Armenian Genocide? Nobody's Business But The Turks'
The House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a resolution yesterday recognizing the slaughter of much of Turkey's Armenian minority by the Ottoman Empire as a genocide, the first time the House has considered such a resolution in decades. The Armenian Genocide occurred between 1915 and 1923, and as the US Holocaust Memorial Museum noted in a statement marking the 100th anniversary of the start of the mass murders, was among the events that led Raphael Lemkin to coin the term "genocide." While the House was at it, it also passed a separate measure to impose economic sanctions on Turkey and its military leaders in response to its invading northern Syria to drive out formerly US-supported Kurdish militias.
As every discussion of the House resolution notes, US recognition of the Armenian genocide is one of those perennial issues that Congress sometimes makes a little noise about, but this particular resolution -- the first to make it out of committee in 35 years -- has more to do with the present Turkish government's decision to invade northern Syria and drive out Kurdish militias than any sudden interest in historical remembrance. Prior efforts all failed due to congressional unwillingness to rile up Turkey, which considers foreign governments calling the genocide a genocide a "threat to its sovereignty."
It probably would have been more "noble" to stand up and recognize the genocide outside of current geopolitics, but look: Turkey's present campaign of wiping away the Kurds' experiment in radical democracy and equality is plenty worth condemnation. If that also leads to symbolic recognition of a past genocide, that's not a downside.
The mass killings may have happened a century ago, but any mention of them is considered a horrible insult by the present-day Turkish government, which prefers to downplay the extent and nature of the killings. Armenians say about 1.5 million people were systematically killed, but the Turkish government insists the number was more like 300,000, and that the killings weren't organized by the imperial government, so it was only a regrettable sad thing, not a "genocide," don't believe that hateful anti-Turkish propaganda. The BBC notes the International Association of Genocide Scholars puts the number of deaths at "more than a million," so they're probably in league with the vast anti-Turkey conspiracy, too.The resolution was introduced by Rep. Adam Schiff, who has many Armenian constituents in his California district and tweeted that he's been trying to get this passed for nearly 20 years:
The House just voted to recognize the Armenian Genocide – a vote I fought for 19 years to make possible, that tens… https://t.co/cNMYUmDCUh— Adam Schiff (@Adam Schiff)1572384753.0
The House resolution passed overwhelmingly, by a vote of 405-11, with three members voting "present." One of those voting "present" was Minnesota first-term Democrat Ilhan Omar, who issued a statement saying she objected to the House using recognition of a historic wrong as a "cudgel in a political fight." Here's the full statement:
I believe accountability for human rights violation -- especially ethnic cleansing and genocide -- is paramount. But accountability and recognition of genocide should not be used as cudgel in a political fight. It should be done based on academic consensus outside the push and pull of geopolitics. A true acknowledgment of historical crimes against humanity must include both the heinous genocides of the 20th century, along with earlier mass slaughters like the transatlantic slave trade and Native American genocide, which took the lives of hundreds of millions of indigenous people in this country. For this reason, I voted 'present' on final passage of H.Res. 296, the resolution Affirming the United States record on the Armenian Genocide.
This is where we just toss our hands up in the air and walk away muttering about purity ponies and letting the perfect be the enemy of the good, and also wondering who the fuck is advising Ilhan Omar to set herself up for attacks from assholes by saying stuff like this. As we say, this resolution comes in the context of a current Turkish campaign of ethnic cleansing, so we have a hard time seeing it as a cynical move (perhaps it might be for Republicans pissed that Turkey is buying Russian missile systems). Omar is right to say other crimes against humanity -- especially those the US has committed -- deserve recognition, but we have a hard time buying that as a reason to avoid making a statement about another historic crime.
In keeping with its historic histrionics about other countries messing with its precious sensibilities toward its glorious and bloodstain-free past, Turkey called in the US ambassador to Ankara, David M. Satterfield, to let him know the House resolution was very very bad and not nice to a valuable US ally whose current corrupt president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is much beloved by the US's own current corrupt president.
On TV, Erdogan said the House vote was "worthless and we do not recognize it." Turkish foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu also issued a statement on Twitter calling the vote nothing but a nasty attempt to punish Turkey for its perfectly legitimate attempt to do some new genociding against the Kurds.
Those whose projects were frustrated turn to antiquated resolutions. Circles believing that they will take revenge this way are mistaken. This shameful decision of those exploiting history in politics is null and void for our government and people.
The resolution may well be "null and void" in the USA as well, since for it to become actual US policy, it would have to be passed by the Senate and signed by Donald Trump. Mitch McConnell, for all his grumblings about Trump's giving the green light for Turkey to invade Syria, has not scheduled any action on the Senate version of the resolution, and Donald Trump probably wouldn't vote for it unless it included a line pointing out that the Armenians did a lot to piss off the Ottoman Turks, too.
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