2007-10-17 / Editorials

Armenian Genocide Should Be Acknowledged


Ninety-two years ago the Ottoman Empire made a last-ditch effort to regain some of the prestige and glory it had enjoyed some 300 years earlier at the height of its power. At the end of that last gasp of a dying regime, one and a half million people of Armenian descent were driven out of the homes in Eastern Turkey where their ancestors had lived for generations. Most of the 1.5 million were murdered outright or driven into neighboring Syria to die in the deserts that lie to the south and east of the region.

The House Foreign Affairs Committee last Wednesday passed a nonbinding and largely symbolic resolution condemning as genocide the mass killings of Armenians in Turkey that began during World War I. The word "genocide" in the House resolution offended the Turkish government- identifying the Armenian killings as genocide is considered an insult against Turkish identity and is a crime under the Turkish penal code- and demonstrations by some groups in Turkey that come out in force every time this subject comes up, broke out in the streets of Istanbul and in Ankara, the Turkish capital. Last Thursday, Turkey recalled its ambassador from Washington and threatened to withdraw its support for the Iraq war.

Since the word "genocide" means the systematic killing of, or a program of action intended to destroy, a whole national or ethnic group, and since almost the entire Armenian population of Eastern Turkey was wiped off the face of the earth between 1915 and 1923, "genocide" seems to be the only word that fits. Indeed, the Armenian Genocide set the pattern for events that followed only 20- some years afterward. "Who remembers the Armenians?" Hitler asked when he set out on his campaign for the Holocaust that saw the slaughter of 6 million Jews and another 6 million "racial undesirables" such as gypsies, trade unionists and homosexuals during world War II. Exercising the same criteria, USSR dictator Josef Stalin systematically starved an entire population of one of his "Soviet Socialist Republics" during the 1930s. Nobody remembered the Armenians, but tyrants all over the world learned the lessons of their massacre too well. To ignore the past is to risk repeating it, one reason for the House Committee passing the resolution by a 27-21 vote.

The House resolution is largely symbolic and in no way condemns the present Turkish government. Nor do we. The resolution seeks only the acknowledgment that the word "genocide" applies to the sad events of 1915. Modern Turkey is not to blame for the acts of a regime that ended its reign long before the present government came into being- indeed, long before most of the people taking exception to the House resolution were born. What's more, the American government is one of Turkey's major business partners, with $11 billion in trade last year. Much of the Turkish military's equipment is provided by the American defense industry. American military personnel and materiel move through Turkey to the battle lines in Iraq. The two nations need each other too much to let a situation that was not the fault or responsibility of the present government in Ankara come between them.

"I'm a big supporter of Turkey and Turkey is a very important ally that plays an important geopolitical role and a vital role in the war on terror," Congressmember Gary Ackerman, a cosponsor of the resolution, said. "Our friends in Turkey need to understand that they can get beyond this emotional issue. Turkey has to understand that they are no more the Ottoman Empire than today's Germany is the Third Reich. We've heard from people who say that this will be very damaging to our efforts underway today. But more damaging than anything else would be the damage done by us denying the truth."

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