Ignoring Genocide

August 17, 2004
Source: The New York Sun

By Hillel Halkin

There are those who have expressed surprise and dismay at America's disinclination to do anything to stop the Rwanda genocide of 1994 or to intervene in the recent and not-so-recent events in Sudan in which predominantly light-skinned government forces have slaughtered, pillaged and starved millions of Sudanese blacks. Yet one only has to follow the little-noticed debate trivial by comparison, that has been going on this summer over official American recognition of the Turkish genocide against the Armenians in World War I in order to realize that, when even symbolic action on genocide clashes with perceived political interest, it is not perceived political interest that backs off.

This debate has involved two resolutions House Resolution 193 and Senate Resolution 164, that do nothing more than express official American acknowledgment of the pre meditated murder, mostly in 1915, of an estimated 1 to 1.5 million Armenians by the armies of the Ottoman empire. Since this murder is a well-documented episode that only the rare pro-Turkish historian bothers to challenge these days, one would think that such acknowledgment, 89 years in arrears, would be unexceptionable.

In fact, it has been anything but. Both the Republican congressional leadership and the Department of State have come out strongly against the House and Senate resolutions, just as both opposed an amendment to a House appropriations bill, passed by a large majority on July 17, to bar Turkey from using American foreign aid funds to lobby against these resolutions. "Turkey," declared House Speaker Dennis Hastert, Majority Leader Tom DeLay, and Majority Whip Roy Blunt in a joint press re lease, "has been a reliable ally of the U.S. for decades...our mutual economic and security relationship should not be disrupted by this amendment." To which State Department spokesman Richard Boucher added with dead pan humor that recognition of the Armenian genocide would be detrimental to "reconciliation between Turkey and Armenia."

These reactions, needless to say, were not spontaneous. They came in response to pressure from the government of Turkey, which for decades has conducted a concerted campaign to deny that the Armenian genocide took place To this day what happened to the Armenians in World War I is a banned subject in Turkey: It is not mentioned (except to claim that it never happened) by the press, books are not published on it, academic courses are not taught about it, and serious scholarship is not under taken in the field.

Moreover, in an effort to make other countries fall into line, the Turks have threatened them with dire consequences should they acknowledge the Armenian genocide them selves. Although some governments have stood up to such intimidation (most notably France which officially recognized the Armenian genocide in 2001), others have caved into it. One of the saddest cases in this respect, apart from America, has been that of Israel, where pro grams on what happened to the Armenians have even been barred from state television.

There is, of course, something utterly absurd about Turkey, a member of NATO that has been trying hard to gain admission to the European Union by claiming to be a western-style democracy, systematically seeking to censor its own history as if it were an article in a Stalinist encyclopedia. Far from bringing shame on them, a frank admission of what their armies did to a helpless population nearly a century ago would only redound to the Turks' credit Just think of the esteem that the German Federal Republic, in the years after World War II earned in the world by its honest confronting of the Holocaust.

Even more pathetic is the behavior of those countries that have yielded to Turkish pressure on this issue. What exactly is the Bush administration afraid of: That if the House and Senate pass Armenian genocide resolutions, the Turks will break off diplomatic relations with America? That they will drop out of NATO and form an anti-Western alliance with Iran and Al Qaeda? That they will invade Iraqi Kurdistan? It should be obvious even to the fearful bureaucrats at the State Department that the Turks would have exactly one option if 193 and 164 were adopted: To splutter and get over it, which is exactly what they did three years ago vis-a vis France.

Not the least outrageous part of the Turks behavior is the moralizing tone they have al lowed themselves to take with others, as when the Turkish prime minister, Racip Erdogan publicly accused Israel not long ago of practicing "state terrorism" toward the Palestinians Were the Israeli foreign ministry itself not chock-full of fearful bureaucrats needlessly anxious about jeopardizing their country's good ties with Turkey, it would have replied loud and clear to Mr. Erdogan: "You, the leader of a country that not only has conducted a brutal policy of repression toward its own Kurdish population but has systematically practiced the equivalent of Holocaust denial on a grandiose scale, you have the gall to accuse us?" Of course, it did no such thing, and the Israeli government, together with some Jewish lobbies in America, has collaborated shamefully with the Turks on the Armenian issue.

How can we possibly expect the world powers to budget large sums and risk the lives of their soldiers in order to prevent or end genocidal barbarities when the most powerful of them will not even do something so paltry as ac knowledge a genocide that took place at the start of the last century? How can we dare hope that the lesson of the Holocaust has been learned by anyone if, 50 years afterward, a Jewish state does not recognize, for reasons of realpolitik, the attempted destruction of another small people like the Jews? Did not the governments of the world that stood by while the Nazis and their henchmen slaughtered the Jews have realpolitik to think about, too? Perhaps it's time we stopped blaming them.