First of all, it is simply inarguable that the Ottoman Empire tried to eradicate the Armenian people under the cover of World War I. Despite the Turkish government’s efforts to purchase a different historical narrative (by, for instance, using government funds to endow chairs in Turkish Studies at American universities), genocide denial is finding an increasingly small audience. As the International Association of Genocide Scholars has put it, “to deny its factual and moral reality as genocide is not to engage in scholarship but in propaganda.”
But that, of course, doesn’t give House members much direction in considering whether to vote for the actual resolution that will soon reach the House floor. It wouldn’t matter much one way or the other if Congress were voting on whether to condemn the Mongols’ extermination of 90 percent of Persia’s population in the 13th century, for instance, because that doesn’t have much political saliency. But, for whatever reason, the modern Turkish Republic has adopted a monomaniacal position of genocide denial, similar to the ChiComs’ insistence on the fiction of “One China,” or the Greeks’ obsession with FYROM, or the Arabs’ demand that we pretend Jerusalem is not the capital of Israel. This is despite the fact that the genocide was the policy of a long-defunct state and its architects were actually condemned to death in absentia by Turkish military courts specifically for committing the genocide. The smart thing would be to simply acknowledge the crimes of the ancien regime, and move on.
Nonetheless, Turkey will brook no argument. Simply asserting the existence of the Armenian Genocide there is a criminal offense, and just yesterday two Turkish-Armenian journalists were convicted on such charges, including the son of another journalist murdered earlier this year for asserting the reality of the genocide.
As a result of the House committee vote, Turkey has temporarily recalled its ambassador and Washington fears that if the genocide measure passes the full House, Turkey will limit our use of an air base in southern Turkey used to supply troops in Iraq. They may well make good on their threat, though the Turkish government’s pique is likely to be short-lived, since they need us more than we need them. And we’ve coped just fine with earlier efforts at Turkish obstruction of our efforts in Iraq; in 2003, Turkey refused to allow U.S. troops to pass through on their way to overthrow Saddam. What’s more, Turkey is moving toward sending its own troops to invade Kurdistan, the only part of Iraq that isn’t at war, in order to flush out separatist guerrillas.
The context for Turkey’s reaction to the House resolution is the fact that Turks are the most anti-American people on Earth. A 47-nation Pew survey earlier this year showed that ordinary Turks had the least favorable view of the United States, more negative than even the Palestinians or Pakistanis. Mein Kampf is a bestseller there, and the luridly anti-American and anti-Semitic film Valley of the Wolves — Iraq drew record audiences and thumbs-ups from Turkey’s political leadership. The Turkish people’s deep-seated hatred of America obviously wouldn’t get any better because of passage of the genocide resolution, but it couldn’t get any worse.
Back home, it’s particularly amusing to see opposition to the genocide resolution from those who want to use American foreign policy to promote human rights abroad. If you’re going to stick your nose in other people’s business, and tell Burma’s junta how to behave, and pass judgment on every nation’s commitment to religious freedom, etc., this is what you’re going to be stuck with. In other words, once you start moving along the spectrum toward foreign-policy Idealism, don’t be surprised when this sort of thing happens.
If there’s any real problem with the genocide resolution it’s precisely that it feeds into an excessively idealist view of foreign policy. While its many findings are largely restatements of facts in the public record, its “Declaration of Policy” states that “The House of Representatives — (1) calls upon the President to ensure that the foreign policy of the United States reflects appropriate understanding and sensitivity concerning issues related to human rights, ethnic cleansing, and genocide documented in the United States record relating to the Armenian Genocide and the consequences of the failure to realize a just resolution.” Our foreign policy is already reflects inordinate “sensitivity concerning issues related to human rights” — we hardly need more of it.
None of this would have happened if subsequent presidents had simply followed Ronald Reagan’s lead in commemorating the Armenian Genocide along with the Holocaust, without lots of specific “findings,” without declarations of policy, without even mentioning Turkey or the Ottomans. Our policy toward modern Turkey should have nothing whatsoever to do with acknowledgement of the Armenian Genocide. But caving to Turkish pressure never to use “Armenian” and “genocide” in the same sentence is what has given the current resolution its impetus.
Critics are right that Congress has no business weighing in on historical controversies. But there is no controversy here. This isn’t even a matter of the polite fictions necessary to international diplomacy. Denying the Armenian Genocide is simply a lie, and a lie propagated at the behest of a foreign power. It’s unworthy of us.
– Mark Krikorian is executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies.