Mercury Rising 鳯女

Politics, life, and other things that matter

An unwise moment for the Armenian genocide resolution?

Posted by Charles II on October 13, 2007

At this moment, US-Turkish relations are at a low, since the US is harboring Kurdish terrorists to serve as insurgents against Iran. Unfortunately, they also have a habit of attacking Turkey, inflaming the easily-ignited nationalists.

So, why did the Congress choose this moment to issue its resolution condemning the Armenian genocide? We’ve had almost a century to take that step. We have always been otherwise occupied. Nor have we made reparations for the genocides in which we have been involved. Even compensation for thefts from Native American accounts by the Dept. of the Interior drags needlessly on.

One may argue that even at the worst possible moment, putting this condemnation on the record is needed. Still, this is also a moment when America’s moral authority is at a low ebb. One has to wonder whether this is not part of the nihilistic instinct of this age summarized so well by the catch phrase, “Chaos is the plan.”

Reading the foreign press is always a challenge. With the exception of a few nations, anything in English is probably directed toward a foreign audience. So, one has to interpolate from the tone to guess the viewpoint of the speaker. At any rate,  both news and op-eds at the Turkish Daily News are uniformly negative.

Turkey protests approval of bill in US House

Turkey had warned the United States that bilateral ties would be severely damaged if the bill was approved and threatened that it could terminate its logistics support to Washington, which transits its equipment to Iraq through Turkish territory. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, however, in an interview with the private CNN Türk channel, softened Ankara’s stance….

Yusuf Kanli (note the interesting conflation of the genocide claims and “the Suleymainiyah hood incident“):

Turkey's red lines are turning pink and even disappearing. The United States is totally ignoring all Turkish red lines, be they about northern Iraq, related to its war against terrorism or to the national pride of the country, like the Armenian genocide claims, or the Suleymaniyah hood incident.


Turks are fed up. Turks have started to question what kind of an allied relationship this country has with the United States that Washington is so ignorant of the sensitivities of Turkey.


Semih Idiz:

The problem is that the U.S. is seen by the public, and by quite a few ranking military officials, as not only emboldening the PKK in northern Iraq, but also supplying it with arms after members of the terrorist group were caught with American weapons. In other words a cross-border operation has now taken on the added meaning of not only going after the PKK, but also “showing the Americans that Turkey will do what it will regardless of what Washington says,” especially since so few Turks see America as a friendly country anyway.

Vural Cengiz:

First, father Bush cost Turkey tens of billions of petrodollars by starting the first Gulf war; then, Bush Junior set not only Iraq but the entire Middle East on fire.  All at Turkey’s cost. Turks have been very patient with their American allies. First, the Pentagon teamed up with Kurds instead of Turks for their big journey into Iraq and pushed Turks away claiming they did not want the partnership. Then they laid all the blame of the disastrous war on Turks.

I’m sorry to see Turkey deny the copious evidence that there was a genocide. Most nations on earth have dark deeds in their past. Maturity means coming to terms with it, of understanding that all people are capable of evil– but also of overcoming it. Still, I doubt that the actions of the US Congress–coming at a moment when we have no moral authority–will do much more than divide our two nations.

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26 Responses to “An unwise moment for the Armenian genocide resolution?”

  1. CMike said

    One has to wonder whether this is not part of the nihilistic instinct of this age summarized so well by the catch phrase, “Chaos is the plan.”

    Heretofore that catch phrase has been used to try to fathom what the grand neo-con plan is. Alternatively, Naomi Klein might argue the Chicago Boys are down with this as an essential component in their strategy to advance property rights. However, this particular train wreck is being brought about courtesy of kookery from our own camp. Maybe marching to chaos is not just some mad neo-con or Libertarian plan but rather the reigning zeitgeist.

    Chief bill sponsor Adam Shiff (D-CA) says:

    I think our relationship is important enough to the United States and Turkey to survive our recognition of the truth,

    House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman and Progressive Caucus member Tom Lantos (D-CA) says:

    [Lawmakers should] “condemn this historic nightmare through the use of the word genocide.

    House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) says:

    For 25 years I have been told — because I have sponsored [this] single resolution for a quarter of a century — I have been told that this was not the right time to pass this.

    It is a certain sitting president who is trying to throw the track switch to prevent the upcoming crash. At the White House before the vote, Bush said:

    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.

    Dan Burton (R-IN) – yeah, that Dan Burton – is the voice of reason here:

    We’re talking about stiffing the one ally that is helping us over there (in Iraq). It just doesn’t make any sense.

    From a source that I rarely rely on, The American Free Press well summarizes the matter:

    In 2000, it was pressure by the Democratic administration of president Bill Clinton, concerned about damage to relations with a key political ally, which thwarted the measure…

    The same committee passed a similar resolution in 2005, but the Republican leadership stopped it from being brought to the full House floor in order to spare Bush embarrassment…

    Democratic Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) is determined that will not happen again, despite unusual and outspoken public entreaties from Bush, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

    “I said, if it comes out of committee, it will go to the floor. Now, it has come out of committee, and it will go to the floor,” she said Thursday.

  2. I think this is coming up now as a result of a worldwide push from the descendants of the Armenians lucky enough to flee the killing fields. When France passed a similar resolution last year, the Turks had a fit similar to the one they’re having now.

    Turkey has been trying for decades to pretend that the genocide never happened. Furthermore, the Turkish government of the time went to great lengths to cover their tracks, doing things like issuing simultaneous orders, offical and unofficial, with the official ones calling for the Armenians to be treated decently while the unofficial, real ones provided instructions on how best to kill them:

    Taner Akcam, a prominent – and extremely brave – Turkish scholar who has visited the Yerevan museum, has used original Ottoman Turkish documents to authenticate the act of genocide. Now under fierce attack for doing so from his own government, he discovered in Turkish archives that individual Turkish officers often wrote “doubles” of their mass death-sentence orders, telegrams sent at precisely the same time that asked their subordinates to ensure there was sufficient protection and food for the Armenians during their “resettlement”. This weirdly parallels the bureaucracy of Nazi Germany, where officials were dispatching hundreds of thousands of Jews to the gas chambers while assuring International Red Cross officials in Geneva that they were being well cared for and well fed.

  3. Charles said

    Broken clocks are right twice a day, CMike. Or, in Burton and Bush’s case, twice a century.

    But right they are.

  4. Adam Schiff’s right, too. The problem is that we have over a quarter of a million Americans in Iraq — both regular troops and Blackwater and other mercenary firms — whose main escape route, assuming Bush follows through with his plan to bomb Iran and thereby shut down the Strait of Hormuz, runs through Turkey.

  5. Poncho & Lefty said

    This resolution was introduced by Schiff without being evaluated by the Democratic caucus leaders. Hoyer knew better and let it be introduced. It’s his mistake and only his to live and die by. It says to me that Steny Hoyer needs to be yanked from his majority leadership position.

  6. anon said

    The problem is that we have over a quarter of a million Americans in Iraq — both regular troops and Blackwater and other mercenary firms — whose main escape route, assuming Bush follows through with his plan to bomb Iran and thereby shut down the Strait of Hormuz, runs through Turkey.

    Well in that sense, maybe passing this resolution will stop an Iran war.

    Adam Schiff, on NPR this morning, pointed to the few survivors left, and expressed how important it was to pass this resolution before all were gone.

    I think that swayed me.

    As my father told me, it was better to be kind to people during their lives than to put flowers on their graves when they were gone.

  7. Mnemosyne said

    Adam Schiff is my congressman and what people outside of California may not realize is that our district (and my city in particular) is one of the most heavily Armenian areas in the entire country. At least 50% of my neighbors are not just ethnic Armenians, but people who immigrated from Armenia after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Our city commemorates the genocide every year with a resolution by the city council, and we get a lot of guys in their 20s driving around that day honking their horns in their Armenian flag-bedecked cars.

    In other words, Schiff is obeying his constituents by continually introducing this motion. That doesn’t mean it was a good idea for the rest of the Democrats to go along with it, though, at least not at this point in our already ill-advised invasion of Iraq.

  8. Charles said

    Thanks for some very interesting comments, folks. I learn so much from others.

  9. Nell said

    Poncho & Lefty, what information do you have about the legislative record of this resolution that doesn’t appear in Thomas.loc.gov?

    A version of it has been introduced in every session of Congress for the last 25 to 30 years. Any time it threatens to get close to passage, the State Department steps up and says it will kill our relationship with Turkey. (Granted that this is a year in which, for reasons well spelled out at the beginning of the post, U.S.-Turkey relations are at a recent low.)

    The bill was introduced again this January. Nothing happened until April, during which there were floor speeches on its behalf. Nothing happened after that, either. It was not referred to a subcommittee; it simply sat there. (In March, someone from the State Department urged non-passage of the resolution during testimony on Iraq and regional matters.)

    On October 1, the Armenian National Committee of America, the lead organization pushing for the resolution, announced in a press release that it had just been told that the bill would be brought up for a vote in the full House Foreign Affairs Committee in the next two weeks.

    To me, that sequence says loud and clear that the House leadership decided to move on the genocide resolution. Although Tom Lantos has been supportive of the bill for years, he doesn’t do this kind of thing on his own. Nancy Pelosi took this decision; Steny Hoyer’s quoted remarks show that he was in full support. I would bet anything that Rahm Emanuel was not in favor of moving on this now, if he was part of the discussion, but there is no public evidence for that.

    All of them felt safe in pushing it because, as jumps out from between the lines of Lantos’ speech to the F.A. committee before the vote: this will probably die in the Senate, or if not, Bush will veto it. Lantos’ full explication of the arguments for and against the resolution is further evidence that he was not the prime mover in the decision to take it up at this moment.

  10. Nell said

    Links to items mentioned in the post above:

    ANCA press release Oct 1

    Lantos’ remarks to Foreign Affairs Committee

    For legislative history of the resolution, search on H.R.160 at Thomas.loc.gov; the links to query results there are mostly ‘dynamic’, i.e. they’re no good after a day or two.

  11. Ed Tracey said

    For the record, I am neutral on this issue; either way it won’t affect me. And what the Administration is doing vis-a-vis Iran complicates things, no-bout-a-doubt-it.

    My point is simply this: that when the “now is not the right time” position is advanced, it’s never accompanied by a “but after -x- date, it would be” corollary. If we wait for the “right time”, we’ll wait all our lives – someone will always object to it.

    Far better to say, “I oppose this amendment”, or “It fails the cost/benefit analysis” or “It has no practical effect”, etc. That is a more straightforward approach. Implying that there will be a “right moment” is naive at best.

  12. Charles said

    More great comments. I feel blessed. :-)

  13. joejoejoe said

    My understanding is the EU parliament passed a similar resolution recognizing the 1915 Armenian killings as genocide 20 YEARS AGO. I fail to see how now is an ‘unwise moment’ to repeat something the the EU did 20 years ago. That action pissed off Turkey so bad that they….applied to join the EU.

    From Today’s Zaman, an English-language Turkish paper:
    “Armenian lobbies will host a two-day conference at the European Parliament on Oct. 15 and 16 to celebrate the 20th anniversary of recognition of the 1915 Armenian killings as genocide by the European Parliament in 1987. Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian is expected to attend the conference together with many members of the European Parliament.”

  14. anon said

    Ed, I agree completely with the “now is not the right time”. ESPECIALLY when it comes to issues of genocide. “Now is not the right time for us to intervene in Darfur.”

    I’ve been to Turkey (Kusadasi and Instabul) and found it a very interesting society (with wonderful food) I can appreciate the delicate balance between supporting the Kurds of Iraq AND supporting the Turkish government reign in PKK terrorism and their concerns that their southern Kurdish population would want to secede. I can appreciate the difficulties of trying to understand what Erdogan and his party actually means to Turkish secularism.

    And I am ignorant and do not know if it what happened to the Armenians was genocide or not. But I think it would be an incredible moral tragedy for the United States to label it as a genocide AFTER there were no more survivors to hear of it.

  15. anon said

    Apropos of nothing in this thread, today’s MoDo is a must read.

    Trust me. You’ll thank me on this one.

  16. Jeff Sepeta said

    the problem is not that we’re announcing to the world that we finally have the cajones to admit that the turks committed genocide against the armenians 90 years ago. although it’s sad that we waited so long to stand up for basic human rights and did nothing to prevent it at the time.

    the problem is not that we may piss off the turks by promoting the notion that they killed a bunch of people solely because of their race. that was a terrible thing to do, and eventually the turkish conscience will have to come to grips with why they did what they did, and what they can possibly do to make amends. the killers are most likely all serving out time in HELL (if it exists). if turkey is mad at the US, it’s not because we believe what their history books fail to discuss.

    no, the problem is that we’re in a stupid war. a war without reason. a war without conscience. a war started by greedy selfish monsters based on lies and deceiving the very people whom they’ve called to fight it. and worse, it is a war without an end in sight. this is what makes it difficult to do the right thing — take a stand against genocide — which is amazing because thanks to our crappy president and his idiotic pursuit of his “feelings” and willful ignorance of reality, the US is now:

    1) the only Western nation that condones torture,
    2) the only Western nation that proposes that it’s more important to secretly spy on its own citizens than respect the rule of our own laws
    3) one of the few nations left on earth which doesn’t respect the right of habeus corpus, which for over 700 years provided the basic underpinnings of how to treat prisoners of war with fairness and human dignity.

    the US once was respected for being powerful, wealthy, and guided by a moral compass. we’ve been misguided for so many years now and forced through a long hard slog from which it will be difficult if not impossible to return. george bush, darth cheney, and their staff are war criminals and should be punished as such. i hope for our sake our next president has the moral fiber to send those sycophants to the Haig to defend themselves for all the needless pain and suffering they caused to the Iraqis and the American state. We’ll be paying for this god-forsaken war for at least 50 years; my only smile would come from seeing our dear leader sit out the rest of his days in a european prison, separated from the luxurious environment which he now calls home.

  17. Joejoejoe: Thanks for that info!

    In that case, I suspect that much of Turkey’s hollering now is being done as a favor to Bush.

  18. Charles said

    mmm. I don’t think the hollering is a favor to Dubya. They already proved they’re serious about sovereignty by refusing US troops passage in the Iraq War. Ending the agreement by which the US uses Incirlik would be a serious blow to the American empire.

    I think that anti-Americanism is rising in Turkey. The real irritant is Kurdish terrorists raiding into Turkey while being sheltered by the US. But a resolution condemning Turkey gives anti-Americanism a boost.

    While it’s true that the US is way behind the curve in condemning the genocide– almost a century behind– Europe has also condemned Israel over the Palestinian issue. Europe has managed to create a sense that it’s even-handed. The US, on the other hand, has no real credentials in the Muslim/Arab worlds beyond the Camp David Peace accords of the 1970s. The only major (by population) Arab/Muslim nations with which it is not in conflict are Egypt and Indonesia. Its only real allies are Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Jordan.

    Morally, there’s no question that late is better than never in condemning genocide. But in this case, it mostly highlights American hypocrisy.

  19. Bob said

    Anon #14: The term ‘genocide’ was originally used to describe the Turkish slaughter of Armenians and the event is documented at least as well as the Holocaust. There’s no question it occurred and was an intentional and condoned act of the Turkish government at the time. And I agree, it’d be more than a little unfortunate to officially recognize this after the victims were dead.

    Whether recognizing it now is politic or not is left to those shuffling the entrails of our government. The Turks need to get over themselves, lose that 19th century deadweight of National Identity, come to terms with what they’ve done and stop pretending that over a million Armos just wandered off to a picnic, and get on with life – the sooner the better.

  20. Seattle said

    I disagree with the idea that the House should not pass this resolution (or to get rid of the double negative, I support the resolution condemning the Turks for the Armenian genocide). I admit that I haven’t followed this closely and I don’t understand why this issue is coming up right now, but …

    1. Why should I be concerned about what Turkey thinks of the U.S.? If Turkey is going to cause problems for our government’s actions in Iraq as a result of getting pissed off about the House passing a factually correct resolution, then more power to them. We kill two birds with one stone.

    2. One of the biggest genocides of the 90’s was the Turks killing of Kurds in Turkey. So this discussion of the US protecting Kurdish terrorists in northern Iraq should be viewed in the correct context. For example, we should remember that when Saddam was in power, our government protected the Kurds from attacks from Saddam at the same time that it was providing intelligence to the Turks about locations of Kurdish groups in northern Iraq, and then it would actually suspend overflights when the Turks wanted to bomb Kurds in northern Iraq.

    We’ve got a situation where stating a historic truth may hinder one murderous government’s actions (the US) because it pisses off another murderous government (Turkey). Who gives a f*ck. Just tell the truth about what happened to the Armenians. (And again, I don’t understand why this is coming up now, so maybe I’m missing something.)

  21. [...] An unwise moment for the Armenian genocide resolution? At this moment, US-Turkish relations are at a low, since the US is harboring Kurdish terrorists to serve as […] [...]

  22. Charles said

    Seattle asks, “Why should I be concerned about what Turkey thinks of the U.S.?”

    1. Our soldiers in Iraq are dependent on Turkey for supplies and for an escape route should things go seriously bad. While you may be able to speak theoretically about the benefits of forcing an evacuation of Iraq, many Americans cannot. A member of my family will be among them shortly.
    2. Turkey is an island of rationality in the Muslim/Arab world, and can help to mediate disputes in a region that is drifting into sectarian war. It would be very, very bad if they decided to take sides in that dispute.

    Seattle adds, “One of the biggest genocides of the 90’s was the Turks killing of Kurds in Turkey”

    This is true. The US has betrayed the Kurds many times, while both Turkey and Iran battered them. But two wrongs do not make a right. The Kurds have a homeland as long as there’s a US presence in northern Iraq, and by attacking Turkey, they are making it more likely that they will end up abandoned again.

    Seattle says, ” Just tell the truth about what happened to the Armenians.”

    I agree. I’m just not sure that a congressional resolution serves that end.

  23. Retrogrouch said

    The issue being contested by Bush and congress is not immediately apparent, but the Dems seem to be sending a message to Bush that they can slap him on occasion. It is not an accident that the leadership let this bill to the floor.

  24. Charles said

    Well, I sure wish they were a little more explicit, Retrogrounch. This is for most Americans an obscure bit of foreign policy, but the implications are pretty large for using it as messaging.

  25. gagik,madrid,spain said

    the armenian genocide cometid by barbarios otoman turks must bee condemned.

  26. [...] by Phoenix Woman on October 18th, 2007 Okay, so last week Bush was attacking the Democrats for:  Angering Turkey.  (’Cuz y’know, they’re our allies in the War on Terra and all that, and [...]

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