Monday, October 15, 2007

Genocidal denial: Bush, Turkey, and the Armenian Holocaust

By Michael J.W. Stickings

What happened to Armenians in the Ottoman Empire from 1915 to 1917 was genocide -- an estimated 1.5 million killed, a brutal and systematic process of deportation and slaughter aimed at wiping out the Armenian population -- but you wouldn't know it if you got your history from the Turks, who committed the genocide (now known as the Armenian Genocide, or Holocaust), or from their present-day apologists in the Bush Administration, from Bush and Rice and Gates, the Holocaust deniers who sit at the top of the U.S. government. The House Foreign Affairs Committee passed a resolution last week, calling what happened to the Armenians what it was, genocide, but the deniers wanted none of it:

A House committee voted late this afternoon to condemn the mass killings of Armenians in Turkey in World War I as an act of genocide, rebuffing an intense campaign by the White House and warnings from Turkey’s government that the vote would gravely strain relations with the United States.

The vote by the House Foreign Relations Committee was nonbinding and so largely symbolic, but its consequences could reach far beyond bilateral relations and spill into the war in Iraq.

Turkish officials and lawmakers warned that if the resolution is approved by the full House, they would reconsider supporting the American war effort, which includes permission to ship essential supplies through Turkey and northern Iraq.

Mr. Bush appeared on the South Lawn of the White House before the vote and implored the House not to take up the issue, only to have the majority of the committee disregard his warning at the end of the day, by a vote of 27 to 21.

"We all deeply regret the tragic suffering of the Armenian people that began in 1915," Mr. Bush said in remarks that, reflecting official American policy, carefully avoided the use of the word genocide. "This resolution is not the right response to these historic mass killings, and its passage would do great harm to our relations with a key ally in NATO and in the global war on terror."

How about being honest about that "tragic suffering," then? Why avoid the truth? Why deny it? Why show such cowardice? Because Bush needs Turkey -- because of the Iraq War and Occupation and the War on Terror. And, to secure that support, it seems, he is willing (as his chief Cabinet secretaries are willing, as many in his party are willing) to help prop up Turkey's long-standing campaign of denial (of accountability, of responsibility, of the truth -- truth it finds so unpleasant as to warrant such decades-long propaganda).

Bush himself referred to "these historic mass killings," but is that not genocide? Apparently not. It seems it's only genocide if it's called genocide, if the label is formally applied, even in a non-binding House resolution. I may call it genocide, you may call it genocide, historians may call it genocide, certainly the Armenians call it genocide, but it's apparently not genocide if nothing formal is declared. So Bush refuses to call it genocide, and tries to persuade the House not to call it genocide, even though he describes it as genocide and probably knows it was genocide. And why? Again, because Turkey doesn't want him to -- and, it seems, because, kowtowing to Turkey is the name of the game if you want its support, the support of "a key ally," kowtowing meaning playing along with Turkey's revisionism, accepting a role as an organ of Turkish propaganda.

This is what George W. Bush has become -- an organ of Turkish propaganda, a denier of genocide.

With all else that Bush has done that has been reprehensible, far too much to list here, this must stand as one of the lowlights of an appalling presidency.

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Writing in the L.A. Times today, historian Niall Ferguson (who leans right) argues that, based on the evidence, what the Turks did to the Armenians was, in fact, genocide. Yet, realpolitik triumphant, he finds fault with the resolution -- given the possible weakening of American relations with Turkey.

His concerns are very much Bush's: Most American supplies to Iraq pass through Turkey, Turkey is a good friend (an Islamic one, at that), an unfriendly Turkey will be more likely to strike Kurdish separatist bases in northern Iraq.

And so, again, the proper response is to support Turkey's lie? I understand the realities of the situation, but it seems to me that the U.S. would do better to engage with Turkey from a position of strength: We are your friend, but we condemn what you did to the Armenians 80 years ago, and we're calling it genocide.

Yes -- 80 years ago. The genocide was certainly not committed by the present-day Turkey. And so the point is not to say that you did it but that they did it. Germans have mostly taken responsibility for what they did, other Germans, just a generation or two back -- why can't the Turks, for whom is was not so much a previous generation as a different regime?

Ferguson may be right that calling it genocide won't change things: "My sense is that all the resolutions in the world about past genocides will do precisely nothing to stop the next one." No, but language matters -- words matter, labels matter. And being honest about the past, being truthful about the darkest periods of human history, is important as we struggle with the same sort of horrors today, in North Korea and Darfur and Burma and elsewhere, and the same sort of horrors tomorrow.

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The pressure from Turkey continues in the wake of the House committee's vote:

The chief of the Turkish armed forces has warned that military relations with the United States would take a negative turn if Congress approved the Armenian genocide resolution that was passed by the House Foreign Affairs Committee last week.

Gen. Yasar Buyukanit, the armed forces chief, was quoted by the Turkish newspaper Milliyet on Sunday as saying that the resolution, which condemns the killings of 1.5 million Armenians by Ottoman Turks beginning in 1915 as an act of genocide, has caused considerable disappointment in Turkey.

General Buyukanit called the passage of the resolution by the committee "sad and sorrowful," in light of the strong links the two NATO allies have shared.

Further, if it were to be passed by the full House of Representatives, "Our military relations with the U.S. would never be as they were in the past," he said.

"We could not explain this to our public," he said. "The U.S., in that respect, has shot itself in the foot."

How about explaining to your public what you did to the Armenians?

You call what the House committee did "sad and sorrowful," but what about what you did to the Armenians? What words do you use to describe that?

As far as I'm concerned, the U.S. should be strong enough, and so committed to the truth, to tell Turkey to fuck off. And yet, from Bush and the deniers of genocide, all we get is acquiescence. So desperate are they for support, they are willing to agree to spread the lies that the Turkish government has been telling for decades. It's like calling black slavery in the U.S. a "human resources plan," or the Nazi extermination of Jews a "population-control project". It's bullshit.

And so top Turkish officials like Gen. Buyukanit issue their threats and all Bush and Rice and Gates can say is yes, Turkey, of course, whatever you want, Turkey, feed us the lines, we're good friends, tell us what to do.

It's called extortion. Which seems to be how Bush is conducting his foreign policy these days -- giving or receiving, whatever, it's all so much corruption.

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Also -- The U.S. has "shot itself in the foot"? How repugnant a way to put it.

Turkey killed a million and a half Armenians!

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Thankfully, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has committed to push ahead with the resolution. It deserves a full vote on the floor of the House, as well as a full vote in the Senate.

History cannot be changed, but the truth about what happened even so long ago can allow us to come to terms with the past even as we deal with the present and prepare for the future. In this case, that truth must win out over Turkish propaganda.

No matter the timidity and cowardice of Bush and the other deniers of genocide.

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