Isolationism Watch: Let’s Alienate Turkey!

The U. S. House of Representatives has passed a resolution declaring the deaths of Armenians in the early 20th century genocide:

ISTANBUL, Oct. 11 — Turkey reacted angrily today to a House committee vote in Washington on Wednesday to condemn the mass killings of Armenians in Turkey in World War I as an act of genocide, calling the decision “unacceptable.”

In a rare and uncharacteristically strong condemnation, President Abdullah Gul criticized the vote by the House Foreign Relations Committee in a statement to the semi-official Anatolian News Agency, and warned that the decision could work against the United States.

“Unfortunately, some politicians in the United States have once more dismissed calls for common sense, and made an attempt to sacrifice big issues for minor domestic political games,” Mr. Gul said. “This is not a type of attitude that works to the benefit of, and suits, representatives of a great power like the Unites States of America. This unacceptable decision of the committee, like similar ones in the past, has no validity and is not worth of the respect of the Turkish people.”

Turkey is a member of NATO, bidding for EU membership, and, after Israel and the KSA, one of our closest allies in the Middle East, a region in which it’s not as though we had allies to burn. Turkey’s government has been quite secular for more than nearly a century, which one would think is a quality to be cherished rather than spurned. Turkey has other bones to pick with us as well, in particular the use of Iraqi Kurdistan adjacent to Turkey as a base for incursions by Kurdish separatist guerrillas.

Why now? (asks Steven Taylor) I can hazard a guess. The largest concentrations of Armenians in the U. S. are in New York, Fresno, Los Angeles, and Detroit, all in states with electoral significance. I’d hazard a guess that U. S. Armenians, among which this matter has been a cause célèbre for a century, have been lobbying this issue like mad since November 2006.

I don’t know what the truth of the matter is. I do know that the official Turkish position is that many of the deaths were due to fighting among Armenians, some in fighting between Turks and Armenians, and that Armenians killed Turks, too. My suggestion: everybody should open up their archives. Let’s get to the bottom of the controversy.

In the meanwhile I don’t think that alienating Turkey makes a great deal of sense but I see it as just another step towards the U. S. isolating itself from the rest of the world. One country at a time, guys. One country at a time.

19 comments… add one
  • I read the resolution yesterday. Mostly it’s a collection of pointers to other items either in the Congressional Archives or elsewhere in the documentary record. Basically, it says “This happened, and this was what was done about it in the past, and we don’t want to forget this.” Most of what transpired took place under the auspices of the old Ottoman Empire in any event, so it seems strange to wonder why the current Turkish state is so upset about it.

    [Note: Turkey’s government cannont have been secular for more than a century, as Turkey has not existed that long.]

    Actually, one part of the resolution does offer some insite into why the Turkish government might be so sensitive, From the Resolution itself:

    (4) The post-World War I Turkish Government indicted the top leaders involved in the `organization and execution’ of the Armenian Genocide and in the `massacre and destruction of the Armenians’.

    (5) In a series of courts-martial, officials of the Young Turk Regime were tried and convicted, as charged, for organizing and executing massacres against the Armenian people.

    (6) The chief organizers of the Armenian Genocide, Minister of War Enver, Minister of the Interior Talaat, and Minister of the Navy Jemal were all condemned to death for their crimes, however, the verdicts of the courts were not enforced.

  • I exaggerated slightly. Nearly a century.

    Yes, the questions are

    1) Why pass the resolutions? (my answer: domestic U. S. politics)
    2) Why are the Turks objecting (my answer: domestic Turkish politics)

  • This is the classic conflict between realpolitik and American idealism. We say we won’t go back to the old ways of averting our gaze from the actions of our less savory allies, we say we won’t go on supporting “our” thugs in order to thwart “their” thugs, but the truth is we don’t seem able to avoid a degree of hypocrisy in foreign policy. See also Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt and others.

    It was genocide. It shouldn’t be a problem for us to admit that, but my inner Scowcroft knows it is, and that we have to cater to the Turks’ denialism in order to have any hope of salvaging even a little from Iraq.

  • I think there’s also a bit of letting the perfect be the enemy of the good here, too. Which do we want more? A Turkey that acknowledges Armenian genocide or a Turkey that’s fallen under the sway of its domestic Islamists?

  • The thing is, the resolution is barely about Turkey. The two mentions above of the post-WWI Turkish government plus one other section are the only mentions of Turkey in the document.

    (27) On June 5, 1996, the House of Representatives adopted an amendment to House Bill 3540 (the Foreign Operations, Export Financing, and Related Programs Appropriations Act, 1997) to reduce aid to Turkey by $3,000,000 (an estimate of its payment of lobbying fees in the United States) until the Turkish Government acknowledged the Armenian Genocide and took steps to honor the memory of its victims.

    Now, if the Turks wanted to be offended, that 1996 ammendment would have been a much more substantial thing to be offended about.

    As it stands, however, all this resolution does is state that the mass killing of Armenians in 1915-196 in the Ottoman Empire was, in fact, a genocide. There is no condemnation of the current Turkish government in the document.

    Which do we want more? A Turkey that acknowledges Armenian genocide or a Turkey that’s fallen under the sway of its domestic Islamists?

    Which do we want more, good relations with Iran, or to acknowledge that the Holocaust took place? Clearly, we should tear down the Holocaust Museum in DC. (One false dichotomy deserves another.)

  • The answer to why now on the part of the Turks is, again, domestic politics. There’s more pressure on the government than there was ten years ago.

    Would we achieve good relations with Iran if we were silent about the Holocaust? I doubt it. I also think there’s a difference between discretion and denial. A narrow one, perhaps, but a difference.

  • Actually, this may be a bit of brilliant politics from the Dems. If, in fact, Turkey’s support is so vital to maintaining a US pressence in Iraq, then cutting the Turkish supply routes would almost certainly lead to a draw down in Iraq. I doubt that Pelosi & Co are smart enough to have figured that out beforehand, but they may figure it out along the way.

    And in my false dichotomy, I didn’t say we should deny the Holocaust. I just said we should tear down the museum. What could be more discrete that to forget about it entirely?

  • David

    this resolution would never have been necessary if Turkey were not only persecuting its own historians, but bankrolling denial outside their country as well.

    This is not about reparations, there is no punishment whatsoever. this is about historical recognition of a genocide just as meritorious of recognition as the Holocaust.

    It also has NOTHING to do with Islamic extremists. The Islamicists are not as nutty about this as the militarist nationalists.

  • PD Shaw

    I see no benefit to the U.S. from doing this. Turkey is a friendly nation with an above average human rights record for the region. It is not engaged in genocide. It is certainly engaged in a sort of Orwellian clamp-down on discussion of the issue, made particularly odd (as Icepick points out) that it wasn’t this Turkish government.

    I’ve read Bernard Lewis’ discussions of this issue. I think there is a reasonable debate as to whether a genocide occurred; it depends on how narrowly or broadly one defines the terms.

    If I were Turkey, I would pass a non binding resolution finding that the United States committed genocide against Native Americans.

  • France and the United States, addicted to gestures.

    Were this a current event, there would be scope for action, and need.

    But is is an event virtually a century old, and while of course important to the particular constituency, not in the interests of the nation as a whole to make any statement at all.

  • Funny, the Germans have managed to admit the truth about THEIR genocidal acts.

  • Irisgin

    No one seems to be focusing on the moral issue. Killing is not moral. Killing and denying it, are not moral. Killing, denial and lies about denial are not moral. Supporting others’ denials (of Turkey) is not moral. Why can’t an ally (US) tell its ally Turkey that what it is doing is not moral, it is not acceptable and it certainly needs to be condemned.

  • Irisgin

    Furthermore, denial leads to “buying time” in order to rewrite the denialists’ version of history. Every attempt has been made by the Turkish Republic (yes, they were not the genocide perpetrators, the Ottomans were, but the Republic continues to deny the truth ) to erase or alter what has been left in their country from the Armenians. Names of churches, towns, etc. have been altered in order to ULTIMATELY be able to say “Armenians? Who are they? They never lived here? One and a half million Armenians killed? Who is making up these numbers? They never constituted that many to being with…” etc. Buying time to rewrite history…

    Rewriting history is dangerous. For those who ask “why bother with an issue tat is 90 years old and happened elsewhere?”–define the truth so it can stand by itself against time. That is what we civilized human beings are capable of, at best. At our worst, we kill, we lie and hide and persuade others that there is no blood on our hands. And the guppies believe us!

  • Fletcher Christian

    There is another issue here. Turkey has a strong Islamist movement, and several times in the last couple of decades the only thing that has stopped them taking over – yes, in free elections – has been the Turkish military. Turkey is probably the only case of the military preventing dictatorship.

    Now, of course, there is a very good chance that Turkey is going to be joining the EU sometime soon, and then there will be nothing anyone can do to prevent millions of Islamist nutters moving into various countries in mainland Europe, and probably into the UK as well.

    Europe is already having a lot of trouble with violent, totally unreasonable Islamic minorities – how much worse is it going to get? And what is the official American position on this? And what does everyone here think?

  • If the truth hurts, tough shit.

  • Hank the Hobo

    The question isn’t whether it happened. The question is why is this the job of Congress? Let historians argue the points of history; the government’s job should be to guarantee their right to do so freely. And if I recall correctly, our government, as well as many European governments, have harshly criticized Turkey for its censorship of dissenting opinions within its borders.
    When Congress starts legislating history, well, thats a scary thought.

    A second question, already asked, is why is this so important as to jeopardize our already precarious position in the Middle East? Why now, especially considering other current events concerning Turkey and Iraq…

  • Bed&Breakfast

    Thanks for your neutral comments.

    Genocide is a made up story written by the Armenian diaspora . Let’s think …

    Seljuk Turks’ and Byzantine Empire’s armies meet in 1071 at Manzikert, near Lake Van. The battle, a resounding victory for the Seljuks. Within a few years there are Turkish tribes in many parts of Anatolia.

    Armenians , Kurds , Jews, Christians etc. were live together without trouble in Anatolia 844 years long , from 1071 to 1915. And then suddenly, Turks decided to kill Armenians. Is that story common-sensical?

    Real afflictive story is here
    http://www.turkishjournal.com/i.php?newsid=1255

    Best Regards,

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