I watch in utter dismay as the White House discourages the Congress in its ’ effort to classify the massacre of Armenians by Ottoman Turks as genocide. Let’s for a brief while disregard the moral failure in not calling a massacre of this proportion a genocide. The, I guess, there are a lot of things going on here. Let us weigh the pros and cons in the efforts of Congress to label this as a genocide.
In Turkey’s defense, firstly, the massacre happened in Turkey’s troubled past - a time when the now established Turkish republic was a fascist regime that was backward looking and did not respect human rights. The event occurred almost 90 years ago and seem to have faded from the memory of many of the world’s peoples (although in magnitude it comes close to the Khmer-Rouge atrocities). However, after Ataturk established the Turkish republic, Turkey has been a bastion of democracy in the middle-east with its largely moderate muslim population and its friendliness to the west. It also has stable institutions that are necessary for supporting the future of democracy in a largely troubled region of the world. Its army is modernized, not susceptible to militant religious ideologies and hence might stay an ally in the event of a large-scale war in the middle-east.
The arguments against turkey are that it should at some time come to terms with its violent past. Turkey should probably look up to Germany for having done this really well. It does not matter who carried out the atrocities, the people of that country are responsible in one way or another. Germany, maybe has partly redeemed itself by adopting laws that punish people who deny the holocaust. To a large extent, the people of the world in general might forgiven ( but not forgotten) Germany for its past atrocities. However, Germany managed to face its demons and the world knows of the skeletons in the closet. It takes great courage for a nation to face its violent past and of all the evil powers of the past, Germany deserves credit for doing it well.
A resurgent Turkish nationalism somehow places hurdles for the people of Turkey to face their past. If they want the world to renew their faith in the idea of a strong democratic Turkish republic, they need to redeem themselves and call the massacre, a genocide on their own. International rules governing what is and what is not a genocide are very clear. Genocide is the deliberate and systematic destruction of an ethnic, religious or national group. It is very clear that the Turks carried out irrational massacre of ethnic Armenians.
Given the pros and cons – although it might seem painful for the Turkish and their allies, the right thing to do would be to label this a genocide. The US would then have acknowledged that Turkey did mess up in the past. If the US does not, it is sending a message that it has differential rules for friends vs. foes. This violates the basic sense of fairness that most Americans pride themselves in. Beyond that, how can the US talk about taking a morally right stance in Iraq, Vietnam and elsewhere, at the same time failing to label a genocide rightly so.
Why is it then the White House warns the Congress of pissing off Turkey? Isn’t it obvious what Congress should be doing – calling a spade, a spade? Well, from the executive’s perspective Turkey is a key ally in the so-called war on terror. Albeit, only as a logistical support as 70% of all cargo into Iraq goes through the Incirlik air force base in Turkey. Apart from the operational argument, there are other strategic arguments for why Turkey is important. US needs Turkey to stay quiet on the Iraqi border. Given that the Iraq war is bound to be a nightmare for the US, it does not need troubles with Turkey on the border.
I maybe wrong in my judgment. Maybe, I don’t the facts too well. Somehow, it does not seem to me that the massacre is no different from other well-document genocides in world history. If it looks like a spade, feels like a spade, most probably it is a spade.