diplomatic relations with Israel -- a relationship it has been issuing veiled threats against in the event that this resolution passes. And it happens to border Iraq, where it could if it so desired cause all manner of trouble under the pretext of dealing with its "Kurdish problem." This event happened a long time ago, Publius argues, so why stir up the fuss?

My first response, I admit, is emotional. Turkey's absolutely childish reaction to simply acknowledging historical fact is unbelievably grating to me, and at this point the inevitable temper tantrum they've threatened to throw is a perk, not a disadvantage, to me. As I wrote back in August when Turkey wanted to "send a message" to American Jews about the implications of this vote, my own message back to them is "grow up". It's long since time. And if they want to enter societal adulthood kicking and screaming, well, so much the worse for them.

But more substantively, contra Publius I think recognizing past human rights atrocities -- particularly those in which the perpetrators have tried desperately to deny their crimes -- has significant contemporary import. I'm reminded of this excerpt from Charles Briggs:
[D]ebates about genocide are themselves political events that bear powerfully on creating, legitimating, and challenging violence.... Actions generally come to be referred to as genocides -- and as 'events' -- post facto. The labeling shapes how they are perceived and remembered and their implications for the future. Constructing an event as genocide places it in relationship to other acts and creates conduits for the circulation of accusations. The architects of genocide are often as concerned with suppressing discourse about the event as with the killing itself. [Charles Briggs, "Genocide," in A Companion to Racial and Ethnic Studies, David Theo Goldberg & John Solomos, eds., (Oxford: Blackwell 2002), 38]

The people who contemplate genocide pay attention to how society has reacted to similar events in the past. Hitler, we recall, was encouraged in his own Final Solution because "who remembers the Armenians?" When genocidal regimes perceive that they can infinitely stave off the day of reckoning for their actions via a variety of diplomatic shuffles, threats, and bluster, we lose one of the few non-military deterrents we have to the violence. Particularly in this age, where it has become clear that the world community either doesn't have the heart or stomach to physically intervene to stop genocide, it becomes all the more important to utilize whatever resources we have in our arsenal to stave them off before they occur. In this fight, moral suasion is a surprisingly effective weapon -- but only if it is known that it will be deployed.

And what of the opposition of all the Secretaries of State? I think it's important to understand where they're coming from. Certainly, passing this resolution would make their jobs harder. Turkey undoubtedly will retaliate as best it can, and this will harm many vital US interests across the board. I concede that. But guess what? Our diplomats aren't supposed to have easy jobs. They're supposed to do their jobs. And their job is to negotiate American interests and morals within an ethical framework we set up that, on occasion, obliges us to do things that make our life harder. It might be easier for us to crush the insurgency in Iraq if we were willing to carpet-bomb the nation. But we recognize that "ease of victory" is not the only consideration. Basic ethical guarantees -- such as that genocide should be recognized and its perpetrators should not get a free pass -- should not be seen as chess pieces to be manipulated to our greatest advantage. They should be built into the playing field as part of the reality our diplomats have to deal with. It's tougher terrain than if we simply jettisoned ethics all together. But you know what? Sometimes, that's what it means to be the good guy in the world.

23 comments:

Anonymous said...

Both of my parents survived the Armenian genocide at the hands of the Ottoman Turks. I am saddened that those of us who have been so profoundly affected by this have not had the support of the government of the country that took us in and sheltered our families.
If your member of Congress voted against this resolution, I urge you to call, write or otherwise urge that the member of Congress support the resolution. This genocide happened almost 100 years ago - that 's a long time to wait for recognition and validation.

Anonymous said...

I wonder whether there is any wisdom in national parliaments passing historical judgments about other countries other than provoking resentment and tensions. What will they do next, pass judgment on the 'degeneracy' of modern art or the 'irrefutable' truth of big bang? Can't they just stick to their main responsibility of enacting legislation to deal with the concrete problems of *today* and *tomorrow*? The question before us is whether the world public is doing anything useful to stop the bloodshed in Iraq, Darfur, Myanmar, or other places of the world. Are they doing anything useful to stop the environmental destruction of the globe that will have serious consequences for tomorrow's generations?

Anonymous said...

Comparing a resolution on the genocide of 1.5 million people which for most of my adult life has been referred to as "alleged" here in the United States is not on par with discussing modern art or the big bang. Many of todays tragedies arise when people avert their eyes from the horrors which mankind can inflict on each other. Whether Nazi Germany, the killing fields, the sudan, darfur, the gulags... these are examples of mans cruelty. Maybe acknowledging the past can help us to avoid it. This is such a small thing to give to a people who never had their Nurember.

Anonymous said...

Sorry meant to say Nuremberg.

Anonymous said...

Something is rotten in Turkey. The German people admit and accept the holocaust as a genocide against the Jews, yet it was the Nazis that committed the atrocities and bear the responsibility, not the modern German society. The Armenian genocide happened around twenty=five years before, and was the product of the Ottoman empire, not the current Turkish state. If the Turks are indeed a modern, progressive and humane society, why do they object to the slaughter of innocent men, women and children by their predecessors being classified as genocide? I believe they identify too strongly for a reason.

Of course there is little documentation of the facts because the historical documents along with books and the most highly educated Armenians were the first to be destroyed by the Ottomans. The only documentation we were left with was our grandparents who came to this country to escape the ethnic cleansing around 1915. All else was destroyed including great-grandparents, relatives, and all family history.

And imagine, Bush invaded Iraq because Hussein insulted his daddy (who had more sense than to go to Baghdad). I wonder what he would have done if someone had systematically eradicated a million-and-a-half of his ancestors. I certainly don't think he'd be saying let's pretend it didn't happen!

Of course, many will view this response as just another outraged Armenian-American. How can we be arrogant enough to believe that we hold the moral high-ground in the world when our government continually proves just the opposite.

Raffi N said...

What I am really surprised of is the American government leaders' reactions to threats and childish attitude from its so-called ally "... if you move forward with the Armenian issue, then we will get into the Kurdish issue..."
Why is it that these leaders can't clearly say, once and for all, "we are the USA, we do not succumb to petty threats; you want to limit our access to your airport, border etc.? Then what about we cut some of the billions of dollars we throw your way in form of "Development" or "Business"
I mean, come on, who has the negotiating upper hand here?

Anonymous said...

It's funny how US government and Turkey oppose to use term 'genocide' to describe what has happened to Armenians during 1915-1923 when the word 'genocide' was created by Raphael Lemkin to describe these massacres as such.

Lemkin Discusses Armenian Genocide In Newly-Found 1949 CBS Interview

Artsruni said...

The greatest super power of all times is about to give in to Turkish blackmail.

It is important to realize, for the sake of future generations, that this issue is not simply a historic one. Today in the history books of Turkish high schools the leaders of Young Turks of the Ottoman Empire (namely Enver, Talat and Djemal Pashas) are taught to be intellectual visionaries who paved the way for the new Turkish republic and they serve as role model statesmen for the Turkish youth. Yet the world knows they were blood thirsty criminals who carried out the first genocide of the 20th century against the Armenians. By passing a resolution in the U.S. Congress and forcing Turkey to recognize the Genocide and accept its responsibility, we would be sending a strong message to Omar Al-Bashir, Ahmed Haroun and Ali Kosheibi that if they fail to put an end to their genocidal acts in Darfur, no matter how long it takes the blood on their hands will bring nothing but shame to their people. This is precisely why US must stand firm against genocide denial and the pledge NEVER AGAIN.

Anonymous said...

Wait a minute! Let's look at what's going on from a non-armenian, non-turkish perspective for a minute. Armenians have been a part of the Ottoman Empire? Yes! Once the Empire fell week and started loosing land to other countries, many ethnic groups that was within the empire has revolted? Yes! Now, if a country is suppressing those who revolt against the Empire with violence (which includes much more than just Armenians) that is called a genocide? I do not think so my friends. Genocide is a systematic cleansing of a specific race for no real reason. Ottoman Empire was in fact trying to protect its land and keep all the ethnic groups under control. What we see in Darfur is a genocide. No real reason but a certain group of people are being killed for what they are.

Besides this fact, Ottoman Empire and Turkey are two separate countries and they based their values on different things. Confusing two is a very grave mistake and I think the reason why Turkish people (Turkey’s Turks to clarify) were crying out loud about these genocide assertions is the fact that bills blame Turkey and Turkish people that live in Turkey for the actions that happened in WWI era where it should read “actions by Ottoman Empire”. So the relations get tense because wrong people are being blamed for wrong reasons and they are given a title that they don’t deserve, or at least that is the point of view from the Turkish side. Now Armenians have great losses and they do want to name it and put it in history book but I think blaming wrong people and tagging actions with wrong names just decreases their credibility in the eyes of the World Politicians. Besides, I just saw that someone said if we can’t condemn this, how we can condemn things like Darfur. 1-) Darfur does not need condemnation but action! 2-) one is genocide other is self-defense (protection of motherland) 3-) the fact that we can condemn does no mean that we can do anything about it, nor it will make anyone gain anything out of it other than restraining relations between different nations.

I am amazed how people suddenly can use words like “massacred” “cleansed” when it comes to their own race but are VERY hesitant to use words not nearly as effective as those when it comes to others. Whoever said that Armenians were massacred, then every war in the history is a massacre. FYI Turkey’s founding philosophy is based on “peace in the country, peace in the world”. So I would pick my words more carefully and do some reading before I would post in forums like that since instead of supporting your cause you are hurting it.

Alex said...

I wonder if Congress and Americans in general would also own up to its role in the greatest genocide in the history of mankind, namely the eradication of native american population. I mean something more than having a couple of natives dressed up for Thanksgiving day parades.

Anonymous said...

I am surprised at one of the comments in this blog where the ottoman empire's actions are described as "self-defense". I urge the person who wrote this comment to revise his/her details more carefully. Do you consider the slaughter of women and children as "self-defense"? My grandfather witnessed the atrocities with his own eyes when he was 12 years old and his survival was a miracle. His mother and two younger sisters were viciously killed and HE SAW IT and there were no men in the village to say that the Ottoman army was defending itself against insurgents!! We, the descendants of the murdered Armenians, know the facts very well because we grew up hearing the gory details of the massacres from the people who lived through it and were lucky to survive.

Anonymous said...

person above me, do you consider the killings of ottoman turks and other ethnicities that were siding with the ottoman empire to keep its land unity anything less than what u describe? and you are the only one that knows everything but no one else does according to your claim. i did not call the actions of ottoman empire a "self defense" I called it an act of "protecting its own land" which means exactly what it reads. there is no defense here, there is a land piece that is being fought for, which is the basis of all the wars. what you are doing is you are confusing civil war and massacre in my opinion. those armenians that revolted during the ottoman era, if you read history books (not the ones that are written only by armeanians or turks but 3rd party books), were a part of the ottoman empire peacefully. there are many books out there that still cite many armenians living in turkey and even there has been a lot of support to armenian community after killing of an armenian journalist in turkey.

meanwhile, I noticed you openly admit that for generations armenians have been feeding their younger generations with hatred. if you did not notice yet, rest of the world is trying to move towards peace. what I was trying to convey here is this bill did not help this general cause in anyway, only created another moat around another nation. this is not the way to deal with these problems.

now we can argue back on forth on the definition of the genocide and the events. and that is exactly why I said this bill is extremely unnecessary. those who are supposed to do this are historians, not politicians. politicians' job should be to deal with today's problems, not things that happened nearly a century ago. learn from the past and move on is all I can say I think. today we have bigger problems in the world, let's talk about those. again, there is a genocide happening in Darfur as we speak, lets talk about that if you want to talk about a genocide.

Anonymous said...

So basicaly what you're saying is that if someone commits a crime againts your entire family today, tommorow you should forget and leave it to historians? Could you move on without trying to get justice??? What is the reason we clame, for stepping in Irak? Why cant we just forget about Sept 11? Whe're humans, not animals.. In this diplomatic world when humans negociate, they're should be reason and justice! Not only short term interests!
God Bless America and Nancy!

PG said...

Er, if "Genocide is a systematic cleansing of a specific race for no real reason," then there has never been a genocide, because all the people who engage in ethnic cleansing believe themselves to have a "real reason." In particular, there's no "genocide" in the Sudan, because there's a rebellion against the government in Khartoum, and according to one of the anonymous commentators here, civil war and genocide cannot exist simultaneously. If the Khartoum government considers allowing janjaweed to murder people in Darfur to be necessary to preserving the Sudanese nation -- well, that's all right then, because it's civil war and not at all genocide, no sir. When the people in India and Pakistan at Partition were boarding trains of women trying to cross the border, raping and murdering them and leaving their severed breasts to be found by relatives on the other side -- that wasn't attempting genocide of Pakistani Hindus or Indian Muslims, oh dear no. It was just an attempt to control their land.

In order to avoid absurd debates about what is a sufficiently "real reason" to murder unarmed people, we instead set up a rule saying that there is NO "real reason" to do such a thing, that it is always wrong, that the world will never excuse or justify such an act and it is always immoral no matter what "real reason" you proffer for it.

The only sensible point that has been made is that any resolutions passed about the Armenian genocide should clearly identify the perpetrators (İsmail Enver, Mehmed Talat Pasha, lttihad ve Terraki and other who were convicted in absentia at the 1919 war crime trial) and also point out that much of the harm visited upon Armenians, particularly during the process of deportation, was done by the common people who saw them as easy victims. The resolution also should acknowledge the people who were in leadership positions and protested against the genocide, such as Ottoman parliamentary representative Ahmed Riza. Hopefully this will make clear that the resolution is not some sort of denunciation of Ottoman/ Turkish character as a whole, but instead of the bad actors.

If modern Turks get their feelings hurt because they see such bad actors as heroes, let them. I don't think white Americans should get their feelings hurt over criticism of Andrew Jackson, General Custer or others who wronged Native Americans, but if they do, too bad for them as well.

It says nothing good about a person if he so strongly identifies with someone who has done both good and evil that he cannot even admit that the evil was done.

Anonymous said...

FYI Armeanians at the time were NOT unarmed. They been revolting killing Turks and other ethnicities in their part of the land in the Ottoman Empire lands and Ottoman Army suppressed them. So I think you are confusing a civil war and genocide. It is exactly what happened when South decided to keep the slavery going. So we systematically killed our own man. So we committed genocide? What makes a genocide genocide is not the numbers but the reasons and the political and physical state of the parties involved. Let's start by opening Armenian achieves to learn more about what happened first then ? Turkey opened theirs... I am disgusted by all the lobby that's going on...

Anonymous said...

What "Armenian Archives?" How could a people who were forcibly removed from their homeland of over 3000 years have an "Archive???" They lost everything! By the way, take a look at the post above that contains the link to video footage of Mr. Lemkin, the person who coined the word GENOCIDE explain how he created the word in part to describe what happened to the Armenians. If you want to do some serious reading than take a look at the hundreds if not thousands of books containing proof from the TURKISH archives as well as eye-witness reports and photos from Americans, Germans and other world powers that this was in fact a planned attempt to exterminate the whole of the Armenian people. Oh, and ask why the Turkish Government won't allow free speech and continues to prosecute Turks and Armenians alike for speaking of the genocide in Turkey as a crime against "Turkishness."

PG said...

Every single one of the Armenians who was killed or deported was armed? Including the women? including the infants? who knew that they made weapons that size?

Some of the people in Darfur are armed as well. There's a civil war. Because it apparently didn't come across the first time, let me try this in capital letters:

GENOCIDE AND CIVIL WAR ARE NOT MUTUALLY EXCLUSIVE. THEY CAN HAPPEN AT THE SAME TIME.

I agree that every incident in which Northerners killed unarmed Southerners, the North was acting in a genocidal manner. However, I strongly suspect there was a lot less of that in the American civil war than in the treatment of the Armenians. You may note that there were quite a few Southern women left after the U.S. Civil War.

David Schraub said...

Note to self -- don't provoke PG!

Anonymous said...

Sorry to say those citing the Armenian revolt are forgetting that to claim this as justification of the genocide are well off base.

This would be like saying the Warsaw uprising legitimized the Holocaust.

What is not taught in Turkey (and we have a few people infected with the poor education we get there commenting here) is that in fact while their families were being slaughtered the Armenian men were not off killing Turks, but 90 to 95% of them were conscripts int he Ottoman Army!

They defended the Ottoman Empire in World War One more bravely than ethic Turks did (and I am Turkish!)

Murat

Anonymous said...

I too had great grandparents who survived the Genocide and other ancestors who didn't. But having said that, I'm an American now, and my loyaly is to this country. As much as I HATE the Turks for their continuing denial of what they did, I'm very much questioning the motivation of the Democrats for picking this one particular time to force this issue through the Congress. They've were in control of Congress for about 40 years prior to 1994 when the Republicans took over. Why didn't they do anything back then? Think about it: these weak-kneed liberals rode into office in 2006 promising to stop the war on radical Islamism. Instead, they authorized funding for a surge of troops and have been steam-rolled by the President into continuing the fight. In doing so, they've very much ticked off their Moveon.org left-wing, "General Betray-us" military-hating, wacko electorate base who is essentially going to dictate who the Democrats will select as their nominee. They have to do something between now and 2008 to screw over President Bush so they can go into the primaries beating their collective chests about about how much anti-military activity they participated in, indeed that they brought the war effort to a screeching halt.

So now, this yellow-bellied attempt to anger the Turks into pulling the plug on their "support" for this war is their back-door way of screwing the military effort which they've been unable to do directly since they got into office.

So, all of my fellow Americans who are of Armenian descent, and who are cheering this resolution, just remember that you've been used as a pawn by the amoral Democrats (all the while lying through their teeth about how much they "care" about Armenians) to screw over our military who's protecting you from the very radical Islamic idealology that caused the Genocide in the first place.

Make no mistake, I want a Genocide resolution as much as anyone else, but not at the expense of making our military's job harder.

And all this talk about how recognizing past genocides will prevent future ones? PLease. The Holocaust was the most documented event of it's kind in human history. How many mass murders have we had since then? Cambodia? Uganda? Rawanda? Bosnia? Sudan? Give me a break. The human race never learns, so don't give me this business about how the Genocide resolution is going to stop future occurences. Acknowledgement of the Genocide- putting aside the politics of the Democrats- is purely about intellectual honesty and holding the Turks accountable for their past.

Anonymous said...

And one more thing- adding to my post. Iran is already talking of a SECOND Holocaust, all the while developing a nuclear bomb and no one is taking them seriously enough to stop him. No, instead everytime President Bush raises the spectre of military action against Iran before they go nuclear, he's labeled a warmonger.

So you're telling me now that if the United States passes the Genocide resolution, all of sudden the world is going to wake up and discover "oh my gosh, Ahmedinijad is going to wipe out Israel- we need to stop him!"? Are you kidding me? The world (except for Israel) is perfectly comfortable to just sit idly by while Ahmedinijad get his bomb- and God forbid, uses it. The human race makes me sick sometimes.

faux facsimile said...

Problem is, this whole episode reeks of politics. The Japanese military massacred and enslaved millions during WWII. Has the US ever bothered with an official resolution condemning this? Other examples are rife.

The genocide against the Armenians in 1915-1917 deserves recognition. But using it as a political football to bash the Turks with does nothing to advance human rights, justice, or even really awareness. It does however devalue the tragedy of Armenia by subsuming it in cheap political theater.

Anonymous said...

The last World War I veteran of the Ottomans died at the age of 110 not too long ago. To ask the current Turkish government to apologize and recognize this genocide would be like asking me to acknowledge any crimes my great great grandfather may have committed. If Congress can do this, I bet there are a lot of Irish constituencies who would like similar resolutions passed regarding English treatment. As a matter of fact, King Leopold of Belgium was pretty ruthless in the Congo; perhaps Congolese American constituents can pester Congress for their resolution, or Chinese in South East Asia, and then the Japanese to the Chinese, and don't forget when Italy was Rome and they killed a lot of Germans. Heck, let's have Congress dedicate their time to condemning the rest of the world's historical actions.