the gas chambers, the inhuman crematoria, and the thousands of people who somehow survived with lifetime scars are all now part of the conscience of history. Forever must we remember just how precious is civilization, how important is liberty, and how heroic is the human spirit. Like the genocide of the Armenians before it, and the genocide of the Cambodians which followed it -- and like too many other such persecutions of too many other peoples -- the lessons of the Holocaust must never be forgotten.In February 1990, then-Sen. Bob Dole, the Kansas Republican and 1996 GOP presidential nominee, championed one of several resolutions denouncing the Armenian genocide saying, "itís finally time for us to do what is right. Right. We pride ourselves in America" for "doing whatís right, not whatís expedient." But Turkey kept up its genocide denial to the point of provoking a rare backlash among about 100 American intellectuals, including John Updike, Norman Mailer, Kurt Vonnegut, and Arthur Miller, who signed a petition denouncing the "intellectually and morally corrupt . . . manipulation of American institutions" and the "fraudulent scholarship supported by the Turkish government and carried out in American universities." It didn't help get a resolution to a full vote of the House.
Bill Clinton and George Bush also had no problem using the words "Armenian" and "genocide" together, although they only did son on their respective campaign trails and never once they got into office. Clinton lobbied Dennis Hastert, the Speaker of the House in 2000, to the House of Representatives against passing a resolution condemning the genocide. And Bush, never known to follow in his predecessors' footsteps, did the same this week. In both instances a House committee had approved the resolution rather one-sidedly. In both cases Turkey started to scream and yell. In both cases sitting presidents cheapened Ronald Reagan's eloquent Holocaust proclamation by making American policy on genocide seem, if not preferential, then at least rankly hypocritical and opportunistic. "We all deeply regret the tragic suffering of the Armenian people that began in 1915," Bush said. "This resolution is not the right response to these historic mass killings, and its passage would do great harm to our relations with a key ally in NATO and in the global war on terror."
Turkey, you see, is a northern neighbor of Iraq, a useful tactical way into that country for American materiel, and a rare stable democracy (relatively speaking: the army is always the final word on that) that happens to also be a Muslim nation. Turkey famously refused to let the Pentagon use Turkish territory as a staging ground for the invasion in 2003, denying the American-led coalition a northern route to Baghdad. That should have sent a signal to Washington that Turkey's allegiances are unpredictable at best. Still, Washington bends over backward to accommodate Turkey, as if even the House of Representatives was under the jurisdiction of Turkey's criminal code.
That code states, under article 301, that "anyone who openly denigrates the government, judicial institutions or military or police structures" may earn six months to three years in prison. Saying that Turkey caused the Armenian genocide is "denigrating" the government. When the House Foreign Relations Committee on Oct. 10 approved a non-binding resolution, 27-21, condemning the genocide, it looked, briefly, like the full House might finally get its say. It didn't happen. As with so many other issues of significant symbolic or substantial import, the Democratic Congress retreated and gave Bush and Turkey what they wanted. Another surrender to silence over what Henry Morgenthau, the American ambassador to what was then the Ottoman Empire, wrote at the time of the atrocities: "I am confident that the whole history of the human race contains no such horrible episode as this. The great massacres and persecutions of the past seem almost insignificant when compared with the sufferings of the Armenian race in 1915."
For additional perspective on Turkish identity and history, see "Veiled Democracy," my profile of Turkey.