Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Do you want to debate policy or history? 

I wrote early on about the passage of the Armenian genocide resolution, and while I had hoped the issue might go away, it has not. The focus is on the incompetence or darker motives of the Democrats that have pushed this issue. This Investors Business Daily editorial is exemplar:
...House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has decided to let HR 106, a nonbinding resolution that declares the Turkish Ottomans' murder of Armenians as genocide, to go forward.

The Turks are angered at the intentional insult leveled at them by Congress for a crime that's now 92 years old. They've threatened to stop cooperating with the U.S. in Iraq.

This behavior is consistent with Turkey's history of reactions to "insult." My reaction is to wonder why this is considered an "insult". Even those critical of the Democrats, such as Michael Rubin, at least have the decency to say that "[t]here is no doubt that up to a million Armenians died during World War I..." But in the very same sentence,

...although historians still debate whether their deaths constitute deliberate genocide or are collateral casualties of war.

Is this really necessary, to enter doubt over the mass murder itself? What's with "deliberate genocide"? Can Rubin cite an example of "accidental genocide"? Richard Cohen goes even further:

Of even that, I have some doubt. The congressional resolution repeatedly employs the word genocide, a term used by many scholars. But Raphael Lemkin, the Polish-Jewish emigre who coined the term in 1943, clearly had what the Nazis were doing to the Jews in mind. If that is the standard � and it need not be � then what happened in the collapsing Ottoman Empire in 1915 was something short of genocide.

It was plenty bad � maybe as many as 1.5 million Armenians perished, many of them outright murdered � but not all Armenians everywhere in what was then Turkey were as calamitously affected. The substantial Armenian communities in Constantinople, Smyrna and Aleppo were largely spared. No German city could make that statement about its Jews.

Is it acceptable for someone to claim that, because some members of the Armenian community fought with Russians in World War I, it was acceptable to call a whole people "a fifth column"? The International Center for Transnational Justice has offered an analysis of the events of that time. The key question is whether the intent of the Young Turks was to destroy the Armenian community, in whole or in part. That last sentence -- it's not a genocide because the Turks left a few communities alone -- is frankly an insult.

Scholars have been refused the opportunity to even debate the issue in Turkey by a court decree, forced to change plans. When the seminar went forward, protests were held outside. There is never going to be a time in the foreseeable future a good time to declare support for the Armenian claim, and Cohen at least comes around to saying it is "unacceptable" for Turkey to control the statement of history. There has never been a time in the past where it was sufficiently convenient for members of either party to make a statement of history -- witness Bill Clinton's request to squelch a Republican move to recognize the genocide in 2000. When Denny Hastert agreed to the request, the Turks were delighted. The author of the genocide bill that year, Republican Jim Rogan of Burbank, subsequently lost to Democrat Adam Schiff. Unsurprisingly, the bill before the House right now is authored by Schiff. As the New Republic reported in July (unprotected full version),
With Rogan's seat on the line in 2000, a first-ever vote on a genocide resolution seemed a sure thing--that is, until the Turkish government mobilized its lobbying team, led by former Republican House Speaker Bob Livingston, its $700,000 man in the field. In a state of affairs one furious Republican described to Roll Call as "ridiculous," Livingston found himself battling a measure meant to protect the very House majority he had briefly presided over just two years earlier. A Turkish threat to cancel military contracts, including a $4.5 billion helicopter deal with a Fort Worthbased company, ensured the opposition of powerful Texas Republicans like Tom DeLay. Hastert was cornered. But he found cover in Bill Clinton, who warned that Turkey might shut down its American-run Incirlik air base, from which the United States patrolled the no-fly zone over northern Iraq. Citing Clinton's objections, Hastert pulled the bill. Rogan tried to accuse Clinton of playing politics, and someone sent out a last-minute mailer featuring Schiff next to a Turkish flag. But it wasn't enough, and Schiff beat Rogan by nine percentage points.
Sound familiar? Think the Turks aren't playing games with this again?

Maybe I can respect those, such as John McCain on Ed's show yesterday, who are willing to say "I know it was genocide but the timing is very bad." And of course you cannot promise to bring it up later, as that is of course unlikely to appease Turkey. But McCain and other not-now'ers are boxed in by their logic; they cannot make a credible commitment to ever recognize the genocide by an official non-binding declaration. How will they ever acknowledge the history they all claim to know?

And it needs acknowledgment. As Youssef Ibrahim says, how can one expect Turkey to join the ranks of civil society, which must include respect for ethnic minorities, if it cannot recognize its own transition from an uncivil past?

As George Bush once said, "Sixty years of Western nations excusing and accommodating the lack of freedom in the Middle East did nothing to make us safe."

Ninety-two years in our case, Mr. President. And counting.