Thursday, October 11, 2007

Judgments on History and Diplomacy

Rare are the moments in these our modern times when I'm inclined to praise Congressional Democrats, but this is one of those moments. The House Foreign Relations Committee voted 27 to 21 on Wednesday to approve a symbolic resolution condemning the mass killings of Armenians by the Ottoman Turks which began in 1915, during the First World War. You see, it is doubtful that were Republicans in charge of Congress, such a resolution would have made it past a committee vote, thus enabling its consideration by the full House of Representatives - so lock-step have Congressional Republicans been with the White House in recent years that they would have been hard-pressed to go against President George W. Bush's request to the House not to consider the issue.

Turkey, for its part, has been condemning the vote, calling the notion that the U.S. Congress would even consider the matter "unacceptable". If you connect the words "Armenian" and "genocide" in Turkey, you're liable to be thrown in jail under the charge of "insulting Turkishness". When France last year made it a crime to deny the Armenian Genocide, Turkey responded in kind with a parliamentary bill accusing France of genocidal actions in Algeria. You ask me, I'd say Turkey may still be suffering from Imperial Withdrawal; it is as if we - the rest of the world, or at least the Free World - are vassal states of some unspoken, reconstituted Ottoman Empire, and in our so being we are thus prevented from saying things which upset Ankara's weak democratic government (like calling genocide "genocide"). Don't even get me started on northern Cyprus.

As far as I know, the rest of the world is not governed by Turkish law, which makes it a crime to "insult Turkishness". However, a symbolic gesture in the United States Congress that recognizes the Armenian Genocide for what it was is not an insult to "Turkishness"; on the contrary, it provides an opportunity yet again for modern Turks to rise above the crimes of their forefathers, just as Germans have done in the decades since the Holocaust, and not only own up to a shameful past but also start building a responsible future by establishing relations with Armenia (I mean, look how well Germany and Israel - a legacy of the Nazi Holocaust - get along these days). The Republic of Turkey should not be afraid of confronting its past, and should abandon the institution of denying it, especially if Turkey thinks it fit to continue to try for membership in the European Union - something I'm against, by the way.

But maybe resolutions in the House and Senate aren't enough. Maybe what's needed, to send a strong message to Turkey that we are governed and guided by our own morals and principles, and not those of the Turks, are multiple resolutions on a nationwide scale. By this, of course, I mean similar measures put forward in the several State Legislatures of America, particularly in any States which can claim a significant population of those of Armenian heritage. This is not to say that such measures are guaranteed passage; in fact, a good number of them may fail to pass. But again, just because Turkey has made it a domestic crime to even hint at calling the Armenian Genocide a "genocide" doesn't mean that the Turkish president, Abdullah Gul, can throw a tantrum and that we over here in the United States, in response, must "capitulate" to his demands.

President Bush, and those in Congress who, like him, oppose this resolution, do so out of fear. They are afraid that America living up to its traditions, and embodying its principles, will anger the Turks enough and in such a way that our military operations in Iraq may be compromised. But I seem to remember, way back in 2003, that Turkey - which is now considering an armed incursion into the north of Iraq to go after Kurdish terrorists, much to the chagrin - wasn't much help in our Iraq venture to begin with (they forbid the launching of ground operations against the regime of Saddam Hussein from southern Turkey). In hoping to restrain America's voice, these opponents of Justice wish to maintain the status quo, to maintain the balance of fear which guides relations between too many of the world's genuine democracies and Turkey's weak, prone-to-military-overthrow democracy.

You see, the problem - the continual enabling of Turkey's history-minded irresponsibility - isn't only due to America's reluctance to recognize the Armenian Genocide for what it was. In the interest of preserving warm military ties with an officially secular Muslim state, the State of Israel, a product of the Nazis' genocidal program against the Jews (and officially-recognized nation-state inheritor of that genocide's victims' intense emotional baggage), also doesn't officially recognize the Armenian Genocide. Sure, you can walk through the Old City of Jerusalem and see posters decrying the Turks' genocidal actions against the Armenians, but ask government officials in Jerusalem to speak out about the event and you'll be disappointed. This from a country that comes to a halt every Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, for two minutes as a siren sounds to mark the six million Jews killed by the Nazis.

That's shameful...and most heinously hypocritical. After all, this is the same Israel whose supporters denounce Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's ongoing denial of, and occasional questioning of the scope of, the Holocaust. How ironic is it that when Adolf Hitler is purported to have said, in justifying Nazi actions against the Jews and expressing his confidence the world wouldn't pay any attention to their disappearance, "Who today speaks of the Armenians?", it is the world's only Jewish state that, decades later, voluntarily doesn't speak of their (the Armenian's) tragedy at the hands of the Turks while at the same time urging the world to remember ours (the Jews') at the hands of the Nazis. What tzvi'ut (hypocrisy), eh?

To quote the great Will Ferrell in Elf (when he's speaking to a dept. store Santa Claus), the current system of international diplomacy sits "on a throne of lies". We in the "Free and Enlightened World" say we stand for one thing, but then rush to abandon our "firm" stance whenever we find it expedient to do so. Later on, we reclaim the moral high ground as our own while living with the undeniable knowledge that we're more than willing to divest ourselves of it - and cry out out that we're really not doing so - whenever the urge may again possess us to do so. By this method we hope to "keep the peace", and while we think it works well, all we're really doing is promoting an unstable "armistice" which allows future conflict(s) to brew.

We would be doing ourselves - and past, present and future (God forbid) victims of genocide, too - a huge favor if we were to abandon this dishonest, hypocritical philosophy of international (and domestic) politics and, after claiming the moral high ground, show that we're willing to keep that moral high ground even if doing so means earning the opprobrium of those who make no attempt to earn a place atop it and aren't likely to try to earn it in the future (though their hypocrisy is worse than ours when they do claim it). I know that the status quo isn't always easily changed. But to quote my own words, in my Facebook profile, "sometimes the status quo is nothing more than another outdated rule made - or needing - to be broken."

No comments: