Should the United States Recognize the Genocide of Armenians?

Matt Lewis, Politics Daily, 3 March 2010‘s note: Most of US media is expected to be anti-recognition of the Genocide of the Armenians. American media or politicians would ask themselves, "What are the benefits of recognition? Insignificant (moral) compared to not making waves with Turkey." A strategy that has worked for Turkey so far.

Despite bipartisanship being so elusive in Washington these days, one hot button issue obliterates traditional partisan alignments on Capitol Hill: The contentious debate over how — and whether — the United States government should recognize the Turkish deportation and slaughter of Armenians during and immediately after the First World War.

Matt Lewis, Politics Daily, 3 March 2010‘s note: Most of US media is expected to be anti-recognition of the Genocide of the Armenians. American media or politicians would ask themselves, "What are the benefits of recognition? Insignificant (moral) compared to not making waves with Turkey." A strategy that has worked for Turkey so far.

Despite bipartisanship being so elusive in Washington these days, one hot button issue obliterates traditional partisan alignments on Capitol Hill: The contentious debate over how — and whether — the United States government should recognize the Turkish deportation and slaughter of Armenians during and immediately after the First World War.

At issue is House Resolution 232, which would officially recognize the killing of an estimated 1.5 million Armenians by the Ottomans as genocide. The resolution’s supporters include a diverse and bipartisan group of more than one hundred members, including Reps. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.), Eric Cantor (R-Va.), Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) and Niki Tsongas (D-Mass.).

The vote is expected to take place Thursday at 10 a.m. in the House Foreign Affairs Committee (in 2007, a similar resolution passed that committee but failed on the floor due to heavy lobbying from the Bush administration and because Speaker Nancy Pelosi did not bring it to the floor for fear of losing the vote.)

Should the resolution pass the committee, its advocates would then push for an April floor vote, hoping to coincide with the vote with "Armenian Genocide Recognition Day" on April 24. But the resolution also has significant — and bipartisan — opposition. A letter urging congressional colleagues to reject it on the grounds it will complicate sensitive relations with a NATO ally was recently sent to the House Foreign Affairs Committee by Reps. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.) and Kay Granger (R-Texas). "A vote on this resolution will do nothing to rectify the tragedies of the past," they wrote, "but it will most certainly have significant negative consequences on current and future relations with Turkey."

Efforts to pass the resolution probably got a boost this past Sunday when CBS’ "60 Minutes" aired a segment heavily sympathetic to the Armenian case. The "60 Minutes" segment also included an embarrassing interview with former Turkish Ambassador Nabi Sensoy, who, in references to "death marches," said: "Well, I don’t think that it was anything comparable to Auschwitz. This was only deportation. And things happened on the road."

That is quite an understatement, and official U.S. concern that something truly terrible took place in Turkey go back to 1915 when Henry Morganthau, the United States Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire sent a cable to the State Department describing "a campaign of race extermination." Additionally, we know that on May 24, 1915, the Allied Powers of England, France, and Russia issued a statement, accusing, for the first time ever, a recognized government of committing a "crime against humanity."

Yet, the question over whether or not the U.S. should pass a resolution now is complex.

First, there is a dispute over the legal definition of "genocide" — a word that did not even exist until 1944. Today, the use of that word in diplomacy carries legal implications: namely, that it was the intent of the Ottoman Empire to impose racial, ethnic, or religious extermination. It is clear that the Ottoman Empire engaged in the mass killing and deportation of Christian Armenians. But Turks argue that focusing solely on the suffering of Armenians risks ignoring the millions of Muslims who also died during World War I — some at the hands of Armenians. Moreover, they assert that Armenians were in open rebellion and were supporting Turkey’s enemies during the First World War.

Today, it is a jailable offense to utter the word, "genocide" in Turkey, a fact that does little to reassure the world about Turkey’s commitment to diverse opinions and political dissent. Because of their sensitivity to this issue, recent U.S. presidents have been careful not to use the word genocide to describe the atrocities. President Bill Clinton talked of the "deportations and massacres" of Armenians, and George W. Bush referred to the "forced exile and murder." Last year, I attended a cultural tour of Istanbul sponsored by the Turkish Cultural Foundation, and during our initial briefing, it was flippantly described by one of the speakers as "The ‘g’ word."

The Armenian diaspora in America is large, and so it is no surprise that the Armenian lobby in America is bigger and better organized than the Turkish lobby. In addition, there are many more Americans of Armenian than Turkish descent. Many of the most vocal members of Congress in support of the resolution hail from three states, California, New York, and Massachusetts, with large Armenian-American populations. To make up for their perceived disadvantage, Turkey has hired some of the most prominent K Street lobbying and public relations firms to make their case.

As unlikely as it may seem, they have a case to make: One bone of contention for the Turks is that the congressional resolution specifically says the genocide was "conceived and carried out by the Ottoman Empire from 1915-1923." This is an important sticking point because the new Turkish republic (founded by Ataturk) was officially proclaimed on October 29, 1923. Turks maintain that by including the date 1923 in the resolution, their critics are covertly seeking to establish officially that atrocities weren’t just committed by the defunct Ottoman Empire, but also by the modern Turkish Republic. They believe that passage of a resolution worded in this way would begin to lay the groundwork for Armenia to go to an international court and sue for reparations, possibly in the form of a land transfer.

There are other reasons to take a closer look at such a resolution. As America’s only Muslim member of Congress, Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) said, "And you know, we have not acknowledged yet the genocide that was committed against the Native American tribes." This statement is not altogether true — that pronoun "we" is obviously overbroad, but it’s a fair point to wonder at the reaction among Americans if Turkey’s parliament felt obliged to condemn Americans for "The Trail of Tears."

So why should America take a stand? For one thing, many scholars believe the Armenian genocide inspired Adolph Hitler, who noted in 1939 that the world seemed to have forgotten the fate of the Armenians. Silence, in other words, became complicity — and helped set the stage for the Holocaust.

President Ronald Reagan sought such moral clarity. Just as he pointedly called the Soviet Union an "evil empire," Reagan did not mince words on this issue. Upon his death, the Armenian National Committee of America noted: "We will remember President Reagan as the last U.S. President to properly commemorate the Armenian genocide."

Those opposing the resolution cite realpolitik — the diplomatic rationale — to overlook past transgressions. They say that with two wars taking place in that part of the world, a secular democracy, a $12 billion trading partner, and America’s strongest NATO ally in the region should not be insulted in such a manner. Approximately 70 percent of supplies to our soldiers in Iraq go through Turkey, and most exit strategies for withdrawing troops from Iraq involve going through Turkey. Partly for this reason, when this issue came up in 2007, the Bush Administration — along with eight former secretaries of state – weighed in against the resolution.

The fate of this resolution may now hinge on President Obama. While campaigning for president, Obama promised to use the word "genocide," but in his first trip to Turkey, he did not utter the ‘g’ word. Still, he has been ambiguous regarding the upcoming vote, and the Turkish lobby is worried.

"If by its lack of forceful opposition to the resolution, the Obama Administration is trying to send a message to Turkey, it’s very unclear what that message is," says David Saltzman, counsel to the Turkish Coalition of America. "The United States has invested heavily in the reconciliation process, so frankly, I’m confused why the administration hasn’t come out against Resolution 232."

  1. Armenian Genocide And Free world Leader
    Dear  Mr.  Matt Lewis,  
    Should The United States Recognize Armenian Genocide?  
    Of   Course Yes.

    Jews, Armenians  and  Darfur and all other  Genocides  must be confronted unconditionally at the level of  American Values and humanity.

    Genocide is an unforgivable  crime. The  leader of the free world should never let  recognition of  this crime reduced  to a political  issue.

    As presidential  Candidate, Mr Obama stated   ‘America deserves a Leader who speaks truthfully  about Armenian Genocide and responds forcefully to all genocides. I intend to be that President."

    Mr President now you are the president and you have still  a  second chance.  We look to president  Obama to be a man of his word and honor his pledge to recognize the Armenian Genocide.

    Thank you

    Dr Babajanian

  2. Very few in this tortured
    Very few in this tortured World can understand that the USA has no power to recognize Mets Yeghern or the Armenian Genocide. Recognition of the Armenian Genocide is as possible as the travel to the Moon.

    1. Dear Samvel, you sound pessimistic
      Dear Savel,

      You sound very pessimistic about USA recognizing the Genocide of the Armenians. After all 42 out of 50 states have acknowledged, and all the past three presidents, including the present have during their candidacy held positive positions. Don’t these facts tell something?

      Apart from the "perceived" loss of the NATO ally Turkey, what do you think holds back USA to recognize?

      After all mankind travelled to the moon. So it is possible, isn’t it?

  3. A Turkish View

    I have conflicting views about America labelling the catastrophe of 1915 as genocide. I can only see positive developments on the Turkish domestic front, a good healthy dose of nationalism, a little more interest in  our history, a blow to the pride of the Turkish Diaspora for their failure,  and the trashing of the raprochement with Armenia. The foreign policy cost I beleive will be massive.

    I don’t think Americans understand the Turks well. They are expecting the Turks to retaliate considering their own national interests and the importance of our alliance with the US; they are expecting a tamed response. I heard one "analyst" saying Turkey will never cease relations with the US, or won’t close the military base, that it will be business as usual.

    I tend to disagree. The government may try to respond rationally and diplomatically while maintaning the alliance, however the Turkish people will crucify them. You can expect an emotional response from the people, and if the government doesn’t heed to their feelings the people will replace them. This puts Erdogan in a very tough spot. If this passes and Erdogan’s response is timid, I can see the calls for an early election to get stronger. This could be the nail in the coffin for the AKP government and our alliance with the US. Interesting to see how it pans out.

    1. To the Turk


      One would hope Turks would be moral enough to separate the emotional side from the issue. It wasn’t their ancestors who were placed in death marches. It wasn’t their ancestors who were killed, while the government took out the insurance policies on the Armenians for thesmelves. It wasn’t their ancestors who were raped, battered, and killed whether woman, man, or child, just because of their bloodline.

      In Turkey, Armenians are villified to such an extent, it implies that "because Armenians are barbaric bloody savages, they deserved to be slaughtered in a genocide" but then they add "–but that never happened." 

      Do you know what pain the Armenians go through? And all the billions Turks spend on anti-Armenian propaganda? We were mostly an artisan people, with some being able to rise to be doctors, poets, and musicians. Armenians were loyal and cheered for the Young Turks’ rise to power, because they thought it would bring reform and greater equality. The Ottoman Empire mutating into the Turkish Republic (by a name change) was paranoid of our ethnic group, because of so many other groups that broke away to form their own countries, so when the stupid Armenians who lived in Russia decided to rebel (a very few), the Turks decided to end the Armenian question and the possibility of Armenians breaking off to form their own nation by killing every last Armenian they could find–even the children, so the kids would never grow up to want revenge (this was their reasoning, but a Christian background means to hate the sin, love the sinner, even if he did wipe out your race. It’s terribly difficult, but it’s what we believe at the core.) 

      Can you honestly tell a survivor in the face that his pain was imagined, that his father was never beheaded, that his mother was never stabbed in front of his eyes? By the Diaspora alone you should be able to tell that Armenians were forced out or snuffed out (killed). 

      And despite how Turks villify Armenians on a constant basis, my parents always taught me that each person is an individual, and to not blame all people for the crimes of the few, or the elite. I do not nor have I ever hated Turks. I only wish that feeling was mutual.   

      Armenians would never lie about a genocide to their own race. We have more honor than that. All we wish to do is to honor the memories of our fallen, but Turks keep tainting those memories by saying they were all false. Have a heart: accept the genocide happened. It’s not like Armenians will ever get reparations. I don’t want your blood money. Just by recognizing the Armenian Genocide, and ceasing the biased negative views of Armenians, it would be enough.

      One question: why in Sam’s name would recognizing a genocide be a disaster for Turkey. And about insulting "Turkishness," what does that even mean? The fact that Turks realize they are just as human as everyone else, and it’s ok not to have a spotless record? The Armenian Genocide wasn’t the first massacre of Armenians–the Adana massacres came before that, and the Sultan’s massacres as well. The Genocide of 1915 was just the most wide-scaled one.

  4. Yes, on both moral and practical grounds

    Now that the resolution has cleared committee and has a chance of reaching the house floor, we must explain to the Americans that they certainly should recognize the genocide because, in addition to being just, it is in their interest.

    Matt Lewis’ article is a good summary of what has been said on both sides for all these years. Basically, the pro-Armenian side stresses  moral obligations while the other side invokes realpolitik. Now let us ask how real that “politik” is.

    The article lists the most important points as:

    “…with two wars taking place in that part of the world…” (implying that Turkey is an island of calm and peace): In addition to its internal war with the Kurds, Turkey recently invaded Kurdish Iraq.
    “…,a secular democracy,…”: (secular?) just a few lines ago it says that the main conduit for blackmailing the U.S. over "The Trail of Tears" into silence is the sole Muslim representative in congress. (And democracy?) Turkey has had numerous military coups in the past few decades and last week three generals were indicted for plotting a new takeover. The army claims it is just a plot by the government against the military. Either way, is that democracy?

    “…, a $12 billion trading partner,…”: What percentage of the American economy is $12 billion? Which way is the flow?

    “…America’s strongest NATO ally in the region…”: Turkey is one NATO member in open enmity with another member and the only one constantly threatening the U.S. over military bases; and also an ally which has done little in these past decades, except allowing it to use an air base during the Iraq war, which itself was obviously against American interests, to begin with.
    “Exit strategies”: You don’t drive your forces back to the U.S. overland!

    One major obstacle might be Secretary Clinton’s beliefs. The Clintons seem to be ardent believers in Strobe Talbot, Bill’s old roommate, and his idea of a balance of power in the region (Turkey vs. Russia). Talbot in turn, seems to be a romantic, still thinking in terms of the Crimean War, on which, he is an authority. His idea of a balance is to have two great powers tying each other down and so beef Turkey up to the role – “realpolitik?’
  5. Turkish View

    Murat is not explaining why Turkish public will curicify the government if the government gives a rational and diplomatic answer to USA acceptance of the Armenian Genocide.

    I ask Murad : Isn’t it true that Armenians have been villified in Turkey at every level, starting middle school all the way to High school? Isn’t it true that the government has poisoned the minds of Turkish public? If one grows up with the idea of treacherous Armenian, obviously this "emotional response"  is the result of 95 years of brainwashing.

    I am a product of  "Turk Azinlik Okullar" – Turkish Minority Schools. We had a histoy teacher in High School  Hikmet Hanim. When explaining events in Eastern Anatolia during early 20th Century , she would say " Armenians did this, Armenians did that" but then she would add " Fakat siz o Ermenilerden degilsiniz" -….but you are not the same Armenians….Wow…the whole class would just stare at her….so..the same goes on, probably it is worst in Turkish schools.

    I say to Murad: If the goverment’s brain washing ceases may be then the Turks can face their history?

    1. Turkish view

      In the mid-’60s I had the misfortune of traveling from Aleppo to Istanbul on a state-owned Turkish train. Adding spices to the torture of traveling on that primitive train (circa 1921) were dozens of negative memories which have left an indelible mark on my mind.

      While we were crossing the Taurus Mountains, a Turkish passenger, knowing we were Armenian, referred to them as the "Gavour Daghlare" (Infidel Mountains).

      In Istanbul I went to a clothing store to buy a coat. Since I knew that the owner was Armenian, I addressed him in Armenian. The man ignored me. Some time later, when the Turkish customers had left the store, the store owner approached me and said in Armenian that he was afraid to speak in Armenian in the presence of Turks.

      I forget which of the Istanbul’s (and Turkey’s major newspaper they were, but certainly one of them was "Hurriet") had these two slogans on top of the first page year round, every day: "Let no one dare touch this lion [meaning Turkey]" and "Turkey belongs to the Turks’. In Armenian we have a saying: "Kogh, seerde togh" (The thief’s heart always beats fast).

      There were other examples of Turkish extreme ultra-nationalism, racism and Armenophobia, but the above should suffice as examples of Turkish mentality in the mid-’60s.

      We are told that Turkey has changed; it has progressed; it has become liberated and tolerant. Armenians certainly hope that Turkey is moving away from its deplorable political past. While a tiny minority of brave Turks are speaking up, Armenians are still waiting to see real and widespread change in that country’s arcane and pathological attitudes towards non-Turks and non-Moslems.

  6. Obama won’t tell anything bad
    Obama won’t tell anything bad about Turkey, because they are muslims like him, whose career was built upon Saudi money.

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